LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron
Chapter V.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
‣ Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
Chapter XIII.
Chapter XIV.
Chapter XV.
Chapter XVI.
Chapter XVII.
Chapter XVIII.
Chapter XIX.
Chapter XX.
Chapter XXI.
Chapter XXII.
Chapter XXIII.
Chapter XXIV.
Chapter XXV.
Chapter XXVI.
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His house, his home, his heritage, his lands,
The laughing dames in whom he did delight.
* * * * *
Without a sigh he left, to cross the brine
And traverse Paynim shores and pass Earth’s central line.

Men of books, particularly Poets, are rarely men of action, their mental energy exhausts their bodily powers. Byron has been generally considered an exception to this rule, he certainly so considered himself: let us look at the facts.

In 1809, he first left England, rode on horseback through Spain and Portugal, 400 miles, crossed the Mediterranean on board a frigate, and landed in Greece; where he passed two years in sauntering through a portion of that small country: this, with a trip to Smyrna, Constantinople, Malta, and Gibraltar, generally on board our men-of-war, where you have all the ease, comfort, and most
of the luxuries of your own homes;—this is the extent of the voyages and travels he was so proud of. Anything more luxurious than sailing on those seas, and riding through those lands, and in such a blessed climate, I know from experience, is not to be found in this world. Taking into account the result of these travels as shown in his works, he might well boast; he often said, if he had ever written a line worth preserving, it was Greece that inspired it. After this trip he returned to England, and remained there some years, four or five; then abandoned it for ever, passed through the Netherlands, went up the Rhine, paused for some months in Switzerland, crossed the Alps into Italy, and never left that peninsula until the last year of his life. He was never in France, for when he left England, Paris was in the hands of the Allies, and he said he could not endure to witness a country associated in his mind with so many glorious deeds of arts and arms, bullied by “certain rascal officers, slaves in authority, the knaves of justice!”

To return, however, to his travels. If you look at a map you will see what a narrow circle comprises his wanderings. Any man might go, and many
have gone without the aid of steam, over the same ground in a few months—even if he had to walk with a knapsack, where
Byron rode. The Pilgrim moved about like a Pasha, with a host of attendants, and all that he and they required on the journey. So far as I could learn from Fletcher, his yeoman bold—and he had been with him from the time of his first leaving England,—Byron where-ever he was, so far as it was practicable, pursued the same lazy, dawdling habits he continued during the time I knew him. He was seldom out of his bed before noon, when he drank a cup of very strong green tea, without sugar or milk. At two he ate a biscuit and drank soda-water. At three he mounted his horse and sauntered along the road—and generally the same road,—if alone, racking his brains for fitting matter and rhymes for the coming poem, he dined at seven, as frugally as anchorites are said in story-books to have done, at nine he visited the family of Count Gamba, on his return home he sat reading or composing until two or three o’clock in the morning, and then to bed, often feverish, restless and exhausted—to dream, as he said, more than to sleep.


Something very urgent, backed by the importunity of those who had influence over him, could alone induce him to break through the routine I have described, for a day, and it was certain to be resumed on the next,—he was constant in this alone.

His conversation was anything but literary, except when Shelley was near him. The character he most commonly appeared in was of the free and easy sort, such as had been in vogue when he was in London, and George IV. was Regent; and his talk was seasoned with anecdotes of the great actors on and off the stage, boxers, gamblers, duellists, drunkards, &c., &c., appropriately garnished with the slang and scandal of that day. Such things had all been in fashion, and were at that time considered accomplishments by gentlemen; and of this tribe of Mohawks the Prince Regent was the chief, and allowed to be the most perfect specimen. Byron, not knowing the tribe was extinct, still prided himself on having belonged to it; of nothing was he more indignant, than of being treated as a man of letters, instead of as a Lord and a man of fashion: this prevented foreigners and literary people from getting on with him, for they invariably so offended.
His long absence had not effaced the mark John Bull brands his children with; the instant he loomed above the horizon, on foot or horseback, you saw at a glance he was a Britisher. He did not understand foreigners, nor they him; and, during the time I knew him, he associated with no Italians except the family of
Count Gamba. He seemed to take an especial pleasure in making a clean breast to every new comer, as if to mock their previous conceptions of him, and to give the lie to the portraits published of him. He said to me, as we were riding together alone, shortly after I knew him,

