LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Lord Byron and some of His Contemporaries [Concluded].
Literary Chronicle  No. 455  (2 February 1828)  72-74.
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And Weekly Review;
Forming a General Repository of Literature, Science, Arts, History, Biography, Antiquities, the Drama, &c.

No. 455. LONDON, SATURDAY,  FEBRUARY  2,  1828. Price 8d.


Of all the grave charges brought against Lord Byron by Mr. Hunt, the only one of real and unquestionable importance, the only one which can at all account for or justify the soreness of feeling by which the writer is evidently actuated, is contained in the following passage:—‘The public have been given to understand that Lord Byron's purse was at my command, and that I used it according to the spirit with which it was offered. I did so. Stern necessity, and a large family, compelled me; and, during our residence at Pisa, I had from him, or rather from his steward, to whom he always sent me for the money, and who doled it me out as if my disgraces were being counted, the sum of seventy pounds!’ There is a meanness and an indelicacy about this, which tends more to lessen Lord Byron, in our estimation, than any of the peculiarities, strange and wayward as they were, upon which Mr. Hunt dwells with such minute severity. It is a subject so painful that we quit it hastily, and proceed to a portion of the volume which may be considered more dispassionately.

Mr. Hunt asserts, on more than one occasion, that Lord Byron had ‘no address,’ no conversational powers, none, in short, of those little, pleasant, companionable qualities, for which, we believe, Mr. Hunt himself is so deservedly celebrated. Any deficiency of this sort, we should set down as no very culpable matter; but it happens that there are many testimonies on this subject opposed to that of Mr. Hunt. Some of these, we confess, may not appear either to him or to ourselves, of a very conclusive order; but what will he say to that of Mr. Shelley? It is known, that in Julian and Maddalo, Mr. Shelley introduces us to himself and Lord Byron; and thus favorably, both in prose and verse, does he describe the latter: ‘I say that Maddalo is proud, because I can find no other word to express the concentered and impatient feelings which consume him; but it is on his own hopes and affections only that he seems to trample, for, in social life no human being can be more gentle, patient, and unassuming than Maddalo. He is cheerful, frank, and witty. His more serious conversation is a sort of intoxication;
men are held by it as by a spell. He has travelled much; and there is an inexpressible charm in his relation of his adventures in different countries.’ The whole portrait is worthy of quotation, but we must restrict our extracts to the conversational point:—

————‘I might sit
In Maddalo's great palace, and his wit
And subtle talk would cheer the winter night,
And make me know myself: and the fire light
Would flash upon our faces, till the day
Might dawn, and make me wonder at my stay.’

So much for conflicting testimonials. Mr. Shelley knew Lord Byron, and examined him with a more learned and liberal spirit than their mutual friend has done; and it is Mr. Hunt's own fault if we have more faith in Shelley than we have in him.

With respect to Mr. Hunt's opinion of Lord Byron's poetical ability, little need be said. Whatever may be our respect for his general criticisms, in this particular instance we entertain but little; nor need we stay to consider what he himself would say of a critic who should acknowledge that he had read only a portion of certain works which he has no hesitation in condemning, almost unqualifiedly, as a whole. ‘To the best of my recollection I never even read Parisina, nor is this the only one of his lordship's works of which I can say as much, acquainted as I am with the others.’ There is an unpleasant assumption in this passage, which comes very gracelessly from Mr. Hunt; at all events, it is a question whether our dislike of the effrontery does not exceed our gratitude for the candour of the acknowledgment.

With a few miscellaneous extracts, we conclude our notice of a volume which has disappointed us in no ordinary degree, and which, we believe, the author himself sees, or will see, abundant reason to regret having given to the world.

Mr. Hunt's account of the Liberal and its progress, contains some curious and interesting particulars; we quote a few, in which the author examines the conduct of Byron, Hobhouse, Moore, &c.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘The first number of “The Liberal” got us a great number of enemies, some of a nature which we would rather have had on our side; a great many because they felt their self-love wounded as authors, and more out of a national prejudice. The prejudice is not so strong as it was upon the particular subject alluded to; but it is the least likely to wear out, because the national vanity is concerned in it, and it can only be conquered by an admission of defects. What renders the case more inveterate is, that none partake of it more strongly than the most violent of its opponents. In addition to the scandal excited by the “Vision of Judgment,” there was the untimely seasonableness of the epigrams upon poor Lord Castlereagh. Lord Byron wrote them. They arose from the impulse of the moment; were intended for a newspaper, and in that more fugitive medium, would have made a comparatively fugitive impression. Arrested in a magazine, they were kept longer before the eyes of the public, and what might have been pardoned as an impulse, was regarded with horror as a thing deliberate. Politicians in earnest, and politicians not in earnest, were mortified by the preface; all the real or pretended orthodox, who can admire a startling poem from a state-minister (Goethe), were vexed to see that Mr. Shelley could translate it; and all the pretenders in literature were vexed by the attack upon Hoole, and the article headed “Rhyme and Reason;” in which latter, I fear, even a wit, whom I could name, was capable of finding an ill intention. I began to think so when I heard of his criticisms, and saw his next poem. But the “Vision of Judgment,” with which none of the articles were to be compared, and which, in truth, is the best piece of satire Lord Byron ever put forth, was grudged us the more, and roused greater hostility on that account. Envy of the silliest kind, and from the silliest people, such as it is really degrading to be the object of, pursued us at every turn; and when Mr. Hazlitt joined us, alarm as well as envy was at its height. After all, perhaps, there was nothing that vexed these people, more than their inability to discover which were Lord Byron’s articles, and which not. It betrayed a secret in the shallows of criticism, even to themselves, and was not to be forgiven. The work struggled on for a time, and then, owing partly to private circumstances, which I had explained in my first writing of these pages, but which it has become unnecessary to record, was quietly dropped. I shall only mention, that Lord Byron, after the failure of the “great profits,” had declared his intention of receiving nothing from the work till it produced a certain sum; and that I unexpectedly turned out to be in the receipt of the whole profits of the proprietorship, which I regarded, but too truly, as one of a very ominous description. All which publicly concerns the origin and downfal of the Magazine the readers are acquainted with, excepting perhaps the political pique which Mr. Hobhouse may have felt against us, and the critical one which has been attributed to Mr. Moore. Mr. Hazlitt is supposed to have had his share in the offence; and certainly, as far as writing in the work was concerned, he gave stronger reasons for it than I could do. But he shall speak for himself in a note, at the hazard of blowing up my less gunpowder text.* Mr. Hobhouse was once called upon by the electors of Westminster for an explicit statement of his opinions on the subject of reform. He gave a statement which was thought not to be explicit, or even intelligible; and I had the misfortune, in “The Examiner,” to be compelled to say that I was among the number of the dull perceptions. A few days afterwards, meeting him in St. James’s-street, he said he wondered at my coming to that conclusion, and asked me how it could happen. I did not enter into the origin of the phenomenon, but said that I could not help it, and that the statement did appear to me singularly obscure. Since that time, I believe, I never saw him till we met in the Casa Lanfranchi. As to Mr. Moore, he did not relish, I know, the objection which I had made to the style of “Lalla Rookh;” but then he had told me so; he encouraged me to speak freely; he had spoken freely himself; and I felt all the admiration of him, if not of his poem, which candour, in addition to wit, can excite. I never suspected that he would make this a ground of quarrel with me in after-times; nor do I now wish to give more strength to Lord Byron’s way of representing things on this point than on any other. There may be as little foundation for his reporting that Mr. Moore would never forgive Hazlitt for saying that he “ought not to have written ‘Lalla Rookh,’ even for three thousand guineas;” a condemnation which, especially with the context that follows it, involves a compliment in its very excess.* But Mr. Moore was not candid, when he wrote secretly to Lord Byron, to induce him to give up the Magazine; and to tell him, there was “a taint” in it. He says he ought to have recollected, that Lord Byron always showed the letters that were written to him. This regret he has expressed to a mutual friend; but I do not see how it mends the matter. And what did he mean by “a taint?” Was it a taint of love—(very loth am I to put two such words together, but it is for him to explain the inconsistency)—Was it a taint of love, or of libel? or of infidelity? or of independence? And was the taint the greater, because the independence was true? Yes: Mr. Hazlitt has explained that matter but too well.

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘The Genoese post brought us the first number of “The Liberal,” accompanied both with hopes and fears, the latter of which were too speedily realized. Living now in a separate house from Lord Byron, I saw less of him than before; and under all the circumstances, it was as well. It was during our residence in this part of Italy, that the remaining numbers of “The Liberal” were published. I did what I could to make him persevere; and have to take shame to myself, that in my anxiety on that point, I persuaded him to send over “The Blues” for insertion, rather than contribute nothing. It is the only thing connected with “The Liberal” that I gave myself occasion to regret. I cannot indeed boast of my communications to it. Illness and unhappiness must be my excuse. They are things under which a man does not always write his worst. They may even supply him with a sort of fevered inspiration; but this was not my case at the time. The only pieces I would save, if I could, from oblivion, out of that work, are the “Rhyme and Reason,” the “Lines to a Spider,” and the copy of verses entitled “Mahmoud.” The little gibe on his native place, out of “Al Hamadani,” might accompany them. I must not omit, that Lord Byron would have put his “Island” in it, and I believe another poem, if I had thought it of use. It would all have been so much dead weight; especially as the readers, not being certain it was contributed by his Lordship, would not have known whether they were to be enraptured or indifferent. By and by he would have taken them out, published them by themselves, and then complained that they would have sold before, if it had not been for “The Liberal.” What he should have done for the work was to stand by it openly and manfully, to make it the obvious channel of his junction with the cause of freedom, to contribute to it not his least popular or his least clever productions, but such as the nature of the work should have inspired and recommended, or in default of being able to do this (for perhaps he was not fitted to write for a periodical work) he should have gained all the friends for it he could, not among those whom he “libelled all round,” but among thousands of readers all prepared to admire, and love him, and think it an honour to fight under his banner. But he had no real heart in the business, nor for any thing else but a feverish notoriety. It was by this he was to shake at once the great world and the small; the mountain and the mouse; the imaginations of the public, and the approving nod of the “men of wit and fashion about town.”’

Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries

‘At Albaro,’ says Mr. Hunt, ‘I passed a melancholy time, walking about the stony alleys, and thinking of Mr. Shelley. My intercourse with Lord Byron, though less than before, was considerable; and we were always, as the phrase is, “on good terms.” He knew what I felt, for I said it. I also knew what he thought, for he said that, “in a manner;” and he was in the habit of giving you a good deal to understand, in what he did not say. In the midst of all his strange conduct, he professed a great personal regard. He would do the most humiliating things, insinuate the bitterest, both of me and my friends, and then affect to do all away with a soft word, protesting that nothing he ever said was meant to apply to myself.

‘I will take this opportunity of recording some more anecdotes as they occur to me. We used to walk in the grounds of the Casa Saluzzi, talking for the most part of indifferent
matters, and endeavouring to joke away the consciousness of our position. We joked even upon our differences of opinion. It was a jest between us, that the only book that was unequivocally a favourite on both sides, was
Boswell’sLife of Johnson.” I used to talk of Johnson when I saw him out of temper, or wished to avoid other subjects. He asked me one day, how I should have felt in Johnson’s company. I said it was difficult to judge; because, living in other times, and one’s character being modified by them, I could not help thinking of myself as I was now, and Johnson as he was in times previous: so that it appeared to me that I should have been somewhat Jacobinical in his company, and not disposed to put up with his ipse dixits. He said, that “Johnson would have awed him, he treated lords with so much respect.” This was better said than it was meant to be, and I have no doubt was very true. Johnson would have made him a bow like a churchwarden; and Lord Byron would have been in a flutter of worshipped acquiescence. He liked to imitate Johnson, and say, “Why, Sir,” in a high mouthing way, rising, and looking about him. Yet he hardly seemed to relish Peter Pindar’s imitations, excellent as they were. I used to repeat to him those laughable passages out of “Bozzy and Piozzy.”
‘“Dear Dr. Johnson,—

(It is Mrs. Thrale who speaks)

‘“Dear Dr. Johnson was in size an ox,
And of his uncle Andrew learnt to box,
A man to wrestlers and to bruisers dear,
Who kept the ring in Smithfield a whole year.
The Doctor had an uncle too, ador’d
By jumping gentry, called Cornelius Ford;
Who jump’d in boots, which jumpers never choose,
Far as a famous jumper jump’d in shoes.”

‘See also the next passage in the book—
‘“At supper rose a dialogue on witches,”
which I would quote also, only I am afraid
Mr. Moore would think I was trespassing on the privileges of high life. Again; Madame Piozzi says,
‘“Once at our house, amidst our Attic feast,
We liken’d our acquaintances to beasts:
As for example—some to calves and hogs,
And some to bears and monkeys, cats, and dogs.
We said, (which charm’d the Doctor much, no doubt,)
His mind was like, of elephants the snout;
That could pick pins up, yet possess’d the vigour
Of trimming well the jacket of a tiger.”
‘Bozzy.—When Johnson was in Edinburgh, my wife
To please his palate, studied for her life:
With ev’ry rarity she fill’d her house,
And gave the Doctor, for his dinner, grouse.
‘Piozzi—Dear Doctor Johnson left off drinks fermented,
With quarts of chocolate and cream contented;
Yet often down his throat’s prodigious gutter,
Poor man! he pour’d whole floods of melted butter.”
At these passages, which make me laugh so for the thousandth time, that I can hardly write them, Lord Byron had too invincible a relish of a good thing not to laugh also, but he did it uneasily. The cause is left to the reader’s speculation.

‘With the commiseration about the melted butter, we agreed heartily. When Lord Castlereagh killed himself, it was mentioned in the papers that he had taken his usual tea and buttered toast for breakfast. I said there was no knowing how far even so little a thing as buttered toast might not have fatally assisted in exasperating that ill state of stomach, which is found to accompany melancholy. As “the last feather breaks the horse’s back,” so the last injury done to the organs of digestion may make a man kill himself. He agreed with me entirely in this; and said, the world were as much in the wrong, in nine cases out of ten, respecting the immediate causes of suicide, as they were in their notions about the harmlessness of this and that food, and the quantity of it.

‘Like many other wise theorists on this subject, he had wilfully shut his eyes to the practice, though I do not mean to say he was excessive in eating and drinking. He had only been in the habit, latterly, of taking too much for his particular temperament; a fault, in one respect, the most pardonable in those who are most aware of it, the uneasiness of a sedentary stomach tempting them to the very indulgence that is hurtful. I know what it is; and beg, in this, as on other occasions, not to be supposed to imply any thing to my own advantage, when I am upon points that may be construed to the disadvantage of others. But he had got fat, and then went to the other extreme. He came to me one day out of another room, and said, with great glee, “Look here! what do you say to this?” at the same time doubling the lapels of his coat one over the other:—“three months ago,” added he, “I could not button it.” Sometimes, though rarely, with a desperate payment of his virtue, he would make an outrageous dinner; eating all sorts of things that were unfit for him, and suffering accordingly next day. He once sent to Paris for one of the travelling pies they make there—things that distribute indigestion by return of post, and cost three or four guineas. Twenty crowns, I think, he gave for it. He tasted, and dined. The next day he was fain to make a present of six-eighths of it to an envoy:—“Lord Byron’s compliments, and he sends his Excellency a pasty that has seen the world.” He did not write this; but this was implied in his compliment. It is to be hoped his Excellency had met the pasty before.

‘It is a credit to my noble acquaintance, that he was by far the pleasantest when he had got wine in his head. The only time I invited myself to dine with him, I told him I did it on that account, and that I meant to push the bottle so, that he should intoxicate me with his good company. He said he would have a set-to; but he never did it. I believe he was afraid. It was a little before he left Italy; and there was a point in contest between us (not regarding myself) which he thought perhaps I should persuade him to give up. When in his cups, which was not often, nor immoderately, he was inclined to be tender; but not weakly so, nor lachrymose. I know not how it might have been with every body, but he paid me the compliment of being excited to his very best feelings; and when I rose late to go away, he would hold me down, and say with a look of intreaty, “Not yet.” Then it was that I seemed to talk with the proper natural Byron as he ought to have been; and there was not a sacrifice I could not have made to keep him in that temper; and see his friends love him, as much as the world admired. Next morning it was all gone. His intimacy with the worst part of mankind had got him again in its chilling crust; and nothing remained but to despair and joke.

‘In his wine he would volunteer an imitation of somebody, generally of Incledon. He was not a good mimic in the detail; but he could give a lively broad sketch; and over his cups his imitations were good-natured, which was seldom the case at other times. His Incledon was vocal. I made pretensions to the oratorical part; and between us, we boasted that we made up the entire phenomenon. Mr. Mathews would have found it defective; or rather, he would not; for had he been there, we should judiciously have secreted our pretensions, and had the true likeness. We just knew enough of the matter, to make proper admirers.’

The articles descriptive of Shelley, Keats, Charles Lamb, &c. are worthy of them and of the writer. They are correct and beautiful sketches, and will do much towards giving popular opinion a right direction respecting the two first. The portraits of Keats and Lamb are welcome ornaments to the volume; we regret that they were not accompanied by one of Shelley. Against his own portrait, as it appears here, Mr. Hunt has entered a most earnest protest: he says, that it ‘might lead people to suppose that he is not only capable of calumniating his host, but of walking off with his tankard.’ We cannot go so far in censure, but can state, from our recollection, that the expression is neither very like nor very flattering.