Famous Meetings in History Stendhal Meets Lord Byron Part 1

About the meeting of the famous writers and poets Stendhal and Lord Byron, history and account of the meeting.

Stendhal Meets Lord Byron

When: 1816

Where: Milan, Italy

Who: Born Marie Henri Beyle, he was to become famous later under the pen name of Stendhal. In 1816, at the age of 33, Stendhal was still largely unknown. Until then, his career had been mixed. He had worked in the French War Office, had served briefly as a sublieutenant in the army, had acted as the editor of a magazine, and had published one book on music. His most notable achievement was as an officer and secretary under Napoleon Bonaparte during the disastrous campaign in Russia. He had been in Milan two years and would remain four more; in the year after seeing Lord Byron, he would publish two books on Italy. In the following quarter of a century. Stendhal would become known as the author of The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma. By contrast, in 1816 George Gordon, Lord Byron, was already internationally renowned as a poet. Six years before, he had published the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and, as he noted in his journal. "awoke the next morning to find myself famous." The previous year he had left his native England under a cloud of scandal created by a stormy affair with Lady Caroline Lamb; a harsh breakup with his wife. Annabella; and an alleged incestuous affair with his half sister, Augusta.

What Led to the Meeting: Stendhal had traveled from France to Milan merely because he wanted new sights, adventure, fresh background. The side-whiskered, ugly, pudgy budding author, a clever and biting raconteur, was immediately adopted by the literati of Milan. Lord Byron, at 28, was in self-imposed exile and had come to Italy to live and write. Milan was merely a sight-seeing stop on his itinerary. Socially, he was received as a tremendous celebrity by the writers and aristocrats of Milan. Since they were moving in the same circles, it was inevitable that Stendhal and Lord Byron should meet. On Oct. 17, 1816, Stendhal attended a dinner party at the Casa Roma, where Lord Byron was a guest of honor. Apparently, they were not introduced. But six days later, at Stendhal's request, they met formally in a marquis's box at La Scala, the opera house.

What Happened: Upon initially meeting the poet at La Scala, Stendhal was overwhelmed. Momentarily speechless, he later confessed. "I was filled with timidity and affection: if I had dared. I would have burst into tears and kissed Lord Byron's hand." Finally, he was forced to speak, and when he did, he got off to a bad start. Since Stendhal was the only other person in the opera box who spoke English. Byron told him he wanted to walk back to his quarters and asked for directions. Stendhal, worrying that Byron would get lost, advised him to take a carriage. Byron, always sensitive about his clubfoot, thought Stendhal was thinking about his infirmity and was instantly antagonized. "At once a shade of haughtiness passed over his face," wrote Stendhal. "He gave me to understand, with all necessary politeness, that what he wanted of me was the names of the streets, and not advice as to how to use them."

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