LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Reminiscences of a Literary Life

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I have certainly owed to chance encounters on the road, or to accidental meetings in outlandish places, some of the pleasantest acquaintances and some of the best friends I have ever had, to wit, Captain Guyon, Admiral Elphinstone Fleming, John Ralph, Matthew Price, Charles Danvers, the late Lord Dudley and Ward, General Church, Prince Rosamoffski, and at least a score of others. When travelling abroad Englishmen get rid of their frigidity, stiffness, and inaccessibility, or at least suspend those amiable national qualities for a season.

One cold, raw February morning, a little after daylight, in the year of grace 1829, I embarked at Paris for Calais, in a big rambling diligence. I had taken my place for what they call l’intérieur, thinking that would be warmest; and in I got, and was seated opposite to an unmistakable John Bull, when two young men passed and clambered up into what they call the coupé, that is, the front part of the machine, the intérieur coming next, and behind it what they call, or then called, the rotonde. Everybody knows poor Cowper’s sketch of a true John Bull—
“An honest man, close buttoned to the chin,
Broad-cloth without, and a warm heart within.”

I would not answer for my companion’s honesty, and I had reason to doubt his warmth of heart; but in externals he answered to the picture, for he was great-coated and top-coated and cloaked to that degree that he looked like a bale of broad-cloth. He was what Walter Scott used to designate as a “rough and round man.” He had ruddy cheeks, and a red nose which betokened the bon vivant, but
his countenance was as clouded and gloomy as if there had been no “cakes and ale” in the blessed world. I never could, and even now that I am old and careworn I never can, travel with any man in dead, sulky silence. If I were wayfaring with a chimney-sweep or a costermonger I should try to get talk out of him. I tried my red-nosed friend at starting by making those remarks about the weather which are so very English and so very original. “It is very cold,” said I, “and I think that we shall soon have another fall of snow.” “Hem! Hum!” said my comrade. When we had got out of town, and were rattling along a stone-paved causeway, some miles in the country, I made another attempt by saying that Paris was very gay at this season. “Is it?” grunted Broad-cloth.

While stopping to change horses at St. Denis, I said that this was a famous old place, and that the Kings of France were buried there. “Are they?” grunted Broad-cloth. Having failed in a third attempt I gave him up, and had recourse to a book. But as we advanced I felt wretchedly cold. I had been living nearly nine years in warm climates, and was ill-provided with warm clothing. I was on my way homeward from Turkey, and had been travelling in rather a desultory manner, and nearly always by dilly, through Toulon, Marseilles, Aix, Avignon, Nismes, Pont du Gard, Valencay, Lyon, and Dijon, whence I took the direct road to Paris.

It was a terrible winter, that of 1828-29; all the sunny south was deep under snow, which retarded our progress very many hours, and in which more than once our cumbrous vehicle stuck fast. The Cote d’Or, and all the golden vine-clad hills of Burgundy, might have been taken for bits of Siberia in winter-time, and twice one bitter, blowing, snowing night I and all the other passengers had to get out and walk, and the conducteur had to employ not only three extra horses but also two yokes of oxen
to drag up his ark. But for a very kind and very pretty French lady, who had with her her husband’s thick, warm military cloak, and had no need of it, and who had moreover a good large tin vessel, which was filled at each relay with hot water, I think I must have perished one night in Burgundy, where I had often been all but roasted alive. I might have provided myself with proper clothing at Paris, and should have done so but for a little imprudence which I shall mention hereafter.

While our Calais dilly was changing horses at another station, I heard a voice from the coupé shouting, “Apportez nous deux bottes de join, je vous en prie!” The hay was brought and put in, and then from the same coupé I heard a good English voice say, “It is not enough to cover up the legs, let us have some more while we are about it!” Then I heard the other voice, and the words, “Mon ami, apportez nous encore de bottes. Merci, merci, mon brave!

“I think,” said I to Broad-cloth, “we had better follow their example. My feet are so cold that I can scarcely feel them.” “Mine ain’t,” grunted he; “three pair of worsted stockings, thick flannel drawers down to ankles, quite warm enough!” I would have called for the hay, but I had lost time, and the vehicle was getting under weigh.

