LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

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

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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Arnold!—Do you—dare you—
Taunt me with my born deformity.

With desponding thoughts I entered Missolonghi on the third day from my leaving Salona. Any spot on the surface of the earth, or in its bowels, that holds out a prospect of gain, you will find inhabited; a morass that will produce rice, the crust of a volcano in which the vine will grow; lagunes, in which fish abound, are temptations which overcome the terror of pestilence or death. So I was not surprised at seeing Missolonghi, situated as it is on the verge of the most dismal swamp I had ever seen. The marvel was that Byron, prone to fevers, should have been induced to land on this mud-bank, and stick there for three months shut in by a circle of stagnant pools which might be called the belt of death. Although it was now the early spring,
I found most of the strangers suffering from gastric fevers. It was the 24th or 25th of April when I arrived; Byron had died on the 19th. I waded through the streets, between wind and water, to the house he had lived in; it was detached, and on the margin of the shallow slimy sea-waters. For three months this house had been besieged, day and night, like a bank that has a run upon it. Now that death had closed the door, it was as silent as a cemetery. No one was within the house but
Fletcher, of which I was glad. As if he knew my wishes, he led me up a narrow stair into a small room, with nothing in it but a coffin standing on trestles. No word was spoken by either of us; he withdrew the black pall and the white shroud, and there lay the embalmed body of the Pilgrim—more beautiful in death than in life. The contraction of the muscles and skin had effaced every line that time or passion had ever traced on it; few marble busts could have matched its stainless white, the harmony of its proportions, and perfect finish; yet he had been dissatisfied with that body, and longed to cast its slough. How often I had heard him curse it! He was jealous of the genius of
Shakspeare—that might well be—but where had he seen the face or form worthy to excite his envy? I asked Fletcher to bring me a glass of water. On his leaving the room, to confirm or remove my doubts as to the cause of his lameness, I uncovered the Pilgrim’s feet, and was answered—the great mystery was solved. Both his feet were clubbed, and his legs withered to the knee—the form and features of an Apollo, with the feet and legs of a sylvan satyr. This was a curse, chaining a proud and soaring spirit like his to the dull earth. In the drama of ‘The Deformed Transformed,’ I knew that he had expressed all he could express of what a man of highly-wrought mind might feel when brooding over a deformity of body: but when he said
“I have done the best which spirit may to make
Its way with all deformity, dull deadly,
Discouraging weight upon me,”
I thought it exaggerated as applied to himself; now I saw it was not so. His deformity was always uppermost in his thoughts, and influenced every act of his life, spurred him on to poetry, as that was one of the few paths to fame open to him,—and as
if to be revenged on Nature for sending him into the world “scarce half made up,” he scoffed at her works and traditions with the pride of Lucifer; this morbid feeling ultimately goaded him on to his last Quixotic crusade in Greece.

No other man, afflicted as he was, could have been better justified than Byron in saying,
“I ask not
For valour, since deformity is daring;
It is its essence to o’ertake mankind
By heart and soul, and make itself the equal—
Ay, the superior of the rest. There is
A spur in its halt movements, to become
All that the others cannot, in such things
As still are free to both, to compensate
For step-dame Nature’s niggardness at first;
They war with fearless deeds, the smiles of fortune,
And oft, like Timour the lame Tartar, win them.”

Knowing and sympathising with Byron’s sensitiveness, his associates avoided prying into the cause of his lameness; so did strangers, from good breeding or common humanity. It was generally thought his halting gait originated in some defect of the right foot or ankle—the right foot was the most distorted, and it had been made worse in his boyhood by vain efforts to set it right. He told me that for several years he
wore steel splints, which so wrenched the sinews and tendons of his leg, that they increased his lameness; the foot was twisted inwards, only the edge touched the ground, and that leg was shorter than the other. His shoes were peculiar—very high heeled, with the soles uncommonly thick on the inside and pared thin on the outside—the toes were stuffed with cotton-wool, and his trousers were very large below the knee and strapped down so as to cover his feet. The peculiarity of his gait was now accounted for; he entered a room with a sort of run, as if he could not stop, then planted his best leg well forward, throwing back his body to keep his balance. In early life whilst his frame was light and elastic, with the aid of a stick he might have tottered along for a mile or two; but after he had waxed heavier, he seldom attempted to walk more than a few hundred yards, without squatting down or leaning against the first wall, bank, rock, or tree at hand, never sitting on the ground, as it would have been difficult for him to get up again. In the company of strangers, occasionally, he would make desperate efforts to conceal his infirmity, but the hectic flush on his face, his swelling veins, and
quivering nerves betrayed him, and he suffered for many days after such exertions. Disposed to fatten, incapable of taking exercise to check the tendency, what could he do? If he added to his weight, his feet would not have supported him; in this dilemma he was compelled to exist in a state of semi-starvation; he was less than eleven stone when at Genoa, and said he had been fourteen at Venice. The pangs of hunger which travellers and shipwrecked mariners have described were nothing to what he suffered; their privations were temporary, his were for life, and more unendurable, as he was in the midst of abundance. I was exclaiming, “Poor fellow, if your errors were greater than those of ordinary men, so were your temptations and provocations,” when
Fletcher returned with a bottle and glass, saying, “There is nothing but slimy salt water in this horrid place, so I have been half over the town to beg this bottle of porter,” and, answering my ejaculation of “Poor fellow?” he said—

