Birth name George Gordon Noel Byron; born January 22, 1788, in London, England; became sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale in 1798, upon the death of his great-uncle; died of fever April 19, 1824, in Missolonghi, Greece; buried beneath the chancel of Hucknall Torkard Church near Newstead Abbey; son of John and Catherine (a Scottish heiress; maiden name, Gordon) Byron; married Anne Isabella Milbanke, January 2, 1815 (legally separated, 1816); children: (with wife) Augusta Ada; (with Claire Jane Clairmont) Clara Allegra. Education: Trinity College, Cambridge, M.A., 1808.
Poet. Sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale, served in House of Lords. Elected to London Greek Committee, 1821; joined Greek insurgency fighting for independence from the Turks, 1823-24.
Fugitive Pieces (privately printed), S. & J. Ridge, 1806, revised edition published as Poems on Various Occasions, 1807, revised as Hours of Idleness: A Series of Poems, Original and Translated, 1807, 2nd edition published as Poems Original and Translated, 1808, published as Hours of Idleness: A Series of Poems, Original and Translated, W. T. Sherwin, 1820.
English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers: A Satire, James Cawthorn, 1809, 2nd edition, revised and enlarged, 1809.
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: A Romaunt (Cantos 1 and 2), Moses Thomas, 1812, 7th enlarged edition, John Murray (London, England), 1814, enlarged version published as Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, A Romaunt, in Four Cantos, two volumes, 1819, Frederick Campe & Co., 1831.
The Curse of Minerva (privately printed), Thomas Davison, 1812, De-Silver & Co., 1815.
(Under name Horace Hornem, Esq.) Waltz: An Apostrophic Hymn, Sherwood, Neely & Jones, 1813.
The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale (privately printed), Moses Thomas, 1813, 7th enlarged edition, John Murray (London, England), 1813.
The Bride of Abydos: A Turkish Tale, John Murray (London, England), 1813, 4th edition, enlarged, 1813, N. G. House, 1814.
The Corsair, a Tale, John Murray (London, England), 1814, 2nd enlarged edition, B. Edes, 1814.
Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte, Munroe, 1814.
Lara: A Tale (bound with Jacqueline: A Tale by Samuel Rogers), Wells & Lilly, 1814.
(Author of lyrics) A Selection of Hebrew Melodies Ancient and Modern, musical arrangements by Isaac Nathan and John Braham, Isaac Nathan, 1815, lyrics published separately as Hebrew Melodies, James P. Parke, 1815.
The Siege of Corinth: A Poem [and] Parisina: A Poem, Van Winkle & Wiley, 1816.
Poems, John Murray (London, England), 1816, T. & W. Mercein, 1817.
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Canto the Third, John Murray (London, England), 1816, Munroe & Francis, 1817.
The Prisoner of Chillon, and Other Poems, John Murray (London, England), 1816, Munroe & Francis, 1817.
Monody on the Death of the Right Honourable R. B. Sheridan, John Murray (London, England), 1816.
Manfred, a Dramatic Poem, D. Longworth, 1817.
The Lament of Tasso, Van Winkle & Wiley, 1817.
Beppo, a Venetian Story, John Murray (London, England), 1818.
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Canto the Fourth, James Eastburn & Co., 1818.
Mazeppa, a Poem, Wells & Lilly, 1819.
Don Juan (Cantos 1 and 2), Thomas Davison, 1819, W. B. Gilley, 1820.
Letter to **** ****** on the Rev. W. L. Bowles' Strictures on the Life and Writings of Pope, John Murray (London, England), 1821.
Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice: An Historical Tragedy in Five Acts: With Notes [and] The Prophecy of Dante, A Poem ( Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice produced in London, England, 1821), M. Carey & Sons, 1821.
Don Juan, Cantos III, IV, and V, William B. Gilley, 1821.
Sardanapalus, a Tragedy. The Two Foscari, A Tragedy [and] Cain, A Mystery, John Murray (London, England), 1821, Wells & Lilly, 1822.
The Age of Bronze; or, Carmen Seculare et Annus Haud Mirabilis, S. Campbell & Son, 1823.
The Island; or, Christian and His Comrades, E. Duyckinck, 1823.
Don Juan: Cantos VI, VII, and VIII, H. C. Carey & I. Lea, 1823.
Don Juan: Cantos IX, X, and XI, E. & E. Hosford, 1823.
Werner, a Tragedy, H. C. Carey & I. Lea, 1823.
Don Juan: Cantos XII, XIII, and XIV, Charles Wiley, 1824.
The Deformed Transformed: A Drama, H. C. Carey & I. Lea, 1824.
Don Juan: Cantos XV and XVI, W. B. Gilley, 1824.
The Parliamentary Speeches of Lord Byron, Rodwell & Martin, 1824.
LETTERS AND JOURNALS
The Works of Lord Byron: Letters and Journals, six volumes, edited by Rowland E. Prothero, Scribners, 1898–91.
Byron's Letters and Journals, twelve volumes, edited by Leslie A. Marchand, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1973–82.
The Works of Lord Byron: Poetry, seven volumes, edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, John Murray (London, England), 1898–1904.
The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron, edited by Paul Elmer More, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1905, revised by Robert F. Gleckner, 1975.
Byron's "Don Juan": A Variorum Edition, edited by Truman Guy Steffan and Willis W. Pratt, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1957.
Lord Byron's "Cain": Twelve Essays and a Text with Variants and Annotations, edited by Truman Guy Steffan, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1968.
Byron's "Hebrew Melodies," edited by Thomas L. Ashton, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1972.
Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, edited by Jerome J. McGann and Barry Weller, Volumes 1-7, Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1980–93.
Contributor to literary journal The Liberal: Verse and Prose from the South, 1822-23.
Byron's papers are housed in the archives of publisher John Murray, London; in the Roe-Byron collection at Newstead Abbey; and in the library of the University of Texas. Other major collections are housed at Yale University, Harvard University, the Pierpont Morgan Library, the Carl H. Pforzheimer Library, the New York Public Library, the University of Pennsylvania, the Henry E. Huntington Library, and the Keats-Shelley Memorial House in Rome.
Although many contemporary critics considered his work immoral and inferior, Lord Byron is now recognized as one of the most important poets of the nineteenth century. His literary reputation has varied more from one era to another than that of any other major English poet. Enormously popular during his lifetime, Byron was almost forgotten in the latter half of his century. Since then, however, critical acclaim for his work has been restored and he is considered to be one of the most important figures of the romantic movement. Because of his works, active life, and physical beauty, he came to be considered the personification of the romantic poet-hero. Malcolm Kelsall in British Writers maintained that Byron's "life has exercised a magnetic attraction for generations of biographers. The personality is inextricably bound up with the poetry, and the confusion between the two was at times deliberately exploited by Byron, who posed as the real-life hero of his own romances." "Byron is, strictly, neither a great poet nor a great man who wrote poetry," Northrop Frye argued in his Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology, "but something in between: a tremendous cultural force that was life and literature at once."
A "Dysfunctional" Family
George Gordon Noel Byron was born with a club-foot on January 22, 1788, the son of Captain John "Mad Jack" Byron, a dissipated nobleman and fortune-hunter, and Catherine Gordon, a hottempered descendant of a Scottish noble family. Although his was an old and revered English family, it had been fast decaying. "The profligate captain squandered his wife's inheritance, was absent for the birth of his only son, and eventually decamped for France, an exile from English creditors, where he died in 1791 at thirty-six," according to John Spalding Gatton in the Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography. Following "Mad Jack"'s death, there was no fatherly authority in the household, and Byron's aristocratic relatives showed only contempt for the impoverished widow and her son. The boy endured a strict Calvinistic upbringing at the hands of a Scottish nurse. Despite these hardships, he was notoriously proud of his lineage and was often accused of pretension. However, his club foot was an embarrassment to him throughout his life. Unable to tolerate criticism, Byron was quick to anger and often used his rage as a source of inspiration. He soon sought to gratify his need for self-assertion in three main directions: love, poetry, and action.
