Lord Byron: Cambridge & Poetry
In October 1805, Byron went to Cambridge University to begin his studies at Trinity College. He brought with him a bulldog - the first of many unusual animals he liked to keep in his company - and a full bar. Byron was instantly popular among his fellow students. He was rich, and exuded a magnetic charisma that drew people to him. He was also attractive - like, incredibly smokin' hot attractive. His physical beauty was one of his most famous qualities. Even straight guys took notice. "Nature could do little more than she had done for him, both in outward form and in the inward spirit she had given to animate it," wrote his friend Edward John Trelawny.7
Unlike his later friend and fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who blew off his classes at Oxford to read and write poetry, Byron far preferred socializing, drinking, gambling and spending money to literary pursuits. Byron disdained the so-called intellectual life. "[O]f nothing was he more indignant," a friend later wrote of him, "than of being treated as a man of letters, instead of as a Lord and a man of fashion."8 Despite his prodigious gifts as a poet - he published his first collection, Fugitive Pieces, as a student in - he liked to behave as though poetry was an afterthought. Byron was far more interested in pleasures of the body than of the mind. In some ways this was good for literature, as many of Byron's most beautiful poems were inspired by love - or lust.
By this time, Byron had figured out that he was attracted to both men and women. At college he fell in love with John Edleston, who was at Cambridge on a singing scholarship. When his voice changed, Edleston lost his scholarship and had to leave school, bringing the romance to an end. Byron wore a ring that Edleston gave him for the rest of his life. He also wrote the poem "Thyrzna" to immortalize his lover, though he changed all the pronouns from male to female in order not to publicize his same-sex relationship.
In 1808 Byron received his degree from Cambridge. Shortly after, he fathered the first of his several illegitimate children, this one with a maid at Newstead Abbey. He arranged to have a generous annual stipend sent to the mother and her baby. With things getting a little dicey in England, he did what all good young noblemen did and set his sights on Europe.