1788 – 1824In April 1812, Lord Byron “awoke and found himself famous.” The occasion was the publication of the first two cantos of his “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” a poetical version of his journey to Greece.
It wasn’t exactly true that he had been unknown before 1812. He had been a man of interest to society ever since his return from travels to Spain and Greece. He was a bachelor peer and a new face on the social scene.
The publication of the poem made people of all classes more aware of him.
Lord Byron had a crippled foot and an air that made him wildly attractive to some females. He became the lion of the hour. He received more invitations than a man could possibly accept. He, also, if all tales are correct, received locks of hair from the head and pubic area of females, as well as gifts, love letters and all the silly things females still send to celebrities.
Not all ladies were attracted to him. Miss Edgeworth wasn’t as impressed by him as he was by her.
Childe Harold wasn’t Byron’s first publication. He had published Hours of Idleness in 1807. This publication had been panned by The Edinburgh Review. Though other magazines and reviewers had offered some praise, Byron focused in on the Edinburgh Review when he blasted back with a satire “On English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,” in 1809.
In that year, Byron made his entrance into the House of Lords and set out on a trip to Greece despite the war. Byron returned to England in 1811. His mother and two good friends died that year and he made his maiden speech in the House of Lords. In 1812, one of the dashing young matrons of society, Lady Caroline Lamb, invited him to a waltzing party. The waltz was another new craze for the fashionable and they held waltzing parties to practice and flirt. One of the participants of the party was Miss Milbanke, a cousin of Lady Caroline’s husband.
Byron had a short but intense affair with Lady Caroline. He moved on, she didn’t. Byron continued to pour out poetry. In 1814, 10,000 copies of his poem, “The Corsair” sold in a day. Byron continued to think about going abroad again and made plans to do so in 1814, as soon as Napoleon abdicated the first time. Circumstances made it impossible for him to leave then so he stayed in England.
He married in 1815. His daughter was born, at the end of the year. His wife separated from him in 1816, without ever telling him or his solicitor why. Society chose to turn against him, and Byron went abroad again in April of 1816. He wasn’t exiled and he could have returned to England whenever he wished. He continued to write and produced some of his greatest work while abroad. His Don Juan is considered the greatest satire in the English language.
He died in Greece in 1824 without ever returning to England. His death did more for the cause of Greece than any other publicity and arguments could have. His body was returned to England for burial. It is said that Lady Caroline Lamb’s mind snapped when she saw his funeral cortege.
His memoirs were burnt by his friends, who never exactly explained why. His wife and sister were not ones who sought publicity. Many biographies and copies of his complete works were published in 1824. Most magazines and journals took note of his death. Jane Carlyle was as shocked as if he had been a relative.
His letters show him as a fascinating man, much at odds with some descriptions of him.
Most of his bad press came after 1870. One should be careful not to give characters of the Regency opinions generated after that time.
Lord Byron in Albanian Dress Image via Wikipedia
Nancy Mayer – Regency Researcher
A most proper authority on all things Regency