Read Lord Byron's Novel Online

Authors: John Crowley

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary

Lord Byron's Novel

Lord Byron’s Novel

The Evening Land
John Crowley

began a comedy, and burnt it because the scene ran into reality—
a novel, for the same reason. In rhyme, I can keep more away from facts; but the thought always runs through, through…yes, yes, through.

17, 1813 •


2. British Women of Science
 Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace Dec. 10, 1815–Nov. 27, 1852 First Computer Program, 1842–1843

Ada Byron was the daughter of the Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord
and Anne Isabella Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born. Four months later, Byron left England forever. Ada was raised by her mother, Lady Byron, and had no further contact with her father (who died in Greece in 1824).


Lady Byron had a penchant for mathematics, and saw to it that Ada was tutored in mathematics, science, and other topics rather than in literature and poetry, to counter any tendencies she might have inherited from her father, who was famous for being “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” Ada built her imagination on science, from electricity to biology to neuroscience. She earned fame in scientific circles. An anonymous Victorian best-seller about evolution (
Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation
) was widely believed to be hers, though it wasn’t.


In 1835, Ada married William King, ten years her senior, and became Countess of Lovelace in 1838. Ada had three children; her younger son was named Byron, and later became Viscount Ockham.


Ada’s friend of many years was
Charles Babbage,
a professor of mathematics at Cambridge and the inventor of the
Difference Engine
. This large machine, which took years to design and build, was actually more of a calculator than a computer, using the “method of finite
differences” to cast logarithm tables and make other calculations. Ada met Babbage in 1833, when she was just 17.


Babbage had made plans in 1834 for a new kind of calculating machine, an
Analytical Engine,
which (as Ada perceived) truly was a forerunner of the modern computer—it could be programmed to produce (and print out!) results of many kinds. Ada noted that the Analytical Engine could weave algebraic patterns just as a
loom could weave birds and flowers. (Jacquard’s loom wove patterns determined by a sequence of punch cards.) In 1842, an Italian mathematician, Louis
published a memoir in French on the subject of the Analytical Engine. Babbage asked Ada to translate the memoir, and she added a set of Notes longer than the memoir, which expounded the vast possibilities of such a machine, and included a small
of step-by-step instructions that the proposed machine could follow to solve a particular problem. However brief and primitive, this is the first workable computer program—an instruction set that a machine can follow to reach a result.


Ada died of cancer in 1852, at the age of 36, and was buried beside the father she never knew. [AN]


[NOTE: Page still under construction]

! No one may observe, save the unfeeling Moon, who sails without progress through the clouds—a young Lord, who on the ramparts of his half-ruined habitation keeps a late watch. Wrapt in a Scotch mantle little different from that worn in all times by his ancestors—and not on the Scotch side alone—he has a light sword buckled on, a curved and bejewelled one not of this northern land’s manufacture. He has two pocket pistols as well, made by Mantons—for this is a year in the present century, tho’ what the youth may see in the moon’s light is much as it has been for these past seven or eight. There is the old battlement that faces to the North, whereon he stands, whose stones he rests his hand upon. Beyond, he sees the stony cliff, bearded in gorse and heather, that builds toward the mountains, and—for his eye is preternaturally sharp—the thread of a track that for aye has ascended it. Black against the tumbled sky is the top of a farther watchtower, reached by that selfsame track. Farther on, in the darkness, lie a thousand acres of Caledonian wilds and habitations: to which this outwatching youth is heir. His name, the reader will perhaps not expect to hear, is Ali.

Against what enemy does he go armed? In truth he knows of none—not his servants asleep in the hall below—not bandits, or rivals of his clan and the Laird his father, such as might once have threatened from the dark.

The Laird his father! The reader will remember the man, if the reader be one who listens to tales in London theatre-boxes, or frequents race-courses, or hells; if he have haunted Supper-clubs, or places with less euphuistical names; known Courts, or Law-courts. John Porteous—who inherited, on the death of his own amazed and helpless sire, the singularly inappropriate title Lord Sane—was a catalogue of sins, not only the lesser ones of Lust and Gluttony but the greater ones of Pride, Anger and Envy. He wasted his own substance, and when it was gone wasted that of his wife and tenants, and then borrowed, or coerced, more from his terrified acquaintanceship, who knew well enough that the Lord would stint at nothing in revealing their own indiscretions, to which often as not
had tempted them in decades past. ‘Black-mail’ was a word he professed to shudder at: he never, he said, employed the mails. What he spent these gains upon, however got, seemed less of interest to him than the expenditure itself; he was always ready to tear down what he contrived to possess, just in the moment of possession. It was just such an outrageous act of destruction that had earned him the sobriquet, in a time that liked to bestow such, of ‘Satan’. He was a wicked man, and he took a devilish delight in it—when he was not in his rage, or maddened by some obstacle to his desire; indeed a fine fellow, in his way, and of a large circle. He had travelled extensively, seen the Porte, walked beneath the Pyramids, sired (it was said without proof) litters of dark-skinned pups in various corners of the South and East.

