Saturday, December 3, 2016

romanticizing lord byron

Lord Byron was the original Don Juan. Coincidentally, he also wrote a satirical poem about Don Juan. I suspect that it was because he felt a kinship with the Don Juan character and wanted to, "set the record straight" for all "sexually charged men". 

Byron was well known for his bi-sexual scandals, romps with lovers, and an incestuous affair with his half-sister. Oh, and I hear he was a bit of a poet (she says dryly).

Left: Portrait of Lord Byron in Albanian Dress by Thomas Phillips
Right: Portrait of Lord Byron by Théodore Géricault
My discovery of Lord Byron came about because of my interest in gothic or "penny dreadful" tales. In a single youth-filled summer I read, Vampyre by John William Polidori, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Carmilla by Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu, and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

My copy of Vampyre came from a local thrift store. Inside the book was a folded printout of nformation akin to the following:
In June of 1816, an eclectic group gathered at the summer residence of famed poet Lord Byron in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The group consisted of Byron’s mistress Jane Clairmont, her step-sister Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. They joined Byron and John Polidori, a doctor, who were already present, for a nice summer holiday. The weather was uncharacteristically bad, however, and, unable to enjoy outdoors activities, the group began reading German ghost stories. A crowd with such literary minds could not be constrained to simply read such stories, and a challenge was raised amongst the group to write their own supernatural tales. Clairmont and Shelley didn’t finish anything; Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, eventually to become Mary Shelley, wrote Frankenstein. Lord Byron wrote a fragment known as Augustus Darvell. John Polidori produced the nightmarish short story The Vampyre. - skullsinthestars
It made me curious who this Lord Byron was. He was indirectly responsible for two pieces of literature that left an impression on me. Also, it could be argued that without the book Vampyre, nethier Carmilla or Dracula would have been written.

After some research, I found that he was gloriously eccentric, club-footed, damaged human being. His words bespoke romance, but the man behind it was madness. 

He drank his wine from a human skull. He swam the Turkish Hellspont -- a four mile stretch of water now called the Dardanelles. His father went by the name "Mad Jack" and Byron liked to tell people his father died by slitting his own throat. He had a coffin in his dining room. He used his ancestor's bones as flower pots and his daughter was the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. 

In a letter, a friend wrote about time he spent with Byron;
Lord Byron gets up at two. I get up, quite contrary to my usual custom … at 12. After breakfast we sit talking till six. From six to eight we gallop through the pine forest which divide Ravenna from the sea; we then come home and dine, and sit up gossiping till six in the morning. I don’t suppose this will kill me in a week or fortnight, but I shall not try it longer. Lord B.’s establishment consists, besides servants, of ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon; and all these, except the horses, walk about the house, which every now and then resounds with their unarbitrated quarrels, as if they were the masters of it… . [P.S.] I find that my enumeration of the animals in this Circean Palace was defective … . I have just met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane. I wonder who all these animals were before they were changed into these shapes. - Wikipedia

While studying at Cambridge, Lord Byron learned that he could not have his dog Smut (yes, that was his dog's name) stay in his dorm. Infuriated with the Cambridge rule on canines, he acquired a bear and proceeded to walk it around campus. There was no rule against bears! He even tried to get the bear enrolled as a student.

That. Is. Priceless. 

I am not saying that I romanticize the poet. I just think he was a troubled soul who was fascinatingly flawed.

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