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Ariosto And Tasso
by [?]

Here the scene was properly introduced. The strong declamatory, and, as it were, shrieking sound, met the ear from far, and called forth the attention; the quickly succeeding transitions, which necessarily required to be sung in a lower tone, seemed like plaintive strains succeeding the vociferations of emotion or of pain. The other, who listened attentively, immediately began where the former left off, answering him in milder or more vehement notes, according as the purport of the strophe required. The sleepy canals, the lofty buildings, the splendour of the moon, the deep shadows of the few gondolas that moved like spirits hither and thither, increased the striking peculiarity of the scene, and amidst all these circumstances it was easy to confess the character of this wonderful harmony.

It suits perfectly well with an idle solitary mariner, lying at length in his vessel at rest on one of these canals, waiting for his company or for a fare; the tiresomeness of which situation is somewhat alleviated by the songs and poetical stories he has in memory. He often raises his voice as loud as he can, which extends itself to a vast distance over the tranquil mirror; and, as all is still around, he is as it were in a solitude in the midst of a large and populous town. Here is no rattling of carriages, no noise of foot passengers; a silent gondola glides now and then by him, of which the splashing of the oars is scarcely to be heard.

At a distance he hears another, perhaps utterly unknown to him. Melody and verse immediately attach the two strangers; he becomes the responsive echo to the former, and exerts himself to be heard as he had heard the other. By a tacit convention they alternate verse for verse; though the song should last the whole night through, they entertain, themselves without fatigue; the hearers, who are passing between the two, take part in the amusement.

This vocal performance sounds best at a great distance, and is then inexpressibly charming, as it only fulfils its design in the sentiment of remoteness. It is plaintive, but not dismal in its sound; and at times it is scarcely possible to refrain from tears. My companion, who otherwise was not a very delicately organised person, said quite unexpectedly, “E singolare come quel canto intenerisce, e molto piu quando la cantano meglio.”

I was told that the women of Lido, the long row of islands that divides the Adriatic from the Lagouns, particularly the women of the extreme districts of Malamocca and Palestrina, sing in like manner the works of Tasso to these and similar tunes.

They have the custom, when their husbands are fishing out at sea, to sit along the shore in the evenings and vociferate these songs, and continue to do so with great violence, till each of them can distinguish the responses of her own husband at a distance.

How much more delightful and more appropriate does this song show itself here, than the call of a solitary person uttered far and wide, till another equally disposed shall hear and answer him! It is the expression of a vehement and hearty longing, which yet is every moment nearer to the happiness of satisfaction.

Lord Byron has told us that with the independence of Venice the song of the gondolier has died away–

In Venice Tasso’s echoes are no more.

If this be not more poetical than true, it must have occurred at a moment when their last political change may have occasioned this silence on the waters. My servant Tita, who was formerly the servant of his lordship, and whose name has been immortalised in the “Italy” of Mr. Rogers, was himself a gondolier. He assures me that every night on the river the chant may be heard. Many who cannot even read have acquired the whole of Tasso, and some chant the stanzas of Ariosto. It is a sort of poetical challenge, and he who cannot take up the subject by continuing it is held as vanquished, and which occasions him no slight vexation. In a note in Lord Byron’s works, this article is quoted by mistake as written by me, though I had mentioned it as the contribution of a stranger. We find by that note that there are two kinds of Tasso; the original, and another called the “Canta alla Barcarola,” a spurious Tasso in the Venetian dialect: this latter, however, is rarely used. In the same note, a printer’s error has been perpetuated through all the editions of Byron; the name of Barry, the painter, has been printed Berry.