LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Shelley and Byron
Family History
Shelley at Eton
Taste for the Gothic
Shelley’s Juvenilia
Queen Mab
Shelley at Oxford
First Marriage
Death of Harriet
Chancery Suit
Switzerland: 1814
Alastor; Geneva: 1816
Byron and Claire
At Marlow: 1817
Italy: 1818
Naples, Rome: 1819
The Cenci
Florence: 1819
Vol I Appendix
Vol II Front Matter
Pisa: 1820
Poets and Poetry
Pisa: 1821
Shelley and Keats
Williams, Hunt, Byron
‣ Shelley and Byron
Poetry and Politics
Byron and his Friends
The Pisan Circle
Casa Magni
Death of Shelley
Lerici: 1822
Burial in Rome
Character of Shelley
Vol II Appendix
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I reached Pisa for the second time in December. Lord Byron had already arrived, and was settled in the Casa Lanfranchi. Shelley had taken up his abode on the opposite side of the Lung’ Arno. His apartment, however, looked to the west, and it was basking in the sun when I entered; and I may here add, that during almost all that winter, such is the divine climate of Pisa, we dined with the windows open. At his house, I first saw the Countess Guiccioli, then a strikingly handsome woman. Those who saw her at that time, might have supposed that she had sat to Georgione for a celebrated picture in the Dresden gallery—a gentleman with two ladies; she bore such a striking resemblance to one of these, that on the left of the groupe; possessing the same character of features, bright auburn hair and eyes, that seem indigenal to, or hereditary in the fair Venetians. For many weeks she passed her soirees at Shelley’s; a more perfectly amiable, interesting, and feminine person I never met. Her at-
tachment to Byron, whose name she pronounced, laying a strong stress on the y, (and her voice was the most musical I ever remember in an Italian,) had been her first; she loved him with a devotion of which no women are so capable as the Italians, and has remained constant to that love—unchanged and unchangeable. I met her many years after, at the baths of Lucca, and at Florence, where at a ball given by the Prince Borghese, singularly enough, I, at the request of Mr. King, now
Lord Lovelace, introduced her to him; little thinking that he would afterwards have married the Ada of Childe Harold. But to revert to Shelley.

I found him an altered man; his health had sensibly improved, and he had shaken off much of that melancholy and depression, to which he had been subject during the last year. He anticipated with delight the arrival of Leigh Hunt—was surrounded by many friends. The Williams’s were a never failing resource to him, and his daily visit to Byron was a distraction,
and ever new excitement. Nor this alone,—he accompanied him in his evening drives, assisted as wont in the pistol-practice, for which he formed an early predilection at Oxford. A friend speaking of several contradictions in his appearance and character at that time, says, “His ordinary preparations for a rural walk formed a remarkable contrast with his mild aspect and pacific habits. He provided himself with a pair of duelling pistols, and good store of powder and ball, and when he came to a solitary spot, he pinned a card, or fixed some other mark upon a tree or a bank, and amused himself by firing at it. He was a pretty good shot, and was much delighted at his success. The same gentleman says of himself, that having accidentally shot the target in the centre,
Shelley ran to the card, examined it attentively several times, and more than once measured the distance on the spot where I had stood.” How often have I seen him do the same! I imagine that it was Shelley, who at Geneva, inoculated Lord Byron (whose
lameness made his out-door amusements very limited,) with the taste. These trials of skill were Shelley’s favourite recreation, and even the preparations for it occupied his thoughts agreeably, for he generally made and carried to the ground a target to be used on the occasion, and habit enabled him to manufacture them with great neatness. I have often been surprised to see the poet occupied in making circles and bull’s eyes. Shelley used to wonder that Byron shot so well, for his aim was long, and his hand trembled. Shelley’s was all firmness. He was a very indifferent horseman—had an awkward and unsafe seat—which is very singular, as he had very early been used to ride, though it is probable that he had almost from boyhood discontinued the habit. Byron’s seat was not the best in the world, nor his stud very famous. The animal who carried him was loaded with fat, and resembled, if she were not one, a Flanders mare. She was encumbered with a sliding martingale, a hussar saddle, and holsters with
pistols; was remarkable for the lowness of her action, and the amble, her usual pace, which, from its ease, made her a favourite with her master.

Shelley and myself generally visited Byron at the same hour, between two and three; indeed, I believe there never passed a day, for many months, without our meeting at the Lanfranchi, and they had invented a sort of macaronic language that was very droll. They called firing, tiring; hitting, colping; missing, mancating; riding, cavalling; walking, a-spassing, &c.

Byron the man and Byron the poet were as different as mind and matter. He possessed two natures—the human and the divine. I have often heard Shelley, almost in the language of a gifted German lady-writer, say,—“The poet is a different being from the rest of the world. Imagination steals over him—he knows not whence. Images float before him—he knows not their home. Struggling and contending powers are engendered within him, which no outward
impulse, no inward passion awakened. He utters sentiments he never meditated. He creates persons whose original he had never seen; but he cannot command the power that called them out of nothing. He must wait till the God or dæmon genius breathes it into him. He has higher powers than the generality of men, and the most distinguished abilities; but he is possessed by a still higher power. He prescribes laws, he overturns customs and opinions, he begins and ends an epoch, like a God; but he is a blind, obedient, officiating priest in the temple of God.” Byron also was fully indued with this persuasion, for he says,—“Poetry is a distinct faculty of the soul, and has no more to do with the every-day individual, than the inspirations of the Pythianess when removed from the tripod.” In his
Essay on Poetry, Shelley more fully developes this sentiment, and says,—“Poets are the hyerophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts on the present; the words which express what they understand not; the
trumpet that sounds to battle, and feels not what it inspires; the influence which is moved, but moves not. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world!” And again,—”They measure the circumference, and sound the depth of human nature with a comprehensive, all-penetrating spirit, at the manifestations of which they are themselves, perhaps, the most sincerely astonished,—for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age.”

But speaking of Byron in his human capacity. The Byron of England and Geneva, and the Byron of Italy, or at least Pisa, were widely different persons. His talk was, at that time, a dilution of his letters, full of persiflage and calembourg. Shelley used to compare him to Voltaire, to whom he would have thought it the greatest compliment to be compared; for if there was any one writer whom he admired more than another, it was the author of Candide, Like Voltaire, he looked upon converse as a relaxation, not an exercise of mind. Both professed the same speculative—I might say, sceptical turn of mind; the
same power of changing the subject from the grave to the gay; the same mastery over the sublime, the pathetic, the comic. No, he differed from the philosopher of Ferney in one respect,—he never scoffed at religion. His boss of veneration was strongly developed, and had he returned to England, he would, I have little doubt, have died, as
Rochester did, and as Tommy Moore lives, in the odour of sanctity.

Shelley frequently lamented that it was almost impossible to keep Byron to any one given point. He flew about from subject to subject like a will-o’-the-wisp, touching them with a false fire, without throwing any real or steady light on any. There was something enchanting in his manner, his voice, his smile—a fascination in them; but on leaving him, I have often marvelled that I gained so little from him worth carrying away; whilst every word of Shelley’s was almost oracular; his reasoning subtle and profound; his opinions, whatever they were, sincere and undisguised; whilst with Byron, such was his love of mystification, it was impossible to know
when he was in earnest. As in the writings of the Greek philosophers, there was always an undercurrent. He dealt, too, in the gross and indelicate, of which Shelley had an utter abhorrence, and often left him with ill-disguised disgust. At times, however, but they only, like angels’ visits, few and far between, he, as was said of
Raphael, could pass from the greatest jesting to the greatest seriousness with the most charming grace. To get him into an argument was a very difficult matter. Mr. Hogg, speaking of Shelley, says,—“Never was there a more unexceptionable disputant. He was the only arguer I ever knew, who drew every argument from the nature of the thing, and who could never be provoked to descend to personal contentions. He was free from the weaknesses of our nature—conceit, irritability, vanity, and impatience of contradiction.”

“The Eternal Child!” this beautiful expression, so true in its application to Shelley! I borrow from Mr. Gilfillan, and I am tempted to add the rest of his eloquent parallel between Shelley
Lord Byron, as far as it relates to their external appearance. In the forehead and head of Byron there was a more massive power and breadth: Shelley’s had a smooth, arched, spiritual expression; wrinkles there seemed none on his brow; it was as if perpetual youth had there dropped its freshness. Byron’s eye seemed the focus of pride and lust; Shelley’s was mild, pensive, fixed on you, but seeing through the mist of its own idealism. Defiance curled Byron’s nostril, and sensuality steeped his full, large lips; the lower portions of Shelley’s face were frail, feminine, and flexible. Byron’s head was turned upwards; as if, having proudly risen above his contemporaries, he were daring to claim kindred, or to demand a contest with a superior order of beings; Shelley’s was half bent in reverence and humility before some vast vision seen by his eye alone. In the portrait of Byron, taken at the age of nineteen, you see the unnatural age of premature passion. His hair is grey, his dress is youthful, but his face is old.
In Shelley you see the eternal child, none the less because the hair is grey, and that “sorrow seems half his immortality.”

No one had a higher opinion of Shelley—of his heart and his head, than Byron; to both these he has done ample credit. I have often been present when the noble poet handed to his friend what he had written during the morning, particularly Heaven and Earth, which Shelley read to us when it was copying by Mrs. Shelley, who was occasionally Byron’s amanuensis. Shelley was much struck by the choral parts, and repeated twice or three times over as a specimen of great lyrical harmony.
Sister, sister! I view them winging
Their bright way through the parted night!
The clouds from off their pinions flinging,
As though they bore to-morrow’s light.
But should our father see the sight?
He would but deem it was the moon,
Rising unto some sorcerer’s tune,
An hour too soon.

Nor did Shelley admire alone the lyrics of this Mystery, and had he lived to see “The Loves of the Angels,” of which it was the type, would have thought that in its sublimity, its simplicity, and its pathos, it bore the same relation to that meretricious poem, which the figurante of the Pitti does to the Venus of the Tribune.

Cain also had arrived, which Shelley had seen begun at Ravenna; of which, speaking in one of his letters, he says,—“In my opinion it contains finer poetry than has appeared in England since the publication of The Paradise Regained; Cain is apocalyptic.” It was a frequent subject of conversation between the two poets. Byron read us Hobhouse’s opinion,—“that it was worse than the worst bombast of Dryden (sage critic!) and that it was not a work to which he would have ventured to put his name in the days of
Pope, Churchill, and Johnson” (a strange trinity.) I shall reserve what I have to say of this gentleman, an inveterate enemy of Shelley’s, to another place.

Shelley was supposed to have greatly influenced Byron in the design of the drama; at least, he was so accused by Hobhouse and Moore; an accusation to which Shelley remarks,—“How happy should I not be to attribute to myself, however indirectly, any participation in that immortal work!” Though he might have had nothing to do with the origination, or the general treatment of the drama,—and indeed, the tone of Cain’s language was emphatically Byronic,—I have reason to think that Byron owes to Shelley the platonic idea of the Hades,—the preadamite worlds, and their phantasmal shapes, perhaps suggested by Lucian’s Icaro Menippus. Lord Byron had certainly a profound respect for Shelley’s judgment. I have mentioned being present when the MS. of “The Deformed Transformed” was placed in his
hands,—and Shelley’s remarks after perusing it,—“that he liked it the least of all his works; that it smelt too strongly of
Faust; and besides, that there were two lines in it, word for word from Southey.” On which occasion Byron turned deadly pale, seized the MS., and committed it to the flames, seeming to take a savage delight in seeing it consume. But it was destined to rise again from its ashes. Poets, like mothers, have a strange fondness for their ricketty offspring. Byron thought that all his writings were equally good, and always vindicated strenuously those which were the least popular, particularly in the case of the Version from Pulci, which Mr. Moore says “must be fated to be unread;” not that the version itself was bad,—on the contrary, it was most faithful; but the poem was not worth translating, and is totally at variance with the taste of the English public. My notion is, that Lord Byron’s object was to shew the inferiority of the original, considered the best of the productions of the Italian
weavers of merry octava rima, to
Don Juan, and intended to blind the world to a belief that it was derived from any source but the right one. None of the forty commentators or critics (the number is ominous, certainly a most formidable array of living cavaliers, that have entered the lists against a dead man) being at all aware that the Novelle of Casti were the prototypes of Don Juan,—much less that it was framed and modelled after the Diavolessa, and which Byron first read at Brussels in 1816. Leigh Hunt says, “that he is so jealous of being indebted to any one for a hint, that he was disconcerted at the mention I made in the Liberal, of Whistlecraft’s specimen, the precursor of Beppo and Don Juan; and I believe that the praise he bestows on the pseudonimous author, when he asks, ‘who the devil can have done this diabolically well-written letter?’ is in consequence of the sentiments therein contained, being in accordance with the mystification he wished to keep up.” Leigh Hunt goes on to say,—“that it is utter
humbug to say that it is borrowed from the style of the Italian weavers of merry octava rima.” Shelley seems to have been of the same opinion, and during his visits to Ravenna, speaking of Don Juan, says,—“Byron has read to me one of his unpublished cantos of Don Juan, which is astonishingly fine. It sets him not only above, but far above all the poets of the age. Every word is stamped with immortality. I despair of rivalling Lord Byron, and well I may; and there is no other with whom it is worth contending. The canto is in the style, but totally, and sustained with considerable ease and power, like the end of the second canto. There is not a word which the most rigid assertor of the dignity of human nature would desire to be cancelled; it fulfils in a certain measure what I have long preached of producing, something wholly new, and relative to the age, and yet surpassingly beautiful; it may be vanity, but I think I see the traces of my earnest exhortations to him to create something new!”


I now proceed to investigate “the humbug of Byron’s having borrowed from the weavers of the octava rima,” and to show whether it was “something new.”

In the Diavolessa of Casti, two Spanish scapegraces scour their native country, dividing its cities among them in search of love adventures; the one is called Don Ignazio, the other Don Juan, but as dramatists and their kind have disposed of the latter personage, to the quieting of all consciences that might dread his prowess, Casti took for his hero Don Ignazio; Byron has taken Don Juan. Casti says of Don Ignazio,—
Naque, e l’infanzia sua passó in Seviglia;
Byron of Don Juan,—
In Seville he was born, a pleasant city.
Casti says of the parentage of Don Ignazio,—
La nobil sua famialia
Direttamente scendea fin dei ré Goti;
Byron of Don Juan’s,—
He traced his source
Through the most gothic gentlemen of Spain.
The Juan and Ignazio of Casti were both precocious, so was the hero of Lord Byron, and the age of twelve was marked as an epoch by both poets.
Entrambo guinti a dodici anni appena.
At twelve he was a fine but quiet boy.
Casti takes his hero out to sea, he is shipwrecked, and considering how little of a sailor an Italian abbé can be, the description of it, though partly drawn from classical authors, will be found most powerful. We certainly do marvel that this probable cause of Byron’s Shipwreck has never been suggested, and it is a striking ignorance of the best critics. The sources whence he drew the technicalities of terms have been noticed often enough, but it was never once hinted, that Casti could possibly have suggested the idea. Moreover, in the Shipwreck of the Italian, there is an expression that Byron has evidently copied,
—the si spezzò, the going down of the ship, in either case told in two lines; by the Italian,—
Il quarto di contro uno scoglio urtò,
D’Africa sulle coste, e si spezzò;
while Byron does it thus:
She gave a heel, and then a lurch to port,
And going down headforemost—sunk in short.

