Famous Meetings in History Stendhal Meets Lord Byron Part 2

About the meeting of the famous writers and poets Stendhal and Lord Byron, history and account of the meeting.

Stendhal Meets Lord Byron

They met again the next evening at a dinner party. By then, Byron had learned that Stendhal had been a secretary to Napoleon, Byron, fascinated by Napoleon, became more interested in Stendhal and friendlier. They met almost every evening in the following weeks, and Byron questioned the Frenchman about Napoleon. "I remember," Stendhal recalled afterward, "that in his moments of genius, Lord Byron admired Napoleon.... In his ordinary moments, when Lord Byron believed himself a great lord, he tried to ridicule the exile of St. Helena, Lord Byron was envious of the brilliant aspects of Napoleon's character; his sublime words annoyed him; we put him quite out of humor by recalling the famous proclamation to the army in Egypt: 'Soldiers, remember that from the height of these pyramids 40 centuries look down upon you.' Lord Byron could have pardoned Napoleon more easily if he had had a little of the colorlessness of Washington. Amusingly, it was not at all the despotic and odious part of Napoleon's character which displeased the English peer."

During several other conversations, Stendhal told Byron of some of the emperor's shortcomings that he had personally observed. At the height of the invasion of Russia, for example, Napoleon had seemed absentminded and apathetic, signing many military orders with an imaginary name instead of his own. Sitting on a hill during the Battle of Borodino, learning that his closest generals had been killed, he had been strangely cold, dismissing the couriers with "Very well, run along there." In the winter retreat from Moscow, the emperor had insisted on riding his white horse instead of going on foot, even though the ground was too slippery for his mount.

As he got to know Byron better, Stendhal had a great ambivalence about the poet. Whenever Byron appeared at a gathering, Stendhal said, "there was the finest conversation which I have ever known in my life; a volcano of new ideas and generous sentiments." Stendhal also found Byron "the most amiable monster that I have ever seen; in poetry, in literary discussions, he is simple as a child; he is the opposite of an academician." But Stendhal detected two sides to Byron: "When that singular man was elated and spoke with enthusiasm, his sentiments were noble, grand, generous, and in a word, did justice to his genius. But in the prosaic moments of life, the sentiments of the poet seemed to me very ordinary. There was much petty vanity, a continual and puerile fear of appearing ridiculous, and sometimes, if I dare say it, that hypocrisy which the English call cant."

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