LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece
Chapter XIV

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
‣ Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
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Illness, and death of Lord Byron—Conduct of his physicians.

At no time of his life did Lord Byron find himself in circumstances, more calculated to render him unhappy. The cup of health had dropped from his lips, and constant anxiety and suffering operated powerfully on his mind, already a prey to melancholy apprehensions, and disappointment, increased by disgust. Continually haunted by a dread of epilepsy or palsy—complaints most humiliating to human pride—he fell into the lowest state of hypochondriasis, and vented his sorrows in language which, though sometimes sublime, was at others as peevish and capricious, as that of an unruly and quarrelsome child. When he returned to himself, however, he would request us “not to take the indisposed and sickly fit for the sound man.”

Riding was the only occupation that procured him any relief; and even this was but momentary. On the 9th of April, prolonging his ride further than usual, he was on his return caught in a shower, and remaining exposed to it for more than an hour, he complained in the evening of shooting pains in his hips and loins; but he found himself, the next morning, sufficiently well to ride out for a short time. On his return, however, he scolded his groom severely, for having placed on the horse the same wet saddle he had used on the preceding day.


Mr. Finlay (then a staunch Odyssean), had been deputed to engage Lord Byron to assist at the congress at Salona. This gentleman and myself called upon him in the evening; when we found him lying on a sofa, complaining of a slight fever and of pains in the articulation. He was at first more gay than usual; but, on a sudden, he became pensive, and after remaining some few minutes in silence, he said that during the whole day he had reflected a great deal on a prediction, which had been made to him, when a boy, by a famed fortune-teller in Scotland. His mother, who firmly believed in cheromancy and astrology, had sent for this person, and desired him to inform her what would be the future destiny of her son. Having examined attentively the palm of his hand, the man looked at him for a while stedfastly, and then with a solemn voice, exclaimed; “Beware of your thirty-seventh year, my young lord; beware.”

He had entered on his thirty-seventh year on the 22d of January: and it was evident from the emotion with which he related this circumstance, that the caution of the palmist had produced a deep impression on his mind, which in many respects was so superstitious, that we thought proper to accuse him of superstition:—“To say the truth,” answered his lordship, “I find it equally difficult to know what to believe in this world, and what not to believe. There are as many plausible reasons for inducing me to die a bigot, as there have been to make me hitherto live a freethinker. You will, I know, ridicule my belief in lucky and unlucky days; but no consideration can now induce me to undertake anything either on a Friday or a Sunday. I am positive it would terminate unfortunately. Every one of my misfortunes, and, God knows, I have had my share, have hap-
pened to me on one of those days. You will ridicule, also, a belief in incorporeal beings. Without instancing to you the men of profound genius, who have acknowledged their existence, I could give you the details of my friend
Shelley’s conversations with his familiar. Did he not apprize me, that he had been informed by that familiar, that he would end his life by drowning; and did I not, a short time after, perform, on the sea beach, his funeral rites?”

Considering myself, on this occasion, not a medical man, but a visitor; and being questioned neither by his physician nor himself, I did not even feel Lord Byron’s pulse. I was informed, next morning, that during the night he had taken diaphoretic infusions, and that he felt himself better. The next day Dr. Bruno administered a purgative, and kept up its effects by a solution of cream of tartar, which the Italians call “Imperial lemonade.” In the evening the fever augmented, and as on the 14th, although the pains in the articulations had diminished, the feverish symptoms were equally strong, Dr. Bruno strongly recommended him to be blooded; but as the patient entertained a deep-rooted prejudice against bleeding, his physician could obtain no influence whatever over him, and his lordship obstinately persevered in refusing to submit to the operation.

On the 15th, towards noon, Fletcher called upon me, and informed me, that his master desired to see me, in order to consult with Dr. Bruno on the state of his health. Dr. Bruno informed me that his patient laboured under a rheumatic fever, that, as at first, the symptoms had been of a mild character, he had trusted chiefly to sudorifics; but during the last two days, the fever had so much increased, that he had repeatedly proposed bleeding, but that he could
not overcome his lordship’s antipathy to that mode of treatment. Convinced, by an examination of the patient, that bleeding was absolutely necessary, I endeavoured, as mildly and as gently as possible, to persuade him; but, in spite of all my caution, his temper was so morbidly irritable, that he refused in a manner excessively peevish. He observed that, of all his prejudices, the strongest was against phlebotomy. His mother had on her death-bed obtained from him a promise never to consent to being bled; and that whatever we might say, his aversion was stronger than any reason we could give. “Besides,” said his lordship, “does not
Dr. Reid observe, in his Essays, that less slaughter has been effected by the warrior’s lance than by the physician’s lancet? It is, in fact, a minute instrument of mighty mischief.” On my observing, that this remark related to the treatment of nervous disorders, not of inflammatory ones, he angrily replied: “Who is nervous, if I am not? Do not these words, besides, apply to my case? Drawing blood from a nervous patient is like loosening the chords of a musical instrument, the tones of which are already defective for want of sufficient tension. Before I became ill, you know yourself how weak and irritable I had become. Bleeding, by increasing this state, will inevitably kill me. Do with me whatever else you please, but bleed me you shall not. I have had several inflammatory fevers during my life, and at an age when I was much more robust and plethoric than I am now; yet I got through them without bleeding. This time, also, I will take my chance.”

After much reasoning and entreaty, however, I at length succeeded in obtaining a promise, that, should his fever increase at night, he would allow Bruno to bleed him. Happy to inform the doctor of this partial
victory, I left the room, and with a view of lowering the impetus of the circulating system, and determining to the skin, I recommended the administration of an ounce of a solution of half a grain of tartarized antimony and two drachms of nitre in twelve ounces of water.

Early the next morning I called on the patient, who told me, that having passed a better night than he had expected, he had not requested Dr. Bruno to bleed him. Chagrined at this, I laid aside all consideration for his feelings, and solemnly assured him how deeply I lamented to see him trifle with his life in this manner. I told him, that his pertinacious refusal to be bled had caused a precious opportunity to be lost; that a few hours of hope yet remained; but that unless he would submit immediately to be bled, neither Dr. Bruno nor myself could answer for the consequences. He might not care for life, it was true; but who could assure him, unless he changed his resolution, the disease might not operate such disorganization in his cerebral and nervous system as entirely to deprive him of his reason. I had now touched the sensible chord; for, partly annoyed by our unceasing importunities, and partly convinced, casting at us both the fiercest glance of vexation, he threw out his arm, and said, in the most angry tone: “Come; you are, I see, a d—d set of butchers. Take away as much blood as you will; but have done with it.”

We seized the moment, and drew about twenty ounces. On coagulating, the blood presented a strong buffy coat. Yet the relief, obtained, did not correspond to the hopes we had anticipated; and during the night the fever became stronger than it had been hitherto. The restlessness and agitation increased,
and the patient spoke several times in an incoherent manner. The next morning (17th) the bleeding was repeated; for although the rheumatic symptoms had completely disappeared, the cerebral ones were hourly increasing, and this continuing all day, we opened the vein, for the third time, in the afternoon. Cold applications were from the beginning constantly kept on the head; blisters were also proposed. When on the point of applying them,
Lord Byron asked me whether it would answer the same purpose to apply both on the same leg. Guessing the motive that led him to ask this question, I told him I would place them above the knees, on the inside of the thighs. “Do so,” said he, “for as long as I live, I will not allow any one to see my lame foot.”

In spite of our endeavours, the danger hourly increased; the different signs of strong nervous affection succeeded each other with surprising rapidity; twitchings and involuntary motions of the tendons began to manifest themselves during the night; and, more frequently than before, the patient muttered to himself and talked incoherently.

In the morning (18th) a consultation was proposed, to which Dr. Lucca Vaga and Dr. Freiber, my assistant, were invited. Our opinions were divided. Bruno and Lucca proposed having recourse to antispasmodics and other remedies, employed in the last stage of typhus. Freiber and I maintained that such remedies could only hasten the fatal termination; that nothing could be more empirical than flying from one extreme to the other; that if, as we all thought, the complaint was owing to the metastasis of rheumatic inflammation, the existing symptoms only depended on the rapid and extensive progress, it had made in an organ, previously so weakened and
irritable. Antiphlogistic means could never prove hurtful in this case; they would become useless only if disorganization were already operated; but then, when all hopes were fled, what means would not prove superfluous?

We recommended the application of numerous leeches to the temples, behind the ears, and along the course of the jugular vein a large blister between the shoulders, and sinapisms to the feet. These we considered to be the only means likely to succeed. Dr. Bruno, however, being the patient’s physician, had, of course, the casting vote, and he prepared, in consequence, the antispasmodic potion, which he and Dr. Lucca had agreed upon. It was a strong infusion of valerian with ether, &c. After its administration, the convulsive movements and the delirium increased; yet, notwithstanding my earnest representations, a second dose was administered half an hour after: when, after articulating confusedly a few broken phrases, our patient sunk into a comatose sleep, which the next day terminated in death.

Lord Byron expired on the 19th of April, at six o’clock in the afternoon. Interesting as every circumstance, relative to the death of so celebrated a person, may prove to some; I should, nevertheless, have hesitated in obtruding so much medical detail on the patience of the reader, had not the accounts, published by Dr. Bruno in the Westminster Review, and many of the newspapers, rendered it necessary that I should disabuse the friends of the deceased; and, at the same time, vindicate my own professional character, on which the imputation has been laid of my having been the cause of Lord Byron’s death, by putting off, during four successive days, the operation of bleeding.


The only reasons which, as far as I am able to judge, can have induced Dr. Bruno to publish these extraordinary statements, on his arrival in England, must have been his belief in the report of my death, which, before his departure from Zante, had been circulated. No doubt, he thought that he might, with impunity, sacrifice the reputation of one, who, being dead, could not refute him. He, doubtless, thought, too, that he might sacrifice the feelings of Lord Byron’s relations, at the shrine of his own vanity and interest.

I must first observe, that not knowing a syllable of English, although present at the conversation I had with Lord Byron, Dr. Bruno could neither understand the force of the language, I employed to surmount his lordship’s deep-rooted prejudice and aversion for bleeding, nor the positive refusals, he repeatedly made before I could obtain his promise to consent to the operation. Yet he boldly states, that I spoke to Lord Byron, in a very undecided manner, of the benefits of such an operation: and that I even ventured to recommend procrastination: and these, he says, are the reasons, that induced him to consent to the delay; as if he were himself indifferent to such treatment; or as if a few words from me were sufficient to determine him! Conduct like this, it is not difficult to appreciate: I shall, therefore, forbear abandoning myself to the indignation, such a falsehood might naturally excite; nor shall I repel his unwarrantable accusation, by relating the causes of that deep-rooted jealousy, which Dr. Bruno entertained against me, from the day he perceived the preference, which Lord Byron indicated in favour of English physicians. This narrow-minded, envious feeling, as I could prove, prevented him from
insisting on immediately calling me, or other medical men at Mesolonghi, to a consultation. Had he done so, he would have exonerated himself from every responsibility; but his vanity made him forget the duty he owed to his patient, and even to himself. For I did not see Lord Byron (medically) till I was sent for by his lordship himself, without any participation on the part of Dr. Bruno.

I can refute Dr. Bruno’s calumnies not only from the testimony of others, but even from his own. For the following extract from the article, published in the Telegrafo Greco, announcing the death of Lord Byron, was, at the request of Count Gamba (himself a witness of whatever took place during the fatal illness of his friend), composed by the doctor. “Notwithstanding the most urgent entreaties, and representations of the imminent danger, attending his complaint made to him from the onset of his illness, both by his private physician and the medical man, sent by the Greek Committee, it was impossible to surmount the great aversion and prejudice, he entertained against bleeding, although he lay under imperious want of it.”—Vide Telegrafo Greco, il di 24 Aprile, 1824.

The Editor of the Greek Chronicle also, Dr. Meyer (a medical man, and no friend of mine), who was minutely informed of the whole treatment, published the following notice. “We are not aware what could induce Lord Byron not to yield to the repeated entreaties made to him by Dr. Bruno, and Mr. T. Millingen, a medical man sent out by the Greek Committee, to allow himself to be bled.”—(Vide Ap. 29.) Were not these testimonies amply sufficient, I might publish a letter from Dr. Freiber, in which he alludes, in the strongest terms, to Dr. Bruno’s
ungentlemanly conduct towards me, and his total disregard to truth.

As to the assertion, confidently made by Dr. Bruno, that, had his patient submitted at the onset of his malady to phlebotomy, he would have infallibly recovered; I believe every medical man, who maturely considers the subject, will be led to esteem this assertion as being founded rather on presumption than on reason. Positive language, which is in general so misplaced in medical science, becomes in the present case even ridiculous; for if different authors be consulted, it will appear that the very remedy, which is proclaimed by some as the anchor of salvation, is by others condemned as the instrument of ruin. Bleeding (as many will be found to assert) favours metastasis in rheumatic fevers; and, in confirmation of this opinion, they will remark, that in this case, as soon as the lancet was employed, the cerebral symptoms manifested themselves on the disappearance of the rheumatic; while those, who incline to Dr. Reid’s and Dr. Heberden’s opinion, will observe, that after each successive phlebotomy, the cerebral symptoms not only did not remain at the same degree, but that they hourly went on increasing. In this dilemmatic position, it is evident, that whatever treatment might have been adopted, detractors could not fail to have some grounds for laying the blame on the medical attendants. The more I consider this difficult question, however, the more I feel convinced, that whatsoever method of cure had been adopted, there is every reason to believe, that a fatal termination was inevitable; and here I may be permitted to observe, that it must have been the lot of every medical man to observe, how frequently the fear of death produces it; and how seldom a patient, who
persuades himself that he must die, is mistaken. The prediction of the Scotch fortune-teller was ever present to
Lord Byron; and, like an insidious poison, destroyed that moral energy, which is so useful to keep up the patient in dangerous complaints. “Did I not tell you,” said he repeatedly to me, “that I should die at thirty-seven?”