AUGUST 27th. I am just returned from visiting the isles of Burano, Torcello, and Mazorbo, distant about five miles from Venice. To these amphibious spots the Romans, inhabitants of eastern Lombardy, fled from the rapine of Attila; and, if we may believe Cassiodorus, there was a time when they presented a beautiful appearance. Beyond them, on the coast of the Lagunes, rose the once populous city of Altina, with its six stately gates, which Dandolo mentions*. Its neighbourhood was scattered with innumerable villas and temples, composing altogether a prospect which Martial compares to Baiæ:

Æmula Baianis Altini littora villis.

But this agreeable scene, like so many others, is passed entirely away, and has left nothing, except heaps of stones and mis-shapen fragments, to vouch for its former magnificence. Two of the islands, Costanziaco and Amiano, that are imagined to have contained the bowers and gardens of the Altinatians, have sunk beneath the waters; those which remain are scarcely worthy to rise above their surface. Though I was persuaded little was left to be seen above ground, I could not deny myself the imaginary pleasure of treading a corner of the earth once so adorned and cultivated; and of walking over the roofs, perhaps, of undiscovered palaces. M. de R., to whom I communicated my ideas, entered at once into the scheme; hiring therefore a peiotte, we took some provisions and music (to us equally necessaries of life) and launched into the canal, between Saint Michael and Murano. The waves coursed each other with violence; and dark clouds hung over the grand sweep of northern mountains, whilst the west smiled with azure and bright sunshine. Thunder rolled awfully at a distance, and those white and greyish birds, the harbingers of storms, flitted frequently before our bark. For some moments we were in doubt whether to proceed; but as we advanced by a little dome in the island of Saint Michael, shaped like an ancient temple, the sky cleared, and the ocean subsiding by degrees, soon presented a tranquil expanse, across which we were slowly wafted. Our instruments played several delightful airs, that called forth the inhabitants of every island, and held them in silence, as if spell-bound, on the edge of their quays and terraces, till we were out of hearing. Leaving Murano far behind, Venice and its world of turrets began to sink on the horizon, and the low desert isles beyond Mazorbo to lie stretched out before us.
Now we beheld vast wastes of purple flowers*, and could distinguish the low hum of the insects which hover above them; such was the stillness of the place. Coasting these solitary fields, we wound amongst several serpentine canals, bordered by gardens of figs and pomegranates, with neat Indian-looking inclosures of cane and reed: an aromatic plant, which the people justly dignify with the title of marine incense, clothes the margin of the waters. It proved very serviceable in subduing a musky odour, which attacked us the moment we landed, and which proceeds from serpents that lurk in the hedges. These animals, say the gondoliers, defend immense treasures which lie buried under the ruins. Woe to those who attempt invading them, or prying too cautiously about! Not choosing to be devoured, we left many a mound of fragments unnoticed, and made the best of our way to a little green, bounded on one side by a miserable shed, decorated with the name of the Podesta's residence, and on the other by a circular church. Some remains of tolerable antique sculpture are enchased in the walls; and the dome, supported by pillars of a smooth Grecian marble, though uncouth and ill-proportioned, impresses a sort of veneration, and transports the fancy to the twilight glimmering period when it was raised. Having surveyed what little was visible, and given as much career to our imaginations as the scene inspired, we walked over a soil composed of crumbling bricks and cement to the cathedral; whose arches, turned on the ancient Roman principle, convinced us that it dates at least as high as the sixth or seventh century. Nothing can well be more fantastic than the ornaments of this structure, formed from the ruins of the Pagan temples of Altina, and encrusted with a gilt mosaic, like that which covers our Edward the Confessor's tomb. The pavement, composed of various precious marbles, is richer and more beautiful than one could have expected, in a place where every other object savours of the grossest barbarism. At the further end, beyond the altar, appears a semi-circular niche, with seats like the gradines of a diminutive amphitheatre; above rise the quaint forms of the apostles, in