LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[John Wilson]
Review of Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries.
Blackwood's Magazine  Vol. 23  No. 136  (March 1828)  362-408.
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The Athenaeum, Review of Hunt

It would be difficult, perhaps impossible. to chalk out limits to the range of legitimate biography. The world would seem to have a natural right to know much of the mind, morals, and manners, of the Chosen Few—as they exhibited themselves in private life—whose genius may have delighted or enlightened it,—to know more than in general can have been revealed in their works. It desires this, not from a paltry and prying curiosity, but in a spirit of love, or admiration, or gratitude, or reverence. It is something to the reader of a Great Poet, but to have seen him, to be able to say, “Virgilium tantum vidi.” how deeply interesting to hear a few characteristic anecdotes related of him by some favoured friend! To have some glimpses at least, if not full and broad lights, given to us into his domestic privacy, and the inner on-goings beneath what, to our imaginations, is a hallowed roof! We must all of us, whether we will or no, form to ourselves an Idea of the person and the personal character of every great man whose achievements have commanded our wonder; and it must ever be most gratifying to all our feelings and faculties, to have an opportunity of comparing and correcting that Idea with the Reality, either as presented to our own experience, or represented by a picture painted to the life by the hand of another, in the colouring of truth, and in all its just proportions. We cannot bear to think that our knowledge of our benefactors—for such they are—should be limited to the few and scanty personal notices that may be scattered, under the impulse of peculiar emotions, here and there over their writings; we cannot bear to think, that when the grave closes upon them, their memory must survive only in their works; but the same earnest and devout spirit that gazes upon the shadows of their countenances on the limner’s canvass, yearns to hear it told, in pious Biography, what manner of men they were at the frugal or the festal board, by the fire-side, in the social of the family circle, in the discharge of those duties that solemnize the relations of kindred, and that support the Roof-tree of domestic life.

This natural and blameless desire may, we think, be satisfied in almost all cases, without any risk being incurred of violating the sanctity of the Hearth. Are there not a thousand things about the habits of every man of genius, of which probably he is himself hardly conscious, yet, if he were, would have no wish to conceal them, that may be so narrated as so increase and widen our sympathies with his character, and after his decease serve to embalm his name in tenderer recollection? Nay, we see not why a fastidious, or rather fearful veil, should be kept perpetually drawn over his frailties and infirmities—for that frailties and infirmities he must have had we know well, nor could there be any danger of the due measure of our reverence being diminished by a word—or sentence—if no more—from the lips of Truth, that spoke of them with the solemnity accompanying the consciousness of human imperfections. without rudely “drawing them from their dread abode!”

Much depends on the peculiarity of the character of the great or good man who is the subject of the biography. Minds there have been “that were like Stars, and dwelt apart,” shut up in themselves, yet shedding their light afar to bless and brighten. Of them little, almost nothing, can be known, but from their works. It is enough to know that they were the lights of the age. Death changes them not; for being dead, they yet speak Their books are themselves. There have been other minds that possessed immense power in utmost simplicity, and “in the eye of their great task-master,” forever working, forgot themselves altogether,—leaving nothing to be recorded of their lives, than that they were pure and humble, and that they served God every day, their piety being made immortal on earth by the genius which it consecrated. Others again have lived less in their Studies,
* London—Colburn.
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries363
it would seem, though they loved such calm, than in the toil and tumult of this noisy world—the “stir and smoke of this dim spot, which men call earth.” Of them the world wishes to hear all, because it already necessarily knows much. Their labours for its good, and against its evil, were performed on the forehead of daylight,—before all eyes that chose to look, end all ears that chose to hear, and all tongues that chose to speak. They became thus the very property of the world they served, and their biography is at once minute and multifarious,—written by many pens, and many a different style visible of vituperation or panegyric. Yet out of that confused mass of materials, the “wide soul of the world, dreaming on things to come,” constructs for itself an Image of the Truth—of the man as he lived, moved, and had his being—and the historical character that goes down from age to age, is, indeed, that of the battler against Bigotry, and Slavery, and Superstition, as he prayed or preached against them, or brought down their towers and temples to the dust, or wrapt them into ruins with avenging fire.

There have been writers of distinguished powers, whose personal and literary character, it may be said, were at all times so indistinguishably blended, that it was hardly possible to speak, even to think of them as men, without also speaking and thinking of as authors. They carried with them into society the air and atmosphere of the Study. Their talk was ever of books, and the makers of books. Intellectual power, and the product of intellectual power, were the prime objects of all their passions; and their own was the source of their chief enjoyment of life, its pains and pleasures, hopes, fears, anxieties, despondencies, exaltations, humiliations, and triumphs. Reverencing virtue and religion, and in their highest and most solemn moods willingly, and even devoutly, giving them the first place among all human endowments, they nevertheless seemed throughout all the ordinary hours of social intercourse with their brethren of mankind, imperiously to demand talent or knowledge, as an essential condition of their esteem. All their public friendships were with highly-gifted men,—such society alone did they much affect—amid converse, to please and satisfy them, always needed, besides the spontaneous kindness of the heart, the premeditated seasonings or the head, feeling by itself being as nothing without the judgments of the understanding. To such a class belonged Dr Johnson. Accordingly, his biography by Boswell, minute as it is in its details, and pursuing him through all his peculiar personalities, is yet felt to be a justifiable book. Even if Johnson had not given, as he did, permission to that admirable observer and recorder to write his annals, which he did aright, still there would have been no breach of confidence, no violation of the sanctity of private life, in that gallery of successive portraits of that most extraordinary man. Even in what must be called his private life, there was generally some sort of publicity given to the display of his incomparable conversational powers; that such displays should have been suffered to pass away with the transient club-hours they illuminated, would have been a pity and a loss indeed; and yet to embody such displays in a permanent form, it was necessary to embody likewise, and to embalm the singularities, eccentricities, oddnesses, strangenesses, uncouthnesses, brutalities, weaknesses, prejudices, bigotries, and superstitions, that clung to the character of the man. Without them, what would have been the biography of Dr Johnson? His character could bear them all. During life, they did not prevent him from loving, or from being loved, for he had a most tender, and a most generous, and a most noble heart. After his death, they have not prevented him from being respected, venerated and ranked among the best and greatest men of his country. It was also necessary that his biographer, whose chief task and duty it was to describe his illustrious friend in all the glory and triumph of successful display and contention with the most powerful intellects of the time, in combats that often assumed even a gladiatorial character, should sometimes shew him in the obscure and dim retirement of his chamber, in that humble court, where the pride if not the pomposity of the world-admired sage was laid aside, where he was seen sitting at frugal meals with persons utterly unknown, old
364Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
maiden annuitants, physicians of half-crown fees, people too poor to be of any profession at all, decent cit-looking elderly gentlemen, name unknown, and waited on by that half-friend half-servant, the black man, who, in his own country, we presume, had been either a slave or a king. From the biography of such a man, what was there of his life and character that could well be excluded? Not much,—and that, whatever it might be, was excluded, or alluded to, and touched upon with a free but light and tender hand. Could we suppose Dr Johnson returning to life, and rolling from side to side in perusal of his own biography, we might figure him growling out an occasional curse, classical rather than profane, on poor Bozzy; but nevertheless, not on the whole otherwise than pleased, and satisfied, in spite of his wrath at such freedoms, that the picture was a strong, striking, characteristic, and not unflattering likeness of the Original.

The biography of Great Poets seems to be demanded by nature—especially of those who have steeped their poetry, not only in the light of inspiration, but in the heat of their own hearts. We cannot dissever them from the glories by which they are made immortal. Yet, we know that they could not have lived always in that excited and exalted state of soul in which they emanated their poems. We desire to know them in the ebb of their thoughts and feelings, when they are but as mere men. We do not doubt that we shall love and esteem them when the lyre is laid aside, the inspired fit passed away—and that even then, with the prose of life, they will be seen mingling poetry. Such a man was Cowper—and of all we have been let know of the “Bard of Olney,” from himself or others, we would not willingly let the most mournful or afflicting anecdote die; for while “we hold each strange tale devoutly true,” we feel towards the object of our esteem, our love, and our pity, “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” That another hand should have suddenly lifted up or rent away the veil that hid the agonies of a mind still beautiful in all its most rueful afflictions, we might not have been able to endure, and might have turned away from the spectacle, as from one that we felt our eyes were not privileged to behold; but the veil was withdrawn at times by the sufferer himself, who, while he implored mercy from his Creator, was not loath to receive the pity of his fellow-creatures—feeling, except indeed in the deepest, and most disastrous, and most despairing darkness of his spirit, that all their best sympathies were with him, and that he needed not to fear too rude or too close a gaze into his mysterious miseries, from eyes which he had often filled with the best of tears, and when mirth visited his melancholy, with the best of smiles too, although the hour and the day had come at last, when smiles were not for him, nor, as he thought, for any creature framed of the clay. Yet is his entire character, disturbed and distracted as it is seen to be, in beautiful and perfect consistency with all his poetry. But the sweet bells were out of tune, and jangled; the strings of the heart were broken or the keys reversed, and the instrument that once discoursed such excellent music, at last jarred terribly its discord, and it was well when it was heard to sound no more.

Of our Great Living Poets it might not, perhaps, be becoming in us now to speak, in these unpremeditated and imperfect effusions,—but we trust that the world will one day or other have the biographies of such men, for example, as Scott, Southey, and Wordsworth. Why should the friends who have been honoured with their closest friendship, and who may survive them, be afraid or unwilling to speak, with that sacred reserve that will be imposed on them by the reverence of their own spirits? Such recital will strengthen the cause of virtue, by showing that her ways are ways of pleasantness, and that all her paths are peace. The same harmony that pervades the great works of their genius will be found to have pervaded their life and all its actions—the same order and the same calm. Though much will have to be unrevealed, it will only be because there is much of what is good and best that can have no other abiding-place but in the memory of sons and daughters, and friends that are as sons and daughters;—but much may, and ought to be, and will be revealed, allowing the links that connect the lofty with the low, and bind together, in a chain that may be made visible to all eyes,
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries365
all the children of humanity. The land that loves them living will desire when they are dead, to have the lineaments of their characters in imperishable portraiture, drawn by hands whose skilful touch is guided by the heart of affection; nor need such hands tremble in telling the truth—and nothing but the truth.

But among Great Poets, there have been, and will be again, men with minds often sorely troubled and distracted by the passions God gave them,—by the adverse aspect of fortune,—and by “the influence of malignant star.” That often sorely troubled and distracted mind has spoken in their poetry, and in their practice; and thus they have themselves made the whole world the confident of the darkest secrets of their spirits. Such a man, in some measure, was Burns; such a man, in full measure, was Byron. It would, in such circumstances, be most absurd to say, that all other tongues should be silent on all those topics on which their own had so eloquently and passionately descanted; but still, as they were witnesses against themselves, and likewise their own inexorable judges, calling on their own consciences to execute sentence upon them for their confessed misdeeds, which remorse, as far as it could, had expiated,—it surely behoves their brethren, to mitigate justice by mercy, in the decrees they pronounce upon the “poor inhabitants below,” who were “strong to feel, and quick to know,” though
“Thoughtless follies laid them low,
And stain’d their name.”

Nay, their brethren owed them more than both justice and mercy—pity, pardon, commiseration, and, without insult or injury to virtue, immortal fame.

Such has been the doom, the destiny, the fate of Burns. If his vices were drawn in deepest shadows, his virtues were drawn in brightest sunbeams; and over the gloom, and over the glory, there was the light of genius. Therefore his country is neither afraid nor ashamed to see his character reflected with all its stains and all its purity in his works; but she looks on it steadily, though mournfully, with pardon, pity, and pride,—and her heart and her eyes fill as she gazes on his pale marble bust. She will suffer no one now to preach and moralize over his errors, except from his lips she hears
“The still sad music of humanity,
Not harsh nor grating, but of amplest power
To soften and subdue.”

His faults and frailties, errors and vices, were all far more than redeemed, had they been many times greater than they were, by his generous and his noble virtues; and it is felt now over all Scotland, and in every land trodden by the feet of her sons, that the bad belonging to the character of a great man, may without danger be buried in his grave, from whence it will never cease to send up admonitory whispers; and that it is true wisdom and true religion to elevate the good into the light, and hold it for ever there, as an encouragement and an example.

With higher and brighter intellectual powers certainly, but as certainly with deeper and darker moral transgressions, the same fate may be predicted for Byron. Not even the magic of his genius could ever transform vice, in all its most alluring or gorgeous adornments, into the fair apparition of Virtue, who is seen to be Virtue still,

“Though some few spots be on her flowing robe,
Of stateliest beauty.”

The strong and severe moral sense of the English nation will not suffer itself to be long deluded by the “false glitter” of imagination, substituted for the true lustre of virtue. Christianity so clears the eye that looks into the human heart, that as in the darkest and remotest recesses nothing can escape its ken through obscurity, so neither is its visual nerve ever long made “dark with excessive bright.” Thus the only high poetical criticism must be in the light of Christianity; for it deals with the manifestations, the phenomena of a nature which can only be understood in that light—else confounding and inexplicable. Byron’s soul struggled in and against that light; yet had he not been born in a country where in many a temple that light is worshipped, he had never been the great Poet that he was—nor breathed so often those magnificent strains that, issuing from his better and inner nature,
“Do shame the wisdom of the Sadducce”
366Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
As for his life, it cannot either in its brighter or darker lineaments be concealed, for it is emblazoned both in its shame and glory. But severely as it will be judged by his fellow-men, too often shocked by his recklessness and his profligacy, who is there who feels, in awe and dread, that he has himself a soul to be saved, who will not compassionately seek and search,—though of such quest he finds no end, and leaves off aghast and troubled,—for the causes of the evil he deplores,—causes which might, for aught he knows, if rightly understood, involve the fearful palliation of madness, or something incomprehensibly akin to madness, transmitted, perhaps, in his very blood, and meeting with congenial passions all borrowing from it a more fearful force, till he who was possessed by them appeared, in his progress along the paths of this world and this life, alternately like an angel and like a demon? Be that as it may, this is certain, that the mind of this country will never endure that such a being as Byron shall, after death, be pictured as one of the meanest and basest of mankind—but wither the wretch that makes the impotent effort; and were it possible to preserve his name from the oblivion to which nature has doomed it, would brand upon it ineffaceably the same epithets, that when affixed to the word “Byron,” fall crumbling off like filth dried by the wind, that some brutal boor has flung against the gateway of some glorious ruin.

Whatever differences of opinion may prevail on the topics now touched upon,—and however one mind may be inclined to narrow, and another mind to extend the limits of biography, there can at least be none respecting the tone and temper of the spirit of the biographer. It must be a good spirit. What is written in a good spirit will generally be read in a good spirit,—and should there be any difficulty in telling what a good spirit is, there can be no difficulty in knowing what is a bad one. If the man whose life we write, and whose character we draw, has been our enemy,—if we hate him because we know that, right or wrong, justly or unjustly, with much reason or with none, he despised us,—if we acknowledge that the moment we take up our pen to paint him, our gall and our spleen rises,—ought not we to fear our frailty, and to let it drop from our hand? If we yet dare to proceed. must we not have had, our magnanimity triumphantly tried by great self-sacrifices, and our souls assured by previous conquest over all paltry passions, oftenest the most difficult to overcome, of their native heroism, before we take up the pallet, and mix the colours, and sketch the outline, and fill it up with the living lineaments? That there may be a few large, and noble, and heroic, and magnanimous spirits, capable of fairly and truly delineating the character of an enemy, who, they thought and felt, had injured, and insulted, and despitefully used them, in secret and before all the world, we think sufficiently well of human nature to believe; but the few capable of doing so would, we also verily believe, shun the dreadful duty, if duty it were, and rather run the risk of the truth never being told at all, than that they, in daring to disclose it, should, by the poison of some latent evil passion, pollute and falsify the revelation.

The Athenaeum, Review of Hunt
Hunt, Preface to 2d Edition

Farther, it is, in almost all cases, an essential condition of certain kind, of the biography of a great man, that his biographer should be a great man likewise;—either great in power and genius, or in capacity and feeling,—that he may comprehend all his widest sympathies, and see all his achievements in the light in which they were wrought. In all biography, in which the facts recorded are but few and the reflections many, this qualification of the biographer is manifestly indispensable, where he has to analyse feelings, perhaps most complicated and uncommon,—to distinguish between the evil and the good, when seeming to run and melt into each other by the most gradual shadings,—to construe conduct, not merely in a candid but in a wise spirit,—to strip off the disguise of outward circumstances, that the shape and form they had partially concealed, or apparently distorted, may be seen in their real proportions;—and, if a Man be indeed below them,
“To give the world assurance of a Man,”
Has, then, nature made
Leigh Hunt worthy of being the biographer of Lord Byron?—An answer is heard, groaned out loud, long, and deep,—No—No—No!

Literary Gazette, Review of Hunt

The newspapers were for some days
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries367
filled with long extracts from the work so pompously announced, and it is unpleasant to know that not a single Editor among them all had the courage or independence to chastise the Cockney. As to the other periodicals, the
editor of the Literary Gazette alone has spoken like a man. Mr Hunt got irritated at the indifference with which his trash was treated; and scraping together a few scraps of timid censure from obscure or imaginary quarters, got into the heroics; and “with velvet cap à la Raphael,” as Champion of Cockaingne, threw down his kid-glove, and challenged one and all of the periodicals to single fight. He kept riding about the Lists in a very genteel and jaunty style,—for we shall afterwards see that he can sit a little on horseback; and having acted as his own penny-trumpeter, “and cut a gallant figure,” wounding the air with his cut-and-thrust bodkin, to the evident danger of losing his seat as well as his stirrups, he contrived, by dint of repented digs with his spurless heel sinister, to bring the hanimal round about; and so, in a mixture of Marmion, Mazeppa, Mr Dymock, and John Gilpin, wheeled off to the martial air of “Cock-a-doodle-doo,” beautifully played on the hurdy-gurdy, the music of that noble instrument being almost drowned in the acclamations of some dozen of milliners and mantua-makers, who followed the bard of Rimini, to undo his armour, and conduct him, in fair committee, so the warm-bath, where he was champooed in every lith and limb, and then apparelled in the regalia of Cockaigne.

Leigh Hunt, in Morning Chronicle

To drop allegory, Mr Hunt complained, in his precious epistles in the Morning Chronicle, that the public had unwarrantably taken upon themselves to condemn him and his book from a few unconnected extracts. In the first place, they were not a few unconnected extracts, but many and copious, and quite sufficient, and more than sufficient, to show the base spirit in which the book must have been got up. “Wait till you read the whole book,” repeatedly chirped the Cockney. Thousands upon tens of thousands had read the extracts, and justly made up their minds upon their unparalleled iniquity, who will never see the book. But, in the second place, we ask him, whence were the extracts taken? From the New Monthly Magazine, published by Mr Colburn, edited by Mr Campbell, and contributed to by Mr Hunt. Did the article in that Magazine do injustice to Mr Hunt and his book? Was it inserted by Mr Campbell and Mr Colburn, in spite of his teeth? No. It was a puff—no unjustifiable one in the way of business—of him and his book. It praised him and his book—and oh, shame! the illustrious author of the Pleasures of Hope, Gertrude of Wyoming, Lochiel, Hohenlinden, and Ye Mariners of England, gave the stamp and the sanction of his high authority to a series of most loathsome libel on the character and genius of one of his greatest brother-bards. May no despicable and sneaking scoundrel, who may have been permitted to pry into his privacies, ever avenge the insulted memory of Byron, by traducing Mr Campbell’s own character and genius when he is gone, (distant be that day!) and on the plea of ill-usage received from a fickle and capricious son of genius, walk sneering and gibing at his funeral, and sow nettles upon his grave!

New Monthly Magazine, Review of Hunt

If that article were inserted in the Magazine against Mr Hunt’s desire, then was he treated like a slave, since he deemed it likely to set the public against him; if with his desire, or acquiescence, then is he still more a slave, to raise an outcry against the newspapers for doing what had already been done by the publisher and the “puffer” of his book. If without his knowledge, then he should have complained of the Magazine, and not the newspapers, or the public. “It is a grace, quoth Mr Hunt, “to write under the editor of the New Monthly Magazine.”—And if the mantle of Mr Campbell’s genius were to descend on the shoulders of every Cockney that scribbleth there, unquestionably it would but it can never be a grace to publish, “under Mr Campbell,” on the Character and Genius of a Poet “above Mr Campbell,” a libel, which, if the thousandth part of it be true, proves poets and poetry to be worse than dust and ashes,—mere dirt and mire, which the sooner the better it is shovelled all away, and for ever out of sight.

