Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Meeting with Thomas Moore

On November 23, 1825, Sir Walter Scott met with Thomas Moore, who was engaged in writing his "Life of Lord Byron".  Moore published this work in 1830, and dedicated it to Sir Walter Scott by "his affectionate friend, T.M."  Scott records a rather lengthy journal entry for that day, including: 'On comparing notes with Moore, I was confirmed in one or two points which I had always laid down in considering poor Byron. One was, that like Rousseau he was apt to be very suspicious, and a plain downright steadiness of manner was the true mode to maintain his good opinion. Will Rose told me that once, while sitting with Byron, he fixed insensibly his eyes on his feet, one of which, it must be remembered, was deformed. Looking up suddenly, he saw Byron regarding him with a look of concentrated and deep displeasure, which wore off when he observed no consciousness or embarrassment in the countenance of Rose. Murray afterwards explained this, by telling Rose that Lord Byron was very jealous of having this personal imperfection noticed or attended to. In another point, Moore confirmed my previous opinion, namely, that Byron loved mischief-making. Moore had written to him cautioning him against the project of establishing the paper called the Liberal, in communion with such men as P.B. Shelley and Hunt, on whom he said the world had set its mark. Byron showed this to the parties. Shelley wrote a modest and rather affecting expostulation to Moore. These two peculiarities of extreme suspicion and love of mischief are both shades of the malady which certainly tinctured some part of the character of this mighty genius; and, without some tendency towards which, genius—I mean that kind which depends on the imaginative power—perhaps cannot exist to great extent. The wheels of a machine, to play rapidly, must not fit with the utmost exactness, else the attrition diminishes the impetus.



Another of Byron's peculiarities was the love of mystifying; which indeed may be referred to that of mischief. There was no knowing how much or how little to believe of his narratives. Instance:—Mr. Bankes expostulating with him upon a dedication which he had written in extravagant terms of praise to Cam Hobhouse, Byron told him that Cam had teased him into the dedication till he had said, "Well; it shall be so,—providing you will write the dedication yourself"; and affirmed that Cam Hobhouse did write the high-coloured dedication accordingly. I mentioned this to Murray, having the report from Will Rose, to whom Bankes had mentioned it. Murray, in reply, assured me that the dedication was written by Lord Byron himself, and showed it me in his own hand. I wrote to Rose to mention the thing to Bankes, as it might have made mischief had the story got into the circle. Byron was disposed to think all men of imagination were addicted to mix fiction (or poetry) with their prose. He used to say he dared believe the celebrated courtezan of Venice, about whom Rousseau makes so piquante a story, was, if one could see her, a draggle-tailed wench enough. I believe that he embellished his own amours considerably, and that he was, in many respects, le fanfaron de vices qu'il n'avoit pas. He loved to be thought awful, mysterious, and gloomy, and sometimes hinted at strange causes. I believe the whole to have been the creation and sport of a wild and powerful fancy. In the same manner he crammed people, as it is termed, about duels, etc., which never existed, or were much exaggerated....'


Constable has been here as lame as a duck upon his legs, but his heart and courage as firm as a cock. He has convinced me we will do well to support the London House. He has sent them about £5000, and proposes we should borrow on our joint security £5000 for their accommodation. J.B. and R. Cadell present. I must be guided by them, and hope for the best. Certainly to part company would be to incur an awful risk.


What I liked about Byron, besides his boundless genius, was his generosity of spirit as well as purse, and his utter contempt of all the affectations of literature, from the school-magisterial style to the lackadaisical. Byron's example has formed a sort of upper house of poetry. There is Lord Leveson Gower, a very clever young man. Lord Porchester too, nephew to Mrs. Scott of Harden, a young man who lies on the carpet and looks poetical and dandyish—fine lad too, but—


"There will be many peers
Ere such another Byron."

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