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Both her wisdom and her want of wisdom were on the side of her feelings, in which there was doubtless mingled a good deal of the self-love natural to a flattered beauty. She wrote letters in the style of the “ Academy of Compliments;" and made plentiful use, at all times, of those substitutes for address and discourse, which flourished in England at the era of that polite compilation, and are still in full bloom in Italy.
" And evermore
In a word, Madame Guiccioli was a kind of buxom parlour-boarder, compressing herself artificially into dignity and elegance, and fancying she walked, in the eyes. of the whole world, a heroine by the side of a poet. When I saw her at Monte-Nero, she was in a state of excitement and exaltation, and had really something of this look. At that time also she looked no older than she was; in which respect a rapid and very singular change took place, to the surprise of every body. In the course of a few months she seemed to have lived as many years. It was most likely in that interval that she discovered she had no real hold on the affections of her companion. The portrait of her by Mr. West,
“In Magdalen's loose hair and lifted eye,” is flattering upon the whole; has a look of greater delicacy than she possessed; but it is also very like, and the studied pretension of the attitude has a moral resemblance. Being a half-length, it shows her to advantage; for the fault of her person was, that her head and bust were hardly sustained by limbs of sufficient length. I take her to have been a good hearted zealous person, capable of being very natural if she had been thrown into natural circumstances, and able to show a companion, whom she was proud of, that good-humoured and grateful attachment, which the most brilliant men, if they were wise enough, would be as happy to secure, as a corner in Elysium. But the greater and more selfish the vanity, the less will it tolerate the smallest portion of it in another. Lord Byron saw, in the attachment of any female, nothing but what the whole sex were prepared to entertain
for him; and instead of allowing himself to love and be beloved for the qualities which can only be realized upon intimacy, and which are the only securers at last of all attachment, whether for the illustrious or the obscure, he gave up his comfort, out of a wretched compliment to his self-love. He enabled this adoring sex to discover, that a great man might be a very small one. It must be owned, however, as the reader will see presently, that Madame Guiccioli did not in the least know how to manage him, when he was wrong.
The effect of these and the other faults in his Lordship's character was similar, in its proportion, upon all who chanced to come within his sphere. Let the reader present to his imagination the noble poet and any intimate acquaintance (not a mere man of the world) living 1 together. He must fancy them, by very speedy degrees, doubting and differing with one another, how quietly soever, and producing
such a painful sense of something not to be esteemed on one side, and something tormented between the wish not to show it and the impossibility of not feeling it on the other, that separation becomes inevitable. It has been said in a magazine, that I was always arguing with Lord Byron. Nothing can be more untrue. I was indeed almost always differing, and to such a degree, that I was fain to keep the difference to myself. I differed so much, that I argued as little as possible. His Lordship was so poor a logician, that he did not even provoke argument. When you openly differed with him, in any thing like a zealous manner, the provocation was caused by something foreign to reasoning, and not pretending to it. He did not care for argument, and what is worse, was too easily convinced at the moment, or appeared to be so, to give any zest to disputation. He gravely asked me one day, "What it was that convinced me in argument?” I said I thought, I was convinced by the strongest reasoning. part," said he, “it is the last speaker that convinces me. And I believe he spoke truly; but then he was only conavinced, till it was agreeable to him to be moved otherwise. He did not care for the truth. He admired only the convenient and the ornamental. He was moved to and fro, not because there was any ultimate purpose which he would give up, but solely because it was most
- For my
troublesome to him to sit still and resist.
“ Mobility,” he has said, in one of his notes to “Don Juan, ” was his weakness; and he calls it “a very painful attribute.” It is an attribute certainly not very godlike; but it still left him as self-centred and unsympathising with his movers, as if he had been a statue or a ball. In this respect, he was as totus teres atque rotundus, as Mr. Hazlitt could desire; and thus it was, that he was rolled out of Mr. Hazlitt's own company and the Liberal.
I shall come to that matter presently. Meanwhile, to return to our mode of life. In the course of an hour or two, being an early riser, I used to go in to dinner. Lord Byron either stayed a little longer, or went up stairs to his books and his couch. When the heat of the day declined, we rode out, either on horseback or in a barouche, generally towards the forest. He was a good rider, graceful, and kept a firm seat. He loved to be told of it; and being true, it was a pleasure to tell him. Good God! what homage might not that man have received, and what love and pleasure reciprocated, if he could have been content with the truth, and had truth enough of his own to think a little better of his fellowcreatures! But he was always seeking for uneasy sources of satisfaction. The first day we were going out on horseback together, he was joking upon the bad riding of this and that acquaintance of his. He evidently hoped to have the pleasure of adding me to the list; and finding, when we pushed forward, that there was nothing particular in the spectacle of my horsemanship, he said in a tone of disappointment, “Why, Hunt, you ride very well!” Trelawney sometimes went with us, on a great horse, smoking a cigar. We had blue frock-coats, white waistcoats and trowsers, and velvet caps à la Raphael; and cut a gallant figure. Sometimes we went as far as a vineyard, where he had been accustomed to shoot at a mark, and where the brunette lived, who came into his drawing-room with the basket of flowers. The father was an honest-looking man, who was in trouble with his landlord, and heaved great sighs; the mother a loud swarthy woman, with hard lines in her face. There was a little sister, delicate-looking and melancholy, very, different from the confident though not unpleasing coun. tenance of the elder, who was more handsome. They all, however, seemed good-humoured. We sat under
an arbour, and had figs served up to us, the mother be
ing loud in our faces, and cutting some extraordinary jokes, which made me any thing but merry. Upon the whole, I was glad to come away.
Madame Guiccioli was very curious on these occasions, but could get no information. Unfortunately, she could not see beyond a common-place of any sort, nor put up with a distressing one in the hope of doing it away. The worst thing she did (and which showed to every body else, though not to herself, that she entertained no real love for Lord Byron) was to indulge in vehement complaints of him to his acquaintances. The first time she did so to me, I shocked her so excessively with endeavouring to pay a compliment to her understanding, and leading her into a more generous policy, that she never made me her confident again. “No wonder,” she said, " that my Lord was so bad, when he had friends who could talk so shockingly.” “Oh, Shelley!” thought I, “ see what your friend has come to with the sentimental Italian whom he was to assist in reforming our Don Juan!” When Lord Byron talked freely to her before others, she was not affected by what would have startled a delicate English woman, (a common Italian defect,) but when he alluded to any thing more pardonable, she would get angry, and remonstrate, and “wonder at him;" he all the while looking as if he enjoyed her vehemence, and did not believe a word of it. À delicate lover would have spared her this, and at the same time have elevated her notions of the behaviour suitable for such occasions; but her own understanding did not inform her any better; and in this respect I doubt whether Lord Byron's could have supplied it; what is called sentiment having been so completely taken out of him by ill company and the world.
Of an evening I seldom saw him. He recreated himself in the balcony, or with a book; and at night, when I went to bed, he was just thinking of setting to work with Don Juan. His favourite reading was history and travels. I think I am correct in saying that his favourite authors were Bayle and Gibbon. Gibbon was alto(gether a writer calculated to please him. There was a
show in him, and at the same time a tone of the world, J a self-complacency and a sarcasm, a love of things aris
tocratical with a tendency to be liberal on other points
of opinion; and to crown all, a splendid success in authorship, and a high and piquant character with the fashionable world, which found a strong sympathy in the bosom of his noble reader. Then, in his private life, Gibbon was a voluptuous recluse; he had given celebrity to a foreign residence, possessed a due sense of the merits of wealth as well as rank, and last, perhaps not least, was no speaker in Parliament. I may add, that the elaborate style of his writing pleased the lover of the artificial in poetry, while the cynical turn of his satire amused the genius of Don Juan.
And finally, his learning and research supplied the indolent man of letters with the information which he had left at school.
Lord Byron's collection of books was poor, and consisted chiefly of new ones.
I remember little among them but the English works published at Basle, (Kames, Robertson, Watson's History of Philip II, &c.) and new ones occasionally sent him from England.
He was anxious to show you that he possessed no Shakspeare and Milton; “because,” he said, “he had been accused of borrowing from them!” He affected to doubt whether Shakspeare was so great a genius as he has been taken for, and whether fashion had not a great deal to do with it; an extravagance, of which none but a patrician author could have been guilty. However, there was a greater committal of himself at the bottom of this notion than he supposed; and, perhaps, circumstances had really disenabled him from having the proper idea of Shakspeare, though it could not have fallen so short of the truth as he pretended. Spenser he could not read; at least he said so. All the gusto of that most poetical of the poets went with him for nothing. I lent him a volume of the “Fairy Queen,” and he said he would try to like it. Next day he brought it to my studywindow, and said, “Here, Hunt, here is your Spenser. I cannot see any thing in him:” and he seemed anxious that I should take it out of his hands, as if he was afraid of being accused of copying so poor a writer. That he saw nothing in Spenser is not very likely; but I really do not think that he saw much. Spenser was too much out of the world, and he too much in it. It would have been impossible to persuade him, that Sandy's Ovid was better than Addison's and Croxall's.