to his prowess in swimming, to me, except in the
past tense. He was ill, and kept his bed for two
To return to his drinking propensities, after this
digression about his gymnastic prowess : I must
say, that of all his vauntings, it was, luckily for
him, the emptiest ā that is, after he left England
and his boon companions, as I know nothing of
what he did there. From all that I heard or wit-
nessed of his habits abroad, he was and had been
exceedingly abstemious in eating and drinking.
When alone, he drank a glass or two of small claret
or hock, and when utterly exhausted at night a
single glass of grog ; which when I mixed it for him
I lowered to what sailors call " water bewitched,"
and he never made any remark. I once, to try
him, omitted the alcohol ; he then said, " Tre, have
46 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE
you not forgotten the creature comfort ? " I then put
in two spoonfuls, and he was satisfied. This does
not look like an habitual toper. His English ac-
quaintances in Italy were, he said in derision, all
milksops. On the rare occasions of any of his
former friends visiting him, he would urge them to
have a carouse with him, but they had grown wiser.
He used to say that little Tommy Moore was the
only man he then knew who stuck to the bottle and
put him on his mettle, adding, " But he is a native
of the damp isle, where men subsist by suction."
Byron had not damaged his body by strong
drinks, but his terror of getting fat was so great
that he reduced his diet to the point of absolute
starvation. He was of that soft, lymphatic tempe-
rament which it is almost impossible to keep
within a moderate compass, particularly as in
his case his lameness prevented his taking exercise.
When he added to his weight, even standing was
painful, so he resolved to keep down to eleven
stone, or shoot himself. He said everything he
swallowed was instantly converted into tallow and
deposited on his ribs.
He was the only human being I ever met with
LAST DAYS OF SHELLEY AND BYROK 47
who had sufficient self-restraint and resolution
to resist this proneness to fatten : he did so ; and
at Genoa, where he was last weighed, he was
ten stone and nine pounds, and looked much
less. This was not from vanity ahout his per-
sonal appearance, hut from a hetter motive; and
as, like Justice Greedy, he was always hungry, his
merit was the greater. Occasionally he relaxed
his vigilance, when he swelled apace.
I rememher one of his old friends saying,
" Byron, how well you are looking ! " If he had
stopped there it had heen well, but when he
added, " You are getting fat," Byron's brow
reddened, and his eyes flashed ā " Do you call
getting fat looking well, as if I were a hog ? "
and, turning to me, he muttered, " The beast, I
can hardly keep my hands off him." The man who
thus offended him was the husband of the lady
addressed as ' Genevra,' and the original of his
' Zuleika,' in the ' Bride of Abydos.' I don't think
he had much appetite for his dinner that day, or
for many days, and never forgave the man who, so
far from wishing to offend, intended to pay him a
48 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE
Byron said he had tried all sorts of experiments
to stay his hunger, without adding to his hulk.
"I swelled," he said, "at one time to four-
teen stone, so I clapped the muzzle on my jaws,
and, hke the hyhernating animals, consumed my
He would exist on biscuits and soda-water for
days together, then, to allay the eternal hunger
gnawing at his vitals, he would make up a horrid
mess of cold potatoes, rice, fish, or greens, deluged
in vinegar, and gobble it up like a famished dog.
On either of these unsavoury dishes, with a
biscuit and a glass or two of Ehine wine, he cared
not how sour, ha called feasting sumptuously.
Upon my observing he might as well have fresh
fish and vegetables, instead of stale, he laughed
" I have an advantage over you, I have no palate ;
one thing is as good as another to me."
"Nothing," I said, "disagrees with the natural
man, he fasts and gorges, his nerves and brains don't
bother him ; but if you wish to live ? "
" Who wants to live ? " he replied, " not I. The
Byrons are a short-lived race on both sides.
LAST DAYS OF SHELLEY AND BYROK 49
father and mother : longevity is hereditary: I am
nearly at the end of my tether. I don't care for
death a d ā n : it is her sting ! I can't bear pain."
His habits and want of exercise damaged him,
not drink. It must be borne in mind, moreover,
that his brain was always working at high pressure.
The consequences resulting from his way of life
were low or intermittent fevers; these last had
fastened on him in his early travels in the
Levant; and there is this peculiarity in malaria
fevers, that if you have once had them, you
are ever after peculiarly susceptible to a renewal
of their attacks if within their reach, and Byron
was hardly ever out of it. Venice and Kavenna
are belted in with swamps, and fevers are rife in the
autumn. By starving his body Byron kept his
brains clear ; no man had brighter eyes or a clearer
voice ; and his resolute bearing and prompt replies,
when excited, gave to his body an appearance of
muscular power that imposed on strangers. I
never doubted, for he was indifferent to life, and
prouder than Lucifer, that if he had drawn his
sword in Greece, or elsewhere, he would have
thrown away the scabbard.
50 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE
thou, wlio plumed with strong desire
Would' st float above the earth, beware !
A shadow tracks thy flight of fire ā
Night is coming !
The Two Spirits. ā Shelley.
In the annals of authors I cannot find one who
wrote under so many discouragements as Shelley ;
for even Bunyan's dungeon walls echoed the cheers
of hosts of zealous disciples on the outside, whereas
Shelley could number his readers on his fingers.
He said, " I can only print my writings by stinting
myself in food ! " Published, or sold openly, they
The utter loneliness in which he was con-
demned to pass the largest portion of his life
would have paralysed any brains less subtilised
by genius than his were. Yet he was social and
cheerful, and, although frugal himself, most liberal
LAST DAYS OF SHELLEY AND BYRON. 51
to others, while to serve a friend he was ever ready
to make any sacrifice. It was, perhaps, fortunate
he was known to so few, for those few kept him
close shorn. He went to Eavenna in 1821 on
Byron's business, and, writing to his wife, makes
this comment on the Pilgrim's asking him to
execute a delicate commission : ā " But it seems
destined that I am always to have some active
part in the affairs of everybody whom I approach."
And so he had.
Shelley, in his elegy on the death of Keats, gives
this picture of himself:
" 'Midst others of less note, came one frail Form,
A phantom amongst men ; companionless
As the last cloud of an expiring storm,
Whose thunder is its knell ; he, as I guess,
Had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness,
Actseon-like, and now he fled astray
With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness,
And his own thoughts, along that rugged way,
Pursued, like raging hounds, their father and their prey."
Every day I passed some hours with Byron, and
very often my evenings with Shelley and Williams,
so that when my memory summons one of them to
appear, the others are sure to follow in his wake.
52 EECOLLECTIONS OF THE
If Byron's reckless frankness and apparent cordiality
warmed your feelings, his sensitiveness, irritability,
and the perverseness of his temper, cooled them. I
was not then thirty, and the exigences of my now
full-blown vanities were unsated, and my credulity
unexhausted. I believed in many things then,
and believe in some now; I could not sympathise
with Byron, who believed in nothing.
"As for love, friendship, and your entusamusyy'
said he, " they must run their course. If you are
not hanged or drowned before you are forty, you
will wonder at all the foolish things they have
made you. say and do, ā as I do now."
"I will go over to the Shelleys," I answered,
" and hear their opinions on the subject."
" Ay, the Snake has fascinated you ; I am for
making a man of the world of you ; they will
mould you into a Frankenstein monster : so good-
night ! "
Goethe's Mephistopheles calls the serpent that
tempted Eve, " My Aunt ā the renowned snake ; "
and as Shelley translated and repeated passages
of 'Faust' ā to, as he said, impregnate Byron's
brain, ā when he came to that passage, " My Aunt,
LAST DAYS OP SHELLEY AND BYRON. 58
the renowned snake," Byron said, " Then you
are her nephew," and henceforth he often called
Shelley, the Snake ; his bright eyes, slim figure, and
noiseless movements, strengthened, if it did not
suggest, the comparison. Byron was the real snake
ā a dangerous mischief-maker ; his wit or humour
might force a grim smile, or hollow laugh, from the
standers by, but they savoured more of pain than
playfulness, and made you dissatisfied with yourself
and him. When I left his gloomy hall, and the
echoes of the heavy iron-plated door died away, I
could hardly refrain from shouting with joy as
I hurried along the broad-flagged terrace which
overhangs the pleasant river, cheered on my course
by the cloudless sky, soft air, and fading light,
which close an Italian day.
After a hasty dinner at my albergo, I hastened
along the Arno to the hospitable and cheerful abode
of the Shelleys. There I found those sympathies
and sentiments which the Pilgrim denounced as
illusions believed in as the only realities.
Shelley's mental activity was infectious ; he kept
your brain in constant action. Its efiect on his
comrade was very striking. Williams gave up all
54 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE
his accustomed sports for books, and the bettering
of his mind ; he had excellent natural ability ;
and the Poet delighted to see the seeds he had
sown, germinating. Shelley said he was the sparrow
educating the young of the cuckoo. After a pro-
tracted labour, Ned was delivered of a five-act play.
Shelley was sanguine that his pupil would succeed
as a dramatic writer. One morning I was in
Mrs. Williams's drawing-room, by appointment, to
hear Ned read an act of his drama. I sat with an
aspect as caustic as a critic who was to decide his
fate. Whilst thus intent Shelley stood before us
with a most woeful expression.
Mrs. Williams started up, exclaiming, "What's
the matter, Percy ? "
" Mary has threatened me."
" Threatened you with what ? "
He looked mysterious and too agitated to reply.
Mrs. Williams repeated, " With what ? to box
your ears ? "
" Oh, much worse than that ; Mary says she will
have a party ; there are English singers here, the
Sinclairs, and she will ask them, and everyone she
or you know ā oh, the horror ! "
LAST DAYS OF SHELLEY AND BYRON.
We all burst into a laugh except his friend Ned.
" It will kiU me."
" Music, kill you ! " said Mrs. Williams. " Why,
you have told me, you flatterer, that you loved
" So I do. It's the company terrifies me. For
pity go to Mary and intercede for me ; I will submit
to any other species of torture than that of being
bored to death by idle ladies and gentlemen."
After various devices it was resolved that Ned
Williams should wait upon the lady, ā he being
gifted with a silvery tongue, and sympathising with
the Poet in his dislike of fine ladies, ā and see what
he could do to avert the threatened invasion of the
Poet's solitude. Meanwhile, Shelley remained in a
state of restless ecstacy ; he could not even read or
sit. Ned returned with a grave face ; the Poet stood as
a criminal stands at the bar, whilst the solemn arbi-
trator of his fate decides it. " The lady," commenced
Ned, has " set her heart on having a party, and will
not be baulked ; " but, seeing the Poet's despair, he
added, " It is to be limited to those here assembled,
and some of Count Gamba's family ; and instead of
a musical feast ā as we have no souls ā we are to
56 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE
have a dinner." The Poet hopped off, rejoicing,
making a noise I should have thought whistling,
but that he was ignorant of that accomplishment.
I have seen Shelley and Byron in society, and
the contrast was as marked as their characters. The
former, not thinking of himself, was as much at ease
as in his own home, omitting no occasion of obliging
those whom he came in contact with, readily con-
versing with all or any who addressed him, irrespec-
tive of age or rank, dress or address. To the first
party I went with Byron, as we were on our road,
" It's so long since I have been in English
society, you must tell me what are their present
customs. Does rank lead the way, or does the am-
bassadress pair us off into the dining-room ? Do
they ask people to wine ? Do we exit with the
women, or stick to our claret ? "
On arriving, he was flushed, fussy, embarrassed,
over ceremonious, and ill at ease, evidently thinking
a great deal of himself and very little of others.
He had learnt his manners, as I have said, during
the Eegency, when society was more exclusive than
even now, and consequently more vulgar. ^ ;
LAST DAYS OF SHELLEY AND BYROK 57
To know an author, personally, is too often but
to destroy the illusion created by his works ; if
you withdraw the veil of your idol's sanctuary, and
see him in his night-cap, you discover a querulous
old crone, a sour pedant, a supercilious coxcomb,
a servile tuft-hunter, a saucy snob, or, at best,
an ordinary mortal. Instead of the high-minded
seeker after truth and abstract knowledge, with
a nature too refined to bear the vulgarities of life,
as we had imagined, we find him full of egotism
and vanity, and eternally fretting and fuming about
trifles. As a general rule,- therefore, it is wise to
avoid writers whose works amuse or delight you, for
when you see them they will delight you no more.
Shelley was a grand exception to this rule. To
form a just idea of his poetry, you should have
witnessed his daily life ; his words and actions best
illustrated his writings. If his glorious conception
of Gods and men constituted an atheist, I am afraid
all that listened were little better. Sometimes he
would run through a great work on science, con-
dense the author's laboured exposition, and by
substituting simple words for the jargon of the
schools, make the most abstruse subject trans-
58 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE
parent. The cynic Byron acknowledged him to be
the best and ablest man he had ever known. The
truth was, Shelley loved everything better than
himself. Self-preservation is, they say, the first law
of nature, with him it was the last; and the only
pain he ever gave his friends arose from the utter
indifference with which he treated everything con-
cerning himself. I was bathing one day in a deep
pool in the Arno, and astonished the Poet by per-
forming a series of aquatic gymnastics, which I had
learnt from the natives of the South Seas. On
my coming out, whilst dressing, Shelley said,
" Why can't I swim, it seems so very easy ^ "
I answered, " Because you think you can't. If
you determine, you will ; take a header off this bank,
and when you rise turn on your back, you will
float like a duck; but you must reverse the arch
in your spine, for it's now bent the wrong way.*'
He doffed his jacket and trowsers, kicked off his
shoes and socks, and plunged in ; and there he lay
stretched out on the bottom like a conger eel, not
making the least effort or struggle to save himself.
He would have been drowned if I had not instantly
LAST DAYS OF SHELLEY AND BYRON. 59
fished him out. When he recovered his breath, he
" I always find the bottom of the well, and they
say Truth lies there. In another minute I should
have found it, and you would have found an empty
shell. It is an easy way of getting rid of the body."
" What would Mrs. SheUey have said to me if I
had gone back with your empty cage ? "
"Don't tell Mary ā not a word!" he rejoined,
and then continued, " It's a great temptation ; in
another minute I might have been in another
1 .ā /;'ā ā -.. ^.. ,;,'; .^ ^ ,ā ^ .'ā - / ^''\i^ tUt-i^o
planet. ' -. . ,.
" But as you always find the bottom," I observed, *' *<Ā«^
"you might have sunk 'deeper than did ever
plummet sound.' "
" I am quite easy on that subject," said the Bard.
" Death is the veil, which those who live call life :
they sleep, and it is lifted. Intelligence should
be imperishable ; the art of printing has made it
so in this planet."
"Do you believe in the immortality of the
He continued, " Certainly not ; how can I ? We
know nothing ; we have no evidence ; we cannot
60 EECOLLECTIONS OF THE
express our inmost thoughts. They are incompre-
hensible even to ourselves."
" Why," I asked, " do you call yourself an
atheist ? it annihilates you in this world."
" It is a word of abuse to stop discussion, a
painted devil to frighten the foolish, a threat to
intimidate the wise and good. I used it to express
my abhorrence of superstition ; I took up the word,
as a knight took up a gauntlet, in defiance of
injustice. The delusions of Christianity are fatal
to genius and originality : they limit thought."
Shelley's thirst for knowledge was unquenchable.
He set to work on a book, or a pyramid of books ;
his eyes glistening with an energy as fierce as that of
the most sordid gold-digger who works at a rock of
quartz, crushing his way through all impediments,
no grain of the pure ore escaping his eager scrutiny.
I called on liim one morning at ten, he was in his
study with a German folio open, resting on the
broad marble mantel-piece, over an old-fashioned
fire-place^ and with a dictionary in his hand. He
always read standing if possible. He had promised
over night to go with me, but now begged me to let
him off. I then rode to Leghorn, eleven or twelve
LAST DAYS OF SHELLEY AND BYRON. 61
miles distant, and passed the day there ; on return-
ing at six in the evening to dine with Mrs. Shelley
and the Williams's, as I had engaged to do, I went
into the Poet's room and found him exactly in the
position in which I had left him in the morning,
but looking pale and exhausted.
" WeU," I said, " have you found it ? "
Shutting the book and going to the window, he
replied, " No, I have lost it :" with a deep sigh : " * I
have lost a day.' "
*' Cheer up, my lad, and come to dinner."
Putting his long fingers through his masses of
wild tangled hair, he answered faintly, " You go,
I have dined ā late eating don't do for me."
*' What is this ? " I asked as I was going out of
the room, pointing to one of his bookshelves with
a plate containing bread and cold meat on it.