Our business now is with Mr Hunt—but it was impossible to overlook such an article as that alluded to, in a work edited by Mr Campbell. He had
368Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
himself been tried, as we all have, by some grievous afflictions, which he has borne like a man and a Christian. And he will remember the pain inflicted on his heart by an unfeeling intrusion upon his fireside by a critic in the
Quarterly Review, before it came into its present management. Nature gave him the quick temper and the sensitive temperament of genius,—its mingled mirth and melancholy, its humour and its pathos, its wild wit, and its “sweet tears,” its caprices changeful as the winds, yet amid all, and over all, the sunshine of the soul and the ether of the imagination. These are elements, which, whether mixed up kindly or not, must ever constitute an interesting character, In him they are mixed up kindly; yet the character they compose is just the one of all others most open to the misrepresentations of malignity; and some truth-loving Cockney, who may have gained the right, after seven years’ friendship, of stirring the fire in Mr Campbell’s parlour, may take the pet and the fret at the god of his former idolatry, and hold him up in quarto, as in good truth, when thoroughly sifted, the basest, meanest, and most miserable of all mankind. True, that the lie will be dashed in pieces small; but the pieces small will he picked up by pilferers, and hawked about town and country, as fragments and remains of Mr Thomas Campbell, and boys and virgins will lay down the Pleasures of Hope, hold up their hands and weep!

But we have not now mere extracts from the New Monthly Magazine and the newspapers to delude us into false judgment; we have the Record itself, and to that Record we shall stick, and eke to the Recorder.

The very first page of the book is offensive, and shews that Mr Hunt, while he was in the act of wielding his pen, was by no means a gentleman.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“The first time I ever saw Lord Byron, he was rehearsing the part of Leander, under the auspices of Mr Jackson the prize-fighter. It was in the river Thames, before he went to Greece. I had been bathing, and was standing on the floating machine adjusting my clothes, when I noticed a respectable-looking manly person, who was eyeing something at a distance. This was Mr Jackson waiting for his pupil. The latter was swimming with somebody for a wager. I forget what his tutor said of him; but he spoke in terms of praise. I saw nothing in Lord Byron at that time, but a young man who, like myself, had written a bad volume of poems; and though 1 had a sympathy with him on this account, and more respect for his rank than I was willing to suppose, my sympathy was not an agreeable one; so, contenting myself with seeing his Lordship’s head bob up and down in the water, like a buoy, I came away.”

Is not the tone of this passage insolent, unfeeling, and unmanly? The writer, with flippant impatience to be insulting to the memory of a dead man, vainly tries, by a poor perversion of the very ordinary, harmless, and pleasant circumstances, in which he first saw the “Noble Childe,” to throw over him an air of ridicule, and to make him and his pastime, to a certain degree, an object of contempt. But the ridicule recoils on the Cockney. The “latter,” that is “Mr Jackson’s pupil,” that is, Lord Byron, was swimming with somebody for a wager, and that our classic calls “rehearsing the part of Leander!” To what passage in the life of Leander does the witling refer? “I had been bathing, and was standing on the floating machine adjusting my clothes!” Ay, and a pretty fellow, no doubt, you thought yourself, as you were jauntily buttoning your yellow breeches. You are pleased to say, “so contenting myself with seeing his lordship’s head bob up and down in the water, like a buoy, I came away.” Now do you know, sir, that while you were doing so, a whole young ladies’ ambulating boarding school were splitting their sides with laughter at the truly laughable style in which you were jerking out first the right leg and then the left, to get into the yellow breeches; for your legs and thighs had not been sufficiently dried with the pillow-slip, and for the while a man with moderate haste might count a hundred, in they could not be persuaded to go, but ever and anon were exhibited, below the draggled shirt-tails, in most ludicrous exposure? No wonder the young ladies laughed—sweet innocents—“while I was standing on the floating machine adjusting my clothes.” As for Mr Jackson, whom none but a Cockney would have the ignorant impertinence to call a prize-fighter, that gentleman once told us that he perfectly
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries369
well remembered the prig, and that under apprehension of his hopping overboard, during the agony of the yellow breeches, he volunteered to assist him in pulling them up; but that the yokel, whose name he did not then know to be
Hunt, threatened to knock him down; said that, therefore, “he, a respectable-looking, manly person, continued to eye something at a distance.” We forget what more his tutor said of him, but he spoke not in terms of praise. It seems that all the while Mr Hunt was standing on the floating-machine adjusting his clothes, and continuing unconsciously to expose his inexpressibles to three dozen of young ladies, with the duenna at their head all in a titter, he was drawing a parallel, after the manner of Plutarch, between himself as a poet and Lord Byron, who was swimming for a wager with somebody in the Thames at mid-day, just like Leander swimming by himself at night across the Hellespont, for no wager at all, but to keep an assignation. The idea of a young gentleman standing thus on a floating machine, with his breeches—of a bright yellow colour—neither up nor down, and seeing, in a young nobleman swimming for a wager, like Leander, under the auspices of Mr Jackson the prize-fighter, only another young man, who, like himself, had written a bad volume of poems, is surely very entertaining. That the sympathy should have been agreeable is more than was to have been expected; but the impression left on the mind of him, or her, who peruses the anecdote is, that Mr Leigh Hunt was then a sad and a silly coxcomb to act and think so; and that Mr Leigh Hunt is something worse now than a sad and silly coxcomb, to begin a book about one of England’s mightiest dead by an anecdote, recording the indecent exposure of his own mind, and his own person.

Mr Hunt, however, fears he has gone too far in calling himself a young man who had written a bad volume of poems; and he mentions that Lord Byron, who soon afterwards called upon him in prison, thought it a good volume of poems; “to my astonishment he quoted some of the lines, and would not hear me speak ill of them.” We daresay Mr Hunt was very easily prevented from speaking ill of them; nor is there much magnanimity in now announcing how little they were thought of by himself, and how much by Lord Byron. This is mock-modesty; and, indeed, the would-be careless, but most careful introduction of himself and his versifying at all, on such an occasion, must, out of Cockaigne, be felt to be not a little disgusting and characteristic.

As poor Keates expressed it, “for speaking truth to kingly ears, kind Hunt was shut in prison;” that is, he was convicted of a base and brutal libel on his Sovereign, amerced in a swinging sum, and confined for a couple of years in Horsemongerlane or Newgate. Of course, he is to this day as proud of his crime, and his punishment, as any other patriotic jail-bird; and gives us, in this quarto, all the odious and contemptible details, with the exultation of a martyr.

It seems that our warm-hearted friends, the Irish, had, on some St Patrick’s day or another, “vented their spleen pretty stoutly over their wine at dinner,” when the king’s health had been drunk, and Hunt, in imitation of such vociferation,—(“groans, hisses,” he calls them—for Pat is a noisy dog, both in love and anger), wrote “an attack equally grave and vehement,” which threw all who read it into praise, and him who penned it into prison. “Little,” quoth he, “did I foresee, that in the course of a few years, the Irish would burst into an enthusiasm of joy and confidence, merely because the Illustrious Personage paid them a visit! I will not say they were rightly served, in finding that nothing came of it, for I do not think so; especially as we are not bound to take the inhabitants of a metropolis as representatives of the wretched millions in other parts of the country, who have since been in a worse state than before. But this I may be allowed to say, that if ever I regretted having gone to prison in their behalf, it was then and then only.” Bravo! bravo!—The Irish people were not to rejoice to behold their king in the Green Isle, because only a few years before Leigh Hunt had been flung into jail, for libelling him! While all Erin rang with joy, and her green fields could scarcely yield shamrocks sufficient for the hats or heads of hair of her seven millions of population, all outrageous in their loyalty—amid all that bold burst of brogue, and that
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fine forest-scenery of shillelas—Leigh Hunt was biting his nails to the quick in Little Britain, and then, and then only, “regretted having gone to prison in their behalf!”

Lord Ellenborough, one of the boldest and ablest judges that ever graced the bench, was, he says, afraid to look the convicted culprit in the face, as he stood at the bar; such was the insufferable majesty of a face, which he elsewhere tells us is “only rescued by thought from insignificance.”

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“It is necessary, on passing sentence for a libel, to read over again the words that composed it. This was the business of Lord Ellenborough, who baffled the attentive audience in a very ingenious manner, by affecting every instant to hear a noise, and calling upon the officers of the Court to prevent it.” .. “He did not even look at us, when he asked, in the course of his duty, whether it was our wish to make any remarks.” But terrified as Lord Ellenborough was to look into such formidable faces, they were harmless as the frown of a sign-post Saracen. For after Judge Grose had delivered sentence, “My brother, as I had been the writer, expected me, perhaps, to be the spokesman, and speak I certainly should have done, had I not been prevented by the dread of a hesitation in my speech, to which I had been subject when a boy, and the fear of which (though I hesitate least among strangers, and very rarely at all) has been the main cause, I believe, that I have appeared in public less than any other Public Man!!!—“We parted in hackney coaches for our respective abodes, accompanied by two tipstaves apiece;”—and so ends this display of self-possession and heroism in the hour of trial. Moore and Byron visited him in prison—it is needless to say why; and the course and termination of their friendship have been such as generally distinguish an acquaintance scraped up in jail. There seems to have been little warmth or sincerity on either side, although Moore and Byron certainly behaved with kindness, and Mr Hunt owed them some, although, we allow, not much, gratitude. Lord Byron called on him in the prison several times after the first dinner given by “the poor patriot,” and used to bring books for his story of “Rimini.” “He would not let the footman bring them in. He would enter with a couple of quartos under his arm, and give you to understand that he was prouder of being a friend and man of letters, than a Lord. It was thus that, by flattering one’s vanity, he persuaded us of his own freedom from it; for he could see very well that I had more value for lords than I supposed.”

Even then all was not right; and Hunt cannot look back on his very earliest intercourse with Lord Byron, without the gnawing vexation of a paltry spirit irritated by long-festering wounds inflicted on its self-love. Take the following as a specimen of prison-pride:—

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“I saw nothing at first but single-hearted and agreeable qualities in Lord Byron. My wife, with the quicker eyes of a woman, was inclined to doubt them. Visiting me one day, when I had a friend with me, he seemed uneasy, and asked, without ceremony, when he should find me alone. My friend, who was a man of taste and spirit, and the last in the world to intrude his acquaintance, was not bound to go away because another person had come in; and besides, he naturally felt anxious to look at so interesting a visitor, which was paying the latter a compliment. But his Lordship’s will was disturbed, and he vented his spleen accordingly. I took it at the time for a piece of simplicity, blinded perhaps by the flattery insinuated towards myself; but my wife was right. Lord Byron’s nature, from the first, contained that mixture of disagreeable with pleasanter qualities, which I had afterwards but too much occasion to recognise. He subsequently called on me in the prison several times, and used to bring books for my Story of Rimini, which I was then writing. He would not let the footman bring them in. He would enter with a couple of quartos under his arm, and give you to understand, that he was prouder of being a friend and a man of letters, than a lord. It was thus that, by flattering one’s vanity, he persuaded us of his own freedom from it, for he could see very well, that I had more value for lords than I supposed.”

On his liberation from prison, Mr Hunt informs us that he went to live at Paddington, where he “had a study looking over the fields towards Westbourne-Green, which I mention, because, besides the pleasure I took in it after my prison, and the gratitude
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries371
I owe to a fair cousin, who saved me from being burned there one fine morning, I received visits in it from two persons of remarkable discrepancy of character—
Lord Byron and Mr Wordsworth. His Lordship “sat one morning so long that Lady Byron sent up twice to let him know she was waiting.” The Cockney chuckles at this piece of bad breeding towards her ladyship, for sake of the compliment paid to himself—and a few lines farther on he tells us, that Lord Byron “enlisted my self-love so far on the side of Lady Byron, as to tell me that she liked my poem, and had compared his temper to that of Giovanni, my heroine’s consort!”

We remember once hearing a midshipman giving an account of the death of Lord Nelson, which consisted almost entirely of a description of a musket ball that had lodged in his own buttocks, and been extracted skilfully, but painfully, some months afterwards, as he lay on a sofa in his father’s house at Lymington,—an account of the whole domestic economy of which followed a complimentary character of himself and the surgeon. So is it with Mr Hunt. He keeps perpetually poking and perking his own face into yours, when you are desirous of looking only at Lord Byron’s, nor for a single moment ever seems to have the sense to suspect that the company are all too much disgusted to laugh at the absurdities of his egotism.

During this period Lord Byron wrote occasional letters to Mr Hunt, some of which are highly complimentary, but they soon wax somewhat cool—“My dear Hunt,” changes into “Dear Hunt,” “Yours, most affectionately,” drops off—and it is plain enough that his Lordship is getting sick and ashamed of the connexion. No wonder. The tone and temper of Mr Hunt’s character, manners, and pursuits, as given by himself, must have been most offensive to a man of high breeding and elevated sentiments like Lord Byron; and his Lordship’s admiration of “Rimini,” was not such as to stand against the public disgrace of having it dedicated to “My dear Byron.” The pride of the peer revolted, as was natural and right, from such an unwarrantable freedom—and with his own pen, it has since appeared, he erased the nauseous familiarity,—for Leigh Hunt very properly substituting “impudent varlet.”

Even now that Mr Hunt knows with what disgust his dedication inspired Lord Byron, he cannot see the matter in its true light. He confesses that his cheek burns against the paper while he writes—burns with anger, shame, and humiliation; but he does not confess—perhaps it would be a little too much to expect it—that the terms, “impudent varlet,” were never more justly applied. Had he felt towards Lord Byron a true and tender friendship—loved the man, and admired the poet—the dedication, however expressed, and however received; could not but have done him honour. But there was nothing or this in him at the time; we have his own assurance that there was not—and therefore the dedication at all to Lord Byron, was most mean in “a lover of truth,” and the terms of it the consummation of impudence. Look at it—pert, prating, vulgar, and vapid, more especially now, that we know the reception it met with from the illustrious person to whom it sidled up; look at the worse than worthlessness of the wretched stuff which it would palm off for poetry. Contrast it with Wordsworth’s simple and dignified dedication of his immortal works to Sir George Beaumont. There, true honour is at once mutually given and received by two men of worth and genius, bound by nature in a noble and a holy friendship. Or contrast it with Wordsworth’s dedicatory sonnet to Lord Lonsdale, prefixed to the “Excursion.” No “My dear Lonsdale” there; but respect and gratitude in every lofty line,—the poet and the peer preserving each his own rank,—and the reader made to feel at every word, that to have fostered and honoured such a man was glory to one of the highest houses in England. Yet the “Impudent Varlet,” throughout this volume, treats Wordsworth with disrespect, and has the audacity to call him a renegado!

It does not appear from this book, that much intercourse took place between Lord Byron and Mr Hunt after the latter’s imprisonment. There is not the slightest symptom of any one really good feeling in the heart of the Cockney towards his Lordship even at that time; but all is wretched va-
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nity and vexation of spirit. Lord Byron seems to have thought Mr Hunt a clever person, and to have had some sort of satisfaction in showing him certain kindnesses and condesensions, on which the inferior very senselessly and vulgarly presumed, trying to think himself as great a man as his patron, and defending him in the
Examiner. Altogether, the connexion, even in its earliest stage, is but a sorry business,—the genius being all on the same side with the condescension, and that condescension prevented from approximating even to the lowest form of friendship, not so much by the aristocratical pride of the peer, as by the peculiar impudence ingrained into the natural disposition of the prig, who, whether in prison or out of it, inditing a critique on a farce, or pantomime, or trying his hand at a tale of incest, can never cease for a moment to betray his plebeianism, and yet with all his pertness and presumption, was, in the presence of his patron, always as servile as a valet.

Let us follow the “impudent varlet” into Italy, and see how he behaves to “my dear Byron.” But let him tell us in his own words the reason why he subjected himself to his Lordship’s bounty.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“From the time of my taking leave of Lord Byron in England, to the moment of our meeting in Italy, I scarcely heard of him, and never from him. He had become not very fond of his reforming acquaintances. Shelley he knew, and lived a good deal with, in Switzerland; and he was intimate again with him in Italy; yet, in the list of the only persons whom, on some occasion or other, he mentioned publicly as having seen in that country, Mr Shelley’s name was omitted. I was therefore surprised, when I received the letter from my friend, which the reader will find in the Correspondence at the end of this Memoir, and which contained a proposal from my former acquaintance, inviting me to go over, and set up a work with him. Mr Shelley himself had repeatedly invited me abroad; and I had as repeatedly declined going, for the reason stated in my account of him. That reason was done away by the nature of this new proposal. I was ill; it was thought by many I could not live; my wife was very ill too; my family was numerous; and it was agreed by my partner in the Examiner, that while a struggle was made in England to reanimate that paper, injured by the peace, and by a variety of other circumstances, a simultaneous endeavour should be made in Italy to secure new aid to our diminished fortunes, and new friends to the cause of liberty. My family, therefore, packed up their books, and prepared to go by sea.”

Lord Byron, it appears from this passage, had cut all his reforming acquaintances, and all communication between him and Mr Hunt had ceased. His Lordship, too, according to Mr Hunt, had passed an insult, or slight, on Mr Shelley, Mr Hunt’s dearest friend; and yet Mr Hunt is ready, on a hint, to bundle himself, wife, and family, off to Italy, and to become dependent on the bounty, or charity, or call it what you will, of this very Lord, whom he never had esteemed, and whose selfish and disagreeable character that wife had instantly seen through even in prison, when he came with quartos under his arm, and would suffer no footman to bear the burden. “A letter from my friend contained a proposal from my former acquaintance.” The distinction is dignified indeed. But was not this “former acquaintance,” whom you will not honour with the name of friend, “my dear Byron,” to whom you dedicated Rimini, and did you not accept from him the sum of two hundred pounds to enable you to leave the country?

The truth is, that Mr Hunt was, at this time, in a very pitiable condition. The Examiner, on which his subsistence wholly depended, had, he now tells us, ceased to pay,—its uniform and unvaried impudence having sickened even lawyers’ clerks and silk-mercers’ apprentices,—he seems to have possessed no talents that could be turned to any useful account,—his imprisonment and fines had been long and heavy,—and his fortune and his reputation were at the lowest ebb. In the midst of so many mean miseries, he had not courage to withstand the “proposal from his former acquaintance;” and yet, with his usual self-conceit, and self-deceit, he cannot plainly say, “my poverty, but not my will consented;” but tells us that he went to Italy, “to secure new friends to the cause of liberty,” having himself sneered at Lord Byron, with whom he was about to associate himself, “for having become not very fond of his reforming acquaintance,” and omitted “Mr Shelley’s name from
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the public list of his friends!” To say nothing of his belief, formed long before, of Lord Byron being a false and hollow friend of freedom! And this is the man who says, that if he knows anything of himself at all, it is that he is a lover of truth!

Mr Hunt lands at Leghorn, and in a day or two goes to see the noble Bard, at Monte-Nero. Is he happy to see his “former acquaintance?”—his “my dear Byron,”—him who had become “not very fond of his reforming acquaintance,”—him “who had omitted Mr Shelley’s name,”—him “whom he wished to secure as a new friend to the cause of liberty,”—him who had lent him two hundred pounds to fit him out,—him whose selfish character Mr Hunt had seen through in prison of old,—him whose head he had seen bob-bobbing like a buoy in the Thames, like Leander, under the auspices of Mr Jackson the prize-fighter?—is he happy once more to behold this Byron, or is he not? Not one word of emotion of any kind escapes his lips! His account of the meeting is a precious piece of Cockneyism.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“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 unreasonable 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 recognising me, I had grown so thin.

Then follows a tolerably picturesque description of a row among Lord Byron’s servants. His Lordship being thus painted in the free and easy style,—“last, not least in the novelty, my English friend, metamorphosed, round-looking and jacketed,” &c. “Impudent varlet!” The row being extinguished, Mr Hunt thus discourseth of Lord Byron, and his contemporaries.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“Having settled our friend, the lachrymose ruffian, we took our drive in the barouche, in the course of which we met the police officer, and my old acquaintance Fletcher, with his good-humoured lack-a-daisical face. Fletcher was for being legitimate, and having his wife out to Italy. I had made an offer to the lady to bring her with us by sea, which she politely declined; doubtless out of fear of the water; but I brought him a box full of goods, which consoled him a little. I fear I am getting a little gossiping here, beyond the record; such is the contamination of these personal histories; but Fletcher having by nature an honest English face, the round simplicity of which no sophistication had yet succeeded in ruining, ladies of various ranks in Italy, Venetian countesses, and English cook-maids, had a trick of taking a liking to it; and the presence of Mrs Fletcher might afterwards have saved me some trouble. This, however, is a bold conjecture. Perhaps it might have been worse. O Beaumont, hadst thou been living in the times of this the namesake of thy fellow dramatist—But I am told here, that my apostrophes will be getting scandalous.”

What playful fancy—what airy eloquence—what graceful badinage—what pure mirth—what nice perception—what fine emotion—what apt expression of the humorous, and even the facete! Oh! rare Leigh Hunt!

Without one syllable more about Lord Byron, he returns to Leghorn, and taking leave of the vessel, “we put up” at our hotel. Mr Shelley pays him a visit, and “prepared me to find others not exactly what I had taken them for. I little thought at the time how much reason I should have to remember his words.” What! did Mr Shelley now, for the first time, open your eyes to the true character of Lord Byron? If you mean to say so, then you are baser than the dirt. For every single syllable you have written about him, up to this time, has been to his discredit; and you have taken care to tell that your own eyes and the “quicker eyes of a woman,” had been long before opened to the real character of the man, whose charity had brought you thither, and with whom, in spite of his notorious abjuration of the persons, if not the principles of reform, you had sailed across the seas, to become a coadjutor in the cause of liberty.

Mr Hunt now took up his abode in the ground-floor of his Lordship’s house, the Casa Lanfranchi, on the Lung’ Arno. Since the publication of this volume, it appears that he han been accused of violating the domestic privacy of his patron, by the many details he has given of his Lordship’s mode of life, habits, manners, and pursuits. He denies the justice of the accusation, and sets about refuting it, by some of the most whimsical and contemptible special pleading that ever
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polluted the hired lips of a pettifogging attorney.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“The remainder was inhabited by himself and the Gambas; but the father and son were then absent. Divided tenancies of this kind are common in Italy, where few houses are in possession of one family. It has been said that Lord Byron portioned off a part of his own dwelling, handsomely fitted it up for us, and heaped on us in this, as in other matters, a variety of benefactions. In the course of my narrative I must qualify those agreeable fictions. In the first place, Lord Byron had never made use of the ground-floor. Formerly, it was not the custom to do so in great mansions, the splendour of the abode commencing up stairs; nor is it now, where the house is occupied by only one family, and there is room for them without it, unless they descend for coolness in summer time. Of late years, especially since the English have recommenced their visits, it is permitted to parlours to be respectable. In country-houses of a modern standing, I have seen them converted into the best part of the dwelling; but the old mansions were constructed to a different end; the retainers of the family, or the youngest branches, if it was very large, being the only persons who could with propriety live so near their mother earth. The grated windows that are seen in the ground-floors of most private houses in Italy, have survived the old periods of trouble that occasioned them; and it is doubtless to those periods that we must refer for the plebeianism of parlours.”

Leigh Hunt, in Morning Chronicle

In a letter in the Morning Chronicle, Mr Hunt tells us, that he has a horror of violating the sanctity of the “sub iisdem trabibus, —the sacred enclosure of private walls.” But then, mark!—he lived on the ground-floor! That makes all the difference in the world; and separates him from his Lordship as completely as if he had lived in a garret. Lord Byron, then, did not portion off a part of his own dwelling for Hunt and Co.; he only sent them down stairs to the ground-floor,—to the “plebeianism of parlours.” Then hear how Mr Hunt explains away the assertion, that Lord Byron “had handsomely fitted it up for us.”

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“The furniture of our apartments was good and respectable, but of the plainest and cheapest description, consistent with that character, it was chosen by Mr Shelley, who intended to beg my acceptance of it, and who knew, situated as he and I were, that in putting about us such furniture as he used himself, he could not pay us a handsomer or more welcome compliment. When the apartments were fitted up, Lord Byron insisted upon making us a present of the goods himself. Mr Shelley did not choose to contest the point. He explained the circumstance to me; and this is the amount of the splendour with which some persons have been pleased to surround me at his Lordship’s expense.”

So his Lordship, after all, did fit up the apartments! “This is the amount of the splendour with which some persons have been pleased to surround me at his Lordship’s expense.” Why, as to “splendour” we know not who used that word,—nobody at all,—but Mr Hunt and family were provided with good “dry lodging,” and was not that enough? The ground-floor of a palace is better than one of the upper stories of a prison.

In one of the preceding paragraphs quoted from Mr Hunt, he undertakes to refute the assertion, that “Lord Byron portioned off a part of his own dwelling, and handsomely fitted it up for us;” and his refutation, when brought to a close, consists in taking to the ground-floor, and acknowledging, that the furniture of which Lord Byron insisted upon making them a present, “was good and respectable!” What more would he have had—and what more was it ever said by friend or foe, that he had received from Lord Byron in lodgings and in furniture? There was no surpassing generosity in Lord Byron in all this; but there was considerable, sufficient kindness—and the situation of Mr Hunt comes very near indeed to that of a person living, “sub iisdem trabibus—the sacred enclosure of private walls.” ’Tis pitiful to deny it.

But that Mr Hunt, notwithstanding his mean and weak denial, did live, to all intents and purposes, and bona fide under “the iisdem trabibus—the sacred enclosure of private walls,” is proved by every page of his book. “We had not been in the house above an hour or two, when my friend brought the celebrated surgeon Vacca to see Mrs Hunt!” “The next day, while in the drawing-room with Lord Byron,” &c. “Let the reader imagine the noble poet and an intimate acquaintance, not a mere man of the
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries375
world, living together,” and so on; but take the following passage:—

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 courtyard. I was generally at my writing when he came down, and either acknowledged his presence by getting up, and saying something from the window, or he called out ‘Leontius!’ and came baiting up to the window with some joke, or other challenge to conversation, (Readers of good sense will do me the justice of discerning where anything 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 nankeen 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. 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.”

Mr Hunt, then, went over to Italy, having his passage paid by Lord Byron, was “put up” in the ground-floor of his Lordship’s house, which ground-floor was well furnished by his Lordship. “They lived,” he says, “together,” and he, Leontius, passed daily hours with his Lordship and his paramour,—for we will give her the mildest name possible,—and still he denies that he was under the “iisdem trabibus, the sacred enclosure of private walls.” He is an excellent Cockney; but a clumsy casuist; a Jesuit of no ingenuity—hair-splitting is not his forte—to make black white is beyond the art of such a dauber—while others are willing to make all allowances for his misdeeds, he damns himself out of his own mouth, and then hides himself with absurd confusion of countenance, from the charge of being guest to such a host, in a distant, but well-furnished parlour on the ground-floor. And this brings us to speak shortly of Mr Hunt’s pecuniary obligations to Lord Byron, which have been greatly exaggerated, and which, had he loved Byron, needed not to have pressed at all heavily on his conscience. Such, however, as they are, they ought to be fairly stated; and there seems an inclination in Mr Hunt even to turn Lord Byron’s kindness on this matter of money against him, and to insinuate that his Lordship was not a plain-dealer.

Hunt, Preface to 2d Edition

Now we find, from a letter of Mr Shelley’s, that he was anxious to lend money to Mr Hunt, but had it not to lend—and that he was trying to screw himself up to ask it from Mr Horace Smith. Had he done so, he would have got it, for we happen to know something of that gentleman’s unbounded generosity to Mr Shelley, which perhaps Mr Hunt does not know, who indeed speaks in one of his letters in the Morning Chronicle, as if Mr Horace Smith knew far less than he himself did of Mr Shelley. Whereas, we believe the chief difference between them to be, concerning their conduct to that gentleman, that Mr Hunt had received enormous sums from him,—fourteen hundred pounds is deserving in this case to be called so, and that Mr Smith had just as generously given that or a greater sum to him,—that Mr Hunt partook and aggravated all his most pernicious and unhappy opinions,—and that Mr Smith condemned, and endeavoured to cure them. But Mr Shelley did not in this case apply to Mr Horace Smith; and not having the money himself at the time, he had, we presume, applied to Lord Byron. Now, is it not most probable, that Mr Shelley, who applied to Lord Byron unwillingly for two hundred pounds for Mr Hunt, did of himself offer his bond? And did not the acceptance of the bond by Lord Byron relieve Mr Shelley from any painful or unpleasant feeling in
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the transaction? Lord Byron had a year or two before offered, through Mr Shelley, to send four hundred; and this is, we think, the right construction to put upon the bond. On Mr Shelley’s death, the bond, we presume, was burned. Lord Byron did not hold it as a voucher or evidence of a debt against Mr Shelley’s heirs; he told Mr Hunt that he would stand in Mr Shelley’s place towards him; he gave him money after that most melancholy event, though not in the way most agreeable to Mr Hunt’s feelings,—because the false, faint, and fragile friendship was soon broken—the mind of the one being filled with contempt and disgust,—that of the other with spleen and hatred.

There would, in our opinion, have been no degradation in Mr Hunt accepting either the gift or the loan of a far larger sum than two or three hundred pounds from Lord Byron, if he had really loved and esteemed the man. He would, in that case, have been entitled to accept such a proof of friendship, without needing to hang his head, or to blush, whether it were known but to themselves, or to all the world. But he was not the honest, the independent, the high-souled person he imagines himself to be, when in his necessities he stooped to receive such a benefit from the hands of one whom he takes a pride in telling us he never esteemed,—and into the selfishness and many other disagreeable and unamiable qualities of whose character, he and his wife, who shared in the benefit, such as it was, of the no very magnificent benefaction, had long before penetrated, even during their apparently kindliest intercourse in prison. The real degradation was incurred then—although the humiliation was not felt till after Mr Shelley’s death, when Mr Hunt was sent to the “Steward,” it must be allowed, somewhat after the fashion of a pauper, and was forced to live on eleemosynary food. Yet small and insignificant a sum as is three hundred pounds, (that was about the “tottle of the whole,”) even when added to the gift of a ground flat and furniture, it is money given and received—given and received under circumstances which forbid Mr Hunt ever again, while he lives, to utter one single syllable of self-commendation on the score of high-minded independence of character, and well fitted to have sealed in silence the lips of any man when quivering to open in spiteful abuse, after the death of him to whom be had had the baseness to come under such pecuniary obligation, without having entertained towards him one brotherly or affectionate feeling. He performed throughout, from beginning to end, the part of a Pauper.

Throughout the whole book, and all his other writings, Mr Hunt is perpetually trying to express some peculiar opinion of his own, about money,—about money-getting, and money-spending, Mammon, Plutus, and the rest. He never makes himself very intelligible; but we understand sufficiently well what he would be at, to know, that, while he pretends to deplore, he nathless exults in his negligence about pecuniary matters, and in his contempt of all those duties concerning them, so rigidly guarded and enforced by the moral code of a worldly-minded generation. This is occasionally all very pretty,—but it is far oftener all very ugly; and the creed, when acted on, involves men not merely in misfortune, but in meanness. It has done so with Mr Hunt himself, of which what more debasing proof than this very book! For why was it written? For money. He knows this; yet tries to hide it “from that inward eye that is the curse of solitude.” “If I had been actuated by ordinary motives,” says he,” I should have done it when I first returned to England, and made, as the phrase is, ‘a good deal of money by it;’ which is what, in the ordinary sense of the phrase, I cannot be said to have done now. My bookseller has pleased me by advances of money; and it was a series of circumstances connected with that liberal treatment which finally led me to make the book what it is.” There is not one word of truth in this statement, though it is quite possible that the poor creature may not have felt it to be false. Out of his own blundering mouth he stands self-convicted. “I engaged for it,” he says, “as soon as I returned to England; but the delight of finding myself among my old scenes and friends,—the prospect of better health and resources,—the feeling of the first taste of comfort, a novelty unknown for years,—and the very dread of seeing this new piece of rose-colour in my
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existence vanish before the re-exertion of my brain, and the ink-spots it produces between me and the sun,—all conspired, with bad habits of business and the sorriest arithmetic, to make me avail myself unawares of the handsome treatment of my publisher, and indulge in too long a holiday.”
He drivels away in the same mawkish style for several sentences, and what is the upshot? That he would have written the book long ago, had he not preferred enjoying himself on the money, from time to time advanced to him by Mr Colburn. He afterwards acknowledges, “that, had I been rich enough, and could have repaid the handsome conduct of Mr Colburn, with its proper interest, my first impulse, on finishing the book, would have been to put it into the fire.” What mean and miserable contradictions and inconsistencies are crowded and huddled together here! It was for money that the book was written; he admits it, confesses it, hides it, emblazons it, palliates it, avows it, and denies it, all in one and the same breath; yet, in the midst of all this equivocating cowardice, in which he now fears to look the truth in the face, and then strives to stare her out of countenance, all that he has done is still, in his own ultimate belief, “wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best;” and a man of higher principle, more unimpeachable integrity, and loftier disdain of money, never, on a summer’s morning at Paddington, Lisson Grove, or Hampstead, pulled on a pair of yellow breeches!

We have seen how feebly and ineffectually Mr Hunt has attempted to show that he and his family inhabited a house of their own at Pisa, their own ground-flat, and could not be said truly to be under the iisdem trabibus with Lord Byron. There were circumstances attending his dependent situation, that made it very degrading—but Mr Hunt shall speak for himself.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“There was another thing that startled me in the Casa Lanfranchi. I had been led to consider the connexion between Lord Byron and Madame Guiccioli as more than warranted by Italian manners. Her husband was old enough to be her father. Everybody knows how shamefully matches of this kind are permitted to take place even in England. But in Italy they are often accompanied, and almost always followed, by compromises of a very singular description, of which nobody thinks ill; and in fine, I had been given to understand that the attachment was real; that it was rescuing Lord Byron from worse connexions; and that the lady’s family (which was true) approved it. I was not prepared to find the father and brother living in the same house; but taking the national manners into consideration, and differing very considerably with the notions entertained respecting the intercourse of the sexes in more countries than one, I was prepared to treat with respect what I conceived to be founded in serious feelings; and I saw even in that arrangement something which, though it startled my English habits at first, seemed to be a still farther warrant of innocence of intention, and exception to general rules. It is true, that when the Pope sanctioned her separation from her husband, he stipulated that she should live with her father; and as the separation took place on account of the connexion with Lord Byron, the nullification of the edict, in thus adhering to the letter, and violating the spirit of it, may have had an ill look in a Catholic country. But times are altered in that matter; and what enabled me the better to have a good opinion of the arrangement, was the conclusion I came to respecting the dispositions of the old Count and his son; both very natural and amiable persons, with great simplicity of manners, and such a patriotic regard for their country, as had not only committed their reputation for wisdom in the eyes of the selfish, but got them into real trouble, and driven them into banishment.”

Mr Hunt cannot be such a simpleton as to have been self-deceived in a matter like this; and his hypocritical twaddle can be of no avail to shelter him from contempt. The old count and the young count, were both poor base creatures; and the whole concern not only “startling to English habits,” but shocking to human nature. Lord Byron had perhaps the excuse, a very bad one—of passion; but grant that he was the chief criminal, the father and the brother were far worse than mere criminals; and Mr Hunt, who did not scruple to introduce his own wife into such a concern, will pardon us for saying, that he thereby brought disgrace even upon Cockaigne. In high and fashionable life, there is a laxity of principle, which he has himself often railed about with the
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most impudent asperity; but many palliations offer themselves at once of the behaviour, and conduct, and intercourse, which are occasionally tolerated with a taint in such circles. The evil, in greater or lesser degrees, seems almost inseparable from a luxurious state of society; but an evil it is always reckoned; and to countenance it, is always accompanied with danger and disgrace. In the confusion and stir of the common forms of life in a great city like London, much may pass along and away of an unhallowed kind, without polluting what it is unhappily privileged to mingle with; and the breath of vice, although coming sometimes too near the cheek of virtue, being known, is guarded against; and innocence, although thus insulted, is not stained by guilt. But here, a man of very humble rank, a poet forsooth and philosopher, a patriot, a philanthropist, and a lover of truth, places, because he is miserably poor, his wife on an equality, or rather beneath, another man’s mistress. True, that wife is said to have had no scruples of her own on the subject. “
Mrs Hunt, though living in all respects after the fashion of an English wife, was anything but illiberal with regard to others;” but however disposed to pardon the frailties of others, and even so far to forget what was due to her own dignity as an English wife and mother, Mrs Hunt should not have been placed in such a position by her husband. Her opinions and feelings on such a subject were likely to be those of her husband; natural to any amiable Englishwoman—and Mrs Hunt may be very amiable—it is impossible they could be; and although only absurd and silly in theory, in practice they are odious and full of danger. To look with pity, even with pardon, on such a connexion as that which subsisted between Lord Byron and Madame Guiccioli, “Fyeather, brither and I,” might be allowed many men, but still pity and pardon mixed strongly with disgust; but to be willing to bring his wife into close contact with such a coterione, was allowable to no man, but to him who chose to sacrifice for the time, both his name and his nature.

Mr Hunt acknowledges that he was placed in “a dilemma, from which I was relieved by a very trivial circumstance. My wife knew nothing of Italian, and did not care to learn it. Madame Guiccioli could not speak English.” Mr Hunt may call this ignorance of each other’s language a trivial circumstance—to us it seems all-important, since it is manifest that it alone kept the ladies apart. Mrs Hunt was saved from that continued degradation to which her husband would have reduced her, by her ignorance of Italian. Had she been unluckily able to murder the Tuscan like her husband, she must have daily swallowed the bitterest pill that from such hands can be administered to a virtuous woman.

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt must have felt himself a truly noble, independent, and high-minded personage, daily in the garden sitting, as was his custom of an afternoon, with his lordship and his long-yellow-haired paramour. The lawless love must have been indeed beautiful in itself, that could have reconciled a third party,—a married man, with a wife a hundred yards off on the ground-floor, to be the perpetual witness of its dalliances and its displeasures. Two, it is said, is good company,—the person of a third spoils all. That third thus discourseth.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“The way in which the connexion between the young Countess and Lord Byron had originated, and was sanctioned, was, I thought, clear enough; but unfortunately it soon became equally clear, that there was no real love on either side. The lady, I believe, was not unsusceptible of a real attachment, and most undoubtedly she was desirous that Lord Byron should cultivate it, and make her as proud and as affectionate as she was anxious to be. But to hear her talk of him, she must have pretty soon discerned that this was impossible; and the manner of her talking rendered it more than doubtful whether she had ever loved, or could love him, to the extent that she supposed. I believe she would have taken great pride in the noble bard, if he would have let her; and remained a faithful and affectionate companion, as long as he pleased to have her so; but this depended more on his treatment of her, and still more on the way in which be conducted himself towards others, than on any positive qualities of his own. On the other hand, he was alternately vexed and gratified by her jealousies. His regard being founded solely on her person, and not surviving in the shape of a considerate tenderness, had so de-
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generated in a sort space of time, that if you were startled to hear the lady complain of him as she did, and that too with comparative strangers, you were shocked at the license he would allow his criticisms on her. The truth is, as I have said before, that he had never known anything of love but the animal passion. His poetry had given this its gracefuller aspect, when young—he could believe in the passion of Romeo and Juliet. But the moment he thought he had attained to the years of discretion, what with the help of bad companions, and a sense of his own merits, for want of comparisons to check it, he had made the wise and blessed discovery, that women might love himself, though he could not return the passion; and that all woman’s love, the very best of it, was nothing but vanity. To be able to love a quality for its own sake, exclusive of any reaction upon one’s self-love, seemed a thing that never entered his head. If at any time, therefore, he ceased to love a woman’s person, and found leisure to detect in her the vanities natural to a flattered beauty, he set no bounds to the light and coarse way in which he would speak of her. There was coarseness in the way in which he would talk to women, even when he was in his best humour with them. I do not mean on the side of voluptuousness, which is rather an excess than a coarseness; the latter being an impertinence, which is the reverse of the former. I have seen him call their attention to circumstances, which made you wish yourself a hundred miles off. They were connected with anything but the graces with which a poet would encircle his Venus. He said to me once of a friend of his, that he had been spoilt by reading
Swift. He himself had certainly not escaped the infection.

“What completed the distress of this connexion, with respect to the parties themselves, was his want of generosity in money-matters, The lady was independent of him, and disinterested; and he seemed resolved that she should have every mode but one of proving that she could remain so. I will not repeat what was said and lamented on this subject. I would not say anything about it, nor about twenty other matters, but that they hang together more or less, and are connected with the truth of a portrait which it has become necessary to me to paint. It is fortunate that there are some which I can omit. But I am of opinion, that no woman could have loved him long. Pride in his celebrity, and the wish not to appear to have been mistaken or undervalued on their own parts, might have kept up an appearance of love long after it had ceased; but the thing would have gone without doubt, and that very speedily. Love may be kept up in spite of great defects, and even great offences—offences too against itself. Lord Byron, out of a certain instinct, was fond of painting this in his poetry. But there are certain deficiencies, which by depriving a passion of the last resources of self-love, necessary to everything human, deny to it its last consolation,that of taking pity on itself; and without this, it is not in nature that it should exist. Lord Byron painted his heroes criminal, wilful, even selfish in great things; but he took care not to paint them mean in little ones. He took care also to give them a great quantity of what he was singularly deficient in,—which was self-possession: for when it is added, that he had no address even in the ordinary sense of the word,—that he hummed and hawed, and looked confused on very trivial occasions,—that he could much more easily get into a dilemma than out of it, and with much greater skill wound the self-love of others than relieve them,—the most commonplace believers in a poet’s attractions will begin to suspect, that it is possible for his books to be the best part of him.”

Dignified historian! Sublime studies! What peering, and prying, what whisper-listening, what look-eying, what note-jotting, and journalizing must have been there! What sudden leave-taking of bower, arbour, and parlour, at nod or wink of the master, whom he served! This was being something worse than a lick-spittle.

That the whole family of the Hunts soon became very odious to Lord Byron, is generally known, and admitted, throughout the whole of this Memoir. Mr Hunt treats us with some traits of insolence and low-breeding, well calculated to have produced that effect, but which he admires as the perfection of raillery and reproof. Take a sample of this sort of insolence.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“He learnt what was equally true, that she was destitute, to a remarkable degree, of all care about rank and title. She had been used to live in a world of her own, and was, and is, I really believe, absolutely unimpressible in that respect. It is possible, that her inexperience of any mode of life but her own, may have rendered her somewhat jealous in behalf of it. and not willing to be brought into
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comparisons with pretensions, the defects of which she is acute to discern but her indifference to the nominal and conventional part of their importance is unaffectedly real; and it partakes of that sense of the ludicrous, which is so natural to persons to whom they are of no consequence, and so provoking to those who regard them otherwise. Finally,
Lord Byron, who was as acute as a woman in those respects, very speedily discerned that he did not stand very high in her good graces; and accordingly he set her down to a very humble rank in his own. As I oftener went to his part of the house than he came to mine, he seldom saw her; and when he did, the conversation was awkward on his side, and provokingly self-possessed on hers. He said to her one day, ‘What do you think, Mrs Hunt? Trelawney has been speaking against my morals! What do you think of that?’—’it is the first time,’ said Mrs Hunt, ‘I ever heard of them.’ This, which would have set a man of address upon his wit, completely dashed and reduced him to silence.”

This is a sweet specimen of the “quip modest”—the “retort courteous.” The whole picture is rancid. Trelawney, a wild adventurer, destitute of all settled principle, is quoted by Lord Byron in a reckless mood, as a censor of morals—quoted, too, to a virtuous woman, who could not but know that the quotation referred, Among other things, to the liaisons within the “iisdem trabibus;” and that virtuous woman, jesting and jeering in reply, like some pert Abigail in a fourth-rate farce. Byron, too, looking like a booby under such a vulgar repartee! Was Mr Hunt present at the scene, to enjoy the triumph of his spouse’s overwhelming wit? Or does he record the repartee at third hand, taking care that it shall lose nothing of its divine spirit by transmission? Another specimen of similar insolence, to be divided in equal shares between the Cockney-couple.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“But her greatest offence, was in something which I had occasion to tell him. He was very bitter one day upon some friends of mine, criticising even their personal appearance, and that in no good taste. At the same time, he was affecting to be very pleasant and good-humoured, and without any ‘offence in the world.’ All this provoked me to mortify him, and I asked if he knew what Mrs Hunt had said one day to the Shelleys of his picture by Harlowe? (It is the fastidious scornful portrait of him, affectedly looking down.) He said he did not, and was curious to know. An engraving of it, I told him, was shown her, and her opinion asked; upon which she observed, that ‘it resembled a great school-boy, who had had a plain bun given him instead of a plum one.’ I did not add, that our friends shook with laughter at this idea of the noble original, because it was ‘so like him.’ He looked as blank as possible, and never again criticised the personal appearance of those whom I regarded. It was on accounts like these, that he talked of Mrs Hunt as being ‘no great things.’”

The expression “no great things,” is of doubtful and equivocal import, and as such inapplicable to Mrs Hunt’s character, though not to her situation. But it was “no great things” of Mrs Hunt to indulge in low-bred, vulgar, and cockneyish attempts at the facete about Lord Byron, or his portrait, with the Shelleys. That one piece of impertinence serves to show the character of the intercourse between the three coteries—backbiting, sneering, caricaturing, gossipping, cringing, fawning, borrowing, and begging, being the general orders of the day. Plain buns and plum buns are inseparable in the minds of Cockneys from the idea of boyhood. The wit cannot be exquisitely relished out of Cockaigne. “A great school-boy,” too, is a sort of slangish expression; and think of “our friends” “the Shelleys” “shaking with laughter” at this idea of the noble original, because it was “so like him!” This charming bon-mot, this sparkling jeu d’esprit, having been first sported to “the Shelleys,” was next communicated to Mr Hunt by his “cara mia,” by the author of Prometheus, the Revolt of Islam, and the Cenci, or the authoress of Frankenstein and The Last Man, all of whose sides it had shook with laughter! Mr Hunt, too, had had his midriff tickled by it out of all measure,—had treasured it up among other bright and original sallies in the store-house of his memory, and suddenly, and without warning, brought it out to annihilate the Noble who had dared to criticise the personal appearance of “some friends of mine.” Poor Byron, how easily wert thou abashed! Disgust and scorn must have tied his tongue; just as they sicken the very eyes that run over the low and loath-
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries381
some recital by a chuckling Cockney, of his wife’s unmannerly and unwomanly stupidities, mixed up with the poisonous slaver of his own impotent malice, rendering page 27 of “Lord Byron and his Contemporaries, by Leigh Hunt,” the most impertinent piece of printed paper that ever issued from the press.

But not only did Mrs Hunt, on all occasions, display her vast superiority in wit and breeding over Lord Byron, but he was made to sing small by husband as well as wife, and by the whole family of children.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“The children, than whom, I will venture to say, it was impossible to have quieter or more respectable in the house, or any that came less in his way, he pronounced to be ‘impracticable.’ But that was the reason. I very soon found, that it was desirable to keep them out of his way; and although this was done in the easiest and most natural manner, and was altogether such a measure as a person of less jealousy might have regarded as a consideration for his quiet, he resented it, and could not help venting his spleen in talking of them. The worst of it was, that when they did come in his way, they were nothing daunted. They had lived in a natural, not an artificial state of intercourse, and were equally sprightly, respectful, and self-possessed. My eldest boy surprised him with his address, never losing his singleness of manner, nor exhibiting pretensions of which he was too young to know anything; yet giving him his title at due intervals, and appearing, in fact, as if he had always lived in the world, instead of out of it. This put him out of his reckoning.”

The author of Childe Harold and Manfred was really to be pitied,—snubbed at this rate by every member of the family on the ground-floor!—When Mr Hunt was at a loss for a witticism of his own to shoot off at the poor Peer, he had only to take an arrow from the quiver of his Amazon,—and, if she was out of the way, then “heigh for Johnny Nonny!” or “ho for Tommy Tammy!” and he let slip the little red-eyed snarling varmint at his noble host, who, sadly degenerate from the old commodore,—rough-weather Dick,—had not a word to throw to a puppy, or its parent; but, with his finger in his mouth, shunned the offered combat, and left the field in undisputed possession of the Cockneys. What a different man the author of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers in print and in private!—There offering battle to the banded, picked men of England; here, dark, despairing, dumb-foundered, before a litter of small, squeaking Cockneys, all afrisk, with tails atwist, to the ineffable delight of their parent grunters!

Cowed by Mrs Hunt, worried by the brats, it was not to be expected that Lord Byron would make any head against the husband and the father. He was beaten before he entered the ring. Hear Hunt.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“It has been said in a Magazine, that I was always arguing with Lord Byron. Nothing can be more untrue. I was indeed almost always differing, and to such a degree, that I was fain to keep the difference to myself. I differed so much, that I argued as little as possible. His lordship was so poor a logician, that he did not even provoke argument. When you openly differed with him in anything like a zealous manner, the provocation was caused by something foreign to reasoning, and not pretending to it. He did not care for argument; and, what was worse, is too easily convinced at the moment, or appeared to be so, to give any zest to disputation. He gravely asked me one day, ‘What it was that convinced me in argument?’ I said, I thought I was convinced by the strongest reasoning. ‘For my part,’ said he, it is the last speaker that convinces me.’ And I believe he spoke truly; but then he was only convinced till it was agreeable to him to be moved otherwise. He did not care for the truth. He admired only the convenient and the ornamental. He was moved to and fro, not because there was any ultimate purpose which he would give up, but solely because it was most troublesome to him to sit still and resist. ‘Mobility,’ he has said, in one of his notes to ‘Don Juan,’ was his weakness; and he calls it ‘a very painful attribute.’ It is an attribute certainly not very godlike; but it still left him as self-centred and unsympathising with his movers, as if he had been a statue or a ball. In this respect he was as totus, teres, atque rotundus, as Mr Hazlitt could desire; and thus it was, that he was rolled out of Mr Hazlitt’s own company and the Liberal.”

His lordship was so poor a logician, that he did not even provoke argument!—Argument?—What gentleman ever argues with a friend? That is a vice to which only fourth-raters—outsiders—are addicted. “At the feast of reason and the flow of soul,” between man and man in the intercourse
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of social life, who would wish to see served up a whole course of syllogisms? One man cannot pronounce a higher panegyric on another, than to say, that at the genial board, or the stroll in sunshine or in shade, “he does not care for argument.” The bright thought, charming long after it has fled afar—the gay fancy exciting seriousness into a smile—the warm emotion, fresh from the fountain of common humanity,—the image, that with one sudden flash—“sends illumination into dark deep holds;”—the whim, the sally, the quip, the crank, the capricious, the outrageous, the absurd, the insane these are the staple of the true converse of soul and soul; and what, in the devil’s name, have they to do with logic, any more than with logarithms?

But Leigh Hunt would have fain been perpetually arguing, disputing, drawing conclusions from premises, and corollaries from propositions, just as a jackass in a field, where some horses are grazing or galloping, endeavours to get one of them into a corner, and placing himself in the fourth position—the most formidable one in which a quadruped can stand—begins arguing the topic with the hunter, drawing the most startling conclusions and the most recondite corollaries from the farthest recesses of his stomach, up even into the very vicinity of the tail, braying logic in that most unmerciful of all mortars, flapping his ears, open-mouthed affronting the sky at a safe distance from the disputant, and, finally, too much exhausted to be able to crop a thistle for hours to come, endeavouring to kick up his small shabby hoofs, haply not unaccompanied by most unmilitary music; and then in all the pride of victory sinking first on one knee and then on another, into dignified recumbency, among the binweed, dandelions, and dockens.

The concluding sentence of the extract contains some hidden meaning, which one would no more think of searching for, than of digging up with one’s fingers a rotten rat from beneath a heap of filth or ordure. Why Mr Hazlitt should have described Lord Byron to be “totus teres atque rotundus”—can be indistinctly known only to a very few of the Cockneys—and in no degree whatever to Mr Hazlitt himself—the meaning of these words being veiled from him in the obscurity of a learned language; but we give Mr Hunt credit for the singular use of the terms “rolled out of Mr Hazlitt’s own company and the Liberal”—which, being interpreted, means, that Lord Byron being sick and ashamed, did, with two simultaneous, two synchronous kicks, send them both together spinning away to the devil, and into the dead sea.

Lord Byron’s rank, from the first moment Mr Hunt saw him, stuck like a bone in his throat, imparting to his face a singular and woful expression. He could neither vomit nor swallow it. “I had more respect for his rank than I was willing to suppose,” even at the time “I entertained myself with seeing his Lordship’s head bob up and down in the water like a buoy.”

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“It was thus that, by flattering one’s vanity, he persuaded us of his own freedom from it; for he could see very well that I had more value for lords than I supposed.”

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“The courtiers had the advantage of me in one particular. They knew what it was to admire lords heartily; and they could see that I admired them more than I suspected. I dedicated the story of Rimini to Lord Byron; and the dedication was a foolish one. I addressed him in the beginning of a letter, and as custom allows in private between friends, without his title; and I proceeded to show how much I thought of his rank, by pretending to think nothing about it. Now was the time, I thought, to show that friendship, and talents, and poetry were reckoned superior to rank, even by rank itself; my friend appeared not only to suffer me to think so, but to encourage me to do it. I took him at his word; and I believe he was as much astonished at it (though nobody could have expressed himself more kindly on the subject) as at this moment writing I am mortified.”—“I discovered the absurdity I had committed, long before I went to Italy.”

But here comes a quotation, involving all the philosophy of hereditary rank.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“On renewing my intercourse with Lord Byron, I made up my mind to put myself on a different footing with him, but in such a manner as he should construe handsomely towards himself, as well as respectfully towards me. I reckoned upon his approval of it, because it
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should be done as a matter of course, and as the result of a little more experience of the world, and not out of any particular observation of his own wishes or inconsistencies; and I reckoned upon it the more confidently, because at the time that I formed the resolution, his own personal character was not so much in my thoughts, as that conventional modification of it, which he inherited in common with others of his rank, and of which it was not to be expected he should get rid. Men do not easily give up any advantages they possess, real or imaginary; and they have a good deal to say in their favour. I mean as far as any real difference is concerned between what is tangible in substance and tangible in the apprehension. If a man can be made happy with a. title, I do not know why we should begrudge it him, or why he should think ill of it, any more than of beauty, or riches, or anything else that has an influence upon the imagination. The only questions are, whether he will be the better for it in the long run, and whether his particular good is harmless, or otherwise, with respect to the many. Without stopping to settle this point, I had concluded that Lord Byron had naturally as much regard for his title as any other nobleman, perhaps more, because he had professed not to care about it. Besides, he had a poetical imagination.
Mr Shelley, who, though he had not known him longer, had known him more intimately, was punctilious in giving him his title, and told me very plainly that he thought it best for all parties. His oldest acquaintances, it is true, behaved in this respect, as it is the custom to behave, in great familiarity of intercourse. Mr Shelley did not choose to be so familiar; and he thought, that although I had acted differently in former times, a long suspension of intercourse would give further warrant to a change, desirable on many accounts, quite unaffected, and intended to be acceptable. I took care, accordingly, not to accompany my new punctilio with any air of study or gravity. In every other respect, things appeared the same as before. We laughed, and chatted, and rode out, and were as familiar as need be, and I thought he regarded the matter just as I wished. However, he did not like it.

“This may require some explanation. Lord Byron was very proud of his rank. M. Beyle (‘Count Stendhal’), when he saw him at the opera in Venice, made this discovery at a glance; and it was a discovery no less subtle than true. He would appear sometimes as jealous of his title as if he had usurped it. A friend told me, that an Italian apothecary having sent him one day a packet of medicines, addressed to ‘Mons. Byron,’ this mock heroic mistake aroused his indignation, and he sent back the physic to learn better manners. His coat of arms was fixed up in front of his bed. I have heard that it was a joke with him to mystify the sense of the motto to his fair friend, who wished particularly to know what ‘Crede Byron’ meant. The motto, it must be acknowledged, was awkward. The version, to which her Italian helped her, was too provocative of comment to be allowed. There are mottoes, as well as scutcheons, of pretence, which must often occasion the bearers much taunt and sarcasm, especially from indignant ladies. Custom, indeed, and the interested acquiescence of society, enable us to be proud of imputed merits, though we contradict them every day of our life: otherwise it would be wonderful how people could adorn their, equipages, and be continually sealing their letters with maxims and stately moralities, ludicrously inapplicable. It would be like wearing ironical papers in their hats.

“But Lord Byron, besides being a lord, was a man of letters, and he was extremely desirous of the approbation of men of letters. He loved to enjoy the privileges of his rank, and, at the same time, to be thought above them. It is true, if he thought you not above them yourself, he was the better pleased. On this account, among others, no man was calculated to delight him in a higher degree than Thomas Moore, who, with every charm he wished for in a companion, and a reputation for independence and liberal opinion, admired both genius and title for their own sakes. But his lordship did not always feel quite secure of the bon-mots of his brother wit. His conscience had taught him suspicion; and it was a fault with him and his coterie, as it is with most, that they all talked too much of one another behind their backs. But ‘admiration at all events’ was his real motto. If he thought you an admirer of titles, he was well pleased that you should add that homage to the other, without investigating it too nicely. If not, he was anxious that you should not suppose him anxious about the matter. When be beheld me, therefore, in the first instance, taking such pains to show my philosophy, he knew very well that he was secure, address him as I might; but now that he found me grown older, and suspected, from my general opinions and
384Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
way of life, that my experience, though it adopted the style of the world when mixing with it, partook less of it than ever in some respects, he was chagrined at this change in my appellatives. He did not feel so at once; but the more we associated, and the greater insight he obtained into the tranquil and unaffected conclusions I had come to on a great many points, upon which he was desirous of being thought as indifferent as myself, the less satisfied he became with it. At last, thinking I had ceased to esteem him, he petulantly bantered me on the subject. I knew, in fact, that, under all the circumstances, neither of us could afford a change back again to the old entire familiarity: he, because he would have regarded it as a triumph warranting very peculiar consequences, and such as would by no means have saved me from the penalties of the previous offence; and I, because I was under certain disadvantages, that would not allow me to indulge him. With any other man, I would not have stood it out. It would have ill become the very sincerity of my feelings. But even the genius of Lord Byron did not enable him to afford being conceded to. He was so annoyed one day at Genoa at not succeeding in bantering me out of my epistolary proprieties, that he addressed me a letter, beginning ‘Dear Lord Hunt.’ This sally made me laugh heartily. I told him so; and my unequivocal relish of the joke pacified him; so that I heard no more on the subject.

“The familiarities of my noble acquaintance, which I had taken at first for a compliment and a cordiality, were dealt out in equal portions to all who came near him. They proceeded upon that royal instinct of an immeasurable distance between the parties, the safety of which, it is thought, can be compromised by no appearance of encouragement. The farther you are off, the more securely the personage may indulge your good opinion of him. The greater his merits, and ‘the more transporting his condescension, the less can you be so immodest as to have pretensions of your own. You may be intoxicated into familiarity. That is excusable, though not desirable. But not to be intoxicated anyhow—not to show any levity, and yet not to be possessed with a seriousness of the pleasure, is an offence. When I agreed to go to Italy, and join in setting up the proposed work, Shelley, who was fond of giving his friends appellations, happened to be talking one day with Lord Byron of the mystification which the name of ‘Leigh Hunt’ would cause the Italians; and passing from one fancy to another, he proposed that they should translate it into Leontius. Lord Byron approved of this conceit, and at Pisa was in the habit of calling me so. I liked it, especially as it seemed a kind of new link with my beloved friend, then, alas! no more. I was pleased to be called in Italy, what he would have called me there had he been alive: and the familiarity was welcome to me from Lord Byron’s mouth, partly because it pleased himself, partly because it was not of a worldly fashion, and the link with my friend was thus rendered compatible, In fact, had Lord Byron been what I used to think him, he might have called me what he chose; and I should have been as proud to be at his call, as I endeavoured to be pleased. As it was, there was something not unsocial, nor even unenjoying, in our intercourse, nor was there any appearance of constraint; but, upon the whole, it was not pleasant—it was not cordial. There was a sense of mistake on both sides. However, this came by degrees. At first there was hope, which I tried hard to indulge; and there was always some joking going forward; some melancholy mirth, which a spectator might have taken for pleasure.”

What a tedious twaddle of tawdry common-places! Byron was a lord—one of the nobility of England. Why bother about that? Any commoner may be the friend of any lord, provided he be a man and a gentleman. There can be no difficulty in knowing, feeling, and acting, upon the distinction of ranks, either to the superior or the inferior, unless the head of the latter be jumbled and confused, his heart poisoned and narrowed by Cockneyism. Not a living lord in Britain, with the exception perhaps of here and there a coughed-down Parliamentary Whigling,—that would behave superciliously, or overbearingly, or arrogantly, or insultingly, to any commoner, who knew the privileges of his own station, and did at all times, without care, heed, anxiety, uneasiness, jealousy, or effort, unconsciously preserve them by an unembarrassed and independent demeanour. But Mr Hunt had been a despicable abuser of all lords, before he had ever sat in company with one; and even now, he is embued with the rancorous dislike of high-birth, that is the glory and the shame of the lord-hating gang to which he yet appertains. But how quickly quailed his
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries385
paltry heart, and cringed his servile shoulders, and bent his Cockney knees, and sought the floor the pertness of his radical-looking eyes, at the very first condescending visit from a lord! The
Examiner died within him,—all his principles slipt out of being like rain-drops on a window-pane, at the first smiting of the sun—and, oh! the self-glorification that must have illuminated his face, “saved only by thought from insignificance,” when, as he even now exults to record it, Lady Byron continued sitting impatiently in her carriage at his door at Paddington, and sending message after message, to the number of Two, to her lord, fascinated by the glitter of mean eyes, and preferring, to the gentle side of his young and newly-wedded wife, the company of a Cockney, whose best bits were distributed through the taverns for tenpence every Sunday!

All that ensued was in excellent keeping. The Leigh grew uppish and more uppish at every new visit from the Lord. He kept wriggling and fidgetting himself into impertinence of the most perked-up kind, and held his head, as if a “feather had been swaling from his bonnet.” His hair was more carefully separated in front, as you may see it even now in the picture-book. A brighter glow, like the light of setting suns, felt upon his yellow breeches. He published his intimacy with a Lord, through all the lanes and alleys; then came the “Impudent varlet’s” dedication, to “My dear Byron,”—alternations of mortification that would have bit the very dust,—wounded vanity, whose sores were still salved with egotism as with an ointment,—angry self-upbraidings, not of the heart, but of the liver, not of the conscience, but of the spleen,—kicks and cuffs inflicted within the spirit, by the soul-freezing sneer of the haughty eye and lip of the lord who loathed him,—the sarcasm that was had recourse to in the sickness of conscious contemptibility, when the unhappy man, alike out at the elbows, out of temper, and out of his wits, had to call for female assistance, and to attempt, in desperation, to keep off his tormentor by a discharge of small jests, like pins and needles from the nursery, just as a Mahout might hope to save his life by means of a pop or pea-gun, when sprawling beneath the paw and the trunk of an Elephant.

“Dear Lord Hunt!” “This really made me laugh heartily. I told him so; and my unequivocal relish of the joke pacified him!” The Hunts and the Shelleys laugh heartily—they shake their sides for reasons peculiar to themselves—and are equally diverted by jests of their own, too pointless even for the select society of the Pig and Whistle, and by sarcasms upon themselves, made in laughing cruelty by a man of wit like Byron, expecting to see them wince at what only tickles them. What a gallant figure does Mr Hunt cut on this occasion, picking up, and wearing as a feather in his cap, or a flower in his button-hole, the paper pellet with which he had been pelted in disgust and derision!

By the by, this M. Beyle,—this “Count Stendhal,”—who, when he saw Lord Byron at the opera at Venice, made the discovery at once,—a discovery no less subtle than true,—that he was very proud of his rank,—is a miserable pretender and impostor, that ought long ago to have had the mask torn from his face. He writes books;—Don’t you, Count?—and you steal, pilfer, and rob whole pages,—indifferent to you whether of gold or tinsel,—from reviews and other sources, and clap them, with the brazen impudence of a foreign quack, into your own patch-work pamphlets,—Don’t you, M. Beyle, Count Stendhal? This discovery, no less subtle than true, we made at a glance, Count Stendhal; and we could, if we chose—and probably will—show you up like a plucked magpie, to hop about the streets in bleeding nudity, the sport of caddies at corners, and chairmen at both the poles. Speak a word, Count, and it shall be done to your heart’s contentment.

We have troubled ourselves too long, perhaps, with these pitiful details; but the more pitiful they are, the better illustrations are they of the character of those who are the enemies—the sole enemies—of our Nobility. Such creatures, equally feeble and ferocious, would fain see the lofty levelled—and how would they chatter and grin, like dancing monkeys, round about the scaffold on which noble blood might be shed in rebellion or revolution! They would be glad to bare the neck of the Lord to-day, with hangman’s hands, whose feet they had licked yesterday with the
386Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
tongue of a sycophant; sweeping the dust from his shoes, or the blood from his heart, with the same besom. It is your crawling things that bite or sting most deadly; but it is not difficult, when you have caught them by the nape of the neck, to break sting and burst poison-bag, and then turn them out to wriggle away, thenceforth harmless, on their bellies.
Mr Hunt is a sufficiently venomous reptile, but his bite is not mortal—it only irritates, and is apt to fester, little more dangerous or disgraceful, and no less disgusting, than that of a bug. Forgive, gentle reader, this confusion of metaphor between Reptile and Insect.

The First Number of the “Liberal” was now on the anvil, and it was to be seen what “Leontius,” who had crossed the salt seas, through that medium to astonish the natives, was capable of producing, in the way of thunder and lightning, pepper and salt. Its object, he tells us, was “to restore the fortunes of the battered race of Patriots.” Lord Byron had originally proposed a work of the kind to Mr Moore, who had very wisely thought the battered race of patriots ought to restore their own fortunes. “Enemies, however, had been already at work; Lord Byron was alarmed for his credit with his fashionable friends; among whom, although on the liberal side, patriotism was less in favour than the talk about it. This man wrote to him, and that wrote to him, and another came. Mr Hobhouse rushed over the Alps, not knowing which was the more awful, the mountains or the Magazine; Mr Murray wondered, Mr Gifford smiled (a lofty symptom) and Mr Moore (Tu quoque, Horati!) said that the Liberal had a taint in it. This, however, was afterwards!

Before the First Number of this poorest of all Periodicals had left the anvil, Lord Byron had grown sick and ashamed of the Editor, and he “only made use of it for the publication of some things which his Tory bookseller was afraid to put forth.” Hunt attributes its downfall almost entirely to Lord Byron’s want of spirit and independence. But Hunt himself, he acknowledges, grew daily stupider and weaker in mind and body, and could indite nothing but drivel. Poor Shelley was dead—Hazlitt worse than dead—how then could the Liberal live even with “The Vision of Judgement, in which my brother saw nothing but Byron, and a judicious hit at the Tories, and he prepared his machine accordingly, for sending forward the blow unmitigated. Unfortunately it recoiled, and played the devil with all of us.” Mr Hunt then tries to attribute the death of the monster—which at its birth was little better than an abortion—to the sneers of Mr Moore and Mr Hobhouse. Poor blind bat, does he not know that all Britain loathed it? That it was damned, not by acclamation, but by one hiss and hoot? That every man who was betrayed by the name of Byron to take it into his hands, whether in private house, bookseller’s shop, or coffee-room, called instantly and impatiently for a basin of water, soap and towels.

Poor Hunt’s vanity is proof against all possible discomfiture, disgrace, and degradation. Even now he prides himself upon his articles in the Liberal; and “like the murmur of a dream, we hear him breathe their names!” He admits he was ill, weak, dull, stupid, worn-out, miserably poor, and still more miserably dependent, when he wrote them; yet still his genius broke out in a few fitful flashes, and he talks of preserving some of the worthless trash that flowed from him—to make use of a favourite expression of his own—“in his incontinence.” His “lines to a spider” he especially admires; and doubtless you may
Destroy his web of sophistry in vain;
The creature’s at his dirty work again.
The short and the long of the matter is, that the Liberal died of hunger and thirst; that is, for want of talent, and for want of principle. Those who saw there was no principle, looked for talent; those who saw there was no talent, looked for principle. Both were disappointed—and the delusion died.

Among the other causes of the death of the Liberal, Mr Hunt refers to one bitterly spoken of by Hazlitt, in a note quoted from some manuscripts—the attacks on it in Blackwood’s Magazine. So infamous, it appears, had Hazlitt been rendered by some able articles in this work, that he had been excommunicated from all decent society, and nobody would touch a dead book of his, any more than they would the body of a man who had died of
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries387
the plague. This is an incredible instance of the power of the press. What! a man of such pure morals, delightful manners, high intellects, and true religion, as Mr Hazlitt, to be ruined in soul, body, and estate, pen, pencil, and pallet, by a work which Mr Hunt himself declared in the
Examiner had no sale—almost the entire impression of every number lying in cellars, in the capacity of dead stock? Among other strange effects of Maga’s ferocity, was, it seems, the estrangement from Mr Hazlitt of Mr Thomas Moore. The passage is worth quoting.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Mr Blackwood had not then directed his Grub Street battery against me: but as soon as this was the case, Mr Moore was willing to ‘whistle me down the wind, and let me prey at fortune;’ not that I ‘proved haggard,’ but the contrary. It is sheer cowardice and want of heart. The sole object of the rest is not to stem the tide of prejudice and falsehood, but to get out of the way themselves. The instant another is as (however unjustly,) instead of standing manfully by him, they cut the connexion as fast as possible, and sanction, by their silence and reserve, the accusations they ought to repel. Sauve qui peut—every one has enough to do to look after his own reputation or safety, without rescuing a friend, or propping up a falling cause. It is only by keeping in the back ground on such occasions, (like Gil Blas, when his friend Ambrose Lamela was led by in triumph to the auto-do-fe,) that they can escape the like honours, and a summary punishment. A shower of mud, a flight of nicknames, (glancing a little out of their original direction,) might obscure the last glimpse of royal favour, or stop the last gasp of popularity. Nor could they answer it to their noble friends, and more elegant pursuits, to be received in such company, or to have their names coupled with similar outrages. Their sleek, glossy, aspiring pretensions should not be exposed to vulgar contamination, or to be trodden under foot of a swinish multitude. Their birthday suits (unused) should not be dragged through the kennel, nor their ‘tricksy’ laurel wreaths stuck in the pillory. This would make them equally unfit to be taken into the palaces or the carriages of peers. If excluded from both, what would become of them? The only way, therefore, to avoid being implicated in the abuse poured upon others, is to pretend that it is just—the way not to be made the object of the hue and cry raised against a friend, is to aid by underhand whispers. It is pleasant neither to participate in disgrace, nor to have honours divided.”

It is amusing to see a man of talent like Mr Hazlitt racking his ingenuity to discover the cause why all the world—Mr Thomas Moore included—despises him—shuns his society—and thinks his absence agreeable company. He needed not to have taken the trouble of looking so far north as Edinburgh, but to have had an eye to proceedings nearer home. Wicked a work as Blackwood’s Magazine is, it could not hurt a single hair in the head of any honest man. Blackwood’s Magazine did not take Mr Hazlitt into the Commissary Court, nor did Christopher North write Pygmalion. A few innocent men have been condemned to die for murder and so forth, and executed accordingly; but no upright, honest, honourable literary man, was ever damned irremediably in this life but by himself; and if Mr Hazlitt be, as he says, in that predicament, let him rise and propose his own health in a bumper, and return thanks in a suitable speech; for we cannot flatter ourselves so far as to “own the soft impeachment.”

So much for the Liberal. Let us turn to other matters. We never should have suspected or conjectured that Leigh Hunt was a good horseman. That he might occasionally, in rainy weather, when it was uncomfortable to be “without doors,” take a ride on a wooden hobby, and have accomplished his feat of a few yards within the hour, with privilege of taking hold of the tail in extremity, we could have believed; but we never could have thought that he was absolutely up to a living horse,—a horse of flesh and blood, a stalking horse—nay, a trotting—perhaps cantering horse;—a horse that could rear, and funk, and fret, and prance in a foaming fury;—that, now that the age of chivalry is gone, we could not have prophesied of the King of the Cockneys. Yet it is even so.

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
388Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
not that man have received, and what Jove 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 courses 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 had 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.”

“When we pushed forward!”—These are the words of a “great schoolboy,” cautiously confining himself to a walk for a mile or two, then pleased to find that he can positively sit on at a trot; and finally, hinting, though not asserting anything so incredible, that he was upon the very eve of a gallop. To what bitter disappointments was Byron exposed during his short and troubled life! “Why, Hunt, you ride very well!” Had his Lordship never entertained a doubt that Mr Hunt was on the first hobble to have missed the mane, and vainly essaying to imitate and emulate John Gilpin, fallen to the ground with his heels up in the air, and incurred a fracture on the skull, which Vacca himself could not have reduced? But, with all submission to his Lordship’s disappointment, we beg leave to say, that he could not have seen anything to justify such an unmeasured panegyric—such an outrageous eulogium on Mr Hunt’s horsemanship. True, that “they pushed forward;” but it was along a smooth road, and Mr Hunt was in the middle between Lord Byron and Mr Trelawney. This sense of security enabled him to preserve his balance, and to adhere to his horse, or, as he elsewhere calls it, “his horseback,” at the rate of eight miles an hour. He should have been taken across a country; and we are willing to bet a barrel, and make the first deposit of a dozen powl-doodies, at Ambrose’s, any night Mr Hunt will appoint, that, at the first leap over a three-foot fence, he will be projected over the ears from a catapulta. We offer a second bet of a keg of Glenlivet to a quartern of Blue Ruin, that Mr Hunt does not “ride on horseback” six miles in the hour without the following effects—Skin ruffled on the instep of his foot by the stirrup—iron—shin-bone vexed and irritated up to the knee-pan by the stirrup-leather—inside of the knee severely galled by the flap of the saddle—fork ditto by pummel—and the seat of honour sorely peeled, beyond the relieving power of dock-leaf and cabbage-blade. Instead of white trowsers, we shall allow him yellow breeches—even buckskin-velvet cap, if he likes, à la Raphael—and whether we gain our wager or lose it, most undoubtedly will “he cut a gallant figure!” quite worthy to charge, at the head of a squadron of Horse Marines.

Lord Byron was, it is well known to all the world, very temperate in eating; and except for a short period of his life, when he would seem to have been trying schemes with himself, very temperate in drinking. Yet Mr Hunt will not let him alone at his meals, and speaks of his “custom of an afternoon,” with his usual vulgar insolence.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“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 anything to my own advantage, when I am upon points that may he 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 lapels 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
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries389
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 compliments—It is to be hoped his Excellency had met the pasty before.”

There is no great harm in such gossip and twaddle as this; yet there is in its wershness a spice of malignity, and Mr Hunt does not doubt that something fat, gross, coarse, unwieldy, and sensual, sticks to the image of the noble Bard in the mind of the reader. He adds, that on one occasion he challenged Byron to a drinking-bout—that his Lordship promised to have a set-to with him, “but he never did. I believe he was afraid!” He who wrote Don Juan over gin and water, afraid to go it with a Cockney pantaloon, whose thin potations had been—saloop!

Hunt occasionally stops to take breath after his own abuse of Byron, and fills up the puffing and blowing interval with allusions to the insolence of other scamps of the same school. Thus he says, “I could mention one who knew him thoroughly, and who could never sufficiently express his astonishment at having met with so unpoetical a poet, and so unmajestic a lord.” “Mr Hazlitt had some reason to call him, a sublime coxcomb,” Encouraged by the aid of such auxiliaries, see how he exposes himself—only hear him chuckle!—

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“I have reason to think, that the opinions I entertained of breeding and refinement puzzled him extremely. At one time, he would pay me compliments on the score of manners and appearance; at another, my Jacobiniical friends had hurt me, and I had lived too much out of the world. He was not a good judge in either case. His notion of what was gentlemanly in appearance was a purely conventional one, and could include nothing higher. And what was essentially unvulgar, he would take for the reverse, because the polite vulgar did not practise it. I have no doubt he had a poorer opinion of me, from the day that he met me carrying an old painting which I had picked up. He had beguiled me formerly, by bringing parcels of books under his arm; but I now concluded that he had not ventured with them in the public eye. His footman must have brought them to the door. For my part, having got rid of some fopperies which I had at that time, I was not going to commence others which I had never been guilty of. I had seen too much of the world for that.”

We shall not attempt to rake together with our long-shanked instrument all the virulence of the Cockney—all the purulent matter that has spurted over the volume, from the long-festering wounds of his vanity, never to be healed into a scar. Lord Byron had no address—no self-possession—no manner, but a proud, repulsive, domineering coarseness—his temper was very bad, and its disturbing effect on his face and voice is most minutely and maliciously described—the beauty of the former becoming corrugated by the access of passion, and the tones of the latter “low, soft, and struggling to keep itself in, as if on the very edge of endurance.” His disposition is likened to that of the worst Roman Emperors—we presume Nero, Domitian, Caligula, Heliogabalus, and the rest. He had a taste for music, but in that he was no Nero, for in his heart he preferred Rossini to Mozart. He sung very badly, in a “swaggering style, though in a voice at once small and veiled.” “I never knew him attempt any air but a lively one; and he wan fondest of such as were the most blustering. You associated with it the idea of a stage tyrant, or captain of banditti.” “He knew nothing of the fine arts, and did not affect to care for them.” The glorious fourth Canto of Childe Harold gives Hunt the lie. In short, he had not one single, solitary, amiable, or agreeable quality; and all that could be mistaken for good about him, is contained in the following exquisitely impertinent paragraph.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

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,)
390Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
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 everybody; but he paid me the compliment of being excited to his very best feelings, and when I rose to go away, he would hold me down, and say with a look of entreaty, Not yet,” &c.

Leigh Hunt, in Morning Chronicle

Of his genius little is said; but from that little it appears that Leigh rates it very low indeed—considering him a mere imitator. There are but a few scattered allusions to his poetry, and not a word of praise. Yet, in one of his epistles in the Morning Chronicle, the sneaker says, “I can only say, that I heartily wish his head may have deserved all the laurels that were stuck about it,” &c. The poor, mean, envious slave, well knows that he heartily wishes no such thing. If the ten thousandth part of what he says of Byron be true, no man would heartily wish it—for it would be an astounding spectacle to see encircled with glory the brow of a being, whose nature was essentially base as that of Belial.

We shall therefore confine our few farther remarks to two charges which Hunt brings against his “noble acquaintance;” that of being a miser, and that of being a coward.

Byron had playfully said in Don Juan
So for a good old gentlemanly vice,
I think I shall take up with avarice—
And on these two lines this is Mr Hunt’s comment:—

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“This reminds me of the cunning way in which he has spoken of that passion for money in which he latterly indulged. He says, in one of his most agreeable off-hand couplets in ‘Don Juan,’ after telling us what a poor inanimate thing life has become for him—
‘So for a good old gentlemanly vice,
I think I that! take up with avarice.’
This the public were not to believe. It is a specimen of the artifice noticed in another place. They were to regard it only as a pleasantry, issuing from a generous mouth, However, it was very true. He had already taken up with the vice, as his friends were too well aware; and this couplet was at once to baffle them with a sort of confession, and to secure the public against a suspicion of it.”

What a fair, candid, honourable, and gentleman-like construction!—Again—

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Lord Byron was not a generous man; and in what he did, he contrived either to blow a trumpet before it himself, or to see that others blew one for him. I speak of his conduct latterly. What he might have done, before he thought fit to put an end to his doubts respecting the superiority of being generous, I cannot say; but if you were to believe himself, he had a propensity to avarice from a child. At Harrow, he told me, he would save up his money, not as other boys did, for the pleasure of some great purchase, or jovial expense, but in order to look at it, and count it. I was to believe as much of this, or in such a manner, as to do him honour for the confession; but unluckily, it had become too much like the practice of his middle age not to be believed entirely.”

This indeed is the idiot credulity of low malice. But hear, once more, the miserable who had accepted this miser’s money, and never made any effort to repay it—his ground-floor, and his furniture.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“His love of notoriety was superior even to his love of money; which is giving the highest idea that can be entertained of it. But he was extremely anxious to make them go hand in hand. At one time he dashed away in England and got into debt, because he thought expense became him; but he looked to retrieving all this and more, by marrying a fortune. When Shelley lived near him in Switzerland, he appeared to be really generous, because he had a generous man for his admirer, and one whose influence he felt extremely. Besides, Mr Shelley had money himself, or the expectation of it; and he respected him the more, and was anxious to look well in his eyes on that account. In Italy, where a different mode of life, and the success of Beppo and Don Juan had made him conclude that the romantic character was not necessary to fame, he shocked his companion one day, on renewing their intimacy, by asking him, whether he did not feel a real respect for a wealthy man—or, at least, a greater respect for the rich man of the company, than for any other? Mr Shelley gave him what Napoleon would have called ‘a superb no.’”

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“But Mr Shelley had as little respect for the possession or accumulation of wealth under any circumstances, as Lord
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries391
Byron had the reverse; and he would give away hundreds with as much zeal for another man’s comfort, as the noble Lord would willingly save a guinea even in securing his pleasures. Perhaps, at one period of his residence there, no man in Italy, certainly no Englishman, ever contrived to practise more rakery and economy at one and the same time.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“Italian women are not averse to accepting presents, or any other mark of kindness; but they can do without them, and his lordship put them to the test. Presents, by way of showing his gratitude, or as another mode of interchanging delight and kindness between friends, he had long ceased to make.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“I doubt whether his fair friend, Madame Guiccioli, ever received so much as a ring or a shawl from him. It is true, she did not require it. She was happy to show her disinterestedness in all points unconnected with the pride of her attachment; and I have as little doubt, that he would assign this as a reason for his conduct, and say he was as happy to let her prove it. But to be a poet and a wit, and to have had a liberal education, and write about love and lavishment, and not to find it in his heart after all,—to be able to put a friend and a woman upon a footing of graceful comfort with him in so poor a thing as a money-matter,—these were the sides of his character, in which love, as well as greatness, found him wanting, and in which it could discern no relief to its wounded self-respect, but at the risk of a greater mortification. 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.”

Now we think that whether Lord Byron was the miser—the miserable wretch here described—or not, Hunt, all things considered, should have spoken of his vice in a very different spirit. He claims an acquaintance with circumstances of his Lordship’s life, which, if true, it was disgraceful to know, and disgustful to speak of; and which no gentleman—no man—would have polluted his pen or his lips with inditing, or giving them utterance. What had he, Hunt, to do with Lord Byron’s intrigues, or with his payment for his pleasures? Let him give the names of the damsels who complained to him that his Lordship was niggardly in his rewards of their easy and condescending virtue. Did they ask him, Hunt, to borrow, beg, or steal from his Lordship’s purse, that their favours should not go without their fee? It is a truly loathsome subject to be treated of in a three-guinea quarto; but we venture to affirm, that Hunt is the first person of the male sex that ever publicly accused a friend, living or dead, of having, to his knowledge, behaved shabbily in money matters to women. The poor creature is ever ready with his doubts,—we shall see by-and-by that he had doubts of Lord Byron a courage—and here he says, “I doubt whether his fair friend, Madame Guiccioli, ever received so much as a ring or a shawl from him!” We wonder he does not begin to doubt if Leigh Hunt ever received so much as three hundred pounds from him: we wonder he does not begin to doubt if he never repaid them! As to not liking to pay a debt, and undergoing pestering and pursuit to avoid it, did not the “impudent varlet’s” shoulder tingle, at the time he penned the words, to the touch of the bumbailiff? Did not he call to mind his own “sorry arithmetic,” and all its degrading consequences, in the shape of executions, borrowing, begging, bankruptcy, and expatriation? This “impudent varlet” must not be suffered with impunity thus to insult Lord Byron—dead though he be—on points, by all usage, and all sense, and all feeling, placed out of the cognizance even of the gossip and the spy. In one case only might Hunt have had a right to speak, thus—and even then, had he been a gentleman, he would not have used it.—Was he Lord Byron’s creditor?

Hunt is next generous enough to conjure up a defender of Byron—but it is only to knock him down with one blow of his Milo-like fist. “But what, cries the reader, becomes then of the stories of his making presents of money and MSS., and his not caring for the profits of his writings, and his giving £10,000 to the Greeks?” Thus cries the reader; and to this cry, the Cockney, flapping his wings, crows a skraich, which he thinks a squabash.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“He did care for the profits of what he wrote, and he reaped a good deal; but, as I have observed before,
392Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
he cared for celebrity still more, and his presents, such as they were, were judiciously made to that end. Good heaven! said a fair friend to me the other day who knew him well—if he had but foreseen that you would give the world an account of him, what would he not have done to cut a figure in your eyes!”

Why should Lord Byron not have cared—like any other, and every other man—for the profits of what he wrote? and why should he not have reaped a great deal, he the prevailing poet? Who but the imaginary ninny, the reader who is made to cry, “what becomes,” ever supposed that he did not care? But of those profits we know he gave away many, many hundreds,—some thousand and more to old Dallas, some four or five hundred paid, floor and furniture included, to middle-aged Hunt,—and other large sums, as all know, to other persons equally needy, greedy, and ungrateful. Human nature, at the best, is full of strange inconsistencies; passions, apparently the most opposite and incompatible, are often found united in the same character. “The love of money, and the love of fame,” do, however, present a singular junction, especially when both craving, gnawing, and importunate passions, as they are here represented to have been in Lord Byron,—ruling, too, along with another passion, as strong as themselves—the love of pleasure; and another stronger still, under which the Cockney so long had writhed—the pride of birth. Lord Byron would not come down handsomely for his pleasures—as Hunt had been credibly informed by the disappointed parties—but on all such occasions prudently left his purse at home, in a drawer within a drawer, opening at the touch of a secret spring—
“But though he loved woman and golden store,
Yet he loved honour and glory more.”

“His presents, such as they were, were judiciously made to that end;” and therefore, sorely against his own avarice, he bribed Dallas, Hunt, and a score others, to puff him into celebrity. Good. And pray, which of the many disappointed damsels who had unbosomed to Mr Hunt their reproaches against their too close-fisted admirer, was this his fair friend, who here so wickedly turned him into such exquisite ridicule? Hunt does not see what a mercenary creature she is—and what baseness there is in the exclamation, “What would he not have done!” For done, read given—and you see what the friend would have been at! It is not so much a libel on Byron, as a lament for Hunt. She is sorry, and she calls Heaven to bear witness to her regret—“Good Heavens!” that by more judicious flattery, they had not fleeced the living lord, whom, cheek-by-jowl, they now befoul when dead. “To cut a figure in your eyes!!!”—In the eyes of Leigh Hunt! ! ! ! ! ! !
“He can requite thee, for he knows the charms
That call down fame on generous deeds like these;
And he can spread thy name o’er lands and seas;
Whatever climes the sun’s bright circle warms!”

“To cut a figure,” is a very favourite expression with the Cockneys.—“With velvet caps, à la Raphael,” quoth Leigh, on a former and prouder occasion—“My first ride on horseback,” “we cut a gallant figure.” So does a butcher’s boy, rattling away with his cleaver on the tray before him, sitting with high uplifted knees on the rump of a fast trotter, all along Holborn, and round the corner and before the front of Newgate.

But what answer does Hunt give to the reader, who is made to cry, “ten thousand pounds to the Greeks!”

“As to the Greeks,” he says, “the present of £10,000, was, first of all, well trumpeted to the world; it then became a loan of £10,000; then a loan of £6000; and he told me, in one of his incontinent fits of communication and knowingness, that he did not think “he could get off under £4000.” 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.” What a pity Mr Hunt is not in Parliament! How he would sift everything to the bottom! He is not, after all his confessions of ignorance, such a “sorry arithmetician” as he would make the world believe. He balances his accounts with Lord Byron according to an ingenious system of book-keeping of his own invention, and is quite at home among figures, whenever he has to beg, or borrow, or abuse. Yet here the reader “who cried what becomes,”
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries393
may cry again,—“Why, Hunt, by your own confession, you know nothing whatever about this affair of the Greeks. It is all hearsay; and that hearsay neither one thing nor another. We really must cough you down.”—We join in the cough; and, now that the Cockney is coughed down, we order him to get again upon his legs, and tell us, how Lord Byron is proved to be a miser, by a loan to the Greeks of ten, six, or four thousand pounds, whatever was the security, and although the whole sum were repaid? But he won’t speak to the point, and goes off whizzing like a cock-chaffer. “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 dog’s-ears in yours ! ! !”—Old
Elwes was but a type of thee, oh Byron! thou miser of the first magnitude!

We had forgot to mention another shocking proof of his Lordship’s addiction to this vice, elsewhere recorded by the indignant Cockney. His Lordship was to have gone snacks in the profits of the Liberal. He had expected they would equal those of the Edinburgh or Quarterly Reviews. They were not great, but Hunt allows fair enough for a young work; and will it be credited that Byron had by this time become such an incorrigible miser,—had left all previous misers at such an immeasurable distance, toiling and panting after him in vain,—as absolutely to insist on Hunt’s pocketing all the cash himself, without deduction of a single farthing!

Having thus proved Lord Byron a miser, Hunt next undertakes to prove him a coward.

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.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“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. But he had tastes of a more masculine description. He was fond swimming to the last, and used to push out to a good distance in the Gulf of 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.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“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.”

How insidiously the serpent slides through the folds of these passages, leaving his slime behind him as he wriggles out of sight! There is a Sporus-like effeminacy in the loose and languid language in which he drawls out his sentence into what he thinks the fine-sounding word, Sardanapalus. What if the Grand Signior did take the youthful Byron for a woman in disguise? The mistake of that barbarian no more proved that his lordship had an effeminate appearance, than a somewhat similar mistake of the Sandwich Islanders proved the jolly crew of the Endeavour, sailing round the world with Cook, to be like Gosport-girls. The savages began making love to a boat’s crew—a chief being particularly tender on a rough old coxwain, who, in the puzzle of the moment, felled him to the ground with an oar. On discovering the mistake they had committed, the natives immediately brought down their wives and daughters to visit the ship. “But he had tastes of a more masculine description.” Thank ye, Hunt, for the very novel information. Pray did you, who “pushed forwards” on horseback with his Lordship, and with Trelawney on his great horse smoking a cigar, “with your blue frock, white
394Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
waistcoat, and white trowsers, with velvet cap à la Raphael, cutting a gallant figure”—did you, who of yore “stood adjusting your clothes on the machine,” ever “push out” along with
Byron a good way into the Gulf of Genoa? When you swim, do you use a cork jacket, and at the same time take care never to “push out” beyond your own depth, it being a pleasant sensation to touch the sand with the toe? Byron could swim and ride well, and “liked to have a great dog or two about him, which is not a habit observable in timid men;” yet, notwithstanding such pregnant proofs of courage as these, “I doubt greatly whether he was a man of courage.” That is a sneaker; and then with what a fine, free, steady hand he holds the balance in which his lordship’s effeminacy and timidity are weighed against his manliness and his bravery—till the latter fly up and kick the beam, like an equal bulk of wood against that of iron. The story about his bold behaviour at sea—and Mr Shelley’s timidity, he rightly says is a fiction; and a most vile fiction it was; for it represented Mr Shelley as an audacious atheist, suddenly stricken prostrate with fear and horror at the thought of death, wringing his hands, tearing his hair, and hideously howling supplication for mercy to the Power whose being he had, an hour before, scoffingly derided and denied. Base wretch indeed must it have been that could sit down coolly to invent such a story, with such a purpose, against such a man. But as base a wretch is he, who dares to declare that such would have been the behaviour of Lord Byron, had he been in danger of shipwreck. The inventor of the story was probably some mere professional liar, who had no malice against Mr Shelley, whom, in all likelihood, he had never seen, and may have considered a monster so prodigious, that it was allowable to a dunce, who believed in Deity and starved in Grub-street, to suppose in him such a fear as is held to be the most painful attribute of the lowest of all the devils. You see the liar at his bare bacon-bone gnaw-polished, and half forgive the falsehood seeking to appease a raging hunger; and you turn away, with a shudder, from the unequal strife between a weak conscience and a strong stomach. But here, Hunt, who allows that he has been living well for years on the generous advances of money made to him by Mr Colburn, on account of this very book, dashes this charge in the face of a dead man,—and without any provocation from poor Byron on this point at least,—for he did not fabricate the story,—declares his belief with the same nonchalance as if he had been alluding to some poltroon broken for cowardice, that his Lordship, if he had been put to such a trial, would have disgraced himself and human nature by conduct, which the starveling who was famishing in falsehood had conceived of as the acme of imaginable wickedness, and the description of it a happy hit for a biographer, who had seemed to have shaken hands with his last red-herring, and breathed out an eternal farewell to his last noggin of Blue-ruin.

“I suspect that personal anxiety, coming upon a constitution unwisely treated, had no small hand in hastening his death in Greece.” The suspicions of such a slave signify nothing. What he means by “personal anxiety,” need not be explained after the preceding paragraph. “No small hand,” &c. What a low vulgarism, in speaking of the death of Lord Byron! Why did he not rather say—“finger in the pie?” He afterwards alludes to Lord Byron’s death-bed in a similar strain—“as to what a man says on his death-bed, we are first to be certain that he did say it, and next we are to think what induces him to say it, and whether it is as likely to be his strength as his weakness.” He alludes here to some affecting exclamations said to have been uttered by Lord Byron on his death-bed, and in his delirium, about his wife and child. He wishes to disbelieve them—and it is but fitting that he, who has declared his belief that Lord Byron would have behaved like an abject coward, and far worse than an abject coward, in shipwreck—a mere imaginary case, affording an opportunity for malignant insult—should strive all he can to degrade in his own mind the idea of his behaviour when death did come—that he should have not one single tear or term of pity to drop upon the bosom, within which “that wild tumultuous thing, the heart of man,” and such a man, was so soon to be hushed—that he should desire to defraud delirium
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries395
of its indistinct and indefinite longings after eyes and lips far away, that might and would have shed drops and kisses of entire forgiveness—and finally, affix to his coffin, or fling into his grave, a libel scribbled thus—without much regard to heraldry—“Here lies George Gordon—Lord Byron—Ætat. 37—
Leigh Hunt doubts greatly whether he was a man of courage.”

Leigh Hunt, in Morning Chronicle

It seems that a person, for whom Mr Hunt has a great respect, sent him a message by a kinsman informing him that a conclusion had been drawn from such passages as we have quoted, that he meant to charge Lord Byron with “cowardice;” and the conceited Cockney, evidently flattered by this message “from the person for whom he has a great respect,” forthwith set himself, in a second long letter in the Morning Chronicle,—not to eat in his own words,—for while, like the dog, he returns to his vomit, yet, as dogs will do, he makes some scunnering yawns at it, and cannot persuade himself to bolt it—but to lick them up a little round about the edges and corners, so that the nature of the deposit shall appear to the passers-by somewhat problematical, and with some sort of slight resemblance to that inoffensive, because useful article, a green-grass-encircled piece of vaccine matter, at once inoculation and manure. In one or two sentences he seems not unwilling to retract, in some anxious to explain, and in others to modify; but the result of the whole is adherence, on philosophical principles, to his first award. In the style and sentiment of this letter he out-Cockneys himself—but not a word does he let slip with reference to the darkest and foulest part of his charge against Byron. However, he quotes Cicero upon Mr Black, and talks of Julius Cæsar scratching the top of his bead with one of the tips of his fingers, that he might not displace the curls, and concludes with a paragraph which is indeed a psychological curiosity, and as illustrative of the character of the present King of Cockaigne, as all the acts and events put together of his present Majesty’s most splendid and glorious reign.

Leigh Hunt, in Morning Chronicle

“After all, sir, my doubt was only a doubt, however strongly expressed. I express doubts on the other side; I sum up all by saying that he was a ‘contradiction;’ and the instances I put, on either side, apply only to physical courage. If I doubt whether circumstances had left him enough of this to hinder him from becoming a victim to a state of protracted anxiety, exasperated by illness, and if I have too good reason to know that he wanted moral courage enough to face a part of society upon certain points, I doubt not, that at any time of life he had quite sufficient to obey the calls of his favourite impulses, and to dare anything for their sake, as long as he could have been kept inaction; and this, perhaps, in sedentary and sophisticated times like the present, is as much as many men would require to be conceded them. Above all, sir, I pretend to little more myself; and only to that more, as far as endurance is concerned, and inasmuch a the circumstances of my life have led me to have greater views of what ought to be endured for mankind. With regard to physical courage, I lay claim, in some respects, to less than I have attributed to Lord Byron. If the readers who have formed that judgment of me solely by the partial extracts, had seen my book, they would have there found how little I make pretensions to the reverse. In a family of men remarkable for their bravery, I am in that respect the only timid person. Delicacy of organization, anxious rearing by a mother whose health had been shattered by adversity, a life studious, yet full of emotion, and cares and illnesses of no common sort, have forced me to confess to myself, on more than one occasion, that if I had no courage but what resulted from health and complexion, I should be at the mercy of every fear that came across me. I have great animal spirits, subject, during ill health, to as great incursions of melancholy; but as the former mount up at the least aspect of happiness, so a dread or a tender thought would bring in the latter to unman me on graver occasions, if I had not learnt the art of strengthening myself by my very sympathies, and enlarging them till the crowd supported me. The first incursions of danger alarm and perplex me. After a morning’s writing I shall occasionally be so sensitive (you will excuse these personal details, considering the origin of them), that my fingers’ ends will tremble as if I had been a sot; and my head has been so tried altogether, that I sometimes cannot bear the pressure of a hand upon it. When I was at sea, not living very wisely, and having my imagination softened and detained in embrace by some peculiar circumstances, I felt as if I grew with fragile uneasiness. After this, sir, it may be permitted me to say, ne-
396Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
vertheless, that owing to some opinions I entertain, I have great moral courage. I trust I have given more than one proof of it in the course of my life; and I cannot conceive the case in which my sense of what was due to a generous notion of right and justice could be put to the test, and anything induce me to desert it. Enable me only to identify myself with the common good, and allow me a pale face and a little reflection, and I have thoughts that would support me under any hazard, moral or personal.”

One reads the above passage with somewhat of the same elevating and ennobling emotion with which he would read a self-exhibiting confession from the autobiography of Alexander or of Alfred the Great. Our heart leaps within us, our nerves tingle, our blood burns, our flesh creeps, our “fell of hair” rustles like the leaf-brow of a forest, or the heather forehead of a hill, suddenly swept by the storm—if soldier, we clap our hand unconsciously upon the hilt of our sword—if a civilian, we slap it as unconsciously upon the brawn of our thigh—if a clergyman, we deplore our cassock, and wish that we had been born Joshua the son of Nun, or Gideon, or Sampson, or Leigh Hunt. Yes, he is indeed, like young Norval—“my beautiful, my brave!” Yes, he is like Ney, “the bravest of the brave.” Before him, as generalissimo of the united armies of Cockaigne and Little Britain, Wellington would have grown pale, and fallen back with all his army, like a fragment of “cloudland” before King Eolus, away from offered battle. Sir Thomas Picton would have fainted and fallen into fits with fear, it left with the British rear-guard to oppose the van of the Cockneys, with King Leigh raging in the front with his yellow breeches. And had any change taken place in the policy that then guided the great governments of Europe, so that this mightiest of the lineal descendants of Lud, should have been called upon to take part with legitimacy and the Holy Alliance, can there now be a doubt in the mind of any single well-educated man breathing in this island, that he would, no less by his valour in the field, than his wisdom in the council, have restored and preserved the balance of power, not only in mere Europe, but in the civilized world? He of the Yellow Breeches could have challenged him of the White Plume to single combat. The “Beau Sabreur” would have been cut down by the “Bow-Bell,”—and Joachim Murat, King of Naples, succumbed to Leigh Hunt, King of Paddington, and with all his glories given up the ghost. That “peace has its victories as well as war,” and that the spirit of this great monarch has hitherto been pacific rather than warlike, what reason has not the Duke of Wellington to be grateful to Providence, for otherwise on whose brow now would have been glittering the laurels won at Waterloo? Yes—Napoleon himself, though he knew it not, had reason to be grateful to Providence, that Leigh Hunt had not been begotten a quarter of a century earlier, and been sent into the army as a drummer,—for if both these things had been done, he would quickly have risen into the ranks, and as quickly out of them, nor ever stopped his career, till he had beaten Bonaparte all to sticks,—prevented him from ever assuming the name of Napoleon the Great,—and long before the conclusion of that famous Italian campaign, kicked him across or into the Po.

We have been too long prosing away in our own usual good-natured strain, and therefore shall revive our readers, and brighten their sleepy eyes with the admirable lines first printed, we believe, in the Times, and attributed, we hope justly, to Mr Thomas Moore.

The “Living Dog” and the “Dead Lion.”
From the Times of Thursday Jan. 10.
Next week will be published (as “Lives” are the rage)
The whole Reminiscences, wondrous and strange,
Of a small puppy-dog that lived once in the cage
Of the late noble lion at Exeter ’Change.
Though the dog is a dog of the kind they caIl “sad,”
’Tis a puppy that much to good-breeding pretends;
And few dogs have such opportunities had
Of knowing how lions behave—among friends,
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries 397
How that animal eats, how he moves, how he drinks,
Is all noted down by this Boswell so small;
And ’tis plain, from each sentence, the puppy-dog thinks
That the lion was no such great things after all.
Though he roared pretty well—this the puppy allows—
It was all, he says, borrowed—all second-hand roar;
And he vastly prefers his own little bow-wows
To the loftiest war-note the lion could pour.
’Tis, indeed, as good fun as a Cynic could ask,
To see how this Cockney-bred setter of rabbits
Takes gravely the Lord of the Forest to task,
And judges of lions by puppy-dog habits.
Nay, fed as he was (and this makes it a dark case)
With sops every day from the lion’s own pan,
He lifts up his leg at the noble beast’s carcase,
And—does all a dog, so diminutive, can.
However, the book’s a good book, being rich in
Examples and warnings to lions high-bred,
How they suffer small mongrelly curs in their kitchen,
Who’ll feed on them living, and foul them when dead.
T. Pidcock.

Mr Hunt, who to the prating pertness of the parrot, the chattering impudence of the magpie,—to say nothing of the mowing malice of the monkey—adds the hissiness of the bill-pointing gander, and the gobble-bluster of the bubbly-jock,—to say nothing of the forward valour of the brock or badger,—threatens death and destruction to all writers of prose or verse, who shall dare to say black is the white of his eye, or that his book is not like a vase lighted up from within with the torch of truth. He hints, not darkly, that he possesses letters written by Lord Byron, the publication of which would render comical the distress of those friends whom they lampoon,—of those friends of Byron who have now been expressing their disgust, with this meanest of all the Wipers.

Such threats are quite in character and in keeping with his nature, or rather his nothingness; and by doing so, the paddock will only leap farther, and sink deeper, into the mud. Lord Byron’s power in satire is as well known as Leigh Hunt’s impotence. But the mute does not become a man by applying the bow-string at the beck of his master; and the virility of the lawless verse of Byron, will not prove, that he who publishes it against his own scorners, is in heart and soul anything else than an eunuch.

Indeed, when we reflect on the ludicrous composition of this Cockney’s character, take it as a whole, and on the contempt in which it is held wherever it is known, except in a few obscure nooks and corners, (and even there it is in but indifferent odour,) we suspect that many of our readers may wonder at the unnecessary pains we have been at to impale the scribbler, and may think, that he should have been permitted to run up and down for a while, like a wasp, that has had the sting it had so repeatedly been darting into the sleeve of one’s coat, without even so much as once reaching the skin, at last caught fast among the texture,—like a wasp that, in attempting to draw its sting out again, flies off with all its best entrails attached to the puny wound in the broad cloth; and then, after much blind bouncing against window-panes, much rapid running to and fro thereon, and munch sore entanglemnent among spiders’ webs, drops down upon the floor, and, ere it has altogether ceased to crawl, is swept, if the scene of action be the kitchen, with a dishclout, along with the other dust of the day, into the grated way that leads into the common sewer of the city. Perhaps they are right; yet though there may be little trouble, there can be no harm in chopping the head off the wasp, and cutting his body in two, by way of dispatching him, even although we know that his sting and entrails are
398Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
out, and that, by the laws of nature, he must die before sunset.

An outrage on all English—on all human feeling, has been perpetrated, and to a slight degree now punished. The people of Britain though prepared, in their freedom,
“The blessings they enjoy to guard,”
and holding, of all those blessings, thrice blest the sacred privacy of the “door within the door,” are yet far from being tremblingly or fastidiously sensitive to anything like allusion or approach even the on-goings by the fireside; glimpses may occasionally be given to the eye of the world, of “the old familiar faces,” sitting in the light of the hearth, provided the window be “half uncurtained” by a privileged hand, that knows when to draw up and when to let down the veil. The dearest friend a man can have here, one that has knelt with him in prayer within the walls of his own house, that may have been with him on the evening of the day on which an only child had been carried out in its coffin—may say to the world, if the world desire to know something of him he loved, as he was in that privacy—he may say something to the world, after that other is dead—of his manners, his ways, his habits, his character. No fear that any natural right, which the dead still hold in their shrouds, will be violated by such revealment. But, should an enemy, either open or secret, who had been nursing for years his hate to keep it warm, take that office upon himself, even with proudest proclamation of the love of truth sounded before him by many trumpeters, and advertised in all the newspapers at a penny per line, or a shilling the lie,—it is felt that an offence has been committed, and that the result must be evil. And this, too, in almost equal, nay, perhaps in greater degree, it the man whose private life and character his enemy undertakes publicly to expose, were a man not only of many sorrows but of many sins, and against whose memory, therefore, falsehood could be made to press more heavily along with the weight of truth. To keep by the unguarded side of such a man—at all times unguarded either in confidence, in pride, or in recklessness,—to keep by his side like a shadow, and as dependent as a shadow for very being,—and years, long years afterwards—partly as an indulgence of spite, spleen, and wounded vanity, and partly as a means of “making a good deal of money,” as the phrase is—to rip up his character, not only without one single remorseful pang, but with a continued glee that could only be supported by the gratification of an inordinate and unnatural passion of self-love—a self-love that had been stabbed to the core with an incurable wound,—which wound, strange and singular to say had become more painful when mortification and gangrene had taken place, than when most redly inflamed,—he who does this ought to have a peculiar Purgatory prepared for himself,—in which his punishment might principally consist in perpetually ripping up all his old spiritual sons, and in feeding his insatiable maw with the fetid bandages, all the while haunted and tormented by the fierce Apparition of him he had on earth cozened, cringed to, lived upon, flattered, hated, abused, and betrayed,—an Apparition only,—but still blue-devil enough to terrify a Cockney—while the Reality, of which it was but an image—an Ediolon—had washed off all its stains, and soared into the Empyrean. Indeed, we think we could write a copy of strong verses—a copy of verses that would make Mr Hunt’s distress comical, and yet offer no shew of violence to that other one, being a thing so majestical, entitled, “Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron’s Ghost.” Yes—it shall be done—they shall be written—and we shall send his Majesty a presentation-copy.

It has been seen how this poor devil strove, with all the little ingenuity he possesses, to wince himself into the trepidation of a sort of tenth part belief, that he was not Lord Byron’s guest in Italy, although living, with all his family, in his lordship’s house, associating daily with him and his mistress,—and cutting a gallant figure along with him on horseback, with blue frock, white waistcoat and trowsers, and velvet cap, à la Raphael. Now, setting aside altogether his violation of the sanctity of the “iisdem trabibus, the sacred inclosure of private walls”—is there not another kind of “sacred inclosure,” a sacredness more profound—which he has violated in every page—the sacred inclosure of the private walls of the dark and narrow house appointed for all living? Not a single shadow of seriousness,
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries399
solemnity, or awe, ever crosses his mind. All his expressions of dislike, spleen, anger, and hatred, are just as bitter as if he were venting them against a man now alive; though, to be sure, if that man had been alive the bitterness must have continued to bleed inwardly—it durst not have thus overflowed his lips. He has never, for a moment, been able to forget the sneer of that curled lip; it haunts him, to the utter exclusion of the noble face so beautiful in death, of the imagined stillness and darkness of the cell, where, of it and all that once was Byron,
“Quot libras in Duce summo

Byron recklessly insulted Southey, and Southey bearded him in all his anger and all his pride. He owed it to himself and to his high name, not only to repel the unprovoked and unjustifiable aggression, but after warding off, and receiving all blows on an undinted shield, to act on the offensive; and since he had before him a foeman well worthy of his steel, to show that he knew how to wield it well, nor feared to turn the edge of the blade of “ethereal temper.” It was like a combat between a Christian and a Paynim Knight—and the event was not such as could bear trumpetting in Heathenesse. But would Southey seek now to insult the memory of the dead Byron, in whose face, when living, he flung back scorn for scorn? No—no—no! The historian of the Cid—the Campeador—received from his Maker too generous a nature for that—a nature imbued, in the progress of his noble pursuits, at once with a Christian and a chivalrous spirit; and at the door-way of the vault where Byron’s bones are now at rest, Southey, himself one of the great poets of England, but happier—oh, far happier—in his blameless, and virtuous, and useful life than his compeer in genius, would now, without one drop of bitterness in his heart, elevated by its forgiveness, and awed by the mystery of the hush that allays all the tempests of human passion, bow down his forehead over the ancestral insignia on that coffin, and devoutly pray, “Peace to thy soul!”

But—for the present—we have done with this record of Lord Byron, and shall turn, for a few minutes, to what Hunt says of some of Lord Byron’s contemporaries.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

With scarcely one of the whole set is the chafed Cockney well pleased. He is upon munch better terms with himself than with the most favoured of his friends; and those whom he does rouse, he contrives to make truly ridiculous. It appears from the Preface that he had painted a full-length portrait of that perfect gentleman, Mr Hazlitt—but partly to oblige Mr Colburn, if we do not mistake, and partly because he must have quarrelled—although he says not—with the amiable original, whom he now accuses of having “a most wayward and cruel temper,” “which has ploughed cuts and furrows in his face”—“and capable of being inhuman in some things”—he has not given the picture a place in the gallery. Of Mr Moore he begins with drawing a favourable likeness—but having something of the spleen towards him too, he puts on not a few touches, meant to dash its pleasantness, and leaves it in a very unfinished state—for no other or better reason that we can discover, than that Mr Moore most justly had said to Lord Byron that “the Liberal had a taint in it,” had, at a public dinner in Paris, spoken highly of England, and in some verses written rather disparagingly of that very indulgent person, Madame Warrens. On one occasion, he designates him by the geographic designation of “a Derbyshire poet”—Mr Moore, we believe, having had a cottage in that county—admitting in a note, that at the time he had been too angry with Mr Moore to honour him so highly as to call him by his name—and on many occasions he sneers at him for living so much it in that high society, from which all Cockneys are of course excluded—and saw, as has been mentioned, he threatens him with the posthumous satire of Lord Byron.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

To Mr Campbell he is exceedingly complimentary—and has, he thinks, hit off the character of that delightful poet in two words; he is a “French Virgil.” What that means, we do not presume even to conjecture; but be its intents wicked or charitable, it is a mere parody on Mr Charles Lamb’s not very prudent or defensible remark about Voltaire,—of which, a word by and by. In the midst even of his admiration, he cannot help being impertinent; and he tells the world that Mr Campbell gladly relaxes from the
400Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
loftiness of poetry, and delights in
Cotton’s Travestie of Virgil, (a most beastly book) and that his conversation “is as far as may be from any thing like a Puritan.” In short, he insinuates, that Mr Campbell’s conversation is what some might call free and. easy, and others indecent,—a compliment, we believe, as awkward as untrue. He pretends to be enraptured with the beautiful love and marriage scenes in Gertrude of Wyoming; but we know better, and beg to assure him that he is not. In confirmation of the correctness of our opinion, we refer him to the Story of Rimini.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
Leigh Hunt, in Morning Chronicle

Mr Theodore Hook he also attempts to characterise; and to us, who know a thing or two, this is about one of the basest bits of his book. Not a syllable of censure does he pass upon that gentleman, but a wish “that he had stuck to his humours and farces, for which he had real talent, instead of writing politics.” Now, there is no term of contumely and abuse allowable in low society, which Mr Hunt and his brothers, and the rest of the gang, have not heaped upon Mr Hook’s head, in the Examiner, as if he were excommunicated and outcast from the company of all honest men. But Mr Colburn is Mr Hook’s publisher, and he is now also Mr Hunt’s; and therefore he, who takes for motto, “It is for slaves to lie, and freemen to speak truth,” thus compromises, we must not say his conscience, but that which, with him, stands instead of it, party and personal spite, and winds up a most flattering account of Mr Hook’s delightful, companionable qualities, with the slightest and faintest expression of dissent,—if it even amount to that,—from his politics, that, his breath, which is “sweet air,” can be made to murmur. We have the confession of this miserable sacrifice of his personal and party spite, under his own hand. In one of his letters in the Morning Chronicle, he says, probably in consequence of his paltriness having been pointed out by “the gentleman for whom he has a respect,” “I wish, in his good-nature to others, and his exceeding notion of mine, Mr Colburn had not hazarded doing me a very painful disservice with my readers, by omitting, in its passage through the press, a concluding line or two in my notice of Mr Theodore Hook. I had no wish to say anything at all of Mr Hook; and could, with pleasure, have omitted the whole notice of him, had Mr Colburn wished it. But after my pleasanter recollections of him, (as they now stand unqualified in my book,) it becomes doubly necessary not to omit the drawbacks I had to make on a writer of his outrageous description; and my account of him, instead of ending with the two or three words now concluding it, should have terminated thus—that I wished he had stuck to his humours and farces, for which he had real talent, instead of attempting to cut up a great man for the hounds, and taking a silver fork, and a seat at a great table, for the refinement he has missed!” This makes the matter much worse. Mr Colburn did right to scratch out,—without condescending to mention the erasure to Mr Hunt,—this piece of unintelligible impudence respecting his friend Mr Hook; but Mr Hunt had not the tythe of the spirit of a louse, to take such treatment so tenderly, and even to compliment Mr Colburn on the occasion. If the erasure materially altered his meaning, what is he, to talk so sweetly about Mr Colburn? If it did not, what is he, to talk so sweetly about Mr Hook, after his gang, and himself at the head of it, had a hundred times proclaimed him to be a felon? How Theodore must despise the fawning hypocrite! Conscious of his own perfect innocence of the charges from which he suffered so much,—for he was just as innocent of them as Mr Thomas Moore was of the charges of the same kind brought against him,—Mr Hook could well afford to look at the brutal abuse of Mr Hunt and his associates with indifference, but this offer to salve with spittle a wound that had never been inflicted, must be very loathsome to him; and the sight of Hunt in Mr Colburn’s shop must make him sick. The clause, as it originally stood, too, is utter nonsense. For excellent as we do not doubt Mr Hook’s farces were, is it to be regretted, that the writing of the best farces that ever were roared at, till the pit exhibited several elderly gentlemen in strong convulsions, should have been relinquished for the powerful prose and various verse of the John Bull? If he does not allude to the John Bull, then he is a slave that sinks the truth; for the John Bull has for years been the monster that filled him with horror
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries401
and dread. If he does allude to the John Bull, then he is a slave that slurs over the truth for the reasons of a slave, and what then is the proper application of his motto?

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

If anything could make Charles Lamb ridiculous, Mr Hunt’s extravagance would, in the section in which the truly original and delightful Elia is made to figure. He “has a head worthy of Aristotle,” and “his face resembles that of Bacon, with less worldly vigour, and more sensibility.” No man but must be vexed and disgusted with such grossness of folly. Then “one could imagine him cracking a jest in the teeth of a ghost, and inciting into thin air himself, out of a sympathy with the awful.” Being told that somebody had lampooned him, he said, “Very well; I’ll Lamb-pun him.” He dumbfounded a long tirade one evening, by taking the pipe out of his mouth, and asking the speaker, “whether he meant to say that a thief was not a good man.” “He hardly contemplates with patience the fine new buildings in the Regent’s Park; and privately speaking, he has a grudge against official heaven-expounders, or clergymen.” “He wrote in the London Magazine two lives of Liston and Munden, which the public took for serious, and which exhibit an extraordinary jumble of imaginary facts, and truth of bye-painting. Munden he makes born at ‘Stoke-Poggies,’ the very sound of which is like the actor speaking and digging his words.” To a person abusing Voltaire, and injudiciously opposing his character to that of Jesus Christ, he said admirably well—though he by no means overrates Voltaire, nor wants reverence in the other quarter, that Voltaire was a very good Jesus Christ for the French.” He once said to a brother whist-player, who had a hand more clever than clean, and who had enough in him to afford the joke, “Oh, if dirt were trumps, what hands you would hold?”

All this proves, that Mr Lamb has a head worthy of Aristotle, and that he ought to have a face like that of Bacon. The saying about Voltaire is most repulsively narrated; and Mr Lamb, who took such offence with Mr Southey for regretting that Elia’s essays had not a sounder religious feeling, what will he say—or feel, at least—about the sad jumble of offensive and childish nonsense, which, without having the capacity of re-creating the circumstances in which the words were uttered, or imparting the slightest feeling of the spirit in which they were conceived, Hunt has palmed off upon the public as characteristic specimens of the conversation of Charles Lamb?

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

There is a long section on Mr Shelley, which, in spite of the gross affectation and exaggeration of feeling with which it is overlaid, and much poor criticism, cannot be read without interest. We believe, that Mr Hunt’s affection for Mr Shelley was as sincere as anything good can be sincere in a Cockney; yet he cannot express it without a disgusting self-conceit, that frequently gives his most pathetic wailings and laments a very suspicious character—as if his griefs and his sorrows, if not altogether, were very much a Hum. Mr Shelley, to the wretchedness and ruin of the best years of life, “his bright and shining youth,” was not only not a Christian, but had conceived an insane hatred of Christianity. He had suffered his imagination to be so overmastered by the idea of the corruptions and pollutions of Christianity introduced into it by men, that he came to look on it, as now professed in the most enlightened nations, and taught by the ministers of the Reformed religion, as a baneful and hateful superstition. The excesses of vituperation in prose and in verse, to which he was thus led, were enormous and shocking—as he at all times spoke of the Deity and the Saviour as hideous monsters, created by the worst fears, hopes, and desires of the weakest and wickedest of men. Hunt, too, of course, glories in being not a Christian; and the first and strongest bond between Mr Shelley and him, was, doubtless, their Infidelity. Shelley’s eloquent and poetical ravings cams with difficulty be endured, for sake of that eloquence and that poetry, often transcendent, and far more for sake of the insane sincerity with which, in the delusion of an inflamed imagination, they were poured tumultuously out; but Hunt’s infidelity is chiefly distinguished by its impudence—and though we have too much humanity to wish to see really restored the stake and the faggot, we cannot help pleasing ourselves, in a dream, with the most absurd air of Cockney conceit, and impertinent self-importance, with which
402Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
he would have ambled to the stake, “with light-blue frock, white waistcoat and trowsers, and velvet cap à la Raphael; he would have cut a gallant figure!”

We took a deep interest in Mr Shelley. Full of admiration of his genius, and pity for his misconduct and misfortunes, we spoke of him at all times with an earnestness of feeling, which we know he felt, and for which we received written expressions of gratitude from some by whom he was, in spite of all his unhappy errors, most tenderly beloved. Mr Hunt must know this; but he is one of those “lovers of truth,” who will not, if he can help it, suffer any one single spark of it to spunk out, unless it shine in his own face, and display its pretty features to the public, “rescued only by thought from insignificance.” Moreover, he hates this Magazine, not altogether, perhaps, without some little reason of a personal kind—and, therefore, as a “lover of truth,” is bound never to see any good in it, even if that good be the cordial praise of the genius of his dearest friend, and, when it was most needed, a fearless vindication of all that could be vindicated in his opinions, and conduct.

It was Hazlitt, we believe, who accused us of praising Shelley, because he was a gentleman; and we must confess, that the accusation, however shocking, far from being untrue, and affords an easy and satisfactory explanation to Hazlitt of much of our censure of himself; but Hunt, as mean as Hazlitt is audacious, tries to keep the fact of our kindness to Mr Shelley and his kindly feelings, and those of his friends, towards us, under his thumb, bitterly feeling that we alone were the friends of Shelley, when he was encompassed by foes; and that we, and none but we, won the world to look upon him with pity and forgiveness—on his genius with admiration.

We have hinted, that Hunt’s feelings of friendship for Mr Shelley are frequently so absurdly expressed, that they have very much the appearance of being all a hum. Mr Shelley had given him such large sums of money, which Hunt never made the slightest effort to repay,—preferring a gift to a loan,—that his generosity is the string on which Hunt constantly keeps harping; but that his own measures may not appear to in proportion, he declares that, with all his culpable imprudence in money-matters, he was always ready to share his last shilling with a friend. Why, a man who lays himself under pecuniary obligations to dear friend, common acquaintances and insolent foe, and trusts that, without any painful exertion on his part, one and all of these will be repaid, either in money, or in money’s worth, in another and a richer world, would be, if possible, a more absurdly contemptible creature than even Leigh Hunt, were he, at the same time, to be niggardly of the cash so very easily acquired, and out of the last shilling remaining, after the relief of his own pinching necessities, and the indulgence of his own lazy luxuries, to grudge even one farthing to a friend. This would be not only out of the order of human, but of Cockney nature. But how small needs be the self-praise due to such charity to others which is but the poor candle-end parings of charity previously bestowed on him who thus does not withhold from “his pal” his ultimate or penultimate doit! We are running away, however, from Mr Hunt’s most vaunted friendship with Mr Shelley.—Here is a specimen.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“Good God! The mention of this imitation makes me recollect under what frightful circumstances of gaiety we returned from performing an office, more than usually melancholy, on the seashore. I dare allow myself only to allude to it. But we dined and drank after it—dined little, and drank much. Lord Byron had not shone that day, even in his cups. For myself, I had bordered upon emotions which I have never suffered myself to indulge; and which foolishly as well as impatiently render calamity, as somebody termed it, ‘an affront, and not a misfortune.’ The barouche drove rapidly through the forest of Pisa. We sang, we laughed, we shouted. I even felt a gaiety the more shocking, because it was real, and a relief. What the coachman thought of us, God knows! but he helped to make up a ghastly trio. He was a good-tempered fellow, and an affectionate husband and father; yet he had the reputation of having offered his master to knock a man on the head. I wish to have no such waking dream again. It was worthy of a German ballad.

