Friday, February 27, 2009

Here strew sweet flowers

From the Journals of Lord Byron
February 25. 1821.

Came home — my head aches — plenty of news, but too tiresome to set down. I have neither read nor written, nor thought, but led a purely animal life all day. I mean to try to write a page or two before I go to bed. But, as Squire Sullen says, 'My head aches consumedly: Scrub, bring me a dram!' Drank some Imola wine, and some punch.

Log-book continued.

February 27. 1821.

I have been a day without continuing the log, because I could not find a blank book. At length I recollected this.

Rode, &c. — dined—wrote down an additional stanza for the 5th canto of D.J. which I had composed in bed this morning. Visited l'Amica. We are invited, on the night of the Veglione (next Domenica) with the Marchesa Clelia Cavalli and the Countess Spinelli Rusponi. I promised to go. Last night there was a row at the ball, of which I am a 'socio.' The Vice-legate had the imprudent insolence to introduce three of his servants in masque — without tickets, too! and in spite of remonstrances. The consequence was, that the young men of the ball took it up, and were near throwing the Vice-legate out of the window. His servants, seeing the scene, withdrew, and he after them. His reverence Monsignore ought to know, that these are not times for the predominance of priests over decorum. Two minutes more, two steps farther, and the whole city would have been in arms, and the government driven out of it.

Such is the spirit of the day, and these fellows appear not to perceive it. As far as the simple fact went, the young men were right, servants being prohibited always at these festivals.

Yesterday wrote two notes on the 'Bowles and Pope' controversy, and sent them off to Murray by the post. The old woman whom I relieved in the forest (she is ninety-four years of age) brought me two bunches of violets. 'Nam vita gaudet mortua floribus,' I was much pleased with the present. An English woman would have presented a pair of worsted stockings, at least, in the month of February. Both excellent things; but the former are more elegant. The present, at this season, reminds one of Gray's stanza, omitted from his elegy: —
Here scatter'd oft, the earliest of the year,
By hands unseen, are showers of violets found;
The red-breast loves to build and warble here,
And little footsteps lightly print the ground.
As fine a stanza as any in his elegy. I wonder that he could have the heart to omit it.

Last night I suffered horribly — from an indigestion, I believe. I never sup — that is, never at home. But, last night, I was prevailed upon by the Countess Gamba's persuasion, and the strenuous example of her brother, to swallow, at supper, a quantity of boiled cockles, and to dilute them, not reluctantly, with some Imola wine. When I came home, apprehensive of the consequences, I swallowed three or four glasses of spirits, which men (the venders) call brandy, rum, or hollands, but which Gods would entitle spirits of wine, coloured or sugared. All was pretty well till I got to bed, when I became somewhat swollen, and considerably vertiginous. I got out, and mixing some soda-powders, drank them off. This brought on temporary relief. I returned to bed; but grew sick and sorry once and again. Took more soda-water. At last I fell into a dreary sleep. Woke, and was ill all day, till I had galloped a few miles. Query — was it the cockles, or what I took to correct them, that caused the commotion? I think both. I remarked in my illness the complete inertion, inaction, and destruction of my chief mental faculties. I tried to rouse them, and yet could not — and this is the Soul!!! I should believe that it was married to the body, if they did not sympathise so much with each other. If the one rose, when the other fell, it would be a sign that they longed for the natural state of divorce. But as it is, they seem to draw together like post-horses.

Let us hope the best — it is the grand possession.

Notes on the text:

Imola wine - A local wine. Today, the Imola region produces a variety of sparkling and still, white and red wines.

Log-book continued - As you can tell from the next line, Byron begins a new note book.

5th canto of D.J. - Byron wrote the first five cantos of his famous poem, Don Juan, while in Venice and Ravenna, between 1818 and 1820. The first canto was published in 1818, the second during the winter of 1818-19, the next three came out in August 1821. The stanza is number 158.
Thus in the East they are extremely strict,
And Wedlock and a Padlock mean the same;
Excepting only when the former's pick'd
It ne'er can be replaced in proper frame;
Spoilt, as a pipe of claret is when prick'd:
But then their own Polygamy's to blame;
Why don't they knead two virtuous souls for life
Into that moral centaur, man and wife?
l'Amica - Countess Teresa Guiccioli, his mistress.

the night of the Veglione (next Domenica) - Veglione is Italian for a ball, or dance; Domenica is Sunday.

socio - In this context is means a kind of official: a member of the sponsoring society.

Vice-legate - This was Cardinal Domenico Carafa Della Spina di Traetto, represenative of the Papal government in Ravenna.

the 'Bowles and Pope' controversy - Byron was defending the reputation of Alexander Pope against attacks by the English clergyman and poet, William Lisle Bowles.

- The is the epitaph, written by the 17th c. English poet, Abraham Cowley. The full stanza in English reads:
Here strew sweet flowers, and first the short-lived Rose, —
While still the Bard's warm ashes linger near;
Yes, strew them whilst the lambent flame still glows,
Ere yet sweet-scented garlands deck his bier.
his elegy - Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard by Thomas Gray.

I wonder that he could have the heart to omit it - The reason given is that the lines make too long a parenthesis at this point in the poem.

Countess Gamba - This is Theresa Guiccioli. Gamba was her family name before marriage. Although formally separated from her husband, she could never be divorced from him.

{Abraham Cowley; source webexhibits on the ode}

The Beaux' Stratagem, by George Farquhar
Extract from ACT II., SCENE I.

Enter Squire Sullen.

Squire Sul. My head aches consumedly.

Mrs. Sul. Will you be pleased, my dear, to drink tea with us this morning? it may do your head good.

Squire Sul. No.

Dor. Coffee, brother?

Squire Sul. Psha!

Mrs. Sul. Will you please to dress, and go to church with me? the air may help you.

Squire Sul. Scrub! [Calls.

Enter Scrub.

Scrub. Sir!

Squire Sul. What day o' th' week is this?

Scrub. Sunday, an't please your worship.

Squire Sul. Sunday! bring me a dram; and d'ye hear, set out the venison-pasty, and a tankard of strong beer upon the hall-table, I'll go to breakfast [Going.

Dor. Stay, stay, brother, you shan't get off so; you were very naught last night, and must make your wife reparation; come, come, brother, won't you ask pardon?

Squire Sul. For what?

Dor. For being drunk last night.

Squire Sul. I can afford it, can't I?

Mrs. Sul. But I can't, sir.

Squire Sul. Then you may let it alone.

Some sources:

Works (Prothero edition).

Life of Lord Byron, With His Letters And Journals, Vol. 5 (Moore edition).

The Life, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, complete in one volume (Moore edition)

Works; with his letters and journals, and his life; Vol. 16 (Moore edition)

A Compendium of English Literature, by Charles Dexter Cleveland

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