So on we went, Broad-cloth being as taciturn, and I as cold, as ever. And all this stage I was tantalized by hearing the sounds of merry voices and of frequent and loud laughs in the coupé. At the next stage my miseries terminated. As we stopped at the posthouse, a garçon handed me in a scrap of paper on which was written in pencil, “Requested by the two gentlemen in the coupé, the loan of a gentleman in the intérieur.” As Broad-cloth sat by the window, and I at some distance, the lad gave the missive to him; he read it, gave a grunt, and then instantly gave the paper to me. In a very few seconds I was
out of his presence, and comfortably ensconced between two delightful young men, brimful of vivacity and fun.

“While we are stopping, and have the opportunity, I think we had better take in more hay,” said one of them, who then repeated the mot d’ordre, “Mon ami, apportez nous deux bottes de foin!” We did the same at each relay; until, by the time we got to Beauvais, we were buried in hay nearly up to the chin, and looking like three stone Schiedam bottles packed and embedded in hay for safe carriage. This comparison I made, renewed the laughter that had scarcely ceased from the time I entered the coupé and had got packed up and unfrozen. I could now say with as much pathos as Jean Jacques, “Ah! on êtait jeune alors!” Younger in heart even than in years!

What a happy dinner was that we had in the homely roadside inn at Beauvais! We had a bottle or two of Bordeaux, besides the vin ordinaire, but we did not need this stimulus, for we had been just as merry on a cup or two of coffee and a slice of bread and butter for breakfast, as we were during or after dinner. The conducteur was a good-natured, jolly fellow himself, and not very particular as to time, so we sat rather a long while, talking and joking; and all this while there sat, at the farthest end of the table, old Broad-cloth, as mum as ever, eating at a rare rate; drinking champagne and then settling it with hot brandy and water. We cast side-glances at him now and then, but otherwise took no more notice of him than we should have done of a bale of cloth or any other merchandise.

I forget now whether we took in more hay at Beauvais, or were obliged to take some out. I know that at some halting-place on the road, during that stormy, snowy night, we performed the latter operation, being so very warm when settled and fixed in so many bottes de foin. I told my companions how Broad-
cloth had taken the note, read it, and handed it to me. “Of course,” said they, “he saw the word ‘gentleman,’ and must have known the paper could not be meant for him.” At first I fancied he must have taken me for a foreigner, an excusable mistake considering my externals. I had not yet cut off my Turkey moustaches; I wore a scarlet Turkish fez, with a long blue silk tassel pendant therefrom; my under-coat and waistcoat had been cut and made at Naples, my thin top-coat at Smyrna, my trousers and boots at Constantinople; in short, there was not a bit of English in all my attire. When I first reached London, and before I had time to get a refit, my good friend
Ottley the publisher used to say that mine was a geographical costume; that I had something from every part of the world. One afternoon I made a hurried toilette in order to keep a riding appointment with Ottley. After cantering for some time in Rotten Row and round the Park, we dismounted, and went into Kensington Gardens to hear the band. We were scarcely on the terrace ere Ottley said laughingly: “Why, Mac! you have been putting on odd boots! Your boots don’t match!” Looking down, I saw that I had put my left leg into a beautifully made, rather narrow-toed boot, made at Naples, and my right leg into an ugly, broad, square-toed boot, fabricated by a Greek at Pera. I believe that Ottley, always a well-dressed man, and at that time quite an exquisite, was rather ashamed of me in that gathering of fashion and dandyism. I must say in extenuation of this solecism and of my absent-mindedness, that besides being in a hurry, I was then writing my first book of travels in Turkey, and had my head full of the subject, by night and by day.

