LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Pisan Circle
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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Several of our countrymen besides the Williams’s swelled Shelley’s and Byron’s circle during the winter. There are some Memoirs published by Colburn, which appeared at this time, said to
be by the pen of
Mr. Velvet-cushion Cunningham, a particular friend of Lady Byron, and who doubtless furnished her quota of the matter, in which Byron and this little coterie were compared to Frederick the Great, and those wits that took refuge in his Court, viz. Voltaire, the Marquis D’Argent, &c.; and the object of which coterie, the memoir-writer contends, was to infidelize the world—Shelley being made the Coryphæus. The author was grossly mistaken; their object was very different. Most of them came to Pisa by accident, and their stay in that city was protracted by the pleasure of Byron’s and Shelley’s society; for both were very social, and the noble poet’s morning Conversaziones and delightful dinners no small attraction. The reverend gentleman, however, one of the forty annotators, inveighs loudly against the Satanic school with “a forty-parson power.” Nor was he the only one of his brethren who attacked it and them, for a clergyman at Kentish Town treated his congregation with two sermons against Cain,
(that had just appeared,) and there was a third at Pisa who followed in his wake. “Scoundrels of priests,” observes Lord Byron, “who do more harm to religion than all the infidels who ever forgot their catechism.” But the preaching at Pisa was directed as much or more against Shelley, than his noble friend, and thereby hangs a tale.

In the same house on the Lung’ Arno, where Shelley had taken up his abode, lived (well-known by his Life of Surrey, most of the materials of which he had surreptitiously obtained by sucking the brains of Bishop Percy, who always expressed himself indignant thereat, for his secretary, from whom I have these particulars, was at that time himself engaged in the undertaking,) Dr. Nott. This divine was, I believe, a Prebend of Winchester, and as his architectural knowledge was profound, the cathedral is much indebted to him for its judicious improvements and restorations. These and other acquirements obtained for him the appoint-
ment of sub-preceptor to the
Princess Charlotte, which situation, from his over-anxiety to become (what every prebend and dean of the church invariably does) a bishop, and some coquetting with his royal pupil, whom he persuaded to recommend him by a codicil to her will, for a father-in-Godship, in case of accidents, lost him his office. So at least runs the story, but whether founded on good authority I do not mean to affirm. It might be held sufficient ground to relieve him from his sub-preceptorial duties, that he had published Surrey’s amatory verses, which, if not improper in themselves, were rather unfit to place in the hands of the young princess his pupil; so that this expensive edition, that only got into great libraries, and could have had a very limited circulation, proved in all ways an unprofitable speculation to the learned Doctor. He had also been, if he had now ceased to be, “a gay deceiver,” and had obtained for himself, by his backing out of more than one matrimonial engagement, the soubriquet of Slip-knot (Nott).
“Most unfortunate,”
Byron used to say, “was the man who had a name that could be punned upon;” and when he heard of what I am about to detail, said, “that the preacher read some of the commandments affirmatively and not negatively, as Thou “shalt Nott! (not) bear false witness against thy neighbour, &c.” The circumstance to which I allude, and that excited Lord Byron’s bile, is this: He opened a chapel in his own apartment, and preached a trilogy of sermons against Atheism, Mrs. Shelley forming one of the congregation, and his eyes being directed on her with a significant expression, and as his whole flock did not consist of more than fourteen or fifteen, it was evident the Doctor was preaching at, and not to some of it. These discourses came to Byron’s ears, and though Shelley laughed at the malice of the Doctor, the noble bard was indignant at the prostitution of his pulpit, and still more so when he heard that the divine had at Mrs. Beauclerc’s called Shelley a “Scelerato,” which no doubt was deemed very
witty. The day after, Byron wrote a little biting
satire, a song to the tune of “The Vicar and Moses,” which has appeared in a Periodical, and as it is not to be found in any of his collected works, I shall give as correctly copied by me, by permission of the bard; premising that it was supplied to Colburn for the Conversations, but thought by him trop fort. Magazines are like ephemerides, only born to perish. They have the fame of their month, and are forgotten; but nothing from the pen of Byron should be permitted to die. The nil nisi bonum de moruis is a proverb, with many others, more honoured in the breach than the observance. At all events, I feel no qualm of conscience in branding a reverend lampooner, and deem it an act of justice to the memory of Shelley so to do.

