LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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[Leigh Hunt]
Lord Byron—Mr. Moore—and Mr. Leigh Hunt [Concluded].
The Tatler  Vol. 2  No. 115  (15 January 1831)  457-58.
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No. 115 Price





Letters and Journals of Lord Byron: with Notices of his Life, by
Thomas Moore
. Two vols. 4to. Murray.



If Mr Moore supposes that Lord Byron made him an exception to the way in which he used to talk of his “friends,” he is mistaken. We do not believe that he does suppose it; though he would fain make a different impression on the public mind, and represent Lord Byron as being in a strange state of momentary waywardness, when he was not ranking him among those he loved best. The fact is, that Lord Byron laughed at him. He was inclined to love him heartily enough, as long as he believed his flatteries sincere. His respect for the circles induced him to have a certain respect for one who could lampoon; and in addition to Mr Moore’s flatteries of him as a Poet, there was one other ground of regard upon which Lord Byron was particularly inclined to like him, because it enabled him to undervalue him at the same time; and that was Mr Moore’s veneration for lords. But as all these “friends” were in the habit of talking against one another behind their backs, in a style which they did not think so well for their faces, he had found out, as Mr Hunt has done, that his earnest, anxious, and delighted correspondent, Mr Moore, could have his word against him as well as the rest. Lord Byron said to Mr Hunt one day, with a very bitter face, when the latter was expressing his surprise at discovering Moore to be double-tongued,—“Surprised at Moore! Why, do you know what he says of me?” I did not tell him that I had heard something Mr Moore had said, nor from whom I had heard it; and the recollection mortified him so much, that he was fairly unable to get the words out. Mr Hunt had never shown an inclination for hearing him talk against his friends; in fact, he had shown a reverse feeling: and this was one of the reasons why Lord Byron never took heartily to his society. But his Lordship could not contain himself, nevertheless. He saw that his visitor was justly offended with Mr Moore’s duplicity, against which, however, no retaliation was meditated, not even in jest. Mr Hunt felt too much hurt by it, and was not aware of the extent to which he should have to struggle against the effects of his tergiversation. The talk, therefore, alluded to in our last, about turning the ‘Loves of the Angels’ into an exemplification of the joke upon Rhyme and Reason, was mere talk; though his Lordship tried hard that it should not be: he did not let the subject drop for weeks; was always returning to his pleasantry about “Looks and Tones;” and as he saw that Mr Hunt could not help laughing at his malicious piece of wit about being Mr Moore’s friend, he took an especial delight in repeating it:—“Well, are we never to have the Rhymes?—the Looks and Tones?—
‘Oh, there are looks and tones!’”
(We believe this is a line of Mr Moore’s). And then he would retreat a little, doubling himself up in his peculiar manner, and uttering a kind of goblin laugh, breathing and grinning, as if, instead of his handsome mouth, he had one like an ogre, from ear to ear. Then came the inevitable addition,—“But mind, you must not publish. You know I’m his friend.” We do not remember him to have praised Mr Moore’s poetry but once. The poem he eulogized was one of the
Irish Melodies, beginning,
“When first I knew thee, warm and young,
There shone such truth about thee.”

On the other hand, he was never backward to let you see that he had a poor notion of his serious poetry in general. He did not think that there shone much truth about that, either of style or sentiment. He says in a letter to Mr John Hunt, in alluding to the ‘Loves of the Angels,’ and observing that be should not alter his poem on that subject, “I leave it to others, to circumsize their Angels with their ‘bonnes fortunes’ to the drawing room and clerical standard.” In this passage, the words others and theirs have been substituted very plainly for the words Mr Moore and his:—so cautious was he of committing himself on paper, and yet so desirous of saying all. His care in this respect was a circumstance worthy notice, considering the incontinence of speech for which he was famous. He used to observe, with a look of gravity, that “you could not deny what you had written.” Yet this was the writer of an autobiography said to have been committed to the flames; and enough remains both in Mr Moore’s work and in private letters, to shew that his scruples had come late, and to alarm his “friends” all round. We have letters ourselves which we shall withhold except in case of aggression: others we have burnt: and we beg it to be understood, that in those which remain, there is nothing to implicate a woman. No outrage ever did or could induce us to ward off a blow at the expense of the other sex. We have particular reasons for saying this, and therefore hope the reader will excuse the apparent supererogation.

Lord Byron thought Mr Moore a tuft-hunter* and a smell-feast. On Mr Hunt’s expressing his surprise one day, at an account of Mr Moore’s veneration for good dinners, Lord Byron exclaimed,—“He! why he finds out your bill of fare, and his countenance falls if it is not of the first order. You should have seen how distressed he looked one day at Venice, because the dinner did not suit him.”—“That then,” said the other, “accounts for an expression I once saw in his face when the covers were taken off from some dishes. I had a suspicion of it, but could hardly believe it possible.”—“Do but give Tom a good dinner, and a lord,” returned the noble poet, “and he is at the top of his happiness.—Oh!” added he, in the most emphatic manner, with a face full of glee as above described, doubling himself up as he walked, lifting up his arm, and bringing it down with a doubled fist upon the word in Italics, “TOMMY loves a Lord!”

These are surely not the refinements and the just pride, any more than the previous specimens of duplicity are the single-heartedness, which give Mr Moore a right to speak of “unworthiness,” of the vanity of dependants, and to repeat charges of “vulgarity.” To know every fugitive mode of the world of fashion, is no proof of being unvulgar. It is no more than the footman may know. Refinement, we thought, consisted in freedom from grossness, which Mr Moore is certainly not free from it: and vulgarity in an over-weening sense to what is common to many, whether of the great vulgar or the small (a sense which Mr Moore certainly has.) To be too fond of good eating is gross: to write like Swift is gross. False refinement itself is a symptom of grossness; and so it is of vulgarity. To hunt the company of lords is vulgar. To call Rousseau “low, bad,” and “a pauper” was vulgar. There is no word so common in the mouth of vulgar people as low. Nor did Mr Moore make a very polite pun, when, in one of his letters to Lord Byron, he designated two different spheres he had been dining in, one at the west-end, and one in the city, as “High-life and Row-life.” As to “vanity,” what is all this but vanity? And as to being a dependant, the term belongs to the man who depends in any shape for the comfort of his existence upon those of whom he might be independent: not to him, who goes into another country to set up a joint speculation, and is forced to obtain fugitive aid from the partner that deserts him.

With respect to Lord Byron’s refinement, one specimen shall serve for many. In writing once to a friend, to request him to prepare accommodations for a lady who expected to be confined, he delicately intimated the condition she was in, by saying she was about to “pig.” This, we suppose, is the elegant melancholy of Hamlet.

One anecdote also will suffice with regard to “vanity,” especially
* Tuft-hunter is a college term for one who seeks the company of men of noble families, their caps being distinguished by a tuft of gold.
as it betrays his secret soul on that point, and illustrates the most plausible action of his life. It was said in the
Times newspaper (we forget exactly when, for we quote from memory, but we can refer to the passage, and will correct it, if necessary) that after all which had been said of this noble “apostle and martyr of freedom, his exertions in the cause of Greece were limited to a six months’ talk about an expedition to Lepanto, and a loan of some thousands of pounds which were repaid to his executors.” Mr Leigh Hunt was walking with his lordship one day in the garden of the Casa Suluzzi at Genoa, when it pleased the noble bard to fall foul on the character of Milton, whose republicanism, patriotism, poetry, and everything else, be attributed to sheer “vanity.” His companion said, that he supposed he meant to include in Milton’s aspirations the love of glory, which was not to be denied; but Lord Byron would not allow the matter to be so qualified. He said it was all pure vanity, and nothing else; and that such was the motive of all public men, not excepting the greatest, let them do or suffer what they might. In short, he insisted on driving the proposition so far, that Mr Hunt said he hoped he would not give such an opinion the sanction of his book, and put it in Don Juan; and asked him what he would say, if the world should turn round upon him, and in requital of what he was going to do for Greece, attribute all that he did to vanity. His face turned of the colour of scarlet; and he said no more.

