« AnteriorContinuar »
to him, to whet, as it were, the edge of his self-wearing spirit, were not the least of the attractions and incitements which a straggle under the banners of Freedom presented to him. It is also but too certain that, destined as he was to endless disenchantment, from that singular and painful union which existed in his nature of the creative imagination that calls up allusions, and the cool, searching sagacity that, at once, detects their hollowness, he could not long have gone on, even in a path so welcome to him, without finding the hopes with which his fancy had strewed it withering away beneath him at every step.
In politics, as in every other pursuit, his ambition was to be among the first ; nor would it have been from the want of a due appreciation of all that is noblest and most disinterested in patriotism, that he would ever have stooped bis flight to any less worthy aim. The following passage in one of his Journals will be remembered by the reader :“ To be the first mạn (not the Dictator), not the Sylla, but the Washington, or Aristides, the leader in talent and truth, is to be next to the Divinity." With such high and purę notions of political eminence, he could not be otherwise than fastidious as to the means of attaining it; nor can it be doubted that with the sort of vulgar and sometimes sullied instruments which all popular leaders must stoop to employ, his love of truth, his sense of honour, bis impatience of injustice, would have led him constantly into such collisions as must have ended in repulsion and disgust while the companionship of those beneath bim, a tax all demagogues mụst pay, would, as soon as it had ceased to amuse his fancy for the new and the ridiculous, have shocked his taste and mortified his pride. The distaste with which, as appears from more than one of his letters, he was disposed to view the personal, if not the political, attributes of what is commonly called the Radical party in England, shows how unsuited he was naturally to mix in that kind of popular fellowship which, even to those far less aristocratic in their potions and feelings, must be sufficiently trying
But, even granting that all these consequences might safely be predicted as almost certain to result from his engaging in such a career, it by no means the more necessarily follows that, once engaged, he would not have persevered in it consistently and devotedly to the last; nor that, even if reduced to say, with Cicero, "nil boni præter causam,” he could not have so far abstracted the principle of the cause from its unworthy supporters as, at the same time, to uphold the one and despise the others. Looking back, indeed, from the advanced point where we are now arrived through the whole of his past career, we cannot fail to obserye, pervading all its apparent changes and inconsistencies, an adherence to the original bias of his nature, a general consistency in the main, however shifting and contradictory the details, which had the effect of preserving, from first to last, all his views and principles, upon the great subjects that interested bim through life, essentially unchanged."
* Colonel Stanhope, who saw clearly this leading character of Byron's mind, has thus justly described it :-“ Lord Byron's was a versatile and still a stubborn mind; it wavered, but always returned to certain fixed principles.”
At the worst, therefore, though allowing that, from disappointment or disgust, he might have been led to withdraw all personal participation in such a cause, in no case would he have shown himself a reereant to its principles ; and though too proud to have ever descended, like Egalité, into the ranks of the people, he would have been far too consistent to pass, like Alfieri, into those of their enemies,
After the failure of those hopes with which he had so sanguinely looked forward to the issue of the late struggle between Italy and her rulers, it may be well conceived what a relief it was to him to turn his eyes to Greece, where a spirit was now rising sạch as he had himself imaged forth in dreams of song, but hardly could have even dreamed that he should live to see it realised, His early travels in that country had left a lasting impression on his mind; and whenever, as I have before remarked, his fancy for a roving life returned, it was to the regions about the “ blue Olympus" he always fondly looked back. Since his adoption of Italy as a home, this propensity had in a great degree subsided. In addition to the sedatory effects of his new domestic tie, there had, at this time, grown upon him a degree of inertness, or indisposition to change of residence, which, in the instance of his departure from Ravenna, was with some difficulty surmounted,
The unsettled state of life he was from thenceforward thrown into, by the precarious fortunes of those with whom he had connected himself, conspired with one or two other causes to revive within him all his former love of change and adventure; nor is it wonderful that to Greece, as offering both in their most exciting form, he should turn eagerly his eyes, and at once kindle with a desire not only to witness, ļbut perhaps share in, the present triumples of Liberty on those very fields where he had already gathered for immortality such memorials of her day long past.
Among the causes that concurred with this sentiment to determine bim to the enterprise he now meditated, not the least powerful, undoubtedly, was the supposition in his own mind that the high tide of his poetical popularity had been for some time on the ebb. The utter failure of the Liberal,-in which, splendid as were some of his own contributions to it, there were yet others from his pen hardly to be distinguished from the surrounding dross, confirmed him fully in the notion that he had at last wearied out his welcome with the world ; and, as the voice of fame had become almost as necessary to him as the air he breathed, it was with a proud consciousness of the yet untouched reserves of power within him he now saw that, if arrived at the end of one path of fame, there were yet others for him to strike into, still more glorious.
That some such vent for the resources of his mind had long been contemplated by him appears from a letter of his to myself, in which it will be recollected he says,
.“ If I live ten years longer, you will see that it is not over with me. I don't mean in literature, for that is nothing ; and-it may seem odd enough to say- I do not think it was my vocation. But you will see that I shall do something,—the times and Fortune permitting ,--that like the cosmogony of the world will puzzle the philosophers of all ages.' He then adds this but too true and sad prognostic : :-"But I doubt whether my constitution will hold out."
His zeal in the cause of Italy, whose past history and literature seemed to call aloud for redress of her present vassalage and wrongs, would have, no doubt, led him to the same chivalrous self-devotion in her service, as he displayed afterwards in that of Greece. The disappointing issue, however, of that brief struggle is but too well known; and this sudden wreck of a cause so promising pained him the more deeply from his knowledge of some of the brave and true hearts embarked in it. The disgust, indeed, which that abortive effort left behind, coupled with the opinion he had early formed of the " hereditary bondsmen” of Greece, had kept him for some time in a state of considerable doubt and misgiving as to their chances of ever working out their own enfranchisement; nor was it till the spring of this year, when, rather by the continuance of the struggle than by its actual success, some confidence had begun to be inspired in the trust-worthiness of the cause, that he had nearly made up his mind to devote himself to its aid. The only difficulty that still remained to retard or embarrass this resolution was the necessity it imposed of a temporary separation from Madame Guiccioli, who was herself, as might be expected, anxious to participate his perils, but whom it was impossible he could think of exposing to the chances of á life, even for men, so rude.
At the beginning of the month of April he received a visit from Mr. Blaquiere, who was then proceeding on a special mission to Greece, for the purpose of procuring for the Committee lately formed in London correct information as to the state and prospects of that country. It was among the instructions of this gentleman that he should touch at Genoa, and communicate with Lord Byron ; and the following note will show how cordially the noble poet was disposed to enter into all the objects of the Committee,
Albaro, April 5, 1823. 6. Dear Sir, “ I shall be delighted to see you and your Greek friend, and the sooner the better. I have been expecting you for some time,-you will find me at home. I cannot express to you how much I feel interested in the cause, and nothing but the hopes I entertained of witnessing the liberation of Italy itself prevented me long ago from returning to do what little I could, as an individual, in that land which is an honour even to have visited.
Ever yours truly,
6. NOEL BYRON."
Soon after this interview with their agent, a more direct communication on the subject was opened between his Lordship and the Committee itself.
TO MR. BOWRING.
“Genoa, May 12, 1823
“ I have great pleasure in acknowledging your letter, and the honour which the Committee have done me :-) shall endeavour to deserve their confidence by every means in my power.
My first wish is to go up into the Levant
person, where I might be enabled to advance, if not the cause, at least the means of obtaining information which the Committee might be desirous of acting upon; and my former residence in the country, my familiarity with the Italian language (which is there universally spoken, or at least to the same extent as French in the more polished parts of the Continent), and my not total ignorance of the Romaic, would afford me some advantages of experience. To this project the only objection is of a domestic nature, and I shall try to get over it; -if I fail in this, I'must do what I can where I am ; but it will be always a source of regret to me, to think that I might perhaps have done more for the cause on the spot.
