Those of my readers who have frequented the garden of Doctor Rappaccini no doubt recall with perfect distinctness the quaint old city of Padua. They remember its miles and miles of dim arcade over-roofing the sidewalks everywhere, affording excellent opportunity for the flirtation of lovers by day and the vengeance of rivals by night. They have seen the now-vacant streets thronged with maskers, and the Venetian Podesta going in gorgeous state to and from the vast Palazzo della Ragione. They have witnessed ringing tournaments in those sad empty squares, and races in the Prato della Valle, and many other wonders of different epochs, and their pleasure makes me half-sorry that I should have lived for several years within an hour by rail from Padua, and should know little or nothing of these great sights from actual observation. I take shame to myself for having visited Padua so often and so familiarly as I used to do, - for having been bored and hungry there, - for having had toothache there, upon one occasion, - for having rejoiced more in a cup of coffee at Pedrocchi's than in the whole history of Padua, - for having slept repeatedly in the bad-bedded hotels of Padua and never once dreamt of Portia, - for having been more taken by the salti mortali[Salti mortali are those prodigious efforts of mental arithmetic by which Italian waiters, in verbally presenting your account, arrive at six as the product of two and two.] of a waiter who summed up my account at a Paduan restaurant, than by all the strategies with which the city has been many times captured and recaptured. Had I viewed Padua only over the wall of Doctor Rappaccini's garden, how different my impressions of the city would now be! This is one of the drawbacks of actual knowledge. "Ah! how can you write about Spain when once you have been there?" asked Heine of Theophile Gautier setting out on a journey thither.
Nevertheless it seems to me that I remember something about Padua with a sort of romantic pleasure. There was a certain charm which I can dimly recall, in sauntering along the top of the old wall of the city, and looking down upon the plumy crests of the Indian corn that flourished up so mightily from the dry bed of the moat. At such times I could not help figuring to myself the many sieges that the wall had known, with the fierce assault by day, the secret attack by night, the swarming foe upon the plains below, the bristling arms of the besieged upon the wall, the boom of the great mortars made of ropes and leather and throwing mighty balls of stone, the stormy flight of arrows, the ladders planted against the defenses and staggering headlong into the moat, enriched for future agriculture not only by its sluggish waters, but by the blood of many men. I suppose that most of these visions were old stage spectacles furbished up anew, and that my armies were chiefly equipped with their obsolete implements of warfare from museums of armor and from cabinets of antiquities; but they were very vivid for all that.
I was never able, in passing a certain one of the city gates, to divest myself of an historic interest in the great loads of hay waiting admission on the outside. For an instant they masked again the Venetian troops that, in the War of the League of Cambray, entered the city in the hay-carts, shot down the landsknechts at the gates, and, uniting with the citizens, cut the German garrison to pieces. But it was a thing long past. The German garrison was here again; and the heirs of the landsknechts went clanking through the gate to the parade-ground, with that fierce clamor of their kettle-drums which is so much fiercer because unmingled with the noise of fifes. Once more now the Germans are gone, and, let us trust, forever; but when I saw them, there seemed little hope of their going. They had a great Biergarten on the top of the wall, and they had set up the altars of their heavy Bacchus in many parts of the city.