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The Scandalous Life of Lord Byron

Mar 11, 2022
Arts & Culture
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27
minutes

He was the Romantic poet famously described as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know".

In this episode, we'll learn about his scandalous life, how he shocked the nation so badly he had to leave, and how England's first "rock star poet" became a national hero in Greece.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the Scandalous Life of Lord Byron, the man known as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”.

[00:00:35] Imagine a young man indulging in all sorts of vice, experimenting with sexuality in all ways possible, breaking all the norms of his time, and being celebrated for his genius yet hated for his wild lifestyle. 

[00:00:52] This is not a fictional character we are talking about here but a real-life hero – a poet unmasking society’s hypocrisy, an actor playing a self-chosen role, and a creative and freethinking intellectual way ahead of his time.

[00:01:11] Lord Byron – the lover, the poet, the celebrity, and the cripple, lived just 36 years. 

[00:01:18] He left a legacy of words, men, women, lovers and children, and today we are going to tell his story.

[00:01:27] OK then, the Scandalous Life of Lord Byron.

[00:01:33] Lord Byron or George Gordon Byron was born with a lame foot, called a clubfoot, in 1788, in England. 

[00:01:44] His father, Captain John was a wild but handsome man who lived up to his nickname of “Mad Jack”, squandering, that is foolishly spending, the money of his Scottish wife, Catherine Gordon who was a rich heiress

[00:02:03] The family’s fortune dwindled, it reduced, to such a point that Catherine, accompanied by baby George and eventually, her husband, had to move from London to Aberdeen, in the far northeast of Scotland. 

[00:02:19] Byron the child lived in near poverty in the far northern city. Within a year, his father had deserted the family, moving to France and dying a year later.

[00:02:33] However, it was not George Gordon Byron’s destiny to remain penniless, to remain poor, in Scotland.

[00:02:42] In 1798, when he was just 10 years old, an unexpected turn of events added the title of ‘Lord’ before the young boy’s name. 

[00:02:53] His great-uncle died, leaving ten-year-old George an enormous fortune, a large amount of money, the magnificent house of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, and his title, “Lord”. 

[00:03:08] The young boy was now a Lord, and he was spectacularly wealthy.

[00:03:14] The mother-son duo moved back down to England to live a very comfortable life there. This huge house, Newstead Abbey, was then in a state of disrepair. It was very Gothic-looking with large ghostly halls and spacious ruins

[00:03:34] Byron reportedly adored it and it no doubt inspired his later works. 

[00:03:41] George - or the new Lord Byron - lived at the abbey for a short time before enrolling at Harrow – a famous boys-only public school on the outskirts of London. 

[00:03:55] You might be surprised to discover now that someone with such a wonderful mind as Byron’s did not do well at school. Indeed, he dropped out of Harrow aged only 15, but it wasn’t due to his academic performance.

[00:04:10] It was because he had fallen in love, not just with an older woman, not just with a woman who was also his distant cousin, but with a woman who was also engaged to someone else. 

[00:04:25] This woman, Mary Chaworth, rejected him, and became, for him, an idealised symbol of unrequited love. 

[00:04:34] Unrequited love means when someone doesn’t love you back.

[00:04:39] It was Byron's first real rejection, but as we’ll discover, attracting women wouldn’t be a continual problem for our protagonist

[00:04:50] Nor would attracting men, it would seem.

[00:04:53] He returned to Harrow school the following year, and was reported as having - and I'm quoting directly here - “violently passionate” homosexual relationships with at least two boys there.

[00:05:08] After Harrow, as would be traditional for men of his wealth and social class at the time, he went on to study at Cambridge University. 

[00:05:18] Here, Byron seems to have fallen in love with a male chorister, a singer, John Edleston. Byron later wrote a number of poems about John, the man for whom he said his love was “pure” and “passionate”.

[00:05:36] While we might now see nothing strange about a man declaring his love for another man as “pure” and “passionate”, in the early 19th century it was a crime punishable by death, so admitting to it was a scandalous and dangerous thing for Byron to have done.

[00:05:57] But Lord Byron proved to be completely unafraid of scandal

[00:06:02] While at university, Byron lived a pretty hedonistic life: boozing, that is drinking large amounts of alcohol, partying, taking drugs, and gambling

[00:06:14] Because of these habits, he piled up enormous debts during his time at university. 

[00:06:21] The other element of his student life was sleeping around, having casual sex, and in Byron’s case both men and women were fair game, he was bisexual. 

[00:06:34] And he was never short of admirers, both men and women.

[00:06:39] Now, it’s worth noting that, especially for aristocratic young men of this time, having sexual relationships with other men wouldn’t have been considered particularly unusual, especially at male-only boarding schools

[00:06:56] But the difference was that Lord Byron did nothing to try to hide it.

[00:07:01] Indeed, he had a certain disregard for the rules - he liked disobeying authority, and going against any norms or rules that he came across.

[00:07:13] Famously, when he was a student at Cambridge University, he kept a bear as a pet. You might be thinking that it’s a slightly strange animal to keep, but there was a certain logic to it.

[00:07:28] The university forbade him from keeping a pet dog on the premises, but as there was no mention of bears in the rule books, Byron decided he could keep a bear. And as there was no university law about bears, the university couldn't technically stop him.

[00:07:48] Now, this interest in exotic animals will be a theme throughout his life, and in later years, Byron’s homes would become more like zoos, with all kinds of exotic creatures walking in and out, and monkeys and peacocks often accompanying him on his travels.

[00:08:10] Byron made his “first dash into poetry", his first real attempt at poetry, when he was 12 years old. A passion for his cousin, Margaret Parker, had caused him to put pen to paper, and by the time he was at Cambridge, he was a published poet.

[00:08:30] The young Byron had befriended a female writer friend of his mother's who had encouraged him to publish his first poetry. His first volume was printed when he was just 17. It was called Fugitive Pieces. 

[00:08:46] However, a vicar got rather upset about its lustful verses, inspired, it seems by Mary Chaworth, his second object of desire, and the books ended up being recalled from the printers and burned.

[00:09:04] Moving back to his personal life, up until now, the life of Lord Byron had been quite exciting and full of sexual exploits, but it was nothing compared to what was to come.

[00:09:19] The true scandalous journey of Lord Byron began when he, accompanied by his university friend, John Hobhouse, and their many servants, set off on a Grand Tour across Europe. 

[00:09:33] The Grand Tour, by the way, was a tour of mainly Italy that young, aristocratic British men would go on in the 18th century. There is an entire episode of this podcast on it, it's episode number 156, if you’re interested.

