Page images
[graphic][merged small][merged small]
[blocks in formation]


ON the 22d January 1788, in Holles Street, London, the poet Byron was born. His boyhood was spent in Aberdeenshire, his youth in England, and the single decade of his manhood in foreign countries. He died at Missolonghi in Greece on the 19th April 1824. In this locomotive age, thousands-whose memory survives them no longer than the grief of immediate kinsmen-trace a life-itine-ary more varied and more suggestive of adventure and vicissitude than the above. But Byron's course, however simple and ordinary when viewed merely as a traveller's, was signalized by outbursts of genius and character at once sulphureous and splendid, which startled the contemporary world, as they rapidly succeeded each other, exciting the alarm of the timid, the admiration of the bold, and the wonder of all. Nor has that mingling of brightness and shade, which marks both his genius and his character, less either of attraction or of mystery for us his immediate posterity. In surveying the monument which he has erected to himself in our literature, we are still like visitors to a volcano, only that the volcano is now extinct; and whether we dig into the lava, rich in rarest ores which his burning genius outpoured, or look down into the crater where his soul, alternately gleaming like heaven and smoking like hell, wasted, and at length wore out the man, posterity is divided, like his contemporaries, between terror and admiration, united only by wonder.

If an ill-assorted marriage be an evil omen for the issue, then was Byron born under unlucky stars. His father, Captain Byron, had outraged, in his previous family life, not only the principles of religion, but also the laws of society; and when, in 1783, he married Miss Catherine Gordon, the wealthy heiress of Gight, Aberdeenshire, it was chiefly for the purpose of paying off his debts with her fortune. Within two years after the marriage the heiress of Gight was reduced to a pittance of L.150 a year. In 1790, for economy's sake, the unhappy couple removed from London to Aberdeen; but they soon separated. Even after this Captain Byron was mean-spirited enough to solicit money from his beggared wife, and she had not the heart to refuse him. With a small supply thus obtained he crossed the channel · and in 1791 he died at Valenciennes, in the north of France.

« PreviousContinue »