Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819
Mary Shelley, 1840
After this break-up of his domestic life, Byron left England and never returned. (Despite his dying wishes, however, his body was returned for burial in England.) He journeyed through Belgium and continued up the Rhine river. In the summer of 1816 he settled at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva, Switzerland, with his personal physician, the young, brilliant, and handsome John William Polidori. There Byron befriended the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Shelley's future wife, Mary Godwin. He was also joined by Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont, with whom he had had an affair in London. Several times Byron went to see Germaine de Staël and her Coppet group, which turned out to be a valid intellectual and emotional support to Byron at the time.
Kept indoors at the Villa Diodati by the "incessant rain" of "that wet, ungenial summer" over three days in June, the five turned to reading fantastical stories, including Fantasmagoriana, and then devising their own tales. Mary Shelley produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, and Polidori produced The Vampyre, the progenitor of the romantic vampire genre. The Vampyre was the inspiration for a fragmentary story of Byron's, "A Fragment".
Byron's story fragment was published as a postscript to Mazeppa; he also wrote the third canto of Childe Harold. Byron wintered in Venice, pausing his travels when he fell in love with Marianna Segati, in whose Venice house he was lodging, and who was soon replaced by 22-year-old Margarita Cogni; both women were married. Cogni could not read or write, and she left her husband to move into Byron's Venice house. Their fighting often caused Byron to spend the night in his gondola; when he asked her to leave the house, she threw herself into the Venetian canal.
In 1816, Byron visited San Lazzaro degli Armeni in Venice, where he acquainted himself with Armenian culture with the help of the monks belonging to the Mechitarist Order. With the help of Father Pascal Aucher (Harutiun Avkerian), he learned the Armenian language and attended many seminars about language and history. He co-authored Grammar English and Armenian in 1817, an English textbook written by Aucher and corrected by Byron, and A Grammar Armenian and English in 1819, a project he initiated of a grammar of Classical Armenian for English speakers, where he included quotations from classical and modern Armenian.
Byron later participated in the compilation of the English Armenian dictionary (Barraran angleren yev hayeren, 1821) and wrote the preface, in which he explained Armenian oppression by the Turkish pashas and the Persian satraps and the Armenian struggle of liberation. His two main translations are the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, two chapters of Movses Khorenatsi's History of Armenia, and sections of Nerses of Lambron's Orations.
His fascination was so great that he even considered a replacement of the Cain story of the Bible with that of the legend of Armenian patriarch Haik. He may be credited with the birth of Armenology and its propagation. His profound lyricism and ideological courage has inspired many Armenian poets, the likes of Ghevond Alishan, Smbat Shahaziz, Hovhannes Tumanyan, Ruben Vorberian, and others.
In 1817, he journeyed to Rome. On returning to Venice, he wrote the fourth canto of Childe Harold. About the same time, he sold Newstead and published Manfred, Cain, and The Deformed Transformed. The first five cantos of Don Juan were written between 1818 and 1820. During this period he met the 18-year-old Countess Guiccioli, who found her first love in Byron, and asked her to elope with him.
Led by love for the local aristocratic, young, and newly married Teresa Guiccioli, Byron lived in Ravenna from 1819 to 1821. Here he continued Don Juan and wrote the Ravenna Diary and My Dictionary and Recollections. Around this time he received visits from Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as from Thomas Moore, to whom he confided his autobiography or "life and adventures", which Moore, Hobhouse, and Byron's publisher, John Murray, burned in 1824, a month after Byron's death. Of Byron's lifestyle in Ravenna we know more from Shelley, who documented some of its more colourful aspects in a letter: "Lord Byron gets up at two. I get up, quite contrary to my usual custom … at 12. After breakfast we sit talking till six. From six to eight we gallop through the pine forest which divide Ravenna from the sea; we then come home and dine, and sit up gossiping till six in the morning. I don’t suppose this will kill me in a week or fortnight, but I shall not try it longer. Lord B.’s establishment consists, besides servants, of ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon; and all these, except the horses, walk about the house, which every now and then resounds with their unarbitrated quarrels, as if they were the masters of it… . [P.S.] I find that my enumeration of the animals in this Circean Palace was defective … . I have just met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane. I wonder who all these animals were before they were changed into these shapes."
