LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Letters and Journals of Lord Byron
Lord Byron to John Murray, 15 May 1819

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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TO MR. ——.

“The story of Shelley’s agitation is true. I can’t tell what seized him, for he don’t want courage. He was once with me in a gale of wind, in a small boat, right under the rocks between Meillerie and St. Gingo. We were five in the boat—a servant, two boatmen, and ourselves. The sail was mismanaged, and the boat was filling fast. He can’t swim. I stripped off my coat, made him strip off his, and take hold of an oar, telling him that I thought (being myself an expert swimmer) I could save him, if he would not struggle when I took hold of him—unless we got smashed against the rocks, which were high and sharp, with an awkward surf on them at that minute. We were then about a hundred yards from shore, and the boat in peril. He answered me with the greatest coolness ‘that he had no notion of being saved, and that I would have enough to do to save myself, and begged not to trouble me.’ Luckily, the boat righted, and, baling, we got round a point into St. Gingo, where the inhabitants came down and embraced the boatmen on their escape, the wind having been high enough to tear up some huge trees from the Alps above us, as we saw next day.

“And yet the same Shelley, who was as cool as it was possible to be in such circumstances (of which I am no judge myself, as the chance of swimming naturally gives self-possession when near shore), certainly had the fit of phantasy which Polidori describes, though not exactly as he describes it.

* This story, as given in the Preface to the “Vampire,” is as follows:—

“It appears that one evening Lord B., Mr. P. B. Shelley, two ladies, and the gentleman before alluded to, after having perused a German work called Phantasmagoria, began relating ghost stories, when his lordship having recited the beginning of Christabel, then unpublished, the whole took so strong a hold of Mr. Shelley’s mind, that he suddenly started up, and ran out of the room. The physician and Lord Byron followed, and discovered him leaning against a mantelpiece, with cold drops of perspiration trickling down his face. After having given him something to refresh him, upon inquiring into the cause of his alarm, they found that his wild imagination having pictured to him the bosom of one of the ladies with eyes (which was reported of a lady in the neighbourhood where he lived), he was obliged to leave the room in order to destroy the impression.”

A. D. 1819. LIFE OF LORD BYRON. 209

“The story of the agreement to write the ghost-books is true; but the ladies are not sisters. * * * * * * * * * * * * * Mary Godwin (now Mrs. Shelley) wrote Frankenstein, which you have reviewed, thinking it Shelley’s. Methinks it is a wonderful book for a girl of nineteen—not nineteen, indeed, at that time. I enclose you the beginning of mine, by which you will see how far it resembles Mr. Colburn’s publication. If you choose to publish it you may, stating why, and with such explanatory proem as you please. I never went on with it, as you will perceive by the date. I began it in an old account-book of Miss Milbanke’s, which I kept because it contains the word ‘Household,’ written by her twice on the inside blank page of the covers, being the only two scraps I have in the world in her writing, except her name to the Deed of Separation. Her letters I sent back, except those of the quarrelling correspondence, and those, being documents, are placed in the hands of a third person, with copies of several of my own; so that I have no kind of memorial whatever of her, but these two words,—and her actions. I have torn the leaves containing the part of the Tale out of the book, and enclose them with this sheet.

* * * * * * *

“What do you mean? First you seem hurt by my letter, and then, in your next, you talk of its ‘power,’ and so forth. ‘This is a d—d blind story, Jack; but never mind, go on.’ You may be sure I said nothing on purpose to plague you, but if you will put me ‘in a frenzy, I will never call you Jack again.’ I remember nothing of the epistle at present.

“What do you mean by Polidori’s Diary? Why, I defy him to say any thing about me but he is welcome. I have nothing to reproach me with on his score, and I am much mistaken if that is not his own opinion. But why publish the names of the two girls? and in such a manner?—what a blundering piece of exculpation! He asked Pictet, &c. to dinner, and of course was left to entertain them. I went into society solely to present him (as I told him), that he might return into good company if he chose; it was the best thing for his youth and circumstances: for myself, I had done with society and, having presented him, withdrew to
210 NOTICES OF THE A. D. 1819.
my own ‘way of life.’ It is true that I returned without entering
Lady Dalrymple Hamilton’s, because I saw it full. It is true that Mrs. Hervey (she writes novels) fainted at my entrance into Coppet, and then came back again. On her fainting, the Duchesse de Broglie exclaimed, ‘This is too much—at sixty-five years of age!’—I never gave ‘the English’ an opportunity of avoiding me; but I trust that, if ever I do, they will seize it. With regard to Mazeppa and the Ode, you may join or separate them, as you please, from the two Cantos.

“Don’t suppose I want to put you out of humour. I have a great respect for your good and gentlemanly qualities, and return your personal friendship towards me; and although I think you a little spoilt by ‘villanous company,’—wits, persons of honour about town, authors, and fashionables, together with your ‘I am just going to call at Carlton House, are you walking that way?’—I say, notwithstanding ‘pictures, taste, Shakspeare, and the musical glasses,’ you deserve and possess the esteem of those whose esteem is worth having, and of none more (however useless it may be) than yours very truly, &c.

“P.S. Make my respects to Mr. Gifford. I am perfectly aware that ‘Don Juan’ must set us all by the ears, but that is my concern, and my beginning. There will be the ‘Edinburgh,’ and all, too, against it, so that, like ‘Rob Roy,’ I shall have my hands full.”