25th November 1816, and Byron is writing to his publisher in London, John Murray, to tell him how quickly he has settled into Venetian life, and how comfortable he is in Venice. For one thing, the city keeps the sort of late hours which suit him,
… the theatres are not open till nine, he writes, and the society is proportionately late…
In common with most visitors, and the majority of the inhabitants, he has hired a private gondola to help him move around the city, which he finds – as do many of those who continue to come here two hundred years later – gloomy, decaying, and beautiful.
He has been out and about in Society, both at the home of the Austrian Governor, where he discussed Shakespeare with the Governor’s Lady, and at the palazzo of the famous Madame Albrizzi. He has already found his way into that lady’s affections by writing verses in honour of a sculpture of Helen of Troy by the great Venetian Antonio Canova, one of Madame’s most treasured possessions.
In this beloved marble view
Above the works and thoughts of Man,
What Nature could but would not do,
And Beauty and Canova can!
Beyond Imagination’s power,
Beyond the Bard’s defeated art,
With Immortality her dower,
Behold the Helen of the heart.
And, he laughingly tells Murray,
Talking of the “heart” reminds me that I have fallen in love – which except for falling in the Canal – (and that would be useless as I swim) is the best (or worst) thing I could do. – – I am therefore in love – fathomless love…
The object of his affections is his landlady, Marianna Segati, the twenty-two year old wife of a linen draper. Byron has moved into lodgings in Frezzeria, above Signor Segati’s shop, where he will stay for more than a year.
Unfortunately, no likenesses of Marianna survive, but Byron describes her as being very pretty, not too tall (perfect for a man who is conscious of his height), with dark curly hair and “large black oriental eyes.” She has a beautiful voice and Byron finds her quiet manner very calming. If we can believe Byron’s words to another friend, Tom Moore, Marianna is the one who initiated their relationship. Then again he always says that: poor soul, women pursue him across Europe.
Whatever the truth of the matter, as his turbulent year draws to a close, for now at least, he is content.