Hours of Idleness enjoyed a brief triumph. The Critical and other reviews were "very indulgent," but the Edinburgh Review for January 1808 contained an article, not, as Byron believed, by Jeffrey, but by Brougham, which put, or tried to put the author and "his poesy" to open shame. The sole result was that it supplied fresh material and a new title for some rhyming couplets on "British Bards" which he had begun to write. A satire on Jeffrey, the editor, and Lord Holland, the patron of the Edinburgh Review, was slipped into the middle of "British Bards," and the poem rechristened English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (published the 1st of March 1809).
In April 1808, whilst he was still "a minor," Byron entered upon his inheritance. Hitherto the less ruinous portions of the abbey had been occupied by a tenant, Lord Grey de Ruthven. The banqueting hall, the grand drawing-room, and other parts of the monastic building were uninhabitable, but by incurring fresh debts, two sets of apartments were refurnished for Byron and for his mother. Dismantled and ruinous, it was still a splendid inheritance. In line with the front of the abbey is the west front of the priory church, with its hollow arch, once a "mighty window," its vacant niches, its delicate Gothic mouldings. The abbey buildings enclose a grassy quadrangle overlooked by two-storeyed cloisters. On the eastern side are the state apartments occupied by kings and queens not as guests, but by feudal right. In the park, which is part of Sherwood Forest, there is a chain of lakes -- the largest, the north-west, Byron's "lucid lake." A waterfall or "cascade" issues from the lake, in full view of the room where Byron slept. The possession of this lordly and historic domain was an inspiration in itself. It was an ideal home for one who was to be hailed as the spirit of genius of romance.
On the 13th of March 1809, he took his seat in the House of Lords. He had determined, as soon as he was of age, to travel in the East, but before he sought "another zone" he invited Hobhouse and three others to a house-warming. One of the party, C. S. Matthews, describes a day at Newstead. Host and guests lay in bed till one. "The afternoon was passed in various diversions, fencing, single-stick: . . . riding, cricket, sailing on the lake." They dined at eight, and after the cloth was removed they handed round "a human skull filled with Burgundy." After dinner they "buffooned about the house" in a set of monkish dresses. They went to bed some time between one and three in the morning. Moore thinks that the picture of these festivities is "pregnant in character," and argues that there were limits to the misbehaviour of the "wassailers." The story, as told in Childe Harold [canto 1, stanzas v-ix], need not be taken too seriously. Byron was angry because Lord De La Warr did not wish him good-bye, and visited his displeasure on friends and "lemans" alike. May and June were devoted to the preparation of an enlarged edition of his satire. At length, accompanied by Hobhouse and a small staff of retainers, he set out on his travels. He sailed from Falmouth on the 2nd of July and reached Lisbon on the 7th of July 1809. The first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage contain a record of the principal events of his first year of absence.
The first canto describes Lisbon, Cintra, the ride through Portugal and Spain to Seville and thence to Cadiz. He is moved by the grandeur of the scenery, but laments the helplessness of the people and their impending fate. Talavera was fought and won whilst he was in Spain, but he is convinced that the "Scourge of the World" will prevail, and that Britain, "the fond ally," will display her blundering heroism in vain. Being against the government, he is against the war. History has falsified his politics, but his descriptions of places and scenes, of "Morena's dusky height," of Cadiz and the bull-fight, retain their freshness and their warmth.
Byron sailed from Gibraltar on the 16th of August, and spent a month at Malta making love to Mrs Spencer Smith (the "Fair Florence" [of Childe Harold, canto II, stanzas xxix-xxxiii]). He anchored off Prevesa on the 28th of September. The second canto records a journey on horseback through Albania, then almost a terra incognita, as far as Tepeleni, where he was entertained by Ali Pacha (October 20th), a yachting tour along the shores of the Ambracian Gulf (November 8-23), a journey by land from Larnaki to Athens (December 15-25), and excursions in Attica, Sunium and Marathon (January 13-25, 1810).
Of the tour in Asia Minor, a visit to Ephesus (March 15, 1810), an excursion in the Torad (April 13), and the famous swim across the Hellespont (May 3), the record is to be sought elsewhere. The stanzas on Constantinople (lxxvii.-lxxxii.), where Byron and Hobhouse stayed for two months, though written at the time and on the spot, were not included in the poem till 1814. They are, probably, part of a projected third canto. On the 14th of July Hobhouse set sail for England and Byron returned to Athens.
Of Byron's second year of residence in the East little is known beyond the bare facts that he was travelling in the Morea during August and September, that early in October he was at Patras, having just recovered from a severe attack of malarial fever, and that by the 14th of November he had returned to Athens and taken up his quarters at the Franciscan convent. Of his movements during the next five months there is no record, but of his studies and pursuits there is substantial evidence. He learnt Romaic, he compiled the notes to the second canto of Childe Harold. He wrote (March 12) Hints from Horace (published 1831), an imitation or loose translation of the Epistola ad Pisones (Art of Poetry), and (March 17) The Curse of Minerva (published 1815), a skit on Lord Elgin's deportation of the metopes and frieze of the Parthenon.
He left Athens in April, passed some weeks at Malta, and landed at Portsmouth (c. July 20). Arrived in London, his first step was to consult his literary adviser, R. C. Dallas, with regard to the publication of Hints from Horace. Of Childe Harold he said nothing, but after some hesitation produced the MS. from a "small trunk," and presenting him with the copyright,commissioned Dallas to offer it to a publisher. Rejected by Miller of Albemarle Street, who published for Lord Elgin, it was finally accepted by Murray of Fleet Street, who undertook to share the profits of an edition with Dallas.
Meanwhile Mrs Byron died suddenly from a stroke of apoplexy. Byron set off at once for Newstead, but did not find his mother alive. He had but little affection for her while she lived, but her death touched him to the quick. "I had but one friend," he exclaimed, "and she is gone." Another loss awaited him. Whilst his mother lay dead in his house, he heard that his friend Matthews had been drowned in the Cam. Edleston and Wingfield had died in May, but the news had reached him on landing. There were troubles on every side. On the 11th of October he wrote the "Epistle to a Friend" ("Oh, banish care," &c.) and the lines "To Thyrza," which, with other elegies,