“Our last information of Captain Blaquiere is from Ancona, where he embarked with a fair wind for Corfu, on the 15th ult. ; he is now probably at his destination. My last letter from him personally was dated Rome; he had been refused a passport through the Neapolitan territory, and returned to strike up through Romagna for Ancona :-- little time, however, appears to have been lost by the delay.
“ The principal material wanted by the Greeks appears to be, first, a park of field artillery-light, and fit for mountain service ; secondly, gunpowder ; thirdly, hospital or medical stores. The readiest mode of transmission is, I hear, by Idra, addressed to Mr. Negri, the minister. I meant to send up a certain quantity of the two latter-no great deal — but enough for an individual to show his good wishes for the Greek success,—but am pausing, because, in case I should go myself, I can take them with me. I do not want to limit my own contribution to this merely, but more especially, if I can get to Greece myself, I should devote whatever resources I can muster of my own, to advancing the great object. I am in correspondence with Signor Nicolas Karrellas (well known to Mr. Hobhouse), who is now at Pisa ; but his latest advice merely stated that the Greeks are at present employed in organizing their internal government, and the details of its administration : this would seem to indicate security, but the war is however far from being terminated.
“ The Turks are an obstinate race, as all former wars have proved them, and will return to the charge for years to come, even if beaten, as it is to be hoped they will be. But in no case can the labours of the Committee be said to be in vain ; for in the event even of the Greeks being subdued, and dispersed, the funds which could be employed in succouring and gathering together the remnant, so as to alleviate in part their distresses, and enable them to find or make a country (as so many
emigrants of other nations have been compelled to do), would • bless, both those who gave and those who took,' as the bounty both of justice and of mercy
“ With regard to the formation of a brigade, (which Mr. Hobhouse hints at in his short letter of this day's receipt, enclosing the one to which I have the honour to reply), I would presume to suggest—but merely as an opinion, resulting rather from the melancholy experience of the brigades embarked in the Columbian service than from any experiment yet fairly tried in GREECE,—that the attention of the Committee had better perhaps be directed to the employment of officers of experience than the enrolment of raw British soldiers, which latter are apt to, be unruly, and not very serviceable, in irregular warfare, by the side of foreigners. A small body of good officers, especially artillery; an engineer, with quantity (such as the Committee might deem requisite) of stores of the nature which Captain Blaquiere indicated as most wanted, would, I should conceive, be a highly useful accession. Officers, also, who had previously served in the Mediterranean would be preferable, as some knowledge of Italian is nearly indispensable,
" It would also be as well that they should be aware, that they are not going " to rough it on a beef steak and bottle of port,'-but that Greece-never, of late years, very plentifully stocked for a messis at present the country of all kinds of privations. This remark may seem superfluous; but I have been led to it, by observing that many foreign officers, Italian, French, and even Germans (but fewer of the latter), have returned in disgust, imagining either that they were going up to make a party of pleasure, or to enjoy full pay, speedy promotion, and a very moderate degree of duty, They complain, too, of having been ill received by the Government or inhabitants ; but numbers of these complainants were mere adventurers, attracted by a hope of command and plunder, and disappointed of both, Those Greeks I have seen strenuously deny the charge of juhospitality, and declare that they shared their pittance to the last crum with their foreign volunteers.
“I need not suggest to the Committee the very great advantage which must accrue to Great Britain from the success of the Greeks, and their probable commercial relations with England in consequence; because I feel persuaded that the first object of the Committee is their EMANCIPATION, without any interested views. But the consideration, might weigh with the English people in general, in their present passion for every kind of speculation,--they need not cross the American seas, for one much better worth their while, and nearer home. The resources even for an emigrant population, in the Greek islands alone, are rarely to be paralleled ; and the cheapness of every kind of, not only necessary, but luxury (that is to say, luxury of nature), fruits, wine, oil, &c. in a state of peace, are far beyond those of the Cape, and Van Dieman's Land, and the other places of refuge, which the English people are searching for over the waters. “ I beg that the Committee will command me in any
every way. If I am favoured with any instructions, I shall endeavour to obey them