LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Countess of Blessington
Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron. No. IV.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. NS 35  (October 1832)  305-319.
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OCTOBER 1, 1832.



“I often think,” said Byron, “that I inherit my violence and bad temper from my poor mother—not that my father, from all I could ever learn, had a much better; so that it is no wonder I have such a very bad one. As long as I can remember any thing, I recollect being subject to violent paroxysms of rage, so disproportioned to the cause as to surprise me when they were over, and this still continues. I cannot coolly view anything that excites my feelings; and once the lurking devil in me is roused, I lose all command of myself. I do not recover a good fit of rage for days after: mind, I do not by this mean that the ill-humour continues, as, on the contrary, that quickly subsides, exhausted by its own violence; but it shakes me terribly, and leaves me low and nervous after. Depend on it, people’s tempers must be corrected while they are children; for not all the good resolutions in the world can enable a man to conquer habits of ill-humour or rage, however he may regret having given way to them. My poor mother was generally in a rage every day, and used to render me sometimes almost frantic; particularly when, in her passion, she reproached me with my personal deformity, I have left her presence to rush into solitude, where, unseen, I could vent the rage and mortification I endured, and curse the deformity that I now began to consider as a signal mark of the injustice of Providence. Those were bitter moments: even now, the impression of them is vivid in my mind; and they cankered a heart that I believe was naturally affectionate, and destroyed a temper always disposed to be violent. It was my feelings at this period that suggested the idea of ‘the Deformed Transformed.’ I often look back on the days of my childhood, and am astonished at the recollection of the intensity of my feelings at that period;—first impressions are indelible. My poor mother, and after her my schoolfellows, by their taunts, led me to consider my lameness as the greatest misfortune, and I have never been able to conquer this feeling. It requires great natural goodness of disposition, as well as reflection, to conquer the corroding bitterness that deformity engenders in the mind, and which, while preying on itself, sours one towards all the world. I have read, that where personal deformity exists, it may be always traced in the face, however handsome the face may be. I am sure that what is meant by this is, that the consciousness of it gives to the countenance an habitual expression of discontent, which I believe is the case; yet it is too bad (added Byron with bitterness) that, because one had a defective foot, one cannot have a perfect face.”


He indulges a morbid feeling on this subject that is extraordinary, and that leads me to think it has had a powerful effect in forming his character. As Byron had said that his own position had led to his writing “The Deformed Transformed,” I ventured to remind him that, in the advertisement to that drama, he had stated it to have been founded on the novel of “The Three Brothers.” He said that both statements were correct, and then changed the subject, without giving me an opportunity of questioning him on the unacknowledged, but visible resemblances between other of his works and that extraordinary production. It is possible that he is unconscious of the plagiary of ideas he has committed; for his reading is so desultory, that he seizes thoughts which, in passing through the glowing alembic of his mind, become so embellished as to lose all identity with the original crude embryos he had adopted. This was proved to me in another instance, when a book that he was constantly in the habit of looking over fell into my hands, and I traced various passages that gave me the idea of having led to certain trains of thought in his works. He told me that he rarely ever read a page that did not give rise to chains of thought, the first idea serving as the original link on which the others were formed,—
“Awake but one, and lo! what myriads rise.”

I have observed, that, in conversation, some trifling remark has often led him into long disquisitions, evidently elicited by it; and so prolific is his imagination, that the slightest spark can warm it.

Comte Pietro Gamba lent me the “Age of Bronze,” with a request that his having done so should be kept a profound secret, as Lord Byron, he said, would be angry if he knew it. This is another instance of the love of mystification that marks Byron, in trifles as well as in things of more importance. What can be the motive for concealing a published book, that is in the hands of all England?

