BYRON (GEORGE GORDON, Lord) Four letters signed, to the Greek patriot Giorgio Vitali at Leghorn, 1823
Lot 26
Sold for £ 10,000 (US$ 13,248) inc. premium

Lot Details
Four letters signed (three as "Noel Byron, Pair d'Angleterre", one with initials), the text in the hand of Count Pietro Gamba, brother of his mistress Teresa Guiccioli, in Italian, to the Greek patriot Giorgio Vitali at Leghorn, making arrangements for his voyage to Greece on which Vitali was to accompany him: (i) in the first letter, declining an offer of passage in Vitali's ship and explaining that he has already hired an English brig for the voyage "& there is no way that I can get out of it"; offering nevertheless to accommodate Vitali on the brig "as I am persuaded that your company will be more than a little helpful to my plans to make myself as useful as possible to your homeland"; he also asks whether Vitali can come to Genoa, if not, he can be picked up at Leghorn, and announces that his departure is set for 10 July, adding: "If any other important news from your country arrives, I beg you to keep me informed of it. May heaven will that events correspond with my vows" (June 30, 1823); (ii) the second, rescheduling his departure to July 12: "in two or three days I shall reach Leghorn, where you will meet me, & we shall continue on our journey straightaway. I have received letters from Blanquiere & Luriottis, in which I was asked to make haste & therefore I do not want a moment to be lost on my account. For this reason alone I cannot enjoy the pleasure of presenting my respects to your venerable Metropolitan [Ignatius, bishop of Arta] if he is not in Leghorn. I am most grateful for the letters he has forwarded for me [to take to Greece] & I shall gladly accept any other task it pleases him to ask of me. I understand that the moment for the great conflict has arrived – and because of that I would never be able to forgive myself the least delay at a time of such urgency" (July 7, 1823); (iii) in the third stating: "In order not to lose a moment of my time, I have resolved not to make a stop at Leghorn except to take you on board along with the other English gentleman to whom I have offered passage [James Hamilton Browne]"; confirming that he will leave Genoa "without fail" on July 12, unless the wind is unfavourable; and asking Vitali to tell his compatriots to have any despatches and instructions relating to his mission ready for his arrival. (July 9, 1823); (iv) in the fourth, delaying his departure until July 14, and telling Vitali: "I have been advised that when passing through Leghorn I should not drop anchor in order to avoid pointless expense & waste of time. Make arrangements, therefore, with the other English passenger, Mr Browne, so that you can reach me in a small boat as I pass by, once you have seen the prearranged signals" (July 12, 1823), 4 pages, in Italian, the text in the hand of Pietro Gamba, integral address-leaves, seals, seal-tears, in fine condition, with translations, 4to, Genoa, 30 June, 7 July, 9 July and 12 July 1823


  • 'THE MOMENT FOR THE GREAT CONFLICT HAS ARRIVED': LORD BYRON PREPARES TO SET SAIL FOR GREECE, where he was to die nine months later 'that Greece may still be free'. These four evocative letters, in the hand of the brother of his beloved Teresa Guiccioli, were written while Byron was making his final preparations for departure. He was to bid farewell to Teresa and board his ship, the Hercules, on 13 July, the day after writing the last of them. However, his departure was to be delayed by calms, and then a storm. By some accounts, his mood at this time was despondent, almost fatalistic. During the delay he went on shore again to visit the house outside Genoa that he had shared with Teresa; as her brother recalled: 'His conversation was somewhat melancholy on our way to Albaro, he spoke much of his past life, and of uncertainty of the future, "where," said he, "shall we be in a year?"' (quoted by Leslie A. Marchand, Byron: A Biography, 1957, iii, p. 1089).

    They eventually set sail from Genoa on the 16th: 'When the Hercules glided slowly into the port at Leghorn on a light breeze late in the afternoon of July 21, Byron and his entourage were greeted by a salute of thirteen guns from an Ionian vessel. Its commander, Captain George Vitali, had already asked and been granted passage to his homeland by Byron, and he now came immediately on board the Hercules with several Greek merchants, who, according to Pietro Gamba, called themselves his intimate friends, but who later "began to accuse Sig. V. with being a desperado and imposter, capable of selling us to the Turks"' (Marchand, Byron, iii, p. 1094). Giorgio Vitali (1776-1854) came from an ancient Venetian family with extensive holdings in Greece, especially the island of Zante, where Giorgio had been born. He and his brother, Scipio, were to play a significant part in the struggle for Greek independence, siding with the Francophile party who wished to establish a French prince on the Greek throne. After the accession of Otto of Bavaria as King of Greece 1832, they retired to France, Giorgio dying in Paris.

    During the couple of days spent at Leghorn, Byron received a verse-tribute from Goethe and dashed off his famous reply: "I sailed from Genoa some days ago – was driven back by a Gale of Wind – and have since sailed again – and arrived here (Leghorn) this morning to receive on board some Greek passengers for their struggling country" (22 July 1823). They set sail once again on 24 July. In the next sighting we have of Vitali, he cuts a less heroic figure. Another passenger they picked up at Leghorn had been a young Englishman, James Hamilton Browne (see Byron's third letter to Vitali, above), who many years later described how Vitali had taken on board a large trunk which, after a few days at sea, gave off such a noxious smell that John Scott, the captain of the brig, ordered it be brought on deck and opened. It was then discovered that Vitali had smuggled on board a roast pig which was rapidly decomposing. With it was some contraband cloth that Vitali hoped to sell when they got to Greece. To get his own back, Byron let Scott know that Vitali was 'addicted to certain horrible propensities too common in the Levant. The look of horror and aversion with which Scott then regarded the poor man was indescribable... Scott could not speak a word of Italian, and the Greek, seeing him in a passion whenever he beheld him, could not comprehend the reason for it... Lord Byron... was absolutely convulsed with laughter' (Blackwood's Magazine, 1854, quoted by Doris Langley Moore, Lord Byron's Accounts Rendered, 1974, pp. 378-9). They finally reached Cephalonia on 2 August.

    These letters are not published in Leslie A. Marchand, Byron's Letters and Journals (1973-1994).
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