LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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[William Jerden?]
Review of Hunt, Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries.
Literary Gazette  No. 575  (26 January 1828)  54-56.
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No. 575. SATURDAY,  JANUARY  26,  1828. PRICE 8d.

Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries; with Recollections of the Author’s Life, and of his Visit to Italy. By Leigh Hunt. 4to. pp. 513. London, 1828. Colburn.

In this quarto the author exhibits himself as a person of considerable talent, and of much literary conceit and affectation. But his deeper offence lies in the essence of the design itself, which appears to us to be one at which an honourable mind would have revolted. To have gone to enjoy the hospitality of a friend and taste the bounty of a patron, and after his death to have made that visit (for avowedly mercenary ends) the source of a long libel upon his memory,—does seem to be very base and unworthy. No resentment of real or fancied ill usage can excuse, far less justify, such a proceeding; and (without referring to this particular instance, but speaking generally of the practice, now too prevalent, of eaves-dropping and word-catching, and watching every minute action exposed in the confidence of private life, for the purpose of book-making,) we will say that these personal and posthumous injuries are a disgrace to their perpetrators and to the press of the country. It is recorded, that almost before the funeral ashes are cold, the Brahmins in the East collect and pass them through a sieve, to find what molten gold may be gathered from these poor relics of mortality: such has been the treatment of Lord Byron’s insulted remains, which have been raked up, sifted; and defiled, to gratify the meanest spirit of cupidity. How finely has the Noble Poet, we had almost written prophet, expressed this in his Monody on the Death of Sheridan!

But should there be to whom the fatal blight
Of failing Wisdom yields a base delight,
Men who exult when minds of heavenly tone
Jar in the music which was born their own,
Still let them pause—Ah! little do they know
That what to them seem’d Vice might be but Wo.
Hard is his fate on whom the public gaze
Is fix’d for ever to detract or praise;
Repose denies her requiem to his name,
And Folly loves the martyrdom of Fame.
The secret enemy whose sleepless eye
Stands sentinel—accuser—judge—and spy,
The foe—the fool—the jealous—and the vain—
The envious who but breathe in others’ pain,
Behold the host! delighting to deprave,
Who track the steps of Glory to the grave,
Watch every fault that daring Genius owes
Half to the ardour which its birth bestows,
Distort the truth, accumulate the lie,
And pile the pyramid of Calumny!
John Wilson, in Review of Hunt

The connexion between Lord Byron and persons in rank, in intellect, and in every high quality of soul, so inferior to himself as the coterie which gathered round him in Italy— and the consequences of that assemblage, may, we think, be very readily accounted for. Lord Byron, with the fervour of a young poet, imagined Leigh Hunt—in prison for libelling his King—a sort of political martyr, and thus prepossessed in his favour was led to estimate his writings by a fictitious standard. But this fit of fancy must almost instantly have been dispelled, as the author shews it to have been, when his lordship came into direct and constant contact with the pert vulgarity and miserable low-mindedness of Cockney-land. We can picture him (the haughty aristocrat and impatient bard) with Mrs. Hunt, as painted by her partial husband, with the whole family of bold brats, as described by their proud papa, and with that papa himself and the rest of the accompanying annoyances; and we no longer wonder that the Pisan establishment of congenial spirits, brought together from various parts of the world, should have turned into a den of disagreeable, envious, bickering, hating, slandering, contemptible, drivelling, and be-devilling wretches. The elements of such an association were discord; and the result was, most naturally, spleen and secret enmity in life, and hate and public contumely after death.

Considering as we do the whole fabric of this volume to be disgraceful, we deem it but right, though at the expense of repeating some of the passages which have travelled so widely through the newspapers, to lay before our readers a few examples of the bad feeling, as the grounds on which we support that censure.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

My wife (says the writer) knew nothing of Italian, and did not care to learn it. Madame Guiccioli could not speak English. They were subsequently introduced to one another during a chance meeting, but that was all. No proposition was made for an intimacy on either side, and the families remained separate. This, however, was perhaps the first local cause of the diminished cordiality of intercourse between Lord Byron and myself. He had been told, what was very true, that Mrs. Hunt, though living n all respects after the fashion of an English wife, was any thing but illiberal with regard to others; yet he saw her taking no steps for a farther intimacy. He learnt, what was equally true, that she was destitute, to a remarkable degree, of all care about rank and titles. 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 comparison 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.”

Some of the secrets of these family squabbles are here let out. Madame Guiccioli appears to have cared very little for Mrs. Hunt’s company; and the latter, though not illiberal with regard to others who were not living after the fashion of English wives, resented the indignity. Of course such a cause of quarrel, like that of Minerva and Venus, soon involved the male deities,—and the Olympus of Pisa was thrown into an uproar.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Lord Byron,” continues the Homeric narrator of these mighty events, “was very bitter,” &c. [we beg to refer our readers to our No. of Jan. 3, for this passage, to the words] “and 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, ho pronounced to be ‘impracticable.’ 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 any thing, 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. To the second, who was more struck with his reputation, and had a vivacity of temperament that rendered such lessons dangerous, he said, one day, that he
must take care how he got notions in his head about truth and sincerity, for they would hinder his getting on in the world. This, doubtless, was rather intended to vent a spleen of his own, than to modify the opinions of the child; but the peril was not the less, and I had warning given me that he could say worse things when I was not present.”

We presume it is by way of improving upon Harlowe’s characteristic portrait of Lord Byron, that we have the frontispiece to the present work, a deplorable whole-length profile, “cut in paper by Mrs. Leigh Hunt” ! !

We have endeavoured to account for Lord Byron’s first notice of, and partiality towards the author, who has made so ungrateful a return for his condescension and kindness: the fact itself is illustrated in an Introduction to some of his lordship’s early correspondence in 1813-1415.* Mr. Hunt says:—

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“After what I have related of the intercourse between Lord Byron and myself, it will not be supposed that these letters are published with any other view than that of the entertainment to be derived from the correspondence of a man of wit and celebrity. Had I wished to flatter my vanity, or make a case out for myself in any way, I might have published them long ago. I confess I am not unwilling to let some readers see how ill-founded were certain conjectures of theirs at that time. In other respects, I fear, the letters are not calculated to do me good; for they exhibit his lordship in a pleasanter light than truth has obliged me to paint him, and I may seem to be ungrateful for many kind expressions. Let the result be what it ought to be, whether for me or against. I have other letters in my possession, written while Lord Byron was in Italy, and varying in degrees of cordiality, according to the mood he happened to be in. They are for the most part on matters of dispute between us; and are all written in an uneasy, factitious spirit, as different from the straight-forward and sincere-looking style of the present as his aspect in old times varied with his later one.”

The confessions in this passage betray some symptoms of grace, and prove that the writer could not entirely reconcile his mind to the despicable course of doing wrong to the memory of his benefactor for the sake of paltry lucre, if not also for the gratification of still baser passions. Indeed the struggle between a sense of rectitude in this respect, and the dishonour of publishing these memoirs, is obvious in many places. After Mr. Shelley’s death, Mr. Hunt says:—

