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A. G. VAN KRANENDONK, Men Like Gods, (Wells).
39. Oscar Wilde, His Life and Confessions (Frank Harris)
127. E. KRUISINGA, Gotisch Handboek (van Hamel).
28. The Clerkes Tale (Ed. Sisa m).
35. Oor die Ontstaan van Afrikaans (Bosman) 73. An Elementary Middle English Grammar (J. & E. M. Wright)
162. Die Englische Sprachwissenschaft (Horn) 167. W. A. OVAA, Elizabethan Drama (Spens)
117. A. W. POLLARD,
Hamlet: its textual history (de Groot). 38.
221. A. C. E. VECHTMAN-VETH, Shelley's geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung (Spira)
165. R. W. ZANDVOORT, Westeuropeesche Letterkunde I (Kalff) 36. Id. id. II. .
164. A Handbook of English Grammar for Belgian Students (de Vocht)
21, 64, 97, 154, 215. Translation M.O. 1924 .
159. Points of Modern English Syntax
27, 104, 160. Notes and News.
G. Leopold, Robert Louis Stevenson, 60; E. Ekwall, English
Utrecht, 96; English Studies at Groningen, 153; Editorial, 214.
128, 228. Bibliographies
45, 75, 170, 230.
1. Some personal characteristics.
If it be true, as has been asserted, that each new generation must have its own Homer translation, it may be said with greater justice that every age must appraise the great men of the past anew. For although research and criticism may have brought to light all the available evidence on which a judgment may be based, yet the appreciation of such evidence necessarily changes with the slowly evolving views and principles and ideals of mankind.
The centenary of Byron's death is at hand. He expired on the 19th of April 1824; and many writers in many lands will, no doubt, avail themselves of the occasion to formulate, perhaps to revise, their conceptions of his personal character and that of his writings.
Few figures in the history of literature have been more grossly misunderstood than Byron. The glamour of his rank and the glamour of his genius; the adulation of the women he loved and of the public bewitched by his poetry; the hatred of the women he loved no longer, of the public he outraged and of the rivals he eclipsed; the erroneous estimates of foreigners and his own wilful or unconscious misrepresentations – all this co-operated to form a distorting medium through which the real man appears as a fantastic hybrid: half superman and half demon. Generations of misguided readers have confounded the poet with the creatures of his imagination, especially with the heroes of his shorter poems. It is the man of gloom and mystery, "l'homme sombre et fatal” that took hold of the popular imagination. Their lawless and tumultuous loves, satanic pride, the rankling memory of crimes unatoned acted like a spell. The heart of the love-sick maiden went out to Harold bending wistfully over the side of his bark to gaze at the moonlight on the rippling wave of the Mediterranean. Every romantic youth was impressed by the picture of the Giaour, impenitent and sublime, spending his last years in the monastery. The wildest stories about the poet's orgies at Newstead Abbey, his intrigues and duels, his acts of diablerie and of princely munificence were circulated and credited. It was said he had taken possession of an island belonging to Greece; that he had run away with a nun. Goethe believed that he had committed a murder.
The student who wishes to understand Byron, as he really was, should clear away this tangle of prejudice and slander, of misunderstanding and romantic fancy, and turn to his letters and journals. Moore, who published fragments of the diary begun Nov. 14th 1813, says, “Employed chiefly as such a record, from its nature, must be, – about persons still living, and occurrences still recent, it would be impossible, of course, to submit it to the public eye, without the omission of some portion of its contents, and unluckily, too, of that very portion which, from its reference to the secret pursuits and feelings of the writer, would the most livelily pique and gratify the curiosity of the reader". The journal must indeed have been terribly mangled and many letters of the same period must have been suppressed by the discreet and conscientious editor. The recent publication (February 1923) of Byron's letters to Lady Melbourne (and to others), who died in 1818, throws a flood of new light on his relations with a number of E.S. VI 1924.
women whom it has hitherto been impossible to identify. Lady Melbourne was 62 years of age in 1812, Byron's annus mirabilis, when the correspondence began. “If she had been a few years younger”, he wrote, “what a fool she would have made of me, had she thought it worth her while - and I
I should have lost a most valuable and agreeable friend”.
