We return to the library of our typical Regency gentleman in order to take one of the most scandalous volumes off of its shelf: the poetry of Lord Byron.
Byron is the archetype of an eponymous sort of Regency hero – the sort that is, in the words of his contemporary and sometimes-lover Lady Caroline Lamb: “Mad – bad – and dangerous to know”. You want brooding? You want scandalous? You want the dark and handsome hero who just might be too depraved to be redeemed? Meet George Gordon, Lord Byron.
As a boy, Byron suffered what would now be called child abuse and grew up, sadly, to repeat the pattern. He’s such a legendary figure that it’s hard, even now, to be sure exactly which stories about him are true and which aren’t, but he treated his wife badly, conducted numerous affairs – possibly with both men and women – and fathered several illegitimate children, including (persistent rumor had it) one by his own half-sister.
Yet for all this, he wrote exquisite poetry, treasured both in his own time and still treasured today.
Byron’s poetry took Regency society by storm in 1812, when he published the beginning of “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, a poem inspired by his own recent European travels. He went on to write “Don Juan”, and many other verses, though the most famous today is the song that begins:
“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes” .
Byron died young, at age 36, one of the most celebrated and controversial artists of the Regency – or any – period.