LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron
Anecdotes of Lord Byron

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The detached anecdotes of Lord Byron are numerous, and many of them much to his credit: those that are so, I am desirous to preserve, and should have interwoven them in the body of the work, could I have found a fitting place for doing so, or been able to have made them part and parcel of a systematic narrative.


“A young lady of considerable talents, but who had never been able to succeed in turning them to any profitable account, was reduced to great hardships through the misfortunes of her family. The only persons from whom she could have hoped for relief were abroad; and urged on, more by the sufferings of those she held dear, than by her own, summoned up resolution to wait on Lord Byron at his apartments in the Albany, and solicit his subscription to a volume of poems: she had no previous knowledge of him, except from his works; but from the boldness and feeling expressed in them, she concluded that he must be
a man of a kind heart and amiable disposition. She entered the apartment with diffidence, but soon found courage to state her request, which she did with simplicity and delicacy. He listened with attention; and when she had done speaking, he, as if to divert her thoughts from a subject which could not but be painful to her, began to converse with her in words so fascinating, and tones so gentle, that she hardly perceived he had been writing, until he put a slip of paper into her hand, saying it was his subscription, and that he most heartily wished her success.—‘But,’ added he, ‘we are both young, and the world is very censorious; and so if I were to take any active part in procuring subscribers to your poems, I fear it would do you harm, rather than good.’ The young lady, overpowered by the prudence and delicacy of his conduct, took her leave; and upon opening the paper in the street, which in her agitation she had not previously looked at, she found it was a draft upon is banker for fifty pounds.”—Galignani’s edition.


“While in the island of Cephalonia, at Metaxata, an embankment, near which several persons had been engaged digging, fell in, and buried some of them alive. He was at dinner when he heard of the accident; starting up from table, he fled to the spot, accompanied by his physician. The labourers employed in extricating their companions soon became alarmed for themselves, and refused to go on, saying, they believed they had dug out all the bodies which had been covered by the rubbish. Byron endeavoured to force them to continue their exertions; but finding menaces in vain, he seized a spade, and began to dig most zealously; when the peasantry joined him, and they succeeded in saving two more persons from certain death.”—Galignani’s edition.


“A schoolfellow of Byron’s had a very small Shetland pony, which his father had bought for him; they went one day to the banks of the Don to bathe, but having only the pony, they were obliged to follow the good old practice, called in Scotland, ‘ride and tie;’ when they came to the bridge over the dark romantic stream, Byron bethought him of the prophecy which he has quoted in Don Juan.

   ‘Brig o’ Balgounie, black’s your wa’
 Wi’ a wife’s ae son and a mare’s ae foal
 Doun ye shall fa!’

He immediately stopped his companion, who was riding, and asked him if he remembered the prophecy, saying, that as they were both only sons, and as the pony might be ‘a mare’s ae foal,’ he would ride over first, because he had only a mother to lament him, should the prophecy be fulfilled by the falling of the bridge; whereas the other had both a father and a mother.”—Galignani’s edition.


“When Lord Byron was a member of the Managing (query, mis-managing) Committee of Drury-lane Theatre, Bartley was speaking with him on the decay of the drama, and took occasion to urge his Lordship to write a tragedy for the stage: ‘I cannot,’ was the reply, ‘I don’t know how to make the people go on and off in the scenes, and know not where to find a fit character.’ ‘Take your own,’ said Bartley, meaning in the honesty of his heart, one of his Laras or Childe Harolds. ‘Much obliged to you,’ was the reply—and exit in a huff. Byron thought he spoke literally of his own real character.”


Lord Byron was very jealous of his title. “A friend
told me, that an Italian apothecary having sent him one day a packet of medicines addressed to ‘Mons. Byron,’ this mock-heroic mistake aroused his indignation, and he sent the physic back, to learn better manners.”—
Leigh Hunt.


“He affected to doubt whether Shakspeare was so great a genius as he has been taken for. There was a greater committal of himself at the bottom of this notion then he supposed; and perhaps circumstances had really disenabled him from having the proper idea of Shakspeare, though it could not have fallen so short of the truth as he pretended. Spenser he could not read, at least he said so. I lent him a volume of the ‘Faery Queen,’ and he said he would try to like it. Next day he brought it to my study-window and said, ‘Here, Hunt, here is your Spenser; I cannot see any thing in him.’ When he found Sandys’s Ovid among my books, he said, ‘God! what an unpleasant recollection I have of this book! I met with it on my wedding-day; I read it while I was waiting to go to church.’”—Leigh Hunt.


“‘Have you seen my three helmets?’ he inquired one day, with an air between hesitation and hurry. Upon being answered in the negative, he said he would show them me, and began to enter a room for that purpose; but stopped short, and put it off to another time. These three helmets he had got up in honour of his going to war, and as harbingers to achievement. They were the proper classical shape, gilt, and had his motto— ‘Crede Byron.’”—Leigh Hunt.


“His superstition was remarkable. I do not mean
> in the ordinary sense, because he was superstitious, but because it was petty and old womanish. He believed in the ill-luck of Fridays; and was seriously disconcerted if anything was to be done on that frightful day of the week. Had he been a Roman, he would have started at crows, when he made a jest of augurs. He used to tell a story of somebody’s meeting him while in Italy, in St. James’s-street.”—
Leigh Hunt.


One night, in the opera, while he was in Italy, a gentleman appeared in one of the lower boxes, so like Lord Byron, that he attracted a great deal of attention. I saw him myself, and was not convinced it was not him until I went close to the box to speak to him. I afterwards ascertained that the stranger belonged to the Stock Exchange.—J. G.


On another occasion, during the queen’s trial, it was reported that he had arrived from abroad, and was seen entering the House of Lords. A friend of mine mentioned the circumstance to him afterwards. “No!’ said he, “that would have been too much, considering the state of matters between me and my own wife.”—J. G.


Lord Byron said that Hunt had no right perception of the sublimity of Alpine scenery; that is, no moral associations in connexion with such scenery; and that he called a mountain a great impostor. I shall quote from his visit to Italy what Mr. Hunt says himself: it is daintily conceived and expressed. “The Alps.—It was the first time I had seen mountains. They had a fine, sulk look, up aloft in the sky—cold, lofty, and distant. I used to think that mountains
would impress me but little; that by the same process of imagination reversed, by which a brook can be fancied a mighty river, with forests instead of verdure on its banks, a mountain could be made a mole-hill, over which we step. But one look convinced me to the contrary. I found I could elevate better than I could pull down, and I was glad of it.”—
Leigh Hunt.


