« AnteriorContinuar »
tyne and Company, and a few years later (1809) in the bookselling and publishing concern of John Ballantyne & Company. The connections thus formed were ultimately disastrous to him financially, and even from the beginning involved him in monumental literary labors which would not otherwise have been undertaken. Thus, between 1806 and 1812, to supply the firm, he published an eighteen-volume edition of Dryden, a nineteen-volume edition of Swift, the thirteen volumes of Somers's Tracts and the two volumes of State Papers and Letters of Sir Ralph Sadler.
His poetical work during this period was undertaken as a relief from his more serious burdens. Marmion, begun at the end of 1806 and published early in 1808, was an immense success, establishing Scott at the head of the living English poets in the opinion of the world. In 1810 appeared The Lady of the Lake, followed the next year by The Vision of Don Roderick, and by Rokeby and The Bridal of Triermain in 1813, and The Lord of the Isles in 1815.
Scott was at the height of his poetical career at the time of the publication of The Lady of the Lake. The later poems were not nearly so popular, and Scott's fame was eclipsed by the rising glories of Byron. Scott's poetry is not deeply imaginative or suggestive, but it has the strength of a good story well told. The action moves with stirring energy from incident to incident, the scenes are romantic, the style is simple and clear, the characters are vivid and heroic, and the lines are infused with a fervid glow of national feeling.
Scott turned from his poetry at this time to novel-writing. In 1805 he had begun Waverley, but had laid it aside after the opening chapters had been finished. Coming across the uncompleted manuscript one day as he was rummaging about for some fishing-tackle, he resolved to finish the story. He did this in a month of 1814 and published it anonymously in July of that year. This novel met with enormous success and huge sales, and encouraged him to continue in the same line. Guy Mannering, The Antiquary, Black Dwarf, Old Mortality, Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian, The Bride of Lammermoor, The Legend of Montrose, Ivanhoe, The Monastery, The Abbot, Kenilworth, The Pirate, The Fortunes of Nigel, Peveril of the Peak, Quentin Durvard, St. Ronan's Well, and Redgauntlet constituted the remarkable output of the next decade. Scott was drawing upon the vast antiquarian store he had laid up in his younger days.
Something should be said of his private life during these years of public literary fame. In 1797 he married Charlotte Charpentier, a young lady of French parentage, and (1798) settled in a little cottage at Lasswade, about six miles from Edinburgh. Six years later he moved to Selkirkshire, of which he had been appointed sheriff, and lived in Ashestiel on the river Tweed, where all of his best poetry was written. With his appointment as Clerk of the Session (1812) and his assured income of sixteen hundred pounds a year, he indulged his cherished ideal of buying a country estate and living the life of a typical Scotch laird. He therefore bought Abbotsford, the estate on the Tweed with which his name will always be connected. He gradually acquired huge tracts of land, having spent, it is estimated, nearly thirty thousand pounds for that purpose alone. On this estate he dispensed hospitality with the liberal hand that, he thought, became a Scotch laird. In 1820 he was created a baronet, Sir Walter Scott, by the new king.
In the mean while his business partnership in the Ballantyne companies was giving him cause for serious worry. He trusted his partners blindly and bolstered up the staggering firms with the truly enormous sums he derived from the copyright and sales of his writings. The concerns were on the point of bankruptcy in 1813 and 1814, and were only saved by the popularity of Waverley and the novels that followed, and by the help of Constable, the great but daring London publisher. In 1818 the Ballantyne companies' affairs were wound up and their surplus stock sold to Constable. Scott, never questioning the details of the transaction, apparently imagined that he was cleared of all embarrassment, but he was disillusioned when Constable began to be in financial difficulties toward the end of 1825. In 1826 the crash came. All of Scott's fortune was swept away. Of the £150,000 which he had earned by his writings, not a penny was left, and he had to leave his beloved estate at Abbotsford, auction off his belongings, sell his house at Edinburgh, and go into lodgings. His wife died a few months later, and the aged man took up the burden of life alone. At fifty-five he assumed a debt of £117,000 and bravely struggled to discharge it by his work.