Byron talks often of Napoleon, of whom he is a great admirer, and says that what he most likes in his character was his want of sympathy, which proved his knowledge of human nature, as those only could possess sympathy who were in happy ignorance of it. I told him that this carried its own punishment with it, as Napoleon found the want of sympathy when he most required it, and that some portion of what he affected to despise, namely enthusiasm and sympathy, would have saved him from the degradations he twice underwent when deserted by those on whom he counted. Not all Byron’s expressed contempt for mankind can induce me to believe that he has the feeling; this is one of the many little artifices which he condescends to make use of to excite surprise in his hearers, and can only impose on the credulous. He is vexed when he discovers that any of his little ruses have not succeeded, and is like a spoiled child who finds out that he cannot have everything his
own way. Were he but sensible of his own powers, how infinitely superior would he be, for he would see the uselessness, as well as unworthiness, of being artificial, and of acting to support the character he wishes to play a misanthrope, which nature never intended him for, and which he is not and never will be. I see a thousand instances of good feeling in Byron, but rarely a single proof of stability; his abuse of friends, which is continual, has always appeared to me more inconsistent than ill-natured, and as if indulged in more to prove that he was superior to the partiality friendship engenders, than that they were unworthy of exciting the sentiment. He has the rage of displaying his knowledge of human nature, and thinks this knowledge more proved by pointing out the blemishes than the perfections of the subjects he anatomizes. Were he to confide in the effect his own natural character would produce, how much more would he be loved and respected, whereas, at present, those who most admire the genius will be the most disappointed in the man. The love of mystification is so strong in Byron, that he is continually letting drop mysterious hints of events in his past life; as if to excite curiosity, he assumes, on those occasions, a look and air suited to the insinuation conveyed: if it has excited the curiosity of his hearers, he is satisfied, looks still more mysterious, and changes the subject; but if it fails to rouse curiosity, he becomes evidently discomposed and sulky, stealing sly glances at the person he has been endeavouring to mystify, to observe the effect he has produced. On such occasions I have looked at him a little maliciously, and laughed, without asking a single question; and I have often succeeded in making him laugh too at those mystifications, manquée as I called them. Byron often talks of the authors of the
“Rejected Addresses,” and always in terms of unqualified praise. He says that the imitations, unlike all other imitations, are full of genius, and that the “Cui Bono” has some lines that he should wish to have written. Parodies (he said) always gave a bad impression of the original, but in the “Rejected Addresses” the reverse was the fact, and he quoted the second and third stanzas, in imitation of himself, as admirable, and just what he could have wished to write on a similar subject. His memory is extraordinary, for he can repeat lines from every author whose works have pleased him; and in reciting the passages that have called forth his censure or ridicule, it is no less tenacious. He observed on the pleasure he felt at meeting people with whom he could go over old subjects of interest, whether on persons or literature, and said that nothing cemented friendship or companionship so strongly as having read the same books and known the same people.

I observed that when, in our rides, we came to any point of view, Byron paused, and looked at it, as if to impress himself with the recollection of it. He rarely praised what so evidently pleased him, and he became silent and abstracted for some time after, as if he was noting the
principal features of the scene on the tablet of his memory. He told me that, from his earliest youth, he had a passion for solitude; that the sea, whether in a storm or calm, was a source of deep interest to him, and filled his mind with thoughts. “An acquaintance of mine (said Byron, laughing), who is a votary of the lake, or simple school, and to whom I once expressed this effect of the sea on me, said that I might in this case say that the ocean served me as a vast inkstand: what do you think of that as a poetical image? It reminds me of a man who, talking of the effect of Mont Blanc from a distant mountain, said that it reminded him of a giant at his toilette, the feet in water, and the face prepared for the operation of shaving. Such observations prove that from the sublime to the ridiculous there is only one step, and really make one disgusted with the simple school.” Recurring to fine scenery, Byron remarked, “That as artists filled their sketch-books with studies from Nature, to be made use of on after occasions,” so he laid up a collection of images in his mind, as a store to draw on, when he required them, and he found the pictures much more vivid in recollection, when he had not exhausted his admiration in expressions, but concentrated his powers in fixing them in memory. The end and aim of his life is to render himself celebrated: hitherto his pen has been the instrument to cut his road to renown, and it has traced a brilliant path; this, he thinks, has lost some of its point, and he is about to change it for the sword, to carve a new road to fame. Military exploits occupy much of his conversation, and still more of his attention; but even on this subject there is never the slightest élan, and it appears extraordinary to see a man about to engage in a chivalrous, and, according to the opinion of many, a Utopian undertaking, for which his habits peculiarly unfit him, without any indication of the enthusiasm that lead men to embark in such careers. Perhaps he thinks with
Napoleon, that “Il n'y a rien qui refroidit, comme l'enthousiasme des autres;” but he is wrong—coldness has in general a sympathetic effect, and we are less disposed to share the feelings of others, if we observe that those feelings are not as warm as the occasion seems to require.

