LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
Countess of Blessington
Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron. No. I.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. NS 35  (July 1832)  5-23.
GO TO PART:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11 
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH



JULY 1, 1832.


———“Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice.”

⁂ Our readers will recollect those letters in the second volume of Moore’s Byron, addressed to Lady B——, which confer such additional value on that work. The whole of the journal, in which those letters, given by Lady B—— to Mr. Moore, were entered, (and which journal was never shewn to Mr. Moore, no indeed till now confided to any one,) is in our hands, and will appear, from time to-time, in the New Monthly, till concluded. It is full of the most varied interest, and we believe that it will be found to convey at least as natural and unexaggerated an account of Lord Byron’s character as has yet been presented to the public. For the opinions on men and things professed by Lord Byron, neither ourselves nor the narrator can, of course, be answerable. His character and his mind ought to be public property, and every sound judgment must allow that we have no right to follow our inclination alone in the omission of passages that may hurt the vanity of individuals. Papers of this sort are a trust not for individuals—but for the public—if there is complaisance on the one hand, there is justice on the other: if it be desirable that Byron’s real opinions should be known, we are not to stifle them because they are severe, or because they are erroneous. As about no man was there more juggling mystification, so about no man ought there now to be plainer truth-telling. To clip—to garble—to conceal his sentiments upon others—unless with almost religious caution—is in reality to disguise his character—and again to delude the world.

Genoa, April 1st, 1823.—Saw Lord Byron for the first time. The impression of the first few minutes disappointed me, as I had, both from the portraits and descriptions given, conceived a different idea of him. I had fancied him taller, with a more dignified and commanding air; and I looked in vain for the hero-looking sort of person with whom I had so long identified him in imagination. His appearance is, however, highly prepossessing; his head is finely shaped, and the forehead open, high, and noble; his eyes are grey and full of expression, but one is visibly larger than the other; the nose is large and well shaped, but, from being a little too thick, it looks better in profile than in front-face: his mouth is the most remarkable feature in his face, the upper lip of Grecian shortness, and the corners descending; the lips full, and finely cut. In speaking, he shows his teeth very much, and they are white and even; but I observed that even in his smile—and he smiles frequently—there is something of a scornful expression in his mouth that is evidently natural, and not, as many suppose, affected. This particularly struck me. His chin is large and well shaped, and finishes well the oval of his face. He is extremely thin, indeed so much so that his figure has almost a boyish air; his face is peculiarly pale, but not the paleness of ill-health, as its character is that of fairness, the fairness of a dark-haired person—and his hair (which is getting rapidly grey) is of a very dark brown, and curls naturally: he uses a good deal of oil in it, which makes it look still darker. His countenance is full of expression, and changes with the subject of conversation; it gains on the beholder the more it is seen, and leaves an agreeable impression. I should say that melancholy was its prevailing character, as I observed that when any ob-
servation elicited a smile—and they were many, as the conversation was gay and playful—it appeared to linger but for a moment on his lip, which instantly resumed its former expression of seriousness. His whole appearance is remarkably gentlemanlike, and he owes nothing of this to his toilette, as his coat appears to have been many years made, is much too large—and all his garments convey the idea of having been purchased ready-made, so ill do they fit him. There is a gaucherie in his movements, which evidently proceeds from the perpetual consciousness of his lameness, that appears to haunt him; for he tries to conceal his foot when seated, and when walking, has a nervous rapidity in his manner. He is very slightly lame, and the deformity of his foot is so little remarkable that I am not now aware which foot it is. His voice and accent are peculiarly agreeable, but effeminate—clear, harmonious, and so distinct, that though his general tone in speaking is rather low than high, not a word is lost. His manners are as unlike my preconceived notions of them as is his appearance. I had expected to find him a dignified, cold, reserved, and haughty person, resembling those mysterious personages he so loves to paint in his works, and with whom he has been so often identified by the good-natured world: but nothing can be more different; for were I to point out the prominent defect of Lord Byron, I should say it was flippancy, and a total want of that natural self-possession and dignity which ought to characterise a man of birth and education.

Albaro, the village in which the Casa Saluzzo, where he lives, is situated, is about a mile and a half distant from Genoa; it is a fine old chateau, commanding an extensive view, and with spacious apartments, the front looking into a court-yard and the back into the garden. The room in which Lord Byron received us was large, and plainly furnished. A small portrait of his daughter Ada, with an engraved portrait of himself, taken from one of his works, struck my eye. Observing that I remarked that of his daughter, he took it down, and seemed much gratified when I discovered the strong resemblance it bore to him. Whilst holding it in his hand, he said, “I am told she is clever—I hope not; and, above all, I hope she is not poetical; the price paid for such advantages, if advantages they be, is such as to make me pray that my child may escape them.”

The conversation, during our first interview was chiefly about our mutual English friends, some of whom he spoke of with kind interest. T. Moore, D. Kinnaird, and Mr. E. Ellice were among those whom he most distinguished. He expressed himself greatly annoyed by the number of travelling English who pestered him with visits, the greater part of whom he had never known, or was but slightly acquainted with, which obliged him to refuse receiving any but those he particu-
larly wished to see: “But,” added he, smiling, “they avenge themselves, by attacking me in every sort of way, and there is no story too improbable for the craving appetites of our slander-loving countrymen.”

Before taking leave, he proposed paying us a visit next day; and he handed me into the carriage with many flattering expressions of the pleasure our visit had procured him.

April 2nd.—We had scarcely finished our dejeuné à la fourchette this day when Lord Byron was announced: he sent up two printed cards, in an envelope addressed to us, and soon followed them. He appeared still more gay and cheerful than the day before—made various inquiries about all our mutual friends in England—spoke of them with affectionate interest, mixed with a badinage in which none of their little defects were spared; indeed, candour obliges me to own that their defects seemed to have made a deeper impression on his mind than their good qualities, (though he allowed all the latter) by the gusto with which he entered into them.

He talked of our mutual friend Moore, and of his “Lalla Rookh,” which, he said, though very beautiful, had disappointed him adding, that Moore would go down to posterity by his Melodies, which were all perfect. He said that he had never been so much affected as on hearing Moore sing some of them, particularly “When I first met Thee,” which, he said, made him shed tears: “But,” added he, with a look full of archness, “it was after I had drunk a certain portion of very potent white brandy.” As he laid a peculiar stress on the word affected, I smiled, and the sequel of the white brandy made me smile again: he asked me the cause, and I answered that his observation reminded me of the story of a lady offering her condolence to a poor Irishwoman on the death of her child, who stated that she had never been more affected than on the event; the poor woman, knowing the hollowness of the compliment, answered with all the quickness of her country, “Sure, then, Ma’am, that is saying a great deal, for you were always affected.” Lord Byron laughed, and said my apropos was very wicked—but I maintained it was very just. He spoke much more warmly of Moore’s social attractions as a companion, which he said were unrivalled, than of his merits as a poet.

He offered to be our cicerone in pointing out all the pretty drives and rides about Genoa; recommended riding as the only means of seeing the country, many of the fine points of view being inaccessible, except on horseback; and he praised Genoa on account of the rare advantage it possessed of having so few English, either as inhabitants or birds of passage.


I was this day again struck by the flippancy of his manner of talking of persons for whom I know he expresses, nay, for whom I believe he feels a regard. Something of this must have shown itself in my manner, for he laughingly observed that he was afraid he should lose my good opinion by his frankness; but that when the fit was on him he could not help saying what he thought, though he often repented it when too late.

He talked of Mr. ——, from whom he had received a visit the day before, praised his looks, and the insinuating gentleness of his manners, which, he observed, lent a peculiar charm to the little tales he repeated: he said that he had given him more London scandal than he heard since he left England; observed that he had quite talent enough to render his malice very piquant and amusing, and that his imitations were admirable. “How can his mother do without him?” said Byron; “with his espièglerie and malice, he must be an invaluable coadjutor; and Venus without Cupid could not be more délaissée than Milady ——without this her legitimate son.”

He said that he had formerly felt very partial to Mr. ——; his face was so handsome, and his countenance so ingenuous, that it was impossible not to be prepossessed in his favour; added to which, one hoped that the son of such a father could never entirely degenerate: he has, however, degenerated sadly but as he is yet young, he may improve; though, to see a person of his age and sex so devoted to gossip and scandal, is rather discouraging to those who are interested in his welfare.

He talked of Lord ——; praised his urbanity, his talents, and acquirements; but, above all, his sweetness of temper and good-nature. “Indeed I do love Lord ——,” said Byron, “though the pity I feel for his domestic thraldom has something in it akin to contempt. Poor dear man! he is sadly bullied by Milady; and, what is worst of all, half her tyranny is used on the plea of kindness and taking care of his health. Hang such kindness! say I. She is certainly the most imperious, dictatorial person I know—is always en Reine; which, by the by, in her peculiar position, shows tact, for she suspects that were she to quit the throne she might be driven to the anti-chamber; however, with all her faults, she is not vindictive—as a proof, she never extended her favour to me until after the little episode respecting her in “English Bards;” nay more, I suspect I owe her friendship to it. Rogers persuaded me to suppress the passage in the other editions. After all, Lady —— has one merit, and a great one in my eyes, which is, that in this age of cant and humbug, and in a country—I mean our own dear England—where the cant
of Virtue is the order of the day, she has contrived, without any great semblance of it, merely by force of—shall I call it impudence or courage?—not only to get herself into society, but absolutely to give the law to her own circle. She passes, also, for being clever; this, perhaps owing to my dulness, I never discovered, except that she has a way, en reine, of asking questions that show some reading. The first dispute I ever had with
Lady Byron, was caused by my urging her to visit Lady ——; and, what is odd enough,” laughing with bitterness, “our first and last difference was caused by two very worthless women.”

Observing that we appeared surprised at the extraordinary frankness, to call it by no harsher name, with which he talked of his ci-devant friends, he added:—“Don’t think the worse of me for what I have said: the truth is, I have witnessed such gross egotism and want of feeling in Lady ——, that I cannot resist speaking my sentiments of her.”—I observed:—“But are you not afraid she will hear what you say of her?”—He answered:—“Were she to hear it, she would act the aimable, as she always does to those who attack her; while to those who are attentive, and court her, she is insolent beyond bearing.”

Having sat with us above two hours, and expressed his wishes that we might prolong our stay at Genoa, he promised to dine with us on the following Thursday, and took his leave, laughingly apologizing for the length of his visit, adding, that he was such a recluse, and had lived so long out of the world, that he had quite forgotten the usages of it.

He on all occasions professes a detestation of what he calls cant; and says it will banish from England all that is pure and good; and that while people are looking after the shadow, they lose the substance of goodness; he says, that the best mode left for conquering it, is to expose it to ridicule, the only weapon, added he, that the English climate cannot rust. He appears to know every thing that is going on in England; takes a great interest in the London gossip; and while professing to read no new publications, betrays, in various ways, a perfect knowledge of every new work.

"April 2nd, 1823.
my dear lord,

“I send you to-day’s (the latest) Galignani. My banker tells me, however, that his letters from Spain state, that two regiments have revolted, which is a great vex, as they say in Ireland. I shall be very glad to see your friend’s journal. He seems to have all the qualities requisite to have figured in his brother-in-law’s ancestor’s Memoirs.
I did not think him old enough to have served in Spain, and must have expressed myself badly. On the contrary, he has all the air of a Cupidon dechainé, and promises to have it for some time to come. I beg to present my respects to
Lady B ―, and ever am your obliged and faithful servant,

When Lord Byron came to dine with us on Thursday, he arrived an hour before the usual time, and appeared in good spirits. He said that he found the passages and stairs filled with people, who stared at him very much; but he did not seem vexed at this homage, for so it certainly was meant, as the Albergo della Villa, where we resided, being filled with English, all were curious to see their distinguished countryman. He was very gay at dinner, ate of most of the dishes, expressed pleasure at partaking of a plum pudding, à l’Anglaise, made by one of our English servants; was helped twice, and observed, that he hoped he should not shock us by eating so much: “But,” added he, “the truth is, that for several months I have been following a most abstemious régime, living almost entirely on vegetables, and now that I see a good dinner, I cannot resist temptation, though to-morrow I shall suffer for my gourmandise, as I always do when I indulge in luxuries.” He drank three glasses of champagne, saying, that as he considered it a jour de fête, he would eat, drink, and be merry.

He talked of Mr. ——, who was then our Minister at Genoa. “H——” said he, “is a thorough good-natured and hospitable man, keeps an excellent table, and is as fond of good things as I am, but has not my forbearance. I received, some time ago, a Pâté de Perigord, and finding it excellent, I determined on sharing it with H——; but here my natural selfishness suggested that it would be wiser for me, who had so few dainties, to keep this for myself, than to give it to H——, who had so many. After half an hour’s debate between selfishness and generosity, which do you think” (turning to me) “carried the point?”—I answered, “Generosity, of course.”—“No, by Jove!” said he, “no such thing; selfishness in this case, as in most others, triumphed; I sent the pâté to my friend H——, because I felt that another dinner off it would play the deuce with me; and so you see, after all, he owed the pâté more to selfishness than generosity.” Seeing us smile at this, he said:—“When you know me better, you will find that I am the most selfish person in the world; I have, however, the merit, if it be one, of not only being perfectly conscious of my faults, but of never denying them; and this surely is something, in this age of cant and hypocrisy.”


The journal to which Lord Byron refers was written by one of our party, and Lord Byron, having discovered its existence, and expressed a desire to peruse it, the writer confided it to him.*

* * * * *

“April 14th, 1823.
my dear lord,

“I was not in the way when your note came. I have only time to thank you, and to send the Galignani’s. My face is better in fact, but worse in appearance, with a very scurvy aspect; but I expect it to be well in a day or two. I will subscribe to the Improving Society.

‘Yours in haste, but ever,

April 23rd, 1823.
my dear lord,

“I thank you for quizzing me and my ‘learned Thebans.’ I assure you, my notions on that score are limited to getting away with a whole skin, or sleeping quietly with a broken one, in some of my old Glens where I used to dream in my former excursions. I should

See Moore’s Life, vol. ii. p. 686, 4to edition. Here also follow several letters in Moore’s Byron.
prefer a grey Greek stone over me to Westminster Abbey; but I doubt if I shall have the luck to die so happily. A lease of my ‘body’s length’ is all the land which I should covet in that quarter.

“What the Honorable Dug* and his Committee may decide, I do not know, and still less what I may decide (for I am not famous for decision) for myself; but if I could do any good in any way, I should be happy to contribute thereto, and without éclat. I have seen enough of that in my time, to rate it at its value. I wish you were upon that Committee, for I think you would set them going one way or the other; at present they seem a little dormant. I dare not venture to dine with you to-morrow, nor indeed any day this week; for three days of dinners during the last seven days, have made me so head-achy and sulky, that it will take me a whole Lent to subside again into any thing like independence of sensation from the pressure of materialism. * * * But I shall take my chance of finding you the first fair morning for a visit. Ever yours,

May 7th, 1823.
my dear lord,

“I return the poesy, which will form a new light, to lighten the Irish, and will, I hope, be duly appreciated by the public. I have not returned Miledi’s verses, because I am not aware of the error she mentions, and see no reason for the alteration; however, if she insists, I must be conformable. I write in haste, having a visitor.

“Ever yours, very truly,


In all his conversations relative to Lady Byron, and they are frequent, he declares that he is totally unconscious of the cause of her leaving him, but suspects that the illnatured interposition of Mrs. Charlemont led to it. It is a strange business! He declares that he left no means untried to effect a reconciliation, and always adds with bitterness, “A day will arrive when I shall be avenged. I feel that I shall not live long, and when the grave has closed over me, what must she feel!” All who wish well to Lady Byron must desire that she should not survive her husband, for the all-atoning grave
that gives oblivion to the errors of the dead, clothes those of the living in such sombre colours to their own too-late awakened feelings, as to render them wretched for life, and more than avenges the real or imagined wrongs of those we have lost for ever.

When Lord Byron was praising the mental and personal qualifications of Lady Byron, I asked him how all that he now said agreed with certain sarcasms supposed to bear a reference to her, in his works. He smiled, shook his head, and said they were meant to spite and vex her, when he was wounded and irritated at her refusing to receive or answer his letters; that he was not sincere in his implied censures, and that he was sorry he had written them; but notwithstanding this regret, and all his good resolutions to avoid similar sins, he might on renewed provocation recur to the same vengeance, though he allowed it was petty and unworthy of him. Lord Byron speaks of his sister, Mrs. Leigh, constantly, and always with strong expressions of affection; he says she is the most faultless person he ever knew, and that she was his only source of consolation in his troubles on the separation.

Byron is a great talker, his flippancy ceases in a tête-à-tête, and he becomes sententious, abandoning himself to the subject, and seeming to think aloud, though his language has the appearance of stiffness, and is quite opposed to the trifling chit-chat that he enters into when in general society. I attribute this to his having lived so much alone, as also to the desire he now professes of applying himself to prose writing. He affects a sort of Johnsonian tone, likes very much to be listened to, and seems to observe the effect he produces on his hearer. In mixed society his ambition is to appear the man of fashion, he adopts a light tone of badinage and persiflage that does not sit gracefully on him, but is always anxious to turn the subject to his own personal affairs, or feelings, which are either lamented with an air of melancholy, or dwelt on with playful ridicule, according to the humour he happens to be in.

A friend of ours, Colonel M——, having arrived at Genoa, spent much of his time with us. Lord Byron soon discovered this, and became shy, embarrassed in his manner, and out of humour. The first time I had an opportunity of speaking to him without witnesses was on the road to Nervi, on horseback, when he asked me, if I had not observed a great change in him. I allowed that I had, and asked him the cause; and he told me, that knowing Colonel M—— to be a friend of Lady Byron’s, and believing him to be an enemy of his, he expected that he would endeavour to influence us against him, and finally succeed in depriving him of our friendship; and that this was the cause of his altered manner. I endeavoured, and at length suc-
ceeded, to convince him that Colonel M—— was too good and honourable a man to do any thing spiteful or ill-natured, and that he never spoke ill of him: which seemed to gratify him. He told me that Colonel M——’s 
sister was the intimate and confidential friend of Lady Byron, and that through this channel I might be of great use to him, if I would use my influence with Colonel M——, to make his sister write to Lady Byron for a copy of her portrait, which he had long been most anxious to possess. Colonel M——, after much entreaty, consented to write to his sister on the subject, but on the express condition that Lord Byron should specify on paper his exact wishes; and I wrote to Lord Byron to this effect, to which letter I received the following answer. I ought to add, that in conversation I told Lord Byron, that it was reported that Lady Byron was in delicate health, and also that it was said she was apprehensive that he intended to claim his daughter, or to interfere in her education: he refers to this in the letter which I copy.*

Talking of literary women, Lord Byron said that Madame de Staël was certainly the cleverest, though not the most agreeable woman he had ever known. “She declaimed to you instead of conversing with you,” said he, “never pausing except to take breath; and if during that interval a rejoinder was put in, it was evident that she did not attend to it, as she resumed the thread of her discourse as though it had not been interrupted.” This observation from Byron was amusing enough, as we had all made nearly the same observation on him, with the exception that he listened to, and noticed, any answer made to his reflections. “Madame de Staël,” continued Byron, “was very eloquent when her imagination warmed, (and a very little excited it;) her powers of imagination were much stronger than her reasoning ones, perhaps owing to their being much more frequently exercised; her language was recondite, but redundant, and though always flowery, and often brilliant, there was an obscurity that left the impression that she did not perfectly understand what she endeavoured to render intelligible to others. She was always losing herself in philosophical disquisition, and once she got entangled in the mazes of the labyrinth of metaphysics; she had no clue by which she could guide her path—the imagination that led her into her difficulties, could not get her out of them; the want of a mathematical education, which might have served as a ballast to steady and help her into the port of reason, was always visible, and though she had great tact in concealing her defeat, and covering a retreat, a tolerable logician must have always discovered the scrapes

she got into. Poor dear Madame de Staël, I shall never forget seeing her one day, at table with a large party, when the busk (I believe you ladies call it) of her corset forced its way through the top of the corset, and would not descend though pushed by all the force of both hands of the wearer, who became crimson from the operation. After fruitless efforts, she turned in despair to the valet de chambre behind her chair, and requested him to draw it out, which could only be done by his passing his hand from behind over her shoulder, and across her chest, when, with a desperate effort, he unsheathed the busk. Had you seen the faces of some of the English ladies of the party, you would have been, like me, almost convulsed; while Madame remained perfectly unconscious that she had committed any solecism on la décence Anglaise. Poor Madame de Staël verified the truth of the lines—
‘Qui de son sexe n’a pas l’esprit,
De son sexe è tout le malheur.’
She thought like a man, but alas! she felt like a woman; as witness the episode in her life with
Monsieur Rocca, which she dared not avow, (I mean her marriage with him,) because she was more jealous of her reputation as a writer than a woman, and the faiblesse de cœur, this alliance proved she had not courage to affiche. A friend of hers, and a compatriot into the bargain, whom she believed to be one of the most adoring of her worshippers, gave me the following epigrams:—

Quel esprit! quel talent! quel sublime génie!
En elle tout aspire à l’immortalité;
Et jusqu’à son hydropisie,
Rien n’est perdu pour la posterité.”
Armande à pour esprit des momens de délire,
Armande à pour vertu le mépris des appas:
Elle craint le railleur que sans cesse elle inspire,
Elle évite l’amant que ne la cherche pas:
Puisqu’elle n’a point l’art de cacher son visage,
Et qu’elle à la fureur de montrer son esprit,
Il faut la défier de cesser d’être sage
Et d’entendre ce qu’elle dit.”

“The giving the epigrams to me, a brother of the craft of authors, was worthy of a friend, and was another proof, if proof were wanting, of the advantages of friends:
‘No epigram such pointed satire lends
As does the mem’ry of our faithful friends.’
I have an exalted opinion of friendship, as you see. You look incredulous, but you will not only give me credit for being sincere in this opinion, but one day arrive at the same conclusion yourself. ‘Shake not thy jetty locks at me:’ ten years hence, if we both live so long, you will allow that I am right, though you now think me a cynic for saying all this.
Madame de Staël,” continued Byron, “had peculiar satisfaction in impressing on her auditors the severity of the persecution she underwent from Napoleon: a certain mode of enraging her, was to appear to doubt the extent to which she wished it to be believed this had been pushed, as she looked on the persecution as a triumphant proof of her literary and political importance, which she more than insinuated Napoleon feared might subvert his Government. This was a weakness, but a common one. One half of the clever people of the world believe they are hated and persecuted, and the other half imagine they are admired and beloved. Both are wrong, and both false conclusions are produced by vanity, though that vanity is the strongest which believes in the hatred and persecution, as it implies a belief of extraordinary superiority to account for it.”

I could not suppress the smile that Byron’s reflections excited, and, with his usual quickness, he instantly felt the application I had made of them to himself, for he blushed, and half angry, and half laughing, said:—“Oh! I see what you are smiling at; you think that I have described my own case, and proved myself guilty of vanity.” I allowed that I thought so, as he had a thousand times repeated to me, that he was feared and detested in England, which I never would admit. He tried various arguments to prove to me that it was not vanity, but a knowledge of the fact, that made him believe himself detested: but I, continuing to smile, and look incredulous, he got really displeased, and said:—“You have such a provoking memory, that you compare notes of all one’s different opinions, so that one is sure to get into a scrape.” Byron observed, that he once told Madame de Staël that he considered her “Delphine” and “Corinne” as very dangerous productions to be put into the hands of young women. I asked him how she received this piece of candour, and he answered:——Oh! just as all such candid avowals are received—she never forgave me for it. She endeavoured to prove to me, that, au contraire, the tendencies of both her novels were supereminently moral. I begged that we might not enter on ‘Delphine,’ as that was hors du question, (she was furious at this,) but that all the moral world thought, that her representing all the virtuous characters in “Corinne” as being dull, common-place, and tedious, was a most insidious blow aimed at virtue, and calculated to throw it into the shade. She was so excited and impatient to attempt a refutation, that it was only by
my volubility I could keep her silent. She interrupted me every moment by gesticulating, exclaiming:—‘Quel idée!’ ‘Mon Dieu!’ ‘Écoutez donc!’ ‘Vous m’impatientez y!’—but I continued saying how dangerous it was to inculcate the belief that genius, talent, acquirements, and accomplishments, such as Corinne was represented to possess, could not preserve a woman from becoming a victim to an unrequited passion, and that reason, absence, and female pride were unavailing.

“I told her that ‘Corinne’ would be considered, if not cited, as an excuse for violent passions, by all young ladies with imaginations exalté, and that she had much to answer for. Had you seen her! I now wonder how I had courage to go on; but I was in one of my humours, and had heard of her commenting on me one day, so I determined to pay her off. She told me that I, above all people, was the last person that ought to talk of morals, as nobody had done more to deteriorate them. I looked innocent, and added, I was willing to plead guilty of having sometimes represented Vice under alluring forms, but so it was generally in the world, therefore it was necessary to paint it so; but that I never represented virtue under the sombre and disgusting shapes of dulness, severity, and ennui, and that I always took care to represent the votaries of vice as unhappy themselves, and entailing unhappiness on those that loved them; so that my moral was unexceptionable. She was perfectly outrageous, and the more so, as I appeared calm and in earnest, though I assure you it required an effort, as I was ready to laugh outright at the idea that I, who was at that period considered the most mauvais sujet of the day, should give Madame de Staël a lecture on morals; and I knew that this added to her rage. I also knew she never dared avow that I had taken such a liberty. She was, notwithstanding her little defects, a fine creature, with great talents, and many noble qualities, and had a simplicity quite extraordinary, which led her to believe every thing people told her, and consequently to be continually hoaxed, of which I saw such proofs in London. Madame de Staël it was who first lent me ‘Adolphe,’ which you like so much: it is very clever, and very affecting. A friend of hers told me, that she was supposed to be the heroine, and I, with my aimable franchise, insinuated as much to her, which rendered her furious. She proved to me how impossible it was that it could be so, which I already knew, and complained of the malice of the world for supposing it possible.”

Byron has remarkable penetration in discovering the characters of those around him, and he piques himself extremely on it: he also thinks he has fathomed the recesses of his own mind; but he is mistaken; with much that is little (which he suspects) in his character,
there is much that is great that he does not give himself credit for: his first impulses are always good, but his temper, which is impatient, prevents his acting on the cool dictates of reason; and it appears to me, that in judging himself, Byron mistakes temper for character, and takes the ebullitions of the first for the indications of the nature of the second. He declares that, in addition to his other failings, avarice is now established. This new vice, like all the others he attributes to himself, he talks of as one would name those of an acquaintance, in a sort of deprecating, yet half mocking tone; as much as to say, you see I know all my faults better than you do, though I don’t choose to correct them: indeed, it has often occurred to me, that he brings forward his defects, as if in anticipation of some one else exposing them, which he would not like; as, though he affects the contrary, he is jealous of being found fault with, and shows it in a thousand ways.

He affects to dislike hearing his works praised or referred to; I say affects, because I am sure the dislike is not real or natural; as he who loves praise, as Byron evidently does, in other things, cannot dislike it for that in which he must be conscious it is deserved. He refers to his feats in horsemanship, shooting at a mark, and swimming, in a way that proves he likes to be complimented on them; and nothing appears to give him more satisfaction than being considered a man of fashion, who had great success in fashionable society in London, when he resided there. He is peculiarly compassionate to the poor; I remarked that he rarely, in our rides, passed a mendicant without giving him charity, which was invariably bestowed with gentleness and kindness; this was still more observable if the person was deformed, as if he sympathized with the object.

Byron is very fond of gossiping, and of hearing what is going on in the London fashionable world; his friends keep him au courant and any little scandal amuses him very much. I observed this to him one day, and added, that I thought his mind had been too great to descend to such trifles! he laughed, and said with mock gravity, “Don’t you know that the trunk of an elephant, that can lift the most ponderous weights, disdains not to take up the most minute? This is the case with my great mind, (laughing anew,) and you must allow the simile is worthy the subject. Jesting apart, I do like a little scandal—I believe all English people do. An Italian lady, Madame Benzoni, talking to me on the prevalence of this taste among my compatriots, observed, that when she first knew the English, she thought them the most spiteful and ill-natured people in the world, from hearing them constantly repeating evil of each other; but having seen various amiable traits in their characters, she had
arrived at the conclusion, that they were not naturally méchant; but that living in a country like England, where severity of morals punishes so heavily any dereliction from propriety, each individual, to prove personal correctness, was compelled to attack the sins of his or her acquaintance, as it furnished an opportunity of expressing their abhorrence by words, instead of proving it by actions, which might cause some self-denial to themselves. This,” said Byron, “was an ingenious, as well as charitable supposition; and we must all allow that it is infinitely more easy to decry and expose the sins of others than to correct our own; and many find the first so agreeable an occupation, that it precludes the second—this at least, is my case.”

“The Italians do not understand the English,” said Byron; “indeed, how can they? for they (the Italians) are frank, simple, and open in their natures, following the bent of their inclinations, which they do not believe to be wicked; while the English, to conceal the indulgence of theirs, daily practise hypocrisy, falsehood, and uncharitableness; so that to one error is added many crimes.” Byron had now got on a favourite subject, and went on decrying hypocrisy and cant, mingling sarcasms and bitter observations on the false delicacy of the English. It is strange, but true as strange, that he could not, or at least did not, distinguish the distinction between cause and effect, in this case. The respect for virtue will always cause spurious imitations of it to be given; and what he calls hypocrisy, is but the respect to public opinion that induces people, who have not courage to correct their errors, at least to endeavour to conceal them; and Cant is the homage that Vice pays to Virtue.* We do not value the diamond less because there are so many worthless imitations of it, and Goodness loses nothing of her intrinsic value because so many wish to be thought to possess it. That nation may be considered to possess the most virtue where it is the most highly appreciated; and that the least, where it is so little understood, that the semblance is not even assumed.

About this period the Duke of Leeds and family arrived at Genoa, and passed a day or two there, at the same hotel where we were residing. Shortly after their departure, Byron came to dine with us, and expressed his mortification at the Duke’s not having called on him were it only out of respect to Mrs. Leigh, who was the half-sister of both. This seemed to annoy him so much, that I endeavoured to point out the inutility of ceremony between people who could have no two ideas in common; and observed, that the gène of finding oneself with people of totally different habits and feelings, was ill repaid by the respect their civility indicated. Byron is a person to be excessively bored by the constraint that any change of system

would occasion, even for a day; yet his amour propre is wounded by any marks of incivility or want of respect he meets with. Poor Byron! he is still far from arriving at the philosophy that he aims at and thinks he has acquired, when the absence or presence of a person who is indifferent to him, whatever his station in life may be, can occupy his thoughts for a moment.

I have observed in Byron, a habit of attaching importance to trifles, and, vice versa, turning serious events into ridicule; he is extremely superstitious, and seems offended with those who cannot, or will not, partake this weakness. He has frequently touched on this subject, and tauntingly observed to me, that I must believe myself wiser than him, because I was not superstitious. I answered, that the vividness of his imagination, which was proved by his works, furnished a sufficient excuse for his superstition, which was caused by an over-excitement of that faculty; but that I not being blessed by the camera lucida of imagination, could have no excuse for the camera oscura, which I looked on superstition to be. This did not, however, content him, and I am sure he left me with a lower opinion of my faculties than before. To deprecate his anger, I observed that nature was so wise and good that she gave compensations to all her offspring: that as to him she had given the brightest gift, genius; so to those whom she had not so distinguished, she gave the less brilliant, but perhaps as useful, gift of plain and unsophisticated reason. This did not satisfy his amour propre, and he left me, evidently displeased at my want of superstition. Byron is, I believe, sincere in his belief in supernatural appearances; he assumes a grave and mysterious air when he talks on the subject, which he is fond of doing, and has told me some extraordinary stories relative to Mr. Shelley, who, he assures me, had an implicit belief in ghosts. He also told me that Mr. Shelley’s spectre had appeared to a lady, walking in a garden, and he seemed to lay great stress on this. Though some of the wisest of mankind, as witness Johnson, shared this weakness in common with Byron; still there is something so unusual in our matter-of-fact days in giving way to it, that I was at first doubtful that Byron was serious in his belief. He is also superstitious about days, and other trifling things,—believes in lucky and unlucky days,—dislikes undertaking any thing on a Friday, helping or being helped to salt at table, spilling salt or oil, letting bread fall, and breaking mirrors; in short, he gives way to a thousand fantastical notions, that prove that even esprit le plus fort has its weak side. Having declined riding with Byron one day, on the plea of going to visit some of the Genoese palaces and pictures, it furnished him with a subject of attack at our next interview; he declared that he never believed people serious in their admiration of pictures, statues, &c. and that those who expressed
the most admiration were “Amatori senza Amore, and Conoscitori senza Cognizione.” I replied, that as I had never talked to him of pictures, I hoped he would give me credit for being sincere in my admiration of them; but he was in no humour to give one credit for any thing on this occasion, as he felt that our giving a preference to seeing sights, when we might have passed the hours with him, was not flattering to his vanity. I should say that Byron was not either skilled in, or an admirer of, works of art; he confessed to me that very few had excited his attention, and that to admire these he had been forced to draw on his imagination. Of objects of taste or virtù he was equally regardless, and antiquities had no interest for him; nay, he carried this so far, that he disbelieved the possibility of their exciting interest in any one, and said that they merely served as excuses for indulging the vanity and ostentation of those who had no other means of exciting attention. Music he liked, though he was no judge of it; he often dwelt on the power of association it possessed, and declared that the notes of a well-known air could transport him to distant scenes and events, presenting objects before him with a vividness that quite banished the present. Perfumes, he said, produced the same effect, though less forcibly, and, added he, with his mocking smile, often make me quite sentimental.

