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George Gordon Byron

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, (January 22, 1788-April 19, 1824), was the most widely read English language poet of his day. When his mother-in-law died, her Will stipulated that her beneficiaries must take her family name in order to inherit. Byron added it and became George Gordon Noel Byron in 1822.

When the first two cantos of his epic Childe Harold's Pilgrimage were published in March 1812, they immediately placed Byron on par with the most illustrious figures of his age.

I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand.
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O'er the far times, when many a subject land
Look'd to the winged Lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sat in state, thron'd on her hundred isles!
 
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto iv. Stanza 1

The impression that this work created was more uniform, decisive and triumphant than any in Britain for some two generations. 10,000 copies were sold almost overnight. I woke one morning, he said, and found myself famous.

Works

Byron's output was prolific [1]. In 1833 his publisher, John Murray, released the complete works in 17 octavo volumes including a life by Thomas Moore. His magnum opus, Don Juan, a poem spanning 17 cantos, is the most important poem published in England between 1667, when Milton's Paradise Lost came out and 1850, when Wordsworth's magnum opus The Prelude was issued. Don Juan, Byron's masterpiece, often called the epic of its time, is deeply immersed in literary tradition and, although regarded by early Victorians as somewhat shocking, is equally involved with its own contemporary world at all levels -- social, political, literary and ideological.

Notable Poems:

  • Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
  • The Giaour
  • Prometheus
  • The Corsair
  • Beppo
  • Don Juan - a poem that began as a farce and developed into a comedy

A theme that pervades much of Byron's work is that of the Byronic hero, an idealised but flawed character whose attributes include:

  • being a rebel
  • having a distaste for society and social institutions
  • being an exile
  • expressing a lack of respect for rank and privilege
  • having great talent
  • hiding an unsavoury past
  • being highly passionate
  • ultimately, being self-destructive

The literary history of the Byronic hero can be traced from Milton, and Byron's influence was manifested by many authors and artists of the Romantic movement during the 19th century and beyond.

Life

He was christened George Gordon after his maternal grandfather, George Gordon, 12th Laird of Ghight, a descendant of James I. He committed suicide in 1779. Byron's mother's, Catherine, had to sell her land and title to pay her father's debts. Biographers think her father's suicide, and the forced sale of her legacy and the loss of her fortune (thanks to Byron's father, Captain John Mad Jack Byron), may have been the basis for Catherine's schizophrenic treatment of her son.

The couple had separated before George was born. Catherine moved back to Scotland shortly after his birth in London. He was raised in Aberdeen in strained circumstances until the age of ten, when, on May 21, 1798. he became the 6th Baron Byron, of Rochdale in the County Palatine of Lancaster, upon the death of his great-uncle, William Byron, 5th Baron Byron. From then on, his formal name and title was The Right Honourable The Lord Byron. He was addressed as Your Lordship, My Lord or Lord Byron by strangers and as Byron, his title, by friends. No one ever called him George after he became Lord Byron, not even his mother. He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge. He eventually took his seat at the House of Lords, and made his first speech there on February 27, 1812.

The most popular person in Regency London, he wrote poetry and carried on illicit affairs, most notably with Lady Caroline Lamb, the wife of future Prime Minister William Lamb. It inspired one of his best and shortest poems, Caro Lamb, Goddamn. He is also rumoured to have been in love with a choir boy, though scholars dispute the veracity and relevance of this. But, the person who occupied the central place in his heart was his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. He wrote many passionate poems in her honor. The fact she had been separated from her husband since 1811 when she gave birth on April 15, 1814 to a girl - and Byron's joy over the birth - seems to substantiate the rumours of an incestuous relationship.

Augusta herself encouraged Byron to marry to avoid scandal. He reluctantly chose Anne Isabella Milbanke ("Annabella"), a cousin of Caroline Lamb. They married at Seaham Hall, County Durham on January 2, 1815. The marriage was unhappy; Byron treated her terribly and was very disappointed when their child, Ada, was not a boy. On January 16, 1816, Annabella left Byron, taking Ada with her. On April 21, Byron signed the Deed of Separation and left Annabella and England for good a few days later. He never saw either again. (Ada later on worked with Charles Babbage for a memoir on the Analytical Engine and became known as the writer of the world's first computer program.)

Byron wound up in Geneva. There, he became friends with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, believed to be the first science-fiction novel. He also had an affair with Mary's step-sister, Claire Clairmont, with whom he had a child. Byron refused to have anything to do with Claire, and would only agree to be in her presence with the Shelleys, who eventually persuaded Byron to accept and provide for the child.

He went on to Italy, and in his two years there produced what some consider to be his best work, including Lament Of Tasso, and Don Juan.

Byron in Greece

By 1823 Byron had grown bored with his life in Genoa with his paramour, Countess Guiccioli. When the representatives of the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire contacted him to ask for his support, he immediately accepted, placing his fortune, enthusiasm, energy, and imagination at the service of the Greek cause.

On July 16, Byron left Genoa on the Hercules, arriving at Kefalonia in the Ionian Islands on August 2. He spent 4000 pounds of his own money to refit the Greek fleet, then sailed for Missolonghi in western Greece, arriving on December 29 to join Prince Alexandros Mavrokordatos, leader of the Greek rebel forces. In Kefalonia he met a Greek boy, Loukas Khalandritsanos, whom he employed as a page and with whom he developed an emotional, and possibly a sexual, relationship.

Mavrokordatos and Byron planned to attack the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth. He employed a fire master to prepare artillery and took part of the rebel army under his own command and pay, despite his lack of military experience. But before the expedition could sail, on February 15, 1824, he fell ill, and the usual remedy of bleeding weakened him further. He made a partial recovery, but in early April he caught a violent cold which was aggravated by the bleeding insisted on by his doctors. The cold became a violent fever, and he died on April 19.

Byron was deeply mourned by the Greeks and became a national hero (Viron, the Greek form of "Byron," is still a common boys' name in Greece). His body was embalmed and his heart buried under a tree in Missolonghi. His remains were sent to England and, refused burial in Westminster Abbey, were buried at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottingham. At her request, Ada, the child he never knew, was buried next to him.

In later years, the Abbey allowed a duplicate of a marble slab given by the King of Greece which is laid directly above Byron's grave. In 1969, 145 years after Byron's death, a memorial to him was finally placed in Westminster Abbey.

Upon his death, the Barony was passed to a cousin, George Anson Byron (1789 - 1868), a career military officer and Byron's polar opposite in temperament and lifestyle. The 13th Baron Byron of Rochdale, Robert James Byron, is an attorney and lives in London.

Character

Byron, by all accounts, was a particularly attractive person -- one may say astonishingly so. He obtained a reputation as being unconventional and controversial. From 1801 to 1808, Byron had a Newfoundland dog named Boatswain; when Boatswain contracted rabies, Byron is reported to have nursed him without any fear that he might be bitten. Boatswain is buried at Newstead Abbey - the family's ancestral home which Byron sold in 1818 for £94,500 to pay his debts - where his monument is larger than his master's. He also had a bear (reputedly because Cambridge had rules forbidding dogs), a fox, monkeys, a parrot, cats, an eagle, a crow, a falcon, peacocks, guinea hens, an Egyptian crane, a badger, geese, and a heron. He was famously described by Lady Caroline Lamb as "Mad, bad and dangerous to know." Some surmise that bipolar disorder caused Byron's tempestuous moods.

He was said to have had a 10 pound brain. (This is likely apocryphal; the average adult human brain weighs between 2 and 3.5 pounds.) In spite of his deformed right leg he was quite athletic and turned out for Harrow in the annual cricket match at Lord's against Eton. Byron was a strong swimmer and, in an effort to emulate Leander, swam the Hellespont. He said the swim exhausted him so much that he feared Leander would not have had much energy left for his love, Hero - the beautiful priestess of Venus - waiting for him on the other side at Sestos! He also swam the mouth of the Tagus River, and from the Lido to the Rialto Bridges in Venice, Italy.

Byron Community

Nearly 200 years have gone by since the 4th and final canto of Childe Harold was published, yet Byron's fame as a Romantic poet has not declined. The re-founding of the Byron Society [2] in 1971 reflects the fascination that many people have for Byron and his work. This society has become very active, publishing a learned annual journal. Today there are some 36 International Byron Societies throughout the world, and an annual International Conference. Hardly a year passes without a new book about the poet being published. In the last 20 years two feature films about him have been made, and a television play has been screened.

This biography was taken verbatim from the Wikipedia. We're providing a snapshot just in case the Wikipedia servers were temporarily unreacheable. The original page is not only much more up-to-date, it also features links to other pages and sites. This snapshot was last updated: 08/07/2004. (mm/dd/yyyy)

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