LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Reminiscences of a Literary Life

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Giuseppe Pecchio, a Lombard and Milanese, was about the only Italian revolutionist or Liberal that I ever really liked, or with whom I could keep up an uninterrupted intimacy and friendship to the last. He had more wit, more general information, and more genius, than all the rest of the Liberali put together. He was also a fine, spirited, manly little fellow, exceedingly active, enterprising, and full of resources and courage.

Though bred in Italy, and only a civilian, he was fond of athletic exercises, rode boldly, and was first-rate with the rapier. It rejoiced my heart to see the spare little man, for many years nearly constantly a valetudinarian, disarm, in about two seconds, a big, hectoring Frenchman who came to Brighton with the reputation of a grand spadassin.

Then, Pecchio was always outspoken, sincere, and truthful. Most of the Italian refugees gave out in England that they had never done anything to deserve from their several governments either exile or any other pain or penalty; that they had been unjustly condemned on the evidence of suborned, hired witnesses; that they were as innocent as so many bleating lambs, and that eternal infamy would rest on their princes and governments for their condemnation, exile, and hard suffering in a foreign land.

Some of them, again, would shape their tale according to society and circumstances: if they found “fit
audience,” which they frequently did among our ultra-Whigs, Radicals, and Levellers, they would take pride in, and claim credit for, their revolutionism, and tell how they had intended to dispose of their princes, priests, and aristocrats, had they only succeeded in their rivoluzione; if they fell among Conservatives, or men of moderate principles sure to be disgusted with secret societies, republican plots, and other political excesses, they would read their story backwards. They would say that they had never aimed at anything beyond a mild, limited monarchical constitution like that of England—for this they had wished and sighed; but they had never plotted or conspired to bring it about, they had never contemplated wrong or violence to their rulers, they were outcasts only for having entertained some liberal opinions, and for having secretly desired to be governed as Englishmen were, and could there be crime in this?

I have heard one of the most conspicuous of these refugees declare, in one sort of society, that he and his friend Major —— had originated and organized plots at such and such places; that they had arranged the means of carrying off their respective sovereigns to castles on the Apennines, or for cutting their throats, if need should be; that they had tampered with the troops, and had won over some of the police and gendarmerie; that they had pretty well all the professors and students at their beck and call, and that they had conceived and arranged the beautiful, strategical scheme of bringing over all the barges, boats, and punts, from the left to the right bank of the Po, so that, when the bridges should be broken down, the Austrian troops would not be able to cross the river and get at them. In company of another sort, I have heard this man, and still more his friend and brother-conspirator, the Major, solemnly protest that they had never been in any plot at all, that they abhorred conspiracies, that they had been sentenced
on the evidence of men who could swear black was white, and white, black; that one of them had actually sworn that on a certain day at an alleged political meeting, the Major wore green spectacles; whereas, at that date, he never wore any spectacles at all!

“Handy dandy! Which is the justice, and which is the thief?” Of the two stories, both could not be true; but with those who knew the men as I did there was not the remotest possibility of a doubt as to which of the two was true.

Giuseppe Pecchio was far above this equivocation and duplicity. He frankly confessed that he had conspired against the Austrian Lombardo-Venetian Government, and had done all that in him lay to overthrow it, though never by recourse either to assassinations or to wild popular insurrections; that if the Austrians had caught him as he was flying out of the country, they would have been justified by the laws of the Empire in hanging him, or in sending him to the dungeons of Olmutz or Spielberg, to keep company with his friends, Count Gonfaloniere and Silvio Pellico.