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries
Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Lord Byron requested me to look upon him as standing in Mr. Shelley’s place, and said that I should find him the same friend that the other had been. My heart died within me to hear him; I made the proper acknowledgment; but I knew what he meant, and I more than doubted whether even in that, the most trivial part of friendship, he could resemble Mr. Shelley, if, he would. Circumstances unfortunately rendered the matter of too much importance to me at this moment. I had reason to fear:—l was compelled to try:—and things turned out as I dreaded [See the rest of this also in L. G. Jan. 5.] I have some peculiar notions on the subject of money, as the reader will see more fully. They will be found to involve considerable difference of opinion with the community in a state of things like the present, particularly in a commercial country; and many may think me as deficient in spirit on that point, as I think them mistaken in their notions of what spirit is, and mistakenly educated. I may be wrong (as people say when they think themselves in the right); but in the mean time, judging even by what they themselves think of the little happiness and disinterestedness that is to be found in the present state of things, I am sure they are not right; and that the system of mere bustle and competition ends in little good to any body. I can see an improvement in it ultimately, when the vicissitude comes which every body attributes to the nature of human society, and which nobody seems to believe in with regard to their own customs:—but I shall be digressing too far. Among other things, in which I differ in point of theory (for practice I am bound to say that of late, though for other reasons, I have totally altered in this particular), I have not had that horror of being under obligation, is thought an essential refinement in money matters, and which leads some really generous persons, as well as some who only seek personal importance in their generosity, to think they have right to bestow favours which they would be mortified to receive. But at the same time, in this as in every thing else, ‘the same is not the same.’ Men and modes make a difference: and I must say two things for myself, for which every body may give me credit who deserves credit himself; first, that although (to my great sorrow and repentance) I have not been careful enough to enable myself to be generous in this respect towards others, in any degree worth speaking of, nor even (with shame I say it) just to my own children (though I trust to outlive that culpability), yet I have never refused to share my last sixpence (no idle phrase in this instance) with any friend who was in want of it; and second, that although it has been a delight to me to receive hundreds from some, I could not receive without anguish as many pence from others; nor should I ever, by any chance, have applied to them, but for a combination of circumstances that mixed me up with them at the moment. I do not mean to say that Lord Byron was above receiving obligations. I know not how it might have been with respect to large ones and before all the world. Perhaps he was never reduced to the necessity of making the experiment. But he could receive some very strange and small ones, such as made people wonder over their wine; and he could put himself to, at least, a disadvantage in larger matters, usually supposed to be reciprocal, which made them wonder still more. If I am thought here to touch upon very private and delicate things, especially regarding a person who is no more, I must offer three more remarks,” &c. One of these is an extraordinary reason for vilifying his late patron; which he does because, in consequence of “the gratuitous talking of those who knew nothing about the matter, very erroneous conclusions have been drawn about us on more than one point” ! ! !

In the career of social life where civilised well depend so much on their fellow men, it must be that the noblest and proudest natures must often bend (we will not say stoop) to receive benefits: from the king to the beggar, no one ever got through the world without being obliged to others; and the receiver is as much to be esteemed and honoured as the giver. But having once accepted the kindness of a friend, there is no after act on his part, and far less any slight offence, or the mere cessation of bestowing favours, which can form an apology for turning about to sting and wound your benefactor. Silence is imposed, even if gratitude should be forgotten.

We are not inclined to press this matter beyond its just bounds, nor, to set a higher value upon pecuniary obligations than they deserve; but surely, in spite of the cant and wire-drawing distinctions of the author, it must be felt by every well-constituted and upright mind, that the acceptance of such favours ought, at least, to prevent their acceptor from violating the grave of his friend; for, as the world goes, money is the greatest test of friendship; find the man who gives it liberally and generously, as Lord Byron did to Mr. Hunt, affords the surest criterion of his regard and affection. Yet, writhing under a recollection of bounties ill-bestowed, thus does the quondam worshipper of that noble lord, and of his rank and title, profane his character, when death has sealed the lips which (if utter scorn did not close them) might have punished the perfidy with immortal ignominy.

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
* We are tempted to give one of the letters, as a specimen of the writer, and, in some points, of his youthful folly.
“My Dear Hunt,—Many thanks for your books, of which you already know my opinion. Their external splendour should not disturb you as inappropriate—they have still more within than without. I take leave to differ from you on Wordsworth, as freely as I once agreed with you; at that time I gave him credit for a promise, which is unfulfilled. I still think his capacity warrants all you say of it only—but that his performances since “Lyrical Ballads,” are miserably inadequate to the ability which lurks within him: there is undoubtedly much natural talent spilt over “The Excursion;” but it is rain upon rocks—where it stands and stagnates, or rain upon sands—where it falls without fertilizing. Who can understand him? Let those who do, make him intelligible. Jacob Behmen, Swedenborg, and Joanna Southcote, are mere types of this arch-apostle of mystery and mysticism; but I have done—no I have not done, for I have too petty, and perhaps unworthy objections in small matters to make to him, which, with his pretensions to accurate observation, and fury against Pope’s false translation of the “Moonlight scene in Homer,” I wonder he should have fallen into:—these be they:—He says of Greece in the body of his book—that it is a land of
Rivers, fertile plains, and sounding shores,
Under a cope of variegated sky.”
The rivers are dry half the year, the plains are barren, and the shores still and tideless as the Mediterranean can make them; the sky is any thing but variegated, being for months and months but “darkly, deeply, beautifully blue.”—The next is in his notes, where he talks of our “Monuments crowded together in the busy, &c. of a large town,” as compared with the “still seclusion of a Turkish cemetery in some remote place.” This is pure stuff: for one monument in our church-yards there are ten in the Turkish, and so crowded, that you cannot walk between them; they are always close to the walls of the towns, that is, merely divided by a path or road; and as to “remote places,” men never take the trouble, in a barbarous country, to carry their dead very far; they must have lived near to where they are buried. There are no cemeteries in “remote places,” except such as have the cypress and the tombstone still left, where the olive and the habitation of the living have perished. . . . . . These things I was struck with, as coming peculiarly in my own way; and in both of these he is wrong; yet I should have noticed neither but for his attack on Pope for a like blunder, and a peevish affectation about him, of despising a popularity which he will never obtain. I write in great haste, and, I doubt, not much to the purpose; but you have it hot and hot, just as it comes, and so let it go. By the way, both he and you go too far against
Pope’s “So when the Moon,” &c.: it is no translation, I know; but it is not such false description as asserted. I have read it on the spot: there is a burst, and a lightness, and a glow about the night in the Troad, which makes the “planets vivid,” and the “pole glaring:” the moon is—at least the sky is clearness itself; and I know no more appropriate expression for the expansion of such a heaven—o’er the scene—the plain—the sea—the sky—Ida—the Hellespont—Simois—Scamander—and the Isles,—than that of a “flood of glory.” I am getting horribly lengthy, and must stop: to the whole of your letter I say “ditto to Mr. Burke,” as the Bristol candidate cried by way of electioneering harangue. You need not speak of morbid feelings and vexations to me; I have plenty; for I must blame partly the times, and chiefly myself: but let us forget them. I shall be very apt to do so when I see you next. Will you come to the Theatre and see our new management? You shall cut it up to your heart’s content, root and branch, afterwards, if you like; but come and see it! If not, I must come and see you.— Ever yours, Very truly and affectionately, Byron.”
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. * *

