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The Life of Lord Byron by John Galt

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"You have done well, for I should like to know what is the matter
with me."

From that time his Lordship grew every hour weaker and weaker; and he
had occasional flights of delirium. In the intervals he was,
however, quite self-possessed, and said to Fletcher, "I now begin to
think I am seriously ill; and in case I should be taken off suddenly,
I wish to give you several directions, which I hope you will be
particular in seeing executed." Fletcher in reply expressed his hope
that he would live many years, and execute them himself. "No, it is
now nearly over; I must tell you all without losing a moment."

"Shall I go, my Lord, and fetch pen, ink, and paper.

"Oh, my God! no, you will lose too much time, and I have it not to
spare, for my time is now short. Now pay attention--you will be
provided for."

"I beseech you, my Lord, to proceed with things of more consequence."

His Lordship then added,

"Oh, my poor dear child!--my dear Ada!--My God! could I have but seen
her--give her my blessing--and my dear sister Augusta, and her
children--and you will go to Lady Byron and say--tell her everything-
-you are friends with her."

He appeared to be greatly affected at this moment. His voice failed,
and only words could be caught at intervals; but he kept muttering
something very seriously for some time, and after raising his voice,

"Fletcher, now if you do not execute every order which I have given
you, I will torment you hereafter, if possible."

This little speech is the last characteristic expression which
escaped from the dying man. He knew Fletcher's superstitious
tendency, and it cannot be questioned that the threat was the last
feeble flash of his prankfulness. The faithful valet replied in
consternation that he had not understood one word of what his
Lordship had been saying.

"Oh! my God!" was the reply, "then all is lost, for it is now too
late! Can it be possible you have not understood me!"

"No, my Lord; but I pray you to try and inform me once more."

"How can I? it is now too late, and all is over."

"Not our will, but God's be done," said Fletcher, and his Lordship
made another effort, saying,

"Yes, not mine be done--but I will try"--and he made several attempts
to speak, but could only repeat two or three words at a time; such

"My wife! my child--my sister--you know all--you must say all--you
know my wishes"----The rest was unintelligible.

A consultation with three other doctors, in addition to the two
physicians in regular attendance, was now held; and they appeared to
think the disease was changing from inflammatory diathesis to
languid, and ordered stimulants to be administered. Dr Bruno opposed
this with the greatest warmth; and pointed out that the symptoms were
those, not of an alteration in the disease, but of a fever flying to
the brain, which was violently attacked by it; and, that the
stimulants they proposed would kill more speedily than the disease
itself. While, on the other hand, by copious bleeding, and the
medicines that had been taken before, he might still be saved. The
other physicians, however, were of a different opinion; and then Dr
Bruno declared he would risk no farther responsibility. Peruvian
bark and wine were then administered. After taking these stimulants,
his Lordship expressed a wish to sleep. His last words were, "I must
sleep now"; and he composed himself accordingly, but never awoke

For four-and-twenty hours he continued in a state of lethargy, with
the rattles occasionally in his throat. At six o'clock in the
morning of the 19th, Fletcher, who was watching by his bed-side, saw
him open his eyes and then shut them, apparently without pain or
moving hand or foot. "My God!" exclaimed the faithful valet, "I fear
his Lordship is gone." The doctors felt his pulse--it was so.

After life's fitful fever he sleeps well.

But the fittest dirge is his own last lay, written on the day he
completed his thirty-sixth year, soon after his arrival at
Missolonghi, when his hopes of obtaining distinction in the Greek
cause were, perhaps, brightest; and yet it breathes of dejection
almost to boding.

'Tis time this heart should be unmoved
Since others it has ceased to move,
Yet though I cannot be beloved
Still let me love.

My days are in the yellow leaf,
The flowers and fruits of love are gone,
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone.

The fire that in my bosom preys
Is like to some volcanic isle,
No torch is kindled at its blaze--
A funeral pile.

The hope, the fears, the jealous care,
Th' exalted portion of the pain,
And power of love I cannot share,
But wear the chain.

But 'tis not here--it is not here--
Such thoughts should shake my soul; nor now
Where glory seals the hero's bier,
Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece around us see;
The Spartan borne upon his shield
Was not more free.

Awake! not Greece--she is awake--
Awake my spirit! think through whom
My life-blood tastes its parent lake,
And then strike home!

I tread reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood! Unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.

If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here, up to the field and give
Away thy breath.

Seek out--less often sought than found--
A soldier's grave--for thee the best
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.


The funeral Preparations and final Obsequies

The death of Lord Byron was felt by all Greece as a national
misfortune. From the moment it was known that fears were entertained
for his life, the progress of the disease was watched with the
deepest anxiety and sorrow. On Easter Sunday, the day on which he
expired, thousands of the inhabitants of Missolonghi had assembled on
the spacious plain on the outside of the city, according to an
ancient custom, to exchange the salutations of the morning; but on
this occasion it was remarked, that instead of the wonted
congratulations, "Christ is risen," they inquired first, "How is Lord

On the event being made known, the Provisional Government assembled,
and a proclamation, of which the following is a translation, was

"Provisional Government of Western Greece.