“Now, confess, you expected to find me a ‘Timon of Athens,’ or a ‘Timur the Tartar;’ or did you think I was a mere sing-song driveller of poesy, full of what I heard Braham at a rehearsal call ‘Entusamusy;’ and are you not mystified at finding me what I am,—a man of the world—never in earnest—laughing at all things mundane.”

Then he muttered, as to himself,—
“The world is a bundle of hay,
Mankind are the asses who pull.”

Any man who cultivates his intellectual faculty so highly as to seem at times inspired, would be too
much above us, if, on closer inspection, we should not find it alloyed with weaknesses akin to our own.
Byron soon put you at your ease on this point. Godwin, in his ‘Thoughts on Man,’ says, “Shakespeare, amongst all his varied characters, has not attempted to draw a perfect man;” and Pope says,—
“A perfect man’s a thing the world ne’er saw.”
At any rate I should not seek for a model amongst men of the pen; they are too thin-skinned and egotistical. In his perverse and moody humours, Byron would give vent to his Satanic vein. After a long silence, one day on horseback, he began:

“I have a conscience, although the world gives me no credit for it; I am now repenting, not of the few sins I have committed, but of the many I have not committed. There are things, too, we should not do, if they were not forbidden. My Don Juan was cast aside and almost forgotten, until I heard that the pharisaic synod in John Murray’s back parlour had pronounced it as highly immoral, and unfit for publication. ‘Because thou art virtuous thinkest thou there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ Now my brain is throb-
bing and must have vent. I opined gin was inspiration, but cant is stronger. To-day I had another letter warning me against the Snake (
Shelley). He, alone, in this age of humbug, dares stem the current, as he did to-day the flooded Arno in his skiff, although I could not observe he made any progress. The attempt is better than being swept along as all the rest are, with the filthy garbage scoured from its banks.”

Taking advantage of this panegyric on Shelley, I observed, he might do him a great service at little cost, by a friendly word or two in his next work, such as he had bestowed on authors of less merit.

Assuming a knowing look, he continued,

“All trades have their mysteries; if we crack up a popular author, he repays us in the same coin, principal and interest. A friend may have repaid money lent,—can’t say any of mine have; but who ever heard of the interest being added thereto?”

I rejoined,

“By your own showing you are indebted to Shelley; some of his best verses are to express his admiration of your genius.”

“Ay,” he said, with a significant look, “who
reads them? If we puffed
the Snake, it might not turn out a profitable investment. If he cast off the slough of his mystifying metaphysics, he would want no puffing.”

Seeing I was not satisfied, he added,

“If we introduced Shelley to our readers, they might draw comparisons, and they are ‘odorous.’”

After Shelley’s death, Byron, in a letter to Moore, of the 2nd of August, 1822, says,

“There is another man gone, about whom the world was ill-naturedly, and ignorantly, and brutally mistaken. It will, perhaps, do him justice note, when he can be no better for it.”

In a letter to Murray of an earlier date, he says,

“You were all mistaken about Shelley, who was without exception, the best and least selfish man I ever knew.”

And, again, he says, “You are all mistaken about Shelley; you do not know how mild, how tolerant, how good he was.”

What Byron says of the world, that it will, perhaps, do Shelley justice when he can be no better for it, is far more applicable to himself.
If the world erred, they did so in ignorance; Shelley was a myth to them. Byron had no such plea to offer, but he was neither just nor generous, and never drew his weapon to redress any wrongs but his own.