ページの画像
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER II. George GORDON BYRON was born on his mother's estate in Aber. deenshire, on the 22d of January, 1788. The extravagance of her husband soon afterwards reduced her incoine to little more than a bare competence; and his subsequent desertion, which compelled her to retire to lodgings in the city of Aberdeen, left her no care por employment but that of educating her son. Her ainiable temper and accomplished mind qualified her for this task, so far as it could be effected by a feinale; but the infirmity of her child's constitution during his earlier years rendered any thing like application inconsistent with the preservation of his health. A lameness, the consequence of the malformation of one of his feet, and some symptoms indicating a tendency towards consumption, induced his mother to suffer him to spend his time at this period of his life with very little restraint. He was permitted to oam at will through the romantic scenery in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen; and perhaps it was this practice that first cherished those sparks of genius which afterwards burst into so brilliant a blaze. The effect which the objects of Nature, in her wildest and most sublime forms, (and such are those which she presents in Aberdeenshire,) cau produce upon a mind in which the principles of poetry lie hid are little short of inspiration; that Lord Byron's was such a mind, and that such were the habits of his infancy, being beyond doubt, seem to prove irrefragably the truth of the position, and to give an air of prophecy to Beattie's delightful poem :

Lo! where the stripling, rapt in wonder, roves

Beneath the precipice o'erhung with pine;
And sees, on liigh, amidst the encircling groves,

From cliff to cliff the foaming torrents shine!

While waters, woods, and winds, in concert join,
And Echo swells the chorus to the skies.

And oft he trac'd the uplands, to survey,

When o'er the cloud advanced the kindling dawn,
The crimson clovd, blue main, and mountain grey,

And lake, dim gleaming on the smoky lawn :
Far to the west the long long vale withdrawn,

Where twilight loves to linger for a while;
And now he saintly kens the bounding fawn,

And villager abroad at early toil.
But lo! the sun appears! and heaver, earth, ocean, smile:

And oft the craggy cliff hc loved to climb,

When all in mist the world below was lost.
What dreadful pleasure there to stand sublime,

Like shipwreck'd mariner on desert coast,
And view th' enormous waste of vapour, tost

In billows, lengthening to the horizon round
Now scoop'd io gulfs, with mountains now emboss'd !

And hear the voice of mirth and song rebound-
Flocks, herds, and waterfalls, along the hoar profound !

The following account of Lord Byron's early days, by a schoolfellow, is characteristic, and, we have every reason to believe, quite faithful :

*As soon as circumstances permitted, he was sent to the Grammar School, and there, though he did not show any symptoms of talent superior to that of his fellow-students, he was among the holdest and bravest of them all Though weak in body, he was invincible in mind. and in all sports and amusements which were of a manly uature ho took the lead among his schoolfellows. Riding upon horses, fishiug, sailing, swimming, and all those occupations which had something of spirit in them, were congenial to his mind; and in all these he condacted himself with a dignity far surpassing what could bave been expected from one of his years. Although by no means the strongest either in frame or in constitution, he was exceedingly brave; and in the javenile wars of the school he generally had the victory. Upon one occasion, a boy who had been attacked, rather without just cause, took refuge in bis mother's house; and he interposed his authority to say that nobody should be ill used while under his roof and protection. Upon this the aggressor dared him to fight; and, i bough the boy was by much the stronger of the two, the spirit of Byron was so determined, that, after they had fought for nearly two hours, the combat had to be sospended, because both were out of breath.

• The most remarkable circumstance of Byron at this time was ex. treme sensibility of mind; and he was exceedingly attached to the customs of the remote place in which he was born, and deeply impressed by the legends and sayings which were common among the people.

One of his schoolfellows had a lit'le Shetland pony; and, one day, the two together had got the pony to take an alternate ride, or to "ride and tie," as it was volgarly called, along the banks of the Don. When they come to the old bridge, Byron stopped his companion, and

insisted that he should dismount, while he himself rode along the bridge; "for," said he, “you remember the prophecy

“ Brig o’ Balgownie, though wight be thy wa',
Wi' a widow's ae son, an'a mare's ae foal,

Dowo thou'lt fa'!

“ Now who knows but the pony may be a 'mare's ae foal;' and we are both widows ae sons;' but you have a sister, and I have nobody to lament for me but my mother.” The other boy consented ; but, as soon as young Byron had escaped the terrors of the bridge, the other insisted upon following his example. He, loo, rode safely across, and they concluded that the pony was not the only prodaction of its mother.

* As an instance of his sensibility, it may be mentioned that, when his name was first called out in the catalogue as Georgius Dominus de Byron,” the boys set up a shout, which the master could not suppress; and this had such an effect upon him, that it was with great difficulty he could be prevailed upon to continue at the school. His elevation seemed to give him no great pleasure; and the distance which many of his old companions felt it proper to keep from him, upon its being made generally koown, gave him so much pain that he sometimes burst into tears.