“In a civil administrative capacity,” said he, “I served the so-called Regno d’Italia, when under Napoleon and Eugene Beauharnais. I never liked the French rule, but I disliked the Austrian more, and not knowing then, as I do now, the weakness of Italian Liberalism, the conflicting, insane factions, and the frequently selfish views of its chiefs, I flattered myself with the hope that an independent, national, thoroughly Italian but constitutional government might be established in Lombardy and throughout northern or upper Italy. I tried, and I failed; but as I and my friends of the party never intended to resort to violent or dishonourable means of action, I will never deny that I did try!” “Dear Pecchio,” said I, more than once, “you had bad tools to work with.” “But,” said he, “if we had not used them, we could not have worked at all!” “And would
not that have been better?” “Perhaps,” replied he; “I have thought so since then. Thirteen years added to one’s life, by themselves alone, usually make a great difference in a man. With me, some of these years have been spent in wandering from one revolutionized country to another, in vicissitudes, and in a very rough teaching experience. More than eight of those years have been spent tranquilly, and on the whole prosperously, in England, where my chief occupation has been studying your temper, manners, and Constitution. How little did we know of these things! How little could we comprehend their spirit when we were revolution-making in 1820 and 1821! Still I dislike the Austrian domination in my country; I have been fighting it Parthian-fashion, hitting it with my arrows as I retreated and fled from it! I was nearly intercepted at the beginning of my retreat; and but for a Scottish friend,
Lord Kinnaird, I should have been caught at Milan, not napping, but buffooning and masquerading. Well! I know not how much longer life will last with me—I feel not very long—but through Lord Kinnaird I have stolen thirteen years of not unhappy existence from the Emperor Francis and his Austrian tribunals. Ringraziamo il Cielo!

Within a year from the date of this conversation, which took place as we were riding side by side over the downs which lie between Brighton and Lewes, and which was, I think, the last of many of the sort, I drove down from the neighbourhood of London to follow my friend to his grave in Hove churchyard.

Some of the exiles gave out that he was killed by our climate. Nonsense! He died of a chronic and hereditary complaint which would have killed him in Milan quite as soon as at Brighton, and perhaps sooner; for during a good part of the year the climate of that part of Lombardy is more trying than any portion of southern England.

He left several things behind him which his coun-
trymen ought not to forget, or to let perish. His “
Life of Ugo Foscolo” is a very model of literary biography, an affecting account of the aberrations, sufferings, and enjoyments, of a man of poetical temperament, of a man of genius. On the whole, I think I prefer it to Johnson’sLife of Savage”; it seems to me more real, more true, and more touching.

Savage was but a mediocre poet at best; compared as a poet with Foscolo, he sinks into insignificance; and if reference be had to classical learning and varied accomplishments, he becomes, in the comparison, a poor creature indeed!

I have heard Tuscans, Italian purists, and other Delia Cruscan critics, find fault with Pecchio’s style as being not strictly “according to Cocker,” but rather careless. They complained that not only many of his constructions and turns of expression, but also a good many of his words, were not Tuscan, but Lombard; with some deduction this may be true enough; but there was this charm in Pecchio’s writing—it was always lively, animated, unaffected, perfectly natural; and these are qualities rarely to be found in any modern Italian prose writer, and never in a toscaneggiando purist.

These men will keep writing in the tone and style of the Tre-Centisti, or the Sei-Centisti; they must cast their sentences into the same moulds, they must employ the same formulas, they must on no account employ a word or a particle except strictly according to the Cruscan Academy and its Dictionary; they will employ hours in turning and furbishing a single period, almost sure to have the curse of pedantry, and to be “very inanimate and very round”; altogether, they bestow more pains and more thought on the way of saying a thing than on the thing itself, or the matter which is to be said.

Hence, chiefly, the weariness and dreariness of most modern Italian prose works. Except Manzoni,
Azeglio, and two or three others, who among them have been writing lively, unaffected, natural prose? Pecchio never wrote verse except in sport, or satire; he had no ear for it, nor did he understand its rhythm, cadence, or construction. To him, Italian poetry was valuable only for the vivid pictures, the feelings and passions it might contain; and as in that flowing facile language there are such mountains of verse that have neither pictures nor passions, neither thought nor feeling, that are instinct with nothing but mellifluous, ear-tickling sound, Pecchio had a fine, hearty, manful contempt for much of his native literature. He exceedingly relished Crabbe’s rhymed tales, with their simplicity, unmawkish pathos, stern positive reality, and quiet satire; and he wished he could see them well done into Italian verse, for the benefit of his countrymen. He would have gone great lengths to drive some of their fiddling, guitaring, singing, and other branches of their virtù out of the Italians, and to put some more manly, sterner qualities in their place.

