I had not only to choose the pieces, but to distribute the parts, the latter being a duty of infinite irksomeness.
All the actresses were new to the boards, and I had immense trouble in hearing them repeat their parts, which they seemed unable to learn by heart. It is a well-known fact that the revolution which is really wanted in Italy is in female education. The very best families with few exceptions are satisfied with shutting up their daughters in a convent for several years till the time comes for them to marry some man whom they never see till the eve or the day of their marriage. As a consequence we have the 'cicisbeo', and in Italy as in France the idea that our nobles are the sons of their nominal fathers is a purely conventional one.
What do girls learn in convents, especially in Italian convents? A few mechanical acts of devotion and outward forms, very little real religion, a good deal of deceit, often profligate habits, a little reading and writing, many useless accomplishments, small music and less drawing, no history, no geography or mythology, hardly any mathematics, and nothing to make a girl a good wife and a good mother.
As for foreign languages, they are unheard of; our own Italian is so soft that any other tongue is hard to acquire, and the 'dolce far niente' habit is an obstacle to all assiduous study.
I write down these truths in spite of my patriotism. I know that if any of my fellow-countrywomen come to read me they will be very angry; but I shall be beyond the reach of all anger.
To return to our theatricals. As I could not make my actresses get their parts letter perfect, I became their prompter, and found out by experience all the ungratefulness of the position.
The actors never acknowledged their debt to the prompter, and put down to his account all the mistakes they make.
A Spanish doctor is almost as badly off; if his patient recovers, the cure is set down to the credit of one saint or another; but if he dies, the physician is blamed for his unskilful treatment.
A handsome negress, who served the prettiest of my actresses to whom I shewed great attentions, said to me one day,--
"I can't make out how you can be so much in love with my mistress, who is as white as the devil."
"Have you never loved a white man?" I asked.
"Yes," said she, "but only because I had no negro, to whom I should certainly have given the preference."
Soon after the negress became mine, and I found out the falsity of the axiom, 'Sublata lucerna nullum discrimen inter feminas', for even in the darkness a man would know a black woman from a white one.
I feel quite sure myself that the negroes are a distinct species from ourselves. There is one essential difference, leaving the colour out of account--namely, that an African woman can either conceive or not, and can conceive a boy or a girl. No doubt my readers will disbelieve this assertion, but their incredulity would cease if I instructed them in the mysterious science of the negresses.
Count Rosenberg, grand chamberlain of the emperor, came on a visit to Trieste in company with an Abbe Casti, whose acquaintance I wished to make on account of some extremely blasphemous poems he had written. However, I was disappointed; and instead of a man of parts, I found the abbe to be an impudent worthless fellow, whose only merit was a knack of versification.
Count Rosenberg took the abbe with him, because he was useful in the capacities of a fool and a pimp-occupations well suited to his morals, though by no means agreeable to his ecclesiastical status. In those days syphilis had not completely destroyed his uvula.
I heard that this shameless profligate, this paltry poetaster, had been named poet to the emperor. What a dishonour to the memory of the great Metastasio, a man free from all vices, adorned with all virtues, and of the most singular ability.
Casti had neither a fine style, nor a knowledge of dramatic requirements, as appears from two or three comic operas composed by him, in which the reader will find nothing but foolish buffooneries badly put together.