LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
The Masi Affair

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IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





I took leave of Lord Byron on the 15th of March, to visit Rome for a few weeks. Shortly after my departure an affray happened at Pisa, the particulars of which were variously stated. The Courier François gave the following account of it:—

“A superior officer went to Lord Byron a few days ago. A very warm altercation, the reason of which was unknown, occurred between this officer and the English poet. The threats of the officer became so violent, that Lord Byron’s servant ran to protect his master. A struggle ensued, in which the officer was struck with a poniard by the servant, and died instantly. The servant fled.”

This was one among many reports that were circulated at Rome, to which I was forced one day to give a somewhat flat contradiction. But the real truth of the story cannot be better explained than by the depositions before the
Governor of Pisa, the copies of which were sent me, and are in my possession.* They state that

“Lord Byron, in company with Count Gamba, Captain Hay, Mr. Trelawney, and Mr. Shelley, was returning from his usual ride, on the 21st March, 1822, and was perhaps a quarter of a mile from the Piaggia gate, when a man on horseback, in a hussar uniform, dashed at full speed through the midst of the party, violently jostling (urtando) one of them. Shocked at such ill-breeding, Lord Byron pushed forward, and all the rest followed him, and pulled up their horses on overtaking the hussar. His Lordship then asked him what he meant by the insult? The hussar, for first and only answer, began to abuse him in the grossest manner; on which Lord Byron and one of his companions drew out a card with their names and address, and passed on. The hussar followed, vociferating and threatening, with his hand on his sabre, that he would draw it, as he had often done, effectually. They were now about ten paces from the Piaggia gate. Whilst this altercation was going on, a common soldier of the artillery interfered, and called out to the hussar, ‘Why don’t you arrest them? Com-

* See the Appendix for the original depositions.

mand us to arrest them!’ Upon which the hussar gave the word to the guard at the gate, ‘Arrest—arrest them!’ still continuing the same threatening gestures, and using language, if possible, more offensive and insulting.

“His Lordship, hearing the order given for their arrest, spurred on his horse, and one of the party did the same; and they succeeded in forcing their way through the soldiers, who flew to their muskets and bayonets, whilst the gate was closed on the rest, together with the courier, who was foremost.

Mr. Trelawney now found his horse seized by the bridle by two soldiers, with their swords drawn, and himself furiously assaulted by the hussar, who made several cuts at him with his sabre, whilst the soldiers struck him about the thighs. He and his companions were all unarmed, and asked this madman the reason of his conduct; but his only reply was blows.

Mr. Shelley received a sabre-stroke on the head, which threw him off his horse. Captain Hay, endeavouring to parry a blow with a stick that he used as a whip, the edge of the weapon cut it in two, and he received a wound on his nose. The courier also suffered severely from several
thrusts he received from the hussar and the rest of the soldiers. After all this, the hussar spurred on his horse, and took the road to the Lung’ Arno.

“When his Lordship reached the palace, he gave directions to his secretary to give immediate information to the police of what was going on; and, not seeing his companions come up, turned back towards the gate. On the way he met the hussar, who rode up to him, saying, ‘Are you satisfied?’ His Lordship, who knew nothing or hardly any thing of the affray that had taken place at the gate, answered, ‘No, I am not! Tell me your name!’—‘Serjeant-Major Masi,’ said he. One of his Lordship’s servants came up at the moment, and laid hold of the bridle of the Serjeant’s horse. His Lordship commanded him to let it go; when the Serjeant spurred his horse, and rushed through an immense crowd collected before the Lanfranchi palace, where, as he deposes, he was wounded and his chaco found, but how or by whom they knew not, seeing that they were either in the rear or in their way home. They had further to depose that Captain Hay was confined to his house by reason of his wound; also that the courier had spit blood from the thrust he received in the breast, as might be proved by the evidence of the surgeons.”


There was also another deposition from a Mr. James Crawford. It stated that “the dragoon would have drawn his sabre against Lord Byron, in the Lung’ Arno, had it not been for the interposition of the servant; and that Signor Major Masi was knocked off his horse as he galloped past the Lanfranchi palace, Lord Byron and his servants being at a considerable distance therefrom at the time.”

It appears that Signor Major Masi was wounded with a pitchfork, and his life was for some time in danger; but it was never known by whom the wound had been given. One of the Countess’s servants, and two of Lord Byron’s, were arrested and imprisoned. It was suspected by the police that, being Italians and much attached to their master,* they had revenged his quarrel; but no proof was adduced to justify the suspicion.

* Lord Byron was the best of masters, and was perfectly adored by his servants. His kindness was extended even to their children. He liked them to have their families with them: and I remember one day, as we were entering the hall after our ride, meeting a little boy, of three or four years old, of the coachman’s, whom he took up in his arms and presented with a ten-Paul piece.


During the time that the examination was taking place before the police, Lord Byron’s house was beset by the dragoons belonging to Signor Major Masi’s troop, who were on the point of forcing open the doors, but they were too well guarded within to dread the attack. Lord Byron, however, took his ride as usual two days after.

“It is not the first time,” said he, “that my house has been a bender, and may not be the last.”

All Lord Byron’s servants were banished from Pisa, and with them the Counts Gamba, father and son.

Lord Byron was himself advised to leave it; and as the Countess accompanied her father, he soon after joined them at Leghorn, and passed six weeks at Monte Nero. His return to Pisa was occasioned by a new persecution of the Gambas. An order was issued for them to leave the Tuscan States in four days; and on their embarkation for Genoa, the Countess and himself took up their residence (for the first time together) at the Lanfranchi palace where Leigh Hunt and his family had already arrived.