January 12th 1817. Although he will not know of it for some time, on this day Lord Byron becomes a father again, with the birth of Claire Clairmont’s daughter.
The child is born in Bath, the early nineteenth century resort for ladies who are “unwell” and needing “medical advice.” Mary Shelley is with her step-sister, and on the following day she writes to Byron with news of the birth of his second daughter, called Alba by the Shelleys.
This pet-name is a double pun: In Italian, Alba means dawn, and so is an apt name for someone just setting out in life. However, to anyone in the know it is also a clear pointer to the child’s father, since Byron, fond of bellowing out what he claims are Albanian songs, is known as Albé among the Shelleys.
Little Alba will be almost able to sit up by the time her father learns of her existence, since Mary’s letter takes some time to reach its destination, zig-zagging across Italy and finally catching up with Byron in Rome in May. Writing to his sister Augusta to share the news, he tells her,
… it seems that I have got another – a daughter… I am a little puzzled how to dispose of this new production (which is two or three months old though I did not receive the accounts till at Rome), but shall probably send for & place it in a Venetian convent – to become a good Catholic – & (it may be) a Nun – being a character much wanted in our family. – they tell me it is very pretty – with blue eyes and dark hair – and although I never was attached nor pretended attachment to the mother – still in case of the eternal war and alienation which i foresee about my legitimate daughter – Ada – it may be well to have something to repose a hope upon – I must love something in my old age.
“I must love something in my old age.” I’ll leave the last word to Woody Allen:
If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.