1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Leigh Hunt

John Gibson Lockhart, in Review of Hunt, Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries; Quarterly Review 37 (March 1828) 423-24.



We should, indeed, have reason to blush, could we think for a moment of entering into the details given by Mr. Leigh Hunt, concerning the manners, habits, and conversation of Lord Byron. The witness is, in our opinion, disqualified to give evidence upon any such subjects; his book proves him to be equally ignorant of what manners are, and incompetent to judge what manners ought to be: his elaborate portraiture of his own habits is from beginning to end a very caricatura of absurdity; and the man who wrote this book, studiously cast, as the whole language of it is, in a free-and-easy, conversational tone, has no more right to decide about the conversation of such a man as Lord Byron, than has a pert apprentice to pronounce ex cathedra — from his one shilling gallery, to wit — on the dialogue of a polite comedy. We can easily believe, that Lord Byron never talked his best when this was his "Companion." We can also believe that Lord Byron's serious conversation, even in its lowest tone, was often unintelligible to Mr. Leigh Hunt. We are morally certain, that in such company Lord Byron talked, very often indeed, for the mere purpose of amusing himself at the expense of his ignorant, phantastic, lack-a-daisical guest; that he considered the Magnus Apollo of Paradise Row as a precious butt, and acted accordingly. We therefore consider Mr. Hunt's evidence as absolutely inadmissible, on strong preliminary grounds. But what are we to say to it, when we find it, as we do, totally and diametrically at variance both with the substance and complexion of Lord Byron's epistolary correspondence; and with the oral testimonies of men whose talents, originally superior beyond all possibility of measurement to Mr. Hunt's, have been matured and perfected by study, both of books and men, such as Mr. Hunt never even dreamed of; who had the advantage of meeting Lord Byron on terms of perfect equality to all intents and purposes; and who, qualified as they probably were, above any of their contemporaries, to appreciate Lord Byron, whether as a poet, or as a man of high rank and pre-eminent fame, mingling with the world in society such as he ought never to have sunk below, all with one voice pronounce an opinion exactly and in every particular, as well as looking to things broadly and to the general effect, the reverse of that which this unworthy and ungrateful dependent has thought himself justified in promulgating, on the plea of a penury which no Lord Byron survives to relieve. It is too bad, that he who has, in his own personal conduct, as well as in his writings, so much to answer for — who abused great opportunities and great talents so lamentably — who sinned so deeply, both against the society to which he belonged and the literature in which his name will ever hold a splendid place — it is really too bad, that Lord Byron, in addition to the grave condemnation of men able to appreciate both his merits and his demerits, and well disposed to think more in sorrow than in anger of the worst errors that existed along with so much that was excellent and noble — it is by much too bad, that this great man's glorious though melancholy memory

Must also bear the vile attacks
Of ragged curs and vulgar hacks

whom he fed; — that his bones must be scraped up from their bed of repose to he at once grinned and howled over by creatures who, even in the least hyena-like of their moods, can touch no thing that mankind would wish to respect without polluting it.