Page images
PDF
EPUB

worshipping him, turned as suddenly to denounce him, believing that in the abandonment by a wife there must be some hideous cause, he went forth never to return.

The limits of this work will necessarily confine any minute account of the homes and haunts of our poets, to those only which lie within the British isles; I shall, therefore, only summarily trace the progress of Byron's wanderings and abodes from this period; and before doing this, I will point out in a few lines the residences which he occupied during the five years of his London life. Before he went abroad, Gordon's hotel, Durant's hotel, both in Albemarle-street, and 8, St. James'sstreet, were his homes. On his return from his first tour he took on a lease for seven years a suite of rooms in the Albany, of Lord Althorpe. The year of his married life was chiefly spent at 13, Piccadilly-terrace. The clubs which he frequented were the Alfred, the Cocoa Tree, Watier's, and the Union.

In his first tour he traversed Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Turkey, tracking his way in light, by the composition of Childe Harold. Now, abandoned by the one heart that he had chosen to be his domestic stay and solace through life, assailed bitterly by that public which had so recently devoured with avidity his splendid poems, regarded as an infidel and a desperado, he went from the field of Waterloo across Belgium, along the Rhine, through Switzerland into Italy, which became his second country, retaining him till a few months before his death. Every step of his progress was illustrated by triumphs of genius still more brilliant than before. From the moment that at Waterloo he exclaimed

“Stop, for thy tread is on an empire's dust," till that in which he concludes with his sublime apostrophe to the Ocean, he advances from Alp to Alp in the regions of genius. Every one that traces the banks of the Rhine is made to feel what additional charms he has scattered along them; and how infinitely inferior are all, even the most enthusiastic and elaborate descriptions of its scenery from other pens.

“ The castled crag of Drachenfels
Frowns o'er the wild and winding Rhine,
Whose breast of waters broadly swells
Between the banks which bear the vine,

And hills all rich with blossomed trees,
And fields which promise corn and wine,
And scattered cities crowning these,
Whose fair white walls along them shine.
"And peasant girls, with deep blue eyes,
And hands which offer early flowers,
Walk smiling o'er this paradise ;
Above, the frequent feudal towers
Through green leaves lift their walls of grey,
And many a rock which steeply lowers,
And noble arch in proud decay,

Look o'er this vale of vintage bowers.” Volumes of description could not give you so vivid a feeling of the characteristic features of the valley of the Rhine as these lines. And thus through the Alps, “ The palaces of Nature,” Byron advanced into Italy, the land of ancient art, heroic deeds, and elysian nature. At Geneva he fell in with Shelley for the first time, and henceforth these two great poets became friends. At Diodati, on the lake of Geneva, he spent the autumn, then advanced to Italy, and took up his abode in Venice, where, in the palace Mocenigo, on the Canal Grande, he lived till December, 1819, i.e. about three years. His next remove was to Ravenna, where he had splendid apartments in the Guiccioli palace. In the autumn of 1821 he quitted Ravenna, having resided there not two years, and took up his residence in the Lanfranchi palace on the Arno, which he describes as large enough for a garrison. In the autumn of 1822 he quitted Pisa for Genoa, having resided at Pisa a year. At Genoa he inhabited the villa Saluzzo at Albaro, one of the suburbs of that city, where he continued to live till the July of 1823, not quite a year, when he set sail for Greece, where in a few months his existence terminated.

Of Lord Byron's abodes and modes of life we have some graphic glimpses in Moore's life, in Shelley's and Captain Medwin's notices. Everywhere he remained true to his schoolboy habits of riding on horseback, swimming, firing with pistols; to his love of bull and Newfoundland dogs. Moore describes his house in Venice as a damp-looking mansion, on a dismal canal. “ As we groped our way after him," he says, “through the dark hall, he cried out, “Keep clear of the dog;' and before we had proceeded many paces farther, “Take care, or that monkey

will fly at you,' a curious proof of his fidelity to all the tastes of his youth, and of the sort of menagerie which visitors at Newstead had to encounter in their progress through his hall.” Soon after he adds, “ The door burst open, and at once we entered an apartment not only spacious and elegant, but wearing an aspect of comfort and habitableness which, to a traveller's eye, is as welcome as rare.” Captain Medwin somewhere mentions meeting Lord Byron, travelling from one of his places of abode to another, with a train of carriages, monkeys, and whiskered servants, a strange procession; and Shelley, visiting him at Ravenna, says,—“Lord Byron has here splendid apartments in the palace of his mistress's husband, who is one of the richest men in Italy. There are two monkeys, five cats, eight dogs, and ten horses, all of whom, except the horses, walk about the house like the masters of it. Tita, the Venetian, is here, and operates as my valet-a fine fellow, with a prodigious black beard, who has stabbed two or three people, and is the most good-natured fellow I ever saw.”

