In the spring of this year (1808) appeared the memorable critique upon the "Hours of Idleness" in the Edinburgh Review. That he had some notice of what was to be expected from that quarter, appears by the following letter to his friend, Mr. Becher.
TO MR. BECHER.
"Dorant's Hotel, Feb. 26. 1803.
"My dear Becher,
"Now for Apollo. I am happy that you still retain your predilection, and that the public allow me some share of praise. I am of so much importance, that a most violent attack is preparing for me in the next number of the Edinburgh Review. This I had from the authority of a friend who has seen the proof and manuscript of the critique. You know the system of the Edinburgh gentlemen is universal attack. They praise none; and neither the public nor the author expects praise from them. It is, however, something to be noticed, as they profess to pass judgment only on works requiring the public attention. You will see this when it comes out;—it is, I understand, of the most unmerciful description; but I am aware of it, and hope you will not be hurt by its severity.
"Tell Mrs. Byron not to be out of humour with them, and to prepare her mind for the greatest hostility on their part. It will do no injury whatever, and I trust her mind will not be ruffled. They defeat their object by indiscriminate abuse, and they never praise except the partisans of Lord Holland and Co. It is nothing to be abused when Southey, Moore, Lauderdale, Strangford, and Payne Knight, share the same fate.
"I am sorry—but 'Childish Recollections' must be suppressed during this edition. I have altered, at your suggestion, the obnoxious allusions in the sixth stanza of my last ode.
"And now, my dear Becher, I must return my best acknowledgments for the interest you have taken in me and my poetical bantlings, and I shall ever be proud to show how much I esteem the advice and the adviser.
Believe me, most truly," &c.
Soon after this letter appeared the dreaded article,—an article which, if not "witty in itself," deserved eminently the credit of causing "wit in others." Seldom, indeed, has it fallen to the lot of the justest criticism to attain celebrity such as injustice has procured for this; nor as long as the short, but glorious race of Byron's genius is remembered, can the critic, whoever he may be, that so unintentionally ministered to its first start, be forgotten.
It is but justice, however, to remark,—without at the same time intending any excuse for the contemptuous tone of criticism assumed by the reviewer,—that the early verses of Lord Byron, however distinguished by tenderness and grace, give but little promise of those dazzling miracles of poesy with which he afterwards astonished and enchanted the world; and that, if his youthful verses now have a peculiar charm in our eyes, it is because we read them, as it were, by the light of his subsequent glory.
There is, indeed, one point of view, in which these productions are deeply and intrinsically interesting. As faithful reflections of his character at that period of life, they enable us to judge of what he was in his yet unadulterated state,—before disappointment had begun to embitter his ardent spirit, or the stirring up of the energies of his nature had brought into activity also its defects. Tracing him thus through these natural effusions of his young genius, we find him pictured exactly such, in all the features of his character, as every anecdote of his boyish days proves him really to have been, proud, daring, and passionate,—resentful of slight or injustice, but still more so in the cause of others than in his own; and yet, with all this vehemence, docile and placable, at the least touch of a hand authorised by love to guide him. The affectionateness, indeed, of his disposition, traceable as it is through every page of this volume, is yet but faintly done justice to, even by himself;—his whole youth being, from earliest childhood, a series of the most passionate attachments,—of those overflowings of the soul, both in friendship and love, which are still more rarely responded to than felt, and which, when checked or sent back upon the heart, are sure to turn into bitterness. We have seen also, in some of his early unpublished poems, how apparent, even through the doubts that already clouded them, are those feelings of piety which a soul like his could not but possess, and which, when afterwards diverted out of their legitimate channel, found a vent in the poetical worship of nature, and in that shadowy substitute for religion which superstition offers. When, in addition, too, to these traits of early character, we find scattered through his youthful poems such anticipations of the glory that awaited him,—such, alternately, proud and saddened glimpses into the future, as if he already felt the elements of something great within him, but doubted whether his destiny would allow him to bring it forth,—it is not wonderful that, with the whole of his career present to our imaginations, we should see a lustre round these first puerile attempts not really their own, but shed back upon them from the bright eminence which he afterwards attained; and that, in our indignation against the fastidious blindness of the critic, we should forget that he had not then the aid of this reflected charm, with which the subsequent achievements of the poet now irradiate all that bears his name.
The effect this criticism produced upon him can only be conceived by those who, besides having an adequate notion of what most poets would feel under such an attack, can understand all that there was in the temper and disposition of Lord Byron to make him feel it with tenfold more acuteness than others. We have seen with what feverish anxiety he awaited the verdicts of all the minor Reviews, and, from his sensibility to the praise of the meanest of these censors, may guess how painfully he must have writhed under the sneers of the highest. A friend, who found him in the first moments of excitement after reading the article, enquired anxiously whether he had just received a challenge?—not knowing how else to account for the fierce defiance of his looks. It would, indeed, be difficult for sculptor or painter to imagine a subject of more fearful beauty than the fine countenance of the young poet must have exhibited in the collected energy of that crisis. His pride had been wounded to the quick, and his ambition humbled;—but this feeling of humiliation lasted but for a moment. The very re-action of his spirit against aggression roused him to a full consciousness of his own powers; and the pain and the shame of the injury were forgotten in the proud certainty of revenge.
Among the less sentimental effects of this review upon his mind, he used to mention that, on the day he read it, he drank three bottles of claret to his own share after dinner;—that nothing, however, relieved him till he had given vent to his indignation in rhyme, and that "after the first twenty lines, he felt himself considerably better." His chief care, indeed, afterwards, was amiably devoted,—as we have seen it was, in like manner, before the criticism,—to allaying, as far as he could, the sensitiveness of his mother; who, not having the same motive or power to summon up a spirit of resistance, was, of course, more helplessly alive to this attack upon his fame, and felt it far more than, after the first burst of indignation, he did himself. But the state of his mind upon the subject will be best understood from the following letter.
TO MR. BECKER.
"Dorant's, March 28. 1808.
"I have lately received a copy of the new edition from Ridge, and it is high time for me to return my best thanks to you for the trouble you have taken in the superintendence. This I do most sincerely, and only regret that Ridge has not seconded you as I could wish,—at least, in the bindings, paper, &c., of the copy he sent to me. Perhaps those for the public may be more respectable in such articles.
You have seen the Edinburgh Review, of course. I regret that Mrs. Byron is so much annoyed. For my own part, these 'paper bullets of the brain' have only taught me to stand fire; and, as I have been lucky enough upon the whole, my repose and appetite are not discomposed. Pratt, the gleaner, author, poet, &c. &c., addressed a long rhyming epistle to me on the subject, by way of consolation; but it was not well done, so I do not send it, though the name of the man might make it go down. The E. R^s. have not performed their task well; at least the literati tell me this; and I think I could write a more sarcastic critique on myself than any yet published. For instance, instead of the remark,—ill-natured enough, but not keen,—about Macpherson, I (quoad reviewers) could have said, 'Alas, this imitation only proves the assertion of Dr. Johnson, that many men, women, and children, could write such poetry as Ossian's.'
"I am thin and in exercise. During the spring or summer I trust we shall meet. I hear Lord Ruthyn leaves Newstead in April. As soon as he quits it for ever, I wish much you would take a ride over, survey the mansion, and give me your candid opinion on the most advisable mode of proceeding with regard to the house. Entre nous, I am cursedly dipped; my debts, every thing inclusive, will be nine or ten thousand before I am twenty-one. But I have reason to think my property will turn out better than general expectation may conceive. Of Newstead I have little hope or care; but Hanson, my agent, intimated my Lancashire property was worth three Newsteads. I believe we have it hollow; though the defendants are protracting the surrender, if possible, till after my majority, for the purpose of forming some arrangement with me, thinking I shall probably prefer a sum in hand to a reversion. Newstead I may sell;—perhaps I will not,—though of that more anon. I will come down in May or June.
"Yours most truly," &c.
The sort of life which he led at this period between the dissipations of London and of Cambridge, without a home to welcome, or even the roof of a single relative to receive him, was but little calculated to render him satisfied either with himself or the world. Unrestricted as he was by deference to any will but his own, even the pleasures to which he was naturally most inclined prematurely palled upon him, for want of those best zests of all enjoyment, rarity and restraint. I have already quoted, from one of his note-books, a passage descriptive of his feelings on first going to Cambridge, in which he says that "one of the deadliest and heaviest feelings of his life was to feel that he was no longer a boy."—"From that moment (he adds) I began to grow old in my own esteem, and in my esteem age is not estimable. I took my gradations in the vices with great promptitude, but they were not to my taste; for my early passions, though violent in the extreme, were concentrated, and hated division or spreading abroad. I could have left or lost the whole world with, or for, that which I loved; but, though my temperament was naturally burning, I could not share in the common-place libertinism of the place and time without disgust. And yet this very disgust, and my heart thrown back upon itself, threw me into excesses perhaps more fatal than those from which I shrunk, as fixing upon one (at a time) the passions which spread amongst many would have hurt only myself."
