Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) was as famous in his lifetime for
his personality cult as for his poetry. He created the concept of the
‘Byronic hero’ – a defiant, melancholy young man, brooding on some
mysterious, unforgivable event in his past. Byron’s influence on
European poetry, music, novel, opera, and painting has been immense,
although the poet was widely condemned on moral grounds by his
George Gordon, Lord Byron, was the son of Captain John Byron, and
Catherine Gordon. He was born with a club-foot and became extreme
sensitivity about his lameness. Byron spent his early childhood years in
poor surroundings in Aberdeen, where he was educated until he was ten.
After he inherited the title and property of his great-uncle in 1798, he
went on to Dulwich, Harrow, and Cambridge, where he piled up debts and
aroused alarm with bisexual love affairs. Staying at Newstead in 1802,
he probably first met his half-sister, Augusta Leigh with whom he was
later suspected of having an incestuous relationship.
In 1807 Byron’s first collection of poetry, Hours Of Idleness appeared.
It received bad reviews. The poet answered his critics with the satire
English Bards And Scotch Reviewersin 1808. Next year he took his seat in
the House of Lords, and set out on his grand tour, visiting Spain,
Malta, Albania, Greece, and the Aegean. Real poetic success came in 1812
when Byron published the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
(1812-1818). He became an adored character of London society; he spoke
in the House of Lords effectively on liberal themes, and had a hectic
love-affair with Lady Caroline Lamb. Byron’s The Corsair (1814), sold
10,000 copies on the first day of publication.
He married Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1815, and their daughter Ada was
born in the same year. The marriage was unhappy, and they obtained legal
separation next year.
When the rumors started to rise of his incest and debts were
accumulating, Byron left England in 1816, never to return. He settled in
Geneva with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Claire Clairmont,
who became his mistress. There he wrote the two cantos of Childe Harold
and “The Prisoner Of Chillon”. At the end of the summer Byron continued
his travels, spending two years in Italy. During his years in Italy,
Byron wrote Lament Of Tasso, inspired by his visit in Tasso’s cell in
Rome, Mazeppa and started Don Juan, his satiric masterpiece. While in
Ravenna and Pisa, Byron became deeply interested in drama, and wrote
among others The Two Foscari, Sardanapalaus, Cain, and the unfinished
Heaven And Earth.
After a long creative period, Byron had come to feel that action was
more important than poetry. He armed a brig, the Hercules, and sailed to
Greece to aid the Greeks, who had risen against their Ottoman overlords.
However, before he saw any serious military action, Byron contracted a
fever from which he died in Missolonghi on 19 April 1824. Memorial
services were held all over the land. Byron’s body was returned to
England but refused by the deans of both Westminster and St Paul’s.
Finally Byron’s coffin was placed in the family vault at Hucknall
Torkard, near Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire.
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