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Lord Byron (George Gordon)

1788–1824

World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

The most flamboyant and notorious of the major English Romantic poets, George Gordon, Lord
Byron, was likewise the most fashionable poet of the early 1800s. He created an immensely popular
Romantic hero—defiant, melancholy, haunted by secret guilt—for which, to many, he seemed the
model. He is also a Romantic paradox: a leader of the era‟s poetic revolution, he named Alexander
Pope as his master; a worshiper of the ideal, he never lost touch with reality; a deist and freethinker,
he retained from his youth a Calvinist sense of original sin; a peer of the realm, he championed
liberty in his works and deeds, giving money, time, energy, and finally his life to the Greek war of
independence. His faceted personality found expression in satire, verse narrative, ode, lyric,
speculative drama, historical tragedy, confessional poetry, dramatic monologue, seriocomic epic,
and voluminous correspondence, written in Spenserian stanzas, heroic couplets, blank verse, terza
rima, ottava rima, and vigorous prose. In his dynamism, sexuality, self-revelation, and demands for
freedom for oppressed people everywhere, Byron captivated the Western mind and heart as few
writers have, stamping upon 19th-century letters, arts, politics, even clothing styles, his image and
name as the embodiment of Romanticism.
George Gordon Noel Byron was born, with a clubbed right foot, in London on January 22, 1788. He
was the son of Catherine Gordon of Gight, an impoverished Scots heiress, and Captain John (“Mad
Jack”) Byron, a fortune-hunting widower with a daughter, Augusta. The profligate captain
squandered his wife‟s inheritance, was absent for the birth of his only son, and eventually decamped
for France as an exile from English creditors, where he died in 1791 at 36.
Emotionally unstable, Catherine Byron raised her son in an atmosphere variously colored by her
excessive tenderness, fierce temper, insensitivity, and pride. She was as likely to mock his lameness
as to consult doctors about its correction. From his Presbyterian nurse Byron developed a lifelong
love for the Bible and an abiding fascination with the Calvinist doctrines of innate evil and
predestined salvation. Early schooling instilled a devotion to reading and especially a “grand
passion” for history that informed much of his later writing.
With the death in 1798 of his great-uncle, the “Wicked” fifth Lord Byron, George became the sixth
Baron Byron of Rochdale, heir to Newstead Abbey, the family seat in Nottinghamshire. He enjoyed
the role of landed nobleman, proud of his coat of arms with its mermaid and chestnut horses
surmounting the motto “Crede Byron” (“Trust Byron”).
An “ebullition of passion” for his cousin Margaret Parker in 1800 inspired his “first dash into
poetry.” From 1801 to 1805, he attended the Harrow School, where he excelled in oratory, wrote
verse, and played sports. He also formed the first of those passionate attachments with other, chiefly
younger, boys that he would enjoy throughout his life; before reaching his teen years he had been
sexually initiated by his maid. There can be little doubt that he had strong bisexual tendencies,
though relationships with women seem generally, but not always, to have satisfied his emotional
needs more fully.
In the summer of 1803 he fell so deeply in love with his distant cousin, the beautiful-and engaged-
Mary Chaworth of Annesley Hall, that he interrupted his education for a term to be near her. Years
later he told Thomas Medwin that all his “fables about the celestial nature of women” originated
from “the perfection” his imagination created in Mary Chaworth.
Early in 1804 he began an intimate correspondence with his half sister, Augusta, five years his
senior. He asked that she consider him “not only as a Brother” but as her “warmest and most
affectionate Friend.” As he grew apart from his capricious, often violent, mother, he drew closer to
Augusta.
Byron attended Trinity College, Cambridge, intermittently from October 1805 until July 1808,
when he received a MA degree. During “the most romantic period of [his] life,” he experienced a
“violent, though pure, love and passion” for John Edleston, a choirboy at Trinity two years younger
than he. Intellectual pursuits interested him less than such London diversions as fencing and boxing
lessons, the theater, demimondes, and gambling. Living extravagantly, he began to amass the debts
that would bedevil him for years. In Southwell, where his mother had moved in 1803, he prepared
his verses for publication.
In November 1806 he distributed around Southwell his first book of poetry. Fugitive Pieces, printed
at his expense and anonymously, collects the poems inspired by his early infatuations, friendships,
and experiences at Harrow, Cambridge, and elsewhere. When his literary adviser, the Reverend
John Thomas Becher, a local minister, objected to the frank eroticism of certain lines, Byron
suppressed the volume. A revised and expurgated selection of verses appeared in January 1807
as Poems on Various Occasions, in an edition of 100 copies, also printed privately and
anonymously. An augmented collection, Hours of Idleness, “By George Gordon, Lord Byron, A
Minor,” was published in June. The new poems in this first public volume of his poetry are little
more than schoolboy translations from the classics and imitations of such pre-Romantics as Thomas
Gray, Thomas Chatterton, and Robert Burns, and of contemporaries including Walter
Scott and Thomas Moore. Missing were the original flashes of eroticism and satire that had
enlivened poems in the private editions. The work has value for what it reveals about the youthful
poet‟s influences, interests, talent, and direction. In “On a Change of Masters at a Great Public
School,” he employs heroic couplets for satiric effect in the manner of Alexander Pope, a model for
Byron throughout his career. In obviously autobiographical poems Byron experiments with
personae, compounded of his true self and of fictive elements, which both disclose and disguise
him. Groups of verses on a single subject show his understanding of the effectiveness of multiple
points of view.
It was as a published poet that Byron returned to Cambridge in June 1807. Besides renewing
acquaintances, he formed an enduring friendship with John Cam Hobhouse—his beloved “Hobby.”
Inclined to liberalism in politics, Byron joined Hobhouse in the Cambridge Whig Club. In February
1808 the influential Whig journal the Edinburgh Review, published anonymously Henry
Brougham‟s notice of Hours of Idleness, which combined justifiable criticism of the book with
unwarranted personal assaults on the author. The scornfully worded review had a beneficial effect.
Stung and infuriated, Byron set aside mawkish, derivative, occasional verse and began avenging
himself through satire, expanding his poetic commentary on present-day “British Bards,” started the
previous year, to include a counterblast against “Scotch Reviewers."
In March 1809, two months after attaining his majority, he took his seat in the House of Lords.