Yet never being dogmatical, never solemn for ten minutes at a time, he would often laugh and say that it was their virtù which kept the balance of trade pretty equal.

“We buy your Sheffield hardware and your Manchester goods, and pay the prices; we send you over fiddlers and singers, and get back our money in the salaries you pay to the Paganini, Pasta, Grisi, Malibran, Rubini, and others; and thus the beam of the scales is kept pretty well in a horizontal line.”

Pecchio, Charles Knight, and G. L. Craik were about the only men I could ever patiently listen to for a quarter of an hour while they were discoursing political economy, without feeling weariness, headache, and a mortal ennui.

MacCulloch, Spring-Rice, Senior, and all of that school, or rather schools, choked one with their eternal “quarter of wheat,” and their still drier and
huskier “averages,” Mark Lane prices, and other statistical returns, most of which were “cooked” to suit some particular theory or other, whilst the rest were seldom to be relied upon as correct. “I tell you what it is,” said
Pecchio, “your English economists have stripped off skin and flesh, they have taken the nerves, muscles, and sinews out of the subject, and have left nothing but dry bones, nothing but a whitened, harsh, repulsive skeleton, with limbs and parts badly wired together. I am not surprised that ladies and most young people should be disgusted with it.”

These philosophers held a dining club, either at Freemasons’ Tavern, or some other house near Covent Garden. Yes, they dined like common mortals, and, like true Englishmen, they imbibed their port and sherry. MacCulloch, the greatest luminary of them all, was a jovial fellow, with a sort of rough, ready, boisterous Lowland Scottish humour, which would flow pretty copiously as he approached his second bottle; but all the rest of that Comitiva were very methodical, slow, formalizing, positive, and positively dull fellows.

In virtue of his standing on the Continent as a writer on political economy—and Pecchio had written and published a good deal in that line—my animated, vivacious, and witty friend was invited by MacCulloch to dine with these economists. Stewart Rose, who had no liking for any of the sect, said: “Well, Pecchio, you are still alive! How did you get through it? Did you make any of your wicked jokes? In the name of figs, what did you talk about?”

Per dirvi il vero” (“to tell you the truth”), said Pecchio, “we talked, discussed, disputed, jangled, and harangued, from seven o’clock till eleven, to settle the one question, ‘What is Rent?’ and we separated without settling it at all.” “Bel divertimento!” quoth Rose, with a shiver and a groan.


Only allow poor Pecchio a little licence and margin for the introduction of a French or Italian word when the English one did not come to his tongue, and he could tell a humorous or witty story, or make jokes and fun, with the best of us. In this way he could even keep pace with Sydney Smith, who had been, in essential matters, his good warm friend, and to whom he was exceedingly attached, as well by gratitude as by his full appreciation and admiration of the parson’s wit and humour, and genial happy temperament. In an evening I have heard Pecchio, in a society where people did not laugh at bad jests, raise quite as many hearty, unmalicious, innocent laughs, as the Rev. Sydney himself. He was the more amusing from his imperfect pronunciation of English.

For a foreigner, he knew our literature uncommonly well; he read our poets from Chaucer to Shakespeare and Spenser, and from them down to Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Tennyson; but not beginning to talk English, nor to reside with English people, until he was somewhat advanced in life, he never got over some of our difficult articulations, and never got rid of his native Italian pronunciation of the vowels. With him, the article “the” was always “de”; the pronoun “this,” “dis” to the end. The vowel “i”was always “ee,” as in Italian. Thus with Pecchio, “ship” was “sheep,” “slip” was “sleep,” and so on. One morning, when we were riding on the Brighton Downs, he said: “To-day dare are many sheeps in de sea.” “Sorry for it,” said Rose, “the poor creatures will get drowned.” But in these particulars there was no correcting our accomplished Lombard.