• At that time, though he was occasionally a moody and thoughtful boy, he was the foremost and gayest in all the more manly sports; but he was extremely kind-hearted, and would not be guilty of any act of cruelly or injustice. All who knew him at that time must hold bis memory in the greatest respect.'

The death of his noble relative, in 1798, altogether changed the prospects of the subject of these memoirs. His right to the family honours was acknowledged; the Earl of Carlisle undertook the office of his guardian; and he was sent to Harrow School, to receive an education more suitable to his rank and fortune than could be procured at the humble Grammar School of Aberdeen. In his progress through this justly famous seminary he seems to have differed lille from ordinary boys; and perhaps, indeed, at this period, he was but an ordinary boy. The restraint was, of course, hateful to him, because it was repugnant to his temper, and totally opposite to the babits in which he had, up to this time of his life indulged. The nature of the studies to which he was compelled do not seem to have been very congenial with his feelings of his temper; and, although he had every disposition to be a student, he had no affection for being a scholar. He has said

I abhorr'd
Too much to conquer for the poet's sake
The drill'd dull lesson, forced down word by word,
In my repugnant youth with pleasure to record.'

It was for this reason, probably, that he neither distinguished himself much at Harrow nor at Trinity College, Cambridge, whither he went Go his leaving the former school. His impatience of every kind of domi. nation exposed bim to frequent squabbles with the persons having authority in college ; and he quitted Cambridge without having excited in the minds of those persons any suspicion that he possessed either talents, or a disposition to cultivate them, beyond those of the mob of gentlemen' who fill that university. A thousand absurd stories are told of his extravagancies at college, in which, like those of gentle Master Shallow, every third word is a lie, more religiously paid than the Tork's tribute,' and which, if they were true, are not worth retailing. From the fact of his having, for a short time, kept a young bear in his rooms at Trinity College, many fruitful inventions have sprung. Among others, it is said he told the master of Trinity that be intended his bear should sit for a fellowship.' This is untrue; and, if it were otherwise, it would be only a bad attempt to imitate the brutal madman, Lord Camelford, who threatened to return his black servant to Parliament for one of his boroughs ; or that better story of Rabelais, who had his mule eutered as a member of the Sorbonne, under the title of Doctor Johannes Caballus.'

Although, however, Lord Byron, either from waywardness or pride, did not choose to take a part in the strise for college distinctions, bis life was not quite an idle one. His devotion to poetry had long been manifested; and he had occasionally written verses, which, being far superior to the compositions of young men in general, had received the too flattering approbation of his friends. Having quitted college at nineteen, he was induced soon afterwards to publish some of these poems at Newark, under the title of Hours of Idleness.' This first step which he made in the career of literature decided his fate for life, and he became, as Voltaire said to a young man of genius, whose premature death disappointed the hopes which had been formed of him, 'a poet and a man of letters; not because he chose to be so, but because Nature had so decreed.' There was no evading the destiny

which had been allotted him; and although he, perhaps, uever dreamed, when he published the works of his boyhood, that he should step from them to the highest and most noble place in the literature of his country, yet it is to this circumstance alone that he owes his celebrity.

Whatever has proceeded from the pen of so highly gifted a genius as Lord Byron possesses an interest beyond its owo intrinsic merit. Feeble as these poems are when compared with his subsequent writings, they serve to mark, however, indistinctly, the progress which the human mind can make under certain circumstances; and, although they do not amount to proofs, they furnish very important data for those who delight to inquire into the nature of our being, and the exertions which intellect is capable of making. It is for this reason, as well as because the poems are pleasing in themselves, that we have subjoined the greater and the better part of those contained in the • Hours of Idleness. The reader will be enabled, by means of the dates which are annexed to many of the pieces, to ascertain the age of the poet at the period of their composition.

ON LEAVING NEWSTEAD ABBEY.

Why dost thou build the hall? son of the winged days ! Thou jookest

from thy tower to-day; yet a few years, and the blast of the desert
comes; it howls in thy empty courts.---Ossian.

Through thy battlements, Newstead, the hollow winds whistle;

Thou, the hall of my fatliers, art gone to decay;
In thy once-smiling garden, the hemlock and thistle
Have choked

up
the

rose, which late bloom'd in the way. Of the mail-cover'd barons, who proudly in battle

Led their vassals from Europe to Palestine's plain,
The escutcheon and shield, which with every blast rattle,

Are the only sad vestiges now that remain.
No more doth old Robert, with harp-stringing numbers,

Raise a flame in the breast for the war-laurell'd wreath;
Near Askalon's towers John of Horistan* slumbers-

Unnerved is the hand of his minstrel by death.

• Horistan Castle, in Derbyshire, an ancient seat of the Byron family.

« 前へ次へ »