LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[William Maginn]
Galt’s Life of Byron.
Fraser’s Magazine  Vol. 2  (October 1830)  347-70.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH




No. IX OCTOBER, 1830. Vol. II.


A weekly paper, called the Athenæum, has thought proper to attack Mr. Galt very violently for this Life of Byron. Now, against a fair attack in an open field we have not the slightest objection; indeed, we love, as well as any one, a regular sparring-match, or a small-sword pass, or even the combustion of duelling-pistols, provided always that each party has extended to him equal terms of advantage: but we abominate all ambush work—all hole-and-corner diversion—all fighting under the shelter of screens or preserving parapets, where your malicious gentleman may deliberately, and in chuckling glee, poke his long and murderous barrel through his tiny loop-hole, take a dead aim at his adversary’s person, and give him his everlasting quietus with something worse than a “bare bodkin”—to wit, a good round bullet, sufficiently heavy to make a flaw in the thickest skull in Christendom. Something after this fashion is the manner of the Athenæum’s proceedings: it stands on the vantage ground; it can make its regular attacks against a bookseller, using with impunity the power which every journal must possess; and the parties attacked can do nothing in their self-defence. What grounds of complaint Messrs. Colburn and Bentley may have given the right worshipful worthies of this smartly-written hebdomadal, we know not; but it is evident that something of this sort must have happened, for as regularly as a book issues from the house of the booksellers in New Burlington Street, so surely is it made a subject of attack in the pages of the Athenæum. This, however, if we may be allowed the expression of an honest opinion, is a dangerous course for the adoption of the managers of this respectable periodical. Uniform censure or uniform praise is equally injudicious, and will in the end recoil in deepest disappointment on the authors. Some little discrimination, therefore, in their use is absolutely necessary. Heaven knows, that towards these gentlemen of New Burlington Street we have not ourselves been over sparing or merciful; but then our cruelty has not been of a sweeping character. There is much to find fault with in their conduct; and when reprehension is necessary, let it be meted out in fullest measure. Surely, however, every day of a man’s life is not remarkable, in an equal degree, for its dark spots of culpability; and, aware of this truth, we have behaved accordingly to Messrs. Colburn and Bentley. A truly kind father will punish his child, when expostulation and reproof are unavailing; and, in the utmost love towards the individuals in question, we have, without doubt, and, we flatter ourselves, pretty effectually, cut their tawdry fashionable novels, and milk and water biographies of swindlers, vagabonds, and Paul Cliffords, into atoms. But there our animosity has begun and ended; for as soon as they produced a wholesome publication, we proved ourselves right glad of the opportunity of uttering our laudatory opinion, and effecting the sale of the work even to a third and fourth—nay, why should we hide our worth and good offices under a bushel?—even to a sixtieth edition. To the Athenæum, therefore, we say, go and do thou likewise—so shall thy merits be acknowledged of all men, and so shall thou put the golden guineas in thy pocket by an increased circulation of thy weekly prolusions.

Many volumes have been doubtlessly written on Lord Byron’s biography; but the problem of his life has escaped an appropriate solution. Captain Medwin was too much of a man of fashion, and Anacreon Moore too much a lover of praise and pudding, and too fond of the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table; Galignani’s editor too much of an ignoramus,† and Leigh Hunt too much of a vulgar and conceited cockney. Dr. Kennedy, as we proved in one of our late Numbers, was a weak-headed Evangelical, though a well-intentioned twaddler. Something further was therefore required for Lord Byron’s biography—not in the shape of documents for fixing dates, scandalous anecdotes, or a greater

* The Life of Lord Byron, by John Galt, Esq. London, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1830.
Galignani’s edition, nevertheless, is, perhaps, the most beautiful of all the editions of the works of Byron.
348Galt’s Life of Byron
number of facts than those already elucidated—but their proper application towards unravelling the mystery of the man’s life. Some person was required, who, fixing, in the spirit of metallic diviners, his wondrous wand in the ground, might first discover the precise spot where the treasure lay concealed; and afterwards, by hard manual labour, not only give the inspection of that treasure to the eyes of curiosity, so that its nature, quality, and value, might be ascertained, but raise it from its hole of concealment, and generously lavish it on purposes of utility. We wanted a full development of the poet’s character—a metaphysical analysis of his mental qualities, his idiosyncratic complexion. How did one feeling act upon another—what was his secret source of action—his relations of thought—his moral worth? What was the employment of the “little brief authority” which the circumstances of life gave into his stewardship? and whence proceeded those “fantastic tricks” which he has been reputed to have played “before high Heaven?” How, in short, the world acted upon him, and how he acted upon the world. In the elucidation of these questions, lies the pith and marrow of true biography. But the task is seldom possible—always difficult—and to say that a man has failed in its accomplishment, is to transfer an old truism into other words—that man is a blind creature, and his powers are circumscribed.

The lives of few men deserve such an investigation, and few biographers are able to cope, in however limited a degree, with the extreme difficulties of the task. But Byron was one of those individuals who, whether for good or for evil, have not lived in vain. His existence is, in the most eminent degree, destined to point a moral and adorn a tale. The example of Napoleon, it may be said, cannot apply to the peasant: the example of Jack Cade and Masaniello to crowned princes and aristocrats: Rienzi was moulded by the peculiar circumstances of Rome: Robespierre and Marat were reptiles engendered from the slime of the inundating waters of revolution; and D’Esprémenil and Mirabeau belong to times which can have no reference to this country. This mode of reasoning, however, cannot hold with Byron, or men of intellectual expansion. Every man’s moral condition depends on his mental cultivation, and the sins of the person who applies his intellectual vigour in the furtherance of evil, or allows that intellectual vigour to waste away in indolence, are upon his own head; and a severe reckoning, for its misapplication or nonapplication, will be exacted of him by an indignant posterity. Byron was born in a peaceful society, was reared in comparative competence; for the mother, by thrift, contrived to cut down all wants to the means of supply. He had the chance of a liberal education; he moved precisely in that very sphere where his every action would become notable, where evil example would spread far and wide its pernicious and upas influences, where virtuous practices would have multiplied around him blessings in a hundred, nay, a thousand fold degree. He was the artificer of his own fame and earthly destiny. Placed in the world, he disdained to examine into its essential formation, being satisfied to consider himself as the centre of all motion. He forgot that such a principle as that of attraction is infused throughout the universe, and that he must pay accordance to its laws. On the contrary, he was arrogant enough to wish that all the influences of society should pay obedience to his mandates. Such a person is really a subject for inquiry, for in him the oddest contrarieties were mingled, and he stood before the world a remarkable instance of an imperfect man. It may be truly said of him,
“What Venus twined, the bearer of glad fortune,
The sullen orb of Man soon tears to pieces!”

His course was one of undeviating waywardness; and if, as Schiller has it, the poet is not only the citizen of his country, but of his age, it will come to pass, that his actions will long continue the theme of examination and reflection:
“Und sein Sold
Muss dcm Soldaten werden, darnach heisst er.”

Mr. Galt, notwithstanding all difficulties and obstacles, has attempted a life of the noble poet, and with considerable success: “His endeavour,” as he says, “has been to give a general view of the intellectual character of Lord Byron.” To this task he proceeded in due diligence and honest
Galt’s Life of Byron349
intention, and the result has been a valuable literary production. The nature of the publication would not allow of deep philosophical research. This, however, was very fortunate for the writer. He is a shrewd observer of manners, and has a quick eye for the unravelling of character; qualities which he has shewn forth to the greatest advantage in his various novels, and which he has, with infinite tact and acuteness, brought to bear on the subject of his biographical sketch. The science of metaphysics, however, he is unable thoroughly to grasp. Indeed, few men can do so, who move in the every-day bustle of the world. No wonder, then, that in this respect Mr. Galt has undergone somewhat of a failure. The consequence of this partial failure is apparent in the language, which, in his attempts at abstruse disquisition, becomes confused; in one or two places it is unintelligible. This was a capital point of attack for the set of petty and currish critics, whose choicest food is gathered from the garbage of their neighbours’ misfortunes. We would, however, ask this small fry of literature, if Mr. Galt be the only person who exhibits spots and blotches m his work? We would ask, if the same complaint would not lie against names of even higher pretensions than that of the gentleman in question? Has not the great prince of poets himself been accused of taking his occasional snatches of slumber? an example which all poets and writers, “from time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary,” have been too wont to imitate. Then why should Mr. Galt be singled out as a fit victim to be hunted down for his partial defects, to the infinite amusement of his critics? We might have suffered this volume to pass us without much comment, had it not been for the undeserved severity with which the author has been handled. As it is, we take up the cudgels in his defence; not, however, with any intention of awarding to him praise which his labours do not deserve. We shall examine the work in all candour, and give an honest opinion of its merits; and as for his indiscriminate and injudicious critics, let Mr. Galt satisfy himself by addressing them in the cautionary words of the Rosemary to the Sow:
“Sus, apage, baud tibi spiro.”

The family of Byron came in with the Conquest, under the names of Buron and Biron; and, in the reign of Henry II., they first called themselves De Byron and Byron.

“Although,” says Mr. Galt, “for upwards of seven hundred years distinguished for the extent of their possessions, it does not appear that before the time of Charles I. they ranked very highly among the heroic families of the kingdom.

“Erneis and Ralph were the companions of the Conqueror; but antiquaries and genealogists have not determined in what relation they stood to each other. Erneis, who appears to have been the more considerable personage of the two, held numerous manors in the counties of York and Lincoln. In the Domesday Book, Ralph, the direct ancestor of the poet, ranks high among the tenants of the Crown, in Notts and Derbyshire; in the latter county he resided at Horestan Castle, from which he took his title. One of the lords of Horestan was a hostage for the payment of the ransom of Richard Cœur de Lion; and in the time of Edward I., the possessions of his descendants were augmented by the addition of the Manor of Rochdale, in Lancashire. On what account this new grant was given has not been ascertained; nor is it of importance that it should be.

“In the wars of the three Edwards, the de Byrons appeared with some distinction; and they were also of note in the time of Henry V. Sir John Byron joined Henry VII. on his landing at Milford, and fought gallantly at the battle of Bosworth, against Richard III., for which he was afterwards appointed Constable of Nottingham Castle and Warden of Sherwood Forest. At his death, in 1488, he was succeeded by Sir Nicholas, his brother, who, at the marriage of Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1501, was made one of the Knights of the Bath.

Sir Nicholas died in 1540, leaving an only son, Sir John Byron, whom Henry VIII. made Steward of Manchester and Rochdale, and Lieutenant of the Forest of Sherwood. It was to him that, on the dissolution of the monasteries, the church and priory of Newstead, in the county of Nottingham, together with the manor and rectory of Papelwick, were granted. The abbey from that period became the family seat, and continued so until it was sold by the poet.

