LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Countess of Blessington
Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron. No. V.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. NS 35  (December 1832)  521-544.
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DECEMBER 1, 1832.



Whenever Byron found himself in a difficulty,—and the occasions were frequent,—he had recourse to the example of others, which induced me to tell him that few people had so much profited by friends as he had; they always served “to point a moral and adorn a tale,” being his illustrations for all the errors to which human nature is heir, and his apologetic examples whenever he wished to find an excuse for unpoetical acts of worldly wisdom. Byron rather encouraged than discouraged such observations; he said they had novelty to recommend them, and has even wilfully provoked their recurrence. Whenever I gave him my opinions, and still oftener when one of the party, whose sentiments partook of all the chivalric honour, delicacy, and generosity of the beau ideal of the poetic character, expressed his, Byron used to say, “Now for a Utopian system of the good and beautiful united; Lord B. ought to have lived in the heroic ages, and if all mankind would agree to act as he feels and acts, I agree with you we should all be certainly better and, I do believe, happier than at present; but it would surely be absurd for a few—and to how few would it be limited—to set themselves up ‘doing as they would be done by,’ against the million who invariably act vice versâ. No; if goodness is to become à-la-mode,—and I sincerely wish it were possible,—we must have a fair start, and all begin at the same time, otherwise it will be like exposing a few naked and unarmed men against a multitude in armour.” Byron was never de bonne foi in giving such opinions; indeed, the whole of his manner betrayed this, as it was playful and full of plaisanterie, but still he wanted the accompaniment of habitual acts of disinterested generosity to convince one that his practice was better than his theory. He was one of the many whose lives prove how much more effect example has than precept. All the elements of good were combined in his nature, but they lay dormant for want of emulation to excite their activity. He was the slave of his passions, and he submitted not without violent, though, alas! unsuccessful struggles to the chains they imposed, but each day brought him nearer to that age when reason triumphs over passion—when, had life been spared him, he would have subjugated those unworthy tyrants, and asserted his empire over that most rebellious of all dominions—self.

Byron never wished to live to be old; on the contrary, I have frequently heard him express the hope of dying young; and I remember his quoting Sir William Temple’s opinion,—that life is like wine; who would drink it pure must not draw it to the dregs,—as being his way of
thinking also. He said it was a mistaken idea that passions subsided with age, as they only changed, and not for the better, Avarice usurping the place vacated by Love, and Suspicion filling up that of Confidence. “And this (continued Byron) is what age and experience brings us. No, let me not live to be old; give me youth, which is the fever of reason, and not age, which is the palsy. I remember my youth, when my heart overflowed with affection towards all who showed any symptom of liking towards me; and now, at thirty-six, no very advanced period of life, I can scarcely, by raking up the dying embers of affection in that same heart, excite even a temporary flame to warm my chilled feelings.” Byron mourned over the lost feelings of his youth as we regret the lost friends of the same happy period; there was something melancholy in the sentiment, and the more so, as one saw that it was sincere. He often talked of death, and never with dread. He said that its certainty furnished a better lesson than all the philosophy of the schools, as it enabled us to bear the ills of life, which would be unbearable were life of unlimited duration. He quoted
Cowley’s lines—
Oh Life! thou weak-built isthmus, which doth proudly rise
Up betwixt two eternities!
as an admirable description, and said they often recurred to his memory. He never mentioned the friends of whom Death had deprived him without visible emotion; he loved to dwell on their merits, and talked of them with a tenderness as if their deaths had been recent, instead of years ago. Talking of some of them, and deploring their loss, he observed, with a bitter smile: “But perhaps it is as well that they are gone; it is less bitter to mourn their deaths than to have to regret their alienation; and who knows but that, had they lived, they might have become as faithless as some others that I have known. Experience has taught me that the only friends that we can call our own—that can know no change—are those over whom the grave has closed; the seal of death is the only seal of friendship. No wonder, then, that we cherish the memory of those who loved us, and comfort ourselves with the thought that they were unchanged to the last. The regret we feel at such afflictions has something in it that softens our hearts, and renders us better. We feel more kindly disposed to our fellow-creatures, because we are satisfied with ourselves—first, for being able to excite affection, and secondly, for the gratitude with which we repay it,—to the memory of those we have lost; but the regret we prove at the alienation or unkindness of those we trusted and loved, is so mingled with bitter feelings, that they sear the heart, dry up the fountain of kindness in our breasts, and disgust us with human nature, by wounding our self-love in its most vulnerable part—the showing that we have failed to excite affection where we had lavished ours. One may learn to bear this uncomplainingly, and with outward calm; but the impression is indelible, and he must be made of different materials to the generality of men, who does
not become a cynic, if he become nothing worse, after once suffering such a disappointment.”

I remarked that his early friends had not given him cause to speak feelingly on this subject, and named Mr. Hobhouse as a proof; he answered, “Yes, certainly, he has remained unchanged, and I believe is unchangeable; and, if friendship, as most people imagine, consists in telling one truth—unvarnished, unadorned truth—he is indeed a friend; yet, hang it, I must be candid, and say I have had many other, and more agreeable, proofs of Hobhouse’s friendship than the truths he always told me; but the fact is, I wanted him to sugar them over a little with flattery, as nurses do the physic given to children; and he never would, and therefore I have never felt quite content with him, though au fond, I respect him the more for his candor, while I respect myself very much less for this weakness of mine.

William Bankes is another of my early friends. He is very clever, very original, and has a fund of information; he is also very good-natured, but he is not much of a flatterer. How unjust it is to accuse you ladies of loving flattery so much; I am quite sure that we men are quite as much addicted to it, but have not the amiable candor to show it, as you all do. Adulation is never disagreeable when addressed to ourselves; though let us hear only half the same degree of it addressed to another, and we vote the addresser a parasite, and the addressed a fool for swallowing it. But even though we may doubt the sincerity or the judgment of the adulator, the incense is nevertheless acceptable, as it proves we must be of some importance to induce him to take the trouble of flattering us. There are two things that we are all willing to take, and never think we can have too much of (continued Byron), money and flattery; and the more we have of the first the more we are likely to get of the second, as far as I have observed, at all events in England, where I have seen wealth excite an attention and respect that virtue, genius, or valor would fail to meet with.”

