« НазадПродовжити »
and the nose, though handsome in itself, had the appearance when you saw it closely in front, of being grafted on the face, rather than growing properly out of it. His person was very handsome, though terminating in lameness, and tending to fat and effeminacy; which makes me remember what a hostile fair one objected to him, namely, that he had little beard; a fault which, on the other hand, was thought by another lady, not hostile, to add to the divinity of his aspect,-imberbis Apollo. His lameness was only in one foot, the left; and it was so little visible to casual notice, that as he lounged about a room (which he did in such a manner as to screen it) it was hardly perceivable. But it was a real and even a sore lameness. Much walking upon it fevered and hurt it. It was a shrunken foot, a little twisted. This defect unquestionably mortified him ex-" ceedingly, and helped to put sarcasm and misanthropyn into his taste of life. Unfortunately, the usual thoughtlessness of schoolboys made him feel it bitterly at Har
He would wake, and find his leg in a tub of water. The reader will see in the correspondence at the end of this memoir, how he felt it, whenever it was libelled; and in Italy, the only time I ever knew it mentioned, he did not like the subject, and hastened to change it. His handsome person so far rendered the misfortune greater, as it pictured to him all the occasions on which he might have figured in the eyes of company; and doubtless this was a great reason, why he had no better address. On the other hand, instead of losing him any real regard or admiration, his lameness gave a touching character to both. Certainly no reader would have liked him; or woman loved him, the less, for the thought of this single contrast to his superiority. But the very defect had taught him to be impatient with deficiency. When I think of these things, and of the common weaknesses of society, as at present constituted, I feel as if I could shed tears over the most willing of my resentments, much more over the most unwilling, and such as I never intended to speak of; nor could any thing have induced me to give a portrait of Lord Byron and his infirmities, if I had not been able to say at the end of it, that his faults were not his own, and that we
must seek the causes of them in mistakes common to us all. What is delightful to us in his writings will still remain so, if we are wise; and what ought not to be, will not only cease to be perilous, but be useful. Faults which arise from an exuberant sociality, like those of Burns, may safely be left to themselves. They at once explain themselves by their natural candour, and carry an advantage with them; because any thing is advantageous in the long run to society, which tends to break up
their selfishness. But doctrines, or half-doctrines, or whatever else they may be, which tend to throw individuals upon themselves, and overcast them at the same time with scorn and alienation, it is as well to see traced to their sources. In comparing notes, humanity gets wise; and certainly the wiser it gets, it will not be the less modest or humane, whether it has to find fault, or to criticise the fault-finder.
I believe if any body could have done good to Lord Byron, it was Goethe and his correspondence. It was a pity he did not live to have more of it. Goethe might possibly have enabled him, as he wished he could, " to know himself," and do justice to the yearnings after the good and beautiful inseparable from the nature of genius. But the danger was, that he would have been influenced as much by the rank and reputation of that great man, as by the reconciling nobleness of his philosophy; and personal intercourse with him would have spoilt all. Lord Byron's nature was mixed up with too many sophistications to receive a proper impression from any man: and he would have been jealous, if he once took it in his head that the other was thought to be his superior.
Lord Byron had no conversation, properly speaking. He could not interchange ideas or information with you, as a man of letters is expected to do.
His thoughts required the concentration of silence and study to bring them to a head; and they deposited the amount in the shape of a stanza. His acquaintance with books was very circumscribed. The same personal experience, however, upon which he very properly drew for his authorship, might have rendered him a companion more interesting by far than men who could talk better; and the great reason why his conversation disappointed you was,
not that he had not any thing to talk about, but that he was haunted with a perpetual affectation, and could not talk sincerely. It was by fits only that he spoke with any gravity, or made his extraordinary disclosures; and at no time did
you well know what to believe. The rest was all quip and crank, not of the pleasantest kind, and equally distant from simplicity or wit. The best thing to say of it was, that he knew playfulness to be consistent with greatness; and the worst, that he thought every thing in him was great, even to his vulgarities.
Mr. Shelley said of him, that he never made you laugh to your own content. This, however, was said latterly, after my friend had been disappointed by a close intimacy. Mr. Shelley's opinion of his natural powers in every respect was great; and there is reason to believe, that Lord Byron never talked with any man to so much purpose as he did with him. He looked upon him as his most admiring listener; and probably was never less under the influence of affectation. If he could have got rid of this and his title, he would have talked like a man; not like a mere man of the town, or a great spoilt schoolboy. It is not to be concluded, that his jokes were not now and then very happy, or that admirers of his Lordship, who paid him visits, did not often go away more admiring. I am speaking of his conversation in general, and of the impression it made upon you; compared with what was to be expected from a man of wit and experience.
He had a delicate white hand, of which he was proud; and he attracted attention to it by rings. He thought a hand of this description almost the only mark remaining now-a-days of a gentleman; of which it certainly is not, nor of a lady either; though a coarse one implies handiwork. He often appeared holding a handkerchief, upon which his jewelled fingers lay imbedded, as in a picture. He was as fond of fine linen, as a quaker; and had the remnant of his hair oiled and trimmed with all the anxiety of a Sardanapalus.
The visible character to which this effeminacy gave rise appears to have indicated itself as carly as his travels in the Levant, where the Grand Signior is said to have taken him for a woman in disguise. But he had tastes of a more masculine
description. He was fond of
swimming to the last, and used to push out to a good
1 distance in the Gulf of Genoa. He was also, as I have before mentioned, a good horseman; and he liked to have a great dog or two about him, which is not a habit observable in timid men. Yet I doubt greatly whether he was a man courage.
suspect, that personal anxiety, coming upon a constitution unwisely treated, had no small hand in hastening his death in Greece.
The story of his bold behaviour at sea in a voyage to Sicily, and of Mr. Shelley's timidity, is just reversing what I conceive would have been the real state of the matter, had the voyage taken place. The account is an impudent fiction. Nevertheless, he volunteered voyages by sea, when he might have eschewed them: and yet the same man never got into a coach without being afraid. In short, he was the contradiction his father and mother had made him. To lump together some more of his personal habits, in the style of old Aubrey, he spelt affectedly, swore somewhat, had the Northumbrian burr in his speech, did not like to see women eat, and would merrily say that he had another reason for not liking to dine with them; which was, that they always had the wings of the chicken. For the rest,
“ Ask you why Byron broke through every rule?
Twas all for fear the knayes should call him fool.” He has added another to the list of the Whartons and I Buckinghams, though his vices were in one respect more prudent, his genius greater, and his end a great deal more lucky. Perverse from his birth, educated under personal disadvantages, debauched by ill companions, and perplexed between real and false pretensions, the injuries done to his nature were completed by a success, too great even for the genius he possessed; and as his life was never so unfortunate as when it appeared to be most otherwise, so nothing could happen more seasonably for him, or give him what he would most have desired under any other circumstances, than his death.
A variety of other recollections of Lord Byron have been suggested to me by the accounts of him hitherto published; which I accordingly proceed to notice. They
are for the most part ludicrously erroneous; but the examination of them will furnish us with the truth. They may be divided into five classes:-- those which really contain something both true and new respecting him; those that contain
two or three old truths vamped up in a popular manner to sell; thirdly, criticisms upon his genius, written with more or less good faith; fourthly, compilations containing all that could be seraped together respecting him, true or false; and fifthly, pure impudent fictions.
Of the last class is an account of a pretended Voyage to Sicily, which does not contain a word of truth from beginning to end.
Of the fourth, the most conspicuous, is the Life and Times, a jovial farrago in four volumes, written by as unparticular a fellow
as one should wish to see with a pair of scissors in his hand.
The best among the third is a volume by Sir Egerton Brydges, entitled
“ Letters on the Character and Poetical Genius of Lord Byron.” They are more elaborate than profound; but not without insight into the matter; nor uninformed, perhaps, by a certain sympathy with the aristocratical as well as poetical pretensions of the noble Bard; a feeling, of which his Lordship would have been quicker to accept the compliment, than acknowledge the reciprocity.
A “Life and Genius" by “Sir Cosmo Gordon," stood at the head of the second class, and was a quick, little, good-humoured supply for the market, remarkable for the conscientiousness of its material.
The only publications that contained any thing at once new and true respecting Lord Byron were, Dallas's Recollections, the Conversations by Captain Medwin, and Parry's and Gamba's Accounts of his Last Days. A good deal of the real character of his Lordship, though not always as the writer viewed it, may be gathered from most of them; particularly the first two. Parry's is a more respectable book, than the vulgar character of the man, and his pot-house buffoonery upon Mr. Bentham, would lead us to suppose; and Conte Pietro Gamba is ever' the gentleman, worthy of all credit. The frontispiece to Mr. Parry's book pre