- London, England – Birthplace
- Greece – Death
- January 22, 1788 – Born
“The king-times are fast finishing. There will be blood shed like water and tears like mist. But the people will conquer in the end. I shall not live to see it, but I foresee it.”
– Lord George Gorden Byron
Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford WoodruffCopyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. English Poet 1788-1824 In the great literary works conflict and tragedy are often symbolized by the main character. Character may often personify the passing of one era, and the pains of birthing a new one. In Shakespearean tragedies, such as Hamlet, the main characters were often troubled by the political and social events of the day. In Goethe’s Faust the two leading characters represent classical Greece (Helen) and the changing feudal Germany (Faust). Done Quixote represents the conflict between the “natural man” and the man given to a “glorious quest.” The life history of Lord George Byron could have fit any number of themes written by Shakespeare, Goethe, or Cervantes. But Lord Byron was not a fictional character. His life was real, Like the fictional Faust, Byron was born into a crumbling culture brimming with hypocrisy and grave injustices. Rumblings of a revolution on France made life among the British Isles uneasy for those of power and position. Lord Byron’s restless spirit knew little peace, suffering as a child, a youth, and then a young adult. He thus turned to writing to express and deal with his painful perceptions. As he grew in maturity and talent, Lord Byron became a voice for freedom, using much of his writing to satirize the corruptions of the day. The force of Byron’s poetry served to cleanse the culture and influence for the better the morals of the time. Byron probably had more influence outside of England than any other English poet except Shakespeare; his influence on the continent was far greater than in England. Goethe, in a conversation after the death of Byron, said: “The English may think of Byron as they please; but this is certain, that they can show no poet who is to be compared with him. He is different from all the others and for the most part, greater.1 Goethe was fascinated by Byron, who gave his life in Greece defending freedom. Goethe used a Byron-like character to finish his incomplete play, Faust. Giuseppe Mazzini, the great Italian patriot of the time, wrote of Byron:
- The day will come when Democracy will remember all the it owes to Byron. England too will, I hope one day remember the European role given by him to English literature. … Before he came, all that was known of English literature was the French translation of Shakespeare. It is since Byron that we Continentalists have learned to study Shakespeare and other English writers.
- From him dates the sympathy of all the true-hearted amongst us for this land of liberty, whose true vocation he so worthily represented among the oppressed. He led the genius of Britain on pilgrimage throughout all Europe. 2
Early LifeGeorge Gordon Byron was born in London, 22 January 1788, to Catherine Gordon and John Byron. Not long after his only child’s birth, the patents separated. Byron was born with one foot twisted which caused him to limp. Because of the defect he was taunted and treated unkindly. Tragically, an autopsy performed after his death disclosed that the foot had been merely dislocated, but there had not been enough medical knowledge to see the bones properly. Living in near poverty, Byron’s mother struggled with her mental well being, often lapsing into fits of violent rage followed by profound indulgence. Because of the mental state of his mother and the absence of a father, Byron did not receive the tenderness and care needed for healthy emotional development. But it created in him a craving tenderness not only for himself but a tenderness he would give to others, especially those who were oppressed. Byron was often cared for by a hired nurse, and it was from one of them, who was apparently very religious, that Byron was introduced to some knowledge of the scriptures and stories from the Bible at a very young age. When not yet five years old, Byron was sent to a day school. After day school Byron was placed under the guidance of a clergy man named Ross. Byron recollects of this time: “Under him I made astonishing progress…. The moment I could read, my grand passion was history.3 Thereafter he deliberately set out to know something about every country. Bryon’s subsequent teacher was a kind tutor named Paterson from Scotland. As a boy, Byron was not always tuned to the dry intellectual work of the private school he attended. He greatly desire to participate in sports, but since he was lame, his participation was limited. He did, however, excel in swimming, which skill would later save his life in a shipwreck in Italy. At the age of ten, upon the death of a grand-uncle, George Byron became “Lord” Byron, because there were no other direct line descendants. This placed him in a position of nobility for which he was neither prepared nor totally accepted because of his former poverty and lack of training. Some had said that if he had been born with wealth and status he might never have become the poet of the Revolution and “the most powerful exponent of the modern spirit.” 4
Champion of the OppressedByron was always the champion of the oppressed and much of his writings reflect this. One day in school a companion fell under the displeasure of an over-beating bully who beat him unmercifully. Byron happened to be present, but knowing the uselessness of undertaking a fight with a bull, he stepped up to him and asked him how much longer he intended to beat his friend. “What’s that to you?” gruffly demanded the bully, “Because,” replied young Byron, tears in his eyes, “I will take the rest of the beating if you will let him go.”5
“Lord” ByronThe title of “Lord” gave Byron ownership of Newstead Abbey, more commonly known to us as Sherwood Forest. The estate was old and in great disrepair, but it was here that Bryon found salve for for his emptiness. Wandering about in nature, he found companionship among the crickets, birds, and other animals of the field. His retreats to nature continued throughout his life. When Byron was about nineteen he became infatuated with a girl two years older than he, a Miss Chatworth, Although she looked upon him as a mere schoolboy, she enjoyed his company and his passion led him to believe she returned his feelings. He continued in his delusion until one day he overheard her casual words to her maid: “Do you think I could care anything for that lame boy?” This comment, as Byron himself describes it, shot through his heart. He darted out of the house and ran until he arrived at Newstead, where he began in earnest to write, trying to rid himself of his pain. At the age of 17, in 1805, he entered Cambridge. Here again he was drawn to swimming, riding, fencing, and boxing rather than his academic pursuits. It was at the time that he had great difficulty with his mother as her mental condition was becoming more explosive. He found stability in the friendship of the Pigotts, a brother and sister, who had read some of his writings and encouraged him to write some more.
Beginning PoetryHe had written many verses but was too shy to share them until the Pigotts encouraged him. His stimulus for writing seemed to come either from love or defiance. His first publication “House of Idleness” received considerable circulation in London. After a stinging criticism appeared in the Edinburgh Review, Byron’s sensitivities caused him to lash back with a satire entitled “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.” Published only a few days after he took his seat in the House of Lord, Byron’s report became the talk of town. Soon after this experience Byron left for a tour of the continent. While traveling through the different countries, Byron obtained firsthand knowledge of the changes that were about to take place. Europe was a plot that was about to boil over. He also spent some time in Greece basking in the great history of that conquered land.
Publishing his PoemsUpon his return to England Byron took several manuscripts to his publishers. The publisher was not impressed and asked if he had anymore, Byron described a person paper he was working on, which the publisher asked to see. Excited about this new work, the poem, The Pilgrimage of Childe Harolde”, accurately reflected the problems of the current century and was now an overnight success, not only in England but in Europe as well. His instant fame was like something out of a fairy tale book. Byron describes this event: “I awoke one morning and found myself famous.” 6 He was now but twenty-four and at the pinnacle of literary fame. Nowhere in history can one find an equal instance of so sudden a rise to such a height. Now famous, Byron was invited and courted by all the leading members if society. No one was considered a “real” part of society until he had had Byron to one of his parties. The hypocrisy of being courted by people who formerly had snubbed him was offensive to him. It was during this time that his mother, during one of her violent fits, died. Although their relationship had been a difficult one, her death was hard on him.
Married LifeIn his search for some kind of “normalcy” Byron began looking for a wife, one that was cool-headed and sensible. He set his mind on Miss Anne Milbanke, and in a letter he proposed to her. She replied, also in letter that she appreciated his proposal but kindly refused his offer. Byron was not discouraged and wrote again, pleading for the privilege of being her husband. The second time she consented and they were married 2 January 1815. On 10 December of that same year, Augusta Ada was born to them. Byron reported in some of his letters to friends that these two events brought him great happiness. But, bored of the country life, he returned to London. While there Anne wrote to tell him that she and the baby were going to visit her father. This letter was followed by another from her father, telling Byron the she would not be returning and that she wanted a separation. This separation was the talk of all of England. What caused the separation no one ever knew. To the credit of both Byron and Lady Byron, they remained silent, In response to one inquiry Byron merely stated, “The causes were to simple ever to be found out.”7 But the public hungered for reasons and there were a number of people ready to “tell”. Although there are to this day many rumors, the facts neither support the truth nor deny them. When Byron, not having seen his wife for many years, was on his death bed in Greece, his final words were: “Go to Lady Byron–you will see her, and say–” Here his voice faltered and gradually faded.8 News of the couple’s separation unleashed a flurry of scorn. Former admirers threw their stars from that sky with an instant death. The press warned the poet through friends not to appear at public events for fear of the mobs. Disgusted with the fickle English, Byron left England, never to return until his death.
RevolutionSettling in Italy, Byron found a land in the embryo stages of a revolution. At this time Italy was ruled by Austria and, as with the rest of Europe, the desire for independence moved in the heard and soul of people of Italy. Byron was befriended by Count Gamba, whose family was deeply involved in the revolutionary movement. Court Gamba had a daughter, the Countess Guiccioli, who was separated from an elderly husband. In time Byron and the Countess became constant companions. He began to write prolifically during this time and found that outside of England, the rest of Europe responded well to him. His sympathy with the oppressed, his sense of the world’s past greatness, and his enjoyment of nature appeared in his writings, stripping away the pretenses of greed and tyranny. Byron felt that a man should do more for society than just write verses. So he directly involved himself in the Italian revolutionary movement, doing things that the Gambas could not do because they were closely watched. During the insurrection of 1820 he said, “Whatever I can do by money, means, or person, I will venture freely for their freedom.”9 The insurrection failed, but the encouragement of the poet helped keep alive a thin hope until the time of Garibaldi, Italy’s errant night, and Count Camillo Bonso di Cavour, who became known as the father of modern Italy. Byrin was then approached to help in the liberation of Greece, he then threw himself in the work. Outfitting a boat he sailed with one of the freedom-loving Gamba brothers to Greece, where he found the revolution split into several parties. Byron went to work training men and giving the revolutionists large sums of money. His work helped to bring the rival parties together, and he was appointed governor-general of the enfranchised parts of Greece.
Byron’s DeathDuring this time, Byron’s health was not good. One day while he was riding it began to rain; by the time he got home he was thoroughly chilled. It was only a couple days before his friends and servant knew that he was dying. In his last moments Byron smiled and say: Oh, what a beautiful scene!” and then he cried “Forward, forward–courage–follow.”10 Finally, when sought to send a message to his wife, his voice faded out and, he passed away. It has been said, that in his death England lost her brightest genius and Greece her noblest friend. Byron’s heart was buried in Greece and his body sent back to England. The poet Joaquim Miller’s admiration of Byron led him to Newstead Abbey where he met with a few of Byron’s friends, all of whom spoke of Byron’s goodness of heart. And so it is by the intent of his heart that Byron must be judged. Miller found piles of Byron’s manuscripts. There were enough manuscripts to cover approximately a ten-acre field and all were written in the same sprawling hand. Miller found that the king of Greece spoke Byron’s name with such a profound respect and he mentioned more than one that if Lord Byron had lived he surely would have been chosen by Greece for her first king.11 Although Byron’s actions were not always as noble as they should have been, in the cause of freedom “he was courageous, he was kind, and loved truth rather than lies. He was a worker and a fighter. He hated tyranny and was prepared to sacrifice money and ease of life in the cause of popular freedom.”12 Lord Byron was the voice of freedom and the defender of the oppressed. Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. 13
- Ward, Thomas. The English Poets. New York: Macmillian, 1894, 4: 254.
- Ibid., p. 254
- Duyckinck, Evert A. Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women. New York: Henry J. Johnson, 1873. p. 509
- A Dictionary of Arts, Science and General Literature, New York Warner Co., 1900, 5: 605
- Roberts, B. H. The Gospel. Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Son Co., 1803, p. 14-15.
- Perry Bliss, ed. Little Masterpieces. New York: Doubleday and McClure, 1902, p. 95.
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 4: 609.
- Nichols, John. Lord Byron. New Jersey: Harper &Brothers, n.d. p. 174.
- Ibid., p. 174
- Ward, p. 527.
- Miller. Joaquim. Joaquim Miller’s Poems, Introduction and Autobiography. San Francisco: Harr Wagner Publishing Co., 1917, p. 216
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 4:904.
- Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.