LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Moore’s Life of Lord Byron. Concluded].
Literary Gazette  No. 682  (13 February 1830)  100-01.
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Moore’s Life of Lord Byron. Vol. I. Murray.
[Third Notice.]

As this work is now in almost every body’s hands, were it not for the sake of our distant and foreign readers, we should hardly feel called upon to pursue it farther. But there are still some points which we are inclined to exhibit, for the sake of giving them more force than they have when mixed up with other very miscellaneous matters. Of Lord Byron’s liberality it is pleasing to speak, however strange his motives sometimes were, and however mistaken he was in the objects of his bounty.

“This sort of passage,” says Mr. Hodgson, alluding to an act of generosity to himself, “constantly occurs in his correspondence. Nor was his interest confined to mere remembrances and inquiries after health. Were it possible to state all he has done for numerous friends, he would appear amiable indeed. For myself, I am bound to acknowledge, in the fullest and warmest manner, his most generous and well-timed aid; and, were my poor friend Bland alive, he would as gladly bear the like testimony; though I have most reason, of all men, to do so.”

At Hodgson, as at all his friends too, Lord B. would have his joke. He was his boon companion on many a hard bout; and we have been told the following little anecdote, when he turned from these festive ways, and subsided into matrimony. In his letter to Byron announcing this event, and expressing his happiness on the change, he quoted the well-known phrase, “Inveni portum:” on reading which his lordship exclaimed to a friend at his elbow, “I’m d—d glad of it; for he need never come to drink any more of mine.”

Our next extract displays the noble landlord in a high moral light. One of his tenants had, it seems, seduced and abandoned a neighbouring fair—respecting which Byron writes thus:

“It is my opinion that Mr. B—— ought to marry Miss R——. Our first duty is not to do evil; but, alas! that is impossible: our next is to repair it, if in our power. The girl is his equal: if she were his inferior, a sum of money and provision for the child would be some, though a poor compensation: as it is, he should marry her. I will have no gay deceivers on my estate, and I shall not allow my tenants
a privilege I do not permit myself, that of debauching each other’s daughters. God knows, I have been guilty of many excesses; but, as I have laid down a resolution to reform, and lately kept it, I expect this Lothario to follow the example, and begin by restoring this girl to society, or, by the beard of my father! he shall hear of it.”

The following are entertaining extracts, relating to many matters:

“As for England, it is long since I have heard from it. Every one at all connected with my concerns is asleep, and you are my only correspondent, agents excepted. I have really no friends in the world; though all my old school-companions are gone forth into that world, and walk about there in monstrous disguises, in the garb of guardsmen, lawyers, parsons, fine gentlemen, and such other masquerade dresses. So, I here shake hands and cut with all these busy people, none of whom write to me. Indeed, I asked it not;—and here I am, a poor traveller and heathenish philosopher, who hath perambulated the greatest part of the Levant, and seen a great quantity of very improvable land and sea, and, after all, am no better than when I set out—Lord help me! I have been out fifteen months this very day, and I believe my concerns will draw me to England soon; but of this I will apprise you regularly from Malta. On all points, Hobhouse will inform you, if you are curious as to our adventures. I have seen some old English papers up to the 15th of May. I see the ‘Lady of the Lake’ advertised. Of course it is in his old ballad style, and pretty. After all, Scott is the best of them. The end of all scribblement is to amuse, and he certainly succeeds there. I long to read his new romance. * * * You don’t know D—s, do you? He had a farce ready for the stage before I left England, and asked me for a prologue, which I promised, but sailed in such a hurry I never penned a couplet. I am afraid to ask after his drama, for fear it should be damned—Lord forgive me for using such a word!—but the pit, sir, you know, the pit—they will do those things, in spite of merit. I remember this farce from a curious circumstance. When Drury-lane was burnt to the ground, by which accident Sheridan and his son lost the few remaining shillings they were worth, what doth my friend D—— do? Why, before the fire was out, he writes a note to Tom Sheridan, the manager of this combustible concern, to inquire whether this farce was not converted into fuel, with about two thousand other unactable manuscripts, which of course were in great peril, if not actually consumed. Now, was not this characteristic—the ruling passions of Pope are nothing to it. Whilst the poor distracted manager was bewailing the loss of a building only worth £300,000, together with some twenty thousand pounds of rags and tinsel in the tiring rooms, Blue-beard’s elephants, and all that—in comes a note from a scorching author, requiring at his hands two acts and odd scenes of a farce!!

Lord B. had no taste for antiquarian researches: his studies were men.

“Here I see and have conversed with French, Italians, Germans, Danes, Greeks, Turks, Americans &c. &c. and without losing sight of my own, I can judge of the countries and manners of others. Where I see the superiority of England (which, by the by, we are a good deal mistaken about in many things, I am pleased, and where I find her inferior, I am at least enlightened. Now, I might have staid, smoked in your towns, or fogged in your country, a century, without being sure of this, and without acquiring any thing more useful or amusing at home. I keep no journal, nor have I any intention of scribbling my travels. * * * I have a famous Bavarian artist taking some views of Athens, &c. &c. for me. This will be better than scribbling, a disease I hope myself cured of. I hope, on my return, to lead a quiet, recluse life, but God knows and does best for us all; at least, so they say, and I have nothing to object, as, on the whole, I have no reason to complain of my lot. I am convinced, however, that men do more harm to themselves than ever the devil could do to them.”

There is a great deal of good sense and sound criticism in the annexed; well worthy of the attention of all the patrons of extraordinary and premature geniuses—

“Yours and Pratt’s protégé, Blackett, the cobbler, is dead, in spite of his rhymes, and is probably one of the instances where death has saved a man from damnation. You were the ruin of that poor fellow amongst you: had it not been for his patrons, he might now have been in very good plight, shoe- (not verse-) making: but you have made him immortal with a vengeance. I write this, supposing poetry, patronage, and strong waters to have been the death of him.”

