Saturday, 19 April 2014

'April 19 1824' Lord Byron is Dead...

"The misfortune that had befallen us is terrible and irreparable.
I scarcely have words to describe it.
Lord Byron is dead

Your friend, my friend and father, the light of this century, the boast of your country, the saviour of Greece is dead.

He died on the 19th of April at half past six in the evening..."

This was the letter sent to Byron's close friend John Cam Hobhouse by Pietro Gamba that was one of the first notifications of the poet's death.

He died as the result of a fever and probably medical ineptitude in the little Greek town Missolonghi that was to found on the edge of a swamp.

Restless with his life in Italy he had travelled to Missolonghi only months before as a charismatic freedom fighter, the attractive talisman charged with liberating the Greek people from their tyrannical Turkish rule.

Today he will be honoured in Greece, the European country that he had loved.

"Give Greece arms and independence, and then learning; I am here to serve her, but I will serve her first with my steel, and afterwards with her pen"

Several weeks after his death in early May a portion of Byron's remains either his heart or lungs were given to Missolonghi for burial and the rest of his remains were returned to the country of his birth.

"I trust they won't think of "pickling and bringing me home to Clod or Blunderbuss Hall" I am sure my Bones would not rest in an English grave - or my Clay mix with the earth of that Country..."

Despite his protestations to his publisher John Murray in 1819, he was to find himself "pickled" and brought home not to a "Blunderbuss Hall" but to the Church of St Mary Magdalene in the town of Hucknall near the Byron ancestral home of Newstead Abbey.

On July 16 1824 he was placed in the family vault to be reunited with his mother Catherine and in the company of his great-uncle William, the Fifth Lord Byron, the "Wicked Lord" and other members of the Byron family.

The Church of St Mary Magdalene is a beautiful old church that has undergone much restoration and expansion since Byron's internment in 1824 with the result that he now finds himself further away from the High Altar...
I think he would approve.

On Monday April 13 2014, I made another visit to this church, a journey of many hundreds of miles and one that involved the use of eight trains equal to the number of hours that it took me to travel there and back in a day.
But it was worth it.

I enjoyed the glorious weather, a wonderful afternoon in a delightful church, the company of the friendly church wardens who were enormously patient with my endless questions and a delicious cup of tea.

Whether Byron's "bones are at rest", who knows...

The Byron Family Vault lies beneath this Memorial...

The Memorial from his sister Augusta...

Tributes of Bluebells and Tulips in memory of the "Pilgrim of Eternity"..

Follow the link to visit the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall:

Sources used:
Lord Byron Selected Letters and Journals Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1982
The Late Lord Byron Doris Langley Moore (London: John Murray 1961)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Colwick Hall: Where Dreams Come to Life

When you allow yourself to be opened up to the wonders of the world, now and again you'll come across something - or somewhere - that instantly wins a place in your heart. During a recent research trip to Nottingham I discovered that Colwick Hall was one such place.

Colwick Hall, now a thriving hotel overlooking Nottingham racecourse, was the ancestral home to Lord Byron. Any building associated with the Byron clan is undoubtedly rich with history and excitement. However, this particular building is enhanced by an additional connection.

The stories of Colwick Hall are not only birthed from its association with the Byrons; they're also the product of the years spent with the Musters family. To adhere to my own personal interests, this includes the (wonderful, if I may) Mary Chaworth-Musters.

As an admirer of Mary - and, as her admirer, I must express a preference to calling her Mary Ann Chaworth due to obvious reasons of Byronic misfortune - I arrived at Colwick Hall with great anticipation. Its very fabrication was the stuff of my dreams. And, as the proverb goes, dreams can come true.

I share with you a small collection of photographs taken during my visit. What was planned to be a brief sit-down for a coffee in the beautiful (and it really is beautiful!) Byron Brasserie turned into a heavenly waltz inside the Hall itself. I cannot enough thank the wonderful gentleman who invited us to venture into the depths of Colwick Hall as he led us through from the Brasserie. How the heart doth sing!

The roof of the Byron Brasserie!

Oh, and Happy 226th Birthday, Byron!

Byron's Dream by Ford Madox Brown
Amy McLean

226 Years Young! Tee Bylo Celebrates with a Ramble and a Slice or Two of Birthday Cake...

Today our noble Poet is 226 years young and I'm celebrating with a slice or two of this delicious cake that was purchased in his honour!

