Lord Byron was a poet, a passionate lover, a wandering traveler, and the greatest contrarian of the 19th Century. He spent most of his life traveling abroad with a thirst for adventure, becoming one of the most well-known figures of his time. Through it all, he left us his writings- wry, humorous, and surprisingly poignant meditations on Life and Love.
Born in 1788 and dying at a mere 36 years old in 1824, Byron filled his life with as much experience as possible, traveling as far as he could from his home in England to find new inspirations, from the gorgeous architecture of Venice to the war-torn shores of the Greek islands. In each new place, he fell in love with new cultures and the intriguing women he met. He funneled these experiences into the large body of literature and letters that he left behind after his intense and adventurous life.
Early in his life, Byron achieved great fame through his literary works, starting with Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage at age 24. This enormous epic poem details the world-weary journeys of a young aristocrat who seeks to find a new life by traveling to far-off lands– in other words, a fictional version of his own life. This work (and the many that followed it) helped to mythologize Lord Byron’s own rock-star life in the minds of the people who read it. Soon, Byron was as famous (or infamous) as Napoleon, the famed French leader whom he idolized. At every step, Lord Byron kept a healthy attitude of self-deprecation and a sense of humor about his own fame and the world’s obsession with it.
Byron’s Quotes on Life and Fame
In this time of constant social media and the pressure to seek fame at every level, it is comforting to listen to the wisdom of a man who was thrust into fame 200 years ago and learned the pain that can come with it. We can see in Byron’s quotes that a life in the public eye is not always all it’s cracked up to be! It can be a double-edged sword: it brings both the scrutiny of faceless masses and a platform to influence them.
“Fame is the thirst of youth.”
“What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little.”
“Who tracks the steps of glory to the grave?”
“He who surpasses or subdues mankind, must look down on the hate of those below.”
Thoughts on the Benefits of Solitude
Recognized wherever he went in England, Lord Byron often sought to be alone more than anything. Besides requiring peace and quiet to write, Byron also had good reason to escape from society: his debts! Lord Byron was a profligate spender, often racking up debts far beyond even his ability to pay. He could not resist the indulgences that he associated with wealthy living, even going so far as to have a handcrafted replica of Napoleon Bonaparte’s massive horse-drawn carriage made for him to ride around in. If he were alive today, Lord Byron would have all the fanciest credit cards, but they would all be sure to be maxed out.
Still, solitude can be the best way to cleanse the mind and clear the brain. Byron sought solitude both in nature and in his travels, finding the best place for him to achieve peace and clarity. This is something we can all try to emulate, even if we shouldn’t emulate his excessive spending.
“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
“I can’t but say it is an awkward sight to see one’s native land receding through the growing waters; it unmans one quite, especially when life is rather new.”
Lord Byron on Passion and Feeling
Feeling, whether painful or pleasurable, was a theme of Byron’s life. He wrote at length of the power and pain of feeling and thinking. His epic poem Don Juan, though satirical, emphasizes the frequent woes and sorrows of a man who loves too often (and is often not loved back). These quotes express the feelings and passions that come with the experience of a life led openly, and they ring just as true now as when they were written 200 years ago.
“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.”
“Sorrow is knowledge, those that know the most must mourn the deepest, the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.”
“Prolonged endurance tames the bold.”
“Smiles form the channels of a future tear.”
Profound Insights on People
Byron was a keen observer of people’s behaviors and true intentions– sometimes perhaps a bit too keen. He frequently criticized the cravenness of his doctor and long-time hanger-on John Polidori in front of other people, and in return Polidori wrote The Vampyre, the first modern novel dealing with the idea of vampires who suck the blood of the living (predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 78 years). In the novel, the vampire character, whose aristocratic indifference allows him to suck the life out of everyone, is modeled on Lord Byron himself.
Though some were unappreciative of his observations, Byron was an insightful judge of character. He did not spare himself from his own insights, and often made note of his own failings along with those of other people. It appears that human nature does not change, because these quotes about the nature of people are still relevant for us today.
“Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.”
“If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.”
“There is something pagan in me that I cannot shake off. In short, I deny nothing, but doubt everything.”
“I know that two and two make four – and should be glad to prove it too if I could – though I must say if by any sort of process I could convert 2 and 2 into five it would give me much greater pleasure.”
