LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Conversations on Religion, with Lord Byron
Fourth Conversation

First Conversation
Kennedy on Scripture
Second Conversation
Third Conversation
‣ Fourth Conversation
Fifth Conversation
Memoir of Byron
Byron’s Character
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Soon after this, I had occasion to ride out to a village near Lord B., to visit some people who had been injured by the falling in of a part of the road side, from under which sand had been dug. S. accompanied me, and when we had visited the people, we resolved to pay a visit to Lord B. We found him with Mr. F., who had just arrived from Germany, and was on his way to join the Greeks. Dinner was soon brought in, and there were present, Lord Byron, S., and myself, Mr. F., Count Gamba, and Dr. Bruno. The conversation was, of course, very general and only desultory: we talked about Germany, the modes of education adopted there, and the opinion of the German schools. Lord Byron then spoke of religion, and said, “he was particularly struck with a remark of Bishop Beveridge, in one of the tracts, in which he says, ‘that in our best actions we sin.’ Do you remember the passage?” “No,” I answered, “I
did not observe it.” “You are a fine fellow to give me tracts for my conversion, without knowing yourself what they contain.” So saying, he went into his bed-room, and brought out a tract, and read a passage quoted from Beveridge. After he had done, I said, “I now remember the passage, and the doctrine it contains is sound. You know it is impossible for me to remember all I have read, or to retain in my memory what every tract which I disperse contains. It is enough to know that, though some of them might be written with more ability, they are all good. No man, who, like Bishop Beveridge, has felt and known by experience the depravity of his own heart, and compares his best actions, even his devotions, with the purity of God’s law, as containing the expression of his will,—but must feel and lament that sin, more or less, pollutes the best actions of our lives.”

“I am not convinced,” said Lord B. “of the justice of your opinion respecting the ghost-scene in Samuel. I have been looking at the passage again, and do not see that distinction you make about the witch of Endor having been afraid when Samuel’s ghost appeared, as an apparition which she did not expect.” He then went for his sister’s
Bible, and read aloud to us all the passage. As he read it, he made no pause after the words, “she cried with a loud voice,” which is done in our bibles, and from which, I believe,
Scott draws the conclusion, that these words imply that she made some exclamation from fear. If she expected to see Samuel, or if in reality she expected to see some spirit rise at her incantations, then she was either the dupe of her own credulity, or there was more in witchcraft, as then practised, than modern philosophers are apt to admit. But if the words “she cried,” implied, that she uttered an exclamation of fear at, what was to her, an unexpected apparition; then we may infer, that she was accustomed merely to use some juggling tricks and illusions, with a view of deceiving the ignorant and the credulous, for the purpose of gain.

As the point itself was not one which was of the least importance, or likely, by the discussion of it, to be useful, I did not wish it to be carried on; and after taking up the passage and reading it, I said, certainly from the manner in which Lord B. had read it, there was no room for the idea which I had thrown out,—that perhaps I was mistaken, and I would give the subject further consideration.


Lord Byron had some jokes against Dr. Bruno, whom he laughed at for having said that the head of a man will dance on the ground, after it has been separated from the body: this Bruno explained properly. S. had been saying something at the corner of the table while he was sitting next to Count G., which did not appear to be very orthodox: his lordship called out to me, “Do you hear what S. has been saying? Why, he has not advanced one step towards conversion. He is worse than I am!” Mr. F. having said something about the contradictions which appeared in the Scriptures, Lord B. said, “That is going too far; I am so much of a believer as to be of opinion, that there is no contradiction in Scripture, which cannot be reconciled by an attentive consideration and comparison of passages. What puzzles me most is the eternity of hell punishments. This I am not disposed to believe and this is the only point of difference between me and the Doctor here, who will not admit me into the pale of orthodoxy, till I can get over this point.”

After several other desultory observations, the conversation again reverted to religious subjects, and I was attempting to explain that no man could seriously have any difficulty in ascertaining
whether he was a real Christian or not, as he had only to compare his conduct and opinion, with what was required of him in the Bible. I was explaining the great change that must take place in worldly men, when their hearts are touched with the spirit of religion; “they have no longer,” I said, “the same enjoyment in many things which formerly gave pleasure.” “Certainly,” said Lord Byron, “you must except some things, and grant that some can afford enjoyment as well before conversion as after.” “I do,” said I; “all legitimate or lawful pleasures can be enjoyed as well after conversion as before, and even with a higher relish, since then we feel more thankfulness and gratitude to that Being who grants them to us. But,” I added, “there are many sources of pleasure, and many objects of pursuit, in which worldly people indulge, that after conversion can give no further pleasure. When converted, you endeavour to practice every virtue, from a love to God, and from a sense of duty; and in doing this, the mind feels perfect happiness. All the objects of worldly ambition,—such as wealth, rank, and fame—whether as merchants, scholars, statesmen, or poets,—must be modified and corrected.” “I perfectly agree with you,” Lord Byron exclaimed,
“with respect to the profane art of poetry!” “This is not profane” I said, “if exercised with proper motives: witness such poetry as
Cowper has given us, and see the principles which he inculcates, and the beauty with which he paints virtue, and reprobates vice, and the many inducements he holds forth in the most vigorous poetry, for the practice of virtue and piety.” Some conversation took place about Cowper’s insanity, whether it was before or after conversion. I explained, that he had attempted to commit suicide before his conversion; that it was during his convalescence Dr. Madan was the means of enlightening his mind on religion; that his piety and happiness were equal, as long as he lived with the Unwins, in the same neighbourhood with Newton—that when he was engaged in writing poems, and was seized with the ambition and feelings of a mere poet, his mind became again unsettled and melancholy, and that it was to divert this, that some injudicious, but well-meaning friends, urged him to the laborious task of translating Homer. Had his fame not risen as a poet during his life time, and consequently, had not his vanity and ambition been excited,—had he lived obscurely, quietly, and contentedly, as he
had before for many years, in the practice of virtue, in the study and meditation of the Scriptures, and in writing such books as the ‘
Task’ or in composing more of his beautiful hymns,—there is reason to believe that his mind would have remained tranquil and sound. But the labour and anxiety of such a work as the translation of Homer, unsettled his delicate and gentle mind, and threw him into that state of melancholy despondency from which he never recovered.” I then reprobated the life of Cowper, as written in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and said, it was the most unjust and unfair of all the articles in that excellent work; and that I was often inclined, obscure as I was, to write to the distinguished editor, and urge him to have it altered, as it could not fail to give offence to every Christian reader, to every admirer of Cowper, and to every lover of truth. “Cowper,” I added, “is a poet whose fame will increase with succeeding ages.” His lordship dissented from me with respect to the greatness of Cowper as a poet.

