LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Editor of the Literary Chronicle
Mr. Southey and Lord Byron.
Literary Chronicle  No. 292  (18 December 1824)  811-12.
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No. 292. LONDON, SATURDAY,  DECEMBER  18,  1824. Price 6d.


Robert Southey, in The Courier
Thomas Barnes, in The Times

We are not among those who think the maxim, De mortuis nil nisi bonum, should at all times he rigidly adhered to; yet we are convinced its violation is much oftener an act of malignity than justice: such we consider to be the case with a letter which Mr. Southey has addressed to the editor of the Courier, on the subject of Lord Byron. The self-importance and deep-rooted enmity of Mr. Southey are pretty well known: he commenced radical, wrote more violently in favour of republicanism, we had almost said rebellion, than any poet of the day, turned renegade, and now grossly abuses every man who reminds him of his backslidings. While Lord Byron was alive, there was some excuse for Mr. Southey losing his temper, in combating such an antagonist; but, now that he is dead, and unable either to prove or deny the remarks attributed to him, it is an act of the most base and cowardly malignity to make those remarks the ground of an attack on his memory. The time, too, selected for the attack, is one which shows the cunning of the author of ‘Wat Tyler.’ While public sympathy, as the Times well observes, was strong in favour of Lord Byron, Mr. Southey was silent; but, when it had in some degree subsided, he creeps forth to beslime his memory. There is another circumstance which shows the attack as cowardly as it s malignant. When scarcely a week passes without there being some notorious detection of the errors in Mr. Medwin’s Conversations of Lord Byron, Mr. Southey assumes their being strictly authentic, for no other purpose than to fix certain observations on his lordship which Mr. M. states him to have made. It is true Lord Byron is dead, and can neither defend his memory, nor punish its assailants. Mr. Medwin still lives, and it might not have been so safe to accuse him of having stated what is not true, as to lay the blame on his lordship.

With regard to the subject of Mr. Southey’s letter, it may be stated briefly. Mr. Medwin states that Lord Byron said Mr. Southey wrote a review of Leigh Hunt’s Foliage, in the Quarterly Review, remarkable for its gross and wanton attacks on individuals, who had no more to do with the poem, than they had with the laureate’s all-but-treasonable Wat Tyler, or his impious Vision of Judgment. Mr. Southey denies he was the author of the reviewal, as he calls it, but declares that there is nothing, ‘either in the opinions expressed, or in the manner of expressing them, which a man of just and honourable principles would have hesitated to advance.’

Robert Southey, in The Courier

Mr. Southey then, with that cant and hypocrisy which degrade him more than his apostacy, relates how, in a correspondence with Shelley, he assumed the office of confessor, and impertinently interfered with his private life, conduct, and opinions. The tone in which Mr. Southey writes is coarse, violent, intemperate, and ungentlemanly: his letter is also destitute of point, and is mere scurrility. He insinuates that the abuse of a person like Byron is no calumny, and yet, in every line, betrays how much he writhes under his attacks. He assumes the cant of religion, and yet proves he is destitute of one of its inseparable features, Christian charity. He bandies the words satanic and devilish, as if he had had a Vision of the infernal regions, instead of the one he had of Heaven, for the purpose of introducing his late majesty. One passage in his letter is so brutal and ruffianly that we shall quote it:— ‘It might have been thought,’ says the laureate and pretended religionist, ‘that Lord Byron
had attained the last degree of disgrace, when his head was set up for a sign at one or those preparatory schools for the brothel and the gallows, where obscenity, sedition, and blasphemy, are retailed in drams to the vulgar.’
Now, really, to charge this on Lord Byron as a crime, appears to us to be one of the most illiberal imputations that a human being could be guilty of. It is, to use the laureate’s own phrase, ‘dark and devilish,’ and deserving the severest reprehension. Were Benbow to prefix a portrait of Mr. Southey to his Ramblers’ Magazine, or Carlile to place his bust over his door; or if the ‘Southey Head’ distinguished a house of infamy or a place of vile notoriety, who would charge this as a crime on the laureate?—No one, certainly, without manifest injustice; and yet such is the conduct pursued by Mr. Southey, who, to the character of a renegade, now adds that of a slanderer of the dead;—indeed, we suspect, had Lord Byron been living, though in Greece, Mr. Southey would not have dared to use such language. His conduct in this instance is not that of a generous antagonist, but that of a cowardly and vindictive enemy, skulking behind till the danger is past, and then stealing forth, in darkness and security, to insult the memory of the dead. Such is the conduct of Mr. Southey!