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The Life of Lord Byron by John Galt

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Transcribed by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk



My present task is one of considerable difficulty; but I have long
had a notion that some time or another it would fall to my lot to
perform it. I approach it, therefore, without apprehension, entirely
in consequence of having determined, to my own satisfaction, the
manner in which the biography of so singular and so richly endowed a
character as that of the late Lord Byron should be treated, but still
with no small degree of diffidence; for there is a wide difference
between determining a rule for one's self, and producing, according
to that rule, a work which shall please the public.

It has happened, both with regard to the man and the poet, that from
the first time his name came before the public, there has been a
vehement and continual controversy concerning him; and the chief
difficulties of the task arise out of the heat with which the adverse
parties have maintained their respective opinions. The circumstances
in which he was placed, until his accession to the title and estates
of his ancestors, were not such as to prepare a boy that would be
father to a prudent or judicious man. Nor, according to the history
of his family, was his blood without a taint of sullenness, which
disqualified him from conciliating the good opinion of those whom his
innate superiority must have often prompted him to desire for
friends. He was branded, moreover, with a personal deformity; and
the grudge against Nature for inflicting this defect not only deeply
disturbed his happiness, but so generally affected his feelings as to
embitter them with a vindictive sentiment, so strong as, at times, to
exhibit the disagreeable energy of misanthropy. This was not all.
He enjoyed high rank, and was conscious of possessing great talents;
but his fortune was inadequate to his desires, and his talents were
not of an order to redeem the deficiencies of fortune. It likewise
so happened that while indulged by his only friend, his mother, to an
excess that impaired the manliness of his character, her conduct was
such as in no degree to merit the affection which her wayward
fondness inspired.

It is impossible to reflect on the boyhood of Byron without regret.
There is not one point in it all which could, otherwise than with
pain, have affected a young mind of sensibility. His works bear
testimony, that, while his memory retained the impressions of early
youth, fresh and unfaded, there was a gloom and shadow upon them,
which proved how little they had been really joyous.

The riper years of one so truly the nursling of pride, poverty, and
pain, could only be inconsistent, wild, and impassioned, even had his
temperament been moderate and well disciplined. But when it is
considered that in addition to all the awful influences of these
fatalities, for they can receive no lighter name, he possessed an
imagination of unbounded capacity--was inflamed with those
indescribable feelings which constitute, in the opinion of many, the
very elements of genius--fearfully quick in the discernment of the
darker qualities of character--and surrounded by temptation--his
career ceases to surprise. It would have been more wonderful had he
proved an amiable and well-conducted man, than the questionable and
extraordinary being who has alike provoked the malice and interested
the admiration of the world.

Posterity, while acknowledging the eminence of his endowments, and
lamenting the habits which his unhappy circumstances induced, will
regard it as a curious phenomenon in the fortunes of the individual,
that the progress of his fame as a poet should have been so similar
to his history as a man.

His first attempts, though displaying both originality and power,
were received with a contemptuous disdain, as cold and repulsive as
the penury and neglect which blighted the budding of his youth. The
unjust ridicule in the review of his first poems, excited in his
spirit a discontent as inveterate as the feeling which sprung from
his deformity: it affected, more or less, all his conceptions to
such a degree that he may be said to have hated the age which had
joined in the derision, as he cherished an antipathy against those
persons who looked curiously at his foot. Childe Harold, the most
triumphant of his works, was produced when the world was kindliest
disposed to set a just value on his talents; and his latter
productions, in which the faults of his taste appear the broadest,
were written when his errors as a man were harshest in the public

These allusions to the incidents of a life full of contrarieties, and
a character so strange as to be almost mysterious, sufficiently show
the difficulties of the task I have undertaken. But the course I
intend to pursue will relieve me from the necessity of entering, in
any particular manner, upon those debatable points of his personal
conduct which have been so much discussed. I shall consider him, if
I can, as his character will be estimated when contemporary surmises
are forgotten, and when the monument he has raised to himself is
contemplated for its beauty and magnificence, without suggesting
recollections of the eccentricities of the builder.



Ancient Descent--Pedigree--Birth--Troubles of his Mother--Early
Education--Accession to the Title

The English branch of the family of Byron came in with William the
Conqueror; and from that era they have continued to be reckoned among
the eminent families of the kingdom, under the names of Buron and
Biron. It was not until the reign of Henry II. that they began to
call themselves Byron, or de Byron.

Although for upwards of seven hundred years distinguished for the
extent of their possessions, it docs not appear, that, before the
time of Charles I., they ranked very highly among the heroic families
of the kingdom.

Erneis and Ralph were the companions of the Conqueror; but
antiquaries and genealogists have not determined in what relation
they stood to each other. Erneis, who appears to have been the more
considerable personage of the two, held numerous manors in the
counties of York and Lincoln. In the Domesday Book, Ralph, the
direct ancestor of the poet, ranks high among the tenants of the
Crown, in Notts and Derbyshire; in the latter county he resided at
Horestan Castle, from which he took his title. One of the lords of
Horestan was a hostage for the payment of the ransom of Richard Coeur
de Lion; and in the time of Edward I., the possessions of his
descendants were augmented by the addition of the Manor of Rochdale,
in Lancashire. On what account this new grant was given has not been
ascertained; nor is it of importance that it should be.

In the wars of the three Edwards, the de Byrons appeared with some
distinction; and they were also of note in the time of Henry V. Sir
John Byron joined Henry VII. on his landing at Milford, and fought
gallantly at the battle of Bosworth, against Richard III., for which
he was afterwards appointed Constable of Nottingham Castle and Warden
of Sherwood Forest. At his death, in 1488, he was succeeded by Sir
Nicholas, his brother, who, at the marriage of Arthur, Prince of
Wales, in 1501, was made one of the Knights of the Bath.

Sir Nicholas died in 1540, leaving an only son, Sir John Byron, whom
Henry VIII. made Steward of Manchester and Rochdale, and Lieutenant
of the Forest of Sherwood. It was to him that, on the dissolution of
the monasteries, the church and priory of Newstead, in the county of
Nottingham, together with the manor and rectory of Papelwick, were
granted. The abbey from that period became the family seat, and
continued so until it was sold by the poet.

Sir John Byron left Newstead and his other possessions to John Byron,
whom Collins and other writers have called his fourth, but who was in
fact his illegitimate son. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in
1579, and his eldest son, Sir Nicholas, served with distinction in
the wars of the Netherlands. When the great rebellion broke out
against Charles I., he was one of the earliest who armed in his
defence. After the battle of Edgehill, where he courageously
distinguished himself, he was made Governor of Chester, and gallantly
defended that city against the Parliamentary army. Sir John Byron,
the brother and heir of Sir Nicholas, was, at the coronation of James
I., made a Knight of the Bath. By his marriage with Anne, the eldest
daughter of Sir Richard Molyneux, he had eleven sons and a daughter.
The eldest served under his uncle in the Netherlands; and in the year
1641 was appointed by King Charles I., Governor of the Tower of
London. In this situation he became obnoxious to the refractory
spirits in the Parliament, and was in consequence ordered by the
Commons to answer at the bar of their House certain charges which the
sectaries alleged against him. But he refused to leave his post
without the king's command; and upon' this the Commons applied to the
Lords to join them in a petition to the king to remove him. The
Peers rejected the proposition.

On the 24th October, 1643, Sir John Byron was created Lord Byron of
Rochdale, in the county of Lancaster, with remainder of the title to
his brothers, and their male issue, respectively. He was also made
Field-Marshal-General of all his Majesty's forces in Worcestershire,
Cheshire, Shropshire and North Wales: nor were these trusts and
honours unwon, for the Byrons, during the Civil War, were eminently
distinguished. At the battle of Newbury, seven of the brothers were
in the field, and all actively engaged.

Sir Richard, the second brother of the first lord, was knighted by
Charles I. for his conduct at the battle of Edgehill, and appointed
Governor of Appleby Castle, in Westmorland, and afterwards of Newark,
which he defended with great honour. Sir Richard, on the death of
his brother, in 1652, succeeded to the peerage, and died in 1679.

His eldest son, William, the third lord, married Elizabeth, the
daughter of Viscount Chaworth, of Ireland, by whom he had five sons,
four of whom died young. William, the fourth lord, his son, was
Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark, and married,
for his first wife, a daughter of the Earl of Bridgewater, who died
eleven weeks after their nuptials. His second wife was the daughter
of the Earl of Portland, by whom he had three sons, who all died
before their father. His third wife was Frances, daughter of Lord
Berkley, of Stratton, from whom the poet was descended. Her eldest
son, William, born in 1722, succeeded to the family honours on the
death of his father in 1736. He entered the naval service, and
became a lieutenant under Admiral Balchen. In the year 1763 he was
made Master of the Staghounds; and in 1765, he was sent to the Tower,
and tried before the House of Peers, for killing his relation and
neighbour, Mr Chaworth, in a duel fought at the Star and Garter
Tavern, in Pall-mall.

This Lord William was naturally boisterous and vindictive. It
appeared in evidence that he insisted on fighting with Mr Chaworth in
the room where the quarrel commenced. They accordingly fought
without seconds by the dim light of a single candle; and, although Mr
Chaworth was the more skilful swordsman of the two, he received a
mortal wound; but he lived long enough to disclose some particulars
of the rencounter, which induced the coroner's jury to return a
verdict of wilful murder, and Lord Byron was tried for the crime.

The trial took place in Westminster Hall, and the public curiosity
was so great that the Peers' tickets of admission were publicly sold
for six guineas each. It lasted two days, and at the conclusion he
was unanimously pronounced guilty of manslaughter. On being brought
up for judgment he pleaded his privilege and was discharged. It was
to this lord that the poet succeeded, for he died without leaving

His brother, the grandfather of the poet, was the celebrated "Hardy
Byron"; or, as the sailors called him, "Foulweather Jack," whose
adventures and services are too well known to require any notice
here. He married the daughter of John Trevannion, Esq., of Carhais,
in the county of Cornwall, by whom he had two sons and three
daughters. John, the eldest, and the father of the poet, was born in
1751, educated at Westminster School, and afterwards placed in the
Guards, where his conduct became so irregular and profligate that his
father, the admiral, though a good-natured man, discarded him long
before his death. In 1778 he acquired extraordinary eclat by the
seduction of the Marchioness of Caermarthen, under circumstances
which have few parallels in the licentiousness of fashionable life.
The meanness with which he obliged his wretched victim to supply him
with money would have been disgraceful to the basest adulteries of
the cellar or garret. A divorce ensued, the guilty parties married;
but, within two years after, such was the brutal and vicious conduct
of Captain Byron, that the ill-fated lady died literally of a broken
heart, after having given birth to two daughters, one of whom still

Captain Byron then married Miss Catharine Gordon, of Gight, a lady of
honourable descent, and of a respectable fortune for a Scottish
heiress, the only motive which this Don Juan had for forming the
connection. She was the mother of the poet.

Although the Byrons have for so many ages been among the eminent
families of the realm, they have no claim to the distinction which
the poet has set up for them as warriors in Palestine, even though he

Near Ascalon's tow'rs John of Horestan slumbers;

for unless this refers to the Lord of Horestan, who was one of the
hostages for the ransom of Richard I., it will not be easy to
determine to whom he alludes; and it is possible that the poet has no
other authority for this legend than the tradition which he found
connected with two groups of heads on the old panels of Newstead.
Yet the account of them is vague and conjectural, for it was not
until ages after the Crusades that the abbey came into the possession
of the family; and it is not probable that the figures referred to
any transactions in Palestine, in which the Byrons were engaged, if
they were put up by the Byrons at all. They were probably placed in
their present situation while the building was in possession of the

One of the groups, consisting of a female and two Saracens, with eyes
earnestly fixed upon her, may have been the old favourite
ecclesiastical story of Susannah and the elders; the other, which
represents a Saracen with a European female between him and a
Christian soldier, is, perhaps, an ecclesiastical allegory,
descriptive of the Saracen and the Christian warrior contending for
the liberation of the Church. These sort of allegorical stories were
common among monastic ornaments, and the famous legend of St George
and the Dragon is one of them.

Into the domestic circumstances of Captain and Mrs Byron it would be
impertinent to institute any particular investigation. They were
exactly such as might be expected from the sins and follies of the
most profligate libertine of the age.

The fortune of Mrs Byron, consisting of various property, and
amounting to about 23,500 pounds, was all wasted in the space of two
years; at the end of which the unfortunate lady found herself in
possession of only 150 pounds per annum.

Their means being thus exhausted she accompanied her husband in the
summer of 1786 to France, whence she returned to England at the close
of the year 1787, and on the 22nd of January, 1788, gave birth, in
Holles Street, London, to her first and only child, the poet. The
name of Gordon was added to that of his family in compliance with a
condition imposed by will on whomever should become the husband of
the heiress of Gight. The late Duke of Gordon and Colonel Duff, of
Fetteresso, were godfathers to the child.

In the year 1790 Mrs Byron took up her residence in Aberdeen, where
she was soon after joined by Captain Byron, with whom she lived in
lodgings in Queen Street; but their reunion was comfortless, and a
separation soon took place. Still their rupture was not final, for
they occasionally visited and drank tea with each other. The Captain
also paid some attention to the boy, and had him, on one occasion, to
stay with him for a night, when he proved so troublesome that he was
sent home next day.

Byron himself has said that he passed his boyhood at Marlodge, near
Aberdeen; but the statement is not correct; he visited, with his
mother, occasionally among their friends, and among other places
passed some time at Fetteresso, the seat of his godfather, Colonel
Duff. In 1796, after an attack of the scarlet fever, he passed some
time at Ballater, a summer resort for health and gaiety, about forty
miles up the Dee from Aberdeen. Although the circumstances of Mrs
Byron were at this period exceedingly straitened, she received a
visit from her husband, the object of which was to extort more money;
and he was so far successful, that she contrived to borrow a sum,
which enabled him to proceed to Valenciennes, where in the following
year he died, greatly to her relief and the gratification of all who
were connected with him.

By her advances to Captain Byron, and the expenses she incurred in
furnishing the flat of the house she occupied after his death, Mrs
Byron fell into debt to the amount of 300 pounds, the interest on
which reduced her income to 135 pounds; but, much to her credit, she
contrived to live without increasing her embarrassments until the
death of her grandmother, when she received 1122 pounds, a sum which
had been set apart for the old gentlewoman's jointure, and which
enabled her to discharge her pecuniary obligations.

Notwithstanding the manner in which this unfortunate lady was treated
by her husband, she always entertained for him a strong affection
insomuch that, when the intelligence of his death arrived, her grief
was loud and vehement. She was indeed a woman of quick feelings and
strong passions; and probably it was by the strength and sincerity of
her sensibility that she retained so long the affection of her son,
towards whom it cannot be doubted that her love was unaffected. In
the midst of the neglect and penury to which she was herself
subjected, she bestowed upon him all the care, the love and
watchfulness of the tenderest mother.

In his fifth year, on the 19th of November, 1792, she sent him to a
day-school, where she paid about five shillings a quarter, the common
rate of the respectable day-schools at that time in Scotland. It was
kept by a Mr Bowers, whom Byron has described as a dapper, spruce
person, with whom he made no progress. How long he remained with Mr
Bowers is not mentioned, but by the day-book of the school it was at
least twelve months; for on the 19th of November of the following
year there is an entry of a guinea having been paid for him.

From this school he was removed and placed with a Mr Ross, one of the
ministers of the city churches, and to whom he formed some
attachment, as he speaks of him with kindness, and describes him as a
devout, clever little man of mild manners, good-natured, and
painstaking. His third instructor was a serious, saturnine, kind
young man, named Paterson, the son of a shoemaker, but a good scholar
and a rigid Presbyterian. It is somewhat curious in the record which
Byron has made of his early years to observe the constant endeavour
with which he, the descendant of such a limitless pedigree and great
ancestors, attempts to magnify the condition of his mother's

Paterson attended him until he went to the grammar-school, where his
character first began to be developed; and his schoolfellows, many of
whom are alive, still recollect him as a lively, warm-hearted, and
high-spirited boy, passionate and resentful, but withal affectionate
and companionable; this, however, is an opinion given of him after he
had become celebrated; for a very different impression has
unquestionably remained among some who carry their recollections back
to his childhood. By them he has been described as a malignant imp:
was often spoken of for his pranks by the worthy housewives of the
neighbourhood, as "Mrs Byron's crockit deevil," and generally
disliked for the deep vindictive anger he retained against those with
whom he happened to quarrel.

By the death of William, the fifth lord, he succeeded to the estates
and titles in the year 1798; and in the autumn of that year, Mrs
Byron, with her son and a faithful servant of the name of Mary Gray,
left Aberdeen for Newstead. Previously to their departure, Mrs Byron
sold the furniture of her humble lodging, with the exception of her
little plate and scanty linen, which she took with her, and the whole
amount of the sale did not yield SEVENTY-FIVE POUNDS.


Moral Effects of local Scenery; a Peculiarity in Taste--Early Love--
Impressions and Traditions

Before I proceed to the regular narrative of the character and
adventures of Lord Byron, it seems necessary to consider the probable
effects of his residence, during his boyhood, in Scotland. It is
generally agreed, that while a schoolboy in Aberdeen, he evinced a
lively spirit, and sharpness enough to have equalled any of his
schoolfellows, had he given sufficient application. In the few
reminiscences preserved of his childhood, it is remarkable that he
appears in this period, commonly of innocence and playfulness, rarely
to have evinced any symptom of generous feeling. Silent rages, moody
sullenness, and revenge are the general characteristics of his
conduct as a boy.

He was, undoubtedly, delicately susceptible of impressions from the
beauties of nature, for he retained recollections of the scenes which
interested his childish wonder, fresh and glowing, to his latest
days; nor have there been wanting plausible theories to ascribe the
formation of his poetical character to the contemplation of those
romantic scenes. But, whoever has attended to the influential causes
of character will reject such theories as shallow, and betraying
great ignorance of human nature. Genius of every kind belongs to
some innate temperament; it does not necessarily imply a particular
bent, because that may possibly be the effect of circumstances: but,
without question, the peculiar quality is inborn, and particular to
the individual. All hear and see much alike; but there is an
undefinable though wide difference between the ear of the musician,
or the eye of the painter, compared with the hearing and seeing
organs of ordinary men; and it is in something like that difference
in which genius consists. Genius is, however, an ingredient of mind
more easily described by its effects than by its qualities. It is as
the fragrance, independent of the freshness and complexion of the
rose; as the light on the cloud; as the bloom on the cheek of beauty,
of which the possessor is unconscious until the charm has been seen
by its influence on others; it is the internal golden flame of the
opal; a something which may be abstracted from the thing in which it
appears, without changing the quality of its substance, its form, or
its affinities. I am not, therefore, disposed to consider the idle
and reckless childhood of Byron as unfavourable to the development of
his genius; but, on the contrary, inclined to think, that the
indulgence of his mother, leaving him so much to the accidents of
undisciplined impression, was calculated to cherish associations
which rendered them, in the maturity of his powers, ingredients of
spell that ruled his memory.

It is singular, and I am not aware it has been before noticed, that
with all his tender and impassioned apostrophes to beauty and love,
Byron has in no instance, not even in the freest passages of Don
Juan, associated either the one or the other with sensual images.
The extravagance of Shakespeare's Juliet, when she speaks of Romeo
being cut after his death into stars, that all the world may be in
love with night, is flame and ecstasy compared to the icy
metaphysical glitter of Byron's amorous allusions. The verses
beginning with

She walks in beauty like the light
Of eastern climes and starry skies,

are a perfect example of what I have conceived of his bodiless
admiration of beauty, and objectless enthusiasm of love. The
sentiment itself is unquestionably in the highest mood of the
intellectual sense of beauty; the simile is, however, anything but
such an image as the beauty of woman would suggest. It is only the
remembrance of some impression or imagination of the loveliness of a
twilight applied to an object that awakened the same abstract general
idea of beauty. The fancy which could conceive in its passion the
charms of a female to be like the glow of the evening, or the general
effect of the midnight stars, must have been enamoured of some
beautiful abstraction, rather than aught of flesh and blood. Poets
and lovers have compared the complexion of their mistresses to the
hues of the morning or of the evening, and their eyes to the dewdrops
and the stars; but it has no place in the feelings of man to think of
female charms in the sense of admiration which the beauties of the
morning or the evening awaken. It is to make the simile the
principal. Perhaps, however, it may be as well to defer the
criticism to which this peculiar characteristic of Byron's amatory
effusions gives rise, until we shall come to estimate his general
powers as a poet. There is upon the subject of love, no doubt, much
beautiful composition. throughout his works; but not one line in all
the thousands which shows a sexual feeling of female attraction--all
is vague and passionless, save in the delicious rhythm of the verse.