Byron is of a very suspicious nature; he dreads imposition on all points, declares that he foregoes many things, from the fear of being cheated in the purchase, and is afraid to give way to the natural impulses of his character, lest he should be duped or mocked. This does not interfere with his charities, which are frequent and liberal; but he has got into a habit of calculating even his most trifling personal expenses, that is often ludicrous, and would in England expose him to ridicule. He indulges in a self-complacency when talking of his own defects, that is amusing; and he is rather fond than reluctant of bringing them into observation. He says that money is wisdom, knowledge, and power, all combined; and that this conviction is the only one he has in common with all his countrymen. He dwells with great asperity on an acquaintance to whom he lent some money, and who has not repaid him.

Byron seems to take particular pleasure in ridiculing sentiment and romantic feelings; and yet the day after will betray both, to an extent that appears impossible to be sincere, to those who had heard his previous sarcasms; that he is sincere, is evident, as his eyes fill with tears, his voice becomes tremulous, and his whole manner evinces that he feels what he says. All this appears so inconsistent, that it destroys sympathy, or, if it does not quite do that, it makes one angry with one’s self for giving way to it for one who is never two days of the same way of thinking, or at least expressing himself.
He talks for effect, likes to excite astonishment, and certainly destroys, in the mind of his auditors, all confidence in his stability of character. This must, I am certain, be felt by all who have lived much in his society; and the impression is not satisfactory.

Talking one day of his domestic misfortunes, as he always called his separation from Lady Byron, he dwelt in a sort of unmanly strain of lamentation on it, that all present felt to be unworthy of him; and as, the evening before, I had heard this habitude of his commented on by persons indifferent about his feelings, who even ridiculed his making it a topic of conversation with mere acquaintances, I wrote a few lines in verse, expressive of my sentiments, and handed it across the table round which we were seated, as he was sitting for his portrait. He read them, became red and pale by turns, with anger, and threw them down on the table, with an expression of countenance that is not to be forgotten. The following are the lines, which had nothing to offend, but they did offend him deeply, and he did not recover his temper during the rest of his stay.

And canst thou bare thy breast to vulgar eyes?
And canst thou show the wounds that rankle there?
Methought in noble hearts that sorrow lies
Too deep to suffer coarser minds to share.
The wounds inflicted by the hand we love,
(The hand that should have warded off each blow,)
Are never heal’d, as aching hearts can prove,
But sacred should the stream of sorrow flow.
If friendship’s pity quells not real grief,
Can public pity soothe thy woes to sleep?—
No! Byron, spurn such vain, such weak relief,
And if thy tears must fall—in secret weep.

He never appeared to so little advantage as when he talked sentiment: this did not at all strike me at first; on the contrary, it excited a powerful interest for him; but when he had vented his spleen in sarcasms, and pointed ridicule on sentiment, reducing all that is noblest in our natures to the level of common every-day life, the charm was broken, and it was impossible to sympathize with him again. He observed something of this, and seemed dissatisfied and restless when he perceived that he could no longer excite either strong sympathy or astonishment. Notwithstanding all these contradictions in this wayward, spoiled child of genius, the impression left on my mind was, that he had both sentiment and romance in his nature; but that, from the love of displaying his wit and astonishing his hearers, he affected to despise and ridicule them.

(To be continued.)