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GEORGE GORDON BYRON, Lord Byron, was born at Dover, on the 22d January, 1788. He was the grandson of the celebrated Admiral Byron, and succeeded his great-uncle William Lord Byron, while at school, in 1798. His father was the admiral's only son, Captain John Byron of the guards, so notorious for his gallantries and reckless dissipation, by his second wife Catherine Gordon, an Aberdeenshire heiress, and a lineal descendant from the house of Huntley. By the eccentricity and misconduct of the old Lord Byron, and of the c ptain his nephew, the reputation of the family of Byron, so ancient and honourable in English history, had been considerably tarnished, when it was fated to give birth to the first et of his age. The former was tried by his peers £ killing his relation, Mr. Chaworth, in a combat with swords, after, a tavern dispute, under circumstances so equivocal, that he was indicted for murder, and only saved from the penalty attendant on man. slaughter by pleading his peerage, an escape which did not prevent him from being consigned by public opinion to a life of seclusion and obscurity. Captain Byron, on the other hand, was so dissipated, that he obtained the name of the “mad Jack Byron.” He was one of the handsomest men of his day, but so immersed in all the fashionable vices, that at length to be seen in his company was deemed discreditable. In his twenty-seventh year he seduced Amelia, marchioness of Carmarthen, daughter of the earl of Holdernesse, to whom, on a divorce following, he was united in marriage. This ceremony the illfated lady did not survive more than two years, when he took for a second wife Miss Gordon, whose fortune he quickly dissipated, leaving her a destitute widow in f791, with a son, the celebrated subject of this article, then only three years of age. Previously to the death of her husband, having been deserted by him, Mrs. Byron prudently retired with her infant son to Aberdeen, where she lived in narrow circumstances and great seclusion. It is necessay to be thus rticular in these preparatory details, in the present instance, because the singularity of the circumstances attendant upon the early childhood of Lord Byron, seems to have operated very materially in the forma. tion of his very striking character. Until seven ears of age the care of his education rested solely on # mother, to whose excusable, but injudicious indulgence, some of the waywardness by which it was subsequently marked, was even by himself attributed. Being then of a weakly constitution, that disadvantage, added to a slight malconformation in one of his feet, naturally rendered him an object of peculiar solicitude, and to invigorate his constitution, he was not sent to school, but allowed to brace his limbs upon the mountains in the neighbourhood; where he early acquired associations, and encountered a mass of legendary lore which indisputably nurtured his poeti'i tendêncies. At the age of seven he was sent to the grammar-school at Aberdeen. In 1798, the death of his great-uncle, without, issue, gave Byron the title: an estates of the family, on which, being then ten years of age, he was removed from the immediate care of his mother, and placed under the guardianip of the earl of Carlisle. On this change the youthful lord was placed at Harrow, where he distinguished himself more by his love of manly sports and by his undaunted spirit, than by his attention to his studies. While yet at school, he fell deeply in love with Miss Chaworth, the daughter and heiress of the gentleman who had fallen by the hand of his great-uncle, whom he met with on his occasional visits to New. stead. This lady, ultimately, married another and more mature suitor. Lord Byron was deeply wounded by this disappointment, and to the latest period of his life regard
edit with the most melancholy feelings.
When between sixteen and seventeen, he was entered of Trinity College, Cambridge; and here, as at Harrow, his dislike of discipline drew upon him much unavoidable rebuke, which he repaid with sarcasm and satire; and among other practical jokes kept a bear, which he observed he was training up for a degree., . At nineteen he quitted the university, and took up his residence at the family seat of New. stead Abbey, where he indulged himself chiefly in amusement, and especially in aquatic sports and swimming. In 1807, while still at Newstead, he ar. ranged his early productions, which he caused to be printed at Newark, under the title of “Hours of Idleness,” by George Gordon Lord Byron, a Minor. These poems, although exhibiting some indication of the future poet, also betrayed several marks of juvemility and imitation, which induced the Edinburgh reviewers to indulge in a celebrated attack, much less distinguished for wit or acumen. than for unreasonable causticity and ill-nature. The ridicule and neglect produced by this critique, roused the anger of the rising poet, who took his revenge in his celebrated satire of “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.” It is unpleasant to relate that about this time Lord Byron gave into a career of dissipation, too prevalent among the youthful possessors of rank and fortune, when altogether uncontrolled. Thus his fortune was deeply involved before he had attained legal maturity, and his constitution much impaired by the excesses in which he spent it. This however was not a course to last; and in the year 1809, he determined to travel, and accordingly, in company with his fellow-collegian, John Cam Hobhouse, Esq., he embarked at Falmouth, for Lisbon, and proceeded by the southern £ of Spain to the Mediterranean. His subsequent peregrination in Greece, Turkey, &c., need not be detailed here, having been rendered so famous by his fine poem of “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.” He returned home in June, 1811, after an absence of two years, and had not long arrived before he was summoned to Newstead, by the dangerous illness of his mother, who breathed her last before he could reach her. The publication of Childe Harold, which now took place, at once placed its author on the loftiest pinnacle of poetic fame. The splendour and originality of the poem astonished and dazzled his contemporaries. Panegyric flowed in upon him from almost every quarter, and his acquaintance became univer. sally courted. His manners, person, and conversation, were well calculated to heighten the attraction at first created by his genius; and it is to be regretted that, amidst the allurements and excitement presented in the glittering world of fashion, Lord Byron became involved in intrigues which were scarcely calculated to enhance his reputation for morality. The quick and scrutinising glance which Lord Byron had cast on Eastern character and manners, were now manifested in “The Giaour;” “The Bride of Abydos;” “The Corsair,” (the copyright of which, as well as that of childe'Harold, ##ve to Mr. Dallas;). “Lara;” and “The Siege of Corinth;” which followed one another in quick succes. sion. For parliamentary duties, he seems to have had a decided distaste; and it was not until his return from the Continent that he ventured to speak. He made his maiden speech in February, 1812, from the opposition bench, against the frame-work bill, and was argumentative and lively, if not very original. Having now become a character whose support might be of considerable consequence, he was congratulated accordingly. Another time, he addressed the house in support of Catholic emancipation, and a third and last time on presenting a petition from Major Cartwright. - I On the 2d of January, I815, he married Anna : belia, only daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke Noel,
Bart., to whom he had pro himself a year be. fore, and been rejected. The fortune received with his lady was not large, and his own having been pre: viously much enthralled, the reckless system of I' which succeeded the marriage, could not be long maintained, and after enduring considerable embarrassments, it was finally settled that Lady Byron, who had presented his lordship with a daughter on the 10th of December, should pay her father a visit until better arrangements could be made. From this visit, Lady Byron ultimately refused to return, and a formal separation ensued, the exact merits of which will most likely never be ascertained. This rupture produced a considerable sensation in the world of fashion, and the most contradictory rumours # in the midst of which Lord Byron left ngland, with an expressed resolution never, to return. He crossed over to France, through which he passed rapidly to Brussels, taking on his way a survey of the field of Waterloo. He then visited the banks of the Rhine, Switzerland, and the north of Italy, and for some time took up his abode at Venice. Here he was joined by Mr. Hobhouse, who accom: anied him on a visit to Rome, where he completed # third canto of “Childe Harold,” which showed that his wounded mind had in no degree chilled his poetic fire. Not long after appeared “The Prisoner of Chillon, a Dream, and other poems;” and in 1817, “Manfred,” a tragedy, and the “Lament of Tasso.” In one of his excursions from Italy, he resided for some time at Abydos, and thence proceeded to Tenedos and the island of Scio, where he likewise staid three months, during which time he visited every classical scene, and frequently slept in the peasants’ cottages, to whom his li £ made him a welcome est. He also visited several other islands, and at ength repaired to Athens, where he sketched many of the scenes of the fourth and last Canto of Childe Harold, which poem was published in 1818. In the same year appeared the playful jeu d'esprit of “Beppo.” In 1819, was published the romantic tale of £ and the same year was marked with the commencement of his “ Don Juan.” In 1820, was published “Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice.” In the same year appeared the noble drama, of “Sardanapalus; ” “The Two Foscari,” a tragedy; and “Cain,” a mystery. When Lord Byron quitted Venice, after visiting several parts of the Italian dominions of Austria, he settled at Pisa; where he became connected with the Gamba family, in whose behalf he endured some inconvenience, which ended in the banishment of the Counts Gamba, and the open residence of the Countess with Lord Byron. In 1822, in conjunction with Mr. Leigh Hunt, who on invitation had become his guest, and Mr. Percy Bysshe Shelley, the periodical publication called “The Liberal,” was commenced, which, principally owing to the unhappy fate of Mr. Shelley, (who perished by the upsetting of a boat in the Mediterranean,) extended only to four numbers. In this work first appeared the celebrated “Vision of Judgment.” “Heaven and Earth,” a mystery, also first appeared in the Liberal. The later Cantos of Don Juan, with “Werner,” a tragedy, and the “Deformed Transformed,” a fragment, bring up the rear of Lord Byron's performances. In the autumn of 1822, he quitted Pisa and winter. ed at Genoa, and now began to indulge those feelings in regard to the efforts of the Greeks to throw off the Mahometan, yoke, which determined him to lend them the aid of his person, purse, and influence. In August, 1823, he embarked, accompanied by five or six friends, in an English vessel which he had hired
for the purpose, and arrived at the commencement of the third campaign. He established himself some time in Cephalonia, and generously advanced 12,000 pounds sterling in aid .# the cause which he had espoused. After due preparation, he sailed from Argostoli with two lonian vessels, and taking considerable specie on board, he proceeded to Missolonghi; where, after considerable hazard and danger, and the loss of one of his vessels, he finally arrived, and was received with every possible mark of honour that Grecian gratitude could devise. His influence was very salutary in the mitigation of the ferocity with which the war was waged on the part of the Greeks; but it was much more difficult to produce union among their leaders. He immediately began to form a brigade of Suliotes, five hundred of whom were taken into his pay, with a view to an expedition against Lepanto; but such was the disorderly and unsettled temper of these troops, he was obliged to postpone it. This unexpected disappointment preyed on his spirits, and on the 15th February, he was attacked with a severe fit of the epilepsy. He had subsequently other attacks, but at length the violence of the disorder began to yield to the skill of his physician, and he was recommended to remove for a while from the flat, marshy, and unhealthful site of Missolçnghi to Zante. This step, with his usual tenacity, he refused to take: “I cannot quit Greece, (he wrote to a friend) while there is a chance of my being even of (supposed) utility. There is a stake worth millions; such as I am, and while I can stand at all, I must stand by the cause. While I say this, I am aware of the difficulties, dissensions, and defects of the Greeks themselves, but allowance must be made for them by all reasonable people.” On the expedition against Lepanto being given up, other projects were proposed with reference both to military operations and to congresses for '' eastern and western Greece; but, unhappily, the fatal moment was at hand, which was to deprive the Greek cause of its firm and emergetic friend.
On the 9th of April, Lord Byron, while riding out, got extremely wet; and, scarcely recovered from the effects of his former disorder, a fever ensued, which it is thought might have yielded to copious bleeding in the first instance, but which, owing either to ': own objection, or the inadequate opinion of the physician of the nature of the disease, was destined to prove fatal on the evening of the 19th April, 1824. The body of Lord Byron was brought to England, and laid in state in London, but was subsequenti escorted out of town by a funeral procession, of whic several distinguished characters, and a number of the carriages of the nobility and gentry formed a part. It was received at Nottingham by the corporation, and attended to the place of interment at Hucknell, near his own seat of Newstead Abbey, where a plain marble slab merely records his name and title, date of death, and age. Besides his only legitimate child and heiress, Lord # left another daughter in Italy, to whom he left 5,000l. on the condition of not marrying, an Englishman. The successor to his estate and title was his cousin, Capt. George Anson Byron, of the royal navy.
This is not the place to enter into an analysis of the merits of Lord Byron, nor to characterize sneri fically his various productions. But of onc thing we may speak with a probability amounting almost to certainty—and that is, as to the permanency of his poetical reputation. Whilst the English language shall endure, Lord Byron's poems will be road wherever it prevails.
At the distance of eight years from Lord Byron's death, in arranging his poetical works for this the first complete and uniform edition of them, it has been resolved, after much consideration, to follow, as closely as possible, the order of chronology. with a writer whose pieces do not prominently connect themselves with the actual sequence of his private history, another course might have seemed more advisable; but, in the case of one whose compositions reflect constantly the incidents of his own career, the developement of his senti. ments, and the growth of his character—in the case of a Petrarch, a Burns, a Schiller, or a Byron, — the advantages of the plan here adopted appear unquestionable.
The poetical works of Lord Byron, thus arranged, and illustrated from his own diaries and letters—(to many of which, as yet in MS., the Editor has had access),—and from the information of his surviving friends, who have in general answered every enquiry with prompt kindness, -will now present the cleares picture of the history of the man, as they must ever form the noblest monument of his genius.
Besides the juvenile miscellany of 1807, entitled “Hours of Idleness,” and the satire of “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,” first published in 1809, the present volume embraces a variety of Occasional Pieces, many of them now first printed, written between 1807 and the summer of 1810. Its contents bring down, therefore, the poetical autobiography of Lord Byron, from the early days of Southwell and Harrow, to the time when he had seriously entered on the great work which fixed his place in the highest rank of English literature.
Here the reader is enabled to take “the river of his life” at its sources, and trace it gradually from the boyish regions of passionately tender friendships, innocent half-fanciful loves, and that vague melancholy which hangs over the first stirrings of ambition, until, widening and strengthening as it flows, it begins to appear discoloured with the bitter waters of thwarted affection and outraged pride. No person, it is hoped, will hesitate to confess that new light is thrown on such of these pieces as had been published previously, by the arrangement and annotation which they have at length received-any more than that, among the minor poems now for the first time printed, there are several which claim a higher place, as productions of Lord Byron's genius, than any of those with which, in justice to him and to his reader, they are thus interwoven.
Composed entirely of verses written between the ages of fifteen and twenty-three, this volume,”—even con. sidered in a mere literary point of view,-must be allowed to stand alone in the history of Juvenile Poetry. But every page of it is in fact, when rightly understood, a chapter of the author's “confessions;” and it is by contemplating these faithful records of the progress of his mind and feelings, in conjunction with those already presented in the prose notices of his life, - which mutually illustrate and confirm each other throughout, that the reader can alone prepare himself for entering with full advantage on the first canto of Childe Harold.
The Editor's notes are indicated by the addition of the letter E.
London, June, 1832.
HOUR S OF ID LENESS,”
A s ERIES OF POEMs, or IGINAL AND TRAN SLATED.
FREDERIC K, EARL OF CAR LISLE,