"George Lambe meant to have written to you. If you don't like to confer with the managers at present, I will attend to your wishes—so state them. Yours very truly, BYRON."
[Footnote 84: Notwithstanding this precaution of the poet, the coincidence in question was, but a few years after, triumphantly cited in support of the sweeping charge of plagiarism brought against him by some scribblers. The following are Mr. Sotheby's lines:—
"And I have leapt In transport from my flinty couch, to welcome The thunder as it burst upon my roof, And beckon'd to the lightning, as it flash'd And sparkled on these fetters."
I have since been informed by Mr. Sotheby that, though not published, these lines had been written long before the appearance of Lord Byron's poem.]
* * * * *
LETTER 225. TO MR. TAYLOR.
"13. Terrace, Piccadilly, September 25. 1815.
"I am sorry you should feel uneasy at what has by no means troubled me. If your editor, his correspondents, and readers, are amused, I have no objection to be the theme of all the ballads he can find room for,—provided his lucubrations are confined to me only.
"It is a long time since things of this kind have ceased to 'fright me from my propriety;' nor do I know any similar attack which would induce me to turn again,—unless it involved those connected with me, whose qualities, I hope, are such as to exempt them in the eyes of those who bear no good-will to myself. In such a case, supposing it to occur—to reverse the saying of Dr. Johnson,—'what the law could not do for me, I would do for myself,' be the consequences what they might.
"I return you, with many thanks, Colman and the letters. The poems, I hope, you intended me to keep;—at least, I shall do so, till I hear the contrary. Very truly yours."
[Footnote 85: Mr. Taylor having inserted in the Sun newspaper (of which he was then chief proprietor) a sonnet to Lord Byron, in return for a present which his Lordship had sent him of a handsomely bound copy of all his works, there appeared in the same journal, on the following day (from the pen of some person who had acquired a control over the paper), a parody upon this sonnet, containing some disrespectful allusion to Lady Byron; and it is to this circumstance, which Mr. Taylor had written to explain, that the above letter, so creditable to the feelings of the noble husband, refers.]
* * * * *
TO MR. MURRAY.
"Sept. 25. 1815.
"Will you publish the Drury Lane 'Magpie?' or, what is more, will you give fifty, or even forty, pounds for the copyright of the said? I have undertaken to ask you this question on behalf of the translator, and wish you would. We can't get so much for him by ten pounds from any body else, and I, knowing your magnificence, would be glad of an answer. Ever," &c.
* * * * *
LETTER 226. TO MR. MURRAY.
"September 27. 1815.
"That's right and splendid, and becoming a publisher of high degree. Mr. Concanen (the translator) will be delighted, and pay his washerwoman; and, in reward for your bountiful behaviour in this instance, I won't ask you to publish any more for Drury Lane, or any lane whatever, again. You will have no tragedy or any thing else from me, I assure you, and may think yourself lucky in having got rid of me, for good and all, without more damage. But I'll tell you what we will do for you,—act Sotheby's Ivan, which will succeed; and then your present and next impression of the dramas of that dramatic gentleman will be expedited to your heart's content; and if there is any thing very good, you shall have the refusal; but you sha'n't have any more requests.
"Sotheby has got a thought, and almost the words, from the third Canto of The Corsair, which, you know, was published six months before his tragedy. It is from the storm in Conrad's cell. I have written to Mr. Sotheby to claim it; and, as Dennis roared out of the pit, 'By G——d, that's my thunder!' so do I, and will I, exclaim, 'By G——d that's my lightning!' that electrical fluid being, in fact, the subject of the said passage.
"You will have a print of Fanny Kelly, in the Maid, to prefix, which is honestly worth twice the money you have given for the MS. Pray what did you do with the note I gave you about Mungo Park?
* * * * *
LETTER 227. TO MR. MOORE.
"13. Terrace, Piccadilly, October 28. 1815.
"You are, it seems, in England again, as I am to hear from every body but yourself; and I suppose you punctilious, because I did not answer your last Irish letter. When did you leave the 'swate country?' Never mind, I forgive you;—a strong proof of—I know not what—to give the lie to—
'He never pardons who hath done the wrong.'
"You have written to * *. You have also written to Perry, who intimates hope of an Opera from you. Coleridge has promised a Tragedy. Now, if you keep Perry's word, and Coleridge keeps his own, Drury Lane will be set up; and, sooth to say, it is in grievous want of such a lift. We began at speed, and are blown already. When I say 'we,' I mean Kinnaird, who is the 'all in all sufficient,' and can count, which none of the rest of the Committee can.
"It is really very good fun, as far as the daily and nightly stir of these strutters and fretters go; and, if the concern could be brought to pay a shilling in the pound, would do much credit to the management. Mr. —— has an accepted tragedy * * * * *, whose first scene is in his sleep (I don't mean the author's). It was forwarded to us as a prodigious favourite of Kean's; but the said Kean, upon interrogation, denies his eulogy, and protests against his part. How it will end, I know not.
"I say so much about the theatre, because there is nothing else alive in London at this season. All the world are out of it, except us, who remain to lie in,—in December, or perhaps earlier. Lady B. is very ponderous and prosperous, apparently, and I wish it well over.
"There is a play before me from a personage who signs himself 'Hibernicus.' The hero is Malachi, the Irishman and king; and the villain and usurper, Turgesius, the Dane. The conclusion is fine. Turgesius is chained by the leg (vide stage direction) to a pillar on the stage; and King Malachi makes him a speech, not unlike Lord Castlereagh's about the balance of power and the lawfulness of legitimacy, which puts Turgesius into a frenzy—as Castlereagh's would, if his audience was chained by the leg. He draws a dagger and rushes at the orator; but, finding himself at the end of his tether, he sticks it into his own carcass, and dies, saying, he has fulfilled a prophecy.
"Now, this is serious downright matter of fact, and the gravest part of a tragedy which is not intended for burlesque. I tell it you for the honour of Ireland. The writer hopes it will be represented:—but what is Hope? nothing but the paint on the face of Existence; the least touch of Truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of. I am not sure that I have not said this last superfine reflection before. But never mind;—it will do for the tragedy of Turgesius, to which I can append it.
"Well, but how dost thou do? thou bard not of a thousand but three thousand! I wish your friend, Sir John Piano-forte, had kept that to himself, and not made it public at the trial of the song-seller in Dublin. I tell you why: it is a liberal thing for Longman to do, and honourable for you to obtain; but it will set all the 'hungry and dinnerless, lank-jawed judges' upon the fortunate author. But they be d——d!—the 'Jeffrey and the Moore together are confident against the world in ink!' By the way, if poor C * * e—who is a man of wonderful talent, and in distress, and about to publish two vols. of Poesy and Biography, and who has been worse used by the critics than ever we were—will you, if he comes out, promise me to review him favourably in the E.R.? Praise him I think you must, but you will also praise him well,—of all things the most difficult. It will be the making of him.
"This must be a secret between you and me, as Jeffrey might not like such a project;—nor, indeed, might C. himself like it. But I do think he only wants a pioneer and a sparkle or two to explode most gloriously. Ever yours most affectionately, B.
"P.S. This is a sad scribbler's letter; but the next shall be 'more of this world.'"
[Footnote 86: It is but justice both to "him that gave and him that took" to mention that the noble poet, at this time, with a delicacy which enhanced the kindness, advanced to the eminent person here spoken of, on the credit of some work he was about to produce, one hundred pounds.]
* * * * *
As, after this letter, there occur but few allusions to his connection with the Drury Lane Management, I shall here avail myself of the opportunity to give some extracts from his "Detached Thoughts," containing recollections of his short acquaintance with the interior of the theatre.
"When I belonged to the Drury Lane Committee, and was one of the Sub-Committee of Management, the number of plays upon the shelves were about five hundred. Conceiving that amongst these there must be some of merit, in person and by proxy I caused an investigation. I do not think that of those which I saw there was one which could be conscientiously tolerated. There never were such things as most of them! Mathurin was very kindly recommended to me by Walter Scott, to whom I had recourse, firstly, in the hope that he would do something for us himself; and, secondly, in my despair, that he would point out to us any young (or old) writer of promise. Mathurin sent his Bertram and a letter without his address, so that at first I could give him no answer. When I at last hit upon his residence, I sent him a favourable answer and something more substantial. His play succeeded; but I was at that time absent from England.
"I tried Coleridge too; but he had nothing feasible in hand at the time. Mr. Sotheby obligingly offered all his tragedies, and I pledged myself, and notwithstanding many squabbles with my Committed Brethren, did get 'Ivan' accepted, read, and the parts distributed. But, lo! in the very heart of the matter, upon some tepidness on the part of Kean, or warmth on that of the author, Sotheby withdrew his play. Sir J.B. Burgess did also present four tragedies and a farce, and I moved green-room and Sub-Committee, but they would not.
"Then the scenes I had to go through!—the authors, and the authoresses, and the milliners, and the wild Irishmen,—the people from Brighton, from Blackwall; from Chatham, from Cheltenham, from Dublin, from Dundee,—who came in upon me! to all of whom it was proper to give a civil answer, and a hearing, and a reading. Mrs. * * * *'s father, an Irish dancing-master of sixty years, calling upon me to request to play Archer, dressed in silk stockings on a frosty morning to show his legs (which were certainly good and Irish for his age, and had been still better,)—Miss Emma Somebody, with a play entitled 'The Bandit of Bohemia,' or some such title or production,—Mr. O'Higgins, then resident at Richmond, with an Irish tragedy, in which the unities could not fail to be observed, for the protagonist was chained by the leg to a pillar during the chief part of the performance. He was a wild man, of a salvage appearance, and the difficulty of not laughing at him was only to be got over by reflecting upon the probable consequences of such cachinnation.
