Lord Byron and me would sound better than Lord Byron and my family, but the latter link is what this article and extracts are about. There are at least two links between Byron and my Italian family, both dating back to Byron’s stay in Italy between 1816 and 1823. The most notable is that Byron’s Italian lover, Teresa Guiccioli, born Gamba to Ruggiero Gamba, was part of my Italian family as she was the third wife of my ancestor Alessandro Guiccioli. The second link is that Byron’s contact in Ferrara, was a Graziadei, a direct ancestor of mine.
These below are extracts from a document found on the website of the Newstead Abbey Byron Society. They were taken from Peter Cochran’s book “Byron and Italy” which is linked below. The extracts highlight some of these links, and how they were portrayed at the time in letters written by Byron spies. It is all very amusing to read today two hundred years later.
“ITALIAN AND AUSTRIAN POLICE REPORTS ON BYRON
Almost from his arrival in Italy in 1816, Byron was under secret police surveillance as a potential disturber of the legitimate status quo. There is no disguising the comedy of some of the police reports printed here: it seems that they really did believe that the Romantic Movement took its inspiration from Roma Antica, and was thus republican in tendency. However, the fact that the tools of the establishment were stupid does not detract from the cruelty of what the establishment did. Byron could not himself be persecuted, for he was an English milord: instead those around him were persecuted, with a view to moving him on. Double agents were common.
This became a serious problem when, in Ravenna, he joined the Carbonari and became their capo. The hostility of the Papal authorities, shown despite his friendship with the church and hierarchy, manifested itself there in street-corner harassment of his servants and even attempts to overturn his carriage. When in reponse to the extradition of the Gambas from Ravenna in 1821, he left that city for Pisa, the bullying did not stop. I believe that the affair of Sergeant-Major Masi, who was pitchforked by one of Byron’s servants on March 24th 1822, was a set-up to “prove” that Byron represented a danger to the public peace. It resulted, as we all know, in the arrest, forcible shaving and imprisonment of his favourite gondolier, Tita Falcieri. The Gambas had to leave for Lucca and then for Genoa, where, finally, Byron left them for Greece in 1823.
Of course, Byron did represent a threat to the political establishment of Italy: he wanted the Austrians and the Bourbons out, and the country free. However, the spies have great difficulty conveying anything useful to their masters, and often one sees a spy who, having to prove that he’s earning his keep, invents small, idiotic tidbits of “useful information”, which are in turn forwarded by the local police boss, with due solemnity, to HQ in Rome.”
Extracts from the spy letters:
“1) Report to Colonna Sciarra, the Director of the Police at Bologna.
Your Excellency, – The Countess Guiccioli [part of my family], and not Vissoli, is said to be the innamorata of Lord Byron. She is the wife of our Cavaliere Guiccioli of Ravenna, and lives in the Contrada Gallieri, number 567, adjoining the Palazzo Meredoni”
“14) From the unnamed spy, dated 19th September 1819.
I hear that the said Lord is anxious to form a Society among persons of position in each city. At Bologna he has the Ercolani; at Ferrara, the Graziadei [my direct ancestors]..Such names as these certainly do not suggest that the character of the Society is merely literary. After much consideration and piecing together of facts, I have come to the conclusion that many works, pamphlets, and dangerous writings which are in circulation have issued from the workshop of Lord Byron. Even within the last few days the enclosed has appeared in a profusion of copies, each in a different and unknown handwriting – a multiplication of copies which is attributed to the dexterity of the secretary of the noble Lord [it appears Byron had no such secretary]. I send a copy. The character of the work, which is not unknown either to me or to you, shows its source, and confirms me in the views I have expressed.”
“15) From the unnamed spy, dated 29th September 1819. Words in square brackets a Police Chief’s interpolations.
‘I know the Romantici. They form a band that aims at the destruction of our literature, our politics, our country. Lord Byron is certainly its champion, and you deceive yourself if you believe that he is occupied only in making a cuckold of Guiccioli. He is libidinous and immoral to excess; but he soon tires of the object of his worship, and offers it as a sacrifice on the altar of his contemptuous pride. But, at the same time, in politics he is not so inconstant. Here he is an Englishman in the fullest meaning of the term. He is like a madman in his desire to ruin everything that does not belong to him, to paralyze every tendency that our Societies display towards national independence, [sic!] to involve us in ruin and bloodshed, [sic! sic!] in order that at last the deserted and still-smouldering States may be divided amongst his greedy and demoralized conspirators. [Oh what nonsense!]’
My correspondent, in sending me this scrap of a letter, reminds me of two verses inserted by Michele
Leoni of Parma, in his translation from the English of Lord Byron’s work on Italy. The lines run thus –
“And with you the teaching that is hidden Under the veil of the new songs.”
25) From the Director-General of Police at Rome to Metternich, 20th October 1819.
“Count Guiccioli of Ravenna [my ancestor], known as one of the most ferocious disturbers of public order, and closely linked to the aforesaid Byron, … is now … at Venice, and Byron is suspected of wishing to form a political club, under the appearance of a scientific group.”
39) Report from the President’s Office, Lucca,45 July 9th 1822.
Yesterday Count Gamba of Ravenna arrived in Lucca with a son, and a daugher married to Count Guiccioli … Lord Baylon’s [mispelling of Byron] lady-friend, and this morning they called upon me to request domicile in the Duchy. They come from Tuscany where they have resided for some time in company with the aforementioned Lord Baylon, from which country they have been expelled on account of a quarrel which took place resulting in the serious wounding of a certain Sergeant Masi, of which their respective servants have been accused of being the perpetrators, not without a grave suspicion of connivance on the part of their masters; what has been the outcome of the trial I am not able to state; but I do know that the Tuscan Government has expelled them not so much because of the Gambas as for the aforementioned Lord Baylon a most dangerous individual not only on account of his fiery nature but also on account of his talents and his resources.”