Page images

de Stael,' continued Byron, 'was very eloquent when her imagination wanned, (and a very little excited it;) her powers of imagination were much stronger than her reasoning ones, perhaps owing to their being much more frequently exercised; her language was recondite, but redundant, and though always flowery, and often brilliant, there was an obscurity that lell the impression that she did not perfectly understand what she endeavored to render intelligible to others. She was always losing herself in philosophical disquisition, and once she got entangled in the mazes of the labyrinth of metaphysics; she had no clue by which she could guide her path—the imagination that led her into her difficulties, could nat get her out of them; the want of a mathematical education,which might have served as a ballast to steady and help her into the port of reason, was always visible, and though she had great tact in concealing her defeat, and covering a retreat, a tolerable logician must have always discovered the scrapes she got into. Poor dear Ma:'ame de Stael, I shall never forget seeing her one day, at table with a large party, when the busk (I believe you ladies call it) of her corset forced its way through the top of the corset, and would not descend, though pushed by all the lbrce of both hands of the wearer, who became crimson from the operation. After fruitless efforts, she turned in despair, to the valet de chambre behind her chair, and requested him to draw it out, which could only l)e done by his passing his hand from behind over her shoulder, and across her chest, when, with a desperate effort, he unsheathed the busk. Had you seen the faces of some of the English ladies of the party, you would have been like me, almost convulsed; while Madame remained perfectly unconscious that she had committed any solfcism on la decence Anglaisc. Poor Madame de Stael verified the truth of the lines—

'Qui de son sexe n'a pas 1'esprit,
De son sexe a tout le malheur.'

She thought like a man, but alas! she felt like a woman; as witness the episode in her life with Monsieur Rocca, which she dared not avow, (I mean her marriage with him,) because she was more jealous of her reputation as a writer than a woman, and the faiblesse de coeur, this alliance proved she had not courage to affichr. A friend of hers, and a compatriot into the bargain, whom she believed to be one of the most adoring of her worshippers, gave me the following epigrams:—


Quel esprit! quel talent! quel sublime genie!

En clle tout aspire ;i I'irnmortalite;

Et jusqu'Ji son hydropisie,

Rien n'est perdu pour la posteriti .'


Arma nde a pour esprit des momens de delire,
Armande a pour vcrtu le mepris des appns:
Elle craint la railleur que sans cesse elle inspire,
Elle evite l'amant que ne lachercbe pas:

Puisqu'elle n'a. point l'art do cachcr son visage
Et qu'elle a la fitreur tie inontrcrson esprit,
II fant la defier de cesser d'etre sage
Iit d'entendre ce qu'elle dit.'

'The giving the epigrams to me, a brother of the craft of authors, was worthy of a friend, and was another proof, if proof were wanting,'of the advantages of friends:

"No epigram such pointed satire lends
As does tiie inem'r/ of our faithful friends."

I have an exalted opinion of friendship, .is you see. You look incredulous, but you will not only give me credit for being sincere in this opinion, but one day arrive at the same conclusion yourself. "Shake not thy jttty locks at me:" ten years hence, if wc both live so long, you will allow that I am right, though you now think me a cynic for saying ail this. Madame de Stael,' continued Byron,' had peculiar satisfaction in impressing on her auditors the severity of the persecution she underwent from Napoleon: a certain mode of enraging her, was to appear to doubt the extent to which she wished it to be' believed this had been pushed, as she looked on the persecution as a triumphant proof of her literary and political importance, which she more than insinuated Napoleon feared might subvert his Government. This was a weakness, but a common one. One half of the clever people of the world believe they ire hated and persecuted, and the other half imagine they are admired and beloved. Both are wrong, and both false conclusions are produced by vanity, though that vanity is the strongest which believes in the hatred and persecution, as it implies a belief of extraordinary superiority to account for it.'

