George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, later George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, (22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824), commonly known simply as Lord Byron, was an English poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement. Among Byron's best-known works are the brief poems "She Walks in Beauty" and "When We Two Parted".
"I want a hero: an uncommon want,
When every year and month sends forth a new one,
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
The age discovers he is not the true one;
Of such as these I should not care to vaunt,
I 'll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan—
We all have seen him, in the pantomime,
Sent to the devil somewhat ere his time."
"Far from being a modern epic, or an adaptation of the epic to the nineteenth century, <i>Don Juan</i> systematically parodies or attacks the major conventions of epic poetry as set forth by neoclassic criticism. The action of an epic poem was expected to be single, and great; the action of Don Juan is purely episodic and often flagrantly "low." The only actions which could be considered great-the shipwreck and the siege of Ismail-are treated with a literal realism that is entirely foreign to the epic spirit."
Byron early became aware of reality’s imperfections, but the skepticism and cynicism bred of his disillusionment coexisted with a lifelong propensity to seek ideal perfection in all of life’s experiences. Consequently, he alternated between deep-seated melancholy and humorous mockery in his reaction to the disparity between real life and his unattainable ideals. The melancholy of Childe Harold and the satiric realism of Don Juan are thus two sides of the same coin: the former runs the gamut of the moods of Romantic despair in reaction to life’s imperfections, while the latter exhibits the humorous irony attending the unmasking of the hypocritical facade of reality.
In his dynamism, sexuality, self-revelation, and demands for freedom for oppressed people everywhere, Byron captivated the Western mind and heart as few writers have, stamping upon nineteenth-century letters, arts, politics, even clothing styles, his image and name as the embodiment of Romanticism.
In July 1823, Byron left Italy to join the Greek insurgents who were fighting a war of independence against the Ottoman Empire. On 19 April 1824 he died from fever at Missolonghi, in modern day Greece. His death was mourned throughout Britain. His body was brought back to England and buried at his ancestral home in Nottinghamshire.
Byron travelled on to Italy, where he was to live for more than six years. In 1819, while staying in Venice, he began an affair with Teresa Guiccioli, the wife of an Italian nobleman. It was in this period that Byron wrote some of his most famous works, including 'Don Juan' (1819-1824).
Byron attended Trinity College, Cambridge, intermittently from October 1805 until July 1808, when he received an M.A. degree. During "the most romantic period of [his] life," he experienced a "violent, though pure, love and passion" for John Edleston, a choirboy at Trinity two years younger than he. Intellectual pursuits interested him less than such London diversions as fencing and boxing lessons, the theater, demimondes, and gambling. Living extravagantly, he began to amass the debts that would bedevil him for years.
After her husband had squandered most of her fortune, Mrs. Byron took her infant son to Aberdeen, Scotland, where they lived in lodgings on a meagre income. In 1798, at age 10, he unexpectedly inherited the title and estates of his great-uncle William, the 5th Baron Byron. His mother proudly took him to England, where the boy fell in love with the ghostly halls and spacious ruins of Newstead Abbey, which had been presented to the Byrons by Henry VIII.
His mother, Catherine Gordon, was a wealthy noblewoman from the Scottish family Gordon; his father, John Byron, was a sea captain and a descendant of the companions of William the Conqueror. He was born with a clubfoot and an injured Achilles tendon which forced him to walk on the balls of his feet, a disfigurement which haunted him for the rest of his life.
In 1812 he published <i>Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage</i>, a long semi-autobiographical poem which has become one of his most famous. Almost immediately Byron became a national figure, famous for his poetic talent. He used this newfound fame to catapult himself into several love affairs: he struck up relationships with Annabella Milbanke, who would be his future wife, Caroline Lamb, wife of future prime minister William Lamb and no relation to Mary and Charles Lamb, and his half-sister Augusta. He was widely vilified for his relationship with his half-sister, who in 1814 bore a daughter many consider to be Byron’s.