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   Chapter 46 No.46

The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 10025

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Lord Byron appointed to the command of three thousand Men to besiege Lepanto-The Siege abandoned for a Blockade-Advanced Guard ordered to proceed-Lord Byron's first Illness-A Riot-He is urged to leave Greece-The Expedition against Lepanto abandoned-Byron dejected-A wild diplomatic Scheme

Three days after the conversation related in the preceding chapter, Byron was officially placed in the command of about three thousand men, destined for the attack on Lepanto; but the Suliotes remained refractory, and refused to quit their quarters; his Lordship, however, employed an argument which proved effectual. He told them that if they did not obey his commands, he would discharge them from his service.

But the impediments were not to be surmounted; in less than a week it was formally reported to Byron that Missolonghi could not furnish the means of undertaking the siege of Lepanto, upon which his Lordship proposed that Lepanto should be only blockaded by two thousand men. Before any actual step was, however, taken, two spies came in with a report that the Albanians in garrison at Lepanto had seized the citadel, and were determined to surrender it to his Lordship. Still the expedition lingered; at last, on the 14th of February, six weeks after Byron's arrival at Missolonghi, it was determined that an advanced guard of three hundred soldiers, under the command of Count Gamba, should march for Lepanto, and that Lord Byron, with the main body, should follow. The Suliotes were, however, still exorbitant, calling for fresh contributions for themselves and their families. His troubles were increasing, and every new rush of the angry tide rose nearer and nearer his heart; still his fortitude enabled him to preserve an outward show of equanimity. But, on the very day after the determination had been adopted, to send forward the advanced guard, his constitution gave way.

He was sitting in Colonel Stanhope's room, talking jestingly, according to his wonted manner, with Captain Parry, when his eyes and forehead occasionally discovered that he was agitated by strong feelings. On a sudden he complained of a weakness in one of his legs; he rose, but finding himself unable to walk, called for assistance; he then fell into a violent nervous convulsion, and was placed upon a bed: while the fit lasted, his face was hideously distorted; but in the course of a few minutes the convulsion ceased, and he began to recover his senses: his speech returned, and he soon rose, apparently well. During the struggle his strength was preternaturally augmented, and when it was over, he behaved with his usual firmness. "I conceive," says Colonel Stanhope, "that this fit was occasioned by over-excitement. The mind of Byron is like a volcano; it is full of fire, wrath, and combustibles, and when this matter comes to be strongly agitated, the explosion is dreadful. With respect to the causes which produced the excess of feeling, they are beyond my reach, except one great cause, the provoking conduct of the Suliotes."

A few days after this distressing incident, a new occurrence arose, which materially disturbed the tranquillity of Byron. A Suliote, accompanied by the son, a little boy, of Marco Botzaris, with another man, walked into the Seraglio, a kind of citadel, which had been used as a barrack for the Suliotes, and out of which they had been ejected with difficulty, when it was required for the reception of stores and the establishment of a laboratory. The sentinel ordered them back, but the Suliote advanced. The sergeant of the guard, a German, pushed him back. The Suliote struck the sergeant; they closed and struggled. The Suliote drew his pistol; the German wrenched it from him, and emptied the pan. At this moment a Swedish adventurer, Captain Sass, seeing the quarrel, ordered the Suliote to be taken to the guard-room. The Suliote would have departed, but the German still held him. The Swede drew his sabre; the Suliote his other pistol. The Swede struck him with the flat of his sword; the Suliote unsheathed his ataghan, and nearly cut off the left arm of his antagonist, and then shot him through the head. The other Suliotes would not deliver up their comrade, for he was celebrated among them for distinguished bravery. The workmen in the laboratory refused to work: they required to be sent home to England, declaring, they had come out to labour peaceably, and not to be exposed to assassination. These untoward occurrences deeply vexed Byron, and there was no mind of sufficient energy with him to control the increasing disorders. But, though convinced, as indeed he had been persuaded from the beginning in his own mind, that he could not render any assistance to the cause beyond mitigating the ferocious spirit in which the war was conducted, his pride and honour would not allow him to quit Greece.

