LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Conversations on Religion, with Lord Byron
Pietro Gamba to James Kennedy, 21 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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Zante, May 21, 1824.
Dear Sir,

I cannot but approve your intention about the little work which you propose to publish; because I am persuaded that your only object is to place in a clear light the character of your illustrious compatriot, my ever-to-be-lamented friend, Lord Byron. It is known that many and severe calumnies have been spread against his true character, by inconsiderate and evil-disposed persons. Hence I esteem it incumbent on those who knew his mind, and enjoyed his friendship, to vindicate his memory by declaring the truth. Pane-
gyric is not required, nor the art of eloquence. The truth, and the truth alone, is necessary to dissipate the cloud gathered by insidious, ignorant, invidious, and base passions. His character will rise, clear and sublime as his genius, provided it be purged from this fog.

With greater calm of mind, and more leisure, I shall study to satisfy this debt towards my illustrious friend; meantime, I cannot but rejoice in seeing persons of your merit, and moved by pure motives, intent upon the same object.

You ask me for a minute and full account of all his actions and opinions concerning religion; and also of all his acts of charity and beneficence, known to me. It would be a long and serious task, for any one to pretend to satisfy this demand entirely, especially with respect to the second part; but as far as the limits of a letter will permit, and memory aid me, I shall endeavour to satisfy you.

In my opinion, the sentiments of his lordship on religion were not fixed, that is, he was not held more to one religious and Christian sect than another; but his profound sentiments were religious, and he professed a deep respect for the doctrines of Jesus Christ, as the source of virtue and felicity. With respect to the recondite mysteries of faith, his mind was involved in doubts which, however, he had a desire to dissipate as troublesome, and on this account he never shunned conversations on this subject, as you well know.

I have had occasion to observe him often in those
situations in which the most involuntary and most sincere sentiments of the mind are unfolded,—in serious danger of the stormy sea, or otherwise,—in the contemplation of a fine and tranquil night of summer,—and in the midst of a solitude,—and I have observed his emotions and his thoughts to be deeply tinctured with religion.

The first time that I had a conversation with him on this subject, was at Ravenna, my native country, about four years ago, while we were riding on horseback in an extensive, solitary wood of pines. The scene invited to religious meditation. It was a fine day in spring. “How,” he said, “raising our eyes to heaven, or directing them to the earth, can we doubt of the existence of God?—or how, turning them to what is within us, can we doubt that there is something within us more noble and more durable than the clay of which we are formed? Those who do not hear, or are unwilling to listen to those feelings, must necessarily be of a vile nature.” I wished to answer him with all those reasons which the superficial philosophy of Helvetius, his disciples, and his masters have taught. He answered me with strong arguments and profound eloquence; and I perceived that obstinate contradiction on this subject, forcing him to reason upon it, gave him pain. This discourse made a deep impression on me.

Many times, and in various circumstances, I have heard him confirm the same sentiments; and he always seemed to me to be deeply convinced of their truth. Last
year, in Genoa, when we were preparing for our journey to Greece, he was accustomed to converse with me for two or three hours each evening alone, seated on the terrace of his palace in Albano, in the fine evenings of spring, whence there opened a magnificent view of this superb city and the adjoining sea. Our conversation turned almost always on Greece, for which we were so soon to depart, or on religious subjects. In various ways I heard him confirm the sentiments which I have already mentioned to you. “Why then,” I said to him, “have you gained to yourself the name of impious, and enemy of all religious belief from your writings?” He answered, “They are not understood, and are ill interpreted by the malignant. My object is only to combat hypocrisy, which I abhor in every thing, and particularly in the matter of religion; and which now, unfortunately, appears to me to be prevalent. I seek to unveil the vices, or the vile, interested views which so many cover under a hypocritical mantle, and for this, those to whom you allude wish to render me odious, and make me to be believed an impious person, and a monster of incredulity,” &c.

For the Bible he had always a particular respect. It was his custom to have it always on his study table, particularly during these last months; and you well know how familiar it was to him, since sometimes he knew how to correct your inaccurate citations*.

* It should be remembered, that the Bible which Lord B. used was differently arranged to that to which Dr. K. was accustomed.


Fletcher can have informed you about his very best dispositions in his last moments. He often repeated subjects from the Testament; and when, at his last moments, he had in vain attempted to make known his pleasure with respect to his daughter, and others most dear to him in life, and when, on account of the wanderings of his mind, he could not succeed in making himself understood, Fletcher answered him, “Nothing is more at my heart than to execute your wishes; but, unfortunately, I have not been able to comprehend scarce the half of them.” “Is it possible?” he replied, “Alas! it is too late. How unfortunate? Not my will, but the will of God be done!” There remained to him only a few intervals of reason, and interruptions of delirium,—the effect of a determination of blood to the head.

He often expressed to me the contempt which he felt for those called “esprits forts,” a sect of ignorant egotists, incapable of any generous action; and hypocrites themselves, in their affected contempt of every faith.

He professed a complete toleration, and a particular respect for every sincere conviction. He would have deemed it an unpardonable crime to detach any one persuaded of the truth, from his belief, although it might be tinctured with absurdity, because he believed

Dr. K. has alluded to this circumstance; and hence it was that several, who were merely occasional auditors, imagined that Lord B. corrected the inaccurate citations of Dr. K.

it could lead to no other end than to render him an infidel.

What were his opinions at Cephalonia, you know as well as I, and better. He interested himself in your conversations, as a man who always loved to investigate the truth; and though he was satisfied with many of your opinions, yet, I must confess to you, that it does not appear that he was able to agree with you in all.

