LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.
Monthly Magazine  Vol. NS 9  No. 50  (February 1830)  183-97.
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Vol. IX.] FEBRUARY, 1830. [No. 50.


All the world, talkers, readers, blue-stockings, and all, have long since made up their minds about the subject of Mr. Moore’s present volume. That Byron was a great poet is unquestionable, and that, on the strength of his poetic reputation, he was perfectly satisfied to build reputations of any other kind, is equally clear. Not that he was a hair’s breath worse than nine-tenths of the decorous young gentlemen whom we meet every day roving the fashionable streets; the only difference being that his Lordship’s taste for notoriety urged him into perpetual exposure; while those young gentlemen drink, play, quarrel with their families, ruin their tailors, make lawless love, and contract heartless marriages; but have the grace to keep the affair to themselves as much as they can. Byron let out the secret without ceremony, exulted in telling the world every unlucky circumstance about him, and perhaps was never in higher self-applause than on the day when he had to divulge that he had nine executions in his house, had separated from his wife, and had fairly proclaimed war with mankind.

All this, however, “argued a foregone conclusion,” for, lover of eccentricities as a man may be, there are obvious inconveniences in their pursuit which probably save the world from being often perplexed by a career of this inveterate opposition to public tastes. Byron’s parentage may account for some portion of his propensities. His father was, by Mr. Moore’s account, a thorough scoundrel; a base though showy profligate, who, after spending all his patrimony in low excess, turned fortune-hunter, and married a half-mad woman for her money. The detail of this match is full of the Biographer’s industry. It appears that Miss Catherine Gordon, of Gight, had about 20,000l.; of which Captain Byron contrived to get rid in less than two years, reducing the Heiress of Gight to an allowance of 150l. a year. There, unquestionably, too, was madness in the line. Lord Byron’s grand uncle, who was tried, in 1765, before the Peers, for killing his cousin, Mr. Chaworth, in a duel, passed the latter years of his life in an extraordinary seclusion, which was known to be connected with lunacy. Other branches of the family were, if less public, equally singular; and, we must, in charity, suppose the same excuse for Captain Byron, who began his career by carrying off and marrying the wife of Lord Carmarthen, and whose progress through life was only from one profligacy to another. His daughter, by, the lady, was the Honourable Augusta Byron, subsequently married to Colonel Leigh.

The poet’s mother was married in 1785; and he was born, in Holles-street, London, on the 22nd of January, 1788. The head of the line was in the De Buruns, of Normandy, who came over with the Conqueror, and whose posterity inherited large estates in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Lancashire. Mrs. Byron was a descendant from Sir William Gordon, third son of the Earl of Huntley, by the daughter of James I. of Scotland.

Lord Byron made himself remarkable, at an early period, by his irritability. The misery which a man inflicts on himself by this habit is so much more severe than its offence to others, that it is only just, in all such instances, to suspect some morbid cause. Byron had two or three: he had a tendency to some disorder of the kidneys, than which a more agonizing visitant when it comes, nor a more fretful fear when it
184Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.
threatens to come, is not within human, sufferings. A calamity of the same organs made
Rousseau mad and a misanthropist through life, and, finally, drove him to suicide. It was, probably, the chief source of Swift’s eternal spleen; and a large portion of Gibbon’s restless scorn of all that is best and noblest in our nature, may have arisen from a similar malady. Byron had the additional misfortune of a club-foot, which, from its being the unlucky appendage to a man, vain, even to foppery, of his personal appearance, was a source of constant vexation. Other vexations existed, in the character of his parent, which, whether from a slur thrown on his birth, or the natural reluctance of respectable people to have any thing to do with so extraordinary and violent a person as Mrs. Byron, (his father having died some years before) left the young heir of a broken patrimony strangely at a loss on his entrance into the world.

Dallas, a very remote relation, as the biographer emphatically remarks, seems to have been for some time the only substitute for the “troops of friends” that generally make a young lord buoyant on the St. James’s tide. If Byron had been intended for a politician, or a dandy, or a hanger-on of the clubs, or a well bred fortune hunter, this desertion would have undone him; he would have taken to the bottle, from that to the dice, and from the dice to that cure of all sorrows, payment of all debts, and relief from all ennui, which is to be found in prussic acid or the pistol.

But he was intended by nature for a poet. And every step of his career was by a strong necessity ordered for his future eminence. His foot, his disease, the desertion of all other society, and the society of Mr. Dallas, were all powerful provocatives to spleen. The insolence and flagellation inflicted on him by the Edinburgh Reviewers, first taught him that he could be a satirist. The selfishness of the world first stimulated him to cut and scarify it in all directions; and the bitterness and insanity of his virago mother first drove him abroad, and gave the world “Childe Harold.”

Our theory is unquestionable, that the materiel of poetry exists in a thousand minds for one that has the circumstances to bring it out; as every pebble contains fire, and hit it but hard enough, gives it out too; but bury the flint in a slough, or polish it into the ornament of a fair lady’s necklace, and it is equally beyond the chance of giving out that spark, which if luckily placed, may blow up a house, a ship, or a city. If Byron had found his entré into the world preceded by the fair and the fond strewing his path with rose-buds, as is the custom with young lords in general; if noble fathers had overwhelmed him with cards for their banquets, and noble mothers speculated on him for their daughters, and noble misses “fondly marked him for their own,” what could he have been but what all the tribe of heirs are? Where would have been his solitary hours of fierce musing, his brilliant visions of vengeance, his Don Juan determinations to slay and betray, and sting and startle, and lay society in flame, that he might have the delight of seeing it roast while he danced round the pile?

With seventy thousands a year, he would have been like Bob Ward, a diner out and epigram maker; with Alvanly’s reception among the old women, he would have been like him, a lover of comfits and writer of epilogues; with young Castlereagh’s or Clanricard’s prospects, he would have been petted and pulled about by the lovely marriageable and por-
Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.185
tionless, until he was spoiled as much as any of them for any thing but being a Lord! and Heaven only knows how small a portion of human use, good, or dignity, is concentred in the name. But it was otherwise decreed he was cast out into the desert, to wander, like the demoniac, among the tombs; but there to harden himself against the infirmities of nature, and defy the accidents of fortune; until, like the dæmoniac, a mightier spirit stirred within him, and he raved against man in accents more than of man.

Byron remained in Aberdeen from five till ten years old, and was then brought by his mother to London, for the double purpose of trying some quackery with his foot, which her folly contrived to make a source of perpetual torment to the poor boy, and of beginning his education. Various doctors, Æsculapian and Priscianist, took his body and mind into their successive charge, and with equally ill fortune; his mother’s temper, of which the biographer has by no means deprived the public of sufficient details, defeating the cares of guardians, masters, and physicians, alike.

At length he was sent to Harrow, where he boasts of having hated the master, Dr. Butler, and made eternal friends of some of the pupils; until he left the school with no more learning than he took into it, except the learning of cricket, boxing, swimming, gaming, and the other accomplishments of public schools.

Byron’s early judgment was too quick not to see the absurdity of that system by which ten years are devoted to the worst education at the highest price. He read much, but read after his own manner; and, accordingly, brought away with him more real knowledge than perhaps was to be found in the whole school besides, masters and all. But he brought away “small Latin and less Greek,” and appears to have been wise enough never, in after life, to have felt the slightest wish to burthen his memory with either.

Byron’s palpable feeling was that the whole system was a dull burlesque. The tedious inutility of verse-making, in dead languages, by men who will never be able to write a verse in any living one, is a fine subject of ridicule. And the successful expedition with which every English gentleman, unless he be doubly marked for boobyism, forgets every syllable of his ten years’ toils, is scarcely more demonstrative of the intrinsic errors of the plan, than the recollection of those scenes and excesses into which a great school initiates the early mind: scenes and excesses to which we unhesitatingly trace the broad and spreading degeneracy of the national heart and the national understanding.

In this we allude to no one great school more than another. Their present masters, we take it for granted, make as good nonsense verses as any of those who have made nonsense verses before them. The old system is the sin. The national evil consists in giving ten years to what might be acquired in two; in the miserable abandonment of the young to their own extravagance, their own passions, and their own resentments; in the encouragment of tyranny by fagging; and in the general growth of selfishness, waste, and arrogance, by the allowed habits of those establishments, one and all.

The death of his grand uncle, the fifth Lord Byron, in 1795, (this lord’s grandson having died the year before) gave him the title. The old lord was reputed, in his own neighbourhood, to be a furious madman. He always carried loaded pistols, and the country was filled with
186Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.
stories of his insane violence. He let his house go to ruin, endeavoured to dilapidate the family estate, and died, with the popular impression of his having gone straight to Erebus.

Lord Byron having now become a ward in Chancery, the Earl of Carlisle, the husband of the deceased lord’s sister, was appointed his guardian. It was an uneasy guardianship for the unfortunate Earl. Mrs. Byron was a virago, who flew into paroxysms of fury on the slightest contradiction, and with whom the earl was obliged to draw an immediate line of demarcation. The young lord availed himself of the first use of his pen to fix him conspicuously in a lampoon.

The biographer’s anecdotes of the scenes between the son and the mother, are sufficiently extraordinary. Mrs. Byron, in her rage, was in the habit of flinging the poker and tongs at the head of the young disputant; and the hostility at length became so deadly, that an instance occurred, in which “they were known each to go privately, after one of those nights of dispute, to the apothecary’s, anxiously inquiring whether the other had gone to purchase poison!” After an uneasy sojourn at Harrow, he went to Cambridge, where he amused himself according to his whim; bred up a bear, which he pronounced that he kept to sit for a fellowship; and published his first volume of poems by a “Minor.”

Here his life was like that of his contemporaries, and he suitably begins one of his letters with “My dear Elizabeth: Fatigued with sitting up till four in the morning, for the last two days at Hazard, I take up my pen.” Moore in his note animadverts upon “that sort of display and boast of rakishness, which is but too common a folly at this period of life. Unluckily, this boyish desire of being thought worse than he really was, remained with Lord Byron, as did some other failings and foibles of his boyhood, long after the period when with others they are past and forgotten.”

Byron’s description of Cambridge in this letter is emphatic enough. “A villainous chaos of dice and drunkenness, nothing but hazard and Burgundy, hunting, mathematics and Newmarket, riot and racing.”

His tastes for adventure had now begun to take a form. “Next January, (but this is entre nous, for my maternal persecutor will be for throwing her tomahawk at any of my curious projects) I am going to sea for four or five months, with my cousin, Captain Bettesworth, who commands the Tartar, the finest frigate in the navy. I have seen most scenes, and long to look at a naval life. We are going probably to the Mediterranean, or to the West Indies, or to the d—l.” He finishes the letter by saying, that he has “written the first volume of a novel, and a poem of 380 lines,” which formed the ground work of the “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.” The satire thus having been written before the affront, though probably some additional pungencies were thrown into its enlarged shape.

In his visits to London, about 1808, he became acquainted with the Mr. Dallas, of whom we have heard so much in the noble Lord’s dealings with Murray. Dallas seems to have made his way by giving him opinions of his “Minor” poems, and to have tried to turn his influence to advantage, by lecturing him, probably with sincerity, upon the bard’s absurdities in scepticism. But Byron asked no higher opportunity than to make the most of his infidel fame, and he loaded his adviser with letters full of the most daring nonsense, for the purpose, as Moore says, of astounding his adviser. He thus prefers “Socrates to St. Paul, and Con-
Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.187
fucius to the Ten Commandments, believes that virtue is a mere feeling, not a principle, and that death is an eternal sleep.”

Of this farrago, Moore pronounces, that if it was meant for his usual purpose “of displaying his wit at the expense of his character;” it must be recollected, that it was addressed to “one of those officious, self-satisfied advisers, whom it was at all times the delight of Lord Byron to astonish and mystify.” It was one of those “tricks with which through life, he amused himself at the expense of the numerous quacks, which his celebrity drew round him.” So much for the biographer’s homage to Mr. Dallas.

His first literary event was in 1808; the Edinburgh Review critique on the “Hours of Idleness.” He had notice of it, and mentions it to one of his correspondents, Mr. Becher: “I am of so much importance, that a most violent attack is preparing for me in the next number of the Edinburgh Review. This I had from the authority of a friend, who has seen the proof and MS. of the critique. You know the system of the Edinburgh Review gentlemen is universal attack. They praise none, and neither the public nor the author expects praise from them. They defeat their object by indiscriminate abuse, and they never praise any except the partizans of Lord Holland and Co.”

The critique came out, and it vexed him for the moment. “A friend who found him in the first moments of excitement, after reading the article, inquired anxiously, whether he had just received a challenge!” (By the by, not a very complimentary question to his Lordship’s nerves.) But Byron’sSatire,” in petto, fortified him against the shock. On that day he tried his double allies, wine and ink; drank three bottles of claret, and reinforced his “Satire,” “by twenty lines.” When a man has nothing else for it, he has, as Shylock says, “revenge.” Lord Byron had already anticipated the insult by “380 lines of revenge;” the additional “twenty made him feel himself considerably better,” and he proceeded forthwith to cut up the critics with the delight of a fresh stimulus for “savagery.”

At this time he writes to his friend Becher: “Entre nous, I am cursedly dipt; my debts, every thing inclusive, will be nine or ten thousand before I am twenty-one.” He had the early fondness for travel natural to every body, boobies and all. But his fondness was for regions beyond what the Travellers’ Club call Postchaise-land. He longed to sun himself in India, or at least in Persia. But India, probably as being the further off, was his favourite. He writes to his mother in 1808: “I wish you would inquire of Major Watson (who is an old Indian) what things it will be necessary to provide for my voyage. I have already procured a friend to write to the Arabic Professor at Cambridge for some information I am anxious to possess. After all, you see my project is not a bad one. If I do not travel now, I never shall, and all men should one day or other. I have at present no connexions to keep me at home, no wife, no unprovided sisters, brothers, &c.”

But first of the first, he was to bring out his Satire, and silence the critics for ever. This none would have blamed; but he freighted his “shippe of fooles” with the name of every poet, and almost every man of his acquaintance. He frequently too changed his colouring in the course of his revisions; and Lord Carlisle who flourished in the MS.,
“On one alone Apollo deigns to smile,
And crowns a new Roscommon in Carlisle,”
188Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.
having returned a cold answer to a hint that
Lord Byron was ready to take his seat in the Peers, was hitched into a bitter rhyme. Others were stung in the MS., and balmed in the book. Thus,
“I leave topography to coxcomb Gell,”
was smoothed down to classic Gell.