 In 1821 and whilst living in Ravenna, Byron began a journal in which he recorded his thoughts on the Carbonari revolutionary movement and on their campaign to free Italy from Austrian rule along with his growing love for Teresa Guiccioli and of his continuing friendship with the Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

He began the Ravenna Journal on January 4 and made his final entry on February 27 which also happens to be the day that I was born, albeit a few years later!

Byron celebrated his own birthday on Monday January 22 1821 and the excitement that he felt is reflected in the journal entry...

It is three minutes past twelve. - "'Tis the middle of the night by the castle clock," and I am now thirty-three!
"Eheu, fugaces, Posthume, Posthume,
Labuntur anni;"
but I don't regret them so much for what I have done, as for what I might have done.

Though life's road, so dim and dirty,
I have dragg'd to three-and-thirty.
What have these years left to me?
Nothing - except thirty-three.

As he watched the minutes tick by towards his birthday the evening before with palpable exhilaration he completed his journal on Sunday January 21 1821 with the following entry:

To-morrow is my birthday - that is to say, at twelve o' the clock, midnight, i.e. in twelve minutes, I shall have completed thirty and three years of age!!!! - and I go to my bed with a heaviness of heart at having lived so long, and to so little purpose.

I agree that 226 years is rather a long time to have lived for so long, however, I would have to disagree with him that his life has been spent with so little purpose and in honour of His Lordship’s birthday I have created another unique tribute!

For beginning at the dawn of Wednesday January 22 2014 and continuing every hour until midnight, I shall be publishing a series of blog posts about my travels as a ‘Regency’ Recondite as I go in search of a dead poet’s society and with extracts from his letters and poetry including some from his admirers and detractors alike, I hope that it will prove to be an enjoyable sojourn for you; albeit from the comfort of your chair!

Simply click on the link and without 'Sparing the Horses', let your travels commence!

Adieu for now!
Tee Bylo

Friday, 3 January 2014

'Our Home is in Piccadilly' Tee Bylo Unlocks the Door of Byron's House...

Perhaps the deadliest chill that ever fell on my heart was on the morning after my wedding day; he was late in appearing, but as soon as he came downstairs I went to him in the Library...

With the most forbidding aspect, and in a tone of cold sarcasm, he said, "It's too late now - it's done - you should have thought of it sooner." 
I told him I did not repent, and tried to inspire a hope which was almost extinguished in my breast...

January 3...

You will hopefully let out a sigh of relief when I tell you that I am not the author of these lines of despondency but that they are in fact the penmanship of the former Annabella Milbanke and her reminiscence of the first day of her honeymoon at Halnaby Hall in North Yorkshire some 199 years ago.

Why such poignancy, you might add? 

Firstly, I have no wish to speak in defense of the unhappy bride and besides, she has already bequeathed to history a plethora of  documented insinuation, accusation and speculation about her brief marriage to Byron; some of which I have previously considered on my Blog about the said Lady B and in the spirit of impartiality, I might add!

No, the poignancy is all mine as the doors to '13 Piccadilly Terrace' have finally been opened and the tales (and tears!) of my creation of a 12th scale house that has been inspired by the life of our beloved Lord B can now be located within several pages of the February issue of the Dolls' House Magazine!

Dolls' House Magazine (Issue 189) 
GMC Publications

For since its conception in the summer of 2009, the creation of '13 Piccadilly Terrace' has been rather like relishing a secret love affair as I enjoyed a return to the year 1815 in which to dream about interior design indulge in the most delightful research and shop for some truly glorious acquisitions and now "it's done"...

 However, as most of the beds remain unmade, the location of an elaborate dinner service still remains a mystery and with several of the portraits gathering dust in a sweet tin somewhere, I remain hopeful that a 'small' flicker of inspiration will continue...

Happy New Year!
Bye for now...
Tee Bylo

Click on the link below to travel to the year 1815 and pay a visit to '13 Piccadilly Terrace'... Somewhere in a Small World!

Sources Used:
Lord Byron's Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)

Saturday, 16 November 2013

“He Took Me in His Gondola Across the Laguna…”

A windowless, deformed and dreary pile;
And on the top an open tower, where hung
A bell, which in the radiance swayed and swung;
We could just hear its hoarse and iron tongue:
The broad sun sunk behind it, and it tolled
In strong and black relief. -- "What we behold
Shall be the madhouse and its belfry tower,"
Said Maddalo, "and ever at this hour
Those who may cross the water, hear that bell
Which calls the maniacs, each one from his cell,
To vespers…….   