Shortly thereafter, Byron‟s first major poetic work, English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers. A Satire,
was published anonymously in an edition of 1,000 copies. Inspired by the Dunciad of his idol,
Pope, the poem, in heroic couplets, takes indiscriminate aim at most of the poets and playwrights of
the moment, notably Walter Scott, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor
Coleridge. His main target is the critics. From these “harpies that must be fed” he singles out for
condemnation “immortal” Francis Jeffrey, whom he mistakenly assumed had written the offending
comments on Hours of Idlenessin the Edinburgh Review.
The satire created a stir and found general favor with the reviewers. The overall aim, as stated in the
preface, is “to make others write better.” Of the major Romantic poets, Byron most sympathized
with neoclassicism, with its order, discipline, and clarity. The importance of English Bards, and
Scotch Reviewers lies not only in its vigor and vitality but in Byron‟s lively advocacy of the
neoclassical virtues found in such 17th- and 18th-century poets as Dryden and Pope, and, from his
own day, in Gifford. His admiration for Pope never wavered, nor did he ever totally abandon the
heroic couplet and Augustan role of censor and moralist, as seen in Hints from Horace (written
1811), The Curse of Minerva (written 1811), and The Age of Bronze (written 1822-1823).
Feeling revenged on the reviewers, Byron was anxious to realize a long-held dream of traveling
abroad. Though in debt, he gathered together sufficient resources to allow him to begin a tour of the
eastern Mediterranean. Anxious to set down the myriad experiences the trip afforded him, Byron
began an autobiographical poem in Ioannina, Greece, on October 31, 1809, wherein he recorded the
adventures and reflections of Childe Burun (a combination of the archaic title for a youth of noble
birth and an ancient form of his own surname); he subsequently renamed the hero Harold. The
Spenserian stanza in which he cast his impressions no doubt derived from his readings in Edmund
Spenser‟s Faerie Queene reprinted in an anthology he had carried on his trip. Byron completed the
first canto in Athens at the end of the year.
Turning southward, he and Hobhouse journeyed through Missolonghi and rode into Athens on
Christmas night 1809. They lodged at the foot of the Acropolis with Mrs. Tarsia Macri, widow of a
Greek who had been British vice consul. Byron soon fell in love with her three daughters, all under
the age of 15, but especially with Theresa, only 12, his “Maid of Athens."
Excursions in January 1810 to Cape Sounion, overlooking the islands of the Cyclades, and to
Marathon, where the Athenians defeated the invading Persians in 490 B.C., reinforced for him the
appalling contrast between the glory and might of ancient Greece and its contemporary disgrace. He
movingly evoked these scenes and sentiments a decade later in the often-quoted stanzas on “The
Isles of Greece” and on Marathon in Don Juan.
In March 1810 Byron and Hobhouse extended their tour into Turkey. On March 28, in Smyrna, he
completed the second canto of Childe Harold, incorporating his adventures in Albania and his
thoughts on Greece. He visited the plain of Troy and on May 3, while Hobhouse read Ovid‟s Hero
and Leander, imitated Leander‟s feat of swimming the Hellespont; within a week, lines “Written
After Swimming from Sestos to Abydos” commemorated his pride in this exploit. In July he
traveled back to Athens, where he settled in the Capuchin monastery below the Acropolis. Here, he
studied Italian and modern Greek, just as he would learn Armenian from monks in Venice six years
later.
Stirred to literary composition, he first produced explanatory notes for Childe Harold; then, in
February and March 1811, he wrote two poems in heroic couplets. Hints from Horace, a sequel
to English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers, satirizes contemporary poetry and drama, while praising
Dryden, Pope, Swift, and Butler.
Byron arrived at Sheerness, Kent, on July 14, two years and 12 days after his departure. To Augusta
he wrote on September 9 that he had probably acquired nothing by his travels but “a smattering of
two languages & a habit of chewing Tobacco,” but this claim was disingenuous. “If I am a poet,” he
mused, “... the air of Greece has made me one.” He had accumulated source material for any
number of works. More, exposure to all manner of persons, behavior, government, and thought had
transformed him into a citizen of the world, with broadened political opinions and a clear-sighted
view of prejudice and hypocrisy in the “tight little island” of England. Significantly, he would select
as the epigraph for Childe Harold a passage from Le Cosmopolite, ou, le Citoyen du Monde (1753),
by Louis Charles Fougeret de Monbron, that, in part, compares the universe to a book of which one
has read but the first page if he has seen only his own country.
Within three weeks of his return, Byron was plunged into a period of prolonged mourning. His
mother died on August 2, before he set out for Newstead. Whatever her failings, she had loved her
son, taken pride in his accomplishments, and managed Newstead economically in his absence. “I
had but one friend in the world,” he exclaimed, “and she is gone.” News of the deaths of two
classmates followed hard upon this sorrow. Then, in October, he learned of the death from
consumption of John Edleston, the former choirboy at Trinity College. Deeply affected, he
lamented his loss in the lines “To Thyrza” (1811), a woman‟s name concealing the subject‟s true
identity and gender. He also commemorated Edleston in additions to Childe Harold.
In January 1812 Byron resumed his seat in the House of Lords, allying himself with the Liberal
Whigs. During his political career he spoke but three times in the House of Lords, taking unpopular
sides. In his maiden speech on February 27 he defended stocking weavers in his home area of
Nottinghamshire who had broken the improved weaving machinery, or frames, that deprived them
of work and reduced them to near starvation; he opposed as cruel and unjust a government-
sponsored bill that made frame breaking a capital offense. On April 21, he made a plea for Catholic
emancipation, the most controversial issue of the day.
Upon his return to England in July 1811, Byron had given the manuscript of Childe Harold to R.C.
Dallas, his adviser in the publication of English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers. Dallas
enthusiastically showed the poem to John Murray II, the respected publisher of Scott and Southey,
who agreed to publish Byron, beginning a rich association between publisher and poet.
On March 10, 1812 Murray published Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Cantos I and II. 500 quarto
copies, priced at 30 shillings each, sold out in three days. An octavo edition of 3,000 copies at 12
shillings was on the market within two days. Shortly after Childe Harold appeared, Byron
remarked, “I awoke one morning and found myself famous.” Murray brought out five editions of
the poem in 1812 alone, and published the 10th, and last, separate edition in 1815. In less than six
months sales had reached 4,500 copies. In the Edinburgh Review, Jeffrey cited as the “chief
excellence” of Childe Harold “a singular freedom and boldness, both of thought and expression,
and a great occasional force and felicity of diction.”
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Cantos I and II, can be read as Byron‟s poetic journal of his
Mediterranean and Eastern tour in 1809 to 1811. But the international popularity of the work
derived less from its appeal as a travelogue than from its powerful articulation of the Weltschmerz,
or “World-weariness,” born of the chaos of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars that
disrupted all of European society.
In Canto I Harold, “sore sick at heart” with his life of “revel and ungodly glee,” leaves his native
Albion on pilgrimage to find peace and spiritual rebirth. As befits a quest poem, Childe Haroldis
subtitled A Romaunt, recalling the medieval romances whose knighted heroes go in search of holy
objects, and is cast in the stanza and archaic language of Spenser‟s Faerie Queene.
Harold was introduced, Byron wrote in the preface, “for the sake of giving some connexion to the
piece.” By labeling Harold “a fictitious character” Byron sought to dissociate himself from his
protagonist, but his readers, noting many and striking similarities, persisted in equating the artist
with his hero. Though he, too, speculated on such a relationship, Walter Scott, recognized that in
Harold Byron had created a new and significant Romantic character type which reappeared in
almost all his heroes.
Harold is the first “Byronic Hero.” Of complicated ancestry (admirably traced by Peter L. Thorslev,
Jr.), he descends, with inherited traits, from Prometheus, Milton‟s Satan, the sentimental heroes
found in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, hero-villains in Gothic novels
by Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe, Friedrich von Schiller‟s Karl Moor, and Sir Walter Scott‟s
Marmion. Thorslev insists that, as befits their complex genealogy, Byron‟s various heroes exhibit
not uniformity, but considerable diversity. Among their traits are romantic melancholy, guilt for
secret sin, pride, defiance, restlessness, alienation, revenge, remorse, moodiness, and such noble
virtues as honor, altruism, courage, and pure love for a gentle woman.
The drawing rooms and salons of Whig society vied for Byron‟s presence and lionized him. At
Holland House, he met the spirited, impulsive Lady Caroline Lamb, who initially judged him
“mad—bad—and dangerous to know.” Their tempestuous affair lasted through the summer, until
Byron rejected her; she continued the pursuit, burned “effigies” of his picture, and transformed their
relationship into a Gothic romance in her novel Glenarvon (1816).
Despite its outcome, his connection with Lady Caroline left him on friendly terms with her mother-
in-law, the witty Elizabeth Milbanke Lamb, Lady Melbourne. Through her, in September, he
proposed marriage to her niece, Anne Isabella (Annabella) Milbanke, as a possible means of
escaping the insistent Caroline. A 20-year-old bluestocking, Annabella was widely read in literature
and philosophy and showed a talent for mathematics. She declined the proposal in the belief that
Byron would never be “the object of that strong affection” which would make her “happy in
domestic life.” With good humor and perhaps relief Byron accepted the refusal; in a letter of
October 18, 1812 he thanked Lady Melbourne for her efforts with his “Princess of Parallelograms.”
By November he was conducting an affair with the mature Jane Elizabeth Scott, Lady Oxford, a
patroness of the Reform Movement.
Between June 1813 and February 1816, Byron completed and had published six extremely popular
verse tales, five of them influenced by his travels in Greece and Turkey: The Giaour (June
1813), The Bride of Abydos (December 1813), The Corsair (February 1814), Lara (August 1814),
and The Siege of Corinth and Parisina(February 1816). Walter Scott had created the market for
Romantic narratives in verse, but Byron outrivaled him with his erotic fare set in “exotic” climes, to
the extent that Scott gave up the genre in favor of novel writing.
In June 1813 Byron began an affair with his 29-year-old half sister, Augusta. Married since 1807 to
her cousin, Colonel George Leigh, with his mother‟s death in 1811, Augusta became Byron‟s sole
remaining close relative. While no legal proof exists, the circumstantial evidence in Byron‟s letters
dating from August 1813 to his horrified confidante Lady Melbourne strongly suggests an
incestuous connection with Augusta.
In the midst of this relationship, Byron received a letter from Annabella Milbanke, who confessed
her mistake in rejecting his proposal and cautiously sought to renew their friendship.
Correspondence ensued. He later wrote Lady Melbourne that Augusta wished him “much to
marry—because it was the only chance of redemption for two persons."
Through poetry he found relief from his involvement with Augusta and from an inconclusive
flirtation in the autumn of 1813 with Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster. In November he wrote
Thomas Moore, “All convulsions end with me in rhyme; and to solace my midnights, I have
scribbled another Turkish Tale.” The Bride of Abydos, published by Murray in December, sold
6,000 copies in one month. For the first time in this volume Byron dealt with the theme of incest,
his “perverse passion,” as he told Lady Melbourne, to which he would return in such poems
as Parisina, Manfred, and Cain.
Another burst of poetic creativity overlapped the success of The Bride of Abydos. Between
December 18 and 31, Byron produced a third Oriental tale, The Corsair. On the day of publication
in February 1814 10,000 copies were sold, “a thing,” Murray excitedly assured him, “perfectly
unprecedented.”
On April 10, 1814, amid rumors of the abdication and exile of the emperor Napoleon (which in fact
occurred the next day), Byron wrote and copied Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte. On the 16th, it was
published anonymously. Since Harrow, Byron had had mixed feelings about Napoleon. He admired
the titanic qualities of the brilliant strategist, dynamic soldier, and statesman, but he was repelled by
his brutal conquest of Iberia and his perversion of liberal ideals. That ambivalence colors the poem.
On April 15, 1814 Augusta gave birth to a little girl, Elizabeth Medora. When Medora Leigh grew
up, she believed herself to be Byron‟s daughter, although Byron never acknowledged the paternity,
as he did for his other illegitimate offspring, either because of uncertainty or concern for his and
Augusta‟s reputations. There is no extant proof either way. On May 14, Byron began a sequel
to The Corsair entitled Lara, the new name of Conrad the pirate. Murray published the work
anonymously in August in a volume with Samuel Rogers‟s sentimental tale Jacqueline; the book
sold 6,000 copies in three editions.
Byron spent much of the summer of 1814 with Augusta, while continuing to correspond with
Annabella. In a letter dated September 9, he made a tentative proposal of marriage; she promptly
accepted it. In marriage Byron hoped to find a rational pattern of living and to reconcile the
conflicts that plagued him. After inauspicious hesitations and postponements, many of his own
making, Byron married Annabella on January 2, 1815 in the parlor of her parents‟ home in Seaham;
there was no reception. Toward his bride the groom was by turns tender and abusive.