Through Sydney Smith, Sir James Mackintosh, Lord Holland, Mr. Hallam, dear Rose, “la Rosa senza spina,” as he named him, through old Sam Rogers, the Harleys and others, he knew more or less intimately nearly every man, and woman too,
that was worth knowing in England; and having a thoroughly
English wife, I believe he loved our society, in spite of its chilliness and drawbacks, better than that of any other nation. He had comparatively very few friends or acquaintances in France. Of a few Spaniards he was very fond: as of Martinez de la Rosa, the Duke of Rivas, Bardaxi the diplomatist, and the Canon Del Riego, brother to the unfortunate General of that name.

Whenever he made any stay in London, honest, impetuous, peppery old Riego, a great collector of black-letter and of all manner of old books, and a great original in every way, was a good deal with him; and very amusing it was to hear their frequent disputes, and to see their animated gesticulations, which would often bring all eyes upon them at a party or out in the streets, for the old Canon cared not where he held forth, moving his arms like the sails of a windmill.

He was nearly always “stiff in opinion, obstinately wrong”; but he was so single-minded, so honest-hearted, so abounding in the sweet charities of human nature. Moreover, he was a wonderful specimen of Spanish sobriety of life and contentment with little; he had nothing but a small English stipend or pension secured to him by the Duke of Wellington; but on this he not only lodged, fed, and clothed himself, but he also contrived to buy many books, and to give away money in alms. In politics, the poor deprived Spanish Canon was as ignorant, passionate, and insane as the rest of them, or as all the Spanish Liberals I have chanced to know, with the exception of Martinez de la Rosa and three or four others.

At Madrid, in 1822, Pecchio had made the acquaintance of that shallow coxcomb, that dull Neapolitan, that blundering conspirator and arrant traitor, General Guglielmo Pepe, and had taken a fair and correct measurement of his intellect and
abilities. “I was nearly three months with him,” said Pecchio, “and every day he began to tell me how his Carbonaro revolution had failed.

“You know the sonorous mode of his country. He always solemnly and loudly started thus: ‘Tre sono le cause per le quale la nostra Rivoluzione non sia riuscita come doveva, umanamente parlando, riuscire.’

“Well,” continued Pecchio, “so long-winded was he, and so rambling, excursive, and disconnected, that he never, in all that time, got over ‘cause one,’ or entered upon ‘cause two.’ Eleven years have passed since then; he has been hammering at his ‘three causes ‘ever since, or whenever he has been able to find listeners; he is discussing them now at Brussels, and yet I would venture to say that he has never got to the end of his ‘third cause.’ Dulness is not a characteristic or national fault with the Neapolitans—sotto quel cielo non nascono sciocchi! In the masses, you find plenty of ignorance, but you don’t find fools or naturals. Pepe is a rarity, quite a curiosity.”

Pecchio,” said I, “I know him well. I knew him before he headed the secret societies and led the revolution, and when, like another Lafayette, he was perpetually capering about the Chiaja, the camps and the streets of Naples, with his tail of National Guards; but it is not I that would vote for preserving his body in a glass case!”

Returning from his Philhellenic financial mission to revolutionized Greece—whither he was accompanied by Conte Pietro Gamba, brother to Lord Byron’s Contessa Guiccioli, one of the greatest gourmandizers that ever ate riso, polenta, fricassee, or roast beef, and where he behaved like a thoroughly honest man among a set of stock-jobbers and thieves, and like a shrewd, sensible, practical man among a set of madmen or dreamers and donkeys like Trelawny, or Colonel the Hon. Leicester Stanhope—poor Pecchio had a dreadful passage, was near being drowned at
sea, and was after all landed, not in England, but on the coast of Ireland.

