- 17 Nov 19
Nothing so difficult as a beginning in poesy, unless perhaps the end
There’s no two ways about it, Lord Byron was and is an attractive figure. Despite a clubfoot and a tendency to roundness, George Gordon Noel – as his mother called him – gained fame and notoriety. He returned from a two-year tour of the Med, as was the fashion at the time, with the first cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812), and became an overnight sensation. Scandal and gossip followed him like a besotted puppy – he more than likely got his half-sister Augusta up the duff for a start – and he left England under several clouds (Lady Caroline Lamb's stuffed envelopes and all that) in 1816, never to return. We should also mention his fathering of Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, who would go on to be a celebrated mathematician and write the first algorithm for use on Charles Babbage’s proposed difference engine, i.e. the first piece of computer code. Byron gave birth to the modern world! Ok, I’ll calm down.
One of his first stops was Geneva where he hung out with his mate and fellow scribbler Percy Bysshe Shelly – ‘Look upon my works, etc.’ –and his wife Mary, instigating the ghost story night that probably helped inspire her Frankenstein.
Byron died in Greece in 1824 to where he had travelled to train troops for their war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, and the Greeks still consider him a national hero. All that, and he was only 36.
Before his date with destiny in Missolonghi, Byron spent several years seriously living it up in Italy, and it was here – lest we forget the real reason he should be remembered – that he wrote his best work including the mighty Don Juan, an “epic Satire” according to the man himself which included pirates, a sultan’s harem, Catherine The Great, and a fair bit of rumpy-pumpy. It was wildly popular.
Why do I mention all this? This week I lost a good friend, a lovely fella taken far too young. Byron/Don Juan had to deal with that kind of tragedy too.
'Whom the gods love die young,' was said of yore,
And many deaths do they escape by this:
The death of friends, and that which slays even more --
The death of friendship, love, youth, all that is,
Except mere breath; and since the silent shore
Awaits at last even those who longest miss
The old archer's shafts, perhaps the early grave
Which men weep over may be meant to save.
This one is for my beautiful friend Dermot. I won’t soon forget your generous spirit and all the good laughs. Go to your rest.