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REV. R. COWLEY POWLES, M.A.
LATE FELLOW AND TUTOR OF
EXETER COLLEGE, OXFORD
THIS UNWORTHY LITTLE VOLUME
WITH GREAT RESPECT AND AFFECTION
GEORGE NOEL GORDON BYRON, like many of our greatest poets—Spenser, Milton, Pope, and Gray-was born in London. The day of his birth was January 22, 1788. He was the son of Captain Byron, and the grandson of the distinguished Admiral of that name. His mother was Catherine Gordon of Gight, descended from the Gordons of Huntly, while on his father's side he claimed descent from a Northman knight who accompanied William the Conqueror.
To the Scandinavian origin of his family he may be imagined to allude in the choice of the name Harold for the hero of his great Romaunt. By a previous marriage his father had one other child, a daughter, Augusta, afterwards Mrs. Leigh, between whom and her half-brother a tender affection subsisted.?
The character of Captain Byron was not adapted either to conciliate his wife's affection or to keep together the property which she brought him, and after a speedy separation, in comparative poverty, Mrs. Byron settled in Aberdeen for the education of her child. He received his earliest instruction from a Mr. Rose, and at the age of six attended the grammar school of the town.
On the death of his father, Byron became heir to his great-uncle, Lord Byron, who is chiefly notorious for his questionable duel with his neighbour, Mr. Chaworth of Annesley, and in 1798, on the demise of that peer, suc
1 See Byron's Stanzas to Augusta' and 'Epistle to Augusta ’in Occasional Pieces.'
ceeded to the title, and to the property of Newstead, in Nottinghamshire. The poet was, however, embarrassed by the heavy charges on his estates, and this fact should be kept in view if we wish to analyse the sum total of the circumstances which moulded his character. One reminiscence of his early childhood he carried with him to the close of life, a passion for mountain scenery
• The infant's rapture still survived the boy,
This enthusiasm for Nature distinguishes Byron and his contemporaries, Wordsworth and Scott, from the poets of the previous generation, to whom the name of poet seemed merely to suggest the precisest mechanical rules of versification, or the quaint conceits of expression and thought, to which Johnson applied the term metaphysical. Another impression of his earliest infancy was the habit of self-consciousness, no doubt to some extent attributable to the delicacy of his constitution, but beyond all contradiction aggravated by the cruelty of a mother who could upbraid her child for his deformity. This lameness, caused by an accident in childhood, the poet learned from his mother to brood over, and unhealthily to exaggerate, till he nursed a tyrant that overpowered the balance of his mental and moral being, and made him, in everything he did or said, the vainest and most egotistical of men.
That these two principles-self-consciousness and love of nature-should coexist without, as it were, trenching on each other's domain, both alike vigorous and actively restless, makes the character of Byron one worthy of exceptional consideration. In Scott and Wordsworth, the healthy love of the external in nature operated with the expulsive power of a strong affection, and cleansed the whole man from all that was mean, vain, or selfish.
1 Island,' Canto II. xii.