LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
Byron's family; his indiscretions

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  42  43  44  45  46  47  48  49  50  51  52  53  54 
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH







IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





“Almost all the friends of my youth are dead; either shot in duels, ruined, or in the galleys:” (mentioning the names of several.)

“Among those I lost in the early part of my career, was Lord Falkland,—poor fellow! our fathers’ fathers were friends. He lost his life for a joke, and one too he did not make himself. The present race is more steady than the last. They have less constitution and not so much money—that accounts for the change in their morals.

Review in The New Times

“I am now tamed; but before I married, shewed some of the blood of my ancestors. It is ridiculous to say that we do not inherit our passions, as well as the gout, or any other disorder.


“I was not so young when my father died, but that I perfectly remember him; and had very early a horror of matrimony, from the sight of domestic broils: this feeling came over me very strongly at my wedding. Something whispered me that I was sealing my own death-warrant. I am a great believer in presentiments. Socrates’ dæmon was no fiction. Monk Lewis had his monitor, and Napoleon many warnings. At the last moment I would have retreated, if I could have done so. I called to mind a friend of mine, who had married a young, beautiful, and rich girl, and yet was miserable. He had strongly urged me against putting my neck in the same yoke: and to shew you how firmly I was resolved to attend to his advice, I betted Hay fifty guineas to one, that I should always remain single. Six years afterwards I sent him the money. The day before I proposed to Lady Byron, I had no idea of doing so.”

After this digression he continued:—

“I lost my father when I was only six years of age. My mother, when she was in a rage with me, (and I gave her cause enough,) used to say, ‘Ah, you little dog, you are a Byron all over; you are as bad as
your father!’ It was very different from Mrs. Malaprop’s saying, ‘Ah! good dear Mr. Malaprop, I never loved him till he was dead.’ But, in fact, my father was, in his youth, any thing but a ‘
Caelebs in search of a wife.’ He would have made a bad hero for Hannah More. He ran out three fortunes, and married or ran away with three women, and once wanted a guinea, that he wrote for; I have the note. He seemed born for his own ruin, and that of the other sex. He began by seducing Lady Carmarthen, and spent for her 4000l. a-year; and not content with one adventure of this kind, afterwards eloped with Miss Gordon. His marriage was not destined to be a very fortunate one either, and I don’t wonder at her differing from Sheridan’s widow in the play. They certainly could not have claimed the flitch.

“The phrenologists tell me that other lines besides that of thought, (the middle of three horizontal lines on his forehead, on which he prided himself,) are strongly developed in the hinder part of my cranium; particularly that called philoprogenitiveness*. I

* He appears to have mistaken the meaning of this word in the vocabulary of the Craniologists, as in Don Juan.

suppose, too, the pugnacious bump might be found somewhere, because my
uncle had it.

“You have heard the unfortunate story of his duel with his relation and neighbour. After that melancholy event, he shut himself up at Newstead, and was in the habit of feeding crickets, which were his only companions. He had made them so tame as to crawl over him, and used to whip them with a whisp of straw, if too familiar. When he died, tradition says that they left the house in a body. I suppose I derive my superstition from this branch of the family; but though I attend to none of these new-fangled theories, I am inclined to think that there is more in a chart of the skull than the Edinburgh Reviewers suppose*. However that may be, I was a wayward youth, and gave my mother a world of trouble,—as I fear Ada will her’s, for I am told she is a little termagant. I had an ancestor too that expired laughing, (I suppose that my good spirits came from him,) and two whose affection was such for each other, that they died almost at the same moment.

* He had probably been reading the article on Gall and Spurzheim.

There seems to have been a flaw in my escutcheon there, or that loving couple have monopolized all the connubial bliss of the family.

“I passed my boyhood at Marlodge near Aberdeen, occasionally visiting the Highlands; and long retained an affection for Scotland;—that, I suppose, I imbibed from my mother. My love for it, however, was at one time much shaken by the critique in ‘The Edinburgh Review’ on ‘The Hours of Idleness,’ and I transferred a portion of my dislike to the country; but my affection for it soon flowed back into its old channel.