(To the tune of the Vicar and Moses.)
Do you know Doctor Nott,
With “a crook in his lot,”
Who several years since tried to dish up
A neat codicil
To the Princess’s will,
Which made Doctor Nott not a bishop?
So the Doctor being found
A little unsound
To his doctrines, at least as a teacher,
And kicked from one stool
As a knave and a fool,
Has mounted another as preacher.
In that gown, like a skin
With no lion within,
He still for the bench would be driving,
And roareth away,
A true “Vicar of Bray,
Except that his bray lost his living.
’Gainst freethinkers, he roars,
You should all shut your doors,
Or be “bound” in the devil’s indentures
And here I agree,
For who ever would be
A guest, where old Simony enters?
Let the priest who beguiled
To his own dirty views of promotion,
Wear his sheep’s clothing still,
Among flocks to his will,
And dishonour the cause of devotion.
The altar and throne
Are in peril alone
From such as himself, who would render
The altar itself
A shop let to pelf,*
And pray God to pay his defender.
But Doctor! one word,
Which perhaps you have heard,—
They should never throw stones, who have windows
Of glass to be broken,
And by that same token,
As a sinner, you can’t blame what sin does.
But perhaps you do well—
Your own windows, they tell,
Have long ago suffered effacure.†
Not a fragment remains
Of your character’s panes,
Since the Regent refused you a glazier.
Though your visions of lawn
Have all been withdrawn,‡
And you missed your bold stroke for a mitre,
In a little snug way,
You may still preach and pray,
And from bishop, sink into backbiter.

* A misprint in Fraser.—A step but to pelf.

Effacure for erasure.

Have been lately withdrawn.


Disagreeable as it must have been to Mrs. Shelley, to be an inmate of the same house with this licensed libeller, it must be confessed, as I have already stated, that Shelley was but little affected by his preaching; but his hatred and horror of fanaticism shewed itself a short time after, on an occasion that soon occurred to awaken all his sympathies. One day when I called at the bookseller Moloni’s, I heard a report that a subject of Lucca had been condemned to be burnt alive for sacrilege. A priest who shortly after entered, confirmed the news, and expressed himself in the following terms:—“Wretch!” said he, “he took the consecrated wafers from the altar, and threw them contemptuously about the church. No tortures can be great enough for such a horrible crime; burning is too light a death. I will go to Lucca, I would go to Spain to see the infidel die at the stake.” Such were the humane and charitable feelings of a follower of Christ. I left him with abhorrence, and betook myself to Lord Byron.
“Is it possible,” said he, with shuddering, “do we live in the nineteenth century? But I can believe anything of the
Duchess of Lucca. She was an Infanta—is a bigot, and perhaps an advocate for the Inquisition. But surely she cannot venture in these times to sign a warrant for such an execution! We must endeavour to prevent this auto da fé. Lord Guildford is here. We will move heaven and earth to put a stop to it. The Grand Duke of Tuscany will surely appeal against the consummation of such a horrible sacrifice, for he has not signed a death-warrant since he came to the throne.”

At this moment Shelley entered. He had also heard that the offender was to be burnt the next day. He proposed that we should arm ourselves as well as we could, and immediately ride to Lucca, and attempt on the morrow to rescue the prisoner when brought to the stake, and then carry him to the Tuscan frontier, where he would be safe. Mad and hopeless as
the plan was,
Lord Byron, carried away by Shelley’s enthusiasm, declared himself ready to join in it, should other means fail. We agreed to meet again in the evening, and in the meanwhile to make a representation, signed by all the English at Pisa, to the Grand Duke, then with his Court at Pisa.

Moore in his Life gives the following account of this transaction, contained in a letter to him. “* * * [meaning Taafe,] is gone with bis broken head to Lucca, at my desire, to try and save a man from being burnt. The Spanish * * * [Duchess,] that has her petticoats thrown over Lucca, had actually condemned a poor devil to the stake, for stealing a wafer-box out of a church. Shelley and I were up in arms against this piece of piety, and have been disturbing everybody to get the sentence changed. * * * [Taafe] is gone to see what can he done.”

“To Mr. Shelley.
“December 12th, 1821.
“My dear Shelley,

“Enclosed is a note for you from * * * [Taafe]. His reasons are all very true, I dare say; and it might, and it may be of personal inconvenience to us. But that does not appear to me to be a reason to allow a being to be burnt, without trying to save him,—to save him by any means; but remonstrance is of course out of the question, but I do not see how a temperate remonstrance can hurt any one. Lord Guildford is the man, if he would undertake it. He knows the Grand Duke personally, and might perhaps prevail on him to interfere. But as he goes to-morrow, you must be quick, or it will be useless. Make any use of my name you please.