“I have frequently remarked (said Byron) that in no country have I seen pre-eminence so universally followed by envy, jealousy, and all uncharitableness, as in England; those who are deterred by shame from openly attacking, endeavour to depreciate it, by holding up mediocrity to admiration; on the same principle that women, when they hear the beauty of another justly extolled, either deny, or assent with faint praise, to her claims, and lavish on some merely passable woman the highest encomiums, to prove they are not envious. The English treat their celebrated men as they do their climate, abuse them amongst themselves, and defend them, out of amour propre, if attacked by strangers. Did you ever know of a person of powerful abilities really liked in England? Are not the persons most popular in society precisely those who have no qualities to excite envy? Amiable, good-natured people, but negative characters; their very goodness (if mere good-nature can be called
goodness) being caused by the want of any positive excellence, as white is produced by the absence of colour. People feel themselves equal, and generally think themselves superior to such persons; hence, as they cannot wound vanity, they become popular; all agree to praise them, because each individual, while praising, administers to his own self-complacency, from his belief of superiority to him whom he praises. Notwithstanding their faults, the English, (said Byron,) that is to say, the well bred and well educated among them, are better calculated for the commerce of society than the individuals of other countries, from the simple circumstance that they listen. This makes one cautious of what one says, and prevents the hazarding the mille petits riens that escape when one takes courage from the noise of all talking together, as in other places; and this is a great point gained. In what country but England could the epigrammatic repartees and spiritual anecdotes of a
Jekyll have flourished? Place him at a French or Italian table, supposing him au fait of the languages, and this, our English Attic bee, could neither display his honey nor his sting; both would be useless in the hive of drones around him. St. Evremond, I think it is, who says that there is no better company than an Englishman who talks, and a Frenchman who thinks; but give me the man who listens unless he can talk like a Jekyll, from the overflowing of a full mind, and not, as most of one’s acquaintances do, make a noise like drums, from their emptiness. An animated conversation has much the same effect on me as champagne—it elevates and makes me giddy, and I say a thousand foolish things while under its intoxicating influence; it takes a long time to sober me after; and I sink, under reaction, into a state of depression—half cross, half hippish, and out of humor with myself and the world. I find an interesting book the only sedative to restore me to my wonted calm; for, left alone to my own reflections, I feel so ashamed of myself—vis-â-vis to myself—for my levity and over excitement, that all the follies I have uttered rise up in judgment against me, and I am as sheepish as a schoolboy, after his first degrading abandonment to intemperance.”

“Did you know Curran? (asked Byron)—he was the most wonderful person I ever saw. In him was combined an imagination the most brilliant and profound, with a flexibility and tenderness, that would have justified the observation applied to ——, that his heart was in his head. I remember his once repeating some stanzas to me, four lines of which struck me so much, that I made him repeat them twice, and I wrote them down before I went to bed.
‘While Memory with more than Egypt’s art
Embalming all the sorrows of the heart,
Sits at the altar which she raised to woe,
And feeds the source whence tears eternal flow!’
I have caught myself repeating these lines fifty times; and, strange to
say, they suggested an image on memory to me, with which they have no sort of resemblance in any way, and yet the idea came while repeating them; so unaccountable and incomprehensible is the power of association. My thought was—Memory, the mirror which affliction dashes to the earth, and, looking down upon the fragments, only beholds the reflection multiplied.” He seemed pleased at my admiring his idea.* I told him that his thoughts, in comparison with those of others, were eagles brought into competition with sparrows. As an example, I gave him my definition of memory, which I said resembled a telescope bringing distant objects near to us. He said the simile was good; but I added it was mechanical, instead of poetical, which constituted the difference between excellence and mediocrity, as between the eagle and sparrow. This amused him, though his politeness refused to admit the verity of the comparison.

Talking of tact, Byron observed that it ought to be added to the catalogue of the cardinal virtues, and that our happiness frequently depended more on it than all the accredited ones. “A man (said he) may have prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude: yet wanting tact may, and must, render those around him uncomfortable (the English synonyme for unhappy); and, by the never-failing retributive justice of Nemesis, be unhappy himself, as all are who make others so. I consider tact the real panacea of life, and have observed that those who most eminently possessed it were remarkable for feeling and sentiment; while, on the contrary, the persons most deficient in it were obtuse, frivolous, or insensible. To possess tact it is necessary to have a fine perception, and to be sensitive; for how can we know what will pain another, without having some criterion in our own feelings, by which we can judge of his? Hence, I maintain that our tact is always in proportion to our sensibility.”

Talking of love and friendship, Byron said, that “friendship may, and often does, grow into love, but love never subsides into friendship.” I maintained the contrary, and instanced the affectionate friendship which replaces the love of married people; a sentiment as tender, though less passionate, and more durable than the first. He said, “You should say more enduring; for, depend on it, that the good-natured passiveness, with which people submit to the conjugal yoke, is much more founded on the philosophical principle of what can’t be cured must be endured, than the tender friendship you give them credit for. Who that has felt the all-engrossing passion of love (continued he) could support the stagnant calm you refer to for the same object? No, the humiliation of discovering the frailty of our own nature, which is in no instance more

* “E'en as a broken mirror which the glass
In every fragment multiplies, and makes
A thousand images of one that was,” &c.
Childe Harold, Canto iii. St. 33.
proved than by the short duration of violent love, has something so painful in it, that, with our usual selfishness, we feel, if not a repugnance, at least an indifference to the object that once charmed, but can no longer charm us, and whose presence brings mortifying recollections; nay, such is our injustice, that we transfer the blame of the weakness of our own natures to the person who had not power to retain our love, and discover blemishes in her to excuse our inconstancy. As indifference begets indifference, vanity is wounded at both sides; and though good sense may induce people to support and conceal their feelings, how can an affectionate friendship spring up like a phœnix, from the ashes of extinguished passion? I am afraid that the friendship, in such a case, would be as fabulous as the phœnix, as the recollection of burnt-out love would remain too mortifying a memento to admit the successor, friendship.” I told Byron that this was mere sophistry, and could not be his real sentiments; as also that, a few days before, he admitted that passion subsided into a better, or at least a more durable feeling. I added, that persons who had felt the engrossing love he described, which was a tempestuous and selfish passion, were glad to sink into the refreshing calm of milder feelings, and looked back with complacency on the storms they had been exposed to, and with increased sympathy to the person who had shared them. The community of interest, of sorrows, and of joys, added new links to the chain of affection, and habit, which might wear away the gloss of the selfish passion he alluded to, gave force to friendship, by rendering the persons every day more necessary to each other. I added, that dreadful would be the fate of persons, if, after a few months of violent passion, they were to pass their lives in indifference, merely because their new feelings were less engrossing and exciting than the old. “Then (said Byron), if you admit that the violent love does, or must, subside in a few months, and, as in coursing, that we are mad for a minute to be melancholy for an hour, would it not be wiser to choose the friend, I mean the person most calculated for friendship, with whom the long years are to be spent, than the idol who is to be worshipped for some months, and then hurled from the altar we had raised to her, and left defaced and disfigured by the smoke of the incense she had received? I maintained that as the idols are chosen nearly always for their personal charms, they are seldom calculated for friendship; hence the disappointment that endues, when the violence of passion has abated, and the discovery is made that there are no solid qualities to replace the passion that has passed away with the novelty that excited it. When a man chooses a friend in a woman, he looks to her powers of conversation, her mental qualities, and agreeability; and as these win his regard the more they are known, love often takes the place of friendship, and certainly the foundation on which he builds is more likely to be lasting, and, in this case, I admit that affection, or, as you more prettily call it, tender friendship, may last for ever.” I replied that I be-
lieved the only difference in our opinions is, that I denied that friendship could not succeed love, and that nothing could change my opinion. “I suppose (said Byron) that (a woman like)
‘A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still.’
So that all my fine commentaries on my text have been useless; at all events, I hope you give me credit for being ingenious, as well as ingenuous in my defence. Clever men (said Byron) commit a great mistake in selecting wives who are destitute of abilities; I allow that une femme savante is apt to be a bore, and it is to avoid this that people run into the opposite extreme, and condemn themselves to pass their lives with women who are incapable of understanding or appreciating them. Men have an idea that a clever woman must be disputative and dictatorial, not considering that it is only pretenders who are either, and that this applies as much to one sex as the other. Now, my beau ideal would be a woman with talent enough to be able to understand and value mine, but not sufficient to be able to shine herself. All men with pretensions desire this, though few, if any, have courage to avow it: I believe the truth is, that a man must be very conscious of superior abilities to endure the thought of having a rival near the throne, though that rival was his wife; and as it is said that no man is a hero to his valet de chambre, it may be concluded that few men can retain their position on the pedestal of genius vis-â-vis to one who has been behind the curtain, unless that one is unskilled in the art of judging, and consequently admires the more because she does not understand. Genius, like greatness, should be seen at a distance, for neither will bear a too close inspection. Imagine the hero of a hundred fights in his cotton night-cap, subject to all the infirmities of human nature, and there is an end of his sublimity,—and see a poet whose works have raised our thoughts above this sphere of common every-day existence, and who, Prometheus-like, has stolen fire from heaven to animate the children of clay,—see him in the throes of poetic labour, blotting, tearing, re-writing the lines that we suppose him to have poured forth with Homeric inspiration, and, in the intervals, eating, drinking and sleeping, like the most ordinary mortal, and he soon sinks to a level with them in our estimation. I am sure (said Byron) we can never justly appreciate the works of those with whom we have lived on familiar terms; I have felt this myself, and it applies to poets more than all other writers. They should live in solitude, rendering their presence more desired by its rarity; never submit to the gratification of the animal appetite of eating in company, and be as distinct in their general habits, as in their genius, from the common herd of mankind.” He laughed heartily when he had finished this speech, and added, “I have had serious thoughts of drawing up a little code of instructions for my brethren of the craft. I don’t think my friend
Moore would adopt it, and he, perhaps, is the
only exception who would be privileged to adhere to his present regime, as he can certainly pass the ordeal of dinners without losing any of his poetical reputation, since the brilliant things that come from his lips reconcile one to the solid things that go into them.”

