Worcester, July 23, 1889.–The present wanderer came lately to The
Faithful City, and these words are written in a midnight hour at the
Unicorn Hotel. This place is redolent of the wars of the Stuarts,
and the moment you enter it your mind is filled with the presence
of Charles the Martyr, Charles the Merry, Prince Rupert, and Oliver
Cromwell. From the top of Red Hill and the margin of Perry wood,–now
sleeping in the starlight or momentarily vocal with the rustle of
leaves and the note of half-awakened birds,–Cromwell looked down over
the ancient walled city which he had beleaguered. Upon the summit of
the great tower of Worcester Cathedral Charles and Rupert held their
last council of war. Here was lost, September 3, 1651, the battle
that made the Merry Monarch a hunted fugitive and an exile. With a
stranger’s interest I have rambled on those heights; traversed the
battlefield; walked in every part of the cathedral; attended divine
service there; revelled in the antiquities of the Edgar Tower; roamed
through most of the city streets; traced all that can be traced of the
old wall [there is little remaining of it now, and no part that can be
walked upon]; explored the royal porcelain works, for which Worcester
is rightly famous; viewed several of its old churches and its one
theatre, in Angel street; entered its Guildhall, where they preserve a
fine piece of artillery and nine suits of black armour that were left
by Charles the Second when he fled from Worcester; paced the dusty and
empty Trinity Hall, now abandoned and condemned to demolition, where
once Queen Elizabeth was feasted; and visited the old Commandery,–a
rare piece of antiquity, remaining from the tenth century,–wherein
the Duke of Hamilton died, of his wounds, after Cromwell’s “crowning
mercy,” and beneath the floor of which he was laid in a temporary
grave. The Commandery is now owned and occupied by a printer of
directories and guide-books, the genial and hospitable Mr. Littlebury,
and there, as everywhere else in storied Worcester, the arts of peace
prevail over all the scenes and all the traces of

“Old, unhappy, far-off things
And battles long ago.”

[Illustration: _Worcester Cathedral, from the Edgar Tower._]

In the Edgar Tower at Worcester they keep the original of the
marriage-bond that was given by Fulk Sandells and John Richardson,
of Shottery, as a preliminary to the marriage of William Shakespeare
and Anne Hathaway. It is a long, narrow strip of parchment, and it
has been glazed and framed. Two seals of light-coloured wax were
originally attached to it, dependent by strings, but these have
been removed,–apparently for the convenience of the mechanic who
put the relic into its present frame. The handwriting is crabbéd and
obscure. There are but few persons who can read the handwriting in
old documents of this kind, and thousands of such documents exist in
the church-archives, and elsewhere, in England, that have never been
examined. The bond is for £40, and is a guarantee that there was no
impediment to the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway.
It is dated November 28, 1582; its text authorises the wedding after
only once calling the banns in church; and it is supposed that the
marriage took place immediately, since the first child of it, Susanna
Shakespeare, was baptized in the Church of the Holy Trinity at
Stratford on May 26, 1583. No registration of the marriage has been
found, but that is no proof that it does not exist. The law is said to
have prescribed that three parishes, within the residential diocese,
should be designated, in any one of which the marriage might be made;
but custom permitted the contracting parties, when they had complied
with this requirement, to be married in whatever parish, within the
diocese, they might prefer. The three parishes supposed to have been
named are Stratford, Bishopton, and Luddington. The registers of two
of them have been searched, and searched in vain. The register of
the third,–that of Luddington, which is near Shottery, and about
three miles southwest of Stratford,–was destroyed, long ago, in a
fire that burnt down Luddington church; and conjecture assumes that
Shakespeare was married at Luddington. It may be so, but until every
old church register in the ancient diocese of Worcester has been
examined, the quest of the registration of his marriage ought not
to be abandoned. Richard Savage, the learned and diligent librarian
of the Shakespeare Birthplace, has long been occupied with this
inquiry, and has transcribed several of the old church registers in
the vicinity of Stratford. The Rev. Thomas Procter Wadley,[20] another
local antiquary, of great learning and incessant industry, has also
taken part in this labour. The long-desired entry of the marriage
of William and Anne remains undiscovered, but one gratifying and
valuable result of these investigations is the disclosure that many
of the names used in Shakespeare’s works are the names of persons who
were residents of Warwickshire in his time. It has pleased various
crazy sensation-mongers to ascribe the authorship of Shakespeare’s
writings to Francis Bacon. This could only be done by ignoring positive
evidence,–the evidence, namely, of Ben Jonson, who knew Shakespeare
personally, and who has left a written description of the manner in
which Shakespeare composed his plays. Effrontery was to be expected
from the advocates of the preposterous Bacon theory; but when they
have ignored the positive evidence, and the internal evidence, and the
circumstantial evidence, and every other sort of evidence, they have
still a serious obstacle to surmount,–an obstacle that the researches
of such patient scholars as Mr. Savage and Mr. Wadley are strengthening
day by day. The man who wrote Shakespeare’s plays knew Warwickshire as
it could only be known to a native of it; and there is no proof that
Francis Bacon knew it or ever was in it.[21]

[Illustration: _The Edgar Tower._]

