LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Fifty Years’ Recollections, Literary and Personal

Vol. I Contents
Chapter I.
‣ Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Vol. II Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Vol. III Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
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I met continually in the streets young individuals from the country, particularly of the medical profession. The latter complained grievously of their exposure to the effect of decomposing bodies, or “subjects” as they called them, being obliged to carry on their demonstrations by stealth. Acts were punished as crimes in them, which were both a duty and an advantage to the public. A relation of my own, a sturdy man, who had followed the initiatory part of the profession for five years, fainted on first entering a London dissecting-room. Nothing but the imperious necessity of checking assassination altered this state of things, in the removal of the temptations to “Burke,” as it was lately called. “I wanted a head for the bones,” (a surgical phrase) said an eminent practitioner to me, “I asked a man in the dissecting-room to procure me one. He went to a pail half-filled with fragments of the dissecting table, and groping beneath them drew out one of the prettiest heads I had ever seen, once belonging to a female not more than nineteen or twenty years of age.

“Where did you get that?”

“Fine ben’t it? Not long in the box either. I and a comrade were at work in St. G—— churchyard, when that terrible rain came down yesterday morning.
The box was deep in, and well covered up. Day began to break. T’wont do to stay any longer, I said to my comrade, we shan’t be able to finish the job, the earth kept falling in again when we had nearly got all clear, so I ripped open the box with a jemmy, whipped off the head and brought it away. We had hardly time to fling in the ground.”

The conversation on this subject began by the mention of an attack made just before on an old house, once the Queen of Bohemia Tavern, in Wych Street, Strand. The place had been taken for the purpose of dissection, by some surgeons, who in the midst of their demonstrations left the outer door open. Some children got in, and peeping through a crevice, saw what was going on, and gave the alarm. The professional gentlemen had barely time to make an escape from the mob with their lives. I was continually hearing from my friends of the risks zealous young men had to encounter in their anatomical improvement.

I met Lord Lauderdale as he was returning from France, unsuccessful in his peace mission. The rejoicing of the city loan-mongers was heard on all sides; the speculators were in high glee, hoping soon to be again in requisition for the increase of the public burdens. How amply they were gratified, our annals but too clearly exhibit.

The Green Man of Brighton was another marvel of the hour. He wore green even to his neckcloth. All in his house was painted green, he even wore green gloves. People went down from London to get a glance at him as he walked the Steyne.

A review of volunteers in Hyde Park, drew me there.
The “gentlemen” volunteers looked smart and valorous, but the Stannary artillery, of the same description of force, that I had seen before on the batteries at Plymouth, looked more of the real thing. There was great sifting wanted to separate the wheat from the chaff. I had a narrow escape at one of these soldier-playings. I was at some distance in front of the line, talking to a friend on horseback, when a ramrod was discharged, which entering the horse’s head just over the eye, buried itself its whole length beneath the skin, the foremost end reaching nearly to the shoulder of the animal, whose skull had given it that direction from having been struck obliquely. It only required to have been a foot more to the left to have passed through my body, or a couple of feet of elevation to have gone through the body of my friend. I was ever afterwards as cautious of these gentry, who were said, by
Mr. Windham, to fire “vollies of blank cartridge with most undaunted bravery,” as I should have been of a congregation of rattlesnakes.

I now took as wide a range as might be expected in sight-seeing, and what youth denominates enjoyment. I had been educated too strictly; this was the natural reaction. I had been too continually reminded of my religious duties, without the conviction of their importance being first well established. Such duties should not be rendered irksome, but rather be made pleasant to children. A methodist minister once coarsely observed—he had not been educated in academic shades—that he “never knew a sinner to be saved by continually shaking him over the mouth of hell.” It was the common fault of that day, in school-education as well
as in religious instruction, to threaten and punish. I knew boys kept a whole day without food, for not acquiring a task to which they were unequal. I knew others who ran away from school to sea, and were never again heard of, some who were punished until they made up their minds to endure it like stoics, and take no pains about anything. Such severe measures I escaped by being educated at home, but there was quite stringency enough there. The truth was, and with the majority of the young it is the same, I could learn well sometimes, at others I felt utterly incapable of it, the body being, perhaps, out of tune, but that was a thing of no consequence to a teacher. My temperament was volatile at times, but often capable of close application. Sunday was strictly kept. It recalls to my mind
Johnson’s remark, “It was a heavy day to me, my mother made me read ‘the whole duty of man,’ from a great part of which I could derive no instruction. When I read the chapter on theft, which I well knew was wrong, I was no more convinced that theft was wrong than I had been before.” Thus to inculcate moral duties by a wearisome and useless repetition of them, is to colour such duties with a sort of distaste. It was no wonder, therefore, that for a short time, when turned upon the world, ardent in temperament, glowing with health, and my own master, I should have run a little wild. My companions, before I left the parental dwelling, were for the most part engaged in the naval or military services, and not remarkable for keeping within the exact limits of order, as laid down by passionless teachers, and affectionate parents, who had reached the farther verge of a dissimilar existence. The
anchorage of the channel fleet in Carrick roads, when driven off Brest by furious south-west winds, was hut a few miles from my home.

When it blew hard from that quarter I used to ascend a hill and watch the offing for a chance of welcoming some of my old companions again. Then, too, I should see the gallant old Cornwallis, come sweeping in with reefed sails before a tremendous gale, at the head of four or five-and-twenty ships of the line, breasting the sea foam as if he had been the god of ocean himself, and coming to anchor in the style amidst “the dreadful pudder over head,” that none but British seamen know how to do. The sailors called Cornwallis “Old Billy Blue.” England was under great obligations to him for often sticking close to his post in tremendous weather. When it became impossible, he stood over to the finest anchorage in the channel. If the wind kept the fleet in, I was certain to greet my late companions. I had visited Plymouth, too, and imbibed somewhat of that jaunty air and demeanour which distinguished my friends. Messes, in those days, were not as orderly as they are now. Severe duty at sea was met by laxity in port. Youth boiling over with spirits, thinking itself immortal, taking no heed of the morrow, bridled itself with difficulty. The habits of that day were far looser than at present, and fun and frolic were unlimited. Generally temperate, avoiding malt drink, which clogs the vessels, and makes those who use it lethargic, if they do not work it off by toil, I drank my water or wine. I was an active pedestrian, a good horseman, and swimmer, and could perform the sword exercise of that time, on horseback, to the admiration of my comrades. The weak and sickly who
do not experience the temptations of those who are full of health, make a virtue of this indifference to extremes. I used often to look at the walls of the room in which I happened to be sitting, and imagine I could dart through them at one bound.

Beautiful morning of existence—beautiful exceedingly, why does it dawn upon us but once? Why is there no second Aurora to illumine our mortal track with colours dipp’d in heaven, and glories so brilliant that the embers of age almost kindle into flame at their recollection.

Resident in London myself, Woolwich and Chatham, being sure to receive some of my old friends occasionally, as they could not obtain leave of absence, it was a natural consequence that I should go down to them. One of these, Bate, governor of the Island of Ascension, died at a comparatively recent period. A nobler spirit I never knew. We often passed a night together in easy-chairs for want of being able to procure beds in Woolwich. I remembered, too, we planked it together more than once, in other words, slept on the bare boards. There was a young officer, whom I knew through Bate, named Franklyn or Franklin, I don’t remember which, whom I left in the West when I came to London. Letters I received in town, brought me messages from him in the way of remembrance. I never saw him again. Supposing the lamented Sir John Franklin to have been ten or twelve years younger than he was in reality. I did not think it possible this could have been the same individual, though the date of the first commission of him I knew, and of the lamented officer must have pretty nearly corresponded, if they were different men. I never saw Franklin as Sir John, and until Sir Edward
Parry spoke of his age in a speech at Portsmouth, I had no idea it was possible the two individuals could be identified; he gave me the nick-name of Mr. Longfellow, I dubbed him Dr. Franklin.

I had not been long in London before I visited Reading in the hope of receiving my father, expected there on a visit. He set out, was obliged to return, and I never saw him more. I explored the vicinity of Reading, sketched what was worth taking, solaced myself in the splendid gardens of White Knights, and returned to town, meeting George III. travelling down to Windsor at a right royal rate, with just as little mercy for the horses of his carriage or escort, as he had for the Yankees in 1776. I was told that in passing out of town, and hearing a cry, he had put his head out of his carriage window and called sprats very lustily. There was little doubt of his insanity at this time, though nothing was said of it.

Strictly agricultural as the county may be, I was pleased with Berks, and having been only a few months from the country, enjoyed returning to it again. My old predilections in its favour came back. The superiority of metropolitan society cannot be disputed, and its more enlarged and liberal modes of thinking and acting; but neither then nor now, had I or have I, any affection for blackened brick walls, interminable streets, rattling vehicles, howling costermongers, wretchedness, poverty, and vice, made more deplorable and vicious by close contact with dissipation, wealth, and luxury. The shady side of a wood in summer, a mountain top, or the ocean shore, the lodge in some irriguous valley by the dashing stream for me, before the architectural extravagances of
Buckingham House, or the plaistered mansions and empty show of Belgravia. This may be want of taste for what the hour may deem superlative things, I cannot help my bad taste.