Nothing in literary history is more tragic and affecting than the story of the remaining years of Scott's life. With dogged heroism he took up his work on Woodstock, a novel which had been dropped in the stress of financial trouble. In less than three months he finished it and sold it (1826) for £8228. He finished in 1827 his nine-volume Life of Napoleon and sold it for £18,000. He published Chronicles of Canongate (1827), The Fair Maid of Perth (1828), Anne of Geierstein (1829), and part of his two-volume History of Scotland (1829-30), besides a number of articles for the periodicals. Between 1826 and 1828 he earned £40,000 for his creditors, and would, had his health been spared, have been able in a few more years to have discharged his indebtedness in full. His exertions brought the attacks on his health, however; in November, 1830, he had a slight attack of apoplexy, and in April of 1831 a distinct stroke of paralysis. His mind failed him slightly and he was persuaded by his friends, who saw the necessity for a rest, that he had fully cleared off his debts. In this belief he agreed to take a sea voyage. The Government put a warvessel at his disposal, and the doomed man for almost a year cruised in the Mediterranean and visited places of interest. When he felt that his death was near, he insisted on returning to his beloved Abbotsford. He passed into a state of coma on the way back, not to be aroused until he drew near his estate. At Abbotsford he died September 21, 1832, and was buried at Dryburgh Abbey. It is a pleasure to record that in 1847 his debts were wholly discharged by the value of the copyrights he had left and the estate at Abbotsford was cleared.
During his own lifetime the fame of Scott's poetical work was eclipsed by the popularity of his later prose romances, but as the years that have passed have thrown his whole literary career into a better perspective, the interest in and enthusiasm for his poetry has revived. Man after man has come forward to acknowledge the influence of the stirring Marmion and the romantic Lady of the Lake upon his life. “The Lady of the Lake was my especial favorite,” writes Hamerton, “and I have no doubt that my early enthusiasm for that delightful poem implanted in me a love for beautiful lakes with romantic islands in them which had practical consequences afterwards. Even to this day these feelings are as lively in me as ever, so that nothing in the world seems to me so completely delightful as a lake if one has a sailing-boat to wander over it."
Scott's poetry is bracing. His active pen carried him from incident to incident in a stirring rush, and his vivid imagination peopled his scenes with the heroic figures of a bygone age. We do not read his poems for their historical accuracy, for he has melted his facts in a crucible in which has been burned away all that was ugly and coarse. We move in an idealized atmosphere from which the undeniable savagery, brutality, licentiousness, and frankness of speech has been purged away. We read of Border life as we should wish it to have been rather than as we know it was, and under the spell of the poet we are willing to accept the ideal for the real. And, after all, has he not thus served well the cause of poetry? With instinctive truth of vision he has pierced to the elements of nobility, valor, and honor that existed in the crude Scottish communities of ancient times and from those elements has constructed an idealized might-have-been. He is in his poetry truly, as some have claimed, the Homer of Scotland.
GEORGE GORDON BYRON
A MAN willing to expose his vices and unhappiness before a conventional world should have an unusually thick and insensitive skin, otherwise the inevitable discussion and criticism will cause him the most intense suffering. Byron, acutely sensitive by nature, spread his inmost life before the world, admitted his dissipations, his marital unhappiness, his faults of temper and disposition, and then, after recoiling at first with horror before the prudish and hypocritical censure of society, plunged again into dissipation in a futile attempt to forget. He never grew calloused, although his boasted vices were an attempt to seem so. He was at one moment à poseur, claiming crimes that he never committed for the joy of observing the effect upon the world; he was at the next passionately and sincerely revealing his inmost suffering to the whole world, and declaiming against the injustice with which he was treated. He was a sensitive, impulsive, emotional child throughout his whole life, a person who to a lesser degree than most men learned the maxim inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi —
γνώθι σεαυτον George Gordon Byron was born January 22, 1788, in London. The Byron family was of Norman stock (the Buruns, recorded in the Domesday Book), and the Gordons, his mother's family, were descended from James I of Scotland. Byron's father, Captain John Byron, of the Horse Guards, was a practiced libertine. He first abducted the Marchioness of Carmarthen, whom he married after she had obtained her divorce, and soon after her death in 1784 married Catherine Gordon, supposed to be a great heiress. He squandered what fortune she had, de serted her, and, in 1791, died in France, leaving his wife and three-year-old boy to live on one hundred and fifty pounds a year. Catherine Gordon was a woman of shallow discernment, quick temper, inordinate vanity, and little sense. She alternately caressed and abused her son, at times falling into paroxysms of rage during which she pursued the child around the rooms trying to strike him with a poker. A more unpleasant picture of family life can scarcely be imagined than that which encircled Byron. He could conceive no respect for his father or affection for his mother. These influences, which during the most impressionable years of life moulded his character, must be held to excuse some of the faults that were only too notorious in later years.
His education was irregular. His natural sensitiveness was accentuated by a slight physical deformity, resembling club-foot, and his home surroundings made him rebellious and uncontrollable. At the age of ten he inherited from his great-uncle, the “wicked old lord,” the Newstead estate and his title, and his nobility made him more intractable than ever. He was precocious in his affections, falling violently and apparently sincerely in love, first with Mary Duff in 1797, then with Margaret Parker (perhaps the “Thyrza” of his poems) in 1800, and again with Mary Anne Chaworth in 1803. After some desultory study under private masters and at Harrow, he went up, in 1805, to Trinity College, Cambridge. There his worst characteristics were displayed, his pride, conceit, ostentation, and above all his delight in shocking the conventional authorities by his unconventional conduct. He left the University in 1808 without taking & degree.
Even while he was at college he had taken his first initiation into poetry. During 1806 and 1807 he wrote, printed, and published a volume of poems, Hours of Idleness, which attracted indulgent attention from many of the reviews. The Edinburgh Review, however, criticized the poems harshly, so Byron took striking revenge in his famous satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, published March 1, 1809. Many of his charges were unjust and were so acknowledged later by Byron, but his satire attracted much notice and gained him a place in the literary world.
In April of 1808 he entered upon his inheritance with revels at Newstead; in March of 1809 he took his seat in the House of Lords, but, acutely sensitive as always, did not deem his reception sufficiently cordial; and early in July of the same year, with his devoted friend Hobhouse, he set out upon his continental travels.
He spent about two years abroad, mainly in the countries about the Mediterranean, especially Spain, Greece, Albania, Turkey, and Asia Minor. In later years many myths grew up around these travels, and Byron was reputed to be the hero of his own poetical romances. He returned to London in July of 1811, much embarrassed by debts, with a satire entitled Hints from Horace, a number of minor poems - as To Florence, 'The spell is broke, the charm is flown,' Maid of Athens — and two cantos of Childe Harold. Murray, the publisher, accepted the lastnamed and issued it early in 1812.
Byron's remark, that he "awoke and found himself famous," expresses the result of this publication. The poem went through five editions in the year. Byron became the social favorite in London; the titled poet was courted everywhere. Susceptible women especially succumbed to him, and his life was for a time a succession of more or less disgraceful intrigues. For a time he had an “affair” with Lady Caroline Lamb, wife of Lord Melbourne, from which he had the utmost difficulty in extricating himself. The flighty woman threw herself in his way at every opportunity and later involved him in her own disgrace. An intrigue with Lady Oxford followed, and another with Lady Frances Webster. He was a welcome guest at all the houses of the great,
- Holland House, Lady Melbourne's, — he was a member of a dozen fashionable clubs, he numbered among his friends Moore, Rogers, and Campbell.
He was acute. enough to take advantage in a literary way of his popularity. During these years he wrote with feverish haste a number of his narrative poems — The Giaour and The Bride of Abydos in 1813, The Corsair and Lara the next year, Parisina and The Siege of Corinth, written then but not published until 1816. Scott's contemporary verse romances were completely eclipsed. Of The Corsair, fourteen thousand copies were sold in one day.
In January, 1815, Byron married Miss Anne Isabella Milbanke, an heiress, and entitled in her own right to a peerage. How much Byron was influenced by his love for her and how much by his desire for her fortune will always remain a mooted question. It is noteworthy, however, that in after years Byron never spoke of her save with respect and affection. A few days over a year after the marriage, and five weeks after the birth of a daughter, Augusta Ada, Lady Byron left London, went to her father's house, and shortly afterward instituted proceedings for a legal separation. The true reasons for this separation will never be known. The monstrous charges made by Lady Byron in her old age are unproven and unprovable. It is probable that sufficient reasons are to be found in the mutual incompatability between the erratic, emotional poet, and the conventional, perhaps somewhat prudish, wife.
The marriage and quick separation were the talk of London. Byron, from feelings of delicacy we should like to think, refused to shield himself by casting any blame upon his wife. His poems, Fare Thee Well, and The Sketch, purporting to represent his feelings at the time, were privately circulated and, in April, printed in a newspaper. Gradually public opinion turned against him. By the time the separation papers were signed, April 18, Byron was socially ostracized, and a week later he left England for the Continent with apparently the bitterest of feelings at the injustice with which he had been treated. In the short space of four years he had turned the full circle, from obscurity to renown, and from renown back to ostracism.
Byron's best poetical work lay before him. He traveled by way of the Rhine to Geneva where he joined the Shelleys and, during his intimacy with them, wrote some of his finest poetry. The third canto of Childe Harold, Prometheus, The Prisoner of Chillon, two acts of Manfred, the Stanzas to Augusta (his beloved half-sister), and the Epistle to Augusta, were all composed there. It is a curious example of the volatile nature of the man that, fresh from his London disgrace, he contracted an intimacy with Jane Clairmont from which in December was born a natural daughter, Allegra.