The conversation turned upon the Socinians, and I was accused by some of the party of being too severe on this sect,—that my opinions were too exclusive, and narrow, and less candid and
charitable in judging of others than they should be. I affirmed that this was a mistake. “That I pretended not to judge of the final and eternal state of any one, but that there were opinions and practices, which, when judged by the Bible, rendered those who held them incapable of obtaining eternal happiness; since God had declared certain characters should not enter into the kingdom of heaven. But as there was no sin too great for God to pardon, so any persons, however criminal in their conduct and opinions, might be converted, and therefore saved, even so late as the last moment of their lives. Of the worst people, therefore, as long as they live, there is hope; but surely, it is not uncharitable to suppose, and, indeed, to judge from the authority of the Scriptures, that those people who continue to the end of their lives in sin, or in such damnable opinions as most of the Socinians entertain, cannot have hope of salvation, without conversion by the grace and power of God. It is no bigotry, therefore, to say, that such people, while they thus live and think, have no share in salvation. It would be a false show of candour to endeavour to hope so; we may pray for their conversion, knowing that the power of God is sufficient to accomplish what to us is
hopeless or impossible. Besides,” I said, “I must put you right with regard to another point, in which you are all apt to err. It is a common opinion, that a serious Christian thinks himself a better man than those who live in sin, or at least who are not so strict and attentive to religious duties as he is; thence a worldly man naturally thinks that he is puffed up with spiritual pride, and feels some indignation at the censorious judgment which he forms of others, and is offended with his pride in exalting himself by the comparison. It is natural for an unconverted person to think and feel so, but he judges of the serious Christian in an ignorant manner. A serious Christian is the best philosopher; his mind is turned constantly to the motives of his own conduct, and the more he examines himself, the more astonished is he to find the native blackness and depravity of his own heart, and the alloy which mixes itself with his best actions and purest motives. Independently of the distinct precepts of the Scriptures, he knows that he is not naturally a better man than the worst sinner around him. Nay, that his motives and his inclinations have been as bad, if not worse, though circumstances have prevented them from being developed: therefore he feels, that if he no
longer lives in a course of sin, this is by the grace and power of God, which prevents and saves him from evil,—he is set to watch against evil, from the very consciousness of his weakness. Instead of being elated with spiritual pride, he becomes daily more humble; he ascribes everything to the mercy of God, and he has no other feeling for a sinning brother, than that of compassion, and an earnest desire to be useful to him, and to induce him to reform. Beside all this, he knows that the grace of God extends overall, and that he bestows it on whomsoever he will; he knows that the greatest sinner of his acquaintance may be arrested in his career, and may become a much holier and better Christian than himself; ‘For to whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much.’ These reflections, therefore, prevent a Christian from self-approbation and spiritual pride, and in proportion as he feels either the one or the other, which he may do momentarily, (as he is not perfect,) in the same proportion does he depart from Christian principles; and if a professing Christian habitually carries in his heart an idea of superiority over his sinning brother, or feels pride in consequence, he may have the form, but he has not the least of the spirit of Christianity; indeed
there is more hope of an open profligate, than of him, who either deceives himself or others,—perhaps both. Let us not be called bigoted, therefore, if we judge of you and of ourselves by the Scriptures, and maintain those Scriptures from all perversion. There is no more hardness of heart and inhumanity in us who believe in the eternity of hell punishment, than in you who falsely flatter yourselves with the idea that you are very liberal and humane, in professing to believe that hell punishment is temporary. We believe what God has said. Had he said, that after a certain time passed elsewhere, the unrepenting wicked, after due punishment, should be cleansed and raised to heaven, we would have believed it, and rejoiced in the idea: but God has said otherwise, and the will of the Christian is, to yield to the will of God. Whatever he does is right. If it depended on me, judging by mere feelings of humanity, I would have all saved. Nay, I would go further than you,—I would have no hell at all; but would pardon all, purify all, and send all to equal happiness.” “Nay,” exclaimed some of them, “I would not save all.” “I would save,” cried his lordship, “my
sister and my daughter, and some of my friends,—and a few others, and let the rest shift for
themselves.” “And your
wife also,” I exclaimed, “No,” he said. “But your wife, surely, you would save your wife?” “Well,” he said, “I would save her too, if you like.”

The conversation now turned on several subjects of a common and trivial nature, which it would be unnecessary to repeat, and shortly afterwards we took our leave. Mr. F. accompanied us part of the way, but as S. and myself were obliged to visit another of the persons who had been injured in a neighbouring village, he pursued his way to Argostoli with his guide, while S. and myself arrived there late in the evening, conversing together on the strange character, and occasionally strange conversation in which we had been engaged.