George Gordon Byron, more commonly known as Lord Byron, was a one of the most flamboyant and fashion forward poets of the Romantic era. He is best known for creating the most popular Romantic hero of all time, Don Juan. Much like his characters, Lord Byron was defiant, melancholy, and had secrets of his own. He was known for having flaunting an excess of riches and parties, accumulating an enormous amount of debt, and having multiple love affairs with people of both sexes. He also was father to Ada, Countess of Lovelace, who created one of the founding documents for computer science.
Lord Byron was born in London on January 22, 1788, with a clubbed right foot, to Catherine Byron and Captain “Mad Jack” Byron, who was an infamous money hungry widower. After having her finances squandered by the captain, Catherine moved with little George in 1789. The separation from her husband left her emotionally unstable, and thus George Byron was raised in an eccentric atmosphere at best, spotted with episodes of Catherine’s temper and detachment from her child.
Because of his lameness, Byron had a presbyterian nurse, who instilled within him a lifelong love for the Bible. Meanwhile early schooling led Byron to a great love for reading and great passion for history which would influence the subject matter his published works later in life. With the death of his uncle, Lord Byron inherited the Nottinghamshire estate Newstead Abbey in 1798, when he was 10 years old. Byron enjoyed his role in his estate, and was very proud of his coat of arms with its mermaids and chestnut horses.
Byron first dabbled in poetry after the death of his cousin, Margaret Parker, with whom he had an alleged passionate affair. After her sudden death, he wrote and published the poem, “On the Death of a Young Lady.” Only a few years later, Byron would fall in love with another of his cousins, the beautiful Mary Chaworth of Annesley Hall who was engaged to be married. His unrequited love brought him to write early works such as “Hills of Annesley,” “The Adieu,” “Stanzas to a Lady on Leaving England,” and “The Dream.”
‘When his literary adviser, the Reverend John Thomas Becher, a local minister, objected to the frank eroticism of certain lines, Byron suppressed the volume. A revised and expurgated selection of verses appeared in January 1807 as Poems on Various Occasions, in an edition of one hundred copies, also printed privately and anonymously. An augmented collection, Hours of Idleness, ‘”By George Gordon, Lord Byron, A Minor,” was published in June.’ (The Poetry Foundation)
The Hours of Idleness of Lord Byron’s collection is most valuable as a reference of what influenced, interested, and guided the young poet. Without the eroticism and satire, however, there was nothing about the works that set them apart from youthful reflections on the renowned poets of the time. Lord Byron considered Alexander Pope an idol and modeled the structure and satire of his language after Pope’s poems and essays.
In 1809, Byron took the Grand Tour, a traditional at the time for young European men of wealthy means. With a set itinerary for every trip, it was considered an educational rite of passage for British nobility. When later the Napoleonic Wars forced him to flee Europe and head to the Mediterranean, he did so at the expense of leaving behind his former love Mary Chaworth, about whom he wrote in, “To a Lady: On Being Asked My Reason for Quitting England in the Spring.” Letters from the time between Byron and his friend Charles Skinner Matthews also suggest a romantic relationship.
The first two cantos of Lord Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” bumped him up to celebrity status in London in 1811. Every social venue wanted his attendance and many exclusive clubs elected him a member. The flourish of these experiences inspired many of Lord Byron’s works of the time, including The Giaour and The Bride of Abydos in 1813, and Parisian and The Siege of Corinth in 1815.
In 1816, Lord Byron visited the small island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni in the Venetian Lagoon of northern Italy and fascinated himself with Armenian culture. During that time, he learned the language, got to know the culture and history, and co-authored Armenian grammar books and dictionaries.
Between 1818 and 1820, Byron fell in love and eloped with Countess Guiccioli and wrote the first 5 cantos of Don Juan. He then wrote cantos 6 through 12 in Pisa in 1821. His last stop in Italy was Genoa, where he stayed with the Countess and the Blessingtons. This stay fueled the Lady Blessington’s work, Conversations with Lord Byron, which greatly contributed to his reception in the period after his death.
Bored with his life in Genoa, Lord Byron joined the Greece fleets to aid in their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire. Just before an expedition in 1924, he fell ill and died months later of what was believed to be sepsis. When Byron’s body was embalmed, Greece wanted to keep a part of their hero in the country. It is rumored that his heart was buried at Missolonghi and the rest of his remains were sent to England for burial at Westminster Abbey. Later, many lobbied and succeeded in having a memorial built in Westminster Abbey in celebration of Lord Byron’s works. In 1907, The New York Times wrote:
People are beginning to ask whether this ignoring of Byron is not a thing of which England should be ashamed … a bust or a tablet might be put in the Poets’ Corner and England be relieved of ingratitude toward one of her really great sons.
In 1969, a hundred and forty-five years after Byron’s death, the memorial was finally placed.