LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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[Moore’s Life of Lord Byron. Concluded].
Literary Gazette  No. 729  (8 January 1831)  23-25.
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No. 729. SATURDAY, JANUARY 8, 1831. PRICE 8d.


Letters and Journals of Lord Byron.
[Second Notice: conclusion.]

Some of Lord Byron’s letters to Mr. Murray are very amusing, and place his liberality, or rather, perhaps, his sense of justice, in a very favourable light; though, in general, we think there are few names introduced into these pages (not excepting the author’s own) which are not deteriorated and lowered by the light in which they appear. Speaking of a proposed bargain with Galignani, he says—

“Recollect that I will have nothing to do with it, except as far as it may secure the copyright to yourself. I will have no bargain but with the English booksellers, and I desire no interest out of that country. Now, that’s fair and open, and a little handsomer than your dodging silence, to see what would come of it. You are an excellent fellow, mio caro Moray, but there is still a little leaven of Fleet-street about you now and then—a crum of the old loaf. You have no right to act suspiciously with me, for I have given you no reason. I shall always be frank with you; as, for instance, whenever you talk with the votaries of Apollo arithmetically, it should be in guineas, not pounds—to poets, as well as physicians, and bidders at auctions. * * *

“With regard to the price, I fixed none, but left it to Mr. Kinnaird, Mr. Shelley, and yourself, to arrange. Of course, they would do their best; and as to yourself, I knew you would make no difficulties. But I agree with Mr. Kinnaird perfectly, that the concluding five hundred should be only conditional; and for my own sake, I wish it to be added, only in case of your selling a certain number, that number to be fixed by yourself. I hope this is fair. In every thing of this kind there must be risk; and till that be past, in one way or the other, I would not willingly add to it, particularly in times like the present. And pray always recollect that nothing could mortify me more—no failure on my own part—than having made you lose by any purchase from me. * * *

“So you and Mr. Foscolo, &c. want me to undertake what you call a ‘great work?’ an epic poem, I suppose, or some such pyramid. I’ll try no such thing; I hate tasks. And then ‘seven or eight years!’ God send us all well this day three months, let alone years. If one’s years can’t be better employed than in sweating poesy, a man had better be a ditcher. And works, too!—is Childe Harold nothing? You have so many ‘divine’ poems, is it nothing to have written a human one? without any of your worn-out machinery. Why, man, I could have spun the thoughts of the Four Cantos of that poem into twenty, had I wanted to book-make, and its passion into as many modern tragedies. Since you want length, you shall have enough of Juan, for I’ll make fifty cantos.

“Now to business; * * * * * I say unto you, verily, it is not so; or, as the foreigner said to the waiter, after asking him to bring a glass of water, to which the man answered, ‘I will, sir,’—‘You will!—G—d d—n,—I say, you mush!’ And I will submit this to the decision of any person or persons to be appointed by both, on a fair examination of the circumstances of this as compared with the preceding publications. So, there’s for you. There is always some row or other previously to all our publications: it should seem that, on approximating, we can never quite get over the natural antipathy of author and bookseller, and that more particularly the ferine nature of the latter must break forth. * * *

“You offer 1500 guineas for the new canto: I won’t take it. I ask two thousand five hundred guineas for it, which you will either give or not, as you think proper. It concludes the poem, and consists of 144 stanzas. The notes are numerous, and chiefly written by Mr. Hobhouse, whose researches have been indefatigable, and who, I will venture to say, has more real knowledge of Rome and its environs than any Englishman who has been there since Gibbon. By the way, to prevent any mistakes, I think it necessary to state the fact that he, Mr. Hobhouse, has no interest whatever in the price or profit to be derived from the copyright of either poem or notes directly or indirectly; so that you are not to suppose that it is by, for, or through him, that I require more for this Canto than the preceding.—No: but if Mr. Eustace was to have had two thousand for a poem on Education; if Mr. Moore is to have three thousand for Lalla &c.; if Mr. Campbell is to have three thousand for his prose on poetry—I don’t mean to disparage these gentlemen in their labours—but I ask the aforesaid price for mine. You will tell me that their productions are considerably longer: very true, and when they shorten them, I will lengthen mine, and ask less. You shall submit the MS. to Mr. Gifford, and any other two gentlemen to be named by you (Mr. Frere, or Mr. Croker, or whomever you please, except such fellows as your * *s and * *s), and if they pronounce this canto to be inferior as a whole to the preceding, I will not appeal from their award, but burn the manuscript, and leave things as they are. * * *