“We have had ‘Pleasures of Hope,’, ‘Pleasures of Memory’, ‘Pleasures of Imagination’, and ‘Pleasures of Love’; I wonder that no one has thought of writing Pleasures of Fear (said Byron). It surely is a poetical subject, and much might be made of it in good hands.” I answered, why do you not undertake it? He replied, “Why, I have endeavoured through life to make believe that I am unacquainted with the passion, so I must not now show an intimacy with it, lest I be accused of cowardice, which is, I believe, the only charge that has not yet been brought against me. But, joking apart, it would be a fine subject, and has more of the true sublime than any of the other passions. I have always found more difficulty in hitting on a subject than in filling it up, and so I dare say do most people; and I have remarked that I never could make much of a subject suggested to me by another. I have sometimes dreamt of subjects and incidents (continued he) nay nearly filled up an outline of a tale while under the influence of sleep, but have found it too wild to work up into anything. Dreams are strange things; and here, again, is one of the incomprehensibilities of nature. I could tell you extraordinary things of dreams, and as true as extraordinary, but you would laugh at my superstition. Mine are always troubled and disagreeable; and one of the most fearful thoughts that ever crossed my mind during moments of gloomy scepticism, has been the possibility that the last sleep may not be dreamless. Fancy an endless dream of horror—it is too dreadful to think of—this thought alone would lead the veriest clod of animated clay that ever existed to aspirations after immortality. The difference between a religious and an irreligious man (said Byron) is, that the one sacrifices the present to the future; and the other, the future to the present.” I observed, that grovelling must be the mind that can content itself with the present; even those who are occupied only with their pleasures find the insufficiency of it, and must have something to look forward to in the morrow of the future, so unsatisfying is the to-day of the present. Byron said that he agreed with me, and added, “The belief in the immortality of the soul is the only true panacea for the ills of life.”

“You will like the Italian women (said Byron), and I advise you to cultivate their acquaintance. They are natural, frank, and good-natured, and have none of the affectation, petitesse, jealousy and malice, that characterize our more polished countrywomen. This gives a raciness to their ideas as well as manners, that to me is peculiarly pleasing; and I feel with an Italian woman as if she was a full-grown child, possessing the buoyancy and playfulness of infancy with the deep feeling of womanhood; none of that conventional maniérisme that one meets with from the
first patrician circles in England, justly styled the marble age, so cold and polished, to the second and third coteries, where a coarse caricature is given of the unpenetrated and impenetrable mysteries of the first. When dullness, supported by the many, silences talent and originality, upheld by the few,
Madame de Staël used to say, that our great balls and assemblies of hundreds in London, to which all flocked, were admirably calculated to reduce all to the same level, and were got up with this intention. In the torrid zone of suffocating hundreds, mediocrity and excellence had equal chances, for neither could be remarked or distinguished; conversation was impracticable, reflection put hors de combat, and common sense, by universal accord, sent to Coventry; so that after a season in London one doubted one’s own identity, and was tempted to repeat the lines in the child’s book, ‘If I be not I, who can I be?’ So completely was one’s faculties reduced to the conventional standard. The Italians know not this artificial state of society; their circles are limited and social; they love or hate; but then they ‘do their hating gently;’ the clever among them are allowed a distinguished place, and the less endowed admires, instead of depreciating, what he cannot attain, and all and each contribute to the general stock of happiness. Misanthropy is unknown in Italy, as are many of the other exotic passions, forced into flower by the hot-beds of civilization; and yet in moral England you will hear people express their horror of the freedom and immorality of the Italians, whose errors are but as the weeds that a too warm sun brings forth, while ours are the stinging-nettles of a soil rendered rank by its too great richness. Nature is all-powerful in Italy, and who is it that would not prefer the sins of her exuberance to the crimes of art? Lay aside ceremony, and meet them with their own warmth and frankness, and I answer for it you will leave those whom you sought as acquaintances friends, instead of, as in England, scarcely retaining as acquaintances those with whom you had started in life as friends. Who ever saw in Italy the nearest and dearest relations, bursting asunder all the ties of consanguinity, from some worldly and interested motive? And yet this so frequently takes place in England, that, after an absence of a year or two, one dare hardly enquire of a sister after a sister, or a brother after a brother, as one is afraid to be told not that they are dead—but that they have cut each other.”

