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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Byron in Italy!

This year we had a family holiday in Italy, and one of the highlights of our holiday was a trip to Venice, one of Lord Byron's favourite haunts: he lived there for several years.  

The first apartments which Byron rented in Italy (in 1817, the year Jane Austen died) are in the Piscina di Frezzeria, and the house (right) takes some finding as there is no commemorative plaque: you would never guess that one of the most famous Romantic poets once lived there. It must have been a very noisy household, because Byron kept his pet dogs, monkeys and foxes as there as well as a beautiful Italian mistress, Marianna Segati.

But if you go to Venice and take a ride along the Grand Canal by water-bus (vaporetto) you will see the Palazzo Mocenigo, where Lord Byron lived in 1818.  
During Byron's stay in Venice, as well as writing poems Don Juan and further instalments of Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage, he studied Armenian at the monastery on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni.

The monastery is a magical place to visit; the monks give guided tours to visitors, and you can see their wonderful library and historic manuscripts, and the room where Lord Byron studied the Armenian language.  There's a scholarly introduction and overview of Byron's life and works here.

Lord Byron receives an honourable mention in one of Jane Austen's letters to Cassandra, dated 5 March 1814. She wrote: 'I have read the Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do'.  Tantalisingly, Jane gives no hint of whether she enjoyed reading one of the best-selling epic poems of the day!

Images © Sue Wilkes:
Lord Byron's apartment, Piscina di Frezzeria.
Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice.
Plaque dedicated to Lord Byron at San Lazzaro degli Armeni.
View of 'Lord Byron's Hill' and the gardens at Isola di San Lazzaro where he used to sit and think - thank you very much indeed to the kind guide who gave permission for me to take this picture from inside the monastery.

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