Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 08.djvu/150

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daughter of Count Gamba of Ravenna, recently married at the age of sixteen to a rich widower of sixty, Count Guiccioli, also of Ravenna. Her beauty is described by Moore, an American painter West, who took her portrait, Medwin, and Hunt. She had regular features, a fine figure, rather too short and stout, and was remarkable among Italians for her fair complexion, golden hair (see Jeafreson, ii. 80), and blue eyes. She at once conceived a passion for Byron, and they met daily at Venice. Her husband took her back to Ravenna in the same month, and she wrote passionate letters to Byron. She had fainted three times on her first day's journey; her mother's death had deeply affected her; she was ill, and threatened by consumption; and she told him in May that her relations would receive him at Ravenna. In spite of heat and irresolution, Byron left La Mira on 2 June 1819, and moved slowly, and after some hesitation, to Ravenna, writing on the way ‘River that rollest by the ancient walls’ (first published by Medwin). Here he found the countess really ill. He studied medical books, she says, for her benefit, and sent for Aglietti, the best physician in Venice. As she recovered, Byron felt rather awkward under the polite attentions of her husband, though her own relations were unfavourable. His letters to her, says Moore, show genuine passion. His letters to Hoppner show a more ambiguous interest. He desired at times to escape from an embarrassing connection; yet, out of ‘wilfulness,’ as Moore thinks, when she was to go with her husband to Bologna, he asked her to fly with him, a step altogether desperate according to the code of the time. Though shocked by the proposal, she suggested a sham death, after the Juliet precedent. Byron followed the Guicciolis to Bologna, and stayed there while they made a tour of their estates. Hence (23 Aug.) he sent off to Murray his cutting ‘Letter to my Grandmother's Review.’ Two days later he wrote a curious declaration of love to the countess in a volume of ‘Corinna’ left in her house. A vehement quarrel with a papal captain of dragoons for selling him an unsound horse nearly led to an impromptu duel like his granduncle's. On the return of the Guicciolis the count left for Ravenna, leaving his wife with Byron at Bologna ‘on account of her health.’ Her health also made it expedient to travel with Byron to Venice by way of the Euganean Hills; and at Venice the same cause made country air desirable, whereupon Byron politely ‘gave up to her his house at La Mira,’ and ‘came to reside there’ himself. The whole proceeding was so like an elopement, that Venetian society naturally failed to make a distinction. Moore paid a visit to Byron at this time, was cordially received at La Mira, and lodged in the palace at Venice. Hanson had described Byron in the previous year as ‘enormously large’ (Hodgson, ii. 2), and Moore was struck by the deterioration of his looks. He found that his friend had given up, or been given up by, Venetian society. English tourists stared at him like a wild beast, and annoyed him by their occasional rudeness. It was at this time that Byron gave his memoirs to Moore, stipulating only that they should not appear during his lifetime. Moore observed that they would make a nice legacy for his little Tom. Moore was alarmed at Byron's position. The Venetians were shocked by the presence of his mistress under his roof, especially as he had before ‘conducted himself so admirably.’ A proposed trip to Rome, to which Byron had almost consented, was abandoned by Moore's advice, as it would look like a desertion of the countess. The count now wrote to his wife proposing that Byron should lend him 1,000l., for which he would pay 5 per cent.; the loan would otherwise be an avvilimento. Moore exhorted Byron to take advantage of this by placing the lady again under her husband's protection, a result which would be well worth the money. Byron laughingly declared that he would ‘save both the lady and the money.’ The count himself came to Venice at the end of October. After a discussion, in which Byron declined to interfere, the lady agreed to return to her husband and break with her lover. Byron, set free, almost resolved to return to England. Dreams of settling in Venezuela under Bolivar's new republic occasionally amused him, and he made serious inquiries about the country. The return to England, made desirable by some business affairs (Letters 346, 359, 367), was apparently contemplated as a step towards some of these plans, though he also thought a year later (Letter 403) of settling in London to bring out a paper with Moore. In truth, he was restless, dissatisfied, and undecided. He shrank from any decided action, from tearing himself from Italy, and, on the other hand, from such a connection with the countess as would cause misery to both unless his passion were more durable than any one, he least of all, could expect. The journey to England was nearly settled, however, when he was delayed by an illness of Allegra, and a touch of malaria in himself. The countess again wrote to him that she was seriously ill, and that her friends would receive him. While actually ready for a start homewards, he suddenly declared that if the clock struck one before some final preparation was ready, he