LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron

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My present task is one of considerable difficulty; but I have long had a notion that some time or another it would fall to my lot to perform it. I approach it, therefore, without apprehension, entirely in consequence of having determined, to my own satisfaction, the manner in which the biography of so singular and so richly endowed a character as that of the late Lord Byron should be treated, but still with no small degree of diffidence; for there is a wide difference between determining a rule for oneself, and producing, according to that rule, a work which shall please the public.

It has happened, both with regard to the man and the poet, that from the first time his name came before the public, there has been a vehement and continual controversy concerning him; and the chief difficulties of the task arise out of the heat with which the adverse parties have maintained their respective opinions. The circumstances in which he was placed, until his accession to the title and estates of his
ancestors, were not such as to prepare a boy that would be father to a prudent or judicious man. Nor, according to the history of his family, was his blood without a taint of sullenness, which disqualified him from conciliating the good opinion of those whom his innate superiority must have often prompted him to desire for friends. He was branded, moreover, with a personal deformity; and the grudge against Nature for inflicting this defect not only deeply disturbed his happiness, but so generally affected his feelings as to embitter them with a vindictive sentiment, so strong as, at times, to exhibit the disagreeable energy of misanthropy. This was not all. He enjoyed high rank, and was conscious of possessing great talents; but his fortune was inadequate to his desires, and his talents were not of an order to redeem the deficiencies of fortune. It likewise so happened that while indulged by his only friend, his mother, to an excess that impaired the manliness of his character, her conduct was such as in no degree to merit the affection which her wayward fondness inspired.

It is impossible to reflect on the boyhood of Byron without regret. There is not one point in it all which could, otherwise than with pain, have affected a young mind of sensibility. His works bear testimony, that while his memory retained the impressions of early youth, fresh and unfaded, there was a gloom and shadow upon them, which proved how little they had been really joyous.

The riper years of one so truly the nursling of pride, poverty, and pain, could only be inconsistent, wild, and impassioned, even had his temperament been moderate and well disciplined. But when it is considered that in addition to all the awful influences of these fatalities, for they can receive no lighter name, he possessed an imagination of unbounded capacity—was inflamed with those indescribable feelings which constitute, in the opinion of many, the
very elements of genius—fearfully quick in the discernment of the darker qualities of character—and surrounded by temptation—his career ceases to surprise. It would have been more wonderful had he proved an amiable and well-conducted man, than the questionable and extraordinary being who has alike provoked the malice and interested the admiration of the world.

Posterity, while acknowledging the eminence of his endowments, and lamenting the habits which his unhappy circumstances induced, will regard it as a curious phenomenon in the fortunes of the individual, that the progress of his fame as a poet should have been so similar to his history as a man.

His first attempts, though displaying both originality and power, were received with a contemptuous disdain, as cold and repulsive as the penury and neglect which blighted the budding of his youth. The unjust ridicule in the review of his first poems, excited in his spirit a discontent as inveterate as the feeling which sprung from his deformity: it affected, more or less, all his conceptions to such a degree that he may be said to have hated the age which had joined in the derision, as he cherished an antipathy against those persons who looked curiously at his foot. Childe Harold, the most triumphant of his works, was produced when the world was kindliest disposed to set a just value on his talents; and his latter productions, in which the faults of his taste appear the broadest, were written when his errors as a man were harshest in the public voice.

These allusions to the incidents of a life full of contrarieties, and to a character so strange as to be almost mysterious, sufficiently show the difficulties of the task I have undertaken. But the course I intend to pursue will relieve me from the necessity of entering, in any particular manner, upon those debatable points of his personal conduct which have
been so much discussed. I shall consider him, if I can, as his character will be estimated when contemporary surmises are forgotten, and when the monument he has raised to himself is contemplated for its beauty and magnificence, without suggesting recollections of the eccentricities of the builder.