“In England the only homage which they pay to Virtue – is hypocrisy.”
“To withdraw myself from myself has ever been my sole, my entire, my sincere motive in scribbling at all.”
“Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.”
“Death, so called, is a thing which makes men weep, And yet a third of life is passed in sleep.”
“Man’s conscience is the oracle of God.”
Byron on the Joys of Indulgence
Among Lord Byron’s chiefest pleasures was drinking—something he shared with his traveling partners Percy and Mary Shelley. On cold and stormy nights in Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva, Switzerland, the three friends would gather by the fire and read ghost stories during their stay in 1816. A glass of wine or a fine spirit would warm them up almost as much as their growing friendship; sometimes a good drink shared with good company can be a real pleasure (in moderation, of course).
“Man, being reasonable, must get drunk; the best of life is but intoxication.”
Musings on the Nature of Life
Byron also had deep insight into life, religion, and honor. Though he liked to present an image of a care-free aristocrat, he spent the last years of his life fighting in the seemingly hopeless Greek war for independence. The enigmatic lord is still celebrated in some parts of Greece for his bravery in coming to the aid of the small nation as it fought against the powerful Ottoman Empire for its independence. Statues of Byron still pepper the country, bearing witness to the fact that Byron was much more committed to his ideals than his celebrity reputation would imply. His life ended after an illness contracted during the long war, but his devotion and insights indicate that his wisdom was far beyond the 36 years he had lived. Lord Byron’s views on life can really bring some perspective into our own lives.
“For truth is always strange; stranger than fiction.”
“They never fail who die in a great cause.”
“Between two worlds life hovers like a star, twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge.”
“One certainly has a soul; but how it came to allow itself to be enclosed in a body is more than I can imagine. I only know if once mine gets out, I’ll have a bit of a tussle before I let it get in again to that of any other.”
Byron on Love
Perhaps more than his literature, Lord Byron is remembered for his wild life and his many loves.
Among his famed lovers were Lady Caroline Lamb, who dressed as a page boy to get his attention at a party but soon found herself out of his favor.
Byron’s wife, Anne Isabella Milbanke, was a poor match for his capricious and idiosyncratic ways; she was exceedingly conservative in outlook and did not approve of his outlandish lifestyle. After only a little over a year of marriage, she separated from him and attempted to have him declared insane. The one positive outcome of their marriage was their child, Ada Lovelace, who would go on to be a a mathematician far ahead of her time, writing the world’s first algorithm intended for a computer.
Claire Clairmont, stepsister of Mary Shelley, had a brief affair with Byron that nonetheless affected her deeply. To him, it was a short and fiery time that spiced up some of his European travels; to her, it was love. She doggedly pursued him, especially after bearing his second child, Allegra. Byron could not stand the presence of Claire, but fought hard to win custody of his illegitimate daughter, who died at the age of 6 in a convent school.
Perhaps his most infamous love is his most unsubstantiated one– according to Anna Milbanke, Lord Byron was lover to his own half-sister, Augusta Leigh Byron. Though there is doubt that their relationship was sexual (since that rumor was spread by his ex), he certainly loved Augusta with an intense brotherly affection.
Lord Byron broke hearts, wrote love poems, and ruminated on the meaning of love in our lives when his own heart was broken. His views on Love, from romantic love to the love of a pet for its owner, can warm our hearts even today.
“Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure.”
“Who loves, raves.”
“Lovers may be – and indeed generally are – enemies, but they never can be friends, because there must always be a spice of jealousy and a something of Self in all their speculations.”
“’Tis sweet to know there is an eye will mark our coming, and look brighter when we come.”
“The poor dog, in life the firmest friend. The first to welcome, foremost to defend.”
“What a strange thing man is; and what a stranger thing woman.”
“There is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever. Besides, who would ever have themselves in such a state?”
“Friendship is Love without his wings!”
“Self-love for ever creeps out, like a snake, to sting anything which happens to stumble upon it.”
“Sometimes we are less unhappy in being deceived by those we love, than in being undeceived by them.”
“I am sure of nothing so little as my own intentions.”
“Man’s love is of man’s life a part; it is a woman’s whole existence. In her first passion, a woman loves her lover, in all the others all she loves is love.”
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