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Lord Byron

12th August 2015 / no comments, on Romantic Poets

With Lord Byron, English Romanticism developed into an international style. A charismatic figure of devastating charm and vanity, Byron became the beau ideal of the Romantic writer while pretending to do nothing so unspeakably vulgar. His poems were effortless best-sellers, his letters are among the finest and funniest in the language, and his stormy private life inspired over two hundred biographies and memoirs. His masterpiece is Don Juan, an autobiographical poem in five cantos begun in 1818, which reflects his lifelong travels through Europe and the Levant, and is written in his wonderful world-weary style of mocking colloquialisms and lyric irony.

His father, ‘Mad Jack’ Byron, died when he was only three and Byron grew up at Newstead Abbey, a dilapidated gothic pile in Nottinghamshire, a clever, lonely and passionate child who was always haunted by a secret ‘mark of Cain’, his club foot. At Cambridge he formed a brilliant circle of dandyish friends (one of them, Scrope Davies, noted that he slept in paper curlers) and in 1809 he set the literary establishment on fire with his satire ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’.

He came back from two years’ wanderings in Spain, Malta, Greece and Turkey to publish the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) and ‘awoke to find myself famous’. These were followed by several Oriental verse-tales {The Corsair was written in ten days) and a glorious period of social lionising, including his scandalous affair with the volatile Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828), who sometimes dressed for him as a pageboy.

Lady Caroline Lamb subsequently published a gothic novel of her passionate entanglement with Byron, Glenarvon (1816), and died insane twelve years later.

Byron worked for the Drury Lane Theatre Committee, made lasting alliances with Walter Scott and the poet Tom Moore (a future biographer, 1830) and encouraged Coleridge to publish ‘Christabel’ But the liaison with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh and the collapse of his marriage to Arabella Millbank drove him abroad again in 1816, to settle in Italy with his menagerie of Venetian mistresses and exotic animals, brilliantly evoked in his poem ‘Beppo (1818). In 1821 he moved to the Palazzo Lanfranchi, Pisa with the Countess Teresa Guiccioli, a bulldog and a billiard table.

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