“You may well say so, sir, these savages are worse than any highwaymen; they have robbed my Lord of all his money and his life too.”

Whilst saying this, Fletcher, without making any
remark, drew the shroud and pall carefully over the feet of his master’s corpse—he was very nervous and trembled as he did it; so strongly had his weak and superstitious nature been acted upon by the injunctions and threats of his master, that, alive or dead, no one was to see his feet, for if they did, he would haunt him, &c., &c.

Fletcher gave me a sheet of paper, and from his dictation I wrote on Byron’s coffin the particulars of his last illness and death. This account differs in many particulars from the one already published; in the same way that the fresh rough notes of an eye-witness, taken on the spot, differ on passing through the hands of the editor of a review to be served out to the public as an article to serve a cause or strengthen a faction—so let it be, I shall not question it.

A letter from his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, was on his writing-table. This lady was the only relation Byron had, or at least acknowledged; and he always spoke of her in the most affectionate terms. He was in the act of writing to her when he was taken ill. This unfinished letter I copied,—as the original would run many risks of being lost before
it reached its destination. It is interesting as the last of Byron’s writings—as an index, too, of his real and inward feelings; those letters that have been published were written, as I have already observed, under an assumed character and for effect.

His sister’s letter contained a long transcript of one from Lady Byron; with a minute mental and physical account of their child, Ada. Lady Byron’s letter mentioned a profile of the child. I found it, with other tokens that the Pilgrim had most treasured, scattered on the floor,—as rubbish of no marketable value, and trampled on. I rescued from destruction a cambric handkerchief stained with his blood, and marked with a lady’s name in hair; a ringlet; a ribbon; and a small glove. These relics I folded up with some of his own hair that I had shorn from his head.

This unfinished letter was the last of Byron’s writings; it is to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh.

Missolonghi, Feb. 23, 1824.
My dearest Augusta,

I received a few days ago, your and Lady B.’s report of Ada’s health, with other letters from
England; for which I ought to be, and am (I hope) sufficiently thankful, as they are of great comfort and I wanted some, having been recently unwell—but am now much better, so that you must not be alarmed.

You will have heard of our journeys and escapes, and so forth,—perhaps with some exaggeration; but it is all very well now, and I have been some time in Greece, which is in as good a state as could be expected considering circumstances. But I will not plague you with politics—wars—or earthquakes, though we have had a rather smart one three nights ago, which produced a scene ridiculous enough, as no damage was done, except to those who stuck fast in the scuffle to get first out of the doors or windows; amongst whom, some recent importations from England, who had been used to quieter elements, were rather squeezed in the press for precedence.

I have been obtaining the release of about nine-and-twenty Turkish prisoners,—men, women, and children, and have sent them, at my own expense, home to their friends; but one pretty little girl of nine years of age, named Hato or Hatagée, has
expressed a strong wish to remain with me or under my care;—and I have nearly determined to adopt her, if I thought that
Lady B. would let her come to England as a companion to Ada (they are about the same age), and we could easily provide for her,—if not, I can send her to Italy for education. She is very lively and quick, and with great black Oriental eyes and Asiatic features. All her brothers were killed in the revolution. Her mother wishes to return to her husband, who is at Previsa; but says that she would rather entrust the child to me in the present state of the country. Her extreme youth and sex have hitherto saved her life, but there is no saying what might happen in the course of the war (and of such a war). I shall probably commit her to the care of some English lady in the islands for the present. The child herself has the same wish, and seems to have a decided character for her age. You can mention this matter, if you think it worth while. I merely wish her to be respectably educated and treated; and if my years and all things be considered,—I presume it would be difficult to conceive me to have any other views.