“I ought to be an excellent comic writer (said Byron) if it be true, as some assert, that melancholy people succeed best in comedy, and gay people in tragedy; and Moore would make, by that rule, a first-rate tragic writer. I have known, among amateur authors, some of the gayest persons, whose compositions were all of a melancholy turn; and for myself, some of my nearest approaches to comic have been written under a deep depression of spirits: this is strange, but so is all that appertains to our strange natures; and the more we analyze the anomalies in ourselves or others, the more incomprehensible they appear. I
believe (continued Byron) the less we reflect on them the better, at least I am sure those that reflect the least are the happiest. I once heard a clever medical man say, that if a person were to occupy himself a certain time in counting the pulsations of his heart, it would have the effect of accelerating its movements, and, if continued, would produce disease. So it is with the mind and nature of man; our examinations and reflections lead to no definitive conclusions, and often engender a morbid state of feeling, that increases the anomalies for which we sought to account. We know that we live (continued Byron), and to live and to suffer are, in my opinion, synonymous. We know also, that we shall die, though the how, the when, and the where, we are ignorant of, the whole knowledge of man can pierce no farther, and centuries revolving on centuries have made us no wiser. I think it was
Luther who said that the human mind was like a drunken man on horseback—prop it on one side, and it falls on the other: who that has entered into the recesses of his own mind, or examined all that is exposed in the minds of others, but must have discovered this tendency to weakness, which is generally in proportion to the strength in some other faculty. Great imagination is seldom acccompanied by equal powers of reason, and vice versâ, so that we rarely possess superiority in any one point, except at the expense of another. It is surely then unjust (continued Byron, laughing,) to render poets responsible for their want of common sense, since it is only by the excess of imagination they can arrive at being poets, and this excess debars reason; indeed the very circumstance of a man’s yielding to the vocation of a poet, ought to serve as a voucher that he is no longer of sound mind.”

Byron always became gay when any subject afforded him an opportunity of ridiculing poets; he entered into it con amore, and generally ended by some sarcasm on the profession, or on himself. He has often said, “We of the craft are all crazy, but I more than the rest; some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched, though few except myself have the candour to avow it, which I do to spare my friends the pain of sending it forth to the world. This very candour is another proof that I am not of sound mind (continued he), for people will be sure to say how far gone he must be, when he admits it; on the principle that when a belle or beau owns to thirty-five, the world gives them credit for at least seven years more, from the belief that if we seldom speak the truth of others, we never do of ourselves, at least on subjects of personal interest or vanity.”

Talking of an acquaintance, Byron said,—“Look at ——, and see how he gets on in the world—he is as unwilling to do a bad action as he is incapable of doing a good: fear prevents the first, and mechanceté the second. The difference between —— and me is, that I abuse many, and really, with one or two exceptions, (and mind you, they are males), hate none; and he abuses none and hates many, if not all. Fancy—in
the Palace of Truth, what good fun it would be, to hear him, while he believed himself uttering the most honied compliments, giving vent to all the spite and rancour that has been pent up in his mind for years, and then to see the persons he has been so long flattering hearing his real sentiments for the first time: this would be rare fun! Now, I would appear to great advantage in the Palace of Truth (continued Byron), though you look ill-naturedly incredulous; for while I thought I was vexing friends and foes with spiteful speeches, I should be saying good-natured things, for, au fond, I have no malice, at least none that lasts beyond the moment.” Never was there a more true observation: Byron’s is a fine nature, spite of all the weeds that may have sprung up in it; and I am convinced that it is the excellence of the poet, or rather let me say, the effect of that excellence, that has produced the defects of the man. In proportion to the admiration one has excited, has been the severity of the censure bestowed on the other, and often most unjustly. The world has burnt incense before the poet, and heaped ashes on the head of the man. This has revolted and driven him out of the pale of social life: his wounded pride has avenged itself, by painting his own portrait in the most sombre colours, as if to give a still darker picture than has yet been drawn by his foes, while glorying in forcing even from his foes an admiration as unbounded for his genius as has been their disapprobation for his character. Had his errors met with more mercy, he might have been a less grand poet, but he would have been a more estimable man; the good that is now dormant in his nature would have been called forth, and the evil would not have been excited. The blast that withers the rose destroys not its thorns, which often remain, the sole remembrancer of the flower they grow near; and so it is with some of our finest qualities,—blighted by unkindness, we can only trace them by the faults their destruction has made visible.

Lord Byron, in talking of his friend, La Comte Pietro Gamba, (the brother of La Contessa Guiccioli,) whom he had presented to us soon after our arrival at Genoa, remarked, that he was one of the most amiable, brave, and excellent young men, he had ever encountered, with a thirst for knowledge, and a disinterestedness rarely to be met with. “He is my grand point d'appui for Greece,” said he, “as I know he will neither deceive nor flatter me.” We have found La Comte Pietro Gamba exactly what Lord Byron had described him; sensible, mild, and amiable, devotedly attached to Lord B., and dreaming of glory and Greece. He is extremely good-looking, and Lord Byron told us he resembled his sister very much, which I dare say increased his partiality for him not a little.

Habit has a strong influence over Byron; he likes routine, and detests what he calls being put out of his way. He told me that any infringement on his habitual way of living, or passing his time, annoyed him. Talking of thin women, he said, that if they were young and pretty, they reminded him of dried butterflies; but if neither, of spiders,
whose nets would never catch him were he a fly, as they had nothing tempting. A new book is a treasure to him, provided it is really new; for having read more than perhaps any man of his age, he can immediately discover a want of originality, and throws by the book in disgust at the first wilful plagiary he detects.

Talking of Mr. Ward,* Lord Byron said—“Ward is one of the best informed men I know, and, in a tête-à-tête, is one of the most agreeable companions. He has great originality, and, being tres distrait, it adds to the piquancy of his observations, which are sometimes somewhat trop naïve, though always amusing. This naïveté of his is the more piquant from his being really a good-natured man, who unconsciously thinks aloud. Interest Ward on a subject, and I know no one who can talk better. His expressions are concise without being poor, and terse and epigrammatic without being affected. He can compress (continued Byron) as much into a few words as any one I know; and if he gave more of his attention to his associates, and less to himself, he would be one of the few whom one could praise, without being compelled to use the conjunction but. Ward has bad health, and unfortunately, like all valetudinarians, it occupies his attention too much, which will probably bring on a worse state, (continued Byron,)—that of confirmed egoism,—a malady, that, though not to be found in the catalogue of ailments to which man is subject, yet perhaps is more to be dreaded than all that are.”

I observed that egoism is in general the malady of the aged; and that, it appears, we become occupied with our own existence in proportion as it ceases to be interesting to others. “Yes, (said Byron,) on the same principle as we see the plainest people the vainest,—nature giving them vanity and self-love to supply the want of that admiration they never can find in others. I can therefore pity and forgive the vanity of the ugly and deformed, whose sole consolation it is; but the handsome, whose good looks are mirrored in the eyes of all around them, should be content with that, and not indulge in such egregious vanity as they give way to in general. But to return to Ward, (said Byron,) and this is not apropos to vanity, for I never saw any one who has less. He is not properly appreciated in England. The English can better understand and enjoy the bon mots of a bon vivant, who can at all times set the table in a roar, than the neat répliques of Ward, which, exciting reflection, are more likely to silence the rabble-riot of intemperance. They like better the person who makes them laugh, though often at their own expense, than he who forces them to think,—an operation which the mental faculties of few of them are calculated to perform: so that poor Ward, finding himself undervalued, sinks into self, and this, at the long-run, is dangerous:—
‘For well we know, the mind, too finely wrought,
Preys on itself, and is o’erpowered by thought.’

