Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

sents us with a whole-length figure of Lord Byron, very like his usual style of dress and appearance, after he had grown thin again. This portrait of him for his latter days (though rather in general aspect than countenance,) the portrait of him by Phillips for his younger, and a full-length silhouette published by Ackermann, for the turn of his expression and figure when at the fattest, exhibit the three resemblances of him the most to be relied on.

But “ the Major's book” is that of an humble * retainer, grateful for condescension; and Conte Pietro modestly professes to be nothing but an adherent.

Dallas, who was a sort of lay-priest, errs from being half-witted. He must have tired Lord Byron to death with blind beggings of the question, and solemn mistakes. The wild poet ran against him, and scattered his faculties. To the last he does not seem to have made up his mind, whether his Lordship was Christian or Atheist. I can settle at least a part of that dilemma. Christian he certainly was not. He neither wrote nor talked, as any Christian, in the ordinary sense of the word, would have done: and as to the rest, the strength of his belief probably varied according to his humour, and was at all times as undecided and uneasy, as the lights hitherto obtained by mere reason were calculated to render it. The companion, of whom he used to entertain the highest opinion, he took to be an Atheist. It is remarkable, that when at college, he had a similar respect for another. But I have known him, after the death of the former, and when he suspected that the opinion had not been reciprocal, reproach his memory with the doctrine.

The following is an instance of the way in which Mr. Dallas takes things for granted. “In vain," says he,

was Lord Byron led into the defiance of the sacred writings; there are passages in his letters and in his works, which show, that religion might have been in his soul. Could he cite the following lines and resist the force of them? It is true that he marks them for the beauty of the verse, but no less for the sublimity of the conceptions; and I cannot but hope, that had he lived, he would have proved another instance of genius bowing to the power

of truth.

[graphic]

6 Dim as the borrow'd beams of moon and stars,
To lonely, wandering, weary travellers,
Is reason to the soul.–And as on high
Those lonely fires discover but the sky,
Not light us here; so reason's glimmering ray
Was lent, not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upwards to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear,
When day's bright lord ascends our hemisphere,
So pale grows reason at religion's sight,
So dies, and so dissolves, in supernatural light.”

DRYDEN_Quoted from The Liberal. Now, the passage here quoted was quoted by myself, one of those “ atheists and scoffers,” according to Mr. Dallas, by whom “he was led into defiance of the sacred

writings.” *. There is a favourite and foolish saying, “Ex uno

disce omnes,which if Mr. Dallas were to be judged by, according to his fondness for such sayings, his whole book would be pronounced a parcel of lies.

Captain Medwin quotes the saying, and makes an unfounded assertion at one and the same time. To give the reader,” says he, “an idea of the stories circulated and believed about Lord Byron, I will state one, as a specimen of the rest, which I heard the other day:

“Lord Byron, who is an execrably bad horseman, was riding one evening in the Brenta, spouting · Metastasio;' a Venetian, passing in a close carriage at the time, laughed at his bad Italian; upon which his Lordship horsewhipped him, and threw a card in at the window. The nobleman took no notice of the insult.'—Lord Byron was an excellent horseman, never read a line of Metastasio,' and pronounced Italian like a native. He must have been remarkably ingenious to horsewhip in a close carriage, and find a nobleman who pocketed the affront! But ex uno disce omnes.' Vol. i.

Now that Lord Byron was an excellent horseman, is true:--that he never read a line of “Metastasio," I doubt, and should have doubted it, if he had said as much; for s Metastasio," an author who had obtained great reputation with no very great genius, was precisely the sort of man to pique his curiosity; and he must often have fallen in his way:--but that he " pronounced Italian like a native,” I deny without fear of contradiction from any body

[ocr errors]

who is at all acquainted with that language. He spoke it fluently; but his pronunciation was as poor as that of most foreigners, and worse than many; for he scarcely opened his mouth.

Captain Medwin afterwards tells us that the noble poet's “ voice had a flexibility, a variety in its tones, a power and a pathos beyond any I ever heard.”—This is harmless, as an instance of the effect which his Lordship had upon the Captain; but from all I ever heard of it, I should form a very different judgment. His voice, as far as I was acquainted with it, though not incapable of loudness, nor unmelodious in its deeper tones, was confined. He made an effort when he threw it out. The sound of it in ordinary, except when he laughed, was petty and lugubrious. He spoke inwardly, and slurred over his syllables, perhaps in order to hide the burr. In short, it was as much the reverse of any thing various and powerful, as his enunciation was of any thing articulate. But I do not know what passion might have made of it. The few times I saw him in a state of violent emotion, it was lower than ever. I can imagine him to have been loud in reciting a declamation, if he chose to be so. He could be loud in singing; and he then threw out at once the best and most powerful tones in his voice; but the effect (as I have already described it) had always an appearance of effort. After all, there may have been greater strength in his voice than it was my chance to witness; but the “flexibility,” and the variety of tones," to say nothing of the pathos, were assuredly in the Captain's imagination.

Next comes a mistake on a more painful subject. Captain Medwin, in describing the exhumation of Mr. Shelley's remains, has the following passage:-“As a foreground to this picture appeared as extraordinary a group. Lord Byron and Mr. Trelawney were seen standing over the burning pile, with some of the soldiers of the guard; and Leigh Hunt, whose feelings and nerves could not carry him through the scene of horror, lying back in the carriage, the four post-horses ready to drop with the intensity of the noon-day sun.” I have noticed this misrepresentation before; but will now do it more at length. Lord By, ron was not present at this scene. He went thither in his carriage, and I was with him; but on getting out, he studiously kept aloof, and was not in sight while the melancholy proceedings took place. With regard to myself, “my feelings and nerves," however they might have suffered, would have carried me through any thing where Mr. Shelley was concerned, provided it was necessary. They have never failed me on very trying occasions. But my assistance was not required: there were no feelings on the part of another to stand by and soothe; and though I did not “lie back” in the carriage (as is here made out for the sake of effect) I confess I could not voluntarily witness the thrustings in of the spade and pick-axe upon the unburied body of my friend, and have the chance of hearing them strike against his skull, as they actually did. Let me hasten from this subject.

According to Captain Medwin, Lord Byron said of the writer of these pages, that till his voyage to Italy. he “had never been ten miles from St. Paul's.” The Cap-. tain ought to have known enough of his Lordship's random way of talking, not to take for granted every thing that he chose to report of another. I had never been out of England before; except, when a child, to the coast of France; but I had perhaps seen as much of my native country as most persons educated in town. I had been in various parts of it, from Devonshire to Yorkshire. I merely mention these things to show what idle assertions Lord Byron would repeat, and how gravely the Captain would echo them. If every body, mentioned in his work, were thus to deduct from it what he knows to be untrue, how much would remain uncontradicted?

“I never met with any man who shines so much in conversation.” That is to say, Captain Medwin never met before with a lord so much the

rage.

He

says a little afterwards, that his Lordship “never showed the author,” and that he “prided himself most on being a man of the world and of fashion;"—that is, to Captain Medwin; whose admiration, he saw, ran to that side of things. The truth is, as I have before stated, that he had no conversation in the higher sense of the word, owing to these perpetual affectations; but instead of never showing the author on that account, he never forgot it.

His sole object was to have an admiring report of himself, as

a genius, who could be lord, author, or what he pleased. “His anecdotes," says Medwin, “of life and living characters were inexhaustible. This was true, if you chose to listen to them, and to take every thing he said for granted; but every body was not prepared, like the Captain, to be thankful for stories of the noble Lord and all his acquaintances, male and female.

"Miserly in trifles-about to lavish his whole fortune on the Greeks"-(oh happy listener!)—-to-day diminishing his stud-to-morrow taking a large family under his roof,(an ingenious nicety!) or giving 10001. for a yacht” (a sum, which it very much surprised and vexed him to be charged;) “ dining for a few Pauls when alone-spending hundreds when he has friends; Nil fuit unquam,' says the gallant and classical offi

, sic impar sibi.'» But enough of Captain Medwin, his Latin, and his Greek, for he also quotes Greek, or as he pleasantly says, “ adapts” it; that is-But I shall be making a sorry criticism of a sorry matter. I had the pleasure of a visit from Captain Medwin while “under the roof” that he speaks of, and should have said nothing calculated to disturb the innocence of his politesse, had he abstained from repeating scandals respecting women, and not taken upon himself to criticise the views and “philosophy" of Mr. Shelley; a man, of whom he was qualified to know still less, than of Lord Byron. With the cautions here afforded to the reader, a better idea of his Lordship may certainly be drawn from his account, than from any other. The warmth of his homage drew out the noble Bard on some points, upon which he would have been cautious of committing himself with a less wholesale admirer; and not the least curious part of the picture," is this mutual excess of their position.

An article was written in " The Westminster Re. view” (Medwin says by Mr. Hobhouse) to show that the Conversations were altogether unworthy of credit. There are doubtless many inaccuracies in the latter; but the spirit remains undoubted; and the author of the criticism was only vexed, that such was the fact. sumes, that Lord Byron could not have made this or that statement to Captain Medwin, because the statement was

He as

« НазадПродовжити »