The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
"Thou almost persuadest Me."
"Thou almost persuadest Me."
In November, 1821, a gentleman, who had discovered among the papers of his deceased wife a beautiful prayer composed by her with reference to Lord Byron's scepticism, transmitted to him at Pisa, where he was then living with the Countess Guiccioli, and writing Don Juan. One cannot be surprised to hear such a man so situated endeavoring to defend his unbelief by such trite and nonsensical arguments:as are to be found in the following answer to Mr Sheppard's letter:—
"Pisa, 8th December, 1821. D.ar Sir—I have received your letter. I need not say that the extract which it contains has affected me, because it would imply a want of all feeling to have read it with indifference. Though I am not quite sure that it was intended by the writer for me; yet the date, the place where it was written, with some other circumstances which you mention, render the allusion probable. But, for whomsoever it was meant, I have read it with all the pleasure which can arise from so melancholy a topic. I say pleasure, because your brief and simple picture of the life and demeanour of the excellent person, whom I trust you will again meet, cannot be contemplated without the admiration due to her virtues and her pure and unpretending piety. Her last moments were particularly striking; and I do not know that, in the course of reading the story of mankind, and still less in my observation of the existing portion, I ever met with anything so unostentatiously beautiful.
"Indisputably the firm believers in the Gospel have a great advantage over all others, for this simple reason: That, if true, they will have their reward hereafter; and, if there be no hereafter, they can be but with the infidel in his page 14 eternal sleep, having bad the assistance of an exalted hope through life, without subsequent disappointment, since (at the worst for them) 'out of nothing, nothing can arise'—not even sorrow. But a man's creed does not depend upon himself: who can say—I will believe this, that, or the other? and least of all that which he can least comprehend? I have however observed that those who have begun life with extreme faith have in the end greatly narrowed it—as Chillingworth, Clarke (who ended an Arian), Boyle, and Gibbon (once a Catholic), and some others; while, on the other hand, nothing is more common than for the early sceptic to end in a firm belief, like Maupertius and Henry Kirke White.
"But my business is to acknowledge your letter, and not to make a dissertation. I am obliged to you for your good wishes, and more than obliged by the extract from the papers of the beloved object whose qualities you have so well described in a few words. I can assure you that all the fame which ever cheered humanity into higher notions of its own importance would never weigh in my mind against the pure and pious interest which a virtuous being may be pleased to take in my welfare. In this point of view I would not exchange the prayer of the deceased in my behalf for the united story of Homer, Cæsar, and Napoleon, could such be accumulated upon a living head. Do me at least the justice to suppose that 'video meliora proboque however the 'deteriora sequor ' may have been applied to my conduct.—Byron."
Interesting, unhappy Byron! How does this letter, written in some calm reflecting hour, amidst that sensual, degrading life you were then leading, unfold to us a prospect of better things!
"He died! he died of what? of wretchedness—
A wandering, weary, worn, and wretched thing."