LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Millingen’s Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece].
Literary Gazette  No. 726  (18 December 1830)  814-15.
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No. 726. SATURDAY,  DECEMBER  18,  1830. PRICE 8d.

Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece; containing an Account of the Military and Political Events which occurred in 1823 and following Years: with various Anecdotes of Lord Byron, and an Account of his last Illness and Death. By Julius Millingen, Surgeon to the Byron Brigade at Mesolonghi, &c. 8vo. pp. 338. London, 1831. Rodwell.

This is a very amusing volume: anecdotes, personal sketches, and curious customs, form an entertaining melange. The events of a campaign in Greece, and of a month or so with Lord Byron, are sufficiently out of the ordinary run to be continued sources of novelty and entertainment. In his account of the noble poet, Mr. Millingen is exceedingly minute. He informs us that he always wore gloves, drank green tea and gin profusely: and of his self-denial, where his appetite was inclined to risk his figure, gives the following example:

“On dinner being served up, although several dishes of meat were upon the table, Lord Byron did not partake of any; his custom being to eat meat only once a month. Soup, a few vegetables, a considerable portion of English cheese, with some fried crusts of bread and fruit, constituted his daily fare. He ate with great rapidity, and drank freely. There happened to be on the table a roasted capon, the good looks of which so powerfully tempted him, that after wistfully eyeing it, he was on the point of taking a leg; but suddenly recollecting the rule he had imposed on himself, he left it in the dish, desiring his servant to let the capon be kept till the next day, when his month would be out.”

The anecdotes we subjoin are the newest we can find; the last days of Byron’s life having been so repeatedly before the public

“During the earlier part of his youth, his then very limited revenues were soon exhausted by his extravagant expenses in London, and especially by his frequenting the gaming-houses. He had borrowed so much from the usurers, that none were to be found humane enough to advance him any further sum, at whatever interest he offered. One morning, after a sleepless night, spent at one of those establishments, in which he had lost all his money, he heard a coach stop before his lodgings, and soon after saw a young lady of rank, who had given him proofs of the most ardent attachment, enter his room. She held a small casket in her hand, and on depositing it on the table, told him, that hearing of the pecuniary misfortunes he had met with, and fearing he might find himself in embarrassed circumstances, she had brought him all her jewels and money, and requested he would accept them as proofs of her affection. ‘Go and take back with you,’ said Lord B. sternly, ‘your trinkets and money. I am not a man to be imposed upon by cant; and you know full well that you would never have brought such things to me, had you supposed me vile enough to accept them.’ Mention being once made before him of the frequent errors of judgment into which a person may be led by the appearances of physiognomy, he observed: ‘You are young men, and may therefore have occasion to derive benefit from this precept of mine: never give your entire faith to any one whose eyes are gray.’ On its being remarked to him, that his own were of that very colour, he added, ‘Do not think I consider myself an exception to this, I might say, universal rule: it would have been well for many, who have had to deal with me, had they been guided by it.’”

Narrow Escape from Shipwreck.—“Surrounded by rocks on every side, the sailors thinking their fate inevitable, had lost their courage. Lord Byron’s tranquillity of mind was undisturbed. Aware that, should the miserable anchor they had give way, the ship would be dashed to atoms, he had recommended to Lucca, a young Greek of Patras, confided to his benevolence by the youth’s mother, to keep himself ready in case of a similar accident, to mount on his back, for he would save him by swimming. * * *

“When I passed to the Chanè, where the apartments appropriated to the establishment of the dispensary were, the wife of Hussein Aga, one of the Turkish inhabitants of Mesolonghi, came to me, and imploring my pity, begged me to allow her to remain under my roof, in order to shelter her from the brutality and cruelty of the Greeks. They had murdered all her relations, and two of her boys; and the marks remained on the angle of the wall, against which, a few weeks previously, they had dashed the brains of the youngest, only five years of age. A little girl, nine years old, remained to be the only companion of her misery. Like a timid lamb, she stood by her mother, naked and shivering, drawing closer and closer to her side. Her little hands were folded like a suppliant’s; and her large beautiful eyes, so accustomed to see acts of horror and cruelty, looked at me now and then, hardly daring to implore pity. ‘Take us,’ said she, ‘we will serve you, and be your slaves; or you will be responsible before God for whatever may happen to us.’ I could not see so eloquent a picture of distress unmoved; and from that day I treated them as relatives. Some weeks after, I happened to mention before Lord Byron some circumstances relative to these individuals, and spoke with so much admiration of the noble fortitude displayed by Husseinina in the midst of her calamities; of the courage maternal love inspired her with on several occasions; of the dignified manner in which she replied to the insults of her persecutors, that he expressed the wish of seeing her and her child. On doing so, he became so struck by Hatajè’s beauty, the naivete of her answers, and the spiritedness of her observations on the murderers of her brethren, that he decided on adopting her. ‘Banish fear for ever from your mind,’ said he to the mother, ‘your child shall henceforth be mine. I have a daughter in England: to her I will send you. They are both of the same age; and as she is alone, she will, no doubt, like a companion, who may, at times, talk to her of her father. Do not shudder at the idea of changing your religion; for I insist on your professing no other but the Mussulman.’ She seized his hand, kissed it with energy, and raising to heaven her eyes, filled with tears of gratitude, she repeated expressively, ‘Allah is great!’ He immediately ordered more costly dresses to he made for them than those I had given them; and sent to Hatajè a necklace of sequins. Twice a week I was desired to send them to his house. He would then take the little girl on his knees, and caress her with all the fondness of a father. Nothing could surpass the jealousy of the Mesolonghiot women, when they beheld the manner in which these former objects of their insults were now treated. One day the little girl, with eyes drowned in tears, entered his room; and returning to him her necklace, asked for the clothes she formerly wore. ‘They are not like these,’ said she; ‘but when I wore them, the Mesolonghiots did not tell me they would kill both me and my mother.’ Lord Byron burst into a violent rage, and in order to spite the Mesolonghiot population, ordered the most expensive clothes to be made for Hatajè; and had the intention of covering her, according to the oriental fashion, with golden pieces of money, to parade her on horseback through the principal streets of the town.”