[00:09:51] At that time, Byron was practically penniless, he had spent all of the money that he had inherited, and his expenses far outweighed any income he made from poetry.

[00:10:03] He paid for his trip by taking on even more debt; a lack of readily available money was not the sort of thing to stop Lord Byron from seeking adventure. 

[00:10:15] So, he did, first in Portugal, then Spain, Gibraltar, Sardinia, Malta and Greece.

[00:10:23] Because of his aristocratic title, he expected to be greeted with a royal gun salute when his ship arrived in Malta. While the rest of the passengers disembarked, they got off the ship, he remained on the boat. 

[00:10:40] When night fell and no salute had been given, Byron reluctantly accepted to be rowed to shore.

[00:10:48] In Albania, he spent time with the fear-inducing ruler, Ali Pasha of Ioannina. Despite Ali Pasha’s reputation as being ferocious and brutal, he welcomed Byron with open arms. Some historians are convinced of sexual relations between the two. 

[00:11:09] Byron fell in love with Greece, finding the people unreserved and morally tolerant, in stark contrast to 19th century England.

[00:11:20] In Athens, he formed a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy, Nicolo Giraud. He also formed an unhealthy attachment to a 12-year-old girl, Teresa Makri, for whom he wrote a poem about and attempted to buy for £500.

[00:11:40] As a reminder, at this time Byron is 22 years old.

[00:11:44] They say travel broadens the mind, and it certainly impacted Byron’s poetry. 

[00:11:51] He wrote a semi-autobiographical poem, full of regret about wasting his youth in useless vice and sin, but having a chance to reform and transform through pilgrimage

[00:12:05] His hero was the characteristic moody figure of the Romantic period, blessed with good looks and a tendency to question society's norms

[00:12:16] This hero was, of course, how he saw himself.

[00:12:20] This poem was called Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and it was the poem that would make Lord Byron famous overnight.

[00:12:29] The Grand Tour over, Byron returned to England in 1811, after two years travelling around Europe. 

[00:12:38] He had never accepted the societal norms of England, but his acquaintance with foreign societies of relaxed cultures made him even more bold and experimental. 

[00:12:51] By the time he returned, he was a celebrity. And he said, “I awoke one morning and found myself famous.”

[00:13:00] With the enormous fame came many wanted and some unwanted advances from women. He started affairs with married women, their daughters, and even their maids. 

[00:13:13] He was famous, chased, loved, and desired. 

[00:13:17] One sexual conquest after another, Byron did not commit to a single woman or man for that matter. 

[00:13:24] But he deeply mourned his chorister lover, John Eddleston, who died of consumption in that year. He wrote a love poem for him, concealing John’s name with a woman’s name.

[00:13:38] Now, this episode would last several hours if we were to detail every one of his romantic relationships, but here are a few that were fundamental to his life and legacy.

[00:13:52] One was an aristocrat called Lady Caroline Lamb, a Gothic writer who would visit Byron dressed up as a boy and who famously described Byron as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. 

[00:14:08] Sure, she was married, but that was far from scandalous compared to what was next.

[00:14:15] In 1813, when he was 25, he started an affair with a lady called Augusta Leigh. 

[00:14:23] She was also married, but that wasn’t the main problem. The problem was that she was his half-sister from his father’s first marriage! 

[00:14:35] If you were rich or famous enough, you could perhaps get away with alcoholism and drugs, which Byron would consume in vast quantities, and even homosexual relations. 

[00:14:48] However, incest was another matter altogether. 

[00:14:53] You couldn’t bed your half-sister and get away with it and Byron knew it. He did all he could to hide the affair.

[00:15:02] Augusta even gave birth to a daughter, Medora, who was rumoured to be Byron’s. 

[00:15:09] Byron was now both needing to shut down the rumours of incest as well as drowning in debt, so he decided to propose to a rich heiress, Annabella Milbanke. 

[00:15:22] She rejected him at first, which must have come as quite a shock. He wasn’t used to rejection, and so he persevered in his attempts to seduce Annabella, who finally agreed to marry him. 

[00:15:37] They got married in 1815, but that didn’t mean that he packed in his, that he stopped, his scandalous ways.

[00:15:46] He took his wife to visit Augusta, his half-sister. While Augusta’s husband was away, Byron and Augusta shared a bed, while Annabella slept alone in a guest room.

[00:16:00] And it wasn’t like Byron was loyal only to his lover - he continued to sleep with other men and women throughout

[00:16:08] Annabella, his wife, understandably found it to be too much, she considered him insane, and filed for divorce after the birth of their daughter, Ada. 

[00:16:22] Ada, by the way, Byron’s daughter, was Ada Lovelace, the famous mathematician. We have another episode just on her, it’s episode number 153 if you’re interested.

[00:16:34] Ada was a genius in her own right, although it is slightly ironic that her genius was of a logical, mathematical type, whereas her father’s was completely chaotic and poetic.

[00:16:50] Now, going back to Byron, though, once his incest with his half-sister became public information, the country turned against him. 

[00:17:01] He had no money, friends deserted him, and some of his previous lovers joined hands to discredit him. 

[00:17:11] Disheartened by the moral outrage, in 1816, aged 28, Byron went into exile, never to return to England.

[00:17:22] Life gave him another chance to travel and explore. 

[00:17:26] Broke as he was, he still travelled in great style. 

[00:17:30] Although most of his London possessions were seized by bailiffs, he had managed to escape in his coach so was not without luxury. 

[00:17:41] The coach had couches and a luxurious bedroom. Meanwhile, his servants and luggage followed behind in another carriage. There was also a peacock, a monkey and a dog in the travelling party.

[00:17:56] Byron was accompanied by his personal doctor who had been paid a princely sum of £500 from a publisher to write a secret diary of the poet’s scandalous adventures. This book, by the way, was later burned.

[00:18:13] During his travels, Byron befriended the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who was on the run from his own wife, Shelley’s 18-year old mistress Mary, who would become Mary Shelley, and spent time with Mary’s half-sister, Claire Clairmont with whom Byron had had an affair back in London and was actually pregnant with his child, Allegra.

[00:18:38] The weather that summer was awful. This was because a volcanic ash cloud had stolen the sun from much of Europe, leading to almost constant rain and thunderstorms.

[00:18:52] In this atmospheric setting, and high on wine and opium, the new friends wrote gothic horror stories together, most famously Frankenstein, before parting company

[00:19:06] Byron spent the winter of 1816 in Venice. The somewhat liberal Italian morals suited his temperament

[00:19:14] And, of course, the womanising continued. 