Sir John Byron left Newstead, and his other possessions, to John Byron, whom Collins and other writers have called his fourth, but who was in fact his illegitimate son. He was knighted
350Galt’s Life of Byron
Queen Elizabeth in 1579, and his eldest son, Sir Nicholas, served with distinction in the wars of the Netherlands. When the great rebellion broke out against Charles I., he was one of the earliest who armed in his defence. After the battle of Edgehill, where he courageously distinguished himself, he was made Governor of Chester, and gallantly defended that city against the Parliamentary army. Sir John Byron, the brother and heir of Sir Nicholas, was, at the coronation of James I., made a Knight of the Bath. By his marriage with Anne, the eldest daughter of Sir Richard Molyneux, he had eleven sons and a daughter. The eldest served under his uncle in the Netherlands; and in the year 1641 was appointed by King Charles I., Governor of the Tower of London. In this situation he became obnoxious to the refractory spirits in the Parliament, and was in consequence ordered by the Commons to answer at the bar of their House certain charges which the sectaries alleged against him. But he refused to leave his post without the king’s command; and, upon this, the Commons applied to the Lords to join them in a petition to the king to remove him. The Peers rejected the proposition.

“On the 24th October, 1643, Sir John Byron was created Lord Byron of Rochdale, in the county of Lancaster, with remainder of the title to his brothers, and their male issue, respectively. He was also made Field-marshal-general of all his Majesty’s forces in Worcestershire, Cheshire, Shropshire and North Wales: nor were these trusts and honours unwon, for the Byrons, during the civil war, were eminently distinguished. At the battle of Newbury, seven of the brothers were in the field, and all actively engaged.

Sir Richard, the second brother of the first lord, was knighted by Charles I. for his conduct at the battle of Edgehill, and appointed Governor of Appleby Castle, in Westmorland, and afterwards of Newark, which he defended with great honour. Sir Richard, on the death of his brother, in 1652, succeeded to the peerage, and died in 1679.

“His eldest son, William, the third lord, married Elizabeth, the daughter of Viscount Chaworth, of Ireland, by whom he had five sons, four of whom died young. William, the fourth lord, his son, was Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark, and married, for his first wife, a daughter of the Earl of Bridgewater, who died eleven weeks after their nuptials. His second wife was the daughter of the Earl of Portland, by whom he had three sons, who all died before their father. His third wife was Frances, daughter of Lord Berkley, of Stratton, from whom the Poet was descended. Her eldest son, William, born in 1722, succeeded to the family honours on the death of his father in 1736. He entered the naval service, and became a lieutenant under Admiral Balchen. In the year 1763 he was made Master of the Staghounds; and in 1765, he was sent to the Tower, and tried before the House of Peers, for killing his relation and neighbour, Mr. Chaworth, in a duel fought at the Star and Garter Tavern, in Pall Mall.

“This Lord William was naturally boisterous and vindictive. It appeared in evidence, that he insisted on fighting with Mr. Chaworth in the room where the quarrel commenced. They accordingly fought without seconds, by the dim light of a single candle; and, although Mr. Chaworth was the most skilful swordsman of the two, he received a mortal wound; but he lived long enough to disclose some particulars of the rencounter, which induced the coroner’s jury to return a verdict of wilful murder, and Lord Byron was tried for the crime.

“The trial took place in Westminster Hall, and the public curiosity was so great, that the Peers’ tickets of admission were publicly sold for sis guineas each. It lasted two days, and at the conclusion he was unanimously pronounced guilty of manslaughter. On being brought up for judgment, he pleaded his privilege and was discharged. It was to this lord that the poet succeeded, for he died without leaving issue.

“His brother, the grandfather of the poet, was the celebrated ‘Hardy Byron;’ or, as the sailors called him, ‘Foul-weather Jack,’ whose adventures and services are too well known to require any notice here. He married the daughter of John Trevannion, Esq. of Carhais, in the county of Cornwall, by whom he had two sons and three daughters. John, the eldest, and the father of the poet, was born in 1751, educated at Westminster school, and afterwards placed in the Guards, where his conduct became so irregular and profligate, that his father, the admiral, though a good-natured man, discarded him long before his death. In 1778, he acquired extraordinary éclat by the seduction of the Marchioness of Carmarthen, under circumstances which have few parallels in the licentiousness of fashionable life. The meanness with which he obliged his wretched victim to supply him with money, would have been disgraceful to the basest adulteries of the cellar or garret. A divorce ensued, the guilty
Galt’s Life of Byron351
parties married; but within two years after, such was the brutal and vicious conduct of Captain Byron, that the ill-fated lady died literally of a broken heart, after having given birth to two daughters, one of whom still survives.

Captain Byron then married Miss Catharine Gordon, of Gight, a lady of honourable descent, and of a respectable fortune for a Scottish heiress, the only motive which this Don Juan had for forming the connection. She was the mother of the poet.

“Although the Byrons have for so many ages been among the eminent families of the realm, they have no claim to the distinction which the poet has set up for them as warriors in Palestine, even though he says—
‘Near Ascalon’s tow’rs John of Horestan slumbers;’
for unless this refers to the Lord of Horestan, who was one of the hostages for the ransom of
Richard I., it will not be easy to determine to whom he alludes; and it is possible that the poet has no other authority for this legend, than the tradition which he found connected with two groups of heads on the old panels of Newstead. Yet the account of them is vague and conjectural; for it was not until ages after the crusades, that the abbey came into the possession of the family; and it is not probable that the figures referred to any transactions in Palestine in which the Byrons were engaged, if they were put up by the Byrons at all. They were, probably, placed in their present situation while the building was in possession of the churchmen.

“One of the groups, consisting of a female and two Saracens with eyes earnestly fixed upon her, may have been the old favourite ecclesiastical story of Susannah and the Elders; the other, which represents a Saracen with an European female between him and a Christian soldier, is, perhaps, an ecclesiastical allegory, descriptive of the Saracen and the Christian warrior contending for the liberation of the church. These sort of allegorical stories were common among monastic ornaments, and the famous legend of Saint George and the Dragon is one of them.

“Into the domestic circumstances of Captain and Mrs. Byron, it would be impertinent to institute any particular investigation. They were exactly such as might be expected from the sins and follies of the most profligate libertine of the age.

“The fortune of Mrs. Byron, consisting of various property, and amounting to about 23,500l., was all wasted in the space of two years; at the end of which the unfortunate lady found herself in possession of only 150l. per annum.

“Their means being thus exhausted, she accompanied her husband in the summer of 1786 to France, whence she returned to England at the close of the year 1787, and on the 22d of January, 1788, gave birth, in Holles-street, London, to her first and only child, the Poet. The name of Gordon was added to that of his family in compliance with a condition imposed by will on whomever should become the husband of the heiress of Gight. The late Duke of Gordon and Colonel Duff, of Fetteresso, were godfathers to the child.

“In the year 1790, Mrs. Byron took up her residence in Aberdeen, where she was soon after joined by Captain Byron, with whom she lived in lodgings in Queen Street; but their re-union was comfortless, and a separation soon took place. Still, their rupture was not final, for they occasionally visited, and drank tea with each other. The captain also paid some attention to the boy, and had him, on one occasion, to stay with him for a night, when he proved so troublesome, that he was sent home next day.

Byron himself has said, that he passed his boyhood at Marlodge, near Aberdeen; but the statement is not correct; he visited, with his mother, occasionally among their friends; and, among other places, passed some time at Fetteresso, the seat of his godfather, Colonel Duff. In 1796, after an attack of the scarlet fever, he passed some time at Ballater, a summer resort for health and gaiety, about forty miles up the Dee from Aberdeen. Although the circumstances of Mrs. Byron were, at this period, exceedingly straitened, she received a visit from her husband, the object of which was to extort more money; and he was so far successful, that she contrived to borrow a sum, which enabled him to proceed to Valenciennes, where, in the following year, he died, greatly to her relief, and the gratification of all who were connected with him.

“By her advances to Captain Byron, and the expense she incurred in furnishing the flat of the house she occupied after his death, Mrs. Byron fell into debt, to the amount of 300l., the interest on which reduced her income to 135l.; but, much to her credit, she contrived to live without increasing her embarassments, until the death of her grandmother, when she received 1,122l., a sum which had been set apart for the old gentlewoman’s jointure, and which enabled her to discharge her pecuniary obligations.

“Notwithstanding the manner in which this unfortunate lady was treat-
352Galt’s Life of Byron
ed by her husband, she always entertained for him a strong affection, insomuch that, when the intelligence of his death arrived, her grief was loud and vehement. She was, indeed, a woman of quick feelings and strong passions; and, probably, it was by the strength and sincerity of her sensibility that she retained so long the affection of her son, toward whom, it cannot be doubted, that her love was unaffected. In the midst of the neglect and penury to which she was herself subjected, she bestowed upon him all the care, the love, and watchfulness of the tenderest mother.

“In his fifth year, on the 19th of November, 1702, she sent him to a day-school, where she paid about five shillings a quarter, the common rate of the respectable day-schools, at that time, in Scotland. It was kept by a Mr. Bowers, whom Byron has described as a dapper, spruce person, with whom he made no progress. How long he remained with Mr. Bowers is not mentioned, but by the day-book of the school, it was at least twelve months; for, on the 19th of November of the following year, there is an entry of a guinea having been paid for him.

“From this school he was removed, and placed with a Mr. Ross, one of the ministers of the city churches, and to whom he formed some attachment, as he speaks of him with kindness, and describes him as a devout, clever little man, of mild manners, good natured, and pains-taking. His third instructor was a serious, saturnine, kind young man, named Patterson, the son of a shoemaker, but a good scholar, and a rigid Presbyterian. It is somewhat curious in the record which Byron has made of his early years, to observe the constant endeavour with which he, the descendant of such a limitless pedigree and great ancestors, attempts to magnify the condition of his mother’s circumstances.

Patterson attended him until he went to the grammar-school, where his character first began to be developed; and his schoolfellows, many of whom are alive, still recollect him as a lively, warm-hearted, and high-spirited boy, passionate and resentful, but withal affectionate and companionable. This, however, is an opinion given of him after he had become celebrated; for a very different impression has unquestionably remained among some, who carry their recollections back to his childhood. By them he has been described as a malignant imp, was often spoken of for his pranks by the worthy housewives of the neighbourhood as ‘Mrs. Byron’s crockit deevil,’ and generally disliked for the deep vindictive anger he retained against those with whom he happened to quarrel.

“By the death of William, the fifth lord, he succeeded to the estates and titles in the year 1798; and in the autumn of that year, Mrs. Byron, with her son, and a faithful servant of the name of Mary Gray, left Aberdeen for Newstead. Previously to their departure, Mrs. Byron sold the furniture of her humble lodging, with the exception of her little plate and scanty linen, which she took with her, and the whole amount of the sale did not yield seventy-five pounds.”

When Mrs. Byron and her son arrived at Newstead, it was in a state of absolute ruin. This, however, was not the young man’s worst misfortune: he had a mother whose temper was the cause of his moral ruin.

