To this, and other follies of the same period, he alludes in the following note:—
TO MR. WILLIAM BANKES.
"Twelve o'clock, Friday night.
"My dear Bankes,
"I have just received your note; believe me I regret most sincerely that I was not fortunate enough to see it before, as I need not repeat to you that your conversation for half an hour would have been much more agreeable to me than gambling or drinking, or any other fashionable mode of passing an evening abroad or at home.—I really am very sorry that I went out previous to the arrival of your despatch: in future pray let me hear from you before six, and whatever my engagements may be, I will always postpone them.—Believe me, with that deference which I have always from my childhood paid to your talents, and with somewhat a better opinion of your heart than I have hitherto entertained,
"Yours ever," &c.
Among the causes—if not rather among the results—of that disposition to melancholy, which, after all, perhaps, naturally belonged to his temperament, must not be forgotten those sceptical views of religion, which clouded, as has been shown, his boyish thoughts, and, at the time of which I am speaking, gathered still more darkly over his mind. In general we find the young too ardently occupied with the enjoyments which this life gives or promises to afford either leisure or inclination for much enquiry into the mysteries of the next. But with him it was unluckily otherwise; and to have, at once, anticipated the worst experience both of the voluptuary and the reasoner,—to have reached, as he supposed, the boundary of this world's pleasures, and see nothing but "clouds and darkness" beyond, was the doom, the anomalous doom, which a nature, premature in all its passions and powers, inflicted on Lord Byron.
When Pope, at the age of five-and-twenty, complained of being weary of the world, he was told by Swift that he "had not yet acted or suffered enough in the world to have become weary of it." But far different was the youth of Pope and of Byron;—what the former but anticipated in thought, the latter had drunk deep of in reality;—at an age when the one was but looking forth on the sea of life, the other had plunged in, and tried its depths. Swift himself, in whom early disappointments and wrongs had opened a vein of bitterness that never again closed, affords a far closer parallel to the fate of our noble poet, as well in the untimeliness of the trials he had been doomed to encounter, as in the traces of their havoc which they left in his character.
That the romantic fancy of youth, which courts melancholy as an indulgence, and loves to assume a sadness it has not had time to earn, may have had some share in, at least, fostering the gloom by which the mind of the young poet was overcast, I am not disposed to deny. The circumstance, indeed, of his having, at this time, among the ornaments of his study, a number of skulls highly polished, and placed on light stands round the room, would seem to indicate that he rather courted than shunned such gloomy associations. Being a sort of boyish mimickry, too, of the use to which the poet Young is said to have applied a skull, such a display might well induce some suspicion of the sincerity of his gloom, did we not, through the whole course of his subsequent life and writings, track visibly the deep vein of melancholy which nature had imbedded in his character.
Such was the state of mind and heart,—as, from his own testimony and that of others, I have collected it,—in which Lord Byron now set out on his indefinite pilgrimage; and never was there a change wrought in disposition and character to which Shakspeare's fancy of "sweet bells jangled out of tune" more truly applied. The unwillingness of Lord Carlisle to countenance him, and his humiliating position in consequence, completed the full measure of that mortification towards which so many other causes had concurred. Baffled, as he had been, in his own ardent pursuit of affection and friendship, his sole revenge and consolation lay in doubting that any such feelings really existed. The various crosses he had met with, in themselves sufficiently irritating and wounding, were rendered still more so by the high, impatient temper with which he encountered them. What others would have bowed to, as misfortunes, his proud spirit rose against, as wrongs; and the vehemence of this re-action produced, at once, a revolution throughout his whole character, in which, as in revolutions of the political world, all that was bad and irregular in his nature burst forth with all that was most energetic and grand. The very virtues and excellencies of his disposition ministered to the violence of this change. The same ardour that had burned through his friendships and loves now fed the fierce explosions of his indignation and scorn. His natural vivacity and humour but lent a fresher flow to his bitterness, till he, at last, revelled in it as an indulgence; and that hatred of hypocrisy, which had hitherto only shown itself in a too shadowy colouring of his own youthful frailties, now hurried him, from his horror of all false pretensions to virtue, into the still more dangerous boast and ostentation of vice.
The following letter to his mother, written a few days before he sailed, gives some particulars respecting the persons who composed his suit. Robert Rushton, whom he mentions so feelingly in the postscript, was the boy introduced, as his page, in the first Canto of Childe Harold.
TO MRS. BYRON.
"Falmouth, June 22. 1809.
"I am about to sail in a few days; probably before this reaches you. Fletcher begged so hard, that I have continued him in my service. If he does not behave well abroad, I will send him back in a transport. I have a German servant, (who has been with Mr. Wilbraham in Persia before, and was strongly recommended to me by Dr. Butler, of Harrow,) Robert and William; they constitute my whole suite. I have letters in plenty:—you shall hear from me at the different ports I touch upon; but you must not be alarmed if my letters miscarry. The Continent is in a fine state—an insurrection has broken out at Paris, and the Austrians are beating Buonaparte—the Tyrolese have risen.
"There is a picture of me in oil, to be sent down to Newstead soon.—I wish the Miss P——s had something better to do than carry my miniatures to Nottingham to copy. Now they have done it, you may ask them to copy the others, which are greater favourites than my own. As to money matters, I am ruined—at least till Rochdale is sold; and if that does not turn out well, I shall enter into the Austrian or Russian service—perhaps the Turkish, if I like their manners. The world is all before me, and I leave England without regret, and without a wish to revisit any thing it contains, except yourself, and your present residence.
"P.S—Pray tell Mr. Rushton his son is well and doing well; so is Murray, indeed better than I ever saw him; he will be back in about a month. I ought to add the leaving Murray to my few regrets, as his age perhaps will prevent my seeing him again. Robert I take with me; I like him, because, like myself, he seems a friendless animal."
To those who have in their remembrance his poetical description of the state of mind in which he now took leave of England, the gaiety and levity of the letters I am about to give will appear, it is not improbable, strange and startling. But, in a temperament like that of Lord Byron, such bursts of vivacity on the surface are by no means incompatible with a wounded spirit underneath; and the light, laughing tone that pervades these letters but makes the feeling of solitariness that breaks out in them the more striking and affecting.
TO MR. HENRY DRURY.
"Falmouth, June 25. 1809.
My dear Drury,
"We sail to-morrow in the Lisbon packet, having been detained till now by the lack of wind, and other necessaries. These being at last procured, by this time to-morrow evening we shall be embarked on the vide vorld of vaters, vor all the vorld like Robinson Crusoe. The Malta vessel not sailing for some weeks, we have determined to go by way of Lisbon, and, as my servants term it, to see 'that there Portingale'—thence to Cadiz and Gibraltar, and so on our old route to Malta and Constantinople, if so be that Captain Kidd, our gallant commander, understands plain sailing and Mercator, and takes us on our voyage all according to the chart.
"Will you tell Dr. Butler that I have taken the treasure of a servant, Friese, the native of Prussia Proper, into my service from his recommendation. He has been all among the Worshippers of Fire in Persia, and has seen Persepolis and all that.
"H—— has made woundy preparations for a book on his return; 100 pens, two gallons of japan ink, and several volumes of best blank, is no bad provision for a discerning public. I have laid down my pen, but have promised to contribute a chapter on the state of morals, &c. &c.
"The cock is crowing, I must be going, And can no more."
GHOST OF GAFFER THUMB.
"Adieu.—Believe me," &c. &c.
TO MR. HODGSON.
"Falmouth, June 25. 1809.
"My dear Hodgson,
"Before this reaches you, Hobhouse, two officers' wives, three children, two waiting-maids, ditto subalterns for the troops, three Portuguese esquires and domestics, in all nineteen souls, will have sailed in the Lisbon packet, with the noble Captain Kidd, a gallant commander as ever smuggled an anker of right Nantz.
"We are going to Lisbon first, because the Malta packet has sailed, d'ye see?—from Lisbon to Gibraltar, Malta, Constantinople, and 'all that,' as Orator Henley said, when he put the Church, and 'all that,' in danger.
"This town of Falmouth, as you will partly conjecture, is no great ways from the sea. It is defended on the sea-side by tway castles, St. Maws and Pendennis, extremely well calculated for annoying every body except an enemy. St. Maws is garrisoned by an able-bodied person of fourscore, a widower. He has the whole command and sole management of six most unmanageable pieces of ordnance, admirably adapted for the destruction of Pendennis, a like tower of strength on the opposite side of the Channel. We have seen St. Maws, but Pendennis they will not let us behold, save at a distance, because Hobhouse and I are suspected of having already taken St. Maws by a coup de main.
"The town contains many Quakers and salt fish—the oysters have a taste of copper, owing to the soil of a mining country—the women (blessed be the Corporation therefor!) are flogged at the cart's tail when they pick and steal, as happened to one of the fair sex yesterday noon. She was pertinacious in her behaviour, and damned the mayor.
"I don't know when I can write again, because it depends on that experienced navigator, Captain Kidd, and the 'stormy winds that (don't) blow' at this season. I leave England without regret—I shall return to it without pleasure. I am like Adam, the first convict sentenced to transportation, but I have no Eve, and have eaten no apple but what was sour as a crab;—and thus ends my first, chapter. Adieu.
In this letter the following lively verses were enclosed:—
"Falmouth Roads, June 30. 1809.
