LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Countess of Blessington
Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron. No. III.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. NS 35  (September 1832)  228-41.
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SEPTEMBER 1, 1832.



Lord Byron told me to-day, that he had been occupied in the morning making his will; that he had left the bulk of his fortune to his sister, as, his daughter having, in right of her mother, a large fortune, he thought it unnecessary to increase it; he added that he had left La Contessa Guiccioli 10,000l., and had intended to have left her 25,000l., but that she had suspected his intentions, and urged him so strongly not to do so, or indeed to leave her anything, that he had changed the sum to 10,000l. He said that this was one, of innumerable instances, of her delicacy and disinterestedness, of which he had repeated proofs; that she was so fearful of the possibility of having interested motives attributed to her, that he was certain she would prefer the most extreme poverty to incurring such a suspicion. I observed, that were I he, I would have left her the sum I had originally intended, as, in case of his death, it would be a flattering proof of his esteem for her, and she had always the power of refusing the whole, or any part of the bequest she thought proper. It appeared to me, that the more delicacy and disinterestedness she displayed, the more decided ought he to be, in marking his appreciation of her conduct. He appeared to agree with me, and passed many encomiums on La Contessa.

He talked to-day of Sir Francis Burdett, of whose public and private character he entertains the most exalted opinion. He said that it was gratifying to behold in him the rare union of a heart and head that left nothing to be desired, and dwelt with evident pride and pleasure on the mental courage displayed by Sir Francis, in befriending and supporting him, when so many of his professed friends stood aloof, on his separation from Lady Byron. The defalcation of his friends, at the moment he most required them, has made an indelible impression on his mind, and has given him a very bad opinion of his countrymen. I endeavoured to reason him out of this, by urging the principle that mankind, en masse, are everywhere the same, but he denied this, on the plea that, as civilization had arrived at a greater degree of perfection in England than elsewhere, egoism its concomitant, there flourished so luxuriantly, as to overgrow all generous and kind feelings. He quoted various examples of friends, and even the nearest relations, deserting each other in the hour of need, fearful that any part of the censure heaped on some less fortunate connexion might fall on them. I am unwilling to believe that his pictures are not overdrawn, and hope I shall always think so.
“Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

“Talking of friends,” said Byron, “Mr. Hobhouse has been the most impartial, or perhaps (added he) unpartial of all my friends; he
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always told me my faults, but I must do him the justice to add, that he told them to me, and not to others.” I observed that the epithet impartial was the applicable one; but he denied it, saying that Mr. Hobhouse must have been unpartial, to have discerned all the errors he had pointed out; “but,” he added, laughing, “I could have told him of some more which he had not discovered, for, even then, avarice had made itself strongly felt in my nature.”

Byron came to see us to-day, and appeared extremely discomposed; after half-an-hour’s conversation on indifferent subjects, he at length broke forth with, “Only fancy my receiving to-day a tragedy dedicated as follows—‘From George —— to George Byron!’ This is being cool with a vengeance. I never was more provoked. How stupid, how ignorant, to pass over my rank! I am determined not to read the tragedy; for a man capable of committing such a solecism in good breeding and common decency, can write nothing worthy of being read.” We were astonished at witnessing the annoyance this circumstance gave him, and more than ever convinced, that the pride of aristocracy is one of the peculiar features of his character. If he sometimes forgets his rank, he never can forgive any one else’s doing so; and as he is not naturally dignified, and his propensity to flippancy renders him still less so, he often finds himself in a false position, by endeavouring to recover lost ground. We endeavoured to console him by telling him that we knew Mr. George —— a little, and that he was clever and agreeable, as also that his passing over the title of Byron was meant as a compliment—it was a delicate preference shown to the renown accorded to George Byron the poet, over the rank and title, which were adventitious advantages, ennobled by the possessor, but that could add nothing to his fame. All our arguments were vain; he said “this could not be the man’s feelings, as he reduced him (Lord Byron) to the same level as himself.” It is strange to see a person of such brilliant and powerful genius sullied by such incongruities. Were he but sensible how much the Lord is overlooked in the Poet he would be less vain of his rank: but as it is, this vanity is very prominent, and resembles more the pride of a parvenu than the calm dignity of an ancient aristocrat. It is also evident that he attaches importance to the appendages of rank and station. The trappings of luxury, to which a short use accustoms every one, seem to please him; he observes, nay, comments upon them, and oh! mortifying conclusion, appears, at least for the moment, to think more highly of their possessors. As his own mode of life is so extremely simple, this seems the more extraordinary; but every thing in him is contradictory and extraordinary. Of his friends he remarks, “this or that person is a man of family, or he is a parvenu, the marks of which character, in spite of all his affected gentility, break out in a thousand ways.” We were not prepared for this; we expected to meet a man more disposed to respect the nobility of genius than that of rank; but we have found the reverse. In talking of
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Ravenna, the natal residence of
La Contessa Guiccioli, he dwells with peculiar complacency on the equipage of her husband; talks of the six black carriage horses, without which the old Conte seldom moved, and their spacious palazzo; also the wealth of the Conte, and the distinguished connexions of the lady. He describes La Contessa as being of the middle stature, finely formed, exquisitely fair, her features perfectly regular, and the expression of her countenance remarkable for its animation and sweetness, her hair auburn, and of great beauty. No wonder, then, that such rare charms have had power to fix his truant heart, and as he says that to these she unites accomplishments and amiability, it may be concluded, as indeed he declares, that this is his last attachment. He frequently talks of Alfieri, and always with enthusiastic admiration. He remarks on the similarity of their tastes and pursuits, their domesticating themselves with women of rank, their fondness for animals, and above all, for horses; their liking to be surrounded by birds and pets of various descriptions, their passionate love of liberty, habitual gloom, &c. &c. In short, he produces so many points of resemblance, that it leads one to suspect that he is a copy of an original he has long studied.

This, again, proceeds from a want of self-respect; but we may well pardon it, when we reflect on the abuse, calumny, envy, hatred, and malice, that, in spite of all his genius, have pursued him from the country that genius must adorn.

Talking of Alfieri, he told me to-day, that when that poet was travelling in Italy, a very romantic, and, as he called her, tête montée Italian Principessa, or Duchessa, who had long been an enthusiastic admirer of his works, having heard that he was to pass within fifty miles of her residence, set of to encounter him; and having arrived at the inn where he sojourned, was shown into a room where she was told Alfieri was writing. She enters, agitated and fatigued,—sees a very good-looking man seated at a table whom she concludes must be Alfieri,—throws herself into his arms,—and, in broken words, declares her admiration, and the distance she has come to declare it. In the midst of the lady’s impassioned speeches, Alfieri enters the room, casts a glance of surprise and hauteur at the pair, and lets fall some expression that discloses to the humbled Principessa the shocking mistake she has made.

The poor Secretary (for such he was) is blamed by the lady, while he declares his innocence, finding himself, as he says, in the embraces of a lady who never allowed him even a moment to interrupt her, by the simple question of what she meant! Alfieri retired in offended dignity, shocked that any one could be mistaken for him, while the Principessa had to retrace her steps, her enthusiasm somewhat cooled by the mistake and its consequences.

Byron says that the number of anonymous amatory letters and portraits he has received, and all from English ladies, would fill a large
Conversations with Lord Byron231
volume. He says he has never noticed any of them; but it is evident he recurs to them with complacency.

He talked to-day of a very different kind of letter, which appears to have made a profound impression on him; he has promised to show it to me; it is from a Mr. Sheppard, inclosing him a prayer offered up for Byron, by the wife of Mr. Sheppard, and sent since her death. He says he never was more touched than on perusing it, and that it has given him a better opinion of human nature.

The following is the copy of the letter and prayer, which Lord Byron has permitted me to make.

“to lord byron.
“Frome, Somerset, Nov. 21, 1821.
“my lord,

“More than two years since, a lovely and beloved wife was taken from me, by a lingering disease, after a very short union. She possessed unvarying gentleness and fortitude, and a piety so retiring as rarely to disclose itself in words, but so influential as to produce uniform benevolence of conduct. In the last hour of life, after a farewell look on a lately-born and only infant, for whom she had evinced inexpressible affection, her last whispers were, ‘God’s happiness!—God’s happiness!’

”Since the second anniversary of her decease, I have read some papers which no one had seen during her life, and which contain her most secret thoughts. I am induced to communicate to your Lordship a passage from these papers, which there is no doubt refers to yourself, as I have more than once heard the writer mention your agility on the rocks at Hastings.

“‘Oh, my God, I take encouragement from the assurance of thy word, to pray to Thee in behalf of one for whom I have lately been much interested. May the person to whom I allude (and who is now, we fear, as much distinguished for his neglect of Thee as for the transcendant talents thou hast bestowed on him), be awakened to a sense of his own danger, and led to seek that peace of mind in a proper sense of religion, which he has found this world’s enjoyment unable to procure! Do Thou grant that his future example may be productive of far more extensive benefit than his past conduct and writings have been of evil; and may the Sun of righteousness, which we trust will, at some future period, arise on him, be bright in proportion to the darkness of those clouds which guilt has raised around him, and the balm which it bestows, healing and soothing in proportion to the keenness of that agony which the punishment of his vices has inflicted on him! May the hope that the sincerity of my own efforts for the attainment of holiness, and the approval of my own love for the Great Author of religion, will render this prayer, and every other for the welfare of mankind, more efficacious.—Cheer me in the path of duty; but, let me not forget, that while we are permitted to animate ourselves to exertion
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by every innocent motive, these are but the lesser streams which may serve to increase the current, but which, deprived of the grand fountain of good, (a deep conviction of inborn sin, and firm belief in the efficacy of Christ’s death for the salvation of those who trust in him, and really wish to serve him,) would soon dry up, and leave us barren of every virtue as before.—Hastings, July 31, 1814.’

“There is nothing, my Lord, in this extract which, in a literary sense, can at all interest you; but it may, perhaps, appear to you how worthy of reflection how deep and expansive a concern for the happiness of others the Christian faith can awaken in the midst of youth and prosperity. Here is nothing poetical and splendid, as in the expostulatory homage of M. Delamartine; but here is the sublime, my Lord; for this intercession was offered on your account, to the supreme Source of happiness. It sprang from a faith more confirmed than that of the French poet; and from a charity which, in combination with faith, showed its power unimpaired amidst the languors and pains of approaching dissolution. I will hope that a prayer, which, I am sure, was deeply sincere, may not always be unavailing.

“It would add nothing, my Lord, to the fame with which your genius has surrounded you, for an unknown and obscure individual to express his admiration of it. I had rather be numbered with those who wish and pray, that ‘wisdom from above,’ and ‘peace,’ and ‘joy,’ may enter such a mind.

“Here were two most amiable and exalted minds offering prayers and wishes for the salvation of one considered by three parts of his countrymen to be beyond the pale of hope, and charitably doomed to everlasting torments. The religion that prays and hopes for the erring is the true religion, and the only one that could make a convert of me; and I date (continued Byron) my first impressions against religion to having witnessed how little its votaries were actuated by any true feeling of Christian charity. Instead of lamenting the disbelief, or pitying the transgressions (or at least their consequences) of the sinner, they at once cast him off, dwell with acrimony on his errors, and, not content with foredooming him to eternal punishment hereafter, endeavour, as much as they can, to render his earthly existence as painful as possible, until they have hardened him in his errors, and added hatred of his species to their number. Were all religious people like Mr. Sheppard and the
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amiable wife he has lost, we should have fewer skeptics: such examples would do more towards the work of conversion than all that ever was written on the subject.”

