LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Letters and Journals of Lord Byron
Lord Byron to John Murray, 12 November 1820

Life of Byron: to 1806
Life of Byron: 1806
Life of Byron: 1807
Life of Byron: 1808
Life of Byron: 1809
Life of Byron: 1810
Life of Byron: 1811
Life of Byron: 1812
Life of Byron: 1813
Life of Byron: 1814
Life of Byron: 1815
Life of Byron: 1816 (I)
Life of Byron: 1816 (II)
Life of Byron: 1817
Life of Byron: 1818
Life of Byron: 1819
Life of Byron: 1820
Life of Byron: 1821
Life of Byron: 1822
Life of Byron: 1823
Life of Byron: 1824
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“Ravenna, 9bre 12, 1820.

“What you said of the late Charles Skinner Matthews has set me to my recollections; but I have not been able to turn up any thing which would do for the purposed Memoir of his brother,—even if he had previously done enough during his life to sanction the introduction of anecdotes so merely personal. He was, however, a very extraordinary man, and would have been a great one: No one ever succeeded in a more surpassing degree than he did, as far as he went. He was indolent too; but whenever he stripped, he overthrew all antagonists. His conquests will be found registered at Cambridge, particularly his Downing one, which was hotly and highly contested and yet easily won. Hobhouse was his most intimate friend, and can tell you more of him than any man. William Bankes also a great deal. I myself recollect more of his oddities than of his academical qualities, for we lived most together at a very idle period of my life. When I went up to Trinity in 1805, at the age of seventeen and a half, I was miserable and untoward to a degree. I was wretched at leaving Harrow, to which I had become attached during the two last years of my stay there; wretched at going to Cambridge instead of Oxford (there were no rooms vacant at Christ-church), wretched from some private domestic circumstances of different kinds, and consequently about as unsocial as a wolf taken from the troop. So that, although I knew Matthews, and met him often then at Bankes’s (who was my collegiate pastor, and master, and patron), and at Rhode’s,
126 NOTICES OF THE A. D. 1808.
Milnes’s, Price’s, Dick’s, Macnamara’s, Farrell’s, Galley Knight’s, and others of that set of cotemporaries, yet I was neither intimate with him nor with any one else, except my old schoolfellow Edward Long (with whom I used to pass the day in riding and swimming), and William Bankes, who was good-naturedly tolerant of my ferocities.

“It was not till 1807, after I had been upwards of a year away from Cambridge, to which I had returned again to reside for my degree, that I became one of Matthews’s familiars, by means of H * *, who, after hating me for two years, because I ‘wore a white hat and a gray coat and rode a gray horse’ (as he says himself), took me into his good graces because I had written some poetry. I had always lived a good deal, and got drunk occasionally, in their company—but now we became really friends in a morning. Matthews, however, was not at this period resident in College. I met him chiefly in London, and at uncertain periods at Cambridge. H * *, in the mean time, did great things: he founded the Cambridge ‘Whig Club’ (which he seems to have forgotten), and the ‘Amicable Society,’ which was dissolved in consequence of the members constantly quarrelling, and made himself very popular with ‘us youth,’ and no less formidable to all tutors, professors, and heads of Colleges. William B * * was gone; while he staid, he ruled the roast—or rather the roasting—and was father of all mischiefs.

Matthews and I, meeting in London, and elsewhere, became great cronies. He was not good-tempered—nor am I—but with a little tact his temper was manageable, and I thought him so superior a man, that I was willing to sacrifice something to his humours, which were often, at the same time, amusing and provoking. What became of his papers (and he certainly had many), at the time of his death, was never known. I mention this by the way, fearing to skip it over, and as he wrote remarkably well, both in Latin and English. We went down to Newstead together, where I had got a famous cellar, and Monks’ dresses from a masquerade warehouse. We were a company of some seven or eight, with an occasional neighbour or so for visitors, and used to sit up late in our Friars’ dresses, drinking burgundy, claret, champagne, and what not, out of the skull-cup, and all sorts of glasses, and buffooning all round the house, in our conventual garments. Matthews always denominated me
A. D. 1808. LIFE OF LORD BYRON. 127
‘the Abbot,’ and never called me by any other name in his good humours, to the day of his death. The harmony of these our symposia was somewhat interrupted, a few days after our assembling, by Matthews’s threatening to throw ‘bold
W * *’ (as he was called, from winning a foot-match, and a horse-match, the first from Ipswich to London, and the second from Brighthelmstone) by threatening to throw ‘bold W * * ’ out of a window, in consequence of I know not what commerce of jokes ending in this epigram. W * * came to me and said, that ‘his respect and regard for me as host would not permit him to call out any of my guests, and that he should go to town next morning.’ He did. It was in vain that I represented to him that the window was not high, and that the turf under it was particularly soft. Away he went.

Matthews and myself had travelled down from London together, talking all the way incessantly upon one single topic. When we got to Loughborough, I know not what chasm had made us diverge for a moment to some other subject, at which he was indignant. ‘Come,’ said he, ‘don’t let us break through—let us go on as we began, to our journey’s end;’ and so he continued, and was entertaining as ever to the very end. He had previously occupied, during my year’s absence from Cambridge, my rooms in Trinity, with the furniture; and Jones the tutor, in his odd way, had said on putting him in, ‘Mr. Matthews, I recommend to your attention not to damage any of the moveables, for Lord Byron, sir, is a young man of tumultuous passions.’ Matthews was delighted with this; and whenever any body came to visit him, begged them to handle the very door with caution; and used to repeat Jones’s admonition, in his tone and manner. There was a large mirror in the room, on which he remarked, ‘that he thought his friends were grown uncommonly assiduous in coming to see him, but he soon discovered that they only came to see themselves.’ Jones’s phrase of ‘tumultuous passions,’ and the whole scene, had put him into such good humour, that I verily believe, that I owed to it a portion of his good graces.