With reference to the Shakespeare marriage-bond, and the other records
that are kept in the Edgar Tower at Worcester, it may perhaps justly
be said that they are not protected with the scrupulous care to which
such treasures are entitled. The Tower,–a gray and venerable relic,
an ancient gate of the monastery, dating back to the time of King
John,–affords an appropriate receptacle for those documents; but it
would not withstand fire, and it does not contain either a fire-proof
chamber or a safe. The Shakespeare marriage-bond,–which would be
appropriately housed in the Shakespeare Birthplace, at Stratford,–was
taken from the floor of a closet, where it had been lying, together
with a number of dusty books, and I was kindly permitted to hold it
in my hands and to examine it. The frame provided for this priceless
relic is such as may be seen on an ordinary school slate. From another
dusty closet an attendant extricated a manuscript diary kept by William
Lloyd, Bishop of Worcester [1627-1717], and by his man-servant, for
several years, about the beginning of the reign of Queen Anne; and in
this are many quaint and humorous entries, valuable to the student of
history and manners. In still another closet, having the appearance
of a rubbish-bin, I saw heaps of old parchment and paper writings,–a
mass of antique registry that it would need the labour of five or six
years to examine, decipher, and classify. Worcester is especially rich
in old records, and it is not impossible that the missing clew to
Shakespeare’s marriage may yet be found in that old cathedral city.

Worcester is rich also in a superb library, which, by the kindness of
Mr. Hooper, the custodian, I was allowed to explore, high up beneath
the roof of the lovely cathedral. That collection of books, numbering
about five thousand, consists mostly of folios, many of which were
printed in France. They keep it in a long, low, oak-timbered room,
the triforium of the south aisle of the nave. The approach is by a
circular stone staircase. In an anteroom to the library I saw a part
of the ancient north door of this church,–a fragment dating back to
the time of Bishop Wakefield, 1386,–to which is still affixed a piece
of the skin of a human being. The tradition is that a Dane committed
sacrilege, by stealing the sanctus bell from the high altar, and was
thereupon flayed alive for his crime, and the skin of him was fastened
to the cathedral door. In the library are magnificent editions of
Aristotle and other classics; the works of the fathers of the church; a
beautiful illuminated manuscript of Wickliffe’s New Testament, written
on vellum in 1381; and several books, in splendid preservation, from
the press of Caxton and that of Wynken de Worde. The world moves, but
printing is not better done now than it was then. This library, which
is for the use of the clergy of the diocese of Worcester, was founded
by Bishop Carpenter, in 1461, and originally it was stored in the
chapel of the charnel-house.

Reverting to the subject of old documents, a useful word may
perhaps be said here about the registers in Trinity church at
Stratford,–documents which, in a spirit of disparagement, have
sometimes been designated as “copies.” That sort of levity in the
discussion of Shakespearean subjects is not unnatural in days when
“cranks” are allowed freely to besmirch the memory of Shakespeare, in
their wildly foolish advocacy of what they call “the Bacon theory” of
the authorship of Shakespeare’s works. The present writer has often
held the Stratford Registers in his hands and explored their quaint
pages. Those records are contained in twenty-two volumes. They begin
with the first year of Queen Elizabeth, 1558, and they end, as to the
old parchment form, in 1812. From 1558 to 1600 the entries were made
in a paper book, of the quarto form, still occasionally to be found in
ancient parish churches of England. In 1599 an order-in-council was
made, commanding that those entries should be copied into parchment
volumes, for their better preservation. This was done. The parchment
volumes,–which were freely shown to me by William Butcher,[22] the
parish clerk of Stratford,–date back to 1600. The handwriting of the
copied portion, covering the period from 1558 to 1600, is careful and
uniform. Each page is certified, as to its accuracy, by the vicar and
the churchwardens. After 1600 the handwritings vary. In the register
of marriage a new handwriting appears on September 17 that year, and
in the registers of Baptism and Burial it appears on September 20. The
sequence of marriages is complete until 1756; that of baptisms and
burials until 1812; when, in each case, a book of printed forms comes
into use, and the expeditious march of the new age begins. The entry of
Shakespeare’s baptism, April 26, 1564, from which it is inferred that
he was born on April 23, is extant as a certified copy from the earlier
paper book. The entry of Shakespeare’s burial is the original entry,
made in the original register.

Some time ago an American writer suggested that Shakespeare’s
widow,–seven years his senior at the start, and therefore fifty-nine
years old when he died,–subsequently contracted another marriage.
Mrs. Shakespeare survived her husband seven years, dying on August 6,
1623, at the age of sixty-seven. The entry in the Stratford register of
burial contains, against the date of August 8, 1623, the names of “Mrs.
Shakespeare” and “Anna uxor Richard James.” Those two names, written
one above the other, are connected by a bracket on the left side; and
this is supposed to be evidence that Shakespeare’s widow married again.
The use of the bracket could not possibly mislead anybody possessing
the faculty of clear vision. When two or more persons were either
baptized or buried on the same day, the parish clerk, in making the
requisite entry in the register, connected their names with a bracket.
Three instances of this practice occur upon a single page of the
register, in the same handwriting, close to the page that records the
burial, on the same day, of Mrs. Shakespeare, widow, and Anna the wife
of Richard James. But folly needs only a slender hook on which to hang

John Baskerville, the famous printer [1706-1775], was born in
Worcester, and his remains, the burial-place of which was long unknown,
have lately been discovered there. Incledon, the famous singer, died
there. Prince Arthur [1486-1502], eldest son of King Henry the Seventh,
was buried in Worcester Cathedral, where a beautiful chantry was built
over his remains in 1504. Bishop John Gauden [1605-1662], who wrote the
_Eikon Basiliké_, long generally attributed to Charles the First, rests
there. The Duke of Hamilton, who died of his wounds, after a Worcester
fight, was transferred to that place, from his temporary grave in the
Commandery. And in the centre of the sacrarium stands the tomb of that
tyrant King John, who died on October 19, 1216, at Newark, and whose
remains, when the tomb was opened,[23] July 17, 1797, presented a
ghastly spectacle.