With regard to Ada’s health, I am glad to hear
that she is so much better; but I think it right that
Lady B. should be informed and guard against it accordingly; that her description of much of her disposition and tendencies very nearly resemble that of my own at a similar age,—except that I was much more impetuous. Her preference of prose (strange as it may now seem) teas, and indeed is, mine (for I hate reading verse—and always did); and I never invented anything but boats,—ships, and generally something relative to the ocean. I showed the report to Colonel Stanhope, who was struck with the resemblance of parts of it to the paternal line,—even now.

But it is also fit, though unpleasant, that I should mention,—that my recent attack, and a very severe one,—had a strong appearance of epilepsy;—why, I know not—for it is late in life. Its first appearance at thirty-six, and, so far as I know, it is not hereditary;—and it is that it may not become so, that you should tell Lady B. to take some precautions in the case of Ada.

My attack has not returned,—and I am fighting it off with abstinence and exercise, and thus far with success;—if merely casual, it is all very well—


Gordon, in his ‘History of the Greek Revolution,’ speaking of Byron just before his death says: “His health declined, and we cannot be surprised, considering what he had suffered, and was daily suffering, from the deceptions practised upon him, and importunate solicitations for money. Parry talked a great deal and did little; Mavrocordato promised everything, and performed nothing, and the primates, who engaged to furnish 1600 dollars towards the expenses of the fortifications, could not produce a farthing, and in lieu thereof presented him with the freedom of the town. The streets and country were a bed of mire, so he could not take any exercise out of doors.”

To return to what passed in Byron’s house. On hearing a noise below, I went down into the public room, and found Parry with a comrade carousing. This man (Parry) had been a clerk in the civil department of the Ordnance at Woolwich, and was sent out by the committee with the munitions of war, as head fire-master. In revolutions, however severely the body may suffer for want of pay and rations, your vanity is pampered to satiety by the assumption of whatever rank or title you may have a fancy
Mavrocordato dubbed himself Prince; Byron, Commander-in-Chief; Parry the ordnance clerk, Major.

I said, “Well, major, what do you think was the cause of Lord Byron’s death?”

“Think? I don’t think anything about it; I am a practical man, not a humbugging thinker; he would have been alive now if he had followed my advice. He lived too low: I told him so a thousand times. Two or three days before he slipped his wind, he said: ‘Parry, what do you think is the matter with me, the doctors don’t know my complaint?’ No, I said, nor nothing else, my lord; let me throw them out of the window. ‘What will do me good, Parry?’ Brandy, my lord; nothing but brandy will save you; you have only got a chill on an empty stomach; let me mix you a stiff glass of grog, and you will be all right tomorrow, but he shook his head, so I gave him up as a lost man. My father,” he continued, “lived to a great age on brandy, and then he would not have died, but the doctor stopped his drink, and the death-rattle choked his scuppers.”

“What did the doctors do, Parry, with Lord Byron?”


“Do! why they physicked and bled him to death. My lord called them assassins to their faces, and so they are. A pair of more conceited ignorant scamps I never saw; they are only fit to stand at the corners of alleys to distribute Doctor Eady’s hand-bills.”

The fire-master was a rough burly fellow, never quite sober, but he was no fool, and had a fund of pot-house stories which he told in appropriately slang language; he was a mimic, and amused Byron by burlesquing Jeremy Bentham and other members of the Greek committee. Besides these accomplishments, he professed a thorough knowledge of the art of fortification, and said he was the inventor of shells and fire-balls that would destroy the Ottoman fleet and the garrison of Lepanto. All he did, however, was to talk and drink. He was three months in Greece, returned to England, talked the committee out of 400l. for his services, and drank himself into a madhouse. When he could get no more brandy to keep down the death-rattle, he died as he said his father had done. Six artificers whom he brought to Greece with him, staid there only a fortnight, and cost the committee 3401.


Out of the first loan of 800,000l., negotiated In England, the Greeks got 240,000l. The money Byron advanced by way of loan was repaid by the Greeks; but I believe it was invested in the Greek loan, and so lost.