網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

MEMOIR.

[ocr errors]

George GORDON BYRON, Lord Byron, the son of Captain I yron and Miss Catherine Gordon Gight, was born in Holles Street, London, January 22, 1788. The Byron family was a very ncient and noble one. In the wars of Edward III.; on Bosworth Field, by the side of ichmond, the knightly Byrons won fame and royal favour; and bravely and loyally the first eer of the race, Sir John Biron-afterwards created Baron Biron of Rochdale in the county of ancaster-fought for the unfortunate Charles I. 'Sir John Biron," writes Mrs. Hutchinson her husband's life, "afterwards Lord Biron, and all his brothers, bred up in arms and valiant en in their own persons, were all PASSIONATELY the king's." In that word "passionately" the mily characteristic is revealed. They were an impulsive, passionate race, vehement alike in ove and hatred. After the period when seven brothers of the house fought at Edgehill, the ame does not again come prominently forward till the shipwreck of young Byron (afterwards dmiral), the account of which will never cease to move sympathy, pity, and admiration. This gallant seaman was the grandfather of the poet, and brother to the Lord Byron who in 65 was tried for killing his relation and neighbour, Mr. Chaworth, in a duel. Captain Byron, the poet's father, was a very immoral man.

He was twice married: first to he divorced Lady Carmarthen, and secondly to Miss Gordon. He had a daughter by his first arriage, Augusta, afterwards Mrs. Leigh; and the poet by his second union. Overwhelmed y debt, he married Miss Gordon for her money, which was soon wholly spent in satisfying his reditors. He had no love for his wife, and they lived so unhappily that in 1790 they separated, hough Mrs. Byron was warmly attached to her husband, and ready, even after he had beggared er, to give him pecuniary aid from the mere pittance left her; for the heiress of Gight was duced to an income of £150 a-year. She lent him money, however, to the last, and mourned assionately for him when he died. But though generous, devoted, and honourable in money hatters, Mrs. Byron was afflicted with an infirm and violent temper, over which she had not the ightest control; and from which even her child suffered at times. Like Scott, the poet had a alformation of one foot which rendered him lame, and caused him in his childhood great ffering.

When not quite five years old he was sent to a day school in Aberdeen. Of this time he cords: "I was sent at five years old or earlier, to a school kept by a Mr. Bowers, who was lled Bodsy Bovers, by reason of his dapperness. It was a school for both sexes. I learned tle there excent to repeat by rote the first lesson of monosyllables (God made man. Let us love m), by hearing it often repeated without acquiring a letter. Whenever proof was made of

512339

ac

ess at home, I repeated these words with the most rapid fluency; but on turning over a new I continued to repeat them, so that the narrow boundaries of my first year's accomplishment re detected, my ears boxed (which they did not deserve, seeing it was by ear only that I ha quired my letters), and my intellects consigned to a new preceptor. He was a very devou! dever little clergyman, named Ross, afterwards minister of eve of the Kirks (East, I think) Under him I made astonishing progress; and I recollect to this day his mild manners and good natured painstaking. The moment I could read, my grand passion was history, and why know not, but I was particularly taken with the battle near the Lake Regillus in the Roma History, put into my hands the first. . . . Afterwards I had a very serious, saturnine, bu kind young man named Paterson for a tutor. He was the son of my shoemaker, but good scholar, as is common with the Scotch. He was a rigid Presbyterian also. Wit him I began Latin in 'Ruddiman's Grammar, and continued till went to the Gramma School."

At the Grammar School Byron was more eager to distinguish himself in athletic sports an exercises than in learning. In the summer of 1796, after an attack of scarlet fever, he was take by his mother to the Highlands for change of air, and amidst their glorious hills formed th strong passion for mountain scenery, which he afterwards so often declared. It was about th time, when he was not quite eight years old, that his baby love for Mary Duff, the end of whic he records so strangely, occurred: "Hearing of her marriage several years after" (when was about sixteen), he says, "was like a thunderstroke; it nearly choked me, to the horror my mother, and the astonishment and almost incredulity of everybody." Alfieri tells us th these precocious attachments are a sign of great powers of intellect. "Effetti che poche perso: intendono e pochissime provano; ma a quei soli pochissimi è concesso l'uscir dalla folla volga in tutte le umane arti."* With the memory of Dante's enduring affection for Beatrice at ni years old, and of Canova's first love at five, we may be inclined to credit the Italian dramatis who himself had been an almost infant lover. In 1798 Byron's grand-uncle, the fifth Lo Byron, died at Newstead, and the little boy succeeded to the title, and became a ward Chancery under the rather reluctant guardianship of his connection, Lord Carlisle. Mrs. Byro with her son, then proceeded to Newstead, the family seat, which had been left by the la eccentric peer in a state of neglect and decay.

