LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[John Galt], [William Harness]
Lord Byron’s Conversations.
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine  Vol. 16  No. 94  (November 1824)  530-40.
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No. XCIV. NOVEMBER, 1824. Vol. XVI.


Moore has much to answer for—He stands guilty of having violated a sacred trust confided to him by one of the master-spirits of the age; and that, too, under circumstances which, if he had any feeling of gratitude, should to him have rendered the trust doubly sacred. It is no excuse to say, that he remonstrated against the destruction of Byron’s Memoirs, or that he witnessed the act with regret. It is mere drivelling to attempt to exculpate himself by alleging that his opinion was overruled. The question is simply this—Who did give up the manuscript to its destroyers? It had been entrusted to him—bestowed upon him and his family as a boon—and he had pledged it in security for a loan of money. As property which he had so pledged, had he no power to save it from the flames? Was not Murray, with whom he pledged the work, indemnified? We will not say, as we have heard it said, that surely Moore received some pecuniary inducement for consenting to the destruction. That imputation implies a meanness of which we believe him utterly incapable; but he ought to have treated as a personal insult any overture towards a negotiation which will be long memorable by its result. If the work was thought unfit for immediate publication, why not seal it up, and leave it to posterity? Lord Byron’s account of himself would have excited curiosity and interest—yea sympathy—when all those, in deference to whom it was sacrificed, will only be remembered to be blamed.—Who can have forgotten the odious slanders circulated at the period when he was so ungenerously deserted by his wife, amidst the ruins of their common fortunes?—
“Poor fellow! he had many things to wound him;
It was a trying moment, that which found him
Standing alone, beside his desolate hearth,
Where all his household gods lay shiver’d round him.”
Those slanders, so often repeated, and every new edition with improvements in malignity, he never condescended to answer; but that defence, or rather explanation, which he was too proud to offer while he lived, he bequeathed to a friend. How that friend, and other friends, have done their part, the world is enabled to judge by the violations of the confidence of hospitality with which the press is teeming to supply the void which they have so unpardonably created.

While on this subject, there is one question to which the world, after what has happened, is now entitled to some answer—Was it not a condition—and previous to executing the deed of separation from Lady Byron—that her ladyship’s father should sign a declaration, expressive, in the most explicit and unqualified terms of his conviction that the alleged causes for the separation—that is, these calumnies against Lord Byron then in the mouths of the multitude—were utter falsehoods? Is that declaration still in the possession of the particular friend to whose care it was confided?—One of those who assisted, as we have heard, at the burning of the Memoirs—or has it too been consigned to the flames?

That Byron’s Memoirs contained many objectionable passages, is very probable; but they could not have been such as we have heard insinuated, for it is well known that a lady of irreproachable purity not only read, but copied them. No one, therefore, can doubt that the destruction has served the cause of hypocrisy much more than that of virtue. In a word, was it moral delicacy—was it any respect for the opinion of the world, that so worked upon the timid faculties and weak minds of his lordship’s confidants, as to cause them to destroy a narrative of facts and circumstances, which might have changed the current of public sympathy from the course in which it has hitherto run?

But our present business is with Medwin’s book. In many of the anecdotes it is substantially true, and therein consists all its interest; but the friends of Lord Byron will never cease to regret that so bald and meagre a representation of his conversational talents should have seen the light. It was Michel Angelo, we be-
Conversations of Lord Byron: noted during a residence with his Lordship at Pisa, in the years 1821 and 1822. By Thomas Medwin, Esq. of the 24th Light Dragoons, Author of “Ahasuerus the Wanderer.” Second Edition. London: Printed for Henry Colburn, New Burlington Street. 1824.
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lieve, who first remarked, that no artist could impress his works with a stronger moral expression than accorded with the energies of his own character; and the observation, as applied to this poor and ineffectual delineation of one of the most varied, powerful, and singular minds which has appeared for many ages, is completely verified. But, independently of the general non-resemblance of Medwin’s fleshless skeleton to the bloom and gaiety of the living original, a most extraordinary degree of ignorance and inaccuracy pervades the whole work. For example, he represents Lord Byron as giving the following account of his parentage and childhood:—

Medwin, Conversations of Lord Byron

“I lost my father when I was only six years of age. My mother, when she was in a rage with me, (and I gave her cause enough,) used to say, ‘Ah, you little dog, you ore a Byron all over; you are as bad us your father!’ It was very different from Mrs Malaprop’s saying, ‘Ah! good dear Mr Malaprop, I never loved him till he was dead.’ But, in fact, my father was, in his youth, anything but a ‘Calebs in search of a wife.’ He would have made a bad hero for Hannah More. He ran out three fortunes, and married or ran away with three women, and once wanted a guinea, that he wrote for; I have the note. He seemed born for his own ruin, and that of the other sex. He began by seducing Lady Carmarthen, and spent for her L.4000 a-year; and not content with one adventure of this kind, afterwards eloped with Miss Gordon. His marriage was not destined to be a very fortunate one either, and I don’t wonder at her differing from Sheridan’s widow in the play. They certainly could not have claimed the flitch.”

It does not appear from this that Medwin was sure the Miss Gordon alluded to was the mother of Lord Byron. But, whatever were the follies of his lordship’s father, it is well known, notwithstanding the love which the ill-fated poet cherished for his mother, that there was little in her manners, conduct, or conversation, calculated to repress the ancestral impulses of his blood. It would be to imitate here the gossiping which we condemn, to say anything more particular; we would ask, however, some abatement in the wrath of the rigidly righteous, (who never sin themselves,) against the profligacy, as it a called, of Byron, on the score of the baleful influences to which, in the most impressible period of life, he was so unhappily exposed. Whatever might have been the innate delicacy of his feelings, it was not with Mrs Byron that he was likely to be nurtured into that habitual reverence for the excellences of the sex, which is the basis of all domestic virtue. We may, however, in this respect be misinformed; but we would ask, if Lord Byron did not cause the opinion of the late Sir Vickery Gibbs to be taken as to the propriety of prosecuting one of the infamous publications of the day for a libel on his mother?

And is so great a misfortune as parental misconduct to be denied all sympathy in the case of Lord Byron?—Think what such a man might have been, had only the better qualities of his heart been cherished, and his passion for fame fostered by the discipline of virtue!

Though the old Lord Byron was acquitted of murder, no one can read the circumstances of his duel without being morally persuaded of his guilt. It is, however, not generally known, how much the misanthropy to which he abandoned himself after his trial affected the fortunes of his heir. Everything at Newstead Abbey was allowed to run to waste; all the timber worth anything was felled; and a Chancery-suit was entailed on the inheritance.

Moreover, it was doubted if Byron was the legitimate heir—at least his relation and guardian, Lord Carlisle, withheld from him the ordinary courtesy, after he became of age, of introducing him to the House of Peers; and he was compelled, under circumstances extremely mortifying, to prove his legitimacy, an onus to which few noblemen are, we believe, on such occasions subjected.

That Lord Byron felt this deeply, and resented it strongly, everybody knows; but his reply to the Chancellor, when the doubts of that learned personage were removed, is not generally known. Lord Eldon is said to have expressed his regret that the place he held in the House had obliged him to do what he had done, and added some kind and conciliating observations. “Your lordship,“ replied Byron, ”may say, like Tom Thumb,
‘I’ve done my duty, and no more.’”

This, though jocularly said, was the expression of an embittered spirit; and if afterwards, (always bearing in mind the undisciplined character of his education) he shewed but little
532Lord Byron’s Conversations
reverence for the gravest forms in the institutions of his country,—is there to be no allowance of indulgence to the natural effect of public mortification on such a temperament as that of
Lord Byron? We are not his apologists, we desire only to procure for him that consideration of the effect of circumstances over which he had no control, which is due to actual misfortune, and to remind our readers, that in so far as the circumstances of his boyhood have been overlooked, in so much has he perhaps been harshly judged.

Captain Medwin’s account of his lordship’s marriage and separation, is, among other things, as we have already intimated, in substance true;—but some of the incidents are much better told by the poet in Don Juan, which, however, we have, of course, too much regard for the morality of our readers to quote; but we refer those who dare venture on the experiment, to the first canto.

In speaking of the consequences of the extravagance of Lord and Lady Byron, the inaccuracy of Captain Medwin proves how very slenderly indeed he must have been in his lordship’s confidence; for he represents him as saying,

Medwin, Conversations of Lord Byron

“In addition to all these mortifications, my affairs were irretrievably involved, and almost so as to make me what they wished [mad]—I was compelled to part with Newstead.”

But Newstead had been parted with long before their marriage. If we recollect rightly, it was first sold in 1813, (perhaps in 1812,) for L.130,000. The purchaser afterwards paid a forfeit, and gave up the bargain. The estate was again sold, and the greater part of the money vested in trustees, for the jointure of Lady Byron. His Lordship may have regretted the sale of the Abbey, but it assuredly was not on account of anything connected with his unfortunate marriage that he was induced to part with it.

The story of keeping a girl in boy’s clothes, and passing her for his cousin, lest his mother should hear of it, Lord Byron has had abundant cause to repent; but the affair itself had a most ludicrous conclusion, for the young gentleman miscarried in a certain family hotel in Bond Street, to the inexpressible horror of the chambermaids, and the consternation of all the house. By the way, this style of keeping a mistress, must, we rather think, be the most exemplary; for it has been said that an arithmetical member of the House of Commons, during his voyage in the Levant, carried his with him in male attire.

We suspect that Byron had some presentiment of the object of Medwin’s solicitude for his company, and some anticipation, too, of the alarm and laughter which his gossiping would produce when published, particularly when he told him of the three married women, who, on a wedding visit to Lady Byron, met in the same room, and whom he had “known to be all birds of the same nest.” To discover the names of these worthy matrons, we doubt not is the object of all the games of twenty questions now playing in the fashionable world; we are not, however, disposed to disbelieve the fact; at the same time, it is proper to observe, that one of the worst effects of Lord Byron’s passion for fame, was an affectation of his being more profligate than he really was; and we state this emphatically, while, in justice to the ladies of England, we enter our protest against the general calumny of the following passage, in which his lordship is made to say,

Medwin, Conversations of Lord Byron

“I have seen a great deal of Italian society, and swam in a gondola; but nothing could equal the profligacy of high life in England, especially that of (London) when I knew it.”

As far, perhaps, as Lord Byron spoke from his own experience, and from the report of his associates, we are not inclined to dispute the accusation; but is it not perfectly well-known, that, in England, society in high life is divided into two classes, as distinct and separate from each other as any two castes can well be? With the one, both manners and minds are cherished in the most graceful excellence—domestic virtue combined with all that is elegant, gentle, and beneficent, as fair and free from stain as habitual honour in its highest acceptation can imply. To this class Lord Byron had not access. His previous family circumstances, and the impress which those circumstances had left upon himself, made him to be regarded with distrust by the members of that illustrious and true English nobility. There was a hereditary taint on his name, and the early indications of his own
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undisciplined passions had rendered him inadmissible from the beginning of his career.

His affair with Lady ******—“double his age, and the mother of several children”—he might have added by as many different fathers, was truly absurd. The folly of it lost him a sincere friend. At no time could he bear the slightest admonition,—it only instigated him to aggravate his fault, and his friends were in consequence obliged to use the utmost address with him. In that affair, the gentleman alluded to, in speaking with him of a certain reputation, which was damaged about that time, said, “By the by, my Lord, it is reported you have become a contributor to the Harleian Miscellany.” The result was a sullen answer, which ended in an estrangement, that broke up their intercourse.

The same thing, it is said, had almost happened to one of his oldest and earliest companions, who undertook to tell him of the slanders which were circulating about him at the time of the separation. The place chosen for the communication proves the address that was supposed to be requisite. It was under the gallery in the House of Commons, during an important debate, which rendered it necessary to talk in whispers, and with an indifferent manner, to avoid observation.

The answer to Scroope Davis, when he wanted to borrow Byron’s pistols to shoot himself, is one of the few characteristic things in Captain Medwin’s Journal. In such, his Lordship excelled. Beppo, of all his works, affords the best specimens of the style of his conversational humour.

Lord Byron is abused for the freedom with which he has spoken of certain of his favourite familiars; but, as we have already said, he affected to be more vicious than he really was, and yet of what sort of ladies has he spoken? Has he mentioned the name of one who is entitled to the slightest consideration, or whose reputation has not been blown over all the town long ago without his help? We shall just mention one fact in illustration of what we are now stating:—After the absurd scene of Lady ******** ****’s tragedy-flourish with the broken jelly-glass, will it be credited that the ridiculous vixen wrote a long sentimental epistle on the subject to a stout foreigner then in London, Prince K——, because she had heard, forsooth, that he had a sister unhappily married. It may be gratifying to her ladyship, who will assuredly read this, to know, that the Prince shewed this letter to his friends, and was mightily diverted by its absurdity. How he answered it, she best knows.

Either Byron’s memory must have become sadly impaired, or Captain Medwin’s is a very bad one—the latter, we think, is the case—for he represents his Lordship as saying—

Medwin, Conversations of Lord Byron

“I am accused of ingratitude to a certain personage. It is pretended that after his civilities, I should not have spoken of him disrespectfully. Those epigrams were written long before my introduction to him; which was, after all, entirely accidental, and unsought for on my part. I met him one evening at Colonel J——’s. As the party was a small one, he could not help observing me; and as I made a considerable noise at that time, and was one of the lions of the day, he sent General —— to desire I should be presented to him. I would willingly have declined the honour, but could not with decency. His request was in the nature of a command. He was very polite, for he is the politest man in Europe, and paid me some compliments that meant nothing.”

Southerne, Character of Lord Byron

What epigrams were alluded to, in speaking with Captain Medwin, are not mentioned; but those which referred to Lady Jersey, to King Charles, and the verses to the Princess Charlotte, were certainly not written before his introduction to the Prince Regent. In point of fact, Lord Byron was at the time very proud of the compliments, especially of that in which his Royal Highness said, that he thought the age had possessed but one poet, Scott, till he had read Childe Harold, or something to that effect. Such things are only correctly remembered by those to whom they are addressed. But his Lordship never was accused of ingratitude to the Prince. He was blamed for writing in contempt of the consideration due to the personal feelings of the Prince, as he would have been had he taken the same liberty with the domestic circumstances of any other gentleman; for although, from accidental associations, Byron robed with the Whigs, he was anything himself but a Whig, either in temper or in principle; and with regard to the compliments in question, assuredly on the second day after the
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interview, at Miss Johnstone’s ball, he was proud, and pleased with them. Indeed, with all our regard for the memory of poor Byron, and with some touch too of sorrow for his loss, we have no hesitation in saying, that, in our opinion, his enmity towards the Prince Regent arose from disappointed vanity. No man was ever more engrossed with himself than he was at the period to which we are now alluding; and had the Prince invited him to his table, as perhaps he expected, none of those poems would ever have been imagined.
The account of his personal character in the London Magazine for October, though written in no friendly spirit, draws his outlines with considerable accuracy, but in many points too hastily, and in some enviously. The most attached, however, of his friends will not deny, that an “intense selfishness” often rendered him extremely disagreeable. But the feeling was ever momentary; for there was something constantly about the man awakening commiseration and sympathy. He seemed to have no hold in the world. He was like the ivy when it is torn from the wall—all fibres, a tissue of blind feelings and affections, with the impress of ruin and decay. Had he married Miss C——, perhaps, as he said himself, the whole tenor of his life would have been different. But to return to his Conversations.

To shew still farther how little reliance can be placed on Captain Medwin’s report, we would refer to what he is represented as having said respecting the Turkish girl who was put to death by Ali Pashaw. It is one continued bundle of errors; besides making Byron use terms and speak of things, which, from his Lordship’s knowledge of Turkey, he would never have done. The story alluded to is the fate of Phrosyné, the elegy on whose death is one of the most popular and pathetic breathings of the modern Grecian muse. Lord Byron often used to sing the melody. Instead of giving Captain Medwin’s version of the tale, we shall relate the real story, remarking, in the first place, that the affair happened long before Lord Byron’s first voyage to Greece, although, as it is reported in the Notes of his Conversations, it might be thought his Lordship was in that country at the time.

The girl, as we said, was called Phrosyné; she was the wife of a Neapolitan. Muctar Pashaw, son of Ali, fell in love with her, and seduced her. Among other presents with which he won her favour was a diamond ring, that he himself had been accustomed to wear. One day, in the baths, a wife of Muctar met Phrosyné there, and recognizing the ring, was at no loss to guess for what purpose it had been given. Fired with revenge and jealousy, she went to the vizier, (who ever heard of Rajah being applied to designate Ali Pashaw,) her father-in-law, and told what she had discovered. The justice and vengeance of that stern old tyrant were alike speedy. Phrosyné was seized, and with several other young women—twelve, we believe, being tied in a sack—was thrown into the lake, and her husband banished the city. Admitting, however, that Lord Byron had spoken of some other story—which we are persuaded he did not—even the one Captain Medwin repeats was not at all likely to have had the catastrophe he describes. The Mahomedan girl, for her transgression with a Christian, would have been drowned, and the Christian decapitated. Nor was Ali Pashaw of a temper to resort to such refinement of punishment, as merely to expose a criminal to the chance of taking the plague.

Captain Medwin’s account of the incident on which “The Giaour” is founded, is equally erroneously stated. He makes Lord Byron say, that the Marquis of Sligo reminded him of it in England, and wondered he had not authenticated the circumstances in the preface. If we remember the matter rightly, Lord Byron requested the Marquis to state, in writing, his recollection of the affair, which he did. But this is a matter of no great consequence, for, in fact, the whole story owes all its interest to the poetical embellishments. The girl in question was as common as any of the married ladies, by whose conduct Lord Byron is represented as libelling the morals of the British nobility; and the probability is, that her general incontinence with all sorts of travellers, and not her particular liaison with him, was the cause of the customary doom, from which she was rescued by his Lordship.

Hitherto we have treated Captain Medwin’s book with coolness and con-
Lord Byron’s Conversations535
tempt, but we find some difficulty in repressing a sharper feeling with respect to what he puts into
Byron’s mouth regarding Jeffrey. He makes his Lordship say, that Jeffrey did not write the celebrated article in the Edinburgh Review—that which operated as a spur to his genius; we say as a spur, for so strangely was the man constituted, that to have made him as exemplary in conduct as he was in many points the reverse, he required only to have been counted as incapable of practising any virtue. The words are:—“I had good reason to believe that Jeffrey was not the author of that article—was not guilty of it—he disowned it; and though he would not give up the aggressor, he said he would convince me, if ever I came to Scotland, who the person was. I have every reason to believe it was a certain lawyer, who hated me for something I once said of Mrs ——. The technical language about minority, pleas, plaintiffs, grounds of action, &c. a jargon only intelligible to a lawyer, leaves no doubt in my mind on the subject. I bear no animosity to him now—independently of this lampoon, which does him no credit, he gave me cause enough of offence.”—Page 144.