“I don’t know from whom I inherited verse-making; probably the wild scenery of Morven and Loch-na-garr, and the banks of the Dee, were the parents of my poetical vein, and the developers of my poetical boss. If it was so, it was dormant; at least, I never wrote any thing worth mentioning till I was in love. Dante dates his

Note.—He wrote about this time ‘The Curse of Minerva;’ in which he seems very closely to have followed Churchill.

He came to England in 1798.

passion for Beatrice at twelve. I was almost as young when I fell over head and ears in love; but I anticipate. I was sent to Harrow at twelve, and spent my vacations at Newstead. It was there that I first saw
Mary C——*.
* ———“It was a name
Which pleased him, and yet pleased him not;—and why?
Time taught him a deep answer.”
“I have a passion for the name of ‘Mary,’
For once it was a magic sound to me;
And still it half calls up the realms of fairy,
Where I beheld what never was to be.
All feelings changed, but this was last to vary—
A spell from which even yet I am not quite free.
But I grow sad!——”
Don Juan, Canto V. Stanza 4.
———“Yet still, to pay my court, I
Gave what I had—a heart:—as the world went, I
Gave what was worth a world,—for worlds could never
Restore me the pure feelings gone for ever!
“She was several years older than myself: but, at my age, boys like something older than themselves, as they do younger, later in life. Our estates adjoined: but, owing to the unhappy circumstance of the feud to which I before alluded, our families (as is generally the case with neighbours who happen to be relations,) were never on terms of more than common civility,—scarcely those. I passed the summer vacation of this year among the Malvern hills: those were days of romance! She was the beau ideal of all that my youthful fancy could paint of beautiful; and I have taken all my fables about the celestial nature of women from the perfection my imagination created in her—I say created, for I found her, like the rest of the sex, any thing but angelic.

“I returned to Harrow, after my trip to Cheltenham, more deeply enamoured than ever, and passed the next holidays at Newstead. I now began to fancy myself a

“’Twas the boy’s ‘mite,’ and, like the ‘widow’s,’ may,
Perhaps, be weighed hereafter, if not now.”
Don Juan, Canto VI. Stanza 5, &c.
man, and to make love in earnest. Our meetings were stolen ones, and my letters passed through the medium of a confidante. A gate leading from Mr. C——’s grounds to those of my mother, was the place of our interviews. But the ardour was all on my side. I was serious; she was volatile. She liked me as a younger brother, and treated and laughed at me as a boy. She, however, gave me her picture, and that was something to make verses upon.*

“During the last year that I was at Harrow, all my thoughts were occupied on this love-affair. I had, besides, a spirit that ill brooked the restraints of school-discipline; for I had been encouraged by servants in all my violence of temper, and was used to command.

* He had always a black ribbon round his neck, to which was attached a locket containing hair and a picture. We had been playing at billiards one night till the balls appeared double, when all at once he searched hastily for something under his waistcoat, and said, in great alarm, “Good God! I have lost my ——— !” but before he had finished the sentence, he discovered the hidden treasure.

Every thing like a task was repugnant to my nature; and I came away a very indifferent classic, and read in nothing that was useful. That subordination, which is the soul of all discipline, I submitted to with great difficulty; yet I did submit to it: and I have always retained a sense of
Drury’s* kindness, which enabled me to bear it and fagging too. The Duke of Dorset was my fag. I was not a very hard task-master. There were times in which, if I had not considered it as a school, I should have been happy at Harrow. There is one spot I should like to see again: I was particularly delighted with the view from the Church-yard, and used to sit for hours on the stile leading into the fields;—even then I formed a wish to be buried there. Of all my schoolfellows, I know no one for whom I have retained so much friendship as for Lord Clare. I have been constantly corresponding with him ever since I knew he was in Italy; and look forward to seeing him, and talking over with him our old Harrow stories, with infinite delight. There is no pleasure in life equal to that of meeting an old friend. You know how glad I was to see Hay. Why did not Scroope

* See Lines addressed to him in ‘The Hours of Idleness.’

