"Nimium ne crede colori." - Virgil, [Ecl. ii. 17]
O trust not, ye beautiful creatures, to hue,
Though your hair were as red, as your stockings are blue.
Introduction To The Blues.
Byron's correspondence does not explain the mood in which he wrote The Blues, or afford the slightest hint or clue to its motif or occasion. In a letter to Murray, dated Ravenna, August 7, 1821, he writes, "I send you a thing which I scribbled off yesterday, a mere buffoonery, to quiz 'The Blues.' If published it must be anonymously.... You may send me a proof if you think it worth the trouble." Six weeks later, September 20, he had changed his mind. "You need not," he says, "send The Blues, which is a mere buffoonery not meant for publication." With these intimations our knowledge ends, and there is nothing to show why in August, 1821, he took it into his head "to quiz The Blues," or why, being so minded, he thought it worth while to quiz them in so pointless and belated a fashion. We can but guess that an allusion in a letter from England, an incident at a conversazione at Ravenna, or perhaps the dialogues in Peacock's novels, Melincourt and Nightmare Abbey, brought to his recollection the half-modish, half-literary coteries of the earlier years of the Regency, and that he sketches the scenes and persons of his eclogue not from life, but from memory.
In the Diary of 1813, 1814, there is more than one mention of the "Blues." For instance, November 27, 1813, he writes, "Sotheby is a Littérateur, the oracle of the Coteries of the * *'s, Lydia White (Sydney Smith's 'Tory Virgin'), Mrs. Wilmot (she, at least, is a swan, and might frequent a purer stream), Lady Beaumont and all the Blues, with Lady Charlemont at their head." Again on December 1, "To-morrow there is a party purple at the 'blue' Miss Berry's. Shall I go? um! - I don't much affect your blue-bottles; - but one ought to be civil.... Perhaps that blue-winged Kashmirian butterfly of book-learning Lady Charlemont will be there" (see Letters, 1898, ii. 333, 358, note 2).
Byron was, perhaps, a more willing guest at literary entertainments than he professed to be. "I met him," says Sir Walter Scott (Memoirs of the Life, etc., 1838, ii. 167), "frequently in society.... Some very agreeable parties I can recollect, particularly one at Sir George Beaumont's, where the amiable landlord had assembled some persons distinguished for talent. Of these I need only mention the late Sir Humphry Davy.... Mr. Richard Sharpe and Mr. Rogers were also present."
Again, Miss Berry, in her Journal (1866, in. 49) records, May 8, 1815, that "Lord and Lady Byron persuaded me to go with them to Miss [Lydia] White (vide post, p. 587). Never have I seen a more imposing convocation of ladies arranged in a circle than when we entered ... Lord Byron brought me home. He stayed to supper." If he did not affect "your blue-bottles," he was on intimate terms with Madame de Staël, "the Begum of Literature," as Moore called her; with the Contessa d'Albrizzi (the De Staël of Italy); with Mrs. Wilmot, the inspirer of "She walks in beauty like the night;" with Mrs. Shelley; with Lady Blessington. Moreover, to say nothing of his "mathematical wife," who was as "blue as ether," the Countess Guiccioli could not only read and "inwardly digest" Corinna (see letter to Moore, January 2, 1820), but knew the Divina Commedia by heart, and was a critic as well as an inspirer of her lover's poetry.
If it is difficult to assign a reason or occasion for the composition of The Blues, it is a harder, perhaps an impossible, task to identify all the dramatis personæ. Botherby, Lady Bluemount, and Miss Diddle are, obviously, Sotheby, Lady Beaumont, and Lydia White. Scamp the Lecturer may be Hazlitt, who had incurred Byron's displeasure by commenting on his various and varying estimates of Napoleon (see Lectures on the English Poets, 1818, p. 304, and Don Juan, Canto 1. stanza ii. line 7, note to Buonaparte). Inkel seems to be meant for Byron himself, and Tracy, a friend, not a Lake poet, for Moore. Sir Richard and Lady Bluebottle may possibly symbolize Lord and Lady Holland; and Miss Lilac is, certainly, Miss Milbanke, the "Annabella" of Byron's courtship, not the "moral Clytemnestra" of his marriage and separation.
