WITH HIS LETTERS AND JOURNALS.
BY THOMAS MOORE, ESQ.
IN SIX VOLUMES.—VOL. II.
LONDON: JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET. 1854.
CONTENTS OF VOL. II.
LETTERS AND JOURNALS OF LORD BYRON, WITH NOTICES OF HIS LIFE, from the Period of his Return from the Continent, July, 1811, to January, 1814.
LIFE OF LORD BYRON.
Having landed the young pilgrim once more in England, it may be worth while, before we accompany him into the scenes that awaited him at home, to consider how far the general character of his mind and disposition may have been affected by the course of travel and adventure, in which he had been, for the last two years, engaged. A life less savouring of poetry and romance than that which he had pursued previously to his departure on his travels, it would be difficult to imagine. In his childhood, it is true, he had been a dweller and wanderer among scenes well calculated, according to the ordinary notion, to implant the first rudiments of poetic feeling. But, though the poet may afterwards feed on the recollection of such scenes, it is more than questionable, as has been already observed, whether he ever has been formed by them. If a childhood, indeed, passed among mountainous scenery were so favourable to the awakening of the imaginative power, both the Welsh, among ourselves, and the Swiss, abroad, ought to rank much higher on the scale of poetic excellence than they do at present. But, even allowing the picturesqueness of his early haunts to have had some share in giving a direction to the fancy of Byron, the actual operation of this influence, whatever it may have been, ceased with his childhood; and the life which he led afterwards during his school-days at Harrow, was,—as naturally the life of so idle and daring a schoolboy must be,—the very reverse of poetical. For a soldier or an adventurer, the course of training through which he then passed would have been perfect;—his athletic sports, his battles, his love of dangerous enterprise, gave every promise of a spirit fit for the most stormy career. But to the meditative pursuits of poesy, these dispositions seemed, of all others, the least friendly; and, however they might promise to render him, at some future time, a subject for bards, gave, assuredly, but little hope of his shining first among bards himself.
The habits of his life at the university were even still less intellectual and literary. While a schoolboy, he had read abundantly and eagerly, though desultorily; but even this discipline of his mind, irregular and undirected as it was, he had, in a great measure, given up, after leaving Harrow; and among the pursuits that occupied his academic hours, those of playing at hazard, sparring, and keeping a bear and bull-dogs, were, if not the most favourite, at least, perhaps, the most innocent. His time in London passed equally unmarked either by mental cultivation or refined amusement. Having no resources in private society, from his total want of friends and connections, he was left to live loosely about town among the loungers in coffee-houses; and to those who remember what his two favourite haunts, Limmer's and Stevens's, were at that period, it is needless to say that, whatever else may have been the merits of these establishments, they were anything but fit schools for the formation of poetic character.
But however incompatible such a life must have been with those habits of contemplation, by which, and which only, the faculties he had already displayed could be ripened, or those that were still latent could be unfolded, yet, in another point of view, the time now apparently squandered by him, was, in after-days, turned most invaluably to account. By thus initiating him into a knowledge of the varieties of human character,—by giving him an insight into the details of society, in their least artificial form,—in short, by mixing him up, thus early, with the world, its business and its pleasures, his London life but contributed its share in forming that wonderful combination which his mind afterwards exhibited, of the imaginative and the practical—the heroic and the humorous—of the keenest and most dissecting views of real life, with the grandest and most spiritualised conceptions of ideal grandeur.
To the same period, perhaps, another predominant characteristic of his maturer mind and writings may be traced. In this anticipated experience of the world which his early mixture with its crowd gave him, it is but little probable that many of the more favourable specimens of human kind should have fallen under his notice. On the contrary, it is but too likely that some of the lightest and least estimable of both sexes may have been among the models, on which, at an age when impressions sink deepest, his earliest judgments of human nature were formed. Hence, probably, those contemptuous and debasing views of humanity with which he was so often led to alloy his noblest tributes to the loveliness and majesty of general nature. Hence the contrast that appeared between the fruits of his imagination and of his experience,—between those dreams, full of beauty and kindliness, with which the one teemed at his bidding, and the dark, desolating bitterness that overflowed when he drew from the other.
Unpromising, however, as was his youth of the high destiny that awaited him, there was one unfailing characteristic of the imaginative order of minds—his love of solitude—which very early gave signs of those habits of self-study and introspection by which alone the "diamond quarries" of genius are worked and brought to light. When but a boy, at Harrow, he had shown this disposition strongly,—being often known, as I have already mentioned, to withdraw himself from his playmates, and sitting alone upon a tomb in the churchyard, give himself up, for hours, to thought. As his mind began to disclose its resources, this feeling grew upon him; and, had his foreign travel done no more than, by detaching him from the distractions of society, to enable him, solitarily and freely, to commune with his own spirit, it would have been an all-important step gained towards the full expansion of his faculties. It was only then, indeed, that he began to feel himself capable of the abstraction which self-study requires, or to enjoy that freedom from the intrusion of others' thoughts, which alone leaves the contemplative mind master of its own. In the solitude of his nights at sea, in his lone wanderings through Greece, he had sufficient leisure and seclusion to look within himself, and there catch the first "glimpses of his glorious mind." One of his chief delights, as he mentioned in his "Memoranda," was, when bathing in some retired spot, to seat himself on a high rock above the sea, and there remain for hours, gazing upon the sky and the waters, and lost in that sort of vague reverie, which, however formless and indistinct at the moment, settled afterwards on his pages, into those clear, bright pictures which will endure for ever.
Were it not for the doubt and diffidence that hang round the first steps of genius, this growing consciousness of his own power, these openings into a new domain of intellect, where he was to reign supreme, must have made the solitary hours of the young traveller one dream of happiness. But it will be seen that, even yet, he distrusted his own strength, nor was at all aware of the height to which the spirit he was now calling up would grow. So enamoured, nevertheless, had he become of these lonely musings, that even the society of his fellow-traveller, though with pursuits so congenial to his own, grew at last to be a chain and a burden on him; and it was not till he stood, companionless, on the shore of the little island in the Aegean, that he found his spirit breathe freely. If any stronger proof were wanting of his deep passion for solitude, we shall find it, not many years after, in his own written avowal, that, even when in the company of the woman he most loved, he not unfrequently found himself sighing to be alone.
It was not only, however, by affording him the concentration necessary for this silent drawing out of his feelings and powers, that travel conduced so essentially to the formation of his poetical character. To the East he had looked, with the eyes of romance, from his very childhood. Before he was ten years of age, the perusal of Rycaut's History of the Turks had taken a strong hold of his imagination, and he read eagerly, in consequence, every book concerning the East he could find. In visiting, therefore, those countries, he was but realising the dreams of his childhood; and this return of his thoughts to that innocent time, gave a freshness and purity to their current which they had long wanted. Under the spell of such recollections, the attraction of novelty was among the least that the scenes, through which he wandered, presented. Fond traces of the past—and few have ever retained them so vividly—mingled themselves with the impressions of the objects before him; and as, among the Highlands, he had often traversed, in fancy, the land of the Moslem, so memory, from the wild hills of Albania, now "carried him back to Morven."
While such sources of poetic feeling were stirred at every step, there was also in his quick change of place and scene—in the diversity of men and manners surveyed by him—in the perpetual hope of adventure and thirst of enterprise, such a succession and variety of ever fresh excitement as not only brought into play, but invigorated, all the energies of his character: as he, himself, describes his mode of living, it was "To-day in a palace, to-morrow in a cow-house—this day with the Pacha, the next with a shepherd." Thus were his powers of observation quickened, and the impressions on his imagination multiplied. Thus schooled, too, in some of the roughnesses and privations of life, and, so far, made acquainted with the flavour of adversity, he learned to enlarge, more than is common in his high station, the circle of his sympathies, and became inured to that manly and vigorous cast of thought which is so impressed on all his writings. Nor must we forget, among these strengthening and animating effects of travel, the ennobling excitement of danger, which he more than once experienced,—having been placed in situations, both on land and sea, well calculated to call forth that pleasurable sense of energy, which perils, calmly confronted, never fail to inspire.
The strong interest which—in spite of his assumed philosophy on this subject in Childe Harold—he took in every thing connected with a life of warfare, found frequent opportunities of gratification, not only on board the English ships of war in which he sailed, but in his occasional intercourse with the soldiers of the country. At Salora, a solitary place on the Gulf of Arta, he once passed two or three days, lodged in a small miserable barrack. Here, he lived the whole time, familiarly, among the soldiers; and a picture of the singular scene which their evenings presented—of those wild, half-bandit warriors, seated round the young poet, and examining with savage admiration his fine Manton gun and English sword—might be contrasted, but too touchingly, with another and a later picture of the same poet, dying, as a chieftain, on the same land, with Suliotes for his guards, and all Greece for his mourners.
It is true, amidst all this stimulating variety of objects, the melancholy which he had brought from home still lingered around his mind. To Mr. Adair and Mr. Bruce, as I have before mentioned, he gave the idea of a person labouring under deep dejection; and Colonel Leake, who was, at that time, resident at Ioannina, conceived very much the same impression of the state of his mind. But, assuredly, even this melancholy, habitually as it still clung to him, must, under the stirring and healthful influences of his roving life, have become a far more elevated and abstract feeling than it ever could have expanded to within reach of those annoyances, whose tendency was to keep it wholly concentrated round self. Had he remained idly at home, he would have sunk, perhaps, into a querulous satirist. But, as his views opened on a freer and wider horizon, every feeling of his nature kept pace with their enlargement; and this inborn sadness, mingling itself with the effusions of his genius, became one of the chief constituent charms not only of their pathos, but their grandeur. For, when did ever a sublime thought spring up in the soul, that melancholy was not to be found, however latent, in its neighbourhood?
We have seen, from the letters written by him on his passage homeward, how far from cheerful or happy was the state of mind in which he returned. In truth, even for a disposition of the most sanguine cast, there was quite enough in the discomforts that now awaited him in England, to sadden its hopes, and check its buoyancy. "To be happy at home," says Johnson, "is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends." But Lord Byron had no home,—at least none that deserved this endearing name. A fond family circle, to accompany him with its prayers, while away, and draw round him, with listening eagerness, on his return, was what, unluckily, he never knew, though with a heart, as we have seen, by nature formed for it. In the absence, too, of all that might cheer and sustain, he had every thing to encounter that could distress and humiliate. To the dreariness of a home without affection, was added the burden of an establishment without means; and he had thus all the embarrassments of domestic life, without its charms. His affairs had, during his absence, been suffered to fall into confusion, even greater than their inherent tendency to such a state warranted. There had been, the preceding year, an execution on Newstead, for a debt of 1500l. owing to the Messrs. Brothers, upholsterers; and a circumstance told of the veteran, Joe Murray, on this occasion, well deserves to be mentioned. To this faithful old servant, jealous of the ancient honour of the Byrons, the sight of the notice of sale, pasted up on the abbey-door, could not be otherwise than an unsightly and intolerable nuisance. Having enough, however, of the fear of the law before his eyes, not to tear the writing down, he was at last forced, as his only consolatory expedient, to paste a large piece of brown paper over it.
Notwithstanding the resolution, so recently expressed by Lord Byron, to abandon for ever the vocation of authorship, and leave "the whole Castalian state" to others, he was hardly landed in England when we find him busily engaged in preparations for the publication of some of the poems which he had produced abroad. So eager was he, indeed, to print, that he had already, in a letter written at sea, announced himself to Mr. Dallas, as ready for the press. Of this letter, which, from its date, ought to have preceded some of the others that have been given, I shall here lay before the reader the most material parts.
[Footnote 1: To this he alludes in those beautiful stanzas,
"To sit on rocks, to muse o'er flood and fell," &c.
Alfieri, before his dramatic genius had yet unfolded itself, used to pass hours, as he tells us, in this sort of dreaming state, gazing upon the ocean:—"Apres le spectacle un de mes amusemens, a Marseille, etait de me baigner presque tous les soirs dans la mer. J'avais trouve un petit endroit fort agreable, sur une langue de terre placee a droite hors du port, ou, en m'asseyant sur le sable, le dos appuye contre un petit rocher qui empechait qu'on ne put me voir du cote de la terre, je n'avais plus devant moi que le ciel et la mer. Entre ces deux immensites qu'embellissaient les rayons d'un soleil couchant, je passai en revant des heures delicieuses; et la, je serais devenu poete, si j'avais su ecrire dans une langue quelconque."]
[Footnote 2: But a few months before he died, in a conversation with Maurocordato at Missolonghi, Lord Byron said—"The Turkish History was one of the first books that gave me pleasure when a child; and I believe it had much influence on my subsequent wishes to visit the Levant, and gave perhaps the oriental colouring which is observed in my poetry."—COUNT GAMBA's Narrative.
In the last edition of Mr. D'Israeli's work on "the Literary Character," that gentleman has given some curious marginal notes, which he found written by Lord Byron in a copy of this work that belonged to him. Among them is the following enumeration of the writers that, besides Rycaut, had drawn his attention so early to the East:—
"Knolles, Cantemir, De Tott, Lady M.W. Montague, Hawkins's Translation from Mignot's History of the Turks, the Arabian Nights, all travels, or histories, or books upon the East I could meet with, I had read, as well as Rycaut, before I was ten years old. I think the Arabian Nights first. After these, I preferred the history of naval actions, Don Quixote, and Smollett's novels, particularly Roderick Random, and I was passionate for the Roman History. When a boy, I could never bear to read any Poetry whatever without disgust and reluctance."]
[Footnote 3: "It rained hard the next day, and we spent another evening with our soldiers. The captain, Elmas, tried a fine Manton gun belonging to my Friend, and hitting his mark every time was highly delighted."—HOBHOUSE's Journey, &c.]
[Footnote 4: It must be recollected that by two of these gentlemen he was seen chiefly under the restraints of presentation and etiquette, when whatever gloom there was on his spirits would, in a shy nature like his, most show itself. The account which his fellow-traveller gives of him is altogether different. In introducing the narration of a short tour to Negroponte, in which his noble friend was unable to accompany him, Mr. Hobhouse expresses strongly the deficiency of which he is sensible, from the absence, on this occasion, of "a companion, who, to quickness of observation and ingenuity of remark, united that gay good-humour which keeps alive the attention under the pressure of fatigue, and softens the aspect of every difficulty and danger." In some lines, too, of the "Hints from Horace," addressed evidently to Mr. Hobhouse, Lord Byron not only renders the same justice to his own social cheerfulness, but gives a somewhat more distinct idea of the frame of mind out of which it rose;—
"Moschus! with whom I hope once more to sit, And smile at folly, if we can't at wit; Yes, friend, for thee I'll quit my Cynic cell, And bear Swift's motto, "Vive la bagatelle!" Which charm'd our days in each AEgean clime, And oft at home with revelry and rhyme." ]
* * * * *
LETTER 54. TO MR. DALLAS.
"Volage Frigate, at sea, June 28. 1811.
"After two years' absence, (to a day, on the 2d of July, before which we shall not arrive at Portsmouth,) I am retracing my way to England.
"I am coming back with little prospect of pleasure at home, and with a body a little shaken by one or two smart fevers, but a spirit I hope yet unbroken. My affairs, it seems, are considerably involved, and much business must be done with lawyers, colliers, farmers, and creditors. Now this, to a man who hates bustle as he hates a bishop, is a serious concern. But enough of my home department.
"My Satire, it seems, is in a fourth edition, a success rather above the middling run, but not much for a production which, from its topics, must be temporary, and of course be successful at first, or not at all. At this period, when I can think and act more coolly, I regret that I have written it, though I shall probably find it forgotten by all except those whom it has offended.
"Yours and Pratt's protege, Blackett, the cobbler, is dead, in spite of his rhymes, and is probably one of the instances where death has saved a man from damnation. You were the ruin of that poor fellow amongst you: had it not been for his patrons, he might now have been in very good plight, shoe-(not verse-) making: but you have made him immortal with a vengeance. I write this, supposing poetry, patronage, and strong waters, to have been the death of him. If you are in town in or about the beginning of July, you will find me at Dorant's, in Albemarle Street, glad to see you. I have an imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry ready for Cawthorn, but don't let that deter you, for I sha'n't inflict it upon you. You know I never read my rhymes to visitors. I shall quit town in a few days for Notts., and thence to Rochdale.
* * * * *
Immediately, on Lord Byron's arrival in London, Mr. Dallas called upon him. "On the 15th of July," says this gentleman, "I had the pleasure of shaking hands with him at Reddish's Hotel in St. James's Street. I thought his looks belied the report he had given me of his bodily health, and his countenance did not betoken melancholy, or displeasure at his return. He was very animated in the account of his travels, but assured me he had never had the least idea of writing them. He said he believed satire to be his forte, and to that he had adhered, having written, during his stay at different places abroad, a Paraphrase of Horace's Art of Poetry, which would be a good finish to English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. He seemed to promise himself additional fame from it, and I undertook to superintend its publication, as I had done that of the Satire. I had chosen the time ill for my visit, and we had hardly any time to converse uninterruptedly, he therefore engaged me to breakfast with him next morning."
In the interval Mr. Dallas looked over this Paraphrase, which he had been permitted by Lord Byron to take home with him for the purpose, and his disappointment was, as he himself describes it, "grievous," on finding, that a pilgrimage of two years to the inspiring lands of the East had been attended with no richer poetical result. On their meeting again next morning, though unwilling to speak disparagingly of the work, he could not refrain, as he informs us, from expressing some surprise that his noble friend should have produced nothing else during his absence.—"Upon this," he continues, "Lord Byron told me that he had occasionally written short poems, besides a great many stanzas in Spenser's measure, relative to the countries he had visited. 'They are not worth troubling you with, but you shall have them all with you if you like.' So came I by Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. He took it from a small trunk, with a number of verses. He said they had been read but by one person, who had found very little to commend and much to condemn: that he himself was of that opinion, and he was sure I should be so too. Such as it was, however, it was at my service; but he was urgent that 'The Hints from Horace' should be immediately put in train, which I promised to have done."
The value of the treasure thus presented to him, Mr. Dallas was not slow in discovering. That very evening he despatched a letter to his noble friend, saying—"You have written one of the most delightful poems I ever read. If I wrote this in flattery, I should deserve your contempt rather than your friendship. I have been so fascinated with Childe Harold that I have not been able to lay it down. I would almost pledge my life on its advancing the reputation of your poetical powers, and on its gaining you great honour and regard, if you will do me the credit and favour of attending to my suggestions respecting," &c.&c.&c.
