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Portrait of Byron
BYRON'S LIFE AND WORKS
GEORGE GORDON BYRON, sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale, was born in London, January, 22, 1788. His father was the spendthrift Captain John Byron, formerly of the guards, and his mother was Catherine Gordon of Gicht, Aberdeen, Scotland. His parents had just returned from France, where Captain Byron had dissipated most of his wife's fortune of £23,000, for which he had married her. In April, 1788, Byron was taken by his mother to Aberdeen, where she lived with him in lodgings in comparative poverty until 1798.
Byron was thus half Scotch in blood, and he spent the first ten years of his life in Scotland. The influence of his life there was lasting. His Scotch nurse, May Gray, laid for him the foundations of his knowledge of the Bible. He had, he says in later life, read the Old Testament "through and through" before he was eight years old. His ideas about religion were gained in Scotland, and he there felt the influence of Scotch landscape which his poems show he never forgot. He attended the Grammar School at Aberdeen from 1794 to 1798, where he "threaded all the classes to the fourth.” A pretty little first letter, preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, written when he was ten years old, seems to show that he had had satisfactory training in primary things. "The moment I could read, my grand passion was history," he says in speaking of his earliest schooling, and no doubt he had already begun, when a little boy in Aberdeen, the miscellaneous reading which was always the principal means of his education.
In 1794 Byron suddenly became an important person. The fifth Lord Byron's grandson fell in action in Corsica, and Byron became heir presumptive to the barony of the Byrons of Rochdale. His father had died in 1791. When, in 1798, his great uncle, the fifth Lord, died, Byron came into the title and estates, and was removed to the family seat, Newstead, in Nottinghamshire, England. The Byrons are an aristocratic line going back to the Conquest, in whose annals are many stories of violence and unbridled passion. Byron's predecessor, the "Wicked Lord Byron," had left the estates encumbered with debt and denuded of timber. The house at Newstead he had let fall into dilapidation, and Rochdale in Lancashire he had illegally sold. Rochdale became the bone of contention in a long and expensive lawsuit, which Byron cynically described as a principal part of his inheritance. Byron was thus without adequate fortune to support his rank.
Two regrettable circumstances need to be mentioned in connection with Byron's otherwise bright and charming boyhood. His mother was a woman of violent temper and little judgment. Her habit of alternately abusing him and over-indulging him served to bring out violent traits in his character and to fix upon him a habit of rancorous self-will. And then, like Scott, Byron was a cripple. He did not, unfortunately, have Scott's freedom from personal vanity, Scott's patience, or his sweetness of disposition. Byron's lameness was always a source of