"Huzza! Hodgson, we are going, Our embargo's off at last; Favourable breezes blowing Bend the canvass o'er the mast. From aloft the signal's streaming, Hark! the farewell gun is fired, Women screeching, tars blaspheming, Tell us that our time's expired. Here 's a rascal, Come to task all, Prying from the Custom-house; Trunks unpacking, Cases cracking, Not a corner for a mouse 'Scapes unsearch'd amid the racket, Ere we sail on board the Packet.
"Now our boatmen quit their mooring. And all hands must ply the oar; Baggage from the quay is lowering, We're impatient—push from shore. 'Have a care! that case holds liquor— Stop the boat—I'm sick—oh Lord!' 'Sick, ma'am, damme, you'll be sicker Ere you've been an hour on board.' Thus are screaming Men and women, Gemmen, ladies, servants, Jacks; Here entangling, All are wrangling, Stuck together close as wax.— Such the general noise and racket, Ere we reach the Lisbon Packet.
"Now we've reach'd her, lo! the captain, Gallant Kidd, commands the crew; Passengers their berths are clapt in, Some to grumble, some to spew, 'Hey day! call you that a cabin? Why 'tis hardly three feet square; Not enough to stow Queen Mab in— Who the deuce can harbour there?' 'Who, sir? plenty— Nobles twenty Did at once my vessel fill'— 'Did they? Jesus, How you squeeze us! Would to God they did so still: Then I'd scape the heat and racket, Of the good ship, Lisbon Packet.'
"Fletcher! Murray! Bob! where are you? Stretch'd along the deck like logs— Bear a hand, you jolly tar, you! Here's a rope's end for the dogs. H—— muttering fearful curses, As the hatchway down he rolls; Now his breakfast, now his verses, Vomits forth—and damns our souls. 'Here's a stanza On Braganza— Help!'—'A couplet?'—'No, a cup Of warm water.'— 'What's the matter?' 'Zounds! my liver's coming up; I shall not survive the racket Of this brutal Lisbon Packet.'
"Now at length we're off for Turkey, Lord knows when we shall come back! Breezes foul and tempests murky May unship us in a crack. But, since life at most a jest is, As philosophers allow, Still to laugh by far the best is, Then laugh on—as I do now. Laugh at all things, Great and small things, Sick or well, at sea or shore; While we're quaffing, Let's have laughing— Who the devil cares for more?— Some good wine! and who would lack it, Ev'n on board the Lisbon Packet?
On the second of July the packet sailed from Falmouth, and, after a favourable passage of four days and a half, the voyagers reached Lisbon, and took up their abode in that city.
The following letters, from Lord Byron to his friend Mr. Hodgson, though written in his most light and schoolboy strain, will give some idea of the first impressions that his residence in Lisbon made upon him. Such letters, too, contrasted with the noble stanzas on Portugal in "Childe Harold," will show how various were the moods of his versatile mind, and what different aspects it could take when in repose or on the wing.
TO MR. HODGSON.
"Lisbon, July 16. 1809.
"Thus far have we pursued our route, and seen all sorts of marvellous sights, palaces, convents, &c.;—which, being to be heard in my friend Hobhouse's forthcoming Book of Travels, I shall not anticipate by smuggling any account whatsoever to you in a private and clandestine manner. I must just observe, that the village of Cintra in Estremadura is the most beautiful, perhaps, in the world.
"I am very happy here, because I loves oranges, and talk bad Latin to the monks, who understand it, as it is like their own,—and I goes into society (with my pocket-pistols), and I swims in the Tagus all across at once, and I rides on an ass or a mule, and swears Portuguese, and have got a diarrhoea and bites from the musquitoes. But what of that? Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a pleasuring.
"When the Portuguese are pertinacious, I say, 'Carracho!'—the great oath of the grandees, that very well supplies the place of 'Damme,'—and, when dissatisfied with my neighbour, I pronounce him 'Ambra di merdo.' With these two phrases, and a third, 'Avra bouro,' which signifieth 'Get an ass,' I am universally understood to be a person of degree and a master of languages. How merrily we lives that travellers be!—if we had food and raiment. But in sober sadness, any thing is better than England, and I am infinitely amused with my pilgrimage as far as it has gone.
"To-morrow we start to ride post near 400 miles as far as Gibraltar, where we embark for Melita and Byzantium. A letter to Malta will find me, or to be forwarded, if I am absent. Pray embrace the Drury and Dwyer, and all the Ephesians you encounter. I am writing with Butler's donative pencil, which makes my bad hand worse. Excuse illegibility.
"Hodgson! send me the news, and the deaths and defeats and capital crimes and the misfortunes of one's friends; and let us hear of literary matters, and the controversies and the criticisms. All this will be pleasant—'Suave mari magno,' &c. Talking of that, I have been sea-sick, and sick of the sea.
"Adieu. Yours faithfully," &c.
TO MR. HODGSON.
"Gibraltar, August 6. 1809.
"I have just arrived at this place after a journey through Portugal, and a part of Spain, of nearly 500 miles. We left Lisbon and travelled on horseback to Seville and Cadiz, and thence in the Hyperion frigate to Gibraltar. The horses are excellent—we rode seventy miles a day. Eggs and wine, and hard beds, are all the accommodation we found, and, in such torrid weather, quite enough. My health is better than in England.
"Seville is a fine town, and the Sierra Morena, part of which we crossed, a very sufficient mountain; but damn description, it is always disgusting. Cadiz, sweet Cadiz!—it is the first spot in the creation. The beauty of its streets and mansions is only excelled by the loveliness of its inhabitants. For, with all national prejudice, I must confess the women of Cadiz are as far superior to the English women in beauty as the Spaniards are inferior to the English in every quality that dignifies the name of man. Just as I began to know the principal persons of the city, I was obliged to sail.
"You will not expect a long letter after my riding so far 'on hollow pampered jades of Asia.' Talking of Asia puts me in mind of Africa, which is within five miles of my present residence. I am going over before I go on to Constantinople.
"Cadiz is a complete Cythera. Many of the grandees who have left Madrid during the troubles reside there, and I do believe it is the prettiest and cleanest town in Europe. London is filthy in the comparison. The Spanish women are all alike, their education the same. The wife of a duke is, in information, as the wife of a peasant,—the wife of a peasant, in manner, equal to a duchess. Certainly they are fascinating; but their minds have only one idea, and the business of their lives is intrigue.
"I have seen Sir John Carr at Seville and Cadiz, and, like Swift's barber, have been down on my knees to beg he would not put me into black and white. Pray remember me to the Drurys and the Davies, and all of that stamp who are yet extant. Send me a letter and news to Malta. My next epistle shall be from Mount Caucasus or Mount Sion. I shall return to Spain before I see England, for I am enamoured of the country.
Adieu, and believe me," &c.
In a letter to Mrs. Byron, dated a few days later, from Gibraltar, he recapitulates the same account of his progress, only dwelling rather more diffusely on some of the details. Thus, of Cintra and Mafra:—"To make amends for this, the village of Cintra, about fifteen miles from the capital, is, perhaps in every respect, the most delightful in Europe; it contains beauties of every description, natural and artificial. Palaces and gardens rising in the midst of rocks, cataracts, and precipices; convents on stupendous heights—a distant view of the sea and the Tagus; and, besides (though that is a secondary consideration), is remarkable as the scene of Sir H.D.'s Convention. It unites in itself all the wildness of the western highlands, with the verdure of the south of France. Near this place, about ten miles to the right, is the palace of Mafra, the boast of Portugal, as it might be of any other country, in point of magnificence without elegance. There is a convent annexed; the monks, who possess large revenues, are courteous enough, and understand Latin, so that we had a long conversation: they have a large library, and asked me if the English had any books in their country?"
An adventure which he met with at Seville, characteristic both of the country and of himself, is thus described in the same letter to Mrs. Byron:—
"We lodged in the house of two Spanish unmarried ladies, who possess six houses in Seville, and gave me a curious specimen of Spanish manners. They are women of character, and the eldest a fine woman, the youngest pretty, but not so good a figure as Donna Josepha. The freedom of manner, which is general here, astonished me not a little; and in the course of further observation, I find that reserve is not the characteristic of the Spanish belles, who are, in general, very handsome, with large black eyes, and very fine forms. The eldest honoured your unworthy son with very particular attention, embracing him with great tenderness at parting (I was there but three days), after cutting off a lock of his hair, and presenting him with one of her own, about three feet in length, which I send, and beg you will retain till my return. Her last words were, 'Adios, tu hermoso! me gusto mucho.'—'Adieu, you pretty fellow! you please me much.' She offered me a share of her apartment, which my virtue induced me to decline; she laughed, and said I had some English "amante" (lover), and added that she was going to be married to an officer in the Spanish army."
Among the beauties of Cadiz, his imagination, dazzled by the attractions of the many, was on the point, it would appear from the following, of being fixed by one:—
"Cadiz, sweet Cadiz, is the most delightful town I ever beheld, very different from our English cities in every respect except cleanliness (and it is as clean as London), but still beautiful and full of the finest women in Spain, the Cadiz belles being the Lancashire witches of their land. Just as I was introduced and began to like the grandees, I was forced to leave it for this cursed place; but before I return to England I will visit it again.
"The night before I left it, I sat in the box at the opera, with admiral ——'s family, an aged wife and a fine daughter, Sennorita ——. The girl is very pretty, in the Spanish style; in my opinion, by no means inferior to the English in charms, and certainly superior in fascination. Long, black hair, dark languishing eyes, clear olive complexions, and forms more graceful in motion than can be conceived by an Englishman used to the drowsy listless air of his countrywomen, added to the most becoming dress, and, at the same time, the most decent in the world, render a Spanish beauty irresistible.
