George Gordon Noel Byron Byron, 6th Baron

Early Life and Works

He was the son of Capt. John ("Mad Jack") Byron and his second wife, Catherine Gordon of Gight. His father died in 1791, and Byron, born with a clubfoot, was subjected alternately to the excessive tenderness and violent temper of his mother. In 1798, after years of poverty, Byron succeeded to the title and took up residence at the family seat, Newstead Abbey. He subsequently attended Dulwich school and Harrow (1801–5) and then matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge. Although the academic atmosphere did nothing to lessen Byron's sensitivity about his lameness, he made several close friends while at school.

His first volume, Fugitive Pieces (1806), was suppressed; revised and expanded, it appeared in 1807 as Poems on Various Occasions. This was followed by Hours of Idleness (1807), which provoked such severe criticism from the Edinburgh Review that Byron replied with English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), a satire in heroic couplets reminiscent of Pope, which brought him immediate fame.

Byron left England the same year for a grand tour through Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the Balkans. He returned in 1811 with Cantos I and II of Childe Harold (1812), a melancholy, philosophic poem in Spenserian stanzas, which made him the social lion of London. It was followed by the verse tales The Giaour (1813), The Bride of Abydos (1813), The Corsair (1814), Lara (1814), The Siege of Corinth (1816), and Parisina (1816).

Byron's name at this time was linked with those of several women, notably Viscount Melbourne's wife, Lady Caroline Lamb. In Jan., 1815, he married Anne Isabella Milbanke, a serious, rather cold, young woman with whom he had little in common. She gave birth to a daughter, Augusta Ada, the following December. In 1816 she secured a separation. Although her reasons for such an action remain obscure, evidence indicates that she discovered the existence of an incestuous relationship between Byron and his half-sister, Mrs. Augusta Leigh. Although his many attachments to women are notorious, Byron was actually ambivalent toward women. There is considerable evidence that he also had several homosexual relationships.

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