LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

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

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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He passed forth, and new adventure sought;
Long way he travelled before he heard of aught.

Forwarding my traps to Leghorn, I was soon on the road to Genoa. My sailor groom had returned to his family, and I engaged an American born negro to fill his place. In Italy, I invariably travelled on horseback. The distances from one town to another are short, the scenery is varied, and the climate beautiful; besides, Italy is peculiarly adapted to this slow, yet only way of thoroughly seeing a country. Most travellers fly through in a string, like a flock of wild geese, merely alighting at the great cities. As the weather was hot and the days long, we started every morning at four or five o’clock, and jogged along until ten or eleven, then pulled up at town, village, or solitary locanda, or in default of these, looked out for a wood,
dell, ruin, or other place that promised shade and water. Then dismounting we fed our horses from nose-bags, made up a fire, boiled coffee, breakfasted off such things as we had brought with us, smoked our pipes and fell asleep. Our provender was carried by the black, in old fashioned saddle-bags. In that fine climate our wants were so few, that they provided ample stowage room. I had two excellent Hungarian cavalry horses, bought from an Austrian colonel. Our usual day’s travel was from thirty-five to forty-five miles; the best half of the distance, we always accomplished before breakfast, so that our day’s journey was completed at four or five in the evening, and every day both horses and men improved in condition. If there is any healthier or pleasanter way of life than this, I can only say, I have never enjoyed it.

However long the journey, it was never tedious, and I always regretted its termination. I stopped two days at Florence, and then shaped my course for the sea-board, through Massa and Rapallo, Sarzana, Lerici and Spezzia, on which coast everything was familiar to me, and associated with the memories of my lost friends Shelley and Williams. My
horses stopped at their accustomed locandas, and many familiar faces came out to welcome me.

I arrived early at Lerici, and determined to sleep there, and finish my journey to Genoa on the following day. In the evening, I walked to the Villa Magni, where the Shelleys had last lived, and the ground-floor having neither door nor window, I walked in. Shelley’s shattered skiff in which he used to go adventuring, as he termed it, in rivers and canals, was still there: in that little flat-bottomed boat he had written many beautiful things,—
“Our boat is asleep on Serchio’s stream,
The sails are furled like thoughts in a dream,
The helm sways idly, hither and thither;
Dominic, the boatman, has brought the mast,
And the oars and the sail: but ’tis sleeping fast.”
And here it was, sleeping still on the mud floor, with its mast and oars broken. I mounted the stairs or rather ladder into the dining-room they had lived in, for this and four small bed-rooms was all the space they had. As I surveyed its splatchy-walls, broken floor, cracked ceiling, and poverty-struck appearance, while I noted the loneliness of the situation, and remembered the fury of
the waves that in blowing weather lashed its walls, I did not marvel at
Mrs. Shelley’s and Mrs. Williams’s groans on first entering it; nor that it had required all Ned Williams’s persuasive powers to induce them to stop there. We men, had only looked at the sea and scenery, and would have been satisfied with a tent. But women look to a house as their empire. Ladies without a drawing-room, are like pictures without frames, or birds without feathers; knowing this, they set to work with a will, and transformed it into a very pleasant abode.

One of the customs of the natives of this bay, reminded me of the South Sea Islanders. At sunset the whole population of men, women, and children, took to the water, sporting in it for hours like wild ducks; we occasionally did the same, Shelley especially delighting in the sport. His wife looked grave, and said “it was improper.” Shelley protested vehemently against the arbitrary power of the word, saying, “Hush Mary, that insidious word has never been echoed by these woods and rocks: don’t teach it them. It was one of the words my fellow serpent whispered into Eve’s ear, and when I hear it, I wish I was far away on some lone island,
with no other inhabitants than seals, sea-birds and water-rats.” Then turning to his friend, he continued, “At Pisa, Mary said a jacket was not proper, because others did not wear them, and here it’s not proper to bathe, because every body does. Oh! what shall we do.”

The next day I started at daylight for Genoa, and when I came near Albaro, I sent my horses to the city, and walked to the Casa Saluzzi; of which all the doors and windows were open, as is usual, in Italian country houses during summer evenings. I walked in, and as I did not see any of Byron’s people, I looked into five or six of the fifty or sixty rooms, which the palace contained, before I found the Pilgrim’s penetralia: he was so deeply absorbed that he did not hear my steps. There he sat with a pen in his hand and papers before him, with a painfully perplexed expression and heated brow, such as an inspired Pythoness might have had on her tripod. I thought it a sacrilege to profane his sanctuary, and was hesitating whether I should retreat or advance, when his bull-dog Moretto came in from the hall: so I spoke to the dog.

