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In the very freshness of his boyish fancy he became enamoured of a young maiden, then in the first flush of womanhood. An intimacy of a few weeks was sufficient to make an impression on his susceptible heart for life; his young imagination surrounded her with all the perfections of maidenhood; but the fair object of his passionate love, already betrothed to another, looked with indifference upon her youthful admirer, and was soon afterwards wedded, and lost to him for ever!
This circumstance, more than any other, served to direct his future career. Had his suit been successful, had the lady been willing to await his majority, he might have been married, and have sunk down, as he tells us, into domestic quiet; his brilliant talents have wasted in inaction, or might have faintly displayed themselves in some vapid effusions, such as would have handed down his name to a limited posterity in the list of noble authors.
As it was, he awoke from this short dream of happiness, with the wounded feelings of an oversensitive nature, to the busy realities of life which had, to him, become shaded by the twilight hues of poetry.
Excessive indulgence, however, gave a morbid character to his feelings, and something too much of an overweening vanity aggravated their effect.
While the lady was in no way to be blamed, the course adopted by Lord Byron to efface her image from his mind, if, indeed, we may so regard the wilful excesses into which he seemed so naturally to fall, was that of an ill-regulated and very ordinary mind. However, that restlessness of character was established, and the unfitness for the calm tranquillity of domestic life, which afterwards distinguished him.
His genius soon declared itself; and the manner in which his first publication was received was an additional incentive for bringing forth. his dormant energies. Enriching his mind with images from the vast storehouse of nature, in the course of travel, he arose rapidly to fame; and, while yet a very young man, found himself foremost in the ranks of literature; sought and admired by all, courted and caressed in every circle of society.
At this brilliant epoch of his life, he imposed upon himself a marriage, which, from the un
congenial characters of the contracting parties, as well as from the different sentiments with which it was undertaken, held out but little promise of success.
The rapidity of his rise to the highest popularity and public estimation was now only surpassed by the rapidity with which he fell, step by step, till every indignity, which could be, was heaped upon his head. His circumstances had, for some time previous to his marriage, been at a very low ebb, which, it had been hoped, that event might rectify; but the desultory habits he had contracted were unconquerable, and ruin began to threaten him on every side.
When his affairs were at the worst, his wife parted from him in seeming love, but concealing in her heart the cold determination of never meeting him again.
On this event followed the estrangement of all his friends, and, in some instances, those who were indebted to him by obligations conferred in more prosperous times; then, the various circles in which he had moved the glass of fashion and the mould of form, the admired and observed of all observers, among whom he had been looked
up to as a hero, almost worshipped as a god, turned from him as if there had been contamination in his presence, till, at last, he was shut out from the very pale of society, with every opprobrious epithet conferred upon him that malice could suggest or vulgarity devise.
"In one short year," says Moore, "he passed through every variety of domestic misery;—he had seen his hearth eight or nine times profaned by the visitations of the law, and was saved only from a prison by the privileges of his rank
"He had alienated, as far as they had ever been his, the affections of his wife; and now, rejected by her, and condemned by the world, was betaking himself to an exile which had not even the appearance of being voluntary, as the excommunicating voice of society seemed to leave him no other resource."
Such were the circumstances under which Lord Byron quitted England, and under which Shelley and he first met at Geneva.
They were neither ignorant of the other on their first meeting, for on the publication of Queen Mab, Shelley had forwarded a copy to Byron; and of this poem his lordship had ex
pressed great admiration.
The letter which
accompanied this volume, strange to say, had miscarried; in it Shelley had expressed a desire to become acquainted with Byron, therefore, as Moore observes, on their present meeting at Geneva, there was no want of disposition towards acquaintance on either side, and an intimacy almost immediately sprang up between them.
This was attended with many mutual advantages, for never were two poetic temperaments more calculated to improve each other by intercourse, than those of Byron and Shelley.
There was a similarity in their destinies, though proceeding from different causes; and what, perhaps, might not inaptly be termed a strong family likeness between them; the face of Byron being the more sensual, and that of Shelley, the more purely spiritual.
Both gifted by nature with "the vision and the faculty divine," they were constituted nevertheless, to receive very different impressions, from similar circumstances.
Thrown upon their own resources at an age when they were too young for such responsibility, they had each followed their own peculiar