Keen-eyed readers will have already spotted that these lines aren’t Byron’s, but don’t stop reading just yet, as they’re from a poem by someone whose life was closely intertwined with Byron’s in their later years, Percy Bysshe Shelley. They were written in the autumn of 1818, and come from Shelley’s poem Julian & Maddalo, which he wrote after visiting Byron in Venice.

Shelley came to Venice to visit Allegra, Byron’s daughter and - how to describe the child’s relationship with Shelley? Allegra was the child of Shelley’s wife Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont. Born in January 1817, she had spent the first year of her life with the Shelleys, who loved her dearly. In the same poem Shelley describes meeting the little girl, now eighteen months old, after a gap of several months:

She was a special favourite: I had nursed
Her fine and feeble limbs when she came first
To this bleak world; and she yet seemed to know
On second sight her ancient playfellow,
Less changed than she was by six months or so…

During his stay in Venice, Shelley was invited to join Byron on his daily ride on Lido. An upmarket beach resort today, two hundred years ago Lido was a largely uninhabited sandbank.  In Shelley’s words:

….a bare strand
Of hillocks, heaped from ever-shifting sand,
Matted with thistles and amphibious weeds,
Such as from earth's embrace the salt ooze breeds..

Shelley wrote to Mary: “He took me in his gondola across the laguna to a long sandy island which defends Venice from the Adriatic.  When we disembarked, we found his horses waiting for us, and we rode along the sands of the sea, talking.”

The traveller from Venice across to Lido passes close to several other islands in the lagoon: monasteries for the most part, such as the Armenian monastery I described in the blogpost  My mind wanted something craggy to break upon . However, in the nineteenth century (and well into the twentieth) two of the islands had quite another function: San Clemente (for women) and San Servolo (for men) were hospitals for the treatment of people with mental health problems, described by Shelley – writing at a time when there was no such thing as political correctness - as “maniacs.”

An eighteenth century engraving shows the island as it was in Byron’s time

And a modern photograph shows that it has hardly changed:

Shelley obviously enquired about the island – which to my eye has a very pleasant appearance, but which he recalled in his poem as A windowless, deformed and dreary pile, as Count Maddalo (a lightly-disguised Byron) replies that it is the madhouse and its belfry tower. Shelley’s vivid imagination then took over, and he took a glimpse inside, visualising the inmates of San Servolo:

The clap of tortured hands,
Fierce yells and howlings and lamentings keen,
And laughter where complaint had merrier been,
Moans, shrieks, and curses, and blaspheming prayers…

Taking a Gothic turn, he pictured “oozy stairs,” “black bars” and “madmen’s chains,” and finally “a poor wretch” sitting in a room with a piano and clutching old love-letters, into whose mouth Shelley places a lengthy philosophical meditation on madness, life and death. (Dare I say it? Shelley aficionados should look away now: Shelley and brevity were never close acquaintances. For a compassionate study of mental illness in much better poetry, try Byron’s Lament of Tasso).

Fast-forward two hundred years and all has changed at San Clemente and San Servolo. San Clemente opened as a luxury hotel a few years ago, but this closed quite recently : whether as a result of the global financial crisis or because its long, straight corridors could never shake off memories of their institutional origins, it’s impossible to say.

San Servolo, however, flourishes: part university, part conference-centre, it boasts lovely gardens and sports facilities, and is often the venue for art exhibitions.

Walking in its lovely, green, calm spaces, it’s easy to forget that the wall which surrounds the island originally had a grimmer purpose: to keep the residents in.
The island’s past hasn’t been airbrushed from history however, since it houses The Museum of Mental Illness. Any lingering fantasies of a pleasant island confinement in the care of gentle monks soon vanish with an examination of its exhibits: apparatus for primitive electro-convulsive therapy, for dousing with cold water to “cool” a fevered brain, leather mittens and leg-restraints to prevent an inmate from thrashing around, strait-jackets for even closer confinement.

You may be wondering why Byron, who passed San Servolo regularly on his way to Lido, never mentioned it. Perhaps the island and its inmates were too close for comfort given his own fragile mental state in 1818, when he was completely manic and seemingly trying to lose himself in an excess of womanising, eating and drinking. Let’s end with words put into his mouth by Shelley in Julian & Maddalo, a fitting way to sum up the Byron of 1818:

And I remember one remark which then
Maddalo made. He said: "Most wretched men
Are cradled into poetry by wrong,
They learn in suffering what they teach in song."

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

“My Mind Wanted Something Craggy to Break Upon.”

