BYRON, GEORGE GORDON, LORD (1788-1824). From his cradle the famous Lord Byron, one of England's greatest poets, was marked out for unhappiness.
Though he was the scion of two noble families—one Scotch, one English—he enjoyed few days in the 36 years of his eventful life, crowded with adventures and sensational incidents, that were not embittered by pain and sorrow.
The misfortune that clouded his career was a lameness resulting, some surmise, from an attack of infantile paralysis. Unlike the sweet-tempered Sir Walter Scott, who also was lame, Byron brooded on his infirmity until it poisoned his whole existence.
"What a pretty boy Byron is!" a friend of his nurse once thoughtlessly remarked in his presence.
"What a pity he has such a leg!" Like a flash the child turned and slashed her with his toy whip, crying passionately in the Scotch dialect of his boyhood: " Dinna speak of it!" This was Byron's attitude throughout life; he was always turning on the world and savagely assailing it for some real or fancied grievance. In most of his work we see a scowling brow and a curling lip.
When his first volume of poems—published at the age of 19—was severely criticized by a reviewer, Byron savagely attacked not only his critic but the whole generation of literary men, in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers', one of the most scathing satires in the English language.
After a tour of Spain, Greece, Turkey, and other lands, Byron published the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage', and, to use his own words, " awoke one morning to find himself famous." He had become the hero of the hour. Fashionable society received him with open arms. Women wor shiped him, and young men imitated him by wearing the well-known open collar and flowing tie which the poet affected, and posed as melancholy romantic heroes, like those which Byron pictures. Even greater was his following on the Continent, especially in Germany, where he was hailed as second only to Shakespeare among the English poets.
But Byron's personal popularity was soon to end.
When his wife left him a year after their marriage, society turned against him, and Byron, disappointed and embittered, left England, never to return.
" Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it." Byron's death was such as he would have chosen for himself. He gave his life on the altar of freedom, dying of a fever while serving in the war of Greek independence against Turkey.
Byron passed judgment on himself when he wrote of one of his heroes: This should have been a noble creature: he Hath all the energy which would have made A goodly frame of glorious elements, Had they been wisely mingled ; as it is, It is an awful chaos—light and darkness, And wind and dust, and passions and pure thoughts Mixed, and contending without end or order.
Byron's chief works are: 'Hours of Idleness' (1807) ; `English Bards and Scotch Reviewers' (1809) ; `Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' (1812-18) ; 'The Giaour' (1813) ; 'The Bride of Abydos' (1813) ; 'The Corsair' (1814) ; Tara' (1814) ; `Manfred' (1817) ; 'Don Juan' (1819-1824) ; (1821).