Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

servants! Also, 'Why was I not aware of this sooner?' and · My hour is come! I do not care for death-but why did I not go home before I came here? At another time he said, “There are things which make the world dear to me (lo lascio qualche cosa di caro nel inondo]; for the rest, I am content to die.' He spoke also of Greece, saying, “I have given her my time, my means, my health-and now I give her my life!- what could I do more?'"*

It was about six o'clock on the evening of this day when he said, “ Now I shall go to sleep; and then turning round fell into that slumber from which he never awoke. For the next twenty-four hours he lay incapable of either sense or motion,--with the exception of, now and then, slight symptoms of suffocation, during which his servant raised his head,-and at a quarter past six o'clock on the following day, the 19th, he was seen to open his eyes and immediately shut them again. The physicians felt his pulse—he was no more!

To attempt to describe how the intelligence of this sad event struck upon all hearts would he as difficult as it is superfluous. He, whom the whole world was to mourn, had on the tears of Greece peculiar claim,-as it was at her feet he now laid down the harvest of such a life of fame. To the peopie of Missolonghi, who first felt the shock that was soon to spread through all Europe, the event seemed almost incredible. It was but the other day that he had come among them, radiant with renown,-inspiring faith, by his very name, in those miracles of success that were about to spring forth at the touch of his ever-powerful genius. All this had now vanished, like a short dream: --nor can we wonder that the poor Greeks, to whom his coming had been such a glory, and who, on the last evening of his life, thronged the streets, inquiring as to his state, should regard the thunderstorm which, at the moment he died, broke over the town, as the signal of his doom, and, in their superstitious grief, cry to each other, “The great man is gone !!!

Prince Mavrocordato, who of all best knew and felt the extent of his country's loss, and who had to mourn doubly the friend of Greece and of himself, on the evening of the 19th issued this melaneholy Proclamation.

* PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT OF WESTERN GREECE.

“ ART. 1185.

“ The present day of festivity and rejoicing has become one of sorrow and of mourning. The Lord Noel Byron departed this life at six o'clock in the afternoon, after an illness of ten days; his death being caused by an inflammatory fever. Such was the effect of his lordship's illness on the public mind, that all classes had forgotten their usual recreations of Easter, even before the alllicting event was apprehended.

« The loss of this illustrious individual is undoubtedly to be deplored by all Greece; but it must be more especially a subject of lamentation

It is but right to remind the reader, that for the sayings here attributed to Lord Byron, however natural and probable they may appear, there is not ex. actly the same authority of credible witnesses by which all the other details I have given of his last hours are supported.

1 Parry's “ Last Days of Lord Byron," p. 128.

at Missolonghi, where his generosity has been so conspicuously displayed, and of which he had even become a citizen, with the further determination of participating in all the dangers of the war.

"Everybody is acquainted with the beneficent acts of his lordship, and none can cease to hail his name as that of a real benefactor.

“ Until, therefore, the final determination of the National Government be known, and by virtue of the powers with which it has been pleased to invest me, I hereby decree, “ Ist. To-morrow morning, at daylight

, thirty-seven minute guns will be fired from the Grand Battery, being the number which corresponds with the age of the illustrious deceased.

“ 2d. All the public offices, even the tribunals, are to remain closed for three successive days.

“ 3d. All the shops, except those in which provisions or medicines are sold, will also be shut ; and it is strictly enjoined that every species of public amusement, and other demonstrations of festivity at Easter, shall be suspended.

4th. A general mourning will be observed for twenty-one days.

“5th. Prayers and a funeral service are to be offered up in all the churches. (Signed)

“ A. MAVROCORDATO.

“GEORGE PRAIDIS, Secretary. “Given at Missolonghi, this 19th day of April, 1824.”

Similar honours were paid to his memory at many other places through Greece. At Salona, where the Congress had assembled, his soul was prayed for in the church; after which the whole garrison and the citizens went out into the plain, where another religious ceremony took place, under the shade of the olive-trees. This being concluded, the troops fired; and an oration, full of the warmest praise and gratitude, was pronounced by the High Priest.

When such was the veneration shown towards him by strangers, what must have been the feelings of his near associates and attendants? Let one speak for all :-" He died,” says Count Gamba, “in a strange land, and among strangers; but more loved, more sincerely wept, he never could have been, wherever he had breathed his last. Such was the attachment, mingled with a sort of reverence and enthusiasm, with which he inspired those around him, that there was not one of us who would not, for his sake, have willingly encountered any danger in the world."

Colonel Stanhope, whom the sad intelligence reached at Salona, thus writes to the Committee:-“A courier has just arrived from the Chief Scalza. Alas! all our fears are realized. The soul of Byron has taken its last flight. England has lost her brightest genius, Greece her noblest friend. To console them for the loss, he has left behind the emanations of his splendid mind. If Byron had faults, he had redeeming virtues too—he sacrificed his comfort, fortune, health, and life, to the cause of an oppressed nation. Honoured be his memory!"

Mr. Trelawney, who was on his way to Missolonghi at the time, describes as follows the manner in which he first heard of his friend's death :-"With all my anxiety I could not get here before the third day. It was the second, after having crossed the first great torrent, that I met some soldiers from Missolonghi. I had let them all pass me, ere I had resolution enough to inquire the news from Missolonghi. I then

Vol. II.-LI

[graphic]

rode back, and demanded of a straggler the news. I heard nothing more than-Lord Byron is dead,--and I proceeded on in gloomy silence.” The writer adds, after detailing the particulars of the poet's illness and death,“ Your pardon, Stanhope, that I have thus turned aside from the great cause in which I am embarked. But this is no private grief. The world has lost its greatest man; I my best friend."

Among his servants, the same feeling of sincere grief prevailed :“I have in my possession,” says Mr. Hoppner, in the Notices with which he has favoured me, “a letter written by his gondolier Tita, who had accompanied him from Venice, giving an account to his parents of his master's decease. Of this event the poor fellow speaks in the most affecting manner, telling them that in Lord Byron he had lost a father rather than a master; and expatiating upon the indulgence with which he had always treated his domestics, and the care he expressed for their comfort and welfare."

His valet Fletcher, too, in a letter to Mr. Murray, announcing the event, says, “ Please to excuse all defects, for I scarcely know what I either say or do; for, after twenty years' service with my lord, he was more to me than a father, and I am too much distressed to now give a correct account of every particular.”

In speaking of the effect produced on the friends of Greece by this event, Mr. Trelawney says:-“I think Byron's name was the great means of getting the loan. A Mr. Marshall, with £8000 per annum, was as far as Corfu, and turned back on hearing of Lord Byron's death. Thousands of people were flocking here; some had arrived as far as Corfu, and hearing of his death, confessed they came out to devote their fortunes, not to the Greeks, or from interest in the cause, but to the noble poet; and the • Pilgrim of Eternity'* having departed, they turned back.”+

The funeral ceremony whichi, on account of the rains, had been postponed for a day, took place in the church of St. Nicholas, at Missolonghi, on the 22d of April, and is thus feelingly described by an eye-witness.

* In the midst of his own brigade, of the troops of the Government, and of the whole population, on the shoulders of the officers of his corps, relieved occasionally by other Greeks, the most precious portion of his honoured remains were carried to the church, where lie the bodies of Marco Bozzari and of General Normann. There we laid them down: the coffin was a rude, ill-constructed chest of wood; a black mantle served for a pall; and over it we placed a helmet and a

* The title given by Shelley to Lord Byron in his Elegy on the death of Keats.

“ The Pilgrim of Eternity, whose fame

Over his living head like heaven is bent
An early but enduring monument,
Came veiling all the lightnings of his song

In sorrow." | Parry, too, mentions an instance to the same effect :-"While I was on the quarantine house at Zante, a gentleman called on me, and made numerous inquiries as to Lord Byron. He said he was only one of fourtcen English gentlemen, then at Ancona, who had sent him on to obtain intelligence, and only waited his return to come and join Lord Byron. They were to form a mounted guard for him, and meant to devote their personal services and their incomes to the Greek cause. On hearing of Lord Byron's death, however, they turned baok."

sword, and a crown of laurel. But no funeral pomp could have left the impression, nor spoken the feelings, of this simple ceremony. The wretchedness and desolation of the place itself; the wild and half civilized warriors around us; their deep-felt, unaffected grief; the fond recollections; the disappointed hopes; the anxieties and sad presentiments which might be read on every countenanee-all contributed to form a scene more moving, more truly affecting, than perhaps was ever before witnessed round the grave of a great man.

“When the funeral service was over, we left the bier in the middle of the church, where it remained until the evening of the next day, and was guarded by a detachment of his own brigade. The church was crowded without cessation by those who came to honour and to regret the benefactor of Greece. In the evening of the 23d, the bier was privately carried back by his officers to his own house. The coffin was not closed till the 29th of the month. Immediately after his death, his countenance had an air of calmness, mingled with a severity, that seemed gradually to soften; for when I took a last look of him, the expression, at least to my eyes, was truly sublime."

