Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey

Annesley Hall

Washington Irving

AT ABOUT three miles’ distance from Newstead Abbey, and contiguous to its lands, is situated Annesley Hall, the old family mansion of the Chaworths. The families, like the estates, of the Byrons and Chaworths, were connected in former times, until the fatal duel between their two representatives. The feud, however, which prevailed for a time, promised to be cancelled by the attachment of two youthful hearts. While Lord Byron was yet a boy, he beheld Mary Ann Chaworth, a beautiful girl, and the sole heiress of Annesley. With that susceptibility to female charms, which he evinced almost from childhood, he became almost immediately enamored of her. According to one of his biographers, it would appear that at first their attachment was mutual, yet clandestine. The father of Miss Chaworth was then living, and may have retained somewhat of the family hostility, for we are told that the interviews of Lord Byron and the young lady were private, at a gate which opened from her father’s grounds to those of Newstead. However, they were so young at the time that these meetings could not have been regarded as of any importance: they were little more than children in years; but, as Lord Byron says of himself, his feelings were beyond his age.

The passion thus early conceived was blown into a flame, during a six weeks’ vacation which he passed with his mother at Nottingham. The father of Miss Chaworth was dead, and she resided with her mother at the old Hall of Annesley. During Byron’s minority, the estate of Newstead was let to Lord Grey de Ruthen, but its youthful Lord was always a welcome guest at the Abbey. He would pass days at a time there, and make frequent visits thence to Annesley Hall. His visits were encouraged by Miss Chaworth’s mother; she partook of none of the family feud, and probably looked with complacency upon an attachment that might heal old differences and unite two neighboring estates.

The six weeks’ vacation passed as a dream amongst the beautiful flowers of Annesley. Byron was scarce fifteen years of age, Mary Chaworth was two years older; but his heart, as I have said, was beyond his age, and his tenderness for her was deep and passionate. These early loves, like the first run of the uncrushed grape, are the sweetest and strongest gushings of the heart, and however they may be superseded by other attachments in after years, the memory will continually recur to them, and fondly dwell upon their recollections.

His love for Miss Chaworth, to use Lord Byron’s own expression, was “the romance of the most romantic period of his life,” and I think we can trace the effect of it throughout the whole course of his writings, coming up every now and then, like some lurking theme which runs through a complicated piece of music, and links it all in a pervading chain of melody.

How tenderly and mournfully does he recall, in after years, the feelings awakened in his youthful and inexperienced bosom by this impassioned, yet innocent attachment; feelings, he says, lost or hardened in the intercourse of life:

“The love of better things and better days;
    The unbounded hope, and heavenly ignorance
Of what is called the world, and the world’s ways;
    The moments when we gather from a glance
More joy than from all future pride or praise,
    Which kindle manhood, but can ne’er entrance
The heart in an existence of its own,
Of which another’s bosom is the zone.”

Whether this love was really responded to by the object, is uncertain. Byron sometimes speaks as if he had met with kindness in return, at other times he acknowledges that she never gave him reason to believe she loved him. It is probable, however, that at first she experienced some flutterings of the heart. She was of a susceptible age; had as yet formed no other attachments; her lover, though boyish in years, was a man in intellect, a poet in imagination, and had a countenance of remarkable beauty.

With the six weeks’ vacation ended this brief romance. Byron returned to school deeply enamored, but if he had really made any impression on Miss Chaworth’s heart, it was too slight to stand the test of absence. She was at that age when a female soon changes from the girl to a woman, and leaves her boyish lovers far behind her. While Byron was pursuing his school-boy studies, she was mingling with society, and met with a gentleman of the name of Musters, remarkable, it is said, for manly beauty. A story is told of her having first seen him from the top of Annesley Hall, as he dashed through the park, with hound and horn, taking the lead of the whole field in a fox chase, and that she was struck by the spirit of his appearance, and his admirable horsemanship. Under such favorable auspices, he wooed and won her, and when Lord Byron next met her, he learned to his dismay that she was the affianced bride of another.

With that pride of spirit—which always distinguished him, he controlled his feelings and maintained a serene countenance. He even affected to speak calmly on the subject of her approaching nuptials. “The next time I see you,” said he, “I suppose you will be Mrs. Chaworth” (for she was to retain her family name). Her reply was, “I hope so.”