The loss of my father deeply afflicted me. Every remembered scene rose freshly to my view in which he was concerned. I still imagined him entering my bedroom, as he frequently did, at six o’clock in the morning, awakening me with the lines he quoted from Thompson on such occasions:—

Falsely luxurious will not man arise,
And springing from the bed of sloth enjoy
The cool, the fragrant, and the silent hour
To meditation due, and sacred song—
For is there aught in sleep to charm the wise!

I left Reading for Oxford by way of Wallingford. My stay at the head-quarters of orthodoxy was short, but long enough to convince my youthful mind, that the road which, it was pretended, led to religion in that famed seminary, speaking generally, was like that of Curran’s pig-driver, avowedly going to Cork, but really going to Dublin. It was well Duns Scotus, and his thirty thousand scholars were no longer extant, to lead the life of Oxonians at that period. Learning and the surplice were the ostensible things, no doubt, but dissipation and the name of learning rather than its spirit marked that celebrated seminary; since then, they say, greatly reformed. There was need enough of reformation, a double face was worn upon everything. The immorality scorned refinement, and though there were, no doubt, many exceptions, the habits must have been
prominent and striking, for a young wilding like myself to notice the dissonance they caused between profession and practice. At Oxford, I learned that it was far better to possess sound judgment, then to be a wit, the latter character was common enough there.

I had not wasted all my time during my absence from town. I had reflected much on my future prospects, and the necessity of immediate action. I had an idea of establishing a newspaper, then a different task from the easy thing it is at present. I was fully qualified for such an undertaking by an acquaintance with all the details, even to the mechanical part, and the arcana of the mischievous art of typography, I had read much, and knew several languages. I had omitted no available means of extending my stock of general knowledge, a thing essential to success. I even attended Sheldon’s lectures on anatomy, and all sorts of lectures, besides, and I visited the drawing-school of the Royal Academy more than once. There, I remember, I first saw Fuseli. I had mingled much in society, and had been inaugurated, Cornubian as I was, a member of the Caledonian society in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, at the same time as little Paull, the member for Westminster. I belonged to a club called the Bucks, and to several similar bodies, but I did not visit either half-a-dozen times, such societies being little to my taste.

Acquaintances from the country were continually arriving in town, and some were exceedingly gauche in their manners. Practical jokes are inexcusable, but it was impossible not to smile at some tempted by the awkwardness of west countrymen in these days. A wag from the west, named Paynter, was continually
practising upon the simplicity of those who trusted to his good faith. One of those individuals, of the character he delighted to play upon, was walking down Bond Street with him, fresh both in language and costume from the rural abode which he had never before quitted, for the distance of threescore miles. Seeing pine-apples in a fruiterer’s window, he said:—

“Bless me, what fine fruit—what pines Mr. Paynter? Dear enough here, I suppose. We can’t get one under a guinea.”

“They grow but few in the west, Harry—more are reared here; so that we get them from a shilling to eighteen-pence a piece.”

“You don’t say so, Mr. Paynter. I’ll have a couple, I think.”

So saying he went into the shop with all the confidence of a man having an overflowing purse. He selected two of the largest, put them into his pocket, and laid down a couple of shillings. The shopkeeper stared, and, becoming alarmed, asked for the rest of the money. The dispute grew so serious, that Paynter found it necessary to interfere, having stationed himself outside the shop, calculating upon his presence being required as soon as the comedy was likely to change into a performance of an opposite character. His apology for his countryman’s behaviour was couched in language calculated to put all in good humour, except the man to whom the laugh was adverse:—

“Why Harry, you will believe anything,” said the wag to the disappointed pine buyer.

“Aye, Mr. Paynter, anything anybody says, but thee.”


“It was all for your good, Harry—you must learn the way of the world to prevent your being bit in good earnest.”

“Thee shalt not be my master, Mr. Paynter.”

And poor Harry walked away from his friend, and never became reconciled to him afterwards. This did not cure the trickster. A Devonshire farmer fell in his way, a man of wealth and dullness, quite out of his latitude. Passing along Bridge Street, Blackfriars, he observed hatchments affixed to several house fronts.

“What be they, Mr. Paynter, signs, I ’spose?”

The hint was too good to be lost:

“Yes, signs. Did you never hear of London Porter?”

