The Late Lord Byron: Posthumous Dramas

By Doris Langley Moore | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
'LORD BYRON'S JACKAL'

There is a mad chap come here whose name is Trelawny. . . . He comes as the friend of Shelley, great, glowing and rich in romance. . . . I ought to have seen that this Lord Byron's jackal was rather weak in all the points that I could judge, though strong enough in stilettos. . . . They talk of him as a camelion [sic] who went mad on reading Lord Byron's Corsair.

Joseph Severn in a letter to Charles Armitage Brown, April 1823.

Though he waited till Mary Shelley and most of those who could contradict him were dead before launching full-scale reminiscences, as early as 1831 Trelawny was urging Claire Clairmont to help him to realize 'a double object . . . to wit -- the doing justice to Shelley's memory -- [and] assisting me to dissipate the cant and humbug about Byron'.1

There was another reason, apart from the heightened public interest in Shelley, for this anxiety to deflate the fame of 'the world's greatest man . . . my best friend'. In two recently published books, Trelawny had read with rage that Byron had cast doubts on his truthfulness. There was Dr Kennedy's work, in which he recognized himself under the initial T. as one whose statements were generally deemed to be tall stories. Much more damaging was the account in Dr Julius Millingen's Memoir of the Affairs of Greece, where, after a smiling mention of Trelawny's exploits which 'though not new, were marvellous', the author went on scathingly:

Arrived at Cephalonia, Trelawney [sic] discovered that Lord Byron was not romantic enough to be his companion; and he started in consequence for the Peleponnesus; where having roamed in vain in quest of a hero, he passed over to Athens. There he met with Odysseus; and so powerful is the invisible force of sympathy, that, although they could not understand each other's language, they became in an instant, intimate friends.

According to Trelawney, Odysseus was the personification of the beau ideal of every manly perfection, mental and bodily. He swore by him, and imitated him in the minutest actions. His dress, gait, air and address were not only perfectly similar, but he piqued himself even in being as dirty; having as much vermin, and letting them loose from his fingers in the same dignified manner as if sparing a conquered enemy.

. . . Owing, no doubt, to his prolonged stay in oriental countries, his imagination got the better of his veracity, or, as Lord Byron observed of him, 'he could not, even to save his life, tell the truth.'

It is a most curious fact that Millingen's apparently far-fetched mockery of Trelawny's style of boasting falls short of the reality, which

____________________
1
TRELAWNY, Letters. 13 July 1831.

-430-

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