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

“Alive as he was, to the mock-heroic in others, he would commit it with a strange unconscious gravity, where his own importance was concerned. Another servant of his, a great baby of a fellow, with a florid face and huge whiskers, who, with very equivocal symptoms of valour, talked highly about Greece and fighting, and who went strutting about in it hussar dress, and a sword by his side, gave himself, all on a sudden, such ludicrous airs at the door, as his lordship’s porter, that notice was taken of it. ‘Poor fellow!’ said Lord Byron, ‘he is too full of his attachment to me. He is a sort of Dolabella!’ Thus likening a great simpleton of a footman to the follower of Antony! ‘Have you seen my three helmets?’ he inquired one day, with an air between hesitation and hurry. Upon being answered in the negative, he said he would shew them me, and began to enter a room for that purpose, but stopped short, and put it off to another time. The mock-heroic was a little too strong for him. These three helmets he had got up in honour of his going to war, and as harbingers of achievement. They were of the proper classical shape, gilt, and had his motto, ‘Crede Byron,’ upon them. One was for himself, and the two others were destined to illustrate the heads of the Count Pietro and Mr. Trelawney, who, I believe, declined the honour. I saw a specimen afterwards—I never heard any more of them. It is a problem with the uninitiated, whether lords think much of their titles or not; whether the fair sound is often present to their minds. Some of them will treat the notion with contempt, and call the speculation vulgar. You may set these down in particular for thinking of them often. The chance is, that most of them do, or what is a title worth? They think of them, as beauties think of their cheeks. Lord Byron, as M. Beyle guessed so well, certainly thought a great deal of his. I have touched upon this point before; but I may add, that this was one of the reasons why he was so fond of the Americans, and thought of paying them it visit. He concluded, that having no titles, they had the higher sense of them; otherwise they were not a people to his taste. He thought them shrewd, inasmuch as they were money-getters; but vulgar, and to seek. on all other points, and ‘stubborn dogs.’ All their patriotism, in his mind, was nothing but stubbornness. He laughed at them, sometimes to their faces; which they were grateful enough to take for companionship and a want of pretence. The homage of one or two of them, however, he had reason to doubt, whether he did or not. 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. Those who only paid him a short visit, or communicated with him from a distance, seemed as if they could not sufficiently express their flattered sense of his greatness; and he laughed at this, while he delighted in it. Receiving one day a letter front an American, who treated him with a gravity of respect, at once stately and deferential: ‘Now,’ said he, ‘this man thinks he has hit the point to a nicety, and that he has just as proper a notion of a lord as is becoming on both sides; whereas he is intoxicated with his new correspondent.’ I will not mention what he said of some others, not Americans, who thought themselves at a great advantage with the uninformed. But so minute was his criticism in these matters, that the most accomplished dedicators would have had reason to dread him, had they known all the niceties of knowledge, human and patrician, which he expected, before he could allow the approach to him to be perfect. You were not to suppose, however, on your part, that he was more in earnest than he ought to be upon these matters, even when he was most so. He was to think and say what he pleased; but his hearers were to give him credit, in spite of himself, only for what squared with their notions of the graceful. Thus he would make confessions of vanity, or some other fault, or of inaptitude for a particular species of writing, partly to sound what you thought of it, partly that, while you gave him credit for the humility, you were to protest against the concession. All the perversity of his spoiled nature would then come into play; and it was in these, and similar perplexities, that the main difficulty of living with hum consisted. If you made every thing tell in his favour, as most people did, he was pleased with you for not differing with him, but then nothing was gained. The reverse would have been an affront. He lumped you with the rest; and was prepared to think as little of you in the particular, as he did of any one else. if you contested a claim, or allowed him to be in the right in a concession, he could neither argue the point nor really concede it. He was only mortified, and would take his revenge. Lastly, if you behaved neither like his admirers in general, nor in a sulky or disputatious manner, but naturally, and as if you had a right to your jest and your independence, whether to differ with or admire, and apart from an eternal consideration of himself, he thought it all assumption, and would perplex you with all the airs and humours of an insulted beauty. Thus nobody could rely, for a comfortable intercourse with him, either upon admissions or non-admissions, or even upon flattery itself. An immeasurable vanity kept even his adorers at a distance; like Xerxes enthroned, with his millions a mile off. And if, in a fit of desperation, he condescended to come closer and be fond, he laughed at you for thinking yourself of consequence to him, if you were taken in; and hated you if you stood out, which was to think yourself of greater consequence. Neither would a knowledge of all this, if you had made him conscious, have lowered his self-admiration a jot. He would have thought it the mark of a great man,—a noble capriciousness,—an evidence of power, which none but the Alexanders and Napoleons of the intellectual world could venture upon. Mr. Hazlitt had some reason to call him ‘a sublime Coxcomb.’ Who but he (or Rochester perhaps, whom he resembled) would have thought of avoiding Shakspeare, lest he should be thought to owe him any thing? And talking of Napoleon,—he delighted, when he took the additional name of Noel, in consequence of his marriage with an heiress, to sign himself N. B. ‘because,’ said he, ‘Buonapate and I are the only public persons whose initials are the same.’”

Thomas Moore, Living Dog & Dead Lion

Upon these petty attempts to reduce Lord Byron to a level with himself, in order to get rid of a sense of gratitude, we offer no compliments; their littleness and baseness rendering comment supererogatory. We shall, however, should we return to the volume hereafter, freely express our opinions upon its sorry exhibition; and in the mean time copy from The Times newspaper an indignant and bitter reproof, ascribed to the avenging pen of Mr. T. Moore.

The “Living Dog” and the “Dead Lion.”
Next week will be published (as “Lives” are the rage)
True 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 call “sad,”
’Tis a puppy that much to good breeding pretends;
And few dogs have such opportunities had
Of knowing how lions behave—among friends.
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, borrow’d—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 carcass,
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.
Exeter ’Change. T. Pidcock.