"Beauty In Distress"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: On Byron's first trip to Europe, he and his companion, John Hobhouse, spent some time in Malta where they met Spencer Smith and his wife Constance. Hers was a fantastic story, quite apart from her adventures with the Marquis de Salvo. In 1806 she incurred the enmity of Napoleon and was imprisoned. She escaped down a rope ladder in male disguise. Byron was immediately taken with her, perhaps because of her near-sightedness and habit of looking at men with bewildered vagueness, like a romantic lady in distress. But she was realist enough to defraud the poet of a costly yellow diamond. Byron wrote to his mother that he was in love with a German lady with fat arms, though his references to her in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage II, 30–35, do not make him appear very much infatuated with her. Her actual name was Constance, but in his narrative the poet gives her the more romantic name of Florence. Thomas Moore, who used Byron's Memoirs in writing the poet's biography, declared–and Byron's friend Hobhouse agreed–that Byron's references to her were cold. With the passing of time, however, Byron idealized her in a number of short poems, and made passionate references to their relationship. The poems include "Stanzas Composed during a Thunderstorm," "Stanzas written in Passing the Ambracian Gulf," and "To Florence," of which the first, seventh, eighth, and final stanzas are here given. He tells her he loves her and wants her to look on him as a friend, and he will think of her when he sees her birthplace, Stamboul.

Oh Lady! when I left the shore,
The distant shore which gave me birth,
I hardly thought to grieve once more,
To quit another spot on earth: . . .
. . .
And who so cold as look on thee,
Thou lovely wand'rer, and be less?
Nor be, what man should ever be,
The friend of Beauty in distress?
Ah, who could think that form had past
Through Danger's most destructive path,
Had braved the death-winged tempest's blast,
And 'scaped a tyrant's fiercer wrath? . . .
. . .
And though I bid thee now farewell,
When I behold that wondrous scene,
Since where thou are I may not dwell,
'T will soothe to be, where thou hast been.