LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
Italian lovers; the assassination of Commandant dal Pinto

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  42  43  44  45  46  47  48  49  50  51  52  53  54 
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH







IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





Calling on Lord Byron one evening after the opera, we happened to talk of Cavalieri Serventi, and Italian women; and he contended that much was to be said in excuse for them, and in defence of the system.

The Courier, in Byron and Medwin
J. C. Hobhouse, in Westminster Magazine

“We will put out of the question,” said he, “a Cavalier Serventecism; that is only another term for prostitution, where the women get all the money they can, and have (as is the case in all such contracts) no love to give in exchange.—I speak of another, and of a different service.”

J. C. Hobhouse, in Westminster Magazine
J. C. Hobhouse, in Westminster Magazine

“Do you know how a girl is brought up here?” continued he. “Almost from infancy she is deprived of the endearments of home, and shut up in a convent till she has attained a marriageable or marketable age. The father now looks out for a suitable son-in-law. As a certain portion of his fortune is fixed by law for the dower of his children, his object is to find some needy man of equal rank, or a very rich one, the older the better, who will consent to take his daughter off his hands, under the market price. This, if she happen to be handsome, is not difficult of accomplishment. Objections are seldom made on the part of the young lady to the age, and personal or other defects of the intended, who perhaps visits
her once in the parlour as a matter of form or curiosity. She is too happy to get her liberty on any terms, and he her money or her person. There is no love on either side. What happiness is to be expected, or constancy, from such a liaison? Is it not natural, that in her intercourse with a world, of which she knows and has seen nothing, and unrestrained mistress of her own time and actions, she should find somebody to like better, and who likes her better, than her husband? The
Count Guiccioli, for instance, who is the richest man in Romagna, was sixty when he married Teresa; she sixteen. From the first they had separate apartments, and she always used to call him Sir. What could be expected from such a preposterous connexion? For some time she was an Angiolina, and he a Marino Faliero, a good old man; but young women, and your Italian ones too, are not satisfied with your good old men. Love is not the same dull, cold, calculating feeling here as in the North. It is the business, the serious occupation of their lives; it is a want, a necessity. Somebody properly defines a woman, ‘a creature that loves.’ They die of love; particularly the Romans: they begin to love earlier, and feel the passion later than the Northern people. When I was at Venice, two dowa-
gers of sixty made love to me.—But to return to the Guiccioli. The old Count did not object to her availing herself of the privileges of her country; an Italian would have reconciled him to the thing: indeed for some time he winked at our intimacy, but at length made an exception against me, as a foreigner, a heretic, an Englishman, and, what was worse than all, a liberal.

“He insisted—the Guiccioli was as obstinate; her family took her part. Catholics cannot get divorces. But, to the scandal of all Romagna, the matter was at length referred to the Pope, who ordered her a separate maintenance, on condition that she should reside under her father’s roof. All this was not agreeable, and at length I was forced to smuggle her out of Ravenna, having disclosed a plot laid with the sanction of the Legate for shutting her up in a convent for life, which she narrowly escaped.—Except Greece, I was never so attached to any place in my life as to Ravenna, and but for the failure of the Constitutionalists and this fracas, should probably never have left it. The peasantry are the best people in the world, and the beauty of their women is extraordinary. Those at Tivoli and Frescati, who are so much
vaunted, are mere Sabines, coarse creatures, compared to the Romagnese. You may talk of your English women, and it is true that out of one hundred Italians and English you will find thirty of the latter handsome; but then there will be one Italian on the other side of the scale, who will more than balance the deficit in numbers—one who, like the Florence Venus, has no rival, and can have none in the North. I have learnt more from the peasantry of the countries I have travelled in than from any other source, especially from the women*: they are more intelligent, as well as communicative, than the men. I found also at Ravenna much education and liberality of thinking among the higher classes. The climate is delightful. I was unbroken in upon by society. It lies out of the way of travellers. I was never tired of my rides in the pine-forest: it breathes of the
Decameron; it is poetical ground. Francesca
* ——“Female hearts are such a genial soil
For kinder feeling, whatsoe’er their nation,
They generally pour the wine and oil,
Samaritans in every situation.”
Don Juan, Canto V. Stanza 122.
lived, and
Dante was exiled and died at Ravenna. There is something inspiring in such an air.*

“The people liked me, as much as they hated the Government. It is not a little to say, I was popular with all the leaders of the Constitutional party. They knew that I came from a land of liberty, and wished well to their cause. I would have espoused it too, and as-
sisted them to shake off their fetters. They knew my character, for I had been living two years at Venice, where many of the Ravennese have houses. I did not, however, take part in their intrigues, nor join in their political coteries; but I had a magazine of one hundred stand of arms in the house, when every thing was ripe for revolt. A curse on
Carignan’s imbecility! I could have pardoned him that too, if he had not impeached his partisans. The proscription was immense in Romagna, and embraced many of the first nobles: almost all my friends, among the rest the Gamba’s, were included in it. They were exiled, and their possessions confiscated. They knew that this must eventually drive me out of the country. I did not follow them immediately; I was not to be bullied. I had myself fallen under the eye of the Government. If they could have got sufficient proof, they would have arrested me: but no one betrayed me; indeed there was nothing to betray. I had received a very high degree, without passing through the intermediate ranks. In that corner you see papers of one of their societies. Shortly after the plot was discovered, I received several anonymous letters, advising me to discontinue my forest rides; but I entertained no apprehensions of treachery, and was more on horseback than ever.
I never stir out without being well armed, and sleep with pistols. They knew that I never missed my aim; perhaps this saved me. An event occurred at this time at Ravenna that made a deep impression on me; I alluded to it in ‘
Don Juan.’ The military Commandant of the place, who, though suspected of being secretly a Carbonaro, was too powerful a man to be arrested, was assassinated opposite to my palace; a spot perhaps selected by choice for the commission of the crime. The measures which were adopted to screen the murderer prove the assassination to have taken place by order of the police. I had my foot in the stirrup at my usual hour of exercise, when my horse started at the report of a gun. On looking up I perceived a man throw down a carbine and run away at full speed, and another stretched upon the pavement a few yards from me. On hastening towards him, I found that it was the unhappy Commandant. A crowd was soon collected, but no one ventured to offer the least assistance. I soon directed my servant to lift up the bleeding body and carry it into my palace; but it was represented to me that by so doing I should confirm the suspicion of being of his party, and incur the displeasure of the Government. However, it was no time to calculate between huma-
nity and danger. I assisted in bearing him into the house, and putting him on a bed. He was already dead from several wounds; he appeared to have breathed his last without a struggle. I never saw a countenance so calm. His adjutant followed the corpse into the house. I remember his lamentation over him:—‘Povero diavolo! non aveva fatto male, anchè ad un cane.’”