Lord Byron (George Gordon) | Poetry Foundation
the most flamboyant and notorious of the major english romantic poets, george gordon, lord byron, was also the most fashionable poet of the early 19th century. he created an immensely popular romantic hero—defiant, brooding, haunted by secret guilt—for whom, to many, he seemed the model. he is also a romantic paradox: leader of the poetic revolution of the time, he appointed alejandro papa as his teacher; a worshiper of the ideal, he never lost touch with reality; a deist and freethinker, he preserved from his youth a Calvinist sense of original sin; A peer of the kingdom, he defended liberty in his works and deeds, giving money, time, energy and ultimately his life to the Greek war of independence. his facetted personality found expression in satire, verse narrative, ode, lyric, speculative drama, historical tragedy, confessional poetry, dramatic monologue, seriocomic epic, and voluminous correspondence, written in Spenserian stanzas, couplets heroic, blank verse, terza rhyme, ottava rhyme and vigorous prose. In his dynamism, sexuality, self-revelation, and demands for freedom for oppressed people everywhere, Byron captivated the Western mind and heart as few writers have, stamping lyrics, arts, politics, and even 19th-century clothing styles, his image and name as the embodiment of romanticism.
george gordon noel byron was born in london on january 22, 1788 with a sprained right foot. He was the son of Catherine Gordon de Gight, an impoverished Scottish heiress, and Captain John (“Mad Jack”) Byron, a fortune-hunting widower with a daughter, Augusta. The spendthrift captain squandered his wife’s inheritance, was absent for the birth of his only child, and eventually went to France as an exile from English creditors, where he died in 1791 at age 36. p>
emotionally unstable, catherine byron raised her son in an atmosphere variously tinged with excessive tenderness, fiery temper, callousness, and pride. she was just as likely to make fun of her limp as she was to consult doctors about her correction. From Ella Byron’s Presbyterian nurse, she developed a lifelong love of the Bible and an enduring fascination with Calvinist doctrines of inborn evil and predestined salvation. her early schooling instilled a devotion to reading and especially a “great passion” for history that influenced much of her later writing.
With the death in 1798 of his great-uncle, the “wicked” fifth Lord Byron, George became the sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale, heir to Newstead Abbey, the family seat in Nottinghamshire. he relished the role of landed nobleman, proud of his coat of arms with its mermaid and chestnut horses crowning the motto “crede byron” (“trust byron”).
A “boiling of passion” for his cousin Margaret Parker in the 1800s inspired his “first leap into poetry.” From 1801 to 1805 he attended Harrow School, where he excelled in oratory, wrote verse, and played sports. he also formed the first of those passionate bonds with other boys, mainly younger ones, that he would enjoy throughout his life; before reaching adolescence he had been sexually initiated by his maid. there is no doubt that he had strong bisexual tendencies, although relationships with women seem generally, but not always, to have satisfied his emotional needs more fully.
In the summer of 1803 he fell so deeply in love with his distant cousin, the beautiful and betrothed Mary Chaworth of Annesley Hall, that he interrupted his education for a term to be close to her. Years later she told Thomas Medwin that all his “fables about the heavenly nature of women” originated from the “perfection” that her imagination created in Mary Chaworth.
early in 1804 he began an intimate correspondence with his half-sister, Augusta, five years his senior. she asked him to consider him “not just as a brother” but as her “warmest and most affectionate friend” of hers. As he moved away from his capricious, often violent mother, he grew closer to Augusta.
Byron attended Trinity College, Cambridge, on and off from October 1805 until July 1808, when he earned an MA. During “the most romantic period of [his] life,” he experienced a “violent, yet pure love and passion” for John Edleston, a Trinity choirboy two years his junior. his intellectual pursuits interested her less than such London diversions as fencing and boxing lessons, the theatre, demimondes, and gambling. living extravagantly, he began to accumulate the debts that would plague him for years. In Southwell, where his mother had moved in 1803, he prepared his verse for publication.
in november 1806 he distributed his first book of poetry around southwell. Fugitive Pieces, printed at his expense and anonymously, collects poems inspired by his first crushes, friendships, and experiences at Harrow, Cambridge, and elsewhere. When his literary adviser, the Reverend John Thomas Becher, a local minister, objected to the frank eroticism of certain lines, Byron suppressed the volume. a revised and expurgated selection of verses appeared in January 1807 as poems on various occasions, in an edition of 100 copies, also privately and anonymously printed. an expanded collection, hours of idleness, “by george gordon, lord byron, a minor” was published in June. The new poems in this first public volume of his poetry are little more than school translations of the classics and imitations by pre-romantics like Thomas Grey, Thomas Chatterton, and Robert Burns, and by contemporaries like Walter Scott and Thomas Moore. the original flashes of eroticism and satire that had animated the poems in private editions were missing. The work is valuable for what it reveals about the young poet’s influences, interests, talent, and direction. In “About a Change of Teachers at a Large Public School,” he employs heroic couplets for satirical effect in the manner of Alexander Pope, a model for Byron throughout his career. In obviously autobiographical poems, Byron experiments with characters, made up of his true self and fictional elements, that reveal and disguise him. groups of verses on a single topic show your understanding of the effectiveness of multiple points of view.