In 1821 Byron left Ravenna and went to live in the Tuscan city of Pisa, to which Teresa had also relocated. From 1821 to 1822, Byron finished Cantos 6–12 of Don Juan at Pisa, and in the same year he joined with Leigh Hunt and Shelley in starting a short-lived newspaper, The Liberal, in the first number of which appeared The Vision of Judgment. For the first time since his arrival in Italy, Byron found himself tempted to give dinner parties; his guests included the Shelleys, Edward Ellerker Williams, Thomas Medwin, John Taaffe, and Edward John Trelawny; and "never", as Shelley said, "did he display himself to more advantage than on these occasions; being at once polite and cordial, full of social hilarity and the most perfect good humour; never diverging into ungraceful merriment, and yet keeping up the spirit of liveliness throughout the evening."
Shelley and Williams rented a house on the coast and had a schooner built. Byron decided to have his own yacht, and engaged Trelawny's friend, Captain Daniel Roberts, to design and construct the boat. Named the Bolivar, it was later sold to Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington, and Marguerite, Countess of Blessington, when Byron left for Greece in 1823.
Byron attended the funeral of Shelley, which was orchestrated by Trelawny after Williams and Shelley drowned in a boating accident on 8 July 1822. His last Italian home was Genoa. While living there he was accompanied by the Countess Guiccioli and the Blessingtons. Lady Blessington based much of the material in her book, Conversations with Lord Byron, on the time spent together there. This book became an important biographical text about Byron’s life just prior to his death.
Byron was living in Genoa when, in 1823, while growing bored with his life there, he accepted overtures for his support from representatives of the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. At first, Byron did not wish to leave his 22-year-old mistress, Countess Teresa Guiccioli, who had abandoned her husband to live with him; ultimately Guiccioli's father, Count Gamba was allowed to leave his exile in the Romagna under the condition that his daughter return to him, without Byron. At the same time that the philhellene Edward Blaquiere was attempting to recruit him, Byron was confused as to what he was supposed to do in Greece, writing: "Blaquiere seemed to think that I might be of some use-even here;—though what he did not exactly specify". With the assistance of his banker and Captain Daniel Roberts, Byron chartered the brig Hercules to take him to Greece. When Byron left Genoa, it caused "passionate grief" from Guiccioli, who wept openly as he sailed away to Greece. The Hercules was forced to return to port shortly afterwards. When it set sail for the final time, Guiccioli had already left Genoa. On 16 July, Byron left Genoa, arriving at Kefalonia in the Ionian Islands on 4 August.
His voyage is covered in detail in Donald Prell's Sailing with Byron from Genoa to Cephalonia. Prell also wrote of a coincidence in Byron's chartering the Hercules. The vessel was launched only a few miles south of Seaham Hall, where in 1815 Byron married Annabella Milbanke. Between 1815 and 1823 the vessel was in service between England and Canada. Suddenly in 1823, the ship's Captain decided to sail to Genoa and offer the Hercules for charter. After taking Byron to Greece, the ship returned to England, never again to venture into the Mediterranean. The Hercules was aged 37 when, on 21 September 1852, she went aground near Hartlepool, only 25 miles south of Sunderland, where in 1815, her keel was laid; Byron's "keel was laid" nine months before his official birth date, 22 January 1788; therefore in ship-years, he was aged 37, when he died in Missolonghi.
Byron initially stayed on the island of Kephalonia, where he was besieged by agents of the rival Greek factions, all of whom wanted to recruit Byron to their own cause. The Ionian islands, of which Kefalonia is one, were under British rule until 1864. Byron spent £4,000 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet. When Byron travelled to the mainland of Greece on the night of 28 December 1823, Byron's ship was surprised by an Ottoman warship, which did not attack his ship as the Ottoman captain mistook Byron's boat for a fireship. To avoid the Ottoman Navy, which he encountered several times on his voyage, Byron was forced to take a roundabout route and only reached Missolonghi on 5 January 1824.
After arriving in Missolonghi, Byron joined forces with Alexandros Mavrokordatos, a Greek politician with military power. Byron moved to the second floor of a two-story house and was forced to spend much of his time dealing with unruly Souliotes who demanded that Byron pay them the back-pay owed to them by the Greek government. Byron gave the Souliotes some £6,000 pounds. Byron was supposed to lead an attack on the Ottoman fortress of Navpaktos, whose Albanian garrison were unhappy due to pay arrears and who offered to put up only token resistance if Byron was willing to bribe them into surrendering. However, Ottoman commander Yussuf Pasha executed the mutinous Albanian officers who were offering to surrender Navpaktos to Byron and arranged to have some of the pay arrears paid out to the rest of the garrison. Byron never led the attack on Navpaktos because the Souliotes kept demanding that Byron pay them more and more money before they would march; Byron grew tired of their blackmail and sent them all home on 15 February 1824. Byron wrote in a note to himself: "Having tried in vain at every expence-considerable trouble-and some danger to unite the Suliotes for the good of Greece-and their own-I have come to the following resolution-I will have nothing more to do with the Suliotes-they may go to the Turks or the devil...they may cut me into more pieces than they have dissensions among them, sooner than change my resolution". At the same time, Guiccioli's brother, Pietro Gamba, who had followed Byron to Greece, exasperated Byron with his incompetence as he consistently made expensive mistakes. For example, when asked to buy some cloth from Corfu, Gamba ordered the wrong cloth in excess, leading to the bill being 10 times higher than what Byron wanted. Byron wrote about his right-hand man: "Gamba-who is anything but lucky-had something to do with it-and as usual-the moment he had-matters went wrong".
To help raise money for the revolution, Byron sold his estate Rochdale Manor in England, which raised some £11,250 pound sterling; this led Byron to estimate that he now had some £20,000 pounds at his disposal, all of which he planned to spend on the Greek cause. In today's money Byron would have been a millionaire many times over, and the news that a fabulously wealthy British aristocrat known for his generosity in spending money had arrived in Greece made Byron the object of much solicitation in a desperately poor country like Greece. Byron wrote to his business agent in England, "I should not like to give the Greeks but a half helping hand", saying he would have wanted to spend his entire fortune on Greek freedom. Byron found himself besieged by various people, both Greek and foreign, who tried to persuade Byron to open up his pocketbook to support them. By the end of March 1824, the so-called "Byron brigade" of 30 philhellene officers and about 200 men had been formed, paid for entirely by Byron. Leadership of the Greek cause in the Roumeli region was divided between two rival leaders: a former Klepht (bandit), Odysseas Androutsos; and a wealthy Phanariot merchant, Alexandros Mavrokordatos. Byron used his prestige to attempt to persuade the two rival leaders to come together to focus on defeating the Ottomans. At same time, other leaders of the Greek factions like Petrobey Mavromichalis and Theodoros Kolokotronis wrote letters to Byron telling him to disregard all of the Roumeliot leaders and to come to their respective areas in the Peloponnese. This drove Byron to distraction; he complained that the Greeks were hopelessly disunited and spent more time feuding with each other than trying to win independence. Byron's friend Edward John Trelawny had aligned himself with Androutsos, who ruled Athens, and was now pressing for Byron to break with Mavrokordatos in favour of backing his rival Androutsos. Androutsos, having won over Trelawny to his cause, was now anxious to persuade Byron to put his wealth behind his claim to be the leader of Greece. Byron wrote with disgust about how one of the Greek captains, former Klepht Georgios Karaiskakis, attacked Missolonghi on 3 April 1824 with some 150 men supported by the Souliotes as he was unhappy with Mavrokordatos's leadership, leading to a brief bout of inter-Greek fighting before Karaiskakis was chased away by 6 April.
Byron adopted a nine-year-old Turkish Muslim girl called Hato whose parents had been killed by the Greeks, whom he ultimately sent to safety in Kephalonia, knowing well that religious hatred between the Orthodox Greeks and Muslim Turks was running high and that any Muslim in Greece, even a child, was in serious danger. Until 1934, most Turks did not have surnames, so Hato's lack of a surname was quite typical for a Turkish family at this time. During this time, Byron pursued his Greek page, Lukas Chalandritsanos, with whom he had fallen madly in love, but the affections went unrequited. Byron was infatuated with the teenage Chalandritsanos, whom he spoiled outrageously, spending some £600 (the equivalent to about £24,600 in today's money) to cater to his every whim over the course of six months and writing his last poems about his passion for the Greek boy, but Chalandritsanos was only interested in Byron's money. When the famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen heard about Byron's heroics in Greece, he voluntarily resculpted his earlier bust of Byron in Greek marble.