"As I am really a civil and polite person, and do hate giving pain when it can be avoided, I sent them up to Douglas Kinnaird,—who is a man of business, and sufficiently ready with a negative,—and left them to settle with him; and as the beginning of next year I went abroad, I have since been little aware of the progress of the theatres.
"Players are said to be an impracticable people. They are so; but I managed to steer clear of any disputes with them, and excepting one debate with the elder Byrne about Miss Smith's pas de—(something—I forget the technicals,)—I do not remember any litigation of my own. I used to protect Miss Smith, because she was like Lady Jane Harley in the face, and likenesses go a great way with me. Indeed, in general, I left such things to my more bustling colleagues, who used to reprove me seriously for not being able to take such things in hand without buffooning with the histrions, or throwing things into confusion by treating light matters with levity.
"Then the Committee!—then the Sub-Committee!—we were but few, but never agreed. There was Peter Moore who contradicted Kinnaird, and Kinnaird who contradicted every body: then our two managers, Rae and Dibdin; and our secretary, Ward! and yet we were all very zealous and in earnest to do good and so forth. * * * * furnished us with prologues to our revived old English plays; but was not pleased with me for complimenting him as 'the Upton' of our theatre (Mr. Upton is or was the poet who writes the songs for Astley's), and almost gave up prologuing in consequence.
"In the pantomime of 1815-16 there was a representation of the masquerade of 1814 given by 'us youth' of Watier's Club to Wellington and Co. Douglas Kinnaird and one or two others, with myself, put on masks, and went on the stage with the [Greek: hoi polloi], to see the effect of a theatre from the stage:—it is very grand. Douglas danced among the figuranti too, and they were puzzled to find out who we were, as being more than their number. It was odd enough that Douglas Kinnaird and I should have been both at the real masquerade, and afterwards in the mimic one of the same, on the stage of Drury Lane theatre."
[Footnote 87: A correspondent of one of the monthly Miscellanies gives the following account of this incident:—
"During Lord Byron's administration, a ballet was invented by the elder Byrne, in which Miss Smith (since Mrs. Oscar Byrne) had a pas seul. This the lady wished to remove to a later period in the ballet. The ballet-master refused, and the lady swore she would not dance it at all. The music incidental to the dance began to play, and the lady walked off the stage. Both parties flounced into the green-room to lay the case before Lord Byron, who happened to be the only person in that apartment. The noble committee-man made an award in favour of Miss Smith, and both complainants rushed angrily out of the room at the instant of my entering it. 'If you had come a minute sooner,' said Lord Byron, 'you would have heard a curious matter decided on by me: a question of dancing!—by me,' added he, looking down at the lame limb, 'whom Nature from my birth has prohibited from taking a single step.' His countenance fell after he had uttered this, as if he had said too much; and for a moment there was an embarrassing silence on both sides."]
* * * * *
LETTER 228. TO MR. MOORE.
"Terrace, Piccadilly, October 31. 1815.
"I have not been able to ascertain precisely the time of duration of the stock market; but I believe it is a good time for selling out, and I hope so. First, because I shall see you; and, next, because I shall receive certain monies on behalf of Lady B., the which will materially conduce to my comfort,—I wanting (as the duns say) 'to make up a sum.'
"Yesterday, I dined out with a large-ish party, where were Sheridan and Colman, Harry Harris of C. G, and his brother, Sir Gilbert Heathcote, Ds. Kinnaird, and others, of note and notoriety. Like other parties of the kind, it was first silent, then talky, then argumentative, then disputatious, then unintelligible, then altogethery, then inarticulate, and then drunk. When we had reached the last step of this glorious ladder, it was difficult to get down again without stumbling; and to crown all, Kinnaird and I had to conduct Sheridan down a d——d corkscrew staircase, which had certainly been constructed before the discovery of fermented liquors, and to which no legs, however crooked, could possibly accommodate themselves. We deposited him safe at home, where his man, evidently used to the business, waited to receive him in the hall.
"Both he and Colman were, as usual, very good; but I carried away much wine, and the wine had previously carried away my memory; so that all was hiccup and happiness for the last hour or so, and I am not impregnated with any of the conversation. Perhaps you heard of a late answer of Sheridan to the watchman who found him bereft of that 'divine particle of air,' called reason, * * *. He, the watchman, who found Sherry in the street, fuddled and bewildered, and almost insensible. 'Who are you, sir? '—no answer. 'What's your name?'—a hiccup. 'What's your name?'—Answer, in a slow, deliberate and impassive tone—'Wilberforce!!!' Is not that Sherry all over?—and, to my mind, excellent. Poor fellow, his very dregs are better than the 'first sprightly runnings' of others.
"My paper is full, and I have a grievous headach.
"P.S. Lady B. is in full progress. Next month will bring to light (with the aid of 'Juno Lucina, fer opem,' or rather opes, for the last are most wanted,) the tenth wonder of the world—Gil Blas being the eighth, and he (my son's father) the ninth."
* * * * *
LETTER 229. TO MR. MOORE.
"November 4. 1815.
"Had you not bewildered my head with the 'stocks,' your letter would have been answered directly. Hadn't I to go to the city? and hadn't I to remember what to ask when I got there? and hadn't I forgotten it?
"I should be undoubtedly delighted to see you; but I don't like to urge against your reasons my own inclinations. Come you must soon, for stay you won't. I know you of old;—you have been too much leavened with London to keep long out of it.
"Lewis is going to Jamaica to suck his sugar canes. He sails in two days; I enclose you his farewell note. I saw him last night at D.L.T. for the last time previous to his voyage. Poor fellow! he is really a good man—an excellent man—he left me his walking-stick and a pot of preserved ginger. I shall never eat the last without tears in my eyes, it is so hot. We have had a devil of a row among our ballerinas. Miss Smith has been wronged about a hornpipe. The Committee have interfered; but Byrne, the d——d ballet master, won't budge a step, I am furious, so is George Lamb. Kinnaird is very glad, because—he don't know why; and I am very sorry, for the same reason. To-day I dine with Kd.—we are to have Sheridan and Colman again; and to-morrow, once more, at Sir Gilbert Heathcote's.
"Leigh Hunt has written a real good and very original Poem, which I think will be a great hit. You can have no notion how very well it is written, nor should I, had I not redde it. As to us, Tom—eh, when art thou out? If you think the verses worth it, I would rather they were embalmed in the Irish Melodies, than scattered abroad in a separate song—much rather. But when are thy great things out? I mean the Po of Pos—thy Shah Nameh. It is very kind in Jeffrey to like the Hebrew Melodies. Some of the fellows here preferred Sternhold and Hopkins, and said so;—'the fiend receive their souls therefor!'
"I must go and dress for dinner. Poor, dear Murat, what an end! You know, I suppose, that his white plume used to be a rallying point in battle, like Henry IV.'s. He refused a confessor and a bandage; so would neither suffer his soul or body to be bandaged. You shall have more to-morrow or next day.
* * * * *
LETTER 230. TO MR. MURRAY.
"November 4. 1815.
"When you have been enabled to form an opinion on Mr. Coleridge's MS. you will oblige me by returning it, as, in fact, I have no authority to let it out of my hands. I think most highly of it, and feel anxious that you should be the publisher; but if you are not, I do not despair of finding those who will.
"I have written to Mr. Leigh Hunt, stating your willingness to treat with him, which, when I saw you, I understood you to be. Terms and time, I leave to his pleasure and your discernment; but this I will say, that I think it the safest thing you ever engaged in. I speak to you as a man of business; were I to talk to you as a reader or a critic, I should say it was a very wonderful and beautiful performance, with just enough of fault to make its beauties more remarked and remarkable.
"And now to the last—my own, which I feel ashamed of after the others:—publish or not as you like, I don't care one damn. If you don't, no one else shall, and I never thought or dreamed of it, except as one in the collection. If it is worth being in the fourth volume, put it there and nowhere else; and if not, put it in the fire. Yours, N."
[Footnote 88: A tragedy entitled, I think, Zopolia.]
* * * * *
Those embarrassments which, from a review of his affairs previous to the marriage, he had clearly foreseen would, before long, overtake him, were not slow in realising his worst omens. The increased expenses induced by his new mode of life, with but very little increase of means to meet them,—the long arrears of early pecuniary obligations, as well as the claims which had been, gradually, since then, accumulating, all pressed upon him now with collected force, and reduced him to some of the worst humiliations of poverty. He had been even driven, by the necessity of encountering such demands, to the trying expedient of parting with his books,—which circumstance coming to Mr. Murray's ears, that gentleman instantly forwarded to him 1500l., with an assurance that another sum of the same amount should be at his service in a few weeks, and that if such assistance should not be sufficient, Mr. Murray was most ready to dispose of the copyrights of all his past works for his use.
This very liberal offer Lord Byron acknowledged in the following letter:—
LETTER 231. TO MR. MURRAY.
"November 14. 1815.
"I return you your bills not accepted, but certainly not unhonoured. Your present offer is a favour which I would accept from you, if I accepted such from any man. Had such been my intention, I can assure you I would have asked you fairly, and as freely as you would give; and I cannot say more of my confidence or your conduct.
"The circumstances which induce me to part with my books, though sufficiently, are not immediately, pressing. I have made up my mind to them, and there's an end.
"Had I been disposed to trespass on your kindness in this way, it would have been before now; but I am not sorry to have an opportunity of declining it, as it sets my opinion of you, and indeed of human nature, in a different light from that in which I have been accustomed to consider it.
"Believe me very truly," &c.
* * * * *
TO MR. MURRAY.
"December 25. 1815.
"I send some lines, written some time ago, and intended as an opening to 'The Siege of Corinth.' I had forgotten them, and am not sure that they had not better be left out now:—on that, you and your Synod can determine. Yours," &c.
* * * * *
The following are the lines alluded to in this note. They are written in the loosest form of that rambling style of metre which his admiration of Mr. Coleridge's "Christabel" led him, at this time, to adopt; and he judged rightly, perhaps, in omitting them as the opening of his poem. They are, however, too full of spirit and character to be lost. Though breathing the thick atmosphere of Piccadilly when he wrote them, it is plain that his fancy was far away, among the sunny hills and vales of Greece; and their contrast with the tame life he was leading at the moment, but gave to his recollections a fresher spring and force.
"In the year since Jesus died for men, Eighteen hundred years and ten, We were a gallant company, Riding o'er land, and sailing o'er sea. Oh! but we went merrily! We forded the river, and clomb the high hill, Never our steeds for a day stood still; Whether we lay in the cave or the shed, Our sleep fell soft on the hardest bed; Whether we couch'd in our rough capote, On the rougher plank of our gliding boat, Or stretch'd on the beach, or our saddles spread As a pillow beneath the resting head, Fresh we woke upon the morrow: All our thoughts and words had scope, We had health, and we had hope, Toil and travel, but no sorrow. We were of all tongues and creeds;— Some were those who counted beads, Some of mosque, and some of church, And some, or I mis-say, of neither; Yet through the wide world might ye search Nor find a mother crew nor blither.
"But some are dead, and some are gone, And some are scatter'd and alone, And some are rebels on the hills That look along Epirus' valleys Where Freedom still at moments rallies, And pays in blood Oppression's ills: And some are in a far countree, And some all restlessly at home; But never more, oh! never, we Shall meet to revel and to roam. But those hardy days flew cheerily; And when they now fall drearily, My thoughts, like swallows, skim the main And bear my spirit back again Over the earth, and through the air, A wild bird, and a wanderer. 'Tis this that ever wakes my strain, And oft, too oft, implores again The few who may endure my lay, To follow me so far away.
"Stranger—wilt thou follow now, And sit with me on Acro-Corinth's brow?"
[Footnote 89: "The last tidings recently heard of Dervish (one of the Arnaouts who followed me) state him to be in revolt upon the mountains, at the head of some of the bands common in that country in times of trouble."]
* * * * *
LETTER 232. TO MR. MOORE.
"January 5. 1816.
"I hope Mrs. M. is quite re-established. The little girl was born on the 10th of December last; her name is Augusta Ada (the second a very antique family name,—I believe not used since the reign of King John). She was, and is, very flourishing and fat, and reckoned very large for her days—squalls and sucks incessantly. Are you answered? Her mother is doing very well, and up again.
"I have now been married a year on the second of this month—heigh-ho! I have seen nobody lately much worth noting, except S * * and another general of the Gauls, once or twice at dinners out of doors. S * * is a fine, foreign, villanous-looking, intelligent, and very agreeable man; his compatriot is more of the petit-maitre, and younger, but I should think not at all of the same intellectual calibre with the Corsican—which S * *, you know, is, and a cousin of Napoleon's.
"Are you never to be expected in town again? To be sure, there is no one here of the 1500 fillers of hot-rooms, called the fashionable world. My approaching papa-ship detained us for advice, &c. &c. though I would as soon be here as any where else on this side of the Straits of Gibraltar.
"I would gladly—or, rather, sorrowfully—comply with your request of a dirge for the poor girl you mention. But how can I write on one I have never seen or known? Besides, you will do it much better yourself. I could not write upon any thing, without some personal experience and foundation; far less on a theme so peculiar. Now, you have both in this case; and, if you had neither, you have more imagination, and would never fail.
"This is but a dull scrawl, and I am but a dull fellow. Just at present, I am absorbed in 500 contradictory contemplations, though with but one object in view—which will probably end in nothing, as most things we wish do. But never mind,—as somebody says, 'for the blue sky bends over all.' I only could be glad, if it bent over me where it is a little bluer; like the 'skyish top of blue Olympus,' which, by the way, looked very white when I last saw it.
[Footnote 90: I had mentioned to him, as a subject worthy of his best powers of pathos, a melancholy event which had just occurred in my neighbourhood, and to which I have myself made allusion in one of the Sacred Melodies—"Weep not for her."]
* * * * *
On reading over the foregoing letter, I was much struck by the tone of melancholy that pervaded it; and well knowing it to be the habit of the writer's mind to seek relief, when under the pressure of any disquiet or disgust, in that sense of freedom which told him that there were homes for him elsewhere, I could perceive, I thought, in his recollections of the "blue Olympus," some return of the restless and roving spirit, which unhappiness or impatience always called up in his mind. I had, indeed, at the time when he sent me those melancholy verses, "There's not a joy this world can give," &c. felt some vague apprehensions as to the mood into which his spirits then seemed to be sinking, and, in acknowledging the receipt of the verses, thus tried to banter him out of it:—"But why thus on your stool of melancholy again, Master Stephen?—This will never do—it plays the deuce with all the matter-of-fact duties of life, and you must bid adieu to it. Youth is the only time when one can be melancholy with impunity. As life itself grows sad and serious we have nothing for it but—to be as much as possible the contrary."
My absence from London during the whole of this year had deprived me of all opportunities of judging for myself how far the appearances of his domestic state gave promise of happiness; nor had any rumours reached me which at all inclined me to suspect that the course of his married life hitherto exhibited less smoothness than such unions,—on the surface, at least,—generally wear. The strong and affectionate terms in which, soon after the marriage, he had, in some of the letters I have given, declared his own happiness—a declaration which his known frankness left me no room to question—had, in no small degree, tended to still those apprehensions which my first view of the lot he had chosen for himself awakened. I could not, however, but observe that these indications of a contented heart soon ceased. His mention of the partner of his home became more rare and formal, and there was observable, I thought, through some of his letters a feeling of unquiet and weariness that brought back all those gloomy anticipations with which I had, from the first, regarded his fate. This last letter of his, in particular, struck me as full of sad omen, and, in the course of my answer, I thus noticed to him the impression it had made on me:—"And so you are a whole year married!—
'It was last year I vow'd to thee That fond impossibility.'
Do you know, my dear B., there was a something in your last letter—a sort of unquiet mystery, as well as a want of your usual elasticity of spirits—which has hung upon my mind unpleasantly ever since. I long to be near you, that I might know how you really look and feel; for these letters tell nothing, and one word, a quattr'occhi, is worth whole reams of correspondence. But only do tell me you are happier than that letter has led me to fear, and I shall be satisfied."
* * * * *
It was in a few weeks after this latter communication between us that Lady Byron adopted the resolution of parting from him. She had left London about the middle of January, on a visit to her father's house, in Leicestershire, and Lord Byron was, in a short time after, to follow her. They had parted in the utmost kindness,—she wrote him a letter, full of playfulness and affection, on the road, and, immediately on her arrival at Kirkby Mallory, her father wrote to acquaint Lord Byron that she would return to him no more. At the time when he had to stand this unexpected shock, his pecuniary embarrassments, which had been fast gathering around him during the whole of the last year (there having been no less than eight or nine executions in his house within that period), had arrived at their utmost; and at a moment when, to use his own strong expressions, he was "standing alone on his hearth, with his household gods shivered around him," he was also doomed to receive the startling intelligence that the wife who had just parted with him in kindness, had parted with him—for ever.
About this time the following note was written:—
TO MR. ROGERS.
"February 8. 1816.
"Do not mistake me—I really returned your book for the reason assigned, and no other. It is too good for so careless a fellow. I have parted with all my own books, and positively won't deprive you of so valuable 'a drop of that immortal man.'
"I shall be very glad to see you, if you like to call, though I am at present contending with 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,' some of which have struck at me from a quarter whence I did not indeed expect them—But, no matter, 'there is a world elsewhere,' and I will cut my way through this as I can.
"If you write to Moore, will you tell him that I shall answer his letter the moment I can muster time and spirits? Ever yours,
* * * * *
The rumours of the separation did not reach me till more than a week afterwards, when I immediately wrote to him thus:—"I am most anxious to hear from you, though I doubt whether I ought to mention the subject on which I am so anxious. If, however, what I heard last night, in a letter from town, be true, you will know immediately what I allude to, and just communicate as much or as little upon the subject as you think proper;—only something I should like to know, as soon as possible, from yourself, in order to set my mind at rest with respect to the truth or falsehood of the report." The following is his answer:—
LETTER 233. TO MR. MOORE.
"February 29. 1816.
"I have not answered your letter for a time; and, at present, the reply to part of it might extend to such a length, that I shall delay it till it can be made in person, and then I will shorten it as much as I can.
"In the mean time, I am at war 'with all the world and his wife;' or rather, 'all the world and my wife' are at war with me, and have not yet crushed me,—whatever they may do. I don't know that in the course of a hair-breadth existence I was ever, at home or abroad, in a situation so completely uprooting of present pleasure, or rational hope for the future, as this same. I say this, because I think so, and feel it. But I shall not sink under it the more for that mode of considering the question—I have made up my mind.
