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Letters and Journals of Lord Byron
Lord Byron to John Murray, 21 February 1821

Life of Byron: to 1806
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Life of Byron: 1816 (I)
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“Ravenna, February 21st, 1821.

“In the forty-fourth page, volume first, of Turner’s Travels (which you lately sent me), it is stated that ‘Lord Byron, when he expressed such confidence of its practicability, seems to have forgotten that Leander swam both ways, with and against the tide; whereas he (Lord Byron) only performed the easiest part of the task by swimming with it from Europe to Asia.’ I certainly could not have forgotten, what is known to every schoolboy, that Leander crossed in the night, and returned towards the morning. My object was, to ascertain that the Hellespont could be crossed at all by swimming, and in this Mr. Ekenhead and myself both succeeded, the one in an hour and ten minutes,
448 NOTICES OF THE A. D. 1821.
and the other in one hour and five minutes. The tide was not in our favour; on the contrary, the great difficulty was to bear up against the current, which, so far from helping us into the Asiatic side, set us down right towards the Archipelago. Neither
Mr. Ekenhead, myself, nor, I will venture to add, any person on board the frigate, from Captain Bathurst downwards, had any notion of a difference of the current on the Asiatic side, of which Mr. Turner speaks. I never heard of it till this moment, or I would have taken the other course. Lieutenant Ekenhead’s sole motive, and mine also, for setting out from the European side was, that the little cape above Sestos was a more prominent starting place, and the frigate, which lay below, close under the Asiatic castle, formed a better point of view for us to swim towards; and, in fact, we landed immediately below it.

Mr. Turner says, ‘Whatever is thrown into the stream on this part of the European bank must arrive at the Asiatic shore.’ This is so far from being the case, that it must arrive in the Archipelago, if left to the current, although a strong wind in the Asiatic direction might have such an effect occasionally.

Mr. Turner attempted the passage from the Asiatic side, and failed: ‘After five-and-twenty minutes, in which he did not advance a hundred yards, he gave it up from complete exhaustion.’ This is very possible, and might have occurred to him just as readily on the European side. He should have set out a couple of miles higher, and could then have come out below the European castle. I particularly stated, and Mr. Hobhouse has done so also, that we were obliged to make the real passage of one mile extend to between three and four, owing to the force of the stream. I can assure Mr. Turner, that his success would have given me great pleasure, as it would have added one more instance to the proofs of the probability. It is not quite fair in him to infer, that because he failed, Leander could not succeed. There are still four instances on record: a Neapolitan, a young Jew, Mr. Ekenhead, and myself; the two last done in the presence of hundreds of English witnesses.

“With regard to the difference of the current, I perceived none; it is favourable to the swimmer on neither aide, but may be stemmed by
A. D. 1821. LIFE OF LORD BYRON. 449
plunging into the sea, a considerable way above the opposite point of the coast which the swimmer wishes to make, but still bearing up against it; it is strong, but if you calculate well, you may reach land. My own experience and that of others bids me pronounce the passage of Leander perfectly practicable. Any young man, in good and tolerable skill in swimming, might succeed in it from either side. I was three hours in swimming across the Tagus, which is much more hazardous, being two hours longer than the Hellespont. Of what may be done in swimming, I will mention one more instance. In 1818, the
Chevalier Mengaldo (a gentleman of Bassano), a good swimmer, wished to swim with my friend Mr. Alexander Scott and myself. As he seemed particularly anxious on the subject, we indulged him. We all three started from the island of the Lido and swam to Venice. At the entrance of the Grand Canal, Scott and I were a good way ahead, and we saw no more of our foreign friend, which, however, was of no consequence, as there was a gondola to hold his clothes and pick him up. Scott swam on till past the Rialto, where he got out, less from fatigue than from chill, having been four hours in the water, without rest or stay, except what is to be obtained by floating on one’s back—this being the condition of our performance. I continued my course on to Santa Chiara, comprising the whole of the Grand Canal (besides the distance from the Lido), and got out where the Laguna once more opens to Fusina. I had been in the water, by my watch, without help or rest, and never touching ground or boat, four hours and twenty minutes. To this match, and during the greater part of its performance, Mr. Hoppner, the Consul-general, was witness, and it is well known to many others. Mr. Turner can easily verify the fact, if he thinks it worth while, by referring to Mr. Hoppner. The distance we could not accurately ascertain; it was of course considerable.

“I crossed the Hellespont in one hour and ten minutes only. I am now ten years older in time, and twenty in constitution, than I was when I passed the Dardanelles, and yet two years ago I was capable of swimming four hours and twenty minutes; and I am sure that I could have continued two hours longer, though I had on a pair of trowsers, an accoutrement which by no means assists the performance. My two
450 NOTICES OF THE A. D. 1821.
companions were also four hours in the water.
Mengaldo might be about thirty years of age; Scott about six-and-twenty.

“With this experience in swimming at different periods of life, not only upon the spot, but elsewhere, of various persons, what is there to make me doubt that Leander’s exploit was perfectly practicable? If three individuals did more than the passage of the Hellespont, why should he have done less? But Mr. Turner failed, and, naturally seeking a plausible reason for his failure, lays the blame on the Asiatic side of the strait. He tried to swim directly across, instead of going higher up to take the vantage: he might as well have tried to fly over Mount Athos.

“That a young Greek of the heroic times, in love, and with his limbs in full vigour, might have succeeded in such an attempt is neither wonderful nor doubtful. Whether he attempted it or not is another question, because he might have had a small boat to save him the trouble.

“I am yours very truly,

“P.S. Mr. Turner says that the swimming from Europe to Asia was—‘the easiest part of the task.’ I doubt whether Leander found it so, as it was the return; however, he had several hours between the intervals. The argument of Mr. Turner ‘that higher up, or lower down, the strait widens so considerably that he would save little labour by his starting,’ is only good for indifferent swimmers; a man of any practice or skill will always consider the distance less than the strength of the stream. If Ekenhead and myself had thought of crossing at the narrowest point, instead of going up to the Cape above it, we should have been swept down to Tenedos. The strait, however, is not so extremely wide, even where it broadens above and below the forts. As the frigate was stationed some time in the Dardanelles waiting for the firman, I bathed often in the strait subsequently to our traject, and generally on the Asiatic side, without perceiving the greater strength of the opposite stream by which the diplomatic traveller palliates his own failure. Our amusement in the small bay which opens immediately below the Asiatic fort was to dive for the land tortoises, which we flung in on purpose,
A. D. 1821. LIFE OF LORD BYRON. 451
as they amphibiously crawled along the bottom. This does not argue any greater violence of current than on the European shore. With regard to the modest insinuation that we chose the European aide as ‘easier,’ I appeal to
Mr. Hobhouse and Captain Bathurst if it be true or no (poor Ekenhead being since dead.) Had we been aware of any such difference of current as is asserted, we would at least have proved it, and were not likely to have given it up in the twenty-five minutes of Mr. Turner’s own experiment. The secret of all this is, that Mr. Turner failed, and that we succeeded; and he is consequently disappointed, and seems not unwilling to overshadow whatever little merit there might be in our success. Why did he not try the European aide? If he had succeeded there, after failing on the Asiatic, his plea would have been more graceful and gracious. Mr. Turner may find what fault he pleases with my poetry, or my politics; but I recommend him to leave aquatic reflections till he is able to swim ‘five and twenty minutes’ without being ‘exhausted,’ though I believe he is the first modern Tory who ever swam ‘against the stream’ for half the time*.”