January 22, 1888.–On a night in 1785, when Mrs. Siddons was acting
at Edinburgh, the play being _The Fatal Marriage_ and the character
Isabella, a young lady of Aberdeenshire, Miss Catherine Gordon, of
Gight, was among the audience. There is a point in that tragedy at
which Isabella recognises her first husband, whom she had supposed to
be dead, and in whose absence she had been married to another, and
her consternation, grief, and rapture are sudden and excessive. Mrs.
Siddons, at that point, always made a great effect. The words are, “O
my Biron, my Biron!” On this night, at the moment when the wonderful
actress sent forth her wailing, heart-piercing cry, as she uttered
those words, Miss Gordon gave a frantic scream, fell into violent
hysterics, and was borne out of the theatre, repeating “O my Biron, my
Biron!” At the time of that incident she had not met the man by whom
she was afterward wedded,–the Hon. John Byron, whose wife she became,
about a year later. Their first-born and only child was George Gordon,
afterward Lord Byron, the poet; and among the many aspects of his life
which impress the thoughtful reader of its strange and melancholy story
none is more striking than the dramatic aspect of it,–so strangely
prefigured in this event.

[Illustration: _Lord Byron._]

Censure of Byron, whether as a man or as a writer, may be considered
to have spent its force. It is a hundred years since he was born,
and almost as many since he died.[24] Everybody who wished to say
a word against him has had ample opportunity for saying it, and
there is evidence that this opportunity has not been neglected. The
record was long ago made up. Everybody knows that Byron’s conduct
was sometimes deformed with frenzy and stained with vice. Everybody
knows that Byron’s writings are occasionally marred with profanity and
licentiousness, and that they contain a quantity of crude verse. If
he had never been married, or if, being married, his domestic life had
not ended in disaster and scandal, his personal reputation would stand
higher than it does at present, in the esteem of virtuous society.
If about one-third of what he wrote had never been published, his
reputation as a man of letters would stand higher than it now does
in the esteem of stern judges of literary art. After an exhaustive
discussion of the subject in every aspect of it, after every variety of
hostile assault, and after praise sounded in every key of enthusiasm
and in every language of the world, these truths remain. It is a pity
that Byron was not a virtuous man and a good husband. It is a pity
that he was not invariably a scrupulous literary artist, that he wrote
so much, and that almost everything he wrote was published. But, when
all this has been said, it remains a solid and immovable truth that
Byron was a great poet and that he continues to be a great power in the
literature and life of the world. Nobody who pretends to read anything
omits to read _Childe Harold_.

To touch this complex and delicate subject in only a superficial
manner it may not be amiss to say that the world is under obligation
to Byron, if for nothing else, for the spectacle of a romantic,
impressive, and instructive life. His agency in that spectacle no
doubt was involuntary, but all the same he presented it. He was a
great poet; a man of genius; his faculty of expression was colossal,
and his conduct was absolutely genuine. No man in literature ever
lived who lived himself more fully. His assumptions of disguise only
made him more obvious and transparent. He kept nothing back. His heart
was laid absolutely bare. We know even more about him than we know
about Dr. Johnson,–and still his personality endures the test of our
knowledge and remains unique, romantic, fascinating, prolific of moral
admonition, and infinitely pathetic. Byron in poetry, like Edmund
Kean in acting, is a figure that completely fills the imagination,
profoundly stirs the heart, and never ceases to impress and charm, even
while it afflicts, the sensitive mind. This consideration alone, viewed
apart from the obligation that the world owes to the better part of his
writings, is vastly significant of the great personal force that is
inherent in the name and memory of Byron.

It has been considered necessary to account for the sadness and gloom
of Byron’s poetry by representing him to have been a criminal afflicted
with remorse for his many and hideous crimes. His widow, apparently a
monomaniac, after long brooding over the remembrance of a calamitous
married life,–brief, unhappy, and terminated in separation,–whispered
against him, and against his half-sister, a vile and hideous charge;
and this, to the disgrace of American literature, was subsequently
brought forward by a distinguished female writer of America, much noted
for her works of fiction and especially memorable for that one. The
explanation of the mental distress exhibited in the poet’s writings
was thought to be effectually provided in that disclosure. But, as
this revolting and inhuman story,–desecrating graves, insulting a
wonderful genius, and casting infamy upon the name of an affectionate,
faithful, virtuous woman,–fell to pieces the moment it was examined,
the student of Byron’s grief-stricken nature remained no wiser than
before this figment of a diseased imagination had been divulged.
Surely, however, it ought not to be considered mysterious that Byron’s
poetry is often sad. The best poetry of the best poets is touched with
sadness. _Hamlet_ has never been mistaken for a merry production.
_Macbeth_ and _King Lear_ do not commonly produce laughter. Shelley and
Keats sing as near to heaven’s gate as anybody, and both of them are
essentially sad. Scott was as brave, hopeful, and cheerful as any poet
that ever lived, and Scott’s poetry is at its best in his dirges and
in his ballads of love and loss. The _Elegy_ and _The Ancient Mariner_
certainly are great poems, but neither of them is festive. Byron often
wrote sadly because he was a man of melancholy temperament, and because
he deeply felt the pathos of mortal life, the awful mystery with which
it is surrounded, the pain with which it is usually attended, the
tragedy with which it commonly is accompanied, the frail tenure with
which its loves and hopes are held, and the inexorable death with
which it is continually environed and at last extinguished. And Byron
was an unhappy man for the reason that, possessing every elemental
natural quality in excess, his goodness was constantly tortured by his
evil. The tempest, the clangour, and the agony of his writings are
denotements of the struggle between good and evil that was perpetually
afflicting his soul. Had he been the wicked man depicted by his
detractors, he would have lived a life of comfortable depravity and
never would have written at all. Monsters do not suffer.

The true appreciation of Byron is not that of youth but that of
manhood. Youth is captured by his pictorial and sentimental attributes.
Youth beholds him as a nautical Adonis, standing lonely upon a barren
cliff and gazing at a stormy sunset over the Ægean sea. Everybody
knows that familiar picture,–with the wide and open collar, the great
eyes, the wild hair, and the ample neckcloth flowing in the breeze.
It is pretty but it is not like the real man. If ever at any time he
was that sentimental image he speedily outgrew that condition, just as
those observers of him who truly understand Byron have long outgrown
their juvenile sympathy with that frail and puny ideal of a great poet.
Manhood perceives a different individual and is captured by a different
attraction. It is only when the first extravagant and effusive
enthusiasm has run its course, and perhaps ended in revulsion, that we
come to know Byron for what he actually is, and to feel the tremendous
power of his genius. Sentimental folly has commemorated him, in the
margin of Hyde Park, as in the fancy of many a callow youth and green
girl, with the statue of a sailor-lad waiting for a spark from heaven,
while a Newfoundland dog dozes at his feet. It is a caricature. Byron
was a man, and terribly in earnest; and it is only by earnest persons
that his mind and works are understood. At this distance of time the
scandals of a corrupt age, equally with the frailties of its most
brilliant and most illustrious poetical genius, may well be left to
rest in the oblivion of the grave. The generation that is living at the
close of the nineteenth century will remember of Byron only that he was
the uncompromising friend of liberty; that he did much to emancipate
the human mind from every form of bigotry and tyranny; that he
augmented, as no man had done since Dryden, the power and flexibility
of the noble English tongue; and that he enriched literature with
passages of poetry which, for sublimity, beauty, tenderness, and
eloquence, have seldom been equalled and have never been excelled.


It was near the close of a fragrant, golden summer day [August 8,
1884], when, having driven out from Nottingham, I alighted in the
market-place of the little town of Hucknall-Torkard, on a pilgrimage
to the grave of Byron. The town is modern and commonplace in
appearance,–a straggling collection of low brick dwellings, mostly
occupied by colliers. On that day it appeared at its worst; for the
widest part of its main street was filled with stalls, benches, wagons,
and canvas-covered structures for the display of vegetables and other
commodities, which were thus offered for sale; and it was thronged
with rough, noisy, and dirty persons, intent on barter and traffic,
and not indisposed to boisterous pranks and mirth, as they pushed and
jostled each other, among the crowded booths. This main street ends
at the wall of the graveyard in which stands the little gray church
where Byron was buried. There is an iron gate in the centre of the
wall, and in order to reach this it was necessary to thread the mazes
of the market-place, and to push aside the canvas flaps of a peddler’s
stall which had been placed close against it. Next to the churchyard
wall is a little cottage,[25] with its bit of garden, devoted in this
instance to potatoes; and there, while waiting for the sexton, I talked
with an aged man, who said that he remembered, as an eye-witness,
the funeral of Byron. “The oldest man he seemed that ever wore gray
hairs.” He stated that he was eighty-two and that his name was William
Callandyne. Pointing to the church, he indicated the place of the
Byron vault. “I was the last man,” he said, “that went down into it,
before he was buried there. I was a young fellow then, and curious to
see what was going on. The place was full of skulls and bones. I wish
you could see my son; he’s a clever lad, only he ought to have more of
the _suaviter in modo_.” Thus, with the garrulity of wandering age,
he prattled on; but his mind was clear and his memory tenacious and
positive. There is a good prospect from the region of Hucknall-Torkard
church, and pointing into the distance, when his mind had been brought
back to the subject of Byron, my venerable acquaintance now described,
with minute specification of road and lane,–seeming to assume that
the names and the turnings were familiar to his auditor,–the course
of the funeral train from Nottingham to the church. “There were
eleven carriages,” he said. “They didn’t go to the Abbey” (meaning
Newstead), “but came directly here. There were many people to look
at them. I remember all about it, and I’m an old man–eighty-two.
You’re an Italian, I should say,” he added. By this time the sexton
had come and unlocked the gate, and parting from Mr. Callandyne we
presently made our way into the church of St. James, locking the
churchyard gate behind us, to exclude rough and possibly mischievous
followers. A strange and sad contrast, I thought, between this coarse
and turbulent place, by a malign destiny ordained for the grave of
Byron, and that peaceful, lovely, majestic church and precinct, at
Stratford-upon-Avon, which enshrine the dust of Shakespeare!

[Illustration: _Hucknall-Torkard Church._]

The sexton of the church of St. James and the parish clerk of
Hucknall-Torkard was Mr. John Brown, and a man of sympathetic
intelligence, kind heart, and interesting character I found him to
be,–large, dark, stalwart, but gentle alike in manner and feeling,
and considerate of his visitor. The pilgrim to the literary shrines
of England does not always find the neighbouring inhabitants either
sympathetic with his reverence or conscious of especial sanctity or
interest appertaining to the relics which they possess; but honest and
manly John Brown of Hucknall-Torkard understood both the hallowing
charm of the place and the sentiment, not to say the profound emotion,
of the traveller who now beheld for the first time the tomb of Byron.
This church has been restored and altered since Byron was buried in
it, in 1824, yet it retains its fundamental structure and its ancient
peculiarities. The tower, a fine specimen of Norman architecture,
strongly built, dark and grim, gives indication of great age. It is
of a kind often met with in ancient English towns: you may see its
brothers at York, Shrewsbury, Canterbury, Worcester, Warwick, and in
many places sprinkled over the northern heights of London: but amid
its tame surroundings in this little colliery settlement it looms with
a peculiar frowning majesty, a certain bleak loneliness, both unique
and impressive. The church is of the customary crucial form,–a low
stone structure, peak-roofed outside, but arched within, the roof being
supported by four great pillars on either side of the centre aisle, and
the ceiling being fashioned of heavy timbers forming almost a true
arch above the nave. There are four large windows on each side of the
church, and two on each side of the chancel, which is beneath a roof
somewhat lower than that of the main building. Under the pavement of
the chancel and back of the altar rail,–at which it was my privilege
to kneel, while gazing upon this sacred spot,–is the grave of
Byron.[26] Nothing is written on the stone that covers his sepulchre
except the name of BYRON, with the dates of his birth and death, in
brass letters, surrounded by a wreath of leaves, in brass, the gift
of the King of Greece; and never did a name seem more stately or a
place more hallowed. The dust of the poet reposes between that of his
mother, on his right hand, and that of his Ada,–“sole daughter of my
house and heart,”–on his left. The mother died on August 1, 1811; the
daughter, who had by marriage become the Countess of Lovelace, in 1852.
“I buried her with my own hands,” said the sexton, John Brown, when,
after a little time, he rejoined me at the altar rail. “I told them
exactly where he was laid, when they wanted to put that brass on the
stone; I remembered it well, for I lowered the coffin of the Countess
of Lovelace into this vault, and laid her by her father’s side.” And
when presently we went into a little vestry he produced the Register of
Burials and displayed the record of that interment, in the following
words: “1852. Died at 69 Cumberland Place, London. Buried December
3. Aged thirty-six.–Curtis Jackson.” The Byrons were a short-lived
race. The poet himself had just turned thirty-six; his mother was
only forty-six when she passed away. This name of Curtis Jackson in
the register was that of the rector or curate then incumbent but now
departed. The register is a long narrow book made of parchment and full
of various crabbéd handwritings,–a record similar to those which are
so carefully treasured at the church of the Holy Trinity at Stratford;
but it is more dilapidated.

Another relic shown by John Brown was a bit of embroidery, presenting
the arms of the Byron family. It had been used at Byron’s funeral, and
thereafter was long kept in the church, though latterly with but little
care. When the Rev. Curtis Jackson came there he beheld this frail
memorial with pious disapprobation. “He told me,” said the sexton, “to
take it home and burn it. I did take it home, but I didn’t burn it; and
when the new rector came he heard of it and asked me to bring it back,
and a lady gave the frame to put it in.” Framed it is, and likely now
to be always preserved in this interesting church; and earnestly do I
wish that I could remember, in order that I might speak it with honour,
the name of the clergyman who could thus rebuke bigotry, and welcome
and treasure in his church that shred of silk which once rested on the
coffin of Byron. Still another relic preserved by John Brown is a large
piece of cardboard bearing the inscription which is upon the coffin of
the poet’s mother, and which bore some part in the obsequies of that
singular woman,–a creature full of faults, but the parent of a mighty
genius, and capable of inspiring deep love. On the night after Byron
arrived at Newstead, whither he repaired from London, on receiving news
of her illness, only to find her dead, he was found sitting in the dark
and sobbing beside the corse. “I had but one friend in the world,” he
said, “and she is gone.” He was soon to publish _Childe Harold_, and to
gain hosts of friends and have the world at his feet; but he spoke what
he felt, and he spoke the truth, in that dark room on that desolate
night. Thoughts of these things, and of many other strange passages and
incidents in his brief, checkered, glorious, lamentable life, thronged
into my mind as I stood there, in presence of those relics and so near
his dust, while the church grew dark and the silence seemed to deepen
in the dusk of the gathering night.

[Illustration: _Hucknall-Torkard Church–Interior._]

They have for many years kept a book at the church of Hucknall-Torkard
[the first one, an album given by Sir John Bowring, containing the
record of visitations from 1825 to 1834, disappeared[27] in the latter
year, or soon after], in which the visitors write their names; but the
catalogue of pilgrims during the last fifty years is not a long one.
The votaries of Byron are far less numerous than those of Shakespeare.
Custom has made the visit to Stratford “a property of easiness,” and
Shakespeare is a safe no less than a rightful object of worship. The
visit to Hucknall-Torkard is neither so easy nor so agreeable, and it
requires some courage to be a votary of Byron,–and to own it. No day
passes without bringing its visitor to the Shakespeare cottage and the
Shakespeare tomb; many days pass without bringing a stranger to the
church of St. James. On the capital of a column near Byron’s tomb I
saw two mouldering wreaths of laurel, which had hung there for several
years; one brought by the Bishop of Norwich, the other by the American
poet Joaquin Miller. It was good to see them, and especially to see
them close by the tablet of white marble which was placed on that
church wall to commemorate the poet, and to be her witness in death, by
his loving and beloved sister Augusta Mary Leigh,–a name that is the
synonym of noble fidelity, a name that in our day cruel detraction and
hideous calumny have done their worst to tarnish. That tablet names
him “The Author of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”; and if the conviction
of thoughtful men and women throughout the world can be accepted as an
authority, no name in the long annals of English literature is more
certain of immortality than the name of Byron. People mention the
poetry of Spenser and Cowley and Dryden and Cowper, but the poetry of
Byron they read. His reputation can afford the absence of all memorial
to him in Westminster Abbey, and it can endure the neglect and censure
of the precinct of Nottingham. That city rejoices in a stately castle
throned upon a rock, and persons who admire the Stuarts may exult in
the recollection that there the standard of Charles the First was
unfurled, in his fatal war with the Parliament of England; but all that
really hallows it for the stranger of to-day and for posterity is its
association with the name of Byron. The stranger will look in vain,
however, for any adequate sign of his former association with that
place. It is difficult even to find prints or photographs of the Byron
shrines, in the shops of Nottingham. One dealer, from whom I bought
all the Byron pictures that he possessed, was kind enough to explain
the situation, in one expressive sentence: “Much more ought to be done
here as to Lord Byron’s memory, that is the truth; but the fact is, the
first families of the county don’t approve of him.”

When we came again into the churchyard, with its many scattered graves
and its quaint stones and crosses leaning every way, and huddled in a
strange kind of orderly confusion, the great dark tower stood out bold
and solitary in the gloaming, and a chill wind of evening had begun to
moan around its pinnacles, and through its mysterious belfry windows,
and in the few trees near by, which gave forth a mournful whisper.
It was hard to leave the place, and for a long time I stood near the
chapel, just above the outer wall of the Byron vault. And there the
sexton told me the story of the White Lady,–pointing, as he spoke, to
a cottage abutting on the churchyard, one window in which commands a
clear view of the place of Byron’s grave. [That house has since been
removed.] “There she lived,” he said, “and there she died, and there,”
pointing to an unmarked grave near the pathway, about thirty feet from
the Byron vault, “I buried her.” It is impossible to give his words
or to indicate his earnest manner. In brief, this lady, whose past no
one knew, had taken up her residence in this cottage long subsequent
to the burial of Byron, and had remained there until she died. She was
pale, thin, handsome, and she wore white garments. Her face was often
to be seen at that window, whether by night or day, and she seemed to
be watching the tomb. Once, when masons were repairing the church wall,
she was enabled to descend into that vault, and therefrom she obtained
a skull, which she declared to be Byron’s, and which she scraped,
polished, and made perfectly white, and kept always beneath her pillow.
It was her request, often made to the sexton, that she might be buried
in the churchyard, close to the wall of the poet’s tomb. “When at last
she died,” said John Brown, “they brought that skull to me, and I
buried it there in the ground. It was one of the loose skulls from the
old vault. She thought it was Byron’s, and it pleased her to think so.
I might have laid her close to this wall. I don’t know why I didn’t.”

In those words the sexton’s story ended. It was only one more of the
myriad hints of that romance which the life and poetry of Byron have
so widely created and diffused. I glanced around for some relic of the
place that might properly be taken away: there was neither an ivy leaf
shining upon the wall nor a flower growing in all that ground; but into
a crevice of the rock, just above his tomb, the wind had at some time
blown a little earth, and in this a few blades of grass were thinly
rooted. These I gathered, and still possess, as a memento of an evening
at Byron’s grave.


The Album that was given to Hucknall-Torkard church, in 1825, by Sir
John Bowring, to be used as a register of the names of visitors to
Byron’s tomb, disappeared from that church in the year 1834, or soon
after, and it is supposed to have been stolen. In 1834 its contents
were printed,–from a manuscript copy of it, which had been obtained
from the sexton,–in a book of selections from Byron’s prose, edited by
“J. M. L.” Those initials stand for the name of Joseph Munt Langford,
who died in 1884. The dedication of the register is in the following
words: “To the immortal and illustrious fame of LORD BYRON, the first
poet of the age in which he lived, these tributes, weak and unworthy
of him, but in themselves sincere, are inscribed with the deepest
reverence.–July 1825.” At that time no memorial of any kind had
been placed in the church to mark the poet’s sepulchre: a fact which
prompted Sir John Bowring to begin his Album with twenty-eight lines of
verse, of which these are the best:

“A still, resistless influence,
Unseen but felt, binds up the sense …
And though the master hand is cold,
And though the lyre it once controlled
Rests mute in death, yet from the gloom
Which dwells about this holy tomb
Silence breathes out more eloquent
Than epitaph or monument.”

