페이지 이미지

cn the 13th March 1809, Byron took his seat in the House of Lords, not a single nobleman was there to introduce him. Had his faults been generously overlooked, had he been accepted as a better man than he actually was, it is possible that this more than human charity might have bent a pride which could not be broken, and that he might have made it a point of honour to merit a confidence gratuitously afforded. As it was, he felt deeply the neglect; and, not having the humility to acknowledge the equity of the retribution which so quickly visited his early sins, he seems to have resolved upon justifying the evil impressions which attended his entrance into public life.

Byron now concerted a scheme of foreign travel with Mr John Cam Hobhouse, afterward Lord Broughton; and it may be easily conceived that, besides the attractions which foreign travel presents to all young men of intelligence and spirit, it had a peculiar fascination for him, as promising some relief from that social isolation and antagonism in England, which he could neither remedy nor endure. Scotchmen, they say, are most at home when abroad, that is a satire; but it is always true of the man who is not in harmony with things at home. He may not be a whit more in harmony with things abroad, but then he does not feel himself called upon to be so; no one expects him to be a participator there, and the position of an onlooker, which would have been false at home, becomes true and natural abroad. Already in the autumn of 1808, Byron had taken up his residence at Newstead Abbey; and he now left his mother in possession of it, assigning her at the same time a suitable income. His last act, however, before leaving England, was one of defiance. The first edition of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," which had appeared only a few days after he took his seat in the House of Lords, was exhausted in six weeks: he prepared a second edition for the press, and immediately after started on his travels, sailing from Fal mouth on the 2d July 1809.

[ocr errors]

Touching at Lisbon, Cadiz, Gibraltar, and Malta, he landed at Prevesa in Albania, on the 29th September, and prosecuted a tour through that and the adjacent Turkish provinces, arriving towards the end of the year at Athens, where he spent ten weeks. Here he lodged with the widow of the English vice-consul, one of whose daughters, Theresa Macri, is the " Maid of Athens," celebrated in song. This lady became afterwards the wife of a stalwart Englishman, Mr Black, till lately teacher of English in the Gymnasium of Athens; she is still alive, the mother of very handsome sons and daughters.

On the 5th March 1810, Byron sailed from the Piræus to Smyrna, and thence to Constantinople. The ship had to wait in the Dardanelles for a favourable wind; and it was on this occasion that Byron swam across the Hellespont in imitation of Leander. The actual distance across is only about a mile, but the swimming distance is upwards of three, owing to the strength of the current towards the Archipelago, and he was not unjustly proud of this feat, as demonstrating both his own prowess and the credibility of classic story. It is true that Leander's performance was greater still, because he crossed both ways as often as he visited Hero, whereas Byron crossed only the

one way, from the European to the Asiatic side. In a long letter to Mr Murray the publisher, under date Ravenna, 21st February 1821, Byron vindicates the adequacy of his experiment to prove the credibility of Leander's feat, in opposition to Mr Turner, a traveller, who had failed in an attempt to cross from the Asiatic side, and who attributed his own failure to an unfavourable current, as he did Byron's success to a favourable one. He mentions that, whereas he had been only one hour and ten minutes in crossing the Hellespont, he had been four hours and twenty minutes in the water, without help or rest, eight years afterwards, at a swimming match in the Grand Canal of Venice.

In the month of July he returned to Athens, whence he made various excursions, particularly to the Morea. The monument of Lysicrates, popularly known as the Lantern of Diogenes, a timeworn building, which Dugald Stewart's monument on the Calton Hill, Edinburgh, greatly resembles in size and plan, is still pointed out by Athenian guides as having been Byron's head-quarters on this occasion. The fact is, that this monument, fortunately for its preservation, then formed part of the wall of a Franciscan convent, where Byron had lodgings. His "Hints from Horace," a satire upon London life, were written here, and bear date, "Athens, Capuchin Convent, March 12, 1811." The preparation of the notes on the state of Modern Greece, appended to the second canto of " Childe Harold," was another labour that engaged him here, and one more congenial to the place.

After an absence of two years Byron returned, via Malta, to England. His mother had been impressed by a notion that she should never see him again, and even when Byron reached London, said to her waiting-woman, "If I should be dead before Byron comes down, what a strange thing it would be!" Her presentiment was fulfilled, for the perusal of certain upholsterers' bills put her, ailing as she was at the time, into such a rage that she died somewhat suddenly in the end of July 1811, and Byron reached Newstead in time, not to see her in life, but to bury her. His conduct on this occasion is an extreme illustration of that perversity by which he delighted to misrepresent himself before the world. Instead of following the remains himself, he stood at the abbey door, looking at the procession as it moved off; and then, putting on his sparring gloves, he commenced his usual pastime with a lad who served him as antagonist. Who could imagine this to be the same son who, a few nights before, had been found by a servant sitting in the dark by his mother's corpse, and sighing heavily over it? and who, when the servant expostu lated with him, answered :-"Oh Mrs Pry, I had but one friend in the world, and she is gone!" This continual belying of himself seems to have sprung from a peculiarity of temperament, of which he gives the following account, in a letter written August 21, 1811, consequently about a month after his mother's funeral:"Your letter gives me credit for more acute feelings than I possess; for though I feel tolerably miserable, yet I am at the same time subject to a kind of hysterical merriment, or rather laughter without merriment, which I can neither account for nor conquer


and yet I do not feel relieved by it, but an indifferent person would think me in excellent spirits."