“She was,” says the biographer, “without judgment or self-command, alternately spoiling her child by indulgence, irritating him by her self-willed obstinacy, and, what was still worse, amusing him by her violence and disgusting him by fits of inebriety. Sympathy for her misfortunes would be no sufficient apology for concealing her defects: they undoubtedly had a material influence on her son, and her appearance was often the subject of his childish ridicule. She was a short and corpulent person; she rolled in her gait, and would, in her rage, sometimes endeavour to catch him, for the purpose of inflicting punishment, while he would run round the room, mocking her menaces and mimicking her motion.

“The greatest weakness in Lord Byron’s character was a morbid sensibility to his lameness. He felt it with as much vexation as if it had been inflicted ignominy. One of the most striking passages in some memoranda which he has left of his early days, is where, in speaking of his own sensitiveness on the subject of his deformed foot, he describes the feeling of horror and humiliation that came over him when his mother, in one of her fits of passion, called him a ‘lame brat.’

“The sense which Byron always retained of the innocent fault of his foot, was unmanly and excessive; for it was not greatly conspicuous, and he bad a mode of walking across a room by which it was scarcely at all perceptible. I was several days on board the same ship with him before I happened to discover the defect; it was, indeed, so well concealed, that I was in doubt whether his lameness was the effect of a temporary accident or a malformation, until I asked Mr. Hobhouse.”

The mother had, moreover, a strong
Galt’s Life of Byron353
faith in fortune-telling, and imparted this weakness to her son, who also, very early, imbibed his mother’s waywardness and bitterness of temper. These traits he exhibited at a very early period; and though, in the first instance, after a childish and whimsical fashion, still they were, as
Selden has it, the straws indicative of the right quarter of the wind.

“On their arrival from Scotland, Byron was placed, by his mother, under the care of an empirical pretender of the name of Lavender, at Nottingham, who professed the cure of such cases; and that he might not lose ground in his education, he was attended by a respectable schoolmaster, Mr. Rodgers, who read parts of Virgil and Cicero with him. Of this gentleman he always entertained a kind remembrance. Nor was his regard, in this instance, peculiar; for it may be said to have been a distinguishing trait in his character, to recollect, with affection, all who had been about him in his youth. The quack, however, was an exception, whom (from having caused him to suffer much pain, and whose pretensions, even young as he then was, he detected) he delighted to expose. On one occasion he scribbled down, on a sheet of paper, the letters of the alphabet at random, but in the form of words and sentences, and placing them before Lavender, asked him gravely what language it was. ‘Italian,’ was the reply, to the infinite amusement of the little satirist, who bunt into a triumphant laugh at the success of his stratagem.

“It is said that about this time the first symptom of his predilection for rhyming shewed itself. An elderly lady, a visiter to his mother, had been indiscreet enough to give him some offence, and slights he generally resented with more energy than they often deserved. This venerable personage entertained a singular notion respecting the soul, which she believed took its flight, at death, to the moon. One day, after a repetition of her original contumely, he appeared before his nurse in a violent rage, and complained vehemently of the old lady, declaring that he could not bear the sight of her; and then he broke out into the following doggerel, which he repeated over and over, crowing with delight:—
“‘In Nottingham county there lives, at Swan Green,
As curs’d an old lady as ever was seen;
And when she does die, which I hope will be soon,
She firmly believes she will go to the moon.’”

He was first sent to a private school at Dulwich, whence in due season he was removed to Harrow. Shortly afterwards he fell desperately in love with the beautiful Miss Chaworth—although, in matters of this kind, he was not, it appears, by two or three removes, a tyro, having owned to the soft impeachment as early as in his eighth year. But the young lady, after having laughed at him and treated him as a boy, at length jilted him; notwithstanding which, her charms made a deep impression on his memory, as it was to this attachment that the world is indebted for the poem of the Dream, and for the stanzas beginning with
“Oh, had my fate been join’d to thine!”
Byron was next sent to Cambridge, where he wrote his Hours of Idleness. The Edinburgh Review drove him to desperation; or, as Mr. Galt himself says (though we wish that, in the correction of his proofs, he had modified the sibylline obscurity of the passage), “Strong volitions of revenge succeeded, and the grasps of his mind were filled, as it were, with writhing adders.” His brimstone wrath, however, found relief in the composition of the English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. Byron, after this burst of vengeance, resolved on foreign travel. Sadly conditioned must have been the state of that young man’s mind who could not endure an inefficient rebuff—nay, who in that very rebuff imagined that he saw the incontrovertible indication of a universal conspiracy against his literary fame and advancement. The truly confiding poet goes through the changes, the privations, and the adversities of this sublunary existence, well knowing that he is obeying the mandate of the mighty Architect who framed that frail tenement, his body, and endures all the pains and penalties incidental to his pilgrimage with the moral energies of an Alcides armed for battle, with the undying faith of the hero imagined by Bunyan, the prince of dreamers. In the first onset, however, Byron was disarmed; and in the brutal spirit of a savage combatant, he stalked away in sulkiness from the field, firmly determining on the exaction of a speedy and an effectual vengeance. His state of mind, at this period, is indeed worthy the pity of every philanthropist; but of this we shall treat more fully hereafter. Mr. Galt says that the satire

354 Galt’s Life of Byron

“Bears testimony to the state of his feelings at that important epoch, while he was yet upon the threshold of the world, and was entering it with a sense of failure, and humiliation, and premature disgust; for, notwithstanding his unnecessary expositions concerning his dissipation, it is beyond controversy that at no time could it be said he was a dissipated young man. That he indulged in occasional excesses, is true; but his habits were never libertine, nor did his health or stamina permit him to be distinguished in licentiousness. The declaration in which he first discloses his sobriety, contains more truth than all his pretensions to his father’s qualities. ‘I took my gradations in the vices,’ says he, in that remarkable confession, ‘with great promptitude, but they were not to my taste; for my early passions, though violent in the extreme, were concentrated, and bated division or spreading abroad. I could have left or lost the whole world with or for that which I loved; but though my temperament was naturally burning, I could not share in the common libertinism of the place and time without disgust; and yet this very disgust, and my heart thrown back upon itself, threw me into excesses perhaps more fatal than those from which I shrunk, as fixing upon one at a time the passions, which, spread amongst many, would have hurt only myself.’”

Lord Byron embarked shortly afterwards, in company with Mr. Hobhouse, for the Mediterranean, and, at Gibraltar, fell in with Mr. Galt, who has given a minute description of their first interview, which was by no means prepossessing in the biographer’s estimation. Byron next went to Malta, then to Greece and Albania, and then returned to Athens, where Mr. Galt again joined the travellers. The poet lodged at the house of a Greek widow, who had several daughters, and with one of them Byron was smitten into the sentimentals. He has given her celebrity in this island, in the song commencing with
“Maid of Athens, ere we part,
Give, O give me back my heart!”

From Athens the travellers went to Asia Minor, then embarked for Constantinople, and, after touching at Tenedos, visiting the Troad, and swimming across the Hellespont, they gained the seven-throned city of the east. Here the poet had a dispute with the ambassador, and gave ridiculous symptoms of his native pride and arrogance, which ever continued the bane of his existence.

“The pride of rank was indeed one of the greatest weaknesses of Lord Byron; and every thing, even of the most accidental kind, which seemed to come between the wind and his nobility, was repelled on the spot. I recollect having some debate with him once, respecting a pique of etiquette which happened between him and Sir William Drummond somewhere in Portugal or Spain. Sir William was at the time an ambassador (not, however, I believe, in the country where the incident occurred) and was on the point of taking precedence in passing from one room to another, when Byron stepped in before him. The action was undoubtedly rude on the part of his lordship, even though Sir William had presumed too far on his riband: to me it seemed also wrong; for, by the custom of all nations from time immemorial, ambassadors have been allowed their official rank in passing through foreign countries, while peers in the same circumstances claim no rank at all; even in our own colonies it has been doubted if they may take precedence of the legislative counsellors. But the rights of rank are best determined by the heralds; and I have only to remark, that it is almost inconceivable how such things should have so morbidly affected the sensibility of Lord Byron; yet they certainly did so, and even to a ridiculous degree. On one occasion, when he lodged in St. James’s Street, I recollect him rating the footman for using a double knock in accidental thoughtlessness.”

He had not been long at Constantinople, when his grand tour to Persia and India was suddenly abandoned, and he embarked with Mr. Hobhouse and Mr. Adair, our ambassador at the Porte, on board the Salsette, and was put on shore on the island of Zea. “In the course of this passage,” says Mr. Galt, “one of the most emphatic incidents of his life occurred—an incident which throws a considerable gleam into the springs and intricacies of his character, more, perhaps, than any thing which has yet been mentioned.”

“One day,” continues the biographer, “when he was walking the quarter-deck, he lifted an ataghan (it might he one of the midshipmen’s weapons), and, unsheathing it, said, contemplating the blade, ‘I should like to know how a person feels after committing murder.’ By those who have inquiringly noticed the extraordinary cast of his metaphysical associations, this dagger-scene must be regarded as both impressive and solemn; although the wish to know how a man felt after committing murder,
Galt’s Life of Byron355
does not imply any desire to perpetrate the crime. The feeling might be appreciated by experiencing any actual degree of guilt; for it is not the deed—the sentiment which follows it makes the horror. But it is doing injustice to suppose the expression of such a wish dictated by desire.
Lord Byron has been heard to express, in the eccentricity of conversation, wishes for a more intense knowledge of remorse than murder itself could give. There is, however, a wide and wild difference between the curiosity that prompts the wish to know the exactitude of any feeling or idea, and the direful passions that instigate to guilty gratifications.”

All this is very fine; but we think the worthy biographer makes too much of this scene with the ataghan. If Lord Byron were serious in thus openly soliloquising on the instrument of death, and by innuendo, as it were, giving the alarmed spectators to understand that he could die the death of a Cato, he must have been mad—and approaching, too, to the stark staring degree: if he were not mad, then there remains the alternative of stark staring brazen-faced conceit. However he might have wanted for common sense, which want was the fault of his rearing, he was most assuredly not mad, and proofs could be multiplied on proofs to substantiate this latter position.

From Zea he went back to Athens, and with Lord Sligo, his old fellow-collegian, travelled as far as Corinth; thence to Patras—and thence back again to Athens, where, and at which time the principal incident in the Giaour actually came to pass, he being one of the principals in the adventure.

“One day as he was returning from bathing in the Piræus, he met the procession going down to the shore to execute the sentence which the waywode had pronounced on the girl; and learning the object of the ceremony, and who was the victim, he immediately interfered with great resolution; for, on observing some hesitation on the part of the leader of the escort to return with him to the governor’s house, he drew a pistol, and threatened to shoot him on the spot. The man then turned about, and accompanied him back, when, partly by bribery and entreaty, he succeeded in obtaining a pardon for her, on condition that she was sent immediately out of the city. Byron conveyed her to the monastery, and on the same night sent her off to Thebes, where she found a safe asylum.”

With this adventure may his travels and wanderings in Greece be terminated. He arrived in London in July 1811, and arranged the publication of the two first cantos of Childe Harold.

