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LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.
GEORGE GORDON, Lord Byron, had not only his own talents, but the pride of illustrious ancestry to boast; for even so early as the conquest, his family was distinguished, not merely for their extensive manors in Lancashire and other parts, but for their prowess in arms.
The last Lord Byron but one, had only one son, who held a commission in the army, and was killed in Corsica several years before the death of his father, which accelerated the succession of his present Lordship, as the infant grandson of the celebrated Admiral Byron, who was the eldest brother of the late Lord. This nobleman died on the 19th of May, 1791, by which means our hero became entitled to the title and estates of his illustrious ancestry. His Lordship's father married first the Baroness Conyers, daughter of Lord Holderness, by whom he had a daughter; and after her demise Miss Gordon of Gight, the mother of the noble Lord. .
His Lordship spent a considerable portion of his early life in Scotland, where the wild and mountainous scenes which surrounded him, contributed not a little to strengthen the mighty energies of his mind, and to imprint on his vivid imagination those powerful and beautiful images of natural grandeur and wildness which characterise all his writings. At times, his Lordship would exclude himself from his ordinary companions, and wander alone amid the majestic and sublime scenery of the Highlands, until his soul seemed tinged with those elements of real sublimity, and drank a species of inspiration from the mists of the mountains, the wild waves of the ocean, and the black adamant of its terrific boundaries.
The celebrated school at Harrow, and the University of Cambridge, had the honour of adding the polish of education to the innate powers of his mind, and several of his academic companions can relate not a few instances of his precocious talents and strange eccentricities. At this early period of his life he made many voluntary excursions to the Aonian Hill, and drank largely of the Castalian stream, which, the work he published under the title of Hours of Idleness, a Series of Poems, original and translated, sufficiently proves; yet, premature as these poetic attempts might be considered, and notwithstanding the severity with which the Editor of the Edinburgh Review handled them, there are numerous original beauties in many of the pieces, which proved the harbingers of the splendid galaxy that succeeded them. These poems were published at Newark in 1805, when his Lordship was nineteen years of age; and from the dates prefixed, it appears that the majority were written between his sixteenth and eighteenth year. This critique elicited from his Lordship one of the bitterest and most powerful satires ever published. Lord Byron declares towards the termination of the poem, that it was his intention to close, from that period, his connexion with the Muses, and that should he return in safety from the “Minarets” of Constantinople, the “Maidens of Georgia,” and the “sublime snows” of Mount Caucasus, nothing on earth should tempt him to resume the pen. Happily for the republic of letters this resolution was not preserved; and the noble Bard, with that generosity which usually accompanies true genius, has not only forgiven the Editor of the Edinburgh Review, but flatteringly alludes to him in one of his poems. In more than one instance, Lord Byron exhibits his attachment to Scotland. His remembrances of the scenes of his childhood are recorded in an early poem on Loch na Gar, a mountain which he describes as “one of the most sublime and picturesque amongst our Caledonian Alps.” Though the verses were among his earliest poetical efforts, they have much poetical force, and are by no means devoid of harmony. Among the early amusements of his Lordship, were
swimming and managing a boat, in both of which he is said to have acquired a great dexterity even in his childhood. In his acquatic excursions near Newstead Abbey, he had seldom any other companion than a large Newfoundland dog, to try whose sagacity and fidelity, he would sometimes fall out of the boat, as if by accident, when the dog would seize him, and drag him ashore. On losing this dog, in the autumn of 1808, his Lordship caused a monument to be erected, commemorative of its attachment, with an inscription, from which we extract thc following lines:— * Ye who perchance, behold this sacred urn, Passon-it honours none you wish to mourn! To mark a friend's remains these stones ariseI never knew but one, and here he lies.” His Lordship, when very young, was placed under the guardianship of Mr. Wh—te, an eminent solicitor, who by a singular coincidence of circumstances, had likewise become the guardian of the accomplished Miss Ch th, whose father had formerly fallen a victim to the deadly resentment of a very near relative of his Lordship. To this lady, notwithstanding the family feud, it was the wish of their guardian, Lord Byron should be united; and there are pretty strong grounds for supposing that the inclinations of his Lordship were not at variance with the intentions of his guardian. The lady, however, from family circumstances, and perhaps still more from an earlyformed attachment to J. M-sters, Esq. then honoured, from his fashionable notoriety, with the more familiar appellation of “the gay Jack M–sters,” was far from being a willing ward. His Lordship's pride would not suffer him to woo a reluctant fair one in propria persona, yet he expressed the warmth of his feelings very frequently in his invocation of the Muses. Mr. M-sters was a pretty constant attendant upon Miss Ch th, and for the purpose of avoiding him, Mr. Wh—te, his two sisters, Lord Byron, and the unwilling fair, were dragged in rapid succession from one watering place to another throughout the country, while he followed in pursuit. It was useless, however, contending with destiny. His Lordship's fate was not to be united with that of Miss Ch—th, notwithstanding the ardency of his attachment, and the influence of their guardian. The anguish produced by unrequited love and disappointed ambition on a mind like his Lordship's, may be more easily conceived than described;—fits of gloominess and gaiety, desperation and dissipation, alternately prevailed in rapid succession, until the Muses, the invariable confidents of intense passion, gently soothed the irritation of his heart, by presenting to his over-credulous imagination a bright perspective of poetical honours and perennial triumphs. He shortly afterwards published his Minor Poems. Their fate and its consequences have been already described. This last and long-cherished hope was apparently blasted for ever, and he could no longer look for consolation, under the extreme anguish of his feelings, to literary glory. This drove him to the verge of madness; his mind and conduct were entirely metamorphosed; naturally mirthful, he became suddenly melancholy; he shunned, despised, and hated every one; the sulkiness of his disposition was converted into the gall of misanthropy; and the conflicting passions, which, like vultures, preyed upon the tenderest fibres of his heart, goaded him to a determination to quit the scenes where circumstances and associations only served to awaken recollections which tortured his soul to madness. On arriving at the age of manhood, Lord Byron took a long leave of his native country, in the view of making a tour in foreign lands; but as the ordinary course of tra. velling through Europe was impeded by the war which prevailed between England and France, he embarked at Falmouth for Lisbon. In 1809, he passed through Portugal and Spain, touched at Malta and Sicily, and proceeded to the Morea and Constantinople: during part of which tour he was accompanied by Mr. John Cam Hobhouse, the present colleague of Sir Francis Burdett in the representation of Westminster. His Lordship had a narrow escape, in 1810, from a fever, in the vicinity of the place where he has just ended his life, and when he experienced the fidelity of the Albanians. While the Salsette frigate, in which Lord Byron was a passenger to Constantinople, lay in the Dardanelles, a
discourse arose among some of the officers, respecting the practicability of swimming across the Hellespont.—Lord Byron and Lieutenant Ekenhead agreed to make the trial; they accordingly performed this enterprise on the 3d May, 1810. After an absence of nearly three years, Lord Byron revisited his native shores, and exhibited the advantages of travelling, in his “Childe Harold,” the plan of which was laid at Albania and prosecuted at Athens, where it received some of its finest touches and most splendid ornaments. His Lordship published in rapid succession the Giaour, the Bride of Abydos, and the Corsair, the spirit and brilliancy of all which poems are great. On the 2d of January, 1815, Lord Byron married at Seham, in the county of Durham, the only daughter of Sir Ralph Milbank Noel, Baronet; and towards the close of the same year, his Lady brought him a daughter, for whom he always manifested the strongest affection. Within a few weeks, however, after that event, a separation took place, for which various causes have been stated. : Within a few weeks, however, after the separation took place, Lord Byron suddenly left the kingdom with the resolution never to return. He crossed over to France, through which he passed rapidly to Brussels, taking in his way a survey of the field of Waterloo. He proceeded to Coblentz, and thence up the Rhine as far as Basle. After visiting some of the most remarkable scenes in Switzerland, he proceeded to the North of Italy.—He took up his abode for some time at Venice, where he was joined by Mr. Hobhouse, who accompanied him in an excursion to Rome, where he completed his Childe Harold. His Lordship resided for sometime at Pisa; and during his stay in Italy wrote numerous poetical productions, including his Don Juan, Beppo, Mazeppa, three or four tragedies, and, in conjunction with Mr. Percy Bysshe Shelly, and Mr. Leigh Hunt, commenced the Liberal, to which he contributed some papers. In most of his poems Lord Byron displays the most fond and ardent attachment to Greece, whose fate he beautifully describes in one of his poems.