[00:19:18] He claimed to sleep with over 200 women during his two-year stay there, writing that "some of them are Countesses - and some of them Cobbler’s wives - some noble - some middling - some low - and all whores."

[00:19:35] The travelling and new sexual experiences ignited his creativity. He completed another part of Harold’s Pilgrimage and composed Beppo, a poem comparing English and Italian customs. 

[00:19:51] Among his many mistresses in Venice were Marianna Segati, the wife of his landlord and Margarita Cogni, the wife of a local baker who left her husband and moved in with Byron.

[00:20:06] Apparently, his and Cogni’s fighting got so bad, Byron would sleep the night in a gondola. After he asked her to leave, she dramatically threw herself into the canal in Venice.

[00:20:21] His sexual adventures in Venice and Rome inspired him to write one of his most famous poems, Don Juan. Penned as a story of an uncultured man who was easily seduced by women, the poem is also a commentary on the absurdities and hypocrisies of societal norms and culture. 

[00:20:44] Byron was visited by his old friend Shelley in 1818, who found him growing fat, with unkempt hair, and drowning in sexual promiscuity

[00:20:57] It is then that Byron gave up what he called “miscellaneous harlotry,” he settled for the “strictest adultery” with Countess Teresa Guiccioli – an 18-year-old girl married to a man three times her age. 

[00:21:14] In the course of their relationship, Teresa gave some order to his life. 

[00:21:19] He lived in Ravenna, in central Italy, for two years just to be close to Teresa. Byron’s home in Ravenna was described by Shelley as having ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, a falcon, five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane

[00:21:42] All of these, said Shelley, except the horses, walked about the house as if they were the masters of it. Teresa and Byron became inseparable, following each other to different cities and leaving a trail of rumours behind. 

[00:21:59] However, tragically, Teresa was forced to leave Byron to save her father from exile.

[00:22:06] Soon after, Byron looked for a new adventure. Revisiting his old Romantic dream of helping the Greeks gain independence, he left for Cephalonia. 

[00:22:19] His lavish and active imagination again came into play and he spent £4,000 to design grand army costumes for the Greeks, preparing the fleet for the sea. He joined forces with Prince Aléxandros Mavrokordátos, a leader representing western Greece.

[00:22:39] However, he found the Greeks divided even among themselves. He talked to rival factions to reach an agreement between them, but it didn’t work. 

[00:22:51] He invested what would be millions of Euros in today’s money into the cause, funding troops and helping both Muslim and Christian victims of the war.

[00:23:02] He took the rebel army under his own command, despite his lack of military experience. He was welcomed as a semi-Messiah figure and there is no doubt this fed his ego

[00:23:15] The ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ poet developed a sort of national hero status in Greece, and there were commentators at the time that said he could have become King of Greece. 

[00:23:29] But his behaviour was erratic. There was speculation that he was going mad and showing symptoms of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. 

[00:23:40] Others think he was actually just a deeply impassioned man who fought for what he loved. 

[00:23:47] He had said years before, “If I am a poet... the air of Greece has made me one.” 

[00:23:54] However, it was here while preparing for a revolution that his life was cut short, and he died aged just 36. He had got very wet while out riding, and then afterwards became feverish

[00:24:09] He died as he had lived, in dramatic fashion, with lightning flashing all around him.

[00:24:17] His body was delivered back to England but it was denied burial in Westminster Abbey because of his ‘questionable morality’. 

[00:24:27] Now, say or think what you want about Lord Byron, he was clearly a man who lived life to its fullest, and left a mark on everyone he came across.

[00:24:39] He fell headfirst into a life of scandal, rebelling against and exposing what he saw as Britain’s hypocrisy, carefully concealed under the many prim and proper conventions of the day. He really became the first rock-star poet.

[00:24:58] He had his drama, his hedonism, his radical ideas, and his rudeness, but he also had his genius, which was way ahead of his time.

[00:25:09] So let me just finish with a short quote from one of his poems:

[00:25:16] “There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”

[00:25:38] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Scandalous Life of Lord Byron. 

[00:25:44] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new. 

[00:25:48] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:25:51] What do you think about Lord Byron? 

[00:25:54] Hero, villain, or somewhere in between?

[00:25:57] And especially for the Italians and Greeks among you, how do people in your country remember him, if at all? 

[00:26:05] I would love to know.

[00:26:07] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds. 

[00:26:16] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:26:21] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the Scandalous Life of Lord Byron, the man known as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”.

[00:00:35] Imagine a young man indulging in all sorts of vice, experimenting with sexuality in all ways possible, breaking all the norms of his time, and being celebrated for his genius yet hated for his wild lifestyle. 

[00:00:52] This is not a fictional character we are talking about here but a real-life hero – a poet unmasking society’s hypocrisy, an actor playing a self-chosen role, and a creative and freethinking intellectual way ahead of his time.

[00:01:11] Lord Byron – the lover, the poet, the celebrity, and the cripple, lived just 36 years. 

[00:01:18] He left a legacy of words, men, women, lovers and children, and today we are going to tell his story.

[00:01:27] OK then, the Scandalous Life of Lord Byron.

[00:01:33] Lord Byron or George Gordon Byron was born with a lame foot, called a clubfoot, in 1788, in England. 

[00:01:44] His father, Captain John was a wild but handsome man who lived up to his nickname of “Mad Jack”, squandering, that is foolishly spending, the money of his Scottish wife, Catherine Gordon who was a rich heiress

[00:02:03] The family’s fortune dwindled, it reduced, to such a point that Catherine, accompanied by baby George and eventually, her husband, had to move from London to Aberdeen, in the far northeast of Scotland. 

[00:02:19] Byron the child lived in near poverty in the far northern city. Within a year, his father had deserted the family, moving to France and dying a year later.

[00:02:33] However, it was not George Gordon Byron’s destiny to remain penniless, to remain poor, in Scotland.

[00:02:42] In 1798, when he was just 10 years old, an unexpected turn of events added the title of ‘Lord’ before the young boy’s name. 

[00:02:53] His great-uncle died, leaving ten-year-old George an enormous fortune, a large amount of money, the magnificent house of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, and his title, “Lord”. 

[00:03:08] The young boy was now a Lord, and he was spectacularly wealthy.

[00:03:14] The mother-son duo moved back down to England to live a very comfortable life there. This huge house, Newstead Abbey, was then in a state of disrepair. It was very Gothic-looking with large ghostly halls and spacious ruins

[00:03:34] Byron reportedly adored it and it no doubt inspired his later works. 

[00:03:41] George - or the new Lord Byron - lived at the abbey for a short time before enrolling at Harrow – a famous boys-only public school on the outskirts of London. 

[00:03:55] You might be surprised to discover now that someone with such a wonderful mind as Byron’s did not do well at school. Indeed, he dropped out of Harrow aged only 15, but it wasn’t due to his academic performance.

[00:04:10] It was because he had fallen in love, not just with an older woman, not just with a woman who was also his distant cousin, but with a woman who was also engaged to someone else. 

[00:04:25] This woman, Mary Chaworth, rejected him, and became, for him, an idealised symbol of unrequited love. 

[00:04:34] Unrequited love means when someone doesn’t love you back.

[00:04:39] It was Byron's first real rejection, but as we’ll discover, attracting women wouldn’t be a continual problem for our protagonist

[00:04:50] Nor would attracting men, it would seem.

[00:04:53] He returned to Harrow school the following year, and was reported as having - and I'm quoting directly here - “violently passionate” homosexual relationships with at least two boys there.

[00:05:08] After Harrow, as would be traditional for men of his wealth and social class at the time, he went on to study at Cambridge University. 

[00:05:18] Here, Byron seems to have fallen in love with a male chorister, a singer, John Edleston. Byron later wrote a number of poems about John, the man for whom he said his love was “pure” and “passionate”.

[00:05:36] While we might now see nothing strange about a man declaring his love for another man as “pure” and “passionate”, in the early 19th century it was a crime punishable by death, so admitting to it was a scandalous and dangerous thing for Byron to have done.

[00:05:57] But Lord Byron proved to be completely unafraid of scandal

[00:06:02] While at university, Byron lived a pretty hedonistic life: boozing, that is drinking large amounts of alcohol, partying, taking drugs, and gambling

[00:06:14] Because of these habits, he piled up enormous debts during his time at university. 

[00:06:21] The other element of his student life was sleeping around, having casual sex, and in Byron’s case both men and women were fair game, he was bisexual. 

[00:06:34] And he was never short of admirers, both men and women.

[00:06:39] Now, it’s worth noting that, especially for aristocratic young men of this time, having sexual relationships with other men wouldn’t have been considered particularly unusual, especially at male-only boarding schools

[00:06:56] But the difference was that Lord Byron did nothing to try to hide it.

[00:07:01] Indeed, he had a certain disregard for the rules - he liked disobeying authority, and going against any norms or rules that he came across.

[00:07:13] Famously, when he was a student at Cambridge University, he kept a bear as a pet. You might be thinking that it’s a slightly strange animal to keep, but there was a certain logic to it.

[00:07:28] The university forbade him from keeping a pet dog on the premises, but as there was no mention of bears in the rule books, Byron decided he could keep a bear. And as there was no university law about bears, the university couldn't technically stop him.

[00:07:48] Now, this interest in exotic animals will be a theme throughout his life, and in later years, Byron’s homes would become more like zoos, with all kinds of exotic creatures walking in and out, and monkeys and peacocks often accompanying him on his travels.

[00:08:10] Byron made his “first dash into poetry", his first real attempt at poetry, when he was 12 years old. A passion for his cousin, Margaret Parker, had caused him to put pen to paper, and by the time he was at Cambridge, he was a published poet.

[00:08:30] The young Byron had befriended a female writer friend of his mother's who had encouraged him to publish his first poetry. His first volume was printed when he was just 17. It was called Fugitive Pieces. 

[00:08:46] However, a vicar got rather upset about its lustful verses, inspired, it seems by Mary Chaworth, his second object of desire, and the books ended up being recalled from the printers and burned.

[00:09:04] Moving back to his personal life, up until now, the life of Lord Byron had been quite exciting and full of sexual exploits, but it was nothing compared to what was to come.

[00:09:19] The true scandalous journey of Lord Byron began when he, accompanied by his university friend, John Hobhouse, and their many servants, set off on a Grand Tour across Europe. 

[00:09:33] The Grand Tour, by the way, was a tour of mainly Italy that young, aristocratic British men would go on in the 18th century. There is an entire episode of this podcast on it, it's episode number 156, if you’re interested.

[00:09:51] At that time, Byron was practically penniless, he had spent all of the money that he had inherited, and his expenses far outweighed any income he made from poetry.

[00:10:03] He paid for his trip by taking on even more debt; a lack of readily available money was not the sort of thing to stop Lord Byron from seeking adventure. 

[00:10:15] So, he did, first in Portugal, then Spain, Gibraltar, Sardinia, Malta and Greece.

[00:10:23] Because of his aristocratic title, he expected to be greeted with a royal gun salute when his ship arrived in Malta. While the rest of the passengers disembarked, they got off the ship, he remained on the boat. 

[00:10:40] When night fell and no salute had been given, Byron reluctantly accepted to be rowed to shore.

[00:10:48] In Albania, he spent time with the fear-inducing ruler, Ali Pasha of Ioannina. Despite Ali Pasha’s reputation as being ferocious and brutal, he welcomed Byron with open arms. Some historians are convinced of sexual relations between the two. 

[00:11:09] Byron fell in love with Greece, finding the people unreserved and morally tolerant, in stark contrast to 19th century England.

[00:11:20] In Athens, he formed a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy, Nicolo Giraud. He also formed an unhealthy attachment to a 12-year-old girl, Teresa Makri, for whom he wrote a poem about and attempted to buy for £500.

[00:11:40] As a reminder, at this time Byron is 22 years old.

[00:11:44] They say travel broadens the mind, and it certainly impacted Byron’s poetry. 

[00:11:51] He wrote a semi-autobiographical poem, full of regret about wasting his youth in useless vice and sin, but having a chance to reform and transform through pilgrimage

[00:12:05] His hero was the characteristic moody figure of the Romantic period, blessed with good looks and a tendency to question society's norms

[00:12:16] This hero was, of course, how he saw himself.

[00:12:20] This poem was called Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and it was the poem that would make Lord Byron famous overnight.

[00:12:29] The Grand Tour over, Byron returned to England in 1811, after two years travelling around Europe. 

[00:12:38] He had never accepted the societal norms of England, but his acquaintance with foreign societies of relaxed cultures made him even more bold and experimental. 

[00:12:51] By the time he returned, he was a celebrity. And he said, “I awoke one morning and found myself famous.”

