LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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[William Jerden?]
A Narrative of Lord Byron’s Last Journey to Greece.
Literary Gazette  No. 418  (22 January 1825)  49-51.
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Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences &c.

No. 418. SATURDAY,  JANUARY  22,  1825. PRICE 1s.


A Narrative of Lord Byron’s last Journey to Greece. Extracted from the Journal of Count Peter Gamba, who attended his Lordship on that Expedition. 8vo. pp. 307. London 1825. J. Murray.

Enough of Lord Byron,” we have heard even intelligent people say; and perhaps with some degree of justice, for the repetition in various shapes has seemed to multiply the multitude of accounts with which the press has teemed concerning that individual, till it was almost tiresome to open a periodical work, or inspect the catalogue of novelties in a bookseller’s shop or a popular library. But still too little has been told of Lord Byron, considering the station he must hold with generations yet unborn; and if they be but authentic, volumes of his opinions, actions, and memoirs, will yet be acceptable to a public which is forced to admire his genius, though it must do more than lament his errors.

In this Journal we have at various times done what we conceived to be our duty in noticing the productions of Lord Byron. By none have the sublime and beautiful effusions of his Muse been more deeply felt or more highly applauded than by us;—they were pointed out for admiration, and insisted upon till we have been accused of being apologists for every evil principle. And again, on the other hand, when the dangerous notions and loathsome offences of the unhappy bard have extorted our most unwilling reprobation,—when we have marked his poetical sins, and more sinful guilt of a darker dye against social life, as the appearances of the hour provoked our anger,—we have been charged with blindness to his splendours, with injustice towards his merits, and (by the wretched sycophants on whom his countenance, however dubiously shown, shed a halo of vanity,) with motives of enmity and dislike which could only be imagined by minds like their own.

Steering still between these extremes; sensible, we hope for our own sakes, of all the divine portions of Byron’s poetry; and feeling, only with sentiments softened by the distance which the grave has made—that barrier of a breath between us and him, and yet as wide as between time and eternity,—feeling that he was dreadfully distracted and dreadfully wrong;—we take up this new narrative of his last moments with an accumulated degree of interest, in which, we trust, our readers of every way of thinking will sympathize.

The most striking idea suggested by Count Gamba’s volume is this:—What was Lord Byron’s real and ultimate object in Greece? Did he aspire to sovereign power—to be the regenerator of an ancient people, and the founder of a modern dynasty to rule them? The light of this supposition (dazzling as it may at first appear) will not be rejected as beyond nature when we quote a few incidental passages from the work before us—the more curious, as they appear to be the mere statement of casual circumstances. At page 221 he tells us—

“The general government sent to know if Lord Byron would be willing to proceed in person to the seat of government; or if he would accept the office of governor general of Greece, that is, of the enfranchised part of the continent, excepting the Morea and the Islands. General Londo, his old friend, and another Greek, both well acquainted with the affairs of the country, would be appointed his counsellors. - - -

“He returned an answer to the government: at Cranidi, that ‘he was first going to Salona, and that afterwards he would be at their commands; that he could have no difficulty in accepting any office, provided he could persuade himself that any real good could result from it.’

“The danger to which these provinces were exposed was a temptation to accept such a charge; but it was necessary to discover whether a command would not be merely nominal.”

These are remarkable expressions, and no less remarkable when we observe Lord Byron’s sedulous avoidance of conjunction with any one of the Greek leaders or Greek factions—his everlasting declaration, that he came to unite the whole together; his anxiety to forward the loan in England, in addition to his own fortune which he so profusely embarked in the cause; his organization not only of a sort of pretorian band, but of an express body guard of Suliotes and foreigners; and other extraordinary signs. We will not say that these prove the fact, but we have no hesitation in stating our perfect conviction that visions of a Grecian Crown were not strangers to Lord Byron’s pillow by night or day. At another period Count Gamba relates—

“It was about the period at which this letter was written that Lord Byron had accepted the invitation from Ulysses to attend a congress at Salona, at which it was more than probable it would have been resolved, by the chieftains of Eastern and Western Greece, that his Lordship should have the general direction of affairs in the Western continent. Indeed it was not unfrequently rumoured, that in a short space of time the general government of the country would be placed in his hands. Considering the vast addition to his authority which the arrival of the monies from England would have insured to him, such a supposition is by no means chimerical. Of his visit to Salona Lord Byron wrote thus:

“‘In a few days P. Mavrocordato and myself, with a considerable escort, intend to proceed to Salona, at the request of Ulysses and the chiefs of Eastern Greece; and to take measures offensive and defensive for the ensuing campaign. Mavrocordato is almost recalled by the new government of the Morea (to take the lead, I rather think,) and they have written to propose to me to go either to the Morea with him, or take the general direction of affairs in this quarter with General Londos, and any other I may choose to form a council. Andrea Londos is my old friend and acquaintance, since we were lads in Greece together. It would be difficult to give a positive answer till the Salona meeting is over; but I am willing to serve them in any capacity they please; either commanding or commanded—it is much the same to me, as long as I can be of any presumed use to them.’”

