Biography of George Gordon Byron

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron (1788-1824), English poet, was born in
London at 16 Holles Street, Cavendish Square, on the 22nd of January
1788. The Byrons were of Norman stock, but the founder of the family was
Sir John Byron, succeeded by his great-nephew, the poet. Admiral the
Hon. John Byron (q.v.) was the poet’s grandfather. His eldest son,
Captain John Byron, the poet’s father, was a libertine by choice and in
an eminent degree. He caused to be divorced, and married (1779) as his
first wife, the marchioness of Carmarthen (born Amelia D’Arcy), Baroness
Conyers in her own right. One child of the marriage survived, the Hon.
Augusta Byron (1783-1851), the poet’s half-sister, who, in 1807, married
her first cousin, Colonel George Leigh. His second marriage to Catherine
Gordon (b. 1765) of Gight in Aberdeenshire took place at Bath on the
13th of May 1785. He is said to have squandered the fortunes of both
wives. It is certain that Gight was sold to pay his debts (1786), and
that the sole provision for his wife was a settlement of 3,000 pounds.
It was an unhappy marriage. There was an attempt at living together in
France, and, when this failed, Mrs Byron returned to Scotland. On her
way thither she gave birth to a son, christened George Gordon after his
maternal grandfather, who was descended from Sir William Gordon of
Gight, grandson of James I. of Scotland. After a while her husband
rejoined her, but went back to France and died at Valenciennes on the
2nd of August 1791. His wife was not a bad woman, but she was not a good
mother. Vain and capricious, passionate and self-indulgent, she
mismanaged her son from his infancy, now provoking him by her foolish
fondness, and now exciting his contempt by her paroxysms of impotent
rage. She neither looked nor spoke like a gentlewoman; but in the
conduct of her affairs, she was praiseworthy. She hated and avoided
debt, and when relief came (a civil list pension of 300 pounds a year)
she spent most of it on her son. Fairly well educated, she was not
without a taste for books, and her letters are sensible and to the
point. But the violence of her temper was abnormal. Her father committed
suicide, and it is possible that she inherited a tendency to mental
derangement. If Byron owed anything to his parents it was a plea for
pardon.

The poet’s first years were spent in lodgings at Aberdeen. From 1794 to
1798 he attended grammar school, «threading all classes» till he reached
the fourth. It was a good beginning, a solid foundation, enabling him
from the first to keep a hand over his talents and to turn them to a set
purpose. He was lame from his birth. His right leg and foot, possibly
both feet, were contracted by infantile paralysis, and, to strengthen
his muscles, his mother sent him in the summers of 1796, 1797, to a farm
house of Deeside. He walked with difficulty, but he wandered at will,
soothed and inspired by the grandeur of the scenery. To his Scottish
upbringing he owed his love of mountains, his love and knowledge of the
Bible, and too much Calvinism for faith or unfaith in Christianity. The
death of his great-uncle (May 19, 1798) placed him in possession of the
title and estates. Early in the autumn Mrs Byron travelled south with
her son and his nurse, and for a time made her home at Newstead Abbey.
Byron was old enough to know what had befallen him. «It was a change
from a shabby Scotch flat to a palace,» a half-ruined palace, indeed,
but his very own. It was a proud moment, but in a few weeks he was once
more in lodgings. The shrunken leg did not improve, and acting on bad
advice his mother entrusted him to the care of a quack named Lavender,
truss-maker to the general hospital at Nottingham. His nurse who was in
charge of him maltreated him, and the quack tortured him to no purpose.
At his own request he read Virgil and Cicero with a tutor.

In August 1799 he was sent to a preparatory school at Dulwich. The
master, Dr Glennie, perceived that the boy like reading for its own sake
and gave him the free run of his library. He read a set of the British
Poets from beginning to end more than once. This, too, was an initiation
and a preparation. He remained at Dulwich till April 1801, when, on his
mother’s intervention, he was sent to Harrow. His school days,
1801-1805, were fruitful in two respects. He learned enough Latin and
Greek to make him a classic, if not a classical scholar, and he made
friends with his equals and superiors. He learned something of his own
worth and of the worth of others. «My school-friendships,» he says,
«were with me passions.» Two of his closest friends died young, and from
Lord Clare, whom he loved best of all, he was separated by chance and
circumstance. He was an odd mixture, now lying dreaming on his favourite
tombstone in the churchyard, now the ring-leader in whatever mischief
was afoot. He was a «record» swimmer, and, in spite of his lameness,
enough of a cricketer to play for his school at Lord’s, and yet he found
time to read and master standard works of history and biography, and to
acquire more general knowledge than boys and masters put together.

In the midsummer of 1803, when he was in his sixteenth year, he fell in
love, once for all, with his distant relative, Mary Anne Chaworth, a
«minor heiress» of the hall and park of Annesley which marches with
Newstead. Two years his senior, she was already engaged to a neighboring
squire. There were meetings half-way between Newstead and Annesley, of
which she thought little and he only too much. What was sport to the
girl was death to the boy, and when at length he realized the
«hopelessness of his attachment,» he was «thrown out,» as he said,
«alone, on a wide, wide sea.» She is the subject of at least five of his
early poems, including the pathetic stanzas, «Hills of Annesley,» and
there are allusions to his love story in Childe Harold and in «The
Dream» (1816).

Byron went into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October
1805. Cambridge did him no good. «The place is the devil,» he said, and
according to his own showing he did homage to the genius loci. But
whatever he did or failed to do, he made friends who were worthy of his
choice. Among them were the scholar-dandy Scrope Berdmore Davies,
Francis Hodgson, who died provost of Eton, and, best friend of all, John
Cam Hobhouse (afterwards Lord Broughton). And there was another friend,
a chorister named Edleston, a «humble youth» for whom he formed a
romantic attachment. He died whilst Byron was still abroad (May 1811),
but not unwept nor unsung, if, as there is little doubt, the mysterious
Thyrza poems of 1811, 1812 refer to his death. During the vacation of
1806, and in 1807 which was one «long vacation,» he took his pen, and
wrote, printed and published most of his «Juvenile Poems.» His first
venture was a thin quarto of sixty-six pages, dated the 23rd of December
1806, but before that date he had begun to prepare a second collection
for the press. One poem («To Mary») contained at least one stanza which
was frankly indecent, and yielding to advice he gave orders that the
entire issue should be thrown into the fire. Early in January 1807 an
expurgated collection entitled Poems on Various Occasions was ready for
private distribution. Encouraged by two critics, Henry Makenzie and Lord
Woodhouselee, he determined to recast this second issue and publish it
under his own name. Hours of Idleness, «by George Gordon Lord Byron, a
minor,» was published in June 1807. The fourth and last issue of
Juvenilia, entitled Poems, Original and Translated, was published in
March 1808.

Hours of Idleness enjoyed a brief triumph. The Critical and other
reviews were «very indulgent,» but the Edinburgh Review for January 1808
contained an article, not, as Byron believed, by Jeffrey, but by
Brougham, which put, or tried to put the author and «his poesy» to open
shame. The sole result was that it supplied fresh material and a new
title for some rhyming couplets on «British Bards» which he had begun to
write. A satire on Jeffrey, the editor, and Lord Holland, the patron of
the Edinburgh Review, was slipped into the middle of «British Bards,»
and the poem rechristened English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (published
the 1st of March 1809).

In April 1808, whilst he was still «a minor,» Byron entered upon his
inheritance. Hitherto the less ruinous portions of the abbey had been
occupied by a tenant, Lord Grey de Ruthven. The banqueting hall, the
grand drawing-room, and other parts of the monastic building were
uninhabitable, but by incurring fresh debts, two sets of apartments were
refurnished for Byron and for his mother. Dismantled and ruinous, it was
still a splendid inheritance. In line with the front of the abbey is the
west front of the priory church, with its hollow arch, once a «mighty
window,» its vacant niches, its delicate Gothic mouldings. The abbey
buildings enclose a grassy quadrangle overlooked by two-storeyed
cloisters. On the eastern side are the state apartments occupied by
kings and queens not as guests, but by feudal right. In the park, which
is part of Sherwood Forest, there is a chain of lakes — the largest,
the north-west, Byron’s «lucid lake.» A waterfall or «cascade» issues
from the lake, in full view of the room where Byron slept. The
possession of this lordly and historic domain was an inspiration in
itself. It was an ideal home for one who was to be hailed as the spirit
of genius of romance.

On the 13th of March 1809, he took his seat in the House of Lords. He
had determined, as soon as he was of age, to travel in the East, but
before he sought «another zone» he invited Hobhouse and three others to
a house-warming. One of the party, C. S. Matthews, describes a day at
Newstead. Host and guests lay in bed till one. «The afternoon was passed
in various diversions, fencing, single-stick: . . . riding, cricket,
sailing on the lake.» They dined at eight, and after the cloth was
removed they handed round «a human skull filled with Burgundy.» After
dinner they «buffooned about the house» in a set of monkish dresses.
They went to bed some time between one and three in the morning. Moore
thinks that the picture of these festivities is «pregnant in character,»
and argues that there were limits to the misbehaviour of the
«wassailers.» The story, as told in Childe Harold [canto 1, stanzas
v-ix], need not be taken too seriously. Byron was angry because Lord De
La Warr did not wish him good-bye, and visited his displeasure on
friends and «lemans» alike. May and June were devoted to the preparation
of an enlarged edition of his satire. At length, accompanied by Hobhouse
and a small staff of retainers, he set out on his travels. He sailed
from Falmouth on the 2nd of July and reached Lisbon on the 7th of July
1809. The first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage contain a
record of the principal events of his first year of absence.

The first canto describes Lisbon, Cintra, the ride through Portugal and
Spain to Seville and thence to Cadiz. He is moved by the grandeur of the
scenery, but laments the helplessness of the people and their impending
fate. Talavera was fought and won whilst he was in Spain, but he is
convinced that the «Scourge of the World» will prevail, and that
Britain, «the fond ally,» will display her blundering heroism in vain.
Being against the government, he is against the war. History has
falsified his politics, but his descriptions of places and scenes, of
«Morena’s dusky height,» of Cadiz and the bull-fight, retain their
freshness and their warmth.

Byron sailed from Gibraltar on the 16th of August, and spent a month at
Malta making love to Mrs Spencer Smith (the «Fair Florence» [of Childe
Harold, canto II, stanzas xxix-xxxiii]). He anchored off Prevesa on the
28th of September. The second canto records a journey on horseback
through Albania, then almost a terra incognita, as far as Tepeleni,
where he was entertained by Ali Pacha (October 20th), a yachting tour
along the shores of the Ambracian Gulf (November 8-23), a journey by
land from Larnaki to Athens (December 15-25), and excursions in Attica,
Sunium and Marathon (January 13-25, 1810).

Of the tour in Asia Minor, a visit to Ephesus (March 15, 1810), an
excursion in the Torad (April 13), and the famous swim across the
Hellespont (May 3), the record is to be sought elsewhere. The stanzas on
Constantinople (lxxvii.-lxxxii.), where Byron and Hobhouse stayed for
two months, though written at the time and on the spot, were not
included in the poem till 1814. They are, probably, part of a projected
third canto. On the 14th of July Hobhouse set sail for England and Byron
returned to Athens.

Of Byron’s second year of residence in the East little is known beyond
the bare facts that he was travelling in the Morea during August and
September, that early in October he was at Patras, having just recovered
from a severe attack of malarial fever, and that by the 14th of November
he had returned to Athens and taken up his quarters at the Franciscan
convent. Of his movements during the next five months there is no
record, but of his studies and pursuits there is substantial evidence.
He learnt Romaic, he compiled the notes to the second canto of Childe
Harold. He wrote (March 12) Hints from Horace (published 1831), an
imitation or loose translation of the Epistola ad Pisones (Art of
Poetry), and (March 17) The Curse of Minerva (published 1815), a skit on
Lord Elgin’s deportation of the metopes and frieze of the Parthenon.

He left Athens in April, passed some weeks at Malta, and landed at
Portsmouth (c. July 20). Arrived in London, his first step was to
consult his literary adviser, R. C. Dallas, with regard to the
publication of Hints from Horace. Of Childe Harold he said nothing, but
after some hesitation produced the MS. from a «small trunk,» and
presenting him with the copyright, commissioned Dallas to offer it to a
publisher. Rejected by Miller of Albemarle Street, who published for
Lord Elgin, it was finally accepted by Murray of Fleet Street, who
undertook to share the profits of an edition with Dallas.

Meanwhile Mrs Byron died suddenly from a stroke of apoplexy. Byron set
off at once for Newstead, but did not find his mother alive. He had but
little affection for her while she lived, but her death touched him to
the quick. «I had but one friend,» he exclaimed, «and she is gone.»
Another loss awaited him. Whilst his mother lay dead in his house, he
heard that his friend Matthews had been drowned in the Cam. Edleston and
Wingfield had died in May, but the news had reached him on landing.
There were troubles on every side. On the 11th of October he wrote the
«Epistle to a Friend» («Oh, banish care,» &c.) and the lines «To
Thyrza,» which, with other elegies, were appended to the second edition
of Childe Harold (April 17, 1812). It was this cry of desolation, this
open profession of melancholy, which at first excited the interest of
contemporaries, and has since been decried as morbid and unreal. No one
who has read his letters can doubt the sincerity of his grief, but it is
no less true that he measured and appraised its literary significance.
He could and did turn it to account.

Towards the close of the year he made friends with Moore. Some lines in
English Bards, &c. (ii. 466-467), taunting Moore with fighting a duel
with Jeffrey with «leadless pistol» had led to a challenge, and it was
not till Byron returned to England that explanations ensued, and that
the challenge was withdrawn. As a poet Byron outgrew Moore, giving back
more than he had received, but the friendship which sprang up between
them still serves Byron in good stead. Moore’s Life of Byron (1830) is
no doubt a picture of the man at his best, but it is a genuine likeness.
At the end of October Byron moved to London and took up his quarters at
8 St. James’s Street. On the 27th of February 1812 he made his first
speech in the House of Lords on a bill which made the wilful destruction
of certain newly invented stocking-frames a capital offence, speaking in
defence of the riotous «hands» who feared that their numbers would be
diminished by improved machinery. It was a brilliant speech and won the
praise of Burdett and Lord Holland. He made two other speeches during
the same session, but thenceforth pride or laziness kept him silent.
Childe Harold (4to) was published on Tuesday, the 10th of March 1812.
«The effect,» says Moore, «was . . . electric, his fame . . . seemed to
spring, like the palace of a fairy king, in a night.» A fifth edition
(8vo) was issued on the 5th of December 1812. Just turned twenty-four he
«found himself famous,» a great poet, a rising statesman. Society, which
in spite of his rank had neglected him, was now at his feet. But he
could not keep what he had won. It was not only «villainous company,» as
he put it, which was to prove his «spoil,» but the opportunity for
intrigue. The excitement and absorption of one reigning passion after
another destroyed his peace of mind and put him out of conceit with
himself. His first affair of any moment was with Lady Caroline Lamb, the
wife of William Lamb, better known as Lord Melbourne, a delicate,
golden-haired sprite, who threw herself in his way, and afterwards, when
she was shaken off, involved him in her own disgrace. To her succeeded
Lady Oxford, who was double his own age, and Lady Frances Wedderburn
Webster, the «Ginevra» of his sonnets, the «Medora» of The Corsair.

His «way of life» was inconsistent with an official career, but there
was no slakening of his poetical energies. In February 1813 he published
The Waltz (anonymously), he wrote and published The Giaour (pulished
June 5, 1813) and The Bride of Abydos (published November 29, 1813), and
he wrote The Corsair (published February 1, 1814). The Turkish Tales
were even more popular than Childe Harold. Murray sold 10,000 copies of
The Corsair on the day of publication. Byron was at pains to make his
accessories correct. He prided himself on the acccuracy of his
«costume.» He was under no delusion as to the ethical or artistic value
of these experiments on «public patience.»

In the summer of 1813 a new and potent influence came into his life. Mrs
Leigh, whose home was at Newmarket, came up to London on a visit. After
a long interval the brother and sister met, and whether there is or is
not any foundation for the dark story obscurely hinted at in Byron’s
lifetime, and afterwards made public property by Mrs Beecher Stowe
(Macmillan’s Magazine, 1869, pp. 377-396), there is no question as to
the depth and sincerity of his love for his «one relative,» — that her
well-being was more to him than his own. Byron passed the «seasons» of
1813, 1814 in London. His manner of life we know from his journals.
Socially he was on the crest of the wave. He was a welcome guest at the
great Whig houses, at Lady Melbourne’s, at Lady Jersey’s, at Holland
House. Sheridan and Moore, Rogers and Campbell, were his intimates and
companions. He was a member of Alfred’s, of Watier’s, of the Cocoa Tree,
and half a dozen clubs besides. After the publication of The Corsair he
had promised an interval of silence, but the abdication of Napoleon
evoked «An Ode,» &c., in his dishonour (April 16); Lara, a Tale, an
informal sequel to The Corsair, was published anonymously on August 6,
1814.

Newstead had been put up for sale, but pending completion of the
contract was still in his possession. During his last visit but one,
whilst his sister was his guest, he became engaged to Miss Anna Isabella
Milbanke (b. May 17, 1792; d. May 16, 1860), the only daughter of Sir
Ralph Milbanke, Bart., and the Hon. Judith (born Noel), daughter of Lord
Wentworth. She was an heiress, and in succession to a peerage in her own
right (becoming Baroness Wentworth in 1856). She was a pretty girl of «a
perfect figure,» highly educated, a mathematician, and, by courtesy, a
poetess. She had rejected Byron’s first offer, but, believing that her
cruelty had broken his heart and that he was an altered man, she was now
determined on marriage. High-principled, but self-willed and
opinionated, she believed that she held her future in her own hands. On
her side there was ambition touched with fancy — on his, a wish to be
married and some hope of perhaps finding an escape from himself. The
marriage took place at Seaham in Durham on the 2nd of January 1815.
Bride and bridegroom spent three months in paying visits, and at the end
of March settled at 13 Piccadilly Terrace, London.

Byron was a member of the committee of management of Drury Lane theatre,
and devoted much of his time to his professional duties. He wrote but
little poetry. Hebrew Melodies (published April 1815), begun at Seaham
in October 1814, were finished and given to the musical composer, Isaac
Nathan, for publication. The Siege of Corinth and Parasina (published
February 7, 1816) were got ready for the press. On the 10th of December
Lady Byron gave birth to a daughter christened Augusta Ada. To judge
from his letters, for the first weeks or months of his marriage things
went smoothly. His wife’s impression was that Byron «had avowedly begun
his revenge from the first.» It is certain that before the child was
born his conduct was so harsh, so violent, and so eccentric, that she
believed, or tried to persuade herself, that he was mad.

On the 15th of January 1816 Lady Byron left London for her father’s
house, claimed his protection, and after some hesitation and
consultation with her legal advisers demanded a separation from her
husband. It is a matter of common knowledge that in 1869 Mrs Beecher
Stowe affirmed that Lady Byron expressly told her that Byron was guilty
of incest with his half-sister, Mrs Leigh; also that in 1905 the second
Lord Lovelace (Lord Byron’s grandson) printed a work entitled Astarte
which was designed to uphold and prove the truth of this charge. It is a
fact that neither Lady Byron nor her advisers supported their demand by
this or any other charge of misconduct, but it is also a fact that Lord
Byron yielded to the demand reluctantly, under pressure and for large
pecuniary considerations. It is a fact that Lady Byron’s letters to Mrs
Leigh before and after the separation are inconsistent with a knowledge
or suspicion of guilt on the part of her sister-in-law, but is also a
fact (see Astarte, pp. 142-145) that she signed a document (dated March
14, 1816) to the effect that any renewal of intercourse did not involve
and must not be construed as a withdrawal of the charge. It cannot be
doubted that Lady Byron’s conviction that her husband’s relations with
his half-sister before his marriage had been of an immoral character was
a factor in her demand for a separation, but whether there were other
and what issues, and whether Lady Byron’s conviction was founded on
fact, are questions which have not been finally answered. Lady Byron’s
charge, as reported by Mrs Beecher Stowe and upheld by the 2nd earl of
Lovelace, is «non-proven.» Mr Robert Edcome, in Byron: the Last Phase
(1909), insists that Mary Chaworth was the real object of Byron’s
passion, and that Mrs Leigh was only shielding her.

