Lord Byron: The Real Childe Harold
In July 1809 Lord Byron set sail for a tour of the European continent, accompanied by an entourage of friends and advisers. He spent two years touring, carousing and hooking up with everyone in sight. Byron's arrogance could make him look a fool at times. When his ship arrived at Malta, he assumed that he'd be honored by a royal gun salute upon arrival because of his noble title. He waited on the boat while everyone else got off. When nightfall came and still no salute had happened, Byron glumly agreed to be rowed to shore.9
Byron's first collection Fugitive Pieces had been republished as Hours of Idleness, and received negative reviews from critics who thought it childish and self-indulgent. Byron responded with a scathing (but hilarious) satire in 1809 entitled British Bards and Scotch Reviewers, which took aim at everyone from critics to the stuffy, self-important William Wordsworth, who Byron liked to refer to as "Turdsworth." He also worked on his first major poem, an epic he entitled Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. The semi-autobiographical poem focused on a nobleman disillusioned with sensory pleasures, who embarks on a search for entity.
Byron identified with his protagonist. He ended his trip a depressed and disillusioned young man. "At twenty three the best of life is over and its bitters double," the baron wrote in his journal in May 1811, the month he sailed back to England. "I have seen mankind in various Countries and find them equally despicable."10 He was also completely broke. Byron never kept up with his finances, assuming that his advisers would take care of it. His lavish spending never ceased, even as creditors knocked on his door (and in some cases, stationed themselves at his house).
Just three months after his return, his mother Catherine fell ill and died before Byron could reach her. For all his grousing about her while she was alive, Byron was devastated by his mother's death. Servants at Newstead Abbey were chilled to hear the newly-orphaned baron crying, "Oh Mrs. By, I had but one friend in the world."11 Soon after that a college friend drowned, and not long after that Byron received word that his former lover John Edleston had died of consumption while Byron was abroad. Byron was grief-stricken.