This register was used from 1825 till 1834. It contains eight hundred
and fifteen names, with which are intertwined twenty-eight inscriptions
in verse and thirty-six in prose. The first name is that of Count
Pietro Gamba, who visited his friend’s grave on January 31, 1825: but
this must have been a reminiscent memorandum, as the book was not
opened till the following July. The next entry was made by Byron’s old
servant, the date being September 23, 1825: “William Fletcher visited
his ever-to-be-lamented lord and master’s tomb.” On September 21, 1828,
the following singular record was written: “Joseph Carr, engraver,
Hound’s Gate, Nottingham, visited this place for the first time to
witness the funeral of Lady Byron [mother of the much lamented late
Lord Byron], August 9th, 1811, whose coffin-plate I engraved, and now
I once more revisit the spot to drop a tear as a tribute of unfeigned
respect to the mortal remains of that noble British bard. ‘Tho’ lost to
sight, to memory dear.'” The next notable entry is that of September
3, 1829: “Lord Byron’s sister, the Honourable Augusta Mary Leigh,
visited this church.” Under the date of January 8, 1832, are found
the names of “M. Van Buren, Minister Plenipotentiary from the United
States; Washington Irving; John Van Buren, New York, U.S.A., and J.
Wildman.” The latter was Colonel Wildman, the proprietor of Newstead
Abbey, Byron’s old home, now owned by Colonel Webb. On August 5, 1832,
“Mr. Bunn, manager of Drury Lane theatre, honoured by the acquaintance
of the illustrious poet, visited Lord Byron’s tomb, with a party.”
Edward F. Flower and Selina Flower, of Stratford-upon-Avon, record
their presence, on September 15, 1832,–the parents of Charles Edward
Flower and Edgar Flower, of Stratford, the former being the founder of
the Shakespeare Memorial. There are several eccentric tributes in the
register, but the most of them are feeble. One of the better kind is

“Not in that palace where the dead repose
In splendid holiness, where Time has spread
His sombre shadows, and a halo glows
Around the ashes of the mighty dead,
Life’s weary pilgrim rests his aching head.
This is his resting-place, and save his own
No light, no glory round his grave is shed:
But memory journeys to his shrine alone
To mark how sound he sleeps, beneath yon simple stone.

“Ah, say, art thou ambitious? thy young breast–
Oh, does it pant for honours? dost thou chase
The phantom Fame, in fairy colours drest,
Expecting all the while to win the race?
Oh, does the flush of youth adorn thy face
And dost thou deem it lasting? dost thou crave
The hero’s wreath, the poet’s meed of praise?
Learn that of this, these, all, not one can save
From the chill hand of death. Behold Childe Harold’s grave!”

Stratford-upon-Avon, August 20, 1889.–The traveller who hurries
through Warwickshire,–and American travellers mostly do hurry through
it,–appreciates but little the things that he sees, and does not
understand how much he loses. The customary course is to lodge at the
Red Horse, which is one of the most comfortable houses in England, and
thus to enjoy the associations that are connected with the visits of
Washington Irving. His parlour, his bedroom (number 15), his arm-chair,
his poker, and the sexton’s clock, mentioned by him in the _Sketch
Book_, are all to be seen, if your lightning-express conductor will
give you time enough to see them. From the Red Horse you are taken in
a carriage, when you ought to be allowed to proceed on foot, and the
usual round includes the Shakespeare Birthplace; the Grammar School
and Guild chapel; the remains of New Place; Trinity church and the
Shakespeare graves in its chancel; Anne Hathaway’s cottage at Shottery;
and, perhaps, the Shakespeare Memorial library and theatre. These are
impressive sights to the lover of Shakespeare; but when you have seen
all these you have only begun to see the riches of Stratford-upon-Avon.
It is only by living in the town, by making yourself familiar with it
in all its moods, by viewing it in storm as well as in sunshine, by
roaming through its quaint, deserted streets in the lonely hours of
the night, by sailing up and down the beautiful Avon, by driving and
walking in the green lanes that twine about it for many miles in every
direction, by becoming, in fact, a part of its actual being, that you
obtain a genuine knowledge of that delightful place. Familiarity, in
this case, does not breed contempt. The worst you will ever learn of
Stratford is that gossip thrives in it; that its intellect is, with
due exception, narrow and sleepy; and that it is heavily ridden by the
ecclesiastical establishment. You will never find anything that can
detract from the impression of beauty and repose made upon your mind by
the sweet retirement of its situation, by the majesty of its venerable
monuments, and by the opulent, diversified splendours of its natural
and historical environment. On the contrary, the more you know of those
charms the more you will love the town, and the greater will be the
benefit of high thought and spiritual exaltation that you will derive
from your knowledge of it; and hence it is important that the American
traveller should be counselled for his own sake to live a little while
in Stratford instead of treating it as an incident of his journey.

[Illustration: _The Red Horse Hotel._]

The occasion of a garden party at the rectory of a clerical friend at
Butler’s Marston gave opportunity to see one of the many picturesque
and happy homes with which this region abounds. The lawns there are
ample and sumptuous. The dwelling and the church, which are close to
each other, are bowered in great trees. From the terraces a lovely
view may be obtained of the richly coloured and finely cultivated
fields, stretching away toward Edgehill, which lies southeast
from Stratford-upon-Avon about sixteen miles away, and marks the
beginning of the Vale of the Red Horse. In the churchyard are the
gray, lichen-covered remains of one of those ancient crosses from the
steps of which the monks preached, in the early days of the church.
Relics of this class are deeply interesting for what they suggest of
the people and the life of earlier times. A fine specimen of the
ancient cross may be seen at Henley-in-Arden, a few miles northwest of
Stratford, where it stands, in mouldering majesty in the centre of the
village,–strangely inharmonious with the petty shops and numerous inns
of which that long and straggling but characteristic and attractive
settlement is composed. The tower of the church at Butler’s Marston,
a gray, grim structure, “four-square to opposition,” was built in the
eleventh century,–a period of much ecclesiastical activity in the
British islands. Within it I found a noble pulpit, of carved oak, dark
with age, of the time of James the First. There are many commemorative
stones in the church, on one of which appears this lovely couplet,
addressed to the shade of a young girl:

“Sleep, gentle soul, and wait thy Maker’s will!
Then rise unchanged, and be an angel still.”

