George Gordon Lord Byron
George Gordon (Noel) Byron was born January 22, 1788, in London, England. When his great-uncle died in 1798, Byron became the sixth baron Byron of Rochdale. He attended Trinity College in Cambridge and graduated with an MA degree in 1808. A brooding young man, Byron isolated himself from a young age. His first book of poems was published anonymously in 1806, but was considered lewd, due to some of its explicitly sensual lines. His second collection of poems also received mixed reviews and led Byron to escape abroad, traveling the Mediterranean where he began penning Canto I of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, a poetic journal of sorts. He published Cantos I and II in 1812 after returning to England the year before. It was an instant sensation, with five hundred copies selling out in three days, transforming the poet into an immediate celebrity. Forty-five hundred copies sold within six months, and soon the poet was invited to dine with the aristocratic elite, as the educated upper class admired the newly famous poet. He continued writing romantic verse, while at the same time pursuing a political career in the House of Lords.
Despite his popularity as a poet, Byron’s personal life continued to be riddled with scandal. In 1816, he separated from his wife, Anne Isabella Milbanke, after a rocky relationship and amid rumors of an affair with his married half-sister a few years prior. After their separation, Byron had several more affairs, including one with Claire Clairmont, sister-in-law to Percy Bysshe Shelley, and soon after, he fled the country for good, living the rest of his days in Italy. There, he embarked on his other most notable work, Don Juan, an epic novel in verse form. His poetic protagonists were so famously developed that even today, we can read works influence by his “Byronic hero,” a young man characterized by a rebellious, melancholy nature; someone talented, passionate, and riddled with guilt over a past wrong-doing—much like the poet himself.
Lord Byron died April 19, 1824, after a bout with severe colds and fevers. He was only thirty-six.