Of his house at Pisa, Byron himself says :-"I have got here a famous old feudal palazzo, on the Arno, large enough for a garrison, with dungeons below and cells in the walls; and so full of ghosts, that the learned Fletcher, my valet, has begged leave to change his room, and then refused to occupy his nero room, because there were more ghosts there than in the other. It is quite true that there are most extraordinary noises, as in all old buildings, which have terrified the servants so as to incommode me extremely. There is one place where people were evidently walled up; for there is but one possible passage, broken through the wall, and then meant to be closed again upon the inmate. The house once belonged to the Lanfranchi family, the same mentioned by Ugolina in his dream, as his persecutor with Sismondi, and has had a fierce owner or two in its time."

The mode of spending his time appears by all accounts to have been pretty much the same everywhere. Rising about one o'clock at noon, taking a hasty breakfast, often standing. “At three or four," says the Guiccioli, “ at Ravenna and Pisa, those who used to ride out with him agreed to call, and after a game at billiards they mounted and rode out.” At the two latter places

sea.

his resort was generally the forests adjoining the towns. At Ravenna, that forest rendered so famous by Danté and Boccaccio, especially for the story of the spectre huntsman in the Decamerone; and at Pisa the old pine forest stretching down to the

Latterly he used to proceed to the outside of the city, to avoid the staring of the people, especially English people, then mounted his horse, and rode on at a great rate. In the forest they used to fire with pistols at a mark. The forest rides of Byron near Pisa and Ravenna will always be scenes visited with deep interest by Englishmen, and Shelley's description of themselves, the two great poets, in Julian and Maddalo, as they rode

“ Upon the bank of land which breaks the flow
Of Adria towards Venice, a bare strand
Of hillocks, heaped from ever-shifting sand,
Matted with thistles and amphibious weeds,”

is one of everlasting value. Returning to dinner at six or seven, he conversed with his friends till midnight, and then sat down to write.

Thus we have traced this great and singular man from the mountains of the Scottish Highlands, where he roamed as a boy, from land to land, till he stood as a liberator on the shores of Greece, and was seen for a few months riding forth with his long train of Suliote guards, and then was at once lost to Greece and the world. In no short life was there ever more to applaud and to condemn, to wonder at and to deplore. From those hereditary and other causes which we have already noticed, the temperament of Byron was passionate to the excess; but this extreme sensibility, which was the food and foundation of his splendid genius, was at the same time the torture of his existence. Misunderstood where he ought to have been soothed with the deepest tenderness, attacked by the public where he should have been most closely sympathised with, he went forth, as it were, reckless of peace or of character. A series of adulterous connexions darkened his glorious reputation, and served to justify in the eyes of the public the accusations of those who had goaded him to these very excesses. But spite of the censures of the world, and reproaches of his own conscience, the powers of his genius continually grew till they even forced into the silence of astonishment the most heartless of his detractors. To say nothing of those grand and sombre metaphysical dramas, Manfred, Cain, and the rest which he wrote in Italy, the poem alone of Childe Harold, ever ascending in magnificent strength, richness, and beauty, as it advanced, was sufficient to give him an immortality second to no other. The wide and superb field of its action,--that of all the finest countries of Europe; the great events, those of the most stirring and momentous age of the whole world; and the illustrious names which it wove into its living mass; the glorious remains of art, and the still more glorious features of nature in Italy and Greece ;—all combined to render Childe Harold the great poem of his own and the favourite of every after age. Totally different as he was under different impressions, Childe Harold had the transcendent advantage of being the product of that mood which was inspired only by the contemplation of every object calculated to draw him away from the seductions of society, and the lower tones of his mind;—the mood inspired by the most august objects of heaven and of earth,—the midnight skies, the Alpine mountains, the sublimities of mighty rivers and oceans, the basking beauties of southern nature, and the crumbling but unrivalled works of man. Filled with all these images of nobility and greatness, he gave them back to his page with a tone so philosophically profound, with a music so thrilling, with a dignity so graceful and yet so tender, that nothing in poetry can be conceived more fascinating and perfect. Every thought is so clearly and fully developed, every image is so substantial and so strongly defined, and the very scepticism which here and there betrays itself, comes forth so accompanied by a pensive, earnest, and an intense longing after life, that it resembles the melancholy tone which pervades the book of Job, and some of the prophets, more than that of any other human, much less modern composition. We may safely assert that there are a hundred combining causes, in the subjects and the spirit of Childe Harold, to render it to every future age the most lovely and endearing gift from this. Don Juan, the reflex of Byron's ordinary, as this was of his solitary and higher life,--his life alone with Nature and with God, has its wonderful and inimitable passages; but Childe Harold is one woven mass of beauty and intellectual gold from end to end.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »