Famous Scots
- George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron) (1788-1824)

Lord Byron

Bust of Lord Byron in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

Early Years
Although he was born in England and he attended schools there from the age of ten onwards, Byron's mother was from the Gordon family in Aberdeen and he spent his formative years in Scotland.

Born less than thirty years after Robert Burns, George Gordon Noel Byron came from a very different background from the "Ploughman Poet" and it certainly shows in his poetry. Byron was descended from King James I (after many generations) and he was named George Gordon Byron after his grandfather, George Gordon of Gight Castle in Aberdeenshire. His mother, Catherine Gordon, married a Captain John Byron in 1785 but he turned out to be a profligate scoundrel. He squandered his wife's inheritance and then had to escape his creditors by going to France.

The future poet was born on 22 January, 1788 in London. His father died in 1792 and the young boy and his mother moved to Aberdeen. Perhaps as a result of her experiences with her husband, perhaps because of an instability inherited from her father, Catherine was prone to alternating bouts of violent outbursts and great affection. From his birth, he was afflicted with a slight limp and he was also affected by his powerful dreams. At the age of nine, he was being looked after by a Calvinist nurse who abused him both by beatings and by coming into his bed "and playing tricks on his person" as he later described the experience.

He initially attended Aberdeen Grammar School but when he was ten, he inherited the title of 6th Lord Byron and the estate of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire via his father's family. He then went off to a typical aristocratic, classic education at Dulwich College, Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. At university he was both a sportsman and a poet and by 1807 he had published the "Hours of Idleness". This was sarcastically criticised by the "Edinburgh Review". The article suggested that Byron had a "Scotch accent" to which he retorted "Good God! I hope not. I would rather the country was sunk in the sea!" Byron later got back at them with a satire "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers" which commented:

'Tis pleasant, sure, to see one's name in print;
A Book's a Book, altho' there's nothing in't.

While much of Byron's work was imbued with the classical traditions and images, he did also remember his Scottish roots, as in this extract from "Hours of Idleness":

England! thy beauties are tame and domestic,
To one who has rov'd on the mountains afar
Oh! for the crags that are wild and majestic
The deep frowning glories of dark Loch na Garr."

From 1809 he began touring in Europe, mainly Spain, Greece and Turkey and in 1812 he published his "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" about a youthful traveller who is alone and uncared for. This proved to be a success and a number of other epics followed.

Byron's marriage in 1815 to a Miss Milbanke proved to be a mistake and public ridicule of him as a man and a husband drove him from England - forever. He continued to write constantly in his inimitable style, including some gloomy tragedies and often waging a war on society's hypocrisy and cant. He himself continued a life which rejected the standards of the day and scandalised many of those back in his home country. His classic work "Don Juan" was also produced at this time. He managed to include his Scottish roots in this monumental work, as in:

But I am half a Scot by birth, and bred
A whole one, and my heart flies to my head, -
As 'Auld Lang Syne' brings Scotland one and all,
Scotch plaids, Scotch snoods, the blue hills and the clear streams,
The Dee, the Don, Balgounie Brig's black wall,
All my boyhood feelings, all my gentler dreams
Of what I then dreamt, clothed in their pall,
Like Banquo's offspring.

Careless of himself, he was stirred by the independence fight of the Greeks against the Turks. In 1823, he joined the Greek forces but while leading an attack in the Missolonghi marshes he caught a fever and died on 19 April, 1824. The manner of his young death, fighting for liberty, enhanced his reputation in his own and subsequent generations.

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