Lord Byron's Poems

Early Poems: To the Duke of Dorset

1,i Dorset! whose early steps with mine have stray'd, ii

Exploring every path of Ida's glade;

Whom, still, affection taught me to defend,

And made me less a tyrant than a friend,

Though the harsh custom of our youthful band

Bade 'thee' obey, and gave 'me' to command; 2

Thee, on whose head a few short years will shower

The gift of riches, and the pride of power;

E'en now a name illustrious is thine own,

Renown'd in rank, not far beneath the throne. 10

Yet, Dorset, let not this seduce thy soul iii

To shun fair science, or evade controul;

Though passive tutors, 3 fearful to dispraise

The titled child, whose future breath may raise,

View ducal errors with indulgent eyes,

And wink at faults they tremble to chastise.

When youthful parasites, who bend the knee

To wealth, their golden idol, not to thee, -

And even in simple boyhood's opening dawn

Some slaves are found to flatter and to fawn, - 20

When these declare, "that pomp alone should wait

On one by birth predestin'd to be great;

That books were only meant for drudging fools,

That gallant spirits scorn the common rules;"

Believe them not, - they point the path to shame,

And seek to blast the honours of thy name:

Turn to the few in Ida's early throng,

Whose souls disdain not to condemn the wrong;

Or if, amidst the comrades of thy youth,

None dare to raise the sterner voice of truth,30

Ask thine own heart - 'twill bid thee, boy, forbear!

For 'well' I know that virtue lingers there.

Yes! I have mark'd thee many a passing day,

But now new scenes invite me far away;

Yes! I have mark'd within that generous mind

A soul, if well matur'd, to bless mankind;

Ah! though myself, by nature haughty, wild,

Whom Indiscretion hail'd her favourite child;

Though every error stamps me for her own,

And dooms my fall, I fain would fall alone; 40

Though my proud heart no precept, now, can tame,

I love the virtues which I cannot claim.

'Tis not enough, with other sons of power,

To gleam the lambent meteor of an hour;

To swell some peerage page in feeble pride,

With long-drawn names that grace no page beside;

Then share with titled crowds the common lot -

In life just gaz'd at, in the grave forgot;

While nought divides thee from the vulgar dead,

Except the dull cold stone that hides thy head, 50

The mouldering 'scutcheon, or the Herald's roll,

That well-emblazon'd but neglected scroll,

Where Lords, unhonour'd, in the tomb may find

One spot, to leave a worthless name behind.

There sleep, unnotic'd as the gloomy vaults

That veil their dust, their follies, and their faults,

A race, with old armorial lists o'erspread,

In records destin'd never to be read.

Fain would I view thee, with prophetic eyes,

Exalted more among the good and wise; 60

A glorious and a long career pursue,

As first in Rank, the first in Talent too:

Spurn every vice, each little meanness shun;

Not Fortune's minion, but her noblest son.

Turn to the annals of a former day;

Bright are the deeds thine earlier Sires display;

One, though a courtier, lived a man of worth,

And call'd, proud boast! the British drama forth. 4

Another view! not less renown'd for Wit;

Alike for courts, and camps, or senates fit;70

Bold in the field, and favour'd by the Nine;

In every splendid part ordain'd to shine;

Far, far distinguished from the glittering throng,

The pride of Princes, and the boast of Song. 5

Such were thy Fathers; thus preserve their name,

Not heir to titles only, but to Fame.

The hour draws nigh, a few brief days will close,

To me, this little scene of joys and woes;

Each knell of Time now warns me to resign

Shades where Hope, Peace, and Friendship all were mine: 80

Hope, that could vary like the rainbow's hue,

And gild their pinions, as the moments flew;

Peace, that reflection never frown'd away,

By dreams of ill to cloud some future day;

Friendship, whose truth let Childhood only tell;

Alas! they love not long, who love so well.

To these adieu! nor let me linger o'er

Scenes hail'd, as exiles hail their native shore,

Receding slowly, through the dark-blue deep,

Beheld by eyes that mourn, yet cannot weep. 90

Dorset, farewell! I will not ask one part iv

Of sad remembrance in so young a heart;

The coming morrow from thy youthful mind

Will sweep my name, nor leave a trace behind.

And, yet, perhaps, in some maturer year,

Since chance has thrown us in the self-same sphere,

Since the same senate, nay, the same debate,

May one day claim our suffrage for the state,

We hence may meet, and pass each other by

With faint regard, or cold and distant eye. 100

For me, in future, neither friend nor foe,

A stranger to thyself, thy weal or woe -

With thee no more again I hope to trace

The recollection of our early race;

No more, as once, in social hours rejoice,

Or hear, unless in crowds, thy well-known voice;

Still, if the wishes of a heart untaught

To veil those feelings, which, perchance, it ought,

If these, - but let me cease the lengthen'd strain, -

Oh! if these wishes are not breath'd in vain, 110

The Guardian Seraph who directs thy fate

Will leave thee glorious, as he found thee great.


Footnote 1: In looking over my papers to select a few additional poems for this second edition, I found the above lines, which I had totally forgotten, composed in the summer of 1805, a short time previous to my departure from Harrow. They were addressed to a young schoolfellow of high rank, who had been my frequent companion in some rambles through the neighbouring country: however, he never saw the lines, and most probably never will. As, on a re-perusal, I found them not worse than some other pieces in the collection, I have now published them, for the first time, after a slight revision. The foregoing note was prefixed to the poem in 'Poems O. and T'. George John Frederick, 4th Duke of Dorset, born 1793, was killed by a fall from his horse when hunting, in 1815, while on a visit to his step-father the Earl of Whitworth, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. (See Byron's letter to Moore, Feb. 22, 1815).

Footnote 2: At every public school the junior boys are completely subservient to the upper forms till they attain a seat in the higher classes. From this state of probation, very properly, no rank is exempt; but after a certain period, they command in turn those who succeed.

Footnote 3: Allow me to disclaim any personal allusions, even the most distant. I merely mention generally what is too often the weakness of preceptors.

Footnote 4: "Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, was born in 1527. While a student of the Inner Temple, he wrote his tragedy of 'Gorboduc', which was played before Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall, in 1561. This tragedy, and his contribution of the Induction and legend of the Duke of Buckingham to the 'Mirrour for Magistraytes', compose the poetical history of Sackville. The rest of it was political. In 1604, he was created Earl of Dorset by James I. He died suddenly at the council-table, in consequence of a dropsy on the brain." - 'Specimens of the British Poets', by Thomas Campbell, London, 1819, ii. 134, 'sq'.

Footnote 5: Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset 1637-1706, esteemed the most accomplished man of his day, was alike distinguished in the voluptuous court of Charles II. and the gloomy one of William III. He behaved with great gallantry in the sea-fight with the Dutch in 1665; on the day previous to which he composed his celebrated song "'To all you Ladies now at Land'". His character has been drawn in the highest colours by Dryden, Pope, Prior, and Congreve. 'Vide' Anderson's 'British Poets', 1793, vi. 107, 108.

Footnote i:

'To the Duke of D -- -'.

'Poems O. and T.'

Footnote ii:

'D-r-t' -- -.

'Poems O. and T.'

Footnote iii:

Yet D-r-t -- -.

'Poems O. and T.'

Footnote iv:

'D - r - t farewell.'

'Poems O. and T.'