The separation of Lord and Lady Byron was the talk of the town. Two
poems entitled «Fare Thee Well» and «A Sketch,» which Byron had written
and printed for private circulation, were published by The Champion on
Sunday, April 14. The other London papers one by one followed suit. The
poems, more especially «A Sketch,» were provocative of criticism. There
was a balance of opinion, but politics turned the scale. Byron had
recently published some pro-Gallican stanzas, «On the ‘Star of the
Legion of Honour,'» in the Examiner (April 7), and it was felt by many
that private dishonour was the outcome of public disloyalty. The Whigs
defended Byron as best they could, but his own world, with one or two
exceptions, ostracized him. The «excommunicating voice of society,» as
Moore put it, was loud and insistent. The articles of separation were
signed on or about the 18th of April, and on Sunday, the 25th of April,
Byron sailed from Dover for Ostend. The «Lines on Churchill’s Grave»
were written whilst he was waiting for a favourable wind. His route lay
through the Low Countries, and by the Rhine to Switzerland. On his way
he halted at Brussels and visited the field of Waterloo. He reached
Geneva on the 25th of May, where he met by appointment at Dejean’s Hotel
d’Angleterre, Shelley, Mary Godwin and Clare (or «Claire») Clairmont.
The meeting was probably at the instance of Claire, who had recently
become, and aspired to remain, Byron’s mistress. On the 10th of June
Byron moved to the Villa Diodati on the southern shore of the lake.
Shelley and his party had already settled at an adjoining villa, the
Campagne Montalegre. The friends were constantly together. On the 23rd
of June Byron and Shelley started for a yachting tour round the lake.
They visited the castle of Chillon on the 26th of June, and, being
detained by weather at the Hotel del l’Ancre, Ouchy, Byron finished
(June 27-29) the third canto of Childe Harold (published November 18),
and began the Prisoner of Chillon (published December 5, 1816). These
and other poems of July-September 1816, e.g. «The Dream» and the first
two acts of Manfred (published June 16, 1817), betray the influence of
Shelley, and through him of Wordsworth, both in thought and style. Byron
knew that Wordsworth had power, but was against his theories, and
resented his criticism of Pope and Dryden. Shelley was a believer and a
disciple, and converted Byron to the Wordsworthian creed. Moreover he
was an inspiration in himself. Intimacy with Shelley left Byron a
greater poet than he was before. Byron passed the summer at the Villa
Diodati, where he also wrote the Monody on the Death of Sheridan,
published September 9, 1816. The second half of September was spent and
devoted to «an excursion in the mountains.» His journal (September
18-29), which was written for and sent to Mrs Leigh, is a great prose
poem, the source of the word pictures of Alpine scenery in Manfred. His
old friend Hobhouse was with him and he enjoyed himself, but at the
close he confesses that he could not lose his «own wretched identity» in
the «majesty and the power and the glory» of nature. Remorse was
scotched, not killed. On the 6th of October Byron and Hobhouse started
via Milan and Verona for Venice, which was reached early in November.
For the next three years Byron lived in or near Venice — at first,
1816-1817, in apartments in the Frezzeria, and after January 1818 in the
central block of Mocenigo palace. Venice appealed both to his higher and
his lower nature. He set himself to study her history, to understand her
constitution, to learn her language. The sights and scenes with which
Shakespeare and Otway, Schiller’s Ghostseer, and Madame de Stael’s
Corinne had made him familiar, were before his eyes, not dreams but
realities. He would «re-people» her with her own past, and «stamp her
image» on the creations of his pen. But he had no one to live for but
himself, and that self he gave over to a reprobate mind. He planned and
pursued a life of deliberate profligacy. Of two of his amours we learn
enough or too much from his letters to Murray and to Moore — the first
with his landlord’s wife, Marianna Segati, the second with Margarita
Cogni (the «Fornarina»), a Venetian of the lower class, who amused him
with her savagery and her wit. But, if Shelley may be trusted, there was
a limit to his candour. There is abundant humour, but there is an
economy of detail in his pornographic chronicle. He could not touch
pitch without being defiled. But to do him justice he was never idle. He
kept his brains at work, and for this reason, perhaps, he seems for a
time to have recovered his spirits and sinned with a good courage. His
song of carnival, «So we’ll go no more a-roving,» is a hymn of triumph.
About the middle of April he set out for Rome. His first halt was at
Ferrara, which inspired «The Lament of Tasso» (published July 17, 1817).
He passed through Florence, where he saw «the Venus» (of Medici) in the
Uffizi Gallery, by reedy Thrasymene and Terni’s «matchless cataract» to
«Rome the wonderful.» At Rome, with Hobhouse as companion and guide, he
stayed three weeks. He returned to Venice on the 28th of May, but
shortly removed to a villa on Mira on the Brenta, some 7 m. inland. A
month later (June 26) when memory had selected and reduced to order the
first impressions of his tour, he began to work them up into a fourth
canto of Childe Harold. A first draft of 126 stanzas was finished by the
29th of July; the 60 additional stanzas which made up the canto as it
stands were written up to material suggested by or supplied by Hobhouse,
«who put his researches» at Byron’s disposal and wrote the learned and
elaborate notes which are appended to the poem. Among the books which
Murray sent out to Venice was a copy of Hookham Frere’s Whistlecraft.
Byron took the hint and produced Beppo, a Venetian Story (published
anonymously on the 28th of February 1818). He attributes his choice of
the mock-heroic ottava-rima to Frere’s example, but he was certainly
familiar with Casti’s Novelle, and, according to Stendhal, with the
poetry of Buratti. The success of Beppo and a growing sense that «the
excellent manner of Whistlecraft» was the manner for him, led him to
study Frere’s masters and models, Berni and Pulci. An accident had led
to a great discovery.

The fourth canto of Childe Harold was published on the 18th of April
1818. Nearly three months went by before Murray wrote to him, and he
began to think that his new poem was a failure. Meanwhile he completed
an «Ode on Venice,» in which he laments her apathy and decay, and
contrasts the tyranny of the Old World with the new birth of freedom in
America. In September he began Don Juan. His own account of the
inception of his last and greatest work is characteristic but
misleading. He says (September 9) that his new poem is to be in the
style of Beppo, and is «meant to be a little quietly facetious about
everything.» A year later (August 12, 1819), he says that he neither has
nor had a plan—but that «he had or has materials.» By materials he
means books, such as Dalzell’s Shipwrecks and Disasters at Sea, or de
Castelnau’s Histoire de la nouvelle Russie, &c., which might be regarded
as poetry in the rough. The dedication to Robert Southey (not published
till 1833) is a prologue to the play. The «Lakers» had given samples of
their poetry, their politics and their morals, and now it was his turn
to speak and to speak out. He too would write «An Excursion.» He doubted
that Don Juan might be «too free for these modest days.» It was too free
for the public, for his publisher, even for his mistress; and the
«building up of the drama,» as Shelley puts it, was a slow and gradual
process. Cantos I., II. were published (4to) on the 15th of July 1819;
Cantos III., IV., V., finished in November 1820, were not published till
the 8th of August 1821. Cantos VI.-XVI., written between June 1822 and
March 1823, were published at intervals between the 15th of July 1823
and the 26th of March 1824. Canto XVII. was begun in May 1823, but was
never finished. A fragment of fourteen stanzas, found in his room at
Missolonghi, was first published in 1903.

He did not put all his materials into Don Juan. «Mazeppa, a tale of the
Russian Ukraine,» based on a passage in Voltaire’s Charles XII., was
finished by the 30th of September 1818 and published with «An Ode» (on
Venice) on the 28th of June 1819. In the spring of 1819 Byron met in
Venice, and formed a connexion with an Italian lady of rank, Teresa
(born Gamba), wife of the Cavaliere Guiccioli. She was young and
beautiful, well-read and accomplished. Married at sixteen to a man
nearly four times her age, she fell in love with Byron at first sight,
soon became and for nearly four years remained his mistress. A good and
true wife to him in all but name, she won from Byron ample devotion and
prolonged constancy. Her volume of Recollections (Lord Byron juge par
les temoins de sa vie, 1869), taken for what it is worth, is testimony
in Byron’s favour. The countess left Venice for Ravenna at the end of
April; within a month she sent for Byron, and on the 10th of June he
arrived at Ravenna and took rooms in the Strada di Porto Sisi. The house
(now No. 295) is close to Dante’s tomb, and to gratify the countess and
pass the time he wrote the «Prophecy of Dante» (published April 21,
1821). According to the preface the poem was a metrical experiment, an
exercise in terza rima; but it had a deeper significance. It was
«intended for the Italians.» Its purport was revolutionary. In the
fourth canto of Childe Harold, already translated into Italian, he had
attacked the powers, and «Albion most of all» for her betrayal of
Venice, and knowing that his word had weight he appeals to the country
of his adoption to strike a blow for freedom — to «unite.» It is
difficult to realize the force or extent of Byron’s influence on
continental opinion. His own countrymen admired his poetry, but abhorred
and laughed at his politics. Abroad he was the prophet and champion of
liberty. His hatred of tyranny — his defence of the oppressed — was a
word spoken in season when there were few to speak but many to listen.
It brought consolation and encouragement, and it was not spoken in vain.
It must, however, be borne in mind that Byron was more of a king-hater
than a people-lover. He was against the oppressors, but he disliked and
despised the oppressed. He was aristocrat by conviction as well as
birth, and if he espoused a popular cause it was de haut en bas. His
connexion with the Gambas brought him into touch with the revolutionary
movement, and thenceforth he was under the espionage of the Austrian
embassy at Rome. He was suspected and «shadowed,» but he was left alone.

Early in September Byron returned to La Mira, bringing the countess with
him. A month later he was surprised by a visit from Moore, who was on
his way to Rome. Byron installed Moore in the Mocenigo palace and
visited him daily. Before the final parting (October 11) Byron placed in
Moore’s hands the MS. of his Life and Adventures brought down to the
close of 1816. Moore, as Byron suggested, pledged the MS. to Murray for
2000 guineas, to be Moore’s property if redeemed in Byron’s lifetime,
but if not, to be forfeit to Murray at Byron’s death. On the 17th of May
1824, with Murray’s assent and goodwill, the MS. was burned in the
drawing-room of 50 Albemarle Street. Neither Murray nor Moore lost their
money. The Longmans lent Moore a sufficient sum to repay Murray, and
were themselves repaid out of the receipts of Moore’s Life of Byron.
Byron told Moore that the memoranda were not «confessions,» that they
were «the truth but not the whole truth.» This, no doubt, was the truth,
and the whole truth. Whatever they may or may not have contained, they
did not explain the cause or causes of the separation from his wife.

At the close of 1819 Byron finally left Venice and settled at Ravenna in
his own apartments in the Palazzo Guiccioli. His relations with the
countess were put on a regular footing, and he was received in society
as her cavaliere servente. At Ravenna his literary activity was greater
than ever. His translation of the first canto of Pulci’s Morgante
Maggiore (published in the Liberal, No. IV., July 30, 1832), a laborious
and scholarly achievement, was the work of the first two months of the
year. From April to July he was at work on the composition of Marino
Faliero, Doge of Venice, a tragedy in five acts (published April 21,
1821). The plot turns on an episode in Venetian history known as La
Congiura, the alliance between the doge and the populace to overthrow
the state. Byron spared no pains in preparing his materials. In so far
as he is unhistorical, he errs in company with Sanudo and early Venetian
chronicles. Moved by the example of Alfieri he strove to reform the
British drama by «a severer approach to the rules.» He would read his
countrymen a «moral lesson» on the dramatic propriety of observing the
three unities. It was an heroic attempt to reassert classical ideals in
a romantic age, but it was «a week too late»; Byron’s «regular dramas»
are admirably conceived and finely worded, but they are cold and
lifeless.

Eighteen additional sheets of the Memoirs and a fifth canto of Don Juan
were the pastime of the autumn, and in January 1821 Byron began to work
on his second «historical drama,» Sardanapalus. But politics intervened,
and little progress was made. He had been elected capo of the
«Americani,» a branch of the Carbonari, and his time was taken up with
buying and storing arms and ammunition, and consultations with leading
conspirators. «The poetry of politics» and poetry on paper did not go
together. Meanwhile he would try his hand on prose. A controversy had
arisen between Bowles and Campbell with regard to the merits of Pope.
Byron rushed into the fray. To avenge and exalt Pope, to decry the
«Lakers,» and to lay down his own canons of art, Byron addressed two
letters to * * * * * * * * (i.e. John Murray), entitled «Strictures on
the Life and Writings of Pope.» The first was published in 1821, the
second in 1835.

The revolution in Italy came to nothing, and by the 28th of May, Byron
had finished his work on Sardanapalus. The Two Foscari, a third
historical drama, was begun on the 12th of June and finished on the 9th
of July. On the same day he began Cain, a Mystery. Cain was an attempt
to dramatize the Old Testament; Lucifer’s apology for himself and his
arraignment of the Creator startled and shocked the orthodox.
Theologically the offence lay in its detachment. Cain was not irreverent
or blasphemous, but it treated accepted dogmas as open questions. Cain
was published in the same volume with the Two Foscari and Sardanapalus,
December 19, 1821. The «Blues,» a skit upon literary coteries and
patronesses, was written in August. It was first published in The
Liberal, No. III., April 26, 1823. When Cain was finished Byron turned
from grave to gay, from serious to humorous theology. Southey had
thought to eulogize George III. in hexameter verse. He called his
funeral ode a «Vision of Judgment.» In the preface there was an obvious
reference to Byron. The «Satanic School» of poetry was attributed to
«men of diseased hearts and depraved imaginations.» Byron’s revenge was
complete. In his «Vision of Judgment» (published in The Liberal, No. I.,
October 15, 1822) the tables are turned. The laureate is brought before
the hosts of heaven and rejected by devils and angels alike. In October
Byron wrote Heaven and Earth, a Mystery (The Liberal, No. II., January
1, 1823), a lyrical drama based on the legend of the «Watchers,» or
fallen angels of the Book of Enoch. The countess and her family had been
expelled from Ravenna in July, but Byron still lingered on in his
apartments in the Palazzo Guiccioli. At length (October 28) he set out
for Pisa. On the road he met his old friend, Lord Clare, and spent a few
minutes in his company. Rogers, whom he met at Bologna, was his fellow
traveller as far as Florence. At Pisa he rejoined the countess, who had
taken on his behalf the Villa Lanfranchi on the Arno. At Ravenna Byron
had lived amongst Italians. At Pisa he was surrounded by a knot of his
own countrymen, friends and acquaintances of the Shelleys. Among them
were E. J. Trelawny, Thomas Medwin, author of the well-known
Conversations of Lord Byron (1824), and Edward Elliker Williams. His
first work at Pisa was to dramatize Miss Lee’s Kruitzner, or the German
Tale. He had written a first act in 1815, but as the MS. was mislaid he
made a fresh adaptation of the story which he rechristened as Werner, or
the Inheritance. It was finished on the 20th of January and published on
the 23rd of November 1822. Werner is in parts Kruitzner cut up into
loose blank verse, but it contains lines and passages of great and
original merit. Alone of Byron’s plays it took hold of the stage.
Macready’s «Werner» was a famous impersonation.

In the spring of 1822 a heavy and unlooked-for sorrow befell Byron.
Allegra, his natural daughter by Claire Clairmont, died at the convent
of Bagna Cavallo on the 20th of April 1822. She was in her sixth year,
an interesting and attractive child, and he had hoped that her
companionship would have atoned for his enforced separation from Ada.
She is buried in a nameless grave at the entrance of Harrow church. Soon
after the death of Allegra, Byron wrote the last of his eight plays, The
Deformed Transformed (published by John Hunt, February 20, 1824). The
«sources» are Goethe’s Faust, The Three Brothers, a novel by Joshua
Pickersgill, and various chronicles of the sack of Rome in 1527. The
theme or motif is the interaction of personality and individuality.
Remonstrances on the part of publisher and critic induced him to turn
journalist. The control of a newspaper or periodical would enable him to
publish what and as he pleased. With this object in view he entered into
a kind of literary partnership with Leigh Hunt, and undertook to
transport him, his wife and six children to Pisa, and to lodge them in
the villa Lanfranchi. The outcome of this arrangement was The Liberal —
Verse and Prose from the South. Four numbers were issued between October
1822 and June 1823. The Liberal did not succeed financially, and the
joint menage was a lamentable failure. Correspondence of Byron and some
of his Contemporaries (1828) was Hunt’s revenge for the slights and
indignities which he suffered in Byron’s service. Yachting was one of
the chief amusements of the English colony at Pisa. A schooner, the
«Bolivar,» was built for Byron, and a smaller boat, the «Don Juan»
re-named «Ariel,» for Shelley. Hunt arrived at Pisa on the 1st of July.
On the 8th of July Shelley, who had remained in Pisa on Hunt’s account,
started for a sail with his friend Williams and a lad named Vivian. The
«Ariel» was wrecked in the Gulf of Spezia and Shelley and his companions
were drowned. On the 16th of August Byron and Hunt witnessed the
«burning of Shelley» on the seashore near Via Reggio. Byron told Moore
that «all of Shelley was consumed but the heart.» Whilst the fire was
burning Byron swam out to the «Bolivar» and back to the shore. The hot
sun and the violent exercise brought on one of those many fevers which
weakened his constitution and shortened his life.

The Austrian Government would not allow the Gambas of the countess
Guiccioli to remain at Pisa. As a half measure Byron took a villa for
them at Montenero near Leghorn, but as the authorities were still
dissatisfied they removed to Genoa. On reaching Genoa Byron took up his
quarters with the Gambas at the Casa Saluzzo, «a fine old palazzo with
an extensive view over the bay,» and Hunt and his party at the Casa
Negroto with Mrs Shelley. Life at Genoa was uneventful. Of Hunt and Mrs
Shelley he saw as little as possible, and though his still unfinished
poems were at the service of The Liberal, he did little or nothing to
further its success. Each number was badly received. Byron had some
reason to fear that his popularity was on the wane, and though he had
broken with Murray and was offering Don Juan (cantos VI.-XII.) to John
Hunt, the publisher of The Liberal, he meditated a «run down to Naples»
and a recommencement of Childe Harold. There was a limit to his defiance
of the «world’s rebuke.» Home politics and the congress of Verona
(November-December 1822) suggested a satire entitled «The Age of Bronze»
(published April 1, 1823). It is, as he said, «stilted,» and cries out
for notes, but it embodies some of his finest and most vigorous work as
a satirist. By the middle of February (1823) he had completed The
Island; or Christian and his Comrades (published June 26, 1823). The
sources are Bligh’s Narrative of the Mutiny on the Bounty, and Mariner’s
Account of the Tonga Islands. Satire and tale are a reversion to his
earlier method. The execution of The Island is hurried and unequal, but
there is a deep and tender note in the love-story and the recital of the
«feasts and loves and wars» of the islanders. The poetic faculty has
been «softened into feeling» by the experience of life.

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