George Gordon, Lord Byron

  (1788 - 1824)

Further Education
1799 - 1805 (11-17)

Dr Glennie's Academy, Dulwich (1799 - 1801, 11-13)

Dulwich is located south of the Thames, now part of London, but at the time of Lord Byron, a rural hamlet.

... Spring green lanes,
With all the dazzling, field-flowers in their prime,
And gardens haunted by the nightingale's
Long trills and gushing ecstasies of song.
(quoted in ONL, v6, p296)


Dr Glennie's Academy, Dulwich

On the initiative of John Hanson, he was sent to school at Dr Glennie's in Dulwich in August 1799 (11), where he remained until April 1801 (13). Hanson writes:

I left my entertaining companion with Mr Glennie last Thursday week, and I have since learnt from him that he is very comfortable and likes the situation. His schoolfellows are very fine youths, and their deportment does very great credit to their Preceptor. I succeeded in getting Lord Byron a separate room, and I am persuaded the greatest attention will be paid to him. Mr Glennie is a Scotchman, has travelled a great deal, and seems every way qualified for his present situation. (Prothero, Rowland E (ed), The Works of Lord Byron, Letters and Journals, Vol I, p 15)

Dr Glennie writes:

I found him enter upon his tasks with alacrity and success. He was playful, good humoured, and beloved of his companions. His reading in history and poetry was far beyond the usual standard of his age, and in my study he found many books open to him, both to please his taste and to gratify his curiosity.... (TMLJ, p15)

Concerning his education at this time, Tom Moore writes:

It was not long before Dr Glennie began to discover - what instructors of youth must too often experience - that the parent was a much more difficult subject to deal with than the child. Though professing entire acquiescence in the representations of this gentleman, as to the propriety of leaving her son to pursue his studies without interruption, Mrs Byron had neither sense nor self-denial enough to act up to these professions; but, in spite of the remonstrances of Dr Glennie, and the injunctions of Lord Carlisle, continued to interfere with and thwart the progress of the boy's education in every way that a fond, wrong-headed, and self-willed mother could devise. In vain was it stated to her that, in all the elemental parts of learning which are requisite for a youth destined to a great public school, young Byron was much behind other youths of his age, and that, to retrieve this deficiency, the undivided application of his whole time would be necessary. Though appearing to be sensible of the truth of these suggestions, she not the less embarrassed and obstructed the teacher in his task. Not content with the interval between Saturday and Monay, which, contrary to Dr Glennie's wish, the boy generally passed at Sloane Terrace, she would frequently keep him at home a week beyond his time, and, still further to add to the distraction of such interruptions, collected around him a numerous circle of young acquaintances, without exercising, as may be supposed, much discrimination in her choice. 'How indeed could she?' asks Mr Glennie - 'Mrs Byron was a total stranger to English society and English manners; with an exterior far from pre-possessing, an understanding where nature had not been more bountiful, a mind almost wholly without cultivation, and the peculiarities of northern opinions, northern habits, and northern accent. I trust I do no great prejudice to the memory of my country-woman, if I say Mrs Byron was not a Madame de Lambert, endowed with powers to retrieve the fortune, and form the character and manners, of a young nobleman, her son.' (TMLJ, p16)

The interposition of Lord Carlisle was requested on several occasions, but, clearly exacerbated, in the end he told Dr Glennie:

I can have nothing more to do with Mrs Byron - you must now manage her as you can. (TMLJ, p16)

Referring to his lameness, Dr Glennie notes (in a letter to Tom Moore) Byron's ambition to excel in all things athletic:

... an ambition which I have found to prevail in general in young persons labouring under similar defects of nature. (quoted in ONL, v6, p296)

In April 1801 (13), Hanson arranged for George to attend Harrow School. Dr Glennie writes:

To Harrow he went, as little prepared as it is natural to suppose from two years of elementary instruction, thwarted by every art that could estrange the mind of youth from preceptor, from school, and from all serious study. (TMLJ, p18)

Harrow School (1801-1805, 13-17)

