Extract from the poem 'Dark Lochnagar' by Lord Byron
Caledonia, beloved are thy mountains
Fans bombarded him with letters. Groupies clustered at his home. His private life was tempestuous enough to keep a whole team of gossip columnists in business. He was rich, handsome, moody and passionate, a rebel with many causes. Hugely conscious of his self-image, he dieted constantly and may have been bulimic. A kind of Mr Darcy meets James Dean, Lord Byron was a very modern celebrity. "You can't overstate how famous he was," says Dr Stephen Lloyd, senior curator at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, where an exhibition on Byron's life opens next week. "He had global fame, Princess Diana fame. He was an amazingly charismatic figure, hugely attractive both to men and to women. In the true mega-celebrity way, he had an aura."
In his 36 years, Byron sat for 40 portraits. Engravings were made, which sold to the public like hot cakes. But each of his portraits showed him as he wanted to be seen. Invariably, they are in profile, the shirt is stylishly unbuttoned at the neck, the eyes stare moodily into the middle distance. Once. when his publisher commissioned a full frontal engraving to he used as a frontispiece for a book, he was furious and ordered for all copies to be destroyed and the plate broken. If he lived today, he would be suing Hello! Magazine. Although he left Scotland aged 10 and never returned, he described himself as "born half a Scot and bred a whole one". When he made his first speech in the House of Lords he was ridiculed because of his Scottish accent, which he kept all his life.
Byron was born in London in l788, to an English father, Captain John Byron – known as Mad Jack- and a Scottish mother, Catherine Gordon of Gight. When he was two, his father abandoned the family, having gone swiftly through Catherine's £23,000 estate. She retreated with her son back to her native Aberdeen, where they lived in aristocratic poverty. It seems to have been tough on young Byron, Aged seven, he started at Aberdeen Grammar School, but was likely bullied - as he was later at Harrow - due to his malformed foot At age 10, he inherited his title and seems have been quite happy to forsake chilly Aberdeen for the ancestral pile at Newstead. [Note the Gordon name is linked to both the nearby castles Knock and Abergeldie.]
The publisher John Murray, a descendant of Byron's own publisher who had the same name, and holder of an important Byron archive, says: "The influence of that period was terrifically strong. His very early years left an indelible impression on him." It is clear that images of Scotland stayed with him. He loved the Highlands, where he and his mother had travelled, and later wrote a beautiful piece of nostalgia about Lochnagar. [See above] At 19, he planned a tour of the Hebrides, but changed his mind and embarked on his first grand tour of Europe, on which he wrote Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Its success brought him to the notice of other writers. Lloyd says: "[Sir Walter Scott] reviewed the third canto of Childe Harold when Byron's reputation was at rock bottom, at the time of his divorce, when he was being accused of homosexuality and incest. He never forgot that Scott had the courage to give him a good review at that time. They were the two Scottish titans of European romanticism. Scott was creating a new epic history of Scotland, Byron was engaged in creating his own heroic life. Scott referred to himself and Byron 'like the old heroes in Homer'. But in order to understand Byron, you need to understand that he was madly contradictory. highly intelligent, complex, emotional, difficult, passionate. He wrote beautiful poems but his poems could be very bad as well."
For the last eight years of his life, Byron lived abroad, in Geneva, Italy and Greece, where he died of fever in l824. When he died. Sir Walter Scott wrote: "We feel almost as if the great luminary of heaven had suddenly disappeared from the sky."
(Footnote : In passing it is interesting to speculate if the young Byron was influenced by romantic tales of Francis Farquharson).
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