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(Blackwood's Edin, Magazine.)
IN the early part of last year, I spent
Perhaps this may arise from its having been the place where I first saw manners, scenery, buildings, and decorations, which were strictly Italian, and above all, where the Mediterranean first rolled its waters at my feet; that sea which has borne on its classic waves the flags of nations, whose names are associated with all that is great and inspiring. A recollection of a different nature has also added to the interest which I imagine I shall never cease to take in Genoa. It was here that I had an introduction to the extraordinary man, who at this moment forms the topic of conversation in every circle, and whose recent death will now be sincerely regretted, as having happened at the early age of 37, when he was exerting himself in the glorious cause of Greece, and when he was really turning his great talents to a noble and useful purpose. The first and only time that I ever had an opportunity of conversing with Lord Byron, was at Genoa; and however one may differ in opinion, with such restless spirits as himself who figure in the world, and occupy an unusual portion of its regards, rather from the abuse and perversion of their powers of mind, than from a right application of them; yet it would argue a curious taste, to be indifferent to the accident which throws us in their way. For my own part, I shall value as one of the most interesting in my life, the short interval which I passed with the greatest poet of his age, and I have been turning to my diary, to refer to every particular of an interview, which
I carefully noted down on the day in which it took place, while every impression was yet fresh upon my mind.
Lord Byron is not a man of to-day. He belongs as much to the future, as to the present, and it is no common event in one's life to have it to say, I have had an opportunity of judging for myself of a person whom some bless, and hundreds curse; who is the subject of exaggerated calumny to some, and of extravagant praise to others.
The circumstances which led to this interview, the place where it was held, the crisis at which it occurred, and the topics on which we discoursed, were not a little out of the ordinary way.
Lord Byron had been residing some weeks at or near Genoa, when I arrived in that city; many English fàmilies were there at the same time, and the eccentric bard was the subject of general conversation. From some of my countrymen I learnt that his lordship was to be seen every night at the opera; from others, that he frequently rode through the streets on horseback, with a party of his friends, armed with swords by their sides, and pistols at their holsters; and from all, that he avoided an Englishman with contempt and detestation. Such were the reports, but it never fell to my lot to converse with anybody who could speak from personal observation, to the truth of either of these accounts; and I afterwards discovered that they were totally incorrect.
One morning that the arrival of the Courier was looked for with more than usual impatience, for it was at that juncture when the decision of England and the continental powers, with regard to Spain, was daily expected to reach Genoa, I was sitting in the reading-room, in the Strada Novissima, waiting for the delivery of the foreign journals. A person entered whose face I immedi
ately recognized. It was one of Lord Byron's most intimate friends, who, it was said, felt and expressed the same antipathy against every British travel ler, with his lordship. In former days I was intimately acquainted with this gentleman, but many years had elapsed since we met; I therefore judged that he had forgotten me, or if not, that he would have no inclination to renew an acquaintance with one who was guilty of being born in England, and unable to estimate the worth of those who have the reputation of wishing to subvert most of her institutions. I was reluctant to accost him, fearful of a repulse, but, after a moment's gaze in my face, he pronounced my name, seized my hand with all the hearty feeling of uninterrupted friendship, and signified, in terms which I could not mistake, his delight at this unexpected meeting.
roots without bleeding?" He immediately added, that great as might be his errors, his punishment was equal to them, for that they had caused a general alienation of friends, a necessity to exile himself from his country, and a sacrifice of his natural tastes and amusements.
I soon found that the strong barrier of opinion which lay between us, acted as no obstacle to an unreserved communication, and that my early friend, who had shown me many a kindness when a boy, had lost none of that warm-heartedness and goodhumour for which he was so distinguished before he became a reformer in politics, and a visionary in religion. We remained together for about an hour; a thousand questions about old times and old companions were asked and answered, and I flattered myself, that he had derived more satisfaction from thus following the natural current of his feelings, than from floundering in those troubled waters, on which he had so unhappily embarked, with the discontented and the sceptical. The reply to one question which I ventured to put to him, under the mistaken idea that the reports to which I before alluded, were true, assured me that the path he had marked out for himself, was attended by any thing but happiness, and was not exactly voluntary.
Are you so much estranged from England, that you have left no regrets behindyou?
"Do you suppose," was his answer, "that I can be torn up by the
The next day, my friend called upon me at my hotel, and inquired if I had any wish to be introduced to Lord Byron. I signified my surprise at having the option offered to me, as I had been informed that Lord Byron carefully avoided his countrymen. "The inquisitive and the impertinent,” said he, "but not others; and I am sure you will have no reason to regret the interview."
A day was appointed, that Lord Byron might be apprized of the intended_introduction, and when it came, Mr. and I set cut from Genoa together, and walked to Albaro, where the noble poet was then residing.
The walk was such as an enthusiast would envy. My eye ranged over a thousand objects equally new and interesting to an Englishman, and my imagination was fully occupied in dwelling either upon the past glories and catastrophes of Genoa, or upon the singular character of the extraordinary man whom I was going to visit. Our path lay near the spot where the inquisition stood; the whole of the once formidable building was not quite removed, and we turned aside to look into some of the chambers and dungeons, into which my companion would have had a good chance of being consigned, had he been found in this city some few years back. After walking over ruins and rubbish, which had been steeped in the tears and blood of many an unhappy victim, we passed the ducal palace, the residence of the governor or viceroy of Genoa, to which, on the evening before, I had been invited, and where I witnessed a scene, the very reverse of what the Inquisition had presented to my imagination. All the Patrician pride and beauty of Genoa had been assembled there, to enjoy the pleasures of dancing and
music, and few are the places in Italy, where nobility is more noble, or beauty more brilliant. "I am more proud of being simply a Patrician, than a marquis," said the Marchese di Negro to me; and well he might be, for he was descended from a long line of heroes, who held a distinguished rank in the annals of the Republic, long before the monarchs of Spain, or France, or Sardinia, had an opportunity of conferring titles upon Ligurian subjects. We descended the hill that leads down to the eastern gate, crossed the ramparts, and the torrents of Besagno, which had lately carried away the stone bridge that was built over it, and mounted the acclivity upon which Albaro stands. Many a time did I turn back to gaze upon the magnificent city that I had left behind, as it extended itself gloriously over rock and glen, from the mountains to the shore, and literally stretched its boughs to the sea, and its branches to the river. It lay under my eye with its bright suburbs, and its decorated villas, graceful and becoming even in their gaudiness, for the very variety of colouring. The fronts of the houses are painted all manner of colours. The yellow and the red, and the blue, which in most places would look whimsical and fantastical, do absolutely harmonize with the brown mountains, and the slate roofs, and the azure sea, and form a picture which it is delicious to dwell upon. How the lordly towers, the stately edifices, the marble palaces, and the costly temples of the princely merchants, carried me back to the years that are gone, and reminded me of the little nation of traders, who thundered defiance against the strong places of some of the mightiest sovereigns of their times! How I thought of names—of the Dorias, and the Durazzi, and the Brignoli, which used to make the Mahomets and Solymans of the east, and the Charles's and the Philips of the west, tremble upon their thrones ! A nation of shopkeepers! So Buonaparte styled us in derision. But when we reflect upon what the Venetians and Genoese have been, and what the English are, ei
ther in their palaces or in their wooden walls, we need not be ashamed of the designation. Alexander himself, the proud Autocrat of the Russias, the ambitious Czar, who thinks to reap where the sickle fell from Napoleon's hands, even he could not conceal his feelings of admiration struggling with envy, when he experienced a reception from the merchants of London, such as kings would be proud to be able to give in their banquetting halls.
The nearer we approached to the residence of Lord Byron, the more busy became my anticipations. How shall I be received by him? Shall I be made to shrink under the superiority of talent? Shall I smart under the lash of his sarcasms? Shall I be annoyed by sceptical insinuations, or shocked by broad and undisguised attacks upon what I have been in the habit of regarding with respect and reverence? In short, my fancy was wound up to the highest pitch, in conjecturing how he would converse, how he would look, and whether I should derive more pleasure or pain from the interview.
The approach to that part of Albaro where the noble Poet dwelt, is by a narrow lane, and on a steep ascent. The palace is entered by lofty iron gates that conduct into a courtyard, planted with venerable yew trees, cut into grotesque shapes. After announcing our arrival at the portal, we were received by a man of almost gigantic stature, who wore a beard hanging down his breast to a formidable length. This, as I was given to understand, was the eccentric Bard's favourite valet, and the same who had stabbed the soldier in the fray at Pisa, for which Lord Byron and the friends of his party were obliged to leave the Tuscan Statesan exploit, not the first in its way, by which he had distinguished his fidelity to his master. An Italian Count, with whom he lived before he entered Lord Byron's service, had experienced similar proofs of his devotedness. From what I have since heard, I am inclined to believe the fellow has at length fallen a sacrifice to that
sort of violence, to which he had so
By this Goliath of valets we were ushered through a spacious hall, accommodated with a billiard-table, and hung round with portraits, into his Lordship's receiving room, which was fitted up in a complete style of English comfort. It was carpeted and curtained; a blazing log crackled in the grate, à hearth-rug spread its soft and ample surface before it, a small reading-table,and lounging-chair, stood near the fire-place; and not far from them, an immense oval table groaned under the weight of newly published quartos and octavos, among other books, which lay arranged in nice order upon it.
In a few seconds after we entered, Lord Byron made his appearance from a room which opened into this; he walked slowly up to the fire-place, and received me with that unreserved air, and good-humoured smile, which made me feel at ease at once, notwithstanding all my prognostications to the contrary. The first impression made upon me was this-that the person who stood before me, bore the least possible resemblance to any bust, portrait, or profile, that I had ever seen, professing to be his likeness; nor have I since examined any which I could consider a perfect resemblance. The portrait in possession of Mr. Murray, from which most of the prints seem to be taken, does not strike me as one in which the features of the original are to be recognized at first sight, which perhaps may be owing to the affected position, and studied air and manner, which Lord B. assumed when he sat for it. Neither is the marble bust by Bartolini a performance, with whose assistance I should pronounce the lines and lineaments of the Bard could be distinguished at a glance.
