LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Review of Lord Byron and some of His Contemporaries.
Monthly Review  Vol. S3 7  (March 1828)  300-12.
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MARCH, 1828.

Art. II.—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. With portraits. London: Colburn. 1828.

It is with great reluctance that we sit down to give our readers an account of this volume. Mr. Hunt has suffered, and severely too, in the cause of liberty. He has exhibited, in several of his publications, the private habits of his life, and the dispositions by which they have been formed; and it is due to him to say, that they appear highly amiable. Elegant literature and the happiness of a growing family seem to occupy al his intellect, and to demand his utmost exertions; and it may appear somewhat harsh to subject to any thing like a rigid examination, the motives that have actuated him in the composition of a work, by which, independently of other views, he hoped to benefit himself, and to advance the prospects of his children.

But however we may respect the man for his acquirements, his candour, and his natural benevolence; however we may sympathise with him through the painful disappointments, of which he has already numbered too many, we may be allowed, perhaps, to claim for our literature, and for those who are engaged in supporting it, some portion of that spirit of dignity and independence, without which they would be deprived of all their gracefulness and of much of their utility. We are not insensible to the various proofs which we have lately seen, of a disposition that prevails among certain classes of literary men, to degrade their pursuits into a mere matter of trade; to produce a given number of words for a proposed reward; and to praise or to censure according to the interests and desires of those who employ them. But we own that we were not prepared for the extreme degree of literary servility—to call it by no severer name—which is stamped upon the principal pages of the work now before us. Nor does the author attempt to
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conceal his shame. It would not, perhaps, have been very difficult for him, by a little address, to make a better appearance in the eye of the public. It is certain, that if he had spoken less of his obligations to his publisher, and of his own original plan in the preparation of his volume be would have less exposed himself, to the censure of the world. He is, however, remarkably communicative upon both these points, imagining, most probably, that by appearing to have no reservations, his faults, such as they are, might be more easily forgiven.

We shall briefly state the history of this volume, as we gather it from the preface, and we shall then leave the reader to form his own conclusions. Upon Mr. Hunt’s return from Italy, some seven or eight years ago, he found it necessary to recruit his finances, and not having any better mode of attaining that object than by writing a book, he proposed to draw up a sketch of his own life, and to illustrate it with a selection from his published writings. His next step was to contract with a respectable book-seller for the copy-right of his work, and to obtain thereupon an advance of money, which afforded him, as he informs us, a ‘taste of comfort,’ that was quite a novelty in his career. So pleasant did he find it to live well, and to do very little, that days, months, years, passed over, without witnessing any considerable accumulation of manuscript, until, at length, the said bookseller thought it high time to look after his property. Alas! he finds the money gone—wholly consumed. Mr. Hunt wants more, but it is apprehended by the prudent capitalist, that the probable sale of the proposed work would not justify him in being more liberal. What is to be done? A friendly voice whispers, that Mr. Hunt might interweave in his own life some anecdotes of Lord Byron. The hint is improved to the extent of sketching the noble bard’s life and habits in Italy; and the undertaking is crowned by placing that sketch in the foreground of the volume, by making it actually furnish the title-page, by postponing to it, as a matter of very subordinate value, the biography of the author, which was originally intended as the principal attraction, and by leaving out altogether the intended selection from his writings.

Now, as a matter of commercial speculation, this proceeding evinces at least a capacity for adapting the means to the end; but, on the part of the author, what miserable, debasing confessions does it produce! Not being ready with the work, as originally intended, at the time for which it was promised; having, as he informs us, ‘availed himself unawares of the handsome treatment of his publisher’ (in other words, having spent. the money advanced him), and having, in fact, enjoyed ‘too long a holiday’ on the means with which he was furnished, he wished ‘to make amends for loss of time: the plan of the book became altered, and, finally, he made up his mind to enlarge and enrich it with an account of Lord Byron.’ He adds, that this latter suggestion was originally
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made to him on his return from Italy, but that he then declined it, and that ‘it would never have been done at all but for the circumstances above stated.’ Then comes this astounding sentence—‘I must even confess, that such is my dislike of these personal histories, in which it has been my lot to become a party, that had I been rich enough, and could have repaid the handsome conduct of
Mr. Colburn with its proper interest, my first impulse, on finishing the work, would have been to put it into the fire.’