* Now Lord Dudley.

“There are many men in England of superior abilities, (continued Byron,) who are lost from the habits and inferiority of their associates. Such men, finding that they cannot raise their companions to their level, are but too apt to let themselves down to that of the persons they live with; and hence many a man condescends to be merely a wit, and man of pleasure, who was born for better things. Poor Sheridan often played this character in society; but he maintained his superiority over the herd, by having established a literary and political reputation; and as I have heard him more than once say, when his jokes have drawn down plaudits from companions, to whom, of an evening at least, sobriety and sadness were alike unknown,—‘It is some consolation, that if I set the table in a roar, I can at pleasure set the senate in a roar;’ and this was muttered while under the influence of wine, and as if apologizing to his own mind for the profanation it was evident he felt he had offered to it at the moment. Lord A—ley is a delightful companion, (said Byron,) brilliant, witty, and playful; he can be irresistibly comic when he pleases, but what could he not be if he pleased? for he has talents to be anything. I lose patience when I see such a man throw himself away; for there are plenty of men, who could be witty, brilliant, and comic, but who could be nothing else, while he is all these, but could be much more. How many men have made a figure in public life, without half his abilities! But indolence and the love of pleasure will be the bane of A—y, as it has been of many a man of talent before.”

The more I see of Byron, the more am I convinced that all he says and does should be judged more leniently than the sayings and doings of others—as his proceed from the impulse of the moment, and never from premeditated malice. He cannot resist expressing whatever comes into his mind; and the least shade of the ridiculous is seized by him at a glance, and portrayed with a facility and felicity that must encourage the propensity to ridicule which is inherent in him. All the malice of his nature has lodged itself on his lips and the fingers of his right hand—for there is none I am persuaded to be found in his heart, which has more of good than most people give him credit for, except those who have lived with him on habits of intimacy. He enters into society as children do their play-ground, for relaxation and amusement, when his mind has been strained to its utmost stretch, and that he feels the necessity of unbending it. Ridicule is his play; it amuses him perhaps the more that he sees it amuses others, and much of its severity is mitigated by the boyish glee, and laughing sportiveness, with which his sallies are uttered. All this is felt when he is conversing, but unfortunately it cannot be conveyed to the reader: the narrator would therefore deprecate the censure his sarcasms may excite, in memory of the smiles and gaiety that palliated them when spoken.

Byron is fond of talking of Napoleon; and told me that his admira-
tion of him had much increased since he had been in Italy, and witnessed the stupendous works he had planned and executed. “To pass through Italy without thinking of Napoleon, (said he,) is like visiting Naples without looking at Vesuvius.” Seeing me smile at the comparison, he added—“Though the works of one are indestructible, and the other destructive, still one is continually reminded of the power of both.” “And yet (said I) there are days, that, like all your other favourites, Napoleon does not escape censure.” “That may be, (said Byron,) but I find fault, and quarrel with Napoleon, as a lover does with the trifling faults of his mistress, from excessive liking, which tempts me to desire that he had been all faultless; and, like the lover, I return with renewed fondness after each quarrel. Napoleon (continued Byron) was a grand creature, and though he was hurled from his pedestal, after having made thrones his footstool, his memory still remains, like the colossal statue of the Memnon, though cast down from its seat of honour, still bearing the ineffacable traces of grandeur and sublimity, to astonish future ages. When
Metternich (continued Byron) was depreciating the genius of Napoleon, in a circle at Vienna where his word was a law and his nod a decree, he appealed to John William Ward if Bonaparte had not been greatly overrated,—Ward’s answer was as courageous as admirable. He replied, that ‘Napoleon had rendered past glory doubtful, and future fame impossible.’ This was expressed in French, and such pure French, that all present were struck with admiration, no less with the thought than with the mode of expressing it.” I told Byron that this reminded me of a reply made by Mr. Ward to a lady at Vienna, who somewhat rudely remarked to him, that it was strange that all the best society at Vienna spoke French as well as German, while the English scarcely spoke French at all, or spoke it ill. Ward answered, that the English must be excused for their want of practice, as the French army had not been twice to London to teach them, as they had been at Vienna. “The coolness of Ward’s manner (said Byron) must have lent force to such a reply: I have heard him say many things worth remembering, and the neatness of their expression was as remarkable as the justness of the thought. It is a pity (continued Byron) that Ward has not written anything: his style, judging by letters of his that I have seen, is admirable, and reminded me of Sallust.”

Having, one day, taken the liberty of (what he termed) scolding Lord Byron, and finding him take it with his usual goodnature, I observed that I was agreeably surprised by the patience with which he listened to my lectures; he smiled, and replied, “No man dislikes being lectured by a woman, provided she be not his mother, sister, wife, or mistress: first, it implies that she takes an interest in him, and, secondly, that she does not think him irreclaimable: then, there is not that air of superiority in women when they give advice, that men, particularly one’s contemporaries, affect; and even if there was, men
think their own superiority so acknowledged, that they listen without humiliation to the gentler, I don’t say weaker, sex. There is one exception, however, for I confess I could not stand being lectured by Lady ——; but then she is neither of the weak nor gentle sex—she is a nondescript,—having all the faults of both sexes, without the virtues of either. Two lines in the
‘Henriade,’ describing Catherine de Medicis, seem made for Lady —— (continued Byron)—
“‘Possedant en un mot, pour n’en pas dire plus,
Les defauts de son sexe et peu de ses vertus.’”

I remember only one instance of Byron’s being displeased with my frankness. We were returning on horseback from Nervi, and in defending a friend of mine, whom he assailed with all the slings and arrows of ridicule and sarcasm, I was obliged to be more frank than usual; and having at that moment arrived at the turn of the road that led to Albaro, he politely, but coldly wished me good-bye, and galloped off. We had scarcely advanced a hundred yards, when he came galloping after us, and reaching out his hand, said to me, “Come, come, give me your hand, I cannot bear that we should part so formally: I am sure what you have said was right, and meant for my good, so God bless you, and tomorrow we shall ride again, and I promise to say nothing that can produce a lesson.” We all agreed that we had never seen Byron appear to so much advantage. He gives me the idea of being the man the most easily to be managed I ever saw: I wish Lady Byron had discovered the means, and both might now be happier.

