Of the correspondence of this period—flippant, trenchant, or sparkling—few portions are more calculated to excite a smile than the record of his frequent resolutions made, reasseverated, and broken, to have done with literature; even going the length on some occasions of threatening to suppress his works, and, if possible, recall the existing copies. He affected being a man of the world unmercifully, and had a real delight in clever companions who assumed the same role. Frequent allusion is made to his intercourse with Erskine and Sheridan: the latter he is never tired of praising, as “the author of the best modern comedy (School for Scandal), the best farce (The Critic), and the best oration (the famous Begum speech) ever heard in this country.” They spent many an evening together, and probably cracked many a bottle. It is Byron who tells the story of Sheridan being found in a gutter in a sadly incapable state; and, on some one asking “Who is this?” stammering out “Wilberforce.” On one occasion he speaks of coming out of a tavern with the dramatist, when they both found the staircase in a very cork-screw condition: and elsewhere, of encountering a Mr. C——, who “had no notion of meeting with a bon-vivant in a scribbler,” and summed the poet’s eulogy with the phrase, “he drinks like a man.” Hunt, the tattler, who observed his lordship’s habits in Italy, with the microscope of malice ensconced within the same walls, makes it a charge against his host that he would not drink like a man. Once for all it may be noted, that although there was no kind of excess in which Byron, whether from bravado or inclination, failed occasionally to indulge, he was never for any stretch of time given over, like Burns, to what is technically termed intemperance. His head does not seem to have been strong, and under the influence of stimulants he may have been led to talk a great deal of his dangerous nonsense. But though he could not say, with Wordsworth, that only once, at Cambridge, had his brain been “excited by the fumes of wine,” his prevailing sins were in other directions.
MARRIAGE, AND FAREWELL TO ENGLAND.
“As for poets,” says Scott, “I have seen all the best of my time and country, and, though Burns had the most glorious eye imaginable, I never thought any of them would come up to an artist’s notion of the character, except Byron. His countenance is a thing to dream of.” Coleridge writes to the same effect, in language even stronger. We have from all sides similar testimony to the personal beauty which led the unhappiest of his devotees to exclaim, “That pale face is my fate!”