A Blupete Biography Page

The Last Years of Byron (1821-24), Part 7 to the Life & Works of
Lord Byron

In the summer of 1821 Shelley visited Byron: "Lord B. is greatly improved in every respect - in genius, in temper, in moral views, in health and in happiness. His connection with La Guiccioli has been an inestimable benefit to him. He lives in considerable splendor, but within his income ...."79 That year Byron was at Pisa, having followed his Countess there. At Pisa a circle of English romantic poets had gathered. At Pisa, Byron had for neighbors the Shelleys, the Hunts (with their six children) and Trelawny.

Edward John Trelawny (1792-1881) was a friend of both Byron and Shelley. Before meeting them, however, Trelawny's life included episodes of naval service and of privateering in the Indian Ocean. He entered the navy when but a boy of eleven. At some point he deserted his Majesty's navy and went off to become a pirate, or as Chambers writes, "lived a life of desperate enterprise in Eastern seas." In 1821, he made the acquaintance of both Shelley and Byron at Pisa; he was probably just travelling through, coming from one adventure to the next. How they met, or in what order, I do not know; but they all became friends. Trelawny was associated more with Byron than with Shelley, indeed, it appears that Trelawny was a general factotum to Lord Byron.

Leigh Hunt was one of a pair of brothers (John the other) who in 1808 involved themselves in a new journalistic effort, a political weekly, the Examiner; this of course was in London. What they printed, the British authorities thought, was subversive especially during a time of war. The government eventually charged both of the brothers. The matter was heard by a court of law and on February 3rd, 1813, they were convicted of libel and sent off to prison for two years. While in prison -- the Hunt Brothers' cause, being one supported by all true artists and freedom fighters -- Byron, that April, paid a visit to Leigh Hunt in jail taking him some books. I think that was probably the only time the two met until they meet again in Italy in 1821.

Shelley and Byron (it was more Shelley's idea) determined to set up a magazine to be put together in Italy for the market back in Britain. Their new journal was to be called The Liberal.80 If they were to get this scheme off the ground it would be necessary to have an experienced English editor and one that knew the printing business. The two poets agreed that Leigh Hunt was their man, if only they could get him to come to Italy. Shelley got a letter off to Hunt with a proposal and Hunt sent a letter right back saying that he would come to Italy81 and assist in bringing out the new magazine but that he was without the funds to pay for the passage for himself and his large family. Shelley and Byron went into the huddle and in the result another letter was sent off to England with some money and a promise of further support when the family arrived in Italy. In July of 1822, having sailed from England, the Hunt family, escorted by Shelley who had met them at the coast, arrived at Pisa. The Hunt family, at Byron's invitation, moved into the lower level of Byron's large premises, Casa Lanfranchi; Byron and Countess Guiccioli occupied the second floor. It proved almost immediately to be very awkward for them all, mainly because Byron took a hardy dislike to Mrs. Hunt and her uncontrollable brood.82

We saw earlier where Byron and Shelley had met. It was back in 1816 when Shelley, Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont ran away from England, to spent that wonderful spring and summer of 1816 with Byron who was then at Lake Geneva. Leaving Byron to continue his continental adventures, Shelley and the girls left Geneva for England at the end of the summer. Claire was pregnant with Byron's child. Shelley came back to face a couple of difficult years during which his wife committed suicide and her family had the children taken away from Shelley by court order. In 1818, Shelley, now married to Mary, moved to Italy to live permanently. Accompanying the Shelleys were Claire and the children (Mary's and Shelley's 26 month old William and 6 month old Clara83, and Claire's one year old fathered by Byron, fourteen month old Allegra.) In May of that year, 1818, we just might mention, Byron had moved into the Palazzo Moncenigo, on the Grand Canal, Venice. On hearing of her arrival in Italy, though refusing to see Claire personally, Byron sent for Allegra. Actually, the little girl was not long at Byron's place -- just as well, considering the kind of life that he led. Allegra was boarded with the family of the English Consul at Venice, Richard Hoppner.84

In August of 1821, Shelley paid a visit to Byron at Ravenna. Shelley believed that he and Byron could work together in getting their collected works published. What would be necessary would be for Byron to move to Pisa to be near Shelley, Byron shrugs off the suggestion of moving to Pisa. On Shelley's return he locates a residence for Byron, the Casa or Palazzo Lanfranchi, a sixteenth century palace on the Lungarno, a wonderful place but it was not enough to make Byron move. Then, that September the Gamba family moved to Pisa. Byron followed within the month arriving at Pisa "with his troop of carriages, horses, dogs, fowls, monkeys, and servants." That November, "The Pisa Circle" was fully formed: The Shelleys moved from San Giuliano to Pisa taking a flat in the Tre Palazzi di Chiesa. Byron's Casa Lanfranchi was across the bank of the Arno from the Shelleys. Teresa and her family, having received visas reside at the Casa Parra, only 1/4 of a mile from Byron's (Byron visits Teresa everyday). Shelley's friends, Edward and Jane Williams also moved to Pisa, and, are introduced to Byron. Trelawny, I might add, did not join the circle until 1822. During this period they all visited one another and rode frequently, especially Teresa, Mary Shelley and Edward Williams (Shelley and Jane Williams got off alone with one another quite regularly). Byron had weekly dinners for the men in the group. During the days shooting parties were organized. Byron continued to have an eye out for the attractive peasant girls which upset Teresa. Through all of this, Byron remained under constant police surveillance.85

In the spring of 1822, both Byron and Shelley had a "old naval friend" of Trelawny's, Captain Roberts at Genoa, build "an open boat for Shelley, and a larger decked one for Byron." Shelley called his the Don Juan; Byron called his the Bolivar.86 Shelley took delivery of his boat in May of 1822. Earlier we saw where, in July of 1822, having sailed from England, the Hunt family arrived in Italy. Shelley had rented a summer place87 up along the coast on the Bay of Spezzia not far from Leghorn (Livorno), the port at which the Hunts arrived. Shelley, that July, sailed across the Bay of Spezzia in the Don Juan and put in at Leghorn. There he met the Hunts and escorted them over to Pisa where the Hunt family was to move into the lower level of Byron's large premises, Casa Lanfranchi. Shelley did not stay to settle the Hunts in, as he was anxious to return home to Mary who had not been feeling well. It was on the return trip from Leghorn in the Don Juan, a storm having over taken his small sailing vessel, that Shelley loss his life in the Bay of Spezzia. It was a few days before Shelley's body was discovered on the shore. It was where Shelley's had been discovered that Trelawny, Hunt and Byron made a funeral pyre on the beach.88

Shelley's sudden and unexpected death, in 1822, was to have the effect breaking up the circle of English romantic poets that had been living in and around Pisa since 1818. Mary Shelley and her half-sister, Claire, within a day of hearing of the loss of Shelley, moved from Casa Magni. Mary had some money and soon made arrangements to return to England which she did in 1823 together with her only surviving child by Shelley, a son, three year old Percy Florence. So too, Mary paid for the expenses so that Claire could join her brother Charles in Vienna. So soon they were all gone.

Byron stayed around the Pisa area for a while longer, resuming his work on Don Juan.89 That September, he too left Pisa.90 Just then, the Greeks were waging a fierce war of independence against the Turks and Byron wanted to go and support the Greek cause, as Trelawny put it, "his last Quixotic crusade in Greece."91 Teresa was told to return to her family who were then at Ravenna and to stay with them until his return from Greece.92 Teresa was upset with Byron leaving her, and, at his request, Mary Shelley arrived to stay with Teresa for a period of time to comfort her. On June 18th, a 120-ton English ship, the Hercules, was chartered for a two month period. Byron orders uniforms and helmets for himself and others on the expedition. The Hercules set sail from Italy on the 16th of July, 1823. The Byron party included: Trelawny, Pietro Gamba (I think Teresa's brother), Byron's faithful valet Fletcher, and the bearded Tita.93 On August 3rd, after a slow trip down and around the boot of Italy and across the Adriatic, the Hercules arrived at Argostoli Harbour. News that a rich English lord had arrived spread quickly. An increasing number of ambassadors from the various Greek regions arrived with requests and petitions for money. During this time Byron stayed aboard the Hercules but by September he discharged the vessel and hired a house for himself and Pietro Gamba at Metaxata. Trelawny94 travelled on to Pyrgos leaving behind at Metaxata: Byron, Pietro Gamba and Dr. Bruno. The three men passed their time pleasantly, in "conversation and reading."95 In December, a decision was taken to go to Missolonghi; Byron hired two boats for the journey.96 On January 4th, 1824, Byron arrived at Missolonghi, to a 21-gun salute. Byron found lodgings on the second floor of the house of Apostoli Capsali. Byron did not have much in the way of physical forces or supplies so to go into battle. The Greek government volunteered to put 3000 men for an expedition against Lepanto. What the Greeks thought was that Byron should keep such an army in the field; well, while Byron had some money he did not have that much. Fights break out between the local Greek (Suliote) fighters who were of the view they should be paid greater sums; it strikes them that Byron is the man with the money. Fearing for his life, at one point Byron orders that cannon be placed at his gates and he hired ten Germans mercenaries as a bodyguard. Then, a fatal turn of events.

