LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Countess of Blessington
Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron. No. X.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. NS 39  (September 1833)  33-46.
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SEPTEMBER 1, 1833.



Byron’s bad opinion of mankind is not, I am convinced, genuine; and it certainly does not operate on his actions, as his first impulses are always good, and his heart is kind and charitable. His good deeds are never the result of reflection, as the heart acts before the head has had time to reason. This cynical habit of decrying human nature is one of the many little affectations to which he often descends, and this impression has become so fixed in my mind, that I have been vexed with myself for attempting to refute opinions of his that, on reflection, I was convinced were not his real sentiments, but uttered either from a foolish wish of display, or from a spirit of contradiction which much influences his conversation. I have heard him assert opinions one day, and maintain the most opposite, with equal warmth, the day after; this arises not so much from insincerity, as from being wholly governed by the feeling of the moment; he has no fixed principle of conduct or of thought, and the want of it leads him into errors and inconsistencies from which he is only rescued by a natural goodness of heart that redeems, in some degree, what it cannot prevent. Violence of temper tempts him into expressions that might induce people to believe him vindictive and rancorous; he exaggerates all his feelings when he gives utterance to them, and here the imagination, that has led to his triumph in poetry, operates less happily, by giving a darker shade to his sentiments and expressions. When he writes or speaks at such moments, the force of his language imposes a belief that the feeling that gives birth to it must be fixed in his mind; but see him in a few hours after, and not only no trace of this angry excitement remains, but, if recurred to by another, he smiles at his own exaggerated warmth of expression, and proves, in a thousand ways, that the temper only is responsible for his defects, and not the heart.

“I think it is Diderot (said Byron) who says that, to describe woman, one ought to dip one’s pen in the rainbow; and, instead of sand, use the dust from the wings of butterflies to dry the paper. This is a concetto worthy of a Frenchman; and, though meant as complimentary, is really by no means so to your sex. To describe woman, the pen should be dipped, not in the rainbow, but in the heart of man, ere more than eighteen summers have passed over his head; and, to dry the paper, I would allow only the sighs of adolescence. Women are best understood by men whose feelings have not been hardened by a contact with the world, and who believe in virtue because they are unacquainted with the world, and who believe in virtue because they are unacquainted with

* Continued from No. CLI. p. 315
vice. A knowledge of vice will, as far as I can judge by experience, invariably produce disgust, as I believe, with my favourite poet, that—
‘Vice is a monster of such hideous mien,
That, to be hated, needs but to be seen.’
But he who has known it can never truly describe woman as she ought to be described; and, therefore, a perfect knowledge of the world unfits a man for the task. When I attempted to describe Haädee and Zuleika, I endeavoured to forget all that friction with the world had taught me; and if I at all succeeded, it was because I was, and am, penetrated with the conviction that women only know evil from having experienced it through men: whereas men have no criterion to judge of purity or goodness but woman. Some portion of this purity and goodness always adheres to woman, (continued Byron,) even though she may lapse from virtue; she makes a willing sacrifice of herself on the altar of affection, and thinks only of him for whom it is made: while men think of themselves alone, and regard the woman but as an object that administers to their selfish gratification, and who, when she ceases to have this power, is thought of no more, save as an obstruction in their path. You look incredulous, (said Byron;) but I have said what I think, though not all that I think, as I have a much higher opinion of your sex than I have even now expressed.”

This would be most gratifying could I be sure that, to-morrow or next day, some sweeping sarcasm against my sex may not escape from the lips that have now praised them, and that my credulity, in believing the praise, may not be quoted as an additional proof of their weakness. This instability of opinion, or expression of opinion of Byron, destroys all confidence in him, and precludes the possibility of those who live much in his society feeling that sentiment of confiding security in him, without which a real regard cannot subsist. It has always appeared a strange anomaly to me, that Byron, who possesses such acuteness in discerning the foibles and defects of others, should have so little power either in conquering or concealing his own, that they are evident even to a superficial observer; it is also extraordinary that the knowledge of human nature that enables him to discover, at a glance, such defects, should not dictate the wisdom of concealing his discoveries, at least from those in whom he has made them; but in this he betrays a total want of tact, and must often send away his associates dissatisfied with themselves, and still more so with him, if they happen to possess discrimination or susceptibility.

