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BY LORD BYRON.
I heard thy fate without a tear,
And yet thou wert surpassing dear,
I know not what hath seared mine eye;
The tears refuse to start;
But every drop its lids deny
Yes, deep and heavy, one by one,
The Guiccioli Palace at Ravenna, in which Byron resided for several months, is a large building, with spacious apartments, and a grand staircase. Like the majority of old Italian palaces in towns and cities of secondary importance, it has a dilapidated, gloomy appearance. Here, however, a canto of Don Juan was written, and also his finest drama, Sardanapalus.
The rooms which were occupied by Byron had been decorated by him, and one of the salons had been painted in fresco from pictures by one of the old masters.
The Guicciolis proceeded to Bologna in August, and were soon followed by Byron.
The latter end of that month Count Guiccioli, accompanied by his lady, left Bologna for his Romagnese estates. Byron fell
*The above lines were obtained from the late Mr. R. A. Davenport, compiler of a Dictionary of Biography, and author of several works, who had the kindness to communicate them to my publisher, with a note, wherein he said,
"These lines are in Lord Byron's own hand-writing. I received them from him, along with another poem, in 1815. I add the seal and post-mark in confirm. ation of my statement. R. A. DAVENPORT."
into a state of melancholy, became reserved and exceedingly dejected, and solaced himself, in the absence of the countess, by going daily to her house at the former usual hour of visiting her, entering her apartments, turning over her books, and writing in them. In one of those visits he fell into a profound reverie, and was found weeping bitterly, brooding over the idea that had taken possession of his mind—that it was fatal to be loved by him.
In a copy of the countess's "Corinne," on the 25th of August, 1819, he wrote some lines in the last pages, the concluding passages of which evince plainly enough the violence of his unhappy passion: "My destiny rests with you, and you are a woman seventeen years of age, and two out of a convent. I wish that you had stayed there, with all my heart, or, at least, that I had never met you in your married state. But all this is too late. I love you, and you love me—at least you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation, at all events. But I more than love you, and can not cease to love you. Think of me sometimes when the Alps and the ocean divide us; but they never will, unless you wish it."*
In September the Countess and Lord Byron were for so some time in the free enjoyment of each other's society at Bologna (the count being on business elsewhere); they proceeded together to Venice, and there, at his lordship's villa of La Mira, they passed the autumn, and were visited by Moore.
In his Journal (vol. iii., page 971), Moore speaks of having met Byron at Venice in October, 1819. He makes mention of the Count Guiccioli applying to Lord Byron for the loan of £1000 at five per cent.; "that is, to give it to him, though he talks of giving security, and says in any other way it would be an avilimento to him."
Lady Blessington describes the personal appearance of the Countess Guiccioli as highly prepossessing, her manners distinguished, and her conversation spirituelle and interesting. "Her face," observes Lady B., " is decidedly handsome-the features regular and well proportioned-her teeth very fine, and her hair Life of Byron, ed. 8vo, p. 407.
of that rich golden tint which is peculiar to the female pictures by Titian and Giorgione. Her countenance is very pleasing; its general character is pensive, but it can be lit up with animation and gayety, when its expression is very agreeable. Her bust and arms are exquisitely beautiful, and her whole appearance reminds one very strikingly of the best portraits in the Venetian school."
This account, in several particulars, corresponds with Mr. Hunt's earlier representation of her appearance; but in one respect it is entirely at variance with the latter; and, from my own observation, though at a later period than that of either Lady Blessington's or Mr. Hunt's acquaintance with Madame Guiccioli, I am fully persuaded the description of her appearance as that of "a kind of buxom parlor boarder" is very far from being correct.
"Her appearance," says Mr. Hunt, "might have reminded an English spectator of Chaucer's heroine :
"Yclothed was she, fresh for to devise;
Her yellow hair was braided in a tress
"And then, as Dryden has it,
"At every turn she made a little stand,
And thrust among the thorns her lily hand.'
"Her hair," observes Mr. Hunt, "was what the poet has described as rather blonde, with an inclination to yellow-a very fair and delicate yellow, at all events, and within the limits of the poetical. She had regular features, of the order properly called handsome, in distinction to prettiness or piquancy, being well proportioned to one another-large rather than otherwise, but without coarseness, and more harmonious than interesting. Her nose was the handsomest of the kind I ever saw; and I have known her both smile very sweetly and look intelligently when Lord Byron has said something kind to her. I should not say, however, that she was a very intelligent person. Both her wisdom and her want of wisdom were on the side of her
feelings, in which there was doubtless mingled a good deal of the self-love natural to a flattered beauty. * In a word, Madame Guiccioli was a kind of buxom parlor-boarder, compressing herself artificially into dignity and elegance, and fancying she walked, in the eyes of the whole world, a heroine by the side of a poet. When I saw her at Monte Nero, near Leghorn, she was in a state of excitement and exultation, and had really something of this look. At that time, also, she looked no older than she was; in which respect, a rapid and very singular change took place, to the surprise of every body—in the course of a few months she seemed to have lived so many years."
I have seen Madame Guiccioli thirty-three years after the period at which Mr. Hunt says this "rapid and very singular change" had taken place, and most assuredly, even at this day, there is nothing in the appearance of this fascinating person that would indicate that early change, or indeed any subsequent one, more than the hand of time, most leniently laid on that beautiful face and form, might have been expected, in his most sparing mood, to have made.
The Guiccioli's loveliness was of a kind to which Byron's lines on the Venus de Medicis, in the Florentine Gallery, might be well applied:
"We gaze and turn away, and know not where,
As to the maudlin affectation ascribed to her by Mr. Hunt, and anxiety to parade her attractions, and the influence of a heroine of romance, the account is wholly at variance with the notices of other writers of her habits and tastes at different periods, not only during the lifetime of Byron, but since that event.
With respect to the deficiency of intelligence, rather hinted at by Mr. Hunt than asserted, it may be observed, in decrying this lady, Lord Byron's taste and judgment were to be depreciated (morality was not taken into account), and altogether an unfavorable impression of the person who was most favorably looked on by the offending poet was to be effected.
* Childe Harold, c. iv., st. 59.
Lord Byron says the education of Madame Guiccioli had been carefully attended to, and her reading had been extensive. "Her conversation is lively without being frivolous; without being learned, she has read all the best authors of her own and the French language. She often conceals what she knows, from the fear of being thought to know too much; possibly because she knows I am not fond of blues. To use an expression of Jeffrey's, 'If she has blue stockings, she contrives that her petticoats shall hide them.''
The disinterestedness of the Countess Guiccioli is fully established by the testimony of Hobhouse and of Mr. Barry, the friend and banker of Lord Byron, and the statements of Moore, in the preface to the second volume of the first edition of his "Life, Letters, and Journals of Lord Byron." When Byron went to Greece, he gave Mr. Barry orders to advance money to Madame Guiccioli; "but that lady would never consent to receive any." He had also stated to Mr. Barry that he intended to bequeath £10,000 to her. "He mentioned this circumstance also to Lord Blessington; but his intention had not been carried into effect, and it was fully ascertained that Madame Guiccioli had discountenanced the intention, and dissuaded his lordship from fulfilling it."*
In Moore's diary of July, 1824, we find, in an account of a conversation with Mrs. Shelley regarding Lord Byron and his affairs, these words: "The Guiccioli has refused a settlement from him (ten thousand pounds, I think)."
The 2d of April, 1823, Byron wrote from Genoa that he had just made the acquaintance of the Blessingtons; and on the 2d of June following, he wrote a farewell letter to Lady Blessington, who was then on the eve of departing from Naples, and on the 13th of the next month he embarked for Greece. Lady Blessington's intimacy with Byron was only for a period of two months, and during those two months, I am informed by the Countess of Guiccioli (now Marquise de Boissy) that the interviews between Lady Blessington and Byron did not exceed five or six and that the feelings of friendship entertained by his * Moore's Life, &c., of Byron. Pref. to vol. ii., first edit., p. xix.