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The three state inquisitors are continually changing : and before one set could gain the affections of the soldiers, another would be chosen; so that government could not be supported, but much more probably would be on verturned, by a numerous garrison being established in Venice'; for it might perhaps not be difficult for a few of the rich and powerful nobles to corrupt the garrison, and gain over the commander to any ambitious plan of their own, for the destruction of the constitution.
But although there is no formal garrison in a military uniform, yet there is a real effective force sufficient to suppress any popular commotion, at the command of the senate, and council of ten. This force, besides the sbirri, consists of a great number of stout fellows, who, without any distinguishing dress, are kept in the pay of government, and are at the command of that council. There is also the whole body of the gondoleers, the most hardy and daring of the common Venetians. This body of men are greatly attached to the nobility, from whom they have most of their employment, and with whom they acquire a certain degree of familiarity, by passing great part of their time, shut up in boats, in their company, and by being privy to many of their love intrigues. Great numbers of these gondoleers are in the service of particular nobles; and there is no doubt, that, in case of any popular insurrection, the whole would take the side of the nobility and senate, against the people. In short, they may be considered as a kind of standing, militia, ready to rise as soon as the government requires their services.
Lastly, there is the grand council itself, which, in case of any violent commotion of the citizens and populace, could be armed directly, from the snall arsenal within the ducal palace, and would prove a very formidable force against an unarmed multitude; for the laws of Venice forbid, under pain of death, any citizen to carry firearms; a law which is very exactly executed by the state inquisitors.
By those means the executive power of government is
as irresistible at Venice, as at Petersburgh or Constantinople, while there is a far less chance of the government itself being overthrown here by the instruments of its own power ; for, although a regular army, or garrison, might be corrupted by the address of an ambitious doge, or by a combination of a few rich and popular nobles, in which case a revolution would take place at once; it is almost impossible to conceive, that all the different powers above mentioned could be engaged to act in favour of one man, or a small combination of men, without being 'detected by the vigilance of the inquisitors, or the jealousy of those who were not in the conspiracy. And if we suppose a majority of the nobles inclinable to any change in the form of the government, they have no occasion to carry on a secret plot; they may come to the council chamber, and dictate whatever alterations they
THERE is unquestionably much reflection, and great depth of thought, displayed in the formation of the political constitution of Venice; but I should admire it much more, if the council of ten, and state inquisitors, had never formed any part of it. Their institution, in my opinion, destroys the effect of all the rest. Like those misers who actually starve themselves, by endeavouring to avoid the inconveniences of poverty, the Venetians, in whatever manner it is brought about, actually support a despotic tribunal, under the pretext of keeping out despotism. In some respects this system is worse than the fixed and permanent tyranny of one person ; for that person's character and maxims would be known, and, by endeavouring to conform themselves to his way of thinking, people might have some chance of living unmolested; but according to this plan, they have a freethinker for their tyrant to-day, and a bigot to-morrow. One year a set of inquisitors, who consider certain parts of conduct as innocent, which, in the sight of their successors, may appear state crimes; men do not know what they have to depend upon. An universal jealousy must prevail, and precautions will be used to avoid the suspicions of government, unknown in any other country. Accordingly we find, that the noble Venetians are afraid. of having any intercourse with foreign ambassadors, or with foreigners of any kind; they are even cautious of visiting at each other's houses, and hardly ever have meetings together, except at the courts, or on the Broglio. The boasted secrecy of their public councils proceeds, in all probability, from the same principle of fear. If all conversation on public affairs were forbid, under pain of death, and if the members of the British parliament were liable to be seized in the night-time by general warrants, and hanged at Tyburn, or drowned in the Thames, at the pleasure of the secretaries of state, I dare swear the world would know as little of what passes in either house of parliament, as they do of what is transacted in the senate of Venice
It is not safe for a noble Venetian to acquire, in a high de. gree, the love and confidence of the common people. This excites the jealousy of the inquisitors, and proves a pretty certain means of excluding him from any of the high offices. A government which displays so much distrust and suspicion where there is little or no ground, will not fail to shew marks of the same disposition where, in the general opinion, there is some reason to be circumspect. Ecclesiastics, of every denomination, are excluded, by the constitution of Venice, from a place in the senate, or holding any civil office whatever ; nor is it permitted them, directly or indirectly, to intermeddle in state affairs. In many instances, they are deprived of that kind of influence which, even in Protestant countries, is allowed to the clergy. The patriarch of Venice has not the disposal of the offices belonging to St. Mark's church : all the deans are named by the doge and senate.
Though it is forbid to the nobility, and to the clergy, to hold any conversation with strangers upon politics, or affairs of state'; yet it is remarked, the gondoleers are exceeding ready to talk upon these, or any other subjects, with all who give them the smallest encouragement. Those who are not in the immediate service of any particular nobleman, are often retained by government, like the valets-de-place at Paris, as spies upon strangers. It is said, that while those fellows row their gondolas, in seeming inattention to the conversation, they are taking notice of every thing which is said, that they may report it to their employers, when they imagine it any way concerns the government. If this is true, those are to be pitied who are obliged to listen to all the stuff that such politicians may be supposed to relate.
As soon as å stranger arrives, the gondoleers who brought him to Venice immediately repair to a certain office, and give information where they took him up, to what house they conducted him, and of any other particulars they may have picked up. All those precautions recalled to my memory the garrison of Darmstadt, of which I gave you an account in a letter from that place, where the strictest duty is kept up by day and night, in winter as well as summer, and every precaution used, as if an enemy were at the gates ; though no mortal has the smallest design against the place, and though it is perfectly understood by all the inhabitants, that if an army was in reality to come with hostile intentions, the town could not hold out a week. In the same manner, I cannot help thinking, that all this jealousy and distrust, those numerous engines set a-going, and all this complicated system for the discovery of plots, and the defence of the constitution of this republic, serves only to harass their own subjects. Their constitution is certainly in no such danger as to require such an apparatus of machines to defend it, unless, indeed, the emperor were to form a plot against it; and, in that case, it is much to be feared, that the spies, gondoleers, lions mouths, and state inquisitors, would hardly prevent its success.
Exclusive of this state inquisition, my abhorrence to which, I perceive, leads me sometimes away from my purpose, all ranks of people here might be exceeding happy. The business of the various courts, and the great number of offices in the state, form a constant employment for the nobles, and furnish them with proper objects to excite industry and ambition. The citizens form a respectable body in the state ; and, though they are excluded from the senate, they may hold some very lucrative and important offices. By applying to the arts and sciences, which are encouraged at Venice, they have a fair chance of living agreeably, and laying up a competency for their families. Private property is nowhere better secured than at Venice; and notwithstanding she no longer enjoys the trade of Asia' without competitors, yet her commerce is still considerable, and many individuals acquire great wealth by trade. The manufactories established here employ all the industrious poor, and prevent that squalid beggary, that pilfering and robbery, one or other, or all of which, prevail in most other countries of Europe.
Their subjects on the Terra Firma, I am informed, are not at all oppressed; the senate has found that mild treatment, and good usage, are the best policy, and more effectual than armies, in preventing revolts. The podestas, therefore, are not allowed to abuse their power, by treating the people with severity or injustice. Those governors know, that any complaints produced against them, will be scrutinized by the senate very carefully. This prevents many abuses of power on their part, and makes the neighbouring provinces which formerly belonged to this state, regret the chance of war which ravished them from the equitable government of their ancient masters.
Though the Venetian government is still under the influence of jealousy, that gloomy demon is now entirely ba