“On his arrival in London, his relation, Mr. Dallas, called on him, and in the course of their first brief conversation his Lordship mentioned that he had written a paraphrase of Horace’s Art of Poetry, but said nothing then of Childe Harold, a circumstance which leads me to suspect that he offered him the slighter work first, to enjoy his surprise afterwards at the greater. If so, the result answered the intent. Mr. Dallas carried home with him the paraphrase of Horace, with which he was grievously disappointed; so much so, that on meeting his Lordship again in the morning, and being reluctant to speak of it as he really thought, he only expressed some surprise that his noble friend should have produced nothing else during his long absence.

“I can easily conceive the emphatic indifference, if my conjecture be well founded, with which Lord Byron must have said to him, ‘I have occasionally written short poems, besides a great many stanzas in Spenser’s measure, relative to the countries I have visited; they are not worth troubling you with, but you shall have them all with you, if you like.’

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was accordingly placed in his hands; Mr. Dallas took it home, and was not slow in discovering its beauties, for in the course of the same evening he despatched a note to his Lordship, as a fair specimen of the style of an elderly patronising gentleman as can well be imagined: ‘You have written,’ said he, ‘one of the most delightful poems I ever read. If I wrote this in flattery, I should deserve your contempt rather than your friendship. I have been so fascinated with Childe Harold, that I have not been able to lay it down; I would almost pledge my life on its advancing the reputation of your poetical powers, and on its gaining you great honour and regard, if you will do me the credit and favour of attending to my suggestions.’”

While busily employed in the publication of Childe Harold, and in the intricacies of law with his agents in London, he was suddenly summoned on his mother’s account to Newstead; but before he reached that “seat of his ancestors” the old lady had expired.

“Notwithstanding her violent temper and other unseemly conduct, her affection for him had been so fond and dear,
356Galt’s Life of Byron
that he undoubtedly returned it with unaffected sincerity; and from many casual and incidental expressions which I have heard him employ concerning her, I am persuaded that his filial love was not at any time even of an ordinary kind. During her life he might feel uneasy respecting her, apprehensive on account of her ungovernable passions and indiscretions; but the manner in which he lamented her death clearly proves that the integrity of his affections had never been impaired.

“On the night after his arrival at the Abbey, the waiting-woman of Mrs. Byron, in passing the door of the room where the corpse lay, heard the sound of some one sighing heavily within, and on entering, found his Lordship sitting in the dark beside the bed. She remonstrated with him for so giving way to grief, when he burst into tears, and exclaimed, ‘I had but one friend in the world, and she is gone.’ Of the fervency of his sorrow I do therefore think there can be no doubt; the very endeavour which he made to conceal it by indifference, was a proof of its depth and anguish, though he hazarded the strictures of the world by the indecorum of his conduct on the occasion of the funeral—Having declined to follow the remains himself, he stood looking from the hall door at the procession, till the whole had moved away; and then, turning to one of the servants, the only person left, be desired him to fetch the sparring-gloves, and proceeded with him to his usual exercise. But the scene was impressive, and spoke eloquently of a grieved heart;—he sparred in silence all the time, and the servant thought that he hit harder than was his habit; at last he suddenly flung away the gloves, and retired to his own room.”

“The scene was impressive” indeed, as Mr. Galt very truly observes; but Byron, the sorry and thorough worldling, could not shake off the trammels of arrant conceit and clap-trap show and artifice. In matters of less moment, and involved in the ordinary transactions of life, he would “snarl and snap like dog distract;” but in scenes where the real tragedy of life was being enacted before his eyes, when a mother with a thousand sins upon her head had been suddenly called away from this shifting existence, he could force into his meretricious cheeks the show of unconcern, and strive in vain emulation at the excellences of his old pot companions, Cribb and Randal!

Mr. Galt has glossed over the transaction between Moore and Byron; and thus shewn a piece of good service towards the homunculus of a poet, which that little vain gentleman has not had the common sense to exercise, in his own behalf, at the time he produced his ponderous quarto. Where vanity, however, reigns predominant, there is little chance of common sense finding in its vicinity a resting-place. Thus is it with our little Anacreontaccia; who, being too proud of the opportunity of figuring in the same page with a “my dear Lord,” and that lord a poet of Byron’s calibre and reputation, cannot, in the spirit moralised upon in the apologue of “How we apples swim!” avoid making full mention of himself, though that mention may go far towards displaying his own unworthiness. In our humble opinion, Moore shews off in very small effigy in his celebrated duello and reconciliation business. All the hauteur and negative conduct of the peer could not daunt the little gentleman in his fawning palaver and attempts at inane compliments, until he contrived to sit opposite to him at dinner at the house of their mutual friend, the author of The Pleasures of Memory. “You have now declared yourself satisfied,” quoth the peer to the commoner.—Satisfied!—Prudence, the poet (but not Mr. Anacreon Moore) says, is the better part of valour; but this principle is capable of a double and an opposite interpretation:—With brave men it operates so,—that however slow and cautious they may be in incurring disputes, when once committed they know that, if they would have the approval of the world and of their own hearts, they must onward; being always, however, prepared to manifest clemency towards any foe importuning for mercy. With men, however, of Mr. Moore’s moral conformation, it so operates, that, as soon as they hear the first growl of their adversary, they gulp down their boisterous irritation, and, becoming as meek as sucking doves, they will give their persons to be kicked by their adversaries, if it should so suit their graciousness, and submit to be the passive instruments of any favour of that and every other kind, so only they have the final satisfaction of eating salt with them at the table of some mutual friend; and thus sign lasting articles of peace and friendship, after the manner of the bearded Arabs of the desert. If Mr. Moore had received an insult, and all
Galt’s Life of Byron357
the world fancied that he had, no consideration, not even that of marriage, should have operated as a barrier to his just resentment. However his glowing indignation might have been calmed by “the love of kindred and of home,” which had grown upon him since the period of aggression, still, as a member of society, he should have recollected, that the eyes of the world were upon him, and that it behoved him to fulfil a duty,—however conventional, yet an imperative duty towards that society, which has always had secondary and private ways of avenging secondary and private grievances; although we wish to Heaven that some method were discoverable which should do away with the fatal necessity of duelling; and the legislator who could effect this good for the world ought to have his name written in letters of gold and adamant, for the deepest admiration of the world.—Enough, however, of the quarrel of Mr. Moore with the author of
English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.

Byron’s next exhibition was in the House of Lords, where he spoke his maiden speech with considerable success; and took care to tell Mr. Dallas, whom he met on his return from his place of triumph, “that he had, by his oratorical display, given him the best advertisement for Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.”

“It is,” says his biographer, “upon this latter circumstance that I have ventured to state my suspicion, that there was a degree of worldly management in making his first appearance in the House of Lords so immediately preceding the publication of his poem. The speech was, indeed, a splendid advertisement, but the greater and brighter merits of the poem soon proved that it was not requisite; for the speech made no impression, but the poem was at once hailed with delight and admiration. It filled a vacancy in the public mind, which the excitement and inflation arising from the mighty events of the age had created. The world, in its condition and circumstances, was prepared to receive a work, so original, vigorous, and beautiful; and the reception was such that there was no undue extravagance in the noble author saying in his memorandum, ‘I awoke one morning and found myself famous.’

“But he was not to be allowed to revel in such triumphant success with impunity. If the great spirits of the time were smitten with astonishment at the splendour of the rising fire, the imps and elves of malignity and malice fluttered their bat-wings in all directions. Those whom the poet had afflicted in his satire, and who had remained quietly crouching with lacerated shoulders in the hope that their flagellation would be forgotten, and that the avenging demon who had so punished their imbecility would pass away, were terrified from their obscurity. They came like moths to the candle; and sarcasms in the satire which had long been unheeded, in the belief that they would soon he forgotten, were felt to have been barbed with irremediable venom, when they beheld the avenger
‘Towering in his pride of place.’”

We now approach towards the year 1813. His fame was great, for the fame of Childe Harold was at its towering zenith, and in rapid succession he had produced the Giaour and the Bride of Abydos. His society was courted, as the society of all fashionables has been, from even before the time when Augustus sat between his Maro and his Flaccus, and facetiously exclaimed against his sorrowful situation, as being placed inter suspiria et luctus—and Byron became the observed of all observers, even to a greater degree than perhaps he wished, as the following story, which Mr. Galt very happily calls the Lady’s Tragedy, will sufficiently exemplify. It is useful—as are all the other circumstances we have adduced—because it is a link in that chain of evidence which we have endeavoured to produce in elucidation of the Poet’s character.

“It forms no part of the plan of this work to repeat the gossip and tattle of private society; but occurrences happened to Lord Byron which engaged both, and some of them cannot well be passed over unnoticed. One of these took place during the spring of this year; and having been a subject of newspaper remark, it may with less impropriety be mentioned than others, which were more indecorously made the topics of general discussion. The incident alluded to was an extravagant scene enacted by a lady of high rank, at a rout given by Lady Heathcote; in which, in revenge, as it was reported, for having been rejected by Lord Byron, she made a suicidal attempt with an instrument, which scarcely penetrated, if it could even inflict any permanent mark on, the skin.

“The insane attachment of this eccentric lady to his lordship was well known; insane is the only epithet that can be applied to the actions of a married woman, who, in the disguise of her page, flung herself to a man who, as she told a friend of mine, was ashamed to be in
358Galt’s Life of Byron
love with her, because she was not beautiful—an expression at once curious and just, evincing a shrewd perception of the springs of his lordship’s conduct, and the acuteness, blended with frenzy and talent, which distinguished herself.
Lord Byron unquestionably, at that time, cared little for her. In shewing me her picture, some two or three days after the affair, and laughing at the absurdity of it, he bestowed on her the endearing diminutive of vixen, with a hard-hearted adjective that I judiciously omit.

“The immediate cause of this tragical flourish was never very well understood; but in the course of the evening she had made several attempts to fasten on his lordship, and was shunned; certain it is, she had not, like Burke in the House of Commons, premeditately brought a dagger in her reticule on purpose for the scene; but, seeing herself an object of scorn, she seized the first weapon she could find—some said a pair of scissors—others, more scandalously, a broken jelly-glass, and attempted an incision of the jugular, to the consternation of all the dowagers, and the pathetic admiration of every miss who witnessed or heard of the rupture.”

We dislike this sweeping denunciation against “every miss,” because, if ever there is a period when the female breast is capable of entertaining a purity of feeling, and of confiding affection, and, by the same rule, of hatred of vice, in whatever guise it may appear—it is when women are misses, and are uncontaminated with the artifices of society, and unhackneyed in the ways of its deceit and turpitude. But let this pass. The biographer continues.

Lord Byron, at the time, was in another room, talking with Prince K——, when Lord P—— came, with a face full of consternation, and told them what had happened. The cruel poet, instead of being agitated by the tidings, or standing in the smallest degree in need of a smelling-bottle, knitted his scowl, and said, with a contemptuous indifference, ‘It is only a trick.’ All things considered, he was, perhaps, not uncharitable; and a man of less vanity would have felt pretty much as his lordship appeared to do on the occasion. The whole affair was eminently ridiculous; and what increased the absurdity was a letter she addressed to a friend of mine on the subject, and which he thought too good to be reserved only for his own particular study.”

In the same year, Lord Byron proposed for Miss Milbanke, whom he subsequently married. The observations by Mr. Galt are truly valuable; and the following observations by the Poet himself are worth remembering, when we would find reasons for his strange conduct.

Lord Byron was so much the agent of impulses, that he could not keep long in unison with the world, or in harmony with his friends. Without malice, or the instigation of any ill spirit, he was continually provoking malignity and revenge. His verses on the Princess Charlotte weeping, and his other merciless satire on her father, begot him no friends, and armed the hatred of his enemies. There was, indeed, something like ingratitude in the attack on the Regent, for his royal highness had been particularly civil; had intimated a wish to have him introduced to him; and Byron, fond of the distinction, spoke of it with a sense of gratification. These instances, as well as others, of gratuitous spleen, only justified the misrepresentations which had been insinuated against himself, and what was humour in his nature was ascribed to vice in his principles.

“Before the year was at an end, his popularity was evidently beginning to wane: of this he was conscious himself, and braved the frequent attacks on his character and genius with an affectation of indifference, under which those who had at all observed the singular associations of his recollections and ideas must have discerned the symptoms of a strange disease. He was tainted with an Herodian malady of the mind; his thoughts were often hateful to himself; but there was an ecstasy in conception, as if delight could be mingled with horror. I think, however, he struggled to master the fatality, and that his resolution to marry was dictated by an honourable desire to give hostages to society against the wild wilfulness of his imagination.

“It is a curious and a mystical fact, that at the period to which I am alluding, and a very short time, only a little month, before he successfully solicited the hand of Miss Milbanke, being at Newstead, he fancied that he saw the ghost of the monk which is supposed to haunt the abbey, and to make its ominous appearance when misfortune or death impends over the master of the mansion.—The story of the apparition, in the sixteenth canto of Don Juan, is derived from this family legend; and Norman Abbey, in the thirteenth of the same poem, is a rich and elaborate description of Newstead.

“After his proposal to Miss Milbanke had been accepted a considerable time, nearly three months elapsed before the marriage was completed, in consequence of the embarrassed condition in which, when the necessary settlements were to be made, he found his affairs. This state of things, with the previous unhappy
Galt’s Life of Byron359
controversy with himself, and anger at the world, was ill calculated to gladden his nuptials: but, besides these real evils, his mind was awed with gloomy presentiments, a shadow of some advancing misfortune darkened his spirit, and the ceremony was performed with sacrificial feelings, and those dark and chilling circumstances which he has so touchingly described in the

‘I saw him stand
Before an altar with a gentle bride;
Her face was fair, but was not that which made
The starlight of his boyhood;—as he stood
Even at the altar, o’er his brow there came
The selfsame aspect, and the quivering shock
That in the antique oratory shook
His bosom in its solitude; and then—
As in that hour—a moment o’er his face
The tablet of unutterable thoughts
Was traced—and then it faded as it came,
And he stood calm and quiet, and he spoke
The faltering vows, but beard not his own words,
And all things reeled around him: he could see
Not that which was, nor that which should have been—
But the old mansion and the accustom’d hall,
And the remember’d chambers, and the place,
The day, the hour, the sunshine and the shade,
All things pertaining to that place and hour
And her, who was his destiny, came back,
And thrust themselves between him and the light.’

“This is very affectingly described; and his prose description bears testimony to its correctness. ‘It had been predicted, by Mrs. Williams, that twenty-seven was to be a dangerous age for me. The fortune-telling witch was right; it was destined to prove so. I shall never forget the 2d of January, 1815; Lady Byron was the only unconcerned person present; Lady Noel, her mother, cried; I trembled like a leaf, made the wrong responses, and, after the ceremony, called her Miss Milbanke.

“‘There is a singular history attached to the ring. The very day the match was concluded, a ring of my mother’s, that had been lost, was dug up by the gardener at Newstead. I thought it was sent on purpose for the wedding; but my mother’s marriage had not been a fortunate one, and this ring was doomed to be the seal of an unhappier union still.

“‘After the ordeal was over, we set off for a country-seat of Sir Ralph’s, (Lady B.’s father,) and I was surprised at the arrangements for the journey, and somewhat out of humour, to find the lady’s-maid stuck between me and my bride. It was rather too early to assume the husband; so I was forced to submit, but it was not with a very good grace. I have been accused of saying, on getting into the carriage, that I had married Lady Byron out of spite, and because she had refused me twice. Though I was, for a moment, vexed at her prudery, or whatever you may choose to call it, if I had made so uncavalier, not to say brutal, a speech, I am convinced Lady Byron would instantly have left the carriage to me and the maid. She had spirit enough to have done so, and would properly have resented the affront. Our honeymoon was not all sunshine; it had its clouds.

“‘I was not so young when my father died but that I perfectly remember him, and had a very early horror of matrimony, from the sight of domestic broils: this feeling came over me very strongly at my wedding. Something whispered me that I was sealing my own death-warrant. I am a great believer in presentiments: Socrates’s demon was not a fiction; Monk Lewis had his monitor; and Napoleon many warnings. At the last moment I would have retreated, could I have done so; I called to mind a friend of mine, who had married a young, beautiful, and rich girl, and yet was miserable; he had strongly urged me against putting my neck in the same yoke.’”

His connubial mutuality, as Mr. Coleridge would say, was short-lived. He separated from his wife—for what reason is, and most likely ever will be, unknown—and determined to reside abroad. He set sail for Ostend on the 25th of April, 1816, and, after visiting Waterloo, where he indulged in feelings which were only prompted by a “peevish ill-will towards England,” where all his woes had originated from the bitter fountain of arrogant self, he proceeded to Switzerland by the way of the majestic Rhine. Of this tour, the third canto of Childe Harold is a commemoration. Manfred, and the Prisoner of Chillon, are the fruits of his sojourn in the land of lakes, and mists, and mountains.

360 Galt’s Life of Byron

“Of the first,” says Mr. Galt, “it is unnecessary to say more; but the following extract from the poet’s travelling memorandum-book has been supposed to contain the germ of the tragedy:

“‘September 22, 1816—Left Thunn in a boat, which carried us the length of the lake in three hours. The lake small, but the banks fine; rocks down to the water’s edge. Landed at Newhouse; passed Interlachen; entered upon a range of scenes beyond all description or previous conception; passed a rock bearing an inscription—two brothers, one murdered the other; just the place for it. After a variety of windings, came to an enormous rock; arrived at the foot of the mountain (the Jungfraw) glaciers; torrents—one of these nine hundred feet visible descent. Lodge at the curate’s; set out to see the valley. Heard an avalanche fall like thunder! glaciers: enormous storm comes on; thunder, and lightning, and hail, all in perfection, and beautiful. The torrent is in shape, curving over the rock, like the tail of the white horse streaming in the wind, just as might be conceived would be that of the pale horse on which Death is mounted in the Apocalypse. It is neither mist nor water, but a something between both; its immense height gives a wave, a curve—a spreading here, a condensation there—wonderful, indescribable!

“‘September 23.—Ascent of the Wingren, the dent d’argent shining like truth on one side; on the other, the clouds rose from the opposite valley, curling up perpendicular precipices, like the foam of the ocean of hell during a spring-tide. It was white and sulphury, and immeasurably deep in appearance. The side we ascended was, of course, not of so precipitous a nature; but, on arriving at the summit, we looked down on the other side upon a boiling sea of cloud, dashing against the crag on which we stood. Arrived at the Greenderwold, mounted and rode to the higher glacier; twilight, but distinct—very fine. Glacier like a frozen hurricane; star-light beautiful. The whole of the day was fine, and, in point of weather, as the day in which Paradise was made. Passed whole woods of withered pines—all withered, trunks stripped and lifeless, done by a single winter.’

“Undoubtedly, in these brief and abrupt, but masterly touches, hints for the scenery of Manfred may be discerned, but I can perceive nothing in them which bears the least likelihood to their having influenced the conception of that sublime work.

“There has always been, from the first publication of Manfred, a strange misapprehension with respect to it in the public mind. The whole poem has been misunderstood; and the odious supposition, that ascribes the fearful mystery and remorse of the hero to a foul passion for his sister, is probably one of those coarse imaginations which have grown out of the calumnies and accusations heaped upon the author. How can it have happened that none of the critics have noticed, that the story is derived from the human sacrifices supposed to have been in use among the students of the black art?

“Manfred is represented as being actuated by an insatiable curiosity—a passion to know the forbidden secrets of the world. The scene opens with him at his midnight studies—his lamp is almost burnt out—and he has been searching for knowledge, and has not found it, but only that

‘Sorrow is knowledge. They who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,
The tree of knowledge is not that of life.
Philosophy, and science, and the springs
Of wonder, and the wisdom of the world,
I have essayed, and in my mind there is
A power to make these subject to itself.’

“He is engaged in calling spirits; and, as the incantation proceeds, they obey his bidding, and ask him what he wants? He replies, ‘Forgetfulness.’

first spirit.
Of what—of whom—and why?
Of that which is within me; read it there—
Ye know it, and I cannot utter it.
We can but give thee that which we possess;—
Ask of us subjects, sovereignty, the power
O’er earth, the whole or portion, or a sign
Which shall control the elements, whereof
We are the dominators. Each and all—
These shall be thine.
Galt’s Life of Byron 361
Oblivion, self-oblivion—
Can ye not wring from out the hidden realms
Ye offer so profusely, what I ask?
It is not in our essence, in our skill—
But thou may’st die.
Will death bestow it on me?
We are immortal, and do not forget.
We are eternal; and to us the past
Is, as the future, present.—Art thou answer’d?
Ye mock me; but the power which brought ye here
Hath made you mine—Slaves! scoff not at my will;
The mind, the spirit, the Promethean spark,
The lightning of my being, is as bright,
Pervading, and far-darting, as your own,
And shall not yield to yours, though cooped in clay.
Answer, or I will teach you what I am.
We answer as we answered. Our reply
Is even in thine own words.
Why say ye so?
If, as thou say’st, thine essence be as ours,
We have replied, in telling thee the thing
Mortals call death hath nought to do with us.
I, then, have call’d you from your realms in vain.’

“This impressive and original scene prepares the reader to wonder, why it is that Manfred is so desirous to drink of Lethe. He has acquired dominion over spirits, and he finds, in the possession of the power, that knowledge has only brought him sorrow. They tell him he is immortal, and what he suffers is as inextinguishable as his own being; why should he desire forgetfulness? Has he not committed a great secret sin? What is it? He alludes to his sister; and in his subsequent interview with the Witch we gather a dreadful meaning concerning her fate. Her blood has been shed—not by his hand, nor in punishment, but in the shadow and occultations of some unutterable crime and mystery.

‘She was like me in lineaments; her eyes,
Her hair, her features, all to the very tone
Even of her voice, they said were like to mine,
But soften’d all, and temper’d into beauty.
She had the same lone thoughts and wanderings,
The quest of hidden knowledge, and a mind
To comprehend the universe; nor these
Alone—but, with them, gentler powers than mine,
Pity, and smiles, and tears, which I had not;
And tenderness—but that I had for her;
Humility—and that I never had.
Her faults were mine—her virtues were her own.
I loved her, and destroy’d her—
With thy hand?
Not with my hand, but heart—which broke her heart.
It gazed on mine, and wither’d. I have shed
Blood, but not her’s; and yet her blood was shed.
I saw, and could not stanch it.’

“There is in this little scene, perhaps, the deepest pathos ever expressed. But it is not of its beauty that I am treating; my object in noticing it here is, that it may be considered in connexion with that where Manfred appears with his insatiate thirst of knowledge, and manacled with guilt. It indicates that his sister Astarte had been self-sacrificed in the pursuit of their magical knowledge. Human sacrifices were supposed to be among the initiate propitiations of the
362Galt’s Life of Byron
demons that have their purposes in magic—as well as compacts signed with the blood of the self-sold. There was also a dark Egyptian art, of which the knowledge and the efficacy could only be obtained by the novitiate’s procuring a voluntary victim—the dearest object to himself, and to whom he also was the dearest; and the primary spring of
Byron’s tragedy lies, I conceive, in a sacrifice of that kind having been performed, without obtaining that happiness which the votary expected would be found in the knowledge and power purchased at such a price. His sister was sacrificed in vain. The manner of the sacrifice is not divulged; but it is darkly intimated to have been done amidst the perturbations of something horrible.

‘Night after night, for years,
He hath pursued long vigils in this tower
Without a witness. I have been within it—
So have we all been ofttimes; but from it,
Or its contents, it were impossible
To draw conclusions absolute of aught
His studies tend to. To be sure, there is
One chamber where none enter— * * *
Count Manfred was, as now, within his tower;
How occupied we know not—but with him,
The sole companion of his wanderings
And watchings—her—whom of all earthly things
That lived, the only thing he seem’d to love.’

“With admirable taste, and in thrilling augmentation of the horror, the poet leaves the deed which was done in that unapproachable chamber undivulged, while we are darkly taught, that within it lie the relics, or the ashes, of the ‘one without a tomb.’”

From Switzerland Byron went to Venice, and composed his fourth canto of Childe Harold, Beppo, and the Ode to the Queen of the Adriatic. The Lament of Tasso was written previously to his arrival at that city; thence he removed to Ravenna, and here was formed his intimacy with the Countess Guiccioli, who, having quarrelled with the old man her husband, and being, by the sanction of the Pope’s legate, about to be shut up in a convent for life, was smuggled by Lord Byron out of the city. The poet mixed in the plots of the Carbonari, and, by intimation from the government, removed to Pisa. Previously, however, to the mention of this change of abode, Mr. Galt takes occasion to make the following very pertinent and perspicuous observations on the moral tendency of his hero.

“I have never been able to understand why it has been so often supposed that Lord Byron was actuated in the composition of his different works by any other motive than enjoyment; perhaps no poet had ever less of an ulterior purpose in his mind during the fits of inspiration (for the epithet may be applied correctly to him, and to the moods in which he was accustomed to write) than this singular and impassioned man. Those who imagine that he had any intention to impair the reverence due to religion, or to weaken the hinges of moral action, give him credit for far more design and prospective purpose than he possessed. They could have known nothing of the man, the main defect of whose character, in relation to every thing, was in having too little of the element or principle of purpose. He was a thing of impulses; and to judge of what he either said or did, as the results of predetermination, was not only to do the harshest injustice, but to shew a total ignorance of his character. His whole fault, the darkest course of those nights and deviations from propriety which have drawn upon him the severest animadversion, lay in the unbridled state of his impulses. He felt, but never reasoned. I am led to make these observations by noticing the ungracious, or more justly, the illiberal spirit in which the Prophecy of Dante, which was published with the Marino Faliero, has been treated by the anonymous author of Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Lord Byron.”

Mr. Galt has very ingeniously supposed that we have the impersonation of Byron himself in the character of Sardanapalus. He further argues on the probability of the poet’s lady being the true Zarina, and the Guiccioli being the Greek girl and enthusiast Myrrha. This portion is done with much point and extreme neatness, saving that part only where he argues the similarity of the King of Assyria with Hamlet the Prince of Denmark. How the biographer has contrived to confuse the respective identities of the two characters, is to us surprising; for no two persons can be more distinct than Sardanapalus and the North-
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man, whose purposes of just vengeance must needs be enkindled by a communication from the world of spirits. Sardanapalus, who is a self-agent, with positive moral weakness lends a willing ear to the glozing temptations of worldly sensuality, and falls the victim of a corrupted nature. Not so, however, with the youthful and the royal Dane: his is only a negative weakness. His purposes are good, his perceptions of right and wrong are distinct, he is fully aware of the principles of moral rectitude, and, with the consciousness of honourable and regal birth, his mind is fraught with the full idea of the dignity of his individual station, and of those constituent qualities which form the integral of goodness. But this goodness is an abstract essence—a divinity removed far from his sphere of action, yet exercising an influence upon him: he gazes upon it in silent awe, he owns its excellence, its benignant powers, yet will not bend down a devoted worshipper, and pray for its interposition on his behalf. He is a man of infirm purpose, and a vacillating creature. This character teaches a high lesson, if it be rightly understood. Heaven expects us to do our duty upon earth: the performance roust be positive and true. Confiding faith is not sufficient—negative virtue is not sufficient—procrastinated execution is not sufficient—the mere avoidance of evil is not sufficient: the agent must forward—forward—forward—neither looking to the right nor to the left; and, casting aside all the weaknesses of heart, must fulfil the behest of his mighty Master, and vindicate his ways amongst the creatures of this nether world. All German scholars must remember the eloquent, highly poetical explanation of the mystery of Hamlet’s existence, given by the glorious
Göthe, in the pages of his Wilhelm Meister. We cannot forbear inserting an extract from that fragment of vivid and just criticism; and, in order to please the general reader, we make it from Mr. Thomas Carlyle’s admirable translation of the German’s most admirable novel.

“‘Figure to yourselves this youth,’ cried he, ‘this son of princes; conceive him vividly—bring his state before your eyes—and then observe him when he learns that his father’s spirit walks! Stand by him in the terrors of the night, when the venerable ghost itself appears before him. A horrid shudder passes over him—he speaks to the mysterious form—he sees it beckon him—he follows it, and hears. The fearful accusation of his uncle rings in his ears—the summons to revenge—and the piercing, oft-repeated prayer, ‘Remember me!’

“‘And when the ghost has vanished, who is it that stands before us? A young hero panting for vengeance? A prince by birth, rejoicing to be called to punish the usurper of his crown? No! Trouble and astonishment take hold of the solitary young man: he grows bitter against smiling villains, swears that he will not forget the spirit, and concludes with the expressive ejaculation:
‘The time is out of joint. O, cursed spite!
That ever I was born to set it right!’

“‘In these words, I imagine, will be found the key to Hamlet’s whole procedure. To me it is clear, that Shakspeare meant, in the present case, to represent the effects of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it. In this view the whole piece seems to me to be composed. An oak-tree is planted in a costly jar, which should have borne only pleasant flowers in its bosom; the roots expand, the jar is shivered! A lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear, and must not cast away. All duties are holy for him; the present is too hard. Impossibilities have been required of him; not in themselves impossibilities, but such for him. He winds, and turns, and torments himself; he advances and recoils; is ever put in mind—ever puts himself in mind; at last, does all but lose his purpose from his thoughts, yet still without recovering his peace of mind.’”

Lord Byron next moved to Pisa, where he was joined by that illustrious Cockney, Leigh Hunt, who, with the assistance of the peer, was to publish a monthly work, under the title of the Liberal. This periodical was intended to act upon society much after the
364Galt’s Life of Byron
manner of the labours of the Encyclopedists—but Byron was not a
Voltaire; and what was Leigh Hunt but the empty-headed and conceited poet of Cockaigne! That any resolution was entertained of subverting religion, and introducing an Age of Reason, muddled and run mad, we can hardly believe—nay, we are altogether incredulous of the matter. Even were the host of philosophers, and meters of persiflage, and proselytes of infidelity, to join together for the purpose of counteracting religious reverence in this country, they would never succeed. They did not succeed in France, although they played sad havoc with men’s intellects. Certain it is, that under whatever denomination men may herd together, the spirit of devotion is innate in their breasts, and will eventually defy the malice of the devil and of all his imps of darkness and ministrants upon earth. There is in the world a temple of universal religion, the foundation-stone of which was laid by the hands of the Mighty Architect, and which men, by their assiduity and zeal, through some thousands of years, have raised to the glorification of the Maker of the universe—a temple of stupendous and awful structure—of magnificent apportionment and unrivalled beauty! And is this erection to be destroyed by the fingers of a puny set of infidels, even though guided by the promptings and whisperings of the great Anarchist himself? The supposition is farcical.

Mr. Galt’s notions in respect to Byron’s literary partnership with the man of Cockaigne, are the true ones. Here they are, in the biographer’s own words:

Mr. Hunt, in extenuation of the bitterness with which he has spoken on the subject, says, that ‘Lord Byron made no scruple of talking very freely of me and mine.’ It may, therefore, be possible that Mr. Hunt had cause for his resentment, and to feel the humiliation of being under obligations to a mean man; at the same time, Lord Byron, on his side, may, upon experience, have found equal reason to repent of his connexion with Mr. Hunt. And it is certain that each has sought to justify, both to himself and to the world, the rupture of a copartnery which ought never to have been formed. But his lordship’s conduct is the least justifiable. He had allured Hunt to Italy with flattering hopes; he had a perfect knowledge of his hampered circumstances, and he was thoroughly aware that, until their speculation became productive, he must support him. To the extent of about five hundred pounds he did so; a trifle, considering the glittering anticipations of their scheme.

“Viewing their copartnery, however, as a mere commercial speculation, his lordship’s advance could not be regarded as liberal, and no modification of the term munificence or patronage could be applied to it. But unless he had harassed Hunt for the repayment of the money, which does not appear to have been the case, nor could he morally, perhaps even legally, have done so, that gentleman had no cause to complain. The joint adventure was a failure; and except a little repining on the part of the one for the loss of his advance, and of grudging on that of the other for the waste of his time, no sharper feeling ought to have arisen between them. But vanity was mingled with their golden dreams. Lord Byron mistook Hunt’s political notoriety for literary reputation, and Mr. Hunt thought it was a fine thing to be chum and partner with so renowned a lord. After all, however, the worst which can be said of it is, that, formed in weakness, it could produce only vexation.

“But the dissolution of the vapour with which both parties were so intoxicated, and which led to their quarrel, might have occasioned only amusement to the world, had it not left an ignoble stigma on the character of Lord Byron, and given cause to every admirer of his genius to deplore that he should have so forgotten his dignity and fame.

“There is no disputing the fact, that his lordship, in conceiving the plan of the Liberal was actuated by sordid motives, and of the basest kind, inasmuch as it was intended that the popularity of the work should rest upon satire; or, in other words, on the ability to be displayed by it in the art of detraction. Being disappointed in his hopes of profit, he shuffled out of the concern »s meanly as any higgler could have done who had found himself in a profitless business with a disreputable partner. There is no disguising this unvarnished truth; and though his friends did well in getting the connexion ended as quickly as possible, they could not eradicate the original sin of the transaction, nor extinguish the consequences which it of necessity entailed. Let me not, however, be misunderstood: my objection to the conduct of Byron does not lie against the wish to turn his extraordinary talents to profitable account, but to the mode in which he proposed to, and did, employ them. Whether Mr. Hunt was or was not a fit copart-
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ner for one of his lordship’s rank and celebrity, I do not undertake to judge; but any individual was good enough for that vile prostitution of his genius, to which, in an unguarded hour, be submitted for money. Indeed, it would be doing injustice to compare the motives of Mr. Hunt in the business with those by which Lord Byron was infatuated. He put nothing to hazard: happen what might, he could not be otherwise than a gainer; for if profit failed, it could not be denied that the ‘foremost poet’ of all the age had discerned in him either the promise or the existence of merit, which he was desirous of associating with his own. This advantage Mr. Hunt did gain by the connexion; and it is his own fault that he cannot be recollected as the associate of Byron, but only as having attempted to deface his monument.”

The freedom of expression contained in the preceding paragraph has egregiously offended the sweet author of Rimini, and he has accordingly given the biographer a retaliating shew-up in his diurnal the Tatler. Mr. Galt, however, is a man of too much sense to mind the ravings of so thorough an idiot.

The author next describes the life and death of Shelley; and in the behaviour of his chief mourner is another argument in favour of our theory of Lord Byron. Here it is, for the reader’s satisfaction.

“That unfortunate gentleman (Mr. Shelley) was undoubtedly a man of genius—full of ideal beauty and enthusiasm. And yet there was some defect in his understanding, by which he subjected himself to the accusation of atheism. In his dispositions he is represented to have been ever calm and amiable; and, but for his metaphysical errors and reveries, and a singular incapability of conceiving the existing state of things as it practically affects the nature and condition of man, to have possessed many of the gentlest qualities of humanity. He highly admired the endowments of Lord Byron, and in return was esteemed by his lordship; but even had there been neither sympathy nor friendship between them, his premature fate could not but have saddened Byron with no common sorrow.

Mr. Shelley was some years younger than his noble friend; he was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, Bart., of Castle Goring, Sussex. At the age of thirteen he was sent to Eton, where he rarely mixed in the common amusements of the other boys; but was of a shy, reserved disposition, fond of solitude, and made few friends. He was not distinguished for his proficiency in the regular studies of the school; on the contrary, he neglected them for German and chemistry. His abilities were superior, but deteriorated by eccentricity. At the age of sixteen he was sent to the university of Oxford, where he soon distinguished himself by publishing a pamphlet, under the absurd and world-defying title of The Necessity of Atheism, for which he was expelled the university.

“This event proved fatal to his prospects in life; and the treatment he received from his family was too harsh to win him from error. His father, however, in a short time relented, and he was received home; but he took so little trouble to conciliate the esteem of his friends, that he found the house uncomfortable, and left it. He then went to London, where he eloped with a young lady to Gretna Green. Their united ages amounted to thirty-two; and the match being deemed unsuitable to his rank and prospects, it so exasperated his father, that he broke off all communication with him.

“After their marriage the young couple resided some time in Edinburgh. They then passed over to Ireland, which being in a state of disturbance, Shelley took a part in politics more reasonable than might have been expected. He inculcated moderation.

“About this time he became devoted to the cultivation of his poetical talents; but his works were sullied with the erroneous inductions of an understanding which, inasmuch as he regarded all the existing world in the wrong, must be considered as having been either shattered or defective.

“His rash marriage proved, of course, an unhappy one. After the birth of two children, a separation, by mutual consent, took place, and Mrs. Shelley committed suicide.

“He then married a daughter of Mr. Godwin, the author of Caleb Williams, and they resided for some time at Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire, much respected for their charity. In the mean time his irreligious opinions had attracted public notice, and, in consequence of his unsatisfactory notions of the Deity, his children, probably at the instance of his father, were taken from him by a decree of the lord chancellor; an event which, with increasing pecuniary embarrassments, induced him to quit England, with the intention of never returning.

“Being in Switzerland when Lord Byron, after his domestic tribulations, arrived at Geneva, they became acquainted. He then crossed the Alps, and again at Venice renewed his friendship with his lordship; he thence passed to Rome, where he resided some time; and after
366Galt’s Life of Byron
visiting Naples, fixed his permanent residence in Tuscany. His acquirements were constantly augmenting, and he was, without question, an accomplished person. He was, however, more of a metaphysician than a poet, though there are splendid specimens of poetical thought in his works. As a man, he was objected to only on account of his speculative opinions; for he possessed many amiable qualities, was just in his intentions, and generous to excess.

“When he had seen Mr. Hunt established in the Casa Lanfranchi with Lord Byron at Pisa, Mr. Shelley returned to Leghorn, for the purpose of taking a sea excursion; an amusement to which he was much attached. During a violent storm the boat was swamped, and the party on board were all drowned. Their bodies were, however, afterwards cast on shore; Mr. Shelley’s was found near Via Reggio, and, being greatly decomposed, and unfit to be removed, it was determined to reduce the remains to ashes, that they might be carried to a place of sepulture. Accordingly, preparations were made for the burning.

“Wood in abundance was found on the shore, consisting of old trees and the wreck of vessels: the spot itself was well suited for the ceremony. The magnificent bay of Spezia was on the right, and Leghorn on the left, at equal distances of about two-and-twenty miles. The headlands project boldly far into the sea; in front lie several islands, and behind dark forests and the cliffy Appennines. Nothing was omitted that could exalt and dignify the mournful rites with the associations of classic antiquity: frankincense and wine were not forgotten. The weather was serene and beautiful, and the pacified ocean was silent, as the flame rose with extraordinary brightness. Lord Byron was present; but he should himself have described the scene, and what he felt.

“These antique obsequies were undoubtedly affecting; but the return of the mourners from the burning is the most appalling orgia, without the horror of crime, of which I have ever heard. When the duty was done, and the ashes collected, they dined and drank much together, and, bursting from the calm mastery with which they had repressed their feelings during the solemnity, gave way to frantic exultation. They were all drunk; they sang, they shouted, and their barouche was driven like a whirlwind through the forest. I can conceive nothing descriptive of the demoniac revelry of that flight but scraps of the dead man’s own song of Faust, Mephistophiles, and Ignis Fatuus, in alternate chorus.

“The limits of the sphere of dream,
The bounds of true and false are past;
Lead us on, thou wand’ring Gleam;
Lead us onward, far and fast,
To the wide, the desert waste.
But see how swift advance and shift
Trees behind trees—row by row;
Now, clift by clift, rocks bend and lift
Their frowning foreheads as we go;
The giant-snouted crags, ho! ho!
How they snort, and how they blow.
Honour her to whom honour is due;
Old mother Baubo, honour to you.
An able sow with old Baubo upon her
Is worthy of glory and worthy of honour.
The way is wide, the way is long,
But what is that for a Bedlam throng?
Some on a ram, and some on a prong,
On poles and on broomsticks we flutter along.
Every trough will be boat enough;
With a rag for a sail we can sweep through the sky;
Who flies not to-night, when means he to fly?”

About this time the poet wrote the Two FoscariWernerThe Deformed Transformed,—and removed to Genoa. He then joined the Greeks, and died at Missolonghi, April 19, 1824, in the thirty-seventh year of his age.

Having done justice to Mr. Galt’s biography, there remains the unpleasant task of censure. The writer should not attempt the definition of metaphysical abstractions. Mr. Galt is a shrewd observer of human nature—a powerful delineator of character—but not a hard thinker. It is when he ventures into the stream of philosophy, that, not being an expert swimmer, he soon gets out
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of his depth and flounders wofully, as witness the following passage, too full of discursive imagery to lead to any intelligible definition.

“He was, undoubtedly, delicately susceptible of impressions from the beauties of nature, for he retained recollections of the scenes which interested his childish wonder, fresh and glowing to his latest days; nor have there been wanting plausible theories to ascribe the formation of his poetical character to the contemplation of those romantic scenes. But whoever has attended to the influential causes of character will reject such theories as shallow, and betraying great ignorance of human nature. Genius of every kind belongs to some innate temperament; it does not necessarily imply a particular bent, because that may possibly be the effect of circumstances; but, without question, the peculiar quality is inborn, and particular to the individual. All hear and see much alike; but there is an undefinable though wide difference between the ear of the musician, or the eye of the painter, compared with the hearing and seeing organs of ordinary men; and it is in something like that difference in which genius consists. Genius is, however, an ingredient of mind more easily described by its effects than by its qualities. It is as the fragrance, independent of the freshness and complexion of the rose—as the light on the cloud—as the bloom on the cheek of beauty, of which the possessor is unconscious until the charm has been seen by its influence on others—it is the internal golden flame of the opal—a something which may be abstracted from the thing in which it appears, without changing the quality of its substance, its form, or its affinities. I am not, therefore, disposed to consider the idle and reckless childhood of Byron as unfavourable to the development of his genius; but, on the contrary, inclined to think, that the indulgence of his mother, leaving him so much to the accidents of undisciplined impression, was calculated to cherish associations which rendered them, in the maturity of his powers, ingredients of the spell that ruled his memory.”

It is impossible from the above passage to arrive at any thing like an understanding of that best endowment of man which imparts to his mind
“The vision and the faculty divine.”

In the first place, Mr. Galt begs the question, when he asserts that “there is a wide difference between the ear of the musician or the eye of the painter, compared with the hearing and seeing organs of ordinary men.” This position we deny. Does the writer mean a painter like Salvator Rosa, or Mr. Martin, or Sir Thomas Lawrence, or a sign-post dauber for hedge-houses of entertainment? The two former are remarkable for ungovernable wildness of imagination; the third for poetical fancy, exquisite taste, and the secret of giving transparency and brilliancy to his colouring; the fourth for a thick pericranium, the hollowness of which has been tenanted by dismal and perpetual darkness. The fact is, two painters or two musicians may differ as widely as a simple cipher does from any given quantity. There is, however, a close approximation between the sons of genius. Mr. Galt seems to think that genius is synonymous with poetical fancy—at least, such is the conclusion which we either from his own laboured comparison. But it may be simply described as the communicative intellect between God and man, the power of self-intuition; or, to use the words of one of the later philosophers of Greece, οτι το γενομενον εστι θεαμα εμον σιωπης. It is the primary imagination which is set forth in the following passage from Mr. Coleridge’s Biographia Litteraria. We also give his definition of fancy, that our readers may see how that philosophic poet describes the one and the other.

