« PreviousContinue »
LITERATURE, AMUSEMENT, AND INSTRUCTION.
SATURDAY, JUNE 26, 1824.
Recollections of Lord Byron.
WHATEVER may have been the opinion of a portion of the public with respect to Lord Byron, while living, there is not we feel confident, a human being possess ing the feelings of humanity that does not lament his fate, nor an Englishman that does not feel proud to call Byron his countryman. With a genius that has not been equalled since the time of that bard, "who was not for an age, but for all time," Byron could sway his readers, could raise a laugh, or elicit tears as he pleased. Sometimes the desolate misanthropy of his mind rose, and threw its dark shade over his poetry like one of his own ruined castles and we felt it to be sublime; at others, we are astonished by the sparkling humour, the well-pointed satire, and the severe sarcasm of his muse. Byron's character, indeed, produced his poems; and it cannot be doubted that his poems are adapted to produce such a character. His heroes speak a language supplied not more by imagination than consciousness. They are not those machines that, by a contrivance of the artist, send forth a music of their own; but instruments through which he breathed his very soul, in tones of agonized sensibility, that cannot but give a sympathetic impulse to those who hear.
Such was Byron; and although we have already devoted one number of the MIRROR exclusively to a memoir of him, yet we are sure we shall be excused if, on presenting to our readers a most spirited and elegantly-engraved likeness of this illustrious poet, we add a few recollections of Byron-particularly of his youth.
It has been erroneously stated that Lord Byron was born in Scotland; and our northern friends, with a due watchfulness over the honour of their country, are proud of adding the name of Byron to the poets of Scotland. We certainly have no wish to deprive Scotia of one laurel, though she is rich enough to spare more than one, but truth compels us to state that Lord Byron was born in London, and that the place of his birth was Holles-street, Cavendish-square.
At the age of seven years young Byron, whose previous instruction in the English language had been his mother's sole task, was sent to the Grammar School, at Aberdeen, where he continued till his removal VOL. III. 2 E
to Harrow, with the exception of some intervals of absence, which were deemed necessary for the establishment of his health, by a temporary removal to the Highlands of Aberdeenshire, his constitution being always (while a boy) uncommonly delicate, his mind painfully sensitive, but his heart transcendently warm and kind. Here it was he delighted in "the mountain and the flood," and here it was that he imbibed that spirit of freedom, and that love for "the land of his Scottish sires,” which nothing could tear from his heart. Here it was that he felt himself without restraint, even in dress; and on his return to school, which, by the bye, he always did with the utmost willingness, it was with much difficulty that his mother could induce him to quit the kilt and the plaid, in compliance with the manners of the town; but the bonnet he would never leave off, until it could be no longer worn.
At school his progress never was so distinguished above that of the general run of his class-fellows, as after those occasional intervals of absence, when he would in a few days run through (and well too) exercises, which, according to the school routine, had taken weeks to accomplish. But when he had overtaken the rest of his class, he contented himself with being considered a tolerable scholar, without making any violent exertions to be placed at the head of the first form. It was out of school that he aspired to be the leader of every thing. In all the boyish sports and amusements he would be the first, if possible. For this he was eminently calculated. Candid, sincere, a lover of stern and inflexible truth; quick, enterprising, and daring, his mind was capable of overcoming those impediments which nature had thrown in his way, by making his constitution and body weak, and by a mal-conformation of one of his feet. Nevertheless, no boy could outstrip him in the race, or in swimming. Even at that early period (from eight to ten years of age) all his sports were of a manly character; fishing, shooting, swimming, and managing a horse, or steering and trimming the sails of a boat, constituted his chief delights; and to the superficial observer, seemed his sole occupation. This desire for supremacy in the school games, which we have alluded to, led him into many combats, cut of which he
always came with honour, almost always the last number of a contemporary publi. victorious. Upon one occasion, a boy, cation.* Speaking of the destruction of pursued by another, took refuge in his the memoirs of Byron, the writer obmother's house; the latter, who had been much abused by the former, proceeded to “ Whatever may be the opinion of the take vengeance on him, even on the land- present generation, I am at least coning-place of the drawing-room stairs, vinced that the future will think with me, when young Byron came out at the noise, and cry out aloud against the perpetrators and insisted that the refugee should not of a deed which can never be repaired.be struck in his house, or else he must Of all the works given by that mighty fight for him. The pursuer, “nothing mind, that lofty genius (which alike rode loath," accepted the challenge, and they in the whirlwind, or sparkled in the sun. fought for nearly an hour, when both were beam), not one, perhaps, would have been compelled to give in, from absolute ex. found more deeply interesting, more in. haustion.
tensely commanding, than the history of It is the custom of the Grammar School his own heart,—the developement of ener. at Aberdeen, that the boys of all the five gies, passions, and peculiarities, all marked classes, of which it is composed, should by sublimity and talent; and which, like be assembled for prayers in the public the stricken rock in the wilderness, would school at eight o'clock in the morning, flow from the fountain of memory in a previous to which a censor calls over the distant land more fully and purely, less names of all, and those who are absent are mixed with baser matter,' than they fined.
could have done when surrounded by The first time that Lord Byron had persons and objects calculated to distract come to school after his accession to his and harass him. title, the rector had caused his name to be “ If Lord Byron was an erring man, of inserted in the censor's book-Georgius which we can have little doubt, since he Dominus de Byron, instead of Georgius has told us so himself, surely there is the Byron Gordon, as formerly. The boys, more reason to listen to his apology, unused to this aristocratic sound, set up a if he is able to make one; to detect the loud and involuntary shout, which had fallacy of his reasons, if he is not, and such an effect on his sensitive mind, that point out anew to ourselves the distinction he burst into tears, and would have fled between the genius we must admire and from the school, had he not been restrained the virtue we ought to venerate. These by the master. A school-fellow of Byron's are not times in which the most dazzling had a very small Shetland pony, which talents, the most alluring sophistry, cap his father had bought him, and one day injure any but willing victims; and it they were riding and walking by turns, to would be the perfection of cant for any the banks of the Don, to bathe. When man to say that he could not in con. they came to the bridge, over that dark, science' read any work which Lord Byron romantic stream, Byron bethought him of could or would write. In fact, we all the prophecy which he incorrectly quotes know that more has been said on this (from memory, it is true), in one of his point already than the subject warranted. latter cantos of Don Juan
It is, however, no bad sign of the times, “ Brig o’ Balgownie! wight's thy wa' that a holy jealousy, a vigilant guarding Wi'a
wife's ae son, and a mare's ae foal, of the public mind, even towards him who Down shalt thou fa,
was the master-spirit of the age, the He immediately stopped his companion, prince of our princely race of poets, has who was then riding, and asked him if been evinced ; but, since we have done so he remembered the prophecy, saying, that much in the way of warning him and as they were both only sons, and as the guarding ourselves, surely we might have pony might be “a mare's ae foal,” he joyfully, thankfully, accepted from him would rather ride over first, because he the most endearing of all legacies his had only a mother to lament him should own portrait by his own pencil. the prophecy be fulfilled by the falling of “Over this legacy, so desired, whether the bridge, whereas the other had both a intended to sting to the heart a country father and a mother to grieve after him. he had renounced, or to prove he had yet
In our memoir of Lord Byron we stated reluctantly-owned, but fondly-nurtured, that his Lordship had written his own recollections of love for her, it is alike life, and that the MS. had been destroyed. evident no private considerations or perThis is an event deeply to be lamented, sonal feeings could in justice decide.and can only be justified on the ground Byron could not fail to be aware of his that it was the last wish of Byron him own importance; he knew his country had self. On this subject we perfectly agree with the observations of an able writer in
an interest in him ; knew, too, that she own Epitaph he may also be said to have was proud of him, even when angry with written; and the following lines which him; and was aware that, as persons and he wrote on the death of Sheridan are incidents died away in her memory, that singularly applicable to himself, and pride and love would increase, and, of more appropriate than any that have been course, that every circumstance, every written on his own death. thought, which recalled his genius, his
“E'en as the tenderness that hour instils, opinions, his misfortunes, even his faults, When summer's day declines along the hills, to view, would possess an attraction, simi- So feels the fulness of our heart and eyes, lar to that he had himself felt for Tasso When all of Genius, which can perish, dies. and Pope. In writing his life, he might Hath passed from day to darkness---to whose
A mighty spirit is eclips'd---a power be said to propitiate kindly feelings, to hour reward friendly exertions, to deprecate of light no likeness is bequea'hed ; no name, censure, to punish malignity, if it had
Focus at once of all the rays of fame! existed, or to give the falsely-accused The beam of song, the blaze of eloquence,
The flash of wit, the bright intelligence, power of reply; to re-unite himself with Set with their sun---but still have left behind his country and his kindred, and sub- Th' enduring produce of immortal mind; mit to their censure, or claim their sup
Fruits of a genial morn, and glorious noon,
A deathless part of him who died too soon!" port, as a man and a brother, no longer alienated by the stern sullenness of pride Byron, during his residence abroad, brooding over its wrongs, or the consci. avoided English society very much, less, ousness of sins which were, perhaps, we are assured, from a want of respect for falsely imputed.”