It was as a published poet that Byron returned to Cambridge in June 1807. In addition to renewing acquaintances, he formed a lasting friendship with John Cam Hobhouse, his beloved “hobby.” Leaning towards liberalism in politics, Byron joined Hobhouse at the Cambridge Whig Club. In February 1808, the influential Whig magazine, the Edinburgh Review, anonymously published Henry Brougham’s Notice of Down Hours, which combined justified criticism of the book with unjustified personal attacks on the author. the scornfully worded criticism had a beneficial effect. Hurt and enraged, Byron set aside the cloying, derivative, and occasional verse and began to exact his revenge through satire, expanding his poetic commentary on today’s “British bards,” begun the year before, to include a counterattack on “critical Scots”. /p>
In March 1809, two months after coming of age, he took his seat in the House of Lords. Soon after, Byron’s first great poetic work, English bards, and Scottish critics. a satire, it was published anonymously in an edition of 1,000 copies. Inspired by the title of his idol, the Pope, the poem, in heroic couplets, takes aim indiscriminately at most of the poets and playwrights of the day, particularly Walter Scott, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. their main objective is criticism. Of these “harpies that must be fed”, he stands out to condemn the “immortal” Francis Jeffrey, whom he mistakenly assumed had written the offensive comments about idle hours in the Edinburgh magazine.
the satire created a stir and gained widespread favor from critics. the overall goal, as stated in the preface, is “to make others write better.” Of the major romantic poets, Byron was most sympathetic to neoclassicism, with its order, discipline, and clarity. The importance of the English bards and Scottish critics lies not only in their vigor and vitality, but in Byron’s lively defense of the neoclassical virtues found in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century poets such as Dryden and Pope and, from his own time, in gifford. . his admiration for the pope never wavered, nor did he completely abandon the heroic couplet and the august role of censor and moralist, as seen in the hints of horace (written in 1811), the curse of minerva (written in 1811) and the age bronze (written 1822-1823).
Feeling avenged on the reviewers, Byron was eager to make a longtime dream come true: travel abroad. Although in debt, he raised enough resources to allow him to start a tour of the eastern Mediterranean. Eager to write down the myriad experiences the journey afforded him, Byron began an autobiographical poem in Ioannina, Greece, on October 31, 1809, recording the adventures and reflections of Burun Boy (a portmanteau of the archaic title for a a young man of noble birth and an ancient form of his own surname); he subsequently renamed the hero harold. The Spenserian stanza in which he expressed his impressions was doubtless derived from his readings in Edmund Spenser’s Queen of the Fairies reprinted in an anthology he had brought along on his journey. byron completed the first chant in athens at the end of the year.
turning south, he and hobhouse traveled through missolonghi and rode to athens on christmas night 1809. they billeted at the foot of the acropolis with mrs. tarsia macri, widow of a greek man who had been a british vice-consul. Byron soon fell in love with his three daughters, all under the age of 15, but especially with Theresa, just 12, his “Athens maiden.”
Excursions in January 1810 to Cape Sounion, overlooking the Cycladic islands, and to Marathon, where the Athenians defeated Persian invaders in 490 BC, reinforced for him the terrible contrast between glory and glory. power of ancient greece and its contemporary times. misfortune. He poignantly evoked these scenes and sentiments a decade later in oft-quoted stanzas about “the islands of Greece” and about the marathon in Don Juan.
in march 1810, byron and hobhouse extended their tour of turkey. On March 28, in Izmir, he completed the second song of Kid Harold, incorporating his adventures in Albania and his thoughts on Greece. He visited the Plain of Troy and on May 3, while Hobhouse was reading Ovid’s Hero and Leander, he imitated Leander’s feat of swimming the Hellespont; within a week, lines “written after swimming from sestos to abydos” commemorated his pride in this feat. in july he traveled back to athens, where he settled in the capuchin monastery below the acropolis. Here, he studied Italian and modern Greek, just as he would learn Armenian from the monks in Venice six years later.
concerned with literary composition, he first produced explanatory notes for childe harold; then, in February and March 1811, he wrote two poems in heroic couplets. A sequel to English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, Horace’s Clues satirises contemporary poetry and drama, while praising Dryden, Pope, Swift and Butler.
byron arrived in sheerness, kent, on july 14th, two years and 12 days after he left. He wrote to Augusta on September 9 that he had probably acquired nothing from his travels but “a notion of two languages & the habit of chewing tobacco”, but this statement was false. “If I am a poet,” she mused, “…the air of Greece has made me one.” he had amassed source material for any number of works. Furthermore, exposure to all kinds of people, behaviors, governments, and thoughts had transformed him into a citizen of the world, with broad political views and a clear vision of prejudice and hypocrisy on the “narrow little island” of England. Significantly, I would select as an epigraph for chine harold a passage from le cosmopolite, ou, le citoyen du monde (1753), by louis charles fougeret de monbron, which, in part, compares the universe to a book one has read but the first page if you have seen only your own country.
within three weeks of his return, byron plunged into a prolonged period of mourning. his mother died on august 2, before he left for newstead. whatever his faults, she had loved his child, taken pride in his accomplishments, and managed financially in his absence. “She only had one friend in the world,” she exclaimed, “and she’s gone.” the news of the death of two classmates strongly followed this grief. then, in october, she learned of the death of john edleston, the former choirboy at trinity college, from consumption. deeply affected, she mourned the loss of him in the lines “to thyrza” (1811), a female name that conceals the subject’s true identity and gender. she also commemorated edleston as well as childer harold.
in january 1812, byron retook his seat in the house of lords and allied himself with the liberal whigs. during his political career he spoke only three times in the House of Lords, taking unpopular positions. In his maiden speech on 27 February he defended stocking knitters in his native Nottinghamshire area who had broken the improved knitting machinery, or frames, which deprived them of work and reduced them to the brink of starvation; he cruelly and unfairly opposed a government-sponsored bill making frame breaking a capital offense. On April 21, he called for Catholic emancipation, the most controversial issue of the day.
on his return to england in july 1811, byron handed over the childe harold manuscript to r.c. dallas, his adviser on publishing english bards and scottish critics. Dallas enthusiastically showed the poem to John Murray II, the respected publisher of Scott and Southey, who agreed to publish Byron, beginning a rich association between the publisher and the poet.
On March 10, 1812, Murray published Harold Childer’s Pilgrimage, Cantos I and II. 500 quarto copies, priced at 30 shillings each, sold out in three days. an octavo edition of 3,000 copies at 12 shillings was on the market in two days. Shortly after the boy Harold appeared, Byron commented, “I woke up one morning and found myself famous.” Murray brought out five editions of the poem in 1812 alone, and published the tenth and final separate edition in 1815. In less than six months sales had reached 4,500 copies. In Edinburgh Magazine, Jeffrey cited as Childe Harold’s “chief excellence” “a singular freedom and boldness, both of thought and expression, and an occasional great strength and felicity of diction.”