[00:13:00] With the enormous fame came many wanted and some unwanted advances from women. He started affairs with married women, their daughters, and even their maids. 

[00:13:13] He was famous, chased, loved, and desired. 

[00:13:17] One sexual conquest after another, Byron did not commit to a single woman or man for that matter. 

[00:13:24] But he deeply mourned his chorister lover, John Eddleston, who died of consumption in that year. He wrote a love poem for him, concealing John’s name with a woman’s name.

[00:13:38] Now, this episode would last several hours if we were to detail every one of his romantic relationships, but here are a few that were fundamental to his life and legacy.

[00:13:52] One was an aristocrat called Lady Caroline Lamb, a Gothic writer who would visit Byron dressed up as a boy and who famously described Byron as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. 

[00:14:08] Sure, she was married, but that was far from scandalous compared to what was next.

[00:14:15] In 1813, when he was 25, he started an affair with a lady called Augusta Leigh. 

[00:14:23] She was also married, but that wasn’t the main problem. The problem was that she was his half-sister from his father’s first marriage! 

[00:14:35] If you were rich or famous enough, you could perhaps get away with alcoholism and drugs, which Byron would consume in vast quantities, and even homosexual relations. 

[00:14:48] However, incest was another matter altogether. 

[00:14:53] You couldn’t bed your half-sister and get away with it and Byron knew it. He did all he could to hide the affair.

[00:15:02] Augusta even gave birth to a daughter, Medora, who was rumoured to be Byron’s. 

[00:15:09] Byron was now both needing to shut down the rumours of incest as well as drowning in debt, so he decided to propose to a rich heiress, Annabella Milbanke. 

[00:15:22] She rejected him at first, which must have come as quite a shock. He wasn’t used to rejection, and so he persevered in his attempts to seduce Annabella, who finally agreed to marry him. 

[00:15:37] They got married in 1815, but that didn’t mean that he packed in his, that he stopped, his scandalous ways.

[00:15:46] He took his wife to visit Augusta, his half-sister. While Augusta’s husband was away, Byron and Augusta shared a bed, while Annabella slept alone in a guest room.

[00:16:00] And it wasn’t like Byron was loyal only to his lover - he continued to sleep with other men and women throughout

[00:16:08] Annabella, his wife, understandably found it to be too much, she considered him insane, and filed for divorce after the birth of their daughter, Ada. 

[00:16:22] Ada, by the way, Byron’s daughter, was Ada Lovelace, the famous mathematician. We have another episode just on her, it’s episode number 153 if you’re interested.

[00:16:34] Ada was a genius in her own right, although it is slightly ironic that her genius was of a logical, mathematical type, whereas her father’s was completely chaotic and poetic.

[00:16:50] Now, going back to Byron, though, once his incest with his half-sister became public information, the country turned against him. 

[00:17:01] He had no money, friends deserted him, and some of his previous lovers joined hands to discredit him. 

[00:17:11] Disheartened by the moral outrage, in 1816, aged 28, Byron went into exile, never to return to England.

[00:17:22] Life gave him another chance to travel and explore. 

[00:17:26] Broke as he was, he still travelled in great style. 

[00:17:30] Although most of his London possessions were seized by bailiffs, he had managed to escape in his coach so was not without luxury. 

[00:17:41] The coach had couches and a luxurious bedroom. Meanwhile, his servants and luggage followed behind in another carriage. There was also a peacock, a monkey and a dog in the travelling party.

[00:17:56] Byron was accompanied by his personal doctor who had been paid a princely sum of £500 from a publisher to write a secret diary of the poet’s scandalous adventures. This book, by the way, was later burned.

[00:18:13] During his travels, Byron befriended the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who was on the run from his own wife, Shelley’s 18-year old mistress Mary, who would become Mary Shelley, and spent time with Mary’s half-sister, Claire Clairmont with whom Byron had had an affair back in London and was actually pregnant with his child, Allegra.

[00:18:38] The weather that summer was awful. This was because a volcanic ash cloud had stolen the sun from much of Europe, leading to almost constant rain and thunderstorms.

[00:18:52] In this atmospheric setting, and high on wine and opium, the new friends wrote gothic horror stories together, most famously Frankenstein, before parting company

[00:19:06] Byron spent the winter of 1816 in Venice. The somewhat liberal Italian morals suited his temperament

[00:19:14] And, of course, the womanising continued. 

[00:19:18] He claimed to sleep with over 200 women during his two-year stay there, writing that "some of them are Countesses - and some of them Cobbler’s wives - some noble - some middling - some low - and all whores."

[00:19:35] The travelling and new sexual experiences ignited his creativity. He completed another part of Harold’s Pilgrimage and composed Beppo, a poem comparing English and Italian customs. 

[00:19:51] Among his many mistresses in Venice were Marianna Segati, the wife of his landlord and Margarita Cogni, the wife of a local baker who left her husband and moved in with Byron.

[00:20:06] Apparently, his and Cogni’s fighting got so bad, Byron would sleep the night in a gondola. After he asked her to leave, she dramatically threw herself into the canal in Venice.

[00:20:21] His sexual adventures in Venice and Rome inspired him to write one of his most famous poems, Don Juan. Penned as a story of an uncultured man who was easily seduced by women, the poem is also a commentary on the absurdities and hypocrisies of societal norms and culture. 

[00:20:44] Byron was visited by his old friend Shelley in 1818, who found him growing fat, with unkempt hair, and drowning in sexual promiscuity

[00:20:57] It is then that Byron gave up what he called “miscellaneous harlotry,” he settled for the “strictest adultery” with Countess Teresa Guiccioli – an 18-year-old girl married to a man three times her age. 

[00:21:14] In the course of their relationship, Teresa gave some order to his life. 

[00:21:19] He lived in Ravenna, in central Italy, for two years just to be close to Teresa. Byron’s home in Ravenna was described by Shelley as having ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, a falcon, five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane

[00:21:42] All of these, said Shelley, except the horses, walked about the house as if they were the masters of it. Teresa and Byron became inseparable, following each other to different cities and leaving a trail of rumours behind. 

[00:21:59] However, tragically, Teresa was forced to leave Byron to save her father from exile.

[00:22:06] Soon after, Byron looked for a new adventure. Revisiting his old Romantic dream of helping the Greeks gain independence, he left for Cephalonia. 

[00:22:19] His lavish and active imagination again came into play and he spent £4,000 to design grand army costumes for the Greeks, preparing the fleet for the sea. He joined forces with Prince Aléxandros Mavrokordátos, a leader representing western Greece.

