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Thank you for listening to the rest is history. For bonus episodes, early access ad free listening and access to our chat community, sign up at restish That's restish I have a very big and exciting announcement. Tom and I will be following in the footsteps of Adele, Jimi Hendrix and Jay Z, or JZ as I call them, to name but a few, because we will be performing at the Royal Albert hall. It's on Friday the 18 October. We will be accompanied by a live orchestra. Don't worry, Tom will not be singing, because what we will be doing is we will be diving into the lives of Mozart and Beethoven, arguably the two greatest composers in history, if you discount Bach. And we will be exploring their music, their lives, how the French Revolution overshadowed Mozart's final years, and how the napoleonic wars played their part in the making of Beta Urban's greatest symphonies. So you've got all that to look forward to.


Tickets are on sale now, and you can of course get and on that bombshell, on with the show.


It happened that in the midst of the dissipations attendant upon a London winter, there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman more remarkable for his singularities than his rank. He gazed upon the mirth around him as if he could not participate therein. Apparently the light laughter of the fair only attracted his attention, that he might, by a look, quell it and throw fear into those breasts where thoughtlessness reigned. Those who felt this sensation of awe could not explain whence it arose. Some attributed it to the dead gray eye, which, fixing upon the object's face, did not seem to penetrate, and at one glance to pierce through to the inward workings of the heart, but fell upon the cheek with a leaden ray that weighed upon the skin it could not pass. His peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house. All wished to see him, and those who had been accustomed to violent excitement and now felt the weight of ennui, were pleased at having something in their presence capable of engaging their attention. In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a warmer tint, either from the blush of modesty or from the strong emotion of passion.


Though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters, after notoriety, attempted to win his attentions and gain at least some marks of what they might term affection. So that, Tom, is the opening of a novel called the Vampire. Published in 1819, it carried the attribution, a tale by Lord Byron, so listeners can be reassured its not one of your own early works. No, but it has a really interesting backstory, an interesting history, this book, doesn't it? Because it's not by Lord Byron, is that right?


It's not, although you can completely see, listening to that, why people would think that it was by Byron, because it's patently modeled on Byron's years of fame in London. There's a reference to a lady Mercer who dresses up as a mountebank and throws herself in this aristocrats way. And that's clearly modeled on Caroline Lamb. And what makes that absolutely certain is that the fact that the name of this mysterious lord, Lord Ruthyn, derived from a novel that Caroline lamb had written, in which the hero is called Lord Ruthen and is clearly Lord Byron.




And what makes this all the more intriguing is that Lord Ruffin is a vampire, and in fact, he is the first aristocratic vampire, because until this point, vampires was a kind of balkan peasant superstition and Byron had learned about it in the balkans, as we will see in due course. And so when this book gets published, it's widely interpreted as a kind of a confession, an acknowledgement by Byron that he was indeed guilty of all the terrible sins that people think that he's guilty of. And we left him at the end of the previous episode going into exile and this shadow of the satanic hanging over him. And so people read this book and think, yeah, okay, this is, you know, he's basically fessing up, but as you say, it's not actually by Byron.


So just before you say who it is by Tom, just to recap, we left Byron at the end of the last episode. We did the first episode all about his upbringing. Then we had his great travels, meeting with the sultan Ali Pasha, falling in love with Greece, being crossed with Lord Elgin, and then the last episode, this absolutely bizarre, dangerous, liaison style love life that he has back in England. There are accusations of incest and sodomy in the air, and he has fled England forever into exile. And as you say, the vampirism. I mean, that's basically a sort of a metaphor, isn't it, for the sexual misconduct with which he's been charged? Not charged sort of publicly, but charged in the sort of salons and in the gossip of aristocratic London.


I mean, he remains complete box office. And so the measure of this is that he's hired a physician, a young english doctor of italian extraction called John Polidori to go with him. And John Murray, who is Byron's publisher, is paying him a fortune to write a journal of what happens. And it's Polidori who actually has written this account when it comes out in 1819. And Polidori has a very awkward relationship with Byron because he, as well as being a doctor, he's an ambitious writer, and he's actually written three tragedies. And before they leave Dover for Ostend, he reads one of these tragedies out to Byron and Hobhouse, and both of them fall about laughing.


Oh, no.


Yeah, it's very, very difficult. But Polidori knows the kind of details that his readership will want. So his description of Byron's arrival in Ghent after they've landed is very famous. As soon as he reached his room, Polidori wrote, lord Byron fell like a thunderbolt upon the chambermaid.


And did he?


We don't know. And also, of course, what we don't know is whether the chambermaid is willing or not.




So there's all kinds of things being unspoken. There she was. I don't know. I mean, Byron is the most famous and handsome man in the world, but as they're going, Byron too is writing, and he is returning to Childe Harold's pilgrimage. And so essentially, as he travels through Europe and he's heading southwards, he never visits France, interestingly, but he goes down the rhine towards Switzerland in kind of very modest way that is typical of him. He is aligning all the agonies and the dramas of recent history with his own. So he visits the battlefield of Waterloo, he tours it, and, you know, there's this famous ball before the battle of Waterloo held by the Duchess of Richmond, and Byron famously writes about it in Childe Harold, and he is essentially comparing the agonies of those at the ball to his own agonies. So he writes, there was a sound of revelry by night and Belgium's capital had gathered then her beauty and her chivalry and bright the lamps shone over fair women and brave men a thousand hearts beat happily and when music arose with its voluptuous swell soft eyes looked loved to eyes which spake again and all went merry as a marriage bell but hush, hark, a deep sound strikes like a rising knell.


So this is the onset of war after the battle of Waterloo, but it's also the doom that will torpedo Byron's reputation as the social lion of London. And you may wonder, you know, how can he get away with this? No matter how famous he is, how can someone conceivably compare his kind of marital agonies with all the dead of Waterloo? And I think it is precisely because with Napoleon now gone into exile, Byron is the most celebrated person in Europe, and he is an object of consuming curiosity wherever he goes.


Tom, we talked before about, I mentioned Stendhal's novel, le rouge et le noir. Stendhal, who met Byron, great french writer, and that novel captures this sort of adolescent hero worship of Napoleon by people who are seized with a kind of yearning to lift themselves out of provincial mediocrity. They worship Napoleon. Napoleon made himself a great man. He's above the common herd. Obviously, that impulse lies at the heart of romanticism, of the idea of the romantic artist. It's why people admire our old friend John Lennon. They think he's better than the norm. You know, he's different, he's a suffering artist. He's special. Do you think the same people who idolize Napoleon idolize Byron completely.


And I think more than that, I think that when they idolize Napoleon, Byron serves as a filter for them. So it does for Stendhal. I mean, Stendhal admires Napoleon, but he also admires Byron, and the two are conflated, and actually, particularly in France, interestingly so, Byron is hugely influenced on the course that french romanticism takes. So it's not just an english thing.


Okay, interesting.


And that means that when he turns up in Switzerland, for instance, you know, he is as obsessive a topic of interest to the Swiss as to english tourists there. And wherever he goes, people are kind of watching him, pointing at him. Byron reports that he walks into a room and a woman faints. And he says, it's a bit much and kind of entrepreneurial. Swiss hoteliers are hiring out binoculars that they can spy on him. So it's awful. And it's not surprising that when Byron, he arrives at the Hotel d'Angleterre in Geneva, he's asked to give his name and his age, and he writes down, I am 100. He's feeling exhausted by everything. And so it's not surprising, therefore, that he is in a mood to welcome interesting and convivial company, the company of people who will not cause him grief. And on the 27 May 1816, he and Polidori have been out on a boat on Lake Geneva, and they come back and they get onto the jetty, and there on the jetty, a young man and two women are waiting for him. And this is one of the famous meetings in literary history, because, of course, that young man is the 23 year old Percy Bysshe Shelley, who, like Byron, is a poet.


You know, he's not published and famous in the way that Byron is. But he kind of pushes skeptical trends that Byron has to very radical limits. So he's an opian atheist, an open republican, an enthusiast for free love, and he has with him two stepsisters. So one of them, Mary Godwin, who in due course will become Mary Shelley, is the daughter of two very famous parents. So William Godwin is a kind of radical, skeptical philosopher. And her mother, Mary Wollstonecroft, is pioneering feminist, and she is sleeping with Shelley. And with her is her stepsister, who's younger than her, Claire Clairmont. And the meeting between Shelley and the two step sisters with Byron is initially awkward. This is partly because Polidori actually is very saturnine, very good looking, and Shelley mistakes Polidori for Byron.


Oh, my word. So that slightly deflates Byron's image. He can be mistaken for him.


It's also the fact both men are naturally shy, so that, you know, it takes some time for their reserve to break down. And it's also because there is a massive fly in the ointment, and that is that Claire Claremont has not only slept with Byron, but got pregnant by him. And so she had set out to seduce him while he was in the kind of the depths of misery his wife had left him. He's being abused across London, and so he basically succumbs to her advances. He'd been upfront right from the beginning, I'm not interested in a relationship. I'll do this because you're kind of pestering me.




But, you know, I don't want anything more to do with you. So his comment on it was, I never loved nor pretended to love her. But a man is a man. And if a girl of 18, in fact, she's 17, comes prancing to you at all hours, there is but one way. And so Claire, a bit like Caroline Lamb, is obsessed with him, is pursuing him.


But to be fair, she's pregnant by him. I mean, it's understandable that she would be.


Yeah, she is. And she's persuaded Shelley and Mary, basically, to go to Geneva so that they can meet with Byron. So, despite the awkwardness of this beginning, Byron and Shelley get on well, and as I'm sure most listeners will know, because this is very, very celebrated. The two poets, the two stepsisters, Polidori, they essentially spend that summer together. So the Shelleys hire a small house beside Lake Geneva, and Byron rents a villa, the villa diodati, where John Milton, the great poet, had once stayed, which is above Shelley's villa. Kind of spectacular views over the lake towards the Jura mountains. And they go on tours around the neighboring sites, but they are kept in by what is famously terrible weather.


Yes. The year without a summer. Is that right?


Yeah. So there's been this volcano that has erupted in Indonesia the year before and the ash has basically blotted out the sun. And Dominic, it's this. You've done a series, haven't you, on Frankenstein and science fiction. On science fiction, yeah. Tv series.


Yeah. Years ago. Years ago. So they have the famous competition, don't they, write a ghost story? It's actually a doctor who story about this, Tom, where they've got a Cyberman in the cellar. But we don't need to get into that now.


Don't go into that.


They're all sort of trying to scare each other with different stories, aren't they?


Yeah. So Polidori gives an account of it and it's 12:00 really began to talk. Ghostly LB. So that's. Byron repeated some verses of Coleridge's Christabel of the witch's breast. When silence ensued, Shelley, suddenly shrieking and putting his hands to his head, ran out of the room with a candle. He was looking at misses Shelley and suddenly thought of a woman he had heard of who had eyes instead of nipples, which, taking hold of his mind, horrified, to be fair.


That would freak you out. I mean, that is sure, wouldn't it? It absolutely would. Especially. I mean, if I was misses Shelley, I would be quite offended by that.


Well, there's the Ken Russell film, gothic, right. I've never seen that, which brings all that to life. So this ghost story competition. Shelley gets bored. Polidori's story is terrible, but there are two hugely influential stories that do emerge from it. And the most famous of these, of course, is Frankenstein. And we will be doing an episode specifically on Frankenstein.


