LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

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

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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His life was one long war with self-sought foes,
Or friends by him self-banished, for his mind
Had grown Suspicion’s sanctuary.

Byron formed his opinion of the inhabitants of this planet from books; personally he knew as little about them as if he belonged to some other. From reading Rochefoucauld, Machiavelli, and other soured cynics, he learnt to distrust people in general; so, as he could do nothing without them and did not know how to manage them, he was always complaining of being over-reached, and never getting what he wanted. I don’t think he ever knew what he did want: few there are that do.

To resume my log on board the good ship ‘Hercules.’ On the 2nd of August, the islands of Cephalonia and Zante were in sight, and shortly
Byron pointing out the Morea said, “I don’t know why it is, but I feel as if the eleven long years of bitterness I have passed through since I was here, were taken off my shoulders, and I was scudding through the Greek Archipelago with old Bathurst, in his frigate.” That night we anchored in the roadstead; the next morning we worked into Argostoli, the harbour of Cephalonia, and anchored near the town. An officer from the Health Office having examined our papers and log, gave us pratique. The secretary of the Resident, Captain Kennedy, came on board; he told us Colonel Napier was absent, but that we might depend on the Colonel’s readiness to aid us in anything that his orders to observe strict neutrality permitted. The captain gave us the latest news from the seat of war, and said Blacquiere had gone to England, at which Byron was sorely vexed. The truth flashed across his mind, that he had been merely used as a decoy by the committee. “Now they have got me thus far they think I must go on, and they care nothing as to the result. They are deceived, I won’t budge a foot farther until I see my way; we will stay here; if that is objected to, I will buy an
island from the Greeks or Turks; there must be plenty of them in the market.” The instinct that enables the vulture to detect carrion afar off, is surpassed by the marvellous acuteness of the Greeks in scenting money. The morning after our arrival a flock of ravenous Zuliote refugees alighted on our decks, attracted by Byron’s dollars.
Legà, the steward, a thorough miser, coiled himself on the money-chest like a viper. Our sturdy skipper was for driving them overboard with hand-spikes. Byron came on deck in exuberant spirits, pleased with their savage aspect and wild attire, and, as was his wont, promised a great deal more than he should have done; day and night they clung to his heels like a pack of jackals, till he stood at bay bike a hunted lion, and was glad to buy them off, by shipping them to the Morea. On Colonel Napier’s return to the island, he warmly urged Byron, and indeed all of us, to take up our quarters at his house; from first to last, all the English on the island, the military as well as the civilians, vied with each other in friendly and hospitable acts. Byron preferred staying on board; every afternoon he and I crossed the harbour in a boat, and landed on a
rock to bathe; on one of these occasions he held out his right leg to me, saying,

“I hope this accursed limb will be knocked off in the war.”

“It won’t improve your swimming,” I answered; “I will exchange legs if you will give me a portion of your brains.”

“You would repent your bargain,” he said; “at times I feel my brains boiling, as Shelley’s did whilst you were grilling him.”

After bathing, we landed in an olive grove, eating our frugal supper under the trees. Our Greek passengers during the voyage said, that the Greeks generally were in favour of a monarchical government; the Greeks on the island confirmed this, saying it was the only way of getting rid of the robber chiefs who now tyrannised and kept the country in a state of anarchy; and as they must have a foreigner for a king, they could not do better than elect Byron. The Poet treated this suggestion lightly, saying, “If they make me the offer, I may not refuse it. I shall take care of my own ‘sma peculiar;’ for if it don’t suit my humour, I shall, like Sancho, abdicate.” Byron several times alluded to this, in a bantering
vein; it left an impression on his mind. Had he lived to reach the congress of Salona as commissioner of the loan, the dispenser of a million silver crowns would have been offered a golden one.

Our party made an excursion to the neighbouring island of Ithaca; contrasted with the arid wastes and barren red hills of Cephalonia, the verdant valleys, sparkling streams, and high land, clothed in evergreen shrubs, were strikingly beautiful. After landing, it was proposed to Byron to visit some of the localities that antiquaries have dubbed with the titles of Homer’s school,—Ulysses’ stronghold, &c.: he turned peevishly away, saying to me, “Do I look like one of those emasculated fogies? Let’s have a swim. I detest antiquarian twaddle. Do people think I have no lucid intervals, that I came to Greece to scribble more nonsense? I will show them I can do something better: I wish I had never written a line, to have it cast in my teeth at every turn.” Brown and Gamba went to look for some place where we might pass the night, as we could not get mules to go on until the next day.

After a long swim, Byron clambered up the rocks, and, exhausted by his day’s work, fell asleep under
the shade of a wild fig-tree at the mouth of a cavern.
Gamba, having nothing to do, hunted him out, and awakened him from a pleasant dream, for which the Poet cursed him. We fed off figs and olives, and passed our night at a goatherd’s cottage.

In the morning we rode through the pleasant little island to Vathy, the capital. The Resident, Captain Knox, his lady, and everyone else who had a house, opened their doors to welcome us, and the Pilgrim was received as if he had been a prince. On the summit of a high mountain in the island, there is an ancient monastery, from which there is a magnificent view of the Ionian Sea, Greece, and many islands. The day after our arrival we ascended it, our party amounting to ten or twelve, including servants and muleteers. As usual, it was late when we started; there was not a breath of air, and the heat was intense. Following a narrow zigzag path between rocks and precipices in single file, as our mules crept upwards our difficulty increased, until the path became merely stone steps, worn by time and travel in the solid limestone. We all dismounted but Byron; he was jaded and irritable, as he generally was when deprived of his accustomed mid-
day siesta: it was dusk before we reached the summit of the mountain. The Abbot had been apprised by the Resident of our visit; and when we neared the monastery, files of men stood on each side of our path, bearing pine torches. On coming up to the walls we saw the monks in their grey gowns, ranged along the terrace; they chaunted a hymn of glorification and welcome to the great lord, saying, “Christ has risen to elevate the cross and trample on the crescent in our beloved Greece.” The Abbot, clad in his sacerdotal robes, received Byron in the porch, and conducted him into the great hall, illuminated for the occasion; the monks and others clustered round the honoured guest; boys swung censers with frankincense under the Poet’s nose. The Abbot, after performing a variety of ceremonies in a very dignified manner, took from the folds of his ample garments a roll of paper, and commenced intoning through his nasal organs a turgid and interminable eulogium on my “Lordo Inglese,” in a polyglot of divers tongues; while the eyes of the silent monks, anxious to observe the effect of the holy father’s eloquence, glanced from the Abbot to the Lord.

Byron had not spoken a word from the time we
entered the monkery; I thought he was resolved to set us an example of proper behaviour. No one was more surprised than I was, when suddenly he burst into a paroxysm of rage, and vented his ire in a torrent of Italian execrations on the holy Abbot and all his brotherhood. Then turning to us with flashing eyes, he vehemently exclaimed:

“Will no one release me from the presence of these pestilential idiots? they drive me mad!” Seizing a lamp, he left the room.

The consternation of the monks at this explosion of wrath may be imagined. The amazed Abbot remained for some time motionless, his eyes and mouth wide open; holding the paper he had been reading in the same position, he looked at the vacant place left by Byron, and then at the door through which he had disappeared. At last he thought he had solved the mystery, and in a low tremulous voice said,—significantly putting his finger to his forehead:—

“Eccolo, è matto poveretto!” (Poor fellow, he is mad.)

Leaving Hamilton Brown to pacify the monks, I followed Byron. He was still fretting and fuming,
cursing the “whining dotard,” as he called the Abbot, who had tormented him. Byron’s servant brought him bread, wine, and olives. I left him and joined the mess of the monks in their refectory. We had the best of everything the island produced for supper. Our host broached several flasks of his choicest vintages: but although he partook largely of these good things, they failed to cheer him. We were all glad to retire early to our cells.

In the morning, Byron came forth refreshed, and acted as if he had forgotten the occurrences of the evening. The Abbot had not, and he took care not to remind him of them. A handsome donation was deposited in the alms-box, and we mounted our mules and departed, without any other ceremony than a hasty benediction from the Holy Father and his monks. However we might have doubted the sincerity of their ovation on receiving us, we did not question the relief they felt and expressed by their looks on our departure.

The next day we retraced our steps through the flowery ravines and tranquil glades of this lovely islet, our road winding along the foot of the moun-
tains. The grey olive-trees, bright green fig, and rampant vine, that grew above our heads, screened us from the sun; the fresh breeze from the sea, with the springs of purest water gushing out of the rocks, soothed the Poet’s temper. He turned out of the path to look at a natural grotto, in a grove of forest trees, and said, “You will find nothing in Greece or its islands so pleasant as this. If this isle were mine,—‘I would break my staff and bury my book.’—What fools we all are!”

On reaching our former landing-place, we had to wait a long time for a boat to ferry us across the strait to Cephalonia. As usual, he and I took to the water; in the evening we crossed, and it was night when we regained our old quarters on board the ‘Hercules.’

It was near noon of the next day, when I had occasion to speak to Byron on pressing business. I descended to his cabin,—he was fast asleep. I repeatedly called him by name; at first in a low voice,—then louder and louder; at last he started up in terror, staring at me wildly. With a convulsive sigh he said, “I have had such a dream! I am trembling with fear. I am not fit to go to
Greece. If you had come to strangle me I could have done nothing.”

I said, “Who could against a night-mare? the hag don’t mind your pistols or your bible” (he always had these on a chair close to the side of his bed). I then talked on other subjects until he was tolerably composed, and so left him.

The conflicting accounts that came day by day from the Morea distracted us; to ascertain the real state of things, I proposed to go there. Byron urged me to stay until he went, so I remained for some time; but when he talked of leaving the ship and taking a house, I determined to be off.