If I rouse, it is into fury

Lord Byron by Richard Westall, oil on canvas, 1813, NPG 4243
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Lord Byron was still just 33 when he wrote this journal entry. Five years after fleeing England, never to return, he was now living in Italy where work continued on his epic poem, Don Juan. Byron was at a low ebb, and not for the first time; on this day, thoughts had turned to Jonathan Swift, who once saw an elm tree with withered upper branches and remarked, “I shall be like that tree, I shall die at top.” Two years after this entry, Byron decided to drop everything, sail to Cephalonia, and support the Greeks in their War of Independence. He fell ill in February of 1824 and died shortly afterwards, aged 36.

The Diary Entry

February 2. 1821.

I have been considering what can be the reason why I always wake, at a certain hour in the morning, and always in very bad spirits—I may say, in actual despair and despondency, in all respects—even of that which pleased me over night. In about an hour or two, this goes off, and I compose either to sleep again, or, at least, to quiet. In England, five years ago, I had the same kind of hypochondria, but accompanied with so violent a thirst that I have drank as many as fifteen bottles of soda-water in one night, after going to bed, and been still thirsty—calculating, however, some lost from the bursting out and effervescence and overflowing of the soda-water, in drawing the corks, or striking off the necks of the bottles from mere thirsty impatience. At present, I have not the thirst; but the depression of spirits is no less violent.

What I feel most growing upon me are laziness, and a disrelish more powerful than indifference. If I rouse, it is into fury. I presume that I shall end (if not earlier by accident, or some such termination) like Swift—“dying at top.” I confess I do not contemplate this with so much horror as he apparently did for some years before it happened. But Swift had hardly begun life at the very period (thirty-three) when I feel quite an old sort of feel. 

Oh! there is an organ playing in the street—a waltz, too! I must leave off to listen. They are playing a waltz which I have heard ten thousand times at the balls in London, between 1812 and 1815. Music is a strange thing.

Further Reading

In 1973 the first of a multi-volume series of Byron’s letters and journals was published, edited by Byron expert Leslie Marchand. Although an impressive feat, getting through them is no easy task, so instead I’d recommend starting with the single volume Lord Byron: Selected Letters & Journals, also edited by Marchand. See also, the Lord Byron and his Times website.

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