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The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 15695

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Arrival in London-Mr Dallas's Patronage-Arranges for the Publication of "Childe Harold"-The Death of Mrs Byron-His Sorrow-His Affair with Mr Moore-Their Meeting at Mr Rogers's House, and Friendship

Lord Byron arrived in London about the middle of July, 1811, having been absent a few days more than two years. The embarrassed condition in which he found his affairs sufficiently explains the dejection and uneasiness with which he was afflicted during the latter part of his residence in Greece; and yet it was not such as ought to have affected him so deeply, nor have I ever been able to comprehend wherefore so much stress has been laid on his supposed friendlessness. In respect both to it and to his ravelled fortune, a great deal too much has been too often said; and the manliness of his character has suffered by the puling.

His correspondence shows that he had several friends to whom he was much attached, and his disposition justifies the belief that, had he not been well persuaded the attachment was reciprocal, he would not have remained on terms of intimacy with them. And though for his rank not rich, he was still able to maintain all its suitable exhibition. The world could never regard as an object of compassion or of sympathy an English noble, whose income was enough to support his dignity among his peers, and whose poverty, however grievous to his pride, caused only the privation of extravagance. But it cannot be controverted, that there was an innate predilection in the mind of Lord Byron to mystify everything about himself: he was actuated by a passion to excite attention, and, like every other passion, it was often indulged at the expense of propriety. He had the infirmity of speaking, though vaguely, and in obscure hints and allusions, more of his personal concerns than is commonly deemed consistent with a correct estimate of the interest which mankind take in the cares of one another. But he lived to feel and to rue the consequences: to repent he could not, for the cause was in the very element of his nature. It was a blemish as incurable as the deformity of his foot.

On his arrival in London, his relation, Mr Dallas, called on him, and in the course of their first brief conversation his Lordship mentioned that he had written a paraphrase of Horace's Art of Poetry, but said nothing then of Childe Harold, a circumstance which leads me to suspect that he offered him the slighter work first, to enjoy his surprise afterward at the greater. If so, the result answered the intent. Mr Dallas carried home with him the paraphrase of Horace, with which he was grievously disappointed; so much so, that on meeting his Lordship again in the morning, and being reluctant to speak of it as he really thought, he only expressed some surprise that his noble friend should have produced nothing else during his long absence.

I can easily conceive the emphatic indifference, if my conjecture be well founded, with which Lord Byron must have said to him, "I have occasionally written short poems, besides a great many stanzas in Spenser's measure, relative to the countries I have visited: they are not worth troubling you with, but you shall have them all with you, if you like."

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage was accordingly placed in his hands; Mr Dallas took it home, and was not slow in discovering its beauties, for in the course of the same evening he despatched a note to his Lordship, as fair a specimen of the style of an elderly patronising gentleman as can well be imagined: "You have written," said he, "one of the most delightful poems I ever read. If I wrote this in flattery, I should deserve your contempt rather than your friendship. I have been so fascinated with Childe Harold, that I have not been able to lay it down; I would almost pledge my life on its advancing the reputation of your poetical powers, and on its gaining you great honour and regard, if you will do me the credit and favour of attending to my suggestions."

For some reason or another, Lord Byron, however, felt or feigned great reluctance to publish Childe Harold. Possibly his repugnance was dictated by diffidence, not with respect to its merits, but from a consciousness that the hero of the poem exhibited traits and resemblances of himself. It would indeed be injustice to his judgment and taste, to suppose he was not sensible of the superiority of the terse and energetic poetry which brightens and burns in every stanza of the Pilgrimage, compared with the loose and sprawling lines, and dull rhythm, of the paraphrase. It is true that he alleged it had been condemned by a good critic-the only one who had previously seen it-probably Mr Hobhouse, who was with him during the time he was writing it; but still I cannot conceive he was so blind to excellence, as to prefer in sincerity the other composition, which was only an imitation. But the arguments of Mr Dallas prevailed and in due season Childe Harold was prepared for the press.

In the meantime, while busily engaged in his literary projects with Mr Dallas, and in law affairs with his agent, he was suddenly summoned to Newstead by the state of his mother's health: before he had reached the Abbey she had breathed her last. The event deeply affected him; he had not seen her since his return, and a presentiment possessed her when they parted, that she was never to see him again.

Notwithstanding her violent temper and other unseemly conduct, her affection for him had been so fond and dear, that he undoubtedly returned it with unaffected sincerity; and from many casual and incidental expressions which I have heard him employ concerning her, I am persuaded that his filial love was not at any time even of an ordinary kind. During her life he might feel uneasy respecting her, apprehensive on account of her ungovernable passions and indiscretions, but the manner in which he lamented her death, clearly proves that the integrity of his affection had never been impaired.

On the night after his arrival at the Abbey, the waiting-woman of Mrs Byron, in passing the door of the room where the corpse lay, heard the sound of some one sighing heavily within, and on entering found his Lordship sitting in the dark beside the bed. She remonstrated with him for so giving way to grief, when he burst into tears, and exclaimed, "I had but one friend in the world, and she is gone." Of the fervency of his sorrow I do therefore think there can be no doubt; the very endeavour which he made to conceal it by indifference, was a proof of its depth and anguish, though he hazarded the strictures of the world by the indecorum of his conduct on the occasion of the funeral. Having declined to follow the remains himself, he stood looking from the hall door at the procession, till the whole had moved away; and then, turning to one of the servants, the only person left, he desired him to fetch the sparring-gloves, and proceeded with him to his usual exercise. But the scene was impressive, and spoke eloquently of a grieved heart; he sparred in silence all the time, and the servant thought that he hit harder than was his habit: at last he suddenly flung away the gloves and retired to his own room.

As soon as the funeral was over the publication of Childe Harold was resumed, but it went slowly through the press. In the meantime, an incident occurred to him which deserves to be noted-because it is one of the most remarkable in his life, and has given rise to consequences affecting his fame-with advantage.

In English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, he had alluded, with provoking pleasantry, to a meeting which had taken place at Chalk Farm some years before, between Mr Jeffrey, the Edinburgh reviewer, and Mr Moore, without recollecting, indeed without having heard, that Mr Moore had explained, through the newspapers, what

was alleged to have been ridiculous in the affair. This revival of the subject, especially as it called in question the truth of Mr Moore's statement, obliged that gentleman to demand an explanation; but Lord Byron, being abroad, did not receive this letter, and of course knew not of its contents, so that, on his return, Mr Moore was induced to address his Lordship again. The correspondence which ensued is honourable to the spirit and feelings of both.

Mr Moore, after referring to his first letter, restated the nature of the insult which the passage in the note to the poem was calculated to convey, adding, "It is now useless to speak of the steps with which it was my intention to follow up that letter, the time which has elapsed since then, though it has done away neither the injury nor the feeling of it, has, in many respects, materially altered my situation, and the only object I have now in writing to your Lordship, is to preserve some consistency with that former letter, and to prove to you that the injured feeling still exists, however circumstances may compel me to be deaf to its dictates at present. When I say 'injured feeling,' let me assure your Lordship that there is not a single vindictive sentiment in my mind towards you; I mean but to express that uneasiness under what I consider to be a charge of falsehood, which must haunt a man of any feeling to his grave, unless the insult be retracted, or atoned for, and which, if I did not feel, I should indeed deserve far worse than your Lordship's satire could inflict upon me." And he concluded by saying, that so far from being influenced by any angry or resentful feeling, it would give him sincere pleasure if, by any satisfactory explanation, his Lordship would enable him to seek the honour of being ranked among his acquaintance.

The answer of Lord Byron was diplomatic but manly. He declared that he never received Mr Moore's letter, and assured him that in whatever part of the world it had reached him, he would have deemed it his duty to return and answer it in person; that he knew nothing of the advertisement to which Mr Moore had alluded, and consequently could not have had the slightest idea of "giving the lie" to an address which he had never seen. "When I put my name to the production," said his Lordship, "which has occasioned this correspondence, I became responsible to all whom it might concern, to explain where it requires explanation, and where insufficiently or too sufficiently explicit, at all events to satisfy; my situation leaves me no choice; it rests with the injured and the angry to obtain reparation in their own way. With regard to the passage in question, you were certainly not the person towards whom I felt personally hostile: on the contrary, my whole thoughts were engrossed by one whom I had reason to consider as my worst literary enemy, nor could I foresee that his former antagonist was about to become his champion. You do not specify what you would wish to have done. I can neither retract nor apologize for a charge of falsehood which I never advanced."

In reply, Mr Moore commenced by acknowledging that his Lordship's letter was upon the whole as satisfactory as he could expect; and after alluding to specific circumstances in the case, concluded thus: "As your Lordship does not show any wish to proceed beyond the rigid formulary of explanation, it is not for me to make any farther advances. We Irishmen, in business of this kind, seldom know any medium between decided hostility and decided friendship. But as any approaches towards the latter alternative must now depend entirely on your Lordship, I have only to repeat that I am satisfied with your letter." Here the correspondence would probably, with most people, have been closed, but Lord Byron's sensibility was interested, and would not let it rest. Accordingly, on the following day, he rejoined: "Soon after my return to England, my friend Mr Hodgson apprised me that a letter for me was in his possession; but a domestic event hurrying me from London immediately after, the letter, which may most probably be your own, is still unopened in his keeping. If, on examination of the address, the similarity of the handwriting should lead to such a conclusion, it shall be opened in your presence, for the satisfaction of all parties. Mr H. is at present out of town; on Friday I shall see him, and request him to forward it to my address. With regard to the latter part of both your letters, until the principal point was discussed between us, I felt myself at a loss in what manner to reply. Was I to anticipate friendship from one who conceived me to have charged him with falsehood? were not advances under such circumstances to be misconstrued, not perhaps by the person to whom they were addressed, but by others? In my case such a step was impracticable. If you, who conceived yourself to be the offended person, are satisfied that you had no cause for offence, it will not be difficult to convince me of it. My situation, as I have before stated, leaves me no choice. I should have felt proud of your acquaintance had it commenced under other circumstances, but it must rest with you to determine how far it may proceed after so auspicious a beginning."

Mr Moore acknowledges that he was somewhat piqued at the manner in which his efforts towards a more friendly understanding were received, and hastened to close the correspondence by a short note, saying that his Lordship had made him feel the imprudence he was guilty of in wandering from the point immediately in discussion between them. This drew immediately from Lord Byron the following frank and openhearted reply:

"You must excuse my troubling you once more upon this very unpleasant subject. It would be a satisfaction to me, and I should think to yourself, that the unopened letter in Mr Hodgson's possession (supposing it to prove your own) should be returned in statu quo to the writer, particularly as you expressed yourself 'not quite easy under the manner in which I had dwelt on its miscarriage.'

"A few words more and I shall not trouble you further. I felt, and still feel, very much flattered by those parts of your correspondence which held out the prospect of our becoming acquainted. If I did not meet them, in the first instance, as perhaps I ought, let the situation in which I was placed be my defence. You have now declared yourself satisfied, and on that point we are no longer at issue. If, therefore, you still retain any wish to do me the honour you hinted at, I shall be most happy to meet you when, where, and how you please, and I presume you will not attribute my saying thus much to any unworthy motive."

The result was a dinner at the house of Mr Rogers, the amiable and celebrated author of The Pleasures of Memory, and the only guest besides the two adversaries was Mr Campbell, author of The Pleasures of Hope: a poetical group of four not easily to be matched, among contemporaries in any age or country.

The meeting could not but be interesting, and Mr Moore has described the effect it had on himself with a felicitous warmth, which showed how much he enjoyed the party, and was pleased with the friendship that ensued.

"Among the impressions," says he, "which this meeting left on me, what I chiefly remember to have remarked was, the nobleness of his air, his beauty, the gentleness of his voice and manners, and-what was naturally not the least attraction-his marked kindness for myself. Being in mourning for his mother, the colour as well of his dress as of his glossy, curling, and picturesque hair, gave more effect to the pure spiritual paleness of his features, in the expression of which, when he spoke, there was a perpetual play of lively thought, though melancholy was their habitual character when in repose."

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