LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries
First Verses; Dr. Franklin; Mr. Maurice; Mr. Llwyd.

Lord Byron.
Mr. Moore.
Mr. Shelley. With a Criticism on his Genius.
Mr. Keats. With a Criticism on his Writings.
Mr. Dubois. Mr. Campbell. Mr. Theodore Hook. Mr. Mathews. Messrs. James & Horace Smith.
Mr. Fuseli. Mr. Bonnycastle. Mr. Kinnaird.
Mr. Charles Lamb.
Mr. Coleridge.
Recollections of the Author’s Life.
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH




“It is for slaves to lie, and for freemen to speak truth.

“In the examples, which I here bring in, of what I have heard, read, done, or said, I have forbid myself to dare to alter even the most light and indifferent circumstances. My conscience does not falsify one tittle. What my ignorance may do, I cannot say.”       Montaigne.


For some time after I left school, I did nothing but visit my schoolfellows, haunt the bookstalls, and write verses. My father collected my verses, and published them with a large list of subscribers, numbers of whom belonged to his old congregations. I was as proud perhaps of the book at that time, as I am ashamed of it now. The French Revolution had not then, as afterwards, by a natural consequence, shaken up and refreshed the sources of thought all over Europe. At least, I was not old enough, perhaps was not able, to get out of the trammels of the regular imitative poetry and versification taught in the schools. My book was a heap of imitations, some of them clever enough for a youth of sixteen, but absolutely worthless in every other respect. However, the critics were very kind; and as it was unusual at that time to publish at so early a period of life, my age made me a kind of “Young
Roscius” in authorship. I was introduced to literati, and shown about among parties. My father taking me to see Dr. Raine, Master of the Charter House, the doctor, who was very kind and pleasant, but who probably drew none of our deductions in favour of the young writer’s abilities, warned me against the perils of authorship; adding, as a final dehortative, that “the shelves were full.” It was not till we came away, that I thought of an answer, which I conceived would have “annihilated” him. “Then, Sir,” (I should have said, thought I) “we will make another.” Not having been in time with this repartee, I felt all that anguish of undeserved and unnecessary defeat, which has been so pleasantly described in the Miseries of Human Life. This, thought I, would have been an answer befitting a poet, and calculated to make a figure in biography.

A mortification that I encountered at a house in Cavendish Square, affected me less, though it surprised me a good deal more. I had been held up, as usual, to the example of the young gentlemen, and the astonishment of the ladies, when, in the course of the dessert, one of mine host’s daughters, a girl of exuberant spirits and not of the austerest breeding, came up to me, and, as if she had discovered that I was not so young as I pretended to be, exclaimed, “What a beard you have got!” at the same time convincing herself of the truth of her discovery by taking hold of it! Had I been a year or two older, I should have taken my revenge. As it was, I know not how I behaved; but the next morning I hastened to have a beard no longer.

I was now a man, and resolved not to be out of countenance next time. Not long afterwards, my grandfather, sensible of the new fame in his family, but probably alarmed also at the consequences to which
it might lead, sent me word, that if I would come to Philadelphia, “he would make a man of me.” I sent word, in return, that “men grew in England as well as America;” an answer which repaid me for the loss of my apothegm at Dr. Raine’s. I was very angry with him for his niggardly conduct to my mother. I could not help, for some time, identifying the whole American character with his; an injustice which helped to colour my opinions for a still longer time. Partly on the same account, I acquired a dislike for his friend
Dr. Franklin, author of “Poor Richard’s Almanack;” a heap, as it appeared to me, of “scoundrel maxims.”* I think I now appreciate Dr. Franklin as I ought; but

* Thomson’s phrase, in the ”Castle of Indolence,” speaking of a miserly money-getter:—
“A penny saved is a penny got:”
Firm to this scoundrel maxim keepeth he,
Ne of its rigour will he bate a jot,
Till it bath quench’d his fire and banished his pot.”

The reader will not imagine that I suppose all money-makers to be of this description. I have good reason to know otherwise. Very gallant spirits have I met with among them, who only take to this mode of activity for want of a better, and are as generous in disbursing, as they are vigorous in acquiring. You may always know the common run, as in other instances, by the soreness with which they feel attacks on the body corporate.

From observations of this nature on the part of a writer, who is neither fond of money, nor competent to an ordinary calculation, the reader will make all the drawbacks that the confession of that incompetency will allow: at the same time, it may be worth his while to consider that, far a reason which could be easily given, improvements of the most wholesale nature, in the condition of mankind, have not been accustomed to issue out of hands the most occupied in detail; and this is particularly remarkable in affairs of trade and commerce, the very changes which have ultimately been turned to the greatest advantage by the parties the most concerned, having been in the first instance opposed by no persons with so much violence. Of this fact, the revolutions in South America have furnished the latest, and not the least, remarkable proof.

Extremes, however, meet oftener than they are supposed to do. The greatest calculators I ever met with, were men who had come to the conclusion that the greatest of all the advan-

although I can see the utility of such publications as his Almanack for a rising commercial state, and hold it useful as a memorandum to uncalculating persons like myself, who happen to live in an old one, I think it has no business either in commercial nations long established, or in others who do not found their happiness in that sort of power. Franklin, with all his abilities, is but at the head of those who think that man lives “by bread alone.” He will commit none of the follies, none of the intolerances, the absence of which is necessary to the perfection of his system; and in setting his face against these, he discountenances a great number of things very inimical to higher speculations. But he was no more a fit representative of what human nature largely requires, and may reasonably hope to attain to, than negative represents positive, or the clearing away a ground in the back settlements, and setting to work upon it, represents the work in its completion. Something of the pettiness and materiality of his first occupation always stuck to him. He took nothing for a truth or a matter-of-fact that he could not handle, as it were, like his types; and yet, like all men of this kind, he was liable, when put out of the ordinary pale of his calculations, to fall into the greatest errors, and substitute the integrity of his reputation for that of whatsoever he chose to do. From never doing

tages of calculation consisted in knowing how much better the world could do without it. They even hoped that by means of the knowledge of this fact, explained by calculation itself, the world would ultimately be brought to their opinion; and certainly, if any thing could do it with some, that would be the way; but it is experiment, recommended by the progress of opinion, and hastened and forced by necessity, hat must produce this and all other changes.

For the assertion that Dr. Franklin cut off his son with a shilling, my only authority is family tradition. It is observable, however, that the friendliest of his biographers are not only forced to admit that he seemed a little too fond of money, but notice the mysterious secrecy in which his family history is involved.

wrong in little things, he conceived that he could do no wrong in great; and, in the most deliberate act of his life, he showed he had grievously mistaken himself. He was, I allow, one of the cardinal great men of his time. He was Prudence. But he was not what he took himself for,—all the other Virtues besides; and, inasmuch as he was deficient in those, he was deficient even in his favourite one. He was not Temperance for, in the teeth of his capital recommendations of that virtue, he did not scruple to get burly and big with the enjoyments that he cared for. He was not Justice; for he knew not how to see fair play between his own wisdom and that of a thousand wants and aspirations, of which he knew nothing; and he cut off his son with a shilling, for differing with him in politics. Lastly, he was not Fortitude; for, having few passions and no imagination, he knew not what it was to be severely tried; and if he had been, there is every reason to conclude, from the way in which he treated his son, that his self-love would have been the part in which he felt the torture; and that as his Justice was only arithmetic, so his Fortitude would have been nothing but stubbornness. If Franklin had been the only great man of his time, he would merely have contributed to make the best of a bad system, and so hurt the world by prolonging it; but, luckily, there were the French and English philosophers besides, who saw farther than he did, and provided for higher wants. I feel grateful to him, for one, inasmuch as he extended the sphere of liberty, and helped to clear the earth of the weeds of sloth and ignorance, and the wild beasts of superstition; but when he comes to build final homes for us, there I rejoice that wiser hands interfere. His line and rule are not every thing. They are not even a tenth part of it.
Cocker’s numbers are good; but those of Plato and Pythagoras have their merits too, or we should have been made of dry bones and tangents,
and not had the fancies in our heads, and the hearts beating in our bosoms, that make us what we are. We should not even have known that Cocker’s numbers were worth any thing; nor would Dr. Franklin himself have played on the harmonica, albeit he must have done it in a style very different from that of
Milton or Cimarosa. Finally, the writer of this passage on the Doctor would not have ventured to give his opinion of so great a man in so explicit a manner. I should not have ventured to give it, had I not been backed by so many powerful interests of humanity, and had I not suffered in common, and more than in common, with the rest of the world, from a system which, under the guise of economy and social advantage, tends to double the love of wealth and the hostility of competition, to force the best things down to a level with the worst, and to reduce mankind to the simplest and most mechanical law of their nature, divested of its heart and soul,—the law of being in motion. All the advantages of the present system of money-making, which may be called the great lay superstition of modern times, might be obtained by a fifth part of the labour, if more equally distributed. The rest is pure vanity and vexation of spirit, or the indulgence of a false notion of superiority, or the more melancholy necessity produced by wars and taxation, to which this very notion gives rise.

Among those with whom my book made me acquainted, was the late Rev. Mr. Maurice, of the British Museum, author of “Indian Antiquities.” I mention him more particularly, as I do others, because he had a character of his own, and makes a portrait. I had seen an engraving of him, representing a slender, prim-eyed, enamel-faced person, very tightly dressed and particular, with no expression but that of propriety, and born to be an archbishop. What was my surprise, when I beheld a short, chubby, good-humoured companion, with boyish features,
and a lax dress and manner, heartily glad to see you, and tender over his wine! He was a sort of clerical
Horace: he might, by some freak of the minister, have been made a bishop; and he thought he deserved it for having proved the identity of the Hindoo with the Christian Trinity, which was the object of his book! But he began to despond on that point, when I knew him; and he drank as much wine for sorrow, as he would, had he been made a bishop, for joy. He was a man of a social and overflowing nature; more fit, in truth, to set an example of charity than faith, and would have made an excellent Bramin of the Rama-Deeva worship. His Hymns to the deities of India, were as good as Sir William Jones’s, and his attention to the amatory theology of the country (allowing for his deficiency in the language) as close. He was not so fortunate as Sir William in retaining a wife whom he loved. I have heard him lament, in very genuine terms, his widowed condition, and the task of finishing the great manuscript catalogue of the Museum books, to which his office had bound him. This must have been a torture, physical as well as moral; for he had weak eyes, and wrote with a magnifying glass as big round as the palm of his hand. With this, in a tall thick handwriting, as if painting a set of rails, he was to finish the folio catalogues, and had produced the seven volumes of Indian Antiquities! Nevertheless, he seemed to lament his destiny, rather in order to accommodate the weakness of his lachrymal organs, than out of any internal uneasiness; for with the aspect he had the spirits of a boy; and his laughter would follow his tears with a happy incontinence. He was always catching cold, and getting well of it after dinner. Many a roast fowl and bottle of wine have I enjoyed with him in his rooms at the British Museum; and if I thought the reader, as well as myself, had not a regard for him. I would not have thus opened their doors. They
consisted of the first floor in the turret nearest Museum-street. I never pass them, without remembering how he used to lay down his magnifying glass, take both my hands, and condescend to anticipate the pleasant chat we should have about authors and books over his wine;—I say, condescend, because, though he did not affect any thing of that sort, it was a remarkable instance of his good-nature, and his freedom from pride, to place himself on a level in this manner with a youth in his teens, and pretend that I brought him as much amusement as he gave. Owing to the exclusive notions I entertained of friendship, I mystified him by answering the “Dear Sirs” of his letters in a more formal manner. I fear it induced him to make unfavourable comparisons of my real disposition with my behaviour at table; and it must be allowed, that having no explanation on the subject, he had a right to be mystified. Somehow or other, (I believe it was because a new Dulcinea called me elsewhere,) the acquaintance dropped, and I did not see him for many years. He died, notwithstanding his wine and his catarrhs, at a good old age, writing verses to the last, and showing what a young heart he retained by his admiration of nature: and undoubtedly this it was that enabled him to live so long; for, though the unfeeling are apt to outlast the sensitive during a sophisticate and perplexing state of society, it is astonishing how long a cordial pulse will keep playing, if allowed reasonably to have its way. Were the lives of mankind as natural as they should be, and their duties made as cheerful, the Maurices and the Horaces would outlast all the formalists buttoned up in denial, as surely as the earth spins round, and the pillars fall.

