George Noel Gordon Byron

Byron, George Noel Gordon


Born Jan. 22, 1788, in London; died Apr. 19,1824, in Missolonghi, Greece. English romantic poet who played a prominent role in the social life of Europe as a bold fighter against political and ideological reaction under the Holy Alliance.

Byron was a member of an aristocratic family. He studied at Cambridge University. In 1807 he published the collection Hours of Idleness. His satirical poem English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (published in 1809) was directed against reactionary romantics. Beginning in March 1809, Byron was a member of the House of Lords. In 1812 he published the first two cantos of his narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, in which he re-created the stages of his travels through the Near East and southern Europe. The hero of the poem is a brilliant characterization of a young man disillusioned with life and lamenting the collapse of ideals and the absence of freedom. Byron’s speech in the House of Lords on Feb. 27, 1812, was devoted to the Luddite workers. The speech resounded as a menacing indictment of the British ruling classes. In “An Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill” (1812), Byron spoke out against the law demanding capital punishment for the destruction of machinery.

During the political reaction of 1813–16, Byron’s tragic world view became more profound. This was reflected in his lyric poetry and in the narrative poems of the so-called Oriental cycle: The Giaour (1813), The Bride of Abydos (1813), The Corsair (1814), Lara (1814), The Siege of Corinth (1816), and Parisina (1816). The heroes of these poems are people who have broken with their environment and chosen the path of irreconcilable struggle, revenge, and even crime.

After leaving England in 1816, Byron settled in Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva, where he met P. B. Shelley and became his friend. Byron’s mood during this period found expression in the narrative poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” (1816). The character of Prometheus (in the poem “Prometheus”) personifies fearlessness and love of freedom. The hero of the philosophical, symbolic narrative poem Manfred (1817) scorns authority and success and abandons religion; individualism is expressed even more strongly in his character than in the heroes of the Oriental narrative poems.

Between 1817 and 1820, Byron lived in Venice. He felt deep sympathy for the fate of the Italian people, who were then suffering under the yoke of Austria. During these years Byron wrote the narrative poems The Lament of Tasso (1817), Mazeppa (1818), and the third and fourth cantos of Childe Harold (1816–17), in which Byron’s faith in the power of the people is expressed. Song for the Luddites (published in 1830) was a response to a new wave in the workers’ movement. In 1818 Byron wrote the narrative poem Beppo, which marked the emergence of a new type of satire in his work. In the poem “Ode on Venice” (1818) and the political narrative poem The Prophecy of Dante (1819), Byron urged the Italians to fight for the unification of Italy, national independence, and liberty.

Between 1820 and 1821, Byron lived in Ravenna, where he became an active member of the Carbonari organization. In the tragedies Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice (published in 1821), Sardanapalus (1821), and The Two Foscari (1821), one of the reasons for the death of the heroes is their alienation from the people. In the philosophical, symbolic drama Cain (1821) the rebellious hero, doubting the benevolence of god, is enraged by the oppression and sufferings of humanity.

In Pisa, Byron created a dramatic trilogy based on a biblical theme—heaven and Earth (only the first part was completed)—the family psychological play Werner (1822), and the narrative poem The Island (1823). The narrative poem The Vision of Judgment (1822) is a parody on R. Southey’s poem of the same name, which had praised the late King George III. In the satire The Irish Avatar (1821; complete edition, 1831), Byron described the triumphant reception arranged for George IV in Dublin and upbraided the Irish for their servility and forgetfulness of their national honor. The political satire The Age of Bronze (1823) was occasioned by the Congress of the Holy Alliance in Verona (1822), which decided to suppress revolutionary movements in Europe.

In Pisa and Genoa, Byron continued to work on his novel in verse, begun in 1818— Don Juan (16 chapters or cantos; the 17th is incomplete). Byron describes exotic scenes and the romantic adventures of his hero and speaks out as a critic of modern society. In Don Juan the problem of man and his environment arises, instead of the problem of man and the universe, which was characteristic of Byron’s earlier work. This brought Byron closer to realism.

In July 1823, Byron left for Greece to participate in the liberation struggle of the Greek patriots against the Turkish yoke. In December 1823 he reached the town of Missolonghi, where he fell ill with a fever and died. Byron devoted several narrative poems to the heroic struggle of the Greeks, including “Song to the Suliotes,” “Journal in Cephalonia,” and “Last Words on Greece.” Byron’s memory was honored in Greece by national mourning.

Byron’s poetic passion, profound lyricism, ideological daring, and expressive images made him one of the favorite poets of 19th-century Europe. He had a very great influence on all world literature, including Russian.

The social and intellectual mood of early nineteenth-century European literature is associated with Byron’s name; it is called Byronism. The contradictory nature of Byron’s world view resulted in the association of this intellectual mood with an individualism accentuated by disillusionment with society and with a particular interest in savage, exotic countries, as well as with a rebellious spirit, love of liberty, and willingness to struggle on the side of oppressed peoples.

Byron’s work has been highly praised by Russian writers and critics.


The Works. A New Revised and Enlarged Edition, vols. 1–13. London, 1898–1904.
Byron’s Letters and Diaries. Edited by P. Quennell. Vols. 1–2. [London], 1950.
Selected Verse and Prose Works, Including Letters and Extracts From Lord Byron’s Journals and Diaries. London-Glasgow, 1965.
In Russian translation:
Sochineniia, vols. 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1904–05.
Dramy. Petrograd-Moscow, 1922.
Lirika i satira. Moscow, 1935.
Izbr. proizv. v odnom tome. [Introductory article by A. V. Lunacharskii.] Minsk, 1939.
Poemy, vols. 1–2. [Introductory article by M. Zabludovskii.] Moscow, 1940.
Izbr. proizv.[Introductory article by A. A. Elistratova.] Moscow, 1953.
Don Juan. Translated by T. Gnedich. [Introductory article by N. D’iakonova.] Moscow-Leningrad, 1959.
P’esy. [Introductory article by A. A. Anikst.] Moscow, 1959.
Dnevniki—Pis’ma. Moscow, 1963.


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