LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
English Bards; Robert Southey

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IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





“When I first saw the review of my ‘Hours of Idleness,’* I was furious; in such a rage as I never have been in since.

William Harness, in Blackwood's Magazine

“I dined that day with Scroope Davies, and drank three bottles of claret to drown it; but it only boiled the more. That critique was a masterpiece of low wit, a tissue of scurrilous abuse. I remember there was a great deal of vulgar trash in it which was meant for humour, ‘about people being thankful for what they could get,’—‘not

* Written in 1808.

looking a gift horse in the mouth,’ and such stable expressions. The
severity of ‘The Quarterly’ killed poor Keats, and neglect, Kirke White; but I was made of different stuff, of tougher materials. So far from their bullying me, or deterring me from writing, I was bent on falsifying their raven predictions, and determined to shew them, croak as they would, that it was not the last time they should hear from me. I set to work immediately, and in good earnest, and produced in a year ‘The English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.’ For the first four days after it was announced, I was very nervous about its fate. Generally speaking, the first fortnight decides the public opinion of a new book. This made a prodigious impression, more perhaps than any of my works, except ‘The Corsair.’

Review in The New Times
John Galt, in Blackwood's Magazine

“In less than a year and a half it passed through four editions, and rather large ones. To some of them, contrary to the advice of my friends, I affixed my name. The thing was known to be mine, and I could not have escaped any enemies in not owning it; besides, it was more manly not to deny it. There were many things in that satire which I was afterwards sorry for, and I wished to cancel it. If Galignani chose to reprint it, it was no
fault of mine. I did my utmost to suppress the publication, not only in England, but in Ireland. I will tell you my principal reason for doing so: I had good grounds to believe that
Jeffrey (though perhaps really responsible for whatever appears in ‘The Edinburgh,’ as Gifford is for ‘The Quarterly,’ as its editor) was not the author of that article,—was not guilty of it. He disowned it; and though he would not give up the aggressor, he said he would convince me, if I ever came to Scotland, who the person was. I have every reason to believe it was a certain lawyer, who hated me for something I once said of Mrs. ——. The technical language about ‘minority pleas,’ ‘plaintiffs,’ ‘grounds of action,’ &c. a jargon only intelligible to a lawyer, leaves no doubt in my mind on the subject. I bear no animosity to him now, though, independently of this lampoon, which does him no credit, he gave me cause enough of offence.

“The occasion was this:—In my separation-cause, that went before the Chancellor as a matter of form, when the proceedings came on, he took upon himself to apply some expressions, or make some allusions to me, which must have been of a most unwarrantable nature, as my friends consulted whether they should acquaint me with
the purport of them. What they precisely were I never knew, or should certainly have made him retract them. I met
him afterwards at Coppet, but was not at that time acquainted with this circumstance. He took on himself the advocate also, in writing to Madame de Staël, and advising her not to meddle in the quarrel between Lady Byron and myself. This was not kind; it was a gratuitous and unfeed act of hostility. But there was another reason that influenced me even more than my cooled resentment against Jeffrey, to suppress ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.’ In the duel-scene I had unconsciously made part of the ridicule fall on Moore. The fact was, that there was no imputation on the courage of either of the principals. One of the balls fell out in the carriage, and was lost; and the seconds, not having a further supply, drew the remaining one.

“Shortly after this publication I went abroad: and Moore was so offended by the mention of the leadless pistols, that he addressed a letter to me in the nature of a challenge, delivering it to the care of Mr. Hanson, but without acquainting him with the contents. This letter was mislaid,—at least never forwarded to me.


“But, on my return to England in 1812, an enquiry was made by Moore, if I had received such a letter? adding, that particular circumstances (meaning his marriage, or perhaps the suppression of the satire) had now altered his situation, and that he wished to recall the letter, and to be known to me through Rogers. I was shy of this mode of arranging matters, one hand presenting a pistol, and another held out to shake; and felt awkward at the loss of a letter of such a nature, and the imputation it might have given rise to. But when, after a considerable search, it was at length found, I returned it to Moore with the seal unbroken; and we have since been the best friends in the world. I correspond with no one so regularly as with Moore.

“It is remarkable that I should at this moment number among my most intimate friends and correspondents those whom I most made the subjects of satire in ‘English Bards.’ I never retracted my opinions of their works,—I never sought their acquaintance; but there are men who can forgive and forget. The Laureate is not one of that disposition, and exults over the anticipated death-bed repentance of the objects of his hatred. Finding that his denunciations or panegyrics are of little
or no avail here, he indulges himself in a pleasant vision as to what will be their fate hereafter. The third Heaven is hardly good enough for a king, and
Dante’s worst berth in the ‘Inferno’ hardly bad enough for me. My kindness to his brother-in-law might have taught him to be more charitable. I said in a Note to ‘The Two Foscari,’ in answer to his vain boasting, that I had done more real good in one year than Mr. Southey in the whole course of his shifting and turn-coat existence, on which he seems to reflect with so much complacency. I did not mean to pride myself on the act to which I have just referred, and should not mention it to you, but that his self-sufficiency calls for the explanation. When Coleridge was in great distress, I borrowed 100l. to give him.”

Some days after this discussion appeared Mr. Southey’s reply to the Note in question. I happened to see ‘The Literary Gazette’ at Mr. Edgeworth’s, and mentioned the general purport of the letter to Lord Byron during our evening ride. His anxiety to get a sight of it was so great, that he wrote me two notes in the course of the evening, entreating me to procure the paper. I at length succeeded, and took it to the Lanfranchi palace at eleven o’clock,
(after coming from the opera,) an hour at which I was frequently in the habit of calling on him.

