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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 1.djvu/515

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471
THE CURSE OF MINERVA.

Yet Pallas plucked each Premier by the ear,
Who Gods and men alike disdained to hear;

But one, repentant o'er a bankrupt state,

    inquire into the cause of the high price of gold bullion (gold was worth £4 10s. an ounce), returned (June 10) a report urging the resumption of cash payment at the end of two years.

    It has been suggested to the editor that the asterisks in line 251 (which are not filled up in Lord Stanhope's MS. of The Curse of Minerva) stand for "Horner," and that Byron, writing at Athens in March, 1811, was under the impression that Perceval would adopt sound views on the currency question, and was not aware that he was strongly anti-bullionist. On that supposition the two premiers are Portland and Perceval, Horner is the Mentor, and Perceval (line 257) the "patrician clod." To what extent Byron was au courant with home politics when he wrote the lines, it is impossible to say, and without such knowledge some doubt must rest on any interpretation of the passage. But of its genesis there is no doubt. Lady Ann Hamilton, in her estimate of Lord Henry Petty, in Epics of the Ton (p. 139), has something to say on budget "figures"—

    "Those imps which make the senses reel, and zounds!
    Mistake a cypher for a thousand pounds;"

    and her note-writer comments thus: "It somewhat hurts the feelings to see a minister stand up in his place, and after a very pretty exordium to the budget, take up a bundle of papers from the table, gaze at the incomprehensible calculations before him, stammer out a few confused numbers, and then, with a rueful face, look over his shoulder to V—ns—rt for assistance. How often have I grieved to see unhappy A—d—g—n in this lamentable predicament!" Again, on Thellusson being raised to the peerage as Lord Rendlesham, she asks—

    "Say, shall we bend to titles thus bestowed,
    And like the Egyptians, hail the calf a god?
    With toads, asps, onions, ornament the shrine,
    And reptiles own and pot-herbs things divine?"

    It is evident that Byron, uninspired by Pallas, turned to the Epics of the Ton for "copy," but whether he left a blank on purpose because "Vansittart" (to whom Perceval did turn) would not scan, or, misled by old newspapers, would have written "Horner," must remain a mystery.]