ページの画像
PDF
ePub

of mind, and that honorable fierté that accompanies it. The humiliations and vexations a woman, under such circumstances, is exposed to, cannot fail to have a certain effect on her temper and spirits, which robs her of the charms that won affection; it renders her susceptible and suspicious; her self-esteem being diminished, she becomes doubly jealous of that of him for whom she lost it, and on whom she depends ; and if he has feeling to conciliate her, he must submit to a slavery much more severe than that of marriage, without its respectability. Women become exigeante always in proportion to their consciousness of a decrease in the attentions they desire; and this very erigeance accelerates the flight of the blind god, whose approaches, the Greek proverb says, are always made walking, but whose retreat is flying. I once wrote some lines expressive of my feelings on this subject, and you shall have them. He had no sooner repeated the first line, than I recollected having the verses in my possession, having been allowed to copy them, by Mr. D. Kinnaird, the day he received them from Lord Byron. The following are the verses :

Composed Dec. 1, 1819.

Could Love for ever
Run like a river,
And Time's endeavor

Be tried in vain;
No other pleasure
With this could measure,
And as a treasure

We'd hug the chain.
But since our sighing
Ends not in dying,
And, formed for flying,

Love plumes his wing;
Then, for this reason,

Let's love a season,
But let that season be only Spring.

When lovers parted
Feel broken-hearted,
And, all hopes thwarted,

Expect to die;
A few years older,
Ah! how much colder.
They might behold her

For whom they sigh.
When linked together,
Through every weather,
We pluck Love's feather

From out his wing;
He'll sadly shiver,

And droop for ever,
Without the plumage that sped his spring.

[or
Shorn of the plumage which sped his spring.)

Like chiefs of Faction
His life is action,
A formal paction,
Which curbs his reign,
Obscures his glory,
Despot no inore, he
Such territory

Quits with disdain.
Still, still advancing,
With banners glancing,
His power enhancing,

He must march on :
Repose but cloys him,

Retreat destroys him;
Love brooks not a degraded throne !

Wait not, fond lover!
Till years are over,
And then recover

As from a dream;
While each bewailing
The other's failing,
With wrath and railing

All hideous seem;
While first decreasing,
Yet not quite ceasing,
Pause not till teazing

All passion blight:

If once diminished,
" His reign is finished,
One last embrace then, and bid good night!

So shall Affection
To recollection
The dear connexion

Bring back with joy;
You have not waited
Till, tired and hated,
All passion sated,

Began to cloy.
Your last embraces
Leave no cold traces,-
The same fond faces

As through the past;
And eyes, the mirrors

Of your sweet errors,
Reflect but rapture; not least, though last!

True separations
Ask more than patience;
What desperations

From such have risen!
And yet remaining,
What is 't but chaining
Hearts which, once waning,

Beat 'gainst their prison?
Time can but cloy love,
And use destroy love :
The winged boy, Love,

Is but for boys;
You'll find it torture,

Though sharper, shorter,

To wean, and not wear out your joys. They are so unworthy the author, that they are merely given as proof that the greatest genius can sometimes write bad verses; as even Homer nods. I remarked to Byron, that the sentiment of the poem differed with that which he had just given me of marriage : he laughed, and said, 'Recollect, the lines were written nearly four years ago; and we grow wiser as we grow older : but mind, I still say, that I only approve marriage when the persons are so much attached as not to be able to live asunder, which ought always to be tried by a year's absence, before the irrevocable knot was formed. The truest picture of the misery unballowed liaisons produce (said Byron) is in the 'Adolphe' of Benjamin Constant. I told Madame de Staël that there was more morale in that book than in all she ever wrote ; and that it ought always to be given to every young woman who had read · Corinne,' as an antidote. Poor de Staël! she came down upon me like an avalanche, whenever I told her any of my ainiable truth, sweeping every. thing before her, with that eloquence that always overwhelmed, but never convinced. She, however, good soul, believed she had convinced, whenever she silenced an opponent; an effect she generally produced, as she, to use an Irish phrase, succeeded in bothering, and producing a confusion of ideas, that left one little able or williig to continue an argument with her. I liked her daughter very much (said Byron :) I wonder will she turn out literary ?-at all events, though she may not write, she possesses the power of judging the writings of others: is highly educated and clever; but I thought a little given to systems, which is not in general the fault of young women, and, above all, young French women.'

One day that Byron dined with us, his chasseur, while we were at table, demanded to speak with him; he left the room, and returned in a few minutes in a state of violent a ritation, pale with anger, and looking as I had never before seen him look, though I had often seen him angry. He told us that his servant had come to tell him that he must pass the gate of Genoa (his house being outside the town) before half past ten o'clock, as orders were given that no one was to be allowed to pass after. This order, which had no personal reference to him, he conceived to be expressly levelled at him, and it rendered him furious; he seized a pen, and commenced a letter to our minister,-tore two or three letters one after the other, before he had written one to his satisfaction; and, in short, betrayed such ungovernable rage, as to astonish all who were present; he seemed very much disposed to enter into a personal contest with the authorities; and we had some difficulty in persuading him to leave the business wholly in the hands of Mr. Hill, the English Minister, who would arrange it much better.

