LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. NS 22  (January 1828)  84-96.
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New Monthly Magazine.

JANUARY 1, 1828.



When Mr. Moore consented to the destruction of Lord Byron’s Memoirs, he does not seem to have considered, any more than the persons whose vanity and fears were more immediately interested in their suppression, that he was only exciting, in a higher degree, the curiosity of the public, and leaving it to be gratified in a much more reprehensible manner than by their publication. We have no room to enter into the question at length, in the present article; but it is clear, that Mr. Moore’s holocaust has not only done mischief by leaving the ground open for Memoirs of Lord Byron’s life, conversation, and habits, less authentic, and at least as objectionable as the noble Poet’s autobiography, but for replies and refutations which could only be made unanswerable by bringing forward facts and expressions that it would have been desirable to bury for ever. Had Lord Byron’s own Memoirs appeared, all the statements and rejoinders to which we allude, would have been works of supererogation; and the natural desire which every man has, that his ignominies should not be remembered in his epitaph, would certainly have induced Lord Byron to suppress in his work all that he could not desire to have recorded against him; or at least, to have left his Manuscript in the hands of a friend, who, like Mr. Moore, was anxious to do not only justice, but to honour his memory and who could not, in our opinion, have so effectually done both, as by publishing his life, expunging only such parts as the Author’s spirit, could it have returned to earth, would have wished to suppress.

As this has not been done, however, it must be taken for granted, that the Memoirs were throughout utterly unfit for publication in any shape; and that Mr. Moore and Lord Byron’s other friends did not expurgate them, only because they were incapable of expurgation. This is unquestionably the general opinion on the subject; and the public feeling with regard to them has been adopted in all its latitude by many of those persons who have written about Lord Byron, who not scrupled to give the utmost liberty to their pens, in their reports of his conversations, real or pretended, persuaded that the world thought that nothing could be more scandalous than the Authentic Memoirs. Accordingly, by many of those persons, whom accidental circumstances brought into momentary contact with his Lordship, and many who never saw him, the public has been gratified with a variety of statements, most of them false, many that are “dash’d and brew’d with lies,” and the few that are true, never intended by Lord Byron to meet the public eye, though the incontinence of his tongue was so remarkable, that he could not restrain his communications, even when he was in the society of persons that were “setting his words in a note-book,” to cast into the public teeth.

John Wilson, Review of Hunt

Mr. Leigh Hunt, however, is not one of these dishonest chroniclers. His position with regard to Lord Byron, and the long and intimate
* “Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries. By Leigh Hunt.” 4to. London, 1828.
Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.85
habits of intercourse with him which he enjoyed, enabled him to contemplate the noble Poet’s character in all its darkness end brightness.
Gifted, too, like the subject of his Memoir, with very remarkable talents, he is much more to be relied on, both in his choice of points of view, and in his manner of handling his subject: he is not likely to spoil a bon-mot, an epigram, or a conversation and while he can seize all that was really piquant about his Lordship, he is infinitely above retailing the low gossip and garbage which same memoir-writers have done, in the true spirit of a waiting-maid or a lacquey. He possesses, moreover, one eminent qualification for the task which he has undertaken; he has a stern love of truth; and even his enemies will give him credit for being uniformly consistent and honest in the expression of his opinions on all subjects. In his present work he shows himself ready to be devoted as a martyr to Truth, (for that very word of the book is true, no reader can doubt,) and boldly exposes himself to all the vituperation of all the slaves who hated and attacked Lord Byron while living, but who will now come forward with a mock display of generosity, and sympathy with the illustrious departed, of whom they will represent Mr. Hunt as the ungrateful reviler.

From the charge of ingratitude, Mr. Leigh Hunt, in various passages of his book, successfully vindicates himself, and shows that the obligations which Lord Byron has been represented to have heaped on him, have been ludicrously exaggerated both in number and value. Into matters so delicate, however, we do not intend to enter. We mean only to make a few extracts, relative to the principal subject of the Memoir, who, it must be allowed, exhibits a good deal of the petty and the personal in his character: though his biographer is sufficiently indulgent to his faults and peculiarities, and is on all occasions anxious to do justice to his nobler qualities.

The circumstances under which Mr. Hunt first saw Lord Byron in Italy, must be allowed to be sufficiently dramatic:

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“In a day or two I went to see the noble Bard, who was in what the Italians call villeggiatura at Monte-Nero; that is to say, enjoying a country-house for the season. I there met with a singular adventure, which seemed to make me free of Italy and stilettos, before I had well set foot in the country. The day was very hot; the road to Monte-Nero was very hot, through dusty suburbs; and when I got there, I found the hottest-looking house I ever saw. Not content with having a red wash over it, the red was the most unseasonable of all reds, a salmon colour. Think of this, flaring over the country in a hot Italian sun!

“But the greatest of all the heats was within. Upon seeing Lord Byron, I hardly knew him, he was grown so fat; and he was longer in recognizing me, I had grown so thin. He was dressed in a loose nankin jacket and white trowsers, his neckcloth open, and his hair in thin ringlets about his throat; altogether presenting a very different aspect from the compact, energetic, and curly-headed person, whom I had known in England.

“He took me into an inner-room, and introduced me to a young lady in a state of great agitation. Her face was flushed, her eyes lit up, and her hair (which she wore in that fashion) looking as if it streamed in disorder. This was the daughter of Count Gamba, wife of the Cavaliere Guiccioli, since known as Madame, or the Countess, Guiccioli,—all the children of persons of that rank in Italy bearing the title of their parents. The Conte Pietro, her brother, came in presently, also in a state of agitation, and hav-
86Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.
ing his arm in a sling. I then learned, that a quarrel having taken place among the servants, the young Count had interfered, and been stabbed. He was very angry;
Madame Guiccioli was more so, and would not hear of the charitable comments of Lord Byron, who was for making light of the matter. Indeed there was a look in the business a little formidable; for, though the stab was not much, the inflictor of it threatened more, and was at that minute keeping watch under the portico with the avowed intention of assaulting the first person that issued forth. I looked out of window, and met his eye glaring upward, like a tiger. The fellow had a red cap on, like a sans-culotte, and a most sinister aspect, dreary and meagre, a proper caitiff. Thus, it appeared, the house was in a state of blockade; the nobility and gentry of the interior all kept in a state of impossibility by a rascally footman.

“How long things had continued in this state I cannot say; but the hour was come when Lord Byron and his friends took their evening ride, and the thing was to be put an end to somehow. Fletcher, the valet, had been despatched for the police, and was not returned. It was wondered, among other things, how I had been suffered to enter the house with impunity. Somebody conceived, that the man might have taken me for one of the constituted authorities; a compliment which few Englishmen would be anxious to deserve, and which I must disclaim any pretensions to. At length we set out, Madame Guiccioli earnestly intreating ‘Bairon’ to keep back, and all of us waiting to keep in advance of Conte Pietro, who was exasperated. It was a curious moment for a stranger from England. I fancied myself pitched into one of the scenes in ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho,’ with Montoni and his tumultuous companions. Every thing was new, foreign, and violent. There was the lady, flushed and dishevelled, exclaiming against the ‘scelerato;’ the young Count, wounded and threatening; the assassin, waiting for us with his knife; and last, not least, in the novelty, my English friend, metamorphosed, round-looking, and jacketed, trying to damp all this fire with his cool tones, and an air of voluptuous indolence. He had now, however, put on his loose riding-coat of mazarin blue, and his velvet cap, looking more lordly than before, but hardly less foreign. It was an awkward moment for him, not knowing what might happen; but he put a good face on the matter; and as to myself, I was so occupied with the novelty of the scene, that I had not time to be frightened. Forth we issue at the door, all squeezing to have the honour of being the boldest, when a termination is put to the tragedy by the vagabond’s throwing himself on a bench, extending his arms, and bursting into tears. His cap was half over his eyes; his face gaunt, ugly, and unshaved; his appearance altogether more squalid and miserable than an Englishman would conceive it possible to find in such an establishment. This blessed figure reclined weeping and wailing, and asking pardon for his offence; and to crown all, he requested Lord Byron to kiss him.

“The noble Lord conceived this excess of charity superfluous. He pardoned him, but said he must not think of remaining in his service; and the man continued weeping, and kissing his hand.”

His Lordship’s habits, during his residence in Italy, are described as follows:

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“Our manner of life was this. Lord Byron, who used to sit up at night, writing Don Juan (which he did under the influence of gin and water), rose late in the morning. He breakfasted; read; lounged about, singing an air, generally out of Rossini, and in a swaggering style, though in a voice at once small and veiled; then took a bath, and was dressed; and coming down-stairs, was heard, still singing, in the court-yard, out of which the garden ascended at the back of the house. The servants at the same time brought out two or three chairs. My study, a little room in a corner, with an orange-tree peeping in at the window, looked upon this court-yard. I was generally at my writing when he came down, and either acknowledged his presence by
Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.87
getting up and saying something from the window, or he called out ‘Leontius!’ and came halting up to the window with some joke, or other challenge to conversation. (Readers of good sense will do me the justice of discerning where any thing is spoken of in a tone of objection, and where it is only brought in as requisite to the truth of the picture.) His dress, as at Monte-Nero, was a nankin jacket, with white waistcoat and trowsers, and a cap, either velvet or linen, with a shade to it. In his hand was a tobacco-box, from which he helped himself like unto a shipman, but for a different purpose; his object being to restrain the pinguifying impulses of hunger. Perhaps also he thought it good for the teeth.”

Madame Guiccioli is thus described:

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“We then lounged about, or sat and talked, Madame Guiccioli with her sleek tresses descending after her toilet to join us. The garden was small and square, but plentifully stocked with oranges and other shrubs; and, being well watered, looked very green and refreshing under the Italian sky. The lady generally attracted us up into it, if we had not been there before.

