November 26 1814: A Scene at Supper

On November 26 1814,  John Cam Hobhouse  writes in his diary about a supper with Lord Byron, Douglas Kinnaird and Isaac Nathan. Byron is writing the lyrics and poems that will become his Hebrew Melodies for Nathan. Kinnaird apparently is rude to Nathan at the supper. Hobhouse does not mention this directly. There is a tone or at least a suggestion of casual antisemitism in Hobhouse’s description and omission. Hobhouse writes:

Went to London into the orchestra at Drury Lane, and saw Kean in Macbeth. His dagger and murder act is very great, but the play is heavy altogether. Mrs Bartlett’s (Miss Smith) Lady Macbeth was intolerable.

Supped with Kinnaird and his piece and a Mr Nathan, a music master, a Jew, for whom Lord Byron has written words to Jewish melodies. Lord Byron was at supper – we had a scene which is a good lesson against keeping – poor Byron was taken to task for making Mr Nathan impudent by shaking hands with him. Bed at three. Slept at Cocoa Tree. 

Nathan’s version of the supper can be found in his Fugitive Pieces and Recollections
of Lord Byron,  where he writes:

I shall now commence with the object of this preface, since it tends to prove that Lord Byron was a finished gentleman in every sense of the word, and capable of entering into the most refined sense of feeling towards those who had the good fortune to owe him obligation.

I accepted an invitation to dine with the above mentioned officious personage ; when, to do him justice, he did the honors of his table respectably: after dinner we adjourned to the drawing-room : in the course of the evening, Lord Byron, as usual, made his appearance. We talked a little, ate a little, sang a little, and drank a little more : the beautiful hostess took part in a trio of one of my Hebrew Melodies, and her Lothario took the bass part; who, encouraged by the approbation of Lord Byron for his best endeavors in the performance of the trio, exhilarated by the sweet singing of his fair companion, and gratified by the honor of having in his house the first poet of the day to entertain, appeared to fancy himself greater than the greatest of the great, and forgetting all gentlemanly feeling and propriety of hospitality, he turned towards me with an air of consequence peculiarly his own, and vociferated with all the stentorian power of his lungs, ” Mr. Nathan, I expect a — a — that — a —you bring out these Melodies in good style — a — a and bear in mind, that — a — a — his Lordship’s name does not suffer from scantiness — a — a — in their publication.”

I felt very indignant at this untimely, and certainly unexpected remark, and I could scarcely refrain from expressing myself to his no small confusion, when Lord Byron observing my distress at the unfeeling attack, seized the opportunity of shaking me most cordially by the hand, at the moment the mighty Don left the room, and in a low voice said, “Do not mind him, he’s a fool!” His Lordship on leaving the house, again greeted me, and requested that I would call upon him early the next morning. I did so ; and I never shall forget his kindness on that occasion : he reverted to the officious observations of the preceding evening, and said, “Nathan, do not suffer that capricious fool to lead you into more expence than is absolutely necessary; bring out the work to your own taste : I have no ambition to gratify, beyond that of proving useful to you.” He generously offered me pecuniary aid, which I of course declined : he at the same time gave me some friendly hints, not at all to the credit of the gentleman in question, which was afterwards verified.


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