LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Moore’s Life of Lord Byron. Continued].
The Edinburgh Literary Journal  No. 114  (15 January 1831)  38-40.
GO TO PART:   1   2   3 
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH




No. 114. SATURDAY, JANUARY 15, 1831. PRICE 6d.


Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of his Life. By Thomas Moore. Vol. II. London. John Murray. 1831. 4to.

(Second Notice.)

We find that we have so many new works to overtake to-day that we think it expedient again to postpone our more detailed observations on this volume. In the meantime, however, we have made a selection, with some care, of a number of detached passages from the Letters and Journals, which, as tit-bits of considerable interest, our readers will be glad to see. Without farther preface, here they are:

Byron Fainting.—“This evening, on the lake in my boat with Mr. Hobhouse, the pole which sustains the mainsail slipped in tacking, and struck me so violently on one of my legs (the worst, luckily) as to make me do a foolish thing, viz. to faint—a downright swoon; the thing must have jarred some nerve or other, for the bone is not injured, and hardly painful (it is six hours since), and cost Mr. Hobhouse some apprehension and much sprinkling of water to recover me. The sensation was a very odd one: I never had but two such before, once from a cut on the head from a stone, several years ago, and once (long ago also) in falling into a great wreath of snow;—a sort of gray giddiness first, then nothingness and a total loss of memory on beginning to recover. The last part is not disagreeable, if one did not find it again.”

Domestic Sorrow.—“In the weather for this tour (of 13 days), I have been very fortunate—fortunate in a companion (Mr. H.)—fortunate in our prospects, and exempt from even the little petty accidents and delays which often render journeys in a less wild country disappointing. I was disposed to be pleased. I am a lover of nature and an admirer of beauty. I can bear fatigue and welcome privation, and have seen some of the noblest views in the world. But in all this the recollection of bitterness, and more especially of recent and more home desolation, which must accompany me through life, have preyed upon me here; and neither the music of the shepherd, the crashing of the avalanche, nor the torrent, the mountain, the glacier, the forest, nor the cloud, have for one moment lightened the weight upon my heart, nor enabled me to lose my own wretched identity in the majesty, and the power, and the glory, around, above, and beneath me.”

Canova’s Helen.—“The Helen of Canova (a bust which is in the house of Madame the Countess d’Albrizzi, whom I know) is, without exception, to my mind, the most perfectly beautiful of human conceptions, and far beyond my ideas of human execution.
‘In this beloved marble view,
Above the works and thoughts of man,
What Nature could, but would not do,
And Beauty and Canova can!
Beyond imagination’s power,
Beyond the bard’s defeated art,
With immortality her dower,
Behold the Helen of the heart!

Byron’s Intentions—“If I live ten years longer, you will see, however, that it is not over with me—I don’t mean in literature, for that is nothing; and it may seem odd enough to say, I do not think it my vocation. But you will see that I shall do something or other—the times and fortune permitting—that, ‘like the cosmogony, or creation of the world, will puzzle the philosophers of all ages.’ But I doubt whether my constitution will hold out. I have, at intervals, exorcised it most devilishly.”

Anecdotes.—“I’ll tell you a story: the other day, a man here—an English—mistaking the statues of Charlemagne and Constantine, which are equestrian, for those of Peter and Paul, asked another which was Paul of these same horsemen?—to which the reply was—‘I thought, sir, that St. Paul had never got on horseback since his accident?’ “I’ll tell you another: Henry Fox, writing to some one from Naples the other day, after an illness, adds—‘and I am so changed that my oldest creditors would hardly know me.’”

Byron’s Opinion of the Poetry of his Day.—“With regard to poetry in general, I am convinced, the more I think of it, that he and all of us—Scott, Southey, Wordsworth, Moore, Campbell, I,—are all in the wrong, one as much as another; that we are upon a wrong revolutionary poetical system, or systems, not worth a damn in itself, and from which none but Rogers and Crabbe are free; and that the present and next generations will finally be of this opinion. I am the more confirmed in this by having lately gone over some of our classics, particularly Pope, whom I tried in this way:—I took Moore’s poems and my own and some others, and went over them side by side with Pope’s, and I was really astonished (I ought not to have been so) and mortified at the ineffable distance in point of sense, learning, effect, and even imagination, passion, and invention, between the little Queen Anne’s man, and us of the Lower Empire. Depend upon it, it is all Horace then, and Claudian now, among us; and if I had to begin again, I would mould myself accordingly. Crabbe’s the man, but he has got a coarse and impracticable subject, and ——— is retired upon half-pay, and has done enough, unless he were to do as he did formerly.”

Byron’s Opinion of Leigh Hunt.—“Hunt’s letter is probably the exact piece of vulgar coxcombry you might expect from his situation. He is a good man, with some poetical elements in his chaos; but spoilt by the Christ-Church Hospital and a Sunday newspaper,—to say nothing of the Surry Jail, which conceited him into a martyr. But he is a good man. When I saw ‘Rimini’ in MSS., I told him that I deemed it good poetry at bottom, disfigured only by a strange style. His answer was, that his style was a system, or upon system, or some such cant; and, when a man talks of system, his case is hopeless: I said no more to him, and very little to any one else.

