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that a saddle not well fastened, or the flapping of a leather against his boot, would put him out of sorts for the day, he said it was his own case; and he seemed to think it that of every body else of any importance; if people would but confess it; otherwise they were dull or wanted vigour. For he was always mistaking the subtlety of that matter, and confounding patience with weakness, because there was a weak patience as well as a strong
But it was not only in small things that he was “put out.” I have seen the expression of his countenance on greater occasions, absolutely festered with illtemper,-all the beauty of it corrugated and made sore, his voice at the same time being soft, and struggling to I keep itself in, as if on the very edge of endurance. On such occasions, having no address, he did not know how to let himself be extricated from his position; and if I found him in this state, I contrived to make a few remarks, as serious as possible, on indifferent subjects, and so come away. An endeavour to talk him out of it, as a weakness, he might have had reason to resent:-sympathy would probably have drawn upon you a discussion of matters too petty for your respect; and gaiety would have been treated as an assumption, necessary to be put down by sarcasms, which it would have been necessary to put down in their turn. There was no living with these eternal assumptions and inequalities. When he knew me in England, independent and able to do him service, he never ventured upon a raillery. In Italy, he soon began to treat me with it; and I was obliged, for both our sakes, to tell him I did not like it, and that he was too much in earnest. Raillery, indeed, unless it is managed with great delicacy, and borne as well by him that uses it as it is expected to be borne by its object, is unfit for grown understandings. It is a desperate substitute for animal spirits; and no more resembles them, than a jostle resembles a dance. Like boys fighting in sport, some real blow is given, and the rest is fighting in earnest
. A passing, delicate raillery is another matter, and may do us both a good and a pleasure; but it requires exquisite handling. You can imagine it is Sir Richard Steele, or Garth, or any other good-natured wit, who is not in the habit of objecting. My friend Charles Lamb has rallied me, and
made me love him the more. So has Mr. Shelley. But in a man of more doubtful candour or benevolence, in Addison for instance, with his natural reserve and his born parsonism, you would begin to suspect the motive to it; and in the case of Swift or Johnson, it no doubt much oftener produced awkward retaliations, than biographers have thought fit to record.
If Lord Byron had been a man of address, he would have been a kinder man. He never heartily forgave either you or himself for his deficiency on this point; and hence a good deal of his ill-temper, and his carelessness of your feelings. By any means, fair or foul, he was to make up for the disadvantage; and with all his exaction of conventional propriety from others, he could set it at nought in his own conduct in the most remarkable manner.
He had an incontinence, I believe unique, in talking of his affairs, and showing you other people's letters. He would even make you presents of them; and I have accepted one or two that they might go no farther. But I have mentioned this before. If his five hundred confidants, by a retinence as remarkable as his laxity, had not kept his secrets better than he did himself, the very devil might have been played with I know not how many people. But there was always this saving reflection to be made, that the man who could be guilty of such extravagances for the sake of making an impression, might be guilty of exaggerating or inventing what astonished you; and indeed, though he was a speaker of the truth on ordinary occasions,-that is to say, he did not tell you he had seen a dozen horses, when he had seen only two,yet, as he professed not to value the truth when in the way of his advantage, (and there was nothing he thought more to his advantage than making you stare at him,) the persons who were liable to suffer from his incontinence, had all the right in the world to the benefit of this consideration.
His superstition was remarkable. I do not mean in the ordinary sense, because it was superstition, but because it was petty and old-womanish. He believed in the ill-luck of Fridays, and was seriously disconcerted if any thing was to be done on that frightful day of the week. Had he been a Roman, he would have startled at crows, while he made a jest of augurs. He used to tell a story of somebody's meeting him, while in Italy, in St. James's street. The least and most childish of superstitions may, it is true, find subtle corners of warrant in the greatest minds; but as the highest pictures in Lord Byron's poetry were imitations, so in the smallest of his personal superstitions he was maintained by something not his own. His turn of mind was material egotism, and some remarkable experiences, had given it a compulsory twist the other way; but it never grew kindly or loftily in that quarter. Hence his taking refuge from uneasy thoughts, in sarcasm, and trifling, and notoriety. What there is of a good-natured philosophy in “Don Juan” was not foreign to his wishes; but it was the common-place of the age, repeated with an air of discovery by the noble Lord, and as ready to be thrown in the teeth of those from whom he took it, provided any body laughed at them. His soul might well have been met in St. James's-street, for in the remotest of his poetical solitudes it was there. As to those who attribute the superstition of men of letters to infidelity, and then object to it for being inconsistent, because it is credulous, there is no greater inconsistency than their own; for as it is the very essence of infidelity to doubt, so according to the nature it inhabits, it may as well doubt whether such and such things do exist, as whether they do: whereas, on the other hand, belief in particular dogmas, by the very nature of its tie, is precluded from this uncertainty, (perhaps at the expense of being more foolishly certain. pol It has been thought by some, that there was madness in his composition. He himself talked sometimes as if he feared it would come upon
It was difficult in his most serious moments, to separate what he spoke out of conviction, and what he said for effect. In moments (of ill-health,
especially when jaded and overwrought by the united effects of composition, and drinking, and sitting up, he might have had nervous misgivings to that effect; as more people perhaps are accustomed to have, than choose to talk about it. But I never saw any thing
more mad in his conduct, than what I have just been speaking of; and there was enough in the nature of his position to account for extravagances in him, that would not have attained to that head under other circumstances. If every extravagance of which men are guilty, were to be pronounced madness, the world would be nothing but the Bedlam which some have called it; and then the greatest madness of all would be the greatest rationality; which, according to others, it is. There is no end to these desperate modes of settling and unsettling every thing at a jerk. There was great perversity and selfwill in Lord Byron's composition. It arose from causes which it would do honour to the world's rationality to consider a little closer, and of which I shall speak presently. This it was, together with extravagant homage paid him, that pampered into so regal a size every inclination which he chose to give way to.
But he did not take a hawk for a handsaw; nor will the world think him deficient in brain. Perhaps he may be said to have had something, in little, of the madness which was brought upon the Roman emperors in great. His real pretensions were mixed up with imaginary ones, and circumstances contributed to give the whole a power, or at least a presence in the eyes
which his temperament was too feeble to manage properly. But it is not in the light of a madman that the world will ever seriously consider a man whose productions delight them, and whom they place in the rank of contributers to the stock of wit. It is not as the madman witty, but as the wit, injured by circumstances considered to be rational, that Lord Byron is to be regarded. If his wit indeed would not have existed without these circumstances, then it would only show us that the perversest things have a tendency to right themselves, or produce their ultimate downfall: and so far, I would as little deny that his Lordship had a spice of madness in him, as I deny that he had not every excuse for what was unpleasant in his composition; which was none of his own making. So far, also, I would admit that a great part of the world are as mad as some have declared all the rest to be; that is to say, that although they are rational enough to perform the common offices of life, and even to persuade the rest of mankind that their pursuits and passions are what they should be, they are in reality but half rational beings, contradicted in the very outset of existence,
and dimly struggling through life with the perplexity sown within them.
To explain myself very freely. I look upon Lord Byron as an excessive instance of what we see in hundreds of cases every day; namely, of the unhappy consequences of parentage that ought never to have existed, -of the perverse and discordant humours of those who were the authors of his being. His father was a rake of the wildest description; his mother a violent woman, very unfit to improve the offspring of such a person. She would vent her spleen by loading her child with reproaches; and add, by way of securing their bad effect, that he would be as great a reprobate as his father. Thus did his parents embitter his nature: thus they embittered his memory of them, contradicted his beauty with deformity, and completed the mischances of his existence. Perhaps both of them had a goodness at heart, which had been equally perplexed. It is not that individuals are to blame, or that human nature is bad; but that experience has not yet made it wise enough. Animal beauty they had at least a sense of.
In this our poet was conceived; but contradiction of all sorts was superadded, and he was born handsome, wilful, and lame. A happy childhood might have corrected his evil tendencies; but he had it not; and the upshot was, that he spent an uneasy over-excited life, and that society have got an amusing book or two by his misfortunes. The books may even help to counteract the spreading of such a misfortune; and so far it may be better for society that he lived. But this is a rare case. Thousands of such mistakes are round about us, with nothing to show for them but complaint and unhappiness.
Lord Byron's face was handsome; eminently so in some respects. He had a mouth and chin fit for Apollo; and when I first knew him, there were both lightness and energy all over his aspect. But his countenance did not improve with age, and there were always some defects in it. The jaw was too big for the upper part. It had all the wilfulness of a despot in it. The animal predominated over the intellectual part of his head, inasmuch as the face altogether was large in proportion to the skull. The eyes also were set too near one another;