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The Life of Lord Byron.


O'er the harp, from earliest years beloved,
He threw his fingers hurriedly, and tones
Of melancholy beauty died away
Upon its strings of sweetness.

It was reserved for the present age to produce one distinguished example of the Muse having descended upon a bard of a wounded spirit, and lent her lyre to tell afflictions of no ordinary description-afflictions originating probably in that singular combination of feeling with imagination which has been called the poetical temperament, and which has so often saddened the days of those on whom it has been conferred. If ever a man was entitled to lay claim to that character in all its strength and all its weakness, with its unbounded range of enjoyment, and its exquisite sensibility of pleasure and of pain, that man was Lord Byron. Nor does it require much time or a deep acquaintance with human nature to discover why these extraordinary powers should in so many cases have contributed more to the wretchedness than to the happiness of their possessor.

The imagination all compact which the greatest poet who ever lived has assigned as the distinguishing badge of his brethren, is in every case a dangerous gift. It exaggerates, indeed, our expectations, and can often bid its possessor hope, where hope is lost to reason; but the delusive pleasure arising from these visions of imagination resembles that of a child whose gaze is attracted by a fragment of glass to which a sunbeam has given momentary splendour: he hastens to the spot with breathless impatience, and finds the object of his wonder and expectation equally vulgar and worthless. Such is the man of quick and exalted powers of imagination : his fancy over-estimates the object of his wishes; and pleasure, fame, distinction, are alternately pursued, attained, and despised when in his power. Like the enchanted fruit in the palace of a sorcerer, the objects of his admiration lose their attraction and value as soon as they are grasped by the adventurer's hand; and all that remains is regret for the time lost in the pursuit, and wonder at the hallucination under the influence of which it was undertaken. The disproportion between hope and possession which is felt by all men, is thus doubled to those whom nature has endowed with the power of gilding a distant prospect with the rays of imagination.

We think that many points of resemblance may be traced between Byron and Rousseau. Both are distinguished by the most ardent and vivid delineation of intense conception, and by a deep sensibility of passion rather than of affection. Both, too, by this double power, have held a dominion over the sympathy of their readers, far beyond the range of those ordinary feelings which are excited by the mere efforts of genius. The impression of this interest still accompanies the perusal of their writings; but there is another interest, of more lasting and far stronger power, which each of them possessed, --the continual embodying of the individual character, it might almost be said of the very person, of the writer. When we speak or think of Rousseau or Byron, we are not conscious of speaking or thinking of an author: we have a vague but impassioned remembrance of men of surpassing genius, eloquence, and power,-of prodigious capacity both of misery and happiness: we feel as if we had transiently met such beings in real life, or had known them in the obscure communion of a dream. Each of their works presents, in succession, a fresh idea of themselves; and, while the productions of other great men stand out from them, like something they have created, theirs, on the contrary, are images, pictures, busts of their living selves,-clothed, no doubt, at different times in different drapery, and prominent from a different back-ground,—but still impressed with the same form, and mien, and lineaments, and not to be mistaken for the representations of any other of the children of men.

But this view of the subject, though universally felt to be a true one, requires perhaps a little explanation. The personal character to which we allude, is not altogether that on which the seal of life has been set, and to which, therefore, moral approval or condemnation is necessarily annexed, as to the language or conduct of actual existence: it is the character, so to speak, which is prior to conduct, and yet open to good and to ill-the constitution of the being in body and in soul. Each of these illustrious writers has, in this light, filled his works with expressions of his own character,



Thus, each of these wayward and richly-gifted spirits made himself the object of profound interest to the world, and that too during periods of society when ample food was every where spread abroad for the meditation and passions of


-has unveiled to the world the secrets of his own public mind only pity, sorrow, or repugnance.
being. They have gone down into those depths But in the case of men of real genius, like Byron,
which every man may sound for himself, though it is otherwise they are not felt, while we read,
not for another; and they have made disclosures as declarations published to the world, but
to the world of what they beheld and knew there almost as secrets whispered to chosen ears. Who
-disclosures that have excited a profound and is there that feels for a moment, that the voice
universal sympathy, by proving that all mankind, which reaches the inmost recesses of his heart
the troubled and the untroubled, the lofty and is speaking to the careless multitudes around
the low, the strongest and the weakest, are linked him? Or if we do so remember, the words seem
together by the bonds of a common but inscrutable to pass by others like air, and to find their way
to the hearts for whom they were intended —
kindred and sympathetic spirits, who discern
and own that secret language, of which the
privacy is not violated, though spoken in the
hearing of the uninitiated, because it is not un-
derstood. A great poet may address the whole
world in the language of intensest passion, con-
cerning objects of which, rather than speak face
to face with any one human being, he would
perish in his misery. For it is in solitude that
he utters what is to be wafted by all the winds of
heaven: there are present with him during his
inspiration only the shadows of men.
daunted, or perplexed, or disturbed, or repelled
by real, living, breathing features. He can draw
just as much of the curtain as he chuses that hangs
between his own solitude and the world of life.
He there pours his soul out partly to himself alone,
partly to the ideal abstractions and impersonated
images that float around him at his own conjura-
tion; and partly to human beings like himself,
moving in the every-day world. He confesses
himself, not before men, but before the spirit of
humanity; and he thus fearlessly lays open his
heart, assured that nature never prompted to
genius what will not triumphantly force its way
into the human heart.

Although of widely dissimilar fortunes and birth, a close resemblance in their passions and their genius may be traced too between Byron and Robert Burns. Their careers were short and glorious, and they both perished in the « rich summer of their life and song,» and in all the splendour of a reputation more likely to increase thau diminish. One was a peasant, and the other a peer; but nature is a great leveller, and makes amends for the injuries of fortune by the richness of her benefactions: the genius of Burns raised him to a level with the nobles of the land; by nature, if not by birth, he was the peer of Byron. They both distinguished themselves by the force of their genius, and fell by the strength of their passions; one wrote from a love, and the other from a scorn of mankind; and both sung of the emotions of their own hearts with a vehemence and an originality which few have equalled, and none have surpassed.

He is not

It is admitted that Byron has depicted much of himself in all his heroes; but when we seem to see the poet shadowed out in all those states of disordered being which his Childe Harolds,

The versatility of authors who have been able to draw and support characters as different from each other as from their own, has given to their productions the inexpressible charm of variety, and has often secured them from that neglect | Giaours, Conrads, Laras, and Alps exhibit, we which in general attends what is technically called mannerism. But it was reserved for Lord Byron (previous to his Don Juan) to present the same character on the public stage again and again, varied only by the exertions of that powerful genius which, searching the springs of passion and of feeling in their innermost recesses, knew how to combine their operations, so that the interest was eternally varying, and never abated, although the most important person of the drama retained the same lineaments.

It might, at first, seem that his undisguised revelation of feelings and passions, which the becoming pride of human nature, jealous of its own dignity, would in general desire to hold in unviolated silence, could have produced in the


merely conceive that his mind felt within itself
the capacity of such disorders, not that it had
endured them, and exhibits itself before us only
in possibility. This is not common, it is rare in
great poets: Homer, Shakspeare, and Milton
never so exhibit themselves in the characters they
portray their poetical personages have no re-
ference to themselves, but are distinct, indepen-
dent creatures of their minds, produced in the
full freedom of intellectual power.
In Byron
there does not seem this freedom of power-there
is little appropriation of character to events.
poems, excepting Don Juan, are not full and
complete narrations of any one definite story,
containing within itself a picture of human life.
They are merely bold and turbulent exemplifi-


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cations of certain sweeping energies and irre- the Low Countries, was appointed governor of sistible passions; they are fragments of a poet's Chelsea, in 1642. He had two sons, who both dark dream of life. The very personages, vi- died without issue; and his younger brother, sir vidly as they are pictured, are yet felt to be John, became heir. This person was made a fictitious, and derive their chief power over us knight of the bath at the coronation of James from their supposed connexion with the poet the first. He had eleven sons, most of whom himself, and, it may be, with each other. The distinguished themselves by their loyalty and law of his mind was to embody his peculiar gallantry on the side of Charles the first. Seven feelings under the forms of other men. In all of these brothers were engaged at the batle of his heroes we recognise, though with infinite Marston-moor, and four fell in defence of the modifications, the same great characteristics: a royal cause. Sir John Byron, one of the survilofty conception of the power of mind,-an vors, was appointed to several important comintense sensibility of passion,-an almost bound-mands, and on the 26th of October, 1613, was less capacity of tumultuous emotion, -a boast-created Lord Byron, with a collateral remainder ing admiration of the grandeur of disordered to his brothers, On the decline of the king's power, and, above all, a soul-felt delight in | affairs, he was appointed governor to the Duke of beauty. York, and, while holding this office, died without These reflections naturally precede a sketch of issue, in France, in 1652; upon which his broLord Byron's literary and private life: they are ther Richard, a celebrated cavalier, became the in a manner forced upon us by Iris poetry, and by second Lord Byron. He was governor of Appleby the sentiments of weariness of existence and en-Castle, and distinguished himself at Newark. He mity with the world which it so frequently ex-died in 1697, aged seventy-four, and was succeeded presses.

Lord Byron was descended from an illustrious line of ancestry. From the period of the Conquest, his family were not more distinguished for their extensive manors in Lancashire and other parts of the kingdom, than for their prowess in arms. John de Byron attended Edward the first in several warlike expeditions. Two of the Byrons fell at the battle of Cressy. Another member of the family, Sir John de Byron, rendered good service in Bosworth field, to the Earl of Richmond, and contributed by his valour to transfer the crown from the head of Richard the third to that of Henry the seventh. Sir John was a man of honour, as well as a brave warrior. He was very intimate with his neighbour Sir Gervase Clifton; and, although Byron fought under Henry, and Clifton under Richard, it did not diminish their friendship, though it put it to a severe test. Previous to the battle, they had mutually promised that whichever should be vanquished, the other should endeavour to prevent the forfeiture of his friend's estate. While Clifton was bravely fighting at the head of his troop, he was struck off his horse: Byron perceiving the accident, quitted the ranks and ran to the relief of his friend, who died in his arms. Sir John de Byron kept his word; he interceded with the king; and the estate, preserved to the Clifton family, is now in the possession of a descendant of Sir Gervase.

In the wars between Charles the first and the parliament, the Byrons adhered to the royal cause. Sir Nicholas Byron, the eldest brother and representative of the family, was an eminent loyalist, who, having distinguished himself in the wars of

by his eldest son William, who married Elizabeth, the daughter of John Viscount Chaworth, of the kingdom of Ireland, by whom he had five sons, all of whom died young except William, whose eldest son, William, was born in 1722, and came to the title in 1736.

William, Lord Byron, passed the early part of his life in the navy. In 1763 he was made master of the stag-hounds; and in 1765 was sent to the Tower, and tried before the House of Peers for killing his relation and neighbour, Mr Chaworth, in a duel.—The following details of this fatal event are peculiarly interesting from subsequent circumstances connected with the subject of our sketch.

William Lord Byron belonged to a club of which Mr Chaworth was also a member. met at the Star and Garter tavern, Pall Mall, and was called the Nottinghamshire Club. On the 29th January, 1765, they assembled, at four o'clock, to dinner as usual, and every thing went on agreeably, until about seven o'clock, when an angry dispute arising betwixt Lord Byron and Mr Chaworth concerning the quantity of game on their estates, the latter gentleman paid his share of the bill, and retired. Lord Byron followed him out of the room, and, stopping him on the landing of the stairs, called to the waiter to show them into an empty room. They were shown into one, and a single candle placed on the table in a few minutes the bell was rung, and Mr Chaworth found mortally wounded. He said that Lord Byron and he entered the room together; that his lordship, in walking forward, said something relative to the former dispute, on which he proposed fastening the door; that on

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