To return to my travelling companions. One of them was a fair, handsome young man, apparently about nineteen or twenty; the other a little, nimble, dark-complexioned man who did not look more than
five or six and twenty. The younger had a vast deal of good nature and quiet humour, the elder a vast deal of ready, poignant wit, and some of his repartees were admirable. Though so cosy and comfortable in our hay, not one of us had any inclination to sleep, so we talked and laughed all through that night, as we did all through the next day. One of our great sources of fun was simple enough. Wellnigh upon midnight, while the conducteur was changing his horses, and then taking his goutte and making love to the landlady, we went in to the immense kitchen of the inn, where a glorious wood fire was blazing on a hearth of gigantic proportions, and where five-and-twenty rough-bearded, rough-looking, bronzed fellows were sitting side by side on two long benches, and every mother’s son of them wearing a blue blouse and a snow-white cotton night-cap. O. wanted to buy one of them to take home as a souvenir, but though they were all very good-natured and obliging, making room for us by the fireside, not one of them would part with his night-cap. We took coffee, and talked away with these honest men of the road, stablemen, carriers, and the like. I asked one of them what was their chief employment. “Le roulage, monsieur, le roulage de Boulogne jusqu’à Paris, et de retour de Paris jusqu’à Boulogne!” Their talk was full of roulage, and of the verb rouler in all its moods and tenses. Seeing my fez and fierce moustache, they asked me if I were a Turk? No. A Greek? No. “Alors,” said one of them, “probablement monsieur est Algérien!” They were very much astonished when I assured them that I, like my companions, was English. I told them that though neither Turk nor Greek, I had been travelling a good deal in those countries, and was just returning from them. “Were you ever in Italy?” said one of them. “I had a brother there that got killed in
Murat’s last battle with the Austrians.” Yes. “Have you ever travelled in Spain?” said a very brawny
fellow who would have looked every inch a soldier but for his night-cap. “I was marched off to Spain as a conscript in 1809, and a miserable, hungry country I found it!” Yes, I had been over a great part of Spain. In Portugal also? Yes. “Il est évident,” said an old waggoner, taking his pipe from his mouth, and giving me a look of approbation, “il est évident que monsieur a beaucoup roulé!” “Roulons!” said my friends, “bonne nuit! bonne nuit, mes amis!

When we got resettled in our hay, we laughed over the inn-kitchen scenes and conversation. We were cottoning like schoolfellows or lifelong friends, though as yet not one of us knew so much as the others’ names; and it was not until the second day, as we were approaching the sand-heaps near Boulogne, that we imparted this important piece of information. We got upon the subject of the Thames Tunnel, about which I had heard very much on the Continent, and concerning which I felt great curiosity and interest. The elder of my companions gave a minute, clever, and spirited account of that work, of its present state, and of the causes of the late accident and suspension of operations.

“You seem to know all about the tunnel!” said the younger man. “I ought to know something about it,” said the elder, “seeing that I am only son and assistant to the engineer, and that my name, like his, is Isambard Brunel!” We gave him an extra shake of the hand on the announcement. “I had been thinking for some time,” said the junior, “that as we three fellows have met in the dilly, and are likely to meet again, it would be as well if each of us knew the names of his comrades. My name is Orlebar, my present condition that of cadet at Woolwich.” I followed by disclosing my Highland patronymic, of which I was, and still am, rather proud. We had got at each others’ ages before, but down to this time we had addressed each other by nicknames—Orlebar being “Juventus,” Brunel,
“Mathematicus,” and I, “Pasha “or “Asia Minor.” We went talking and laughing into Calais, rather late at night, and we continued the sport at supper in the Hôtel Bourbon. The next day we had an equally merry and delightful passage over to England, from which I had been so long absent. At Dover, where we stayed some hours, my active friend Brunel rendered me more than yeoman service. Though I ought to have gained experience and tact in such matters, I was and am the most helpless of men at a custom-house or a barrier. I had a big box of Italian and French books, and this Brunel got cleared in an instant, without its being opened, and without paying any duty. How he managed it I cannot say, for he and Orlebar left me to enjoy mine ease at mine inn, and took all the clearing on themselves. I was quite nipped by the intense cold, and discharged my part of the joint duties in ordering a good dinner. And a good dinner we had, and very good were the wines, and very merry was our talk at the Old Ship.

