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A MEMO I R

OF THE

LITERARY LIFE AND CORRESPONDENCE

OF THE

COUNTESS OF BLESSINGTON.

CHAPTER I.

LA CONTESSA GUICCIOLI, NOW MADAME LA MARQUISE DE BOISSY.

This lady is the daughter of the Comte Gamba, descended from one of the first families of Ravenna.*

Teresa Gamba was born at Ravenna in 1802. She was educated at a convent, and was removed from one by her father, to be married, at the age of sixteen, to an old nobleman of considerable wealth and very extensive landed property on the borders of Ancona and Bologna—the Comte Guiccioli, a friend in early life of Alfieri. The comte was not only old enough to be the father of this young lady (who was his third wife), but was even some years older than her father.

Youth, beauty, and intellect, united with age, ugliness, and mindlessness, proved an incongruous combination of jarring elements : antipathies, aversion, discords, and separation were the result of this ill-starred, ill-assorted union.

* The Countess Guiccioli descends from a long line of illustrious ancestors. Her grandmother, a celebrated beauty in her time, was daughter to the Marquis di Bagno, of Mantua; and her mother, who died in childbirth only a year or so after the young countess's marriage, was a very handsome lady, and daughter of the Contessa Macherelli, one of whose sisters married the Count Cobentzel, of Vienna, and by another sister the family became allied to the noble houses of Erdeddi, Nadasti, and Esterhazy.--Diary in Italy, vol. ii., p. 53.

Byron first beheld Madame Guiccioli at Venice, at the house of the Countess Albrizzi, in the autumn of 1818, two days after her marriage with the old noble of large possessions and small worth, then bordering on his grand climacteric. It was not, however, till the spring of 1819 that he became acquainted with the fair lady, at an evening party in the same city, and from that time daily meetings—“the despotism of a strong passion” on the part of one, a profound impression” on the heart of the other, an attachment that endured during the life of Byron, and that subsists to this hour in the guise of sort of culte for the memory of a man of transcendent talents in the breast of the surviving lady-were the result.

About this period, in June, 1819, Lord Byron, after a residence of upward of two years at Venice, began to grow weary of the gloomy aspect of a great city falling into decay and dilapidation : “ To see a city die daily, as Venice does, is a sad contemplation," said his lordship. He accordingly abandoned Venice, and betook himself to Ravenna, where he renewed his acquaintance with the Countess Guiccioli.

The countess had been obliged to quit Venice for Ravenna, with her husband, about the middle of the preceding April. Soon after her arrival, her mother died in giving birth to her fourteenth child.

In July, 1819, Byron wrote from Ravenna to Mr. Hoppner, saying, “I greatly fear the Guiccioli is going into a consumption, to which her constitution leads. Thus it is with every thing and every body for whom I feel any thing like a real attachment—War, Death, or Discord doth lay siege to them. I never even could keep alive a dog that I liked, or that liked me.”

Four years previously, Byron had met with some loss, which he made the subject of lines of much beauty and pathos, that are not to be found in his collected published works. These lines throw some light on the apparent indifference which Byron was in the habit of exhibiting on occasions of separation by death, or other causes, from those he loved, and especially on the occasion of his parting with Madame Guiccioli at the period of his embarkation for Greece.

STANZAS,

BY LORD BYRON.

1.
I heard thy fate without a tear,

Thy loss with scarce a sigh;
And yet thou wert surpassing dear,

Too loved of all to die.
I know not what hath seared mine eye;

The tears refuse to start;
But every drop its lids deny

Falls dreary on my heart

2.
Yes, deep and heavy, one by one,

They sink and turn to care ;
As caverned waters wear the stone,

Yet dropping, harden there ;
They can not petrify more fast

Than feelings sunk remain,
Which, coldly fixed, regard the past,

But never melt again.*

The Guiccioli Palace at Ravenna, in which Byron resided for several months, is a large building, with spacious apartments, and a grand staircase. Like the majority of old Italian palaces in towns and cities of secondary importance, it has a dilapidated, gloomy appearance. Here, however, a canto of Don Juan was written, and also his finest drama, Sardanapalus.

The rooms which were occupied by Byron had been decorated by him, and one of the salons had been painted in fresco from pictures by one of the old masters.

The Guicciolis proceeded to Bologna in August, and were soon followed by Byron.

The latter end of that month Count Guiccioli, accompanied by his lady, left Bologna for his Romagnese estates. Byron fell

* The above lines were obtained from the late Mr. R. A. Davenport, compiler of a Dictionary of Biography, and author of several works, who had the kindness to communicate them to my publisher, with a note, wherein he said,

“ These lines are in Lord Byron's own hand-writing. I received them from him, along with another poem, in 1815. I add the scal and post-mark in confirm. ation of my statement.

R. A. DAVENPORT."

into a state of melancholy, became reserved and exceedingly dejected, and solaced himself, in the absence of the countess, by going daily to her house at the former usual hour of visiting her, entering her apartments, turning over her books, and writing in them. In one of those visits he fell into a profound reverie, and was found weeping bitterly, brooding over the idea that had taken possession of his mind—that it was fatal to be loved by him.

In a copy of the countess's “ Corinne," on the 25th of August, 1819, he wrote some lines in the last pages, the concluding passages of which evince plainly enough the violence of his unhappy passion : “My destiny rests with you, and you are a woman seventeen years of age, and two out of a convent. I wish that you had stayed there, with all

my

heart, or, at least, that I had never met you in your married state. But all this is too late. I love you, and you love me—at least you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation, at all events. But I more than love you, and can not cease to love you. Think of me sometimes when the Alps and the ocean divide us; but they never will, unless you wish it.***

In September the Countess and Lord Byron were for some time in the free enjoyment of each other's society at Bologna (the count being on business elsewhere); they proceeded together to Venice, and there, at his lordship’s villa of La Mira, they passed the autumn, and were visited by Moore.

In his Journal (vol. iii., page 971), Moore speaks of having met Byron at Venice in October, 1819. He makes mention of the Count Guiccioli applying to Lord Byron for the loan of £1000 at five per cent. ; “ that is, to give it to him, though he talks of giving security, and says in any other way it would be an avilimento to him."

Lady Blessington describes the personal appearance of the Countess Guiccioli as highly prepossessing, her manners distinguished, and her conversation spirituelle and interesting. “Her face,” observes Lady B., "is decidedly handsome—the features regular and well proportioned-her teeth very fine, and her hair

* Life of Byron, ed. 8vo, p. 407.

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