Lord Byron

Σύνοψη

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, usually called Lord Byron, is a British poet, born on January 22, 1788 in London and died on April 19, 1824 in Missolonghi, Greece, then under Ottoman rule. He is one of the most illustrious poets of the literary history of English language. Although classical in taste, he represents one of the great figures of English romanticism, with William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats.

He wanted to be an orator in the House of Lords, but it was his melancholic and semi-autobiographical poems that made him famous: Hours of Idleness, and especially Childe Harold, inspired by his trip to the East, propagating the model of the romantic hero, whose resounding success in 1813 surprised him. He then distinguished himself in various poetic genres, narrative, lyrical, epic, as well as in short works, including some of his best known, such as She walks in beauty, When we two parted and So, we”ll go no more a roving, each of them singing a moment of personal nostalgia. He had to leave England in 1816, due to the public scandal caused by the failure of his marriage and his incestuous relationship with his half-sister. In his next works, breaking with the romanticism of his youth, he gives free rein to sarcasm, to his genius for rhyme and improvisation, with Beppo and his masterpiece, Don Juan.

Great defender of freedom, revolted against the politics and society of his time, the Europe of the Congress, he was involved in all the struggles against oppression: in England in defense of the Luddites, in Italy with the Carbonari, in Greece in the fight for independence. Out of the ordinary and sulphurous, a man of conviction as much as of contradictions, both dark and facetious, excessive in everything, a sportsman, with multiple liaisons (with men and women), he remains a source of inspiration for many artists, painters, musicians, writers and directors.

Grandson of John Byron, he is the father of Lady Ada Byron King of Lovelace and Elisabeth Médora Leigh-Byron.

Greece honors him as one of the heroes of its struggle for independence.

Youth

George Gordon is the son of John Byron, captain of the Coldstream Guards, nicknamed “Mad Jack”. After fighting in America, the captain seduced Amelia Osborne, Marchioness of Carmarthen, daughter of Robert Darcy (4th Earl of Holderness), then deserted to marry her, fleeing with her to France, where she gave birth to a daughter, Augusta (born 1784), before dying.

Back in Great Britain, he married George Gordon”s mother, Catherine Gordon de Gight (1765-1811), from a family of Aberdeenshire, descended from the Stuarts. He married her for her fortune, which he quickly squandered. To escape his creditors, he moved regularly. Pregnant, Catherine joined him for a while in France, where she took care of her stepdaughter Augusta. Not understanding a word of French and ruined, she returned to England to give birth in London, where her son, George Gordon, was born on January 22, 1788, at 16 Holles Street, Cavendish Square. The child was born with a deformed right foot, a club foot, the heel raised and the sole turned inward, and Catherine Gordon wrote “George”s foot is turned inward; it is his right foot. He really walks on the side of his foot. For the rest of his life, Byron had to wear an orthopedic shoe and retained a slight limp.

With little means, Catherine Gordon retired to Aberdeen in Scotland, where she lived on a meager income of one hundred and thirty pounds (£130). After residing for a short time with his wife and son, John Byron returned to France and frequented chambermaids and actresses. He died in Valenciennes in 1791.

Fatherless from the age of three, Byron first studied in a local school, then in 1794 he entered a college in Aberdeen to learn Latin. He proved to be a mediocre student, but began to read a lot, including many stories about the Orient.

The irascible and capricious character of his mother, who transferred to him the overflowing love and anger she felt for his father, gave rise to a certain irritability in Byron, which would later manifest itself, especially during his marriage. He fits remarkably well into the canons of beauty of the time, although a little chubby during his young years, with grey-blue eyes, curly auburn hair, and a great shyness, he is complexed by his infirmity, which he compensates for by intense sports activities, particularly running and swimming, practiced during his vacations in the Dee Valley. It is there that he learns to feel Scottish: wearing the Gordon tartan, his walks make him appreciate the surrounding mountains:

He met, probably in 1795, his cousin Marie Duff, who plunged him into a feverish love: “my grief, my love for this little girl was so violent that I sometimes wonder if I have ever been in love since”. It was around 1797, when he was nine years old, that his governess May Gray, a very pious woman who taught him to read the Bible, “came to find him in his bed and played with his body.

Newstead and Harrow

In May 1798, in accordance with English law, he inherited the title of his great-uncle Lord William, fifth Baron Byron of Rochdale, who had died without a direct heir, and the ancestral estate of Newstead Abbey, in the heart of Sherwood Forest, an ancient abbey given to one of his ancestors by Henry VIII.

The house was in a state of great disrepair (the great-uncle had died in debt because he had undertaken to ruin the estate in order to disinherit his son… who had died before him), but these Gothic ruins, as well as the Byron coat of arms, fascinated the young boy. It was there that in the summer of 1800 (he was 12 years old) he fell in love with his cousin Margaret Parker, “one of the most beautiful and evanescent creatures”, for whom he wrote his first poems.

In April 1801 his entourage, judging his mother”s laxity harmful to the child, decided to send him, thanks to a Chancellery pension, to the Public School of Harrow. There he made friends – nobles and commoners alike, fought to defend the youngest, got into mischief, read a lot, tried his hand at all sports, and became a good cricketer. During a vacation at Newstead Abbey in 1803, he fell in love with a local girl, Mary Chaworth, and refused to return to school. He was only fifteen years old and Mary, two years older and already engaged, disdained this limp and chubby child: “She personified the ideal of all the beauty my youthful imagination could conceive, and all my fantasies of the heavenly nature of women found their origin in the perfection my dream had created in her – I say created, for I realized that, like all other creatures of her sex, she was anything but angelic.

