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DECEMBER 1, 1832.
JOURNAL OF CONVERSATIONS WITH LORD BYRON,
BY THE COUNTESS OF BLESSINGTON, NO 3.*
(With a full-length Portrait of Lord Byron.) From this period we saw Lord Byron frequently; he met us in our rides nearly every day, and the road to Nervi became our favorite promenade. While riding by the sea-shore, he often recurred to the events of his life, mingling sarcasms on himself with bitter pleasantries against others. He dined often with us, and sometimes came after dinner, as he complained that he suffered from indulging at our repasts, as animal food disagreed with him. He added, that even the excitement of society, though agreeable and exhilarating at the time, left a nervous irritation, that prevented sleep or occupation for many hours afterwards.
I once spoke to him, by the desire of his medical adviser, on the necessity of his accustoming himself to a more nutritious regimen; but he declared, that if he did, he should get fat and stupid, and that it was only by abstinence that he felt he had the power of exercising his mind. He complained of being spoiled for society. by having so long lived out of it; and said, that though naturally of a quick apprehension, he latterly felt himself dull and stupid. The impression left on my mind is, that Byron never could have been a brilliant person in society, and that he was not formed for what generally is understood by that term: he has none of the small change that passes current in the mart of society; his gold is in ingots, and cannot be brought into use for trifling expenditures ; he, however, talks a good deal, and likes to raconter.
Talking of people who were great talkers, he observed that almost all clever people were such, and gave several examples: amongst others, he cited Voltaire, Horace Walpole, Johnson, Napoleon Bonaparte. and Madame de Staël. “But,' said he, 'my friend, Lady would have talked them all out of the field. She, I suppose, has heard that all clever people are great talkers, and so has determined on displaying,
* Continued from p. 185.
at least, one attribute of that genus; but her Ladyship would do well to recollect that all great talkers are not clever people-a truism that no one can doubt who has been often in her society.
. 'Lady - continued Byron, with beaucoup de ridicule, has many essentially fine qualities; she is independent in her principlesthough, by the bye, like all Independents, she allows that privilege to few others, being the veriest tyrant that ever governed Fashion's fools, who are compelled to shake their caps and bells as she wills it. Of all that coterie,' said Byron, 'Madame de - after Lady — , was the best ; at least I thought so, for these two ladies were the only one, who ventured to protect me when all London was crying out against me on the separation, and they behaved courageously and kindly; indeed Madame de - delended me when few dared to do so, and I have always remembered it. Poor dear Lady - ! does she still retain her beautiful cream-colored complexion and raven hair? I used to long to tell her that she spoiled her looks by he: excessive animation ; for eyes, tongue, head, and arms were all in movement at once, and were only relieved from their active service by want of respiration, I shall never forget when she once complained to me of the fatigue of literary occupations; and I, in terror, expected her Ladyship to propose reading to me an epic poem, tragedy, or at least a novel of her composition, when, lo! she displayed to me a very richly-bound Album, half filled with printed extracts cut out of newspapers and magazines, which she had selected and pasted in the book ; and I (happy at beiny let off so easily) sincerely agreed with her that literature was very tire. some. I understand that she has now advanced with the ‘March of Intellect,' and got an Album filled with MS. poetry, to which all of us, of the craft, have contributed. I was the first ; Moore wrote something, which was, like all that he writes, very sparkling and terse; but he goc dissatisfied with the faint praise it met with from the husband, before Miladi saw the verses, and destroyed the effusion; I know not if he ever has supplied their place. Can you fancy Moore paying attention to the opinion of Milor, on Poesy ? Had it been on racing or horse flesh he might have been right; but Pegasus is, perhaps, the only horse of whose paces Lord -- -, could not be a judge.'