I have given these brief details preparatory to a sketch of a visit which I made to the scene of this youthful romance. Annesley Hall I understood was shut up, neglected, and almost in a state of desolation; for Mr. Musters rarely visited it, residing with his family in the neighborhood of Nottingham. I set out for the Hall on horseback, in company with Colonel Wildman, and followed by the great Newfoundland dog Boatswain. In the course of our ride we visited a spot memorable in the love story I have cited. It was the scene of this parting interview between Byron and Miss Chaworth, prior to her marriage. A long ridge of upland advances into the valley of Newstead, like a promontory into a lake, and was formerly crowned by a beautiful grove, a landmark to the neighboring country. The grove and promontory are graphically described by Lord Byron in his “Dream,” and an exquisite picture given of himself, and the lovely object of his boyish idolatry—

“I saw two beings to the hues of youth
Standing upon a hill, a gentle hill,
Green, and of mild declivity, the last
As ’twere the cape of a long ridge of such,
Save that there was no sea to lave its base,
But a most living landscape, and the ware
Of woods and cornfields, and the abodes of men.
Scattered at intervals and wreathing smoke
Arising from such rustic roofs;—the hill
Was crown’d with a peculiar diadem
Of trees, in circular array, so fixed,
Not by the sport of nature, but of man:
These two, a maiden and a youth, were there
Gazing—the one on all that was beneath
Fair as herself—but the boy gazed on her;
And both were fair, and one was beautiful:
And both were young—yet not alike in youth:
As the sweet moon in the horizon’s verge,
The maid was on the verge of womanhood;
The boy had fewer summers, but his heart
Had far outgrown his years, and to his eye
There was but one beloved face on earth,
And that was shining on him.”

I stood upon the spot consecrated by this memorable interview. Below me extended the “living landscape,” once contemplated by the loving pair; the gentle valley of Newstead, diversified by woods and corn-fields, and village spires, and gleams of water, and the distant towers and pinnacles of the venerable Abbey. The diadem of trees, however, was gone. The attention drawn to it by the poet, and the romantic manner in which he had associated it with his early passion for Mary Chaworth, had nettled the irritable feelings of her husband, who but ill brooked the poetic celebrity conferred on his wife by the enamored verses of another. The celebrated grove stood on his estate, and in a fit of spleen he ordered it to be levelled with the dust. At the time of my visit the mere roots of the trees were visible; but the hand that laid them low is execrated by every poetical pilgrim.

Descending the hill, we soon entered a part of what once was Annesley Park, and rode among time-worn and tempest-riven oaks and elms, with ivy clambering about their trunks, and rooks’ nests among their branches. The park had been cut up by a post-road, crossing which, we came to the gate-house of Annesley Hall. It was an old brick building that might have served as an outpost or barbacan to the Hall during the civil wars, when every gentleman’s house was liable to become a fortress. Loopholes were still visible in its walls, but the peaceful ivy had mantled the sides, overrun the roof, and almost buried the ancient clock in front, that still marked the waning hours of its decay.

An arched way led through the centre of the gate-house, secured by grated doors of open iron work, wrought into flowers and flourishes. These being thrown open, we entered a paved court-yard, decorated with shrubs and antique flowerpots, with a ruined stone fountain in the centre. The whole approach resembled that of an old French chateau.

On one side of the court-yard was a range of stables, now tenantless, but which bore traces of the fox-hunting squire; for there were stalls boxed up, into which the hunters might be turned loose when they came home from the chase.

At the lower end of the court, and immediately opposite the gate-house, extended the Hall itself; a rambling, irregular pile, patched and pieced at various times, and in various tastes, with gable ends, stone balustrades, and enormous chimneys, that strutted out like buttresses from the walls. The whole front of the edifice was overrun with evergreens.