“To let a person see that you have discovered his faults, is to make him an enemy for life,” (says Byron), and yet this he does continually: he says, “that the only truths a friend will tell you, are your faults; and the only thing he will give you, is advice.” Byron’s affected display of knowledge of the world deprives him of commiseration for being its
dupe, while his practical inexperience renders him so perpetually. He is at war with the actual state of things, yet admits that all that he now complains of has existed for centuries; and that those who have taken up arms against the world have found few applauders, and still fewer followers. His philosophy is more theoretical than practical, and must so continue, as long as passion and feeling have more influence over him than reflection and reason. Byron affects to be unfeeling, while he is a victim to sensibility; and to be reasonable, while he is governed by imagination only; and so meets with no sympathy from either the advocates of sensibility or reason, and consequently condemns both. “It is fortunate for those (said Byron) whose near connexions are good and estimable; independently of various other advantages that are derived from it, perhaps the greatest of all are the impressions made on our minds in early youth by witnessing goodness, impressions which have such weight in deciding our future opinions. If we witness evil qualities in common acquaintances, the effect is slight, in comparison with that made by discovering them in those united to us by the ties of consanguinity; this last disgusts us with human nature, and renders us doubtful of goodness, a progressive step made in misanthropy, the most fearful disease that can attack the mind. My first and earliest impressions were melancholy,—my poor mother gave them; but to my sister, who, incapable of wrong herself, suspected no wrong in others, I owe the little good of which I can boast; and had I earlier known her, it might have influenced my destiny.
Augusta has great strength of mind, which is displayed not only in her own conduct, but to support the weak and infirm of purpose. To me she was, in the hour of need, as a tower of strength. Her affection was my last rallying point, and is now the only bright spot that the horizon of England offers to my view. Augusta knew all my weaknesses, but she had love enough to bear with them. I value not the false sentiment of affection that adheres to one while we believe him faultless: not to love him would then be difficult; but give me the love that, with perception to view the errors, has sufficient force to pardon them,—who can ‘love the offender, yet detest the offence,’ and this my sister had. She has given me such good advice, and yet, finding me incapable of following it, loved and pitied me but the more, because I was erring. This is true affection, and above all, true Christian feeling; but how rarely is it to be met with in England, where amour propre prompts people to show their superiority by giving advice; and a mélange of selfishness and wounded vanity engages them to resent its not being followed, which they do by not only leaving off the advised, but by injuring him by every means in their power. Depend on it (continued Byron) the English are the most perfidious friends and unkind relations that the civilized world can produce; and if you have had the misfortune to lay them under weighty obligations, you may look for all the injuries that they can inflict, as they are anxious to avenge themselves for the humiliations they suffer when they accept favours.
They are proud, but have not sufficient pride to refuse services that are necessary to their comfort, and have too much false pride to be grateful. They may pardon a refusal to assist them, but they never can forgive a generosity which, as they are seldom capable of practising or appreciating, overpowers and humiliates them. With this opinion of the English (continued Byron), which has not been lightly formed, you may imagine how truly I must value my sister, who is so totally opposed to them. She is tenacious of accepting obligations, even from the nearest relations; but having accepted, is incapable of aught approaching to ingratitude. Poor Lady —— had just such a sister as mine, who, faultless herself, could pardon and weep over the errors of one less pure, and almost redeem them, by her own excellence. Had Lady ——’s sister or mine (continued Byron) been less good and irreproachable, they could not have afforded to be so forbearing; but being unsullied, they could show mercy without fear of drawing attention to their own misdemeanours.”

Byron talked to-day of Campbell the poet: said that he was a warm-hearted and honest man; praised his works, and quoted some passages from the “Pleasures of Hope,” which he said was a poem full of beauties. “I differ, however, (said Byron,) with my friend Campbell on some points. Do you remember the passage—
“But mark the wretch whose wanderings never knew
The world’s regard, that soothes though half untrue;
His erring heart the lash of sorrow bore,
But found not pity when it erred no more.”
This, he said, was so far a true picture, those who once erred being supposed to err always, a charitable, but false, supposition, that the English are prone to act upon. “But (added Byron) I am not prepared to admit, that a man, under such circumstances as those so poetically described by Campbell, could feel hope; and, judging by my own feelings, I should think that there would be more of envy than of hope in the poor man’s mind, when he leaned on the gate, and looked at ‘the blossomed bean-field and the sloping green.’ Campbell was, however, right in representing it otherwise (continued Byron.) We have all, God knows, occasion for hope to enable us to support the thousand vexations of this dreary existence; and he who leads us to believe in this universal panacea, in which, par parenthèse, I have little faith, renders a service to humanity. Campbell’s 
‘Lochiel’ and ‘Mariners’ are admirable spirit-stirring productions (said Byron); his ‘Gertrude of Wyoming’ is beautiful; and some of the episodes in his ‘Pleasures of Hope’ pleased me so much, that I know them by heart. By-the-by (continued he) we must be indebted to Ireland for this mode of expressing the knowing anything by rote, and it is at once so true and poetical, that I always use it. We certainly remember best those passages, as well as events, that interest us most, or touch the heart, which must have
given birth to the phrase—‘know by heart.’ The
‘Pleasures of Memory’ is a very beautiful poem (said Byron), harmonious, finished, and chaste; it contains not a single meretricious ornament. If Rogers has not fixed himself in the higher fields of Parnassus, he has, at least, cultivated a very pretty flower-garden at its base. Is not this (continued Byron) a poetical image worthy of a conversazione at Lydia White’s? But, jesting apart, for one ought to be serious in talking of so serious a subject as the pleasures of memory, which, God knows, never offered any pleasures to me, (mind, I mean memory, and not the poem,) it really always did remind me of a flower-garden, so filled with sweets, so trim, so orderly. You, I am sure, know the powerful poem written in a blank leaf of the ‘Pleasures of Memory,’ by an unknown author? He has taken my view of the subject, and I envy him for expressing all that I felt; but did not, could not, express as he has done. This wilderness of triste thoughts offered a curious contrast to the hortus siccus of pretty flowers that followed it (said Byron), and marks the difference between inspiration and versification.

“Having compared Rogers’s poem to a flower-garden (continued Byron) to what shall I compare Moore’s—to the Valley of Diamonds, where all is brilliant and attractive, but where one is so dazzled by the sparkling on every side that one knows not where to fix, each gem beautiful in itself, but overpowering to the eye from their quantity. Or, to descend to a more homely comparison, though really (continued Byron) so brilliant a subject hardly admits of any thing homely, Moore’s Poems (with the exception of the Melodies) resemble the fields in Italy, covered by such myriads of fire-flies shining and glittering around, that if one attempts to seize one, another still more brilliant attracts, and one is bewildered from too much brightness. I remember reading somewhere (said Byron) a concetto of designating different living poets, by the cups Apollo gives them to drink out of. Wordsworth is made to drink from a wooden bowl, and my melancholy self from a skull, chased with gold. Now, I would add the following cups:—To Moore, I would give a cup formed like the lotus flower, and set in brilliants; to Crabbe, a scooped pumpkin; to Rogers, an antique vase, formed of agate; and to Colman, a champagne glass, as descriptive of their different styles. I dare say none of them would be satisfied with the appropriation; but who ever is satisfied with any thing in the shape of criticism? and least of all, poets.”