“Yours ever,
“To Mr. Moore.

“I send you the two notes, which will tell you the story I allude to, of the auto da fé. Shelley’s allusion to “his fellow serpent,” is a buffoonery of mine. Göthe’s Mephistopholes calls the serpent who tempted Eve, “my aunt, the renowned snake;” and I always insist that Shelley is nothing but one of her nephews, walking about on the tip of his tail.


“To Lord Byron.
“Two o’clock, Tuesday morning.
“My dear Lord,

“Although strongly persuaded that the story must be either an entire fabrication, or so gross an exaggeration as to be nearly so; yet in order to be able to discover the truth beyond all doubt, and to set your mind quite at rest, I have taken the determination to go myself to Lucca this morning. Should it prove less false than I am
convinced it is, I will not fail to exert myself in every way that I can imagine may have any success. Be assured of this.

“Your Lordship’s most truly,
* * * [Taafe.]

“P.S.—To prevent bavardage, I prefer going in person to sending my servant with a letter. It is better for you to mention nothing (except of course to Shelley) of my excursion. The person I visit there is one on whom I can have every dependence in every way, both as to authority and truth.”

“To Lord Byron.
“Thursday morning.
“My dear Lord Byron,

“I hear this morning that the design which certainly had been in contemplation, of burning my “fellow serpent,” has been abandoned, and that he has been condemned to the galleys. Lord Guildford is at Leghorn, and
as your courier applied to me to know whether he ought to leave your letter for him or not, I have thought it best, since this information, to tell him to take it back.

“Ever faithfully yours,
P. B. Shelley.”

The concluding part of this correspondence shews that I was mistaken in saying in the Conversations, that Shelley had applied to Lord Guildford; but the information respecting the culprit’s being at that time condemned to the galleys, was (for the course of justice in Italy is not so speedy,) incorrect. The Duchess had issued a proclamation, that the offender, if arrested, should be subject to the Spanish laws; but he had escaped to Florence, and delivered himself up to the police, who had not made him over to the Lucchese authorities, but on condition that he should be tried by the statutes of Tuscany.

I have mentioned Mrs. Beauclerc, a neighbour
Shelley’s family in Sussex, to whom I alluded in the Conversations. She was a daughter of the Duchess of Leinster, by her second marriage, and half-sister to Lord Edward Fitzgerald, whose papers relative to the rebellion, previous to his arrest, were placed in her hands, and I imagine given by her to Moore for his Life of that infatuated and ill-fated patriot. Shelley found a great charm in her acquaintance, for no one, from her intercourse with the great world, and the leading personages of her time, had a more copious fund of anecdote. She was indeed a person of first-rate talents and acquirements, possessed an esprit de societé quite unique, and her house, which she opened every evening, was a never-failing resource. Byron and Mrs. Beauclerc wished mutually to be acquainted, and I was requested by both to be the medium of introduction, during a ride, in which they were, to save formality, to meet as by accident. Lady Blessington has mentioned Byron’s superstition as to days, and I have said that he objected to a
Friday as that of the meeting. But, notwithstanding, it was fated that this introduction should not be attended with any harmonious results. Byron, after it, called, but was not let in. He thought himself slighted, and took her not “being at home” as a mortal affront, and would accept no after-excuses. A correspondence ensued between them, which I applied to her for, but she did not wish to have it published. Her apologies failed to soothe the Poet’s amour propre, and he was inexorable. On the occasion of her eldest daughter’s birth-day, she had invited
Professor Rosini, who on the evening of the fête, sent the following lines as an excuse, which that lady deemed a very ambiguous compliment, and referred them to Shelley and Lord Byron, who both thought they could not have been intended as an affront. I give the verses and a translation, premising that no one wrote more elegant vers de societé than the now well-known author.

Della tua cara Aglaia,
Fia i danzi e i conviti,
Oggi il natal a celebrar m’inviti;
Bella Emilia errasti,
Si non d’April spirô la tepid’ora,
Delle Grazie il natal non e’ venut’ ancora.
To greet thy dear Aglaia’s natal day,
With festive honours due to it and her,
Emilia! you invite me to your home!
Loveliest of mothers! sure you err!
Till shall have breathed the genial hour of May,
The birthday of the Graces is not come.

Mrs. Beauclerc consoled herself with Mrs. Shelley and Shelley’s society, and the grace and ease of his manners and playful converse were the constant themes of her admiration, and she often told me she wished to have seen more of him. In her estimate of Shelley, she agreed with Byron, who says to one of his detractors,—“You do not know how good,
how mild, how tolerant he was in society, and as perfect a gentleman as ever crossed a drawing-room, when he liked, and was liked;” and in a letter to
Moore, he says,—“Shelley, who is another bugbear to you and the world, is to my knowledge the least selfish, and the mildest of men,—a man who has made more sacrifices to his fortune and feelings than any I have ever heard of. With his speculative opinions I have nothing in common, nor desire to have.”

And yet, notwithstanding these private testimonials to his worth, Lord Byron, in some preface or note of his, on which I cannot lay my hand, where he enumerates those friends whom he had met, or made, abroad, does not include Shelley among the number; and moreover says, that the sooner any other acquaintance whom he has made on the continent should cease, so much the better. I quote from memory, but it is the tenor of his words. How unmanly and unworthy a truckling to Hobhouse, Moore, &c, who did not like to have their names coupled with
Shelley’s in the same sentence! what servile deference to the opinion of the world!!

The Counts Gamba and Pietro, the father and brother of the Countess Guiccioli, formed also an addition to Shelley’s circle. The former was a plain country gentleman, retired and simple in his manners, and of a melancholy and taciturnity natural to an exile, of his age, from his own country, which none love so ardently as the Italians. The passion of the younger Foscoli for Venice is by no means overcharged. Pietro was, as Lady Blessington says, an amiable man, and was adored by his sister. The last time I saw him was at Genoa, shortly after Shelley’s death, whither he had preceded Lord Byron, having been sent out of Tuscany, for some affray with one of the noble lord’s retainers; and I may here add that he afterwards accompanied him to Greece, and brought home Byron’s remains; on which occasion Mr. Hobhouse stood godfather to a work of his on Byron of little merit, or interest. He was a man of no talent, but pleasing
and agreeable, and carried with him the passport of a very handsome person. There was also at Pisa this winter, a
Baron Lutzerode, one of the chamberlains of one of the Princes of Saxe, then on a visit to the Grand Duke. This German baron, to whom it may be remembered Byron gave an impression of a sentimental seal and his autograph, was not unfrequently at Shelley’s. He would be a poet, and had written a poem entitled “The Swan Song of the Priest-Murderer,” which he wished Shelley much to translate, and which, with his good nature and love of obliging, he one day did attempt, but found the task not to be accomplished. Shelley used to laugh heartily at the strange title.

During the carnival, we took, in conjunction with Lord Byron, a box at the opera, but he never frequented it, nor the Countess Guiccioli, who devoted herself to consoling her father. Shelley sometimes assisted at the representation, for he was very partial to music. Sinclair, the celebrated tenor, had an engagement, and elec-
trified the house in the duo (I forget the name of the opera) of—
Cio che tu brami, Io bramo,
Non aviam che un’ cuore.
But his pronunciation was bad, and his acting, like
Braham’s, very indifferent, as is the case with many singers. His voice possessed a wonderful sweetness and melody, though not much compass, but in a private room, where we sometimes heard him at Mrs. Beauclerc’s, he was delightful. He was able to appreciate, and used to speak in raptures of Shelley’s Lyrics, and thought them highly adapted to be set to music, and was desirous of doing so; but whether he carried his design into execution, I know not.* Mrs. Williams, who was an accomplished singer, and player on the harp, guitar, and piano, greatly added to the charm of our soirees, sometimes varied by “bout-rimés” On one occasion, I remember a remarkable instance of Shelley’s facility and exercise of ima-

* At Fox’s chapel, in Finsbury, I heard two of Shelley’s sublime effusions in praise of Liberty, Virtue, and Love, sung, as set to hymns. Tempore mutantur.

gination. A word was chosen, and all the rhymes to it in the language, and they were very numerous, set down, without regard to their corresponding meanings, and in a few minutes he filled in the blanks with a beautifully fanciful poem, which, probably, no one preserved, though now I should highly prize such a relic!