In one of Lord Byron’s conversations with Doctor Kennedy, he said, in speaking of the liberality of the late pope, “I like his Holiness very much, particularly since an order, which I understand he has lately given, that no more miracles shall be performed.” In speaking of Mr. Henry Drummond and Lord Calthorpe, he inquired whether the Doctor knew them. “No!” was the answer; “except by report, which points them out as eminent for their piety.”—“I know them very well,” said his Lordship. “They were not always so; but they are excellent men. Lord Calthorpe was the first who called me an Atheist, when we were at school at Harrow, for which I gave him as good a drubbing as ever he got in his life.”—Dr. Kennedy.


“Speaking of witches,” said Lord Byron to Doctor Kennedy, “what think you of the witch of Endor? I have always thought that this is the finest and most finished witch-scene, that ever was written or conceived; and you will be of my opinion, if you consider all the circumstances and the actors in the case, together with the gravity, simplicity, and dignity of the language. It beats all the ghost-scenes I ever read. The finest conception on a similar subject is that of Goëthe’s devil, Mephistophiles; and though of course you will give priority to the former, as being inspired, yet the latter, if you know it, will appear to
you—at least it does to me—one of the finest and most sublime specimens of human conception.”—Dr. Kennedy.

Wilson, et. al., Noctes Ambrosianae

One evening Lord Byron was with a friend at a masquerade in the Argyll-rooms, a few nights after Skeffington’s tragedy of The Mysterious Bride had been damned. His friend was dressed as a nun, who had endured depredation from the French in Portugal.— “What is she?” said Skeffington, who came up to his Lordship, pointing to the nun. The reply was, “The Mysterious Bride.”—J. G.


“One of Lord Byron’s household had several times involved himself and his master in perplexity and trouble by his unrestrained attachment to women. In Greece this had been very annoying, and induced Lord Byron to think of a means of curing it. A young Suliote of the guard was accordingly dressed up like a woman, and instructed to place himself in the way of the amorous swain. The bait took, and after some communication, but rather by signs than by words, for the pair did not understand each other’s language, the sham lady was carefully conducted by the gallant to one of Lord Byron’s apartments. Here the couple were surprised by an enraged Suliote, a husband provided for the occasion, accompanied by half a dozen of his comrades, whose presence and threats terrified the poor lackey almost out of his senses. The noise of course brought Lord Byron to the spot to laugh at the tricked serving-man, and rescue him from the effects of his terror.”—Galignani’s edition.


“A few days after the earthquake, which took place
on the 21st of February, as we were all sitting at table in the evening, we were suddenly alarmed by a noise and a shaking of the house, somewhat similar to that which we had experienced when the earthquake occurred. Of course all started from their places, and there was the same confusion as to the former evening, at which
Byron, who was present, laughed immoderately: we were reassured by this, and soon learnt that the whole was a method he had adopted to sport with our fears.”—Galignani’s edition.


“The regiment, or rather brigade we formed, can be described only as Byron himself describes it. There was a Greek tailor, who had been in the British service in the Ionian islands, where he had married an Italian woman. This lady, knowing something of the military service, petitioned Lord Byron to appoint her husband master-tailor of the brigade. The suggestion was useful, and this part of her petition was immediately granted. At the same time, however, she solicited that she might be permitted to raise a corps of women to be placed under her orders, to accompany the regiment. She stipulated for free quarters and rations for them, but rejected all claim for pay. They were to be free of all encumbrances, and were to wash, sew, cook, and otherwise provide for the men. The proposition pleased Lord Byron, and stating the matter to me, he said he hoped I should have no objection. I had been accustomed to see women accompany the English army, and I knew that though sometimes an encumbrance, they were on the whole more beneficial than otherwise. In Greece there were many circumstances which would make their services extremely valuable, and I gave my consent to the measure. The tailor’s wife did accordingly recruit a considerable number of unencumbered women, of almost all nations, but principally Greeks, Italians, Maltese, and ne-
gresses. ‘I was afraid,’ said Lord Byron, ‘when I mentioned this matter to you, you would be crusty and oppose it—it is the very thing. Let me see; my corps outdoes Falstaff’s. There are English, Germans, French, Maltese, Ragusians, Italians, Neapolitans, Transylvanians, Russians, Suliotes, Moreotes, and Western Greeks in front, and to bring up the rear the tailor’s wife and her troop. Glorious Apollo! No general ever before had such an army.’”—Galignani’s edition.


Lord Byron had a black groom with him in Greece, an American by birth, to whom he was very partial. He always insisted on this man’s calling him massa, whenever he spoke to him. On one occasion, the groom met with two women of his own complexion, who had been slaves to the Turks and liberated, but had been left almost to starve when the Greeks had risen on their tyrant. Being of the same colour was a bond of sympathy between them and the groom, and he applied to me to give both these women quarters in the seraglio. I granted the application, and mentioned it to Lord Byron, who laughed at the gallantry of his groom and ordered that he should be brought before him at ten o’clock the next day, to answer for his presumption in making such an application. At ten o’clock accordingly he attended his master, with great trembling and fear, but stuttered so when he attempted to speak, that he could not make himself understood. Lord Byron, endeavouring almost in vain to preserve his gravity, reproved him severely for his presumption. Blacky stuttered a thousand excuses, and was ready to do any thing to appease his massa’s anger. His great yellow eyes wide open, he trembling from head to foot, his wandering and stuttering excuses, his visible dread, all tended to provoke laughter, and Lord Byron fearing his own dignity
would be hove overboard, told him to hold his tongue and listen to his sentence. I was commanded to enter it in his memorandum-book, and then he pronounced it in a solemn tone of voice, while blacky stood aghast, expecting some severe punishment, the following doom: ‘My determination is, that the children born of these black women, of which you may be the father, shall be my property, and I will maintain them. What say you?’ ‘Go—Go—God bless you, massa, may you live great while,’ stuttered out the groom, and sallied forth to tell the good news to the two distressed women.”—Galignani’s edition.