Newstead is rented to a certain Lord Grey, who apparently makes sexual advances on Byron. He is horrified and returns to school in January. He consoles himself with the platonic affection he feels for his classmate the Earl of Clare: “My friendships at school were passions to me (but I don”t think any of them have survived to this day. My friendship with Lord Clare was one of the first and most lasting. He met his half-sister Augusta, who became his confidante. In his letters, he complains about his mother”s constant reproaches, who compares him to his father, and about Lord Grey”s behavior. He dreams of becoming a parliamentary speaker and, during a vacation in London, he goes to hear speeches in the House of Commons.

Hours of idleness

At the age of 17, in October 1805, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, reluctantly and saddened by the marriage of Mary Chaworth: “When I arrived at Trinity I was unhappy and desperate in the extreme. I was sorry to leave Harrow, which I had grown to love the last two years; sorry to go to Cambridge and not Oxford; sorry for various other personal reasons; and consequently about as sociable as a wolf separated from its pack.

Although he did not study much: “Since I left Harrow, I have become lazy and vain from scribbling verses and courting women,” he made lasting friendships with Charles Skinner Matthews, Scrope Bedmore Davies, and John Cam Hobhouse, with whom he frequented the Cambridge Whig Club, and whom he affectionately nicknamed Hobby, as well as a platonic love affair with a young chorister, John Edleston.

He quickly obtained his “degrees in the art of vice”, while being “the most serious of the whole college”. He bought a bear, which he kept above his room, flirted with women, frequented prostitutes, went into debt, went on a diet, swam a lot, played cricket, learned boxing and fencing… Above all, he began to publish self-published verses, at first gallant and satirical poems, which earned him criticism from his entourage. He then decided to adopt “an infinitely correct and miraculously chaste register”. It will be Hours of Idleness, published in June 1807, and whose title was chosen by the publisher, where his precocious passions, his whimsical mood, his skepticism and his misanthropy are displayed.

Having learned nothing at Cambridge, but having graduated, he lives in London and exhausts himself with prostitutes, drunken parties and boxing matches. To put an end to this life of debauchery, which impaired his health and ruined him, as well as to prepare his career in Parliament, the idea of a trip to Greece germinated in his mind. He wrote to his mother on November 2, 1808: “If one does not see other countries than one”s own, one cannot give humanity a chance.

After verification of his credentials, he was officially accepted into the House of Lords on March 13, 1809.

In reaction to a scathing review of his collection Hours of Idleness in the Edinburgh Review, he publishes English Bards and Scottish Critics, in which he vilifies contemporary writers who, compared to Pope, he writes, are “little brains”, or “impostors and fools”. His satire met with some success and was republished several times, but it did not go unnoticed, especially by the poet Thomas Moore, with whom he was later reconciled.

At Newstead, where he has set up his bear, he sleeps with maids and a farmer”s son, John Rushton, whom he makes his page. Before leaving, he organizes parties in which his friends disguised as monks play at scaring each other, himself drinking from a cup made from a human skull.

The journey to the Orient

On June 19, 1809, very saddened by the death of his dog Boatswain (pronounced: ), he hurried his departure for Greece, via Falmouth, with his friend John Cam Hobhouse, his assistant John Rushton and his valet Fletcher. While waiting for a ship to Malta, he wrote facetious letters to his friends, anticipating a chapter in the book Hobhouse was preparing entitled “On Simplified Sodomy or Pedesy as a Praiseworthy Practice According to Ancient Authors and Modern Practice. Hobhouse hoped to compensate himself in Turkey for the exemplary chastity he had shown in England, by delivering his “pretty body” to the Divan.

Finally, he left Falmouth on July 2, 1809 for Lisbon, then Seville, Cadiz and Gibraltar. He arrived in Malta on August 19, 1809. There he fell in love with Constance Spencer Smith, the wife of an English nobleman, with whom he even planned to run away. He stayed one month in Malta before leaving for Epirus, landing in Preveza on September 20, 1809. He then went to Ioannina, then to Tepelen where he was received by Ali Pacha. He starts writing Childe Harold in October. At the end of November he went to Patras from Missolonghi, and in December he visited Delphi, Thebes and Athens where he was troubled by his landlady”s daughter, Teresa (12 years old), to whom he dedicated Maid of Athens. He embarked from Attica for Smyrna at the beginning of March 1810, swam across the Hellespont, before reaching Constantinople.

It left Constantinople on July 14, 1810, stopped at Zéa, then reached Athens again on July 17. Hobhouse returned to England, leaving him with Fletcher, a Tatar, two Albanian soldiers and a drogman. He learns modern Greek with an ephebe, and Italian with his lover Nicolo Giraud, who proposes to live and die with him, which Lord Byron prefers to avoid. His vision of the Greeks changed: at first without opinion, he draws more and more his poetic inspiration from ancient Greece, but also from contemporary Greece and the sufferings it endures under the Ottoman boot.

In April 1811, he decided to return to England. In his luggage, he brought back marbles, skulls found in sarcophagi, four turtles and a vial of hemlock. He arrived in Malta on May 22, 1811. Rather demoralized, he gave himself some

“Reasons for a lifestyle change:

In July 1811, he was back in England. His mother died in August, as did his friend John Skinner Matthews, and later, in October, his childhood sweetheart John Edleston, deaths that further overshadowed his return.

The glory

Playing a political role in the House of Lords has been his wish since Harrow, poetry being for him a secondary activity. His clearly liberal ideas (for liberties and against oppression) put him in opposition, on the side of the Whigs. On February 27, 1812, he made a speech against the death penalty applied to Luddites, the machine-breaking workers, highlighting their distress and the cruelty of the law. But his project was rejected by the House of Commons. He kept from his political experience a certain bitterness against these “parliamentary pantalonnades”, even if he will repeat the experience, by taking the defense of the Irish Catholics in April 1812.

On March 10, 1812, the year in which he was forced to sell Newstead Abbey – he found a buyer five years later – he published the first two songs of Childe Harold”s Pilgrimage, an account of his travel impressions and his own adventures, with John Murray. It was a huge success: “I woke up one morning,” he says, “and I learned that I was famous.

From 1812 to 1814, the publication of The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair (ten thousand copies were sold on the first day) and Lara, increased public enthusiasm for him. Byron frequented the salon of Lord Holland”s wife, a Whig parliamentarian, as well as the circles of London”s aristocratic youth. At first intimidated, he met many admirers, including Lady Caroline Lamb, who wrote in her diary, after meeting him, that he was “mad, wicked, and dangerous to know. In April, he began a short and tumultuous affair with her, which, frightened by the excessive and whimsical character of the lady, he ended in July. Lady Lamb would later paint a very exaggerated picture of him in her novel Glenarvon. In December, he had a more peaceful relationship with Lady Oxford.

From July 1813 onwards, he spent a lot of time with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, to whom he became deeply attached, most likely to the point of incest. He writes to Lady Melbourne: “but it was not her fault – my own folly (give it a better name if you must) and her weakness were the only ones responsible – for – our respective intentions were very different, and for some time we kept to them – and when we departed from them, it was I who was at fault. They had a daughter together, named after the heroine of the poem Le Corsaire, Medora, born on April 14, 1814. On the other hand, judging by his letters, as well as by the Stances to Augusta, written during the stay at the Villa Diodati in 1816, as well as by the verses to My Sweet Sister, destroyed at his death on his express wish, this question of incest leaves little doubt.

In order to detach himself from this guilty love, he flirts with the wife of one of his friends, Lady Frances Webster, stopping at the “first time of the verb to love.”

The marital disaster

Tired of living in dissipation and thinking to solve the imbroglio of his love affairs by a marriage of reason, he reiterates his request to Anne Isabella known as “Annabella”, cousin of Caroline Lamb, daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke, baronet of County Durham, who finally gives her consent. They had known each other for several years and corresponded regularly, Byron calling her “the mathematician” or “the Princess of Parallelograms”. He had high hopes for her: “She is so good,” he wrote, “that I would like to become better”, but at the last moment, while spending Christmas at his sister”s house, he hesitated to commit himself. Augusta persuades him not to break off the engagement. His friend Hobhouse, who accompanied him to Seaham, the Milbanks” residence, noted in his diary: “There never was a lover in less of a hurry” and later: “The groom more and more less impatient”. The wedding took place on January 2, 1815 in the drawing room of the Seaham residence, with only the family, two clergymen and Hobhouse present. After the ceremony, the bride and groom immediately left for Yorkshire on their honeymoon, which Byron would later call “The Molasses Moon”.

After a terrible trip, the wedding night is a disaster: very modest because of his infirmity, Byron refuses at first to sleep in the same bed as his wife, then finally accepts. When he wakes up, he says to himself “that he was really in hell with Proserpine by his side!” Thereafter, however, back in Seaham, the married couple know moments of tenderness, the very loving Annabella forgiving all to her husband to the least of his kindnesses. Preoccupied by financial worries, Byron wants to return to London, and Annabella insists on accompanying him. On the way, they stop at Augusta”s house, where he shows himself obnoxious with his wife, multiplying allusions to his intimacy with her sister.

In March, the newlyweds moved to Picadilly Terrace, near Hyde Park in London. In April, Lord Byron met Walter Scott, for whom he had great admiration. The relationship between the two spouses becomes progressively tense. Lady Byron, gentle, intelligent and cultured, but respectful of all the prejudices of the cant, that is to say the language of propriety and decorum, is virtuous and takes too seriously the jokes of her husband. If you would pay no attention to what I say,” he writes to her, “we would get along perfectly. She struggles to get along with a man with such free language and morals, often provocative and angry. On the other hand, he remained very much in love with his sister, while being tortured by guilt. During her pregnancy, she was neglected by her husband, who sought outside entertainment, frequenting theaters and actresses (he was a member of the management committee of the Drury Lane theater in May), and often returning home in a drunken state. In his fits of anger, he confessed his infidelities to her, and was particularly rude to her. In addition to this, the financial embarrassments constantly increasing, which “make him half mad. In November 1815, Byron was forced to sell his library, and in less than a year the bailiffs broke into his house nine times.

The scandal

On December 10, 1815, Annabella gave birth to a daughter, Augusta Ada (Ada de Lovelace). Lord Byron is noisily anxious during the birth. In the days that follow, Annabella suspects her husband of having dementia, and writes an account of his disturbances, which she submits to a doctor. On January 6, 1816, her husband asks her to join his parents with the child, while waiting for him to settle with his creditors. She left London on the 15th. When she arrived in Kirby, she sent him a letter full of affection, but she had already set herself a rule of conduct: “If he is insane, I will do everything possible to alleviate his pain, but if his condition does not justify care, I will never return to his home. She confessed her suffering to her parents, who refused to allow her to return to her husband”s side. On January 18, 1816, all “torn that it is”, she lists the outrages which she estimates to have undergone.

On February 2, Sir Ralph Milbank proposes to Lord Byron, stunned, an amicable separation. Crushed, he writes many letters to his wife, asking her for explanations, protesting his love, and imploring her forgiveness. Annabella, in spite of a remainder of affection for her husband, maintains her position, and starts to feel jealousy towards Augusta. She mentions her suspicions of incest to her lawyer, but ends up basing the request for separation solely on “Byron”s brutal and improper conduct and language”. Hobhouse joins his friend in London, trying to help and support him. He echoes rumors, probably spread by Caroline Lamb, that circulate about Byron: besides incest and homosexuality, he is suspected of having had “an unconventional sexual approach” with his wife. Byron will allude to it in 1819: “They tried to dirty me on this earth with infamy of which (In the Inferno of Dante, Jacopo Rusticucci is consigned in the circle reserved for the sodomites). The separation will be officially pronounced in April 1816.