I passed much of my time in Shelley’s domestic circle, dining with him most days. He was, as I have said, most abstemious in his diet,—utterly indifferent to the luxuries of the table, and, although he had been obliged for his health to discontinue his Pythagorean system, he still almost lived on bread, fruit, and vegetables. Wine, like Hazlitt, he never touched with his lips; Hazlitt had abandoned it from a vow, having once injured his constitution by excess; but as to Shelley, it would have been too exciting for his brain. He was essentially a water-drinker, and his choice of Pisa, and his continuance there, had been, and were directed, as I have said, by its purity,—the stream being brought from the mountains many miles distant, by the pic-
turesque aqueduct that crosses the plain from above the Baths of St. Julian. Shelley was a man of the nicest habits,—the most scrupulous nicety in his person; invariably, whatever might be his occupation, making his toilette for dinner, during the interval between which he wrote his letters on his knees. His correspondents, as may be seen by the second volume of his
Prose Works, were not numerous. His pen flowed on with extraordinary rapidity on these occasions, and without a moment’s pause, his mind was mirrored on the paper—and beautiful, indeed, was his epistolary style, nor less bold and beautiful his hand-writing, which is said by some to be a distinguishing mark of character. His hand was very early formed, and never altered,—as will appear by the autograph of a letter written when he was ten years of age, contained in appendix to Vol. I. His letters, unlike Byron’s, were the expression of his soul in all its sincerity. At other times, he would read what Mrs. Shelley had been writing during the
day, in whose progress he took great delight and interest, now and then altering in pencil a word. She was then engaged in her novel of Castruccio, afterwards called
Valpurga, a title substituted for the first by Godwin, for whose benefit it was designed, and produced, it appears, £400,—at least that sum had been offered by Ollier, Shelley’s publisher. That was “the Golden age” of novelists; but Valpurga was a talented work, full of eloquence and beauty and poetry, lost on the world of readers of fiction, as a favourite dramatist told me good writing was for the stage, and as much militating against its success with the public.

During dinner, he almost invariably had a book by his side. In respect of the table, he differed from Byron, who was in his heart a bon vivant, and only mortified his palate from a fear of getting fat, in which he ultimately succeeded to his heart’s desire, for, at Genoa, he had become skeletonly thin, as may be seen by a silouette of Mrs. Hunt’s, and Lady Blessington’s description
of his person, which she compares to that of an overgrown schoolboy. Occasionally
Mrs. Shelley used to read with the Grand Duchess, and, some years afterwards, at the Court of Florence, the duchess spoke of her to me in the kindest terms, and of Shelley, with whose writings she seemed familiar, and said she thought him unjustly calumniated, for he had left behind him at Pisa the memory of his virtues and benevolence. To Byron the duchess made no allusion. She remembered the affair of Sergeant-major Masi. But speaking of dinners, I must not forget to mention those of Byron, and which, though Shelley did no justice to their good fare, he enjoyed as much as any of the party. At one of these repasts, or rather before dinner, as we were sitting in his studio, the conversation happening to turn on longevity, Byron offered Shelley a bet of £1000 on that of Lady Noel against Sir Timothy Shelley’s, and which wager Shelley at once accepted. Not many weeks had elapsed, when her ladyship died, and we all thought that
Byron would have paid the debt, or at least have offered to pay it—but he neither did one nor the other. It is my decided opinion that Shelley would have refused to receive the money, but it ought to have been proffered; and I have little doubt that had the baronet died the first, Shelley would have acted differently. That Byron would have taken the sum of course no one can say.
Williams (who with two other English gentlemen, was present,) was highly indignant at, and disgusted with Lord Byron, and never afterwards entered his doors,—a circumstance Byron lamented to me, for he knew him to be a highly honourable and gentlemanly man; saying, “he could not conceive the reason of his avoiding him!” I mentioned in my memoir of Shelley, which appeared in the Athenæum, the circumstance of this bet, and an anonymous writer questioned it by saying, that it was recorded in Moore’s Life that Lord Byron did pay a bet to Captain Hay of £50. Had a similar wager been laid with, and lost to the same gen-
tleman, there is no question what the result would have been,—Lord Byron would have acted as he did in 18—. This “Constant Reader,” as he calls himself, accuses me of garbling—me of all people! as if the charge laid at my door had not been of saying too much, rather than too little. The new accusation came strangely enough (it did come through
Mr. Moore,) from a friend of Mr. Moore, who, if he had ever opened a page of that said Life of Byron, must have perceived at a glance that scarce an epistolary, or other scrap contained in it is there given in an ungarbled and unmutilated state. Lord Byron says, in another of his letters, “that he had rather Moore edited him than any other person;” but does his unknown friend really think, that if Lord Byron had dreamed of the possibility of his being Deiphobized—of undergoing the cruel operation he has in Mr. Moore’s hands, that he would have continued to correspond with Mr. Moore; or that if the autobiography was destined to be made an auto da fé
(though it was first carefully copied by the particular and recorded injunctions of Lord Byron,) it would have been presented to him at all? Can Mr. Moore fancy that Lord Byron, who was not only reckless of his own reputation—of what the world thought of him—but equally regardless of what he thought of others, that he, whose favourite dogma was “Everybody hates everybody who, through a spirit of mischief-making, wished to convert friends into foes by his indiscreet revelations—cared about the curtain being withdrawn, so as to give them and the public a peep behind the scenes? No! Byron delighted in the idea, that these memoirs, written expressly for publication after his death, would make the world stare, and set everybody by the ears. When Mr. Moore accepted the precious present, the Autobiography, he virtually bound himself to its appearance, nor ought the influence of any person to have induced him to suppress (in this instance suppression was equal to destruction,) the sacred deposit. I shall not stop to inquire what equivalent (report says two
thousand pounds,) he received for this act of squeamishness.

