LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. XV 1825

Chap. I 1778-1811
Ch. II: 1791-95
Ch. III 1795-98
Ch. IV 1798
Ch. V 1798
Ch. VI 1792-1803
Ch. VII 1803-05
Ch. VIII 1803-05
Ch. IX
Ch. X 1807
Ch. XI 1808
Ch. XII 1808
Ch. XII 1812
Ch. XIV 1814-15
Ch. XV 1814-17
Ch. XVI 1818
Ch. XVII 1820
Ch. XX 1821
Ch. I 1821
Ch. II 1821-22
Ch. III 1821-22
Ch. IV 1822
Ch. V 1822
Ch. VI 1822
Ch. VII 1822-23
Ch. VIII 1822
Ch. IX 1823
Ch. X 1824
Ch. XI 1825
Ch. XII 1825
Ch. XIII 1825
Ch. XIV 1825
‣ Ch. XV 1825
Ch. XVI 1825-27
Ch. XVII 1826-28
Ch. XVIII 1829-30
Ch. XX
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Vevey—Stay there from June to September—Pass through part of Holland (Sept.—Oct.)—Return to England (Oct. 16, 1825).

I wonder Rousseau, who was a good judge and an admirable describer of romantic situations, should have fixed upon Vevey as the scene of the ‘New Héloise.’ You have passed the rocky and precipitous defiles at the entrance into the valley, and have not yet come into the open and more agreeable parts of it.

“The immediate vicinity of Vevey is entirely occupied with vineyards slanting to the south, and inclosed between stone walls without any kind of variety or relief. The walks are uneven and bad, and you in general see little (for the walls on each side of you) but the glassy surface of the lake, the rocky barrier of the Savoy Alps opposite, . . . . the green hills of an inferior class over Clarens, and the winding valley leading northward towards Berne and Fribourg.

“Here stands Gelamont (the name of the campagna which we took) on a bank sloping down to the brook that passes by Vevey, and so entirely embosomed in trees and ‘upland swells’ that it might be called, in poetical phrase, ‘the peasant’s nest.’

180 VEVEY.  

“Here everything was perfectly clean and commodious. The fermier, or vineyard-keeper, with his family, lived below, and we had six or seven rooms on a floor (furnished with every article or convenience that a London lodging affords) for thirty napoleons for four months, or about thirty shillings a week. This first expense we found the greatest during our stay, and nearly equal to all the rest, that of a servant included.

“The number of English settled here had made lodgings dear, and one English gentleman told me he was acquainted with not less than three-and-twenty English families in the neighbourhood. . . . . Mutton (equal to the best Welsh mutton, and fed on the high ground near Moudon) is threepence English per pound; and the beef (which is also good, though not of so fine a quality) is the same. Trout, caught in the lake, you get almost for nothing. A couple of fowls is eighteenpence. The wine of the country, which though not rich is exceedingly palatable, is threepence a bottle. You may have a basket of grapes, in the season, for one shilling or fifteenpence (the girls who work in the vineyards are paid threepence a day). The bread, butter, and milk are equally cheap and excellent.*. . . .

“Days, weeks, months, and even years might have passed on [at Gelamont] much in the same manner, with ‘but the season’s difference.’ We breakfasted at the same hour, and the tea-kettle was always boiling (an excellent thing in housewifery)—a lounge in the

* I have permitted myself to admit these statistics, so that later travellers may compare notes. Besides, the passage is characteristic.

orchard for an hour or two, and twice a week we could see the steamboat creeping like a spider over the surface of the lake; a volume of the Scotch novels (to be had in every library on the Continent in English, French, German, or Italian, as the reader pleases), or
M. Galignani’s Paris and London Observer, amused us till dinner time; then tea, and a walk till the moon unveiled itself, . . . . or the brook, swollen with a transient shower, was heard more distinctly in the darkness, mingling with the soft, rustling breeze; and the next morning the song of peasants broke upon refreshing sleep, as the sun glanced among the clustering vine-leaves, or the shadowy hills, as the mists retired from their summits, looked in at our windows.

“The uniformity of this mode of life was only broken during the fifteen weeks that we remained in Switzerland by the civilities of Monsieur Le Vade, a doctor of medicine, and octogenarian, who had been personally acquainted with Rousseau in his younger days; by some attempts by our neighbours to lay us under obligations by parting with rare curiosities to Monsieur l’Anglais for half their value; and by an excursion to Chamouni.”

Captain Medwin, Lord Byron’s friend, called upon Mr. Hazlitt while he remained at Vevey. He describes* the house as lying low, on the banks of a stream, and about half-a-mile from the town. He says: “The house lies very low, so that it possesses no other view from the windows than a green paddock, overshadowed by some

* ‘Fraser’s Magazine’ for March, 1839.

enormous walnut trees. Behind, and across the rivulet, rises a hill of vines, sufficiently elevated to screen out the western sun. The spot is lovely and secluded.”

As the annexed portrait of my grandfather was taken down on paper immediately after the visit, when the captain’s impressions were fresh and distinct, it may be thought to have its value: “He was below the common height: his dress neglected; and his chin garnished with a stubble of some days’ standing. The lines of his countenance are regular, but bear distinct marks of late and intense application, and there was an habitual melancholy in the expression His figure was emaciated; and it is evident his mind has preyed upon and consumed much of the vital energies of his frame; and this last, as was said of Shelley, seemed only a tenement for spirit.”

The captain transferred to his commonplace book, when he went home from the visit, the conversation between Mr. Hazlitt and himself. I have neither space nor inclination to give more than what appear to me the characteristic and personal portions. A good deal of it is mere repetition of what Mr. Hazlitt had said in his writings about some of his contemporaries, Lord Byron included.

Captain Medwin inquired how he liked Switzerland.

H. “I prefer Italy, and France to either; not but that Florence (did not the climate disagree with me) is a pleasant place enough. . . . . At Florence one is never at a loss how to pass time. I luxuriated in the divine treasures of its churches and galleries; I lived in them. . . . . I am partial to works of art,
especially paintings; but more than all I like to study man. . . . .”

In answer to Captain Medwin’s stricture on French scenery, he said:—

“Not so; I never tire of corn-plains. We have too much pasturage at home, and do not understand the economy of labour as well as in France. The cattle destroy more than they eat in England. We see, too, in every patch of cultivation, that the peasantry are something in France. This division of lands was one of the happy fruits of the Revolution. . . . .”

He asked him how he liked the society at Florence.

H. “I only knew Leigh Hunt, the author of the ‘Imaginary Conversations,’ and Lord Dillon. The latter, but for some twist in his brain, would have been a clever man. He has the cacoethes parlandi, like Coleridge, though he does not pump out his words. . . . . I went to dine with him—the only time I ever dined at a lord’s table. He had all the talk to himself; he never waits for an answer. . . . .”

M. “Do you really think Shakspeare was an unlearned man?”

H. “Sir, he was, if not the most learned, the best read man of his age; by which I mean that he made the best use of his reading. His ‘Brutus’ and ‘Antony’ and ‘Coriolanus’ are real conceptions of those Romans. His ‘Romeo and Juliet’ have all the beautiful conceits of the time; he has steeped them all in the enthusiastic tenderness of Petrarch. . . .

“You know Kenny? Coming upon him unexpectedly
one day, I found him on the flat of his back, kicking at a prodigious rate, and apparently in strong convulsions. I ran up to him in order to assist and raise him; but his malady was an obstetrical one: he was in all the agonies of a fausse-couche. ‘What is the matter, Kenny?’ said I. ‘Oh, my dear fellow, Hazlitt,’ he said, with tears in his eyes, ‘I have been for three hours labouring hard to get out an idea to finish a scene; but it won’t—it won’t come. . . . .’”

