LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
Goëthe on Lord Byron, 16 July 1824

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IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





Weimar, 16th July, 1824.

“It has been thought desirable to have some details relative to the communication that existed between Lord Noel Byron, alas! now no more! and Goëthe: a few words will comprise the whole subject.

“The German poet, who, up to his advanced age, has habituated himself to weigh with care and impartiality the merit of illustrious persons of his own time, as well as his immediate contemporaries, from a consideration that this knowledge would prove the surest means of advancing his awn, might well fix his attention on Lord Byron; and, having watched the dawn of his great and early talents, could not fail to follow their progress through his important and uninterrupted career.

“It was easy to observe that the public appreciation of his
merit as a poet increased progressively with the increasing perfection of his works, one of which rapidly succeeded another. The interest which they excited had been productive of a more unmingled delight to his friends, if self- dissatisfaction and the restlessness of his passions had not in some measure counteracted the powers of an imagination all-comprehensive and sublime, and thrown a blight over an existence which the nobleness of his nature gifted him with a more than common capacity for enjoying.

“His German admirer, however, not permitting himself to come to a hasty and erroneous conclusion, continued to trace, with undiminished attention, a life and a poetical activity equally rare and irreconcileable, and which interested him the more forcibly, inasmuch as he could discover no parallel in past ages with which to compare them, and found himself utterly destitute of the elements necessary to calculate respecting an orb so eccentric in its course.

“In the mean while, the German and his occupations did not remain altogether unknown or unattended to by the English writer, who not only furnished unequivocal proofs of an acquaintance with his works, but conveyed to him,
through the medium of travellers, more than one friendly salutation.

“Thus I was agreeably surprised by indirectly receiving the original sheet of a dedication of the tragedy of ‘Sardanapalus,’ conceived in terms the most honourable to me, and accompanied by a request that it might be printed at the head of the work.

“The German poet, in his old age, well knowing himself and his labours, could not but reflect with gratitude and diffidence on the expressions contained in this dedication, nor interpret them but as the generous tribute of a superior genius, no less original in the choice than inexhaustible in the materials of his subjects;—and he felt no disappointment when, after many delays, ‘Sardanapalus’ appeared without the preface: he, in reality, already thought himself fortunate in possessing a fac-simile in lithograph*, and attached to it no ordinary value.

“It appeared, however, that the Noble Lord had not

* Goëthe does not mention of what nature the lithograph was.

renounced his project of shewing his contemporary and companion in letters a striking testimony of his friendly intentions, of which the tragedy of ‘
Werner’ contains an extremely precious evidence.

“It might naturally be expected that the aged German poet, after receiving from so celebrated a person such an unhoped-for kindness (proof of a disposition so thoroughly amiable, and the more to be prized from its rarity in the world), should also prepare, on his part, to express most clearly and forcibly a sense of the gratitude and esteem with which he was affected.

“But this undertaking was so great, and every day seemed to make it so much more difficult,—for what could be said of an earthly being whose merit could not be exhausted by thought, or comprehended by words?

“But when, in the spring of 1823, a young man of amiable and engaging manners, a Mr. S——, brought, direct from Genoa to Weimar, a few words under the hand of this estimable friend, by way of recommendation, and when shortly after there was spread a report that the Noble
Lord was about to consecrate his great powers and varied talents to high and perilous enterprize, I had no longer a plea for delay, and addressed to him the following hasty stanzas:

“One friendly word comes fast upon another
From the warm South, bringing communion sweet,—
Calling us amid noblest thoughts to wander
Free in our souls, though fetter’d in our feet.
How shall I, who so long his bright path traced,
Say to him words of love sent from afar?—
To him who with his inmost heart hath struggled,
Long wont with fate and deepest woes to war?
May he be happy!—thus himself esteeming,
He well might count himself a favoured one!
By his loved Muses all his sorrows banish’d,
And he self-known,—e’en as to me he’s known!”

“These lines arrived at Genoa, but found him not. This excellent friend had already sailed; but, being driven back by contrary winds, he landed at Leghorn, where this effusion of my heart reached him. On the eve of his departure, July 23d, 1823, he found time to send me a reply, full of the most beautiful ideas and the divinest sentiments,
which will be treasured as an invaluable testimony of worth and friendship among the choicest documents which I possess.

“What emotions of joy and hope did not that paper once excite!—but now it has become, by the premature death of its noble writer, an inestimable relic, and a source of unspeakable regret; for it aggravates, to a peculiar degree in me, the mourning and melancholy that pervade the whole moral and poetical world,—in me, who looked forward (after the success of his great efforts) to the prospect of being blessed with the sight of this master-spirit of the age,—this friend so fortunately acquired; and of having to welcome, on his return, the most humane of conquerors.

“But still I am consoled by the conviction, that his country will at once awake, and shake off, like a troubled dream, the partialities, the prejudices, the injuries, and the calumnies with which he has been assailed,—that these will subside and sink into oblivion,—that she will at length universally acknowledge that his frailties, whether the effect of temperament, or the defect of the times in which he lived, (against which even the best of mortals wrestle painfully,)
were only momentary, fleeting, and transitory; whilst the imperishable greatness to which he has raised her now and for ever remains, and will remain, illimitable in its glory, and incalculable in its consequences. Certain it is, that a nation who may well pride herself on so many great sons, will place Byron, all radiant as he is, by the side of those who have done most honour to her name.”