Talking of Shakspeare, Byron said, that he owed one-half of his popularity to his low origin, which, like charity, covereth a multitude of sins with the multitude, and the other half, to the remoteness of the time at which he wrote from our own days. All his vulgarisms (continued Byron) are attributed to the circumstances of his birth and breeding depriving him of a good education; hence they are to be excused, and the obscurities with which his works abound are all easily ex-
plained away by the simple statement, that he wrote above 200 years ago, and that the terms then in familiar use are now become obsolete. With two such good excuses, as want of education, and having written above 200 years before our time, any writer may pass muster; and when to these is added, the being a sturdy hind of low degree, which to three parts of the community in England has a peculiar attraction, one ceases to wonder at his supposed popularity; I say, supposed, for who goes to see his plays, and who, except country parsons, or mouthing, stage-struck, theatrical amateurs, read them?” I told Byron what really was, and is, my impression, that he was not sincere in his depreciation of our immortal bard; and I added, that I preferred believing him insincere, than incapable of judging works, which his own writings proved he must, more than most other men, feel the beauties of. He laughed, and replied, “That the compliment I paid to his writings was so entirely at the expense of his sincerity, that he had no cause to be flattered; but that, knowing I was one of those who worshipped Shakspeare, he forgave me, and would only bargain, that I made equal allowance for his worship of
Pope.” I observed, “That any comparison between the two was as absurd as comparing some magnificent feudal castle, surrounded by mountains and forests, with foaming cataracts, and boundless lakes, to the pretty villa of Pope, with its sheen lawn, artificial grotto, stunted trees, and trim exotics.” He said that my simile was more ingenious than just, and hoped that I was prepared to admit, that Pope was the greatest of all modern poets, and a philosopher as well as a poet. I made my peace by expressing my sincere admiration of Pope, but begged to be understood as refusing to admit any comparison between him and Shakspeare, and so the subject ended. Byron is so prone to talk for effect, and to assert what he does not believe, that one must be cautious in giving implicit credence to his opinions. My conviction is, that, in spite of his declarations to the contrary, he admires Shakspeare as much as most of his countrymen do; but that, unlike the generality of them, he sees the blemishes that the freedom of the times in which the great poet lived led him to indulge in in his writings, in a stronger point of view, and takes pleasure in commenting on them with severity, as a means of wounding the vanity of the English. I have rarely met with a person more conversant with the works of Shakspeare than was Byron. I have heard him quote passages from them repeatedly; and in a tone that marked how well he appreciated their beauty, which certainly lost nothing in his delivery of them, as few possessed a more harmonious voice or a more elegant pronunciation than did Byron. Could there be a less equivocal proof of his admiration of our immortal bard, than the tenacity with which his memory retained the finest passages of all his works? When I made this observation to him he smiled, and affected to boast that his memory was so retentive, that it equally retained all that he read; but as I had seen
many proofs of the contrary, I persevered in affirming what I have never ceased to believe, that, in despite of his professions to the reverse, Byron was in his heart a warm admirer of Shakspeare.

Byron takes a peculiar pleasure in opposing himself to popular opinion on all points; he wishes to be thought as dissenting from the multitude, and this affectation is the secret source of many of the incongruities ho expresses. One cannot help lamenting that so great a genius should be sullied by this weakness; but he has so many redeeming points that we must pardon what we cannot overlook, and attribute this error to the imperfectibility of human nature. Once thoroughly acquainted with his peculiarities, much that appeared incomprehensible is explained, and one knows when to limit belief to assertions that are not always worthy of commanding it, because uttered from the caprice of the moment. He declares that such is his bad opinion of the taste and feelings of the English, that he should form a bad opinion of any work that they admired, or any person that they praised; and that their admiration of his own works has rather confirmed than softened his bad opinion of them. “It was the exaggerated praises of the people in England (said he) that indisposed me to the Duke of Wellington. I know that the same herd, who were trying to make an idol of him, would, on any reverse, or change of opinions, hurl him from the pedestal to which they had raised him, and lay their idol in the dust. I remember (continued Byron) enraging some of his Grace’s worshippers, after the battle of Waterloo, by quoting the lines from Ariosto:—
“Fù il vincer sempre mai laudabil cosa,
Vincasi ò per fortuna ò per ingregno,”
in answer to their appeal to me, if he was not the greatest general that ever existed.”

I told Byron that his quotation was insidious, but that the Duke had gained too many victories to admit the possibility of any of them being achieved more by chance than ability; and that, like his attacks on Shakspeare, he was not sincere in disparaging Wellington, as I was sure he must au fond be as proud of him as all other Englishmen are. “What! (said Byron) could a Whig be proud of Wellington? could this be consistent?”

The whole of Byron’s manner, and his countenance on this and other occasions, when the name of the Duke of Wellington has been mentioned, conveyed the impression, that he had not been de bonne foi in his censures on him. Byron’s words and feelings are so often opposed, and both so completely depend on the humours of the moment, that those who know him well could never attach much confidence to the stability of his sentiments, or the force of his expressions; nor could they feel surprised, or angry, at hearing that he had spoken unkindly of some for whom he really felt friendship. This habit of censuring is his ruling passion, and he is now too old to correct it.