Harrow School Cricket Ground
Harrow School Cricket Ground

Ida! Blest spot where science holds her reign,
How joyous once I join'd thy youthful train!
Bright in idea gleams thy lofty spire,
Again I mingle with thy playful quire;
Our tricks of mischief, every childish game,
Unchanged by time of distance, seem the same;
Through winding paths along the glade, I trace
The social smile of every welcome face;
My wonted haunts, my scenes of joy and woe,
Each early boyish friend, or youthful foe,
Our feuds dissolved, but not my friendship past-
I bless the former and forgive the last.
Hours of my youth when, nurtured in my breast,
To love a stranger, friendship made me blest, -
Friendship, the dear peculiar bond of youth,
When every artless bosom throbs with truth;
Untaught by worldly wisdom how to reign,
And check each impulse with prudential rein;
When all we feel, our honest souls disclose -
In love to friends, in open hate to foes;
No varnish'd tales the lips of youth repeat,
No dear-bought knowledge purchased by deceit,
Hypocrisy, the gift of lengthen'd years,
Matured by age, the garb of prudence wears.
When now the boy is ripen'd into man,
His careful sire chalks forth some wary plan;
Instructs his son from candour's path to shrink,
Smoothly to speak, and cautiously to think;
Still to assent and never to deny -
A patron's praise can well reward the lie;
And who, when Fortune's warning voice is heard,
Would lose his opening prospects for a word?
Although against that word his heart rebel,
And truth indignant all his bosom swell.

Childish Recollections, Hours of Idleness

Dr Joseph Drury, headmaster of Harrow school, writes of him:

Mr Hanson, Lord Byron's solicitor, consigned him to my care at the age of 13½, with remarks, that his education had been neglected: that he was ill prepared for a public school, but that he thought there was a cleverness about him..... I soon found that a wild mountain colt had been submitted to my management. But there was mind in his eye.... His manner and temper soon convinced me, that he might be led by a silken string to a point, rather than by a cable; - on that principle, I acted. After some continuance at Harrow, and when the powers of his mind had begun to expand, the late Lord Carlisle, his relation, desired to see me in town; - I waited on his Lordship. His object was to inform me of Lord Byron's expectations of property when he came of age, which he represented as contracted, and to inquire respecting his abilities. On the former circumstance I made no remark; as to the latter, I replied, 'He has talents, my Lord, which will add lustre to his rank.' 'Indeed!!!' said his Lordship, with a degree of surprise, that, according to my feeling, did not express in it all the satisfaction I expected. (TMLJ, p20)

Harrow was a school where boys were very much left to their own devices outside hours of actual schooling, and where rules and customs peculiar to the institution governed the boy's lives. Fagging, for example, was a well established custom, being a kind of enforced slavery of younger to older boys, encouraging both physical and sexual abuse.

In a still unpublished autobiography, John Addington Symonds describes the conditions at Harrow in the 1850's:

Every boy of good looks had a female name and was recognised either as a public prostitute or as some bigger fellow's bitch. Bitch was the word in common usage to indicate a boy who yielded his person to another. The talk in the studies and dormitories was incredibly obscene. One could not avoid seeing acts of onanism, mutual masturbation and the sport of naked boys in bed together. There was no refinement, no sentiment, no passion, nothing but animal lust in these occurrences. They filled me with disgust and loathing. ... One bitch by the name of Cookson, who had served variously all three Masters, and was known as the notissima fossa of the House, fell out of favour .... After he had been rolled on the floor, indecently exposed and violated in front of spectators, [the three] took to 'trampling' on Cookson whenever they encountered him; ... they squirted saliva and what they called 'goby' on their bitch, cuffed and kicked him at their mercy, shied shoes at him and drove him with curses whimpering into his den.1

Though describing conditions in 1854, there is no reason to suppose that things were any different in 1803. Indeed, it is astonishing that anyone could be surprised at what might happen in a dormitory where adolescents are left together to their own devices.

Harrow, the School Room
Harrow, the School-room

Byron himself writes of his early relationships with other boys as 'passions'. His early biographer, Moore, goes on to comment that:

To a youth like Byron, abounding with the most passionate feelings, and finding sympathy with only the ruder parts of his nature at home, the little world of school afforded a vent for his affections, which was sure to call them forth in their most ardent form. Accordingly, the friendships which he contracted, both at school and college, were little less than what he himself describes them, 'passions'.5

A very neat gloss on what is already an ambiguous, toned down and abbreviated account. John Cam Hobhouse, however, observes in a note in the margin of his copy of Moore's biography:

M knows nothing, or will tell nothing of the principal cause and motive of all these boyish friend[ships]4

An accurate analysis of these relationships is difficult to undertake two hundred years on, given the fact that the whole subject was necessarily attended by secrecy and evasion, and, furthermore, the desire to uncover the truth can easily slip into prurient curiosity, but the general outlines of life at Harrow can nevertheless be pieced together from various sources.

Harrow under Dr Drury was a place that instilled a certain amount of learning, but the education received by the boys was significantly supplemented by the fact that they were largely left to their own devices, in particular to discipline each other. Each boy therefore understood the basic instincts that control and organise society, for good or ill, the unfairness, the tyrannical and sexual excesses, the jealousies, passions and magnanimity that was possible from their contemporaries, their schoolmates. They lived in a microcosm of real society, and learned from that experience as much, if not more than they learned from their lessons.

The contradiction that existed between the reality of rampant adoloscent homosexuality in these schools that catered for the elite of British society, its future governors, headmasters, members of parliament, prime ministers, and the fact that sodomy was still a capital offence until 1865 (and had been a capital offence since 1533), gave rise to an unparralled level of hypocrisy in public life. Public schools, institutions in which the future lawmakers of society were being trained, were also a breeding ground for homosexuality, but homosexuality was proscribed by the severest of laws, exceptionally for the Europe of that time. A boy who, had he remained under the immediate protection of his family, would probably never have experienced or developed homosexual inclinations was projected into homosexuality by his situation, and consequently probably developed tastes and inclinations which otherwise may well have lain dormant. He was projected into this homosexuality not only by his experiences with other boys, but also by his experiences with masters. And all this was subject to the most strict and unbending secrecy, a secrecy which effectively re-inforced the esprit de corps of this select, closed society. The system was protected even by its victims, and victims became persecutors in their turn, in the same way that the abused become abusers. Whether all this was a good thing or a bad thing is debatable: but the result was certainly to produce a caste of people made significantly different from the normal run of person by their experiences as adolescents, who recognised each other in later life with fundamental sympathies of sentiment which they held in common, the product of their experiences in common, which were a mystery to others. Here, we are not talking simply of homosexuality, but of the whole public school ethos, which includes homosexuality, but is also made up of other elements, such as secrecy about things sexual, feelings of innate superiority, and strong loyalty to a select band of those who have experienced the same rite of passage, whether before, after or contemporaneously.

Byron prospered in this environment, accounting for the strength of his emotions with regard to the institution, with the other boys and with the masters, with reference to the fact that he lacked close family himself:

Yet why should I alone with such delight
Retrace the circuit of my former flight?
Is there no cause beyond the common claim
Endear'd to all in childhood's very name?
Ah! sure some stronger impulse vibrates here,
Which whispers friendship will be doubly dear
To one who thus for kindred hearts must roam,
And seek abroad the love denied at home.
These hearts, dear Ida, I have found in thee -
A home, a world, a paradise to me.

....

A hermit, 'midst of crowds, I fain must stray
Alone, though thousand pilgrims fill the way;
While these a thousand kindred wreaths entwine,
I cannot call one single blossom mine:
What then remains? in solitude to groan,
To mix in friendship, or to sigh alone.
Thus must I cling to some endearing hand,
And none more dear than Ida's social band.

Childish Recollections, Hours of Idleness, 1807 (19)

He developed a fierce antagonism to authority in general, and, in particular, to Henry Drury, son of the headmaster, who had been at first put in charge of him (though Drury was later to become one of his favoured correspondents). In January 1803 (15) he refused to return to school unless his master was replaced, which he duly was. Improbably, the elder Drury writes to apologize for his son's behaviour, and adds:

He (Byron) possesses, as his letter proves, a mind that feels, and that can discriminate reasonably on points in which it conceives himself injured.

The letter to which he refers was written by Byron to his mother, complaining of the younger Drury' calling him a 'blackguard' in front of the other boys, a thing which Byron saw as an attack on his integrity, honour and reputation.

His relationships with other boys he divides between his 'principal friends', and his 'juniors and favourites', his principal friends being of the same age as himself. He writes:

Hunter, Curzon, Long and Tatersall, were my principal friends, Clare, Dorset, Cs Gordon, De Bath, Claridge and Jno Wingfield, were my juniors and favourites, whom I spoilt by indulgence.

He does not mention the Earl of Delawarr, two years his junior, but the poem To D---- is almost certainly for him:

To D--  (written in February 1803)

In thee I fondly hoped to clasp
A friend whom death alone could sever;
Till envy, with malignant grasp,
Detach'd thee from my breast for ever.

True, she has forced thee from my breast,
Yet in my heart thou keep'st thy seat;
There, there thine image still must rest,
Until that heart shall cease to beat.

And when the grave restores her dead,
When life again to dust is given,
On thy dear breast I'll lay my head --
Without thee where would be my heaven?

Hours of Idleness,

And later

To George, Earl Delawarr  (written in 1807)

Oh! yes, I will own we were dear to each other;
The friendships of childhood, though fleeting, are true;
Tha love which you felt was the love of a brother,
Nor less the affection I cherish'd for you.

But Friendship can vary her gentle dominion;
The attachment of years in a moment expires;
Like Love, too, she moves on a swift-waving pinion,
But glows not, like Love, with unquenchable fire.

Full oft have we wander'd through Ida together,
And blest were the scenes of our youth, I allow;
In the spring of our life, how serene is the weather!
But winter's rude tempests are gathering now.

No more with affection shall memory blending,
The wonted delights of our childhood retrace;
When pride steels the bosom, the heart is unbending,
And what would be justice appears a disgrace.

However, dear George, for I still must esteem you;
The few whom I love I can never upbraid
The chance which has lost may in future redeem you,
Repentance will cncnel the vow you have made.

I will not complain, and though chill'd is affection;
With me no corroding resentment shall live:
My bosom is calm'd by the simple reflection,
That both may be wrong, and that both should forgive.

You knew that my soul, that my heart, my existence,
If danger demanded, were wholly your own;
You knew me unalter'd by years or by distance,
Devoted to love and to friendship alone.

You knew, - but away with the vain retrospection!
The bond of affection no longer endures;
Too late you may droop o'er the fond recollection,
And sigh for the friend who was formerly yours.

For the present, we part, - I hope not for ever;
For time and regret will restore you at last:
To forget our dissension we both should endeavour,
I ask no atonement, but days like the past.

published in Hours of Idleness,

Tracing the actual events behind the poetry is doubly difficult since, firstly, it is necessary for the poet to be very circumspect with regard to what he says in public due to the criminal background to homosexual acts, and, secondly, it has to be borne in mind that this is a poem, an artistic creation, and not a confessional.

Peculiarly, the part taken by Byron here rings distinctly familiar: the same surprised, mild reproaches as he uses here were directed to him in a letter by Lord Grey de Ruthyn, some eight years Byron's senior, and with whom he had struck up a warm friendship in the winter of 1803/4 (15/16). Replying to a letter from Byron after their break, which happened at the beginning of 1804, de Ruthyn adopts the same sort of perplexed lack of comprehension that he himself adopts with regard to Lord Delamarr:

With respect to that part of your letter which recalls to my recollection the days of our youth, I can only say it will ever be the farthest from my wish to assume any character to your lordship but that of Friend, but as you seem to suppose me so well acquainted with the cause of your sudden secession from our former friendship, I must beg leave to assure you that much as I have reviewed every circumstance and given to each its most full and weight interest, still I am now at a loss to account for it.  (Grey de Ruthyn to Byron, Meyer Davis Collection MSS, 1808, quoted in BECP, page 73).

Byron's response to the distinguished Lord at the time of their break is fairly unequivocally indicative of some sort of sexual advance. He writes to his half-sister, Augusta:

I am not reconciled to Lord Grey, and I never will. He was once my Greatest Friend, my reasons for ceasing that Friendship are such as I cannot explain, not even to you my Dear Sister ...but they will remain hidden in my own breast. - They are Good ones however, for although I am violent I am not capricious in my attachments. - My mother disapproves of my quarreling with him, but if she knew the cause (which she never will know), She would reproach me no more. He Has forfeited all title to my esteem, but I hold him in too much contempt ever to hate him. (Byron to Augusta Leigh, March 26, 1804, quoted in BECP, page 72)

John Cam Hobhouse notes on his copy of TMLJ:

And a circumstance occurred during this intimacy which certainly had much effect on his future morals. (Marchand, I, 80 quoted in BECP, p72)

At all events, whatever their exact nature, Byron's relationships with his schoolmates became one of the themes used in the composition of his first poetry, along with his various attachments to young ladies. It was this analysis of his passionate, sometimes turbulent emotions with a forceful, probing intellect, sometimes critical, sometimes self-justifying, often pained, in fact, running the gamut of the reactions proper to a lover, that informed his poetry with life. Nothing like it had been attempted since Shakespeare's sonnets, which were similarly divided between those addressed to a woman and those addressed to a man, though it is generally supposed that it was the same woman and the same man throughout.

Byron's career at Harrow almost came to a premature end. In December 1804, whilst staying at the Hanson's London residence, he told John Hanson that he wished to leave Harrow, and that Dr Drury agreed with his decision. Hanson wrote to Drury, and, on 29 December 1804, Drury replied:

Your letter supposes that Lord Byron was desirous to leave school, and that I acquiesced in his Wish: but I must do him the Justice to observe that the wish originated with me. During his last residence at Harrow, his conduct gave me much trouble and uneasiness; and as two of his Associates were to leave me at Christmas, I certainly suggested to him my wish that he might be placed under the care of some provate Tutor previously to his admission to either of the Universities. This I did no less with a view to the forming of his mind and manners, than to my own comfort; and I am fully convinced that if such a situation can be procured for his Lordship, it will be much more advantageous for him than a longer residence at school, where his animal spirits and want of judgment may induce him to do wrong, whilst his age and person must prevent his Instructors from treating him in some respects as a schoolboy. If we part now, we may entertain affectionate dispositions towards each other, and his Lordship will have left the school with credit; as my dissatisfactions were expressed to him only privately, and in such a manner as not to affect his public situation in the school. (RPLJ1, p56-58)

Hanson consulted with Lord Carlisle, who invited Byron to dinner at Grosvenor House in January 1805 (17), presumably with a view to assessing for himself the young man's character. After this interview, Hanson wrote again to Dr Drury, with the result that Byron was accepted back for the new term.

During his final two terms at Harrow, Byron occupied himself with making preparations for the two speech days which occurred at the end of each term, and with organising the opposition to the appointment of Dr Drury's successor.

Abbreviations:
TMLJ Moore, Thomas, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, first published J.Murray, London, 1832

BECP Byron, Eisler, Benita, Child of Passion, Fool of Fame, first published Hamish Hamilton, 1999

RPLJ1 Protheroe, Rowland, The Works of Lord Byron, Letter and Journals Vol 1, Free Plain Vanilla Electronic Texts, September 2005

ONL Walford, Edward, Old and New London, a narrative of its History, its People and its Places, Cassell and co, London, 1893.

 

1. Chandos, John, Boys Together, English Public Schools 1800-1864, London, 1984, p307
2. Quoted by Tuite, Sarah,
Lord Byron and Scandalous Celebrity, p161, Cambridge University Press
3. Quoted by Crompton, Louis, Byron and Greek Love, Faber and Faber, London, 1985, 81
4. ibid, p81
5. TMLJ, p22

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