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The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 11790

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The last Illness and Death of Lord Byron-His last Poem

Although in common parlance it may be said, that after the attack of epilepsy Lord Byron's general health did not appear to have been essentially impaired, the appearance was fallacious; his constitution had received a vital shock, and the exciting causes, vexation and confusion, continued to exasperate his irritation.

On the 1st of March he complained of frequent vertigoes, which made him feel as though he were intoxicated; but no effectual means were taken to remove these portentous symptoms; and he regularly enjoyed his daily exercise, sometimes in boats, but oftener on horseback. His physician thought him convalescent; his mind, however, was in constant excitement; it rested not even during sleep.

On the 9th of April, while sailing, he was overtaken by the rain, and got very wet: on his return home, he changed the whole of his dress; but he had been too long in his wet clothes, and the stamina of his constitution being shaken could not withstand the effects. In little more than two hours he was seized with rigors, fever, and rheumatic pains. During the night, however, he slept in his accustomed manner, but in the morning he complained of pains and headache; still this did not prevent him from going out on horseback in the afternoon-it was for the last time.

On returning home, he observed to one of the servants that the saddle was not perfectly dry, from having been so wet the day before, and that he thought it had made him worse. He soon after became affected with almost constant shivering; sudorific medicines were administered, and blood-letting proposed; but though he took the drugs, he objected to the bleeding. Another physician was in consequence called in to see if the rheumatic fever could be appeased without the loss of blood. This doctor approved of the medicines prescribed, and was not opposed to the opinion that bleeding was necessary, but said it might be deferred till the next day.

On the 11th he seemed rather better, but the medicines had produced no effect.

On the 12th he was confined to bed with fever, and his illness appeared to be increasing; he was very low, and complained of not having had any sleep during the night; but the medical gentlemen saw no cause for alarm. Dr Bruno, his own physician, again proposed bleeding; the stranger still, however, thought it might be deferred, and Byron himself was opposed to it. "You will die," said Dr Bruno, "if you do not allow yourself to be bled." "You wish to get the reputation of curing my disease," replied his Lordship, "that is why you tell me it is so serious; but I will not permit you to bleed me."

On the 13th he sat up for some time, after a sleepless night, and still complained of pain in his bones and head.

On the 14th he also left his bed. The fever was less, but the debility greater, and the pain in his head was undiminished. His valet became alarmed, and, doubtful of the skill of the doctors around him, entreated permission to send to Zante for an English physician of greater reputation. His Lordship desired him to consult the others, which he did, and they told him there was no occasion to call in any person, as they hoped all would be well in a few days.

His Lordship now began to doubt if his disease was understood, and remarked repeatedly in the course of this day, that he was sure the doctors did not understand it. "Then, my Lord," said Fletcher, his valet, "have other advice." "They tell me," rejoined his Lordship, "that it is only a common cold, which you know I have had a thousand times."

"I am sure you never had one of so serious a nature."

"I think I never had."

Fletcher then went again to the physicians, and repeated his solicitations that the doctor in Zante might be sent for; but was again assured that his master would be better in two or three days.

At length, the doctor who had too easily consented to the postponement of the bleeding, seeing the prognostications of Dr Bruno more and more confirmed, urged the necessity of bleeding, and of no longer delay. This convinced Byron, who was himself greatly averse to the operation, that they did not understand his case.

On the 15th his Lordship felt the pains abated, insomuch that he was able to transact some business.

On the 16th he wrote a letter, but towards the evening he became worse, and a pound of blood was taken from him. Still the disease was making progress, but Dr Bruno did not yet seem much alarmed; on the contrary, he thought were more blood removed his recovery was certain. Fletcher immediately told his master, urging him to comply with the doctor's wishes. "I fear," said his Lordship, "they know nothing about my disorder, but"-and he stretched out his arm-"here, take my arm and do whatever you like."

On the 17th his countenance was changed; during the night he had become weaker, and a slight degree of delirium, in which he raved of fighting, had come on. In the course of the day he was bled twice; in the morning, and at two in the afternoon. The bleeding, on both occasions, was followed by fainting fits. On this day he said to Fletcher, "I cannot sleep, and you well know I have not been able to sleep for more than a week. I know that a man can only be a certain time without sleep, and then he must go mad, without anyone being able to save him; and I would ten times sooner shoot myself than be mad, for I am not afraid of dying-I am more fit to die than people think."

On the 18th his Lordship first began to dread that his fate was inevitable. "I fear," said he to Fletcher, "you and Tita will be ill by sitting up constantly, night and day"; and he appeared much dissatisfied with his medical treatment. Fletcher again entreated permission to send for Dr Thomas, at Zante: "Do so, but be quick," said his Lordship, "I am sorry I did not let you

do so before, as I am sure they have mistaken my disease; write yourself, for I know they would not like to see other doctors here."