The present village of Butler’s Marston,–a little group of cottages
clustered upon the margin of a tiny stream and almost hidden in a
wooded dell,–is comparatively new; for it has arisen since the time
of the Puritan civil war. The old village was swept away by the
Roundheads, when Essex and Hampden came down to fight King Charles at
Edgehill, in 1642. That fierce strife raged all along the country-side,
and you may still perceive there, in the inequalities of the land, the
sites on which houses formerly stood. It is a sweet and peaceful place
now, smiling with flowers and musical with the rustle of the leaves
of giant elms. The clergyman farms his own glebe, and he has expended
more than a thousand pounds in the renovation of his manse. The
church “living” is not worth much more than a hundred pounds a year,
and when he leaves the dwelling, if he should ever leave it, he loses
the value of all the improvements that he has made. This he mentioned
with a contented smile. The place, in fact, is a little paradise, and
as I looked across the green and golden fields, and saw the herds at
rest and the wheat waving in sun and shadow, and thought of the simple
life of the handful of people congregated here, the words of Gray came
murmuring into my mind:

“Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool, sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.”

[Illustration: _The Grammar School, Stratford._]

“Unregarded age, in corners thrown.” Was that fine line suggested to
Shakespeare by the spectacle of the almshouses of the Guild, which
stood in his time, just as they stand now, close to the spot where he
lived and died? New Place, Shakespeare’s home, stood on the northeast
corner of Chapel street and Chapel lane. The Guild chapel stands on the
southeast corner of those streets, immediately opposite to what was
once the poet’s home. Southward from the chapel, and adjoining to it,
extends the long, low, sombre building that contains the Free Grammar
School, founded by Thomas Jolyffe in 1482, and refounded in 1553 by
King Edward the Sixth. In that grammar school, there is reason to
believe, Shakespeare was educated; at first by Walter Roche, afterward
by Simon Hunt,–who doubtless birched the little boys then, even as the
head-master does now; it being a cardinal principle with the British
educator that learning, like other goods, should be delivered in the
rear. In those almshouses doubtless there were many forlorn inmates,
even as there are at present,–and Shakespeare must often have seen
them. On visiting one of the bedesmen I found him moving slowly, with
that mild, aimless, inert manner and that bleak aspect peculiar to such
remnants of vanishing life, among the vegetable vines and the profuse,
rambling flowers in the sunny garden behind the house; and presently I
went into his humble room and sat by his fireside. The scene was the
perfect fulfilment of Shakespeare’s line. A stone floor. A low ceiling
crossed with dusky beams. Walls that had been whitewashed long ago. A
small iron kettle, with water in it, simmering over a few smouldering
coals. A rough bed, in a corner. A little table, on which were three
conch-shells ranged in a row. An old arm-chair, on which were a few
coarse wads of horsehair, as a cushion. A bench, whereon lay a torn,
tattered, soiled copy of the prayer book of the church of England,
beginning at the epiphany. This sumptuous place was lighted by a
lattice of small leaded panes. And upon one of the walls hung a framed
placard of worsted work, bearing the inscription, “Blessed be the Lord
for His Unspeakable Gift.” The aged, infirm pensioner doddered about
the room, and when he was asked what had become of his wife his dull
eyes filled with tears and he said simply that she was dead. “So runs
the world away.” The summons surely cannot be unwelcome that calls such
an old and lonely pilgrim as that to his rest in yonder churchyard and
to his lost wife who is waiting for him.

[Illustration: _Interior of the Grammar School._]

Warwickshire is hallowed by shining names of persons illustrious in
the annals of art. Drayton, Greene, and Heminge, who belong to the
Shakespeare period, were born there. Walter Savage Landor was a native
of Warwick,–in which quaint and charming town you may see the house of
his birth, duly marked. Croft, the composer, was born near Ettington,
hard by Stratford: there is a tiny monument, commemorative of him, in
the ruins of Ettington church, near the manor-house of Shirley. And in
our own day Warwickshire has enriched the world with “George Eliot” and
with that matchless actress,–the one Ophelia and the one Beatrice of
our age–Ellen Terry. But it is a chief characteristic of England that
whichever way you turn in it your footsteps fall on haunted ground.
Everyday life here is continually impressed by incidents of historic
association. In an old church at Greenwich I asked that I might be
directed to the tomb of General Wolfe. “He is buried just beneath where
you are now standing,” the custodian said. It was an elderly woman who
showed the place, and she presently stated that when a girl she once
entered the vault beneath that church and stood beside the coffin of
General Wolfe and took a piece of laurel from it, and also took a piece
of the red velvet pall from the coffin of the old Duchess of Bolton,
close by. That Duchess was Lavinia Fenton, the first representative
of Polly Peachem, in _The Beggars’ Opera_, who died in 1760, aged
fifty-two.[28] “Lord Clive,” the dame added, “is buried in the same
vault with Wolfe.” An impressive thought, that the ashes of the man who
established Britain’s power in America should at last mingle with the
ashes of the man who gave India to England!