Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame
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In this masterful portrait of the poet who dazzled an era and prefigured the modern age of celebrity, noted biographer Benita Eisler offers a fuller and more complex vision than we have yet been afforded of George Gordon, Lord Byron.
Eisler reexamines his poetic achievement in the context of his extraordinary life: the shameful and traumatic childhood; the swashbuckling adventures in the East; the instant stardom achieved with the publication ofChilde Harold's Pilgrimage; his passionate and destructive love affairs, including an incestuous liaison with his half-sister; and finally his tragic death in the cause of Greek independence. This magnificent record of a towering figure is sure to become the new standard biography of Byron.
bright, But one unclouded blaze of living light; O’er the hush’d deep the yellow beam he throws, Gilds the green wave that trembles as it glows60 On March 19 Byron gave a supper for the entire Frank colony. To repay his social debts all at one time hinted of the host’s plans to leave Athens shortly. In preparation for his return to England and relations with women, he embarked on a series of casual sexual adventures with the local heterae: “I had a number of Greek and Turkish women, and I
publication while delaying Cawthorn’s plans to bring out Hints from Horace. Overjoyed, Dallas rushed the scrawled pages to his nephew, who was entrusted with making a fair copy for the printer. Now the only question that remained to be settled was who would publish Childe Harold. Since his return, Byron had heard literary gossip dismissing Cawthorn as second-rate; as he would shortly advise Hobhouse, one could not overstate the importance of the right publisher: “Much depends on him, & if the
chaise and they drove to Waterloo, where Byron struggled to reconcile the scenes of carnage fixed in his imagination with the prospect of peaceful fields returning to farmland: As the ground was before, thus let it be;— How that red rain hath made the harvest grow!8 Had it not been for the “importunity of boys and the glitter of buttons in the hands, there would be no sign of war,” Polidori noted.9 Along with buttons, Byron acquired other souvenirs prized by visitors to battlefields: swords
apart, ’Tis woman’s whole existence; man may range The court, camp, church, the vessel, and the mart, Sword, gown, gain, glory, offer in exchange Pride, fame, ambition, to fill up his heart, And few there are whom these can not estrange; Man has all these resources, we but one, To love again, and be again undone.29 Leaving Julia as she seals her letter, with Juan on his way to Cadiz to board his boat, Byron returns to his narrator. But the gossipy storyteller has been changed by his
leave no doubt that these “couples” enjoyed a semi-official status. Yet Byron felt guilty about Edleston to the point where he became obsessed with the need for secrecy; only Elizabeth Pigot and Ned Long were entrusted with knowledge of the nature and object of his love. Clearly the “pure tho’ violent passion” was an explosive situation waiting to ignite. Byron’s need to be guardian angel and protector of purity could not long survive his “naturally burning” temperament. Secrecy is the favorite