"Miss —— and her little brother understood a little French, and, after regretting my ignorance of the Spanish, she proposed to become my preceptress in that language. I could only reply by a low bow, and express my regret that I quitted Cadiz too soon to permit me to make the progress which would doubtless attend my studies under so charming a directress. I was standing at the back of the box, which resembles our Opera boxes, (the theatre is large and finely decorated, the music admirable,) in the manner which Englishmen generally adopt, for fear of incommoding the ladies in front, when this fair Spaniard dispossessed an old woman (an aunt or a duenna) of her chair, and commanded me to be seated next herself, at a tolerable distance from her mamma. At the close of the performance I withdrew, and was lounging with a party of men in the passage, when, en passant, the lady turned round and called me, and I had the honour of attending her to the admiral's mansion. I have an invitation on my return to Cadiz, which I shall accept if I repass through the country on my return from Asia."
To these adventures, or rather glimpses of adventures, which he met with in his hasty passage through Spain, he adverted, I recollect, briefly, in the early part of his "Memoranda;" and it was the younger, I think, of his fair hostesses at Seville, whom he there described himself as making earnest love to, with the help of a dictionary. "For some time," he said, "I went on prosperously both as a linguist and a lover, till at length, the lady took a fancy to a ring which I wore, and set her heart on my giving it to her, as a pledge of my sincerity. This, however, could not be;—anything but the ring, I declared, was at her service, and much more than its value,—but the ring itself I had made a vow never to give away." The young Spaniard grew angry as the contention went on, and it was not long before the lover became angry also; till, at length, the affair ended by their separating unsuccessful on both sides. "Soon after this," said he, "I sailed for Malta, and there parted with both my heart and ring."
In the letter from Gibraltar, just cited, he adds—"I am going over to Africa to-morrow; it is only six miles from this fortress. My next stage is Cagliari in Sardinia, where I shall be presented to his majesty. I have a most superb uniform as a court-dress, indispensable in travelling." His plan of visiting Africa was, however, relinquished. After a short stay at Gibraltar, during which he dined one day with Lady Westmoreland, and another with General Castanos, he, on the 19th of August, took his departure for Malta, in the packet, having first sent Joe Murray and young Rushton back to England,—the latter being unable, from ill health, to accompany him any further. "Pray," he says to his mother, "show the lad every kindness, as he is my great favourite."
He also wrote a letter to the father of the boy, which gives so favourable an impression of his thoughtfulness and kindliness that I have much pleasure in being enabled to introduce it here.
TO MR. RUSHTON.
"Gibraltar, August 15. 1809.
"I have sent Robert home with Mr. Murray, because the country which I am about to travel through is in a state which renders it unsafe, particularly for one so young. I allow you to deduct five-and-twenty pounds a year for his education for three years, provided I do not return before that time, and I desire he may be considered as in my service. Let every care be taken of him, and let him be sent to school. In case of my death I have provided enough in my will to render him independent. He has behaved extremely well, and has travelled a great deal for the time of his absence. Deduct the expense of his education from your rent.
It was the fate of Lord Byron, throughout life, to meet, wherever he went, with persons who, by some tinge of the extraordinary in their own fates or characters, were prepared to enter, at once, into full sympathy with his; and to this attraction, by which he drew towards him all strange and eccentric spirits, he owed some of the most agreeable connections of his life, as well as some of the most troublesome. Of the former description was an intimacy which he now cultivated during his short sojourn at Malta. The lady with whom he formed this acquaintance was the same addressed by him under the name of "Florence" in Childe Harold; and in a letter to his mother from Malta, he thus describes her in prose:—"This letter is committed to the charge of a very extraordinary woman, whom you have doubtless heard of, Mrs. S—— S——, of whose escape the Marquis de Salvo published a narrative a few years ago. She has since been shipwrecked, and her life has been from its commencement so fertile in remarkable incidents that in a romance they would appear improbable. She was born at Constantinople, where her father, Baron H——, was Austrian ambassador; married unhappily, yet has never been impeached in point of character; excited the vengeance of Buonaparte by a part in some conspiracy; several times risked her life; and is not yet twenty-five. She is here on her way to England, to join her husband, being obliged to leave Trieste, where she was paying a visit to her mother, by the approach of the French, and embarks soon in a ship of war. Since my arrival here. I have had scarcely any other companion. I have found her very pretty, very accomplished, and extremely eccentric. Buonaparte is even now so incensed against her, that her life would be in some danger if she were taken prisoner a second time."
The tone in which he addresses this fair heroine in Childe Harold is (consistently with the above dispassionate account of her) that of the purest admiration and interest, unwarmed by any more ardent sentiment:—
"Sweet Florence! could another ever share This wayward, loveless heart, it would be thine: But, check'd by every tie, I may not dare To cast a worthless offering at thy shrine, Nor ask so dear a breast to feel one pang for mine.
"Thus Harold deem'd as on that lady's eye He look'd, and met its beam without a thought, Save admiration, glancing harmless by," &c. &c.
In one so imaginative as Lord Byron, who, while he infused so much of his life into his poetry, mingled also not a little of poetry with his life, it is difficult, in unravelling the texture of his feelings, to distinguish at all times between the fanciful and the real. His description here, for instance, of the unmoved and "loveless heart," with which he contemplated even the charms of this attractive person, is wholly at variance, not only with the anecdote from his "Memoranda" which I have recalled, but with the statements in many of his subsequent letters, and, above all, with one of the most graceful of his lesser poems, purporting to be addressed to this same lady during a thunder-storm, on his road to Zitza.
Notwithstanding, however, these counter evidences, I am much disposed to believe that the representation of the state of heart in the foregoing extract from Childe Harold may be regarded as the true one; and that the notion of his being in love was but a dream that sprung up afterwards, when the image of the fair Florence had become idealised in his fancy, and every remembrance of their pleasant hours among "Calypso's isles" came invested by his imagination with the warm aspect of love. It will be recollected that to the chilled and sated feelings which early indulgence, and almost as early disenchantment, had left behind, he attributes in these verses the calm and passionless regard, with which even attractions like those of Florence were viewed by him. That such was actually his distaste, at this period, to all real objects of love or passion (however his fancy could call up creatures of its own to worship) there is every reason to believe; and the same morbid indifference to those pleasures he had once so ardently pursued still continued to be professed by him on his return to England. No anchoret, indeed, could claim for himself much more apathy towards all such allurements than he did at that period. But to be thus saved from temptation was a dear-bought safety, and, at the age of three-and-twenty, satiety and disgust are but melancholy substitutes for virtue.
The brig of war, in which they sailed, having been ordered to convoy a fleet of small merchant-men to Patras and Prevesa, they remained, for two or three days, at anchor off the former place. From thence, proceeding to their ultimate destination, and catching a sunset view of Missolonghi in their way, they landed, on the 29th of September, at Prevesa.
The route which Lord Byron now took through Albania, as well as those subsequent journeys through other parts of Turkey, which he performed in company with his friend Mr. Hobhouse, may be traced, by such as are desirous of details on the subject, in the account which the latter gentleman has given of his travels; an account which, interesting from its own excellence in every merit that should adorn such a work, becomes still more so from the feeling that Lord Byron is, as it were, present through its pages, and that we there follow his first youthful footsteps into the land with whose name he has intertwined his own for ever. As I am enabled, however, by the letters of the noble poet to his mother, as well as by others, still more curious, which are now, for the first time, published, to give his own rapid and lively sketches of his wanderings, I shall content myself, after this general reference to the volume of Mr. Hobhouse, with such occasional extracts from its pages as may throw light upon the letters of his friend.
TO MRS. BYRON.
"Prevesa, November 12. 1809.
"My dear Mother,
"I have now been some time in Turkey: this place is on the coast, but I have traversed the interior of the province of Albania on a visit to the Pacha. I left Malta in the Spider, a brig of war, on the 21st of September, and arrived in eight days at Prevesa. I thence have been about 150 miles, as far as Tepaleen, his Highness's country palace, where I stayed three days. The name of the Pacha is Ali, and he is considered a man of the first abilities: he governs the whole of Albania (the ancient Illyricum), Epirus, and part of Macedonia. His son, Vely Pacha, to whom he has given me letters, governs the Morea, and has great influence in Egypt; in short, he is one of the most powerful men in the Ottoman empire. When I reached Yanina, the capital, after a journey of three days over the mountains, through a country of the most picturesque beauty, I found that Ali Pacha was with his array in Illyricum, besieging Ibrahim Pacha in the castle of Berat. He had heard that an Englishman of rank was in his dominions, and had left orders in Yanina with the commandant to provide a house, and supply me with every kind of necessary gratis; and, though I have been allowed to make presents to the slaves, &c., I have not been permitted to pay for a single article of household consumption.