Mr. Moore next gives us some of the best specimens he could select from Byron’s imitation of Horace; which poem, wonderful to relate, he prized above his Childe Harold:—we, in our turn, choose a few passages. “The opening of the poem is, with reference to the original, ingenious:—
‘Who would not laugh, if Lawrence, hired to grace
His costly canvas with each flatter’d face,
Abused his art, till Nature, with a blush,
Saw cits grow centaurs underneath his brush?
Or should some limner join, for show or sale,
A maid of honour to a mermaid’s tall?
Or low Dubost (as once the world has seen)
Degrade God’s creatures in his graphic spleen?
Not all that forced politeness, which defends
Fools in their faults, could gag his grinning friends.
Believe me, Moschus, like that picture seems
The book, which sillier than a sick man’s dreams,
Displays a crowd of figures incomplete,
Poetic nightmares, without head or feet.’
The following is pointed, and felicitously expressed:—
‘Then glide down Grub-street, fasting and forgot,
Laugh’d into Lethe by some quaint Review,
Whose wit is never troublesome till—true.’
In speaking of the opera, he says:—
‘Hence the pert shopkeeper, whose throbbing ear
Aches with orchestras which he pays to hear,
Whom shame, not sympathy, forbids to snore,
His anguish doubled by his own ‘encore!’
Squeezed in ‘Fop’s Alley,’ jostled by the beaux,
Teazed with his hat, and trembling for his toes,
Scarce wrestles through the night, nor tastes of ease
Till the dropp’d curtain gives a glad release:
Why this and more be suffers, can ye guess?—
Because it costs him dear, and makes him dress!’
The concluding couplet of the following lines is amusingly characteristic of that mixture of fun and bitterness with which their author sometimes spoke in conversation;—so much so that those who knew him might almost fancy they hear him utter the words:—
‘But every thing has faults, nor is ’t unknown
That harps and fiddles often lose their tone,
And wayward voices at their owner’s call,
With all his best endeavours, only squall;
Dogs blink their covey, flints withhold the spark,
And double barrels (damn them) miss their mark!*’
One more passage, with the humorous note appended to it, will complete the whole amount of my favourable specimens:—

‘And that’s enough—then write and print so fast,—
If Satan take the hindmost, who’d be last?
They storm the types, they publish one and all,
They leap the counter, and they leave the stall:—
Provincial maidens, men of high command,
Yea, baronets, have ink’d the bloody hand!
Cash cannot quell them—Pollio play’d this prank:
(Then Phœbus first found credit in a bank!)
Not all the living only, but the dead
Fool on, as fluent as an Orpheus’ head!
Damn’d all their days, they posthumously thrive,
Dug up from dust, though buried when alive!
Reviews record this epidemic crime,
Those books of martyrs to the rage for rhyme:
Alas! woe worth the scribbler, often seen
There lurk his earlier lays, but soon, hot-press’d,
Behold a quarto!—tarts must tell the rest!
Then leave, ye wise, the lyres precarious chords
To muse-mad baronets or madder lords,
Or country Crispins, now grown somewhat stale,
Twin Doric minstrels, drunk with Doric ale!
Hark to those notes, narcotically soft,
The cobbler-laureates sing to Capel Lofft!’”†

* “As Mr. Pope took the liberty of damning Homer, to whom he was under great obligations—‘And Homer (damn him) calls’—it may be presumed that any body or any thing may be damned in verse by poetical licence; and in case of accident, I beg leave to plead so illustrious a precedent.”
† “This well-meaning gentleman has spoilt some excellent shoemakers and been accessory to the poetical undoing of many of the industrious poor. Nathaniel Bloomfield and his brother Bobby have set all Somersetshire singing. Nor has the malady confined itself to one county. Pratt, too (who once was wiser), has caught the contagion of patronage, and decoyed a poor fellow, named Blackett, into poetry; but he died during the operation, leaving one child and two volumes of ‘Remains,’ utterly destitute. The girl, if she don’t take a poetical twist, and come forth as a shoemaking Sappho, may do well, but the ‘Tragedies’ are as rickety as if they had been the offspring of an Earl or a Seatonian prize-poet. The patrons of this poor lad are certainly answerable for his end, and it ought to be an indictable offence. But this is the least they have done; for, by a refinement of barbarity, they have made the (late) man posthumously ridiculous, by printing what he would have had sense enough never to print himself. Certes, these rakers of ‘Remains’ come under the statute against resurrection-men. What does it signify whether a poor dear dead dunce is to be stuck up in Surgeons’ or in Stationers’ Hall? is it so bad to unearth his bones as his blunders? is it not better to gibbet his body on a heath than his soul in an octavo? ‘We know what we are, but we know not what we may be,’ and it is to be hoped we never shall know, if a man who has passed through life with a sort of éclat is to find himself a mountebank on the other side of Styx, and made, like poor Joe Blackett, the laughing stock of purgatory. The plea of publication is to provide for the child. Now, might not some of this ‘sutor ultra crepidam’s’ friends and seducers have done a decent action without inveigling Pratt into biography? And then, his inscription split into so many modicums! ‘To the Duchess of So Much, the Right Honble. So-and-so, and Mrs. and Miss Somebody, these volumes are,’ &c. &c. Why, this is doling out the ‘soft milk of dedication’ in gills; there is but a quart, and he divides it among a dozen. Why, Pratt! hadst thou not a puff left? dost thou think six families of distinction can share this in quiet? There is a child, a book, and a dedication: send the girl to her grace, the volumes to the grocer, and the dedication to the d-v-l.”