From Lord Byron to Augusta Leigh
Newstead Abbey, December 14, 1808
My dear Augusta:
What I told you in my last letter is true, it is dealing with the world that has hardened my heart. But you are delusional when it comes to the details, among worldly disappointments you should not include the collapse of any marriage project; I am responsible for countless absurdities, but I hope that God continues to help me escape the worst of social scourges: marriage.
I have no doubt that there are exceptions, and I have no qualms, it would be more, to include your marriage among them, but surely you know the saying that “the exception confirms the rule.” And in this case, as in so many others, it is true.
Here I live my way, and my way is loneliness. Right now, I couldn’t even stand the company of my best friend if it lasted more than a month. All humans share the same deplorable trait: each day they pass by your side they become more and more unpleasant. So I have come to the following conviction: were it not for the periodic return of my ambitions, and the regular obligation to fulfill my obligations, I would give myself to an invariably withdrawn and lonely life.
All the nobility and also the high bourgeoisie have visited me, but I have imposed an almost moral principle: I do not return visits! I have put Joseph Murray in front of the house, there is no doubt that he was a brute and that he would continue to be if he had not molded his feelings and his emotions until they were in tune with mine, although to another degree. I have several horses and a beautiful stable, and despite the expanse of the land and the number of animals that roam it, I can’t get into hunting, shooting bores me. I hate sports, the time when I became a competent boxer is long gone. My library is quite extensive, and society (I’m sure you already know) considers me a remarkable writer. I am proud of the minor repairs and improvements that I have made at Newstead. I live independently, and independence makes me very happy. If I am happy? If you overlook the misfortune of being born in a world like this, I think I feel able to answer you that it is.
I beg you to believe me when I say that I will be delighted to hear from you whenever you see fit.
From John Keats to Fanny Brawne
Mortimer Terrace, August 1820
My dear Girl,
I wish you could invent some way to make me happy without you. Every hour that passes I focus more and more my thoughts on you. The rest of the things that life offers me taste like straw in my mouth. Right now I feel practically unable to go to Italy. I cannot separate myself from you, it is a fact, as I also know that I will not be able to savor a single minute that is not integrated into a life designed to be spent together, forever. But I will not continue to insist. You are a healthy person, and a healthy person will never have a complete idea of the nerves that torture a character like mine, subjected to these circumstances. What island have you told me that your friends intend to retire to? I should feel happy that you can afford that trip that you longed for so much, but as you leave in the company of others my mind does not stop supplying me with objections, jealousy and its undertones have taken over the stage and transform the anticipation of your joys and diversions into unbearable prospect. Mr. Dilke came here on a pleasure trip. I will never be able to bear again, even if I recover, the people who gathered at Elm Cottage and Wentworth Place.
I hate that society. The last two years taste like bronze to my palate. If I can’t live with you, I’ll manage to live alone. Nor do I think my health will improve as long as I am forced to be separated from you. And yet I am reluctant to visit you: I imagine that enjoying the flashes of your light will cast me into a crueller darkness. I live in misery, but I am less unhappy than if I had seen you yesterday. It is impossible to be happy loving you! Only whoever enjoys a star more fortunate than mine will be happy loving you! And who knows, maybe nobody will ever be. I enclose a passage from your letters that I would like you to alter a bit before taking it with me to Italy. I would like (if I can convince you) that you express the same in a less cold way for me. If my health could endure the trance of writing, I would like to compose a poem about how you go through a situation like mine. I would show the world that my love and my freedom are as great as yours.
Shakespeare always condenses human affairs supremely. My heart is choked with the same emotional misery as Hamlet’s when he says to Ofelia: “Go to a convent!” I would like to die. I am depressed by the existence of that brutal world through which you walk smiling. And even more than the world I hate men and women. When I imagine the winter that awaits me in Italy I only see thorns; As long as distance keeps me away, Brown will have a free way to approach you and tempt you with his indecencies. I don’t know how I’m going to rest. Suppose that I settle in Rome; the only perspective that offers me any rest is that they grant me a magic mirror with which to know where and with whom your heart moves at all hours. May someone or something instill in my spirit a little confidence in humanity.
I cannot gather any kind of hope, the world is too brutal for me, I am only glad that there is something as unequivocal as a grave. I know that I will not know the slightest break until I immerse myself in one. Still, I will assert the relief that I will never see Dilke or Brown or any of your other friends again. I wish I was embraced by the faith of your body, and if it cannot be, I hope that tomorrow I will be destroyed by lightning.
God bless you,
From Mary to Percy Shelley
November 3, 1814
I’m so discouraged, I feel so lonely… But we’ll see you tomorrow; it cannot be otherwise, so I will try to stay cheerful and in good spirits. Gray’s Gardens are a dangerous place, I’m afraid; sure you can think of an alternative site.
Tonight I have received your letter with sadness. I longed for it so much because it had been two days since I had received any. Don’t keep it in mind, love, I don’t really know what these urges mean. I know that yesterday you had to take a long walk, so that you couldn’t even sit down to write; but I, who am here at home, still, who do not even go out for a walk, and for whom all hours are equally lonely, I could spend the whole day writing to you, love.
Another circumstance has pushed me to feel more lonely, and that is the effect that reading your letter has caused me.
How to reason and philosophize about love? The fact is that I realized that if they asked me for a reason in favor of your way of loving me, I would not find any. And this despite the fact that I have an equally favorable opinion of love exaltation as you, and I sincerely hope that the experience of our tender love is prolonged and ends up swinging the balance on our side. Anyway, it was eight o’clock and I have to say goodbye, I wish you good night.
Well, now I do have to say goodbye. Goodnight.
I write “good night” with the same spirit with which you reread a much-loved chapter from an old story. Yes, my love is already like an old story, and I hope this stretch of separation reaches its last chapter tomorrow and we can reunite at once. But I repeat that it is very important that you get money, love, because the challenge remains immovable: we must not only challenge our enemies, but also face the onslaught of our friends (because sometimes it is not clear to me that enemies are more harmful than our supposed supports), if we really do not want to separate again. The idea of always being together sounds so lovely… The fantasies I weave about this accomplished plan always brighten my dreams.
No response has come from Hooper yet. I would so much like you to write to us… Ah, but there is something that I like even more: the idea of already being in a home of ours, our own, loved by both of us, where no one can come to bother us: neither enemies nor happy friends. Don’t be angry with me for these reservations, my love, you know as well as I do that friends and enemies make up a bad set. And you are also bad, and you contribute to the evil of this evil group, when you do not settle for staying here, in your house, next to your dear Mary who adores you, studying, going out for a walk, and delivered both to other kind activities. Oh come on, I’m sure that deep down you agree with me: let’s find a home where we can see the sunlight rise and fall over the mountains, instead of a narrow house that only lets the light shine through its cracks.
I have another reproach: in your letter you do not say a word about Lambert Harriet, or about Mrs. Stuart, or about money, or about any other of my concerns. You are so lax when it comes to providing yourself serenity. Although I acknowledge that you were very skillful in reassuring Mr. Peacock, in that I was proud of you. What happens is that, when you are far away, my love likes to talk to you in this way, scolding you, setting reproaches. But the fault is also yours, you know that waiting hours for a letter from you to arrive tightens my nerves and makes my blood race, so try not to spend so much time between one and the other.
Your Mary, who loves you dearly.