Byron was always in love with somebody or other, like all boys that are left to themselves, and not kept in awe by the solemnity of a papa. His flames began with a peasant, Mary Duff, at eight years old; and proceeded from one idol to another, until he fell into something like real passion with that person, of the most unloveable name of Chaworth, who affronted him by calling him “a lame boy,” and whom he continued to adopt as Petrarch his Laura, and Dante his Beatrice, for a poetic beau ideal, or commodious lay-figure to dress his future verses on.

Byron’s life at Newstead was little calculated to charm him with England; it was the rude, self-indulgent, rough life of a boy, spoiled by a fool of a mother, and left his own master when he should have been at school. His companions were as singular as himself. One of them, the Charles Skinner Matthews, whom he celebrates in the “Childe Harold,” a bon vivant, an oddity, a boxer, a rambler, and unhappily a boaster of atheism, gives this sketch in a letter to a female correspondent:

“Ascend with me the hall steps, that I may introduce you to my lord and his visitants. But have a care how you proceed: be mindful to go there in broad daylight, and with your eyes about you. For, should you make any blunder, should yon go to the right of the hall steps, you are laid hold of by a bear; and should you go to the left, your case is still worse, for you run full against a wolf. Nor, when you have attained the door, is your danger over; for, the hall being decayed, and therefore standing in need of repair, a bevy of inmates are very probably banging at one end of it with their pistols; so that, if you enter without giving loud notice of your approach, you have only escaped the wolf and the bear, to expire by the pistol-shots of the merry monks of Newstead.

“Our party consisted of Lord Byron and four others; and was now and then increased by the presence of a neighbouring parson! As for our way of living, the order of the day was generally this: For breakfast we had no set hour, but each suited his own convenience every thing remaining on the table till the whole party had done: though, had any one wished to breakfast at the early hour of ten, one would have been lucky to find any of the servants up. Our average hour of rising was one. I, who was generally up between eleven and twelve, was always, even when an invalid, the first of the party, and was deemed a prodigy of early rising. It was frequently past two before the breakfast party broke up. Then for the amusements of the morning: there was reading, fencing, single-stick, or shuttlecock in the great room; practising with pistols in the hall; walking, riding, cricket, sailing on the lake, playing with the bear, or teasing the wolf. Between seven and eight we dined, and our evening lasted from that time till one, two, or three, in the morning. The evening diversions may be easily conceived.

“I must not omit the custom of handing round, after dinner, a human scull, filled with Burgundy. After revelling on choice viands, and the finest wines of France, we adjourned to tea, where we amused ourselves with reading or improving conversation, each according to his fancy:
Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.189
and, after sandwiches, &c., retired to rest. A set of monkish dresses, which had been provided, with all the proper apparatus of crosses, beads, tonsures, &c., often gave a variety to our appearance and to our pursuits.”

Gaming is a sort of apprentice fee, which all young men of rank, and multitudes of no rank at all, pay for their entrance into that miserable and silly life called fashionable. Byron, who took his share of every thing, good and bad, dashed into gaming like the rest. But he made the affair one of principle. “I have,” says his journal, “a notion that gamblers are as happy as many people, being always excited. Women, wine, fame, the table, even ambition, sate now and then. But every turn of the card, and cast of the die, keeps the gamester alive: besides, one can game ten times longer than one can do any thing else. I was very fond of it when young, that is to say of Hazard, for I hate all card games, even Faro. When Macco (or however they spell it) was introduced, I gave up the whole thing, for I loved and missed the rattle of the box and dice, and the glorious uncertainty, not only of good luck or bad luck, but of any luck at all, as one had sometimes to throw often to decide at all. I have thrown as many as fourteen mains running, and carried off all the cash upon the table occasionally; but I had no coolness, no judgment, no calculation.” His lordship’s delicacy never perceived that gambling is robbery, the taking the purse of some fool, foolish enough to risk his money on the throw of a die: his sensibility felt too much, to feel the radical baseness of the act of taking a man’s money out of his pocket, when, in nine instances out of ten, the process was the direct road to his beggary and suicide. Gambling is the fashion, as all the world knows; but it is impossible to connect the idea, in any instance, with dignity, feeling, or delicacy of mind. It is the meanest form of avarice!

Moore makes the most of his noble friend’s melancholy. But how much of this must be attributed to the night’s debauch, the glasses of pure brandy, and the dash and rattle of the dice, with dashing of all other kinds, to the amount of bankruptcy, is left untold. The bard’s constitution was originally a bad one: he made it worse by indulgence in all shapes and shades of whims; he quarrelled with the world; he had a daily head-ache, and a dozen daily duns; and, if this is not enough to account for heavy spirits, without either the sublime or the profound, the problem is beyond solution.

He was now seriously bent on travel, as he says, “Vor all the world, like Robinson Crusoe.” And concludes a letter on the subject by laughing at his friend Hobhouse, who seems to have taken the journey in the fiercest resolution of authorship. “Hobhouse has made woundy preparations for a book on his return one hundred pens, two gallons of japan ink, and several volumes of best blank, are no bad provision for a discerning public.”

