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CHARLES SWAIN THOMAS, A.M.
HEAD OF THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT IN THE
NEWTON (MASS.) HIGH SCHOOL
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF LORD BYRON
ALTHOUGH Byron died at the age of thirty-six, the events of his life, as contrasted with those of most poets, are numerous and dramatic. Byron's temperament was restless and passionate, and this restlessness and passion carried him, in his brief career, into many and varied activities. We can get a short, comprehensive view of his life by considering it under the four following headings: (1) Birth and Parentage; (2) Early Training and Schooling; (3) Career at Cambridge; (4) Activities of Later Life.
George Gordon Byron was born in Holles Street, London, January 22, 1788. His father came of aristocratic lineage, though with many blots on the family Birth and escutcheon. His paternal grand-uncle, then lord Parentage of the estate at Newstead, which had been granted to the family by Henry VIII. killed his neighbor and kinsman, Mr. Chaworth, was committed to the Tower, and later convicted of manslaughter. The grandfather, though bearing a better reputation, led a stormy existence as an admiral in the British navy. Of him Byron wrote in the Epistle to Augusta, "He had no rest at sea, nor I. on shore."
The father of the poet was a notorious profligate who bore to the end of his life an unsavory reputation, and finally, after abandoning his wife and child, died abroad, leaving a very small fortune for his family.
Byron's mother, Catherine Gordon, was also of aristocratic birth, being descended from James I. of Scotland, through his daughter Annabella, married to the second Earl of Huntley. The mother was a woman of ungovernable temper, so variable and so ill-poised that Byron as a schoolboy calmly admitted to one of his playmates that she was a fool. She was not devoid of affection, but her affection was not of the strong, partial sort that arouses a child's early love. Because her son was afflicted with congenital lameness she
seemed rather angered than sympathetic. In one of her angry moods she ended her abuse by calling him "a lame brat." The sensitive nature of the boy was touched, and he said plaintively, "I was born so, mother.”
When Byron was a mere infant the mother moved from London to Aberdeen, Scotland. The father was a transient visitor here until his death in 1791. Neither parent seems to have exerted the influence which the little boy's nurse, Mary Gray, exerted; and to her biographers attribute the poet's knowledge of the Bible-particularly the Psalms-and the early Calvinistic bent given to his religious nature.
Here in Scotland his formal schooling began. In 1792he was then but four years old — he was sent to a rudimentary school taught by a Mr. Boyers. He had several different tutors who prepared him for the Aberdeen Grammar School, where, to use his own phrase, he "threaded all the classes to the fourth."
Early Training and Schooling
At this time (1798) Byron inherited the estate of Newstead Abbey, and soon the mother and son returned to England. Newstead, however, was in a state of decay and burdened with debt. Mrs. Byron could not afford to live there, and accordingly took up her residence at Nottingham where they lived for twelve months, Byron being under 'the tutelage of a Mr. Rogers, who seems to have aroused the boy's affection. From here he went to Dr. Glennie's school at Dulwich, leaving that for Harrow, which he entered in 1801.
Of the boy Byron Dr. Joseph Drury, the head-master, later wrote: "Mr. Hanson, Lord Byron's solicitor, consigned him to my care at the age of thirteen and a half, with remarks that his education had been neglected; that he was ill-prepared for a public school; but that he thought there was cleverness about him. After his departure I took my young disciple into my study, and endeavored to bring him forward by inquiries as to his former amusements, employments, and associates, but with little or no effect, and I soon found that a wild mountain colt had been submitted to my management. But there was mind in his
In the first place, it was necessary to attach him to an elder boy: the information he received gave him no pleasure when he heard of the advances of some much younger than himself. This I discovered, and assured him that he should not be placed till by diligence he might rank with those of his own age. manner and temper soon convinced me that he might be led by a silken string to a point, rather than a cable: on that principle I acted."
Byron to the end of his life cherished a high regard for Dr. Drury, but the school except the last year and a half-he disliked. He revolted against its discipline; he was a careless student of Latin, Greek, and mathematics; and disliked continuous study of any kind; but all the while he was an omnivorous reader. His special interest at this time lay in declamation rather than in poetry. His prowess in athletics, especially in boxing, rowing, and swimming, won for him a leader's part among the boys of the school. He formed many strong attachments, and won a reputation for loyalty in his friendships.
Byron spent the years from 1805 to 1808 in a desultory attendance at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received his honorary nobleman's M. A. degree in March Career at of his last year in residence. Just how he was Cambridge able to secure a degree is a mystery, for he was always a poor student, idled away much of his time in London, squandered his money lavishly, and spent much of his time in athletic sports in cricket, boxing, riding, shooting, and swimming.
For the University he avowed a candid dislike, as did Milton and Dryden and Gray. Yet careless as the days he spent here, it would be folly to suppose that the academic atmosphere was not a powerful influence in developing his poetical genius. Here he met many young men who became his ardent friends, many of whom helped to kindle his intellectual fires. His intimate companions were Edward Noel Long, Charles Skinner Mathews, the Rev. F. Hodgson, and his lifelong friend, John Cam Hobhouse. He was especially intimate with a youth named Eddlestone, of inferior social rank, but one whom he said he "loved