In a letter written soon after his first attack, he says, "I am a good deal better, though of course weakly. The leeches took too much blood from my templ

es the day after, and there was some difficulty in stopping it; but I have been up daily, and out in boats or on horseback. To-day I have taken a warm bath, and live as temperately as can well be, without any liquid but water, and without any animal food"; then adverting to the turbulences of the Suliotes, he adds, "but I still hope better things, and will stand by the cause as long as my health and circumstances will permit me to be supposed useful." Subsequently, when pressed to leave the marshy and deleterious air of Missolonghi, he replied, still more forcibly, "I cannot quit Greece while there is a chance of my being of (even supposed) utility. There is a stake worth millions such as I am, and while I can stand at all I must stand by the cause. While I say this, I am aware of the difficulties, and dissensions, and defects of the Greeks themselves; but allowance must be made for them by all reasonable people."

After this attack of epilepsy Lord Byron because disinclined to pursue his scheme against Lepanto. Indeed, it may be said that in his circumstances it was impracticable; for although the Suliotes repented of their insubordination, they yet had an objection to the service, and said "they would not fight against stone walls." All thought of the expedition was in consequence abandoned, and the destinies of poor Byron were hastening to their consummation. He began to complain!

In speaking to Parry one day of the Greek Committee in London, he said, "I have been grossly ill-treated by the Committee. In Italy Mr Blaquiere, their agent, informed me that every requisite supply would be forwarded with all despatch. I was disposed to come to Greece, but I hastened my departure in consequence of earnest solicitations. No time was to be lost, I was told, and Mr Blaquiere, instead of waiting on me at his return from Greece, left a paltry note, which gave me no information whatever. If ever I meet with him, I shall not fail to mention my surprise at his conduct; but it has been all of a piece. I wish the acting Committee had had some of the trouble which has fallen on me since my arrival here: they would have been more prompt in their proceedings, and would have known better what the country stood in need of. They would not have delayed the supplies a day nor have sent out German officers, poor fellows, to starve at Missolonghi, but for my assistance. I am a plain man, and cannot comprehend the use of printing-presses to a people who do not read. Here the Committee have sent supplies of maps. I suppose that I may teach the young mountaineers geography. Here are bugle-horns without bugle-men, and it is a chance if we can find anybody in Greece to blow them. Books are sent to people who want guns; they ask for swords, and the Committee give them the lever of a printing-press.

"My future intentions," continued his Lordship, "as to Greece, may be explained in a few words. I will remain here until she is secure against the Turks, or till she has fallen under their power. All my income shall be spent in her service; but, unless driven by some great necessity, I will not touch a farthing of the sum intended for my sister's children. Whatever I can accomplish with my income, and my personal exertions, shall be cheerfully done. When Greece is secure against external enemies, I will leave the Greeks to settle their government as they like. One service more, and an eminent service it will be, I think I may perform for them. You, Parry, shall have a schooner built for me, or I will buy a vessel; the Greeks shall invest me with the character of their ambassador, or agent: I will go to the United States, and procure that free and enlightened government to set the example of recognising the federation of Greece as an independent state. This done, England must follow the example, and then the fate of Greece will be permanently fixed, and she will enter into all her rights as a member of the great commonwealth of Christian Europe."

This intention will, to all who have ever looked at the effects of fortune on individuals, sufficiently show that Byron's part in the world was nearly done. Had he lived, and recovered health, it might have proved that he was then only in another lunation: his first was when he passed from poesy to heroism. But as it was, it has only served to show that his mind had suffered by the decadency of his circumstances, and how much the idea of self-exaltation weakly entered into all his plans. The business was secondary to the style in which it should be performed. Building a vessel! why think of the conveyance at all? as if the means of going to America were so scarce that there might be difficulty in finding them. But his mind was passing from him. The intention was unsound-a fantasy-a dream of bravery in old age-begotten of the erroneous supposition that the cabinets of Christendom would remain unconcerned spectators of the triumph of the Greeks, or even of any very long procrastination of their struggle.

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