Talking of fashionable life in London, Lord Byron said that there was nothing so vapid and ennuyeur. “The English,' said he, 'were intended by nature to be good, sober-minded people, and those who live in the country are really admirable. I saw a good deal of English country life, and it is the only favorable impression that remains of our mode of living ; but of London, and exclusive society, I retain a fearful recollection. Dissipation has need of wit, talent, and gaiety, to prevent reflection, and make the eternal round of frivolous amusements pass; and of these,' continued Byron, there was a terrible lack in the society in which I inixed. The minds of the English are formed of sterner stuff. You may make an English woman (indeed Nature does this the best daughter, wife, and mother in the world; nay, you may make her a heroine ; but nothing can make her a genuine woman of fashion ! And yet this latter róle is the one which, par preference, she always wishes to act. Thorough-bred English gentlewomen,' said Byron, 'are the most distinguished and lady-like creatures imaginable. Natural, mild, and dignified, they are formed to be placed at the heads of our patrician establishments; but when they quit their congenial spheres to enact the leaders of fashion, les dames à la mode, they bungle sadly. Their gaiety degenerates into levity—their hauteur into incivility—their fashionable ease and nonchalance into brusquerie—and their attempts at assuming les usages du monde into a positive outrage on all the bienséances. In short, they offer a coarse caricature of the airy flightiness and capricious, but amusing, légèreté of the French, without any of their redeeming espièglerie and politesse. And all this because they will perform parts in the comedy of life for which nature has not formed them, neglecting their own dignified characters.'
* Madame de Staël,' continued Lord Byron, was forcibly struck by the factitious tone of the best society in London, and wished very much to have an opportunity of judging of that of the second class. She, however, had not this opportunity, which I regret, as I think it would have justified her expectations. In England, the raw material is generally good; it is the over-dressing that injures it; and as the class she wished to study are well educated, and have all the refinement of civilization without its corruption, she would have carried away a favorable impression. Lord Grey and his family were the personification of her beau idéal of perfection, as I must say they are of mine,' continued By: ron, 'and might serve as the finest specimens of the pure English pa trician breed, of which so few remain. His uncompromising and uncompromised dignity, founded on self-respect, and accompanied by that certain proof of superiority-simplicity of manner and freedom from affectation, with her mild and matron graces, her whole life offering a inodel to wives and mothers—really they are people to be proud of, and a few such would reconcile one to one's species.'
One of our first rides with Lord Byron was to Nervi, a village on the sea-coast, most romantically situated, and each turn of the road presenting various and beautiful prospects. They were all familiar to him, and he failed not to point them out, but in very sober terms, never allowing anything like enthusiasm in his expressions, though many of the views might have excited it.
His appearance on horseback was not advantageous, and he seemed aware of it, for he made many excuses for his dress and equestrian appointments. His horse was literally covered with various trappings, in the way of cavesons, martingales, and Heaven knows how many other (to me) unknown inventions. The saddle was à la Hussarde with holsters, in which he always carried pistols. His dress consisted of a nankeen jacket and trowsers, which appeared to have shrunk from washing; the jacket embroidered in the same color, and with three rows of buttons; the waist very short, the back very narrow, and the sleeves set in as they used to be ten or fifteen years before ; a black stock, very narrow; a dark-blue velvet cap with a shade, and a very
rich gold band and large gold tassel at the crown ; nankeen gaiters, and a pair of blue spectacles, completed his costume, which was anything but becoming. This was his general dress of a morning for riding, but I have seen it changed for a green tartan plaid jacket. He did not ride well, which surprised us, as, from the frequent allusions to horsemanship in his works, we expected to find him almost a Nimrod. It was evident that he had pretensions on this point, though he certainly was what I should call a timid rider. When his horse made a false step, which was not unfrequent, he seemed discomposed; and when we came to any bad part of the road, he immediately checked his course and walked his horse very slowly, though there really was nothing to make even a lady nervous. Finding that I could perfectly manage (or what he called bully) a very highly-dressed horse that I daily rode, he became extremely anxious to buy it; asked me a thousand questions as to how I had acquired such a perfect command of it, &c. &c., and entreated, as the greatest favor, that I would resign it to him as a charger to take to Greece, declaring hë never would part with it, &c. As I was by no means a bold rider, we were rather amused at observing Lord Byron's opinion of my courage ; and as he seemed so anxious for the horse, I agreed to let him have it when he was to embark. From this time he paid particular attention to the movements of poor Mameluke (the name of the horse,) and said he should now feel confidence in action with so steady a charger.
