LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
Lady Blessington II

Vol I Contents
Charles Lamb I
Charles Lamb II
Charles Lamb III
Charles Lamb IV
Charles Lamb V
Charles Lamb VI
Charles Lamb VII
Charles Lamb VIII
Charles Lamb IX
Charles Lamb X
Thomas Campbell I
Thomas Campbell II
Thomas Campbell III
Thomas Campbell IV
Thomas Campbell V
Thomas Campbell VI
Thomas Campbell VII
Lady Blessington I
‣ Lady Blessington II
Lady Blessington III
Lady Blessington IV
Lady Blessington V
R. Plumer Ward I
R. Plumer Ward II
R. Plumer Ward III
R. Plumer Ward IV
R. Plumer Ward V
R. Plumer Ward VI
Appendix vol I
Vol II Contents
R. Plumer Ward VII
R. Plumer Ward VIII
R. Plumer Ward IX
R. Plumer Ward X
R. Plumer Ward XI
R. Plumer Ward XII
R. Plumer Ward XIII
R. Plumer Ward XIV
R. Plumer Ward XV
R. Plumer Ward XVI
R. Plumer Ward XVII
R. Plumer Ward XVIII
R. Plumer Ward XIX
R. Plumer Ward XX
R. Plumer Ward XXI
R. Plumer Ward XXII
R. Plumer Ward XXIII
Horace & James Smith I
Horace & James Smith II
William Hazlitt I
William Hazlitt II
William Hazlitt III
William Hazlitt IV
William Hazlitt V
William Hazlitt VI
William Hazlitt VII
William Hazlitt VIII
Appendix vol II
Vol III Contents
William Hazlitt IX
William Hazlitt X
William Hazlitt XI
William Hazlitt XII
William Hazlitt XIII
William Hazlitt XIV
William Hazlitt XV
William Hazlitt XVI
William Hazlitt XVII
William Hazlitt XVIII
William Hazlitt XIX
William Hazlitt XX
William Hazlitt XXI
William Hazlitt XXII
William Hazlitt XXIII
William Hazlitt XXIV
William Hazlitt XXV
William Hazlitt XXVI
Laman Blanchard I
Laman Blanchard II
Laman Blanchard III
Laman Blanchard IV
Laman Blanchard V
Laman Blanchard VI
Laman Blanchard VII
Laman Blanchard VIII
R & T Sheridan I
R & T Sheridan II
R & T Sheridan III
R & T Sheridan IV
R & T Sheridan V
R & T Sheridan VI
R & T Sheridan VII
R & T Sheridan VIII
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My personal acquaintance with Lady Blessington did not commence till her return from abroad, after her husband’s death. But as her social career from the period of her marriage with Lord Blessington in 1818, up to his death in 1829, was marked by features of great public interest, particularly that almost daily intercourse with Lord Byron for the last nine months of his strange life, which gave rise to her published “Conversations” with him, and her residence in Paris during the Revolution of July 1830, the reader may like to have before him a brief summary of the events of that period, as noted in her own “Diary,” which I have reason to believe she continued up to her death.

From her marriage in 1818, till the autumn of 1822, Lord and Lady Blessington resided
in St. James’s Square, where, as I have said, she formed an acquaintance, and in most cases an intimacy, with a very large proportion of the literary and political celebrities of that day. Here are a few of those of her early friends who have already passed from the scene, or still embellish it:—
Luttrell, William Spencer, Dr. Parr, Mathias, Rogers, Moore, John Kemble, Sir William Drummond, Sir William Gell, Conway, Sir Thomas Lawrence, the Locks of Norbury Park, Sir George Beaumont, Lord Alvanley, Lord Dudley and Ward, Lord Guildford, Sir John Herschell, &c.; Prince Polignac, Prince Lieven, the Duc de Cazes, Count Montalembert, Mignet, &c; and among our English political celebrities, Lords Grey and Castlereagh, Lord John Russell, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Palmerston, Lord Hertford, Sir Francis Burdett, &c.

In the autumn of 1822 the Blessingtons left England with a view to a lengthened residence abroad. They stayed at Paris for a week, and then proceeded rapidly to Switzerland—as rapidly, at least, as the princely style of their travelling arrangements permitted; for nothing could exceed the lavish
luxury with which
Lord Blessington insisted on surrounding his young and beautiful wife, whose simple tastes, and still more her genial sympathies with all classes of her fellow-beings, by no means coveted such splendour, though her excitable temperament enabled her richly to enjoy its results.

They reached the Jura in five days; travelled in Switzerland for about a month, and then returned, through Geneva and Lyons, into Dauphiny, where, by one of those unaccountable fancies in which only those who are satiated with luxury and splendour ever indulge, they took up their abode at a vile inn (the only one the town—Vienne—afforded), and submitted for three weeks to all sorts of privations and inconveniences, in order, ostensibly, to explore the picturesque and antiquarian beauties of the most ancient city of the Gauls and its vicinity, but in reality, to find in a little bracing and wholesome contrast, a relief from that ennui and lassitude which, at that time of day, used to induce Sybarite lords to drive Brighton stages, and sensitive ladies to brave alone the dangers of Arabian deserts.


From Vienne they proceeded to Avignon, at which city they made a stay of several weeks, and were fêted by the notabilities of the place in an incessant round of dinners, balls, soirées, &c, which, marked as they were by all the deficiencies and désagrémens of French provincial hospitality, were nevertheless enjoyed by Lady Blessington with a relish strongly characteristic of that cordial and happy temperament which rendered her the most popular person of whatever circle she formed a part.

Loitering for about six weeks more between Avignon and Genoa, they arrived at the latter city at the end of March, 1823, and the next day Lady Blessington was introduced (at his own particular request) to Lord Byron, who was residing in the Casa Saluzzo, at the village of Albaro, a short distance from the city.

Lady Blessington’s intercourse with Lord Byron, so pleasantly and characteristically described by herself in the well-known published “Conversations,” and as she was accustomed to describe it viva voce, and still more pleasantly and characteristically in her own conversations at Seamore Place and Gore
House, formed an era in her life, and probably contributed not a little to the unique position which she afterwards held in London society for so many years: for Byron’s death occurred so soon after his quitting Genoa for Greece, and the last few months of his residence in Italy had been so almost exclusively devoted to that friendly intercourse with the Blessingtons, in which he evidently took unusual pleasure, that Lady Blessington may be considered as having been the depositary of his last thoughts and feelings; and she may certainly be regarded as having exercised a very beneficial influence on the tone and colour of the last and best days of that most strange and wayward of men.

Lady Blessington’s first interview with Byron took place at the gate of the courtyard of his own villa at Albaro. Lord Blessington, who had long been acquainted with Byron, had called on him immediately on their arrival at Genoa, leaving Lady Blessington in the carriage. In the course of conversation Lord Byron, without knowing that she was there, requested to be presented to Lady Blessington—a request so unusual
on his part in regard to English travellers, of whatever rank or celebrity, that Lord Blessington at once told him that Lady B. was in the carriage with her sister,
Miss Power. On learning this, Lord Byron immediately hurried out to the gate, without his hat, and acted the amiable to the two ladies, in a way that was very unusual with him—so much so that, as Lady Blessington used to describe the interview, he evidently felt called upon to apologise for not being, in her case at least, quite the savage that the world reported him.

At Byron’s earnest request they entered the villa, and passed two hours there, during which it is clear that the peculiar charm of Lady Blessington’s manner exercised its usual spell—that the cold, scorning and world-wearied spirit of Byron was, for the time being, “subdued to the quality” of the genial and happy one with which it held converse—and that both the poet and the man became once more what nature intended them to be.

On the Blessingtons’ departure, Byron asked leave to visit them the next day at their hotel, and from that moment there commenced an interchange of genial and
friendly intimacy between Byron and
Lady Blessington which, untouched as it was by the least taint of flirtation on either side, might, had it endured a little longer, have redeemed the personal character of Byron, and saved him for those high and holy things for which his noble and beautiful genius seems to have been created, but which the fatal Nemesis of his early life interdicted him from accomplishing.

Lady Blessington seems, in fact, to have been the only woman holding his own rank and station with whom Byron was ever at his ease, and with whom, therefore, he was himself. With all others he seemed to feel a constraint which irritated and vexed him into the assumption of vices, both of manner and moral feeling, which did not belong to him. It is evident, from Lady Blessington’s details of conversations which must be (in substance, at least) correctly reported, that Byron had a heart as soft as a woman’s or a child’s. He used to confess to her that any affecting incident or description in a book moved him to tears, and in recalling some of the events of his early life, he was frequently
so moved in her presence. His treatment, also, of
Lord Blessington, who received the news of the death of his only son, Lord Mountjoy, just after their arrival at Genoa, was marked by an almost feminine softness and gentleness.

Byron’s personal regard for Lord Blessington had its origin in the same gentleness and goodness of heart. “I must say,” exclaimed he to Lady Blessington, at an early period of their acquaintance, “that I never saw ‘the milk of human kindness’ overflow in any nature to so great a degree as in Lord Blessington’s. I used, before I knew him well, to think that Shelley was the most amiable person I ever knew; but now I think that Lord B. bears off the palm; for he has been assailed by all the temptations that so few can resist—those of unvarying prosperity—and has passed the ordeal victoriously; while poor Shelley had been tried in the school of adversity only, which is not such a corrupter as that of prosperity. I do assure you that I have thought better of mankind since I have known Blessington intimately.”


It is equally certain that he thought better of womankind after his ten weeks of almost daily intimacy with Lady Blessington at this period; and if his previous engagement with the Greek Committee had not in some sort compelled him to go to Greece, where his life was sacrificed to the excitements and annoyances of the new situation in which he thus placed himself, it is more than probable that his whole character and course of life would have been changed. For what Byron all his life needed in women, and never once found, except in his favourite sister, Mrs. Leigh, was a woman not to love or be beloved by (he always found, or fancied he had found, more than enough of both these), but one whom he could thoroughly esteem and regard for the frankness, sweetness, and goodness of her disposition and temper, while he could entirely admire in her those perfect graces and elegances of manner, and those exquisite charms of person, in the absence of which his fastidious taste and exacting imagination could not realize that ideal of a woman which was necessary to render his intellectual intercourse with the sex agree-
able, or even tolerable. Merely clever or even brilliant women—such as
Madame de Stael—he hated; and even those who, like his early acquaintance, Lady J——, were both clever and beautiful, he was more than indifferent to, because, being, from their station and personal pretensions, the leaders of fashion, they were compelled to adopt a system of life wholly incompatible with that natural one in which alone his own habits of social intercourse enabled him to sympathize. Those women again who, with a daring reckless as his own, openly professed a passion for him (like the unhappy Lady C—— L——, or the scarcely less unfortunate Countess G——), he either despised and shrank from (as in the first of these instances), or merely pitied and tolerated (as in the second). But in Lady Blessington, Byron found realized all his notions of what a woman in his own station of life might and ought to be, in the present state and stage of society; beautiful as a muse, without the smallest touch of personal vanity; intellectual enough not merely to admire and appreciate his pretensions, but to hold intellectual intercourse with him on
a footing of perfect relative equality; full of enthusiasm for everything good and beautiful, yet with a strong good sense which preserved her from any taint of that “sentimentality” which Byron above all things else detested in women; surrounded by the homage of all that was high in intellect and station, yet natural and simple as a child; lapped in an almost fabulous luxury, with every wish anticipated and every caprice a law, yet sympathizing with the wants of the poorest; an unusually varied knowledge of the world and of society, yet fresh in spirit and earnest in impulse as a newly emancipated school-girl:—such was Lady Blessington when first Lord Byron became acquainted with her, and the intercourse which ensued seemed to soften, humanize, and make a new creature of him.

That I do not say this at random is proved by the fact that within a very few days of the commencement of their acquaintance Byron wrote a most touching letter to his wife (though any reconciliation had at this time become impossible), having for its object to put her mind at ease relative to any
supposed intention on his part to remove their daughter from her mother’s care—such a fear on
Lady Byron’s part having been communicated to him. This letter (which appears in Moore’sLife of Byron”) he prevailed on Lady Blessington to cause to be delivered personally to Lady Byron by a mutual friend, who was returning to England from Genoa.

The humanizing influence of which I have spoken lasted less than three months, and shortly after its close Byron went to Greece, where he died.

On quitting Genoa, in the early part of June, 1823, the Blessingtons proceeded to Florence, where they remained sight-seeing for three weeks, and then proceeded to Rome. Here they stayed for another week, and then took up their residence for a lengthened period at Naples. Having hired the beautiful (furnished) palazzo of the Prince and Princess di Belvedere, at Vomero, overlooking the beautiful bay, they not a little astonished its princely owners at the requirements of English luxury, and the extent of English wealth, by almost entirely refurnish-
ing it, and engaging a large suite of Italian servants in addition to their English ones.

In this, one of the most splendid residences of Italy, Lady Blessington again became, for nearly three years, the centre of all that was brilliant among her own travelling compatriots, and of much that was distinguished among the Italian nobility and litterati.

In February, 1826, they left Naples, and the next year was passed between Rome, Florence, Genoa, and Pisa. The remainder of their residence in Italy was completed by another few months at Rome, and about a year more between the other principal cities of Italy that the travellers had not previously visited.