LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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William Parry:
The Last Days of Lord Byron


Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI

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In the weeks before Byron’s death William Parry (1773–1859) became the poet’s confidante and partisan. As a result he was drawn into political broils and after his patron’s death stripped of his responsibilities and criticized by members of the London Greek Committee—in Leicester Stanhope’s Greece, in 1823 and 1824 and Henry Southern’s article in the London Magazine, “Personal Character of Lord Byron,” both of which had appeared in October 1824. In defending himself in Last Days (which appeared in April 1825) Parry took pains to document his case; while transparently biased, his memoir is a particularly valuable record of Byron’s intentions and actions at Missolonghi.
Little is known of Parry’s earlier life; he had been a shipwright before travelling to Greece under the auspices of the Greek Committee to establish a small munitions factory at Missolonghi. Byron admired him as a practical man and boon companion in contrast to the usual visionaries and ideologues of the Committee. Things went badly for the munitions laboratory almost from the start: it had to compete for resources with other projects such as the newspaper favored by Byron’s rival commissioner, Leicester Stanhope. The six artisans who were to operate the factory departed almost immediately, leaving Parry with only his foreman and clerk. Parry was distressed by Mavrocordo’s lack of interest in defensive preparations and money was ever in short supply.
As time passed Parry seems to have less involved with the laboratory and more involved with the affairs of Byron’s brigade, in which he was promoted to major. This caused resentment among officers who regarded themselves as Parry’s social and professional superiors, and among subordinates who undercut Parry’s authority by entering into secret communications with Stanhope. The fact that Parry was dividing his time between his official duties at the factory and unofficial duties as Byron’s companion and counsellor did not sit well in some quarters; there were further tensions during Byron’s illness when Parry took Byron’s part against the ministrations of the physicians.
After Byron’s death Parry found himself in a difficult position when Leicester Stanhope moved quickly to undo most of what his rival commissioner had striven to accomplish. At this critical juncture Parry fell ill and was removed to Zante in the Ionian Islands. During his absence Edward John Trelawny arrived at Missolonghi and at Stanhope’s behest assigned Parry’s munitions to the Greek chieftain Odysseus and dispersed what remained of Byron’s brigade. Parry and Mavrocordato waited in vain for a new commissioner, Thomas Gordon of Cairness, whom they hoped would put a stop to Stanhope’s proceedings and support the constitutional government. In May of 1824 Stanhope and Parry were both recalled, the former to march in Byron’s funeral and the latter to prepare his defense of Byron.
As came out in a subsequent trial for libel, Parry was assisted in writing Last Days of Lord Byron by the political economist Thomas Hodgskin (1787–1869) who like Parry came from a naval background. The lawyer-like care with which Parry marshals his evidence is more than one might expect from an outraged shipwright. So too, perhaps, the ambition of its thorough-going attack on Stanhope, his patron Jeremy Bentham, and the machinations and incompetency of the London Greek Committee. Yet we know little of Parry’s history; the letters transcribed in Last Days suggest a very different man than the illiterate boor his detractors made him out to be.
Whatever the extent of Hodgskin’s contribution, the book’s documentation, anecdotes, and character analysis derive from Parry himself. He counters the common views of Byron as a wild-eyed idealist or sneering dilettante by presenting him as a pragmatic war-leader undone by the factionalism of his associates and the incompetence of his physicians. Hodgskin’s populist economic views favoring the claims of labor against those of capital and Benthamite utilitarianism also come across clearly: a great-hearted mechanic and heroic aristocrat are pit against the self-serving interests of a faux-enlightened managerial class.
The publisher Charles Knight described his 1824 encounter with Parry in Passages of a Working Life (1864-65):
In the midst of these Chancery proceedings [related to R. C. Dallas’s Recollections] a Captain Parry was announced. “A fine rough subject”—as Byron designated this “fire-master who was to burn a whole fleet,”—came into my private room, with a leathern bag slung over his shoulder. He threw it on the table, exclaiming, “There you have the best book that any one can write about the Right Honourable George Gordon, Lord Byron.” He opened the wallet; handed me some of the illiterate scrawl; vaunted again and again his friendship with the Right Honourable George Gordon, Lord Byron—always naming him by his titles at full length; and was very much astonished when I declined having anything to say to the affair. Captain Parry found some person to prepare his MS. for the press. An action of some sort arose out of the publication; and I was called as a witness to prove the nature of the contents of that leathern bag, Parry having maintained that he was the sole author of the book. The most remarkable part of this piece of literary manufacture was a ribald description of Jeremy Bentham, running up Fleet Street pursued by a notorious woman called “The City Barge.” Parry had indoctrinated his scribe with his own hatred of the Utilitarians of the Greek Committee in London, who sent out printing-presses and pedagogues in more plentiful supply than Congreve-rockets. Byron writes on the 8th February, “Parry says B . . . . . [? Bentham] is a humbug, to which I say nothing. He sorely laments the printing and civilizing expenses, and wishes that there was not a Sunday school in the world.” (2:16)