We have seen how decidedly, while in Italy, Lord Byron expressed his repugnance to the idea of his remains resting upon English ground; and the injunctions he so frequently gave to Mr. Hoppner on this point show his wishes to have been,--at least during that period,--sincere. With one so changing, however, in his impulses, it was not too much to take for granted that the far more cordial feeling entertained by him towards his countrymen at Cephalonia, would have been followed by a correspondent change in this antipathy to England as a last restingplace. It is, at all events, fortunate, that by no such spleen of the moment has his native country been deprived of her natural right to enshrine within her own bosom one of the noblest of her dead, and to atone for any wrong she may have inflicted upon him, while living. by making his tomb a place of pilgrimage for her sons through all ages.

By Colonel Stanhope and others, it was suggested that, as a tribute to the land he celebrated and died for, his remains should be deposited at Athens, in the Temple of Theseus; and the Chief Odysseus despatched an express to Missolonghi to enforce this wish. On the part of the town, too, in which he breathed his last, a similar request had been made by the citizens, and it was thought advisable so far to accede to their desires as to leave with them, for interment, one of the vessels in which his remains, after embalınment, were enclosed.

The first step taken, before any decision as to its ultimate disposal, was to have the body conveyed to Zante; and every facility having been afforded by the Resident, Sir Frederick Stoven, in providing and sending transports to Missolonghi for that purpose, on the morning of the 2d of May the remains were embarked, under a mournful salute from the guns of the fortress :--"How different," says Count Gamba, " from that which had welcomed the arrival of Byron only four months

At Zante the determination was taken to send the body to England; and the brig Florida, which had just arrived there with the first instalment of the loan, was engaged for the purpose. Mr. Blaquiere, under whose care this first portion of the loan had come, was also the bearer of a commission for the due management of its disposal in Greece, in which Lord Byron was named as the principal Commissioner. The same ship, however, that brought this honourable mark of confidence was to return with him a corpse. To Colonel Stanhope, who was

LI 2

[graphic]

then at Zante, on his way homeward, was intrusted the charge of his illustrious colleague's remains; and on the 25th of May he embarked with them on board the Florida for England.

In the letter which, on his arrival in the Downs, June 29th, this gentleman addressed to Lord Byron's executors, there is the following passage "With respect to the funeral ceremony, I am of opinion that his lordship's family should be immediately consulted, and that sanction should be obtained for the public burial of his body either in the great Abbey or Cathedral of London.” It has been asserted, and I fear too truly, that on some intimation of the wish suggested in this last sentence being conveyed to one of those reverend persons who have the honours of the Abbey at their disposal, such an answer was returned as left but little doubt that a refusal would be the result of any more regular application.*

There is an anecdote told of the poet Hafez, in Sir William Jones's Life, which, in reporting this instance of illiberality, recurs naturally to the memory. After the death of the great Persian bard, some of the religious among his countrymen protested strongly against allowing to him the right of sepulture, alleging, as their objection, the licentiousness of his poetry. After much controversy, it was agreed to leave the decision of the question to a mode of divination, not uncommon among the Persians, which consisted in opening the poet's book at random and taking the first verses that occurred. They happened to be these :

“ Oh turn not coldly from the poet's bier

Nor check the sacred drops by Pity given;
For though in sin his body slumbereth here,

His soul, absolved, already wings to heaven." These lines, says the legend, were looked upon as a divine decree ; the religionists no longer enforced their objections, and the remains of the bard were left to take their quiet sleep by that “sweet bower of Mosellay" which he had so often celebrated in his verses.

Were our Byron's right of sepulture to be decided in the same manner, how few are there of his pages, thus taken at hazard, that would not, by some genial touch of sympathy with virtue, some glowing tribute to the bright works of God, or some gush of natural devotion more affecting than any homily, give him a title to admission into the purest temple of which Christian Charity ever held the guardianship.

Let the decision, however, of these reverend authorities have been, finally, what it might, it was the wish, as is understood, of Lord Byron's dearest relative to have his remains laid in the family vault at Hucknell, near Newstead. On being landed from the Florida, the body had, under the direction of his lordship’s executors, Mr. Hobhouse and Mr. Hanson, been removed to the house of Sir Edward Knatchbull in Great George-street, Westminster, where it lay in state during Friday and Saturday, the 9th and 10th of July, and on the following Monday the funeral procession took place. Leaving Westminster at eleven o'clock in the morning, attended by most of his lordship's personal friends and

* A former Dean of Westminster went so far, we know, in his scruples, as to exclude an epitaph from the Abbey, because it contained the name of Milton : -"a name, in his opinion," says Johnson, "too detestable to be read on the well of a building dedicated to devotion.”Life of Milton.

« AnteriorContinuar »