Thursday, February 7, 2008

The object of my visit

Percy Bysshe Shelley to Mary Shelley.

Bagni di Lucca,
Venice. Sunday morning [26 August, 1818].

My dearest Mary,

We arrived here last night at twelve o'clock, and it is now before breakfast the next morning. I can, of course, tell you nothing of the future, and though I shall not close this letter till post time, yet I do not know exactly when that is. Yet, if you are very impatient, look along the letter and you will see another date, when I may have something to relate.

We came from Padua hither in a gondola, and the gondoliere, among other things, without any hint on my part, began talking of Lord Byron. He said he was a giovinetto Inglese, with a nonie stravagante, who lived very luxuriously, and spent great sums of money. This man, it seems, was one of Lord Byron's gondolieri. No sooner had we arrived at the inn than the waiter began talking about him--said that he frequented Mrs. Hoppner's conversazioni very much.

Our journey from Florence to Padua contained nothing which may not be related another time. At Padua, as I said, we took a gondola, and left it at three o'clock. These gondolas are the most convenient and beautiful boats in the world. They are finely carpeted and furnished with black and painted black. The couches upon which you lean are extraordinarily soft, and are so disposed as to be the most comfortable to those who lean or sit. The windows have at will either Venetian plate-glass flowered, or Venetian blinds, or blinds of black cloth to shut out the light. The weather here is extremely cold; indeed, sometimes very painfully so, and yesterday it began to rain. We passed the Laguna in the middle of the night in a most violent storm of wind, rain and lightning. It was very curious to observe the elements above in a state of such tremendous convulsions, and the surface of the water almost calm; for these lagunas, though five miles broad--a space enough in a storm to sink any gondola--are so shallow that the boatmen drive the boat along with a pole. The sea-water, furiously agitated by the wind, shone with sparkles like stars. Venice, now hidden and now disclosed by the driving rain, shone dimly with its lights. We were all this while safe and comfortable, except that Claire was now and then a little frightened in our cabin.

Well, adieu, dearest : I shall, as Miss Byron says, resume the pen in the evening. . . .

At three o'clock I called on Lord Byron; he was delighted to see me, and our first conversation of course consisted in the object* of my visit. . . .

Well, my dear Mary, this talk went off, for I did not see in that moment how I could urge it further, and I thought that at least many points were gained in the willingness and good humour of our discussion. So he took me in his gondola--much against my will, for I wanted to return to Claire at the Hoppners' --across the Laguna to a long sandy island, which defends Venice from the Adriatic. When we disembarked, we found his horses waiting for us, and we rode along the sands of the sea talking. Our conversation consisted in the history of his wounded feelings, and questions as to my affairs, and great professions of friendship and regard for me. He said that if he had been in England at the time of the chancery affair, he would have moved heaven and earth to have prevented such a decision. We talked of literary matters--his fourth Canto, which he says is very good, and, indeed, repeated some stanzas of great energy to me--when we returned to his palace. . . .

Do you know, dearest, how this letter was written? By scraps and patches, and interrupted every minute. The gondola is now come to take us up to Fusina. Este is a little place, and the house found without difficulty. I shall count four days for this letter : one day for packing, four for coming here, and on the ninth or tenth day we shall meet. I am too late for the post, but I send an express to overtake it. Enclosed is an order for 50/. If you knew all that I had to do!

Dearest love, be well, be happy; come to me, and confide in your own constant and affectionate
P. B. S.

Kiss the blue-eyed darlings for me, and don't let William forget me. Clara cannot recollect me.

[*Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire travelled to Venice to persuade Byron to allow Claire to take her daughter Allegra. Byron refused, but, believing Mary Shelley and the children to be with them, he permitted the Shelleys and Claire to visit Allegra at his villa in Este. Percy Bysshe Shelley urged Mary to make the journey quickly, and Mary and her children departed for Italy on August 31. They arrived on 5 September. The extraordinary rush to reach Italy had taken its toll on Mary Shelley and her children. Percy and Mary's child Clara Everina died in Venice on September 24 from dysentery.]

-from Selected Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley edited with an introduction by Richard Garnett (London: Kegan and Paul, Trench, & Co., 1882)

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