Portrait: LORD BYRON

 

LORD BYRON

(22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824)

 

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, FRS (22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824) known simply as Lord Byron, was an English peer, who was a poet and politician. He was one of the leading figures of the Romantic movement and is regarded as one of the greatest English poets. He remains widely read and influential.

He travelled extensively across Europe, especially in Italy, where he lived for seven years in the cities of Venice, Ravenna, and Pisa. During his stay in Italy he frequently visited his friend and fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Later in life Byron joined the Greek War of Independence fighting the Ottoman Empire and died of disease leading a campaign during that war, for which Greeks revere him as a folk hero. He died in 1824 at the age of 36 from a fever contracted after the First and Second Siege of Missolonghi.

From 1809 to 1811, Byron went on the Grand Tour, then customary for a young nobleman. The Napoleonic Wars forced him to avoid most of Europe, and he instead turned to the Mediterranean.

Byron began his trip in Portugal. From Lisbon he travelled overland to Seville, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, and Gibraltar, and from there by sea on to Sardinia, Malta, and Greece.

In 1810 in Athens, Byron wrote "Maid of Athens, ere we part" for a 12-year-old girl, Teresa Makri (1798–1875).

Byron and Hobhouse made their way to Smyrna, where they cadged a ride to Constantinople on HMS Salsette. While Salsette was anchored awaiting Ottoman permission to dock at the city, on 3 May 1810 Byron and Lieutenant Ekenhead, of Salsette's Marines, swam the Hellespont. Byron commemorated this feat in the second canto of Don Juan. He returned to England from Malta in July 1811 aboard HMS Volage.

After this break-up of his domestic life, and by pressure on the part of his creditors, which led to the sale of his library, Byron left England, and never returned. (Despite his dying wishes, however, his body was returned for burial in England.) He journeyed through Belgium and continued up the Rhine river. In the summer of 1816 he settled at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

There Byron befriended the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Shelley's future wife, Mary Godwin.

Byron wintered in Venice, pausing his travels.

In 1817, he journeyed to Rome. On returning to Venice, he wrote the fourth canto of Childe Harold. About the same time, he sold Newstead and published Manfred, Cain, and The Deformed Transformed. The first five cantos of Don Juan were written between 1818 and 1820.

Led by love for the local aristocratic, young, and newly married Teresa Guiccioli, Byron lived in Ravenna from 1819 to 1821.

Around this time he received visits from Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as from Thomas Moore, to whom he confided his autobiography or "life and adventures", which Moore, Hobhouse, and Byron's publisher, John Murray, burned in 1824, a month after Byron's death.

Byron was living in Genoa when, in 1823, while growing bored with his life there, he accepted overtures for his support from representatives of the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. At first, Byron did not wish to leave his 22-year-old mistress, Countess Teresa Guiccioli, who had abandoned her husband to live with him; ultimately Guiccioli's father, Count Gamba, was allowed to leave his exile in the Romagna under the condition that his daughter return to him, without Byron.At the same time that the philhellene Edward Blaquiere was attempting to recruit him, Byron was confused as to what he was supposed to do in Greece, writing: "Blaquiere seemed to think that I might be of some use-even here;—though what he did not exactly specify". With the assistance of his banker and Captain Daniel Roberts, Byron chartered the brig Hercules to take him to Greece. When Byron left Genoa, it caused "passionate grief" from Guiccioli, who wept openly as he sailed away to Greece. The Hercules was forced to return to port shortly afterwards. When it set sail for the final time, Guiccioli had already left Genoa. On 16 July, Byron left Genoa, arriving at Kefalonia in the Ionian Islands on 4 August.

Byron initially stayed on the island of Kefalonia, where he was besieged by agents of the rival Greek factions, all of whom wanted to recruit Byron to their own cause. The Ionian islands, of which Kefalonia is one, were under British rule until 1864. Byron spent £4,000 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet. When Byron travelled to the mainland of Greece on the night of 28 December 1823, Byron's ship was surprised by an Ottoman warship, which did not attack his ship as the Ottoman captain mistook Byron's boat for a fireship. To avoid the Ottoman Navy, which he encountered several times on his voyage, Byron was forced to take a roundabout route and only reached Missolonghi on 5 January 1824.

After arriving in Missolonghi, Byron joined forces with Alexandros Mavrokordatos, a Greek politician with military power.

To help raise money for the revolution, Byron sold his estate Rochdale Manor in England, which raised some £11,250; this led Byron to estimate that he now had some £20,000 at his disposal, all of which he planned to spend on the Greek cause. In today's money Byron would have been a millionaire many times over, and the news that a fabulously wealthy British aristocrat known for his generosity in spending money had arrived in Greece made Byron the object of much solicitation in a desperately poor country like Greece. Byron wrote to his business agent in England, "I should not like to give the Greeks but a half helping hand", saying he would have wanted to spend his entire fortune on Greek freedom.Byron found himself besieged by various people, both Greek and foreign, who tried to persuade Byron to open up his pocketbook to support them. By the end of March 1824, the so-called "Byron brigade" of 30 philhellene officers and about 200 men had been formed, paid for entirely by Byron.Leadership of the Greek cause in the Roumeli region was divided between two rival leaders: a former Klepht (bandit), Odysseas Androutsos; and a wealthy Phanariot merchant, Alexandros Mavrokordatos. Byron used his prestige to attempt to persuade the two rival leaders to come together to focus on defeating the Ottomans. At same time, other leaders of the Greek factions like Petrobey Mavromichalis and Theodoros Kolokotronis wrote letters to Byron telling him to disregard all of the Roumeliot leaders and to come to their respective areas in the Peloponnese. This drove Byron to distraction; he complained that the Greeks were hopelessly disunited and spent more time feuding with each other than trying to win independence. Byron's friend Edward John Trelawny had aligned himself with Androutsos, who ruled Athens, and was now pressing for Byron to break with Mavrokordatos in favour of backing his rival Androutsos. Androutsos, having won over Trelawny to his cause, was now anxious to persuade Byron to put his wealth behind his claim to be the leader of Greece.

Mavrokordatos and Byron planned to attack the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth. Byron employed a fire-master to prepare artillery, and he took part of the rebel army under his own command, despite his lack of military experience. Before the expedition could sail, on 15 February 1824, he fell ill, and bloodletting weakened him further. He made a partial recovery, but in early April he caught a violent cold, which therapeutic bleeding, insisted on by his doctors, aggravated. This treatment, carried out with unsterilised medical instruments, may have caused him to develop sepsis. He contracted a violent fever and died in Missolonghi on 19 April.

Byron achieved everything he could have wished. His presence in Greece, and in particular his death there, drew to the Greek cause not just the attention of sympathetic nations, but their increasing active participation ... Despite the critics, Byron is primarily remembered with admiration as a poet of genius, with something approaching veneration as a symbol of high ideals, and with great affection as a man: for his courage and his ironic slant on life, for his generosity to the grandest of causes and to the humblest of individuals, for the constant interplay of judgment and sympathy. In Greece he is still revered as no other foreigner, and as very few Greeks are, and like a Homeric hero he is accorded an honorific standard epithet, megalos kai kalos, a great and good man.

The national poet of Greece, Dionysios Solomos, wrote a poem about the unexpected loss, named To the Death of Lord Byron. Βύρων, the Greek form of "Byron", continues in popularity as a masculine name in Greece, and a suburb of Athens is called Vyronas in his honour.

Byron's body was embalmed, but the Greeks wanted some part of their hero to stay with them. According to some sources, his heart remained at Missolonghi.

 

Source from Wikipedia