King's College London
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Byron & politics: ‘born for opposition’

41. Byron’s swordstick

Private collection

Although Byron was proficient in the use of pistols, his lameness and his need to defend himself in some potentially dangerous situations made a swordstick doubly useful to him. He received lessons in London from the fencing master Henry Angelo and owned a number of swordsticks, some of which were supplied by his boxing instructor ‘Gentleman’ John Jackson. The name NOEL BYRON on the ferrule of this one indicates that it was used after 1822, when Byron added the surname ‘Noel’ after the death of his mother-in-law.

There are several references to swordsticks in the correspondence of Byron and his circle. Byron wrote to Hobhouse from Switzerland on 23 June 1816 asking him to ‘Bring with you also for me – some bottles of Calcined Magnesia – a new Sword cane – procured by Jackson – he alone knows the sort – (my last tumbled into this lake –) some of Waite’s red tooth-powder – & tooth-brushes – a Taylor’s Pawrsanias [Pausanias] – and – I forget the other things.’ Hobhouse responded on 9 July: ‘Your commissions shall be punctually fulfilled whether as to muniments for the mind or body – pistol brushes, cundums, potash Prafsanias [Pausanias] tooth powder and sword stick.’

In the entry for 22 September 1816 in Byron’s ‘Alpine Journal’ he describes how, at the foot of the Jungfrau,

Storm came on – thunder – lightning – hail – all in perfection – and beautiful – – I was on horseback – Guide wanted to carry my cane – I was going to give it him when I recollected it was a Swordstick and I thought that the lightning might be attracted towards him – kept it myself – a good deal encumbered with it & my cloak – as it was too heavy for a whip – and the horse was stupid – & stood still every other peal.

In a letter to Maria Gisborne of 6-10 April 1822, Mary Shelley described the ‘Pisan affray’ of 24 March, in which Sergeant-Major Masi was pitch-forked by one of Byron’s servants. She recounted how Byron ‘rode to his own house, [and] got a swordstick from one of his servants’.

In this exhibition


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