The letters of 1812 and 1813 contain frequent references to the lady Caroline Lamb, "Medora", who succeeded the still anonymous "Thyrza" in the lengthy list of Byron's loves. She was a granddaughter to the first Earl Spencer, and married William Lamb, afterwards Lord Melbourne, in her 19th year. The poet was introduced to her in March 1812 by Rogers, and, after their meeting, she wrote in her journal, “Mad – bad — and dangerous to know". During the greater part of the year, however, he made love to her, told the story of his travels and his sorrows, and seems to have completely governed her and her household. “But after the first excitement, he began to grow weary of her talk about herself and could not praise her indifferent verses." (Nichol's Byron.) Lady Caroline Lamb, accompanied by her mother, Lady Bessborough (“Lady Blarney"! of the correspondence) was prudently removed, for a time, to her father's house in Ireland.
On the 10th of September Byron writes, "Loving at all is quite out of my way; I am tired of being a fool, and when I look back on the waste of time, and the destruction of all my plans last winter by this last romance, I am – what I ought to have been long ago.” Less than a fortnight later he says: “If I marry, positively it must be in three weeks; in the meantime I am falling in love as much as I can with a new Juliet who sets off for London in the long coach to-morrow to appear on (not in) Covent Garden; with an Italian songstress; with a Welsh seamstress; with my agent's wife and daughter.” At the same time as "nothing but marriage and a speedy one” can save him from Caroline Lamb's importunities, he seriously thinks of asking "Annabella”, Miss Milbanke, to be his wife. "As to love that is done in a week. Marriage goes on better with esteem and confidence than romance".
There is a good deal of blague and cynicism in the letters of this period. "As to Annabella, she requires time and all the cardinal virtues, and in the interim I am a little verging towards one who demands neither, and saves me besides the trouble of marrying, by being married already. She besides does not speak English, — and to me nothing but Italian – a great point, for from certain coincidences the very sound of that language is music to me, and she has black eyes, and not a very white skin, and reminds me of many in the Archipelago I wished to forget, and makes me forget what I ought to remember, all which are against me. I only wish she did not swallow so much supper – chicken wings, sweetbreads, custards, peaches and port wine; a woman should never be seen eating or drinking, unless it be lobster salad and champagne."
His conduct to Lady Caroline Lamb, however, was chivalrous and even kind; in spite of her vexatious and occasionally insane revenges and importunities, he remained patient and forbearing, although to Lady Melbourne he speaks his mind about her unreservedly. One of Medora"'s childish feats was to have the words “Ne crede Byron" engraved on her livery buttons, "an interesting addition to the motto of my family". On one occasion she burnt Byron in effigy and all her Byronic keepsakes, with an appropriate incantation at Brocket Hall. On another, by her own confession, she forged a letter in Byron's name, whose handwriting she imitated to
perfection, to obtain his picture from Murray. After meeting him again in a London ball-room she made a scene and scratched herself with glass.
"I should esteem it as a great favour if you would once more speak to Caroline from me. Again and again I repeat that I have no wish to disturb her, nor am at all conscious of having misrepresented her, or indeed mentioned her name but to those to whom she had already committed herself. Once more I beseech her, for her own sake, to remain quiet; and having done this for the last time, I must add that if this is disregarded, it will be out of my power to prevent consequences fatal to her, perhaps to others also and which I most sincerely wish to avoid. She forgets that all does not depend on me, and she is not aware that I have done my utmost to silence some whose narratives would not be very pleasing. Remind her that the same man she is now trying by every serious and petty means to exasperate, is the same who received the warmest thanks from herself and Lady Bessborough on the occasion of her Kensington excursion (when she ran away from Melbourne House and was found and taken home by Lord Byron in August 1812), one with whose conduct she repeatedly professed herself perfectly satisfied and who did not give her up till he was assured that he was not abandoning a woman to her fate, but restoring her to her family.”