“I have been amused (said Byron) in reading ‘Les Essais de Montaigne,’ to find how severe he is on the sentiment of tristesse; we are always severe on that particular passion to which we are not addicted, and the French are exempt from this. Montaigne says, that the Italians were right in translating their word tristezza, which means tristesse, into malignité; and this (continued Byron) explains my méchanceté, for that I am subject to tristesse cannot be doubted; and if that means, as Le Sieur de Montaigne states, la malignité, this is the secret of all my evil doings, or evil imaginings, and probably is also the source of my inspiration.” This idea appeared to amuse him very much, and he dwelt on it with apparent satisfaction, saying that it absolved him from a load of responsibility, as he considered himself, according to this, as no more accountable for the satires he might write or speak, than for his personal deformity. Nature, he said, had to answer for malignité as well as for deformity, she gave both, and the unfortunate persons on whom she bestowed them were not to be blamed for their effects. Byron said, that Montaigne was one of the French writers that amused him the most, as, independently of the quaintness with which he made his observations, a perusal of his works was like a repetition at school, they rubbed up the reader’s classical knowledge. He added, that “Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy” was also excellent, from the quantity of desultory information it contained, and was a mine of knowledge that, though much worked, was inexhaustible. I told him that he seemed to think more highly of Montaigne than did some of his own countrymen; for that when Le Cardinal du Perron “appelloit les Essais de Montaigne le bréviaire des honnêtes gens; le célèbre Huet, évêque d'Avranche, les disoit celui des honnêtes paresseux et des ignorans, qui veulent s'enfariner de quelque teinture des lettres,”—Byron said that the critique was severe, but just; for that Montaigne was the greatest plagiarist that ever existed, and certainly had turned his reading to the most account. “But (said Byron) who is the author that is not, intentionally or unintentionally, a plagiarist? Many more, I am persuaded, are the latter than the former; and if one has read much, it is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid adopting, not only the thoughts, but the expressions of others, which, after they have been some time stored in our minds, appear to us to come forth ready formed, like Minerva from the brain of Jupiter, and we fancy them our own progeny, instead of being those of adoption. I met lately a passage in a French book (continued Byron) that states, à propos of plagiaries, that it was from the preface to the works of Montaigne, by Mademoiselle de Gournay, his adopted daughter, that Pascal stole his image of the Divinity:—‘C'est un cercle, dont la circonférence est par-tout, et le centre nulle part.’ So you see that even the saintly Pascal could steal as well as another, and was probably unconscious of the theft.

To be perfectly original, (continued Byron,) one should think much
and read little; and this is impossible, as one must have read much before one learns to think; for I have no faith in innate ideas, whatever I may have of innate predispositions. But after one has laid in a tolerable stock of materials for thinking, I should think the best plan would be to give the mind time to digest it, and then turn it all well over by thought and reflection, by which we make the knowledge acquired our own; and on this foundation we may let our originality (if we have any) build a superstructure, and if not, it supplies our want of it, to a certain degree. I am accused of plagiary, (continued Byron,) as I see by the newspapers. If I am guilty, I have many partners in the crime; for I assure you I scarcely know a living author who might not have a similar charge brought against him, and whose thoughts I have not occasionally found in the works of others; so that this consoles me.

“The book you lent me, Dr. Richardson’s ‘Travels along the Mediterranean,’ (said Byron,) is an excellent work. It abounds in information, sensibly and unaffectedly conveyed, and even without Lord B.’s praises of the author, would have led me to conclude that he was an enlightened, sensible, and thoroughly good man. He is always in earnest, (continued Byron,) and never writes for effect: his language is well chosen and correct; and his religious views unaffected and sincere without bigotry. He is just the sort of man I should like to have with me for Greece—clever, both as a man and a physician; for I require both—one for my mind, and the other for my body, which is a little the worse for wear, from the bad usage of the troublesome tenant that has inhabited it, God help me!

“It is strange (said Byron) how seldom one meets with clever, sensible men in the professions of divinity or physic; and yet they are precisely the professions that most peculiarly demand intelligence and ability,—as to keep the soul and body in good health requires no ordinary talents. I have, I confess, as little faith in medicine as Napoleon had. I think it has many remedies, but few specifics. I do not know if we arrived at the same conclusion by the same road. Mine has been drawn from observing that the medical men who fell in my way were, in general, so deficient in ability, that even had the science of medicine been fifty times more simplified than it ever will be in our time, they had not intelligence enough to comprehend or reduce it to practice, which has given me a much greater dread of remedies than diseases. Medical men do not sufficiently attend to idiosyncrasy, (continued Byron,) on which so much depends, and often hurry to the grave one patient, by a treatment that has succeeded with another. The moment they ascertain a disease to be the same as one they have known, they conclude the same remedies that cured the first must remove the second, not making allowance for the peculiarities of temperament, habits, and disposition, which last has a great influence in maladies. All that I have seen of physicians has given me a dread of them, which dread, will
continue, until I have met a doctor like your friend
Richardson, who proves himself to be a sensible and intelligent man. I maintain (continued Byron) that more than half our maladies are produced by accustoming ourselves to more sustenance than is required for the support of nature. We put too much oil into the lamp, and it blazes and burns out; but if we only put enough to feed the flame, it burns brightly and steadily. We have, God knows, sufficient alloy in our compositions, without reducing them still nearer to the brute by overfeeding. I think that one of the reasons why women are in general so much better than men,—for I do think they are, whatever I may say to the contrary,—(continued Byron,) is, that they do not indulge in gourmandise as men do; and, consequently, do not labour under the complicated horrors that indigestion produces, which has such a dreadful effect on the tempers, as I have both witnessed and felt.

“There is nothing I so much dread as flattery, (said Byron;) not that I mean to say I dislike it,—for, on the contrary, if well administered, it is very agreeable,—but I dread it because I know, from experience, we end by disliking those we flatter: it is the mode we take to avenge ourselves for stooping to the humiliation of flattering them. On this account, I never flatter those I really like; and, also, I should be fearful and jealous of owing their regard for me to the pleasure my flattery gave them. I am not so forbearing with those I am indifferent about; for seeing how much people like flattery, I cannot resist giving them some, and it amuses me to see how they swallow even the largest doses. Now, there is —— and ——; who could live on passable terms with them, that did not administer to their vanity? One tells you all his bonnes fortunes, and would never forgive you if you appeared to be surprised at their extent; and the other talks to you of prime ministers and dukes by their surnames, and cannot state the most simple fact or occurrence without telling you that Wellington or Devonshire told him so. One does not (continued Byron) meet this last foiblesse out of England, and not then, I must admit, except among parvenus.

“It is doubtful which, vanity or conceit, is the most offensive, (said Byron;) but I think conceit is, because the gratification of vanity depends on the suffrages of others, to gain which vain people must endeavour to please; but as conceit is content with its own approbation, it makes no sacrifice, and is not susceptible of humiliation. I confess that I have a spiteful pleasure (continued Byron) in mortifying conceited people; and the gratification is enhanced by the difficulty of the task. One of the reasons why I dislike society is, that its contact excites all the evil qualities of my nature, which, like the fire in the flint, can only be elicited by friction. My philosophy is more theoretical than practical: it is never at hand when I want it; and the puerile passions that I witness in those whom I encounter excite disgust when examined near, though, viewed at a distance, they only create pity,—that is to say, in
simple, homely truth, (continued Byron,) the follies of mankind, when they touch me not, I can be lenient to, and moralize on; but if they rub against my own, there is an end to the philosopher. We are all better in solitude, and more especially if we are tainted with evil passions, which, God help us! we all are, more or less, (said Byron.) They are not then brought into action: reason and reflection have time and opportunity to resume that influence over us which they rarely can do if we are actors in the busy scene of life; and we grow better, because we believe ourselves better. Our passions often only sleep when we suppose them dead; and we are not convinced of our mistake, till they awake with renewed strength, gained by repose. We are, therefore, wise when we choose solitude, where ‘passions sleep and reason wakes;’ for if we cannot conquer the evil qualities that adhere to our nature, we do well to encourage their slumber. Like cases of acute pain, when the physician cannot remove the malady he administers soporifics.

“When I recommend solitude, (said Byron,) I do not mean the solitude of country neighbourhood, where people pass their time à dire, redire, et médire. No! I mean a regular retirement, with a woman that one loves, and interrupted only by a correspondence with a man that one esteems, though if we put plural of man, it would be more agreeable for the correspondence. By this means, friendships would not be subject to the variations and estrangements that are so often caused by a frequent personal intercourse; and we might delude ourselves into a belief that they were sincere, and might be lasting—two difficult articles of faith in my creed of friendship. Socrates and Plato (continued Byron) ridiculed Laches, who defined fortitude to consist in remaining firm in the ranks opposed to the enemy; and I agree with those philosophers in thinking that a retreat is not inglorious, whether from the enemy in the field or in the town, if one feels one’s own weakness, and anticipates a defeat. I feel that society is my enemy, in even more than a figurative sense: I have not fled, but retreated from it; and if solitude has not made me better, I am sure it has prevented my becoming worse, which is a point gained.

“Have you ever observed (said Byron) the extreme dread that parvenus have of aught that approaches to vulgarity? In manners, letters, conversation, nay, even in literature, they are always superfine; and a man of birth would unconsciously hazard a thousand dubious phrases, sooner than a parvenu would risk the possibility of being suspected of one. One of the many advantages of birth is, that it saves one from this hypercritical gentility, and he of noble blood may be natural without the fear of being accused of vulgarity. I have left an assembly filled with all the names of haut ton in London, and where little but names were to be found, to seek relief from the ennui that overpowered me, in a—cyder cellar—are you not shocked?—and have found there more food for speculation than in the vapid circles of glittering dulness had left. ——
or —— dared not have done this, but I had the patent of nobility to carry me through it, and what would have been deemed originality and spirit in me, would have been considered a natural bias to vulgar habits in them. In my works, too, I have dared to pass the frozen mole hills—I cannot call them Alps, though they are frozen eminences—of high life, and have used common thoughts and common words to express my impressions; where poor —— would have clarified each thought, and double-refined each sentence, until he had reduced them to the polished and cold temperature of the illuminated houses of ice that he loves to frequent; which have always reminded me of the palace of ice built to please an empress, cold, glittering, and costly. But I suppose that —— and —— like them, from the same cause that I like high life below stairs, not being born to it—there is a good deal in this. I have been abused for dining at
Tom Cribb’s, where I certainly was amused, and have returned from a dinner where the guests were composed of the magnates of the land, where I had nigh gone to sleep—at least my intellect slumbered—so dullified was I and those around me, by the soporific quality of the conversation, if conversation it might be called. For a long time I thought it was my constitutional melancholy that made me think London society so insufferably tiresome; but I discovered that those who had no such malady found it equally so; the only difference was that they yawned under the nightly inflictions, yet still continued to bear them, while I writhed, and ‘muttered curses not loud but deep’ against the well-dressed automatons, that threw a spell over my faculties, making me doubt if I could any longer feel or think; and I have sought the solitude of my chamber, almost doubting my own identity, or, at least, my sanity, such was the overpowering effect produced on me by exclusive society in London. Madame de Staël was the only person of talent I ever knew who was not overcome by it; but this was owing to the constant state of excitement she was kept in by her extraordinary self-complacency, and the mystifications of the dandies, who made her believe all sorts of things. I have seen her entranced by them, listening with undisguised delight to exaggerated compliments, uttered only to hoax her, by persons incapable of appreciating her genius, and who doubted its existence from the facility with which she received mystifications which would have been detected in a moment by the most commonplace woman in the room. It is thus genius and talent are judged of (continued Byron) by those who, having neither, are incapable of understanding them; and a punster may glory in puzzling a genius of the first order, by a play on words that was below his comprehension, though suited to that of the most ordinary understandings. Madame de Staël had no tact; she would believe anything merely because she did not take the trouble to examine, being too much occupied with self, and often said the most mal à propos things, because she was thinking not of the person she addressed, but of herself. She had a party to dine with her one day in
London, when Sir James and Lady —— entered the drawing-room, the lady dressed in a green gown, with a shawl of the same verdant hue, and a bright red turban. Madame de Staël marched up to her in her eager manner, and exclaimed, ‘Ah, mon Dieu, miladi! comme vous ressemblez à un perroquet.’ The poor lady looked confounded: the company tried, but in vain, to suppress the smiles the observation excited; but all felt that the making it betrayed a total want of tact in the Corinne.

“Does the cant of sentiment still continue in England? (asked Byron.) ‘Childe Harold’ called it forth; but my Juan was well calculated to cast it into shade, and had that merit, if it had no other; but I must not refer to the Don, as that, I remember, is a prohibited subject between us. Nothing sickens me so completely (said Byron) as women who affect sentiment in conversation. A woman without sentiment is not a woman; but I have observed, that those who most display it in words have least of the reality. Sentiment, like love and grief, should be reserved for privacy; and when I hear women affichant their sentimentality, I look upon it as an allegorical mode of declaring their wish of finding an object on whom they could bestow its superfluity. I am of a jealous nature, (said Byron,) and should wish to call slumbering sentiment into life in the woman I love, instead of finding that I was chosen, from its excess and activity rendering a partner in the firm indispensable. I should hate a woman (continued Byron) who could laugh at or ridicule sentiment, as I should, and do, women who have not religious feelings; and, much as I dislike bigotry, I think it a thousand times more pardonable in a woman than irreligion. There is something unfeminine in the want of religion, that takes off the peculiar charm of woman. It inculcates mildness, forbearance, and charity,—those graces that adorn them more than all others, (continued Byron,) and whose beneficent effects are felt, not only on their minds and manners, but are visible in their countenances, to which they give their own sweet character. But when I say that I admire religion in women, (said Byron,) don’t fancy that I like sectarian ladies, distributors of tracts, armed and ready for controversies, many of whom only preach religion, but do not practise it. No! I like to know that it is the guide of woman’s actions, the softener of her words, the soother of her cares, and those of all dear to her, who are comforted by her,—that it is, in short, the animating principle to which all else is referred. When I see women professing religion and violating its duties,—mothers turning from erring daughters, instead of staying to reclaim,—sisters deserting sisters, whom, in their hearts, they know to be more pure than themselves,—and wives abandoning husbands on the ground of faults that they should have wept over, and redeemed by the force of love,—then it is (continued Byron) that I exclaim against the cant of false religion, and laugh at the credulity of those who can reconcile such conduct with the dictates of a creed that ordains forgiveness, and commands that ‘if a man be
overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted;’ and that tells a wife, that ‘if she hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife,’ &c. Now, people professing religion either believe, or do not believe, such creeds, (continued Byron.) If they believe, and act contrary to their belief, what avails their religion, except to throw discredit on its followers, by showing that they practise not its tenets? and if they inwardly disbelieve, as their conduct would lead one to think, are they not guilty of hypocrisy? It is such incongruities between the professions and conduct of those who affect to be religious that puts me out of patience, (continued Byron,) and makes me wage war with cant, and not, as many suppose, a disbelief or want of faith in religion. I want to see it practised, and to know, which is soon made known by the conduct, that it dwells in the heart, instead of being on the lips only of its votaries. Let me not be told that the mothers, sisters, and wives, who violate the duties such relationships impose, are good and religious people: let it be admitted that a mother, sister, or wife, who deserts instead of trying to lead back the stray sheep to the flock, cannot be truly religious, and I shall exclaim no more against hypocrisy and cant, because they will no longer be dangerous. Poor
Mrs. Sheppard tried more, and did more, to reclaim me (continued Byron) than ——but no, as I have been preaching religion, I shall practise one of its tenets, and be charitable; so I shall not finish, the sentence.”

It appears to me that Byron has reflected much on religion, and that many, if not all, the doubts and sarcasms he has expressed on it are to he attributed only to his enmity against its false worshippers. He is indignant at seeing people professing it governed wholly by worldly principles in their conduct; and fancies that he is serving the true cause, by exposing the votaries that he thinks dishonour it. He forgets that in so exposing and decrying them, he is breaking through the commandments of charity he admires, and says ought to govern our actions towards our erring brethren; but that he reflects deeply on the subject of religion and its duties, is, I hope, a step gained in the right path, in, which I trust he will continue to advance; and which step I attribute, as does he, to the effect the prayer of Mrs. Sheppard had on his mind, and which, it is evident, has made a lasting impression, by the frequency and seriousness with which he refers to it.

(To be continued.)