This is the first volume of the Six volume series
Life of Lord Byron with his Letters and Journals
by Thomas Moore.
Links to the other five volumes.
LIFE OF LORD BYRON:
WITH HIS LETTERS AND JOURNALS.
BY THOMAS MOORE, ESQ.
IN SIX VOLUMES.—VOL. I.
LONDON JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET 1854.
CONTENTS OF VOL. I.
LETTERS AND JOURNALS OF LORD BYRON, WITH NOTICES OF HIS LIFE, TO THE PERIOD OF HIS RETURN FROM THE CONTINENT, JULY, 1811.
SIR WALTER SCOTT, BARONET,
BY HIS AFFECTIONATE FRIEND,
FIRST VOLUME OF THE FIRST EDITION.
In presenting these Volumes to the public I should have felt, I own, considerable diffidence, from a sincere distrust in my own powers of doing justice to such a task, were I not well convinced that there is in the subject itself, and in the rich variety of materials here brought to illustrate it, a degree of attraction and interest which it would be difficult, even for hands the most unskilful, to extinguish. However lamentable were the circumstances under which Lord Byron became estranged from his country, to his long absence from England, during the most brilliant period of his powers, we are indebted for all those interesting letters which compose the greater part of the Second Volume of this work, and which will be found equal, if not superior, in point of vigour, variety, and liveliness, to any that have yet adorned this branch of our literature.
What has been said of Petrarch, that "his correspondence and verses together afford the progressive interest of a narrative in which the poet is always identified with the man," will be found applicable, in a far greater degree, to Lord Byron, in whom the literary and the personal character were so closely interwoven, that to have left his works without the instructive commentary which his Life and Correspondence afford, would have been equally an injustice both to himself and to the world.
SECOND VOLUME OF THE FIRST EDITION.
The favourable reception which I ventured to anticipate for the First Volume of this work has been, to the full extent of my expectations, realised; and I may without scruple thus advert to the success it has met with, being well aware that to the interest of the subject and the materials, not to any merit of the editor, such a result is to be attributed. Among the less agreeable, though not least valid, proofs of this success may be counted the attacks which, from more than one quarter, the Volume has provoked;—attacks angry enough, it must be confessed, but, from their very anger, impotent, and, as containing nothing whatever in the shape either of argument or fact, not entitled, I may be pardoned for saying, to the slightest notice.
Of a very different description, both as regards the respectability of the source from whence it comes, and the mysterious interest involved in its contents, is a document which made its appearance soon after the former Volume, and which I have annexed, without a single line of comment, to the present;—contenting myself, on this painful subject, with entreating the reader's attention to some extracts, as beautiful as they are, to my mind, convincing, from an unpublished pamphlet of Lord Byron, which will be found in the following pages.
Sanguinely as I was led to augur of the reception of our First Volume, of the success of that which we now present to the public, I am disposed to feel even still more confident. Though self-banished from England, it was plain that to England alone Lord Byron continued to look, throughout the remainder of his days, not only as the natural theatre of his literary fame, but as the tribunal to which all his thoughts, feelings, virtues, and frailties were to be referred; and the exclamation of Alexander, "Oh, Athenians, how much it costs me to obtain your praises!" might have been, with equal truth, addressed by the noble exile to his countrymen. To keep the minds of the English public for ever occupied about him,—if not with his merits, with his faults; if not in applauding, in blaming him,—was, day and night, the constant ambition of his soul; and in the correspondence he so regularly maintained with his publisher, one of the chief mediums through which this object was to be effected lay. Mr. Murray's house being then, as now, the resort of most of those literary men who are, at the same time, men of the world, his Lordship knew that whatever particulars he might wish to make public concerning himself, would, if transmitted to that quarter, be sure to circulate from thence throughout society. It was on this presumption that he but rarely, as we shall find him more than once stating, corresponded with any others of his friends at home; and to the mere accident of my having been, myself, away from England, at the time, was I indebted for the numerous and no less interesting letters with which, during the same period, he honoured me, and which now enrich this volume.
In these two sets of correspondence (given, as they are here, with as little suppression as a regard to private feelings and to certain other considerations, warrants) will be found a complete history, from the pen of the poet himself, of the course of his life and thoughts, during this most energetic period of his whole career;—presenting altogether so wide a canvass of animated and, often, unconscious self-portraiture, as even the communicative spirit of genius has seldom, if ever, before bestowed on the world.
Some insinuations, calling into question the disinterestedness of the lady whose fate was connected with that of Lord Byron during his latter years, having been brought forward, or rather revived, in a late work, entitled "Galt's Life of Byron,"—a work wholly unworthy of the respectable name it bears,—I may be allowed to adduce here a testimony on this subject, which has been omitted in its proper place, but which will be more than sufficient to set the idle calumny at rest. The circumstance here alluded to may be most clearly, perhaps, communicated to my readers through the medium of the following extract from a letter, which Mr. Barry (the friend and banker of Lord Byron) did me the favour of addressing to me soon after his Lordship's death:—"When Lord Byron went to Greece, he gave me orders to advance money to Madame G——; but that lady would never consent to receive any. His Lordship had also told me that he meant to leave his will in my hands, and that there would be a bequest in it of 10,000l. to Madame G——. He mentioned this circumstance also to Lord Blessington. When the melancholy news of his death reached me, I took for granted that this will would be found among the sealed papers he had left with me; but there was no such instrument. I immediately then wrote to Madame G——, enquiring if she knew any thing concerning it, and mentioning, at the same time, what his Lordship had said as to the legacy. To this the lady replied, that he had frequently spoken to her on the same subject, but that she had always cut the conversation short, as it was a topic she by no means liked to hear him speak upon. In addition, she expressed a wish that no such will as I had mentioned would be found; as her circumstances were already sufficiently independent, and the world might put a wrong construction on her attachment, should it appear that her fortunes were, in any degree, bettered by it."
LIFE OF LORD BYRON.
It has been said of Lord Byron, "that he was prouder of being a descendant of those Byrons of Normandy, who accompanied William the Conqueror into England, than of having been the author of Childe Harold and Manfred." This remark is not altogether unfounded in truth. In the character of the noble poet, the pride of ancestry was undoubtedly one of the most decided features; and, as far as antiquity alone gives lustre to descent, he had every reason to boast of the claims of his race. In Doomsday-book, the name of Ralph de Burun ranks high among the tenants of land in Nottinghamshire; and in the succeeding reigns, under the title of Lords of Horestan Castle, we find his descendants holding considerable possessions in Derbyshire; to which, afterwards, in the time of Edward I., were added the lands of Rochdale in Lancashire. So extensive, indeed, in those early times, was the landed wealth of the family, that the partition of their property, in Nottinghamshire alone, has been sufficient to establish some of the first families of the county.
Its antiquity, however, was not the only distinction by which the name of Byron came recommended to its inheritor; those personal merits and accomplishments, which form the best ornament of a genealogy, seem to have been displayed in no ordinary degree by some of his ancestors. In one of his own early poems, alluding to the achievements of his race, he commemorates, with much satisfaction, those "mail-covered barons" among them,
who proudly to battle Led their vassals from Europe to Palestine's plain.
Near Askalon's towers John of Horiston slumbers, Unnerved is the hand of his minstrel by death.
As there is no record, however, as far as I can discover, of any of his ancestors having been engaged in the Holy Wars, it is possible that he may have had no other authority for this notion than the tradition which he found connected with certain strange groups of heads, which are represented on the old panel-work, in some of the chambers at Newstead. In one of these groups, consisting of three heads, strongly carved and projecting from the panel, the centre figure evidently represents a Saracen or Moor, with an European female on one side of him, and a Christian soldier on the other. In a second group, which is in one of the bed-rooms, the female occupies the centre, while on each side is the head of a Saracen, with the eyes fixed earnestly upon her. Of the exact meaning of these figures there is nothing certain known; but the tradition is, I understand, that they refer to some love-adventure, in which one of those crusaders, of whom the young poet speaks, was engaged.
Of the more certain, or, at least, better known exploits of the family, it is sufficient, perhaps, to say, that, at the siege of Calais under Edward III., and on the fields, memorable in their respective eras, of Cressy, Bosworth, and Marston Moor, the name of the Byrons reaped honours both of rank and fame, of which their young descendant has, in the verses just cited, shown himself proudly conscious.
It was in the reign of Henry VIII., on the dissolution of the monasteries, that, by a royal grant, the church and priory of Newstead, with the lands adjoining, were added to the other possessions of the Byron family. The favourite upon whom these spoils of the ancient religion were conferred, was the grand-nephew of the gallant soldier who fought by the side of Richmond at Bosworth, and is distinguished from the other knights of the same Christian name in the family, by the title of "Sir John Byron the Little, with the great beard." A portrait of this personage was one of the few family pictures with which the walls of the abbey, while in the possession of the noble poet, were decorated.
At the coronation of James I. we find another representative of the family selected as an object of royal favour,—the grandson of Sir John Byron the Little, being, on this occasion, made a knight of the Bath. There is a letter to this personage, preserved in Lodge's Illustrations, from which it appears, that notwithstanding all these apparent indications of prosperity, the inroads of pecuniary embarrassment had already begun to be experienced by this ancient house. After counselling the new heir as to the best mode of getting free of his debts, "I do therefore advise you," continues the writer, "that so soon as you have, in such sort as shall be fit, finished your father's funerals, to dispose and disperse that great household, reducing them to the number of forty or fifty, at the most, of all sorts; and, in my opinion, it will be far better for you to live for a time in Lancashire rather than in Notts, for many good reasons that I can tell you when we meet, fitter for words than writing."
From the following reign (Charles I.) the nobility of the family date its origin. In the year 1643, Sir John Byron, great grandson of him who succeeded to the rich domains of Newstead, was created Baron Byron of Rochdale in the county of Lancaster; and seldom has a title been bestowed for such high and honourable services as those by which this nobleman deserved the gratitude of his royal master. Through almost every page of the History of the Civil Wars, we trace his name in connection with the varying fortunes of the king, and find him faithful, persevering, and disinterested to the last. "Sir John Biron," says the writer of Colonel Hutchinson's Memoirs, "afterwards Lord Biron, and all his brothers, bred up in arms, and valiant men in their own persons, were all passionately the king's." There is also, in the answer which Colonel Hutchinson, when governor of Nottingham, returned, on one occasion, to his cousin-german, Sir Richard Biron, a noble tribute to the valour and fidelity of the family. Sir Richard having sent to prevail on his relative to surrender the castle, received for answer, that "except he found his own heart prone to such treachery, he might consider there was, if nothing else, so much of a Biron's blood in him, that he should very much scorn to betray or quit a trust he had undertaken."
Such are a few of the gallant and distinguished personages, through whom the name and honours of this noble house have been transmitted. By the maternal side also Lord Byron had to pride himself on a line of ancestry as illustrious as any that Scotland can boast,—his mother, who was one of the Gordons of Gight, having been a descendant of that Sir William Gordon who was the third son of the Earl of Huntley, by the daughter of James I.
After the eventful period of the Civil Wars, when so many individuals of the house of Byron distinguished themselves,—there having been no less than seven brothers of that family on the field at Edgehill,—the celebrity of the name appears to have died away for near a century. It was about the year 1750, that the shipwreck and sufferings of Mr. Byron (the grandfather of the illustrious subject of these pages) awakened, in no small degree, the attention and sympathy of the public. Not long after, a less innocent sort of notoriety attached itself to two other members of the family,—one, the grand-uncle of the poet, and the other, his father. The former in the year 1765, stood his trial before the House of Peers for killing, in a duel, or rather scuffle, his relation and neighbour Mr. Chaworth; and the latter, having carried off to the Continent the wife of Lord Carmarthen, on the noble marquis obtaining a divorce from the lady, married her. Of this short union one daughter only was the issue, the Honourable Augusta Byron, now the wife of Colonel Leigh.
In reviewing thus cursorily the ancestors, both near and remote, of Lord Byron, it cannot fail to be remarked how strikingly he combined in his own nature some of the best and, perhaps, worst qualities that lie scattered through the various characters of his predecessors,—the generosity, the love of enterprise, the high-mindedness of some of the better spirits of his race, with the irregular passions, the eccentricity, and daring recklessness of the world's opinion, that so much characterised others.
The first wife of the father of the poet having died in 1784, he, in the following year, married Miss Catherine Gordon, only child and heiress of George Gordon, Esq. of Gight. In addition to the estate of Gight, which had, however, in former times, been much more extensive, this lady possessed, in ready money, bank shares, &c. no inconsiderable property; and it was known to be solely with a view of relieving himself from his debts, that Mr. Byron paid his addresses to her. A circumstance related, as having taken place before the marriage of this lady, not only shows the extreme quickness and vehemence of her feelings, but, if it be true that she had never at the time seen Captain Byron, is not a little striking. Being at the Edinburgh theatre one night when the character of Isabella was performed by Mrs. Siddons, so affected was she by the powers of this great actress, that, towards the conclusion of the play, she fell into violent fits, and was carried out of the theatre, screaming loudly, "Oh, my Biron, my Biron!"
On the occasion of her marriage there appeared a ballad by some Scotch rhymer, which has been lately reprinted in a collection of the "Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland;" and as it bears testimony both to the reputation of the lady for wealth, and that of her husband for rakery and extravagance, it may be worth extracting:—
MISS GORDON OF GIGHT.
O whare are ye gaen, bonny Miss Gordon? O whare are ye gaen, sae bonny an' braw? Ye've married, ye've married wi' Johnny Byron, To squander the lands o' Gight awa'.
This youth is a rake, frae England he's come; The Scots dinna ken his extraction ava; He keeps up his misses, his landlord he duns, That's fast drawen' the lands o' Gight awa'. O whare are ye gaen, &c.
The shooten' o' guns, an' rattlin' o' drums, The bugle in woods, the pipes i' the ha', The beagles a howlin', the hounds a growlin'; These soundings will soon gar Gight gang awa'. O whare are ye gaen, &c.
Soon after the marriage, which took place, I believe, at Bath, Mr. Byron and his lady removed to their estate in Scotland; and it was not long before the prognostics of this ballad-maker began to be realised. The extent of that chasm of debt, in which her fortune was to be swallowed up, now opened upon the eyes of the ill-fated heiress. The creditors of Mr. Byron lost no time in pressing their demands; and not only was the whole of her ready money, bank shares, fisheries, &c., sacrificed to satisfy them, but a large sum raised by mortgage on the estate for the same purpose. In the summer of 1786, she and her husband left Scotland, to proceed to France; and in the following year the estate of Gight itself was sold, and the whole of the purchase money applied to the further payment of debts,—with the exception of a small sum vested in trustees for the use of Mrs. Byron, who thus found herself, within the short space of two years, reduced from competence to a pittance of 150l. per annum.
From France Mrs. Byron returned to England at the close of the year 1787; and on the 22d of January, 1788, gave birth, in Holles Street, London, to her first and only child, George Gordon Byron. The name of Gordon was added in compliance with a condition imposed by will on whoever should become husband of the heiress of Gight; and at the baptism of the child, the Duke of Gordon, and Colonel Duff of Fetteresso, stood godfathers.
In reference to the circumstance of his being an only child, Lord Byron, in one of his journals, mentions some curious coincidences in his family, which, to a mind disposed as his was to regard every thing connected with himself as out of the ordinary course of events, would naturally appear even more strange and singular than they are. "I have been thinking," he says, "of an odd circumstance. My daughter (1), my wife (2), my half-sister (3), my mother (4), my sister's mother (5), my natural daughter (6), and myself (7), are, or were, all only children. My sister's mother (Lady Conyers) had only my half-sister by that second marriage, (herself, too, an only child,) and my father had only me, an only child, by his second marriage with my mother, an only child too. Such a complication of only children, all tending to one family, is singular enough, and looks like fatality almost." He then adds, characteristically, "But the fiercest animals have the fewest numbers in their litters, as lions, tigers, and even elephants, which are mild in comparison."
From London, Mrs. Byron proceeded with her infant to Scotland; and, in the year 1790, took up her residence in Aberdeen, where she was soon after joined by Captain Byron. Here for a short time they lived together in lodgings at the house of a person named Anderson, in Queen Street. But their union being by no means happy, a separation took place between them, and Mrs. Byron removed to lodgings at the other end of the street. Notwithstanding this schism, they for some time continued to visit, and even to drink tea with each other; but the elements of discord were strong on both sides, and their separation was, at last, complete and final. He would frequently, however, accost the nurse and his son in their walks, and expressed a strong wish to have the child for a day or two, on a visit with him. To this request Mrs. Byron was, at first, not very willing to accede, but, on the representation of the nurse, that "if he kept the boy one night, he would not do so another," she consented. The event proved as the nurse had predicted; on enquiring next morning after the child, she was told by Captain Byron that he had had quite enough of his young visitor, and she might take him home again.
It should be observed, however, that Mrs. Byron, at this period, was unable to keep more than one servant, and that, sent as the boy was on this occasion to encounter the trial of a visit, without the accustomed superintendence of his nurse, it is not so wonderful that he should have been found, under such circumstances, rather an unmanageable guest. That as a child, his temper was violent, or rather sullenly passionate, is certain. Even when in petticoats, he showed the same uncontrollable spirit with his nurse, which he afterwards exhibited when an author, with his critics. Being angrily reprimanded by her, one day, for having soiled or torn a new frock in which he had been just dressed, he got into one of his "silent rages" (as he himself has described them), seized the frock with both his hands, rent it from top to bottom, and stood in sullen stillness, setting his censurer and her wrath at defiance.
But, notwithstanding this, and other such unruly outbreaks,—in which he was but too much encouraged by the example of his mother, who frequently, it is said, proceeded to the same extremities with her caps, gowns, &c.,—there was in his disposition, as appears from the concurrent testimony of nurses, tutors, and all who were employed about him, a mixture of affectionate sweetness and playfulness, by which it was impossible not to be attached; and which rendered him then, as in his riper years, easily manageable by those who loved and understood him sufficiently to be at once gentle and firm enough for the task. The female attendant of whom we have spoken, as well as her sister, Mary Gray, who succeeded her, gained an influence over his mind against which he very rarely rebelled; while his mother, whose capricious excesses, both of anger and of fondness, left her little hold on either his respect or affection, was indebted solely to his sense of filial duty for any small portion of authority she was ever able to acquire over him.
By an accident which, it is said, occurred at the time of his birth, one of his feet was twisted out of its natural position, and this defect (chiefly from the contrivances employed to remedy it) was a source of much pain and inconvenience to him during his early years. The expedients used at this period to restore the limb to shape, were adopted by the advice, and under the direction, of the celebrated John Hunter, with whom Dr. Livingstone of Aberdeen corresponded on the subject; and his nurse, to whom fell the task of putting on these machines or bandages, at bedtime, would often, as she herself told my informant, sing him to sleep, or tell him stories and legends, in which, like most other children, he took great delight. She also taught him, while yet an infant, to repeat a great number of the Psalms; and the first and twenty-third Psalms were among the earliest that he committed to memory. It is a remarkable fact, indeed, that through the care of this respectable woman, who was herself of a very religious disposition, he attained a far earlier and more intimate acquaintance with the Sacred Writings than falls to the lot of most young people. In a letter which he wrote to Mr. Murray, from Italy, in 1821 after requesting of that gentleman to send him, by the first opportunity, a Bible, he adds—"Don't forget this, for I am a great reader and admirer of those books, and had read them through and through before I was eight years old,—that is to say, the Old Testament, for the New struck me as a task, but the other as a pleasure. I speak as a boy, from the recollected impression of that period at Aberdeen, in 1796."
The malformation of his foot was, even at this childish age, a subject on which he showed peculiar sensitiveness. I have been told by a gentleman of Glasgow, that the person who nursed his wife, and who still lives in his family, used often to join the nurse of Byron when they were out with their respective charges, and one day said to her, as they walked together, "What a pretty boy Byron is! what a pity he has such a leg!" On hearing this allusion to his infirmity, the child's eyes flashed with anger, and striking at her with a little whip which he held in his hand, he exclaimed impatiently, "Dinna speak of it!" Sometimes, however, as in after life, he could talk indifferently and even jestingly of this lameness; and there being another little boy in the neighbourhood, who had a similar defect in one of his feet, Byron would say, laughingly, "Come and see the twa laddies with the twa club feet going up the Broad Street."
Among many instances of his quickness and energy at this age, his nurse mentioned a little incident that one night occurred, on her taking him to the theatre to see the "Taming of the Shrew." He had attended to the performance, for some time, with silent interest; but, in the scene between Catherine and Petruchio, where the following dialogue takes place,—
Cath. I know it is the moon. Pet. Nay, then, you lie,—it is the blessed sun,—
little Geordie (as they called the child), starting from his seat, cried out boldly, "But I say it is the moon, sir."
The short visit of Captain Byron to Aberdeen has already been mentioned, and he again passed two or three months in that city, before his last departure for France. On both occasions, his chief object was to extract still more money, if possible, from the unfortunate woman whom he had beggared; and so far was he successful, that, during his last visit, narrow as were her means, she contrived to furnish him with the money necessary for his journey to Valenciennes, where, in the following year, 1791, he died. Though latterly Mrs. Byron would not see her husband, she entertained, it is said, a strong affection for him to the last; and on those occasions, when the nurse used to meet him in her walks, would enquire of her with the tenderest anxiety as to his health and looks. When the intelligence of his death, too, arrived, her grief, according to the account of this same attendant, bordered on distraction, and her shrieks were so loud as to be heard in the street. She was, indeed, a woman full of the most passionate extremes, and her grief and affection were bursts as much of temper as of feeling. To mourn at all, however, for such a husband was, it must be allowed, a most gratuitous stretch of generosity. Having married her, as he openly avowed, for her fortune alone, he soon dissipated this, the solitary charm she possessed for him, and was then unmanful enough to taunt her with the inconveniences of that penury which his own extravagance had occasioned.
When not quite five years old, young Byron was sent to a day-school at Aberdeen, taught by Mr. Bowers, and remained there, with some interruptions, during a twelvemonth, as appears by the following extract from the day-book of the school:—
George Gordon Byron. 19th November, 1792. 19th November, 1793—paid one guinea.
The terms of this school for reading were only five shillings a quarter, and it was evidently less with a view to the boy's advance in learning than as a cheap mode of keeping him quiet that his mother had sent him to it. Of the progress of his infantine studies at Aberdeen, as well under Mr. Bowers as under the various other persons that instructed him, we have the following interesting particulars communicated by himself, in a sort of journal which he once began, under the title of "My Dictionary," and which is preserved in one of his manuscript books.
"For several years of my earliest childhood, I was in that city, but have never revisited it since I was ten years old. I was sent, at five years old, or earlier, to a school kept by a Mr. Bowers, who was called 'Bodsy Bowers,' by reason of his dapperness. It was a school for both sexes. I learned little there except to repeat by rote the first lesson of monosyllables ('God made man'—'Let us love him'), by hearing it often repeated, without acquiring a letter. Whenever proof was made of my progress, at home, I repeated these words with the most rapid fluency; but on turning over a new leaf, I continued to repeat them, so that the narrow boundaries of my first year's accomplishments were detected, my ears boxed, (which they did not deserve, seeing it was by ear only that I had acquired my letters,) and my intellects consigned to a new preceptor. He was a very devout, clever, little clergyman, named Ross, afterwards minister of one of the kirks (East, I think). Under him I made astonishing progress; and I recollect to this day his mild manners and good-natured pains-taking. The moment I could read, my grand passion was history, and, why I know not, but I was particularly taken with the battle near the Lake Regillus in the Roman History, put into my hands the first. Four years ago, when standing on the heights of Tusculum, and looking down upon the little round lake that was once Regillus, and which dots the immense expanse below, I remembered my young enthusiasm and my old instructor. Afterwards I had a very serious, saturnine, but kind young man, named Paterson, for a tutor. He was the son of my shoemaker, but a good scholar, as is common with the Scotch. He was a rigid Presbyterian also. With him I began Latin in 'Ruddiman's Grammar,' and continued till I went to the 'Grammar School, (Scotice, 'Schule; Aberdonice, 'Squeel,') where I threaded all the classes to the fourth, when I was recalled to England (where I had been hatched) by the demise of my uncle. I acquired this handwriting, which I can hardly read myself, under the fair copies of Mr. Duncan of the same city: I don't think he would plume himself much upon my progress. However, I wrote much better then than I have ever done since. Haste and agitation of one kind or another have quite spoilt as pretty a scrawl as ever scratched over a frank. The grammar-school might consist of a hundred and fifty of all ages under age. It was divided into five classes, taught by four masters, the chief teaching the fourth and fifth himself. As in England, the fifth, sixth forms, and monitors, are heard by the head masters."
Of his class-fellows at the grammar-school there are many, of course, still alive, by whom he is well remembered; and the general impression they retain of him is, that he was a lively, warm-hearted, and high-spirited boy—passionate and resentful, but affectionate and companionable with his schoolfellows—to a remarkable degree venturous and fearless, and (as one of them significantly expressed it) "always more ready to give a blow than take one." Among many anecdotes illustrative of this spirit, it is related that once, in returning home from school, he fell in with a boy who had on some former occasion insulted him, but had then got off unpunished—little Byron, however, at the time, promising to "pay him off" whenever they should meet again. Accordingly, on this second encounter, though there were some other boys to take his opponent's part, he succeeded in inflicting upon him a hearty beating. On his return home, breathless, the servant enquired what he had been about, and was answered by him with a mixture of rage and humour, that he had been paying a debt, by beating a boy according to promise; for that he was a Byron, and would never belie his motto, "Trust Byron."
He was, indeed, much more anxious to distinguish himself among his school-fellows by prowess in all sports and exercises, than by advancement in learning. Though quick, when he could be persuaded to attend, or had any study that pleased him, he was in general very low in the class, nor seemed ambitious of being promoted any higher. It is the custom, it seems, in this seminary, to invert, now and then, the order of the class, so as to make the highest and lowest boys change places,—with a view, no doubt, of piquing the ambition of both. On these occasions, and only these, Byron was sometimes at the head, and the master, to banter him, would say, "Now, George, man, let me see how soon you'll be at the foot again."
During this period, his mother and he made, occasionally, visits among their friends, passing some time at Fetteresso, the seat of his godfather, Colonel Duff, (where the child's delight with a humorous old butler, named Ernest Fidler, is still remembered,) and also at Banff, where some near connections of Mrs. Byron resided.
In the summer of the year 1796, after an attack of scarlet-fever, he was removed by his mother for change of air into the Highlands; and it was either at this time, or in the following year, that they took up their residence at a farm-house in the neighbourhood of Ballater, a favourite summer resort for health and gaiety, about forty miles up the Dee from Aberdeen. Though this house, where they still show with much pride the bed in which young Byron slept, has become naturally a place of pilgrimage for the worshippers of genius, neither its own appearance, nor that of the small bleak valley, in which it stands, is at all worthy of being associated with the memory of a poet. Within a short distance of it, however, all those features of wildness and beauty, which mark the course of the Dee through the Highlands, may be commanded. Here the dark summit of Lachin-y-gair stood towering before the eyes of the future bard; and the verses in which, not many years afterwards, he commemorated this sublime object, show that, young as he was, at the time, its "frowning glories" were not unnoticed by him.
Ah, there my young footsteps in infancy wandered, My cap was the bonnet, my cloak was the plaid; On chieftains long perish'd my memory ponder'd As daily I strode through the pine-cover'd glade. I sought not my home till the day's dying glory Gave place to the rays of the bright polar-star; For Fancy was cheer'd by traditional story, Disclosed by the natives of dark Loch-na-gar.
To the wildness and grandeur of the scenes, among which his childhood was passed, it is not unusual to trace the first awakening of his poetic talent. But it may be questioned whether this faculty was ever so produced. That the charm of scenery, which derives its chief power from fancy and association, should be much felt at an age when fancy is yet hardly awake, and associations but few, can with difficulty, even making every allowance for the prematurity of genius, be conceived. The light which the poet sees around the forms of nature is not so much in the objects themselves as in the eye that contemplates them; and Imagination must first be able to lend a glory to such scenes, before she can derive inspiration from them. As materials, indeed, for the poetic faculty, when developed, to work upon, these impressions of the new and wonderful retained from childhood, and retained with all the vividness of recollection which belongs to genius, may form, it is true, the purest and most precious part of that aliment, with which the memory of the poet feeds his imagination. But still, it is the newly-awakened power within him that is the source of the charm;—it is the force of fancy alone that, acting upon his recollections, impregnates, as it were, all the past with poesy. In this respect, such impressions of natural scenery as Lord Byron received in his childhood must be classed with the various other remembrances which that period leaves behind—of its innocence, its sports, its first hopes and affections—all of them reminiscences which the poet afterwards converts to his use, but which no more make the poet than—to apply an illustration of Byron's own—the honey can be said to make the bee that treasures it.
When it happens—as was the case with Lord Byron in Greece—that the same peculiar features of nature, over which Memory has shed this reflective charm, are reproduced before the eyes under new and inspiring circumstances, and with all the accessories which an imagination, in its full vigour and wealth, can lend them, then, indeed, do both the past and present combine to make the enchantment complete; and never was there a heart more borne away by this confluence of feelings than that of Byron. In a poem, written about a year or two before his death, he traces all his enjoyment of mountain scenery to the impressions received during his residence in the Highlands; and even attributes the pleasure which he experienced in gazing upon Ida and Parnassus, far less to classic remembrances, than to those fond and deep-felt associations by which they brought back the memory of his boyhood and Lachin-y-gair.
He who first met the Highland's swelling blue, Will love each peak that shows a kindred hue, Hail in each crag a friend's familiar face, And clasp the mountain in his mind's embrace. Long have I roam'd through lands which are not mine, Adored the Alp, and loved the Apennine, Revered Parnassus, and beheld the steep Jove's Ida and Olympus crown the deep: But 'twas not all long ages' lore, nor all Their nature held me in their thrilling thrall; The infant rapture still survived the boy, And Loch-na-gar with Ida look'd o'er Troy, Mix'd Celtic memories with the Phrygian mount, And Highland linns with Castalie's clear fount.
In a note appended to this passage, we find him falling into that sort of anachronism in the history of his own feelings, which I have above adverted to as not uncommon, and referring to childhood itself that love of mountain prospects, which was but the after result of his imaginative recollections of that period.
"From this period" (the time of his residence in the Highlands) "I date my love of mountainous countries. I can never forget the effect, a few years afterwards in England, of the only thing I had long seen, even in miniature, of a mountain, in the Malvern Hills. After I returned to Cheltenham, I used to watch them every afternoon at sunset, with a sensation which I cannot describe." His love of solitary rambles, and his taste for exploring in all directions, led him not unfrequently so far, as to excite serious apprehensions for his safety. While at Aberdeen, he used often to steal from home unperceived;—sometimes he would find his way to the sea-side; and once, after a long and anxious search, they found the adventurous little rover struggling in a sort of morass or marsh, from which he was unable to extricate himself.
In the course of one of his summer excursions up Dee-side, he had an opportunity of seeing still more of the wild beauties of the Highlands than even the neighbourhood of their residence at Ballatrech afforded, —having been taken by his mother through the romantic passes that lead to Invercauld, and as far up as the small waterfall, called the Linn of Dee. Here his love of adventure had nearly cost him his life. As he was scrambling along a declivity that overhung the fall, some heather caught his lame foot, and he fell. Already he was rolling downward, when the attendant luckily caught hold of him, and was but just in time to save him from being killed. It was about this period, when he was not quite eight years old, that a feeling partaking more of the nature of love than it is easy to believe possible in so young a child, took, according to his own account, entire possession of his thoughts, and showed how early, in this passion, as in most others, the sensibilities of his nature were awakened. The name of the object of this attachment was Mary Duff; and the following passage from a Journal, kept by him in 1813, will show how freshly, after an interval of seventeen years, all the circumstances of this early love still lived in his memory:—
"I have been thinking lately a good deal of Mary Duff. How very odd that I should have been so utterly, devotedly fond of that girl, at an age when I could neither feel passion, nor know the meaning of the word. And the effect!—My mother used always to rally me about this childish amour; and, at last, many years after, when I was sixteen, she told me one day, 'Oh, Byron, I have had a letter from Edinburgh, from Miss Abercromby, and your old sweetheart Mary Duff is married to a Mr. Co^e.' And what was my answer? I really cannot explain or account for my feelings at that moment; but they nearly threw me into convulsions, and alarmed my mother so much, that after I grew better, she generally avoided the subject—to me—and contented herself with telling it to all her acquaintance. Now, what could this be? I had never seen her since her mother's faux-pas at Aberdeen had been the cause of her removal to her grandmother's at Banff; we were both the merest children. I had and have been attached fifty times since that period; yet I recollect all we said to each other, all our caresses, her features, my restlessness, sleeplessness, my tormenting my mother's maid to write for me to her, which she at last did, to quiet me. Poor Nancy thought I was wild, and, as I could not write for myself, became my secretary. I remember, too, our walks, and the happiness of sitting by Mary, in the children's apartment, at their house not far from the Plain-stones at Aberdeen, while her lesser sister Helen played with the doll, and we sat gravely making love, in our way.
"How the deuce did all this occur so early? where could it originate? I certainly had no sexual ideas for years afterwards; and yet my misery, my love for that girl were so violent, that I sometimes doubt if I have ever been really attached since. Be that as it may, hearing of her marriage several years after was like a thunder-stroke—it nearly choked me—to the horror of my mother and the astonishment and almost incredulity of every body. And it is a phenomenon in my existence (for I was not eight years old) which has puzzled, and will puzzle me to the latest hour of it; and lately, I know not why, the recollection (not the attachment) has recurred as forcibly as ever. I wonder if she can have the least remembrance of it or me? or remember her pitying sister Helen for not having an admirer too? How very pretty is the perfect image of her in my memory—her brown, dark hair, and hazel eyes; her very dress! I should be quite grieved to see her now; the reality, however beautiful, would destroy, or at least confuse, the features of the lovely Peri which then existed in her, and still lives in my imagination, at the distance of more than sixteen years. I am now twenty-five and odd months....