“The luxury of Lord Byron’s living, at this time, in Missolonghi, may be seen from the following order which he gave his superintendent of the household for the daily expenses of his own table. It amounts to no more than one piastre.

Bread, a pound and a half 15  
Wine 7  
Fish 15  
Olives 3  
“This was his dinner; his breakfast consisted of a single cup of tea, without milk or sugar.”—Galignani’s edition.


“It is true that Lord Byron’s high notions of rank were in his boyish days so little disguised or softened down as to draw upon him at times the ridicule of his companions; and it was at Dulwich, I think, that from his frequent boast of the superiority of an old English barony over all the later creations of the peerage, he got the nickname, among the boys, of ‘the Old English Baron.’”—Moore.


“While Lord Byron and Mr. Peel were at Harrow together, a tyrant a few years older, whose name was * * * * * * claimed a right to fag little Peel, which claim (whether rightly or wrongly, I know not) Peel resisted. His resistance, however, was in vain: * * * * * * not only subdued him, but determined to punish the refractory slave; and proceeded forthwith to put this determination in practice by inflicting a kind of bastinado on the inner fleshy side of the boy’s arm, which during the operation was twisted round with some degree of technical skill, to render the pain more acute. While the stripes were succeeding each other, and poor Peel writhing under them, Byron saw and felt the misery for his friend, and although he knew that he was not strong enough to fight * * * * * with any hope of success, and that it was dangerous even to approach him, he advanced to the scene of action, and with a blush of rage, tears in his eyes, and a voice trembling between terror and indignation, asked very humbly if * * * * * ‘would be pleased to tell him how many stripes he meant to inflict?’—‘Why,’ returned the executioner, ‘you little rascal, what is that to you?’ ‘Because, if you please,’ said Byron, holding out his arm, ‘I would take half.’”—Moore.


“In the autumn of 1802, he passed a short time with his mother at Bath, and entered rather prematurely into some of the gaieties of the place. At a masquerade, given by Lady Riddel, he appeared in the character of a Turkish boy, a sort of anticipation both in beauty and costume, of his own young Selim in The Bride. On his entering the house, some person attempted to snatch the diamond crescent from his turban, but was prevented by the prompt interposition of one of the party.”—Moore.


“You ask me to recall some anecdotes of the time we spent together at Harrowgate, in the summer of 1806, on our return from college, he from Cambridge, and I from Edinburgh; but so many years have elapsed since then, that I really feel myself as if recalling a distant dream. We, I remember, went in Lord Byron’s own carriage with post-horses; and he sent his groom with two saddle-horses, and a beautifully-formed, very ferocious bull-mastiff, called Nelson, to meet us there. Boatswain went by the side of his valet, Frank, on the box with us. The bull-dog Nelson always wore a muzzle, and was occasionally sent for into our private room, when the muzzle was taken off much to my annoyance, and he and his master amused themselves with throwing the room into disorder. There was always a jealous feud between this Nelson and Boatswain, and whenever the latter came into the room while the former was there, they instantly seized each other, and then Byron, myself, Frank, and all the waiters that could be found, were vigorously engaged in parting them; which was, in general, only effected by thrusting poker and tongs into the mouth of each. But one day Nelson unfortunately escaped out of the room without his muzzle, and, going into the stable-yard, fastened upon the throat of a horse, from which he could not be disengaged. The stable-boys ran in alarm to find Frank, who, taking one of his Lordship’s Wogdon’s pistols, always kept loaded in his room, shot poor Nelson through the head, to the great regret of Byron.”—Moore.


“His fondness for dogs, another fancy which accompanied him through life, may be judged from the anecdotes already given in the account of his expedition to Harrogate. Of his favourite dog Boatswain,
whom he has immortalized in verse, and by whose side it was once his solemn purpose to be buried, some traits are told, indicative not only of intelligence, but of a generosity of spirit, which might well win for him the affections of such a master as
Byron. One of these I shall endeavour to relate, as nearly as possible as it was told to me. Mrs. Byron had a fox-terrier called Gilpin, with whom her son’s dog Boatswain was perpetually at war, taking every opportunity of attacking and worrying him so violently, that it was very much apprehended he would kill the animal. Mrs. Byron, therefore, sent off her terrier to a tenant at Newstead, and on the departure of Lord Byron for Cambridge, his friend Boatswain, with two other dogs, was intrusted to the care of a servant till his return. One morning the servant was much alarmed by the disappearance of Boatswain, and throughout the whole of the day he could hear no tidings of him. At last, towards evening, the stray dog arrived, accompanied by Gilpin, whom he led immediately to the kitchen fire, licking him, and lavishing upon him every possible demonstration of joy. The fact was, he had been all the way to Newstead to fetch him, and having now established his former foe under the roof once more agreed so perfectly well with him ever after, that he even protected him against the insults of other dogs (a task which the quarrelsomeness of the little terrier rendered no sinecure); and if he but heard Gilpin’s voice in distress, would fly instantly to his rescue.”—Moore.


“Of his charity and kind-heartedness, he left behind him at Southwell, as indeed at every place throughout life where he resided any time, the most cordial recollections. ‘He never,’ says a person who knew him intimately at this period, ‘met with objects of distress without affording them succour.’ Among many little traits of this nature, which his friends de-
light to tell, I select the following, less as a proof of his generosity, than from the interest which the simple incident itself, as connected with the name of
Byron, presents. While yet a schoolboy, he happened to be in a bookseller’s shop at Southwell when a poor woman came in to purchase a Bible. The price she was told by the shopman was eight shillings. ‘Ah, dear sir!’ she exclaimed, ‘I cannot pay such a price: I did not think it would cost half the money.’ The woman was then, with a look of disappointment, going away, when young Byron called her back, and made her a present of the Bible.”—Moore.


“In his attention to his person and dress, to be becoming arrangement of his hair, and to whatever might best show off the beauty with which nature had gifted him, he manifested, even thus early, his anxiety to make himself pleasing to that sex who were, from first to last, the ruling stars of his destiny. The fear of becoming what he was naturally inclined to be, enormously fat, had induced him, from his first entrance at Cambridge, to adopt, for the purpose of reducing himself, a system of violent exercise and abstinence, together with the frequent use of warm baths. But the imbittering circumstance of his life—that which haunted him like a curse, amidst the buoyancy of youth, and the anticipations of fame and pleasure—was, strange to say, the trifling deformity of his foot. By that one slight blemish (as, in his moments of melancholy, he persuaded himself), all the blessings that nature had showered upon him were counterbalanced. His reverend friend, Mr. Becher, finding him one day unusually dejected, endeavoured to cheer and rouse him, by representing, in their brightest colours, all the various advantages with which Providence had endowed him; and among the greatest, that of ‘a mind which placed him above the rest of mankind.’
‘Ah, my dear friend,’ said
Byron mournfully, ‘if this (laying his hand on his forehead) places me above the rest of mankind, that (pointing to his foot) places me, far below them.’”—Moore.


“His coming of age, in 1809, was celebrated at Newstead by such festivities as his narrow means and society could furnish. Besides the ritual roasting of an ox, there was a ball, it seems, given on the occasion, of which the only particular I could collect from the old domestic who mentioned it, was, that Mr. Hanson, the agent of her lord, was among the dancers. Of Lord Byron’s own method of commemorating the day I find the following curious record in a letter written from Genoa in 1822. ‘Did I ever tell you that the day I came of age I dined on eggs and bacon and a bottle of ale? For once in a way they are my favourite dish and drinkable; but, as neither of them agree with me, I never use them but on great jubilees—once in four or five years or so.’”—Moore.


“At Smyrna Lord Byron took up his residence in the house of the consul-general, and remained there, with the exception of two or three days, employed in a visit to the ruins of Ephesus, till the 11th of April. It was during this time, as appears from a memorandum of his own, that the two first cantos of Childe Harold, which he had begun five months before at Joannina, were completed. The memorandum alluded to, which I find prefixed to his original manuscript of the poem, is as follows:

 “Byron, Joannina in Albania, begun Oct. 31, 1809; concluded Canto 2d, Smyrna, March 28, 1810. BYRON.” Moore.


“In the last edition of M. D’Israeli’s work on ‘the literary character,’ that gentleman has given some curious marginal notes, which he found written by Lord Byron in a copy of this work that belonged to him. Among them is the following enumeration of the writers that, besides Rycaut, have drawn his attention so early to the east:

“‘Knolles, Cantemir, De Tott, Lady M. W. Montague, Hawkin’s translation from Mignot’s history of the Turks, the Arabian Nights, all travels, or histories, or books upon the east I could meet with, I had read, as well as Rycaut, before I was ten years old. I think the Arabian Nights first. After these I preferred the history of naval actions, Don Quixote, and Smollet’s novels, particularly Roderick Random; and I was passionate for the Roman history. When a boy, I could never bear to read any poetry without disgust and reluctance.’”—Moore.


“During Lord Byron’s administration, a ballet was invented by the elder Byrne, in which Miss Smith (since Mrs. Oscar Byrne) had a pas seul. This the lady wished to remove to a later period in the ballet. The ballet-master refused, and the lady swore she would not dance it at all. The music incidental to the dance began to play, and the lady walked off the stage. Both parties flounced into the green-room, to lay the case before Lord Byron, who happened to be the only person in that apartment. The noble committee-man made an award in favour of Miss Smith, and both complainants rushed angrily out of the room at the instant of my entering it. ‘If you had come a minute sooner,’ said Lord Byron, ‘you would have heard a curious matter decided on by me: a question of dancing! by me,’ added he, looking down at the
lame limb, ‘whom nature, from my birth, has prohibited from taking a single step.’ His countenance fell after he had uttered this, as if he had said too much; and for a moment there was an embarrassing silence on both sides.”—


The following account of Lord Byron, at Milan, before he fixed his residence at Venice, is interesting. It is extracted from The Foreign Literary Gazette, a periodical work which was prematurely abandoned, and is translated from the French of M. Stendhal, a gentleman of literary celebrity in France, but whose works are not much known in this country.