“Yes, Mr. Paynter—good stuff, be’ent it?”

“When it is genuine: the right sort is only sold at the houses which bear those signs.”

“Indeed, I should like a wet of it.”

“I never drink it—go and knock, and ask for a glass, I will wait outside.”

The clod-pole knocked, entered without ceremony, and said he wanted a glass of porter. The servant shewed him into the parlour, and went to announce a visitor. Presently he came back, and said there was no one of the name in the house, nor expected; the domestic having, from the farmer’s dialect, mistaken the enquiry for a Miss Porter. In vain he attempted an explanation, and was, at last, literally ejected into the street to Paynter’s great amusement, who had watched the event from the other side of the way. The farmer came up to his hoaxer:—

“You be woundedly mistaken, Mr. Paynter, there be no London porter to be had there.”


“It was your ignorance, my friend, the sign is over the next house. The doors are close together. You entered the wrong house.”

“And did I indeed, Mr. Paynter, why I will go again, though they were not very civil in the place where I just enquired.”

“Don’t go again, no,” said Paynter, who began to think his dupe, an irascible and powerful man, might, on discovering the trick, have recourse to a method of retaliation somewhat too personal; “come with me, I have not dined,”—and he took the farmer, nothing loth, to the London Coffee-house, where he supplied him with genuine porter, while he dined himself, and then plied him with wine until he was obliged to take the guest to his inn, the Angel, in St. Clement’s, then a noted receptacle of the western stage-coaches. A Devonshire rustic of that time, was only second in obtuseness to an Essex calf. The dullness of both arising, as time has proved, from the lack of intercommunication, rather than birthright, from ignorance of the world, rather than lack of intellectual ability to advance. It would be difficult to credit the benefit achieved since by the increased facilities for travelling.

I had a relative, who, not long before railways were established, on stating his intention to come up to town, was solicited to accept, as a fellow-traveller, a man of property, a neighbour, who had never been thirty miles from home in his life. They travelled by coach. All went on well until they reached Brentford. The countryman supposed he was nearly come to his journey’s end. On seeing the lamps, mile after mile, he expressed more and more impatience. “Are we not yet in
London, and so many miles of lamps?” At length, on reaching Hyde Park Corner, he was told they had arrived. His impatience increased from thence to Lad Lane. He became overwhelmed with astonishment. They entered the inn; and my relative bade his companion remain in the coffee-room until he returned, having gone to a bed-room for ablution. On returning, he found the bird flown; and for six long weeks there were no tidings of him. At length, it was discovered he was in the custody of the constables at Sherborne, in Dorsetshire, his mind alienated. He was conveyed home; came partially to his reason for a short time, and died. It was gathered from him that he had become confused more and more at the lights, and long distances he was carried among them; it seemed as if they could have no end. The idea that he could never be extricated from such a labyrinth superseded every other. He could not bear the thought. He went into the street, inquired his way to the westward, and seemed, from his statement, to have got into Hyde Park, and then out again into the Great Western Road, walking until he could walk no longer. He could relate nothing more that occurred until he was secured. Neither his watch nor money had been taken from him.

Am I right in recording trivialities that come intruding upon memory when things of more importance have perished? The truth is, we must sometimes take what memory tenders, nor slight incidents, which may set off graver associations, and furnish standards for comparing the past and present.

I got, for a time, into a round of visiting, but was soon tired of it. Nothing is more profitless, and it was
my nature, when I had run a short round of any novelty, to get tired of it. Purposeless visits soon pall; by which I mean those visits which constituted routes, or the form of walking in at one door and out at another. Where something like cordiality prevails, and some sort of interest exists between the visitor and his host, it is different. The coldness of fashion renders detestable a compliance with all its dictates. In those days, dress was scrupulously regarded, and the chapeau-bras was indispensable. In the bliss of my town inexperience and thoughtlessness, I went to an evening party, at the house of a merchant, near Highbury, where lived a family of girls who were exceedingly attractive. I know not their subsequent fortunes, when severed from each other in after life. So sisterly, so unaffectedly graceful and agreeable is their memory, that their names sadden my spirit when I think of the interval of remorseless time that has dimmed their images. I have reason to believe the greater part of them are consigned to the house appointed for all living. I had lingered until between four and five o’clock in the morning, following the example of one or two other guests. Day dawned; we sallied forth in company. It was one of those drizzling dawns which added tenfold ugliness to the London of those days, and a proportionate mass of filth and chillness to the streets. I had never thought how I was to get to my lodgings. No hackney-coach was obtainable. My companions had prepared for all accidents by bringing great-coats. I had none. It was soon broad daylight; the drizzle increased to rain. I was left to pursue my way alone, my companions taking a different direction from mine. I wore a blue
dress-coat, white waistcoat, lemon-coloured breeches, white silk stockings, with silver knee and shoe buckles; the large cocked-hat could no longer be carried under the arm, my head piteously demanding shelter. The mud, black and fluid, I did not mind, had I not been mortified at the figure I cut before passengers of the lowest class, stealing from drunken orgies, or going to their diurnal toil. They eyed my bespattered legs with a smile. I had to march to Fleet Street, worse looking from the wet than a ducked pullet, and magpie coloured to the waist. Had it been dark, or had I been unobserved, it would have been of little moment. To become such a spectacle to the raffish people, at that time in the morning, shocked my young pride. Some rough-looking fellows cast their eyes at my shoe-buckles, until I began to dread their piratical seizure. Others smiled, winked, and passed on. Some of the fair sex, foul to view, hoped I would send them my washing.