Lord Byron told me that La Contessa Guiccioli had repeatedly asked him to discontinue Don Juan, as its immorality shocked her, and that she could not bear that anything of the kind should be written under the same roof with her. “To please her (said Byron) I gave it up for some time, and have only got permission to continue it on condition of making my hero a more moral person; I shall end by making him turn Methodist; this will please the English, and be an amende honourable for his sins and mine. I once got an anonymous letter, written in a very beautiful female hand (said Byron), on the subject of Don Juan, with a beautiful drawing, beneath which was written—‘When Byron wrote the first Canto of Don Juan, Love, that had often guided his pen, resigned it to Sensuality—and Modesty, covering her face with her veil, to hide her blushes and dry her tears, fled from him for ever.’ The drawing (continued Byron) represented Love and Modesty turning their backs on wicked Me,—and Sensuality, a fat, flushed, wingless Cupid, presenting me with a pen. Was not this a pretty conceit? at all events, it is some consolation to occupy the attention of women so much, though it is but by my faults; and I confess it gratifies me. Apropos to Cupid—it is strange (said Byron) that the ancients, in their mythology, should represent Wisdom by a woman, and Love by a boy; how do
you account for this? I confess I have little faith in Minerva, and think that Wisdom is, perhaps, the last attribute I should be inclined to give woman; but then I do allow, that Love would be more suitably represented by a female than a male; for men or boys feel not the passion with the delicacy and purity that women do; and this is my real opinion, which must be my peace-offering for doubting the wisdom of your sex.”

Byron is infirm of purpose—decides without reflection—and gives up his plans if they are opposed for any length of time; but, as far as I can judge of him, though he yields he does it not with a good grace: he is a man likely to show that such a sacrifice of self-will was offered up more through indolence than affection, so that his yielding can seldom be quite satisfactory, at least to a delicate mind. He says that all women are exigéante, and apt to be dissatisfied: he is, as I have told him, too selfish and indolent not to have given those who had more than a common interest in him cause to be so. It is such men as Byron who complain of women; they touch not the chords that give sweet music in woman’s breast, but strike—with a bold and careless hand—those that jar and send forth discord. Byron has a false notion on the subject of women; he fancies that they are all disposed to be tyrants, and that the moment they know their power they abuse it. We have had many arguments on this point—I maintaining that the more disposed men were to yield to the empire of woman, the less were they inclined to exact, as submission disarmed, and attention and affection enslaved them.

Men are capable of making great sacrifices, who are not willing to make the lesser ones, on which so much of the happiness of life depends. The great sacrifices are seldom called for, but the minor ones are in daily requisition; and the making them with cheerfulness and grace enhances their value, and banishes from the domestic circle the various misunderstandings, discussions, and coldnesses, that arise to embitter existence, where a little self-denial might have kept them off. Woman is a creature of feeling,—easily wounded, but susceptible of all the soft and kind emotions: destroy this sensitiveness, and you rob her of her greatest attraction;—study her happiness, and you insure your own.

“One of the things that most pleases me in the Italian character (said Byron) is the total absence of that belief which exists so generally in England in the mind of each individual, that the circle in which he lives, and which he dignifies by calling The World, is occupied with him and his actions,—an idea founded on the extreme vanity that characterizes the English, and that precludes the possibility of living for oneself or those immediately around one. How many of my soi-disant friends in England are dupes to this vanity (continued Byron)—keeping up expensive establishments they can ill afford—living in crowds, and with people who do not suit them—feeling ennuyés day after day, and yet
submitting to all this tiresome routine of vapid reunions,—living, during the fashionable season, if living it can be called, in a state of intermitting fever, for the sake of being considered to belong to a certain set. During the time I passed in London, I always remarked that I never met a person who did not tell me how bored he or she had been the day or night before at Lady This or Lady That’s; and when I've asked why do you go if it bores you? the invariable answer has been—‘One can’t help going; it would be so odd not to go.’ Old and young, ugly and handsome, all have the rage in England of losing their identity in crowds; and prefer conjugating the verb ennuyer, en masse in heated rooms, to conning it over in privacy in a purer atmosphere. The constancy and perseverance with which our compatriots support fashionable life have always been to me a subject of wonder if not of admiration, and proves what they might be capable of in a good cause. I am curious to know (continued Byron) if the rising generation will fall into the same inane routine; though it is to be hoped the march of intellect will have some influence in establishing something like society, which has hitherto been only to be found in country-houses. I spent a week at
Lady J—y’s once, and very agreeably it passed: the guests were well chosen—the host and hostess on ‘hospitable thoughts intent’—the establishment combining all the luxury of a maison montée en prince with the ease and comfort of a well-ordered home. How different do the same people appear in London and in the country!—they are hardly to be recognized. In the latter they are as natural and unaffected as they are insipid or over-excited in the former. A certain place (continued Byron) not to be named to ‘ears polite,’ is said to be paved with good intentions, and London (viewing the effect it produces on its fashionable inhabitants) may really be supposed to be paved by evil passions, as few can touch its pavé without contamination. I have been reading Lord John Russell’s Essays on London Society, and find them clever and amusing (said Byron), but too microscopic for my taste: he has, however, treated the subject with a lightness and playfulness best suited to it, and his reflections show an accuracy of observation that proves he is capable of better things. He who would take a just view of the world must neither examine it through a microscope nor a magnifying-glass. Lord John is a sensible and amiable man, and bids fair to distinguish himself.

“Do you know Hallam? (said Byron.) Of course I need not ask you if you have read his Middle Ages: it is an admirable work, full of research, and does Hallam honour. I know no one capable of having written it except him; for, admitting that a writer could be found who could bring to the task his knowledge and talents, it would be difficult to fmd one who united to these his research, patience, and perspicuity of style. The reflections of Hallam are at once just and profound—his language well chosen and impressive. I remember (continued Byron),
being struck by a passage, where, touching on the Venetians, he writes—‘too blind to avert danger, too cowardly to withstand it, the most ancient government of Europe made not an instant’s resistance; the peasants of Underwald died upon their mountains—the nobles of Venice clung only to their lives.’ This is the style in which history ought to be written, if it is wished to impress it on the memory; and I found myself, on my first perusal of the
Middle Ages, repeating aloud many such passages as the one I have cited, they struck my fancy so much. Robertson’s State of Europe, in his ‘Charles the Fifth,’ is another of my great favourites (continued Byron), it contains an epitome of information. Such works do more towards the extension of knowledge than half the ponderous tomes that lumber up our libraries: they are the rail-roads to learning; while the others are the neglected old roads that deter us from attempting the journey.

“It is strange (said Byron) that we are in general much more influenced by the opinions of those whose sentiments ought to be a matter of indifference to us, than by that of near or dear friends; nay, we often do things totally opposed to the opinions of the latter (on whom much, if not all, our comfort depends), to cultivate that of the former, who are or can be nothing in the scale of our happiness. It is in this opposition between our conduct and our affections that much of our troubles originates; it loosens the bonds of affection between us and those we ought to please, and fails to excite any good will in those whom our vanity leads us to wish to propitiate, because they are regardless of us and of our actions. With all our selfishness, this is a great mistake (continued Byron); for, as I take for granted, we have all some feelings of natural affection for our kindred or friends, and consequently wish to retain theirs, we never wound or offend them without its re-acting on ourselves, by alienating them from us: hence selfishness ought to make us study the wishes of those to whom we look for happiness; and the principle of doing as you would be done by, a principle, which, if acted upon, could not fail to add to the stock of general good, was founded in wisdom and knowledge of the selfishness of human nature.”

