BYRON, George Gordon Noel, sixth baron Byron

Born: January 22, 1788 in London, England

Died: April 19, 1824 in Missolonghi, Greece

George Gordon Noel Byron was an English poet and writer of the romantic movement. Although he lived only to the age of thirty-six, his life was colorful and adventuresome. He is regarded as the model of the romantic hero.

Byron's mother, Catherine Gordon Byron of Gight, was a Scottish heiress who married Captain John "Mad Jack" Byron. The Captain, however, was a fortune-hunting widower who squandered his wife's inheritance and evaded debtors' jail by moving to France. Byron was born with a club foot, and was teased throughout his life for this handicap. He was sexually active as early as age nine, initiated by the household maid.

In 1798, Byron inherited the title and estates of his great-uncle "Wicked" William, fifth baron Byron. Two years later, he fell in love with his cousin, Margaret Parker. Her death in 1802 provided an impetus to begin his career of inspired, passionate writing. That same year, he wrote the poem, On the Death of A Young Lady.

Byron was educated at Harrow School from 1801 to 1805. Despite his lameness, he was a good athlete and excellent scholar. He was fondly attached to his classmates and much has been made about his bisexual tendencies. During this time, he fell in love with a distant and engaged cousin, Mary Chaworth, taking a term off school in 1803 to be near her. It is thought that she was the perfection of womanhood that he wrote about. In 1804, he began a correspondence with his half-sister as he retreated from his often violent mother.

He attended Trinity College, University of Cambridge, from 1805 to 1808, obtaining a master's degree. After his graduation, he lived a life of leisure rather than that of a scholar and began to build debts.

In 1807, he anonymously published Hours of Idleness, minus the erotic lines of an earlier, racier version. The critical reviews and personal attacks which resulted from the publication of this work prompted a witty reply in the form of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. This work, published in 1809, established Byron as a satiric wit. The work also reflects the influences of seventeenth century poets Pope and Dryden.

Byron adopted the name "Noel" in 1822 to receive an inheritance from his mother-in-law. In 1809, he reached the age of majority and took seat in the House of Lords. In this year, he also began to travel Portugal, Spain and Greece and Turkey. During the next two years, he experienced shipwreck, and fever, and demonstrated heroism by saving a woman from drowning.

His poetic account of these travels includes the first instance of the Byronic Hero named Childe Harold. The character Harold is a young man of stormy emotions who shuns humanity and wanders through life with the burden of a mysterious past. It is thought that Byron used himself as the model for the character.

In 1811, Byron returned to England and three weeks later his mother died, followed by the death of John Edleston, a choirboy he had loved at Trinity College. In 1812, Byron made his first speech in the House of Lords. Radical for the day, the speech defended the actions of workers who had broken machines which deprived them of work. In 1812, the first publication of his work, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, sold 500 copies in three days.

Byron was notorious for his love affairs. Lady Caroline Lamb called him, "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Their affair lasted a summer and she pursued him after he broke it off. In 1816, she wrote of the romance in Glenarvon. Byron, continuing his legacy of romantic quests, proposed to a friend of Lamb's, Anne Isabella Milbanke, but she turned him down. He quickly turned his affections to Jane Elizabeth Scott, who became Lady Oxford later that year.

By 1814, Byron was at the pinnacle of his popularity. The Corsair sold 10,000 copies on the day of publication. In 1815, he married Isabella Milbanke who conceded she made a mistake by rejecting him in the first place. Together, they had Byron's only legitimate child, Augusta Ada (Lady Lovelace).

Byron fathered many children. His affair with Claire Clairmont, the half sister of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, resulted in the birth of Allegra in 1817. The public had been sympathetic to him, despite his indiscreet affairs. However, after Byron hinted to a friend that he'd had an affair with his own half-sister, he was forced into isolation for fear of the public's reaction.

His philandering, heavy drinking, and violent outbursts compelled Lady Byron to leave him in 1816. Later, they agreed to a legal settlement. In 1816, he left England, never to return. Under the influence of different languages and different literature his writing changed. He gave up his tortured hero and replaced him with a witty, observant and cynical poet-narrator. In 1818, he published the first example of his new narrator in Beppo.

Byron, through his relationship with Claire Clairmont, met Percy Bysshe Shelley and Leigh Hunt. Together, the group founded a journal that they named The Liberal. However, Shelley died a week after its inception and, because of conflicts between Byron and Hunt, only four issues were printed.

As a seeker of adventure, Byron traveled to Greece at the news the Greeks were revolting against the Turks. He joined the revolution in July 1823, recruiting a regiment and contributing large sums of money to the cause. The Greeks made him commander-in-chief of the force in January 1824. He died from a fever and the practice of bleeding the sick with leeches. Ironically, Byron died at the same age as his father and daughter. He was refused his proper place in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abby and was buried in the family vault at Hucknall-Torkard Church.