Today in Literary History – April 19, 1824 – Lord Byron dies in Greece

Lord Byron, the great Romantic poet, adventurer and sexual libertine, died on April 19, 1824, in Missolonghi, Greece at the age of thirty-six. Byron had been in self-imposed exile from Britain since 1816, due to his scandalous romantic entanglements, including a sexual affair with his married half-sister, Augusta Leigh, whose daughter he may or may not have been the father of.

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“Byron on his Deathbed” by Joseph Denis Odevaere

After roaming Europe for years he went to Greece in 1823 to help the Greek revolutionaries in their bid for independence from the Ottoman Turks. Byron spent large sums of his own money to arm Greek renegades, even selling off his Scottish estate to help finance the revolt.

By this time, however, Byron’s debauched lifestyle of heavy drinking and a pampered lifestyle were catching up with him. He fell ill in February, 1824, and caught a bad cold in April, which his doctor’s treated with bloodletting. It is believed that the bloodletting, done with unsterilized equipment, led to sepsis which caused Byron’s death.

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In some ways the story of Byron’s reckless and wild life almost overshadows his genius as a poet. One of his mistresses, Lady Caroline Lamb, famously described Byron as “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” He squandered several fortunes and was often in debt, gambled and drank excessively and carried on indiscreet sexual adventures with countless women and men. Byron himself once said that “Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure.”

As a poet, Byron was one of the most versatile and popular of the early Romantics. He wrote in many different styles — satire, tragedy, Medieval epics and tragedies and in deeply personal poems — which often played off of his own public persona.

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Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is a long poem about an aspiring Medieval Knight on his European travels. Harold is usually considered the first “Byronic Hero,” an intelligent, sensitive and courageous man given to bouts of melancholy. The epic Don Juan, pictured its hero as an amoral womanizer who is as often the one seduced as he is the seducer, satirizing Byron’s own reputation.

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