He said to me one day at Metaxata, that after a long conversation with you, he asked you at last “What more do you wish of me, in order to reckon me a good Christian?” “To kneel down, and pray to God.” He exclaimed, “This is too much, dear doctor.”

When in Missolunghi, he took care that the Bible and the other sacred books, sent by your pious societies, should be dispersed; and he wished that the advantage which the Greeks would derive from the spread and study of those books should be made public in the gazette.

I am certain, however, that you will take care not to make him appear a devotee, because this would be contrary to truth, in the same degree as that which would make him an enemy to all religion.

If we contemplate his acts of charity and beneficence,—which, indeed are the true substance,—a volume would not be sufficient for me to narrate only those of which I have been a witness.

I knew in some cities of Italy, various decent families who had fallen into poverty—with whom he had no rela-
tion,—to whom he has sent assistance secretly, to the extent of more than two hundred dollars: nor did these people ever learn the name of their benefactor.

Three years ago, at Florence, an honourable mother of an English family became the victim of ruinous persecution, for having seriously defended the honour of one protected by her, against the seductions of some infamous persons; she was reduced to extremity, and had recourse to Lord B., who was in Pisa; this woman was as much unknown to him as were her persecutors. He gave her such support as was sufficient to render vain all the plots of her infamous enemies. He was in Pisa also when a terrible tempest sunk a number of vessels in the harbour of Genoa, and reduced to beggary a number of families in comfortable circumstances. He despatched secretly more than three hundred dollars for these unfortunate people.

One day, riding near the wall of Genoa, along the sea, a captain of a Corsican ship met us;—his ship was wrecked, and himself without bread. Lord B. invited him to his house, and rendered him such effectual assistance, that he was able to return to his country, and engage again in his employment.

Another day, we rode two miles out of Genoa, when we met two people in the most destitute condition; their deportment was noble and proud, and by their features they seemed natives of Germany. Two days afterwards they appeared by accident at his lordship’s house, seeking alms. They were two Germans, fugitives from Greece,
who, persecuted, without shelter, without bread, without shoes, wished to return to their country, Wirtemburgh: they had supported themselves by begging as far as Genoa, and were reduced almost to despair. My lord furnished them with every means to enable them to reach their home. In short, I could relate many hundreds of such actions.

I do not refer you to those which occurred after his arrival in Greece. At Cephalonia, how many families of Moreotes and of Suliotes were maintained by him!

At Missolunghi, he furnished the means of founding an hospital for the benefit of the poor; independently of the large sums which he advanced to the government, and to the city of Missolunghi, for the army and for the navy; and I can assure you, that without his assistance, those most interesting parts of western Greece would have been lost—not from the power of the Turks—but by the Greeks themselves. . . . .

And what did he not desire to do, if he had not been carried away so unseasonably for Greece,—for the world, —and for his friends? . . .

His expedition to Greece, which, after so many other sacrifices, cost him his life, was it not the most generous and beneficent action which could be undertaken by a Christian? Was he a man to cringe to fortune, to power, or to glory?

And how great an influence his coming had on the safety of Greece, in spite of his premature death, I shall some time or other demonstrate to you.


One of his first objects was to inspire both parties with more humane sentiments. You see, when occasion was offered to him, he ransomed women and children, and sent them in liberty to their country. He saved some Turks, not without serious disturbance and personal danger, from the sanguinary hands of some Greek corsairs.

When a Turkish brig struck on the coast of Missolunghi, and it was attempted to make prisoners of the crew, he promised a dollar for each man that was saved, and in proportion for the officers. But they were able to make their escape in the boats of other Turkish vessels.

It may be doubted whether he was a rigid Christian with respect to the opinions of faith, and those little points demanded as their sequence. But we may be allowed to ask those who, with so little humility, boast of their severe observances of the Christian laws, in what manner have their works, even in proportion to their means, merited for them that name, which Lord Byron’s have done, whom they accuse of impiety?

With respect to the little Turkish girl, you know well the reasons which had led him to assist, and his dispositions with regard to her. Besides this, there was found among his writings a detailed note of his intentions. On this account I fulfilled my duty in conducting her to a neutral and free territory, in order the better to know her will. She was disposed to come to you in Cephalonia, (as was known to you,) at least until an answer from my
lord’s executors could be obtained. But there arrived so many entreaties from
Yusuff Pasha, and from her father, who is his secretary, that at last she has decided to return, together with her mother, to her parent. I endeavoured to dissuade her by every argument, but in vain; she always answered, “I have lost my adopted father, Lord Byron; now I do not wish to fly from my true father.” There arrived here a Turkish brig with her father on board, and there was a formal request from Yusuff Pasha to the government, that is, to Colonel Stovin; so that, she fully consenting, we were obliged to give her up, and she departed six days ago.

The following is an extract from a letter of Lord Byron’s to his sister, found among his papers:—“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, a pretty 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 safely provide for her; if not, I can send her to Italy for education. She is very lively and quick, 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 Prevesa; but says, that she would rather trust 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 occur in the course of the war, (and in such a war!) I shall therefore commit her to the charge of an 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 proper. I 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 view.”

Thus he made his dispositions, and such were his intentions, until they changed, from causes which I have stated to you.

With respect to your using my name, I confide entirely in your discretion. I have spoken with the Reverend Mr. Wilson, to whom I have communicated the same sentiments which I now write to you. Believe me to be

Your devoted servant,
(Signed)  Pietro Gamba.
Dr. Kennedy, &c. &c. &c.
Argostuli, Cephalonia.