Byron's appearance and conduct, on this occasion, forcibly reminded me of Rousseau ; he declared himself the victim of persecution wherever he went; said that there was a confederacy between all governments to pursue and molest him, and uttered a thousand extravagances, that proved that he was no longer master of himself. I now understood how likely his manner was, under any violent excitement, to give rise to the idea that he was deranged in his intellects, and became convinced of the truth of the sentiment in the lines

“Great wit to madness sure is near allied,

And thin partitions do their bounds divide.' The next day, when we met, Byron said that he had received a satisfactory explanation from Mr. Hill, and then asked me if I had not thought him mad the night before I assure you (said he,) I often think myself not in my right senses, and this is perhaps the only opinion I have in common with Lady Byron, who, dear sensible soul, not only thought me mad, but tried to persuade others into the same belief.'

Talking one day on the difference between men's actions and thoughts, a subject to which he often referred, he observed that it frequently happened that a man who was capable of superior powers of reflection and reasoning when alone, was trifling and common-place in society. On this point (said he) I speak feel. ingly, for I have remarked it of myself, and have often longed to know if other people had the same defect, or the same consciousness of it, which is, that while in solitude, my mind was occupied in serious and elevated reflections, in society it sinks into a trifling levity of tone, that in another would have called forth my disapprobation and disgust. Another defect of mine is, that I am so little fastidious in the selection, or rather want of selection, of associates, that the most stupid men satisfy me quite as well, nay, perhaps better than the most brilliant, and yet all the time they are with me I feel, even while descending to their leyel, that they are unworthy of me, and what is worse, that we seem in point of conversation so nearly on an equality, that the effort of letting myself down to them costs me nothing, though my pride is hurt that they do not seem more sensible of the condescension. When I have sought what is called good society, it was more from a sense of propriety and keeping my station in the world, than from any pleasure it gave me, for I have been always disappointed, even in the most bril. liant and clever of my acquaintances, by discovering some trait of egotism, or futility, that I was too egotistical and futile to pardon, as I find that we are least disposed to overlook the defects we are most prone to. Do you think as I do on this point?' (said Byron.) I answered, “That as a clear and spotless mirror reflects the brightest images, so is goodness ever most prone to æe good in others; and as a sullied mirror shows its own defects in all that it reflects, so does an impure mind tinge all that passes through it.' Byron laughingly suid, - That thought of your's is pretty, and just, which all pretty thoughts are not, and I shall pop it into my next poem. But how do you account for this tendency of mine to triAing and levity in conversation, when in solitude my mind is really occupied with serious reflections?' I answered · That this was the very cauze-the bow cannot remain always bent; the thoughts suggested to him in society were the re-action of a mind strained to its bent, and reposing itself after exertion; as also that feeling the inferiority of the persons he mixed with, the great powers were not excited, but lay dormant and supine, collecting their force foi solitude. This opinion pleased him, and when I added that great writers were rarely good talkers, and vice versa, he was still more gratified. He said that he disliked every day topics of conversation, he thought it a waste of time; but that if he met a person with whom he could, as he said, think aloud, and give utterance to his ihoughts on abstract subjects, he was sure it would excite the energies of his mind, and awaken sleeping thoughts that wanted to be stirred up. I like to go home with a new idea (said Byron ;) it sets my mind to work, I enlarge it, and it often gives birth to many others; this, one can only do in a tite-à-tête. I felt the advantage of this in my rides with Hoppner at Venice ; he vas a good listener, and his remarks were acute and original; he is besides a thoroughly good man, and I knew he was in earnest when he gave me his opinions. But conversation, such as one finds in society, and, above all, in English society, is as uninteresting as it is artificial, and few can leave the best with the consolation of carrying away with him a new thought, or of leaving behind him an old friend.' Here he laughed at his own antithesis, and added, " By Jove, it is true; you know how people abuse or quiz each other in England, the moment one is absent : each is afraid to go away before the other, knowing that, as is said in the School for Scandal, he leaves his character behind. It is this certainty that excuses me to myself, for abusing my friends and acquaintances in their absence. I was once accused of this by an ami intime, to whom some devilish good-natured person had repeated what I had said of him; I had nothing for it but to plead guilty, adding, you know you have done the same by me fifty times, and yet you see I never was affronted, or liked you less for it; on which he laughed, and we were as good friends as ever. Mind you (a favorite phrase of Byron's) I never heard that he had abused me, but I took it for granted, and was right. So much for friends.'