The next year Mrs. Byron was accorded a Civil List pension of £300 a-year, probably account of the difficulties of her position.

No one could have been less fitted than this lady for training the childhood of such

son.

She alternately spoiled and irritated him, or exposed herself to his ridicule by undignific fits of rage. To the cruel epithet of "a lame brat," which in one of her fits of passion s' applied to him, he ascribed in after years his morbid sensitiveness on the subject of his deforme foot, describing vividly the feelings of horror and humiliation which came over him when I first heard it.

In 1799, Mrs. Byron, finding that a Nottingham practitioner whom she employed to cure h son's lameness had not succeeded, removed with young Byron to London, where, at Lo Carlisle's suggestion, he was put under the care of Dr. Baillie. At the same time he was plac in a quiet school at Dulwich, under a Doctor Glennie, who spoke afterwards in high terr of his pupil's great promise. "He was" (the Doctor says) "playful, good-humoured, a beloved by his companions." His reading in history and poetry was beyond his age, a he was intimately acquainted with the Old Testament histories. But anything like a regu course of study for this gifted boy was rendered impossible by his mother's folly. Residing. Sloane Terrace, she had him home every Saturday till Monday, but frequently kept him home a week at a time longer, and gathered numbers of young acquaintances round hi In vain Dr. Glennie remonstrated; in vain Lord Carlisle interfered; neither could control,

"Emotions that few persons understand and few experience but, to those ferv. it is granted to above the vulgar crowd in all the fine arts."

[ocr errors][merged small]

thfluence Mrs. Byron; remonstrance was vain. It was probably about this time that the future poet fell in love with his cousin, Margaret Parker, a beautiful child about a year older than himself. She died soon after of consumption.

When Byron had been two years at Dr. Glennie's school his mother, discontented at his slow progress (caused undoubtedly by her own conduct), urged Lord Carlisle to have him removed to a public school, and her request was granted. Her son was sent to Harrow. Here, while ery young, an incident happened which shows the generous nature of the child. Young Peel afterwards Sir Robert), was his form-fellow and friend. A tyrant some years older claimed a fght to "fag" little Peel, but Peel resisted it. In revenge the tyrant, enraged, inflicted a kind of astinado on the inner fleshy part of the boy's arm, which he also twisted round so as to render e pain more acute. While poor Peel was writhing under the stripes, Byron, who knew that e himself was not strong enough to fight the oppressor, advanced, and with tears in his eyes nd a voice trembling with indignation, asked the tyrant if he would be pleased to tell im how many stripes he meant to inflict? "Why," returned the executioner, "you little ascal, what is that to you?" "Because, if you please," said Byron, holding out his arm, "I Yould take half."

...

Byron says of this time: "At Harrow I fought my way very fairly. I think I lost but one attle out of seven, and that was to H-; and the rascal did not win it but by the unfair reatment of his own boarding-house, where we boxed. I had not even a second. . . . Dr. Prury, whom I plagued sufficiently too, was the best, the kindest (and yet strict too) friend I ver had; and I look upon him still as a father. P. Hunter, Curzon, Long, and Tatersall ere my principal friends. Clare, Dorset, C. Gordon, De Bath, Claridge, and John Wingfield ere my juniors and favourites, whom I spoilt by indulgence. Of all human beings I was erhaps, at one time, the most attached to poor Wingfield, who died at Coimbra, 1811, before returned to England."

The general character Byron bore at Harrow among the masters was that of an idle boy, who ould learn, but would not study.

In 1803 Mrs. Byron took up her abode in lodgings at Nottingham, Newstead Abbey having een let to Lord Grey de Ruthin; and during the Harrow vacations she was joined there by er son. He soon became intimate with his noble tenant, and an apartment at the Abbey was henceforward always at his service. Here he was thrown into constant association with Miss haworth of Annesley, in the immediate neighbourhood. He used at first to refuse to sleep at nnesley, and returned every night to Newstead; alleging as a reason, that he was afraid of e family pictures of the Chaworths, that "he fancied they owed him a grudge on account of e duel, and would come down from their frames at night to haunt him." He fell desperately love with the beautiful young heiress, but, alas! hopelessly. She was already engaged to Ir. Musters; moreover, Byron was two years her junior, being then only sixteen. He either eard, or was told, of Miss Chaworth saying to her maid, Do you think I could care anything or that lame boy?" This speech, he said, was like a shot through his heart. Though late at ght when he heard it, he instantly darted out of the house, and never stopped running till he

ached Newstead.

