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   Chapter 27 No.27

The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 10818

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Sketches of Character-His Friendly Dispositions-Introduce Prince K-to him-Our last Interview-His continued Kindness towards me-Instance of it to one of my Friends.

For some time after the publication of Childe Harold, the noble author appeared to more advantage than I ever afterwards saw him. He was soothed by success; and the universal applause which attended his poem seemed to make him think more kindly of the world, of which he has too often complained, while it would be difficult to discover, in his career and fortunes, that he had ever received any cause from it to justify his complaint.

At no time, I imagine, could it be said that Lord Byron was one of those men who interest themselves in the concerns of others. He had always too much to do with his own thoughts about himself, to afford time for the consideration of aught that was lower in his affections. But still he had many amiable fits, and at the particular period to which I allude, he evinced a constancy in the disposition to oblige, which proved how little self-control was wanting to have made him as pleasant as he was uniformly interesting. I felt this towards myself in a matter which had certainly the grace of condescension in it, at the expense of some trouble to him. I then lived at the corner of Bridge Street, Westminster, and in going to the House of Lords he frequently stopped to inquire if I wanted a frank. His conversation, at the same time, was of a milder vein, and with the single exception of one day, while dining together at the St Alban's, it was light and playful, as if gaiety had become its habitude.

Perhaps I regarded him too curiously, and more than once it struck me that he thought so. For at times, when he was in his comfortless moods, he has talked of his affairs and perplexities as if I had been much more acquainted with them than I had any opportunity of being. But he was a subject for study, such as is rarely met with-at least, he was so to me; for his weaknesses were as interesting as his talents, and he often indulged in expressions which would have been blemishes in the reflections of other men, but which in him often proved the germs of philosophical imaginings. He was the least qualified for any sort of business of all men I have ever known; so skinless in sensibility as respected himself, and so distrustful in his universal apprehensions of human nature, as respected others. It was, indeed, a wild, though a beautiful, error of nature, to endow a spirit with such discerning faculties, and yet render it unfit to deal with mankind. But these reflections belong more properly to a general estimate of his character, than to the immediate purpose before me, which was principally to describe the happy effects which the splendid reception of Childe Harold had on his feelings; effects which, however, did not last long. He was gratified to the fullness of his hopes; but the adulation was enjoyed to excess, and his infirmities were aggravated by the surfeit. I did not, however, see the progress of the change, as in the course of the summer I went to Scotland, and soon after again abroad. But on my return, in the following spring, it was very obvious.

I found him, in one respect, greatly improved; there was more of a formed character about him; he was evidently, at the first glance, more mannered, or endeavouring to be so, and easier with the proprieties of his rank; but he had risen in his own estimation above the honours so willingly paid to his genius, and was again longing for additional renown. Not content with being acknowledged as the first poet of the age, and a respectable orator in the House of Lords, he was aspiring to the éclat of a man of gallantry; so that many of the most ungracious peculiarities of his temper, though brought under better discipline, were again in full activity.

Considering how much he was then caressed, I ought to have been proud of the warmth with which he received me. I did not, however, so often see him as in the previous year; for I was then on the eve of my marriage, and I should not so soon, after my return to London, have probably renewed my visits, but a foreign nobleman of the highest rank, who had done me the honour to treat me as a friend, came at that juncture to this country, and knowing I had been acquainted with Lord Byron, he requested me to introduce him to his Lordship. This rendered a visit preliminary to the introduction necessary; and so long as my distinguished friend remained in town, we again often met. But after he left the country my visits became few and far between; owing to nothing but that change in a man's pursuits and associates which is one among some of the evils of matrimony. It is somewhat remarkable, that of the last visit I ever paid him, he has made rather a particular memorandum. I remember well, that it was in many respects an occasion not to be at once forgotten; for, among other things, after lighter topics, he explained to me a variety of tribulations in his affairs, and I urged him, in consequence, to marry, with the frankness which his confidence encouraged; subjoining certain items of other good advice concerning a liaison which he was supposed to have formed, and which Mr Moore does not appear to have known, though it was much talked of at the time.

During that visit the youthful peculiarities of his temper and character showed all

their original blemish. But, as usual, when such was the case, he was often more interesting than when in his discreeter moods. He gave me the copy of The Bride of Abydos, with a very kind inscription on it, which I have already mentioned; but still there was an impression on my mind that led me to believe he could not have been very well pleased with some parts of my counselling. This, however, appears not to have been the case; on the contrary, the tone of his record breathes something of kindness; and long after I received different reasons to believe his recollection of me was warm and friendly.

When he had retired to Genoa, I gave a gentleman a letter to him, partly that I might hear something of his real way of life, and partly in the hope of gratifying my friend by the sight of one of whom he had heard so much. The reception from his Lordship was flattering to me; and, as the account of it contains what I think a characteristic picture, the reader will, I doubt not, be pleased to see so much of it as may be made public without violating the decorum which should always be observed in describing the incidents of private intercourse, when the consent of all parties cannot be obtained to the publication.

Edinburgh, June 3, 1830.

"DEAR GALT,-Though I shall always retain a lively general recollection of my agreeable interview with Lord Byron, at Genoa, in May, 1823, so long a time has since elapsed that much of the aroma of the pleasure has evaporated, and I can but recall generalities. At that time there was an impression in Genoa that he was averse to receive visits from Englishmen, and I was indeed advised not to think of calling on him, as I might run the risk of meeting with a savage reception. However, I resolved to send your note, and to the surprise of every one the messenger brought a most polite answer, in which, after expressing the satisfaction of hearing of his old friend and fellow-traveller, he added that he would do himself the honour of calling on me the next day, which he accordingly did; but owing to the officious blundering of an Italian waiter, who mentioned I was at dinner, his Lordship sent up his card with his compliments that he would not deranger the party. I was determined, however, that he should not escape me in this way, and drove out to his residence next morning, when, upon his English valet taking up my name, I was immediately admitted.

"As every one forms a picture to himself of remarkable characters, I had depicted his Lordship in my mind as a tall, sombre, Childe Harold personage, tinctured somewhat with aristocratic hauteur. You may therefore guess my surprise when the door opened, and I saw leaning upon the lock, a light animated figure, rather petite than otherwise, dressed in a nankeen hussar-braided jacket, trousers of the same material, with a white waistcoat; his countenance pale but the complexion clear and healthful, with the hair coming down in little curls on each side of his fine forehead.

"He came towards me with an easy cheerfulness of manner, and after some preliminary inquiries concerning yourself, we entered into a conversation which lasted two hours, in the course of which I felt myself perfectly at ease, from his Lordship's natural and simple manners; indeed, so much so, that, forgetting all my anticipations, I found myself conversing with him with as fluent an intercourse of mind as I ever experienced, even with yourself.

"It is impossible for me at present to overtake a detail of what passed, but as it produced a kind of scene, I may mention one incident.

"Having remarked that in a long course of desultory reading, I had read most of what had been said by English travellers concerning Italy; yet, on coming to it I found there was no country of which I had less accurate notions: that among other things I was much struck with the harshness of the language. He seemed to jerk at this, and immediately observed, that perhaps in going rapidly through the country, I might not have had many opportunities of hearing it politely spoken. 'Now,' said he, 'there are supposed to be nineteen dialects of the Italian language, and I shall let you hear a lady speak the principal of them, who is considered to do it very well.' I pricked up my ears at hearing this, as I considered it would afford me an opportunity of seeing the far-famed Countess Guiccioli. His Lordship immediately rose and left the apartment, returning in the course of a minute or two leading in the lady, and while arranging chairs for the trio, he said to me, 'I shall make her speak each of the principal dialects, but you are not to mind how I pronounce, for I do not speak Italian well.' After the scene had been performed he resumed to me, 'Now what do you think?' To which I answered, that my opinion still remained unaltered. He seemed at this to fall into a little revery, and then said, abruptly, 'Why 'tis very odd, Moore thought the same.' 'Does your Lordship mean Tom Moore?' 'Yes.' 'Ah, then, my Lord, I shall adhere with more pertinacity to my opinion, when I hear that a man of his exquisite taste in poetry and harmony was also of that opinion.'

"You will be asking what I thought of the lady; I had certainly heard much of her high personal attractions, but all I can say is, that in my eyes her graces did not rank above mediocrity. They were youth, plumpness, and good-nature."

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