LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Leigh Hunt]
Lord Byron—Mr. Moore—and Mr. Leigh Hunt [Continued].
The Tatler  Vol. 2  No. 114  (14 January 1831)  453-55.
GO TO PART:   1   2   3   4   5 
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH

No. 114 Price





Letters and Journals of Lord Byron: with Notices of his Life, by
Thomas Moore
. Two vols. 4to. Murray.


[Continued from our last.]

We are now arrived at the period of Mr Leigh Hunt’s junction with Lord Byron in the ‘Liberal.’ Let it be allowed its to recapitulate a little. For the last ten years, from 1811, up to August 1821, Mr Moore has been complimenting Mr Leigh Hunt as an author who wrote “too well for a politician;” as a “fulminator of gold;” as a man whom he should “like for a brother;” as a companion, the power to visit whom “he envied Lord Byron;” as a friend who had warmly excited his “gratitude,”—whose friend it was his “pleasure to be, and his proud wish to let the world know for such;” as a “beautiful” and “original” poet, not to be compared with “ordinary bards:” and its the sole “Richmond in the field,” in a certain line of writing.

These last words are scarcely out of his mouth, when Mr Moore writes to Lord Byron to warn him against any connexion with Mr Leigh Hunt, as it was a “bankrupt” one, an “unequal” one, “unholy,” and would render him in object of “ridicule.”

If we had Mr Moore’s insincerity, we should speak of the above eulogies with the usual modest common places, and nobody would believe us. As it is, we can only trust, that the reader, for the sake of his own sincerity and ours, will believe its when we say that nothing but inexperience and the cordiality with which we supposed Mr Moore to write them at the time, could have induced us to receive them without blushing then; and that it is only with feelings of pain, shame, and disgust, that we now contrast them with his abuse, and can reflect we ever did receive them.

In the last but one of the letters from Mr Moore, to Mr Leigh Hunt, which we have laid before the public, the writer says, that Lord Byron had lately been making many inquiries after Mr Hunt, and an answer is requested from him, before another letter is written to the Noble Lord. This is has a friendly look; and conveys an impression, that Mr Hunt was mentioned in a friendly way in the correspondence of his two acquaintances. Yet it would seem from Mr Moore’s late work, that such was not the fact. On the part of Lord Byron, it certainly was not. The most bitter things his Lordship ever said of Mr Hunt, are contained in a letter of June 1818, four months previous to the kind inquiries intimated by Mr Moore; and these bitter things are introduced by certain stars, evidently referring to something which Mr Moore had said, and which he had apparently said, with no great respect towards the man, for whom he was professing gratitude and admiration. Be this as it may, what induced Lord Byron at that time to write such things of the man towards whom he also had expressed gratitude? Part of the reason must, perhaps, remain in obscurity, in default of an elucidation from Mr Moore. The rest we can explain; and in explaining these, we elucidate all the real grounds of objection which Lord Byron had against Mr Leigh Hunt, then or afterwards. The reader will be good enough to bear in mind, that Mr Hunt had never said anything against Lord Byron, either publicly or in private; thus he was no double-dealing correspondent, who wrote one thing to one man and another to another; that he was notoriously scrupulous among his friends in saying nothing behind a man’s back which he had not thought it right to say to his face; and that the public are in possession of all his sins of accusation. But, in the first place, he had become, as before observed, an object of attack to all the agents of Toryism, whose cause was then flushed with power, in consequence of the triumph of the allies; and Lord Byron, besides being in want of an influential advocate with the public, never surmounted that reverence for the circles, and dread of worldly ridicule, with which he was hampered by his rank. This was one of the reasons why he had begun to fall off in his notions of respect for Mr Leigh Hunt. A second reason was, that Mr Hunt had become poor, and poverty is an unpleasant object of contemplation to a luxurious man of the world, especially as it diminishes influence with the worldly. Thirdly, Mr Leigh Hunt was falling off more and more from his respect for titles,—not to mention that he had paid Lord Byron the awkward compliment of supposing him to be above his rank, which he was not. Fourthly, and lastly, (and this was the greatest reason of, all, as far its the literary part of the business was concerned,) Mr Leigh Hunt, besides not being a flatterer of his lordship in private, and not saying much about his writings in public, (the poetry he was fondest of being of another kind, and Lord Byron’s being seldom in his thoughts), was guilty of the unpardonable offence of thinking Mr Wordsworth the first poet of the day, and of being the first to hail the rise of a young poet, Mr Keats, who promised, he thought, to rival Mr Wordsworth. Lord Byron had always objected, with an appearance of spleen, to Mr Hunt’s high estimation of Mr Wordsworth; and it seems by the letters which his kind friend Mr Moore has published, that he became absolutely furious about Keats. The reason was, that he had an instinctive sense of the truth of a great deal that was said about those two poets; and he had got a notion, that Keats spoke of him with contempt. On seeing a miniature of Mr Keats put up in Mr Hunt’s study at Pisa, he could not help expressing his astonishment, how the other could admire him. Mr Hunt said, that Mr Keats would be sorry to hear him talk so, as he (Mr Keats) was an admirer of Don Juan. The noble poet softened immediately, turned the conversation upon that point, and upon the merits discernible in Mr Keats’s poetry; and took the first opportunity of mentioning his genius with honour in Don Juan. This is the reason, why, after all the vituperations of him published in Mr Moore’s correspondence, he speaks of Mr Keats’s ‘Hyperion’ as a wonderful production, and says it was superior to ‘Eschylus!’

