LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece
Chapter XII

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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A Greek polyglott newspaper established—Anecdotes of Lord Byron—Character of Parry—Lord Byron seized with illness.

Early in March, the prospectus of a polyglott newspaper, entitled the Greek Telegraph, was published at Mesolonghi. The sentiments, imprudently advocated in this prospectus, induced the authorities in the Ionian Islands to entertain so unfavourable an impression of the spirit, which would guide its conductors, that its admission into the heptarchy was interdicted under severe penalties. The same took place in the Austrian states, where they began to look upon Greece as “the city of refuge,” as it were, for the carbonari and discontented English reformers. The first number appeared on the 20th of March; but it was written in a tone so decidedly opposite to what had been expected, that it might, in some degree, be considered as a protest against the prospectus. Lord Byron was the cause of this change. More than ever convinced, that nothing could be more useless, and even more dangerous to her yet vacillating interests at home and abroad, than an unlimited freedom of the press; he insisted on Count Gamba (a person entirely at his disposal), becoming editor. He cautioned him, to restrict the Telegrafo Greco to a simple narrative of events as they occurred, and an unprejudiced statement of opinions in respect to her political relations and wants; so as to make them subjects of interest to her friends in the western parts of Europe.

Nothing was easier to every one, who wished to
inveigh against the Holy Alliance, than to have recourse to the ever-open channel of English papers. It was easy to foresee, that, if properly conducted, this paper would immediately supplant the
Έλλενικα χρονικα, which, being written in Romaic, could enjoy but a very limited circulation in Europe. Uncertain what motto to adopt, the editor consulted Lord Byron. But he did so at an unfavourable moment, for his lordship had just exchanged some angry words with a Greek. “Although,” replied he, “I am looked upon as a being altogether unscriptural, I shall propose to you a text from scripture for your motto. You will read in the tenth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, ‘Between Greeks and Jews there is here no difference.’” But the observation being made, that, even if this were the actual truth, yet every truth ought not to be told, his lordship added, after a moment’s pause: “You are perhaps in the right; let us see, therefore, whether these lines from Homer will suit?

Ήμιυ γάρ τ’ αρετης άκοάινται έυρυόπα Ζεύς
Άνέρος έυτ’ άν μιν κατά δούλιον ήμαρ έλησιν.”

Spleen, which is said to have taken up her residence in “foggy England,” might, during the winter, find at Mesolonghi a climate still more suited to her character. The rain falls in torrents almost every day; and in the intervals of sunshine, the streets and roads are so covered with water and mud, that it is equally impossible to ride as to walk. Lord Byron suffered greatly from the confinement, this circumstance forced upon him. Accustomed, as he had been for years, to ride out once every day, the habit had so much grown upon him, that if prevented for several days from doing so, he felt so uncomfortable
as to become peevish and morose. He would, however, recur to other bodily exercises; in all of which he displayed great strength and considerable address. As his lameness prevented him from leaping, running, or indulging in field sports, he was compelled to cultivate other branches of gymnastics; and of these he excelled in fencing, boxing, single-stick, the Highland broadsword; and every one knows how excellent a swimmer he became. Indeed some of his feats in this way may appear almost incredible. While at Genoa, for instance, he swam, as I have heard him relate, to an English man-of-war, anchored in the roads. Having said “good morning” to the commander, he requested the favour of a cup of tea, which he drank, all the while treading the water. Having drank the tea, he returned the cup, and then swam back to shore; more than two miles distant!

He boasted that there was not a better shot with a pistol in all England than himself. Indeed his skill in this way was remarkable; for though his hand shook considerably, he fired with astonishing precision. While at Mesolonghi, he broke six eggs, placed on the ground, one after the other, at the distance of twenty-five paces. On another occasion he put out a taper three times in four shots. He related, too, that he once challenged a gentleman, who was considered as the best marksman in London. The latter fired first and hit the mark. Lord Byron then fired and his ball passed through the very hole pierced by his rival, who was then forced to acknowledge that he had at last found his equal. His pistols were Manton’s chef-d’oeuvre.

In the evening all the English, who had not, with Colonel Stanhope, turned Odysseans, assembled at his house; and till late at night enjoyed the charm of his conversation. His character so much differed
from what I had been induced to imagine from the relations of travellers, that either their reports must have been inaccurate, or his character must have totally changed after his departure from Genoa. It would be difficult, indeed impossible, to convey an idea of the pleasure his conversation afforded. Among his works, that which may perhaps be more particularly regarded as exhibiting the mirror of his conversation and the spirit which animated it, is
Don Juan. The following lines, too, from Shakspeare seem as if prophetically written for him:

“Biron they call him; but a merrier man,
Within the limits of becoming mirth,
I never spent an hour’s talk withal.
His eye begets occasion for his wit;
For every object, that the one does catch,
The other turns to a mirth-moving jest,
Which his fair tongue (conceit’s expositor)
Delivers in such apt and gracious words,
That aged ears play truant at his tales,
And younger hearings are quite ravished;
So sweet and voluble is his discourse.”

One of these lines (the second) was not strictly applicable to his practice; for he might too justly be reproached with being too open and too indiscreet in respect to the reminiscences of his early days. The respect I owe to his memory, as well as to that of his friends, forbids me to relate many of these anecdotes; however entertaining they might prove to the curiosity of the salons.

Sometimes, when his vein of humour flowed more copiously than usual, he would play tricks on individuals. Fletcher’s boundless credulity afforded him an ever ready fund of amusement, and he one evening planned a farce, which was as well executed and as laughable as any ever exhibited on the stage.
Having observed how nervous
Parry had been, a few days before, during an earthquake, he felt desirous of renewing the ludicrous sight which the fat horror-struck figure of the major had exhibited on that occasion. He placed therefore fifty of his Suliots in the room above that where Parry slept, and towards midnight ordered them to shake the house, so as to imitate that phenomenon; he himself at the same time banged the doors, and rushed down stairs, delighted to see the almost distracted engineer imploring, tremblingly, the mercy of heaven. Parry was altogether a “curious fish,” an excellent mimic; and possessed a fund of quaint expressions, that made up for his deficiency of real wit. He could tell, in his coarse language, a good story, could perform the clown’s or Falstaff’s part very naturally, rant Richard the Third’s or Hamlet’s soliloquies in a mock-tragic manner, unrivalled by any of the players of Bartholomew fair, and could always engender laughter enough to beguile the length of our rainy evenings. His description of the visit he paid to Bentham; their walk; Bentham’s pursuit by a lady, named City-Barge, was highly humorous, and pleased Lord Byron so much, that he purposed putting it in verse, like that of Gilpin’s trip to Edmonton.

It was soon perceived, that the brandy-bottle was Parry’s Castalian spring, and that, unless he drank deep, his stories became dull. Lord Byron, in consequence, took constant care to keep him in good spirits; but unfortunately, partly from inclination, and partly to keep him company, he drank himself to the same excess. One evening, by way of driving away the vexation he had experienced during the day, from an altercation with some one, whose name I do not now remember, Parry prescribed some punch of his own composition, so agreeable to Lord Byron’s
palate, that he drank immoderate quantities of it. To remove the burning sensation his lordship, soon after, began to experience, he ordered a bottle of cider; and having drank a glass of it, he said it was “excessively cold and pleasant.” Scarcely had he said these words when he fell upon the floor, agitated by violent spasmodic movements of all his limbs. He foamed at the mouth, gnashed his teeth, and rolled his eyes like one in an epilepsy. After remaining about two minutes in this state his senses returned, and the first words he uttered were: “Is not this Sunday?” On being answered in the affirmative, he said; “I should have thought it most strange if it were not.”

Doctor Bruno, his private physician, proposed opening a vein; but finding it impossible to obtain his consent, he applied leeches to the temples, which bled so copiously as almost to bring on syncope. Alarmed to see the difficulty Doctor Bruno experienced in endeavouring to stop the hemorrhage, Lord Byron sent for me, and I succeeded in stopping the bleeding by the application of lunar caustic. The acute pain, produced by this slight operation, rendered him more than ever impatient, and made him say, “In this world there is nothing but pain.”

The nervous system of Lord Byron, which by nature was highly irritable, and which had become more so by the immoderate use of green tea, the abuse of medicines, and habitual intemperance, could not sustain so violent a shock without some serious attendant consequences. Like a cord at its full stretch, it required but the slightest force to break it. From this moment a change took place in his mental and bodily functions. That wonderful elasticity of disposition, that continued flow of wit, and that facility of jest, by which his conversation had been so highly
distinguished, returned only at distant intervals; for he fell into a state of melancholy, from which none of our reasonings could relieve him. He felt assured that his constitution had been irretrievably ruined by intemperance; that he was a worn-out man; and that his muscular power was gone. Flashes before the eyes, palpitations and anxieties, hourly afflicted him; and at times such a sense of faintness would overpower him, that, fearing to be attacked by similar convulsions, he would send in great haste for medical assistance. His nervous system was in fact in a continued state of erethism, which could only be augmented by the low debilitating diet, enjoined him by his physician. One day while I sat by him rather longer than usual, endeavouring to prove that by a total reform in his mode of living, and by following a tonic plan, he might recover his former vigour, I quoted, in support of my argument, the celebrated example of
Cornaro the Venetian, who at a more advanced age, and with a constitution still more broken, not only recovered his strength by adopting a proper regimen, but continued beyond the hundredth year in the full possession of all his mental and bodily faculties. “Do you suppose,” inquired his lordship with impatience, “that I wish for life? I have grown heartily sick of it, and shall welcome the hour I depart from it. Why should I regret it? can it afford me any pleasure? have I not enjoyed it to a surfeit? Few men can live faster than I did. I am, literally speaking, a young old man. Hardly arrived at manhood, I had attained the zenith of fame. Pleasure I have known under every form it can present itself to mortals. I have travelled, satisfied my curiosity, lost every illusion; I have exhausted all the nectar contained in the cup of life; it is time to throw the dregs away. But the apprehension of two things
now haunt my mind. I picture myself slowly expiring on a bed of torture, or terminating my days like
Swift—a grinning idiot! Would to Heaven the day were arrived in which, rushing, sword in hand, on a body of Turks, and fighting like one weary of existence, I shall meet immediate, painless death,—the object of my wishes!”