Mavrokordatos and Byron planned to attack the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth. Byron employed a fire-master to prepare artillery, and he took part of the rebel army under his own command, despite his lack of military experience. Before the expedition could sail, on 15 February 1824, he fell ill, and 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. This treatment, carried out with unsterilised medical instruments, may have caused him to develop sepsis. He contracted a violent fever and died in Missolonghi on 19 April.
His physician at the time, Julius van Millingen, son of Dutch-English archaeologist James Millingen, was unable to prevent his death. It has been said that if Byron had lived and had gone on to defeat the Ottomans, he might have been declared King of Greece. However, contemporary scholars have found such an outcome unlikely. The British historian David Brewer wrote that in one sense, Byron was a failure in Greece as he failed to persuade the rival Greek factions to unite. Also, he did not achieve any military victories. He was successful only in the humanitarian sphere, using his great wealth to help the victims of the war, Muslim and Christian, but this did not affect the outcome of the Greek war of independence at all.
Brewer went on to argue, "In another sense, though, Byron achieved everything he could have wished. His presence in Greece, and in particular his death there, drew to the Greek cause not just the attention of sympathetic nations, but their increasing active participation...Despite the critics, Byron is primarily remembered with admiration as a poet of genius, with something approaching veneration as a symbol of high ideals, and with great affection as a man: for his courage and his ironic slant on life, for his generosity to the grandest of causes and to the humblest of individuals, for the constant interplay of judgment and sympathy. In Greece he is still revered as no other foreigner, and as very few Greeks are, and like a Homeric hero he is accorded an honorific standard epithet, megalos kai kalos, a great and good man".
Alfred Tennyson would later recall the shocked reaction in Britain when word was received of Byron's death. The Greeks mourned Lord Byron deeply, and he became a hero. The national poet of Greece, Dionysios Solomos, wrote a poem about the unexpected loss, named To the Death of Lord Byron. Βύρων, the Greek form of "Byron", continues in popularity as a masculine name in Greece, and a suburb of Athens is called Vyronas in his honour.
Byron's body was embalmed, but the Greeks wanted some part of their hero to stay with them. According to some sources, his heart remained at Missolonghi. His other remains were sent to England (accompanied by his faithful manservant, "Tita") for burial in Westminster Abbey, but the Abbey refused for reason of "questionable morality". Huge crowds viewed his coffin as he lay in state for two days in London. He is buried at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. A marble slab given by the King of Greece is laid directly above Byron's grave. His daughter, Ada Lovelace, was later buried beside him.
Byron's friends raised the sum of 1,000 pounds to commission a statue of the writer; Thorvaldsen offered to sculpt it for that amount. However, for ten years after the statue was completed in 1834, most British institutions turned it down, and it remained in storage. The statue was refused by the British Museum, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and the National Gallery before Trinity College, Cambridge, finally placed the statue of Byron in its library.
In 1969, 145 years after Byron's death, a memorial to him was finally placed in Westminster Abbey. The memorial had been lobbied for since 1907: The New York Times wrote, "People are beginning to ask whether this ignoring of Byron is not a thing of which England should be ashamed ... a bust or a tablet might be put in the Poets' Corner and England be relieved of ingratitude toward one of her really great sons."
Robert Ripley had drawn a picture of Boatswain's grave with the caption "Lord Byron's dog has a magnificent tomb while Lord Byron himself has none". This came as a shock to the English, particularly schoolchildren, who, Ripley said, raised funds of their own accord to provide the poet with a suitable memorial.
Close to the centre of Athens, Greece, outside the National Garden, is a statue depicting Greece in the form of a woman crowning Byron. The statue is by the French sculptors Henri-Michel Chapu and Alexandre Falguière. Since 2008, the anniversary of Byron's death, 19 April, has been honoured in Greece as "Byron Day".
Upon his death, the barony passed to Byron's cousin George Anson Byron, a career naval officer.