Saturday, January 31, 2009

till, dying, all he can resign is breath

From the Journals of Lord Byron
January 31, 1821

For several days I have not written any thing except a few answers to letters. In momentary expectation of an explosion of some kind, it is not easy to settle down to the desk for the higher kinds of composition. I could do it, to be sure, for, last summer, I wrote my drama in the very bustle of Madame la Contessa G.'s divorce, and all its process of accompaniments. At the same time, I also had the news of the loss of an important lawsuit in England. But these were only private and personal business; the present is of a different nature.

I suppose it is this, but have some suspicion that it may be laziness, which prevents me from writing; especially as Rochefoucalt says that "laziness often masters them all" — speaking of the passions. If this were true, it could hardly be said that "idleness is the root of all evil," since this is supposed to spring from the passions only: ergo, that which masters all the passions (laziness, to wit) would in so much be a good. Who knows?


I have been reading Grimm's Correspondence He repeats frequently, in speaking of a poet, or a man of genius in any department, even in music, (Grétry, for instance,) that he must have une ame qui se tourmente, un esprit violent. How far this may be true, I know not; but if it were, I should be a poet "per excellenza;" for I have always had une ame, which not only tormented itself but every body else in contact with it; and an esprit violent, which has almost left me without any esprit at all. As to defining what a poet should be, it is not worth while, for what are they worth? what have they done?

Grimm, however, is an excellent critic and literary historian. His Correspondence forms the annals of the literary part of that age of France, with much of her politics, and still more of her "way of life." He is as valuable, and far more entertaining than Muratori or Tiraboschi — I had almost said, than Ginguend — but there we should pause. However, 't is a great man in its line.

Monsieur St. Lambert has,
Et lorsqu' à ses regards la lumière est ravie,
II n'a plus, en mourant, à perdre que la vie.
This is, word for word, Thomson's
And dying, all we can resign is breath,
without the smallest acknowledgment from the Lorrainer of a poet. M. St. Lambert is dead as a man, and (for any thing I know to the contrary) damned, as a poet, by this time. However, his Seasons have good things, and, it may be, some of his own.

Notes to the text:

my drama - Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice.

Madame la Contessa G.'s divorce - This was not actually a divorce but a separation sanctioned by the Pope:
In the last month of the year 1819, after a residence of three years in Venice, Byron removed to Ravenna. His first visit to that city had been made in the preceding spring, on which occasion he had written the beautiful " Stanzas to the Po," beginning:
River, that rollest by the ancient walls
Where dwells the lady of my love.
Of this lady, Countess Teresa Guiccioli, and of this visit and the distinguished attentions paid to him as guest by the lady's husband, Count Guiccioli, we have heard already. . . . The relations between the two men soon become strained, leading speedily to open enmity and finally to a separation between the Count and Countess Guiccioli. Divorce being impossible in Italy, and appeal to the courts out of the question since, so Byron writes, "in this country the very courts hold such proofs in abhorrence, the Italians being as much more delicate in public than the English as they are more passionate in private," — the separation was effected by an appeal to the Pope. The papal decree dictated that the Countess thereafter should live either under her father's roof or in a convent. Naturally, she chose the former, and in the midsummer of 1820 Madame Guiccioli left Ravenna, and retired to a villa belonging to her father, Count Gamba, about fifteen miles from the city. Byron continued to rent a portion of the Guiccioli palace in Ravenna from, Count Guiccioli. Henceforward, for the remainder of Byron's life, his plans were shaped largely by the movements and fortunes of the Gamba family. They, like Byron himself, were ardent revolutionists; when this movement failed, and the Gambas — father, son, and daughter — were exiled from Romagna, Byron also withdrew, and soon all were under the same roof at Pisa; when, in turn, a year later, the Gambas were banished also from Tuscany as they had been from Romagna, Byron followed their fortunes to Liguria. Between Byron and Pietro Gamba, the son, a devoted friendship existed, terminated only by death; for Pietro joined Byron on his expedition to Greece, and stood at his bedside during his last moments.
loss of an important lawsuit in England - Described in a note to an earlier journal entry.

the present is of a different nature - Austria's invasion of Italy to quel the uprisings of the Carbonari.

Rochefoucalt - François de La Rochefoucauld.

masters them all - "C'est se tromper que de croire qu'il n'y ait que les violentes passions, comme l'ambition et l'amour, qui puissent triompher des autres. La paresse, toute languissante qu'elle est, ne laisse pas d'en ètre souvent la maitresse; elle usurpe sur tous les desseins et sur toutes les actions de la vie; elle y détruit et y consume insensiblement les passions et les vertus" (Réflections Morales, cclxxiv.).*
         Speaking of St. Lambert (Correspondence, ed. Tourneux, vol. viii. p. 289, note), he (Rochefoucauld) says, "Que lui manque-t-il donc pour etre un poete? Ce qui lui manque, c'est une âme qui se tourmente, un esprit violent, une imagination forte et brillante, etc., etc."**
         So again, speaking of Gretry, he says (ibid., September, 1768), "M. Greiri est de Liège; il est jeune, il a l'air pâle, blême, souffrant, tourmenté, tous les symptômes d'un homme de génie."*** - source: Prothero's edition of Byron's Works, 1904

Grimm's Correspondence - Friedrich Melchior Grimm (1723-1807) served as reader to the Duke of Saxe Coburg, then acted as secretary to the Due d'Orleans at Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Diderot, Raynal, Suard, and other literary men of the day. He was appointed Plenipotentiary at the court of France and the Duke of Saxe Coburg, who also raised him to the rank of baron. His correspondence with the duke, the Empress Catherine, Frederick the Great, and other potentates, is a lively chronicle of scandal, politics, and literature in France from 1753 to 1793. - source: Prothero's edition of Byron's Works, 1904

Muratori - Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672-1750) published, among other learned works, his Rerum Italicarum Scriptores praecipii ab Anno 500 ad Annum 1500, 29 vols., fol., 1723-51, at Milan. - source: Prothero's edition of Byron's Works, 1904

Tiraboschi - Geronimo Tiraboschi (1731-1794) published his Storia della Letteratura Italians, 13 vols., 410, 1772-82, at Modena. - source: Prothero's edition of Byron's Works, 1904

Ginguend - Pierre Louis Ginguené (1748-1816), who under the Republic was French ambassador at Turin, began to publish his Histoire Litterairc de Fltalic, in 1811. The work, completed by Salfi, occupies 14 volumes, 1811-35. - source: Prothero's edition of Byron's Works, 1904

Monsieur St. Lambert - Francois, Marquis de St. Lambert (1716-1803), born at Vézelise in Lorraine, began life as a soldier and a courtier in the service of Stanislas II., of Poland and Lorraine. In 1756 he devoted himself to a literary career, associated himself with Helvetius and the French philosophical school of the day, contributed to the Encyclopédie, published several volumes of poetry, tales, memoirs, and philosophy, and spent the last years of his life at Eaubonne, near Montmorency, in the society of Madame d'Houdetot. His Saisons appeared in 1769. The passage to which Byron refers occurs in "L'Automne" (Chant troisieme) —
Il voit autour de lui tout périr, tout changer,
A la race nouvelle il se trouve étranger;
Et lorsqu' à ses regards la lumière est ravie,
Il n'a plus en mourant à perdre que la vie.****
In Thomson's "verses occasioned by the death of Mr. Aikman" occurs the line to which Byron refers —
Unhappy he who latest feels the blow,
Whose eyes have wept o'er every friend laid low,
Dragg'd lingering on from partial death to death,
Till, dying, all he can resign is breath.*****
- source: Prothero's edition of Byron's Works, 1904

Thompson - James Thomson.

Notes to the notes:

*Rough translation:
It is wrong to believe that only violent passions, such as ambition and love, can triumph over the others. Laziness, all that is languid -- often the mistress -- usurps all designs and all actions of life, and insensibly consumes and destroys both the passions and the virtues.
**Rough translation:
What is missing for him to be a poet? What is needed is a tormented soul, a violent spirit, a strong imagination and brilliant... etc.
***Rough translation:
M. Greiri is from Liège; he is young, he looks pale, pallid, suffering, tormented, all symptoms of a man of genius.
**** Rough translation:
He sees everything around him perish, everything change,
A new race is abroad;
And when he sees the ravishing light,
He has less to lose in dying than in living.
*****"Mr. Aikman was born In Scotland, and was designed for the profession of the law; but went to Italy, and returned a painter, He was patronized in Scotland by the Duke of Argyle, and afterwards met with encouragement to settle in London; but falling into a long and languishing disease, he died at his house in Leicester Fields, June 1731, aged 50. Byron wrote a panegyric upon him, and Mallet an epitaph, bee Walpole's Anecdotes, vol. It. p. 14." - source: The Works of Cowper and Thomson

James Thomson from

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