LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[John Gibson Lockhart]
[Hunt's Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries].
Quarterly Review  Vol. 37  No. 74  (March 1828)  402-26.
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Art. IV.—Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries. By Leigh Hunt. London, 1828. Quarto. pp. 313.

‘LORD NELSON and some of his Contemporaries’ would look well on the title-page of a large and sumptuous quarto volume: but what would mankind, or womankind, or childkind think, if the contemporaries par excellence—the chosen ‘some’ of his lordship, turned out to be Captain Augustus Pry, of the Margate Hoy, and a few more worthies of the like calibre? Or would vulgar wonder be diminished on finding that of 513 pages introduced with that eternal blazon, some 150 were given to the victor of Trafalgar, and about double that number to Mr. Pry himself,—a satisfactory deduction of his pedigree from ‘P. P. clerk of this parish,’ and a copious account of his achievements in the rencontre with the Wallsend Collier, the demonstration of the Wapping press-gang? &c., &c.; while in the minor, but still important department of graphic embellishment, a twopenny blank profile falling to the share of the lamented Admiral, the pencil and graver had bestowed their most elaborate and costly exertions on the surviving heroes of the steam-service?

Let us not, however, be unjust to Mr. Leigh Hunt, contemporary of Lord Byron. We find, on referring to his preface, that he disclaims, though not with indignation,—that, alas! he durst not—the catchpenny arrangement of the title-page now before us, and indeed of the contents of the book itself. Had the bookseller permitted the author to obey the dictates of his own taste and judgment, the newspapers, instead of announcing for six months, in every variety of puff direct and puff oblique, the approaching appearance of ‘Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries,’ would have told us in plain terms to expect the advent of Mr. Leigh Hunt and his following; the ‘pale face rescued from insignificance by thought’ which Mr. Hunt assures us he carries about with him would have fronted Mr. Hunt’s title-page; and Mr. Hunt’s recollections of Lord Byron would have been printed by way of modest appendix to the larger and more interesting part of the work, namely, the autobiography of Mr. Hunt.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘The account of Lord Byron,’ says this ingenuous writer, ‘was not meant to stand first in the book. I should have kept it for a
some of his Contemporaries403
climax. My own reminiscences, I fear, coming after it, will be like bringing back the Moselle after devils and Burgundy. 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.

How graceful is that ‘I fear!’ how delicately modest the parallel case which it introduces! Let us not be critical about trifles. The poet of Alma thought himself very philosophical when he said—
‘Yes! let the goddess smile or frown,
Bread we shall eat, or white or brown,
And in a cottage or a court
Drink fine champagne or muddled port.’
We are far from being reduced to such alternatives by the presens divus of
Mr. Leigh Hunt. Both of our Burgundy and our Moselle, we are sure; and shall we quarrel with our liberal Amphitrion of Conduit Street, about the particular epoch of his rich repast at which it pleaseth him to whisper to the minister of his will—

‘Boy! let yon liquid ruby flow?’
The Athenaeum, Review of Hunt
Hunt, Preface to 2d Edition

We are constrained to add, however, that on this occasion our ‘pensive hearts’ have withstood the influence both of Burgundy and Moselle. To our fancy, dropping metaphors, this is one of the most melancholy books that any man can take up. The coxcombries of Mr. Hunt’s style both of thought and language, were these things new, and were they all, might indeed furnish inextinguishable laughter to the most saturnine of readers. But we had supped full with these absurdities long ago, and have hardly been able to smile for more than a moment at the most egregious specimens of cockneyism which the quarto presents; and even those who have the advantage of meeting Mr. Leigh Hunt for the first time upon this occasion, will hardly, we are persuaded, after a little reflection, be able to draw any very large store of merriment from his pages. It is the miserable book of a miserable man: the little airy fopperies of its manner are like the fantastic trip and convulsive simpers of some poor worn out wanton, struggling between famine and remorse, leering through her tears.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘I must confess,’ says this unhappy man in his preface, ‘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 would have been to put it into the fire.’

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

And over and over again, in the course of the book itself, we have such parentheses as the following:

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘— But I fear I am getting a little gossiping here beyond the record—such is the contamination of these personal histories.’’—p. 13.

‘I will not repeat what was said and lamented on this subject. I
404Lord Byron and
would not say anything about it, nor about twenty other matters, but that they hang together more or less, and are connected with the truth of a portrait which it has become necessary for me to paint.’—p. 25.

With such a feeling running cold all the while at the bottom of his heart, does this unfortunate proceed to fill page after page, through a long quarto volume, with the meatiest details of private gossip,—dirty gabble about men’s wives and men’s mistresses,—and men’s lackeys, and even the mistresses of the lackeys (p. 13)—and, inter alia, with anecdotes of the personal habits of an illustrious poet now no more, such as could never have come to the knowledge of any man who was not treated by Lord Byron either as a friend or as a menial. Such is the result of ‘the handsome conduct’ of Mr. Hunt’s publisher—who, we should not forget, appears to have exercised throughout* the concoction of this work, a species of authority somewhat new in the annals of his calling:

Thou profane man! I ask thee with what conscience
Thou canst advance that idol against us
That have the seal? Were not the shillings numbered
That made the pounds? Were not the pounds told out?

‘I have lived in their houses,’ (said Byron, speaking of the Italians,) ‘and in the heart of their families, sometimes merely as amico di casa, and sometimes as amico di cuore, and in neither case do I feel myself authorized in making a book of them.’† His Lordship’s contemporary has struggled against the same feeling; and though he has sinned in spite of his conscience, the struggle is not to be forgotten. We shall at least endeavour to suppress contempt, on this occasion, in compassion.

Not having the fear of a publisher-editor before our eyes, we shall gratify Mr. Hunt by considering his materials in the order in which he, if he could have had his own way, would have presented them—and begin with his autobiography; out of which some future D’Israeli will, no doubt, add a curious chapter to the annals of the ‘Calamities of Authors.’ This gentleman does not now, for the first time, introduce his personal history to the public, and our readers may find in former numbers of this journal, all that we could wish to say on the most important points of it. His account of his father is, however, new; and very offensive as well as absurd as is the style in which he chooses to tell that story, we must say the chief inferences to be drawn from its facts are, in one point of view at least, favourable to the unfortunate writer.

