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The compensating qualities of his style are simple and generally obvious, and they are not subtle. But his style admirably suits his genius, and at its best meets, with candid and impartial readers, his own test of effectiveness. There is, moreover, an underlying sincerity in his art. “ If,” writes Professor Courthope, “... we search for the special quality that gives his work its enduring interest and its strange power over the imagination, I think it will be found to be reality; reality in description, reality in feeling, reality in style."1 It requires in our day a determined effort of detachment and readjustment to appreciate the profound genius and the essential sincerity of Byron. He did not know himself; it is only with difficulty that we to-day can arrive at even a partial knowledge of him. Mediocrity has misinterpreted him, and has done its worst to obscure his genius. It has been in vain, for his works live after him; and through them, however obscured, that genius shines. Apart from all questions of the technicalities of ethics and of art two potent personalities, two pre-eminent poets, loom forth in the English literature of the first half of the nineteenth century, Byron and Wordsworth, different in type, different in method, but both leaders in the march of humanity. The one is the great modern English poet of the will, the proclaimer of emancipation to man. His method stands in the exaltation of freedom and of personal force. The other is the poet of character, and the advocate of law. The wisdom of passivity, and reconciliation through ultimate submission are his words of order. Taken together they fully represent their age, and they have both left abiding monuments of immortal verse behind them.
i Compare Ruskin's interesting account (in his “ Præterita," N. Y., 1886, I, 258 f.) of his early indebtedness to Byron : “ Two things I consciously recognized, that his truth of observation was the most exact, and his chosen expression the most concentrated, that I had yet found in literature. ... But here at last I had found a man who spoke only what he had seen and known ; and spoke without exaggeration, without mystery, without enmity, and without mercy. That is so ;-make what you will of it !'"
CHRONOLOGICAL OUTLINE OF
THE LIFE OF BYRON
BYRON'S career naturally falls into four Periods (Nichol), as indicated below. Progressive growth, deepening of power, and increasing command of style, is traceable throughout.
Ancestry ancient, .tracing to Norman and Viking founders. Ennobled in 1643. Distinguished members two generations before Byron. His father a libertine and spendthrift. His mother of old Scotch stock, violent, ill-bred, hysterical. Passion, eccentricity, and self-will from both branches. Newstead Abbey family seat of Byrons since Henry VIII.
1788–1809. FIRST PERIOD : EARLY YEARS AND YOUTHFUL
1788, Jan. 22. Born in London. Congenital lameness. 1790. Moved to Aberdeen. Childhood under care of kindly nurse,
Mary Gray. Early imbibes Scotch Calvinistic doctrines (traces of which remain in all his later thought) and
knowledge of the Bible. 1792. To day-school in Aberdeen. Later to Rev. Mr. Ross, and
then to Mr. Paterson. Begins Latin. Mediocre student,
but passion for reading history and romance. 1794. Becomes heir-apparent to the Barony. 1795-6. Early childish passion for a cousin, Mary Duff. 1796. Visit to Scotch Highlands. Early love of mountains. 1798. Inherits the title and estates. Journey to Newstead. Settles
in Nottingham. Lord Carlisle, an uncle, his guardian. 1799. School at Dulwich under Dr. Glennie. Voracious general
reading. 1800. Boyish passion for another cousin, Margaret Parker
1801-1805. At Harrow school under Dr. Jos. Drury. Latin;
some Greek; reading knowledge of French; mere smattering of German. (Learns Italian thoroughly in later
life.) Wide reading. Strong memory. 1803-4. Disappointed in love for Mary Chaworth (cf. “ The
Dream"). 1805–1808. At Cambridge, Trinity College. Little attention to
studies. M.A. 1808. College friends,—esp. Hobhouse,
Byron's stanch and life-long friend. 1806. Juvenile poems (issue destroyed).-1807, Jan. “ Juvenilia'
revised (private). 1807, March. “Hours of Idleness ” (“Juvenilia,” public). 1808. Life in London. Dissipation.—March. Attack on poems
by " Edinburgh Review." 1809, Jan. 22. Comes of age. Takes seat in House of Lords.
March. « English Bards and Scotch Reviewers." Fare.
well revels with friends at Newstead before going abroad. 1809–1812. SECOND PERIOD: First SOJOURN ABROAD. FIRST
CANTOS OF “CHILDE Harold.” 1809, June. Sails for Portugal.— July. At Lisbon, trip through
Spain, to Greece, etc. (See Itinerary, in Notes to
“* Childe Harold,” below.) 1810, March. Completes second canto of “Childe Harold.”
Pressure from creditors at home, and consequently, 1811, July, returns to England. --August. Death of his mother.
Beginning of friendship with Tom Moore. 1812, February. “Childe Harold” I-II published. Its immense
success. 1812–1813. Several speeches in House of Lords on Liberal side. 1812–1816. THIRD PERIOD: LIFE IN LONDON; EARLY VERSE
ROMANCES. 1812-1814. Lion of the day in London. Literary society (Sheri.
dan, Rogers, Moore, Campbell, Monk Lewis, Mme. de Staël, etc. Corresponds with Scott, whom he meets in
1815.) Affair with Lady Caroline Lamb. 1813–1815. “ The Giaour,” “Bride of Abydos," "Corsair,”
“Lara,” “Hebrew Melodies,” “Siege of Corinth," " Parisina,” etc,
1814. Engagement to Miss Milbanke. 1815, January 2. Marriage.—December. Birth of daughter,
Augusta Ada. 1816, January. Lady Byron leaves Byron. Public scandal.
Formal separation. 1816, April. Byron leaves England for good, “hunted out of the
country, bankrupt in purse and heart." 1816-1824. Fourth PERIOD: LIFE ABROAD ; PRODUCTION OF
THE GREAT WORKS. 1816. Through Belgium and along the Rhine to Switzerland (see
Itinerary). Friendship with Shelley. Influence on his work. Amour with Clare Clairmont (Godwin's daughter). Various excursions.— June. - Prisoner of Chillon." Third canto of “Childe Harold” written. - July. " Manfred” begun.-- October. To Italy. November.
Settles in Venice (three years). Period of dissipation. 1817, January. Birth of Allegra (in England). Dies in Italy,
1817. Fever. Trip to Rome.-September. Fourth canto of
“Childe Harold” completed. 1818. “Manfred.” September. Canto I of “ Don Juan" written.
• Beppo.” Visit from Shelley (cf. Shelley's “Julian and
Maddalo"). 1819. “Mezeppa."-October. Visit from Moore. Further cantos
of “Don Juan.” “Prophecy of Dante.” Relations with
Countess Guiccioli begin. 1820. At Ravenna. “Marino Faliero.” Sympathy with revolu
tionary movement of the Carbonari to free Italy.-- August.
Visit from Shelley. 1821, August. Expelled from Ravenna. "Two Foscari,” - Sar
dana palus," "Cain," " Vision of Judgment.”-November.
In Pisa. 1822. Visit from Trelawny (see his " Recollections.") Arrival of
Leigh Hunt and family. "The Liberal.”—July. Death of Shelley.--September. Removal from Pisa to Genoa. Friendship with the Blessingtons (cf. Lady Blessington's “Conversations.") "Werner,” 66 The Deformed Transformed.” Further cantos of " Don Juan.” Various minor poems.