LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Leigh Hunt
Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries, 2nd Ed.  2 vols  (London:  Colburn,  1828)
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“It is for slaves to lie, and for freemen to speak truth.

“In the examples, which I here bring in, of what I have heard, read, done, or said, I have forbid myself to dare to alter even the most light and indifferent circumstances. My conscience does not falsify one tittle. What my ignorance may do, I cannot say.”       Montaigne.




It was intended to close this edition with some letters out of the Morning Chronicle, and “an attempt (which I had promised in them) to estimate my own character.” But I am obliged to break my promise, on finding my advisers of opinion, that the performance of it, instead of doing what I wished, would subject me to a suspicion of intending the reverse. I find it difficult to persuade myself, that some things which I had said in that estimate could be considered as any other than extraordinary specimens of a candour far beyond the wish to profit by it; but I am aware of the involuntary tricks played by self-love. I can only say, as a proof that I am not sensible of them in the present instance, that I cannot but feel relieved at not having to lay myself thus open to the public. I had thought of retaining the ill I had spoken, and leaving out the good. But while the egotism of my critics might have found an excess of pretension even in this, on the other hand, it would not have been reasonably fair to myself, considering how I am treated. So little ceremony is used towards some of my real faults, so
many others invented for me, and so violently is the defence of
Lord Byron taken up by those who have said much worse of him in their time than any thing uttered by me, that I might perhaps, in common justice, be warranted in keeping the rest of my errors to myself, as a compensation for what I have forborne to relate of others.

For reasons, similar though not proportionate to those for which the estimate is withheld, it has been thought better to retain as little as possible of what I have said about myself in the letters; and in consequence, the letters themselves are suppressed, such portions only remaining as comprise all the explanations for which I wrote them, and which I here proceed to repeat, as nearly as possible in the same words.

Leigh Hunt, in Morning Chronicle

I. With respect to the partial extracts from the book, that were sent to the newspapers before it was published.—These, I need hardly tell the public, were not made by myself. If they had been, they would not have subjected me to the conclusions which have been pretended by some, and appear to have been really drawn by others, respecting the spirit of my intercourse with Lord Byron. I have been represented as a man capable of violating the confidence of friendship, and giving an unfavourable portrait of a host who had treated me with nothing but kindness. I will venture to affirm, that nothing, to a person of my turn of mind, could be more impossible. No man holds in greater horror than I do the violation of the sub iisdem
—the sacred enclosure of private walls. I have not even dared, in my time, to enjoy the delight I should have found at more than one table, purely because I knew that it would be impossible for me afterwards, as a public man, to hold any opinion of my host but a grateful one. It might be expected that I should despise an accusation of this sort: but people do not despise half as much as is pretended; and I confess it has vexed me, with all its absurdity. One does not like to be thought ill of by any body, much less to be subjected to the hazard of it in the whole heart of a community. Unluckily, thousands will have read the extracts who will not see the book.

I will put a case in illustration of my position with Lord Byron, and show the cruelty of it besides, as affected by his character in particular. Suppose a rich merchant invites another merchant out to set up a joint concern with him; and suppose the latter a man with a wife and large family, and at the lowest ebb of his fortunes. The rich merchant advances the other two hundred pounds to bring him out (taking care nevertheless to get a bond for it from a friend); and after he is arrived, the loss of the beloved friend who gave this bond forces the poor man to accept from the rich one farther sums, from time to time, amounting in all to one hundred more. The joint concern in the meantime goes on, but is trifled with by the invitor—is even injured by him in a variety of ways, is suffered to be calumniated and undermined by him with his friends, and finally is abandoned by him in the course of the year for an experiment in a remote quarter, and apart from any consideration of the person invited out. It is true, the rich
man declines receiving his part of the profits of the concern; but it is only because they turn out to be nothing like what he expected; and when he leaves it, and might still do it service, and so keep his own proposed work alive, he never has another word of communication with the person whom he invited out, and whom he had found destitute, and left so.

This is a literal picture of the state of the case between Lord Byron and myself; but the worst part of the spirit of it remains.