In Dublin he fell in with Lady Morgan, to whom his revolutionary and anti-Austrian politics were introduction and recommendation enough. He found her little leddyship already surrounded by a troop of Italian, Spanish, and other refugees; gentlemen who had found the London market overstocked with their commodity, and who had come over to the Green Island with a comfortable confidence in Irish credulity, warm-heartedness, and hospitality. I believe that their expectations were not disappointed. Her ladyship, and her husband, the accoucheur, could not do much, at home, in the hospitality line; but then she could take them with her to the dinners, evening parties, and suppers given by other people, and she never went anywhere without being attended by a long train of unfortunate, expatriated patriots.

The French and Austrian consuls used to call them “les pendables de Mi Ledi Morgan”; “and,” said Pecchio, “putting politics out of the question, and speaking the plain truth, I am rather afraid that several of them had deserved hanging, before they fled from their own countries. At all events, every one of them was metaphorically marked with the rope—marcato con la corda—for they had all been sentenced in contumacia.”

I was once at a party at Sablonières, in Leicester Square, with Pecchio and Panizzi; there were eight others, Italians or Spaniards. I made the eleventh, and out of that number I was the only one who had not been condemned to be hanged or to be imprisoned for life.

There was something dramatic or poetical in this; but I did not feel myself much lowered by being an exception.

The Austrians hanged none. If Pecchio had been caught, he could not have survived one winter of Spielberg. Count Gonfaloniere, a much robuster
person, came out of that captivity a martyr to rheumatism and other pains.
Maroncelli, who suffered there the amputation of a leg, afterwards went to America, and turned out no better than a marionciello—which is Neapolitan for “a dirty little rogue.”

Poor Pellico lived many years like a penitent Christian, and then died like a saint, hooted and execrated by all the Liberals of Italy, because he would not attack the Emperor of Austria, the Pope, and all the Princes of the Peninsula, nor enter again into any conspiracy.

In 1848, when I was last at Turin, where he long resided, and which might almost be called his native place, we could not obtain at the booksellers’ a copy of his tragedy “Francesco di Rimini,” or of any of his beautiful verses. It would hardly have been safe to ask for “Le mie Prigioni,” which they were calling “the production of a vile, canting Jesuit.” The ultra-Liberals were then in the ascendant, and they and their potential clubs had laid his works under interdict, and pronounced anathema maranatha upon the best poet Piedmont has ever produced.

It was not in this way that Pellico was judged by Pecchio, who admired his genius, was proud of his friendship, and spoke of him, to the last, with respect, tenderness, and affection.


This revolutionist, who has been the cause of sending many men to the grave, has, like nearly every Italian I have known, a horror of death, and of everything strongly reminding him of mortality.

One morning, when landlady and servant were out, he answered to a knock, opened the street door, and shrank back into the passage in affright, for two undertaker’s men, bearing an immense coffin, stood bolt before him.


“What for you bring dat to dis house?” he exclaimed; “here are no deads!” The fellows had mistaken the number; the coffin was for poor Ned Howard, the sea-novelist, who lived in the same street or terrace, somewhere in the Sloane Street district, but a door to two higher up, or lower down. As Ned had been an enormous eater as well as a copious drinker, he had grown enormously fat, and had been carried off by apoplexy. Mazzini, seeing the size of the coffin, might very well have thought it was intended for two or more single gentlemen. Hence his Italian use of the inadmissible English plural, “deads.” His vernacular, which he put into English, would have been “Qui non vi sono morti.” His landlady or servant came to the rescue, found the Tribune of the People, the man who talks of “Dio e popolo,” very pale, and sent poor Ned’s coffin to its proper destination.

I always thought that poor “Rattlin the Reefer” would not have ended so soon, nor have made so bad an end, if his old shipmate and then patron, Captain Marryat, had treated him more considerately and liberally, and had set him a better example in the late hours of night, and in one or two other particulars.