James Hogg, in Noctes Ambrosianae

Is it possible that Lord Byron could talk such ignorant and confused trash as this?—Is not Jeffrey a lawyer, and one of renown, too? Did Jeffrey disown the article in any way to Lord Byron? Of course with that critic we hold no communion; but we would ask him if he did not write the article, and did not brag that he had done it one morning before breakfast? Besides, is it at all consistent with the character of that gentleman, or with Byron’s opinion of him, to represent him as covenanting to gratify his Lordship’s spleen by an act of treachery? As for the lawyer alluded to, we believe it is Brougham, whose first cause of offence to Byron was an opinion of him delivered at the Duke of Devonshire’s table, when the satire on “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers” made its appearance—which opinion some Medwin of the party—“some d—d good-natured friend”—reported to his Lordship. The second was in something, which it is said, perhaps falsely, that Brougham, who was counsel for Lady Byron, had reported in society from his brief. But we should trifle with our readers were we to continue these remarks further. We have stated enough to shew how entirely unworthy of all confidence are the versions Captain Medwin has given of the facts, which, from time to time, unhappily for his unfortunate host, he was permitted to hear. We cannot, however, conclude, without noticing his Cockney admiration of Byron’s personal appearance. It is, indeed, quite laughable, to hear so much said, both in print and society, of his Lordship’s beauty. He was, in truth, in no respect particularly handsome, and his busts and portraits bear testimony to the fact. His forehead was rather noble certainly, and the general cast of his physiognomy was genteel and Grecian. When lighted up with his wonted good humour, there was a pleasing archness in his countenance that gave effect and felicity to his wit and apothegms; but ever and anon he had a habit of knitting his brows into misanthropic frowns little calculated to bespeak affection. In his person he was slight, but well formed, and his lameness was scarcely observable. Barclay of the Stock Exchange in London, might pass for his twin brother. One night last winter this resemblance was noticed in the Opera House, and excited a great sensation, many, who had recollected Lord Byron by sight, believing he had returned home. Whatever the advantage may have been in point of appearance between the two, Barclay, without question, enjoyed it; and yet we doubt whether his brethren of the Alley ever discovered that he was such an Adonis, as we sometimes hear Byron described.

⁂ Since the above was in types, we have received another article on the same work which we subjoin, as we think it contains much novel and interesting matter; and Lord Byron is a subject worthy of being considered under various hues. In this intermediate space we may remark, that we have read Murray’s little pamphlet, in which he so utterly exposes the perfect falsehood of all Medwin’s assertions, so far as he is concerned. In truth, though we and John Murray are not the very best friends in the world, we were immediately convinced from our own knowledge of the parties, that neither Lord Byron, nor anybody
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else, could have it in his power to speak ill with truth of Murray’s pecuniary dealings; and we therefore did not suffer any of the blackguard insinuations to that effect to rest for a moment on our minds.
It was, perhaps, hardly fair in Colburn—for, as for Medwin, it would be just throwing words away to speak of him—to have published some of these things, and Murray was right in compelling him to fill up the asterisks, which implied, in the teeth of every semblance of truth, that he had falsified Lord Byron’s bond. The interview between the bibliopoles must have been highly amusing. We had an intention of republishing Murray’s pamphlet, but we find that it has been in all the Newspapers, and is therefore not metal attractive enough for us. We shall, in all probability, when the hubbub about Lord Byron is over, publish some of his letters, which are of a most amusing kind. We have a great number of them; and our readers may be sure that we shall not select such as will dishonour the dead, or give pain to the living.


As an old school-fellow and early friend of Lord Byron, my attention has necessarily been attracted, with no slight degree of interest, towards the recent publication of Captain Medwin. Mr Colburn, with his accustomed intrepidity of puffing, and liberality of advertisements, has effectually prevented the possibility of the work’s eluding the observation of an individual among his Majesty’s subjects, whose eye is ever cheered by the periodical return of a magazine or a newspaper. From the first moment that the suppression of the Authentic Memoirs became known, “The Conversations of Lord Byron, by Captain Medwin, of the 24th Light Dragoons,” have day after day been promised to the public, till curiosity began to sicken of expectation, and to find a surfeit in the very notices and extracts that were administered as provocatives to appetite. All were anxious to be admitted to the privacy of one whom they had so long admired as a public character; they wished to observe him among his friends and his companions—to know what were the ordinary thoughts and feelings of a being, who in his nature seemed identified with all that is most dark, and melancholy, and severe in the heart of man, or the wonders of the creation; but they doubted whether Captain Medwin was qualified for the task that he had undertaken. Some conceived that a volume thus hastily composed could hardly deserve the importance that appeared attached to it by the publisher; and, when told that this second Boswell had regularly noted down the opinions of his friend, with a view to future publication, they suspected that no person could be worthy of credit in his relations, who, according to his own statement, had acted the part of a domestic spy, and insinuated himself into the confidence of an unsuspecting person, that he might make a booty of his lightest expressions, and his most careless thoughts, and betray them to the first publisher who was base enough to pay the price of his perfidy. Again, there were others who extended their inquiries to the qualifications and opportunities which Captain Medwin might possess for the accomplishment of the task he had undertaken; and I fear that the answer to such inquiries was not satisfactory. His having been a Captain of the 24th Light Dragoons, which he has so sedulously blazed on his title-page, and his letter of discharge, so exactly resembling one given to a servant passing into another employment, which shines in his facsimile, has not quite the effect he anticipates, in making people at once acquiesce in his possession of the qualifications arising from grade, any more than the fact of his having been the author of some unread poetry, of the most slumbering stupidity, would make us allow him those arising from talent. I, however, am not one of those who in the least accuse the author of this volume, either of violating any private confidence, or of addressing the public on a subject where his opportunities of information were defective. On these points I entirely acquit him. Let the galled jade wince, his withers are unwrung. He is guiltless of all such unsoldierlike and discreditable proceedings. He has revealed no secrets—he has violated no confidence; for there is not a single sentiment or opinion put into the mouth of Lord Byron,
Lord Byron’s Conversations537
which has not been printed in some one or other of his pamphlets or prefaces; there is not a single anecdote related or alluded to in the whole work, that has not for years been current among the fashionable and literary gossip of the metropolis, and which the martial author has collected together with the indefatigable spirit, and reported with the proverbial accuracy, of a deaf chamber-maid.

Captain Medwin indisputably possessed great opportunities of seeing and hearing Lord Byron. He was a cousin of Byshe Shelley. This was his ground of introduction; and none can doubt of the intimacy to which he was admitted, who has heard that he once presumed so far as to transgress the orders of the noble poet, and take a volume from the table of his study. The domestic, who had seen and remonstrated against the act, inquired of his master what course was to be adopted on the repetition of a similar offence. The reply was most laconic: “Kick his ——.” After this instance of the intimate footing on which Captain Medwin was received by Lord Byron—an instance which has been communicated by the domestic himself—who shall question the habits of familiarity—even of that too great familiarity which breeds contempt—that subsisted between the parties?

But to cease from trifling—to leave the base and the contemptible, the collector and the retailer of slander—to leave Captain Medwin and Mr Colburn to their ignominy and oblivion, there are a few among the many falsehoods and misrepresentations of the book, which it is in my power, from previous knowledge, to contradict; and it may not be amiss to notice them during the first moments of publication, that the antidote may be administered before the poison has taken too mortal an effect, and that the public may be taught to appreciate the value of a book, to which nothing but the gross and vulgar appetite for personalities, which disgraces the present age, could possibly procure a circulation.

“The first time of my seeing Miss Millbank was at Lady ——’s. It was a fatal day; and I remember that in going up stairs I stumbled, and remarked to Moore, who accompanied me, that it was a bad omen. I ought to hare taken the warning. On entering the room I observed a young lady, more simply dressed than the rest of the assembly, sitting alone upon a sofa. I took her for a humble companion, and asked if I was right in my conjecture? ‘She is a great heiress,’ said he in a whisper that became lower as he proceeded; ‘you had better marry her, and repair the old place, Newstead.’”

It is true that Lord Byron first saw Miss Milbank at Lady Melbourne’s; but at the time of his introduction, he was not, I am almost certain, acquainted with them; and I am quite certain that the author of the Irish Melodies was not of the party.

“Her figure was perfect for her height, and there was a simplicity, a retired modesty about her, which was very characteristic, and formed a happy contrast to the cold artificial formality, and studied stiffness, which is called fashion.”

Where has Captain Medwin lived? Is this the description of any woman of fashion in this country since the reign of long ruffles and hoop petticoats?—but, above all, is it possible to conceive any resemblance between this portrait and the individuals who have, at any period, mingled in the society of Melbourne House?

“There was one act of which I might justly have complained, and which was unworthy of any one but such a confidante: I allude to the breaking open my writing-desk. A book was found in it that did not do much credit to my taste in literature, and some letters from a married woman with whom I had been intimate before my marriage. The use that was made of the latter was most unjustifiable, whatever may be thought of the breach of confidence that led to their discovery. Lady Byron sent them to the husband of the lady, who had the good sense to take no notice of their contents.”