At Halnaby Hall Byron resumed work on the Hebrew Melodies, lyrics for airs Jewish composer
Isaac Nathan was adapting from the music of the synagogue. Throughout his life Byron was a
fervent reader of the Bible and a lover of traditional songs and legends. As a champion of freedom,
he may also have responded instinctively to the oppression long suffered by the Jewish people. The
work opens with the now-famous lyric, “She Walks in Beauty,” written in 1814 after Byron saw a
cousin at a party wearing a dress of mourning with spangles on it.
In April, after a tempestuous visit with Augusta, Lord and Lady Byron settled in the Duchess of
Devonshire‟s London house, at 13 Piccadilly Terrace. Throughout 1815 financial problems and
heavy drinking drove Byron into rages and fits of irrational behavior. When Annabella was in an
advanced stage of pregnancy, he made her the scapegoat for his troubles. On December 10, 1815,
she gave birth to Augusta Ada Byron (the first name was later dropped). Early in the new year,
increased money worries forced Byron to suggest that they move from their expensive Piccadilly
Terrace address. Lady Byron and Augusta Ada would precede him to her family‟s estate in
Leicestershire, Kirkby Mallory, while he attempted to placate the creditors. Early in the morning of
January 15, 1816, Lady Byron and Augusta Ada left London by carriage for Kirkby Mallory before
Byron had risen. He never saw them again.
From Kirkby Mallory Lady Byron wrote affectionately to her husband in London, urging him to
join her. Her subsequent revelations to her parents about Byron‟s threatening speech and cruel
behavior turned them against him. On February 2, her father wrote Byron to propose a quiet
separation. Byron was shocked. Unavailing was his protest, in a letter to his wife on the 15th, that
he loved his “dearest Bell ... to the dregs of [his] memory & existence.” A week later, Lady Byron
probably confessed to her lawyer her suspicion of incest between Byron and Augusta, adding it to
the prior charges of adultery and cruelty; by the end of the month, the rumors about brother and
sister were widespread. On March 17 the terms for the legal separation were agreed upon.
During the separation crisis, Byron had a casual liaison with Claire (Jane) Clairmont. That she was
the stepdaughter of the philosopher William Godwin and the stepsister of Mary Godwin, with
whom Percy Bysshe Shelley had eloped in 1814, may have induced him to tolerate her determined
advances, which he had no intention of encouraging.
Byron signed the final deed of separation on April 21, having decided to go abroad with the
completion of this formality. On the 25th, they sailed from Dover bound for Ostend. Byron would
never see England again.
The party reached Geneva on May 25, 1816. Byron was unaware that waiting for him were Claire
Clairmont, pregnant with his child, Shelley, and Mary Godwin. They passed the time agreeably by
boating on Lake Leman and conversing at the Villa Diodati, which Byron had rented, with its
commanding view of the lake and the Juras beyond. In this environment Mary wrote Frankenstein;
or, The Modern Prometheus, published in 1818.
In June Byron and Shelley sailed to the Château de Chillon. The story of François Bonivard, a 16th-
century Swiss patriot and political prisoner in the château‟s dungeon, inspired Byron to compose
one of his most popular poems, The Prisoner of Chillon. The simplicity and directness of
Bonivard‟s dramatic monologue throw into relief the powerful theme of political tyranny. In
Bonivard, Byron created a protagonist free from the traits of the typical “Byronic hero,” one who
possessed greater credibility and maturity than his predecessors. The poem, in turn, expresses
deeper human understanding and advances more positive values than earlier works.
On July 4, three days after returning from his boat tour of Lake Leman, Byron completed the third
canto of Childe Harold. Its framework is a poetic travelogue based on his journey from Dover to
Waterloo, then along the Rhine and into Switzerland. Having failed to maintain a convincing
distinction between himself and his hero in the previous cantos, Byron drops the pretense and
speaks in his own right. Harold becomes a shadowy presence who disappears in the middle of the
canto, absorbed into the narrator. The new protagonist, a Hero of Sensibility, expresses the
melancholy, passion, and alienation of the original Harold, as well as Byronic liberalism,
sensitivity, and meditation.
Four major themes inform the third canto. The invocation in the opening stanza—made not to the
Muse or another classical figure but to Ada, “sole daughter of my house and heart"—sounds the
theme of personal sorrow. The poet-hero is alone, in voluntary exile, “grown aged in this world of
woe.” “Still round him clung invisibly a chain / Which gall‟d for ever, fettering though unseen, /
And heavy though it clank‟d not ....” He remains “Proud though in desolation."
The sight of the field of Waterloo, “this place of skulls, / The grave of France,” prompts the second
theme, an analysis of the strengths and flaws of genius in Napoleon and Rousseau. Byron
recognized himself in the characters of both men. Like Napoleon he was “antithetically mixt,”
“Extreme in all things,” and possessed of “a fire / And motion of the soul” that “Preys upon high
adventure.” Like “the self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau, / The apostle of affliction,” he “threw /
Enchantment over passion, and from woe / Wrung overwhelming eloquence."
Rousseau, whose writings helped to kindle the French Revolution, and Napoleon, whose campaigns
doomed the hopes born of that struggle, relate directly to the canto‟s theme of war. Byron despised
wars of aggression waged for personal gain while championing as honorable those conflicts that
defended freedom, such as the battles of Marathon and Morat and the French Revolution. Bravura
rhetoric animates the stanzas on Waterloo, from the memorable recreation of the Duchess of
Richmond‟s ball in Brussels on the night before the battle, to Byron‟s grim evocation of war—a
contemplation of the futility of bravery and of the blood shed in purposeless slaughter.
The pilgrim-poet temporarily experiences the thrill of a transcendental concept of nature, the fourth
theme of the canto:
I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me; and to me,
High mountains are a feeling....
And thus I am absorb‟d, and this is life [.]
But Byron‟s affinity with reality prevented him from “Spurning the clay-cold bonds which round
our being cling.” Nature would provide him with no permanent escape from himself, no remedy for
his suffering.
Near the end he returns to his first theme, of personal sorrow defiantly borne by a
Promethean rebel:
I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bow‟d
To its idolatries a patient knee [.]
He closes the canto as he began it, with an apostrophe to his daughter, “The child of love."