"By the way, however, you must not believe all you hear on the subject; and don't attempt to defend me. If you succeeded in that, it would be a mortal, or an immortal, offence—who can bear refutation? I have but a very short answer for those whom it concerns; and all the activity of myself and some vigorous friends have not yet fixed on any tangible ground or personage, on which or with whom I can discuss matters, in a summary way, with a fair pretext;—though I nearly had nailed one yesterday, but he evaded by—what was judged by others—a satisfactory explanation. I speak of circulators—against whom I have no enmity, though I must act according to the common code of usage, when I hit upon those of the serious order.
"Now for other matters—poesy, for instance. Leigh Hunt's poem is a devilish good one—quaint, here and there, but with the substratum of originality, and with poetry about it, that will stand the test. I do not say this because he has inscribed it to me, which I am sorry for, as I should otherwise have begged you to review it in the Edinburgh. It is really deserving of much praise, and a favourable critique in the E.R. would but do it justice, and set it up before the public eye where it ought to be.
"How are you? and where? I have not the most distant idea what I am going to do myself, or with myself—or where—or what. I had, a few weeks ago, some things to say that would have made you laugh; but they tell me now that I must not laugh, and so I have been very serious—and am.
"I have not been very well—with a liver complaint—but am much better within the last fortnight, though still under Iatrical advice. I have latterly seen a little of * * * *
"I must go and dress to dine. My little girl is in the country, and, they tell me, is a very fine child, and now nearly three months old. Lady Noel (my mother-in-law, or, rather, at law) is at present overlooking it. Her daughter (Miss Milbanke that was) is, I believe, in London with her father. A Mrs. C. (now a kind of housekeeper and spy of Lady N.'s) who, in her better days, was a washerwoman, is supposed to be—by the learned—very much the occult cause of our late domestic discrepancies.
"In all this business, I am the sorriest for Sir Ralph. He and I are equally punished, though magis pares quam similes in our affliction. Yet it is hard for both to suffer for the fault of one, and so it is—I shall be separated from my wife; he will retain his.
[Footnote 91: My reply to this part of his letter was, I find, as follows:—"With respect to Hunt's poem, though it is, I own, full of beauties, and though I like himself sincerely, I really could not undertake to praise it seriously. There is so much of the quizzible in all he writes, that I never can put on the proper pathetic face in reading him."]
* * * * *
In my reply to this letter, written a few days after, there is a passage which (though containing an opinion it might have been more prudent, perhaps, to conceal,) I feel myself called upon to extract on account of the singularly generous avowal,—honourable alike to both the parties in this unhappy affair,—which it was the means of drawing from Lord Byron. The following are my words:—"I am much in the same state as yourself with respect to the subject of your letter, my mind being so full of things which I don't know how to write about, that I too must defer the greater part of them till we meet in May, when I shall put you fairly on your trial for all crimes and misdemeanors. In the mean time, you will not be at a loss for judges, nor executioners either, if they could have their will. The world, in their generous ardour to take what they call the weaker side, soon contrive to make it most formidably the strongest. Most sincerely do I grieve at what has happened. It has upset all my wishes and theories as to the influence of marriage on your life; for, instead of bringing you, as I expected, into something like a regular orbit, it has only cast you off again into infinite space, and left you, I fear, in a far worse state than it found you. As to defending you, the only person with whom I have yet attempted this task is myself; and, considering the little I know upon the subject, (or rather, perhaps, owing to this cause,) I have hitherto done it with very tolerable success. After all, your choice was the misfortune. I never liked,—but I'm here wandering into the [Greek: aporreta], and so must change the subject for a far pleasanter one, your last new poems, which," &c. &c.
The return of post brought me the following answer, which, while it raises our admiration of the generous candour of the writer, but adds to the sadness and strangeness of the whole transaction.
* * * * *
LETTER 234. TO MR. MOORE.
"March 8. 1816.
"I rejoice in your promotion as Chairman and Charitable Steward, &c. &c. These be dignities which await only the virtuous. But then, recollect you are six and thirty, (I speak this enviously—not of your age, but the 'honour—love—obedience—troops of friends,' which accompany it,) and I have eight years good to run before I arrive at such hoary perfection; by which time,—if I am at all,—it will probably be in a state of grace or progressing merits.
"I must set you right in one point, however. The fault was not—no, nor even the misfortune—in my 'choice' (unless in choosing at all)—for I do not believe—and I must say it, in the very dregs of all this bitter business—that there ever was a better, or even a brighter, a kinder, or a more amiable and agreeable being than Lady B. I never had, nor can have, any reproach to make her, while with me. Where there is blame, it belongs to myself, and, if I cannot redeem, I must bear it.
"Her nearest relatives are a * * * *—my circumstances have been and are in a state of great confusion—my health has been a good deal disordered, and my mind ill at ease for a considerable period. Such are the causes (I do not name them as excuses) which have frequently driven me into excess, and disqualified my temper for comfort. Something also may be attributed to the strange and desultory habits which, becoming my own master at an early age, and scrambling about, over and through the world, may have induced. I still, however, think that, if I had had a fair chance, by being placed in even a tolerable situation, I might have gone on fairly. But that seems hopeless,—and there is nothing more to be said. At present—except my health, which is better (it is odd, but agitation or contest of any kind gives a rebound to my spirits and sets me up for the time)—I have to battle with all kinds of unpleasantnesses, including private and pecuniary difficulties, &c. &c.
"I believe I may have said this before to you, but I risk repeating it. It is nothing to bear the privations of adversity, or, more properly, ill fortune; but my pride recoils from its indignities. However, I have no quarrel with that same pride, which will, I think, buckler me through every thing. If my heart could have been broken, it would have been so years ago, and by events more afflicting than these.
"I agree with you (to turn from this topic to our shop) that I have written too much. The last things were, however, published very reluctantly by me, and for reasons I will explain when we meet. I know not why I have dwelt so much on the same scenes, except that I find them fading, or confusing (if such a word may be) in my memory, in the midst of present turbulence and pressure, and I felt anxious to stamp before the die was worn out. I now break it. With those countries, and events connected with them, all my really poetical feelings begin and end. Were I to try, I could make nothing of any other subject, and that I have apparently exhausted. 'Wo to him,' says Voltaire, 'who says all he could say on any subject.' There are some on which, perhaps, I could have said still more: but I leave them all, and too soon.
"Do you remember the lines I sent you early last year, which you still have? I don't wish (like Mr. Fitzgerald, in the Morning Post) to claim the character of 'Vates' in all its translations, but were they not a little prophetic? I mean those beginning, 'There's not a joy the world can,' &c. &c., on which I rather pique myself as being the truest, though the most melancholy, I ever wrote.
"What a scrawl have I sent you! You say nothing of yourself, except that you are a Lancasterian churchwarden, and an encourager of mendicants. When are you out? and how is your family? My child is very well and flourishing, I hear; but I must see also. I feel no disposition to resign it to the contagion of its grandmother's society, though I am unwilling to take it from the mother. It is weaned, however, and something about it must be decided. Ever," &c.
[Footnote 92: This sad doubt,—"if I am at all,"—becomes no less singular than sad when we recollect that six and thirty was actually the age when he ceased to "be," and at a moment, too, when (as even the least friendly to him allow) he was in that state of "progressing merits" which he here jestingly anticipates.]
* * * * *
Having already gone so far in laying open to my readers some of the sentiments which I entertained, respecting Lord Byron's marriage, at a time when, little foreseeing that I should ever become his biographer, I was, of course, uninfluenced by the peculiar bias supposed to belong to that task, it may still further, perhaps, be permitted me to extract from my reply to the foregoing letter some sentences of explanation which its contents seemed to me to require.
"I had certainly no right to say any thing about the unluckiness of your choice, though I rejoice now that I did, as it has drawn from you a tribute which, however unaccountable and mysterious it renders the whole affair, is highly honourable to both parties. What I meant in hinting a doubt with respect to the object of your selection did not imply the least impeachment of that perfect amiableness which the world, I find, by common consent, allows to her. I only feared that she might have been too perfect—too precisely excellent—too matter-of-fact a paragon for you to coalesce with comfortably; and that a person whose perfection hung in more easy folds about her, whose brightness was softened down by some of 'those fair defects which best conciliate love,' would, by appealing more dependently to your protection, have stood a much better chance with your good nature. All these suppositions, however, I have been led into by my intense anxiety to acquit you of any thing like a capricious abandonment of such a woman; and, totally in the dark as I am with respect to all but the fact of your separation, you cannot conceive the solicitude, the fearful solicitude, with which I look forward to a history of the transaction from your own lips when we meet,—a history in which I am sure of, at least, one virtue—manly candour."
[Footnote 93: It will be perceived from this that I was as yet unacquainted with the true circumstances of the transaction.]
* * * * *
With respect to the causes that may be supposed to have led to this separation, it seems needless, with the characters of both parties before our eyes, to go in quest of any very remote or mysterious reasons to account for it. I have already, in some observations on the general character of men of genius, endeavoured to point out those peculiarities, both in disposition and habitudes, by which, in the far greater number of instances, they have been found unfitted for domestic happiness. Of these defects, (which are, as it were, the shadow that genius casts, and too generally, it is to be feared, in proportion to its stature,) Lord Byron could not, of course, fail to have inherited his share, in common with all the painfully-gifted class to which he belonged. How thoroughly, with respect to one attribute of this temperament which he possessed,—one, that "sicklies o'er" the face of happiness itself,—he was understood by the person most interested in observing him, will appear from the following anecdote, as related by himself.
