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The Devil's Drive. First published
and Journals, 1830, ii. 139-141
John Keats. First published, Letters
ton's eyes.") First published,
BY SIR LESLIE STEPHEN
GEORGE GORDON, sixth Lord Byron, was descended from Richard, second Lord Byron, who succeeded his brother, John, first lord, in 1652. Richard's son, William (d. 1695), became third lord, and wrote some bad verses. By his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Viscount Chaworth, he was father of William, fourth lord (1669-1736), gentleman of the bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark. The fourth lord was father, by his wife, Frances, daughter of Lord Berkeley of Stratton, of William, fifth Lord, John, afterwards Admiral Byron, and Isabella, wife of the fourth and mother of the fifth earl of Carlisle. The fifth lord (1722-1798) quarrelled with his cousin Mr. Chaworth (great grandson of Viscount Chaworth) at a club dinner of Nottinghamshire gentlemen, 26 Jan. 1765, and killed him after a confused scuffle in a room to which they had retired by themselves after dinner. Byron was convicted of manslaughter before the House of Lords, 16 April 1765, and, though exempted from punishment by his privilege as a peer, became a marked man. He lived in seclusion at Newstead Abbey, ill-treated his wife, was known as the "wicked lord," encumbered his estates, and made a sale of his property at Rochdale, the disputed legality of which led to a prolonged lawsuit. His children and his only grandson (son of his son by the daughter of his brother, the admiral) died before him.
Admiral Byron had two sons, John and George Anson (ancestor of the present peer), and three daughters, one
of whom became wife of her cousin, son of the fifth lord; another of Admiral Parker; the third of Colonel Leigh, by whom she was mother of another Colonel Leigh, who married his cousin, Augusta, daughter of John Byron, the admiral's eldest son. This John Byron (born 1756) was educated at Westminster, entered the guards, was known as “mad Jack," and was a handsome profligate. He seduced the Marchioness of Carmarthen, who became Baroness Conyers on the death of her father, fourth earl of Holderness. He married her (June 1779) after her divorce, and had by her in 1782 a daughter, Augusta, married to Colonel Leigh in 1807. Lady Conyers's death in France, 26 Jan. 1784, deprived her husband of an income of £4000 a year. He soon afterwards met, at Bath, a Miss Catherine Gordon of Gicht, with a fortune of £23,000, doubled by rumour. The pair were married at St. Michael's Church, Bath, 13 May 1785. John Byron took his second wife to France, squandered most of her property, and returned to England, where their only child, George Gordon, was born in Holles Street, London, 22 Jan. 1788. John Hunter saw the boy when he was born, and prescribed for the infant's feet. A malformation was caused, as Byron afterwards said, by his mother's "false delicacy." Trelawny says that the tendo Achillis of each foot was so contracted that he could only walk on the balls of the toes, the right foot being most distorted
Mrs. Byron's letters in Add. MS. 31037.
and bent inwards. Injudicious treatment increased the mischief, and through life the poet could only hobble a few paces on foot, though he could at times succeed in concealing his infirmity.
John Byron's creditors became pressing. The daughter, Augusta, was sent to her grandmother, the Dowager Countess Holderness. Mrs. Byron retired to Aberdeen, and lived upon £150 a year, the interest of £3000 in the hands of trustees, the sole remnant of her fortune. She took lodgings in Queen Street, Aberdeen, and was followed by her husband, who occupied separate lodgings and sometimes petted the child, who professed in later years to remember him perfectly. With money got from his wife or his sister, Mrs. Leigh, he escaped to France in January 1791, and died at Valenciennes, 2 Aug. 1791, possibly by his own hand.1 Mrs. Byron's income, reduced to £135 by debts for furniture and by helping her husband, was raised to £190 on the death of her grandmother, and she lived within her means. Capricious and passionate by nature, she treated her child with alternate excesses of violence and tenderness. Scott says that in 1784 she was seized with an hysterical fit during Mrs. Siddons's performance in Southern's "Fatal Marriage," and was carried out screaming, "Oh, my Biron, my Biron!" (the name of a character in the play). She was short and fat, and would chase her mocking child round the room in impotent fury. To the frank remark of a schoolfellow, "Your mother is a fool," he replied, "I know it." Another phrase is said to have been the germ of the "Deformed Transformed." His mother reviling him as a "lame beast," he replied, "I was born so, mother." The child was passionately fond of his nurse, May Gray, to whom at the final parting he gave a watch and his miniature afterwards in the possession of Dr. Ewing of Aber
Jeaffreson, i. 48: Harness, p. 33:. Letter No. 460 in Moore's Life of Byron implicitly denies suicide.
deen - and by whose teaching he acquired a familiarity with the Bible preserved through life by a very reten tive memory.