Madame Guiccioli, who was at that time about twenty, was handsome and lady-like, with an agreeable manner, and a voice not partaking too much of the Italian fervour to be gentle. She had just enough of it to give her speaking a grace. None of her graces appeared entirely free from art; nor, on the other hand, did they betray enough of it to give you an ill opinion of her sincerity and good-humour. I was told, that her Romagnese dialect was observable; but to me, at that time, all Italian in a lady’s mouth was Tuscan pearl; and she trolled it over her lip, pure or not, with that sort of conscious grace, which seems to belong to the Italian language as a matter of right. I amused her with speaking bad Italian out of Ariosto, and saying speme for speranza; in which she goodnaturedly found something pleasant and pellegrino; keeping all the while that considerate countenance, for which a foreigner has so much reason to be grateful. Her hair was what the poet has described, or rather blond, with an inclination to yellow; a very fair and delicate yellow at all events, and within the limits of the poetical. She had regular features, of the order properly called handsome, in distinction to prettiness or to piquancy; being well proportioned to one another, large rather than otherwise, but without coarseness, and more harmonious than interesting. Her nose was the handsomest of the kind I ever saw; and I have known her both smile very sweetly, and look intelligently, when Lord Byron has said something kind to her. I should not say, however, that she was a very intelligent person. Both her wisdom and her want of wisdom were on the side of her feelings, in which there was doubtless mingled a good deal of the self-love natural to a flattered beauty. She wrote letters in the style of the ‘Academy of Compliments;’ and made plentiful use, at all times, of those substitutes for address and discourse, which flourished in England at the era of that polite compilation, and are still in full bloom in Italy.
‘And evermore
She strewed a mi rallegro after and before.’
In a word, Madame Guiccioli was a kind of buxom parlour-boarder, compressing herself artificially into dignity and elegance, and fancying she walked, in the eyes of the whole world, a heroine by the side of a poet. When I saw her at Monte-Nero, she was in a state of excitement and exaltation, and had really something of this look. At that time also she looked no older than she was; in which respect a rapid and very singular change took place, to the surprise of every body. In the course of a few months she seemed to have lived as many years. It was most likely in that
88Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.
interval that she discovered she had no real hold on the affections of her companion. The portrait of her by
Mr. West,
‘In Magdalen’s loose hair and lifted eye,’
is flattering upon the whole; has a look of greater delicacy than she possessed; but it is also very like, and the studied pretension of the attitude has a moral resemblance. Being a half-length, it shows her to advantage; for the fault of her person was, that her head and bust were hardly sustained by limbs of sufficient length.”

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Lord Byron’s face was handsome; eminently so in some respects. He had a mouth and chin fit for Apollo; and when I first knew him, there were both lightness and energy all over his aspect. But his countenance did not improve with age, and there were always some defects in it. The jaw was too big for the upper part. It had all the wilfulness of a despot in it. The animal predominated over the intellectual part of his head, inasmuch as the face altogether was large in proportion to the skull. The eyes also were set too near one another; and the nose, though handsome in itself, had the appearance when you saw it closely in front, of being grafted on the face, rather than growing properly out of it. His person was very handsome, though terminating in lameness, and tending to fat and effeminacy; which makes me remember what a hostile fair one objected to him, namely, that he had little beard; a fault which, on the other hand, was thought by another lady, not hostile, to add to the divinity of his aspect,—imberbis Apollo. His lameness was only in one foot, the left; and it was so little visible to casual notice, that as he lounged about a room (which he did in such a manner as to screen it) it was hardly perceivable. But it was a real and even a sore lameness. Much walking upon it fevered and hurt it. It was a shrunken foot, a little twisted. This defect unquestionably mortified him exceedingly, and helped to put sarcasm and misanthropy into his taste of life. Unfortunately, the usual thoughtlessness of schoolboys made him feel it bitterly at Harrow. He would wake, and find his leg in a tub of water. The reader will see in the correspondence at the end of this memoir, how he felt it, whenever it was libelled; and in Italy, the only time I ever knew it mentioned, he did not like the subject, and hastened to change it. His handsome person so far rendered the misfortune greater, as it pictured to him all the occasions on which he might have figured in the eyes of company; and doubtless this was a great reason, why he had no better address. On the other hand, instead of losing him any real regard or admiration, his lameness gave a touching character to both.”

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“He had a delicate white hand, of which he was proud; and he attracted attention to it by rings. He thought a hand of this description almost the only mark remaining now-a-days of a gentleman; of which it certainly is not, nor of a lady either; though a coarse one implies handiwork. He often appeared holding a handkerchief, upon which his jewelled fingers lay imbedded, as in a picture. He was as fond of fine linen, as a Quaker; and had the remnant of his hair oiled and trimmed with all the anxiety of a Sardanapalus. The visible character to which this effeminacy gave rise appears to have indicated itself as early as his travels in the Levant, where the Grand Signior is said to have taken him for a woman in disguise.”

