Tuesday, February 17, 2009

my friends, the patriots

From the Journals of Lord Byron
February 16. 1821.

"Last night Il Conte P.G. sent a man with a bag full of bayonets, some muskets, and some hundreds of cartridges to my house, without apprizing me, though I had seen him not half an hour before. About ten days ago, when there was to be a rising here, the Liberals and my brethren Ci. asked me to purchase some arms for a certain few of our ragamuffins. I did so immediately, and ordered ammunition, &c. and they were armed accordingly. Well — the rising is prevented by the Barbarians marching a week sooner than appointed; and an order is issued, and in force, by the Government, 'that all persons having arms concealed, &c. &c. shall be liable to,' &c. &c. — and what do my friends, the patriots, do two days afterwards? Why, they throw back upon my hands, and into my house, these very arms (without a word of warning previously) with which I had furnished them at their own request, and at my own peril and expense.

It was lucky that Lega was at home to receive them. If any of the servants had (except Tita and F. and Lega) they would have betrayed it immediately. In the mean time, if they are denounced or discovered, I shall be in a scrape.

At nine went out — at eleven returned. Beat the crow for stealing the falcon's victuals. Read 'Tales of my Landlord' — wrote a letter—and mixed a moderate beaker of water with other ingredients.

Notes to the text:

Il Conte P.G - This is Byron's friend, Count Pietro Gamba, brother of his mistress Teresa Guiccioli.

brethren Ci - The Carbonari cell active in Ravenna.

Lega was at home - Lega was Byron's secretary.

except Tita and F. and Lega - Tita, a Venetian, was a valet. By F. Byron probably meant Fletcher, another valet. The previous August, Shelley had described Tita in a letter to Mary Shelley:
Tita the Venetian is here, and operates as my valet; a fine fellow, with a prodigious black beard, and who has stabbed two or three people, and is one of the most good-natured looking fellows I ever saw.
they would have betrayed it immediately - A few months earlier Byron had written his publisher Moore about a murder that took place outside his villa. In it he said that all of his servants except Tita were, like most Italians, easily frightened and likely to become hysterical:

Ravenna, Dec. 9. 1820.

I open my letter to tell you a fact, which will show the state of this country better than I can. The commandant of the troops is now lying dead in my house. He was shot at a little past eight o'clock, about two hundred paces from my door. I was putting on my great-coat to visit Madame la Contessa G. when I heard the shot. On coming into the hall, I found all my servants on the balcony, exclaiming that a man was murdered. I immediately ran down, calling on Tita (the bravest of them) to follow me. The rest wanted to hinder us from going, as it is the custom for every body here, it seems, to run away from 'the stricken deer.'

Beat the crow for stealing the falcon's victuals - Byron kept a menagerie in the villa. In the Journal entry for January 6, he wrote: "The crow is lame of a leg — wonder how it happened — some fool trod upon his toe, I suppose. The falcon pretty brisk — the cats large and noisy — the monkeys I have not looked to since the cold weather, as they suffer by being brought up. Horses must be gay — get a ride as soon as weather serves. Deuced muggy still — an Italian winter is a sad thing, but all the other seasons are charming." The following summer, Shelley had described the menagerie in a a letter to their mutual friend Thomas Love Peacock: "Lord B.'s establishment consists, besides servants, of ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon; and all these, except the horses, walk about the house, which every now and then resounds with their unarbitrated quarrels, as if they were the masters of it." He adds as a postscript: "After I have sealed my letter, I find that my enumeration of the animals in this Circsean Palace was defective, and that in a material point. I have just met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea-hens, and an Egyptian crane. I wonder who all these animals were, before they were changed into these shapes." (As we know from Homer, Circe, daughter of the sun, was a sorceress best known for her ability to turn men into animals.)*

Tales of my Landlord - This was a series of novels by Sir Walter Scott, which form a subset of the so called Waverley Novels.

Some sources:

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


The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley in Verse and Prose

*A note on a note:

A couple of months earlier, Byron had written Moore about the servants' terror of his villa's ghosts:

Pisa, December 4. 1821.

I have got here into a famous old feudal palazzo, on the Arno, large enough for a garrison, with dungeons below and cells in the walls, and so full of ghosts, that the learned Fletcher (my valet) has begged leave to change his room, and then refused to occupy his new room, because there were more ghosts there than in the other. It is quite true that there are most extraordinary noises (as in all old buildings), which have terrified the servants so as to incommode me extremely. There is one place where people were evidently walled up; for there is but one possible passage, broken through the wall, and then meant to be closed again upon the inmate. The house belonged to the Lanfranchi family, (the same mentioned by Ugolino in his dream, as his persecutor with Sismondi,) and has had a fierce owner or two in its time. The staircase, &c. is said to have been built by Michel Agnolo. It is not yet cold enough for a fire. What a climate!

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