On April 19, 1824, British poet George Lord Byron died in what is now Greece. He had traveled there to support the Greek struggle for independence from Turkey. Byron's scandalous history, exotic travels, and flamboyant life made such an impression on the world that the term "Byronic" was coined to mean romantic, arrogant, dark, and cynical. He was one of the leading figures in the Romantic movement. Byron was born on January 22, 1788 in Aberdeen, Scotland. His clubfoot and his impoverished environment made his childhood difficult, but at age 10 he inherited his great uncle's title. He attended Harrow, then Trinity College, Cambridge, where he ran up enormous debts and pursued passionate relationships with women and men. His first published volume of poetry, Hours of Idleness (1807), was not well received by critics, especially in Scotland, and his second published work, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), attacked the English literary establishment.
After attaining a Master's degree in 1809, he traveled in Portugal, Spain, and the Near East for two years. His experiences fed into his later works, including Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812), which brought him almost instant acclaim in England. As he said at the time, he "awoke one morning and found myself famous." His poetry, manners, fashion, and tastes were widely imitated. In 1815, he married Anne Isabella Milbanke, and the couple had a daughter, August Ada. The marriage quickly foundered, and the couple legally separated. By this time, scandal had broken out over Byron's suspected incest with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and he was ostracized from society and forced to flee England in 1816. He settled in Geneva, near Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. There, he became intimately involved with Mary's half-sister, Claire Clairmont, who bore his daughter Allegra in January 1817. Byron moved to Venice that year and entered a period of wild debauchery.
In 1819, he began an affair with the Countess Teresa Guiccioli, the young wife of an elderly count, and the two remained attached for many years. Byron, always an avid supporter of liberal causes and national independence, supported the Greek war for independence. He joined the cause in Greece, training troops in the town of Missolonghi. On February 15, 1824, he fell ill, and the usual remedy of bloodletting weakened him further. He made a partial recovery, but in early April he caught a violent cold which therapeutic bleeding, insisted on by his doctors, aggravated. It is suspected this treatment, carried out with unsterilized medical instrumentation, may have caused him to develop sepsis. He developed a violent fever, and died on April 19, 1824. Byron is buried at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, England.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Great Britain’s Literary Legends. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following links: