• Risky Regencies

    Is It Lord Byron?

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    Is it Lord Byron?

    Where I sit while writing there is the above picture on the wall. I discovered it in a local antique store 17 years ago, advertised as an 19th century hand-drawing. I wrote about it in a 2006 Risky Regencies blog, but thought it would be fun to revisit the topic, especially since I glance at it at least once a day.

    Believe it or not, I passed it up after first seeing it in the shop, then decided I was nuts and went back and purchased it for about $40.00. I remember refraining from saying to the cashier, “Do you think this is Lord Byron? I really think this is Lord Byron.” Surely she would have charged more.

    When I went to England in June 2005, I looked everywhere for a similar portrait of Byron, especially when we visited Newstead Abbey, Byron’s estate, but I never saw anything like it. So, again, I am leaving it up to you. I have reversed some well-known Byron portraits and put them in black and white, for comparison.

    Is my sketch Lord Byron?

    This is what I imagined. A young Regency miss was infatuated with Lord Byron. Perhaps she even glimpsed him in Mayfair, at a ball or the theatre. She and her girlfriends sighed over his Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, bought engravings of his portrait at the local print shop. She did what I did when I was a teenager. She drew her own picture of Byron, putting him in exotic dress, like she would have imagined Child Harold to wear.

    Of course, when I was a teenager, the hearthrob I drew a portrait of was Paul McCartney of the Beatles. I’d scan that too, if I knew where it was. When I went on a search for it, I found all sorts of other things (including my photo of William Shatner as Captain Kirk) but no Paul McCartney. (I should search again….)

    Weigh in here with your opinions. Do I have a portrait of Byron?
    Confess. Who would you have drawn in those tender years of infatuation?

    Diane (who, alas, has not had an infatuation since the one she had for Gerard Butler years ago. Any suggestions?)

  • Regency,  Research

    The Death of Lord Byron

    Last week marked the 188th anniversary of Lord Byron‘s death on April 19, 1824, in Missolonghi, Greece.

    Byron had sailed to Greece to lend his support to the fight for Greek independence. Byron used some of his own funds for the rebel forces and even assumed command of part of the rebel army even though he had no military experience. Before the expedition could sail for the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, Byron fell ill. He was treated with bloodletting, as was the treatment of the day, and he probably contracted sepsis from the unsterilized equipment. On this date he died of a violent fever.

    One wonders why Byron embarked on this trip to Greece in the first place. Did he fancy himself a rebel hero, able to lead armies to victory? Was it ego? Or was it a genuine desire to help, like Sean Penn in Haiti or George Clooney in the Sudan, Angelina Jolie and Ben Affleck for the Congo?

    After Byron’s death his friends commissioned a statue which they wanted to place in Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey. The Abbey refused it, due to Byron’s notorious reputation, as did the British Museum and other places. The statue finally found a place in Trinity College’s Wren Library where it stands today.

    I think of Byron as the first superstar. In 1814 his poem, The Corsair, sold ten thousand copies on the first day; twenty-five thousand in the first month and this was without the internet!!!! He received hundreds of letters from women fans, including some that invited sexual encounters. Just like fans today, the women rhapsodized about his portrait as well as his poems.

    I think my 19th century ink drawing (shown here) is of Byron and I like to fancy that a lovesick fan drew it.

    Many of Byron’s fan letters allude to understanding his wounded soul. A man with a dark side greatly in need of reforming became known as a Byronic hero. We still adore such heroes in our romance novels today, don’t we?

    No matter what one might think of his character, Byron was a great poet, deserving of the lasting fame his work has achieved.
    An example:

    So We’ll Go No More A-roving
    By Lord Byron

    So, We’ll go no more a-roving
    So late into the night,
    Though the heart be still as loving,
    And the moon be still as bright.

    For the sword outwears its sheath,
    And the soul wears out the breast,
    And the heart must pause to breathe,
    And love itself have a rest.

    Though the night was made for loving,
    And the day returns too soon,
    Yet we’ll go no more a-roving
    By the light of the moon.

    If you had been a young Regency lady, do you think you would have been one of Byron’s swooning fans? Do you have a favorite Byron poem or a favorite line from a Byron poem?

    Don’t forget to enter my new contest for a chance to win the Diamonds of Welbourne Manor series!

  • Regency,  Research

    Celebrity Byron

    I watched the Academy Awards last night even though I only saw one of the nominated movies–War Horse. That never stopped me from having favorites. I’m delighted that Christopher Plummer won for Best Supporting Actor and Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress. It was fun to see The Artist win so much, but I was disappointed that War Horse did not win anything.

    The reason I enjoyed the Academy Awards, I think, is due to fascination with celebrities. To see what the women wore. To see the handsome men. To hear the speeches, which are almost always disappointing, and cringe at the presenters attempting to be funny.

    I like to think of Lord Byron as one of the first celebrities in the modern sense of the word. I read an article that said that celebrity, as we think of it, began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the industrialization of print meant that information could be widely distributed. Lord Byron’s poetry and gossip about his life was certainly available to many.

    He was wildly popular when his poetry caught fire with the public. It is said that his wife termed the adulation surrounding him Bryomania. How modern sounding is that?

    He was perfectly cast for such fame. His verse was emotional and sometimes shocking and he was the quintessential “bad boy” in need of taming. His early life was romantic-his deformity of foot, his tumultuous family including his great-uncle, “Mad Jack.” His early travels in the Mediterranean and his dramatic adopting of native dress, must have exciting to women of his time, especially young fanciful girls who still today idolize celebrities. I like to believe the 19th century drawing I own is one a lovestruck fan drew of Byron.

    Like many celebrities, Byron fed the gossip mills. His affair with Caroline Lamb. His later affairs. His separation from his wife amid allegations of cruelty, infidelity and incest with a half-sister. And like many celebrities, Byron met an untimely death, albeit a romantic one, dying of fever while preparing to fight in the Greek war of independence from the Ottoman Empire.

    Like other celebrities, especially those who met an early death, Byron lives on in his marvelous works, his letters, and in his legend that still fascinates us.

    Not so different from the celebrities at the Oscars.
    Who were your favorites at the Oscars? Will Amanda do a fashion critique tomorrow?

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