His route lay through the Low Countries, and by the Rhine to Switzerland. On his way he halted at Brussels and visited the field of Waterloo. He reached Geneva on the 25th of May, where he met by appointment at Dejean's Hôtel d'Angleterre, Shelley, Mary Godwin and Clare (or "Claire") Clairmont. The meeting was probably at the instance of Claire, who had recently become, and aspired to remain, Byron's mistress. On the 10th of June Byron moved to the Villa Diodati on the southern shore of the lake. Shelley and his party had already settled at an adjoining villa, the Campagne Montalègre. The friends were constantly together. On the 23rd of June Byron and Shelley started for a yachting tour round the lake. They visited the castle of Chillon on the 26th of June, and, being detained by weather at the Hôtel de l'Ancre, Ouchy, Byron finished (June 27-29) the third canto of Childe Harold (published November 18), and began the Prisoner of Chillon (published December 5, 1816). These and other poems of July-September 1816, e.g. "The Dream" and the first two acts of Manfred (published June 16, 1817), betray the influence of Shelley, and through him of Wordsworth, both in thought and style.
Byron knew that Wordsworth had power, but was against his theories, and resented his criticism of Pope and Dryden. Shelley was a believer and a disciple, and converted Byron to the Wordsworthian creed. Moreover he was an inspiration in himself. Intimacy with Shelley left Byron a greater poet than he was before. Byron passed the summer at the Villa Diodati, where he also wrote the Monody on the Death of Sheridan, published September 9, 1816. The second half of September was spent and devoted to "an excursion in the mountains." His journal (September 18-29), which was written for and sent to Mrs Leigh, is a great prose poem, the source of the word pictures of Alpine scenery in Manfred. His old friend Hobhouse was with him and he enjoyed himself, but at the close he confesses that he could not lose his "own wretched identity" in the "majesty and the power and the glory" of nature. Remorse was scotched, not killed. On the 6th of October Byron and Hobhouse started via Milan and Verona for Venice, which was reached early in November. For the next three years Byron lived in or near Venice - at first, 1816-1817, in apartments in the Frezzeria, and after January 1818 in the central block of the Mocenigo palace. Venice appealed both to his higher and his lower nature.
He set himself to study her history, to understand her constitution, to learn her language. The sights and scenes with which Shakespeare and Otway, Schiller's Ghostseer, and Madame de Staël's Corinne had made him familiar, were before his eyes, not dreams but realities. He would "repeople" her with her own past, and "stamp her image" on the creations of his pen. But he had no one to live for but himself, and that self he gave over to a reprobate mind. He planned and pursued a life of deliberate profligacy. Of two of his amours we learn enough or too much from his letters to Murray and to Moore - the first with his landlord's wife, Marianna Segati, the second with Margarita Cogni (the "Fornarina"), a Venetian of the lower class, who amused him with her savagery and her wit. But, if Shelley may be trusted, there was a limit to his candour. There is abundant humour, but there is an economy of detail in his pornographic chronicle. He could not touch pitch without being defiled. But to do him justice he was never idle. He kept his brains at work, and for this reason, perhaps, he seems for a time to have recovered his spirits and sinned with a good courage. His song of carnival, "So we'll go no more a-roving," is a hymn of triumph.
About the middle of April he set out for Rome. His first halt was at Ferrara, which inspired the "Lament of Tasso" (published July 17, 1817). He passed through Florence, where he saw "the Venus" (of Medici) in the Uffizi Gallery, by reedy Thrasymene and Term's "matchless cataract" to "Rome the Wonderful." At Rome, with Hobhouse as companion and guide, he stayed three weeks. He returned to Venice on the 28th of May, but shortly removed to a villa at Mira on the Brenta, some 7 m. inland. A month later (June 26) when memory had selected and reduced to order the first impressions of his tour, he began to work them up into a fourth canto of Childe Harold. A first draft of 126 stanzas was finished by the 29th of July; the 60 additional stanzas which made up the canto as it stands were written up to material suggested by or supplied by Hobhouse, "who put his researches" at Byron's disposal and wrote the learned and elaborate notes which are appended to the poem. Among the books which Murray sent out to Venice was a copy of Hookham Frere's Whistlecraft. Byron took the hint and produced Beppo, a Venetian Story (published anonymously on the 28th of February 1818). He attributes his choice of the mock heroic ottava-rima to Frere's example, but he was certainly familiar with Casti's Novelle, and, according to Stendhal, with the poetry of Buratti. The success of Beppo and a growing sense that "the excellent manner of Whistlecraft" was the manner for him, led him to study Frere's masters and models, Berni and Pulci. An accident had led to a great discovery.
The fourth canto of Childe Harold was published on the 28th of April 1818. Nearly three months went by before Murray wrote to him, and he began to think that his new poem was a failure. Meanwhile he completed an "Ode on Venice," in which he laments her apathy and decay, and contrasts the tyranny of the Old World with the new birth of freedom in America. In September he began Don Juan. His own account of the inception of his last and greatest work is characteristic but misleading. He says (September 9) that his new poem is to be in the style of Beppo, and is "meant to be a little quietly facetious about everything." A year later (August 12, 1819), he says that he neither has nor had a plan - but that "he had or has materials." By materials he means books, such as Dalzell's Shipwrecks and Disasters by Sea, or de Castelnau's Histoire de la nouvelle Russie, etc., which might be regarded as poetry in the rough. The dedication to Robert Southey (not published till 1833) is a prologue to the play. The "Lakers" had given samples of their poetry, their politics and their morals, and now it was his turn to speak and to speak out.