What figure would the Conversations of Dr. Johnson cut at the present day, had Boswell been as scrupulous as Mr. Moore? how emasculated would such hacking and maiming have rendered them! Such, to the generality of readers, to all but the initiated; must this Life of Byron appear—what will it be some years hence? It will defy a Croker. Certain it is, that were Lord Byron to rise up again, he would be at a loss to recognise his style or sentiments in this olla podrida, never surely would it have entered into his contemplations, that his friend Moore would have drawn a chaste pen through expressions un peu trop forts; but should such a thought have entered his brain, he would have burst into one of his sardonic grins, and have drawled out the quotation applied by Southey to some one, in some number of the Quarterly,—
Fall to your prayers, dear Tom!
How ill, &c.


It is vain to attempt to conceal, or whitewash Lord Byron’s opinions of men or things in general. Every coming day will let us more into the mysteries of Eleusis. Mr. Moore reminds us of the painter, who in a portrait of Cardinal Wolsey, drew him in profile, that his blind eye might not be seen.

But of what nature were the Confessions in that sacrificed Autobiography? It could not have been so highly objectionable in matter, or manner, for it was seen by Shelley, Washington Irving, Douglas Kinnaird, Sir Godfrey Webster, and more than all, by Lady Burghersh, now Lady Westmoreland, and probably by a dozen others; and hence the presumption is, that the letters themselves, which have given rise to this episode, were not so very strong or very bad as Mr. Moore’s innumerable asterisks lead the reader to suppose, whose imagination is now left to run riot to an indefinite extent, by knowing that the writer was Byron, and that they were penned to the author of Little’s Poems.


I take my leave of the “Constant Reader,” by telling him, that I have just discovered that, his friend the biographer, by a strange lapsus plumæ, after the translated paper headed “Göthe and Byron,” leaves the reader more than doubtful, whether it was not addressed to Lord Byron himself. That communication was made to me in German, in 1825, and I possess the precious original in the autograph of Göthe himself; who has done me the honour to mention me several times in his works. This letter must have found its way into Mr. Moore’s pages, from his having consulted a certain appendix, in order to strengthen a diluted volume with one of the most valuable things in mine, a specimen of petty larceny in literature one would imagine so exercised a writer would have been deterred from, under the apprehension of the lex talionis.

I am at a loss to account for the inveteracy with which I was assailed by the press, through the influence of the all-mighty bibliopolist, and
of the persevering attempts that were for a time but too successfully exerted, to cast doubts on the authenticity of
Byron’s Conversations. Much credit is due to the publisher, for this very ingenious, and to him useful policy. The fact is, that Messrs. Moore, Murray, and Hobhouse, looked upon Lord Byron as their heirloom, his remains as their private property, and were highly indignant that any one else should presume to know anything about their noble friend. Considering how fond Byron was of mystifying, it is most singular, that almost every anecdote contained in my unpresuming sketch, should have been subsequently confirmed by his letters or journals. These conversations were, as may be seen by any one who has the curiosity to examine the MSS., taken down day by day, and only cost three weeks in transcribing. The subjects he discussed were mostly new to me, who had passed some years abroad. The persons of whom he spoke, totally unknown to me; and it is monstrous to
suppose that I could have invented of Murray and others, the strange things therein contained. Byron could not have been, however, on the good terms with his publisher, that gentleman wished to make out, when the poet could give me, on leaving Pisa, a memorandum to read to Mr. Murray’s head clerk, (and which I did read in his shop,) couched in no very friendly or measured terms. The circumstance of such a memorandum being given unopened, proves, at all events, no great delicacy on the part of his noble patron, on whom he soon after revenged himself by circulating about town, in a lithographic autograph, a passage from one of his letters, beginning, “I must pay for the——by the sweat of my brow, &c., &c.” Hobhouse says that Byron’s language was as choice as his words were few. Such perhaps this letter appeared to Mr. Hobhouse. Enough!