"People have wondered at the melancholy which runs through my writings. Others have wondered at my personal gaiety. But I recollect once, after an hour in which I had been sincerely and particularly gay and rather brilliant, in company, my wife replying to me when I said (upon her remarking my high spirits), 'And yet, Bell, I have been called and miscalled melancholy—you must have seen how falsely, frequently?'—'No, Byron,' she answered, 'it is not so: at heart you are the most melancholy of mankind; and often when apparently gayest.'"
To these faults and sources of faults inherent, in his own sensitive nature, he added also many of those which a long indulgence of self-will generates,—the least compatible, of all others, (if not softened down, as they were in him, by good nature,) with that system of mutual concession and sacrifice by which the balance of domestic peace is maintained. When we look back, indeed, to the unbridled career, of which this marriage was meant to be the goal,—to the rapid and restless course in which his life had run along, like a burning train, through a series of wanderings, adventures, successes, and passions, the fever of all which was still upon him, when, with the same headlong recklessness, he rushed into this marriage,—it can but little surprise us that, in the space of one short year, he should not have been able to recover all at once from his bewilderment, or to settle down into that tame level of conduct which the close observers of his every action required. As well might it be expected that a steed like his own Mazeppa's,
"Wild as the wild deer and untaught, With spur and bridle undefiled— 'Twas but a day he had been caught,"
should stand still, when reined, without chafing or champing the bit.
Even had the new condition of life into which he passed been one of prosperity and smoothness, some time, as well as tolerance, must still have been allowed for the subsiding of so excited a spirit into rest. But, on the contrary, his marriage (from the reputation, no doubt, of the lady, as an heiress,) was, at once, a signal for all the arrears and claims of a long-accumulating state of embarrassment to explode upon him;—his door was almost daily beset by duns, and his house nine times during that year in possession of bailiffs; while, in addition to these anxieties and—what he felt still more—indignities of poverty, he had also the pain of fancying, whether rightly or wrongly, that the eyes of enemies and spies were upon him, even under his own roof, and that his every hasty word and look were interpreted in the most perverting light.
As, from the state of their means, his lady and he saw but little society, his only relief from the thoughts which a life of such embarrassment brought with it was in those avocations which his duty, as a member of the Drury Lane Committee, imposed upon him. And here,—in this most unlucky connection with the theatre,—one of the fatalities of his short year of trial, as husband, lay. From the reputation which he had previously acquired for gallantries, and the sort of reckless and boyish levity to which—often in very "bitterness of soul"—he gave way, it was not difficult to bring suspicion upon some of those acquaintances which his frequent intercourse with the green-room induced him to form, or even (as, in one instance, was the case,) to connect with his name injuriously that of a person to whom he had scarcely ever addressed a single word.
Notwithstanding, however, this ill-starred concurrence of circumstances, which might have palliated any excesses either of temper or conduct into which they drove him, it was, after all, I am persuaded, to no such serious causes that the unfortunate alienation, which so soon ended in disunion, is to be traced. "In all the marriages I have ever seen," says Steele, "most of which have been unhappy ones, the great cause of evil has proceeded from slight occasions;" and to this remark, I think, the marriage under our consideration would not be found, upon enquiry, to be an exception. Lord Byron himself, indeed, when at Cephalonia, a short time before his death, seems to have expressed, in a few words, the whole pith of the mystery. An English gentleman with whom he was conversing on the subject of Lady Byron, having ventured to enumerate to him the various causes he had heard alleged for the separation, the noble poet, who had seemed much amused with their absurdity and falsehood, said, after listening to them all,—"The causes, my dear sir, were too simple to be easily found out."
In truth, the circumstances, so unexampled, that attended their separation,—the last words of the parting wife to the husband being those of the most playful affection, while the language of the deserted husband towards the wife was in a strain, as the world knows, of tenderest eulogy,—are in themselves a sufficient proof that, at the time of their parting, there could have been no very deep sense of injury on either side. It was not till afterwards that, in both bosoms, the repulsive force came into operation,—when, to the party which had taken the first decisive step in the strife, it became naturally a point of pride to persevere in it with dignity, and this unbendingness provoked, as naturally, in the haughty spirit of the other, a strong feeling of resentment which overflowed, at last, in acrimony and scorn. If there be any truth, however, in the principle, that they "never pardon who have done the wrong," Lord Byron, who was, to the last, disposed to reconciliation, proved so far, at least, his conscience to have been unhaunted by any very disturbing consciousness of aggression.
But though it would have been difficult, perhaps, for the victims of this strife, themselves, to have pointed out any single, or definite, cause for their disunion,—beyond that general incompatibility which is the canker of all such marriages,—the public, which seldom allows itself to be at a fault on these occasions, was, as usual, ready with an ample supply of reasons for the breach,—all tending to blacken the already darkly painted character of the poet, and representing him, in short, as a finished monster of cruelty and depravity. The reputation of the object of his choice for every possible virtue, (a reputation which had been, I doubt not, one of his own chief incentives to the marriage, from the vanity, reprobate as he knew he was deemed, of being able to win such a paragon,) was now turned against him by his assailants, not only in the way of contrast with his own character, but as if the excellences of the wife were proof positive of every enormity they chose to charge upon the husband.
Meanwhile, the unmoved silence of the lady herself, (from motives, it is but fair to suppose, of generosity and delicacy,) under the repeated demands made for a specification of her charges against him, left to malice and imagination the fullest range for their combined industry. It was accordingly stated, and almost universally believed, that the noble lord's second proposal to Miss Milbanke had been but with a view to revenge himself for the slight inflicted by her refusal of the first, and that he himself had confessed so much to her on their way from church. At the time when, as the reader has seen from his own honey-moon letters, he was, with all the good will in the world, imagining himself into happiness, and even boasting, in the pride of his fancy, that if marriage were to be upon lease, he would gladly renew his own for a term of ninety-nine years,—at this very time, according to these veracious chroniclers, he was employed in darkly following up the aforesaid scheme of revenge, and tormenting his lady by all sorts of unmanly cruelties,—such as firing off pistols, to frighten her as she lay in bed, and other such freaks.
To the falsehoods concerning his green-room intimacies, and particularly with respect to one beautiful actress, with whom, in reality, he had hardly ever exchanged a single word, I have already adverted; and the extreme confidence with which this tale was circulated and believed affords no unfair specimen of the sort of evidence with which the public, in all such fits of moral wrath, is satisfied. It is, at the same time, very far from my intention to allege that, in the course of the noble poet's intercourse with the theatre, he was not sometimes led into a line of acquaintance and converse, unbefitting, if not dangerous to, the steadiness of married life. But the imputations against him on this head were (as far as affected his conjugal character) not the less unfounded,—as the sole case in which he afforded any thing like real grounds for such an accusation did not take place till after the period of the separation.
Not content with such ordinary and tangible charges, the tongue of rumour was emboldened to proceed still further; and, presuming upon the mysterious silence maintained by one of the parties, ventured to throw out dark hints and vague insinuations, of which the fancy of every hearer was left to fill up the outline as he pleased. In consequence of all this exaggeration, such an outcry was now raised against Lord Byron as, in no case of private life, perhaps, was ever before witnessed; nor had the whole amount of fame which he had gathered, in the course of the last four years, much exceeded in proportion the reproach and obloquy that were now, within the space of a few weeks, showered upon him. In addition to the many who, no doubt, conscientiously believed and reprobated what they had but too much right, whether viewing him as poet or man of fashion, to consider credible excesses, there were also actively on the alert that large class of persons who seem to hold violence against the vices of others to be equivalent to virtue in themselves, together with all those natural haters of success who, having long sickened under the splendour of the poet, were now enabled, in the guise of champions for innocence, to wreak their spite on the man. In every various form of paragraph, pamphlet, and caricature, both his character and person were held up to odium;—hardly a voice was raised, or at least listened to, in his behalf; and though a few faithful friends remained unshaken by his side, the utter hopelessness of stemming the torrent was felt as well by them as by himself, and, after an effort or two to gain a fair hearing, they submitted in silence. Among the few attempts made by himself towards confuting his calumniators was an appeal (such as the following short letter contains) to some of those persons with whom he had been in the habit of living familiarly.
[Footnote 94: MS.—"Detached Thoughts."]
[Footnote 95: An anecdote connected with one of these occasions is thus related in the Journal just referred to:—
"When the bailiff (for I have seen most kinds of life) came upon me in 1815 to seize my chattels, (being a peer of parliament, my person was beyond him,) being curious (as is my habit), I first asked him "what extents elsewhere he had for government?" upon which he showed me one upon one house only for seventy thousand pounds! Next I asked him if he had nothing for Sheridan? "Oh—Sheridan!" said he; "ay, I have this" (pulling out a pocket-book, &c.); "but, my Lord, I have been in Sheridan's house a twelvemonth at a time—a civil gentleman—knows how to deal with us," &c. &c. &c. Our own business was then discussed, which was none of the easiest for me at that time. But the man was civil, and (what I valued more) communicative. I had met many of his brethren, years before, in affairs of my friends, (commoners, that is,) but this was the first (or second) on my own account.—A civil man; fee'd accordingly; probably he anticipated as much."]
