George Gordon Byron
(1788-1824)George Gordon Byron, more commonly known as Lord Byron, accomplished more in his thirty-six years than most people achieve in a lifetime. He was born on January 22, 1788 in London to Catherine Gordon of Gight and John “Mad Jack” Byron. Catherine was heiress to the Gight estate in Scotland, and Captain “Mad Jack” was a British Army officer. Byron suffered a difficult early life, from a deformed foot to a cruel father who put his family into debt and a violently temperamental, alcoholic mother. In 1798, Byron’s uncle died and he inherited Newstead Abbey, making him the 6th Baron Byron.
Outside of school, the young Byron began experimenting with language. When he was seventeen, he wrote his first collection of poetry titled Fugitive Pieces, which he later burned himself. He then wrote Hours of Idleness, which received scathing criticism and prompted Byron to write his first satirical works, including English Bards and Scotch Reviewers in 1809. He did not find true success, however, until the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812.
Because he was a nobleman, Byron journeyed around Europe and continued writing during his adventures. By the time he returned to England, his mother had passed away and he was on the brink of entering several scandals and disastrous relationships. These included an affair with his half-sister Augusta and a volatile marriage with a woman named Anna Isabella Milbanke. With Milbanke he had a daughter, Ada Lovelace, who went on to become the world’s first computer programmer.
After his marriage ended, Byron exiled himself from England and began travelling Europe again. He became good friends with other writers, including the Shelley family. He also began an affair and had a child with their friend Claire Clairmont. In 1818, he began working on his most famous work, Don Juan — a satirical poem in which Byron portrays the legendary Don Juan as a victim of lusty women. In the 1820s, he settled down with a young Italian woman named Teresa, but domestic life did not suit him for long and he eventually joined in the Greek fight against the Turks.
In February 1824, Byron fell ill prior to his planned attack on Lepanto. Before the expedition, Byron underwent bloodletting that only sickened him further. He caught fever and died on April 19th. No one mourned Byron’s death as much as the Greeks, who considered him their national hero. Although his body returned to England, some reports claim that his heart stayed in Greece. Westminster Abbey refused to bury him because of his scandalous lifestyle, so Byron was buried at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.
Lord Byron is now considered the quintessential Romantic poet. The term “Byronic hero” comes from Byron’s own self-inserted persona into his works — a melancholy, brooding hero tortured by his own past. A popular celebrity of his time, he is remembered for his glorification of the ordinary in both poetry and plays.
"Darkness" by Lord Byron
“Lord Byron (George Gordon),” Poetry Foundation, 2016. Accessed 30 Sept. 2016.
Jerome McGann, ‘Byron, George Gordon Noel, sixth Baron Byron (1788–1824)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. May 2015. Accessed 30 Sept. 2016.
Page by Maddie Gallo