But these remarks, though premature as criticisms, are not uncalled
for here, even while we are speaking of a child not more than ten
years old. Before Byron had attained that age, he describes himself
as having felt the passion. Dante is said as early as nine years old
to have fallen in love with Beatrice; Alfieri, who was himself
precocious in the passion, considered such early sensibility to be an
unerring sign of a soul formed for the fine arts; and Canova used to
say that he was in love when but five years old. But these
instances, however, prove nothing. Calf-love, as it is called in the
country, is common; and in Italy it may arise earlier than in the
bleak and barren regions of Lochynagar. This movement of juvenile
sentiment is not, however, love--that strong masculine avidity,
which, in its highest excitement, is unrestrained, by the laws alike
of God and man. In truth, the feeling of this kind of love is the
very reverse of the irrepressible passion it is a mean shrinking,
stealthy awe, and in no one of its symptoms, at least in none of
those which Byron describes, has it the slightest resemblance to that
bold energy which has prompted men to undertake the most improbable

He was not quite eight years old, when, according to his own account,
he formed an impassioned attachment to Mary Duff; and he gives the
following account of his recollection of her, nineteen years

"I have been thinking lately a good deal of Mary Duff. How very odd
that I should have been so 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, 'O Byron, I have had a letter from Edinburgh,
and your old sweetheart, Mary Duff, is married to Mr C***.' 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." But was this agitation the effect of natural feeling,
or of something in the manner in which his mother may have told the
news? He proceeds to inquire. "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 Plainstones, at Aberdeen, while her lesser
sister, Helen, played with the doll, and we sat gravely making love
in our own way.

"How the deuce did all this occur so early? Where could it
originate? I certainly had no sexual ideas for years afterward, 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 afterward, was as a
thunderstroke. It nearly choked me, to the horror of my mother, and
the astonishment and almost incredulity of everybody; 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 pitying her sister Helen, for not having an
admirer too. How very pretty is the perfect image of her in my
memory. Her dark brown 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."

Such precocious and sympathetic affections are, as I have already
mentioned, common among children, and is something very different
from the love of riper years; but the extract is curious, and shows
how truly little and vague Byron's experience of the passion must
have been. In his recollection of the girl, be it observed, there is
no circumstance noticed which shows, however strong the mutual
sympathy, the slightest influence of particular attraction. He
recollects the colour of her hair, the hue of her eyes, her very
dress, and he remembers her as a Peri, a spirit; nor does it appear
that his sleepless restlessness, in which the thought of her was ever
uppermost, was produced by jealousy, or doubt, or fear, or any other
concomitant of the passion.

There is another most important circumstance in what may be called
the Aberdonian epoch of Lord Byron's life.

That Byron, in his boyhood, was possessed of lively sensibilities, is
sufficiently clear; that he enjoyed the advantage of indulging his
humour and temper without restraint, is not disputable; and that his
natural temperament made him sensible, in no ordinary degree, to the
beauties of nature, is also abundantly manifest in all his
productions; but it is surprising that this admiration of the
beauties of Nature is but an ingredient in Byron's poetry, and not
its most remarkable characteristic. Deep feelings of dissatisfaction
and disappointment are far more obvious; they constitute, indeed, the
very spirit of his works, and a spirit of such qualities is the least
of all likely to have arisen from the contemplation of magnificent
Nature, or to have been inspired by studying her storms or serenity;
for dissatisfaction and disappointment are the offspring of moral
experience, and have no natural association with the forms of
external things. The habit of associating morose sentiments with any
particular kind of scenery only shows that the sources of the
sullenness arose in similar visible circumstances. It is from these
premises I would infer, that the seeds of Byron's misanthropic
tendencies were implanted during the "silent rages" of his childhood,
and that the effect of mountain scenery, which continued so strong
upon him after he left Scotland, producing the sentiments with which
he has imbued his heroes in the wild circumstances in which he places
them, was mere reminiscence and association. For although the sullen
tone of his mind was not fully brought out until he wrote Childe
Harold, it is yet evident from his Hours of Idleness that he was
tuned to that key before he went abroad. The dark colouring of his
mind was plainly imbibed in a mountainous region, from sombre heaths,
and in the midst of rudeness and grandeur. He had no taste for more
cheerful images, and there are neither rural objects nor villagery in
the scenes he describes, but only loneness and the solemnity of

To those who are acquainted with the Scottish character, it is
unnecessary to suggest how very probable it is that Mrs Byron and her
associates were addicted to the oral legends of the district and of
her ancestors, and that the early fancy of the poet was nourished
with the shadowy descriptions in the tales o' the olden time;--at
last this is manifest, that although Byron shows little of the
melancholy and mourning of Ossian, he was yet evidently influenced by
some strong bias and congeniality of taste to brood and cogitate on
topics of the same character as those of that bard. Moreover,
besides the probability of his imagination having been early tinged
with the sullen hue of the local traditions, it is remarkable, that
the longest of his juvenile poems is an imitation of the manner of
the Homer of Morven.

In addition to a natural temperament, kept in a state of continual
excitement, by unhappy domestic incidents, and the lurid legends of
the past, there were other causes in operation around the young poet
that could not but greatly affect the formation of his character.

Descended of a distinguished family, counting among its ancestors the
fated line of the Scottish kings, and reduced almost to extreme
poverty, it is highly probable, both from the violence of her temper,
and the pride of blood, that Mrs Byron would complain of the almost
mendicant condition to which she was reduced, especially so long as
there was reason to fear that her son was not likely to succeed to
the family estates and dignity. Of his father's lineage few
traditions were perhaps preserved, compared with those of his
mother's family; but still enough was known to impress the
imagination. Mr Moore, struck with this circumstance, has remarked,
that "in reviewing 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." But
still it is to his mother's traditions of her ancestors that I would
ascribe the conception of the dark and guilty beings which he
delighted to describe. And though it may be contended that there was
little in her conduct to exalt poetical sentiment, still there was a
great deal in her condition calculated to affect and impel an
impassioned disposition. I can imagine few situations more likely to
produce lasting recollections of interest and affection, than that in
which Mrs Byron, with her only child, was placed in Aberdeen.
Whatever might have been the violence of her temper, or the
improprieties of her after-life, the fond and mournful caresses with
which she used to hang over her lame and helpless orphan, must have
greatly contributed to the formation of that morbid sensibility which
became the chief characteristic of his life. At the same time, if it
did contribute to fill his days with anguish and anxieties, it also
undoubtedly assisted the development of his powers; and I am
therefore disposed to conclude, that although, with respect to the
character of the man, the time he spent in Aberdeen can only be
contemplated with pity, mingled with sorrow, still it must have been
richly fraught with incidents of inconceivable value to the genius of
the poet.


Arrival at Newstead--Find it in Ruins--The old Lord and his Beetles--
The Earl of Carlisle becomes the Guardian of Byron--The Poet's acute
Sense of his own deformed Foot--His Mother consults a Fortune-teller

Mrs Byron, on her arrival at Newstead Abbey with her son, found it
almost in a state of ruin. After the equivocal affair of the duel,
the old lord lived in absolute seclusion, detested by his tenantry,
at war with his neighbours, and deserted by all his family. He not
only suffered the abbey to fall into decay, but, as far as lay in his
power, alienated the land which should have kept it in repair, and
denuded the estate of the timber. Byron has described the conduct of
the morose peer in very strong terms:--"After his trial he shut
himself up at Newstead, and was in the habit of feeding crickets,
which were his only companions. He made them so tame that they used
to crawl over him, and, when they were too familiar, he whipped them
with a wisp of straw: at his death, it is said, they left the house
in a body."

However this may have been, it is certain that Byron came to an
embarrassed inheritance, both as respected his property and the
character of his race; and, perhaps, though his genius suffered
nothing by the circumstance, it is to be regretted that he was still
left under the charge of his mother: a woman without judgment or
self-command; alternately spoiling her child by indulgence,
irritating him by her self-willed obstinacy, and, what was still
worse, amusing him by her violence, and disgusting him by fits of
inebriety. Sympathy for her misfortunes would be no sufficient
apology for concealing her defects; they undoubtedly had a material
influence on her son, and her appearance was often the subject of his
childish ridicule. She was a short and corpulent person. She rolled
in her gait, and would, in her rage, sometimes endeavour to catch him
for the purpose of inflicting punishment, while he would run round
the room, mocking her menaces and mimicking her motion.

The greatest weakness in Lord Byron's character was a morbid
sensibility to his lameness. He felt it with as much vexation as if
it had been inflicted ignominy. One of the most striking passages in
some memoranda which he has left of his early days, is 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."

The sense which Byron always retained of the innocent fault in his
foot was unmanly and excessive; for it was not greatly conspicuous,
and he had a mode of walking across a room by which it was scarcely
at all perceptible. I was several days on board the same ship with
him before I happened to discover the defect; it was indeed so well
concealed, that I was in doubt whether his lameness was the effect of
a temporary accident, or a malformation, until I asked Mr Hobhouse.

On their arrival from Scotland, Byron was placed by his mother under
the care of an empirical pretender of the name of Lavender, at
Nottingham, who professed the cure of such cases; and that he might
not lose ground in his education, he was attended by a respectable
schoolmaster, Mr Rodgers, who read parts of Virgil and Cicero with
him. Of this gentleman he always entertained a kind remembrance.
Nor was his regard in this instance peculiar; for it may be said to
have been a distinguishing trait in his character, to recollect with
affection all who had been about him in his youth. The quack,
however, was an exception; whom (from having caused him to suffer
much pain, and whose pretensions, even young as he then was, he
detected) he delighted to expose. On one occasion, he scribbled down
on a sheet of paper, the letters of the alphabet at random, but in
the form of words and sentences, and placing them before Lavender,
asked him gravely, what language it was. "Italian," was the reply,
to the infinite amusement of the little satirist, who burst into a
triumphant laugh at the success of his stratagem.

It is said that about this time the first symptom of his predilection
for rhyming showed itself. An elderly lady, a visitor to his mother,
had been indiscreet enough to give him some offence, and slights he
generally resented with more energy than they often deserved. This
venerable personage entertained a singular notion respecting the
soul, which she believed took its flight at death to the moon. One
day, after a repetition of her original contumely, he appeared before
his nurse in a violent rage, and complained vehemently of the old
lady, declaring that he could not bear the sight of her, and then he
broke out into the following doggerel, which he repeated over and
over, crowing with delight.

In Nottingham county, there lives at Swan-green,
As curs'd 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.

Mrs Byron, by the accession of her son to the family honours and
estate, received no addition to her small income; and he, being a
minor, was unable to make any settlement upon her. A representation
of her case was made to Government, and in consequence she was placed
on the pension-list for 300 pounds a-year.