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Cantos I and II, can be read as Byron’s poetic journal of his voyages across the Mediterranean and the East from 1809 to 1811. But the work’s international popularity owes less to its appeal as a notebook. of travel than to its powerful articulation. of weltschmerz, or “world weariness”, born from the chaos of the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars that upended all of European society.
in song i harold, “sore at heart” with his life of “joy and unholy mirth,” leaves his native albion on a pilgrimage to find peace and spiritual rebirth. Befitting a quest poem, Childe Harold is subtitled Romaunt, reminiscent of medieval romances whose knighted heroes go in search of holy objects, and is written in the stanza and archaic language of Spenser’s fairy queen.
harold was introduced, byron wrote in the preface, “in the interest of giving the piece some connection.” By labeling Harold “a fictional character,” Byron tried to disassociate himself from his protagonist, but his readers, noting many striking similarities, persisted in equating the artist with his hero. Although he, too, speculated about such a relationship, Walter Scott recognized that a significant new type of romantic character had been created in Harold Byron that reappeared in almost all of his heroes.
harold is the first “byronic hero”. Of complicated ancestry (admirably traced by Peter L. Thorslev, Jr.), he is descended, with inherited traits, from Prometheus, Milton’s Satan, the sentimental heroes found in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, hero-villains In the gothic novels by Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe, Friedrich von Schiller’s Karl Moor, and Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion. Thorslev insists that, as befits his complex genealogy, Byron’s various heroes exhibit not uniformity, but rather considerable diversity. among its traits are romantic melancholy, guilt over secret sin, pride, defiance, restlessness, alienation, revenge, remorse, moodiness, and such noble virtues as honor, altruism, courage and pure love for a kind woman.
parlors and parlors of Whig society vied for Byron’s presence and exalted him. At Holland House, he met the energetic and impulsive lady Caroline Lamb, who initially considered him “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Her stormy romance lasted all summer, until Byron rejected her; She continued the persecution, burned “effigies” of her image, and transformed her relationship into a gothic romance in Ella’s novel Glenarvon (1816).
Despite its outcome, his connection to Lady Caroline left him on friendly terms with his mother-in-law, the witty Elizabeth Milbanke Lamb, Lady Melbourne. Through her, in September, he proposed to her niece, Anne Isabella (Annabella) Milbanke, as a possible means of escaping pushy Caroline. Annabella, a 20-year-old, was well-read in literature and philosophy and displayed a talent for mathematics. She refused her proposal, believing that Byron would never be “the object of that strong affection” which would make her “happy in domestic life”. With good humor and perhaps relief, Byron accepted the refusal; In a letter dated October 18, 1812, she thanked Lady Melbourne for her efforts with her “Princess of Parallelograms.” In November he was having an affair with the mature Jane Elizabeth Scott, Lady Oxford, patron of the reform movement.
Between June 1813 and February 1816, Byron completed and published six extremely popular short stories in verse, five of them influenced by his travels to Greece and Turkey: The Giaour (June 1813), The Bride of Abydos (December 1813), the privateer (February 1814), Lara (August 1814), and the siege of Corinth and Parisian (February 1816). Walter Scott had created the market for romantic verse narratives, but Byron surpassed it with his erotic offerings set in “exotic” climates, to the point that Scott abandoned the genre in favor of novel writing.
In June 1813, Byron began an affair with his 29-year-old half-sister, Augusta. Married from 1807 to her cousin, Colonel George Leigh, with her mother’s death in 1811, Augusta became Byron’s only remaining close relative. While no legal proof exists, circumstantial evidence in Byron’s letters dating from August 1813 to his horrified confidante Lady Melbourne strongly suggests an incestuous connection to Augusta.
In the midst of this relationship, Byron received a letter from Annabella Milbanke, who confessed her mistake in rejecting his proposal and cautiously sought to renew their friendship. the correspondence continued. he later wrote to lady melbourne that she augusta wished him “much to marry, for it was the only chance of redemption for two people.”
Through poetry he found relief from his relationship with Augusta and from an inconclusive flirtation in the autumn of 1813 with Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster. in november she wrote to thomas moore, “all convulsions end with me in rhyme; and to comfort my nights, I have scribbled another Turkish tale. The Bride of Abydos, published by Murray in December, sold 6,000 copies in one month. For the first time in this volume, Byron tackled the subject of incest, his “wicked passion,” as he told Lady Melbourne, to which he would return in poems such as Parisian, Manfred, and Cain.
Another burst of poetic creativity superimposed the success of Abydos’ Bride. Between December 18 and December 31, Byron produced a third oriental tale, The Corsair. 10,000 copies were sold on publication day in February 1814, “a thing,” an excited Murray assured him, “perfectly unprecedented.”
on april 10, 1814, amidst rumors of the abdication and exile of the emperor napoleon (which actually happened the next day), byron wrote and copied an ode to napoleon buonaparte. on the 16th, it was posted anonymously. Since Harrow, Byron had had mixed feelings about Napoleon. He admired the titanic qualities of the brilliant tactician, dynamic soldier, and statesman, but was repulsed by his brutal conquest of Iberia and his perversion of liberal ideals. that ambivalence colors the poem.
On April 15, 1814, Augusta gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth Medora. When Medora Leigh grew up, she believed herself to be Byron’s daughter, although Byron never acknowledged paternity to her, as he did to her other illegitimate children, either out of uncertainty or concern for her and Augusta’s reputations. . there is no existing proof either way. On May 14, Byron began a sequel to Privateer titled Lara, the new name for Conrad the Pirate. Murray published the work anonymously in August in one volume with Samuel Rogers’ sentimental tale Jacqueline; the book sold 6,000 copies in three editions.