"The day of festivity and rejoicing is turned into one of sorrow and

"The Lord Noel Byron departed this life at eleven {354} o'clock last
night, after an illness of ten days. His death was caused by an
inflammatory fever. Such was the effect of his Lordship's illness on
the public mind, that all classes had forgotten their usual
recreations of Easter, even before the afflicting event was

"The loss of this illustrious individual is undoubtedly to be
deplored by all Greece; but it must be more especially a subject of
lamentation at Missolonghi, where his generosity has been so
conspicuously displayed, and of which he had become a citizen, with
the ulterior determination of participating in all the dangers of the

"Everybody is acquainted with the beneficent acts of his Lordship,
and none can cease to hail his name as that of a real benefactor.

"Until, therefore, the final determination of the national Government
be known, and by virtue of the powers with which it has been pleased
to invest me, I hereby decree:

"1st. To-morrow morning, at daylight, thirty-seven minute-guns shall
be fired from the grand battery, being the number which corresponds
with the age of the illustrious deceased.

"2nd. All the public offices, even to the tribunals, are to remain
closed for three successive days.

"3rd. All the shops, except those in which provisions or medicines
are sold, will also be shut; and it is strictly enjoined that every
species of public amusement and other demonstrations of festivity at
Easter may be suspended.

"4th. A general mourning will be observed for twenty-one days.

"5th. Prayers and a funeral service are to be offered up in all the


"Given at Missolonghi, this 19th of April, 1824."

The funeral oration was written and delivered on the occasion, by
Spiridion Tricoupi, and ordered by the government to be published.
No token of respect that reverence could suggest, or custom and
religion sanction, was omitted by the public authorities, nor by the

Lord Byron having omitted to give directions for the disposal of his
body, some difficulty arose about fixing the place of interment. But
after being embalmed it was sent, on the 2nd of May, to Zante, where
it was met by Lord Sidney Osborne, a relation of Lord Byron, by
marriage--the secretary of the senate at Corfu.

It was the wish of Lord Sidney Osborne, and others, that the
interment should be in Zante; but the English opposed the proposition
in the most decided manner. It was then suggested that it should be
conveyed to Athens, and deposited in the temple of Theseus, or in the
Parthenon--Ulysses Odysseus, the Governor of Athens, having sent an
express to Missolonghi, to solicit the remains for that city; but,
before it arrived, they were already in Zante, and a vessel engaged
to carry them to London, in the expectation that they would be
deposited in Westminster Abbey or St Paul's.

On the 25th of May, the Florida left Zante with the body, which
Colonel Stanhope accompanied; and on the 29th of June it reached the
Downs. After the ship was cleared from quarantine, Mr Hobhouse, with
his Lordship's solicitor, received it from Colonel Stanhope, and, by
their directions it was removed to the house of Sir E. Knatchbull, in
Westminster, where it lay in state several days.

The dignitaries of the Abbey and of St Paul's having, as it was said,
refused permission to deposit the remains in either of these great
national receptacles of the illustrious dead, it was determined that
they should be laid in the ancestral vault of the Byrons. The
funeral, instead of being public, was in consequence private, and
attended by only a few select friends to Hucknell, a small village
about two miles from Newstead Abbey, in the church of which the vault
is situated; there the coffin was deposited, in conformity to a wish
early expressed by the poet, that his dust might be mingled with his
mother's. Yet, unmeet and plain as the solemnity was in its
circumstances, a remarkable incident gave it interest and
distinction: as it passed along the streets of London, a sailor was
observed walking uncovered near the hearse, and on being asked what
he was doing there, replied that he had served Lord Byron in the
Levant, and had come to pay his last respects to his remains; a
simple but emphatic testimony to the sincerity of that regard which
his Lordship often inspired, and which with more steadiness might
always have commanded.

The coffin bears the following inscription:

APRIL 19, 1824.

Beside the coffin the urn is placed, the inscription on which is,

Within this urn are deposited the heart, brains, etc. of the deceased
Lord Byron.


The Character of Lord Byron

My endeavour, in the foregoing pages, has been to give a general view
of the intellectual character of Lord Byron. It did not accord with
the plan to enter minutely into the details of his private life,
which I suspect was not greatly different from that of any other
person of his rank, not distinguished for particular severity of
manners. In some respects his Lordship was, no doubt, peculiar. He
possessed a vivacity of sensibility not common, and talents of a very
extraordinary kind. He was also distinguished for superior personal
elegance, particularly in his bust. The style and character of his
head were universally admired; but perhaps the beauty of his
physiognomy has been more highly spoken of than it really merited.
Its chief grace consisted, when he was in a gay humour, of a
liveliness which gave a joyous meaning to every articulation of the
muscles and features: when he was less agreeably disposed, the
expression was morose to a very repulsive degree. It is, however,
unnecessary to describe his personal character here. I have already
said enough incidentally, to explain my full opinion of it. In the
mass, I do not think it was calculated to attract much permanent
affection or esteem. In the detail it was the reverse: few men
possessed more companionable qualities than Lord Byron did
occasionally; and seen at intervals in those felicitous moments, I
imagine it would have been difficult to have said, that a more
interesting companion had been previously met with. But he was not
always in that fascinating state of pleasantry: he was as often
otherwise; and no two individuals could be more distinct from each
other than Byron in his gaiety and in his misanthropy. This
antithesis was the great cause of that diversity of opinion
concerning him, which has so much divided his friends and
adversaries. Of his character as a poet there can be no difference
of opinion, but only a difference in the degree of admiration.

Excellence in talent, as in every other thing, is comparative; but
the universal republic of letters will acknowledge, that in energy of
expression and liveliness of imagery Byron had no equal in his own
time. Doubts, indeed, may be entertained, if in these high qualities
even Shakspeare himself was his superior.

I am not disposed to think with many of those who rank the genius of
Byron almost as supreme, that he has shown less skill in the
construction of his plots, and the development of his tales, than
might have been expected from one so splendidly endowed; for it has
ever appeared to me that he has accomplished in them everything he
proposed to attain, and that in this consists one of his great
merits. His mind, fervid and impassioned, was in all his
compositions, except Don Juan, eagerly fixed on the catastrophe. He
ever held the goal full in view, and drove to it in the most
immediate manner. By this straightforward simplicity all the
interest which intricacy excites was of necessity disregarded. He is
therefore not treated justly when it is supposed that he might have
done better had he shown more art: the wonder is, that he should
have produced such magnificent effects with so little. He could not
have made the satiated and meditative Harold so darkling and
excursive, so lone, "aweary," and misanthropical, had he treated him
as the hero of a scholastic epic. The might of the poet in such
creations lay in the riches of his diction and in the felicity with
which he described feelings in relation to the aspect of scenes amid
the reminiscences with which the scenes themselves were associated.

If in language and plan he be so excellent, it may be asked why
should he not be honoured with that pre-eminent niche in the temple
which so many in the world have by suffrage assigned to him? Simply
because, with all the life and beauty of his style, the vigour and
truth of his descriptions, the boldness of his conceptions, and the
reach of his vision in the dark abysses of passion, Lord Byron was
but imperfectly acquainted with human nature. He looked but on the
outside of man. No characteristic action distinguishes one of his
heroes from another, nor is there much dissimilarity in their
sentiments; they have no individuality; they stalk and pass in mist
and gloom, grim, ghastly, and portentous, mysterious shadows,
entities of the twilight, weird things like the sceptred effigies of
the unborn issue of Banquo.

Combined with vast power, Lord Byron possessed, beyond all question,
the greatest degree of originality of any poet of this age. In this
rare quality he has no parallel in any age. All other poets and
inventive authors are measured in their excellence by the accuracy
with which they fit sentiments appropriate not only to the characters
they create, but to the situations in which they place them: the
works of Lord Byron display the opposite to this, and with the most
extraordinary splendour. He endows his creations with his own
qualities; he finds in the situations in which he places them only
opportunities to express what he has himself felt or suffered; and
yet he mixes so much probability in the circumstances, that they are
always eloquently proper. He does everything, as it were, the
reverse of other poets; in the air and sea, which have been in all
times the emblems of change and the similitudes of inconstancy, he
has discovered the very principles of permanency. The ocean in his
view, not by its vastness, its unfathomable depths, and its limitless
extent, becomes an image of deity, by its unchangeable character!

The variety of his productions present a prodigious display of power.
In his short career he has entitled himself to be ranked in the first
class of the British poets for quantity alone. By Childe Harold, and
his other poems of the same mood, he has extended the scope of
feeling, made us acquainted with new trains of association, awakened
sympathies which few suspected themselves of possessing; and he has
laid open darker recesses in the bosom than were previously supposed
to exist. The deep and dreadful caverns of remorse had long been
explored but he was the first to visit the bottomless pit of satiety.

