Study Guide

Lord Byron

Lord Byron Biography

Introduction

Lord Byron’s impact on nineteenth century European and American culture, both as a personal cultural figure and as a poet and satirist, cannot be exaggerated. Stylistically and formally, his work is more diverse than that of his fellow Romantics. Byron’s curious and perhaps confusing blend of idealism and cynicism accounts in part for critical reluctance to assign to him the same label of Romantic as easily as to Wordsworth or Shelley. Yet in his idealistic, steadfast determination to pursue truth, to strip away the surface to expose cant, hypocrisy, and oppression, Byron was at once a reflection of his culture and an iconoclast.

Lord Byron Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201525-Byron.jpgGeorge Gordon, Lord Byron Published by Salem Press, Inc.

George Gordon, later to become the sixth Lord Byron, was born January 22, 1788, in London, England, the son of Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron and Catherine Gordon of Gight, Scotland. Catherine was heiress to a small fortune, which her husband soon squandered. After the couple fled from creditors to France, Catherine left her philandering husband and moved to London. George Gordon was born with a clubbed right foot, an ailment that caused him much humiliation throughout his life but for which he attempted to compensate through athletic endeavors. The Byrons soon moved to Aberdeen, where Catherine could better afford to live on her modest allowance. Captain Byron died in France in 1791 at the age of thirty-six. His son would die at the same age.

After years of attending grammar schools in Aberdeen, George Gordon became the sixth Lord Byron upon the death of his granduncle in 1798. He moved to Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, the Byron family seat, and the Byrons’ lifestyle changed considerably. From 1801 to 1805, young Byron attended Harrow School, spending his vacations with his mother, who was alternately abusive and tender. In 1804, he began a correspondence with his half sister, Augusta Leigh, from whom he had been living separately since his infancy, thus forming a close and complicated relationship that outlasted many others and that became the source of considerable scandal, in part accounting for the failure of his marriage and in part prompting Byron’s self-exile to Europe. Entering Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1805, Byron formed other lasting alliances, most notably those of his dear friends John Cam Hobhouse and John Edleston. It was during this time that Byron began to form his ideals of the sanctity of political and personal liberty. In 1807, he published a volume of poems, Hours of Idleness, which was attacked in the Edinburgh Review An undistinguished student, Byron left Cambridge in 1808 with a master’s degree.

In 1809, Byron took his seat in the House of Lords, often supporting liberal, unpopular causes. In this year, he also discovered and exploited his unrivaled knack for satire, publishing English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, in which he lashed out at the Edinburgh Review and criticized contemporaries Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and others of the “Lake School” of poetry. Later in 1809, Byron left with his friend Hobhouse on a tour, not the customary Grand Tour of Western Europe, but a tour of Portugal, Spain, Albania, and Greece. This trip inspired him to begin Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818; 1819), and he finished the first canto in Athens. In 1810, Byron finished the second canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, traveling further in Turkey and Greece. Inspired by the Ovidian story of Hero and Leander, he swam the Hellespont on May 3, 1810, an accomplishment of...

(The entire section is 1176 words.)

Lord Byron Biography (History of the World: The 19th Century)

0111201525-Byron.jpg(Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Not only did Byron write satirical and lyrical poetry of the highest order, but also his life seemed, to many of his contemporaries, to be the embodiment of the revolutionary spirit of Romanticism. His figure of the “Byronic hero” became vastly influential in nineteenth century European culture.

Early Life

George Gordon was born in London on January 22, 1788. He had an aristocratic heritage on both sides of the family. On his father’s side, the Byrons had long been known for their eccentricity, and Byron’s father, Captain John Byron, led a wild and reckless life, squandering the family wealth. He died when the poet was three, having separated from his wife the previous year. The poet’s mother, Catherine Gordon of Gight, was descended from one of the most notable families in Scotland.

Until 1798, the young Byron lived with his mother in Aberdeen, Scotland, but on the death of his great uncle, the notorious “Wicked Lord,” he became the sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale, and he and his mother moved to Newstead Abbey in England, the traditional family seat. Byron was schooled at Harrow and Cambridge, where the personality which would entrance so many soon became apparent: generous and openhearted, ambitious and idealistic, self-willed, but with an almost feminine quality of softness and sentimentality.

Byron also had the advantage of being strikingly handsome; his fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge remarked, “so beautiful a countenance I scarcely ever saw . . . his eyes the open portals of the sun—things of light, and for light.” Byron’s classic, almost Grecian beauty was flawed only by a deformed right foot, which embarrassed him throughout his life, and a tendency to become overweight, which he combated by strict dieting and exercise.

His literary career was launched when, after privately printing two volumes of verse anonymously, he published Hours of Idleness (1807) and a highly successful satire about contemporary writers, English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers (1809), which went through four editions in three years. In 1809, he took his seat in the House of Lords, and for a number of years he anticipated a career as a statesman.

In spite of Byron’s early success, however, his restless spirit was seeking to escape from the increasingly dissolute life he was living in London. He always sought new experiences and felt strongly the lure of foreign climes. In July, 1809, he embarked on a tour of Europe with his lifelong friend John Cam Hobhouse. They visited Portugal, Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Albania, and Greece, which was then under Turkish rule, and later traveled to Ephesus and Constantinople. Athens in particular made a deep impression on Byron, and his two years of traveling gave him a cosmopolitan outlook which shaped his future life and attitudes. He always preferred the spontaneity and freedom of life in the Mediterranean lands to what he saw as the restraint and hypocrisy of English upper-class society. His travels also gave him a virtually inexhaustible supply of literary material. It was from his experiences on this first European tour that he wrote the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and it was the publication of this work in 1812 which first brought him widespread fame.

Life’s Work

With the overwhelming success of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Byron became celebrated in the social circles of fashionable upper-class London. Women in particular were fascinated by the handsome, sensitive, and apparently melancholy poet of noble birth; his romantic wanderings in Greece made him mysteriously attractive. For his part, Byron was always ready to cultivate women friends and lovers. He could not, he said, exist without some object of attachment, and he always felt more at ease in the company of women. In particular, he became involved with the impulsive and unstable Lady Caroline Lamb, and for several months during 1812 they carried on an indiscreet, passionate, and tempestuous affair.

Byron’s fame, popularity, and literary reputation continued to grow between the years of 1812 and 1815, following the publication of his “Oriental” verse tales: The Giaour (1813), The Bride of Abydos (1813), The Corsair (1814), which sold an unprecedented ten thousand copies on the day of publication, and Lara (1814). Each of these romances contained the famous figure of the “Byronic hero,” a restless and moody wanderer, an outcast from society, who possessed a lofty disdain for conventional values and for the common run of mankind.

Byron’s personal life during this period remained tempestuous. In part to free himself from the now unwelcome and frequently absurd and vindictive attentions of Caroline Lamb, he entered into a marriage with Annabella Millbanke, an intelligent, serious-minded young woman who was in every way the opposite of Caroline. The marriage, however, proved short-lived and disastrous. Byron, worried by financial difficulties, drank heavily and went into wild rages. Annabella, pregnant with their child, could not cope with his erratic behavior and was also deeply shocked by her discovery of Byron’s incestuous relationship with Augusta, his half sister. The brother and sister had been brought up separately but had spent time together during 1813, and Byron always felt at ease in Augusta’s supportive and undemanding company. Annabella convinced herself that Byron was insane, and they separated in January, 1816, exactly one year...

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Lord Byron Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Born in London, England, on January 22, 1788, George Gordon, Lord Byron, who, from birth suffered from a deformed foot, was the son of Captain John Byron, nicknamed “Mad Jack” because of his wild ways, and the former Catherine Gordon. On his mother’s side, the poet claimed descent from James I of Scotland and on his father’s, with less certainty, from Ernegis and Radulfus de Burun, estate owners in the days of William the Conqueror. Newstead Abbey, which the poet would inherit at age ten as the sixth Lord Byron, had been granted to Sir John Byron by King Henry VIII, though the title of lord was first held by General John Byron, follower of Charles I and Charles II, the latter of whom is said to have seduced the general’s...

(The entire section is 2983 words.)

Lord Byron Biography (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

George Gordon, the sixth Lord Byron, was born with a clubbed right foot, a deformity that caused him considerable suffering throughout his life and did much to shape his later character. He was descended from two aristocratic and colorful families: His father, who died when Byron was three years old, was Captain John (“Mad Jack”) Byron, a rake and fortune hunter who traced his ancestry back to the time of William the Conqueror; his mother, Catherine Gordon of Gight, was the irascible and outspoken heiress who liked to boast of her lineal connection to James I of Scotland. After her husband squandered the Gordon inheritance, Catherine moved to Aberdeen, where she reared her son under straitened financial circumstances and the...

(The entire section is 1092 words.)

Lord Byron Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A descendent of the instigator of the infamous Gordon Riots of 1780, George Gordon, Lord Byron certainly lived up to his heritage. A master poet, debauchee, and self-promoter, Byron became, after Napoleon, the most famous man of his day. His death at the age of thirty-six ensured that the adjective “Byronic” would become part of the English language.{$S[A]Gordon, George;Byron, George Gordon, Lord}

Born in London on January 22, 1788, Byron was the son of a spendthrift father and a mother whose alternating moods of affection and wild anger left him bewildered. His life was tempestuous from the beginning. Disabled (he had a clubfoot), handsome, and with a personality magnetic to both men and women, he embarked in 1809 on a...

(The entire section is 951 words.)

Lord Byron Biography (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

One of the great literary events of the past decade was Leslie Marchand’s award-winning edition of the letters and journals of Lord Byron. Published in Great Britain by John Murray Ltd. (the house which originally published most of Byron’s works) and in America by Harvard University Press, this eleven-volume series plus its volume-long cumulative index enabled readers to gauge, with a precision not before possible, Byron’s epistolary achievements. The collected letters, many of which appeared in print or in unbowdlerized form for the first time in Marchand’s edition, demonstrated that Byron, famous as poet and public figure, deserves equal stature among letter writers. This vast and challenging project on which a full career...

(The entire section is 2054 words.)

Lord Byron Biography (Poetry for Students)

Byron was born in 1788 in London to John Byron and Catherine Go a descendant of a Scottish noble family. He was born with a clubbed foot,...

(The entire section is 468 words.)