The ‘Liberal’ was set up in spite of the good offices of the grateful Mr Moore.

We will here quote a passage on that matter from the masterly pages of Mr Hazlitt:

Mr Moore has been so long accustomed to the society of Whig Lords, and so enchanted by the smile of beauty and fashion, that he really, fancies himself one of the set, to which he is admitted on sufferance, and tries very unnecessarily to keep others out of it. He talks familiarly of works that are or are not read “in our circle;” and seated smiling and at his ease, in a coronet-coach, enlivening the owner by his brisk sallies and Attic conceits, is shocked, as he passes, to see a Peer of the realm shake hands with a Poet. There is a little indulgence of spleen and envy, a little servility and pandering to aristocratic pride in this proceeding. Is Mr Moore bound to advise a Noble Poet to get as fast as possible out of a certain publication, lest he should not be able to give an account at Holland or at Lansdown House, how his friend Lord Byron had associated himself with his friend Leigh Hunt? Is he afraid that the “Spirit of Monarchy” will eclipse the “Fables for the Holy Alliance” its virulence and plain speaking? Or are the members of the “Fudge Family” to secure a monopoly for the abuse of the Bourbons and the doctrine of Divine Right? Because he is genteel and sarcastic, may not others be paradoxical and argumentative? Or must no one bark at a Minister or General, unless they have been first dandled, like a little French pug-dog, in the lap of a lady of quality? Does Mr Moore insist on the double claim of birth and genius as a title to respectability in all advocates of the popular side—but himself? Or is he anxious to keep the pretensions of his patrician and plebeian friends quite separate, so as so be himself the only point of union, a sort of double meaning, between the two? It is idle to think of setting bounds to the weakness and illusions of self-love as long as it is confined to a man’s own breast; but it ought not to be made a plea for holding back the powerful hand that is stretched out to save another struggling with the tide of popular prejudice, who has suffered shipwreck of health, fame and fortune in a common cause, and who has deserved the aid and the good wishes of all who are (on principle) embarked in the same cause by equal zeal and honesty, if not by equal talents to support and to adorn it!’*


An account of the opposition made to this work has been given in other places, and the secret of it admirably sifted by the above writer, of whom we shall have more to say presently. Mr Moore speaks of the “dross” in the ‘Liberal,’ and intimates that it was compounded of nothing else, with the exception of the noble lord’s contributions. He tries hard at the same time to impress upon the reader, that he has a sort of genteel ignorance of what was in it. Part of this “dross” was furnished by Mr Hazlitt, who, now he is dead, is acknowledged on all hands, except Mr Moore’s, to have been one of the most powerful writers of his time. His articles in the ‘Liberal’ (of which, more hereafter) are almost as good as any he ever wrote; and that is the reason why Mr Moore and others had such a horror of them. Mr Hazlitt is mentioned once,—we believe no oftener,—in the ‘Life and Correspondence’ published by Mr Moore, and is described by Lord Byron as one who “talks pimples—a red and white corruption rising up (in little imitation of mountains upon maps) but containing nothing, and discharging nothing, but their own humours.” For the suggestion of this piece of grossness and absurdity, the Noble Lord was indebted to some Tory magazine, which in the personalities allowed to Toryism but to nothing else, falsely represented Mr Hazlitt as having a pimpled face. It pleased the jealous spleen of the noble anti-republican to take the misrepresentation for granted; and it has no less pleased Mr Moore to repeat his use of it. We have already presented the reader, in Mr Hazlitt’s own words, with one reason for this proceeding of Mr Moore’s; and we shall lay before him another below.*