I remarked to Byron that his scepticism as to the sincerity and durability of friendship, argued very much against his capability of feeling the sentiment, especially as he admitted that he had not been deceived by the fero he had confided in, consequently his opinion must be founded on self-knowledge. This amused him, and he said that he verily believed that his knowledge of human nature, on which he had hitherto prided himself, was the criterion by which I judged so unfavorably of him, as he was sure I attributed his bad opinion of mankind to his perfect knowledge of self. When in good spirits, he liked badinage very much, and nothing seemed to please him more than being considered as a mauvais sujet; he disclaimed the being so, with an air that showed he was far from being offended at the suspicion. Or love he had strange notions: he said that most people had le besoin d'aimer, and that with this besoin the first person who fell in one's way contented one. He maintained that those who possessed the most imagination, poets for example, were most likely to be constant in their attachinents, as with the beau ideal in their heads, with which they identified the object of their attachment, they had nothing to desire, and viewed their mistresses through the brilliant medium of fancy, instead of the common one of the eyes. "A poet, therefore (said Byron,) endows the person he loves with all the charms with which his mind is stored, and has no need of actual beauty to fill up the picture. Hence he should select a woman who is rather good-looking than beautiful, learing the latter for those who, having no imagination, require actual beauty to sat- isfy their tastes. And after all (said he,) where is the actual beauty that can come up to the bright imaginings' of the poet? where can one see women that equal the visions, half-mortal, half-angelic, that people his fancy? Love, who is painted blind (an allegory that proves the uselessness of beauty,) can supply all deficiencies with his aid; we can invest her whom we admire with all the attributes of loveliness, and though time may steal the roses from her cheek, and the lustre from her eye, still the original beau ideal remains, filling the mind and intoxicating the soul with the overpowering presence of loveliness. I flatter myself that my Leila, Zuleika, Gulnare, Medora, and Haidee will always vouch for my taste in beauty : these are the bright creations of my fancy, with rounded forms, and delicacy of limbs, nearly so incompatible as to be rarely if ever united; for where, with some rare exceptions, do we see roundness of contour accompanied by lightness, and those fairy hands and feet that are at once the type of beauty and refinement. I like to shut myself up, close my eyes, and fancy one of the creatures of my imagination, with taper and rose-tipped fingers, playing with my hair, touching my cheek, or resting its little snowy-dimpled hand on mine. I like to fancy the fairy foot, round and pulpy, but small to diminutiveness, peeping from beneath the drapery that half conceals it, or moving in the mazes of the dance. I detest thin women; and unfortunately all, or nearly all plump women, have clumsy hands and feet, so that I am obliged to have recourse to imagination for my beauties, and there I always find them. I can so well understand the lover leaving his mistress that he might write to her, I should leave mine, not to write to, but to think of her, to dress her up in the habiliments of my ideal beauty, investing her with all the charms of the latter, and then adoring the idol I had formed. You must have observed that I give my heroines extreme refinement, joined to great simplicity and want of education. Now, refinement and want of education are incompatible, at least I have ever found them so : 80 here again, you see, I am forced to have recourse to imagination, and certainly it furnishes me with creatures as unlike the sophisticaled beings of civilized existence, as they are to the still less tempting, coarse realities of vulgar life. In short, I am of opinion that poets do not require great beauty in the objects of their affection; all that is necessary for them is a strong and devoted attachment from the object, and where this exists, joined to health and good temper, little more is required, at least in early youth, though with advancing years, men become more erigeants.' Talking of the difference between love in early youth and in maturity, Byron said, 'that, like the measles, love was most dangerous when it came late in life.'

Byron had two points of ambition, the one to be thought the greatest poet of his day, and the other a nobleman and man of fashion, who could have arrived at distinction without the aid of his poetical genius. This often produced curious anomalies in his conduct and sentiments, and a sort of jealousy of himself in each separate character, that was highly amusing to an observant spectator. If poets were talked of or eulogized, he referred to the advantages of rank and station as commanding that place in society by right, which was only accorded to genius by sufferance; for, said Byron, · Let authors do, say, or think what they please, they are never considered as men of fashion in the circles of haut ton, to which their literary reputations have given them an entrée, unless they happen to be of high birth. How many times have I observed this in London; as also the awkward efforts made by authors to trifle and act the fine gentleman like the rest of the herd in society. "Then look at the faiblesse they betray in running after great people. Lords and ladies seem to possess, in their eyes soine power of attraction that I never could discover ; and the eagerness with which they crowd to balls and assemblies, where they are as déplacés as ennuyés, all conversation at such places being out of the question, might lead one to think that they sought the heated atmospheres of such scenes as hot-beds to nurse their genius.' If men of fashion were praised, Byron dwelt on the futility of their pursuits, their ignorance en masse, and the necessity of talents to give lustre to rank and station. In short, he seemed to think that the bays of the author ought to be entwined with a coronet to render either valuable, as, singly, they were not sufficiently attraclive ; and this evidently arose from his uniting, in his own person, rank and genius. I recollect once laughingly telling him that he was fortunate in being able to consider hiinself a poet amongst lords, and a lord amongst poets. He seemed doubtful as to how he should take the parody, but ended by laughing

also.

« 前へ次へ »