George Gordon, Lord Byron
  (1788 - 1824)

Character

Speaking of his early character, Francis Gribble observes:

If he was proud, however, he was also sensitive; and it may well have been that his pride was, to some extent, a shield of protection which his sensitiveness threw up. He was sensitive, not only because he was poor when he ought to be rich and insignificant when he ought to be important, but also because he was lame. (FGLA, p13)

Of his development as a poet, he writes:

The striking change which we see the tone of his work undergoing as he grows older is the reflection of the history of his heart. Many of his later poems might have been written in mockery of the earlier ones. He had his illusions in his youth. In his middle-age, if he can be said to have reached middle-age, he had none, but wrote, to the distress of Countess Guiccioli, as a man who delighted to tear aside, with a rude hand, the striped veil of sentiment and hypocrisy which hid the ugly nakedenss of truth. The secret of that transformation is written in the record of his love affairs, and can be read nowhere else. (FGLA, pvii)

Gronow observes in his Reminiscences:

I have frequently asked Scrope Davis his private opinion of Lord Byron, and invariably received the same answer - that he considered Lord Byron very agreeable and clever, but vain, overbearing, conceited, suspicious, and jealous. Byron hated Palmerston, but liked Peel, and thought that the whole world ought to be constantly employed in admiring his poetry and himself: he never could write a poem or a drama without making himself its hero, and he was always the subject of his own conversation. (RGR, v1 p153-4)

Lady Blessington observes in her Conversations of Lord Byron (p47):

Notwithstanding all these contradictions in this wayward, spoiled child of genius, the impression left on my mind was, that he had both sentiment and romance in his nature; but that, from the love of displaying his wit and astonishing his hearers, he affected to despise and ridicule them.

She goes on to record some of the extended convolutions of thought which, if true, seem almost obsessional and almost incredible:

Experience has taught me that the only friends that we can call our own - that can know no change - are those over whom the grave has closed: the seal of death is the only seal of friendship. No wonder, then, that we cherish the memory of those who loved us, and comfort ourselves with the thought that they were unchanged to the last. The regret we feel at such afflictions has something in it that softens our hearts, and renders us better. We feel more kindly disposed to our fellow creatures, because able to excite affection, and, secondly, for the gratitude with which we repay it, - to the memory of those we have lost; but the regret we prove at the alientaion or unkindness of those we trusted and loved, is so mingled with bitter feelings, that they sear the heart, dry up the fountain of kindness in our breasts, and disgust us with human nature, by woulding our self-love in its most vulnerable part - the showing that we have failed to excite affection where we had lavished ours.

and so on.

Henry Edward Fox writes in Genoa on 31st March 1823:

To my great dismay the family of Blessington were forcing their way, and his Lordship had already gained admittance. I found Lord Byron very much annoyed at their impertinence and rather nervous. He received me most kindly, and indeed his good-nature to me has alwyas been most marked and flattering... A few grey locks scattered among his beautful black locks are all that announce the approach of that age that has made such an impression on his mind, and of which he talks so much. However, he is only thirty-five, and if he was fifty he could not consider himself older. D'Orsay was with them, and to my surprize I found that Lord Byron could not, or would not talk French. While the Blessington's staid, the conversation rather flagged. As soon as they were gone he talked most agreeably and most openly on every subject. He thinks of going to England.... Having lived so long out of this world it was rather an amusement to him to see what sort of an animan a dandy of the present day is.... He talked a great deal about Ldy Byron, and asked if I knew anything about her or the child. He said it was an odd fact, and perhaps one I should not believe, but that his recollection of her face is so imperfect that he is not sure he should know her again. The child he means to leave entirely under her guidance, for it if was to pass a month, a week, or a day with him alone, whatever it might do wrong afterwards would be ascribed to that unfortunate time. He alluded to the cause of their separation, and said he had no conception what it was for, but that the world would one day know he supposed. When he gave his MS Memoirs to Moore he offered Lady Byron to read them and add whatever she cose in the shape of note or observation. She wrote back that she declined to inspect them.... At Pisa he got into a squabble with the police abut a man that had insulted him, and that one of his servants cut at and wounded. The government took it up and vexed him by a thousand petty little tricks, and he therefore came here. During the revolution he was deeply implicated in the conspiracy, and had he been discovered he would have fared very ill. He was only suspected, and a hint was given him to leave the Papal States.

And on Thursday 1st May 1823 in Geneva.

Lord Byron has written a flattering letter about me to Moore. My vanity is tickled. To be approved of by one I so enthusiastically (but not blindly) admire is very pleasant. Of his faults he has his share like his neighbours, and his greatest, in my opinion, is the vanity he has of pretending they are greater than they really are and making a display of what the rest of the world try to conceal. He describes too well the delicate and honourable feelings of the heart, to be so devoid of them as half Europe believes. (HFJ, p 165-6)

Abbreviations

BECP Byron, Eisler, Benita, Child of Passion, Fool of Fame, first published Hamish Hamilton, 1999

FGLA Gribble, Francis Henry, The Love Affairs of Lord Byron, London, 1910

RGR Gronow, Rees Howell, Reminiscences of Captain Gronow, London, 1862

LCGL Crompton, Louis, Byron and Greek Love, University of California Press, 1985

MBLW Boyes, Megan, Love Without Wings, Derby, 1988

TMLJ Moore, Thomas, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, first published J.Murray, London, 1832

RPLJ1 Protheroe, Rowland, The Works of Lord Byron, Letter and Journals Vol 1, Free Plain Vanilla Electronic Texts, September 2005 

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