My college poetry instructor allowed the class to simply skim over the early biography of Lord Byron. I think this move enabled us to become more curious about the poet’s life. Ever since that class, I’ve enjoyed the Romantic poets even more.
George Gordon Noel Byron was born in London on January 22, 1788. His father was the fortune hunting widower, Captain John (Mad Jack) Byron. His mother was the impoverished heiress, Catherine Gordon of Gight. After the death of his father, Byron, and mother moved to Aberdeen.
His emotionally unstable mother raised him in an atmosphere of temper, insensitivity, and pride which was, at times softened by bouts of excessive tenderness. She often taunted him about his club foot. When he was allowed schooling, the young Byron developed a passion for history and reading. His Presbyterian nurse seeded a fascination with Calvinist views of predestination and innate evil.
Sun of the Sleepless!
Sun of the sleepless! melancholy star!
Whose tearful beam glows tremulously far,
That show’st the darkness thou canst not dispel,
How like art thou to joy remember’d well!
So gleams the past, the light of other days,
Which shines, but warms not with its powerless rays;
A night-beam Sorrow watcheth to behold,
Distinct but distant — clear — but, oh how cold!
The death of his first romantic crush, cousin Margaret Parker in 1802, propelled Byron into his first efforts in poetry with “On the Death of a Young Lady”.
Throughout his life, he developed crushes on young men and women. His passions found expression in poetry. During the most romantic period of Byron’s life, he fell into a passionate, pure, but violent love for a fellow Trinity College student, John Edleston. The on and off affair lasted until Byron earned his M.A. degree. This youthful period is when he also began to live an extravagant lifestyle and acquired numerous debts.
Byron’s first poetry collection Fugitive Pieces was printed anonymously and at his own expense. A version, without frank eroticism, was published in 1807 as Poems on Various Occasions.
His first major work, “English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers. A Satire” was published anonymously after taking his seat in the House of Lords in Parliament. He took aim, in heroic couplets, at the noteable writers and critics of the day.
Byron embarked upon a lengthy tour of Europe, but due to the Napoleonic wars, he focused mainly on the Mediterranean and Balkan areas. His budding interest in Sufi mysticism came into bloom during this tour.
In less than a month after his return to England, Byron’s mother passed away in August of 1811. Next he found out about the deaths of two close classmates. Then, in October, he was told about the death of his Trinity College lover, Edleston, of tuberculosis. His sorrow was immortalized in a series of “Thyrza” poems. He used a woman’s name to conceal the subject’s true name and gender.
“The pledge we wore–I wear it still,
But where is thine?–Ah! where art thou?
Oft have I borne the weight of ill,
But never bent beneath till now!”
(a verse from “To Thyrza”)
In January of the following year, Byron returned to his seat in Parliament and allied himself with Liberal Whigs. He took up the controversial cause of Catholic emancipation, which was the most heated issue of the times.
Lord Byron went on to become one of the most notorious, and flamboyant of the Romantic Poets. He was beset with many love affairs with people of both genders, including a scandal about a liaison with his half-sister. He went into a self imposed exile, to avoid allegations of sodomy and incest along with the need to avoid concealment of his true nature. He left England, for good, in 1816.
“The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set…”
(a verse from “The Isles of Greece”)
He went on to live, first in Italy where he enjoyed a poetically productive period of his life. Then he moved to Greece, where he was drawn to support the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. He spent £4,000 of his own funds to help refit the Greek fleet. He took command of the Western flank of the Greek Independence army. Byron helped forge a plan to attack the Turkish fortress of Lepanto.
Byron became deeply ill on February 15, 1824, just before the departure of his forces. He recovered partially, but in April he picked up a severe cold and underwent therapeutic bleeding. It is believed the bloodletting weakened him. Because it was performed with unsterilised instruments caused spesis. Byron passed away on April 19, 1824.
News of the death shocked Great Britain and saddened the Greeks. He was thought of, at the time, as the greatest poet in the world. However, in Britain and the United States, he was regarded with less esteem. Byron’s work inspired many of the greats, such as, Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and Verdi.
This is just the very slightest of sketches of the life of Lord Byron. I hope today’s post has inspired you to investigate the works and life of this colorful historical figure.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this quote of Lord Byron’s: “Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.”