Charles Skinner Matthews


The poet Lord Byron was a great admirer of Matthews both as a wit and as a pederast. He describes their relationship in a letter to Robert Charles Dallas of 7 September 1811:

M[atthews] was indeed an extraordinary man; it has not entered into the heart of a stranger to conceive such a man: there was the stamp of immortality in all he said or did; and now what is he? When we see such men pass away and be no more - men who seem created to display what the Creator could make his creatures gathered into corruption, before the maturity of minds that might have been the pride of posterity, what are we to conclude? For my own part I am bewildered. To me he was much, to Hobhouse every thing - My poor Hobhouse doted on M. For me, I did not love quite so much as I honoured him; I was indeed so sensible of his infinite superiority, that though I did not envy, I stood in awe of it. He, Hobhouse, D[avies], and myself, formed a coterie of our own at Cambridge and elsewhere. D is a wit and man of the world, and feels as much as such a character can do; but not as Hobhouse has been affected. D, who is not a scribbler, has always beaten us all in the war of words, and by his colloquial powers at once delighted and kept us in order. H and myself always had the worst of it with the other two; and even M yielded to the dashing vivacity of D. But I am talking to you of men, or boys, as if you cared about such things.

C.S.Matthews: letter to Miss I.M. 22 May 1809

I must begin by giving you a few particulars of the singular place which I have lately quitted.

Newstead Abbey is situate 136 miles from London, - 4 on this side of Mansfield. It is so fine a piece of antiquity that I should think there must be a description and, perhaps, a picture of it in Grose. The ancestors of its present owner came into possession of it a the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, - but the building itslf is of a much earlier date. Though sadly fallen to decay, it is still completely an Abbey, and most part of it is steill standing in the same state as when it was first built. There are two tiers of cloisters, with a variety of cells and rooms about them, which, though not inhabited, nor in an inhabitable state, might easily be made so; and many of the original rooms, amongst which is a find stone hall, are steill in use. Of the Abbey Church only one end remains; and the old kitchen, with a long range of apartments, is reduced to a heap of ruwwish. Leading from the Abeey to the modern part of the habitation is a noble room, seventy feet in length and twenty-three in breadth. but every part of the house displays neglect and decay, save those which the present Lord has lately fitted up.
The house and gardens are entriely surrounded by a wall with battlements. In front is a large lake, bordered here and there with castellated buildings, the chief of which stands on an eminece at the further extremity of it. Fancy all this surrounded with the bleak and barren hills with scarce a tree to be seen for miles, except a solitary clump or two, and you will have some idea of Newstead. For the late Lord being at enmity with his son, to whom the estate was secured by entail, resolved, out of spite to the same, that the estate should descend to him in as miserable a plight as he could possilby reduce it to; for which cause, he took no care of the mansion and fell to lopping of every tree he could lay his hands on so furiously, that he reduced immense tracts of woodland country to the desolate state I have just described. However, his son died before him, so that all his rage was thrown away.
So much for the place, concerning which I have thrown together these few particulars, meaning my account to be, like the place itself, without any order or connexion. But if the place itself appear rather strange to you, the ways of the inhabitants will not appear much less so. Ascend, then, with me the hall steps, that I may introduce you to my Lord and his visitants. But have a care how you proceed; be mindful to go there in broad daylight, and with your eyes about you. For, should you make any blunder, - should you go to the right of the hall steps, you are laid hold of by a bear; and, should you go to the left, your case is still worse, for you run full against a wolf! - Nor, when you have attained the door, is your danger over; for the hall being decayed, and therefore standing in need of repair, a bevy of inmates are very probably banging at one end of it with their pistols; so that if you enter without giving loud notice of your approach, you have only escaped the wolf and the bear to expire by pistol shots of the Merry Monks of Newstead.
Our party consisted of Lord Byron and four others; and was, now and then, increased by the presence of a neighbouring parson. As for our way of living, the order of the day was generally this:- For breakfast we had no set hour, but each suited his own convenience, - every thing remaining on the table till the whole party had done; though had one wished to breakfast at the early hour of ten, one would have been rather lucky to find any of the servants up. Our average hour of rising was one. I, who generally got up between eleven and twelve, was always, - even when an invalid, - the first of the party, and was esteemed a prodigy of early rising. It was freqnently past two before the breakfast party borke up. Then, for the amusements of the morning, there was reading, fencing, singley-stick, or shuttle-cock, in the great room; practising wit pistols in the hall; walking - riding - cricket -sailing on the lake, playing with the bear, or teazing the wolf. Between seven and eight we dined, and our evening lasted from that time till one, two, or three in the morning. The evening diversions may be easily conceived.
I must not omit the custom of handing round, after dinner, on the removal of the cloth, a human skull filled with burgundy. After revelling on choice viands, and the finest wines of France, we adjourned to tea, where we amused ourselves with reading, or improving conversation, - each, according to his fancy, - and, after sandwiches, &c retired to rest. A set f monkish dresses which had been provided, with all the proper apparatus of crosses, beads, tonsures &c often gave a variety to our appearance, and to our pursuits.
You may easily imagine how chagrined I was at being ill nearly the first half of the time I was there. But I was led into a very different reflection from that of Dr Swift, who left Pope's house without ceremony, and afterwards informed him, by letter, that it was impossible for two sick friends to live together; for I found my shivering and invalid frame so perpetually annoyted by the thoughtless and tumultuous health of every one about me, that I heartily wished every sould in the house to be as ill as myself.
The journey back I performed on foot, together with another of the guests. We walked about 25 miles a day; but were a week on the road, from being detained by the rain.
So here I close my account of an expedition which has somewhat extended my knowledge of this country. And where do you think I am going next? To Constantinople! - at least, such an excursion has been proposed to me. Lord B and another friend of mine are going thither next month, and have asked me to join the party; but it seems to be but a wild scheme, and requires twice thinking upon.
Addio my dear I., yours very affectionately, C.S.Matthews



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