The monastery island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni is, perhaps, one of Venice’s more unusual tourist attractions. The working community of Armenian monks live in isolation from the world, since their small island is accessible only by boat. The community supports itself by operating a printing-press, producing both books in Armenian and translations of Armenian works into Italian and other languages.

Yet every day in the middle of the afternoon tourists arrive for a guided tour, which the multi-lingual monks offer in Italian, English, German, French. The tour parties spend an hour or so wending their way past the printing presses, the collections of curiosities (including an Egyptian mummy in its sarcophagus), finally arriving in a wood-panelled library where the portrait of a worldly Regency gentleman, an odd addition to a celibate community, gazes down.

Suddenly the visitors wake up, mummies and cabinets of curiosities forgotten, and a susurration passes around the room, equally intelligible in French, Italian, English… Byron.

It is almost two hundred years since he arrived in Venice, escaping from a mountain of debt and a broken marriage; yet then, as now, the Armenians sat upon their islet, already a well-established part of the landscape and pointed out to sight-seeing visitors such as Byron and his friend Hobhouse by knowledgeable gondoliers.

Most visitors, in 1816 as in 2013, would no doubt nod, remark how interesting,  and move on to the next attraction. Not Byron. The Armenians piqued his curiosity and he soon returned to talk to the Abbot, to examine the printing presses and to begin a course of study of the Armenian language which, with its 38-character alphabet, gave him something to focus on, a useful distraction from problems in England and the challenges of beginning a new life in Italy. I found my mind wanted something craggy to break upon, he told his friend Tom Moore.

Byron liked the monks, found the language difficult but not invincible (at least I hope not), and worked with his tutor on an Armenian/English dictionary, of which he also paid for the publication.

No doubt Byron also found the island to be an oasis of calm, which it remains to this day. Yet the modern visitor, arriving on a noisy, crowded motor-boat, may not get the chance to fully appreciate the peace of the Venetian lagoon in the way that Byron did.

A few weeks  ago I was lucky enough to enjoy the full “Byron experience.” Being rowed across the lagoon gives a completely different perspective in terms of time, sight and sound. The hectic motor-boat takes about ten minutes, the rowing-boat a leisurely half hour.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury of Byron’s private gondola, but instead a friend’s sanpierota, a boat propelled by two standing rowers, one in the stern and one in the prow. I felt very lazy as they put their backs into it whilst I, sitting almost level with the water, was able to fully appreciate the white marble, green islands and blue water which the hurried modern traveller is likely to miss.
The Bacino, where the Grand Canal meets the Venetian lagoon, would have been Byron’s likely starting point, as he was living only a few hundred yards away. As the boat pushes off, to the right - then as now -  the Dogana, or customs-house, where all cargoes arriving in Venice were inspected and any duties paid (today a gallery of modern art).

On past the island of San Giorgio (another monastery) a rare oasis of unexpected green. No doubt Byron noted, as I do, that as a resident of Venice he was only really aware of the seasons thanks to changes in temperature: gardens are a luxury in this confined city, and those who are lucky(and rich) enough to have them keep them to themselves, so that most of the flowers, plants and trees of Venice are hidden behind high walls.

And so, out into the lagoon, never the same two days in succession. The weather, the strength of the wind, the height of the tide, all make for interest for the passenger and maybe difficulties for the rower. While Byron sat inside his gondola, sheltered from sun and rain by a handy canopy, the gondolier might be sweating, freezing or soaking wet. At low tide, he would have to avoid sandbanks and seaweed which could trap his boat; high tide or strong wind would mean harder work to keep in the right direction. 

As the boat glides further out into the lagoon, the towers of Venice in the background fade into pearly light,as  marble and water merge into a single element. Perhaps sights like this inspired Byron’s Ode on Venice, which can seem eerily prophetic in our own times of global warming and rising sea-levels:

Oh Venice! Venice! When thy marble walls
Are level with the waters, there shall be
A cry of nations o’er thy sunken halls,
A loud lament along the sweeping sea!
If I, a northern wanderer, weep for thee,
What should thy sons do?

In the evening, as the sun heads west, the island of San Lazzaro seems to sit at the end of a path of light, almost a yellow-brick road. Sea birds hover, or even stand with their feet in the mud below which lies close to the surface in patches of water only a few inches deep, marked by poles as areas for boats to avoid.

Byron, stepping ashore on San Lazzaro at journey’s end, could look forward to a few more hours spent  mastering the thirty eight cursed scratches, as he put it, of the Armenian alphabet. At our journey’s end  we were met by a young monk, who told us, gently but firmly, that the monastery was closed to visitors. So that seemed like a good excuse to head back to Venice for a very welcome spritz!