[00:22:39] However, he found the Greeks divided even among themselves. He talked to rival factions to reach an agreement between them, but it didn’t work. 

[00:22:51] He invested what would be millions of Euros in today’s money into the cause, funding troops and helping both Muslim and Christian victims of the war.

[00:23:02] He took the rebel army under his own command, despite his lack of military experience. He was welcomed as a semi-Messiah figure and there is no doubt this fed his ego

[00:23:15] The ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ poet developed a sort of national hero status in Greece, and there were commentators at the time that said he could have become King of Greece. 

[00:23:29] But his behaviour was erratic. There was speculation that he was going mad and showing symptoms of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. 

[00:23:40] Others think he was actually just a deeply impassioned man who fought for what he loved. 

[00:23:47] He had said years before, “If I am a poet... the air of Greece has made me one.” 

[00:23:54] However, it was here while preparing for a revolution that his life was cut short, and he died aged just 36. He had got very wet while out riding, and then afterwards became feverish

[00:24:09] He died as he had lived, in dramatic fashion, with lightning flashing all around him.

[00:24:17] His body was delivered back to England but it was denied burial in Westminster Abbey because of his ‘questionable morality’. 

[00:24:27] Now, say or think what you want about Lord Byron, he was clearly a man who lived life to its fullest, and left a mark on everyone he came across.

[00:24:39] He fell headfirst into a life of scandal, rebelling against and exposing what he saw as Britain’s hypocrisy, carefully concealed under the many prim and proper conventions of the day. He really became the first rock-star poet.

[00:24:58] He had his drama, his hedonism, his radical ideas, and his rudeness, but he also had his genius, which was way ahead of his time.

[00:25:09] So let me just finish with a short quote from one of his poems:

[00:25:16] “There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”

[00:25:38] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Scandalous Life of Lord Byron. 

[00:25:44] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new. 

[00:25:48] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:25:51] What do you think about Lord Byron? 

[00:25:54] Hero, villain, or somewhere in between?

[00:25:57] And especially for the Italians and Greeks among you, how do people in your country remember him, if at all? 

[00:26:05] I would love to know.

[00:26:07] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds. 

[00:26:16] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:26:21] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the Scandalous Life of Lord Byron, the man known as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”.

[00:00:35] Imagine a young man indulging in all sorts of vice, experimenting with sexuality in all ways possible, breaking all the norms of his time, and being celebrated for his genius yet hated for his wild lifestyle. 

[00:00:52] This is not a fictional character we are talking about here but a real-life hero – a poet unmasking society’s hypocrisy, an actor playing a self-chosen role, and a creative and freethinking intellectual way ahead of his time.

[00:01:11] Lord Byron – the lover, the poet, the celebrity, and the cripple, lived just 36 years. 

[00:01:18] He left a legacy of words, men, women, lovers and children, and today we are going to tell his story.

[00:01:27] OK then, the Scandalous Life of Lord Byron.

[00:01:33] Lord Byron or George Gordon Byron was born with a lame foot, called a clubfoot, in 1788, in England. 

[00:01:44] His father, Captain John was a wild but handsome man who lived up to his nickname of “Mad Jack”, squandering, that is foolishly spending, the money of his Scottish wife, Catherine Gordon who was a rich heiress

[00:02:03] The family’s fortune dwindled, it reduced, to such a point that Catherine, accompanied by baby George and eventually, her husband, had to move from London to Aberdeen, in the far northeast of Scotland. 

[00:02:19] Byron the child lived in near poverty in the far northern city. Within a year, his father had deserted the family, moving to France and dying a year later.

[00:02:33] However, it was not George Gordon Byron’s destiny to remain penniless, to remain poor, in Scotland.

[00:02:42] In 1798, when he was just 10 years old, an unexpected turn of events added the title of ‘Lord’ before the young boy’s name. 

[00:02:53] His great-uncle died, leaving ten-year-old George an enormous fortune, a large amount of money, the magnificent house of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, and his title, “Lord”. 

[00:03:08] The young boy was now a Lord, and he was spectacularly wealthy.

[00:03:14] The mother-son duo moved back down to England to live a very comfortable life there. This huge house, Newstead Abbey, was then in a state of disrepair. It was very Gothic-looking with large ghostly halls and spacious ruins

[00:03:34] Byron reportedly adored it and it no doubt inspired his later works. 

[00:03:41] George - or the new Lord Byron - lived at the abbey for a short time before enrolling at Harrow – a famous boys-only public school on the outskirts of London. 

[00:03:55] You might be surprised to discover now that someone with such a wonderful mind as Byron’s did not do well at school. Indeed, he dropped out of Harrow aged only 15, but it wasn’t due to his academic performance.

[00:04:10] It was because he had fallen in love, not just with an older woman, not just with a woman who was also his distant cousin, but with a woman who was also engaged to someone else. 

[00:04:25] This woman, Mary Chaworth, rejected him, and became, for him, an idealised symbol of unrequited love. 

[00:04:34] Unrequited love means when someone doesn’t love you back.

[00:04:39] It was Byron's first real rejection, but as we’ll discover, attracting women wouldn’t be a continual problem for our protagonist

[00:04:50] Nor would attracting men, it would seem.

[00:04:53] He returned to Harrow school the following year, and was reported as having - and I'm quoting directly here - “violently passionate” homosexual relationships with at least two boys there.

[00:05:08] After Harrow, as would be traditional for men of his wealth and social class at the time, he went on to study at Cambridge University. 

[00:05:18] Here, Byron seems to have fallen in love with a male chorister, a singer, John Edleston. Byron later wrote a number of poems about John, the man for whom he said his love was “pure” and “passionate”.

[00:05:36] While we might now see nothing strange about a man declaring his love for another man as “pure” and “passionate”, in the early 19th century it was a crime punishable by death, so admitting to it was a scandalous and dangerous thing for Byron to have done.

[00:05:57] But Lord Byron proved to be completely unafraid of scandal

[00:06:02] While at university, Byron lived a pretty hedonistic life: boozing, that is drinking large amounts of alcohol, partying, taking drugs, and gambling

[00:06:14] Because of these habits, he piled up enormous debts during his time at university. 

[00:06:21] The other element of his student life was sleeping around, having casual sex, and in Byron’s case both men and women were fair game, he was bisexual. 

[00:06:34] And he was never short of admirers, both men and women.

[00:06:39] Now, it’s worth noting that, especially for aristocratic young men of this time, having sexual relationships with other men wouldn’t have been considered particularly unusual, especially at male-only boarding schools

[00:06:56] But the difference was that Lord Byron did nothing to try to hide it.

[00:07:01] Indeed, he had a certain disregard for the rules - he liked disobeying authority, and going against any norms or rules that he came across.

[00:07:13] Famously, when he was a student at Cambridge University, he kept a bear as a pet. You might be thinking that it’s a slightly strange animal to keep, but there was a certain logic to it.

[00:07:28] The university forbade him from keeping a pet dog on the premises, but as there was no mention of bears in the rule books, Byron decided he could keep a bear. And as there was no university law about bears, the university couldn't technically stop him.

[00:07:48] Now, this interest in exotic animals will be a theme throughout his life, and in later years, Byron’s homes would become more like zoos, with all kinds of exotic creatures walking in and out, and monkeys and peacocks often accompanying him on his travels.

[00:08:10] Byron made his “first dash into poetry", his first real attempt at poetry, when he was 12 years old. A passion for his cousin, Margaret Parker, had caused him to put pen to paper, and by the time he was at Cambridge, he was a published poet.

[00:08:30] The young Byron had befriended a female writer friend of his mother's who had encouraged him to publish his first poetry. His first volume was printed when he was just 17. It was called Fugitive Pieces. 

[00:08:46] However, a vicar got rather upset about its lustful verses, inspired, it seems by Mary Chaworth, his second object of desire, and the books ended up being recalled from the printers and burned.

[00:09:04] Moving back to his personal life, up until now, the life of Lord Byron had been quite exciting and full of sexual exploits, but it was nothing compared to what was to come.

[00:09:19] The true scandalous journey of Lord Byron began when he, accompanied by his university friend, John Hobhouse, and their many servants, set off on a Grand Tour across Europe. 

[00:09:33] The Grand Tour, by the way, was a tour of mainly Italy that young, aristocratic British men would go on in the 18th century. There is an entire episode of this podcast on it, it's episode number 156, if you’re interested.

[00:09:51] At that time, Byron was practically penniless, he had spent all of the money that he had inherited, and his expenses far outweighed any income he made from poetry.

[00:10:03] He paid for his trip by taking on even more debt; a lack of readily available money was not the sort of thing to stop Lord Byron from seeking adventure. 

[00:10:15] So, he did, first in Portugal, then Spain, Gibraltar, Sardinia, Malta and Greece.

[00:10:23] Because of his aristocratic title, he expected to be greeted with a royal gun salute when his ship arrived in Malta. While the rest of the passengers disembarked, they got off the ship, he remained on the boat. 

[00:10:40] When night fell and no salute had been given, Byron reluctantly accepted to be rowed to shore.

[00:10:48] In Albania, he spent time with the fear-inducing ruler, Ali Pasha of Ioannina. Despite Ali Pasha’s reputation as being ferocious and brutal, he welcomed Byron with open arms. Some historians are convinced of sexual relations between the two. 

[00:11:09] Byron fell in love with Greece, finding the people unreserved and morally tolerant, in stark contrast to 19th century England.

[00:11:20] In Athens, he formed a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy, Nicolo Giraud. He also formed an unhealthy attachment to a 12-year-old girl, Teresa Makri, for whom he wrote a poem about and attempted to buy for £500.

[00:11:40] As a reminder, at this time Byron is 22 years old.

[00:11:44] They say travel broadens the mind, and it certainly impacted Byron’s poetry. 

[00:11:51] He wrote a semi-autobiographical poem, full of regret about wasting his youth in useless vice and sin, but having a chance to reform and transform through pilgrimage

[00:12:05] His hero was the characteristic moody figure of the Romantic period, blessed with good looks and a tendency to question society's norms

[00:12:16] This hero was, of course, how he saw himself.

[00:12:20] This poem was called Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and it was the poem that would make Lord Byron famous overnight.

[00:12:29] The Grand Tour over, Byron returned to England in 1811, after two years travelling around Europe. 

[00:12:38] He had never accepted the societal norms of England, but his acquaintance with foreign societies of relaxed cultures made him even more bold and experimental. 

[00:12:51] By the time he returned, he was a celebrity. And he said, “I awoke one morning and found myself famous.”

[00:13:00] With the enormous fame came many wanted and some unwanted advances from women. He started affairs with married women, their daughters, and even their maids. 

[00:13:13] He was famous, chased, loved, and desired. 

[00:13:17] One sexual conquest after another, Byron did not commit to a single woman or man for that matter. 

[00:13:24] But he deeply mourned his chorister lover, John Eddleston, who died of consumption in that year. He wrote a love poem for him, concealing John’s name with a woman’s name.

[00:13:38] Now, this episode would last several hours if we were to detail every one of his romantic relationships, but here are a few that were fundamental to his life and legacy.

[00:13:52] One was an aristocrat called Lady Caroline Lamb, a Gothic writer who would visit Byron dressed up as a boy and who famously described Byron as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. 

[00:14:08] Sure, she was married, but that was far from scandalous compared to what was next.

[00:14:15] In 1813, when he was 25, he started an affair with a lady called Augusta Leigh. 

[00:14:23] She was also married, but that wasn’t the main problem. The problem was that she was his half-sister from his father’s first marriage! 

[00:14:35] If you were rich or famous enough, you could perhaps get away with alcoholism and drugs, which Byron would consume in vast quantities, and even homosexual relations. 

[00:14:48] However, incest was another matter altogether. 

[00:14:53] You couldn’t bed your half-sister and get away with it and Byron knew it. He did all he could to hide the affair.

[00:15:02] Augusta even gave birth to a daughter, Medora, who was rumoured to be Byron’s. 

[00:15:09] Byron was now both needing to shut down the rumours of incest as well as drowning in debt, so he decided to propose to a rich heiress, Annabella Milbanke. 

[00:15:22] She rejected him at first, which must have come as quite a shock. He wasn’t used to rejection, and so he persevered in his attempts to seduce Annabella, who finally agreed to marry him. 

[00:15:37] They got married in 1815, but that didn’t mean that he packed in his, that he stopped, his scandalous ways.

[00:15:46] He took his wife to visit Augusta, his half-sister. While Augusta’s husband was away, Byron and Augusta shared a bed, while Annabella slept alone in a guest room.

[00:16:00] And it wasn’t like Byron was loyal only to his lover - he continued to sleep with other men and women throughout

[00:16:08] Annabella, his wife, understandably found it to be too much, she considered him insane, and filed for divorce after the birth of their daughter, Ada. 

