LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Conversations on Religion, with Lord Byron
Third Conversation

First Conversation
Kennedy on Scripture
Second Conversation
‣ Third Conversation
Fourth Conversation
Fifth Conversation
Memoir of Byron
Byron’s Character
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I then took leave of Lord B., and rode down to see an officer who lived a mile beyond his house, and on my return I met his lordship and Count Gamba riding home with great speed, for a heavy shower had just come on.

On reflecting on all that had passed, I thought there were many things which I should have added, and others which I ought to have expressed in a manner more forcible and clear. I thought I had done wrong also in allowing the subject to engross me so much, as I feared lest my long conversation would rather tire than interest him. On examination, however, it appeared to me, that Lord B. shewed no signs of weariness, but continued as attentive and active at the close as at the commencement.

His ideas were rapid, and his associations very singular. He was lively and animated, and,
though apparently expressing his real sentiments, there was never any great degree of seriousness mixed with them, nor did he ever allow any opportunity of uttering a pun, or saying a smart thing, to escape him. It was impossible, from the rapidity of his manner and ideas, that the conversation should be very connected, and I was often obliged to bring him back to the subject when he wandered from it, which I did indeed so intentionally and incessantly, that it could only have been justified by the circumstance, that there was an implied understanding that I visited him only on account of religion; and therefore it was excusable in me to make as much of my time as possible, in order to convince him of its truth.

There was nothing in his manner which approached to levity, or any thing that indicated a wish to mock at religion; though, on the other hand, an able dissembler could have done and said all that he did with such feelings and intentions. On the whole, I was satisfied that I had endeavoured simply to do my duty, but I was not satisfied that I had done it well; while I am perfectly uncertain what impression was made on Lord B.’s mind.


I was not able to visit him so soon as I had intended, as I was seized with a sore throat, which confined me to my room for several days. In the mean time some of our friends visited him, and the conversation with each turned more or less upon me, and on what I had said to him; and what he said was repeated to me by those to whom he had spoken.

I asked one gentleman who was rather intimate with him; “Do you really think that Lord B. is serious in his expressed desire of hearing religion explained: has he exhibited any contempt or ridicule at what I said? I wish to know the truth; because, if his lordship merely wishes to enjoy the novelty of a religious scene, and to study characters, it would be useless to give myself any farther trouble about him: but if he is in earnest, then it is my duty to do all that I can.”

The gentleman assured me, that he had never heard Lord B. allude to the subject in any way which could induce him to suspect that he was merely amusing himself, “But on the contrary,” said he, “he always names you with respect. But,” he added, “I do not think you have made much impression on him; he is just the same fellow as before. He says he does not know what religion
you are of, for you neither adhered to creeds nor councils—that you were very frank and liberal, and confined yourself to the Scriptures alone, without caring anything about the speculations of Divines. He likes this, but he does not understand your doctrine of the Trinity, as you seem to separate the Persons from the Essence, and make the Essence quite distinct and separate.”

I said I was sorry Lord B. had misunderstood me on both points. In the first place, my religion is not new; it is the religion of all real Christians, whether in the church of England, Scotland, or among the Dissenters, abstracted from all speculation about ceremonies and external worship;—things which are of minor importance, and on which so many differ, should not be brought before his lordship’s mind at present. My object was to fix his attention on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, respecting which all Christians were agreed. With respect to the second point, the mistake was equally great; for I had expressly stated that the three Holy Persons in the Trinity were the same in essence, though I had said that this essence could never be perfectly comprehended by us, even in our highest state of enjoyment in heaven: for how could a finite being
comprehend one who is infinite? “I am glad you have mentioned these things to me, as it is of importance that I should undeceive him; for I should be vexed, if he imagined that I had a new scheme of religion, or that I entered into incomprehensible and speculative opinions of the Deity, which I had always to him so strongly condemned, as indicating a weakness of understanding.”

The wits of the garrison made themselves merry with what was going on, and passed many jokes on the subject. Some of them affected to believe,—I know not on what ground,—that Lord B.’s wish to hear me proceeded from his desire to have an accurate idea of the opinions and manners of the Methodists, in order that he might make Don Juan become one for a time, and thus paint their conduct with the greater accuracy and fidelity: some of them did not hesitate to tell me that this was the case, and that, if I were wise, I should let his lordship alone.

My answer was short and decided. “I could not affirm that Lord B. had not the intentions they ascribed to him, but if he had, he did not act like a gentleman in wishing, of his own accord and at his own request, to be introduced to me, to hear me on these subjects: but if such were
his design, it would have no effect upon me, as I neither feared his ridicule nor his poetry, and would therefore converse with him on the subject till such time as it was more certain what his secret intentions were.”

After I was recovered, I took the first opportunity of going out to visit his lordship. I arrived about eleven, and found him at home and disengaged. He said he was sorry to hear I had been ill. “I intended, if it had continued longer, to call and visit you.” I thanked him for his politeness, and said, “It was fortunately a very slight illness, but that poor M. and his wife were very unwell.” His lordship expressed himself sorry to hear it, and inquired how he was. “The cause of his illness is very strange. How could a man in his senses act as he did? If he recover, it will be a lesson to him for the future.” I assured him much of what had been said was exaggerated, and trusted, that if he recovered, which I hoped, for his own sake and that of his friends, he would, his illness would tend to fix his mind seriously upon those subjects which he had hitherto derided. “You have made no convert of him, I believe,” said his lordship. “How does S. get on? Is he in a fair way
still?” “He continues,” I replied, “to read the Bible, to reflect on these subjects, and he has read several books which I gave him; and though he is not convinced, his progress hitherto is so far pleasing.”

“Has your lordship,” I said, “read any of the books I took the liberty of sending?” “I have looked into Boston, but have not had time to read far. I am afraid it is too deep for me!” “Be not afraid,” I said, “but continue, and you will find it easier than you imagine; for how can that be deep which the most illiterate people understand? The scroll that I sent you about Warburton, perhaps you will not be able to make out; if you will give it to me now, I will read it to you, as you may find my hand-writing difficult. “Not at all,” said his lordship, “I mean to give all you have sent me a serious perusal; but of late I have been busy with my correspondence, and in preparing to set out for Greece.” “When does your lordship depart?” “I have not fixed the time; I shall wait for information, and to hear further from Trelawny and Brown. The discord and dissensions among the Greeks are still unsettled.” “Would it not be better for
your lordship to wait here, and, by your counsels and correspondence, keep the discordant parties in check? for each will hope to gain your favour and approbation. If you go into Greece, you must unite with one party, consequently the other will immediately become your enemy.” “That scheme may be good, and it accords with my wishes. I like this place, I do not know why, and dislike to move. There are not, to be sure, many allurements here, neither from the commodiousness of the house nor the bleak view of the black mountain,—there is no learned society,—nor the presence of beautiful women; and yet, for all that, I would wish to remain, as I have found myself more comfortable, and my time passes more cheerfully than it has for a long time done.” “Why not remain longer, then? your health and comfort ought to be among the first objects of your consideration; nor ought they to be sacrificed, unless you were certain that your presence in Greece would be attended with advantages, which is still doubtful; while your presence here, and your counsels, cannot fail to diminish the conflict of the contending parties, and hold in some degree the balance between them.” He said, “I have
pledged myself in the cause, and something is expected from me; whether I can do any good, I know not; but I cannot recede, and being so near, it will be attributed to other motives than prudential or political, if I remain here. After all, it is my own indolence that makes me dislike to move; for though I have been a sort of wanderer on the earth, I have always quitted each place of residence with some regret, from a dislike of trouble and care, I suppose.” I replied, “If you go to Greece, you will find it difficult to procure that quiet and retirement which are conducive to health. Your name, your money, are objects of too much importance and influence not to excite the hopes of the different parties; and you will be forced into public life, whether you will or no, and may be led into scenes which will be displeasing to your humanity. Amidst the barbarous and unprincipled chiefs and partizans in Greece, a chief of superior power, influence, energy, and decision, is required—a sort of
Buonaparte, who will execute the laws with severity and rigour, and compel obedience, by awe and terror, among men who are too much influenced by party spirit and selfish views to listen to the voice of humanity or justice.
This is wanted among the lawless and turbulent sons of Greece; and he who is not prepared to act with energy, and enforce obedience, even by a terror and severity which are foreign to his nature, is very little likely to do much good in Greece.” “I know the Greeks,” said his lordship, “well, and know also, that when I go over, I shall be beset by the different parties, to some of whom, who shall find out my weak side, I shall become the prey; and be with them a favourite as long as my name and money can be of any use to them.”

