Page images
PDF
EPUB

painful retrospect; and humanize as I may, and as I trust I do, upon him, as well as everything else—and certain, as I am, that although I look upon this or that man as more or less pleasant and admirable, I partake of none of the ordinary notions of merit and demerit with regard to any one'-(what means this prate ?) • I could not conceal from myself, on looking over the MS. that in renewing my intercourse with him in imagination, I had involuntarily felt a re-access of the spleen and indignation which I experienced as a man who thought himself ill-treated.'- Preface, p. V.

Now the questions which we feel ourselves bound to ask of Mr. Hunt, are simply these :-Did the personal intercourse between him and Lord Byron terminate in an avowal on his (Mr. Hunt's) part of hostility? And, Would he have written and published about Lord Byron in the tone and temper of this work had Lord Byron been alive? Except when vanity more egregious than ever perverted a human being's thoughts and feelings interferes, we give Mr. Hunt some credit for fairness—and if he can answer these two questions in the affirmative, we frankly admit that we shall think more charitably, by a shade or two, of this performance than, in the present state of our information, we are able to do.

One thing is certain: namely, that Mr. Hunt's brother continued to be Lord Byron's publisher to the last. It is equally certain, that we have now before us a voluminous collection of Lord Byron's private correspondence, addressed, for the most part, to persons whom Mr. Hunt, however ridiculously, describes as his own personal enemies—letters written before, during, and after the period of Mr. Hunt's intercourse with Lord Byron in Italy, and although there occur many jokes upon Mr. Hunt, many ludicrous and quizzical notices of him, yet we have sought in vain for a single passage indicative of spleen or resentment of any shape or degree. On the contrary, he always upholds Mr. Hunt, as a mau able, honest, and well-intentioned, and therefore, in spite of all his absurdities, entitled to a certain measure of respect as well as kindness. The language is uniformly kind. We shall illustrate what we have said by a few extracts. Mr. Hunt will perceive that Lord Byron's account of his connexion with The Liberal is rather different from that given in the book on our table. Mr. Hunt describes himself as pressed by Lord Byron into the undertaking of that hapless magazine: Lord Byron, on the contrary, represents himself as urged to the service by the Messrs. Hunt themselves.

Genoa, Oct. 9th, 1822.-I am afraid the Journal is a bad business, and won't do, but in it I am sacrificing myself for others. I can have no advantage in it. I believe the brothers Hunts to be honest men; I am sure that they are por ones; they have not a Nap. They pressed me to engage in this work, and in an evil hour I consented: still I shall not repent if I can do them the least service. I have done all I can for Leigh Hunt since he came here, but it is almost useless ; his wife is ill; his six children not very tractable; and in affairs of this world he himself is a perfect child. The death of Shelley left them totally aground ; and I could not see them in such a state without using the common feelings of humanity, and what means were in my power to set them afloat again.'

Again-Mr. Hunt represents Lord Byron as dropping his connexion with The Liberal partly because his friends at home (Messrs. Moore, Hobhouse, Murray, &c.) told him, it was a discreditable one, and partly because the business did not turn out lucrative.

It is a mistake to suppose, that he was not mainly influenced by the expectation of profit. He expected very large returns from The Liberal. Readers in these days need not be told, that periodical works which have a large sale are a mine of wealth : Lord Byron had calculated that matter well.”—Lord Byron and his Contemporaries, p. 50.

• The failure of the large profits—the non-appearance of the golden visions he had looked for, of the Edinburgh or Quarterly returns-of the solid and splendid proofs of this new country, which he should conquer in the regions of notoriety, to the dazzling of all men's eyes and his own-this it was—this was the bitter disappointment which made him determine to give way.'-Ibid. p. 51.

Now let us hear Lord Byron himself :

Genoa, göre 18th, 1822.—They will, of course, attribute motives of all kinds; but I shall not abandon a man like Hunt because he is unfortunate. Why, I could have no pecuniary motives, and, least of all, in connexion with Hunt.'