“I once wrote from the fulness of my mind and the love of fame (not as an end, but as a means, to obtain that influence over men’s minds which is power in itself and in its consequences), and now from habit and from avarice; so that the effect may probably be as different as the inspiration. I have the same facility, and indeed necessity, of composition, to avoid idleness (though idleness in a hot
country is a pleasure), but a much greater indifference to what is to become of it, after it has served my immediate purpose. However, I should on no account like to——but I won’t go on, like the archbishop of Granada, as I am very sure that you dread the fate of Gil Blas, and with good reason. Yours, &c.”

We select the following for their variety, as well as throwing much light on Lord Byron’s character.

“In writing thus to him, I had more particularly in recollection a fancy of this kind respecting myself, which he had, not long before my present visit to him at Venice, taken into his head. In a ludicrous, and now, perhaps, forgotten publication of mine, giving an account of the adventures of an English family in Paris, there had occurred the following description of the chief hero of the tale.
“A fine, sallow, sublime sort of Werter-faced man,
With mustachios which gave (what we read of so oft)
The dear Corsair expression, half savage, half soft,—
As hyænas in love may be fancied to look, or
A something between Abelard and old Blucher.”
On seeing this doggerel, my noble friend,—as I might, indeed, with a little more thought, have anticipated,—conceived the notion that I meant to throw ridicule on his whole race of poetic heroes, and accordingly, as I learned from persons then in frequent intercourse with him, flew out into one of his fits of half humorous rage against me. This he now confessed himself, and, in laughing over the circumstance with me, owned that he had even gone so far as, in his first moments of wrath, to contemplate some little retaliation for this perfidious hit at his heroes. ‘But when I recollected,’ said he, ‘what pleasure it would give the whole tribe of blockheads and Blues to see you and me turning out against each other, I gave up the idea.’ He was, indeed, a striking instance of what may be almost invariably observed, that they who best know how to wield the weapon of ridicule themselves, are the most alive to its power in the hands of others. I remember, one day,—in the year 1813, I think,—as we were conversing together about critics and their influence on the public, ‘For my part,’ he exclaimed, ‘I don’t care what they say of me, so they don’t quiz me.’ ‘Oh, you need not fear that,’—I answered, with something, perhaps, of a half suppressed smile on my features,—‘nobody could quiz you.’ ‘You could, you villain!’ he replied, clenching his hand at me, and looking, at the same time, with comic earnestness into my face. * * *

“On the day preceding that of my departure from Venice, my noble host, on arriving from La Mira to dinner, told me, with all the glee of a schoolboy who had been just granted a holiday, that, as this was my last evening, the Contessa had given him leave to ‘make a night of it,’ and that accordingly he would not only accompany me to the opera, but that we should sup together at some café (as in the old times) afterwards. Observing a volume in his gondola, with a number of paper marks between the leaves, I inquired of him what it was?—‘Only a book,’ he answered, ‘from which I am trying to crib, as I do wherever I can;—and that’s the way I get the character of an original poet.’ On taking it up and looking into it, I exclaimed., ‘Ah, my old friend, Agathon!’—‘What!’ he cried, archly, ‘you have been beforehand with me there, have you?’ Though in thus imputing to himself premeditated plagiarism, he was, of course, but jesting, it was, I am inclined to think, his practice, when engaged in the composition of any work, to excite his vein by the perusal of others, on the same subject or plan, from which the slightest hint caught by his imagination, as he read, was sufficient to kindle there such a train of thought as, but for that spark, had never been awakened, and of which he himself soon forgot the source. In the present instance, the inspiration he sought was of no very elevating nature,—the anti-spiritual doctrines of the Sophist in this Romance being what chiefly, I suspect, attracted his attention to its pages, as not unlikely to supply him with fresh argument and sarcasm for those depreciating views of human nature and its destiny, which he was now, with all the wantonness of unbounded genius, enforcing in Don Juan.”

The following is an odd expression of Byron’s taste.

“I wish you good night, with a Venetian benediction, ‘Benedetto te, e la terra che ti fara!’—‘May you be blessed, and the earth which you will make’—is it not pretty? You would think it still prettier if you had heard it, as I did two hours ago, from the lips of a Venetian girl, with large black eyes, a face like Faustina’s, and the figure of a Juno—tall and energetic as a Pythoness, with eyes flashing, and her dark hair streaming in the moonlight—one of those women who may be made any thing. I am sure if I put a poniard into the hand of this one, she would plunge it where I told her,—and into me, if I offended her. I like this kind of animal, and am sure that I should have preferred Medea to any woman that ever breathed.”

The following are miscellaneous extracts from his lordship’s letters and journals.

“Why, at the very height of desire and human pleasure,—worldly, social, amorous, ambitious, or even avaricious,—does there mingle a certain sense of doubt and sorrow—a fear of what is to come—a doubt of what is—a retrospect to the past, leading to a prognostication of the future. (The best of Prophets of the future is the Past.) Why is this? or these?—I know not, except that on a pinnacle we are most susceptible of giddiness, and that we never fear falling except from a precipice—the higher, the more awful, and the more sublime; and, therefore, I am not sure that Fear is not a pleasurable sensation; at least, Hope is; and what Hope is there without a deep leaven of Fear? and what sensation is so delightful as Hope? and, if it were not for Hope, where would the Future be?—in hell. It is useless to say where the Present is, for most of us know; and as for the Past, what predominates in memory?—Hope baffled. Ergo, in all human affairs, it is Hope—Hope—Hope.”

“I have been thinking over, the other day, on the various comparisons, good or evil, which I have seen published of myself in different journals, English and foreign. This was suggested to me by accidentally turning over a foreign one lately,—for I have made it a rule latterly never to search for any thing of the kind, but not to avoid the perusal, if presented by chance. To begin, then: I have seen myself compared personally or poetically, in English, French, German (as interpreted to me), Italian, and Portuguese, within these nine years, to Rousseau, Goëthe, Young, Aretine, Timon of Athens, Dante, Petrarch, ‘an alabaster vase, lighted up within,’ Satan, Shakspeare, Buonaparte, Tiberius, Æschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Harlequin, the Clown, Sternhold and Hopkins, to the phantasmagoria, to Henry the Eighth, to Chenier, to Mirabeau, to young R. Dallas (the schoolboy), to Michael Angelo, to Raphael, to a petit-maitre, to Diogenes, to Childe Harold, to Lara, to the Count in Beppo, to Milton, to Pope, to Dryden, to Burns, to Savage, to Chatterton, to ‘oft have I heard of thee, my Lord Biron,’ in Shakspeare, to Churchill the poet, to Kean the actor, to Alfieri, &c. &c. &c.”

Speaking of Hunt:

“Now, do you see what you and your friends do by your injudicious rudeness?—actually cement a sort of connexion which you strove to prevent, and which, had the Hunts prospered, would not in all probability have continued. As it is, I will not quit them in their adversity, though it should cost me character, fame, money, and the usual et cetera. My original motives I already explained (in the letter which you thought proper to show): they are the true ones, and I abide by them, as I tell you, and I told Leigh Hunt when he questioned me on the subject of that letter. He was violently hurt, and never will forgive me at bottom; but I can’t help that. I never meant to make a parade of it; but if he chose to question me, I could only answer the plain truth: and I confess I did not see any thing in the letter to hurt him, unless I said he was ‘a bore,’ which I don’t remember. Had their Journal gone on well, and I could have aided to make it better for them, I should then have left them, after my safe pilotage off a lee shore, to make a prosperous voyage by themselves. As it is, I can’t, and would not, if I could, leave them among the breakers. As to any community of feeling, thought, or opinion, between Leigh Hunt and me, there is little or none. We meet rarely, hardly ever; but I think him a good-principled and able man, and must do as I would be done by. I do not know what world he has lived in, but I have lived in three or four; but none of them like his Keats and kangaroo terra incognita. Alas! poor Shelley! how we would have laughed had he lived, and how we used to laugh now and then, at various things which are grave in the suburbs!”