They had been burning Shelley’s body thrown up in cor-
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries403
ruption from the sea. We can allow to
Byron, or such beings as Byron, any mad or wild extravagance of passion; but pert, prim, prating, impudent Leigh Hunt thus to be performing a part worthy of a German ballad, is too much for the gravity of the most saturnine and melancholic. One single unhappy line lets out the hoax.—“What the coachman thought of us, God knows.
“Tramp, tramp, across the land they go,
Plash, plash, across the sea;
Hurra! the dead can ride apace!
Dost fear to ride with me?”
Suppose Leonora had answered—“Not at all, sir; but remember I am in my chemise, and what the tide-waiters and the turnpike-men will think of us, God knows!”

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

In speaking of Mr Keats, on the other hand, Hunt’s indignation at our severities, bursts out all in a bluster. He goes back into the darkness of antiquity, and endeavours to discover the origin of the Magazine. It was set agoing, as an organised system of abuse,—and, “unfortunately,” quoth his Majesty, “some of the knaves were not destitute of talent; the younger were tools of older ones, who kept out of sight.” “The contrivers of this system of calumny thought that it suited their views, trading, political, and personal, to attack the writer of the present work. They did so, and his friends with him, Mr Keats among the number.” “I treated these anonymous assailants with indifference in the first instance, and certainly should not have noticed them at all, had not another person chosen to call upon them in my name. Circumstances then induced me to make a more peremptory call; it was not answered; and the two parties retreated, they into their meanness, and I into my contempt.” This sounds all mighty valiant—and no one can read the words, without believing that “Hunt sent a challenge to Dunbar, saying, Charlie meet me if you daur,” and that his challenge struck a cold terror into the heart of “rough old General Izzard.” But Mr Hunt has waxed tea-pot valiant, when recording in old age the bold achievements of his youth. All that he did was, to ask the General’s name, that he might bring an action against him for libel. Half a syllable, with any other import, would have brought the General, without an hour’s delay, before the eyes of the astonished Cockney. Hunt then kept fiddle-faddling with attorneys, and solicitors, and barristers, for months together, till finding fees troublesome, and that there had been no libel, but in his own diseased imagination, or guilty conscience, he “retreated into his contempt,” and in contempt he has, we believe, ever since remained.

“I have since regretted,” continues the ninny, “on Mr Keats’ account, that I did not take a more active part. The scorn which the public and they would feel for one another before long was evident enough; but, in the meantime, an injury, in every point of view, was done to a young and sensitive nature, to which I ought to have been more alive. The truth is, I never thought about it, nor, I believe, did he, with a view to my taking any farther notice.”—“I little suspected at that time, as I did afterwards, that the hunters had struck him; that a delicate organization, which already anticipated a premature death, made him feel his ambition thwarted by those fellows; and that the very imputation of being impatient, was resented by him, and preyed on his mind. Had he said but a word to me on the subject, I would have kept no measures with them!!!

There spoke the “worried majesty of Cockaigne!” His intimate friend dying of this Magazine, and Hunt, physician, unable from the symptoms to conjecture the complaint! Experience had been lost upon him; for even then he was himself far from being recovered from that disease, then indeed endemical in Cockaigne. But this “Lover of Truth” forgets, that he had already assured Lord Byron, that Mr Keats’ life had not been “snuffed out by an article,” although the Quarterly Review had grievously hurt it—and he forgets that he did not mention at that time, the name of this Magazine as an accessory in anyway to that young man’s decease. It is base falsehood and folly altogether. Mr Keats died in the ordinary course of nature. Nothing was ever said in this Magazine about him, that needed to have given him an hour’s sickness; and had he lived a few years longer, he would have profited by our advice, and been grateful for
404Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
it, although perhaps conveyed to him in a pill rather too bitter.
Hazlitt, Hunt, and other unprincipled infidels, were his ruin. Had he lived a few years longer, we should have driven him in disgust from the gang that were gradually affixing a taint to his name. His genius we saw, and praised; but it was deplorably sunk in the mire of Cockneyism, and never, without a thorough washing to its plumage, could it
“Have borne no token of the sabler streams,
And soar’d far off among the swans of Thames.”

Ten years afterwards, forward comes the very forward Mr Leigh Hunt, and staring like a Saracen or a Whahabee, informs the world of our narrow escape from immolation on the altar of friendship at his sacrificial and bloody hands. “He would have kept no measures with us.” Yes, he would—just such measures as a tailor keeps, who on being ushered into the parlour, a smart, pert, apish prig, with an attempt at mustachoes, just as you are beginning to suspect that he is a friend sent with a message from a half-pay officer, whose insolence you had the night before checked in the critic-row of the pit of the theatre, instead of a challenge pulls out of his pocket a few miles of tape, and as all the tailor stands suddenly confessed, takes measure of you for—what shall we say?—a pair of yellow breeches, and then bowing backwards, falls head over heels over Bronte asleep on the bear, and disappears in a fraction.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
Hunt, Preface to 2d Edition

In another part of the book, Hunt quotes a few sentences, which seem very good ones, from an old article in the Magazine on Lord Byron,—and adds, “there follows something about charity, and clay-idols, and brutal outrages of all the best feelings; and Mr Blackwood, having finished his sermon, retires to count his money, his ribaldry, and his kicks.” Here Hunt considers Mr Blackwood as the writer of the Critique, or Sermon in question, and indeed he often speaks of that gentleman as the author of the articles that have kicked up such a “stoure” in Cockney-land. On other occasions, when it suits his purpose, he gives himself the lie direct,—but probably all this passes for wit behind the counter. Mr Colburn, however, cannot like it: nor would it be fair, notwithstanding the judicious erasures which he has made on the MS. in its progress through the press, to consider that gentleman the author of “Lord Byron and his Contemporaries,” any more than of those very entertaining but somewhat personal articles in the Magazine of which he is proprietor, entitled “Sketches of the Irish Bar.” That Mr Blackwood should occasionally retire to count his money, seems not at all unreasonable in a publisher carrying on a somewhat complicated, extensive, and flourishing trade. It is absolutely necessary that he should so retire into the Sanctum, at which times even we do not think of disturbing him; but we put it to Mr Hunt himself, whether it be not more honourable to count the money which a man makes by his own industry, even although objections, on the score of humanity, might be against certain articles in a Periodical Work published by the man so counting his money, articles in which one Cockney in particular had his back scarified by the knout, and his nose slit, previous to his being sent across the Steppes into Siberia,—than it ever can be to another man to avow himself—as Hunt has done—incapable of counting the money, which, in hundreds and in thousands, (L.1400 from Mr Shelley,) he has, in that beggary to which his own imprudence had confessedly reduced him, accepted at the hands of friends who pitied his distress, and on the memory of one of whom he, after the death of the Formidable Illustrious, has attempted to commit murder? With respect to “his kicks,” which Mr Blackwood retires to count—we presume Hunt alludes to a personal outrage attempted to be committed on Mr Blackwood, some ten years ago, by a fellow twice his size—which outrage, although as distant from anything in the shape of a kick, as Mr Hunt’s ninny-noddle is from his paltry posteriors, was repelled with such promptitude and decisive effect, with a good oaken towel, that the aggressor took coach immediately, and was drawn in anything but triumph, by four bay blood-horses, into the second city in the empire. O, Hunt, Hunt!—are you not conscious of being the poorest creature of all the Cockneys?

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Mr Hunt having thus, as he supposes, disposed of Lord Byron, and taken in hand a few of his contempo-
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries405
raries, squirts out his spleen upon the greatest of them all—
Sir Walter Scott. It does not appear that he ever saw the Baronet—but he labours under a dislike of that distinguished person, at once ludicrous and loathsome. He seems to believe that Sir Walter has an enmity towards him—originating probably in jealousy of his genius—and tries to show his magnanimity in nevertheless expressing a rather favourable opinion of the Novels and Romances, to which it seems he was among the first to direct the attention of the public. The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, Lady of the Lake, &c. he thinks very so-so performances, and that Sir Walter is but a poor poet. But he hates the man—with a hatred which may be more easily described by illustration than resolved by analysis.

Hunt, Preface to 2d Edition

Gentle Reader—Let us so arouse your imagination, that you see a Lion sleeping in the shade, or rather couched an a conscious slumber, his magnificent mane spread abroad in the forest gloom, and the growling thunder hushed beneath it as in a lowering cloud. Suppose him Sir Walter. Among the branches of a tree, a little way off, sits a monkey, and did you ever hear such a chatter? The blear-eyed abomination makes his very ugliest mouths at the monarch of the wood; and shrieking in his rage, not altogether unlike something human, dangles first from one twig, and then from another, still higher and higher up the tree, with an instinctive though unnecessary regard for the preservation of his nudities, clinging at once by paw and by tail, making assurance doubly sure that he shall not lose his hold, and drop down within range of Sir Leoline. Suppose him Leigh Hunt. The sweet little cherub that sits up aloft fondly and idly imagines, that the Lion is lying there meditating his destruction,—that those claws, whose terrors are now tamed in glossy velvet, and which, if suddenly unsheathed, would be seen blushing perhaps with the blood of pard or panther, were given him by nature for the express purpose of waging high warfare with the genus Simia! The grinning and greedy egotist, as he keeps all the while cracking nuts, vomited out of the gullet-pouch provided for a fruit larder, close to the jugular, blowing the nostrils of him with the fingers of one hand, and making those of the other useful, at the other extremity, in entomological researches, has not the slightest doubt in the world, that he haunts the waking and the sleeping dreams of the Lion in den or desert. Those tusks of his that can churn to curd the spine, those paws of his that can smite to shivers the skull of the buffalo, were beyond all doubt given the Lion that he might be the murderer of monkeys! But pray, Jacko Macko, how do you account for that tail, three yards long, with a tuft at the end on’t, oft suddenly elevated and unfurled, like a meteor streaming to the wind? Why, you believe the Lion to be his own standard-bearer, do you, and the sole end of that tail and that tuft a warning to you and your brethren in arms forthwith to swarm up trees, “with fear of change perplexing monkeys?” The Lion, all this blessed time, is dreaming of devouring an antelope, a gazelle, an Abyssinian maid, dulcimer and all, or the Hottentot Venus. That such wretches as monkeys, apes, baboons, and so forth, exist, he knows; for too often they have come between the wind and his nobility. But as to killing one of them, or—oh, horror!—eating him, he would rather die a thousand deaths, and lie alive a whole African summer, shrivelling up into a skinny skeleton. The alarm of the monkey at the lion is an anomaly in nature; for, regarding the other tribes of the inferior creatures, we never see fear without danger; whereas a lion cannot so much as yawn on his own account, with those deep-hanging chops of his, or with his fine, deep, bass voice, to which Bartleman’s was a squeaking counter, treat himself to a solo, but the whole wilderness of monkeys is thrown into one consternation said one chatter—Why is this?

But perhaps, gentle reader, your imagination is but sluggish and slow, and cannot picture to itself with sufficient vividness, the lion and the monkey—Scott and Hunt. Try then the stag-hound and the cur. The stag-hound has been all day hunting on the Black Mount, where the fern is like a forest, the heather-bloom brighter and higher than the plumed head of any of the heroes that fought of old with Fingal—the moss-hags wide, and deep, and black, in which armies whole
406Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
might sink—the desert sprinkled with rocks as with stones, and bristling up, up, up, for three thousand feet with unstormable battlements and batteries, while here and there a single oak-tree, bare and blasted, stands like a flag staff after the flag has been blown away—not struck—and that glorious musician, the wind, plays by fits his gatherings and his marches, that have filled, and will fill for ever, the spirits of the Gad, with unconquered and unconquerable valour. There lies the noble stag-hound, panting beside the breathless bulk of that red-deer, whose belling shall nevermore be heard in the desert! He pulled him down in spite of all his antlers, entangled as you see them now in the heather, with here and there a twig of bruised oak or birch, that shows how, during his fleet, but not fearful flight, he had been borne, whirlwind-like, through coppice and forest, till the far-off echoes answered to the crash, and the welcome sound awoke many a bugle-blast from hunters hidden, as they toiled along, in brake and bower, up torrent-channel, down lines of greenwood lying by the brightness of brooks, and over many a lower hill embosomed between the mighty mountains enclosing one of our great Highland glens. There he lies with feet and lips blood-blushing, but his eye, erewhile so bright in the chase and the conflict, now calm, and grave, and solemn. Oscar would not harm a child; and so a child is playing with his very paws, wondering to see them so gory, the child of the forester, whose hut is in that pine-wood—and what think you of her, his young Saxon wife, breathing and blushing in her lowland beauty, and arrayed in the tartan of her husband’s clan, offering the cup of Glenlivet with a white hand, and the Doric sweetness of her own native accents, betraying her birth-place among the banks and braes of bonny Doon, the land of Coila, and of her darling son,
Burns, her lyrical poet on earth, just as the lark is her lyrical poet in heaven?

Gentle reader, you can have little difficulty in recognising in this stag-hound an image of Sir Walter, and still less in recognising Leigh Hunt in the following image of a cur, apparently produced by a cross between a turnspit and a poodle. What is the creature doing hare? Surely, surely, the heir-presumptive to the kitchen-wheel and the courtyard-pond, will not have the impertinence to lift a leg against the lady-fern and the virgin heather? Not a stone in this district that will answer his purpose. The Highlands of Scotland were not made for poodles. Only see how he turns out his toes! The length of the animal’s body is surprising, and has been transmitted to him through a long line of ancestors, up to the original turnspit that was the first founder of the family. Look at his head—for face he has little or none, except through a shock of hair of a dirty yellow, something blear and blackish, that may possibly be eyes, and a hedgehog-looking nose, doubtless cold and clammy, better at scenting the evisceration of chicken than the taint of the red-deer’s hoof, as it scatters the dewdrops from harebell and heather. He is evidently out of temper, but with what nobody can tell, for nobody, as far as we know, has been whipping him; yet his birses are up on his shoulder, and the nape of his neck, while his tail, as it is neither short nor long, so neither is it up nor down, crooked over his hurdies, nor clapt between his legs, but in a position alike equivocal and indescribable, like that of the Courier newspaper about a month ago, which could not be said to be looking either up or down, to the right or the left, to the Whigs or the Tories, to the Church-establishments or Dissenting meetinghouses, to war or peace, Greek or Turk, Christian or Cockney, but to be gradually and permanently acquiring that inexpressible expression of countenance that belongs to a sailor employed in attempting to trim a crank, over-ballasted, sea-worthless boat, who, poor fellow, keeps skipping first to this side then to that, now near the bow, now the stern, and now about midships, till the craft giving an unexpected lurch, he falls over to leeward, and becomes for life a pauper and a pensioner in Davy’s Locker. But the secret of the cur’s anger breaks out,—for he beholds the stag-hound lying in his state,—and the blood of all the turnspits and all the poodles burns within his veins, He dares not yet bark,—but the cur has courage for a snivel, as he keeps sneaking round and round, farther off and farther off,—though he deludes himself into a be-
Lord Byron and his Contemporaries407
lief that it is nearer and nearer, in each successive circle which he describes,—till eventually going off at a tangent, and summoning up all his hereditary heroism on a distant knoll, he ventures to vent it in two or three shabby snarls, and then “starting back, he knows not why, even at the sound himself has made,” he scampers off, with violent yelping, as if he had been suddenly scalded in the kitchen, and knocking himself against stocks and stones, still with his head turned towards the stag-hound, who believes him to be some new varmint, he disappears in the horizon amidst roars of laughter, while perhaps some grim Gad, at the close of his guffaw, lets drive at the Cockney cur with slugs or swan-shot, nobody taking the trouble to look whether he has been killed or not, so that an end has been put to his absurd youffing and yelping, and the heather-stalks freed from all future contamination. Come, now—don’t pity the poodle.

Gentle reader, you have seen an Eagle, alive and sun-soaring, hunting for prey, or for an appetite in a storm? A ship in full sail is glorious to behold—so is a horse in full gallop; but the breeze dies, and the ship “is idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean,”—his wind is gone, and the horse, with his green-turbaned rider, sinks in the sand of the desert. The Eagle needs not the breeze—his heart never pants in that lofty ether. From sunrise to sunset he hangs, or cleaves his way through heaven; and though he sleeps for ages in the same eyrie, he loves to prey in distant isles, and to take his different day-meals in different kingdoms. What wings, what talons, what beak, what an eye! “A secular bird of ages!” No bad emblem of Sir Walter. Turn, we beseech you, to yonder Magpie, and you have Leigh Hunt. The magpie is not much amiss for plumage, his feathers are gaudy enough; yet somehow or other, nobody admires the magpie. People deny that he is anything else but mere black and white; yet when you catch him, and hold him up to the light, he shows blue, green, and purple, something after the fashion of the peacock. But his character and his manners are both so bad, that the world has voted him a nuisance. He is the most unpopular of birds, esteemed not merely mischievous, but unlucky, so that it is creditable at all times to put him to death. There is no harm in shooting him, even on a Sunday. When caught alive, no boy of a good heart will be happy to see him die untortured, and he is generally kicked about, very unceremoneously, after putrefaction. We dare. say he deserves all this—for, in the first place, what a prig it is! How it struts, and perks, and prates!—It is truly an “impudent varlet.” Then, when alarmed or irritated, it will never give over with its screeching, but keeps flying about, as if taking heaven and earth, the trees and the walls, to witness that it has been hurt or insulted. Then it is a senseless pilferer, picking up everything that glitters, from a silver spoon to a gilt button. In a cage the creature’s impudence does not forsake it; its impertinence increases with the term of its imprisonment; it bobs up and down its tail with an air of exultation, as if caged for chattering in the cause of freedom; and if turned out again to its old associates, it will be as noisy, as impudent, as pilfering as before—the recollection of the cage only encreasing its craft, and its enmity to all gardeners, overseers, and country gentlemen in general.

At times, nothing will satisfy the Magpie, when the Eagle is abroad, but to insult him by all the small absurd means in his power—such as screeching and scrawching at no allowance, flying hither and thither, from knoll to knoll, on which he keeps bob-bobbing, down head and up tail, then mounting on cow-back, and cocking his impudent eye at the Eagle, now far above the arch of the rainbow. The imp has a most distempered look, and ruffled with rage in all his feathers. It is a good time to have a shot at him; and amusing to see him suddenly struck all of a heap, or going topsy-turvy, tapselteerie over the knoll, throwing up blood and garbage, emitting obscene sounds, and then dragging himself in among the briars of a ditch, in fear of his own brethren, who come trooping from all directions, like so many Cockneys, to attack him, because he is seen to be much mangled, and incapable of offering any defence. Meanwhile, the Eagle, from his watch-tower, is inspector
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general of twenty counties, and when sated with the sky, descends like a sunbeam on Cruachan or Cairngorm.

Gentle reader, of all the creatures that float and fly, is there one fairer and more majestic than the Swan?
The Swan, on still St Mary’s Loch,
Floats double—Swan and shadow!

These two lines are of themselves a poem. Sir Walter, sometimes, is such a Swan; but oftener he is a Swan with wings uplifted, like the foresail and mainsail of a schooner going before the wind, and careering through the water-lilies, along the black and foamy waves of the loch, that rejoices in a sudden tempest; or say rather, that he is a Swan that is seen to come sailing along, white and swift as a summer cloud before the hurricane, whence nobody knows, but doubtless, from some far-off region; and ringing the sky in repeated circles, seems to gaze awhile on the lovely Loch of the Lowes, and then “in sunshine sailing fur away,” disappears in the blue depths of another world. Turn to a Freizeland Bantam,—for there positively is such a bird,—and turn to him at the time he happens to labour under a liver complaint, when nothing will serve him, to cool his fever, but a dip in a pond. In hops the unhappy bunch of feathers into the scarcely liquid element, and forthwith sets about what he seems to imagine swimming through the green mire and sludge, which, with the little water that parts it from the dry, is of the consistency of newly-poured-out porritch, before the ploughman’s breakfast has got cool in the bowl. The circumjacent, circumambient, and circumnnatant ducks are lost in astonishment at the phenomenon—the goose flies into the gander’s arms, hiding her head in his bosom. In a few minutes out he comes, with a small separate piece of green mud sticking on each fritter of feathers,—a round tattered and tettered ball, smelling very offensively,—head and tail indistinguishable; yet the motion accompanied by a noise, till the village curs espy it, and hunt it into its hovel. Yet our best naturalists assure us, that the Freizeland Bantam is the vainest bird that attempts to crow; and by and by our feverish friend comes out into the light, and begins to trim his plumage! His toilette over, he basks on the ditch side, and has not the smallest doubt in the world that he is a Bird of Paradise!