There was nothing in Venice so much talked of,
as the attractions of the Countess Imperia.
Her proud and majestic beauty struck every one
with admiration. Her white, velvet-like complexion, slightly shaded with
rose-tints, was the envy of all the Venetian ladies. The most distinguished of
the nobility gathered round her – a brilliant and numerous court. The
illustrious husband of the sea, the doge himself, remarked, on the day of his
coronation, that had he been free to choose, the Adriatic would not have
received his nuptial ring.
The gondoliers of Venice were admirers of her
beauty; and at evening, on the shore, when the improvisator, as he recited
stanzas from the Jerusalem Delivered, spoke to the crowd of Armida, of Clorinda,
and Herminia, he would add, in this enthusiastic excitement, that they were as
beautiful as the Countess Imperia.
She received all this homage indiscriminately.
The nobles were readily admitted to her presence – but there was no appearance
of her favoring one more than another. Such virtue and beauty combined, made the
countess an exception to her sex, and spread her fame through all Italy.
As it would be a splendid triumph to vanquish
so stubborn a heart, the emulation of the young Venetians was intensely excited.
The accepted lover of the beautiful Imperia, could succeed only against numerous
and formidable rivals.
The impression had begun to prevail in Venice,
that the countess had resolved never to marry, when it was announced that she
had made her choice.
Stenio was one of the youngest and most amiable
of the Venetian cavaliers, – of high rank and of great wealth.
His success seemed so well deserved, that even
envy was dumb.
To understand what were the feelings of Stenio,
you need but glance at the following letter, written the evening before his
marriage, to Paolo, the friend of his youth: –
“She has consented to bestow on me her hand.
Do you appreciate my happiness, Paolo? She loves me!
“There are moments still, when I doubt my good fortune. I sometimes
say to myself, ‘It cannot be so. This noble and proud being could never love a
mortal. And yet, why should she select me? What motive but love, could induce
her to give up to me that freedom which she has held so tenaciously?’
“You know me, Paolo, and you know that my single ambition has ever
been, to possess a woman’s affections; to reign there without a partner, and
without control; to interchange my soul with hers; and to live in the delights
of a mutual sympathy. This dream of earthly bliss I shall realize. God gave not
beauty as a fruitless possession. In those whom he has endowed with power to
inspire emotions of love, he has implanted the heart to feel them too.
“Thank heaven, Paolo, it has granted the wishes of thy friend.
“Take care of thyself. Thou are a poet!”
We shall say nothing of the wedding of Stenio
and Imperia. All Venice remembers it. Enough to say that it was worthy of the
bridegroom and the bride.
Stenio took his wife into the country.
He wished to spend the first period of the
honey-moon, so sweet and delightful, in the midst of solitude – beneath the
shade of trees, – where birds warble, and breezes murmur, and flowers perfume
“How happy shall we be!” said he to his wife.
She answered by a sigh, and Stenio thought
himself the happiest of men. That very evening, he started with Imperia for his
At the end of fifteen days, it appeared that
the fair Imperia found the country somewhat monotonous.
After a few promenades under the old
chestnut-trees, she became exceedingly fatigued.
When Stenio proposed that they should sit upon
the grassy bank, she would pretend that the grass was damp, and that a good
arm-chair was decidedly preferable.
In the evening, when the moon shed her
saddening light on the terrace of the old castle, and Stenio asked her to go and
listen with him to the melodies of the night, she would reply that she was apt
to take cold.
One day she complained that the singing of the
nightingales interrupted her sleep.
Clearly, the country did not suit Imperia. Her
husband decided to return to the city.
THE SCENE LIES IN VENICE.
“After all,” said Stenio, “one can be as much
alone in a palace as in a cottage. I have caused the old mansion of my ancestors
to be renovated. It is now a nest of silk, and velvet, and gold, in which my
dove will be very comfortable. We shall live for each other – far from bustle –
far from society and festivity. To me alone will she disclose the treasures of
As soon as she arrived, Imperia visited the
palace. She examined successively all the apartments, and seemed satisfied with
the taste and liberality which had directed the arrangements. In very decided
language, she expressed to her husband the satisfaction which she felt.
“At length,” said he to himself, with a thrill
of delight, “at length she understand me.”
