Edward Lear, the Chaworth Musters, and Lord Byron

Lear never lost an opportunity to explore the places made famous by Lord Byron’s passage, or to hear anecdotes about him. In June 1859, while visiting the Empsons at Wellow, near Southampton, he had the luck to meet one Mr. Long, “to whom at Harrow he, Lord B., always gave 5 guineas when he came down. Mr. L. says Trelawny’s account is infamous ― & false: that B. had only one club foot: that he had seen him frequently ― continually naked in bathing, & that he never wore drawers” (13 June 1859).

Lear must have been very happy to receive a visit from John Chaworth Musters, “of Jerusalem & Annesley fame,” on 9 May 1859, just as he was getting ready to leave Rome. Apparently he had met the young man in Palestine the previous year and now found he had got married in the meantime.

Annesley, Musters’s home, was famous as the residence of the Chaworth family, strictly connected to the Byrons, who lived a few miles away in Newstead. William, fifth Lord Byron, “was, by the vote of one hundred and eighteen of his peers, convicted of the crime of manslaughter in causing the death of William Chaworth, Esquire, of Annesley, in a room of the ‘Star and Garter’ Tavern, Pall Mall, but on the charge of murder he was acquitted” (Tristram, Outram. “An Old Mystery in a New Light. The Byron-Chaworth Affair.” The English Illustrated Magazine, 34, November 1905, 122-37. GB.)

Mary Ann Chaworth at 19

Forty years later, George Gordon, sixth Baron Byron, William’s great nephew, who was to become a star Romantic poet, fell in love with Mary Chaworth, grand niece of the Mr. Chaworth the fifth Baron had killed, and full of disappointment composed a “Fragment. Written shortly after the marriage of Miss Chaworth:”

Hills of Annesley, bleak and barren,
Where my thoughtless childhood stray’d,
How the northern tempests, warring,
Howl above thy tufted shade!

Now no more, the hours beguiling,
Former favourite haunts I see;
Now no more my Mary smiling
Makes ye seem a heaven to me.

Not the kind of poetry that would make him great.

“The young lady herself combined with the many worldly advantages that encircled her, much personal beauty, and a disposition the most amiable and attaching. Though already fully alive to her charms, it was at this period (1804) that the young poet seems to have drunk deepest of that fascination whose effects were to be so lasting; six short weeks which he passed in her company being sufficient to lay the foundation of a feeling for all life. With the summer holidays ended this dream of his youth. He saw Miss Chaworth once more in the succeeding year, and took his last farewell of her on that hill near Annesley, which, in his poem of ‘The Dream,’ he describes so happily as ‘crowned with a peculiar diadem.'” In August, 1805, she was married to John Musters, Esq.; and died at Wiverton Hall, in February, 1832, in consequence, it is believed, of the alarm and danger to which she had been exposed during the sack of Colwick Hall by a party of rioters from Nottingham. The unfortunate lady had been in a feeble state of health for several years, and she and her daughter were obliged to take shelter from the violence of the mob in a shrubbery, where, partly from cold, partly from terror, her constitution sustained a shock which it wanted vigour to resist. (The Works of Lord Byron: with his Letters and Journals, and His Life, by Thomas Moore, vol. 7, 43 and note 2. GB.)

A much less romantic account of the affair, and perhaps one that is easier to believe, is the one in Ethel Colburn Mayne’s Byron (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912, 53-68. GB) where however we find (p. 59):

The days were spent in riding with Mary and her cousin, in sitting lost in dreams beside her, and in shooting at a door which opened on the terrace of the Hall, and which, when Moore wrote, “still bore the marks of his shots.”

During his first visit to Annesley in November 1859, the young Mrs. Chaworth Musters told him everything about the family’s tragic history from the time of Mary, and showed him around the house; Lear was amazed to see that “the door, with pistol shots of Lord B. still  stands” (19 November 1859). So interested was he in Mary Chaworth’s family that the following day he drew a family tree of her descendants (20 November 1859).

The highlight of his visit to the Chaworth Musters in 1860 was a ride to Byron’s residence in Newstead and a tour of the house, now owned by one Colonel Wildman:

We walked half round the water ― & I drew. Then the house ―: the lower monked rooms: the Cloisters, the gardens, so beautiful! The terraces! the close alleys & ponds: the balustrades & the Abbey arches ― the Dogs tomb. ― Inside, the tapestry & rooms, & endless care of Col. Wildman: the room of Byron  ― just as it was: the great drawing room ― & the dining room: the skull ― &c. &c. All so sad & wild & strange, remembering too as I did all my early thought & reading ― & that I had thought also at Janina & Greece ― & Spezzia. ― A strange dream. (3 November 1860)

Lear realized that the Chaworth Musters were a little annoyed at his interest “for indeed they consider … that Lord B.’s verses & admiration of their grandmother was a liberty,” but he seems to have been unable to check his enthusiasm.

Also see The Chaworth-Musters family: a brief history.

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