Notwithstanding this just praise, and the secret echo it must have found in a heart so awake to the slightest whisper of fame, it was some time before Lord Byron's obstinate repugnance to the idea of publishing Childe Harold could be removed.
"Attentive," says Mr. Dallas, "as he had hitherto been to my opinions and suggestions, and natural as it was that he should be swayed by such decided praise, I was surprised to find that I could not at first obtain credit with him for my judgment on Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. 'It was any thing but poetry—it had been condemned by a good critic—had I not myself seen the sentences on the margins of the manuscripts?' He dwelt upon the Paraphrase of the Art of Poetry with pleasure, and the manuscript of that was given to Cawthorn, the publisher of the Satire, to be brought forth without delay. I did not, however, leave him so: before I quitted him I returned to the charge, and told him that I was so convinced of the merit of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, that, as he had given it to me, I should certainly publish it, if he would have the kindness to attend to some corrections and alterations."
Among the many instances, recorded in literary history, of the false judgments of authors respecting their own productions, the preference given by Lord Byron to a work so little worthy of his genius, over a poem of such rare and original beauty as the first Cantos of Childe Harold, may be accounted, perhaps, one of the most extraordinary and inexplicable.
"It is in men as in soils," says Swift, "where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not of." But Lord Byron had made the discovery of the vein, without, as it would seem, being aware of its value. I have already had occasion to observe that, even while occupied with the composition of Childe Harold, it is questionable whether he himself was yet fully conscious of the new powers, both of thought and feeling, that had been awakened in him; and the strange estimate we now find him forming of his own production appears to warrant the remark. It would seem, indeed, as if, while the imaginative powers of his mind had received such an impulse forward, the faculty of judgment, slower in its developement, was still immature, and that of self-judgment, the most difficult of all, still unattained.
On the other hand, from the deference which, particularly at this period of his life, he was inclined to pay to the opinions of those with whom he associated, it would be fairer, perhaps, to conclude that this erroneous valuation arose rather from a diffidence in his own judgment than from any deficiency of it. To his college companions, almost all of whom were his superiors in scholarship, and some of them even, at this time, his competitors in poetry, he looked up with a degree of fond and admiring deference, for which his ignorance of his own intellectual strength alone could account; and the example, as well as tastes, of these young writers being mostly on the side of established models, their authority, as long as it influenced him, would, to a certain degree, interfere with his striking confidently into any new or original path. That some remains of this bias, with a little leaning, perhaps, towards school recollections, may have had a share in prompting his preference of the Horatian Paraphrase, is by no means improbable;—at least, that it was enough to lead him, untried as he had yet been in the new path, to content himself, for the present, with following up his success in the old. We have seen, indeed, that the manuscript of the two Cantos of Childe Harold had, previously to its being placed in the hands of Mr. Dallas, been submitted by the noble author to the perusal of some friend—the first and only one, it appears, who at that time had seen them. Who this fastidious critic was, Mr. Dallas has not mentioned; but the sweeping tone of censure in which he conveyed his remarks was such as, at any period of his career, would have disconcerted the judgment of one, who, years after, in all the plenitude of his fame, confessed, that "the depreciation of the lowest of mankind was more painful to him than the applause of the highest was pleasing."
Though on every thing that, after his arrival at the age of manhood, he produced, some mark or other of the master-hand may be traced; yet, to print the whole of his Paraphrase of Horace, which extends to nearly 800 lines, would be, at the best, but a questionable compliment to his memory. That the reader, however, may be enabled to form some opinion of a performance, which—by an error or caprice of judgment, unexampled, perhaps, in the annals of literature—its author, for a time, preferred to the sublime musings of Childe Harold, I shall here select a few such passages from the Paraphrase as may seem calculated to give an idea as well of its merits as its defects.
The opening of the poem is, with reference to the original, ingenious:—
"Who would not laugh, if Lawrence, hired to grace His costly canvass with each flatter'd face, Abused his art, till Nature, with a blush, Saw cits grow centaurs underneath his brush? Or should some limner join, for show or sale, A maid of honour to a mermaid's tail? Or low Dubost (as once the world has seen) Degrade God's creatures in his graphic spleen? Not all that forced politeness, which defends Fools in their faults, could gag his grinning friends. Believe me, Moschus, like that picture seems The book, which, sillier than a sick man's dreams, Displays a crowd of figures incomplete, Poetic nightmares, without head or feet."
The following is pointed, and felicitously expressed:—
"Then glide down Grub Street, fasting and forgot, Laugh'd into Lethe by some quaint Review, Whose wit is never troublesome till—true."
Of the graver parts, the annexed is a favourable specimen:—
"New words find credit in these latter days, If neatly grafted on a Gallic phrase: What Chaucer, Spenser, did, we scarce refuse To Dryden's or to Pope's maturer muse. If you can add a little, say why not, As well as William Pitt and Walter Scott, Since they, by force of rhyme, and force of lungs, Enrich'd our island's ill-united tongues? 'Tis then, and shall be, lawful to present Reforms in writing as in parliament.
"As forests shed their foliage by degrees, So fade expressions which in season please; And we and ours, alas! are due to fate, And works and words but dwindle to a date. Though, as a monarch nods and commerce calls, Impetuous rivers stagnate in canals; Though swamps subdued, and marshes drain'd sustain The heavy ploughshare and the yellow grain; And rising ports along the busy shore Protect the vessel from old Ocean's roar— All, all must perish. But, surviving last, The love of letters half preserves the past: True,—some decay, yet not a few survive, Though those shall sink which now appear to thrive, As custom arbitrates, whose shifting sway Our life and language must alike obey."
I quote what follows chiefly for the sake of the note attached to it:—
"Satiric rhyme first sprang from selfish spleen. You doubt?—See Dryden, Pope, St. Patrick's Dean.
"Blank verse is now with one consent allied To Tragedy, and rarely quits her side; Though mad Almanzor rhymed in Dryden's days, No sing-song hero rants in modern plays;— While modest Comedy her verse foregoes For jest and pun in very middling prose. Not that our Bens or Beaumonts show the worse, Or lose one point because they wrote in verse; But so Thalia pleases to appear,— Poor virgin!—damn'd some twenty times a year!"
There is more of poetry in the following verses upon Milton than in any other passage throughout the Paraphrase:—
"'Awake a louder and a loftier strain,' And, pray, what follows from his boiling brain? He sinks to S * *'s level in a trice, Whose epic mountains never fail in mice! Not so of yore awoke your mighty sire The tempered warblings of his master lyre; Soft as the gentler breathing of the lute, 'Of man's first disobedience and the fruit' He speaks; but, as his subject swells along, Earth, Heaven, and Hades, echo with the song."
The annexed sketch contains some lively touches:—
"Behold him, Freshman!—forced no more to groan O'er Virgil's devilish verses, and—his own; Prayers are too tedious, lectures too abstruse, He flies from T——ll's frown to 'Fordham's Mews;' (Unlucky T——ll, doom'd to daily cares By pugilistic pupils and by bears!) Fines, tutors, tasks, conventions, threat in vain, Before hounds, hunters, and Newmarket plain: Rough with his elders; with his equals rash; Civil to sharpers; prodigal of cash. Fool'd, pillaged, dunn'd, he wastes his terms away; And, unexpell'd perhaps, retires M.A.:— Master of Arts!—as Hells and Clubs proclaim, Where scarce a black-leg bears a brighter name.
"Launch'd into life, extinct his early fire, He apes the selfish prudence of his sire; Marries for money; chooses friends for rank; Buys land, and shrewdly trusts not to the Bank; Sits in the senate; gets a son and heir; Sends him to Harrow—for himself was there; Mute though he votes, unless when call'd to cheer, His son's so sharp—he'll see the dog a peer!
"Manhood declines; age palsies every limb; He quits the scene, or else the scene quits him; Scrapes wealth, o'er each departing penny grieves, And Avarice seizes all Ambition leaves; Counts cent. per cent., and smiles, or vainly frets O'er hoards diminish'd by young Hopeful's debts; Weighs well and wisely what to sell or buy, Complete in all life's lessons—but to die; Peevish and spiteful, doting, hard to please, Commending every time save times like these; Crazed, querulous, forsaken, half forgot, Expires unwept, is buried—let him rot!"
In speaking of the opera, he says:—
"Hence the pert shopkeeper, whose throbbing ear Aches with orchestras which he pays to hear, Whom shame, not sympathy, forbids to snore, His anguish doubled by his own 'encore!' Squeezed in 'Fop's Alley,' jostled by the beaux, Teased with his hat, and trembling for his toes, Scarce wrestles through the night, nor tastes of ease Till the dropp'd curtain gives a glad release: Why this and more he suffers, can ye guess?— Because it costs him dear, and makes him dress!"
The concluding couplet of the following lines is amusingly characteristic of that mixture of fun and bitterness with which their author sometimes spoke in conversation;—so much so, that those who knew him might almost fancy they hear him utter the words:—
"But every thing has faults, nor is't unknown That harps and fiddles often lose their tone, And wayward voices at their owner's call, With all his best endeavours, only squall; Dogs blink their covey, flints withhold the spark, And double barrels (damn them) miss their mark!"
One more passage, with the humorous note appended to it, will complete the whole amount of my favourable specimens:—
"And that's enough—then write and print so fast,— If Satan take the hindmost, who'd be last? They storm the types, they publish one and all, They leap the counter, and they leave the stall:— Provincial maidens, men of high command, Yea, baronets, have ink'd the bloody hand! Cash cannot quell them—Pollio play'd this prank: (Then Phoebus first found credit in a bank;) Not all the living only, but the dead Fool on, as fluent as an Orpheus' head! Damn'd all their days, they posthumously thrive, Dug up from dust, though buried when alive! Reviews record this epidemic crime, Those books of martyrs to the rage for rhyme Alas! woe worth the scribbler, often seen In Morning Post or Monthly Magazine! There lurk his earlier lays, but soon, hot-press'd, Behold a quarto!—tarts must tell the rest! Then leave, ye wise, the lyre's precarious chords To muse-mad baronets or madder lords, Or country Crispins, now grown somewhat stale, Twin Doric minstrels, drunk with Doric ale! Hark to those notes, narcotically soft, The cobbler-laureates sing to Capel Lofft!"
From these select specimens, which comprise, altogether, little more than an eighth of the whole poem, the reader may be enabled to form some notion of the remainder, which is, for the most part, of a very inferior quality, and, in some parts, descending to the depths of doggerel. Who, for instance, could trace the hand of Byron in such "prose, fringed with rhyme," as the following?—
"Peace to Swift's faults! his wit hath made them pass Unmatch'd by all, save matchless Hudibras, Whose author is perhaps the first we meet Who from our couplet lopp'd two final feet; Nor less in merit than the longer line This measure moves, a favourite of the Nine.
"Though at first view, eight feet may seem in vain Form'd, save in odes, to bear a serious strain, Yet Scott has shown our wondering isle of late This measure shrinks not from a theme of weight, And, varied skilfully, surpasses far Heroic rhyme, but most in love or war, Whose fluctuations, tender or sublime, Are curb'd too much by long recurring rhyme.
"In sooth, I do not know, or greatly care To learn who our first English strollers were, Or if—till roofs received the vagrant art— Our Muse—like that of Thespis—kept a cart. But this is certain, since our Shakspeare's days, There's pomp enough, if little else, in plays; Nor will Melpomene ascend her throne Without high heels, white plume, and Bristol stone.
"Where is that living language which could claim Poetic more, as philosophic fame, If all our bards, more patient of delay, Would stop like Pope to polish by the way?"
In tracing the fortunes of men, it is not a little curious to observe, how often the course of a whole life has depended on one single step. Had Lord Byron now persisted in his original purpose of giving this poem to the press, instead of Childe Harold, it is more than probable that he would have been lost, as a great poet, to the world. Inferior as the Paraphrase is, in every respect, to his former Satire, and, in some places, even descending below the level of under-graduate versifiers, its failure, there can be little doubt, would have been certain and signal;—his former assailants would have resumed their advantage over him, and either, in the bitterness of his mortification, he would have flung Childe Harold into the fire; or, had he summoned up sufficient confidence to publish that poem, its reception, even if sufficient to retrieve him in the eyes of the public and his own, could never have, at all, resembled that explosion of success,—that instantaneous and universal acclaim of admiration into which, coming, as it were, fresh from the land of song, he now surprised the world, and in the midst of which he was borne, buoyant and self-assured, along, through a succession of new triumphs, each more splendid than the last.
Happily, the better judgment of his friends averted such a risk; and he at length consented to the immediate publication of Childe Harold,—still, however, to the last, expressing his doubts of its merits, and his alarm at the sort of reception it might meet with in the world.
"I did all I could," says his adviser, "to raise his opinion of this composition, and I succeeded; but he varied much in his feelings about it, nor was he, as will appear, at his ease until the world decided on its merit. He said again and again that I was going to get him into a scrape with his old enemies, and that none of them would rejoice more than the Edinburgh Reviewers at an opportunity to humble him. He said I must not put his name to it. I entreated him to leave it to me, and that I would answer for this poem silencing all his enemies."
The publication being now determined upon, there arose some doubts and difficulty as to a publisher. Though Lord Byron had intrusted Cawthorn with what he considered to be his surer card, the "Hints from Horace," he did not, it seems, think him of sufficient station in the trade to give a sanction or fashion to his more hazardous experiment. The former refusal of the Messrs. Longman to publish his "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers" was not forgotten; and he expressly stipulated with Mr. Dallas that the manuscript should not be offered to that house. An application was, at first, made to Mr. Miller, of Albemarle Street; but, in consequence of the severity with which Lord Elgin was treated in the poem, Mr. Miller (already the publisher and bookseller of this latter nobleman) declined the work. Even this circumstance,—so apprehensive was the poet for his fame,—began to re-awaken all the qualms and terrors he had, at first, felt; and, had any further difficulties or objections arisen, it is more than probable he might have relapsed into his original intention. It was not long, however, before a person was found willing and proud to undertake the publication. Mr. Murray, who, at this period, resided in Fleet Street, having, some time before, expressed a desire to be allowed to publish some work of Lord Byron, it was in his hands that Mr. Dallas now placed the manuscript of Childe Harold;—and thus was laid the first foundation of that connection between this gentleman and the noble poet, which continued, with but a temporary interruption, throughout the lifetime of the one, and has proved an abundant source of honour, as well as emolument, to the other.
While thus busily engaged in his literary projects, and having, besides, some law affairs to transact with his agent, he was called suddenly away to Newstead by the intelligence of an event which seems to have affected his mind far more deeply than, considering all the circumstances of the case, could have been expected. Mrs. Byron, whose excessive corpulence rendered her, at all times, rather a perilous subject for illness, had been of late indisposed, but not to any alarming degree; nor does it appear that, when the following note was written, there existed any grounds for apprehension as to her state.
[Footnote 5: It is, however, less wonderful that authors should thus misjudge their productions, when whole generations have sometimes fallen into the same sort of error. The Sonnets of Petrarch were, by the learned of his day, considered only worthy of the ballad-singers by whom they were chanted about the streets; while his Epic Poem, "Africa," of which few now even know the existence, was sought for on all sides, and the smallest fragment of it begged from the author, for the libraries of the learned.]
[Footnote 6: Gray, under the influence of a similar predilection, preferred, for a long time, his Latin poems to those by which he has gained such a station in English literature. "Shall we attribute this," says Mason, "to his having been educated at Eton, or to what other cause? Certain it is, that when I first knew him, he seemed to set a greater value on his Latin poetry than on that which he had composed in his native language."]
[Footnote 7: One of the manuscript notes of Lord Byron on Mr. D'Israeli's work, already referred to.—Vol. i. p. 144.]
[Footnote 8: "Mac Flecknoe, the Dunciad, and all Swift's lampooning ballads.—Whatever their other works may be, these originated in personal feelings and angry retort on unworthy rivals; and though the ability of these satires elevates the poetical, their poignancy detracts from the personal, character of the writers."]
[Footnote 9: "Harvey, the circulator of the circulation of the blood, used to fling away Virgil in his ecstasy of admiration, and say 'the book had a devil.' Now, such a character as I am copying would probably fling it away also, but rather wish that the devil had the book; not from a dislike to the poet, but a well-founded horror of hexameters. Indeed, the public-school penance of 'Long and Short' is enough to beget an antipathy to poetry for the residue of a man's life, and perhaps so far may be an advantage."]
[Footnote 10: "'Hell,' a gaming-house so called, where you risk little, and are cheated a good deal: 'Club,' a pleasant purgatory, where you lose more, and are not supposed to be cheated at all."]
[Footnote 11: "As Mr. Pope took the liberty of damning Homer, to whom he was under great obligations—'And Homer (damn him) calls'—it may be presumed that any body or any thing may be damned in verse by poetical license; and in case of accident, I beg leave to plead so illustrious a precedent."]
[Footnote 12: "This well-meaning gentleman has spoilt some excellent shoemakers, and been accessary to the poetical undoing of many of the industrious poor. Nathaniel Bloomfield and his brother Bobby have set all Somersetshire singing. Nor has the malady confined itself to one county. Pratt, too (who once was wiser), has caught the contagion of patronage, and decoyed a poor fellow, named Blackett, into poetry; but he died during the operation, leaving one child and two volumes of 'Remains' utterly destitute. The girl, if she don't take a poetical twist, and come forth as a shoemaking Sappho, may do well, but the 'Tragedies' are as rickety as if they had been the offspring of an Earl or a Seatonian prize-poet. The patrons of this poor lad are certainly answerable for his end, and it ought to be an indictable offence. But this is the least they have done; for, by a refinement of barbarity, they have made the (late) man posthumously ridiculous, by printing what he would have had sense enough never to print himself. Certes, these rakers of 'Remains' come under the statute against resurrection-men. What does it signify whether a poor dear dead dunce is to be stuck up in Surgeons' or in Stationers' Hall? is it so bad to unearth his bones as his blunders? is it not better to gibbet his body on a heath than his soul in an octavo? 'We know what we are, but we know not what we may be,' and it is to be hoped we never shall know, if a man who has passed through life with a sort of eclat is to find himself a mountebank on the other side of Styx, and made, like poor Joe Blackett, the laughing-stock of purgatory. The plea of publication is to provide for the child. Now, might not some of this 'sutor ultra crepidam's' friends and seducers have done a decent action without inveigling Pratt into biography? And then, his inscriptions split into so many modicums! 'To the Duchess of So Much, the Right Honble. So-and-so, and Mrs. and Miss Somebody, these volumes are,' &c. &c. Why, this is doling out the 'soft milk of dedication' in gills; there is but a quart, and he divides it among a dozen. Why, Pratt! hadst thou not a puff left? dost thou think six families of distinction can share this in quiet? There is a child, a book, and a dedication: send the girl to her grace, the volumes to the grocer, and the dedication to the d-v-l."]
[Footnote 13: That he himself attributed every thing to fortune, appears from the following passage in one of his journals: "Like Sylla, I have always believed that all things depend upon fortune, and nothing upon ourselves. I am not aware of any one thought or action worthy of being called good to myself or others, which is not to be attributed to the good goddess, FORTUNE!"]
[Footnote 14: The grounds on which the Messrs. Longman refused to publish his Lordship's Satire, were the severe attacks it contained upon Mr. Southey and others of their literary friends.]
* * * * *
"Reddish's Hotel, St. James's Street, London, July 23. 1811.
"My dear Madam,
"I am only detained by Mr. H * * to sign some copyhold papers, and will give you timely notice of my approach. It is with great reluctance I remain in town. I shall pay a short visit as we go on to Lancashire on Rochdale business. I shall attend to your directions, of course, and am,
"With great respect, yours ever,"
"P.S.—You will consider Newstead as your house, not mine; and me only as a visitor."
* * * * *
On his going abroad, she had conceived a sort of superstitious fancy that she should never see him again; and when he returned, safe and well, and wrote to inform her that he should soon see her at Newstead, she said to her waiting-woman, "If I should be dead before Byron comes down, what a strange thing it would be!"—and so, in fact, it happened. At the end of July, her illness took a new and fatal turn; and, so sadly characteristic was the close of the poor lady's life, that a fit of rage, brought on, it is said, by reading over the upholsterer's bills, was the ultimate cause of her death. Lord Byron had, of course, prompt intelligence of the attack. But, though he started instantly from town, he was too late,—she had breathed her last.
The following letter, it will be perceived, was written on his way to Newstead.
LETTER 55. TO DR. PIGOT.
"Newport Pagnell, August 2. 1811.
"My dear Doctor,
"My poor mother died yesterday! and I am on my way from town to attend her to the family vault. I heard one day of her illness, the next of her death. Thank God her last moments were most tranquil. I am told she was in little pain, and not aware of her situation. I now feel the truth of Mr. Gray's observation, 'That we can only have one mother.' Peace be with her! I have to thank you for your expressions of regard; and as in six weeks I shall be in Lancashire on business, I may extend to Liverpool and Chester,—at least I shall endeavour.
"If it will be any satisfaction, I have to inform you that in November next the Editor of the Scourge will be tried for two different libels on the late Mrs. B. and myself (the decease of Mrs. B. makes no difference in the proceedings); and as he is guilty, by his very foolish and unfounded assertion, of a breach of privilege, he will be prosecuted with the utmost rigour.
"I inform you of this as you seem interested in the affair, which is now in the hands of the Attorney-general.
"I shall remain at Newstead the greater part of this month, where I shall be happy to hear from you, after my two years' absence in the East.
"I am, dear Pigot, yours very truly,
* * * * *
It can hardly have escaped the observation of the reader, that the general tone of the noble poet's correspondence with his mother is that of a son, performing, strictly and conscientiously, what he deems to be his duty, without the intermixture of any sentiment of cordiality to sweeten the task. The very title of "Madam," by which he addresses her,—and which he but seldom exchanges for the endearing name of "mother,"—is, of itself, a sufficient proof of the sentiments he entertained for her. That such should have been his dispositions towards such a parent, can be matter neither of surprise or blame,—but that, notwithstanding this alienation, which her own unfortunate temper produced, he should have continued to consult her wishes, and minister to her comforts, with such unfailing thoughtfulness as is evinced not only in the frequency of his letters, but in the almost exclusive appropriation of Newstead to her use, redounds, assuredly, in no ordinary degree, to his honour; and was even the more strikingly meritorious from the absence of that affection which renders kindnesses to a beloved object little more than an indulgence of self.
But, however estranged from her his feelings must be allowed to have been while she lived, her death seems to have restored them into their natural channel. Whether from a return of early fondness and the all-atoning power of the grave, or from the prospect of that void in his future life which this loss of his only link with the past would leave, it is certain that he felt the death of his mother acutely, if not deeply. On the night after his arrival at Newstead, the waiting-woman of Mrs. Byron, in passing the door of the room where the deceased lady lay, heard a sound as of some one sighing heavily from within; and, on entering the chamber, found, to her surprise, Lord Byron, sitting in the dark, beside the bed. On her representing to him the weakness of thus giving way to grief, he burst into tears, and exclaimed, "Oh, Mrs. By, I had but one friend in the world, and she is gone!"
While his real thoughts were thus confided to silence and darkness, there was, in other parts of his conduct more open to observation, a degree of eccentricity and indecorum which, with superficial observers, might well bring the sensibility of his nature into question. On the morning of the funeral, having declined following the remains himself, he stood looking, from the abbey door, at the procession, till the whole had moved off;—then, turning to young Rushton, who was the only person left besides himself, he desired him to fetch the sparring-gloves, and proceeded to his usual exercise with the boy. He was silent and abstracted all the time, and, as if from an effort to get the better of his feelings, threw more violence, Rushton thought, into his blows than was his habit; but, at last,—the struggle seeming too much for him,—he flung away the gloves, and retired to his room.
Of Mrs. Byron, sufficient, perhaps, has been related in these pages to enable the reader to form fully his own opinion, as well with respect to the character of this lady herself, as to the degree of influence her temper and conduct may have exercised on those of her son. It was said by one of the most extraordinary of men,—who was himself, as he avowed, principally indebted to maternal culture for the unexampled elevation to which he subsequently rose,—that "the future good or bad conduct of a child depends entirely on the mother." How far the leaven that sometimes mixed itself with the better nature of Byron,—his uncertain and wayward impulses,—his defiance of restraint,—the occasional bitterness of his hate, and the precipitance of his resentments,—may have had their origin in his early collisions with maternal caprice and violence, is an enquiry for which sufficient materials have been, perhaps, furnished in these pages, but which every one will decide upon, according to the more or less weight he may attribute to the influence of such causes on the formation of character.
That, notwithstanding her injudicious and coarse treatment of him, Mrs. Byron loved her son, with that sort of fitful fondness of which alone such a nature is capable, there can be little doubt,—and still less, that she was ambitiously proud of him. Her anxiety for the success of his first literary essays may be collected from the pains which he so considerately took to tranquillise her on the appearance of the hostile article in the Review. As his fame began to brighten, that notion of his future greatness and glory, which, by a singular forecast of superstition, she had entertained from his very childhood, became proportionably confirmed. Every mention of him in print was watched by her with eagerness; and she had got bound together in a volume, which a friend of mine once saw, a collection of all the literary notices, that had then appeared, of his early Poems and Satire,—written over on the margin, with observations of her own, which to my informant appeared indicative of much more sense and ability than, from her general character, we should be inclined to attribute to her.
Among those lesser traits of his conduct through which an observer can trace a filial wish to uphold, and throw respect around, the station of his mother, may be mentioned his insisting, while a boy, on being called "George Byron Gordon"—giving thereby precedence to the maternal name,—and his continuing, to the last, to address her as "the Honourable Mrs. Byron,"—a mark of rank to which, he must have been aware, she had no claim whatever. Neither does it appear that, in his habitual manner towards her, there was any thing denoting a want of either affection or deference,—with the exception, perhaps, occasionally, of a somewhat greater degree of familiarity than comports with the ordinary notions of filial respect. Thus, the usual name he called her by, when they were on good-humoured terms together, was "Kitty Gordon;" and I have heard an eye-witness of the scene describe the look of arch, dramatic humour, with which, one day, at Southwell, when they were in the height of their theatrical rage, he threw open the door of the drawing-room, to admit his mother, saying, at the same time, "Enter the Honourable Kitty."
The pride of birth was a feeling common alike to mother and son, and, at times, even became a point of rivalry between them, from their respective claims, English and Scotch, to high lineage. In a letter written by him from Italy, referring to some anecdote which his mother had told him, he says,—"My mother, who was as haughty as Lucifer with her descent from the Stuarts, and her right line from the old Gordons,—not the Seyton Gordons, as she disdainfully termed the ducal branch,—told me the story, always reminding me how superior her Gordons were to the southern Byrons, notwithstanding our Norman, and always masculine, descent, which has never lapsed into a female, as my mother's Gordons had done in her own person."
If, to be able to depict powerfully the painful emotions, it is necessary first to have experienced them, or, in other words, if, for the poet to be great, the man must suffer, Lord Byron, it must be owned, paid early this dear price of mastery. Few as were the ties by which his affections held, whether within or without the circle of relationship, he was now doomed, within a short space, to see the most of them swept away by death. Besides the loss of his mother, he had to mourn over, in quick succession, the untimely fatalities that carried off, within a few weeks of each other, two or three of his most loved and valued friends. "In the short space of one month," he says, in a note on Childe Harold, "I have lost her who gave me being, and most of those who made that being tolerable." Of these young Wingfield, whom we have seen high on the list of his Harrow favourites, died of a fever at Coimbra; and Matthews, the idol of his admiration at college, was drowned while bathing in the waters of the Cam.
The following letter, written immediately after the latter event, bears the impress of strong and even agonised feeling, to such a degree as renders it almost painful to read it:—
LETTER 56. TO MR. SCROPE DAVIES.
"Newstead Abbey, August 7. 1811.
"My dearest Davies,
"Some curse hangs over me and mine. My mother lies a corpse in this house; one of my best friends is drowned in a ditch. What can I say, or think, or do? I received a letter from him the day before yesterday. My dear Scrope, if you can spare a moment, do come down to me—I want a friend. Matthews's last letter was written on Friday,—on Saturday he was not. In ability, who was like Matthews? How did we all shrink before him? You do me but justice in saying, I would have risked my paltry existence to have preserved his. This very evening did I mean to write, inviting him, as I invite you, my very dear friend, to visit me. God forgive * * * for his apathy! What will our poor Hobhouse feel? His letters breathe but or Matthews. Come to me, Scrope, I am almost desolate—left almost alone in the world—I had but you, and H., and M., and let me enjoy the survivors whilst I can. Poor M., in his letter of Friday, speaks of his intended contest for Cambridge, and a speedy journey to London. Write or come, but come if you can, or one or both.
[Footnote 15: In many instances the mothers of illustrious poets have had reason to be proud no less of the affection than of the glory of their sons; and Tasso, Pope, Gray, and Cowper, are among these memorable examples of filial tenderness. In the lesser poems of Tasso, there are few things so beautiful as his description, in the Canzone to the Metauro, of his first parting with his mother:—
"Me dal sen della madre empia fortuna Pargoletto divelse," &c. ]
[Footnote 16: Napoleon.]
[Footnote 17: In a letter, written between two and three months after his mother's death, he states no less a number than six persons, all friends or relatives, who had been snatched away from him by death between May and the end of August.]
[Footnote 18: In continuation of the note quoted in the text, he says of Matthews—"His powers of mind, shown in the attainment of greater honours, against the ablest candidates, than those of any graduate on record at Cambridge, have sufficiently established his fame on the spot where it was acquired." One of the candidates, thus described, was Mr. Thomas Barnes, a gentleman whose career since has kept fully the promise of his youth, though, from the nature of the channels through which his literary labours have been directed, his great talents are far more extensively known than his name.]
[Footnote 19: It had been the intention of Mr. Matthews to offer himself, at the ensuing election, for the university. In reference to this purpose, a manuscript Memoir of him, now lying before me, says—"If acknowledged and successful talents—if principles of the strictest honour—if the devotion of many friends could have secured the success of an 'independent pauper' (as he jocularly called himself in a letter on the subject), the vision would have been realised."]
* * * * *
Of this remarkable young man, Charles Skinner Matthews, I have already had occasion to speak; but the high station which he held in Lord Byron's affection and admiration may justify a somewhat ampler tribute to his memory.
There have seldom, perhaps, started together in life so many youths of high promise and hope as were to be found among the society of which Lord Byron formed a part at Cambridge. Of some of these, the names have since eminently distinguished themselves in the world, as the mere mention of Mr. Hobhouse and Mr. William Bankes is sufficient to testify; while in the instance of another of this lively circle, Mr. Scrope Davies, the only regret of his friends is, that the social wit of which he is such a master should in the memories of his hearers alone be like to leave any record of its brilliancy. Among all these young men of learning and talent, (including Byron himself, whose genius was, however, as yet, "an undiscovered world,") the superiority, in almost every department of intellect, seems to have been, by the ready consent of all, awarded to Matthews;—a concurrence of homage which, considering the persons from whom it came, gives such a high notion of the powers of his mind at that period, as renders the thought of what he might have been, if spared, a matter of interesting, though vain and mournful, speculation. To mere mental pre-eminence, unaccompanied by the kindlier qualities of the heart, such a tribute, however deserved, might not, perhaps, have been so uncontestedly paid. But young Matthews appears,—in spite of some little asperities of temper and manner, which he was already beginning to soften down when snatched away,—to have been one of those rare individuals who, while they command deference, can, at the same time, win regard, and who, as it were, relieve the intense feeling of admiration which they excite by blending it with love.
To his religious opinions, and their unfortunate coincidence with those of Lord Byron, I have before adverted. Like his noble friend, ardent in the pursuit of Truth, he, like him too, unluckily lost his way in seeking her,—"the light that led astray" being by both friends mistaken for hers. That in his scepticism he proceeded any farther than Lord Byron, or ever suffered his doubting, but still ingenuous, mind to persuade itself into the "incredible creed" of atheism, is, I find (notwithstanding an assertion in a letter of the noble poet to this effect), disproved by the testimony of those among his relations and friends, who are the most ready to admit and, of course, lament his other heresies;—nor should I have felt that I had any right to allude thus to the religious opinions of one who had never, by promulgating his heterodoxy, brought himself within the jurisdiction of the public, had not the wrong impression, as it appears, given of those opinions, on the authority of Lord Byron, rendered it an act of justice to both friends to remove the imputation.
In the letters to Mrs. Byron, written previously to the departure of her son on his travels, there occurs, it will be recollected, some mention of a Will, which it was his intention to leave behind him in the hands of his trustees. Whatever may have been the contents of this former instrument, we find that, in about a fortnight after his mother's death, he thought it right to have a new form of will drawn up; and the following letter, enclosing his instructions for that purpose, was addressed to the late Mr. Bolton, a solicitor of Nottingham. Of the existence, in any serious or formal shape, of the strange directions here given, respecting his own interment, I was, for some time, I confess, much inclined to doubt; but the curious documents here annexed put this remarkable instance of his eccentricity beyond all question.
[Footnote 20: He was the third son of the late John Matthews, Esq. of Belmont, Herefordshire, representative of that county in the parliament of 1802-6. The author of "The Diary of an Invalid," also untimely snatched away, was another son of the same gentleman, as is likewise the present Prebendary of Hereford, the Reverend Arthur Matthews, who, by his ability and attainments, sustains worthily the reputation of the name.
The father of this accomplished family was himself a man of considerable talent, and the author of several unavowed poetical pieces; one of which, a Parody of Pope's Eloisa, written in early youth, has been erroneously ascribed to the late Professor Porson, who was in the habit of reciting it, and even printed an edition of the verses.]
[Footnote 21: "One of the cleverest men I ever knew, in conversation, was Scrope Berdmore Davies. Hobhouse is also very good in that line, though it is of less consequence to a man who has other ways of showing his talents than in company. Scrope was always ready and often witty—Hobhouse as witty, but not always so ready, being more diffident."—MS. Journal of Lord Byron.]
* * * * *
TO —— BOLTON, ESQ.
"Newstead Abbey, August 12. 1811.
"I enclose a rough draught of my intended will, which I beg to have drawn up as soon as possible, in the firmest manner. The alterations are principally made in consequence of the death of Mrs. Byron. I have only to request that it may be got ready in a short time, and have the honour, to be,
"Your most obedient, humble servant,
* * * * *
"Newstead Abbey, August 12. 1811.
"DIRECTIONS FOR, THE CONTENTS OF A WILL TO BE DRAWN UP IMMEDIATELY.
"The estate of Newstead to be entailed (subject to certain deductions) on George Anson Byron, heir-at-law, or whoever may be the heir-at-law on the death of Lord B. The Rochdale property to be sold in part or the whole, according to the debts and legacies of the present Lord B.
"To Nicolo Giraud of Athens, subject of France, but born in Greece, the sum of seven thousand pounds sterling, to be paid from the sale of such parts of Rochdale, Newstead, or elsewhere, as may enable the said Nicolo Giraud (resident at Athens and Malta in the year 1810) to receive the above sum on his attaining the age of twenty-one years.
"To William Fletcher, Joseph Murray, and Demetrius Zograffo (native of Greece), servants, the sum of fifty pounds pr. ann. each, for their natural lives. To Wm. Fletcher, the Mill at Newstead, on condition that he payeth rent, but not subject to the caprice of the landlord. To Rt. Rushton the sum of fifty pounds per ann. for life, and a further sum of one thousand pounds on attaining the age of twenty-five years.
"To Jn. Hanson, Esq. the sum of two thousand pounds sterling.
"The claims of S.B. Davies, Esq. to be satisfied on proving the amount of the same.
"The body of Lord B. to be buried in the vault of the garden of Newstead, without any ceremony or burial-service whatever, or any inscription, save his name and age. His dog not to be removed from the said vault.
"My library and furniture of every description to my friends Jn. Cam Hobhouse, Esq., and S.B. Davies, Esq. my executors. In case of their decease, the Rev. J. Becher, of Southwell, Notts., and R.C. Dallas, Esq., of Mortlake, Surrey, to be executors.
"The produce of the sale of Wymondham in Norfolk, and the late Mrs. B.'s Scotch property, to be appropriated in aid of the payment of debts and legacies."
[Footnote 22: "If the papers lie not (which they generally do), Demetrius Zograffo of Athens is at the head of the Athenian part of the Greek insurrection. He was my servant in 1809, 1810, 1811, 1812, at different intervals of those years (for I left him in Greece when I went to Constantinople), and accompanied me to England in 1811: he returned to Greece, spring, 1812. He was a clever, but not apparently an enterprising man; but circumstances make men. His two sons (then infants) were named Miltiades and Alcibiades: may the omen be happy!" —MS. Journal.]
[Footnote 23: On the death of his mother, a considerable sum of money, the remains of the price of the estate of Gight, was paid into his hands by her trustee, Baron Clerk.]
* * * * *
In sending a copy of the Will, framed on these instructions, to Lord Byron, the solicitor accompanied some of the clauses with marginal queries, calling the attention of his noble client to points which he considered inexpedient or questionable; and as the short pithy answers to these suggestions are strongly characteristic of their writer, I shall here give one or two of the clauses in full, with the respective queries and answers annexed.
"This is the last will and testament of me, the Rt. Honble George Gordon Lord Byron, Baron Byron of Rochdale, in the county of Lancaster.—I desire that my body may be buried in the vault of the garden of Newstead, without any ceremony or burial-service whatever, and that no inscription, save my name and age, be written on the tomb or tablet; and it is my will that my faithful dog may not be removed from the said vault. To the performance of this my particular desire, I rely on the attention of my executors hereinafter named."
"It is submitted to Lord Byron whether this clause relative to the funeral had not better be omitted. The substance of it can be given in a letter from his Lordship to the executors, and accompany the will; and the will may state that the funeral shall be performed in such manner as his Lordship may by letter direct, and, in default of any such letter, then at the discretion of his executors."
"It must stand. B."
"I do hereby specifically order and direct that all the claims of the said S.B. Davies upon me shall be fully paid and satisfied as soon as conveniently may be after my decease, on his proving [by vouchers, or otherwise, to the satisfaction of my executors hereinafter named] the amount thereof, and the correctness of the same."
"If Mr. Davies has any unsettled claims upon Lord Byron, that circumstance is a reason for his not being appointed executor; each executor having an opportunity of paying himself his own debt without consulting his co-executors."
"So much the better—if possible, let him be an executor. B."
[Footnote 24: Over the words which I have here placed between brackets, Lord Byron drew his pen.]
* * * * *
The two following letters contain further instructions on the same subject:—
LETTER 57. TO MR. BOLTON.
"Newstead Abbey, August 16. 1811.
"I have answered the queries on the margin. I wish Mr. Davies's claims to be most fully allowed, and, further, that he be one of my executors. I wish the will to be made in a manner to prevent all discussion, if possible, after my decease; and this I leave to you as a professional gentleman.
"With regard to the few and simple directions for the disposal of my carcass, I must have them implicitly fulfilled, as they will, at least, prevent trouble and expense;—and (what would be of little consequence to me, but may quiet the conscience of the survivors) the garden is consecrated ground. These directions are copied verbatim from my former will; the alterations in other parts have arisen from the death of Mrs. B. I have the honour to be
"Your most obedient, humble servant,
[Footnote 25: In the clause enumerating the names and places of abode of the executors, the solicitor had left blanks for the Christian names of these gentlemen, and Lord Byron, having filled up all but that of Dallas, writes in the margin—"I forget the Christian name of Dallas—cut him out."]
* * * * *
LETTER 58 TO MR. BOLTON.
"Newstead Abbey, August 20. 1811.
"The witnesses shall be provided from amongst my tenants, and I shall be happy to see you on any day most convenient to yourself. I forgot to mention, that it must be specified by codicil, or otherwise, that my body is on no account to be removed from the vault where I have directed it to be placed; and in case any of my successors within the entail (from bigotry, or otherwise) might think proper to remove the carcass, such proceeding shall be attended by forfeiture of the estate, which in such case shall go to my sister, the Honble Augusta Leigh and her heirs on similar conditions. I have the honour to be, sir,
"Your very obedient, humble servant,
* * * * *
In consequence of this last letter, a proviso and declaration, in conformity with its instructions, were inserted in the will. He also executed, on the 28th of this month, a codicil, by which he revoked the bequest of his "household goods and furniture, library, pictures, sabres, watches, plate, linen, trinkets, and other personal estate (except money and securities) situate within the walls of the mansion-house and premises at his decease—and bequeathed the same (except his wine and spirituous liquors) to his friends, the said J.C. Hobhouse, S.B. Davies, and Francis Hodgson, their executors, &c., to be equally divided between them for their own use;—and he bequeathed his wine and spirituous liquors, which should be in the cellars and premises at Newstead, unto his friend, the said J. Becher, for his own use, and requested the said J.C. Hobhouse, S.B. Davies, F. Hodgson, and J. Becher, respectively, to accept the bequest therein contained, to them respectively, as a token of his friendship."
The following letters, written while his late losses were fresh in his mind, will be read with painful interest:—
LETTER 59. TO MR. DALLAS.
"Newstead Abbey, Notts., August 12. 1811.
"Peace be with the dead! Regret cannot wake them. With a sigh to the departed, let us resume the dull business of life, in the certainty that we also shall have our repose. Besides her who gave me being, I have lost more than one who made that being tolerable—The best friend of my friend Hobhouse, Matthews, a man of the first talents, and also not the worst of my narrow circle, has perished miserably in the muddy waves of the Cam, always fatal to genius:—my poor school-fellow, Wingfield, at Coimbra—within a month; and whilst I had heard from all three, but not seen one. Matthews wrote to me the very day before his death; and though I feel for his fate, I am still more anxious for Hobhouse, who, I very much fear, will hardly retain his senses: his letters to me since the event have been most incoherent. But let this pass; we shall all one day pass along with the rest—the world is too full of such things, and our very sorrow is selfish.
"I received a letter from you, which my late occupations prevented me from duly noticing.—I hope your friends and family will long hold together. I shall be glad to hear from you, on business, on common-place, or any thing, or nothing—but death—I am already too familiar with the dead. It is strange that I look on the skulls which stand beside me (I have always had four in my study) without emotion, but I cannot strip the features of those I have known of their fleshy covering, even in idea, without a hideous sensation; but the worms are less ceremonious.—Surely, the Romans did well when they burned the dead.—I shall be happy to hear from you, and am yours," &c.
* * * * *
LETTER 60. TO MR. HODGSON.
"Newstead Abbey, August 22. 1811.
"You may have heard of the sudden death of my mother, and poor Matthews, which, with that of Wingfield, (of which I was not fully aware till just before I left town, and indeed hardly believed it,) has made a sad chasm in my connections. Indeed the blows followed each other so rapidly that I am yet stupid from the shock; and though I do eat, and drink, and talk, and even laugh, at times, yet I can hardly persuade myself that I am awake, did not every morning convince me mournfully to the contrary.—I shall now wave the subject,—the dead are at rest, and none but the dead can be so.
"You will feel for poor Hobhouse,—Matthews was the 'god of his idolatry;' and if intellect could exalt a man above his fellows, no one could refuse him pre-eminence. I knew him most intimately, and valued him proportionably; but I am recurring—so let us talk of life and the living.
"If you should feel a disposition to come here, you will find 'beef and a sea-coal fire,' and not ungenerous wine. Whether Otway's two other requisites for an Englishman or not, I cannot tell, but probably one of them.—Let me know when I may expect you, that I may tell you when I go and when return. I have not yet been to Lanes. Davies has been here, and has invited me to Cambridge for a week in October, so that, peradventure, we may encounter glass to glass. His gaiety (death cannot mar it) has done me service; but, after all, ours was a hollow laughter.
"You will write to me? I am solitary, and I never felt solitude irksome before. Your anxiety about the critique on * *'s book is amusing; as it was anonymous, certes it was of little consequence: I wish it had produced a little more confusion, being a lover of literary malice. Are you doing nothing? writing nothing? printing nothing? why not your Satire on Methodism? the subject (supposing the public to be blind to merit) would do wonders. Besides, it would be as well for a destined deacon to prove his orthodoxy.—It really would give me pleasure to see you properly appreciated. I say really, as, being an author, my humanity might be suspected. Believe me, dear H., yours always."
* * * * *
LETTER 61. TO MR. DALLAS.
"Newstead, August 21. 1811.
"Your letter gives me credit for more acute feelings than I possess; for though I feel tolerably miserable, yet I am at the same time subject to a kind of hysterical merriment, or rather laughter without merriment, which I can neither account for nor conquer, and yet I do not feel relieved by it; but an indifferent person would think me in excellent spirits. 'We must forget these things,' and have recourse to our old selfish comforts, or rather comfortable selfishness. I do not think I shall return to London immediately, and shall therefore accept freely what is offered courteously—your mediation between me and Murray. I don't think my name will answer the purpose, and you must be aware that my plaguy Satire will bring the north and south Grub Streets down upon the 'Pilgrimage;'—but, nevertheless, if Murray makes a point of it, and you coincide with him, I will do it daringly; so let it be entitled 'By the Author of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.' My remarks on the Romaic, &c., once intended to accompany the 'Hints from Horace,' shall go along with the other, as being indeed more appropriate; also the smaller poems now in my possession, with a few selected from those published in * *'s Miscellany. I have found amongst my poor mother's papers all my letters from the East, and one in particular of some length from Albania. From this, if necessary, I can work up a note or two on that subject. As I kept no journal, the letters written on the spot are the best. But of this anon, when we have definitively arranged.
"Has Murray shown the work to any one? He may—but I will have no traps for applause. Of course there are little things I would wish to alter, and perhaps the two stanzas of a buffooning cast on London's Sunday are as well left out. I much wish to avoid identifying Childe Harold's character with mine, and that, in sooth, is my second objection to my name appearing in the title-page. When you have made arrangements as to time, size, type, &c. favour me with a reply. I am giving you an universe of trouble, which thanks cannot atone for. I made a kind of prose apology for my scepticism at the head of the MS., which, on recollection, is so much more like an attack than a defence, that, haply, it might better be omitted:—perpend, pronounce. After all, I fear Murray will be in a scrape with the orthodox; but I cannot help it, though I wish him well through it. As for me, 'I have supped full of criticism,' and I don't think that the 'most dismal treatise' will stir and rouse my fell of hair' till 'Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane.'
