George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (born 22 January 1788 – died 19 April 1824), known simply as Lord Byron, was an English romantic poet and peer. He was one of the leading figures of the Romantic movement, and has been regarded as among the greatest of English poets. Among his best-known works are the lengthy narratives Don Juan and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Described by Goethe as “undoubtedly the greatest genius of our century,” Byron was attracted to both young males and females.
George Gordon Byron [1788-1824], or Lord Byron, was attached to Nicolo Giraud, a young French-Greek lad who had been a model for the painter Lusieri before Byron found him. Byron left him 7,000 pounds in his will. When Byron returned to Italy, he became involved with a number of boys in Venice but eventually settled on Loukas Chalandritsanos, age 15, who was with him when he was killed (Crompton, 1985).
Byron’s To Ianthe is an effusive paean to the beauty of an a 11-year-old female, with whom he was enamored (MacCarthy, 2014):
Charlotte [Harley], at eleven, was at the age of promise which most moved him, the child on the edge of puberty.
He became temporarily obsessed with Charlotte just as, a few months later, he was fleetingly besotted with his ‘petite cousine’, seven-year-old, black-eyed, black-haired Eliza Byron, plotting to buy toys for her and take her to the theatre. Lady Oxford’s daughter Charlotte is the subject of the famous and much anthologised five stanzas ‘To Ianthe’, fragile flower of the narcissus. He addresses her as his ‘Young Peri of the West!’ In these stanzas, published as a preface to the seventh edition of Childe Harold, Byron celebrates the girl’s evasive charm and addresses the painful ambiguities of their relationship:
‘Oh! let that eye, which, wild as the Gazelle’s,
Now brightly bold or beautifully shy,
Wins as it wanders, dazzles where it dwells,
Glance o’er this page; nor to my verse deny
That smile for which my breast might vainly sigh,
Could I to thee be ever more than friend:
This much, dear maid, accord; nor question why
To one so young my strain I would commend,
But bid me with my wreath one matchless lily
Byron arranged for Richard Westall to paint Lady Charlotte’s portrait, suggesting that John Murray, in the new edition, could use an engraving taken from the picture of ‘the pretty little girl’ Murray had seen the other day. In a further act of revenge on Lady Caroline he gave the child as playthings the rings she once gave Byron, including the wedding ring she ordered for herself from a Bond Street jeweller, insisting that Byron should place it on her finger. In reporting this black comedy to Lady Melbourne he confided his tendresse for Lady Charlotte, ‘whom I should love forever if she could always be only eleven years old — & whom I shall probably marry when she is old enough & bad enough to be made into a modern wife’.
At Eywood he acted out the fantasy of educating Charlotte Harley as the future Lady Byron, supplanting her mother as tutor, laughingly imaging himself as poor duped Moody, the middle-aged character in Garrick’s The Country Girl whose designs on his young ward, brought up in rural innocence, misfire when she outwits and abandons him. Byrons concentrated sessions à deux as Lady Charlotte’s tutor evidently went too far. One of Lady Byron’s separation statements reads: ‘He told me that at the time of his connextion with Lady O she detected him one day in an attempt upon her daughter, then a Child of thirteen, & was enraged with him to the greatest degree.’
How seriously should we take this accusation? Lady Byron’s statements, assembled to build up the case against her husband, have a note of hysterical vindictiveness. This particular statement was one of those dictated to Mrs Clermont, her one-time governess and her close ally, whose malevolence towards Byron was not conducive to accuracy. In this statement, for example, Lady Charlotte’s age is given as thirteen when in fact it was eleven. Though there are many signs in Byron’s history of his predilection for young girls there is no evidence of sexual attacks on them. […] Nevertheless, amongst the curious collection of Byron’s trophies and mementoes in the John Murray archive, two small packets contain samples of Lady Charlotte Harley’s nut brown hair.
There was frequent dancing and much buffoonery at the Macri House, where his increasing interest in the youngest of the “three graces,” Theresa (“12 years old but quite ‘nubila,’” Hobhouse noted), made it possible for him to close the account of the emotional strain of his love for Constance Spencer Smith: “The spell is broke, the charm is flown!” […]
Parting from Theresa gave him a curious pang It may have been on the eve of his departure that he wrote, or at least began, his now famous lines:
Maid of Athens, ere we part,
Give, oh give me back my heart! […]
The line, “By that lip I long to taste,” suggests that his relations with Theresa had been, if not Platonic, at least in the realm of longing rather than of possession.”
Byron considered taking Macri with him, but the mother’s price was too high (Marchand, 1973, p. 46): “I was near bringing away Theresa, but the mother asked 30,000 piastres!”
- Crompton L. (1985). Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th Century England. University of California Press.
- Bullough V.L. (1990). “History in adult human sexual behavior with children and adolescents in Western societies”, in Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions (Jay R. Feierman, ed.). New York: Springer-Verlag Publishers
- MacCarthy F. (2014). Byron: Life and Legend. Hodder & Stoughton.
- Marchand L. (2013). Byron: A Portrait. Random House.
- Marchand L., ed. (1973). “Famous in My Time”: 1810-1812. Harvard University Press.