« PreviousContinue »
were as beautiful as his father's.” Comparatively poor, with a coronet in the distance, his early years were passed in scenes such as these, and he received impressions which were never effaced. Hereafter we shall note what seems to have been the only mitigating influence. Such surround. ings were not favourable to the formation of a pure and noble character.
At five years of age he went to school, and was twelve months learning his letters. He was then placed with a clergyman, who taught him to read, and the son of his mother's shoemaker drilled him in the rudiments of Latin. He was next admitted to the free Grammar School of Aberdeen, where he continued till 1798. When he was in his eleventh year the long coveted coronet fell to his share. In the bloom of his new honour he exclaimed, “ Mother, do you see any difference ? do I look like a lord ?” The next day this proud feeling was differently manifested, for on his name being called at school as “Dominus Byron, his emotions would not allow him to return the usual “ adsum,” and he burst into passionate weeping. Despite of his mischievousness, the little lame boy was a general favourite. He had noble and generous senti. ments, though he was wilful, capricious, and impulsive.
The family residence was Newstead Abbey. It was an ancient building, having been founded in the twelfth century, and was situated in the midst of the charming district known as Sherwood Forest. On succeeding to his title, the young nobleman was sent to a private school (Dr. Glennie's) at Dulwich, and from thence was removed to Harrow. He says, he "hated it.” Here he acquired the reputation of being a bold, roystering boy; if there was any “row” against the townspeople and masters he was at the head. It is certain he was industrious even to eagerness in the pursuit of all knowledge, excepting that contained in the curriculum of the school. At this time he exhibited talent for declamation, but no one suspected his poetical genius. The late Sir Robert Peel was a fellow-Harrowan; and Byron says, that " as a scholar, Peel was much his superior, but in declamation they were equal : he himself was always in scrapes, Peel never."
Daring his minority Newstead was let, but he occasionally visited it; and in 1803, when fifteen years of age, he conceived a passionate fondness for a young lady of the neighbourhood, Miss Mary Anne Chaworth, who still lives in his poetry. Of all men we can believe poets to be the most likely to "fall in love." Keen appreciation of beauty-fervid passion, vivid imagination—all conspire to make them devoted lovers. Even at eight years of age Byron fell into childish love with Mary Duff, a simple Scottish lassie. He was in his fifteenth year when his mother abruptly told him of Mary's marriage; he burst into a paroxysm of tears. Years afterwards he wrote: “ How very odd that I should have been devotedly fond of that girl !"
Granting that a poetical mind is peculiarly susceptible and inclined to such ardent love, it is perhaps reasonable to expect a flame as fickle as it is fierce, and we are not surprised, therefore, to learn that Byron was also enamoured of a cousin, Margaret Parker; though Miss Chaworth was probably the only woman for whom he ever felt deep, genuine affection. Her loss called forth some most exquisite descriptive poetry:
“ As the sweet moon on the horizon's verge,
The maid was on the eve of womanhood;
Thus the spirit of poetry was pursed by a real passion.
The edge of his disappointment was blonted and day dreams dispelled by his removal in 1805 to Trinity College, Cambridge. His studies were pursued in the same desultory fashion as at Harrow. His early training and the moral surroundings of his home, combined with his peculiar disposition, may account for the many erroneous views of life which be formed. These ultimately developed into a philosophy false and isjurious, though its banefulness is often concealed by the splendour of his art.
In his twentieth year his first volume of poetry appeared, bearing the suggestive title, “ Hours of Idlepess." It is marked by decided genius, and by many errors of taste. In the light of his history it is affecting to find so early in his career such words as these :
“ When my soul wings her flight
To the regions of night,
He runs over the past of Newstead till of his own times he says,
“ Newstead / what saddening change of scene is thine !
Thy yawning arch betokens slow decay;
" Yet, lingers mid thy damp and mossy tombs,
- The Tear. During an illness he wrote a piece, “ Childish Recollections," containing some lines which reveal how dark a shadow was cast over his early path:
"Is there no cause beyond the common claim
To one who thus for kindred hearts must roam,
“Stern Death forbade my orpban youth to share
The tender guidance of a Father's care :
“ What Brother springs a Brother's love to seek?
To no fond bosom link'd by kindred ties !”
“A Hermit, ʼmidst of crowds, I fain must stray
Alone, though thousand pilgrims fill the way :
I cannot call one single blossom mine." Lord Brougham, overlooking the excellencies of this first attempt at authorship, and assailing its errors, criticised it most ruthlessly in the " Edinburgh Review.” Evidence of Byron's real talent is found in his reply, a vigorous satire entitled, “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,” which disarmed if it did not quite discomfit his opponents. This period is regarded by many as the commencement of the duel with society, which Byron maintained to the end of his life with lofty melancholy and characteristic scorn. His name, however, was thus brought before the public, and fow, if any, ever rose so rapidly in popular favour. He went abroad for two years, visiting the classic shores of the Mediterranean, and for some time residing in Turkey and Greece. When his travels were over, he thus wrote, “ Embarrassed in my private affairs, indifferent to public; solitary, and without the wish to be social; I am returning home, without a hope, and almost without a desire.” Yet this foreign travel gave splendid enrichment and maturity to his poetical taste, and when, in 1812, he published the first two cantos of “Childe Harold,” public opinion was truly expressed by bis own words: “ I awoke one morning and found myself famous.” " The effect of his poem,” says one, was electric. His fame had not to wait for any of the ordinary gradations, but seemed to spring up, like the palace of a fairy-tale, in a single night."
Lord Macaulay, too, testifies : " He found himself on the highest pinnacle of literary fame. There is scarcely an instance in history of 80 sudden a rise to so dizzy an eminence. Everything that could stimulate, everything that could gratify, the strongest propensities of our Dature, were at once offered to him; the acclamations of the whole nation, and the applause of applauded men. In place of the desert which London had been to him a few weeks before, he not only saw the whole splendid interior of high life thrown open to him, but found himself the most distinguished object among illustrious crowds.".
Genius, popularity, rank (for he had taken his seat among the hereditary legislators of his country) combined to gild the prospect which
opened before him. He is now to be thought of as the idol of the gayest circles of London, and indulging in all their pleasures and excesses. To maintain the splendour of his reputation, he who had been always a fitful student and a fitful lover, studied by fits and starts at midnight. We do not wonder that this giddy round of heartless mirth was succeeded by disgust and satiety. In a better mood he again fell in love, but without a fixed attachment, and was accepted by the daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke, a baronet in the county of Durham. Most likely the young lady was enticed into this union by the splendour of Lord Byron’s fame. If so, how soon was the sky beclouded which had looked so bright! His own language is, “his household gods were shivered around him.” Nine executions for debt entered his dwelling within a twelvemonth; and after this short but terrible period of extravagance, embarrassment, and misunderstandings, Byron was forsaken by his wife, who retired from the discord and perplexity of Newstead to the country seat of her parents. She refused to return to her husband; and, on the whole, England's judgment approved her
Occasionally gleams of the old fire shone out; but, miserable and reckless, the deserted husband fled from his native land.
It is noteworthy how he was now influenced by locality and natural scenery, by the passionate perception of grandeur and beauty that had the charm of novelty. For a while his loneliness on the one hand, and bis disgust with England on the other, gave force to his mental energy, and Venice, Italy, and Switzerland, in turn inspired him when he tuned hislyre. His genius had, however, begun to degenerate. His plays were stiff aud undramatic, and the successive cantos of “Don Juan" betrayed the downward course of his life. Writing of this period, Messrs. W. and R. Chambers say, “ The wit and knowledge of that wonderful poem, its passion, variety, and originality, were now debased with inferior matter, and the world saw with rejoicing the poet enter upon a new and noble field of exertion. Greece was endeared to him by his youthful travels and his poetical enthusiasm, and in the summer of 1823, being in his thirty-sixth year, he determined to aid the Greeks in their struggle for independence.” His plans were judicious and on a generous basis. When he landed in January, 1824, all was discord; but in three months his money and influence had done much to compose differences, repress cruelty, and establish order. Such work, however, required resolution and discipline, which were too severe a tax upon a constitution previously undermined by excess and riotous living. Lest this should be thought too harsh a judgment respecting him, we quote one of his companions, who states that at Newstead “the average hour of rising was one o'clock in the day. It was two o'clock before breakfast was over. Frivolous amusements consumed several hours, till at seven they sat down to an entertainment which was prolonged till two or three in the morning. Wines were abundantly supplied,-a cup fashioned out of a human skull forming an unhallowed chalice out of which the guests were occasionally expected to drink.” Such was the preparation of him who proposed to restore freedom to the Hellenes, and to regenerate the land of “ blue Olympus !”
On the 9th of April he was overtaken by a heavy shower, which brought on rheumatism and fever. After seven days, measures were resorted to which perhaps would have been successful if more promptly nased, but Byron bad opposed then. He sank into a lethargic state, and though conscious of the approach of death, could only mutter indistinctly something about his wife, his sister, and his child. For twenty-four hours he lay insensible, and having opened his eyes a moment, shut them for ever on this world, April 19th, 1824, in the thirty-seventh year of his age.
The Greeks mourned their irreparable loss; and in England, where his name was still a talisman, his early death was truly lamented. The body was brought to his native land, and, after lying in state in London, was interred in the family vault at Hucknall, near Newstead.
Even at the present day there is scarcely any face more familiar to the readers of English poetry than that of Byron-80 boy-like, crowned with curls, which wantoned in the breeze, his neck adorned rather than dressed with a loose tie-be not only was, but looked, the poet. His manners, when he wished to please, were most winning and attractive; and his smile disarmed opposition. We cannot but pity him while we do not refrain from severely censuring his course of life. Think of him-neglected in his childhood and youth,-exposed in his most tender and impressible years to influences fatal to wisdom, self-control, and sobriety,—thwarted in his early love,-left without control, or domestic and parental guidance when his passions were strongest,-intoxicated with early success; his excesses and irregularities may be accounted for, while they cannot be excused. After his unhappy marriage the picture is even darker, and it is impossible to palliate, much less to justify, the dissipation of his continental life. Untamed pride and trembling susceptibility sustained him for a time in the vain struggle which enfeebled his health, impaired his genius, exhausted the springs of his poetry, and accelerated the close of his eventful life. It is thought his death must have been certain erelong, in Italy or England, had it not taken place in the pestilential climate of Missolonghi.
Thus far as to the external life of Byron. In our next paper we must consider bis genius.
J. W. TABRAHAM.
EARLY METHODISM AND DIGNITARIES OF THE
ESTABLISHED CHURCH. RICHARD SMALBROKE, D.D., SUCCESSIVELY BISHOP OF ST. DAVID'S AND
LICHFIELD AND COVENTRY.
(Concluded from page 548.) In the following passages Mr. Wesley put Bishop Smalbroke into a corner from which there was no escape.
"It now rests,” says he, “ with your Lordship to take your choice ;. either to condemn or to acquit both. Either your Lordship must condemn Bishop Pearson for an enthusiast; ( a man no ways inferior to Bishop Chrysostom ;) or you must acquit me: for I have his express authority on my side, concerning every text which I affirm to belong to all Christians."