Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Byronic Origin of the Vampirologist Seán Manchester

All extracts are from Seán Manchester's unpublished Memoir:

Once the habitat of the celebrated poet and his ancestors, Newstead would become a symbol of all that is Gothic and Romantic, which now, irrevocably, has slipped into the reservoir of fragmented memory. This is where I played as a child in the avenues of sombre forest trees in Lord Byron’s gloomy abode where the fading twilight coupled with the moan in leafy woods to herald the filmy disc of the moon.

In the year of my first pilgrimage to Lord Byron’s tomb in the company of The Byron Society whose honorary director, Mrs Elma Dangerfield, suspected a personal connection with the poet, I was still yet to hear from Professor Leslie A Marchand himself whose later correspondence in private about the “records of births and deaths of the lower (servant) class in those days” helped establish facts about the poet and Lucy, my great, great, great grandmother. Byron was seldom without consolation of the female kind and of the various servant maids who slipped between his sheets to keep him company at Newstead, Lucy was far and away his favourite. He called her Lucinda, but in a poem she appears as Lucietta.
A letter, 17 January 1809, to John Hanson confirms that “the youngest is pregnant (I need not tell you by whom) and I cannot have the girl on the parish.” On 4 February 1809, Byron wrote to Hanson: “Lucy’s annuity may be reduced to fifty pounds, and the other fifty go to the Bastard.” He had originally provided her with an annuity of one hundred pounds. Three years after making Lucy pregnant he put her in charge as revealed in a letter to Francis Hodgson, written from Newstead on 25 September 1811: “Lucy is extracted from Warwickshire [where his and her son had been weaned]; some very bad faces have been warned off the premises, and more promising substituted in their stead … Lucinda to be commander of all the makers and unmakers of beds in the household.”
Byron’s letters might suggest a callousness in his relationships that is perhaps unwarranted. When his illegitimate child by Lucy was born, he wrote a poem in which he hailed his “dearest child of love.” He had always wanted a son and Lucy provided him with his first and last. Surviving progeny that followed were all female. He composed To My Son when Lucy’s child was born:

Those flaxen locks, those eyes of blue
Bright as thy mother's in their hue;
Those rosy lips, whose dimples play
And smile to steal the heart away,
Recall a scene of former joy,
And touch thy father's heart, my Boy!
And thou canst lisp a father's name--
Ah, William, were thine own the same,--
No self-reproach--but, let me cease--
My care for thee shall purchase peace;
Thy mother's shade shall smile in joy,
And pardon all the past, my Boy!
Her lowly grave the turf has prest,
And thou hast known a stranger's breast;
Derision sneers upon thy birth,
And yields thee scarce a name on earth;
Yet shall not these one hope destroy,--
A Father's heart is thine, my Boy!
Why, let the world unfeeling frown,
Must I fond Nature's claims disown?
Ah, no--though moralists reprove,
I hail thee, dearest child of Love,
Fair cherub, pledge of youth and joy--
A Father guards thy birth, my Boy!
Oh,'twill be sweet in thee to trace,
Ere Age has wrinkled o'er my face,
Ere half my glass of life is run,
At once a brother and a son;
And all my wane of years employ
In justice done to thee, my Boy!
Although so young thy heedless sire,
Youth will not damp parental fire;
And, wert thou still less dear to me,
While Helen's form revives in thee,
The breast, which beat to former joy,
Will ne'er desert its pledge, my Boy!

To My Son, incorrectly dated 1807 by Thomas Moore, was first published six years after Byron’s death. Lucy’s pregnancy, of course, did not take place until early 1809. Moore misread the date. Furthermore, the housemaid did not die the early death of the young mother eulogised by the poet whose “lowly grave the turf has prest.” According to the housekeeper, Nanny Smith, Lucy overcame the “high and mighty airs she gave herself as Byron’s favourite,” married a local lad, and ran a public house in Warwick. The fate of the child enters the forlorn and forgotten realm of so many illegitimate offspring of servants, and does not resurface again until a century later when my Derbyshire maternal grandparents returned the bloodline to Newstead Abbey Park where they purchased twenty or so acres and had a comfortable lodge built almost within the shadow of Byron’s ancestral home. In the poem, Byron changed the scenario of Lucy’s end to conform to the sentimental moralising of the period, which required that the fallen woman must pay with her life: “The mother’s shade shall smile in joy, / And pardon all the past, my Boy!”
The poem addresses Byron’s natural child, challenging the convention that would withhold from his “little illegitmate” a father’s loving concern, along with any claim to social position. Byron’s pride, along with his sense of honour, was offended by the common practice of turning out pregnant maidservants. He knew the fate of country girls who bore illegitimate children, surviving on the pittance provided by parish poor rates, the workhouse, or making their way to the nearest city and entering a life of prostitution. Along with keeping Lucy employed, Byron made provision — exceptionally generous by the standards of the day — for her and their child in his will. Lucy was to have an annuity of £100 (later reduced to £50); the other £50 was to go to the child.
To walk the ancient corridors of the Abbey again was an unearthly experience which filled me with a mixture of strange emotions. There was the haunting drawing of Lady Caroline Lamb and many more pictures of Lord Byron. Childhood memories were stirred and I reflected on the kindred experiences of Countess Guiccioli when she saw the poet’s home for the first time — eight years after his death. Her sad journey would include a lone visit to the poet’s tomb at Hucknall Torkard. From the door, even before there was time for it to close, she prostrated herself on the flagstone that is situated above the remains of Lord Byron. There she remained for over an hour. It was evening when, in the footsteps of the Countess, I arrived at the church wherein the Byron Family Vault dwells beneath the chancel. It simply bears the name BYRON and, underneath, the date of his birth and death. I laid a wreath.

Photograph of a very young Seán Manchester.

Illustration of a very young George Byron.

Below is a copy of the altered (with crossings out) parish register of Linby (the parish closest to Newstead) that has been forensically examined. The missing text reveals: "George illegitimate Son of Lucy Monk; illegitimate Son of Baron Byron of Newstead, Nottingham, Newstead Abbey."

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