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strains of poetry are not to be found in his productions; and the moral sense of the world has become too strong to approve his flippant scepticism or condone his shameful immoralities. He once called himself, “The grand Napoleon of the realms of rhyme." The comparison is not unjust; but in both cases alike, the glamour of brilliant achievement has been stripped. off, and the forbidding personal character brought to light. Byron was endowed with extraordinary ability; but in large measure he used his powers to vent his misanthropy, to mock at virtue and religion, and to conceal the hideousness of vice.
George Gordon, Lord Byron, was born in London, Jan. 22, 1788. His ancestry runs back in an unbroken line of nobility to the time of William the Conqueror. His father was an unprincipled and heartless profligate, who married an heiress to get her property, and who, as soon as this was squandered, abandoned her. His mother was a proud, passionate, hysterical woman, who alternately caressed and abused her child. At one moment treating him with extravagant fondness, at the next she reproached him as a "lame brat," and flung the poker at his head. "Your mother's a fool," said a school companion to him. "I know it," was the painful and humiliating answer. With such parentage and such rearing, it becomes us to temper somewhat the severity of our judgment of his character.
He was sent to school at Harrow. "I soon found," wrote the head-master soon afterwards, "that a wild mountain colt had been submitted to my management." Byron did not take much interest in the prescribed studies, and never became an accurate scholar. His reading, however, was extensive, and he learned French and Italian. He formed a few warm friendships. During one of his vacations, he fell in love with Mary Ann Chaworth, whose father the poet's grand uncle had slain. in a tavern brawl. He was fifteen, and she was two years older. Looking upon him as a boy, she did not take his attachment seriously, and a year later married another. To Byron, who loved her with all the ardor of his nature, it was a grievous disappointment; and years afterwards, when he him
self stood at the altar, recollections of her disturbed his soul. The story is told in "The Dream," a poem of much beauty : —
In 1805 Byron entered Trinity College, Cambridge, with which he was connected for nearly three years. Like many of his predecessors of independent genius-Bacon, Milton, Locke, Gibbon he cared little for the university training. He was fond of out-door sports, and excelled in cricket, boxing, riding, and shooting. Along with a good deal of miscellaneous reading, he wrote verses, and in 1808 published a volume entitled "Hours of Idleness." The work gave little evidence of poetic genius, and was the subject of a rasping critique in the Edinburgh Review. "The poesy of this young lord," it was said with some justice, "belongs to the class which neither gods nor men 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."
"The boy had fewer summers, but his heart
While affecting contempt for public opinion, Byron was always acutely sensitive to adverse criticism; and the exasperating attack of the Edinburgh Review stung him like a blow, rousing him to fury. The result was, a little later, the furious and indiscriminate onslaught known as "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers." "Prepare," he shouted,
Prepare for rhyme - I'll publish right or wrong;
The first edition was exhausted in a month. Though violent, indiscriminate, and often unjust, the satire indicated something of his latent power.
In 1809, after a few weeks of wild revel at his ancestral seat of Newstead Abbey, he set out upon his travels, and visited Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Turkey. His restless spirit found some degree of satisfaction in roving from place to place.
While continuing to lead an ill-regulated life, he carried with him the eyes of a keen observer, and the sentiments of a great poet. His experience and observation are given in the first two cantos of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage." Though he affirmed that Childe Harold is a fictitious character, it is impossible not to identify him with the poet himself.
"Whilome in Albion's isle there dwelt a youth,
And now Childe Harold was sore sick at heart,
And from his native land resolved to go,
And visit scorching climes beyond the sea;
With pleasure drugged he almost longed for woe,
And e'en for change of scene would seek the shades below."
The poem is written in the Spenserian stanza; and the antiquated style which he affected at first was soon cast aside. It opened a new field; and its rich descriptions seized the public fancy. It ran through seven editions in four weeks; and to use the author's words, "he woke up one morning and found himself famous." The other results of his Eastern travels are "The Giaour," "The Bride of Abydos," "The Corsair," and "Lara" - poetical romances of passion and violence, which were received with outbursts of applause. They surpassed Scott in his own field — a fact which he had the judgment to recognize and the manliness to confess.
Byron had returned to England in 1812, after an absence of two years; and while the various works mentioned were appearing, he was leading a fashionable and dissipated life in London. When the right mood was on him, he had the power of making
himself highly entertaining. His presence was striking. for poets," says Scott, "I have seen all the best of my time and country; and though Burns had the most glorious eye imaginable, I never thought any of them could come up to an artist's notion of the character except Byron. His countenance is a thing to dream of.”
Byron was naturally idolized by women; but never discerning the nobler elements of their character, he set a low estimate upon them. "I regard them," he says, as very pretty but inferior creatures, who are as little in their place at our tables as they would be in our council chambers. . I look upon
them as grown-up children."
In 1815 he married Miss Milbanke; but there was no love on either side, and it proved an ill-assorted match. Though an excellent woman, his wife was exacting and unsympathetic. Impatient at his late hours, she inquired when he was going to leave off writing verses. On the other hand, he was fitful, violent, and immoral.
At the end of a year, and after the birth of their daughter Ada, she went to her father's, and informed Byron that she did not intend ever to return to him. The separation created a sensation; and the burden of blame, as was no doubt just, fell upon him. He sank in popular esteem as suddenly as he had risen. He dared not go to the theatres for fear of being hissed, nor to Parliament for fear of being insulted. The result is given in his own words: "I felt that, if what was whispered and muttered and murmured was true, I was unfit for England; if false, England was unfit for me." Accordingly in 1816, disappointed and burdened at heart, he left his native shore never to return.
Whither I know not; but the hour's gone by,
When Albion's lessening shores could grieve or glad mine eye.
Once more upon the waters! yet once more!
And the waves bound beneath me as a steed
Welcome to their roar !
That knows his rider.