Byron not having received any benefit from the Nottingham quack, was
removed to London, put under the care of Dr Bailey, and placed in the
school of Dr Glennie, at Dulwich; Mrs Byron herself took a house on
Sloan Terrace. Moderation in all athletic exercises was prescribed
to the boy, but Dr Glennie had some difficulty in restraining his
activity. He was quiet enough while in the house with the Doctor,
but no sooner was he released to play, than he showed as much
ambition to excel in violent exercises as the most robust youth of
the school; an ambition common to young persons who have the
misfortune to labour under bodily defects.

While under the charge of Dr Glennie, he was playful, good-humoured,
and beloved by his companions; and addicted to reading history and
poetry far beyond the usual scope of his age. In these studies he
showed a predilection for the Scriptures; and certainly there are
many traces in his works which show that, whatever the laxity of his
religious principles may have been in after-life, he was not
unacquainted with the records and history of our religion.

During this period, Mrs Byron often indiscreetly interfered with the
course of his education; and if his classical studies were in
consequence not so effectually conducted as they might have been, his
mind derived some of its best nutriment from the loose desultory
course of his reading.

Among the books to which the boys at Dr Glennie's school had access
was a pamphlet containing the narrative of a shipwreck on the coast
of Arracan, filled with impressive descriptions. It had not
attracted much public attention, but it was a favourite with the
pupils, particularly with Byron, and furnished him afterwards with
the leading circumstances in the striking description of the
shipwreck in Don Juan.

Although the rhymes upon the lunar lady of Notts are supposed to have
been the first twitter of his muse, he has said himself, "My first
dash into poetry was as early as 1800. It was the ebullition of a
passion for my first cousin, Margaret Parker. I was then about
twelve, she rather older, perhaps a year." And it is curious to
remark, that in his description of this beautiful girl there is the
same lack of animal admiration which we have noticed in all his
loves; he says of her:--

"I do not recollect scarcely anything 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." This is certainly poetically
expressed; but there was more true love in Pygmalion's passion for
his statue, and in the Parisian maiden's adoration of the Apollo.

When he had been nearly two years under the tuition of Dr Glennie, he
was removed to Harrow, chiefly in consequence of his mother's
interference with his studies, and especially by withdrawing him
often from school.

During the time he was under the care of Dr Glennie, he was more
amiable than at any other period of his life, a circumstance which
justifies the supposition, that, had he been left more to the
discipline of that respectable person, he would have proved a better
man; for, however much his heart afterwards became incrusted with the
leprosy of selfishness, at this period his feelings were warm and
kind. Towards his nurse he evinced uncommon affection, which he
cherished as long as she lived. He presented her with his watch, the
first he possessed, and also a full-length miniature of himself, when
he was only between seven and eight years old, representing him with
a profusion of curling locks, and in his hands a bow and arrow. The
sister of this woman had been his first nurse, and after he had left
Scotland he wrote to her, in a spirit which betokened a gentle and
sincere heart, informing her with much joy of a circumstance highly
important to himself. It was to tell her that at last he had got his
foot so far restored as to be able to put on a common boot, an event
which he was sure would give her great pleasure; to himself it is
difficult to imagine any incident which could have been more

I dwell with satisfaction on these descriptions of his early
dispositions; for, although there are not wanting instances of
similar warm-heartedness in his later years, still he never formed
any attachments so pure and amiable after he went to Harrow. The
change of life came over him, and when the vegetable period of
boyhood was past, the animal passions mastered all the softer
affections of his character.

In the summer of 1801 he accompanied his mother to Cheltenham, and
while he resided there the views of the Malvern hills recalled to his
memory his enjoyments amid the wilder scenery of Aberdeenshire. The
recollections were reimpressed on his heart and interwoven with his
strengthened feelings. But a boy gazing with emotion on the hills at
sunset, because they remind him of the mountains where he passed his
childhood, is no proof that he is already in heart and imagination a
poet. To suppose so is to mistake the materials for the building.

The delight of Byron in contemplating the Malvern hills, was not
because they resembled the scenery of Lochynagar, but because they
awoke trains of thought and fancy, associated with recollections of
that scenery. The poesy of the feeling lay not in the beauty of the
objects, but in the moral effect of the traditions, to which these
objects served as talismans of the memory. The scene at sunset
reminded him of the Highlands, but it was those reminiscences which
similar scenes recalled, that constituted the impulse which gave life
and elevation to his reflections. There is not more poesy in the
sight of mountains than of plains; it is the local associations that
throw enchantment over all scenes, and resemblance that awakens them,
binding them to new connections: nor does this admit of much
controversy; for mountainous regions, however favourable to musical
feeling, are but little to poetical.

The Welsh have no eminent bard; the Swiss have no renown as poets;
nor are the mountainous regions of Greece, nor of the Apennines,
celebrated for poetry. The Highlands of Scotland, save the equivocal
bastardy of Ossian, have produced no poet of any fame, and yet
mountainous countries abound in local legends, which would seem to be
at variance with this opinion, were it not certain, though I cannot
explain the cause, that local poetry, like local language or local
melody, is in proportion to the interest it awakens among the local
inhabitants, weak and ineffectual in its influence on the sentiments
of the general world. The "Rans de Vaches," the most celebrated of
all local airs, is tame and commonplace,--unmelodious, to all ears
but those of the Swiss "forlorn in a foreign land."

While in Cheltenham, Mrs Byron consulted a fortune-teller respecting
the destinies of her son, and according to her feminine notions, she
was very cunning and guarded with the sybil, never suspecting that
she might have been previously known, and, unconscious to herself, an
object of interest to the spaewife. She endeavoured to pass herself
off as a maiden lady, and regarded it as no small testimony of the
wisdom of the oracle, that she declared her to be not only a married
woman, but the mother of a son who was lame. After such a marvellous
proof of second-sightedness, it may easily be conceived with what awe
and faith she listened to the prediction, 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. Whether it was this same
fortune-teller who foretold that he would, in his twenty-seventh
year, incur some great misfortune, is not certain; but, considering
his unhappy English marriage, and his subsequent Italian liaison with
the Countess Guiccioli, the marital prediction was not far from
receiving its accomplishment. The fact of his marriage taking place
in his twenty-seventh year, is at least a curious circumstance, and
has been noticed by himself with a sentiment of superstition.


Placed at Harrow--Progress there--Love for Miss Chaworth--His
Reading--Oratorical Powers

In passing from the quiet academy of Dulwich Grove to the public
school of Harrow, the change must have been great to any boy--to
Byron it was punishment; and for the first year and a half he hated
the place. In the end, however, he rose to be a leader in all the
sports and mischiefs of his schoolfellows; but it never could be said
that he was a popular boy, however much he was distinguished for
spirit and bravery; for if he was not quarrelsome, he was sometimes
vindictive. Still it could not have been to any inveterate degree;
for, undoubtedly, in his younger years, he was susceptible of warm
impressions from gentle treatment, and his obstinacy and arbitrary
humour were perhaps more the effects of unrepressed habit than of
natural bias; they were the prickles which surrounded his genius in
the bud.

At Harrow he acquired no distinction as a student; indeed, at no
period was he remarkable for steady application. Under Dr Glennie he
had made but little progress; and it was chiefly in consequence of
his backwardness that he was removed from his academy. When placed
with Dr Drury, it was with an intimation that he had a cleverness
about him, but that his education had been neglected.

The early dislike which Byron felt towards the Earl of Carlisle is
abundantly well known, and he had the magnanimity to acknowledge that
it was in some respects unjust. But the antipathy was not all on one
side; nor will it be easy to parallel the conduct of the Earl with
that of any guardian. It is but justice, therefore, to Byron, to
make the public aware that the dislike began on the part of Lord
Carlisle, and originated in some distaste which he took to Mrs
Byron's manners, and at the trouble she sometimes gave him on account
of her son.

Dr Drury, in his communication to Mr Moore respecting the early
history of Byron, mentions a singular circumstance as to this
subject, which we record with the more pleasure, because Byron has
been blamed, and has blamed himself, for his irreverence towards Lord
Carlisle, while it appears that the fault lay with the Earl.

"After some continuance at Harrow," says Dr Drury, "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 inquire
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 feelings, did not express
in it all the satisfaction I expected."

Lord Carlisle had, indeed, much of the Byron humour in him. His
mother was a sister of the homicidal lord, and possessed some of the
family peculiarity: she was endowed with great talent, and in her
latter days she exhibited great singularity. She wrote beautiful
verses and piquant epigrams among others, there is a poetical
effusion of her pen addressed to Mrs Greville, on her Ode to
Indifference, which, at the time, was much admired, and has been,
with other poems of her Ladyship's, published in Pearch's collection.
After moving, for a long time, as one of the most brilliant orbs in
the sphere of fashion, she suddenly retired, and like her morose
brother, shut herself up from the world. While she lived in this
seclusion, she became an object of the sportive satire of the late Mr
Fox, who characterized her as

Carlisle, recluse in pride and rags.

I have heard a still coarser apostrophe by the same gentleman. It
seems they had quarrelled, and on his leaving her in the drawing-
room, she called after him, that he might go about his business, for
she did not care two skips of a louse for him. On coming to the
hall, finding paper and ink on the table, he wrote two lines in
answer, and sent it up to her Ladyship, to the effect that she always
spoke of what was running in her head.

Byron has borne testimony to the merits of his guardian, her son, as
a tragic poet, by characterizing his publications as paper books. It
is, however, said that they nevertheless showed some talent, and that
The Father's Revenge, one of the tragedies, was submitted to the
judgment of Dr Johnson, who did not despise it.

But to return to the progress of Byron at Harrow; it is certain that
notwithstanding the affectionate solicitude of Dr Drury to encourage
him, he never became an eminent scholar; at least, we have his own
testimony to that effect, in the fourth canto of Childe Harold; the
lines, however, in which that testimony stands recorded, are among
the weakest he ever penned.

May he who will his recollections rake
And quote in classic raptures, and awake
The hills with Latin echoes: I abhorr'd
Too much to conquer, for the poet's sake,
The drill'd, dull lesson forced down word by word,
In my repugnant youth with pleasure to record.

