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THE LIFE AND WRITINGS
THE premature and lamented death of Lord Byron has deprived England of the brightest genius that has adorned the age in which we live. That he was entitled to the first place among living poets will hardly now be denied by any one. Those persons who, from the most honest feelings, regretted the levity and censured the immorality of some of his latter productions, were never backward in acknowledging the pre-eminence of talents which they wished to have seen otherwise directed it was only by the malignant and the envious that his powers were decried; and even their venom, now that the grave has closed upon Lord Byron, will be spared, because it is equally insignificant and impotent
To say that he had faults, and that they were many and great, is only to say that he was human: they were the faults of his age, of his education, of unfortunate circumstances-perhaps of a constitutional eccentricity. They were not so enormous but that a small portion of Christian charity may enable us to excuse them: their consequences fell on his own head; and we cannot but believe that the sufferings of his proud and wounded spirit would, if they could be appreciated, be allowed, even by his most severe censurers, to have expiated his offences.
But while those failings by which his character was marked, and which are the lot of humanity, are remembered, let it not be forgotten that he possessed rare and supreme powers, which, if they did not raise him above his species, made him one of its chief ornaments.
As a poet, he stands among the most eminent that England has ever
produced. Few, indeed, (and, among those who live, we may say, fear. less of contradiction, none,) have possessed at the same time an energy and intellectual grasp like his, together with his facility and gracefulness. There is no style of poetry that he has not essayed; there is none in which he has failed; there are some which he has left better than he found them, and which will, perhaps, owe their perfection to the genial influence of his example.
As a British nobleman, bis reputation is unsullied: he supported his rank with as much dignity as modesty. He was a gentleman of strict honour; a firm and warm-hearted friend ; a fervent lover of real liberty; and a patron of true merit and sound learning.
These are his claims to the respect of his cotemporaries-these are his titles to the admiration of posterity. That they may be fully understood, and that the honours which his memory deserves may be rendered to it universally, the following concise account of his life and writings has been undertaken. It is a debt which the country owes to itself and to him, that the merits of such a man should be known to the whole community. In the work which follows an attempt has been made to combine with a history of the principal events of Lord Byron's life so full and impartial an account of his works as may convey an accurate idea of their merits.
It was expected that the Memoirs written by the uoble deceased, and given by him to the author of Lalla Rookh,' would have been published. Had that hope not been frustrated, this work would probably never have seen the light. From a motive of delicacy towards the feelings of living persons, which, though it may be mistaken, is so amiable and disinterested that it deserves the highest praise, those Memoirs have lately been destroyed, and are lost to the world for ever. This posthumous record of the deceased nobleman had been deposited in the keeping of Mr. Thomas Moore, and designed as a legacy for his benefit. This gentleman, with the consent and at the desire of Lord Byron, had long ago sold the manuscript to Mr. Murray, for the sum of two thousand pounds. Since the death of Lord Byron, it occurred to some of the relatives of his lordship, that, although the noble author himself had given full authority for a disclosure of the document, some of his family might be wounded or shocked by it. Mr. Moore, therefore, appointed a time for meeting a near connexion of the noble lord (we believe his sister, Mrs. Legh); and, after a deliberate perusal of the work, finding that this lady apprehended from it much pain to the minds of many persons still living, though no
sort of imputation on her brother's memory, Mr. Moore, with a spirit and generosity which the better part of mankind will be at no loss to appreciate, placed the manuscript in the lady's hands, and permitted her to burn it in his presence! This sacrifice of self-interest, to lofty feeling was made on the 17th of May, and the next morning the two thousand pounds were repaid to Mr. Murray by Lord Byron's selfdestituted legatee.
To supply the deficiency occasioned by the loss of the Memoirs this history has been written, and it has been thought that no means could be more likely to effect its object than by putting the public in a situation to judge for themselves of the noble bard's merits; and since that appeal, which he had prepared with his own band, to be offered to those who should survive him, has been buried with him, his works must speak for him; and the history of his poetry must furnish forth the history of his life, accompanied by particulars derived from private and peculiar sources, and which have never yet been laid before the public.
Great as his loss would have been at any time, it is more to be regretted at this period, when he seemed to be about to lay aside for ever the extravagances which had marked his character, and to devote the energies of his exalted mind and his whole fortune to one of the noblest canses that ever called forth the sympathy of freemen.
Such, however, is the uncertainty of mortal events-such the disappointments which lie in wait to check the most honorable enterprises!
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
To scorn delights and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
Comes the blind Fury with th' abhorred shears
THE late Lord Byron was descended from a family more re markable for its antiquity, and for the heroism and talent which have at all times distinguished its various branches, than for the extent of the possessions which have been annexed to it. If it were worth
while, it would be easy to trace the ancestors of the late noble poet to those days of chivalry, when, the darkness of the age precluding men of ardent genius from the intellectual exertions which they now make with so much success, they carved themselves a lasting reputation by their bravery and prowess. It may, however, be sufficient for our present purpose only to remark, that the Byron family is at least as honorable as it is ancient; and that in England its history commences with the period of the Conquest, when we find that there were two nobles bearing the name of Buron, or Byron, in both of which ways it seems to have been commonly written. The consanguinity of these barons is not clearly made out; but that they were important personages, as well from their achievements as from the magnitude of their respective domains, is satisfactorily known. The more important of these barons, and that one from whom his English pedigree is to be traced, was Ralph de Burun, who, in the reign of William the Conqueror, held Horestan Castle, in the park of Horseley, and was besides the lord of other very extensive domaius in the counties of Derby and Nottingham. He was succeeded by his son Hugh de Burun in his title and estates. The eldest son of the latter, who was also called Hugh de Burun, almost as soon as he had reached man's estate, devoted himself to a religious life; and, having joined with his father in alienating a considerable portion of the family estate to the use of the Lenton Priory, in Nottinghamshire, he professed himself a monk of that religious establishment, and assumed the name of De Meschines. The diminished patrimony and the honours of his house then descended on his brother, Roger de Burun, who seemed also to be smitten with the family passion for giving to the Church some portion of their property; for, in the reign of Henry II. he appears to have granted lands to the monastery of Swiusted. John de Horestan, one of the members of this family, was distinguished among the English Crusaders under Richard I. for his zeal and courage. He fell at the siege of Askalon, and was buried in the church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In the reign of Henry II. we find the family name written Biroa, or Byron, instead of Burun, and thus it has remained ever since. Robert de Byron, the son of the last-mentioned Roger, added largely to the family possessions by his marriage with the heiress of the wealthy family of the Claytons, of Clayton, in Lancashire, at which place the family seat continued to be until the reign of Henry VIII. From Robert de Byron the glory of the family was transmitted by a succession of warriors, who all bore a prominent part in the domestic and
foreign contests in which the nation was engaged. In the reign of Henry VIII. we find Sir John Byron Constable of Nottingham Castle and Master of Sherwood Forest. He seems to have held a high place in the favour of his sovereign, as well by the offices which were intrusted to him as by the share he received of the spoils which the rapacity of the tyrant tore from the Church. On the dissolution of the religious houses, the church and priory of Newstead, the adjacent manor of Papelwick, and the Church patronage annexed to it, with certain other lands, were granted by Henry VIII. in the thirty-second year of his reign, to this Sir John Byron.
This abbey of Newstead, or De Novo Loco, was founded in the year 1170, by Henry II. as a Priory of Black Canons, and dedicated to the Holy Virgin. Its revenues had been increased by various benefactions, so that, at the Dissolution, they were estimated at about two hundred pounds. Sir John immediately fitted up part of the edifice; but the church was suffered to go to decay, though the south aisle was actually incorporated into the dwelling-house, and now contains some of the most habitable apartments. It has remained the family seat from the period we have mentioned to the present time; but, owing to some unfortunate family differences between the grandfather and the father of the late Lord Byron, the elder nobleman was induced to sell every thing belonging to the mansion, and not only to suffer every part, both of the house and grounds, to go to decay, but even to dilapidate great part of it, until he was stopped by an injunction in Chancery. During the minority of the late Lord Byron it remained nearly in this state; and even when he came of age his finances were not adequate to the task of repairing and restoring it thoroughly. Although much has been done to it since, its appearance is not greatly altered from that described in the following account, which was written in the year 1812. Lord Byron's poetry has rendered every thing relating to Newstead Abbey interesting; and it is impossible to read this description of the halls of his ancestors without feeling that its local peculiarities must have had a considerable share in producing that romantic and melancholy tone which pervades the greater and the better part of his productions:
The front of the abbey church has a most noble and majestic appearance, being built in the form of the west end of a cathedral, adorned with rich carvings and lofty pinnacles.
The castellated stables and offices are still to be seen, as the visitor enters into a sombre deserted court-yard, in the midst of which is a