It appears that the father of Mr. Leigh Hunt was a native of
* See various letters addressed by Mr. Hunt, in January, 1828, to the editor of the Morning Chronicle.
† MS. letters penes nos.
some of his Contemporaries405
Barbadoes, who established himself in Philadelphia as a practising attorney and barrister, and had considerable success in his profession. He was a tory; and when the rebellion broke out, took the side of the government so warmly, as to make himself an object of suspicion and hatred among the insurgents. He was, in fact, driven by a mob-riot from America; and arrived in this country with high hopes of being munificently rewarded for his loyalty. Remembering the history of
Warburton, the shrewd attorney took orders, and, according to his son’s narrative, became the popular preacher of some gay chapel. Mr. Hunt speaks with no respect of his father’s talents, but represents him as a graceful elocutionist. He was, we gather, one of those comely, smooth-tongued, demi-theatrical spouters who sometimes command for a season or two the rapture of pretty ladies, and the flutter of perfumed pocket-handkerchiefs. Totally destitute of the learning of his new profession, and by no means remarkable, if we are to believe his son, for clerical propriety of habits, it is not wonderful that the creole orator was disappointed in his expectation of church patronage; or indeed, that, after a little time, his chapel-celebrity was perceptibly on the decline. Government gave him a moderate pension as an American loyalist; and as soon as he found that this was to be all, the reverend gentleman began to waver somewhat in his opinions both as to church and state. In a word, he ended in being an unitarian, and a republican, and an universalist; and found that this country was as yet far too much in the dark to approve either of his new opinions, or of the particular circumstances under which he had abandoned his old ones. Worldly disappointment soon turns a weak mind sour; and stronger minds than this have had recourse to dangerous stimulants in their afflictions. The steps of degradation are broad and easy; and Mr. Leigh Hunt describes himself, in a passage which, in spite of all his foppery, is pathetic, as tracing his earliest recollections to a prison.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Were we in the humour for mirth, the details of this story might furnish enough of it. The Reverend Isaac Hunt was, among other chances and changes, tutor for a little time to Mr. Leigh, father to the present Mr. Chandos Leigh, of Stoneleigh, and nephew to the last Duke of Chandos.

‘To be tutor in a ducal family,’ says the son, ‘is one of the roads to a bishopric. My father was thought (by whom?) to he in the highest way to it. . . . . . . His manners were of the highest order (?): his principles in church and state as orthodox, to all appearance, as could be wished; and he had given up flourishing prospects in America for their sake. But his West Indian temperament spoiled all. He also, as he became acquainted (how?) with the government, began to doubt its perfection: and the King, whose minuteness of information respecting the personal affairs of his sub-
406Lord Byron and
jects is well known, was doubtless prepared with questions which the Duke was not equally prepared to answer, and perhaps did not hazard.’—p. 313.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

The curiosity of George the Third, by the grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, about Mr. Isaac Hunt was doubtless intense. But the chance, however narrow, by which the latter individual escaped a mitre, was a fortunate one for the world—

‘If it may be some vanity in us,’ says our author, ‘at least it is no dishonour to our turn of mind to hope that we may have been the means of circulating more knowledge and entertainment in society than if he had attained the bishopric he looked for, and left us ticketed and labelled among the acquiescent.’—p. 315.

Here let us rest for a moment, and be thankful. The Reverend Isaac Hunt did not get Gloucester; but we have got the Examiner paper, and the Liberal, and Foliage, and Rimini, and a translation of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, in threepenny numbers. Here is another strong exemplification of the justice with which poets as well as divines have proclaimed
‘All partial evil universal good.’

Mr. Hunt lays it down as an axiom, that it is impossible to have too much information about truly great men; and this principle has governed him throughout the composition of his autobiography. Whether Rousseau, or Montaigne, (from whom he takes his motto,) or Colley Cibber’s apology, formed, to his fancy, the chief and best model, we know not; but on the whole, it is our opinion that the present work will remind ordinary readers of Brasbridge’s  Memoirs more frequently than of any others, except perhaps those of P. P. We are extremely sorry that our limits must prevent us from going very minutely into the details of this performance—The reader must be referred to the quarto itself for all the particulars about the Reverend Isaac Hunt’s method of smoking tobacco; and about the establishment of the late Mr. Benjamin West, (who was connected with the family by his marriage,) especially his porter James, ‘a fine tall fellow, who figured in his master’s pictures as an apostle;’ who was ‘as quiet as he was strong:’ and with whom ‘standing for his picture had become a sort of religion;’ and ‘the butler, with his little twinkling eves, full of pleasant conceit, venting his notions of himself in half tones and whispers—a strange fantastic person;’ and of ‘the picture that the butler wore on his shirt-pin’ (p. 333); and how Mr. Leigh Hunt,  adhuc imberbis, visited the family of Alderman Thornton, at his house in Austin Friars; and how ‘a private door opened into a garden belonging to the Company of Drapers, so that what with the secluded nature of the street itself, and those
some of his Contemporaries407
verdant places behind it, it was truly rus in urbe and a retreat;’ and how Mr. Leigh Hunt ‘has been told the cranberries he has met with since must be as fine as those he got with the T.’.s, as large, and as juicy, and that they came from the same place; and for all that he (Mr. Hunt) never ate a cranberry tart since he dined in Austin Friars’ (p. 336); and how an aunt of his, that lived in Great Ormond-street, ‘had something of the West Indian pride, but all in a good spirit, and was a mighty cultivator of the gentilities;’ insomuch that her nephew ‘durst not appear before her with dirty hands, she would have scolded so handsomely’ (p. 337); and how the author of Rimini’s ‘first flame, or notion of a flame, which is the same thing in those days, was for his giddy
cousin Fan, a quicksilver West Indian;’ and how of the first half-guinea he received ‘one shilling was devoted to pears, another to apples, another to cakes, and so on,’ till coming to the last sixpence,
‘and, being struck with a recollection that I ought to do something useful, with that I bought sixpenn’orth of shoestrings’ (p. 338);
and how his ‘cousins had the celebrated
Dr. Calcott for a music-master;’ and how the doctor made Mr. Leigh Hunt a present of Schrevelius’s  Lexicon, and ‘when he came down to Merton let him ride his horse’ (which probably was a job one,); and how walking one day by the little river Wandle our author came upon one of the loveliest girls he ever beheld, standing in the water with bare legs, washing some linen’ (p. 341); and how cousin Fan ‘was a lass of fifteen with little laughing eyes, and a mouth like a plum;’ and how the young poet’s heart, when in her presence, ‘was in a vague dream of beauty, and female cousins, and green fields, and a feeling which, though of a warm nature, was full of fears and respect’ (p. 344); and how
‘she and I used to gather peaches before the house were up; I held the ladder for her; she mounted like a fairy, and when I stood doating on her as she looked down and threw the fruit in my lap, she would cry Petit garcon, you will let ’em all drop’ (p. 345)—
and all about Christ’s Hospital, where Mr. Hunt received his education; and how he looked in his blue petticoats and yellow stockings; and how the meat at the Hospital was in those days tough, and the milk-porridge ‘ludicrously thin’ (p. 353); and how ‘Miss Patrick, daughter of the lamp-manufacturer in Newgate-street, was one of the goddesses of the school’ (p. 360); and Mr. Hunt ‘used to identify her with the picture of Venus in
Tooke’s Pantheon’ (ibid.); and how one of the masters, ‘when you were out in your lessons, turned upon you with an eye like a fish’ (p. 362), and ‘generally wore grey worsted stockings, very tight, with a little balustrade leg,’ &c. &c.; and how
‘speaking of fruit reminds me of a pleasant trait on the part of a
408Lord Byron and
Grecian of the name of Le Grice. He was the maddest of all the great boys of my time; clever, full of address, and not hampered with modesty. Remote rumours, not lightly to be heard, fell on our ears respecting pranks of his among the nurses’ daughters. He was our Lord Rochester,’ &c. &c. (p. 367);
and how Mr. Leigh Hunt scalded his shins, ‘when sitting before the fire, one evening, after the boys had gone to bed, wrapped up in the perusal of the
Wonderful Magazine,’ (p. 377); which melancholy occasion, ‘the whole of his being seemed collected in one fiery torment about his legs,’ (p. 378); and how, at last, he was taken away from the hospital:—
‘The fatal hat was put on; my father was come to fetch me:—
We, hand in hand, with strange new steps and slow,
Thro’ Holborn took our meditative way’—p. 380;
and how, shortly after this,
Mr. Isaac Hunt collected and published, by subscription, a volume of verses written by his son; and how, ‘as it was unusual, at that time, to publish at so early a period as sixteen,’—(rapid as the march of intellect has been, we really had not been aware that this was, as yet, usual)—the author’s ‘age made him a kind of young Roscius;’ and how the author was, ‘perhaps, as proud of his book then, as he is ashamed of it now;’ and why the book is worthless in the author’s estimation now; to wit, because
‘The French Revolution had not then, as afterwards, by a natural consequence, shaken up and refreshed the sources of thought all over Europe’—p. 380;
and how, ‘not long after this period,’ Mr. Hunt ‘ventured on publishing his first prose, which consisted of a series of essays, under the title of The Traveller, (an appropriate title for a gentleman, who had actually been to Brentford,) ‘by Mr. Town, Junior, Critic, and Censor-General;’ they ‘came out in the evening paper of that name, and were imitations, as the reader will guess, of the
Connoisseur;’ and how, in the author’s opinion, anno domini, 1828, ‘they were lively, and showed a tact for writing; but nothing more:’—