Unhappy, but without rancor, he wrote a poem to Annabella, Porte-toi bien, and then published The Siege of Corinth (written during his year of marital cohabitation, the poem having been copied from his wife”s hand) and Parisina. The publisher Murray sent a check for one thousand guineas (£1100) for both of them, which Byron returned. During this period, he received frequent visits from an admirer, Claire Clairmont, who, insisting, ended up seducing him.

Victim of the cant, hated by politicians for his liberal ideas and his sympathy for Napoleon, fleeing from his creditors, Byron decided to leave England, and embarked at Dover with Rushton, his servant Fletcher and a young doctor, John William Polidori, on April 24, 1816; he would not return.

Villa Diodati

Demoralized by having to leave his sister and by having to endure the conditions of her separation: “She – or rather this separation – has broken my heart,” he writes, “it is as if an elephant had passed over me, and I will never get over it, I am convinced; but I am trying.” in May, where the sight of the battlefield of Waterloo inspires him to write new songs for Childe Harold; then he travels to Switzerland, where he looks for a villa to rent on the shores of Lake Geneva.

It was on the shores of the lake that he met, in May 1816, the poet Shelley, accompanied by Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont, the latter seeking to join him. Byron rented the Villa Diodati, while the Shelleys moved into a small house in Montalègre. The two poets, having much in common, quickly developed a friendly relationship, and spent long periods together on the lake or on excursions, notably to the castle of Chillon, which marked them both. The Shelleys, who nicknamed him “Albé”, often came to visit him at the Villa Diodati; Claire Clairmont, in love and pregnant with him, looking for pretexts to see him alone, took charge of copying some of his poems, and Percy Shelley liked to discuss religion and politics. “It was a novelty for Byron to find people free from social conventions, intelligent and cultured, ready to discuss any subject. When the weather did not allow them to go out, the new friends told each other ghost stories, including the collection translated from German Fantasmagoriana. It was during one of these evenings that Byron suggested that they each write a novel of terror. He wrote only a few pages, later taken up and enlarged by Polidori, and published under the title of The Vampire, while Mary Shelley began her Frankenstein.

He finished the third song of Childe Harold on July 10, and wrote The Prisoner of Chillon. From the other side of the lake, English tourists, attracted by his sulphurous reputation, observe him with binoculars and spread gossip about him. While the Shelleys went on an excursion to Chamonix, he visited Madame de Staël in Coppet. Although he enjoyed her company, he made some enemies, notably Auguste Schlegel who did not like him very much. When the Shelleys return, he avoids Claire Clairmont, from whom he wishes to separate. On August 14, Matthew Gregory Lewis, the author of the gothic novel The Monk, comes to visit him, and he ironizes on his clumsiness as an author. At the end of the month, Hobhouse and Scrope Davies joined him. The Shelleys returned to England, and Byron left for the Bernese Alps with his friends in September. He keeps a travel diary for his sister, and writes her letters reminding her of their attachment: “We could have lived so happily and unmarried, old girl and old boy. I will never find anyone like you, nor you (though it seems fat of me) someone like me. We are exactly made to spend our lives together. The view of the glaciers in the Oberland was the inspiration for his drama Manfred, in which he poured out the guilt that overwhelmed him.

On October 5, he left the Villa Diodati in the company of Hobhouse, with the vague project of returning to Greece, passing first through Venice.

Venice

In Milan, the two friends took a box at the Scala, met the Italian authors Silvio Pellico and Vincenzo Monti, as well as Stendhal, who recounted this meeting to one of his friends: “a pretty and charming young man, figure of eighteen years, although he has twenty-eight, profile of an angel, the sweetest air. During the days which followed, Stendhal made him visit Milan. Overcome with admiration for Lord Byron, he tried to impress him with fanciful anecdotes about the Russian campaign and Napoleon, to whom he made believe he was very close. Byron became enamored with the letters of Lucretia Borgia, which he discovered in the Ambrosian Library.

Byron and Hobhouse arrived in Venice on November 10, 1816. They first stayed at the Hotel de Grande-Bretagne, then moved to the Mocenigo Palace on the Grand Canal, with fourteen servants, horses and a real menagerie. Byron hired a tall, bearded gondolier named Tita, frequented the salon of Countess Albrizzi, participated in several successive carnivals, swam in the Grand Canal to the Lido, had an affair with Marianna Segati, of whom he wrote: “His great merit is to have discovered mine; nothing is more pleasant than discernment”, then Margarita Cogni, whom he nicknamed “the Fornarina”, as well as many other women (actresses, ballerinas, prostitutes), which he commented in another letter: “Send me, please, all the money that Murray will want to pay for my cerebral elucubrations. I will never consent to give up what I earn, which is mine, and what my brain gives me, I will spend on copulation, as long as I have a testicle left. I will not live long, so I must enjoy it while I can.

During his stay, Byron met the Mekhitarist monks on the island of San Lazzaro and discovered Armenian culture by attending numerous seminars on the language and history of the Armenian people. In collaboration with Father Avgerian, he learned Armenian and became so passionate about it that he wrote English Grammar and Armenian, then Armenian Grammar and English, including quotations from modern and classical Armenian works. He also worked on an English-Armenian dictionary, writing a preface on the history of the oppression of Armenians by Turkish pashas and Persian satrapies. He also translated, among others, two chapters of the history of Armenia by the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi. His commitment has contributed greatly to the promotion of Armenian culture in Europe.