Lest this somewhat luxurious sketch might lead some readers to believe that Lord B. was effeminate, Mr. Hunt adds:

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“But he had tastes of a more masculine description. He was fond of swimming to the last, and used to push out to a good distance in the Gulf of
Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.89
Genoa. He was also, as I have before mentioned, a good horseman; and he liked to have a great dog or two about him, which is not a habit observable in timid men. Yet I doubt greatly whether he was a man of courage. I suspect, that personal anxiety, coming upon a constitution unwisely treated, had no small hand in hastening his death in Greece.

“The story of his bold behaviour at sea in a voyage to Sicily, and of Mr. Shelley’s timidity, is just reversing what I conceive would have been the real state of the matter, had the voyage taken place. The account is an impudent fiction. Nevertheless, he volunteered voyages by sea, when he might have eschewed them: and yet the same man never got into a coach without being afraid. In short, he was the contradiction his father and mother had made him. To lump together some more of his personal habits, in the style of old Aubrey, he spelt affectedly, swore somewhat, had the Northumbrian burr in his speech, did not like to see women eat, and would merrily say that he had another reason for not liking to dine with them; which was, that they always had the wings of the chicken.”

He was fond of riding too: apropos to which Mr. Hunt breaks out into a very touching apostrophe:

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“When the heat of the day declined, we rode out, either on horseback or in a barouche, generally towards the forest. He was a good rider, graceful, and kept a firm seat. He loved to be told of it; and being true, it was a pleasure to tell him. Good God! what homage might not that man have received, and what love and pleasure reciprocated, if he could have been content with the truth, and had truth enough of his own to think a little better of his fellow-creatures! But he was always seeking for uneasy sources of satisfaction. The first day we were going out on horseback together, he was joking upon the bad riding of this and that acquaintance of his. He evidently hoped to have the pleasure of adding me to the list; and finding, when we pushed forward, that there was nothing particular in the spectacle of my horsemanship, he said in a tone of disappointment, ‘Why, Hunt, you ride very well!’ Trelawney sometimes went with us, on a great horse, smoking a cigar. We had blue frock-coats, white waistcoats and trowsers, and velvet caps, à la Raphael; and cut a gallant figure.”

Of the general tone of his Lordship’s conversation, Mr. Hunt gives rather an unfavourable account.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Lord Byron had no conversation, properly speaking. He could not interchange ideas or information with you, as a man of letters is expected to do. His thoughts required the concentration of silence and study to bring them to a head; and they deposited the amount in the shape of a stanza. His acquaintance with books was very circumscribed. The same personal experience, however, upon which he very properly drew for his authorship, might have rendered him a companion more interesting by far than men who could talk better; and the great reason why his conversation disappointed you was, not that he had not any thing to talk about, but that he was haunted with a perpetual affectation, and could not talk sincerely. It was by fits only that he spoke with any gravity, or made his extraordinary disclosures; and at no time did you well know what to believe. The rest was all quip and crank, not of the pleasantest kind, and equally distant from simplicity or wit. The best thing to say of it was, that he knew playfulness to be consistent with greatness; and the worst, that he thought every thing in him was great, even to his vulgarities.

Mr. Shelley said of him, that he never made you laugh to your own content. This, however, was said latterly, after my friend had been disappointed by a close intimacy. Mr. Shelley’s opinion of his natural powers in every respect was great; and there is reason to believe, that Lord Byron never
90Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.
talked with any man to so much purpose as he did with him. He looked upon him as his most admiring listener; and probably was never less under the influence of affectation. If he could have got rid of this and his title, he would have talked like a man; not like a mere man of the town, or a great spoilt schoolboy. It is not to be concluded, that his jokes were not now and then very happy, or that admirers of his Lordship, who paid him visits, did not often go away more admiring. I am speaking of his conversation in general, and of the impression it made upon you, compared with what was to be expected from a man of wit and experience.”

His temper is spoken of with some severity, and in rather a querulous manner.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“His temper was not good. Reading one day in Montaigne the confession of that philosopher and ‘Seigneur,’ that a saddle not well fastened, or the flapping of a leather against his boot, would put him out of sorts for the day, he said it was his own case; and he seemed to think it that of every body else of any importance, if people would but confess it; otherwise they were dull or wanted vigour. For he was always mistaking the subtlety of that matter, and confounding patience with weakness, because there was a weak patience as well as a strong one. But it was not only in small things that he was ‘put out.’ I have seen the expression of his countenance on greater occasions, absolutely festered with ill-temper,—all the beauty of it corrugated and made sore,—his voice at the same time being soft, and struggling to keep itself in, as if on the very edge of endurance. On such occasions, having no address, he did not know how to let himself be extricated from his position; and if I found him in this state, I contrived to make a few remarks, as serious as possible, on indifferent subjects, and so come away. An endeavour to talk him out of it, as a weakness, he might have had reason to resent:—sympathy would probably have drawn upon you a discussion of matters too petty for your respect; and gaiety would have been treated as an assumption, necessary to be put down by sarcasms, which it would have been necessary to put down in their turn. There was no living with these eternal assumptions and inequalities. When he knew me in England, independent and able to do him service, he never ventured upon a raillery. In Italy, he soon began to treat me with it; and I was obliged, for both our sakes, to tell him I did not like it, and that he was too much in earnest.”

Of his superstition, the following traits are recorded:

“He believed in the ill-luck of Fridays, and was seriously disconcerted if any thing was to be done on that frightful day of the week. Had he been a Roman, he would have startled at crows, while he made a jest of augurs. He used to tell a story of somebody’s meeting him, while in Italy, in St. James’s-street. The least and most childish of superstitions may, it is true, find subtle corners of warrant in the greatest minds; but as the highest pictures in Lord Byron’s poetry were imitations, so in the smallest of his personal superstitions he was maintained by something not his own. His turn of mind was material egotism, and some remarkable experiences, had given it a compulsory twist the other way; but it never grew kindly or loftily in that quarter. Hence his taking refuge from uneasy thoughts, in sarcasm, and trifling, and notoriety. What there is of a good-natured philosophy in ‘Don Juan’ was not foreign to his wishes; but it was the commonplace of the age, repeated with an air of discovery by the noble Lord, and as ready to be thrown in the teeth of those from whom he took it, provided any body laughed at them.”

“It has been thought by some, that there was madness in his composition. He himself talked sometimes as if he feared it would come upon him. It was difficult in his most serious moments, to separate what he
Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.91
spoke out of conviction, and what he said for effect. In moments of ill-health, especially when jaded and overwrought by the united effects of composition, and drinking, and sitting up, he might have had nervous misgivings to that effect; as more people perhaps are accustomed to have, than choose to talk about it. But I never saw any thing more mad in his conduct, than what I have just been speaking of; and there was enough in the nature of his position to account for extravagances in him, that would not have attained to that head under other circumstances. If every extravagance of which men are guilty, were to be pronounced madness, the world would be nothing but the Bedlam which some have called it; and then the greatest madness of all would be the greatest rationality; which, according to others, it is.”

The love of money is one of the vices with which the noble Poet is charged by the Author:

“The love of money, the pleasure of receiving it, even the gratitude he evinced when it was saved him, had not taught him the only virtue upon which lovers of money usually found their claims to a good construction:—he did not like paying a debt, and would undergo pestering and pursuit to avoid it. ‘But what,’ cries the reader, ‘becomes then of the stories of his making presents of money and manuscripts, and his not caring for the profits of his writings, and his giving 10,000l. to the Greeks?’ He did care for the profits of what he wrote, and he reaped a great deal: but, as I have observed before, he cared for celebrity still more; and his presents, such as they were, were judiciously made to that end. ‘Good heavens!’ said a fair friend to me the other day, who knew him well,—‘if he had but foreseen that you would have given the world an account of him! What would he not have done to cut a figure in your eyes!’ As to the Greeks, the present of 10,000l. was first of all well trumpeted to the world: it then became a loan of 10,000l.; then a loan of 6000l.; and he told me, in one of his incontinent fits of communication and knowingness, that he did not think he should ‘get off under 4000l.’ I know not how much was lent after all; but I have been told, that good security was taken for it; and I was informed the other day, that the whole money had been repaid. He was so jealous of your being easy upon the remotest points connected with property, that if he saw you ungrudging even upon so small a tax on your liberality as the lending of books, he would not the less fidget and worry you in lending his own. He contrived to let you feel that you had got them, and would insinuate that you had treated them carelessly, though he did not scruple to make marks and dogs’-ears in your’s.”

Of his love of his title we are presented with innumerable instances, which we have not the room to quote. As it is interesting to know what were a favourite author’s favourite books, we give the following account of Lord Byron’s library.

“His favourite reading was history and travels. I think I am correct in saying that his favourite authors were Bayle and Gibbon. Gibbon was altogether a writer calculated to please him. There was a show in him, and at the same time a tone of the world, a self-complacency and a sarcasm, a love of things aristocratical, with a tendency to be liberal on other points of opinion and to crown all, a splendid success in authorship, and a high and piquant character with the fashionable world, which found a strong sympathy in the bosom of his noble reader. Then, in his private life, Gibbon was a voluptuous recluse; he had given celebrity to a foreign residence, possessed a due sense of the merits of wealth as well as rank, and last, perhaps not least, was no speaker in Parliament. I may add, that the elaborate style of his writing pleased the lover of the artificial in poetry,
92Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.
while the cynical turn of his satire amused the genius of
Don Juan. And finally, his learning and research supplied the indolent man of letters with the information which he had left at school.