Talking of Mr. D. K——, Byron said, “My friend Dug is a proof that a good heart cannot compensate for an irritable temper: whenever he is named, people dwell on the last and pass over the first; and yet he really has an excellent heart, and a sound head, of which I, in common with many others of his friends, have had various proofs. He is clever too, and well-informed, and I do think would have made a figure in the world, were it not for his temper, which gives a dictatorial tone to his manner, that is offensive to the amour propre of those with whom he mixes; and when you alarm that (said Byron) there is an end of your influence. By tacitly admitting the claims of vanity of others, you make at least acquiescent beholders of your own, and this is something gained; for, depend on it, disguise it how we will, vanity is the prime
mover in most, if not all of us, and some of the actions and works that have the most excited our admiration, have been inspired by this passion that none will own to yet that influences all.”

“The great difference between the happy and unhappy (said Byron) is, that the former are afraid to contemplate death, and the latter look forward to it as a release from suffering. Now as death is inevitable, and life brief and uncertain, unhappiness, viewed in this point, is rather desirable than otherwise; but few, I fear, derive consolation from the reflection. I think of death often, (continued Byron) as I believe do most people who are not happy, and view it as a refuge ‘where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.’ There is something calm and soothing to me in the thought of death; and the only time that I feel repugnance to it is on a fine day, in solitude, in a beautiful country, when all nature seems rejoicing in light and life. The contrast then between the beautiful and animated world around me, and the dark narrow grave, gives a chill to the feelings; for, with all the boasted philosophy of man, his physical being influences his notions of that state where they can be felt no more. The nailed-down coffin, and the dark gloomy vault, or grave, always mingle with our thoughts of death; then the decomposition of our mortal frames, the being preyed on by reptiles, add to the disgusting horror of the picture, and one has need of all the hopes of immortality to enable one to pass over this bridge between the life we know and the life we hope to find.”

“Do you know (said Byron) that when I have looked on some face that I love, imagination has often figured the changes that Death must one day produce on it—the worm rioting on lips now smiling, the features and hues of health changed to the livid and ghastly tints of putrefaction; and the image conjured up by my fancy, but which is at true as it is a fearful anticipation of what must arrive, has left an impression for hours that the actual presence of the object, in all the bloom of health, has not been able to banish: this is one of my pleasures of imagination.”

Talking of hypochondriasm, Byron said that the world had little compassion for two of the most serious ills that human nature is subject to,—mental or bodily hypochondriasm: “Real ailments may be cured (said he,) but imaginary ones, either moral or physical, admit of no remedy. People analyze the supposed causes of maladies of the mind; and if the sufferer be rich, well born, well looking, and clever in any way, they conclude he, or she, can have no cause for unhappiness; nay, assign the cleverness, which is often the source of unhappiness, as among the adventitious gifts that increase, or ought to increase, felicity, and pity not the unhappiness they cannot understand. They take the same view of imaginary physical ailments, never reflecting that ‘happiness (or health) is often but in opinion;’ and that he who believes himself wretched or ill suffers perhaps more than he who has real cause for wretchedness,
or who is labouring under disease with less acute sensibility to feel his troubles, and nerves subdued by ill health, which prevents his suffering from bodily ills as severely as does the hypochondriac from imaginary ones. The irritability of genius (continued Byron) is nothing more or less than a delicacy of organization, which gives a susceptibility to impressions to which coarser minds are never subject, and cultivation and refinement but increase it, until the unhappy victim becomes a prey to mental hypochondriasm.”

Byron furnished a melancholy illustration of the fate of genius; and, while he dwelt on the diseases to which it is subject, I looked at his fine features, already marked by premature age, and his face “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,” and stamped with decay, until I felt that his was no hypothetical statement. Alas!—
“Noblest minds
Sink soonest into ruin, like a tree
That, with the weight of its own golden fruitage,
Is bent down to the dust.”

“Do you know Mackintosh? (asked Lord Byron)—his is a mind of powerful calibre. Madame de Staël used to extol him to the skies, and was perfectly sincere in her admiration of him, which was not the case with all whom she praised. Mackintosh also praised her; but his is a mind that, as Moore writes, ‘rather loves to praise than blame,’ for with a judgment so comprehensive, a knowledge so general, and a critical acumen rarely to be met with, his sentences were never severe. He is a powerful writer and speaker; there is an earnestness and vigour in his style, and a force and purity in his language, equally free from inflation and loquacity. Lord Erskine is, I know, a friend of yours (continued Byron), and a most gifted person he is: the Scotch are certainly very superior people; with intellects naturally more acute than the English, they are better educated and make better men of business. Erskine is full of imagination, and in this he resembles your countrymen the Irish more than the Scotch. The Irish would make better poets, and the Scotch philosophers; but this excess of imagination gives a redundancy to the writings and speeches of the Irish that I object to: they come down on one with similies, tropes, and metaphors, a superabundance of riches that makes one long for a little plain matter of fact. An Irishman, of course I mean a clever one, (continued Byron,) educated in Scotland, would be perfection, for the Scots professors would prune down the over-luxuriant shoots of his imagination, and strengthen his reasoning powers. I hope you are not very much offended with me for this critique on your countrymen (continued Byron); but enrévanche, I give you carte blanche to attack mine, as much as you please, and will join you in your strictures to the utmost extent to which you wish to go. Lord Erskine is, or was, (said Byron,)—for I suppose age has not improved him more than it generally does people,—the most brilliant person imaginable;—quick, vivacious, and sparkling, he spoke so well that I never
felt tired of listening to him, even when he abandoned himself to that subject of which all his other friends and acquaintances expressed themselves so fatigued—self. His egotism was remarkable, but there was a bonhommie in it that showed he had a better opinion of mankind than they deserved; for it implied a belief that his listeners could be interested in what concerned him, whom they professed to like. He was deceived in this (continued Byron) as are all who have a favourable opinion of their fellow-men: in society all and each are occupied with self, and can rarely pardon any one who presumes to draw their attention to other subjects for any length of time. Erskine had been a great man, and he knew it; and in talking so continually of self, imagined that he was but the echo of fame. All his talents, wit, and brilliancy were insufficient to excuse this weakness in the opinion of his friends; and I have seen bores, acknowledged bores, turn from this clever man, with every symptom of ennui, when he has been reciting an interesting anecdote, merely because he was the principal actor in it.”