Of late ‘Satan’ Porteous has kept much to his wife’s Scotch estates, which he has improved and despoiled in equal measure. Onto the ancient towers and battlements and the ruined chapel a former Laird added a Palladian wing of great size and bleak aspect, ruining himself in the process; there the present Laird kept Lady Sane, well out of the fashionable world and indeed out of the world entire. She is rumoured to have gone mad, and as far as Lord Sane’s heir knew of her, she is not all of sound mind. The lady’s fortune ‘Satan’ ran through long before—then when he had need of funds, he squeezed his tenants, and sold the timber on his parks and grounds to be cut, which increased the melancholy sense of ruination there far more than did the windowless chapel open to the owl and the fox. The trees grew a hundred years; the money’s already spent. He keeps a tame bear, and an American lynx, and he stands them by him when he calls his son before him.

Yes, it is he, his father, Lord Sane, of whom Ali is afraid, though the man is this night nowhere nearby—with his own eyes Ali saw his Lordship’s coach depart for the South, four blacks pulling with all their strength as the coachman lashed them. Yet he is afraid, as afraid as he is brave; his very being seems to him but a candle-flame, and as easily put out.

The Moon was past midheaven when, shivering tho’ not from cold, Ali retired. His great Newfoundland dog Warden lay by his bed, so fast asleep he hardly roused at his master’s familiar tread. Oldest, and only true, friend! Ali pressed for a moment his face into the dog’s neck. He then drank the last of a cup of wine, into which a minim of Kendals drops were dropt. Nevertheless he did not undress—only wrapt his mantle close about him, his pistols within reach—propped his watchful head upon cold pillows—and—believing he would not sleep—he slept.

In deep darkness he woke, feeling upon him a heavy hand. He was one quick to wake, and might have leapt up, taking up the pistol near at hand—but he did not—he lay as motionless as though still asleep, for the face that looked into his, tho’ known to him, was not a man’s. A black face, the eyes small and yellow, and the little light shone upon teeth as long as daggers. It was
his father’s tame bear,
the hand upon him its hand!

Having ascertained that Ali was awake, the black beast turned away and trotted across the chamber floor. At the door, which stood ajar, it looked back at Ali, and what it would convey in its looking back was evident: it meant Ali to follow it.

The young Lord arose. What had become of his dog Warden? How came the door to be unbolted? The questions appeared in his mind and then vanished, unanswered, like bubbles. He took up his curved sword, tossed back his tartan cloak, and the bear—as soon as it saw that Ali intended to follow—stood to a man’s height, pushed open the door, fell again upon its four feet, and went ahead down the dark stair. It seemed odd that no one else in the house had roused, but this thought vanished too as soon as thought. Ever and again the bear turned back its great head to see that the young Lord followed after, and went on. Tho’ he may stand on two legs to startle and amaze his enemies or reach the fruit on a high branch, the black bear goes on four legs like a dog for preference; and tho’ his claws and teeth rival the lion’s, he is a mild gentleman, and prefers a meatless mess.

Thinking this—and nothing else of all the things he might be thinking, on such an errand—Ali went out through the blasted park and across the arch of a narrow bridge flung in a former time over a tumbling flood, then away from the road and up the white clay track which, before, his eye had traced in the moonlight, toward the watchtower. And—mysterious—the Moon had made no further progress across the sky, but shone as and where it had, and the wind blew coldly, come across the Atlantic, and the Irish isles, and America—this Ali pondered, who had not ever seen those places—and he walked along behind the inkblot of his ursine guide as though a little afloat on the way, as though no effort were asked of him to mount.

The watchtower stood ahead, and the bear lifted itself again to stand as a man does, and with a curved yellow nail indicated it. The door at its base was long fallen away, and a light could be seen, dull and guttering, within.

‘I may not go farther,’ said the bear, and Ali took note of its speech without wonder. ‘What lies in yonder tower is for thee alone to find. Do not mourn; for sure I shall not, for he has been as cruel to me, nay to all dumb things whatever, as to thee. Farewell! If ever thou shall see me after, think that thy time is come, and a different journey is to go on.’

Ali was of a mind to seize the beast, beg or demand to be told more, but it was already faded, as it were, upon the dark air, only its words remaining. Ali turned toward the tower and its light.

Thereupon the world and the night gave a sort of shudder, as a shudder may pass over a calm sea, or a horse’s flank; and like a building fallen around him in an earthquake, the Night fell away in pieces, his Sleep shattered, and he awoke. He had slept, and
And yet—most strange—still he found himself on the track to the watchtower, which stood ahead—more far off than in his vision, and a deal more solidly made of stone and mortar, but the same—the earth and the air likewise—and his own Self. He had no knowledge that such somnambulations—as they are termed—could be;—knew not how it could be that in a dream he could have armed himself, gone out his House, climbed a Hill, and not tumbled down and broke his neck. A species of wonder flew over him like an icy draught—and
too, as icy but contracting to his heart, for he could see, even from where he stood, that there was, as in his dream, a small light within the tower.

Now the Moon was almost down. He felt, as much as perceived, the way ahead. Not once did he think to turn back, and later would consider why he had not:—because he had been told to go on—because it lay ahead—because he could do no other.