Count G. here entered the room, and some general conversation was held about the weather and news: after a few moments he retired, and the conversation was resumed between his lordship and myself.

“You will have an opportunity of seeing probably today Lord Sidney Osborne, from Corfu.” “When did he arrive?” asked his lordship. “Last night.” “What did he come for?” “I do not know,” I said; “but rumour says it is simply to pay you a visit.” “I am very glad of it, I have not seen him a long time; we are relations. He is a merry fellow, and has some fine qualities, but I do not know if he is very reli-
gious. Do you know him?” I answered, “No.” “Then,” he said, “you must stay, and try and convert him.” I said, “I willingly would if I could, but that I had no great encouragement from those whom I had already tried, to begin with new ones; let me first convert your lordship, and you can assist me in converting others; your name, example, and eloquence, will then have great effect, and pave the way for great success.”

“I have begun,” he said, “very fairly; I have given some of your tracts to Fletcher, who is a good sort of man, but still wants, like myself, some reformation, and I hope he will spread them among the other servants, who require it still more. Bruno and Gamba are busy reading some of the Italian tracts, and I hope it will have a good effect upon them. The former is rather too decided against it at present, and too much engaged with a spirit of enthusiasm for his own profession, to attend to other subjects; but we must have patience, and we shall see what has been the result.” “I pray that it may be a good one, but let them not want your good example, which you know must have a powerful influence upon them.”

“I do not fail,” he said, “to read from time to
time my Bible, though not so much, perhaps, as I should.” “Have you begun to pray that you may understand it?” “Not yet,” he said, “I have not arrived at that pitch of faith yet, but it may come by-and-by; you are in too great a hurry. Remember how long you have been with
S. and M., and the others, and consider what progress they have made. Does S., the most hopeful of these, pray?” “No,” I said,“I hardly believed it; for a few days ago he told me he did not see the use of prayer, as God, who knew our thoughts before we could utter them, required no formal act, and form of words, which could convey no new information to him.” “Well, and what said you to that?” “I reasoned with him on the subject—told him it was a positive duty commanded—that it would not have been so, had it not been useful—that it was an act of worship, and adoration, due to the Creator, and a means of grace: inasmuch as the effect left on the mind was always conducive to virtue and piety, and kept us in a proper frame for fulfilling all our various duties, in thought, word, and deed.” “But you have not convinced him?” “No, I know too well the folly and pride of the heart. It is the last, and one of the most difficult acts of conviction, to force
a sinner on his knees; but when once he is reduced to this, his case is hopeful. When I see you or any of the others in this state, I shall then begin to entertain very favourable hopes of you.” “And till then, you will think us in a bad way?” “Certainly, and decidedly.” “But,” I continued, “we must not despair; continue to read the Scriptures, to reflect on what you read, and this first and most important point, prayer, will be soon gained, and its utility and necessity will be in time enforced clearly on your mind, better than by any argument that I can use.”

“There was a book,” said his lordship, “which I intended to shew you; I believe it is here,” going to a side-table on which a great number of books were ranged. He soon took hold of an octavo, and shewed it to me. I looked at the title-page, and found it “Illustrations of the Moral Government of God, by E. Smith, M. D., London.” “Have you seen it?” asked his lordship. “No,” I said, “I had neither seen it nor heard of it: what is its object?” “The author,” he replied, “proves that the punishment of hell is not eternal—it will have a termination.” “This is no new doctrine,” I said: “the author, I suppose, is one of the Socinians, who in a short time
will try to get rid of every doctrine in the Bible; and terminate (which, indeed, if they were consistent, they would already have done) in pure deism. How did your lordship get hold of this book?” “They sent it out to me from England, to make a convert of me, I suppose: the arguments he uses are strong. He draws them from the Bible itself, and by shewing that a time will come when every intelligent creature shall be supremely happy, and eternally so, he expunges that shocking doctrine, that sin and misery will for ever exist under the government of a God whose highest attribute is love and goodness; and thus, by removing one of the greatest difficulties, reconciles us to the wise and good Creator whom the Scriptures reveal.”

“But,” I said, “how does he account for the existence of sin and misery in the world at present, and for its having existed six thousand years? This is equally inconsistent with the idea of the pure love and goodness of God, or such a notion of it, to the exclusion of his justice and holiness; and if they exist now in our time, as no one can deny, without being incompatible with the Divine goodness, why may not sin and misery exist for ever, if sinners remain impenitent, and
refuse the only remedy which can render them good, without being inconsistent with his attributes?” “Nay,” he said, “that is not a strong argument; for a good God can permit sin to exist for a while, but evince his goodness and power at last, by rooting it all out, and rendering all his creatures happy.” “I admit he can, but still the principle I contend for holds good,—that, for aught we know, sin may exist for ever, if it can exist for a while, without being inconsistent with the Divine attributes; for what is not inconsistent at one time, cannot be so at another; and the fact, whether the case will be so or not, will depend on other principles than the mere consistency or inconsistency of sin and misery under a divine government. Its duration, whether through time or eternity, must depend upon some other principle.”

“Well,” he replied, “it proves the goodness of God, and is more consistent with the notions of our reason, to believe, that if God, for wise purposes, permitted sin to exist for a while, in order, perhaps, to bring about a greater good than could have been effected without it, that his goodness will be more strikingly manifested, in anticipating the time when every intelligent
creature will be purified from sin, and relieved from misery, and rendered permanently happy.”

“It would,” I said, “certainly be more suitable to our ideas of humanity, to believe that hell, or a place of punishment, did not exist, of that finally it will be abolished, and all, even the devils, rendered happy; but our ideas and notions, imperfect as we acknowledge ourselves, cannot surely be the measure by which to judge of God, nor the rule by which he will act. As of ourselves we cannot ascertain, either by conjecture, hypothesis, or experiment, anything about eternity, except what God is pleased to reveal to us, his revelation must decide the point; and we must receive it precisely as it is given, and neither believe more nor less than what he reveals: and if he reveals a temporary hell, we may believe it, and rejoice at it, for the sake of those who die impenitent; but if he reveals a hell of eternal duration, we must receive it, and grant God to know, rather better than we can, what is compatible with his goodness, and infer with certainty that it must be so, or it would not be.” “Come,” said his lordship, “the author founds his belief on the very Scriptures themselves.” “What does he say?” I asked. “Here,” said his lordship,
handing the book, “you may find many passages in the Bible, where the word Everlasting, or Eternal, signifies limited duration.” I took the book, and looked over several extracts, in which the word aim, which simply signifies age, is read, for a limited time; from which the author inferred that it might probably always signify the same—that when eternal punishment is mentioned, it only means punishment from ages to ages, but never implies that it will have no termination.