There is something so exciting in the idea of the greatest poet of his day sacrificing his fortune, his occupations, his enjoyments,—in short, offering up to the altar of Liberty all the immense advantages that station, fortune, and genius can bestow, that it is impossible to reflect on it without admiration; but when one hears this same person calmly talk of the worthlessness of the people he proposes to make those sacrifices for, the loans he means to advance, the uniforms he intends to wear, entering into petty details, and always with perfect sang froid, one’s admiration evaporates, and the action loses all its charms, though the real merit of it still remains. Perhaps Byron wishes to show that his going to Greece is more an affair of principle than feeling, and as such more entitled to respect, though perhaps less likely to excite
warmer feelings. However this may be, his whole manner and conversation on the subject are calculated to chill the admiration such an enterprise ought to create, and to reduce it to a more ordinary standard.

Byron is evidently in delicate health, brought on by starvation, and a mind too powerful for the frame in which it is lodged. He is obstinate in resisting the advice of medical men and his friends, who all have represented to him the dangerous effects likely to ensue from his present system. He declares that he has no choice but that of sacrificing the body to the mind, as that when he eats as others do he gets ill, and loses all power over his intellectual faculties; that animal food engenders the appetite of the animal fed upon, and he instances the manner in which boxers are fed as a proof, while, on the contrary, a regime of fish and vegetables served to support existence without pampering it. I affected to think that his excellence in, and fondness of, swimming, arose from his continually living on fish, and he appeared disposed to admit the possibility, until, being no longer able to support my gravity, I laughed aloud, which for the first minute discomposed him, though he ended by joining heartily in the laugh, and said,—“Well, Miladi, after this hoax, never accuse me any more of mystifying; you did take me in until you laughed.” Nothing gratifies him so much as being told that he grows thin. This fancy of his is pushed to an almost childish extent; and he frequently asks—“Don’t you think I am getting thinner?” or—“Did you ever see any one so thin as I am, who was not ill?” He says he is sure no one could recollect him were he to go to England at present, and seems to enjoy this thought very much.

Byron affects a perfect indifference to the opinion of the world, yet is more influenced by it than most people,—not in his conduct, but in his dread of, and wincing under its censures. He was extremely agitated by his name being introduced in the P—— trial, as having assisted in making up the match, and showed a degree of irritation that proves he is as susceptible as ever to newspaper attacks, notwithstanding his boasts to the contrary. This susceptibility will always leave him at the mercy of all those who may choose to write against him, however insignificant they may be.

I noticed Byron one day more than usually irritable, though he endeavoured to suppress all symptoms of it. After various sarcasms on the cant and hypocrisy of the times, which was always the signal that he was suffering from some attack made on him, he burst forth in violent invectives against America, and said that she now rivalled her mother country in cant, as he had that morning read an article of abuse, copied from an American newspaper, alluding to a report that he was going to reside there. We had seen the article, and hoped that it might have escaped his notice, but unfortunately he had perused it, and its effects on his temper were visible for several days after. He said that
he never was sincere in his praises of the Americans, and that he only extolled their navy to pique
Mr. Croker. There was something so childish in this avowal, that there was no keeping a serious face on hearing it; and Byron smiled himself, like a petulant spoiled child who acknowledges having done something to spite a playfellow.

Byron is a great admirer of the poetry of Barry Cornwall, which, he says, is full of imagination and beauty, possessing a refinement and delicacy, that, whilst they add all the charms of a woman’s mind, take off none of the force of a man’s. He expressed his hope that he would devote himself to tragedy, saying that he was sure he would become one of the first writers of the day.

Talking of marriage, Byron said that there was no real happiness out of its pale. “If people like each other so well (said he) as not to be able to live asunder, this is the only tie that can insure happiness all others entail misery. I put religion and morals out of the question, though of course the misery will be increased tenfold by the influence of both; but, admitting persons to have neither, (and many such are, by the good-natured world, supposed to exist), still liaisons, that are not cemented by marriage, must produce unhappiness, when there is refinement of mind, and that honourable fierté which accompanies it. The humiliations and vexations a woman, under such circumstances, is exposed to, cannot fail to have a certain effect on her temper and spirits, which robs her of the charms that won affection; it renders her susceptible and suspicious: her self-esteem being diminished, she becomes doubly jealous of that of him for whom she lost it, and on whom she depends; and if he has feeling to conciliate her, he must submit to a slavery much more severe than that of marriage, without its respectability. Women become exigeante always in proportion to their consciousness of a decrease in the attentions they desire; and this very exigeance accelerates the flight of the blind god, whose approaches, the Greek proverb says, are always made walking, but whose retreat is flying. I once wrote some lines expressive of my feelings on this subject, and you shall have them.” He had no sooner repeated the first line than I recollected having the verses in my possession, having been allowed to copy them by Mr. D. Kinnaird the day he received them from Lord Byron. The following are the verses:—

Composed Dec. 1, 1819.

Could Love for ever
Run like a river,
And Time’s endeavour
Be tried in vain;
No other pleasure
With this could measure;
And as a treasure
We'd hug the chain.
But since our sighing
Ends not in dying,
And, formed for flying,
Love plumes his wing;
Then, for this reason,
Let’s love a season;
But let that season be only Spring.
When lovers parted
Feel broken-hearted,
And, all hopes thwarted,
Expect to die;
A few years older,
Ah! how much colder
They might behold her
For whom they sigh.
When linked together,
Through every weather,
We pluck Love’s feather
From out his wing,
He’ll sadly shiver,
And droop for ever,
Without the plumage that sped his spring.
[ or
Shorn of the plumage which sped his spring.]
Like Chiefs of Faction
His life is action,—
A formal paction,
Which curbs his reign,
Obscures his glory,
Despot no more, he
Such territory
Quits with disdain.
Still, still advancing,
With banners glancing,
His powers enhancing,
He must march on:
Repose but cloys him,
Retreat destroys him;
Love brooks not a degraded throne!
Wait not, fond lover!
Till years are over,
And then recover
As from a dream;
While each bewailing
The other’s failing,
With wrath and railing
All hideous seem;
While first decreasing,
Yet not quite ceasing,
Pause not till teazing
All passion blight:
If once diminished,
His reign is finished,—
One last embrace then, and bid good night!
So shall Affection
To recollection
The dear connexion
Bring back with joy;
You have not waited
Till, tired and hated,
All passion sated,
Began to cloy.
Your last embraces
Leave no cold traces,—
The same fond faces
As through the past;
And eyes, the mirrors
Of your sweet errors,
Reflect but rapture; not least, though last!
True separations
Ask more than patience;
What desperations
From such have risen!
And yet remaining
What is’t but chaining
Hearts which, once waning,
Beat ’gainst their prison?
Time can but cloy love,
And use destroy love:
The winged boy, Love,
Is but for boys;
You’ll find it torture,
Though sharper, shorter,
To wean, and not wear out your joys.

They are so unworthy of the author, that they are merely given as proof that the greatest genius can sometimes write bad verses; as even Homer nods. I remarked to Byron, that the sentiment of the poem differed with that which he had just given me of marriage: he laughed, and said, “Recollect, the lines were written nearly four years ago; and we grow wiser as we grow older: but mind, I still say, that I only approve marriage when the persons are so much attached as not to be able to live asunder, which ought always to be tried by a year’s absence, before the irrevocable knot was formed. The truest picture of the misery un-
hallowed liaisons produce (said Byron) is in the
‘Adolphe’ of Benjamin Constant. I told Madame de Staël that there was more morale in that book than in all she ever wrote; and that it ought always to be given to every young woman who had read ‘Corinne,’ as an antidote. Poor de Staël! she came down upon me like an avalanche, whenever I told her any of my amiable truth, sweeping everything before her, with that eloquence that always overwhelmed but never convinced. She, however, good soul, believed she had convinced, whenever she silenced an opponent: an effect she generally produced, as she, to use an Irish phrase, succeeded in bothering, and producing a confusion of ideas, that left one little able or willing to continue an argument with her. I liked her daughter very much (said Byron): I wonder will she turn out literary?—at all events, though she may not write, she possesses the power of judging the writings of others; is highly educated and clever; but I thought a little given to systems, which is not in general the fault of young women, and, above all, young French women.”

One day that Byron dined with us, his chasseur, while we were at table, demanded to speak with him; he left the room, and returned in a few minutes in a state of violent agitation, pale with anger, and looking as I had never before seen him look, though I had often seen him angry. He told us that his servant had come to tell him that he must pass the gate of Genoa (his house being outside the town) before half-past ten o'clock, as orders were given that no one was to be allowed to pass after. This order, which had no personal reference to him, he conceived to be expressly levelled at him, and it rendered him furious; he seized a pen, and commenced a letter to our minister,—tore two or three letters one after the other, before he had written one to his satisfaction; and, in short, betrayed such ungovernable rage, as to astonish all who were present; he seemed very much disposed to enter into a personal contest with the authorities; and we had some difficulty in persuading him to leave the business wholly in the hands of Mr. Hill, the English minister, who would arrange it much better.

Byron’s appearance and conduct, on this occasion, forcibly reminded me of Rousseau; he declared himself the victim of persecution wherever he went; said that there was a confederacy between all governments to pursue and molest him, and uttered a thousand extravagances, that proved that he was no longer master of himself. I now understood how likely his manner was, under any violent excitement, to give rise to the idea that he was deranged in his intellects, and became convinced of the truth of the sentiment in the lines—
‘Great wit to madness sure is near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.’

The next day, when we met, Byron said that he had received a satisfactory explanation from Mr. Hill, and then asked me if I had not thought him mad the night before—“I assure you (said he), I often
think myself not in my right senses, and this is perhaps the only opinion I have in common with
Lady Byron, who, dear sensible soul, not only thought me mad, but tried to persuade others into the same belief.”

Talking one day on the difference between men’s actions and thoughts, a subject to which he often referred, he observed, that it frequently happened that a man who was capable of superior powers of reflection and reasoning when alone, was trifling and commonplace in society. “On this point (said he) I speak feelingly, for I have remarked it of myself, and have often longed to know if other people had the same defect, or the same consciousness of it, which is, that while in solitude my mind was occupied in serious and elevated reflections, in society it sinks into a trifling levity of tone, that in another would have called forth my disapprobation and disgust. Another defect of mine is, that I am so little fastidious in the selection, or rather want of selection, of associates, that the most stupid men satisfy me quite as well, nay perhaps better than the most brilliant, and yet all the time they are with me I feel, even while descending to their level, that they are unworthy of me, and what is worse, that we seem in point of conversation so nearly on an equality, that the effort of letting myself down to them costs me nothing, though my pride is hurt that they do not seem more sensible of the condescension. When I have sought what is called good society, it was more from a sense of propriety and keeping my station in the world, than from any pleasure it gave me, for I have been always disappointed, even in the most brilliant and clever of my acquaintances, by discovering some trait of egotism, or futility, that I was too egotistical and futile to pardon, as I find that we are least disposed to overlook the defects we are most prone to. Do you think as I do on this point?” (said Byron.) I answered, “That as a clear and spotless mirror reflects the brightest images, so is goodness ever most prone to see good in others; and as a sullied mirror shows its own defects in all that it reflects, so does an impure mind tinge all that passes through it.” Byron laughingly said, “That thought of yours is pretty, and just, which all pretty thoughts are not, and I shall pop it into my next poem. But how do you account for this tendency of mine to trifling and levity in conversation, when in solitude my mind is really occupied in serious reflections?” I answered, “That this was the very cause—the bow cannot remain always bent; the thoughts suggested to him in society were the reaction of a mind strained to its bent, and reposing itself after exertion; as also that, feeling the inferiority of the persons he mixed with, the great powers were not excited, but lay dormant and supine, collecting their force for solitude.” This opinion pleased him, and when I added that great writers were rarely good talkers, and vice versâ, he was still more gratified. He said that he disliked every-day topics of conversation, he thought it a waste of time; but that if he met a person with whom he could, as he said, think aloud, and give utterance to his thoughts on
abstract subjects, he was sure it would excite the energies of his mind, and awaken sleeping thoughts that wanted to be stirred up. “I like to go home with a new idea (said Byron); it sets my mind to work, I enlarge it, and it often gives birth to many others; this one can only do in a tête-à-tête. I felt the advantage of this in my rides with
Hoppner at Venice; he was a good listener, and his remarks were acute and original; he is besides a thoroughly good man, and I knew he was in earnest when he gave me his opinions. But conversation, such as one finds in society, and above all, in English society, is as uninteresting as it is artificial, and few can leave the best with the consolation of carrying away with him a new thought, or of leaving behind him an old friend.” Here he laughed at his own antithesis, and added, “By Jove, it is true; you know how people abuse or quiz each other in England, the moment one is absent: each is afraid to go away before the other, knowing that, as is said in the School for Scandal, he leaves his character behind. It is this certainty that excuses me to myself, for abusing my friends and acquaintances in their absence. I was once accused of this by an ami intime, to whom some devilish good-natured person had repeated what I had said of him; I had nothing for it but to plead guilty, adding, you know you have done the same by me fifty times, and yet you see I never was affronted, or liked you the less for it; on which he laughed, and we were as good friends as ever. Mind you (a favourite phrase of Byron’s) I never heard that he had abused me, but I took it for granted, and was right. So much for friends.”

I remarked to Byron that his scepticism as to the sincerity and durability of friendship, argued very much against his capability of feeling the sentiment, especially as he admitted that he had not been deceived by the few he had confided in, consequently his opinion must be founded on self-knowledge. This amused him, and he said that he verily believed that his knowledge of human nature, on which he had hitherto prided himself, was the criterion by which I judged so unfavourably of him, as he was sure I attributed his bad opinion of mankind to his perfect knowledge of self. When in good spirits, he liked badinage very much, and nothing seemed to please him more than being considered as a mauvais sujet; he disclaimed the being so with an air that showed he was far from being offended at the suspicion. Of love he had strange notions: he said that most people had le besoin d'aimer, and that with this besoin the first person who fell in one’s way contented one. He maintained that those who possessed the most imagination, poets for example, were most likely to be constant in their attachments, as with the beau ideal in their heads, with which they identified the object of their attachment, they had nothing to desire, and viewed their mistresses through the brilliant medium of fancy, instead of the common one of the eyes. “A poet, therefore (said Byron), endows the person he loves with all the charms with which his mind is stored, and has no
need of actual beauty to fill up the picture. Hence he should select a woman, who is rather good-looking than beautiful, leaving the latter for those who, having no imagination, require actual beauty to satisfy their tastes. And after all (said he), where is the actual beauty that can come up to the bright ‘imaginings’ of the poet? where can one see women that equal the visions, half-mortal, half-angelic, that people his fancy? Love, who is painted blind (an allegory that proves the uselessness of beauty), can supply all deficiencies with his aid; we can invest her whom we admire with all the attributes of loveliness, and though time may steal the roses from her cheek, and the lustre from her eye, still the original beau ideal remains, filling the mind and intoxicating the soul with the overpowering presence of loveliness. I flatter myself that my Leila, Zuleika, Gulnare, Medora, and Haidee will always vouch for my taste in beauty: these are the bright creations of my fancy, with rounded forms, and delicacy of limbs, nearly so incompatible as to be rarely if ever united; for where, with some rare exceptions, do we see roundness of contour accompanied by lightness, and those fairy hands and feet that are at once the type of beauty and refinement. I like to shut myself up, close my eyes, and fancy one of the creatures of my imagination, with taper and rose-tipped fingers, playing with my hair, touching my cheek, or resting its little snowy-dimpled hand on mine. I like to fancy the fairy foot, round and pulpy, but small to diminutiveness, peeping from beneath the drapery that half conceals it, or moving in the mazes of the dance. I detest thin women; and unfortunately all, or nearly all plump women, have clumsy hands and feet, so that I am obliged to have recourse to imagination for my beauties, and there I always find them. I can so well understand the lover leaving his mistress that he might write to her, I should leave mine, not to write to, but to think of her, to dress her up in the habiliments of my ideal beauty, investing her with all the charms of the latter, and then adoring the idol I had formed. You must have observed that I give my heroines extreme refinement, joined to great simplicity and want of education. Now, refinement and want of education are incompatible, at least I have ever found them so: so here again, you see, I am forced to have recourse to imagination; and certainly it furnishes me with creatures as unlike the sophisticated beings of civilized existence, as they are to the still less tempting, coarse realities of vulgar life. In short, I am of opinion that poets do not require great beauty in the objects of their affection; all that is necessary for them is a strong and devoted attachment from the object, and where this exists, joined to health and good temper, little more is required, at least in early youth, though with advancing years, men become more exigeants.” Talking of the difference between love in early youth and in maturity, Byron said, “that, like the measles, love was most dangerous when it came late in life.”

Byron had two points of ambition,—the one to be thought the greatest
poet of his day, and the other a nobleman and man of fashion, who could have arrived at distinction without the aid of his poetical genius. This often produced curious anomalies in his conduct and sentiments, and a sort of jealousy of himself in each separate character, that was highly amusing to an observant spectator. If poets were talked of or eulogized, he referred to the advantages of rank and station as commanding that place in society by right, which was only accorded to genius by sufferance; for, said Byron, “Let authors do, say, or think what they please, they are never considered as men of fashion in the circles of haut ton, to which their literary reputations have given them an entrée, unless they happen to be of high birth. How many times have I observed this in London; as also the awkward efforts made by authors to trifle and act the fine gentleman like the rest of the herd in society. Then look at the faiblesse they betray in running after great people. Lords and ladies seem to possess, in their eyes, some power of attraction that I never could discover; and the eagerness with which they crowd to balls and assemblies, where they are as déplacés as ennuyés, all conversation at such places being out of the question, might lead one to think that they sought the heated atmospheres of such scenes as hotbeds to nurse their genius.” If men of fashion were praised, Byron dwelt on the futility of their pursuits, their ignorance en masse, and the necessity of talents to give lustre to rank and station. In short, he seemed to think that the bays of the author ought to be entwined with a coronet to render either valuable, as, singly, they were not sufficiently attractive; and this evidently arose from his uniting, in his own person, rank and genius. I recollect once laughingly telling him that he was fortunate in being able to consider himself a poet amongst lords, and a lord amongst poets. He seemed doubtful as to how he should take the parody, but ended by laughing also.

Byron has often laughed at some repartie or joke against himself, and after a few minutes’ reflection, got angry at it, but was always soon appeased by a civil apology, though it was clear that he disliked anything like ridicule, as do most people who are addicted to play it off on others; and he certainly delighted in quizzing and ridiculing his associates. The translation of his works into different languages, however it might have flattered his amour propre as an author, never failed to enrage him, from the injustice he considered all translations rendered to his works. I have seen him furious at some passages in the French translation, which he pointed out as proof of the impossibility of the translators understanding the original, and he exclaimed, “Il traditore! Il traditore!” (instead of Il traduttore,) vowing vengeance against the unhappy traducers as he called them. He declared that every translation he had seen of his poems had so destroyed the sense, that he could not understand how the French and Italians could admire his works, as they professed to do. It proved, he said, at how low an ebb modern
poetry must be in both countries. French poetry he detested, and continually ridiculed: he said it was discordant to his ears.

