LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Letters and Journals of Lord Byron
Journal Entry: 28 January 1821

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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“January 28th, 1821.

Lugano Gazette did not come. Letters from Venice. It appears that the Austrian brutes have seized my—three or four pounds of English powder. The scoundrels!—I hope to pay them in ball for that powder. Rode out till twilight.

“Pondered the subjects of four tragedies to be written (life and circumstances permitting), to wit, Sardanapalus, already begun; Cain, a metaphysical subject, something in the style of Manfred, but in five acts, perhaps, with the chorus; Francesca of Rimini, in five acts; and I am not sure that I would not try Tiberius. I think that I could extract a something, of my tragic, at least, out of the gloomy sequestration and old age of the tyrant—and even out of his sojourn at Caprea—by softening the details, and exhibiting the despair which must have led to those very vicious pleasures. For none but a powerful and gloomy mind overthrown would have had recourse to such solitary horrors,—being also, at the same time, old, and the master of the world.


“What is Poetry?—The feeling of a Former world and Future.

Thought Second.

“Why, at the very height of desire and human pleasure,—worldly, social, amorous, ambitious, or even avaricious,—does there mingle a certain sense of doubt and sorrow—a fear of what is to come—a doubt of what is—a retrospect to the past, leading to a prognostication of the future. (The best of Prophets of the future is the Past.) Why is this? or these?—I know not, except that on a pinnacle we are most susceptible of giddiness, and that we never fear falling except from a precipice—the higher, the more awful, and the more sublime; and, therefore, I am not sure that Fear is not a pleasurable sensation; at least, Hope is; and what Hope is there without a deep leaven of Fear? and what sensation is so delightful as Hope? and, if it were not for Hope, where would the Future be?—in hell. It is useless to say where the Present is, for most of us know; and as for the Past, what predominates in memory?—Hope baffled. Ergo, in all human affairs, it is Hope—Hope—Hope. I allow sixteen minutes, though I never counted them, to any given or supposed
420 NOTICES OF THE A. D. 1821.
possession. From whatever place we commence, we know where it all must end. And yet, what good is there in knowing it? It does not make men better or wiser. During the greatest horrors of the greatest plagues (Athens and Florence, for example—see
Thucydides and Machiavelli), men were more cruel and profligate than ever. It is all a mystery. I feel most things, but I know nothing, except — *

Thought for a speech of Lucifer, in the tragedy of Cain:
“Were Death an evil, would I let thee live?
Fool! live as I live—as thy father lives,
And thy son’s sons shall live for evermore.
“Past midnight. One o’ the clock.

“I have been reading W. F. S * * (brother to the other of the name) till now, and I can make out nothing. He evidently shows a great power of words, but there is nothing to be taken hold of. He is like Hazlitt, in English, who talks pimples—a red and white corruption rising up (in little imitation of mountains upon maps), but containing nothing, and discharging nothing, except their own humours.

“I dislike him the worse (that is, S * *), because he always seems upon the verge of meaning; and, lo, he goes down like sunset, or melts like a rainbow, leaving a rather rich confusion,—to which, however, the above comparisons do too much honour.

“Continuing to read Mr. F. S * *. He is not such a fool as I took him for, that is to say, when he speaks of the North. But still he speaks of things all over the world with a kind of authority that a philosopher would disdain, and a man of common sense, feeling, and

* Thus marked, with impatient strokes of the pen, by himself in the original.

A. D. 1821. LIFE OF LORD BYRON. 421
knowledge of his own ignorance, would be ashamed of. The man is evidently wanting to make an impression, like his brother,—or like George in the
Vicar of Wakefield, who found out that all the good things had been said already on the right side, and therefore ‘dressed up some paradoxes’ upon the wrong side—ingenious, but false, as he himself says—to which ‘the learned world said nothing, nothing at all, sir.’ The ‘learned world,’ however, has said something to the brothers S * *.

“It is high time to think of something else. What they say of the antiquities of the North is best.