« PreviousContinue »
marriage of this lady, not only shows the extreme Notwithstanding this schism, they for some time quickness and vehemence of her feelings, but, if it continued to visit, and even to drink tea with each be true that she had never at the time seen Captain other ; but the elements of discord were strong on Byron, is not a little striking. Being at the Edin- both sides, and their separation was, at last, com burgh theatre one night when the character of Isa- plete and final. He would frequently, however, bella was performed by Mrs.Siddons, so affected was accost the nurse and his son in their walks, and she by the powers of this great actress, that, to- expressed a sirong wish to have the child for a wards the conclusion of the play, she fell into violent day or two, on a visit with him. To this refits, and was carried out of the theatre, screaming quest Mrs. Byron was, at first, not very willing to loudly, “Oh my Biron, my Biron.”
acccde, but, on the representation of the nurse, Soon after the marriage, which took place, I be- that“ if he kept the boy one night, he would not lieve, at Bath, Mr. Byron and his lady removed to do so another," she consented. The event proved their estate in Scotland; and the extent of that chasm as the nurse had predicted; on inquiring next of debt, in which her fortune was to be swallowed morning after the child, she was told by Captain up,now opened upon the eyes of the ill-fated heiress. Byron that he had had quite enough of his young The creditors of Mr. Byron lost no time in pressing visitor, and she might take him home again. their demands; and not only was the whole of her It should be observed, however, that Mrs. Byron, ready money,Bank shares,fisheries,etc.,sacrificed to at this period, was unable to keep more than one satisfy them, but a large sum raised by mortgage on servant, and that, sent as the boy was on this octhe estate for the same purpose. In the summer casion to encounter the trial of a visit, without the of 1786, she and her husband left Scotland, to pro-accustomed surperintendence of his nurse, it is ceed to France; and in the following year the estate not so wonderful that he should have been found, of Gight itself was sold, and the whole of the pur- under such circumstances, rather an unmanagechase-money applied to the further payment of debts, able guest. That, as a child, his temper was vio-with the exception of a small sum vested in trus- lent, or rather sullenly passionate, is certain. tees for the use of Mrs. Byron ; who thus found her- Even when in petticoats, he showed the same unself, within the short space of two years, reduced controllable spirit with his nurse, which he afterfrom competence to a pittance of 1501. per annum. wards exbibited, when an author, with his critics.
From France Mrs. Byron returned to England at Being angrily reprimanded by her, one day, for the close of the year 1787, and on the 22d of Ja- having soiled or torn a new frock in which he had nuary, 1788, gave birth, in Holles-street, London, been just dressed, he got into one of his “ silent to her first and only child, George Gordon Byron. rages ” (as he himself has described them), seized The name of Gordon was added in compliance the frock with both his hands, rent it from top to with a condition imposed by will on whoever bottom, and stood in sullen stillness, setting his should become husband of the heiress of Gight; censurer and her wrath at defiance. and at the baptism of the child, the Duke of Gor- But, notwithstanding this, and other such undon, and Colonel Duff of Fetteresso stood god- ruly outbreaks-in which he was but too much fathers.
encouraged by the example of his mother, who From London Mrs. Byron proceeded with her frequently, it is said, proceeded to the same exinfant to Scotland, and, in the year 1990, took up tremities with her caps, gowns, etc.—there was her residence in Aberdeen, where she was soon in his disposition, as appears from the concurrent after joined by Captain Byron. Here for a short testimony of nurses, tutors, and all who were emtime they lived together in lodgings at the house ployed about him, a mixture of affectionate sweetof a person named Anderson, in Queen-street. ness and playfulness, by which it was impossible But their union being by no means happy, a se- not to be attached; and which rendered him tben. paration took place between them, and Mrs. Byron as in his riper years, easily manageable, by those removed to lodgings at the other en dof the street. (1 who loved and understood him sufficiently to be at
(!) It appears that she several times changed her residence Virginia-street, and the other, the house of a Mr. Leslie, I daring her stay at Aberdeen, as there are two other houses think, in Broad-street. pointed out, where she lodged for some time; one situated in
once gentle and firm enough for the task. The who still lives in his family, used often to join the female attendant of whom we have spoken, as well nurse of Byron when they were out with their reas her sister, May Gray, who succeeded her, gained spective charges, and one day said to her, as they an influence over his mind against which he very walked together, “What a pretty boy Byron is ! rarely rebelled; while his mother, whose capri- what a pity he has such a leg!” On hearing this cious excesses, both of anger and of fondness, left her allusion to his infirmity, the child's eyes flashed little hold on either his respect or affection, was with anger, and, striking at her with a little whip indebted solely to his sense of filial duty for any which he held in his hand, he exclaimed impasmall portion of authority she was ever able to ac- tiently, “Dinna speak of it!” Sometimes, howquire over him.
ever, as in after life, he could talk indifferently, By an accident which, it is said, occurred at the and even jestingly, of this lameness; and there time of h's birth, one of his feet was twisted out being another little boy in the neighbourhood, who of its natural position, and this defect (chiefly from had a similar defect in one of his feet, Byron would the contrivances employed to remedy it) was a say, laughingly, “ Come and see the twa laddies source of much pain and inconvenience to him with the twa club feet going up the Broad-street.” during his early years. The expedients used at Among many instances of his quickness and this period to restore the limb to shape were adopt- energy at this age, his nurse mentioned a little ed by the advice, and under the direction, of incident that one night occurred, on her taking the celebrated John Hunter, with whom Doctor him to the theatre to see the Taming of the Shrew. Livingstone of Aberdeen corresponded on the sub- He had attended to the performance, for some time, ject; and his nurse, to whom fell the task of put- with silent interest; but, in the scene between Cating on these machines or bandages, at bed-time, therine and Petruchio, where the following diawould often, as she herself told my informant, sing logue takes place, him to sleep, or tell him stories and legends, in Cath. I know it is the moon. which, like most other children, he took great de
Pet. Nay, then, you lie,- it is the blessed sun, light. She also taught him, while yet an infant, little Geordie (as they called the child), starting from to repeat a great number of the Psalms; and the first his seat, cried out boldly, “ But I say it is the moon, and twenty-third Psalms were among the earliest sir.” that he committed to memory. It is a remarkable The short visit of Captain Byron to Aberdeen has fact, indeed, that through the care of this respect- already been mentioned, and he again passed two able woman, who was herself of a very religious or three months in that city, before his last depardisposition, he attained a far earlier and more in- ture for France. On both occasions, his chief obtimate acquaintance with the Sacred Writings than ject was to extract still more money, if possible, falls to the lot of most young people. In a letter from the unfortunate woman whom he had begwhich he wrote to Mr. Murray, from Italy, in 1821, gared ; and so far was he successful, that, during after requesting of that gentleman to send him, by his last visit, narrow as were her means, she conthe first opportunity, a Bible, he adds—“Don't trived to furnish him with the money necessary for forget this, for I am a great reader and admirer his journey to Valenciennes, where, in the followof those books, and had read them through and ing year, 1791, he died. through before I was eight years old,- that is to When not quite five years old, young Byron was say, the Old Testament, for the New struck me as sent to a day-school at Aberdeen, taught by a task, but the other as a pleasure. I speak as a Mr. Bowers , (1) and remained there, with some inboy, from the recollected impression of that period terruptions, during a twelvemonth, as appears by at Aberdeen, in 1796. "
the following extract from the day-book of the The malformation of his foot was, even at this school : childish age, a subject on which he showed peculiar
“ George Gordon Byron.
