LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Conversations on Religion, with Lord Byron
William Fletcher to James Kennedy, 19 May 1824

First Conversation
Kennedy on Scripture
Second Conversation
Third Conversation
Fourth Conversation
Fifth Conversation
Memoir of Byron
Byron’s Character
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Lazaretto, (Zante,) May 19th, 1824.
Honoured Sir,

I am extremely sorry I have not had it in my power to answer the kind letter with which you have honoured me, before this, being so very unwell, and so much hurt at the severe loss of my much-esteemed and ever-to-be-lamented lord and master. You wish me, Sir, to give you some information in respect of my lord’s manner and mode of life after his departure from Cephalonia, which I am very happy to say was that of a good Christian, and one who fears and serves God, in doing all the good that lay in his power, and avoiding all evil. And his charity was always without bounds; for his kind and generous heart could not see nor hear of misery, without a deep sigh, and striving in which way he could serve and soften misery, by his liberal hand, in the most
effectual manner. Were I to mention one hundredth part of the most generous acts of charity, it would fill a volume. And in regard to religion, I have every reason to think the world has been much to blame in judging too rashly on this most serious and important subject; for in the course of my long services of more than twenty years, I have always, on account of the situation which I have held, been near to his lordship’s person, and by these means have it in my power to speak to facts which I have many times witnessed, and conversations which I have had on the subject of religion. My lord has more than once asked me my opinion on his lordship’s life, whether I thought him, as represented in some of the daily papers, as one devoid of religion, &c., &c., words too base to mention. My lord moreover said, “
Fletcher, I know you are what at least they call a Christian; do you think me exactly what they say of me?” I said, “I do not, for I had too just reasons to believe otherwise.” My lord went on on this subject, saying, “I suppose, because I do not go to the church, I cannot any longer be a Christian; but he said moreover, a man must be a great beast, who cannot be a good Christian without always being in the church. I flatter myself I am not inferior in regard to my duty to many of them; for if I can do no good, I do no harm, which I am sorry to say I cannot say of all churchmen.” At another time, I remember it well, being a Friday, I, at the moment not remembering it, said to my lord, “Will you have a fine plate of beccaficas?” My lord, half in anger,
replied, “Is not this Friday? How could you be so extremely lost to your duty, to make such a request to me!” At the same time saying, a man that can so much forget his duty as a Christian, who cannot for one day in seven forbid himself of these luxuries, is no longer worthy to be called a Christian. And I can truly say, for the last eight years and upwards, his lordship always left that day apart for a day of abstinence; and many more and more favourable proofs of a religious mind, than I have mentioned, which hereafter, if I find it requisite to the memory of my lord, I shall undoubtedly explain to you. You, Sir, are aware that my lord was rather a man to be wondered at in regard to some passages in the Holy Scriptures, which his lordship did not only mention with confidence, but even told you in what chapter and what verse you would find such and such things, which I recollect filled you with wonder* at the time, and with satisfaction.

I remember, even so long back as when his lordship was at Venice, several circumstances, which must remove every doubt, even at the moment when my lord was more gay than at any time after; in the year 1817, I have seen my lord repeatedly on meeting or passing any religious ceremonies which the Roman Catholics have in their frequent processions, while at Nivia, near Venice, dis-

* I would suggest that the wonder experienced by Dr. K. was caused by the sad illustration of Lord B.’s forcible and energetic line—

“The tree of knowledge is not that of life.”

mount his horse and fall on his knees, and remain in that posture till the procession had passed; and one of his lordship’s grooms, who was backward in following the example of his lordship, my lord gave a violent reproof to. The man in his defence said, “I am no Catholic, and by this means thought I ought not to follow any of their ways.” My lord answered very sharply upon the subject, saying, “Nor am I a Catholic, but a Christian; which I should not be, were I to make the same objections which you make; for all religions are good when properly attended to, without making it a mask to cover villainy, which I am fully persuaded is too often the case.” With respect to my lord’s late publications, which you mention, I am fully persuaded, when they come to be more fully examined, the passages which have been so much condemned may prove something dark; but I am fully persuaded you are aware how much the public mind has been deceived in the true state of my lamented master. A greater friend to Christianity could not exist, I am fully convinced, in his daily conduct, not only making the Bible his first companion in the morning, but in regard to whatever religion a man might be of, whether Protestant, Catholic, friar, or monk, or any other religion, every priest, of whatever order, if in distress, was always most liberally rewarded, and with larger sums than any one who was not a minister of the gospel, I think, [would give.] I think every thing, combined together, must prove, not only to you, Sir, but to the public at large, that my lord was not only a Christian,
but a good Christian. How many times has my lord said to me, “Never judge a man by his clothes, nor by his going to church, being a good Christian. I suppose you have heard that some people in England say that I am no Christian?” I said, “Yes; I have certainly heard such things by some public prints; but I am fully convinced of their falsehood.” My lord said, “I know I do not go to the church, like many of my accusers; but I have my hopes I am not less a Christian than they; for God examines the inward part of the man, not outward appearances.” Sir, in answer to your inquiries, I too well know your character as a true Christian and a gentleman to refuse giving you any further information respecting what you asked of me. In the first place, I have seen my lord frequently read your books, and moreover I have more than once heard my lord speak in the highest terms of and receive you in the most friendly mariner possible, whenever you could make it convenient to come to Metaxata; and in regard to the Bible, I think I only may refer to you, Sir, how much his lordship must have studied it, by being able to refer to almost any passage in Scripture; and with what accuracy, to mention even the chapter and verse in any part of the Scripture. Now, had my lord not been a Christian, this book would most naturally have been thrown aside, and of course he would have been ignorant of so many fine passages which I have heard him repeat at intervals, when in the midst of his last and fatal illness,—I mean after he began to be delirious. My lord repeated, “I am not afraid to die,”
and,—in as composed a way as a child, without moving head or foot, or even a gasp—went as if he was going into the finest sleep, only opening his eyes, and then shutting them again. I cried out “I fear his lordship is gone!”—when the doctors felt his pulse, and said it was too true. I must say I am extremely miserable to think my lord might have been saved, had the doctors done their duty, by either letting blood in time, or by stating to me that my lord would not allow it, and at the same time to tell me the truth of the real state of my lord’s illness; but instead of that, they deceived me with the false idea that my lord would be better in two or three days, and thereby prevented me from sending to Zante or Cephalonia, which I repeatedly wished to do, but was prevented by them—I mean the doctors—deceiving me: but I dare say you have heard every particular about the whole; if not, I have no objection to give every particular during his illness.

I hope, Sir, your kind intentions may be crowned with success in regard to the publication which you mean to bring before the British public. I must beg your pardon when I make one remark, and which I am sure your good sense will forgive me for, when I say, you know too well the tongues of the wicked, and in particular of the great,—and how glad some would be to bring into ridicule any one that is of your religious and good sentiments of a future state, which every good Christian ought to think his first and greatest duty. For myself, I should be only too happy to be converted to the truth of the gospel. But
at this time I fear it would be doing my lord move harm than good, in publishing to the world that my lord was converted, which to that extent of religion my lord never arrived; but at the same time was a friend to both religion and religious people, of whatever religion they might be; and to none more, or more justly deserving, than
Dr. Kennedy.

I remain, honoured Sir,
With the greatest respect,
Your most obedient and very humble Servant,
(Signed) Wm. Fletcher.
Dr. Kennedy, &c. &c.