Page images


[ocr errors]

REMINISCENCES OF LORD BYRON. We have come to consider it as a 'fixed fact' that any one man of fair comprehension and a tolerable acquaintance with what's what’ in common matters, general and particular, is in some sort an epitome of that many-headed monster · The Public.' Sure we are, that during 'now some fifteen years wasted perhaps, we have remarked this; that in jotling down in these pages,

as they sholde comen into ye minde,' the thoughts, deeply felt and truly enjoyed, whether of pathos or of humor, which we considered worthy of being recorded, we have invariably found that they were answered, echoed, reverberated, by thousands, who renewed, or re-remembered, or were reäwakened to, the very emotions which dictated the one kind or the other. So that we feel emboldened, even upon so unfresh a theme as Lord Byron, to represent here how much we have been interested in a big Parisian volume, with little type, for which we are indebted to an esteemed friend, not long since returned from the French capital; in which are contained, beside the complete works of Lord Byron, notes and illustrations by almost every person, eminent or notorious,' who could throw any light upon, or impart any interest to, a work as remarkable for its evidently entire authenticity as for the great variety of its matériel. The book, well embellished and illustrated, is published by GalignaNI, and is enriched with an excellent life of its illustrious subject, by Henry Lytton BULWER, Esq., brother of the distinguished novelist of that name, and present minister from the Court of St. James to the court of St. JONATHAN, situated on the Tenmile-Square,

considerable' south of Baltimore, but accessible in two hours by rail-road. We shall plunge at once into the book, without much method ; skipping especially Byron's earliest life, and all particulars in relation to his twisted or club-foot, which by-the-by was the personal characteristic of four of the most remarkable persons of his time; Sir Walter Scott, Marshal Soult, and TALLEYRAND. Perhaps one of the most • interesting' features in Byron's early life was his passion for his first-love, Mary Chaworth. He himself said, that his union with that lady would have healed feuds in which blood had been shed by our fathers; it would have joined lands broad and rich: it would have joined at least one heart and two persons, not . ill-matched in years; and — and -- what has been the result? We have for a moment less sorrow for the result, when we find this remark of his adored recorded as having been made to a girlish companion, who rallied her upon the probability of her reciprocating his juvenile passion : ‘Do you think I could care any thing for that lame boy? -a speech which went like a shot to Byron's heart;' causing hini, although it was late at night when he heard' it, to dash instantly out of the house, 'scarcely knowing whither he ran, and never stopping until he found himself at Newstead.' Twelve months afterward, on bidding Miss CHAWORTH adieu, with a convulsed heart but a compulsory calm air, he said, “The next time I see you I suppose you will be married ;' and her answer was, • I hope so.' It is possible, but not we think by any means certain, that had Byron and Miss Cuawortu been united, a new direction would have been given to the stormy energies of his character.

It is painful to remark the value which Byron attached to his aristocratical pretensions. To have his early poems praised by a duchess seems to have afforded him more pleasure than the admiration of a thousand untitled readers. Scott, we grieve to say, had also this weakness. He reverenced a lord.' Some authentic writer relates of him that at Abbottsford one day at dinner, while Scott was in the richest vein, a Lord NOBODY was announced, when all ease and freedom at once subsided, and the • Northern Wizzard' had not a 'spell’ for any one save his newly-arrived titled guest. Of the great bard whom we are considering, his biographer says : Half adventurer, half lord; having a right to claim a relationship with some of the greatest names in the country, and yet ostensibly connected with only a vulgar and violent old woman, in the person of his mother; having no home but a coffee-house, and little immediate income beyond the debts he could create; totally unlinked from the society to which he was born, and just launched in a career which seemed as little likely to suit his abilities as his character; lord of himself, that heritage of wo;' there never was a man who appeared to owe less to Providence and more to fortune, or who, by the disadvantages he was assailed with, was so cast, in spite of himself, upon a glorious career. He was outwardly occupied at this time by his passion for a prostitute, who accompanied him in man's clothes to Brighton, and laid the foundation of reports which subsequently blackened his reputation, in frequent visits to the rooms of vulgar pugilists, and in attendance upon the intellectual entertainments of the clown GRIMALDI. • Mortified in his person, because the handsome intelligence of his countenance rather served to call a halt in his gait into notice than to extinguish its effects ; mortified in his love, since the only person for whom he seems to have felt a real affection had treated his pretensions with a contempt not easily, under similar circumstances, to be forgiven; mortified in his ambition, since the effort which he made to show the injustice of the attack upon his muse proved his sensibility to it; mortified also, in a greater degree, where he was most likely to be susceptible, having been nursed up in all those ideas of family pride and feudal consequence which poverty allied to nobility, and unexpectedly called to assume its honors, is sure to engender; never had a man more elements in his mind out of which to form a satirist than young Lord BYRON, when he flung in the face of the critics he was answering and the country he was quitting his refutation of the one and his farewell to the other. Every body knows the extensive foreign tour which Byron took, after leaving England, with his friend HOBHOUSE ; crossing Portugal, traversing the south of Spain, visiting Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, and thence passing through Albania, Illyria, etc., over the Gulf of Acteum and the Achelous; tarrying in the Morea, visiting Thebes, Athens, Delphi, Parnassus and Constantinople; having lived with the highest and the lowest ; been for days in a pacha's palace and nights in a cow-house ; having stored his mind with all that adventure, nature, art and history could pour into it; having moreover stimulated and excited those passions which chimed in with the wild and wandering life he had been leading; the Childe returned to his native England with much that had been doubtful in his destiny decided, and all that had been doubtful in his character confirmed. His welcome back was not very inviting. In a letter to a friend, written at this time, he says:


My prospects are not very pleasant. Embarrassed in my private affairs, indifferent to public, solitary without the wish to be social, with a body a little enfeebled by a succession of fevers, but a spirit, I trust, yet unbroken, I am returning home without a hope, and almost without a desire. The first thing I shall have to encounter will be a lawyer, the next a creditor, then colliers, farmers, surveyors, and all the agreeable attachments to estates out of repair and contested coal. pits. In short, I am sick and sorry, and when I have a little repaired my irreparable affairs, away I shall march, either to campaign in Spain, or back again to the East, where I can at least have cloudless skies and a cessation from impertinence.'

• A short time after his return, died Mrs. Byron, at Newstead. She died suddenly. I heard,' he says, one day of her illness - the next, of her death.' Nor was this all: beside the loss of his mother, he had to mourn, within a few weeks, two of his most valued friends, Mr. WINGFIELD and Mr. MATTHEWS. Some curse,' he writes to Mr. S. DAVIES, 'hangs over me and mine. My mother lies a corpse in this house'; one of my best friends is drowned in a ditch. What can I say, or;think, or do? Come to me, SCROPE; I am almost desolate ; left almost alone in the world.' • Peace, however,' he adds, in another letter, 'peace be with the dead ! Regret cannot wake them. With a sigh to the departed, let us resume the dull business of life, in the certainty that we also shall have our repose.' But now, upshooting from these dark vexations, appeared the glories of his future

He was now at the dawn of that fame which was soon to rise so brightly above all contemporary reputations. The success of the first two cantos of Childe Harold,' now published, was extraordinary. It was not the poem only that was admired; it was the poet himself about whom an interest was excited: “The fictitious hero of the tale, between whom and the writer of it, we must confess, there was some kind of resemblance, was considered at once as an accurate portrait of the mysterious young noble who had just returned from the lands of romance and song which he had been describing. Those who for the first time now made inquiries respecting him, heard that he was the grand-nephew of the singular old lord who had been tried for killing Mr. CHAWORTU; that he had a ruined Abbey and a damaged estate; that at college he had been known for keeping a bear; and on leaving college, for drinking out of a skull; while numerous tales, not altogether without foundation, were circulated as to that life of licentiousness under the satiety of which his pilgrimage was said to have been begun. Upon the CHILDE these were all so much appropriate dra. pery, and set off with a wilder horror the enchanting young lord who wrote such beautiful poetry, and who seemed to know every thing - himself unknown. In a town always panting for novelty, and amidst that part of a town the curiosity of which is ever most alive, such a melancholy and romantic phenix as the new poet, a gentleman who had been guilty of every misdemeanor, and as he seemed to imply, of some dark and unutterable crimes; who had been to Lisbon and to Cadiz, to Athens, and to Con. stantinople, regions then much more unknown and remote than at the present time; and who moreover added to all these qualifications an old title, and a declaration that he had loved very much, and was determined never to love again ; having also small ears and white hands and curly hair, as he told the world Ali Pacha had told him, and a countenance peculiarly adapted to a frontispiece arrangement - was destined, for a year at least, to figure as the personage of the epoch.' Now commenced a series of gallantries with the sex, beginning with the fascinating Lady Caroline LAMB, with whom he wished to elope, and whose refusal to do so, together with a subsequent offence to his personal vanity, embittered him against her for life. It certainly is not a pleasant thing to be made acquainted with the fact, that many of Byron's most apparently inspired love-letters, written at this time, were nothing more nor less than actual translations from 'Les Liaisons Dangereuse,' a work which every libertine has studied, but of which few lovers have made so profligate a use.' It was the embar


rassments arising from his irregular liaisons and an ill-regulated fortune which first induced him to turn his thoughts toward marriage. There was something of seriousness in the regard he entertained for one of his inamorata, Lady FORBES, a very beautiful

She was unable however to fix his wandering affections. •I am indifferent,' he writes at this period to a friend of the lady in question, 'to all excitements. The slightest obstacles stop me. If a straw were in my way, I could not stoop to pick it up. If you think I have been trifling with you, let me be married out of hand; I do n't care to whom, so it amuses any body else, and do n't interfere with me much in the day-time.' His second proposal for his future wife, Miss Milbanke, was made under circumstances not the most poetical : “A person who had for some time stood high in his affectionate confidence, observing how cheerless and unsettled was his mind and prospects, advised him strenuously to marry. This person was Lady MELBOURNE. She suggested to him one lady, Lord Byron mentioned another, and that other was Miss MILBANKE. No,' said Lady MELBOURNE, · Miss MILBANKE will not suit you. In the first place, she has no fortune now, and you want money immediately. In the next place you want a person who will have a great admiration for your genius, and she for this has too great an admiration of her own. Well,' said Lord Byron, “as you please ;' and, sitting down, he wrote a letter to the lady recommended by Lady MELBOURNE. He received a refusal. • Now, you see,' said Lord Byron, that after all Miss MILBANKE is to be the person: I will write to her.' He wrote to her on the moment, and as soon as he had finished, his friend remonstrating still strongly against his choice, took up the letter, but on reading it over, observed: “Well, really this is a very pretty letter; it is a pity it should not go. I never read a prettier one.' "Then it shall go,' said Lord Byron; and in so saying, sealed and sent off, on the instant, this fiat of his fate.'

The world knows the result of this most unfortunate marriage. We have never for a moment doubted that Lady BYRON was a piece of polished ice, alive to all the true ' rights of woman,' and something more. Byron describes even his honey-moon as 'an effort on both sides to be peculiarly agreeable for a month, under the satisfactory consideration that there would be plenty of time afterward to be otherwise.' 'I think,' he said also, after what he called the treacle-moon' was over, 'one ought to marry upon a lease,' although he expresses a belief that in his own case he might renew it. Byron had supposed that his union with Miss MILBANKE would have added to his pecuniary resources. He was sadly misled. His long-accumulated embarrassments, added to increased expenditures, precipitated the climax of his ill-fortune. At the top-most tide-mark of his troubles, his wife quitted him forever: a pleasant specimen of devotion to a husband contending with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune !! And now it was that Byron left England for the last time; nor did ever man who had brought such glory to his country leave it under greater disgrace. He had in the course of one short year gone through every variety of domestic misery; had seen his hearth eight or nine times profaned by the visitations of the law, and been only saved from a prison by the privileges of his rank. Of his subsequent career abroad, his amours with the Venetian · MARIANNA,' (whose beauty is said not to have been of that description which is beyond all price,') Countess Guicciola, etc., we shall not at present speak. Abused, suffering under popular perversion and malignity in multiplied forms, we yet find him hastening to Greece, to take up arms in the holy cause of freedom ; contributing liberally moreover of his means, now abundant through the extraordinary proceeds of the labors of his own pen, to the same noble end. He wrote his


own destiny, when he said: “The scoundrels who have all along persecuted me will triumph; and justice will only be done to me when this hand is as cold as the hearts which have stung me.' Byron was actuated in the course which he adopted in relation to Greece by an honorable desire for enterprise, a carelessness for death in a good cause, a desire perhaps to be restored to the good esteem of his fellow countrymen, and an ardent aspiration for the freedom of a celebrated country and a gallant people, long placed under a degrading and intolerable yoke. The particulars of his death at Missolonghi, of fever, are not unknown to our readers. There is something very touching in his last words. He was heard faintly to repeat: My sister — my child ! These are things that make the world dear to me; for the rest, I am content to die.' He spoke also of Greece : *I have given her my time, my means, my health; and now I give her my life : what could I do more? Soon after, he said, Now I shall go to sleep; and turning around, he fell into the slumber which can know no waking until .earth and sea heave at the trump of God.'

We have been much interested in reading, in the volume before us, the omitted stanzas from Childe Harold,' originally included, but stricken out on revision. In the good-night to his native land the second of the ensuing verses followed in its order: • My father blessed me fervently,

• My mother is a bigh-born dame,
Yet did not much complain;

And much misliketh me;
But sorely will my mother sigh,

She saith my riot bringeth shame
Till I come back again.'

On all my ancestry :
Enough, enough, my little lad!

I had a sister once, I ween.
Such tears become thine eye;

Whose tears perhaps will flow;
If I thy guileless bosom had,

But her fair face I have not seen
Mine own would not be dry.

For three long years and moe.' Originally the little page and the 'yeoman' were introduced in the subjoined Spenserian stanzas :

• AND of his train there was a henchman page,
A peasant boy, who served his master well :
And often would his pranksome prate engage
CHILDE HAROLD's ear, when his proud heart did swell
With sable thoughts that he disdained to tell.
Then would he smile on him, and ALWIN smiled,
When aught that from his young lips archly fell

The gloomy film from Harold's eye beguiled;
And pleased for a glimpse appeared the woeful CHILDE.

[ocr errors]

•Him and one yeoman only did he take
To travel eastward to a far countrie;
And, though the boy was grieved to leave the lake
On whose fair banks he grew from infancy;
Eftsoons his little heart beat merrily
With hope of foreign nations to behold,
And many things right marvellous to see,

Of which our vaunting voyagers oft have told,
In many a tome as true as MAUNDEVILLE's of old.'

Among the fac-similes of Byron’s ‘hand of write' is the first copy of the well known stanza in the fourth canto of Childe Harold :'

The sky is changed! and such a change ! Oh night,

And storm, and darkness, ye are wondrous strong,' etc. The fierce dashes, the sprawling blots, the sudden erasures, the ragged interlineations, the whole well nigh illegible without the printed text in juxtaposition, bespeak the fact that that stanza must have been written at the very moment when

Far along,
From peak to peak leapt the live thunder;
For every mountain then had found a tongue,
And Jara answered through her misty shroud,
Back to the joyous Alps, who called to her aloud !

« PreviousContinue »