« PreviousContinue »
important lesson in this uniform result. Nature, as positive as fate, will not tolerate a succession of geniuses in the same family ; a great soul shines like a fixed star in the intellectual firmament; she is satisfied, records the name, closes the registry, and seals the book.
Lord Byron was a memorable instance of this inflexible law. He was the son of man of strong and wayward passions, and a mother equally impulsive and eccentric. In the heritage of his family we may find the seeds of his ardent passions, the elements of his character and his genius. He was the son of Captain John Byron, of the Guards, and Catherine Gordon, heiress of George Gordon, the descendant of Sir William Gordon, the third son of the Earl of Huntly, by his Countess the Princess Jane Stuart, daughter of James I. of Scotland. His paternal grandfather was the celebrated Admiral John Byron, whose account of his shipwreck and sufferings is one of the most interesting books of its kind in the English language. Byron's father was one of the most handsome and most profligate men of his day, and was called “ Mad Jack Byron.” He seduced Amelia, Marchioness of Carmarthaen, daughter of the Earl of Holderness; whom, on being divorced from her husband, he married.
Originally of Normandy, the first of the family came over with William the Conqueror. Doomsday Book mentions Ralph de Burun as holding lands in Nottinghamshire. His descendants were feudal barons of Horestan, in Derbyshire, and they became possessed of the lands of Rochdale, in Lancashire, in the reign of Edward I. Newstead Abbey was, in the reign of Henry VIII., conferred on Sir John Byron, who was also Constable of Nottingham Castle, and Master of Sherwood Forest. Two of the poet's ancestors distinguished themselves at the siege of Calais, and were found among the slain at Cressy. Another brother fought on the side of Richmond at Bosworth Field. The Byrons adhered to the cause of Charles I., and Sir John Byron had the charge of the escort which conveyed the plate contributed by the University for the royal use. At Edge Hill seven brothers of the family fought on the side of the king.
A grand-uncle, the fifth Lord Byron, and his immediate predecessor, was a very passionate man, and killed his cousin, Mr. Chaworth, in a duel fought in the dark, and was tried
by the House of Peers for manslaughter, found guilty, pleaded his privilege, and was discharged. Captain Byron, the father of the poet, was a widower, deeply in debt when he married the “bonny Miss Gordon,” of Gight, and as the rhyme indicated
“To squander the lands o' Giglit awa'.” The property of the lady, worth about £23,500, was all wasted by the end of the second year of the marriage, and a separation then took place between them.
The mother of the poet was quick in her feelings, violent in her temper, and strong in her affections. She had a comely countenance, was somewhat diminutive in size, and inclined to embonpoint. In these brief outlines we have the sketch and the heritage of the “ Author of Childe Harold." The poet became united to Miss Millbanke who was endowed with a highly sensitive nervous constitution and temperament. She had great delicacy and susceptibility, conjoined with large endowments in the moral and intellectual regions of the brain, a finely organised system, indicated by her refined and delicately moulded features, and in the structure of her beautiful hands; so nobly open and generous in acts of judicious benevolence and charity, bespeaking the exquisite susceptibility of her heart.* Their only child, Ada, whom Byron feelingly apostrophises in one of his most passionate utterances, was, in the lower part of the features, her large brain and her tendency to embonpoint, very like the poet, and in the form of her forehead like her mother.t The poet asks her-
Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child
Ada ! sole daughter of my house and heart?
And then we parted--not as now we part.
*“A lady who devoted the summer and the autumn of her days to the steady and systematic practice of wholesale charity in the highest sense, and whom many a poor curate's family, and many a poor reformatory child, will have reason to bless to the end of their days.”—London Daily Paper.
+ Lord Byron wrote upon a proof sheet of Marino Faliero, "Ada, all but the mouth, is the picture of her mother, and I am glad of it.”
She was, when I knew her, buoyant, hearty, and energetic, with an independent and inquisitive spirit; endowed with warm affections, a vigorous mind, and a strong willmarks of the stock from which she sprung. She was rather tall, handsome, and elegant in her manners ; endowed with great capabilities, and possessed high attainments as a linguist and a musician. She was a frequent and early visitor at the Agricultural School at Ealing. Grove, to watch the progress of the experiment so useful in proving the practicability of combining industrial training with mental culture, in schools for the middle and working classes. A lively interest was manifested by her in the progress of the boys, and especially in that of a fine dark eyed boy, nine years of age, about whom she always enquired during her stay. Both in the physiognomy of the features and the manifestation of the character, I was often reminded of Byron; and, like him, she died at the early age of thirty-seven.