"That," ā colouring, ā "why that must be my
dinner. It's very foolish; I thought I had
Saying I was determined that he should for once
have a regular meal, I lugged him into the dining-
room, but he brought a book with him and read
more than he ate. He seldom ate at stated periods,
62 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE
but only when hungry ā and then like the birds, if
he saw something edible lying about, ā but the
cupboards of literary ladies are like Mother Hub-
bard's, bare. His drink was water, or tea if he
could get it, bread was literally his staff of life ;
other things he thought superfluous. An Italian
who knew his way of life, not believing it possible
that any human being would live as Shelley did,
unless compelled by poverty, was astonished when
he was told the amount of his income, and thought
he was defrauded or grossly ignorant of the value
of money. He, therefore, made a proposition which
much amused the Poet, that he, the friendly Italian,
would undertake for ten thousand crowns a-year to
keep Shelley like a grand Seigneur, to provide his
table with luxuries, his house with attendants, a
carriage and opera box for my lady, besides adorn-
ing his person after the most approved Parisian
style. Mrs. Shelley's toilette was not included
in the wily Italian's estimates. The fact was,
Shelley stinted himself to bare necessaries, and
then often lavished the money, saved by unpre-
cedented self-denial, on selfish fellows who denied
themselves nothing ; such as the great philosopher
LAST DAYS OF SHELLEY AND BYRON. 63
had in his eye, when he said, "It is the nature
of extreme self -lovers, as they will set a house on
fire, an' it were only to roast their own eggs."
Byron on our voyage to Greece, talking of Eng-
land, after commenting on his own wrongs, said,
"And Shelley, too, the best and most benevolent
of men; they hooted him out of his country like
a mad-dog, for questioning a dogma. Man is the
same rancorous beast now that he was from the
beginning, and if the Christ they profess to worship
re-appeared, they would again crucify him."
64 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE
Where tlie pine its garland weaves
Of sapless green and ivy dun,
Round stems that never kiss the sun,
Where the lawns and pastures be
And the sand-hills of the sea.
The Invitation. ā Shelley.
Byron's literary was, like Alexander's military
career, one great triumph ; but whilst he was
at the zenith of his popularity, he railed against
the world's injustice. Was this insanity, or what
polite doctors now call a softening of the brain ?
I suppose, by the * world ' he meant no more than
the fashionable set he had seen squeezed toge-
ther in a drawing-room, and by all the press
that attacked him ā the fraction of it which took
its tone from some small but active clique : as
to friends deserting him, that could not be, for
it was his boast that he never had attempted to
make any after his school hallucinations. But
LAST DAYS OF SHELLEY AND BYRON. 65
in the pride of his strength, and the audacity of
his youth, enemies he certainly did make, and
when they saw an opportunity of getting rid of
a supercilious rival, they instinctively took advan-
tage of it. As to the Poet's differences with his
wife, they must have appeared absurd to men who
were as indifferent to their own wives as were the
majority of Byron's enemies.
When the most worldly wise and unimpassioned
marry, they take a leap in the dark, and can no
more foresee the consequences, than poets, ā owls
blinded by the light of their vain imaginations.
The worldly wise, not having risked or anticipated
much, stand to their bargain " for better or worse,"
and say nothing about it ; but the irascible tribe
of songsters, when they find that marriage is not
exactly what they imagined it to be, "proclaim
their griefs from the house-top," as Byron did.
Very pretty books have been written on the
* Loves of the Angels,' and * Loves of the Poets,*
and Love universal ā but when lovers are paired
and caged together in holy matrimony, the curtain
is dropped, and we hear no more of them. It may
be, they moult their feathers and lose their song.
66 EECOLLECTIONS OF THE
Byron's marriage must not be classed with those
of the Poets, but of the worldly wise, he was not
under the illusion of love, but of money. If he had
left his wife and cut society (the last he was re-
solved on doing), he would have been content : that
his wife and society should have cast him off, was a
mortification his pride could never forgive nor
forget. As to the oft-vexed question of the Poet's
separation from his wife, he has told the facts in
prose and verse; but omitted to state, that he
treated women as things devoid of soul or sense ;
he would not eat, pray, walk, nor talk with them. If
he had told us this, who would have marvelled that
a lady, tenderly reared and richly endowed, pious,
learned and prudent, deluded into marrying such
a man, should have thought him mad or worse,
and sought safety by flight. "Within certain degrees
of affinity marriages are forbidden ; so they should
be where there is no natural affinity of feelings,
habits, tastes, or sympathies. It is very kind in
the saints to ally themselves to sifmers, but in
ninety-nine cases out of one hundred, it turns out
a failure ; in Byron's case, it was signally so.
In all the transactions of his life, his intense
LAST DAYS OP SHELLEY AND BYRON. 67
anxiety to cut a good figure made him cruelly
unjust to others. In fact, his pride and vanity
mastered him, and he made no effort to conceal
or to control their dominion, reckless how it marred
his worldly advantages. Amidst the general homage
paid to his genius, his vanity reverted to his early