Saturday, February 14, 2009

Romeo & Juliet on St. Valentine's Day

From the Journals of Lord Byron:
February 14. 1821

Much as usual. Wrote, before riding out, part of a scene of 'Sardanapalus.' The first act nearly finished. The rest of the day and evening as before — partly without, in conversazione — partly at home.

Heard the particulars of the late fray at Russi, a town not far from this. It is exactly the fact of Romēo and Giulietta—not Romĕo, as the Barbarian writes it. Two families of Contadini (peasants) are at feud. At a ball, the younger part of the families forget their quarrel, and dance together. An old man of one of them enters, and reproves the young men for dancing with the females of the opposite family. The male relatives of the latter resent this. Both parties rush home and arm themselves. They meet directly, by moonlight, in the public way, and fight it out. Three are killed on the spot, and six wounded, most of them dangerously, — pretty well for two families, methinks — and all fact, of the last week. Another assassination has taken place at Cesenna,—in all about forty in Romagna within the last three months. These people retain much of the middle ages.

Sardanapalus - Sardanapalus, a Tragedy, was The second of the three dramas Byron wrote at this time. Like Marina Faliero and the Two Foscari , it treated a historical topic. Sardanapalus was a legendary king of Syria. A modern author writes:
"I have made," writes Byron (May 25, 1821), "Sardanapalus brave though voluptuous (as history represents him), and as amiable as my poor pen could make him." Diodorus, or rather Ctesias, who may have drawn upon personal reminiscences of his patron, Artaxerxes Mnemon (see Plutarch's Artaxerxes, passim), does not enlarge upon his amiability, and credits him only with the courage of despair. Byron's Sardanapalus, with his sudden transition from voluptuous abandonment to heroic chivalry, his remorseful recognition of the sanctities of wedlock, his general good nature, his "sly, insinuating sarcasms" (Moore's Diary, September 30, 1821, Memoirs, iii. 282), "all made out of the carver's brain," resembles history as little as history resembles the Assyrian record. Fortunately, the genius of the poet escaped from the meshes which he had woven round himself; and, in spite of himself, he was constrained to "beat his music out," regardless of his authorities.
conversazione - Something like a Salon. Byron wrote of them: "Their conversazioni are not society at all. They go to the theatre to talk, and into company to hold their tongues. The women sit in a circle, and the men gather into groups, or they play at dreary faro, or 'lotto reale,' for small sums."* A definition:
conversazione, //. conversazioni, sb. : It. : a social assembly for purposes of conversation, often held for the ostensible purpose of promoting interest in art, literature, or science.

1739 After the play we were introduced to the assembly, which they call the conversazione: Hor. Walpole, Letters, Vol. I. p. 30(1857). 1764 Besides these amusements, there is a public conversazione every evening at the commandant's house: Smollett, France & Italy, xvii. Wks., Vol. v. p. 391 (1817). 1776 It was a conversazione, but composed of rather too many people: In W. Roberts' Mem. Hannah More, Vol. I. p. 60 (1835). 1804 De Brasses, in passing through Milan was carried to a converzatione on purpose to meet Signora Agnesi : Edin. Rev., Vol. 3, p. 402. 1810 some intelligent young woman, who might read and write for her, and assist in doing the honours of her con. versazioni : Jeffrey, Essays, Vol. i. p. 227 (1844). 1823 those evening conversazioni of the Via Babbuina, where the comic Muse alone presided : Lady Morgan, Salvator Rosa, ch. vi. p. 123 (1855). 1846 In the former [library] are held weekly " conversaziones" : Warburton, Crete, and Cress, Vol. i. p. 286 (1848). 1848 She liked to be asked to Mrs. Veal's conversazioni: Thackeray, Van. Fair, Vol. n. ch. xxi. p. 235 (1879). 1864 Prince Ester- hazy's last conversazione: G. A. Sala, Quite Alone, Vol. i. ch. iii. p. 42.

View Larger Map

Some sources:

The Life, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron

By George Gordon, Lord Byron
(Notes by E. H. Coleridge from Works / Lord Byron, 1898-1904)

The Stanford Dictionary of Anglicised Words and Phrases

*Note on a note: - Excerpt from Byron's letter to Murray, Ravenna, February 21. 1820:
You ask me for a volume of manners, &c. on Italy. Perhaps I am in the case to know more of them than most Bnglishmen, because I have lived among the natives, and in parts of the country where Englishmen, never resided before (I speak of Romagna and this place particularly); but there are many reasons why I do not choose to treat in print on such a subject. I have lived in their houses and in the heart of their families, sometimes merely as 'amico di casa,' and sometimes as 'amico di cuore' of the Dama, and in neither case do I feel myself authorised in making a book of them. Their moral is not your moral; their life is not your life; you would not understand it; it is not English, nor French, nor German, which you would all understand. The conventual education, the cavalier servitude, the habits of thought and living are so entirely different, and the difference becomes so much more striking the more you live intimately with them, that I know not how to make you comprehend a people who are at once temperate and profligate, serious in their characters and buffoons in their amusements, capable of impressions and passions, which are at once sudden and durable (what you find in no other nation), and who actually have no society (what we would call so), aa you may see by their comedies; they have no real comedy, not even in Goldoni, and that is because they have no society to draw it from.

Their conversazioni are not society at all. They go to the theatre to talk, and into company to hold their tongues. The women sit in a circle, and the men gather into groups, or they play at dreary faro, or 'lotto reale,' for small sums. Their academie are concerts like our own, with better music and more form. Their best things are the carnival balls and masquerades, when every body 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.

In their houses it is better. I should know something of the matter, having had a pretty general experience among their women, from the fisherman's wife up to the Nobil Dama, whom I serve. Their system has its rules, and its fitnesses, and its decorums, so as to be reduced to a kind of discipline or game at hearts, which admits few deviations, unless you wish to lose it. They are extremely tenacious, and jealous as furies, not permitting their lovers even to marry if they can help it, and keeping them always close to them in public as in private, whenever they can. In short, they transfer marriage to adultery, and strike the not out of that commandment. The reason is, that the} marry for their parents, and love for themselves. They exact fidelity from a lover as a debt of honour, while they pay the husband as a tradesman, that is, not at all You hear a person's character, male or female, canvassed not as depending on their conduct to their husbands or wives, but to their mistress or lover. If I wrote a quarto, I don't know that I could do more than amplify what I have here noted. It is to be observed that while they do all this, the greatest outward respect is to be paid to the husbands, not only by the ladies, but by their Serventi — particularly if the husband serves no one himself (which is not often the case, however): so that you would often suppose them relations — the Serventi making the figure of one adopted into the family. Sometimes the ladies run a little restive and elope, or divide, or make a scene: but this is at starting, generally, when they know no better, or when they fall in love with a foreigner, or some such anomaly,— and is always reckoned unnecessary and extravagant.

No comments: