LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
Lady Blessington V

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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In recalling to mind the remarkable persons I have met at the house of Lady Blessington, the most celebrated is the Countess G——, with whom Lady Blessington became intimate after the death of Byron, and maintained a continued correspondence with her. Madame G—— was still very handsome at the time I met her at Seamore Place—I think in 1832-3; but she by no means gave me the impression of a person with whom Byron would be likely to fall in love; and her conversation (for I was specially introduced to her) was quite as little of a character to strike or interest a man so little tolerant of the commonplaces of society as Byron. To see and converse with the Countess G—— was, in fact, to be satisfied that all Byron’s share in the passion which
has become so famous as to render no excuse necessary for this allusion to it, was merely a passive permitting himself to be loved—a condition of mind which, after all, is perhaps the happiest and most salutary effect of woman’s love, upon men like Byron. And it seems to have been specially so in Byron’s case; for the period in which the G—— family lived under his roof was the only one in the whole of his recorded career to which his friends and admirers can look back with feelings even approaching to satisfaction and respect.

I remember calling on Lady Blessington one day when she had just received a long letter from Madame G——, a considerable portion of which she read to me, as being singularly characteristic of Italian notions of the proprieties of social life. The letter was written apropos to some strictures which had appeared in an English journal, on the impropriety or immorality of the liaison between Madame G—— and Byron, and on the fact of the father and brother of the lady having resided in the same house with the lovers. The peculiarity of Madame
G—— letter was the earnest, and at the same time perfectly naive and artless way in which she contended that the main point, of the charge against her in the English journal was precisely that on which she rested her entire exculpation from either sin or blame. And she went on to declare, in, the most solemn manner, that she had never passed a night under Byron’s roof that was not sanctioned by the presence of her father and brother. She concluded by earnestly begging Lady Blessington to defend her character from the attacks in question, on the special ground of the fact just cited!

Among the other remarkable persons whom I met at Lady Blessington’s about this period were the Duc and Duchesse de Guiche (now Duc and Duchesse de Grammont) and the Baron d’Haussez; the two former the chief persons of the household of Charles X. and his family, and the latter one of his ministers at the period of the famous Ordonnance.

The Duchesse de Guiche was extremely beautiful, and of that class of beauty the rarity of which in France makes it even
more esteemed than with us, where it is much less uncommon: a blonde, with blue eyes, fair hair, a majestic figure, an exquisite complexion, and in manner the model of a high-born and high-bred French woman. She is a daughter of the late
General and Comtesse D’Orsay.*

Baron D’Haussez, the Minister of Marine

* The late Duke de Grammont was, during the reign of the Bourbons, a captain of one of the companies of the Gardes du Corp, and Lieutenant-General. He did not appear to have inherited any of that gaieté de cœur and that happy spirit of social enjoyment which one naturally associates with the name of Grammont. His air and deportment were grave almost to severity; his manners and tone of mind were evidently tinctured by the sufferings and cruelties that his family had endured during the first Revolution. Horace Walpole has drawn the character of his mother, the Duchesse de Grammont, in no very favourable colours. Yet she displayed a spirit and courage amounting to heroism when she was dragged before the bloody tribunal of the Revolution. She was the sister of the famous Duc de Choiseul, and is believed to have exercised more influence over him, during his ministry, than any of his contemporaries.

The Duc de Guiche (now Duc de Grammont) served with distinction in the English army in the Peninsula, as Captain in the 10th Hussars. He is a descendant of la belle Corisande.

Charles X., gave one the idea of anything but a minister of state. He was a plain, good-humoured, easy-going person, with little of his country’s vivacity, much appearance of bonhommie, and altogether more English than French in manner and temperament.

Another of the more recent habitués of Gore House was Prince (now the Emperor) Louis Napoleon, who, after his elevation to power, treated Lady Blessington with marked distinction, and whose favour, together with her family connexion and long intimacy with several of the heads of the oldest and noblest families of France, would, had she lived, have given to her a position in the social circles of Paris even more brilliant than that which she had so long held in London.

But by far the most remarkable person I was accustomed to meet at Lady Blessington’s was the late Count D’Orsay, brother to the above-named Duchesse de Guiche (now Duchesse de Grammont) and uncle to the present Duc de Guiche.

This accomplished nobleman and gentleman, and truly distinguished man, was for so long a period of his life “the observed of all
observers” in this country, that a brief Recollection of him will perhaps not be thought inappropriate to these pages,—especially as I do not believe that any detailed notice of him has been given to the world, either here or in his native country, France, since his death.

It is a singular fact that many of the most remarkable men of recent times—those men who have exercised the most extensive influence over the social, political, and literary condition and institutions of the country to which they have attached themselves—have been strangers to that country—foreigners in the strictest sense of the phrase—in birth, in education, in physical temperament, in manners, in general tone and turn of mind—in all things,—even in personal appearance. And this has been especially the case in France. The most remarkable minister France ever had (Mazarin) was an Italian;—her two most remarkable writers, male and female, Rousseau and De Stael, were Genevese;—her most remarkable actor (Talma) was (by birth at least) an Englishman;—her most remarkable soldier, statesman, and mo-
narch—not three, but one—was a
Corsican;—and the consummate man who promises to be almost as remarkable as his illustrious relative, and has already done nearly as much good to France as he did, without any of the counterbalancing mischief, is Corsican by his father’s side and Italian by his mother’s.

The remark is perhaps less true of England than of any other European nation;—but this only makes it the more worthy of record that the most remarkable man of that country, during an entire twenty years, so far as regards that important department of a nation’s habits and institutions which affect the immediate well-being and personal feelings of the great body of its cultivated classes—namely, the social condition and manners of these classes—was a foreigner; and not only a foreigner, but a Frenchman-born, educated, and bred up to manhood in that country between whose manners and modes of thought and feeling, and those of England, there has ever been a greater amount of difference and dissimilarity than between those of any other two civilized people under the sun. This fact is no less
worthy of note by Frenchmen than it is by the denizens of that nation for whose mingled amusement and information these sketches are more especially intended; and it is no less creditable to one people than to the other;—to the one, for having produced the all-accomplished person whose Portrait I am about to sketch;—to the other, for having appreciated his remarkable qualities, and permitted them to exercise their just and natural influence, in spite of the most rooted prejudices, and in the face of other circumstances singularly adverse to the sort of influence in question.

It used to be the fashion in England to describe George the Fourth as “the finest gentleman in Europe;” and the rest of the world seemed half inclined to admit the claim!—George the Fourth,—who is now pretty generally allowed (even in England) to have been little better, at his best, than a graceful and good-tempered voluptuary; a shallow egotist while young, a heartless debauchee when old, and at all times, young or old, an exacting yet faithless friend, a bitter and implacable enemy, a
harsh and indifferent father, a cruel and tyrannical husband, and, as an occupant of the supreme station to which he was called, only praiseworthy as having the good sense to bear in mind that he was the ruler not of Russia but of England.

Such thirty years ago was England’s beau-ideal of that highest and noblest phase of the human character, “a gentleman.” She has learned better since, and it is by a Frenchman that the lesson has been taught her; and if now asked to point to the finest gentleman Europe has known since the days of our own Sidneys, Herberts, Peterboroughs, &c., she would with one accord turn to no other than the Count D’Orsay,—though he had nothing better to show for the distinction than his perfect manner, his noble person, his varied accomplishments, and his universal popularity, no less with his own sex than with that which is best qualified to appreciate the character in question.

It was the singular good fortune of Count D’Orsay—or rather let us call it his singular merit, for it has arisen solely from the rare qualities and endowments of his mind
and heart—to be the chosen friend and companion of the finest wits and the ripest and profoundest scholars of his day, while all the idler portion of the world were looking to him merely as
“The glass of fashion, and the mould of form.”
He was the favourite associate, on terms of perfect intellectual equality, of a
Byron, a Bulwer, and a Landor; and, at the same time, the oracle, in dress and every other species of dandyism, of a Chesterfield, a Pembroke, and a Wilton.

I have heard one of the most distinguished of English littérateurs declare that the most profound and enlightened remarks he ever met with on the battle of Waterloo were contained in a familiar letter from the Count D’Orsay to one of his friends; and of this there can be no dispute—that incomparably the finest effigies which have yet been produced of the two heroes of that mighty contest are from the hand of Count d’Orsay. His equestrian statues of Napoleon and Wellington, small as they are, are admitted by all true judges to be among the finest works of art of modern times.


In the sister art, of painting, Count D’Orsay’s successes were no less remarkable. His portrait of the most intellectual Englishman of his time, Lord Lyndhurst, is the most intellectual work of its class that has appeared since the death of the late President of the Royal Academy; and there is scarcely a living celebrity in the worlds of politics, of literature, of art, or of fashion, respectively, of whom Count D’Orsay has not sketched the most characteristic likeness extant. Most of these latter were confined to the portfolio of the late Lady Blessington, and are therefore only known to the favoured habitués of Gore House. But as those habitués included all that was distinguished in taste and dilettanti-ism, their fiat on such matters is final; and it is such as I have described.*

But this “Admirable Crichton” of the nineteenth century was, like his prototype just named, no less remarkable for personal gifts and accomplishments than he was for those which are usually attributed to intellectual qualities; though many of them

* Fac-similes of many of these portraits have been published by Mitchell, Bond-street.

depend more on bodily conformation than the pride of intellect will allow us to admit.
Count D’Orsay was one of the very best riders in a country whose riders are admitted to be the best in the world; he was one of the keenest and most accomplished sportsmen in a nation whose sporting supremacy is the only undisputed one they possess; he was the best judge of a horse among a people of horse-dealers and horse-jockeys; he was among the best cricketers in a country where all are cricketers, and where alone that noblest of games exists; he was the best swimmer, the best shot, the best swordsman, the best boxer, the best wrestler, the best tennis-player; and he was admitted to be the best judge and umpire in all these amusements.

To crown his personal gifts and accomplishments, Count D’Orsay was incomparably the handsomest man of his time; and, what is still more remarkable, he retained this distinction for five-and-twenty years—uniting to a figure scarcely inferior in the perfection of its form to that of the Apollo, a head and face that blended the grace and dignity of the Antinous with the beaming
intellect of the younger Bacchus, and the almost feminine softness and beauty of the Ganymede.

The position which Count D’Orsay held in the haute monde of London society, for more than twenty years, is such as was rarely held, at any other time, by any other person in this country; and this in spite of such peculiar and numerous disadvantages as no other man ever attempted to overcome, much less succeeded. In the first place he was, as we have seen, a Frenchman born and bred; and he never changed or repudiated the habits and manners of his native country, or in any way warped or adapted them to those of the people among whom he had nevertheless become naturalized. He spoke English with a strong French accent and idiom, and, I verily believe, would not have got rid of these if he could; his tone of thinking and feeling, and all the general habits of his mind, were French; the style of his dress, of his equipages, of his personal appearance and bearing, were all essentially and eminently French.

In the next place, with tastes and personal
habits magnificent and generous even to a fault,
Count D’Orsay was very far from being rich; consequently, at every step, he was obliged to tread upon some of the shopkeeping prejudices of English life. Unlike most of the denizens of this “nation of shopkeepers,” he very wisely looked upon a tradesman as a being born to give credit, but who never does fulfil that part of his calling if he can help it, except where he believes that it will conduct him, if not to payment, at least to profit. The fashionable tradesmen of London knew that to be patronized by Count D’Orsay was a fortune to them; and yet they had the face to expect that he would pay their bills after they had run for a “reasonable” period, whether it suited his convenience to do so or not! As if, by rights, he ought to have paid them at all, or as if they ought not to have paid him for showering fortune on them by his smile, if it had not been that his honour would have forbidden such an arrangement, even with “a nation of shopkeepers!” Nay, I believe they sometimes perpetrated the mingled injustice and stupidity of invoking the law to their aid, and arresting him! Shutting up within
four walls the man whose going forth was the signal for all the rest of the world to think of opening their purse-strings, to compass something or other which they beheld in that mirror of all fashionable requirements! It was a little fortune to his tiger to tell the would-be dandies dwelling north of Oxford-street where D’Orsay bought his last new cab-horse, or who built his tilbury or his coat; and yet it is said that his horse-dealer, his coachmaker, and his tailor have been known to shut up from sight this type and model by which all the male “nobility and gentry” of London horsed, equipaged, and attired themselves!

Another of the great disadvantages against which Count D’Orsay had to contend, during his whole life, was the peculiarity of his social position. And these social disadvantages and anomalies acted with tenfold force in a country where the pretences to moral purity are in an inverse ratio to the practice. It will scarcely be disputed that London is, at this present writing, not merely the most immoral, but the most openly and indecently immoral capital in Europe. Things not only
happen every day in England, but are every day recorded there for the amusement and information of the breakfast-tables where sit her matrons and maidens, that not only do not and could not happen elsewhere, but could not be put into words if they did. And yet in England it was that because Count D’Orsay, while a mere boy, made the fatal mistake of marrying one
beautiful woman, while he was, without daring to confess it even to himself, madly devoted to another still more beautiful, whom he could not marry—because, I say, under these circumstances, and discovering his fatal error when too late, he separated himself from his wife almost at the church door, he was, during the greater part of his social career in England, cut off from the advantages of the more fastidious portion of high female society by the indignant fiat of its heads and leaders. And this was in England, where people who can afford it change wives with each other by Act of Parliament, giving and receiving the estimated difference of the value of the article in pounds sterling! And
where such an arrangement does not necessarily preclude even the female parties to it from enjoying the social privileges of their class, and does not at all affect the males! In England!—where no married man in high life is thought the worse of, or treated the worse, even by the female friends of his wife, for being suspected of having a mistress or two. In England!—where every unmarried man in high life is compelled to keep a mistress whether he likes it or not, unless he would put his character in jeopardy!