Of his own works, with some exceptions, he always spoke in derision, saying he could write much better, but that he wrote to suit the false taste of the day, and that if now and then a gleam of true feeling or poetry was visible in his productions, it was sure to be followed by the ridicule he could not suppress. Byron was not sincere in this, and it was only said to excite surprise, and show his superiority over the rest of the world. It was this same desire of astonishing that led him to depreciate Shakspeare, which I have frequently heard him do, though from various reflections in conversation, and the general turn of his mind, I am convinced that he had not only deeply read, but deeply felt the beauties of our immortal poet.

I do not recollect ever having met Byron that he did not, in some way or other, introduce the subject of Lady Byron. The impression left on my mind was, that she continually occupied his thoughts, and that he most anxiously desired a reconciliation with her. He declared that his marriage was free from every interested motive, and if not founded on love, as love is generally viewed, a wild, engrossing and ungovernable passion, there was quite sufficient liking in it to have ensured happiness had his temper been better. He said that Lady Byron’s appearance had pleased him from the first moment, and had always continued to please him, and that, had his pecuniary affairs been in a less ruinous state, his temper would not have been excited, as it daily, hourly was, during the brief period of their union, by the insolent creditors whom he was unable to satisfy, and who drove him nearly out of his senses, until he lost all command of himself, and so forfeited Lady Byron’s affection. “I must admit that I could not have left a very agreeable impression on her mind. With my irascible temper, worked upon by the constant attacks of duns, no wonder that I became gloomy, violent, and I fear, often personally uncivil, if no worse, and so disgusted her; though, had she really loved me, she would have borne with my infirmities, and made allowance for my provocations. I have written to her repeatedly, and am still in the habit of writing long letters to her, many of which I have sent, but without ever receiving an answer, and others that I did not send, because I despaired of their doing any good. I will show you some of them, as they may serve to throw a light on my feelings.” The next day Byron sent me the letter, addressed to Lady Byron, which has already appeared in Moore’s Life. He never could divest himself of the idea that she took a deep interest in him; he said that their child must always be a bond of union between them, whatever lapse of years or distance might separate them; and this idea seemed to comfort him. And yet, notwithstanding the bond of union a child was supposed to form between the parents, he did not hesitate to state, to the gentlemen
of our party, his more than indifference towards the
mother of his illegitimate daughter. Byron’s mental courage was much stronger in his study than in society. In moments of inspiration, with his pen in his hand, he would have dared public opinion, and laughed to scorn the criticisms of all the litterati, but with reflection came doubts and misgivings; and though in general he was tenacious in not changing what he had once written, this tenacity proceeded more from the fear of being thought to want mental courage, than from the existence of the quality itself. This operated also on his actions as well as his writings; he was the creature of impulse; never reflected on the possible or probable results of his conduct, until that conduct had drawn down censure and calumny on him, when he shrunk with dismay, “frightened at the sounds himself had made.”

This sensitiveness was visible on all occasions, and extended to all his relations with others; did his friends or associates become the objects of public attack, he shrunk from the association, or at least from any public display of it, disclaimed the existence of any particular intimacy, though in secret he felt good will to the persons. I have witnessed many examples of this, and became convinced that his friendship was much more likely to be retained by those who stood well in the world’s opinion, than by those who had even undeservedly forfeited it. I once made an observation to him on this point, which was elicited by something he had said of persons with whom I knew he had once been on terms of intimacy, and which he wished to disclaim; his reply was, “What the deuce good can I do them against public opinion? I shall only injure myself, and do them no service.” I ventured to tell him, that this was precisely the system of the English whom he decried; and that self-respect, if no better feeling operated, ought to make us support in adversity those whom we had led to believe we felt interested in. He blushed, and allowed I was right; “Though (added he) you are singular in both senses of the word, in your opinion, as I have had proofs; for at the moment when I was assailed by all the vituperation of the press in England at the separation, a friend of mine, who had written a complimentary passage to me, either by way of dedication or episode (I forget which he said), suppressed it on finding public opinion running hard against me; he will probably produce it if he finds he quicksilver of the barometer of my reputation mounts to beau fixe; while it remains, as at present, at variable, it will never see the light, save and except I die in Greece, with a sort of demi-poetic and demi-heroic renommée attached to my memory.”

(To be continued.)