Davies come to see me? Some one told me that he was at Florence, but it is impossible.

“There are two things that strike me at this moment, which I did at Harrow: I fought Lord Calthorpe for writing D—d Atheist!’ under my name; and prevented the school-room from being burnt during a rebellion, by pointing out to the boys the names of their fathers and grandfathers on the walls.

“Had I married Miss C——, perhaps the whole tenor of my life would have been different.* She jilted me, however, but her marriage proved any thing but a happy one.*† She was at length separated from Mr. M——, and proposed an interview with me, but by the advice of my sister I declined it. I remember meeting her

* Perhaps in his lyrical pieces, even those ‘To Thyrza,’ he never surpassed those exquisitely feeling Stanzas, beginning—
“O had my fate been join’d to thine,” &c.

———“the one
To end in madness; both in misery.”
after my return from Greece, but pride had conquered my love; and yet it was not with perfect indifference I saw her.*

“For a man to become a poet (witness Petrarch and Dante) he must be in love, or miserable. I was both when I wrote the ‘Hours of Idleness;’ some of those poems, in spite of what the reviewers say, are as good as any I ever produced.

“For some years after the event that had so much influence on my fate, I tried to drown the remembrance of it and her in the most depraving dissipation;† but the poison was in the cup. * * * *

* * * * * * *
* Yet I was calm. I knew the time
My heart would swell but at thy look;
But now to tremble were a crime.
We met, and not a nerve was shook!
† “And monks might deem their time was come agen
If ancient tales say true, nor wrong the holy men.”
Childe Harold, Canto I. Stanza 7.

“There had been found by the gardener, in digging, a skull that had probably belonged to some jolly friar or monk of the Abbey about the time it was dis-monasteried.”

“I heard at the Countess S——’s the other evening,” said I, interrupting him, “that you drink out of a skull now.” He took no notice of my observation, but continued:

“Observing it to be of giant size, and in a perfect state of preservation, a strange fancy seized me of having it set and mounted as a drinking-cup. I accordingly sent it to town, and it returned with a very high polish, and of a mottled colour like tortoise-shell; (Colonel Wildman now has it.) I remember scribbling some lines about it; but that was not all: I afterwards established at the Abbey a new order. The members consisted of twelve, and I elected myself grand master, or Abbot of the Skull, a grand heraldic title. A set of black gowns, mine distinguished from the rest, was ordered, and from time to time, when a particular hard day was expected, a chapter was held; the crane was filled with claret, and, in imitation of the Goths of old, passed about to the gods of
the Consistory, whilst many a prime joke was cut at its expense.”

“You seem,” said I, “to have had a particular predilection for skulls and cross-bones; a friend of mine, Mr. ——, told me he took some home for you from Switzerland.”

“They were from the field of Morat,” said he; “a single bone of one of those heroes is worth all the skulls of all the priests that ever existed.”

“Talking of Morat,” said I, “where did you find the story of Julia Alpinula? M—— and I searched among its archives in vain.”

“I took the inscription,” said he, “from an old chronicle; the stone has no existence—But to continue. You know the story of the bear that I brought up for a degree when I was at Trinity. I had a great hatred of College rules, and contempt for academical honours. How many of their wranglers have ever distinguished themselves in the world? There was, by the bye, rather a witty satire founded on my bear. A friend of Shelley’s made an Ourang Outang (Sir Oran Haut-ton) the hero of a
novel, had him created a baronet, and returned for the borough of One Vote—I forget the name of the novel*. I believe they were as glad to get rid of me at Cambridge† as they were at Harrow.

