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self stood at the altar, recollections of her disturbed his soul. The story is told in "The Dream," a poem of much beauty: —
"The boy had fewer summers, but his heart
Had far outgrown his years, and to his eye
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."
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.
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. 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. As 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.
Though the strained mast should quiver as a reed,
Still I must on; for I am as a weed
Flung from the rock, on ocean's foam to sail,
Where'er the surge may sweep, the tempest's breath prevail."
With this voluntary exile he entered upon a new era of authorship, in which he attained to the full maturity of his powers. At Geneva he wrote the third, and at Venice the fourth canto of "Childe Harold," and at once placed himself among the great masters of English verse. Landscapes of unsurpassed majesty and beauty are portrayed; history lives again; our feelings are stirred with deep emotion. Treasures are found on every page. For example: —
"The sky is changed! - and such a change! O night,
Or again :
"I see before me the gladiator lie:
He leans upon his hand - his manly brow
And his drooped head sinks gradually low
And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
Like the first of a thunder shower; and now
The arena swims around him he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout that hailed the wretch who won."
"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
I love not man the less, but nature more,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal."
At Geneva he wrote the touching story of Bonnivard, "The Prisoner of Chillon."
From Switzerland, Byron went to Italy, living for a time at Venice, Ravenna, Piza, and Genoa. His Italian life was voluptuous and immoral. In every place of sojourn, however, he continued to write, composing many works of high excellence. "Cain " is a powerful drama. One of the characters is Lucifer, of whom Byron apologetically says, "It was difficult for me to make him talk like a clergyman upon the same subjects." "Manfred" and "Sardanapalus Sardanapalus" are other dramas. The "Vision of Judgment," a satire on George the Third and "Bob Southey," is not reverent, but it is the wittiest production of its class in our language. "Don Juan," his longest poem, is a conglomerate of wit, satire, and immorality, relieved at intervals by sage reflection and delicate poetic sentiment. It shows at once the author's genius and degradation.
At length the aimless and voluptuous life he was leading filled him with satiety. He had drained the cup of pleasure to its dregs of bitterness. He began to long for a life of action. "If I live ten years longer," he wrote in 1822, “you will see that it is not all over with me. I don't mean in literature, for that is nothing— and I do not think it was my vocation; but I shall do something."
Greece was at this time struggling for independence from Turkish tyranny. Byron was a friend of liberty; the struggling Greeks touched his sympathies. Accordingly he embarked for Greece in 1823 to aid them in their struggle. As he was about to depart, the shadow of coming disaster fell upon him. "I have a sort of boding," he said to some friends, “that we see each other for the last time, as something tells me I shall never return from Greece."