We applied for admission at the front door, which was under a heavy porch. The portal was strongly barricaded, and our knocking was echoed by waste and empty halls. Every thing bore an appearance of abandonment. After a time, however, our knocking summoned a solitary tenant from some remote corner of the pile. It was a decent-looking little dame, who emerged from a side door at a distance, and seemed a worthy inmate of the antiquated mansion. She had, in fact, grown old with it. Her name, she said, was Nanny Marsden; if she lived until next August, she would be seventy-one; a great part of her life had been passed in the Hall, and when the family had removed to Nottingham, she had been left in charge of it. The front of the house had been thus warily barricaded in consequence of the late riots at Nottingham, in the course of which the dwelling of her master had been sacked by the mob. To guard against any attempt of the kind upon the Hall, she had put it in this state of defence; though I rather think she and a superannuated gardener comprised the whole garrison. “You must be attached to the old building,” said I, “after having lived so long in it.” “Ah, sir!” replied she, “I am getting in years, and have a furnished cottage of my own in Annesley Wood, and begin to feel as if I should like to go and live in my own home.”

Guided by the worthy little custodian of the fortress, we entered through the sally port by which she had issued forth, and soon found ourselves in a spacious, but somewhat gloomy hall, where the light was partially admitted through square stone-shafted windows, overhung with ivy. Everything around us had the air of an old-fashioned country squire’s establishment. In the centre of the hall was a billiard-table, find about the walls were hung portraits of race-horses, hunters, and favorite dogs, mingled indiscriminately with family pictures.

Staircases led up from the hall to various apartments. In one of the rooms we were shown a couple of buff jerkins, and a pair of ancient jackboots, of the time of the cavaliers; relics which are often to be met with in the old English family mansions. These, however, had peculiar value, for the good little dame assured us that they had belonged to Robin Hood. As we were in the midst of the region over which that famous outlaw once bore ruffian sway, it was not for us to gainsay his claim to any of these venerable relics, though we might have demurred that the articles of dress here shown were of a date much later than his time. Every antiquity, however, about Sherwood Forest is apt to be linked with the memory of Robin Hood and his gang.

As we were strolling about the mansion, our four-footed attendant, Boatswain, followed leisurely, as if taking a survey of the premises. I turned to rebuke him for his intrusion, but the moment the old housekeeper understood he had belonged to Lord Byron, her heart seemed to yearn toward him. “Nay, nay,” exclaimed she, “let him alone, let him go where he pleases. He’s welcome. Ah, dear me! If he lived here I should take great care of him—he should want for nothing.—Well!” continued she, fondling him, “who would have thought that I should see a dog of Lord Byron in Annesley Hall!”

“I suppose, then,” said I, “you recollect something of Lord Byron, when he used to visit here?” “Ah, bless him!” cried she, “that I do! He used to ride over here and stay three days at a time, and sleep in the blue room. Ah! poor fellow! He was very much taken with my young mistress; he used to walk about the garden and the terraces with her, and seemed to love the very ground she trod on. He used to call her his bright morning star of Annesley.”

I felt the beautiful poetic phrase thrill through me.

“You appear to like the memory of Lord Byron,” said I.

“Ah, sir! why should not I! He was always main good to me when he came here. Well, well, they say it is a pity he and my young lady did not make a match. Her mother would have liked it. He was always a welcome guest, and some think it would have been well for him to have had her; but it was not to be! He went away to school, and then Mr. Musters saw her, and so things took their course.”

The simple soul now showed us into the favorite sitting-room of Miss Chaworth, with a small flower-garden under the windows, in which she had delighted. In this room Byron used to sit and listen to her as she played and sang, gazing upon her with the passionate, and almost painful devotion of a love-sick stripling. He himself gives us a glowing picture of his mute idolatry:

“He had no breath, no being, but in hers;
She was his voice; he did not speak to her,
But trembled on her words; she was his sight.
For his eye followed hers, and saw with hers,
Which colored all his objects;—he had ceased
To live within himself; she was his life,
The ocean to the river of his thoughts,
Which terminated all; upon a tone,
A touch of hers, his blood would ebb and flow,
And his cheek change tempestuously—his heart
Unknowing of its cause of agony.”

There was a little Welsh air, call “Mary Ann,” which, from bearing her own name, he associated with herself, and often persuaded her to sing it over and over for him.

The chamber, like all the other parts of the house, had a look of sadness and neglect; the flower-pots beneath the window, which once bloomed beneath the hand of Mary Chaworth, were overrun with weeds; and the piano, which had once vibrated to her touch, and thrilled the heart of her stripling lover, was now unstrung and out of tune.

We continued our stroll about the waste apartments, of all shapes and sizes, and without much elegance of decoration. Some of them were hung with family portraits, among which was pointed out that of the Mr. Chaworth who was killed by the “wicked Lord Byron.”

These dismal looking portraits had a powerful effect upon the imagination of the stripling poet, on his first visit to the hall. As they gazed down from the wall, he thought they scowled upon him, as if they had taken a grudge against him on account of the duel of his ancestor. He even gave this as a reason, though probably in jest, for not sleeping at the Hall, declaring that he feared they would come down from their frames at night to haunt him.

A feeling of the kind he has embodied in one of his stanzas of “Don Juan:”

“The forms of the grim knights and pictured saints
    Look living in the moon; and as you turn
Backward and forward to the echoes faint
    Of your own footsteps—voices from the urn
Appear to wake, and shadows wild and quaint
    Start from the frames which fence their aspects stern,
As if to ask you how you dare to keep
A vigil there, where all but death should sleep.”

Nor was the youthful poet singular in these fancies; the Hall, like most old English mansions that have ancient family portraits hanging about their dusky galleries and waste apartments, had its ghost story connected with these pale memorials of the dead. Our simple-hearted conductor stopped before the portrait of a lady, who had been a beauty in her time, and inhabited the hall in the heyday of her charms. Something mysterious or melancholy was connected with her story; she died young, but continued for a long time to haunt the ancient mansion, to the great dismay of the servants, and the occasional disquiet of the visitors, and it was with much difficulty her troubled spirit was conjured down and put to rest.

From the rear of the hall we walked out into the garden, about which Byron used to stroll and loiter in company with Miss Chaworth. It was laid out in the old French style. There was a long terraced walk, with heavy stone balustrades and sculptured urns, overrun with ivy and evergreens. A neglected shrubbery bordered one side of the terrace, with a lofty grove inhabited by a venerable community of rooks. Great flights of steps led down from the terrace to a flower garden laid out in formal plots. The rear of the Hall, which overlooked the garden, had the weather stains of centuries, and its stone-shafted casements and an ancient sun-dial against its walls carried back the mind to days of yore.

The retired and quiet garden, once a little sequestered world of love and romance, was now all matted and wild, yet was beautiful, even in its decay. Its air of neglect and desolation was in unison with the fortune of the two beings who had once walked here in the freshness of youth, and life, and beauty. The garden, like their young hearts, had gone to waste and ruin.

Returning to the Hall we now visited a chamber built over the porch, or grand entrance. It was in a ruinous condition, the ceiling having fallen in and the floor given way. This, however, is a chamber rendered interesting by poetical associations. It is supposed to be the oratory alluded to by Lord Byron in his “Dream,” wherein he pictures his departure from Annesley, after learning that Mary Chaworth was engaged to be married—

‘There was an ancient mansion, and before
Its walls there was a steed caparisoned;
Within an antique oratory stood
The boy of whom I spake;—he was alone,
And pale and pacing to and fro: anon
He sate him down, and seized a pen, and traced
Words which I could not guess of; then he leaned
His bow’d head on his hands, and shook as ’twere
With a convulsion—then arose again,
And with his teeth and quivering hands did tear
What he had written, but he shed no tears.
And he did calm himself, and fix his brow
Into a kind of quiet; as he paused,
The lady of his love re-entered there;
She was serene and smiling then, and yet
She knew she was by him beloved,—she knew,
For quickly comes such knowledge, that his heart
Was darkened with her shadow, and she saw
That he was wretched, but she saw not all.
He rose, and with a cold and gentle grasp
He took her hand; a moment o’er his face
A tablet of unutterable thoughts
Was traced, and then it faded as it came;
He dropp’d the hand he held, and with slow steps
Return’d, but not as bidding her adieu,
For they did part with mutual smiles:—he pass’d
From out the massy gate of that old Hall,
And mounting on his steed he went his way,
And ne’er repassed that hoary threshold more.”

In one of his journals, Lord Byron describes his feelings after thus leaving the oratory. Arriving on the summit of a hill, which commanded the last view of Annesley, he checked his horse, and gazed back with mingled pain and fondness upon the groves which embowered the Hall, and thought upon the lovely being that dwelt there, until his feelings were quite dissolved in tenderness. The conviction at length recurred that she never could be his, when, rousing himself from his reverie, he struck his spurs into his steed and dashed forward, as if by rapid motion to leave reflection behind him.

Yet, notwithstanding what he asserts in the verses last quoted, he did pass the “hoary threshold” of Annesley again. It was, however, after the lapse of several years, during which he had grown up to manhood, and had passed through the ordeal of pleasures and tumultuous passions, and had felt the influence of other charms. Miss Chaworth, too, had become a wife and a mother, and he dined at Annesley Hall at the invitation of her husband. He thus met the object of his early idolatry in the very scene of his tender devotions, which, as he says, her smiles had once made a heaven to him. The scene was but little changed. He was in the very chamber where he had so often listened entranced to the witchery of her voice; there were the same instruments and music; there lay her flower garden beneath the window, and the walks through which he had wandered with her in the intoxication of youthful love. Can we wonder that amidst the tender recollections which every object around him was calculated to awaken, the fond passion of his boyhood should rush back in full current to his heart? He was himself surprised at this sudden revulsion of his feelings, but he had acquired self-possession and could command them. His firmness, however, was doomed to undergo a further trial. While seated by the object of his secret devotions, with all these recollections throbbing in his bosom, her infant daughter was brought into the room. At sight of the child he started; it dispelled the last lingerings of his dream, and he afterward confessed, that to repress his emotion at the moment, was the severest part of his task.

The conflict of feelings that raged within his bosom, throughout this fond and tender, yet painful and embarrassing visit, are touchingly depicted in lines which he wrote immediately afterward, and which, though not addressed to her by name, are evidently intended for the eye and the heart of the fair lady of Annesley:

“Well! thou art happy, and I feel
    That I should thus be happy too;
For still my heart regards thy weal
    Warmly, as it was wont to do.

Thy husband’s blest—and ’twill impart
    Some pangs to view his happier lot:
But let them pass—Oh! how my heart
    Would hate him, if he loved thee not!

When late I saw thy favorite child
    I thought my jealous heart would break;
But when the unconscious infant smiled,
    I kiss’d it for its mother’s sake.

I kiss’d it, and repress’d my sighs
    Its father in its face to see;
But then it had its mother’s eyes,
    And they were all to love and me.

Mary, adieu! I must away:
    While thou art blest I’ll not repine;
But near thee I can never stay:
    My heart would soon again be thine.

I deem’d that time, I deem’d that pride
    Had quench’d at length my boyish flame
Nor knew, till seated by thy side,
    My heart in all, save love, the same.

Yet I was calm: I knew the time
    My breast would thrill before thy look;
But now to tremble were a crime—
    We met, and not a nerve was shook.

I saw thee gaze upon my face,
    Yet meet with no confusion there:
One only feeling could’st thou trace;
    The sullen calmness of despair.

Away! away! my early dream
    Remembrance never must awake:
Oh! where is Lethe’s fabled stream?
    My foolish heart, be still, or break.”

The revival of this early passion, and the melancholy associations which it spread over those scenes in the neighborhood of Newstead, which would necessarily be the places of his frequent resort while in England, are alluded to by him as a principal cause of his first departure for the Continent:

“When man expell’d from Eden’s bowers
    A moment lingered near the gate,
Each scene recalled the vanish’d hours,
    And bade him curse his future fate.

But wandering on through distant climes,
    He learnt to bear his load of grief;
Just gave a sigh to other times,
    And found in busier scenes relief.

Thus, Mary, must it be with me,
    And I must view thy charms no more;
For, while I linger near to thee,
    I sigh for all I knew before.”

It was in the subsequent June that he set off on his pilgrimage by sea and land, which was to become the theme of his immortal poem. That the image of Mary Chaworth, as he saw and loved her in the days of his boyhood, followed him to the very shore, is shown in the glowing stanzas addressed to her on the eve of embarkation—

“’Tis done—and shivering in the gale
    The bark unfurls her snowy sail;
And whistling o’er the bending mast,
    Loud sings on high the fresh’ning blast;
And I must from this land be gone.
    Because I cannot love but one.

And I will cross the whitening foam,
    And I will seek a foreign home;
Till I forget a false fair face,
    I ne’er shall find a resting place;
My own dark thoughts I cannot shun,
    But ever love, and love but one.

To think of every early scene,
    Of what we are, and what we’ve been,
Would whelm some softer hearts with woe—
    But mine, alas! has stood the blow;
Yet still beats on as it begun,
    And never truly loves but one.

And who that dear loved one may be
    Is not for vulgar eyes to see,
And why that early love was cross’d,
    Thou know’st the best, I feel the most;
But few that dwell beneath the sun
    Have loved so long, and loved but one.

I’ve tried another’s fetters too,
    With charms, perchance, as fair to view;
And I would fain have loved as well,
    But some unconquerable spell
Forbade my bleeding breast to own
    A kindred care for aught but one.

’Twould soothe to take one lingering view,
    And bless thee in my last adieu;
Yet wish I not those eyes to weep
    For him who wanders o’er the deep;
His home, his hope, his youth are gone,
    Yet still he loves, and loves but one.”

The painful interview at Annesley Hall, which revived with such intenseness his early passion, remained stamped upon his memory with singular force, and seems to have survived all his “wandering through distant climes,” to which he trusted as an oblivious antidote. Upward of two years after that event, when, having made his famous pilgrimage, he was once more an inmate of Newstead Abbey, his vicinity to Annesley Hall brought the whole scene vividly before him, and he thus recalls it in a poetic epistle to a friend—

“I’ve seen my bride another’s bride,—
Have seen her seated by his side,—
Have seen the infant which she bore,
Wear the sweet smile the mother wore,
When she and I in youth have smiled
As fond and faultless as her child:—
Have seen her eyes, in cold disdain,
Ask if I felt no secret pain.

And I have acted well my part,
And made my cheek belie my heart,
Returned the freezing glance she gave,
Yet felt the while that woman’s slave;—
Have kiss’d, as if without design,
The babe which ought to have been mine,
And show’d, alas! in each caress,
Time had not made me love the less.”

“It was about the time,” says Moore in his life of Lord Byron, “when he was thus bitterly feeling and expressing the blight which his heart had suffered from a real object of affection, that his poems on an imaginary one, ‘Thyrza,’ were written.” He was at the same time grieving over the loss of several of his earliest and dearest friends the companions of his joyous school-boy hours. To recur to the beautiful language of Moore, who writes with the kindred and kindling sympathies of a true poet: “All these recollections of the young and the dead mingled themselves in his mind with the image of her, who, though living, was for him, as much lost as they, and diffused that general feeling of sadness and fondness through his soul, which found a vent in these poems. . . .  It was the blending of the two affections in his memory and imagination, that gave birth to an ideal object combining the best features of both, and drew from him those saddest and tenderest of love poems, in which we find all the depth and intensity of real feeling, touched over with such a light as no reality ever wore.”

An early, innocent, and unfortunate passion, however fruitful of pain it may be to the man, is a lasting advantage to the poet. It is a well of sweet and bitter fancies; of refined and gentle sentiments; of elevated and ennobling thoughts; shut up in the deep recesses of the heart, keeping it green amidst the withering blights of the world, and, by its casual gushings and overflowings, recalling at times all the freshness, and innocence, and enthusiasm of youthful days. Lord Byron was conscious of this effect, and purposely cherished and brooded over the remembrance of his early passion, and of all the scenes of Annesley Hall connected with it. It was this remembrance that attuned his mind to some of its most elevated and virtuous strains, and shed an inexpressible grace and pathos over his best productions.

Being thus put upon the traces of this little love-story, I cannot refrain from threading them out, as they appear from time to time in various passages of Lord Byron’s works. During his subsequent rambles in the East, when time and distance had softened away his “early romance” almost into the remembrance of a pleasing and tender dream, he received accounts of the object of it, which represented her, still in her paternal Hall, among her native bowers of Annesley, surrounded by a blooming and beautiful family, yet a prey to secret and withering melancholy—

                        ——“In her home,
A thousand leagues from his,—her native home,
She dwelt, begirt with growing infancy,
Daughters and sons of beauty, but—behold!
Upon her face there was the tint of grief,
The settled shadow of an inward strife,
And an unquiet drooping of the eye,
As if its lids were charged with unshed tears.”

