Poets of the Regency: George Gordon, Lord Byron

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.

-Jessica Snell 


Previous Poets of the Regency posts:

-William Wordsworth

-Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

7 thoughts on “Poets of the Regency: George Gordon, Lord Byron

  1. On what evidence do you claim that Byron committed child abuse? Please clarify.
    Byron’s main fault as far the reviewers of his time were concerned was their charge that he wrote immoral and blasphemous poetry. Not immoral as we might consider it, but immoral because Cain didn’t act like the Cain of Scriptures and none of his Muslim heroes converted to Christianity nor was any awareness shown of the wretched fate that awaited those who didn’t die as Christians. Cain was refused a copyright. He also wrote about the time just before the Flood which many thought not at all according to scripture. He was said to sympathize with the sinners instead of accepting that all unbelievers were destroyed.
    There are innumerable quotations of scriptures in his poetry. There are a couple of books on Byron and the Bible.
    His sister Augusta did not have sex with him and didn’t have his child. He is known to have fathered two or possibly three children. One hasn’t been proved.
    Byron certainly wasn’t a saint or even a conventional Anglican but he quoted the Bible a great deal in his works and discussed theology with the monks at the monastery where he stayed for awhile studying language and other subjects. A child who had a physical deformity that loomed large in his eyes and a mother who seemed to be unable to be consistent in her discipline ( if she even knew what that was.) He inherited a peerage at age 10 but didn’t have anyone to show him how peers were supposed to act or what it meant to be a peer.
    Not an easy person to pigeon hole and one who probably never was as black a he has been painted. The defamation came from a spurned lover and a wife who had to justify leaving her husband when women who had it much harder had to stay.
    He has poems published in a book on Sacred Gems of Poetry.
    His poems for Hebrew Melodies generally recount some event from the OT. Do read that collection of poems.
    Shelley was an avowed atheist so the courts wouldn’t let him have custody of his children after his wife died.
    Byron let his wife have custody of their daughter though children belonged to the father.

  2. Nancy, forgive me for being unclear. I meant that he was abused as a child and had largely abusive relationships as an adult, not that he committed child abuse. My fault for being unclear!

    • I do not agree that he had largely abusive relationships as an adult, though I wouldn’t call him the most thoughtful man around. Many of his own tales of conquest were exaggerated. He was more seduced than seducer. many of the tales of his abuse come from a scorned lover and a wife who left him and had to justify it somehow

  3. Have to agree with Nancy, here. I was going to question the “child abuse” claim, myself, but saw that she already had. (Thank you, Nancy.)
    We all love the idea of “mad, bad, and dangerous,” and the fact that he was so good-looking added greatly to this “persona,” but the more I read about Byron, the more I feel that he was dangerous mostly to himself. Not saying he treated his wife well, mind you (quite the opposite). But he could, in fact, have been much more bad and dangerous than he was, particularly given his title and fame.

  4. Annabelle Milbanke was niece to Lady Melbourne. Though Lady Melbourne was a sophisticated woman of the world, as well as a worldly woman– even her son said she wasn’t chaste– she professed to believe in the old saying that a good woman could reform a rake. She forgot the part that said a good woman with whom the rake found himself in love could reform him– or he would reform himself for her sake.
    Miss Milbanke and Byron were absolutely miscast as a couple. They had nothing in common except a sort of interest in poetry on her part. . Miss Milbanke wrote to Byron quite often about poets and poetry. When egged on by her aunt, he proposed, she pretended to be half way promised to another.
    He had had an affair with her cousin’s wife, for heaven’s sake. That alone should have made her stay far away from him. Instead she told her friends she would marry him and reform him. Of course she failed. They had bailiffs ion the kitchen throughout their married life because every one thought Miss Milbanke had brought a fortune with her. It was several years before he saw much of the dowry. The duns in the kitchen bothered Byron. he also was on a foolish diet and liverish. Worse of all, his wife wouldn’t let him write in peace and tried to censor what he wrote.
    Though he said some unpleasant and harsh things to his wife during their year of marriage, when she left to go to her parents to show them the baby– and the lease of the expensive house was up–Lady Byron left urging him to hurry with the business of moving and join her at her father’s house. She wrote humorous and affectionate notes to him on her journey. Then the next thing he receives is a paper stating she wanted a separation. She never told him why.
    All the newspapers and cartoons commented on the fact that he went off with an actress. he didn’t but he had had an affair with one, and then with Mary Godwin Shelley’s step sister– Clare.
    lady Caroline Lamb, Lady Byron and Claire do complain about their treatment. However, he had two mistresses in Italy, neither of whom complained of his treatment of them.
    Not the best behaviour considering all parties were married.
    Lady Caroline Lamb never got over Byron even though she said she was in love with her husband for the rest of her life. She was finally cast off by his family after she crowned her other antics by writing a book in which she skewed everyone , including her mother.
    I wouldn’t trust anything Lady Caroline said. She even lied about her own biography to Lady Morgan.
    Lady Byron has a reputation for propriety and rectitude. but her own letters to friends condemn her as a hypocrite. She tortured poor Augusta and encouraged one of her daughters to sue Augusta for money that Augusta had been keeping safe for their future.
    I can not like Lady Byron for her treatment of Augusta. It wasn’t an equal
    match This pattern card of propriety waited until everyone was dead except her, to give her version of the separation to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Then said it wasn’t to be published until she herself was dead. Even though it was 50 years since Byron’s death and 30 years since Augusta died, there were a few who protested the article. Mrs. Stowe got in hot water. Some say the magazine never recovered and the battle has been going on for over a hundred years with one side saying that one had to accept that Lady Byron was stating the truth. The other group said she was presenting material to make herself look good. Byron’s poetry and Byron were once again famous.
    Mrs. Stowe admired Byron and wrote a letter to lady Byron expressing her admiration– and probably wondering why such a proper lady did something so scandalous as leave her husband. The rest, they say , is history.
    Back to the allegation that Byron mistreated his wife and mistresses. As far as we know , he never touched one in anger. He didn’t use his fists on women– why should he when he had a tongue as sharp as a razor ? he was a poor husband but she knew that before she hinted that she had changed her mind and practically made him propose. Never, ever marry anyone with the idea of reforming him/her. ( though this is usually the folly of women.)
    The main thing is that neither Byron or anyone else was ever told why Lady Byron refused to return to him and never saw him again after she left the house with her baby to go visit her parents. He was supposed to join her there.
    Remember, I do not claim sainthood nor even excusable behavior. I just think that Byron has been accused by people we know lied about other things.
    Critics and readers want naughty details and the naughtier the better.
    As you can see ths is a subject on which I feel passionately.

    • I love your passion, Nancy! I never saw that about his wife leaving on supposedly happy terms, but then abruptly changing her mind. Thanks for filling us in on so much! So when is your book about Byron coming out? (tee hee)

      • Hear, hear! Nancy, I wrote my post mostly as a (very short) introduction – I’m hoping mostly to send people to these poets to read them for themselves. And even if my post failed to do that, your comments certainly are fascinating enough to raise anyone’s interest!

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