Stenio, as the reader has doubtless
discovered, was one of those persons who dream of an existence like that of the
sylphs and the genii, – of a life which flows, ever and sweetly, in the midst of
music and of poetry, – and in the spiritual interchange of the most tender
emotions. He thought that his wife would have the same sentiments.
Unhappily, he was mistaken.
If, seated at the feet of the fair Imperia, he
asked her to take her guitar, and sing to him some song of love, she would press
her hand to her brows, and exclaim – “A dreadful headache!”
If he attempted to read to her a few pages
from one of his favorite poets, she would stretch herself, with a yawn, upon the
sofa, and curse the heat, and grumble at the sirocco.
As often as he attempted to be sentimental
with her, Imperia used to cut him short.
“Is it not,” he would say, “my precious love,
is it not delightful to –“
Never could he get any farther. As soon as she
heard this phrase, Imperia would complain of a pain in her stomach, or remark on
the danger of taking ices after dinner.
Stenio bore the evil patiently, and hoped that
these indispositions would pass away. His illusions were never dissipated.
One day, Imperia came to him with a sweet
smile, and the salutation, “My dear lord.”
“Now,” thought Stenio, “we are, at last, about
to enjoy the delights of mutual sympathy.”
“Is it not, my precious love,” he hastened to
reply, “is it not delightful to:” –
“To have festivities – to receive our friends
– and to live in the world,” resumed Imperia. “Do you not mean soon to invite to
a grand ball all the choice society of Venice? We ought, I think, now that we
are married, to maintain our station respectably.”
To Stenio this was a clap of thunder. A few
days afterwards, he thus wrote to his friend: –
THE SECOND LETTER TO PAOLO.
“I am the most unhappy of men. Imperia does not
“You should have seen how brilliant she looked, as she presented
herself before me, dressed for the ball. Alas! she cares for nothing but show,
luxury, dress, and making a figure in the world. She is a heartless woman.
“Seeing her so fine and so gay, I determined to be revenged.
“’Madam,’ said I to her, ‘you are like that flower called the
camellia, which a Jesuit has lately brought hither from China. It is delightful
to the eye, but contributes nothing to the smell. You madam, are beautiful, but
you lack that fragrance of beauty, which we call love.’
“Having pronounced these withering words, I looked steadily at her.
“’You are not far from the truth,’ said she: ‘I am the Camellia,’ –
and then she walked proudly into the ball-room.
“Yet before she went in, I thought she turned towards me a sad look.
What could that look mean?
“Ah! My friend, pity me; and let me once more tell you that I am the
most unhappy of men.”
PAOLO’S SECOND ANSWER.
“Did I not tell you so?”
One day, a black gondola stopped before the
palace of the beautiful Imperia. The rowers knocked at the door, and then placed
a dead body on the threshold.
It was the body of Stenio.
It had been found extended on the shore of
Lido, pierced to the heart by a poniard. A scrap of paper lay near him, on which
he had written these few words: – “She never loved me. May god have mercy on my
At the sight of this corpse, Camellia felt her
eyes moisten. She looked long at the soiled hair, the sightless eyes, and the
blood-stained breast of her youthful spouse; and then, imprinting a kiss on his
pale brow, she exclaimed:
“Accursed be the day when I sought a life upon
earth! Had the fairy said to me, “thou wilt have a heart without sensibility,
and an unfeeling soul; thou wilt sit by, unmoved at the sight of calamities
which thou hast caused; thou wilt shine with a fatal beauty, that shall reflect
not one emotion of tenderness,’ – had she warned me of this, I would never have
asked for a change of lot. The flower may exist without fragrance, but woman
cannot live without love.
O fairy” added she, “restore my former shape.
Let me be once more a camellia. There is no lack of heartless women her on
The Flower Fairy was prompt in granting her
prayer. Once more a flower, Imperia remembered Stenio. A splendid camellia was
soon seen to rise, as by enchantment, over the grave of the youth.
The suicide of Stenio, and the disappearance
of his widow, which occurred soon after, were for a long time, the topics of
Nobody knew any thing concerning his death, –
and when some one spake of it to Paolo, he replied: –
“I had warned him: but he was a poet!”