Sunday, February 14, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: Byron at Carnival

Sunday, February 14, 2010
Loretta reports:

From Byron's Letters & Journals, Volume 6, "The Flesh is Frail," edited by Leslie A. Marchand.

Venice—J[anuar]y 27th. 1818
It is the height of Carnival—and I am in the estrum & agonies of a new intrigue—with I don’t know exactly whom or what—except that she is insatiate of love—& won’t take money—& has light hair & blue eyes—which are not common here--& that I met her at the Masque--& that when her mask is off I am as wise as ever.——I shall make what I can of the remainder of my youth—& confess—that like Augustus—I would rather die standing.—

Venice, February 2d, 1818
I have hardly had a wink of sleep this week past.  We are in the agonies of the Carnival’s last days, and I must be up all night again, as well as to-morrow.  I have had some curious masking adventures this Carnival; but, as they are not yet over, I shall not say on.  I will work the mine of my youth to the last veins of the ore, and then—good night.  I have lived, and am content.

Venice.  Feb[ruary] 23rd.  1818
They may say what they like of Petrotini’s being  a liar—but he has told me the only two truths that I have heard in Venice—the first—about the passage in Bianchoni…and the second that a Girl (whom you don’t know—Elena da Mosta—a Gentil Donna) was clapt—and she has clapt me—to be sure it was gratis, the first Gonorrhea I have not paid for. —I am getting better—the Carnival was short—but very lively—and there was good fun among the Masques…When Spooney, sends out a Clerk in Spring with the writings it will be a very good time to send out my little shild (I mean the bastard**) and I wish you would settle it in that way with Shelley—who has written to me frequently upon it—as for the legitimate I hear she is very well.

*Byron's publisher.

**His daughter Allegra, by Claire Clairmont***.

***Byron wrote of Claire:  " I never pretended to love her—but a man is a man—& if a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours—there is but one way—the suite of all this is that she was with child and returned to England to assist in peopling that desolate island."

The painting at upper left is Pulcinella love (1797) by Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727 - 1804).  Venice, Ca Rezzonico (scroll down & enlarge for a sharper image)- Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Villa-House Zianigo Pulcinella inv: Cl. I No 1751. 


Jane O said...

Byron was extremely talented and very witty. Unfortunately, comments like the one about Claire make it difficult to think of him as a decent human being.

Did he ever think of himself as in any sense honorable?

LorettaChase said...

Jane, he did see himself as honorable--and the rampant sex life in no way changed that view, in a time when men were not expected to be monogamous (though his contemporaries tended to be more discreet than he was) and women were generally viewed as lesser beings. As immature and obnoxious as he could be, he did send for the child and take responsibility for her. He did realize his home environment wasn't best for her, and sent her to a convent school--not at all unusual in that part of the world--and unfortunately, she died of typhus. I interpret his comments about Claire as defensive--he was being attacked for seducing her. But it's clear that he was a rock star, and everywhere he went encountered groupies--and like other rock stars, he didn't resist. I just read a piece about a current musician celebrity that sounded like something one might have read about Byron. They both have this problem with not knowing when to shut up.

Lady Burgley said...

Its always dangerous to view the past with modern morality. We may not always like the past, but we can't change it. Byron is Byron. Also, he might have been being purposefully outrageous here and writing to shock. That would be in keeping with his character, too.

Love the entertaining diversity of this blog, ladies.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Byron IS Byron: well, that pretty much sums it up!

OTOH, as much as we'd like to think (or hope) that his attitudes are a thing of the past, I suspect that there are more than a few men (and women) celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans this week who could write exactly the same letters.Lord B. would have found a lot of kindred spirits at the hedonistic SuperBowl parties in South Beach last week, too.

Come to think of it, the choppy short phrases of these excerpts do read like Byron's long-lost celebrity tweets....*g*

nightsmusic said...

and the second that a Girl (whom you don’t know—Elena da Mosta—a Gentil Donna) was clapt—and she has clapt me—to be sure it was gratis, the first Gonorrhea I have not paid for. —I am getting better

That little bit bothers me from the standpoint that he must have thought one "got better" and the clap went away, which we know and many, many did even then, that it never did. For a smart guy, he liked to play ostrich with some things, didn't he?

And yes, I believe I know the 'celeb' you're talking about, Loretta, and I can see Byron finding his equivalent in many ways in that person. *shudders*

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Oh, Theo, I totally share your shudder about the venereal disease! Over and over you read about so-called cures of the past, and as soon as the disease goes into remission, the patient is declared healed, and goes off on his/her merry way to infect someone else. The "wages of sin", indeed....

Mongoose said...

Puchinello and Byron: Now that's a pair of party-boys for the ages.Thanx for my a.m. laugh with that juxtaposition.

Mme.Tresbeau said...

I agree that while Lord Byron is admirable as a poet and writer, there is much less to admire in the man. But it is useful for us to see these enlightening glimpses into how an English lord behaved in regency times and his attitudes towards women.

Anonymous said...

I am always reminded of Claire Clairmont's Cariatures for Albe...

The last his Death. He dead, extended on his bed, covered all but his breast, which many wigged doctors are cutting open to find out (as one may be saying) what was the extraordinary disease of which his great man died–His heart laid bare, they find an immense capital I grown on its surface– and which had begun to pierce the breast– They are all astonishment.

One says, “A new disease.” Another, “I never had a case of this kind before.” A third, “What medicines would have been proper?” The fourth, holding up a finger, “A Desert island.”

Kathy said...

Oh, Byron can go hang. He sounds tedious. Never liked the artistic sort, myself.

But I do get so sad over the way little children died back then. It breaks my heart to hear of them dying of diseases we cure so easily in our time.

On the other hand, Byron's daughter Ada Lovelace, did grow to adulthood and had a very interesting story of her own.

Loretta, please just tell me all the Carsington men had healthy children that lived into adulthood.

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