Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame
In this masterful portrait of the poet who dazzled an era and prefigured the modern age of celebrity, noted biographer Benita Eisler offers a fuller and more complex vision than we have yet been afforded of George Gordon, Lord Byron.
Eisler reexamines his poetic achievement in the context of his extraordinary life: the shameful and traumatic childhood; the swashbuckling adventures in the East; the instant stardom achieved with the publication ofChilde Harold's Pilgrimage; his passionate and destructive love affairs, including an incestuous liaison with his half-sister; and finally his tragic death in the cause of Greek independence. This magnificent record of a towering figure is sure to become the new standard biography of Byron.
spell is broke, the charm is flown! Thus is it with life’s fitful fever.30 His thralldom to Constance was over and he was ready to celebrate his narrow escape. Had “Fair Florence” dared imagine he could be one of her many trophies of love? Instead, she … found, in sooth with some amaze, One who, ’twas said, still sigh’d to all he saw, Withstand, unmov’d, the lustre of her gaze31 A self-help manual follows: “Disguise ev’n tenderness if thou art wise; / Brisk confidence still best with
fashionable men,” as Dallas called them, would soon be found Lord Holland himself. The adored nephew of Charles James Fox, whose political standard-bearer he remained, Henry Richard Vassall Fox, third Lord Holland, and his wife, the redoubtable hostess of Holland House, had been among those rudely treated by Byron in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. As generous and large spirited as his uncle, Holland would soon show himself to be forgiving, tendering “pacific overtures” to the young poet. As
Oxford was a particularly loving and protective parent—especially of her little girls. Seducing the child must also be seen as a double act of revenge against mistress and mother. Then, there was Byron’s painful obsession with his own youth. His desire fastened on the very young not because he felt himself sexually inadequate to women or men. Rather, the beauty of the eleven-year-old, as unconscious of her own perfection as a flower, affected him with profound envy and regret. He longed to
instrumental in assuring that Ada’s contribution to his work was published in 1843. Soon after her marriage, her father’s legacy emerged in signs of manic depression. She turned to compulsive gambling and, like others of mathematical bent, became obsessed with “beating the system” at the races. She lost huge sums and borrowed more, probably from underworld figures who seem to have subjected her to blackmail. Other unsavory episodes followed: the alleged theft of family jewels, later redeemed by
Abbey Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of “Shelley and His Circle,” New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation Trinity College Library, Cambridge University Victoria and Albert Museum, London PUBLISHED SOURCES I have benefited from recent scholarship on Byron and the Romantics, particularly from new scholarly editions of the poetry, prose, journals, and letters of the poet and his contemporaries (some still in progress). The first debt of any present-day biographer of