Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “Byron and Miss Chaworth,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1120-1124 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 1120, continued:]

BYRON AND MISS CHAWORTH

This is a “plate article” and was presumably written by Poe at the request of the publishers of the Columbian Magazine, who had an engraving in their possession. In Poe’s day, everybody interested in literature knew the story of Byron’s first love from the account of it in Thomas Moore’s biography of Byron. There are patent allusions to it in Poe’s tale “The Assignation.”

In youth Poe made a manuscript copy of Byron’s long poem “The Dream,” written in 1816 after the collapse of his ill-starred marriage to Anne Isabella Milbanke, and recalling his bitter distress, years before, at the loss of his boyhood sweetheart, Mary Chaworth, [page 1121:] who married a much older man. A century ago every lover of poetry who did not marry his first love had a fellow feeling for the disappointed Byron, and Poe was of their company. But Moore revealed that Byron was hurt by finding out that Mary Chaworth had made slighting remarks about him, including reference to his lameness. Poe in middle life reflected that the auspices for a really happy marriage to Mary Chaworth had not been wholly favorable.

The engraving that Poe wrote about, entitled “Byron & Miss Chaworth” and marked “Engraved Expressly for the Columbian Magazine,” shows a boy and a girl in a garden — the boy writing on a paper held on his knee; the girl standing beside him, watching attentively. Both are quite young, and very serious.*

TEXTS

(A) Columbian Magazine for December 1844 (2:275); (B) Works (1850), III, 571-572, in “Marginalia,” number CXC.

The earlier version (A) has been preferred, since the changes in (B), whether made by Griswold, or in a clipping marked by Poe, are merely to fit the piece into a book, in which the engraving itself was not to be reproduced.

BYRON AND MISS CHAWORTH.   [A]   [[n]]

“Les anges,” says Madame Dudevant, a woman who intersperses many an admirable sentiment amid a chaos of the most shameless and altogether objectionable fiction — “Les anges ne sont plus [page 1122:] pures que le cœur d‘un jeune homme qui aime en vérité.” The angels are not more pure than the heart of a young man who loves with fervor.(1)

The hyperbole is scarcely less than true. It would be truth itself, were it averred of the love of him who is at the same time young and a poet. The boyish poet-love is indisputably that one of the human sentiments which most nearly realizes our dreams of the chastened voluptuousness of heaven.

In every allusion made by the author of “Childe Harold” to his passion for Mary Chaworth, there runs a vein of almost spiritual tenderness and purity, strongly in contrast with the gross earthliness pervading and disfiguring his ordinary love-poems. The Dream, in which the incidents of his parting with her when about to travel, are said to be delineated, or at least paralleled,{a} has never been excelled (certainly never excelled by him) in the blended fervor, delicacy, truthfulness and ethereality which sublimate and adorn it. For this reason, it may well be doubted if he has written anything so universally popular.

That his attachment for this “Mary” (in whose very name there indeed seemed to exist for him an “enchantment”) was earnest, and long-abiding, we have every reason to believe. There are a hundred evidences of this fact, scattered not only through his own poems and letters, but in the memoirs of his relatives, and cotemporaries(2) in general. But that it was thus earnest and enduring, does not controvert, in any degree, the opinion that it was a passion (if passion it can properly be termed) of the most thoroughly romantic shadowy and imaginative character. It was born of the hour, and of the youthful necessity to love, while it was nurtured by the waters and the hills, and the flowers and the stars. It had no peculiar regard to the person, or to the character, or to the reciprocating affection of Mary Chaworth. Any maiden, not immediately and positively repulsive, he would have loved, under the same circumstances of hourly and unrestricted communion, such as {bb}our engraving shadows forth.{bb} They met without restraint and without reserve. As mere children they sported together; in boyhood and girlhood they read [page 1123:] from the same books, sang the same songs, or roamed, hand in hand, through the grounds of the conjoining estates. The result was not merely natural or merely probable, it was as inevitable as destiny itself.

In view of a passion thus engendered, Miss Chaworth, (who is represented as possessed of no little personal beauty and some accomplishments,) could not have failed to serve sufficiently well as the incarnation of the ideal that haunted the fancy of the poet. It is perhaps better, nevertheless, for the mere romance of the love-passages between the two, that their intercourse was broken up in early life and never uninterruptedly resumed in after years. Whatever of warmth, whatever of soul-passion, whatever of the truer nare(3) and essentiality of romance was elicited during the youthful association is to be attributed altogether to the poet. If she felt at all, it was only while the magnetism of his actual presence compelled her to feel. If she responded at all, it was merely because the necromancy of his words of fire could not do otherwise than exhort a response. In absence, the bard bore easily with him all the fancies which were the basis of his flame — a flame which absence itself but served to keep in vigor — while the less ideal but at the same time the less really substantial affection of his ladye-love, perished utterly and forthwith, through simple lack of the element which had fanned it into being. He to her, in brief, was a not unhandsome, and not ignoble, but somewhat portionless, somewhat eccentric and rather lame young man. She to him was the Egeria of his dreams(4) — the Venus Aphrodite that sprang, in full and supernal loveliness, from the bright foam upon the storm-tormented ocean of his thoughts.(5)

 


VARIANTS

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1122:]

Title:  Omitted (B)

a  parralleled, (A, B) misprint

bb . . . bb  the engravings of the subject show. (B)

 


[page 1123, continued:]

NOTES

Title:  The title is as given here; below it is the ascription: “By Edgar A. Poe,” and below that, in parentheses, “See Engraving.”

1.  The opening quotation Poe found in English, in a book he reviewed carefully in Graham’s for April 1841 and often used as a source, R. M. Walsh’s translation, Conspicuous Living Characters of France, p. 308. In the article on “George Sand” (who was legally Madame Dudevant), we read: “The author had elsewhere said, ‘The angels are not more pure than the heart of a youth of twenty loving with fervour.’ ” The French author, now known to have been Louis-L´onard de Lom´nie, [page 1124:] did not reveal exactly where George Sand made the observation, which Poe altered slightly and put into French of his own.

2.  The form “cotemporary” was frequently used in Poe’s time.

3.  See “Diddling,” n. 5, for comment on Poe’s special use of this obsolete word.

4.  For the nymph Egeria, who loved and counseled the Roman king and lawgiver, Numa Pompilius, see Livy, I, 19.

5.  With the last sentences compare “To Frances” (Mabbott, I, 236-237), lines 11-12: “Some ocean throbbing far and free / With storms.”

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1121:]

*  Below the picture are ascriptions to “H. Richter” and “C. Parker, Sc.” — the latter, I suspect, G[eorge] Parker, an Englishman who came to America in 1833 and was still active here in 1868. The Columbian’s plate was probably copied from an engraving by William Finden after a painting by Henry James Richter published in The Byron Gallery (London, 1833, often reprinted). Finden’s plate is entitled “Love’s Last Adieu” and is accompanied by lines 13-17 of that poem from Byron’s early volume, Hours of Idleness (1807).

  To the material Poe called “Marginalia” or “Marginal Notes” when he published it in the Democratic Review, Godey’s, Graham’s, and the Southern Literary Messenger, “Griswold added, under the same title, short reviews and fragments of reviews selected by himself, apparently from Poe’s minor writings in the magazines with which he had been editorially connected” (Stedman and Woodberry, Works of . . . Poe, VII, 1896, pp. 354-355). Thus the present piece, originally a “plate article” in the Columbian Magazine, is included by Griswold in what he calls “Marginalia, number CXC.” Stedman and Woodberry in 1896 had not found the piece “in its original issue,” but in 1902 Harrison printed it from the Columbian with its original title.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TOM3T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Byron and Miss Chaworth)