Elsewhere it was proposed that—

Lord Byron was to have full powers both civil and military: but he was to be accompanied by a military council, composed of the most experienced chieftains, of which Nota Bozzari was to be the head. He was to have the nomination of his own staff out of the European officers in the Greek service.”

But upon this point we are unwilling to trespass farther: its novelty has, perhaps, diverted us too long from the narrative, which is dedicated to Mr. J. C. Hobhouse, whom we sincerely think to have been his Lordship’s truest friend.

The present author’s task is a happy one for a genuine lover of Lord Byron. The period it embraces is altogether not only the brightest, but the only bright epocha in his existence: Satiated with Italy and its pleasures, as Sardanapalus was with luxury, Lord B. meditated a change. He had almost departed for America—he felt writing irksome, because his writings met, instead of their wonted fame, with that fate which their degradation merited (p. 3); and at this aimless discontented hour Mr. Hobhouse and the Greek Committee in London invited him to embark in the cause of Greece. He prepared for the voyage with alacrity, though his presentiments seem to have been melancholy, and foreboding of death throughout.

“The uncertainty of the course he was about to pursue, and the information he had received from various quarters, induced him to carry his supplies in specie. He had ten thousand Spanish dollars, in ready money, and bills of exchange for forty thousand more. There were, likewise, some chests of medicine sufficient for a thousand men for a year.”

A storm assailed his vessel on sailing—

“He appeared thoughtful, and remarked, that he considered a bad beginning a favourable omen.

“The whole day was spent in repairing damages. His Lordship wishing to visit his palace at Albaro, which he had left in the care of his banker, I accompanied him. His conversation was somewhat melancholy on our way to Albaro: he spoke much of his past life, and of the uncertainty of the future. ‘Where,’ said he, ‘shall we be in a year?’ It looked like a melancholy foreboding; for on the same day of the same month, in the next year, he was carried to the tomb of his ancestors. He expressed a wish to retire for three or four hours. He dined alone, on cheese and figs, returned to the city towards four o’clock, took a warm bath, and again went on board.”


But this state of mind will be better illustrated by future extracts.

At Cephalonia his Lordship stopped a considerable time, negotiating with the Creeks in many places, and endeavouring to fix on his sphere for exertion. Marco Botzari, the bravest of his correspondents, was slain in a heroic night assault; and at length he departed for Missolonghi. The details of the voyage have been often repeated. Encountering a Turkish squadron, his Lordship’s vessel narrowly escaped; that in which Count Gamba was, was captured, but after some difficulties both arrived at their destination. Lord Byron was accompanied by his Suliote guard, but found too many of the countrymen of these romantic barbarians* already at Missolonghi. We will not enter upon the stories of their disorders and quarrels—of the Colcotroni and Mavrocordato, and other factions aspiring to pre-eminence—of the unceasing drainage of Lord Byron’s resources, almost “the be all and the end all” of the native view of his co-operation: most of these matters have been brought forward in other publications;—but we will take the personal relation as closely as its incidental traits and our limits permit.

At Cephalonia, Lord B. “spent the day as follows:—Leaving his bedroom at nine, he was employed in answering letters and settling affairs with me till eleven. He then breakfasted, and took nothing but a cup of tea. Towards noon he got on horseback, and generally remained out till three. Sometimes we went into the town. We then dined together, but he only ate cheese and vegetables. After dinner, we sometimes practised firing with a pistol. He then retired into his chamber till seven; and, after conversing with us till twelve, he retired to his chamber for the night, several hours of which, however, he passed in reading, for latterly he slept ill. - - -

“He began a journal, but did not continue it regularly. He wrote nothing but letters. ‘Poetry,’ said he, ‘should only occupy the idle. In more serious affairs it would be ridiculous.’ ———, writing to him, said, that he had heard that, ‘instead of pursuing heroic and warlike adventures, he was residing in a delightful villa, continuing ‘Don Juan’.” This offended him for the moment, and he was sorry that such a mistaken judgment should have been formed of him.”

