Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Mr. Emerson, I have a bone to pick with you

By William J. Dean / July 13, 2001



"It is a great oddity - a city for beavers - but to my thought a most disagreeable residence.... I soon had enough of it."

Skip to next paragraph

What Philistine uttered these boorish thoughts? Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Mr. Emerson, we need to talk. I love Venice. I am on my 12th visit here. Unlike you, I never have enough of it.

"A city for beavers," indeed! The beavers in Concord, Mass., may be highly cultivated, but I doubt they appreciate the likes of Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese.

Were you aware that Venice began as desolate islands in the lagoon to which refugees fled from the mainland? And that over the centuries it became "Lords and Masters of a Quarter and a Half-quarter of the Roman Empire," controlling the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean? Talk about self-reliance and improvement!

True, you came here in 1837. The Venetian Republic no longer existed, having been done in by Napoleon. But still, had you looked around, you would have seen what I see today.

Magnificent art. Glorious architecture. Splendid light. These were here when you were here.

In Venice, I awaken, as you would have, to the ringing of church bells and the arrival of ships from foreign ports, both East and West.

At night, the lights of the city dance upon the dark canal waters. Sleep comes to me, as it did for you, with the sound of sea waves lapping the stone embankment.

How could the magic of Venice elude you?

Mr. Emerson, when next I read an essay by you, I will be a skeptic, so wrong are you on this subject.

To your credit, you did come to Venice, unlike Thomas Jefferson. While serving as our minister to France, Jefferson traveled to Italy. He found time to smuggle nice seeds out of the country to benefit the American South - an act of agricultural espionage - but not time to visit Venice. The loss was his.

Emerson. Jefferson. I have great admiration for you both, except on the subject of Venice.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor