February 19th 1817: Ash Wednesday, and the Carnival festivities in Venice have come to an end for another year.
Byron, newly-returned from a masked ball at Gran Teatro La Fenice, writes a short letter to his sister Augusta, apologising for his brevity thus,
I have been up all night at the masked ball of the Fenice – and am rather tired… it was a fine sight – the theatre illuminated – and all the world buffooning. – I had my box full of visitors – masks of all kinds – and afterwards (as is the custom) went down to promenade the pit – which was boarded over level with the stage.
After telling her that he has been to many similar occasions over the past six weeks (at that time the Venetian Carnival began on 26 December and ended only with the start of Lent: most modern Venetians find that the current two-week time-span is more than long enough) he jokes,
I went out now and then – but was less dissipated than you would expect.
As far as his sister is concerned, he leaves it at that, although he has given his friend Tom Moore a more detailed description of one of his Carnival adventures, when a gondolier delivered a letter from a young lady desiring to meet him to which he – contented in his current domestic set-up with his landlady/lover Marianna – sent a polite refusal, only for the young lady herself to walk into his apartment late that evening to be followed a few minutes later by Marianna herself. The young lady is her sister-in-law, and she recognised the family gondolier when he delivered the note!
… without a single word [she] seizes her sister-in-law by the hair, and bestows upon her some sixteen slaps, which would have made your ear ache only to hear their echo. I need not describe the screaming that ensued. I seized Marianna, who, after several vain efforts to get away in pursuit of the enemy, fairly went into fits in my arms…
… After about an hour in comes – who? Why, Signor S, her lord and husband, and finds me with his wife fainting upon the sofa… and the lady as pale as ashes without sense or motion. His first question was, “What is all this?”
What indeed? From such scenes as this Don Juan will be born.
Little wonder, then, that he confides to Tom Moore that the Carnival has knocked me up a little.
However, the result of his late nights and adventures is his most beautiful short poem, written as he looks back on the Carnival of 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 its 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.