"I rode out on the vizier's horses, and saw the palaces of himself and grandsons: they are splendid, but too much ornamented with silk and gold. I then went over the mountains through Zitza, a village with a Greek monastery (where I slept on my return), in the most beautiful situation (always excepting Cintra, in Portugal) I ever beheld. In nine days I reached Tepaleen. Our journey was much prolonged by the torrents that had fallen from the mountains and intersected the roads. I shall never forget the singular scene on entering Tepaleen at five in the afternoon, as the sun was going down. It brought to my mind (with some change of dress, however) Scott's description of Branksome Castle in his Lay, and the feudal system. The Albanians, in their dresses, (the most magnificent in the world, consisting of a long white kilt, gold-worked cloak, crimson velvet gold-laced jacket and waistcoat, silver mounted pistols and daggers,) the Tartars with their high caps, the Turks in their vast pelisses and turbans, the soldiers and black slaves with the horses, the former in groups in an immense large open gallery in front of the palace, the latter placed in a kind of cloister below it, two hundred steeds ready caparisoned to move in a moment, couriers entering or passing out with despatches, the kettle-drums beating, boys calling the hour from the minaret of the mosque, altogether, with the singular appearance of the building itself, formed a new and delightful spectacle to a stranger. I was conducted to a very handsome apartment, and my health enquired after by the vizier's secretary, 'a-la-mode Turque!'
"The next day I was introduced to Ali Pacha. I was dressed in a full suit of staff uniform, with a very magnificent sabre, &c. The vizier received me in a large room paved with marble; a fountain was playing in the centre; the apartment was surrounded by scarlet ottomans. He received me standing, a wonderful compliment from a Mussulman, and made me sit down on his right hand. I have a Greek interpreter for general use, but a physician of Ali's, named Femlario, who understands Latin, acted for me on this occasion. His first question was, why, at so early an age, I left my country?—(the Turks have no idea of travelling for amusement.) He then said, the English minister, Captain Leake, had told him I was of a great family, and desired his respects to my mother; which I now, in the name of Ali Pacha, present to you. He said he was certain I was a man of birth, because I had small ears, curling hair, and little white hands, and expressed himself pleased with my appearance and garb. He told me to consider him as a father whilst I was in Turkey, and said he looked on me as his son. Indeed, he treated me like a child, sending me almonds and sugared sherbet, fruit and sweetmeats, twenty times a day. He begged me to visit him often, and at night, when he was at leisure. I then, after coffee and pipes, retired for the first time. I saw him thrice afterwards. It is singular, that the Turks, who have no hereditary dignities, and few great families, except the Sultans, pay so much respect to birth; for I found my pedigree more regarded than my title.
"To-day I saw the remains of the town of Actium, near which Antony lost the world, in a small bay, where two frigates could hardly manoeuvre: a broken wall is the sole remnant. On another part of the gulf stand the ruins of Nicopolis, built by Augustus in honour of his victory. Last night I was at a Greek marriage; but this and a thousand things more I have neither time nor space to describe.
"I am going to-morrow, with a guard of fifty men, to Patras in the Morea, and thence to Athens, where I shall winter. Two days ago I was nearly lost in a Turkish ship of war, owing to the ignorance of the captain and crew, though the storm was not violent. Fletcher yelled after his wife, the Greeks called on all the saints, the Mussulmans on Alla; the captain burst into tears and ran below deck, telling us to call on God; the sails were split, the main-yard shivered, the wind blowing fresh, the night setting in, and all our chance was to make Corfu, which is in possession of the French, or (as Fletcher pathetically termed it) 'a watery grave.' I did what I could to console Fletcher, but finding him incorrigible, wrapped myself up in my Albanian capote (an immense cloak), and lay down on deck to wait the worst. I have learnt to philosophise in my travels, and if I had not, complaint was useless. Luckily the wind abated and only drove us on the coast of Suli, on the main land, where we landed, and proceeded, by the help of the natives, to Prevesa again; but I shall not trust Turkish sailors in future, though the Pacha had ordered one of his own galliots to take me to Patras. I am therefore going as far as Missolonghi by land, and there have only to cross a small gulf to get to Patras.
"Fletcher's next epistle will be full of marvels: we were one night lost for nine hours in the mountains in a thunder-storm, and since nearly wrecked. In both cases Fletcher was sorely bewildered, from apprehensions of famine and banditti in the first, and drowning in the second instance. His eyes were a little hurt by the lightning, or crying (I don't know which), but are now recovered. When you write, address to me at Mr. Strane's, English consul, Patras, Morea.
"I could tell you I know not how many incidents that I think would amuse you, but they crowd on my mind as much as they would swell my paper, and I can neither arrange them in the one, nor put them down on the other except in the greatest confusion. I like the Albanians much; they are not all Turks; some tribes are Christians. But their religion makes little difference in their manner or conduct. They are esteemed the best troops in the Turkish service. I lived on my route, two days at once, and three days again in a barrack at Salora, and never found soldiers so tolerable, though I have been in the garrisons of Gibraltar and Malta, and seen Spanish, French, Sicilian, and British troops in abundance. I have had nothing stolen, and was always welcome to their provision and milk. Not a week ago an Albanian chief, (every village has its chief, who is called Primate,) after helping us out of the Turkish galley in her distress, feeding us, and lodging my suite, consisting of Fletcher, a Greek, two Athenians, a Greek priest, and my companion, Mr. Hobhouse, refused any compensation but a written paper stating that I was well received; and when I pressed him to accept a few sequins, 'No,' he replied; 'I wish you to love me, not to pay me.' These are his words.
"It is astonishing how far money goes in this country. While I was in the capital I had nothing to pay by the vizier's order; but since, though I have generally had sixteen horses, and generally six or seven men, the expense has not been half as much as staying only three weeks in Malta, though Sir A. Ball, the governor, gave me a house for nothing, and I had only one servant. By the by, I expect H—— to remit regularly; for I am not about to stay in this province for ever. Let him write to me at Mr. Strane's, English consul, Patras. The fact is, the fertility of the plains is wonderful, and specie is scarce, which makes this remarkable cheapness. I am going to Athens to study modern Greek, which differs much from the ancient, though radically similar. I have no desire to return to England, nor shall I, unless compelled by absolute want, and H——'s neglect; but I shall not enter into Asia for a year or two, as I have much to see in Greece, and I may perhaps cross into Africa, at least the Egyptian part. Fletcher, like all Englishmen, is very much dissatisfied, though a little reconciled to the Turks by a present of eighty piastres from the vizier, which, if you consider every thing, and the value of specie here, is nearly worth ten guineas English. He has suffered nothing but from cold, heat, and vermin, which those who lie in cottages and cross mountains in a cold country must undergo, and of which I have equally partaken with himself; but he is not valiant, and is afraid of robbers and tempests. I have no one to be remembered to in England, and wish to hear nothing from it, but that you are well, and a letter or two on business from H——, whom you may tell to write. I will write when I can, and beg you to believe me,
Your affectionate son,
About the middle of November, the young traveller took his departure from Prevesa (the place where the foregoing letter was written), and proceeded, attended by his guard of fifty Albanians, through Acarnania and AEtolia, towards the Morea.
"And therefore did he take a trusty band To traverse Acarnania's forest wide, In war well season'd, and with labours tann'd, Till he did greet white Achelous' tide, And from his further bank AEtolia's wolds espied."
CHILDE HAROLD, Canto II.
His description of the night-scene at Utraikey (a small place situated in one of the bays of the Gulf of Arta) is, no doubt, vividly in the recollection of every reader of these pages; nor will it diminish their enjoyment of the wild beauties of that picture to be made acquainted with the real circumstances on which it was founded, in the following animated details of the same scene by his fellow-traveller:—
"In the evening the gates were secured, and preparations were made for feeding our Albanians. A goat was killed and roasted whole, and four fires were kindled in the yard, round which the soldiers seated themselves in parties. After eating and drinking, the greater part of them assembled round the largest of the fires, and whilst ourselves and the elders of the party were seated on the ground, danced round the blaze to their own songs, in the manner before described, but with an astonishing energy. All their songs were relations of some robbing exploits. One of them, which detained them more than an hour, began thus:—'When we set out from Parga there were sixty of us:'—then came the burden of the verse,
"'Robbers all at Parga! Robbers all at Parga!
"'Κλεφτεις ποτε Παργα! Κλεφτεις ποτε Παργα!'
And as they roared out this stave they whirled round the fire, dropped and rebounded from their knees, and again whirled round as the chorus was again repeated. The rippling of the waves upon the pebbly margin where we were seated filled up the pauses of the song with a milder and not more monotonous music. The night was very dark, but by the flashes of the fires we caught a glimpse of the woods, the rocks, and the lake, which, together with the wild appearance of the dancers, presented us with a scene that would have made a fine picture in the hands of such an artist as the author of the Mysteries of Udolpho."
Having traversed Acarnania, the travellers passed to the AEtolian side of the Achelous, and on the 21st of November reached Missolonghi. And here, it is impossible not to pause, and send a mournful thought forward to the visit which, fifteen years after, he paid to this same spot, when, in the full meridian both of his age and fame, he came to lay down his life as the champion of that land, through which he now wandered a stripling and a stranger. Could some spirit have here revealed to him the events of that interval,—have shown him, on the one side, the triumphs that awaited him, the power his varied genius would acquire over all hearts, alike to elevate or depress, to darken or illuminate them,—and then place, on the other side, all the penalties of this gift, the waste and wear of the heart through the imagination, the havoc of that perpetual fire within, which, while it dazzles others, consumes the possessor,—the invidiousness of such an elevation in the eyes of mankind, and the revenge they take on him who compels them to look up to it,—would he, it may be asked, have welcomed glory on such conditions? would he not rather have felt that the purchase was too costly, and that such warfare with an ungrateful world, while living, would be ill recompensed even by the immortality it might award him afterwards?
At Missolonghi he dismissed his whole band of Albanians, with the exception of one, named Dervish, whom he took into his service, and who, with Basilius, the attendant allotted him by Ali Pacha, continued with him during the remainder of his stay in the East. After a residence of near a fortnight at Patras, he next directed his course to Vostizza,—on approaching which town the snowy peak of Parnassus, towering on the other side of the Gulf, first broke on his eyes; and in two days after, among the sacred hollows of Delphi, the stanzas, with which that vision had inspired him, were written.
It was at this time, that, in riding along the sides of Parnassus, he saw an unusually large flight of eagles in the air,—a phenomenon which seems to have affected his imagination with a sort of poetical superstition, as he, more than once, recurs to the circumstance in his journals. Thus, "Going to the fountain of Delphi (Castri) in 1809, I saw a flight of twelve eagles (H. says they were vultures—at least in conversation), and I seised the omen. On the day before I composed the lines to Parnassus (in Childe Harold), and, on beholding the birds, had a hope that Apollo had accepted my homage. I have at least had the name and fame of a poet during the poetical part of life (from twenty to thirty);—whether it will last is another matter."
He has also, in reference to this journey from Patras, related a little anecdote of his own sportsmanship, which, by all but sportsmen, will be thought creditable to his humanity. "The last bird I ever fired at was an eaglet, on the shore of the Gulf of Lepanto, near Vostizza. It was only wounded, and I tried to save it,—the eye was so bright. But it pined, and died in a few days; and I never did since, and never will, attempt the death of another bird."
To a traveller in Greece, there are few things more remarkable than the diminutive extent of those countries, which have filled such a wide space in fame. "A man might very easily," says Mr. Hobhouse, "at a moderate pace ride from Livadia to Thebes and back again between breakfast and dinner; and the tour of all Boeotia might certainly be made in two days without baggage." Having visited, within a very short space of time, the fountains of Memory and Oblivion at Livadia, and the haunts of the Ismenian Apollo at Thebes, the travellers at length turned towards Athens, the city of their dreams, and, after crossing Mount Cithaeron, arrived in sight of the ruins of Phyle, on the evening of Christmas-day, 1809.
Though the poet has left, in his own verses, an ever-during testimony of the enthusiasm with which he now contemplated the scenes around him, it is not difficult to conceive that, to superficial observers, Lord Byron at Athens might have appeared an untouched spectator of much that throws ordinary travellers into, at least, verbal raptures. For pretenders of every sort, whether in taste or morals, he entertained, at all times, the most profound contempt; and if, frequently, his real feelings of admiration disguised themselves under an affected tone of indifference and mockery, it was out of pure hostility to the cant of those, who, he well knew, praised without any feeling at all. It must be owned, too, that while he thus justly despised the raptures of the common herd of travellers, there were some pursuits, even of the intelligent and tasteful, in which he took but very little interest. With the antiquarian and connoisseur his sympathies were few and feeble:—"I am not a collector," he says, in one of his notes on Childe Harold, "nor an admirer of collections." For antiquities, indeed, unassociated with high names and deeds, he had no value whatever; and of works of art he was content to admire the general effect, without professing, or aiming at, any knowledge of the details. It was to nature, in her lonely scenes of grandeur and beauty, or as at Athens, shining, unchanged, among the ruins of glory and of art, that the true fervid homage of his whole soul was paid. In the few notices of his travels, appended to Childe Harold, we find the sites and scenery of the different places he visited far more fondly dwelt upon than their classic or historical associations. To the valley of Zitza he reverts, both in prose and verse, with a much warmer recollection than to Delphi or the Troad; and the plain of Athens itself is chiefly praised by him as "a more glorious prospect than even Cintra or Istambol." Where, indeed, could Nature assert such claims to his worship as in scenes like these, where he beheld her blooming, in indestructible beauty, amid the wreck of all that man deems most worthy of duration? "Human institutions," says Harris, "perish, but Nature is permanent:"—or, as Lord Byron has amplified this thought in one of his most splendid passages:—
"Yet are thy skies as blue, thy crags as wild; Sweet are thy groves, and verdant are thy fields, Thine olive ripe as when Minerva smiled, And still his honeyed wealth Hymettus yields; There the blithe bee his fragrant fortress builds, The free-born wanderer of thy mountain-air; Apollo still thy long, long summer gilds, Still in his beam Mendeli's marbles glare; Art, Glory, Freedom fail, but Nature still is fair."
CHILDE HAROLD, Canto II.
At Athens, on this his first visit, he made a stay of between two and three months, not a day of which he let pass without employing some of its hours in visiting the grand monuments of ancient genius around him, and calling up the spirit of other times among their ruins. He made frequently, too, excursions to different parts of Attica; and it was in one of his visits to Cape Colonna, at this time, that he was near being seized by a party of Mainotes, who were lying hid in the caves under the cliff of Minerva Sunias. These pirates, it appears, were only deterred from attacking him (as a Greek, who was then their prisoner, informed him afterwards) by a supposition that the two Albanians, whom they saw attending him, were but part of a complete guard he had at hand.
In addition to all the magic of its names and scenes, the city of Minerva possessed another sort of attraction for the poet, to which, wherever he went, his heart, or rather imagination, was but too sensible. His pretty song, "Maid of Athens, ere we part," is said to have been addressed to the eldest daughter of the Greek lady at whose house he lodged; and that the fair Athenian, when he composed these verses, may have been the tenant, for the time being, of his fancy, is highly possible. Theodora Macri, his hostess, was the widow of the late English vice-consul, and derived a livelihood from letting, chiefly to English travellers, the apartments which Lord Byron and his friend now occupied, and of which the latter gentleman gives us the following description;—"Our lodgings consisted of a sitting-room and two bed-rooms, opening into a court-yard where there were five or six lemon-trees, from which, during our residence in the place, was plucked the fruit that seasoned the pilaf, and other national dishes served up at our frugal table."
The fame of an illustrious poet is not confined to his own person and writings, but imparts a share of its splendour to whatever has been, even remotely, connected with him; and not only ennobles the objects of his friendships, his loves, and even his likings, but on every spot where he has sojourned through life, leaves traces of its light that do not easily pass away. Little did the Maid of Athens, while listening innocently to the compliments of the young Englishman, foresee that a day would come when he should make her name and home so celebrated that travellers, on their return from Greece, would find few things more interesting to their hearers than such details of herself and her family as the following:—
"Our servant, who had gone before to procure accommodation, met us at the gate and conducted us to Theodora Macri, the Consulina's, where we at present live. This lady is the widow of the consul, and has three lovely daughters; the eldest celebrated for her beauty, and said to be the subject of those stanzas by Lord Byron,—
"'Maid of Athens, ere we part, Give, oh, give me back my heart!' &c.
"At Orchomenus, where stood the Temple of the Graces, I was tempted to exclaim, 'Whither have the Graces fled?'—Little did I expect to find them here. Yet here comes one of them with golden cups and coffee, and another with a book. The book is a register of names, some of which are far sounded by the voice of fame. Among them is Lord Byron's, connected with some lines which I shall send you:—
"'Fair Albion, smiling, sees her son depart, To trace the birth and nursery of art; Noble his object, glorious is his aim, He comes to Athens, and he—writes his name.'
"The counterpoise by Lord Byron:—
"'This modest bard, like many a bard unknown, Rhymes on our names, but wisely hides his own; But yet whoe'er he be, to say no worse, His name would bring more credit than his verse.'
"The mention of the three Athenian Graces will, I can foresee, rouse your curiosity, and fire your imagination; and I may despair of your farther attention till I attempt to give you some description of them. Their apartment is immediately opposite to ours, and if you could see them, as we do now, through the gently waving aromatic plants before our window, you would leave your heart in Athens.
"Theresa, the Maid of Athens, Catinco, and Mariana, are of middle stature. On the crown of the head of each is a red Albanian skull-cap, with a blue tassel spread out and fastened down like a star. Near the edge or bottom of the skull-cap is a handkerchief of various colours bound round their temples. The youngest wears her hair loose, falling on her shoulders,—the hair behind descending down the back nearly to the waist, and, as usual, mixed with silk. The two eldest generally have their hair bound, and fastened under the handkerchief. Their upper robe is a pelisse edged with fur, hanging loose down to the ankles; below is a handkerchief of muslin covering the bosom, and terminating at the waist, which is short; under that, a gown of striped silk or muslin, with a gore round the swell of the loins, falling in front in graceful negligence;—white stockings and yellow slippers complete their attire. The two eldest have black, or dark hair and eyes; their visage oval, and complexion somewhat pale, with teeth of dazzling whiteness. Their cheeks are rounded, and noses straight, rather inclined to aquiline. The youngest, Mariana, is very fair, her face not so finely rounded, but has a gayer expression than her sisters', whose countenances, except when the conversation has something of mirth in it, may be said to be rather pensive. Their persons are elegant, and their manners pleasing and lady-like, such as would be fascinating in any country. They possess very considerable powers of conversation, and their minds seem to be more instructed than those of the Greek women in general. With such attractions it would, indeed, be remarkable, if they did not meet with great attentions from the travellers who occasionally are resident in Athens. They sit in the eastern style, a little reclined, with their limbs gathered under them on the divan, and without shoes. Their employments are the needle, tambouring, and reading.
"I have said that I saw these Grecian beauties through the waving aromatic plants before their window. This, perhaps, has raised your imagination somewhat too high, in regard to their condition. You may have supposed their dwelling to have every attribute of eastern luxury. The golden cups, too, may have thrown a little witchery over your excited fancy. Confess, do you not imagine that the doors
"'Self-open'd into halls, where, who can tell What elegance and grandeur wide expand, The pride of Turkey and of Persia's land; Soft quilts on quilts, on carpets carpets spread, And couches stretch'd around in seemly band, And endless pillows rise to prop the head, So that each spacious room was one full swelling bed?'
