Letter To Douglas Kinnaird from George Gordon, Lord Byron
Venice, Octr. 26. [1819 ]

          My dear Douglas — My late expenditure has arisen from living at a distance from Venice and being obliged to keep up two establishments, from frequent journeys — and buying some furniture and books as well as a horse or two — and not from any renewal of the Epicurean system as you suspect.  I have been faithful in my honest liaison with Countess Guiccioli — and can assure you that She has never cost me directly or indirectly a sixpence — indeed the circumstances of herself and family render this no merit.  — I never offered her but one present — a broach of brilliants — and she sent it back to me with her own hair in it (I shall not say of what part but that is an Italian custom) and a note to say she was not in the habit of receiving presents of that value — but hoped I would not consider her sending it back as an affront — nor the value diminished by the enclosure. — I have not had a whore this half-year — confining myself to the strictest adultery. — Why should you prevent Hanson from making a peer if he likes it — I think the “Garretting” would be by far the best parliamentary privilege — I know of. — Damn your delicacy. — It is a low commercial quality — and very unworthy a man who prefixes “honourable” to his nomenclature.  If you say that I must sign the bonds — I suppose I must — but it is very iniquitous to make me pay my debts — you have no idea of the pain it gives one. — Pray do three things — get my property out of the funds — get Rochdale sold — get me some information from Perry about South America — and 4thly. ask Lady Noel not to live so very long. — As to Subscribing to Manchester — if I do that — I will write a letter to Burdett — for publication — to accompany the Subscription — which will be more radical than anything yet rooted — but I feel lazy. — I have thought of this for some time — but alas! the air of this cursed Italy enervates — and disenfranchises the thoughts of a man after nearly four years of respiration — to say nothing of emission. — As to “Don Juan” — confess — confess — you dog and be candid that it is the sublime of that there sort of writing — it may be bawdy — but is it not good English?  It may be profligate — but is it not life, is it not the thing?  — Could any man have written it — who has not lived in the world? — and tooled in a post-chaise? in a hackney coach? in a gondola? against a wall? in a court carriage? in a vis a vis? — on a table? — and under it?  I have written about a hundred stanzas of a third Canto — but it is a damned modest — the outcry has frightened me.  I have such projects for the Don — but the Cant is so much stronger than the Cunt — now a days, — that the benefit of experience in a man who had well weighed the worth of both monosyllables — must be lost to despairing posterity. — After all what stuff this outcry is — Lalla Rookh and Little — are more dangerous than my burlesque poem can be — Moore has been here — we got tipsy together and were very amicable — he is gone to Rome.  I put my life (in M.S.) into his hands — (not for publication) you — or any body else may see it — at his return. — It only comes up to 1816. — He is a noble fellow — and looks quite fresh and poetical — nine years (the age of a poem’s education) my senior — he looks younger — this comes of marriage and being settled in the Country.  I want to go to South America — I have written to Hobhouse all about it. — I wrote to my wife — three months ago — under care to Murray — has she got the letter — or is the letter got into Blackwood’s Magazine? — You ask after my Christmas pye — Remit it any how — Circulars is the best — you are right about income — I must have it all — how the devil do I know if I may live a year or a month? — I wish I knew that I might regulate my spending in more ways than one. — As it is one always thinks that there is but a span. — A man may as well break or be damned for a large sum as a small one — I should be loth to pay the devil or any creditor more than sixpence in the pound. —

[signature illegible]

P.S. — I recollect nothing of “Davie’s Landlord” — but what ever Davie says — I will swear to — and that’s more than he would. — So pray pay — has he a landlady too? —perhaps I may owe her something. — With regard to the bonds I will sign them but — it goes against the grain. — As to the rest — you can’t err — so long as you don’t pay. — Paying is executor’s or executioner’s work. —You may write somewhat oftener — Mr. Gagliani’s messenger gives the outline of your public affairs — but I see no results — you have no man yet — (always excepting Burdett — & you & H and the Gentlemenly leaven of your two-penny loaf of rebellion) don’t forget however my charge of horse — and commission for the Midland Counties and by the holies! — You shall have your account in decimals.  Love to Hobby — but why leave the Whigs?


Douglas Kinnaird — Byron’s old friend from Cambridge University, Kinnaird acted as Byron’s banker who acted as his literary agent once the poet left England in 1816.  We do not have Kinnaird’s letter to which Byron is replying, but clearly Kinnaird has written to Byron asking him to explain his expenses.

Epicurean — Epicureanism was a school of ancient Greek philosophy that argued that one should live for pleasure. Note that it does not argue for gluttony or indifference to suffering, rather that the creation and experience of pleasure is the greatest achievement of civilization.  Epicureanism is now often specifically associated with a love of fine food, but originally included other pleasures (music, art, conversation, sex) as well.

Teresa Guiccioli — A nineteen-year-old Italian countess whom Byron met and with whom he fell in love sometime in the spring of 1819. She was married to a fifty-year-old count, but in Italy it was so common for a young wife of an older nobleman to take a lover publicly that the lover was granted a sort of official status as a cavalier servante. In January 1820, Count Guiccioli actually rented Byron the upper floor of his palazzo, but in March they had a violent quarrel and Byron left.  Teresa took the almost unheard-of step of receiving from the Pope an official separation from her husband.  She and Byron then lived together in Ravenna, Pisa, and Genoa, where Byron became involved with a revolutionary group, the Carbonari.  He soon decided they were more talk than action, however, and after a failed insurrection in Naples in 1821, he decided a revolution in Italy would not succeed in the foreseeable future and turned his attention to Greece. Byron’s affair with Teresa continued until he sailed for Greece in July of 1823.

render this no merit — make the idea ridiculous; Byron is saying that the Countess and her family are so wealthy that she would have no reason for costing him any money

brilliants — gemstones, possibly diamonds, but possibly semi-precious stones, cut with many facets to reflect light

John Hanson — Byron’s lawyer and his literary agent before Kinnaird

“Peer of the Realm” — a minor lord.  Hanson did not receive a peerage.

Garretting — A garrett is a small apartment; Byron is referring to the apartments members of Paliament received.

a man who prefixes “honourable” — in England, certain professionals of a high social class would be addressed as — “the honourable Mr.”

Rochdale — an estate Byron had inherited and wanted to get out of mortgage so it could be sold

South America — Byron gave some thought to moving to Venezuela.  He greatly admired his contemporary Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), the hero of South American independence who had been born there.

Lady Noel — Byron’s mother-in-law.

Burdett— Sir Francis Burdett was a political reformer and leader of the opposition to the dominant Tories; here, Byron is talking about supporting his efforts to raise money for the victims of the masacre at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester, England, when cavalry under the orders of local officials charged unarmed protestors (many women and children), colloquially known as the Peterloo Massacre.

emission — ejaculation

tooled — had sex, apparently (the writing at this point in the letter is unclear; it could say fooled)

post-chaise — a closed, four-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage

hackney coach a coach for hire; the word hackney is still used today for the license one needs to drive a taxicab

vis-a-vis — a small carriage in which the two occupants sit face-to-face (vis-à-vis in French).

Cant — hypocritical speech, moralistic lecturing

monosyllablesCant and Cunt

Lalla Rookh and Little — “Lalla Rookh, an Oriental Romance” is a poem by Thomas Moore, whose first book was The Poetical Works of Thomas Little

my life (in M.S.) — my life in manuscript. Byron means his memoirs, which the famous publisher John Murray bought and burned in his office because he decided they were too scandalous to see print. From this letter we can see Byron did not actually want them published, but we can still regret the loss.

Hobhouse — John Cam Hobhouse was Byron’s fellow student at Cambridge and close friend. When Byron took the trip that became the basis for Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Hobhouse traveled with him.

Murray — John Murray (see note above).

pye — Slang for money in this case (as in “I want my fair share of the pie”).

Circulars — letters of credit, which one can show to prove someone will cover expenses up to a certain limit — sort of a 19th-century Mastercard.

break — go bankrupt

sixpence in the pound — usually said “sixpence on the pound”  This is just an expression, but literally that would equal 1/40th of what he owed (in the old system of English money, 12 pence = a shilling and 20 shillings = 1 pound, so 240 pence = 1 pound; thus sixpence = 1/40 of a pound).

Gagliani’s Messenger — a newspaper published in Paris but in English

H — Hobhouse

You shall have your acccount in decimals — meaning, “I’ll send you a careful account of my expenses.” 

Whigs — political party opposing the Tories. Traditionally, the Tories had favored the Monarchy and the Whigs had favored Parliament, but by this time the Monarchy had lost most of its power; the Tories were generally conservative (opposing greater enfranchisement and social reforms, favoring the hereditary nobility, advocating a militarily aggressive posture in most cases) and the Whigs liberal (favoring the merchant class and generally taking opposing positions to the Tories).