On the 9th of April, 1824, Byron took a long ride with Gamba and a few of the remaining Suliotes97. Just a few days before he had "intervened to prevent an Italian private, guilty of theft, from being flogged by order of some German officers."

"... after being violently heated, then drenched in a heavy shower, persisted in returning home in a boat, remarking with a laugh, in answer to remonstrance, 'I should make a pretty soldier if I were to care for such a trifle.' It soon became apparent that he had caught his death."98
Byron's last couple of days were described by the author, Dr. Marshall Dale:
"Next morning (17th) ten ounces of blood were drawn.99 The patient sat up and read a little but becoming weak was assisted to his bed. Dr. Treiber, Dr. Millingen's assistant, and Dr. Vaya, physician to Prince Mavrocordato, were called in consultation. Again Bruno clamored for blood, but he was overruled by the other doctors. Shortly after the consultation Byron fainted, his pulse became weak, and his hands and feet grew cold. He was given green tea with laudanum, following which medication he fell asleep. His respiration was jerky and he moaned with each expiration. Leeches were applied to his temples and were thought to have helped. At four o'clock in the afternoon of April 18 he appeared to be sinking and two hours later he fell asleep. He slept all night and the next morning could not be aroused. In the afternoon his respirations grew progressively shallower and faster; at six-fifteen o'clock he died."100
Trelawny, his friend who had seen Byron through so much in the last couple of years was not there at the time of Byron's death. Byron had died just as Trelawny was making his way back to Missolonghi from another part of Greece. Byron died on the 19th of April, just five days before Trelawny made it back to Missolonghi. Missolonghi had just come through a great deal, and it showed the effects of not only war but also of natural disasters that had rolled through the place in the previous months: a flood and an earthquake. Trelawny was to describe what he faced as came back into Missolonghi:
"It was the 24th or 25th of April when I arrived; Byron had died on the 19th. I waded through the streets, between wind and water, to the house he had lived in; it was detached, and on the margin of the shallow slimy sea-waters. For three months this house had been besieged, day and night, like a bank that has a run upon it. Now that death had closed the door, it was as silent as a cemetery. No one was within the house but Fletcher, of which I was glad. As if he knew my wishes, he led me up a narrow stair into a small room, with nothing in it but a coffin standing on trestles. No word was spoken by either of us; he withdrew the black pall and the white shroud, and there lay the embalmed body of the Pilgrim -- more beautiful in death than in life.101
Though it was thought to just bury Byron, maybe Athens, a movement grew to get Byron's body back to England. The body was shipped back to England and placed in the family vault at Hucknall Parish Church (St. Mary Magdalen Church). "The Florida [the ship that brought Byron's body back to England] reached the downs of the Thames on 29 June, and on 5 July the corpse arrived in London. The corpse was visited on the 9th of July by Mary Shelley. On the 11th, Byron's old companion, Hobhouse, paid his last respects. On 12th, a funeral procession was made up in London and it began its four day journey to Hucknall. Mary Shelley saw it when it passed her house, so too did Byron's former lover Lady Caroline Lamb see the procession and enquiring as to who it was (she was unaware that Byron had died) and when told, fainted dead away.102

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