Byron recognising my voice, sprang up with
his usual alacrity and shook my hand with unusual warmth. After a hasty chat, he halloed out lustily for his servants, for there were no bells: he was going out of the room, saying, “You must be hungry, we will see what there is in the house.”

I assured him I was not, and that I could not stop, as I wished to see Mrs. Shelley and the Leigh Hunts.

“Aye, aye,” he observed, “they are flesh-eaters—you scorn my lenten fare, but come back soon, I will dispatch my salad and sardines, and then we will discuss a bottle of hock, and talk over matters; I have a great deal to tell you, but, I must first balance these cursed bills; I have been an hour poring over this one you found me at, and my tottle don’t square with Legá; in the time thus lost I might have written half a canto of Don Juan—and the amount of the bill is only one hundred and forty-three lire, which is not six pounds. In cases of lunacy, the old demon Eldon decided men’s sanity by figures; if I had been had up before him, (I was very near being so,) and he had given me the simplest sum in arithmetic, I should have been consigned to durance vile—
“‘For the rule of three it puzzles me,
And practice drives me mad.’”

In about an hour and a half, I returned to the Casa Saluzzi, and found the Poet, still hard at work on his weekly bills: he observed archly, “I have found out in another account of the steward’s, that he has cheated himself; that is his affair, not mine.” This put him in good humour, so he gathered up the scattered accounts and put them away. He then read me his correspondence with the Greek Committee, or rather the last portion of it, and a letter from Blaquiere, from Greece, and told me what he thought of doing. Promising to see Byron the following day, I left him and walked to my locanda at Genoa. It was plain enough from what I had just seen, that with regard to money, his mind had undergone no change. He thought he was in honour bound to go to Zante to meet Blaquiere,—the rest seemed to depend on blind chance. The Committee suggested no definite plan, nor could he form one.

Mental as well as physical diseases are hereditary. Byron’s arrogant temper he inherited, his penurious habits were instilled into him by his
mother; he was reared in poverty and obscurity and unexpectedly became a Lord, with a good estate: this was enough to unsettle the equanimity of such a temperament as his. But fortune as well as misfortune comes with both hands full, and when, as he himself said, he awoke one morning and found himself famous, his brain grew dizzy, and he foolishly entered the great donkey sweepstakes, and ran in the ruck with his long-eared compeers—galled in the race, he bolted off the course, and rushed into the ranks of that great sect that worships golden images. If you come too near the improvident or the reckless, there is danger of being engulfed in the vortex they create, whereas with the thrifty, you may do well enough. Thus ruminating, I reached my inn, the Croce di Malta.

The next day Byron called, he wished me to go on board the brig he had chartered—‘the Hercules,’ Capt. Scott,—to see her equipments and accommodations, and report thereon. I did so, and was very much dissatisfied. She was a collier-built tub of 120 tons, round-bottomed, and bluff-bowed, and of course, a dull sailer, with the
bulk-heads, the horse-boxes, and other fittings newly put up, ill-contrived, and scamped by the contractor. The captain, one of the rough old John Bull stamp, was well enough—the mate better, and no fault to be found with the crew, but that they were too few in number. For such an expedition we should have had a well-manned and fast-sailing clipper-built craft, adapted to the light winds and summer seas prevailing in the Greek Archipelago, so that after calling at the Ionian Islands, we could have used her as a yacht, run over to the Morea, touching at several ports not blockaded by the Turks, and ascertained the exact state of the war, its wants, capabilities, and more especially, the characters of those who conducted it. We might then have exacted conditions before committing ourselves to any specific line of action. Under the English flag, this and much more might have been done. On saying this to Byron, he answered—

“There was no other vessel than the Hercules to be had at Genoa.”

“Leghorn is the place for shipping,” said I.

“Why, then, did you not come here sooner? I had no one to help me.”


“You had Captain Roberts, the very man for the occasion; we might as well have built a raft and so chanced it.”

Then smiling, he replied, “they say I have got her on very easy terms.”

“Aye, but the time she will be on her voyage, will make her a bad bargain; she will take a week to drift to Leghorn, and it should be done in twenty hours.”

“We must make the best of it. I will pay her off at the Ionian Islands, and stop there until I see my way, for here we can learn nothing. Blaquiere is to meet me at Zante by appointment, and he is now in the Morea.”