LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

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

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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But let it go—it will one day be found
With other relics of “a former world,”
When this world shall be former underground,
Thrown topsy-turvy, twisted, crisp’d, and curl’d,
Baked, fried, and burnt, turn’d inside out or drown’d.

It was now the 30th of July, twelve days since our departure from Genoa, our ship would do anything but go a-head, she was built on the lines of a baby’s cradle, and the least touch of Neptune’s foot set her rocking. I was glad of this, for it kept all the land-lubbers in their cribs. Byron was not at all affected by the motion, he improved amazingly in health and spirits, and said, “On shore when I awake in the morning, I am always inclined to hang myself, as the day advances, I get better, and at midnight I am all cock-a-whoop. I am better now than I have been for years.” You never
know a man’s temper until you have been imprisoned in a ship with him, or a woman’s until you have married her. Few friendships can stand the ordeal by water; when a yacht from England with a pair of these thus tried friends touches,—say at Malta or Gibraltar,—you may be sure that she will depart with one only. I never was on ship-board with a better companion than Byron, he was generally cheerful, gave no trouble, assumed no authority, uttered no complaints, and did not interfere with the working of the ship; when appealed to, he always answered, “do as you like.” Everyday at noon, he and I jumped over-board in defiance of sharks or weather; it was the only exercise he had, for he could not walk the deck. His favourite toys—pistols, were not forgotten; empty bottles and live poultry served as targets; a fowl, duck or goose, was put into a basket, the head and neck only visible, hoisted to the main yard-arm: and we rarely had two shots at the same bird. No boy cornet enjoyed a practical joke more than Byron. On great occasions when our
Captain wished to be grand, he wore a bright scarlet waistcoat; as he was very corpulent, Byron wished to see if this vest would not button
round us both. The captain was taking his siesta one day, when he persuaded the boy to bring up the waistcoat. In the mean time as it was nearly calm and very hot, I opened the coops of the geese and ducks, who instinctively took to the water. Neptune, the Newfoundland dog, jumped after them, and Moretto the bull-dog, followed him.

“Now,” said Byron, standing on the gangway, with one arm in the red waistcoat, “put your arm in, Tre, we will jump overboard, and take the shine out of it.”

So we did.

The captain hearing the row on deck, came up, and when he saw the gorgeous garment he was so proud of, defiled by sea water, he roared out, “My Lord, you should know better than to make a mutiny on board ship, [the crew were laughing at the fun,] I won’t heave too, or lower a boat, I hope you will both be drowned.”

“Then you will lose your frite,” (for so the Captain always pronounced the word freight) shouted Byron.

As I saw the dogs worrying the ducks and geese, I returned on board with the waistcoat,
pacified the skipper, lowered a boat, and with the aid of a boy, sculled after the birds and beasts; the Newfoundlander brought them to us unharmed, but Moretto the bull-dog did not mouth them so tenderly. After the glare and oppressive heat of the day, the evenings and nights were delightful: balmy air, no dew, and light enough to distinguish everything near.

Fletcher, Byron’s ‘yeoman bold,” as was his custom in the afternoon, was squatted under the lee of the caboose, eating his supper, and drinking bottled porter which he dearly loved. I said, “You are enjoying yourself, Fletcher.”

“Yes,” he answered, “and you had better do so whilst you can: my master can’t be right in his mind.”

“Why?” I asked.

“If he was, he would not have left Italy, where we had everything, and go to a country of savages; there is nothing to eat in Greece, but tough Billy Goats, or to drink, but spirits of turpentine. Why, sir, there is nothing there but rocks, robbers, and vermin.”—Seeing his master coming up the companion ladder, he raised his voice
—“I defy my Lord to deny it—you may ask him.”

“I don’t deny it,” said Byron; “what he says is quite true to those who take a hog’s eye view of things. But this I know, I have never been so happy as I was there; how it will be with me, now that my head is as gray, and my heart as hard, as the rocks, I can’t say.”

I followed Fletcher’s advice and example in regard to the supper, and the Poet, saying he could not resist temptation, joined me. We discussed the pleasures and independence of sea-life as contrasted with the eternal restraint and botheration on shore. Here, I observed, we have only the elements to contend with, and a safe port under our lee, whereas on shore we never know what mischief is brewing; a letter, or the idle gossip of a good-natured friend, stops our digestion—how smoothly the time glides on, now we are out of the reach of men and mischief-makers.