So far for the motives of the author. His readers will perceive that he doe not attempt to justify his account of Lord Byron upon any public grounds. There are those who will contend that a public man is public property, and that it is lawful even to corrupt his servants, in order to obtain disclosures as to his personal and domestic life; inasmuch as such disclosures may be rendered subservient to the general good. Mr. Hunt, however, uses no such argument as this; which, infamous though it be, has at least a specious and unselfish appearance about it, calculated to gain the assent of the unthinking part of the multitude. He openly avows that he borrowed money, which he could not repay, except by violating his native feelings of right and honour, by composing a work, which, otherwise, he would never have thought of, and which, when composed he would have put into the fire, if his pecuniary circumstances had enabled him to pursue the dictates of his heart. The wretched woman who, under the veil of night, offers her attractions to those who are disposed to pay for them, may tell a similar tale. It is not her love of vice that drives her into the streets; it is not her horror of virtue; for the human heart is not so radically vicious—particularly not in woman—as some philosopher have chosen to represent it: No—she must live—dire necessity urges her to barter, her person for money, and so she goes on in her career of heartless, ignominious depravity. Such a being we commonly call a prostitute. What then shall we say of him who, knowing what is right, and willing too, as we believe, to pursue it, sacrifices all his notions of principle, and panders to the debased appetite for scandal which rages through all ranks of society. ‘Good God!’ says Mr. Hunt, when he has nearly emptied all his store of spleen against the memory of Lord Byron,—Good God! when I think of these things, and of the common weaknesses of society, as at present constituted, I feel as if I could shed tears over the most willing of my resentments, much more over —the most unwilling, and such as I never intended speaking of,’ (p. 89). Video meliora, pejora sequor. This is the summary of Mr. Hunt’s palliations—if palliations they can be called—which tend only to deepen the intellectual degradation into which he has fallen.

We must not pass over the concluding paragraph of his preface: ‘The account of Lord Byron was not intended to stand first in the book. I should have kept it for a climax. My own reminiscences, I fear, coming
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after it, will be like bringing back the Moselle, after devils and Burgundy. Time also, as well as place, is violated; and the omission of a good part of the autobiography, and introduction of detached portraits for inserted ones, have given altogether a different look to the publication, from what was contemplated at first. But my publisher thought it best; perhaps it is so: and I have only to hope, that in adding to the attractions of the title page, it will not make the greater part of the work seem unworthy of it.’—Preface, p. vii.

We own that we do not think that in this and other such passages, the publisher has been fairly dealt with by the author. The latter seems extremely anxious to shift upon the shoulders of the former, all the blame which can attach to a work of this description. It is obvious that Mr. Colburn wished, and very naturally, to obtain a book that would repay him for his advances and other risks; but it belonged to the author, if he really held any principles of honour sacred, to take his stand upon them. If he has abandoned them, and that for the sake of the reward which he was to get for so doing, it is clear that the taint of the transaction belongs, at least, as much to him who receives, as to him who gives, under circumstances so humiliating.

The reader will observe, that we have not at all entered into the question, whether, removing all other considerations out of view, it was becoming in Mr. Hunt, particularly looking at the relation in which he was placed towards Lord Byron, to constitute himself the reporter of his lordship’s private life. We entertain, however, an opinion on this point, which we shall not hesitate to declare. According to Mr. Hunt’s statement, it appears that soon after he was liberated from a long imprisonment, he found himself surrounded by a large family, and with scarcely any means to support them. His health was broken down, and his fortunes were altogether in a desperate condition, when a proposal reached him through his friend, Mr. Shelley, from Lord Byron, then residing in Italy, to proceed to that country for the purpose of assisting in the composition of a periodical work, to be called “The Liberal.” In order to enable him to comply with this proposal, Lord Byron sent him, through the same channel, two hundred pounds, and accordingly, Mr. Hunt and all his family set off by sea for that country. Upon his arrival the “Liberal” was commenced; he and his wife and children lived in the same house with Lord Byron at Pisa; and he had thus frequent opportunities of seeing his lordship in his private hours, and of observing the general tenor of his habits and pursuits. The “Liberal,” went on with indifferent success for some months, and then failed; Mr. Shelley perished at sea; the hopes of all the parties, as to the new periodical, were disappointed; differences soon followed which gave rise to mutual complaints; quarrels ensued; Lord Byron went to Greece, and Mr. Hunt was obliged to return to England.

Under these circumstances it was, that the author obtained the
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information which gives a tainted zest to his work. He did not, be it remembered, meet with
Lord Byron on the high road of life, in the general intercourse of society; had that been the case, he might have been justified in recording his impressions of a character, that is likely to be enquired into with some degree of curiosity by posterity. But he never would have enjoyed the opportunity of seeing Lord Byron in Italy, had it not been for the noble lord’s kind intentions towards him in the first instance, and in the next place, for an actual advance of money, sufficient to defray his travelling expences from England to that country; so that while Mr. Hunt resided in Italy, he could have been considered in no other light than as a dependant on Lord Byron. For such a person therefore, to take advantage of his situation, in order to betray to the world all his noble protector’s errors and foibles, seems to us nothing short of a domestic treason. But to publish those foibles for the sake of gain, and to publish nothing but those, for the sake of spleen, indicate a dereliction of principle, and a destitution of honourable feeling, which we shall not venture to characterize.

Mr. Hunt further informs us, that as to his own biography, he soon became tired of that; that he was ‘warned off this ground as impossible on account of others, and gladly gave it up.’ Such is the candour of this author. Where the feelings of his own friends are concerned, he drops a veil upon his history, lest he should give them pain; but where he is likely only to offend the feelings of persons who are not of the number of his friends, he never enters into the slightest consideration of consequences, except, indeed, as to the profits he is to enjoy from making disclosures, which, otherwise, he would be the first to reprobate.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘I could not,’ says he, ‘conceal from myself, on looking over the manuscript, that in renewing my intercourse with him (Lord Byron) in imagination, I had involuntarily felt a re-access of the spleen and indignation which I experienced, as a man who thought himself ill-treated. With this, to a certain extent, the account is coloured, though never with a shadow of untruth; nor have I noticed a great deal that I should have done, had I been in the least vindictive, which is a vice I disdain.’—Preface, p. v.

This is a refinement of morality which we do not clearly comprehend. If his account be coloured with spleen and indignation, as it is here confessed to be, we should deem it vindictive, although Mr. Hunt had in words disclaimed that vice a thousand times over; and a more detestable vice in a writer who pretends to be a biographer can scarcely be conceived. But in order that the reader may judge for himself on this point, we shall only state that the author has characterized Lord Byron as ‘vain,’—‘egotistical’—‘fond of notoriety’—‘avaricious’—‘intemperate’—‘cold to woman’—‘false in his friendships’—‘penurious of books’—‘of no address’—‘superstitious and old womanish’—‘a man of great perversity and self-will’—‘that he was born handsome, wilful and
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lame’—‘that he had no conversation’—‘that it was doubtful whether he was a man of courage’—‘and that he certainly was not a christian.’

It is not our province to defend Lord Byron’s character from the imputations which are here made against it. They may be all well founded, for aught that we know; but that they are set forth in a vindictive, not to say a malignant spirit, no man can doubt, who understands that it is the duty of a biographer to give the lights as well as shades to his portrait, which properly belong to it. If Mr. Hunt is to be believed, Lord Byron had not a single virtue, to redeem or palliate the above formidable list of vices and infirmities; whereas it is notorious, that his lordship had done many kind and generous acts towards literary friends; that he was never niggardly of his praise where he thought it deserved; that throughout his too brief existence, he had been animated by an unquenchable love of liberty, and had essentially served it by his writings, and that finally he sacrificed his life upon its altar. These things alone, not to say a word of his transcendant genius, ought to shed a brightness on his history, which should cast many of his infirmities into the shade. It cannot be denied, that his great poetical talents were sullied by many impurities, but these will of themselves decay in time, and leave his name in that fine splendour, in which it was invested when it first obtained its ascendant in our horizon.

We have seen that Mr. Hunt talks a good deal of the pecuniary obligations which he owes to his publisher; and that it was, in fact, those obligations that forced him into the account which he has given of Lord Byron. Upon what principle was it then, that he conceived himself free from all obligation to the memory of Lord Byron, who had also advanced him—nay, presented him with money, to the amount already specified, and a hundred pounds more than that subsequently in Italy? It is worth while to attend to the author’s defence of himself on this point.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘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 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 in practice I am bound to say that of late, though for other reasons, I have totally altered in this parti-
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cular), I have not had that horror of being under obligation, which 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 a 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 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.’—pp. 19, 20.

If we rightly understand the drift of this argument, it means that Mr. Hunt would have received as much of Lord Byron’s money as his lordship might have thought proper to give, without feeling himself under the slightest obligation; but that he has since changed his mind on the subject, ‘in practice at least,’ of which we presume the memoir of his lordship is a sufficient example. There is much in this passage that savours of Cobbett’s defence of his non-payment of a loan advanced to him by Sir Francis Burdett. The upshot of their common doctrine is this; that, whereas Messrs Cobbett and Hunt have a high opinion of their own talents; and whereas one is a political, and the other a miscellaneous writer, and they have not as yet amassed fortunes by their publications—therefore, considering ‘the present state of society,’ they need never think of refunding to any person who favours them with pecuniary assistance! Mr. Hunt would, indeed, have us to believe, that ‘in practice at least,’ he has altered those notions of late, thereby affording a ray of encouragement to those who might be inclined to imitate Lord Byron’s generosity. But is he certain that if such persons were to be found, he would not recur to his favourite doctrine?

There is another subject upon which we must touch, though with unfeigned reluctance, and with as much delicacy as we can. It is well known that an intimacy of an improper description took place between Lord Byron and a Signora Guiccoli, soon after his lordship’s arrival in Italy, and that that intimacy continued for a considerable length of time. Mr. Hunt was aware of this; he knew, therefore, that the parties were living in a state of double adultery, openly violating the most sacred duties. Yet he never seems to have hesitated an instant, about introducing Mrs. Hunt and his children to a family thus tainted in all its relations. He complains of having been treated by Lord Byron, on some oc-
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casions, with disrespect; we ask, what better treatment did he deserve, after degrading himself and his children, by such mean compliances? 
He had been given to understand, forsooth! that ‘the attachment was real; that it was rescuing Lord Byron from worse connexions; and that the lady’s family approved of it.’ Supposing all this to be true, does it follow that their conduct was the less criminal in the sight of God—or less reprehensible in the opinion of good men?—But we correct ourselves; it seems that Mr. Hunt has also a peculiar theory on this subject, as on that of money. He tells us that he differs, very considerably, ‘with the notions entertained respecting the intercourse of the sexes, in more countries than one;’ by which, we suspect, he means that such intercourse ought to be subject to no laws, human or divine. Truly, we have here a philosopher of the most agreeable description!

But the truth of the matter is, after all, that the attachment was not ‘real.’ ‘Unfortunately, it soon became clear, that there was no love on either side. The lady, I believe, was not unsusceptible of a real attachment, and most undoubtedly, she was desirous that Lord Byron should cultivate it, and make her as proud and as affectionate as she was anxious to be. But to hear her talk of him, she must have pretty soon discerned, that this was impossible; and the manner of her talking rendered it more than doubtful whether she had ever loved, or could love him, to the extent that she supposed.’ Yet though Mr. Hunt knew this, it did not accelerate his departure from Lord Byron’s house; neither did it prevent him from entering very minutely into the scandalous history of this connexion; or from placing among the ornaments of his volume, an engraved portrait of: the adulteress, a portrait which, no doubt, Stockdale will copy for his next number of “Harriet Wilson.”

Under such circumstances, we are not surprised to hear, that Lord Byron talked of Mrs. Hunt as “no great things.” They are the author’s own words; though he imputes the censure to a different cause, viz. Mrs Hunt’s satirical wit. We copy the precious specimens of it which he has recorded. Lord Byron said to her one day—“What do you think, Mrs Hunt? Trelawney has been speaking against my morals! What do you think of that?”—“It is the first time,” said Mrs. Hunt, “I ever heard of them.” On another occasion, Mrs. Hunt said of his picture by Harlowe, that "“it resembled a great school boy, who had had a plain bun given him, instead of a plum one.” Mr Hunt himself, it seems, the noble lord set down as, “a proser,” and his children as “impracticable;” he does not defend himself from the charge, but as to ‘the children,’ he assures us, that ‘it was impossible to have quieter or more respectable in the house, or any that came less in his (Lord Byron’s) way.’ We must say, that his lordship’s situation at this time, seems to us to have been anything but
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enviable. We shall, however, extract, as the least objectionable part of the work, an account of the daily routine of his life at Pisa.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Lord Byron who used to sit up at night, writing Don Juan (which he did under the influence of gin and water), rose late in the morning. He breakfasted; read; lounged about, singing an air, generally out of Rossini, and in a swaggering style, though in a voice at once small and veiled; then took a bath, and was dressed, and coming down stairs, was heard, still singing, in the court-yard, out of which the garden ascended at the back of the house. The servants at the same time brought out two or three chairs. My study, a little room in a corner, with an orange tree peeping in at the window, looked upon this court-yard. I was generally at my writing when he came down, and either acknowledged his presence by getting up and saying something from the window, or he called out “Leontius!”* and came halting up to the window with some joke, or other challenge to conversation. his dress, as at Monte-Nero, was a nankeen jacket, with white waistcoat and trowsers, and a cap, either velvet or linen, with a shade to it. In his hand was a tobacco box, from which he helped himself like unto a shipman, but for a different purpose; his object being to restrain the pinguifying impulses of hunger. Perhaps also he thought it good for the teeth. We then lounged about, or sat and talked, Madame Guiccioli, with her sleek tresses, descending after her toilet to join us. The garden was small and square, but plentifully stocked with oranges and other shrubs: and, being well watered, looked very green and refreshing under the Italian sky. The lady generally attracted us up into it, if we had not been there before.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

In the course of an hour or two, being an early riser, I used to go in to dinner. Lord Byron either stayed a little longer, or went up stairs to his books and his couch. When the heat of the day declined, we rode out, either on horseback or in a barouche, generally towards the forest. He was a good rider, graceful, and kept a firm seat. He loved to be told of it, and being true, it was a pleasure to tell him.

