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BYRON, GEORGE GORDON, LORD:

English poet; born in Halles street, London, Jan. 22, 1788; died at Missolonghi, Greece, April 19, 1824. The only one of his works which has any relation to Jewish topics is his "Hebrew Melodies," some of which have proved as popular as any of his lyrics. These melodies were written to oblige Byron's friend Douglas Kinnaird. Their meter lacks spontaneity; the subject-matter has often nothing whatsoever to do with anything Hebraic; and their imagery is often conventional and unpicturesque. "She Walks in Beauty," for example, might be Irish as well as Hebrew. It was written on Byron's return from a ball, where he had seen and admired Mrs. (later Lady) Wilmot Horton, wife of the poet's relative, the governor of Ceylon. She appeared at the ball, dressed in black and covered with spangles.

Much the same may be said of "It Is the Hour When from the Boughs." On the other hand, "Oh Weep for Those" is essentially Jewish in its subject-matter, and is written in a strain worthy of its author. The last verse is well known:

"Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast, How shall ye flee away and be at rest? The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave, Mankind their country-Israel, the grave."

Another poem, symbolic of Judaic history, "The Assyrian Came Down Like a Wolf on the Fold," is not written, however, in Byron's usual smooth and euphonious style.

The "Hebrew Melodies" never satisfied their author. Twitted on the subject by Moore, he exclaimed:

"Sunburn Nathan! [the composer who had set them to music] Why do you always twit me with his Ebrew nasalities? Have I not already told you it was all Kinnaird's doing and my own exquisite facility of temper? "

The poems constituting the "Melodies" were written in 1814 for music composed by Isaac Nathan, who had been introduced to Byron two years previously. The music was mainly "a selection from the favorite airs sung in the religious ceremonies of the Jews" ("Nathan's Fugitive Pieces," p. ix., ed. 1829, p. 144); and Kinnaird, who was a dilettante, induced Byron to supply the words. Subsequently John Braham arranged and sang the songs, but did not assist in composing them.

Bibliography:
  • Gentleman's Magazine, 1830, vol. c., pt. i., p. 465;
  • Christian Observer, 1815, xiv. 542-549;
  • Analectic Magazine, 1815, vi. 292-294;
  • Notes and Queries, 1884, 6th series, ix. 71;
  • Dict. National Biography, viii. 132-155, xl. 121-122;
  • Letters from Byron to Moore, in the latter's Life of Byron, Feb. 22, 1815.
J. E. Ms.
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