Thursday, July 5, 2012

Scott Supports Byron


‘St. James’s Palace: July 5, 1824.

Dear Mr. H.,—A few lines, as I know you are anxious. The papers have probably announced to you the arrival of that melancholy ship with the dear Remains. Of this I heard on Thursday and was, I believe, the only person who expected it so soon, but for days before I could not divest myself of the sensation, or presentiment, that it was near me. You will think me very foolish, but so it was. It is to be this day in the Docks, and the Remains moved to a house taken for the purpose in George Street, Westminster. The intention is to deposit them either in Westminster Abbey, or our own family vault near our own dear Abbey. I’ve not yet seen Mr. Hobhouse to-day, so I do not know the Dean’s pleasure, which has been sounded, not asked. I am expecting Fletcher every moment! You may guess with what feelings. If I cannot write after having seen him, you shall hear again to-morrow. If this melancholy ceremony takes place in Westminster Abbey, it will be this week, I suppose, and is to be as private and quiet as possible. I almost now wish it may be there, although it was my own original wish that it should be in the other place. But I think it would disappoint and inconvenience some friends who wish to attend. The papers will also give you the account of the will: no other being found, and every reason to suppose no later one has been made, it was to be proved to-day. I cannot express how deeply grateful I am for the very unexpected provision for me and mine. More to-morrow.

Yours ever,

A. L.’

The July 5th letter above, published in “Memoir of Francis Hodgson”, was written by Lord Byron’s half-sister, Augusta Leigh, addressed to Francis Hodgson, shortly after Byron’s death (from the lordbyron.org website).  John Cam Hobhouse is mentioned in the letter, with evident importance to the family interests.

Hobhouse’s interaction with Byron’s life and legacy didn’t end with his death, and in his “Travels in Albania and other Provinces of Turkey in 1809 & 1810”, there is discussion of Byron’s religious beliefs, as interpreted through his works, and the characters in his works by the Bishop of London.  Walter Scott’s opinion is integral in defending Byron.  

‘…It must be allowed that an author, however famous, and of whatever genius, whose writings could be fairly said to be systematically directed to the subversion of the Christian religion, ought not to be held up to the esteem and imitation of posterity in a temple devoted to Christian worship, nor perhaps in any other national repository… The Bishop, according to one report, seems to have designated Byron as a writer of much the same pernicious tendency as another great historian, not Hume, but Gibbon… that the general scope and tendency of his poems are such as to justify the condemnation of the Bishop of London, may be safely denied… It is very possible, that a reader may not rise from the perusal of these poems a better or a happier man—the same may be said of other authors, against whom no charge of infidelity was ever made. .—was any man ever made happier by reading Rasselas, or better by reading Pamela, or even Clarissa? 

… Had Lord Byron been such a writer as the Bishop declares him to have been, is it to be believed that those who are found amongst the subscribers to the monumental statue, and most of whom were members of the Committee formed to promote that object, would have lent the authority of their great names to honour and perpetuate his memory?

…In that list were found his generous rivals, whose fame for a time he almost eclipsed, Sogers," and Campbell, and Moore, and there also the most marvellous, and the most popular, but at the same time the most scrupulous and careful of all modern writers—the great Walter Scott himself, whose peculiar praise it is, that in a branch of literature most liable to be tainted with levity, and in all his hundred volumes, not one sentence, not one word is to be found which piety would wish to blot.  And this good man—this religious man—when applied to for the sanction of his name, replied in terms of which nothing need be said— they speak for themselves. His first letter runs thus—
                                                                                    “Edinburgh, 27th January [1826].
Sir,                                                                                         
I am almost, ashamed that personal business of my own, though involving a considerable part of my fortune, should have prevented me for a single post from replying to your very interesting communication. I will be most happy to contribute anything in my power, to show the high veneration I entertained for Lord Byron's brilliant genius, and deep sense I entertain for the friendship with which he regarded me.

I have just accomplished a settlement of the affairs I alluded to, under conditions which will greatly limit my power of doing what last month I would cheerfully have done in such a case, and, therefore, it would not, I think, be fitting that my name should stand amongst the Committee. But I put myself in your hands as to this, only saying that, though my subscription must be in proportion to my power, rather than my inclination, if there is anything else, in which I could be of the slightest use, whether I am one of the Committee or not, it will give me the highest pleasure.

I am, Sir, with respect,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
                                                                                     WALTER SCOTT." 

After many months, a list of those who had consented to be on the Committee was sent to Sir Walter Scott, who acknowledged the receipt of it in the following letter to the same gentleman :—

"Sir,—I am honoured with your letter, and am much gratified by the society in which my name is introduced in the inclosed list. I hope, among so many noblemen and gentlemen well qualified to judge and decide, the matter will not be allowed to sleep. The natural wish, perhaps, would be for a statue in Westminster, and though I am aware difficulties might occur, yet, perhaps, with management, they might be overcome. Byron ought to be in his living form along with the great and glorious of the isle, who reign so many centuries after their death; and I should [hope] the guardians of that asylum would not fix their attention on speculative error and levities, but consider the quantity of genius of which Britain is prematurely deprived, and the real character of the individual, though it was not always that which was most ostensible. But whatever the Committee may determine on will be agreeable to me, and I will only be glad to be considered as one who takes peculiar interest in the undertaking.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
"Your obliged, humble Servant,
Edinburgh, 6 December, 1826.                              walter Scott. “

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