If the explanation of this apparent anomaly in the case of Count D’Orsay be asked, all that can be replied is, that his supposed conduct under the difficult circumstances in which he found himself was not exactly selon les règles of English society. Moreover, if he really did commit a breach of these rules (which, by the bye, half the world, and they by no means the worst-informed half, did not believe), the scandal of a tacit avowal of the breach was studiously and successfully avoided; which is a great
crime in England, where you may be as immoral as you please, provided you show no signs of being ashamed of it.

I will conclude these Recollections of Count D’Orsay by some characteristic remarks, from a letter given me by Lady Blessington, relative to the Count’s portrait of Lord Byron, which forms the frontispiece to her “Conversations” with the noble poet, and had previously appeared in the New Monthly Magazine, where the “Conversations” were first published. As this is, I believe, the only passage of Count D’Orsay’s writing that has ever been made public, I shall give it in the original French.

“Le portrait de Lord Byron, dans le dernier numéro du ‘New Monthly Magazine,’ a attiré sur lui des attaques sans nombre—et pourquoi? Parcequ’il ne coïncide pas exactement avec les idées exagérées de MM. les Romantiques, qui finiront, je pense, par faire de Thomas Moore un géant, pourvu qu’ils restent quelque temps sans le voir. Il est difficile, je pense, de satisfaire le public, surtout lorsqu’il est décidé à ne croire un portrait ressemblant qu’autant qu’il rivalise d’ex-
agération avec l’idée qu’il se forme d’un sujet; et si jusqu’à ce jour les portraits publiés de Lord Byron sont passés sains et saufs d’attaque, c’est que l’artiste ne s’étoit attaché qu’à faire un beau tableau, auquel son sujet ne ressembloit qu’un peu. Redresser l’esprit du public sur la réelle apparence de Lord Byron est sans contredit plus difficile à faire, qu’à prouver que le meilleur compliment que sa mémoire ait reçue, est la conviction intime que l’on a, qu’il devoit être d’un beau idéal, pour marcher de front avec ses ouvrages; ainsi rien moins qu’une perfection n’est capable de satisfaire le public littéraire. Il n’en est pas moins vrai que les deux seuls portraits véridiques de Lord Byron présentés jusqu’à ce jour au public, sont celui en tête de l’ouvrage de
Leigh Hunt, et celui du ‘New Monthly.’ Qu’ils satisfassent, ou non, la présente génération d’enthousiastes, peu importe, car trop généralement elle est influencé par des motifs secondaires. On trouve dans ce moment des parents de Lord Byron qui se gendarment à l’idée, qu’on le decrive montant à cheval avec une veste de nankin brodé et des guêtres; et qui ne peuvent digérer
qu’il soit représenté très maigre, lorsqu’il est plus que prouvé, que personne n’étoit aussi maigre que lui en 1823 à Gênes. Le fait est qu’il paroit qu’au lieu de regarder les poètes avec les yeux, il faut pour le moins des verres grossissants, ou des prismes si particuliers qu’on auroit de la peine à se les procurer. C’est pour cette raison qu’il est probable que l’auteur de l’Esquisse regrette de s’en être rapporté à ses propres yeux, et d’avoir satisfait toutes les connoissances présentes de Lord Byron, qui ont alors si maladroitement intercédés pour la publication de cette triste et infortunée esquisse, qui rend le ‘
Court Journal’ et tant d’autres inconsolables.”

Lady Blessington died suddenly at Paris on June 4, 1849, while in the (supposed) enjoyment of her usual health and spirits. She had dined, the day before, with her friend the Duchesse de Grammont, and a few days previously with Prince Louis Napoleon at the Elysée Bourbon.

Feeling unwell on the morning of the day
of her death, she sent for a physician, who was a homœopathist, and as her attack was one which demanded instant and vigorous measures, she was, like poor
Malibran under similar circumstances, lost to that world to which she had administered so much pleasure and instruction. Only two or three days before her death, she had completed the furnishing of her new residence (Rue du Cercle), and had removed into it, and all the gay world of Paris were looking with anxiety for the commencement of her reunions.

The following list comprises, I believe, the whole of Lady Blessington’s published writings, with the exception of Magazine Papers, and her contributions to her own annuals, the “Keepsake” and the “Book of Beauty:”

The Magic Lantern,” “A Tour in the Netherlands,” “Desultory Thoughts,” “The Idler in Italy,” “The Idler in France,” “Conversations with Lord Byron,” “The Confessions of an Elderly Lady,” “The Confessions of an Elderly Gentleman,” “The
Governess,” “Grace Cassidy,” “The Two Friends,” “The Victims of Society,” “Meredith,” “The Lottery of Life,” “The Belle of a Season,” and “Strathern.” Several of the latter works are novels in three volumes.