“He believes his trash of vulgar phrases tortured into compound barbarisms to be old English; and we may say of it as Aimwell says of Captain Gibbet’s regiment, when the Captain calls it an ‘old corps,’—‘the oldest in Europe, If I may judge by your uniform.’ He sent out his ‘Foliage’ by Percy Shelley, and of all the ineffable Centaurs that were ever begotten by self-love upon a Night-mare, I think this monstrous Sagittary the most prodigious. He (Leigh H.) is an honest Charlatan, who has persuaded himself into a belief of his own impostures, and talks Punch in pure simplicity of heart, taking himself (as poor Fitzgerald said of himself in the Morning Post) for Vates in both senses, or nonsenses, of the word. Did you look at the translations of his own which he prefers to Pope and Cowper, and says so?—Did you read his skimble-skamble about being at the head of his own profession, in the eyes of those who followed it? I thought that Poetry was an art or an attribute, and not a profession;—but be it one; is that —— at the head of your profession in your eyes? I’ll be curst if he is of mine, or ever shall be. He is the only one of us (but of us he is not) whose coronation I would oppose. Let them take Scott, Campbell, Crabbe, or you, or me, or any of the living, and throne him; —but not this new Jacob Behmen, this * * * whose pride might have kept him true, even had his principles turned as perverted as his soi-disant poetry. But Leigh Hunt is a good man, and a good father—see his Odes to all the Masters Hunt;—a good husband—see his Sonnet to Mrs. Hunt;—a good friend—see his Epistles to different people;—and a great coxcomb, and a very vulgar person in every thing about him. But that’s not his fault, but of circumstances.”

The Fun and Gravity of Don Juan—“But, nevertheless, I will answer your friend ——, who objects to the quick succession of fun and gravity, as if in that case the gravity did not (in intention, at least,) heighten the fun. His metaphor is, that ‘we are never scorched and drenched at the same time.’ Blessings on his experience! Ask him these questions about ‘scorching and drenching.’ Did he never play at cricket, or walk a mile in hot weather? Did he never spill a dish of tea over himself in handing the cup to his charmer, to the great shame of his nankeen breeches? Did he never swim in the sea at noonday with the sun in his eyes and on his head, which all the foam of ocean could not cool? Did he never draw his foot out of too hot water, d—ning his eyes and his valet’s? * * * Did he never tumble into a river or lake, fishing, and sit in his wet clothes in the boat, or on the bank, afterwards, ‘scorched and drenched,’ like a true sportsman? ‘Oh for breath to utter!’—but make him my compliments; he is a clever fellow for all that—a very clever fellow.”

“If for silver, or for gold,
You could melt ten thousand pimples
Into half a dozen dimples,
Then your face we might behold,
Looking, doubtless, much more snugly,
Yet ev’n then ’twould be d—d ugly.”

Moore’s last Night at Venice—“To return, however, to the details of our last evening together at Venice.—After a dinner with Mr. Scott at the Pellegrino, we all went, rather late, to the opera, where the principal part in the Baccanali di Roma was represented by a female singer, whose chief claim to reputation, according to Lord Byron, lay in her having stilettoed one of her favourite lovers. In the intervals between the singing he pointed out to me different persons among the audience, to whom celebrity of various sorts, but, for the most part, disreputable, attached; and of one lady who sat near us, he related an anecdote, which, whether new or old, may, as creditable to Venetian facetiousness, be worth, perhaps, repeating. This lady had, it seems, been pronounced by Napoleon the finest woman in Venice; but the Venetians, not quite agreeing with this opinion of the great man, contented themselves with calling her ‘La Bella per Decreto,’—adding (as the Decrees always begin with the word ‘Considerando’), ‘Ma senza il Considerando.’ From the opera, in pursuance of our agreement to ‘make a night of it,’ we betook ourselves to a sort of cabaret in the Place of St. Mark, and there, within a few yards of the Palace of the Doges, sat drinking hot brandy punch, and laughing over old times, till the clock of St. Mark struck the second hour of the morning. Lord Byron then took me in his gondola, and, the moon being in its fullest splendour, he made the gondoliers row us to such points of view as might enable me to see Venice, at that hour, to advantage. Nothing could he more solemnly beautiful than the whole scene around, and I had, for the first time, the Venice of my dreams before me. All those meaner details which so offend the eye by day were now softened down by the moonlight into a sort of visionary indistinctness; and the effect of that silent city of palaces, sleeping, as it were, upon the waters, in the bright stillness of the night, was such as could not but affect deeply even the least susceptible imagination. My companion saw that I was moved by it, and though familiar with the scene himself, seemed to give way, for the moment, to the same strain of feeling; and, as we exchanged a few remarks suggested by that wreck of human glory before us, his voice, habitually so cheerful, sunk into a tone of mournful sweetness, such as I had rarely before heard from him and shall not easily forget. This mood, however, was but of the moment; some quick turn of ridicule soon carried him off into a totally different vein, and at about three o’clock in the morning, at the door of his own palazzo, we parted, laughing, as we had met;—an agreement having been first made that I should take an early dinner with him next day, at his villa, on my road to Ferrara.”

“In picking up your bones, Tom Paine,
Will. Cobbet has done well:
You visit him on earth again,
He’ll visit you in hell.”

Though we do not intend to enter upon the subject
at present, we may as well warn our readers, that we look upon the second volume of this work as decidedly inferior in interest to the first; our reasons for so thinking, it will not be difficult to point out next Saturday.