LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries
Mr. Trelawney's Narrative

Lord Byron.
Mr. Moore.
Mr. Shelley. With a Criticism on his Genius.
Mr. Keats. With a Criticism on his Writings.
Mr. Dubois. Mr. Campbell. Mr. Theodore Hook. Mr. Mathews. Messrs. James & Horace Smith.
Mr. Fuseli. Mr. Bonnycastle. Mr. Kinnaird.
Mr. Charles Lamb.
Mr. Coleridge.
Recollections of the Author’s Life.
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“It is for slaves to lie, and for freemen to speak truth.

“In the examples, which I here bring in, of what I have heard, read, done, or said, I have forbid myself to dare to alter even the most light and indifferent circumstances. My conscience does not falsify one tittle. What my ignorance may do, I cannot say.”       Montaigne.


“Mr. Shelley, Mr. Williams (formerly of the 8th Dragoons), and one seaman, Charles Vivian, left Villa Magni near Lerici, a small town situate in the Bay of Spezia, on the 30th of June, at twelve o’clock, and arrived the same night at Leghorn. Their boat had been built for Mr. Shelley at Genoa by a captain in the navy. It was twenty-four feet long, eight in the beam, schooner-rigged, with gaft topsails, &c. and drew four feet water. On Monday, the 8th of July, at the same hour, they got under weigh to return home, having on board a quantity of household articles, four hundred dollars, a small canoe, and some books and manuscripts. At half
past twelve they made all sail out of the harbour with a light and favourable breeze, steering direct for Spezia. I had likewise weighed anchor to accompany them a few miles out in
Lord Byron’s schooner, the Bolivar; but there was some demur about papers from the guard boat; and they, fearful of losing the breeze, sailed without me. I re-anchored, and watched my friends, till their boat became a speck on the horizon, which was growing thick and dark, with heavy clouds moving rapidly, and gathering in the south-west quarter. I then retired to the cabin, where I had not been half an hour, before a man on deck told me, a heavy squall had come on. We let go another anchor. The boats and vessels in the roads were scudding past us in all directions to get into the harbour; and in a moment, it blew a hard gale from the south-west, the sea, from excessive smoothness, foaming, breaking, and getting up into a very heavy swell. The wind, having shifted, was now directly against my friends. I felt confident they would be obliged to bear off for Leghorn; and being anxious to hear of their safety, stayed on board till a late hour, but saw nothing of them. The violence of the wind did not continue above an hour; it then gradually subsided; and at eight o’clock, when I went on shore, it was almost a calm. It, however, blew hard at intervals during the night, with rain, and thunder and lightning. The lightning struck the mast of a vessel close to us, shivering it to splinters, killing two men, and wounding others. From these circumstances, becoming greatly alarmed for the safety of the voyagers, a note was dispatched to Mr. Shelley’s house at Lerici, the reply to which stated that nothing had been heard of him and his friend, which augmented our fears to such a degree, that couriers were dispatched on the whole line of coast from Leghorn to Nice, to ascertain if they had put in any where, or if there had been any wreck, or indication of losses by sea. I
immediately started for Via Reggio, having lost sight of the boat in that direction. My worst fears were almost confirmed on my arrival there, by news that a small canoe, two empty water-barrels, and a bottle, had been found on the shore, which things I recognised as belonging to the boat. I had still, however, warm hopes that these articles had been thrown overboard to clear them from useless lumber in the storm; and it seemed a general opinion that they had missed Leghorn, and put into Elba or Corsica, as nothing more was heard for eight days. This state of suspense becoming intolerable, I returned from Spezia to Via Reggio, where my worst fears were confirmed by the information that two bodies had been washed on shore, one on that night very near the town, which, by the dress and stature, I knew to be Mr. Shelley’s. Mr. Keats’s last volume of
“Lamia,” “Isabella,” &c. being open in the jacket pocket, confirmed it beyond a doubt. The body of Mr. Williams was subsequently found near a tower on the Tuscan shore, about four miles from his companion. Both the bodies were greatly decomposed by the sea, but identified beyond a doubt. The seaman, Charles Vivian, was not found for nearly three weeks afterwards. His body was interred in the spot on which a wave had washed it, in the vicinity of Massa.

“After a variety of applications to the Lucchese and Tuscan Governments, and our Ambassador at Florence, I obtained, from the kindness and exertions of Mr. Dawkins, an order to the officer commanding the tower of Migliarino, (near to which Lieutenant Williams had been cast, and buried in the sand,) that the body should be at my disposal. I likewise obtained an order to the same effect to the Commandant at Via Reggio, to deliver up the remains of Mr. Shelley, it having been decided by the friends of the parties that the bodies should be reduced to ashes by fire, as the readiest mode of conveying them to the places
where the deceased would have wished to repose, as well as of removing all objections respecting the Quarantine Laws, which had been urged against their disinterment. Every thing being prepared for the requisite purposes, I embarked on board Lord Byron’s schooner with my friend
Captain Shenley, and sailed on the 13th of August. After a tedious passage of eleven hours, we anchored off Via Reggio, and fell in with two small vessels, which I had hired at Leghorn some days before for the purpose of ascertaining, by the means used to recover sunken vessels, the place in which my friend’s boat had foundered. They had on board the captain of a fishing-boat, who, having been overtaken in the same squall, had witnessed the sinking of the boat, without (as he says) the possibility of assisting her. After dragging the bottom, in the place which he indicated, for six days without finding her, I sent them back to Leghorn, and went on shore. The Major commanding the town, with the Captain of the port, accompanied me to the Governor. He received us very courteously, and did not object to the removal of our friend’s remains, but to burning them, as the latter was not specified in the order. However, after some little explanation, he assented, and we gave the necessary directions for making every preparation to commence our painful undertaking next morning.”

It was thought that the whole of these melancholy operations might have been performed in one day: but the calculation turned out to be erroneous. Mr. Williams’s remains were commenced with. Mr. Trelawney and Captain Shenley were at the tower by noon, with proper persons to assist, and were joined shortly by Lord Byron and myself. A portable furnace and a tent had been prepared. “Wood,” continues Mr. Trelawney, “we found in abundance on the beach, old trees and
parts of wrecks. Within a few paces of the spot where the body lay, there was a rude-built shed of straw, forming a temporary shelter for soldiers at night, when performing the coast-patrole duty. The grave was at high-water mark, some eighteen paces from the surf, as it was then breaking, the distance about four miles and a half from Via Reggio. The magnificent bay of Spezia is on the right of this spot, Leghorn on the left, at equal distances of about twenty-two miles. The headlands, projecting boldly and far into the sea, form a deep and dangerous gulf, with a heavy swell and a strong current generally running right into it. A vessel embayed in this gulf, and overtaken by one of the squalls so common upon the coast of it, is almost certain to be wrecked. The loss of small craft is great; and the shallowness of the water, and breaking of the surf, preventing approach to the shore, or boats going out to assist, the loss of lives is in proportion. It was in the centre of this bay, about four or five miles at sea, in fifteen or sixteen fathom water, with a light breeze under a crowd of sail, that the boat of our friends was suddenly taken clap aback by a sudden and very violent squall; and it is supposed that in attempting to bear up under such a press of canvass, all the sheets fast, the hands unprepared, and only three persons on board, time boat filled to leeward, and having two tons of ballast, and not being decked, went down on the instant; not giving them a moment to prepare themselves by even taking off their boots, or seizing an oar. Mr. Williams was the only one who could swim, and he but indifferently. The spot where Mr. Williams’s body lay was well adapted for a man of his imaginative cast of mind, and I wished his remains to rest undisturbed; but it was willed otherwise. Before us was the sea, with islands; behind us time Apennines; beside us, a large tract of thick wood, stunted and twisted into fantastic
shapes by the sea-breeze. The heat was intense, the sand being so scorched as to render standing on it painful.”