Not a moment was lost in executing the order, and on Fletcher informing the doctors what he had done, they said it was right, as they now began to be afraid themselves. "Have you sent?" said his Lordship, when Fletcher returned to him.-"I have, my Lord."

"You have done well, for I should like to know what is the matter with me."

From that time his Lordship grew every hour weaker and weaker; and he had occasional flights of delirium. In the intervals he was, however, quite self-possessed, and said to Fletcher, "I now begin to think I am seriously ill; and in case I should be taken off suddenly, I wish to give you several directions, which I hope you will be particular in seeing executed." Fletcher in reply expressed his hope that he would live many years, and execute them himself. "No, it is now nearly over; I must tell you all without losing a moment."

"Shall I go, my Lord, and fetch pen, ink, and paper.

"Oh, my God! no, you will lose too much time, and I have it not to spare, for my time is now short. Now pay attention-you will be provided for."

"I beseech you, my Lord, to proceed with things of more consequence."

His Lordship then added,

"Oh, my poor dear child!-my dear Ada!-My God! could I have but seen her-give her my blessing-and my dear sister Augusta, and her children-and you will go to Lady Byron and say-tell her everything-you are friends with her."

He appeared to be greatly affected at this moment. His voice failed, and only words could be caught at intervals; but he kept muttering something very seriously for some time, and after raising his voice, said,

"Fletcher, now if you do not execute every order which I have given you, I will torment you hereafter, if possible."

This little speech is the last characteristic expression which escaped from the dying man. He knew Fletcher's superstitious tendency, and it cannot be questioned that the threat was the last feeble flash of his prankfulness. The faithful valet replied in consternation that he had not understood one word of what his Lordship had been saying.

"Oh! my God!" was the reply, "then all is lost, for it is now too late! Can it be possible you have not understood me!"

"No, my Lord; but I pray you to try and inform me once more."

"How can I? it is now too late, and all is over."

"Not our will, but God's be done," said Fletcher, and his Lordship made another effort, saying,

"Yes, not mine be done-but I will try"-and he made several attempts to speak, but could only repeat two or three words at a time; such as,

"My wife! my child-my sister-you know all-you must say all-you know my wishes"--The rest was unintelligible.

A consultation with three other doctors, in addition to the two physicians in regular attendance, was now held; and they appeared to think the disease was changing from inflammatory diathesis to languid, and ordered stimulants to be administered. Dr Bruno opposed this with the greatest warmth; and pointed out that the symptoms were those, not of an alteration in the disease, but of a fever flying to the brain, which was violently attacked by it; and, that the stimulants they proposed would kill more speedily than the disease itself. While, on the other hand, by copious bleeding, and the medicines that had been taken before, he might still be saved. The other physicians, however, were of a different opinion; and then Dr Bruno declared he would risk no farther responsibility. Peruvian bark and wine were then administered. After taking these stimulants, his Lordship expressed a wish to sleep. His last words were, "I must sleep now"; and he composed himself accordingly, but never awoke again.

For four-and-twenty hours he continued in a state of lethargy, with the rattles occasionally in his throat. At six o'clock in the morning of the 19th, Fletcher, who was watching by his bed-side, saw him open his eyes and then shut them, apparently without pain or moving hand or foot. "My God!" exclaimed the faithful valet, "I fear his Lordship is gone." The doctors felt his pulse-it was so.

After life's fitful fever he sleeps well.

But the fittest dirge is his own last lay, written on the day he completed his thirty-sixth year, soon after his arrival at Missolonghi, when his hopes of obtaining distinction in the Greek cause were, perhaps, brightest; and yet it breathes of dejection almost to boding.

'Tis time this heart should be unmoved

Since others it has ceased to move,

Yet though I cannot be beloved

Still let me love.

My days are in the yellow leaf,

The flowers and fruits of love are gone,

The worm, the canker, and the grief

Are mine alone.

The fire that in my bosom preys

Is like to some volcanic isle,

No torch is kindled at its blaze-

A funeral pile.

The hope, the fears, the jealous care,

Th' exalted portion of the pain,

And power of love I cannot share,

But wear the chain.

But 'tis not here-it is not here-

Such thoughts should shake my soul; nor now

Where glory seals the hero's bier,

Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,

Glory and Greece around us see;

The Spartan borne upon his shield

Was not more free.

Awake! not Greece-she is awake-

Awake my spirit! think through whom

My life-blood tastes its parent lake,

And then strike home!

I tread reviving passions down,

Unworthy manhood! Unto thee

Indifferent should the smile or frown

Of beauty be.

If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live?

The land of honourable death

Is here, up to the field and give

Away thy breath.

Seek out-less often sought than found-

A soldier's grave-for thee the best

Then look around, and choose thy ground,

And take thy rest.

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