He had left the Guiccioli earlier than usual, and I found him waiting with some impatience. I never shall forget his countenance as he glanced rapidly over the contents. He looked perfectly awful: his colour changed almost prismatically; his lips were as pale as death. He said not a word. He read it a second time, and with more attention than his rage at first permitted, commenting on some of the passages as he went on. When he had finished, he threw down the paper, and asked me if I thought there was any thing of a personal nature in the reply that demanded satisfaction; as, if there was, he would instantly set off for England and call Southey to an account,—muttering something about whips, and branding-irons, and gibbets, and wounding the heart of a woman,—words of Mr. Southey’s. I said that, as to personality, his own expressions of cowardly ferocity, “pitiful renegado,” “hireling,” were much stronger than any in the letter before me. He paused a moment, and said:

“Perhaps you are right; but I will consider of it. You have not seen my ‘Vision of Judgment.’ I wish I had a
copy to shew you; but the only one I have is in London. I had almost decided not to publish it, but it shall now go forth to the world. I will write to
Douglas Kinnaird by to-morrow’s post, to-night, not to delay its appearance. The question is, whom to get to print it. Murray will have nothing to say to it just now, while the prosecution of ‘Cain’ hangs over his head. It was offered to Longman; but he declined it on the plea of its injuring the sale of Southey’s Hexameters, of which he is the publisher. Hunt shall have it.”

Another time he said:

“I am glad Mr. Southey owns that article on ‘Foliage,’ which excited my choler so much. But who else could have been the author? Who but Southey would have had the baseness, under the pretext of reviewing the work of one man, insidiously to make it a nest egg for hatching malicious calumnies against others?

“It was bad taste, to say the least of it, in Shelley to write Αθεος after his name at Mont Anvert. I knew little of him at that time, but it happened to meet my eye, and I put my pen through the word, and Μωρος, that
had been added by some one else by way of comment—and a very proper comment too, and the only one that should have been made on it. There it should have stopped. It would have been more creditable to
Mr. Southey’s heart and feelings if he had been of this opinion; he would then never have made the use of his travels he did, nor have raked out of an album the silly joke of a boy, in order to make it matter of serious accusation against him at home. I might well say he had impudence enough, if he could confess such infamy. I say nothing of the critique itself on ‘Foliage;’ with the exception of a few sonnets, it was unworthy of Hunt. But what was the object of that article? I repeat, to vilify and scatter his dark and devilish insinuations against me and others. Shame on the man who could wound an already bleeding heart,—be barbarous enough to revive the memory of a fatal event that Shelley was perfectly innocent of—and found scandal on falsehood! Shelley taxed him with writing that article some years ago; and he had the audacity to admit that he had treasured up some opinions of Shelley’s, ten years before, when he was on a visit at Keswick, and had made a note of them at the time. But his bag of venom was not full; it is the nature of the reptile. Why does a viper have a poison-tooth, or the scorpion claws?”


Some days after these remarks, on calling on him one morning, he produced ‘The Deformed Transformed.’ Handing it to Shelley, as he was in the habit of doing his daily compositions, he said:

Shelley, I have been writing a Faustish kind of drama: tell me what you think of it.”

After reading it attentively, Shelley returned it.

“Well,” said Lord Byron, “how do you like it?”

“Least,” replied he, of any thing I ever saw of yours. It is a bad imitation of ‘Faust;’ and besides, there are two entire lines of Southey’s in it.

Lord Byron changed colour immediately, and asked hastily what lines? Shelley repeated,

“‘And water shall see thee,
‘And fear thee, and flee thee.’”

“They are in ‘The Curse of Kehamah.’”

His Lordship, without making a single observation, in-
stantly threw the poem into the fire. He seemed to feel no chagrin at seeing it consume—at least his countenance betrayed none, and his conversation became more gay and lively than usual. Whether it was hatred of
Southey, or respect for Shelley’s opinions, which made him commit an act that I considered a sort of suicide, was always doubtful to me. I was never more surprised than to see, two years afterwards, ‘The Deformed Transformed’ announced; (supposing it to have perished at Pisa); but it seems that he must have had another copy of the manuscript, or had re-written it perhaps, without changing a word, except omitting the ‘Kehama’ lines. His memory was remarkably retentive of his own writings. I believe he could have quoted almost every line he ever wrote.

One day a correspondent of Lord Byron’s sent him from Paris the following lines—a sort of epitaph for Southey—which he gave me leave to copy.

“Beneath these poppies buried deep,
The bones of Bob the Bard lie hid;
Peace to his manes! and may he sleep
As soundly as his readers did!
Through every sort of verse meandering,
Bob went without a hitch or fall,
Through Epic, Sapphic, Alexandrine,
To verse that was no verse at all;
Till Fiction having done enough,
To make a bard at least absurd,
And give his readers quantum suff.,
He took to praising George the Third:
And now in virtue of his crown,
Dooms us, poor Whigs, at once to slaughter;
Like Donellan of bad renown,
Poisoning us all with laurel water.
And yet at times some awkward qualms he
Felt about leaving honour’s track;
And though he has got a butt of Malmsey,
It may not save him from a sack.
Death, weary of so dull a writer,
Put to his works a finis thus.
O! may the earth on him lie lighter
Than did his quartos upon us!”