Among other plagiarisms idly charged against that gifted poet Lord Byron, is the incident of the White-bird, recorded in ” Don Juan,” hovering over a death-bed. Permit me to observe, that if his lordship is liable to censure on this account, so must the author from whom he is said to have derived it.
The White-bird, in presage of death, is a traditionary agent that superstition has made use of for centuries ; and Lord Byron, in his boyish days, may have often heard of it, especially in the families of sea-faring people.
In Howell’s Letters, you will perceive one, bearing date July r, 1684, from which I have made the ensuing extract.
“Near St. Dunstan’s Church, Fleet Street, I stepped into a Stone Cutter’s ; and casting my eyes up and down, I spied a huge marble, with a large inscription upon it, which was thus :
1. ” Here lies John Oxenham, a goodly young man, in whose chamber, as he was struggling with the pangs of death, a bird with a white breast, was seen fluttering about his bed, and so vanished 1″
2. ” Here lies also Mary Oxenham, sister of the above John, who died the next day, and the same apparition was in the room.”
Another sister is spoken of then.
And the fourth inscription is as follows
” Here lies, hard by, James Oxenham, son of the said John, who died a child in his cradle, a little after, and such a bird was seen fluttering about his head a little before he expired, which vanished afterwards.”