‘There was something, however, in my writings, at that period, and for some years afterwards, which, to observers, might have had an interest beyond what the author supplied, and amounted to a sign of the times. I allude to a fondness for imitating Voltaire.’—p. 391.

‘An abridgment that I picked up of the Philosophical Dictionary (a translation) was, for a long while, my text-book both for opinion and style.’—p. 392.

Mr. Hunt then fills several pages of his quarto with blasphemous extracts from the last number of the Philosophical Dictionary now printing in that commodious fashion at the Examiner press;
some of his Contemporaries409
and having used his scissars and paste as largely as he judged right and proper in regard to the interests of the proprietors of that useful work, he adds, ‘At these passages I used to roll with laughter; and I cannot help laughing now, writing, as I am, alone, by my fireside,’ (p. 394). This intelligent admirer of
Voltaire goes on to inform us how he wrote a tragedy, entitled, The Earl of Surrey, and a farce, called The Beau Miser, and another, called A Hundred a Year; and how he formed an acquaintance with Mr. Bell, proprietor of ‘The Weekly Messenger,’ who was, ‘upon the whole, a remarkable person,’—‘a plain man, with a red face, and a nose exaggerated by intemperance,’ (p. 398); and also with Bandini, the editor of Mr. Bell’s paper, ‘who looked the epitome of squalid authorship,’ (p. 400); and how—here we come, at last, to classical ground:—

‘My brother John, at the beginning of the year 1805, set up a paper called The News, and I went to live with him in Brydges-street, and wrote the theatrical articles in it. It was he that invented the round window in the office of the paper to attract attention’—p. 401.

Leigh Hunt, 1810 Memoir

Mr. John Hunt’s round window was a happy invention, though not equal, we think, either to Mr. Henry Hunt’s blacking van, or Mr. Leigh Hunt’s present title-page. But to return. In ‘The News,’ Mr. Leigh Hunt entertained the town with articles on the theatrical performers of the time, which had, as we remember, very considerable influence and success; so much so, that he ere long determined to set up a paper of his own; whence ‘The Examiner.’ In that newspaper, Mr. Hunt continued his lively strictures on the affairs of the green-room, and, by degrees, began to aspire to higher game. In a word, he was ere long known to the public as the editor and chief writer of one of the most profligate radical prints of the day, which was, moreover, distinguished above all the rest of its tribe, for the promulgation of opinions on the subjects of morality, and religion, such as may easily be inferred from his juvenile admiration of the Philosophical Dictionary. He published, from time to time, little volumes of poetry, which, although they have all passed into utter oblivion now, exhibited occasional traces of feeling and fancy, sufficient to make good men lament, while they condemned, the vicious prostitution of the author’s talents in his regular labours of the hebdomadal broad-sheet; but all warning was in vain. Surrounding himself with a small knot of fantastic smatterers, he found immediate gratification of his overweening vanity in the applauses of this coxcombical circle; and lost, as a necessary consequence, all chance of obtaining a place in the upper ranks of literature.
410Lord Byron and
‘With witlings passed his days,
To spread about the itch of verse and praise,
And, like a puppy, daggled through the town
To fetch and carry sing-song up and down,
And at rehearsals sweat and mouthed, and cried,
With handkerchief and orange at his side.’
We need not dwell on the short-lived glitter and merciless catastrophe of this very small ambition: Stat nominis umbra. Indeed, nobody seems to be more thoroughly aware of the hopelessness of the case than the publisher of the work now before us; hence the ‘attractions of the title-page;’ and Mr. Hunt’s truly humiliating apology for the false colours under which he has found it necessary to re-open his long-silent battery of paper pellets.

We had always understood, that Mr. Hunt, before he was known by anything but his juvenile verses, obtained some situation in the War-office; and that he lost this, after many warnings, in consequence of libelling the Duke of York, then commander-in-chief, in the newspapers; but of this story, there is no trace in the quarto before us, and we, therefore, suppose it must have been, at least, an exaggeration. If it were true, it might account, in some measure, for the peculiar bitterness of personal spleen with which the Examiner, from the beginning of its career, was accustomed to treat almost every branch of the Royal family. It is well known, that an indecent libel on the Prince Regent, which appeared in that vehicle of scandal, at last drew on Messrs. Hunt the notice of the attorney-general: they were tried and condemned to two years’ imprisonment, and, we believe, a pretty large fine besides, though we do not remember the exact amount; and this affair gave a blow to the Examiner from which it never recovered.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Mr. Hunt’s account of this trial, and the subsequent imprisonment, is one of the richest specimens of vanity and affectation that even he has ever put forth:—

‘I put my countenance,’ he tells us, ‘in its best trim. I made a point of wearing my best apparel; put on my new hat and gloves, and descended into the legal arena to be sentenced gallantly. As an instance of the imagination! with which I am accustomed to mingle everything, I was, at that time, reading a little work to which Milton is indebted, the Comus of Erycius Puteanus, and this, which is a satire on “Bacchuses and their revellers,” I pleased myself with having in my pocket’!

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

But the following is still more exquisite:—

‘There is reason,’ says Mr. Hunt, ‘to think, that Lord Ellenborough was little less easy than ourselves. . . . . . . He did not even look at us, when he asked, in the course of his duty, whether it was our wish to make any remarks.’—p. 415.

some of his Contemporaries 411

Poor Lord Ellenborough! how completely that timid spirit had been overawed by the new hat and gloves, and dignified bearing of Mr. Examiner! Bradshaw’s inward tremblings were nothing to this!

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Mr. Hunt appears to have done wonders with his quarters in the Borough:—

‘I papered the walls with a trellis of roses; I had the ceiling coloured with clouds and sky; the barred windows were screened with Venetian blinds; and when my bookcases were set up, with their busts, and flowers and a piano-forte made their appearance, perhaps there was not a handsomer room on that side of the water. . . . . . . . . . But I had another surprise; which was a garden: there was a little yard, outside the room, railed off for another, belonging to the neighbouring ward. This I shut in with green pailings, &c. &c. &c. Here I write and read, in fine weather, sometimes under an awning. In autumn, my trellises were hung with scarlet runners, which added to the flowery investment!’—pp. 424, 5.

We presume the turnkeys make a pretty penny by showing the spot where the great Mr. Hunt actually
‘sat amidst his books, and saw the imaginary sky overhead and the paper roses about him.’—p. 425.
Raleigh chamber in the Tower, Galileo’s dungeon at Rome, and Tasso’s at Ferrara, are the only scenes of parallel interest that, at this moment, suggest themselves to our recollection.

It was during this memorable confinement, that Mr. Hunt first became acquainted with the noble poet, whose name he has blazoned on his present title-page. Mr. Moore, who was, at that period, silly enough to entertain the saloons of our Whig aristocracy with certain performances of which, we have no doubt, he is now heartily ashamed, might not unnaturally feel some sympathy with the suffering Examiner; and he appears to have carried Lord Byron to visit the classical scenery of the imaginary sky and paper roses. Thus, charitably on the part of Lord Byron, began his intercourse with the gentleman, who now pays a debt to a bookseller by trampling on his grave.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Giving Mr. Hunt full credit for his adoption of the apothecary’s
‘My poverty but not my will consents’–
we shall touch as gently as possible on this matter; but a few words are demanded, in all justice and in all equity. His apology, ex crumená, is all admission, in limine, that his book is an attack on the character of Lord Byron; and he has farther the candour to admit as follows:—

‘What was to be told of the noble poet involved of necessity a
412Lord Byron and
painful retrospect; and humanize as I may, and as I trust I do, upon him, as well as everything else—and certain, as I am, that although I look upon this or that man as more or less pleasant and admirable, I partake of none of the ordinary notions of merit and demerit with regard to any one’—(what means this prate?) ‘I could not conceal from myself, on looking over the MS. that in renewing my intercourse with him 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.’—Preface, p. v.

Now the questions which we feel ourselves bound to ask of Mr. Hunt, are simply these:—Did the personal intercourse between him and Lord Byron terminate in an avowal on his (Mr. Hunt’s) part of hostility? And, Would he have written and published about Lord Byron in the tone and temper of this work had Lord Byron been alive? Except when vanity more egregious than ever perverted a human being’s thoughts and feelings interferes, we give Mr. Hunt some credit for fairness—and if he can answer these two questions in the affirmative, we frankly admit that we shall think more charitably, by a shade or two, of this performance than, in the present state of our information, we are able to do.

One thing is certain: namely, that Mr. Hunt’s brother continued to be Lord Byron’s publisher to the last. It is equally certain, that we have now before us a voluminous collection of Lord Byron’s private correspondence, addressed, for the most part, to persons whom Mr. Hunt, however ridiculously, describes as his own personal enemies—letters written before, during, and after the period of Mr. Hunt’s intercourse with Lord Byron in Italy; and although there occur many jokes upon Mr. Hunt, many ludicrous and quizzical notices of him, yet we have sought in vain for a single passage indicative of spleen or resentment of any shape or degree. On the contrary, he always upholds Mr. Hunt, as a man able, honest, and well-intentioned, and therefore, in spite of all his absurdities, entitled to a certain measure of respect as well as kindness. The language is uniformly kind. We shall illustrate what we have said by a few extracts. Mr. Hunt will perceive that Lord Byron’s account of his connexion with The Liberal is rather different from that given in the book on our table. Mr. Hunt describes himself as pressed by Lord Byron into the undertaking of that hapless magazine: Lord Byron, on the contrary, represents himself as urged to the service by the Messrs. Hunt themselves.

Hunt, Preface to 2d Edition

Genoa, Oct. 9th, 1822.—I am afraid the Journal is a bad business, and won’t do, but in it I am sacrificing myself for others. I can have no advantage in it. I believe the brothers Hunts to be honest men; I am sure that they are poor ones; they have not a Nap. They pressed me to engage in this work, and in an evil hour I consented:
some of his Contemporaries413
still I shall not repent if I can do them the least service. I have done all I can for Leigh Hunt since he came here, but it is almost useless; his wife is ill; his six children not very tractable; and in affairs of this world he himself is a perfect child. The death of
Shelley left them totally aground; and I could not see them in such a state without using the common feelings of humanity, and what means were in my power to set them afloat again.’

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Again—Mr. Hunt represents Lord Byron as dropping his connexion with The Liberal partly because his friends at home (Messrs. Moore, Hobhouse, Murray, &c.) told him, it was a discreditable one, and partly because the business did not turn out lucrative.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘It is a mistake to suppose, that he was not mainly influenced by the expectation of profit. He expected very large returns from The Liberal. Readers in these days need not be told, that periodical works which have a large sale are a mine of wealth: Lord Byron had calculated that matter well.’—Lord Byron and his Contemporaries, p. 50.

‘The failure of the large profits—the non-appearance of the golden visions he had looked for, of the Edinburgh or Quarterly returns—of the solid and splendid proofs of this new country, which he should conquer in the regions of notoriety, to the dazzling of all men’s eyes and his own—this it was—this was the bitter disappointment which made him determine to give way.’—Ibid. p. 51.

Now let us hear Lord Byron himself:

Genoa, 9bre 18th, 1822.—They will, of course, attribute motives of all kinds; but I shall not abandon a man like Hunt because he is unfortunate. Why, I could have no pecuniary motives, and, least of all, in connexion with Hunt.’

