The Late Lord Byron: Posthumous Dramas

By Doris Langley Moore | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
DISCORDS FROM GREECE

Every epoch has its own forms of idealization in which awkward reality is so habitually veiled that its appearance without that softening disguise seems like an indecency. The neo-classical modes that followed the French Revolution established a taste for a noble kind of smoothness. In paint, in prose, in marble, in music, what the frequenters of good society thought estimable was refinement. Everything fashionable was given a gloss and rendered graceful and symmetrical. It is true that high drama flourished -- on the stage, on canvas, or in print -- but only if it conformed to the romantic yet very carefully contained lines prescribed by fashion. Portraits were expected to be flattering. Biographies abounded in anecdotes which were false in colouring but shapely, and their lack of authenticity gave little concern.

When the Marquis de Salvo, who had never known Byron and had not troubled himself with inconvenient research, wrote -- in French -- a book about him, the London Literary Gazette quoted at three columns' length a story almost wholly fictitious about his adventures with a heroine named Celina, and praised the work because it contained no private knowledge!1 The author's indifference to private knowledge disarmed even Hobhouse who, on being tactfully visited, had presented him with a page of Byron's manuscript for reproduction.2

Yet only a few days before he had recorded, as an example of the man's ridiculous ignorance that ' Count Salvo -- or Marquis Salvo' (he had an Englishman's disregard for foreign titles) had told Gamba he had 'met Lord Byron in a diligence in France and that after some talk, Lord B. had said You see before you the author of the Corsair!!!'3 Byron had never been in France, and his declaring himself in a public conveyance to be the author of The Corsair was so eminently a fabrication that Hobhouse doubtless felt he could afford to smile at such nonsense.

Books and magazine articles by people who could not claim to have known the poet, or even those whose claim was a blatant lie, gave him a comparatively mild annoyance.

I see that someone has published an account of a voyage of Byron's to Sicily with Shelley mentioning names &c and the New Times believed it because Shelley was said to have been afraid in a storm! ! !4
____________________
1
19 Apr. 1825.
2
Hobhouse Journals, 27 Nov. 1824.
Ibid. 12 Nov.
4
Ibid. The fraudulent work in question professed to be by a Captain Benson, R.N., Master of Byron's yacht. Extracts from it were widely quoted to show, as one journal had it, 'the conduct of the Atheist, Shelly [sic], whose literary labours were devoted to the subversion of all right feeling and the inculcation of principles equally abominable and blasphemous with his own'. Shelley was represented as grovelling with terror 'imploring

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