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This article was written by Leslie Stephen and was published in 1886.
George Gordon, Lord Byron, was a poet. He was descended from John, first Lord Byron, who was succeeded by his brother Richard (1605-1679). Richard's son, William (d. 1695), became third lord, and wrote some bad verses. By his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Viscount Chaworth, he was father of William, fourth lord (1669-1736), gentleman of the bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark. The fourth lord was father, by his wife, Frances, daughter of Lord Berkeley of Stratton, of William, fifth lord, John, afterwards Admiral Byron, and Isabella, wife of the fourth and mother of the fifth earl of Carlisle.
The fifth lord (1722-1798) quarrelled with his cousin Mr. Chaworth (great grandson of Viscount Chaworth) at a club dinner of Nottinghamshire gentlemen, on 26 January 1765, and killed him after a confused scuffle in a room to which they had retired by themselves after dinner. Byron was convicted of manslaughter before the House of Lords on 16 April 1765 and, though exempted from punishment by his privilege as a peer, became a marked man. He lived in seclusion at Newstead Abbey, ill-treated his wife, was known as the ‘wicked lord,’ encumbered his estates, and made a sale of his property at Rochdale, the disputed legality of which led to a prolonged lawsuit.
His children and his only grandson (son of his son by the daughter of his brother, the admiral) died before him. Admiral Byron had two sons, John and George Anson (ancestor of the present peer), and three daughters, one of whom became wife of her cousin, son of the fifth lord; another of Admiral Parker; the third of Colonel Leigh, by whom she was mother of another Colonel Leigh, who married his cousin, Augusta, daughter of John Byron, the admiral's eldest son.
This John Byron (born 1756) was educated at Westminster, entered the guards, was known as ‘mad Jack,’ and was a handsome profligate. He seduced the Marchioness of Carmarthen, who became Baroness Conyers on the death of her father, fourth earl of Holderness. He married her (June 1779) after her divorce, and had by her in 1782 a daughter, Augusta, married to Colonel Leigh in 1807. Lady Conyers's death in France, 26 January 1784, deprived her husband of an income of £4,000 a year. He soon afterwards met at Bath a Miss Catherine Gordon of Gicht, with a fortune of £23,000 doubled by rumour. The pair were married at St. Michael's Church, Bath, 13 May 1785. John Byron took his second wife to France, squandered most of her property, and returned to England, where their only child, George Gordon, was born in Holles Street, London, on 22 January 1788. John Hunter saw the boy when he was born, and prescribed for the infant's feet. A malformation was caused, as Byron afterwards said, by his mother's ‘false delicacy.’ Trelawny says that the tendo Achillis of each foot was so contracted that he could only walk on the balls of the toes, the right foot being most distorted and bent inwards. Injudicious treatment increased the mischief, and through life the poet could only hobble a few paces on foot, though he could at times succeed in concealing his infirmity.
John Byron's creditors became pressing. The daughter, Augusta, was sent to her grandmother, the Dowager Countess Holderness. Mrs. Byron retired to Aberdeen, and lived upon £150 a year, the interest of £3,000 in the hands of trustees, the sole remnant of her fortune. She took lodgings in Queen Street, Aberdeen, and was followed by her husband, who occupied separate lodgings and sometimes petted the child, who professed in later years to remember him perfectly. With money got from his wife or his sister, Mrs. Leigh, he escaped to France in January 1791, and died at Valenciennes, 2 August 1791, possibly by his own hand. Mrs. Byron's income, reduced to £135 by debts for furniture and by helping her husband, was raised to £190 on the death of her grandmother, and she lived within her means. Capricious and passionate by nature, she treated her child with alternate excesses of violence and tenderness. Scott says that in 1784 she was seized with an hysterical fit during Mrs. Siddons's performance in Southern's ‘Fatal Marriage,’ and carried out screaming, ‘Oh, my Biron, my Biron’ (the name of a character in the play). She was short and fat, and would chase her mocking child round the room in impotent fury. To the frank remark of a schoolfellow, ‘Your mother is a fool,’ he replied, ‘I know it.’ Another phrase is said to have been the germ of the ‘Deformed Transformed.’ His mother reviling him as a ‘lame beast,’ he replied, ‘I was born so, mother.’
The child was passionately fond of his nurse, May Gray, to whom at the final parting he gave a watch and his miniature — afterwards in the possession of Dr. Ewing of Aberdeen — and by whose teaching he acquired a familiarity with the Bible, preserved through life by a very retentive memory. At first he went to school to one ‘Bodsy Bowers,’ and afterwards to a clergyman named Ross. The son of his shoemaker, Paterson, taught him some Latin, and he was at the grammar school from 1794 to 1798. He was regarded as warm-hearted, pugnacious, and idle. Visits to his mother's relations and an excursion to Ballater for change of air in 1796 varied his schooldays. In a note to the ‘Island’ (1813) he dates his love of mountainous scenery from this period; and in a note to ‘Don Juan’ he recalls the delicious horror with which he leaned over the bridge of Balgounie, destined in an old rhyme to fall with ‘a wife's ae son and a mare's ae foal.’ An infantile passion for a cousin, Mary Duff, in his eighth year was so intense that he was nearly thrown into convulsions by hearing, when he was sixteen, of her marriage to Mr. Robert Cockburn (a well-known wine merchant, brother of Lord Cockburn). She died on 10 March 1858.
In 1794, by the death of the fifth Lord Byron's grandson at the siege of Calvi in Corsica, Byron became heir to the peerage. A Mr. Ferguson suggested to Mrs. Byron that an application to the civil list for a pension might be successful if sanctioned by the actual peer. The grand-uncle would not help the appeal, but after his death (19 May 1798) a pension of £300 was given to the new peer's mother (warrant dated 2 October 1799). In the autumn Mrs. Byron with her boy and May Gray left Aberdeen for Newstead. The house was ruinous. The Rochdale property was only recoverable by a lawsuit. The actual income of the Newstead estate was estimated at £1,100 a year, which might be doubled when the leases fell in. Byron told Medwin that it was about £1,500 a year. Byron was made a ward in chancery, and Lord Carlisle, son of the old lord's sister, was appointed his guardian.
Mrs. Byron settled at Nottingham, and sent the boy to be prepared for a public school by Mr. Rogers. He was tortured by the remedies applied to his feet by a quack named Lavender. His talent for satire was already shown in a lampoon on an old lady and in an exposure of Lavender's illiteracy. In 1799 he was taken to London by his mother, examined for his lameness by Dr. Baillie, and sent to Dr. Glennie's school at Dulwich, where the treatment prescribed by Baillie could be carried out. Glennie found him playful, amiable, and intelligent, ill-grounded in scholarship, but familiar with scripture, and a devourer of poetry. At Glennie's he read a pamphlet on the shipwreck of the Juno in 1795, which was afterwards worked up in ‘Don Juan;’ and here, about 1800, he wrote his first love poem, addressed to his cousin Margaret Parker. Byron speaks of her transparent and evanescent beauty, and says that his passion had its ‘usual effects’ of preventing sleep and appetite. She died of consumption a year or two later. Meanwhile Mrs. Byron's tempers had become insupportable to Glennie, whose discipline was spoilt by her meddling, and to Lord Carlisle, who ceased to see her. Her importunity prevailed upon the guardian to send the boy to Harrow, where (in the summer of 1801) he became a pupil of the Rev. Joseph Drury.
Drury obtained the respect and affection of his pupil. A note to ‘Childe Harold’ upon a passage in which he describes his repugnance to the ‘daily drug’ of classical lessons, expresses his enthusiastic regard for Drury, and proves that he had not profited by Drury's teaching. His notes in the books which he gave to the school library show that he never became a tolerable scholar. He was always ‘idle, in mischief, or at play,’ though reading voraciously by fits. He shone in declamation, and Drury tells how he quite unconsciously interpolated a rigorous passage into a prepared composition. Unpopular and unhappy at first, he hated Harrow till his last year and a half; but he became attached to it on rising to be a leader. Glennie had noticed that his deformity had increased his desire for athletic glory. His strength of arm made him formidable in spite of his lameness. He fought Lord Calthorpe for writing ‘d—d atheist’ under his name. He was a cricketer and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe remembered seeing him playing in the match against Eton with another boy to run for him.
Byron was one of the ringleaders in a childish revolt against the appointment of Dr. Butler (March 1805) as Drury's successor, and in favour of Mark Drury. Byron said that he saved the hall from burning by showing to the boys the names of their ancestors on the walls. He afterwards satirised Butler as ‘Pomposus’ in Hours of Idleness, but had the sense to apologise before his first foreign tour.
‘My school friendships,’ says Byron, ‘were with me passions.’ Byron remonstrates with a boyish correspondent for calling him ‘my dear’ instead of ‘my dearest Byron.’ His most famous contemporary at Harrow was Sir Robert Peel, for whom he offered to take half the thrashing inflicted by a bully. He protected Harness, his junior by two years, who survived till 1869. His closest intimates were apparently Lords Clare and Dorset and John Wingfield. When he met Clare long afterwards in Italy, he was agitated to a painful degree, and says that he could never hear the name without a beating of the heart. He had been called at Glennie's ‘the old English baron,’ and some aristocratic vanity perhaps appears in his choice of intimates and dependents.Newstead Abbey
His mother was at Bath in 1802 (where he appeared in Turkish costume at a masquerade); at Nottingham in 1803; and at Southwell, in a house called Burgage Manor, in 1804. Byron visited Newstead in 1803, then occupied by Lord Grey de Ruthin, who set apart a room for his use. He was often at Annesley Hall, the seat of his distant cousins the Chaworths. Mary Anne Chaworth was fifth in descent from Viscount Chaworth, and her grandfather was brother to the William Chaworth killed by the fifth Lord Byron. A superstitious fancy (duly turned to account in the ‘Siege of Corinth'), that the family portraits would descend from their frames to haunt the duellist's heir, made him refuse to sleep there; till a ‘bogle’ seen on the road to Newstead — or some less fanciful motive — induced him to stay for the night. He had fallen desperately in love with Mary Anne Chaworth, two years his senior, who naturally declined to take him seriously. A year later Miss Pigot describes him as a ‘fat bashful boy.’ In 1804 he found Miss Chaworth engaged to John Musters. The marriage took place in 1805. Moore gives a report, probably inaccurate, of Byron's agitation on hearing of the wedding. He dined with her and her husband in 1808, and was much affected by seeing her infant daughter. Poems addressed to her appeared in ‘Hours of Idleness’ and Hobhouse's ‘Miscellany.’ He told Medwin that he had found in her ‘all that his youthful fancy could paint of beautiful.’ Mrs. Musters's marriage was unhappy; she was separated from her husband; her mind became affected, and she died in 1832 from a shock caused by riots at Nottingham. This passion seems to have left the most permanent traces on Byron's life; though it was a year later (if his account is accurate) that the news of Mary Duff's marriage nearly caused convulsions.
In October 1805 Byron entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as a nobleman. A youth of ‘tumultuous passions’ (in the phrase of his college tutor), he was exposed to the temptations of his rank, yet hardly within the sphere of its legitimate ambition. He rode, shot with a pistol, and boxed. He made a friend of the famous pugilist, Jackson, paid for postchaises to bring ‘dear Jack’ to visit him at Brighton, invited him to Newstead, and gave him commissions about dogs and horses. He was greatest at swimming. The pool below the sluice at Grantchester is still called by his name. Leigh Hunt first saw him swimming a match in the Thames under Jackson's supervision, and in August 1807 he boasts to Miss Pigot of a three miles swim through Blackfriars and Westminster bridges. He travelled to various resorts with a carriage, a pair of horses, a groom and valet, besides a bulldog and a Newfoundland. In 1806 his mother ended a quarrel by throwing the poker and tongs at his head. She followed him to his lodgings in London, whither he retreated, and there another engagement resulted in the defeat of the enemy — his mother. On a visit to Harrogate in the same summer with his friend Pigot he was shy, quiet, avoided drinking, and was polite to Professor Hailstone, of Trinity. On some of his rambles he was accompanied by a girl in boy's clothes, whom he introduced as his younger brother. He tells Miss Pigot that he has played hazard for two nights till four in the morning; and in a later diary says that he loved gambling, but left off in time, and played little after he was of age. It is not surprising to find him confessing in 1808 that he is ‘cursedly dipped,’ and will owe £9,000 or £10,000 on coming of age. The college authorities naturally looked askance at him; and Byron symbolised his opinion of dons by bringing up a bear to college, and declaring that the animal should sit for a fellowship.
Byron formed friendships and had pursuits of a more intellectual kind. He seems to have resided at Cambridge for the Michaelmas term 1805, and the Lent and Easter terms 1806; he was then absent for nearly a year, and returned to keep (probably) the Easter term of 1807, the following October and Lent terms, and perhaps the Easter term of 1808, taking his M.A. degree on 4 July 1808. In the first period of residence, though sulky and solitary, he became the admiring friend of W. J. Bankes, was intimate with Edward Noel Long, and protected a chorister named Eddlestone. His friendship with this youth, he tells Miss Pigot, is to eclipse all the classical precedents, and Byron means to get a partnership for his friend, or to take him as a permanent companion. Eddlestone died of consumption in 1811, and Byron then reclaimed from Miss Pigot a cornelian, which he had originally received from Eddlestone, and handed on to her. References to this friendship are in the ‘Hours of Idleness,’ and probably in the ‘Cornelian Heart’ (dated March 1812). Long entered the army, and was drowned in a transport in 1809, to Byron's profound affliction.
He became intimate with two fellows of King's — Henry Drury and Francis Hodgson, afterwards provost of Eton. Byron showed his friendship for Hodgson by a present of £1,000 in 1813, when Hodgson was in embarrassment and Byron not over rich. In his later residence a closer ‘coterie’ was formed by Byron, Hobhouse, Davies, and C. S. Matthews. John Cam Hobhouse, afterwards Lord Broughton, was his friend through life. Scrope Berdmore Davies, a man of wit and taste, delighted Byron by his ‘dashing vivacity,’ and lent him £4,800, the repayment of which was celebrated by a drinking bout at the Cocoa on 27 March 1814. Hodgson reports that when Byron exclaimed melodramatically ‘I shall go mad,’ Davies used to suggest ‘silly’ as a probable emendation. Matthews was regarded as the most promising of the friends. Byron described his audacity, his swimming and boxing, and conversational powers in a letter to Murray (20 November 1820), and tells Dallas that he was a ‘most decided’ and outspoken ‘atheist.’
Among these friends Byron varied the pursuit of pleasure by literary efforts. He boasts in a juvenile letter that he has often been compared to ‘the wicked’ Lord Lyttelton, and has already been held up as ‘the votary of licentiousness and the disciple of infidelity.’ A list dated 30 November 1807 shows that he had read or looked through many historical books and novels ‘by the thousand.’ His memory was remarkable. Scott, however, found in 1815 that his reading did ‘not appear to have been extensive, either in history or poetry;’ and the list does not imply that he had strayed beyond the highways of literature.
At Southwell, in September 1806, he took the principal part (Penruddock, an ‘amiable misanthrope’) in an amateur performance of Cumberland's ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ and ‘spun a prologue’ in a postchaise. About the same time he confessed to Miss Pigot, who had been reading Burns to him, that he too was a poet, and wrote down the lines ‘In thee I fondly hoped to clasp.’ In November 1806 Ridge, a Newark bookseller, had privately printed for him a small volume of poems, entitled ‘Fugitive Pieces.’ His friend Mr. Becher, a Southwell clergyman, remonstrated against the license of one poem. Byron immediately destroyed the whole impression (except one copy in Becher's hands and one sent to young Pigot, then studying medicine at Edinburgh). A hundred copies, omitting the offensive verses, and with some additions, under the title ‘Poems on Various Occasions,’ were distributed in January 1807. Favourable notices came to the author from Bankes, Henry Mackenzie (‘The Man of Feeling’), and Lord Woodhouselee.
In the summer of 1807 Byron published a collection called ‘Hours of Idleness, a series of Poems, original and translated, by George Gordon, Lord Byron, a minor,’ from which twenty of the privately printed poems were omitted and others added. It was praised in the ‘Critical Review’ of September 1807, and abused in the first number of the ‘Satirist.’ A new edition, with some additions and without the prefaces, appeared in March 1808. In January 1808 the famous criticism came out in the ‘Edinburgh’ (Byron speaks of this as about to appear in a letter dated 26 February 1808). The critique has been attributed both to Brougham and Jeffrey. Jeffrey seems to have denied the authorship, and the ponderous legal facetiousness is certainly not unlike Brougham, whom Byron came to regard as the author. The severity was natural enough. Scott, indeed, says that he remonstrated with Jeffrey, thinking that the poems contained ‘some passages of noble promise.’ But the want of critical acumen is less obvious than the needless cruelty of the wound inflicted upon a boy's harmless vanity. Byron was deeply stung. He often boasted afterwards that he instantly drank three bottles of claret and began a reply. He had already in his desk, on 26 October 1807, 380 lines of his satire, besides 214 pages of a novel, 560 lines in blank verse of a poem on Bosworth Field, and other pieces. He now carefully polished his satire, and had it put in type by Ridge.
On leaving Cambridge he had settled at Newstead, given up in ruinous condition by Lord Grey in the previous April, where he had a few rooms made habitable, and celebrated his coming of age by some meagre approach to the usual festivities. A favourable decision in the courts had given him hopes of Rochdale, and made him, he says, £60,000 richer. The suit, however, dragged on through his life. Meanwhile he had to raise money to make repairs and maintain his establishment at Newstead, with which he declares his resolution never to part. The same letter announces the death of his friend Lord Falkland in a duel. In spite of his own difficulties Byron tried to help the widow, stood godfather to her infant, and left a £500 note for his godchild in a breakfast cup. In a letter from Mrs. Byron this is apparently mentioned as a loan to Lady Falkland. On 13 March he took his seat in the House of Lords. Lord Carlisle had acknowledged the receipt of ‘Hours of Idleness,’ the second edition of which had been dedicated to him, in a ‘tolerably handsome letter,’ but would take no trouble about introducing his ward. Byron was accompanied to the house by no one but Dallas, a small author, whose sister was the wife of Byron's uncle, George Anson, and who had recently sought his acquaintance.
Byron felt his isolation, and sulkily put aside a greeting from the chancellor (Eldon). He erased a compliment to Carlisle and substituted a bitter attack in his satire which was now going through the press under Dallas's superintendence. ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’ appeared in the middle of March, and at once made its mark. He prepared a second edition at the end of April with additions and a swaggering prose postscript, announcing his departure from England and declaring that his motive was not fear of his victims' antipathies. The satire is vigorously written and more carefully polished than Byron's later efforts; but has not the bitterness, the keenness, or the fine workmanship of Pope. The retort upon his reviewers is only part of a long tirade upon the other poets of the day. In 1816 Byron made some annotations on the poem at Geneva, admitting the injustice of many lines. A third and fourth edition appeared in 1810 and 1811; in the last year he prepared a fifth for the press. He suppressed it, as many of his adversaries were now on friendly terms with him, and destroyed all but one copy, from which later editions have been printed. He told Murray (23 October 1817) that he would never consent to its republication.
Byron had for some time contemplated making his ‘grand tour.’ In the autumn of 1808 he got up a play at Newstead; he buried his Newfoundland, Boatswain, who died of madness 18 November 1808, under a monument with a misanthropical inscription; and in the following spring entertained his college friends. C. S. Matthews describes their amusements in a letter published by Moore. They dressed themselves in theatrical costumes of monks (with a recollection, perhaps, of Medmenham), and drank burgundy out of a human skull found near the abbey, which Byron had fashioned into a cup with an appropriate inscription. Such revelries suggested extravagant rumours of reckless orgies and ‘harems’ in the abbey. Moore assures us that the life there was in reality ‘simple and inexpensive,’ and the scandal of limited application.
Byron took leave of England by some verses to Mrs. Musters about his blighted affections, and sailed from Falmouth in the Lisbon packet on 2 July 1809. Hobhouse accompanied him, and he took three servants, Fletcher (who followed him to the last), Rushton, and Joe Murray. From Lisbon he rode across Spain to Seville and Cadiz, and thence sailed to Gibraltar in the Hyperion frigate in the beginning of August. He sent home Murray and Rushton with instructions for the proper education of the latter at his own expense. He sailed in the packet for Malta on 19 August 1809, in company with Galt, who afterwards wrote his life, and who was rather amused by the affectations of the youthful peer. At Malta he fell in with a Mrs. Spencer Smith with a romantic history, to whom he addressed the verses ‘To Florence,’ ‘stanzas composed during a thunderstorm,’ and a passage in ‘Childe Harold’, explaining that his heart was now past the power of loving.
From Malta he reached Prevesa in the Spider, brig of war, on 19 September 1809. He thence visited Ali Pasha at Tepelen, and was nearly lost in a Turkish man-of-war on his return. In November he travelled to Missolonghi (21 November) through Acarnania with a guard of Albanians. He stayed a fortnight at Patras, and thence left for Athens. He reached Athens on Christmas eve and lodged with Theodora Macri, widow of the English consul, who had three lovely daughters. The eldest, Theresa, celebrated by Byron as the Maid of Athens, became Mrs. Black. She fell into poverty, and an appeal for her support was made in the ‘Times’ on 23 March 1872. She died in October 1875.
He sailed from Athens for Smyrna in the Pylades, sloop of war, on 5 March 1810; visited Ephesus; and on 11 April sailed in the Salsette frigate for Constantinople, and visited the Troad. On 3 May he repeated Leander's feat of swimming from Sestos to Abydos. In February 1821 he wrote a long letter to Murray, defending his statements against some criticisms in W. Turner's ‘Tour in the Levant’. Byron reached Constantinople on 14 May, and sailed in the Salsette on 14 July. Hobhouse returned to England, while Byron landed at Zea with Fletcher, two Albanians, and a Tartar, and returned to Athens. Here he professed to have met with the adventure turned to account in the ‘Giaour’ about saving a girl from being drowned in a sack. A letter from Lord Sligo, who was then at Athens, to Byron (31 August 1813), proves that some such report was current at Athens a day or two later, and may possibly have had some foundation. Hobhouse says that Byron's Turkish servant was the lover of the girl. He made a tour in the Morea, had a dangerous fever at Patras (which left a liability to malaria), and returned to Athens, where he passed the winter of 1810-11 in the Capuchin convent. Here he met Lady Hester Stanhope, and formed one of his strong attachments to a youth called Nicolo Giraud. To this lad he gave a sum of money on parting, and left him £7,000 in a will of August 1811. From Athens Byron went to Malta, and sailed thence for England in the Volage frigate on 3 June 1811. He reached Portsmouth at the beginning of July, and was met by Dallas at Reddish's Hotel, St. James's Street, on 15 July 1811.
Byron returned to isolation and vexation. He had told his mother that, if compelled to part with Newstead, he should retire to the East. To Hodgson he wrote while at sea that he was returning embarrassed, unsocial, ‘without a hope and almost without a desire.’ His financial difficulties are shown by a series of letters published in the ‘Athenæum’. The court of chancery had allowed him £500 a year at Cambridge, to which his mother had added as much, besides incurring a debt of £1,000 on his behalf. He is reduced to his last guinea in December 1807, has obtained loans from Jews, and expects to end by suicide or the marriage of a ‘golden dolly.’ His mother was put to the greatest difficulties during his travels, and he seems to have been careless in providing for her wants. The bailiffs were at Newstead in February 1810; a sale was threatened in June. Byron writes from Athens in November refusing to sell Newstead. While returning to England he proposed to join the army, and had to borrow money to pay for his journey to London. News of his mother's illness came to him in London, and before he could reach her she died on 1 August 1811 of ‘a fit of rage caused by reading the upholsterer's bills.’ The loss affected him deeply, and he was found sobbing by her remains over the loss of his one friend in the world. The deaths of his schoolfriend Wingfield on 14 May 1811, of C. S. Matthews, and of Eddlestone, were nearly simultaneous blows, and he tells Miss Pigot that the last death ‘made the sixth, within four months, of friends and relatives lost between May and the end of August.’
In February 1812 he mentions Eddlestone to Hodgson as the ‘only human being that ever loved him in truth and entirely.’ He adds that where death has set his seal the impression can never be broken. The phrase recurs in the most impressive of the poems to Thyrza, dated in the same month. The coincidence seems to confirm Moore's statement that Thyrza was no more than an impersonation of Byron's melancholy caused by many losses. An apostrophe to a ‘loved and lovely one’ at the end of the second canto of ‘Childe Harold’ belongs to the same series. Attempts to identify Thyrza have failed. Byron spoke to Trelawny of a passion for a cousin who was in a decline when he left England, and whom Trelawny identifies with Thyrza. No one seems to answer to the description. It may be added that he speaks of a ‘violent, though pure love and passion’ which absorbed him while at Cambridge, and writes to Dallas of a loss about this time which would have profoundly moved him but that he ‘has supped full of horrors,’ and that Dallas understands him as referring to some one who might have made him happy as a wife. Byron had sufficient elasticity of spirit for a defiance of the world, and a vanity keen enough to make a boastful exhibition of premature cynicism and a blighted heart.
At the end of October 1811 he took lodgings in St. James's Street. He had shown to Dallas upon his return to England the first two cantos of ‘Childe Harold’ and ‘Hints from Horace,’ a tame paraphrase of the ‘Ars Poetica.’ According to Dallas, he preferred the last, and was unwilling to publish the ‘Childe.’ Cawthorn, who had published the ‘English Bards,’ &c., accepted the ‘Hints’ (which did not appear till after Byron's death), but the publication was delayed, apparently for want of a good classical reviser. The Longmans had refused the ‘English Bards,’ which attacked their friends, and Byron told Dallas to offer ‘Childe Harold’ elsewhere. Miller objected to the attack upon Lord Elgin (as the despoiler of the Parthenon), for whom he published; and it was ultimately accepted by Murray, who thus began a permanent connection with Byron. ‘Childe Harold’ appeared in March 1812. Byron had meanwhile spoken for the first time in the House of Lords, 27 February 1812, against a bill for suppressing riots of Nottingham frameworkers, and with considerable success. A second and less successful speech against catholic disabilities followed on 21 April 1812. He made one other short speech in presenting a petition from Major Cartwright on 1 June 1813. Lord Holland helped him in providing materials for the first, and the speeches indicate a leaning towards something more than whiggism. The first two are of rather elaborate rhetoric, and his delivery was criticised as too theatrical and sing-song. Any political ambition was extinguished by the startling success of ‘Childe Harold,’ of which a first edition was immediately sold. Byron ‘woke one morning and found himself famous.’ Murray gave £600 for the copyright, which Byron handed over to Dallas, declaring that he would never take money for his poems.
The two cantos now published are admittedly inferior to the continuation of the poem; and the affectation of which it set the fashion is obsolete. Byron tells Murray (3 November 1821) that he is like a tiger. If he misses his first spring, he goes ‘grumbling back to the jungle again.’ His poems are all substantially impromptus; but the vigour and descriptive power, in spite of all blemishes, are enough to explain the success of a poem original in conception and setting forth a type of character which embodied a prevailing sentiment
Byron became the idol of the sentimental part of society. Friends and lovers of notoriety gathered round this fascinating rebel. Among the first was Moore, who had sent him a challenge for a passage in ‘English Bards’ ridiculing the bloodless duel with Jeffrey. Hodgson had suppressed the letter during Byron's absence. Moore now wrote a letter ostensibly demanding explanations, but more like a request for acquaintance. The two met at a dinner given by Rogers, where Campbell made a fourth. Byron surprised his new friends by the distinction of his appearance and the eccentricity of his diet, consisting of potatoes and vinegar alone. Moore was surprised at Byron's isolation. Dallas, his solicitor, Hanson, and three or four college friends were at this time (November 1811) his only associates. Moore rapidly became intimate. Byron liked him as a thorough man of the world and as an expert in the arts which compensate for inferiority of birth, and which enabled Moore to act as an obsequious monitor and to smother gentle admonition in abundant flattery.
In his diary (10 December 1813) Byron says that Moore was the best-hearted man he knew and with talents equal to his feelings. Byron was now at the height of his proverbial beauty. Coleridge in 1816 speaks enthusiastically of the astonishing beauty and expressiveness of his face. Dark brown locks, curling over a lofty forehead, grey eyes with long dark lashes, a mouth and chin of exquisite symmetry are shown in his portraits, and were animated by an astonishing mobility of expression, varying from apathy to intense passion. His head was very small; his nose, though well formed, rather too thick; looking, says Hunt, in a front view as if ‘grafted on the face;’ his complexion was colourless; he had little beard. His height, he says, was 5ft. 8¾ in. or a little less. He had a broad chest, long muscular arms, with white delicate hands, and beautiful teeth. A tendency to excessive fatness, inherited from his mother, was not only disfiguring but productive of great discomfort, and increased the unwieldiness arising from his lameness. To remedy the evil he resorted to the injurious system of diet often set down to mere affectation. Trelawny observes more justly that Byron was the only human being he knew with self-restraint enough not to get fat. In April 1807 he tells Pigot that he has reduced himself by exercise, physic, and hot baths from 14st. 7lbs. to 12st. 7lbs.; in January 1808 he tells Drury that he has got down to 10st. 7lbs. When last weighed at Genoa he was 10st. 9lbs.
He carried on this system at intervals through life; at Athens he drank vinegar and water, and seldom ate more than a little rice; on his return he gave up wine and meat. He sparred with Jackson for exercise, and took hot baths. In 1813 he lived on six biscuits a day and tea; in December he fasts for forty-eight hours; in 1816 he lived on a thin slice of bread for breakfast and a vegetable dinner, drinking green tea and seltzer-water. He kept down hunger by chewing mastic and tobacco. He sometimes took laudanum. He tells Moore in 1821 that a dose of salts gave him most exhilaration. Occasional indulgences varied this course. Moore describes a supper (19 May 1814) when he finished two or three lobsters, washed down by half a dozen glasses of strong brandy, with tumblers of hot water. He wrote ‘Don Juan’ on gin and water, and Medwin speaks of his drinking too much wine and nearly a pint of hollands every night (in 1822). Trelawny, however, declares that the spirits was mere ‘water bewitched.’ When Hunt reached Pisa in 1822, he found Byron so fat as to be scarcely recognisable. Medwin, two or three months later, found him starved into ‘unnatural thinness.’ Such a diet was no doubt injurious in the long run; but the starvation seems to have stimulated his brain, and Trelawny says that no man had brighter eyes or a clearer voice.
In the spring of 1813 Byron published anonymously the ‘Waltz,’ and disowned it on its deserved failure. Various avatars of ‘Childe Harold,’ however, repeated his previous success. The ‘Giaour’ appeared in May 1813; the ‘Bride of Abydos’ in December 1813; the ‘Corsair’ in January 1814. They were all struck off at a white heat. The ‘Giaour’ was increased from 400 lines in the first edition to 1,400 in the fifth, which appeared in the autumn of 1813. The first sketch of the ‘Bride’ was written in four nights ‘to distract his dreams from -- ’ and afterwards increased by 200 lines. The ‘Corsair,’ written in ten days, or between 18 and 31 December, was hardly touched afterwards. He boasted afterwards that 14,000 copies of the last were sold in a day. With its first edition appeared the impromptu lines, ‘Weep, daughter of a royal line;’ the Princess Charlotte having wept, it was said, on the inability of the whigs to form a cabinet on Perceval's death. The lines were the cause of vehement attacks upon the author by the government papers. A satire called ‘Anti-Byron,’ shown to him by Murray in March 1814, indicated the rise of a hostile feeling. Byron was annoyed by the shift of favour. He had said in the dedication of the ‘Corsair’ to Moore that he should be silent for some years, and on 9 April 1814 tells Moore that he has given up rhyming. The same letter announces the abdication of Napoleon, and next day he composed and sent to Murray his ode upon that event. On 29 April he tells Murray that he has resolved to buy back his copyrights and suppress his poetry, but he instantly withdrew the resolution on Murray's assurance that it would be inconvenient. By the middle of June he had finished ‘Lara,’ which was published in the same volume with Rogers's ‘Jacqueline’ in August. The ‘Hebrew Melodies,’ written at the request of Kinnaird, appeared with music in January 1815. The ‘Siege of Corinth,’ begun July 1815 and copied by Lady Byron, and ‘Parisina,’ written the same autumn, appeared in January and February 1816. Murray gave £700 for ‘Lara’ and 500 guineas for each of the others. Dallas wrote to the papers in February 1814, defending his noble relative from the charge of accepting payment; and stated that the money for ‘Childe Harold’ and ‘The Corsair’ had been given to himself. The sums due for the other two poems then published were still, it seems, in the publisher's hands.
In the beginning of 1816 Byron declined to take the 1,000 guineas for ‘Parisina’ and the ‘Siege of Corinth,’ and it was proposed to hand over the money to Godwin, Coleridge, and Maturin. The plan was dropped at Murray's objection, and the poet soon became less scrupulous. These poems were written in the thick of many distractions. Byron was familiar at Holland, Melbourne, and Devonshire Houses. He knew Brummell and was one of the dandies; he was a member of Watier's, then a ‘superb club,’ and appeared as a caloyer in a masquerade given by his fellow-members in 1813; of the more literary and sober Alfred; of the Union, the Pugilistics, and the Owls, or ‘Fly-by-nights.’ He indulged in the pleasures of his class, with intervals of self-contempt and foreboding. Scott and Mme. de Staël (like Lady Byron) thought that a profound melancholy was in reality his dominant mood. He had reasons enough in his money embarrassments and in dangerous entanglements. Fashionable women adored the beautiful young poet and tried to soothe his blighted affections. Lady Morgan describes him as ‘cold, silent, and reserved,’ but doubtless not the less fascinating. Dallas observed that his coyness speedily vanished, and found him in a brown study writing to some fine lady whose page was waiting in scarlet and a hussar jacket. This may have been Lady Caroline Lamb, a woman of some talent, but flighty and excitable to the verge of insanity.
She was born 23 November 1785, the daughter of the Earl of Bessborough, and in June 1805 married William Lamb, afterwards Lord Melbourne. The women, as she says, ‘suffocated him’ when she first saw him. On her own introduction by Lady Westmorland, she turned on her heel and wrote in her diary that he was ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know.’ The acquaintance was renewed at Lady Holland's, and for nine months he almost lived at Melbourne House, where he contrived to ‘sweep away’ the dancing, in which he could take no part. Lady Caroline did her best to make her passion notorious. She ‘absolutely besieged him,’ says Rogers; told him in her first letter that all her jewels were at his service; waited at night for Rogers in his garden to ask him to reconcile her to Byron; and would return from parties in Byron's carriage or wait for him in the street if not invited. At last, in July 1813 it was rumoured in London that after a quarrel with Byron at a party Lady Caroline had tried to stab herself with a knife and then with the fragments of a glass. Her mother now insisted upon her retirement to Ireland. After a farewell interview, Byron wrote her a letter which reads like an attempt to use the warmest phrases consistent with an acceptance of their separation, though ending with a statement of his readiness to fly with her. She corresponded with Byron from Ireland till on the eve of her return she received a brutal letter from him saying roundly that he was attached to another, and telling her to correct her vanity and leave him in peace. The letter, marked with Lady Oxford's coronet and initials, threw Lady Caroline into a fit, which involved leeching, bleeding, and bed for a week.
Lady Caroline's mother-in-law, Lady Melbourne, was sister of Sir R. Milbanke, who, by his wife, Judith Noel, daughter of Lord Wentworth, was father of an only daughter, Anne Isabella Milbanke, born 17 May 1792. Miss Milbanke was a woman of intellectual tastes; fond of theology and mathematics, and a writer of poems, one or two of which are published in Byron's works. Byron described her to Medwin as having small and feminine, though not regular, features; the fairest skin imaginable; perfect figure and temper and modest manners. She was on friendly terms with Mrs. Siddons, Miss Baillie, Miss Edgeworth, and other literary persons who frequented her mother's house. A strong sense of duty, shown in a rather puritanical precision, led unsympathetic observers to regard her as prudish, pedantic, and frigid. Her only certain fortune was £10,000. Her father had injured a considerable estate by electioneering. Her mother's brother, Lord Wentworth, was approaching seventy. His estate of some £7,000 a year was at his own disposal, and she was held to be his favourite; but he had illegitimate children, and his sister, Lady Scarsdale, had sons and a daughter. Miss Milbanke was therefore an heiress with rather uncertain prospects.
Byron, from whatever motives, made her an offer in 1812, which was refused, and afterwards opened a correspondence with her which continued at intervals for two years. On 30 November 1813 he notices the oddness of a situation in which there is ‘not a spark of love on either side.’ On 15 March 1813 he receives a letter from her and says that he will be in love again if he does not take care. Meanwhile he and his friends naturally held that a marriage might be his salvation. Lady Melbourne, whom on her death in 1818 he calls the ‘best, kindest, and ablest female’ he ever knew, promoted a match with her niece, possibly because it would effectually bar the intrigue with her daughter-in-law. In September 1814 he made an offer to Miss Milbanke in a letter, which, according to a story told by Moore, was the result of a momentary impulse. Byron may be acquitted of simply mercenary motives. He never acted upon calculation, and had he wished, he might probably have turned his attractions to better account. The sense that he was drifting into dangerous embarrassments, which suggests hints of suicide, would no doubt recommend a match with unimpeachable propriety, as the lady 's vanity was equally flattered by the thought of effecting such a conversion. Byron was pre-eminently a man who combined strange infirmity of will with overpowering gusts of passion. He drifted indolently as long as drifting was possible, and then acted impetuously in obedience to the uppermost influence.
Byron's marriage took place 2 January 1815 at Seaham, Durham, the seat of Sir R. Milbanke. The honeymoon was passed at Halnaby, another of his houses in the same county. The pair returned to Seaham 21 January; in March they visited Colonel and Mrs. Leigh at Six Mile Bottom, Newmarket, on their way to London, where they settled, 18 March 1815, at 13 Piccadilly Terrace for the rest of their married life. Byron, in ‘The Dream,’ chose to declare that on his wedding day his thoughts had been with Miss Chaworth. He also told Medwin that on leaving the house he found the lady's-maid placed between himself and his bride in the carriage. Hobhouse, who had been his ‘best man,’ authoritatively contradicted this and the statement of Mrs. Minns, who had been Lady Byron's maid at Halnaby and previously, is that Lady Byron arrived there in a state ‘buoyant and cheerful;’ but that Byron's ‘irregularities’ began there and caused her misery, which she tried to conceal from her mother. Lady Byron also wrote to Hodgson that Byron had married her ‘with the deepest determination of revenge, avowed on the day of my marriage and executed ever since with systematic and increasing cruelty’. The letters written at the time, however, hardly support these statements. Byron speaks of his happiness to Moore, though he is terribly bored by his ‘pious father-in-law’. Lady Milbanke speaks of their happiness at Seaham. Mrs. Leigh tells Hodgson that Lady Byron's parents were pleased with their son-in-law, and reports favourably of the pair on their visit to Six Mile Bottom. In April Lord Wentworth died. The bulk of his property was settled upon Lady Milbanke (who, with her husband, now took the name of Noel) and Lady Byron. On 29 July 1815 Byron executed the will proved after his death. He left all the property of which he could dispose in trust for Mrs. Leigh and her children, his wife and any children he might have by her being now amply provided for. Lady Byron fully approved of this provision, and communicates it in an affectionate letter to Mrs. Leigh.
Harness says that when the Byrons first came to London no couple could be apparently more devoted; but troubles approached. Byron's expenses were increased. He had agreed to sell Newstead for £140,000 in September 1812; but two years later the purchaser withdrew, forfeiting £25,000 which seems to have speedily vanished. In November 1815 Byron had to sell his library, though he still declined Murray's offers for his copyrights. Creditors (at whose expense this questionable delicacy must have been exercised) dunned the husband of an heiress, and there were nine executions in his house within the year. He found distractions abroad. He was a zealous playgoer; Kean's performance of Sir Giles Overreach gave him a kind of convulsive fit — a story which recalls his mother's at the Edinburgh theatre, and of the similar effect afterwards produced upon himself by Alfieri's ‘Mirra’. He became member of the committee of management of Drury Lane, and was brought into connections of which Moore says that they gave no real cause of offence, though the circumstances were dangerous to the ‘steadiness of married life.’ We hear, too, of parties where all ended in ‘hiccup and happiness;’ and it seems that Byron's dislike of seeing women eat led to a separation at the domestic board. The only harsh action to which he confessed was that Lady Byron once came upon him when he was musing over his embarrassments and asked ‘Am I in your way?’ to which he replied ‘Damnably’.
On 10 December 1815 Lady Byron gave birth to her only child, Augusta Ada. On 6 January 1816 Byron gave directions to his wife ‘in writing’ to leave London as soon as she was well enough. It was agreed, he told Medwin, that she should stay with her father till some arrangement had been made with the creditors. On 8 January Lady Byron consulted Dr. Baillie, ‘with the concurrence of his family,’ that is, apparently, Mrs. Leigh and his cousin, George Byron, with whom she constantly communicated in the following period. Dr. Baillie, on her expressing doubts of Byron's sanity, advised her absence as an ‘experiment.’ He told her to correspond with him on ‘light and soothing’ topics. She even believed that a sudden excitement might bring on a ‘fatal crisis.’ She left London on 15 January 1816, reaching her parents at Kirkby Mallory on the 16th. She wrote affectionately to her husband on starting and arriving. The last letter, she says, was circulated to support the charge of desertion. It began, as Byron told Medwin, ‘Dear Duck,’ and was signed by her pet name ‘Pippin’. She writes to Mrs. Leigh on the same day that she has made ‘the most explicit statement’ to her parents. They are anxious to do everything in their power for the ‘poor sufferer.’ He was to be invited at once to Kirkby Mallory, and her mother wrote accordingly on the 17th. He would probably drop a plan, already formed, for going abroad with Hobhouse on her parents' remonstrance. On 18 January she tells Mrs. Leigh that she hopes that Byron will join her for a time and not leave her till there is a prospect of an heir. Lady Noel has suggested that Mrs. Leigh might dilute a laudanum bottle with water without Byron's knowledge. She still writes as an affectionate wife, hoping that her husband may be cured of insanity. An apothecary, Le Mann, is to see the patient, and Lady Noel will go to London, consult Mrs. Leigh, and procure advice.
The medical advisers could find no proof of insanity, though a list of sixteen symptoms had been submitted to them. The strongest, according to Moore, was the dashing to pieces of a ‘favourite old watch’ in an excess of fury. A similar anecdote was told of his throwing a jar of ink out of window, and his excitement at the theatre is also suggested. Lady Byron upon hearing the medical opinion immediately decided upon separation. Dr. Baillie and a lawyer, by Lady Noel's desire, ‘almost forced themselves upon Byron’ and confirmed Le Mann's report. On 25 January 1816 Lady Byron tells Mrs. Leigh that she must resign the right to be her sister, but hopes that no difference will be made in their feelings. From this time she consistently adhered to the view finally set forth in her statement in 1830. Her letters to Mrs. Leigh, to Hodgson, who had ventured to intervene, and her last letter to Byron (13 February 1816), take the same ground. Byron had been guilty of conduct inexcusable if he were an accountable agent, and therefore making separation a duty when his moral responsibility was proved. She tells Mrs. Leigh and Hodgson that he married her out of revenge; she tells Hodgson (15 February) that her security depended on the ‘total abandonment of every moral and religious principle,’ and tells Byron himself that to her affectionate remonstrances and forewarnings of consequences he had replied by a ‘determination to be wicked though it should break my heart.’
On 2 February 1816 Sir R. Noel proposed an amicable separation to Byron, which he at first rejected. Lady Byron went to London and saw Dr. Lushington, who, with Sir S. Romilly, had been consulted by Lady Noel, and had then spoken of possible reconciliation. Lady Byron now informed him of facts ‘utterly unknown,’ he says, ‘I have no doubt, to Sir R. and Lady Noel.’ His opinion was ‘entirely changed.’ He thought reconciliation impossible, and should it be proposed he could take no part, ‘professionally or otherwise, towards effecting it.’ Mrs. Leigh requested an interview soon after, which Lady Byron declined ‘with the greatest pain.’ Lushington had forbidden any such interview, as they ‘might be called upon to answer for the most private conversation.’ In a following letter Lady Byron begs for the interview which she had refused. She cannot bear the thought of not meeting, and the ‘grounds of the case are in some degree changed’. According to Lady Byron's statement (in 1830) Byron consented to the separation upon being told that the matter must otherwise come into court. We may easily believe that, as Mrs. Leigh tells Mr. Horton, Byron would be happy to ‘escape the exposure,’ whatever its precise nature. He afterwards threw the responsibility for reticence on the other side. He gave a paper to Mr. Lewis, dated at La Mira in 1817, saying that Hobhouse had challenged the other side to come into court; that he only yielded because Lady Byron had claimed a promise that he would consent to a separation if she really desired it. He declares his ignorance of the charges against him, and his desire to meet them openly. This paper was apparently shown only to a few friends. It was first made public in the ‘Academy’ of 9 October 1869. Hobhouse also said that Byron was quite ready to go into court, and that Wilmot Horton on Lady Byron's part disclaimed all the current scandals. It would seem, however, Byron could have forced an open statement had he really chosen to do so. This paper shows his consciousness that he ought to have done it if his case had been producible. Lady Byron tells Hodgson at the time (15 February 1816) he ‘does know, too well, what he affects to inquire.’
The question remains, what were the specific charges which decided Lady Byron and Lushington? A happy marriage between persons so little congenial would have surprised his best friends. So far we might well accept the statement which Moore assigns to him: ‘My dear sir, the causes were too simple to be easily found out.’ But this will not explain Lady Byron's statements at the time, nor the impression made upon Lushington by her private avowal. Lady Byron only exchanged the hypothesis of insanity for that of diabolical pride. Byron's lifelong habit of ‘inverse hypocrisy’ may account for something. Harness reports that he used to send paragraphs to foreign papers injurious to his own character in order to amuse himself by mystifying the English public. Some of Lady Byron's statements may strengthen the belief that she had taken some such foolish brags too seriously.
Other explanations have been offered. In 1856 Lady Byron told a story to Mrs. Beecher Stowe. She thought that by blasting his memory she might weaken the evil influence of his writings, and shorten his expiation in another world. Lady Byron died in 1860. After the publication of the Guiccioli memoirs in 1868, Mrs. Stowe thought it her duty to publish the story in ‘Macmillan's Magazine’ for September 1869 and the ‘Atlantic Monthly.’ Her case is fully set forth, with documents and some explanations, in ‘Lady Byron Vindicated; a History of the Byron Controversy,’ 1870. According to Mrs. Stowe, Lady Byron accused her husband to Lushington of an incestuous intrigue with Mrs. Leigh. An examination of all that is known of Mrs. Leigh, of the previous relations between brother and sister, and especially of Lady Byron's affectionate relations to Mrs. Leigh at the time, as revealed in letters since published, proves this hideous story to be absolutely incredible. Till 1830 Mrs. Leigh continued to be on good terms with Lady Byron, and had conveyed messages between Byron and his wife during his life. The appointment of a trustee under Byron's marriage settlements in 1830 led to a disagreement. Lady Byron refused with considerable irritation a request made by Mrs. Leigh. All acquaintance dropped, till in 1851 Lady Byron consented to an interview. Mrs. Leigh was anxious to declare that she had not (as she supposed Lady Byron to believe that she had) encouraged Byron's bitterness of feeling towards his wife. Lady Byron replied simply, ‘Is that all?’ No further communication followed, and Mrs. Leigh died 18 October 1851. It can only be surmised that Lady Byron had become jealous of Byron's public and pointed expressions of love for his sister, contrasted so forcibly with his utterances about his wife, and in brooding over her wrongs had developed the hateful suspicion communicated to Mrs. Stowe, and, as it seems, to others. It appears too, from a passage in the Guiccioli memoirs, that at a time when Byron was accused of ‘every monstrousice,’ his phrases about his pure fraternal affection suggested some such addition to the mass of calumny.
Another suggestion made by Mr. Jeaffreson, that the cause was a connection formed by Byron about the time of the first separation with January Clairmont, daughter, by a previous marriage, of William Godwin's second wife, seems quite inadmissible. It entirely fails to explain Lady Byron's uniform assertions at the time and in 1830 that Byron had been guilty of conduct excusable only on the ground of insanity, and continued during their whole cohabitation. Byron's extreme wrath against a Mrs. Clermont (a former governess of Lady Byron's), whom he accused of breaking open a desk, seems to suggest that some discovery was made subsequently to Lady Byron's departure from London, but affords no confirmation of this hypothesis.
The problem must remain unsolved. The scandal excited a general explosion of public indignation. In some ‘Observations upon an article in “Blackwood's Magazine”’ Byron describes the state of feeling; he was accused of ‘every monstrousice;’ advised not to go to the theatre or to parliament for fear of public insults, and his friends feared violence from the mob when he started in his travelling carriage. This indignation, perhaps exaggerated, has been ridiculed; and doubtless included mean and hateful elements — love of scandal and delight in trampling on a great name. Yet it was not unnatural. Byron's very guarded sceptical utterances in ‘Childe Harold’ frightened Dallas into a formal and elaborate protest, and shocked a sensitive public extravagantly. He had been posing as a rebel against all the domestic proprieties. So long as his avowed license could pass for a literary affectation, or be condoned in the spirit of the general leniency shown to wild young men in the era of the prince regent, the protest was confined to the stricter classes. But when Lara passed from the regions of fancy to 13 Piccadilly Terrace, matters became more serious. Byron was outraging a woman of the highest character and with the strongest claims on his tenderness; and a feeling arose such as that which, soon afterwards, showed itself when the prince regent passed from simple immorality to the persecution of a wife with infinitely less claims to respect than Lady Byron's. Lady Caroline Lamb claimed her part in the outcry by her wild novel of ‘Glenarvon,’ published at this time.
The separation was signed, and Byron left his country for ever. Some friends still stood by him. Lady Jersey earned his lasting gratitude by giving an assembly in his honour; and Miss Mercer (afterwards Lady Keith) met him there with marked cordiality. Leigh Hunt in the ‘Examiner’ and Perry in the ‘Morning Chronicle’ defended him. Mrs. Leigh's affection was his chief comfort, when even his cousin George took his wife's part. Two poems appeared in the papers, through the ‘injudicious zeal of a friend,’ says Moore, in the middle of April. ‘A Sketch’ (dated 29 March) is a savage onslaught upon Mrs. Clermont. ‘Fare thee well’ (dated 17 March), written with tears, it is said, the marks of which still blot the manuscript, expostulates pathetically with his wife for inflicting a ‘cureless wound.’
On 8 March Byron told Moore that there was ‘never a brighter, kinder, or more amiable and agreeable being’ than Lady Byron, and that no blame attached to her. He appeals to Rogers (25 March) to confirm his statement that he had never attacked her. In 1823 he repeated this statement to Lady Blessington. In fact, however, he oscillated between attempts to preserve the air of an injured yet forgiving husband and outbursts of bitterness. At the instance of Mme. de Staël he made some kind of overture for reconciliation in 1816, and (apparently) upon its failure wrote the ‘Dream,’ intended to show that his love had always been reserved for Mary Chaworth; and a novel upon the ‘Marriage of Belphegor,’ representing his own story. He destroyed it, says Moore, on hearing of her illness; but a fragment is given in the notes to ‘Don Juan.’ In a poem written at the same time, ‘On hearing that Lady Byron was ill,’ he attacks her implacability, and calls her a ‘moral Clytemnestra.’ He never met Lady Blessington without talking of his domestic troubles. He showed an (unsent) conciliatory letter, and apologised for public allusions in his works. Some angry communications were suppressed by his friends, but the allusions in the last cantos of ‘Childe Harold’ and in ‘Don Juan’ were unpardonable. While Byron was bemoaning his griefs to even casual acquaintance with a strange incontinence of language, and circulating letters and lampoons, his occasional conciliatory moods were of little importance. Lady Blessington remarks on his curious forgetfulness of the way in which he had consoled himself when he complained of his wife's implacability. Her dignified reticence irritated and puzzled him, and his prevailing tone only illustrates the radical incompatibility of their characters.
Byron sailed for Ostend on 24 April 1816 with a young Italian doctor, Polidori, a Swiss and two English servants, Rushton and Fletcher, who had both started with him in 1809. Byron's good nature to his servants was an amiable point in his character. Harness describes the ‘hideous old woman’ who had nursed him in his lodgings and followed him through all his English establishments, and speaks of his kindness to an old butler, Murray, at Newstead. Byron travelled in a large coach, imitated from Napoleon's, carrying bed, library, and kitchen, besides a calèche bought at Brussels. His expenses were considerable, and his scruples about copyright soon vanished. In 1817 he was bargaining sharply with Murray. He demanded £600 for the ‘Lament of Tasso’ and the last act of ‘Manfred’ (9 May 1817). On 4 September 1817 he asks £2,500 instead of £3,500 for the fourth canto of ‘Childe Harold,’ accepting ultimately 2,000 guineas. The sums paid by Murray for copyrights to the end of 1821 amounted to £15,455, including the amounts made over to Dallas. He must have received at least £12,500 at this period, and the £1,100 for ‘Parisina’ and the ‘Siege of Corinth’ was in Murray's hands. In November 1817 he at last sold Newstead for 90,000 guineas. Payment of debts and mortgages left the £60,000 settled upon Lady Byron, the income of which was payable to Byron during his life. He was aggrieved by the refusal of his trustees in 1820 to invest this in a mortgage on Lord Blessington's estates. Hanson, Byron's solicitor, went to Venice to obtain his signature to the necessary deeds in November 1818. Byron declared that he would receive no advantage from Lady Byron's property. On the death of Lady Noel in 1822, however, her fortune of £7,000 or £8,000 a year was divided equally between her daughter and Byron by arbitrators (Sir F. Burdett and Lord Dacre); and such a division had, it seems, been provided for in the deed of separation. Byron then became a rich man for his Italian position, and grew careful of money. He spent much time in settling his weekly bills, and affected avarice as a ‘good old gentlemanly vice.’ But this must be taken as partly humorous, and he was still capable of munificence.
From Brussels Byron visited Waterloo, and thence went to Geneva by the Rhine, where (June 1816) he took the Villa Diodati, on the Belle Rive, a promontory on the south side of the lake). Here Byron met the Shelleys and Miss Clairmont. Miss Clairmont came expressly to meet him, but it is authoritatively stated that the Shelleys were not in her confidence. The whole party became the objects of curiosity and scandal. Tourists gazed at Byron through telescopes. When he visited Mme. de Staël at Coppet, a Mrs. Hervey thought proper to faint. Southey was in Switzerland this year, and Byron believed that he had spread stories in England imputing gross immorality to the whole party.
They amused themselves one rainy week by writing ghost stories; Mrs. Shelley began ‘Frankenstein,’ and Byron a fragment called ‘The Vampire,’ from which Polidori ‘vamped up’ a novel of the same name. It passed as Byron's in France and had some success. Polidori, a fretful and flighty youth, quarrelled with his employer, proposed to challenge Shelley, and left Byron for Italy. He was sent out of Milan for a quarrel with an Austrian officer, but afterwards got some patients. Byron tried to help him, and recommended him to Murray. He committed suicide in 1821. Byron and Shelley made a tour of the lake in June, and were nearly lost in a storm. Two rainy days at Ouchy produced Byron's ‘Prisoner of Chillon;’ and about the same time he finished the third canto of ‘Childe Harold.’ Shelley, as Byron told Medwin, had dosed him with Wordsworth ‘even to nausea,’ and the influence is apparent in some of his ‘Childe Harold’ stanzas. In September Byron made a tour in the Bernese Oberland with Hobhouse, and, as his diary shows, worked up his impressions of the scenery. At the Villa Diodati he wrote the stanzas ‘To Augusta’ and the verses addressed to ‘My sweet sister,’ which by her desire were suppressed till after his death. Here, too, he wrote the monody on the death of Sheridan, and the striking fragment called ‘Darkness.
On 29 August the Shelley party left for England. In January 1817 Miss Clairmont gave birth to Allegra, Byron's daughter. The infant was sent to him at Venice with a Swiss nurse, and placed under the care of the Hoppners. Byron declined an offer from a Mrs. Vavasour to adopt the girl, refusing to abdicate his paternal authority as the lady desired. He afterwards sent for the child to Bologna in August 1819, and kept her with him at Venice and Ravenna till April 1821, when he placed her in a convent at Bagna-Cavallo (twelve miles from Ravenna), paying double fees to insure good treatment. He wished her, he said, to be a Roman catholic, and left her £5,000 for a marriage portion. The mother vehemently protested against this, but the Shelleys approved. The child improved in the convent, and is described by Shelley as petted and happy. She died of a fever 20 April 1822. Byron was profoundly agitated by the news, and, as the Countess Guiccioli says, would never afterwards pronounce her name. He directed her to be buried at Harrow, and a tablet to be erected in the church, at a spot precisely indicated by his school recollections. Of the mother he spoke with indifference or aversion. Byron and Hobhouse crossed the Simplon, and reached Milan by October. At Milan Beyle (Stendhal) saw him at the theatre, and has described his impressions. He went by Verona to Venice, intending to spend the winter in this ‘the greenest island,’ as he says, ‘of my imagination.’ He stayed for three years, taking as a summer residence a house at La Mira on the Brenta. April and May 1817 were spent in a visit to Rome, whence, 5 May, he sent to Murray a new third act of ‘Manfred,’ having heard that the original was thought unsatisfactory.
On arriving at Venice he found that his ‘mind wanted something craggy to break upon’, and he set to work learning Armenian at the monastery. He saw something of the literary salon of the Countess Albrizzi. Mme. Albrizzi wrote a book of portraits, one of which is a sketch of Byron, published by Moore, and not without interest. He became bored with the Venetian ‘blues,’ and took to the less pretentious salon of the Countess Benzoni. He soon plunged into worse dissipations. He settled in the Palazzo Mocenigo on the Grand Canal. And here, in ostentatious defiance of the world, which tried to take the form of contempt, he abandoned himself to degrading excesses which injured his constitution, and afterwards produced bitter self-reproach. ‘I detest every recollection of the place, the people, and my pursuits,’ he said to Medwin. Shelley, whose impressions of a visit to Byron are given in the famous ‘Julian and Maddalo,’ says afterwards that Byron had almost destroyed himself. He could digest no food, and was consumed by hectic fever. Daily rides on the Lido kept him from prostration. Moore says that Byron would often leave his house in a fit of disgust to pass the night in his gondola. In the midst of this debasing life his intellectual activity continued.
He began the fourth canto of ‘Childe Harold’ by 1 July 1817, and sent 126 stanzas (afterwards increased to 186) to Murray on 20 July. On 23 October he states that ‘Beppo,’ in imitation, as he says, of ‘Whistlecraft’ (J. H. Frere), is nearly finished. It was sent to Murray 19 January 1819, and published in May. This experiment led to his greatest performance. On 19 September 1818 he has finished the first canto of ‘Don Juan.’ On 25 January 1819 he tells Murray to print fifty copies for private distribution. On 6 April he sends the second canto. The two were published without author's or publisher's name in July 1819. The third canto was begun in October 1819. The outcry against its predecessors had disconcerted him, and he was so put out by hearing that a Mr. Saunders had called it ‘all Grub Street,’ as to lay it aside for a time. The third canto was split into the third and fourth in February 1820, and appeared with the fifth, still anonymously and without the publisher's name, in August 1821.
A new passion had altered his life. In April 1819 he met at the Countess Benzoni's Teresa, daughter of Count Gamba of Ravenna, recently married at the age of sixteen to a rich widower of sixty, Count Guiccioli, also of Ravenna. Her beauty is described by Moore, an American painter West, who took her portrait, Medwin, and Hunt. She had regular features, a fine figure, rather too short and stout, and was remarkable among Italians for her fair complexion, golden hair and blue eyes. She at once conceived a passion for Byron, and they met daily at Venice. Her husband took her back to Ravenna in the same month, and she wrote passionate letters to Byron. She had fainted three times on her first day's journey; her mother's death had deeply affected her; she was ill, and threatened by consumption; and she told him in May that her relations would receive him at Ravenna. In spite of heat and irresolution, Byron left La Mira on 2 June 1819, and moved slowly, and after some hesitation, to Ravenna, writing on the way ‘River that rollest by the ancient walls’. Here he found the countess really ill. He studied medical books, she says, for her benefit, and sent for Aglietti, the best physician in Venice.
As she recovered, Byron felt rather awkward under the polite attentions of her husband, though her own relations were unfavourable. His letters to her, says Moore, show genuine passion. His letters to Hoppner show a more ambiguous interest. He desired at times to escape from an embarrassing connection; yet, out of ‘wilfulness,’ as Moore thinks, when she was to go with her husband to Bologna, he asked her to fly with him, a step altogether desperate according to the code of the time. Though shocked by the proposal, she suggested a sham death, after the Juliet precedent. Byron followed the Guicciolis to Bologna, and stayed there while they made a tour of their estates. Hence (23 August) he sent off to Murray his cutting ‘Letter to my Grandmother's Review.’ Two days later he wrote a curious declaration of love to the countess in a volume of ‘Corinna’ left in her house. A vehement quarrel with a papal captain of dragoons for selling him an unsound horse nearly led to an impromptu duel like his granduncle's. On the return of the Guicciolis the count left for Ravenna, leaving his wife with Byron at Bologna ‘on account of her health.’ Her health also made it expedient to travel with Byron to Venice by way of the Euganean Hills; and at Venice the same cause made country air desirable, whereupon Byron politely ‘gave up to her his house at La Mira,’ and ‘came to reside there’ himself.
The whole proceeding was so like an elopement, that Venetian society naturally failed to make a distinction. Moore paid a visit to Byron at this time, was cordially received at La Mira, and lodged in the palace at Venice. Hanson had described Byron in the previous year as ‘enormously large’, and Moore was struck by the deterioration of his looks. He found that his friend had given up, or been given up by, Venetian society. English tourists stared at him like a wild beast, and annoyed him by their occasional rudeness. It was at this time that Byron gave his memoirs to Moore, stipulating only that they should not appear during his lifetime. Moore observed that they would make a nice legacy for his little Tom. Moore was alarmed at Byron's position. The Venetians were shocked by the presence of his mistress under his roof, especially as he had before ‘conducted himself so admirably.’ A proposed trip to Rome, to which Byron had almost consented, was abandoned by Moore's advice, as it would look like a desertion of the countess. The count now wrote to his wife proposing that Byron should lend him £1,000, for which he would pay 5 per cent.; the loan would otherwise be an awilimento. Moore exhorted Byron to take advantage of this by placing the lady again under her husband's protection, a result which would be well worth the money. Byron laughingly declared that he would ‘save both the lady and the money.’ The count himself came to Venice at the end of October. After a discussion, in which Byron declined to interfere, the lady agreed to return to her husband and break with her lover. Byron, set free, almost resolved to return to England. Dreams of settling in Venezuela under Bolivar's new republic occasionally amused him, and he made serious inquiries about the country. The return to England, made desirable by some business affairs, was apparently contemplated as a step towards some of these plans, though he also thought a year later of settling in London to bring out a paper with Moore. In truth, he was restless, dissatisfied, and undecided. He shrank from any decided action, from tearing himself from Italy, and, on the other hand, from such a connection with the countess as would cause misery to both unless his passion were more durable than any one, he least of all, could expect. The journey to England was nearly settled, however, when he was delayed by an illness of Allegra, and a touch of malaria in himself. The countess again wrote to him that she was seriously ill, and that her friends would receive him. While actually ready for a start homewards, he suddenly declared that if the clock struck one before some final preparation was ready, he would stay. It struck, and he gave up the journey. He wrote to the countess that he would obey her, though his departure would have been best for them all. At Christmas 1819 he was back in Ravenna.
He now subsided into an indolent routine, to which he adhered with curious pertinacity. Trelawny describes the day at Pisa soon afterwards, and agrees with Moore, Hunt, Medwin, and Gamba. He rose very late, took a cup of green tea, had a biscuit and soda-water at two, rode out and practised shooting, dined most abstemiously, visited the Gambas in the evening, and returned to read or write till two or three in the morning. At Ravenna previously and afterwards in Greece he kept nearly to the same hours. His rate of composition at this period was surprising. Medwin says that after sitting with Byron till two or three the poet would next day produce fresh work. He discontinued ‘Don Juan’ after the fifth canto in disgust at its reception, and in compliance with the request of the Countess Guiccioli, who was shocked at its cynicism. In February 1820 he translated the ‘Morgante Maggiore;’ in March the ‘Francesca da Rimini’ episode. On 4 April he began his first drama, the ‘Marino Faliero,’ finished it 16 July, and copied it out by 17 August It was produced at Drury Lane the next spring, in spite of his remonstrance, and failed, to his great annoyance. ‘Sardanapalus,’ begun 13 January 1821, was finished 13 May (the last three acts in a fortnight). The ‘Two Foscari’ was written between 11 June and 10 July; ‘Cain,’ begun on 16 July, was finished 9 September The ‘Deformed Transformed’ was written at the end of the same year. ‘Werner,’ a mere dramatisation of Harriet Lee's ‘Kruitzner’ in the ‘Canterbury Tales,’ was written between 18 December 1821 and 20 January 1822. The vigorous, though perverse, letters to Bowles on the Pope controversy are also dated 7 February and 25 March 1821. No literary hack could have written more rapidly, and some would have written as well. The dramas thus poured forth at full speed by a thoroughly undramatic writer, hampered by the wish to preserve the ‘unities,’ mark (with the exception of ‘Cain’) his lowest level, and are often mere prose broken into apparent verse.
Count Guiccioli began to give trouble. Byron was warned not to ride in the forest alone for fear of probable assassination. Guiccioli's long acquiescence had turned public opinion against him, and a demand for separation on account of his ‘extraordinary usage’ of his wife came from her friends. On 12 July a papal decree pronounced a separation accordingly. The countess was to receive £200 a year from her husband, to live under the paternal roof, and only to see Byron under restrictions. She retired to a villa of the Gambas fifteen miles off, where Byron rode out to see her ‘once or twice a month,’ passing the intervals in ‘perfect solitude.’ By January 1821, however, she seems to have been back in Ravenna. Byron did all he could to prevent her from leaving her husband.
Political complications were arising. Italy was seething with the Carbonaro conspiracies. The Gambas were noted liberals. Byron's aristocratic vanity was quite consistent with a conviction of the corruption and political blindness of the class to which he boasted of belonging. The cant, the imbecility, and immorality of the ruling classes at home and abroad were the theme of much of his talk, and inspired his most powerful writing. His genuine hatred of war and pity for human suffering are shown, amidst much affectation, in his loftiest verse. Though no democrat after the fashion of Shelley, he was a hearty detester of the system supported by the Holy alliance. He was ready to be a leader in the revolutionary movements of the time. The walls of Ravenna were placarded with ‘Up with the republic!’ and ‘Death to the pope!’ Young Count Gamba (Teresa's brother) soon afterwards returned to Ravenna, became intimate with Byron, and introduced him to the secret societies. On 8 December 1820 the commandant of the troops in Ravenna was mortally wounded in the street. Byron had the man carried into his house at the point of death, and described the event in ‘Don Juan'. It was due in some way to the action of the societies. A rising in the Romagna was now expected. Byron had offered a subscription of one thousand louis to the constitutional government in Naples, to which the societies looked for support. He had become head of the Americani, a section of the Carbonari, and bought some arms for them, which during the following crisis were suddenly returned to him, and had to be concealed in his house. An advance of Austrian troops caused a collapse of the whole scheme. A thousand members of the best families in the Roman states were banished, and among them the Gambas. Mme. Guiccioli says that the government hoped by exiling them to get rid of Byron, whose position as an English nobleman made it difficult to reach him directly for his suspected relations with the Carbonari. The countess helped, perhaps was intentionally worked upon, to dislodge him. Her husband requested that she should be forced to return to him or placed in a convent. Frightened by the threat, she escaped to her father and brother in Florence.
A quarrel in which a servant of Byron's proposed to stiletto an officer made his relations with the authorities very unpleasant. The poor of Ravenna petitioned that the charitable Englishman might be asked to remain, and only increased the suspicions of the government. Byron fell into one of his usual states of indecision. Shelley, at his request, came from Pisa to consult, and reports him greatly improved in health and morals. He found Byron occupying splendid apartments in the palace of Count Guiccioli. Byron had now, he says, an income of £4,000 a year, and devoted £1,000 to charity, an expenditure sufficient to explain the feeling at Ravenna mentioned by Mme. Guiccioli. Shelley, by Byron's desire, wrote to the countess, advising her against Switzerland. In reply she begged Shelley not to leave Ravenna without Byron, and Byron begged him to stay and protect him from a relapse into his old habits. Byron lingered at Ravenna till 29 October, still hoping, it seems, for a recall of the Gambas. At last he got in motion, with many sad forebodings, and preceded by his family of monkeys, dogs, cats, and peahens. He met Lord Clare on the way to Bologna, and accompanied Rogers from Bologna. Rogers duly celebrated the meeting in his poem on Italy; but Trelawny tells how Byron grinned sardonically when he saw Rogers seated upon a cushion under which was concealed a bitter satire written by Byron upon Rogers himself . Byron settled in the Casa Lanfranchi at Pisa, an old ghost-haunted palace, which Trelawny contrasted with the cheerful and hospitable abode of the Shelleys. The Gambas occupied part of the same palace. Byron again saw some English society. A silly Irishman named Taaffe, author of a translation of Dante, for which Byron tried to find a publisher, with Medwin, Trelawny, Shelley, and Williams, were his chief associates. Medwin, of the 24th light dragoons, was at Pisa from 30 November 1821 till 15 March 1822, and again for a few days in August. Trelawny, who reached Pisa early in 1822, and was afterwards in constant intercourse with Byron, was the keenest observer who has described him. Trelawny insists upon his own superiority in swimming, and regards Byron as an effeminate pretender to masculine qualities Byron turned his worst side to such a man; yet Trelawny admits his genuine courage and can do justice to his better qualities.
Mme. Guiccioli had withdrawn her prohibition of ‘Don Juan’ on promise of better behaviour. On 8 August 1822 he has finished three more cantos and is beginning another. Meanwhile ‘Cain’ (published December1821) had produced hostile reviews and attacks. Scott had cordially accepted the dedication. Moore's timid remonstrances showed the set of public opinion. When Murray applied for an injunction to protect his property against threatened piracy, Eldon refused; holding (9 February 1822) that the presumption was not in favour of the innocent character of the book. Murray had several manuscripts of Byron in hand, including the famous ‘Vision of Judgment;’ and this experience increased his caution. Byron began to think of a plan, already suggested to Moore in 1820, of starting a weekly newspaper with a revolutionary title, such as ‘I Carbonari.’ In Shelley's society this plan took a new shape. It was proposed to get Leigh Hunt for an editor. In 1813 Byron had visited Hunt when imprisoned for a libel on the prince regent. Hunt had taken Byron's part in the ‘Examiner’ in 1816, and had dedicated to him the ‘Story of Rimini.’ Shelley and Byron now agreed (in spite of Moore's remonstrances against association with ill-bred cockneys) to bring Leigh Hunt to Italy. They assumed that Hunt would retain his connection with the ‘Examiner,’ of which his brother John was proprietor. Hunt threw up this position without their knowledge, and started for Italy with his wife and six children. Shelley explained to Hunt (26 August 1821) that he was himself to be ‘only a sort of link,’ neither partner nor sharer in the profits. He sent 150l., to which Byron, taking Shelley's security, added £200 to pay Hunt's expenses. Hunt reproaches Byron as being moved solely by an expectation of large profits (not in itself an immoral motive). The desire to have an organ under his own command, with all consequent advantages, is easily intelligible. When Hunt landed at Leghorn at the end of June 1822, Byron and Shelley found themselves saddled with the whole Hunt family, to be supported by the hypothetical profits of the new journal, while Hunt asserted and acted upon the doctrine that he was under no disgrace in accepting money obligations. Hunt took up his abode on the ground-floor of the palace. His children, says Trelawny, were untamed, while Hunt considers that they behaved admirably and were in danger of corruption from Byron. Trelawny describes Byron as disgusted at the very start and declaring that the journal would be an ‘abortion.’ His reception of Mrs. Hunt, according to Williams, was ‘shameful.’ Mrs. Hunt naturally retorted the dislike, and Hunt reported one of her sharp sayings to Byron, in order, as he says, to mortify him. No men could be less congenial. Byron's aristocratic loftiness encountered a temper forward to take offence at any presumption of inequality. Byron had provided Hunt with lodgings, furnished them decently, and doled out to him about £100 through his steward, a proceeding which irritated Hunt, who loved a cheerful giver. Shelley's death (8 July) left the two men face to face in this uncomfortable relation.
The ‘Liberal,’ so named by Byron, survived through four numbers. It made a moderate profit, which Byron abandoned to Hunt, but he was disgusted from the outset, and put no heart into the experiment. He told his friends, and probably persuaded himself, that he had engaged in the journal out of kindness to the Hunts, and to help a friend of Shelley's; and takes credit for feeling that he could not turn the Hunts into the street. His chief contributions, the ‘Vision of Judgment’ and the letter ‘To my Grandmother's Review,’ appeared in the first number, to the general scandal. ‘Heaven and Earth’ appeared in the second number, the ‘Blues’ in the third, the ‘Morgante Maggiore’ in the fourth, and a few epigrams were added. Hunt and Hazlitt, who wrote five papers, did most of the remainder, which, however, had clearly not the seeds of life in it. The ‘Vision of Judgment’ was the hardest blow struck in a prolonged and bitter warfare. Byron had met Southey, indeed, at Holland House in 1813, and speaks favourably of him, calls his prose perfect, and professes to envy his personal beauty. His belief that Southey had spread scandalous stories about the Swiss party in 1816 gave special edge to his revived antipathy. In 1818 he dedicated ‘Don Juan’ to Southey in ‘good simple savage verse’, bitterly taunting the poet as a venal renegade. In 1821 Southey published his ‘Vision of Judgment,’ an apotheosis of George III, of grotesque (though most unintentional) profanity. In the preface he alludes to Byron as leader of the ‘Satanic school.’ Byron in return denounced Southey's ‘calumnies’ and ‘cowardly ferocity.’ Southey retorted in the ‘Courier’ (11 January 1822), boasting that he had fastened Byron's name ‘upon the gibbet for reproach and ignominy, so long as it shall endure.’ Medwin describes Byron's fury on reading these courtesies. He instantly sent off a challenge in a letter (6 February 1822) to Douglas Kinnaird, who had the sense to suppress it. His own ‘Vision of Judgment,’ written by 1 October 1821, was already in the hands of Murray, now troubled by ‘Cain.’ Byron now swore that it should be published, and it was finally transferred by Murray to Hunt.
Byron meanwhile had been uprooted from Pisa. A silly squabble took place in the street (21 March 1822), in which Byron's servant stabbed an hussar. Byron spent some weeks in the summer at Monte Nero, near Leghorn (where he and Mme. Guiccioli sat to the American painter West), and returned to Pisa in July. About the same time the Gambas were ordered to leave Tuscan territory. Byron's stay at Pisa had been marked by the death of Allegra (20 April) and of Shelley (8 July). Details of the ghastly ceremony of burning the bodies of Williams and Shelley (15 and 16 August) are given by Trelawny, with characteristic details of Byron's emotion and hysterical affectation of levity. Shelley, who exaggerated Byron's poetical merits, was kept at a certain distance by his perception of Byron's baser qualities. Byron had always respected Shelley as a man of simple, lofty, and unworldly character, and as undeniably a gentleman by birth and breeding. Shelley, according to Trelawny, was the only man to whom Byron talked seriously and confidentially. He told Moore that Shelley was ‘the least selfish and the mildest of men,’ and added to Murray that he was ‘as perfect a gentleman as ever crossed a drawing-room’. He was, however, capable of believing and communicating to Hoppner scandalous stories about the Shelleys and Claire, and of meanly suppressing Mrs. Shelley's confutation of the story.
Trelawny had stimulated the nautical tastes of Byron and Shelley. Captain Roberts, a naval friend of his at Genoa, built an open boat for Shelley, and a schooner, called the Bolivar, for Byron. Trelawny manned her with five sailors and brought her round to Leghorn. Byron was annoyed by the cost; knew nothing, says Trelawny, of the sea, and could never be induced to take a cruise in her. When Byron left Pisa, after a terrible hubbub of moving his household and his baggage, Trelawny sailed in the Bolivar, Byron's servants following in one felucca, the Hunts in another, Byron travelling by land. They met at Lerici. Byron with Trelawny swam out to the Bolivar, three miles, and back. The effort cost him four days' illness. On his recovery he went to Genoa and settled in the Casa Salucci at Albaro; the Gambas occupying part of the same house. Trelawny laid up the Bolivar, afterwards sold to Lord Blessington for four hundred guineas, and early next year went off on a ramble to Rome. Lord and Lady Blessington, with Count d'Orsay, soon afterwards arrived at Genoa; and Lady Blessington has recorded her conversations with Byron. His talk with her was chiefly sentimental monologue about himself. Trelawny says that he was a spoilt child; the nickname ‘Baby Byron’ ‘fitted him to a T’. His waywardness, his strange incontinence of speech, his outbursts of passion, his sensitiveness to all that was said of him come outl vividly in these reports.
His health was clearly enfeebled. Residence in the swampy regions of Venice and Ravenna had increased his liability to malaria. His restlessness and indecision grew upon him. His passion for Madame Guiccioli had never blinded him to its probable dangers for both. This experience had made him sceptical as to the durability of his passions; especially for a girl not yet of age, and of no marked force of intellect or character. Hunt speaks of a growing coldness, which affected her spirits and which she injudiciously resented. Byron's language to Lady Blessington shows that the bonds were acknowledged but no longer cherished. He talked of returning to England, of settling in America, of buying a Greek island, of imitating Lady Hester Stanhope. He desired to restore his self-esteem, wounded by the failure of the ‘Liberal.’ He had long before (28 February 1817) told Moore that if he lived ten years longer he would yet do something, and declared that he did not think literature his vocation. He still hoped to show himself a man of action instead of a mere dreamer and dawdler. The Greek committee was formed in London in the spring of 1823, and Trelawny wrote to one of the members, Blaquière, suggesting Byron's name. Blaquière was soon visiting Greece for information, and called upon Byron in his way. The committee had unanimously elected him a member. Byron was flattered and accepted. His old interest in Greece increased his satisfaction at a proposal which fell in with his mood. He at once told the committee (12 May) that his first wish was to go to the Levant. Though the scheme gave Byron an aim and excited his imagination, he still hesitated, and with reason. Weak health and military inexperience were bad qualifications for the leader of a revolt. Captain Roberts conveyed messages and counter messages from Byron to Trelawny for a time. At last (22 June 1823) Trelawny heard from Byron, who had engaged a ‘collier-built tub’ of 120 tons, called the Hercules, for his expedition and summoned Trelawny's help. Byron had taken leave of the Blessingtons with farewell presents, forebodings, and a burst of tears. He took 10,000 crowns in specie, 40,000 in bills, and a large supply of medicine; Trelawny, young Gamba, Bruno, an ‘unfledged medical student,’ and several servants, including Fletcher. He had prepared three helmets with his crest, ‘Crede Byron,’ for Trelawny, Gamba, and himself; and afterwards begged from Trelawny a negro servant and a smart military jacket.
They sailed from Genoa on Tuesday, 15 July; a gale forced them to return and repair damages. They stayed two days at Leghorn, and were joined by Mr. Hamilton Browne. Here, too, Byron received a copy of verses from Goethe, who had inserted a complimentary notice of Byron in the ‘Kunst und Alterthum,’ and to whom Byron had dedicated ‘Werner.’ By Browne's advice they sailed for Cephalonia, where Sir C. J. Napier was in command and known to sympathise with the Greeks. Trelawny says that he was never ‘on shipboard with a better companion.’ Byron's spirits revived at sea; he was full of fun and practical jokes; read Scott, Swift, Grimm, Rochefoucauld; chatted pleasantly, and talked of describing Stromboli in a fifth canto of ‘Childe Harold.’ On 2 August they sighted Cephalonia. They found that Napier was away, and that Blaquière had left for England. Byron began to fancy that he had been used as a decoy, and declared that he must see his way plainly before moving. Napier soon returned, and the party was warmly received by the residents. Information from Greece was scarce and doubtful. Trelawny resolved to start with Browne, knowing, he says, that Byron, once on shore, would again become dawdling and shilly-shallying. Byron settled at a village called Metaxata, near Argostoli, and remained there till 27 December.
Byron's nerve was evidently shaken. He showed a strange irritability and nervousness. He wished to hear of some agreement among the divided and factious Greek chiefs before trusting himself among them. The Cephalonian Greeks, according to Trelawny, favoured the election of a foreign king, and Trelawny thought that Byron was really impressed by the possibility of receiving a crown. Byron hinted to Parry afterwards of great offers which had been made to him. Fancies of this kind may have passed through his mind. Yet his general judgment of the situation was remarkable for its strong sense. His cynical tendencies at least kept him free from the enthusiasts' illusions, and did not damp his zeal.
In Cephalonia Byron had some conversations upon religious topics with Dr. Kennedy, physician of the garrison. Kennedy reported them in a book, in which he unfortunately thought more of expounding his argument than of reporting Byron. Byron had, in fact, no settled views. His heterodoxy did not rest upon reasoning, but upon sentiment. He was curiously superstitious through life, and seems to have preferred catholicism to other religions. Lady Byron told Crabb Robinson (5 March 1855) that Byron had been made miserable by the gloomy Calvinism from which, she said, he had never freed himself. Some passages in his letters, and the early ‘Prayer to Nature’ — an imitation of Pope's ‘Universal Prayer’ — seem to imply a revolt from the doctrines to which Lady Byron referred. ‘Cain,’ his most serious utterance, clearly favours the view that the orthodox theology gave a repulsive or a nugatory answer to the great problems. But, in truth, Byron's scepticism was part of his quarrel with cant. He hated the religious dogma as he hated the political creed and the social system of the respectable world. He disavowed sympathy with Shelley's opinions, and probably never gave a thought to the philosophy in which Shelley was interested.
Trelawny was now with Odysseus and the chiefs of Eastern Greece. Prince Mavrocordato, the most prominent of the Western Greeks, had at last occupied Missolonghi. Byron sent Colonel Stanhope (afterwards Lord Harrington), a representative of the Greek committee, with a letter to Mavrocordato and another to the general government (2 December and 30 November 1823), insisting upon the necessity of union; and on 28 December sailed himself, on the entreaty of Mavrocordato and Stanhope. The voyage was hazardous. Gamba's ship was actually seized by a Turkish man-of-war, and he owed his release to the lucky accident that his captain had once saved the Turkish captain's life. Byron, in a ‘mistico,’ took shelter under some rocks called the Scrophes. Thence, with some gunboats sent to their aid, they reached Missolonghi, in spite of a gale, in which Byron showed great coolness. Byron was heartily welcomed. Mavrocordato was elected governor-general. Attempts were made to organise troops. Byron took into his pay a body of five hundred disorderly Suliotes. He met thickening difficulties with unexpected temper, firmness, and judgment. Demands for money came from all sides; Byron told Parry that he had been asked for fifty thousand dollars in a day. He raised sums on his own credit, and urged the Greek committee to provide a loan. His indignation when Gamba spent too much upon some red cloth was a comic exhibition of his usual economy — hardly unreasonable under the circumstances. His first object was an expedition against Lepanto, held, it was said, by a weak garrison ready to come over. At the end of January he was named commander-in-chief. His wild troops were utterly unprovided with the stores required for an assault. The Greek committee had sent two mountain guns, with ammunition, and some English artisans under William Parry, a ‘rough burly fellow’, who had been a clerk at Woolwich. Parry after a long voyage reached Missolonghi on 5 February 1824. In the book to which he gave his name, and for which he supplied materials, he professes to have received Byron's confidence. Byron called him ‘old boy,’ laughed at his sea slang, his ridiculous accounts of Bentham (one of the Greek committee), and played practical jokes upon him. Parry landed his stores, set his artisans to work, and gave himself military airs. The Suliotes became mutinous. They demanded commissions, says Gamba, for 150 out of three or four hundred men. Byron, disgusted, threatened to discharge them all, and next day, 15 February, they submitted.
The same day Byron was seized with an alarming fit — the doctors disputed whether epileptic or apoplectic; but in any case so severe that Byron said he should have died in another minute. Half an hour later a false report was brought that the Suliotes were rising to seize the magazine. Next day, while Byron was still suffering from the disease and the leeches applied by the doctors, who could hardly stop the bleeding, a tumultuous mob of Suliotes broke into his room. Stanhope says that the courage with which he awed the mutineers was ‘truly sublime.’ On the 17th a Turkish brig came ashore, and was burned by the Turks after Byron had prepared an attack. On the 19th quarrel arose between the Suliotes and the guards of the arsenal, and a Swedish officer, Sasse, was killed. The English artificers, alarmed at discovering that shooting was, as Byron says, a ‘part of housekeeping’ in these parts, insisted on leaving for peaceable regions. The Suliotes became intolerable, and were induced to leave the town on receiving a month's wages from Byron, and part of their arrears from government. All hopes of an expedition to Lepanto vanished.
Parry had brought a printing-press, though he had not brought some greatly desired rockets. Stanhope, an ardent disciple of Bentham's, started a newspaper, and talked of Lancasterian schools, and other civilising apparatus, including a converted blacksmith with a cargo of tracts. Byron had many discussions with him. Stanhope produced Bentham's ‘Springs of Action’ as a new publication, when Byron ‘stamped with his lame foot,’ and said that he did not require lessons upon that subject. Though Trelawny says that Stanhope's free press was of eminent service, Byron may be pardoned for thinking that the Greeks should be freed from the Turks first, and converted to Benthamism afterwards. He was annoyed by articles in the paper, which advocated revolutionary principles and a rising in Hungary, thinking that an alienation of the European powers would destroy the best chance of the Greeks. He hoped, he said, that the writers' brigade would be ready before the soldiers' press. The discussions, however, were mutually respectful, and Byron ended a talk by saying to Stanhope, ‘Give me that honest right hand,’ and begging to be judged by his actions, not by his words.
Other plans were now discussed. Stanhope left for Athens at the end of February. Odysseus, with whom was Trelawny, proposed a conference with Mavrocordato and Byron at Salona. Byron wrote agreeing to this proposal 19 March. He had declined to answer an offer of the general government to appoint him ‘governor-general of Greece’ until the meeting should be over. The prospects of the loan were now favourable. Byron was trying, with Parry's help, to fortify Missolonghi and get together some kind of force. His friends were beginning to be anxious about the effects of the place on his health. Barff offered him a country-house in Cephalonia. Byron replied that he felt bound to stay while he could. ‘There is a stake worth millions such as I am.’ Missolonghi, with its swamps, meanwhile, was a mere fever-trap. The mud, says Gamba, was so deep in the gateway that an unopposed enemy would have found entrance difficult. Byron's departure was hindered by excessive rains. He starved himself as usual. Moore says that he measured himself round the wrist and waist almost daily, and took a strong dose if he thought his size increasing. He rode out when he could with his body-guard of fifty or sixty Suliotes, but complained of frequent weakness and dizziness. Parry in vain commended his panacea, brandy. Trelawny had started in April with a letter from Stanhope, entreating him to leave Missolonghi and not sacrifice his health, and perhaps his life, in that bog.
Byron produced his last poem on the morning of his birthday, in which the hero is struggling to cast off the dandy with partial success. He had tried to set an example of generous treatment of an enemy by freeing some Turkish prisoners at Missolonghi. A lively little girl called Hato or Hatagée, who was amongst them, wished to stay with him, and he resolved to adopt her. A letter from Mrs. Leigh, found by Trelawny among his papers, contained a transcript from a letter of Lady Byron's to her with an account of Ada's health. An unfinished reply from Byron (23 February 1824) asked whether Lady Byron would permit Hatagée to become a companion to Ada. Lady Byron, he adds, should be warned of Ada's resemblance to himself in his infancy, and he suggests that the epilepsy may be hereditary. He afterwards decided to send Hatagée for the time to Dr. Kennedy. On 9 April he received news of Mrs. Leigh's recovery from an illness and good accounts of Ada. On the same day he rode out with Gamba, was caught in the rain, insisted upon returning in an open boat, and was seized with a shivering fit. His predisposition to malaria, aided by his strange system of diet, had produced the result anticipated by Stanhope. He rode out next day, but the fever continued. The doctors had no idea beyond bleeding, to which he submitted with great reluctance, and Parry could only suggest brandy. The attendants were ignorant of each other's language, and seem to have lost their heads. On the 18th he was delirious. At intervals he was conscious and tried to say something to Fletcher about his sister, his wife, and daughter. A strong ‘antispasmodic potion’ was given to him in the evening. About six he said, ‘Now I shall go to sleep,’ and fell into a slumber which, after twenty-four hours, ended in death on the evening of 19 April. Trelawny arrived on the 24th or 25th, having heard of the death on his journey. He entered the room where the corpse was lying, and, sending Fletcher for a glass of water, uncovered the feet. On Fletcher's return he wrote upon paper, spread on the coffin, the servant's account of his master's last illness.
Byron's body was sent home to England, and after lying in state for two days was buried at Hucknall Torkard. The funeral procession was accidentally met by Lady Caroline Lamb and her husband. She fainted on being made aware that it was Byron's. Her mind became more affected; she was separated from her husband; and died 26 January 1828, generously cared for by him to the last.
Lady Byron afterwards led a retired life. Her daughter Ada was married to the Earl of Lovelace 8 July 1835, and died 29 November 1852. She is said to have been a good mathematician. Lady Byron settled ultimately at Brighton, where she became a warm admirer and friend of F. W. Robertson. She took an interest in the religious questions of the day, and spent a large part of her income in charity. Miss Martineau speaks of her with warm respect, and some of her letters will be found in Crabb Robinson's diary. Others thought her pedantic and over strict. She died 16 May 1860. Mme. Guiccioli returned to her husband; she married the Marquis de Boissy in 1851 and died at Florence in March 1873.
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