We will. We'll do a separate episode on Frankenstein because it's such a brilliant story.


Yeah. So we'll just park that. But Byron tells a story which is clearly very autobiographical, about an aristocrat who comes from the balkans to London and turns out to be a vampire. And as I said, he's drawing on superstitions that he had heard in Greece and Albania, and he wrote a poem called the Jawa, in which a curse is delivered on the eponymous jawa. The jar is a turkish word for a kind of a frank, a westerner. And this is the curse. Thy course shall from its tomb be rent, then ghastly haunt thy native place and suck the blood of all thy race there from thy daughter, sister, wife at midnight drain the stream of life, yet loathe the banquet which perforce must feed thy livid living corse. Thy victims, ere they yet expire, shall know the demon for their sire, as cursing thee, thou cursing them. Thy flowers are withered on the stem. And what is interesting about that, we talked in the previous episode about Lady Byron going to her doctor and saying that Byron has this idea that he is cursed to destroy all those who love him and who he loves.


I mean, there's elements of that totally.


Their daughter, sister, wife. I mean, that sounds like the inhabitants of Byron's bed. I mean, but the idea of sexuality and sexual desire being poisonous in some way and being tainted, you can see why that comes from. It's barely even his subconscious. It's his consciousness, yeah.


And you can absolutely see why. And of course, Polidori published this under Byron's name, why everyone assumes that it is by Byron. And also why that image of the aristocratic vampire, who is beautiful as well as deadly, becomes so influential. I mean, you know, you wouldn't have Count Dracula without Lord Ruthven, who is based on Lord Byron.


You make the point, don't you, that previously vampires had been peasant figures climbing out of sort of graves in fly bitten balkan villages.


Dirty. Yeah, yeah.


The idea of the suave Count Dracula is so byronic. I mean, think of Francis for a Coppola's film.


Anyway, so all of this, the hanging out with the Shelleys, I mean, none of this does anything to improve Byron's reputation, because Shelley is notorious. People think that he's sleeping with both the sisters, the stepsisters, but they're kind of, you know, they're talked of as being sisters. And so back in London, the rumors will be that Byron and Shelley are engaged in a league of incest. And so that's making play with Byron's own reputation. Byron, when he hears about this, is furious, because actually, it's not true. Shelley isn't sleeping with Clare as well as with Mary. And also, I think what is more is that Byron's been behaving quite badly in these episodes. He is less radical than Shelley in his attitudes, for instance, towards free love. I mean, that may come as a surprise to listeners to the previous episode, but Shelley really is kind of radical in his views. And Shelley also is capable of finding Byron shocking, and not only shocking, but also is quite intimidated by him, I think, both because he's a lord, but also because of his fame. And of course, a further shadow is cast by the fact that Byron is still refusing to have anything to do with Claire.


And so the Shelleys leave Geneva on the 29 August, after their three month stay with Byron, and they discuss the future of Clare's child when she, in due course, gives birth to it. Byron proposes that Augusta should raise it. Shelley's saying, absolutely not.


Well, his sister that he's been sleeping with. Yeah, I mean, come on, that's ridiculous.


It's finally agreed that the child, when he or she is born, will live with either one of the parents. And Byron reluctantly agrees with this. Claire goes, Byron does not say goodbye to her, does not embrace her. You know, he doesn't have anything to do with her. So the Shelleys go back to England and mid January, 1817, Clare goes into labor, gives birth, and it's a daughter. So Byron's second daughter. And the Shelleys call her Alba, which had been their pet name for Byron, after Albania, and so they called this girl Albae. But Byron insists that they call her Allegra, and the reason that he does that is that by this point, in the winter of 1817, he's crossed the alps from Switzerland, he's traveled through northern Italy and he has ended up in Venice. And Allegra is a venetian name. And by the time that Percy and Mary Shelley, accompanied by Clare and Allegra, set out for Italy to hand over Allegra to Byron, which is what has been agreed by this point. Byron has been settled in Venice on and off for over a year. And it's basically his kind of place, rather, in the way that Greece was his kind of place, because it has a similar kind of romance.


So he writes about this in Childe Harold, which he's continuing. I loved her from my boyhood. She to me, was as a fairy city of the heart, rising like water columns from the sea, of joy the sojourn and of wealth, the mart. But just as Greece is under turkish rule, Venice, in the wake of the napoleonic wars, is under austrian rule. So Venice had been a free republic, a great power, but her independence had been snuffed out by Napoleon. And with Napoleon's overthrow, Venice has become part of the austrian empire. So that's all very tragic, but it's not just the kind of the faded tragedy of it all, it's also the fact that Venice, despite its, you know, shabby gentility, is full of life. And it's a place that is devoted to pleasure. And Byron, writing home to all his friends, lets everybody know. So his letters, as I said, are wonderful. This is a kind of payoff. It's typical. Good night, he writes, or rather morning it is four and the dawn gleams over the Grand Canal and unshadows the rialto. I must to bed. So that's very much the kind of.


Thing you'd show off, basically, when your friend goes abroad, you don't want to hear that kind of thing. You want to hear they're having a terrible time and being bitten by mosquitoes and mugged. You don't want to hear this business.


Right? But I think that, again, Byron is a trailblazer in a way that we might take for granted, because he basically is the first british expat to make living abroad seem glamorous in a way that becomes accessible to lots and lots of people. Because when he writes all this kind of stuff, first of all in Childe Harold, but then in much lighter, funnier poems that kind of bring alive the sense of how brilliant it is to be out in Venice on a gondola and living in a palazzo on the Grand Canal, as Byron is doing, everyone just kind of sucks it up. They love it. So Turner and Ruskin will follow in Byron's footsteps to Venice. But so also, of course, does James Bond. I mean, that idea of Venice as a place of glamor where if you are an Englishman in Venice, you're living the dream. It is Byron who establishes that as an aspiration that people back in England can dream of having.


The James Bond, of course, is there with Doctor Holly Goodhead. Tom in Moonraker and his gondola comes out of the canals and travels over land through St Mark's Square, and while he's being chased by men with machine guns.


Okay, so there aren't machine guns. No, but for Byron, there is all kinds of stuff going on. So he writes about this in a poem called Beppo, which is the first in his kind of comic style. The moment night with dusky mantle covers the skies. And the more dusky, the better the time, less liked by husbands than by lovers begins, and prudery flings aside her fetter and gaiety on restless tiptoe hovers, giggling with all the gallants who beset her. And there are songs and quavers, roaring, humming guitars and every other sort of strumming.


Every sort of strumming. Very nice. So that's very Roger Moore. The every sort of strumming.


It is very Roger Mo.


You fancy having a little strum with me? You know, that kind of thing. However, perhaps the Roger Moore parallel is more apposite than I realized, because am I not right in saying that at this point, Byron is a little too old and is perhaps not quite as honed as he might have been in his Daniel Craig pomp.


I mean, he's only 30 by this point. Okay, but we have a report by John Hansen, who goes out to meet Byron, his lawyer, to sort out his financial affairs. And he takes his son with him. And this son reports that although Byron's only 30, he looked 40. His face had become pale, bloated and sallow. He had grown very fat, his shoulders broad and round, and the knuckles of his hands were lost in fat.


Tom, you know as well as I do that I cannot abide a fat man. That is very disappointing.


Yeah, you love your dieting, as, of course, Byron had done in his days of pomp. But he's clearly letting himself go. And this is also what Shelley feels when he arrives. So they've come to Italy. He sent Allegra, with her swiss nursemaid, to Byron. And Byron's palazzo is full of all kinds of animals and pets, and Allegra basically just becomes another pet in the palazzo. Byron's very fond of her, but I don't think he's a particularly attentive father. Anyway, Shelley turns up a few months later with Claire. Byron refuses to see Claire, but he does meet up with Shelley, and Byron's delighted to see Shelley. Shelley is less delighted to see Byron because despite all his enthusiasm for free love, he has quite a prim side and actually quite a xenophobic side as well. Weirdly, because since he will end up living in Italy, he complains that all of Byron's mistresses stink of garlic.


That's very good. I like that.


And he also hints that Byron. Byron is getting back to his old way. So Byron himself refers to Venice as the sea sodom. And Shelley talks darkly of, and I'm quoting Shelley here, wretches who seem almost to have lost the gait and physiognomy of man. And do not scruple to avow practices which are not only not named, but, I believe, seldom even conceived in England.




So Shelley there making an unexpected pitch to write for a tabloid newspaper in the 1980s.


Very much so.


Shelley's still full of admiration for Byron, but feels that he's wasting his life.


But he's not wrong, right? I mean, I was stunned when you said he's only 30. Of course, he's packed so much in, hasn't he? But he has become very dissipated. I mean, there's a definite Elvis side to him, isn't there? At this point, yes.


And it's interesting, you mentioned that, because you remember Camille Paglia, who wrote sexual personae, very kind of trendy analysis of culture from Nefertiti up to the present day. On her chapter on Byron, she does a brilliant comparison of Byron to Elvis.




The same kind of look, the same fight against overweight and everything.




I mean, the one thing to say is that Byron's poetry is really becoming incredibly sophisticated, brilliant at this point. But Shelley feels that Byron could be much more than that, that Byron's own dreams of becoming a kind of napoleonic figure. Shelley feels that there is truth to this, and he writes a poem called Julian and Madalo in which he's basically ventriloquizing the conversations that he and Byron have had. So Byron appears in this as Count Madalo, and Shelley writes a preface to the poem, and in it he's giving basically a description of Byron. And he writes, he made. Byron is a person of the most consummate genius and capable, if he would direct his energies to such an end of becoming the redeemer of his degraded country, say, Venice or Britain. But it is his weakness to be proud. He derives from a comparison of his own extraordinary mind with the dwarfish intellects that surround him, an intense apprehension of the nothingness of human life. So it's that kind of existentialist quality of byronic despair that Shelley is reacting against, because Shelley's much more utopian. He believes that humanity can enter a golden age. Byron's much more pessimistic.


And I think Byron's response to this would be to say, well, it's too late. You know, I am a notorious exile. What prospect do I have of ever redeeming a degraded country? It seems a complete fantasy.


And yet, Tom, in the second half, the final part of this great epic, one of the most colorful stories, I have to say, we've ever done in the rest is history. One of the countries that he had always loved is going to return in his imagination, isn't it? And that country is, of course, Greece. Saviron will be going back to Greece and his appointment with destiny after the break. Welcome back to the rest is history, the very last leg of our great epic journey through the life and times of Lord Byron. Tom, at the end of 1819, there is a sense now, perhaps for the first time, that Byron is beginning to, dare I say, grow up a bit and calm down. He has moved from the city he called sea, Sodom, Venice, to Ravenna, which is even more decayed and dilapidated and faded. And actually, I mean, Ravenna's very nice mosaics but it's kind of provincial, and that's the one thing Byron has always hated.


Yeah, it's odd. And people who come to visit Byron and Ravenna say, why have you come here? It's not your kind of place at all. And the reason is that he has fallen for a woman who will be his last and most enduring love. And she's a 19 year old Italian, Contessa Teresa Guiccioli. And she and her husband, and inevitably there is a husband, have their palazzo in Ravenna. So Benita Isler, in her biography of Byron, describes Teresa as a romantic, realist, shrewd, more than intelligent, innocent and amoral, affected and feeling worldly and provincial.


