The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/The Duel
'Tis fifty years, and yet their fray
To us might seem but yesterday.
'Tis fifty years, and three to boot,
Since, hand to hand, and foot to foot,
And heart to heart, and sword to sword,
One of our Ancestors was gored.
I've seen the sword that slew him; he,
The slain, stood in a like degree
To thee, as he, the Slayer, stood
(Oh had it been but other blood!)
In kin and Chieftainship to me.
Thus came the Heritage to thee.
To me the Lands of him who slew
Came through a line of yore renowned;
For I can boast a race as true
To Monarchs crowned, and some discrowned,
As ever Britain's Annals knew:
For the first Conqueror gave us Ground,
And the last Conquered owned the line
Which was my mother's, and is mine.
I loved thee—I will not say how,
Since things like these are best forgot:
Perhaps thou may'st imagine now
Who loved thee, and who loved thee not.
And thou wert wedded to another,
And I at last another wedded:
I am a father, thou a mother,
To Strangers vowed, with strangers bedded.
For land to land, even blood to blood—
Since leagued of yore our fathers were—
Our manors and our birthright stood;
And not unequal had I wooed,
If to have wooed thee I could dare.
But this I never dared—even yet
When naught is left but to forget.
I feel that I could only love:
To sue was never meant for me,
And least of all to sue to thee;
For many a bar, and many a feud,
Though never told, well understood
Rolled like a river wide between—
And then there was the Curse of blood,
Which even my Heart's can not remove.
Alas! how many things have been!
Since we were friends; for I alone
Feel more for thee than can be shown.
How many things! I loved thee—thou
Loved'st me not: another was
The Idol of thy virgin vow,
And I was, what I am, Alas!
And what he is, and what thou art,
And what we were, is like the rest:
We must endure it as a test,
And old Ordeal of the Heart.
Venice, Dec. 29, 1818.
- [Addressed to Miss Chaworth, in allusion to a duel fought between two of their ancestors, D[ominus] B[yron] and Mr. C., January 26, 1765. Byron and Mary Anne Chaworth were fourth cousins, both being fifth in descent from George, Viscount Chaworth, whose daughter Elizabeth was married to William, third Lord Byron (d. 1695), the poet's great-great-grandfather. The duel between their grand-uncles, William, fifth Lord Byron, and William Chaworth, Esq., of Annesley, was fought between eight and nine o'clock in the evening of Saturday, January 26, 1765 (see The Gazetteer, Monday, January 28, 1765), at the Star and Garter Tavern, Pall Mall. The coroner's jury brought in a verdict of wilful murder (see for the "Inquisition," and report of trial, Journals of the House of Lords, 1765, pp. 49, 126-135), and on the presentation of their testimony to the House of Lords, Byron pleaded for a trial "by God and his peers," whereupon he was arrested and sent to the Tower. The case was tried by the Lords Temporal (the Lords Spiritual asked permission to withdraw), and, after a defence had been read by the prisoner, 119 peers brought in a verdict of "Not guilty of murder, guilty of manslaughter, on my honour." Four peers only returned a verdict of "Not guilty." The result of this verdict was that Lord Byron claimed the benefit of the statute of Edward VI., and was discharged on paying the fees. The defence, which is given in full (see Journal, etc., for April 17, 1765), is able and convincing. Whilst maintaining an air of chivalry and candour, the accused contrived to throw the onus of criminality on his antagonist. It was Mr. Chaworth who began the quarrel, by sneering at his cousin's absurd and disastrous leniency towards poachers. It was Chaworth who insisted on an interview, not on the stairs, but in a private room, who locked the door, and whose demeanour made a challenge "to draw" inevitable. The room was dimly lit, and when the table was pushed back, the space for the combatants was but twelve feet by five. After two thrusts had been parried, and Lord Byron's shirt had been torn, he shifted a little to the right, to take advantage of such light as there was, came to close quarters with his adversary and, "as he supposed, gave the unlucky wound which he would ever reflect upon with the utmost regret." If there was any truth in his plea, the "wicked Lord Byron" has been misjudged, and, at least in the matter of the duel, was not so black as he has been painted. For Byron's defence of his grand-uncle, see letter to M. J. J. Coulmann, Genoa, July 12, 1823, Life, by Karl Elze, 1872, pp. 443-446.]
- [In the coroner's "Inquisition," the sword is described as being "made of iron and steel, of the value of five shillings." Byron says that "so far from feeling any remorse for having killed Mr. Chaworth, who was a fire-eater (spadassin), ... he always kept the sword ... in his bed-chamber, where it still was when he died."—Ibid., p. 445.]
- [Ralph de Burun held Horestan Castle and other manors from the Conqueror. Byron's mother was descended from James I. of Scotland.]
- [See The Dream, line 127, et passion, vide ante, p. 31, et sq.]
- [From an autograph MS. in the possession of Mr. Murray, now for the first time printed.]