It struck me that Lord Byron's countenance was handsome and intellectual, but without being so remarkably such as to attract attention, if it were not previously known whom he was. His lips were full and of a good colour; the lower one inclined to a division in the centre: and this, with what are called gap-teeth, (in a very slight degree,) gave a peculiar expression to his mouth. I never observed the play of features, or the characteristics of physiognomy, more narrowly than I did Lord Byron's, during the whole period of a very animated conversation, which lasted nearly two hours, and I could not but feel all my Lavaterian principles staggered, by discovering so few indications of violent temper, or of strong tastes and distastes. I could scarcely discern any of the traits for which I searched, and should decide either that he had a powerful command over the muscles of his face, and the expression of his eye, or that there was less of that fiery temperament than what has been ascribed to him. In short, I never saw a countenance more composed and still, and, I might even add, more sweet and prepossessing, than Lord Byron's appeared upon this occasion.
His hair was beginning to lose the glossiness, of which, it is said, he was once so proud, and several grey strangers presented themselves, in spite of his anxiety to have them removed. His figure too, without being at all corpulent or rotund, was acquiring more fulness than he liked; so much so, that he was abstemiously refusing wine and meat, and living almost entirely upon vegetables.
The reserve of a first introduction was banished in a moment, by Mr.
-'s starting a subject, which at once rendered Lord Byron as fluent of words as I could have wished to find him: He mentioned the manifesto of the Spanish Cortes, in answer to the declaration of the Holy Alliance, and an animated conversation followed between the two, which, as I was anxious to hear Lord Byron's sentiments, I was in no hurry to in
3 ATHENEUM VOL. 2. new series. terrupt.
Among other things, Lord Byron observed upon the manifesto, that he was particularly pleased with the dry Cervantez humour that it contained. "It reminds me," said he, " of the answer of Leonidas to Xerxes, when the Persian demanded his armsCome and take them."" He evidently calculated more upon Spanish resistance and courage, than the event justified; and he proceeded to describe, with a great deal of spirit and correctness, the nature of the country which the enemy would have to encounter before they could strike a decisive blow." Spain," he added, "is not a plain, across which the Russians and Austrians can march at their pleasure, as if they had nothing to do but to draw a mathematical straight line from one given point to
There were several other pretty conceits, as we should call them, in the noble poet's discourse; but when he attempted to enlarge upon any subject, he was evidently at a loss for a good train of reasoning. He did not seem to be able to follow the thread, even of an argument of his own, when he was both opponent and respondent, and was putting a case in his own way.
From the cause of the Spaniards, the conversation directed itself to that of the Greeks, and the state paper of the Holy Alliance upon this subject also was brought upon the carpet. Lord Byron and Mr. both ridiculed the idea that was broached in that notable specimen of imperial reasoning, of the insurrectionary movements in the east, (as it was pleased to style the noblest struggle for liberty, that an oppressed people ever made,) being connected with the attempts at revolution in Western Europe, and of a correspondence existing between the reformers of different countries. "If such a formidable concert as this existed, I suppose," said Lord Byron, smiling, and addressing Mr. "that two such notori
the aristocratic poet's observation was too striking to be forgotten-“I should not like to see Cobbett presiding at a revolutionary green table, and to be examined by him; for, if he were to put ten questions to me, and I should answer nine satisfactorily, but were to fail in the tenth-for that tenth, he would send me to the lantern.”
Lord Byron then turned to me, and asked, "Åre you not afraid of calling upon such an excommunicated heretic as myself? If you are an ambitious man, you will never get on in the church after this."
I replied, that he was totally mistaken, if he fancied that there was any such jealous or illiberal spirit at home, and he instantly interrupted me, by saying, "Yes, yes, you are right-there is a good deal of liberal sentiment among churchmen in England, and that is why I prefer the Established Church of England to any other in the world. I have been intimate, in my time, with several clergymen, and never considered that our difference of opinion was a bar to our intimacy. They say I am no Christian, but I am a Christian." I afterwards asked Mr. what his
Lordship meant by an assertion so much in contradiction with his writings, and was told that he often threw out random declarations of that kind without any meaning.
Lord Byron took an opportunity of complaining, that some of his poems had been treated unfairly, and assailed with a degree of virulence they did not deserve. They are not intended, he remarked, to be theological works, but merely works of imagination, and as such, ought not to be examined according to the severe rules of polemical criticism.
I mentioned a late production of a Harrow man, in which Cain had been noticed. "I hope," said Lord B., "he did not abuse me personally, for "that would be too bad, as we were school-fellows, and very good friends."
ous Radicals as ourselves, ought to be affronted for not being permitted to take some share in it."
Cobbett's name was introduced, and
Upon my informing him that the strictures were only fair and candid observations, upon what the author considered his Lordship's mis-statements, he rejoined, "It is nothing