« НазадПродовжити »
ticular good is harmless or otherwise with respect to the many. Without stopping to settle this point, I had concluded that Lord Byron had naturally as much regard for his title as any other nobleman; perhaps more, because he had professed not to care about it. Besides he had a poetical imagination. Mr. Shelley, who, though he had not known him longer, had known him more intimately, was punctilious in giving him his title, and told me very plainly that he thought it best for all parties. His oldest acquaintances, it is true, behaved in this respect, as it is the custom to behave in great familiarity of intercourse. Mr. Shelley did not choose to be so familiar; and he thought, that although I had acted differently in former times, a long suspension of intercourse would give farther warrant to a changé, desirable on many accounts, quite unaffected, and intended to be acceptable. I took care, accordingly, not to accompany my new punctilio with any air of study or gravity. In every other respect, things appeared the same as before. We laughed, and chatted, and rode out, and were as familiar as need be; and I thought he regarded the matter just as I wished. However, he did not like it.
This may require some explanation. Lord Byron was very proud of his rank. M. Beyle (“ Count Stendhal;") when he saw him at the opera in Venice, made this discovery at a glance; and it was a discovery no less subtle than true. He would appear sometimes as jealous of his title, as if he had usurped it. A friend told me, that an Italian apothecary having sent him one day a packet of medicines, addressed to Mons. Byron,” this mock-heroic mistake aroused his indignation, and he sent back the physic to learn better manners.
His coat of arms was fixed
in front of his bed. I have heard that it was a joke with him to mystify the sense of the motto to his fair friend, who wished particularly to know what “Crede Byron” meant. The motto, it must be acknowledged, was awkward. The version, to which her Italian helped her, was too provocative of comment to be allowed. There are mottoes as well as scutcheons, of pretence, which must often occasion the bearers much taunt and sarcasm, especially from indignant ladies. Custom, indeed, and the interested acquiescence of society, enable us to be proud of imputed merits, though we con
tradict them every day of our life: otherwise it would be wonderful how people could adorn their equipages, and be continually sealing their letters with maxims and stately moralities, ludicrously inapplicable. It would be like wearing ironical papers in their hats.
But Lord Byron, besides being a lord, was a man of letters, and he was extremely desirous of the approbation of men of letters. He loved to enjoy the privileges of his rank, and at the same time to be thought above them. It is true, if he thought you not above them yourself, he was the better pleased. On this account among others, no man was calculated to delight him in a higher degree than Thomas Moore; who with every charm he wished for in a companion, and a reputation for independence and liberal opinion, admired both genius and title for their own sakes. But his lordship did not always feel quite secure of the bon-mots of his brother wit. His conscience had taught him suspicion; and it was a fault with him and his Côterie, as it is with most, that they all talked too much of one another behind their backs. But “admiration at all events” was his real motto. If he thought you an admirer of titles, he was well pleased that you should add that homage to the other, without investigating it too nicely. If not, he was anxious that you should not suppose him anxious about the matter. When he beheld me, therefore, in the first instance, taking such pains to show my philosophy, he knew very well that he was secure, address him as I might; but now that he found me grown older, and suspected from my general opinions and way of life, that my experience, though it adopted the style of the world when mixing with it, partook less of it than ever in some respects, he was chagrined at this change in my appellatives. He did not feel so at once; but the more we associated, and the greater insight he obtained into the tranquil and unaffected conclusions I had come to on a great many points, upon which he was desirous of being thought as indifferent as myself, the less satisfied he became with it. At last, thinking I had ceased to esteem him, he petulantly bantered me on the subject. I knew, in fact, that, under all the circumstances, neither of us could afford a change back again to the old entire familiarity; he, because he would have regarded it as a
triumph warranting very peculiar consequences, and such as would by no means have saved me from the penalties of the previous offence; and I, because I was under certain disadvantages, that would not allow me to indulge him. With any other man, I would not have stood it out. It would have ill-become the very sincerity of my feelings. But even the genius of Lord Byron did not enable him to afford being conceded to. He was so annoyed one day at Genoa at not succeeding in bantering me out of my epistolary proprieties, that he addressed me a letter beginning, “Dear Lord Hunt.” This sally made me laugh heartily. I told him so; and my unequivocal relish of the joke pacified him; so that I heard no more on the subject.