I had scarcely put up under the same roof with his Lordship (and the nature of that occupation of a floor in his house is explained in my book, and was very different from any thing like entertainment by him as his guest) than our “host,” if he is so to be called, commenced his claims upon our delicacy by writing disagreeable letters about us to his friends. When I subsequently remonstrated with him on this subject, he answered me that it was his way, and that he had “libelled his friends all round.” It is true I did not know of these letters at the time; but his libels of his friends were very soon manifest: the symptom was not encouraging; and the tempers he thought fit to try on me in my poverty, prepared me farther for what I had to expect. This was almost in the very first days of our intercourse. I had hardly been under the roof with him at Pisa, when a very distressing communication from England forced me to urge him upon the subject of the intended work, and to beg as it were, in charity, the assistance which he ought to have come forward with in pursuance of his own proposal. He thought it sufficient to answer, that his friends had already been “at him”
to persuade him to have nothing to do with the work; and he was wanting enough to his dignity to taunt me with making him a party to certain distresses which had been communicated to me in the letter from England, though he knew how much they were bound up with my own, and had had my confession that I had assisted to cause them. This, however, is a matter which it is impossible to enter into, and which does not, of necessity, belong to the question. I only allude to it, that I may show the melancholy of my position with him from the first, and how sure he was to make me feel it. In this manner his first contribution to his own work was made to appear a sort of forced obligation, though he was delighted to have the opportunity of printing it; and though, in the sanguineness of the moment, and the non-experience hitherto of what confirmed our forebodings, we did our best to entertain a good opinion of him, and to make others partake of it.

Most calamitous was it on every account, that at this early juncture of our intercourse, my beloved friend, Mr. Shelley, was torn from me. I was thrown, perforce, on Lord Byron for his assistance; he even offered it; and bitter indeed, for the first time in my life, was the taste I then had of obligation. The specimen I have mentioned in my work will suffice, and may be repeated. My family lived in the most economical Italian manner, and tried hard not to force me to apply to him for much. In fact, I applied to him for little, and he put me under the necessity of asking even for that in driblets, and for those he sent me every time to his steward. My cheek seems to burn against my paper as I write. Yes, I have to confess that I have tasted indeed the
bitterness of that prophecy of the poet’s addressed to himself, that he should know “how hard it was to ascend the steps of another person for bread.” Let the exquisite mortification of confessions like these, excuse me with the happier and the more industrious—I may add, with the healthier and the better taught; for the commonest rules of arithmetic were, by a singular chance, omitted in my education. I do not agree with the writer, who spoke the other day of the “degrading obligations of private friendship.” God forbid I should be such a traitor to those whose friendship elevated while it assisted me, and whom it is a transport to me, whenever I think of it, to have been indebted to. I see beyond that. But I am bound to say that I have not the less altered my practice in that particular; and not the less do I agree with the eloquent after-saying of the same writer, that it is “comely, and sweet, and exquisite,” to be able to earn one’s own sufficiency. I only think, especially in behalf of those who can enjoy leisure as well as business, that it should not be made so hard a matter to do so, as it very often is, by the systems of society, and by the consequences they have in reserve for us, even before we are born, and in our very temperaments as well as fortunes: and I think also, that the world would have been losers, in a very large way—far beyond what utilitarians suppose, and yet on their own ground—if certain men of lively and improvident genius, humanists of the most persuasive order, had not sometimes left themselves under the necessity of being assisted. The headlong sympathies that ran in their blood, and that diverted them sometimes from ordinary duties, have helped to carry us all
forwards to those great waters of humanity which are now out over the world, and which shall assuredly give it a new level and a new life.

But I did not sit down to these remarks to take up the reader’s time with theories. I have written even more than was necessary for the real purpose of them, which was to say that nobody has a right to judge of the spirit of my intercourse with Lord Byron from partial extracts out of the work in question; and that I protest against any opinion of it whatsoever, unproduced by an acquaintance with the work itself. I may put a case in the mean time, if I please, and ask the reader what he thinks, on the face of it, of my claims on Lord Byron as a partner, invited to set up a work with him under all the circumstances, and of my right to speak as freely to the public of him, as he spoke secretly and underhand of me. But for a complete view of the case I must refer him (if he chooses to judge the matter) to the book itself, and to all the evidences it contains, for me or against: for of one thing he may be certain—that every jot of it is true. I love truth with a passion commensurate to what I think its desirableness, above all other things, for the security of good to the world: and if I did not, I should love it for the trouble it saves me in having but one story and one answer for all men, and being a slave to nobody.