Mr Shelley’s masterly translation of the ‘May-day Night’ from Faust, appeared in the ‘Liberal;’ and Mr Moore, enlightened by the fact of Mr Shelley’s having been heir to a title, and of his condescending to pay him (as he truly says) an “undeserved compliment,” pronounces him to have been a man of “real genius.” One of the most genuine wits now living, whose name we do not feel ourselves at liberty to mention without applying to him, and from whom (we are not sure) perhaps Mr Moore has heard in one of the Reviews, was a writer in the ‘Liberal.’ Others to whom we also feel under a like delicacy and who are at a distance, contributed articles which might help Mr Moore to some truer notions on the side of refinement. And gallantry, as well its respect for her bowers, might have induced him to except from the charge of “dross” the contributions of Mrs Shelley, the authoress of Frankenstein, which he has pronounced to be “one of those original conceptions, that take hold of the public mind at once and for ever.” Mr Leigh Hunt willingly concedes that the articles from his own pen in the ‘Liberal’ are far inferior to what he could have wished them, and were not worthy of the occasion. Ill health, and the calamitous death of his friend, and the new, unlocked for, and most unpleasant circumstances under which he found himself situated with Lord Byron, may perhaps excuse his doing no better. Yet his lordship would fain have persuaded him, that there was one article of his writing which Mr Moore would look upon with serious eyes. This was a trifle called “Rhyme and Reason,” proposing to modern versifiers to omit all but their rhymes in future, as matter superfluous. But as, Lord Byron (we do not say with what truth) considered it likely to make his friend look so grave, we will insert the commencement of it.

‘A friend of ours, the other day, taking up the miscellaneous poems of Tasso, read the title-page into English, as follows: “The Rhymes of the Lord Twisted Yew, Amorous, Bosky, and Maritime.”† The Italians exhibit a modesty worthy of imitation, in calling their miscellaneous poems, rhymes. Twisted Yew himself, with all his genius, has put forth an abundance of these terminating blossoms without any fruit behind them: and his countrymen of the present day do not scruple to confess, that their living poetry consists of little else. The French have a game at verses, called Rhymed Ends. (Bouts Rimes) which they practise a great deal more than they are aware; and the English, though they are a more poetical people, and lay claim to the character of a less vain one, practice the same game to is very uncandid extent, with out so much as allowing that the title, is applicable to any part of it.

‘Yet how many “Poems” are there among all these nations, of which we require no more than the rhymes, to be acquainted with the whole of them? You know what the rogues have done, by the ends they come to. For instance,


* ‘Mr Moore has a little mistaken the art of poetry for the cosmetic art. He does not compose an historic group, or work out a single figure; but throws a variety of elementary sensations, of vivid impressions together, and calls it a description. He makes out an inventory of beauty—the smile on the lips, the dimple on the cheeks, item, golden locks, item, a pair of blue wings, item, a silver sound, with breathing fragrance and radiant light, and thinks it a character or a story. He gets together a number of fine things and fine names, and thinks that, flung on heaps, they make up a fine poem. This dissipated, fulsome, painted, patch-work style may succeed in the levity and languor of the boudoir, or might have been adapted to the Pavilions of royalty, but it is not the style of Parnassus, nor a passport to Immortality. It is not the taste of the ancients, “’tis not classical lore”—nor the fashion of Tibullus, or Theocritus, or Anacreon, or Vigil, or Ariosto, or Pope, or Byron, or any great writer among the living or the dead, but it is the style of our English Anacreon, and it is (or was) the fashion of the day! Let one example (and that an admired one) taken from ‘Lalla Rookh,’ suffice to explain the mystery and solicit the harshness of the foregoing criticism.
‘Now upon Syria’s land of roses
Softly the light of eve reposes,
And like a glory, the broad sun
Hangs over sainted Lebanon;
Whose head in wintry grandeur lowers,
And whitens with etherial sleep,
While summer, in a vale of flowers,
Is sleeping rosy at his feet.
To one who look’d from upper air,
O’er all th’ enchanted regions there,
How beauteous must have been the glow,
The life, the sparkling from below!
Fair gardens, shining streams, with ranks
Of golden melons on their banks,
More golden where the sun-light falls,—
Gay lizards, glittering on the walls
Of ruin’d shrines, busy and bright
As they were all alive with light;—
And yet more splendid, numerous flocks
Of pigeons, settling on the rocks,
With their rich, restless wings, that gleam
Variously in the crimson beam
Of this warm west, as if inlaid
With brilliants from the mine, or made
Of tearless rainbows, such as span
The unclouded skies of Peristan!
And then, thin mingling sounds that come
Of shepherd’s ancient reed, with hum
Of the wild bees of Palestine,
Banquetting, through the flowery vales—
And Jordan, those sweet bank, of thine,
And woods, so full of nightingales.’
‘The following lines are the very perfection of Della Cruscan sentiment, and affected orientalism of style. The Peri exclaims, on finding that old talisman and hackneyed poetical machine, “a penitent tear”
‘Joy, joy forever! my task is done—
The gates are pass’d, and Heaven is won!
Oh! am I not happy? I am, I am—
To thee, sweet Eden! how dark and sad
Are the diamond turrets of Shadukiam,
And the fragrant bowers of Amberabad.’
There is in sill this a play of fancy, a glitter of words, a shallowness of thought, and it want of truth and solidity that is wonderful, and that nothing but the heedless, rapid glide of the verse could render tolerable;——it seems that the poet, as well as the lover,
‘May bestride the Gossamer,
That wantons in the idle, summer air,
And yet not fall, so light is vanity!’
Mr Moore ought not to contend with serious difficulties or with entire subjects. He can write verses, not a poem. There is no principle of massing or continuity in his productions—neither height nor breadth nor depth of capacity. There is no truth of representation, no strong internal feeling—but a continual flutter and display of affected airs and graces, like a finished coquette, who hides the want of symmetry by extravagance of dress, and the want of passion by flippant forwardness and unmeaning sentimentality. All is flimsy, all is florid to excess. His imagination may dally with insect beauty, with Rosicrucian spells; may describe a butter-fly’s wing, a flower-pot, a fan: but it should not attempt to span the great outlines of nature, or keep pace with the bounding march of events, or grapple with the strong fibres of the human heart. The great becomes turgid its his hands, the pathetic insipid. If Mr Moore were to describe the heights of Chimboraco, instead of the loneliness, the vastness, and the shadowy might, he would only think of adorning it with roseate tints, like a strawberry-ice; and would transform a magician’s fortress in the Himmalaya (stripped of its mysterious gloom and frowning. horrors) into a jeweller’s toy, to be set upon a lady’s toilette.”‡
‡ There is a passage from the same hand in another work, still better than this; which will be given by and by.

‘Was there ever per-oration more eloquent?’ Ever a series of catastrophes more explanatory of their previous history? Did any Chinese gentleman ever show the amount of his breeding and accomplishments more completely, by the nails which he carries at his finger’s ends?

There is a specimen of a Pastoral to the same purpose, a Prologue, &c. and mention is made or “tinkling old gentlemen about town;” in which venerable class Mr Hunt certainly did not mean to include Mr Moore. He can safely add, that he had no intention whatsoever against Mr Moore in writing the article; though Lord Byron was always insisting that he had; and as his lordship now began to let his visitor into the secrets of intercourse between the insincere, to laugh at Mr Moore’s love-poetry (which he was in the habit of calling “Looks and Tones,”) to say how angry the author of ‘Lalla Rookh’ was at Mr Hunt’s not holding it in greater admiration, and at Mr Hazlitt’s having said that he “ought not to have written it even for three thousand pounds,” and finally to describe him as a man who could express two different opinions of his friends, before them and behind their backs, (which he charged him with doing to himself, and which the reader has seen but too lamentably how capable he was of doing) Mr Leigh Hunt afterwards said, when the Loves of the Angels appeared, that he might have exemplified the subject of ‘Rhyme and Reason,’ out of that poem, and Lord Byron was always archly inciting him to do it, under pretence of requesting him not. Day after day, he used to say to his visitor, “Well, have you begun? Are ‘Looks and Tones’ getting on? Mind, you must not publish:—You know I’m his friend.” And then he used to chuckle, and shake for glee.

[We are compelled to leave off here, like an Eastern reciter, at an interesting part of our story. We shall resume it to-morrow.]