1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

John Herman Merivale, Diary Entry, 17 January 1830; Anna Wilhelmina Merivale, Family Memorials (1884) 293-95.



Jan. 17. I have been reading with intense interest the first volume of Moore's Life of Byron — almost every page of which calls up some old association in my remembrance. The mention made of my own name, though in two or three passages only, is extremely gratifying, the more so as Frank Hodgson always assured me that Byron had a sincere regard for me — and these few passages I think prove it. I remember him first a boy at Harrow, when I once heard him recite a lesson or looked over one of his exercises for Drury. This must have been so long ago as 1800. I heard of him often from Hodgson and others at Cambridge, but was not personally acquainted with him till just before his first departure for the Continent, when I called with Dr. Drury at his lodgings in St. James's Street, and was particularly struck with the fribblish dandyism of his appearance. It was I who reviewed his "Hours of Idleness" so favourably in the Critical, of which I see he speaks in one of his letters without appearing to know who was the author. After his return to England my meetings with him were few and far between, and I cannot boast of having ever attained the honour of anything approaching to intimacy, the fault of which I consider as entirely my own — my natural shyness, my peculiar abhorrence of intrusion on persons of rank or celebrity, my domestic habits, my narrow pecuniary circumstances and inability to give adequate entertainment to visitors in our poor little homestead in East Street, and above all, the continual state of fluctuation in which I lived between Law and Literature and the fear of abandoning myself to my inclination for the one so as to injure my prospects in the other — a fear which has (I fear) produced only one result, that of preventing me from ever attaining success in either. However, so it was; nor do I upon the whole regret that it was so.... Of the few interviews I can boast of having had with him, I see he has himself journalized one — that on the occasion of Campbell's being present, when he abused my article on Grimm in the Quarterly. I remember it well, and it is all true as Byron has recorded, except that I had fancied Campbell's criticism referred rather to the Anti-Gallican spirit of the Review — in which I felt a little conscious to myself of deserving some censure — than to its "mawkishness." However, as Byron lays a stress on the word, I suppose it was the one he actually used. I felt nothing on the occasion but a nervous fear of betraying myself. As soon as Campbell had left the room, Byron burst into a violent fit of laughter and exclaimed, "Oh, how I wish Harry Drury had been here to improve the awkwardness!" Another time I met Byron was soon after his marriage, at Murray's, when Walter Scott came in upon us and I enjoyed a good hour of their company. Our talk (or rather theirs, for I said mighty little,) was of Miss Baillie and De Montfort. Byron assumed the incredulous, and Scott told (inimitably well) a horrible legendary tale of school-boy hatred ending in a most cold blooded act of assassination after a thirty years interval, and separation in distant regions. Once I spent two or three days with him, Denman and Hodgson, at H. Drury's. He amused us with divers intriguing anecdotes, of many of which I very potently doubted the veracity — besides producing a bundle of Burns's MS. Poems, which I saw noticed in this volume as having been put into his hands by Allen of Holland House. Another time I was in his company was at poor G. E. G.'s, the Editor of the Monthly Review, at Turnham Green, when I recollect the discourse turning on vampires and all that class of superstition, and my sending him my "Dead Men of Pesth" in consequence. It was about the time of his second edition of the Giaour, in which he introduces an allusion to the thing. I think also that he was of a party at Douglas Kinnaird's where I met (the only time I did so,) Sheridan — and that it must be the party to which he refers when he mentions his meeting him at D. K.'s for the last time. Harris of Covent Garden, Robins the auctioneer, and Colman, were also there, and one object was to bring the managers of the two theatres to a good understanding. Sheridan was very entertaining during his second bottle. His third made him quite a bore and a sot. I never saw Byron after his separation from his wife, on which occasion I felt vehemently indignant like most of the world — principally, I think, through the representations made me by Sir Samuel Romilly. I was besides at that time busy reporting in the Court of Chancery, and had manfully abjured all manner of foreign attractions. Had I believed that any demonstration of feeling for him on my part would then have been prized by him, I am sure that, even with the bad impression I entertained respecting the causes of separation, I should not have kept aloof. But my first wrath was not a little inflamed by the appearance of his volume of Poems on Domestic Circumstances, and I was among those who least pitied him on his departure. No subsequent circumstances ever occurred to renew our acquaintance. And so end my Byroniana.