LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
Jonathan Oldworth
Byron's Biographers and Grizzeldina.
Literary Chronicle  No. 289  (27 November 1824)  763-64.
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And Weekly Review;
Forming an Analysis and General Repository of Literature, Philosophy, Science, Arts, History, Biography, Antiquities, Morals, Manners, the Drama, and Amusements.

No. 289. LONDON, SATURDAY,  NOVEMBER  27,  1824. Price 6d.


To the Editor of the Literary Chronicle.

Mr. Editor,—I did not mean to write you another letter until another year had made its appearance; but I really cannot forbear making a few short comments upon what appears to me a very great trouble in the literary world at the present juncture.

I allude to the eternal filling of your columns, and those of every other journalist, with what old women call ‘fending and proving,’ concerning Lord Byron’s memoirs, so far as they are brought before us. That every thing ‘seen, felt, heard, and understood,’ by such a noun-substantive in creation as the great poet could deeply interest the public, could not be doubted: and after the world had been robbed of the legacy he left it in his own gift to Mr. Moore, it was always likely it would make up the loss, so far as it could, by accepting a part for the whole—a weak translation for a spirited original; but surely it could never be expected, that we were therefore to be deluged with all these back-water streams of replication,—that a book given to the world as one of mere gossip—as a loose sketch of a magnificent but imperfect subject, should be examined as to the precision of its assertions and the truth of its details. Who can read Lord Byron’s mind as it appears in that very work, without seeing clearly what Mr. Dallas has since asserted of him, viz. that, at different periods, the same men were applauded and abused, admired and despised. To me it is so evident, that I cannot help wondering that so respectable a man as Mr. Murray could, for a moment, feel defence necessary, or that the friend of Mr. Cecil should deem it his duty to explain the case of the duel. I do not mean in this to throw particular blame on Lord Byron, nor by any means to impute to him a disregard to veracity; but he was a man of quick feelings, fierce in his resentments, and gifted with that vivid imagination which doubles the good or evil on which it is for the moment contemplating;—besides, no man chats over his wine as if he were in a court of justice: he speaks of that passing in his mind, not that which his memory has registered or his judgment scanned.

The most serious charge against his biographers is, however, that of the Examiner, which denies the whole story of his voyage, which furnishes by far the most attractive anecdote we have had of him, and places him before us in the only worthy light (or nearly so), which his memorialists have given him. I would certainly add to the scribblers by searching into this charge, if I did not hope that it must be false, and feel a pleasure in believing it so, which relieves the pain with which I am compelled to contemplate one I admire so much.—And now a single word to the fair Grizzledina.

I have seen the portrait, and affirm that it merits all your praise, and has moreover a soft pensive character that goes beyond it. This may he accounted for by the fact, that although the first sitting took place before the quarrel (or shyness, or whatever you call it) with Lady Byron, the following sittings were after the actual parting. When finished, his lordship, wrote to Mr. Holmes, the painter, expressing his entire satisfaction with it, and saying ‘it was decidedly the best likeness which had been taken of him.’ We hope, for his own sake, this is true, because it is much more pleasant to consider him in the light of a man suffering grief for the sorrows he had inflicted, and which had led to such a sad termination of his married career, than to conceive his past misanthrophy increased, his scorn returned, and his fine features stamped with vindictive and revengeful feelings. It is, however, only just to add, that although very like his lordship, it is not the general expression of his countenance, which was naturally cynical.

Medwin, Conversations of Lord Byron
Grizzledina, in Literary Chronicle

I cannot wonder, however, that any woman takes an opportunity of giving a wipe at the ‘sugarplums and looking-glass,’ for I find every one in my own family, from mama to my youngest daughter, is in a state of greet affront on the subject of doubting the mental abilities of women. Such was the commotion for a few days that I sought to allay it by putting the Arabian Nights’ tales, and even various Eastern histories, into their hands, by way of proving that, in all states and families, wives and pretty girls have, in both north and south, had a very considerable share in disposing of the affairs of men, let poets say what they may. This did not, however, answer any good end, nor at all clear the culprit; so, being sick of the subject (as a man, you know, Mr. Editor, is apt to be), I turned it to what I deem a more important point or opinion, for every woman to contemplate—a point which reveals a peculiarity in the character of man not attached to Lord Byron only, and of great importance to the happiness of married life, on the female side.