red, blue, green, and black mosaic, and in the midst of the group a sort of marble chair, cool and penitential enough, where Saint Lorenzo Giustiniani sat to hold a provincial council, the Lord knows how long ago. The fount for holy water stands by the principal entrance, fronting this curious recess, and seems to have belonged to some place of Gentile worship. The figures of horned imps clinging round its sides, more devilish, more Egyptian, than any I ever beheld. The dragons on old china are not more whimsical; I longed to have filled it with bats' blood, and to have sent it by way of present to the sabbath. I can assure you it would have done honour to their witcheries. The sculpture is not the most delicate, but I cannot say a great deal about it, as but little light reaches the spot where it is fixed. Indeed the whole church is far from luminous, its windows being narrow and near the roof, with shutters composed of blocks of marble, which nothing but the whirlwinds of the last day, one should think, would move from their hinges. By the time we had examined every nook and corner of this singular edifice, and caught perhaps some small portion of sanctity by sitting in San Lorenzo's chair, dinner was prepared in a neighbouring convent, and the nuns, allured by the sound of our flutes and oboes, peeped out of their cells and showed themselves by dozens at the grate. Some few agreeable faces and interesting eyes enlivened the dark sisterhood; all seemed to catch a gleam of pleasure from the music; two or three of them, probably the last immured, let fall a tear, and suffered the recollection of the world and its profane joys to interrupt for a moment their sacred tranquillity. We stayed till the sun was low, on purpose that they might listen as long as possible to a harmony which seemed to issue, as the old abbess expressed herself, from the gates of paradise ajar. A thousand benedictions consecrated our departure; twilight came on just as we entered the bark and rowed out upon the waves, agitated by a fresh gale, but fearing nothing under the protection of Santa Margherita, whose good wishes our music had secured. In two hours we were safely landed at the Fondamenti nuovi, and went immediately to the Mendicanti, where they were performing the oratorio of Sisera. The composer, a young man, had displayed great fire and originality in this performance; and a knowledge of character seldom found in the most celebrated masters. The supplication of the thirsty chieftain, and Jael's insinuating arts and pious treachery, are admirably expressed; but the agitation and boding slumbers which precede his death, are imagined in the highest strain of genius. The terror and agony of his dreams made me start, more than once, from my seat; and all the horrors of his assassination seemed full before me, so fatal was the sound of the instruments, so just the conduct of the harmony! Too much applause cannot be given the Marchetti, who sang the part of Sisera, and seconded the composer's ideas by the most feeling and spirited execution. There are few things I shall regret more at Venice, than this conservativo. Whenever I am musically given, I fly to it, and hear the most striking finales in Paesiello's and Anfossi's operas, as long and often as I please. The sight of the orchestra still makes me smile. You know, I suppose, it is entirely of the feminine gender, and that nothing is more common than to see a delicate white hand journeying across an enormous double bass, or a pair of roseate cheeks puffing, with all their efforts, at a French horn. Some that are grown old and Amazonian, who have abandoned their fiddles and their lovers, take vigorously to the kettle-drum; and one poor limping lady, who had been crossed in love, now makes an admirable figure on the bassoon. Good night! I am quite exhausted with composing a chorus for these same Amazons. The poetry I send you, which seems to be some of the most picturesque and nervous, an Italian ever produced. The music takes up too much room to travel at present. One day or other, perhaps, we may hear it in some dark grove, when the moon is eclipsed and nature in alarm.
This is not the last letter you would receive from Venice, was I not hurrying to Lucca, where Pacchierotti sings next week, in Bertoni's opera of Quinto Fabio; of all operas the most worthy to excuse such a musical fanaticism. Adieu!

* Lib. v. c. iv. p. 5.
* Called Roscani in Venice, and reduced to ashes for the glass manufactory at Murano.

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Additional letters, I-VII
An Excursion to the Grande Chartreuse in the year 1778