I awoke one morning and found myself famous,” said the great poet Byron. This was almost the very truth. A single poem, a long one indeed, “Childe Harold,” made him the most talked of man of his time. His fame grew in a night. And yet he is said to have been prouder of being a descendant of those Byrons who came into England with William the Conqueror than of having been the author of “Childe Harold.”
The Byrons were an ancient and honorable family, numbering among them many famous soldiers and landowners. George Noel Gordon Byron, the poet, was born on January 22, 1788. His father was Captain John Byron, a profligate and spendthrift. His mother was Catherine Gordon, the second wife of “Mad Jack Byron,” as the poet’s father was called. His parents soon separated, Mrs. Byron taking her son with her.
In 1798 the poet’s great-uncle died, and George became Lord Byron at the age of ten. He and his mother were now assured of a comfortable income, and he was sent to Harrow School, where, in spite of his lameness, which he had suffered from birth, he became a good athlete.
At the age of sixteen Byron fell desperately in love with Mary Chaworth, a distant relative, two years older than himself. Her indifference broke the poet’s heart—for the time being.
He entered Cambridge in 1805, and while there wasted most of his time. He left college with the degree of Master of Arts at the age of twenty. In 1807 he published his first volume of poetry, “Hours of Idleness.” The Edinburgh Review ridiculed these in a satirical criticism. This provoked from Byron a brilliant retort in the form of a poem called “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.”
In 1809 he was off for Europe. In “Childe Harold” he has told his thoughts and experiences during these wanderings. The first two cantos of this poem appeared in 1812, and their success was instantaneous.
The life of a personality like Byron is so full of incident, so colored with romance and adventure, that to tell it in detail requires a great deal of space. Everything that he did was interesting; everywhere he went he left the impress of his genius. Women loved him, and men imitated him. Byron was the fashion, and the poet was renowned the world over.
He married Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1815. A daughter, Augusta Ada, afterward Countess of Lovelace , was born to them. In 1816 Lady Byron left her husband, giving as the reason her belief that he was insane.
The following spring Byron left England, and after traveling about for sometime met the poet Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in Switzerland. From there he went to Italy, where he lived for a number of years. When there he wrote many of his greatest poems.
About this time Greece was struggling to throw off the rule of Turkey. Byron, a great believer in liberty of every sort, gave freely of his sympathy and money to the cause. In 1823 he fitted up an expedition and sailed to the aid of the Greeks; but before he could get into active service he was taken fatally ill, and died at Missolonghi on April 19, 1824. His last words were of Greece, the country he had come to help to freedom: “I have given her my time, my means, my health—and now I give her my life! What could I do more?”
Byron’s body was carried back to England; but the British authorities would not allow him to be buried in Westminster Abbey. There is neither bust nor statue of him in Poets’ Corner. His remains were finally laid beneath the chancel of the village church of Hucknall Torkard.