“When at Newstead, somebody by accident rubbed against one of his white silk stockings, one day before dinner; of course the gentleman apologized. ‘Sir,’ answered Matthews, ‘it may be all very well for you, who have a great many silk stockings, to dirty other people’s; but to me,
128 NOTICES OF THE A. D. 1808.
who have only this one pair, which I have put on in honour of the Abbot here, no apology can compensate for such carelessness; besides the expense of washing.’ He had the same sort of droll sardonic way about every thing. A wild Irishman, named F * * , one evening beginning to say something at a large supper at Cambridge, Matthews roared out ‘Silence!’ and then, pointing to F * *, cried out, in the words of the oracle, ‘Orson is endowed with reason.’ You may easily suppose that Orson lost what reason he had acquired, on hearing this compliment. When
H * * published his volume of Poems, the Miscellany (which Matthews would call the ‘Miss-sellany’), all that could be drawn from him was, that the preface was ‘extremely like Walsh.’ H * * thought this at first a compliment; but we never could make out what it was, for all we know of Walsh is his Ode to King William, and Pope’s epithet of ‘knowing Walsh.’ When the Newstead party broke up for London, H * * and Matthews, who were the greatest friends possible, agreed, for a whim, to walk together to town. They quarrelled by the way, and actually walked the latter half of their journey, occasionally passing and repassing, without speaking. When Matthews had got to Highgate, he had spent all his money but threepence halfpenny, and determined to spend that also in a pint of beer, which I believe he was drinking before a public-house, as H * * passed him (still without speaking) for the last time on their route. They were reconciled in London again.

“One of Matthews’s passions was ‘the Fancy;’ and he sparred uncommonly well. But he always got beaten in rows, or combats with the bare fist. In swimming too, he swam well; but with effort and labour, and too high out of the water; so that Scrope Davies and myself, of whom he was therein somewhat emulous, always told him that he would be drowned if ever he came to a difficult pass in the water. He was so; but surely Scrope and myself would have been most heartily glad that
‘the Dean had lived,
And our prediction proved a lie.’

His head was uncommonly handsome, very like what Pope’s was in his youth.

“His voice, and laugh, and features, are strongly resembled by his
A. D. 1808. LIFE OF LORD BYRON. 129
brother Henry’s, if
Henry be he of King’s College. His passion for boxing was so great, that he actually wanted me to match him with Dogherty (whom I had backed and made the match for against Tom Belcher), and I saw them spar together at my own lodgings with the gloves on. As he was bent upon it, I would have backed Dogherty to please him, but the match went off. It was of course to have been a private fight in a private room.

“On one occasion, being too late to go home and dress, he was equipped by a friend (Mr. Bailey, I believe), in a magnificently fashionable and somewhat exaggerated shirt and neckcloth. He proceeded to the Opera, and took his station in Fop’s Alley. During the interval between the opera and the ballet, an acquaintance took his station by him, and saluted him: ‘Come round,’ said Matthews, ‘come round.’ ‘Why should I come round?’ said the other; ‘you have only to turn your head—I am close by you.’ ‘That is exactly what I cannot do,’ answered Matthews: ‘don’t you see the state I am in?’ pointing to his buckram shirt collar, and inflexible cravat,—and there he stood with his head always in the same perpendicular position during the whole spectacle.

“One evening, after dining together, as we were going to the Opera, I happened to have a spare Opera ticket (as subscriber to a box), and presented it to Matthews. ‘Now, sir,’ said he to Hobhouse afterwards, ‘this I call courteous in the Abbot—another man would never have thought that I might do better with half a guinea than throw it to a door-keeper;—but here is a man not only asks me to dinner, but gives me a ticket for the theatre.’ These were only his oddities, for no man was more liberal, or more honourable in all his doings and dealings than Matthews. He gave Hobhouse and me, before we set out for Constantinople, a most splendid entertainment, to which we did ample justice. One of his fancies was dining at all sorts of out of the way places. Somebody popped upon him, in I know not what coffee-house in the Strand—and what do you think was the attraction? Why, that he paid a shilling (I think) to dine with his hat on. This he called his ‘hat house,’ and used to boast of the comfort of being covered at mealtimes.

“When Sir Henry Smith was expelled from Cambridge for a row
130 NOTICES OF THE A. D. 1808.
with a tradesman named ‘Hiron,’
Matthews solaced himself with shouting under Hiron’s windows every evening,
‘Ah me! What perils do environ
The man who meddles with hot Hiron.

“He was also of that band of profane scoffers, who, under the auspices of * *, used to rouse Lort Mansel (late Bishop of Bristol) from his slumbers in the lodge of Trinity, and when he appeared at the window foaming with wrath, and crying out ‘I know you, gentlemen, I know you!’ were wont to reply, ‘We beseech thee to hear us, good Lort—Good Lort, deliver us!’ (Lort was his christian name.) As he was very free in his speculations upon all kinds of subjects, although by no means either dissolute or intemperate in his conduct, and as I was no less independent, our conversation and correspondence used to alarm our friend Hobhouse to a considerable degree.

* * * *

“You must be almost tired of my packets, which will have cost a mint of postage.

“Salute Gifford and all my friends.
“Yours, &c.”