He completed Childe Harold (songs IV and V), wrote Beppo, a Venetian story. In Bath, on January 23, 1817, Claire Clairmont gave birth to a daughter whom she named Alba, whose father Byron was, and whom he renamed Allegra. He writes about this affair: “I never loved her and never pretended to love her, but a man is a man and if a girl of eighteen comes to provoke you at any time, there is only one solution. The result of all this is that she found herself pregnant, and returned to England to help repopulate that sinister island Plague! That”s what it”s like to “let yourself go”, and that”s how people come into the world.

In September 1818, he begins Don Juan, an epic satire: “Encouraged by the good success of Beppo, I have finished the first song (a long song: about 180 stanzas of eight lines) of a poem in the same style and in the same way. It”s called Don Juan, and I wanted it to be slightly and quietly facetious about everything. But I would be surprised if it were not too free for our prudish times.

In 1819, he fell in love with the countess Teresa Guiccioli, twenty years old: “She is as beautiful as the dawn – and as ardent as the noon – we had only ten days – to settle our little affairs from beginning to end, passing through the middle. And we have settled them; – I have done my duty – and the union has been consummated as it should be. He becomes her “Knight Servant”: “I fold a shawl with considerable dexterity – but I have not yet reached perfection in the way of placing it on the shoulders – I get in and out of the carriage, I know how to behave in a conversazione and in the theater” and he follows her to Ravenna, where he settles in her husband”s house, in the Guiccioli palace, respecting, as he writes ironically, “the strictest adultery”. But, when the husband surprises them “almost on the spot”, and wants to put him out, Teresa leaves to take refuge at her father”s, the count Gamba, who obtains from the pope Pie VII, on July 6, 1820, the separation of the couple.

Carbonari, Pisa and Genoa

A friend of the Count and his son Pietro, a member of the Carbonari, who aspired to political freedom and constitutional government, Byron joined their projects, financing the movement (thanks to the sale of Newstead Abbey, his royalties, and an inheritance), and storing weapons: “They (the Carbonari) throw back on my arms and in my house, the same weapons that I had supplied them at their own request, and at my own expense, risk and peril!” But the defeat of the Piedmontese liberals in Novare on April 8, 1821, aborted the insurrection. The Gamba, exiled from the States of the pope, took refuge in Pisa, where Byron joined them three months later.

Byron moved to the Casa Lanfranchi, opposite the Shelley couple. They were joined by friends, Jane and Edward Williams, who, pleasantly surprised by Byron, wrote in his diary: “Far from being haughty in manner, he has a very noble and unaffected ease, and instead of being (as is generally believed) drowned in a dark sadness, he is only sunny, of such a cheerfulness that the elegance of his language and the brilliance of his mind cannot fail to inspire those who approach him”. He was not the only one to be fascinated by the poet, Mary Shelley, who later tried to explain “why Albe, by his presence and voice alone, had the power to awaken in me such deep and indefinable emotions”. In December, Byron began to organize weekly dinner parties, inviting Percy Shelley, English friends, Greek patriots, but never women.

At this time, Marino Faliero, Sardanapale, The Two Foscari, Caïn, but especially the second and fourth chants of Don Juan were published. Don Juan is a naive, passionate, amorous, adventurous hero, a plaything of women and events. From shipwrecks to battles, he crosses Europe, allowing Byron to paint a very critical portrait of the morals and men of his time.

With Shelley, the adventurer John Trelawny and the essayist Leigh Hunt, he founded a periodical, The Liberal, which published only a few issues. In April, Allegra, the daughter of Byron and Claire Clairmont, died at the age of five in the Italian convent where she was boarding. On July 8, the sailing ship carrying Shelley and Edward Williams sank at sea in the Gulf of La Spezia. The bodies were found a few days later. Byron, deeply affected by the death of his friend, wrote to Murray: “You have all been mistaken about Shelley, who was certainly the best and least selfish man I have ever known”.16 August, Byron and Trelawny burned his corpse in the ancient manner on a pyre erected on the beach of Viareggio. Byron went for a long swim, and when he came back, only the heart was left, unconsumed.

At the end of 1822, the Gambas, exiled from Tuscany, moved to Genoa, where Byron joined them in October, moving into the Casa Saluzzo. In April 1823, he was visited by the Count of Orsay and Lady Blessington, who later recounted their conversations. Byron is said to have told her “I am such a curious mixture of good and bad that it would be difficult to define me. There are only two feelings to which I am true: my great love of freedom and my hatred of hypocrisy. His editor, Murray, received very badly the songs VI, VII and VIII of Don Juan, which are situated in the Harem of the Sultan: “I declare to you straightforwardly that they are so outrageously offensive that I would refuse to publish them even if you gave me your Property, your Title and your Genius”, which does not prevent the poet from finishing the tenth and the eleventh.

Missolonghi

In April 1823, he received a visit from Captain Edward Blaquiere, a member of the Philhellenic Committee of London, of which Hobhouse was also a member, accompanied by the delegate of the Greek government Andreas Louriottis, who returned to Greece. To support the cause of independence, Byron proposed to go to the headquarters of the Greek government in July. Encouraged by Hobhouse, he hesitates some time because of his attachment towards Teresa Guiccioli, overwhelmed by the prospect of separation: “A sentence of death would have been less painful to him”.

Finally, after having red and gold uniforms made, and Homeric helmets, he embarked on July 17 with Pietro Gamba, Trelawny, a young Italian doctor, five servants, including Tita and Fletcher, as well as two dogs and four horses, for the island of Cephalonia, on a brig chartered at his expense.

On August 3, they dropped anchor in the port of Argostoli in Cephalonia. Seeing in the distance the mountains of Morée, Byron would have said ” It seems to me that the eleven painful years which I lived since my last stay here were removed from my shoulders. Learning that the Greeks were divided into irreconcilable factions, mainly between Aléxandros Mavrokordátos and Kolokotronis, to the point of having ceased fighting and that the Turks were maintaining the blockade in front of Missolonghi, he remained on the island for four months, spending his days in horseback riding and swimming. During this period, he helps the refugees, pays the salary of forty Souliotes and corresponds in August with Markos Botzaris, just before his death, to know which side to take. The siege of Missolonghi having resumed in the autumn, Byron gave 4 000 livres to arm a relief fleet for the city. During an excursion to the nearby island of Ithaca, he was taken by a temporary attack of dementia. On September 6, Trelawny, bored by inaction, left him to take part in the fights in Attica. Byron fell in love with a young Greek soldier of fifteen years, Loukas Chalandritsanos, of whom he made his page.

Invited to come “to electrify the Souliotes” by Mavrokordátos who had disembarked at Missolonghi on December 11, 1823, he leaves to join him on the 30th with Tita, Fletcher, Loukas, his dog and his doctor. After having narrowly escaped a Turkish frigate and a shipwreck, he disembarked, dressed in his red uniform, in Missolonghi where he was “awaited like the Messiah” on January 5, 1824. He was joyfully welcomed by Alexandros Mavrokordátos, his officers and Pietro Gamba, who arrived before him. In spite of the sad and swampy city and the anarchy which reigns in the army, he tries to remedy the situation with the money received after the sale of his property of Rochdale, and that of the Greek Committee of London. He recruited a corps of Souliote troops, which he took in charge, equipped and trained, but to whose indiscipline he came up against, and whom he finally had to dismiss. A loan having been concluded in February to help the Greek revolutionaries, he must be part of the commission charged by the committee of London to control the use of the funds, in company of colonel Stanhope and Lazare Coundouriotis.

Prematurely aged and tired, affected by the indifference of the young Loukas to the love he bears him, he seems to be impatiently waiting for death. On the eve of his thirty-sixth birthday, he writes a poem summarizing his state of mind:

At the request of Mavrokordátos, he prepared to attack Lepanto with the government forces when, on April 9, he contracted swamp fever during one of his daily horseback rides. Weakened by bloodletting and enemas: “These damned doctors,” he wrote, “have drained me so much that I can hardly stand upright,” he died on April 19, surrounded by Pietro Gamba, Tita and Fletcher, at the moment when a very violent storm broke out, which was interpreted by the Greeks as a sign that “the great man has gone. A mass was said on the 23rd in Missolonghi, and thirty-six cannon shots (the age of the dead man) were fired to salute the departure of the ship that carried his body to England on May 2. Arriving in London on July 5, the body was laid to rest on the 16th in the family vault in the small church of Hucknall, near Newstead Abbey.

The news of his death soon spread throughout Europe. In England, Tennyson, then fifteen years old, fled to the woods and engraved: “Byron is dead.” In Paris, Lamartine, who wrote Le Dernier Chant du Pèlerinage de Childe Harold, and Hugo mourned personally.

Reputation and reality

From the publication of Childe Harold in 1813 and its sudden fame, Lord Byron was mistaken for his character, he was imagined to be melancholic and cynical, what would later be called the Byronic hero. He tries to clear up the misunderstanding, especially with Annabella, after she refuses his proposal of marriage: “To imagine that your candor could shock, you must have judged me very vain and selfish. Except in occasional accesses of melancholy, I consider myself as a very facetious character “.

From 1817, following the scandal of his separation, a sulphurous aura preceded him: he was accused of all sorts of debauchery, of sleeping with Claire Clairmont and Mary Shelley at the same time, he was observed with binoculars from the opposite bank at the Villa Diodati, women fainted when he appeared at Madame de Staël”s house: “It is true that Mrs. Hervey fainted when I made my entrance at Coppet, but she regained her senses a little later; seeing her swoon, the Duchess de Broglie exclaimed, “It”s too much – at sixty-five! “.

His reputation as a dark, solitary genius meant that some of his visitors were disappointed when they met him, such as the American admirer, Mr. Coolidge, who came to see him in 1821 in Ravenna: “But I think I can guess that he was not so much seduced by my person, for he must have expected to meet, instead of a man of this world, a misanthrope in wolf-skin braids, who would answer with fierce monosyllables. I can never make people understand that poetry is the expression of fiery passion, and that a life of passion exists no more than a permanent earthquake, or an eternal fever. Besides, living in such a state, would one ever shave?

This image of a debauched monster is reinforced by the novels written by those who were close to him and tried to tarnish his reputation. Caroline Lamb, the abandoned mistress, with her novel Glenarvon, published in 1817, then, in 1819, John William Polidori, with his novel The Vampire, whose character of Lord Ruthven evokes the difficult relations he had with Lord Byron during their trip to Switzerland in 1817.

Even today, the image of Byron has remained on Caroline Lamb”s “Mad, bad and dangerous to know”. Lord Byron”s life and personality fascinate, and novels and films abound featuring him as an immortal and debauched rock star, as in season 5 of the television series Highlander, or as a cynical vampire, as in Michael Thomas Ford”s novel Jane Bites Back. Similarly, novels that are more historical depict him as an arrogant, sulphurous, sexually obsessed, sadistic character… like Benjamin West in Lord Byron”s Doctor or Giuseppe Conte in The Man Who Wanted to Kill Shelley.