"I think my mother told the circumstances (on my hearing of her marriage) to the Parkynses, and certainly to the Pigot family, and probably mentioned it in her answer to Miss A., who was well acquainted with my childish penchant, and had sent the news on purpose for me,—and thanks to her!
"Next to the beginning, the conclusion has often occupied my reflections, in the way of investigation. That the facts are thus, others know as well as I, and my memory yet tells me so, in more than a whisper. But, the more I reflect, the more I am bewildered to assign any cause for this precocity of affection."
Though the chance of his succession to the title of his ancestors was for some time altogether uncertain—there being, so late as the year 1794, a grandson of the fifth lord still alive—his mother had, from his very birth, cherished a strong persuasion that he was destined not only to be a lord, but "a great man." One of the circumstances on which she founded this belief was, singularly enough, his lameness;—for what reason it is difficult to conceive, except that, possibly (having a mind of the most superstitious cast), she had consulted on the subject some village fortune-teller, who, to ennoble this infirmity in her eyes, had linked the future destiny of the child with it.
By the death of the grandson of the old lord at Corsica in 1794, the only claimant, that had hitherto stood between little George and the immediate succession to the peerage, was removed; and the increased importance which this event conferred upon them was felt not only by Mrs. Byron, but by the young future Baron of Newstead himself. In the winter of 1797, his mother having chanced, one day, to read part of a speech spoken in the House of Commons, a friend who was present said to the boy, "We shall have the pleasure, some time or other, of reading your speeches in the House of Commons."—"I hope not," was his answer: "if you read any speeches of mine, it will be in the House of Lords."
The title, of which he thus early anticipated the enjoyment, devolved to him but too soon. Had he been left to struggle on for ten years longer, as plain George Byron, there can be little doubt that his character would have been, in many respects, the better for it. In the following year his grand-uncle, the fifth Lord Byron, died at Newstead Abbey, having passed the latter years of his strange life in a state of austere and almost savage seclusion. It is said, that the day after little Byron's accession to the title, he ran up to his mother and asked her, "whether she perceived any difference in him since he had been made a lord, as he perceived none himself:"—a quick and natural thought; but the child little knew what a total and talismanic change had been wrought in all his future relations with society, by the simple addition of that word before his name. That the event, as a crisis in his life, affected him, even at that time, may be collected from the agitation which he is said to have manifested on the important morning, when his name was first called out in school with the title of "Dominus" prefixed to it. Unable to give utterance to the usual answer "adsum," he stood silent amid the general stare of his school-fellows, and, at last, burst into tears.
The cloud, which, to a certain degree, undeservedly, his unfortunate affray with Mr. Chaworth had thrown upon the character of the late Lord Byron, was deepened and confirmed by what it, in a great measure, produced,—the eccentric and unsocial course of life to which he afterwards betook himself. Of his cruelty to Lady Byron, before her separation from him, the most exaggerated stories are still current in the neighbourhood; and it is even believed that, in one of his fits of fury, he flung her into the pond at Newstead. On another occasion, it is said, having shot his coachman for some disobedience of orders, he threw the corpse into the carriage to his lady, and, mounting the box, drove off himself. These stories are, no doubt, as gross fictions as some of those of which his illustrious successor was afterwards made the victim; and a female servant of the old lord, still alive, in contradicting both tales as scandalous fabrications, supposes the first to have had its origin in the following circumstance:—A young lady, of the name of Booth, who was on a visit at Newstead, being one evening with a party who were diverting themselves in front of the abbey, Lord Byron by accident pushed her into the basin which receives the cascades; and out of this little incident, as my informant very plausibly conjectures, the tale of his attempting to drown Lady Byron may have been fabricated.
After his lady had separated from him, the entire seclusion in which he lived gave full scope to the inventive faculties of his neighbours. There was no deed, however dark or desperate, that the village gossips were not ready to impute to him; and two grim images of satyrs, which stood in his gloomy garden, were, by the fears of those who had caught a glimpse of them, dignified by the name of "the old lord's devils." He was known always to go armed; and it is related that, on some particular occasion, when his neighbour, the late Sir John Warren, was admitted to dine with him, there was a case of pistols placed, as if forming a customary part of the dinner service, on the table.
During his latter years, the only companions of his solitude—besides that colony of crickets, which he is said to have amused himself with rearing and feeding—were old Murray, afterwards the favourite servant of his successor, and the female domestic, whose authority I have just quoted, and who, from the station she was suspected of being promoted to by her noble master, received generally through the neighbourhood the appellation of "Lady Betty."
Though living in this sordid and solitary style, he was frequently, as it appears, much distressed for money; and one of the most serious of the injuries inflicted by him upon the property was his sale of the family estate of Rochdale in Lancashire, of which the mineral produce was accounted very valuable. He well knew, it is said, at the time of the sale, his inability to make out a legal title; nor is it supposed that the purchasers themselves were unacquainted with the defect of the conveyance. But they contemplated, and, it seems, actually did realise, an indemnity from any pecuniary loss, before they could, in the ordinary course of events, be dispossessed of the property. During the young lord's minority, proceedings were instituted for the recovery of this estate, and as the reader will learn hereafter with success.
At Newstead, both the mansion and the grounds around it were suffered to fall helplessly into decay; and among the few monuments of either care or expenditure which their lord left behind, were some masses of rockwork, on which much cost had been thrown away, and a few castellated buildings on the banks of the lake and in the woods. The forts upon the lake were designed to give a naval appearance to its waters, and frequently, in his more social days, he used to amuse himself with sham fights,—his vessels attacking the forts, and being cannonaded by them in return. The largest of these vessels had been built for him at some seaport on the eastern coast, and, being conveyed on wheels over the Forest to Newstead, was supposed to have fulfilled one of the prophecies of Mother Shipton, which declared that "when a ship laden with ling should cross over Sherwood Forest, the Newstead estate would pass from the Byron family." In Nottinghamshire, "ling" is the term used for heather; and, in order to bear out Mother Shipton and spite the old lord, the country people, it is said, ran along by the side of the vessel, heaping it with heather all the way.
This eccentric peer, it is evident, cared but little about the fate of his descendants. With his young heir in Scotland he held no communication whatever; and if at any time he happened to mention him, which but rarely occurred, it was never under any other designation than that of "the little boy who lives at Aberdeen."
On the death of his grand-uncle, Lord Byron having become a ward of chancery, the Earl of Carlisle, who was in some degree connected with the family, being the son of the deceased lord's sister, was appointed his guardian; and in the autumn of 1798, Mrs. Byron and her son, attended by their faithful Mary Gray, left Aberdeen for Newstead. Previously to their departure, the furniture of the humble lodgings which they had occupied was, with the exception of the plate and linen, which Mrs. Byron took with her, sold, and the whole sum that the effects of the mother of the Lord of Newstead yielded was 74l. 17s. 7d.
From the early age at which Byron was taken to Scotland, as well as from the circumstance of his mother being a native of that country, he had every reason to consider himself—as, indeed, he boasts in Don Juan—"half a Scot by birth, and bred a whole one." We have already seen how warmly he preserved through life his recollection of the mountain scenery in which he was brought up; and in the passage of Don Juan, to which I have just referred, his allusion to the romantic bridge of Don, and to other localities of Aberdeen, shows an equal fidelity and fondness of retrospect:—
As Auld Lang Syne brings Scotland, one and all, Scotch plaids, Scotch snoods, the blue hills and clear streams, The Dee, the Don, Balgounie's brig's black wall, All my boy feelings, all my gentler dreams Of what I then dreamt, clothed in their own pall, Like Banquo's offspring;—floating past me seems My childhood in this childishness of mine; I care not—'tis a glimpse of "Auld Lang Syne."
He adds in a note, "The Brig of Don, near the 'auld town' of Aberdeen, with its one arch and its black deep salmon stream, is in my memory as yesterday. I still remember, though perhaps I may misquote the awful proverb which made me pause to cross it, and yet lean over it with a childish delight, being an only son, at least by the mother's side. The saying, as recollected by me, was this, but I have never heard or seen it since I was nine years of age:—
"'Brig of Balgounie, black's your wa', Wi' a wife's ae son, and a mear's ae foal, Down ye shall fa'.'"
To meet with an Aberdonian was, at all times, a delight to him; and when the late Mr. Scott, who was a native of Aberdeen, paid him a visit at Venice in the year 1819, in talking of the haunts of his childhood, one of the places he particularly mentioned was Wallace-nook, a spot where there is a rude statue of the Scottish chief still standing. From first to last, indeed, these recollections of the country of his youth never forsook him. In his early voyage into Greece, not only the shapes of the mountains, but the kilts and hardy forms of the Albanese,—all, as he says, "carried him back to Morven;" and, in his last fatal expedition, the dress which he himself chiefly wore at Cephalonia was a tartan jacket.
Cordial, however, and deep as were the impressions which he retained of Scotland, he would sometimes in this, as in all his other amiable feelings, endeavour perversely to belie his own better nature; and, when under the excitement of anger or ridicule, persuade not only others, but even himself, that the whole current of his feelings ran directly otherwise. The abuse with which, in his anger against the Edinburgh Review, he overwhelmed every thing Scotch, is an instance of this temporary triumph of wilfulness; and, at any time, the least association of ridicule with the country or its inhabitants was sufficient, for the moment, to put all his sentiment to flight. A friend of his once described to me the half playful rage, into which she saw him thrown, one day, by a heedless girl, who remarked that she thought he had a little of the Scotch accent. "Good God, I hope not!" he exclaimed. "I'm sure I haven't. I would rather the whole d——d country was sunk in the sea—I the Scotch accent!"
To such sallies, however, whether in writing or conversation, but little weight is to be allowed,—particularly, in comparison with those strong testimonies which he has left on record of his fondness for his early home; and while, on his side, this feeling so indelibly existed, there is, on the part of the people of Aberdeen, who consider him as almost their fellow-townsman, a correspondent warmth of affection for his memory and name. The various houses where he resided in his youth are pointed out to the traveller; to have seen him but once is a recollection boasted of with pride; and the Brig of Don, beautiful in itself, is invested, by his mere mention of it, with an additional charm. Two or three years since, the sum of five pounds was offered to a person in Aberdeen for a letter which he had in his possession, written by Captain Byron a few days before his death; and, among the memorials of the young poet, which are treasured up by individuals of that place, there is one which it would have not a little amused himself to hear of, being no less characteristic a relic than an old china saucer, out of which he had bitten a large piece, in a fit of passion, when a child.
It was in the summer of 1798, as I have already said, that Lord Byron, then in his eleventh year, left Scotland with his mother and nurse, to take possession of the ancient seat of his ancestors. In one of his latest letters, referring to this journey, he says, "I recollect Loch Leven as it were but yesterday—I saw it in my way to England in 1798." They had already arrived at the Newstead toll-bar, and saw the woods of the Abbey stretching out to receive them, when Mrs. Byron, affecting to be ignorant of the place, asked the woman of the toll-house—to whom that seat belonged? She was told that the owner of it, Lord Byron, had been some months dead. "And who is the next heir?" asked the proud and happy mother. "They say," answered the woman, "it is a little boy who lives at Aberdeen."—"And this is he, bless him!" exclaimed the nurse, no longer able to contain herself, and turning to kiss with delight the young lord who was seated on her lap.
Even under the most favourable circumstances, such an early elevation to rank would be but too likely to have a dangerous influence on the character; and the guidance under which young Byron entered upon his new station was, of all others, the least likely to lead him safely through its perils and temptations. His mother, without judgment or self-command, alternately spoiled him by indulgence, and irritated, or—what was still worse—amused him by her violence. That strong sense of the ridiculous, for which he was afterwards so remarkable, and which showed itself thus early, got the better even of his fear of her; and when Mrs. Byron, who was a short and corpulent person, and rolled considerably in her gait, would, in a rage, endeavour to catch him, for the purpose of inflicting punishment, the young urchin, proud of being able to out-strip her, notwithstanding his lameness, would run round the room, laughing like a little Puck, and mocking at all her menaces. In a few anecdotes of his early life which he related in his "Memoranda," though the name of his mother was never mentioned but with respect, it was not difficult to perceive that the recollections she had left behind—at least, those that had made the deepest impression—were of a painful nature. One of the most striking passages, indeed, in the few pages of that Memoir which related to his early days, was where, in speaking of his own sensitiveness, on the subject of his deformed foot, he described the feeling of horror and humiliation that came over him, when his mother, in one of her fits of passion, called him "a lame brat." As all that he had felt strongly through life was, in some shape or other, reproduced in his poetry, it was not likely that an expression such as this should fail of being recorded. Accordingly we find, in the opening of his drama, "The Deformed Transformed,"
Bertha. Out, hunchback! Arnold. I was born so, mother!
It may be questioned, indeed, whether that whole drama was not indebted for its origin to this single recollection.
While such was the character of the person under whose immediate eye his youth was passed, the counteraction which a kind and watchful guardian might have opposed to such example and influence was almost wholly lost to him. Connected but remotely with the family, and never having had any opportunity of knowing the boy, it was with much reluctance that Lord Carlisle originally undertook the trust; nor can we wonder that, when his duties as a guardian brought him acquainted with Mrs. Byron, he should be deterred from interfering more than was absolutely necessary for the child by his fear of coming into collision with the violence and caprice of the mother.
Had even the character which the last lord left behind been sufficiently popular to pique his young successor into an emulation of his good name, such a salutary rivalry of the dead would have supplied the place of living examples; and there is no mind in which such an ambition would have been more likely to spring up than that of Byron. But unluckily, as we have seen, this was not the case; and not only was so fair a stimulus to good conduct wanting, but a rivalry of a very different nature substituted in its place. The strange anecdotes told of the last lord by the country people, among whom his fierce and solitary habits had procured for him a sort of fearful renown, were of a nature livelily to arrest the fancy of the young poet, and even to waken in his mind a sort of boyish admiration for singularities which he found thus elevated into matters of wonder and record. By some it has been even supposed that in these stories of his eccentric relative his imagination found the first dark outlines of that ideal character, which he afterwards embodied in so many different shapes, and ennobled by his genius. But however this may be, it is at least far from improbable that, destitute as he was of other and better models, the peculiarities of his immediate predecessor should, in a considerable degree, have influenced his fancy and tastes. One habit, which he seems early to have derived from this spirit of imitation, and which he retained through life, was that of constantly having arms of some description about or near him—it being his practice, when quite a boy, to carry, at all times, small loaded pistols in his waistcoat pockets. The affray, indeed, of the late lord with Mr. Chaworth had, at a very early age, by connecting duelling in his mind with the name of his race, led him to turn his attention to this mode of arbitrament; and the mortification which he had, for some time, to endure at school, from insults, as he imagined, hazarded on the presumption of his physical inferiority, found consolation in the thought that a day would yet arrive when the law of the pistol would place him on a level with the strongest.
On their arrival from Scotland, Mrs. Byron, with the hope of having his lameness removed, placed her son under the care of a person, who professed the cure of such cases, at Nottingham. The name of this man, who appears to have been a mere empirical pretender, was Lavender; and the manner in which he is said to have proceeded was by first rubbing the foot over, for a considerable time, with handsful of oil, and then twisting the limb forcibly round, and screwing it up in a wooden machine. That the boy might not lose ground in his education during this interval, he received lessons in Latin from a respectable schoolmaster, Mr. Rogers, who read parts of Virgil and Cicero with him, and represents his proficiency to have been, for his age, considerable. He was often, during his lessons, in violent pain, from the torturing position in which his foot was kept; and Mr. Rogers one day said to him, "It makes me uncomfortable, my Lord, to see you sitting there in such pain as I know you must be suffering."—"Never mind, Mr. Rogers," answered the boy; "you shall not see any signs of it in me."
This gentleman, who speaks with the most affectionate remembrance of his pupil, mentions several instances of the gaiety of spirit with which he used to take revenge on his tormentor, Lavender, by exposing and laughing at his pompous ignorance. Among other tricks, he one day scribbled down on a sheet of paper all the letters of the alphabet, put together at random, but in the form of words and sentences, and, placing them before this all-pretending person, asked him gravely what language it was. The quack, unwilling to own his ignorance, answered confidently, "Italian,"—to the infinite delight, as it may be supposed, of the little satirist in embryo, who burst into a loud, triumphant laugh at the success of the trap which he had thus laid for imposture.
With that mindfulness towards all who had been about him in his youth, which was so distinguishing a trait in his character, he, many years after, when in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, sent a message, full of kindness, to his old instructor, and bid the bearer of it tell him, that, beginning from a certain line in Virgil which he mentioned, he could recite twenty verses on, which he well remembered having read with this gentleman, when suffering all the time the most dreadful pain.
It was about this period, according to his nurse, May Gray, that the first symptom of any tendency towards rhyming showed itself in him; and the occasion which she represented as having given rise to this childish effort was as follows:—An elderly lady, who was in the habit of visiting his mother, had made use of some expression that very much affronted him; and these slights, his nurse said, he generally resented violently and implacably. The old lady had some curious notions respecting the soul, which, she imagined, took its flight to the moon after death, as a preliminary essay before it proceeded further. One day, after a repetition, it is supposed, of her original insult to the boy, he appeared before his nurse in a violent rage. "Well, my little hero," she asked, "what's the matter with you now?" Upon which the child answered, that "this old woman had put him in a most terrible passion—that he could not bear the sight of her," &c. &c.—and then broke out into the following doggerel, which he repeated over and over, as if delighted with the vent he had found for his rage:—
In Nottingham county there lives at Swan Green, As curst an old lady as ever was seen; And when she does die, which I hope will be soon, She firmly believes she will go to the moon.
It is possible that these rhymes may have been caught up at second-hand; and he himself, as will presently be seen, dated his "first dash into poetry," as he calls it, a year later:—but the anecdote altogether, as containing some early dawnings of character, appeared to me worth preserving.
The small income of Mrs. Byron received at this time the addition—most seasonable, no doubt, though on what grounds accorded, I know not—of a pension on the Civil List, of 300l. a year. The following is a copy of the King's warrant for the grant:—(Signed)
"WHEREAS we are graciously pleased to grant unto Catharine Gordon Byron, widow, an annuity of 300l., to commence from 5th July, 1799, and to continue during pleasure: our will and pleasure is, that, by virtue of our general letters of Privy Seal, bearing date 5th November, 1760, you do issue and pay out of our treasure, or revenue in the receipt of the Exchequer, applicable to the uses of our civil government, unto the said Catharine Gordon Byron, widow, or her assignees, the said annuity, to commence from 5th July, 1799, and to be paid quarterly, or otherwise, as the same shall become due, and to continue during our pleasure; and for so doing this shall be your warrant. Given at our Court of St. James's, 2d October, 1799, 39th year of our reign.
"By His Majesty's command,
(Signed) "W. PITT.
"EDW^D. ROBERTS, Dep. Cler^us. Pellium."
Finding but little benefit from the Nottingham practitioner, Mrs. Byron, in the summer of the year 1799, thought it right to remove her boy to London, where, at the suggestion of Lord Carlisle, he was put under the care of Dr. Baillie. It being an object, too, to place him at some quiet school, where the means adopted for the cure of his infirmity might be more easily attended to, the establishment of the late Dr. Glennie, at Dulwich, was chosen for that purpose; and as it was thought advisable that he should have a separate apartment to sleep in, Dr. Glennie had a bed put up for him in his own study. Mrs. Byron, who had remained a short time behind him at Newstead, on her arrival in town took a house upon Sloane Terrace; and, under the direction of Dr. Baillie, one of the Messrs. Sheldrake was employed to construct an instrument for the purpose of straightening the limb of the child. Moderation in all athletic exercises was, of course, prescribed; but Dr. Glennie found it by no means easy to enforce compliance with this rule, as, though sufficiently quiet when along with him in his study, no sooner was the boy released for play, than he showed as much ambition to excel in all exercises as the most robust youth of the school;—"an ambition," adds Dr. Glennie, in the communication with which he favoured me a short time before his death, "which I have remarked to prevail in general in young persons labouring under similar defects of nature."
Having been instructed in the elements of Latin grammar according to the mode of teaching adopted at Aberdeen, the young student had now unluckily to retrace his steps, and was, as is too often the case, retarded in his studies and perplexed in his recollections, by the necessity of toiling through the rudiments again in one of the forms prescribed by the English schools. "I found him enter upon his tasks," says Dr. Glennie, "with alacrity and success. He was playful, good-humoured, and beloved by his companions. His reading in history and poetry was far beyond the usual standard of his age, and in my study he found many books open to him, both to please his taste and gratify his curiosity; among others, a set of our poets from Chaucer to Churchill, which I am almost tempted to say he had more than once perused from beginning to end. He showed at this age an intimate acquaintance with the historical parts of the Holy Scriptures, upon which he seemed delighted to converse with me, especially after our religious exercises of a Sunday evening; when he would reason upon the facts contained in the Sacred Volume with every appearance of belief in the divine truths which they unfold. That the impressions," adds the writer, "thus imbibed in his boyhood, had, notwithstanding the irregularities of his after life, sunk deep into his mind, will appear, I think, to every impartial reader of his works in general; and I never have been able to divest myself of the persuasion that, in the strange aberrations which so unfortunately marked his subsequent career, he must have found it difficult to violate the better principles early instilled into him."
It should have been mentioned, among the traits which I have recorded of his still earlier years, that, according to the character given of him by his first nurse's husband, he was, when a mere child, "particularly inquisitive and puzzling about religion."
It was not long before Dr. Glennie began to discover—what instructors of youth must too often experience—that the parent was a much more difficult subject to deal with than the child. Though professing entire acquiescence in the representations of this gentleman, as to the propriety of leaving her son to pursue his studies without interruption, Mrs. Byron had neither sense nor self-denial enough to act up to these professions; but, in spite of the remonstrances of Dr. Glennie, and the injunctions of Lord Carlisle, continued to interfere with and thwart the progress of the boy's education in every way that a fond, wrong-headed, and self-willed mother could devise. In vain was it stated to her that, in all the elemental parts of learning which are requisite for a youth destined to a great public school, young Byron was much behind other youths of his age, and that, to retrieve this deficiency, the undivided application of his whole time would be necessary. Though appearing to be sensible of the truth of these suggestions, she not the less embarrassed and obstructed the teacher in his task. Not content with the interval between Saturday and Monday, which, contrary to Dr. Glennie's wish, the boy generally passed at Sloane Terrace, she would frequently keep him at home a week beyond this time, and, still further to add to the distraction of such interruptions, collected around him a numerous circle of young acquaintances, without exercising, as may be supposed, much discrimination in her choice. "How, indeed, could she?" asks Dr. Glennie—"Mrs. Byron was a total stranger to English society and English manners; with an exterior far from prepossessing, an understanding where nature had not been more bountiful, a mind almost wholly without cultivation, and the peculiarities of northern opinions, northern habits, and northern accent, I trust I do no great prejudice to the memory of my countrywoman, if I say Mrs. Byron was not a Madame de Lambert, endowed with powers to retrieve the fortune, and form the character and manners, of a young nobleman, her son."
The interposition of Lord Carlisle, to whose authority it was found necessary to appeal, had more than once given a check to these disturbing indulgences. Sanctioned by such support, Dr. Glennie even ventured to oppose himself to the privilege, so often abused, of the usual visits on a Saturday; and the scenes which he had to encounter on each new case of refusal were such as would have wearied out the patience of any less zealous and conscientious schoolmaster. Mrs. Byron, whose paroxysms of passion were not, like those of her son, "silent rages," would, on all these occasions, break out into such audible fits of temper as it was impossible to keep from reaching the ears of the scholars and the servants; and Dr. Glennie had, one day, the pain of overhearing a school-fellow of his noble pupil say to him, "Byron, your mother is a fool;" to which the other answered gloomily, "I know it." In consequence of all this violence and impracticability of temper, Lord Carlisle at length ceased to have any intercourse with the mother of his ward; and on a further application from the instructor, for the exertion of his influence, said, "I can have nothing more to do with Mrs. Byron,—you must now manage her as you can."
Among the books that lay accessible to the boys in Dr. Glennie's study was a pamphlet written by the brother of one of his most intimate friends, entitled, "Narrative of the Shipwreck of the Juno on the coast of Arracan, in the year 1795." The writer had been the second officer of the ship, and the account which he had sent home to his friends of the sufferings of himself and his fellow-passengers had appeared to them so touching and strange, that they determined to publish it. The pamphlet attracted but little, it seems, of public attention, but among the young students of Dulwich Grove it was a favourite study; and the impression which it left on the retentive mind of Byron may have had some share, perhaps, in suggesting that curious research through all the various Accounts of Shipwrecks upon record, by which he prepared himself to depict with such power a scene of the same description in Don Juan. The following affecting incident, mentioned by the author of this pamphlet, has been adopted, it will be seen, with but little change either of phrase or circumstance, by the poet:—
"Of those who were not immediately near me I knew little, unless by their cries. Some struggled hard, and died in great agony; but it was not always those whose strength was most impaired that died the easiest, though, in some cases, it might have been so. I particularly remember the following instances. Mr. Wade's servant, a stout and healthy boy, died early and almost without a groan; while another of the same age, but of a less promising appearance, held out much longer. The fate of these unfortunate boys differed also in another respect highly deserving of notice. Their fathers were both in the fore-top when the lads were taken ill. The father of Mr. Wade's boy hearing of his son's illness, answered with indifference, 'that he could do nothing for him,' and left him to his fate. The other, when the accounts reached him, hurried down, and watching for a favourable moment, crawled on all fours along the weather gunwale to his son, who was in the mizen rigging. By that time, only three or four planks of the quarter deck remained, just over the weather-quarter gallery; and to this spot the unhappy man led his son, making him fast to the rail to prevent his being washed away. Whenever the boy was seized with a fit of retching, the father lifted him up and wiped the foam from his lips; and, if a shower came, he made him open his mouth to receive the drops, or gently squeezed them into it from a rag. In this affecting situation both remained four or five days, till the boy expired. The unfortunate parent, as if unwilling to believe the fact, then raised the body, gazed wistfully at it, and, when he could no longer entertain any doubt, watched it in silence till it was carried off by the sea; then, wrapping himself in a piece of canvass, sunk down and rose no more; though he must have lived two days longer, as we judged from the quivering of his limbs, when a wave broke over him."
It was probably during one of the vacations of this year, that the boyish love for his young cousin, Miss Parker, to which he attributes the glory of having first inspired him with poetry, took possession of his fancy. "My first dash into poetry (he says) was as early as 1800. It was the ebullition of a passion for my first cousin, Margaret Parker (daughter and grand-daughter of the two Admirals Parker), one of the most beautiful of evanescent beings. I have long forgotten the verses, but it would be difficult for me to forget her—her dark eyes—her long eye-lashes—her completely Greek cast of face and figure! I was then about twelve—she rather older, perhaps a year. She died about a year or two afterwards, in consequence of a fall, which injured her spine, and induced consumption. Her sister Augusta (by some thought still more beautiful) died of the same malady; and it was, indeed, in attending her, that Margaret met with the accident which occasioned her own death. My sister told me, that when she went to see her, shortly before her death, upon accidentally mentioning my name, Margaret coloured through the paleness of mortality to the eyes, to the great astonishment of my sister, who (residing with her grandmother, Lady Holderness, and seeing but little of me, for family reasons,) knew nothing of our attachment, nor could conceive why my name should affect her at such a time. I knew nothing of her illness, being at Harrow and in the country, till she was gone. Some years after, I made an attempt at an elegy—a very dull one.
"I do not recollect scarcely any thing equal to the transparent beauty of my cousin, or to the sweetness of her temper, during the short period of our intimacy. She looked as if she had been made out of a rainbow—all beauty and peace.
"My passion had its usual effects upon me—I could not sleep—I could not eat—I could not rest: and although I had reason to know that she loved me, it was the texture of my life to think of the time which must elapse before we could meet again, being usually about twelve hours of separation! But I was a fool then, and am not much wiser now."
He had been nearly two years under the tuition of Dr. Glennie, when his mother, discontented at the slowness of his progress—though being, herself, as we have seen, the principal cause of it—entreated so urgently of Lord Carlisle to have him removed to a public school, that her wish was at length acceded to; and "accordingly," says Dr. Glennie, "to Harrow he went, as little prepared as it is natural to suppose from two years of elementary instruction, thwarted by every art that could estrange the mind of youth from preceptor, from school, and from all serious study."
This gentleman saw but little of Lord Byron after he left his care; but, from the manner in which both he and Mrs. Glennie spoke of their early charge, it was evident that his subsequent career had been watched by them with interest; that they had seen even his errors through the softening medium of their first feeling towards him, and had never, in his most irregular aberrations, lost the traces of those fine qualities which they had loved and admired in him when a child. Of the constancy, too, of this feeling, Dr. Glennie had to stand no ordinary trial, having visited Geneva in 1817, soon after Lord Byron had left it, when the private character of the poet was in the very crisis of its unpopularity, and when, among those friends who knew that Dr. Glennie had once been his tutor, it was made a frequent subject of banter with this gentleman that he had not more strictly disciplined his pupil, or, to use their own words, "made a better boy of him."
About the time when young Byron was removed, for his education, to London, his nurse May Gray left the service of Mrs. Byron, and returned to her native country, where she died about three years since. She had married respectably, and in one of her last illnesses was attended professionally by Dr. Ewing of Aberdeen, who, having been always an enthusiastic admirer of Lord Byron, was no less surprised than delighted to find that the person tinder his care had for so many years been an attendant on his favourite poet. With avidity, as may be supposed, he noted down from the lips of his patient all the particulars she could remember of his Lordship's early days; and it is to the communications with which this gentleman has favoured me, that I am indebted for many of the anecdotes of that period which I have related.
As a mark of gratitude for her attention to him, Byron had, in parting with May Gray, presented her with his watch,—the first of which he had ever been possessor. This watch the faithful nurse preserved fondly through life, and, when she died, it was given by her husband to Dr. Ewing, by whom, as a relic of genius, it is equally valued. The affectionate boy had also presented her with a full-length miniature of himself, which was painted by Kay of Edinburgh, in the year 1795, and which represents him standing with a bow and arrows in his hand, and a profusion of hair falling over his shoulders. This curious little drawing has likewise passed into the possession of Dr. Ewing.
The same thoughtful gratitude was evinced by Byron towards the sister of this woman, his first nurse, to whom he wrote some years after he left Scotland, in the most cordial terms, making enquiries of her welfare, and informing her, with much joy, that he had at last got his foot so far restored as to be able to put on a common boot,—"an event for which he had long anxiously wished, and which he was sure would give her great pleasure."
In the summer of the year 1801 he accompanied his mother to Cheltenham, and the account which he himself gives of his sensations at that period shows at what an early age those feelings that lead to poetry had unfolded themselves in his heart. A boy, gazing with emotion on the hills at sunset, because they remind him of the mountains among which he passed his childhood, is already, in heart and imagination, a poet. It was during their stay at Cheltenham that a fortune-teller, whom his mother consulted, pronounced a prediction concerning him which, for some time, left a strong impression on his mind. Mrs. Byron had, it seems, in her first visit to this person, (who, if I mistake not, was the celebrated fortune-teller, Mrs. Williams,) endeavoured to pass herself off as a maiden lady. The sibyl, however, was not so easily deceived;—she pronounced her wise consulter to be not only a married woman, but the mother of a son who was lame, and to whom, among other events which she read in the stars, it was predestined that his life should be in danger from poison before he was of age, and that he should be twice married,—the second time, to a foreign lady. About two years afterwards he himself mentioned these particulars to the person from whom I heard the story, and said that the thought of the first part of the prophecy very often occurred to him. The latter part, however, seems to have been the nearer guess of the two.
To a shy disposition, such as Byron's was in his youth—and such as, to a certain degree, it continued all his life—the transition from a quiet establishment, like that of Dulwich Grove, to the bustle of a great public school was sufficiently trying. Accordingly, we find from his own account, that, for the first year and a half, he "hated Harrow." The activity, however, and sociableness of his nature soon conquered this repugnance; and, from being, as he himself says, "a most unpopular boy," he rose at length to be a leader in all the sports, schemes, and mischief of the school.
For a general notion of his dispositions and capacities at this period, we could not have recourse to a more trust-worthy or valuable authority than that of the Rev. Dr. Drury, who was at this time head master of the school, and to whom Lord Byron has left on record a tribute of affection and respect, which, like the reverential regard of Dryden for Dr. Busby, will long associate together honourably the names of the poet and the master. From this venerable scholar I have received the following brief, but important statement of the impressions which his early intercourse with the young noble left upon him:—
"Mr. Hanson, Lord Byron's solicitor, consigned him to my care at the age of 13-1/2, with remarks, that his education had been neglected; that he was ill prepared for a public school, but that he thought there was a cleverness about him. After his departure I took my young disciple into my study, and endeavoured to bring him forward by enquiries as to his former amusements, employments, and associates, but with little or no effect;—and I soon found that a wild mountain colt had been submitted to my management. But there was mind in his eye. In the first place, it was necessary to attach him to an elder boy, in order to familiarise him with the objects before him, and with some parts of the system in which he was to move. But the information he received from his conductor gave him no pleasure, when he heard of the advances of some in the school, much younger than himself, and conceived by his own deficiency that he should be degraded, and humbled, by being placed below them. This I discovered, and having committed him to the care of one of the masters, as his tutor, I assured him he should not be placed till, by diligence, he might rank with those of his own age. He was pleased with this assurance, and felt himself on easier terms with his associates;—for a degree of shyness hung about him for some time. His manner and temper soon convinced me, that he might be led by a silken string to a point, rather than by a cable;—on that principle I acted. After some continuance at Harrow, and when the powers of his mind had begun to expand, the late Lord Carlisle, his relation, desired to see me in town;—I waited on his Lordship. His object was to inform me of Lord Byron's expectations of property when he came of age, which he represented as contracted, and to enquire respecting his abilities. On the former circumstance I made no remark; as to the latter, I replied, 'He has talents, my Lord, which will add lustre to his rank.' 'Indeed!!!' said his Lordship, with a degree of surprise, that, according to my reeling, did not express in it all the satisfaction I expected.