We conclude these most disagreeable subjects for the present, and if not compelled to take further notice of them, for ever, by laying before our readers, the promised quotation from the ‘Plain Speaker.’ It is a book, like all Mr Hazlitt’s other works, not half enough known; because the author wrote under every species of disadvantage, and died just at the moment when he might have had the attention he deserved. But if Mr Moore wishes to know how a man can write so as to secure the attention of posterity, let him compare his own flimsy common-placed with the following flail of gold:

‘I was sorry to find, the other day, on coming to Vevay, and looking into some English books at a library there, that Mr Moore had taken an opportunity, in his ‘Rhymes on the Road,’ of abusing Madame Warens, Rousseau, and the men of genius in general. “It’s an ill bird,” as the proverb says. This appears to me, I confess, to be pickthank work, as needless as it is ill-timed, and, considering from whom it comes, particularly unpleasant. In conclusion, he thanks God, with the Levite, that “he is not one of those,” and would rather be anything—a worm, the meanest thing that crawls—than numbered among those who give light and law to the world by an excess of fancy and intellect.* Perhaps posterity may take him at his word, and no more trace be found of his “Rhymes” upon the onward tide of time, than of
“The snow falls in the river,
A moment white, then melts far ever!”

‘It might be some increasing consciousness of the frail tenure by which he holds his rank among the great heirs of Fame, that urged our Bard to pawn his reversion of immortality for an indulgent smile of Patrician approbation, as he raised his puny arm against “the mighty dead,” to lower, by a flourish of his pen, the aristocracy of letters nearer to the level of the aristocracy of rank—two ideas that keep up a perpetual see-saw in Mr Moore’s mind, like buckets in a well, and to which, he is always ready to lend a helping hand, according as he is likely to he hoisted up, or in danger of being let down, with either of them.

‘The mode in which our author proposes to correct the extravagance of public opinion, and qualify the interest taken in such persons as Rousseau and Madame de Warens, is singular enough, and savours of the late unlucky bias of his mind.—it is by referring us to what the well-bred people in the neighbourhood thought of Rousseau and his pretensions a hundred years ago or thereabouts. “So shall their anticipation prevent our discovery!

“And doubtless ’mong the grave and good
And gentle of their neighbourhood,
If known at all, they were but known,
As strange low people, low and bad;
Madame herself to footmen prone.
And her young Pauper, all but mad.”

‘This is one way of the reversing the judgment of posterity, and setting aside the ex-post-facto evidence of taste and genius. So, after “all that’s come and gone yet”—after the anxious doubts and misgivings of his mind as to his own destiny—after all the pains he took to form himself in solitude and obscurity—after the slow dawn of his faculties, and their final explosion, that like an eruption of another Vesuvius, dazzling all men with its lights, and leaving the burning lava behind it, shook public opinion, and overturned a kingdom—after having been “the gaze and show of the time,” after having been read by all classes, criticized, condemned, admired in every corner of Europe—after bequeathing a name that at the end of half a century is never repeated but with emotion, as another name for genius and misfortune—after having given us an interest in his feelings as in our own, and drawn the veil of lofty imagination or of pensive regret over all that relates to his own being, so that we go a Pilgrimage to the places where he lived, and recall the names he loved with tender affection (worshipping at the Shrines where his fires were first kindled, and where the purple light of love still lingers “Elysian beauty, melancholy grace!”)—after all this, and more, instead of taking the opinion which one half of the world have formed of Rousseau, with an eager emulation, and the other have been forced to admit, in spite of themselves, we are to be sent back by Mr Moore’s eaves-dropping muse, so what the people in the neighbourhood thought of him (if ever they thought of him at all), before he had shown any one proof of what he was, as the fairer test of truth and candour, and as coming nearer to the standard of greatness, that is, of something asked to dine out, existing in the author’s own mind.
“This, this is the unkindest cut of all,”