"You will shortly perceive the propriety of my delaying, till now, to inform you that the aromatic plants which I have mentioned are neither more nor less than a few geraniums and Grecian balms, and that the room in which the ladies sit is quite unfurnished, the walls neither painted nor decorated by 'cunning hand.' Then, what would have become of the Graces had I told you sooner that a single room is all they have, save a little closet and a kitchen? You see how careful I have been to make the first impression good; not that they do not merit every praise, but that it is in man's august and elevated nature to think a little slightingly of merit, and even of beauty, if not supported by some worldly show. Now, I shall communicate to you a secret, but in the lowest whisper.
"These ladies, since the death of the consul, their father, depend on strangers living in their spare room and closet,—which we now occupy. But, though so poor, their virtue shines as conspicuously as their beauty.
"Not all the wealth of the East, or the complimentary lays even of the first of England's poets, could render them so truly worthy of love and admiration."
Ten weeks had flown rapidly away, when the unexpected offer of a passage in an English sloop of war to Smyrna induced the travellers to make immediate preparations for departure, and, on the 5th of March, they reluctantly took leave of Athens. "Passing," says Mr. Hobhouse, "through the gate leading to the Piraeus, we struck into the olive-wood on the road going to Salamis, galloping at a quick pace, in order to rid ourselves, by hurry, of the pain of parting." He adds, "We could not refrain from looking back, as we passed rapidly to the shore, and we continued to direct our eyes towards the spot, where we had caught the last glimpse of the Theseum and the ruins of the Parthenon through the vistas in the woods, for many minutes after the city and the Acropolis had been totally hidden from our view."
At Smyrna Lord Byron took up his residence in the house of the consul-general, and remained there, with the exception of two or three days employed in a visit to the ruins of Ephesus, till the 11th of April. It was during this time, as appears from a memorandum of his own, that the two first Cantos of Childe Harold, which he had begun five months before at Ioannina, were completed. The memorandum alluded to, which I find prefixed to his original manuscript of the poem, is as follows:—
"Byron, Ioannina in Albania. Begun October 31st, 1809; Concluded Canto 2d, Smyrna, March 28th. 1810.
From Smyrna the only letter, at all interesting, which I am enabled to present to the reader, is the following:—
TO MRS. BYRON.
"Smyrna, March 19. 1810.
"I cannot write you a long letter; but as I know you will not be sorry to receive any intelligence of my movements, pray accept what I can give. I have traversed the greatest part of Greece, besides Epirus, &c. &c., resided ten weeks at Athens, and am now on the Asiatic side on my way to Constantinople. I have just returned from viewing the ruins of Ephesus, a day's journey from Smyrna. I presume you have received a long letter I wrote from Albania, with an account of my reception by the Pacha of the province.
"When I arrive at Constantinople, I shall determine whether to proceed into Persia or return, which latter I do not wish, if I can avoid it. But I have no intelligence from Mr. H——, and but one letter from yourself. I shall stand in need of remittances whether I proceed or return. I have written to him repeatedly, that he may not plead ignorance of my situation for neglect. I can give you no account of any thing, for I have not time or opportunity, the frigate sailing immediately. Indeed the further I go the more my laziness increases, and my aversion to letter-writing becomes more confirmed. I have written to no one but to yourself and Mr. H——, and these are communications of business and duty rather than of inclination.
"F—— is very much disgusted with his fatigues, though he has undergone nothing that I have not shared. He is a poor creature; indeed English servants are detestable travellers. I have, besides him, two Albanian soldiers and a Greek interpreter; all excellent in their way. Greece, particularly in the vicinity of Athens, is delightful,—cloudless skies and lovely landscapes. But I must reserve all account of my adventures till we meet. I keep no journal, but my friend H. writes incessantly. Pray take care of Murray and Robert, and tell the boy it is the most fortunate thing for him that he did not accompany me to Turkey. Consider this as merely a notice of my safety, and believe me,
yours, &c. &c.
On the 11th of April he left Smyrna in the Salsette frigate, which had been ordered to Constantinople, for the purpose of conveying the ambassador, Mr. Adair, to England, and, after an exploratory visit to the ruins of Troas, arrived, at the beginning of the following month, in the Dardanelles.—While the frigate was at anchor in these straits, the following letters to his friends Mr. Drury and Mr. Hodgson were written.
TO MR. HENRY DRURY.
"Salsette frigate, May 3. 1810.
"My dear Drury,
"When I left England, nearly a year ago, you requested me to write to you—I will do so. I have crossed Portugal, traversed the south of Spain, visited Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, and thence passed into Turkey, where I am still wandering. I first landed in Albania, the ancient Epirus, where we penetrated as far as Mount Tomarit—excellently treated by the chief AH Pacha,—and, after journeying through Illyria, Chaonia, &c., crossed the Gulf of Actium, with a guard of fifty Albanians, and passed the Achelous in our route through Acarnania and AEtolia. We stopped a short time in the Morea, crossed the Gulf of Lepanto, and landed at the foot of Parnassus;—saw all that Delphi retains, and so on to Thebes and Athens, at which last we remained ten weeks.
"His Majesty's ship, Pylades, brought us to Smyrna; but not before we had topographised Attica, including, of course, Marathon and the Sunian promontory. From Smyrna to the Troad (which we visited when at anchor, for a fortnight, off the tomb of Antilochus) was our next stage; and now we are in the Dardanelles, waiting for a wind to proceed to Constantinople.
"This morning I swam from Sestos to Abydos. The immediate distance is not above a mile, but the current renders it hazardous;—so much so that I doubt whether Leander's conjugal affection must not have been a little chilled in his passage to Paradise. I attempted it a week ago, and failed,—owing to the north wind, and the wonderful rapidity of the tide,—though I have been from my childhood a strong swimmer. But, this morning being calmer, I succeeded, and crossed the 'broad Hellespont' in an hour and ten minutes.
"Well, my dear sir, I have left my home, and seen part of Africa and Asia, and a tolerable portion of Europe. I have been with generals and admirals, princes and pashas, governors and ungovernables,—but I have not time or paper to expatiate. I wish to let you know that I live with a friendly remembrance of you, and a hope to meet you again; and if I do this as shortly as possible, attribute it to anything but forgetfulness.
"Greece, ancient and modern, you know too well to require description. Albania, indeed, I have seen more of than any Englishman (except a Mr. Leake), for it is a country rarely visited, from the savage character of the natives, though abounding in more natural beauties than the classical regions of Greece,—which, however, are still eminently beautiful, particularly Delphi and Cape Colonna in Attica. Yet these are nothing to parts of Illyria and Epirus, where places without a name, and rivers not laid down in maps, may, one day, when more known, be justly esteemed superior subjects, for the pencil and the pen, to the dry ditch of the Ilissus and the bogs of Boeotia.
"The Troad is a fine field for conjecture and snipe-shooting, and a good sportsman and an ingenious scholar may exercise their feet and faculties to great advantage upon the spot;—or, if they prefer riding, lose their way (as I did) in a cursed quagmire of the Scamander, who wriggles about as if the Dardan virgins still offered their wonted tribute. The only vestige of Troy, or her destroyers, are the barrows supposed to contain the carcasses of Achilles, Antilochus, Ajax, &c.;—but Mount Ida is still in high feather, though the shepherds are now-a-days not much like Ganymede. But why should I say more of these things? are they not written in the Boke of Gell? and has not H. got a journal? I keep none, as I have renounced scribbling.
"I see not much difference between ourselves and the Turks, save that we have ——, and they have none—that they have long dresses, and we short, and that we talk much, and they little. They are sensible people. Ali Pacha told me he was sure I was a man of rank, because I had small ears and hands, and curling hair. By the by, I speak the Romaic, or modern Greek, tolerably. It does not differ from the ancient dialects so much as you would conceive: but the pronunciation is diametrically opposite. Of verse, except in rhyme, they have no idea.
"I like the Greeks, who are plausible rascals,—with all the Turkish vices, without their courage. However, some are brave, and all are beautiful, very much resembling the busts of Alcibiades:—the women not quite so handsome. I can swear in Turkish; but, except one horrible oath, and 'pimp,' and 'bread,' and 'water,' I have got no great vocabulary in that language. They are extremely polite to strangers of any rank, properly protected; and as I have two servants and two soldiers, we get on with great eclat. We have been occasionally in danger of thieves, and once of shipwreck,—but always escaped.
"Of Spain I sent some account to our Hodgson, but have subsequently written to no one, save notes to relations and lawyers, to keep them out of my premises. I mean to give up all connection, on my return, with many of my best friends—as I supposed them—and to snarl all my life. But I hope to have one good-humoured laugh with you, and to embrace Dwyer, and pledge Hodgson, before I commence cynicism.
"Tell Dr. Butler I am now writing with the gold pen he gave me before I left England, which is the reason my scrawl is more unintelligible than usual. I have been at Athens and seen plenty of these reeds for scribbling, some of which he refused to bestow upon me, because topographic Gell had brought them from Attica. But I will not describe,—no—you must be satisfied with simple detail till my return, and then we will unfold the flood-gates of colloquy. I am in a thirty-six gun frigate, going up to fetch Bob Adair from Constantinople, who will have the honour to carry this letter.
"And so H.'s boke is out, with some sentimental sing-song of my own to fill up,—and how does it take, eh? and where the devil is the second edition of my Satire, with additions? and my name on the title page? and more lines tagged to the end, with a new exordium and what not, hot from my anvil before I cleared the Channel? The Mediterranean and the Atlantic roll between me and criticism; and the thunders of the Hyperborean Review are deafened by the roar of the Hellespont.
"Remember me to Claridge, if not translated to college, and present to Hodgson assurances of my high consideration. Now, you will ask, what shall I do next? and I answer, I do not know. I may return in a few months, but I have intents and projects after visiting Constantinople.—Hobhouse, however, will probably be back in September.
"On the 2d of July we have left Albion one year—'oblitus meorum obliviscendus et illis.' I was sick of my own country, and not much prepossessed in favour of any other; but I 'drag on' 'my chain' without 'lengthening it at each remove.' I am like the Jolly Miller, caring for nobody, and not cared for. All countries are much the same in my eyes. I smoke, and stare at mountains, and twirl my mustachios very independently. I miss no comforts, and the musquitoes that rack the morbid frame of H. have, luckily for me, little effect on mine, because I live more temperately.
"I omitted Ephesus in my catalogue, which I visited during my sojourn at Smyrna; but the Temple has almost perished, and St. Paul need not trouble himself to epistolise the present brood of Ephesians, who have converted a large church built entirely of marble into a mosque, and I don't know that the edifice looks the worse for it.
"My paper is full, and my ink ebbing—good afternoon! If you address to me at Malta, the letter will be forwarded wherever I may be. H. greets you; he pines for his poetry,—at least, some tidings of it. I almost forgot to tell you that I am dying for love of three Greek girls at Athens, sisters. I lived in the same house. Teresa, Mariana, and Katinka, are the names of these divinities,—all of them under fifteen.
Your ταπεινοτατοϛ δουλοϛ,
TO MR. HODGSON.
"Salsette frigate, in the Dardanelles, off Abydos, May 5. 1810.
"I am on my way to Constantinople, after a tour through Greece, Epirus, &c., and part of Asia Minor, some particulars of which I have just communicated to our friend and host, H. Drury. With these, then, I shall not trouble you; but as you will perhaps be pleased to hear that I am well, &c., I take the opportunity of our ambassador's return to forward the few lines I have time to despatch. We have undergone some inconveniences, and incurred partial perils, but no events worthy of communication, unless you will deem it one that two days ago I swam from Sestos to Abydos. This, with a few alarms from robbers, and some danger of shipwreck in a Turkish galliot six months ago, a visit to a Pacha, a passion for a married woman at Malta, a challenge to an officer, an attachment to three Greek girls at Athens, with a great deal of buffoonery and fine prospects, form all that has distinguished my progress since my departure from Spain.
"H. rhymes and journalises; I stare and do nothing—unless smoking can be deemed an active amusement. The Turks take too much care of their women to permit them to be scrutinised; but I have lived a good deal with the Greeks, whose modern dialect I can converse in enough for my purposes. With the Turks I have also some male acquaintances—female society is out of the question. I have been very well treated by the Pachas and Governors, and have no complaint to make of any kind. Hobhouse will one day inform you of all our adventures,—were I to attempt the recital, neither my paper nor your patience would hold out during the operation.
"Nobody, save yourself, has written to me since I left England; but indeed I did not request it. I except my relations, who write quite as often as I wish. Of Hobhouse's volume I know nothing, except that it is out; and of my second edition I do not even know that, and certainly do not, at this distance, interest myself in the matter. I hope you and Bland roll down the stream of sale with rapidity.
"Of my return I cannot positively speak, but think it probable Hobhouse will precede me in that respect. We have been very nearly one year abroad. I should wish to gaze away another, at least, in these ever-green climates; but I fear business, law business, the worst of employments, will recall me previous to that period, if not very quickly. If so, you shall have due notice.
"I hope you will find me an altered personage,—do not mean in body, but in manner, for I begin to find out that nothing but virtue will do in this d——d world. I am tolerably sick of vice, which I have tried in its agreeable varieties, and mean, on my return, to cut all my dissolute acquaintance, leave off wine and carnal company, and betake myself to politics and decorum. I am very serious and cynical, and a good deal disposed to moralise; but fortunately for you the coming homily is cut off by default of pen and defection of paper.
"Good morrow! If you write, address to me at Malta, whence your letters will be forwarded. You need not remember me to any body, but believe me yours with all faith,
From Constantinople, where he arrived on the 14th of May, he addressed four or five letters to Mrs. Byron, in almost every one of which his achievement in swimming across the Hellespont is commemorated. The exceeding pride, indeed, which he took in this classic feat (the particulars of which he has himself abundantly detailed) may be cited among the instances of that boyishness of character, which he carried with him so remarkably into his maturer years, and which, while it puzzled distant observers of his conduct, was not among the least amusing or attaching of his peculiarities to those who knew him intimately. So late as eleven years from this period, when some sceptical traveller ventured to question, after all, the practicability of Leander's exploit, Lord Byron, with that jealousy on the subject of his own personal prowess which he retained from boyhood, entered again, with fresh zeal, into the discussion, and brought forward two or three other instances of his own feats in swimming, to corroborate the statement originally made by him.
In one of these letters to his mother from Constantinople, dated May 24th, after referring, as usual, to his notable exploit, "in humble imitation of Leander, of amorous memory, though," he adds, "I had no Hero to receive me on the other side of the Hellespont," he continues thus:—
"When our ambassador takes his leave I shall accompany him to see the sultan, and afterwards probably return to Greece. I have heard nothing of Mr. Hanson but one remittance, without any letter from that legal gentleman. If you have occasion for any pecuniary supply, pray use my funds as far as they go without reserve; and, lest this should not be enough, in my next to Mr. Hanson I will direct him to advance any sum you may want, leaving it to your discretion how much, in the present state of my affairs, you may think proper to require. I have already seen the most interesting parts of Turkey in Europe and Asia Minor, but shall not proceed further till I hear from England: in the mean time I shall expect occasional supplies, according to circumstances; and shall pass my summer amongst my friends, the Greeks of the Morea."
He then adds, with his usual kind solicitude about his favourite servants:—
"Pray take care of my boy Robert, and the old man Murray. It is fortunate they returned; neither the youth of the one, nor the age of the other, would have suited the changes of climate, and fatigue of travelling."
TO MR. HENRY DRURY.
"Constantinople, June 17. 1810.
"Though I wrote to you so recently, I break in upon you again to congratulate you on a child being born, as a letter from Hodgson apprizes me of that event, in which I rejoice.
"I am just come from an expedition through the Bosphorus to the Black Sea and the Cyanean Symplegades, up which last I scrambled with as great risk as ever the Argonauts escaped in their hoy. You remember the beginning of the nurse's dole in the Medea, of which I beg you to take the following translation, done on the summit:—
"Oh how I wish that an embargo Had kept in port the good ship Argo! Who, still unlaunch'd from Grecian docks, Had never passed the Azure rocks; But now I fear her trip will be a Damn'd business for my Miss Medea, &c. &c.,
as it very nearly was to me;—for, had not this sublime passage been in my head, I should never have dreamed of ascending the said rocks, and bruising my carcass in honour of the ancients.
"I have now sat on the Cyaneans, swam from Sestos to Abydos (as I trumpeted in my last), and, after passing through the Morea again, shall set sail for Santo Maura, and toss myself from the Leucadian promontory;—surviving which operation, I shall probably join you in England. H., who will deliver this, is bound straight for these parts; and, as he is bursting with his travels, I shall not anticipate his narratives, but merely beg you not to believe one word he says, but reserve your ear for me, if you have any desire to be acquainted with the truth.
"I am bound for Athens once more, and thence to the Morea; but my stay depends so much on my caprice, that I can say nothing of its probable duration. I have been out a year already, and may stay another; but I am quicksilver, and say nothing positively. We are all very much occupied doing nothing, at present. We have seen every thing but the mosques, which we are to view with a firman on Tuesday next. But of these and other sundries let H. relate with this proviso, that I am to be referred to for authenticity; and I beg leave to contradict all those things whereon he lays particular stress. But, if he soars at any time into wit, I give you leave to applaud, because that is necessarily stolen from his fellow-pilgrim. Tell Davies that H. has made excellent use of his best jokes in many of his Majesty's ships of war; but add, also, that I always took care to restore them to the right owner; in consequence of which he (Davies) is no less famous by water than by land, and reigns unrivalled in the cabin as in the 'Cocoa Tree.'
"And Hodgson has been publishing more poesy—I wish he would send me his 'Sir Edgar,' and 'Bland's Anthology,' to Malta, where they will be forwarded. In my last, which I hope you received, I gave an outline of the ground we have covered. If you have not been overtaken by this despatch, H.'s tongue is at your service. Remember me to Dwyer, who owes me eleven guineas. Tell him to put them in my banker's hands at Gibraltar or Constantinople. I believe he paid them once, but that goes for nothing, as it was an annuity.
"I wish you would write. I have heard from Hodgson frequently. Malta is my post-office. I mean to be with you by next Montem. You remember the last,—I hope for such another; but after having swam across the 'broad Hellespont,' I disdain Datchett. Good afternoon!
I am yours, very sincerely,
About ten days after the date of this letter, we find another addressed to Mrs. Byron, which—with much that is merely a repetition of what he had detailed in former communications—contains also a good deal worthy of being extracted.
TO MRS. BYRON.
"Mr. Hobhouse, who will forward or deliver this and is on his return to England, can inform you of our different movements, but I am very uncertain as to my own return. He will probably be down in Notts, some time or other; but Fletcher, whom I send back as an incumbrance (English servants are sad travellers), will supply his place in the interim, and describe our travels, which have been tolerably extensive.
"I remember Mahmout Pacha, the grandson of Ali Pacha, at Yanina, (a little fellow of ten years of age, with large black eyes, which our ladies would purchase at any price, and those regular features which distinguish the Turks,) asked me how I came to travel so young, without anybody to take care of me. This question was put by the little man with all the gravity of threescore. I cannot now write copiously; I have only time to tell you that I have passed many a fatiguing, but never a tedious moment; and all that I am afraid of is that I shall contract a gipsylike wandering disposition, which will make home tiresome to me: this, I am told, is very common with men in the habit of peregrination, and, indeed, I feel it so. On the third of May I swam from Sestos to Abydos. You know the story of Leander, but I had no Hero to receive me at landing.
"I have been in all the principal mosques by the virtue of a firman: this is a favour rarely permitted to infidels, but the ambassador's departure obtained it for us. I have been up the Bosphorus into the Black Sea, round the walls of the city, and, indeed, I know more of it by sight than I do of London. I hope to amuse you some winter's evening with the details, but at present you must excuse me;—I am not able to write long letters in June. I return to spend my summer in Greece.
"F. is a poor creature, and requires comforts that I can dispense with. He is very sick of his travels, but you must not believe his account of the country. He sighs for ale, and idleness, and a wife, and the devil knows what besides. I have not been disappointed or disgusted. I have lived with the highest and the lowest. I have been for days in a Pacha's palace, and have passed many a night in a cowhouse, and I find the people inoffensive and kind. I have also passed some time with the principal Greeks in the Morea and Livadia, and, though inferior to the Turks, they are better than the Spaniards, who, in their turn, excel the Portuguese. Of Constantinople you will find many descriptions in different travels; but Lady Wortley errs strangely when she says, 'St. Paul's would cut a strange figure by St. Sophia's.' I have been in both, surveyed them inside and out attentively. St. Sophia's is undoubtedly the most interesting from its immense antiquity, and the circumstance of all the Greek emperors, from Justinian, having been crowned there, and several murdered at the altar, besides the Turkish sultans who attend it regularly. But it is inferior in beauty and size to some of the mosques, particularly 'Soleyman,' &c., and not to be mentioned in the same page with St. Paul's (I speak like a Cockney). However, I prefer the Gothic cathedral of Seville to St. Paul's, St. Sophia's, and any religious building I have ever seen.
"The walls of the Seraglio are like the walls of Newstead gardens, only higher, and much in the same order; but the ride by the walls of the city, on the land side, is beautiful. Imagine four miles of immense triple battlements, covered with ivy, surmounted with 218 towers, and, on the other side of the road, Turkish burying-grounds (the loveliest spots on earth), full of enormous cypresses. I have seen the ruins of Athens, of Ephesus, and Delphi. I have traversed great part of Turkey, and many other parts of Europe, and some of Asia; but I never beheld a work of nature or art which yielded an impression like the prospect on each side from the Seven Towers to the end of the Golden Horn.
"Now for England. I am glad to hear of the progress of 'English Bards,' &c.;—of course, you observed I have made great additions to the new edition. Have you received my picture from Sanders, Vigo Lane, London? It was finished and paid for long before I left England: pray, send for it. You seem to be a mighty reader of magazines: where do you pick up all this intelligence, quotations, &c. &c.? Though I was happy to obtain my seat without the assistance of Lord Carlisle, I had no measures to keep with a man who declined interfering as my relation on that occasion, and I have done with him, though I regret distressing Mrs. Leigh, poor thing!—I hope she is happy.
"It is my opinion that Mr. B—— ought to marry Miss R——. Our first duty is not to do evil; but, alas! that is impossible: our next is to repair it, if in our power. The girl is his equal: if she were his inferior, a sum of money and provision for the child would be some, though a poor, compensation: as it is, he should marry her. I will have no gay deceivers on my estate, and I shall not allow my tenants a privilege I do not permit myself—that of debauching each other's daughters. God knows, I have been guilty of many excesses; but, as I have laid down a resolution to reform, and lately kept it, I expect this Lothario to follow the example, and begin by restoring this girl to society, or, by the beard of my father! he shall hear of it. Pray take some notice of Robert, who will miss his master: poor boy, he was very unwilling to return. I trust you are well and happy. It will be a pleasure to hear from you.
Believe me yours very sincerely,
"P.S.—How is Joe Murray?
"P.S.—I open my letter again to tell you that Fletcher having petitioned to accompany me into the Morea, I have taken him with me, contrary to the intention expressed in my letter."
The reader has not, I trust, passed carelessly over the latter part of this letter. There is a healthfulness in the moral feeling so unaffectedly expressed in it, which seems to answer for a heart sound at the core, however passion might have scorched it. Some years after, when he had become more confirmed in that artificial tone of banter, in which it was, unluckily, his habit to speak of his own good feelings, as well as those of others, however capable he might still have been of the same amiable sentiments, I question much whether the perverse fear of being thought desirous to pass for moral would not have prevented him from thus naturally and honestly avowing them.
The following extract from a communication addressed to a distinguished monthly work, by a traveller who, at this period, happened to meet with Lord Byron at Constantinople, bears sufficiently the features of authenticity to be presented, without hesitation, to my readers.
"We were interrupted in our debate by the entrance of a stranger, whom, on the first glance, I guessed to be an Englishman, but lately arrived at Constantinople. He wore a scarlet coat, richly embroidered with gold, in the style of an English aide-de-camp's dress uniform, with two heavy epaulettes. His countenance announced him to be about the age of two-and-twenty. His features were remarkably delicate, and would have given him a feminine appearance, but for the manly expression of his fine blue eyes. On entering the inner shop, he took off his feathered cocked-hat, and showed a head of curly auburn hair, which improved in no small degree the uncommon beauty of his face. The impression which his whole appearance made upon my mind was such, that it has ever since remained deeply engraven on it; and although fifteen years have since gone by, the lapse of time has not in the slightest degree impaired the freshness of the recollection. He was attended by a Janissary attached to the English embassy, and by a person who professionally acted as a Cicerone to strangers. These circumstances, together with a very visible lameness in one of his legs, convinced me at once he was Lord Byron. I had already heard of his Lordship, and of his late arrival in the Salsette frigate, which had come up from the Smyrna station, to fetch away Mr. Adair, our ambassador to the Porte. Lord Byron had been previously travelling in Epirus and Asia Minor, with his friend Mr. Hobhouse, and had become a great amateur of smoking: he was conducted to this shop for the purpose of purchasing a few pipes. The indifferent Italian, in which language he spoke to his Cicerone, and the latter's still more imperfect Turkish, made it difficult for the shopkeeper to understand their wishes, and as this seemed to vex the stranger, I addressed him in English, offering to interpret for him. When his Lordship thus discovered me to be an Englishman, he shook me cordially by the hand, and assured me, with some warmth in his manner, that he always felt great pleasure when he met with a countryman abroad. His purchase and my bargain being completed, we walked out together, and rambled about the streets, in several of which I had the pleasure of directing his attention to some of the most remarkable curiosities in Constantinople. The peculiar circumstances under which our acquaintance took place, established between us, in one day, a certain degree of intimacy, which two or three years' frequenting each other's company in England would most likely not have accomplished. I frequently addressed him by his name, but he did not think of enquiring how I came to learn it, nor of asking mine. His Lordship had not yet laid the foundation of that literary renown which he afterwards acquired; on the contrary, he was only known as the author of his Hours of Idleness; and the severity with which the Edinburgh Reviewers had criticised that production was still fresh in every English reader's recollection. I could not, therefore, be supposed to seek his acquaintance from any of those motives of vanity which have actuated so many others since: but it was natural that, after our accidental rencontre, and all that passed between us on that occasion, I should, on meeting him in the course of the same week at dinner at the English ambassador's, have requested one of the secretaries, who was intimately acquainted with him, to introduce me to him in regular form. His Lordship testified his perfect recollection of me, but in the coldest manner, and immediately after turned his back on me. This unceremonious proceeding, forming a striking contrast with previous occurrences, had something so strange in it, that I was at a loss how to account for it, and felt at the same time much disposed to entertain a less favourable opinion of his Lordship than his apparent frankness had inspired me with at our first meeting. It was not, therefore, without surprise, that, some days after, I saw him in the streets, coming up to me with a smile of good nature in his countenance. He accosted me in a familiar manner, and, offering me his hand, said,—'I am an enemy to English etiquette, especially out of England; and I always make my own acquaintance without waiting for the formality of an introduction. If you have nothing to do, and are disposed for another ramble, I shall be glad of your company.' There was that irresistible attraction in his manner, of which those who have had the good fortune to be admitted into his intimacy can alone have felt the power in his moments of good humour; and I readily accepted his proposal. We visited again more of the most remarkable curiosities of the capital, a description of which would here be but a repetition of what a hundred travellers have already detailed with the utmost minuteness and accuracy; but his Lordship expressed much disappointment at their want of interest. He praised the picturesque beauties of the town itself, and its surrounding scenery; and seemed of opinion that nothing else was worth looking at. He spoke of the Turks in a manner which might have given reason to suppose that he had made a long residence among them, and closed his observations with these words:—'The Greeks will, sooner or later, rise against them; but if they do not make haste, I hope Buonaparte will come, and drive the useless rascals away.'"