[Footnote 96: For this story, however, there was so far a foundation that the practice to which he had accustomed himself from boyhood, of having loaded pistols always near him at night, was considered so strange a propensity as to be included in that list of symptoms (sixteen, I believe, in number,) which were submitted to medical opinion, in proof of his insanity. Another symptom was the emotion, almost to hysterics, which he had exhibited on seeing Kean act Sir Giles Overreach. But the most plausible of all the grounds, as he himself used to allow, on which these articles of impeachment against his sanity were drawn up, was an act of violence committed by him on a favourite old watch that had been his companion from boyhood, and had gone with him to Greece. In a fit of vexation and rage, brought on by some of those humiliating embarrassments to which he was now almost daily a prey, he furiously dashed this watch upon the hearth, and ground it to pieces among the ashes with the poker.]
[Footnote 97: Of the abuse lavished upon him, the following extract from a poem, published at this time, will give some idea:—
"From native England, that endured too long The ceaseless burden of his impious song; His mad career of crimes and follies run, And grey in vice, when life was scarce begun; He goes, in foreign lands prepared to find A life more suited to his guilty mind; Where other climes new pleasures may supply For that pall'd taste, and that unhallow'd eye;— Wisely he seeks some yet untrodden shore, For those who know him less may prize him more."
In a rhyming pamphlet, too, entitled "A Poetical Epistle from Delia, addressed to Lord Byron," the writer thus charitably expresses herself:—
"Hopeless of peace below, and, shuddering thought! Far from that Heav'n, denied, if never sought, Thy light a beacon—a reproach thy name— Thy memory "damn'd to everlasting fame," Shunn'd by the wise, admired by fools alone— The good shall mourn thee—and the Muse disown." ]
* * * * *
LETTER 235. TO MR. ROGERS.
"March 25. 1816.
"You are one of the few persons with whom I have lived in what is called intimacy, and have heard me at times conversing on the untoward topic of my recent family disquietudes. Will you have the goodness to say to me at once, whether you ever heard me speak of her with disrespect, with unkindness, or defending myself at her expense by any serious imputation of any description against her? Did you never hear me say 'that when there was a right or a wrong, she had the right?'—The reason I put these questions to you or others of my friends is, because I am said, by her and hers, to have resorted to such means of exculpation.
"Ever very truly yours,
* * * * *
In those Memoirs (or, more properly, Memoranda,) of the noble poet, which it was thought expedient, for various reasons, to sacrifice, he gave a detailed account of all the circumstances connected with his marriage, from the first proposal to the lady till his own departure, after the breach, from England. In truth, though the title of "Memoirs," which he himself sometimes gave to that manuscript, conveys the idea of a complete and regular piece of biography, it was to this particular portion of his life that the work was principally devoted; while the anecdotes, having reference to other parts of his career, not only occupied a very disproportionate space in its pages, but were most of them such as are found repeated in the various Journals and other MSS. he left behind. The chief charm, indeed, of that narrative, was the melancholy playfulness—melancholy, from the wounded feeling so visible through its pleasantry—with which events unimportant and persons uninteresting, in almost every respect but their connection with such a man's destiny, were detailed and described in it. Frank, as usual, throughout, in his avowal of his own errors, and generously just towards her who was his fellow-sufferer in the strife, the impression his recital left on the minds of all who perused it was, to say the least, favourable to him;—though, upon the whole, leading to a persuasion, which I have already intimated to be my own, that, neither in kind nor degree, did the causes of disunion between the parties much differ from those that loosen the links of most such marriages.
With respect to the details themselves, though all important in his own eyes at the time, as being connected with the subject that superseded most others in his thoughts, the interest they would possess for others, now that their first zest as a subject of scandal is gone by, and the greater number of the persons to whom they relate forgotten, would be too slight to justify me in entering upon them more particularly, or running the risk of any offence that might be inflicted by their disclosure. As far as the character of the illustrious subject of these pages is concerned, I feel that Time and Justice are doing far more in its favour than could be effected by any such gossiping details. During the lifetime of a man of genius, the world is but too much inclined to judge of him rather by what he wants than by what he possesses, and even where conscious, as in the present case, that his defects are among the sources of his greatness, to require of him unreasonably the one without the other. If Pope had not been splenetic and irritable, we should have wanted his Satires; and an impetuous temperament, and passions untamed, were indispensable to the conformation of a poet like Byron. It is by posterity only that full justice is rendered to those who have paid such hard penalties to reach it. The dross that had once hung about the ore drops away, and the infirmities, and even miseries, of genius are forgotten in its greatness. Who now asks whether Dante was right or wrong in his matrimonial differences? or by how many of those whose fancies dwell fondly on his Beatrice is even the name of his Gemma Donati remembered?
Already, short as has been the interval since Lord Byron's death, the charitable influence of time in softening, if not rescinding, the harsh judgments of the world against genius is visible. The utter unreasonableness of trying such a character by ordinary standards, or of expecting to find the materials of order and happiness in a bosom constantly heaving forth from its depths such "lava floods," is—now that big spirit has passed from among us—felt and acknowledged. In reviewing the circumstances of his marriage, a more even scale of justice is held; and while every tribute of sympathy and commiseration is accorded to her, who, unluckily for her own peace, became involved in such a destiny,—who, with virtues and attainments that would have made the home of a more ordinary man happy, undertook, in evil hour, to "turn and wind a fiery Pegasus," and but failed where it may be doubted whether even the fittest for such a task would have succeeded,—full allowance is, at the same time, made for the great martyr of genius himself, whom so many other causes, beside that restless fire within him, concurred to unsettle in mind and (as he himself feelingly expresses it) "disqualify for comfort;"—whose doom it was to be either thus or less great, and whom to have tamed might have been to extinguish; there never, perhaps, having existed an individual to whom, whether as author or man, the following line was more applicable:—
"Si non errasset, fecerat ille minus."
While these events were going on,—events, of which his memory and heart bore painfully the traces through the remainder of his short life,—some occurrences took place, connected with his literary history, to which it is a relief to divert the attention of the reader from the distressing subject that has now so long detained us.
The letter that follows was in answer to one received from Mr. Murray, in which that gentleman had enclosed him a draft for a thousand guineas for the copyright of his two poems, The Siege of Corinth and Parisina:—
* * * * *
LETTER 236. TO MR. MURRAY.
"January 3. 1816.
"Your offer is liberal in the extreme, (you see I use the word to you and of you, though I would not consent to your using it of yourself to Mr. * * * *,) and much more than the two poems can possibly be worth; but I cannot accept it, nor will not. You are most welcome to them as additions to the collected volumes, without any demand or expectation on my part whatever. But I cannot consent to their separate publication. I do not like to risk any fame (whether merited or not), which I have been favoured with, upon compositions which I do not feel to be at all equal to my own notions of what they should be, (and as I flatter myself some have been, here and there,) though they may do very well as things without pretension, to add to the publication with the lighter pieces.
"I am very glad that the handwriting was a favourable omen of the morale of the piece: but you must not trust to that, for my copyist would write out any thing I desired in all the ignorance of innocence—I hope, however, in this instance, with no great peril to either.
"P.S. I have enclosed your draft torn, for fear of accidents by the way—I wish you would not throw temptation in mine. It is not from a disdain of the universal idol, nor from a present superfluity of his treasures, I can assure you, that I refuse to worship him; but what is right is right, and must not yield to circumstances."
[Footnote 98: Had he not erred, he had far less achieved.]
* * * * *
Notwithstanding the ruinous state of his pecuniary affairs, the resolution which the poet had formed not to avail himself of the profits of his works still continued to be held sacred by him; and the sum thus offered for the copyright of The Siege of Corinth and Parisina was, as we see, refused and left untouched in the publisher's hands. It happened that, at this time, a well-known and eminent writer on political science had been, by some misfortune, reduced to pecuniary embarrassment; and the circumstance having become known to Mr. Rogers and Sir James Mackintosh, it occurred to them that a part of the sum thus unappropriated by Lord Byron could not be better bestowed than in relieving the necessities of this gentleman. The suggestion was no sooner conveyed to the noble poet than he proceeded to act upon it; and the following letter to Mr. Rogers refers to his intentions:—
LETTER 237. TO MR. ROGERS.
"February 20. 1816.
"I wrote to you hastily this morning by Murray, to say that I was glad to do as Mackintosh and you suggested about Mr. * *. It occurs to me now, that as I have never seen Mr. * * but once, and consequently have no claim to his acquaintance, that you or Sir J. had better arrange it with him in such a manner as may be least offensive to his feelings, and so as not to have the appearance of officiousness nor obtrusion on my part. I hope you will be able to do this, as I should be very sorry to do any thing by him that may be deemed indelicate. The sum Murray offered and offers was and is one thousand and fifty pounds:—this I refused before, because I thought it more than the two things were worth to Murray, and from other objections, which are of no consequence. I have, however, closed with M., in consequence of Sir J.'s and your suggestion, and propose the sum of six hundred pounds to be transferred to Mr. * * in such a manner as may seem best to your friend,—the remainder I think of for other purposes.
