A Creature of the Night: An Italian Enigma
Library of Alexandria
The Cranstons were always a poor family, that is, as regards money, although they certainly could not complain of a lack of ancestors; and when it came to my turn to represent the race, I found that my lately deceased father had left me comparatively nothing. Not having any fixed income, I therefore could not live without doing something to earn my bread; and not having any business capacity, I foresaw failure would be my lot in mercantile enterprise. I was not good-looking enough to inveigle a wealthy heiress into matrimony; and as, after a survey of my possessions, I found I had nothing but a few hundred pounds and an excellent baritone voice, I made up my mind to use the former in cultivating the latter with a view to an operatic career. Italy, living on the traditions of the days of Rossini, of Donizetti and of Bellini, has still the reputation of possessing excellent singing-masters, so to Italy I went with a hopeful heart and a light purse, and established myself at Milan, where I took lessons, in singing, from Maestro Angello. Milan is a detestable city, hot and arid in summer, cold and humid in winter; and as a year after I arrived in the land of song the end of spring was unusually disagreeable, Maestro Angello went to Verona for a change of air, and thither I followed him with no small pleasure at escaping from that dreary commercial capital of the north which has all the disagreeables of Italian life without any of the compensating advantages of romance and beauty. But Verona! ah, it was truly delightful, that sleepy town lying so peacefully on the banks of the rapid Adige, dreaming amid the riotous present of the splendid past, when Can Grande held his brilliant court, and received as an honoured guest the great poet Dante, exiled by ungrateful Florence. The city of the gay rhymer Catullus, merry lover of Lesbia, who wept more tears over her sparrow than she did over her poet. The city of Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers as they were, who were recompensed for their short, unhappy lives by gaining immortality from the pen of Shakespeare as types of eternal love and eternal constancy, for the encouragement of all succeeding youths and maidens of later generations. Yes, indeed, with all these memories, historical and poetical, Verona was a pleasant place in which to idle away a summer, so I thanked the kind gods for my good fortune and enjoyed myself. Not that I was idle. By no means! Maestro Angello kept me hard at work at exercises and scales, so I studied industriously most of the day and wandered about most of the night in the soft, cool moonlight, when Verona looked much more romantic than in the garish blaze of the Italian sun.