Byron spent much of the summer of 1814 with Augusta, while continuing to correspond with Annabella. in a letter dated September 9, he made a tentative proposal of marriage; she accepted it immediately. In marriage, Byron hoped to find a rational pattern of life and to reconcile the conflicts that plagued him. After unfavorable hesitations and postponements, many of them his own, Byron married Annabella on 2 January 1815 in the parlor of his parents’ house in Seaham; there was no reception. towards his girlfriend his boyfriend was both tender and abusive.
at halnaby hall, byron resumed work on the hebrew melodies, the lyrics of the airs that the jewish composer isaac nathan was adapting from synagogue music. Throughout his life, Byron was an avid reader of the Bible and a lover of traditional songs and legends. as a champion of freedom, he too may have responded instinctively to the long-suffering oppression of the Jewish people. The play opens with the now famous lyric, “She walks in beauty,” written in 1814 after Byron saw a cousin at a party in a sequined mourning dress.
In April, after a stormy visit to Augusta, Lord and Lady Byron settled in at the Duchess of Devonshire’s London home at 13 Piccadilly Terrace. Throughout 1815, financial problems and heavy drinking led Byron to fits of rage and irrational behavior. When Annabella was late in pregnancy, he made her the scapegoat for her problems. On December 10, 1815, she gave birth to Augusta Ada Byron (the first name was later dropped). At the start of the new year, rising financial concerns forced Byron to suggest they move out of his expensive Piccadilly terrace address. Lady Byron and Augusta Ada would precede him at his family’s Leicestershire estate, Kirkby Mallory, as he tried to placate creditors. Early on the morning of January 15, 1816, Lady Byron and Augusta Ada left London by carriage for Kirkby Mallory before Byron was up. he never saw them again.
by kirkby mallory lady byron wrote lovingly to her husband in london, urging him to join her. Her subsequent revelations to her parents about Byron’s threatening speech and cruel behavior turned them against her. On February 2, her father wrote to Byron to propose a quiet separation. Byron was surprised. in vain was her protest, in a letter to her wife on the 15th, that she loved the “dear bell… to the dregs of [his hers] memory of her & existence of her. ” A week later, Lady Byron probably confessed to her lawyer her suspicion of incest between Byron and Augusta, adding it to earlier charges of adultery and cruelty; by the end of the month, rumors about brother and sister were widespread. on March 17, the terms of the legal separation were agreed upon.
during the breakup crisis, byron had a casual relationship with claire (jane) clairmont. That she was the stepdaughter of the philosopher William Godwin and the stepsister of Mary Godwin, with whom Percy Bysshe Shelley had eloped in 1814, may have led him to tolerate certain advances from her, which he had no intention of encouraging.
Byron signed the definitive deed of separation on April 21, having decided to go abroad with the completion of this procedure. On the 25th they sailed from Dover bound for Ostend. byron would never see england again.
The party arrived in Geneva on May 25, 1816. Little did Byron know that Claire Clairmont, pregnant with his son, Shelley and Mary Godwin, were waiting for him. they spent the time pleasantly sailing on lake leman and talking at the villa diodati, which byron had rented, with its commanding view of the lake and the juras beyond. In this environment Maria wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, published 1818.
in june byron and shelley sailed to château de chillon. The story of François Bonivard, a 16th-century Swiss patriot and political prisoner in the castle’s dungeons, inspired Byron to compose one of his most popular poems, The Prisoner of Chillon. The simplicity and directness of Bonivard’s dramatic monologue highlights the powerful theme of political tyranny. In Bonivard, Byron created a protagonist free from the traits of the typical “Byronian hero,” one who possessed greater credibility and maturity than his predecessors. the poem, in turn, expresses a deeper human understanding and promotes more positive values than previous works.
on july 4th, three days after returning from his lake leman boat tour, byron completed the third song of boyish harold. His framework is a poetic travelogue based on his journey from Dover to Waterloo, then along the Rhine and on to Switzerland. Having failed to maintain a convincing distinction between himself and his hero’s in the earlier songs, Byron stops pretending and speaks in his own right. Harold becomes a shadowy presence who disappears in the middle of the singing, absorbed by the narrator. The new protagonist, a hero of sensibility, expresses the melancholy, passion, and alienation of the original Harold, as well as Byronic liberalism, sensibility, and meditation.
four main themes inform the third canto. The invocation in the opening stanza, made not to the muse or another classical figure, but to Ada, “the only daughter of my house and heart”, sounds the theme of personal pain. the poet-hero is alone, in voluntary exile, “aged in this world of sorrow.” “still around him hung invisible a chain / that mortified forever, chaining though not seen, / and heavy though not resounding…”, he stands “proud though in desolation”.
the view of the field of waterloo, “this place of skulls, / the tomb of france”, gives rise to the second theme, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the genius of napoleon and rousseau. Byron recognized himself in the characters of both men. Like Napoleon, he was “antithetically mixed,” “extreme in all things,” and possessed “a fire/and movement of the soul” that “feeds on great adventures.” as “the self-torturing sophist, wild rousseau, / the apostle of sorrow”, “he cast / spell upon passion, and from sorrow / drew overwhelming eloquence.”
Rousseau, whose writings helped ignite the French Revolution, and Napoleon, whose campaigns doomed the hopes born of that struggle, relate directly to the theme of the Song War. Byron despised aggressive wars waged for personal gain while defending conflicts that defended freedom, such as the battles of Marathon and Morat and the French Revolution, as honorable. Bravura rhetoric animates the verses on Waterloo, from the memorable re-enactment of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels the night before the battle, to Byron’s somber evocation of warfare: a contemplation on the futility of bravery and the blood spilled in a purposeless slaughter.
the pilgrim-poet temporarily experiences the emotion of a transcendental concept of nature, the fourth theme of the song:
I do not live in myself, but I become part of what surrounds me; and for me, the high mountains are a feeling… and so I am absorbed, and this is life [.]
But Byron’s affinity for reality prevented him from “despising the cold clay ties that cling to our being.” nature would provide him with no permanent escape from himself, no remedy for his suffering.
near the end he returns to his first theme, of personal grief carried defiantly by a Promethean rebel: I have not loved the world, nor the world me; I have not flattered his stale breath, nor have I bowed to his idolatries with a patient knee[.]
he closes the song as he began it, with an apostrophe to his daughter, “the daughter of love”.