The arrival of Hobhouse at the end of August coincided with the departure of Shelley, Mary, and
Claire, who returned to England with the manuscripts of the third canto of Childe Harold, The
Prisoner of Chillon, and the shorter poems; on January 12, 1817, Claire gave birth to a daughter
Byron named Clara Allegra. When a tour of the Bernese Alps with Hobhouse failed to “lighten the
weight” on his heart or enable him to lose his “own wretched identity,” Byron turned, as usual, to
poetry to purge his broodings and guilt over the separation, Augusta, and his exile. The catharsis
assumed a form new to him—blank-verse drama. He would write, “not a drama properly—but a
dialogue,” set in the high Alps he had recently visited. He rewrote the third act during a trip to
Rome the following May. Manfred, the eponymous protagonist, is essentially Byron, the drama‟s
conflict a fusion of the personal and the cosmic, its goal relief.
Count Manfred, tortured by “the strong curse” on his soul for some unutterable, inexpiable, “half-
maddening sin” (II.i), seeks “Forgetfulness—/ ... / Of that which is within me” (I.i). In the first
scene, proud and defiant, he revels in the supremacy of his will over the spirits he raises who are
powerless over the inner self:
The mind, the spirit, the Promethean spark,
The lightning of my being, is as bright,
Pervading, and far-darting as your own,
And shall not yield to yours, though coop‟d in clay!
As an abbot witnesses his stoic demise, Manfred explains: “Old man! „tis not so difficult to die.”
The unconquerable individual to the end, Manfred gives his soul to neither heaven nor hell, only to
death.
Murray published Childe Harold, Canto III, on November 18, and The Prisoner of Chillon, and
Other Poems on December 5. Within a week of publication, 7,000 copies of each volume had been
sold. Reviewing these works in the December 1816 number of the Edinburgh Review, Jeffrey
proclaimed that “in force of diction, and inextinguishable energy of sentiment,” Byron took
“precedence of all his distinguished contemporaries.”
Byron set out in mid-April 1817 to join Hobhouse in Rome. In Ferrara, his visit to the cell where
the 16th-century poet Torquato Tasso had been confined for madness inspired an impassioned
dramatic monologue, The Lament of Tasso.
Byron settled in mid-June at the Villa Foscarini at La Mira on the Brenta, seven miles from Venice.
Here, he began to distill his memories of Rome into poetry. Composing rapidly, he had completed
the first draft for 126 stanzas of Childe Harold, Canto IV, by mid-July, but he revised and expanded
the manuscript for the rest of the year.
Continuing the pilgrimage format of the earlier cantos, the framework for this longest of the
sections is a spirited Italian journey from Venice through Arqua (where Byron had seen the house
and tomb of Petrarch) and Ferrara (city of Tasso and Ludovico Ariosto) to Florence and on to
Rome, the setting for half of the canto.
The pilgrim-narrator of Canto IV focuses sharply on the contrast between the transience of mighty
empires, exemplified by Venice and Rome, and the transcendence of great art over human
limitations, change, and death. An elegiac tone evoked by “Fall‟n states and buried greatness”
suffuses the verses. “A ruin amidst ruins,” the pilgrim-narrator digresses easily from scenes of
shattered columns and broken arches to considerations of his own sufferings and of war and liberty.
The days of Venice‟s glory are no more, “but Beauty still is here. / ... Nature doth not die.”
Literature, too, is permanent and beneficial. The sic transit gloria mundi theme in Childe
Harold finds its finest Byronic expression in this canto, which traces through their history and ruins
the “dying Glory” of Venice and, especially, the fall of Rome.
In his famous apostrophe to the ocean, beginning “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean—roll!,”
Byron contrasts its permanence, power, and freedom with vanished civilizations: “Thy shores are
empires, changed in all save thee—/ Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?” The ocean
remains, “Dark-heaving;—boundless, endless, and sublime—/ The image of Eternity...."
Melancholy colors the farewell; Byron knew that the Childe Haroldtheme had “died into an echo.”
But life in Venice had lifted his spirits. Before he finished this canto, he had begun the
spritely Beppo, with which he returned to satire and prepared the way for Don Juan.
Late summer 1817 marks a significant development in Byron‟s literary career. On August 29, he
heard about the return of a supposedly deceased husband to his Venetian wife; she had meanwhile
taken an amoroso, and then had to choose her husband, her lover, or solitary life on a pension. At
this time, serendipitously, he happened to see John Hookham Frere‟s Whistlecraft (1817), a mock-
heroic satire in ottava rima modeled on the Italian burlesque. The demanding rhyme scheme of
ottava rima—a b a b a c c—encourages comic rhymes. Its couplet allows the stanza to end with a
witty punch line, with a reversal in tone from high to low, or with a clever rhyme to surprise the
reader. The seriocomic mood, colloquial style, and digressions of ottava rima, attracted Byron to
this verse form as the medium for his witty version of the story of Venetian customs and light
morals. By October 10, he had finished Beppo. His new poem, he assured Murray on March 25,
1818, would show the public that he could “write cheerfully, & repel the charge of monotony &
mannerism.”
The story Byron tells is slight. Beppo, a Venetian merchant, returns home during Carnival after
years of Turkish captivity, to discover that his wife, Laura, has taken a count for her lover. After the
three pleasantly discuss the amatory triangle, the husband and wife reunite, and Beppo befriends the
count. In its gaiety, verve, and absence of rhetoric, Beppo signaled a break with Byron‟s earlier,
darker works. Banished is the soul-ravaged hero with his pride and pessimism, replaced by the poet-
narrator—conversational, digressive, witty, observant, cynical. Byron‟s first attempt at the Italian
“medley poem” allowed him to experiment with the style most congenial to his spirit and best
suited to his talents. In this fresh, realistic voice he would create his comic masterpiece Don Juan.
Murray published Beppo, A Venetian Story, without Byron‟s name on the title page, on February
28, 1818, to immediate success. On April 28, 1818 Murray brought out Childe Harold, Canto IV;
the five printings of the first edition comprise 10,000 copies. In the Quarterly Review Scott judged
that the last part of “this great poem ... sustained Lord Byron‟s high reputation,” possessing less
passion and more “deep thought and sentiment” than the earlier cantos.
Early in June Byron moved into the Palazzo Mocenigo, with his daughter Allegra (brought to
Venice by the Shelley party in April), whom he had agreed to support and educate. Here, too, he
lodged his 14 servants, a menagerie, and a veritable harem.
In a letter to Murray dated July 10, 1818, he mentioned that he had completed an ode on Venice,
and that he had “two stories—one serious & one ludicrous (a la Beppo) not yet finished—& in no
hurry to be so.” The “serious” poem was Mazeppa, a Cossack verse tale of illicit love and a wild
horseback ride. The “ludicrous” work was the lengthy first canto of his comic epic Don Juan,
pronounced, for the sake of the humor, to rhyme with “new one” and “true one.” Over the next five
years Byron added 15 more cantos to the poem, leaving a 17th unfinished at his death. Hobhouse
and other friends in England praised the poetry and satire in Don Juan, Canto I, but voiced alarm at
its indecencies and attacks on religion, writers, and Lady Byron (in the character of Donna Inez,
Juan‟s “mathematical” mother). They urged that the manuscript be suppressed. Murray was willing,
and eager, to publish the piece, especially if some of the “indelicacies” were omitted. But Byron
would have none of his “damned cutting and slashing"; the poem would succeed or fail on its own
merits.
Byron, exhausted by debauchery, cut and slashed in his personal life, getting rid of his harem. In
early April 1819 at the Benzoni conversazione, he encountered the Countess Teresa Guiccioli,
whom he had met casually on his 30th birthday at the Countess Albrizzi‟s. Now 19, she had been
married for just over a year to a rich count of 58. A strong mutual attraction quickly developed
between Byron and Teresa. Having given up “miscellaneous harlotry,” he settled for “strictest
adultery” as cavalier servente to Teresa, his “last attachment.” For the next four years, until his
departure for Greece in July 1823, they lived in several Italian cities and towns.
On July 15, 1819, Murray, after some hesitation, cautiously published 1,500 copies of the first two
cantos of Don Juan. Missing were Byron‟s savage “Dedication” to the poet laureate Robert Southey
(first published in The Works of Lord Byron, 1832) and the names of the author and publisher on the
title page; only the printer, Thomas Davison, was identified, as required by English law. By tacitly
admitting, through anonymous publication, that Don Juan was disreputable, Murray intensified the
outcry against the work. The critics hit back with a fury virtually unprecedented, vilifying both poet
and poem. Typical was the review in Blackwood’s Magazine, which branded Byron as “a cool
unconcerned fiend” who derided love, honor, patriotism, and religion in his “filthy and impious
poem"; the “coldblooded mockery” of his injured wife was “brutally, fiendishly, inexpiably mean.”
Not all the reviews were negative. In a pseudonymous Letter to the Right Hon. Lord Byron (1821),
“John Bull” (John Gibson Lockhart) encouraged him to “Stick to Don Juan: it is the only sincere
thing you have ever written; ... it is by far the most spirited, the most straightforward, the most
interesting, and the most poetical.” In a review written in 1819 and published 1821, Goethe
praised Don Juan as “a work of boundless energy."
The dazzling range of subjects, incidents, and moods in his “versified Aurora Borealis” (Canto VII),
and its geographical sweep, no less than its genre, justify his claim that “My poem‟s epic” (Canto I).
The stanzas teem with Byronic observations on liberty, tyranny, war, love, hypocrisy, cant, and
much more. The landscape stretches from Juan‟s native Spain across the Mediterranean to the
Greek Cyclades, up to Constantinople and on to Russia, with a digression to Kentucky, before
stopping in England. Byron‟s literary models include the classical epics of Homer and Virgil and
the Renaissance Italian epics of Ariosto and Tasso. He drew, too, on satiric prose romances as
written by Françios Rabelais, Miguel de Cervantes, Jonathan Swift, and Laurence Sterne, and on the
picaresque novels of Henry Fielding. He humorously claims that his poem will adhere to epic
conventions, all arranged “With strict regard to Aristotle‟s rules” (Canto I), but, in fact, he writes a
modern epic, indebted to the older forms but not in thrall to them.
In a “slight difference” from his “epic brethren,” Byron does not make Don Juan a “labyrinth of
fables” but a story that is “actually true” (Canto I), based, as he told Murray, almost entirely on
“real life—either my own—or from people I knew.” For the discursive, digressive manner of Don
Juan, Byron returned to the versatile ottava rima he had first used in Beppo, ideally suited to the
conversational style of the “Improvisatore” (Canto XV). The rapidity of the stanza facilitates the
poem‟s myriad changing tones—serious, cynical, sentimental, humorous, satiric, bawdy—as the
verse shifts from narrative to commentary, from romance to burlesque, from banter to invective.
"I want a hero,” Byron declares in the poem‟s opening line, but finding that the modern age does
not provide a “true one,” he will “therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan.” Whereas the
legendary Juan is a libertine and a heartless despoiler of women, deserving of his eternal perdition,
Byron‟s young don is friendly, innately good, courteous, impulsive, and sensuous—more the
seduced than the seducer. He experiences shipwreck, slavery, war, dissipation, and illness in his
travels, gaining worldly wisdom and discretion as he goes. Though he gradually becomes spoiled
and blasé in the process, the Juan of Canto XVI retains his good qualities from Canto I.
At La Mira with Teresa and Allegra in September 1819 Byron proceeded with the third canto
of Don Juan. To Moore, his visitor in October, he presented the manuscript of his memoirs, begun
in Venice the previous year and not to be published during Byron‟s lifetime. They were intended to
be “Memoranda—and not Confessions,” containing, among other things, “a detailed account” of his
marriage and its “consequences.” Moore sold them to Murray; on May 17, 1824, three days after
news of Byron‟s death reached England, Hobhouse and Murray, over Moore‟s objections, had the
memoirs burned in Murray‟s parlor to protect Byron‟s reputation.
In February 1820, while in residence at the Palazzo Guiccioli, Byron sent Murray, along with other
works, the third and fourth cantos of Don Juan. Byron‟s life and writing in 1820 and 1821
evidenced a shared political theme. Influenced by Teresa‟s father, Count Ruggero Gamba Ghiselli,
and his son, Count Pietro Gamba, both ardent patriots, he began to take a serious interest in the
Carbonari, one of the secret revolutionary societies seeking to overthrow Austrian despotism. In
time Byron became an honorary Capo (Chief) of a workmen‟s group of the Carbonari; he supplied
them with arms and made his house their arsenal. The Austrian secret police increased their
observation of Byron‟s activities and opened his mail. Uncertain about the future of Don Juan, he
expended a portion of his creative energy on a trio of historical tragedies based on political subjects
and modeled on neoclassical principles: Marino Faliero, Sardanapalus, and The Two Foscari.