At first he went to school to one "Bodsy Bowers," and afterwards to a clergyman named Ross. The son o his shoemaker, Paterson, taught him some Latin, and he was at the gramma school from 1794 to 1798. He wa regarded as warm-hearted, pugnacious and idle. Visits to his mother's relation and an excursion to Ballater for change of air in 1796 varied his schooldays. In a note to the "Island" (1813) he date his love of mountainous scenery from this period; and in a note to "Dot Juan" (canto x. stanza 18) he recall the delicious horror with which h leaned over the bridge of Balgounie destined in an old rhyme to fall with "; wife's ae son and a mare's ae foal." AI infantile passion for a cousin, Mar Duff, in his eighth year was so intens that he was nearly thrown into convul sions by hearing, when he was sixteen of her marriage to Mr. Robert Cock burn (a well-known wine merchant brother of Lord Cockburn). She die 10 March 1858.2
In 1794, by the death of the fifth Lor Byron's grandson at the siege of Calv in Corsica, Byron became heir to th peerage. A Mr. Ferguson suggested t Mrs. Byron that an application to th civil list for a pension might be success ful if sanctioned by the actual peer. The grand-uncle would not help in the appeal, but after his death, 1 May 1798, a pension of £300 was give to the new peer's mother (warran dated 2 Oct. 1799). In the autum Mrs. Byron with her boy and May Gra left Aberdeen for Newstead. Th house was ruinous. The Rochdal property was only recoverable by a law suit. The actual income of the New stead estate was estimated at £100
year, which might be doubled when the leases fell in. Byron told Medwin (p. 40) that it was about £1500 a year. Byron was made a ward in Chancery, and Lord Carlisle, son of the old lord's sister, was appointed his guardian.
Mrs. Byron settled at Nottingham, and sent the boy to be prepared for a public school by Mr. Rogers. He was tortured by the remedies applied to his feet by a quack named Lavender. His talent for satire was already shown in a lampoon on an old lady and in an exposure of Lavender's illiteracy. In 1799 he was taken to London by his mother, examined for his lameness by Dr. Baillie, and sent to Dr. Glennie's school at Delwich, where the treatment prescribed by Baillie could be carried -out. Glennie found him playful, amiable, and intelligent, ill-grounded in scholarship, but familiar with scripture and a devourer of poetry. At Glennie's 1 he read a pamphlet on the shipwreck of the Juno in 1795, which was afterwards worked up in "Don Juan"; and here, about 1800, he wrote his first love poem, addressed to his cousin Margaret Parker. Byron speaks of her transparent and evanescent beauty, and says that his passion had its "usual effects" : of preventing sleep and appetite. She died of consumption a year or two later. Meanwhile Mrs. Byron's tempers had become insupportable to Glennie, whose discipline was spoilt by her meddling, and to Lord Carlisle, who ceased to see her. Her importunity prevailed upon the guardian to send the boy to Harrow, where (in the summer of 1801) he became a pupil of the Rev. Joseph Drury.
Drury obtained the respect and affection of his pupil. A note to "Childe Harold" (canto iv.), upon a message in which he describes his repugnance to the "daily drug" of classical lessons, expresses his enthusiastic regard for Drury, and proves that he had not profited by Drury's teaching. His notes in the books which he gave to the school library show that he never became a tolerable scholar. He was
always "idle, in mischief, or at play," though reading voraciously by fits. He shone in declamation, and Drury tells how he quite unconsciously interpolated a vigorous passage into a prepared composition. Unpopular and unhappy at first, he hated Harrow till his last year and a half; but he became attached to it on rising to be a leader. Glennie had noticed that his deformity had increased his desire for athletic glory. His strength of arm made him formidable in spite of his lameness. He fought Lord Calthorpe for writing "dd atheist" under his name. He was a cricketer, and the late Lord Stratford de Redcliffe remembered seeing him playing in the match against Eton with another boy to run for him. Byron was one of the ringleaders in a childish revolt against the appointment of Dr. Butler (March 1805) as Drury's successor, and in favour of Mark Drury. Byron said that he saved the Hall from burning by showing to the boys the names of their ancestors on the walls (Medwin, p. 68). He afterwards satirised Butler as "Pomposus" in "Hours of Idleness," but had the sense to apologise before his first foreign tour. "My school friendships," says Byron, were with me passions." Byron remonstrates with a boyish correspondent for calling him "my dear" instead of "my dearest Byron." His most famous contemporary at Harrow was Sir Robert Peel, for whom he offered to take half the thrashing inflicted by a bully. He protected Harness, his junior by two years, who survived till 1869. His closest intimates were apparently Lords Clare and Dorset and John Wingfield. When he met Clare long afterwards in Italy, he was agitated to a painful degree, and says that he could never hear the name without a beating of the heart. He had been called at Glennie's "the old English baron," and some aristocratic vanity perhaps appears in his choice of intimates and dependents.
His mother was at Bath in 1802 (where he appeared in Turkish costume