And, as an apology for the defect, he makes the following remarks in
a note subjoined:--

"I wish to express that we become tired of the task before we can
comprehend the beauty; that we learn by rote before we can get by
heart; that the freshness is worn away, and the future pleasure and
advantage deadened and destroyed by the didactic anticipation, at an
age when we can neither feel nor understand the power of
compositions, which it requires an acquaintance with life, as well as
Latin and Greek, to relish or to reason upon. For the same reason,
we never can be aware of the fulness of some of the finest passages
of Shakspeare ('To be, or not to be,' for instance), from the habit
of having them hammered into us at eight years old, as an exercise
not of mind but of memory; so that when we are old enough to enjoy
them, the taste is gone, and the appetite palled. In some parts of
the Continent, young persons are taught from mere common authors, and
do not read the best classics until their maturity. I certainly do
not speak on this point from any pique or aversion towards the place
of my education. I was not a slow or an idle boy; and I believe no
one could be more attached to Harrow than I have always been, and
with reason: a part of the time passed there was the happiest of my
life; and my preceptor, the Rev. Dr Joseph Drury, was the best and
worthiest friend I ever possessed; whose warnings I have remembered
but too well, though too late, when I have erred; and whose counsels
I have but followed when I have done well and wisely. If ever this
imperfect record of my feelings towards him should reach his eyes,
let it remind him of one who never thinks of him but with gratitude
and veneration; of one who would more gladly boast of having been his
pupil if, by more closely following his injunctions, he could reflect
any honour upon his instructor."

Lord Byron, however, is not singular in his opinion of the inutility
of premature classical studies; and notwithstanding the able manner
in which the late Dean Vincent defended public education, we have
some notion that his reasoning upon this point will not be deemed
conclusive. Milton, says Dr Vincent, complained of the years that
were wasted in teaching the dead languages. Cowley also complained
that classical education taught words only and not things; and
Addison deemed it an inexpiable error, that boys with genius or
without were all to be bred poets indiscriminately. As far, then, as
respects the education of a poet, we should think that the names of
Milton, Cowley, Addison, and Byron would go well to settle the
question; especially when it is recollected how little Shakspeare was
indebted to the study of the classics, and that Burns knew nothing of
them at all. I do not, however, adopt the opinion as correct;
neither do I think that Dean Vincent took a right view of the
subject; for, as discipline, the study of the classics may be highly
useful, at the same time, the mere hammering of Greek and Latin into
English cannot be very conducive to the refinement of taste or the
exaltation of sentiment. Nor is there either common sense or correct
logic in the following observations made on the passage and note,
quoted by the anonymous author of Childe Harold's Monitor.

"This doctrine of antipathies, contracted by the impatience of youth
against the noblest authors of antiquity, from the circumstance of
having been made the vehicle of early instruction, is a most
dangerous doctrine indeed; since it strikes at the root, not only of
all pure taste, but of all praiseworthy industry. It would, if acted
upon (as Harold by the mention of the Continental practice of using
inferior writers in the business of tuition would seem to recommend),
destroy the great source of the intellectual vigour of our

This is, undoubtedly, assuming too much; for those who have objected
to the years "wasted" in teaching the dead languages, do not admit
that the labour of acquiring them either improves the taste or adds
to the vigour of the understanding; and, therefore, before the
soundness of the opinion of Milton, of Cowley, of Addison, and of
many other great men can be rejected, it falls on those who are of
Dean Vincent's opinion, and that of Childe Harold's Monitor, to prove
that the study of the learned languages is of so much primary
importance as they claim for it.

But it appears that Byron's mind, during the early period of his
residence at Harrow, was occupied with another object than his
studies, and which may partly account for his inattention to them.
He fell in love with Mary Chaworth. "She was," he is represented to
have said, "several years older than myself, but at my age boys like
something older than themselves, as they do younger later in life.
Our estates adjoined, but owing to the unhappy circumstances of the
feud (the affair of the fatal duel), our families, as is generally
the case with neighbours, who happen to be near relations, were never
on terms of more than common civility, scarcely those. She was the
beau ideal of all that my youthful fancy could paint of the
beautiful! and I have taken all my fables about the celestial nature
of women from the perfection my imagination created in her. I say
created, for I found her, like the rest of the sex, anything but
angelic. I returned to Harrow, after my trip to Cheltenham, more
deeply enamoured than ever, and passed the next holidays at Newstead.
I now began to fancy myself a man, and to make love in earnest. Our
meetings were stolen ones, and my letters passed through the medium
of a confidant. A gate leading from Mr Chaworth's grounds to those
of my mother, was the place of our interviews, but the ardour was all
on my side; I was serious, she was volatile. She liked me as a
younger brother, and treated and laughed at me as a boy; she,
however, gave me her picture, and that was something to make verses
upon. Had I married Miss Chaworth, perhaps the whole tenor of my
life would have been different; she jilted me, however, but her
marriage proved anything but a happy one." It is to this attachment
that we are indebted for the beautiful poem of The Dream, and the
stanzas beginning

Oh, had my fate been joined to thine!

Although this love affair a little interfered with his Greek and
Latin, his time was not passed without some attention to reading.
Until he was eighteen years old, he had never seen a review; but his
general information was so extensive on modern topics, as to induce a
suspicion that he could only have collected so much information from
reviews, as he was never seen reading, but always idle, and in
mischief, or at play. He was, however, a devourer of books; he read
eating, read in bed, read when no one else read, and had perused all
sorts of books from the time he first could spell, but had never read
a review, and knew not what the name implied.

It should be here noticed, that while he was at Harrow, his qualities
were rather oratorical than poetical; and if an opinion had then been
formed of the likely result of his character, the prognostication
would have led to the expectation of an orator. Altogether, his
conduct at Harrow indicated a clever, but not an extraordinary boy.
He formed a few friendships there, in which his attachment appears to
have been, in some instances, remarkable. The late Duke of Dorset
was his fag, and he was not considered a very hard taskmaster. He
certainly did not carry with him from Harrow any anticipation of that
splendid career he was destined to run as a poet.


Character at Harrow--Poetical Predilections--Byron at Cambridge--His
"Hours of Idleness"

In reconsidering the four years which Byron spent at Harrow, while we
can clearly trace the development of the sensibilities of his
character, and an increased tension of his susceptibility, by which
impressions became more acute and delicate, it seems impossible not
to perceive by the records which he has himself left of his feelings,
that something morbid was induced upon them. Had he not afterwards
so magnificently distinguished himself as a poet, it is not probable
that he would have been recollected by his schoolfellows as having
been in any respect different from the common herd. His activity and
spirit, in their controversies and quarrels, were but the
outbreakings of that temperament which the discipline of riper years,
and the natural awe of the world, afterward reduced into his
hereditary cast of character, in which so much of sullenness and
misanthropy was exhibited. I cannot, however, think that there was
anything either in the nature of his pastimes, or his studies,
unfavourable to the formation of the poetical character. His
amusements were active; his reading, though without method, was yet
congenial to his impassioned imagination; and the phantom of an
enthusiastic attachment, of which Miss Chaworth was not the only
object (for it was altogether intellectual, and shared with others),
were circumstances calculated to open various sources of reflection,
and to concentrate the elements of an energetic and original mind.

But it is no easy matter to sketch what may have been the outline of
a young poet's education. The supposition that poets must be
dreamers, because there is often much dreaminess in poesy, is a mere
hypothesis. Of all the professors of metaphysical discernment, poets
require the finest tact; and contemplation is with them a sign of
inward abstract reflection, more than of any process of mind by which
resemblance is traced, and associations awakened. There is no
account of any great poet, whose genius was of that dreamy
cartilaginous kind, which hath its being in haze, and draws its
nourishment from lights and shadows; which ponders over the mysteries
of trees, and interprets the oracles of babbling waters. They have
all been men--worldly men, different only from others in reasoning
more by feeling than induction. Directed by impulse, in a greater
degree than other men, poets are apt to be betrayed into actions
which make them singular, as compared by those who are less
imaginative; but the effects of earnestness should never be
confounded with the qualities of talent.

No greater misconception has ever been obtruded upon the world as
philosophic criticism, than the theory of poets being the offspring
of "capering lambkins and cooing doves"; for they differ in no
respect from other men of high endowment, but in the single
circumstance of the objects to which their taste is attracted. The
most vigorous poets, those who have influenced longest and are most
quoted, have indeed been all men of great shrewdness of remark, and
anything but your chin-on-hand contemplators. To adduce many
instances is unnecessary. Are there any symptoms of the gelatinous
character of the effusions of the Lakers in the compositions of
Homer? The London Gazette does not tell us things more like facts
than the narratives of Homer, and it often states facts that are much
more like fictions than his most poetical inventions. So much is
this the case with the works of all the higher poets, that as they
recede from that worldly standard which is found in the Epics of
Homer, they sink in the scale of poets. In what does the inferiority
of Virgil, for example, consist, but in his having hatched fancies in
his contemplations which the calm mind rejects as absurdities. Then
Tasso, with his enchanted forests and his other improbabilities; are
they more than childish tales? tales, too, not in fancy to be
compared with those of that venerable dry-nurse, Mother Bunch.
Compare the poets that babble of green fields with those who deal in
the actions and passions of men, such as Shakspeare, and it must be
confessed that it is not those who have looked at external nature who
are the true poets, but those who have seen and considered most about
the business and bosom of man. It may be an advantage that a poet
should have the benefit of landscapes and storms, as children are the
better for country air and cow's milk; but the true scene of their
manly work and business is in the populous city. Inasmuch as Byron
was a lover of solitude, he was deficient as an observer of men.

The barrenest portion, as to materials for biography, in the life of
this interesting man, is the period he spent at the University of
Cambridge. Like that of most young men, it is probable the major
part of his time was passed between the metropolis and the
university. Still it was in that period he composed the different
poems which make up the little volume of The Hours of Idleness; a
work which will ever be regarded, more by its consequences than its
importance, as of great influence on the character and career of the

It has been supposed, I see not how justly, that there was
affectation in the title. It is probable that Byron intended no more
by it than to imply that its contents were sketches of leisure. This
is the less doubtful, as he was at that period particularly sensitive
concerning the opinion that might be entertained of his works.
Before he made the collection, many of the pieces had been
circulated, and he had gathered opinions as to their merits with a
degree of solicitude that can only be conceived by those who were
acquainted with the constantly excited sensibility of his mind. When
he did publish the collection, nothing appeared in the style and form
of the publication that indicated any arrogance of merit. On the
contrary, it was brought forward with a degree of diffidence, which,
if it did not deserve the epithet of modesty, could incur nothing
harsher than that of bashfulness. It was printed at the obscure
market-town press of Newark, was altogether a very homely, rustic
work, and no attempt was made to bespeak for it a good name from the
critics. It was truly an innocent affair and an unpretending
performance. But notwithstanding these, at least seeming, qualities
of young doubtfulness and timidity, they did not soften the austere
nature of the bleak and blighting criticism which was then
characteristic of Edinburgh.

A copy was somehow communicated to one of the critics in that city,
and was reviewed by him in the Edinburgh Review in an article replete
with satire and insinuations calculated to prey upon the author's
feelings, while the injustice of the estimate which was made of his
talent and originality, could not but be as iron in his heart. Owing
to the deep and severe impression which it left, it ought to be
preserved in every memoir which treats of the development of his
genius and character; and for this reason I insert it entire, as one
of the most influential documents perhaps in the whole extent of


Criticism of the "Edinburgh Review"

"The poesy of this young lord belongs to the class which neither God
nor man are said to permit. Indeed we do not recollect to have seen
a quantity of verse with so few deviations in either direction from
that exact standard. His effusions are spread over a dead flat, and
can no more get above or below the level than if they were so much
stagnant water. As an extenuation of this offence, the noble author
is peculiarly forward in pleading minority. We have it in the title-
page, and on the very back of the volume; it follows his name like a
favourite part of his style. Much stress is laid upon it in the
preface; and the poems are connected with this general statement of
his case by particular dates, substantiating the age at which each
was written. Now, the law upon the point of minority we hold to be
perfectly clear. It is a plea available only to the defendant; no
plaintiff can offer it as a supplementary ground of action. Thus, if
any suit could be brought against Lord Byron, for the purpose of
compelling him to put into court a certain quantity of poetry, and if
judgment were given against him, it is highly probable that an
exception would be taken, were he to deliver FOR POETRY the contents
of this volume. To this he might plead MINORITY; but as he now makes
voluntary tender of the article, he hath no right to sue on that
ground for the price in good current praise, should the goods be
unmarketable. This is our view of the law on the point; and we dare
to say, so will it be ruled. Perhaps, however, in reality, all that
he tells us about his youth is rather with a view to increase our
wonder, than to soften our censures. He possibly means to say, 'See
how a minor can write! This poem was actually composed by a young
man of eighteen! and this by one of only sixteen!' But, alas, we all
remember the poetry of Cowley at ten, and Pope at twelve; and, so far
from hearing with any degree of surprise that very poor verses were
written by a youth from his leaving school to his leaving college
inclusive, we really believe this to be the most common of all
occurrences;--that it happens in the life of nine men in ten who are
educated in England, and that the tenth man writes better verse than
Lord Byron.

"His other plea of privilege our author brings forward to waive it.
He certainly, however, does allude frequently to his family and
ancestors, sometimes in poetry, sometimes in notes; and while giving
up his claim on the score of rank, he takes care to remind us of Dr
Johnson's saying, that when a nobleman appears as an author, his
merit should be handsomely acknowledged. In truth, it is this
consideration only that induces us to give Lord Byron's poems a place
in our Review, besides our desire to counsel him, that he do
forthwith abandon poetry, and turn his talents, which are
considerable, and his opportunities, which are great, to better

"With this view we must beg leave seriously to assure him, that the
mere rhyming of the final syllable, even when accompanied by the
presence of a certain number of feet; nay, although (which does not
always happen) these feet should scan regularly, and have been all
counted upon the fingers, is not the whole art of poetry. We would
entreat him to believe that a certain portion of liveliness, somewhat
of fancy, is necessary to constitute a poem; and that a poem in the
present day, to be read, must contain at least one thought, even in a
little degree different from the ideas of former writers, or
differently expressed. We put it to his candour, whether there is
anything so deserving the name of poetry, in verses like the
following, written in 1806, and whether, if a youth of eighteen could
say anything so uninteresting to his ancestors, a youth of nineteen
should publish it:

Shades of heroes, farewell! your descendant, departing
From the seat of his ancestors, bids you adieu;
Abroad or at home, your remembrance imparting
New courage, he'll think upon glory and you.

Though a tear dim his eye at this sad separation,
'Tis nature, not fear, that excites his regret;
Far distant he goes with the same emulation,
The fame of his fathers he ne'er can forget.

That fame and that memory still will he cherish,
He vows that he ne'er will disgrace your renown;
Like you will he live, or like you will he perish,
When decay'd, may he mingle his dust with your own.

"Now, we positively do assert, that there is nothing better than
these stanzas in the whole compass of the noble minor's volume.

"Lord Byron should also have a care of attempting what the greatest
poets have done before him, for comparisons (as he must have had
occasion to see at his writing-master's) are odious. Gray's Ode to
Eton College should really have kept out the ten hobbling stanzas on
a distant view of the village and school at Harrow.

Where fancy yet joys to trace the resemblance
Of comrades in friendship or mischief allied,
How welcome to me your ne'er-fading remembrance,
Which rests in the bosom, though hope is denied.

"In like manner, the exquisite lines of Mr Rogers, On a Tear, might
have warned the noble author of these premises, and spared us a whole
dozen such stanzas as the following:

Mild charity's glow,
To us mortals below,
Shows the soul from barbarity clear;
Compassion will melt
Where the virtue is felt.
And its dew is diffused in a tear.

The man doom'd to sail
With the blast of the gale,
Through billows Atlantic to steer,
As he bends o'er the wave,
Which may soon be his grave,
The green sparkles bright with a tear.

"And so of instances in which former poets had failed. Thus, we do
not think Lord Byron was made for translating, during his nonage,
Adrian's Address to his Soul, when Pope succeeded indifferently in
the attempt. If our readers, however, are of another opinion, they
may look at it.

Ah! gentle, fleeting, wav'ring sprite,
Friend and associate of this clay,
To what unknown region borne
Wilt thou now wing thy distant flight?
No more with wonted humour gay,
But pallid, cheerless, and forlorn.

"However, be this as it may, we fear his translations and imitations
are great favourities with Lord Byron. We have them of all kinds,
from Anacreon to Ossian; and, viewing them as school-exercises, they
may pass. Only, why print them after they have had their day and
served their turn? And why call the thing in p. 79 a translation,
where TWO words ([Greek]) of the original are expanded into four
lines, and the other thing in p. 81, where [Greek] is rendered by
means of six hobbling verses. As to his Ossian poesy, we are not
very good judges; being, in truth, so moderately skilled in that
species of composition, that we should, in all probability, be
criticising some bit of genuine Macpherson itself, were we to express
our opinion of Lord Byron's rhapsodies. If, then, the following
beginning of a Song of Bards is by his Lordship, we venture to object
to it, as far as we can comprehend it; 'What form rises on the roar
of clouds, whose dark ghost gleams on the red stream of tempests?
His voice rolls on the thunder; 'tis Oila, the brown chief of
Otchona. He was,' etc. After detaining this 'brown chief' some
time, the bards conclude by giving him their advice to 'raise his
fair locks'; then to 'spread them on the arch of the rainbow'; and to
'smile through the tears of the storm.' Of this kind of thing there
are no less than nine pages: and we can so far venture an opinion in
their favour, that they look very like Macpherson; and we are
positive they are pretty nearly as stupid and tiresome.

"It is some sort of privilege of poets to be egotists; but they
should 'use it as not abusing it'; and particularly one who piques
himself (though, indeed, at the ripe age of nineteen) on being an
infant bard--

The artless Helicon I boast is youth--

should either not know, or should seem not to know, so much about his
own ancestry. Besides a poem, above cited, on the family-seat of the
Byrons, we have another of eleven pages on the selfsame subject,
introduced with an apology, 'he certainly had no intention of
inserting it,' but really 'the particular request of some friends,'
etc. etc. It concludes with five stanzas on himself, 'the last and
youngest of the noble line.' There is also a good deal about his
maternal ancestors, in a poem on Lachion-y-Gair, a mountain, where he
spent part of his youth, and might have learned that pibroach is not
a bagpipe, any more than a duet means a fiddle.

"As the author has dedicated so large a part of his volume to
immortalize his employments at school and college, we cannot possibly
dismiss it without presenting the reader with a specimen of these
ingenious effusions.

"In an ode, with a Greek motto, called Granta, we have the following
magnificent stanzas:--

There, in apartments small and damp,
The candidate for college prizes
Sits poring by the midnight lamp,
Goes late to bed, yet early rises:

Who reads false quantities in Seale,
Or puzzles o'er the deep triangle,
Depriv'd of many a wholesome meal,
In barbarous Latin doomed to wrangle.

Renouncing every pleasing page
From authors of historic use;
Preferring to the letter'd sage
The square of the hypotenuse.
Still harmless are these occupations,
That hurt none but the hapless student,
Compared with other recreations
Which bring together the imprudent.

"We are sorry to hear so bad an account of the college-psalmody, as
is contained in the following attic stanzas

Our choir could scarcely be excused,
Even as a band of raw beginners;
All mercy now must be refused
To such a set of croaking sinners.

If David, when his toils were ended,
Had heard these blockheads sing before him,
To us his psalms had ne'er descended--
In furious mood he would have tore 'em.

"But whatever judgment may be passed on the poems of this noble
minor, it seems we must take them as we find them, and be content for
they are the last we shall ever have from him. He is at best, he
says, but an intruder into the groves of Parnassus; he never lived in
a garret, like thoroughbred poets, and though he once roved a
careless mountaineer in the Highlands of Scotland, he has not of late
enjoyed this advantage. Moreover, he expects no profit from his
publication; and whether it succeeds or not, it is highly improbable,
from his situation and pursuits, that he should again condescend to
become an author. Therefore, let us take what we get and be
thankful. What right have we poor devils to be nice? We are well
off to have got so much from a man of this lord's station, who does
not live in a garret, but has got the sway of Newstead Abbey. Again
we say, let us be thankful; and, with honest Sancho, bid God bless
the giver, nor look the gift-horse in the mouth."

The criticism is ascribed to Mr Francis Jeffrey, an eloquent member
of the Scottish bar, and who was at that time supposed to be the
editor of the Edinburgh Review. That it was neither just nor fair is
sufficiently evident, by the degree of care and artificial point with
which it has been drawn up. Had the poetry been as insignificant as
the critic affected to consider it, it would have argued little for
the judgment of Mr Jeffrey, to take so much pains on a work which he
considered worthless. But the world has no cause to repine at the
severity of his strictures, for they unquestionably had the effect of
kindling the indignation of Byron, and of instigating him to that
retaliation which he so spiritedly inflicted in his satire of English
Bards and Scotch Reviewers.

It is amusing to compare the respective literary reputation of the
poet and the critic, as they are estimated by the public, now that
the one is dead, and the other dormant. The voice of all the age
acknowledges Byron to have been the greatest poetical genius of his
time. Mr Jeffrey, though still enjoying the renown of being a shrewd
and intelligent critic of the productions of others, has established
no right to the honour of being an original or eminent author.

At the time when Byron published the satire alluded to, he had
obtained no other distinction than the college reputation of being a
clever, careless, dissipated student. But his dissipation was not
intense, nor did it ever become habitual. He affected to be much
more so than he was: his pretensions were moderated by
constitutional incapacity. His health was not vigorous; and his
delicacy defeated his endeavours to show that he inherited the
recklessness of his father. He affected extravagance and
eccentricity of conduct, without yielding much to the one, or
practising a great deal of the other. He was seeking notoriety; and
his attempts to obtain it gave more method to his pranks and follies
than belonged to the results of natural impulse and passion. He
evinced occasional instances of the generous spirit of youth; but
there was in them more of ostentation than of that discrimination
which dignifies kindness, and makes prodigality munificence. Nor
were his attachments towards those with whom he preferred to
associate, characterised by any nobler sentiment than self-
indulgence; he was attached, more from the pleasure he himself
received in their society, than from any reciprocal enjoyment they
had with him. As he became a man of the world, his early friends
dropped from him; although it is evident, by all the contemporary
records of his feelings, that he cherished for them a kind, and even
brotherly, affection. This secession, the common effect of the new
cares, hopes, interests, and wishes, which young men feel on entering
the world, Byron regarded as something analogous to desertion; and
the notion tainted his mind, and irritated that hereditary sullenness
of humour, which constituted an ingredient so remarkable in the
composition of his more mature character.

An anecdote of this period, characteristic of his eccentricity, and
the means which he scrupled not to employ in indulging it, deserves
to be mentioned.

In repairing Newstead Abbey, a skull was found in a secret niche of
the walls. It might have been that of the monk who haunted the
house, or of one of his own ancestors, or of some victim of the
morose race. It was converted into a goblet, and used at Odin-like
orgies. Though the affair was but a whim of youth, more odious than
poetical, it caused some talk, and raised around the extravagant host
the haze of a mystery, suggesting fantasies of irreligion and horror.
The inscription on the cup is not remarkable either for point or

Start not, nor deem my spot fled;
In me behold the only skull
From which, unlike a living head,
Whatever flows is never dull.

I liv'd, I lov'd, I quaff'd like thee;
I died, but earth my bones resign:
Fill up--thou canst not injure me,
The worm hath fouler lips than thine.

Better to hold the sparkling grape
Than nurse the earth-worm's slimy brood,
And circle in the goblet's shape
The drink of gods than reptile's food.

Where once my wit perchance hath shone,
In aid of others let me shine;
And when, alas, our brains are gone,
What nobler substitute than wine?

Quaff while thou canst--another race,
When thou and thine like me are sped,
May rescue thee from earth's embrace,
And rhyme and revel with the dead.

Why not? since through life's little day,
Our heads such sad effects produce;
Redeem'd from worms and wasting clay,
This chance is theirs, to be use.


Effect of the Criticism in the "Edinburgh Review"--"English Bards and
Scotch Reviewers"--His Satiety--Intention to Travel--Publishes his
Satire--Takes his Seat in the House of Lords--Departs for Lisbon;
thence to Gibraltar

The impression which the criticism of the Edinburgh Review produced
upon the juvenile poet was deep and envenomed. It stung his heart,
and prompted him to excess. But the paroxysms did not endure long;
strong volitions of revenge succeeded, and the grasps of his mind
were filled, as it were, with writhing adders. All the world knows,
that this unquenchable indignation found relief in the composition of
English Bards and Scotch Reviewers; a satire which, in many passages,
equals, in fervour and force, the most vigorous in the language.

It was during the summer of 1808, while the poet was residing at
Newstead, that English Bards and Scotch Reviewers was principally
written. He bestowed more pains upon it than perhaps on any other of
his works; and, though different from them all, it still exhibits
strong indications of the misanthropy with which, after quitting
Cambridge, he became more and more possessed. It is painful to
reflect, in considering the splendid energy displayed in the poem,
that the unprovoked malice which directed him to make the satire so
general, was, perhaps, the main cause of that disposition to wither
his reputation, which was afterwards so fervently roused. He could
not but expect, that, in stigmatising with contempt and ridicule so
many persons by name, some of them would retaliate. Nor could he
complain of injustice if they did; for his attack was so wilful, that
the rage of it can only be explained by supposing he was instigated
to "the one fell swoop," by a resentful conviction, that his
impillory in the Edinburgh Review had amused them all.

I do not conceive, that the generality of the satire can be well
extenuated; but I am not inclined to regard it as having been a very
heinous offence. The ability displayed in it is a sufficient
compensation. The beauty of the serpent's skin appeases the aversion
to its nature. Moreover, a toothless satire is verse without poetry-
-the most odious of all respectable things.

But, without regard to the merits or delinquency of the poem, to the
acumen of its animadversions, or to the polish of the lines, it
possesses, in the biography of the author, a value of the most
interesting kind. It was the first burst of that dark, diseased
ichor, which afterwards coloured his effusions; the overflowing
suppuration of that satiety and loathing, which rendered Childe
Harold, in particular, so original, incomprehensible, and antisocial;
and bears testimony to the state of his feelings at that important
epoch, while he was yet upon the threshold of the world, and was
entering it with a sense of failure and humiliation, and premature
disgust. For, notwithstanding his unnecessary expositions concerning
his dissipation, it is beyond controversy, that at no time could it
be said he was a dissipated young man. That he indulged in
occasional excesses is true; but his habits were never libertine, nor
did his health or stamina permit him to be distinguished in
licentiousness. The declaration in which he first discloses his
sobriety, contains more truth than all his pretensions to his
father's qualities. "I took my gradations in the vices," says he, in
that remarkable confession, "with great promptitude, but they were
not to my taste; for my early passions, though violent in the
extreme, were concentrated, and hated division or spreading abroad.
I could have left or lost the whole world with or for that which I
loved; but, though my temperament was naturally burning, I could not
share in the common libertinism of the place and time without
disgust; and yet this very disgust, and my heart thrown back upon
itself, threw me into excesses perhaps more fatal than those from
which I shrunk, as fixing upon one at a time the passions, which,
spread among many, would have hurt only myself." This is vague and
metaphysical enough; but it bears corroborative intimations, that the
impression which he early made upon me was not incorrect. He was
vain of his experiments in profligacy, but they never grew to

While he was engaged in the composition of his satire, he formed a
plan of travelling; but there was a great shortcoming between the
intention and the performance. He first thought of Persia; he
afterwards resolved to sail for India; and had so far matured this
project, as to write for information to the Arabic professor at
Cambridge; and to his mother, who was not then with him at Newstead,
to inquire of a friend, who had resided in India, what things would
be necessary for the voyage. He formed his plan of travelling upon
different reasons from those which he afterward gave out, and which
have been imputed to him. He then thought that all men should in
some period of their lives travel; he had at that time no tie to
prevent him; he conceived that when he returned home he might be
induced to enter into political life, to which his having travelled
would be an advantage; and he wished to know the world by sight, and
to judge of men by experience.

When his satire was ready for the press, he carried it with him to
London. He was then just come of age, or about to be so; and one of
his objects in this visit to the metropolis was, to take his seat in
the House of Lords before going abroad; but, in advancing to this
proud distinction, so soothing to the self-importance of youth, he
was destined to suffer a mortification which probably wounded him as
deeply as the sarcasms of the Edinburgh Review. Before the meeting
of Parliament, he wrote to his relation and guardian, the Earl of
Carlisle, to remind him that he should be of age at the commencement
of the Session, in the natural hope that his Lordship would make an
offer to introduce him to the House: but he was disappointed. He
only received a formal reply, acquainting him with the technical mode
of proceeding, and the etiquette to be observed on such occasions.
It is therefore not wonderful that he should have resented such
treatment; and he avenged it by those lines in his satire, for which
he afterwards expressed his regret in the third canto of Childe

Deserted by his guardian at a crisis so interesting, he was prevented
for some time from taking his seat in Parliament; being obliged to
procure affidavits in proof of his grandfather's marriage with Miss
Trevannion, which having taken place in a private chapel at Carhais,
no regular certificate of the ceremony could be produced. At length,
all the necessary evidence having been obtained, on the 13th of
March, 1809, he presented himself in the House of Lords alone--a
proceeding consonant to his character, for he was not so friendless
nor unknown, but that he might have procured some peer to have gone
with him. It, however, served to make his introduction remarkable.

On entering the House, he is described to have appeared abashed and
pale: he passed the woolsack without looking round, and advanced to
the table where the proper officer was attending to administer the
oaths. When he had gone through them, the chancellor quitted his
seat, and went towards him with a smile, putting out his hand in a
friendly manner to welcome him, but he made a stiff bow, and only
touched with the tip of his fingers the chancellor's hand, who
immediately returned to his seat. Such is the account given of this
important incident by Mr Dallas, who went with him to the bar; but a
characteristic circumstance is wanting. When Lord Eldon advanced
with the cordiality described, he expressed with becoming courtesy
his regret that the rules of the House had obliged him to call for
the evidence of his grandfather's marriage.--"Your Lordship has done
your duty, and no more," was the cold reply, in the words of Tom
Thumb, and which probably was the cause of the marked manner of the
chancellor's cool return to his seat.

The satire was published anonymously, and immediately attracted
attention; the sale was rapid, and a new edition being called for,
Byron revised it. The preparations for his travels being completed,
he then embarked in July of the same year, with Mr Hobhouse, for
Lisbon, and thence proceeded by the southern provinces of Spain to

In the account of his adventures during this journey, he seems to
have felt, to an exaggerated degree, the hazards to which he was
exposed. But many of his descriptions are given with a bright pen.
That of Lisbon has always been admired for its justness, and the
mixture of force and familiarity.

What beauties doth Lisboa's port unfold!
Her image floating on that noble tide,
Which poets vainly pave with sands of gold,
But now whereon a thousand keels did ride,
Of mighty strength since Albion was allied,
And to the Lusians did her aid afford.
A nation swoln with ignorance and pride,
Who lick, yet loathe, the hand that waves the sword
To save them from the wrath of Gaul's unsparing lord.

But whoso entereth within this town,
That sheening for celestial seems to be,
Disconsolate will wander up and down,
'Mid many things unsightly strange to see,
For hut and palace show like filthily;
The dingy denizens are reared in dirt;
No personage of high or mean degree
Doth care for cleanness of surtout and shirt,
Though shent with Egypt's plague, unkempt, unwash'd, unhurt.

Considering the interest which he afterwards took in the affairs of
Greece, it is remarkable that he should have passed through Spain, at
the period he has described, without feeling any sympathy with the
spirit which then animated that nation. Intent, however, on his
travels, pressing onward to an unknown goal, he paused not to inquire
as to the earnestness of the patriotic zeal of the Spaniards, nor
once dreamed, even for adventure, of taking a part in their heroic


First Acquaintance with Byron--Embark together--The Voyage

It was at Gibraltar that I first fell in with Lord Byron. I had
arrived there in the packet from England, in indifferent health, on
my way to Sicily. I had then no intention of travelling. I only
went a trip, intending to return home after spending a few weeks in
Malta, Sicily, and Sardinia; having, before my departure, entered
into the Society of Lincoln's Inn, with the design of studying the

At this time, my friend, the late Colonel Wright, of the artillery,
was secretary to the Governor; and during the short stay of the
packet at the Rock, he invited me to the hospitalities of his house,
and among other civilities gave me admission to the garrison library.

The day, I well remember, was exceedingly sultry. The air was
sickly; and if the wind was not a sirocco, it was a withering
levanter--oppressive to the functions of life, and to an invalid
denying all exercise. Instead of rambling over the fortifications, I
was, in consequence, constrained to spend the hottest part of the day
in the library; and, while sitting there, a young man came in and
seated himself opposite to me at the table where I was reading.
Something in his appearance attracted my attention. His dress
indicated a Londoner of some fashion, partly by its neatness and
simplicity, with just so much of a peculiarity of style as served to
show, that although he belonged to the order of metropolitan beaux,
he was not altogether a common one.

I thought his face not unknown to me; I began to conjecture where I
could have seen him; and, after an unobserved scrutiny, to speculate
both as to his character and vocation. His physiognomy was
prepossessing and intelligent, but ever and anon his brows lowered
and gathered; a habit, as I then thought, with a degree of
affectation in it, probably first assumed for picturesque effect and
energetic expression; but which I afterwards discovered was
undoubtedly the occasional scowl of some unpleasant reminiscence: it
was certainly disagreeable--forbidding--but still the general cast of
his features was impressed with elegance and character.

At dinner, a large party assembled at Colonel Wright's; among others
the Countess of Westmorland, with Tom Sheridan and his beautiful
wife; and it happened that Sheridan, in relating the local news of
the morning, mentioned that Lord Byron and Mr Hobhouse had come in
from Spain, and were to proceed up the Mediterranean in the packet.
He was not acquainted with either.

Hobhouse had, a short time before I left London,, published certain
translations and poems rather respectable in their way, and I had
seen the work, so that his name was not altogether strange to me.
Byron's was familiar--the Edinburgh Review had made it so, and still
more the satire of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, but I was not
conscious of having seen the persons of either.

On the following evening I embarked early, and soon after the two
travellers came on board; in one of whom I recognised the visitor to
the library, and he proved to be Lord Byron. In the little bustle
and process of embarking their luggage, his Lordship affected, as it
seemed to me, more aristocracy than befitted his years, or the
occasion; and I then thought of his singular scowl, and suspected him
of pride and irascibility. The impression that evening was not
agreeable, but it was interesting; and that forehead mark, the frown,
was calculated to awaken curiosity, and beget conjectures.

Hobhouse, with more of the commoner, made himself one of the
passengers at once; but Byron held himself aloof, and sat on the
rail, leaning on the mizzen shrouds, inhaling, as it were, poetical
sympathy, from the gloomy Rock, then dark and stern in the twilight.
There was in all about him that evening much waywardness; he spoke
petulantly to Fletcher, his valet; and was evidently ill at ease with
himself, and fretful towards others. I thought he would turn out an
unsatisfactory shipmate; yet there was something redeeming in the
tones of his voice, when, some time after he had indulged his sullen
meditation, he again addressed Fletcher; so that, instead of finding
him ill-natured, I was soon convinced he was only capricious.

Our passage to Sardinia was tardy, owing to calms; but, in other
respects, pleasant. About the third day Byron relented from his rapt
mood, as if he felt it was out of place, and became playful, and
disposed to contribute his fair proportion to the general endeavour
to wile away the tediousness of the dull voyage. Among other
expedients for that purpose, we had recourse to shooting at bottles.
Byron, I think, supplied the pistols, and was the best shot, but not
very pre-eminently so. In the calms, the jolly-boat was several
times lowered; and, on one of those occasions, his Lordship, with the
captain, caught a turtle--I rather think two--we likewise hooked a
shark, part of which was dressed for breakfast, and tasted, without
relish; your shark is but a cannibal dainty.

As we approached the gulf, or bay, of Cagliari, in Sardinia, a strong
north wind came from the shore, and we had a whole disagreeable day
of tacking, but next morning, it was Sunday, we found ourselves at
anchor near the mole, where we landed. Byron, with the captain, rode
out some distance into the country, while I walked with Mr Hobhouse
about the town: we left our cards for the consul, and Mr Hill, the
ambassador, who invited us to dinner. In the evening we landed
again, to avail ourselves of the invitation; and, on this occasion,
Byron and his Pylades dressed themselves as aides-de-camp--a
circumstance which, at the time, did not tend to improve my
estimation of the solidity of the character of either. But such is
the force of habit: it appeared a less exceptionable affectation in
the young peer than in the commoner.

Had we parted at Cagliari, it is probable that I should have retained
a much more favourable recollection of Mr Hobhouse than of Lord
Byron; for he was a cheerful companion, full of odd and droll
stories, which he told extremely well; he was also good-humoured and
intelligent--altogether an advantageous specimen of a well-educated
English gentleman. Moreover, I was at the time afflicted with a
nervous dejection, which the occasional exhilaration produced by his
anecdotes and college tales often materially dissipated, though, for
the most part, they were more after the manner and matter of Swift
than of Addison.

Byron was, during the passage, in delicate health, and upon an
abstemious regimen. He rarely tasted wine, nor more than half a
glass, mingled with water, when he did. He ate little; no animal
food, but only bread and vegetables. He reminded me of the ghoul
that picked rice with a needle; for it was manifest, that he had not
acquired his knowledge of the world by always dining so sparely. If
my remembrance is not treacherous, he only spent one evening in the
cabin with us--the evening before we came to anchor at Cagliari; for,
when the lights were placed, he made himself a man forbid, took his
station on the railing between the pegs on which the sheets are
belayed and the shrouds, and there, for hours, sat in silence,
enamoured, it may be, of the moon. All these peculiarities, with his
caprices, and something inexplicable in the cast of his metaphysics,
while they served to awaken interest, contributed little to
conciliate esteem. He was often strangely rapt--it may have been
from his genius; and, had its grandeur and darkness been then
divulged, susceptible of explanation; but, at the time, it threw, as
it were, around him the sackcloth of penitence. Sitting amid the
shrouds and rattlins, in the tranquillity of the moonlight, churming
an inarticulate melody, he seemed almost apparitional, suggesting dim
reminiscences of him who shot the albatross. He was as a mystery in
a winding-sheet, crowned with a halo.

The influence of the incomprehensible phantasma which hovered about
Lord Byron has been more or less felt by all who ever approached him.
That he sometimes came out of the cloud, and was familiar and
earthly, is true; but his dwelling was amid the murk and the mist,
and the home of his spirit in the abysm of the storm, and the hiding-
places of guilt. He was, at the time of which I am speaking,
scarcely two-and-twenty, and could claim no higher praise than having
written a clever worldly-minded satire; and yet it was impossible,
even then, to reflect on the bias of his mind, as it was revealed by
the casualties of conversation, without experiencing a presentiment,
that he was destined to execute some singular and ominous purpose.
The description he has given of Manfred in his youth was of himself.

My spirit walk'd not with the souls of men,
Nor look'd upon the earth with human eyes;
The thirst of their ambition was not mine;
The aim of their existence was not mine.
My joys, my griefs, my passions, and my powers,
Made me a stranger. Though I wore the form,
I had no sympathy with breathing flesh.
My joy was in the wilderness--to breathe
The difficult air of the iced mountain's top.
Where the birds dare not build, nor insect's wing
Flit o'er the herbless granite; or to plunge
Into the torrent, and to roll along
On the swift whirl of the new-breaking wave
Of river, stream, or ocean, in their flow--
In these my early strength exulted; or
To follow through the night the moving moon,
The stars, and their development; or catch
The dazzling lightnings till my eyes grew dim;
Or to look listening on the scatter'd leaves,
While autumn winds were at their evening song;--
These were my pastimes--and to be alone.
For if the beings, of whom I was one--
Hating to be so--cross'd me in my path,
I felt myself degraded back to them,
And was all clay again.


Dinner at the Ambassador's--Opera--Disaster of Byron at Malta--Mrs
Spencer Smith

I shall always remember Cagliari with particular pleasure; for it so
happened that I formed there three of the most agreeable
acquaintances of my life, and one of them was with Lord Byron; for
although we had been eight days together, I yet could not previously
have accounted myself acquainted with his Lordship.

After dinner, we all went to the theatre, which was that evening, on
account of some Court festival, brilliantly illuminated. The Royal
Family were present, and the opera was performed with more taste and
execution than I had expected to meet with in so remote a place, and
under the restrictions which rendered the intercourse with the
Continent then so difficult. Among other remarkable characters
pointed out to us was a nobleman in the pit, actually under the ban
of outlawry for murder. I have often wondered if the incident had
any effect on the creation of Lara; for we know not in what small
germs the conceptions of genius originate.

But the most important occurrence of that evening arose from a
delicate observance of etiquette on the part of the ambassador.
After carrying us to his box, which was close to that of the Royal
Family, in order that we might see the members of it properly, he
retired with Lord Byron to another box, an inflection of manners to
propriety in the best possible taste--for the ambassador was
doubtless aware that his Lordship's rank would be known to the
audience, and I conceive that this little arrangement was adopted to
make his person also known, by showing him with distinction apart
from the other strangers.

When the performance was over, Mr Hill came down with Lord Byron to
the gate of the upper town, where his Lordship, as we were taking
leave, thanked him with more elocution than was precisely requisite.
The style and formality of the speech amused Mr Hobhouse, as well as
others; and, when the minister retired, he began to rally his
Lordship on the subject. But Byron really fancied that he had
acquitted himself with grace and dignity, and took the jocularity of
his friend amiss--a little banter ensued--the poet became petulant,
and Mr Hobhouse walked on; while Byron, on account of his lameness,
and the roughness of the pavement, took hold of my arm, appealing to
me, if he could have said less, after the kind and hospitable
treatment we had all received. Of course, though I thought pretty

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