In October, 1805, Byron was removed to Trinity College, Cambridge, and entered on a new hase of life.

His mother had now settled at Southwell, where he became acquainted with his friends the igots, took part in private theatricals, and joined more in society. His fondness for dogs was en, and throughout his life, remarkable, and Boatswain (whose epitaph is known to a the ading world) was then his favourite.

Of his charity and kindness he left warm remembrances at Southwell. While yet a schoolboy, : happened to be in a bookseller's shop there, when a poor woman came in to purchase ble. The price she was told by the shopman was eight shillings. "Ah, dear sir,"

• See 'Siege of Corinth,' "Like the figures on arras," &c.

exclaimed, "I cannot pay such a price: I did not think it would cost half the money." was then turning away, disappointed, when young Byron called her back and gave her Bible.

He was quite conscious of his great personal beauty, and was careful and fastidious in dress. Fearing that he might become enormously fat, he, soon after his entrance at Cambridg adopted for the purpose of reducing himself a system of violent exercise and abstinence, w the frequent use of hot baths. But the trifling deformity of his foot was a constant source mortification to him. A clergyman friend of his, a Mr. Becher, finding him one day grea dejected, endeavoured to cheer him by pointing out the many blessings of his lot, especially t gift he possessed of "a mind which placed him above the rest of mankind." Ah, my do friend," said Byron mournfully, "if this (laying his hand on his forehead) places me above t rest of mankind, that (pointing to his foot) places me far below them."

"

In 1807 Byron's first poems were published, under the title of the Hours of Idleness.' The was much grace and tenderness in them, though they gave little promise of the future wonder: productions which were to stamp him as one of the greatest of England's poets; but he w not yet twenty-one years old; and the poems themselves by no means justify the contemptuo criticism of the 'Edinburgh Review' of March, 1808. The effect it had on him was exasper ing. A friend who found him in the first moments of excitement after reading it, asked if had just received a challenge, so full of fierce defiance was his look. His pride was wound, to the quick; but the reaction against such injustice roused all his still half-dormant powe and "the pain and shame of the injury," says Moore, "were forgotten in the proud certair, of revenge." His first care, however, was to soothe his mother, who was of course grea pained by the attack.

His life at this period was spent between London and Cambridge, without a home to recei him, or a single relative to welcome him as a guest. Thrown thus on the world in his earli youth, and surrounded by temptations of all kinds, it is no wonder that he grew wild a. extravagant, and ran in debt deeply, nor that he grew weary of, and sated with, a life of reckle dissipation. In the November of 1808 his favourite dog Boatswain died mad. Byron had little notion of the nature of the illness that he more than once wiped the saliva from the do lips with his own hand. It was wonderful that he escaped the disease.

His coming of age in 1809 was celebrated at Newstead with such festivities as his narr means would permit. During the previous months he had been writing his 'Satire' (begun t very day he read the 'Review '), and now he prepared to take it to London.

His guardian, Lord Carlisle, had received the dedication of nis first poems with a coldne which had deeply wounded Byron. Since then he had written to remind his guardian th he should be of age at the commencement of the session, thinking that Lord Carlisle wou introduce him to the House. A mere formal and cold reply, however, simply telling him t technical mode of proceeding on such occasion, was all the notice taken of his letter; for, in fac no introduction was necessary, and probably his guardian did not understand that he wish for one. Byron, greatly mortified, removed two laudatory lines from the satire, i. e., 31

"On one alone Apollo deigns to smile,

And crowns a new Roscommon in Carlisle,"

to the satirical verses published in it. Not long after, however, the young poet regretted h anger and its utterance.

[ocr errors]

W

Almost every second day his relative and new friend, Mr. Dallas, who had undertaken superintend the passage of the 'Satire' through the press, received fresh additional matter, tit Byron wrote, "Print soon, or I shall overflow with rhymes." In like manner, with all h subsequent productions, as long as he was near the printer he kept adding fresh-coming fancie to the poems. Of the occasional injustice of the 'Satire' he repented afterwards, and recorde his regrets in a copy in the possession of his publisher.

Byron saw Miss Chaworth once again after her marriage, being invited by Mr. Chaworth (Mr. Musters had taken his wife's name) to dine at Annesley, not long before his departur

« 上一頁繼續 »