He was obviously not a model of virtue, but neither was he a sadist, a Marquis de Sade or a Guillaume Apollinaire, adept at knuckle-dragging, who does not seem to have suffered from the same reputation.Byron is the first culprit of this image, because of his frankness, unable to remain discreet about his homosexual attractions, not missing an opportunity to make the apology of pleasure, as in his letter to his publisher, where he mocks himself:

He suffered especially from the scandal of his relationship with his half-sister which particularly shocked Georgian England. As for some of his poems considered scandalous, it is difficult today to understand why Don Juan could be considered sulphurous. When his publisher, John Murray, gave a bad reception to the second song, for fear of scandal, Byron answered him eloquently about his writing work, as well as about his relationship to fame:

“As for the opinion of the English, of which you speak, let them first know what it weighs before they do me the insult of their insolent condescension. I have not written for their satisfaction; if they are satisfied, it is because they choose to be, I have never flattered their tastes nor their pride, and I will not do so. I have written driven by the flow of ideas, by my passions, by my impulses, by multiple motivations, but never by the desire to hear their “sweet voices. I know perfectly well what popular applause is worth, for few writers have had as much as I. They have made of me, without my having sought it, a sort of popular idol, they have, without any other reason or explanation than the caprice of their own good pleasure, overturned the statue from its pedestal – the fall has not broken it – and they would like, it seems, to replace it there; but it will be nothing of the sort.”

A man of contradictions

What is a constant in Lord Byron is his contradictions, which he is the first to acknowledge, whether privately, in his discussions with Lady Blessington: “Jest aside, what I believe is that I am too changeable, being by turns everything and its opposite, and never for long,” or publicly, in Song XVII of Don Juan:

At the same time admirer of the Napoleonic epic (Ode to Napoleon) and critic of the war, as we can see it in his description of the carnage at the time of the Siege of Izmaïl, in Song VIII of Don Juan. At the same time, he was very skeptical of religion, the doubt often recurring in his letters: “I do not want to hear about your immortality; we are already unhappy enough in this life not to consider another one”, and frightened by Shelley”s atheism, and a fervent defender of religious education for his daughter Allegra, who will die in a convent anyway.

But it is especially in his comments on women that he is the most paradoxical, passing from esteem to contempt according to the periods and the interlocutors. In 1813, he wrote to Annabella: “In spite of all my alleged prejudices against your sex, or rather against the perversion of manners and principles often tolerated by it in certain circles of society, I think that the worst woman who ever existed would have made a man of very acceptable reputation; they are always better than we are, and their faults, such as they are, certainly have their source in ourselves,” while he later wrote in his diary: “Reflected on the condition of women in ancient Greece – convenient enough. but kept apart from the world.”

During his youth, Lord Byron was destined for a political career in the House of Lords, it was even the reason for his first departure for Greece, to know the world to form his judgment, and that of his return, as he formulated in a quip: “on my return, I plan to break with all my dissolute relations, to renounce drink and the trade of the flesh, to devote myself to politics and respect etiquette. “But his parliamentary disappointments and the sudden and unexpected success of Childe Harold prompted him to continue with poetry: “these beginnings were not discouraging – especially my first speech, but immediately after my poem Childe Harold came out – & no one ever thought of my prose afterwards, nor I either – it became to me something secondary, which I neglected, though I sometimes wonder if I would have been successful at it.”

He began writing poetry as a tribute to his cousin Margaret Parker, who died young, and with whom he was feverishly in love at the age of twelve: “The first time I took up poetry was in the 1800”s. – It was the bubbling of a passion for my first cousin, Margaret Parker, one of the most beautiful evanescent beings that ever was. “Then his poems kept oscillating between melancholy (Hours of Idleness, Childe Harold), oriental tales (The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, Sardanapalus) and satire (English bards and Scottish critics, Beppo, Don Juan).

Melancholic poems

Hours of Idleness, his first collection published in 1807 but composed at different times of his youth, Byron tried his hand at different genres. If the first poems, dating from 1802-1803, are eulogies, lamenting his lost friends and loves (On the death of a young lady, cousin of the author and who was very dear to him, Epitaph of a friend), he then moves on to love poems (To Caroline, Love”s first kiss, Love”s Last Farewell), medieval-inspired verse (Verse composed on leaving Newstead Abbey), regrets about his childhood (On a distant view of Harrow village and college on the hill, Childhood Memories), imitations of Ossian (Oscar d”Alva. Legend, The Death of Calmar and Orla). From 1806 his tone becomes more sarcastic.

With The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold, whose first two songs were composed during his trip to Greece, Byron made his choice. Using Spenserian stanza, he portrays a “shameless wight” who escapes the boredom of his existence by a trip to the East. He composed songs III and IV after the scandal that forced him to flee England in 1817, further darkening the tone of the poem:

Oriental poems

From childhood, Byron was attracted by the Orient, since his reading of the Turkish History, but also of the Thousand and One Nights. It is at the same time a dreamed Orient and an Orient in its historical dimension. This explains his trip to Greece and Turkey, from which he will return both admiring and very critical, as much towards the Turks as towards the Greeks.The Orient that Byron depicts is tragic. These are stories of impossible loves that end in death, it is an effusion of color and blood. He mixes the marvelous (Zuleïka turns into a rose in The Bride of Abydos), fights (The Corsair, The Giaour), exoticism in the description of landscapes, costumes (caftans, turbans), rituals and superstitions (The Giaour who risks to turn into a vampire)… He is as much interested in the contemporary East, Greece subjected to the Ottoman yoke, as in the ancient East with Sardanapalus, legendary king of Nineveh.

He often returns to the question of the position of women for Muslims, as in The Giaour: “Who could have read in the eyes of the young Leïla, and still retain that part of our belief that woman is only a vile dust, a soulless doll destined for the pleasures of a master?”

Satirical poems

It is from his Venetian exile that he devoted himself almost exclusively to the burlesque vein, with Beppo, a vaudeville on a carnival background, then Don Juan, a satirical epic left unfinished in the seventeenth canto, where he shows a real talent for rhyme and improvisation, where he indulges in humorous or assassinating reflections (in particular, towards Castlereagh, Wellington or the poet laureate Southey), through digressions where witty remarks abound.

Romanticism

Lord Byron is one of the greatest British poets, equal to Keats, whose poetry he did not like, or Shelley, his friend.

Great admirer of the poet Alexander Pope, classic in the form, the Spenserian stanza that he used a lot, it is his themes that make him a Romantic: violence of the passions; tragic loves, often illicit; taste for the storms and the grandiose landscapes; melancholy of the feelings; oriental colors; importance given to the Ego: “The unique theme of Byron, it is Byron and his brilliant procession of loves, of sensations, of adventures; and his own heart the unique source of his works”. The book is “autobiographical”, even though, however “autobiographical” a book may be, it is never an imitation of life, but life transfigured, the truth chosen. Byron is Harold and yet he is not.” If his characters are a novelistic reflection of Lord Byron, his creations also have an influence on him, as Walter Scott will say in 1816, at the time of the social disgrace that followed his tumultuous separation: Byron was transformed into his character (“Childe Harolded himself”), as if his imagination had taken over his life.

Romantic also the character of the Byronic hero that he invents in Childe Harold and that he explores thereafter in The Corsair, Lara, Manfred… It is a tormented, disillusioned, impassive, mysterious man, suffering from a secret wound, at the same time rebel and outlaw, unhappy and sulphurous, of which the portrait of Lara is a good summary: “There was in him a vital contempt for all things, as if he had exhausted the misfortune. He remained a stranger on the earth of the living; a spirit exiled from another world, and who came to wander in this one.”

His poems were a source of inspiration for the Romantic painters for their oriental themes, such as The Death of Sardanapalus, The Fight of the Giaour and the Pasha, The Bride of Abydos, or those of the man confronted with the elements with Don Juan”s boat of Eugene Delacroix, or with the animal (Mazeppa) of Theodore Gericault.

Posthumous editions

A large number of editions of Byron”s works have been published:

Translations

Byron”s works were translated by Amédée Pichot (1819-1825, revised and corrected up to the 7th edition in 1830 and republished very regularly throughout the century), Paulin Paris (1830-1832), Benjamin Laroche (1836-1837), Louis Barré (1853). Orby Hunter translated part of it into French verse (1841). Byron had left seventy pages of a Life which were destroyed by his publisher and his friends. Villemain devoted a notice to him in the Biographie universelle.

Byron”s complete theater was republished in 2006. Editions d”Otranto has published a large selection of works written or published in 1816 in a new rhythmic translation by Danièle Sarrat (2016), as well as Mazeppa and The Bride of Abydos, translated by the same (2019).

A selection of poems was translated in 1982 by Ressouvenances, then reissued by Allia in 2020, in a bilingual edition.

Byron”s life and work have inspired many musicians, writers, painters and filmmakers.

Literature

As early as 1817, Stendhal finds in Lord Byron”s works a source of inspiration: “The knowledge of man, if one begins to treat it as an exact science, will make such progress that one will see, as clearly as through a crystal, how sculpture, music and painting touch the heart. Then what Lord Byron is doing will be done for all the arts.”

Byron”s complete works were published in France in 1820. They marked the entire Romantic generation, including Alfred de Vigny who published an essay on Byron in Le Conservateur littéraire, Victor Hugo”s magazine. Honoré de Balzac, who was very admiring, made him the model for his character of the consul in Honorine, and in La Peau de chagrin he compared his poems to the paintings of Velazquez, “dark and colorful. In Eugène Sue”s Arthur, the characters of Arthur and Madame de Penafiel complain about the “evil genius” of Lord Byron, of whom Walter Scott would be the counter-poison. Confusing the creator and his creature, Madame de Penafiel exclaims: “Oh, how well he has painted himself in Manfred! Here: the castle of Manfred, so dark and so desolate, it is in truth his poetry! it is his terrible spirit! For Théophile Gautier in Les Jeunes-France, he is the model of the young romantics that he caricatures, seeking at all costs to give themselves the Byronic air, in their hairstyle, signature, adventure…

For a whole generation of French authors, only the dark side of Lord Byron was remembered, forgetting the mocking gaiety of his Don Juan.

Various music

to be written and completed

Paint

His works greatly inspired Romantic painters, including Turner, Gericault and Delacroix, as well as some Pre-Raphaelites like Ford Madox Brown.

Théodore Gericault was one of the first to take up Byronic themes. His morbid obsession with horses, man and animal finds its incarnation in Mazeppa. Gericault died as a result of several falls from his horse.

More than any other artist, Eugène Delacroix found in Byron”s works an inexhaustible source of subjects for his paintings: The Shipwreck of Don Juan (Musée du Louvre, Paris), The Doge Marino Faliero condemned to death (1826, Wallace collection, London), The Prisoner of Chillon (1834, Musée du Louvre, Paris)… He found in Byron above all an echo of his fascination for the East: violence, passions and fights with The Fight of the Giaour and the Pasha (1827, Art Institute of Chicago), the fireworks of colors with The Death of Sardanapalus (1827-28, Musée du Louvre, Paris) and the exoticism of the costumes with The Bride of Abydos (1857, Kimball Art Museum), the political implication with Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826, Musée des Beaux Arts de Bordeaux).

But other Romantic painters were also very inspired by it: Charles Durupt, Manfred et l”esprit, 1831, as well as Ary Scheffer Le Giaour, 1932 – two paintings belonging to the Museum of Romantic Life, Hôtel Scheffer-Renan, Paris, as well as engravers such as Émile Giroux in France

Novels and poems

Lord Byron has inspired many authors as himself or as a fantastic character, whether in the form of a ghost, a vampire or an immortal.

Bibliography

: document used as a source for the writing of this article.

External links

Sources

  1. Lord Byron
  2. Lord Byron