Friday, 13 September 2013

'To My Son!': The Child Who Could Have Cured Byron's Heart

Those flaxen locks, those eyes of blue
Bright as thy mother's in their hue;
Those rosy lips, whose dimples play
And smile to steal the heart away,
Recall a scene of former joy,
And touch thy father's heart, my Boy!

And thou canst lisp a father's name--
Ah, William, were thine own the same,--
No self-reproach--but, let me cease--
My care for thee shall purchase peace;
Thy mother's shade shall smile in joy,
And pardon all the past, my Boy!

Her lowly grave the turf has prest,
And thou hast known a stranger's breast;
Derision sneers upon thy birth,
And yields thee scarce a name on earth;
Yet shall not these one hope destroy,--
A Father's heart is thine, my Boy!

Why, let the world unfeeling frown,
Must I fond Nature's claims disown?
Ah, no--though moralists reprove,
I hail thee, dearest child of Love,
Fair cherub, pledge of youth and joy--
A Father guards thy birth, my Boy!

Oh,'twill be sweet in thee to trace,
Ere Age has wrinkled o'er my face,
Ere half my glass of life is run,
At once a brother and a son;
And all my wane of years employ
In justice done to thee, my Boy!

Although so young thy heedless sire,
Youth will not damp parental fire;
And, wert thou still less dear to me,
While Helen's form revives in thee,
The breast, which beat to former joy,
Will ne'er desert its pledge, my Boy!

- 1807

If there's one area of Byron's life that has been studied, scrutinised, and scandalised by both public and critic over the last two centuries it's is love life. He may not have the best record with relationships, having married the wrong woman, fallen in love with his half sister, and often declared his homosexuality, a capital offence at the time. However, regardless of the endless attacks delivered to his heart, Byron did produce two beautiful daughters: Augusta Ada and Clara Allegra.

Though poor Allegra never saw her sixth birthday, Ada Byron grew into a fine young woman, now better known as Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, or simply Ada Lovelace. It seems that Ada's Byron genes matched her father's, as she faced the end of her life in 1852, at just 36 years of age. This, we could never forget, is the same young age Byron reached before he died in Greece.

And then there's Elizabeth Medora Leigh. Some may suggest Medora, daughter of Augusta Leigh, was Byron's niece, but there are many out there who believe that Medora was Byron's own child. Certainly Medora was sure she was Byron's child, and made sure that her gravestone would read 'Elizabeth Medora Leigh-Byron' upon her passing.

Medora, too, died at a young age, living until 35. So if we do take her to be Byron's third daughter, then condolences must be given for the mortality rates of his girls. However, what if Byron had produced a son? Would the genes have been stronger?

Susan Normington takes a look at this idea in Byron and his Children (1995). Specifically she looks closely at Byron's poem 'To my Son!' which has caused many a reader to ponder over the possibility of this male child.

Normington offers Thomas Moore's input to the poem when he suggested that “the only circumstance he knew that bore even remotely on the subject of the poem took place in 1805 when Byron approached his mother with an unusual request. He asked her to look after the bastard child of a friend who had died in January. The putative father, George Curzon, a fellow Harrovian, had been unaware of the girl's condition and she did not discover it herself until after his death; but she immediately rallied and declared Byron as the father.”

If what Normington is relaying here is correct, then the thought that Byron fathered a son – at least one that could be located – is out of the question. However, Normington's research, as she outlines later in the book, led her to find that this child, who is thought to be William Marshall of Wiltshire, grew up to believe he was Byron's son.

William married one Hannah Ayre in 1825, and before Hannah died they had at least three children: George, Isabella, and Mary Anne.

On 22 January 1835 – the day that would have been Byron's 47th birthday – William married his second wife Ann Ayre where he went on to have further child, one of which is known to be called Hannah. William's family still hold their apparent connection to Byron to this day with pride.

Could this family be an entire branch of Byron's life we know little about? A family Byron himself never knew? Is William Marshall the William of Byron's poem? He spoke fondly of the little boy he cared for as his own. Perhaps that son grew to be the missing link in his life, the key to the peace in his heart he had always longed for but had never found. Maybe all Byron needed was a child to call his own, a child that was not torn from its father because of a bitter mother or a premature death. If he could have cared for his Boy, cherished the child, perhaps Byron's mind would finally rest and all the aches that were delivered to him would be soothed by that delicate smile of his own infant face staring back up at him and calling him Father.

Normington, S. Byron and His Children (Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1995)
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