“In 1817, a few young people met every evening at the Theatre de la Scala, at Milan, in the box of Monsignor Ludovic de Brême, formerly chief almoner of the ex-king of Italy. This Italian custom, not generally followed in France, banished all ceremony. The affectation that chills the atmosphere of a French saloon is unknown in the society of Milan. How is it possible that such a sentiment can find a place amongst individuals in the habit of seeing each other above three hundred times in the course of a twelve-month? One evening, a stranger made his appearance in Monsignor de Brême’s box. He was young, of middling stature, and with remarkably fine eyes. As he advanced, we observed that he limped a little. ‘Gentlemen,’ said Monsignor de Brême, ‘this is Lord Byron.’ We were afterwards presented to his Lordship, the whole scene passing with as much ceremonious gravity, as if our introducer had been De Brême’s grandfather, in days of yore ambassador from the Duke of Savoy to the court of Louis XIV. Aware of the character of the English, who generally avoid such as appear to court their society, we cautiously abstained from conversing with, or even looking at, Lord Byron. The latter had been informed, that
in the course of the evening he would probably be introduced to a stranger who had performed the celebrated campaign of Moscow, which still possessed the charm of novelty, as at that time we had not been spoiled by any romances on the subject. A fine-looking man, with a military appearance, happening to be of our party, his Lordship naturally concluded that he was the hero; and accordingly, in addressing him, relaxed considerably from the natural coldness of his manner. The next day, however, Byron was undeceived. Changing his battery, he did me the honour to address me on the subject of Russia. I idolized
Napoleon, and replied to his Lordship as I should have done to a member of the legislative assembly who had exiled the ex-emperor to St. Helena. I subsequently discovered, that Lord Byron was at once enthusiastic in favour of Napoleon, and jealous of his fame. He used to say, ‘Napoleon and myself are the only individuals who sign our names with the initials N. B.’ (Noel Byron.) My determination to be cold offers some explanation for the marked kindness with which, at the end of a few days, Lord Byron did me the favour to regard me. Our friends in the box imagined, that the discussion which had taken place, and which, though polite and respectful on my part, had been rather warm, would prevent all further intimacy between us. They were mistaken. The next evening, his Lordship took me by the arm, and walked with me for an hour in the saloon of the Theatre de la Scala. I was gratified with his politeness, for which, at the bottom, I was indebted to his desire of conversing with an eyewitness on the subject of the Russian campaign. He even closely cross-questioned me on this point. However, a second reading of Childe Harold made amends for all. His progress in the good graces of my Italian friends, who met every evening in Monsignor de Brême’s box, was not very rapid.
I must confess, that his Lordship, one evening, broached rather a whimsical idea—that, in a discussion which had just been started, his title added weight to his opinion. On that occasion, De Brême retorted with the well-known anecdote of
Marshal de Castries, who, shocked at the deference once paid to D’Alembert’s judgment, exclaimed, ‘A pretty reasoner truly! a fellow not worth three thousand francs a-year!’ On another evening, Lord Byron afforded an opening to ridicule, by the warmth with which he denied all resemblance between his own character and that of Jean Jacques Rousseau, to whom he had been compared. His principal objection to the comparison, though he would not acknowledge the fact, was, that Rousseau had been a servant, and the son of a watchmaker. We could not avoid a hearty laugh, when, at the conclusion of the argument, Byron requested from De Brême, who was allied to the oldest nobility of Turin, some information relative to the family of Govon, in whose service Jean Jacques had actually lived. (See Les Confessions.) Lord Byron always entertained a great horror of corpulency. His antipathy to a full habit of body might be called a fixed idea. M. Pollidori, a young physician who travelled with him, assured us, that his Lordship’s mother was of low stature and extremely fat. During at least a third part of the day, Byron was a dandy, expressed a constant dread of augmenting the bulk of his outward man, concealed his right foot as much as possible, and endeavoured to render himself agreeable in female society. His vanity, however, frequently induced him to lose sight of the end, in his attention to the means. Love was sacrificed;—an affair of the heart would have interfered with his daily exercise on horseback. At Milan and Venice, his fine eyes, his handsome horses, and his fame, gained him the smiles of several young, noble, and lovely females, one of whom, in particular, performed
a journey of more than a hundred miles for the pleasure of being present at a masked ball to which his Lordship was invited. Byron was apprized of the circumstance, but, either from hauteur or shyness, declined an introduction. ‘Your poets are perfect clowns,’ cried the fair one, as she indignantly quitted the ball-room. Had Byron succeeded in his pretensions to be thought the finest man in England, and had his claims to the fashionable supremacy been at the same time disputed, he would still have been unsatisfied. In his moments of dandyism, he always pronounced the name of
Brummel with a mingled emotion of respect and jealousy. When his personal attractions were not the subject of his consideration, his noble birth was uppermost in his thoughts. At Milan we often purposely discussed in his presence the question, ‘if Henry IV. could justly pretend to the attribute of clemency, after having ordered his old companion, the Duke de Biron, to be beheaded?’ ‘Napoleon would have acted differently,’ was his Lordship’s constant reply. It was ludicrous to observe his respect wavering undecided between acquired distinction and his own nobility, which he considered far above that of the Duke de Biron. When the pride of birth and personal vanity no longer usurped undue sway over his mind, he again became the sublime poet and the man of sense. Never, after the example of Madame de Staël, did he indulge in childish vanity of ‘turning a phrase.’ When literary subjects were introduced, Byron was exactly the reverse of an academician; his thoughts flowed with greater rapidity than his words, and his expressions were free from all affectation or studied grace. Towards midnight, particularly when the music of the opera had produced an impression on his feelings, instead of describing them with a view to effect, he yielded naturally to his emotions, as though he had all his life been an inhabitant of the south.”


After quoting a passage from Moore’s recently-published Life of Byron, in which the poet obscurely alludes to his remorse for some unexplained crime, real or imaginary, Mr. Stendhal thus proceeds:

“It is possible that Byron might have had some guilty stain upon his conscience, similar to that which wrecked Othello’s fame? Such a question can no longer be injurious but to him who has given it birth. It must be admitted, that during nearly a third of the time we passed in the poet’s society, he appeared to us like one labouring under an access of folly, often approaching to madness. ‘Can it be,’ have we sometimes exclaimed, ‘that in a frenzy of pride or jealousy he has shortened the days of some fair Grecian slave, faithless to her vows of love?’ Be this as it may, a great man once known may be said to have opened an account with posterity. If Byron played the part of Othello, hundreds of witnesses will be found to bear testimony to the damning deed; and sooner or later posterity will learn whether his remorse was founded in guilt, or in the affectation of which he has so frequently been accused. After all, is it not possible that his conscience might have exaggerated some youthful error? - - - - - One evening, amongst others, the conversation turned upon a handsome Milanese female, who had eagerly desired to venture her person in single combat with a lover by whom she had been abandoned: the discussion afterwards changed to the story of a prince who in cold blood had murdered his mistress for an act of infidelity. Byron was instantly silent, endeavoured to restrain his feelings, but, unequal to the effort, soon afterwards indignantly quitted the box. His indignation on this occasion was evidently directed against the subject of the anecdote, and in our eyes absolved himself from the suspicion of a similar offence. Whatever might be the crime of which Byron apparently stood self-accused, I may compare it to the robbery of a piece of riband, committed by Jean
Rousseau during his stay at Turin. After the lapse of a few weeks, Byron seemed to have acquired a taste for the society of Milan. When the performances for the evening were over, we frequently stopped at the door of the theatre to enjoy the sight of the beauties who passed us in review. Perhaps few cities could boast such an assemblage of lovely women as that which chance had collected at Milan in 1817. Many of them had flattered themselves with the idea that Byron would seek an introduction; but whether from pride, timidity, or a remnant of dandyism, which induced him to do exactly the contrary of what was expected, he invariably declined that honour. He seemed to prefer a conversation on poetical or philosophical subjects. At the theatre, our discussions were frequently so energetical as to rouse the indignation of the pit. One evening, in the middle of a philosophical argument on the principle of utility, Silvio Pellico, a delightful poet, who has since died in an Austrian prison, came in breathless haste to apprize Lord Byron that his friend and physician, Polidori, had been arrested. We instantly ran to the guard-house. It turned out, that Polidori had fancied himself incommoded in the pit by the fur cap of the officer on guard, and had requested him to take it off, alleging that it impeded his view of the stage. The poet Monti had accompanied us, and, to the number of fifteen or twenty, we surrounded the prisoner. Every one spoke at once; Polidori was beside himself with passion, and his face red as a burning coal. Byron, though he too was in a violent rage, was, on the contrary, pale as ashes. His patrician blood boiled as he reflected on the slight consideration in which he was held. I have little doubt but at that moment he regretted the wall of separation which he had reared between himself and the ultra party. At all events, the Austrian officer spied the leaven of sedition in our countenances, and, if he was versed in history, probably thought of the
insurrection of Genoa, in 1740. He ran from the guard-house to call his men, who seized their arms that had been piled on the outside. Monti’s idea was excellent; ‘Fortiamo tutti; restino solamente i titolati.*
De Brême remained, with the Marquis de Sartirana, his brother, Count Confalonieri, and Lord Byron. These gentlemen having written their names and titles, the list was handed to the officer on guard, who instantly forgot the insult offered to his fur cap, and allowed Polidori to leave the guard-house. In the evening, however, the doctor received an order to quit Milan within twenty–four hours. Foaming with rage, he swore that he would one day return and bestow manual castigation on the governor who had treated him with so little respect. He did not return; and two years afterwards a bottle of prussic acid terminated his career;—at least, sic dicitur. The morning after Polidori’s departure, Byron, in a téte-à-téte with me, complained bitterly of persecution. So little was I acquainted with i titolati, to use Monti’s expression, that in the simplicity of my heart I gave his Lordship the following counsel: ‘Realize,’ said I, ‘four or five hundred thousand francs; two or three confidential friends will circulate the report of your death, and bestow on a log of wood the honours of Christian burial in some snug retired spot—the island of Elba, suppose. An authentic account of your decease shall be forwarded to England; meanwhile, under the name of Smith or Wood, you may live comfortably and quietly at Lima. When, in process of time, Mr. Smith or Mr. Wood becomes a venerable gray-headed old gentleman, he may even return to Europe, and purchase from a Roman or Parisian bookseller, a set of Childe Harold, or Lara, thirtieth edition, with notes and annotations.

* Let us all go out: let those only remain who are titled personages.
Moreover, when Mr. Smith or Mr. Wood is really about to make his exit from his life, he may, if he pleases, enjoy one bright original moment: thus may he say;—‘Lord Byron, who for thirty years, has been numbered with the dead, even now lingers on this side of eternity:—I am the man: the society of my countrymen appeared to me so insipid, that I quitted them in disgust.’ ‘My
cousin, who is heir to my title, owes you an infinity of thanks,’ coldly replied Lord Byron. I repressed the repartee which hovered on my lips. Byron had a defect in common with all the spoiled children of fortune. He cherished in his bosom two contradictory inclinations. He wished to be received as a man of rank, and admired as a brilliant poet. The Elena of Mayer was at that time the performance most in vogue at Milan. The public patiently endured two miserable acts, for the pleasure of hearing a sublime sesteto in the third. One day, when it was sung with more than ordinary power, I was struck with the expression of Byron’s eyes. Never had I seen any thing so enthusiastic. Internally, I made a vow that I never would of my own free accord sadden a spirit so noble. In the evening, I recollect that some one alluded to the following singular sonnet of Tasso, in which the poet makes a boast of incredulity.

‘Odi, Filli, che tuona.....
Ma che curar dobbiam che faccio Giove?’
Godiam noi qui, s’egli è turbato in cielo,
Tema in volgo i suoi tuoini....
Pera il mondo, e rovini! a me none cale
Se non di quell che più place e diletta;
Che, se tera sarò, terra ancor fui.’
Hear’st thou, Phyllis, it thunders?
But what are Jove’s acts to us?
Let us enjoy ourselves here; if he be troubled in his heaven,
Vulgar spirits may dread his thunder.
Let the world perish and fall in ruins: I care not,
Except for her who pleases me best;
For if dust I shall be, dust I was.

“‘Those verses,’ said Byron, ‘were written under the influence of spleen—nothing more. A belief in the Supreme Being was an absolute necessity for the tender and warm imagination of Tasso. He was, besides, too much of a Platonist to connect together the links of a difficult argument. When he composed that sonnet, he felt the inspiration of his genius, and probably wanted a morsel of bread and a mistress.’ The house in which Lord Byron resided was situated at the further extremity of a solitary quarter, at the distance of half a league from the Theatre de la Scala. The streets of Milan were at that time much infested with robbers during the night. Some of us, forgetting time and space in the charm of the poet’s conversation, generally accompanied him to his own door, and on our return, at two o’clock in the morning, were obliged to pass through a multitude of intricate, suspicious-looking streets. This circumstance gave an additional air of romance to the noble bard’s retreat. For my part, I often wondered that he escaped being laid under contribution. Had it been otherwise, with his feelings and ideas, he would undoubtedly have felt peculiarly mortified. The fact is, that the practical jokes played off by the knights of the road were frequently of the most ludicrous description—at least to all but the sufferers. The weather was cold, and the pedestrian, snugly enveloped in his cloak, was often attacked by some dexterous thief, who, gliding gently behind him, passed a hoop over his head down to his elbows, and thus fettered the victim, whom he afterwards pillaged at his leisure. Polidori informed us that Byron often composed a hundred verses in the course of the morning. On his return from the theatre in the evening, still under the charm of the music to which he had listened, he would take up his papers, and reduce his hundred verses to five-and-twenty or thirty. When he had in this manner put together four or five hundred, he sent the whole to
Murray, his publisher, in London. He often sat up all night, in the ardour of composition, and drank a sort of grog made of hollands and water—a beverage in which he indulged rather copiously when his Muse was coy. But, generally speaking, he was not addicted to the excessive drinking, though he has accused himself of that vice. To restrain the circumference of his person within proper limits, he frequently went without a dinner, or, at most, dined on a little bread and a solitary dish of vegetables. This frugal meal cost but a franc or two; and on such occasions Byron used, with much apparent complacency, to accuse himself of avarice. His extreme sensibility to the charms of music may partly be attributed to the chagrin occasioned by his domestic misfortunes. Music caused his tears to flow in abundance, and thus softened the asperity of his suffering. His feelings, however, on this subject, were those of a débutante. When he had heard a new opera for upwards of a twelvemonth, he was often enraptured with a composition which had previously afforded him little pleasure, or which he had even severely criticized. I never observed Byron in a more delightful or unaffected vein of gaiety than on the day when we made an excursion about two miles from Milan, to visit the celebrated echo of la Simonetta, which repeats the report of a pistol-shot thirty or forty times. By way of contrast, the next day, at a grand dinner given by Monsignor de Brême, his appearance was lowering as that of Talma in the part of Nero. Byron arrived late, and was obliged to cross a spacious saloon, in which every eye was fixed on him and his club foot. Far from being the indifferent or phlegmatic personage, who alone can play the dandy to perfection, Byron was unceasingly tyrannized by some ruling passion. When not under the influence of nobler failings, he was tormented by an absurd vanity, which urged him to pretend to every thing. But his genius once awakened, his faults were
shaken off as a garment that would have incommoded the flight of his imagination: the poet soared beyond the confines of earth, and wafted his hearers along with him. Never shall I forget the sublime poem which he composed one evening on the subject of
Castruccio-Castracani, the Napoleon of the idle age. Byron had one failing in common with all poets—an extreme sensibility to praise or censure, especially when coming from a brother bard. He seemed not to be aware, that judgments of this nature are generally dictated by a spirit of affectation, and that the most favourable can only be termed certificates of resemblance. I must not omit to notice the astonishing effect produced on Lord Byron by the view of a fine painting of Daniel Crespi. The subject was taken from a well-known story of a monk supposed to have died in the odour of sanctity; and who, whilst his brethren were chanting the service of the dead around his bier in the church at midnight, was said to have suddenly lifted the funeral pall, and quitted his coffin, exclaiming, ‘Justo judicio Dei damnatus sum!’ We were unable to wrest Byron from the contemplation of this picture, which produced on his mind a sensation amounting to horror. To indulge his humour on this point, we mounted our horses in silence, and rode slowly towards a monastery at a little distance, where he shortly afterwards overtook us. Byron turned up his lips with an incredulous sneer when he heard, for the first time, that there are ten Italian dialects instead of one; and that amongst the whole population of Italy, only the inhabitants of Rome, Sienna, and Florence, speak the language as it is written. Silvio Pellico once said to him: ‘The most delightful of the ten or twelve Italian dialects, unknown beyond the Alps, is the Venetian. The Venetians are the French of Italy.’ ‘They have, then, some comic poet living?’—‘Yes, replied Pellico; ‘a charming poet; but as his comedies are not allowed to be performed, he composes them under the form
of satires. The name of this delightful poet is
Buratti; and every six months, by the governor’s orders, he pays a visit to one of the prisons of Venice.’ In my opinion, this conversation with Silvio Pellico gave the tone to Byron’s subsequent poetical career. He eagerly demanded the name of the bookseller who sold M. Buratti’s works; and as he was accustomed to the expression of Milanese bluntness, the question excited a hearty laugh at his expense. He was soon informed, that if Buratti wished to pass his whole life in prison, the appearance of his works in print would infallibly lead to the gratification of his desires; and besides, where could a printer be found hardy enough to run his share of the risk? an incomplete manuscript of Buratti cost from three to four sequins. The next day, the charming Comtessina N. was kind enough to lend her collection to one of our party. Byron, who imagined himself an adept in the language of Dante and Ariosto, was at first rather puzzled by Buratti’s manuscripts. We read over with him some of Goldoni’s comedies, which enabled him at last to comprehend Buratti’s satires. One of our Italian friends was even immoral enough to lend him a copy of Baffo’s sonnets. What a crime this had been in the eyes of Southey! What a pity he was not, at an earlier period, made acquainted with the atrocious deed! I persist in thinking, that for the composition of Beppo, and subsequently of Don Juan, Byron was indebted to the reading of Buratti’s poetry. Venice is a distinct world, of which the gloomy society of the rest of Europe can form no conception—care is there a subject of mockery. The poetry of Buratti always excites a sensation of enthusiastic delight in the breasts of the Venetian populace. Never, in my presence, did black and white, as the Venetians themselves say, produce a similar effect. Here, however, I ceased to act the part of an eyewitness, and here, consequently, I close my narrative.”


Letter from Fletcher, Lord Byron’s Valet, to Dr. Kennedy.
“Lazaretto, Zante, May 18, 1824.
“Honoured Sir,

“I am extremely sorry if I have not had it in my power to answer the kind letter with which you have honoured me, before this; being so very unwell, and so much hurt at the severe loss of much much-esteemed and ever-to-be-lamented lord and master. You wish me, Sir, to give you some information in respect to my Lord’s manner and mode of life after his departure from Cephalonia, which, I am happy to say, was that of a good Christian; and one who fears and serves God, in doing all the good that lay in his power, and avoiding all evil. And his charity was always without bounds; for his kind and generous heart could not see nor hear of misery, without a deep sigh, and striving in which way he could serve and soften misery, by his liberal hand, in the most effectual manner. Were I to mention one hundredth part of the most generous acts of charity, it would fill a volume. And, in regard to religion, I have every reason to think the world has been much to blame in judging too rashly on this most serious and important subject; for, in the course of my long services, more than twenty years, I have always, on account of the situation which I have held, been near to his Lordship’s person: and, by these means, have it in my power to speak to facts which I have many times witnessed, and conversations which I have had on the subject of religion. My Lord has more than once asked me my opinion on his Lordship’s life, whether I thought him as represented in some of the daily papers, as one devoid of religion, &c. &c.—words too base to mention. My Lord, moreover, said ‘Fletcher, I know you are what, at least, they call a
Christian; do you think me exactly what they say of me’ I said, ‘I do not, for I had too just reasons to believe otherwise.’ My Lord went on, on this subject, saying, ‘I suppose, because I do not go to the church, I cannot any longer be a Christian;’ but (he said) moreover, a man must be a great beast who cannot be a good Christian without being always in the church. I flatter myself I am not inferior in regard to my duty to many of them, for if I can do no good, I do no harm, which I am sorry to say of all churchmen.’ At another time, I remember it well, being a Friday, I at the moment not remembering it, said to my Lord, ‘Will you have a fine plate of beccaficas?’ My Lord, half in anger, replied, ‘Is not this Friday? how could you be so extremely lost to your duty to make such a request to me!’ At the same time saying, ‘A man that can so much forget a duty as a Christian, who cannot, for one day in seven, forbid himself of these luxuries is no longer worthy to be called a Christian.’ And I can truly say, for the last eight years and upwards, his Lordship always left that day apart for a day of abstinence; and many more and more favourable proofs of a religious mind, than I have mentioned, which hereafter, if I find it requisite to the memory of my Lord, I shall undoubtedly explain to you. You, Sir, are aware, that my Lord was rather a man to be wondered at, in regard to some passages in the Holy Scriptures, which his Lordship did not only mention with confidence, but even told you in what chapter and what verse you would find such and such things, which I recollect filled you with wonder at the time and with satisfaction.

“I remember, even so long back as when his Lordship was at Venice, several circumstances which must remove every doubt, even at the moment when my Lord was more gay than at any time after. In the year 1817, I have seen my Lord repeatedly, on meeting or passing any religious ceremonies which the Roman Catholics
have in their frequent processions, while at Nivia, near Venice, dismount his horse and fall on his knees, and remain in that posture till the procession had passed: and one of his Lordship’s grooms, who was backward in following the example of his Lordship, my Lord gave a violent reproof to. The man, in his defence, said, ‘I am no Catholic, and by this means thought I ought not to follow any of their ways.’ My Lord answered very sharply upon the subject, saying, ‘Nor am I a Catholic, but a Christian; which I should not be, were I to make the same objections which you make; for all religions are good, when properly attended to, without making it a mask to cover villany; which I am fully persuaded is too often the case.’ With respect to my Lord’s late publications which you mention, I am fully persuaded, when they come to be more fully examined, the passages which have been so much condemned, may prove something dark; but I am fully persuaded you are aware how much the public mind has been deceived in the true state of my lamented master. A greater friend to Christianity could not exist, I am fully convinced; in his daily conduct, not only making the Bible his first companion in the morning, but, in regard to whatever religion a man might be of, whether Protestant, Catholic, Friar, or Monk, or any other religion, every priest, of whatever order, if in distress, was always most liberally rewarded, and with larger sums than any one who was not a minister of the gospel, I think, would give. I think every thing combined together must prove, not only to you, Sir, but to the public at large, that my Lord was not only a Christian, but a good Christian. How many times has my Lord said to me, ‘Never judge a man by his clothes, nor by his going to church, being a good Christian. I suppose you have heard that some people in England say that I am no Christian?’ I said, ‘Yes, I have certainly heard of such things by some public prints, but I am fully convinced of their falsehood.’ My Lord
said, ‘I know I do not go to church, like many of my accusers; but I have my hopes I am not less a Christian than they, for God examines the inward part of the man, not outward appearances.’ Sir, in answer to your inquiries, I too well know your character as a true Christian and a gentleman, to refuse giving you any further information respecting what you asked of me. In the first place, I have seen my Lord frequently read your books; and, moreover, I have more than once heard my Lord speak in the highest terms of, and receive you in the most friendly manner possible, whenever you could make it convenient to come to Metaxata; and with regard to the Bible, I think I only may refer to you, Sir, how much his Lordship must have studied it, by being able to refer to almost any passage in Scripture, and with what accuracy to mention even the chapter and verse in any part of the Scripture. Now, had my Lord not been a Christian, this book would most naturally have been thrown aside, and of course he would have been ignorant of so many fine passages which I have heard him repeat at intervals, when in the midst of his last and fatal illness. I mean after he began to be desirous. My Lord repeated ‘I am not afraid to die;’ and in as composed a way as a child, without moving head or foot, or even a gasp, went as if he was going into the finest sleep, only opening his eyes and then shutting them again. I cried out ‘I fear his Lordship is gone!’ when the doctors felt his pulse and said it was too true. I must say I am extremely miserable, to think my Lord might have been saved had the doctors done their duty, by letting blood in time, or by stating to me that my Lord would not allow it, and at the same time to tell me the truth of the real state of my Lord’s illness: but instead of that, they deceived me with the false idea that my Lord would be better in two or three days, and thereby prevented me from sending to Zante or Cephalonia, which I repeatedly wished to do,
but was prevented by them, I mean the doctors, deceiving me: but I dare say you have heard every particular about the whole; if not, I have no objection to give every particular during his illness.

“I hope, Sir, your kind intentions may be crowned with success, in regard to the publication which you meant to bring before the British public. I must beg your pardon, when I make one remark, and which I am sure you know too well the tongues of the wicked, and in particular of the great, and how glad some would be to bring into ridicule any one that is of your religious and good sentiments of a future state, which every good Christian ought to think his first and greatest duty. For myself, I should be only too happy to be converted to the truth of the Gospel. But at this time, I fear it would be doing my Lord more harm than good, in publishing to the world that my Lord was converted, which to that extent of religion my Lord never arrived; but at the same time was a friend to both religion and religious people, of whatever religion they might be, and to none more, or more justly deserving, than Dr. Kennedy.

“I remain, honoured Sir,
  “With the greatest respect,
“Your most obedient and very humble Servant,
“(Signed) Wm Fletcher.
“Dr. Kennedy, &c. &c.

Letter from Lord Byron to Yusuff Pashaw.

 “A vessel, in which a friend and some domestics of mine were embarked, was detained a few days ago, and released by order of your Highness. I have now
to thank you, not for liberating the vessel, which, as carrying a neutral flag, and being under British protection, no one had a right to detain, but for having treated my friends with so much kindness while they were in your hands.    

 “In the hope, therefore, that it may not be altogether displeasing to your Highness, I have requested the governor of this place to release four Turkish prisoners, and he has humanely consented to do so. I lose no time, therefore, in sending them back, in order to make as early a return as I could for your courtesy on the late occasion. These prisoners are liberated without any conditions; but should the circumstance find a place in your recollection, I venture to beg that your Highness will treat such Greeks as may henceforth fall into your hands with humanity; more especially since the horrors of war are sufficiently great in themselves, without being aggravated by wanton cruelties on either side.

Missolonghi, 23d January, 1824.”