“Women, you should say,” exclaimed Byron; “if we had a womankind on board, she would set us all at loggerheads, and make a mutiny, would she not, Captain?”


“I wish my old woman was here,” replied the skipper, “she would make you as comfortable in my cabin at sea, as your own wife could in her parlour on shore.”

Byron started and looked savage—the Captain went on, as unconscious of offending as a carthorse would be, after crushing your toes with his hoof. “My wife,” he continued, “on my last voyage from Rio, saved my ship. We had touched there for water, homeward bound: she waked me up at night,—her weather eye was always open,—the men were desarting in a crimp’s shore-boat. In the morning it came on to blow like blazes.”

“If we are to have a yarn, Captain, we must have strong waters.”

“I have no objection to a glass of grog,” said the Captain; “I am not a temperance man, but I can’t abide drunkenness at sea. I like to have my allowance.”

“How much is that?” asked Byron.

“No more than will do me good.”

“How much is that?”

“Why, a bottle of good old Jamaica rum, sarves
me from 11 a.m. till 10 p.m., and I know that can’t hurt any man.”

Byron read a critique on O’Meara’sNapoleon at St. Helena,’ in the ‘Quarterly.’ He remarked, “If all they assert is true, it only affects the character of the author. They do not disprove a single statement in the book: this is their way! If they crush an author, it must be in the shell, as they tried to do with me: if the book has life enough to out-live the year, it defies their malice—for who reads a last year’s review? Whilst our literature is domineered over by a knot of virulent bigots and rancorous partisans, we shall have no great or original works. When did parsons patronise genius? If one of their black band dares to think for himself, he is drummed out, or cast aside, like Sterne and Swift. Where are the great poets and writers the Reviewers predicted were to be the leviathans of our literature? Extinct: their bones hereafter may be grubbed up in a fossil state with those of the reptiles that puffed them into life. If this age has produced anything good or great, which I doubt, it has been under every possible discouragement.


“People say that I have told my own story in my writings: I defy them to point out a single act of my life by my poems, or of my thoughts, for I seldom write what I think. All that has been published about me is sheer nonsense, as will be seen at my death, when my real life is published: everything in that is true. When I first left England I was gloomy. I said so in my first canto of ‘Childe Harold.’ I was then really in love with a cousin, (Thirza, he was very chary of her name) and she was in a decline. On my last leaving England I was savage; there was enough to make me so. There is some truth as to detail in the ‘Dream,’ and in some of my shorter poems. As to my marriage, which people made such ridiculous stories about, it was managed by Lady Jersey and others. I was perfectly indifferent on the subject; thought I could not do better, and so did they. I wanted money. It was an experiment, and proved a failure. Everything is told in my memoirs exactly as it happened. I told Murray Lady Byron was to read the MS. if she wished it, and requested she would add, omit, or make any comments she pleased, now, or when it was going through the press.”


It is strange that Byron, though professing to distrust everybody, should have had no misgiving as to the fate of his memoirs; he was glad Moore sold them to Murray, as he thought that ensured publication. He considered it indispensable to his honour that the truths he could not divulge during his life should be known at his death. He knew Moore prided himself on his intimacy with lords and ladies, for he was always talking of them, and that the chief aim and object of that Poet’s whole life was pleasure at any price. Had he fulfilled his trust by giving Byron’s memoirs to the world, he would have compromised himself with society, as they contained many a reminiscence which would have cast a shadow on the fashionable circles which Tom Moore delighted to honour. When the question was raised after Byron’s death, of the publication or suppression of his memoirs, his friend Tom Moore acted as if he was quite indifferent on the subject; so he must have been, for although he permitted others to read them, he never found time to do so himself. He consulted the most fashionable man he knew on the subject, Lutterell, who, as Rogers says, “cared nothing about the matter, and
readily voted they should be put in the fire.” Byron said, “some few scenes and names in his memoirs it might be necessary to omit, as he had written the whole truth. Moore and Murray were to exercise their own discretion on that subject.” He added, “that the truth would be known and believed when he was dead, and the lies forgotten.” So there is nothing to extenuate the great wrong done to Byron by Tom Moore.

Byron’s autobiography contained a narrative of the principal events of his life; with running comments on those he came in contact with, or who crossed his path. It was written in a straightforward, manly manner, and in a vigorous, fearless style, and was apparently truthful as regarded himself;—if it was not the whole truth, it contained much more of that commodity than other writers have generally left us in their memoirs. Autobiography was the kind of reading he preferred to all others.