Academic journal article The Byron Journal

Byron at Home

Academic journal article The Byron Journal

Byron at Home

Article excerpt

I

Byron's most famous home was Newstead Abbey so we can begin there. In what sense was it his home? He owned it from the age of twenty-one to twenty-nine. He knew it from the age of ten to twenty-six. This is longer than anywhere else. He wrote an elegy on it in 1806 and was still writing about it, as Norman Abbey, in 1823. But there is a big ?on the other hand ', as always with Byron. Geoffrey Bond has calculated that he spent less nights here than he did in Burgage Manor, Southwell and he was only ever at Newstead in four separated years, 1798, 1808, 1811, and 1814 and only then for brief periods in each case. His mother wrote to Hanson on 23 September 1805 ?The two hundred a year addition I shall reserve for myself: nor can I do with less, as my house will always be a home for my son whenever he chooses to come to it '.1 He did not choose very often to do so perhaps mainly because she was there, at Southwell (where she wrote this letter) or Newstead, in what he once called the ?bondage of my maternal home '.2 For example, he always seems to try to avoid spending Christmas with his mother, often choosing to stay with the Hansons instead.

?Home ', and ?at home' as we shall see, are words he uses frequently but Byron rarely uses the phrase ?my home '. Here he inserts ?maternal' - ?my maternal home ' - as though it is Mrs Byron's home but not his. To Hanson on 25 January 1808, he wrote ?Home I have none ', but to Augusta in 1811, writing from Newstead, he wrote: ?However, at all events, & in all Situations, you have a brother in me, & a home here '.3 He brought Augusta to Newstead Abbey in 1814 (unlike Annabella who only visited the house incognito after his death). So Augusta was in his home (as she was often in his marital home in Piccadilly Terrace) but really it was the other way round: his home was her. In a poem to 'Augusta (My Sister, My Sweet Sister)' Byron wrote 'There yet are two things in my destiny, / A world to roam through, and a home with thee ' ('Epistle to My Sister', 7-8). His attraction to Augusta, I think, was not primarily sexual but was bound up with her as embodying a maternal home that wasn't bondage. Momentarily when he was wandering round Newstead with her in 1814 the house was home to him rather than how he customarily saw it, as in a letter to Wedderburn Webster of 10 October 1811, where Newstead is described as 'my rough Bachelor's Hall'.4 In other words it was a 'pad ': Byron lived in only a few small rooms, while the large ones he used for pistol shooting or fencing.

Of course Byron could see Newstead more romantically than this. In the 'Elegy on Newstead Abbey', he wrote, 'The last and youngest of a noble line / Now holds thy mouldering turrets in his sway' (59-60). Unlike Wildman, who bought the abbey from him, Byron did not do much about the mouldering turrets. He was hard up while Wildman wasn't. Wildman had bought the Quebec plantation from William Beckford and Beckford had used it to fund the building of Fonthill Abbey. Wildman used the money to buy Newstead and do it up, to the tune of approximately £100,000. So slave labour was responsible for two neo-Gothic buildings. Perhaps, anyway, Byron preferred to be a ruin amidst ruins. On the gutterings and downspouts at Newstead Abbey the date 1819 can be seen. As soon as Wildman got the house he repaired the roof and guttering. Byron never did. He commissioned expensive wallpaper but because he did not think about the roof, it was all ruined at the first downpour. Wildman built on a new wing to the house and a tower, a new entrance, moved the fountain back into the cloister, improved the gardens. That is what people do with their homes - they alter them to their convenience and taste. The previous two Lord Byrons had done this but Byron himself never did. He deplores the way that the Amundevilles are altering Norman Abbey (perhaps he heard what Wildman was doing with his architect John Shaw in Newstead - Byron calls Shaw a Goth [DJ, XVI, 58]). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.