“Another of the wild freaks I played during my mother’s life-time, was to dress up Mrs. ——, and to pass her off as my brother Gordon, in order that my mother might not hear of my having such a female acquaintance. You would not think me a Scipio in those days, but I can safely say I never seduced any woman. I will give you an instance of great forbearance:—Mrs. L. G—— wrote and offered to let me have her daughter for 100l. Can you fancy such depravity? The old lady’s P. S. was excellent. ‘With dilicaci every thing may be made asy.’ But the same post brought me a letter from the young one, deprecating my taking advantage of their necessities, and ending with saying that she prized her virtue. I respected it too, and sent her some money. There are few Josephs in the world, and many Potiphar’s wives.

* Melincourt.

† He remained at Cambridge till nineteen.


“A curious thing happened to me shortly after the honey-moon, which was very awkward at the time, but has since amused me much. It so happened that three married women were on a wedding visit to my wife, (and in the same room, at the same time,) whom I had known to be all birds of the same nest. Fancy the scene of confusion that ensued!

“I have seen a great deal of Italian society, and swum in a gondola, but nothing could equal the profligacy of high life in England, especially that of when I knew it.

“There was a lady at that time, double my own age, the mother of several children who were perfect angels, with whom I had formed a liaison that continued without interruption for eight months. The autumn of a beauty like her’s is preferable to the spring in others. She told me she was never in love till she was thirty; and I thought myself so with her, when she was forty. I never felt a stronger passion; which she returned with equal ardour. I was as fond of, indeed more attached than I ought to have been, to one who had bestowed her favours on many; but I was flattered at a preference that
had led her to discard another, who in personal attractions and fashion was far my superior. She had been sacrificed, almost before she was a woman, to one whose mind and body were equally contemptible in the scale of creation; and on whom she bestowed a numerous family, to which the law gave him the right to be called father. Strange as it may seem, she gained (as all women do) an influence over me so strong, that I had great difficulty in breaking with her, even when I knew she had been inconstant to me; and once was on the point of going abroad with her,—and narrowly escaped this folly. I was at this time a mere Bond-street lounger—a great man at lobbies, coffee, and gambling-houses: my afternoons were passed in visits, luncheons, lounging and boxing—not to mention drinking! If I had known you in early life, you would not have been alive now. I remember
Scroope Davies, H——, and myself, clubbing 19l., all we had in our pockets, and losing it at a hell in St. James’s-street, at chicken-hazard, which may be called fowl; and afterwards getting drunk together till H. and S. D. quarrelled. Scroope afterwards wrote to me for my pistols to shoot himself; but I declined lending them, on the plea that they would be forfeited as a deodand. I knew my answer would have more effect than four sides of prosing.


“Don’t suppose, however, that I took any pleasure in all these excesses, or that parson A. K. or W— were associates to my taste. The miserable consequences of such a life are detailed at length in my Memoirs. My own master at an age when I most required a guide, and left to the dominion of my passions when they were the strongest, with a fortune anticipated before I came into possession of it, and a constitution impaired by early excesses, I commenced my travels in 1809, with a joyless indifference to a world that was all before me*.”

“Well might you say, speaking feelingly,” said I:—
“There is no sterner moralist than pleasure†.”

* “I wish they knew the life of a young noble;
* * * * * *
They’re young, but know not youth: it is anticipated;
Handsome but wasted, rich without a sou;
Their vigour in a thousand arms is dissipated,
Their cash comes from, their wealth goes to a Jew.”
Don Juan, Canto XI. Stanzas 74 and 75.

I asked him about Venice:

“Venice!” said he, “I detest every recollection of the place, the people, and my pursuits. I there mixed again in society, trod again the old round of conversaziones, balls, and concerts, was every night at the opera, a constant frequenter of the Ridotta during the Carnival, and, in short, entered into all the dissipation of that luxurious place. Every thing in a Venetian life,—its gondolas, its effeminating indolence, its Siroccos,—tend to enervate the mind and body. My rides were a resource and a stimulus; but the deep sands of Lido broke my horses down, and I got tired of that monotonous sea-shore;—to be sure, I passed the Villagiatura on the Brenta.*

* To give the reader an idea of the stories circulated and believed about Lord Byron, I will state one as a specimen of the rest, which I heard the other day:—

“Lord Byron, who is an execrably bad horseman, was riding one evening in the Brenta, spouting ‘Metastasio.’ A Venetian, passing in a close carriage at the time, laughed at his bad Italian; upon which his Lordship horsewhipped him, and threw a card in at the window. The nobleman took no notice of the insult.”—Answer. Lord Byron was an excellent horseman, never read a line of ‘Metastasio,’


“I wrote little at Venice, and was forced into the search of pleasure,—an employment I was soon jaded with the pursuit of.

“Women were there, as they have ever been fated to be, my bane. Like Napoleon, I have always had a great contempt for women; and formed this opinion of them not hastily, but from my own fatal experience. My writings, indeed, tend to exalt the sex; and my imagination has always delighted in giving them a beau idéal likeness, but I only drew them as a painter or statuary would do,—as they should be.* Perhaps my prejudices, and keeping them at a distance, contributed to prevent the illusion from altogether being worn out and destroyed as to their celestial qualities.

and pronounced Italian like a native. He must have been remarkably ingenious to horsewhip in a close carriage, and find a nobleman who pocketed the affront! But “ex uno disce omnes

* His ‘Medora, Gulnare (Kaled), Zuleika, Thyrza, Angiolina, Myrrha, Adah,—and Haidee,’ in Don Juan, are beautiful creations of gentleness, sensibility, firmness, and constancy. If, as a reviewer has sagely discovered, all his male characters, from Childe Harold down to Lucifer, are the same, he cannot be denied the dramatic faculty in his women,—in whom there is little family likeness.


“They are in an unnatural state of society. The Turks and Eastern people manage these matters better than we do. They lock them up, and they are much happier. Give a woman a looking-glass and a few sugar-plums, and she will be satisfied.

“I have suffered from the other sex ever since I can remember any thing. I began by being jilted, and ended by being unwived. Those are wisest who make no connexion of wife or mistress. The knight-service of the Continent, with or without the k, is perhaps a slavery as bad, or worse, than either. An intrigue with a married woman at home, though more secret, is equally difficult to break. I had no tie of any kind at Venice, yet I was not without my annoyances. You may remember seeing the portrait of a female which Murray got engraved, and dubbed my ‘Fornarina.’

Harlowe, the poor fellow who died soon after his return from Rome, and who used to copy pictures from memory, took my likeness when he was at Venice: and one day this frail one, who was a casual acquaintance of mine, happened to be at my palace, and to be seen by the painter, who was struck with her, and begged she
might sit to him. She did so, and I sent the drawing home as a specimen of the Venetians, and not a bad one either; for the jade was handsome, though the most troublesome shrew and termagant I ever met with. To give you an idea of the lady, she used to call me the Gran Cane della Madonna. When once she obtained a footing inside my door, she took a dislike to the outside of it, and I had great difficulty in uncolonizing her. She forced her way back one day when I was at dinner, and snatching a knife from the table, offered to stab herself if I did not consent to her stay. Seeing I took no notice of her threat, as knowing it to be only a feint, she ran into the balcony and threw herself into the canal. As it was only knee-deep and there were plenty of gondolas, one of them picked her up. This affair made a great noise at the time. Some said that I had thrown her into the water, others that she had drowned herself for love; but this is the real story.

“I got into nearly as great a scrape by making my court to a spinster. As many Dowagers as you please at Venice, but beware of flirting with Raggazzas. I had been one night under her window serenading, and the next morning who should be announced at the same time but
a priest and a police officer, come, as I thought, either to shoot or marry me again,—I did not care which. I was disgusted and tired with the life I led at Venice, and was glad to turn my back on it. The Austrian Government, too, partly contributed to drive me away. They intercepted my books and papers, opened my letters, and proscribed my works. I was not sorry for this last arbitrary act, as a very bad translation of ‘
Childe Harold’ had just appeared, which I was not at all pleased with. I did not like my old friend in his new loose dress; it was a dishabille that did not at all become him,—those sciolti versi that they put him into.”