Lord Byron, the 19th century Charlie Harper

Lord Byron posing in a traditional Albanian outfit.

Lord Byron posing in a traditional Albanian outfit.

Lord Byron (1788-1824) was a poet from England, who later in his life became a national hero in Greece because of his leading role in the revolution against the Ottoman Empire. But most of his fame he probably achieved with his extravagant lifestyle. George Gordon Byron had numerous love affairs and punished his liver severely on a daily basis. Basically he was like Charlie Sheen from the TV-show Two and a Half Men in the early 19th century.

When born in London young Lord Byron got the right genes for trouble. His father John was known as captain “Mad Jack” Byron. He married women for their money and spent it all. He died at age 35. According to his son – who was 3 years old at the time – he took his own life, but the general assumption is that it was more likely the captain died of sickness or an overdose. Now Byron’s mother Catherine had to raise her son alone. She spoiled her kid and spent the rest of her time mostly drinking.

 Lord Byron himself was quite the drinker too. Famous was his drinking cup, which was made out of a human scull. He had the following poem engraved in this scull cup:

Start not—nor deem my spirit fled:
In me behold the only skull
From which, unlike a living head,
Whatever flows is never dull.

I lived, I loved, I quaffed like thee;
I died: let earth my bones resign:
Fill up—thou canst not injure me;
The worm hath fouler lips than thine.

Better to hold the sparkling grape
Than nurse the earthworm’s slimy brood,
And circle in the goblet’s shape
The drink of gods than reptile’s food.

Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone,
In aid of others’ let me shine;
And when, alas! our brains are gone,
What nobler substitute than wine?

Quaff while thou canst; another race,
When thou and thine like me are sped,
May rescue thee from earth’s embrace,
And rhyme and revel with the dead.

Why not—since through life’s little day
Our heads such sad effects produce?
Redeemed from worms and wasting clay,
This chance is theirs to be of use.

 Later in his life Lord Byron left England because of allegations of sodomy and incest with his half-sister. He settled in Italy and later in Greece, that was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Here he continued the life of a bon vivant. One of his famous phrases from these times is: “Man being reasonable must get drunk; The best of life is but intoxication; Glory, the grape, love, gold – in these are sunk – The hopes of all men and of every nation.”

 Lord Byron got really interested in the Greek and Armenian culture and even became a leading figure in the Greek revolution as he fought against the Ottomans. It was even suggested that if he had lived to see the Greek independence he could have been king of Greece. But unfortunately Byron died of a fever, just 36 years old.  But until today he lives on through his poetry and in Greek history books. And of course through mythical stories of orgies with lots of women and alcohol.

Micky Bumbar

More drinkers that left their mark on the world’s history.

15 thoughts on “Lord Byron, the 19th century Charlie Harper

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  4. I do wish someone would come up with proof that Byron left England to escape rumors of sodomy and incest. Byron went on his grand tour in 1809 despite the war. he returned in 1811 but always wanted to travel away again. he made plans to go in 1814, He did ask his sister if she wanted to go as well to escape some of her creditors and just travel as everyone who could afford to was doing. However, he couldn’t get berths for more than himself and his servant and there was illness on the island that was his destination. There were also money problems. he wanted to return to the continent, to travel. I think he told his wife he wanted to go abroad as many of the fashionable people were doing.
    I think that Lady Byron was ticked off about his affair with the actress and also frightened that he would make her and the baby go abroad with him. I think she told her mother that Byron wanted to go abroad for an extended stay. She never told Byron why she wanted to live apart from him. The reason for the separation was never made public and hasn’t been still.

    The cartoons about his leaving showed him with an actress . Some rumors about incest did float around the higher circles but Augusta was not shunned. She kept her position in the Queen’s household and her half siblings on the other side and her friends never believed such scurrilous rumors. In one of the few good works she did Lady Byron was seen being very friendly with Augusta. Lady Byron’s lawyer was more concerned with the fact that Byron had had an affaire with an actress of shady morals because it was likely she had a STD and had infected Byron. Lushington was more Evangelical and really rather despised much of the aristocracy .
    Byron went abroad because he wanted to and because it would be more comfortable for him to do so. He could have returned at any time but he found the life abroad suited him more than the life in England.
    Most of the reports about sodomy are more modern . Lady Byron wouldn’t want anyone to know if he had sodomized her . Byron’s reputation at the time was of a womanizer and not a sodomite.
    Lady Byron’s obsession with Augusta went beyond the bounds of sense. A modern theory is that she was more than half in love with her herself.
    Byron did leave England to go abroad and lick his wounds and try to pretend he wasn’t mortified, humiliated, and devastated by his wife’s actions. I don’t think he planned to stay away forever and no one could have kept him away. Politically, the government was just as happy to have him go abroad. He was too popular and they needed to have him discredited.
    There are quite a few references to Byron drinking nothing except soda water, though there is no doubt he abused his liver. His writings show that he mostly had a clear head.
    He was a great poet ad his Don Juan is one of the greatest poems in the English language. Why must everyone speak of him only as a drunken sex machine?



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