“We crossed over in a boat to St. Gingolph, a little town opposite to Vevey, and proceeded on the other side to Martigny, from which we could pass over, either on foot or by the help of mules, to Mont Blanc. It was a warm day towards the latter end of August, and the hills before us drew their clear outline, and the more distant Alps waved their snowy tops (tinged with golden sunshine) in the gently-undulating surface of the crystal lake.

“As we approached the Savoy side the mountains in front, which from Vevey look like a huge battery or flat upright wall, opened into woody recesses, or reared their crests on high; rich streaks of the most exquisite verdure gleamed at their feet, and St. Gingolph came distantly in view, with its dingy-looking houses and smoking chimneys. The contrast to Vevey was striking. . . . .

“We walked out to take a view of the situation as soon as we had bespoken our room and a supper. It was a brilliant sunset: nor do I recollect having ever beheld so majestic and rich a scene set off to such
advantage We had no power to leave it or to admire it, till the evening shades stole in upon us, and drew the dusky veil of twilight over it.

“We had a pleasant walk the next morning along the side of the lake, under the grey cliffs, the green hills, and azure sky; now passing under the open gateway of some dilapidated watch-tower . . . . now watching the sails of a boat slowly making its way among the trees on the banks of the Rhone

“The inn where we stopped at Vionnax is bad. There is a glass-manufactory at Vionnax, which I did not go to see: others, who have more curiosity, may. It will be there (I dare say) next year for those who choose to visit it: I liked neither its glare nor its heat We supped at Martigny, at the Hôtel de la Poste (formerly a convent), and the next morning proceeded by the Valley of Trie and the Col de Peaume to Chamouni.

“We left the Great St. Bernard, and the road by which Buonaparte passed to Marengo, on our left, and Martigny and the Valley of the Simplon directly behind us. . . . . The road was long, rough, and steep; and from the heat of the sun, and the continual interruption of loose stones and the straggling roots of trees, I felt myself exceedingly exhausted. We had a mule, a driver, and a guide. I was advised by all means to lessen the fatigue of the ascent by taking hold of the queue of Monsieur le Mulet, a mode of travelling partaking as little of the sublime as possible, and to which I reluctantly acceded. We at last reached the top. . . . .


“As we mounted the steep wood on the other side of the valley, we met several mules returning, with their drivers only. . . . . The view here is precipitous, extensive, and truly appalling. . . . . The smell of the pine trees, the clear air, and the golden sunshine gleaming through the dark foliage, refreshed me; and the fatigue from which I had suffered in the morning completely wore off. I had concluded that when we got to the top of the wood that hung over our heads we should have mastered our difficulties; but they only then began.

“We emerged into a barren heath or morass of a most toilsome ascent, lengthening as we advanced, with herds of swine, sheep, and cattle feeding on it, and a bed of half-melted snow marking the summit, over which we had to pass. We turned aside, half-way up this dreary wilderness, to stop at a chalet, where a boy, who tended the straggling cattle, was fast asleep in the middle of the day, and being waked up, procured us a draught of most delicious water from a fountain.

“We at length reached the Col de Peaume, and saw Mont Blanc. . . . .

“As we descended the path on foot, we saw before us the shingled roofs of a hamlet, situated on a patch of verdure near inaccessible columns of granite, and could hear the tinkling bells of a number of cattle pasturing below (an image of patriarchal times!).

“We also met one or two peasants returning home with loads of fern, and still farther down found the ripe harvests of wheat and barley growing close up to the
feet of the glaciers, . . . and the violet and the gilliflower nestling in the cliffs of the hardest rocks. . . . .

“As we advanced into the plain, and before it became dusk, we could discern at a distance the dark wood that skirts the glaciers of Mont Blanc, the spire of Chamouni, and the bridges that cross the stream.

“We also discovered, a little way on before us, stragglers on mules and a cabriolet that was returning from the Valley of Trie, by taking a more circuitous route.

“As the day closed in and was followed by the moonlight, the mountains on our right hung over us like a dark pall, and the glaciers gleamed like gigantic shrouds opposite. We might have fancied ourselves inclosed in a vast tomb but for the sounding cataracts and the light clouds that flitted over our heads. We arrived at Chamouni at last, and found the three inns crowded with English We were glad to secure a small but comfortable room [at the Hôtel de Londres] for the night.

