Robert E. Clark
George Gordon, the sixth Baron Byron, was born in 1788, the son of Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron, a gold digger from a proud ancient family. Captain Byron squandered his first wife's fortune and after her early death married Catherine Gordon, a Scottish heiress. Captain Byron next briskly exhausted his second wife's funds and died in France away from wife, children, and creditors at age thirty-six. Catherine Gordon then took the future poet to Aberdeen. In 1798 Byron unexpectedly inherited the family title and privileges, and the household moved to crumbling Newstead Abbey, Nottingham, bestowed on the Byrons by Henry VIII (Marchand, 3-23).
Tutored at home before attending boarding school at Dulwich and then the famous public school Harrow, Byron distinguished himself in literature and languages, oratory, and athletics. At Trinity College, Cambridge, he lived the unharassed-by-study student life of noblemen of his day, even briefly keeping a formidable black bear in his digs (Marchand, 35-49). In 1809, a year after leaving Cambridge with a master's degree, Byron assumed his seat in the House of Lords, speaking against death sentences for weavers who destroyed looms to protest their replacement by machinery.
Byron's political career was siderailed by fame after the publication of Childe Harold; the poem's first cantos drew on earlier adventures in a two-year “eastern tour” of Iberia, Asia Minor, Greece, and Albania. That sojourn, wide reading, and a vogue for melodrama in lands exotic (to Britains) were also backdrops for his astoundingly popular Eastern Tales. One, The Corsair (1814), sold 10,000 copies on publication day.
A devil-may-care attitude seems to have pervaded Byron's private life as well. He was as in love with nations, cultures, and ethnic groups at odds with British mores as with particular women. His outlawed attachments (e.g., to his married