George Gordon, Lord Byron
GEORGE GORDON, the only son of Captain John Byron, by his second wife, Miss Gordon, of Gight, and grandson of the celebrated Admiral Byron, was born in Holies Street, London, on the 22d of January, 1788. His ancestry, of which he is said to have been more proud than of having been the author of Childe Harold and Manfred, was composed of persons of distinction, but possessing much of that daring recklessness of character which so early displayed itself in the subject of our memoir. His great uncle, Lord William, to whom he succeeded, was tried for killing his relation, Mr. Chaworth, in a duel; and his father, who had caused his first wife to die of a broken heart, after having seduced her, when Marchioness of Carmarthen, became the husband of our poet's mother, as he openly avowed, for her fortune alone; after the dissipation of which, he separated from her, and died at Valenciennes, in 1791. At this time, young Byron resided, with his mother, at Aberdeen, where in November, 1792, he was sent to a day school; but, according to his own account, 'learned little there, except to repeat by rote the first lesson of monosyllables.' After remaining a year in this school, he was placed with a clergyman, named Ross, under whom, he says, he made astonishing progress; and observes, that the moment he could read, his grand passion was history. His next tutor was named Paterson; with him, he adds, began Latin in Ruddiman's grammar, and continued till I went to the grammar-school, where I threaded all the classes to the fourth, when I was recalled to England by the demise of my uncle.
The anecdotes which are told of him at this time, display his temper in an unfavorable light, both in his infancy and boyhood. Mr. Moore relates, that whilst yet in petticoats, being angrily reprimanded by his nurse for having soiled or torn a new frock, in which he had just been dressed, he got into one of his 'silent rages' (as he himself has described them), seized the frock with both his hands, rent it from top to bottom, and stood, in sullen stillness, setting his censurer and her wrath at defiance. The same authority tells us, that once, in returning home from school at Aberdeen,
Byron fell in with a boy who had, on some former occasion, insulted him, but had then got off unpunished; little Byron, however, at the time, promising to pay him off' whenever they should meet again. Accordingly, on this second encounter, though there were some other boys to take his opponent's part, he succeeded in inflicting upon him a hearty beating. On his return home, breathless, the servant inquired what he had been about, and was answered by him, with a mixture of rage and humor, that he had been paying a debt, by beating a boy according to promise; for that he was a Byron and would not belie his motto. Other anecdotes are told of him, which show him to have been passionate and resentful to that degree, as to leave it doubtful whether the description of him as 'a malignant imp' is not more applicable to his early years, than that of a lively, warmhearted, and high-spirited boy.' Before closing our account of his infancy, we should not omit to state that he suffered much from the malformation of one of his feet, which gave him much pain and mortification throughout his life. Even when a child, an allusion to this infirmity so provoked him, that he once struck at a person who remarked it, with a little whip which he held in his hand, exclaiming impatiently, as his eyes flashed fire, Dinka speak of it! ' He himself says, in some memoranda of his early days, that he never felt greater horror and humiliation than when his mother, in one of her fits of passion, called him a ' lame brat:' and it is certain, that he always felt it as a sort of ignominy, notwithstanding Mr. Moore's assertion that in afterlife, 'he could sometimes talk indifferently, and even jestingly, of this lameness.' His attachment to Mary Duff commenced when he was only eight years of age; but, though, eight years afterwards, the account of her marriage with another, 'nearly threw him into convulsions,' and for a while embittered his existence, it was, he adds, the recollection, not the attachment, which afterwards recurred to me so forcibly.' This affection, however, was not without its influence upon his mind, and probably tended to increase that love of contemplation and solitude, which he is said to have sometimes carried to a dangerous excess among the mountainous scenery of the highlands.