Medwin, Conversations of Lord Byron

‘I have peculiar ideas,’ says his lordship; ‘I do not like to see women eat. Lady Byron did not attend to my wishes in this respect,’ &c. &c.

I can scarcely forbear to exclaim, ‘how in God’s name should she?’ but I wish to examine the matter a little further. Proceeding, we find that his lordship ordered the victuals which constituted his own frugal dinner (bought for four or five Pauls) to be given away, as otherwise ‘he should think his servants envied him every mouthful.’ Such an idea was perfectly consistent with the feelings of a man who had envied his wife every morsel, and only such a one would have been troubled with it. Strange it may appear that a man who was always generous, and in pecuniary matters just also,—I am firmly persuaded this was the case, for I have certainly seen similar instances of an exclusive despicable and hitherto unnamed vice of this description attach even to men of fortune. I believe it has hitherto escaped the phrenologists, but I would certainly advise them earnestly to seek for this organ, as it may probably be found with little difficulty in the regions of false delicacy and extreme selfishness, and its discovery may be of importance in warning many. I am fully aware that gluttony is a hateful crime and a most disgusting one; but not one word in this conversation, tends to affix it on the unfortunate lady in question. It may he said, “that men of great refinement, who are accustomed to consider women as angels,—poets who call them hourii, peri, &c. cannot reconcile themselves to the idea that such ‘creatures of the element,’ live on mutton.”—It may be so, but, in that case, such super-expecting personages
ought never to have engaged in marriage. which, after all, is an earthly contract, much incommoded with the ‘ills that flesh is heir to.’ God help the woman, say I, who is tied to a man that will not rejoice in seeing her eat when she is hungry, and desire even to tempt her appetite when she is not,—an event which will inevitably happen to a being so delicately constructed, yet ordained by nature to certain weakness and suffering, and to require the cherishing cares of her partner. If a man is too refined and fastidious for—his homely, but manly duty,—if he is, unhappily, so constituted, by some inherent principle of meanness and cruelty in his nature, as to be incapable of it, he may be the charm of the hour to some women, and the prey of others; and ’tis as well that he should wander among the wicked, to punish and be punished; for never should he presume to enter into a connection which is formed for life, and may affect eternity: however he may be gifted in mind or person, he is incapable of the sacred and endearing duties which belong to the husband and the father.

In this case, since generosity, as a general term, has nothing to do with it, and expense is out of the question, doubtless some men exist who persuade themselves, and perhaps others, that conduct of this description really does arise from their extraordinary delicacy, although it is evident that temper constantly actuates them, and that one day a wife may eat her dinner in peace, who on the next is helped to the flesh-denuded wing of a chicken, or perhaps a drumstick, not less to disappoint her appetite then to insult and wound her feelings.—Ah! Mr. Editor, I have witnessed such tricks of this kind, have heard such ill-natured observations made, and known such actual want experienced by wives whose fortunes and situations in life appeared to preclude the possibility of this mode of suffering, that I am really glad Captain Medwin has let a little light into a subject, which, like, many others, may be considered below the dignity of moral discussion, but has yet a great deal to do with the happiness and virtue of a social life. Truly did the female poet observe,—
‘A small unkindness is a great offence,’
and every sensible and good mother well knows, and should teach her children to know, that it is of far more importance to the welfare of her daughters that the men they marry should feel for them just esteem and true tenderness, than admiration which must fade, and passion which must cool,—and that no woman is so much a creature of mind, after all, as not to find that kindness and indulgence from her husband constitute, in the long run, the best blessings of her existence, whether administered by high or humble intellect.

I am, &c. &c.
Jonathan Oldworth