his country or countrymen, but because This is not only a charitable, but a just he knew how eager the public was to estimate of a transaction, which has excited catch at any thing
that related to his pri. such an astounding interest in the literary vate life. În an Appendix to his Doge of world. That a work of Byron's, and that Venice, he mentions that some traveller of so interesting a character, as the me- had asserted, that he had repeatedly de. moirs of himself, should be destroyed, is a
clined an introduction to him while in sacrilege better becoming the harpies of Italy. the inquisition, than a country which
si Who this person may be,” says boasts of its freedom and of the liberty of Lord Byron, “ I know not, but he must
have been deceived by all or any of those It has somewhat surprised us, that there who repeatedly offered to introduce him,' have been no tributes to the memory of as I have invariably refused to receive Byron by our eminent poets. They can any English with whom I was not prefeel no jealousy now, and although we cer- viously acquainted, even when they had tainly could not expect Southey, nor even letters from England. If the whole asWordsworth, to tune their lyres on such sertion is not an invention, I request this an occasion, yet, surely Scott, Moore, and person not to sit down with the notion Campbell, might have done homage to
that he could have been introduced, since that master spirit they were eager to fol- there has been nothing I have so carefully low, though they could not approach him. avoided as any kind of intercourse with Sir Walter Scott, perhaps, may be ex- his countrymen-excepting the very few cused, since he has paid a warm tribute who were a considerable time resident in to Byron's talents in prose.* Byron, Venice or had been of my previous achowever, was indifferent to such honours, quaintance. Whoever made him any if we may judge from the wish expressed
such offer was possessed of impudence by him in one of his poems, in which he equal to that of making such an assertion says,
without having had it. The fact is, that “ When my soul wings her fight,
I hold in utter abhorrence any contact To the regions of night,
with the travelling English, as my friend And my corse shall recline on its bier, the Consul General Hoppner, and the As ye pass by the tomb,
Countess Benzoni (in whose house the Where my ashes consume, Oh! moisten their dust, with---a tear!
conversazione most frequently by them
is held) could amply testify, were it worth “May no marble bestow, 'That splendour of woe,
while. I was persecuted by these tour. Which the children of vanity rear :--- ists, even to my riding-ground at Lido, No fiction of fame,
and reduced to the most disagreeable cir. To blazon my name.
cuits to avoid them. At Madame BenAll I ask,---all I wish, --is---a tear!" Is there a Greek-is there a man who duced to them; of a thousand such pre
zoni's I repeatedly refused to be intro will refuse this tributary tear? We be- sentations pressed upon me, I accepted lieve not. This was Byron's wish : his two, and both were to Irish women. * See Mirror, No. 87.