But Byron’s mystifications were not confined to his contemporaries, I have a note of a conversation which escaped me, with him and Shelley on
Dante. When it suited Byron’s purpose in defence of his
Prophecy of Dante, (see Moore’s Life, p. 123,) he could talk a very different language; though the expression of the opinions here orally detailed, correspond with the sentiments contained in a note to Don Juan.

“The Divine Comedy,” said he, “is a scientific treatise of some theological student, one moment treating of angels, and the next of demons, far the most interesting personages in his Drama; shewing that he had a better conception of Hell than Heaven; in fact, the Inferno is the only one of the trilogy that is read. It is true,” he added, “it might have pleased his contemporaries, and been sung about the streets, as were the poems of Homer; but at the present day, either human nature is very much changed, or the poem is so obscure, tiresome, and insupportable, that no one can read it for half-an-hour together without yawning, and going to sleep over it like Malagigi; and the hundred times I have made the attempt to read
it, I have lost my labour. If we except the ‘Pecchie chi useino del chiuso,’—the simile, ‘Come d’autunno si levan le foglie,’—the Francesca di Rimini, the words, ‘Colore oscuro,’ &c., inscribed on the portal of Hell,—the Death of Ugolino—the ‘Si volge al’ aqua,’ &c., and a dozen other passages, what is the rest of this very comic Divine Comedy? ‘A great poem! you call it;’ a great poem indeed! That should have a uniformity of design, a combination of facts, all contributing to the development of the whole. The action should go on increasing in beauty and power and interest.

“Has the Divina Comedia any of these characteristics? Who can read with patience, fourteen thousand lines, made up of prayers, dialogues, and questions, without sticking fast in the bogs and quicksands, and losing his way in the thousand turns and windings of the inextricable labyrinths of his three-times-nine circles? and of these fourteen thousand lines, more than two-thirds are, by the confession of Fregoni, Algarotti, and Bettinello, defective and bad; and yet, despite
of this, the Italians carry their pedantry and national pride to such a length, as to set up
Dante as the standard of perfection, to consider Dante as made for all time; and think, as Leigh Hunt and the Cockneys do of Shakspeare, that the language came to a stand-still with the god of their idolatry, and want to go back to him.”

That Shelley did not agree with Lord Byron in this criticism, I need scarcely observe. He admitted, however, as already recorded, that the Divine Comedy was a misty and extravagant fiction, and redeemed only by its “Fortunate Isles, laden with golden fruit.” “But,” said he, “remember the time in which he wrote. He was a giant.
Quel signor del’ altissimo canto,
Chi sovra gli altri come aquila vola.
Read the
Paradiso, and parts of the Purgatorio, especially the meeting with Matilda.”

He afterwards told me that the more he read Dante, he the more admired him.


He says in his Letters, p. 225, that he excelled all poets, except Shakspeare, in tenderness, sublimity, and ideal beauty. In his Defence of Poetry, Shelley calls the Apotheosis of Beatrice in the Paradiso, and the gradations of his own love and her loveliness, by which, as by steps, he figures himself to have ascended to the throne of the Supreme Cause, as the most glowing images of modern poetry; calls the Paradiso a perfect hymn of everlasting love, and the poetry of Dante the bridge thrown over the stream of time, which unites the modern and ancient world. Nay, more, he admired Dante as the first reformer, and classes him with Luther, calling him the first awakener of Europe, and the creator of a language in itself music.

It was during the latter part of my stay at Pisa, that Byron formed his design of building a yacht. Shelley, whom he consulted in all his private affairs, settled the price of the vessel, to be built under the superintendence of the naval architect of the Darsena at
Genoa. His own passion for boating, already strong enough, was doubly excited by this idea of
Byron’s. Williams contributed also to foster the passion, and being acquainted with Captain Roberts, (the son of the celebrated Roberts, who commanded one of Capt. Cook’s ships in his voyage round the world,) corresponded with him on the subject, and the consequence was, that a schooner, but on a much smaller scale, was ordered. The shape of the boat, modelled after one of the man-of-war boats in the dock-yard, with some variations in the build, was at length approved of. Her dimensions were to be twenty-four feet long, eight broad, and drawing four feet of water. She was a beautiful craft on paper, but to my mind far from safe, for her ballast, two tons of lead, was to be let into her keel. Any one acquainted with boating, must know that the only good ballast is live ballast, as it is called,—water casks, that can be shifted starboard or larboard, according to the reeling of the vessel, and which,
in cases of emergency, can be thrown overboard to lighten her; a ballast indeed that scarcely requires this, for it will float. I need not enlarge on this topic, but how far my criticism was justified by the event, will soon appear.

After a parting dinner given me by Byron, I took leave of my friends, with a promise of seeing them in the summer. Williams seemed to me in a rapid decline, but Shelley’s health was wonderfully improved, and he exhibited no symptoms of any disease that caused apprehension. His spirits, too, were comparatively good, and he was looking forward—that gave a stimulus to them—to the arrival of Leigh Hunt, of whom he frequently spoke with the warmest regard, and often took a delight in looking at a portrait of him, which he had received during my first visit.

A few days from my arrival at Rome, on the 20th March, there had occurred a circumstance at Pisa, which caused a great sensation among the English,—ever ready and willing to believe
anything against
Lord Byron,—owing to a misstatement of the facts in the Courier Français, and several other papers, among the rest Galignani’s Messenger, in which it was stated, that in a quarrel between Lord Byron and an officer of dragoons, a servant of Lord Byron’s had stabbed him, and that he had died of his wounds. This story, though I did not credit it, greatly annoyed me, and I immediately wrote to Lord Byron for the particulars, in order that I might contradict it from authority; in answer to which he sent me by return of post the affidavits of Shelley and the rest of the party present, who it seems had been grossly insulted, not by an officer, but one Sergeant-major Masi, who, though they were unarmed, struck some of them with his sabre, especially Shelley, who received a cut on his head that felled him from his horse. According to another affidavit of Mr. Crawford, “as they were all riding together after this rencontre, on the Lung’ Arno, where a crowd was collected, high words passing between Lord
Byron and the Sergeant-major, who was about to cut him down with his sword, Lord Byron’s servants, who were waiting for their master at the door of the Lanfranchi palace, dragged the aggressor off his horse into the hall, and then one of them slightly wounded him with a pitchfork.”
Mr. Moore seems to have suppressed Lord Byron’s letters on this subject, on which he could not have failed to have written. The tranquillity at Pisa, owing to this unlucky squabble, had been much disturbed, not only by anxiety about the life of the sergeant-major, but by the many sinister reports and suspicions, however ill-founded, to which that affair gave rise. Although the wounded man recovered, his friends vowed vengeance with the dagger, not only on Lord Byron, but on Shelley, and all the English who had formed the cavalcade. The judicial enquiry too was most annoying; all Lord Byron’s servants, except the coachman, were arrested, but no evidence being adduced against them, they were released.


Lord Byron was advised by the police to quit Pisa for a time. He complied, and took a villa at Monte Nero, near Leghorn; but after a six weeks abode there returned to the Casa Lanfranchi.

Lord Byron, naturally kind and benevolent, treated his domestics less like menials than equals, and hence the zeal, which, after the manner of the Italian retainers of old, often, as on this occasion, overstepped the bounds of devotion, they displayed. The Tuscan police are not very remarkable for clear-sightedness, and overlooked the right culprit. Some years afterwards, when I was at Sienna, a mendicant with a wooden leg, who was begging his way to Rome, his native city, called on me for alms, and when I had given him a trifle, said,—“Do you not remember me? I was Lord Byron’s coachman at Pisa, and used to drive you and Signor Shelley every day to the Contadino’s.”

The man was so much changed, that it was
some time before I could recognise his features; but at length did so, and after some conversation, he confessed with all the pride of a Guelph or Ghibilline, that he had avenged his master’s insult.

A few months after, I related to the Countess Guiccioli, at Florence, this anecdote, and she told me that a man answering my description had also called on her, but that she thought him an impostor. He, however, told me so many things which could only be known by an individual in Lord Byron’s service, that I entertain no doubt of his identity. He spoke of Shelley’s being at Ravenna before his lord’s departure, of the fondness of little Allegra for Shelley, her being sent to the convent at Ravenna, and I know not what besides, respecting his master’s Franciscas and Katinkas, who have been immortalised in the page of Moore, and with their portraits so splendidly engraved, will go down to posterity with the Fornarina.