Lord Byron's Poems

Career

Early career

While not at school or college, Byron lived with his mother in Southwell, Nottinghamshire.[6] While there, he cultivated friendships with Elizabeth Pigot and her brother, John, with whom he staged two plays for the entertainment of the community. During this time, with the help of Elizabeth Pigot, who copied many of his rough drafts, he was encouraged to write his first volumes of poetry. Fugitive Pieces was printed by Ridge of Newark, which contained poems written when Byron was only 17.[29] However, it was promptly recalled and burned on the advice of his friend, the Reverend J. T. Becher, on account of its more amorous verses, particularly the poem To Mary.[30]

Hours of Idleness, which collected many of the previous poems, along with more recent compositions, was the culminating book. The savage, anonymous criticism this received (now known to be the work of Henry Peter Brougham) in the Edinburgh Review prompted his first major satire,[31] English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809). It was put into the hands of his relation, R. C. Dallas, requesting him to "...get it published without his name."[32] Alexander Dallas gives a large series of changes and alterations, as well as the reasoning for some of them. He also states that Byron had originally intended to prefix an argument to this poem, and Dallas quotes it.[33] Although the work was published anonymously, by April, R. C. Dallas is writing that "you are already pretty generally known to be the author."[34] The work so upset some of his critics they challenged Byron to a duel; over time, in subsequent editions, it became a mark of prestige to be the target of Byron's pen.[31]

After his return from travels he again entrusted R. C. Dallas as his literary agent to publish his poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, which Byron thought of little account. The first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage were published in 1812 and were received with acclaim.[35][36] In his own words, "I awoke one morning and found myself famous."[37] He followed up his success with the poem's last two cantos, as well as four equally celebrated "Oriental Tales": The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair and Lara. About the same time, he began his intimacy with his future biographer, Thomas Moore.

First travels to the East

Byron racked up numerous debts as a young man, owing to what his mother termed a "reckless disregard for money".[6] She lived at Newstead during this time, in fear of her son's creditors.[6] He had planned to spend early 1808 cruising with his cousin, George Bettesworth, who was captain of the 32-gun frigate HMS Tartar. Bettesworth's unfortunate death at the Battle of Alvøen in May 1808 made that impossible.

From 1809 to 1811,[38] Byron went on the Grand Tour, then customary for a young nobleman. He travelled with Hobhouse for the first year and his entourage of servants included Byron's trustworthy valet, William Fletcher. Fletcher was often the butt of Hobhouse and Byron’s humour. The Napoleonic Wars forced him to avoid most of Europe, and he instead turned to the Mediterranean. The journey provided the opportunity to flee creditors, as well as a former love, Mary Chaworth (the subject of his poem from this time, "To a Lady: On Being Asked My Reason for Quitting England in the Spring").[31] Letters to Byron from his friend Charles Skinner Matthews reveal that a key motive was also the hope of homosexual experience.[39] Attraction to the Levant was probably also a reason; he had read about the Ottoman and Persian lands as a child, was attracted to Islam (especially Sufi mysticism), and later wrote, "With these countries, and events connected with them, all my really poetical feelings begin and end."[40][41]

Byron began his trip in Portugal from where he wrote a letter to his friend Mr. Hodgson in which he describes his mastery of the Portuguese language, consisting mainly of swearing and insults. Byron particularly enjoyed his stay in Sintra that is described in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage as "glorious Eden". From Lisbon he travelled overland to Seville, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Gibraltar and from there by sea on to Malta and Greece.[42]

While in Athens, Byron met 14-year-old Nicolo Giraud, who became quite close and taught him Italian. It has been suggested that the two had an intimate relationship involving a sexual affair.[43] Byron sent Giraud to school at a monastery in Malta and bequeathed him a sizeable sum of seven thousand pounds sterling. The will, however, was later cancelled.[44] "I am tired of pl & opt Cs, the last thing I could be tired of", Byron wrote to Hobhouse from Athens (an abbreviation of "coitum plenum et optabilem" – complete intercourse to one's heart's desire, from Petronius's Satyricon), which, as an earlier letter establishes, was their shared code for homosexual experience.[45]

In 1810 in Athens Byron wrote Maid of Athens, ere we part for a 12-year-old girl, Teresa Makri (1798–1875), and reportedly offered £500 for her. The offer was not accepted.

Byron made his way to Smyrna, where he and Hobhouse cadged a ride to Constantinople on HMS Salsette. While Salsette was anchored awaiting Ottoman permission to dock at the city, on 3 May 1810 Byron and Lieutenant Ekenhead, of Salsette's Marines, swam the Hellespont. Byron commemorated this feat in the second canto of Don Juan. He returned to England from Malta in July 1811 aboard HMS Volage.

England 1811–1816

Byron became a celebrity with the publication of the first two cantos of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" (1812). "He rapidly became the most brilliant star in the dazzling world of Regency London. He was sought after at every society venue, elected to several exclusive clubs, and frequented the most fashionable London drawing-rooms."[17] During this period in England he produced many works including The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos (1813), Parisina and The Siege of Corinth (1815). On the initiative of the composer Isaac Nathan he produced in 1814-1815 the Hebrew Melodies (including what became some of his best-known lyrics such as "She Walks in Beauty" and "The Destruction of Sennacherib"). Involved at first in an affair with Lady Caroline Lamb (who called him "mad, bad and dangerous to know") and with other lovers and also pressed by debt, he began to seek a suitable marriage, considering – amongst others – Annabella Millbanke. However, in 1813 he met for the first time in four years his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. Rumours of incest surrounded the pair; Augusta's daughter Medora (b. 1814) was suspected to have been Byron's. To escape from growing debts and rumours, Byron pressed his determination to marry Annabella, who was said to be the likely heiress of a rich uncle. They married on 2 January 1815, and their daughter, Ada, was born in December of that year. However Byron's continuing obsession with Augusta (and his continuing sexual escapades with actresses and others) made their marital life a misery. Annabella considered Byron insane, and in January 1816 she left him, taking their daughter, and began proceedings for a legal separation. Their separation was made legal in a private settlement in March 1816. The scandal of the separation, the rumours about Augusta, and ever-increasing debts forced him to leave England in April 1816, never to return.[17]


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