The Blues was published anonymously in the third number of the Liberal, which appeared April 26, 1823. The "Eclogue" was not attributed to Byron, and met with greater contempt than it deserved. In the Noctes Ambrosiance (Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, May, 1823, vol. xiii. p. 607), the third number of the Liberal is dismissed with the remark, "The last Number contains not one line of Byron's! Thank God! he has seen his error, and kicked them out." Brief but contemptuous notices appeared in the Literary Chronicle, April 26, and the Literary Gazette, May 3, 1823; while a short-lived periodical, named the Literary Register (May 3, quoted at length in John Bull, May 4, 1823), implies that the author (i.e. Leigh Hunt) would be better qualified to "catch the manners" of Lisson Grove than of May Fair. It is possible that this was the "last straw," and that the reception of The Blues hastened Byron's determination to part company with the profitless and ill-omened Liberal.
The Blues: A Literary Eclogue.
Eclogue The First.
London. - Before the Door of a Lecture Room.
[Enter TRACY, meeting INKEL.]
Ink. You're too late.
Tra. Is it over?
Ink. Nor will be this hour.
But the benches are crammed, like a garden in flower.
With the pride of our belles, who have made it the fashion;
So, instead of "beaux arts," we may say "la belle passion"
For learning, which lately has taken the lead in
The world, and set all the fine gentlemen reading.
Tra. I know it too well, and have worn out my patience
With studying to study your new publications.
There's Vamp, Scamp, and Mouthy, and Wordswords and Co.
With their damnable - -
Ink. Hold, my good friend, do you know
Whom you speak to?
Tra. Right well, boy, and so does "the Row:"
You're an author - a poet -
Ink. And think you that I
Can stand tamely in silence, to hear you decry
Tra. Excuse me: I meant no offence
To the Nine; though the number who make some pretence
To their favours is such - - but the subject to drop,
I am just piping hot from a publisher's shop,
(Next door to the pastry-cook's; so that when I
Cannot find the new volume I wanted to buy
On the bibliopole's shelves, it is only two paces,
As one finds every author in one of those places:)
Where I just had been skimming a charming critique,
So studded with wit, and so sprinkled with Greek!
Where your friend - you know who - has just got such a threshing,
That it is, as the phrase goes, extremely "refreshing."
What a beautiful word!
Ink. Very true; 'tis so soft
And so cooling - they use it a little too oft;
And the papers have got it at last - but no matter.
So they've cut up our friend then?
Tra. Not left him a tatter -
Not a rag of his present or past reputation,
Which they call a disgrace to the age, and the nation.
Ink. I'm sorry to hear this! for friendship, you know -
Our poor friend! - but I thought it would terminate so.
Our friendship is such, I'll read nothing to shock it.
You don't happen to have the Review in your pocket?
Tra. No; I left a round dozen of authors and others
(Very sorry, no doubt, since the cause is a brother's)
All scrambling and jostling, like so many imps,
And on fire with impatience to get the next glimpse.
Ink. Let us join them.
Tra. What, won't you return to the lecture?
Ink. Why the place is so crammed, there's not room for a spectre.
Besides, our friend Scamp is to-day so absurd - 
Tra. How can you know that till you hear him?
Ink. I heard
Quite enough; and, to tell you the truth, my retreat
Was from his vile nonsense, no less than the heat.
Tra. I have had no great loss then?
Ink. Loss! - such a palaver!
I'd inoculate sooner my wife with the slaver
Of a dog when gone rabid, than listen two hours
To the torrent of trash which around him he pours,
Pumped up with such effort, disgorged with such labour,
That - - come - do not make me speak ill of one's neighbour.
Tra. I make you!
Ink. Yes, you! I said nothing until
You compelled me, by speaking the truth - -
Tra. To speak ill?
Is that your deduction?
Ink. When speaking of Scamp ill,
I certainly follow, not set an example.
The fellow's a fool, an impostor, a zany.
Tra. And the crowd of to-day shows that one fool makes many.
But we two will be wise.
Ink. Pray, then, let us retire.
Tra. I would, but - -
Ink. There must be attraction much higher
Than Scamp, or the Jew's harp he nicknames his lyre,
To call you to this hotbed.
Tra. I own it - 'tis true -
A fair lady - -
Ink. A spinster?
Tra. Miss Lilac.
Ink. The Blue!
Tra. The heiress! The angel!
Ink. The devil! why, man,
Pray get out of this hobble as fast as you can.
You wed with Miss Lilac! 'twould be your perdition:
She's a poet, a chymist, a mathematician.
Tra. I say she's an angel.
Ink. Say rather an angle.
If you and she marry, you'll certainly wrangle.
I say she's a Blue, man, as blue as the ether.
Tra. And is that any cause for not coming together?
Ink. Humph! I can't say I know any happy alliance
Which has lately sprung up from a wedlock with science.
She's so learnéd in all things, and fond of concerning
Herself in all matters connected with learning,
That - -
Ink. I perhaps may as well hold my tongue;
But there's five hundred people can tell you you're
Tra. You forget Lady Lilac's as rich as a Jew.
Ink. Is it miss or the cash of mamma you pursue?
Tra. Why, Jack, I'll be frank with you - something of both.
The girl's a fine girl.
Ink. And you feel nothing loth
To her good lady-mother's reversion; and yet
Her life is as good as your own, I will bet.
Tra. Let her live, and as long as she likes; I demand
Nothing more than the heart of her daughter and hand.
Ink. Why, that heart's in the inkstand - that hand on the pen.
Tra. A propos - Will you write me a song now and then?
Ink. To what purpose?
Tra. You know, my dear friend, that in prose
My talent is decent, as far as it goes;
But in rhyme - -
Ink. You're a terrible stick, to be sure.
Tra. I own it; and yet, in these times, there's no lure
For the heart of the fair like a stanza or two;
And so, as I can't, will you furnish a few?
Ink. In your name?
Tra. In my name. I will copy them out,
To slip into her hand at the very next rout.
Ink. Are you so far advanced as to hazard this?
Do you think me subdued by a Blue-stocking's eye,
So far as to tremble to tell her in rhyme
What I've told her in prose, at the least, as sublime?
Ink. As sublime! If i be so, no need of my Muse.
Tra. But consider, dear Inkel, she's one of the "Blues."100
Ink. As sublime! - Mr. Tracy - I've nothing to say.
Stick to prose - As sublime!! - but I wish you good day.
Tra. Nay, stay, my dear fellow - consider - I'm wrong;
I own it; but, prithee, compose me the song.
Ink. As sublime!!
Tra. I but used the expression in haste.
Ink. That may be, Mr. Tracy, but shows damned bad taste.
Tra. I own it, I know it, acknowledge it - what
Can I say to you more?
Ink. I see what you'd be at:
You disparage my parts with insidious abuse,
Till you think you can turn them best to your own use.
Tra. And is that not a sign I respect them?
Ink. Why that
To be sure makes a difference.
Tra. I know what is what:
And you, who're a man of the gay world, no less
Than a poet of t'other, may easily guess
That I never could mean, by a word, to offend
A genius like you, and, moreover, my friend.
Ink. No doubt; you by this time should know what is due
To a man of - - but come - let us shake hands.
Tra. You knew,
And you know, my dear fellow, how heartily I,
Whatever you publish, am ready to buy.
Ink. That's my bookseller's business; I care not for sale;
Indeed the best poems at first rather fail.
There were Renegade's epics, and Botherby's plays,
And my own grand romance -
Tra. Had its full share of praise.
I myself saw it puffed in the "Old Girl's Review."
Ink. What Review?
Tra. Tis the English "Journal de Trevoux;"
A clerical work of our Jesuits at home.
Have you never yet seen it?
Ink. That pleasure's to come.
Tra. Make haste then.
Ink. Why so?
Tra. I have heard people say
That it threatened to give up the ghost t'other day.
Ink. Well, that is a sign of some spirit.
Tra. No doubt.
Shall you be at the Countess of Fiddlecome's rout?
Ink. I've a card, and shall go: but at present, as soon
As friend Scamp shall be pleased to step down from the moon,
(Where he seems to be soaring in search of his wits),
And an interval grants from his lecturing fits,
I'm engaged to the Lady Bluebottle's collation,
To partake of a luncheon and learn'd conversation:
'Tis a sort of reunion for Scamp, on the days
Of his lecture, to treat him with cold tongue and praise.
And I own, for my own part, that 'tis not unpleasant.
Will you go? There's Miss Lilac will also be present.
Tra. That "metal's attractive."
Ink. No doubt - to the pocket.
Tra. You should rather encourage my passion than shock it.
But let us proceed; for I think by the hum - -
Ink. Very true; let us go, then, before they can come,
Or else we'll be kept here an hour at their levee,
On the rack of cross questions, by all the blue bevy.
Hark! Zounds, they'll be on us; I know by the drone
Of old Botherby's spouting ex-cathedrâ tone.
Aye! there he is at it. Poor Scamp! better join
Your friends, or he'll pay you back in your own coin.
Tra. All fair; 'tis but lecture for lecture.
Ink. That's clear.
But for God's sake let's go, or the Bore will be here.
Come, come: nay, I'm off.
Tra. You are right, and I'll follow;
'Tis high time for a "Sic me servavit Apollo."
And yet we shall have the whole crew on our kibes,
Blues, dandies, and dowagers, and second-hand scribes,
All flocking to moisten their exquisite throttles
With a glass of Madeira at Lady Bluebottle's.
Eclogue The Second.
An Apartment in the House of LADY BLUEBOTTLE. - A Table prepared.
SIR RICHARD BLUEBOTTLE solus.
Was there ever a man who was married so sorry?
Like a fool, I must needs do the thing in a hurry.
My life is reversed, and my quiet destroyed;
My days, which once passed in so gentle a void,
Must now, every hour of the twelve, be employed;
The twelve, do I say? - of the whole twenty-four,
Is there one which I dare call my own any more?
What with driving and visiting, dancing and dining,
What with learning, and teaching, and scribbling, and shining,
In science and art, I'll be cursed if I know
Myself from my wife; for although we are two,
Yet she somehow contrives that all things shall be done
In a style which proclaims us eternally one.
But the thing of all things which distresses me more
Than the bills of the week (though they trouble me sore)
Is the numerous, humorous, backbiting crew
Of scribblers, wits, lecturers, white, black, and blue,
Who are brought to my house as an inn, to my cost -
For the bill here, it seems, is defrayed by the host -
No pleasure! no leisure! no thought for my pains,
But to hear a vile jargon which addles my brains;
A smatter and chatter, gleaned out of reviews,
By the rag, tag, and bobtail, of those they call "Blues;"
A rabble who know not - - But soft, here they come!
Would to God I were deaf! as I'm not, I'll be dumb.
[Enter LADY BLUEBOTTLE, MISS LILAC, LADY BLUEMOUNT, MR. BOTHERBY, INKEL, TRACY, MISS MAZARINE, and others, with SCAMP the Lecturer, etc., etc.]
Ah! Sir Richard, good morning: I've brought you some friends.
Sir Rich. (bows, and afterwards aside).
If friends, they're the first.
Lady Blueb. But the luncheon attends.
I pray ye be seated, "sans cérémonie."
Mr. Scamp, you're fatigued; take your chair there, next me.
[They all sit.]
Sir Rich. (aside). If he does, his fatigue is to come.
Lady Blueb. Mr. Tracy -
Lady Bluemount - Miss Lilac - be pleased, pray, to place ye;
And you, Mr. Botherby -
Both. Oh, my dear Lady,
Lady Blueb. Mr. Inkel, I ought to upbraid ye:
You were not at the lecture.
Ink. Excuse me, I was;
But the heat forced me out in the best part - alas!
And when -
Lady Blueb. To be sure it was broiling; but then
You have lost such a lecture!
Both. The best of the ten.
Tra. How can you know that? there are two more.
I defy him to beat this day's wondrous applause.
The very walls shook.
Ink. Oh, if that be the test,
I allow our friend Scamp has this day done his best.
Miss Lilac, permit me to help you; - a wing?
Miss Lil. No more, sir, I thank you. Who lectures next spring?
Both. Dick Dunder.
Ink. That is, if he lives.
Miss Lil. And why not?
Ink. No reason whatever, save that he's a sot.
Lady Bluemount! a glass of Madeira?
Lady Bluem. With pleasure.
Ink. How does your friend Wordswords, that Windermere treasure?
Does he stick to his lakes, like the leeches he sings,
And their gatherers, as Homer sung warriors and kings?
Lady Bluem. He has just got a place.
Ink. As a footman?
Lady Bluem. For shame!
Nor profane with your sneers so poetic a name.
Ink. Nay, I meant him no evil, but pitied his master;
For the poet of pedlers 'twere, sure, no disaster
To wear a new livery; the more, as 'tis not
The first time he has turned both his creed and his coat.
Lady Bluem. For shame! I repeat. If Sir George could but hear -
Lady Blueb. Never mind our friend Inkel; we all know, my dear,
'Tis his way.
Sir Rich. But this place -
Ink. Is perhaps like friend Scamp's,
Lady Bluem. Excuse me - 'tis one in the "Stamps:"
He is made a collector.
Sir Rich. How?
Miss Lil. What?
Ink. I shall think of him oft when I buy a new hat:
There his works will appear -
Lady Bluem. Sir, they reach to the Ganges.
Ink. I sha'n't go so far - I can have them at Grange's.
Lady Bluem. Oh fie!
Miss Lil. And for shame!
Lady Bluem. You're too bad.
Both. Very good!
Lady Bluem. How good?
Lady Blueb. He means nought - 'tis his phrase.
Lady Bluem. He grows rude.
Lady Blueb. He means nothing; nay, ask him.
Lady Bluem. Pray, Sir! did you mean
What you say?
Ink. Never mind if he did; 'twill be seen
That whatever he means won't alloy what he says.
Ink. Pray be content with your portion of praise;
'Twas in your defence.
Both. If you please, with submission
I can make out my own.
Ink. It would be your perdition.
While you live, my dear Botherby, never defend
Yourself or your works; but leave both to a friend.
Apropos - Is your play then accepted at last?
Both. At last?
Ink. Why I thought - that's to say - there had passed
A few green-room whispers, which hinted, - you know
That the taste of the actors at best is so so.
Both. Sir, the green-room's in rapture, and so's the Committee.
Ink. Aye - yours are the plays for exciting our "pity
And fear," as the Greek says: for "purging the mind,"
I doubt if you'll leave us an equal behind.
Both. I have written the prologue, and meant to have prayed
For a spice of your wit in an epilogue's aid.
Ink. Well, time enough yet, when the play's to be played.
Is it cast yet?
Both. The actors are fighting for parts,
As is usual in that most litigious of arts.
Lady Blueb. We'll all make a party, and go the first night.
Tra. And you promised the epilogue, Inkel.
Ink. Not quite.
However, to save my friend Botherby trouble,
I'll do what I can, though my pains must be double.
Tra. Why so?
Ink. To do justice to what goes before.
Both. Sir, I'm happy to say, I've no fears on that score.
Your parts, Mr. Inkel, are - -
Ink. Never mind mine;
Stick to those of your play, which is quite your own line.
Lady Bluem. You're a fugitive writer, I think, sir, of rhymes?
Ink. Yes, ma'am; and a fugitive reader sometimes.
On Wordswords, for instance, I seldom alight,
Or on Mouthey, his friend, without taking to flight.
Lady Bluem. Sir, your taste is too common; but time and posterity
Will right these great men, and this age's severity
Become its reproach.
Ink. I've no sort of objection,
So I'm not of the party to take the infection.
Lady Blueb. Perhaps you have doubts that they ever will take?
Ink. Not at all; on the contrary, those of the lake
Have taken already, and still will continue
To take - what they can, from a groat to a guinea,
Of pension or place; - but the subject's a bore.
Lady Bluem. Well, sir, the time's coming.
Ink. Scamp! don't you feel sore?
What say you to this?
Scamp. They have merit, I own;
Though their system's absurdity keeps it unknown,
Ink. Then why not unearth it in one of your lectures?
Scamp. It is only time past which comes under my strictures.
Lady Blueb. Come, a truce with all tartness; - the joy of my heart
Is to see Nature's triumph o'er all that is art.
Wild Nature! - Grand Shakespeare!
Both. And down Aristotle!
Lady Bluem. Sir George thinks exactly with Lady Bluebottle:
And my Lord Seventy-four, who protects our dear Bard,
And who gave him his place, has the greatest regard
For the poet, who, singing of pedlers and asses,
Has found out the way to dispense with Parnassus.
Tra. And you, Scamp! -
Scamp. I needs must confess I'm embarrassed.
Ink. Don't call upon Scamp, who's already so harassed
With old schools, and new schools,
and no schools, and all schools.
Tra. Well, one thing is certain, that some must be fools.
I should like to know who.
Ink. And I should not be sorry
To know who are not: - it would save us some worry.
Lady Blueb. A truce with remark, and let nothing control
This "feast of our reason, and flow of the soul."
Oh! my dear Mr. Botherby! sympathise! - I
Now feel such a rapture, I'm ready to fly,
I feel so elastic - "so buoyant - so buoyant!"
Ink. Tracy! open the window.
Tra. I wish her much joy on't.
Both. For God's sake, my Lady Bluebottle, check not
This gentle emotion, so seldom our lot
Upon earth. Give it way: 'tis an impulse which lifts
Our spirits from earth - the sublimest of gifts;
For which poor Prometheus was chained to his mountain:
'Tis the source of all sentiment - feeling's true fountain;
'Tis the Vision of Heaven upon Earth: 'tis the gas
Of the soul: 'tis the seizing of shades as they pass,
And making them substance: 'tis something divine: -
Ink. Shall I help you, my friend, to a little more wine?
Both. I thank you: not any more, sir, till I dine.
Ink. Apropos - Do you dine with Sir Humphry to day?
Tra. I should think with Duke Humphry was more in your way.
Ink. It might be of yore; but we authors now look
To the Knight, as a landlord, much more than the Duke.
The truth is, each writer now quite at his ease is,
And (except with his publisher) dines where he pleases.
But 'tis now nearly five, and I must to the Park.
Tra. And I'll take a turn with you there till 'tis dark.
And you, Scamp -
Scamp. Excuse me! I must to my notes,
For my lecture next week.
Ink. He must mind whom he quotes
Out of "Elegant Extracts."
Lady Blueb. Well, now we break up;
But remember Miss Diddle invites us to sup.
Ink. Then at two hours past midnight we all meet again,
For the sciences, sandwiches, hock, and champagne!
Tra. And the sweet lobster salad!
Both. I honour that meal;
For 'tis then that our feelings most genuinely - feel.
Ink. True; feeling is truest then, far beyond question:
I wish to the gods 'twas the same with digestion!
Lady Blueb. Pshaw! - never mind that; for one moment of feeling
Is worth - God knows what.
Ink. 'Tis at least worth concealing
For itself, or what follows - But here comes your carriage.
Sir Rich. (aside).
I wish all these people were d - - d with my marriage!