From Oeuvres Completes v. 35 (Memories of Lord Byron) (1829)
***One evening in the autumn of 1816, I entered M. de Breme’s box after an excursion on Lake Como; and I discovered something solemn and subdued about the company there. Everyone was silent, and I was listening to the music, when M. de Breme said to me, indicating the man beside me:
“Monsieur Beyle, this is Lord Byron.”
He then introduced Lord Byron to me in the same way. I saw a young man whose eyes reflected pride, with an added quality of generosity; he was not at all large. Then I remembered Lara. And on second glance I no longer saw Lord Byron as he actually was, but as I imaged the author of Lara ought to be. As the conversation was flagging, M. de Breme sought to get me to speak; but it was impossible: I was filled with timidity and tenderness. Had I dared, I would have wept and kissed Lord Byron’s hand. Egged on by M. de Breme’s interpolations I attempted to speak, and uttered only commonplaces that did nothing to break the silence reigning over the company that evening. Finally Lord Byron asked me – as the only one there who spoke English – what roads he should take walking back to his inn; it was at the other end of the city, near the fortress. I though that he was wrong to try walking: at that end of Milan, at midnight, all the shops are closed; he would be wandering along solitary, poorly-lit streets, and without knowing a word of the language. So out of solicitude I was foolish enough to advise him to hire a coach. Instantly, an expression of haughtiness appeared on his face; he gave to understand, with all politeness, that he had asked me for the route, and not for advice on how to travel it. He then left the box, and I understood why he had imposed such silence upon it.
The haughty but perfectly gentlemanly character of the box’s owner had met its match. In Lord Byron’s presence, no one wished to run the risk to which that man is exposed who, in the midst of seven or eight silent people, proposes a subject of conversation.
Like a child, Lord Byron exposed himself to the attacks of English high society, that aristocracy all-powerful, inexorable, terrible in its vengeance, which makes of so many wealthy sots very respectable men, but which cannot, without utter loss of self-control, bear the mockery of its children. The fear generated, throughout Europe, by the great nation led by Danton and Carnot has made the English aristocracy what we see today, this body so strong, so morose, so riddled with hypocrisy.
Lord Byron’s mockery is bitter in Childe Harold; it is the anger of youth; his mockery is only ironic in Beppo and in Don Juan. But we must not examine this irony too closely; for instead of gaiety and carelessness, hatred and unhappiness are at its heart. Lord Byron knew how to paint only one man: himself. Moreover he was, and knew himself to be, a nobleman; he wanted to appear as such to the world, and yet he was also a great poet and wished to be admired: two incompatible desires, and an immense source of unhappiness for him.
Never, in any country, has the body of wealthy and well-brought-up persons – those people who pride themselves on titles inherited from their ancestors or on patents of nobility earned by themselves – been able to bear the spectacle of a man surrounded by public admiration and enjoying the general favor of society only because he has written a few hundred fine lines of verse. The aristocracy revenges itself upon other poets by complaining, “Such a personality! Such manners!” But these two petty complaints could not be used against Lord Byron. Rather, they weighed upon the heart and turned to hatred. This hatred surfaced in a long poem by a M. Southey who, till that time, was known only for the odes which he regularly addressed to the King of England (the paragon of kings, naturally) on the royal birthday. This M. Southey, sponsored by the Quarterly Review, addressed atrocious slanders to Lord Byron, who at one time was on the point of honoring Southey with a pistol shot.
In his ordinary moments, every day of his life, Lord Byron thought of himself as a nobleman; that was the armor which his delicate spirit, deeply vulnerable to insult, put on against the infinite vulgarity of the herd. Odi profanum vulgus et arceo (Horace: I hate the vulgar herd and reject it.) And it must be admitted that the herd, in England, since it also possesses spleen by right of birth, is more atrocious than anywhere else.
On those days when Lord Byron felt braver against vulgarity of word and deed, that is, when he was less sensitive, his affectations of beauty and stylishness were called into play. And finally, two or three times, perhaps, per week, there were moments (lasting five or six hours) when he was a wise man and, often, a great poet.***
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Lord Byron Critical Opinion Stendhal, from Oeuvres Completes v. 35" https://englishhistory.net/byron/lord-byron-critical-opinion-stendhal/, March 4, 2015