Wednesday, January 21, 2009

a fine clear frosty day

From the Journals of Lord Byron
January 21, 1821.

Fine, clear frosty day—that is to say, an Italian frost, for their winters hardly get beyond snow; for which reason nobody knows how to skate (or skait) — a Dutch and English accomplishment. Rode out, as usual, and fired pistols. Good shooting — broke four common, and rather small, bottles, in four shots, at fourteen paces, with a common pair of pistols and indifferent powder, Almost as good wafering or shooting — considering the difference of powder and 'pistols — as when, in 1809, 1810, 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, it was my luck to split walking-sticks, wafers, half-crowns, shillings, and even the eye of a walking-stick, at twelve paces, with a single bullet — and all by eye and calculation; for my hand is not steady, and apt to change with the very weather. To the prowess which I here note, Joe Manton and others can bear testimony! for the former taught, and the latter has seen me do, these feats.

Dined — visited — came home — read. Remarked on an anecdote in Grimm's Correspondence, which says that "Regnard et la plupart des poetes comiques etaient gens bilieux et melancoliques; et que M. de Voltaire, qui est tres gai, n'a jamais fait que des tragedies — et que la comedie gaie est le seul genre ou il n'ait point reussi. C'est que celui qui rit et celui qui fait rire sont deux hommes fort differens." —Vol. VI.

At this moment I feel as bilious as the best comic writer of them all (even as Regnard himself, the next to Moliere, who has written some of the best comedies in any language, and who is supposed to have committed suicide), and am not in spirits to continue my proposed tragedy of Sardanapalus, which I have, for some days, ceased to compose.

To-morrow is my birth-day — that is to say, at twelve o'the clock, midnight, i.e. in twelve minutes, I shall have completed thirty and three years of age! !! — and I go to my bed with a heaviness of heart at having lived so long, and to so little purpose.

It is three minutes past twelve. — "Tis the middle of night by the castle clock," and I am now thirty-three!
Eheu, fugaces, Posthume, Posthume,
Labuntur anni; —
but I don't regret them so much for what I have done, as for what I might have done.
Through life's road, so dim and dirty,
I have dragged to three-and-thirty.
What have these years left to me?
Nothing — except thirty-three

Notes to the text:

wafering - A coinage of Byron's; from the context he seems to mean accuracy in shooting pistols.

Joe Manton - A well-known gunsmith.

Grimm's anecdote - This reads: "Regnard and the majority of the comic poets were bilious and melancholy, and that M. de Voltaire, who is very merry, has forever made tragedies - and the merry comedy genre is the only kind in which he did not succeed. [The point] is that he who laughs and he who makes others laugh are two very different men."

bilious - In Byron's time this meant choleric, wrathful, peevish, ill-tempered.

Regnard - Seventeenth-century French comic poet, second in fame only to Moliere himself.

tragedy of Sardanapalus - A play the Byron wrote: Sardanapalus, a Tragedy. Text and description here.

"Tis the middle of night by the castle clock," - First line of Coleridge's Christabel.

Eheu, fugaces, Posthume, Posthume, / Labuntur anni - "Alas, Postumus, Postumus, the fleeting years are slipping by;" (Horace, Ode 2.14).

Through life's road, so dim and dirty - Byron

Notes about Byron at this time:

On January 4, 1821, Byron began writing a journal. This was his third. See Chronology of Byron's life in the 1820s.

When he began the first journal in 1813, he wrote:
If this had been begun ten years ago, and faithfully kept!!! — heigho! there are too many things I wish never to have remembered, as it is. Well, — I have had my share of what are called the pleasures of this life, and have seen more of the European and Asiatic world than I have made a good use of. They say 'Virtue is its own reward,' — it certainly should be paid well for its trouble. At five-and-twenty, when the better part of life is over, one should be something; — and what am I': nothing but five-and-twenty — and the odd months. What have I seen ? the same man all over the world, — ay, and woman too. Give me a Mussulman who never asks questions, and a she of the same race who saves one the trouble of putting them. But for this same plague — yellow fever — and Newstead delay, I should have been by this time a second time close to the Euxine. If I can overcome the last, I don't so much mind your pestilence ; and, at any rate, the spring shall see me there, — provided 1 neither marry myself, nor unmarry any one else in the interval. I wish one was — I don't know what I wish. It is odd I never set myself seriously to wishing without attaining it — and repenting. I begin to believe with the good old Magi, that one should only pray for the nation, and not for the individual;— but, on my principle, this would not be very patriotic.
When he began this third one he wrote:
Ravenna, January 4, 1821.

A sudden thought strikes me. Let me begin a Journal once more. The last I kept was in Switzerland, in record of a tour made in the Bernese Alps, which I made to send to my sister in 1816, and I suppose that she has it still, for she wrote to me that she was pleased with it. Another, and longer, I kept in 1813-1814, which I gave to Thomas Moore in the same year.

My sources:
Life, letters and journals of Lord Byron

life, letters, and poetic works of George Gordon, Lord Byron

eBooks@Adelaide jpage on Byron

Online Books by George Gordon Byron Byron

Project Gutenberg page on Byron

Extract about Byron in this time:
In 1815 Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke but the relationship came to an end the following year. Byron moved to Venice where he met the Countess Teresa Guiccioli, who became his mistress. Some of Byron's best known work belongs to this period including Don Juan (1821). The last cantos of Don Juan is a satirical description of social conditions in England and includes attacks on leading Tory politicians. Lord Byron also began contributing to the radical journal, the Examiner, edited by his friend, Leigh Hunt. Leigh Hunt, like other radical journalists had suffered as as result of the Gagging Acts and had been imprisoned for his attacks on the monarchy and the government.

In 1822 Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Percy Bysshe Shelley travelled to Italy where the three men published the political journal, The Liberal. By publishing in Italy they remained free from the fear of being prosecuted by the British authorities. The first edition was mainly written by Leigh Hunt but also included work by William Hazlitt, Mary Shelley and Byron. Three more editions were published but after the death of Shelley in August, 1822, The Liberal came to an end.

For a long time Lord Byron had supported attempts by the Greek people to free themselves from Turkish rule. This included writing poems such as The Maid of Athens (1810). In 1823 he formed the Byron Brigade and joined the Greek insurgents who had risen against the Turks. However, in April, 1824, Lord Byron died of marsh fever in Missolonghi before he saw any military action.

Personal Note:

I became interested in Byron on reading his satiric poem, Don Juan, which is both funny and quite good poetry. Earlier I'd avoided reading him because I disliked the byronic associations, was unimpressed by the man's chaotic life, and felt his work demeaned the -- as I thought -- more authentic romanticism of Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley. I didn't know about the journals until I thought to find something to write about this day, birthdate of three people -- a sister-in-law and two nieces -- whom I love (though not byronically).

No comments: