In the summer, as people take trips here and there, it is common for gifts to be bought or acquired for friends and family. These may be symbolic or sentimental. They may be expensive purchases, or a beautifully wave-smoothed stone from a beach. They may be welcomed or merely accepted with civility. Few, however, may have received a gift as gruesomely splendid as that sent to Walter Scott by Lord Byron.
It consisted of an ornate silver urn. The contents, however, were rather more towards the gothic leanings than the romantic, for the urn contained human bones, which Byron was convinced were of Ancient Greeks – ‘Attic bones’. Scott, however, did not appear in any way repulsed, but received the gift with his usual grace and turn of phrase, recalling
I was to play the part of Diomed, in the Iliad, for Byron sent me, some time after, a large sepulchral vase of silver. It was full of dead men’s bones, and had inscriptions on two sides of the base. One ran thus:—‘The bones contained in this urn were found in certain ancient sepulchres within the land walls of Athens, in the month of February, 1811.’ The other face bears the lines of Juvenal:
Expende—quot libras in duce summo invenies. —Mors sola fatetur quantula hominum corpuscula.” Juv. x.39
To these I have added a third inscription, in these words—‘The gift of Lord Byron to Walter Scott.
We do not recommend that this is a suitable gift to recall travels, and the authors indicate that they will decline any similar presentations.