A Blupete Biography Page

Italian Love Affairs, Part 6 to the Life & Works of
Lord Byron

As has been observed at another place (Shelley), there are many reasons why an Englishman, back in the early part of the 19th century, would want to settle down in Italy.63 Marital difficulties or financial difficulties (they so often go together) are good reasons to get thyself to Italy. The living was cheaper in Italy than in England, then there is the climate (wonderful), the fresh vegetables and fresh fruit, the women, the wine, -- well, you know all the usual enticements. However, I must not get too far into this part without telling of yet another woman in Byron's life: Jane Clairmont, better known as Claire. To put matters in larger perspective: Clair was the younger half-sister of Mary Godwin (father, William Godwin) who ran off with Shelley, a married man, in 1814, and who eventually became his wife. Claire and Mary, as they say, were joined at the hip.64 Anything the one did the other came along and did likewise. When Shelley first met Mary in the spring, he determined (if she, they, were willing) that he would abandon all and run off with her. It was in June of 1814, much before any of them made their acquaintance with Byron, that Shelley arranged for a carriage and the girls (Mary was seventeen, Claire was sixteen) slipped out of their parents' house and off they drove to Dover. They travelled through France and on to Switzerland. By September the 13th the three were back in London. (All of this can be read in my work on Shelley.)

What we know for sure, is that on January 13th, 1817, in England, Claire gave birth to a child (Allegra) who, the parents disclosed, was fathered by Byron.65 If the child went full term, then Claire and Byron were together during the month of April. Byron was off to Dover on the 23rd of April headed for Belgium, maybe after a wonderful night with Claire, who knows? That May, as it turned out, Shelley, Mary and Claire were visiting Byron at Lake Geneva. Thus it might have been that Allegra was born prematurely.

Running from his matrimonial and financial66 troubles, on April 25th, 1816, getting to Dover by way of Canterbury, Byron with his party67, crossed over on a sixteen hour voyage to Ostend, Belgium. On the 26th, they stayed the night at the Cour Imperiale, Bruges, from where, in the morning, they took the carriage to Ghent. At Ghent they stayed at the Hotel des Pays Bays. On the evening of April 29th, they arrived at Antwerp where the next day the group visited the basins built for Napoleon's navy as well as the principal churches and museums. After lunch, the party traveled to Mechlin (Malines). During that run the carriage broke-down and they sought to have it repaired at Brussels. At Brussels, Byron met Major Pryse Lockhart Gordon, a friend of his mother. The party stayed over to May 4th, at which time Byron visits the field of Waterloo with Gordon as his guide. During that time from May 10th to the 16th, Byron and party travel the Rhine, visiting Bonn, Coblenz, the Castle of Drachenfels, and Mannheim. On the 18th Byron and party were at Basel, Switzerland. It was at this time that Shelley, needing a break from his particular set of matrimonial and financial troubles, together with Mary and Claire arrive at Geneva with the express purpose of meeting up with Byron. It was there, in May of 1816, that Shelley and Byron met for the first time. Shelley and Byron, though possessing quite different personalities hit it off.68 The four -- Shelley, Byron, Mary and Claire -- for the most part, had a wonderful time while together at Lake Geneva. These four months on Lake Geneva are very important months to the world of literature. Byron wrote Prisoner of Chillon; Shelley wrote Mont Blanc and the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty; Mary Godwin (Shelley) wrote Frankenstein; and Claire was busy writing out fair copies of Byron's third canto of Childe Harold. They played and they wrote and they visited the noblesse of Geneva.69 As the summer wore on Byron and Shelley returned to an earlier established pattern of daily boat rides. By July of 1816, Byron had cast the pregnant Claire aside and refused to see her alone. Then, after considerable discussion which I do not believe demonstrated any animosity, Shelley and the two girls determined to return to England. On August 29th, they set out.70

After the Shelley party left, Byron and Hobhouse that September set out for Italy touring the Alps on route. On October 12th they were at Milan; November 6th, Verona; November 10th, Venice.71 "Byron takes lodgings over the shop of a draper named Segati for 20 francs a day. He is quickly entranced by Segati's wife, Marianna.72 Hobhouse takes different lodgings."

In the new year, Claire was delivered of Byron's child, Allegra. The birth happened in England, where, just then, a general resurgence of Byron's popularity was occurring. That past November and December, John Murray, Byron's publisher, got into the shops Childe Harold (canto III), and the Prisoner of Chillon and Other Poems. Murray wrote and advised Byron that he sold 7000 copies of both publications. Back in Italy: directly Shelley, Mary and Clair cleared the harbour for their return to England, Byron and Hobhouse left Venice for a tour of Italy, a tour that apparently lasted a few months. In the spring of 1817, April 29th, Byron caught up with Hobhouse at Rome, apparently having become separated at an earlier point. That May, still having Marianna Segati on his mind, Byron hurried back to Venice. That June, Byron took up residence at the Villa Foscarini, "a large house on the river near La Mira outside of Padua." That summer he was back at Childe Harold finishing canto iv in July. In August Byron took up with Margarita Cogni73, while still involved with Marianna Segati. In October, he finished Beppo.

In January of 1818, Hobhouse left for England taking with him Byron's latest manuscripts. In January, seemingly just after seeing his friend Hobhouse off to England, Byron accepted an invitation extended by Countess Albrizzi; it was there in the Albrizzi Ballroom that Byron met Countess Teresa Guiccioli. She was the daughter of Count Ruggero Gamba. She was, when first she met Byron, the young wife (only 18) of a sixty year old nobleman. Nothing came of this first meeting, though it seems the couple went for a walk together, the gardens or a museum -- reference is made to Canova's bust of Helen of Troy. And that was it, they did not see one another after that, until, April the 2nd or 3rd, 1819. It was then that Byron and his friend Alexander Scott paid a visit to the Countess Benzoni's conversazioni, there Byron and Teresa Guiccioli met again. During this meeting the two have a chance to sit with one another where a discussion ensues about Italian poetry. No arrangements are made to meet further; then ten days later they met, quite by chance. It was when their gondolas pass each day on one of the lagoons of Venice. What transpired in the following days, I do not know. The Guicciolis were only on a visit to Venice, a trip away from their home at Ravenna, to which they returned. Before leaving, however, Byron and Teresa agreed to secretly exchange private letters.

On their return home to Ravenna, the Guicciolis travelled by carriage over rough roads, when, Teresa falls ill. She was then, as it turned out, I think by her husband, three months pregnant. The count and his attendants do manage to get Teresa back home to Ravenna, but she miscarries. On June 10th, Byron travelled to Ravenna. He was responding to an invitation from Count Alborghetti, Secretary General of the Government of Lower Romagna, to attend that evening's theatre performance. At the theatre Byron learns to his great distress that Teresa is gravely ill. The next day Byron visits Teresa. For the next week, he visits her daily, and her health improves dramatically. On the 15th, though Teresa is still sick, she is well enough to ride in her carriage with Byron. I am not sure of all the movements or what messages might have been passed, however, on August 9th, the Guicciolis go to Bologna. The next day, at 3 a.m. in the morning Byron rides out of Venice for Bologna there to take up residence at his old rooms at the Pellegrino. At this point, it seems that Byron was chumming together with both the Count and the Countess, as for example the three of them went to view Alfieri's Mirra at the Arena del Sole Theatre. The Count, like all cuckolded or about to be cuckolded husbands, took a while to come to the realization that another was bedding or about to bed his wife. Quarrels break out between the Count and the Countess. After a particularly bad bout on August 12th, Teresa falls ill and requires the care of Dr. Aglietti in Venice. The Count and Countess travel to Venice for the necessary medical consultations. It seems that a lengthy course of treatment was prescribed which would require Teresa's constant attendance at Venice. The Count had a home at Venice (Palazzo Malipiero) so staying at Venice posed no great problem but political troubles back at Ravenna meant the Count had to travel back and forth. Her opportunities now being more frequent, Teresa begins to see a lot of Byron, indeed for periods of time would stay over at Byron's accommodations in La Mira, though they keep separate while traveling in public. In October, Byron is caught in a drenching rain storm from which he takes a chill and comes down with a fever. Teresa finds him ill and packs him back to her place to nurse him. On November 1st, Count Guiccioli arrived at, what for him was, a bad scene. There then follows quarrels between the Count and his young wife. At the end of ten days, Teresa agrees to return to her husband's house in Ravenna. On November 10th, Count Guiccioli and Teresa returned to Ravenna. Upon her return home, Teresa falls ill. By December 11th, Teresa is so ill that her father, with the agreement of the Count, requests that Byron return to Ravenna. Byron agrees to return, upon Teresa hearing that Byron is coming to see her she has a marked improvement in her health; it is now very clear to everyone where her heart lies. Before December is out Byron is by Teresa's side but there is always company around, always company. Looks like Byron is back and forth to see Teresa and before the winter is out takes up accommodations which the Count kindly rented out to him, the upper floor of his home, the spacious Palazzo Osio. So Byron and Teresa regularly see one another throughout the winter, however, the inability of the two of them to be alone with one another leads to increasing tensions. During March of 1820, Byron and Count Guiccioli quarrel violently. On April 2nd, Count Guiccioli breaks into Teresa's writing-desk and takes all her letters. During May, around the 15th, the Count confronts Byron once again. The Count's violent behavior frightens Teresa; the next morning she calls her father (Count Gamba) and brothers to the Palazzo and asks to return to their protection. Byron at this point steps up to the family and states that, to protect Teresa's marriage, he would leave Ravenna; the only alternative he could see to that would be a separation between the Guicciolis. The Gamba family at this time was very powerful and what Count Gamba wanted, he usually got. Before the month was out, Count Gamba applied to the Pope for a separation for his daughter, which on July 6th was granted. Amongst the ecclesiastical terms was that while separated from her husband she was to be under the protection of the Gamba family, that is to say, pretty much be living with them. The count, no matter his part in the matter was required to pay Teresa an allowance of 100 scudi a month (the English equivalent of £1000 a year, a large sum). On July 13th, 4 p.m. Teresa returns to her father's house at Filetto, 15 miles southwest of Ravenna.

During the time that the ecclesiastical separation was arranged, Byron stayed clear of the two families, the Guicciolis and the Gambas and of Teresa. Byron held back for better than a month, then, on August 16th, he made his visit to Teresa's father's house. The Gamba family accepted Byron's presence (the old count gave in to the cries of his young daughter at least to that extent) as long as the terms of the Papal order were upheld, viz, Teresa must continue to live with her family, the Gamba family. The Gambas, like most very rich families have a number of residences, so Teresa had a couple of choices open to her. During November, 1820, she moved into her father's house in town. All this seem to work until July of the following year, 1821, when the estranged husband came to the view that things had just gone too far with Byron, and matters were such, that it could no longer be concluded that Teresa was living with her family. Thus, Count Guiccioli moved to force Teresa to return to him or he would see to her placement in a convent. The Gamba family at this point are fully behind their Teresa, so she and a number of the family members receive visas good for four months and move out of Count Guiccioli legal clutches. It is to be remembered that the country of Italy did not yet exist, it was, back in these times, a collection of sovereign states many of whom were feuding with one another. During all of this, for reasons to be better understood by one who has knowledge of the complicated Italian political situation of the time, the Gamba family ran out of favour in certain quarters.74

Another old friend during this period dropped in on Byron for a visit in Italy, Tom Moore (1779-1852) a fellow poet. This was at a point when Byron was at Venice and Moore found that Byron had "grown fatter ... he appeared more humorous." Humorous, indeed, in the widest sense of that word. Byron was subject to moods, moods that ranged over the full spectrum full of humours which were fanciful, capricious, whimsical, sometimes downright odd and/or fantastic. This might be demonstrated by his love of exotic animals, the more exotic the better. This tenancy to keep exotic animals around first showed itself during his university days at Cambridge where he use to keep a bear on a leash.75 When in Italy -- he was to call it "Byron's Zoo" -- Shelley listed "ten horses, eight enormous dogs76, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow and a falcon; and all of these, except for the horses, walk about in the house, which every now and then resounds with their unarbitrated quarrels, as if they were the masters of it." Shelley recounted what he observed when he went on a visit to Byron's and saw that upon leaving, his list was not complete for he "met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea hens, and Egyptian crane" and wondered who "all these animals were before they were changed into these shapes."77 Shelley's biographer, Edmund Blunden78, relates on how Byron had ordered up a goose which, it was intended, should be roasted for a holiday meal. The goose arrived ahead of time, alive of course that being the best way to keep it fresh. During the period of time spent fattening the bird (a month), the goose and Byron had become friends and he did not go into Byron's oven, another just before the event was brought in. Countess Guiccioli found this to be all very amusing.



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Peter Landry

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