“I am reading them now for the second time. I should not like to miss them although they leave behind a painful impression. How much gossip often about the most futile things ; what offences taken at each silly judgment of journalists ; what a wild life with dogs, monkeys, peacocks, horses; everything without connecting links! Only as regards taking a view on a thing, Byron judges well and clearly ; reflection is not his. His judgments and combinations are often those of children. With what patience he allows himself to be reproached with plagiarisms, firing only small shot at his antagonists for his defence, instead of thundering down upon them with heavy cannons. Does not everything that the past and the present have done belong by right light to the poet ? Why should he feel afraid of culling flowers wherever he finds them ? Only by appropriating the very best part of other people's [mental] treasures, something great can be produced. Have I not myself made use of Job and of a Shakespeare-song for Mephistopheles ? Byron was mostly unknown to himself a great poet; seldom he fully enjoyed his own self.'" (Goethe)
When “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” was published and his lordship “awoke one morning and found myself famous", his course was set for him to become the greatest cultural icon of the 19th century, rivalled only by Napoleon. As it seems, the contemporary public, softened up by a few decades of widely read Gothic fiction and the earlies of the Romantic Movement, had just waited for the libertinous offshoot of eccentric Scottish nobility, his very own meanderings through the Mediterranean world and the racy tales he told and versified – condensed into a new cult figure: the Byronic Hero, smart, passionate, courageous, marked by a cruel fate, restless, sensitive, lonely. And while the female audience, from chambermaid to duchess, from John O’Groates to Moscow, swooned over the verses of the doomed poet and the jeunesse dorée’s menfolk wore their shirt collar open with flying scarves wound around them, striking pensive poses á la Byron. And the scandals, of course. Allegedly buggering everything with a heartbeat, girls, married women, men, boys, his own half-sister. Byron was the prime mover for a rock star image. He literally wrote the book.
It is very probably quite an exaggeration that Byron had laid down his life for the freedom of Greece. In fact, he was already sick unto death when he arrived there in 1823, completely spent at the age of 35 and died barely a year later as the leader of a Greek rebel army from various ailments, topped by a sever fever. There were speculations, however, that he might have been crowned as the King of Greece, he who pondered Prinny’s idea of making him poet laureate: “The other night, at a ball, I was presented by order to our gracious Regent, who honoured me with some conversation, and professed a predilection for poetry.—I confess it was a most unexpected honour, and I thought of poor Brummell's adventure, with some apprehension of a similar blunder. I have now great hope, in the event of Mr. Pye's decease, of "warbling truth at court," like Mr. Mallet of indifferent memory.—Consider, one hundred marks a year! besides the wine and the disgrace; but then remorse would make me drown myself in my own butt before the year's end, or the finishing of my first dithyrambic”
Byron’s death in Missolonghi, along with his writings, set an unprecedented public awareness campaign in motion and his fans and followers, often well connected or in high positions themselves, caused the intervention of Europe’s major powers in Greece that finally lead to her independence in 1829 – against the arrangements made during the Congress of Vienna, a beacon that shone among the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, longing for their own freedom and while the Byronic Hero got out of vogue during the second half of the century, Byron, the poet of liberty, became all the rage and most national poets of the age owed deliberate allegiance to Byron, often playing the Byronic Hero, at least a bit, and versifying Byronic romances that are known by heart to this day. Even if Byron himself is more or less forgotten outside the English-speaking world after the turmoil of the 20th century, when various totalitarian regimes found it no longer comme il faut to encourage the discourse and reception of a freedom loving English rock star poet. In his beloved Greece alone, the tradition of venerating Byron remains unbroken to this day.
Depicted below is the Flemish painter Joseph Denis Odevaere’s (1775–1830) imagination of “Lord Byron on his Death-bed” 1826, Groeningemuseum, Bruges
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