Lord Byron, also known as George Gordon Byron, George Gordon Noel, and the Sixth Baron Byron, was one of the most influential writers from the Romantic Era of literature. He is famous for his poetry, but infamous his no-holds-barred lifestyle.
Lord Byron was born on January 22nd of 1788 in London (some think Dover) to John "Mad Jack" Byron and Mad Jack's second wife, Catherine Gordon who later had a strange relationship with her son and a drinking problem. Byron's father was notorious for seducing women for their estates, and he is described as "vicious" towards his wives. John Byron took Catherine's last name in order to claim her fortune after marriage. Both Catherine and John fled England to France to avoid creditors, but returned within a year in order to give birth to her son in England. Lord Byron's parents separated shortly after their return. Byron attended his first school in 1793 in Aberdeen but was frequently pulled out for excessive violence and his mother's overly protective nature. In 1794, Byron's great-uncle died, thus making him the heir to the Byron Baron title. He did not officially inherit the title until 1798, and, with that, he inherited the family estate: Newstead Abbey. Unfortunately, the estate had been disregarded over the years, so Byron's mother decided to lease it out to another nobleman. After that, he was sent to the Harrow School, and stayed there from 1801 to 1805. He eventually went on to attend Trinity College in Cambridge. Later on in life, Byron's wealthy stepmother died, which required him to change his last name to Noel to inherit half of her estate, which he did.
Byron, even at 14, was a prolific poet. His first collection of poetry, Fugitive Pieces (1806), contained a few of his poems from a young age. This first collection was not a successful one; he later withdraws the collection. Hours of Idleness (1807) was his second collection and it received tough criticism. The criticism later inspired him to write English Bards and Scotch Reviewers' (1809), a satirical work that criticized those who had criticized him. It was controversial enough that many critics challenged him to a duel. He later published Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812), which was received very well. He is known to have said "I woke one morning and found myself famous" after the excellent reception of this piece. Eventually, Byron found himself broke, once again, due to poor money management. In spite of this, Byron went abroad towards the Mediterranean passing through Spain, Portugal and Athens, Greece.
Influence on Mary Shelley
While on his travels in 1816, Byron found himself near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. There he befriended Percy Shelley , Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley) and Claire Clairmont (half sister to Mary Godwin). He had an affair with Claire Clairmont that resulted in a pregnancy. He and the others spent their time boating, writing and spending time with together, all the while bouncing ideas off each another. Byron eventually suggested they write their own ghost stories, chiefly after reading German ghost stories themselves. With the influence of Erasmus Darwin, Mary Shelley presented a short story that was the beginnings of Frankenstein. Byron published Manfred in 1817 and undoubtedly the idea of the Byronic Hero came up in conversation when they spoke of their writings. The Byronic hero influenced Frankenstein in the form of Victor Frankenstein. Mary Shelley must have connected with the Byronic Hero since her half-sister sister, Fanny Imlay, and Percy's wife committed suicide the same year they all met. Regeneration of dead tissue and the tragic Byronic hero weighed heavily on their minds as they could relate so well.
The Byronic Hero
Byron conceived this type of hero through his works, with Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812) said to be the first instance of such a man. The Byronic hero is one that closely mimics Byron himself, and is best summed up by Lord Macauley: "a man proud, moody, cynical with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection" (from Critical and Historical Essays Volume 2). An excellent example of the Byronic hero can be found in Manfred (1817). Manfred fits these Romantic criteria because he is above other humans so he must not submit to other human authority. Manfred is a man's man that only submits to himself and, later on, he proves to be his own regulator by means of self destruction. The classic Byronic hero, like Victor Frankenstein, does not fall because of others, but by his own hand and mistakes. Unmatched brilliance and arrogance are the eventual downfall for all Byronic heroes. Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost shares many similarities with Manfred and Victor Frankenstein alike as he is a revolutionary model for the Romantics. Mary Shelley, having spent time with and read Byron's work was influenced to make Victor, the human, the Byronic hero, while the monster is the tragic hero.
Lord Byron was known for many scandals with many people. Byron began his illustrious career of famous scandals with Lady Caroline Lamb. Lamb described Byron as "Mad, bad and dangerous to know" after their brief affair. After that, with a couple less notable women in between, he began seeing his half-sister in, what most people think, an intimate way. Her third daughter is thought to be Byron's. After that, he began seeing Lady Lambs' cousin, Anna Isabella Milbanke, who he later married. The marriage was an unhappy one and ended abruptly nearly an exact year later. They had a daughter in that time named Augusta Ada.
His most notable and relevant affair was with Claire Clairmont , Mary Shelley's illegitimate step-sister . The beautiful and talented young woman pursued Byron after his breakup with his wife. Claire was also ultimately responsible for the meetings of Percy, Mary and Byron, though her motives were not of the literary world, but of love. It is unknown if she knew she was pregnant before the trip had been planned or not. She eventually gave birth to Clara Allegra Byron (1817), who died at five-years-old. Byron continually denied any feelings for Claire. He told Claire to go back to England and help populate it. Byron left for Rome around the time of his daughter's birth in 1817, and he began another affair with the wife of a Venetian banker, Margarita Cogni. He became deeply saddened when he heard of his daughter's death while he is in Pisa. Clairmont later said that her relationship with Byron was a few minutes of pleasure but a lifetime of problems.
Legacy and Death
After spending time in Genoa, Byron decided to continue on to Greece. He spent time and money helping Greece's naval fleet, and after becoming a powerful Greek politician, he later became known as a Grecian hero. While in Turkey commanding a group of rebels, Byron developed a bad cold that was worsened by the act of bloodletting. He developed sepsis, a general swelling of the body, and a horrible fever, which finally killed him on April 19th, 1824. At the time of his death, Byron was not allowed in Westminster Abbey due to his lifestyle, but in 1969, a memorial was put in for him.
Works Cited and Further Readings
Christensen, Jerome (1993), Lord Byron's Strength, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
"Lord Byron." 2013. The Biography Channel website. Oct 16 2013, 03:40 http://www.biography.com/people/lord-byron-21124525.
Macaulay, Thomas Babington. "Volume 2." Critical and Historical Essays. Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1850. Print.