Though, from the causes here alleged, the irregularities he, at this period, gave way to were of a nature far less gross and miscellaneous than those, perhaps, of any of his associates, yet, partly from the vehemence which this concentration caused, and, still more, from that strange pride in his own errors, which led him always to bring them forth in the most conspicuous light, it so happened that one single indiscretion, in his hands, was made to go farther, if I may so express it, than a thousand in those of others. An instance of this, that occurred about the time of which we are speaking, was, I am inclined to think, the sole foundation of the mysterious allusions just cited. An amour (if it may be dignified with such a name) of that sort of casual description which less attachable natures would have forgotten, and more prudent ones at least concealed, was by him converted, at this period, and with circumstances of most unnecessary display, into a connection of some continuance,—the object of it not only becoming domesticated with him in lodgings at Brompton, but accompanied him afterwards, disguised in boy's clothes, to Brighton. He introduced this young person, who used to ride about with him in her male attire, as his younger brother; and the late Lady P——, who was at Brighton at the time, and had some suspicion of the real nature of the relationship, said one day to the poet's companion, "What a pretty horse that is you are riding!"—"Yes," answered the pretended cavalier, "it was gave me by my brother!"
Beattie tells us, of his ideal poet,—
"The exploits of strength, dexterity, or speed, To him nor vanity nor joy could bring."
But far different were the tastes of the real poet, Byron; and among the least romantic, perhaps, of the exercises in which he took delight was that of boxing or sparring. This taste it was that, at a very early period, brought him acquainted with the distinguished professor of that art, Mr. Jackson, for whom he continued through life to entertain the sincerest regard, one of his latest works containing a most cordial tribute not only to the professional, but social qualities of this sole prop and ornament of pugilism. During his stay at Brighton this year, Jackson was one of his most constant visiters,—the expense of the professor's chaise thither and back being always defrayed by his noble patron. He also honoured with his notice, at this time, D'Egville, the ballet-master, and Grimaldi; to the latter of whom he sent, as I understand, on one of his benefit nights, a present of five guineas.
Having been favoured by Mr. Jackson with copies of the few notes and letters, which he has preserved out of the many addressed to him by Lord Byron, I shall here lay before the reader one or two, which bear the date of the present year, and which, though referring to matters of no interest in themselves, give, perhaps, a better notion of the actual life and habits of the young poet, at this time, than could be afforded by the most elaborate and, in other respects, important correspondence. They will show, at least, how very little akin to romance were the early pursuits and associates of the author of Childe Harold, and, combined with what we know of the still less romantic youth of Shakspeare, prove how unhurt the vital principle of genius can preserve itself even in atmospheres apparently the most ungenial and noxious to it.
TO MR. JACKSON.
"N.A., Notts. September 18. 1808.
"I wish you would inform me what has been done by Jekyll, at No. 40. Sloane Square, concerning the pony I returned as unsound.
"I have also to request you will call on Louch at Brompton, and enquire what the devil he meant by sending such an insolent letter to me at Brighton; and at the same time tell him I by no means can comply with the charge he has made for things pretended to be damaged.
"Ambrose behaved most scandalously about the pony. You may tell Jekyll if he does not refund the money, I shall put the affair into my lawyer's hands. Five and twenty guineas is a sound price for a pony, and by ——, if it costs me five hundred pounds, I will make an example of Mr. Jekyll, and that immediately, unless the cash is returned.
"Believe me, dear Jack," &c.
TO MR. JACKSON.
"N.A., Notts. October 4. 1808.
"You will make as good a bargain as possible with this Master Jekyll, if he is not a gentleman. If he is a gentleman, inform me, for I shall take very different steps. If he is not, you must get what you can of the money, for I have too much business on hand at present to commence an action. Besides, Ambrose is the man who ought to refund,—but I have done with him. You can settle with L. out of the balance, and dispose of the bidets, &c. as you best can.
"I should be very glad to see you here; but the house is filled with workmen, and undergoing a thorough repair. I hope, however, to be more fortunate before many months have elapsed.
"If you see Bold Webster, remember me to him, and tell him I have to regret Sydney, who has perished, I fear, in my rabbit warren, for we have seen nothing of him for the last fortnight.
"Adieu.—Believe me," &c.
TO MR. JACKSON.
"N.A., Notts. December 12. 1808.
"My dear Jack,
"You will get the greyhound from the owner at any price, and as many more of the same breed (male or female) as you can collect.
"Tell D'Egville his dress shall be returned—I am obliged to him for the pattern. I am sorry you should have so much trouble, but I was not aware of the difficulty of procuring the animals in question. I shall have finished part of my mansion in a few weeks, and, if you can pay me a visit at Christmas, I shall be very glad to see you.
"Believe me," &c.
The dress alluded to here was, no doubt, wanted for a private play, which he, at this time, got up at Newstead, and of which there are some further particulars in the annexed letter to Mr. Becher.
TO MR. BECHER.
"Newstead Abbey, Notts. Sept. 14. 1808.
"My dear Becher,
"I am much obliged to you for your enquiries, and shall profit by them accordingly. I am going to get up a play here; the hall will constitute a most admirable theatre. I have settled the dram. pers., and can do without ladies, as I have some young friends who will make tolerable substitutes for females, and we only want three male characters, beside Mr. Hobhouse and myself, for the play we have fixed on, which will be the Revenge. Pray direct Nicholson the carpenter to come over to me immediately, and inform me what day you will dine and pass the night here.
"Believe me," &c.
It was in the autumn of this year, as the letters I have just given indicate, that he, for the first time, took up his residence at Newstead Abbey. Having received the place in a most ruinous condition from the hands of its late occupant, Lord Grey de Ruthyn, he proceeded immediately to repair and fit up some of the apartments, so as to render them—more with a view to his mother's accommodation than his own—comfortably habitable. In one of his letters to Mrs. Byron, published by Mr. Dallas, he thus explains his views and intentions on this subject.
TO THE HONOURABLE MRS. BYRON.
"Newstead Abbey, Notts. October 7. 1808.
"I have no beds for the H——s or any body else at present. The H——s sleep at Mansfield. I do not know, that I resemble Jean Jacques Rousseau. I have no ambition to be like so illustrious a madman—but this I know, that I shall live in my own manner, and as much alone as possible. When my rooms are ready I shall be glad to see you: at present it would be improper and uncomfortable to both parties. You can hardly object to my rendering my mansion habitable, notwithstanding my departure for Persia in March (or May at farthest), since you will be tenant till my return; and in case of any accident (for I have already arranged my will to be drawn up the moment I am twenty-one), I have taken care you shall have the house and manor for life, besides a sufficient income. So you see my improvements are not entirely selfish. As I have a friend here, we will go to the Infirmary Ball on the 12th; we will drink tea with Mrs. Byron at eight o'clock, and expect to see you at the ball. If that lady will allow us a couple of rooms to dress in, we shall be highly obliged:—if we are at the ball by ten or eleven it will be time enough, and we shall return to Newstead about three or four. Adieu.