Lord Byron’s collection of books was poor, and consisted chiefly of new ones. I remember little among them but the English works published at Basle, (Kames, Robertson, Watson’s History of Philip II. &c.) and new ones occasionally sent him from England. He was anxious to show you that he possessed no Shakspeare and Milton; ‘because,’ he said, ‘he had been accused of borrowing from them!’ He affected to doubt whether Shakspeare was so great a genius as he has been taken for, and whether fashion had not a great deal to do with it; an extravagance, of which none but a patrician author could have been guilty. However, there was a greater committal of himself at the bottom of this notion than he supposed; and, perhaps, circumstances had really disenabled him from having the proper idea of Shakspeare, though it could not have fallen so short of the truth as he pretended. Spenser, he could not read; at least he said so. All the gusto of that most poetical of the poets went with him for nothing. I lent him a volume of the ‘Fairy Queen,’ and he said he would try to like it. Next day he brought it to my study-window, and said, ‘Here, Hunt, here is your Spenser. I cannot see any thing in him:’ and he seemed anxious that I should take it out of his hands, as if he was afraid of being accused of copying so poor a writer. That he saw nothing in Spenser is not very likely; but I really do not think that he saw much. Spenser was too much out of the world, and he too much in it. It would have been impossible to persuade him, that Sandys’s Ovid was better than Addison’s and Croxall’s. He wanted faith in the interior of poetry, to relish it, unpruned and unpopular. Besides, he himself was to be mixed up somehow with every thing, whether to approve it or disapprove. When he found Sandys’s ‘Ovid’ among my books, he said, ‘God! what an unpleasant recollection I have of this book! I met with it on my wedding-day; I read it while I was waiting to go to church.’ Sandys, who is any thing but an anti-bridal poet, was thenceforward to be nobody but an old fellow who had given him an unpleasant sensation. The only great writer of past times, whom he read with avowed satisfaction, was Montaigne, as the reader may see by an article in the ‘New Monthly Magazine.’ In the same article may be seen the reasons why, and the passages that he marked in that author. Franklin he liked. He respected him for his acquisition of wealth and power; and would have stood in awe, had he known him, of the refined worldliness of his character, and the influence it gave him. Franklin’s Works, and Walter Scott’s, were among his favourite reading.”

The following just, though severe remarks on his own early works, occur in one of Lord B.’s letters to Mr. Shelley.

“The only literary news that I have heard of the plays (contrary to your friendly augury), is that the Edinburgh R. has attacked them all three—as well as it could:—I have not seen the article.—Murray writes discouragingly, and says that nothing published this year has made the least impression, including, I presume, what he has published on my account also.—You see what it is to throw pearls to swine.—As long as I wrote the exaggerated nonsense which has corrupted the public taste, they applauded to the very echo; and now that I have composed within these three or four years some things which should ‘not willingly be let die,’—the whole herd snort and grumble, and return to wallow in their mire.—However, it is fit I should pay the penalty of spoiling them, as no man has contributed more than me in my earlier compositions to produce that exaggerated and false style.—It is a fit
* Nos. 73, 75, vol. xix. pp. 26, 240.
Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.93
retribution that any really classical production should be received as these plays have been treated.”

Of his Lordship’s good taste in the Fine Arts, the following passage presents no indication:

Lord Byron knew nothing of the Fine Arts, and did not affect to care for them. He pronounced Rubens a dauber. The only pictures I remember to have seen in his rooms (with the exception of the Italian family pictures, that remained in the houses which he occupied) were a print of Jupiter and Antiope, and another of his little daughter, whom he always mentioned with pride. Pope, before he spoke of Handel, applied to Arbuthnot to know whether the composer really deserved what was said of him. It was after making a similar inquiry, respecting Mozart, that Lord Byron wrote the passage in his notes to Don Juan, giving him the preference to Rossini. Rossini was his real favourite. He liked his dash and animal spirits. All the best music, he said, was lively:—an opinion, in which few lovers of it will agree with him. Mr. Hazlitt, who is a connoisseur in the spirit of contradiction, may think that he said this out of spleen against some remark to the contrary; but in this, as in other instances, the critic is misled by his own practice. It was not difficult to discern the occasions on which Lord Byron spoke out of perversity; nor when it was that he was merely hasty and inconsequential; nor at what times he gave vent to an habitual persuasion; that is to say, translated his own practice and instinct into some sudden opinion. Such was the case in the present instance. I never knew him attempt any air but a lively one; and he was fondest of such as were the most blustering. You associated with it the idea of a stage-tyrant, or captain of banditti. One day he was splenetic enough on the subject of music. He said that all lovers of music were effeminate. He was not in good humour, and had heard me, that morning, dabbling on a piano-forte. This was to provoke me to be out of humour myself; but I was provoked enough not to oblige him. I was ill, with an internal fever preying upon me, and full of cares of all sorts. He, the objector to effeminacy, was sitting in health and wealth, with rings on his fingers, and baby-work to his shirt; and he had just issued, like a sultan, out of his bath. I was nevertheless really more tranquil than he, ill and provoked as I was. I said that the love of music might be carried to a pitch of effeminacy, like any other pleasure but that he would find it difficult to persuade the world, that Alfred, and Epaminondas, and Martin Luther, and Frederick the Second, all eminent lovers of music, were effeminate men. He made no answer. I had spoilt a stanza in “Don Juan.”