The delineation of that Promethean fortitude which defied conscience,
as he has shown it in Manfred, is his greatest achievement. The
terrific fables of Marlowe and of Goethe, in their respective
versions of the legend of Faustus, had disclosed the utmost writhings
which remorse in the fiercest of its torments can express; but what
are those Laocoon agonies to the sublime serenity of Manfred. In the
power, the originality, and the genius combined, of that unexampled
performance, Lord Byron has placed himself on an equality with
Milton. The Satan of the Paradise Lost is animated by motives, and
dignified by an eternal enterprise. He hath purposes of infinite
prospect to perform, and an immeasurable ambition to satisfy.
Manfred hath neither purpose nor ambition, nor any desire that seeks
gratification. He hath done a deed which severs him from hope, as
everlastingly as the apostacy with the angels has done Satan. He
acknowledges no contrition to bespeak commiseration, he complains of
no wrong to justify revenge, for he feels none; he despises sympathy,
and almost glories in his perdition.

The creation of such a character is in the sublimest degree of
originality; to give it appropriate thoughts and feelings required
powers worthy of the conception; and to make it susceptible of being
contemplated as within the scope and range of human sympathy, places
Byron above all his contemporaries and antecedents. Milton has
described in Satan the greatest of human passions, supernatural
attributes, directed to immortal intents, and stung with
inextinguishable revenge; but Satan is only a dilatation of man.
Manfred is loftier, and worse than Satan; he has conquered
punishment, having within himself a greater than hell can inflict.
There is a fearful mystery in this conception; it is only by solemnly
questioning the spirits that lurk within the dark metaphors in which
Manfred expresses himself, that the hideous secrets of the character
can be conjectured.

But although in intellectual power, and in creative originality,
Byron is entitled to stand on the highest peak of the mountain, his
verse is often so harsh, and his language so obscure, that in the
power of delighting he is only a poet of the second class. He had
all the talent and the means requisite to embody his conceptions in a
manner worthy of their might and majesty; his treasury was rich in
everything rare and beautiful for illustration, but he possessed not
the instinct requisite to guide him in the selection of the things
necessary to the inspiration of delight:--he could give his statue
life and beauty, and warmth, and motion, and eloquence, but not a
tuneful voice.

Some curious metaphysicians, in their subtle criticism, have said
that Don Juan was but the bright side of Childe Harold, and that all
its most brilliant imagery was similar to that of which the dark and
the shadows were delineated in his other works. It may be so. And,
without question, a great similarity runs through everything that has
come from the poet's pen; but it is a family resemblance, the progeny
are all like one another; but where are those who are like them? I
know of no author in prose or rhyme, in the English language, with
whom Byron can be compared. Imitators of his manner there will be
often and many, but he will ever remain one of the few whom the world
acknowledges are alike supreme, and yet unlike each other--epochal
characters, who mark extraordinary periods in history.

Raphael is the only man of pre-eminence whose career can be compared
with that of Byron; at an age when the genius of most men is but in
the dawning, they had both attained their meridian of glory, and they
both died so early, that it may be said they were lent to the world
only to show the height to which the mind may ascend when time shall
be allowed to accomplish the full cultivations of such extraordinary


{156} I.e., against.

{241} The sacrifice of Antinous by the emperor Adrian is supposed to
have been a sacrifice of that kind. Dion Cassius says, that Adrian,
who had applied himself to the study of magic, being deceived by the
principles of that black Egyptian art into a belief that he would be
rendered immortal by a voluntary human sacrifice to the infernal
gods, accepted the offer which Antinous made of himself.

I have somewhere met with a commentary on this to the following

The Christian religion, in the time of Adrian, was rapidly spreading
throughout the empire, and the doctrine of gaining eternal life by
the expiatory offering was openly preached. The Egyptian priests,
who pretended to be in possession of all knowledge, affected to be
acquainted with this mystery also. The emperor was, by his taste and
his vices, attached to the old religion; but he trembled at the
truths disclosed by the revelation; and in this state of
apprehension, his thirst of knowledge and his fears led him to
consult the priests of Osiris and Isis; and they impressed him with a
notion that the infernal deities would be appeased by the sacrifice
of a human being dear to him, and who loved him so entirely as to lay
down his life for him. Antinous, moved by the anxiety of his
imperial master, when all others had refused, consented to sacrifice
himself; and it was for this devotion that Adrian caused his memory
to be hallowed with religious rites.

{255} Mr Hobhouse has assured me that this information is not
correct. "I happen," says he, "to know that Lord Byron offered to
give the Guiccioli a sum of money outright, or to leave it to her by
his will. I also happen to know that the lady would not hear of any
such present or provision; for I have a letter in which Lord Byron
extols her disinterestedness, and mentions that he has met with a
similar refusal from another female. As to the being in destitute
circumstances, I cannot believe it; for Count Gamba, her brother,
whom I knew very well after Lord Byron's death, never made any
complaint or mention of such a fact: add to which, I know a
maintenance was provided for her by her husband, in consequence of a
law process, before the death of Lord Byron."

{291a} The calenture.

{291b} The Swiss air.

{319} The doctor evidently makes a mistake in confounding Sir
William Hamilton with Sir William Drummond.

{354} Fletcher's narrative implies at six that evening, the 19th
April, 1824.

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