For an instant the buried tenderness of early youth and the fluttering hopes which accompanied it, seemed to have revived in his bosom, and the idea to have flashed upon his mind that his image might be connected with her secret woes—but he rejected the thought almost as soon as formed.

“What could her grief be?—she had all she loved,
And he who had so loved her was not there
To trouble with bad hopes, or evil wish,
Or ill repress’d affection, her pure thoughts.
What could her grief be?—she had loved him not,
Nor given him cause to deem himself beloved,
Nor could he be a part of that which prey’d
Upon her mind—a spectre of the past.”

The cause of her grief was a matter of rural comment in the neighborhood of Newstead and Annesley. It was disconnected from all idea of Lord Byron, but attributed to the harsh and capricious conduct of one to whose kindness and affection she had a sacred claim. The domestic sorrows which had long preyed in secret on her heart, at length affected her intellect, and the “bright morning star of Annesley” was eclipsed for ever.

“The lady of his love,—oh! she was changed
As by the sickness of the soul; her mind
Had wandered from its dwelling, and her eyes,
They had not their own lustre, but the look
Which is not of the earth; she was become
The queen of a fantastic realm: but her thoughts
Were combinations of disjointed things;
And forms impalpable and unperceived
Of others’ sight, familiar were to hers.
And this the world calls frenzy.”

Notwithstanding lapse of time, change of place, and a succession of splendid and spirit-stirring scenes in various countries, the quiet and gentle scene of his boyish love seems to have held a magic sway over the recollections of Lord Byron, and the image of Mary Chaworth to have unexpectedly obtruded itself upon his mind like some supernatural visitation. Such was the fact on the occasion of his marriage with Miss Milbanke; Annesley Hall and all its fond associations floated like a vision before his thoughts, even when at the altar, and on the point of pronouncing the nuptial vows. The circumstance is related by him with a force and feeling that persuade us of its truth.

“A change came o’er the spirit of my dream.
The wanderer was returned.—I saw him stand
Before an altar—with a gentle bride;
Her face was fair, but was not that which made
The star-light of his boyhood;—as he stood
Even at the altar, o’er his brow there came
The self-same aspect, and the quivering shock
That in the antique oratory shook
His bosom in its solitude; and then—
As in that hour—a moment o’er his face
The tablet of unutterable thoughts
Was traced,—and then it faded as it came,
And he stood calm and quiet, and he spoke
The fitting vows, but heard not his own words,
And all things reel’d around him: he could see
Not that which was, nor that which should have been—
But the old mansion, and the accustomed hall,
And the remember’d chambers, and the place,
The day, the hour, the sunshine, and the shade,
All things pertaining to that place and hour,
And her who was his destiny, came back,
And thrust themselves between him and the light:
What business had they there at such a time?”

The history of Lord Byron’s union is too well known to need narration. The errors, and humiliations, and heart-burnings that followed upon it, gave additional effect to the remembrance of his early passion, and tormented him with the idea, that had he been successful in his suit to the lovely heiress of Annesley, they might both have shared a happier destiny. In one of his manuscripts, written long after his marriage, having accidentally mentioned Miss Chaworth as “my M. A. C.” “Alas!” exclaims he, with a sudden burst of feeling, “why do I say my? Our union would have healed feuds in which blood had been shed by our fathers; it would have joined lands broad and rich; it would have joined at least one heart, and two persons not ill-matched in years—and—and—and—what has been the result?”

But enough of Annesley Hall and the poetical themes connected with it. I felt as if I could linger for hours about its ruined oratory, and silent hall, and neglected garden, and spin reveries and dream dreams, until all became an ideal world around me. The day, however, was fast declining, and the shadows of evening throwing deeper shades of melancholy about the place. Taking our leave of the worthy old housekeeper, therefore, with a small compensation and many thanks for her civilities, we mounted our horses and pursued our way back to Newstead Abbey.

Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey - Contents    |     The Lake

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