“This fastidiousness of the English (continued Byron), and habit of pronouncing people bores, often impose on strangers and stupid people, who conceive that it arises from delicacy of taste and superior abilities. I never was taken in by it, for I have generally found that those who were the most ready to pronounce others bores had the most indisputable claims to that title in their own persons. The truth is (continued Byron) the English are very envious, being au fond, conscious that they are dreadfully dull—being loquacious without liveliness, proud without dignity, and brusque without sincerity, they never forgive those who show that they have made the same discovery, or who occupy public attention, of which they are jealous. An Englishman rarely condescends to take the trouble of conciliating admiration (though he is jealous of esteem), and he as rarely pardons those who have succeeded in attaining it. They are jealous (continued Byron) of popularity of every sort, and not only depreciate the talents that obtain it, whatever they may be, but the person who possesses them. I have seen in London, in one of the circles the most récherche, a literary man à-la-mode universally attacked by the élite of the party, who were damning his merits with faint praise, and drawing his defects into notice, until some other candidate for approbation as a conversationist, a singer, or even a dancer, was named, when all fell upon him—proving that a superiority of tongue, voice, or heel was as little to be pardoned as genius or talent. I have known people (continued Byron) talk of the highest efforts of genius as if they had been within the reach of each of the commonplace individuals of the circle; and comment on the acute reasonings of some logician as if they could have made the same deductions from the same premises, though ignorant of the most simple syllogism. Their very ignorance of the subjects on which they pronounce is perhaps the cause of the fearless decisions they give, for,
knowing nought, they think everything easy; but this impertinence (continued Byron) is difficult to be borne by those who know ‘how painful ’tis to climb,’ and who having, by labour, gained some one of the eminences in literature—which alas! as we all know, are but as molehills compared to the acclivity they aim at ascending—are the more deeply impressed with the difficulties that they have yet to surmount. I have never yet been satisfied with any one of my own productions; I cannot read them over without detecting a thousand faults; but when I read critiques upon them by those who could not have written them, I lose my patience.”

“There is an old and stupid song (said Byron) that says—‘Friendship with woman is sister to love.’ There is some truth in this; for let a man form a friendship with a woman, even though she be no longer young or handsome, there is a softness and tenderness attached to it that no male friendship can know. A proof of this is, that Lady M——, who might have been my mother, excited an interest in my feelings that few young women have been able to awaken. She was a charming person—a sort of modern Aspasia, uniting the energy of a man’s mind with the delicacy and tenderness of a woman’s. She wrote and spoke admirably, because she felt admirably. Envy, malice, hatred, or uncharitableness, found no place in her feelings. She had all of philosophy, save its moroseness, and all of nature, save its defects and general faiblesse; or if some portion of faiblesse attached to her, it only served to render her more forbearing to the errors of others. I have often thought, that, with a little more youth, Lady M—— might have turned my head—at all events she often turned my heart, by bringing me back to mild feelings, when the demon passion was strong within me. Her mind and heart were as fresh as if only sixteen summers had flown over her, instead of four times that number; and the mind and heart always leave external marks of their state of health. Goodness is the best cosmetic that has yet been discovered, for I am of opinion that, not according to our friend Moore
‘As the shining casket’s worn,
The gem within will tarnish too,’—
but, au contraire, the decay of the gem will tarnish the casket—the sword will wear away the scabbard. Then how rare is it to see age give its experience without its hardness of heart! and this was Lady M——'s case. She was a captivating creature, malgré her eleven or twelve lustres, and I shall always love her.”

“Did you know William Spencer, the Poet of Society as they used to call him? (said Byron.) His was really what your countrymen call an elegant mind, polished, graceful, and sentimental, with just enough gaiety to prevent his being lachrymose, and enough sentiment to prevent his being too anacreontic. There was a great deal of genuine fun in Spencer’s conversation, as well as a great deal of refined sentiment in
his verses. I liked both, for both were perfectly aristocratic in their way; neither one nor the other was calculated to please the canaille, which made me like them all the better. England was, after all I may say against it, very delightful in my day; that is to say, there were some six or seven very delightful people among the hundred commonplace that one saw every day,—seven stars, the pleiades, visible when all others had hid their diminished heads; and look where we may, where is the place that we can find so many stars united elsewhere?
Moore, Campbell, Rogers, Spencer, as poets; and how many conversationists to be added to the galaxy of stars,—one set irradiating our libraries of a morning, and the other illuminating our dining-rooms of an evening! All this was, and would be, very delightful, could you have confined the stars within their own planets; but, alas! they were given to wander into other spheres, and often set in the arctic circles, the frozen zones of nobility. I often thought at that time (continued Byron), that England had reached the pinnacle,—that point where, as no advance can be made, a nation must retrograde,—and I don’t think I was wrong. Our army had arrived at a state of perfection before unknown; Wellington’s star was in the ascendant, and all others paled before its influence. We had Grey, Grenville, Wellesley, and Holland in the House of Peers, and Sheridan, Canning, Burdett, and Tierney in the Commons. In society we were rich in poets, then in their zenith, now alas! fallen into the sear and yellow leaf; and in wits of whom one did not speak in the past tense. Of these, those whom the destroyer Time has not cut off he has mutilated,—the wine of their lives has turned sour,—and lost its body, and who is there to supply their places? The march of intellect has been preceded by pioneers, who have levelled all the eminences of distinction, and reduced all to the level of decent mediocrity.”

“It is said that as people grow old they magnify the superiority of past times, and detract from the advantages of the present: this is natural enough; for, admitting that the advantages were equal, we view them through a different medium,—the sight, like all the other senses, loses its fine perceptions, and nought looks as bright through the dim optics of age as through the bright ones of youth; but as I have only reached the respectable point of middle age, (continued Byron,) I cannot attribute my opinion of the falling off of the present men to my senility; and I really see or hear of no young men, either in the literary or political fields of London, who promise to supply the places of the men of my time—no successional crop to replace the passing or the past.” I told Byron that the march of intellect had rendered the spread of knowledge so general, that young men abstained from writing, or at least from publishing, until they thought they had produced something likely to obtain attention, which was now much more difficult to be obtained than formerly, as people grew more fastidious every day. He would not agree to this, but maintained that mediocrity was the distinguishing
feature of the present times, and that we should see no more men like those of his day. To hear Byron talk of himself, one would suppose that instead of thirty-six he was sixty years old: there is no affectation in this, as he says he feels all the languor and exhaustion of age.

Byron always talks in terms of high admiration of Mr. Canning; says he is a man of superior abilities, brilliant fancy, cultivated mind, and most effective eloquence; and adds that Canning only wanted to be born to a good estate to have made a great statesman. Fortune (continued Byron) would have saved him from tergiversation, the bare suspicion of which is destructive to the confidence a statesman ought to inspire. As it is, said he, Canning is brilliant but not great, with all the elements in him that constitute greatness.

Talking of Lord ——, Byron observed that his success in life was a proof of the weight that fortune gave a man, and his popularity a certain sign of his mediocrity: “the first (said Byron) puts him out of the possibility of being suspected of mercenary motives; and the second precludes envy; yet you hear him praised at every side for his independence!—and a great merit it is truly (said he) in a man who has high rank and large fortune,—what can he want, and where could be the temptation to barter his principles since he already has all that people seek in such a traffic? No, I see no merit in Lord ——’s independence; give me the man who is poor and untitled, with talents to excite temptation and honesty to resist it, and I will give him credit for independence of principle, because he deserves it. People (continued Byron) talk to you of Lord ——’s high character,—in what does it consist? Why in being, as I before said, put by fortune and rank beyond the power of temptation,—having an even temper, thanks to a cool head and a colder heart!—and a mediocrity of talents that insures his being ‘content to live in decencies for ever,’ while it exempts him from exciting envy or jealousy, the followers of excellence.”

(To be continued.)