“The imagination, then, I consider either as primary or secondary. The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I am. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, coexisting with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealise and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

Fancy, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with but fixities and definites. The fancy is indeed no other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space; and blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word choice. But equally with the ordinary memory it must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.”

368 Galt’s Life of Byron

The question is, Had Byron that inappreciable gift which we denominate genius? We think undoubtedly not. Was he the truly great and lofty poet which his admirers would make him? By the same rule, we think not. This Mr. Galt himself unwittingly proves in the very next paragraph to the one which we have above quoted from his work. We say unwittingly, for the admission is made circumstantially, as the real state of the case is diametrically opposed to the position so confidently made by the biographer. He says—

“It is singular, and I am not aware it has been before noticed, that, with all his tender and impassioned apostrophes to beauty and love, Byron has in no instance, not even in the freest passages of Don Juan, associated either the one or the other with sensual images. The extravagance of Shakspeare’s Juliet, when she speaks of Romeo being cut, after death, into stars, that all the world may be in love with night, is flame and ecstasy, compared to the icy metaphysical glitter of Byron’s amorous allusions. The verses beginning with
‘She walks in beauty, like the light
Of eastern climes, and starry skies,’
is a perfect example of what I have conceived of his bodiless admiration of beauty, and objectless enthusiasm of love. The sentiment itself is unquestionably in the highest mood of the intellectual sense of beauty; the simile is, however, any thing but such an image as the beauty of woman would suggest. It is only the remembrance of some impression or imagination of the loveliness of a twilight, applied to an object that awakened the same abstract general idea of beauty. The fancy which could conceive, in its passion, the charms of a female to be like the glow of the evening, or the general effect of the midnight stars, must have been enamoured of some beautiful abstraction, rather than aught of flesh and blood. Poets and lovers have compared the complexion of their mistresses to the hues of the morning or of the evening, and their eyes to the dew-drops and the stars; but it has no place in the feelings of man to think of female charms in the sense of admiration which the beauties of the morning or the evening awaken. It is to make the simile the principal. Perhaps, however, it may be as well to defer the criticism to which this peculiar characteristic of
Byron’s amatory effusions gives rise, until we shall come to estimate his general powers as a poet. There is upon the subject of love, no doubt, much beautiful composition throughout his works; but not one line in all the thousands which shews a sexual feeling of female attraction—all is vague and passionless, save in the delicious rhythm of the verse.”

We candidly confess that the passage is somewhat difficult of comprehension; especially as we are aware of several facts involved in the writings of Lord Byron. Mr. Galt says, that the freest passages of Don Juan are not associated with sensual images. This bold assertion surprises us, for we know to the contrary: and so did Mr. Southey, when, in his reply to the noble poet, he exclaimed, that “he had never manufactured furniture for the brothel.” The “bodiless admiration of beauty, and objectless enthusiasm of love,” is impossible. Neither love nor admiration, nor yet enthusiasm, are abstract qualities; they are incapable of existence without an object. This is amply proved in the very pages of Mr. Galt’s biography, where the heroines and heroes of the poet’s manufacture are traced to living beings with whom he had come in contact, and for whom he had entertained aversion or attachment. Besides, Mr. Galt in one place says, that his finest portions in the Giaour, Bride of Abydos, Corsair, Don Juan, and, by common consent, in Childe Harold, are the effect of the impressions made on his mind by the appearances of external nature; although in another he speaks of Byron being, for intellectual power and creative originality, entitled to stand “on the highest peak of the mountain.” Byron, moreover, was an individual in whose breast all the angry passions made their lair, whence they were wont to issue as occasion was afforded, and spread havoc around in their furious career. The author of his biography admits this in part, as witness the following passage:—

“Deep feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment are far more obvious; they constitute, indeed, the very spirit of his works, and a spirit of such qualities is the least of all likely to have arisen from the contemplation of magnificent nature, or to have been inspired by studying her storms or serenity; for dissatisfaction and disappointment are the offspring of moral experience, and have no natural association with the forms of external things. The habit of associating morose sentiments with any particular kind of scenery, only shews that the sources of the sullenness arose in similar visible circumstances. It is from these premises I would infer, that the seeds of Byron’s misanthropic tendencies were implanted during the ‘silent rages’ of his
Galt’s Life of Byron369
childhood, and that the effect of mountain scenery, which continued so strong upon him after he left Scotland, producing the sentiments with which he has imbued his heroes in the wild circumstances in which he places them, was mere reminiscence and association. For although the sullen tone of his mind was not fully brought out until wrote
Childe Harold, it is yet evident, from his Hours of Idleness, that he was tuned to that key before he went abroad. The dark colouring of his mind was plainly imbibed in a mountainous region, from sombre heaths, and in the midst of rudeness and grandeur. He had no taste for more cheerful images, and there is neither rural objects nor villagery in the scenes he describes, but only loneness and the solemnity of mountains.”

It is not sufficient for a man to be gifted with the powers of energy of expression and liveliness of imagery only, to entitle him to the distinction of a lofty poet. The first of these qualities is shared in common with Byron by many a voluble drunkard, who, as the fumes of wine are eddying around his brains, will indulge his company with such energetic expressions, and sledge-hammer words of abuse, as cannot easily be transcended. In the second we think he is easily beaten by many an Irish labourer and uninstructed savage. Mr. Galt’s high encomium on his pen, therefore, loses its effective application supposing that it is founded on fact. “Doubts, indeed,” says the writer, “may be entertained, if in these high qualities even Shakspeare himself was his superior.” Allowing, for argument’s sake, that Shakspeare were inferior, still even any moderate appreciator of that poet’s worth would confess that the possession of qualities mentioned by the biographer was among the minor acknowledged pretensions of the Bard of Avon—the Ανδρος μυρισνους—the myriad-minded man—an appellation of one of the Patriarchs of Constantinople. Has Mr. Galt forgotten the Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece, of the immortal Shakspeare? In respect of energy of expression, what does he think of the following, among a hundred magnificent stanzas?

“Here with a cockatrice’ dead-killing eye,
He rouseth up himself, and makes a pause;
While she, the picture of pure piety,
Like a white hind under the grype’s sharp claws,
Pleads in a wilderness, where are no laws,
To the rough beast, that knows no gentle right;
Nor ought obeys but his foul appetite.
Look, when a black-faced cloud the world doth threat,
In his dim mist the aspiring mountains hiding;
From earth’s dark womb some gentle gust doth get,
Which blows these pitchy vapours from their biding,
Hindering their present fall by this dividing:
So his unhallow’d haste her words delays,
And moody Pluto winks, while Orpheus plays.”

For liveliness of imagery, is there any thing in Byron that surpasses what follows, from the Venus and Adonis?

“With this he breaketh from the sweet embrace
Of those fair arms that held him to her heart,
And homeward through the dark lawns runs apace.
Look, how a bright star shooteth from the sky—
So glides he through the night from Venus’ eye.”

Mr. Galt gives Lord Byron credit for “intellectual power” and “creative originality;” and on this account he says, “that Byron is entitled to stand on the highest peak of the mountain.” The latter of these attributes can, we think, be sufficiently contradicted by the poet’s own admission, in his letter on the occasion of the Pope controversy, where he is continually arguing upon the superiority of the perfection of Art over the rudeness and imperfection of Nature!!

The secret of Byron’s praise of Pope, and his attempt against the superiority of Dryden, is simply that he felt his own weakness: he was sensible
370Galt’s Life of Byron
that he wanted high-soaring imagination and the creating power. Feeling the galling sense of his own failure, he afterwards endeavoured to decry the dramatic art, and was hardy enough to impugn the divinity of
Shakspeare. With such motives he contended that “the poet is always ranked according to his execution, and not according to his branch of the art.” Byron most certainly had a great command of forcible words, and has accurately described whatever came under his observation. Thus, the traveller over the field of Waterloo, and along the Rhine, and in Switzerland, may literally take his Childe Harold as a guide-book. We also know how to appreciate his description of the Dying Gladiator, and other passages, needless now to enumerate. But it must be allowed, that the passion which inspired all his poetry is hatred of the world—detestation of society—the loftiest idea of his own merits. Byron, for these reasons, was not The Poet. Accuracy in delineating outward objects, is but a small matter in the mystery of poetry. However brilliant the painting, however beautiful the objects, and lovely the persons, still some other requisites are wanting for the formation of a true poet. The power of poetical painting must be governed by a higher feeling. If that feeling be dark, and prompted by human passion, it becomes grovelling, has a tendency to the earth, and the possessor is not entitled to a place “on the highest peak of the mountain.” If, however, the poet’s thoughts mount upward to the skies; if he idealise on human perfection, cry down the baser passions of the soul, and rear into the fulness of maturity all those affections which bind man to man, and draw man’s thoughts towards a higher and better state of existence, then such an agent is fulfilling the duties of a true poet.

We cannot say that Byron was of this number. We cannot even say that he gave his life and soul unreservedly in devotion to poetry. This with him was not the business, but the amusement of life, or rather the instrument by which he attracted the eyes of all nations on his own person. His reward was extrinsic to his art—it was popular applause; and the motives, therefore, that prompted bis measures were unworthy and unhallowed. In his compositions all seems artifice and constraint. His Selims, Giaours, Conrads, and Harolds, are not living, sentient, loving, affectionate human beings. They have no sympathies with the world—are full of combustible stuff, breathing flames of brimstone wrath—they are incarnate devils. In their persons are embodied the various interpretations of the poet’s own mind. He was in a constant struggle with the world, where he might have shone as “a bright particular star,”—he was conquered, and in his defeat manifested his own folly and weakness. Göthe would have taught him differently, had the Bard of Newstead condescended to take lessons from a fellow-creature. The excellent Old Man of Weimar has laid down the rule of life in the following significant words, which contain the true secret of existence: they are translated by his friend, Mr. Thomas Carlyle:—

“What shapest thou here at the World? ’Tis shapen long ago:
The Maker shaped it and thought it were best even so.
Thy lot is appointed, go follow its best;
Thy journey’s begun, thou must move and not rest;
For sorrow and care cannot alter thy case,
And running, not raging, will win thee the race.”

He who shall act according to this golden precept will earn never-failing happiness for himself. His life will be full of pleasure; his end will be attended with blessings; and posterity shall make mention of his name in the fervour of praise and veneration. The course of such an existence has been well expressed by Borger in his book De Mysticismo:—“Obviam it rationi sensus, iter ad animum monstrat, eam comitatur, ducit, sustentat, accipit quæ illa tradit: atque hac utriusque conjunctione efficitur, ut, elisis nequitiae stirpibus, recti honestique semina animis inserantur, unde perfecta virtus efflorescat.”