But further, Casti’s hero, of all the crew, is the only one saved; so it is with Byron’s; and more singular still, a dove, or something like one, appears to each in their moments of need.
It was a beautiful white bird,
Web-footed, and not unlike a dove in size
And plumage.
that appeared to
Juan and the most beautiful part of the stanza,—
It came and went and fluttered round, &c.
which is, “e giva e fea ritorno svolazzando,” evidently is a plagiarism from Casti. According to the Italian tale, Don Juan and Don Ignazio
meet in Hell.
Byron meant his hero to finish there.
A panoramic view of Hell’s in training, &c.

As a general specimen of Casti’s style, I subjoin in a note, the Shipwreck;* to which I

* At eventide, nor once the ship they wore,
They made the mouth of Gibraltar’s straits,
The bound of either continent, where the hoar
And swoln sea, fettered, ever roars and beats.
That ocean seems indignant of a shore,
And oft makes ravage there of all it meets.
And thus to menace this frail craft with wreck,
A sudden squall and heavy drove them back.
In haste the mariners, with terror pale,
In with the deadlights, each a separate door
To man’s destruction,—close-reef every sail.
Boils the swoln surge, winds rave, and billows roar.
Fear reigns supreme. There’s nothing like a gale
For taming tiger man. On either shore
They wildly gaze, and scarce can draw their breath,
In thinking how they shall escape from death.
Comes mounting on the deck,† like a wild horse,
With shock that skill and seamanship defies,
A giant breaker, with the united force
Of lesser breakers foaming. The spray flies,

† And the waves bound beneath me like a steed
That knows its rider.
Childe Harold, canto iii., st. 2.
refer those who are curious about this matter,—to my mind set at rest, as well as the stanza beginning,—
Ma la grazia di ciel che a lui d’intorno,* &c.

And refluent sweeps the helmsman—and still more
The helm. Ermenigilda! in thine eyes,
For bridal joys strange terrors then we see.
Poor thing! the sight of death’s but left to thee!
The main-mast gone, and with it the bowsprit,
She wounded lies in a most crazy state,
With water in her hold at least six feet.
To give them hopes, she should at any rate
Have had a helm and binnacle. I repeat,
That none who saw that craft could doubt her fate.
Four days she drove towards Africa, and hit
At last upon a sunken rock, and split.
Then all was wreck, and as she thumped the ground,
All were washed overboard, and then a few
Struck by the spars went down; with bubbling sound,
Others gave up the ghost, till all the crew
Were in the eddying whirlpool sucked, and drowned.
And must the merciless wave thee swallow too,
Ermenigild?—to save thee was there none?—
Sole author of these ills, escaped our Don.

* But grace divine, or Heaven’s exceeding love,
That oft repulsed, desiring still to stay,
Went and came, like the olive-bearing dove,
Flew round and round, nor would be driven away;

Werner was also a play written during this winter, and of which Byron produced to myself and Shelley an Act, (the longest, I think the fourth,) the fruit of one mighty morning’s labour. The MS. had scarcely an emendation; unlike that of Heaven and Earth, which was so interlined as scarcely to be legible. “Werner would be a better acting play,” said Shelley, “than a closet one.” His words have been confirmed. “It is,” says the editor of Byron’s works, “the only one of his dramas that has been successful in representation. It is still in possession of the stage.”

Shelley used to say, that the magnetism of Byron—“the Byronic Energy,” as he called Byron—was hostile to his powers; that, like the reading of Dante, the outpouring of his works,

Did easy access to his bosom prove,
(For trials melt the hardest hearts) that day.
She folds on Don Ignazio, as to rest
Her wings, and seems to light upon his breast.
vast and fair
As perfect worlds at the Creator’s will,
produced in him a despair.

In a letter to Horace Smith he says, “I have lived too long near Lord Byron, and the sun has extinguished my glowworm; for I cannot hope with St. John, that the light came into the world and the world knew it not.” Certain it is, that when he was with Byron at Geneva, he wrote but little.