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The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 9758

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Removal to Pisa-The Lanfranchi Palace-Affair with the Guard at Pisa-Removal to Monte Nero-Junction with Mr Hunt-Mr Shelley's Letter

The unhappy distrusts and political jealousies of the times obliged Lord Byron, with the Gambas, the family of the Guiccioli, to remove from Ravenna to Pisa. In this compulsion he had no cause to complain; a foreigner meddling with the politics of the country in which he was only accidentally resident, could expect no deferential consideration from the government. It has nothing to do with the question whether his Lordship was right or wrong in his principles. The government was in the possession of the power, and in self-defence he could expect no other course towards him than what he did experience. He was admonished to retreat: he did so. Could he have done otherwise, he would not. He would have used the Austrian authority as ill as he was made to feel it did him.

In the autumn of 1821, Lord Byron removed from Ravenna to Pisa, where he hired the Lanfranchi palace for a year-one of those massy marble piles which appear

"So old, as if they had for ever stood-

So strong, as if they would for ever stand!"

Both in aspect and character it was interesting to the boding fancies of the noble tenant. It is said to have been constructed from a design of Michael Angelo; and in the grandeur of its features exhibits a bold and colossal style not unworthy of his genius.

The Lanfranchi family, in the time of Dante, were distinguished in the factions of those days, and one of them has received his meed of immortality from the poet, as the persecutor of Ugolino. They are now extinct, and their traditionary reputation is illustrated by the popular belief in the neighbourhood, that their ghosts are restless, and still haunt their former gloomy and gigantic habitation.

The building was too vast for the establishment of Lord Byron, and he occupied only the first floor.

The life he led at this period was dull and unvaried. Billiards, conversations, reading, and occasionally writing, constituted the regular business of the day. In the cool of the afternoon, he sometimes went out in his carriage, oftener on horseback, and generally amused himself with pistol practice at a five-paul piece. He dined at half an hour after sunset, and then drove to Count Gamba's, where he passed several hours with the Countess Guiccioli, who at that time still resided with her father. On his return he read or wrote till the night was far spent, or rather till the morning was come again, sipping at intervals spirits diluted with water, as medicine to counteract some nephritic disorder to which he considered himself liable.

Notwithstanding the tranquillity of this course of life, he was accidentally engaged in a transaction which threatened unpleasant consequences, and had a material effect on his comfort. On the 21st of March, 1822, as he was returning from his usual ride, in company with several of his friends, a hussar officer, at full speed, dashed through the party, and violently jostled one of them. Lord Byron, with his characteristic impetuosity, instantly pushed forwards, and the rest followed, and overtook the hussar. His Lordship inquired what he meant by the insult; but for answer, received the grossest abuse: on which he and one of his companions gave their cards, and passed on. The officer followed, hallooing, and threatening with his hand on his sabre. They were now near the Paggia gate. During this altercation, a common artilleryman interfered, and called out to the hussar, "Why don't you arrest them?-command us to arrest them." Upon which the officer gave the word to the guard at the gate. His Lordship, hearing the order, spurred his horse, and one of his party doing the same, they succeeded in forcing their way through the soldiers, while the gate was closed on the rest of the party, with whom an outrageous scuffle ensued.

Lord Byron, on reaching his palace, gave directions to inform the police, and, not seeing his companions coming up, rode back towards the gate. On his way the hussar met him, and said, "Are you satisfied?"-"No: tell me your name!"-"Serjeant-major Masi." One of his Lordship's servants, who at this moment joined them, seized the hussar's horse by the bridle, but his master commanded him to let it go. The hussar then spurred his horse through the crowd, which by this time had collected in front of the Lanfranchi palace, and in the attempt was wounded by a pitchfork. Several of the servants were arrested, and imprisoned: and, during the investigation of the affair before the police, Lord Byron's house was surrounded by the dragoons belonging to Serjeant-major Masi's troop, who threatened to force the doors. The result upon these particulars was not just; all Lord Byron's Italian servants were banished from Pisa; and with them the father and b

rother of the Guiccioli, who had no concern whatever in the affair. Lord Byron himself was also advised to quit the town, and, as the Countess accompanied her father, he soon after joined them at Leghorn, and passed six weeks at Monte Nero, a country house in the vicinity of that city.

