The name of Byron is so intimately associated with Venice that I think a brief account of his life there (so far as it can be told) might be found interesting.
It was suggested by Madame de Flanhault that Byron was drawn to Venice not only by its romantic character, but because, since he could go everywhere by water, his lameness would attract less attention than elsewhere. Be that as it may, he arrived in Venice late in 1816, being then twenty-eight. He lodged first in the Frezzeria, and at once set to work upon employments so dissimilar as acquiring a knowledge of the Armenian language in the monastery on the island of San Lazzaro and making love to the wife of his landlord. But let his own gay pen tell the story. He is writing to Tom Moore on November 17, 1816: “It is my intention to remain at Venice during the winter, probably, as it has always been (next to the East) the greenest island of my imagination. It has not disappointed me; though its evident decay would, perhaps, have that effect upon others. But I have been familiar with ruins too long to dislike desolation. Besides, I have fallen in love, which, next to falling into the canal (which would be of no use, as I can swim), is the best or the worst thing I could do. I have got some extremely good apartments in the house of a ‘Merchant of Venice,’ who is a good deal occupied with business, and has a wife in her twenty-second year. Marianna (that is her name) is in her appearance altogether like an antelope. She has the large, black, oriental eyes, with that peculiar expression in them which is seen rarely among Europeans—even the Italians—and which many of the Turkish women give themselves by tinging the eyelid, an art not known out of that country, I believe. This expression she has naturally—and something more than this. In short—.” The rest of this amour, and one strange scene to which it led, very like an incident in an Italian comedy, is no concern of this book. For those who wish to know more, it is to be found, in prose, in the Letters, and, in verse, in Beppo.
On this his first visit to Venice, Byron was a private individual. He was sociable in a quiet way, attending one or two salons, but he was not splendid. And he seems really to have thrown himself with his customary vigour into his Armenian studies; but of those I speak elsewhere. They were for the day: in the evening, he tells Moore, “I do one of many nothings—either at the theatres, or some of the conversaziones, which are like our routs, or rather worse, for the women sit in a semi-circle by the lady of the mansion, and the men stand about the room. To be sure, there is one improvement upon ours—instead of lemonade with their ices, they hand about stiff rum-punch—punch, by my palate; and this they think English. I would not disabuse them of so agreeable an error,—’no, not for “Venice"’.”
The chief houses to which he went were the Palazzo Benzon and the Palazzo Albrizzi. Moore when in Venice a little later also paid his respects to the Countess Albrizzi. “These assemblies,” he wrote home, “which, at a distance, sounded so full of splendour and gallantry to me, turned into something much worse than one of Lydia White’s conversaziones.”