Review of Last Lecture

A sunny may evening saw our Society enjoying Elizabeth Merry's talk on Lord Byron.  The one thing we all know about his Lordship is the epithet "Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know" coined by Lady Caroline Lamb. Elizabeth explained why it is so true.

The sixth Baron came from two long lines of profligate adventurers, both sides of the family, Mother's Scottish Gordons and the previous five Baron Byrons all having got through any money they could lay hands on and been active philanderers.

Byron's childhood was not happy.  He was the great nephew of the 5th Baron, Lord of Newstead Abbey, which true to form, was mortgaged up to the hilt.  Young George was only ten years old when he became the 6th Baron, but he and his widowed mother set about ensuring that his lifestyle suited his status.

The boy grew into handsome youth, his only problem being a club foot, but that does not seem to have held him back from following in the family footsteps of spending money like water and flirting with every available female.  A grant from the Civil list enabled George to go to Harrow, from where he went to Trinity College Cambridge celebrating his noble status by wearing the permitted gold trimmed gown and spending his time gambling.  After Cambridge, he hit London, joining in the general lifestyle of his set, running up even more debts and eventually running away to the continent to escape his creditors.

Byron, his friend Hobhouse, and page Robert started their travels in Portugal.   The Grand Tour was out of the question since Napoleon was trying to take over Europe and there was fighting almost everywhere.  From Portugal to Seville on horseback, to Cadiz for a bullfight where Byron was shocked at the bloodlust of the audience, then Gibraltar, Malta, Albania, Greece and Turkey.

In Albania the local war lord, Ali Pasha, decreed that Byron should be welcomed because the British were fighting Napoleon.  Then Greece, where the locals loathed their Turkish overlords.  Byron was captivated by the people and the country and called it the happiest year of his life.  Then they took ship for Turkey, and now occurred the other fact everyone knows about Byron, he swam the Hellepont.

Byron in Albanian Dress

During his travels Byron started writing what we now know as Childe Harold, Childe being an archaic term for a young man of noble birth.  On returning to London in 1812 George gave his manuscript to the publisher.  It was a sensation.  He became an overnight superstar; it was now that (married) Lady Caroline Lamb, 'threw herself at him'.  After assorted affairs he married Annabella Millbanke, an heiress.  However, he did not change his lifestyle, and Annabella was miserable, a situation aggravated by George's infatuation with his half-sister, Augusta. This affair scandalised Society and led to Annabella divorcing him, an amazing scandal in itself, and Byron leaving the country for the last time.Although persona non grata in London, his poetry, which he continued to write, was still popular.  

In 1823 Byron returned to Greece where the independence movement was gathering strength.  He landed at Missolonghi bearing money for the cause and was greeted as a hero.  Unfortunately he was not well on arrival and he, not long after, died in Missolonghi, mourned by the Greek people and the fans of his poetry.

Lord Byron arriving at Missolonghi