Late in 1816 he left the Shelleys and went over the Alps to Italy, accompanied at first by his friend Hobhouse. He finally settled in Venice and there plunged into the lowest and most degrading dissipations. He seems to have taken a degenerate joy in writing accounts of these revels and intrigues to London, knowing, perhaps, that, spread along the electric wires of social gossip, they would scandalize London. He was to some extent redeemed from his miscellaneous debauchery by his liaison, beginning about 1819, with the young, beautiful, and accomplished Countess Guiccioli, who as his mistress for the next four years gave him all the love and care that could have been given by a devoted wife. From the end of 1819, indeed, the relations between Byron and the Countess were established on a recognized Italian basis, Byron being her cavalier servente. Even through these years of intrigue and dissipation, however, his splendid mind was busy, and his literary production great. He finished Manfred, wrote the Lament of Tasso, Beppo (1818), Mazeppa and two cantos of Don Juan (1819), three cantos of Don Juan, Marino Falieri, Sardanapalus, The Two Foscari, and Cain in 1821, The Vision of Judgment and Werner in 1822, the lyrical drama Heaven and Earth, Morgante Maggiore, and The Island in 1823, and The Deformed Transformed in 1824.
During his stay in Italy he had interested himself in the struggle of the Italians for freedom from the Austrian rule, had indeed mixed with the Carbonari and been made a chief of their fighting troops, and as a result had fallen under the suspicion of the Austrian police. In 1823 the brave struggle of the Greeks in the Morea for independence from Turkey attracted him and he gave money unstintedly to their cause. Early in 1824 he went to Greece and identified himself with the revolutionists, being received with honor by Mavrocordatos, the Greek chieftain, and made a commander-in-chief of a guard of Suliote troops.
This last exploit of Byron's life has done much to rehabilitate his character in the eyes of the world. However much he may have dreamed of spectacular glory, it is certain that during his few months in Greece he actually suffered much for the cause, and was of service in reconciling opposing factions. His actual life there was brief. He had hoped to lead troops in battle, but was not destined to do so. On April 11 he was seized with fever and on the 19th he died, amid the lamentations of all Greece. His body was carried to England, and, the Dean of Westminster refusing burial in the Abbey, was buried in the family vault of Hucknall-Torkard Church, near Newstead.
Byron was an unusually handsome and striking figure. Trelawny thus describes him: “He was ... of middle height, five feet eight and a half inches ; regular features, without a stain or furrow on his pallid skin, his shoulders broad, chest open, body and limbs finely proportioned. His small, highly finished head and curly hair had an airy and graceful appearance from the massiveness and length of his throat: you saw his genius in his eyes and lips. In short, nature could do little more than she had done for him, both in outward form and in the inward spirit she had given to animate it.” And joined with these graces of person was a rare gift of personal magnetism. His sprightliness in conversation, his keen wit, his intuitional insight endeared him to those who came into intimate contact with him. His faults were notorious, in his lifetime, but time has done much to erase these from his memory. After his death his many notable charities, his high chivalry toward his wife during the trying period following her desertion of him when a word from him might have turned London society in his favor, his sincere devotion to the principle of freedom witnessed by his willingness to lay down his life for it, all combined to raise his fame in his own land and abroad. His life is a mass of irreconcilable contradictions: we cannot attempt to explain it, but we can, from this distance, forgive much that the conventional world of his own time could not forgive.
During the century that has followed his death many have attempted seriously to deny the reality of his poetic inspiration, but the verdict of posterity is being cast in his favor. Goethe once summed up Byron as follows: “Lord Byron is to be regarded as a man, as an Englishman, and as a great talent. His good qualities belong chiefly to the man, his bad to the Englishman and the peer, his talent is incommensurable.” Matthew Arnold, keenest of our English critics, wrote that “these two, Wordsworth and Byron, stand, it seems to me, first and preëminent in actual performance, a glorious pair, among the English poets of this century."
The first characteristic of his poetry is its energy. None can read Byron to the end without standing amazed before the impelling sweep of his thought, the facility and force of his expression, and the vitality that breathes through his lines. Granted that he was many times a poseur, granted that his egotism, vanity, and misanthropy intrude themselves often in his poems; yet we must acknowledge an intellectual grasp and vision, a sincerity in his hatred of hypocrisy and cant, an imaginative conception granted to but few poets in the history of the world. He spread before us his inmost thoughts and emotions with an intimacy which not even Mrs. Browning has surpassed, and we who read to-day are willing to recognize, through the contradictions, faults, and vanities, the innate genius of the man.