I could not suppress the smile that Byron's reflections excited, and, with his usual quickness, he instantly felt the application I had made of them to himself, for he blushed, and half angry, and half laughing, said:—'Oh! I see what you are smiling at; you think that I have described my own case, and proved myself guilty of vanity.' I allowed that I thought so, as he had a thousand times repeated to me, that he was feared and detested in England, which I never would admit. He tried various arguments to prove to me that it was not vanity, but a knowledge of the fact, that made him believe himself detested: but I, continuing to smile andlook incredulous, he got really displeased, and said,—'You have such a provoking memory, that you compr.rc notes of all one's different opinions, so that one is sure to get into a tcrape.' Byron observed, that he once told Madame de Stael, that he considered her ' Delphine' and 'Corinne' as very dangerous productions to be put into the hands of young women. I asked him how she received this piece of candor, and he answered :—'Oh! just as all such candid avowals are received —she never forgave me for it. She endeavored to prove to me, that, au contrairc, the tendencies of both her novels were supereminently moral. I begged that we might not enter on' Delphine,'as that was Aors dc question, (she was furious at this,) but that all the moral world thought, that her representing all the virtuous characters in ' Corinne' as being dull, common-place, and tedious, was a most insidious blow aimed at virtue, and calculated to throw it into the shade. She was so excited and impatient to attempt a refutation, that it was only by my voluhility I could keep her silet.t. She interrupted me every moment by gesticulating, exclaiming :—' Quel idei !' ' Mon Dicu!' 'Ecoutez, done !'' Vous m'impatiente y !'—Lut I continued saying how dangerous it was to inculcate the belief that genius, talent, acquirements, and accomplishments, such as Corinne was represented to possess, could not preserve a woman from becoming a victim to an unrequited passion, and that reason, absence, and female pride were unavailing.

'1 told her that " Corinnf" would be considered, if not cited, as an excuse for violent passions$>y all young ladies with imagination exalte, and that she had much to answer for. Had you seen her! I now wonder how 1 had courage to go on; but I was in one of my humors, and had heard of her commenting on me one day, so I determined to pay her off. She told me that I, above all people, was the last person that ought to talk of morals, as noboMy had done more to deteriorate them. I looked innocent, and added, I was willing to plead guilty of having sometimes represented Vice under alluring forms; but so it was generally in the world, therefore it was necessary to paint it so ; but that I never represented virtue under the sombre and disgusting shapes of dulness, severity, and ennui, and that I always took care to represent the votaries of vice as unhappy themselves, and entailing unhappincss on those thai loved them; so that my moral was unexceptionable. She was perfectly outrageous, and the more so, as I appeared calm and in earnest, though r assure you it required an effort, as I was ready to laugh outright at the idea that I, who was at that period considered the most mauvais sujet of the day, should give Madame de Stael a lecture on morals: and I knew that this added to her rage. I also knew she never dared avow that I had taken such a liberty. She was, notwithstanding her little defects, a fine creature, with great talents, and many noble qualities, and had a simplicity quite extraordinary, which led her to believe everything people told her, and consequently to be continually hoaxed, of which I saw such proofs in London. Madame de Stael it was who first lent me' Adolphe,' which you like so much: it is very clever, and very affecting. A friend of hers told me, that she was supposed to be the heroine, and I, with my aimable franchise, insinuated as much to her, which rendered her furious. She proved to me how impossible it was that it could be so, which I already knew, and complained of the malice of the world, for supposing it possible.'

Byron has remarkable penetration in discovering the characters of those around him, and he piques himself extremely on it: he also thinks he has fathomed the recesses of his own mind; but he is mistaken: with much that is little (which he suspects) in his character, there is much that is great, that he does not give himself credit for : his first impulses are always good, but his temper, which is impatient, prevents his acting on the cool dictates of reason; and it appears to me, that in judging hiinself, Byron mistakes temper for character, and takes the ebullitions of the first, for the indications of the nature of the second. He declares, that in addition to his other failings, avarice is now established. This new vice, like all the others he attributes to himself, he talks of as one would name those of an acquaintance, in a sort of deprecating, yet half mocking tone; as much as to say, you see I know all my faults better than you do, though I don't choose to correct them: indeed, it has often occurred tome, that he brings forward his defects, as if in anticipation of some one else exposing them, which he would not like; as, though he affects the contrary, he is jealous of being found fault with, and shows it in a thousand ways.

He affects to dislike hearing his works praised or referred to; I say affects, because I am sure it is nol real or natural; as he who loves praise, as Byron evidently does, in other things, cannot dislike it for that in which he must be conscious it is deserved. He refers to his feats in horsemanship, shooting at a mark, and swimming, in a way that proves he likes to be complimented on them; and nothing appears to give him more satisfaction than being considered a man of fashion, who had great success in fashionable society in London, when he resided there. He is peculiarly compassionate to the poor; I remarked that he rarely, in our rides, passed a mendicant without giving him charity, which was invariably bestowed with gentleness and kindness; this was still more observable if the person was deformed, as if he sympathised with the object.

Byron is very fond of gossiping, and of hearing what is going on in the London fashionable world; his friends keep him au couranl, and any little scandal amuses him very much. I observed this to him one day, and added, that I thought his mind had been too great to descend to such trifles! he laughed, and said with mock gravity, ' Don't you know that the trunk of an elephant that can lift the most ponderous weights, disdains not to take up the most minute? This is the case with my great mind, (laughing anew,) and you must allow the simile is worthy the subject. Jesting apart, 1 do like a little scandal— I believe all English people do. An Italian lady, Madame Benzoni, talking to me on the prevalence of this taste among my compatriots, observed, that when she first knew the English, she thought them the most spiteful and ill-natured people in the world, from hearing them constantly repeating evil of each other; but having seen various amiable traits in their characters, she had arrived at the conclusion, that they were not naturally mechant; but that living in a country like England, where severity of morals punishes so heavily any dereliction from propriety, each individual, to prove personal correctness, was compelled to attack the sins of his or her acquaintance, as it furnished an opportunity of expressing their abhorrence by words, instead of proving it by actions, which might cause some self-denial to themselves. 'This,' said Byron, ' was an ingenious, as well as charitable supposition; and we must all allow that it is infinitely more easy to decry and expose the sins of others, than to correct our own; and many find the first so agreeable an occupation, that it precludes the second—this, at least, is my case.'

'The Italians do not understand the English,' said Byron; ' indeed, how can they? for they (the Italians) are frank, simple, and open in their natures, following the bent of their inclinations, which they do not believe to be wicked; while the English, to conceal the indulgence of theirs, daily practise hypocrisy, falsehood, and uncharitableness; so that to one error is added many crimes.' Byron had now got on a favorite subject, and went on decrying hypocrisy and cant, mingling sarcasms and hitter observations on the false delicacy of the English. It is strange, but true as strange, that he could not, or at least did not, distinguish the distinction between cause and effect, in this case. The respect for virtue will always cause spurious imitations of it to be given; and what he calls hypocrisy, is but the respect to public opinion that induces people, who have not courage to correct their errors, at least to endeavor to conceal them; and Cant is the homage that Vice pays to Virtue.* We do not value the diamond less, because there are so many worthless imitations of it, and Goodness loses nothing of her intrinsic value because so many wish to be thought to possess it. That nation may be considered to possess the most virtue, where it is the most highly appreciated; and that the Jeast, where it is so little understood, that the semblance is not even assumed.

About this period the Duke of Leeds and family arrived at Genoa, and passed a day or two there, at the same hotel where we were residing. Shortly after their departure Byron came to dine with us, and expressed his mortification at the Duke's not having called on him, were it only out of respect to Mrs. Leigh, who was the half-sister of both. This seemed to annoy him so much, that I endeavored to point out the inutility of ceremony between people who could have no two ideas in common, and observed, that the gene of finding oneself with people of different hahits and feelings, was ill repaid by the respect their civility indicated. Byron is a person to be excessively bored by the constraint that any change of system would occasion, even for a day; but yet his amour propre is wounded by any marks of incivility or want of respect he meets with. Poor Byron! he is still far from arriving at the philosophy that he aims at and thinks he has acquired, when the absence or presence of a person who is indifferent to him, whatever his station in life may be, can occupy his thoughts for a moment

I have observed in Byron a hahit of attaching importance to trifles, and, vice versa, turning serious events into ridicule; he is extremely superstitious, and seems offended with those who cannot, or will not partake this weakness. He has frequently touched on this subject, and tauntingly observed to me that I must believe myself wiser than him, because I was not superstitious. 1 answered, that the vividness of his imagination, which was proved by his works, furnished a sufficient ex

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »