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A Melancholy, ‘Honeft Man’…

I must see my agent to-night. I wonder when that Newstead business will be finished. It cost me more than words to part with it – and to have parted with it!

What matters it what I do? or what becomes of me? – but let me remember Job’s saying, and console myself with being a “living man”.

I wish I could settle to reading again, – my life is monotonous, and yet desultory. I take up books, and fling them down again. I began a comedy and burnt it because the scene ran into reality; – a novel, for the same reason. In rhyme, I can keep more away from facts; but the thought always runs through, through…. yes, yes, through.

The Byron Library at Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire

I have begun, or had begun, a song, and flung it into the fire. It was in remembrance of Mary Duff, my first of flames, before most people begin to burn. I wonder what the devil is the matter with me! I can do nothing, and – fortunately there is nothing to do…

I have dined regularly to-day, for the first time since Sunday last – this being Sabbath, too. All the rest, tea and dry biscuits – six per diem. I wish to God I had not dined now! It kills me with heaviness, stupor, and horrible dreams; – and yet it was but a pint of bucellas, and fish. Meat I never touch, – nor much vegetable diet. I wish I were in the country, to take excercise……..

The Byron Dining Room at Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire

Oh my head – how it aches? – the horrors of digestion! I wonder how Buonaparte’s dinner agrees with him?

My head! I believe it was given me to ache with.

Good even.

Poor Byron! He doesn’t appear to have enjoyed this November day does he?

Despite the gloominess and self-pity that is evident from the extract from his journal, I admire his honesty and after the week that I have just had with more worry and sadness, I can empathise with his feelings on that chilly November evening!

Byron was noted for his open manner and of his tendency to admit his feelings of despondency, sorrow or his word of choice – melancholy. For his poetry is noted for it, his private journals speak of it and he was often candid about his ‘constitutional depression of Spirits’ in letters to his friends.

Although the study of genetics was unknown in Byron’s time, he always believed that he was ‘doomed’ by the fact that he was a in the words of his mother a “true Byrrone”

Despite his charm, his father was considered a fickle profligate and adulterer and with an irate temper, extreme moods and bouts of depression; Byron’s mother Catherine Gordon was more than a match for ‘Mad Jack’ as he was known throughout society.

In the light of his parents’ temperaments and that death by suicide is hinted at on ALL sides of Byron’s unique family; it is perhaps NOT surprising that Byron was frequently one unhappy chap!

One November I visited Bath Abbey and was able to locate a memorial stone on the wall in the Gethsemane Chapel in memory of Byron’s maternal Grandfather and namesake George Gordon who died from drowning in the Avon Canal in Bath on Saturday January 9 1779.

Was his death intentional? Or could he have simply decided to go for a swim in the freezing waters on a cold January day?

Whatever happened on that fateful day, George Gordon was buried in Bath Abbey under a ‘Mr. Pierce’s stone by the font’ on Friday January 15 1779.

I was not aware that he had been laid to rest in Bath Abbey at the time of my visit; probably due to the suspected cause of his death and in 1779, death by suicide was considered a mortal sin and as such a burial would not have been allowed on consecrated ground.

As you can see most of the decorative swag on this marble monument has been broken off and removed and it’s interesting to wonder if Catherine brought Byron to this spot to reminisce about her father as she shared the pride of her Gordon ancestry:

My mother was precise on points of genealogy like all the Aristocratical Scots.

Lord Byron

AND as I was getting up close and personal with my camera in this confined space; the abbey guide was watching me like a hawk – lest I chip off another bit to hoard as a Byron keepsake perhaps?

In  a profound letter to John Murray on September 20, 1821 from Ravenna, Byron was to write:

You know – or you do not know – that my maternal Grandfather (a very clever man & amiable I am told) was strongly suspected of Suicide – – (he was found drowned in the Avon at Bath)……..there was no apparent cause – as he was rich, respected  – & of considerable intellectual resources – hardly forty years of age – & not at all addicted to any un-hinging vice. – It was however but a strong suspicion – owing to the manner of his death – & to his melancholy temper……

I had always been told that in temper I more resembled my maternal Grandfather than any of my father’s family – – that is in the gloomier part of his temper – for he was what you call a good natured man, and I am not. –

Interestingly some 37 years later on the same day, Byron’s wife Annabella and their month old daughter Ada Augusta would leave 13 Piccadilly Terrace for the last time and the infamy surrounding the failure of this short marriage would be the catalyst for his departure from our shores a few months later.

As the ‘pint of bucellas’ Byron refers to in his November journal IS actually a pint of wine – this may offer an explanation for his low spirits as it would surely be enough to give anyone an aching head!

As for my low spirits? Well, I need only to reach for that large bowl of chocolates nearby…

Sources Used:

Byron’s Letters and Journals, Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973-97)

'A Sigh to Those That Love Me'

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