These blank-verse plays were, he maintained, closet dramas, not designed for the stage. Without
Byron‟s permission, Marino Faliero was given seven performances at Drury Lane in April and May
1821, the only one of his plays acted in his lifetime. Adaptations
of Sardanapalus and Werner (1823) enjoyed great success on the 19th-century stage.
With the completion of The Two Foscari in July, Byron began work on Cain, A Mystery, its subtitle
an allusion to the medieval dramas on biblical themes and, he told Moore, “in honour of what it
probably will remain to the reader.” Grounding his play in the Old Testament and 18th-century
rationalism, Byron challenged accepted religious beliefs in good, evil, death, and immortality.
Adam and Eve inhabit a postlapsarian world with their sons, Cain and Abel; daughters, Adah
(Cain‟s twin) and Zillah; and grandchild, Enoch, the son of Cain and Adah. Cain appears as the first
skeptic and a Romantic rebel, a blend of the rational and the Promethean, defiantly, even
blasphemously questioning his parents‟ views of God‟s goodness and justice. When God violently
rejects his offering of fruit but accepts with gratitude Abel‟s animal sacrifice, Cain takes a stand for
life, denouncing the death principle behind God‟s tyrannical “pleasure” in “The fumes of scorching
flesh and smoking blood. “With tragic irony Cain then sheds his brother‟s blood in the human
world‟s first death. Remorseful and repentant, he goes into exile accompanied by Adah and Enoch,
without railing against an unjust God.
In September, amid the confusion of packing for his move to Pisa, Byron took up a poem he had
begun in May and immediately set aside. On October 4, he completed one of his greatest
works, The Vision of Judgment, a satiric riposte to Robert Southey‟s A Vision of Judgment, which
had appeared in April. This solemn, sycophantic eulogy in limping hexameters commemorates the
death, burial, and supposed apotheosis of King George III. In his preface, chiefly concerning the
poem‟s metrics, Southey virulently attacked Byron (without naming him) as the leader of the
“Satanic school” of contemporary writers, whose works mocked religion, represented “loathsome
images of atrocities and horrors” and exhibited “a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety."
In his “true dream” or vision, Byron, under the pseudonym “Quevedo Redivivus,” trains his
telescope on “the celestial gate” to espy the truth about George III‟s arrival there for judgment. He
discovers that, during the mayhem caused by Southey‟s reading from his Vision of Judgment, the
decrepit king simply “slipped into Heaven.” Byron‟s hatred of oppression finds a worthy target in
George III, whom Satan indicts as a warmonger and a symbol of tyranny in England, America, and
Europe. Byron also directs his spite at Southey‟s poetry and politics: “He had written much blank
verse, and blanker prose, / And more of both than any body knows.” A political apostate, Southey
began as an exponent of revolutionary views, only to become a voice of conservative reaction: this
“hearty antijacobin” had “turned his coat—and would have turned his skin."
Byron based Heaven and Earth, the “Mystery” he began in October, on Genesis 6:1-2, which
records that the “sons of God” (to Byron, angels) took as wives “the daughters of men” (women
descended from Cain, who were condemned to destruction in the Flood). Through Japhet, the elect
but troubled son of Noah, Byron questions the doctrine of predestination, which had disturbed him
all his life. As in Cain, this drama asks why evil exists, since Jehovah is good. Aholibamah, one of
the women, articulates the familiar Byronic theme of human aspiration for celestial existence free
from the limitations of the body: “where is the impiety of loving / Celestial natures?” (I.i).
In Pisa, which he reached in November, Byron was drawn into a delightful circle of friends that
included Percy and Mary Shelley, Edward and Jane Williams, and Shelley‟s cousin Thomas
Medwin. They were joined in mid January by the flamboyant adventurer Edward John Trelawny.
On December 19 Murray published Sardanapalus, The Two Foscari, and Cain in a single volume.
In a letter written January 26, 1822, Shelley proclaimed Cain “apocalyptic—it is a revelation not
before communicated to man.” His was a minority opinion. To John Gibson Lockhart, Cain was “a
wicked and blasphemous performance.” To the Gentleman’s Magazine, the play was “neither more
nor less than a series of wanton libels upon the Supreme Being and His attributes.” Few critics
embraced Sardanapalus and fewer still The Two Foscari.
Byron had placed his daughter Allegra in a convent school in Bagnacavallo in March 1821; on
April 20, 1822 she died there at the age of five, after a brief illness. Following Byron‟s instructions,
she was buried in Harrow Church.
In July, the poet, critic, and editor Leigh Hunt accepted Shelley‟s year-old invitation, extended in
Byron‟s name, to come to Pisa with his family to help edit a new literary journal. Despite Shelley‟s
death in July, plans went forward to start The Liberal: Verse and Prose from the South, to be
published in London by Hunt‟s brother, John. Byron contributed to each of its four issues published
in 1822 and 1823.
He was also proceeding rapidly with Don Juan. After the erotic seraglio scenes in the sixth canto,
he began to exhibit a new gravity. His satire on war and its false glory fills Cantos VII and VIII, on
the siege of Ismail. In late September, the remnants of the Pisan Circle relocated to Genoa. Within a
week of his arrival, Byron had completed the 10th canto of Don Juan, which carries the hero to
England, and started the 11th, with its satire on the shallowness and hypocrisy of the English
aristocracy.
The first number of The Liberal appeared in mid-October, leading with Byron‟s Vision of Judgment.
Though published under a pseudonym and without the explanatory preface, the satire was
immediately recognized as Byron‟s and deplored as slanderous, seditious, and impious. John Hunt
was prosecuted for libeling the late king; he remained the publisher of The Liberal but turned
printing duties over to the less radical printer C. H. Reynell.
Murray found Don Juan, Cantos VI, VII, and VIII “so outrageously shocking” that he refused to
publish them. Byron responded by withdrawing from Murray and turning to John Hunt as his
publisher. Then, between December and January 1823 he composed a slashing satire, The Age of
Bronze (published by John Hunt in 1823). As the title suggests, Byron voices disillusionment with
the modern era, his targets being both political and economic.
