Page images

more than any human being." Association with all these and with his tutor, and with the university lecturers, had an influence hard to estimate, but nevertheless real.

In 1806, when Byron was eighteen years old, he collected and published for private distribution his juvenile Activitles of poems, which were in no sense remarkable, and Later Life

did not foreshadow his future genius. A year later he issued another volume entitled Hours of Idle


As we view it in retrospect, the publication of Hours in Idleness is important, not so much for its inherent merit as for its influence in making literary history. It was perhaps largely by chance that the volume happened to fall under the eye and under the odium of Lord Brougham, who thereupon wrote a scathing criticism of the work for the Edinburgh Review. The severity of this criticism aroused the Berserker nature of Lord Byron, who retaliated with a long poem, published a year later (1809), English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. The reply revealed the rapid movement and the satiric gleam which distinguished much of Byron's later work. It immediately gave him a reputation for poetic power, though full of bitterness and abuse.

Just a few weeks before the publication of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers Byron had come, of age and had taken his seat in the House of Lords. Shortly after the publication of the poem he started with his friend Hobhouse on his first sojourn on the Continent. In his journey of two years he visited Portugal, Spain, Sardinia, Greece, Turkey, and other foreign countries, at odd hours writing in verse an idealized account of his travels.

On his return to England in 1811 he published the first two cantos of this account under the title of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. This poem met with extraordinary popularity; as Byron himself expressed it, “I awoke one morning and found myself famous."

For a time after his return to England Byron was deeply interested in politics, and made several speeches in the House of Lords on the Liberal side. But the natural genius of the man was literary and social. He became the popular hero of the hour. He became the intimate companion of such celebrities as Sheridan, Rogers, Campbell, Monk Lewis, and Madame de Staël. His social duties did not apparently interfere with his writing, and before 1816 he had written and published The Waltz, The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair, Lara, Hebrew Melodies, Siege of Corinth, and Parisina.

On January 2, 1815, Byron, after a series of love-affairs, was married to Miss Anne Isabella Milbanke, only daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke. In December of that year their daughter, Augusta Ada, was born. The temperaments of the husband and wife were ill-suited, and after an unhappy year of married life, there was a formal separation. Their domestic trouble was widely heralded, and Byron, the erstwhile lion of London society, was degraded and held up to public scorn. Lady Byron thought him insane. Matters grew so disturbing to the poet that in April of 1816 Byron left England for good. Concerning this departure he later wrote: “I felt that, if what was whispered and muttered and murmured was true, I was unfit for England ; if false, England was unfit for me. I withdrew; but this was not enough. In other countries in Switzerland, in the shadow of the Alps, and by the blue depth of the lakes — I was pursued and breathed upon by the same blight. I crossed the mountains, but it was the same; so I went a little farther, and settled myself by the waves of the Adriatic, like the stag at bay, who betakes himself to the water.

This second tour on the Continent provided the material for the third and fourth cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Among the places visited were Ostend, Ghent, Antwerp, Mechlin, Waterloo, Geneva, Coblentz, Lake Leman, Vevay (where the castle of Chillon is situated), Milan, Venice, and Rome. The poem was completed in the latter part of 1817.

In the meantime The Prisoner of Chillon had been completed and Manfred had been begun. These were followed by Beppo (1818), Prophecy of Dante (1819), Marino Faliero (1820), The Two Foscari (1821), Sardanapalus (1821), Cain (1821), Vision of Judgment (1821), Werner (1822), The Deformed Transformed (1822), Dón Juan, unfinished, (1823), and many minor poems.

. But Byron's interests were not wholly literary. In 1820 he became an active sympathizer in the Carbonari movement in Italy - a movement designed to free Italy from Austrian rule. The leaders of the Carbonari were discovered and banished. Byron, being an Englishman of rank, was exempted from punishment, though the Austrian government was cognizant of his connection with the conspiracy

His last political interest was the independence of Greece in her struggle against Turkey. For this he gave freely of his money, equipping a ship at his own expense and volunteering his services. In this campaign he manifested such courage and sagacity that he quickly won the confidence of the Grecian leaders. Some historians think that, had he lived to see the success of the Greek cause, he would have been made king. But all plans were cut short by fever contracted at Mesolonghi. Here, after an illness of ten days, he died, April 19, 1824, greatly mourned by the Greeks. Burial at Westminster Abbey being denied him, his remains were laid by the side of those of his ancestors in the village church at Hucknall, the conservative gentry abstemiously denying their presence, the common people attending in throngs.

In all that period from 1816 to his death in 1824 Byron had lived on the Continent the life of a reckless adventurer and nomad. Venice, Ravenna, Pisa, Genoa, Mesolonghi — all these had been successive scenes in the fifth act of his life's tragedy. Into it had come other important characters -- the Shelleys, the Godwins, Lady Caroline Lamb, Claire Clairmont, the Countess Guiccioli, the members of the Carbonari, and the Greek revolters. Moods of passion and patriotism and generosity and satire and courage and irresolution mingled in strange confusion, until finally the end came in his death by fever in that last sacrificial deed of his in behalf of Grecian liberty.




I STOOD in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand;
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand :
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O’er the far times, when many a subject land

Look'd to the winged Lion's marble piles, Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles !

She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers
At airy distance, with majestic motion,
A ruler of the waters and their powers.
And such she was ;- her daughters had their

From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
Pour'd in her lap all gems in sparkling showers :

In purple was she robed, and of her feast Monarchs partook, and deem'd their dignity in






In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear;


Those days are gone, but Beauty still is here;
States fall, arts fade, but Nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,

The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!



But unto us she hath a spell beyond
Her name in story, and her long array
Of mighty shadows, whose dim forms despond
Above the dogeless city's vanish'd sway:
Ours is a trophy which will not decay
With the Rialto; Shylock and the Moor
And Pierre can not be swept or worn away,

The keystones of the arch! -- though all were o'er, For us repeopled were the solitary shore.




The beings of the mind are not of clay;
Essentially immortal, they create
And multiply in us a brighter ray
And more beloved existence. That which Fate
Prohibits to dull life in this our state
Of mortal bondage, by these spirits supplied,
First exiles, then replaces what we hate;

Watering the heart whose early flowers have died, 45 And with a fresher growth replenishing the void.


Such is the refuge of our youth and age,
The first from Hope, the last from Vacancy;
And this worn feeling peoples many a page,
And, may be, that which grows beneath mine eye.
Yet there are things whose strong reality


« PreviousContinue »