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George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (January 22, 1788 – April 19, 1824), commonly known as Lord Byron, was the most widely read English language poet of his day. His best-known works are the narrative poems Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan. The latter remained incomplete on his death.
Byron's fame rests not only on his writings, but also on his life, which featured extravagant living, debts, separation, allegations of incest and his eventual death from fever after he travelled to fight on the Greek side in the Greek War of Independence.
Lord Byron wrote prolifically. 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, arguably ranks as the most important poem published in England since Milton's Paradise Lost. Don Juan, Byron's masterpiece, often called the epic of its time, has roots deep in literary tradition and, although regarded by early Victorians as somewhat shocking, equally involves itself with its own contemporary world at all levels – social, political, literary and ideological.
- The First Kiss of Love (1806) 
- Thoughts Suggested by a College Examination (1806) 
- To a Beautiful Quaker (1807) 
- The Cornelian (1807) 
- Lines Addressed to a Young Lady (1807) 
- Epitaph to a dog (1808) 
- English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809) 
- The Giaour (1813) 
- She Walks in Beauty (1814) 
- The Corsair (1814) 
- The Prisoner Of Chillon (1816) 
- Prometheus (1816)
- Manfred (1817) 
- Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1818) 
- Beppo (1818)
- Cain (1821)
- Don Juan (1824) 
The Byronic hero pervades much of Byron's work. He presents an idealised but flawed character whose attributes include:
- having a distaste for society and social institutions
- suffering exile
- expressing a lack of respect for rank and privilege
- having great talent
- hiding an unsavoury past
- exhibiting great passion
- ultimately, acting in a self-destructive manner
Born in London, Byron was christened George Gordon after his maternal grandfather, George Gordon, 12th Laird of Ghight, a descendant of James I. His grandfather committed suicide in 1779. Byron's mother, Lady 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 contributed to Catherine's ambivalent treatment of her son: scolding at one moment and loving at another. When Byron's mother-in-law died, her will stipulated that her beneficiaries must take her family name in order to inherit. Lord Byron added it and became George Gordon Noel Byron in 1822.
Byron's parents had separated before his birth. Lady Catherine moved back to Scotland shortly afterwards, raised her son in Aberdeen in strained circumstances until May 21, 1798, when he had reached the age of ten and the death of his great-uncle, William Byron, 5th Baron Byron, made him the sixth Baron Byron. He received his formal education at Harrow and at 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 William Lamb, the future Prime Minister. She inspired the epigram that ends Byron's Versicles: "Caro Lamb, Goddamn." Rumours suggest he also fell in love with a choir boy, though scholars dispute the veracity and relevance of this. But his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, occupied the central place in his heart -- he wrote many passionate poems in her honour. She had been separated from her husband since 1811 when she gave birth on April 15, 1814 to a daughter, 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 the Lady Caroline. They married at Seaham Hall, County Durham on January 2, 1815. The marriage proved unhappy; Byron treated her terribly and showed great disappointment at the birth of a daughter (Ada) rather than a son. On January 16, 1816, Lady Byron left George, taking Ada with her. On April 21, Byron signed the Deed of Separation and left Lady Byron and England for good a few days later. He never saw either again. (Ada later on worked with Charles Babbage on a memoir on the Analytical Engine and became known as the writer of the world's first computer program.)
In the summer of 1816 Lord Byron and his personal physician, John William Polidori settled in Switzerland, at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva. There he became friends with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a fellow poet, and with his wife-to-be Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. He was also joined by Mary's step-sister, Claire Clairmont, with whom he had had an affair in London. Byron initially refused to have anything to do with Claire, and would only agree to remain in her presence with the Shelleys, who eventually persuaded Byron to accept and provide for Allegra, the child she bore him in January 1817.
At the Villa Diodati, kept indoors by the "incessant rain" of that "wet, ungenial summer", over three days in June the five turned to reading fantastical stories, including "Fantasmagoriana" (in the French edition), and then devising their own tales. Mary Shelley produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron's to produce The Vampyre, the progenitor of the romantic vampire genre. Byron's story fragment was published as a postscript to Mazeppa.
Byron 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 mistress, the Contessa 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 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet, then sailed for Messolonghi 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. Byron 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 the bleeding -- insisted on by his doctors -- aggravated. The cold became a violent fever, and he died on April 19.
The Greeks mourned Lord Byron deeply, and he became a national hero (Viron, the Greek form of "Byron", continues in popularity as a boy's name in Greece). His body was embalmed and his heart buried under a tree in Messolonghi. 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 baronage passed to a cousin, George Anson Byron (1789–1868), a career military officer and Byron's polar opposite in temperament and lifestyle.
Lord Byron, by all accounts, had a particularly attractive personality – one may say astonishingly so. He obtained a reputation as being unconventional, eccentric, flamboyant and controversial. One of the most curious patterns in both his life and his writings involves the conflict between his oft-expressed cynicism about humanity, and his passion for defending the downtrodden. From his early schooldays, he had a reputation as a ferocious enemy of bullies, and in his brief time in Parliament he defended both Catholics and Luddites.
Byron had a great fondness for animals, most famously for a Newfoundland dog named Boatswain; when Boatswain contracted rabies, Byron reportedly nursed him without any fear of becoming bitten and infected. Boatswain lies buried at Newstead Abbey – the family's ancestral home that Byron sold in 1818 for £94,500 to pay his debts – and has a monument larger than his master's. The inscription, Byron's "Epitaph to a dog", has become one of his best-known works:
- NEAR this spot
- Are deposited the Remains
- of one
- Who possessed Beauty
- Without Vanity,
- Strength without Insolence,
- Courage without Ferocity,
- And all the Virtues of Man
- Without his Vices.
- This Praise, which would be unmeaning flattery
- If inscribed over Human Ashes,
- Is but a just tribute to the Memory of
- "Boatswain," a Dog
- Who was born at Newfoundland,
- May, 1803,
- And died at Newstead Abbey
- Nov. 18, 1808.
Lord Byron also kept 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. Lady Caroline Lamb famously described him as "mad, bad and dangerous to know". Many attribute some of Byronís extraordinary abilities to his affliction with bipolar disorder, commonly known as manic depression.
Byron allegedly had an abnormally large brain, claimed by Carl Sagan in his book The Dragons of Eden as having weighed 2.2 kilograms--far short of the ten pound (4.5 kilogram) estimate generally considered to be apocryphal. In spite of his deformed right leg he rather excelled at athletics and turned out for Harrow in the annual cricket match at Lord's against Eton. Byron was a strong swimmer and, in emulation of 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.
Nearly 200 years have gone by since the publication of fourth and final canto of Childe Harold, yet Byron's fame as a Romantic poet has not declined. The re-founding of the Byron Society  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 some 36 International Byron Societies function throughout the world, and an International Conference takes place annually. Hardly a year passes without a new book about the poet appearing. In the last 20 years two new feature films about him have screened, and a television play has been broadcast.
|Baron Byron||Followed by:|
George Anson Byron
- Lord Byron (chronology)
- Bridge of Sighs
- Byron's Love Affairs
- Asteroid 3306 Byron, named after the poet
- Henry Edward Yelverton, 19th Baron Grey de Ruthyn
- The Byron Society
- The Byron Society's Journal
- Letters of Lord Byron
- Biography of Claire Clairmont
- Link to Byron message board
- Newstead Abbey, Byron's ancestral home
- Centre for Byron Studies, University of Nottingham
-  List of Byron's poems
-  Byron quotes
- Lord George Gordon Byron – Biography & Works
- The Polidori Files The web's first link portal devoted entirely to Lord Byron's personal physician John William Polidori, author of "The Vampyre".
- Links to Byron's Poetry
Freely available electronic texts from Project Gutenberg:
- Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
- Byron's Poetical Works, Vol. 1
- The Works Of Lord Byron, Letters and Journals, Vol. 1
- The Works of Lord Byron: Letters and Journals, Vol. 2
- The biography Byron by John Nichol
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