It was during his Lordship's residence at Monte Nero, that an event took place-his junction with Mr Leigh Hunt-which had some effect both on his literary and his moral reputation. Previous to his departure from England, there had been some intercourse between them-Byron had been introduced by Moore to Hunt, when the latter was suffering imprisonment for the indiscretion of his pen, and by his civility had encouraged him, perhaps, into some degree of forgetfulness as to their respective situations in society.-Mr Hunt at no period of their acquaintance appears to have been sufficiently sensible that a man of positive rank has it always in his power, without giving anything like such a degree of offence as may be resented otherwise than by estrangement, to inflict mortification, and, in consequence, presumed too much to an equality with his Lordship-at least this is the impression his conduct made upon me, from the familiarity of his dedicatory epistle prefixed to Rimini to their riding out at Pisa together dressed alike-"We had blue frock-coats, white waistcoats and trousers, and velvet caps, à la Raphael, and cut a gallant figure." I do not discover on the part of Lord Byron, that his Lordship ever forgot his rank; nor was he a personage likely to do so; in saying, therefore, that Mr Hunt presumed upon his condescension, I judge entirely by his own statement of facts. I am not undertaking a defence of his lordship, for the manner in which he acted towards Mr Hunt, because it appears to me to have been, in many respects, mean; but I do think there was an original error, a misconception of himself on the part of Mr Hunt, that drew down about him a degree of humiliation that he might, by more self-respect, have avoided. However, I shall endeavour to give as correct a summary of the whole affair as the materials before me will justify.

The occasion of Hunt's removal to Italy will be best explained by quoting the letter from his friend Shelley, by which he was induced to take that obviously imprudent step.

"Pisa, Aug. 26, 1821.

"MY DEAREST FRIEND,-Since I last wrote to you, I have been on a visit to Lord Byron at Ravenna. The result of this visit was a determination on his part to come and live at Pisa, and I have taken the finest palace on the Lung' Arno for him. But the material part of my visit consists in a message which he desires me to give you, and which I think ought to add to your determination-for such a one I hope you have formed-of restoring your shattered health and spirits by a migration to these 'regions mild, of calm and serene air.'

"He proposes that you should come, and go shares with him and me in a periodical work to be conducted here, in which each of the contracting parties should publish all their original compositions, and share the profits. He proposed it to Moore, but for some reason it was never brought to bear. There can be no doubt that the profits of any scheme in which you and Lord Byron engage must, for various yet co-operating reasons, be very great. As to myself, I am, for the present, only a sort of link between you and him, until you can know each other, and effectuate the arrangement; since (to intrust you with a secret, which for your sake I withhold from Lord Byron) nothing would induce me to share in the profits, and still less in the borrowed splendour of such a partnership. You and he, in different manners, would be equal, and would bring in a different manner, but in the same proportion, equal stocks of reputation and success. Do not let my frankness with you, nor my belief that you deserve it more than Lord Byron, have the effect of deterring you from assuming a station in modern literature, which the universal voice of my contemporaries forbids me either to stoop or aspire to. I am, and I desire to be, nothing.

"I did not ask Lord Byron to assist me in sending a remittance for your journey; because there are men, however excellent, from whom we would never receive an obligation in the worldly sense of the word; and I am as jealous for my friend as for myself. I, as you know, have it not; but I suppose that at last I shall make up an impudent face, and ask Horace Smith to add to the many obligations he has conferred on me. I know I need only ask." . . .

Now, before proceeding farther, it seems from this epistle, and there is no reason to question Shelley's veracity, that Lord Byron was the projector of The Liberal; that Hunt's political notoriety was mistaken for literary reputation, and that there was a sad lack of common sense in the whole scheme.

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