"As Murray has offered the money down for the copyrights, it may be done directly. I am ready to sign and seal immediately, and perhaps it had better not be delayed. I shall feel very glad if it can be of any use to * *; only don't let him be plagued, nor think himself obliged and all that, which makes people hate one another, &c. Yours, very truly,
* * * * *
In his mention here of other "purposes," he refers to an intention which he had of dividing the residue of the sum between two other gentlemen of literary Celebrity, equally in want of such aid, Mr. Maturin and Mr. * *. The whole design, however, though entered into with the utmost sincerity on the part of the noble poet, ultimately failed. Mr. Murray, who was well acquainted with the straits to which Lord Byron himself had been reduced, and foresaw that a time might come when even money thus gained would be welcome to him, on learning the uses to which the sum was to be applied, demurred in advancing it,—alleging that, though bound not only by his word but his will to pay the amount to Lord Byron, he did not conceive himself called upon to part with it to others. How earnestly the noble poet himself, though with executions, at the time, impending over his head, endeavoured to urge the point, will appear from the following letter:—
LETTER 238. TO MR. MURRAY.
"February 22. 1815.
"When the sum offered by you, and even pressed by you, was declined, it was with reference to a separate publication, as you know and I know. That it was large, I admitted and admit; and that made part of my consideration in refusing it, till I knew better what you were likely to make of it. With regard to what is past, or is to pass, about Mr. M * *, the case is in no respect different from the transfer of former copyrights to Mr. Dallas. Had I taken you at your word, that is, taken your money, I might have used it as I pleased; and it could be in no respect different to you whether I paid it to a w——, or a hospital, or assisted a man of talent in distress. The truth of the matter seems this: you offered more than the poems are worth. I said so, and I think so; but you know, or at least ought to know, your own business best; and when you recollect what passed between you and me upon pecuniary subjects before this occurred, you will acquit me of any wish to take advantage of your imprudence.
"The things in question shall not be published at all, and there is an end of the matter.
* * * * *
The letter that follows will give some idea of those embarrassments in his own affairs, under the pressure of which he could be thus considerate of the wants of others.
LETTER 239. TO MR. MURRAY.
"March 6. 1816.
"I sent to you to-day for this reason—the books you purchased are again seized, and, as matters stand, had much better be sold at once by public auction. I wish to see you to return your bill for them, which, thank God, is neither due nor paid. That part, as far as you are concerned, being settled, (which it can be, and shall be, when I see you to-morrow,) I have no further delicacy about the matter. This is about the tenth execution in as many months; so I am pretty well hardened; but it is fit I should pay the forfeit of my forefathers' extravagance and my own; and whatever my faults may be, I suppose they will be pretty well expiated in time—or eternity. Ever, &c.
"P.S. I need hardly say that I knew nothing till this day of the new seizure. I had released them from former ones, and thought, when you took them, that they were yours.
"You shall have your bill again to-morrow."
[Footnote 99: The sale of these books took place the following month, and they were described in the catalogue as the property of "a Nobleman about to leave England on a tour."
From a note to Mr. Murray, it would appear that he had been first announced as going to the Morea.
"I hope that the catalogue of the books, &c., has not been published without my seeing it. I must reserve several, and many ought not to be printed. The advertisement is a very bad one. I am not going to the Morea; and if I was, you might as well advertise a man in Russia as going to Yorkshire.—Ever," &c.
Together with the books was sold an article of furniture, which is now in the possession of Mr. Murray, namely, "a large screen covered with portraits of actors, pugilists, representations of boxing-matches," &c.]
* * * * *
During the month of January and part of February, his poems of The Siege of Corinth and Parisina were in the hands of the printers, and about the end of the latter month made their appearance. The following letters are the only ones I find connected with their publication.
LETTER 240. TO MR. MURRAY.
"February 3. 1816.
"I sent for 'Marmion,' which I return, because it occurred to me, there might be a resemblance between part of 'Parisina' and a similar scene in Canto 2d of 'Marmion.' I fear there is, though I never thought of it before, and could hardly wish to imitate that which is inimitable. I wish you would ask Mr. Gifford whether I ought to say any thing upon it;—I had completed the story on the passage from Gibbon, which indeed leads to a like scene naturally, without a thought of the kind: but it comes upon me not very comfortably.
"There are a few words and phrases I want to alter in the MS., and should like to do it before you print, and will return it in an hour.
* * * * *
LETTER 241. TO MR. MURRAY.
"February 20. 1816.
"To return to our business—your epistles are vastly agreeable. With regard to the observations on carelessness, &c. I think, with all humility, that the gentle reader has considered a rather uncommon, and designedly irregular, versification for haste and negligence. The measure is not that of any of the other poems, which (I believe) were allowed to be tolerably correct, according to Byshe and the fingers—or ears—by which bards write, and readers reckon. Great part of 'The Siege' is in (I think) what the learned call Anapests, (though I am not sure, being heinously forgetful of my metres and my 'Gradus',) and many of the lines intentionally longer or shorter than its rhyming companion; and rhyme also occurring at greater or less intervals of caprice or convenience.
"I mean not to say that this is right or good, but merely that I could have been smoother, had it appeared to me of advantage; and that I was not otherwise without being aware of the deviation, though I now feel sorry for it, as I would undoubtedly rather please than not. My wish has been to try at something different from my former efforts; as I endeavoured to make them differ from each other. The versification of 'The Corsair' is not that of 'Lara;' nor 'The Giaour' that of 'The Bride;' Childe Harold is again varied from these; and I strove to vary the last somewhat from all of the others.
"Excuse all this d——d nonsense and egotism. The fact is, that I am rather trying to think on the subject of this note, than really thinking on it.—I did not know you had called: you are always admitted and welcome when you choose.
"Yours, &c. &c.
"P.S. You need not be in any apprehension or grief on my account: were I to be beaten down by the world and its inheritors, I should have succumbed to many things, years ago. You must not mistake my not bullying for dejection; nor imagine that because I feel, I am to faint:—but enough for the present.
"I am sorry for Sotheby's row. What the devil is it about? I thought it all settled; and if I can do any thing about him or Ivan still, I am ready and willing. I do not think it proper for me just now to be much behind the scenes, but I will see the committee and move upon it, if Sotheby likes.
"If you see Mr. Sotheby, will you tell him that I wrote to Mr. Coleridge, on getting Mr. Sotheby's note, and have, I hope, done what Mr. S. wished on that subject?"
* * * * *
It was about the middle of April that his two celebrated copies of verses, "Fare thee well," and "A Sketch," made their appearance in the newspapers:—and while the latter poem was generally and, it must be owned, justly condemned, as a sort of literary assault on an obscure female, whose situation ought to have placed her as much beneath his satire as the undignified mode of his attack certainly raised her above it, with regard to the other poem, opinions were a good deal more divided. To many it appeared a strain of true conjugal tenderness, a kind of appeal, which no woman with a heart could resist: while by others, on the contrary, it was considered to be a mere showy effusion of sentiment, as difficult for real feeling to have produced as it was easy for fancy and art, and altogether unworthy of the deep interests involved in the subject. To this latter opinion, I confess my own to have, at first, strongly inclined; and suspicious as I could not help regarding the sentiment that could, at such a moment, indulge in such verses, the taste that prompted or sanctioned their publication appeared to me even still more questionable. On reading, however, his own account of all the circumstances in the Memoranda, I found that on both points I had, in common with a large portion of the public, done him injustice. He there described, and in a manner whose sincerity there was no doubting, the swell of tender recollections under the influence of which, as he sat one night musing in his study, these stanzas were produced,—the tears, as he said, falling fast over the paper as he wrote them. Neither, from that account, did it appear to have been from any wish or intention of his own, but through the injudicious zeal of a friend whom he had suffered to take a copy, that the verses met the public eye.
The appearance of these poems gave additional violence to the angry and inquisitorial feeling now abroad against him; and the title under which both pieces were immediately announced by various publishers, as "Poems by Lord Byron on his domestic Circumstances," carried with it a sufficient exposure of the utter unfitness of such themes for rhyme. It is, indeed, only in those emotions and passions, of which imagination forms a predominant ingredient,—such as love, in its first dreams, before reality has come to embody or dispel them, or sorrow, in its wane, when beginning to pass away from the heart into the fancy,—that poetry ought ever to be employed as an interpreter of feeling. For the expression of all those immediate affections and disquietudes that have their root in the actual realities of life, the art of the poet, from the very circumstance of its being an art, as well as from the coloured form in which it is accustomed to transmit impressions, cannot be otherwise than a medium as false as it is feeble.
To so very low an ebb had the industry of his assailants now succeeded in reducing his private character, that it required no small degree of courage, even among that class who are supposed to be the most tolerant of domestic irregularities, to invite him into their society. One distinguished lady of fashion, however, ventured so far as, on the eve of his departure from England, to make a party for him expressly; and nothing short, perhaps, of that high station in society which a life as blameless as it is brilliant has secured to her, could have placed beyond all reach of misrepresentation, at that moment, such a compliment to one marked with the world's censure so deeply. At this assembly of Lady J * *'s he made his last appearance, publicly, in England; and the amusing account given of some of the company in his Memoranda,—of the various and characteristic ways in which the temperature of their manner towards him was affected by the cloud under which he now appeared,—was one of the passages of that Memoir it would have been most desirable, perhaps, to have preserved; though, from being a gallery of sketches, all personal and many satirical, but a small portion of it, if any, could have been presented to the public till a time when the originals had long left the scene, and any interest they might once have excited was gone with themselves. Besides the noble hostess herself, whose kindness to him, on this occasion, he never forgot, there was also one other person (then Miss M * *, now Lady K * *,) whose frank and fearless cordiality to him on that evening he most gratefully commemorated,—adding, in acknowledgment of a still more generous service, "She is a high-minded woman, and showed me more friendship than I deserved from her. I heard also of her having defended me in a large company, which at that time required more courage and firmness than most women possess."