Genoa, 10bre 25th, 1822.—Now do you see what you, and your friends do by your injudicious rudeness? actually cement a sort of connexion which you strove to prevent, and which, had the Hunts prospered, would not, in all probability, have continued. As it is, I will not quit them in their adversity, though it should cost me character, fame, money, and the usual et cetera. My original motives I already explained; (in the letter which you thought proper to show;) they are the true ones, and I abide by them, as I tell you, and I told Leigh Hunt, when he questioned me on the subject of that letter. He was violently hurt, and never will forgive me at the bottom; but I cannot help that. I never meant to make a parade of it; but if he chose to question me, I could only answer the plain truth, and I confess, I did not see any thing in the letter to hurt him, unless I said he was “a bore,” which I don’t remember. Had this Journal gone on well, and I could have aided to make it better for them, I should then have left them after a safe pilotage off a lee shore to make a prosperous voyage by themselves. As it is, I can’t, and would not if I could, leave them among the breakers. As to any community of feeling, thought, or opinion, between Leigh Hunt and me, there is little or none. We
414Lord Byron and
meet rarely, hardly ever; but I think him a good principled and able man, and must do as I would he done by. I do not know what world he has lived in; but I have lived in three or four, but none of them like his
Keats-and-Kangaroo terra incognita. Alas! poor Shelley! how we would have laughed had he lived! and how we used to laugh now and then at various things which are grave in the suburbs.’

These extracts, as far as mere matters of fact are concerned, we beg leave to present without comment. It will be for Mr. Hunt to offer any explanation he pleases as to the apparent contradictions in the two stories; and we willingly leave the task of estimating the counter-statements in their ultimate shapes, to the accomplished person whose Memoirs of Lord Byron are announced, and anxiously expected by the world. Neither shall we at all enter into Mr. Hunt’s details about Lord Byron’s treatment of himself personally; they are very painful to read; and Mr. Hunt has obviously felt something of the humiliation of putting them on paper. If Lord Byron’s bounty was haughtily, coldly, and grudgingly bestowed, it was not likely to impress the mind of the receiver with very genial feelings; and we need not tell Mr. Hunt, since he himself betrays a full sense of the circumstance, that, although gratitude might be out of the question, it was possible to be silent.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

One word more, and we have done: Mr. Hunt in his preface says,

Hunt, Preface to 2d Edition

‘My account of Lord Byron is never coloured 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 disclaim. If I knew any two things in the world, and have any two good qualities to set off against many defects, it is, that I am not vindictive, and that I speak the truth. I have not told all, for I had no right to do so. In the present case, also, it would be inhumanity both to the dead and to the living.’—Preface, p. v.

Now a question suggests itself to us, which we are sure Mr. Hunt, with the high feelings thus entertained and expressed by him, will thank us for asking. It is well known, 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 surprized 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
some of his Contemporaries415
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.

Leaving, then, the merits of this personal quarrel to be settled when all the documents on both sides shall have been produced, we proceed to the only question which the world will consider as at all important, namely, in how far, the existence of ‘spleen and resentment’ being admitted, we ought to take Mr. Hunt’s word as to the character in general of his benefactor. We confess that our author is, of all men that ever had any considerable intercourse with Lord Byron, the one whose testimony on this head we should, à priori, have been inclined to receive with the greatest suspicion. Knowing nothing of Mr. Hunt, except from his writings, we should have taken it as the merest matter of course, that when these two men came together the one would amuse himself with quizzing and mystifying the other in every possible method. The author of Sardanapalus and the author of Rimini—the author of Don Juan and the author of Foliage—Quevedo Redivivus and the author of the Feast of the Poets—it is impossible to think for a moment of such a juxtaposition, without acquiring the true point of view from which to contemplate all estimate of Lord Byron’s character and manners from the pen of Mr. Leigh Hunt. For example:—Mr. Hunt tells his readers that Lord Byron threw him back his Spenser, saying ‘he could make nothing of him’: but whether are we to believe that the noble lord, sickened (as all Mr. Hunt’s readers have been for twenty years past) with Mr. Hunt’s endless and meaningless chatter about the half dozen poets, good, bad, and indifferent, whom he patronizes, was willing to annoy Mr. Hunt by the cavalier treatment of one of his principal protegés, or that the author of one of the noblest poems that have been written in the Spenserian stanza was both ignorant of the Faëry Queen, and incapable of comprehending anything of its merits? No man who knew anything of Lord Byron can hesitate for a moment about the answer. Lord Byron, we have no sort of doubt, indulged his passion for mystifying, at the expense of this gentleman, to an improper and unjustifiable
416Lord Byron and
extent. His delight was at all times in the study of man. ‘Since I remember, (says he in one of his letters,) I have made it my business to trace every feeling, every look, to its root.’ What a study, must the author of these Memoirs, staring about him at Pisa with his Paddington optics, have presented to this practised dissector! and it seems to us extremely probable that the practitioner used both scalpel and probe with all the coolness of another
Majendie. Hence, and hence only, we are persuaded, the egregious nonsense with which Lord Byron appears to have crammed habitually the most uninitiated of listeners. Hence, most assuredly, his sneers at Shakspeare, Milton, and Spenser; and hence, it is not improbable, his applauses of Rimini, and his ‘respectful mention of Mr. Keats.

We believe we could not illustrate our view of the whole of this business more effectually than by simply presenting a few extracts from Lord Byron’s private letters in which this Mr. Keats is alluded to. Our readers have probably, forgotten all about ‘Endymion, a poem,’ and the other works of this young man, the all but universal roar of laughter with which they were received some ten or twelve years ago, and the ridiculous story (which Mr. Hunt denies) of the author’s death being caused by the reviewers. Mr. Hunt was the great patron, the ‘guide, philosopher, and friend’ of Mr. Keats; it was he who first puffed the youth into notice in his newspaper. The youth returned the compliment in sonnets and canzonets, and presented his patron with a lock of Milton’s hair, and wrote a poem on the occasion. In the volume now before us, Mr. Keats figures as one of ‘the contemporaries of Lord Byron;’ and Mr. Hunt tells us, that one of his poems ‘was suggested to him by a delightful summer-day, as he stood beside the gate that leads from the Battery on Hampstead Heath’ (p. 248); that another ‘was occasioned by his sleeping in one of the cottages in the Vale of Health, the first one that fronts the valley, beginning from the same quarter’ (ibid.); and, above all, that ‘it was in the beautiful lane running from the road, between Hampstead and Highgate, that meeting me (i. e.  Mr. Hunt) one day, he (i. e.  Mr. Keats) first gave me (i. e.  Mr. Hunt) the volume (i. e.  Endymion).’ In short, next to Mr. Hunt himself, there can be no question that Mr. Keats will be considered by posterity as the greatest poet of these times.

Hear Lord Byron:

Ravenna, 8bre 12, 1820.—Pray send me no more poetry but what is rare, and decidedly good; there is such a trash of Keats and the like upon my tables, that I am ashamed to look at them.’

Ravenna, Nov. 18, 1820.—Of the praises (in the Edinburgh Re-
some of his Contemporaries417
view) of that little . . . . .
Keats, I shall observe, as Johnson did when Sheridan, the actor, got a pension—“What! has he got a pension? then it is time that I should give up mine!” Nobody could be prouder of the praise of the Edinburgh than I was, or more alive to their censure, as I showed in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. At present all the men they have ever praised are degraded by that insane article. Why don’t they review and praise “Solomon’s Guide to Health?” it is better sense, and as much poetry as Johnny Keats.’

Ravenna, 8bre 21, 1820.—No more Keats, I entreat, flay him alive; if some of you don’t, I must skin him myself. There is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the maukin.’

We are very sorry that a fragment only of the Review of Mr. Keats, which Lord Byron thus proffered, has been preserved. It is as follows:

“The hearty grasp that sends a pleasant sonnet
Into the brain, ere one can think upon it;
The silence when some rhymes are coming out,
And when they’re come, the very pleasant rout;
The message certain to be done to-morrow,
’Tis perhaps as well that it should be to borrow
Some precious book from out its snug retreat
To cluster round it when we next shall meet.
Scarce can I scribble on,” &c. &c.
‘Now what does this mean? Again,
”And with these airs come forms of elegance
Stooping their shoulders o’er a horse’s prance.

‘Where did these forms of elegance learn to ride with stooping shoulders? Again,
”Thus I remember all the pleasant flow
Of words at opening a portfolio.”

“Yet I must not forget
Sleep, quiet, with his poppy coronet:
For what there may be worthy in these rhymes
I partly owe to him,” &c.

‘This obligation is likely to be mutual.—It may appear harsh (continues Lord Byron) to accumulate passages from the work of a young man in the outset of his career, but, if he will set out with assailing the poet whom, of all others, the young aspirant ought to respect, and honour and study; if he will hold forth in such lines his notions on poetry, and endeavour to recommend them, by terming such men as Pope, Dryden, Swift, Congreve, Addison, Young, Gray, Goldsmith, Johnson, &c. &c., “a school of dolts,” he must abide by the consequences of his unfortunate distortion of intellect. But, like Milbourne, he is the fairest of critics, by enabling us to compare his own compositions with those of Pope, at the same age, and on a similar subject, viz. poetry. As Mr. Keats does not want imagination or industry, let those who have led him astray look to what they have done.
418Lord Byron and
Surely they must feel no little remorse in having so perverted the taste and feelings of this young man, and will be satisfied with one such victim to the Moloch of their absurdity. Pope little expected that the art of sinking in poetry would become an object of serious study, and supersede, not only his own, but all that
Horace, Vida, Boileau, and Aristotle had left to posterity of precept, and the greatest poets of all nations, of example.’—Byron’s MSS.

Our readers have, no doubt, observed one curious circumstance that peeps out in these extracts—the fact, namely, that Lord Byron and Mr. Shelley were in the habit of laughing when they met in private, at things ‘which look grave in the suburbs.’ Among other notices to the same effect, which we might easily introduce from Lord Byron’s MSS., we confess we were particularly entertained with a passage in a letter dated Ravenna, July 30th, 1821, from which it appears, that, on the occasion of Mr. Keats’s death, Mr. Shelley composed an elegy, in the shape of a parody on the nursery song about Cock Robin, beginning thus with ourselves:—
‘Who killed Jack Keats?
I, says the Quarterly,
So savage and Tartarly,
’Twas one of my feats,’ &c., &c.
and so running oil through the various claimants of the critical crime in a vein of merriment and derision which certainly would have astounded the Paddingtonians.—We beg leave to adopt as well as transcribe Lord Byron’s own reflections in verse and in prose on the same event:—

‘Strange that the soul, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an article.’
‘I am very sorry for it, though I think he took the wrong line as a poet, and was spoiled by Cockneyfying, and Suburbing, and versifying
Tooke’s Pantheon and Lempriere’s Dictionary.’—Byron’s MSS.

Hunt, Preface to 2d Edition

The truth is, that, on literary subjects of all sorts and descriptions, Lord Byron’s opinions were ‘wide as the poles asunder’ from those of Mr. Hunt and his little coterie; and it is, we must own, by this radical diversity of feeling as to the matters which Mr. Hunt thought and thinks of the highest moment, that we are inclined to account for, in the main, the tone of bitter spleen in which the surviving Grub-street authorling comments on every part of the character of the great English poet who is no more. Looking to the supreme scorn with which Lord Byron, in his letters, uniformly treats all the dogmas and performances of the class of writers who acknowledged Mr. Hunt as their chief, we are really quite unable to believe that Lord Byron ever dreamt of a journal in which these writers were to be the principal labourers, as a source of ‘large profits’ to himself. He knew that the
some of his Contemporaries419
world had utterly condemned the school of poetry and criticism in question, and he thought the world quite right in this decision. Upon what principle, then, are we to account for his taking any part in their magazine project? We really do not see how it is possible to doubt that he did so purely and entirely from the charitable feelings to which he himself distinctly ascribes his unhappy acquiescence in an impracticable scheme.
He thought, no doubt, that his own compositions would be easily distinguished from those of Messrs. Hunt and Co.; and that, therefore, he might benefit these needy people without materially injuring his own reputation. Humble as was his estimate of the talents of all his coadjutors, except Mr. Shelley, he had not foreseen that, instead of his genius floating their dulness, an exactly opposite consequence would attend that unnatural coalition. In spite of some of the ablest pieces that ever came from Lord Byron’s pen,—in spite of the magnificent poetry of heaven and Earth,—the eternal laws of gravitation held their course: Messrs. Hunt, Hazlitt, and Co. furnished the principal part of the cargo; and the ‘Liberal’ sunk to the bottom of the waters of oblivion almost as rapidly as the Table-Talk, or the Foliage, or the Endymion.

It may be worth while to illustrate a little more copiously what we have said of Lord Byron’s critical tenets: by doing so, we certainly think we shall throw much light on the nature of Mr. Leigh Hunt’s quarrel with him, and the consequent outrage on his memory, perpetrated in the elaborate volume now before us.

Ravenna, Jan. 4, 1821.—I see by the papers of Galignani, that there is a new tragedy of great expectation, by Barry Cornwall. Of what I have read of his works, I liked the Dramatic Sketches, but thought his Sicilian Story and Marcian Colonna, in rhyme, quite spoilt by I know not what affectation of Wordsworth, and Hunt, and Moore, and myself; all mixed up into a kind of chaos. I think him very likely to produce a good tragedy if he keep to a natural style, and not play tricks to form harlequinades for an audience. As he (Barry Cornwall is not his true name) was a schoolfellow of mine, I take more than common interest in his success,’ &c., &c.—Byron’s MSS.

Ravenna, Sept. 12, 1821.—Barry Cornwall will do better by and by, I dare say, if he don’t get spoiled by green tea and the praises of Pentonville and Paradise-rosy. The pity of these men is, that they never lived in high life nor in solitude; there is no medium for the knowledge of the busy or the still world. If admitted into high life for a season, it is merely as spectators—they form no part of the mechanism thereof. Now, Moore and I, the one by circumstances, the other by birth, happened to be free of the corporation, and to have entered into its pulses and passions, “quarum partes fuimus.”— Both of us have learned by this much that nothing else could have taught us.’—Ibid.

