LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
The Regent; The Irish Avatar

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IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





John Galt, in Blackwood's Magazine

“I am accused of ingratitude to a certain personage. It is pretended that, after his civilities, I should not have spoken of him disrespectfully. Those epigrams were written long before my introduction to him; which was, after all, entirely accidental, and unsought-for on my part. I met him one evening at Colonel J———’s. As the party was a small one, he could not help observing me; and as I made a considerable noise at that time, and was one of the lions of the day, he sent General ——— to desire I would be presented to him. I would willingly have declined the honour, but could not with decency. His request was in the nature of a command. He was very polite, for he is the politest man in Europe, and paid me some compliments that meant nothing. This was all the civility he ever shewed me, and it does not burthen my conscience much.

Review in The New Times

“I will shew you my Irish ‘Avatara.Moore tells me
that it has saved him from writing on the same subject: he would have done it much better. I told M—— to get it published in Paris: he has sent me a few printed copies; here is one for you. I have said that the Irish Emancipation, when granted, will not conciliate the Catholics, but will be considered as a measure of expediency, and the resort of fear. But you will have the sentiment in the words of the original.”

True, the great of her bright and brief era are gone,—
The rainbow-like epoch when Freedom could pause,
For the few little years out of centuries won,—
That betray’d not, and crush’d not, and wept not her cause.
True, the chains of the Catholic clank o’er his rags,
The Castle still stands, and the Senate’s no more;
And the famine that dwells on her freedomless crags,
Is extending its steps to her desolate shore:—
To her desolate shore, where the emigrant stands
For a moment to pause ere he flies from his hearth:
Tears fall on his chain, though it drops from his hands,
For the dungeon he quits is the place of his birth.
Ay! roar in his train; let thine orators lash
Their fanciful spirits to pamper his pride:
Not thus did thy Grattan indignantly flash
His soul on the freedom implored and denied!
Ever-glorious Grattan! the best of the good!
So simple in heart—so sublime in the rest,
With all that Demosthenes wanted endued,
And his victor, or rival, in all he possess’d;
With the skill of an Orpheus to soften the brute—
With the fire of Prometheus to kindle mankind;
Even Tyranny, listening, sat melted or mute,
And Corruption sank scorch’d from the glance of his mind.
Ay! back to our theme—back to despots and slaves,
Feasts furnished by Famine—rejoicings by Pain:
True Freedom but welcomes, while Slavery still raves,
When a week’s Saturnalia have loosen’d her chain.
Let the poor squalid splendour thy wreck can afford,
(As the bankrupt’s profusion his ruin would hide,)
Gild over the palace,—lo! Erin thy lord,—
Kiss his foot, with thy blessing, for blessings denied!
And if freedom past hope be extorted at last,—
If the idol of brass find his feet are of clay,—
Must what terror or policy wrung forth be class’d
With what monarchs ne’er give, but as wolves yield their prey?
But let not his name be thine idol alone!
On his right hand behold a Sejanus appears—
Thine own Castlereagh! Let him still be thine own!—
A wretch never named but with curses and jeers,
Till now, when this Isle, that should blush for his birth,
Deep, deep as the gore which he shed on her soil,
Seems proud of the reptile that crawl’d from her earth,
And for murder repays him with shouts and a smile!—
Without one single ray of her genius,—without
The fancy, the manhood, the fire of her race,—
The miscreant who well might plunge Erin in doubt,
If she ever gave birth to a being so base!
If she did, may her long-boasted proverb be hush’d,
Which proclaims that from Erin no reptile can spring!
See the cold-blooded serpent, with venom full flush’d,
Still warming its folds in the heart of a king!
Shout, drink, feast, and flatter! Oh, Erin! how low
Wert thou sunk by misfortune and tyranny, till
Thy welcome of tyrants hath plunged thee below
The depth of thy deep in a deeper gulph still!
My voice, though but humble, was raised in thy right;
My vote*, as a freeman’s, still voted thee free;
My arm, though but feeble, would arm in thy fight;
And this heart, though outworn, had a throb still for thee!
Yes! I loved thee and thine, though thou wert not my land;
I have known noble hearts and brave souls in thy sons,
And I wept with delight on the patriot band
Who are gone,—but I weep them no longer as once!
For happy are they now reposing afar—
Thy Curran, thy Grattan, thy Sheridan,—all,
Who for years were the chiefs in this eloquent war,
And redeem’d, if they have not retarded thy fall!—
Yes! happy are they in their cold English graves!
Their shades cannot start at thy shouts of to-day;
Nor the steps of enslavers and slave-kissing slaves
Be damp’d in the turf o’er their fetterless clay!

* He spoke on the Catholic Question.

Till now I had envied thy sons and thy shore!
Though their virtues are blunted, their liberties fled,
There is something so warm and sublime in the core
Of an Irishman’s heart, that I envy—their dead!
Or if aught in my bosom can quench for an hour
My contempt of a nation so servile, though sore,
Which, though trod like the worm, will not turn upon power,
’Tis the glory of Grattan—the genius of Moore!

“What a noble fellow,” said Lord Byron, after I had finished reading, “was Lord Edward Fitzgerald!—and what a romantic and singular history was his! If it were not too near our times, it would make the finest subject in the world for an historical novel.”

“What was there so singular in his life and adventures?” I asked.

Lord Edward Fitzgerald,” said he, “was a soldier from a boy. He served in America, and was left for dead in one of the pitched battles, (I forget which,) and returned in the list of killed. Having been found in the field after
the removal of the wounded, he was recovered by the kindness and compassion of a native, and restored to his family as one from the grave. On coming back to England, he employed himself entirely in the duties of his corps and the study of military tactics, and got a regiment. The French Revolution now broke out, and with it a flame of liberty burnt in the breast of the young Irishman. He paid this year a visit to Paris, where he formed an intimacy with
Tom Paine, and came over with him to England.

“There matters rested, till, dining one day at his regimental mess, he ordered the band to play ‘Ça ira,’ the great revolutionary air. A few days afterwards he received a letter from head-quarters, to say that the King dispensed with his services.

“He now paid a second visit to America, where he lived for two years among the native Indians; and once again crossing the Atlantic, settled on his family estate in Ireland, where he fulfilled all the duties of a country-gentleman and magistrate. Here it was that he became acquainted with the O’Connors, and in conjunction with them zealously exerted himself for the emancipation
of their country. On their imprisonment he was proscribed, and secreted for six weeks in what are called the liberties of Dublin; but was at length betrayed by a woman.

Major Sirr and a party of the military entered his bed-room, which he always kept unlocked. At the voices he started up in bed and seized his pistols, when Major Sirr fired and wounded him. Taken to prison, he soon after died of his wound, before he could be brought to trial. Such was the fate of one who had all the qualifications of a hero and a patriot! Had he lived, perhaps Ireland had not now been a land of Helots.”