“I should hardly have descended to
speak of such trifles, publicly, if the impudence of this Sketcher, had not forced me to a refutation of a disingenuous and gratuitously impertinent assertion; so meant to be; for what could it import to the reader to be told that the author had repeatedly declined an introduction? Even had it been true, which, for the reasons I have above given, is scarcely possible. Except Lords Lansdowne, Jersey, and Lauderdale; Messrs. Scott, Hammond, Sir Humphrey Davy, the late M. Lewis, W. Bankes, M. Hoppner, Thomas Moore, Lord Kinnaird, his brother, Mr. Joy, and Mr. Hobhouse, I do not recollect to have exchanged a word with another Englishman since I left their country and almost all these I had known before. The others, and God knows there were some hundreds, who bored me with letters or visits, I refused to have any communication with, and shall be proud and happy when that wish becomes mutual."
When residing at Mitylene, in the year 1812, he portioned eight young girls very liberally, and even danced with them at the marriage feast; he gave a cow to one man, horses to another, and cotton and silk to several girls who live by weaving these materials. He also bought a new boat for a fisherman who had lost his own in a gale, and he often gave Greek testaments to the poor children.
We have already noticed Lord Byron's exploit in performing Leander's exploit, that of swimming across the Hellespont, nor did he consider it a very extraordinary feat, as will be seen by the following extract of a letter, written by his Lordship, in February, 1821.
"My own experience, and that of others, bids me pronounce the passage of Leander perfectly practicable: any young man in good health, and with tolerable skill in swimming, might succeed in it from either side. I was three hours in swimming across the Tagus, which is much more hazardous, being two hours longer than the passage of the Hellespont. Of what may be done in swimming, I shall mention one more instance. 1818, the Chevalier Mingaldo, (a gentleman of Bassano,) a good swimmer, wished to swim with my friend, Mr. Alexander Scott, and myself; as he seemed particularly anxious on the subject, we indulged him. We all three started from the Island of the Lido, and swam to Venice. At the entrance of the grand canal, Scott and I were a good way a-head, and we saw no more of our foreign friend; which, however, was of no consequence, as there was a gondola to hold his clothes, and pick him up.
Scott swam on till past the Rialto, where he got out less from fatigue than chill, having been four hours in the water with out rest, or stay, except what is to be obtained by floating on one's back,-this being the condition of our performance. I continued my course on to Santa Chiara, comprising the whole of the grand canal, (beside the distance from the Lido,) and got out where the Laguna once more opens to Fusina. I had been in the water, by my watch, without help or rest, and never touching ground or boat, four hours and twenty minutes. To this match, and during the greater part of the performance, Mr. Hoppner, the Consul General, was witness, and it is well known to many others. Mr. Turner can easily verify the fact, if he thinks it worth while, by referring to Mr. Hoppner. The distance we could not accurately ascertain; it was of course considerable.
"I crossed the Hellespont in one hour and ten minutes only. I am now ten years older in time, and twenty in constitution, than I was when I passed the Dardanelles; and yet two years ago, I was capable of swimming four hours and twenty minutes; and I am sure that I could have continued two hours longer, though I had on a pair of trowsers an accoutrement which by no means assists the performance. My two companions were also four hours in the water. Mingaldo might be about thirty years of age, Scott about six-and-twenty. With this experience in swimming, at different periods of age, not only on the spot, but elsewhere, of various persons, what is there to make me doubt that Leander's exploit was perfectly practicable ? If three individuals did more than passing the Hellespont, why should he have done less?"
Lord Byron is succeeded in his title by a cousin of his, Captain Byron, of the Royal Navy; he has left a daughter, to whom he appears to have been most ardently attached, and whose birth called forth the following effusion from his magic pen :—
TO MY DAUGHTER
ON THE MORNING OF HER BIATH.
HAIL to this teeming stage of life;
Lamb of the world's extended fold!
And turn idolater to thee!
'Tis nature's worship---felt---confess'd,
Then, hall, sweet miniature of itse !
How much it is to be regretted that & father, who displayed so much parental affection, should by any circumstances be separated from the child of his heart!
In trackless woods and boundless plains, Where everlasting wildness reigns, Owns the still throb.--the secret start... The hidden impulse of the heart. Dear babe! ere yet upon thy years The soil of human vice appears, Ere passion hath disturb'd thy cheek, And prompted what thou dar'st not speak : Ere that pale lip is blanch'd with care, Or from those eyes shoot fierce despair, Would I could wake thy untun'd ear, And gust it with a father's prayer. But little reck'st thou, oh, my child I Of travail on life's thorny wild ! Of all the dangers, all the woes, Eaci tottering footstep which enclose ; Ah! little reck'st thou of the scene So darkly wrought, that spreads between The little all we here can find, And the dark mystic sphere behind! Little reck'st thou, my earliest born, Of clouds which gather round thy morn, Of acts to lure thy soul astray, Of snares that intersect thy way, Of secret foes, of friend untrue, or tiends who stab the hearts they w00--Little thou reck'st of this sad storeWould thou might'st never reck them more! But thou wilt burst this transient sleep, And thou wilt wake, my babe, to weep The tenant of a frail abode, Thy tears must flow, as mine have flow'd ; Beguild by follies every day, Sorrow must wash the faults away, And thou must wake perchance to prove The pang of unrequited love. Unconscious babe, tho' on that brow No half-fledg'd misery nestles now, Scarce round thy placid lips a smile Maternal fondness shall beguile, Ere the moist footsteps of a tear Shall plant their dewy traces there, And prematurely pave the way For sorrows of a riper day. Oh I could a father's pray'r repel The eye's sad grief, the bosom's swell; Or could a father hope to bear A darling child's allotted care, Then thou, my babe, should'st slumber stul, Exempted from all human ill; A parent's love thy peace should free, And ask its wounds again for thee. Sleep on, my child; the slumber brief Too soon shall melt away to grief ; Too soon the dawn of woe sball break, And briny rills bedew that cheek ; Too soon shall sadness quench those eyes, That breast be agonized with sighs, And anguish o'er the beams of noon Lead clouds of care,---ah, much too soon! Soon wilt thou reck of cares unknown, Of wants and sorrows all their own, Of many a pang, and many a woe, That thy dear sex alone can know... Of many an ill untold, unsung, That will not...may not find a tongue, But kept conceal'd without control, Bpread the fell cancers of the soul. Yet be thy lot, my babe more blest! May joy still animate thy breast! Still, 'midst least propitious days, Shedding its rich, inspiring rays, A father's heart shall daily bear Thy name upon its secret pray'r, And as lie gecks his last repose, Thine image ease life's partiøg throes.
Nothing now remains for us but to add a few more tributes to the memory of this distinguished individual, to whose genius, foreigners, as well as Englishmen, pay a willing homage. The Nuremberg Gazette of May 26, has the following article from Greece:
“ There is no doubt, that if the life of Lord Byron had been prolonged, he would have done incalculable service
to the Greeks, by his enthusiastic zeal and his extensive connections. Not only his own countrymen in unexpectedly large numbers, but other foreigners from all parts of Europe, were called together under the Ægis of his much-respected name.
The differ. ences which were likely to arise between the Porte and Great Britain, from the connection of a man of so much importance with the Greeks, allowed us to hope for events, in the course of which, Greece might, perhaps, all at once, have acquired a tranquil existence, have completely or. ganized its internal constitution, and her fields, drenched with the blood of her children, would have rewarded the peaceful labours of the husbandman. The loss of this magnanimous Nobleman is most deeply felt. At Missolonghi, the inhabitants of which had the best oppor. tunity of seeing and admiring the extent of his activity, every body is plunged in the most profound affliction. *If we had lost a great battle, the grief at such a misfortune would not have been so general : our countıy has still sons enough to repel the invading enemy; a defeat would only animate them to new victories; but this loss is irreparable, and the animating spirit of a man like Lord Byron, whom fortune, and, perhaps, his own previous mode of life, had placed in a state of mind, in which life had no charms for him, unless enhanced by something extraordinary—such a spirit dwells in very few men, and in them, perhaps, not to their own good.”
A more ardent tribute to the memory of Byron has been paid by M. Charles Dupin, member of the French Institute.
6. The cause of a people,” he says, “ whose ancestors have acquired immortal ronown_of a people who, inspired by this