On the 27th February 1812 Byron made ais first speech in the House of Lords, on the Nottingham Frame-breaking Bill; and two days afterwards the first two cantos of" Childe Harold" appeared. These were the first fruits of his oriental travels, and their reception was such as to justify Byron's own account: "I awoke one morning, and found myself famous." In the month of April he again spoke in the House, pleading this time for relief to the Irish Roman Catholics; and on the 2d June of the following year he made his third and last appearance as a speaker, on the occasion of presenting a petition. His estimate of Parliament is worth quoting, as a proof that a fund of sound common sense underlay all Byron's eccentricity. He wrote:-"The impression of Parliament upon me was that its members are not formidable as speakers, but very much so as an audience; because in so numerous a body there may be little eloquence, but there must be a leaven of thought and good sense sufficient to make them know what is right, though they can't express it nobly."

In May 1813 appeared "The Giaour" in December of the same year" The Bride of Abydos;" and in 1814 "The Corsair." These productions were not like the golden fruit that falls with ripeness from a prosperous tree growing up amid calm and balmy airs, but rather like the rich amber and bright coral cast upon the wind-beaten shore by a tempestuous sea. There is much truth in Goethe's remark, that Byron was inspired by the Genius of Pain. What a fitful tempest his life was during this period of high literary effort may be understood from the following entry in his journal, dated Dec. 6 of the same year. This journal is a relief. When I am tired-as I generally am-out comes this, and down goes everything. But I can't read it over; and God knows what contradictions it may contain. If I am severe with myself (but I fear one lies more to one's self than to any one else), every page should confute, refute, and utterly abjure its predecessor." What a spasm? In a paroxysm, of which the proximate cause is not known, he wrote to his publisher, Mr Murray, requesting that all his writings should be immediately destroyed; but on a simple representation made by Mr Murray he resiled at once from his mad-like purpose.

It was thought by others, and perhaps also by Byron himself, that his unrest might be turned into a happier, more innocent, and not less productive calm, by wedding a lady worthy of his love. With this view he paid his addresses to Miss Milbanke, and was at length accepted, the letter of acceptance reaching him almost at the same moment when the gardener of Newstead Abbey came in with the lost wedding-ring of Byron's mother, which had just then been turned up by the spade under her Ladyship's window. The marriage took place on the 2d January, 1815 in December of the same year Lady Byron bore him a daughter, the Ada of his poems, afterwards Lady Lovelace; and early in 1816 she left his house with her infant, on a visit to her father in Leicestershire: but she never returned, nor did Byron see either wife or child again.




own wretched identity in the majesty, and the power, and the glory around, above, and beneath me.' The society of Mr and Mrs Shelley, whom he met with at Geneva, afforded him an agree able relief; but hard work and spare diet were the characteristics of his sojourn in Switzerland. It is almost incredible that he should have lived on so slender a bill of fare as Moore gives in a note:-"A thin slice of bread, with tea, at breakfast; a light vegetable dinner, with a bottle or two of Seltzer water, tinged with vin de grave; and, in the evening, a cup of green tea, without milk or sugar, formed the whole of his sustenance. The pangs of hunger he appeased by privately chewing tobacco, and smoking cigars."

In October 1816 Byron removed from Switzerland to Venice, where he spent three years, the most discreditable, certainly, of his whole life: for youth and inexperience can no longer be pled in palliation of his excesses. Nevertheless the noble drama of Manfred belongs to this period. At Venice Byron first met with Madame Guiccioli, to be near whom he removed to Ravenna in the end of 1819. Here he joined the Carbonari; and as Madame Guiccioli and her brother were so far compromised in the unsuccessful rising of 1821 as to be banished by the Pope, Byron removed in that year from Ravenna to Pisa, for the purpose of rejoining them.

To this year belongs, perhaps, the most touching incident in Byron's whole history. On July 31, 1814, a pious young lady in Hastings entered in her diary a solemn prayer in behalf of one who could be no other than Byron; that lady became the wife of Mr Sheppard, Frome, Dorset; and, in 1821, two years after her decease, that gentleman, under whose eye this portion of his late wife's diary had meanwhile fallen, communicated it to Lord Byron, accompanying it with such remarks as piety prompted, and respect for his Lordship allowed. By return of post Byron wrote an answer, which is no less admirable from his point of view than was the young lady's prayer from hers. He allows the advantage which believers in the gospel have over unbelievers, con. siders his own scepticism a necessity of his nature, and almost hopes that he, like Maupertuis and Henry Kirke White, having begun with infidelity, may end in a firm belief.t

This hope, which he but glances at, was never fulfilled. Byron's pride remained unbroken; he could not surrender, he could only assert himself; and the last act of his life-drama shows us simply a man vindicating his manhood. The Greeks had by this time risen in insurrection, and Philhellenism had become the fashion, or rather the passion, of the day. To play a conspicuous figure at the head of revolted Greeks, was a prospect that presented irresistible attractions to Byron. It promised a dangerous adventure, which would form a piquant contrast to the secure indulgence of former years; an almost scenic position, which would keep him before the eyes of men, and particularly of the English; and au opportunity of serving the cause of liberty and human progress, and of thus gratifying a noble ambition. The lines written at Missolonghit on the 36th and last anniversary of his birth-day, clearly show how this expedition to Greece appealed to his nobler nature. He had led an unworthy life; and the soul now insisted

*Moore's Life of Byron, vol.

28 lb., vol. v., p. 256. + lb., vol vi., p. 127

« 이전계속 »