On the death of his granduncle in 1798, Byron inherited the title of the sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale and the family estate of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. He attended Harrow for four years where, Gatton explained, "he excelled in oratory, wrote verse, and played sports, even cricket. (After a quack doctor subjected him to painful, futile treatments for his foot, London specialists prescribed a corrective boot, later fitted with a brace, which the patient often refused to wear.)" Following Harrow, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became conscious for the first time of the discrepancy between the lofty aspirations of idealism and the petty realities of experience. He graduated in 1808, receiving a master's degree.
Byron's first publication was a collection of juvenilia titled Hours of Idleness, which drew a scathing attack in the Edinburgh Review when it appeared in 1807. He replied with a vicious satire in 1809's English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, lashing out at authors and critics alike and launching an especially vitriolic attack against Francis Jeffrey, to whom Byron had mistakenly attributed the bad review of Hours of Idleness. Although the satire in English Bards is often unfair, it earned Byron the respect, or at least the fear, of his critics. However, he felt a career in writing to be below his rank and decided to try politics. When he turned twenty-one in 1809, he was entitled to a seat in the House of Lords, and he attended several sessions of Parliament that year, making several stirring speeches in the cause of reform. In July, however, he left England on a journey through Greece and Turkey. He recorded these experiences in poetic form in several works, most importantly in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. He returned to England in 1811 and once again took his seat in Parliament. He also casually handed the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage to a friend, thinking it not worthy of publication. Yet, when the poetry appeared in print in 1812, it became an enormous success and Byron was hailed in literary circles. Around this time he engaged in a tempestuous love affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, who later characterized Byron as "mad—bad—and dangerous to know." Thoughout his life Byron conducted numerous affairs and fathered several illegitimate children. One of his most notorious liaisons was with his half-sister Augusta. Many critics cite Byron's relationship with Augusta as the inspiration for his later verse drama, 1817's Manfred. The great turning point in his personal life came when Byron married Annabella Milbanke in 1815. The couple had a daughter, Augusta Ada, but because he was periodically abusive toward Annabella, she left him in 1816 and he never saw his wife or daughter again. When the scandal surrounding his marital separation spread through England, Byron was vilified by press and public alike, and he left the country.
Before leaving England, Byron published the poetry collection Hebrew Melodies in 1815, which includes poems intended to serve as lyrics for musical adaptations of traditional Jewish tunes. Two of Byron's most famous poems appear in this volume. The first is the poem of praise "She Walks in Beauty," inspired by the poet's first sight of his young cousin by marriage, Anne Wilmot. Another poem to have found lasting recognition is "The Destruction of Sennacherib," which is based on a brief story in II Chronicles 32:21 that records the defeat of the Assyrians by God's Angel of Death. What details are missing in the biblical version, however, Byron provides; through metrical invention, description, powerful imagery, and parallelism the poet makes the dismal scene come to life.
During his travels throughout Europe, Byron met fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Shelley's wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, with whom he became close friends, and the three stayed in a villa rented by Byron in Geneva, Switzerland. During this time Mary Shelley wrote her famous novel, Frankenstein, and Byron worked on Canto III of Childe Harold. In 1817 Byron moved on to Italy, where he worked on Canto IV, which was published the next year. For several years Byron lived in a variety of Italian cities, engaging in a series of romantic affairs and composing large portions of his masterpiece, Don Juan. Variously described as a satire, epic satire, mock epic, and novel in verse, the unfinished work eludes categorization despite critical agreement that it contains some of the finest satire in the English language.
Written between July 1818 and May 1823, the sixteen cantos of Don Juan represent the culmination of Byron's mature poetic style, although the poem breaks off abruptly at canto 17, stanza 14, giving no hint as to what future the poet envisaged for his hero. "Byron's Don Juan is almost the antithesis of the legendary Don, who is libertine, a heartless seducer, and a ruthless monster who deserves his supernatural punishment," according to Paul G. Trueblood in Lord Byron. "But Byron's hero is a 'very broth of a boy,' good-hearted, chivalrous, well-meaning, 'more sinned against than sinning,' who, like Candide or Tom Jones, survives harrowing adventures and gains a degree of wisdom from his experiences. Juan and Tom are much alike in their instinctive courage and innate goodness, qualities which bring them through severe trials with manly fortitude and increased discretion."
The narrative begins with Juan's love for Julia, wife of Don Alfonso of Seville. Thereafter it recounts his adventures as he travels from one level of experience to another: shipwrecked on the voyage from Seville; a romantic idyll on a Greek island; enslavement by the pirate Lambro; sale to the Turkish sultana, Gulbeyaz; escape from the harem and involvement in the Siege of Ismail; service for Catherine the Great of Russia; and finally entrance into English aristocratic society and a possible romance with the coquettish Duchess of Fitz-Fulke. The narrative thus attains an epic quality in its scope, its traditional subjects of love and war, and its mingling of fiction with historical events and personages. Don Juan also reflects a modern cynicism with its rejection of romantic illusion: in this poem love often comes to an abrupt and undignified end and danger brings out not the best but the worst in human beings. Despite his witty disillusion, Juan assumes an essentially moral stance as he opposes injustice and sympathizes with the poor, the weak, and the victims of society, revealing, finally, that pity, humor, and compassion can best counter a chaotic and uncontrollable world. Modern in spirit, Don Juan is considered one of the great comedies of English literature.
If you enjoy the works of Lord Byron
If you enjoy the works of Lord Byron, you may also want to check out the following:
Fights for Greece
Still drawn to politics, Byron left Italy for Greece in 1823 to join a group of insurgents fighting for independence from the Turks. Gatton recounted what occurred in those final days, as Byron loaned thousands of pounds to the Greek fleet and then joined Prince Alexander Mavrokordatos in Missolonghi in January of 1824. In his bright red British officer's uniform, Byron must have made a spectacle indeed: he was "enthusiastically welcomed by shouts, salutes, and salvos, and hailed as a 'Messiah,'" according to Gatton. "Over the next three and one-half months, all occasions—military, political, physical, climatic, and amorous—seemed to conspire against Byron," added the critic. "His leadership of a planned attack on the Turkish stronghold at Lepanto was postponed for lack of soldiers; factions still prevented a unified war effort; his constitution, weakened by years of dieting to combat congenital portliness, deteriorated under the constant strain and the cold winter rains in Missolonghi; the emotional frustration of his unrequited love for his handsome fifteen-year-old page boy, Loukas Chalandritsanos, seems to have inspired his final poem, posthumously published as 'Love and Death.'" "Despite uncertainty and reverses, he continued to commit money and energy to Mavrokordatos and the Greek cause," Gatton continued. "On 9 April, having been soaked by a heavy rain while out riding, Byron suffered fever and rheumatic pains. By the twelfth he was seriously ill. Repeated bleedings, which he initially resisted, further debilitated him. On Easter Sunday, he entered a comatose state. At six o'clock on the evening of Easter Monday, 19 April 1824, during a violent electrical storm, Byron died." Trueblood believed that the poet's "uncompromising independence of spirit, passion for freedom, and persuasive eloquence make Byron still one of the most effective champions of oppressed peoples and insurgent nationalities in the modern world."
Writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gatton summed up Byron in these words: "The most flamboyant and notorious of the major Romantics, . . . Lord Byron was likewise the most fashionable poet of the day. He created an immensely popular Romantic hero—defiant, melancholy, haunted by secret guilt—for which, to many, he seemed the model. He is also a Romantic paradox: a leader of the era's poetic revolution, he named Alexander Pope as his master; a worshiper of the ideal, he never lost touch with reality; a deist and freethinker, he retained from his youth a Calvinist sense of original sin; a peer of the realm, he championed liberty in his works and deeds, giving money, time, energy, and finally his life to the Greek war of independence....Byron captivated the Western mind and heart as few writers have, stamping upon nineteenth-century letters, arts, politics, even clothing styles, his image and name as the embodiment of Romanticism."
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