LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron

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Mr. Hunt arrives in Italy.—Meeting with Lord Byron.—Tumults in the house.—Arrangements for Mr. Hunt’s family.—Extent of his obligations to Lord Byron.—Their copartnery.—Meanness of the whole business.

On receiving Mr. Shelley’s letter, Mr. Hunt prepared to avail himself of the invitation which he was the more easily enabled to do, as his friend, notwithstanding what he had intimated, borrowed two hundred pounds from Lord Byron, and remitted to him. He reached Leghorn soon after his Lordship had taken up his temporary residence at Monte Nero.

The meeting with his Lordship was in so many respects remarkable, that the details of it cannot well be omitted. The day was very hot; and when Hunt reached the house he found the hottest-looking habitation he had ever seen. Not content with having a red wash over it, the red was the most unseasonable of all reds—a salmon-colour; but the greatest of all heats was within.

Lord Byron was grown so fat that he scarcely knew him; and was dressed in a loose nankeen jacket and white trousers, his neckcloth open, and his hair in thin ringlets about his throat; altogether presenting a very different aspect from the compact, energetic, and curly-headed person whom Hunt had known in England.

His Lordship took the stranger into an inner room, and introduced him to a young lady who was in a
state of great agitation. This was the
Guiccioli; presently her brother also, in great agitation, entered, having his arm in a sling. This scene and confusion had arisen from a quarrel among the servants, in which the young Count, having interfered, had been stabbed. He was very angry, the Countess was more so, and would not listen to the comments of Lord Byron, who was for making light of the matter. Indeed, it looked somewhat serious, for though the stab was not much, the inflicter threatened more, and was at that time revengefully keeping watch, with knotted brows, under the portico, with the avowed intention of assaulting the first person who issued forth. He was a sinister-looking, meager caitiff, with a red cap—gaunt, ugly, and unshaven; his appearance altogether more squalid and miserable than Englishmen would conceive it possible to find in such an establishment. An end, however, was put to the tragedy by the fellow throwing himself on a bench, and bursting into tears—wailing and asking pardon for his offence, and perfecting his penitence by requesting Lord Byron to kiss him in token of forgiveness. In the end, however, he was dismissed; and it being arranged that Mr. Hunt should move his family to apartments in the Lanfranchi palace at Pisa, that gentleman returned to Leghorn.

The account which Mr. Hunt has given, in his memoir of Lord Byron, is evidently written under offended feeling; and in consequence, though he does not appear to have been much indebted to the munificence of his Lordship, the tendency is to make his readers sensible that he was, if not ill used, disappointed. The Casa Lanfranchi was a huge and gaunt building, capable, without inconvenience or intermixture, of accommodating several families. It was, therefore, not a great favour in his Lordship, considering that he had invited Mr. Hunt from England to
become a partner with him in a speculation purely commercial, to permit him to occupy the ground-floor or flat, as it would be called in Scotland. The apartments being empty, furniture was necessary, and the plainest was provided; good of its kind and respectable, it yet could not have cost a great deal. It was chosen by
Mr. Shelley, who intended to make a present of it to Mr. Hunt; but when the apartments were fitted up, Lord Byron insisted upon paying the account, and to that extent Mr. Hunt incurred a pecuniary obligation to his Lordship. The two hundred pounds already mentioned was a debt to Mr. Shelley, who borrowed the money from Lord Byron.

Soon after Mr. Hunt’s family were settled in their new lodgings, Shelley returned to Leghorn, with the intention of taking a sea excursion—in the course of which he was lost: Lord Byron knowing how much Hunt was dependent on that gentleman, immediately offered him the command of his purse, and requested to be considered as standing in the place of Shelley, his particular friend. This was both gentlemanly and generous, and the offer was accepted, but with feelings neither just nor gracious: “Stern necessity and a large family compelled me,” says Mr. Hunt, “and during our residence at Pisa I had from him, or rather from his steward, to whom he always sent me for the money, and who doled it out to me as if my disgraces were being counted, the sum of seventy pounds.”

“This sum,” he adds, “together with the payment of our expenses when we accompanied him from Pisa to Genoa, and thirty pounds with which he enabled us subsequently to go from Genoa to Florence, was all the money I ever received from Lord Byron, exclusive of the two hundred pounds, which, in the first instance, he made a debt of Mr. Shelley, by taking his bond.”—The whole extent of the pecuniary obligation appears certainly not to have exceeded five hundred pounds; no great sum—but little or great, the manner in which
it was recollected reflects no credit either on the head or heart of the debtor.

Mr. Hunt, in extenuation of the bitterness with which he has spoken on the subject, says, that “Lord Byron made no scruple of talking very freely of me and mine.” It may, therefore, be possible, that Mr. Hunt had cause for his resentment, and to feel the humiliation of being under obligations to a mean man; at the same time Lord Byron, on his side, may upon experience have found equal reason to repent of his connection with Mr. Hunt. And it is certain that each has sought to justify, both to himself and to the world, the rupture of a copartnery which ought never to have been formed. But his Lordship’s conduct is the least justifiable. He had allured Hunt to Italy with flattering hopes; he had a perfect knowledge of his hampered circumstances, and he was thoroughly aware that, until their speculation became productive, he must support him. To the extent of about five hundred pounds he did so: a trifle, considering the glittering anticipations of their scheme.

Viewing their copartnery, however, as a mere commercial speculation, his Lordship’s advance could not be regarded as liberal, and no modification of the term munificence or patronage could be applied to it. But, unless he had harassed Hunt for the repayment of the money, which does not appear to have been the case, nor could he morally, perhaps even legally, have done so, that gentleman had no cause to complain. The joint adventure was a failure, and except a little repining on the part of the one for the loss of his advance, and of grudging on that of the other for the waste of his time, no sharper feeling ought to have arisen between them. But vanity was mingled with their golden dreams. Lord Byron mistook Hunt’s political notoriety for literary reputation, and Mr. Hunt thought it was a fine thing to be chum and partner with so renowned a lord. After all, however, the worst which can be said
of it is, that formed in weakness it could produce only vexation.

But the dissolution of the vapour with which both parties were so intoxicated, and which led to their quarrel, might have occasioned only amusement to the world, had it not left an ignoble stigma on the character of Lord Byron, and given cause to every admirer of his genius to deplore, that he should have so forgotten his dignity and fame.

There is no disputing the fact, that his Lordship, in conceiving the plan of The Liberal, was actuated by sordid motives, and of the basest kind, inasmuch as it was intended that the popularity of the work should rest upon satire; or, in other words, on the ability to be displayed by it in the art of detraction. Being disappointed in his hopes of profit, he shuffled out of the concern as meanly as any higgler could have done who had found himself in a profitless business with a disreputable partner. There is no disguising this unvarnished truth; and though his friends did well in getting the connection ended as quickly as possible, they could not eradicate the original sin of the transaction, nor extinguish the consequences which it of necessity entailed. Let me not, however, be misunderstood: my objection to the conduct of Byron does not lie against the wish to turn his extraordinary talents to profitable account, but to the mode in which he proposed to, and did, employ them. Whether Mr. Hunt was or was not a fit copartner for one of his Lordship’s rank and celebrity, I do not undertake to judge; but any individual was good enough for that vile prostitution of his genius, to which, in an unguarded hour, he submitted for money. Indeed, it would be doing injustice to compare the motives of Mr. Hunt in the business with those by which Lord Byron was infatuated. He put nothing to hazard; happen what might, he could not be otherwise than a gainer; for if profit failed, it could not be denied that the “fore-
most” poet of all the age had discerned in him either the promise or the existence of merit, which he was desirous of associating with his own. This advantage Mr. Hunt did gain by the connection; and it is his own fault that he cannot be recollected as the associate of Byron, but only as having attempted to deface his monument.