LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries
Portraits—the Author's Father.

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.
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“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.




My ancestors, on the father’s side, were Tories and Cavaliers, who fled from the tyranny of Cromwell, and settled in Barbadoes. For several generations, himself included, they were clergymen. My grandfather was Rector of St. Michael’s, in Bridgetown, Barbadoes. He was a good-natured man, and recommended the famous Lauder to the mastership of the free-school there; influenced, no doubt, partly by his pretended repentance, and partly by sympathy with his Toryism. Lauder is said to have been discharged for misconduct. I never heard that; but I have heard that his appearance was decent, and that he had a wooden leg: which is an anti-climax befitting his history. My grandfather was admired and beloved by his parishioners, for the manner in which he discharged his duties. He died at an early age, in consequence of a fever taken in the hot and damp air, while officiating incessantly at burials
during a mortality. His wife was an O’Brien, very proud of her descent from the kings of Ireland. She was as good-natured and beloved as her husband, and very assiduous in her attentions to the negroes and to the poor, for whom she kept a set of medicines, like my Lady Bountiful. They had two children besides my father;
Anne Courthope, who died unmarried; and Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Dayrell, Esq. of Barbadoes, father by a first marriage of the barrister of that name. I mention both of these ladies, because they will come among my portraits.

To these their children, the worthy rector and his wife were a little too indulgent. When my father was to go to the American Continent to school, the latter dressed up her boy in a fine suit of laced clothes, such as we see on the little gentlemen in Hogarth, but so splendid and costly, that when the good pastor beheld him, he was moved to utter an expostulation. Objection, however, soon gave way before the pride of all parties; and my father set off for school, ready spoilt, with plenty of money to spoil him more.

He went to college at Philadelphia, and became the scape-grace who smuggled in the wine, and bore the brunt of the tutors. My father took the degree of Master of Arts both at Philadelphia and New York. When he spoke the farewell oration on leaving college, two young ladies fell in love with him, one of whom he afterwards married. He was fair and handsome, with delicate features, a small aquiline nose, and blue eyes. To a graceful address he joined a remarkably fine voice, which he modulated with great effect. It was in reading, with this voice, the poets and other classics of England, that he completed the conquest of my mother’s heart. He used to spend his evenings in this manner with her and her family,—a noble way of courtship; and my grandmother
became so hearty in his cause, that she succeeded in carrying it against her husband, who wished his daughter to marry a wealthy neighbour.

My father was intended, I believe, to carry on the race of clergymen, as he afterwards did; but he went, in the first instance, into the law. The Americans united the practice of attorney and barrister. My father studied the law under articles to one of the chief persons in the profession; and afterwards practised with distinction himself. At this period (by which time all my brothers, now living, were born) the Revolution broke out; and he entered with so much zeal into the cause of the British Government, that besides pleading for Loyalists with great fervour at the bar, he wrote pamphlets equally full of party warmth, which drew on him the popular odium. His fortunes then came to a crisis in America. Early one morning, a great concourse of people appeared before his house. He came out,—or was brought. They put him into a cart prepared for the purpose, (conceive the anxiety of his wife!) and, after parading him about the streets, were joined by a party of the Revolutionary soldiers with drum and fife. The multitude then went with him to the house of Dr. Kearsley, a staunch Tory, who shut up the windows, and endeavoured to prevent their getting in. The Doctor had his hand pierced by a bayonet, as it entered between the shutters behind which he had planted himself. He was dragged out, and put into the cart all over blood; but he lost none of his intrepidity; for he answered all their reproaches and outrage with vehement reprehensions; and by way of retaliation on the “Rogue’s March,” struck up “God save the King.” My father gave way as little as the Doctor. He would say nothing that was dictated to him, nor renounce a single opinion; but, on the other hand, he maintained a
tranquil air, and endeavoured to persuade his companion not to add to their irritation. This was to no purpose. Dr. Kearsley continued infuriate, and more than once fainted from loss of blood and the violence of his feelings. The two Loyalists narrowly escaped tarring and feathering. A tub of tar, which had been set in a conspicuous place in one of the streets for that purpose, was overturned by an officer intimate with our family. My father, however, did not escape entirely from personal injury. One of the stones thrown by the mob gave him such a severe blow on the head, as not only laid him swooning in the cart, but dimmed his sight for life, so as to oblige him from that time to wear spectacles. At length, after being carried through every street in Philadelphia, the two captives were deposited, in the evening, in a prison in Market-street. What became of Dr. Kearsley, I cannot say. My father, by means of a large sum of money given to the sentinel who had charge of him, was enabled to escape at midnight. He went immediately on board a ship in the Delaware, that belonged to my grandfather, and was bound for the West Indies. She dropped down the river that same night; and my father went first to Barbadoes, and afterwards to England, where he settled.

My mother was to follow my father as soon as possible, which she was not able to do for many months. The last time she had seen him, he was a lawyer and a partisan, going out to meet an irritated populace. On her arrival in England, she beheld him in a pulpit, a clergyman, preaching tranquillity. When my father came over, he found it impossible to continue his profession as a lawyer. Some actors, who heard him read, advised him to go on the stage; but he was too proud for that, and went into the church. He was ordained by the celebrated Lowth, then Bishop of London; and he soon became so popular that
the Bishop sent for him, and remonstrated against his preaching so many charity sermons. He said it was ostentatious in a clergyman, and that he saw his name in too many advertisements. My father thought it strange, but acquiesced. It is true, he preached a great many of these sermons. I am told, that for a whole year he did nothing else: and perhaps there was something in his manner a little startling to the simplicity of the Church of England. I remember when he came to that part of the Litany where the reader prays for deliverance “in the hour of death and at the day of judgment,” he used to make a pause at the word “death,” and drop his voice on the rest of the sentence. The effect was striking; but repetition must have hurt it. I am afraid it was a little theatrical. His delivery, however, was so much admired by those who thought themselves the best judges, that Thomas Sheridan, father of the late Sheridan, came up to him one day after service, in the vestry, and complimented him on having profited so well from his Treatise on Reading the Liturgy. My father was obliged to tell him, that he had never seen it.

I do not know whether it was Lowth, but it was some Bishop, to whom my father one day, in the midst of a warm discussion, being asked “if he knew who he was?” replied, with a bow, “Yes, my Lord; dust and ashes.” Doubtless the new clergyman was warm and imprudent. In truth, he made a great mistake when he entered the profession. By the nature of the tenure, it was irretrievable; and his whole life after was a series of errors, arising from the unsuitability of his position. He was fond of divinity; but it was as a speculator, and not as a dogmatist, or one who takes upon trust. He was ardent in the cause of Church and State; but here he speculated too, and soon began to modify his opinions, which got him the ill-will of the Go-
vernment. He delighted his audiences in the pulpit; so much so, that he had crowds of carriages at the door. One of his congregations had an engraving made of him; and a lady of the name of Cooling, who was member of another, left him by will the sum of £500, as a testimony of the pleasure and advantage she had derived from his discourses. But unfortunately, after delighting his hearers in the pulpit, he would delight some of them a little too much over the table. He was neither witty nor profound; but he had all the substitutes for wit that animal spirits could supply: he was shrewd, spirited, and showy; could flatter without grossness; had stories to tell of lords whom he knew; and when the bottle was to circulate, it did not stand with him. All this was dangerous to a West Indian who had an increasing family, and was to make his way in the Church. It was too much for him; and he added another to the list of those who, though they might suffice equally for themselves and others in a more considerate and contented state of society, and seem born to be the delights of it, are only lost and thrown out in a system of things, which, by going upon the ground of individual aggrandizement, compels dispositions of a more sociable and reasonable nature either to become parties concerned, or be ruined in the refusal. It is doubtless incumbent on a husband and father to be careful under all circumstances; and it is very easy for most people to talk of the necessity of being so, and to recommend it to others, especially when they have been educated to that habit. Let those fling the first stone, who, with real inclination and talent for other things, (for the inclination may not be what they take it for,) confine themselves industriously to the duties prescribed them. There are more victims to errors committed by society themselves, than society choose to suppose. But I grant that a man is either bound to tell them so,
or to do as they do. My father unluckily had neither uneasiness enough in his blood, nor imagination enough in lieu of it, to enter sufficiently into the uneasiness of others, and so grapple vigorously with his fortune for their sakes; neither, on the other hand, had he enough energy of speculation to see what could be done towards rendering the world a little wiser: and as to the pride of cutting a figure a little above his neighbours, which so many men mistake for a better principle of action, he could dispense with that. As it was, he should have been kept at home in Barbadoes. He was a true exotic, and ought not to have been transplanted. He might have preached there, and quoted Horace, and been gentlemanly, and drank his claret, and no harm done. But, in a bustling, commercial state of society, where the enjoyment, such as it is, consists in the bustle, he was neither very likely to succeed, nor to meet with a good construction, nor to end his pleasant ways with pleasing either the world or himself.

It was in the pulpit of Bentinck Chapel, Lisson Green, Paddington, that my mother found her husband officiating. He published a volume of sermons preached there, in which there is little but elegance of diction and a graceful morality. His delivery was the charm; and, to say the truth, he charmed every body but the owner of the chapel, who looked upon rent as by far the most eloquent production of the pulpit. The speculation ended with the preacher’s being horribly in debt. Friends, however, were lavish of their assistance. Three of my brothers were sent to school; the other, at her earnest entreaty, went to live (which he did for some years) with Mrs. Spencer, a sister of Sir Richard Worsley, and a delicious little old woman, the delight of all the children of her acquaintance. My father and mother took breath, in the mean time, under the friendly roof of Mr. West, who had married her aunt. The aunt
and niece were much of an age, and both fond of books. Mrs. West, indeed, ultimately became a martyr to them; for the physician declared that she lost the use of her limbs by sitting indoors.

From Newman Street my father went to live in Hampstead Square, whence he occasionally used to go and preach at Southgate. The then Duke of Chandos had a seat in the neighbourhood of Southgate. He heard my father preach, and was so much pleased with him, that he requested him to become tutor to his nephew, Mr. Leigh; which my father did, and remained with his Grace’s family for several years. The Duke was Master of the Horse, and originated the famous epithet of “heaven-born minister,” applied to Mr. Pitt, which occasioned a good deal of raillery. I have heard my father describe him as a man of great sweetness of nature, and good-breeding. Mr. Leigh, who died not long since, Member of Parliament for Addlestrop, was son of the Duke’s sister, Lady Caroline. He had a taste for poetry, which has been inherited by his son and heir, Mr. Chandos Leigh; and, like him, published a volume of poems. He was always very kind to my father, and was, I believe, a most amiable man. It was from him I received my name. I was born at Southgate in a house now a boarding-school and called Eagle-Hall: a magnificent name for a “preacher’s modest mansion;” but I suppose it did not bear it then.

To be tutor in a ducal family is one of the roads to a bishoprick. My father was thought to be in the highest way to it. He was tutor in the house not only of a Duke, but of a State-officer, for whom the King had a personal regard. His manners were of the highest order; his principles in Church and State as orthodox, to all appearance, as could be wished; and he had given up flourishing prospects in America for their sake: but his West Indian temperament spoiled all. He also, as he
became acquainted with the Government, began to doubt its perfections; and the King, whose minuteness of information respecting the personal affairs of his subjects is well known, was doubtless prepared with questions which the Duke was not equally prepared to answer, and perhaps did not hazard.

My father, meanwhile, was getting more and more distressed. He removed to Hampstead a second time: from Hampstead he crossed the water; and the first room I have any recollection of, is a prison.

Mr. West (which was doubly kind in a man by nature cautious and timid) again and again took the liberty of representing my father’s circumstances to the King. It is well known that this artist enjoyed the confidence of his Majesty in no ordinary degree. The King would converse half a day at a time with him, while he was painting. His Majesty said he would speak to the bishops; and again, on a second application, he said my father should be provided for. My father himself also presented a petition; but all that was ever done for him, was the putting his name on the Loyalist Pension List for a hundred-a year;—a sum which he not only thought extremely inadequate for the loss of seven or eight times as much in America, a cheaper country, but which he felt to be a poor acknowledgment even for the active zeal he had evinced, and the things he had said and written; especially as it came late, and he was already involved. Small as it was, he was obliged to mortgage it; and from this time till the arrival of some relations from the West Indies, several years afterwards, he underwent a series of mortifications and distresses, not without great reason for self-reproach. Unfortunately for others, it might be said of him, what Lady Mary Wortley said of her kinsman, Henry Fielding, “that give him his leg of mutton and bottle of wine, and in the very thick
of calamity he would be happy for the time being.” Too well able to seize a passing moment of enjoyment, he was always scheming, never performing; always looking forward with some romantic plan which was sure to succeed, and never put in practice. I believe he wrote more titles of non-existing books than Rabelais. At length, he found his mistake. My poor father! He grew deeply acquainted with prisons, and began to lose his graces and his good name, and became irritable with conscious error, and almost took hope out of the heart that loved him, and was too often glad to escape out of its society. Yet such an art had he of making his home comfortable when he chose, and of settling himself to the most tranquil pleasures, that if she could have ceased to look forward about her children, I believe, with all his faults, those evenings would have brought unmingled satisfaction to her, when after settling the little apartment, brightening the fire, and bringing out the coffee, my mother knew that her husband was going to read
Saurin or Barrow to her, with his fine voice, and unequivocal enjoyment.

We thus struggled on between quiet and disturbance, between placid readings and frightful knocks at the door, and sickness, and calamity, and hopes which hardly ever forsook us. One of my brothers went to sea,—a great blow to my poor mother. The next was articled to an attorney. My brother Robert became pupil to an engraver, and my brother John apprentice to Mr. Reynell, the printer, whose kindly manners, and deep iron voice, I well remember and respect. I had also a regard for the speaking-trumpet, which ran all the way up his tall house, and conveyed his rugged whispers to his men. And his goodly wife, proud of her husband’s grandfather, the Bishop; never shall I forget how much I loved her for her portly smiles and good dinners, and
how often she used to make me measure heights with her fair daughter
Caroline, and found me wanting; which I thought not quite so hospitable.

As my father’s misfortunes, in the first instance, were owing to feelings the most respected, so the causes of them subsequently (and the reader will be good enough to keep this in mind) were not unmixed with feelings of the kindest nature. He hampered himself greatly with becoming security for other people; and, though unable to settle himself to any regular work, his pen was always at the service of those who required it for memorials or other helps. As to his children, he was healthy and sanguine, and always looked forward to being able to do something for them; and something for them he did, if it was only in grafting his animal spirits on the maternal stock, and setting them an example of independent thinking. But he did more. He really took great care, considering his unbusiness-like habits, towards settling them in some line of life. It is our faults, not his, if we have not been all so successful as we might have been: at least, it is no more his fault than that of the West Indian blood of which we all partake, and which has disposed all of us, more or less, to a certain aversion from business. And if it may be some vanity in us, at least it is no dishonour to our turn of mind, to hope, that we may have been the means of circulating more knowledge and entertainment in society, than if he had attained the bishoprick he looked for, and left us ticketed and labelled among the acquiescent.

Towards the latter part of his life, my father’s affairs were greatly retrieved by the help of his sister, Mrs. Dayrell, who came over with a property from Barbadoes. My aunt was generous; part of her property came among us also by a marriage; and my father’s West Indian sun
was again warm upon him. On his sister’s death, to be sure, his struggles recommenced, though nothing in comparison to what they had been. Recommence, however, they did; and yet so sanguine was he in his intentions to the last, and so accustomed had my
mother been to try to believe in him, and to persuade herself she did, that, not long before she died, he made the most solemn promises of amendment, which by chance I could not help overhearing, and which she received with a tenderness and a tone of joy, the remembrance of which brings the tears into my eyes. My father had one taste well suited to his profession, and in him, I used to think, remarkable. He was very fond of sermons, which he was rarely tired of reading, or my mother of hearing. I have mentioned the effect which these used to have upon her. When she died, he could not bear to think she was dead; yet retaining, in the midst of his tears, his indestructible tendency to seize on a cheering reflection, he turned his very despair into consolation; and in saying “She is not dead, but sleeps,” I verily believe the image became almost a literal thing with him. Besides his fondness for sermons, he was a great reader of the Bible. His copy of it is scored with manuscript; and I believe he read a portion of it every morning to the last, let him have been as right or as wrong as he pleased for the rest of the day. This was not hypocrisy: it was habit, and real fondness; though, while he was no hypocrite, he was not, I must confess, remarkable for being explicit about himself; nor did he cease to dogmatise in a sort of official manner upon faith and virtue, lenient as he thought himself bound to be to particular instances of frailty. To young people, who had no secrets from him, he was especially indulgent, as I have good reason to know. He delighted to show his sense of a candour in others, which I believe he would have practised himself, had he been taught it early. For many years before his death,
he had greatly relaxed in the orthodoxy of his religious opinions, and had totally changed his political. Both he and my mother had become Republicans and Unitarians. They were also Universalists, and great admirers of
Mr. Winchester, particularly my mother.* My father was willing, however, to hear all sides of the question, and used to visit the chapels of the most popular preachers of all denominations. His favourite among them, I think, was Mr. Worthington, who preached at a chapel in Long Acre, and had a strong natural eloquence. Politics and divinity occupied almost all the conversation that I heard at our fire-side. It is a pity my father had been so spoilt a child, and had got so much out of his sphere; for he could be contented with little. He was one of the last of the gentry who retained the old fashion of smoking. He indulged in it every night before he went to bed, which he did at an early hour; and it was pleasant to see him sit in his tranquil and gentlemanly manner, and relate anecdotes of “my Lord North” and the Rockingham administration, interspersed with those mild puffs and urbane resumptions of the pipe. How often have I thought of him under this aspect, and longed for the state of society that might have encouraged him to be more successful! Had he lived twenty years longer, he would have thought it was coming. He died in the year 1809, aged fifty-seven, and was buried in the church-yard in Bishopsgate Street. I remember they quarrelled over his coffin for the perquisites of the candles; which put me upon a great many reflections, on him and the world.

* “The Universalists cannot, properly speaking, be called a distinct sect, as they are frequently found scattered amongst various denominations. They are so named from holding the benevolent opinion that all mankind, nay, even the demons themselves, will be finally restored to happiness, through the mercy of Almighty God.”—History of All Religions and Religious Ceremonies, p. 263.