The Lime Walk, Oxford.
Trinity College Avenue, Cambridge.
Queen's College Library, Oxford.
"There are gains for all our losses, There are balms for all our pain, But when youth, the dream, departs, It takes something from our hearts, And it never comes again.
We are stronger and are better
Under manhood's sterner reign; Still we feel that something sweet Followed youth with flying feet, And will never come again.
Something beautiful is vanished,
And we sigh for it in vain; We behold it everywhere, On the earth and in the air, But it never comes again".
King's College. Cambridge.
One hundred and thirty miles from London lies an estate, possessing for all lovers of literature far more interest than Haddon Hall. It is the ancient residence of the Byron family, Newstead Abbey, of which the poet came into possession when about twelve years old. Rarely have I enjoyed an excursion more than that which brought me to this lovely place. It stands in the heart of Sherwood Forest, the ancient haunt of Robin Hood and his famous outlaws; and the approach to it is by a road winding for miles through acres upon acres of old English oaks, some of which have defied the storms of seven hundred years. A few rooms in the fine old mansion, which adjoins the ruined Abbey, remain with their extremely simple furniture and decorations, exactly as when Byron occupied them. So great a difference usually exists between a literary hero's intellectual life, and that which he is wont to lead in the practical details of every-day existence, that a visit to his residence rarely throws any light upon that side of his career and character about which, out of sympathy as well as curiosity, we desire to be informed. But after spending several hours at Newstead Abbey, I felt that I understood the real Lord Byron better than I could have done had I not seen his home and grave. The sight of his little dining-room, for example, naturally recalled one of the most important habits of his life. For Byron suffered from two bodily afflictions, - a deformity in one of his feet, and a tendency to excessive stoutness. But, since his lameness prevented him from checking his increasing corpulence by exercise, he fought against it in a way which made the greater part of his life a torture, and brought him to an early grave. It is well known that to reduce his size, Byron, for several years, almost starved himself, and weakened his constitution by powerful medicines. In one respect this painful regimen repaid him nobly, for it endowed him with a beauty which became proverbial. His features grew clear-cut and delicate, with curves as perfect as if wrought in marble. His lips and chin assumed a peculiar sweetness, that made the lower part of his face seem like that of a bewitching woman rather than a handsome man. Moreover, when he spoke, the fascination of his person was increased; for his voice was exquisitely rich and sweet, and in some houses where he was a guest the children called him "the gentleman who speaks like music." It was a dangerous gift, however, for as he himself tells us:
Byron's Oak, Newstead Abbey.
"The devil hath not, in all his quiver's choice, An arrow for the heart like a sweet voice".
Of late years the world has been awakened to a juster estimate of Lord Byron. The family traits which he inherited; his sensitive organization; the faults and prejudices of his time; and, above all, the undue violence of public censure, which drove him to defiant scorn, - a recognition of all these has thrown a softer light upon his character. It has been seen that while with most great men their virtues are proclaimed, their faults forgotten, the sins of Byron have been better known than his good qualities; for he was not alone incapable of hiding his own frailties, but frequently was moved, by vanity or caprice, to make himself appear worse than he really was. Moreover, it is now better understood how different his character might have been if he had had a different mother. A worse parent for such a child can hardly be imagined. Although at times indulgent to excess, her temper bordered on insanity. She rarely passed a week without an outburst of hysterical rage. One day, after loading her child with abusive epithets, she mockingly called him "a lame brat." At this outrageous taunt a fearful light came into the child's eyes, but he surpassed his mother in self-control. For a moment his lips quivered and his face whitened; then, very slowly, he spoke these five short words, "I was born so, mother," and turned from the woman who dared not follow him. Yet Byron loved her; and after she was dead, he was found weeping in the dark beside her lifeless form.