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The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 8237

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Genoa-Change in the Manners of Lord Byron-Residence at the Casa Saluzzi-"The Liberal"-Remarks on the Poet's Works in general and on Hunt's Strictures on his Character

Previously to their arrival at Genoa, a house had been taken for Lord Byron and the Guiccioli in Albaro, a pleasant village on a hill, in the vicinity of the city; it was the Casa Saluzzi, and I have been told, that during the time he resided there, he seemed to enjoy a more uniform and temperate gaiety than in any former period of his life. There might have been less of sentiment in his felicity, than when he lived at Ravenna, as he seldom wrote poetry, but he appeared to some of his occasional visitors, who knew him in London, to have become more agreeable and manly. I may add, at the risk of sarcasm for the vanity, that in proof of his mellowed temper towards me, besides the kind frankness with which he received my friend, as already mentioned, he sent me word, by the Earl of Blesinton, that he had read my novel of The Entail three times, and thought the old Leddy Grippy one of the most living-like heroines he had ever met with. This was the more agreeable, as I had heard within the same week, that Sir Walter Scott had done and said nearly the same thing. Half the compliment from two such men would be something to be proud of.

Lord Byron's residence at Albaro was separate from that of Mr Hunt, and, in consequence, they were more rarely together than when domiciled under the same roof as at Pisa. Indeed, by this time, if one may take Mr Hunt's own account of the matter, they appear to have become pretty well tired of each other. He had found out that a peer is, as a friend, but as a plebeian, and a great poet not always a high-minded man. His Lordship had, on his part, discovered that something more than smartness or ingenuity is necessary to protect patronage from familiarity. Perhaps intimate acquaintance had also tended to enable him to appreciate, with greater accuracy, the meretricious genius and artificial tastes of his copartner in The Liberal. It is certain that he laughed at his affected admiration of landscapes, and considered his descriptions of scenery as drawn from pictures.

One day, as a friend of mine was conversing with his Lordship at the Casa Saluzzi, on the moral impressions of magnificent scenery, he happened to remark that he thought the view of the Alps in the evening, from Turin, the sublimest scene he had ever beheld. "It is impossible," said he, "at such a time, when all the west is golden and glowing behind them, to contemplate such vast masses of the Deity without being awed into rest, and forgetting such things as man and his follies."-"Hunt," said his Lordship, smiling, "has no perception of the sublimity of Alpine scenery; he calls a mountain a great impostor."

In the mean time the materials for the first number of The Liberal had been transmitted to London, where the manuscript of The Vision of Judgment was already, and something of its quality known. All his Lordship's friends were disturbed at the idea of the publication. They did not like the connection he had formed with Mr Shelley-they liked still less the copartnery with Mr Hunt. With the justice or injustice of these dislikes I have nothing to do. It is an historical fact that they existed, and became motives with those who deemed themselves the custodiers of his Lordship's fame, to seek a dissolution of the association.

The first number of The Liberal, containing The Vision of Judgment, was received soon after the copartnery had established themselves at Genoa, accompanied with hopes and fears. Much good could not be anticipated from a work which outraged the loyal and decorous sentiments of the nation towards the memory of George III. To the second number Lord Byron contributed the Heaven and Earth, a sacred drama, which has been much misrepresented in consequence of its fraternity with Don Juan and The Vision of Judgment; for it contains no expression to which religion can object, nor breathes a thought at variance with the Genesis. The history of literature affords no in

stance of a condemnation less justifiable, on the plea of profanity, than that of this Mystery. That it abounds in literary blemishes, both of plan and language, and that there are harsh jangles and discords in the verse, is not disputed; but still it abounds in a grave patriarchal spirit, and is echo to the oracles of Adam and Melchisedek. It may not be worthy of Lord Byron's genius, but it does him no dishonour, and contains passages which accord with the solemn diapasons of ancient devotion. The disgust which The Vision of Judgment had produced, rendered it easy to persuade the world that there was impiety in the Heaven and Earth, although, in point of fact, it may be described as hallowed with the Scriptural theology of Milton. The objections to its literary defects were magnified into sins against worship and religion.

The Liberal stopped with the fourth number, I believe. It disappointed not merely literary men in general, but even the most special admirers of the talents of the contributors. The main defect of the work was a lack of knowledge. Neither in style nor genius, nor even in general ability, was it wanting; but where it showed learning it was not of a kind in which the age took much interest. Moreover, the manner and cast of thinking of all the writers in it were familiar to the public, and they were too few in number to variegate their pages with sufficient novelty. But the main cause of the failure was the antipathy formed and fostered against it before it appeared. It was cried down, and it must be acknowledged that it did not much deserve a better fate.

With The Liberal I shall close my observations on the works of Lord Byron. They are too voluminous to be examined even in the brief and sketchy manner in which I have considered those which are deemed the principal. Besides, they are not, like them, all characteristic of the author, though possessing great similarity in style and thought to one another. Nor would such general criticism accord with the plan of this work. Lord Byron was not always thinking of himself; like other authors, he sometimes wrote from imaginary circumstances; and often fancied both situations and feelings which had no reference to his own, nor to his experience. But were the matter deserving of the research, I am persuaded, that with Mr Moore's work, and the poet's original journals, notes, and letters, innumerable additions might be made to the list of passages which the incidents of his own life dictated.

The abandonment of The Liberal closed his Lordship's connection with Mr Hunt; their friendship, if such ever really existed, was ended long before. It is to be regretted that Byron has not given some account of it himself; for the manner in which he is represented to have acted towards his unfortunate partner, renders another version of the tale desirable. At the same time-and I am not one of those who are disposed to magnify the faults and infirmities of Byron-I fear there is no excess of truth in Hunt's opinion of him. I judge by an account which Lord Byron gave himself to a mutual friend, who did not, however, see the treatment in exactly the same light as that in which it appeared to me. But, while I cannot regard his Lordship's conduct as otherwise than unworthy, still the pains which Mr Hunt has taken to elaborate his character and dispositions into every modification of weakness, almost justifies us in thinking that he was treated according to his deserts. Byron had at least the manners of a gentleman, and though not a judicious knowledge of the world, he yet possessed prudence enough not to be always unguarded. Mr Hunt informs us, that when he joined his Lordship at Leghorn, his own health was impaired, and that his disease rather increased than diminished during his residence at Pisa and Genoa; to say nothing of the effect which the loss of his friend had on him, and the disappointment he suffered in The Liberal; some excuse may, therefore, be made for him. In such a condition, misapprehensions were natural; jocularity might be mistaken for sarcasm, and caprice felt as insolence.

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