I have a word, however, to add, with regard to those who have hitherto thought fit to make objections to my book, without knowing the whole of it. Some of these, I have been told, are really conscientious men, who are kind enough to entertain an ill opinion of me with pain; and I can believe that partial extracts might possibly
have led them into that opinion. All that I complain of in this case is, that they did not sufficiently think of their conscientiousness, when they expressed the opinion without knowing all I had to say. Some of them have already become sensible of their mistake, and have done me justice. As to other anonymous writers, who have attacked me in a different spirit, I concede even to them the possibility of their having come to a similar conclusion, out of the same partial degree of knowledge. I will at present not stop to inquire how far they were led into it by motives of their own. But I warn them how, upon a better acquaintance with the work, they renew the same kind of attacks; as, in that case, I shall be compelled to let the public see, not only the whole amount of what I have to object to them on my own part, but what their pretended hero thought and said of them on his. And this, if they insist upon it, it will only be less easy for me to do, than it is to spare them in the mean time. I have told nothing but the truth, but I am far from having told all the truth—and I never will tell it all. Common humanity would not let me. But I will not have my very forbearance turned against me by those, whose sufferings would be tragic to themselves only, and comic to all the rest of the world.

It has been said that I undervalue the genius of Lord Byron, and think too highly of myself at the same time. I believe, that when I speak seriously, I am in the habit of using a tone of decision and confidence, which may produce mistakes on that point. It is owing to my having some decided opinions, and an exalted view of what may be done for the world; and it was the ab-
sence of such views in Lord Byron, and the presence of an eternal persiflage and affectation, that led me to think of what was petty instead of great in him, and perhaps really made me undervalue his genius. I can only say, that I heartily wish his head may have deserved all the laurels that were stuck about it; to the concealment of his coronet, according to some, who nevertheless can never separate the two ideas. My own talents, unfortunately, (if I may speak of such things), I am not so conscious of, as I am of their having fallen far short of what I once hoped they would turn out. I have many infirmities, and nothing great in me but my sympathy with mankind. It is for this only I desire any honour I pretend to; and this, I allow, I cannot shut up, as I would an opera hat, and convert it into a piece of deference to the circles.

L. Hunt in Ld Byron and his Contemporaries

After all, I had no intention in writing my book but to give a true portrait of Lord Byron, as of a human being interesting to the times he lived in, and worth painting at any time. My spleen came across me, I own, as I called him to mind; but if I had been actuated by ordinary motives, I should have done it when I first returned to England, and made, as the phrase is, “money by it:” which is what I cannot be said to have done now. My bookseller had 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. But I have stated this in the former preface. I wish in his good nature to others, and 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 any thing 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 the book), it became 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 that he has missed.”

I have only one opinion more to guard against, which might be caused by something in my book itself; to wit, the face which the engraver in his hurry has been pleased to thrust upon me, and which might lead people to suppose that I am not only capable of calumniating my host, but of walking off with his tankard. I have no pretensions to handsomeness—my face is rescued from insignificance solely by thought; but I must really be allowed to say, that there is nothing in it which ought to take me to Bow-street.*

Leigh Hunt, in Morning Chronicle

II. With regard to an alleged charge of cowardice against Lord Byron.—A person for whom I have great
* This engraving has been altered, but I have not seen what has been done to it. I take this opportunity of saying, that I am responsible for none of the other portraits in the book, but those of Lord Byron and Mr. Keats.
respect has sent me a message by a kinsman, informing me, that from one of the passages of the extracts before mentioned, a conclusion has been drawn by some, that I meant to charge Lord Byron with “cowardice.” My informant does not see the passage in the same light himself. He does not suppose that I meant it to be so construed. But such, he tells me, is the impression with some; and he has accordingly recommended me to cancel it in the present edition. I cannot do that—desirous as I should be of falling in with the least intimations of the person in question. But I can explain myself on the subject; and feel bound to make some observations upon it. The reader, if he chooses, can turn to the passage itself at p. 157. vol. ii. It will there be seen, if I am not mistaken, that whatever may have been my doubts on this matter, they applied only to the latter part of Lord Byron’s life, and to what he had made himself by an unwise treatment of his constitution; for effeminacy is, in itself, no disproof of the existence of courage.
Cæsar himself began with being a dandy, and with scratching the top of his head with the tip of one of his fingers, that he might not displace the curls.* But if Cæsar had been a poet as well as a man of pleasure, and circumstances had led him into a sedentary mode of life, it would not have been easy to say what the crucifier of the pirates would have become, under the united influence of pleasure and pain, of illness and imagination. Indeed, when I call to mind one thing about Lord Byron,

* See the picture Cicero gives of him, as he called him to mind at that time of life; adding his astonishment, that such a person should have subverted the Roman empire.

as I write this very passage, and think what even his lame foot might have done to injure the “energetic” person I have described in a former part of my book, I am forced to use a very strong word (truth must help me out with it); but I feel as if I ought to blush for not having secreted my doubts on this point. There was, at all events, no necessity to mention them. I might fairly have let them remain among other things, which I did not think it warrantable to speak of. Others may even know him to be a man of courage; and I have nothing to oppose to their knowledge. But Lord Byron has been so treated in all quarters, as a man of whom every thing was to be said—gifting him, as it were, with the privileges of an ancient, and making the least thing in his character, bad or good, a matter of dispassionate, or rather passionate curiosity, that a biographer is involuntarily led to speculate more upon him than he would upon another person; and I trust, whatever my spleen may have been sometimes it is not very visible in the passages here quoted, and that the reader will do me the justice of supposing that the ardour of my portrait painting was upon me, more than any other feeling.

After all, 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 any thing for their sake, as long as he could have been kept in action; and this, perhaps, in sedentary and sophisticate times like the present, is as much as many men would require to be conceded them. Above all, I pretend to little more myself; and only to that more, as far as endurance is concerned, and inasmuch as 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. I have moral courage, and a good deal of it; but ill-health, and other circumstances, have often put it to the test.

L. Hunt in Ld Byron and his Contemporaries

III. With regard to a mistake liable to be drawn respecting Mr. Horace Smith.—It has been suggested to me, that in the notice respecting Mr. Horace Smith, the passage where I speak of that gentleman’s difference with Mr. Shelley, “on some points,” may not be explicit enough. Advantage, it is thought, may be taken of it by the malignant, to aim a very cruel blow at the peace of a great many worthy people. Unfortunately, persons who despair of being liked and respected, and therefore seek their importance in giving pain, are but too apt to insist upon making use of a piece of malignity, the more they know it to be unfounded; but in the hope that the very different people above mentioned may be consoled for these or any other mistakes on the
subject in the meanwhile, and cautioning them how they suffer themselves to add to the absurdity by the magnitude of their alarm, I think it proper to state that Mr. Horace Smith differed altogether from Mr. Shelley upon points of religion. I wish I had stated this more explicitly; but I live a good deal out of the world, and in calling to mind two men who differed extremely with one another, and yet were both of excellent natures, I really forgot that, with some men, difference of opinion is only a signal for every thing hostile, hypocritical, and vexatious.

In me convertite ferrum.—It is a monstrous thing, in my eyes, to find my friend Mr. Shelley made a bug-bear of, to frighten any portion of the fellow-creatures whom he loved; but allowing, as I do, that he differed with many excellent and clever people upon points the most important, I can never suffer his name to be mentioned without adding to it the enthusiastic expression of my regard; for I know also, that whatever he differed with, he differed with in a spirit as unhostile as possible, and out of the best intentions and most exalted views. Any burden of obloquy that may be made up out of these sentiments I shall be proud to bear; and I only wish Mr. Smith and his friends could have known him as thoroughly as I did, that they might see how many reasons I have for abiding fast by his memory.


[The communication here laid before the reader came to hand unfortunately too late to enable me to alter the passage complained of. The pleasure—the honour —of receiving a letter from “Le Grice,”—“a Grecian”—(for all my school-days come over me at his name, and I still feel like a little boy before him)—was turned into great pain, when I saw the mistake I had made in speaking of his brother. I acted, I confess, on the mere recollection of a school-report; one of the millions of reports which are every day disseminating mistake among the children of this world, young and old. As the case stands, and the chance of paining the venerable eyes in question still remains (though I hope it may be otherwise provided against) I have thought it best to print the letter itself. In the perusal of it, if those eyes happen to meet with the book, the momentary tear occasioned them by an error respecting one son, will assuredly be changed into balm and pleasure, on seeing the fervour with which it is effaced by another. I beg pardon of those whom I have thus unwittingly offended; and can only say (what I hope will not give them a less Christian opinion of me, than is intended) that in being accustomed to regard the faults of mankind as the result of circumstance, and seeing hopes for them in the opinion incompatible with no real good or piety, I did not feel that horror in using the word “rake” which may reasonably startle an aged mother, or indeed
any other person who has grown up in the old system of thinking.]

“Penzance, Feb. 10, 1828.

Dear Sir,

“Excuse my writing on this paper, in my haste I can find no other. Your ‘Recollections’ have just reached me. What could have induced you to have given such an account of my dear Brother? He died, you say, a rake. I acquit you of all malignant intention: surely your memoranda of “Christ’s” were not lately written, but some old memoranda now thrown in to fill your book. I hope so: supposing that my brother had been a little inconsiderate, what right can you have to dig up his frailties from the grave: but it was not so: the epithet is most unfounded. A rake! I wish, Sir, you were at my elbow, and could read a packet of his letters written from Jamaica:—read his first feelings on the scenes in Jamaica: he was awakened to most serious thoughts, and meditating a history of the internal state of the island, especially of the Maroons. If you could see his letters, you would revere instead of abusing his memory. How delightfully you speak of your Father and Mother. My Mother is still living: only suppose this page of your book coming before her eyes! Her favourite son “died a rake.” “Think a moment. I will copy a passage from a letter written by my brother on his birth-day, 31st August, 1801, in Jamaica, a year before he died; and which I now keep to inspire solemn thoughts on my birth-day every year:—“I have not received a letter from my Mother for a long time, which I have before said has given
me great uneasiness: at this moment on my knees, I pray Almighty God to preserve and bless her and you, my dear Brother, my uncle and aunt, and all of you, with more peace and happiness than I dare to hope for myself. Perhaps, and indeed too probably, I am never to see you in the enjoyment of it” &c. &c. Is this the language of a rake? Who could have uttered such a sentiment? Even if you had heard such an ill-founded report, where could be your taste, your feeling, your justice, in giving it to all the world? You put only the initials of certain persons from motives of delicacy and respect, even when giving anecdotes that are not to their discredit: why then should you give the name of my brother at length, and asperse his character on the brink of the grave! he was affectionate, brave, and good. I will say nothing of the want of taste and delicacy in your prior account of his school days. I think that inconsistent, and as if not written by the same heart and hand as wrote those beautiful, glorious passages, your feelings at a wedding, your visit to Austin Friars, your holidays at Merton. “You held your Mother’s hand tighter.” Your feeling was—Mother, how happy we are to be to-day. How sorry will you be to think that you have written so of my Brother, whose Mother still lives.

“I have not looked at other parts of your book; it is only just come. Of course I turned first to ‘Christ’s.’”—I could wish some part of this better written, but I must anxiously, earnestly, demand of your feeling, your honour, your integrity, that, in your next edi-
tion, you wipe off the spot from the tomb of my dear Brother.

I am,
Your’s truly,

“Remember me to Lamb.

“I perfectly recollect you and your Father. I can see him now in Grammar Cloister waiting for you, leaning on the box near the passage to Mathematica School.”

In closing Mr. le Grice’s letter, I cannot help again expressing my regret at having done his relative this injustice. It has been unpleasant enough to me (whatever the reader may think) to say hard things, even of those who have given me cause of complaint. A hundred times, while writing my book, have I expressed myself on that point to my family, in no measured terms; and regretted that I must speak the truth, “now I was about it.” But to have repeated, with whatever want of thought, a rumour, at once offensive and untrue, and of one against whom I had a quarrel, is on every account to be regretted; and accordingly I lament it, and dislike, and bite my pen for chagrin. Should the book be immortal enough to come to a third edition, the mistake shall be rectified in its proper place, and a copy be sent to Mr. le Grice for the acceptance of his venerable parent.