4 Bizarre Facts About Byron

“Tis strange,-but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction: if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!
How differently the world would men behold!”

― George Gordon Byron, Don Juan

A Love for the Macabre

He had a love for the macabre. When one day a skull was dug up at his Newstead Abbey, Lord Byron said, “A strange fancy seized me of having it set and mounted as a drinking cup.”

It’s been said that the skull’s cup was not the only one. He used other skulls and turned them into flower pots. He also had a coffin standing in one of the rooms. His morbid tendency brought him to the point of asking to Mary Shelley her husband’s skull before cremation. As bizarre as it sounds, the practice of using skulls as cups is an old practice that goes back to more than 14,000 years.

“Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull” by Lord Byron
LibriVox Public Domain
4 bizarre facts about Byron... skull cup.
Image from https://antique-collecting.co.uk/2017/09/27/lord-byron-skull-cup-heads-to-auction/

Better to hold the sparkling grape,
   Than nurse the earth-worm’s slimy brood;
And circle in the goblet’s shape
   The drink of Gods, than reptiles’ food.

Excerpt from “Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull” by Lord Byron

Lord Byron had a Zoo.

Lord Byron was an animal lover. He loved dogs the most, but it is undeniable the love he felt for unusual animals. The story tells us that his first pet was a tamed bear brought to College because dogs were not allowed. When he moved to his ancestral house, Newstead Abbey, he got a tamed wolf in addition to his bear. In his house in Ravenna, Italy, when Shelly visited him, he told of all the pets that Lord Byron had that roamed in the house: five cats, eight large dogs, an eagle, a crow and a falcon while ten horses were kept outside. Of course the number of animals changed over time as circumstances changed, but it’s a fact that Lord Byron was always surrounded by many usual and unusual pets. He was very fond of animals and he trusted them more than people.

“Epitaph to a Dog” from LibriVox. Public Domain

But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Excerpt from the poem “Epitaph to a Dog” by Lord Byron

Initiated Into the Secret Carbonari Society

“It’s a great object, the very poetry of politics. Only think – a free Italy!!!” The years he spent in Ravenna, were for Byron particularly important. The city where the tomb of Dante Alighieri lies, positively impressed the British poet. He found in its inhabitants authenticity, they were educated and liberal.

He had moved to the city to be near Teresa Gamba, his last and longest love he had ever had in his life. Teresa Gamba, despite her young age, was already married to an old man, Count Guiccioli. However, everyone liked Lord Byron, her husband included and they all openly accepted the love relationship that the two had. Byron became very close to Teresa’s brother and father who were members of the Carbonari (charcoal burners) secret society. This society was born as a revolutionary response from the foreign invasion the country was living. He was initiated into the society by Teresa’s brother and spent his Italian days loving and dreaming of a free Italy.

Image from http://www.internationalassociationofbyronsocieties.org/index.php/conferences/conference-announcements/item/67-call-for-papers-44th-international-byron-conference-in-ravenna

SWEET hour of twilight! in the solitude Of the pine forest, and the silent shore Which bounds Ravenna’s immemorial wood,   Rooted where once the Adrian wave flowed o’er To where the last Cæsarean fortress stood,       Evergreen forest; which Boccaccio’s lore And Dryden’s lay made haunted ground to me, How have I loved the twilight hour and thee!  The shrill cicalas, people of the pine,   Making their summer lives one ceaseless song,        Where the sole echoes, save my steed’s and mine,  And vesper bells that rose the boughs along: The spectre huntsman of Onesti’s line,   His hell-dogs and their chase, and the fair throng. Which learned from this example not to fly       From a true lover,—shadowed my mind’s eye. 

Ravenna (excerpt from “Don Juan”)

Lord Byron like Lord Ruthven

So the story goes that “The Vampyre”, tale by William Polidori was in the beginning tied (and probably still is) to Lord Byron’s pen. Official announcements by Byron himself and Polidori as well, had not been enough to give to his actual author the right merit that he deserved. When the publisher and editor Henry Colburn found the manuscript three years later from the creation, he gave credit to Byron. He then removed his name on the following editions, however, he never gave credit to Polidori. A few reasons where behind this decision. One of them is that the character’s model of the story is taken from “A Fragment” an unfinished vampire story by Byron. Then, Lord Ruthven was much like Lord Byron, ‘an aristocratic vampire that travels Europe and finds the time to drain women’s blood leaving them dead’.

“The Vampyre” by John William Polidori from Lit2Go in the Public Domain.

He found himself in contact with someone, whom he immediately seized; when a voice cried, “Again baffled!” to which a loud laugh succeeded; and he felt himself grappled by one whose strength seemed superhuman: determined to sell his life as dearly as he could, he struggled; but it was in vain: he was lifted from his feet and hurled with enormous force against the ground: — his enemy threw himself upon him, and kneeling upon his breast, had placed his hands upon his throat — when the glare of many torches penetrating through the hole that gave light in the day, disturbed him; — he instantly rose, and, leaving his prey, rushed through the door, and in a moment the crashing of the brandies, as he broke through the wood, was no longer heard.

Excerpt from “The Vampyre” by John Polidori.

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