Hobhouse’s arrival in late August coincided with the departure of Shelley, Mary, and Claire, who returned to England with the manuscripts of the third canto of Little Boy Harold, the Prisoner of Chillon, and the shorter poems; On January 12, 1817, Claire gave birth to a Byron daughter named Clara Allegra. When a tour of the Bernese Alps with Hobhouse failed to “lighten the weight” on his heart or allow him to lose his “own miserable identity,” Byron turned, as usual, to poetry to purge his musings and guilt over the separation, augusta, and his exile. catharsis assumed a new form for him: drama in blank verse. he would write, “not a drama proper, but a dialogue”, set in the high alps he had recently visited. he rewrote the third act during a trip to rome the following may. Manfred, the eponymous protagonist, is quintessentially Byron, the drama’s conflict a fusion of the personal and the cosmic, his goal is relief.
count manfred, tortured by “the strong curse” upon his soul for some unspeakable, inexpiable, “half-maddening sin” (ii.i), seeks “oblivion—/…/ of what is within me” (i.i). in the first scene, proud and defiant, he revels in the supremacy of his will over the spirits he stirs up, powerless before the inner self:
the mind, the spirit, the Promethean spark, the lightning bolt of my being, is as bright and piercing and penetrating as yours, and will not yield to yours, though encased in clay!
as an abbot witnesses his stoic demise, manfred explains: “old man! It’s not that hard to die. The individual invincible to the end, Manfred surrenders his soul to neither heaven nor hell, only death.
murray published childe harold, canto iii, on november 18, and the prisoner of chillon, and other poems on december 5. within a week of publication, 7,000 copies of each volume had been sold. Reviewing these works in the December 1816 issue of Edinburgh Magazine, Jeffrey proclaimed that “in force of diction and inexhaustible energy of feeling”, Byron had “the precedence over all his distinguished contemporaries”. p>
Byron left in mid-April 1817 to join Hobhouse in Rome. In Ferrara, his visit to the cell where the 16th-century poet Torquato Tasso had been confined for insanity inspired an impassioned dramatic monologue, Tasso’s Lament.
Byron settled in mid-June at the Villa Foscarini in Mira on the Brenta, seven miles from Venice. Here, he began to distill his memories of Rome into poetry. Composing quickly, he completed the 126-stanza first draft of Childe Harold, Canto IV, in mid-July, but revised and expanded the manuscript throughout the rest of the year.
Continuing the pilgrimage format of the previous cantos, the framework of this longer section is a spirited Italian journey from Venice via Arqua (where Byron had seen Petrarch’s house and tomb) and Ferrara (City of Tasso and Ludovico Ariosto). ) to Florence and then to Rome, the setting for half of the song.
The pilgrim-narrator of Canto IV focuses sharply on the contrast between the transience of mighty empires, exemplified by Venice and Rome, and the transcendence of great art over human limitations, change, and death. an elegiac tone evoked by “fallen states and buried greatness” pervades the verses. “A ruin in the midst of ruins,” the pilgrim-narrator drifts easily from scenes of shattered columns and broken arches to considerations of his own suffering and of war and freedom. the glory days of venice are gone, “but the beauty is still here. / … nature does not die.” literature is also permanent and beneficial. the theme sic transit gloria mundi en childe harold finds its best byronic expression in this song, which retraces its history and ruins the “dying glory” of venice and, especially, the fall of rome.
in his famous apostrophe to the ocean, which begins “roll on, you deep and dark blue ocean—roll!”, byron contrasts its permanence, power, and freedom with vanished civilizations: “your shores are empires, changed in all but you -/ Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they? The ocean remains, “dark agitated;—limitless, endless and sublime—/ the image of eternity….”
melancholy stains the farewell; Byron knew that Childe Harold’s theme had “died in an echo.” but life in Venice had lifted his spirits. before finishing this song he had begun the lively beppo, with which he returned to satire and prepared the way for don juan.
The late summer of 1817 marks a significant development in Byron’s literary career. on August 29 he learned of the return of a supposedly deceased husband to his Venetian wife; she had meanwhile taken a love interest, and then had to choose her husband, her lover, or lonely life in a boardinghouse. At that moment, by chance, he saw John Hookham Frere’s Whistcraft (1817), a mock-heroic satire in ottava rhyme inspired by Italian burlesque. The demanding rhyming scheme of ottava rima—a b a b a c c—encourages humorous rhyming. its couplet allows the stanza to end with a witty joke, a change in tone from high to low, or a clever rhyme to surprise the reader. The serio-comic tone, colloquial style, and ottava rhyme digressions drew Byron to this verse form as a medium for his witty take on the story of Venetian manners and light morals. by October 10 he had finished beppo. The new poem of his, he assured Murray on March 25, 1818, would show the public that he could “write merrily, & repel the charge of monotony & mannerism.”
the story that byron tells is light. Beppo, a Venetian merchant, returns home during the carnival after years of Turkish captivity, to discover that his wife, Laura, has made an account for her mistress. After the three of them nicely discuss the love triangle, the husband and wife meet up and Beppo befriends the Earl. In his playfulness, verve, and lack of rhetoric, Beppo marked a break from Byron’s earlier and darker works. Banished is the soul-ravaged hero with his own pride and pessimism, replaced by the poet-storyteller: talkative, digressive, witty, observant, cynical. Byron’s first attempt at the Italian “poem potpourri” allowed him to experiment with the style that best suited his spirit and his talents. with this cool and realistic voice he would create the comic masterpiece of he don juan.
Murray published beppo, a Venetian story, without Byron’s name on the title page, on February 28, 1818, to immediate success. on april 28, 1818, murray brought to light childe harold, canto iv; the five editions of the first edition comprise 10,000 copies. In the Quarterly, Scott judged that the last part of “this great poem… upheld the great reputation of Lord Byron”, possessing less passion and more “deep thought and feeling” than the earlier songs.
In early June, Byron moved into the Palazzo Mocenigo, with his daughter Allegra (brought to Venice for Shelley’s party in April), whom he had agreed to support and educate. here he also housed his 14 servants, a menagerie and a true harem.
in a letter to murray dated 10 july 1818, he mentioned that he had completed an ode to venice and that he had “two stories, one serious & one ridiculous (à la beppo) not yet finished—& have not hurry to be so. the “serious” poem was mazeppa, a Cossack verse tale of illicit love affairs and a wild horse ride. the “ridiculous” work was the lengthy first canto of his comic epic Don Juan, uttered, for the sake of humor, to rhyme with “new” and “true.” Over the next five years, Byron added 15 more chants to the poem, leaving 17 unfinished at his death. Hobhouse and other friends in England praised the poetry and satire in Don John, Canto I, but voicing alarm at its indecencies and attacks on religion, the writers and Lady Byron (in character as Donna Inez, John’s “mathematical” mother) urged that the manuscript be suppressed. willing and eager to publish the article, especially if some of the “ind niceties”. but byron would have none of her “damn cut and slash” from her; the poem would succeed or fail on its own merits.
Byron, exhausted by the debauchery, hacks and slashes into his personal life, ridding himself of his harem. In early April 1819 at the Benzoni Conversazione, he met Countess Teresa Guiccioli, whom he had met by chance on her thirtieth birthday at Countess Albrizzi’s home. Now 19, she had been married for just over a year to a wealthy 58-year-old Earl. A strong mutual attraction quickly developed between Byron and Teresa. Having renounced “miscellaneous prostitution,” he settled for the “strictest adultery” as a cavalier serving Teresa, his “last attachment.” For the next four years, until his departure for Greece in July 1823, they lived in various Italian cities and towns.
On July 15, 1819, Murray, after some hesitation, cautiously published 1,500 copies of the first two cantos of Don Juan. missing Byron’s savage “dedication” to poet laureate Robert Southey (first published in Lord Byron’s works, 1832) and the names of the author and publisher on the title page; Only the printer, Thomas Davison, was identified as required by English law. By tacitly admitting, through an anonymous post, that Don Juan did not have a good reputation, Murray intensified the outcry against the work. critics responded with virtually unprecedented fury, vilifying both the poet and the poem. Typical was the review in Blackwood’s magazine, which called Byron “a cold, uncaring fiend” who ridiculed love, honor, patriotism, and religion in his “dirty, impious poem”; the “cold-blooded mockery” of his wounded wife was “brutally devilish and inexpiably evil. Not all reviews were negative. In a pseudonymous letter to the rightful Hon. Lord Byron (1821), “John Bull” (John Gibson Lockhart) encouraged him to “stick to Don Juan: it is the only sincere thing he ever wrote; …is by far the most energetic, the most direct, the most interesting and the most poetic.” In a review written in 1819 and published in 1821, Goethe praised Don Juan as “a work of boundless energy.”
the dazzling range of themes, incidents, and moods in his “versified northern lights” (canto vii), and its geographical scope, no less than its genre, justify his claim that “the epic of my poem” ( song i). The stanzas are filled with Byronic observations on liberty, tyranny, war, love, hypocrisy, hypocrisy, and much more. The landscape stretches from Juan’s native Spain across the Mediterranean to the Greek Cyclades, to Constantinople and then on to Russia, with a digression to Kentucky, before stopping in England. Byron’s literary models include the classical epics of Homer and Virgil and the Italian Renaissance epics of Ariosto and Tasso. He also drew on satirical prose novels by Françios Rabelais, Miguel de Cervantes, Jonathan Swift, and Laurence Sterne, and on the picaresque novels of Henry Fielding. humorously asserts that his poem will adhere to epic conventions, all arranged “with strict respect to Aristotle’s rules” (canto i), but, in fact, he writes a modern epic, beholden to older forms but not enslaved by them.
in a “slight difference” from his “epic brethren”, byron does not make don juan a “labyrinth of fables” but a story that is “really true” (canto i), based, as he told murray, almost entirely in “real life, either mine, or people I knew.” for the discursive and digressive form of don juan, byron reverted to the versatile ottava rhyme that he had first used in beppo, ideal for the conversational style of the “improvisatore” (canto xv). the rapidity of the stanza facilitates the poem’s myriad shifting tones—serious, cynical, sentimental, humorous, satirical, bawdy—as the verse transitions from narrative to commentary, from romance to burlesque, from joke to invective.
“I want a hero,” declares Byron in the first line of the poem, but realizing that the modern age does not provide a “true”, “therefore he will take our old friend Don Juan.” While the legendary John is a rake and heartless stripper of women, deserving of his eternal doom, the young Don Byron is friendly, innately good, courteous, impulsive and sensual, more seduced than seductive. he experiences shipwreck, slavery, war, dissipation, and disease on his voyages, gaining worldly wisdom and discretion as he progresses. though he gradually becomes coddled and indifferent in the process, the john of canto xvi retains his good qualities from canto i.
in the spotlight with teresa and allegra in september 1819 byron proceeded with the third canto of don juan. Moore, his visitor in October, presented the manuscript of his memoirs, begun in Venice the year before and not to be published in Byron’s lifetime. they were intended to be “memoranda, not confessions”, containing, among other things, “a detailed account” of his marriage and the “aftermath” of it. Moore sold them to Murray; On May 17, 1824, three days after news of Byron’s death reached England, Hobhouse and Murray, over Moore’s objections, burned the memoirs in Murray’s drawing room to protect Byron’s reputation.
in february 1820, while residing at palazzo guiccioli, byron sent murray, along with other works, the third and fourth cantos of don juan. Byron’s life and writing in 1820 and 1821 evidenced a shared political theme. Influenced by Teresa’s father, Count Ruggero Gamba Ghiselli, and his son, Count Pietro Gamba, both fervent patriots, he began to take a serious interest in the Carbonari, one of the secret revolutionary societies that sought to overthrow Austrian despotism. Over time Byron became an honorary capo (boss) of a group of Carbonari workers; he provided them with weapons and made his house his arsenal. The Austrian secret police increased their observation of Byron’s activities and opened his mail. Unsure about Don Juan’s future, he expended some of his creative energy on a trio of historical tragedies based on political themes and modeled on neoclassical principles: Marino Faliero, Sardanapalus, and the Two Foscari. these blank verse plays were, he maintained, closet dramas, not designed for the stage. Without Byron’s permission, Marino Faliero had seven performances at Drury Lane in April and May 1821, the only one of his plays performed in his lifetime. Sardanapalus and Werner’s (1823) adaptations enjoyed great success on 19th-century stages.
