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

‣ Prelude
First Conversation
Kennedy on Scripture
Second Conversation
Third Conversation
Fourth Conversation
Fifth Conversation
Memoir of Byron
Byron’s Character
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Lord Byron arrived on the 6th of August, 1823, at Argostoli, the principal town of the island of Cephalonia. He came in the brig Hercules, which he had freighted to convey himself, his friends, and some stores for the use of the Greeks, in their struggle for liberty and independence. Count Gamba, an Italian nobleman, Mr. Hamilton Brown, and Mr. Trelawney, two English gentlemen, and Dr. Bruno, a young Italian physician, accompanied his lordship. Before proceeding to the continent, his lordship determined to remain a short time in one of the Ionian islands, in order to procure correct information with regard to the parties and factions, by which the continent was distracted, so as to enable him to form those plans which seemed most likely to heal all divisions, and promote the true interests of Greece. With this view he selected the island of Cephalonia,
partly on account of its vicinity to the continent, but chiefly, as it was understood, from having heard that the governor was a man of an enlightened mind, and favourable to the general cause of liberty and independence.

His lordship continued on board the ship in the harbour for four weeks; but having landed his horses, he took an airing every evening on horseback, attended by some of his companions. He made an excursion to visit Ithaca, a neighbouring island, separated from Cephalonia by a strait about two miles in breadth. He first despatched Mr. Hamilton Brown, and shortly afterwards Mr. Trelawney, to the continent, to procure accurate information with regard to the state of affairs in Greece, as he could more safely rely on them, than on the different Greek leaders, most of whom wrote to him, each endeavouring to persuade his lordship to join his party. Finding it necessary to wait longer than he at first expected, he paid off the vessel, landed his stores, and took a residence for himself, Count Gamba, and Dr. Bruno, at Metaxata, a pleasant and healthy village about four miles and a half from Argostoli. He continued here till the 27th of December, when he embarked for Missolonghi.


His arrival at Argostoli excited a great sensation among the Greeks and the English. The former were eager to behold a wealthy English nobleman, and a celebrated poet, (of whose fame most of them had heard much, while many were acquainted with part of his writings,) on his way to join their countrymen, to add the whole weight of his name, influence, talents and fortune to the cause of freedom. The latter felt a still greater curiosity to behold a countryman not less interesting by his unrivalled talents, than by that mystery and awe thrown over his character by his faults and misfortunes; but, above all, by the daily rumours of his misanthropy, profligacy, and infidelity, and by the warfare which he had so long carried on against many of the most distinguished literary characters, as well as against the government and religion of his native country. He was viewed by all as an object of wonder and astonishment; and as one whose talents, character, and sentiments separated him, as it were, from the rest of mankind. All were alike anxious to view his person and watch his proceedings, and none but a spectator of the scene could conceive the vague and unrestrained wonder which he occasioned. It was generally supposed, that his lordship would
shun his countrymen, as he had done in Italy; and he,—as was afterwards ascertained,—apprehended that they would, in like manner, shun him; not only because of the censures, reproaches, and calumnies against him, with which, about this time, most of the papers and periodical publications were filled, rendering him, as he often felt, an object of detestation and abhorrence; but also, because of the delicacy which they might feel as subjects of a neutral government, in showing any attention to one who was going to take an active part in what was legally considered a rebellion.

Instructions having arrived from the superior authorities, to receive his lordship with the respect and courtesy due to his rank, Colonel D., who commanded in the absence of the governor, went on board, and was received with that affability and politeness, which so much distinguished his lordship.

The first invitation which his lordship accepted, was to an evening party at the Honourable Colonel D.’s. A friend of mine, S., who was present, was delighted with the affability and refinement of his lordship’s manners; and with the ease, simplicity, and cheerfulness with which he conversed on common topics; so different from
the idea which he had formed of his lordship’s character.

The officers of the garrison, having invited him to dine, did everything they could to mark their respect and admiration for his rank and talents. On his health being drunk, he expressed his great satisfaction at being in the society of his countrymen, and of seeing so many of them together. He added, that he felt so much the honour they had done him, that he was afraid he could not express his sense of the obligation as he ought, having been so long in the practice of speaking a foreign language, that he could not convey his sentiments in adequate terms in his native tongue. He was much pleased when he had made his short speech, and repeatedly asked Colonel D. if he had done well, and if he had acquitted himself properly, as he was so little, he said, in the practice of public speaking.

Hitherto I had seen his lordship only on horseback, as he took his evening ride with his friends; and while I often listened to the details of his sayings and actions, which formed the subject of general conversation, and which, for the most part, were only interesting because they were said or done by Lord Byron, I had no anti-
cipation that circumstances were preparing the way for affording me a near and an intimate intercourse with him.

It happened about this time that four friends spent an evening with me; they were all from Scotland, as I am myself, and all, except one, belonged to the learned professions; they were men of liberal education, and respectable talents. The conversation happening to turn on religion, I was surprised to hear the whole of them express free and deistical sentiments; some of them, perhaps, from bravado, and some from apparent conviction. I remarked, “that it was a curious circumstance to find in one company, four men, natives of a country so much praised for religion, who entertained such opinions.” One of them, in return, expressed his surprise, that I, who appeared to be of a cool and steady judgment, could believe in Christianity. “If we had you,” he continued, “among us for a short time, we would soon reconvert you to our opinions.” I said, “that I believed this was impossible, as Christianity appeared to me to rest on such a mass of evidence, as to be capable of the most rigid logical demonstration, and that, consequently, every cool and steady man who
examined it, must believe it. And so far,” added I, “from being reconverted to your opinion, I might venture to say, that if I had you all for any length of time with me, I should be able, I trust, to convert you to my own.” After some further conversation, they said they would like to hear me explain my reasons for believing in Christianity. I said, “that I would at any time be ready to gratify them, on condition that I should be allowed to speak at least twelve hours, at different intervals, without their interrupting me by proposing any objections. The reason why I made this stipulation was, because I believed them to be so ignorant of the true nature of the Christian doctrines, that this time would be requisite to convey to them an accurate idea of those principles, and of the evidence on which they were founded. This arrangement,” I said, “would be attended with this advantage, that they would gain some information, whatever might be the ultimate result of our meetings, and many of those objections which appeared to them altogether insurmountable, would, if they were candid, vanish, when they knew the doctrines which Christians really believe, and the reasons for them; which are very different from the idea
which unbelievers form for themselves.” After explaining, therefore, what those doctrines were; when they would appear not to be so strange and unreasonable as they had imagined them to be; I should be ready to refute any objection, and solve any difficulty that they might think proper to bring forward.

When I proposed this condition, I was well aware that no reasoning nor argument could convince an unbeliever, unless the grace of God accompanied the means used. But I regretted to see four of my countrymen, young men of extensive information and respectable character, who had received a sound and religious education in their youth, influenced so far by their intercourse with the world, and their neglect of all religious duties and studies, as to express such sentiments of unbelief. I hoped that, at least, I should be able to convey to them some important and interesting information on these subjects, which might be useful to them then, or at some future period of their life, by exciting their attention to the study of the Scriptures, convincing them that many of the objections, which appeared to them strong and unanswerable, were the consequences of their own want of information. When
I stated that I would refute every objection and solve any difficulty which they might feel, I did not presume to be able to settle every difficulty which might arise to a speculative mind with regard to many points of theoretical theology; but I knew so well the strength of evidence by which Christianity is environed, and, above all, the extent of their knowledge,—or rather, their ignorance of the subject,—that I was nowise apprehensive of the result. Indeed, it is impossible for a thinking and well-informed mind, (if even a small attention be bestowed on the subject,) to do more than doubt of the truth of Christianity. From long experience, I had found, that whether the deist be a man of rank, or of eminence in philosophy or literature, or whatever station in society he may hold, his violence in opposition to the Christian religion, is in proportion to his ignorance of its nature.

It was these considerations and hopes, which led me to propose the condition of being permitted to speak, without being interrupted by their objections, till time had been allowed me for giving a full and correct explanation of the doctrines of Christianity. My four friends agreed to the condition, and we appointed our first meeting
to be held at the house of M., at one o’clock the following Sunday.

M., the gentleman at whose house we were to meet, called in the interim on Lord Byron; and, among other things, mentioned to his lordship the object of our intended meeting. His lordship expressed a wish to be present, and said, that he also would willingly be converted, if he could, as he felt no happiness in his present unsettled notions on religion. “You know,” added his lordship, “I am reckoned a black sheep;” and, after a pause, he continued, “yet not so black as the world believes me, nor worse than others.” He said, he would not intrude himself, as he did not know me; but M. said, that he had no doubt that I should readily consent that his lordship should be present, and would, indeed, be very sensible of the honour he did us. On the nature and object of the meeting being further explained to him, he said that he would convince me, that, if he had not faith, he had at least patience, and that he would listen the prescribed time without interrupting me. On the next day M. communicated to me his lordship’s wishes, and, though I had never spoken to his lordship, and little anticipated such a hearer, I readily consented to
his being present, notwithstanding my fears that a consideration of his reputation and rank would embarrass me, more than was desirable, in the execution of a task, at all times, and under the most favourable circumstances, arduous and difficult. The following day his lordship sent his compliments, with a message to M., that he was sorry that he could not attend the meeting on Sunday, as he intended that day to embark his horses, and proceed to the Morea. Towards evening, however, he again sent a message to M., that he had changed his mind, and would be present at the meeting. We afterwards learned that his lordship had really intended to embark his horses on the Sunday; but on his mentioning his design to the captain of the ship,—a stout, rough Englishman,—who had the prejudices, if not the spirit of religion, he told his lordship, “No, my lord, you must not play these tricks with me; there shall be no heathenish and outlandish doings on board my ship on a Sunday.” This refusal of the captain paved the way, it is probable, to circumstances, which induced his lordship to change his mind, and, with other causes, led him, instead of hastening his departure, to remain four months in Cephalonia.


The rumour of the meeting now spread through the town, and it was reported that there was to be a discussion between myself and the other gentlemen on the truth of the Christian religion. This produced some uneasiness in the minds of some of my friends, lest they should be branded as infidels and enemies to religion. To counteract this, it was given out that the object of the meeting was simply to hear me explain some of my peculiar notions on religion,—as if I had notions different from those held by every sound Christian. I could not help smiling at the gloss which was thus ingeniously put on the matter, and was pleased to find that, though my friends could, in private, dispute, object to, and deride the religion of Christ, and especially those who believed in it and endeavoured to regulate their life by its principles, yet they retained so much of the impressions of their early education, and had such a fear of the censure of the world, as to feel it a reproach to be called unbelievers. It is just to say, that my friends, with one exception, were not professed unbelievers. It is true they did not believe in all the Scriptures, nor in all the doctrines (one rejecting this point, and another that); and though, in general, they seemed to take
a pleasure in raising objections against all the peculiar doctrines of revelation, except the moral precepts delivered by our Saviour, yet those objections appeared to me to be made from the pride and vanity of youth and ignorance; and I am persuaded that, while making them, most, if not all of them felt a secret compunction and consciousness that they were doing wrong. One of them afterwards told me, that he had no doubt that, when he grew older, he should have recourse to the Scriptures, as the only source of comfort and tranquillity to his mind in old age, and of hope with regard to a future state; and all of them expressed their great dislike to be called infidels, even in argument, because it appeared to them a term of reproach, and because, as
Lord Byron afterwards remarked, it was “a cold and chilling appellation.”

On Sunday morning I sent down a few books to M.’s house, in case it should be found necessary to refer to them. These were, the first volume of “Scott’s Bible”, “Erskine’s Evidence,” and “Paley and Gregory’s”, “Bogue’s Essay”, and “Horne’s Critical Introduction to the Scriptures.” While sitting with M., a note was received from an officer who begged to be allowed to be present.
This was declined, as it was wished to keep the meeting as quiet as possible, and to admit only the original members; but the officer coming himself, and stating that he had no doubt of the truth of Christianity, and that he was not influenced by a mere desire of seeing
Lord Byron, but by a wish to obtain information, he was admitted; and this the more readily, as one of the gentlemen who was present when the discussion was first suggested, had left the island.

Count Delladecimo breakfasted that morning on board with his lordship, and continuing to sit and converse beyond the hour appointed for meeting, his lordship said that he had an engagement to meet some gentlemen to hear the truth of Christianity explained and defended, and asked the count to accompany him. When they came on shore, the count took his leave, as he had other engagements, and said to his lordship, “Well, I hope your lordship will be converted.” “I hope so too,” he replied.