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Åt the age of twelve Byron was removed to Harrow, We are not surprised to hear him in the Childe Harold' allude to the drilled dull lesson of his classical studies. Our estimate of Harrow and its position educationally, need not be biassed by the poet's depreciation. Authority, from without or from within, was through life abhorrent from Byron's spirit of independence. In his impatience of the school curriculum we recognise the boy who hereafter, when exasperated by misfortune and embittered by remorse, shall defy and outrage every rule of convention.
In 1803 occurred an event which powerfully operated on the unhealthy side of Byron's character. He met, during a vacation from Harrow, Mary Chaworth, descended from the Chaworth whom his great-uncle had killed. She was older than himself by some years, but the boy conceived for her an affection which the morbid consciousness of his personal defect only served to intensify. To this boyish love Byron frequently adverts, and in his poem The Dream,' long years afterwards, alludes to 'her who was his Destiny.'
From Harrow in 1805 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained for two years. It may be truly said that neither school nor college materially assisted or guided his genius. In 1808 he published his ‘Hours of Idleness,' a collection of poems which gave no promise of his subsequent success. To the harsh criticisms upon this publication he replied in the 'English Bards and Scotch Reviewers' in 1809. It is needless to say that much of his abuse of men and writers was unjust, and subsequently retracted or modified. In `Childe Harold' (Canto III. xxix.), he apologised for the unnecessary abuse of his guardian, Lord Carlisle, in the 1 Yet he says in ‘D. J.':
I'd send him out betimes to college,
few lines which he devotes to the death of that nobleman's son at Waterloo
• Partly that I did his sire some wrong.' Of Scott, whom he learnt afterwards to admire and respect, he speaks in Childe Harold' (Canto IV. xi.) as the Ariosto of the North,' though he had in the 'English Bards' referred to him thus :
· And think’st thou, Scott, by, vain conceit, perchance,
On public taste to foist the stale romance ? To Wordsworth, in after years, the poet owed a debt of gratitude and admiration, but in the 'English Bards' he speaks of him as 'the simple Wordsworth,' the dull disciple of the school of Southey. Still, however hasty and unjust his criticisms might be, it is evident from this work that a great poet had arisen.
In 1812 Byron published the first two Cantos of Childe Harold. The hero of this Romaunt, it is unnecessary to add, is, as we should have expected, the poet himself. The effect of this publication was a success complete and instantaneous. He went to bed one night (to use his own language) and got up to find himself famous. The fame and success were undoubtedly deserved. It is true that colouring and distortion of an unhealthy self-consciousness are abundantly present. But it is also true that in eloquence of declamation, in intensity of invective, in weirdness of description, ' Childe Harold' is unrivalled, and of itself marks Byron as the greatest poet that had arisen in England since the days of Milton. In language of precise versification, in rhythm of regular and unfailing beauty, is poured forth the stream of genuine poetry. In 1813 he published “The Giaour,'' The Bride of Abydos,' and 'The Corsair,' and in 1814, 'Lara.'
1 To Scott is dedicated Byron's "Cain.' Wordsworth is throughout pursued with vituperation. See • D. J.' passim.
In 1815 he married Miss Milbanke. This marriage, as might have been expected from his character, was thoroughly unhappy, and the incompatibility of temper invincible, Lady. Byron conceived it to be her duty to stop the utterances of her husband's genius, and Lord Byron, if we are to interpret his feelings by his language in "The Dream' and other poems, was, even if morally innocent, a man most likely to chafe at the restraints of the domestic contract. The whole story of unhappy recrimination it is unnecessary to follow.
Longa est injuria, longæ Ambages.'1 His daughter Ada, to whom he touchingly alludes in Canto III., was born in December 1815. In January, 1816, Lady Byron left him altogether, and he abandoned his country in the same year, never to return. He visited Flanders and the Rhine, and wrote the Third Canto of 'Childe Harold,' the ‘Prisoner of Chillon,' and "The Dream.' He now began his acquaintance with Shelley, and wrote among the Bernese Alps his ‘Manfred,' the embodiment of anguish and despair. He shortly afterwards published “Beppo,' as a note of defiance against the world's hollow morality.
He began at this time his ‘Don Juan,' and in 1818 was published the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold.'
On the merits of the last two Cantos of this poem there has been much difference of opinion. Byron himself professes to deplore a decadence of his poetic power :
• Perchance my heart and harp have lost a string,
1 To his wife he addresses one of the Occasional Pieces.' He speaks of her in • D. J.':
Nor worn the motley mantle of a poet
To a close and impartial observer, however, there is visible no sign of mental ruin and decay. On the contrary, there is an intensity of feeling, and a fierceness of power, for which we look in vain in the earlier poems. Nothing can surpass the sublimity of his communings with Nature, or the vigour with which he pours, as a lava stream, his ning utterances. "Poeta nascitur non fit' conveys a truth, but experience forbids our expecting the productions of the nascent poet to be those on which his laurels will depend. Between the 'Lycidas' and the • Paradise Lost' of Milton lies an interval of thirty years -years of anxiety, broil, and tumult—and yet, through all, the poet's powers were expanding and ripening. Six years have to Byron, in like manner, given vigour and maturity. Moreover, other influences have been in active operation. Shelley has taught him much--much that is visible in his poems; Wordsworth too he has learnt through Shelley to appreciate, though it is somewhat difficult to detect the influence of Nature's quiet votary. Byron's friends are not exclusively literary ones.
He has been surrounded by the wildest political dreamers ; he has even been initiated into the secret societies of Italy. The aspirations of Carbonarism have been absorbed into Byron's being and are reflected in his pages. The moral degradation in which he is known to be living does not, it is true, leave directly the slime of the serpent’s trail in the Childe Harold,' but there is palpable evidence of a mind unsatisfied with itself, abundant proof of the unrest of doubt, despair, and remorse.
At Venice, in the Armenian Convent, Byron stayed some time ; at Ravenna he lived for two years, and to that residence we are indebted for many allusions in the Fourth Canto. Here he wrote 'The Prophecy of Dante.' In 1820, Lord Byron, who had for some time been acquainted with the Countess Guiccioli, publicly connected his name with hers, and remained with her till
1822, when he started from Genoa, to throw himself into the Greek Revolution. The struggles of an historical people to achieve their independence, Byron with heart and soul strove to promote. The effort was too great for a constitution never strong, and now enfeebled by irregularity and dissipation. By exposure to the unhealthy climate of Missolonghi he caught a fever, with which he had no strength successfully to contend. He died after a short illness, April 19, 1824. His last words were Augusta,-Ada,--Greece. His body was carried to
, England, and lies buried in Hucknall Church in Nottinghamshire, near the home of the Byrons at Newstead. In a narrow spirit, we cannot but think, sepulture in England's Christian Pantheon-Westminster Abbey— was denied to one who, in spite of his many frailties, had within him the sorrowful great gift, and was one of England's greatest poets. He had himself in the Childe Harold' gloomily foreshadowed such a result :
If dull oblivion bar
This sketch of Byron's life has been necessarily brief.
The Editor regrets a necessity that has compelled him to be silent on
I. The many evidences of poetical genius and lofty political aspirations, built on ideas which every one must allow to exhibit a depth of generous sympathy.
II. Much, too, in justice should have been said on Byron's (i.) Egotism-wearisomely and perpetually drawing him
1.Seek out, less often sought than found,
A soldier's grave, for thee the best,
Byron's last poem.