“We had an excellent supper, the materials of which, we understood, came from Geneva. We proceeded the next morning to Saleges. . . . . We passed this part of the road in a bright morning, incessantly turning back to admire, and finding fresh cause of pleasure and wonder at every step or pause; loth to leave it, and yet urged onward by continual displays of new and endless beauties.

“The rapid and winding descent continued almost to Saleges, about twenty miles from Chamouni. Here we
dined, and proceeded that night to Bonneville, on nearly level ground.

“I have seen no country where I have been more tempted to stop and enjoy myself, where I thought the inhabitants had more reason to be satisfied, and where, if you could not find happiness, it seemed in vain to seek farther for it. . . . . Perhaps, one of these days, I may try the experiment, and turn my back on sea-coal fires, and old English friends!

“The inn at Bonneville was dirty, ill-provided, and, as it generally happens in such cases, the people were inattentive, and the charges high. We were, however, indemnified by the reception we met with at Geneva, where the living was luxurious, and the expense comparatively trifling.

“I shall not dwell on this subject, lest I should be thought an epicure, though, indeed, I rather ‘live a man forbid,’ being forced to deny myself almost all those good things which I recommend to others.

“Geneva is, I think, a very neat and picturesque town, not equal to some others we had seen, but very well for a Calvinistic capital. . . . . I was struck with the fine forms of many of the women here.

“Though I was pleased with my fare, I was not altogether delighted with the manners and appearance of the inhabitants. . . I here saw Rousseau’s house, and also read the ‘Edinburgh Review’ for May. . . . .

“The next day we passed along in the diligence through scenery of exquisite beauty and perfect cultivation. . . . . We saw Lausanne by moonlight. . . . . We
arrived that night at Vevey, after a week’s absence, and an exceedingly delightful tour.

“We returned down the Rhine through Holland. I was willing to see the contrast between flat and lofty, and between Venice and Amsterdam. We left Vevey on the 20th of September. . . . . It was at first exceedingly hot. We hired a char-à-bancs from Vevey to Basle, and it took us four days to reach this latter place; the expense of the conveyance was twenty-four francs a day, besides the driver.

“The first part of our journey, as we ascended from the lake on the way to Moudon, was like an aerial voyage, from the elevation and the clearness of the atmosphere; yet still through the most lovely country imaginable, and with glimpses of the grand objects behind us (seen over delicious pastures and through glittering foliage) that were truly magical.

“The combinations of language, however, answer but ill to the varieties of nature, and by repeating these descriptions so often I am afraid of becoming tiresome. My excuse must be that I have little to relate but what I saw.

“After mounting to a considerable height we descended to Moudon. The accommodations at the inn were by no means good. . . . . The freshness of the air the next morning, and the striking beauty and rapid changes of the scenery, soon made us forget any disappointment we had experienced in this respect.

“As we ascended a steep hill on this side of Moudon
and looked back, first at the green dewy valley under our feet, with the dusky town and the blue smoke rising from it, then at the road we had traversed the preceding evening, winding among thick groves of trees, and last at the Savoy Alps on the other side of the Lake of Geneva (with which we had been familiar for four months, and which seemed to Lave no mind to quit us), I perceived a bright speck close to the top of one of these [Alps]. I was delighted, and said it was Mont Blanc.

“Our driver was of a different opinion, was positive it was only a cloud; and I accordingly supposed I had mistaken a sudden fancy for a reality. I began in secret to take myself to task, and to lecture myself for my proneness to build theories on the foundation of my conjectures and wishes. On turning round occasionally, however, I observed that this cloud remained in the same place, and I noticed the circumstance to our guide, as favouring my first suggestion. We disputed the point for half an hour, and it was not till the afternoon, when we had reached the other side of the Lake of Neufchatel, that, this same cloud, rising like a canopy over the point where it had hovered . . . he acknowledged it to be Mont Blanc.

“We were then at a distance of about forty miles from Vevey, and eighty or ninety from Chamouni. . . . . We dined at Werdun (a pretty town), at the head of the lake, and passed on to Neufchatel, along its enchanting and almost unrivalled borders, having the long unaspiring range of the Jura on our left (from the top of which St. Preux [in the ‘New Héloise’], on his return from his
wanderings round the world, first greeted that country where ‘torrents of delight had poured into his heart;’ and indeed we could distinguish the ‘Dent de Jamant’ right over Clarens almost the whole way); and on our right was the rippling lake, its low cultivated banks on the other side, then a brown rocky ridge of mountains, and the calm golden peaks of the snowy passes of the Simplon, the Great St. Bernard, and (as I was fain to believe) of Monteroso, rising into the evening sky at intervals beyond.

“Meanwhile we rode on. This kind of retreat, where there is nothing to surprise, nothing to disgust, nothing to draw the attention out of itself, uniting the advantages of society and solitude, of simplicity and elegance, and where the mind can indulge in a sort of habitual and self-centred satisfaction, is the only one which I should never feel a wish to quit. The golden mean is, indeed, an exact description of the mode of life I should like to lead, of the style I should like to write; but alas! I am afraid I shall never succeed in either object of my ambition.

“The next day being cloudy, we lost sight entirely of the last range of Alpine hills, and saw them no more afterwards. The road lay for some miles through an open and somewhat dreary country. . . . . We had, however, the Lake of Bienne and Isle of St. Pierre in prospect before us, which are so admirably described by Rousseau in his ‘Reveries of a Solitary Walker,’ and to which he gives the preference over the Lake of Geneva.

“The effect from the town of Bienne, where we
stopped to dine, was not much; but in climbing to the top of a steep sandy hill beyond it we saw the whole to great advantage. Evening was just closing in, and the sky was cloudy, with a few red streaks near the horizon. . . . .

“The inn at ——, where we stopped for the night, (the Rose and Crown) though almost a solitary house in a solitary valley, is a very good one, and the cheapest we met with abroad. Our bill for supper, lodging, and breakfast amounted to only seven francs.

“Our route the following morning lay up a broad, steep valley, with a fine gravelly road through it, and forests of pine and other trees raised like an amphitheatre on either side. The sun had just risen, and the drops of rain still hung upon the branches.

“We stopped at the Three Kings at Basle, and were shown into a long, narrow room, which did not promise well at first; but the waiter threw up the window at the further end, and we all at once saw the full breadth of the Rhine, rolling rapidly. . . . . It was clear moonlight, and the effect was fine and unexpected. The broad mass of water rushed by with clamorous sound and stately impetuosity, as if it were carrying a message from the mountains to the ocean. The next morning we perceived that it was of a muddy colour.

“We thought of passing down it in a small boat, but the covering was so low as to make the posture uncomfortable, or, if raised higher, there was a danger of
its being overset by any sudden gust of wind. We therefore went by the diligence to Colmar and Strasburg. I regretted afterwards that we did not take the right-hand road by Freybourg and the Black Forest—the woods, hills, and mouldering castles of which, as far as I could judge from a distance, are the most romantic and beautiful possible. . . . .

“We crossed the Rhine at Strasburg, and proceeded through Rastadt and Manheim to Mayence. We stopped the first night at the Golden Cross, at Rastadt, which is the very best inn I was at during the whole time I was abroad. Among other things, we had chiffrons for supper, which I found on inquiry were wood-partridges, which are much more highly esteemed than the field ones. . . . .

“We half missed the scenery between Mayence and Coblentz, the only part of the Rhine worth seeing. We saw it, however, by moonlight. . . . . It was like a brilliant dream.

“From Neuss to Cleves we went in the royal Prussian diligence, and from thence to Nimeguen, the first town in Holland. . . . . It was a fine, clear afternoon. . . . . We proceeded from Nimeguen to Utrecht and Amsterdam by the stage. . . . .

“All the way from Utrecht to Amsterdam, to the Hague, to Rotterdam, you might fancy yourself on Clapham Common. The canals are lined with farms and summer-houses, with orchards and gardens of the utmost beauty, and in excellent taste. The exterior of their buildings is as clean as the interior of ours; their
public houses look as nice and well-ordered as our private ones. If you are up betimes in a morning, you see a servant-wench (the domestic Naiad) with a leathern pipe, like that attached to fire-engine, drenching the walls and windows with pailfuls of water. With all this, they suffocate you with tobacco-smoke in their stagecoaches and canal-boats; and you do not see a set of clean teeth from one end of Holland to the other. . . . .

“I was assured at Amsterdam that Rembrandt was the greatest painter in the world, and at Antwerp that Rubens was. The inn at Amsterdam (the Rousland) is one of the best I have been at; and an inn is no bad test of the civilization and diffusion of comfort in a country. We saw a play at the theatre here, and the action was exceedingly graceful and natural. . . . .

“Holland is perhaps the only country which you gain nothing by seeing. It is exactly the same as the Dutch landscapes of it. I was shown the plain and village of Ryswick, close to the Hague. It struck me I had seen something very like it before. It is the back-ground of Paul Potter’s Bull.

“Delft is a very model of comfort and polished neatness. We met with a gentleman belonging to this place in the trackschuyt, who, with other civilities, showed us his house (a perfect picture in its kind), and invited us in to rest and refresh ourselves, while the other boat was getting ready. These things are an extension of one’s idea of humanity. I would not wish to lower any one’s idea of England, but let him enlarge his notions of existence and enjoyment beyond it. He
will not think the worse of his own country for thinking better of human nature.

“The inconveniences of travelling in Holland are that you make little way, and are forced to get out and have your luggage taken into another boat at every town you come to, which happens two or three times in the course of the day. Let no one go to the Washington Arms at Rotterdam; it is fit only for American sea-captains. . . . .

“On inquiring our way, we were accosted by a Dutch servant-girl, who had lived in an English family for a year, and who spoke English better, and with less of a foreign accent, than any Frenchwoman I ever heard. . . . .

“There was a steam-boat here which set sail for London the next day; but we preferred passing through Ghent, Lille, and Antwerp. . . . We saw the Rubenses in the great church at the last. . . . . The person who showed us the Taking Down from the Cross said ‘it was the finest picture in the world.’ I said ‘One of the finest,’ an answer with which he appeared by no means satisfied.

“We returned by way of St. Omer and Calais. I wished to see Calais once more, for it was here that I landed in France twenty years ago. [We arrived in England on the 16th of October, 1825.]

“I confess London looked to me on my return like a long, straggling, dirty country town. . . . . I am not sorry, however, that I have got back. There is an old saying, Home is home, he it never so homely. . . . .


“The pictures that most delighted me in Italy were those I had before seen in the Louvre ‘with eyes of youth.’ I could revive this feeling of enthusiasm, but not transfer it. . . . .

“Since my return I have put myself on a regimen of brown bread, beef, and tea, and have thus defeated the systematic conspiracy carried on against weak digestions. To those accustomed to, and who can indulge in foreign luxuries, this list will seem far from satisfactory.”

Mr. Hazlitt and his son returned home alone. Mrs. Hazlitt had stopped behind. At the end of a fortnight he wrote to her, asking her when he should come to fetch her; and the answer which he got was that she had proceeded on to Switzerland with her sister, and that they had parted for ever!

It appears that my father was excessively hurt and indignant at the whole affair from the first outset, and considered that his own mother had been ill-used—in which there was a considerable share of truth, no doubt; and when he joined his father and stepmother abroad, he, mere child as he was, seems to have been very pointed and severe in his remarks upon the matter. This probably gave Mrs. Hazlitt a foretaste of what she might have to expect on her return to England, and led to the determination referred to.

At any rate, they never met again. Their union had been short enough. It amounted scarcely to more than an episode.