“When Religion supports the sufferer in affliction and sickness, even unto death, its advantages are so visible, that all must wish to seek such a consolation; and when it speaks peace and hope to those who have strayed from its path, it softens feelings that severity must have hardened, and leads back the wanderer to the fold; but when it clothes itself in anger, denouncing vengeance, or shows itself in the pride of superior righteousness, condemning, rather than pitying, all erring brothers, it repels the wavering, and fixes the unrepentant in their sins. Such a religion can make few converts, but may make many dissenters to its tenets; for in Religion, as in everything else, its utility must be apparent, to encourage people to adopt its precepts; and the utility is never so evident as when we see professors of religion supported by its consolations, and willing to extend these consolations to those who have still more need of them—the misguided and the erring.”

They who accuse Byron of being an Unbeliever are wrong: he is sceptical, but not unbelieving; and it appears not unlikely to me that a time may come when his wavering faith in many of the tenets of religion may be as firmly fixed as is now his conviction of the immortality of the soul,—a conviction that he declares every fine and noble impulse of his nature renders more decided. He is a sworn foe to Materialism, tracing every defect to which we are subject, to the infirmities entailed on us by the prison of clay in which the heavenly spark is confined. Conscience, he says, is to him another proof of the Divine Origin of Man, as is also his natural tendency to the love of good. A fine day, a moonlight night, or any other fine object in the phenomena of nature, excites (said Byron) strong feelings of religion in all elevated minds, and an outpouring of the spirit to the Creator, that, call it what we may, is the essence of innate love and gratitude to the Divinity.

There is a seriousness in Byron’s manner, when he gets warmed by his subject, that impresses one with the truth of his statements. He observed to me, “I seldom talk of religion, but I feel it, perhaps, more than those who do. I speak to you on this topic freely, because I know you will neither laugh at nor enter into a controversy with me. It is strange, but true, that Mrs. Sheppard is mixed up with all my religious aspirations; nothing ever so excited my imagination, and touched my heart, as her prayer. I have pictured her to myself a thousand times in the solitude of her chamber, struck by a malady that generally engrosses all feeling for self, and those near and dear to one, thinking of, and praying for, me, who was deemed by all an outcast. Her purity—her blameless life—and the deep humility expressed in her prayer—render her, in my mind, the most interesting and angelic creature that ever existed, and she mingles in all my thoughts of a future state. I would give anything to have her portrait, though perhaps it would destroy the
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beau idéal I have formed of her. What strange thoughts pass through the mind, and how much are we influenced by adventitious circumstances! The phrase lovely, in the letter of
Mr. Sheppard, has invested the memory of his wife with a double interest; but beauty and goodness have always been associated in my mind, because, through life, I have found them generally go together. I do not talk of mere beauty (continued Byron) of feature or complexion, but of expression, that looking out of the soul through the eyes, which, in my opinion, constitutes true beauty. Women have been pointed out to me as beautiful who never could have interested my feelings, from their want of countenance, or expression, which means countenance; and others, who were little remarked, have struck me as being captivating, from the force of countenance. A woman’s face ought to be like an April day—susceptible of change and variety; but sunshine should often gleam over it, to replace the clouds and showers that may obscure its lustre,—which, poetical description apart (said Byron), in sober prose means, that good-humoured smiles ought to be ready to chase away the expression of pensiveness or care that sentiment or earthly ills call forth. Women were meant to be the exciters of all that is finest in our natures, and the soothers of all that is turbulent and harsh. Of what use, then, can a handsome automaton be, after one has got acquainted with a face that knows no change, though it causes many? This is a style of looks I could not bear the sight of for a week; and yet such are the looks that pass in society for pretty, handsome, and beautiful. How beautiful Lady C—— was! She had no great variety of expression, but the predominant ones were purity, calmness, and abstraction. She looked as if she had never caused an unhallowed sentiment, or felt one,—a sort of ‘moonbeam on the snow,’ as our friend Moore would describe her, that was lovely to look on.—Lady A. F—— was also very handsome. It is melancholy to talk of women in the past tense. What a pity, that of all flowers, none fade so soon as beauty! Poor Lady A. F—— has not got married. Do you know, I once had some thoughts of her as a wife; not that I was in love, as people call it, but I had argued myself into a belief that I ought to marry, and meeting her very often in society, the notion came into my head, not heart, that she would suit me. Moore, too, told me so much of her good qualities, all which was, I believe, quite true, that I felt tempted to propose to her, but did not, whether tant mieux or tant pis, God knows, supposing my proposal accepted. No marriage could have turned out more unfortunately than the one I made,—that is quite certain; and, to add to my agreeable reflections on this subject, I have the consciousness that had I possessed sufficient command over my own wayward humor, I might have rendered myself so dear and necessary to Lady Byron, that she would not, could not, have left me. It is certainly not very gratifying to my vanity to have been plante after so short a union, and within a few weeks after being made a father,—a circumstance that one would suppose likely to cement
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the attachment. I always get out of temper when I recur to this subject; and yet, malgré moi, I find myself continually recurring to it.”

