2nd Generation Romantic Poets
Lord Byron (1788-1824) – Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know
George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron, extremely handsome, was an excellent athlete despite having a club foot, which his mother made worse by forcing him to wear a “corrective” shoe. Born to aristocracy, His father, a sea captain, was known as “Mad Jack”. Abusive and manipulative, he married Byron’s mother for her money, which he wasted. He died when Byron was only three, possibly a suicide. His mother was an alcoholic and strict Presbyterian, and they often argued. Byron gained his title at age 10 when his uncle, the 5th Lord Byron, “The Wicked Lord”, died (he gained that name through numerous murders and by ruining his fortune to spite his son, who also died young). Byron continued the family tradition of debt with expensive parties, clothes, and absurd luxuries. He had a tame bear as a pet (since dogs were forbidden at school). He kept many exotic pets inside his homes, throughout his life. He drank wine from a human skull. He seduced many women, some married, some not. The quote above comes from Lady Caroline Lamb, a married woman who loved and was rejected by him. She became anorexic and unstable, to which he said he felt “haunted by a skeleton”.
He wrote his first collection of poems, Hours of Idleness, while a student. After graduating from Cambridge, he traveled on horseback across southern Europe, avoiding the Napoleonic Wars, and into the Middle East. He wrote a poem of his journey, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which made him popular in England. As a member of the House of Lords, he was a liberal Whig, supporting workers’ rights. But, he had many affairs and scandals, separating from his wife after only one year. Rumours about his affairs ruined his reputation, and gossip spread he might be gay and/or having an incestuous relationship with his half-sister – lies spread by Lady Caroline. At age 28, he left England, never to return. In Venice, he seduced another married woman, whom he then rejected. She threw herself into a canal. He died from an illness while preparing Greek soldiers to fight for independence from Turkey. In Greece, he is considered a national hero.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) – the Radical
Although an aristocrat, he was politically radical and nonconformist. Bullied at Eton, he was expelled from Oxford for writing a pamphlet titled “The Necessity of Atheism”, for which his father never forgave him. He married twice, once in 1810 to ‘liberate’ a young Harriet Westbrooke from her tyrannical father. They separated after four years, and Shelley fell in love with Mary Godwin, author of Frankenstein, living with her instead. In 1816, Harriet drowned herself, and the court took custody of his children. Shelley then married Mary. In 1818, like Byron, he left England for good. In the next year, two of his children by Mary died. Shelley died young, drowning in a boating accident during a storm off the coast in Italy – there was some suspicion of assassination. He was cremated on the beach, his ashes buried in a Protestant cemetery in Rome, near the grave of John Keats. His poetry was largely unknown before his death.
John Keats (1795-1821) – The Tragic YouthThe son of a hostler (someone who cares for horses), both his parents had died by the time Keats was fourteen. Taken out of school, he was apprenticed to a doctor. Encouraged by friends, he quit medicine to write poetry. His growth as a poet was called a miracle, and he also fell in love, getting engaged to Fanny Brawne. But happiness was short lived. He contracted tuberculosis, the same illness that had killed his mother and youngest brother. Being too sick and poor to marry, he traveled to Rome, hoping the warmer weather would help him. It didn’t. Dying at twenty-five, much of Keat’s best works were written in a single nine month period. His untimely death is considered one of the greatest losses to English literature. The drawing above is John on his death bed.