We must say that his kindness was more judicious than its display. Speaking of his own death: “‘Do you suppose,’ inquired his lordship with impatience, ‘that I wish for life? I have grown heartily sick of it, and shall welcome the hour I depart from it. Why should I regret it? Can it afford me any pleasure? Have 1 not enjoyed it to a surfeit? Few men can live faster than I did. I am, literally speaking, a young old man. Hardly arrived at manhood, I had attained the zenith of fame. Pleasure I have known under every form it can present itself to mortals. I have travelled—satisfied my curiosity—lost every illusion: I have exhausted all the nectar contained in the cup of life: it is time to throw the dregs away. But the apprehension of two things now haunts my mind. I picture myself slowly expiring on a bed of torture, or terminating my days like Swift—a grinning idiot! Would to heaven the day were arrived, in which, rushing, sword in band, on a body of Turks, and fighting like one weary of existence, I shall meet immediate, painless death,—the object of my wishes!’”

We scarcely know whether most to pity or blame such a state of mind. During his illness blisters were proposed.

“When on the point of applying them. Lord Byron asked me, whether it would answer the same purpose to apply both on the same leg—Guessing the motive that led him to ask this question, I told him I would place them above the knees, on the inside of the thighs. ‘Do so,’ said he; ‘for as long as I live, I will not allow any one to see my lame foot.’”

It is but fair to Mr. Millingen to state, that he vindicates himself from the charge brought against him, of being one of the causes of the delay, to which such fatal effects have been ascribed, in bleeding Lord Byron. He concludes, by saying; “The more I consider this difficult question, however, the more I feel convinced, that whatsoever method of cure had been adopted, there is every reason to believe that a fatal termination was inevitable. And here I may be permitted to observe, that it must have been the lot of every medical man to observe, how frequently the fear of death produces it; and how seldom a patient, who persuades himself that he must die, is mistaken. The prediction of the Scotch fortuneteller was ever present to Lord Byron; and. like an insidious poison, destroyed that moral energy which is so useful to keep up the patient in dangerous complaints. ‘Did I not tell you,’ said he repeatedly to me, ‘that I should die at thirty-seven?’”

Never yet was there a sceptic without superstition: witness the next anecdote.

“I was not a little surprised to hear him ask me on the 15th, whether I could not do him the favour of inquiring in the town for any very old and ugly witch? As I turned his question in derision, he repeated to me with a serious air, ‘Never mind whether I am superstitious or not; but I again entreat of you to bring me the most celebrated one there is, in order that she may examine whether this sudden loss of my health does not depend on the evil eye, She may devise some means to dissolve the spell.’ Knowing the necessity of indulging a patient
in his harmless caprices, I soon procured one, who answered exactly to his description. But the following day, seeing that he did not mention the subject, I avoided recalling it to his memory. It is in the Levant an almost universal practice, as soon as a person falls ill, to have recourse, in the first instance, to one of these professed exorcisers. If their art does not succeed in restoring the patient to health, by destroying the power of fascination, then the medical man is called in. But without this previous preparation, none of his medicines are supposed to be capable of curing the complaint.”

We will not enter into the anatomical details of appearances after death, except in one instance.

“The appearance presented by the heart was singular. Its parietes were as collapsed, and of a consistence as flabby, as of those persons who have died of old age.”

We certainly are all most ingenious in self-deception: Mr. Millingen winds up by stating, “I am incapable of enumerating the faults of one from whom I received so many marks of kindness, merely to gratify the curiosity of the idle, or the malice of his enemies.”

Now our author repeatedly alludes to his noble friend’s vanity, pride, affectation, inebriety, betrayal of confidence, his sarcastic spirit, his want of religion: if he does not consider these as faults, pray what does he think them?

We shall proceed to make a cento from the various anecdotes scattered through these pages; but it must be next Saturday.