1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

Anonymous, "Memoir of the Right Ho. George Gordon Byron" European Magazine 65 (January 1814) 3-4.



Every one who possesses, or can borrow, the volumes of the Peerage, already knows, or may know, the genealogy of the family of BYRON. His lordship's ancestors appear in the History of England as far back as the reign of William the Conqueror. Two of them fell in the glorious field of Cressy; another fought at the battle of Bosworth, on the side of Earl Richmond; several lost their lives in the armies of Charles I. by whom the barony was conferred on Sir John Byron, in the year 1643.

About the middle of the last century, an unfortunate event in the life of William, the late Lord Byron, caused him to withdraw from court, where he had experienced the royal favour; to desist from attending Parliament; and to retire altogether to privacy, and even obscurity; so that for many years, though the name of Byron continued to be sustained in its glory by his brother and his nephew, the title was never heard of, except among the immediate connexions of the family. Acquainted as the world now is with the writings of the present representative of the House, it is interesting to notice the events which led to his immediate succession to his grand-uncle, William. — William, the only son of that nobleman, married his cousin, the daughter of Admiral Byron, by whom he had a son, also named William, who, while an infant, became, by the death of his father, the heir-apparent to the title. His uncle John, the eldest son of the admiral, married, first, Baroness Conyers, the daughter of Lord Holdernesse, by whom he had only a daughter; and, secondly, Miss Gordon, of Gight, by whom he had George Gordon Byron, the present lord, born January 22, 1788. Miss Gordon was the last of that branch of the family who are descended from the Princess Jane Stuart, daughter of James II. of Scotland, who married the Earl of Huntley; from the elder branch the Countess of Sutherland is descended. John Byron died soon after his son was born. William, the heir apparent, who had gone into the army, was killed in the island of Corsica, a considerable time before the death of his grandfather; on which event, his cousin became the heir presumptive to the title; which some time after, by the death of the old lord, his grand-uncle, devolved upon him while he was yet very young.

Lord Byron's childhood continued to keep the title out of public view; but in time he began to distinguish it by his eccentricities at school and college. Some of his early years were spent in Scotland; but he received at Harrow-school the chief part of his education, which he finished at the University of Cambridge. Soon after quitting school, he manifested his ambition for "a leaf of Daphne's deathless plant," by publishing a volume of poems, under the title of "Hours of Idleness." This met with some rough treatment from the critics, which his lordship retorted by a satire, that evinced a spirit not to be repressed, and talents that excited greater expectations. On his coming of age, Lord Byron, after taking his seat in the house of Peers, went abroad, and spent some time in the classical countries in the south and east of Europe. He returned to England in the year 1811, and, in the spring of 1812, published "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage." This is in every one's hand, and its success is very generally known to have established big Lordship's fame as a poet. In the course of the last year, 1813, he has written three other poems; with two of which, "The Giaour" and "The Bride of Abydos," he has favoured the public, and with increased success: the third has been announced, in the daily prints, under the title of "The Corsair."

To enter upon a detailed review of Lord Byron's works, and to accompany his imaginary personage over the countries through which he has made him pass, would be a task highly agreeable to us; but this has been so lately and so repeatedly done, that we fear our readers would deem it superfluous, and we shall content ourselves with the little we have said; our chief object being to add to our very extensive collection of Portraits, that of a poet who, at so early a period of life, has obtained the laurel for which he so devoutly prayed in sight of Parnassus itself.