“Of Hunt I see little—once a month or so, and then on his own business, generally. You may easily suppose that I know too little of Hampstead and his satellites to have much communion or community with him. My whole present relation to him arose from Shelley’s unexpected wreck. You would not have had me leave him in the street with his family, would you? and as to the other plan you mention, you forget how it would humiliate him—that his writings should be supposed to be dead weight! Think a moment—he is perhaps the vainest man on earth, at least his own friends say so pretty loudly; and if he were in other circumstances, I might be tempted to take him down a peg; but not now,—it would be cruel. It is a cursed business; but neither the motive nor the means rest upon my conscience.”

Curious idea of constancy.

“Six-and-twenty years ago Col. * * * *, then an ensign, being in Italy, fell in love with the Marchesa * * * *, and she with him. The lady must be, at least, twenty years his senior. The war broke out; he returned to England, to serve—not his country, for that’s Ireland—but England, which is a different thing; and she—heaven knows what she did. In the year 1814, the first annunciation of the Definitive Treaty of peace (and tyranny) was developed to the astonished Milanese by the arrival of Col. * * * *, who, flinging himself full length at the feet of Madame * * * *, murmured forth, in half-forgotten Irish Italian, eternal vows of
indelible constancy. The lady screamed and exclaimed, ‘Who are you?’ The Colonel cried, ‘What, don’t you know me? I am so and so,’ &c. &c. &c.; till, at length, the Marchesa, mounting from reminiscence to reminiscence, through the lovers of the intermediate twenty-five years, arrived at last at the recollection of her povero sub-lieutenant. She then said, ‘Was there ever such virtue?’ (that was her very word) and, being now a widow, gave him apartments in her palace, reinstated him in all the rights of wrong, and held him up to the admiring world as a miracle of incontinent fidelity, and the unshaken Abdiel of absence.”

We quote the ensuing as an instance of that moral perversion which was the great ingredient in all Lord Byron’s faults.

“You have given me a screed of metaphor and what not about Pulci, and manners, and ‘going without clothes, like our Saxon ancestors.’ Now, the Saxons did not go without clothes; and, in the next place, they are not my ancestors, nor yours either; for mine were Norman, and yours, I take it by your name, were Gael. And, in the next, I differ from you about the ‘refinement’ which has banished the comedies of Congreve. Are not the comedies of Sheridan acted to the thinnest houses? I know (as ex-committed) that ‘The School for Scandal’ was the worst stock piece upon record. I also know that Congreve gave up writing because Mrs. Centlivre’s balderdash drove his comedies off. So it is not decency, but stupidity, that does all this; for Sheridan is as decent a writer as need be, and Congreve no worse than Mrs. Centlivre, of whom Wilkes (the actor) said, ‘not only her play would be damned, but she too.’ He alluded to ‘A Bold Stroke for a Wife.’ But last, and most to the purpose, Pulci is not an indecent writer—at least in his first canto, as you will have perceived by this time.”

A principle which sets out so erroneously cannot but be false in its conclusions. It seems such a strange rule of action to say, “Because others have done wrong, so will I.” Indelicacy was the reigning fault in the ages to which he alludes: such is not the case with ours. It is, we grant, unfair to try these our predecessors by our own rigid rules of decorum; but bad must that taste be which would oppose the opinion of its own time, merely to recall the admitted errors of the past.

We now close these pages. We cannot agree with their palliating sophistry; we think much of their detail had better have been omitted; but we must add, we know few biographical works so full of entertainment and interest. It is a great mental and moral study; but the instruction drawn from it must depend on the reader.