With the completion of the two Foscari in July, Byron began work on Cain: A Mystery, its subtitle alluding to medieval dramas on Biblical themes and, he told Moore, “in honor of what will probably remain to the reader.” Basing his work on the Old Testament and 18th-century rationalism, Byron challenged accepted religious beliefs about good, evil, death, and immortality.
adam and eve inhabit a postlapsarian world with their children, cain and abel; daughters, adah (cain’s twin) and zillah; and grandson, enoch, the son of cain and ada. Cain appears as the first skeptic and a romantic rebel, a mixture of the rational and the Promethean, challenging, even blaspheming, questioning his parents’ views on the goodness and justice of God. When God violently rejects his offering of fruit but gratefully accepts Abel’s animal sacrifice, Cain takes a stand for life, denouncing the death principle behind God’s tyrannical “pleasure” in “the fumes of burning flesh and steaming blood.” . “In tragic irony, Cain then shed the blood of his brother in the first death of the human world. repentant and remorseful, he goes into exile accompanied by adah and enoch, not ranting against an unjust god.
in september, in the midst of the confusion of packing up to move to pisa, byron picked up a poem he had begun in may and promptly put it aside. On October 4, he completed one of his best works, The Judgment Vision, a satirical response to Robert Southey’s The Judgment Vision, which had appeared in April. This solemn, fawning eulogy in lame hexameters commemorates the death, burial, and supposed apotheosis of King George III. In his preface, mainly in relation to the meter of the poem, Southey virulently attacked Byron (without naming him) as the leader of the “Satanic school” of contemporary writers, whose works mocked religion, depicted “disgusting images of atrocities and horrors” and exhibited “a satanic spirit of pride and daring impiety.”
in his “true dream” or vision, byron, under the pseudonym “quevedo redivivus”, directs his telescope towards “the heavenly gate” to spy on the truth about george iii’s arrival there to stand trial. He discovers that, during the chaos caused by Southey’s reading of his vision of the trial, the decrepit king simply “slipped into the sky.” Byron’s hatred of oppression finds a worthy target in George III, whom Satan accuses of being a warmonger and a symbol of tyranny in England, the United States, and Europe. Byron also directs his spite at Southey’s poetry and politics: “he had written much blank verse, and more blank prose, / And more of both than anyone knows.” A political apostate, Southey started out as an exponent of revolutionary views, only to become a voice of conservative reaction: this “hearty anti-Jacobin” had “changed his coat and would have changed his skin.” >
byron based heaven and earth, the “mystery” began in october, in genesis 6:1-2, which records that the “sons of god” (for byron, angels) took as wives “the daughters of men” (women descendants of Cain, who were condemned to destruction in the flood). Through Japheth, the chosen but troubled son of Noah, Byron questions the doctrine of predestination, which had plagued him all his life. As in Cain, this drama asks why there is evil, since Jehovah is good. aholibamah, one of the women, articulates the familiar Byronic theme of the human aspiration to a heavenly existence free from the limitations of the body: “where is the impiety of loving/heavenly natures?” (i.i).
Arriving in Pisa in November, Byron joined a charming circle of friends that included Percy and Mary Shelley, Edward and Jane Williams, and Shelley’s cousin Thomas Medwin. in mid-January they were joined by the flamboyant adventurer edward john trelawny.
On December 19, Murray published Sardanapalus, the Two Foscari, and Cain in a single volume. In a letter written on January 26, 1822, Shelley proclaimed Cain “apocalyptic: it is a revelation never before communicated to man.” his was a minority opinion. For John Gibson Lockhart, Cain was “a wicked and blasphemous performance.” for the men’s magazine, the work was “no more and no less than a series of riotous libels about the supreme being and his attributes”. few critics embraced the sardanapalus and even fewer the two foscari.
Byron had placed his daughter Allegra in a monastic school at Bagnacavallo in March 1821; on April 20, 1822, she died there at the age of five, after a brief illness. Following Byron’s instructions, she was buried in Harrow Church.
in july, poet, critic and editor leigh hunt accepted shelley’s yearlong invitation, extended on byron’s behalf, to come to pisa with her family to help edit a new literary magazine. Despite Shelley’s death in July, plans continued to start The Liberal: Southern Verse and Prose, to be published in London by Hunt’s brother, John. Byron contributed to each of its four issues published in 1822 and 1823.
he was also moving quickly with don juan. after the erotic scenes in the seraglio of the sixth canto, he began to exhibit a new gravity. his satire on the war and his false glory fills cantos vii and viii, on the siege of ismail. At the end of September, the remnants of the Pisan circle moved to Genoa. Within a week of his arrival, Byron had completed the tenth canto of Don Juan, which takes the hero to England, and began the eleventh, with his satire on the superficiality and hypocrisy of the English aristocracy. >
The first issue of the Liberal appeared in mid-October, headlined by the vision of Byron’s trial. Although published under a pseudonym and without the explanatory preface, the satire was immediately recognized as Byron’s and deplored as libelous, seditious, and impious. john hunt was prosecuted for defaming the late king; he remained the liberal’s publisher but handed over the printing duties to the less radical printer c. h. reynell.
murray found don juan, cantos vi, vii and viii “so outrageously outrageous” that he refused to publish them. Byron responded by withdrawing from Murray and turning to John Hunt as his editor. Then, between December and January 1823, he composed a cutting satire, The Bronze Age (published by John Hunt in 1823). As the title suggests, Byron expresses his disillusionment with the modern age, his goals being both political and economic.
in the summer of 1823 he told his guest “the most beautiful” marguerite, countess of blessing, that “he who is only a poet has done little for humanity”; therefore, he “he would endeavor to prove in his own person that a poet can be a soldier.” To this end, he devoted himself to the Greek War of Independence from the Turks, which began in March 1821. In May he was elected to the London Greek Committee, recently formed to aid fighting insurgents, in his offer of personal assistance. to the patriots setting sail from genoa on july 16, bound for leghorn and greece, he was accompanied by pietro gamba, trelawny, and a considerable sum of money and medical supplies for the greek cause, he also packed gold and scarlet uniforms and heroic helmets for their landing on the greek shores.on august 3rd they reached the island of cephalonia, then under british protection.byron did not immediately commit himself to any faction, preferring to wait for signs of unity in the greek effort… bent on war, he did not give time to poetry, he added nothing to the stanzas of don juan, canto xvii, which had begun in genoa.
Unbeknownst to him, John Hunt published Don Juan, Cantos VI, VII, and VIII in July. In the July 1823 issue of Blackwood’s magazine, “Timothy Tickler” (William Maginn) attacked them as “mere filth” for abusing chastity, marriage, monarchy, and legitimate government. in the september issue of blackwood’s “odoherty” (john gibson lockhart) he argued that cantos ix, x and xi were, “without exception, lord byron’s earliest works”, containing the best samples of his serious poetry and of the “ridiculous” contemporary. poetry”; Don Juan was “destined to have a permanent place” in British literature.
in november byron agreed to lend 4,000 pounds to the greek fleet for its activation. In January 1824 he joined the moderate leader Prince Alexander Mavrokordátos on the mainland in the swampy Missolonghi. Wearing his red military uniform, Byron was enthusiastically greeted with shouts, salutes, and salutes, and hailed as a “messiah.” on the eve of his birthday he turned once more to poetry to express his feelings about his life and the principles of liberty; The 10 stanzas of “On this day I am thirty-six years old” constitute one of his last poems. For the next three and a half months, every occasion—military, political, physical, climatic, and love—seemed to conspire against him: his leading a planned attack on the Turkish fortress 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 corpulence, deteriorated under the constant stress and cold winter rains in missolonghi; The emotional frustration of her unrequited love for her handsome 15-year-old page, Loukas Chalandritsanos, seems to have inspired her last poem (posthumously titled and published as “Love and Death”) which concludes, “Neither can I blame you, even if it is my luck / loving you strongly, mistakenly, still in vain.” despite uncertainty and setbacks, he continued to dedicate money and energy to mavrokordátos and the Greek cause.
In March 1824, John and H.L. caza published the last complete sections of don juan, cantos xv and xvi. the literary gazette declared them “devoid of the least hint of talent” and “miserable” “pieces of things put together”.
On April 9, after being drenched in heavy rain while riding, Byron suffered from a fever and rheumatic pains. on the 12th he was seriously ill. the repeated bleeding weakened him further. on easter sunday, he went into a coma. At 6:00 PM on Easter Monday, April 19, 1824, during a violent electrical storm, Byron died.
At memorial services across the country, he was proclaimed a national hero of Greece. His death was effective in uniting Greece against the enemy and drawing support for their struggle from all parts of the civilized world. In October 1827 British, French and Russian forces destroyed the Turkish and Egyptian fleets at Navarino, ensuring Greek independence, which was recognized by the Sultan in 1829.
byron’s body arrived in england on june 29 and spent two days in a house on great george street, london. on friday 16 july 1824 lord byron was buried in the family vault below the chancel of hucknall torkard church near newstead abbey.
The fame that Byron aroused in London in 1812 quickly spread throughout Europe and the English-speaking world thanks to dozens of translations and editions. his influence was penetrating and prolonged. Alfred de Musset was his disciple in France, Alexander Pushkin in Russia, Heinrich Heine in Germany, Adam Mickiewicz in Poland. His poetry inspired musical compositions by Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; operas by gaetano donizetti and giuseppe verdi; and paintings by j.m.w. Turner, John Martin, Ford Madox Brown, and Eugène Delacroix. His spirit animated liberal revolutionary movements: most of the officers executed after the failed Decembrist uprising of 1825 in Russia were Byronists; Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini associated Byron with the eternal struggle of the oppressed to be free. Shelley, Heine, and others adopted Byron’s open-necked shirt, which he wears in Thomas Phillips’ striking 1814 painting.
philosophically and stylistically, byron stands apart from the other great romantics. he was the least insular, the most cosmopolitan of them. poetic imagination was not for him, as it was for them, the means of revealing the ultimate truth. he wanted coleridge to “explain his explanation” of his thought. He did not long embrace Wordsworth’s belief in the benevolence of nature, nor did he embrace Shelley’s faith in human perfectibility, nor did he experience Keats’ private vision. However, as Leslie A. Marchand observes, “the core of his thought and the basis of his poetry is romantic aspiration,” and evidences a “romantic enthusiasm for life and experience.” In narrative skill, Byron is second to none in English poetry, save for Geoffrey Chaucer; As Ronald Bottrall points out, Byron, like his illustrious predecessor, could “sum up a society and an age.” His themes are fundamental: life and death, growth and decay, humanity and nature. His “apotheosis of the commonplace” is, for Edward E. Bostetter, “one of his great contributions to the language of poetry.” Lacking the inhibitions of his contemporaries, Byron created verse that is exuberant, spontaneous, expansive, digressive, concrete, lucid, colloquial, in celebration of “unadorned reality.”
“I was born for opposition,” Byron proclaimed in Don Juan, Canto XV. the salient elements of his poetry support his self-analysis and ensure his enduring reputation. as an important political and social satirist, he repeatedly denounces war, tyranny and hypocrisy, as a tireless champion of freedom, he firmly believed that “revolution / alone can save the earth from the pollution of hell”, a principle that he defended with his life.
the last word belongs properly to byron, who captured its essence in childe harold canto iv:
But I have lived, and I have not lived in vain: my mind may lose its strength, my blood its fire, and my body perish even as pain overcomes, but there is something within me that torture and time will weary, and I breathe when I expire [.]