He too would write "An Excursion." He doubted that Don Juan might be "too free for these modest days." It was too free for the public, for his publisher, even for his mistress; and the "building up of the drama," as Shelley puts it, was a slow and gradual process. Cantos I., II. were published (4to) on the 15th of July 1819; Cantos III., IV., V., finished in November 1820, were not published till the 8th of August 1821. Cantos VI.-XVI., written between June 1822 and March 1823, were published at intervals between the 15th of July 1823 and the 26th of March 1824. Canto XVII. was begun in May 1823, but was never finished. A fragment of fourteen stanzas, found in his room at Missolonghi, was first published in 1903.
He did not put all his materials into Don Juan. "Mazeppa, a tale of the Russian Ukraine," based on a passage in Voltaire's Charles XII., was finished by the 30th of September 1818 and published with "An Ode" (on Venice) on the 28th of June 1819. In the spring of 1819 Byron met in Venice, and formed a connexion with, an Italian lady of rank, Teresa (born Gamba), wife of the Cavaliere Guiccioli. She was young and beautiful, well-read and accomplished. Married at sixteen to a man nearly four times her age, she fell in love with Byron at first sight, soon became and for nearly four years remained his mistress. A good and true wife to him in all but name, she won from Byron ample devotion and a prolonged constancy. Her volume of Recollections (Lord Byron jugé par les témoins de sa vie, 1869), taken for what it is worth, is testimony in Byron's favour. The countess left Venice for Ravenna at the end of April; within a month she sent for Byron, and on the 10th of June he arrived at Ravenna and took rooms in the Strada di Porto Sisi. The house (now No. 295) is close to Dante's tomb, and to gratify the countess and pass the time he wrote the "Prophecy of Dante" (published April 21, 1821). According to the preface the poem was a metrical experiment, an exercise in terza rima; but it had a deeper significance.
It was "intended for the Italians." Its purport was revolutionary. In the fourth canto of Childe Harold, already translated into Italian, he had attacked the powers, and "Albion most of all" for her betrayal of Venice, and knowing that his word had weight he appeals to the country of his adoption to strike a blow for freedom - to "unite." It is difficult to realize the force or extent of Byron's influence on continental opinion. His own countrymen admired his poetry, but abhorred and laughed at his politics. Abroad he was the prophet and champion of liberty. His hatred of tyranny - his defence of the oppressed - was a word spoken in season when there were few to speak but many to listen. It brought consolation and encouragement, and it was not spoken in vain. It must, however, be borne in mind that Byron was more of a king-hater than a people-lover. He was against the oppressors, but he disliked and despised the oppressed. He was aristocrat by conviction as well as birth, and if he espoused a popular cause it was de haut en bas.
His connexion with the Gambas brought him into touch with the revolutionary movement, and thenceforth he was under the espionage of the Austrian embassy at Rome. He was suspected and "shadowed," but he was left alone.
Early in September Byron returned to La Mira, bringing the countess with him. A month later he was surprised by a visit from Moore, who was on his way to Rome. Byron installed Moore in the Mocenigo palace and visited him daily. Before the final parting (October 11) Byron placed in Moore's hands the MS. of his Life and Adventures brought down to the close of 1816. Moore, as Byron suggested, pledged the MS. to Murray for 2000 guineas, to be Moore's property if redeemed in Byron's lifetime, but if not, to be forfeit to Murray at Byron's death. On the 17th of May 1824, with Murray's assent and goodwill, the MS. was burned in the drawing-room of 50 Albemarle Street. Neither Murray nor Moore lost their money. The Longmans lent Moore a sufficient sum to repay Murray, and were themselves repaid out of the receipts of Moore's Life of Byron. Byron told Moore that the memoranda were not "confessions," that they were "the truth but not the whole truth." This, no doubt, was the truth, and the whole truth.
Whatever they may or may not have contained, they did not explain the cause or causes of the separation from his wife.
At the close of 1819 Byron finally left Venice and settled at Ravenna in his own apartments in the Palazzo Guiccioli. His relations with the countess were put on a regular footing, and he was received in society as her cavaliere servente. At Ravenna his literary activity was greater than ever. His translation of the first canto of Pulci's Morgante Maggiore (published in the Liberal, No. IV., July 30, 1832), a laborious and scholarly achievement, was the work of the first two months of the year. From April to July he was at work on the composition of Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice, a tragedy in five acts (published April 21, 1821). The plot turns on an episode in Venetian history known as La Congiura, the alliance between the doge and the populace to overthrow the state. Byron spared no pains in preparing his materials. In so far as he is unhistorical, he errs in company with Sanudo and early Venetian chronicles. Moved by the example of Alfieri he strove to reform the British drama by "a severer approach to the rules." He would read his countrymen a "moral lesson" on the dramatic propriety of observing the three unities.
It was an heroic attempt to reassert classical ideals in a romantic age, but it was "a week too late"; Byron's "regular dramas" are admirably conceived and finely worded, but they are cold and lifeless.
Eighteen additional sheets of the Memoirs and a fifth canto of Don Juan were the pastime of the autumn, and in January 1821 Byron began to work on his second "historical drama," Sardanapalus. But politics intervened, and little progress was made. He had been elected capo of the "Americani," a branch of the Carbonari, and his time was taken up with buying and storing arms and ammunition, and consultations with leading conspirators. "The poetry of politics" and poetry on paper did not go together. Meanwhile he would try his hand on prose. A controversy had arisen between Bowles and Campbell with regard to the merits of Pope. Byron rushed into the fray. To avenge and exalt Pope, to decry the "Lakers," and to lay down his own canons of art, Byron addressed two letters to **** ****** (i.e. John Murray), entitled "Strictures on the Life and Writings of Pope." The first was published in 1821, the second in 1835.