Lord Byron — the 6th Baron Byron — club-footed, handsome, notorious, whose full name was George Gordon Noel Byron, surely as much a genius of personality as he was of poetry, was born January 22, 1788.
He died, just over thirty-six years later (April 19th, 1824) in Greece, where he’d gone to join the revolution — specifically, the Greek struggle to liberate from Turkey.
To this day, Byron is looked upon as national hero in Greece, though at least a few others have not thought of him in quite those same terms:
“A man of genius whose heart is perverted,” William Wordsworth called Lord Bryon.
“The most vulgar-minded genius that ever produced a great effect in literature,” George Eliot called Lord Byron.
“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Caroline Lamb said of Lord Byron.
“The greatest poetic genius of our century,” Goethe called Lord Byron.
(“The greatest poetic genius of our century,” Lord Byron called Goethe.)
Byron was nine-years-old when he was introduced to sex by his nurse, one May Gray.
(Goethe did not go to bed with a woman until he was forty.)
Quoth Lord Byron’s friend, the fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, in a letter from Venice:
The most ignorant, the most disgusting, the most bigoted, countesses smell so strongly of garlic, that an ordinary Englishman cannot approach them. Well, Lord Byron is familiar with the lowest sorts of these women, the people his gondolieri pick up in the streets.
“Wonderful man! I long to get drunk with him,” reads a line from Lord Byron’s journal, regarding Sir Walter Scot.
“As long as I retain my feeling and my passion for Nature, I can partly soften or subdue my other passions and resist or endure those of others,” wrote Lord Byron.
“He was only thirty-six when he died, yet he had already grown overweight and flaccid, with thinning hair and abominable teeth. Nonetheless, every second town in Greece would name a public square after him,” wrote the critic Harold Bloom.
But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think;
It’s strange, the shortest letter which man uses
Instead of speech, may form a lasting link
Of ages; to what straits old Time reduces
Frail man, when paper — even a rag like this —
Survives himself, his tomb, and all that’s his.
Wrote Byron in Don Juan.
Happy birthday, Byron! I loved you once.