Friday, February 13, 2009

as sober as Lady Grace herself

From the Journals of Lord Byron
February 13, 1821

To-day read a little in Louis B.'s Hollande but have written nothing since the completion of the letter on the Pope controversy. Politics are quite misty for the present. The Barbarians still upon their march. It is not easy to divine what the Italians will now do.

Was elected yesterday Socio of the Carnival Ball Society. This is the fifth carnival that I have passed.

In the four former, I racketed a good deal. In the present, I have been as sober as Lady Grace herself.

Notes to the text:

Louis B.'s Hollande - Documents Historiques, et Reflexions sur le Gouvernement de la Hollande (3 vols. 8vo), by Louis Buonaparte, ex-King of Holland, was published at Paris in 1820.

Socio - Socio is Italian for member or associate, but in this context it means an official, not just a ticket holder.

Carnival Ball - In a letter to his publisher Murray on Feb. 21 1820, Byron had written: "Their best things are the carnival balls and masquerades, when everybody runs mad for six weeks. After their dinners and suppers they make extempore verses and buffoon one another ; but it is in a humour which you would not enter into, ye of the north." (Letters and Journals of Lord Byron - Moore edition)

I racketed a good deal - To racket, in this sense, is to make boisterous celebration with lots of noise and motion. Since he formed his liaison with Teresa Guiccioli his life calmed considerably. A few years earlier, in a letter to Murray, Byron had described his behavior at a Venetian ball alluding to an abundance of sexual couplings as much as excessive drink or dancing.

as sober as Lady Grace herself - This probably refers to a character in The Provoked Husband; Or, a Journey To London. By Vanbrugh & Cibber. This popular play was first performed at Drury Lane in 1727. It has as a main character, "Lady Grace, sister to Lord Townly, [a woman] of exemplary virtue." She is a foil to the gay Lady Town. as this exchange shows:
Lady Townly: "I beg pardon child, ... you are a prude, and design to live soberly.

Lady Grace. Why, I confess, my nature and my education do, in a good degree, incline me that way.

Lady Town. Well, how a woman of spirit (for you don't want that, child) can dream of living soberly, is to me inconceivable; for you will marry, I suppose ?

Lady Grace. I can't tell but I may.

Lady Town. And won't you live in town ?

Lady Grace. Half the year, I should like it very well.

Lady Town. My stars! and you would really live in London half the year, to be sober in it?

Lady Grace. Why not?

A carnival mask worn by Lord Byron at the Ravenna Carnival of 1820. It is part of the collections of the Keats-Shelley House museum in Rome. When he wore it, it looked much like a corsair or pirate with long black hair and a full beard. You can see photos of a somewhat restored version here and here.

Some sources:

The Works of Lord Byron, Prothero edition

Life, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron

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