Lord Byron: my 19th Century Celebrity Crush

When we two parted

In silence and tears

Half broken hearted

To sever for years

Pale grew thy cheek, and cold

Colder thy kiss

Truly that hour foretold

Sorrow to this.

 

The dew of the morning

Sunk chill on my brow

It felt like the warning

Of what I feel now

Thy vows are all broken

And light is thy fame

I hear thy name spoken

And share in its fame

 

They name thee before me

A knell to mine ear

A shudder comes o’er me

Why wert thou so dear?

They know not I knew thee

Who knew thee too well

Long, long shall I rue thee

Too deeply to tell

 

In secret we met,

In silence I grieve

That thy heart could forget

Thy spirit deceive

If I should meet thee

After long years

How should I greet thee? –

With silence and tears.

250px-George_Gordon_Byron,_6th_Baron_Byron_by_Richard_Westall_(2)

Portrait of Byron by Richard Westall

I can’t make up my mind about George Gordon, Lord Byron, who died on this day in 1824. On the one hand, he was a spoiled rich kid, the only son of a family of landed gentry who were the Kardashian like scandal-riven celebrities of their day; he ate and drank too much, racked up huge debts and kept a live bear as a pet whilst at Cambridge University, just to annoy the college masters who said he couldn’t have a dog. His personal relationships were marred by domestic violence, infidelity and incest, and he showed an interest in teenagers of both sexes which by today’s standards would be considered pretty unpleasant.

On the other hand, he wrote intensely moving, lyrical poems like the one above which has always been one of my favourites. I doubt anyone’s ever written a more eloquent, heart-rending description of the break-up of a relationship. And despite his privileged position, he showed a genuine social conscience. He travelled to Greece to help the country’s struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire, and spent huge sums of his own money on the cause. But even as a young man, he showed compassion and concern for the poor – particularly the cloth workers in his native Nottinghamshire, who were being forced into destitution with the coming of the industrial age. His rank entitled him to a seat in the House of Lords, and in his maiden speech aged just 24 he railed against the harsh treatment of the Luddites. There’s a transcript of his speech at Luddites200.org.uk which is well worth reading in full, but here’s a snippet from it:

“suppose one of these men, as I have seen them meagre with famine, sullen with despair, careless of a life which your lordships are perhaps about to value at something less than the price of a stocking-frame ; suppose this man surrounded by those children for whom he is unable to procure bread at the hazard of his existence, about to be torn for ever from a family which he lately supported in peaceful industry, and which it is not his fault than he can no longer so support; suppose this man—and there are ten thousand such from whom you may select your victims,—dragged into court to be tried for this new offence, by this new law,—still there are two things wanting to convict and condemn him, and these are, in my opinion, twelve butchers for a jury, and a Jefferies for a judge!”

It’s this irresistible combination, his morality so flawed when it came to personal relationships but so compassionate in matters of social justice, that makes Byron such an intriguing figure. It’s easy to imagine the ladies of polite society making eyes at him over their fans – I think I’d definitely have been one of them! When he died aged 36 in Greece, he was revered as a hero by many of the Greeks. For all his obvious flaws, I can kind of see why.

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4 thoughts on “Lord Byron: my 19th Century Celebrity Crush

  1. If he were alive today, he’s surely have his own reality show, or maybe he’d be on “The Bachelor.” Sure did fit a lot of debauchery in his short life. You’re just full of surprises, missy!

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