Mr Moore takes the inference which he chooses to attribute to the neighbouring gentry concerning “the pauper lad,” namely, that “he was mad,” because he was poor, and flings it to the passengers out of a landau and four, as the true version of his character, by the fashionable and local authorities of the time. He need not have gone out of his way to Charmettes merely to drag the reputations of Jean-Jacques and his mistress after him, chained to the car of aristocracy, as “people low and bad,” on the strength of his enervated sympathy with the genteel conjectures of the day, as to what and who they were. We have better and more authentic evidence. What would he say, if this method of neutralizing the voice of the public were applied to himself, or to his friend, Mr Chantrey: if we were to deny that the one ever rode in an open carriage tête-à-tête with a lord, because his father stood behind a counter, or were to ask the sculptor’s customers, when he drove a milk-cart, what we are so think of his bust of Sir Walter? It will never do. It is the peculiar hardship of genius, not to he recognized with the first breath it draws—often not to be admitted even during its life-time—to make its way slow and late, through good report and evil report, “through clouds of detraction, of envy and lies”—to have to contend with the injustice of fortune, with the prejudice of the world,
“Rash judgments amid the sneers of selfish men”
to be shamed by personal defects, to pine in obscurity, to be the butt of pride, the jest of fools, the bye-word of ignorance and malice—to carry on a ceaseless warfare between the consciousness of inward worth and the slights, and neglect of others, and to hope only fair its reward in the grave and in the undying voice of fame:—and when, as in the present instance, that end has been marvellously attained, and a final sentence has been passed, would any one but Mr Moore wish to shrink from it, to revive the injustice of fortune and the world, and to abide by the idle conjectures of a fashionable coterie empannelled on the spot, who would come to the same shallow conclusion whether the individual in question was an Idiot or a God? There is a degree of gratuitous impertinence and frivolous servility, in all this, not easily to be accounted for, or forgiven.

‘There is something more particularly offensive in the cant about “people low and bad” applied to the intimacy between Rousseau and Madame Warens, inasmuch as the volume containing this nice strain of morality is dedicated to Lord Byron, who was at that very time living on the very same sentimental terms with an Italian Lady of Rank, and whose Memoirs Mr Moore has since thought himself called upon to suppress, out of regard to his Lordship’s character and to that of his friends, most of whom were not “low people.” Is it quality, not charity, that with Mr Moore covers all sorts of slips?
“But ’tis the fall degrades her to a whore;
Let Greatness own her, and she’s mean no more!”

‘What also makes the dead set at the Heroine of the ‘Confessions’ seem the harder measure, is, that it is preceded by an effusion to Mary Magdalen, in the devotional style of Madame Guyon, half amatory, half pious, but so tender and rapturous that it dissolves Canova’s marble in tears, and heaves a sigh from Guido’s canvas. The melting pathos that trickles down one page, is frozen up into the most rigid morality, and hangs like an icicle upon the next. Here Thomas Little smiles and weeps in ecstacy; there Thomas Brown (not “the younger,” but the elder surely) frowns disapprobation, and meditates dislike. Why, it may be asked, does Mr Moore’s insect muse always hover round this alluring subject, “now in glimmer, and now in gloom”—now basking in the warmth, now writhing in the smart, now licking his lips at it, now making wry faces, but always fidgetting and fluttering about the same gaudy luscious topic, either in flimsy raptures or trumpery horrors? I hate for my own part, this alternation of meretricious rhapsodies and methodistical cant, though the one generally ends in the other.’—Plain Speaker, Vol. II. Article On the Spleen of Party.

* “Out on the craft—I’d rather be
One of those hinds that round me tread,
With just enough of sense to see
The noon-day sun that’s o’er may head,
Than thus, with high-built genius curs’d,
That hath no heart for its foundation;
Be all at once that’s brightest—worst—
Sublimest—meanest in creation.”