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he would have most cordially welcomed, from seeking his acquaintance. But, as it was, no English gentleman ever approached him, with the common forms of introduction, that did not come away at once surprised and charmed by the kind courtesy and facility of his manners, the unpretending play of his conversation, and, on a nearer intercourse, the frank youthful spirits, to the flow of which he gave way with such a zest, as even to deceive some of those who best knew him into the impression, that gaiety was after all the true bent of his disposition.
To these contrasts which he presented, as viewed publicly and privately, is to be added also the fact, that, while braving the world's ban so boldly, and asserting man's right to think for himself with a freedom and even daringness unequalled, the original shyness of his nature never ceased to hang about him; and while at a distance he was regarded as a sort of autocrat in intellect, revelling in all the confidence of his own great powers, a somewhat nearer observation enabled a common acquaintance at Venicel to detect, under all this, traces of that self-distrust and bashfulness which had marked him as a boy, and which never entirely forsook him through the whole of his career.
Still more singular, however, than this contradiction between the public and private man-a contradiction not unfrequent, and, in some cases, more apparent than real, as depending upon the relative position of the observer-were those contrarieties and changes, not less startling, which his character so often exhibited, as compared with itself. He who, at one moment, was seen intrenched in the most absolute self-will, would, at
The Countess Albrizzi-see her Sketch of his character.
the very next, be found all that was docile and amenable, To-day, storming the world in its strong holds, as a misanthrope and satirist--to-morrow, learning, with implicit obedience, to fold a shawl, as a Cavaliere-- the same man, who had so obstinately refused to surrender, either to friendly remonstrance or public outcry, a single line of Don Juan, at the mere request of a gentle Donna agreed to cease it altogether; nor would venture to resume this task (though the chief darling of his muse), till, with some difficulty, he had obtained leave from the same ascendant quarter. Who, indeed, is there that, without some previous clue to his transformations, could bave been at all prepared to recognize the coarse libertine of Venice in that romantic and passionate lover who, but a few months after, stood
weeping before the fountain in the garden at Bologna ? or, who could have expected to find in the close calculator of sequins and baiocchi, that generous champion of Liberty whose whole fortune, 'whose very life itself were considered by him but as trifling sacrifices for the advancement, but by a day, of her cause?
And here naturally our attention is drawn to the consideration of another feature of his character, connected more intimately with the bright epoch of his life now before us. Notwithstanding his strongly marked prejudices in favour of rank and high birth, we have seen with what ardour, -not only in fancy and theory, but practically, as in the case of the Italian Carbonari,
- he embarked his sympathies unreservedly on the current of every popular movement towards freedom. Though of the sincerity of this zeal for liberty the seal set upon it so solemnly by his death leaves us no room to doubt, a question may fairly arise whether that general love of excitement, let it flow from whatever source it might, by which, more or less, every pursuit of his whole life was actuated, was not predominant among the impulses that governed him in this ; and, again, whether it is not probable that, like Alfieri and other aristocratic lovers of freedom, he would not ultimately have shrunk from the result of his own equalizing doctrines; and, though zealous enough in lowering those above his own level, rather recoil from the task of raising up those who were below it.
With regard to the first point, it may be conceded, without deducting much from his sincere zeal in the cause, that the gratification of his thirst of fame and, above all, perhaps, that supply of excitement so necessary to him, to whet, as it were, the edge of his selfwearing spirit, were not the least of the attractions and incitements which a struggle 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 illusions, 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 his flight to any less worthy aim. The following passage in one of his Journals will be remembered by the reader:- To be the first man (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 pure 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, his 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 him, a tax all demagogues must 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 notions 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 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 observe, 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 th ed etails, which had the effect of preserving, from first to last, all his views and principles, upon the great subjects that interested him through life, essentially unchanged.?
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 recreant 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 such as he had himself imaged forth in dreams of song, but hardly could have even dreamed that he should live to see it realized. 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 degree of inertness, or indisposition to change of residence, wbich, in the instance of his departure from Ravenna, was with some difficulty surmounted.
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. »