Here, sir, I am justified in asserting, that no act of Lady Byron’s, or of any of her friends, ever afforded the slightest grounds for such an accusation. There was no event that ever occurred during the period of Lord and Lady Byron’s living together, that could, by the ingenuity of malice, be interpreted and exaggerated into the imputation of so foul a perfidy. This is a slander without the least shadow of foundation, and Mrs Leigh is imperiously called upon to break silence on this occasion, and protect the fair and noble character of Lady Byron from the injury to which it is exposed by the groundless calumnies of the malevolent. But to continue:—

“I had been shut up in a dark street in London, writing (I think he said) ‘The Siege of Corinth,’ and had refused myself to every one till it was finished. I was
538Lord Byron’s Conversations
surprised one day by a
Doctor and a Lawyer almost forcing themselves at the same time into my room. I did not know till afterwards the real object of their visit. I thought their questions singular, frivolous, and somewhat importunate, if not impertinent; but what should I have thought, if I had known that they were sent to provide proofs of my insanity? * * * *

“I have no doubt that my answer to these emissaries’ interrogatories were not very rational or consistent, for my imagination was heated by other things. But Dr Bailey could not conscientiously make me out a certificate for Bedlam; and perhaps the Lawyer gave a more favourable report to his employers.”

Is it possible that this wicked misrepresentation of an act of the kindest conjugal attention could have emanated from Lord Byron?—I knew him in boyhood and in youth; generous and brave; affectionate, though passionate; and I never can believe that he was guilty of the falsehood that is mingled with the relation of the act of tenderness on which this calumny is raised. The simple fact is as follows:—Lord Byron was evidently extremely ill. He was impatient of all question on the nature of his disorder. Lady Byron, observing the temper of her husband, but at the same time actuated by a wife’s solicitude, requested the medical gentleman who attended herself to observe his symptoms, and take the advice of Dr Bailey respecting them. Her wishes were complied with, and that great physician urged the necessity of his having an immediate interview with Lord Byron, stating, that if the symptoms of his case were accurately reported, there was no doubt of the patient’s being threatened with an attack of water on the brain. Under the impression of these fears, Dr Bailey was introduced to Lord Byron; and after some conversation, found that his surmises had been incorrect, and that there was no cause for alarm. On this trait of affectionate regard, has been raised and disseminated, the only anecdote against Lady Byron, that has any pretence to a foundation of truth!

Captain Medwin writes, page 45, “You ask if Lady Byron ever loved me—I have answered that already—No!” If these were indeed the words of Lord Byron, his verses on their separation, and many expressions in his suppressed Memoirs, declare that he had not always been of this opinion. He was one well versed in subjects of this nature; he was skilful from experience, and not likely to have been deceived; and on Lady Byron’s quitting him, when Hobhouse, after reading the answer she had sent to a letter, soliciting her return, calmly folded it up, and said, “She no longer loves you,”—Byron has written and said, that the suggestion of so great an evil came as a thunder-stroke upon him! Of the incorrectness of Captain Medwin, some judgment may be formed from the following instances, which we have noted in passing hastily through his trumpery production.—P. 40, “Imagine my astonishment to receive, immediately on her (Lady Byron’s) arrival in London, a few lines from her father,” &c. Lady Byron went from London to her father’s seat in Yorkshire, her husband remaining in Piccadilly.—P. 42, “I was standing before the fire, ruminating upon the embarrassment of my affairs, when Lady Byron came up to me and said, ‘Byron, am I in your way?’ To which I replied, ‘Damnably!’ The answer was, “That you are, indeed,” as Byron told Tom Moore and others. The cold severity of the reply is in harmony with the general manners and character of the poet—the oath has a military raciness about it that smacks of the captain of dragoons.

By the way, the compiler of this quarto libel on all persons whose names were ever brought into collision with that of Byron, has a knack of seasoning his stories with these vulgar expletives, and sometimes in a manner most peculiarly unfortunate. In page 62, we have an oath attributed to the amiable and excellent Lord Calthorpe, whose manners and conversation, we can assure Captain Medwin, are, and always have been, those of a gentleman, and, even as a school-boy, were untainted by the low-bred vice of swearing.  In page 32, speaking of his residence at Venice, Lord Byron is represented as saying, “The Austrian Government would have arrested me, but no one betrayed me; indeed there was nothing to betray.” Four lines above he says, “I had a magazine of one hundred stand of arms in my house, when everything was ripe for revolt.” How do these things agree? In page 57, The Curse of Minerva is described as ha-
Lord Byron’s Conversations539
ving been written about the same time with the
Hours of Idleness. It was written at Athens. I have Lord Byron’s own authority for this assertion. Page 61, “The Duke of Dorset was my fag at Harrow.” This is not the case; they were in different houses, and Malton was Byron’s fag, to whom he was extremely kind. Page 109, “The world will think I am pleased at this event, (the death of Lady Noel,) but they are much mistaken;” yet at page 121, is given the bitter epigram that he transmitted to Murray, on hearing, by the same post, of the fate of his tragedy, and the temporary recovery of Lady Noel. Page 119, Of Marino Faliero  Lord Byron is made to say, “So much was I averse from its being acted, that the moment I heard of the intention of the Managers, I applied for an injunction, but the Chancellor refused to interfere.” The Chancellor could not do what the law gave him no authority for doing. But how could Lord Byron apply for an injunction? The tragedy was performed at Drury Lane three days after its publication. Murray applied for an injunction, but as Byron was at Venice, the application could not very easily have been made at his suggestion.

The Captain, in his ignorance, makes Lord Byron talk, p. 94, 95, of the Fatal Marriage, by Lillo. There is no such tragedy—he means the Fatal Curiosity; and in the same paragraph, of the Brother and Sister of Massinger. There is no such play—probably he means ’Tis Pity then a Whore, by Ford—a masterpiece of its kind, and of which my late noble school-fellow entertained the highest admiration. He represents, p. 122, Milman as the author of the article on Shelley in the Quarterly Review. This must be a vague guess of Captain Medwin’s, for Lord Byron knew from the best authority that it was written by a nephew of ColeridgeP. 143, Medwin accuses the Quarterly of killing Keats. Then he was killed twice; for he himself, according to Leigh Hunt, said that he was killed by an article in Blackwood’s Magazine.—P. 182, “Madame de Stael, as an historian, should have named him (Buonaparte) in her Allemagne.” Madame de Stael!—an historian!—Allemagne! Has he ever seen the work? What can the man mean!

The public is assured, at p. 238, that Shelley was “one of the most moral as well as amiable men.” Why disturb the ashes of his funeral pile, by thus unwillingly compelling us to recall the memory of his vices? Who ever heard the tale of his first wife, the beautiful victim of his lust and his infidelity, without execrating the author of her sorrows!

And lastly, in page 265, Miss Lee, the authoress of Kruitzner, is said to have destroyed herself; it is not more than a year and a half ago, that I had the pleasure of meeting this lady at an evening party; she is, I believe, still at Bath, enjoying the respect and admiration of a large and intellectual circle of acquaintance, and with all the vigour of her talents unimpaired by age, regretted the publication of Lord Byron’s Werner; because it put a stop to the production of her own dramatic version of the same story.*

A word more, and I have done. Captain Medwin pretends to give the reason for Lord Byron’s enmity to Mr Sotheby—one of the best and most generous of men, and not the least gifted of our poets. He says, speaking in the character of Lord Byron, “I got a whole heap of anonymous letters when I was at Venice, and at last found out that I had to thank Mr Sotheby for the greater share of them.” It is true, that Byron was once rash and idle enough to suppose a man of Mr Sotheby’s sincere and gentlemanly character, guilty of committing the meanness that the above extract has imputed to him; but Beppo had not been published a month before Lord Byron expressed himself convinced of his mistake, and sorry for the attack that it had originated.

I had nearly closed this letter, and omitted mentioning the mis-statement which Captain Medwin had made respecting Mrs. Chaworth. “Had I married Miss C——, perhaps the whole tenor of my life would have been different. She jilted me, however.” p. 62. This is totally false. The match was broken off by that lady, but on the
Miss Sophia Lee died 13th March, 1824, See notice of her death in this magazine Vol. XV. p. 476. C. N.
540Lord Byron’s Conversations
discovery of circumstances that would have induced any high-minded and virtuous woman to the adoption of the same course. She became acquainted with an intrigue that Lord Byron was carrying on with a married woman—a demi-rep of some slight pretensions to fashion—and in which he was engaged at the very time that he was most strenuously insisting on the force, and permanency, and integrity of this his first attachment.
The locket mentioned in p. 60, if it be the same he wore in 1813, containing a lock of fair soft hair, with a golden skull and cross-bones placed upon it, was not a memorial of this attachment. The hair was of a fair girl, who died before his passion had departed, and whose name I could never prevail on him to mention.

Of the work altogether I can only say, that it contains nothing new; but only repeats scandals that have been long before the public, and many of which have been refuted. The very falsehood is not original. Every scrap of literary or fashionable chit-chat, that the author could collect from the second classes of society, among whom his lot of life has been cast, he has thrust into the mouth of Lord Byron. If Captain Medwin had the slightest acquaintance with the literature of the day, or had ever mixed in society, the noble poet must have been to him the dullest of all companions; for his conversation would have conveyed nothing but sentiments that he had already read, and stories he was weary of hearing repeated. That they were, however, taken from Lord Byron’s mouth, is impossible; his language was as choice as his words were few; and he would as soon have allowed Captain Medwin to dedicate his novel to him, the extreme case we conceive, as talk of a “lady’s being of a genteel figure,”—a word that has long been exploded by all but the apprentices of Cheapside, and the milliners of Cranbourne-alley—or check the criticisms of his friend, by the exclamation of “There, you’re going it again!”

I am, Mr Editor,
Yours, ever faithfully,