In speaking of “Don Juan,” Mr. Hunt says:—

“I will here observe that he had no plan with regard to that poem; that he did not know how long he should make it, nor what to do with his hero. He had a great mind to make him die a Methodist—a catastrophe which he sometimes anticipated for himself. I said I thought there was no reason for treating either his hero or himself so ill. That as to his own case, he would find himself mustering up his intellectual faculties in good style, as the hour came on, and there was something to do,—barring drugs and a bit of delirium; and with regard to Don Juan, he was a good, careless, well-intentioned fellow, (though he might not have liked to be told so in the hearing of every body); and that he deserved at least to be made a retired country gentleman, very speculative and tolerant, and fond of his grandchildren. He lent an ear to this, and seemed to like it; but after all, as he had not himself died or retired, and wanted experience to draw upon, the termination of the poem would have depended on what he thought the fashionable world expected of it. His hero in this work was a picture of the better part of his own nature.”

94 Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.

His Lordship’s opinions of England and his own countrymen are thus stated by Mr. Hunt:

“He cared nothing at all for England. He disliked the climate; he disliked the manners of the people; he did not think them a bit better than other nations: and had he entertained all these opinions in a spirit of philosophy, he would have been right; for it does not become a man of genius to ‘give up,’ even to his country, ‘what is meant for mankind.’ He was not without some of this spirit; but undoubtedly his greatest dislike of England was owing to what he had suffered there, and to the ill opinion which he thought was entertained of him. It was this that annoyed him in Southey. I believe if he entertained a mean opinion of the talents of any body, it was of Southey’s; and he had the greatest contempt for his political conduct (a feeling which is more common with men of letters than Mr. Southey fancies); but he believed that the formal and the foolish composed the vast body of the middle orders in England; with these he looked upon Mr. Southey as in great estimation; and whatever he did to risk individual good opinion,—however he preferred fame and a ‘sensation,’ at all hazards,—he did not like to be thought ill of by any body of people.”

His opinions on a more important subject—religion—are thus recorded:

“The world have been much puzzled by Lord Byron’s declaring himself a Christian every now and then in some part of his writings or conversations, and giving them to understand in a hundred others that he was none. The truth is, he did not know what he was; and this is the case with hundreds of the people who wonder at him. I have touched this matter before; but will add a word or two, he was a Christian by education: he was an infidel by reading. He was a Christian by habit; he was no Christian upon reflection. I use the word here in its ordinary acceptation, and not in its really Christian and philosophical sense, as a believer in the endeavour and the universality, which are the consummation of Christianity. His faith was certainly not swallowed up in charity; but his charity, after all, was too much for it. In short, he was not a Christian, in the sense understood by that word; otherwise he would have had no doubts about the matter, nor (as I have before noticed) would he have spoken so irreverently upon matters in which no Christian of this sort indulges licence of speech. Bigoted Christians of all sects take liberties enough, God knows. They are much profaner than any devout Deist ever thinks of being; but still their profanities are not of a certain kind. They would not talk like Voltaire, or say with Lord Byron, that upon Mr. Wordsworth’s shewing, ‘Carnage must be Christ’s sister.’”

We conclude this hasty notice of Mr. Hunt’s very interesting work with a few anecdotes, selected almost at random from the early part of the volume.

“I passed a melancholy time at Albaro, walking about the stony alleys, and thinking of Mr. Shelley. My intercourse with Lord Byron, though less than before, was considerable; and we were always, as the phrase is, ‘on good terms.’ He knew what I felt, for I said it. I also knew what he thought, for he said that, ‘in a manner;’ and he was in the habit of giving you a good deal to understand, in what he did not say. In the midst of all his strange conduct, he professed a great personal regard. He would do the most humiliating things, insinuate the bitterest, both of me and my friends, and then affect to do all away with a soft word, protesting that nothing he ever said was meant to apply to myself.

“I will take this opportunity of recording some more anecdotes as they occur to me. We used to walk in the grounds of the Casa Saluzzi, talking
Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.95
for the most part of indifferent matters, and endeavouring to joke away the consciousness of our position. We joked even upon our differences of opinion. It was a jest between us, that the only book that was unequivocally a favourite on both sides, was
Boswell’sLife of Johnson.’ I used to talk of Johnson when I saw him out of temper, or wished to avoid other subjects. He asked me one day, how I should have felt in Johnson’s company. I said it was difficult to judge; because, living in other times, and one’s character being modified by them, I could not help thinking of myself as I was now, and Johnson as he was in times previous: so that it appeared to me that I should have been somewhat Jacobinical in his company, and not disposed to put up with his ipse dixits. He said, that ‘Johnson would have awed him, he treated lords with so much respect.’ This was better said than it was meant to be, and I have no doubt was very true. Johnson would have made him a bow like a churchwarden; and Lord Byron would have been in a flutter of worshipped acquiescence. He liked to imitate Johnson, and say, ‘Why, Sir,’ in a high mouthing way, rising, and looking about him.”