But there was a momentary suspension of our cheerfulness, when we came to pay the rather heavy bill, and, that being done, found that we were all nearly “drained dry.” Juventus had only a five-franc piece; he had been spending a deal of money in Paris on trinkets for his sisters, Brunel had been doing the same, and I had been along the quays, and among half of the bookstalls and bookshops of the French Capital, spending without forethought or calculation. Then, like young men, we had lived freely on the road; and then also our investments in hay had been considerable.

“I should have been uneasy before we got to Calais,” said Orlebar, “but I thought it most likely that one or both of you would be well-stocked.” “That’s what I thought of you, and still more of my senior, the Pasha, who is evidently a very thoughtful, cautious man.” “I had just the same hope in you, and in Juventus,” said I. So each had been
counting on the other two, and we were all three “cleaned out,” or nearly so. “If we stop here to-night we shall have another long bill to pay to-morrow morning. Dover is one of the few places in England where I know nobody,” so spoke
Brunel. “I have a friend, an Artillery officer, up on the heights, but I believe he is away on leave,” so spoke Orlebar. I thought we had better speak to the landlord of the Ship, tell him our plight, and give him our names and addresses. “I tell you what will be better still,” said Brunel. “I believe there is a night coach for London, and we have quite money enough to pay our way up. Shall we start?” I rather shuddered at the thought of the cold, but both of my companions wanted to go, and I would not be left behind. A waiter was sent to secure inside places for three, but came back with the blank intelligence that only one was disengaged.

“Well,” said Brunel, “Asia Minor will take that, as he is rather a valetudinarian, and Juventus and I will go outside.” It was eight or nine o’clock at night when the coach stopped at the door to take us up. In the hall we found a fair lady in very deep affliction. She must be in London by an early hour in the morning, and she was sure she would die on the road if she travelled outside. She was a very pretty woman, and splendidly and most fashionably attired, but had she been ugly, or anything in the shape of woman, I would have given her up my inside place. We handed her in, and saw there were three other ladies in the coach. We three then clambered up into the basket or dicky, and off we went through as cold and raw a night as I have ever experienced. My kind companions placed me between them, and wrapped me up in everything they could possibly spare from their own persons. I never shall forget the drive along the elevated ridge beyond Harbledown, and the bleaker ridge of Boughton under Blean. At the village of Boughton
we bought some hay—but we could not keep it about our feet, for it was blowing a gale, and the wind carried it away. Another severe trial we had on that lofty very steep ridge above Chatham. But I am going too fast, and overlooking an incident or two. Somewhere about midnight, the coach stopped in Canterbury at a very antiquated, old-fashioned inn, where I had very often stayed before, and where I had dined in 1820, when starting on the travels I was now finishing. It was on the right-hand side, coming in from Dover, but it is now gone, and not a trace of it is to be found, which I much regret, as I had pleasant souvenirs and associations connected with it. Nearly all the people of the house were in their warm beds, but there was a barmaid at her post, and a good blazing coal-fire was in the taproom, where some half-dozen fellows apparently connected with the Dover and London coaching were drinking and disputing about the last season’s yield of hops, a subject seldom long out of the mouth of a Canterburian. One of them said to another who had made some numerical statement, “I don’t wish to be rude, but that’s a d——d lie!” Our natural gallantry led us to think of the fair, splendidly dressed lady, who had been the subject of some of our talk in the basket, and of the other three “insides.”
Brunel and Orlebar sallied out to the coachdoor, and soon came back giggling. “What do you think?” said Brunel. “Your grand lady wants a pint of London porter with the chill off, and the three others want hot gin and water!” “You don’t pronounce the words properly,” said Orlebar; “the words were, ‘Uz ladies likes gin and water, ’ot, ’ot!’” They gave the orders to the barmaid, and left the coachman to wait upon the interesting “insides.”