In the summer of 1823 he told his guest “the most gorgeous” Marguerite, Countess of Blessington,
that “he who is only a poet has done little for mankind"; he would therefore “endeavour to prove in
his own person that a poet may be a soldier.” To this end he devoted himself to the Greek War of
Independence from the Turks, begun in March 1821. In May he was elected to the London Greek
Committee, recently formed to aid the struggling insurgents. After a reluctant farewell to Teresa, he
made good on his offer of personal assistance to the patriots by sailing from Genoa on July 16,
bound for Leghorn and Greece. He was accompanied by Pietro Gamba, Trelawny, and a
considerable sum of money and medical supplies for the Greek cause; he also packed gold and
scarlet uniforms and heroic helmets for their landing on Greek shores. On August 3, they reached
the island of Cephalonia, then under British protection. Byron did not immediately commit himself
to any faction, preferring to wait for signs of unity in the Greek effort. Intent on the war, he gave no
time to poetry, adding nothing to the stanzas of Don Juan, Canto XVII, he had started in Genoa.
Unknown to him, John Hunt published Don Juan, Cantos VI, VII, and VIII in July. In the July 1823
issue of Blackwood’s Magazine, “Timothy Tickler” (William Maginn) attacked them as “mere
filth” for abusing chastity, matrimony, monarchy, and lawful government. In the September issue
of Blackwood’s “Odoherty” (John Gibson Lockhart) maintained that Cantos IX, X, and XI were,
“without exception, the first of Lord Byron‟s works,” containing the finest specimens of his serious
poetry and of contemporary “ludicrous poetry"; Don Juan was “destined to hold a permanent rank”
in British literature.
In November Byron agreed to loan 4,000 pounds to the Greek fleet for its activation. In January
1824 he joined the moderate leader Prince Alexander Mavrokordátos on the mainland in swampy
Missolonghi. Wearing his red military uniform, Byron was enthusiastically welcomed by shouts,
salutes, and salvos, and hailed as a “Messiah.” On the eve of his birthday, he turned once more to
poetry to express his feelings on his life and the principles of freedom; the 10 stanzas of “On This
Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year” constitute one of his last poems. Over the next three and a
half months, all occasions—military, political, physical, climatic, and amorous—seemed to
conspire against him: his leadership of a planned attack on the Turkish stronghold at Lepanto was
postponed for lack of soldiers; factions still prevented a unified war effort; his constitution,
weakened by years of dieting to combat congenital portliness, deteriorated under the constant strain
and the cold winter rains in Missolonghi; the emotional frustration of his unrequited love for his
handsome 15-year-old page boy, Loukas Chalandritsanos, seems to have inspired his final poem
(posthumously titled and published as “Love and Death”) which concludes, “Nor can I blame thee,
though it be my lot / To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.” Despite uncertainty and reverses,
he continued to commit money and energy to Mavrokordátos and the Greek cause.
In March 1824, John and H.L. Hunt published the last complete sections of Don Juan, Cantos XV
and XVI. The Literary Gazette pronounced them “destitute of the least glimmering of talent” and a
“wretched” “piece of stuff altogether."
On April 9, having been soaked by a heavy rain while out riding, Byron suffered fever and
rheumatic pains. By the 12th he was seriously ill. Repeated bleedings further debilitated him. On
Easter Sunday, he entered a comatose state. At six o‟clock on the evening of Easter Monday, April
19, 1824, during a violent electrical storm, Byron died.
In memorial services throughout the country, he was proclaimed a national hero of Greece. His
death proved effective in uniting Greece against the enemy and in eliciting support for its struggle
from all parts of the civilized world. In October 1827 British, French, and Russian forces destroyed
the Turkish and Egyptian fleets at Navarino, assuring Greek independence, which was
acknowledged by the sultan in 1829.
Byron‟s body arrived in England on June 29, and for two days lay in state in a house in Great
George Street, London. On Friday, 16 July 1824, Lord Byron was buried in the family vault beneath
the chancel of Hucknall Torkard Church near Newstead Abbey.
The fame to which Byron awoke in London in 1812 was spread rapidly throughout Europe and the
English-speaking world by scores of translations and editions. His influence was pervasive and
prolonged. Alfred de Musset was his disciple in France, Alexander Pushkin in Russia, Heinrich
Heine in Germany, Adam Mickiewicz in Poland. His poetry inspired musical compositions by
Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; operas by Gaetano Donizetti and
Giuseppe Verdi; and paintings by J.M.W. Turner, John Martin, Ford Madox Brown, and Eugène
Delacroix. His spirit animated liberal revolutionary movements: most of the officers executed
following the unsuccessful 1825 Decembrist uprising in Russia were Byronists; the Italian patriot
Giuseppe Mazzini associated Byron with the eternal struggle of the oppressed to be free. Shelley,
Heine, and others adopted Byron‟s open-necked shirt, which he wears in Thomas Phillips‟s striking
1814 painting.
Philosophically and stylistically, Byron stands apart from the other major Romantics. He was the
least insular, the most cosmopolitan of them. Poetic imagination was not for him, as for them, the
medium of revelation of ultimate truth. He wished that Coleridge would “explain his Explanation”
of his thought. He did not embrace for long Wordsworth‟s belief in the benevolence of nature,
espouse Shelley‟s faith in human perfectibility, or experience Keats‟s private vision. Yet, as Leslie
A. Marchand observes, “The core of his thinking and the basis of his poetry is romantic aspiration,”
and he evidences a “romantic zest for life and experience.” In narrative skill, Byron has no superior
in English poetry, save Geoffrey Chaucer; as Ronald Bottrall notes, Byron, like his illustrious
predecessor, could “sum up a society and an era.” His subjects are fundamental ones: life and death,
growth and decay, humankind and nature. His “apotheosis of the commonplace” is, to Edward E.
Bostetter, “one of his great contributions to the language of poetry.” Lacking the inhibitions of his
contemporaries, Byron created verse that is exuberant, spontaneous, expansive, digressive, concrete,
lucid, colloquial—in celebration of “unadorned reality.”
"I was born for opposition,” Byron proclaimed in Don Juan, Canto XV. The outstanding elements
of his poetry both support his self-analysis and insure his enduring reputation. As a major political
and social satirist, he repeatedly denounces war, tyranny, and hypocrisy. As an untiring champion
of liberty, he firmly believed that “Revolution / Alone can save the earth from hell‟s pollution”, a
tenet he defended with his life.
The last word properly belongs to Byron, who captured his essence in Canto IV of Childe Harold:
But I have lived, and have not lived in vain:
My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,
And my frame perish even in conquering pain,
But there is that within me which shall tire
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire [.]