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Of an evening I seldom saw him. He recreated himself in the ba!cony, or with a book; and at night, when I went to bed, he was just thinking of setting to work with Don Juan, His favourite reading was history and travels. I think I am correct in saying that his favourite authors were Bayle and Gibbon. Gibbon was altogether calculated to please him. There was a show in him, and at the same time a tone of the world, a self-complacency and a sarcasm, a love of things aristocratical, with a tendency to be liberal on other points of opinion, and to crown all, a splendid success in authorship, and a high and piquant character with the fashionable world, which found a strong sympathy in the bosom of his noble reader. Then, in his private life, Gibbon was a voluptuous recluse; he had given celebrity to a foreign residence, possessed a due sense of the merits of wealth as well as rank, and last, perhaps not least, was no speaker in Parliament. I may add, that the elaborate style of his writing pleased the lover of the artificial in poetry, while the cynical turn of his satire
* The supposed Latin for Leigh!
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amused the genius of Don Juan. And finally, his learning and research supplied the indolent man of letters with the information which he had left at school.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Lord Byron’s collection of books was poor, and consisted chiefly of new ones. I remember little among them but the English works published at Basle, (Kames, Robertson, Watson’s History of Philip II. &c.) and new ones occasionally sent him from England. He was anxious to show you that he possessed no Shakspeare and Milton; “because,” he said, ‘he had been accused of borrowing from them!’ He affected to doubt whether Shakspeare was so great a genius as he has been taken for, and whether fashion had not a great deal to do with it; an extravagance, of which none but a patrician author could have been guilty. However, there was a greater committal of himself at the bottom of this notion than he supposed; and, perhaps, circumstances had really disenabled him from having the proper idea of Shakspeare, though it could not have fallen so short of the truth as he pretended. Spenser, he could not read; at least he said so. All the gusto of that most poetical of the poets went with him for nothing. I lent him a volume of the “Fairy Queen,” and he said he would try to like it. Next day he brought it to my study-window, and said, ‘Here, Hunt, here is your Spenser. I cannot see any thing in him:’ and he seemed anxious that I should take it out of his hands, as if he was afraid of being accused of copying so poor a writer. That he saw nothing in Spenser is not very likely; but I really do not think that he saw much. Spenser was too much out of the world, and he too much in it. It would have been impossible to persuade him, that Sandys’s Ovid was better than Addison’s and Croxall’s. He wanted faith in the interior of poetry, to relish it, unpruned and unpopular. Besides, he himself was to be mixed up somehow with every thing, whether to approve it or disapprove. When he found Sandys’s “Ovid” among my books, he said, “God! what an unpleasant recollection I have of this book! I met with it on my wedding-day; I read it while I was waiting to go to church.” Sandys, who is any thing but an anti-bridal poet, was thenceforward to be nobody but an old fellow who had given him an unpleasant sensation. The only great writer of past times, whom he read with avowed satisfaction, was Montaigne. Franklin he liked. He respected him for his acquisition of wealth and power; and would have stood in awe, had he known him, of the refined worldliness of his character, and the influence it gave him. Franklin’s Works, and Walter Scott’s, were among his favourite reading. His liking for such of the modern authors as he preferred in general, was not founded in a compliment to them; but Walter Scott, with his novels, his fashionable repute, and his ill opinion of the world whom he fell in with, enabled him to enter heartily into his merits; and he read him over and over again with unaffected delight.’—pp. 37—46.

We remember to have seen some numbers of the “Liberal,” the periodical publication in the management of which, Mr. Hunt assisted Lord Byron; and although it is written, that of the dead nothing that is not good should be said, yet we must declare, that a more silly, a more vulgar, a more unentertaining, or at the same time, a more ostentatious work never dishonoured our literature. In matters of morality, it was at least of a very questionable charac-
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ter; in matters of religion it was offensively conceited and profane. It perished in the disgrace it deserved, and let it therefore rest in contempt.

Much of what Mr. Hunt is pleased to call his account of Lord Byron, is rather a dissertation upon his character, than a history of his life. He takes a verse from the noble lord’s poems, or a confession of an idle moment, and makes it the theme of half a dozen tiresome prosing pages. There is little that is new in his narrative, and of that little, there is still less that is important. There are upwards of forty pages out of one hundred and fifty, devoted solely to a dull criticism on a work, entitled, “The Life, Writings, Opinions, and Times, of Lord Byron,”—a spurious compilation, known to be such by any man who has the slightest judgment. Yet does Mr. Hunt set about refuting the numberless fabrications of this precious publication, with as much solemnity as if it had proceeded from a respectable quarter. But his motive is evident enough. He wished merely to eke out his memoir, and give it as imposing an appearance as possible. This is followed by some ten or a dozen familiar letters from Lord Byron to the author, which are chiefly taken up in paying him compliments on several of his poems—compliments which he ought to have blushed to acknowledge, after having treated the noble lord with such little ceremony in return.

The author’s memoir of Mr. Moore is too scanty, and, we may add, too prejudiced to deserve any particular notice from us. That of Mr. Shelley, on the contrary, is nothing but a panegyric. Of the genius of that ill-starred and eccentric man, we have always thought very highly; his private life offers little worthy of our admiration, and his religious principles still less. His end was tragical, and contains a lesson that should appal the most thoughtless of his disciples. In the memoir which Mr. Hunt has given of him, we frequently observe the phrase ‘conventional,’ and ‘unconventional.’ It seems, that he imagines the community divisible into these two classes, the former including those who acknowledge an allegiance to the general rules of society, the latter consisting of those who would like to live according to regulations of their own. Mr. Shelley has a conspicuous place among the unconventional, and, if we mistake not, Mr. Hunt aspires to a similar honour;—par nobile-fratres. The author indulges us with a long and tedious review of his friend’s different poetical works, of course exalting them to the highest pitch of reputation. It will avail them little. The tendency to corruption and decay, which in a signal manner is engendered in all obscene things, pervades them to the core, and has already bowed them to the dust, with which they will soon be covered.

