LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron
Chapter XV.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
Chapter XIII.
Chapter XIV.
‣ Chapter XV.
Chapter XVI.
Chapter XVII.
Chapter XVIII.
Chapter XIX.
Chapter XX.
Chapter XXI.
Chapter XXII.
Chapter XXIII.
Chapter XXIV.
Chapter XXV.
Chapter XXVI.
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It is the same!—For be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free;
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.

Byron, in common with actors and other public characters, considered it indispensable to the preservation of his popularity that he should keep continually before the public; and that an alliance with an able and friendly newspaper would be an easy way of doing so. Not that he would or could submit to the methodical drudgery of continually writing for one, but that he might occasionally use it for criticising and attacking those who offended him, as a vent for his splenetic humours. Shelley, knowing Byron could not reason, and that his criticism degenerated into rancorous personality, opposed the scheme; still, Byron had a hankering to try his
powers in those hand-to-hand conflicts then in vogue, even in the great Reviews. When he consented to join
Leigh Hunt and others in writing for the ‘Liberal,’ I think his principal inducement was in the belief that John and Leigh Hunt were proprietors of the ‘Examiner;’—so when Leigh Hunt at Pisa told him he was no longer connected with that paper, Byron was taken aback, finding that Hunt would be entirely dependent on the success of their hazardous project, while he would himself be deprived of that on which he had set his heart,—the use of a weekly paper in great circulation.

The death of Shelley, and the failure of the ‘Liberal,’ irritated Byron; the cuckoo note, “I told you so,” sung by his friends, and the loud crowing of enemies, by no means allayed his ill-humour. In this frame of mind he was continually planning and plotting how to extricate himself. His plea for hoarding was that he might have a good round tangible sum of current coin to aid him in any emergency, as “money,” he observed, “is the only true and constant friend a wise man puts his trust in. I can now raise nine or ten thousand, and with that I can buy an island in the Greek
Archipelago, or a principality of auriferous soil in Chili or Peru.
Lady Hester Stanhope’s way of life in Syria would just suit my humour.” I urged him on, for I was bent on travel and willing to go anywhere. He exhausted himself in planning, projecting, beginning, wishing, intending, postponing, regretting, and doing nothing; the unready are fertile in excuses, and his were inexhaustible; so I determined to be off. At this time a committee was formed in London to aid the Greeks in their war of independence, and shortly after I wrote to one of the most active movers in it, Lieut. Blaquiere, to ask information as to their objects and intentions, and mentioned Byron as being very much interested on the subject of Greece; the Lieutenant wrote, as from the committee, direct to Byron, in the grandiloquent style which all authorities, especially self-constituted ones, delight in. In the early part of 1823 Blaquiere on his way to the Ionian Islands, stopped at Genoa, and saw Byron, whom he informed of his intention to visit Greece, in order to see how matters were progressing. He said that his lordship had been unanimously elected a member of the Greek Committee, and that his name was a tower of
strength; he brought Byron’s credentials, and a mass of papers. The propositions of the committee came at the right moment; the Pilgrim was dissatisfied with himself and his position. Greece and its memories warmed him, a new career opened before him. His first impulses were always ardent, but if not acted on instantly, they cooled. He was a prompt penman, often answering in hot haste, letters that excited his feelings, and following his first replies up by others to allay their fervour, or as the Persians have it, “eating his words.” But the Greek Committee were not to be fobbed off; they resolved to have him on any terms, so they assented to all he suggested. The official style of the documents sent by the committee, the great seal and the prodigality of wax and diplomatic phrases, as well as the importance attached to his name, and the great events predicted from his personal exertions, tickled the Poet’s fancy,—and moreover they lauded and my-lorded him to his heart’s content.
“With as little a web as this, will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio.”
The negotiation with the committee occupied some
months before Byron, perplexed in the extreme, finally committed himself. He might well hesitate. It would have been difficult to find a man more unfit for such an enterprise; but he had a great name, and that was all the committee required. The marvel was that he lent it.
Moore, Byron’s biographer, suggests that he embarked in this crusade to rekindle his mental light and failing popularity, whereas the chronology of his works proves that his mental powers waxed stronger as he grew older, and that his last poems were his best. That envy, malice, and hatred be-dogged his steps, snarling and snapping, is true, but neither his power nor popularity had declined, nor did he think so. In after years, on my talking with the late Mr. Murray, his publisher, on this subject, he said, “I observed no falling off in his Lordship’s powers or popularity during the latter period of his life, quite the reverse; but I heard such general censures on him from literary and other people who frequented my shop, and they spoke in such a depreciating tone of his later writings, that I became greatly alarmed as his publisher; and as I entertained a warm personal regard for his Lordship, I lightly touched on the
subject in my letters to him. I was a great fool for so doing, for
Mr. Giffard, the ablest scholar of them all, and one who did not throw his words away, as well as a few men of the same stamp, occasionally dropped remarks which satisfied me I had done wrong in alluding to the subject, for it was after reading the latter cantos of ‘Don Juan’ that Mr. Giffard said—

