George Gordon, Lord Byron

  (1788 - 1824)

Elizabeth Pigot

Byron's first impressions of Southwell were not at all positive:

... this horrid place where I am oppressed with ennui, and have no amusement of any kind, except the conversation of my mother which is sometimes very edifying but not always very agreeable ... I sincerely wish for the company of a few friends of my own age to soften the austerity of the scene. I am an absolute hermit. (Letter to Augusta, 2 April 1804, MBLW, p6)

A further letter informs her:

My mother gives a party tonight at which the principal Southwell Belles will be present, with one of which, although I don't as yet know whom I shall so far honour, having never seen them, I intend to fall violently in love, it will serve as an amusement pour passer le temps and it will at least have the charm of novelty to recommend it, then you know that in the course of a few weeks I shall be quite au desespoir, shoot myself and Go out of the world with eclat, and my History shall furnish materials for a pretty little Romance which shall be entitled and denominated Lord B. and the cruel and Inconsistent Sigismunda Cunegunda Bridgetina etc. etc. princess of Terra Incognita. - Don't you think I have a good knack for novel writing? (Letter to Augusta, 9 April 1804, MBLW, p6)

Elizabeth Pigot, one of the Southwell Belles, wrote of her first impression of Byron:

The first time I was introduced to him was at a party at his mother's, when he was so shy that she was forced to send for him three times before she could persuade him to come into the drawing-room, to play with the young people at a round game. He was then a fat, bashful boy, with his hair combed straight over his forehead...  (TMLJ, p33)

Even so, he is already showing a disconcerting ability to disassociate himself from his own emotions, and, of course, with the object of those emotions, the girls and women he consecutively idolises and discards.

.. love in my humble opinion is utter nonsense, a mere jargon of compliments, romance and deceit; now for my part had I fifty mistresses, I should in the course of a fortnight, forget them all... (letter to Augusta, 25 October 1804, BECP, p 79)

No doubt there is a certain amount of bravado in this. It is also evident that the idea of distancing himself from his own emotions firstly serves to protect him from the effects, uncertainties and pains of falling in love, and secondly gives him something to write about.

Elizabeth Pigot, on the other hand, was intelligent enought to restrain her emotions and to attempt to develop a friendship with the poet, a friendship which was as useful to him as it was important to her. She had herself written him the following quatrain:

Away, away - your flattering arts,
May now betray some simpler hearts
And you will smile at their believing
And they shall weep at your deceiving.

To which he replied:

Dear simple girl, those flatteirng arts,
From which thou'dst guard frail female hearts,
Exist but in imagination,
Mere phantoms of thine own creation;
For he who views that witching grace,
That perfect form, that lovely face,
With eyes admiring, oh! believe me,
He never wishes to deceive thee:

Then he, who tells thee of thy beauty
Believe me, only does his duty;
Ah! fly not from the candid youth,
It is not flattery, 'tis truth.

(first published in Fugitive Pieces, quoted in BECP, p78)

 

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