Not only the door but all the floors within this ancient pile were decayed and fallen away, no trace left of them, the tower hollow as a whitened marrow bone, the top open and a few stars visible. Otherwise blackness, and the single light, a lantern that burned its last drop of oil as though gasping for breath. He must turn, Ali must, to see what thing the lantern’s shuttered beam fell upon—was
upon, certainly of a purpose!—and he finds, some three feet in the air, a form like a man’s—face black, eyes starting from their sockets as they stare upon him, black tongue thrust out as in mockery. The strong rope from which this form depends is strung from the upper floor’s stone brackets, and winds about him like a spider’s thread. It is no devil from Hell, caught in his own toils—and yet, it is all we know of such in this our earthly life—and his name is Legion. The man in the ropes is ‘Satan’ Porteous, Ali’s father, Lord Sane, DEAD!


bearing the name of the Prophet’s son-in-law, a youth whose skin was bronze and whose eyes were onyx, came to reside in a far land nearby to Thule, where blue-eyed boys with hair of tow or straw sprout palely beneath the low-lying sun, may not be beyond conjecture—ships and carriages care not whom they transport, nor from where to where else, and many a London house can boast a blackamoor at the gate, or a turbanned Hindoo at table-side. But that such an one should not only be resident in a Scotch Thane’s house but its Heir—that, as it seemed by the ghastly sight that transfixed him there in the tower, he was now in very truth the successor to the bound and strangulated Lord who seemed to stare back at him, and possessor of all his titles and his fiefdoms—
may be thought to merit explication.

In spite of his being brought thence at an early age—or perhaps because of it, for the Heart obeys its own logic and no other in respect of the workings of Memory—Ali retained an unclouded vision of his childhood land. For sure he knew not, when he was a child, what mother had borne him, nor what his father was, or had been—he was accounted an Orphan, and had always lived with an aged guardian in a simple cot, or
in the mountains of the province of Ochrida in high Albania—amid scenes which, if ever as a child he pondered the question, he would have believed began with himself, at the beginning of Time: and surely of these mountains it can be said, as of few human habitations, that they have persisted unchanged since Adam’s day, or at least Abraham’s.

He tended flocks, as his forebears always had: his goats provided his milk and his meat, his wide Albanian belt, and his sandals—when he put on such, which was not often. They demanded little enough tending, for in that country the goats are left daylong to their own devices, which are many; you may come upon them in the deepest wood, or see them hanging on the high rocks’ highest point, like the goats in Virgil, and only when they are gathered in the evening, and the children with their sticks drive them within the walls, do they appear to be at all domesticated. In the Winter Ali and his fellows took them to the mountains, and in Summer drove them again to the warmer plains; and, the harvest being done and the vintage taken in, the goats were let out upon the vineyards, where they ate and contended and disported themselves—with Bacchus’ blessing—in the expected manner, to their masters’ increase. All the ancestry that our Thane-to-be knew of, was that old man—a Shepherd, rapidly going blind from the open fires within his
whose smoke exited, or more often did
exit, from a hole in the roof. Few Albanians can reach a very advanced age without suffering to some degree the effects. Tenderly Ali saw to his needs—and brought him his flat-bread, his bowl of coffee, his
to smoke in the evening. The touch of this old blind man—as rough and plain as though he were only the eldest of the goats they tended—was much of what Ali knew of love: though not

For there was another child who was also given into the old man’s care—a girl, whose name was Iman, not more than a year older than Ali, orphaned like himself—or so they believed and said, what time they spoke of it, which was not often—for as children do, they thought not to ask the world why and wherefore they had come to be as they were, content to know themselves, and one another, as they knew the heat of the sun, and the taste of the mountain’s water-springs. Her hair was as the raven’s wing, but her eyes—as is not uncommon in that land—were
not the blue of our Anglo-Saxon blondes but the blue of the deep Sea—and into those frank and wide orbs, so seldom cast down, Ali fell entirely. Poets talk of maidens’
and divagate endlessly upon them, and we are to understand that by those liquid spheres they mean to indicate all the beloved object’s parts and attractions—which we are free to speculate upon. Yet Ali was hardly conscious of what other charms his little goddess possessed—in her eyes he did indeed drown, and could not, when she looked upon him, look away.

In another, colder clime, Ali forgot progressively that language he had first lisped in, and grown up to speak; but he never forgot what
said to him, or what he answered; the words were not as other words, they seemed as though minted in gold, and even long after to speak them over to himself was to enter a little treasure-house where they alone were kept. Of what did they two speak? Of everything—of nothing; they were silent, or she spoke, and he answered not; or he boasted wildly, his eyes upon hers, to see if his tale would
her—and she listened. ‘Iman, go thou the long way—these flints will cut thy feet.’—‘Ali—Take this bread of mine, I have enough for two.’—‘What do you see in that cloud? I see a hawk with a great beak.’—‘I see a fool who makes hawks out of clouds.’—‘I must go for water. Come with me—I sha’n’t be long—Take my hand and come!’

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