After glancing over a few pages, I said, “If the author has no further evidence of the limited duration of eternal punishment than these critical reasonings upon the meaning of words in the Greek language, and presumes that this doctrine is more suitable to our ideas of the infinite goodness of God, I am afraid he will find himself miserably mistaken, when time shall have an end, and when duration is no longer measured by the heavenly bodies—when, as we have reason to believe, existence will be eternal, without limit or termination. This existence after time, and what is meant by Eternal in our language, the Greeks have no other way of expressing than by the word αίώυιος, from age to age, forever, eternal: when the word is applied to things and objects of this
world, it must be understood from the nature of the subject, and implies a duration commensurate with the existence of the present state of things; but when it is applied to things after the close of the present state, as is the case when the last judgment is pronounced, it must clearly be understood to refer to eternity, or an existence without measure of time or duration, as it is used evidently to denote such a state of existence. I should like to know, from the author, what other word the Greek language affords to express eternity. If the word αίώυιος often and necessarily implies limited duration, it does so because it is applied to temporal things, but the phrase είς αίωνας αίώνων, never, as far as I have known, is applied to temporal things, but to what is eternal, and is never employed but when speaking of existence after the termination of this world. It is strictly equivalent to our for ever and ever, which implies duration without end; and it has no more been deemed necessary to repeat αίων, &c. &c., than it has been to repeat the words ever and ever more frequently in our language for the expression of eternity.”

Were it granted, therefore, that in the Scripture these terms indiscriminately are applied to
time, and to proper eternity,—which, however, is not the case, since there is always a reduplication of the phrase when applied to eternity,—is it a proper conclusion that there is no strict eternity, since we have no word exclusively to express it, and because we, in the looseness of language, apply the same terms to both states of things? This, surely, no man of common reasoning would contend for. The author, therefore, has puzzled and confused himself with words. He must allow that there is an eternity, or unlimited duration after time. If he allows it, then he must shew that the Greek language could have furnished other and better terms to express unlimited duration, and there would be some force in his argument; but as he cannot, it is a most absurd and ridiculous conclusion, that because the same word or phrase is applied to both states, that one only, to wit, limited duration, exists. This would, indeed, make us slaves to terms. I have always understood that words are received in a greater or less latitude, according to the nature of the objects to which they are applied, and that one word or phrase is always modified in the meaning by the context. “But,” I continued, “there are other and still more irresistible
grounds on which the author may be confuted. It is a complete and virtual denial of the atonement and death of Christ, and of the whole scheme of salvation as taught in the Scriptures. If purgatory is to take place, not after the sinner’s death, but after the last judgment, and is to have the effect of purifying a man from sin, by some mode which he does not explain, (after a greater or less extent of duration,) what was the use of Christ’s coming into the world? Both this scheme, and that of the Roman Catholic purgatory, is absurd; though this far surpasses the other: for the former is to terminate at the last judgment,—this to take place after it; and if either were true,—if an expiation of sin could be made by suffering,—then faith in Christ, and the renovation of the character by the influence of the Holy Spirit, is vain. The few that would be saved and rendered fit for heaven in the former way, would bear no comparison with the number of those ultimately saved by bearing the punishment of their own sins. And it may be asked why was such a preparation of miracles and prophecies made to announce the approach of Christ,—and why did the Divine nature submit to take a human form, and bear the sufferings of a persecuted life
and ignominious death? Will all these men have a day of judgment set apart for them, in order that it may be decided whether they are sufficiently absolved, and fit for heaven; or will each be taken up as his period expires? And how, and by what means, are their united natures to be changed,—are they to become holy, pure, and obedient under the torments of punishment? For it is not clearly seen how punishment can change the heart; it is now rather to harden it,—and the whole scheme of the Christian revelation is decidedly against it; for if the one is true, the other cannot be so.”

“But why are you,” said his lordship, “so anxious to maintain and prove the eternity of hell punishments? It is certainly not a humane doctrine, and appears very inconsistent with the mild and benevolent doctrines of Christ.” “I maintain it,” I said, “because it is revealed in the Scriptures, and because a disbelief in it renders the whole of the doctrines of Christ perfectly unnecessary, and is quite subversive of them; and it appears nothing else than a delusion of the devil to persuade men to continue in sin here, under the assurance that it will be well with them at last.”

“A real Christian has, in one sense, the least
occasion, of all others, to think about the punishment of hell. It is not a motive of his obedience—because he obeys from love to Christ. He has no occasion to dread the punishment of hell, since Christ has ransomed him from this by his blood, and prepared him for heaven,—bestowing on him faith, and sanctifying him by the influence of his spirit. But it is the Christian’s duty, from a love to the revealed will of God, and from humanity to his fellow creature, to prevent the Scriptures from being perverted; and to demonstrate the danger of those erroneous opinions, which lead men to sinful actions, or to the neglect of that great salvation, by which alone they can escape that punishment which must be eternal.”

“I cannot decide the point,” said his lordship. “But, to my present apprehension, it would be a most desirable thing, could it be proved, that ultimately all created beings were to be happy. This would appear to be most consistent with the nature of God, whose power is omnipotent, and whose principal attribute is love. I cannot yield to your doctrine of the eternal duration of punishment; this author’s opinion is more humane, and I think he supports it very strongly from Scripture.” “Well,” I said, “I am sorry that I cannot con-
vince your lordship, and I am also sorry that I have been led to say so much on a subject which has occupied the place of others still more important; but in order to shew you that there is no force in the arguments of this author, I shall, if you please, take the book home and put down reasons on paper, which I think will satisfy you, as you will have an opportunity of deliberately considering the question.” “Do so,” said he, “I shall then with more leisure examine the subject*.”

“You have sent me,” said Lord B., “an account of the death of Lord Rochester, as a tract, par excellence, having a particular reference to me.” “Something of this sort was in my mind when I put up this tract with the others; but my principal wish was to give you a copy of each of the tracts in my possession, in hope that, as they are all good and short, something in one or other of them might arrest your attention.” “But,” added he, “I am not quite satisfied with Lord Rochester’s conversion; there will always remain this uncertainty about it, that perhaps had he recovered, and been placed among his former companions, he would have relapsed: and while this uncertainty

* See Appendix.

prevails, we can never be assured of his real conversion.” I admitted that this was true; yet, I added, “we shall be perfectly satisfied if we find that your lordship, who follows him in some points, should also preserve a resemblance of him at his departure.” “What, do you wish me to die so early, without giving due and unequivocal proofs of my conversion, and making atonement for past sins?” He said this smiling. “No,” I said, “I wish your life to be long preserved, and that you may become as eminent a Christian as you are at present a great man. But should this be the case, we may be allowed to wish that your latter end may be like his, and though we cannot be assured of your salvation, yet we shall have every reason which the case admits, to believe you are safe, without any such paltry doubts; for you will have given all the proof which circumstances permitted of the reality of your conversion.”

Lord Rochester did everything that a man could do, to prove the sincerity of his conversion; and the presumption is, that had he lived he would have done more. No Christian can entertain any doubt with respect to him, though I allow that his case cannot be brought forward as an irrefragable argument with one who doubts, or who
has never felt in his own heart the spirit of true religion.”

“I have looked,” said his lordship, “into ‘Leslie’s Short Method with the Deists,’ and I am not perfectly satisfied with his mode of reasoning. It does not appear to me by any means so demonstrative as many imagine.” “I admit,” I said, “there are many other views of Christianity likely to produce a greater impression on a doubting mind than this work. But you must remember, that this book is confined to a particular point, and is irresistibly demonstrative; though a person might acknowledge the force of the reasoning, without comprehending much of Christianity, or becoming one whit a better Christian.”

We were here interrupted by the arrival of a visitor in the courtyard, and as I conjectured it to be Lord S., I arose to depart; “Do stay,” said his lordship, “and we shall have dinner immediately, your conversation will be useful, perhaps, to Lord S.” “Excuse me for the present; as you are friends, and relatives, and have not met for a long time, you must have much to say; and Lord S. is not likely to be in a humour to care about serious conversations.” We then walked to the door, and as we descended the stairs. Lord B. was standing
at the head, and called out, “I really wish you could convert this wild fellow of a lord, he has as much need of it as I have.” I smiled, and said, “You see my task is sufficiently heavy with you. Let us wait till we finish your conversion, and we can commence his with better spirits, and with your assistance.”