191h November, 1792. sensitiveness. I have been told by a gentleman of
19h November, 1793-paid one guinea." Glasgow, that the person who nursed his wife, and The terms of this school for reading were only
(1) In Long Acre. The present master of this school is Mr. and War Pieces," and of a work of much utility entitled “ ClassDavid Grant, the ingenious editor of a collection of Battles
Book of Modern Poetry.
five shillings a quarter, and it was evidently less Latin, in Ruddiman's grammar, and continued with a view to the boy's advance in learning than till I went to the Grammar School' (Scoticė, as a cheap mode of keeping him quiet, that his schule;' Aberdonicè, 'squeel') where I threaded mother had him sent to it. Of the progress of his all the classes to the fourth, when I was recalled infantine studies at Aberdeen, as well under Mr. to England (where I had been hatched) by the Bowers as under the various other persons that demise of my uncle. I acquired this hand-writing, instructed him, we have the following interesting which I can hardly read myself, under the fair particulars communicated by himself, in a sort of copies of Mr. Duncan of the same city: I don't think journal which he once began, under the title of he would plume himself much upon my progress. “ My Dictionary,” and which is preserved in one However, I wrote much better then than I have ever of his manuscript books.
done since. Haste and agitation of one kind or “For several years of my earliest childhood, I another have quite spoilt as pretty a scrawl as ever was in that city, but have never revisited it since I scratched over a frank. The grammar school might was ten years old. I was sent, at five years old or consist of a hundred and fifty of all ages under age. earlier, to a school kept by a Mr. Bowers, who was it was divided into five classes taught by four mascalled Bodsy Bowers,' by reason of his dapperness. ters, the chief teaching the fourth and fifth himself; It was a school for both sexes. I learned little there as in England, the fifth, sixth forms, and monitors, except to repeat by rote the first lesson of mono- are heard by the head-masters.” syllables ( God made man'— Let us love Him') by Of his class-fellows at the grammar school there hearing it often repeated, without acquiring a let are many, of course, still alive, by whom he is well ter. Whenever proof was made of my progress at remembered ; (1) and the general impression they home, I repeated these words with the most rapid retain of him is, that he was a lively, warmfluency; but on turning over a new leaf, I continued hearted and high-spirited boy - passionate and to repeat them, so that the narrow boundaries of resentful, but affectionate and companionable with my first year's accomplishments were detected, my his school-fellows to a remarkable degree venears boxed (which they did not deserve, seeing lurous and fearless, and (as one of them signifiit was by ear only that I had acquired my letters), cantly expressed it) “ always more ready to give a and my intellects consigned to a new preceptor. blow than take one.” Among many anecdotes illusHe was a very devout, clever little clergyman, trative of this spirit, it is related that once, in renamed Ross, afterwards minister of one of the kirks turning home from school, he fell in with a boy who (Bast, I think). Under him I made astonishing pro- had on some former occasion insulted him, but had gress, and I recollect to this day his mild manners then got off unpunished-little Byron, however, at and good-natured pains-taking. The moment I the time, promising to “pay him off” whenever could read, my grand passion was history, and, they should meet again. Accordingly, on this sewhy I know not, but I was particularly taken with cond encounter, though there were some other the battle near the lake Regillus in the Roman His boys to take his opponent's part, he succeeded in tory, put into my hands the first. Four years ago, inflicting upon him a hearty beating. On his return when standing on the heights of Tusculum, and home, breathless, the servant inquired what he had looking down upon the little round lake that was been about, and was answered by him, with a mixonce Regillus, and which dots the immense expanse ture of rage and humour, that he had been paying below, I remembered my young enthusiasm and a debt, by beating a boy according to promise ; for my old instructor. Afterwards I had a very serious, that he was a Byron, and would never belie his saturnine, but kind young man, named Paterson, motto, “ Trust Byron.” for a tutor. He was the son of my shoemaker, but He was, indeed, much more anxious to distina good scholar, as is common with the Scotch. He cuish himself among his school-fellows by prowess was a rigid presbyterian also. With him I began in all sports (2) and exercises, than by advancement in learning. Though quick, when he could be bis safety. While at Aberdeen, he used often to persuaded to attend, or had any study that pleased steal from homeunperceived ;-sometimes he would him, he was in general very low in the class, nor find his way to the sea-side; and once, after a long seemed ambitious of being promoted any higher. and anxious search, they found the adventurous It is the custom, it seems, in this seminary, to invert little rover struggling in a sort of morass or marsh, now and then the order of the class, so as to make from which he was unable to extricate bimself. the highest and lowest boys change places—with a In the course of one of his summer excursions up view, no doubt, of piquing the ambition of both. Dee-side, he had an opportunity of seeing still more On these occasions, and only these, Byron was of the wild beauties of the Highlands than even the sometimes at the head, and the master, to banter neighbourhood of their residence at Ballatrech afhim, would say, “Now, George, man, let me see forded, --having been taken by his mother through how soon you 'll be at the foot again.” (1) the romantic passes that lead to Invercauld, and as
(1) The old Porter, too, at the College, “minds weel” the (2) “He was," says one of my informants, “a good hand at little boy, with the red jacket and nankeen trowsers, whom he marbles, and could drive one farther than most boys. He also bas so often turned out of the College court-yard.
excelled at Bases,' a game which requires considerable swinness of foot."
During this period, his mother and he inade, far up as the small waterfall called the Linn of occasionally, visits among their friends, passing Dee. Here his love of adventure had nearly cost some time at Fetteresso, the seat of his godfather, him his life. As he was scrambling along a decliColonel Duff (where the child's delight with a hu-vity that overhung the fall, some heather caught morous old butler, named Ernest Fidler, is still his lame foot, and he fell. Already he was rolling remembered), and also at Banff, where some near downward, when the attendant luckily caught hold connexions of Mrs. Byron resided.
of him, and was but just in time to save him from In the summer of the year 1796, after an attack being killed. of scarlet-fever, he was removed by his mother for It was about this period, when he was not quite change of air into the Highlands; and it was either eight years old, that a feeling, partaking more of at this time or in the following year that they took the nature of love than it is easy to believe possible up their residence at a farm-house in the neigh-in so young a child, took, according to his own bourhood of Ballater, a favourite summer resort for account, entire possession of his thoughts, and health and gaiety, about forty miles up the Dee showed how early, in this passion, as in most others, from Aberdeen. Though this house, where they the sensibilities of his nature were awakened (2). still show with much pride the bed in which young The name of the object of this attachment was Byron slept, has become naturally a place of pil- Mary Duff; and the following passage from a Jourgrimage for the worshippers of genius, neither its nal, kept by him in 1813, will show how freshly, own appearance, nor that of the small bleak valley after an interval of seventeen years, all the circumin which it stands, is at all worthy of being asso- stances of this early love still lived in his memory. ciated with the memory of a poet. Within a short "I have been thinking lately a good deal of Mary distance of it, however, all those features of wild- Duff. How very odd that I should have been so utness and beauty, which mark the course of the Dee terly, devotedly fond of that girl, at an age when I through the Highlands, may be surveyed. Here could neither feel passion, nor know the meaning the dark summit of Lachin-y-gair stood towering of the word! And the effect -My mother used before the eyes of the future bard; and the verses always to rally me about this childish amour; and, in which, not many years afterwards, he comme- at last, many years after, when I was xteen, she morated this sublime object, show that, young as told me one day, 'Oh, Byron, I have had a letter he was at the time, its “ frowning glories” were from Edinburgh, from Miss Abercromby, and your not unnoticed by him.
old sweetheart Mary Duff is married to a Mr. Co-e.' His love of solitary rambles, and his taste for And what was my answer? I really cannot explain exploring in all directions, led him not unfre- or account for my feelings at that moment; but they quently so far as to excite serious apprehensions for nearly threw me into convulsions, and alarmed my
(1) On examining the quarterly list kept at the grammar the fourth class, consisting of twenty-seven boys, and bad got schoo! of Aberdeen, in which the names of the boys are set ahead of several of his contemporaries, who had, previously, down according to the station cach holds in his class, it ap- always stood before him. pears that in April of the year 1794, the name of Byron, then (2) Dante, we know, was but nine years old when, at a Mayin the second class, stands lwenty-third in a list of thirty-eight day festival, he saw and fell in love with Beatrice; and Alfieri, boys. In the April of 1798, however, he had risen to be fifth in who was himself a precocious lover, considers such early seasi
mother so much, that, after I grew better, she ge- it in her answer to Miss A., who was well acquaintnerally avoided the subject-tome-and contented ed with my childish penchant, and had sent the herself with telling it to all her acquaintance. news on purpose for me,-and, thanks to her! Now, what could this be? I had never seen her “Next to the beginning, the conclusion has often since her mother's faux-pas at Aberdeen had been occupied my reflections, in the way of investigation. the cause of her removal to her grandmother's at That the facts are thus, others know as well as I, Banff; we were both the merest children. I bad and my memory yet tells me so, in more than a and have been attached fifty times since that period; whisper. But, the more I reflect, the more I am yet I recollect all we said to each other, all our ca- bewildered to assign any cause for this precocity of resses, her features, my restlessness, sleeplessness, affection.” my tormenting my mother's maid to write for me By the death of the grandson of the old Lord at to her, which she at last did, to quiet me. Poor Corsica, in 1794, the only claimant that had hitherNancy thought I was wild, and, as I could not write to stood between little George and the immediate for myself, became my secretary. I remember, succession to the peerage was removed; and the too, our walks, and the happiness of sitting by increased importance which this event conferred Mary, in the children's apartment, at their house upon them was felt not only by Mrs. Byron, but by not far from the Plainstones at Aberdeen, while her the young future Baron of Newstead himself. In lesser sister Helen played with the doll, and we the winter of 1797, his mother having chanced, one sate gravely making love, in our way.
day, to read part of a speech spoken in the House “ How the deuce did all this occur so early? of Commons, a friend who was present said to the where could it originate ? I certainly had no sex-boy, “We shall have the pleasure, some time or ual ideas for years afterwards; and yet my misery, other, of reading your speeches in the House of my love for that girl, were so violent, that I some-Commons.” “I hope not,” was his answer; times doubt if I have ever been really attached since you read any speeches of mine, it will be in the Be that as it may, hearing of her marriage several House of Lords.” years after was like a thunder-stroke-it nearly The title, of which he thus early anticipated the
choked me to the horror of my mother and the enjoyment, devolved to him but too soon. Had he astonishment and almost incredulity of every body. been left to struggle on for ten years longer, as And it is a phenomenon in my existence (for I was plain George Byron, there can be little doubt that not eight years old) which has puzzled and will puz- his character would have been, in many respects, zle me to the latest hour of it; and lately, I know the better for it. In the following year his grandnot why, the recollection (not the attachment) has uncle, the fifth Lord Byron, died at Newstead Abrecurred as forcibly as ever. I wonder if she can bey, having passed the latter years of his strange life have the least remembrance of it or me? or re- in a state of austere and almost savage seclusion. member her pitying sister Helen for not having an It is said, that the day after little Byron's accession admirer too? How very pretty is the perfect image to the title, he ran up to his mother, and asked her, of her in my memory!-her brown, dark hair, and whether she perceived any difference in him since hazel eyes; her very dress! I should be quite he had been made a Lord, as he perceived none grieved to see her now; the reality, however himself: "—a quick and natural thought; but the beautiful, would destroy, or at least confuse, the child little knew whata total and talismanic change features of the lovely Peri which then existed in had been wrought in all his future relations with her, and still lives in my imagination, at the dis- society, by the simple addition of that word before tance of more than sixteen years. I am now lwenty- his name. That the event, as a crisis in his life, five and odd months....
affected him, even at that time, may be collected “I think mother told the circumstances (on my from the agitation which he is said to have manihearing of her marriage) to the Parkynses, and cer- fested on the important morning when his name tainly to the Pigot family, and probably mentioned was first called out in school with the title of “Do
bility to be an unerring sign of a soul formed for the line arts: a quei soli pochissimi è concesso l'iscir della colla volgare in
“Efetti ( be says, in describing the feelings of his own first cutte le umane arli.” Canova used to say, that he perfectly 1 love ) cbe poche persone intendono, e pochissime provano : ma well remembered having been in love when but five years old.