The familiarities of my noble acquaintance, which I had taken at first for a compliment and a cordiality, were dealt out in equal portions to all who came near him. They proceeded upon that royal instinct of an immeasurable distance between the parties, the safety of which, it is thought, can be compromised by no appearance of encouragement. The farther you are off, the more securely the personage may indulge your good opinion of him. The greater his merits, and the more transporting his condescension, the less can you be so immodest as to have pretensions of your own. You may be intoxicated into familiarity. That is excusable, though not desirable. But not to be intoxicated any how,—not to show any levity, and yet not to be possessed with a seriousness of the pleasure, is an offence. When I agreed to go to Italy and join in setting up the proposed work, Shelley, who was fond of giving his friends
appellations, happened to be talking one day with Lord Byron of the mystification which the name of “ Leigh Hunt” would cause the Italians; and passing from one fancy to another, he proposed that they should translate it into Leontius. Lord Byron approved of this conceit, and at Pisa was in the habit of calling me so. I liked it; especially as it seemed a kind of new link with my beloved friend, then, alas! no more. I was pleased to be called in Italy, what he would have called me there had he been alive: and the familiarity was welcome to me from Lord Byron's mouth, partly because it pleased himself, partly because it was not of a worldly fashion, and the link with my.
friend was thus rendered compatible. In fact, had Lord Byron been what I used to think him, he might have called me what he chose; and I should have been as proud to be at his call, as I endeavoured to be pleased. As it was, there was something not unsocial nor even unenjoying in our intercourse, nor was there any appearance of constraint; but upon the whole, it was not pleasant: it was not cordial. There was a sense of mistake on both sides. However, this came by degrees. At first there was hope, which I tried hard to indulge; and there was always some joking going forward; some melancholy mirth, which a spectator might have taken for pleasure.
Our manner of life was this. Lord Byron, who used to sit up at night, writing Don Juan (which he did under the influence of gin and water,) rose late in the morning. He breakfasted; read; lounged about, singing an air, generally out of Rossini, and in a swaggering style, though in a voice at once small and veiled; then took a bath, and was dressed; and coming down-stairs, was heard, still singing, in the court-yard, out of which the garden ascended at the back of the house. The servants at the same time brought out two or three chairs. My study, a little room in a corner, with an orange-tree peeping in at the window, looked upon this court-yard. I was generally at my writing when he came down, and either acknowledged his presence by getting up and saying something from the window, or he called out “ Leontius!", and came halting up to the window with some joke, or other challenge to conversation. (Readers of good sense will do me the justice of discerning where any thing is spoken of in a tone of objection, and where it is only brought in as requisite to the truth of the picture.) His dress as at Monte-Nero, was a nankin jacket, with white waistcoat and trowsers, and a cap, either velvet or linen, with a shade to it. In his hand was a tobacco-box, from which he helped himself like unto a shipman, but for a different purpose; his object being to restrian the pinguifying impulses of hunger. Perhaps also he thought it good for the teeth. We then lounged about, or sat and talked, Madame Guiccioli with her sleek tresses descending after her toilet to join us. The garden was small and square, but plentifully stocked with oranges and other shrubs; and, being well watered, looked very green and
refreshing under the Italian sky. The lady generally attracted us up into it, if we had not been there before. Her appearance might have reminded an English spectator of Chaucer's heroine
- Yclothed was she, fresh for to devise.
Her yellow hair was braided in a tress
And then, as Dryden has it:
“ At every turn she made a little stand,
And thrust among the thorns her lily hand."
Madame Guiccioli, who was at that time about twenty, was handsome and lady-like, with an agreeable manner, and a voice not partaking too much of the Italian fervour to be gentle. She had just enough of it to give her speaking a grace. None of her graces appeared entirely free from art; nor, on the other hand, did they betray enough of it to give you an ill opinion of her sincerity and good-humour. I was told, that her Romagnese dialect was observable; but to me, at that time, all Italian in a Lady's mouth was Tuscan Pearl; and she trolled it over her lip, pure or not, with that sort of conscious grace, which seems to belong to the Italian language as a matter of right. I amused her with speaking bad Italian out of Ariosto, and saying speme for speranza; in which she good-naturedly found something pleasant and pellegrino; keeping all the while that considerate countenance, for which a foreigner has so much reason to be grateful. Her hair was what the poet has described, or rather blond, with an inclination to yellow; a very fair and delicate yellow at all events, and within the limits of the poetical. She had regular features, of the order properly called handsome, in distinction to prettiness or to piquancy; being well proportioned to one another, large rather than otherwise, but without coarseness, and more harmonious than interesting. Her nose was the handsomest of the kind I ever saw; and I have known her both smile very sweetly, and look intelligently, when Lord Byron has said something kind to her. I should not say, however, that she was a very