LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Leigh Hunt
Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries, 2nd Ed  2 vols  (London:  Colburn,  1828)
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“It is for slaves to lie, and for freemen to speak truth.

“In the examples, which I here bring in, of what I have heard, read, done, or said, I have forbid myself to dare to alter even the most light and indifferent circumstances. My conscience does not falsify one tittle. What my ignorance may do, I cannot say.”       Montaigne.





The appearance of this cheaper edition will put an end, I hope, to the misconceptions occasioned by partial extracts: at least with all honest readers who shall see it. To others of that class, if I had them within hearing, I should say, that they go counter to their own principles, or perhaps are not quite so unwilling to think evil as they suppose, when they condemn a man without hearing the whole of his case, and without knowing all that he has to say, of himself as well as of others. But these, I trust, are few in comparison with my honest
and hearty defenders,—friends indeed,—for they burst upon me when I most needed them.

As for misrepresentations arising from dishonesty, or from ignorance, or a passionate mixture of both, I am too well aware of a certain quarter of the press not to have been prepared for them; and have too little respect for it, to feel them more than I ought. It is in the nature of things for those who differ with society, to be misconceived even by the best men, who are not very discerning: how much more must they reckon upon the attacks and mis-statements of those, whom a thousand fancied interests and mortified self-loves enlist on the side of abuse? The public themselves, as a body, have their vices; and conscious of practising a good deal of deception with one another, and persuading themselves it is unavoidable, are disposed to prefer a good regular scandal-monger whom
they can despise, before a humanist who speaks the truth in zeal and candour, let his sympathy with mankind at large be never so unequivocal. It is true, I believe he ultimately makes his way with them. They feel it to be their interest that he should; and they learn even to bring out their virtues at the warmth of his belief in virtue. But meanwhile it is only by an effort of generosity, that any man implicated in the present state of things, can think the best of another, whose faults differ with his own, and whose good qualities appear to rebuke him.

All this will not hinder me from continuing to be sincere. I shall remain so to my dying day, knowing what an effect one strenuous example has upon society, contrary to what is eternally said to the reverse; and being of opinion, that the world is lost over and over again, solely by people's losing their hopes of
it in middle life. And I shall comfort myself under mistake and calumny meanwhile, by reflecting, that calumny itself is but a part of mistake; and that in thinking myself neither a bit better nor worse than any other man (which is what I think of all men, for they are all creatures of circumstance), I have a right both to the task which circumstances have put into my hands, and to the best-natured construction that can be put upon my own errors.

Agreeably to these opinions, but protesting at the same time against any conclusion to be drawn from the confession, apart from a knowledge of all which this book contains, I frankly avow, that as far as the sincerity in it has taken a splenetic turn, which was a thing unnecessary, I wish it had never been written. I have other reasons also for the regret, which are not so easy of explanation; though I should have entered very freely into them, had
the hostility I have provoked taken a more generous turn. I can only hope, that in the long run, the very defect will be of use to the world; but speaking for myself in the meantime, I confess I have no wish to be thought ill of by any body; and the fault (singularly enough) is at variance with what I have said against it in the book, when I speak of some of my former writings. But even this inconsistency may serve to show, how much I was bent upon making true portraitures, rather than hostile ones:—
it was any thing but hostility which made me take the pencil in hand, as I have shown in the former preface; and the reader may smile at my simplicity (though there is a lesson for him in it, if he does) when I state, that in the sharpest things which I have written of some of my adversaries, I thought rather to have awakened their remorse, than roused in them a new spirit of aggression. It is true, to injure produces a desire to injure again; so naturally impatient
is humanity of the very thought of being unjust. But aware of this cause of the infirmity, (which to know handsomely is to overcome) and anxious to make amends for any wrong pointed out to me, I am always fancying that others are willing to go through the same reflections, and seat themselves as tranquilly at the end of them. I forget that you cannot arrive at any superiority of candour, by whatever process of adversity and mortification, but the tone it gives you serves only to exasperate an uncandid enemy.

Among twenty articles which I understand have been written against me in various publications, one has appeared in the Quarterly Review, such as I should no more have noticed, or looked at, than the others, had it not been for a pretended fact or two, which it may be as well to set aside. It has been well observed, that to answer these Blackwood people properly, (for the Review, it seems, is now connected with the unprincipled
calumniators, and convicted cowards of that gang, and the article in question has all the marks of being written by one of them,) it would be necessary to set up a work like their own, in which truth and decency should be treated with avowed contempt; no connexion spared, however private; and people's very lameness and calamities thrust in their teeth, as if they were crimes. And indeed it would be no wonder, some day, if some such thing were to happen; and a pretty Devil-on-Two-Sticks’ view afforded us, by persons more angry than conscientious, of all that has been done, and can be fancied, among the hypocrites of the establishment. But this, at all events, is not a task for me; who, besides being hampered with humanities, can see no reason for objecting to the use of falsehood by others, if we can persuade ourselves it is warrantable in us. Others might pretend, that it was as good in their hands, and for some like benefit of re-action.


The article in the Quarterly is of the old description of things of this kind,—shallow and mean; colouring all, as it goes, to suit its purposes; criticising the pretensions of another with nothing but airs and assumptions; and paying the cause it worships the usual happy compliment, of thinking falsehood and malignity necessary to its support. The sole object is to put the book down; to put it down,—not because there is nothing in it, or it is not true, (for the Reviewer could as little write it, as he could imitate the truth of it,) but because it is full of a sincerity and speculation equally hateful to the “rottenness in the state of Denmark;” and this sincerity is to be put down by falsehood! and this speculation by dullness! a mode of settling things, which luckily is impossible in the long run, and is far less easy than it used to be for the time. Yes, as the Reviewer repeats with an hysterical impulse, “the schoolmaster is abroad.” “Twopenny
trash” has got beyond Six Shilling; and hundreds take up the Quarterly Review and laugh at it, who, a dozen years back, would have heard the canting rogue at his half-way house, and thought there was something in him.
Mr. Murray should really keep a more sober eye on the times, and get cleverer men to do his work; for public knowledge is advancing, while he is dozing; and the old mediocrity will not do, however malignant. An additional portion of servility was still less desirable. His new writer, with a solemnity that would better have become the old lady in the Castle of Tillietudlem, than a modern pretender to literature, talks of “high rank,” as if it were one of the cardinal virtues. Temperance, sobriety, and “high rank,” he thinks, (which, by the way, is not considerate towards his employer,) are qualities that become a young gentleman; but temperance and sobriety may be wanting, and the matter decently hushed up, provided there be
“high rank.” The mention of the deficiency is unpolite and unedifying; not to pay homage to the possession, is unfeeling.

Agreeably to this system of morals, it is curious to see, in his review of the present work, what a number of things, extracts from letters, &c. are brought in to tell in Lord Byron's favour, which really tell against him, and furnish aggravated proofs of his little claim to be esteemed. Among these are his virulence against Mr. Keats and others; his remark, (in a spirit of infinite aristocratical absurdity, which shows how much he had been injured by being a Lord,) that “they never lived in high life nor solitude!” (as if the millions of human hearts that lay between were nothing!) his splenetic inventions against others, and his extraordinary forgetfulness of his own offences. The passage is quoted where he speaks of my “not very tractable children.” Thank God, they were not tractable
to him! I have something very awful to say on that point, in case it is forced from me. Then the same man, who talked as he did about his wife, over and over again, to the whole world, asserts his incapability of violating domestic confidence; and the servility of the poor reviewer is carried to its climax, in the assumption, that what appeared weak or insincere in the conversation of the Noble Lord (as if his very title could not have spoilt him and helped to make it so) was only so much profundity beyond the capacity of his hearers, or done out of an intention of making his guests ridiculous, and so violating the very hospitality which they are accused of not being grateful for! These are the airs of a footman, eager to degrade others, out of an instinct of his own condition; and raising a servile laugh in honour of his master, for insulting some stranger at his door.


But I am noticing this born slave more than I intended. One must have some respect for a writer, to contend with him; and I keep what I have to say on these matters, till the promised work appears from the pen of Mr. Moore. Meanwhile, however, in order to answer a question put to me in the Quarterly Review, I will suppose that I heard it elsewhere, and that it was put by some honest man.

“It is well known,” says the Review, “that Lord Byron took leave finally of Mr. Leigh Hunt by letter. The letter in question we never saw, but we have conversed with those who read it; and from their account of its contents—they describe it as a document of considerable length, and as containing a full narrative of the whole circumstances under which Lord Byron and Mr. Hunt met and parted, according to his Lordship's view of the case—we confess we have been rather surprised to find it
altogether omitted in Mr. Leigh Hunt's quarto. Mr. Hunt prints very carefully various letters, in which Lord Byron treats of matters nowise bearing on the differences which occurred between these two distinguished contemporaries: and our question is, was it from humanity to the dead, or from humanity to the living, that Mr. Leigh Hunt judged it proper to omit in this work the apparently rather important letter to which we refer? If Mr. Hunt has had the misfortune to mislay the document, and sought in vain for it amongst his collections, he ought, we rather think, to have stated that fact, and stated also, in so far as his memory might serve him, his impression of the character and tendency of this valedictory epistle. But in case he has both lost the document and totally forgotten what it contained, we are happy in having this opportunity of informing him, that a copy of it exists in very safe keeping.”

I am very glad to hear it. Pray let it be
brought forward, for I never received any such valedictory epistle.
Lord Byron certainly did take leave of me by letter. It was an epistle equally friendly and short, and purported that there was no necessity for our meeting on the occasion, because leave-taking was painful; and therefore he wished me well, and was very sincerely mine, &c. That he was not very sincerely mine, I know very well; and so did he. But that is another matter. It is insinuated (for even the habitual falsehoods of the reviewer do not enable him to doubt that I speak the truth, and that it is better to get at the truth out of my own mouth, than charge me directly with want of it) that I have kept back this one letter written to me by Lord Byron, while I have published various others nowise bearing on the differences between us. I have said in the book, (see vol. i. p. 250,) that 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; and, I add, “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.” All these shall come forward, when
Mr. Moore's book appears; and if the person who holds the alleged “valedictory Epistle,” so long and so hostile, for which the other valedictory Epistle was substituted, so short and so friendly, will come forward with it, and is a credible person, (for the reviewer's word would go for nothing,) I shall be very happy to see it for the first time, and to give it the due answer.

What the reviewer says about Mr. Shelley's having confessed to somebody, “with tears,” that “he well knew he had been all in the wrong,” is a phenomenon, which must come attested by all the magistrates Autolycus could
have thought of, before the most gullible persons (out of the pale of the
Quarterly) will believe it. With the exception of Queen Mab, I never remember him to have regretted any thing he had written but one poem with an obscure title, the existence of which is hardly known. His unfavourable opinion of Queen Mab he expressed publicly. His hopes had diminished when I last saw him; but when I told him that I hoped still, and that I thought hope itself a part of success, he fully assented to the utility of my opinion; and neither in word nor deed did he show himself a jot different from what he had ever been, except in his admiration of the satirical writings of Lord Byron. Lord Byron himself he spoke of as a man the most disagreeable to have any thing to do with, and one whose connexion he would have given up for ever, had he not thought it might turn to my advantage, and perhaps to the noble Lord's in consequence. As to the
alleged change in Mr. Shelley, Lord Byron, for one, certainly had no conception of any such thing: at least, if he has said so in his letters, (the assertions in which our credulous reviewer takes all for “matter of fact,”) it was totally in opposition to the character, with which (in the teeth of his excessive eulogies of the deceased) he threatened to brand his memory, the moment he thought he had found reason to quarrel with it.

But I am again led away to say more than is necessary at present. I wait for Mr. Moore. Mr. Moore ought to have been ashamed of himself, when he acted in that underhand manner against his old acquaintance and his own cause. He knew what a situation I was in; what a family I had; what struggles I had gone through, for the sake of freedom; and how openly I had ever behaved to himself, both in what I ventured to praise in him and to differ with; and yet all this did not hinder him
from practising against the
Liberal, in a way the most disingenuous towards me, and upon grounds the most ridiculous in him. I have since expressed my resentment in a strong but not ungenerous manner; and he has the credit, upon the very ground on which he ought to have spared me originally, and which collects in one burning spot of thought all that is painful in my past life, and bitter at present, of aiming a blow at me as the father of a family (which I am), and a fellow turn-spit (which I never was). I could have answered his metaphors with interest, had the bandying of abuse been to my taste, and many extreme cares not been upon me; but the same circumstances in my position, which, connected with all that I have done and hazarded in this world, show how impossible it was for me to speak of the dead in any rascally spirit of calculation, will not allow me to spare any truth whatsoever, (the other sex not suffering
by it,) which will hinder me from being crushed; and should his book render it necessary, I will most assuredly spare neither him, nor his publisher, nor any one person or thing, short of the exception just noticed, which will serve to fill up all that has been omitted, and to show of what sort of stuff a Lord and his advisers can be made.

Talk of speaking ill of a dead Lord, and an imaginary patron! How have I not been talked of and misrepresented in these matters between Lord Byron and myself, while I did not say a word on the subject? What patron, or dead person, lord or commoner, or king, or what excess of human infirmity, did Lord Byron spare, when the mood was upon him? How many persons has Mr. Moore himself not attacked in his day? Many that never offended him, and some whose calamities gave them a right to be spared. How might not Lord Byron (as the world shall see) have trampled
on the memory of my friend
Mr. Shelley, if I had not told him I should be compelled to make him repent it?—Mr. Shelley, who had been really his benefactor, if people knew all. And what sort of living people did this lion of the perfumed locks (in whose favour I have been gifted with so many new and ingenious appellations) select and pitch upon, on whom to show his lion-like nature? On the man that would have taken the thorn out of his foot?—or on the woman who had lain in his bosom? These are not the sort of defences to be found for him; nor can any question be begged in his favour which does not carry the whole of humanity along with it. Such I have never denied him; and such shall not be denied me.

If any man, after reading the whole of my book, be capable of thinking that I have uttered a single thing which I do not believe to be true, or that in what I have uttered I was
prompted by any impulses incapable of a generous construction, he is speaking out of his own instinctive meanness, and his own conscious want of veracity; and I return him any epithets he may be inclined to bestow upon me, as equally unfit for me to receive, and himself to part with.

If any one can convince me of an error,—I am not in love with error, but truth—and will gladly rectify it. I boast of being a Liberal in the sense laid down the other day by the Morning Chronicle, and am ready on all occasions to be tried by it.*

Finally, if any one asks what it is that supports me under the trying circumstances,

* “The terms liberal and illiberal,” says the Chronicle, “would, in the present day, be more appropriate than those of Whig and Tory. Liberal supposes an homage to knowledge, a disposition to submit all opinions to the test of free enquiry, and to be always open to conviction. Whig and Tory, as opposed to each other, as we have observed, is a merely nominal distinction; but liberal and illiberal are as opposite as light and darkness.”

in which I have to work out (as becomes me) the remainder of my days, I answer, that it is my belief in the natural goodness and capability of mankind, and the testimonies borne to my endeavours in consequence by the love of those who know me most intimately, and the esteem and good word of those who publicly agree with me. I cannot express the sense I have (at least I am not well enough at present to dare to let my heart attempt it) of the eloquent and cordial articles that have appeared in defence of this work in various journals, both in town and country. What renders them especially welcome (and I may mention in particular, though not all on that account, those in the
Sunday Monitor, the Hereford Independent, and the Athenæum,—the last in a friendly quarter, but evidently by one who thinks for himself,) is, that the authors of some of them state themselves to have grown up in
intimacy with my writings, and to have had their opinions materially affected by them; so that every noble aspiration they utter, and every graceful sentence in which it is clothed, seem to come home to me like golden sheaves of the harvest that I have contributed to sow. This, indeed, makes me feel prouder than self-knowledge will allow me to feel with any thing more my own.

The writer in the Athenæum, (whose remarks I had not entirely seen till the rest of this preface had been written,) has offered me advice on one or two points, which I shall carefully consider, and upon which I can very well imagine I stand in need of it. But he is mistaken in thinking that I quarrelled with Mr. Moore, merely for saying that the Liberal had a “taint” in it. It was a thing bad enough to say, and foolish; but Mr. Moore might have accused the Liberal of having a thousand taints in it, had
he discussed that matter openly with us. It was the secret way in which he did it, and in which he spoke against us, that constituted the offence. I verily believe, that it is not in the power of sincerity and openness to offend me, beyond an almost immediate forgiveness. I am sure, that sincerity and good-nature, united, could not possibly do so, let the truths they told me make me never so melancholy. I hardly dare tell the reader, how little even the grossest abuse affects me, in the angry sense of the word, when I think the writer a sincere person. But if there is any thing in the world that I feel to be provoking, it is want of fairness and open dealing. It is vexatious enough even in such shallow fellows as this knave of the
Quarterly; but to meet with it among friends, and friends of humanity at large (for such I take all men of genius to be by na-
ture), and to see them consenting to carry on this tragic farce of insincerity, which is the very thing that cuts up their own comfort with mankind, and makes them fancy them not to be bettered,—this,—if one did not know how weak a thing it was, and how contrary to the part which the unwearied Spirit of the Universe is for ever suggesting to the young and enthusiastic hearts with which it seems to begin its endeavours over again—might be thought sufficient to make one lie down at once, and die of this bad jest of the universe. Let me not be supposed to believe in any such alternative. The sight of one open face,—I could almost say, of one green and quiet field,—would be enough to make me hope to the last; and I have hope for the next world, should it fail me in this. But the moment is a bitter one, which discovers to
us, that those of whom we have entertained the most pleasant ideas, can fail us in the most unpleasant manner. The very light of day, even for ordinary purposes, seems taken from before one's eyes, if we cannot rely upon those about us, either for friendship or enmity, nor know who it is that is putting obstacles in our path.

The truth is, Mr. Moore could not state his objections to the Liberal fairly, without bringing his own principles into question:— he did not choose to do that—and therefore he should have made no objections at all. If he had any thing else to say, for Lord Byron or himself, why did he not speak out?

Had Mr. Moore been sincere, he would have saved me the trouble of the present work; or, at least, of a great deal which gives me any pain in it. Had Lord Byron
been sincere, he would have saved a great many people, and himself, a world of wretchedness. Let the reader consider but these two facts, and make his own deductions.