Saturday, 10 May 2014

“… the Countess Benzone – who is a Venetian Lady Melbourne…”

It was a typical Saturday afternoon and I had no big plans, apart from a trip to the greengrocer for my fruit and veg. Halfway there, and I saw a poster advertising an exhibition by local artists, the kind of thing one might expect to find in any local library or village hall.

So why did I feel the urge to rush there immediately, abandoning my planned shopping? The poster might give a clue:

Invitation to the palazzo: Art Exhibition, Palazzo Benzon. In the drawing-room of Marina Querini Benzon with her friends Lord Byron, Ugo Foscolo, Antonio Canova, Stendhal, Chateaubriand, Ippolito Piendemonte.

Lord Byron… Marina Benzon… Ca’ Benzon is one of the most important places in Venice for Byron-lovers.  It is also singularly difficult to gain entrance, as it is still a private home. I had only been lucky enough to go inside once before, when it was used as an exhibition-space during the 2011 Art Biennale.

So, amateur artists or no, this was too good an opportunity to miss. I ran home for my camera and abandoned my shopping-bags.

Ca (an abbreviation of casa, or house) Benzon occupies a prime site the Grand Canal, not far from the Rialto Bridge.

When Byron first visited the palazzo, in 1817, it was the home of Marina Querini Benzon, a Venetian society hostess who was then in her early sixties. Byron compared her to Lady Melbourne – the comparison was very apt, as the countess had been something of a good-time girl in her day, giving the Venetian gossips plenty to talk about.

They still remembered the time back in 1797 when, Venice having newly surrendered to Napoleon, she danced around the Tree of Liberty that had been erected in St Mark’s Square wearing a Grecian tunic, which had flown up to reveal her lack of underwear. She had also been the subject of a popular song, The Blonde in the Gondola, which described what happened when she went out in a gondola by moonlight with a gentleman, and his delight when the wind just happened to disarrange her clothes (poor Marina seems to have been something of a martyr to loose clothing).

By 1817 the Countess was a widow, living in what Byron called “the strictest adultery” with her long-term lover. By now she was better-known for her conversazioni, or social gatherings where ladies and gentlemen sipped hot chocolate and exchanged gossip. Byron, who called her “the oddest and pleasantest of elderly ladies” was a quite frequent visitor, since Ca’ Benzon was a very short distance by gondola from his own residence in Palazzo Mocenigo, just a few hundred yards along the Grand Canal.

Arriving at the water-entrance as all guests did, Byron would enter through the water-gate into the portone, the stone flagged ground-floor. Since the ground floor could easily be under several inches of water at high tide the main rooms of any palazzo were found on the first floor. A flight of stairs led Byron to the salotto, or drawing-room.

The salotto runs the length of the palazzo. There are twin balconies at the front overlooking the Grand Canal, and a terrace at the back with views over the small private garden. The floor is of terrazzo alla veneziana, a type of ground and polished marble, the walls are hung with faded silk, the ceiling decorated with crumbling, yet still lovely, frescoes of goddesses and heroes, surrounded with chubby, stuccoed cherubs.

For a Byron-lover, the chance to climb the stairs and stroll around a space where he had often been a guest is pleasure enough, even under the beady eye of the exhibition custodian and of several gossipy elderly ladies (who seemed to be friends of the owner and who, with coffee and cake, were clearly having their own conversazione).

However, Ca’Benzon has one final secret which makes it even more special.

In April 1819 a young, recently-married lady climbed these stairs with her husband, entered the salotto and joined the crowded, noisy conversazione. Her hostess, Countess Benzon, insisted on presenting her to another distinguished guest, an English Lord and poet.  Reluctantly, she agreed, only to find herself face-to-face with a “noble and exquisitely beautiful countenance… so different, and so superior … to any whom I had hitherto seen.” It was love at first sight: for both of them, as within a few days Byron wrote to his friend Hobhouse, “I have fallen in love.”

Yes, the drawing-room of Ca’Benzon is where Byron’s last great romance began, for here he met Teresa Guiccioli. It was in this salotto that she caused a minor scandal among the other guests by loudly and publicly calling him “Mio Byron.”

