George Darley was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1795. He was the oldest of seven children of Arthur and Mary Darley. His parents were of the upper class, and for unknown reasons went to America for an extended visit when Darley was about three. The boy was reared by his grandfather, and he always referred to this period of his life as the “sunshine of the breast.” At this time in his life, Darley acquired an extreme stammer, so severe that even in his later years, his closest friends could scarcely make out what he was saying. The stammer may have been important in determining his later career as a poet, and it partly accounts for one of the most common themes in the poetry: the isolation of the poet.
In 1815, Darley entered Trinity College, Dublin. He apparently made few friends there and, curiously, never mentioned the school in his later correspondence. The stammer interfered with his examinations, but he received his degree in 1820 and immediately left for London. Despite his speech defect and chronic shyness, Darley made friends with a number of writers who were emerging in the 1820’s. His friends encouraged his work, and the letters he exchanged with such poets as Clare and Beddoes reveal their high regard for his work.
Darley spent almost ten years in London working at various literary and scientific projects, but late in 1830, he determined to go to France. He wrote occasional essays on art for the Athenaeum and (perhaps) another journal, titled The Original, but there are few records of his life in Paris or his tours to Italy. It is significant, however, that several members of the Darley family were, for a while, reunited. The older brothers toured Italy together, and later Germany. Darley had always been sickly and generally poor, but he was a good tourist, and the letters from this period are among his best.
Darley continued to review books on various subjects for the Athenaeum, earning a reputation for extreme severity. He adopted the role in his private life of a vivacious and often bitter critic; he died in November, 1846, having never revisited Ireland, which constituted the one subject that was above criticism.