LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
Prospects for Greece; varia

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IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





“Harrow,” said he, “has been the nursery of almost all the politicians of the day.”

“I wonder,” said I, “that you have never had the ambition of being one too.”

William Jerdan?, in Literary Gazette

“I take little interest,” replied he, “in the politics at home. I am not made for what you call a politician, and should never have adhered to any party.* I should have taken no part in the petty intrigues of cabinets, or the pettier factions and contests for power among parliamentary men. Among our statesmen, Castlereagh
* “The consequence of being of no party,
I shall offend all parties. Never mind!”
Don Juan, Canto IX. Stanza 26.
is almost the only one whom I have attacked; the only public character whom I thoroughly detest, and against whom I will never cease to level the shafts of my political hate.

“I only addressed the House twice, and made little impression. They told me that my manner of speaking was not dignified enough for the Lords, but was more calculated for the Commons. I believe it was a Don Juan kind of speech. The two occasions were, the Catholic Question,* and (I think he said) some Manchester affair.

“Perhaps, if I had never travelled,—never left my own country young,—my views would have been more limited. They extend to the good of mankind in general—of the world at large. Perhaps the prostrate situation of Portugal and Spain—the tyranny of the Turks in Greece—

* A gentleman who was present at his maiden speech, on the Catholic question, says, that the Lords left their seats and gathered round him in a circle; a proof, at least, of the interest which he excited: and that the same style was attempted in the Commons the next day, but failed.

the oppressions of the Austrian Government at Venice—the mental debasement of the Papal States, (not to mention Ireland,)—tended to inspire me with a love of liberty. No Italian could have rejoiced more than I, to have seen a Constitution established on this side the Alps. I felt for Romagna as if she had been my own country, and would have risked my life and fortune for her, as I may yet for the Greeks.* I am become a citizen of the world. There is no man I envy so much as
Lord Cochrane. His entrance into Lima, which I see announced in today’s paper, is one of the great events of the day. Maurocordato, too, (whom you know so well,) is also worthy of

* “And I will war, at least in words, (and—should
My chance so happen,—deeds) with all who war
With Thought, And of thought’s foes by far most rude
Tyrants and Sycophants have been and are.
I know not who may conquer: if I could
Have such a prescience, it should be no bar
To this my plain, sworn, downright detestation
Of every despotism in every nation!”
Don Juan, Canto IX. Stanza 24.
the best times of Greece. Patriotism and virtue are not quite extinct.”

I told him that I thought the finest lines he had ever written were his “Address to Greece,” beginning—
“Land of the unforgotten brave!”

“I should be glad,” said he, “to think that I have added a spark to the flame.* I love Greece, and take the strongest interest in her struggle.”

“I did not like,” said I, “the spirit of Lambrino’s ode; it was too desponding.”

“That song,” replied he, “was written many years ago, though published only yesterday. Times are much changed since then. I have learned to think very differently of the cause,—at least of its success. I look upon the Morea as secure. There is more to be apprehended
* “But words are things;—and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.”
Don Juan, Canto III. Stanza 88.
from friends than foes. Only keep the Vandals out of it; they would be like the Goths here.”

“What do you think of the Turkish power,” I asked, “and of their mode of fighting?”

“The Turks are not so despicable an enemy as people suppose. They have been carrying on a war with Russia, or rather Russia with them, since Peter the Great’s time;—and what have they lost, till lately, of any importance? In 1788 they gained a victory over the Austrians, and were very nearly making the Emperor of Austria prisoner, though his army consisted of 80,000 men.

“They beat us in Egypt, and took one of our Generals. Their mode of fighting is not unformidable. Their cavalry falls very little short of ours, and is better mounted—their horses better managed. Look, for instance, at the Arab the Turkish Prince here rides!—They are divided into parties of sixty, with a flag or standard to each. They come down, discharge their pieces, and are supplied by another party; and so on in succession. When they charge, it is by troops, like our successive squadrons.”


“I reminded you,” said I, “the other day of having said, in ‘Childe Harold,’ that the Greeks would have to fight their own battles,—work out their own emancipation. That was your prophetic age; Voltaire and Alfieri had theirs, and even Goldsmith.”

Shelley, who was present, observed:—“Poets are sometimes the echoes of words of which they know not the power,—the trumpet that sounds to battle, and feels not what it inspires.”

“In what year was it,” I asked, “that you wrote that line,
“‘Will Frank or Muscovite assist you?—No!’”

“Some time in 1811. The ode was written about the same time. I expressed the same sentiments in one of its stanzas.*


“I will tell you a plan I have in embryo. I have formed a strong wish to join the Greeks. Gamba is anxious to be of the party. I shall not, however, leave Italy without proper authority and full power from the Patriot Government. I mean to write to them, and that will take time;—besides, the Guiccioli!*”

“In native swords and native ranks,
The only hope of freedom dwells!”
Don Juan, Canto III. page 51.

* I have heard Lord Byron reproached for leaving the Guiccioli. Her brother’s accompanying him to Greece, and his remains to England, prove at least that the family acquitted him of any blame. The disturbed state of the country rendered her embarking with him out of the question; and the confiscation of her father’s property made her jointure, and his advanced age her care, necessary to him.—It required all Lord Byron’s interest with the British Envoy, as well as his own guarantee, to protect the Gambas at Genoa. But his own house at length ceased to be an asylum for them, and they were banished the Sardinian States a month before he sailed for Leghorn; whence, after laying in the supplies for his voyage, he directed his fatal course to the Morea.


“I have received,” said he, “from my sister, a lock of Napoleon’s hair, which is of a beautiful black. If Hunt were here, we should have half-a-dozen sonnets on it. It is a valuable present; but, according to my Lord Carlisle, I ought not to accept it. I observe, in the newspapers of the day, some lines of his Lordship’s, advising Lady Holland not to have any thing to do with the snuff-box left her by Napoleon, for fear that horror and murder should jump out of the lid every time it is opened! It is a most ingenious idea—I give him great credit for it.”

He then read me the first stanza, laughing in his usual suppressed way,—
“Lady, reject the gift,” &c.
and produced in a few minutes the following
parody on it:
“Lady, accept the box a hero wore,
In spite of all this elegiac stuff:
Let not seven stanzas written by a bore,
Prevent your Ladyship from taking snuff!”

“When will my wise relation leave off verse-inditing?” said he. “I believe, of all manias, authorship is the most
inveterate. He might have learned by this time, indeed many years ago, (but people never learn any thing by experience,) that he had mistaken his forte. There was an epigram, which had some logic in it, composed on the occasion of his Lordship’s doing two things in one day,—subscribing 1000l. and publishing a sixpenny pamphlet! It was on the state of the theatre, and dear enough at the money. The epigram I think I can remember:
‘Carlisle subscribes a thousand pound
Out of his rich domains;
And for a sixpence circles round
The produce of his brains.
’Tis thus the difference you may hit
Between his fortune and his wit.’

“A man who means to be a poet should do, and should have done all his life, nothing else but make verses. There’s Shelley has more poetry in him than any man living; and if he were not so mystical, and would not write Utopias and set himself up as a Reformer, his right to rank as a poet, and very highly too, could not fail of being acknowledged. I said what I thought of him the other day; and all who are not blinded by bigotry must think
the same. The works he wrote at seventeen are much more extraordinary than
Chatterton’s at the same age.”

A question was started, as to which he considered the easiest of all metres in our language.

“Or rather,” replied he, “you mean, which is the least difficult? I have spoken of the fatal facility of the octosyllabic metre. The Spenser stanza is difficult, because it is like a sonnet, and the finishing line must be good. The couplet is more difficult still, because the last line, or one out of two, must be good. But blank verse is the most difficult of all, because every line must be good.”

“You might well say then,” I observed, that no man can be a poet who does any thing else.”