Landing at Missolonghi, “he had not pulled off his clothes since leaving Cephalonia; had slept upon the deck, and had purposely exposed himself to privations, which he thought would harden bis constitution, and enable him to bear the fatigues of a campaign. He swam for half an hour on the 1st of January. When at Dragomestri, he composed the rough sketch of a Suliote war song, which has been found amongst his papers, but is not very easy to decipher.”

His preparations for besieging Lepanto, the affrays of the Suliotes, the endeavours to introduce something like humanity into the contest, the establishment of newspapers, the organization of artillery, and other plans, made his life a scene of anxiety; while climate, &c. prevented him from taking his accustomed and favourite exercises. Under these impressions, he wrote the fine lines on his 36th birth-day, and Count G. adds,—

“We perceived from these lines, as well as from his daily conversations, that his ambition and his hope were irrevocably fixed upon the glorious objects of his expedition to Greece, and that he had made up his mind to ‘return victorious, or return no more.’ Indeed, he often said to me, ‘Others may do as they please—they may go—but I stay here, that is certain.’ The same determination was expressed in his letters to his friends; and this resolution was not unaccompanied with the very natural presentiment—that he should never leave Greece alive. He one day asked his faithful servant, Tita, whether he thought of returning to Italy? ‘Yes,’ said Tita; ‘if your Lordship goes, I go.’ Lord Byron smiled, and said, ‘No, Tita, I shall never go back from Greece—either the Turks, or the Greeks, or the climate, will prevent that.’”

When Captain Yorke came to demand redress for infractions of the neutrality of the Ionian flag, Lord Byron “convinced him what pains he took to instil into the Greeks a prudent observance of the Ionian neutrality. He then began to joke about his expedition, which, however, he said he was resolved upon undertaking. Captain Yorke said, that he would bring his brig off Lepanto, to give refuge to the fugitives, whether Greeks or Turks. ‘For Heaven’s sake,’ replied Byron, ‘don’t come; for, if they are sure of a place of safety, all my troops will run away.’ He continued some time laughing with Captain Yorke, at his intended military command, and observed (alluding to his lameness) that he had one requisite of a general. He, at least, could not run away. The fact is, that although Lord Byron was seriously intent upon the great object of his journey to Greece, and had calmly resolved to accomplish it or to die, yet such was his fear of being taken for an empty enthusiast, that he lost no opportunity of showing that he was not blind even to what might be called the ridicule of his position; and to prevent others laughing, he indulged his humorous propensities, and began by laughing at himself. He observed to me, ‘It is odd enough that Stanhope, the soldier, is all for writing down the Turks; and I, the writer, am all for fighting them down.’ - - -

Stanhope accused Lord Byron of being an enemy to the liberty of the press; to which his Lordship replied, ‘And yet, without my money, where would your Greek newspaper be!’—and he concluded by the sentence already mentioned—‘Judge me by my actions, not by my words.’

“The colonel could not relish, nor indeed understand Lord Byron’s pleasantry, especially when directed against Mr. Bentham’s political theories: the more his Lordship laughed, the more serious the colonel became; and the discussion seldom ended without a strong reproof, which irritated his Lordship for the moment; but so far from leaving any unfavourable impression, increased his regard for an antagonist of so much truth and sincerity. When parting from him one evening, after a discussion of this nature. Lord Byron went up to him and exclaimed, ‘Give me that honest right hand.’ Two such men were worthy of being friends, and it is to be lamented that an injudicious partisan of the one should, by a partial detail of their trifling differences, try to raise him at the expense of the other. - - -

Mavrocordato paid a long visit to Byron. It must not he supposed that their conversations on all occasions turned on nothing but public affairs: on the contrary, they talked now and then upon general topics, and I remember very well, that one evening when they were together, they had a sort of trial of skill as to their recollection of Turkish history. Mavrocordato is esteemed very accomplished in this particular, and tried Byron on the genealogy of the Ottoman emperors. Wherever there was any difference of opinion, we always found, on reference, that Byron was right: his memory, indeed, was surprisingly accurate. He said ‘The Turkish history was one of the first books that gave me pleasure when a child; and I believe it had much influence on my subsequent wishes to visit the Levant, and gave, perhaps, the oriental colouring which is observed in my poetry.’”

After relating the particulars of his first illness, the Count says—

“As soon as he could speak, he showed himself perfectly free from all alarm; but he very coolly asked, whether his attack was likely to prove fatal? ‘Let me know,’ he said. ‘Do not think I am afraid to die—I am not.’ He told me, that when he lost his speech he did not lose his senses; that he had suffered great pain, and that he believed, if the convulsion had lasted a minute longer, he must have died. It is impossible to do justice to the coolness and magnanimity which he displayed upon every trying occasion. Upon trilling occasions he was certainly irritable; but the aspect of danger calmed him in an instant, and restored him to the free exercise of all the powers of his noble nature. A more undaunted man in the hour of peril never breathed. The attack had been brought on principally by the vexations which I have before dwelt upon; but his mode of living was also in part a cause of this fit. He ate nothing but fish, cheese, and vegetables; having regulated his table so as not to cost more than forty-five paras. This he did to show that he could live on fare as simple as that of the Greek soldiers.”

But the end approached. Lord B. rode out two or three times; got rid of some of his Suliote companions,—would have done the same by some of his German adherents; and finally declared, that “he had resolved to abandon for the present his intention of engaging personally in some military enterprise. - - -

“My Lord (continues the Count, in his Journal of later days) went out riding. He was exceedingly vexed. ‘I begin to fear,’ said he to me, ‘that I have done nothing but lose time, money, patience, and health; but I was prepared tor it: I knew that ours was not a path of roses, and that I ought to make up my mind to meet with deception, and calumny, and ingratitude.’ - - -

“February 23 to 28.—The primates came in a body to visit my Lord again. Their visit had the usual object. They began with thanks and adulation, and then concluded with ask-

* “When Lord Byron had made up his mind to dismiss the forty Suliotes whom he had taken into his pay, I collected them in the house of Signor Corgialegno, and took that opportunity of reading to them the account of the victory and death of their countryman Bozzari; and never shall I forget the lively colours with which the alternate passions of grief and pride were painted on their rude and weather-worn countenances. They shed a torrent of tears; but immediately recovered themselves, and expressed an anxious desire to join the surviving companions of their deceased chieftain. The Suliotes have learnt by rote a few words, allusive to the present chance of national independence, and to the ancient glories of Greece; but their real feelings prompt them to reject the name of Greeks as synonymous with slaves, and to keep to that of their own tribe: never do they turn to the quarter where their own rocks are seen to rise into the clouds, never do they mention the name of Suli, without a tear or a sigh.”
ing for more money.
Lord Byron was tired of this way of going on; and not only refused them, but declared that, unless they put a stop to their importunities, he should be obliged, however against his will, to leave the country. They were mortified at his answer, and retired. - - -

“Several correspondents wrote to Lord Byron also, praying him to return to Cephalonia and take care of his health; but these entreaties produced just the contrary effect, for in proportion as Byron thought his position more perilous, he the more resolved upon remaining where he was. - - -

“March 3.—Lord Byron was a little better, and was in good spirits. He not unfreqnently diverted himself in the evening with playing off some pleasantry on some one of those about him. One of the Englishmen had been much alarmed at the earthquake, and had continual apprehensions of its return. Byron conceived a scheme for frightening him, and accordingly we rolled some barrels full of cannon-balls in the room above us, which completely succeeded, and terrified our companion as much as he had been at the real earthquake.”

These were the last gleams, and sadly clouded they must have been to a sensitive and ambitious soul. There was an alarm of plague—there were ruffian contests—there were exhibitions of plunderer, and bandit, and traitor—and selfish interests, and general insubordination—Alas, poor Greece!—and in April, her friend Lord Byron was hurried to his tomb.

“April 9.—Lord Byron had suffered visibly in his health during the last day or two: the events just mentioned, and the weather, had made him more than usually nervous and irritable: but he this morning received letters from Zante and from England which raised his spirits exceedingly. They brought news of the probable conclusion of the loan, which was a great consolation indeed to us, in the midst of our distresses; but what comforted him personally was some favourable intelligence respecting his daughter and his sister. He learnt that the latter had been seriously indisposed at the very time of his fit, but had entirely recovered her health. He was delighted at this news; but he remarked the coincidence as something singular. He was perhaps, on the whole, rather given to attach importance to such accidents; at least, he noted them as out of the common course of nature.

“He had not been on horseback for three or four days; and though the weather was threatening, he resolved to ride. Three miles from the town we were overtaken by a heavy rain, and we returned to the town walk wet through and in a violent perspiration. I have before mentioned that it was our practice to dismount at the walls, and return to our house in a boat. This day, however, I entreated him to go back on horseback the whole way, as it would be very dangerous, warm as he was, to remain exposed to the rain in a boat for half an hour. But he would not listen to me, and said, ‘I should make a pretty soldier, indeed, if I were to care for such a trifle.’ Accordingly, we dismounted, and got into the boat as usual.

