LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron
Anonymous letter to John Galt, 3 June 1830

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“Dear Galt, Edinburgh, June 3, 1830.

“Though I shall always retain a lively general recollection of my agreeable interview with Lord Byron, at Genoa, in May, 1823, so long a time has since elapsed that much of the aroma of the pleasure has evaporated, and I can but recall generalities. At that time there was an impression in Genoa that he was averse to receive visits from Englishmen, and I was indeed advised not to think of calling on him, as I might run the risk of meeting with a savage reception. However, I resolved to send your note, and to the surprise of every one the messenger brought a most polite answer, in which, after expressing the satisfaction of
hearing of his old friend and fellow-traveller, he added that he would do himself the honour of calling on me the next day, which he accordingly did; but owing to the officious blundering of an Italian waiter, who mentioned I was at dinner, his Lordship sent up his card with his compliments that he would not deranger the party. I was determined, however, that he should not escape me in this way, and drove out to his residence next morning, when, upon his English valet taking up my name, I was immediately admitted.

“As every one forms a picture to himself of remarkable characters, I had depicted his Lordship in my mind as a tall, sombre, Childe Harold personage, tinctured somewhat with aristocratic hauteur. You may therefore guess my surprise when the door opened, and I saw leaning upon the lock, a light animated figure, rather petite than otherwise, dressed in a nankeen hussar-braided jacket, trousers of the same material, with a white waistcoat; his countenance pale but the complexion clear and healthful, with the hair coming down in little curls on each side of his fine forehead.

“He came towards me with an easy cheerfulness of manner, and after some preliminary inquiries concerning yourself, we entered into a conversation which lasted two hours, in the course of which I felt myself perfectly at ease, from his Lordship’s natural and simple manners; indeed, so much so, that, forgetting all my anticipations, I found myself conversing with him with as fluent an intercourse of mind as I ever experienced, even with yourself.

“It is impossible for me at present to overtake a detail of what passed, but as it produced a kind of scene, I may mention one incident.

“Having remarked that in a long course of desultory reading, I had read most of what had been said by English travellers concerning Italy; yet, on coming to it I found there was no country of which I had less
accurate notions: that among other things I was much struck with the harshness of the language. He seemed to jerk at this, and immediately observed, that perhaps in going rapidly through the country, I might not have had many opportunities of hearing it politely spoken. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘there are supposed to be nineteen dialects of the Italian language, and I shall let you hear a lady speak the principal of them, who is considered to do it very well.’ I pricked up my ears at hearing this, as I considered it would afford me an opportunity of seeing the far-famed
Countess Guiccioli. His Lordship immediately rose and left the apartment, returning in the course of a minute or two leading in the lady, and while arranging chairs for the trio, he said to me, ‘I shall make her speak each of the principal dialects, but you are not to mind how I pronounce, for I do not speak Italian well.’ After the scene had been performed he resumed to me, ‘Now what do you think?’ To which I answered, that my opinion still remained unaltered. He seemed at this to fall into a little revery, and then said, abruptly, ‘Why ’tis very odd, Moore thought the same.’ ‘Does your Lordship mean Tom Moore?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Ah, then, my Lord, I shall adhere with more pertinacity to my opinion, when I hear that a man of his exquisite taste in poetry and harmony was also of that opinion.’

“You will be asking what I thought of the lady; I had certainly heard much of her high personal attractions, but all I can say is, that in my eyes her graces did not rank above mediocrity. They were youth, plumpness, and good-nature.”