Byron is a perfect chameleon, possessing the qualities attributed to that fabulous animal, of taking the colour of whatever touches him. He is conscious of this, and says it is owing to the extreme mobilite of his nature, which yields to present impressions. It appears to me, that the consciousness of his own defects renders him still less tolerant to those of others,—this perhaps is owing to their attempts to conceal them, more than from natural severity, as he condemns hypocrisy more than any other vice—saying it is the origin of all. If vanity, selfishness, or mundane sentiments, are brought in contact with him, every arrow in the armory of ridicule is let fly, and there is no shield sufficiently powerful to withstand them. If vice approaches, he assails it with the bitterest gall of satire; but when goodness appears, and that he is assured it is sincere, all the dormant affections of his nature are excited, and it is impossible not to observe how tender and affectionate a heart his must have been ere circumstances had soured it. This was never more displayed than in the impression made on him by the prayer of Mrs. Sheppard, and the letter of her husband. It is also evident in the generous impulses that he betrays on hearing of distress or misfortune, which he endeavours to alleviate; and, unlike the world in general, Byron never makes light of the griefs of others, but shows commiseration and kindness. There are days when he excites so strong an interest and sympathy, by showing such undoubtable proofs of good feeling, that every previous impression to his disadvantage fades away, and one is vexed with oneself for ever having harboured them. But, alas! “the morrow comes,” and he is no longer the same being. Some disagreeable letter, review, or new example of the slanders with which he has been for years assailed, changes the whole current of his feelings—renders him reckless, Sardonic, and as unlike the Byron of the day before as if they had nothing in common,—nay, he seems determined to efface any good impression he might have made, and appears angry with himself for having yielded to the kindly feelings that gave birth to it. After such exhibitions, one feels perplexed what opinion to form of him; and the individual who has an opportunity of seeing Byron very often, and for any length of time, if he or she stated the daily impressions candidly, would find, on reviewing them, a mass of heterogeneous evidence, from which it would be most difficult to draw a just conclusion. The affectionate manner in which he speaks of some of his juvenile companions has a delicacy and tenderness resembling the nature of woman more than that of man, and leads me to think that an extreme sensitiveness, checked by coming in contact with persons incapable of appreciating it, and affections chilled by finding a want of sympathy, have repelled, but could not eradicate, the seeds of goodness that now often send forth blossoms, and, with culture, may yet produce precious fruit.

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I am sure, that if ten individuals undertook the task of describing Byron, no two, of the ten, would agree in their verdict respecting him, or convey any portrait that resembled the other, and yet the description of each might be correct, according to his or her received opinion; but the truth is, the chameleon-like character or manner of Byron render it difficult to pourtray him; and the pleasure he seems to take in misleading his associates in their estimate of him increases the difficulty of the task. This extraordinary fancy of his has so often struck me, that I expect to see all the persons who have lived with him giving portraits, each unlike the other, and yet all bearing a resemblance to the original at some one time. Like the pictures given of some celebrated actor in his different characters, each likeness is affected by the dress and the part he has to fill. The portrait of John Kemble in Cato resembles not Macbeth nor Hamlet, and yet each is an accurate likeness of that admirable actor in those characters; so Byron, changing every day, and fond of misleading those whom he suspects might be inclined to paint him, will always appear different from the hand of each limner.

During our rides in the vicinity of Genoa, we frequently met several persons, almost all of them English, who evidently had taken that route purposely to see Lord Byron, “Which is he?” “That’s he,” I have frequently heard whispered, as the different groups extended their heads to gaze at him, while he has turned to me—his pale face assuming, for the moment, a warmer tint—and said, “How very disagreeable it is to be so stared at. If you knew how I detest it, you would feel how great must be my desire to enjoy the society of my friends at the Hotel de la Ville, when I pay the price of passing through the town, and exposing myself to the gazing multitude on the stairs and in the ante-chambers.” Yet there were days when he seemed more pleased than displeased at being followed and stared at. All depended on the humour he was in. When gay, he attributed the attention he excited to the true cause—admiration of his genius; but when in a less good-natured humour, he looked on it as an impertinent curiosity, caused by the scandalous histories circulated against him, and resented it as such.

He was peculiarly fond of flowers, and generally bought a large bouquet every day of a gardener whose grounds we passed. He told me that he liked to have them in his room, though they excited melancholy feelings, by reminding him of the evanescence of all that is beautiful, but that the melancholy was of a softer, milder character, than his general feelings.

Observing Byron one day in more than usually low spirits, I asked him if any thing painful had occurred. He sighed deeply, and said—“No, nothing new; the old wounds are still unhealed, and bleed afresh on the slightest touch, so that God knows there needs nothing new, and yet can I reflect on my present position without bitter feelings? Exiled from my country by a species of ostracism—the most humiliating to a proud mind, when daggers and not shells were used to ballot, inflicting
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mental wounds more deadly and difficult to be healed than all that the body could suffer. Then the notoriety (as I call what you would kindly name Fame) that follows me, precludes the privacy I desire, and renders me an object of curiosity, which is a continual source of irritation to my feelings. I am bound, by the indissoluble ties of marriage, to one who will not live with me, and live with one to whom I cannot give a legal right to be my companion, and who, wanting that right, is placed in a position humiliating to her and most painful to me. Were the
Contessa Guiccioli and I married, we should, I am sure, be cited as an example of conjugal happiness, and the domestic and retired life we lead would entitle us to respect; but our union, wanting the legal and religious part of the ceremony of marriage, draws on us both censure and blame. She is formed to make a good wife to any man to whom she attached herself. She is fond of retirement—is of a most affectionate disposition—and noble-minded and disinterested to the highest degree. Judge, then, how mortifying it must be to me, to be the cause of placing her in a false position. All this is not thought of when people are blinded by passion, but when passion is replaced by better feelings—those of affection, friendship, and confidence—when, in short, the liaison has all of marriage but its forms, then it is that we wish to give it the respectability of wedlock. It is painful (said Byron) to find one’s self growing old without—
‘that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends.’
I feel this keenly, reckless as I appear, though there are few to whom I would avow it, and certainly not to a man.”

“With all my faults,” said Byron one day, “and they are, as you will readily believe, innumerable, I have never traduced the only two women with whom I was ever domesticated, Lady Byron and the Contessa Guiccioli. Though I have had, God knows, reason to complain of Lady Byron’s leaving me, and all that her desertion entailed, I defy malice itself to prove that I ever spoke against her; on the contrary, I have always given her credit for the many excellent and amiable qualities she possesses, or at least possessed, when I knew her; and I have only to regret that forgiveness, for real, or imagined, wrongs, was not amongst their number. Of the Guiccioli, I could not, if I would, speak ill; her conduct towards me has been faultless, and there are few examples of such complete and disinterested affection as she has shown towards me all through our attachment.”

I observed in Lord Byron a candour in talking of his own defects, nay, a seeming pleasure in dwelling on them, that I never remarked in any other person; I told him this one day, and he answered, “Well, does not that give you hopes of my amendment?” My reply was, “No; I fear, by continually recapitulating them, you will get so accustomed to their existence, as to conquer your disgust of them. You remind me of Belcour, in the ’West Indian,’ when he exclaims, ‘No
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one sins with more repentance, or repents with less amendment than I do.’” He laughed, and said, “Well, only wait, and you will see me one day become all that I ought to be; I am determined to leave my sins, and not wait until they leave me: I have reflected seriously on all my faults, and that is the first step towards amendment. Nay, I have made more progress than people give me credit for; but, the truth is, I have such a detestation of cant, and am so fearful of being suspected of yielding to its outcry, that I make myself appear rather worse than better than I am.”

“You will believe me, what I sometimes believe myself, mad,” said Byron one day, “when I tell you that I seem to have two states of existence, one purely contemplative, during which the crimes, faults, and follies of mankind are laid open to my view, (my own forming a prominent object in the picture,) and the other active, when I play my part in the drama of life, as if impelled by some power, over which I have no control, though the consciousness of doing wrong remains. It is as though I had the faculty of discovering error, without the power of avoiding it. How do you account for this?” I answered, “That, like all the phenomena of thought, it was unaccountable; but that contemplation, when too much indulged, often produced the same effect on the mental faculties that the dwelling on bodily ailments effected in the physical powers—we might become so well acquainted with diseases, as to find all their symptoms, in ourselves and others, without the power of preventing or curing them; nay, by the force of imagination, might end in the belief that we were afflicted with them to such a degree as to lose all enjoyment of life, which state is termed hypochondria; but the hypochondria which arises from the belief in mental diseases is still more insupportable, and is increased by contemplation of the supposed crimes or faults, so that the mind should be often relaxed from its extreme tension, and other and less exciting subjects of reflection presented to it. Excess in thinking, like all other excesses, produces reaction, and add the two words ‘too much’ before the word thinking, in the two lines of the admirable parody of the brothers Smith—
‘Thinking is but an idle waste of thought,
And nought is every thing, and every thing is nought;’
and instead of parody, it becomes true philosophy.”

We both laughed at the abstract subject we had fallen upon; and Byron remarked, “How few would guess the general topics that occupy our conversation!” I added, “It may not, perhaps be very amusing, but, at all events, it is better than scandal.” He shook his head, and said, “All subjects are good in their way, provided they are sufficiently diversified; but scandal has something so piquant,—it is a sort of cayenne to the mind,—that I confess I like it, particularly if the objects are one’s own particular friends.”

“Of course you know Luttrell,” said Lord Byron. “He is a most
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agreeable member of society, the best sayer of good things, and the most epigrammatic conversationist I ever met: there is a terseness, and wit, mingled with fancy, in his observations, that no one else possesses, and no one so peculiarly understands the apropos. His
‘Advice to Julia’ is pointed, witty, and full of observation, showing in every line a knowledge of society, and a tact rarely met with. Then, unlike all, or most other wits, Luttrell is never obtrusive, even the choicest bon mots are only brought forth when perfectly applicable, and then are given in a tone of good breeding which enhances their value.”

