LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Thomas Campbell]
Notices of the Life of Lord Byron by Mr. Moore.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. 28  (March 1830)  94-95.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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New Monthly Magazine.

MARCH 1, 1830.


Moore’s Life of Lord Byron. Vol. I. quarto.

No condensing powers which we can command will compress within our narrow limits any thing like a competent conception of the merits of this very able work. We can give but a glances and we confess a glance at such a performance seems a mockery. We hope to make some compensation when the whole is before us. It is not half a dozen sentences that will exhaust our admiration of the genius of Lord Byron, or express our warm feeling of the brilliant talents of his scarcely less distinguished friend. They are equally blessed; the one in his biographer, the other in his subject. Sure we are there exists no other person so equal to the task of delineating the character, any thing but simple, of the noble poet—none that knew him so thoroughly—none at once so capable of estimating his real feelings, and so completely up to his artificial ones—none more acute in discriminating the venial from the perverse—none that could better tell where he was serious and where he was mystifying, or discover when he was concealing ignorance or suppressing knowledge. Others might readily separate good qualities from the contrary, but the good and the bad of Lord Byron were not always what appeared on the surface; and nothing short of intimate knowledge, and familiar intercourse, with the keenest sagacity, could penetrate the true character of either. In him these qualities were rather in a state of composition than of mixture, and it was no common chemistry that could analyze them. See what absurdities Sir Egerton Brydges falls into, for want of this interior knowledge.

Mr. Moore’s narrative is a model for transparency and order; the style throughout is one of the most perfect propriety. The flowers so thickly strewn in the “Life of Sheridan” are here none of them visible; there is scarcely, we think, a trope in the book; in our judgment, the absence is no loss. The point which he has most indefatigably and successfully laboured is the tracing of the formation of Lord Byron’s character, so far as character is traceable, and that perhaps is not very far, to peculiarity of circumstances. In Lord Byron’s case, these were neither few nor, we think, questionable. This object offers the only excuse that can be made for the unseemly exposure of the mother’s temper and treatment of her son, and his not very filial, though not unprovoked, resentments—more however in words than in acts, for he was invariably attentive to her interests. But the course Mr. Moore has pursued, of laying open all his foibles and frailties, has given him rather the air of an apologist than a biographer—the tone is much too often one of palliation and excuse. The suppression of youthful irregularities would have spared much of this, and he would himself have had less occasion of speaking lightly of what many will think, if spoken of at all, should not have been passed over with levity. Lord Byron was too early left to the sway of his own passions: while a mere boy, he slid into the vices of manhood; and associating as he did with no very creditable companions, it was his pride to outstrip them in audacity; on his first steps to notoriety, he was wilful and defying; on his sudden accession to popularity, careless and wanton; and desirous, for poetical purposes, of seeming the villain he certainly was not—not to draw upon him hatred and disgust from others, but to excite amazement and arrest attention. He was neither a seducer, nor an adulterer, nor a murderer, nor a pirate—and yet he insinuated he was all these, and, if possible, worse. Even in his Journal he does the same thing. “Hobhouse told me of an odd report—that I am the actual Conrad, the veritable Corsair! and that part of my travels are supposed to have passed in privacy. Um! people hit sometimes near the truth, but never the whole truth. Hobhouse don’t know what I was about the year after he left the Levant; nor does any one—nor—nor—nor—however, it is a lie; but I doubt the equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth.” In company, he was often suddenly moody—doubtless for effect; for surely solitude is the refuge for such a feeling, where it cannot find vent in acts of violence. He was once overheard, while surveying a Turkish yatigan, to mutter, “I should like to know what are the feelings of a murderer.” Though not often duped by things of this kind, Mr. Moore takes this seriously, as if Lord Byron did not know there were persons within hearing. We are not supposing for an instant that he experienced no sudden and uncontrollable feelings, but we believe he willingly indulged them; the surprise and wonder they occasioned was fun to him—he loved to excite a sensation.

All this is skilfully developed by Mr. Moore; but while we are charmed with the general performance, we can give but little praise to his discretion in the use he has made of the letters and journals. These were full of matters which, whatever might have been their original destiny, ought never to have seen the light.

In 463, a story is told of Mr. Campbell, which represents him as jealous of Lord Byron—as one who could bear no brother near the throne. But on this matter Mr. Campbell will speak for himself. He has addressed a letter to Mr. Moore, of which the following is a copy.

my dear moore,

“A thousand thanks to you for the kind things which you have said of me in your Life of Lord Byron—but forgive me for animadverting to what his Lordship says of me, at page 463 of your first volume. It is not every day that one is mentioned in such joint pages as those of Moore and Byron.

Lord Byron there states, that one evening at Lord Holland’s, I was nettled at something, and the whole passage, if believed, leaves it to be inferred that I was angry, envious, and ill-mannered. Now, I never envied Lord Byron, but on the contrary rejoiced in his fame; in the first place from a sense of justice, and in the next place because, as a poetical writer, he was my beneficent friend. I never was nettled in Lord Holland’s house, as Lord and Lady Holland can witness; and, on the evening to which Lord Byron alludes, I said, ‘carry all your incense to Lord Byron,’ in the most perfect spirit of good humour. I remember the evening most distinctly, one of the happiest evenings of my life; and, if Lord Byron imagined me for a
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moment displeased, it only shows me, that with all his transcendant powers, he was one of the most fanciful of human beings. I by no means impeach his veracity—but I see from this case that he was subject to strange illusions.

“What feeling, but that of kindness, could I have towards Lord Byron? He was always affectionate to me, both in his writings and in personal interviews: how strange that he should misunderstand my manner on the occasion alluded to: and what temptation could I have to show myself pettish and envious before my inestimable friend Lord Holland! The whole scene, as described by Lord Byron, is a phantom of his own imagination. Ah! my dear Moore, if we had him but back again, how easily could we settle these matters! But I have detained you too long; and begging pardon for all my egotism, I remain,

“My dear Moore,
“Your obliged and faithful friend,
T. Campbell.”
“Middle Scotland Yard,
Feb. 18, 1830.”