I have just returned from a visit to Italy, including the most beautiful city in the world – Venice.
I have been re-reading Percy Shelley’s letter to Mary Shelley on his arrival in Venice in 1818. His appreciation of the gondolas shows his fascination and love for boats and water, and the image of Venice shining at night is typical of Shelley’s descriptive letters.
The letter is tantalisingly torn off where Percy Shelley begins to relate the details of Lord Byron’s palace….
[Venice, Sunday morning. To Mary Shelley]
These gondolas are the most beautiful and convenient boats in the world. They are finely carpeted and furnished with black, and painted black. The couches on which you lean are extraordinarily soft, and are so disposed as to be the most comfortable to those who lean or sit. The windows have at will either Venetian plate-glass flowered, or Venetian blinds, or blinds of black cloth to shut out the light. The weather here is extremely cold – indeed, sometimes very painfully so, and yesterday it began to rain. We passed the laguna in the middle of the night in a most violent storm of wind, rain, and lightning. It was very curious to observe the elements above in a state of such tremendous convulsion, and the surface of the water almost calm; for these lagunas, though five miles broad, a space enough in a storm to sink a gondola, are so shallow that the boatmen drive the boat along with a pole. The sea-water, furiously agitated by the wind, shone with sparkles like stars. Venice, now hidden and now disclosed by the driving rain, shone dimly with its lights.
[continued Sunday night, 5 o’clock in the morning] At three o’clock I called on Lord Byron: he was delighted to see me.
He took me in his gondola across the laguna to a long sandy island, which defends Venice from the Adriatic. When we disembarked, we found his horses waiting for us, and we rode along the sands of the sea, talking. Our conversation consisted in histories of his wounded feelings, and questions as to my affairs, and great professions of friendship and regard for me. […] We talked of literary matters, his Fourth Canto, which, he says, is very good, and indeed repeated some stanzas of great energy to me. When we returned to his palace, which
[The letter is here torn]
Images: 1. The laguna, Venice, taken Jan 2015.
2. Byron’s palace on the Canal Grande, Venice, taken Jan 2015.