Moore is very sparkling in a choice or chosen society (said Byron); with lord and lady listeners he shines like a diamond, and thinks that, like that precious stone, his brilliancy should be reserved pour le beau monde. Moore has a happy disposition, his temper is good, and he has a sort of fire-fly imagination, always in movement, and in each evolution displaying new brilliancy. He has not done justice to himself in living so much in society; much of his talents are frittered away in display, to support the character of ‘a man of wit about town,’ and Moore was meant for something better. Society and genius are incompatible, and the latter can rarely, if ever, be in close or frequent contact with the former, without degenerating; it is otherwise with wit and talent, which are excited and brought into play by the friction of society, which polishes and sharpens both. I judge from personal experience; and, as some portion of genius has been attributed to me, I suppose I may, without any extraordinary vanity, quote my ideas on this subject. Well, then (continued Byron), if I have any genius (which I grant is problematical), all I can say is, that I have always found it fade away, like snow before the sun, when I have been living much in the world. My ideas became dispersed and vague, I lost the power of concentrating my thoughts, and became another being: you will perhaps think a better, on the principle that any change in me must be for the better; but no—instead of this, I became worse, for the recollection of former mental power remained, reproaching me with present inability, and increased the natural irritability of my nature. It must be this consciousness of diminished power that renders old people peevish, and I suspect, the peevishness will be in proportion to former ability. Those who have once accustomed themselves to think and reflect deeply in solitude, will soon begin to find society irksome; the small money of conversation will appear insignificant, after the weighty metal of thought to which they have been used, and like the man who was exposed to the evils of poverty while in possession of one of the largest diamonds in the world, which, from its size, could find no purchaser, such a man will find himself in society unable to change his lofty and profound thoughts into the conventional small-talk of those who surround him. But, bless me, how I have been holding forth! (said Byron) Madame de Staël herself never declaimed more energetically, or succeeded better, in ennuyant her auditors than I have done, as I perceive you look
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dreadfully bored. I fear I am grown a sad proser, which is a bad thing, more especially after having been, what I swear to you I once heard a lady call me, a sad poet. The whole of my tirade might have been comprised in the simple statement of my belief that genius shuns society, and that, except for the indulgence of vanity, society would be well disposed to return the compliment, as they have little in common between them.

“Who would willingly possess genius? None, I am persuaded, who knew the misery it entails, its temperament producing continual irritation, destructive alike to health and happiness—and what are its advantages?—to be envied, hated, and persecuted in life, and libelled in death. Wealth may be pardoned (continued Byron), if its possessor diffuses it liberally; beauty may be forgiven provided it is accompanied by folly; talent may meet with toleration if it be not of a very superior order, but genius can hope for no mercy. If it be of a stamp that insures its currency, those who are compelled to receive it will indemnify themselves by finding out a thousand imperfections in the owner, and as they cannot approach his elevation, will endeavour to reduce him to their level by dwelling on the errors from which genius is not exempt, and which forms the only point of resemblance between them.” We hear the errors of men of genius continually brought forward, while those that belong to mediocrity are unnoticed; hence people conclude that errors peculiarly appertain to genius, and that those who boast it not, are saved from them. Happy delusion! but not even this belief can induce them to commiserate the faults they condemn. It is the fate of genius to be viewed with severity instead of the indulgence that it ought to meet, from the gratification it dispenses to others; as if its endowments could preserve the possessor from the alloy that marks the nature of mankind. Who can walk the earth, with eyes fixed on the heavens, without often stumbling over the hinderances that intercept the path? while those who are intent only on the beaten road escape. Such is the fate of men of genius: elevated over the herd of their fellow men, with thoughts that soar above the sphere of their physical existence, no wonder that they stumble when treading the mazes of ordinary life, with irritated sensibility, and mistaken views of all the common occurrences they encounter.

Lord Byron dined with us to-day; we all observed that he was evidently discomposed; the dinner and servants had no sooner disappeared, than he quoted an attack against himself in some newspaper as the cause. He was very much irritated,—much more so than the subject merited,—and showed how keenly alive he is to censure, though he takes so little pains to avoid exciting it. This is a strange anomaly that I have observed in Byron,—an extreme susceptibility to censorious observations, and a want of tact in not knowing how to steer clear of giving cause to them, that is extraordinary. He winces under castigation, and writhes in agony under the infliction of ridicule, yet gives rise
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to attack every day. Ridicule is, however, the weapon he most dreads, perhaps because it is the one he wields with most power; and I observe he is sensitively alive to its slightest approach. It is also the weapon with which he assails all; friend and foe alike come under its cutting point; and the laugh, which accompanies each sally, as a deadly incision is made in some vulnerable quarter, so little accords with the wound inflicted, that it is as though one were struck down by summer lightning while admiring its brilliant play.

Byron likes not contradiction, he waxed wroth to-day, because I defended a friend of mine whom he attacked, but ended by taking my hand, and saying he honoured me for the warmth with which I defended an absent friend, adding with irony, “Moreover, when he is not a poet, or even prose writer, by whom you can hope to be repaid by being handed down to posterity, as his defender.”

(To be continued.)