“Two hours after his return home, he was seized with a shuddering; he coinplained of fever and rheumatic pains. At eight in the evening I entered his room; he was lying on a sofa, restless and melancholy. He said to me, ‘I suffer a great deal of pain; I do not care for death; but these agonies I cannot bear.’ The medical men proposed bleeding, but he refused, observing, ‘Have you no other remedy than bleeding?—there are many more die of the lancet than the lance.’ Some of the physicians answered, that it was not absolutely necessary to bleed as yet, and I fear were too much inclined to flatter his prejudice against that operation.”

On the 10th he transacted business—on the 11th he rode out—after that he was confined to his room, with varying symptoms, till the 17th.

“This was the first day that the medical men seemed to entertain serious apprehensions of the event. He was bled twice, first in the morning, and at two in the afternoon, and lost about two pounds of blood. He did not faint, and his eyes were lively, but he had no sleep; he perspired on the head and neck; and the disease seemed attacking the head. - - - He was dreadfully distressed by want of sleep, and he now said to Doctor Millingen, ‘I know that, without sleep, a man must die or go mad: I would sooner die a thousand times.’ - - -

“During the night of the 17th he had some attacks of delirium, in which he talked of fighting; but neither that night nor the next morning was he aware of his peril. This morning his physicians were alarmed by appearances of inflammation of the brain, and proposed another bleeding, to which Lord Byron consented, but soon ordered the vein to be closed. - - - A few hours afterwards other letters arrived from England, from his most intimate friends, full of good news, and most consolatory in every way, particularly one from Mr. Hobhouse, and another from the Honourable Douglas Kinnaird; but he had then lost his senses—it was too late.”

This was the 18th.

“At this time he rose, and went into the next room. He was able to walk across the chamber, leaning on his servant Tita. When seated, he told Tita to bring him a book, mentioning it by name. The servant brought it to him. About this time Dr. Bruno entreated him, with tears in his eyes, to be again bled. ‘No,’ he said: ‘if my hour is come, I shall die whether I lose my blood or keep it.’ After reading a few minutes, he found himself faint, and leaning upon his servant’s arm, he tottered into the next room, and returned to bed.

“At half-past three, Dr. Bruno and Dr. Millingen, becoming more alarmed, wished to call in two other physicians, a Doctor Treiber, a German, and a Greek named Luca Vaya, the most distinguished of his profession in the town, and physician to Mavrocordato. My Lord at first refused to see them; but being told that Mavrocordato advised it, he said, ‘Very well, let them come; but let them look at me and say nothing.’ They promised this, and were admitted. When about him, and feeling his pulse, one of them wished to speak—‘Recollect your promise,’ he said, ‘and go away.’

“At four o’clock, after this consultation of his physicians, he seemed to be aware of his approaching end. I think this was the exact time, and not before. - - -

“He awoke in half an hour. I wished to go to him—but I had not the heart. Mr. Parry went, and Byron knew him again, and squeezed his hand, and tried to express his last wishes. He mentioned names, as before, and also sums of money: he spoke sometimes in English, sometimes in Italian. - - - From those about him, I collected that, either at this time, or in his former interval of reason, he could be understood to say—‘Poor Greece!—poor town!—my poor servants!’ Also, ‘Why was I not aware of this sooner?’ and ‘My hour is come!—I do not care for death—but why did I not go home before I came here?’ At another time he said, ‘There are things which make the world dear to me [Lo lascio qualche cosa di caro nel mondo]: for the rest, I am content to die.’ He spoke also of Greece, saying, ‘I have given her my time, my means, my health—and now I give her my life!—what could I do more?’

“It was about six o’clock in the evening when he said, ‘I want to go to sleep now,’ and immediately turning round, he fell into that slumber, from which, alas! he never awoke. From that moment he seemed incapable of sense or motion: but there were occasional symptoms of suffocation, and a rattling in the throat, which induced his servants now and then to raise his head. Means were taken to rouse him from his lethargy, but in vain. He continued in this state for four-and-twenty hours; and it was just a quarter past six o’clock on the next day, the 19th, that he was seen to open his eyes, and immediately shut them again. The physicians felt his pulse—he was gone! - - -

“Immediately after his death, his countenance had an air of calmness, mingled with a severity, that seemed gradually to soften; for when I took a last look of him, the expression, at least to my eyes, was truly sublime.”

How his corse looked, or what happened now, was of no avail to him—after life’s fitful fever he slept well. Within two days, Mr. Blacquiere arrived, with the fond object of his hopes, the first instalment of the loan!—Oh, the vanity of human ambition!