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LIFE OF LORD BYRON.
GEORGE GORDON BYRON was born in London, in the year preceding the French Revolution, on the 22nd of January, 1788. His family was of ancient lineage, having come over to England with William the Conqueror; and of this he was proud, for
; throughout life he spoke of himself as an aristocrat. In his parents he was unfortunate. His father, Captain Byron, though an attractive man, was a spendthrift, and died in France when his child was three years old, after having run through his own and most of his wife's fortune. By a previous marriage he had had one daughter, Augusta Byron, afterwards Mrs. Leigh; and to this half-sister the poet became greatly attached, so that she exercised a greater influence over him for good than any other person. His mother, a Scotch lady, had a passionate and hysterical nature, and these qualities were inherited in large measure by her son. Her treatment of him as a child was injudicious, alternating between over-indulgence and violent reproaches, the latter of which even took the form of jibes at his lameness. This defect--for from his birth he was lame of his right foot-was a continual source of mortification to him, since it marred his appearance, which, when he was grown up, was allowed on all hands to be remarkably handsome. Owing to her straitened circumstances his mother lived during the greater part of his childhood in seclusion at Aberdeen, and it was to his familiarity with the coast and mountains of Scotland during this period that he owed the love of natural scenery which is so apparent in his poems. At ten years of age, by the death of his grand-uncle, he became Lord Byron, and the possessor of Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire, but the estate had been so impoverished by the extravagance of the last owner that it was impossible for him to live there. When he was thirteen he was sent to Harrow School, at which place of education he was the exact contemporary of the famous statesman Sir Robert Peel. He remained there from 1801 to 1805, and though during the early part of his school life he was unhappy and unpopular, he afterwards spoke of the later portion of it as a time of great enjoyment; for the head master, Dr. Drury, he conceived a strong regard, and his attachment to his schoolfellows was characterised by an almost extravagant warmth of feeling. His reading at this time was discursive, and, for a boy, extraordinarily extensive, but he never applied himself to the studies of the place, and the mode of teaching then in vogue inspired him with that strong dislike of some of the classics to which he has given vent in his stanzas on Horace in Canto 4. of Childe Harold.' That he had his moments of meditation is shown by a tomb under a spreading elm-tree in the churchyard, which is associated with his name, as having been the place where he used to rest and muse during his vacant hours. From Harrow he went to Trinity College, Cambridge ; but his life there was at no time studious, as far as the teaching of the University was concerned ; and the latter part of it was extremely dissipated.
During this early period of the poet's life two circumstances occurred which exercised a great influence on his future development. The first of these was a deep, but unrequited, attachment. At fifteen years of age he fell in love with the heiress of a family whose estates were contiguous to Newstead, Miss Chaworth, and in her his youthful imagination seemed to have found the ideal of womanly perfection. She did not, how'ever, return his affection-indeed, she was already attached to another-but the feeling which was thus awakened increased the natural melancholy of his disposition, and clung to him throughout a great part of his life. This he subsequently commemorated in one of the most pathetic of his poems, “The Dream.' The other circumstance was the publication of his first volume of poems, and the criticism which it received. In 1807, while he was still at Cambridge, his 'Hours of Idleness' appeared, and in the spring of the following year it was attacked in a critique of merciless severity by the 'Edinburgh Review.' Of the book itself it may fairly be said that, though its contents were of average merit, yet they furnished but slight evidence that the writer was a man of genius : indeed, up to this time Byron's powers had lain concealed, and it was reserved for this act of hostility to call them forth. Stung to the quick by this harsh treatment, he determined at once to take his revenge, and to reveal the ability which he was conscious of possessing. The deliberation with which he set about this is a proof that he felt how much was at stake. A whole year was spent in the preparation of a reply, which was published early in 1809 under the title of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. In this clever but ill-natured satire he turned the tables on his assailants, and at the same time made a general onslaught on the poets, great and small, of the period. Its ability was at once recognised, but the writer soon repented of his scathing criticisms of his contemporaries, and at a later time frankly acknowledged their injustice, and even forbade the republication of the poem.
Having thus asserted his right to be heard in opposition to those who would have consigned him to oblivion, the young poet, devoured by spleen, embittered by disappointed love and by the reception accorded to his first attempt at poetry, and disgusted with a licentious life, which now had begun to pall upon him, left England for a prolonged journey in foreign countries, in company with one of his college friends, John Cam Hobhouse, afterwards Lord Broughton. Proceeding by sea to Lisbon, the two travellers rode through part of Portugal and Spain, by Seville and Cadiz, to Gibraltar, and from that place took ship for Malta and the coast of Albania. That country was at this time ruled by Ali Pasha, who had made himself a semi-independent potentate, and the story of their visit to his palace at Tepelen has been recorded in verse by Byron, and in prose by Hobhouse
in his “ Travels in Albania. After this they journeyed through Epirus and Acarnania to Mesolonghi, which was destined many years afterwards to be the scene of the poet's death, and thence by way of Delphi to Athens. After a prolonged stay in that city they continued their voyage to Smyrna and Constantinople. Here the companions separated, for Hobhouse returned to England, while Byron continued to reside for nearly a year longer in Greece, making Athens his principal headquarters, but frequently engaged in excursions in the Morea. At length, after an absence of two years, he returned to England in July, 1811. Shortly after his arrival he was plunged into profound melancholy by hearing of the loss, either before or shortly after that time, of three of his most intimate school or college friends, and of his mother, whose death, notwithstanding the differences which there had been between them, affected him deeply.
Among the fruits of these wanderings which Byron had brought back with him, were the first two cantos of “Childe Harold.' These were partly composed while journeying in Greece, partly during his residence at Athens and Smyrna, and embodied his impressions of travel in Spain, Albania, and Greece. His poetic nature was one which required the aid of favouring circumstances to call it forth, and this he had found in the change and the suggestiveness of this period, and still more in its solitude, which gave him ample time for reflection. He seemed himself to be unaware of the merit of what he had produced, and spoke of his poem to one of his literary advisers as a lot of Spenserian stanzas, not worth troubling you with.' His own inclination was in favour of publishing his ' Hints from Horace,' an adaptation of the Ars Poetica, which ultimately did not see the light until after the poet's death ; but he was over-persuaded by his friends, and in February, 1812, the first instalment of 'Childe Harold' appeared in print. It was received with a burst of enthusiasm. Sir Walter Scott declared that for more than a century no work had produced a greater effect. The author himself remarked-'I awoke one morning and found myself famous.' In a moment he had reached the