George Gordon Byron 1788 – 1824
January 12, 2009
For most of his life, Byron was a vegetarian, but sadly, he seems to have died due to the handiwork of allopathic physicians in Greece in 1824.
Anne Isabella Byron, Byron’s wife, became an anti slavery campaigner and prison reformer, and she was a friend of John Epps, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lady Byron sent a present to William Ellery Channing.
Byron racked up numerous debts as a young adult due to what his mother termed a reckless disregard for money. She lived at Newstead during this time, in fear of her son’s creditors.
Correspondence among his circle of Cambridge friends also suggests that a key motive was the hope of homosexual experience, and other theories saying that he was worried about a possible dalliance with the married Mary Chatsworth, his former love (the subject of his poem from this time, To a Lady: On Being Asked My Reason for Quitting England in the Spring).
He travelled from England over Spain to Albania and spent time at the court of Ali Pasha of Ioannina, and in Athens. For most of the trip, he had a traveling companion in his friend John Cam Hobhouse.
While in Athens, Byron met Nicolò Giraud, who became quite close and taught him Italian. Byron sent Nicolò Giraud to school at a monastery in Malta and bequeathed him a sizable sum of seven thousand pounds sterling. The will, however, was later cancelled. After this break up of his domestic life Byron again left England, forever as it turned out.
He passed 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, John William Polidori.
There Byron befriended the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Shelley’s future wife Mary Shelley. He was also joined by Mary Shelley’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, with whom he had had an affair in London. Byron initially refused to have anything to do with Claire Clairmont, and would only agree to remain in her presence with the Shelleys, who eventually persuaded Byron to accept and provide for Allegra, the child she bore him in January 1817.
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 John William Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s to produce The Vampyre, the progenitor of the romantic vampire genre.
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 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 which period he made the acquaintance of the young Countess Teresa Guiccioli, who found her first love in Byron, who in turn asked her to elope with him.
It was about this time that he received a visit from Thomas Moore, to whom he confided his autobiography or “life and adventures”, which Moore, John Cam Hobhouse and Byron’s publisher, John Murray, burned in 1824, a month after Byron’s death…
Byron eventually took his seat in the House of Lords in 1811, shortly after his return from the Levant, and made his first speech there on 27 February 1812.
A strong advocate of social reform, he received particular praise as one of the few Parliamentary defenders of the Luddites: specifically, he was against a death penalty for Luddite “frame breakers” in Nottinghamshire, who destroyed textile machines that were putting them out of work. His first speech before the Lords was loaded with sarcastic references to the “benefits” of automation, which he saw as producing inferior material as well as putting people out of work. He said later that he “spoke very violent sentences with a sort of modest impudence” and thought he came across as “a bit theatrical”.
In another Parliamentary speech he expressed opposition to the established religion because it was unfair to people of other faiths. These experiences inspired Byron to write political poems such as Song for the Luddites (1816) and The Landlords’ Interest, Canto XIV of The Age of Bronze.
Ultimately, Byron resolved to escape the censure of British society (due to allegations of sodomy and incest) by living abroad, thereby freeing himself of the need to conceal his sexual interests…
Byron left England in 1816 and did not return for the last eight years of his life, even to bury his daughter. In 1816, Byron visited Saint Lazarus Island in Venice where he acquainted himself with Armenian culture through the Mekhitarist Order. He learned the Armenian language from Fr. H. Avgerian and attended many seminars about language and history.
He wrote English grammar and the Armenian in 1817, and Armenian grammar and the English (1819) in which he quoted samples from classical and modern Armenian. He participated in the compilation of the English Armenian dictionary (1821) and wrote the preface where he explained the relationship of the Armenians with and the oppression of the Turkish “pashas” and the Persian satraps, and their struggle of liberation. His two main translations are the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, several chapters of Khorenatsi’s Armenian History and sections of Lambronatsi’s Orations.
When in Polis he discovered discrepancies in the Armenian vs the English version of the Bible and translated some passages that were either missing or deficient in the English version. His fascination was so great that he even considered a replacement of 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 Fr. Ghevond Alishan, Smbat Shahaziz, Hovhannes Tumanyan, Ruben Vorberian and others. Byron had a bust sculpted of him by Bertel Thorvaldsen at this time.
From 1821 to 1822, he finished Cantos 6–12 of Don Juan at Pisa, and in the same year he joined with Leigh Hunt and Percy Bysshe Shelley in starting a short lived newspaper, The Liberal, in the first number of which appeared The Vision of Judgment.
His last Italian home was Genoa, where he was still accompanied by the Teresa, Contessa Guiccioli, and where he met Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington and Marguerite, Countess of Blessington and provided the material for her work Conversations with Lord Byron, an important text in the reception of Byron in the period immediately after his death.
Byron lived in Genoa until 1823 when, growing bored with his life there and with the Countess of Blessington, he accepted overtures for his support from representatives of the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire.
On 16 July, Byron left Genoa on the Hercules, arriving at Kefalonia in the Ionian Islands on 4 August. He spent £4000 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet, then sailed for Messolonghi in western Greece, arriving on 29 December to join Alexandros Mavrokordatos, a Greek politician with military power.
During this time, Byron pursued his Greek page, Lukas Chalandritsanos, but the affections went unrequited. When the famous Danish sculptor 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 took part of the rebel army under his own command and pay, despite his lack of military experience, but before the expedition could sail, on 15 February 1824, he fell ill, and the usual remedy of bleeding 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 19 April. It has been said that had Byron lived, he might have been declared King of Greece.