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  • Writer's pictureJulia Warren

Remembering Lord Byron: Poet, Philhellene, and Advocate for Independence



On this day, April 19th,  Lord Byron passed away in a coma at Missolonghi, brought on by a fever, and disastrous blood-letting from his physicians. The last complete verses of Don Juan had been published to withering reviews from the Literary Gazette ; he was an exile, the notorious mad, bad boy of Georgian society, alone and lonely, yet worshipped as revolutionary hero  in Greece. 


‘Born for Opposition’ (Early Life and Literary Career): 

Born George Gordon Byron on January 22, 1788, in London, England, Byron inherited the title of Lord upon the death of his great-uncle in 1798. Despite a tumultuous childhood marked by his clubfoot and strained familial relations, Byron found solace in literature. His early works, such as "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" and "Don Juan," garnered widespread acclaim for their romanticism, wit, and introspection, establishing Byron as a leading figure in the Romantic movement.



Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage - Italy, by Turner

Advocacy for Independence:

When he wasn’t driving heiresses insane or catering to the whims of his exotic menagerie, Byron was a busy boy, investing deeply in political causes, particularly the struggle for independence in Italy and Greece. In true Romantic style,  inspired by the ideals of liberty and nationalism, Byron fervently supported the movements for Italian unification and Greek independence from Ottoman rule. He used his platform and resources to raise awareness and funds for the revolutionary efforts, earning him the title of "Philhellene" for his passionate support of the Greek cause.


Byron's Commitment to Greece:

In 1823, Byron embarked on a journey that would forever alter the course of his life and legacy. Motivated by a desire to contribute tangibly to the Greek War of Independence, Byron travelled to Greece, where he immersed himself in the culture, language, and struggles of the Greek people. His generosity extended beyond mere financial support; Byron actively participated in military campaigns, offering his leadership and resources to aid the cause.


The Reception of Lord Byron at Missolonghi, byTheodoros Vryzakis

The Sword, the Banner, and the Field,

    Glory and Greece around us see!

The Spartan borne upon his shield

                                    Was not more free.


   Awake (not Greece—she is awake!)

    Awake, my Spirit! Think through whom

Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake

                                    And then strike home!


Tragic End in Greece:

Despite his efforts, Byron's time in Greece was cut short by tragedy. On April 19, 1824, at the age of 36, Byron succumbed to a fever while in the midst of aiding the Greek forces during the Siege of Missolonghi. His untimely death was mourned not only in Greece but also across Europe, where Byron was hailed as a hero and martyr for the cause of freedom.


Lord Byron on his Death-bed, by Joseph Denis Odevaere

Seek out—less often sought than found—

    A Soldier's Grave, for thee the best;

Then look around, and choose thy Ground,

                                    And take thy rest.


(from: January 22nd, Missolonghi, by Byron)


Legacy and Poetry:

Lord Byron's legacy transcends his political activism, enduring through his timeless poetry. His verses, characterized by their passion, melancholy, and introspection, continue to resonate with readers worldwide. Radicals like Leigh Hunt loved ‘Don Juan’, of course, and it remained popular in Britain throughout the Victorian period among Chartists and other reformers, including working class radicals. From the irreverent wit of ‘Don Juan’ to the brooding hero of ‘Childe Harold's Pilgrimage’, Byron's works reflect the complexities of the human experience, earning him a place among the greatest poets in history.




Manfred on the Jungfrau, by Ford Maddox Brown


Conclusion:

As commemorative events take place across the world in memory of Lord Byron's passing, we are reminded not only of his literary genius but also his unwavering commitment to the ideals of liberty, independence, and human dignity. Byron's legacy serves as an example of the transformative power of art and activism, inspiring generations to stand up for what they believe in and strive for a better world.


I have not loved the world, nor the world me;

I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bow’d

To its idolatries a patient knee

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