420 Lord Byron and

The following is from a letter to Lord Byron’s bookseller, dated Ravenna, Sept. 24th, 1821:—

‘You shall not send me any modern or (as they are called) new publications whatsoever, save and excepting any writing, prose or verse, of (or reasonably presumed to be of) Walter Scott, Crabbe, Moore, Campbell, Rogers, Gifford, Joanna Baillie, Irving (the American), Hogg, Wilson (Isle of Palms man), or any especial single work of fancy which is thought to be of considerable merit. Voyages and travels, provided they are neither in Greece, Spain, Asia Minor, Albania, nor Italy, will be welcome. No other English works whatsoever.’

The following are incidental notices which we have taken almost at hazard, from the same correspondence:—

Ravenna, Sept. 11th, 1820.—Oh, if ever I do come amongst you again, I will give you such a Baviad and Mæviad, not as good as the last, but even better merited. There never was such a set as your ragamuffins, (I mean not yours only, but everybody’s.) What with the Cockneys, and the Lakers, and the followers of Scott, and Moore, and Byron, you are on the very uttermost decline and degradation of literature. I cant think of it without all the remorse of a murderer. I wish Johnson were alive again to crush them.’ . . . .

Sept. 15th,1817.—I have read Lallah Rookh, but not with sufficient attention yet . . . . I am very glad to hear of its popularity; for Moore is a very noble fellow in all respects, and will enjoy it without any of the bad feelings which success, good or evil, sometimes engenders in the men of rhyme. Of the poem itself, will tell you my opinion when I have mastered it: I say of the poem, for I don’t like the prose at all at all; and in the meantime, the “Fire-worshippers” is the best, and the “Veiled Prophet” the worst of the volume.

‘With regard to poetry in general, I am convinced, the more I think of it, that he and all others—Scott, Southey, Wordsworth, Moore, Campbell, I, are all in the wrong, one as much as another; that we are upon a wrong, revolutionary, poetical system (or systems), not worth a d—n in itself, and from which none but Rogers and Crabbe are free, and that the present and next generation will finally be of this opinion. I am the more confirmed in this, by having lately gone over some of our classics, particularly Pope, whom I tried in this way: I took Moore’s poems, and my own, and some others, and went over them side by side with Pope’s, and I was really astonished (I ought not to have been so) and mortified at the ineffable distance, in point of sense, learning, effect, and even imagination, passion, and invention, between the little Queen Anne’s man, and us of the lower empire. Depend upon it, it is all Horace then, and Claudian now, among us; and if I had to begin again, I would mould myself accordingly. Crabbe’s the man, but he has got a coarse and impracticable subject; and Rogers, the grandfather of living poetry, is retired upon half-pay, since pretty Miss Jacqueline, with her nose acquiline, and has done enough, unless he were to do as he had done formerly.’

some of his Contemporaries 421

Non noster hic sermo—such were the opinions of Lord Byron on English literature, perhaps the only subject on which it was essential that he should have agreed with Mr. Leigh Hunt before he entered on the joint speculation of a literary journal with that gentleman—with Mr. Leigh Hunt, author of Rimini, who, throughout all his works, treats the great names of our time with contempt,—who, even in this quarto, talks of Lord Byron himself as a mere imitator in poetry,—and who considers Mr. Leigh Hunt, Mr. John Keats, and so forth, as the only true and permanent lights of the age. Such were their literary differences; and we venture to add that the points of discrepancy between the two men, as to literature, were less numerous and of less importance than in regard to almost any other subject whatever—except only (and with sorrow do we mark the exception) the highest subject of all, namely, religion.

As to politics, the haughty heir of all the Byrons, and the Jupiter Tonans of the round window in the Examiner office had not, and never could have had, anything in common beyond a few words, to which the man of genius and the paragraph-monger attached totally opposite meanings. Even as to the more solemn subject of religion, we ought to take shame to ourselves for even for a moment considering Lord Byron and Mr. Leigh Hunt as brother infidels. The dark doubts which disturbed to its depths the noble intellect of the one had little, indeed, in common with the coxcombical phantasies which floated and float on the surface of the other’s shallowness. Humility,—a most absurd delusion of humility, be it allowed, made the one majestic creature unhappy: the most ludicrous conceit, grafted on the most deplorable incapacity, has filled the paltry mind of the gentleman-of the-press now before us, with a chaos of crude, pert dogmas, which defy all analysis, and which it is just possible to pity more than despise.

‘I am no bigot to infidelity,’ said Byron in a letter to the late Mr. Gifford, ‘and did not expect that, because I doubted the immortality of man, I should be charged with denying the existence of a God. It was the comparative insignificance of ourselves and our world, when placed in comparison with the mighty whole, of which it is an atom, that first led me to imagine that our pretensions to immortality might be overrated.’

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

Let us hear his lordship’s contemporary.

‘He (Lord Byron) was a Christian by education; he was an infidel by reading. He was a Christian by habit; he was no Christian upon reflection. I use the word here in its ordinary acceptation, and not in its really Christian and philosophical sense, as a believer in The Endeavour and The Universality, which are the consummation of Christianity. . . . Bigoted christians, of all sects, take liberties enough, God knows!
422Lord Byron and
They are much profaner than any devout deist ever thinks of being.’—Hunt, p. 128.

Such is uniformly the tone of this would-be ‘devout Deist,’ this most profound Universalist.

‘Ye men of deep researches, say whence springs
This daring character in timorous things?
Who start at feathers, from an insect fly—
A match for nothing—but the Deity!’

Between the hypochondriac reveries of a poet, and the smug petulancies of this cockney, there is, we take it, about as wide an interval as from the voluptuousness of a Sardanapalus to the geniality of a monkey; an illustration which we also beg leave to apply (where, indeed, it is all but literally in point) to the feelings of these two persons, on certain moral questions, to which we wish it had been possible for us to make no allusions.

Hunt, Ld Byron & his Contemporaries

We shall touch as briefly as possible on this disgusting topic. It is a miserable truth, that at the time when Mr. Leigh Hunt went to eat, drink, and sleep at Lord Byron’s cost, and under Lord Byron’s roof at Pisa, Lord Byron entertained an Italian gentleman’s wife, as his mistress, under that roof. Let us hear what his contemporary has to say as to his own conduct in carrying his own wife to partake, under that same roof, of Lord Byron’s bounty.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘I was not prepared to find the father and brother (of Lord Byron’s mistress) living in the same house; but taking the national manners into consideration, and differing very considerably with the notions entertained respecting the intercourse of the sexes in more countries than one, I was prepared to treat with respect what I conceived to be founded in serious feelings, and saw even in that arrangement something which, though it startled my English habits at first, seemed to be a still further warrant of innocence of intention, and exception to general rules.’—Hunt, p. 22.

‘He (Lord Byron) had been told, what was very true, that Mrs. Hunt, though living in all respects after the fashion of an English wife, was any thing but illiberal with regard to others.’—Ibid. p. 26.

This is enough: we shall be more merciful to this unfortunate lady, than her auto-biographical husband has been.

Thomas Moore, Living Dog & Dead Lion

We should, indeed, have reason to blush, could we think for a moment of entering into the details given by Mr. Leigh Hunt, concerning the manners, habits, and conversation of Lord Byron. The witness is, in our opinion, disqualified to give evidence upon any such subjects; his book proves him to be equally ignorant of what manners are, and incompetent to judge what manners ought to be: his elaborate portraiture of his own habits is from beginning to end a very caricatura of absurdity; and the man who wrote this book, studiously cast, as the whole language of it is,
some of his Contemporaries423
in a free-and-easy, conversational tone, has no more right to decide about the conversation of such a man as Lord Byron, than has a pert apprentice to pronounce ex cathedrá—from his one shilling gallery, to wit—on the dialogue of a polite comedy. We can easily believe, that Lord Byron never talked his best when this was his companion. We can also believe that Lord Byron’s serious conversation, even in its lowest tone, was often unintelligible to Mr. Leigh Hunt. We are morally certain, that in such company Lord Byron talked, very often indeed, for the mere purpose of amusing himself at the expense of his ignorant, phantastic, lack-a-daisical guest; that he considered the Magnus Apollo of Paradise Row as a precious butt, and acted accordingly. We therefore consider Mr. Hunt’s evidence as absolutely inadmissible, on strong preliminary grounds. But what are we to say to it, when we find it, as we do, totally and diametrically at variance both with the substance and complexion of Lord Byron’s epistolary correspondence; and with the oral testimonies of men whose talents, originally superior beyond all possibility of measurement to Mr. Hunt’s, have been matured and perfected by study, both of books and men, such as Mr. Hunt never even dreamed of; who had the advantage of meeting Lord Byron on terms of perfect equality to all intents and purposes; and who, qualified as they probably were, above any of their contemporaries, to appreciate Lord Byron, whether as a poet, or as a man of high rank and pre-eminent fame, mingling with the world in society such as he ought never to have sunk below, all with one voice pronounce an opinion exactly and in every particular, as well as looking to things broadly and to the general effect, the reverse of that which this unworthy and ungrateful dependent has thought himself justified in promulgating, on the plea of a penury which no Lord Byron survives to relieve. It is too bad, that he who has, in his own personal conduct, as well as in his writings, so much to answer for—who abused great opportunities and great talents so lamentably—Who sinned so deeply, both against the society to which he belonged and the literature in which his name will ever hold a splendid place—it is really too bad, that Lord Byron, in addition to the grave condemnation of men able to appreciate both his merits and his demerits, and well disposed to think more in sorrow than in anger of the worst errors that existed along with so much that was excellent and noble—it is by much too bad, that this great man’s glorious though melancholy memory
‘Must also bear the vile attacks
Of ragged curs and vulgar hacks’
whom he fed;—that his bones must be scraped up from their bed of repose to be at once grinned and howled over by creatures
424Lord Byron and
who, even in the least hyena-like of their moods, can touch no thing that mankind would wish to respect without polluting it.

Hunt, Preface to 2d Edition

We are of opinion that we shall present our readers with the best possible review of Mr. Leigh Hunt’s Reminiscences of Lord Byron, by transcribing a few stanzas which appeared in the Times newspaper immediately on the publication of this quarto, and which have been universally attributed to one of the very few persons introduced in Mr. Hunt’s book, whom it is possible to hear mentioned among ‘Lord Byron’s contemporaries’ without laughing:—

‘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, borrowed—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.

So much for Mr. Leigh Hunt versus Lord Byron: the other contemporaries that figure in this volume are, with two or three exceptions, persons whose insignificance equals that of the author himself; and as they have had no hand, that we know of, in this absurd exposure of themselves, we should be sorry either to waste our time or to wound their feelings by any remarks on Mr. Hunt’s delineations of them. Mr. Shelley’s portrait appears to be the
some of his Contemporaries425
most elaborate of these minor efforts of Mr. Hunt’s pencil. Why does Mr. Hunt conceal (if he be aware of the fact) that this unfortunate man of genius was bitterly sensible ere he died of the madness and profligacy of the early career which drew upon his head so much indignation, reproach, and contumely—that he confessed with tears ‘that he well knew he had been all in the wrong’? 
And, by the way, why did Mr. Hunt inflict on Mr. Horatio Smith so great an injury as to say, after describing his acts of generous friendship to the unfortunate Mr. Shelley, that he (Mr. Smith) differed with Mr. Shelley ‘on some points,’ without stating distinctly what those points were—namely, every point, whether of religious belief or of moral opinion, on which Mr. Shelley differed, at the time of his acquaintance with Mr. Smith, from all the respectable part of the English community? We are happy to have this opportunity of doing justice, on competent authority, to a person whom, judging merely from the gentleman-like and moral tone of all his writings, we certainly should never have expected to meet with in the sort of company with which this, no doubt, unwelcome eulogist has thought fit to associate his name.

Mr. Hunt received from the hand of nature talents which, if properly cultivated and employed, might have raised him to distinction; and, we really believe, feelings calculated to procure him a kind reception from the world. His vanity, a vanity to which it is needless to look for any parallel even among the vain race of rhymers, has destroyed all. Under the influence of that disease—for it deserves no other name—he has set himself up as the standard in every thing. While yet a stripling, most imperfectly educated, and lamentably ignorant of men as they are, and have been, he dared to set his own crude fancies in direct opposition to all that is received among sane men, either as to the moral government of the world, or the political government of this nation, or the purposes and conduct of literary enterprise. This was ‘the Moloch of absurdity’ of which Lord Byron has spoken so justly. The consequences—we believe we may safely say the last consequences—of all this rash and wicked nonsense are now before us. The last wriggle of expiring imbecility appears in these days to be a volume of personal Reminiscences; and we have now heard the feeble death-rattle of the once loud-tongued as well as brazen-faced Examiner.

We hope and trust the public reception of this filthy gossip will be such as to discourage any more of these base assaults upon Lord Byron’s memory. ‘Some of the epitaphs at Ferrara—(said he, in one of those many letters which breathed an ominous presentiment of early death)—some of the epitaphs at Ferrara pleased
426Lord Byron and
me more than the splendid monuments of Bologna; for instance, Martini Lerigi implora pace; Lucrezia Picini implora eterna quiete. Can any thing be more full of pathos? These few words say all that can be said or sought. The dead had had enough of life; all they wanted was rest, and this they implore. Here is all the helplessness, and humble hope, and death-like prayer that can arise from the grave. Implora pace! I hope whoever may survive me will see these two words, and no more, put over me.’—it is possible that
Mr. Leigh Hunt will read these words without a blush; but to what other ear will the implora pace of Lord Byron be addressed in vain?