LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Lady Blessington’s Conversations of Lord Byron].
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. NS 40  (January 1834)  97-98.
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Conversations of Lord Byron with the Countess of Blessington.
London. 1834. 8vo. 1 vol.

These Conversations having so recently appeared in the pages of the “New Monthly Magazine,” renders anything like a critical or extended notice of them, now that they are collected into a volume, a very delicate and somewhat hazardous expedient; we shall, therefore, decline the attempt. Self-praise is no recommendation; and were we to assume the air of an impartial severity, we should be laughed at for our ridiculous affectation. The truth is, we were happy to possess, in any form, literary treasures, the intrinsic and the adventitious value of which we had sagacity enough to perceive the moment we understood the source from whence they would be derived, and the subject of inexhaustible interest to which they referred. We are happy to know that public opinion coincides with our own, and that Lady Blessington’s addenda to the former notices of Lord Byron are considered as far more characteristic, and as throwing far more light upon the real sentiments and disposition, of the noble poet than even the productions of those who had undertaken the ambitious task of writing his memoirs, or the more questionable one of attempting his life. Byron was, after all, a very ordinary personage. Allowing the transcendency of his poetical genius, he cannot be ranked among the great men of his species, whatever may have been his relative importance as compared with those of his time. That he has created a deeper interest towards himself than, probably, any former writer, may be accounted for from the state of society when he commenced his career—the peculiar class to which he belonged—the remarkable and sometimes mysterious circumstances in his life which brought him so strangely before the public—the apparent noble sacrifice which he made of himself on the altar of freedom—and the violent collision produced by his works between the great parties in politics and religion which, on their first appearance, divided the civilized world. Lady Blessington has made the most of her subject; and if we are sometimes offended with Byron, we are always charmed with her. On occasions when he appears anything but amiable, when something absolutely repulsive makes us shrink from a nearer acquaintance with the perverseness of his wayward nature, she contrives to bring him off with the best grace imaginable, without compromising her own sense of justice, or sacrificing, to an affected candour, her love of truth and virtue. But even Lady Blessington finds it impossible to make a great man of her hero. He is clever—he talks with vivacity—is frequently piquant—sometimes startling and paradoxical—occasionally grave and severe; but never serious—never in earnest. You can never judge of him by what he says, or by what he appears. The weakness of the spoiled child of literature, as well as of the nursery, is apparent in every mood which he assumes. But the vice of his character is insincerity, and the form of it that which he denounces so perpetually in his confidential and more public writings—Cant. Yes, we repeat it, there is no writer, no man of his age, more directly chargeable with this despicable abuse of human confidence and goodness than Lord Byron. If ever he was truly himself it was when he was theoretically decrying the opinions which he really entertained, or practically belying the virtues to which he was naturally inclined; or committing the vices to which he had no other propensity than was induced by the knowledge that they would make him the talk and the wonder of the world. He frequently indulged the cant of misanthropy, when his heart really felt the slightest appeal to its compassion; he would disparage Christianity, sneer at all future hope, and treat the notion of another life with scorn, and all the while tremble in secret at the apprehension of the terrors which death might disclose. He did not hate his enemies with half
98Critical Notices.
the malignity which he pretended. His friends he allured into his confidence, and betrayed them the next moment to derision and contempt; and as for his love, it was neither the impulse of passion nor the generosity of esteem; he intrigued by means of money, and married for the sake of it; and in the particular instance where the liason might have been attributed to attachment, he takes pains to prove that, on his part at least, it was the mere indulgence of pride or vanity, or of something even less pardonable.

The numberless pens that have been employed in giving sketches and characters of Lord Byron and his works, all written under the influence of greater or less advantages, have furnished us with nothing contradictory of this, which we have assumed as the single governing principle of his moral nature; in these conversations it is perpetually seen. Whether a larger experience, the fruit of a longer life, and a more intimate acquaintance with the better portion of mankind, would have improved him into a being that all might admire, and safely trust, and highly esteem, and which would have rendered his biography an instructive portraiture of all that is great, and noble, and virtuous, it is not for us to divine. Had his mother been a Lady Blessington, or had this highly-gifted woman, or such an one, stood in a still more endearing relation to him, and at an early period of his life, we believe that both his character and his fame, his genius and its influence, would have reflected nothing but honour on his country, and that his aristocratic birth and dignity, even in his own estimation, would have been among the meanest of his distinctions.

From the intimacy which subsisted between the fair reporter of these conversations and the noble poet, we have some confidence in believing her assertion, “that there was that in Byron which would have yet nobly redeemed the errors of his youth and the misuse of his genius, had length of years been granted him;” though we frankly confess no indications of this happy tendency appear in any view we have been permitted to take of his Lordship through the representations of those who have undertaken to make him known to the world. He broke down in the cause of Greece: the struggle upon which he was about to enter, had he survived it, we fear, would only have added to his chagrin, and mortified his self-love. But it is in vain to speculate on what might have been,—we only know what was; and we deeply regret that a man, “whose productions have formed an epoch in the literature of his country,” should have exhibited so little in his conduct to entitle him to their just esteem. As a poet, we are not insensible to his merits; but have been struck with the application, both to the man and the writer, of the following passage, descriptive of a namesake, in the pases of our immortal dramatist, the unrivalled delineator of human nature, under every form in which it has appeared:—
“Oft have I heard of you, my Lord Biron,
Before I saw you; and the world’s large tongue
Proclaims you for a man replete with mocks;
Full of comparisons and wounding flouts;
Which you on all estates will execute,
That lie within the mercy of your wit!”