I mean, those are a lot of just opposed categories. It's hard to know what that means.


Well, Benita Reis also says that she's simultaneously highly intelligent and utterly frivolous.


Exactly. Once blonde and brunettes, tall and short.


I don't think so. I mean, I think you can see that they're being very smart, but also being frivolous. There is something there that would appear to Byron, I think.


Yeah, I can see that.


But also what she gives to Byron is also what Augusta had given Byron, which is a kind of complete and unwavering devotion. And it's important to say that by this point, Augusta is no longer communicating with Byron in the kind of intimate and personal ways that she had previously done, because Lady Byron is still very much on the scene and has set it as one of her missions to try and redeem Augusta from her sinful state. So Lady Byron has been born again. She's become part of the evangelical sect that surrounds William Wilberforce, the great anti slavery campaigner. Lady Byron is a committed anti slavery campaigner. She is committed to improving the education of the poor, all these kind of things. But among her moral missions is the urge to redeem Augusta. And so as a result of that, Byron is always bewildered by these very stiff letters that he's starting to get from his sister, in which basically she doesn't tell him anything. And so I think for that reason, he's very susceptible to an Augusta like figure, which is clearly what Theresa is, and he stays with her for the rest of his life.


And it's as close to a monogamous relationship as he will ever know. But it is, of course, a very byronic form of monogamy in all kinds of ways. So Teresa signals her willingness to have him as a lover by Caroline Lambstyle, sending Byron a clipping of her pubic hair.


So my question here is, is this a common practice in the early 19th century, or is she deliberately copying Caroline lamb? Has she heard about it?


Probably the latter, I think.


Yeah, because people aren't doing this in Jane Austen. Right? Oh, I'm just going to send Mister Wickham, you know, whatever.


I don't think so. So there's that. There's also the freestorm of danger because her husband, who is 70. Okay, so, yeah, you know, Teresa is late teens, husband is 70.


He's done well for himself.


He's a very powerful figure. He's a kind of diplomat who's managed to get on well, both with Napoleon and the pope, which is impressive.




He's believed, with some credibility, to have murdered people who got in his way, including a previous wife.


Okay. She has not done well for herself.


But he's very rich. And although she comes from an aristocratic family, Count Guccioli, he's a significant figure in italian politics. So she has done very well for herself. And basically she wants to have her cake and eat it. So she wants her, you know, all the status and prestige that she gets from being married to this very significant player in italian politics. But she also wants her famous english poet. They also kind of settled down in the palazzo in a weird mesnage a trois with Dominic shaking his head.


It's a bit Nelson and the Hamiltons.


Yeah, it is. And I think that it's. That's not a coincidence, because this is kind of more accepted in Italy than anywhere else. There's this kind of cavaliere servente, this idea that a wife can have a kind of aristocratic, attentive servant.




Companion. Yeah. So this is what happens. And I think that Byron's willingness to settle down is enhanced by his feeling that his links to England are being lost. So not only is Augusta not really writing to him anymore, Lady Melbourne has died. So he's lost the spider, that contact as well. And I think also his relations with people back in England is not helped by the fact that this is the period where he begins his greatest poem, Don Juan, which I know people these days tend not to curl up with a kind of massive epic poem, but if you curled up with Don Juan, you would be reading the most readable long poem in the whole of English. It's like a kind of 18th century novel in verse. So it describes Don Juan. Byron calls him Don Juan for the rhythm, because it's funny. Don Juan's mother is a scarcely veiled portrait of Lady Byron. So he mocks both the process of their separation. So people who listened to the previous episode may remember Lady Byron rummaging around in his trunks and finding opium and a copy of the Marquis de Sard. So in Don Juan, Juan's mother is called Ines, for Ines, called some druggists and physicians and tried to prove her loving lord was mad.


But as he had some lucid intermissions, she next decided he was only bad. So that's clearly a portrait of the whole scandal.


And he mocks about being a brainbox, doesn't he?


He does a notorious couplet. But o ye lords of ladies, intellectual inform us truly, have they not? Henpectual?


Okay, one for our feminist listeners to.


Get cross about there.


I mean, his attitude to women is he contemptuous women.


He has a misogynist strain, but he adores them as well. I mean, you're complaining that the description of Theresa is conflicted.


Yeah, I mean, okay, I can understand that he has a complicated relationship with women.


He has a complicated relationship with women, I think. And predictably, when Byron's friends get these, the beginning of Don Juan, they're appalled by it. And Murray, his publisher, is terrified of publishing it. And when he does so, eventually he does it without Byron's name on the COVID But of course, people have only to read it to know it's Byron. And so it just adds more to Byron's selfless reputation in England. And I think Byron is quite pleased about this because, you know, on the Oscar Wilde principle, that if there's one thing worse than being talked about, it's not being talked about. And I think he feels it gives him at least a kind of a hint of the glamor, the napoleonic glamor that he'd always dreamed of. And this sense that he is slightly moldering as an expat. I think he's regretting his exile by this point is sharpened for him by the events that are happening in England, because 1819, of course, is the year of Peterloo, the Peterloo massacre, when strikers are ridden down by the local dragoons. And it gets Shelley very upset. He writes the mask of anarchy about it. And also it gets John Cam Hobhouse, Byron's oldest friend, very upset, because Hobhouse, by this point, has become, rather to Byron's surprise and I think, annoyance, a kind of a radical firebrand.


And in December 1819, Hobhouse is sent to Newgate jail because he's published an incendiary pamphlet and is enshrined as a martyr for liberty among radicals. And I think Byron is really jealous. He's quite unpleasant about it. Actually, yeah.


He doesn't think that his boring friend, who's his sidekick, is getting all the attention as the radical martyr.


Exactly. It's like Sherlock Holmes being resentful of Doctor Watson solving a brilliant case.




That kind of thing. And so, whether coincidentally or not, from this point on, he starts to become much more politically involved in british politics, but also in italian politics. And this is partly prompted by the fact that in July 1820, the pope grants a degree of separation to Count Guiccioli. So he and Teresa separate, and Teresa moves back to live with her father, Count Gamba, he's called. And Count Gamba is passionately committed to the cause of freeing Italy from austrian rule and joining up all the disparate parts into which Italy is divided. And Byron goes with Theresa, and so sets up shop with Count Gamba. And Count Gamba and his son Pietro are part of this kind of secret society that is committed to italian liberty, the carbonarian. And early in 1823, there's an abortive revolution in which the carbonari evolved. Byron is involved very, very tangentially. The revolution fails, and as a result of this, the gambas are sent into exile. And again, Byron goes with them, and he has to leave Ravenna, and he leaves Allegra behind in a convent. He's decided that he wants Allegra brought up as a Catholic. Byron then heads off to Pisa, which is in Tuscany with its leaning tower.


And there he is joined again by the Shelleys, who've been in Italy all this time. And when Shelley meets Byron this time, he's relieved to find that Byron is no longer fat and bloated and dissipated, but seems much more committed both to poetry and to politics. And again, this kind of paradox. Dominic Shelley is simultaneously relieved by this, full of admiration for Byron, but also full of a resentment that almost, I think, borders on hatred. And so Shelley writes of Byron, I despair of rivaling him as well as I may. And there is no other with whom it is worth contending. But the two poets, they team up that various other english radicals come out to join them, and they produce a newspaper called the Liberal, which is to be published in England. And the first edition includes a brilliant satire by Byron on the recent death of George III, which is so rude that it gets the guy back in England who has published it. He goes on trial. Byron has to kind of, you know, keep him in jail. When he gets sentenced, Byron is back on the public stage in England, not just as a figure of kind of satanic notoriety, but now as a figure of political notoriety.


Right, so this is all seems to be kicking off. But then two disasters. The first is that news reaches Byron, Shelley, Mary Shelley, and in due course, Claire Claremont, that Allegra has died in her convent very young. So very tragic. Byron has lost his, you know, his second daughter, and then Byron, Shelley, Theresa's brother Pietro, various other members of their kind of, you know, their radical set. They're embroiled in a brawl with various dragoons outside Pisa, and by this point, the tuscan authorities are fed up with them. They get expelled. So May 1822, Byron is on the road again, and he goes to Livorno, what the English call Leghorn, and he rents a villa there with views over the sea. And Byron always loves the sea. It always makes him happy, because, of course, he is lame, but the sea provides him with opportunities to swim. Yes, of course, in the sea, Byron is mobile, he's a very strong swimmer, unlike Shelley, of course, who cannot swim. And he and Shelley had both, a few months earlier, commissioned boats. So Byron had commissioned a three masted kind of sailing ship, which he called the Bolivar Dominic.


And I know you love a south american hero of liberation, don't you?


Yeah. Simone Bolivar.


Byron, I think, at this point, is seriously thinking maybe of going to South America. He's kind of enthused by stories of Bolivar, or indeed even to North America, because at this point, the american Mediterranean fleet sails into Leghorn, and they invite Byron down and they kind of toast him. And Byron's incredibly flattered by this, so he is seriously thinking about going to America. But then, disaster. So Shelley's boat is called the Ariel, even though, again, kind of playing on Shelley's resentment and sense of inferiority to Byron. Shelley and Byron had initially bought this together, and Byron had asked it to.


Be called the Don Juan to rub it in.


Yeah, it hasn't been painted out. So Shelley's boat, you know, it's called the Don Juan, even though he wants to call it the aerial. Both boats are delivered to the respective owners in June, and they use them. And then on the 13 July, Theresa and Byron in their house above Leghorn, they hear the kind of the crunching on gravel of the wheels of a carriage, and there's knocking at the door. And there at the door is a pale faced Mary Shelley, white as marble. Theresa will later write, and Mary says, have you any news of Shelley? And she tells Byron that Shelley had gone out on the 8 July. So that's five days before on the aerial, and hasn't been seen since.


Yeah, five days has been gone.


Yeah, to reiterate, Shelley doesn't swim. And so Byron joins the search. They go up and down the coast, and on the 18 July, so that's ten days after he'd vanished, the body of Shelley and two people who'd been with him on the boat are found. And Shelley has to be recognized by his clothing because his face has been eaten by crabs.


Oh, gosh.


And it's agreed that Shelley, as an atheist, as a pagan, should be cremated on the beach. But it takes them a month to get the permits for this. And so Shelley's body and the bodies of the others are buried in quicklime, and permission comes through. On the 16 August, they go into the quicklime, dig up the various bodies, they find Shelley's skull. Byron had wanted to keep Shelley's skull as a memento.


Would you keep my skull, Tom?


Yeah, I think I would.


Would you?


Well, I would if it wasn't cracked by a spade. Right in the quicklime in which your skull had been preserved, which is what happens to Shelley's. So it gets shattered. So Byron decides he won't keep it. And so the whole lot gets burned on the beach. And Byron can't bear, really, to watch it because, of course, you know, the corpse is a horrid kind of green, indigo color. Shelley's barely recognizable.


Yeah, you're not selling it.