"Believe me yours very truly,
The idea, entertained by Mrs. Byron, of a resemblance between her son and Rousseau was founded chiefly, we may suppose, on those habits of solitariness, in which he had even already shown a disposition to follow that self-contemplative philosopher, and which, manifesting themselves thus early, gained strength as he advanced in life. In one of his Journals, to which I frequently have occasion to refer, he thus, in questioning the justice of this comparison between himself and Rousseau, gives,—as usual, vividly,—some touches of his own disposition and habitudes:—
"My mother, before I was twenty, would have it that I was like Rousseau, and Madame de Stael used to say so too in 1813, and the Edinburgh Review has something of the sort in its critique on the fourth Canto of Childe Harold. I can't see any point of resemblance:—he wrote prose, I verse: he was of the people; I of the aristocracy: he was a philosopher; I am none: he published his first work at forty; I mine at eighteen: his first essay brought him universal applause; mine the contrary: he married his housekeeper; I could not keep house with my wife: he thought all the world in a plot against him; my little world seems to think me in a plot against it, if I may judge by their abuse in print and coterie: he liked botany; I like flowers, herbs, and trees, but know nothing of their pedigrees: he wrote music; I limit my knowledge of it to what I catch by ear—I never could learn any thing by study, not even a language—it was all by rote, and ear, and memory: he had a bad memory; I had, at least, an excellent one (ask Hodgson the poet—a good judge, for he has an astonishing one): he wrote with hesitation and care; I with rapidity, and rarely with pains: he could never ride, nor swim, nor 'was cunning of fence;' I am an excellent swimmer, a decent, though not at all a dashing, rider, (having staved in a rib at eighteen, in the course of scampering), and was sufficient of fence, particularly of the Highland broadsword,—not a bad boxer, when I could keep my temper, which was difficult, but which I strove to do ever since I knocked down Mr. Purling, and put his knee-pan out (with the gloves on), in Angelo's and Jackson's rooms in 1806, during the sparring,—and I was, besides, a very fair cricketer,—one of the Harrow eleven, when we played against Eton in 1805. Besides, Rousseau's way of life, his country, his manners, his whole character, were so very different, that I am at a loss to conceive how such a comparison could have arisen, as it has done three several times, and all in rather a remarkable manner. I forgot to say that he was also short-sighted, and that hitherto my eyes have been the contrary, to such a degree that, in the largest theatre of Bologna, I distinguished and read some busts and inscriptions, painted near the stage, from a box so distant and so darkly lighted, that none of the company (composed of young and very bright-eyed people, some of them in the same box,) could make out a letter, and thought it was a trick, though I had never been in that theatre before.
"Altogether, I think myself justified in thinking the comparison not well founded. I don't say this out of pique, for Rousseau was a great man; and the thing, if true, were flattering enough;—but I have no idea of being pleased with the chimera."
In another letter to his mother, dated some weeks after the preceding one, he explains further his plans both with respect to Newstead and his projected travels.
TO MRS. BYRON.
"Newstead Abbey, November 2. 1808.
"If you please, we will forget the things you mention. I have no desire to remember them. When my rooms are finished, I shall be happy to see you; as I tell but the truth, you will not suspect me of evasion. I am furnishing the house more for you than myself, and I shall establish you in it before I sail for India, which I expect to do in March, if nothing particularly obstructive occurs. I am now fitting up the green drawing-room; the red for a bed-room, and the rooms over as sleeping-rooms. They will be soon completed;—at least I hope so.
"I wish you would enquire of Major Watson (who is an old Indian) what things will be necessary to provide for my voyage. I have already procured a friend to write to the Arabic Professor at Cambridge, for some information I am anxious to procure. I can easily get letters from government to the ambassadors, consuls, &c., and also to the governors at Calcutta and Madras. I shall place my property and my will in the hands of trustees till my return, and I mean to appoint you one. From H—— I have heard nothing—when I do, you shall have the particulars.
"After all, you must own my project is not a bad one. If I do not travel now, I never shall, and all men should one day or other. I have at present no connections to keep me at home; no wife, or unprovided sisters, brothers, &c. I shall take care of you, and when I return I may possibly become a politician. A few years' knowledge of other countries than our own will not incapacitate me for that part. If we see no nation but our own, we do not give mankind a fair chance:—it is from experience, not books, we ought to judge of them. There is nothing like inspection, and trusting to our own senses.
In the November of this year he lost his favourite dog, Boatswain,—the poor animal having been seized with a fit of madness, at the commencement of which so little aware was Lord Byron of the nature of the malady, that he more than once, with his bare hand, wiped away the slaver from the dog's lips during the paroxysms. In a letter to his friend, Mr. Hodgson, he thus announces this event:—"Boatswain is dead!—he expired in a state of madness on the 18th, after suffering much, yet retaining all the gentleness of his nature to the last, never attempting to do the least injury to any one near him. I have now lost every thing except old Murray."
The monument raised by him to this dog,—the most memorable tribute of the kind, since the Dog's Grave, of old, at Salamis,—is still a conspicuous ornament of the gardens of Newstead. The misanthropic verses engraved upon it may be found among his poems, and the following is the inscription by which they are introduced:—
"Near this spot Are deposited the Remains of one Who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, And all the Virtues of Man without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery If inscribed over human ashes, Is but a just tribute to the Memory of BOATSWAIN, a Dog, Who was born at Newfoundland, May, 1803, And died at Newstead Abbey, November 18. 1808."
The poet, Pope, when about the same age as the writer of this inscription, passed a similar eulogy on his dog, at the expense of human nature; adding, that "Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends." In a still sadder and bitterer spirit, Lord Byron writes of his favourite,
"To mark a friend's remains these stones arise; I never knew but one, and here he lies."
Melancholy, indeed, seems to have been gaining fast upon his mind at this period. In another letter to Mr. Hodgson, he says,—"You know laughing is the sign of a rational animal—so says Dr. Smollet. I think so too, but unluckily my spirits don't always keep pace with my opinions."
Old Murray, the servant whom he mentions, in a preceding extract, as the only faithful follower now remaining to him, had long been in the service of the former lord, and was regarded by the young poet with a fondness of affection which it has seldom been the lot of age and dependence to inspire. "I have more than once," says a gentleman who was at this time a constant visiter at Newstead, "seen Lord Byron at the dinner-table fill out a tumbler of Madeira, and hand it over his shoulder to Joe Murray, who stood behind his chair, saying, with a cordiality that brightened his whole countenance, 'Here, my old fellow.'"
The unconcern with which he could sometimes allude to the defect in his foot is manifest from another passage in one of these letters to Mr. Hodgson. That gentleman having said jestingly that some of the verses in the "Hours of Idleness" were calculated to make schoolboys rebellious, Lord Byron answers—"If my songs have produced the glorious effects you mention, I shall be a complete Tyrtaeus;—though I am sorry to say I resemble that interesting harper more in his person than in his poesy." Sometimes, too, even an allusion to this infirmity by others, when he could perceive that it was not offensively intended, was borne by him with the most perfect good humour. "I was once present," says the friend I have just mentioned, "in a large and mixed company, when a vulgar person asked him aloud—'Pray, my Lord, how is that foot of yours?'—'Thank you, sir,' answered Lord Byron, with the utmost mildness—'much the same as usual.'"
The following extract, relating to a reverend friend of his Lordship, is from another of his letters to Mr. Hodgson, this year:—
"A few weeks ago I wrote to ——, to request he would receive the son of a citizen of London, well known to me, as a pupil; the family having been particularly polite during the short time I was with them induced me to this application. Now, mark what follows, as somebody sublimely saith. On this day arrives an epistle signed ——, containing not the smallest reference to tuition or intuition, but a petition for Robert Gregson, of pugilistic notoriety, now in bondage for certain paltry pounds sterling, and liable to take up his everlasting abode in Banco Regis. Had the letter been from any of my lay acquaintance, or, in short, from any person but the gentleman whose signature it bears, I should have marvelled not. If —— is serious, I congratulate pugilism on the acquisition of such a patron, and shall be most happy to advance any sum necessary for the liberation of the captive Gregson. But I certainly hope to be certified from you, or some respectable housekeeper, of the fact, before I write to —— on the subject. When I say the fact, I mean of the letter being written by ——, not having any doubt as to the authenticity of the statement. The letter is now before me, and I keep it for your perusal."
His time at Newstead during this autumn was principally occupied in enlarging and preparing his Satire for the press; and with the view, perhaps, of mellowing his own judgment of its merits, by keeping it some time before his eyes in a printed form, he had proofs taken off from the manuscript by his former publisher at Newark. It is somewhat remarkable, that, excited as he was by the attack of the reviewers, and possessing, at all times, such rapid powers of composition, he should have allowed so long an interval to elapse between the aggression and the revenge. But the importance of his next move in literature seems to have been fully appreciated by him. He saw that his chances of future eminence now depended upon the effort he was about to make, and therefore deliberately collected all his energies for the spring. Among the preparatives by which he disciplined his talent to the task was a deep study of the writings of Pope; and I have no doubt that from this period may be dated the enthusiastic admiration which he ever after cherished for this great poet,—an admiration which at last extinguished in him, after one or two trials, all hope of pre-eminence in the same track, and drove him thenceforth to seek renown in fields more open to competition.
The misanthropic mood of mind into which he had fallen at this time, from disappointed affections and thwarted hopes, made the office of satirist but too congenial and welcome to his spirit. Yet it is evident that this bitterness existed far more in his fancy than his heart; and that the sort of relief he now found in making war upon the world arose much less from the indiscriminate wounds he dealt around, than from the new sense of power he became conscious of in dealing them, and by which he more than recovered his former station in his own esteem. In truth, the versatility and ease with which, as shall presently be shown, he could, on the briefest consideration, shift from praise to censure, and, sometimes, almost as rapidly, from censure to praise, shows how fanciful and transient were the impressions under which he, in many instances, pronounced his judgments; and though it may in some degree deduct from the weight of his eulogy, absolves him also from any great depth of malice in his Satire.
His coming of age, in 1809, was celebrated at Newstead by such festivities as his narrow means and society could furnish. Besides the ritual roasting of an ox, there was a ball, it seems, given on the occasion,—of which the only particular I could collect, from the old domestic who mentioned it, was, that Mr. Hanson, the agent of her lord, was among the dancers. Of Lord Byron's own method of commemorating the day, I find the following curious record in a letter written from Genoa in 1822:—"Did I ever tell you that the day I came of age I dined on eggs and bacon and a bottle of ale?—For once in a way they are my favourite dish and drinkable; but as neither of them agree with me, I never use them but on great jubilees,—in four or five years or so." The pecuniary supplies necessary towards his outset, at this epoch, were procured from money-lenders at an enormously usurious interest, the payment of which for a long time continued to be a burden to him.
It was not till the beginning of this year that he took his Satire,—in a state ready, as he thought, for publication,—to London. Before, however, he had put the work to press, new food was unluckily furnished to his spleen by the neglect with which he conceived himself to have been treated by his guardian, Lord Carlisle. The relations between this nobleman and his ward had, at no time, been of such a nature as to afford opportunities for the cultivation of much friendliness on either side; and to the temper and influence of Mrs. Byron must mainly be attributed the blame of widening, if not of producing, this estrangement between them. The coldness with which Lord Carlisle had received the dedication of the young poet's first volume was, as we have seen from one of the letters of the latter, felt by him most deeply. He, however, allowed himself to be so far governed by prudential considerations as not only to stifle this displeasure, but even to introduce into his Satire, as originally intended for the press, the following compliment to his guardian:—
"On one alone Apollo deigns to smile, And crowns a new Roscommon in Carlisle."
The crown, however, thus generously awarded, did not long remain where it had been placed. In the interval between the inditing of this couplet and the delivery of the manuscript to the press, Lord Byron, under the impression that it was customary for a young peer, on first taking his seat, to have some friend to introduce him, wrote to remind Lord Carlisle that he should be of age at the commencement of the session. Instead, however, of the sort of answer which he expected, a mere formal, and, as it appeared to him, cold reply, acquainting him with the technical mode of proceeding on such occasions, was all that, in return to this application, he received. Disposed as he had been, by preceding circumstances, to suspect his noble guardian of no very friendly inclinations towards him, this backwardness in proposing to introduce him to the House (a ceremony, however, as it appears, by no means necessary or even usual) was sufficient to rouse in his sensitive mind a strong feeling of resentment. The indignation, thus excited, found a vent, but too temptingly, at hand;—the laudatory couplet I have just cited was instantly expunged, and his Satire went forth charged with those vituperative verses against Lord Carlisle, of which, gratifying as they must have been to his revenge at the moment, he, not long after, with the placability so inherent in his generous nature, repented.
During the progress of his poem through the press, he increased its length by more than a hundred lines; and made several alterations, one or two of which may be mentioned, as illustrative of that prompt susceptibility of new impressions and influences which rendered both his judgment and feelings so variable. In the Satire, as it originally stood, was the following couplet:—
"Though printers condescend the press to soil With odes by Smythe, and epic songs by Hoyle."
Of the injustice of these lines (unjust, it is but fair to say, to both the writers mentioned,) he, on the brink of publication, repented; and,—as far, at least, as regarded one of the intended victims,—adopted a tone directly opposite in his printed Satire, where the name of Professor Smythe is mentioned honourably, as it deserved, in conjunction with that of Mr. Hodgson, one of the poet's most valued friends:—
"Oh dark asylum of a Vandal race! At once the boast of learning and disgrace; So sunk in dulness, and so lost in shame, That Smythe and Hodgson scarce redeem thy fame."
In another instance we find him "changing his hand" with equal facility and suddenness. The original manuscript of the Satire contained this line,—
"I leave topography to coxcomb Gell;"
but having, while the work was printing, become acquainted with Sir William Gell, he, without difficulty, by the change of a single epithet, converted satire into eulogy, and the line now descends to posterity thus:—
"I leave topography to classic Gell."
Among the passages added to the poem during its progress through the press were those lines denouncing the licentiousness of the Opera. "Then let Ausonia," &c. which the young satirist wrote one night, after returning, brimful of morality, from the Opera, and sent them early next morning to Mr. Dallas for insertion. The just and animated tribute to Mr. Crabbe was also among the after-thoughts with which his poem was adorned; nor can we doubt that both this, and the equally merited eulogy on Mr. Rogers, were the disinterested and deliberate result of the young poet's judgment, as he had never at that period seen either of these distinguished persons, and the opinion he then expressed of their genius remained unchanged through life. With the author of the Pleasures of Memory he afterwards became intimate, but with him, whom he had so well designated as "Nature's sternest painter, yet the best," he was never lucky enough to form any acquaintance;—though, as my venerated friend and neighbour, Mr. Crabbe himself, tells me, they were once, without being aware of it, in the same inn together for a day or two, and must have frequently met, as they went in and out of the house, during the time.
Almost every second day, while the Satire was printing, Mr. Dallas, who had undertaken to superintend it through the press, received fresh matter, for the enrichment of its pages, from the author, whose mind, once excited on any subject, knew no end to the outpourings of its wealth. In one of his short notes to Mr. Dallas, he says, "Print soon, or I shall overflow with rhyme;" and it was, in the same manner, in all his subsequent publications,—as long, at least, as he remained within reach of the printer,—that he continued thus to feed the press, to the very last moment, with new and "thick-coming fancies," which the re-perusal of what he had already written suggested to him. It would almost seem, indeed, from the extreme facility and rapidity with which he produced some of his brightest passages during the progress of his works through the press, that there was in the very act of printing an excitement to his fancy, and that the rush of his thoughts towards this outlet gave increased life and freshness to their flow.
Among the passing events from which he now caught illustrations for his poem was the melancholy death of Lord Falkland,—a gallant, but dissipated naval officer, with whom the habits of his town life had brought him acquainted, and who, about the beginning of March, was killed in a duel by Mr. Powell. That this event affected Lord Byron very deeply, the few touching sentences devoted to it in his Satire prove. "On Sunday night (he says) I beheld Lord Falkland presiding at his own table in all the honest pride of hospitality; on Wednesday morning at three o'clock I saw stretched before me all that remained of courage, feeling, and a host of passions." But it was not by words only that he gave proof of sympathy on this occasion. The family of the unfortunate nobleman were left behind in circumstances which needed something more than the mere expression of compassion to alleviate them; and Lord Byron, notwithstanding the pressure of his own difficulties at the time, found means, seasonably and delicately, to assist the widow and children of his friend. In the following letter to Mrs. Byron, he mentions this among other matters of interest,—and in a tone of unostentatious sensibility highly honourable to him.
TO MRS. BYRON.
"8. St. James's Street, March 6. 1809.
"My last letter was written under great depression of spirits from poor Falkland's death, who has left without a shilling four children and his wife. I have been endeavouring to assist them, which, God knows, I cannot do as I could wish, from my own embarrassments and the many claims upon me from other quarters.
"What you say is all very true: come what may, Newstead and I stand or fall together. I have now lived on the spot, I have fixed my heart upon it, and no pressure, present or future, shall induce me to barter the last vestige of our inheritance. I have that pride within me which will enable me to support difficulties. I can endure privations; but could I obtain in exchange for Newstead Abbey the first fortune in the country I would reject the proposition. Set your mind at ease on that score; Mr. H—— talks like a man of business on the subject,—I feel like a man of honour, and I will not sell Newstead.
"I shall get my seat on the return of the affidavits from Carhais, in Cornwall, and will do something in the House soon: I must dash, or it is all over. My Satire must be kept secret for a month; after that you may say what you please on the subject. Lord C. has used me infamously, and refused to state any particulars of my family to the Chancellor. I have lashed him in my rhymes, and perhaps his Lordship may regret not being more conciliatory. They tell me it will have a sale; I hope so, for the bookseller has behaved well, as far as publishing well goes.
"Believe me, &c.
"P.S.—You shall have a mortgage on one of the farms."
The affidavits which he here mentions, as expected from Cornwall, were those required in proof of the marriage of Admiral Byron with Miss Trevanion, the solemnisation of which having taken place, as it appears, in a private chapel at Carhais, no regular certificate of the ceremony could be produced. The delay in procuring other evidence, coupled with the refusal of Lord Carlisle to afford any explanations respecting his family, interposed those difficulties which he alludes to in the way of his taking his seat. At length, all the necessary proofs having been obtained, he, on the 13th of March, presented himself in the House of Lords, in a state more lone and unfriended, perhaps, than any youth of his high station had ever before been reduced to on such an occasion,—not having a single individual of his own class either to take him by the hand as friend or acknowledge him as acquaintance. To chance alone was he even indebted for being accompanied as far as the bar of the House by a very distant relative, who had been, little more than a year before, an utter stranger to him. This relative was Mr. Dallas; and the account which he has given of the whole scene is too striking in all its details to be related in any other words than his own:—
"The Satire was published about the middle of March, previous to which he took his seat in the House of Lords, on the 13th of the same month. On that day, passing down St. James's Street, but with no intention of calling, I saw his chariot at his door, and went in. His countenance, paler than usual, showed that his mind was agitated, and that he was thinking of the nobleman to whom he had once looked for a hand and countenance in his introduction to the House. He said to me—'I am glad you happened to come in; I am going to take my seat, perhaps you will go with me.' I expressed my readiness to attend him; while, at the same time, I concealed the shock I felt on thinking that this young man, who, by birth, fortune, and talent, stood high in life, should have lived so unconnected and neglected by persons of his own rank, that there was not a single member of the senate to which he belonged, to whom he could or would apply to introduce him in a manner becoming his birth. I saw that he felt the situation, and I fully partook his indignation.
"After some talk about the Satire, the last sheets of which were in the press, I accompanied Lord Byron to the House. He was received in one of the ante-chambers by some of the officers in attendance, with whom he settled respecting the fees he had to pay. One of them went to apprise the Lord Chancellor of his being there, and soon returned for him. There were very few persons in the House. Lord Eldon was going through some ordinary business. When Lord Byron entered, I thought he looked still paler than before; and he certainly wore a countenance in which mortification was mingled with, but subdued by, indignation. He passed the woolsack without looking round, and advanced to the table where the proper officer was attending to administer the oaths. When he had gone through them, the Chancellor quitted his seat, and went towards him with a smile, putting out his hand warmly to welcome him; and, though I did not catch his words, I saw that he paid him some compliment. This was all thrown away upon Lord Byron, who made a stiff bow, and put the tips of his fingers into the Chancellor's hand. The Chancellor did not press a welcome so received, but resumed his seat; while Lord Byron carelessly seated himself for a few minutes on one of the empty benches to the left of the throne, usually occupied by the lords in opposition. When, on his joining me, I expressed what I had felt, he said—'If I had shaken hands heartily, he would have set me down for one of his party—but I will have nothing to do with any of them, on either side; I have taken my seat, and now I will go abroad.' We returned to St. James's Street, but he did not recover his spirits."
To this account of a ceremonial so trying to the proud spirit engaged in it, and so little likely to abate the bitter feeling of misanthropy now growing upon him, I am enabled to add, from his own report in one of his note-books, the particulars of the short conversation which he held with the Lord Chancellor on the occasion:—
"When I came of age, some delays, on account of some birth and marriage certificates from Cornwall, occasioned me not to take my seat for several weeks. When these were over, and I had taken the oaths, the Chancellor apologised to me for the delay, observing 'that these forms were a part of his duty.' I begged him to make no apology, and added (as he certainly had shown no violent hurry), 'Your Lordship was exactly like Tom Thumb' (which was then being acted)—'you did your duty, and you did no more.'"
In a few days after, the Satire made its appearance; and one of the first copies was sent, with the following letter, to his friend Mr. Harness.
TO MR. HARNESS.
"8. St. James's Street, March 18. 1809.
"There was no necessity for your excuses: if you have time and inclination to write, 'for what we receive, the Lord make us thankful,'—if I do not hear from you I console myself with the idea that you are much more agreeably employed.
"I send down to you by this post a certain Satire lately published, and in return for the three and sixpence expenditure upon it, only beg that if you should guess the author, you will keep his name secret; at least for the present. London is full of the Duke's business. The Commons have been at it these last three nights, and are not yet come to a decision. I do not know if the affair will be brought before our House, unless in the shape of an impeachment. If it makes its appearance in a debatable form, I believe I shall be tempted to say something on the subject.—I am glad to hear you like Cambridge: firstly, because, to know that you are happy is pleasant to one who wishes you all possible sub-lunary enjoyment; and, secondly, I admire the morality of the sentiment. Alma Mater was to me injusta noverca; and the old beldam only gave me my M.A. degree because she could not avoid it.—You know what a farce a noble Cantab. must perform.
"I am going abroad, if possible, in the spring, and before I depart I am collecting the pictures of my most intimate schoolfellows; I have already a few, and shall want yours, or my cabinet will be incomplete. I have employed one of the first miniature painters of the day to take them, of course, at my own expense, as I never allow my acquaintance to incur the least expenditure to gratify a whim of mine. To mention this may seem indelicate; but when I tell you a friend of ours first refused to sit, under the idea that he was to disburse on the occasion, you will see that it is necessary to state these preliminaries to prevent the recurrence of any similar mistake. I shall see you in time, and will carry you to the limner. It will be a tax on your patience for a week, but pray excuse it, as it is possible the resemblance may be the sole trace I shall be able to preserve of our past friendship and acquaintance. Just now it seems foolish enough, but in a few years, when some of us are dead, and others are separated by inevitable circumstances, it will be a kind of satisfaction to retain in these images of the living the idea of our former selves, and to contemplate, in the resemblances of the dead, all that remains of judgment, feeling, and a host of passions. But all this will be dull enough for you, and so good night, and to end my chapter, or rather my homily, believe me, my dear H.,
yours most affectionately."
In this romantic design of collecting together the portraits of his school friends, we see the natural working of an ardent and disappointed heart, which, as the future began to darken upon it, clung with fondness to the recollections of the past; and, in despair of finding new and true friends, saw no happiness but in preserving all it could of the old. But even here, his sensibility had to encounter one of those freezing checks, to which feelings, so much above the ordinary temperature of the world, are but too constantly exposed;—it being from one of the very friends thus fondly valued by him, that he experienced, on leaving England, that mark of neglect of which he so indignantly complains in a note on the second Canto of Childe Harold,—contrasting with this conduct the fidelity and devotedness he had just found in his Turkish servant, Dervish. Mr. Dallas, who witnessed the immediate effect of this slight upon him, thus describes his emotion:—
"I found him bursting with indignation. 'Will you believe it?' said he, 'I have just met ——, and asked him to come and sit an hour with me: he excused himself; and what do you think was his excuse? He was engaged with his mother and some ladies to go shopping! And he knows I set out to-morrow, to be absent for years, perhaps never to return!—Friendship! I do not believe I shall leave behind me, yourself and family excepted, and perhaps my mother, a single being who will care what becomes of me.'"
From his expressions in a letter to Mrs. Byron, already cited, that he must "do something in the House soon," as well as from a more definite intimation of the same intention to Mr. Harness, it would appear that he had, at this time, serious thoughts of at once entering on the high political path which his station as an hereditary legislator opened to him. But, whatever may have been the first movements of his ambition in this direction, they were soon relinquished. Had he been connected with any distinguished political families, his love of eminence, seconded by such example and sympathy, would have impelled him, no doubt, to seek renown in the fields of party warfare where it might have been his fate to afford a signal instance of that transmuting process by which, as Pope says, the corruption of a poet sometimes leads to the generation of a statesman. Luckily, however, for the world (though whether luckily for himself may be questioned), the brighter empire of poesy was destined to claim him all its own. The loneliness, indeed, of his position in society at this period, left destitute, as he was, of all those sanctions and sympathies, by which youth at its first start is usually surrounded, was, of itself, enough to discourage him from embarking in a pursuit, where it is chiefly on such extrinsic advantages that any chance of success must depend. So far from taking an active part in the proceedings of his noble brethren, he appears to have regarded even the ceremony of his attendance among them as irksome and mortifying; and in a few days after his admission to his seat, he withdrew himself in disgust to the seclusion of his own Abbey, there to brood over the bitterness of premature experience, or meditate, in the scenes and adventures of other lands, a freer outlet for his impatient spirit than it could command at home.
It was not long, however, before he was summoned back to town by the success of his Satire,—the quick sale of which already rendered the preparation of a new edition necessary. His zealous agent, Mr. Dallas, had taken care to transmit to him, in his retirement, all the favourable opinions of the work he could collect; and it is not unamusing, as showing the sort of steps by which Fame at first mounts, to find the approbation of such authorities as Pratt and the magazine writers put forward among the first rewards and encouragements of a Byron.
"You are already (he says) pretty generally known to be the author. So Cawthorn tells me, and a proof occurred to myself at Hatchard's, the Queen's bookseller. On enquiring for the Satire, he told me that he had sold a great many, and had none left, and was going to send for more, which I afterwards found he did. I asked who was the author? He said it was believed to be Lord Byron's. Did he believe it? Yes he did. On asking the ground of his belief, he told me that a lady of distinction had, without hesitation, asked for it as Lord Byron's Satire. He likewise informed me that he had enquired of Mr. Gifford, who frequents his shop, if it was yours. Mr. Gifford denied any knowledge of the author, but spoke very highly of it, and said a copy had been sent to him. Hatchard assured me that all who came to his reading-room admired it. Cawthorn tells me it is universally well spoken of, not only among his own customers, but generally at all the booksellers. I heard it highly praised at my own publisher's, where I have lately called several times. At Phillips's it was read aloud by Pratt to a circle of literary guests, who were unanimous in their applause:—The Anti-jacobin, as well as the Gentleman's Magazine, has already blown the trump of fame for you. We shall see it in the other Reviews next month, and probably in some severely handled, according to the connection of the proprietors and editors with those whom it lashes."
On his arrival in London, towards the end of April, he found the first edition of his poem nearly exhausted; and set immediately about preparing another, to which he determined to prefix his name. The additions he now made to the work were considerable,—near a hundred new lines being introduced at the very opening,—and it was not till about the middle of the ensuing month that the new edition was ready to go to press. He had, during his absence from town, fixed definitely with his friend, Mr. Hobhouse, that they should leave England together on the following June, and it was his wish to see the last proofs of the volume corrected before his departure.
Among the new features of this edition was a Post-script to the Satire, in prose, which Mr. Dallas, much to the credit of his discretion and taste, most earnestly entreated the poet to suppress. It is to be regretted that the adviser did not succeed in his efforts, as there runs a tone of bravado through this ill-judged effusion, which it is, at all times, painful to see a brave man assume. For instance:—"It may be said," he observes, "that I quit England because I have censured these 'persons of honour and wit about town;' but I am coming back again, and their vengeance will keep hot till my return. Those who know me can testify that my motives for leaving England are very different from fears, literary or personal; those who do not may be one day convinced. Since the publication of this thing, my name has not been concealed; I have been mostly in London, ready to answer for my transgressions, and in daily expectation of sundry cartels; but, alas, 'the age of chivalry is over,' or, in the vulgar tongue, there is no spirit now-a-days."
But, whatever may have been the faults or indiscretions of this Satire, there are few who would now sit in judgment upon it so severely as did the author himself, on reading it over nine years after, when he had quitted England, never to return. The copy which he then perused is now in possession of Mr. Murray, and the remarks which he has scribbled over its pages are well worth transcribing. On the first leaf we find—
"The binding of this volume is considerably too valuable for its contents.
"Nothing but the consideration of its being the property of another prevents me from consigning this miserable record of misplaced anger and indiscriminate acrimony to the flames.
Opposite the passage,
"to be misled By Jeffrey's heart, or Lamb's Boeotian head,"
is written, "This was not just. Neither the heart nor the head of these gentlemen are at all what they are here represented." Along the whole of the severe verses against Mr. Wordsworth he has scrawled "Unjust,"—and the same verdict is affixed to those against Mr. Coleridge. On his unmeasured attack upon Mr. Bowles, the comment is,—"Too savage all this on Bowles;" and down the margin of the page containing the lines, "Health to immortal Jeffrey," &c. he writes,—"Too ferocious—this is mere insanity;"—adding, on the verses that follow ("Can none remember that eventful day?" &c.), "All this is bad, because personal."
Sometimes, however, he shows a disposition to stand by his original decisions. Thus, on the passage relating to a writer of certain obscure Epics (v. 793.), he says,—"All right;" adding, of the same person, "I saw some letters of this fellow to an unfortunate poetess, whose productions (which the poor woman by no means thought vainly of) he attacked so roughly and bitterly, that I could hardly regret assailing him;—even were it unjust, which it is not; for, verily, he is an ass." On the strong lines, too (v. 953.), upon Clarke (a writer in a magazine called the Satirist), he remarks,—"Right enough,—this was well deserved and well laid on."
To the whole paragraph, beginning "Illustrious Holland," are affixed the words "Bad enough;—and on mistaken grounds besides." The bitter verses against Lord Carlisle he pronounces "Wrong also:—the provocation was not sufficient to justify such acerbity;"—and of a subsequent note respecting the same nobleman, he says, "Much too savage, whatever the foundation may be." Of Rosa Matilda (v. 738.) he tells us, "She has since married the Morning Post,—an exceeding good match." To the verses, "When some brisk youth, the tenant of a stall," &c., he has appended the following interesting note:—"This was meant at poor Blackett, who was then patronised by A.I.B.;—but that I did not know, or this would not have been written; at least I think not."
Farther on, where Mr. Campbell and other poets are mentioned, the following gingle on the names of their respective poems is scribbled:—
"Pretty Miss Jacqueline Had a nose aquiline; And would assert rude Things of Miss Gertrude; While Mr. Marmion Led a great army on, Making Kehama look Like a fierce Mamaluke."
Opposite the paragraph in praise of Mr. Crabbe he has written, "I consider Crabbe and Coleridge as the first of these times in point of power and genius." On his own line, in a subsequent paragraph, "And glory, like the phoenix mid her fires," he says, comically, "The devil take that phoenix—how came it there?" and his concluding remark on the whole poem is as follows:—
"The greater part of this satire I most sincerely wish had never been written; not only on account of the injustice of much of the critical and some of the personal part of it, but the tone and temper are such as I cannot approve.
"Diodata, Geneva, July 14. 1816."
While engaged in preparing his new edition for the press, he was also gaily dispensing the hospitalities of Newstead to a party of young college friends, whom, with the prospect of so long an absence from England, he had assembled round him at the Abbey, for a sort of festive farewell. The following letter from one of the party, Charles Skinner Matthews, though containing much less of the noble host himself than we could have wished, yet, as a picture, taken freshly and at the moment, of a scene so pregnant with character, will, I have little doubt, be highly acceptable to the reader.
LETTER FROM CHARLES SKINNER MATTHEWS, ESQ. TO MISS I.M.
"London, May 22. 1809.
"My dear ——,
"I must begin with giving you a few particulars of the singular place which I have lately quitted.
"Newstead Abbey is situate 136 miles from London,—four on this side Mansfield. It is so fine a piece of antiquity, that I should think there must be a description, and, perhaps, a picture of it in Grose. The ancestors of its present owner came into possession of it at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries,—but the building itself is of a much earlier date. Though sadly fallen to decay, it is still completely an abbey, and most part of it is still standing in the same state as when it was first built. There are two tiers of cloisters, with a variety of cells and rooms about them, which, though not inhabited, nor in an inhabitable state, might easily be made so; and many of the original rooms, amongst which is a fine stone hall, are still in use. Of the abbey church only one end remains; and the old kitchen, with a long range of apartments, is reduced to a heap of rubbish. Leading from the abbey to the modern part of the habitation is a noble room seventy feet in length, and twenty-three in breadth; but every part of the house displays neglect and decay, save those which the present Lord has lately fitted up.
"The house and gardens are entirely surrounded by a wall with battlements. In front is a large lake, bordered here and there with castellated buildings, the chief of which stands on an eminence at the further extremity of it. Fancy all this surrounded with bleak and barren hills, with scarce a tree to be seen for miles, except a solitary clump or two, and you will have some idea of Newstead. For the late Lord being at enmity with his son, to whom the estate was secured by entail, resolved, out of spite to the same, that the estate should descend to him in as miserable a plight as he could possibly reduce it to; for which cause, he took no care of the mansion, and fell to lopping of every tree he could lay his hands on, so furiously, that he reduced immense tracts of woodland country to the desolate state I have just described. However, his son died before him, so that all his rage was thrown away.
"So much for the place, concerning which I have thrown together these few particulars, meaning my account to be, like the place itself, without any order or connection. But if the place itself appear rather strange to you, the ways of the inhabitants will not appear much less so. Ascend, then, with me the hall steps, that I may introduce you to my Lord and his visitants. But have a care how you proceed; be mindful to go there in broad daylight, and with your eyes about you. For, should you make any blunder,—should you go to the right of the hall steps, you are laid hold of by a bear; and should you go to the left, your case is still worse, for you run full against a wolf!—Nor, when you have attained the door, is your danger over; for the hall being decayed, and therefore standing in need of repair, a bevy of inmates are very probably banging at one end of it with their pistols; so that if you enter without giving loud notice of your approach, you have only escaped the wolf and the bear to expire by the pistol-shots of the merry monks of Newstead.
"Our party consisted of Lord Byron and four others, and was, now and then, increased by the presence of a neighbouring parson. As for our way of living, the order of the day was generally this:—for breakfast we had no set hour, but each suited his own convenience,—every thing remaining on the table till the whole party had done; though had one wished to breakfast at the early hour of ten, one would have been rather lucky to find any of the servants up. Our average hour of rising was one. I, who generally got up between eleven and twelve, was always,—even when an invalid,—the first of the party, and was esteemed a prodigy of early rising. It was frequently past two before the breakfast party broke up. Then, for the amusements of the morning, there was reading, fencing, single-stick, or shuttle-cock, in the great room; practising with pistols in the hall; walking—riding—cricket—sailing on the lake, playing with the bear, or teasing the wolf. Between seven and eight we dined; and our evening lasted from that time till one, two, or three in the morning. The evening diversions may be easily conceived.
"I must not omit the custom of handing round, after dinner, on the removal of the cloth, a human skull filled with burgundy. After revelling on choice viands, and the finest wines of France, we adjourned to tea, where we amused ourselves with reading, or improving conversation,—each, according to his fancy,—and, after sandwiches, &c. retired to rest. A set of monkish dresses, which had been provided, with all the proper apparatus of crosses, beads, tonsures, &c. often gave a variety to our appearance, and to our pursuits.
"You may easily imagine how chagrined I was at being ill nearly the first half of the time I was there. But I was led into a very different reflection from that of Dr. Swift, who left Pope's house without ceremony, and afterwards informed him, by letter, that it was impossible for two sick friends to live together; for I found my shivering and invalid frame so perpetually annoyed by the thoughtless and tumultuous health of every one about me, that I heartily wished every soul in the house to be as ill as myself.
"The journey back I performed on foot, together with another of the guests. We walked about twenty-five miles a day; but were a week on the road, from being detained by the rain.
"So here I close my account of an expedition which has somewhat extended my knowledge of this country. And where do you think I am going next? To Constantinople!—at least, such an excursion has been proposed to me. Lord B. and another friend of mine are going thither next month, and have asked me to join the party; but it seems to be but a wild scheme, and requires twice thinking upon.
"Addio, my dear I., yours very affectionately,
Having put the finishing hand to his new edition, he, without waiting for the fresh honours that were in store for him, took leave of London (whither he had returned) on the 11th of June, and, in about a fortnight after, sailed for Lisbon.
Great as was the advance which his powers had made, under the influence of that resentment from which he now drew his inspiration, they were yet, even in his Satire, at an immeasurable distance from the point to which they afterwards so triumphantly rose. It is, indeed, remarkable that, essentially as his genius seemed connected with, and, as it were, springing out of his character, the developement of the one should so long have preceded the full maturity of the resources of the other. By her very early and rapid expansion of his sensibilities, Nature had given him notice of what she destined him for, long before he understood the call; and those materials of poetry with which his own fervid temperament abounded were but by slow degrees, and after much self-meditation, revealed to him. In his Satire, though vigorous, there is but little foretaste of the wonders that followed it. His spirit was stirred, but he had not yet looked down into its depths, nor does even his bitterness taste of the bottom of the heart, like those sarcasms which he afterwards flung in the face of mankind. Still less had the other countless feelings and passions, with which his soul had been long labouring, found an organ worthy of them;—the gloom, the grandeur, the tenderness of his nature, all were left without a voice, till his mighty genius, at last, awakened in its strength.
In stooping, as he did, to write after established models, as well in the Satire as in his still earlier poems, he showed how little he had yet explored his own original resources, or found out those distinctive marks by which he was to be known through all times. But, bold and energetic as was his general character, he was, in a remarkable degree, diffident in his intellectual powers. The consciousness of what he could achieve was but by degrees forced upon him, and the discovery of so rich a mine of genius in his soul came with no less surprise on himself than on the world. It was from the same slowness of self-appreciation that, afterwards, in the full flow of his fame, he long doubted, as we shall see, his own aptitude for works of wit and humour,—till the happy experiment of "Beppo" at once dissipated this distrust, and opened a new region of triumph to his versatile and boundless powers.
But, however far short of himself his first writings must be considered, there is in his Satire a liveliness of thought, and still more a vigour and courage, which, concurring with the justice of his cause and the sympathies of the public on his side, could not fail to attach instant celebrity to his name. Notwithstanding, too, the general boldness and recklessness of his tone, there were occasionally mingled with this defiance some allusions to his own fate and character, whose affecting earnestness seemed to answer for their truth, and which were of a nature strongly to awaken curiosity as well as interest. One or two of these passages, as illustrative of the state of his mind at this period, I shall here extract. The loose and unfenced state in which his youth was left to grow wild upon the world is thus touchingly alluded to:—
"Ev'n I, least thinking of a thoughtless throng, Just skill'd to know the right and choose the wrong, Freed at that age when Reason's shield is lost To fight my course through Passion's countless host, Whom every path of Pleasure's flowery way Has lured in turn, and all have led astray— Ev'n I must raise my voice, ev'n I must feel Such scenes, such men destroy the public weal: Although some kind, censorious friend will say, 'What art thou better, meddling fool, than they?' And every brother Rake will smile to see That miracle, a Moralist, in me."
But the passage in which, hastily thrown off as it is, we find the strongest traces of that wounded feeling, which bleeds, as it were, through all his subsequent writings, is the following:—
"The time hath been, when no harsh sound would fall From lips that now may seem imbued with gall, Nor fools nor follies tempt me to despise The meanest thing that crawl'd beneath my eyes. But now so callous grown, so changed from youth," &c.
Some of the causes that worked this change in his character have been intimated in the course of the preceding pages. That there was no tinge of bitterness in his natural disposition, we have abundant testimony, besides his own, to prove. Though, as a child, occasionally passionate and headstrong, his docility and kindness towards those who were themselves kind, is acknowledged by all; and "playful" and "affectionate" are invariably the epithets by which those who knew him in his childhood convey their impression of his character.
Of all the qualities, indeed, of his nature, affectionateness seems to have been the most ardent and most deep. A disposition, on his own side, to form strong attachments, and a yearning desire after affection in return, were the feeling and the want that formed the dream and torment of his existence. We have seen with what passionate enthusiasm he threw himself into his boyish friendships. The all-absorbing and unsuccessful love that followed was, if I may so say, the agony, without being the death, of this unsated desire, which lived on through his life, and filled his poetry with the very soul of tenderness, lent the colouring of its light to even those unworthy ties which vanity or passion led him afterwards to form, and was the last aspiration of his fervid spirit in those stanzas written but a few months before his death:—
"'Tis time this heart should be unmoved, Since others it has ceased to move; Yet, though I cannot be beloved, Still let me love!"
It is much, I own, to be questioned, whether, even under the most favourable circumstances, a disposition such as I have here described could have escaped ultimate disappointment, or found any where a resting-place for its imaginings and desires. But, in the case of Lord Byron, disappointment met him on the very threshold of life. His mother, to whom his affections first, naturally with ardour, turned, either repelled them rudely, or capriciously trifled with them. In speaking of his early days to a friend at Genoa, a short time before his departure for Greece, he traced the first feelings of pain and humiliation he had ever known to the coldness with which his mother had received his caresses in infancy, and the frequent taunts on his personal deformity with which she had wounded him.
The sympathy of a sister's love, of all the influences on the mind of a youth the most softening, was also, in his early days, denied to him,—his sister Augusta and he having seen but little of each other while young. A vent through the calm channel of domestic affections might have brought down the high current of his feelings to a level nearer that of the world he had to traverse, and thus saved them from the tumultuous rapids and falls to which this early elevation, in their after-course, exposed them. In the dearth of all home-endearments, his heart had no other resource but in those boyish friendships which he formed at school; and when these were interrupted by his removal to Cambridge, he was again thrown back, isolated, on his own restless desires. Then followed his ill-fated attachment to Miss Chaworth, to which, more than to any other cause, he himself attributed the desolating change then wrought in his disposition.
"I doubt sometimes (he says, in his 'Detached Thoughts,') whether, after all, a quiet and unagitated life would have suited me; yet I sometimes long for it. My earliest dreams (as most boys' dreams are) were martial; but a little later they were all for love and retirement, till the hopeless attachment to M—— C—— began and continued (though sedulously concealed) very early in my teens; and so upwards for a time. This threw me out again 'alone on a wide, wide sea.' In the year 1804 I recollect meeting my sister at General Harcourt's, in Portland Place. I was then one thing, and as she had always till then found me. When we met again in 1805 (she told me since) that my temper and disposition were so completely altered, that I was hardly to be recognised. I was not then sensible of the change; but I can believe it, and account for it."
I have already described his parting with Miss Chaworth previously to her marriage. Once again, after that event, he saw her, and for the last time,—being invited by Mr. Chaworth to dine at Annesley not long before his departure from England. The few years that had elapsed since their last meeting had made a considerable change in the appearance and manners of the young poet. The fat, unformed schoolboy was now a slender and graceful young man. Those emotions and passions which at first heighten, and then destroy, beauty, had as yet produced only their favourable effects on his features; and, though with but little aid from the example of refined society, his manners had subsided into that tone of gentleness and self-possession which more than any thing marks the well-bred gentleman. Once only was the latter of these qualities put to the trial, when the little daughter of his fair hostess was brought into the room. At the sight of the child he started involuntarily,—it was with the utmost difficulty he could conceal his emotion; and to the sensations of that moment we are indebted for those touching stanzas, "Well—thou art happy," &c., which appeared afterwards in a Miscellany published by one of his friends, and are now to be found in the general collection of his works. Under the influence of the same despondent passion, he wrote two other poems at this period, from which, as they exist only in the Miscellany I have just alluded to, and that collection has for some time been out of print, a few stanzas may, not improperly, be extracted here.
"THE FAREWELL—TO A LADY.
"When man, expell'd from Eden's bowers, A moment linger'd near the gate, Each scene recall'd the vanish'd hours, And bade him curse his future fate.
"But wandering on through distant climes, He learnt to bear his load of grief; Just gave a sigh to other times, And found in busier scenes relief.
"Thus, lady, must it be with me, And I must view thy charms no more! For, whilst I linger near to thee, I sigh for all I knew before," &c. &c.
The other poem is, throughout, full of tenderness; but I shall give only what appear to me the most striking stanzas.
"STANZAS TO —— ON LEAVING ENGLAND.
"'Tis done—and shivering in the gale The bark unfurls her snowy sail; And whistling o'er the bending mast, Loud sings on high the fresh'ning blast; And I must from this land be gone, Because I cannot love but one.
"As some lone bird, without a mate, My weary heart is desolate; I look around, and cannot trace One friendly smile or welcome face, And ev'n in crowds am still alone, Because I cannot love but one.
"And I will cross the whitening foam, And I will seek a foreign home; Till I forget a false fair face, I ne'er shall find a resting-place; My own dark thoughts I cannot shun, But ever love, and love but one.
"I go—but wheresoe'er I flee There's not an eye will weep for me; There's not a kind congenial heart, Where I can claim the meanest part; Nor thou, who hast my hopes undone, Wilt sigh, although I love but one.
"To think of every early scene, Of what we are, and what we've been, Would whelm some softer hearts with woe— But mine, alas! has stood the blow; Yet still beats on as it begun, And never truly loves but one.
"And who that dear loved one may be Is not for vulgar eyes to see, And why that early love was crost, Thou know'st the best, I feel the most; But few that dwell beneath the sun Have loved so long, and loved but one.
"I've tried another's fetters, too, With charms, perchance, as fair to view; And I would fain have loved as well, But some unconquerable spell Forbade my bleeding breast to own A kindred care for aught but one.
"'Twould soothe to take one lingering view, And bless thee in my last adieu; Yet wish I not those eyes to weep For him that wanders o'er the deep; His home, his hope, his youth, are gone, Yet still he loves, and loves but one."
While thus, in all the relations of the heart, his thirst after affection was thwarted, in another instinct of his nature, not less strong—the desire of eminence and distinction—he was, in an equal degree, checked in his aspirings, and mortified. The inadequacy of his means to his station was early a source of embarrassment and humiliation to him; and those high, patrician notions of birth in which he indulged but made the disparity between his fortune and his rank the more galling. Ambition, however, soon whispered to him that there were other and nobler ways to distinction. The eminence which talent builds for itself might, one day, he proudly felt, be his own; nor was it too sanguine to hope that, under the favour accorded usually to youth, he might with impunity venture on his first steps to fame. But here, as in every other object of his heart, disappointment and mortification awaited him. Instead of experiencing the ordinary forbearance, if not indulgence, with which young aspirants for fame are received by their critics, he found himself instantly the victim of such unmeasured severity as is not often dealt out even to veteran offenders in literature; and, with a heart fresh from the trials of disappointed love, saw those resources and consolations which he had sought in the exercise of his intellectual strength also invaded.
While thus prematurely broken into the pains of life, a no less darkening effect was produced upon him by too early an initiation into its pleasures. That charm with which the fancy of youth invests an untried world was, in his case, soon dissipated. His passions had, at the very onset of their career, forestalled the future; and the blank void that followed was by himself considered as one of the causes of that melancholy, which now settled so deeply into his character.
"My passions" (he says, in his 'Detached Thoughts') "were developed very early—so early that few would believe me if I were to state the period and the facts which accompanied it. Perhaps this was one of the reasons which caused the anticipated melancholy of my thoughts,—having anticipated life. My earlier poems are the thoughts of one at least ten years older than the age at which they were written,—I don't mean for their solidity, but their experience. The two first Cantos of Childe Harold were completed at twenty-two; and they are written as if by a man older than I shall probably ever be."
Though the allusions in the first sentence of this extract have reference to a much earlier period, they afford an opportunity of remarking, that however dissipated may have been the life which he led during the two or three years previous to his departure on his travels, yet the notion caught up by many, from his own allusions, in Childe Harold, to irregularities and orgies of which Newstead had been the scene, is, like most other imputations against him, founded on his own testimony, greatly exaggerated. He describes, it is well known, the home of his poetical representative as a "monastic dome, condemned to uses vile," and then adds,—
"Where Superstition once had made her den, Now Paphian girls were known to sing and smile."
Mr. Dallas, too, giving in to the same strain of exaggeration, says, in speaking of the poet's preparations for his departure, "already satiated with pleasure, and disgusted with those companions who have no other resource, he had resolved on mastering his appetites;—he broke up his harams." The truth, however, is, that the narrowness of Lord Byron's means would alone have prevented such oriental luxuries. The mode of his life at Newstead was simple and unexpensive. His companions, though not averse to convivial indulgences, were of habits and tastes too intellectual for mere vulgar debauchery; and, with respect to the alleged "harams," it appears certain that one or two suspected "subintroductae" (as the ancient monks of the abbey would have styled them), and those, too, among the ordinary menials of the establishment, were all that even scandal itself could ever fix upon to warrant such an assumption.
That gaming was among his follies at this period he himself tells us in the journal I have just cited:—
"I have a notion (he says) that gamblers are as happy as many people, being always excited. Women, wine, fame, the table,—even ambition, sate now and then; but every turn of the card and cast of the dice keeps the gamester alive: besides, one can game ten times longer than one can do any thing else. I was very fond of it when young, that is to say, of hazard, for I hate all card games,—even faro. When macco (or whatever they spell it) was introduced, I gave up the whole thing, for I loved and missed the rattle and dash of the box and dice, and the glorious uncertainty, not only of good luck or bad luck, but of any luck at all, as one had sometimes to throw often to decide at all. I have thrown as many as fourteen mains running, and carried off all the cash upon the table occasionally; but I had no coolness, or judgment, or calculation. It was the delight of the thing that pleased me. Upon the whole, I left off in time, without being much a winner or loser. Since one-and-twenty years of age I played but little, and then never above a hundred, or two, or three."