Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To His Brother Ivan.

VENICE, March 24, 1891.

I am now in Venice. I arrived here two days ago from Vienna. One thing I can say: I have never in my life seen a town more marvellous than Venice. It is perfectly enchanting, brilliance, joy, life. Instead of streets and roads there are canals; instead of cabs, gondolas. The architecture is amazing, and there is not a single spot that does not excite some historical or artistic interest. You float in a gondola and see the palace of the Doges, the house where Desdemona lived, homes of various painters, churches. And in the churches there are sculptures and paintings such as we have never dreamed of. In fact it is enchantment.

All day from morning till night I sit in a gondola and glide along the streets, or I saunter about the famous St. Mark’s Square. The square is as level and clean as a parquet floor. Here there is St. Mark’s — something impossible to describe — the Palace of the Doges, and other buildings which make me feel as I do listening to part singing — I feel the amazing beauty and revel in it.

And the evenings! My God! One might almost die of the strangeness of it. One goes in a gondola . . . warmth, stillness, stars. . . . There are no horses in Venice, and so there is a silence here as in the open country. Gondolas flit to and fro, . . . then a gondola glides by, hung with lanterns. In it are a double-bass, violins, a guitar, a mandolin and cornet, two or three ladies, several men, and one hears singing and music. They sing from operas. What voices! One goes on a little further and again meets a boat with singers, and then again, and the air is full, till midnight, of the mingled strains of violins and tenor voices, and all sorts of heart-stirring sounds.

Merezhkovsky, whom I have met here, is off his head with ecstasy. For us poor and oppressed Russians it is easy to go out of our minds here in a world of beauty, wealth, and freedom. One longs to remain here for ever, and when one stands in the churches and listens to the organ one longs to become a Catholic.

The tombs of Canova and Titian are magnificent. Here they bury great artists like kings in churches; here they do not despise art as with us; the churches provide a shelter for pictures and statues however naked they may be.

In the Palace of the Doges there is a picture in which there are about ten thousand human figures.

To-day is Sunday. There will be a band playing in St. Mark’s Square. . . .

If you ever happen to come to Venice it will be the best thing in your life. You ought to see the glass here! Your bottles [Footnote: His brother Ivan was teaching in a school attached to a glass factory.] are so hideous compared with the things here, that it makes one sick to think of them.

I will write again; meanwhile, good-bye.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06