The amateur artists, by the way, weren't very inspiring: in fact the only other visitor and I spent our time ignoring their paintings and taking sneaky photos whenever the elderly ladies were looking the other way. Even so, let’s hope there’s another exhibition soon: it will be worth it to walk in Byron's footsteps again.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

For Why Should We Mourn? 'Memento Mori' Lord Byron...

In Memoriam

George Gordon Noel Byron
Sixth Baron Byron

Born January 22 1788
Died April 19 1824

Bright be the place of thy soul!
No lovelier spirit than thine
E'er burst from its mortal control,
In the orbs of the blessed to shine.

On earth thou wert all but divine,
As thy soul shall immortality be;
And our sorrow may cease to repine
When we know that thy God is with thee.

Light be the turf of thy tomb!
May its verdue like emeralds be!
There should not be the shadow of gloom
In aught that reminds us of thee.
Young flowers and an evergreen tree
May spring from the spot of thy rest:
But nor cypress nor yew let us see;
For why should we mourn for the blest?

Stanzas for Music
(Occasional Pieces)

'April 19 1824' Lord Byron is Dead...

"The misfortune that had befallen us is terrible and irreparable.
I scarcely have words to describe it.
Lord Byron is dead

Your friend, my friend and father, the light of this century, the boast of your country, the saviour of Greece is dead.

He died on the 19th of April at half past six in the evening..."

This was the letter sent to Byron's close friend John Cam Hobhouse by Pietro Gamba that was one of the first notifications of the poet's death.

He died as the result of a fever and probably medical ineptitude in the little Greek town Missolonghi that was to found on the edge of a swamp.

Restless with his life in Italy he had travelled to Missolonghi only months before as a charismatic freedom fighter, the attractive talisman charged with liberating the Greek people from their tyrannical Turkish rule.

Today he will be honoured in Greece, the European country that he had loved.

"Give Greece arms and independence, and then learning; I am here to serve her, but I will serve her first with my steel, and afterwards with her pen"

Several weeks after his death in early May a portion of Byron's remains either his heart or lungs were given to Missolonghi for burial and the rest of his remains were returned to the country of his birth.

"I trust they won't think of "pickling and bringing me home to Clod or Blunderbuss Hall" I am sure my Bones would not rest in an English grave - or my Clay mix with the earth of that Country..."

Despite his protestations to his publisher John Murray in 1819, he was to find himself "pickled" and brought home not to a "Blunderbuss Hall" but to the Church of St Mary Magdalene in the town of Hucknall near the Byron ancestral home of Newstead Abbey.

On July 16 1824 he was placed in the family vault to be reunited with his mother Catherine and in the company of his great-uncle William, the Fifth Lord Byron, the "Wicked Lord" and other members of the Byron family.

The Church of St Mary Magdalene is a beautiful old church that has undergone much restoration and expansion since Byron's internment in 1824 with the result that he now finds himself further away from the High Altar...
I think he would approve.

On Monday April 13 2014, I made another visit to this church, a journey of many hundreds of miles and one that involved the use of eight trains equal to the number of hours that it took me to travel there and back in a day.
But it was worth it.

I enjoyed the glorious weather, a wonderful afternoon in a delightful church, the company of the friendly church wardens who were enormously patient with my endless questions and a delicious cup of tea.

Whether Byron's "bones are at rest", who knows...

The Byron Family Vault lies beneath this Memorial...

The Memorial from his sister Augusta...

Tributes of Bluebells and Tulips in memory of the "Pilgrim of Eternity"..

Follow the link to visit the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall:

Sources used:
Lord Byron Selected Letters and Journals Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1982
The Late Lord Byron Doris Langley Moore (London: John Murray 1961)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

At Rest in the Market Town of Hucknall...

Dear Sir - Tell Mr. Hobhouse that I wrote to him a few days ago from Ferrara. - It will therefore be idle in him or you to wait for any further answers or returns of proofs from Venice - as I have directed that no English letters be sent after me...

I hope, whoever may survive me and shall see me put in the foreigners' burying-Ground at the Lido... I trust they won't think of "pickling and bringing me home to Clod or Blunderbuss Hall." I am sure my Bones would not rest in an English grave - or my Clay mix with the earth of that Country...

I am sure my Bones would not rest in an English grave - or my Clay mix with the earth of that Country: - I believe the thought would drive me mad on my death-bed could I suppose that any of my friends would be base enough to convey my carcase back to your soil - I would not even feed your worms - if I could help it...

.. I never hear anything of Ada - the little Electra of my Mycenae - the moral Clytemnestra is not very communicative of her tidings - but there will come a day of reckoning - even if I should not live to see it...

P.S. - Here as in Greece they strew flowers on the tombs - I saw a quantity of rose-leaves and entire roses scattered over the Graves at Ferrara - It has the most pleasing effect you can imagine...

June 1819

Sources Used:
The Flesh is Frail Byron's Letters and Journals Volume 6 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)

The Place of Interest:
Byron is interred in the Byron family vault in the chancel of the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.
Photographed by the Polite Tourist on April 19 2011

In Search of George Gordon in Bath...

Dear Murray - You need not send "the Blues" which is a mere buffoonery never meant for publication. - The papers to which I allude in case of Survivorship, - are collections of letters &c. since I was 16 years old - contained in the trunks in the care of Mr. Hobhouse...

I am not sure that long life is desirable for one of temper & constitutional depression of Spirits - which of course I suppress in society - but which breaks out when alone - & in my writings in spite of myself. It has been deepened perhaps by some long past events (I do not allude to my marriage &c. on the contrary that raised them by the persecution giving a fillip to my Spirits) but I call it constitutional - as I have reason to think it. - 

You know - or you do not know - that my maternal Grandfather (a very clever man & amiable I am told) was strongly suspected of Suicide - - (he was found drowned in the Avon at Bath) and that another near very near relative of the same branch - took poison - & was merely saved by antidotes...

 For the first of these events - there was no apparent cause - as he was rich, respected  - & of considerable intellectual resources - hardly forty years of age - & not at all addicted to any un-hinging vice. - It was however but a strong suspicion - owing to the manner of his death - & to his melancholy temper......

I had always been told that in temper I more resembled my maternal Grandfather than any of my father's family - - that is in the gloomier part of his temper - for he was what you call a good natured man, and I am not. -"

September 1821

'Melancholy Which Runs Through My Writings'
Lord Byron, 1812 and All That!

Sources Used:
Born for Opposition Byron's Letters and Journals Volume 8 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1978)

The Place of Interest:
The Memorial to George Gordon the 12th Laird of Gight in Bath Abbey, photographed by the Polite Tourist in November 2010.

In a Hurry to See Mr Murray...

My dear Mr. Murray, 
You're in a damn'd hurry,
To set up this ultimate Canto;
But (if they don't rob us)
You'll see Mr. Hobhouse
Will bring it safe in his portmanteau.

For the Journal you hint of,
As ready to print off,
No doubt you do right to commend it;
But as yet I have writ off
The devil a bit of
Our "Beppo:" - when copied, I'll send it.

Then you've....'s Tour, -
No great things, to be sure, -
You could hardly begin with a less work;
For the pompous rascallion,
Who don't speak Italian
Nor French, must have scribbled by guess work.

You can make any loss up
With "Spence" and his gossip,
A work which must surely succeed;
Then Queen Mary's Epistle-craft,
With the new "Fytte" of "Whistlecraft,"
Must make people purchase and read.

Then you've General Gordon,
Who girded his sword on,
To serve with a Muscovite master
And help him to polish
A nation so owlish,
They thought shaving their beards a disaster.

For the man "poor and shrewd,"
With whom you'd conclude
A compact without more delay,
Perhaps some such pen is
Still extant in Venice;
But please, sir, to mention your pay.

Epistle to Mr. Murray
January  1818

Sources Used:
The Works of Lord Byron The Wordsworth Poetry Library (Wordsworth Editions Ltd 1994)

The Place of Interest:
The publishing house of John Murray at 50 Albemarle Street was photographed by the Polite Tourist in October 2012

To Drury Lane by Appointment...

Why have I not heard from you before this? Since last Thursday I have thought of nothing else but you...
I was in the boxes the whole of Tamerlane on Monday, right opposite you. I went to see if you were there. I thought once you saw me. I longed to come behind the scenes, but would not, so went melancholy home...

I shall be in the Prompter's place in the green-room; if you will condescend to speak to me for a minute, pray do so, or I shall be wretched...

I must know what your intentions are as to our future acquaintance...

My Lord, I must give vent to my feelings or I shall burst. So unaccountable (was) your conduct to me last night I know not what to say... You never spoke to me at all: that I do not mind, but your going away without saying goodnight, had I not run after you, and then I saw something very particular in your manner. Remember I was at the Theatre by your own appointment...

If you think you escaped observation by so opposite a behaviour to what you have hitherto adopted, you are mistaken; for it was remarked by everyone - your uncommon attention to Miss Smith and total disregard of me...

I have strong feelings, my Lord, I can bear anything but contempt.... Foolish, foolish Susan, to fancy there is such a thing as happiness in store for you...

Susan Boyce
November 1815

Sources Used:
To Lord Byron Feminine Profiles Based Upon Unpublished Letters 1807-1824 George Paston and Peter Quennell (London: John Murray 1939)

The Place of Interest:
Drury Lane Theatre was photographed by the Polite Tourist in October 2012.

A Sylph-Like Tiptoe Around 13 Piccadilly Terrace...

Darling Duck - I feel as if B loved himself, which does me more good than anything else, and makes young Pip jump.

You would laugh to see, and still more to hear, the effects of your absence in the house. Tearing up carpets, deluging staircases, knocking, rubbing, brushing! - by all these I was early awakened, for Mrs. Mew seems convinced that my ears and other senses have departed with you.

She no longer flies like a sylph on tiptoe, but like a troop of dragoons at full gallop. 

The old proverb - "When the Cat's away, the Mice will play." They shall have their holiday, but I can't fancy it mine. Indeed, indeed, nau B. is a thousand times better than no B.

I dare not write any more for fear you should be frightened at the length, and not read at all; so I shall give the rest to Goose.

I hope you call out "Pip, pip, pip," now and then - I think I hear you; but I won't grow lemoncholy... A-da.

Anne Isabella, Lady Byron
August 1815

Sources Used:
The Life of Lady Byron The Life and Letters of Anne Isabella, Lady Noel Byron Ethel Colburn Mayne (London: Constable & Co Ltd 1929)

The Place of Interest:
As 13 Piccadilly Terrace is now no more, I have created it in miniature form!
'13 Piccadilly Terrace circa 1815' is a Regency House complete with a Basement Kitchen and Attic Rooms that reflects the architecture, interior design, furniture and life-style of the Regency and is inspired by the poet Lord Byron and his circle as he lived at 13 Piccadilly Terrace in the year 1815.

Colwick Hall: Where Dreams Come to Life

When you allow yourself to be opened up to the wonders of the world, now and again you'll come across something - or somewhere - that instantly wins a place in your heart. During a recent research trip to Nottingham I discovered that Colwick Hall was one such place.

Colwick Hall, now a thriving hotel overlooking Nottingham racecourse, was the ancestral home to Lord Byron. Any building associated with the Byron clan is undoubtedly rich with history and excitement. However, this particular building is enhanced by an additional connection.

The stories of Colwick Hall are not only birthed from its association with the Byrons; they're also the product of the years spent with the Musters family. To adhere to my own personal interests, this includes the (wonderful, if I may) Mary Chaworth-Musters.

As an admirer of Mary - and, as her admirer, I must express a preference to calling her Mary Ann Chaworth due to obvious reasons of Byronic misfortune - I arrived at Colwick Hall with great anticipation. Its very fabrication was the stuff of my dreams. And, as the proverb goes, dreams can come true.

I share with you a small collection of photographs taken during my visit. What was planned to be a brief sit-down for a coffee in the beautiful (and it really is beautiful!) Byron Brasserie turned into a heavenly waltz inside the Hall itself. I cannot enough thank the wonderful gentleman who invited us to venture into the depths of Colwick Hall as he led us through from the Brasserie. How the heart doth sing!

The roof of the Byron Brasserie!

Oh, and Happy 226th Birthday, Byron!

Byron's Dream by Ford Madox Brown
Amy McLean
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