During our ride the conversation turned on our mutual friends and acquaintances in England. Talking of two of them, for one of whom he professed a great regard, he declared laughingly that they had saved him from suicide. Seeing me look grave, he added, “ It is a fact, I assure you, I should positively have destroyed myself, but I guessed that -, or
would write my life, and with this fear before my eyes, I have lived on, I know so well the sort of things they would write of me--the excuses, lame as myself, that they would offer for my delinquencies, while they were unnecessarily exposing them, and all this done with the avowed intention of justifying, what, God help me! cannot be justified, my unpoetical reputation, with which the world can have nothing to do! One of my friends would dip his pen in clarified honey, and the other in vinegar, to describe my manifold transgressions, and as I lived on, and do not wish my poor fame to be either preserved or pickled, I have written my Memoirs, where facts will speak for themselves, without the editorial candor of excuses, such as we cannot excuse this unhappy error, or defend that impropriety; '—the mode,' continued Byron, ‘in which friends exalt their own prudence and virtue, by exhibiting the want of those qualities in the dear departed, and by marking their disapproval of his errors. I have written my Memoirs,' said Byron, 'to save the necessity of their being written by a friend or friends, and have only to hope they will not add notes.'
I remarked with a smile, that at all events he anticipated his friends by saying before hand as many illnatured things of them as they could possibly write of, him. He laughed, and said, Depend on it we are
equal. Poets, (and I may, I suppose, without presumption, count myself among that favored race, as it has pleased the Fates to make me one,) have no friends. On the old principle, that 'union gives force,' we sometimes agree to have a violent friendship for each other. We dedicate, we bepraise, we write pretty letters, but we do not deceive each other. In short, we resemble you fair ladies, when some half dozen of the fairest of you profess to love each other mightily, correspond so sweetly, call each other by such pretty epithets, and laugh in your hearts at those who are taken in by such appearances.'
I endeavored to defend my sex, but he adhered to his opinion. I ought to add that during this conversation he was very gay, and that though his words may appear severe, there was no severity in his manner. The natural flippancy of Lord Byron took off all appearance of premeditation or bitterness from his remarks, even when they were acrimonious, and the impression conveyed to, and left on my mind, was, that for the most part they were uttered more in jest than in earnest. They were, however, sufficiently severe to make me feel that there was no safety with him, and that in five minutes after one's quitting him on terms of friendship, he could not resist the temptation of showing one up, either in conversation or by letter, though in half an hour after he would put himself to personal inconvenience to render a kindness to the person so shown up.
I remarked that in talking of literary productions, he seemed much more susceptible to their defects, than alive to their beauties. As a proof, he never failed to remember some quotation that told against the unhappy author, which he recited with an emphasis, or a mock-heroic air, that made it very ludicrous. The pathetic he always burlesqued in reciting ; but this I am sure proceeded from an affectation of not sympathizing with the general taste.
April - Lord Byron dined with us to-day. During dinner he was as usual gay, spoke in terms of the warmest commendation of Sir Walter Scott, not only as an author, but as a man, and dwelt with apparent delight on his novels, declaring that he had read and re-read them over and over again, and always with increased pleasure. He said that he quite equalled, nay, in his opinion, surpassed Cervantes. In talking of Sir Walter's private character, goodness of heart, &c., Lord Byron became more animated than I had ever seen him; his color changed from its general pallid tint to a more lively hue, and his eyes became humid; never had he appeared to such advantage, and it might easily be seen that every expression he uttered proceeded from his heart. Poor Byron !—for poor he is even with all his genius, rank, and wealth-had he lived more with men like Scott, whose openness of character and steady principle had convinced him that they were in earnest in their goodness, and not making believe, (as he always suspects good people to be,) his life might be different and happier ! Byron is so acute an observer that nothing escapes him; all the shades of selfishness and vanity are exposed to his searching glance, and the misfortune is, (and a serious one it is to him,) that when he finds these, and alas! they are