Parry’s preface describes the materials used to compose the book: a journal of the activities at the factory, a report of these drawn up for Byron, and various letters and documents appended to his book. From these he (and Hodgskin) compiled the first six chapters covering the period enlistment with the Greek Committee under the auspices of Joseph Hume and Thomas Gordon in November of 1823 to the death of Byron in April of 1824. The tenth and eleventh chapters are devoted to the case against Leicester Stanhope.
The three intervening chapters present a character of Lord Byron developed from anecdotes and opinions expressed in conversation. Byron’s fifteen-page peroration on the future of Greece given in chapter eight was obviously composed as a set piece; if in such passages one suspects Thomas Hodgskin’s artful aid the sentiments expressed do sound like Byron. The appended documents cover Parry’s business with Mavrocordato and the Greek Committee. Of particular interest are the letters written subsequent to Byron’s death, including four from the American George Jarvis (1798-1828) who had enlisted in Byron’s regiment.
One of the most prominent items in Last Days is the ludicrous caricature of Jeremy Bentham which drew fire from the Hunts’ Examiner, which characterised William Parry as an “exceedingly ignorant, boasting, bullying, and drunken individual ... who cannot write ten lines of English” (22 May 1825). The Examiner appended these words to Stanhope’s otherwise tepid reply to Parry, dated 14 May, but belatedly reprinted 2 April 1826. The aspersions cost Parry a lucrative post and he sued for damages.
The case was tried 14 June 1827, and while Parry won the jurors awarded him only £50. Worse, John Hunt and his lawyer Thomas Wilde attempted to “prove” the libel by assembling a cast of witnesses hostile to Parry who thoroughly blackened his character. Among them was Leicester Stanhope, who testified that:
I have read the Last Days of Lord Byron. Parry is not capable of writing such a work. He is a man of a sound natural mind, but uneducated. He does not speak grammatically correct.... Lord Byron treated him as a fool, a buffoon—not as one of these fools that have so often graced the tables of the great. Parry called Lord Byron Hal, and he called him Falstaff. (The Times, 15 June 1827)
Byron’s servants Fletcher and Lega Zambelli were called to testify that Parry was a sot and a coward, along with other disaffected parties present at Missolonghi. Julius Millingen, one of the Missolonghi physicians, later caricatured Parry in Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece (1831):
Parry was altogether a “curious fish,” an excellent mimic; and possessed a fund of quaint expressions, that made up for his deficiency of real wit. He could tell, in his coarse language, a good story, could perform the clown’s or Falstaff’s part very naturally, rant Richard the Third’s or Hamlet’s soliloquies in a mock-tragic manner, unrivalled by any of the players of Bartholomew fair, and could always engender laughter enough to beguile the length of our rainy evenings.... It was soon perceived, that the brandy-bottle was Parry’s Castalian spring, and that, unless he drank deep, his stories became dull. Lord Byron, in consequence, took constant care to keep him in good spirits; but unfortunately, partly from inclination, and partly to keep him company, he drank himself to the same excess. (117)
Edward John Trelawny, also no friend of Parry’s, later claimed that he “drank himself into a madhouse.” Parry did spend the last seventeen years of his life in the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum, where he died at the age of eighty-five. But the shipwright could give as good as he got, and in passages like this, even if the phrasing is Hodgskin’s, one begins to see why Byron admired the man:
Colonel Stanhope carried in his head plans for organizing the army, regulating the government, establishing schools, setting up newspapers, forming utilitarian societies, running mails, instructing the people, reforming the rulers, changing the religion, framing codes of law, regulating judicial proceedings, and in short, for doing every thing. He had a constitution ready cut and dried; and he set about all these mighty projects without any of that previous acquaintance with the Greeks which one might expect would at least be possessed by any man who proposed to legislate for them. He had indeed been in Hindostan, and had such a correct idea of the mode of treating the Greeks, that he recommended the Greek committee to consult Anglo-Indians, in order to ascertain the best means of treating the Greeks. (270)
In James Parry Byron found a loyal ally, a convivial friend, and an effective witness to his disinterested love for Greek liberty.

David Hill Radcliffe

“The Last Days of Lord Byron” in The Literary Magnet 4 (June 1825) 131-32
“The Last Days of Lord Byron” in The Gentleman's Magazine 95 (June 1825) 517-21
John Gibson Lockhart, “The Last Days of Lord Byron” in Blackwood’s Magazine 18 (August 1825) 137-55