One called me a d—— maccaroni. I kept on my way, deeply mortified. I had not yet exchanged my country modesty for town assurance. Glad enough I felt when I arrived at my quarters, determined never to visit again without providing for my return, to be clear of the vilest streetocracy that deforms any capital in Europe. A Londoner would have laughed at such an adventure, but it was a different thing with a provincial, keenly sensible of the ridiculous as I was, and, in spite of reason, deriving small consolation from the fact that nobody knew me, and that no one whom I had met that morning would, probably, ever see me again, if I lived all my life in Cocaigne. When I went out afterwards, it seemed as if all whom I had met in the street curled
the lip at me, so self-mortifying is that rustic modesty, the existence of which the metropolis never long tolerates—but enough.

I was twenty-four years old before I opened a classical writer again after my school days Horace drew me back to his native tongue. His conviviality, amatory, and social feeling, blended with his love of nature had always delighted me. I loved woods, and streams, and haunted them as a solitary when young, for I was early a solitary. Even now I never visit a gushing spring, as I did that of Cliefden the other day, but the Ode “O fons Bandusia!” rushes again upon my soul in its pristine freshness of feeling. I had pored over all kinds of books, for I had little choice, my father’s library being selected for his own profession, three fourths of a theological character. My lively imagination led me first to the poets. The reading of young persons so situated is naturally of a desultory character; they read what comes in their way. There is sometimes an advantage in this, because by becoming familiar with the outlines of many things, there is an opportunity for choice as to the object to be followed out in after-life. He who is destitute of fortune may thus seize upon opportunity with the superior advantage of not being theoretically ignorant of the pursuit before him.

My father possessed too much of the old educational prejudices. I was a dull scholar whenever I was required to learn what, in my view, were dull things. His affection for me was unbounded, and I am inclined to think he knew this, and thus he tempered it with a severe sense of duty in his own view, which sense
was common to the time in which he lived, and upon which we have since greatly improved. To return—
Cæsar, Plutarch, and Cornelius Nepos were once more perused. I did not relish Cicero, although awake to the splendour of his latinity. I had, in fact, no ground to aspire to the eminence of a critic, or even of a scholastic adept in the Latin, which I only read to obtain facts.

I have said I acquired the art of writing verses early in life. How many of my hours that would otherwise have been passed in idleness has that art beguiled. I sent my lines anonymously to the “Weekly Entertainer.” “Stat nominis umbra”was my motto, yet how gratifying was the vanity that attended their perusal in print.

I have mentioned the “Weekly Entertainer.” This was a periodical work published once a fortnight in Sherborne, Dorsetshire, at the office of the ‘Mercury,’ and circulated largely in the west of England. Cornwall had no newspaper, and there were only two in Devon, both at Exeter. The publication of which I speak, cost but three-halfpence to those who took the “Mercury,” and two-pence to those who did not. I am doubtful if I should recognize my youthful contributions at this distance of time, lame and inefficient enough I dare say.

My father had early presented me with Dryden’s Plutarch. I question the wisdom of putting Plutarch too early into the indiscriminating hands of youth. War and ambition dazzle the uninstructed mind. In a Christian land, crime should not be stimulated by
representing it as in any shape an example worthy of imitation. There is less fear of this when the mind is formed. Magnitude of guilt dazzles. In my view, at one time, there was scarcely a hero in history out of Plutarch. It is singular how of the two antagonistic principles which keep the world in a perpetual struggle, the tendency to that of evil is so strong, despite reason, that we admire what we do not dare to defend in the actions of vicious characters, often miscalled “heroic.”