Another pinching, biting drive was across Gad’s Hill, and another across Blackheath. There was a bright, rather full moon, but it was frequently obscured by drifting clouds, which resolved them-
selves into snowflakes, which froze as they fell, and cut our faces like miniature icicles, sharp as needlepoints. Now and then we had a heavy fall, and it was highly picturesque to watch the effect of the moonbeams mingling with the descending and drifting snow. The roads became so heavy from the snowdrifts that we made but slow progress. There was another night-coach on the road, going the same way as ourselves; it was sometimes behind us, and sometimes ahead of us. In the basket of that coach was an Artillery soldier, surpassingly drunk, and as he fell asleep, and had nobody near him, we were afraid he might come to harm, which he must have done but for the ingenuity of
Brunel, who stopped the vehicle and showed the coachman how to make the poor fellow tight and safe in his seat. As the man had nothing on but his uniform, we wondered that he was not frozen to death. I suffered greatly myself; but it was not in the power of cold to freeze, or even to chill, our hilarity; and I rather think we were still laughing when the coach, at the end of the journey, put as down at the London Coffee House, Ludgate Hill, at that period a very comfortable, good hotel. Here Brunel recommended us to the sympathy and particular attentions of two night-waiters. “You and Orlebar,” said he, “will stay here to-night, or rather this morning, and I will come to the rescue when I have had a few hours’ sleep. We have a house, close by, in Bridge Street, Blackfriars, à deux pas de chez vous; I would take you home with me if the hour were only a little less unreasonable.” He then went away and left us two to our own devices. It was nearly six o’clock of the morning. A good fire and port-wine negus quite restored Juventus; but I now felt some evil effects of being so long exposed to that cutting night air and intense cold. Luckily a little inscription, “Baths ready at any hour,” caught my eye. In less than half an hour each of us was in a delicious warm
bath; and then, in less than three minutes, both were between the blankets. I woke the next morning just as well as I had been before the nocturnal journey. But, before I was well awake, at about the hour of noon, Brunel was at my bedside, with five sovereigns for me, and five for Orlebar. He pressingly invited us both to his father’s house, and bade us go often; there would always be a diner en famille at six, and knife and fork for us. He was in a great hurry, going down to the Tunnel. After breakfast, and after many cordial farewells, Orlebar, whose leave from Woolwich had not quite expired, went off for his father’s, at some Hall, in Worcestershire, I believe. I had a good nest-egg at a banker’s in the City, but before I could draw any of the money, it was necessary to procure the signature of a gentleman who lived in the extreme West. Westward, therefore, I started, to get through this piece of business, and to see if I could find any of my old friends and acquaintances. As usual in our Babylon, nobody was at home, and most people not yet in town. Of real, staunch old friends, I found on this first day but one, dear old
André Vieusseux,* and him I did not find till late in the evening. At a very late hour in the night,

* André Vieusseux, author of a “History of Switzerland,” and of “Italy and the Italians in the Nineteenth Century” (1824). In the latter book he twice quotes from MacFarlane’s poem, “The Wanderer” (1820):

“Upon th’ horizon placidly lies sleeping
Caprea, rocky isle: for all the guilt
And all the broken hearts and spirits weeping.
And all the blood in olden time bespilt,
Have not obscured its beauties: still ’tis gilt
By the warm purple ray that evening throws,
Still on its rugged cliffs the soft dews melt.
Still round its base the calm rapt ocean flows.
Still as the eye beholds, the heart with rapture glows.
“On one hand beamed Calabria’s Hills so bright.
On th’ other Sicily shone forth in light,
Like sisters fair, by deep waves held in twain,
Smiling upon each other in delight,
And stretching forth their arms in loving pain.
As tho’ they fondly wished to meet again.”

I returned, lonely and depressed, to my City hostel. As my only City business was soon over, on the following morning I put my portmanteau, bag, and case of books, into a hackney coach, and drove westward to a lodging Vieusseux had secured for me. On the way I stopped at
Brunel’s in Bridge Street. He was out, but on giving my name I was ushered up to the drawing-room, where I found his mother, a very charming, unaffected, warm-hearted, thorough English gentlewoman, who received me as if she had known me all my life. I returned the five sovereigns, at which she laughed rather heartily, as she did also at some of the stories about our journey which Isambard had related and embellished. I was not ten minutes in her company before I made out that she was devotedly attached to her dear old French husband, that she was enthusiastic for his reputation, that she doted on her only son, and was proud—as she well might be—of his vivacity and abilities. She asked me if I could not return to dinner. I was engaged. “Then come to-morrow, and I will get a friend or two to meet you. My husband will be delighted to make your acquaintance.” Such was my first visit to a house the door of which was never afterwards closed to me; and this the beginning of an intimacy which was, for a few years, one of the chief solaces of my somewhat solitary existence. On the morrow I was true to time, n’en doutez pas! I there met Miss Brunel and her elder sister; the latter’s husband, Ben. Hawes; and Arthur Steel, travelling companion from Bombay to Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone, who had left me sick and in a quasi-dying state at Constantinople in the preceding summer. Best of all, I met the head of the house, dear old Brunel; to whom, in an instant, I flew and attached myself as a needle to a big loadstone. Not that old Isambard was big; on the contrary, he was rather a smaller man than his son. The dear old man had—with a great deal more
warmth of heart than belonged to that school—the manners, bearing, address, and even dress, of a French gentleman of the ancien régime, for he had kept to a rather antiquated, but very becoming, costume.

I was perfectly charmed with him at this our first meeting, and from many subsequent ones I can feel bold enough to say that he was a man of the kindest and most simple heart, and of the acutest and purest taste in Art, whether architecture, painting, sculpture, or medalling. Of his mathematics, which seemed to be at once profound and practical, I cannot venture to speak, never having got over the Pons Asinorum; nor could I risk an opinion on his very numerous mechanical inventions, being by habit, or nature, debarred from any clear notion of even the simple mechanism of a wheelbarrow. But what I loved in old Brunel was his expansive taste, and his love or ardent sympathy for things he did not understand, or had not had time to learn. There is no adequate portrait in existence of this very remarkable man. The picture, then in the drawing-room, by Jemmy Northcote, though it presented a something like a man of genius and very deep thought, was little more than a map of dear old Brunel’s face. It would have required a man of much more fancy and genius than Northcote—though he had some fancy, considerable genius, and some execution—to catch the variety and the play of the old engineer’s countenance. In him I admired what I could not understand, and what I could understand; and what I most admired of all was his thorough simplicity and unworldliness of character, his indifference to mere lucre, and his genuine absent-mindedness. Evidently he had lived as if there were no rogues in this nether world. He was of Normandy, of a good family, and on the unpopular side of the French Revolution of 1789; when to save his neck from the embrace of the guillotine, he emigrated, leaving such
property as he had to the tender mercies of the Jacobins. I forget whether, in the first instance, he did not come over to England, or whether he proceeded at once to the United States. There he certainly began to work for his living, and there he remained a few years. I could not state that he had any great reverence for an unbridled democracy, or for any of the institutions of our revolted colonists; but I have often heard him dwell, and be quite poetical, on the progress and peopling of the United States. “I travelled through jungle and backwood for three days, and met not a human being, and now within that space there are a dozen thriving American towns, and at least quite that number of villages.

“One of the first jobs I had was to fix the disputed limits of two contiguous estates; well! I found there was a difference in calculation which amounted to about 25,000 acres. Fancy such a case occurring in England or France!” Happily, before he emigrated, he had made himself a good mathematician, and had acquired a knowledge of the science of land-surveying, together with much experience in mechanics. “When I landed at New York I had barely five pounds in my pocket, but the little I knew helped me on to a respectable livelihood. Courage! the man who can do something, and keep a warm, sanguine heart within, won’t starve!” I had liked the son, but at our very first meeting I could not help feeling that his father far excelled him in originality, unworldliness, genius, and taste; perhaps also in those eccentricities which cottoned with mine. I remember sympathizing so thoroughly with the dear old man as to regret the temporary suspension of the works at the Thames Tunnel as one of the greatest and most disgraceful of European mishaps; for his heart and soul were, at this time, under the Thames, and in the excavation that was to carry people and goods from one bank to the other, right under the lowest bed and mud of Pater Tamesis.