"I shall continue to write at intervals, and hope you will pay me in kind. How does Pratt get on, or rather get off, Joe Blackett's posthumous stock? You killed that poor man amongst you, in spite of your Ionian friend and myself, who would have saved him from Pratt, poetry, present poverty, and posthumous oblivion. Cruel patronage! to ruin a man at his calling; but then he is a divine subject for subscription and biography; and Pratt, who makes the most of his dedications, has inscribed the volume to no less than five families of distinction.
"I am sorry you don't like Harry White: with a great deal of cant, which in him was sincere (indeed it killed him as you killed Joe Blackett), certes there is poesy and genius. I don't say this on account of my simile and rhymes; but surely he was beyond all the Bloomfields and Blacketts, and their collateral cobblers, whom Lofft and Pratt have or may kidnap from their calling into the service of the trade. You must excuse my flippancy, for I am writing I know not what, to escape from myself. Hobhouse is gone to Ireland. Mr. Davies has been here on his way to Harrowgate.
"You did not know M.: he was a man of the most astonishing powers, as he sufficiently proved at Cambridge, by carrying off more prizes and fellow-ships, against the ablest candidates, than any other graduate on record; but a most decided atheist, indeed noxiously so, for he proclaimed his principles in all societies. I knew him well, and feel a loss not easily to be supplied to myself—to Hobhouse never. Let me hear from you, and believe me," &c.
* * * * *
The progress towards publication of his two forthcoming works will be best traced in his letters to Mr. Murray and Mr. Dallas.
LETTER 62. TO MR. MURRAY.
"Newstead Abbey, Notts., August 23. 1811.
"A domestic calamity in the death of a near relation has hitherto prevented my addressing you on the subject of this letter.—My friend, Mr. Dallas, has placed in your hands a manuscript poem written by me in Greece, which he tells me you do not object to publishing. But he also informed me in London that you wished to send the MS. to Mr. Gifford. Now, though no one would feel more gratified by the chance of obtaining his observations on a work than myself, there is in such a proceeding a kind of petition for praise, that neither my pride—or whatever you please to call it—will admit. Mr. G. is not only the first satirist of the day, but editor of one of the principal reviews. As such, he is the last man whose censure (however eager to avoid it) I would deprecate by clandestine means. You will therefore retain the manuscript in your own care, or, if it must needs be shown, send it to another. Though not very patient of censure, I would fain obtain fairly any little praise my rhymes might deserve, at all events not by extortion, and the humble solicitations of a bandied about MS. I am sure a little consideration will convince you it would be wrong.
"If you determine on publication, I have some smaller poems (never published), a few notes, and a short dissertation on the literature of the modern Greeks (written at Athens), which will come in at the end of the volume.—And, if the present poem should succeed, it is my intention, at some subsequent period, to publish some selections from my first work,—my Satire,—another nearly the same length, and a few other things, with the MS. now in your hands, in two volumes.—But of these hereafter. You will apprize me of your determination. I am, Sir, your very obedient," &c.
* * * * *
LETTER 63. TO MR. DALLAS.
"Newstead Abbey, August 25. 1811.
"Being fortunately enabled to frank, I do not spare scribbling, having sent you packets within the last ten days. I am passing solitary, and do not expect my agent to accompany me to Rochdale before the second week in September; a delay which perplexes me, as I wish the business over, and should at present welcome employment. I sent you exordiums, annotations, &c. for the forthcoming quarto, if quarto it is to be: and I also have written to Mr. Murray my objection to sending the MS. to Juvenal, but allowing him to show it to any others of the calling. Hobhouse is amongst the types already: so, between his prose and my verse, the world will be decently drawn upon for its paper-money and patience. Besides all this, my 'Imitation of Horace' is gasping for the press at Cawthorn's, but I am hesitating as to the how and the when, the single or the double, the present or the future. You must excuse all this, for I have nothing to say in this lone mansion but of myself, and yet I would willingly talk or think of aught else.
"What are you about to do? Do you think of perching in Cumberland, as you opined when I was in the metropolis? If you mean to retire, why not occupy Miss * * *'s 'Cottage of Friendship,' late the seat of Cobbler Joe, for whose death you and others are answerable? His 'Orphan Daughter' (pathetic Pratt!) will, certes, turn out a shoemaking Sappho. Have you no remorse? I think that elegant address to Miss Dallas should be inscribed on the cenotaph which Miss * * * means to stitch to his memory.
"The newspapers seem much disappointed at his Majesty's not dying, or doing something better. I presume it is almost over. If parliament meets in October, I shall be in town to attend. I am also invited to Cambridge for the beginning of that month, but am first to jaunt to Rochdale. Now Matthews is gone, and Hobhouse in Ireland, I have hardly one left there to bid me welcome, except my inviter. At three-and-twenty I am left alone, and what more can we be at seventy? It is true I am young enough to begin again, but with whom can I retrace the laughing part of life? It is odd how few of my friends have died a quiet death,—I mean, in their beds. But a quiet life is of more consequence. Yet one loves squabbling and jostling better than yawning. This last word admonishes me to relieve you from yours very truly," &c.
* * * * *
LETTER 64. TO MR. DALLAS.
"Newstead Abbey, August 27. 1811.
"I was so sincere in my note on the late Charles Matthews, and do feel myself so totally unable to do justice to his talents, that the passage must stand for the very reason you bring against it. To him all the men I ever knew were pigmies. He was an intellectual giant. It is true I loved W. better; he was the earliest and the dearest, and one of the few one could never repent of having loved: but in ability—ah! you did not know Matthews!
"'Childe Harold' may wait and welcome—books are never the worse for delay in the publication. So you have got our heir, George Anson Byron, and his sister, with you.
"You may say what you please, but you are one of the murderers of Blackett, and yet you won't allow Harry White's genius. Setting aside his bigotry, he surely ranks next Chatterton. It is astonishing how little he was known; and at Cambridge no one thought or heard of such a man till his death rendered all notice useless. For my own part, I should have been most proud of such an acquaintance: his very prejudices were respectable. There is a sucking epic poet at Granta, a Mr. Townsend, protege of the late Cumberland. Did you ever hear of him and his 'Armageddon?' I think his plan (the man I don't know) borders on the sublime: though, perhaps, the anticipation of the 'Last Day' (according to you Nazarenes) is a little too daring: at least, it looks like telling the Lord what he is to do, and might remind an ill-natured person of the line,
'And fools rush in where angels fear to tread.'
But I don't mean to cavil, only other folks will, and he may bring all the lambs of Jacob Behmen about his ears. However, I hope he will bring it to a conclusion, though Milton is in his way.
"Write to me—I dote on gossip—and make a bow to Ju—, and shake George by the hand for me; but, take care, for he has a sad sea paw.
"P.S. I would ask George here, but I don't know how to amuse him—all my horses were sold when I left England, and I have not had time to replace them. Nevertheless, if he will come down and shoot in September, he will be very welcome: but he must bring a gun, for I gave away all mine to Ali Pacha, and other Turks. Dogs, a keeper, and plenty of game, with a very large manor, I have—a lake, a boat, house-room, and neat wines."
* * * * *
LETTER 65. TO MR. MURRAY.
"Newstead Abbey, Notts., Sept. 5. 1811.
"The time seems to be past when (as Dr. Johnson said) a man was certain to 'hear the truth from his bookseller,' for you have paid me so many compliments, that, if I was not the veriest scribbler on earth, I should feel affronted. As I accept your compliments, it is but fair I should give equal or greater credit to your objections, the more so, as I believe them to be well founded. With regard to the political and metaphysical parts, I am afraid I can alter nothing; but I have high authority for my errors in that point, for even the AEneid was a political poem, and written for a political purpose; and as to my unlucky opinions on subjects of more importance, I am too sincere in them for recantation. On Spanish affairs I have said what I saw, and every day confirms me in that notion of the result formed on the spot; and I rather think honest John Bull is beginning to come round again to that sobriety which Massena's retreat had begun to reel from its centre—the usual consequence of unusual success. So you perceive I cannot alter the sentiments; but if there are any alterations in the structure of the versification you would wish to be made, I will tag rhymes and turn stanzas as much as you please. As for the 'orthodox,' let us hope they will buy, on purpose to abuse—you will forgive the one, if they will do the other. You are aware that any thing from my pen must expect no quarter, on many accounts; and as the present publication is of a nature very different from the former, we must not be sanguine.
"You have given me no answer to my question—tell me fairly, did you show the MS. to some of your corps?—I sent an introductory stanza to Mr. Dallas, to be forwarded to you; the poem else will open too abruptly. The stanzas had better be numbered in Roman characters. There is a disquisition on the literature of the modern Greeks and some smaller poems to come in at the close. These are now at Newstead, but will be sent in time. If Mr. D. has lost the stanza and note annexed to it, write, and I will send it myself.—You tell me to add two Cantos, but I am about to visit my collieries in Lancashire on the 15th instant, which is so unpoetical an employment that I need say no more. I am, sir, your most obedient," &c.