I wish I could relate half the stories Mr. Maurice told me. He told them well, and I should have been glad to repeat them in his own words.
I recollect but one, which I shall tell for his sake, though it is not without a jest. I hope it is not old. He said there was a gentleman, not very robust, but an enthusiast for nature and good health, who entertained a prodigious notion of the effects of smelling to fresh earth.* Accordingly, not to go too nicely about the matter, but to do it like a man, he used to walk every morning to Primrose-Hill; and, digging a hole of a good depth in the ground, prostrate himself, and put his head in it. The longer he kept his head immersed, the more benefit he thought he derived; so that he would lie for several minutes, and look like a Persian worshipping the sun. One day some thieves set upon him, and, retaining his head under that salutary restriction, picked his pockets.

Mr. Maurice got me permission to read in the Museum; which I did regularly for some time. It was there I began to learn Italian. I obtained the same privilege for a person who became one of its most enthusiastic visitors, and who is worth describing. His name is Llwyd (for he would account it treason to his country to write it Lloyd), and he is author, among other pieces, of a poem entitled “Beaumaris Bay,” which obtained a great deal of praise from the critics. I say, “is,” because I hope he is alive to read this account of himself, and to attribute

* Bacon had a notion of this sort, and would have a piece of earth brought him fresh out of the ground to smell to; but then he put wine to it. I fancy I hear Mr. Maurice exclaiming, “Ah, he was a great man!” There was a pomp and altitude in the ways of Bacon, and all in the highest taste, that serves almost to reconcile us to Cowley’s conceit, in styling him “Nature’s Lord Chancellor.” His house and gardens were poetically magnificent. He had the flowers in season always put upon his table; sometimes had music in the next room while he was writing; and would ride out in an open chariot during the rain, with his head bare, saying “he felt the spirit of the universe upon him!”

it (as he assuredly will do) to its proper motives. Mr. Llwyd was probably between thirty and forty when I knew him. His face and manner of speaking were as ancient British as he could desire; but these merits he had in common with others. What rendered him an extraordinary person was, that he had raised himself, by dint of his talents and integrity, from the situation of a gentleman’s servant to a footing with his superiors, and they were generous and wise enough to acknowledge it. From what I was told, nothing could be better done on all sides. They encouraged, and, I believe, enabled him to make good his position; and he gave the best proof of his right to it, by the delicacy of his acquiescence. His dress was plain and decent, equally remote from sordidness and pretension; and his manners possessed that natural good breeding, which results from the wish to please and the consciousness of being respected. Mr. Llwyd came to London at certain periods, took an humble lodging, and passed his time in visiting his friends, and reading at the Museum. His passion was for the antiquities of his native country. If you looked over his book, it was most probably full of the coat-armour of Wynnes and Prices. I was indebted to him for an introduction to his friend
Mr. Owen, translator of the Paradise Lost into Welsh. Both of them were of the order of Bards; and Mr. Owen carried the same seal of his British origin in his face and manners, and appeared to possess the same simplicity and goodness. Furthermore, he had a Welsh harp in his room, and I had the satisfaction of hearing him play upon it. He was not very like Gray’s bard; and instead of Conway’s flood, and a precipice, and an army coming to cut our throats, we had tea and bread and butter, and a snug parlour with books in it. Notwithstanding my love of Gray, and a considerable wish to see a proper ill-used bard, I
thought this a better thing, though I hardly know whether my friends did. I am not sure, with all their good-nature, whether they would not have preferred a good antiquarian death, with the opportunity of calling
King Edward a rascal, and playing their harps at him, to all the Saxon conveniences of modern times.