“‘Upon my soul, I do not know where to place Byron. I think we can’t find a niche for him unless we go back and place him after Shakspeare and Milton’—after a pause—‘there is no other place for him.’”

I observed to Murray that Moore had only seen Byron in society; his Life of his brother Bard was a mystification; his comments might be considered very eloquent as a rhapsody, if they had been spoken over the Poet’s grave, but they give no idea of the individuality of the man.

“The most valuable parts of Moore’s Life are the letters addressed to you,” I continued; “and as they were designed for publication, you should have printed them with his prose works.”

Murray replied, “You are quite right. If ever a
statute of lunacy is taken out against me, it must be on the plea of my mad agreement with
Moore for Byron’s Life, by which I lost credit, and a great deal of money; but it is not too late to redeem my error so far as the public is concerned; rather than leave it as it is I will get Lockhart, or somebody else, to do the thing as it should be done.”

I have been seduced into this digression to show from what a small squad of malignants came the cry of Byron’s failing powers and popularity.

In December, 1822, I laid up the Poet’s pleasure-boat, paid off the crew, retaining the first mate in my service as a groom, and early in the following year, 1823, started on horseback—with the aforesaid sailor, mounted, to act as tender,—to take a cruize inland. So during Byron’s negotiation with the Greek Committee, and Blaquiere’s visit to Albaro, I was absent, but being apprised of what was going on I was not surprised when in Rome at receiving the following note:—

June 15, 1823.
My dear T.

You must have heard that I am going to Greece. Why do you not come to me? I want
your aid, and am exceedingly anxious to see you. Pray come, for I am at last determined to go to Greece; it is the only place I was ever contented in. I am serious, and did not write before, as I might have given you a journey for nothing; they all say I can be of use in Greece. I do not know how, nor do they; but at all events let us go.

Yours, &c., truly,
N. Byron.

To show Byron’s vacillating state of mind, I quote some passages from letters I received at that time.

Captain Roberts, in a letter dated May 26, 1823 Genoa, says, “Between you and me, I think, there is small chance of Byron’s going to Greece; so I think from the wavering manner in which he speaks of it; he said the other day, ‘Well, Captain, if we do not go to Greece, I am determined to go somewhere, and hope we shall all be at sea together by next month, as I am tired of this place, the shore, and all the people on it.’”

Ten days after, in a letter dated the 5th June, Roberts writes me:

Byron has sold the ‘Bolivar’ to Lord Bles-
sington for four hundred guineas, and is determined to go to Greece: he says, whilst he was in doubt, fearing it might prove a reality, he did not like to bring you here; now, he wishes much to see you to have your opinion as to what steps it will be most necessary to take. I have been on board several vessels with him; as yet he has not decided on any of them. I think he would find it answer, now he has sold the schooner, to buy the three-masted clipper we saw at Leghorn, to refit and arm her, as I am much of your way of thinking, for a big gun or two, and legs to run and wings to pursue, as the case may be, for the Greek waters are pestered with pirates. I have written by his desire to
Dunn about her; if you come here by way of Leghorn, pray overhaul her, and then you will be able to give him your opinion. I think she will do excellently well, except the accommodation—the cabin is small. He has asked me to be of the party.”

Four days after I had received the above, Mrs. Shelley having just seen Byron, wrote me from Genoa, June 9th:

Lord Byron says, that as he has not heard
from Greece, his going there is uncertain; but if he does go, he is extremely desirous that you should join him, and if you will continue to let him know where you may be found, he will inform you as soon as he comes to any decision.”

This was not the last of Byron’s counter-messages to me, besides commissions which I was urged instantly to execute; knowing him, I took no heed nor made any preparations until he wrote me that he had chartered a vessel. On the 22nd I received this note from him:

Dear T.

I have engaged a vessel (now on her way to Leghorn to unload), and on her return to Genoa we embark. She is called the ‘Hercules;’ you can come back in her, if you like, it will save you a land journey. I need not say I shall like your company of all things. I want a surgeon, native or foreign, to take charge of medical stores, and be in personal attendance. Salary, a hundred pounds a year, and his treatment at our table, as a companion and a gentleman. He must have recommendations, of course. Could you look out for me?
Perhaps you can consult
Vacca, to whom I have written on the same subject; we are, however, pressed for time a little. I expect you with impatience, and am ever yours,

N. B.

Byron’s letters to his literary allies were written carefully, expressly to be shown about. He said, on seeing the word private on a letter, “That will insure its becoming public. If I really wish mine to be private, I say things that my correspondents don’t wish divulged.” When he wrote on the spur of the moment his letters were often obscure and peevish; if he gave them me to read, and I told him they would offend, he would rewrite them still more offensively. Omitting his more lengthy scrawls, as they would require tedious notes to explain them, I give two or three short samples of his ordinary natural style.

On his hearing that a naval officer of the ‘Despatch’ sloop of war had boarded his boat at Leghorn, and taken away her pennant, he wrote to me:

Pisa, August, 10, 1822.
Dear T.

I always foresaw and told you that they would take every opportunity of annoying me in every respect. If you get American papers and permission to sail under their flag, I shall be very glad, and should much prefer it, but I doubt that it will be very difficult.

N. B.

Byron had a dispute with Captain Roberts on a very frivolous subject; he sent me a letter to forward to the Captain; I refused to forward it, saying it would not do, on which he wrote me the following.

Genoa, 9m. 28d. 1822.
My dear T.

I enclose you a letter from, and another to, Captain R., which may be more to your taste, but at any rate it contains all that I have to say on the subject; you will, I presume, write and inclose it or not, according to your own opinion [it was one of his long-winded offensive epistles, so I did not send it]. I repeat that I have no wish for a quarrel, but
if it comes unlooked for, it must be received accordingly. I recognise no right in any man to interfere between me and men in my pay, of whose conduct I have the best right to judge.

Yours, ever and afterwards,
N. B.
9th Month, 21d. 1822.
My dear T.

Thank you, I was just going to send you down some books, and the compass of the ‘Don Juan,’ which I believe belongs to Captain Roberts; if there is anything of yours on board the ‘Bolivar,’ let me know, that I may send it or keep it for you. I don’t know how our account stands; you will let me know if there is any balance due to you that I may pay it. I am willing to make any agreement with a proper person in the arsenal to look after her, and also to have the rigging deposited in a safe place. I have given the boy and one of the men their clothes, and if Mr. Beeze had been civil, and Frost honest, I should not have been obliged to go so near the wind with them. But I hate bothering you with these things. I agree with you in your parting
sentence, and hope we shall have better luck another time. There is one satisfaction, however, which is, that the displeasures have been rather occasioned by untoward circumstances, and not by the disposition of any party concerned. But such are human things even in little; we would hardly have had more plague with a first-rate. No news of any kind from England, which don’t look well.

Yours, ever and truly,
N. B.

This referred to a threatened prosecution of his Vision of Judgment, which had been published in Hunt’sLiberal.’