The flesh, the bones start to turn to ashes, and Byron doesn't stay. He goes out, wades out into the sea, swims out to the bolivar, which is a mile and a half offshore, to cleanse himself. With Shelley's death, the whole kind of circle of radicals that had been gathered around Byron and Shelley starts to split up. And Byron feels increasingly isolated, increasingly restive, I think, and increasingly alert to events in Greece, because for two years there, the Greeks have been fighting a war of independence. It had broken out in the Peloponnese. So that's the kind of the southern bit of Greece. And Byron becomes increasingly obsessed by it. And I think this is partly because the dream of italian liberty is dead. I mean, all his attempts to kind of work with that have failed, but also, I think, just because he's bored. So Pietro Gamba, Theresa's brother, who's become very close to Byron by this point, he says of Byron that he often felt the want of some other occupation than that of writing. So again, it's that idea that Byron had always had, that writing poetry somehow isn't worthy of him. And meanwhile, without consulting Byron Hobhouse, who's been released by this point from Newgate and is working with the London greek committee.


So that's the committee that is kind of raising funds for the greek rebels back in England. He suggests to the London greek committee that they should approach Byron, and they do so. And Byron is wildly enthusiastic.


So this is the first time, isn't it, Tom, that a foreign insurgency has really seized the imagination of the kind of fashionable elites of Europe?




So, you know. You know how the people do now. People get very excited about foreign causes and they go on demonstrations.


Yeah, Ukraine would be the example.


Yeah, Ukraine, or whatever it might be. But this is the first time, really, it's happened and become a massive kind of cultural phenomenon, I would say.


Yes. And Byron is caught up in it as well. And so when he gets approached by the London greek committee, he decides that he will go to Greece in person, even though Theresa is inconsolable about this and says to him as he leaves, I know we shall never see each other again. He feels at last this is what he's been waiting for. Right from the time he first went to Greece. He has dreamed of playing the part of a Napoleon and to do it in the cause of greek freedom. I mean, it's kind of perfect. And so his plans for Greece are a mix of the practical. So he orders gunpowder. He liquidates as many assets as he can in England to raise liquid funds, but also, of course, the completely romantic. So inevitably, he buys himself, Pietro Gamba, to raise a sister who's going to accompany him, various other people, brilliant outfits, so tremendous uniforms, complete with kind of plumed helmets that are decorated with the goddess Athena on the front. So very, very Byron. And they set out for Greece on the 13 July 1823. And he sails initially to Cephallonia, which is part of the Ionian Islands, so those islands that are on the west coast of Greece, and there he plays basically an ambassadorial role.


So he is liaising between London and the rebels who are holed up in a town called Missolonghi, which is kind of set amid lagoons on mainland Greece, and which Byron and Hobhouse had passed by ship on their original trip.


It's not far from Patras, is it?


Yeah. He's also liaising between the Greeks and London with the british military representative there, who is a guy called Napier, who, in due course will go on to conquer sinned in India and make the famous pun Bkarvi. I have sinned. And he has a statue in Trafalgar Square.


Trafalgar Square, yeah.


And Napier, like Byron, is very, very philhellenic but is not a free agent in the way that Byron is, because he's under british military authority and Britain ostensibly is neutral in the conflict, but Byron absolutely isn't. He continues to try and raise as much money as he can. So we mentioned ages back, it seems now that Byron's own various coal mines around Rochdale and that the wicked lord had rented them out. Byron's managed to get them back, but he now sells all of them to raise money for the Greeks. And he is also writing letters to various people in Britain, across Europe, kind of trying to raise the profile of the greek rebellion. So he really is putting his shoulder to the wheel. And essentially he is the guy who is by this stage bankrolling the entire greek revolution, which otherwise would have very few funds. So by December 1823, a crisis point is approaching Mesilongi, because it's being both besieged by land and blockaded by sea. And the greek leaders write to Byron and say, look, Missolonghi is going to fall unless you come here, because you coming here will raise the profile across Europe and guarantee us more support.




And they write to him and say, you will be received here as a savior. Be assured, my lord, that it depends only on yourself to secure the destiny of Greece. This had never been what the London greek committee had envisaged. They had never suggested that Byron actually go in, into the the conflict zone. But Byron can't resist the opportunity. And so he has one last go at raising all the credit he can. He knows that he needs to fund the greek defense, particularly the navy, the greek fleet, because they haven't been paid for months and months and months. And so on the 29 December, he and Pietro Gamba set sail for Missilonghi. And Byron writes, I am passing the Rubicon. Recollect that, for God's sake, and the sake of Greece. So they arrive at Missolonghi having kind of woven in between the turkish blockade on the 4 January 1824, and they get a hero's welcome. All the greek fighters are drawn up, the soldiers give him a salute, the greek fleet gives him a kind of a naval salute as well. People in the fleet are particularly enthusiastic because, of course, Byron has brought their wages with him.


And everyone in the town, they're all dressed up in traditional greek costume, they're all firing their guns and toasting him with their. And all the kind of stuff. But unfortunately, this is as good as it gets because the whole situation is grim. They're surrounded by lagoons. There's no opportunities for kind of heroic combat there's just hunger and rain. Endless, endless rain. And Byron writes the dikes of Holland. When broken down are the deserts of Arabia for dryness in comparison. And so there are mosquitoes. It's incredibly unhealthy. And Byron falls sick. And on the 22 January, it's his 36th birthday, and he writes an incredibly despondent poem. And it's despondent about the fact that he is old and no longer attractive to the kind of young greek boys who back when he had been 19 or 20, he had been very attractive to. And he's brought a page boy with him, a greek page boy. And the greek page boy makes it absolutely clear that he has no interest in Byron at all. He looks on Byron as an old man. Byron is a source of flashy uniforms and money, but nothing else. And so Byron writes this very sad poem.