From Falmouth he wrote an excellent song, which we do not recollect to have seen in any of his publications.

Falmouth Roads, June 30, 1809.
Huzza, Hodgson! we are going;
Our embargo’s off at last;
Favourable breezes blowing,
Bend the canvas o’er the mast.
190 Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.
From aloft the signal’s streaming—
Hark! the farewell-gun is fired;
Women screeching, tars blaspheming,
Tell us that our time’s expired.
There’s a rascal,
Come to task all
Prying from the Custom-house!
Trunks unpacking,
Cases cracking;
Not a corner for a mouse
’Scapes unsearched amid the racket,
Ere we sail on board The Packet!’
Now our boatmen quit their mooring,
And all hands must ply the oar;
Baggage from the quay is lowering;
We’re impatient push from shore.
“Have a care! that case holds liquor.”—
“Stop the boat! I’m sick oh, Lord!”—
“Sick, Ma’am? damme! you’ll be sicker
Ere you’ve been an hour on board.”
Thus are screaming
Men and women,
Gemmen, ladies, servants, Jacks;
Here entangling,
All are wrangling,
Stuck together close as wax.
Such the general noise and racket,
Ere we reach The Lisbon Packet!
Now we’ve reached her! Lo! the captain,
Gallant Kidd, commands the crew;
Passengers their berths are clapt in,
Some to grumble, some to spew.
“Heyday! call you that a cabin?
Why, ’tis hardly three feet square—
Not enough to stow Queen Mab in!
Who the deuce can harbour there?”—
“Who, Sir? plenty;
Nobles twenty
Did at once my vessel fill.”—
“Did they? Jesus!
How you squeeze us!—
Would to God they did so still!
Then I’d ’scape the heat and racket
Of the good ship, Lisbon Packet!
Fletcher! Murray! Bob! where are you?
Stretched along the deck like logs!
Bear a hand, you jolly tar, you!
Here’s a rope’s-end for the dogs.
Hobhouse, muttering fearful curses,
As the hatchway down he rolls;
Now his breakfast, now his verses,
Vomits forth, and damns our souls.
Here’s a stanza
On Braganza.
“Help!” “A couplet?” “No, a cup
Of warm water.”—
“What’s the matter?”—
“Zounds! my liver’s coming up:
I shall not survive the racket
Of this brutal Lisbon Packet!”
Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron. 191
Now at length we’re off for Turkey—
Lord knows when we may come back;
Breezes foul, and tempests murky,
May unship us in a crack:
But, since life at most a jest is,
As philosophers allow,
Still to laugh by far the best is;
Then laugh on, as I do now.
Laugh at all things,
Great and small things,
Sick or well, at sea or shore;
While we’re quaffing,
Let’s have laughing;
Who the devil cares for more?
Some good wine! and who would lack it,
E’en on board The Lisbon Packet?

He landed at Lisbon, and rode through Spain to Cadiz. With Cadiz he was delighted, for many reasons: the first of which he gives in the words, “Cadiz is a complete Cythera. Many of the grandees who have left Madrid during the troubles, reside here; and it is the prettiest and cleanest town in Europe. The Spanish women are all alike,—their education the same. The wife of a duke is in information as the wife of a peasant; the wife of a peasant is in manner equal to a duchess. Certainly they are fascinating; but their minds have only one idea, and the business of their lives is intrigue.” This character of the Spanish ladies was dashed off after a week’s acquaintance with a single town, on the principle of Matthews’s story of the French officer in prison at Portsmouth; who wrote down in his journal, that all the English ladies boxed, gave each other black eyes, and drank gin. It must be allowed, however, that a larger knowledge of the Peninsula might not have much altered his opinion. Absolution is cheap, and frailty, of course, fashionable.

At Malta he met with Mrs. Spencer Smith, the wife of Sir Sydney Smith’s brother. He describes her as very pretty, very accomplished, extremely eccentric, and twenty-five. She was quite a cosmopolite, was born in Constantinople, the daughter of the Austrian ambassador, married Smith, then, we believe, Envoy, or Secretary of Legation, quarrelled with him, as all women of genius and romance do with their husbands, rambled over the continent, apparently for no other reason, than that she had no business there, ran after the French, ran from the French, fled with an adventurer, the Marquis De Salvo, from some prison or other, though, as the lady declared, with an unimpeachable character, believed herself a public victim to the security of the continent and took to herself the flattering belief that she was the object of peculiar horror to Napoleon. This was just the woman to captivate the quick fancy of a man like Byron; and he embalmed her in his first foreign verses.

In his letters he keeps up a regular detail of his movements, with now and then an anecdote. The following is well told.

“You don’t know D—s, do you? He had a farce ready for the stage before I left England. When Drury-lane was burned 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
192Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.
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 MSS. Now, was not this characteristic? The ruling passions of Pope are nothing to it. While the poor distracted manager was bewailing the loss of a building only worth £300,000, in comes a note from a scorching author, requiring at his hands two acts and odd scenes of a farce!”

After two years travel he returned, in 1811, and luckily escaped publishing a “paraphrase” on Horace, which Moore pronounces heavy enough to have sunk his lordship below the possibility of recovering a poetic reputation. Dallas was the lucky critic on the occasion, and he was rewarded by the MSS. of Childe Harold. In another month his mother died, “characteristically,” of a fit of rage, brought on by reading over the upholsterer’s bills!

He now, probably warned a little by the suddenness of this death, made his will, the most striking point of which is, his determination that nobody should mistake him for any thing but what he was.

“The body of Lord B. is to be buried in the vault of the garden of Newstead, without any ceremony or burial service whatever, or any inscription, save his name and age. His dog not to be removed from the vault.”

So much for bravado; too boyish for Byron’s time of life; to say nothing of the profaneness. It was in this spirit, that the wretched coxcomb, Shelley, whose only apology can be, that he was insane, scribbled himself down, Atheist, in the album of Mont Blanc. The whole was vulgar bravado that was not content with being impious unless all the world knew it; that felt insult to Heaven an empty indulgence, unless the insult was blazoned to man; and that found its triumph in calling on society to stare at the courage which could defy common sense, and outrage decent virtue. We are neither Methodists nor Muggletonians, but we have knowledge enough of the Shelley tribe to know that three-fourths of their taunts and insolence are adopted merely to catch the world’s wonder.

His next tidings were of the death of another atheist, his friend Matthews, who was drowned at Cambridge. But this worthless personage was fortunately replaced in the same year by a different kind of friend. The burlesque in the notes to the “Edinburgh Bards” on Moore’s duel with Jeffrey, had drawn on a correspondence, the result of which was a meeting, not with sword and pistol, “and other wild animals,” but over coffee; and the two poets became companions. Byron’s nature was haughty and bitter; there is no use in denying it. But Moore’s, setting aside the little retorts natural enough to a stranger and an Irishman, thrown loose among the proudest aristocracy that pride ever made at once insolent and ridiculous, has always been touched with human good nature. His satires on the great, in and out of power, we can heartily forgive, for the sake of those noble persons themselves; than whom, as a race, no race on earth requires more to be reminded, that men without title are not dust under their feet; and that the wearer of a coronet may deserve the lash and may meet it, from a man with not a drop of Norman blood in his veins.

The warlike correspondence ended in an armistice, cemented at a dinner given by that “ancient and loving grandmother, as Massinger would have it, of the muses,” Rogers; but of which Byron would partake
Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.193
nothing but “potatoes and vinegar,” a mixture which that wicked wit,
Lady Caroline Lambe, pronounced to be “in compliment to the country of his antagonist, and the qualities of his host.” Byron’s opinions about the poets of the day were easy enough. “Do read mathematics. I should think X plus Y, at least as amusing as the Curse of Kehama, and much more intelligible. Master Southey’s poems are, in fact, what parallel lines might be, viz., prolonged ad infinitum without meeting any thing half so absurd as themselves.”
“What news, what news? Queen Orraca,
What news of scribblers five?
All d—mn’d, though yet alive.
The initials comprehended the various names of
Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lloyd, and Lambe; though, subsequently, he did due honour to Scott’s fine Lyrical powers. The others he seems to have complimented when he chose to play the courtier, and burlesqued when he returned to the art of plain speaking. He concludes this letter, with “Coleridge is lecturing.” “Many an old fool,” said Hannibal to some such lecturer, “but such as this never.”

His hits on character are in the highest spirit of that dash and rattle, which he loved. “Pole is to marry Miss Long and will be a very miserable dog for all that. The present ministers are to continue, and his majesty does continue in the same state, so there’s folly and madness for you, both in a breath.

“I never heard but of one man truly fortunate; and he was Beaumarchais, the author of Figaro, who buried two wives and gained three lawsuits before he was thirty.”

His summer visits to the country seats gave him some insight into public persons. At Lord Jersey’sErskine was there, good but intolerable. He jested, he talked, he did every thing, admirably. But then, he would be applauded for the same thing twice over: he would read his own verses, his own paragraphs, and tell his own story again and again; and then the ‘Trial by Jury:’ I almost wished it abolished, for I sat next him at dinner.”

Drury Lane having been burnt, for the ruin of Sheridan’s creditors, and rebuilt for the ruin of a fresh set, the committee, with Lord Holland at their head, perpetrated the long-laughed-at scheme of summoning all the verse makers of England or Europe to write an opening address. Some thousands poured in upon them, all equally good or evil. Until the committee convinced, at last, that to choose was impossible, and to recite them all at once, not very easy; came to the natural expedient of having one address, written by one person, and recited by one other. The task was comfortless enough, and Lord Byron made it a curiously anxious one; for we have no less than a dozen letters written to his unfortunate inspirer, Lord Holland, in the course of a month; and every one of them containing cuttings out, cuttings up, and corrections, that must have singularly perplexed his lordship. It is not easy to reconcile this industry with his letter to Mr. Murray.

“I was applied to to write the address for Drury-lane; but the moment I heard of the contest, I gave up the idea of contending against all Grub-street. To triumph would have been no glory, and to have been defeated ’sdeath! I would have choked myself, like Otway, with a quartern loaf. So, remember, I had, and have nothing to do with it,
194Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.
upon my honour!” His poem, after all, was good for nothing; but it was good enough for the purpose. It produced, however, two good consequences, the “
Rejected Addresses,” on the fame of which “the authors of the Rejected Addresses” still put forth their performances; and the display of Dr. Busby’s person haranguing from the boxes, his son’s person haranguing from the stage; a display of the Bow-street officers interfering with the eloquence of both; and a week’s ridicule of all the parties concerned. The Dr.’s poem, beginning with
“When energizing subjects men pursue,
What are the prodigies they cannot do?
had the honour of a parody in the
Morning Chronicle by his Lordship.
“When energizing objects men pursue,
The Lord knows what is writ by Lord knows who.
A modest monologue you here survey,
Hissed from the theatre the other day.” &c.
The Address continued to be a bore to him, and to his correspondents for some months; but he at last plunged into authorship again, and produced his poem on “
Waltzing,” which being but lightly received, he disowned.

“I hear that a certain malicious publication on waltzing is attributed to me. This report, I suppose, you will take care to contradict, as the author I am sure, will not like that I should wear his cap and bells.” This, in a letter to the publisher himself, is rather amusing.

He and Sheridan sometimes met; the young Lord having a great and justified admiration for the abilities of the old dramatist.—“Sheridan was a rogue all his life long, but a delightful rogue.”

“One day I saw him take up his ‘Monody on Garrick.’ He lighted on the dedication, to the dowager Lady ——. On seeing it he flew into a rage, and exclaimed, that it must be a forgery that he had never dedicated any thing of his to such a d—d canting, &c. &c., and so went on for half an hour, abusing his own dedication.”

“He told me, that on the night of the grand success of his ‘School for Scandal,’ he was knocked down, and put into the watch-house, for making a row in the street, and being found intoxicated by the watchmen.”

“When dying, he was requested to undergo an operation. He replied, that ‘he had already submitted to two, which were enough for one man’s lifetime; having his hair cut, and sitting for his picture!’”

The biographer now comes to the Leigh Hunt acquaintance, which he gets over in a tone of easy contempt.

“It was at this time that Lord Byron became acquainted (and I regret to have to add, partly through my means) with Mr. Leigh Hunt.” They went together to dine with Hunt in the Coldbath-fields prison, where he was confined for a libel on the Prince Regent, in 1813. The morning was ushered in by an epistle from his Lordship to Moore, beginning with
“Oh you, who in all names can tickle the town,
Anacreon, Tom Little, Tom Moore, or Tom Brown;
For hang me, if I know of which you may most brag,
Your quarto of Two pounds, or Twopenny Post-bag.”
The result of this acquaintance has been sufficiently known.

Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron. 195

Byron’s letters have a fling at every body. “Rogers is out of town with Madame de Stael, who hath published an essay against suicide, which I presume will make somebody shoot himself; as a sermon by Blenkinsop, in proof of Christianity, sent a hitherto most orthodox acquaintance of mine out of a chapel of ease a perfect atheist. There is to be a thing on Tuesday yclept a National Fête. The Regent is to be there. Vauxhall is the scene. There are six tickets issued for the modest women, and it is supposed there will be three to spare. Canning has disbanded his party, by a speech from his * * * *!—the true throne for a Tory. Madame de Stael Holstein has lost one of her young barons, who has been carbonadoed by a vile Teutonic adjutant, kilt and killed in a coffee-house in Scrawsenhausen. Corinne is of course what all mothers must be, but will, I venture to prophecy, do what few mothers could, write an Essay upon it. She cannot exist without a grievance, and somebody to see or read how much grief becomes her.” In his poem, the “Devil’s Drive,” Satan comes to the House of Lords.
“He saw my Lord Liverpool seemingly wise,
The Lord Westmoreland certainly silly;
And Johnny of Norfolk a man of some size,
And Chatham, so like his friend Billy.
And he heard, which set Satan himself a staring,
A certain Chief Justice say something like swearing,
And the Devil was shocked, and says he I must go,
For I find we have much better manners below.”
The “Chief Justice” was probably
Ellenborough, whose manners were violent and insolent.

Byron at length turned his thoughts to looking out for a wife; and Lady Melbourne recommended Miss Milbanke, to whom he accordingly made proposals. The offer was rejected; but the lady adopted the extraordinary measure of requesting his correspondence. So much for the delicacy of the blues. At the end of two years of this foolish and trifling sentimentality, he was informed that he might make his proposals again. “What an odd situation is ours,” says Byron, “not a spark of love on either side.” The mode of making this overture must be a pleasant discovery for the lady. His “memoranda” say, that a friend advised him to take a wife, and mentioned one. Byron mentioned Miss Milbanke. The friend objected to her want of immediate fortune, and her “learning.” Byron allowed the argument, proposed for the friend’s choice, and was refused. On reading the refusal he tried Miss Milbanke again, writing a letter to her at the moment of his receiving the rejection. The friend still argued, but taking up the letter said, “It is really a very pretty letter. It is a pity it should not go. I never read a prettier one.” “Then it shall go,” said Byron. It went at the instant, and as Moore rather legally says, was “the fiat of his fate.” Byron declared that he had not seen her for ten months before!

What wonder that this kind of marriage should have run into bickerings and separation. The biographer throws no further light on the “mysterious separation,” of which all the world talked so much at the time. But the courtship was a sufficient solution. The wife had taken, her steps in palpable defiance of her parents and friends, and of course had nobody to thank for her subsequent ill-luck but herself. Byron brought her into a house which had nine executions in it in the
196Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.
course of one year, was a roué, and clearly a troublesome companion for a fire-side. But all this the lady knew before; for the gentleman had never made any concealment of his tastes; and she ought to have abided by them.
Moore says, with sufficient plainness, that the fault “was in the choice.” And as Miss Milbanke married, in the spirit of blueism, a man who was proud of publishing his scorn of mankind and womankind, and home and country, and the habits and principles of English life, she ought to have made up her mind to go through with the affair. Byron was no more to blame than every rake, and he was probably not more a rake than ninety-nine out of the hundred of his rank, except in his ostentation of offence to society. His wife took him “with all faults,” and her separation from him certainly threw the weight of blame on her side. Byron’s nature was arrogant and sullen, but he had intervals of gentleness and feeling. Time, and kindness at home, might have softened him, and he might have gradually taken the place in society, due to men of abilities, who have at length discovered that there is a more enduring fame, and a wiser occupation of life, than the cackle of coteries, or the alternate riot and dejection of the tavern.

The volume, on the whole, is amusing. Moore should be a man of tact from his mixture with the race who are always talking about it—yet we miss this considerably in his determination to insert every thing that dropped from Byron’s pen the frequent panegyric of himself in the letters must have been a painful pressure on the biographer’s feelings, to which we think his love of fidelity might have given way without a crime. Byron’s own details of his reprobate amours, the morals of his friends, and his religious notions in general, (which are nonsense, much less remarkable for their novelty than their ostentatious emptiness, folly, and ignorance,) ought to have been wholly omitted.

But, for the one grand merit of impartiality, the biographer may claim universal praise. He lets out the facts, be they what they will, and run a muck at whom they may. The following anecdote from one of Byron’s many journals, is we suppose, historic.

Murray, the bookseller! has been cruelly cudgelled of misbegotten knaves, in ‘Kendal-green,’ at Newington Butts, in his way home from a purlieu dinner, and robbed would you believe it? of three or four bonds of forty pounds a-piece, and a seal ring of his grandfather’s, worth a million. This is his version; but others opine that D’Iraeli, with whom he dined, knocked him down with his last publication, the Quarrels of Authors, in a dispute about copyright. Be that as it may, the newspapers have teemed with his injuria formæ, and he has been embrocated and invisible to all but his apothecary ever sines.”

Nothing is said in this volume, that we can discover, of the famous MS. which was burned, “to the amount of 2,000l.,” at the desire of Mrs. Augusta Leigh, to the chagrin of Murray and Moore, and the astonishment of every body. But whatever the loss was at the time, it seems to have been completely atoned by the use of papers in extraordinary abundance, provided by his lordship to acquaint posterity with his “whereabout.” We thus have one entitled a “Register” of his ways; another, a “Dictionary;” a third, “A Journal;” and so forth; amounting not perhaps “to the value of 2,000l.,” but clearly amounting to a close detail of almost every transaction of his mind or body. So much the better, we say. The MS. ought not to have been burned; though, from the superfluity of Journalising, nothing may have been lost by its mounting to that lunar region where
Moore’s Notices of Lord Byron.197
Lawyers’ consciences, and lover’s brains,
And statesmen’s feelings float, and Laureate’s strains.

Of Byron’s poetic powers there can be no doubt; and as little of his possessing some qualities which circumstances might have softened and improved into social good. But he was, in the strongest sense of the word, unlucky. He had but two friends, Hobhouse and Moore, both gentlemen, and fitted to have led him away from the hollow and hazardous pursuits which bad company and bad habits had made second nature. But the Shelleys and the Matthewses, and the Guicciolis, had higher captivations for him; and he flung away himself, his fortune, and his fame; a memorable example of great powers rendered a source of misery to the possessor; and of the highest advantages of society consigning him, by a direct and almost fated progress, to the life of an exile, to an empty struggle for empty objects, and to a foreign grave, among the obscure haunts of banditti and barbarians.