Lord Byron embodied the quintessential romantic character. He was the enfant terrible of the 19th century. Hedonist, contrary to social conventions, courageous, eccentric and, above all, one of the most valid poets in history. Few figures have been able to boast a spirit like his, between the tragic and the heroic, capable of making their lives an authentic legend.
About ten years ago, a small editorial treasure about George Gordon was published, known worldwide as An Inside Lit Alabaster Vase . Diaries . A collection of confidences and thoughts that offer us significant details about his person (not the character).
Thanks to this intimate testimony, a young man is born who shared very little with his alter ego famous for love escapades.
Lord Byron and love
He loved his sister. The stories attributed to him with Shelley or Polidori, however, have never been confirmed. He was gifted with an admirable artistic sensitivity. His was a cynical, brash and at times contradictory personality. Byron described himself as a mere observer of the world, a world that was bored, according to him, but which he managed to live with absolute passion.
He also said he had no political ideas. Nonetheless, he devoted his entire life to the struggle for Greek independence. Immersing ourselves in his diaries and in his figure helps us to look beyond the classic image of Byron dressed as a pirate, magnetic towards women, a lover of scandal and adventure.
In the words of Anthony Burgess, the world still owes much to Lord Byron. It is necessary to go beyond the legend to understand the impact of his work, thus revealing the man behind his mask.
George Gordon, Lord Byron: biography of a romantic poet
Byron’s father was a famous captain known as Mad Jack. His fame preceded him, as did his habit of wasting his fortunes. This was exactly what happened when he married Lady Catherine Gordon, a Scottish heiress. After George Gordon was born in 1788, mother and son had no other solution in Scotland than to live in humble lodging in Aberdeen.
Little Byron was born with a deformation in his right foot which led him to develop his known lameness. It wasn’t until Byron’s 10th birthday, following the disappearance of his maternal uncle William, the 5th Baron of the Byrons, that their lot finally improved.
After inheriting their title and property, their life changed radically. Byron was allowed to study at Harrow, one of the UK’s most prestigious schools. In 1803 he fell in love with Mary Chaworth, one of his cousins. Her refusal – she was an older girl and already engaged – led him to reflect on the figure of unattainable love, inspiring his first poems, which would later evolve accompanying him in all his experiences and adventures.
The university and the birth of the legend
In 1805 Lord Byron entered Trinity College in Cambridge. It didn’t take him long to stand out as one of the brightest and, at the same time, extravagant pupils. His verses were already beginning to gain fame among the academic and student communities. His attitudes, his extravagant clothes and, perhaps most of all, the little monkey he always carried with him did the talking.
He learned the arts of boxing and fencing, cultivated great friendships and, ultimately, abandoned his studies for the sake of a prostitute. He lived in Picadilly for a time and then returned to his mother, determined to devote himself to poetry. His first published work was Ore d’ozio in 1807, which earned him an almost unexpected notoriety.
In 1809 Byron occupied a seat in the House of Lords, a position of responsibility from which he took the greatest possible advantage: it was there that he met the friend with whom he would soon embark to sail Europe.
They went to Lisbon, crossed Spain and then spent a few months in Malta and Greece. That adventure, which ended in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), would have been worth the poet as a rich source of artistic inspiration.
Back home after the long journey, young Byron was greeted by two surprises: his mother was dead and his book The Pilgrimage of Young Harold had been a huge success, making him the most famous figure in England.
Love and friendship
In the summer of 1813, much of society was aware of Byron’s relations with his half-sister Augusta Leight, born of his father’s first marriage. He loved her irremediably all his life and they even had a daughter, Allegra. He did not care that she was married: the bond between the two was known to most.
That weight on his conscience accompanied him in several of his works such as Il giaurro (1813), La sposa di Abido (1813), Il corsaro (1814), and Lara (1814). To cut that relationship once and for all, he decided to marry Annabella Milbanke. From their union was born Augusta Ada, who later became the famous mathematician and programmer known as Ada Lovelace.
The marriage was so ephemeral that it was doomed to failure from the very beginning. Rumors of Lord Byron’s relationship with his sister never left them. So, after a mutual separation, he decided to move away from England and settle in Geneva, near his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley). In those months they gave birth to a literary and poetic production that undoubtedly marked the life of the three great authors.
Don Giovanni and the independence of Greece
After leaving Switzerland, Lord Byron embarked on new journeys throughout Italy. His tour, carried out between 1817 and 1821, inspired him to write his most famous work, Don Giovanni , a satirical poem in picaresque verse.
In it he revealed aspects of his character and personality little known until then, including his satirical wit. It is a bold, comic and at times absolutely indelicate work, in which he questioned the classic figure of the seducer.
Well, it was in 1822 that Byron received the worst blows of his life: first his daughter Allegra died at the age of five, whom he had left in a boarding school near Ravenna. Three months later, on a boat trip with Shelley, he drowned in his little schooner. The boat had been named Don Juan.
A year after those losses, Lord Byron was appointed a member of the London Committee for the Independence of Greece. An enterprise for which he did not hesitate to fight in favor of a land he loved. He was not afraid of the struggle and, like any other Greek, he devoted all his passion and pride to it to free her from the Ottoman Empire. There he was welcomed as a hero and wrote the last poem: On this day I have my thirty-sixth birthday, 1824.
It is said that he himself prophesied his own death months before it happened. While preparing an attack on the Turkish fortress of the Gulf of Corinth with the other fighters, he fell ill, probably with malaria or seizures. However, biographers argue that the main cause of his death was improper medical treatment that caused terrible bleeding and subsequent sepsis.
The romantic hero par excellence died not without first writing down his last wish. His heart would remain in Greece. His body, on the other hand, would have been sent back to England, preserved in a barrel of cognac. Thus ended the legend of the romantic and tragic hero who left a mark on history.