Poetry: Death of Byron

http://www.in-nuce.com_Lord Byron
Lord Byron on his Deathbed, c. 1826, Joseph Denis Odevaere. Byron's deformed right foot is covered.
As celebrity artists who suffered early death, Byron and Shelley were the Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, James Dean of their generation. Theirs was real genius, but the eloquence of their talent was overshadowed by the stigma of debauchery, and misspent youth and strength. 

                                                                       Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Fourth Canto

By 1823 (Shelley died in 1822), Byron had tired of his life in Italy and accepted a request to lend support to the Greek fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire. This was his last political cause; Byron died at the age of 37 in Missolonghi in western Greece.

Below is a (long) excerpt from Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Lord Byron by George Clinton, published in1825, the year after Byron's death. Skim or skip the parts that bore you; this testimony of William Parry, one of three eyewitness accounts recorded by Clinton, might be compared to articles published after Princess Diana's death. It dredges up as much detail as possible to satisfy the public's insatiable curiosity about a larger-than-life personality. It also assumes a tone of intimacy that seems to give the author the authority to comment on the poet's character and motives, though Parry admits that he "was comparatively a stranger to Lord Byron."
The events which preceded his lordship's illness are mentioned with some minuteness:
'[O]n April the 9th, Lord Byron ... received several private letters, which brought him favorable accounts of his daughter. Whenever he spoke of her, it was with delight to think he was a father, or with a strong feeling of melancholy, at recollecting that her infantile and most endearing embraces were denied to his love. The pleasant intelligence which he had received concerning her gave a fresh stimulus to his mind, I may almost say revived for a moment a spirit that was already faint and weary, and slumbering in the arms of Death. He rode out after hearing this news twice; and once was caught in the rain. Those who wish to attribute his death to any other cause, rather than to the general debility occasioned by a long system of exhaustion, both of body and mind, have eagerly seized hold of this trifling circumstance, to make the world believe, that he who had swam the Hellespont, who had been accustomed to brave every climate and every season, fell a victim to a shower of rain and a wet saddle. When a man is borne down, almost to death, by continued vexation, and a want of sufficient nourishment, such trifles may complete his dissolution. In this case they were only the last grains of the ponderous load of calamities which weighed this noble-minded man to the earth; and it is my honest conviction that he might have been saved, had he had with him one sensible and influential friend, partly to shield him from himself, partly to shield him from others, and zealous to preserve both his fame and his life.
'A short time after his return from the ride, on April 9th, when he had got wet, he complained of considerable pain and fever, and his physician, evidently from some Sangrado theory, immediately proposed that he should be again bled. To this he objected, and against this, when I heard of it, I remonstrated. I was confident, from the mode in which he had lately lived and been lately tormented, that to bleed him would be to kill him. He was worn out, not fairly but unfairly, and the momentary heat and symptoms of fever were little more, I believe, than the expiring struggles or the last flashes of an ardent spirit.
'On April 11th he was very unwell, had shivering fits continually, and pains over every part of his body, particularly in his bones and head. He talked a great deal, and I thought in rather a wandering manner, and I became alarmed for his safety. To me there appeared no time to be lost, and I earnestly supplicated him to go immediately to Zante, and try change of air and change of scene. After some time he gave an unwilling consent, and I received his orders to prepare vessels for his conveyance. Count Gamba, Lientenant Hesketh, his aid-de-camp, M. Bruno, his physician, and his servants Fletcher and Tita, were to accompany him. Of course I was to remain at Missolonghi, and was more especially to take charge of all his property, and expedite the service as much as lay in my power. I was also to have a vessel constantly ready to send over to Zante, with information of whatever occurred at Missolonghi. It was only by pointing out to his lordship the facility of communicating with him, and the ease and speediness with which he might return to the spot, should his presence be necessary, and his health permit, that I wrung from him a reluctant consent to go away, and a reluctant order to prepare for his departure.
'Lord Byron kept his bed all day on the 12th of April, and complained that he could not sleep, that his bones were very sore, and that the pain in his head increased. He could eat nothing, and in fact took no nourishment whatever.
'On the following day all the preparations for his departure were completed, but a hurricane ensued, and it was impossible for the vessel to leave the port; torrents of rain also came down, the country around was flooded, and Missolonghi for the time became a complete prison. The hurricane was no other than the pestilent sirocco wind; and thus it seems as if the elements had combined with man to ensure Lord Byron's death.
'Hitherto he had risen during the day, and for a short time had left his bedroom; but, after retiring on April the 14th, he came out no more. From that time he was confined to his bed, and nobody was allowed to see him, or permitted to enter his bedroom, but Count Gamba, the physician, the two servants Tita and Fletcher, and myself. The confidence with which he had ever honored me since my arrival was shown even in his last moments; and, still keeping in view why he and I were both in Greece, he told me to be with him as much as I possibly could, without thereby retarding the service.
'My other occupations unfortunately did not allow me to be always about him; but, whenever they did, I paid him all the attention in my power. To me he seemed even from April 14th to be occasionally delirious, and frequently expressed a desire and intention to go on horseback, or to take an excursion in his boat. I observed also that he sometimes slipped in an Italian sentence or phrase or two in his conversations with me, as if he were addressing Tita or Count Gamba. From fulfilling his intention of riding he was dissuaded, partly by bis attendants, but chiefly by his weakness, which prevented him even from supporting himself without assistance.
'On the 15th of April Lord Byron was seriously and alarmingly ill; and I am now persuaded, from the manner of his conversation with me, more than from what he said, that he was then apprehensive his disease was dangerous. The doctors indeed thought there was no danger, and so they assured me and everybody else about Lord Byron. The sirocco wind continued to blow very strong; and it was quite impossible to remove him, unless it had abated or changed. The same circumstance would have prevented us sending for Dr. Thomas, or sending to Zante for anybody or anything, had such a measure been resolved on.
'It was seven o'clock in the evening when I saw him, and then I took a chair at his request, and sat down by his bedside, and remained till ten o'clock. He sat up in his bed, and was then calm and collected. He talked with me on a variety of subjects connected with himself and his family; he spoke of his intentions as to Greece, his plans for the campaign, and what he should ultimately do for that country. He spoke to me about my own adventures. He spoke of death also with great composure; and, though he did not believe his end was so very near, there was something about him so serious and so firm, so resigned and composed, so different from any thing I had ever before seen in him, that my mind misgave me, and at times foreboded his speedy dissolution.
'"Parry," he said, when I first went to him, "I have much wished to see you today. I have had most strange feelings, but my head is now better; I have no gloomy thoughts, and no idea but that I shall recover. I am perfectly collected, I am sure I am in my senses, but a melancholy will creep over me at times." The mention of the subject brought the melancholy topics back, and a few exclamations showed what occupied Lord Byron's mind when he was left in silence and solitude. "My wife! My Ada! My country! the situation of this place, my removal impossible, and perhaps death, all combine to make me sad. Since I have been ill, I have given to all my plans much serious consideration. You shall go on at your leisure preparing for building the schooner, and, when other things are done, we will put the last hand to this work, by a visit to America. To reflect on this has been a pleasure to me, and has turned my mind from ungrateful thoughts, When I left Italy I had time on board the brig to give full scope to memory and reflection. It was then I came to that resolution I have already informed you of. I am convinced of the happiness of domestic life. No man on earth respects a virtuous woman more than I do, and the prospect of retirement in England with my wife and Ada gives me an idea of happiness I have never experienced before.  Retirement will be everything to me, for heretofore my life has been like the ocean in a storm."
'Then adverting to his more immediate attendants he said: "I have closely observed today the conduct of all around me. Tita is an admirable fellow: he has not been out of the house for several days. Bruno is an excellent young man and very skilful, but I am afraid he is too much agitated. I wish you to be as much about me as possible; you may prevent my being jaded to death, and when I recover I assure you I shall adopt a different mode of living. They must have misinformed you when they told you I was asleep; I have not slept, and I can't imagine why they should tell you I was asleep. 
'"You have no conception of the unaccountable thoughts which come into my mind when the fever attacks me. I fancy myself a Jew, a Mahomedan, and a Christian of every profession of faith. Eternity and space are before me; but on this subject, thank God, I am happy and at ease. The thought of living eternally, of again reviving, is a great pleasure. Christianity is the purest and most liberal religion in the world, but the numerous teachers who are continually worrying mankind with their denunciations and their doctrines are the greatest enemies of religion. I have read with more attention than half of them the book of Christianity, and I admire the liberal and truly charitable principles which Christ has laid down. There are questions connected with this subject which none but Almighty God can solve. Time and space, who can conceive? None but God—on him I rely." 
'I have never before felt as I felt that evening. There was the gifted Lord Byron, who had been the object of universal attention, who had, even as a youth, been intoxicated with the idolatry of men, and the more flattering love of women, gradually expiring, almost forsaken, and certainly without the consolation which generally awaits the meanest of mankind, of breathing out his last sigh in the arms of some dear friend. His habitation was weather-tight, but that was nearly all the comfort his deplorable room afforded him. He was my protector and benefactor, and I could not see him, whom I knew to have been so differently brought up, thus perishing, far from his home, far from all the comforts due to his rank and situation, far too from every fond and affectionate heart, without a feeling of deep sorrow, such as I should not have had at the loss of my own dearest relation. The pestilent sirocco was blowing a hurricane, and the rain was falling with almost tropical violence. In our apartment was the calm of coming death, and outside was the storm desolating the spot around us, but carrying, I would fain hope, new life and vigor to some stagnant part of nature.
'This evening was, I believe, the last time Lord Byron was calm and collected for any considerable period. On the 16th he was alarmingly ill, and almost constantly delirious. He spoke alternately in English and Italian, and spoke very wildly. I earnestly implored the doctors not to physic and bleed him, and to keep his extremities warm, for in them there was already the coldness of coming death. I was told there was no doubt of Lord Byron's recovery, and that I might attend to my business without apprehension. Half assured by these positive assertions, I did leave his lordship, to attend to my duties in the arsenal.
'On the 17th, when I saw him in the morning, he was laboring at times under delirinm. He appeared much worse than the day before; notwithstanding this, he was again bled twice, and both times fainted. His debility was excessive. He complained bitterly of his want of sleep, as delirious patients do complain, in a wild rambling manner. He said he had not slept for more than a week, when, in fact, be had repeatedly slept at intervals, disturbedly indeed, but still it was sleep, he had now ceased to think or talk of death; he had probably, as Count Gamba has said, no idea that his life was so soon to terminate, for his senses were in such a state, that they rarely allowed him to form a correct idea of anything. Yet opinions, uttered under such circumstances, have been given to the world, by his friends, as Lord Byron's settled opinions. "If," he is made to say, "my hour is come, I shall die whether I lose my blood or keep it." ...whatever may be reported as said by him must be taken with the consideration that he was frequently delirious for the last five days of his existence.
'On the 18th...whether he was to be bled or blistered, or receive stimulant medicines, they felt that he would not listen to them, and I, who was comparatively a stranger to Lord Byron, or some one of his household, was obliged to enforce the physician's recommendation. At the moment of administering the bark, he seemed sensible; I spoke to him, and said, " My lord, take the bark; it will do you good, it will recover your lordship." He took my hand, and said, " Give it me," He was able to swallow only a very small quantity, about four mouthfuls I think. Dr. Bruno seemed satisfied, however, and said, "That will do." When he took my hand, I found his hands were deadly cold. With the assistance of Tita, I endeavored gently to create a little warmth in them; and I also loosened the bandage which was tied round his head. Till this was done he seemed in great pain, clenched his hands at times, gnashed his teeth, and uttered the Italian exclamation of Ah Christi! He bore the loosening of the band passively; and after it was loosened, he shed tears. I encouraged him to weep, and said, " My lord, I thank God, I hope you will now be better; shed as many tears as you can, you will sleep and find ease." He replied faintly, " Yes, the pain is gone, I shall sleep now," and he again took my hand, uttered a faint good night, and sank into a slumber; my heart ached, but I thought then his sufferings were over, and that he would wake no more.
'He did wake again, however, and I went to him; Byron knew me, though scarcely. He had then less of alienation about him than I had seen for some time before; there was the calmness of resignation, but there was also the stupor of death. He tried to utter his wishes, but he was incapable; he said something about rewarding his Italian servant, and uttered several incoherent words. There was either no meaning in what he said, or it was such a meaning as we should not expect at that moment. His eyes continued open only a short time, and then, about six o'clock in the evening of the 18th, he sank into a slumber, or rather, I should say, a stupor, and woke and knew no more.
'He continued in a state of complete insensibility for twenty-four hours; giving no other signs of life, but that rattling in his throat, which indicated the approach of death. On Monday, April 19th, at six o'clock in the evening, even this faint indication of existence had ceased—Lord Byron was dead.
'Thus died George Lord Byron, the truest and greatest poet England has lately given birth to, the warmest-hearted of her philanthropists, the least selfish of her patriots, and unquestionably the most distinguished man of her nobility. That the disappointment of his ardent hopes was the primary cause of his illness and death cannot, I think, be doubted. The weight of that disappointment was augmented by the numerous difficulties he met with. He was fretted and annoyed, but he disdained to complain. He had formed, I admit, exaggerated expectations, but they had no foundation, in the unfulfilled promises of the people of England; and was he not unworthily deceived, either by the ignorant presumption or the selfishness of those, who were anxious to obtain the weight of his great name to the cause which was the momentary theme of their declamation?
'That he had miscalculated his own power, and the probable resources of Greece, I also admit: but for the former we may find a natural excuse in the very flattering manner in which he was invited into that country; and on the latter no man had, or now has, any accurate information. He shared, with many wise and many ignorant men, the wide-spread but delusive notion, that an individual limited, as we all are, to a portion of wisdom and power scarcely commensurate to our individual wants, may bestow great benefits on a whole nation, or even on the species; and he expected, on his appearance in Greece, to reconcile contending chieftains, to hush the voice of angry ambition, to sooth the disappointed passions of opposing factions, and to direct all hearts and minds, as his own heart and mind were directed, to the single object of liberating Greece. This object, beautiful as it is in theory, is one which a succession of wise men, and a long lapse of time, only can accomplish. That Lord Byron failed ought not therefore to surprise us...'

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