LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Last Days of Lord Byron
Chapter VII

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
‣ Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
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“Lord Byron awoke in half an hour. I wished to go to him, but I had not the heart.
Mr. Parry went, and Byron knew him again, and squeezed his hand, and tried to
express his last wishes.”—Count Gamba’s Narrative.



Lord Byron’s partiality for practical jokes—Mode of curing ill-timed gallantry—An artificial earthquake—His shooting amusements—Greek scolds—His motley regiment—His description of it—Punishment of polygamy—Lord Byron’s frankness—Tells Prince Mavrocordato I had abused him—Adventure with the Turkish women—Anecdote of a Greek peasant woman.

In this chapter I shall bring together a few of Lord Byron’s familiar acts, illustrative of his character. It may be as well to remind the reader before he peruses them, of the noble birth and neglected education of Lord Byron. Should he at the same time be acquainted with the conduct in general of young men of Lord Byron’s rank, he will not I think find much to censure in some of the practical but harmless jokes he sometimes played off on others. I mean not to defend such practices, on principle, and I think nothing is more deserving of reprobation, than for a man in any situation to sport with the feelings of those who dare not retaliate. If Lord Byron was in one instance guilty of this, he may well be excused by the
example of others; and he had what they have not, both talents and virtues to redeem his faults. He was at his death only a young man, and had not lost all those buoyant and fervid spirits which distinguished his youth. In Greece, though he was surrounded with difficulties, they grew not out of his own conduct, and could not be removed by his efforts. He might have left the country, and thus have escaped from them, but this his pride or his honour forbade; and we cannot severely condemn him for sometimes having recourse to a species of amusement to forget them, which, under other circumstances, no man would approve of. The following specimens of these practical jokes may perhaps satisfy the reader’s curiosity.

One of Lord Byron’s household had on more than one occasion involved himself and his master in perplexity and trouble by his unrestrained attachment to women. In Greece this had been very annoying, and induced Lord Byron to think of a means of curing it. A young Suliote of the guard was accordingly dressed up like a woman, and instructed to place himself in the way of the amorous swain. The bait took, and after some communication, had rather by signs than by words, for the pair did not understand each other’s language, the sham lady was carefully conducted by the gallant to one of Lord Byron’s
apartments. Here the couple were surprised by an enraged Suliote, an husband provided for the occasion, accompanied by half a dozen of his comrades, whose presence and threats terrified the poor lacquey almost out of his senses. The noise of course brought Lord Byron to the spot, to laugh at the tricked serving man, and rescue him from the effects of his terror.

A few days after the earthquake, which took place on February 21st, as we were all sitting at table in the evening, we were suddenly alarmed by a noise and a shaking of the house, somewhat similar to that which we had experienced when the earthquake occurred. Of course all started from their places, and there was the same kind of confusion as on the former evening, at which Byron, who was present, laughed immoderately; we were re-assured by this, and soon learnt that the whole was a method he had adopted to sport with our fears.

Over the room where we were sitting, he had placed a number of Suliotes, who had been instructed, at a given signal, to catch hold of the rafters and jump on the floor with all their weight, so as to shake the house. They were on this point ready pupils, and effectually accomplished Lord Byron’s wishes, by frightening the whole of the persons not let into the secret.

I have been accused of gaining an influence
Lord Byron, by submitting to be his butt. The accusation is as injurious to his character as to mine; and, probably, as, I cannot deny that I was one of the persons with whom he thus sported on this occasion, it is on this circumstance that the accusation is founded. But I did not submit to this practical joke without making those remonstrances, threatening to quit his Lordship’s service, if such jokes were repeated, which were the only arms I could use. I may say, being a veteran in the service, that when dangers are to be encountered which courage enables a man to surmount, I am not defective in this moral quality; but I am yet to learn if it be disgraceful to be terrified at so unlooked-for and so overwhelming a calamity; I am yet to learn if it be disgraceful to hasten from crumbling buildings, and seek that safety which flight may, but which nothing else can give. I own that I thought then, as I think now, that this was carrying a joke somewhat too far; for perhaps of all visitations an earthquake, from its suddenness, from the almost impossibility of escape, and from the wide-spread devastation it occasions, scarcely sparing the reason of those who witness it and survive, is the most terrific. If there be in nature one legitimate source for a panic, it must be the apprehension of an earthquake. We had all seen the ruins of one at Zante, we had heard of another at Aleppo, and
consequently in Greece, a more unfit subject for a joke like the one I have described, cannot be conceived. So I told
Lord Byron; and I have reason to believe, if he had before met with similar reproof, when he indulged in similar tricks, he would never have incurred the disgrace which belongs to him for this.

Opposite to Lord Byron’s quarters was a house built in the Turkish fashion, having little turrets, on the top of which were a number of small ornaments. The house was inhabited chiefly by women. One of Lord Byron’s most frequent amusements was to shoot at these ornaments with his pistols; and he was so expert, that he seldom missed. Before his death the house was entirely stripped of all its honours. Every time he fired however, the report brought forth some of the women, who scolded most vehemently in the Greek language, proving, as he said, that it had not lost any of its Billingsgate since the time of Homer’s heroes. The women seemed glad of the opportunity of giving free license to their tongues, and Byron said he liked so much to hear and see them, that he would not be without the sport for a considerable sum.

The regiment, or rather the brigade we formed, can be described only as he himself described it. There was a Greek tailor, who had been in the British service in the Ionian islands, where he
had married an Italian woman. This lady knowing something of the military service, petitioned
Lord Byron to appoint her husband master-tailor of the brigade. The suggestion was useful, and this part of her petition was immediately granted. At the same time however she solicited that she might be permitted to raise a corps of women, to be placed under her orders, to accompany the regiment. She stipulated for free quarters and rations for them, but rejected all claim for pay. They were to be free of all incumbrances, and were to wash, sew, cook, and otherwise provide for the men. The proposition pleased Lord Byron, and stating the matter to me, said he hoped I should have no objection. I had been accustomed to see women accompany the English army, and I knew that though sometimes an incumbrance, they were on the whole more beneficial than otherwise. In Greece there were many circumstances, which would make their services extremely valuable, and I gave my consent to the measure. The tailor’s wife did accordingly recruit a considerable number of unincumbered women, of almost all nations, but principally Greeks, Italians, Maltese, and negresses. “I was afraid,” said Lord Byron, “when I mentioned this matter to you, you would be crusty, and oppose it,—it is the very thing. Let me see, my corps outdoes Falstaff’s: there
are English, Germans, French, Maltese, Ragusians, Italians, Neapolitans, Transylvanians, Russians, Suliotes, Moreotes, and Western Greeks, in front, and to bring up the rear, the tailor’s wife and her troop. Glorious Apollo! no general had ever before such an army.”

Lord Byron had a black groom with him in Greece, an American by birth, to whom he was very partial*. He always insisted on this man’s calling him Massa, whenever he spoke to him. On one occasion, the groom met with two women of his own complexion, who had been slaves to the Turks and liberated, but had been left almost to starve when the Greeks had risen on their tyrants. Being of the same colour was a bond of sympathy between them and the groom, and he applied to me to give both these women quarters in the seraglio. I granted the application, and mentioned it to Lord Byron, who laughed at the gallantry of his groom, and ordered that he should be brought before him at ten o’clock the next day, to answer for his presumption in making such an application.

At ten o’clock accordingly he attended his master with great trembling and fear, but stuttered so when he attempted to speak, that he could not make himself understood; Lord Byron endeavouring, almost in vain, to preserve his

* This man died in London a short time back.

gravity, reproved him severely for his presumption. Blacky stuttered a thousand excuses, and was ready to do any thing to appease his massa’s anger. His great yellow eyes wide open, he trembling from head to foot, his wandering and stuttering excuses, his visible dread, all tended to provoke laughter, and Lord Byron, fearing his own dignity would be hove overboard, told him to hold his tongue, and listen to his sentence. I was commanded to enter it in his memorandum book, and then he pronounced in a solemn tone of voice, while blacky stood aghast, expecting some severe punishment, the following doom. “My determination is, that the children born of these black women, of which you may be the father, shall be my property, and I will maintain them. What say you?” “Go—Go—God bless you, massa, may you live great while,” stuttered out the groom, and sallied forth to tell the good news to the two distressed women.

Lord Byron was a remarkably sincere and frank man, and harboured no thought concerning another he did not express to him. Whatever he had to say of or against any man, that he said, on the first opportunity, openly, and to his face. Neither could he bear concealment in others. If one person were to speak of a third party in his presence, he would be sure to repeat
Lord Byron’s Frankness159
it the first time the two opponents were in presence of one another. This was a habit of which his acquaintance were well aware, and it spared Lord Byron the trouble of listening to a mob of idle and degrading calumnies. He probably expected by it, to teach others that sincerity he prized so highly; at the same time, he was not insensible to pleasure, at seeing the confusion of the party exposed.

This trait in his Lordship’s character has been mentioned by some of his biographers with dispraise, as a proof of weakness, and even treachery. But I believe Lord Byron never betrayed any confidence, he only exposed tattling calumniators, to prove or retract their accusations in the presence of the party calumniated. Those who have most complained of this trait, have been insincere men, bred up in what are called polite habits, which mainly consist in telling falsehoods to a man’s face to flatter him, and telling falsehoods behind his back, to make him appear ridiculous; such hollow fashionable insincerity, Lord Byron delighted to expose. Many such instances are not before the public, because the individual dear Friends concerned have not been very willing to let the world into the secret of their friendships. They have been contented with blaming this part of his Lordship’s character, and have wished it to be in-
ferred that he betrayed some confidence, while he only exposed the hollowness of fashionable lying, and the mutual insincerity and hatred of some very dear, but pretended friends.

I may give an instance of this part of Lord Byron’s character, in which I was implicated. At the time, I confess, I was extremely indignant, but I have since thought the proceeding was calculated to effect two admirable ends. To me, were it in my nature to be prudent and discreet, it might have taught caution and discretion. To Prince Mavrocordato and the Greeks, it probably conveyed a lesson, which Lord Byron could have found no better means of giving them; and were it possible by teaching to make them energetic and provident, it might have shewed them that these were qualities in which, according to the opinions of others, they were deficient.

When the Turkish fleet was lying off Cape Papa, blockading Missolonghi, I was one day ordered by Lord Byron to accompany him to the mouth of the harbour to inspect the fortifications, in order to make a report on the state they were in. He and I were in his own punt, a little boat which he had, rowed by a boy; and in a large boat, accompanying us, were Prince Mavrocordato and his attendants. As I was viewing, on one hand, the Turkish fleet attentively, and reflecting on its powers, and our means of de-
fence; and looking on the other, at Prince Mavrocordato and his attendants, perfectly unconcerned, smoking their pipes and gossiping, as if Greece were liberated and at peace, and Missolonghi in a state of complete security; I could not help giving vent to a feeling of contempt and indignation.

“What is the matter,” said his Lordship, appearing to be very serious, “what makes you so angry, Parry?”

“I am not angry,” I replied, “my Lord, but somewhat indignant. The Turks, if they were not the most stupid wretches breathing, might take the fort of Vasaladi, by means of two pinnaces, any night they pleased; they have only to approach it with muffled oars, they will not be heard, I will answer for their not being seen, and they may storm it in a few minutes. With eight gun-boats properly armed with 24-pounders, they might batter both Missolonghi and Anatolica to the ground. And there sits the old gentlewoman, Prince Mavrocordato and his troop, to whom I applied an epithet I will not here repeat, as if they were all perfectly safe. They know their means of defence are inadequate, and they have no means of improving them. If I were in their place, I should be in a fever at the thought of my own incapacity and ignorance, and I should burn with impatience to attempt the destruction
of those stupid Turkish rascals. The Greeks and the Turks are opponents, worthy by their imbecility, of each other.”

I had scarcely explained myself fully, when his Lordship ordered our boat to be placed alongside the other, and actually related our whole conversation to the Prince. In doing it however, he took on himself the task of pacifying both the Prince and me, and though I was at first very angry, and the Prince I believe, very much annoyed, he succeeded. Mavrocordato afterwards shewed no dissatisfaction with me, and I prized Lord Byron’s regard too much, to remain long displeased with a proceeding which was only an unpleasant manner of reproving us both.

Lord Byron was very fond of talking with me on national character and national peculiarities, and seemed, from the manner in which he combated my English prejudices,—and which, I confess, are very strong, for I love England, and am proud of the name of an Englishman,—to delight in the praises of his native land. Of Lord Byron’s writings, and the sentiments expressed in them, I give no opinion, but I am sure that, in his heart, he was an Englishman, and warmly and deeply attached to his country. In one of these conversations, some of which are reported in another place, I had maintained, that there were no other people in the world, but Englishmen, whose eyes
ever filled with tears of sympathy at hearing a well-told pathetic tale, or at witnessing distress. Of course it pleased his Lordship to contend against this opinion, and to say that he was an Englishman, and quite unaccustomed to shed tears on any such occasion. I told him I was sure of the contrary, and that I should at some time or other detect him weeping over distress he could not relieve, or with pleasure at having relieved it. My prediction was verified.

On one occasion he had saved twenty-four Turkish women and children from slavery and all its accompanying horrors. I was summoned to attend him and receive his orders, that every thing should be done which might contribute to their comfort. He was seated on a cushion at the upper end of the room, the women and children were standing before him, with their eyes fixed steadily on him, and on his right hand was his interpreter, who was extracting from the women a narrative of their sufferings. One of them, apparently about thirty years of age, possessing great vivacity, and whose manners and dress, though she was then dirty and disfigured, indicated that she was superior, in rank and condition to her companions, was spokeswoman for the whole. I admired the good order the others preserved, never interfering with the explanation or interrupting the single
speaker. I also admired the rapid manner in which the interpreter explained every thing they said, so as to make it almost appear that there was but one speaker.

After a short time it was evident that what Lord Byron was hearing affected his feelings, his countenance changed, his colour went and came, and I thought he was ready to weep. But he had on all occasions a ready and peculiar knack in turning conversation from any disagreeable or unpleasant subject; and he had recourse to this expedient. He rose up suddenly, and turning round on his heel, as was his wont, he said something quickly to his interpreter, who immediately repeated it to the women. All eyes were instantly fixed on me, and one of the party, a young and beautiful woman, spoke very warmly. Lord Byron seemed satisfied, and said they might retire. The women all slipped off their shoes in an instant, and going up to his Lordship, each in succession, accompanied by their children, kissed his hand fervently, invoked, in the Turkish manner, a blessing both on his head and heart, and then quitted the room. This was too much for Lord Byron, and he turned his face away to conceal his emotion. When he had recovered a little, I reminded him of our conversation, and I told him I had caught him at last. Addressing me in the sort of sea
slang I sometimes talked to him, and which he liked to repeat, he replied. “You are right, old boy; you have got me in the bunt—I am an Englishman.”

I afterwards understood, that when Lord Byron had so suddenly changed the topic of conversation, he made the interpreter tell the females that I wanted to form a seraglio, and was looking out for pretty women. The young person I have mentioned, who seemed sensible that she was most concerned in this, inquired vehemently if I were a Greek, and protested if I were, she would suffer instant death rather than submit. Perhaps what Lord Byron said to these unfortunate persons may appear somewhat unfeeling to the reader. I shall however beg leave to remind him of the Turkish mode of wooing, that the phrase “forming a seraglio,” is merely tantamount “to taking a wife,” and that under ordinary circumstances, a young Turkish female would probably hear it with the same sort of pleasure that one of our fair countrywomen would learn that a favourite swain was soliciting for the honour of her hand.

Whether the following little anecdote may be regarded as a proof of the respect in which Lord Byron was held by the people, or only of the natural kindness of the peasantry, I will not de-
cide; but as a mere specimen of their manner, it seems worth mentioning.

He returned one day from his ride more than usually pleased. An interesting countrywoman, with a fine family, had come out of her cottage and presented him with a curd cheese and some honey, and could not be persuaded to accept of payment for it. “I have felt,” he said, “more pleasure this day, and at this circumstance, than for a long time past.” Then describing to me where he had seen her, he ordered me to find her out, and make her a present in return. “The peasantry,” he said, “are by far the most kind, humane, and honest part of the population; they redeem the character of their countrymen. The other classes are so debased by slavery; accustomed, like all slaves, never to speak truth, but only what will please their masters, that they cannot be trusted. Greece would not be worth saving but for the peasantry.”

Lord Byron then sat down to his cheese, and insisted on our partaking of his fare. A bottle of porter was sent for and broached, that we might join Byron in drinking health and happiness to the kind family which had procured him so great a pleasure.