Tis time, this heart should be unmoved, since others it hath ceased to move. Yet, though I cannot be beloved, still let me love. And he's thinking there both of, I think, Augusta and Teresa and of Greece. And on the 15 February, he has a massive siege here. He's urged by his doctors and his friends to leave Missolonghi, but he refuses.


So sees you like a fit, Tom.


Yeah, a fit. And people despair of his life, but he refuses to go. He says, it is proper that I remain in Greece and it were better to die doing something than nothing. But in fact, you know, he's not going to do something because he is getting more and more sick. And by mid April, he is confined to his bed. On the 15 April, he's bled. On the 18 April, he's incoherent. He's recorded muttering various names. Augusta Ada Hobhouse doesn't seem to have mentioned his wife's name. On the 19 April, he's unconscious. And then at 615 that evening, on the 19 April, the sun is setting, storm clouds are building up, thunder starts to roll. Byron opens his eyes, close them. And Fletcher, his manservant, who you remember from the first episode, had hated the toilets and the drains of Greece, but has gone back nevertheless to attend to Byron. Fletcher cries out, oh, my God. I fear his lordship is gone. And he is. Byron is dead. And at dawn the next day, Mister Longhi echoes to the guns as they issue a farewell salute.


Sir Tom, what did he die of? What killed him?


It's not entirely clear. Probably kind of Malaria.


Okay. The mosquitoes and the bad conditions and stuff.


Yeah, it's just disease ridden.




I mean, Byron has lived hard, so they do an autopsy on him and the sutures of his skull are found to have fused together. And apparently this is a mark of immense old age. So there's a sense of a man who, you know, in his 36 years, has compressed a hundred years of experience and kind of sensation. And of course, those experiences have made him famous and loved and have made him notorious and feared. And when his body comes back to England, Hobhouse applies for him to be buried in Westminster Abbey at Poets Corner. And the abbe say, no, he's evil. We can't have that kind of person buried in Westminster Abbey. And Hobhouse has already persuaded Murray to burn Byron's memoirs, which Byron had given for safekeeping to Tom Moore, his friend and fellow poet, and asked him to publish them. And the entire manuscript of his memoirs go up in flames.


And as a Byron fan yourself, Tom, you must find that absolutely gutting agony.


Yeah. Complete agony. And you kind of wonder, well, what was in them? I mean, who knows? But you also, you know, you have this reaction of kind of love and shock. So we began this series with the young Tennyson, 15 year old Tennyson going up onto the moors and that's right, Byron is dead. Crying out, Byron is dead. So just to finish this by saying what happens to the people that Byron leaves behind? Hobhouse goes on to become a very distinguished Whig politician, very eminent. Augusta, she dies in 1851, terribly in debt. So, like her father, she terrible with money and is always catching people for loans. Lady Byron dies in 1860. There's a photograph of her. She looks kind of very intimidating.


She does. She looks terrifying in that photo.


She has devoted her life to good anti slavery campaigner, prison reformer, but she has also been a kind of moral succubus on poor Augusta. The pair of them are kind of locked in this terrible embrace for the rest of their lives.




And Ada, as you said, is now the toast of female scientific engagement. So, you know, women in stem. Ada Lovelace is the.


Yeah, she's the great pin up girl.


But Ada is also a terrible gambler. She applies her mathematical abilities to trying to work out the odds and she ends up dead, like her father, at the age of 36.


Right. I'm not very clued up on Ada Lovelace's career. I didn't realize she died so young.


Yeah, she did. So that, basically, is Byron, who I think is a remarkable figure and a fascinating figure and his story. I mean, you can see why so many biographies have been written of him and why he remains a subject of such interest. Right the way up to the present day.


Sexual scandal, celebrity, literary culture, nationalism, political radicalism. There's so much there, isn't there, Tom?


There really is, yeah.


There are few lives that contain so many different and exciting strands.


Yeah. And this is the 200th anniversary of his death previous week. If you're listening to this as it comes out, would it be self indulgent to finish just with a stanza from Childe Harold's pilgrimage?


When you said self indulgent, I feared you were going to end a podcast about Lord Byron by reading some of your own poetry.


No. No. So this is from Childe Harold's pilgrimage. It's from the last section that he wrote account of his travels across Italy. But I have lived, and have not lived in vain. My mind may lose its force, my blood, its fire, and my frame perish even in conquering pain. But there is that within me which shall tire torture and time and breathe when I expire something unearthly which they deem not of, like the remembered tone of a mute lyre, shall on their softened spirits sink and move in hearts all rocky now. The late remorse of love.


Very good.


Bye. Bye.


Bye bye. Tom, I've just learned some absolutely extraordinary and exciting news. And anybody who's a history lover, anybody who, like me, loves spending their summer at festivals, will delight and rejoice at this news, won't they?


They absolutely will. And the news is that in June, it is the chalk history festival in Broadchalk in the Chalk Valley, the very village in which I grew up. My brother James and I, we talked about this the other day on a rest is history bonus episode. But for all of you who didn't hear that, I can't recommend the festival enough. There's an unbelievable array of talks from top historians and others beside, plus a mass of other things to see and do. Live music every day, living history performances, and of course, lots of food, drink, camping, all historically themed. And an absolutely stunning setting.


It's an amazing setting, Tom, and it's a real highlight of my year. I've had it inked into my diary for months. Really looking forward to it. And the highlight of the week, I have to say, has to be our special live performance of the rest is history, which we will be doing on the Tuesday, won't we? Tuesday the 25 June.


Yes. So that's the day you'll be there, Dominic, I know you've got to head off after that, but I will be still there doing a host of other things. And basically I'll be there for most of the week, so please do join us. Tickets are on sale now and you can get and that's c H A l K e. So chalk with an e on it. Festival. It'll be wonderful to see you there.