Genoa, 10bre 25th, 1822.—Now do you see what you, and your friends do by your injudicious rudeness? actually cement a sort of connexion which you strove to prevent, and which, had the Hunts prospered, would not, in all probability, have continued. As it is, I will not quit them in their adversity, though it should cost me character, fame, money, and the usual et cetera My original motives I already explained; (in the letter which you thought proper to show ;) they are the

ue ones, and I abide by th as I tell you, and I told Leigh Hunt, when he questioned me on the subject of that letter. violently hurt, and never will forgive me at the bottom; but I cannot help that. I never meant to make a parade of it; but if he chose to question me, I could only answer the plain truth, and I confess, I did not see any thing in the letter to hurt him, unless I said he was bore," which I don't remember. Had this Journal gone on well, and I could have aided to make it better for them, I should then have left them after a safe pilotage off a lee shore to make a prosperous voyage by themselves. As it is, I can't, and would not if I could, leave them among the breakers. As to any community of feeling, thought, or opinion, between Leigh Hunt and me, there is little or none. We

meet

He was

а.

meet rarely, hardly ever; but I think him a good principled and able man, and must do as I would be done by. I do not know what world he has lived in ; but I have lived in three or four, but none of them like his Keats-and-Kangaroo terra incognita. Alas! poor Shelley ! how we would have laughed had he lived! and how we used to laugh now and then at various things which are grave in the suburbs.'

These extracts, as far as mere matters of fact are concerned, we beg leave to present without comment. It will be for Mr. Hunt to offer any explanation he pleases as to the apparent contradictions in the two stories; and we willingly leave the task of estimating the counter-statements in their ultimate shapes, to the accomplished person whose Memoirs of Lord Byron are announced, and anxiously expected by the world. Neither shall we at all enter into Mr. Hunt's details about Lord Byron's treatment of himself personally; they are very painful to read ; and Mr. Hunt has obviously felt something of the humiliation of putting them on paper. If Lord Byron's bounty was haughtily, coldly, and grudgingly bestowed, it was not likely to impress the mind of the receiver with very genial feelings; and we need not tell Mr. Hunt, since he himself betrays a full sense of the circumstance, that, although gratitude might be out of the question, it was possible to be silent.

One word more, and we have done : Mr. Hunt in his preface says,

My account of Lord Byron is never coloured with a shadow of untruth: nor have I noticed a great deal that I should have done, had I been in the least vindictive, which is a vice I disclaim. If I knew any two things in the world, and have any two good qualities to set off against many defects, it is, that I am not vindictive, and that I speak the truth. I have not told all, for I had no right to do so. In the present case, also, it would be INHUMANITY both to THE DEAD and to THE LIVING.'— Preface, p. V.

Now a question suggests itself to us, which we are sure Mr. Hunt, with the high feelings thus entertained and expressed by him, will thank us for asking. It is well known, that Lord Byron took leave finally of Mr. Leigh Hunt by letter. The letter in question we never saw, but we have conversed with those who read it; and from their account of its contents—they describe it as a document of considerable length, and as containing a full narrative of the whole circumstances under which Lord Byron and Mr. Hunt met and parted, according to his lordship's view of the case—we confess we have been rather surprized to find it altogether omitted in Mr. Leigh Hunt's quarto. Mr. Hunt prints very carefully various letters, in which Lord Byron treats of matters nowise bearing on the differences which occurred between

these

these two distinguished contemporaries: and our question is, was it from humanity to the dead, or from humanity to the living, that Mr. Leigh Hunt judged it proper to omit in this work the apparently rather important letter to which we refer? If Mr. Hunt has had the misfortune to mislay the document, and sought in vain for it amongst his collections, he ought, we rather think, to have stated that fact, and stated also, in so far as his

memory might serve him, his impression of the character and tendency of this valedictory epistle. But in case he has both lost the document and totally forgotten what it contained, we are happy in having this opportunity of informing him, that a copy of it exists in very safe keeping.

Leaving, then, the merits of this personal quarrel to be settled when all the documents on both sides shall have been produced, we proceed to the only question which the world will consider as at all important, namely, in how far, the existence of spleen and resentment being admitted, we ought to take Mr. Hunt's word as to the character in general of his benefactor. We confess that our author is, of all men that ever had any considerable intercourse with Lord Byron, the one whose testimony on this head we should, à priori, have been inclined to receive with the greatest suspicion. Knowing nothing of Mr. Hunt, except from his writings, we should have taken it as the merest matter of course, that when these two men came together the one would amuse himself with quizzing and mystifying the other in every possible method. The author of Sardanapalus and the author of Rimini—the author of Don Juan and the author of Foliage-Quevedo Redivivus and the author of the Feast of the Poets—it is impossible to think for a moment of such a juxtaposition, without acquiring the true point of view from which to contemplate an estimate of Lord Byron's character and manners from the pen of Mr. Leigh Hunt. For example :-Mr. Hunt tells his readers that Lord Byron threw him back his Spenser, saying he could make nothing of him': but whether are we to believe that the noble lord, sickened (as all Mr. Hunt's readers have been for twenty years past) with Mr. Hunt's endless and meaningless chatter about the half dozen poets, good, bad, and indifferent, whom he patronizes, was willing to annoy Mr. Hunt by the cavalier treatment of one of his principal protegés, or that the author of one of the noblest poems that have been written in the Spenserian stanza was both ignorant of the Faery Queen, and incapable of comprehending anything of its merits? No man who knew anything of Lord Byron can hesitate for a moment about the answer. Lord Byron, we have no sort of doubt, indulged his passion for mystifying, at the expense of this gentleman, to an improper and unjustifiable VOL. XXXVII. NO, LXXIV.

2 E

extent.

extent. His delight was at all times in the study of man. "Since I remember, (says he in one of his letters,) I have made it my business to trace every feeling, every look, to its root.' What a study must the author of these Memoirs, staring about him at Pisa with his Paddington optics, have presented to this practised dissector! and it seems to us extremely probable that the practitioner used both scalpel and probe with all the coolness of another Majendie. Hence, and hence only, we are persuaded, the egregious nonsense with which Lord Byron appears to have crammed habitually the most uninitiated of isteners. Hence, most assuredly, his sneers at Shakspeare, MilIton, and Spenser; and hence, it is not improbable, his applauses of Rimini, and his ' respectful mention of Mr. Keats.'

We believe we could not illustrate our view of the whole of this business more effectually than by simply presenting a few extracts from Lord Byron's private letters in which this Mr. Keats is alluded to. Our readers have probably forgotten all about Endymion, a poem,' and the other works of this young man, the ail but universal roar of laughter with which they were received some ten or twelve years ago, and the ridiculous story (which Mr. Hunt denies) of the author's death being caused by the reviewers. Mr. Hunt was the great patron, the 'guide, philosopher, and friend' of Mr. Keats ; it was he who first puffed the youth into notice in his newspaper. The youth returned the compliment in sonnets and canzonets, and presented his patron with a lock of Milton's hair, and wrote a poem on the occasion. In the volume now before us, Mr. Keats figures as one of the contemporaries of Lord Byron ;' and Mr. Hunt tells us, that one of his poems' was suggested to him by a delightful summer-day, as he stood beside the gate that leads from the Battery on Hampstead Heath' (p. 248); that another was occasioned by his sleeping in one of the cottages in the Vale of Health, the first one that fronts the valley, beginning from the same quarter' (ibid.); and, above all, that it was in the beautiful lane running from the road, between Hampstead and Highgate, that meeting me (i. e. Mr. Hunt) one day, he (i. e. Mr. Keats) first gave me (i. e. Mr. Hunt) the volume (i. e. Endymion). In short, next to Mr. Hunt himself, there can be no question that Mr. Keats will be considered by posterity as the greatest poet of these times.

Hear Lord Byron :

Ravenna, gbre 12, 1820.Pray send me no more poetry but what is rare, and decidedly good ; there is such a trash of Keats and the like upon my tables, that I am ashamed to look at them.' Ravenna, Nov. 18, 1820.-Of the praises (in the Edinburgh Re

« PreviousContinue »