“When Lord Castlereagh killed himself, it was mentioned in the papers that he had taken his usual tea and buttered toast for breakfast. I said there was no knowing how far even so little a thing as buttered toast might not have fatally assisted in exasperating that ill state of stomach, which is found to accompany melancholy. As ‘the last feather breaks the horse’s back,’ so the last injury done to the organs of digestion may make a man kill himself. He agreed with me entirely in this; and said, the world were as much in the wrong, in nine cases out of ten, respecting the immediate causes of suicide, as they were in their notions about the harmlessness of this and that food, and the quantity of it.

“Like many other wise theorists on this subject, he had wilfully shut his eyes to the practice, though I do not mean to say he was excessive in eating and drinking. He had only been in the habit, latterly, of taking too much for his particular temperament; a fault, in one respect, the most pardonable in those who are most aware of it, the uneasiness of a sedentary stomach tempting them to the very indulgence that is hurtful. I know what it is; and beg, in this, as on other occasions, not to be supposed to imply any thing to my own advantage, when I am upon points that may be construed to the disadvantage of others. But he had got fat, and then went to the other extreme. He came to me one day out of another room, and said, with great glee, ‘Look here! what do you say to this?’ at the same time doubling the lapells of his coat one over the other:—‘three months ago,’ added he, ‘I could not button it.’ Sometimes, though rarely, with a desperate payment of his virtue, he would make an outrageous dinner; eating all sorts of things that were unfit for him, and suffering accordingly next day. He once sent to Paris for one of the travelling pies they make there—things that distribute indigestion by return of post, and cost three or four guineas. Twenty crowns, I think, he gave for it. He tasted, and dined. The next day he was fain to make a present of six-eighths of it to an envoy:—‘Lord Byron’s compliments, and he sends his Excellency a pasty that has seen the world.’ He did not write this; but this was implied in his compliment. It is to be hoped his Excellency had met the pasty before.

“It is a credit to my noble acquaintance, that he was by far the pleasantest when he had got wine in his head. The only time I invited myself to dine with him, I told him I did it on that account, and that I meant to push the bottle so, that he should intoxicate me with his good company. He said he would have a set-to; but he never did it. I believe he was afraid. It was a little before he left Italy; and there was a point in contest between us (not regarding myself) which he thought perhaps I should persuade him to give up. When in his cups, which was not often, nor immoderately, he was inclined to be tender; but not weakly so, nor lachrymose. I know not how it might have been with every body, but he paid me the compliment of being
96Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.
excited to his very best feelings; and when I rose late to go away, he would hold me down, and say with a look of intreaty, ‘Not yet.’ Then it was that I seemed to talk with the proper natural
Byron as he ought to have been; and there was not a sacrifice I could not have made to keep him in that temper; and see his friends love him, as much as the world admired. Next morning it was all gone. His intimacy with the worst part of mankind had got him again in its chilling crust; and nothing remained but to despair and joke.”

“In his wine he would volunteer an imitation of somebody, generally of Incledon. He was not a good mimic in the detail; but he could give a lively broad sketch; and over his cups his imitations were good-natured, which was seldom the case at other times. His Incledon was vocal. I made pretensions to the oratorical part; and between us, we boasted that we made up the entire phenomenon. Mr. Mathews would have found it defective; or rather, he would not; for had he been there, we should judiciously have secreted our pretensions, and had the true likeness. We just knew enough of the matter, to make proper admirers.”

Mr. Hazlitt had some reason to call him ‘a sublime coxcomb.’ Who but he (or Rochester perhaps, whom he resembled) would have thought of avoiding Shakspeare, lest he should be thought to owe him any thing? And talking of Napoleon, he delighted, when he took the additional name of Noel, in consequence of his marriage with an heiress, to sign himself N. B.; ‘because,’ said he, ‘Bonaparte and I are the only public persons whose initials are the same.’”

We must here close our extracts, which have already been unconscionable. On the remaining parts of Mr. Hunt’s book, we have not room at present to touch: and we have been compelled to omit much that is new and curious with regard to the principal character in this lively volume of memoirs. To the Author’s first acquaintance with Lord Byron, his Lordship’s first love, marriage, separation, feelings and conduct on that occasion, his singular opinions on men, human passions, the fine arts, &c.; his first and last journeys in Greece, his learning, his habits of all kinds, &c. &c., we can only refer in passing. There is, moreover, a clever and vivacious portrait of Mr. Moore; a deeply interesting account of Mr. Shelley, and a briefer but equally touching one of Mr. Keats, with criticisms on the poetry of both; animated and characteristic sketches of Mr. Theodore Hook, Messrs. James and Horace Smith, Mr. Dubois, Mr. Mathews, Mr. Fuseli, Mr. Hazlitt, Mr. Charles Lamb, Mr. Coleridge, &c. &c.

The volume concludes with a narrative of the Author’s life and voyage to Italy, abounding in anecdote, and full of lively sketches and rapid traits of eminent and interesting individuals.