* * * * *
As we are now approaching so near the close of his London life, I shall here throw together the few remaining recollections of that period with which the gleanings of his Memorandum-book, so often referred to, furnish me.
"I liked the Dandies; they were always very civil to me, though in general they disliked literary people, and persecuted and mystified Madame de Stael, Lewis, * * * *, and the like, damnably. They persuaded Madame de Stael that A * * had a hundred thousand a year, &c. &c., till she praised him to his face for his beauty! and made a set at him for * *, and a hundred fooleries besides. The truth is, that, though I gave up the business early, I had a tinge of dandyism in my minority, and probably retained enough of it to conciliate the great ones at five-and-twenty. I had gamed, and drank, and taken my degrees in most dissipations, and having no pedantry, and not being overbearing, we ran quietly together. I knew them all more or less, and they made me a member of Watier's (a superb club at that time), being, I take it, the only literary man (except two others, both men of the world, Moore and Spenser,) in it. Our masquerade was a grand one; so was the dandy-ball too, at the Argyle, but that (the latter) was given by the four chiefs, B., M., A., and P., if I err not.
"I was a member of the Alfred, too, being elected while in Greece. It was pleasant; a little too sober and literary, and bored with * * and Sir Francis D'Ivernois; but one met Peel, and Ward, and Valentia, and many other pleasant or known people; and it was, upon the whole, a decent resource in a rainy day, in a dearth of parties, or parliament, or in an empty season.
"I belonged, or belong, to the following clubs or societies:—to the Alfred; to the Cocoa Tree; to Watier's; to the Union; to Racket's (at Brighton); to the Pugilistic; to the Owls, or "Fly-by-night;" to the Cambridge Whig Club; to the Harrow Club, Cambridge; and to one or two private clubs; to the Hampden (political) Club; and to the Italian Carbonari, &c. &c., 'though last, not least.' I got into all these, and never stood for any other—at least to my own knowledge. I declined being proposed to several others, though pressed to stand candidate."
* * * *
"When I met H * * L * *, the gaoler, at Lord Holland's, before he sailed for St. Helena, the discourse turned upon the battle of Waterloo. I asked him whether the dispositions of Napoleon were those of a great general? He answered, disparagingly, 'that they were very simple.' I had always thought that a degree of simplicity was an ingredient of greatness."
* * * *
"I was much struck with the simplicity of Grattan's manners in private life; they were odd, but they were natural. Curran used to take him off, bowing to the very ground, and 'thanking God that he had no peculiarities of gesture or appearance,' in a way irresistibly ludicrous; and * * used to call him a 'Sentimental Harlequin.'"
* * * *
"Curran! Curran's the man who struck me most. Such imagination! there never was any thing like it that ever I saw or heard of. His published life—his published speeches, give you no idea of the man—none at all. He was a machine of imagination, as some one said that Piron was an epigrammatic machine.
"I did not see a great deal of Curran—only in 1813; but I met him at home (for he used to call on me), and in society, at Mackintosh's, Holland House, &c. &c. and he was wonderful even to me, who had seen many remarkable men of the time."
* * * *
"* * * (commonly called long * * *, a very clever man, but odd) complained of our friend Scrope B. Davies, in riding, that he had a stitch in his side. 'I don't wonder at it,' said Scrope, 'for you ride like a tailor.' Whoever had seen * * * on horseback, with his very tall figure on a small nag, would not deny the justice of the repartee."
* * * *
"When B * * was obliged (by that affair of poor M * *, who thence acquired the name of 'Dick the Dandy-killer'—it was about money, and debt, and all that) to retire to France, he knew no French, and having obtained a grammar for the purpose of study, our friend Scrope Davies was asked what progress Brummell had made in French; he responded, 'that Brummell had been stopped, like Buonaparte in Russia, by the Elements.'
"I have put this pun into Beppo, which is 'a fair exchange and no robbery; for Scrope made his fortune at several dinners (as he owned himself) by repeating occasionally, as his own, some of the buffooneries with which I had encountered him in the morning."
* * * *
"* * * is a good man, rhymes well (if not wisely), but is a bore. He seizes you by the button. One night of a rout, at Mrs. Hope's, he had fastened upon me, notwithstanding my symptoms of manifest distress, (for I was in love, and had just nicked a minute when neither mothers, nor husbands, nor rivals, nor gossips, were near my then idol, who was beautiful as the statues of the gallery where we stood at the time,)—* * *, I say, had seized upon me by the button and the heart-strings, and spared neither. W. Spencer, who likes fun, and don't dislike mischief, saw my case, and coming up to us both, took me by the hand, and pathetically bade me farewell; 'for,' said he, 'I see it is all over with you.' * * * then went away. Sic me servavit Apollo."
* * * *
"I remember seeing Blucher in the London assemblies, and never saw any thing of his age less venerable. With the voice and manners of a recruiting sergeant, he pretended to the honours of a hero,—just as if a stone could be worshipped because a man had stumbled over it."
[Footnote 100: Petrarch was, it appears, also in his youth, a Dandy. "Recollect," he says, in a letter to his brother, "the time, when we wore white habits, on which the least spot, or a plait ill placed, would have been a subject of grief; when our shoes were so tight we suffered martyrdom," &c.]
[Footnote 101: To this masquerade he went in the habit of a Caloyer, or Eastern monk,—a dress particularly well calculated to set off the beauty of his fine countenance, which was accordingly, that night, the subject of general admiration.]
[Footnote 102: In his Memoranda there were equally enthusiastic praises of Curran. "The riches," said he, "of his Irish imagination were exhaustless. I have heard that man speak more poetry than I have ever seen written,—though I saw him seldom and but occasionally. I saw him presented to Madame de Stael at Mackintosh's;—it was the grand confluence between the Rhone and the Saone, and they were both so d——d ugly, that I could not help wondering how the best intellects of France and Ireland could have taken up respectively such residences."
In another part, however, he was somewhat more fair to Madame de Stael's personal appearance:—"Her figure was not bad; her legs tolerable; her arms good. Altogether, I can conceive her having been a desirable woman, allowing a little imagination for her soul, and so forth. She would have made a great man."]
* * * * *
We now approach the close of this eventful period of his history. In a note to Mr. Rogers, written a short time before his departure for Ostend, he says,—"My sister is now with me, and leaves town to-morrow: we shall not meet again for some time, at all events—if ever; and, under these circumstances, I trust to stand excused to you and Mr. Sheridan for being unable to wait upon him this evening."
This was his last interview with his sister,—almost the only person from whom he now parted with regret; it being, as he said, doubtful which had given him most pain, the enemies who attacked or the friends who condoled with him. Those beautiful and most tender verses, "Though the day of my destiny's over," were now his parting tribute to her who, through all this bitter trial, had been his sole consolation; and, though known to most readers, so expressive are they of his wounded feelings at this crisis, that there are few, I think, who will object to seeing some stanzas of them here.
"Though the rock of my last hope is shiver'd, And its fragments are sunk in the wave, Though I feel that my soul is deliver'd To pain—it shall not be its slave. There is many a pang to pursue me: They may crush, but they shall not contemn— They may torture, but shall not subdue me— 'Tis of thee that I think—not of them.
"Though human, thou didst not deceive me, Though woman, thou didst not forsake, Though lov'd, thou forborest to grieve me, Though slander'd, thou never couldst shake, Though trusted, thou didst not disclaim me, Though parted, it was not to fly, Though watchful, 'twas not to defame me, Nor mute, that the world might belie.
"From the wreck of the past, which hath perish'd, Thus much I at least may recall, It hath taught me that what I most cherish'd Deserved to be dearest of all: In the desert a fountain is springing, In the wide waste there still is a tree, And a bird in the solitude singing, Which speaks to my spirit of thee.
On a scrap of paper, in his handwriting, dated April 14. 1816, I find the following list of his attendants, with an annexed outline of his projected tour:—"Servants, —— Berger, a Swiss, William Fletcher, and Robert Rushton.—John William Polidori, M.D.—Switzerland, Flanders, Italy, and (perhaps) France." The two English servants, it will be observed, were the same "yeoman" and "page" who had set out with him on his youthful travels in 1809; and now,—for the second and last time taking leave of his country,—on the 25th of April he sailed for Ostend.
The circumstances under which Lord Byron now took leave of England were such as, in the case of any ordinary person, could not be considered otherwise than disastrous and humiliating. He had, in the course of one short year, gone through every variety of domestic misery;—had seen his hearth eight or nine times profaned by the visitations of the law, and been only saved from a prison by the privileges of his rank. He had alienated, as far as they had ever been his, the affections of his wife; and now, rejected by her, and condemned by the world, was betaking himself to an exile which had not even the dignity of appearing voluntary, as the excommunicating voice of society seemed to leave him no other resource. Had he been of that class of unfeeling and self-satisfied natures from whose hard surface the reproaches of others fall pointless, he might have found in insensibility a sure refuge against reproach; but, on the contrary, the same sensitiveness that kept him so awake to the applauses of mankind, rendered him, in a still more intense degree, alive to their censure. Even the strange, perverse pleasure which he felt in painting himself unamiably to the world did not prevent him from being both startled and pained when the world took him at his word; and, like a child in a mask before a looking-glass, the dark semblance which he had, half in sport, put on, when reflected back upon him from the mirror of public opinion, shocked even himself.