After the death of Ada, then the Countess of Lovelace, her eldest son left home and the proud towers of East Horsley. He was content to earn his daily subsistence by the sweat of his brow in the iron ship-building yard of Mr. Scott Russell at Blackwall. At an early age he entered the Royal Navy, but soon left it. He then attempted to enter as a common sailor before the mast of a merchant vessel trading with America. Afterwards, he entered the shop of the millwright as a mechanic. But Lord Ockham, Baron Wentworth, the grandson of the author of “Childe Harold,” enjoyed only a brief existence among the living, as he died at the early age of tweuty-six ; showing in the short story of his life, that genius and eccentricity were nearly related.
Poetry, Sculpture, Painting, and Music, are peculiarly dependent on special organisations, united to fine temperament. Dugald Stewart and others, erroneously hold that talent and genius for these arts are the “result of acquired habits, and gradually formed by particular habits of study or of business.” But the maxim is founded in truth which says, Poets are born, not made ; although study and fitting outward circumstances are necessary to their full development and expression. Activity, sensibility, and fineness of appreciation or acuteness of perception-must be combined as the foundation for ultimate success; and these attributes depend on the due proportion and quality of the nervous organism, whatever may be the outward influences. Mozart, when four years old, began to write music which wis found to be in strict accordance with the rules of conposition, although he had received no instruction in them; and Shakspere's magnificent productions read as if they had emanated from him like splendid intuitions—the giant strokes of genius.
To form a great poet or artist, requires, therefore, a fine constitution and an active temperament; a large brain, or full endowment of the propensities and moral sentiments, with a large perceptive region, and good, large, or active imaginative and constructive faculties. Truth, simplicity, and force are the result, as seen in the beautiful creations of genius. This beauty in art is the effect of mental growth. Poetry is the language of passion idealised and beautified ; painting and sculpture are silent poetry, embodying and surrounding form and colour with refined sentiment; while music is the utterance of poetic and passionate expression.
All races write their history in their greatest national works, and in which we see prominent features of their character. The idols of the East; the pyramids and sphynxes of Egypt; the temples of the Greeks, in their simple grandeur; the arch of the Romans, in its solid strength ; and the railways, as well as the political institutions of England, are all epic passages in history, and mark great epochs in the proyress of nations. Shakspere is one of the highest phases of the English character. All that we know of his private history, stamps him so thoroughly the Englishman, that we enjoy his massive, vital, and tender creations, with a hearty sense of their nationality: his courageous independence ; his desire for fame; his love of work, and his success; his wise return from the applause of theatres and courts, to the loved woodlands and meadows of Warwickshire, watered by the slow moving Avon, on the banks of which he had often wandered to seek inspiration : even the escapades of his youth, his ardent love for the fair and gentle Anne Hathaway, his chase of those “dappled fools,” the deer of Fulbrook, together with his bold venture upon the metropolis,-all coinbine to arrest attention, win the heart's sympathy, and impart a deep interest in the heritage of the Shaksperes and the Ardens. While his biographers wonder where he obtained
his little Latin and less Greek,” his knowledge of law, history, biography, &c., I shall endeavour to evolve the mystery of his racial character and his genius from the pedigree of his parents, and offer it as the best solution of many of the problems which have puzzled those who taste and judge of the waters of the river, yet neglect the sources in the springs flowing from the distant mountain tops.
HISTORY and HERITAGE of the ARDENS.
ANCESTORS OF SHAKSPERE.
NE of the most illustrious examples of heritage, of trans
mission of qualities, aptitudes and capacity, mental and physical, is shown in the history of some of the prominent members of the maternal ancestry of Shakspere-the Ardens of Warwickshire. No one has yet attempted to trace the maternal ancestry of the poet beyond the immediate progenitors of Mary Arden ; nor has any biographer attached due importance to the question of heritage.
We have strong historic evidence of the origin of the surname of Arden, and are also justified in assuming that there is strong presumptive evidence in the possession of property in and around the Forest of Arden, and in the name itself, that the root of the family is the same. There are not the like difficulties surrounding the maternal ancestry of the poet as in the case of the Shaksperes, for, as Mr. Halliwell observes, notwithstanding the “laborious researches repeated for a century, the history of our poet's descent is still miserably imperfect. If genealogical inquiries are ever worthy of pursuit, they must have some value in the reasonable curiosity to ascertain from what class of society the greatest author of the world arose.” It is not only to ascertain the class, but the quality of the class that I aim to investigate.
Of the ancestors of Shakspere's father but little is known, beyond the fact that John Shakspere was the son of a yeoman and farmer of Snitterfield, tenant of Richard Arden of Wilmcote, the residence of the Ardens.
The name of Shakspere, spelled in various ways, appears repeatedly in the pages of a valuable illuminated black and red letter volume in the possession of Mr. Staunton, of Longbridge House, near Warwick, entitled a Register of the Guild of St. Anne of Knolle, from 1407 to its dissolution