While he was trying to disentangle himself out of the meshes of his first amour with a society woman, the second was in progress. A considerable number of the letters of 1812 and 1813 are dated from Eywood, Lord Oxford's place, near Presteign, and for the greater part of this time Byron was on terms of the closest intimacy with his hostess. When after a long stay at Eywood he returned to London, she broke down. “I am in some anxiety in consequence of a letter from Cheltenham this morning; she has burst a small blood-vessel, and is weak and ill; all which she attributes to me and my friends in town!! I presume it will end in an indisposition, which, however unpleasant for a time, would eventually be a great relief to both.” He was now making plans and preparations for a second visit to Greece. “For a time, this plan was exchanged for the more social project of accompanying his friends, the family of Lord Oxford, to Sicily”, says Moore. The relations between husband and wife appear to have been strained at this period, as was natural under the circumstances, but they were reconciled and departed without the lover. “The Devil, who ought to be civil on such occasions," Byron writes, June 21st 1813, "has at last persuaded Lord Oxford to be so too: for on her threatening to fill up my carte blanche in her own way, he quietly ate his own words and intentions, and now they are to live happy ever after and to sail in the pleasing hope of seeing or not seeing me again." Yet he undoubtedly loved Lady Oxford, as he loved all the others. A week later he says: “Lady Oxford sailed yesterday, and now, my dear Lady Melbourne, without pretending to affect or effect, will you not mention her name to me for the remainder of my weeks in England ? To tell you the truth, I feel more Carolinish about her than I expected. They went at last so suddenly, the very day I was to have met her on the coast – all the fault of my sister's arrival." Which did not prevent him from falling in love again, some three months later, with another hostess, the Lady Frances Webster.
Of this amour we have a very full acount, from the very beginning to the bitter end, in the letters written, with a most indelicate and unchivalrous lack of reticence, every two or three days to Lady Melbourne. Macaulay,
who did not admire Byron and his writings, yet owned to a liking for his correspondence. He says: "The Letters, at least those which were sent from Italy, are among the best in our language. They are less affected than those of Pope and Walpole; they have more matter in them than those of Cowper .... We looked with vigilance for instances of stiffness in the language and awkwardness in the transitions. We have been agreeably disappointed; and we must confess that, if the epistolary style of Lord Byron was artificial, it was a rare and admirable instance of that highest art which cannot be distinguished from nature."
The sheaf of letters referring to the Webster episode are anything but artificial. They are graphic, sprightly and unaffected, and as delightful reading as a novel, indeed, far more interesting, being authentic human documents, than any novel. They permit us, in the most literal sense of the word, to pry into the deepest recesses of the writer's mind. For this reason the reader will, it is hoped, forgive the copious quotations from this fresh material.
Byron's first impressions of his hosts, the Websters, at Aston Hall, were recorded with his usual cynical levity. “All my prospect of amusement is clouded, for Petersham sent an excuse; and there will be no one to make him (Webster) jealous of but the curate and the butler – and I have no thoughts of setting up for myself. I am not exactly cut out for the lady of the mansion; but I think a stray dandy would have a chance of preferment. She evidently expects to be attacked, and seems prepared for a brilliant defence; my character as a roué has gone before me, and my careless and quiet behaviour astonished her so much that I believe she began to think herself ugly, or me blind – if not worse.” (Oct. 1st 1813). "She (Lady
( Frances) is pretty, but not surpassing too thin, and not very animated; but good-tempered – and a something interesting enough in her manner and figure; but I never should think of her, nor anyone else, if left to my own cogitations, as I have neither the patience nor presumption to advance till met half-way. (The italics of his highly important confession, mine). The other two pay her ten times more attention, and, of course, are more attended to. I really believe he is bilious and suspects something extraordinary from my nonchalance; at all events, he has hit upon the wrong person. I can't help laughing to you, but he will soon make me very serious with him, and then he will come to his sense again. The oddest thing is, that he wants me to stay with him some time; which I am not much inclined to do." (Oct. 5th) Three days later he writes: "In these last few days I have had a good deal of conversation with an amiabe person .... I have made love, and if I am to believe words (for there we have hitherto stopped) it is returned. I must tell you the place of declaration, however, a billiard room .... We were before on very amicable terms, and I remembered being asked an odd question: how a woman who liked a man could inform him of it when he did not perceive it. I also observed that we went on with our game of billiards without counting the hazards; and supposed that, as mine certainly were not, the thoughts of the other party also were not exactly occupied by what was our ostensible pursuit. Not quite, though pretty well satisfied with my progress, I took a very imprudent step with pen and paper, in tender and tolerably turned prose periods (no poetry even when in earnest). Here were risks, certainly: first, how to convey, then how would it be received ? It was received, however, and deposited not very far from the heart which I wished it to reach when, who should enter the room, but the person who ought at that moment to