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Teresa’s Conjecture:

The Model for Eleanor in

“The Lament of Tasso

 

In the first volume of this e-journal I presented a case for the possibility of a romance between Byron and Charlotte, the Princess of Wales between 1813 and 1815.

Although the Princess mentions Byron and his poetry several times in letters to their mutual friend, Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, there is no record in any of Byron’s letters or journals of his having met the Princess or any mention of her before the report of her death in childbirth in 1817 reached him in Venice. She does, intriguingly, appear at the climax of his autobiographical poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. She appears in the poem in stanza 167, as a spirit rising from the abyss.  A few stanzas later, speaking as the poet, he says that he wishes that:

. . . the Desert were my dwelling place,

With one fair Spirit for my minister

That I might all forget the human race,

And, hating no one, love but only her[i]

 

There had been a set of oddly concurrent circumstances in the lives of Byron and Princess Charlotte including, for each of them, a mysterious love affair.  Historians and biographers have not conclusively determined either who it was that Byron loved in 1813-1814 or who was Charlotte’s love at that time.  It was rumoured to be the Duke of Devonshire, her cousin the Duke of Cumberland or Prince Frederick of Prussia. Whoever it was, he had given the Princess a ring with a heart shaped turquoise that she treasured.[ii]

There is one more piece to this puzzle after the poetic reference to the Princess by Byron in April 1817, a suggestive remark made years later in a letter.  This was in Italian and written two years after poor Princess Charlotte, with her still born son, was in her grave.

Byron had left England in April 1816 to live the rest of his life in warmer and more comfortable lands.  Whoever his “perverse passion” of the summer of 1813 had been, he had left that love behind with all others in the collapse of his fortunes and family life.

His older half sister, Augusta Leigh, assumed to have been that lover by many contemporaries and later biographers, was increasingly under the control of his wife, Annabella, Lady Byron, from whom he was legally separated.  She had agreed to show all Byron’s letters to Annabella and had finally acquiesced in her jealous demand that she not receive him if he ever returned to England.

In Italy, Byron at first settled down into a comfortable and convenient relationship with the wife of his landlord but soon expanded his sexual activities to the point of dissipation.  After a year or two of living as an embodiment of Don Juan, he was disillusioned.  He wrote one of his most memorable short poems to Tom Moore about the state of his psyche on February 28th, 1817:

 

So, we’ll go no more a’roving

  So late into the night

Though the heart be still as loving

  And the moon be still as bright.

 

For the sword outwears it’s sheath,

  And the soul wears out the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe,

  And love itself have rest.

 

Though the night was made for loving,

  And the day returns too soon,

Yet we’ll go no more a’roving

  By the light of the moon.[iii]

 

Yet, he roved on. 

Just as he had become utterly weary of this life he met the Contessa Teresa Giucciolli, a nineteen year old, newly married beauty with a husband nearing sixty.  She was on the look out for a lover.  A ‘cavaliere servente’ was an accepted, even an essential attribute of a high born Italian lady.  As he put it in a letter to John Cam Hobhouse on the 6th of April 1819, a week after meeting her. “I have hopes Sir – hopes.  What shall I do ! I am in love  - and tired of promiscuous concubinage - & have now an opportunity of settling for life.” [iv] 

He had found his last attachment.

On June 15th 1819, Byron, now most deeply in love, answered a letter from Teresa.  He loved her, of course, for her voluptuous beauty, but also for her educated interest in poets and poetry.

My love: I speak of Love and you reply with “Tasso” – I write about you and you ask me about Eleanor. If you want to make me to become more crazy than him - I assure you that you have the chance of succeeding.  In fact my Dear your research seems superfluous, you know my story at least in part - and even without this you can imagine that in order to describe strong passions one must have experienced them.  One of these days... when we are alone - I will tell you in person whether or not your conjecture about the original of the portrait is based on truth... answering your question if E[leanor] was the etc. etc.[v][vi]

 

 In Byron’s “The Lament of Tasso”, that Teresa had read in translation, Tasso  addresses the woman he loves from his cell in a mad-house.  He had been committed to it  by the Duke of Ferrara because he loved the Princess Eleanor.  He is resigned to his fate because: “ A Princess was no love mate for a Bard”.

Byron expresses the poet’s loneliness and desolation that a socially inappropriate love had separated him from society and his family.  He refuses, however to disclose his love or to repudiate it.

Byron, writing his letter in Italian, wrote “la etc. etc.”, for “the etc. etc” If Teresa had asked about his wife or his sister he would have written “mia etc etc”.   Why couldn’t he answer her question in writing? If he had taken (unalike as the circumstances of the relationships were) Lady Frances Webster or Lady Oxford or Lady Caroline Lamb as model for Eleanor why not write about it to Teresa in Italian, in 1819?  What could require that level of circumspection? Frances Webster was the object of scandal as Wellington’s mistress, Lady Oxford wore Byron’s miniature around her neck and Caroline Lamb had written Glenarvon.  Who could it have been whose love separated Byron from society yet required complete secrecy? If it was Augusta, would he discuss it with Teresa?

What was Teresa’s conjecture about the identity of the woman whose love, inappropriate and devastating, had been the model in Byron’s life for the love of Tasso’s Lament? He wrote to her “you know my story at least in part”.  What had he told her?  Byron didn’t  admit, in writing, who had been Princess Eleanor’s model.  Teresa’s letter is lost, and with  it her question, which he answered in person, so we can only guess - and sigh. 

The Royal scandal of 1813, if there was one, remains Byron’s secret. 

 

I was indeed delirious in my heart 

To lift my love so lofty as thou art;[vii] 

That thou wert beautiful and I not blind, 

Hath been the sin which shuts me from mankind;[viii] 

And yet my love without ambition grew; 

I knew thy state, my station, and I knew 

A Princess was no love mate for a bard

I told it not, I breathed it not, it was 

Sufficient to its self, its own reward[ix]

 

The last words are Byron’s:

 

. . . you know my story at least in part - and even without this you can imagine that in order to describe strong passions one must have experienced them[x]

 

By the bye - - - the Princess’s name was Charlotte Augusta.

 

 

References

 

Aspinall, A. 1949. Letters of Princess Charlotte; 1811 – 1817, Home and Van Thal: London

Byron. “The Lament of Tasso”

-------         “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”

Marchand, L. A. 1973-1979 Byron’s Letters and Journals, Vols. 5,6. Murray: London


 


Byronic Calendars

 

April, May and June

1814

 

 

April 1814

 

Sun

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thu

Fri

Sat

 

 

Where he is

Who he loves

What he is writing

What he is doing

Where he plans to go

How he feels

 

 

 

 

 

1

2, Albany

 

to Harriette Wilson: I am not unaquainted with your name or your beauty . . .but I am not the person whom you would like

2

to Six Mile Bottom

Augusta

 

To Murray: the last ed[ition] of C[ilde] H[arold] - is very unpleasant to me

3

Six Mile Bottom

Augusta

To France: Mr. Claughton is expected in town daily . . . urge the indispensible necessity of his fulfilling . . . the terms . . . his address will be  . . . the Grecian Coffee House

4

Six Mile Bottom

Augusta

 

 

5

Six Mile Bottom

Augusta

 

6

Six Mile Bottom

Augusta

 

7

to London

Augusta

 

 

8

2, Albany

Augusta

To Ly. Melbourne: I left all my relations, at least my niece and her Mamma very well – L[eigh] was in Yorkshire - & I regret not having seen him of course very much

I swallowed the D—l in ye. shape of a collar of brawn

 

 

9

2, Albany

To Tom Moore: . . . I have been and am, in very tolerable love; - but of that hereafter , as it may be. I have been boxing . . . with Jackson for this last month daily.  I have also been drinking – with three friends at the Cocoa Tree, from six  . . . unto five in the matin.  We clareted and champagned till two – then supped, and . . . a kind of regency punch composed of madeira, brandy and green tea,  . . . but I mean to pull up and marry, - if anyone will have me

10

2, Albany

Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte

11

2, Albany

To Murray: it will be best not to put my name to our Ode but you mat say openly as you like that it is mine

12

2, Albany

To Murray: a most scurrilous attack on us in the Antijacobin Review

To John Cam Hobhouse: my Parisian scheme is knocked up

13

2, Albany

 

 

14

2, Albany

 

 

15

2, Albany

 

 

16

2, Albany

 

17

2, Albany

To Murray: I send you Hunt with his ode – the thoughts are good – but the expressions buckram except here and there

 

18

2, Albany

Annabella

To Ly. Melbourne: I have as yet no intention of serving my soverign “in the  North

A friend of mine left town for Paris this morning

 

19

2, Albany

 

 

20

2, Albany

to Annabella Milbanke: it gave me much pleasure to hear from you again

To Tom Moore: In the mean time I have bought a macaw and a parrot . . . I box and fence daily, and go out very little

To Tom Moore: My departure for the continent depends . . .  on the incontinent.  I have two country invitations

 

21

2, Albany

 

22

2, Albany

 

 

 

23

2, Albany

To Murray: in Rochester’s poems mention is made of a play with the like delicate appellation

24

2, Albany

to Ldy Melbourne:[a dash made into a cross] tonight I am going with your Chevalier of Troy to the Prin[ce]ss of W[ale]s to dine & dawdle away the Evening

 

26

2, Albany

to Murray: If I ever did anything original it was in C[il}d[e] H[arol]d – which I prefer to the other things after the 1st week – yesterday I reread E[nglish] B[ards] – (baiting the malice) it is the best

 

 

27

2, Albany

 

 

 

28

2, Albany

 

 

 

 

 

30

2, Albany

My A

to Ldy Melbourne:: her subsequent “abandon. . . that women are much more attached than men . . . I think you must allow mine – to be a very extraordinary person in point of talent . . . my feelings toward her –good and diabolical. . . my heart always alights on the nearest perch

there is a party at

Ldy J[ersey]’s on Monday and on Wednesday . . .  Tuesday . . . I want to see Kean in Richard again

 


May 1814

 

Sun

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thu

Fri

Sat

1

2, Albany

My A

To Ldy Melbourne: she surely is very clever  - and not only so - but in some things of good judgement . . . excepting our most one tremendous fault – I know her to be in point of temper - & goodness of heart almost unequalled . . . she is in truth a very loveable woman . . . it is indeed a very triste and extraordinary business

Tomorrow I am asked to Ly Jersey’s  and on Wednesday again – Tuesday I go to Kean & dine after the play with Ld. Rancliffe – and on Friday there is Mrs. Hope’s . . . Mrs Damer with whom I weep - not to dine

2

2, Albany

My A

 

3

2, Albany

My A

To Miss Mercer Elphinstone: I send you the Arnaout garments . . . if you like the dress –keep it – I shall be very glad to get rid of it – as it reminds me of one or two things I don’t wish to remember

4

2, Albany

My A

To Tom Moore: Rancliffe’s board . . . ought it not to have been a dinner?

5

2, Albany

My A

To Tom Moore: Do you go to the Lady Cahir’s this even?

6

2, Albany

 

 

7

2, Albany

 

 

8

2, Albany

To Tom Moore: was not Iago perfection . . . at present poesy is not my passion predominant

9

2, Albany

Augusta

Dearest A – I enclose you Hammersley’s answer – I have money at Hoare’s & more coming soon

 

10

2, Albany

 

11

2, Albany

 

 

12

2, Albany

 

 

13

2, Albany

 

 

14

2, Albany

Annabella

 

 

15

2, Albany

16

2, Albany

 

 

17

2, Albany

 

18

2, Albany

To Ly Melbourne: I have not written to-day  - & shall weigh my words when I write to - - - tomorrow . . . I am trying to fall in love

I am elected to Watier’s – shall I resume play that will be a change

19

2, Albany

 

 

20

2, Albany

to Tom Moore: I suppose you will be at Lady Jersey’s.  I am going earlier with Hobhouse. . . . tomorrow we sup and see Kean

21

2, Albany

 

 

 

22

2, Albany

 

23

2, Albany

24

2, Albany

25

2, Albany

 

26

2, Albany

 

 

27

2, Albany

 

 

28

2, Albany

to Ly Melbourne: a wrathful epistle from C demanding letters – pictures – and all kinds of gifts

I hope we shall meet at Lady Grey’s or Clare’s this evening

29

2, Albany

To Lady Jersey: I send you something of which – if ill done- the shame can only be mine [lines on her picture being returned by the Prince Regent]

30

2, Albany

 

 

31

2, Albany

To Tom Moore: nothing but everyday flirtation of everyday people ever occurred between your heroine [Ly Adelaide Forbes] and myself. . . let me be married out of hand – I don’t care to whom, so that it amuses anybody and don’t interfere with me much in the daytime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


June 1814

 

Sun

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thu

Fri

Sat

 

 

 

1

2, Albany

2

2, Albany

 

 

3

2, Albany

 

 

 

4

2, Albany

 

5

2, Albany

 

6

2, Albany

To John Hanson: My affairs appear in every manner worse than ever – I wish to know what I could get for Rochdale – I am willing to sell it for what it will bring

7

2, Albany

To Sam Rogers: Sheridan was yesterday too sober to remember your invitation . . . Do you go tonight to Lord Eardley’s – shall I call for you?. . .The Stael outtalked Whitbread . . . was ironed by Sheridan – confounded Sir Humphrey . . . Mamselle daunced a Russ saraband . . . I think her eyes & figure promise a lively part in bed

 

8

2, Albany

To Henrietta D’Ussieres: As it seems impractical my visiting you – cannot you contrive to visit me? Telling me the time previously that I may be in ye. way . . . If you become acquainted with me - I will promise not to make love to you unless you like it – and even if I did there is no occasion for you to receive more of it than you please . . . what would my servants think? 1stly they seldom think at all - 2ndly  they are generally out of the way – particularly when most wanted – 3rdly I do not know you and I humbly imagine that they are no wiser

 

9

2, Albany

 

10

2, Albany

To Ly Melbourne: who ever said or supposed you were not shocked and all that? – you have done everything in your power -& more than any other person breathing would have done for me – to make me act rationally  . . . “whom the God’s wish to destroy – they first madden” . . . Annabella is the most prudish & correct person  I know . . . C  . . .supposes that Augusta who never troubles her head about her _ has said something or other on my authority – she seems puzzled about me and not at all near the truth . . . I must invent some flirtation to lead her from approaching it.

 

 

 

11

2, Albany

note by James Wedderburn Webster: I did take him to Lady Sitwell’s party in Seymour Road.  He there for the first time saw his cousin, the beautiful Mrs. Wilmot.  When we returned to his rooms at the Albany . . . The next day he wrote thaose charming lines upon her “She walks in Beauty Like the Night”

12

2, Albany

Lara

 

13

2, Albany

Lara

14

2, Albany

Lara

To Tom Moore: Keep the Journal . . . “Lara” is finished

I am going to R[ancliffe]’s tonight . . .

15

2, Albany

 

 

16

2, Albany

 

 

17

2, Albany

 

18

2, Albany

To Augusta Leigh: last night at Earl Grey’s. . .  up comes Rogers with your Ch[arlott]e [Lady Charl;otte Leveson-Gower] . . . till the first sentence there was a deal of valour on both sides . . . Devonshire asked me twice (last night) to come to Chiswick on Sunday ! –is that not a little odd?

 

 

19

2, Albany

To Samuel Rogers: my mornings are late and passed in fencing and boxing and a variety of most unpoetical exercises

 

20

2, Albany

21

2, Albany

To Annabella Milbanke:I wished to fix a time when I might have the pleasure of availing myself of Sir Ralph’s very welcome invitation

Lara

To Murray I suppose “Lara” is gone to the devil . . . I may be saved the trouble of copying the rest

 

 

22

 

 

 

 

23

Albany

 

 

24

Albany

To Augusta:. . . last night at Lady Jersey’s . . . your friend & I . . . talked a very good half hour . . . I think her so very pretty and pleasing

Lara

Correcting proofs

25

Albany

 

 

26

2, Albany

To Ly Melbourne: You talked to me - about keeping her [Caroline Lamb] out – it is impossible she comes at all times – at any time - & the moment the door is open in she walks – I can’t throw her out the window – I will not receive her. . . She may hunt me down – it is in the power of any mad or bad woman to do so by any man – but snare me she shall not

27

2, Albany

Lara

To Murray: You demanded more battle – there it is -

To Samuel Rogers: Do you go to Lord Essex’s tonight? . . .I dined with Holland-house yesterday at Lord Cowper’s . . . is there any chance or possibility of making it up with Lord Carlisle?

28

2, Albany

To Ly Melbourne: You must send me back the inclosed both A’s & the other immediately – you will see how demure I must have been . . . like all very correct people when they set about secrecy

29

2, Albany

30

2, Albany

 

 

 

 

Miss Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, The Intimate Friend of Charlotte, Princess of  Wales

and  of  Lord Byron


 


Miss Mercer was the daughter of Sir George Keith Elphinstone, by his first wife.  She was a very rich young woman by inheritance from her mother.  Doctor Johnson’s “Queenie”, Maria Hester Thrale, who had been a close friend of Byron’s grandmother, Sophia Trevanion Byron, was her step-mother.

Margaret was known as “the Fop’s Despair” as she was a most eligible bride - noble, beautiful, spirited and rich. She refused offers of marriage from the Duke of Clarence, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Cochrane and many others.  The many formal letters requesting her hand in marriage still exist.


            According to Byron’s close friend John Cam Hobhouse, Miss Mercer “is not handsome but has fine eyes.  She is attractive, sensible and not at all shy.  She told me she was present when the Princess of Wales burst into tears upon hearing the Prince abusing his Whig friends.  The Prince had drunk immoderately; it was just after the first course was removed.  The Princess began to sob violently, and her emotion became sensible so that the Prince said, “You had better retire”, with which all the ladies rose; and the Prince laying hold of Miss Mercer’s arm, dragged her into an inner drawing-room, and sat there for  half an hour.  In consequence Miss Mercer was forbidden for eight months the entrée of Warwick House.”

            Her relationship with Lord Byron is complex, and sad.

            Byron met her in the heady days of fame after his return from Turkey and Greece and the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in early 1812. 

            At a morning party of Lady Caroline Lamb’s on March 25th 1812 Annabella Milbanke met Lord Byron for the first time, which was reported with her usual waspishness: “I did not seek an introduction to him, for all the women were absurdly courting him, and trying to deserve the lash of his Satire”. One of those young women was Miss Mercer.  Annabella wrote to her mother after the party, “Miss Mercer Elphinstone, incomprehensible.  I suspect that she thinks it becoming to her situation to be assuming, and that the encouragement she unfortunately meets with, has increased this disagreeable habit, which may conceal a rightly disposed heart.  She was very roughly obliging to me”.

            In July, a friendly correspondence began between Byron and Miss Mercer.  She and Mrs George Lamb, Caroline’s sister in law, had gone to Tunbridge Wells and invited Byron to join them: “I am sure you would be amused if you could see us set off on some of our expeditions mounted upon donkies with Swiss saddles, and followed by two or three little boys and half a dozen dogs”.

            Byron answered, “I shall do honour to your donkey cavalcade in which I may most appropriately join.”

            Byron was sensitive to her reputation as an heiress and was embarrassed that she might think his friendship based on fortune hunting.  On May 4th 1814, he sent her one of his Albanian costumes to wear at a ball.  He wrote, “ you must recollect that from your situation you can never be sure you have a friend . . . and that any apparent anxiety on my part to cultivate your acquaintance might have appeared to yourself as an importunity and – as I happen to know – would have been attributed by others to a motive not very creditable to me, and agreeable to either”.

            She replied, “I am too well aware of the desagrements of my own situation.  I am certain no woman of real feeling could value such a one.  However, with regard to our acquaintance, I can only say I must ever think of it with pleasure, and trust that all the nonsense that has been said, or may be said, will not prevent its continuance”.

            Two years later, his fortunes and family destroyed, Lady Jersey gave a farewell party  for Byron.  After all the other ladies of fashion had rushed out of the room to avoid speaking to him, Margaret Mercer approached and said, “You should have married me.”

            It was the truth.

References

 

Elwin, M.(1962) Lord Byron’s Wife, Harcourt Brace: New York

Marchand, L.A., Byron’s Letters and Journals. Vols 3 and 4, Murray:London

Paston, G. and P Quennell,(1939) To Lord Byron, Scribener’s: New York


 

©  Anne Ridsdale Mott

January 22, 1999

 

Byronmania

 

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to be published January 22, April 19 and December 10

 

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Anne Ridsdale Mott, B Ed., M Ed.

Douglas College, New Westminster, B.C. Canada

 

Questions?  byronmania [at] shaw [dot] ca

 



[i] CHP 4, 177, 1-4

[ii] Aspinall, p.150

[iii] BLJ 5, 176

[iv] BLJ 6, 108

[v] BLJ 6, 106

[vi] The Lament of Tasso, II, 23-24

[vii] The Lament of Tasso, II, 18-19

[viii] The Lament of Tasso, II, 23-24

[ix] The Lament of Tasso, V, 11-15

[x] BLJ 6, 157-159