[00:16:22] Ada, by the way, Byron’s daughter, was Ada Lovelace, the famous mathematician. We have another episode just on her, it’s episode number 153 if you’re interested.

[00:16:34] Ada was a genius in her own right, although it is slightly ironic that her genius was of a logical, mathematical type, whereas her father’s was completely chaotic and poetic.

[00:16:50] Now, going back to Byron, though, once his incest with his half-sister became public information, the country turned against him. 

[00:17:01] He had no money, friends deserted him, and some of his previous lovers joined hands to discredit him. 

[00:17:11] Disheartened by the moral outrage, in 1816, aged 28, Byron went into exile, never to return to England.

[00:17:22] Life gave him another chance to travel and explore. 

[00:17:26] Broke as he was, he still travelled in great style. 

[00:17:30] Although most of his London possessions were seized by bailiffs, he had managed to escape in his coach so was not without luxury. 

[00:17:41] The coach had couches and a luxurious bedroom. Meanwhile, his servants and luggage followed behind in another carriage. There was also a peacock, a monkey and a dog in the travelling party.

[00:17:56] Byron was accompanied by his personal doctor who had been paid a princely sum of £500 from a publisher to write a secret diary of the poet’s scandalous adventures. This book, by the way, was later burned.

[00:18:13] During his travels, Byron befriended the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who was on the run from his own wife, Shelley’s 18-year old mistress Mary, who would become Mary Shelley, and spent time with Mary’s half-sister, Claire Clairmont with whom Byron had had an affair back in London and was actually pregnant with his child, Allegra.

[00:18:38] The weather that summer was awful. This was because a volcanic ash cloud had stolen the sun from much of Europe, leading to almost constant rain and thunderstorms.

[00:18:52] In this atmospheric setting, and high on wine and opium, the new friends wrote gothic horror stories together, most famously Frankenstein, before parting company

[00:19:06] Byron spent the winter of 1816 in Venice. The somewhat liberal Italian morals suited his temperament

[00:19:14] And, of course, the womanising continued. 

[00:19:18] He claimed to sleep with over 200 women during his two-year stay there, writing that "some of them are Countesses - and some of them Cobbler’s wives - some noble - some middling - some low - and all whores."

[00:19:35] The travelling and new sexual experiences ignited his creativity. He completed another part of Harold’s Pilgrimage and composed Beppo, a poem comparing English and Italian customs. 

[00:19:51] Among his many mistresses in Venice were Marianna Segati, the wife of his landlord and Margarita Cogni, the wife of a local baker who left her husband and moved in with Byron.

[00:20:06] Apparently, his and Cogni’s fighting got so bad, Byron would sleep the night in a gondola. After he asked her to leave, she dramatically threw herself into the canal in Venice.

[00:20:21] His sexual adventures in Venice and Rome inspired him to write one of his most famous poems, Don Juan. Penned as a story of an uncultured man who was easily seduced by women, the poem is also a commentary on the absurdities and hypocrisies of societal norms and culture. 

[00:20:44] Byron was visited by his old friend Shelley in 1818, who found him growing fat, with unkempt hair, and drowning in sexual promiscuity

[00:20:57] It is then that Byron gave up what he called “miscellaneous harlotry,” he settled for the “strictest adultery” with Countess Teresa Guiccioli – an 18-year-old girl married to a man three times her age. 

[00:21:14] In the course of their relationship, Teresa gave some order to his life. 

[00:21:19] He lived in Ravenna, in central Italy, for two years just to be close to Teresa. Byron’s home in Ravenna was described by Shelley as having ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, a falcon, five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane

[00:21:42] All of these, said Shelley, except the horses, walked about the house as if they were the masters of it. Teresa and Byron became inseparable, following each other to different cities and leaving a trail of rumours behind. 

[00:21:59] However, tragically, Teresa was forced to leave Byron to save her father from exile.

[00:22:06] Soon after, Byron looked for a new adventure. Revisiting his old Romantic dream of helping the Greeks gain independence, he left for Cephalonia. 

[00:22:19] His lavish and active imagination again came into play and he spent £4,000 to design grand army costumes for the Greeks, preparing the fleet for the sea. He joined forces with Prince Aléxandros Mavrokordátos, a leader representing western Greece.

[00:22:39] However, he found the Greeks divided even among themselves. He talked to rival factions to reach an agreement between them, but it didn’t work. 

[00:22:51] He invested what would be millions of Euros in today’s money into the cause, funding troops and helping both Muslim and Christian victims of the war.

[00:23:02] He took the rebel army under his own command, despite his lack of military experience. He was welcomed as a semi-Messiah figure and there is no doubt this fed his ego

[00:23:15] The ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ poet developed a sort of national hero status in Greece, and there were commentators at the time that said he could have become King of Greece. 

[00:23:29] But his behaviour was erratic. There was speculation that he was going mad and showing symptoms of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. 

[00:23:40] Others think he was actually just a deeply impassioned man who fought for what he loved. 

[00:23:47] He had said years before, “If I am a poet... the air of Greece has made me one.” 

[00:23:54] However, it was here while preparing for a revolution that his life was cut short, and he died aged just 36. He had got very wet while out riding, and then afterwards became feverish

[00:24:09] He died as he had lived, in dramatic fashion, with lightning flashing all around him.

[00:24:17] His body was delivered back to England but it was denied burial in Westminster Abbey because of his ‘questionable morality’. 

[00:24:27] Now, say or think what you want about Lord Byron, he was clearly a man who lived life to its fullest, and left a mark on everyone he came across.

[00:24:39] He fell headfirst into a life of scandal, rebelling against and exposing what he saw as Britain’s hypocrisy, carefully concealed under the many prim and proper conventions of the day. He really became the first rock-star poet.

[00:24:58] He had his drama, his hedonism, his radical ideas, and his rudeness, but he also had his genius, which was way ahead of his time.

[00:25:09] So let me just finish with a short quote from one of his poems:

[00:25:16] “There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”

[00:25:38] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Scandalous Life of Lord Byron. 

[00:25:44] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new. 

[00:25:48] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:25:51] What do you think about Lord Byron? 

[00:25:54] Hero, villain, or somewhere in between?

[00:25:57] And especially for the Italians and Greeks among you, how do people in your country remember him, if at all? 

[00:26:05] I would love to know.

[00:26:07] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds. 

[00:26:16] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:26:21] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


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