Availing himself of the comprehensiveness of his title-page, Mr. Hunt has given us memoirs of Keats, Campbell, Dubois, Theodore Hook, Mathews, Messrs. James and Horace Smith,
Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.311
Fuseli, Bonnycastle, Kinnaird, Charles Lamb, and Mr. Coleridge, many of them it must be owned, respectable names, to whose merits we offer no objection. But, why they should be set down as the contemporaries of Lord Byron, we are rather at a loss to conjecture. There are hundreds of others who lived in the time of Lord Byron, and had just as much title to notice as of those, with perhaps one or two exceptions, who are here enumerated. Keats died at the age of twenty-four, in a state little short of madness. Campbell still lives to adorn his country, and promote the welfare of his race. Dubois is scarcely known; Theodore Hook, too well known for his, at least presumed, connexion with the basest system of calumny that ever disgraced the public press; Mathews still delights the town, and one of the Smiths, at least, has retired to Tor Hill, to die with one Reuben Apsley. Coleridge has grown fat and idle; Charles Lamb has outgrown his visions; and as to the rest, and even as to most of these, what had they particularly to do with Lord Byron, that they should be denominated his contemporaries?

We come now to Mr. Hunt’s recollections of his own life, to which we find a portrait prefixed, calculated to do any thing but conciliate our confidence. We have not the honour of knowing the original; but if this portrait be at all like him we must confess, that we should have no great fancy for his company. We understand that he is rather displeased with his painter, or at least, his engraver, who, he thinks, has made him look like a thief. The picture certainly does warrant the idea, for we could almost imagine, that he had something under his cloak which he had purloined, and was making the best of his way home with it.

Upon the memoir itself, we shall touch but sparingly. It is far from being a flattering tale. Of worldly vicissitude, not only the author, but all his family appear to have had an abundant portion, and that chiefly owing to their imprudence. Both his grandfather and father were clergymen of the Established Church: he himself seems to have been brought up to no regular calling. For such education as he has received, he has been chiefly indebted to Christ Hospital. Whatever reputation he has earned in literature, he owes, and to his credit be it spoken, entirely to his own exertions. If we were asked what we think of Mr. Hunt’s politics, we should answer, that, generally speaking, we approve of them; liberal measures have always found in him a steady and energetic, and sometimes, even an eloquent defender. Several of his miscellaneous compositions in light literature, we think favourably of. They have in them a raciness, occasionally, that reminds us of the elder masters of our language. His poetry we think verbose, and conceited in its diction, sickly in its imagery, cockneyfied (to use an expressive phrase) in its descriptive passages, and poor and tawdry in its sentiments. The most interesting portion of his memoir, is that which relates to his imprisonment; it has been already
312Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.
before the world in another publication, and therefore we pass it over.

In closing this book, we shall only add, that however unworthy of the author it is in many respects, we believe it will be very generally read at first, and then very soon forgotten. Personal history is the rage of the day, particularly when it is seasoned, as this work is, with much of the spice of scandal; but happily for the interests of mankind, that is a spice which often keeps but badly, and upon repetitions becomes too disgusting to be endured, We would not at the same time be understood as saying, that Lord Byron’s character is not here, in some respects, placed in its natural colours before the reader. It presents him in his dishabille, stripped of the court costume in which some of his biographers have represented him; and we do not deny, that it renders him a more intelligible, though a more common-place being, than we had been hitherto taught to imagine. There is a portrait of him fronting the title-page, which is a good likeness. It is merely a copy of that which appeared in all the print-shop windows some time since, representing his lordship after his return from riding. It was originally cut in paper by Mrs. Leigh Hunt. Portraits of Keats and Lamb also appear in this work, with as much pertinence to the main subject as their biographies.