LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

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

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.
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH

This should hare been a noble creature—he
Hath all the energy which would have made
A goodly frame of glorious elements
Had they been wisely mingled.

At two o’clock on the following day, in company with Shelley, I crossed the Ponte Vecchio, and went on the Lung ‘Arno to the Palazzo Lanfranchi, the residence of Lord Byron. We entered a large marble hall, ascended a giant staircase, passed through an equally large room over the hall, and were shown into a smaller apartment which had books and a billiard-table in it. A surly-looking bull-dog (Moretto) announced us, by growling, and the Pilgrim instantly advanced from an inner chamber, and stood before us. His halting gait was apparent, but he moved with quickness; and although pale, he looked as fresh, vigorous, and ani-
mated, as any man I ever saw. His pride, added to his having lived for many years alone, was the cause I suppose that he was embarrassed at first meeting with strangers; this he tried to conceal by an affectation of ease. After the interchange of commonplace question and answer, he regained his self-possession, and turning to Shelley, said,

“As you are addicted to poesy, go and read the versicles I was delivered of last night, or rather this morning—that is, if you can. I am posed. I am getting scurrilous. There is a letter from Tom Moore; read, you are blarneyed in it ironically.”

He then took a cue, and asked me to play billiards; he struck the balls and moved about the table briskly, but neither played the game nor cared a rush about it, and chatted after this idle fashion:

“The purser of the frigate I went to Constantinople in called an officer scurrilous for alluding to his wig. Now, the day before I mount a wig—and I shall soon want one—I’ll ride about with it on the pummel of my saddle, or stick it on my cane.

“In that same frigate, near the Dardanelles, we nearly ran down an American trader with his cargo
of notions. Our captain, old
Bathurst, hailed, and with the dignity of a Lord, asked him where he came from, and the name of his ship. The Yankee captain bellowed,—

“‘You copper-bottomed sarpent, I guess you’ll know when I’ve reported you to Congress.’”

The surprise I expressed by my looks was not at what he said, but that he could register such trifles in his memory. Of course with other such small anecdotes, his great triumph at having swum from Sestos to Abydos was not forgotten. I had come prepared to see a solemn mystery, and so far as I could judge from the first act it seemed to me very like a solemn farce. I forgot that great actors when off the stage are dull dogs; and that even the mighty Prospero, without his book and magic mantle, was but an ordinary mortal. At this juncture Shelley joined us; he never laid aside his book and magic mantle; he waved his wand, and Byron, after a faint show of defiance, stood mute; his quick perception of the truth of Shelley’s comments on his poem transfixed him, and Shelley’s earnestness and just criticism held him captive.


I was however struck with Byron’s mental vivacity and wonderful memory; he defended himself with a variety of illustrations, precedents, and apt quotations from modern authorities, disputing Shelley’s propositions, not by denying their truth as a whole, but in parts, and the subtle questions he put would have puzzled a less acute reasoner than the one he had to contend with. During this discussion I scanned the Pilgrim closely.

In external appearance Byron realised that ideal standard with which imagination adorns genius. He was in the prime of life, thirty-five; of middle height, five feet eight and a half inches; regular features, without a stain or furrow on his pallid skin, his shoulders broad, chest open, body and limbs finely proportioned. His small, highly-finished head and curly hair, had an airy and graceful appearance from the massiveness and length of his throat: you saw his genius in his eyes and lips. In short, Nature could do little more than she had done for him, both in outward form and in the inward spirit she had given to animate it. But all these rare gifts to his jaundiced imagination only served to make his one personal defect (lameness) the more apparent, as
a flaw is magnified in a diamond when polished; and he brooded over that blemish as sensitive minds will brood until they magnify a wart into a wen.

His lameness certainly helped to make him sceptical, cynical, and savage. There was no peculiarity in his dress, it was adapted to the climate; a tartan jacket braided,—he said it was the Gordon pattern, and that his mother was of that ilk. A blue velvet cap with a gold band, and very loose nankeen trousers, strapped down so as to cover his feet: his throat was not bare, as represented in drawings. At three o’clock, one of his servants announced that his horses were at the door, which broke off his discussion with Shelley, and we all followed him to the hall. At the outer door, we found three or four very ordinary-looking horses; they had holsters on the saddles, and many other superfluous trappings, such as the Italians delight in, and Englishmen eschew. Shelley, and an Irish visitor just announced, mounted two of these sorry jades. I luckily had my own cattle. Byron got into a caleche, and did not mount his horse until we had cleared the gates of the town, to avoid, as he said, being stared at by the “d—d Englishers,” who gene-
rally congregated before his house on the Arno. After an hour or two of slow riding and lively talk,—for he was generally in good spirits when on horseback,—we stopped at a small podere on the roadside, and dismounting went into the house, in which we found a table with wine and cakes. From thence we proceeded into the vineyard at the back; the servant brought two brace of pistols, a cane was stuck in the ground and a five paul-piece, the size of half-a-crown, placed in a slit at the top of the cane. Byron, Shelley, and I, fired at fifteen paces, and one of us generally hit the cane or the coin: our firing was pretty equal; after five or six shots each, Byron pocketed the battered money and sauntered about the grounds. We then remounted. On our return homewards, Shelley urged Byron to complete something he had begun. Byron smiled and replied,

John Murray, my patron and paymaster, says my plays won’t act. I don’t mind that, for I told him they were not written for the stage—but he adds, my poesy won’t sell: that I do mind, for I have an ‘itching palm.’ He urges me to resume my old ‘Corsair style, to please the ladies.’”


Shelley indignantly answered,

“That is very good logic for a bookseller, but not for an author: the shop interest is to supply the ephemeral demand of the day. It is not for him but you ‘to put a ring in the monster’s nose’ to keep him from mischief.”

Byron smiling at Shelley’s warmth, said,

John Murray is right, if not righteous: all I have yet written has been for women-kind; you must wait until I am forty, their influence will then die a natural death, and I will show the men what I can do.”

Shelley replied,

“Do it now—write nothing but what your conviction of its truth inspires you to write; you should give counsel to the wise, and not take it from the foolish. Time will reverse the judgment of the vulgar. Cotemporary criticism only represents the amount of ignorance genius has to contend with.”

I was then and afterwards pleased and surprised at Byron’s passiveness and docility in listening to Shelley—but all who heard him felt the charm of his simple, earnest manner; while Byron knew
him to be exempt from the egotism, pedantry, coxcombry, and, more than all, the rivalry of authorship, and that he was the truest and most discriminating of his admirers. Byron looking at the western sky, exclaimed, “Where is the green your friend the Laker talks such fustian about,” meaning
“‘Gazing on the western sky,
And its peculiar tint of yellow green.’

“Who ever,” asked Byron, “saw a green sky?”

Shelley was silent, knowing that if he replied, Byron would give vent to his spleen. So I said, “The sky in England is oftener green than blue.”

“Black, you mean,” rejoined Byron; and this discussion brought us to his door.

As he was dismounting he mentioned two odd words that would rhyme. I observed on the felicity he had shown in this art, repeating a couplet out of Don Juan; he was both pacified and pleased at this, and putting his hand on my horse’s crest, observed,

“If you are curious in these matters, look in Swift. I will send you a volume; he beats us all hollow, his rhymes are wonderful.”


And then we parted for that day, which I have been thus particular in recording, not only as it was the first of our acquaintance, but as containing as fair a sample as I can give of his appearance, ordinary habits, and conversation.