I have had reason to believe the fact, of which the poor novelist was very proud, that he was a natural son of the Duke of Norfolk, the “Black Surrey,” of Whiggish, parliamentary celebrity. Poor Ned was not very aristocratic in manners or in personal appearance, but no more was his reputed father, His Grace of Norfolk; at least, not for many a long year before he filled a coffin big enough for “deads.” But poor Ned, though an imitator and almost a copyist of Marryat his chief, had considerable ability and verve, as his novels will show. He had gone through a considerable variety of adventures. Before starting as a professional littérateur, he had been in the Navy; he had been a partner or shareholder in a gunpowder manufactory, which blew up and
reduced him almost to beggary; and he had been an usher in a boarding-school at Beech Hill, Essex, where he made love to Miss W., one of his master’s daughters, whom he married. He had adventures after this; his first wife died, and left him an only child, a daughter, and not very long afterwards he married another
Miss W., no relation to his former wife, but the very pretty daughter of a revolutionary scribbler for an infamous weekly newspaper.


In my time, I have known and much liked many Poles, gentlemen as well as ladies, but I must confess that I have never had confidence in, or much sympathy for, Polish refugee patriots. With this old soldier, this companion in arms of Kosciusko, this man of letters, feeling, and imagination, I became rather intimate in 1831-32.

Lord Dover, ultra-Whiggish as he then was, used to say that the poor old Count was the only very interesting man that the Warsaw revolution of 1830 had thrown on our shore. With me, he did not talk of present or passing politics, but of the future destinies of the Slav race, with re-constructed Poland at its head.

Panslavism, though taken as a novelty in 1847-48, is far from being one. As a young man I could not dispute with one who was almost an octogenarian; and I hope I had too much kindness of heart ever to attempt to disturb the visions which solaced the aged and amiable exile. Though not left to want, he was poor, and debarred from many of the comforts to which he had been accustomed at home. Like myself, he was a frequent visitor at the house of the Hon. Mrs. Buchanan, aunt to the present Lord Elibank.

Late one night, one stormy winter night, when no
vehicle could be procured in the vicinity, the Count and I walked away together with umbrellas, which neither of us knew how to use, or how to carry in a storm of wind. On coming out into Piccadilly, the old man stopped at the sheltering corner of a street, and said with a tone that went to my heart, “This is rather too hard! Here am I trudging through rain and sleet, at this time of night, while Russians are riding in my carriage at Warsaw, et à mon age on n’est plus jeune ni fort.” I saw him to the door of the house where he lodged, and there I left him, sincerely mourning over the woes brought about by ill-considered revolutions.

Some Polish refugees were little better than impostors, or idle beggars, and became a downright nuisance. Lord Dudley Stewart, whom I had known in the days of his youth when he was living with his mother, the Marchioness of Bute, at Naples, and who afterwards became entirely possessed by Polomania, used to stock the Reading Room at the British Museum with them, by giving them introductory or recommendatory letters to good-natured old Sir Henry Ellis, at that time Chief Librarian. Now, unfortunately for me, for my friend Craik and others who had work to do and neither time nor much money to spare, too many of these patriots made the place a begging-beat, and begged in it importunately.

One morning, a tall, lank, sallow, rather ferocious-looking man, wrapped up in a camlet cloak, vexed me with a direfully long tale of woe and want, and he ended it by saying, “Monsieur, je n’ai ni patrie, ni pas même une chemise!” and by opening the folds of his cover-all to certify the truth of the last assertion. Though patronized by Lord Dudley and others, many of these Polish refugees were common, uneducated men who had been artisans in their own country, and who might have found work at their several trades in England if they had been so inclined. But
they were fit or disposed only for fighting or barricade-making. Except some four or five who entered into the employment of
Mr. Clowes the great printer, as compositors or pressmen, I never knew any of them turn their hands to quiet, honest industry, or to anything that was useful. Next to the Spaniards, the most helpless of the refugees with which I have known London to swarm were certainly the Poles. But the Spaniards were exceedingly sober and abstemious, whereas the Pole dearly loved his glass and a bellyful. What with their singing, fiddling, and guitaring, painting and modelling, the Italian refugee patriots did the best; I have rarely known one of them to be in want. I have known many of them to be in a far higher state of prosperity than they had ever known in their own country.