In 1869 W. D. Howells, in reward for having written a campaign biography of Abraham Lincoln, was given the job of consul in Venice.
For a young nineteenth-century American who had left school when he was nine to earn a living, the hardest part of his sinecure was that he had almost nothing to do. "I dreaded the easily formed habit of receiving a salary for no service performed," he wrote. "I reminded myself that, soon or late, I must go back to the old fashion of earning money, and that it had better be sooner than later."
Venetian Life flows from the enchantment, the magical improbability, of the years Howell spent in that magnificent city dining with the rich, mingling with the humble, and reporting it all with a uniquely American wit and curiosity.