George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron, was born in London on January 22, 1788, the only son of Captain John Byron and his second wife, the heiress Catherine Gordon. On the insistence of the Gordon family, John Byron legally changed his name to John Gordon. As a result, Lord Byron was born a Gordon and not a Byron. On the death of his granduncle, William, Lord Byron, the poet inherited the family title and estate.
Byron attended a number of schools, including the famous public school, Harrow, where he made many friends. From Harrow he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. He received an M.A. degree from Cambridge in 1808.
Byron's first volume of poems, Fugitive Pieces, was privately printed in 1806. A selection of poems from Fugitive Pieces and other juvenilia were published as Poems on Various Occasions. Poems was republished as Hours of Idleness the following year, with Byron's name on the title page. Hours of Idleness was unfavorably reviewed by the influential Edinburgh Review in 1807. Byron never forgot the reception given to his first acknowledged volume of poetry and in 1809 anonymously took revenge on the anonymous Edinburgh reviewer in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, in which he showed himself to be an able satirist in the manner of Pope, of whom he was always a strong admirer.
In July 1809, Byron set out on his "grand tour," which included Portugal, Spain, Albania, Greece, and Turkey. His impressions of these countries formed the substance of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Cantos I and II, published in 1812. Childe Harold became immensely popular and Byron was lionized by London high society. The success of Childe Harold encouraged Byron to write a series of tales with a Turkish or Greek background, all of which sold well.
Early in 1815, Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke. A year later his wife left him, taking with her their daughter, Augusta Ada Byron. A separation was later arranged. The society which had made Byron famous blamed him for the separation and ostracized him. In 1816 Byron left England, never to return.
Canto III of Childe Harold and "The Prisoner of Chillon" appeared in the fall of 1816. These two works are among Byron's best non-satirical poetry. In them, Byron showed a verbal felicity and a command of metaphor not to be found in his earlier poetry. In 1818, Byron published Childe Harold, Canto IV, inferior in interest to Childe Harold, Canto III, because it was overloaded with archeological materials suggested by a trip Byron made from Venice to Rome.
"Beppo," published also in 1818, marks the appearance of the new poetic manner on which Byron's present reputation as a poet largely rests. "Beppo," in ottava rima, introduces Byron the humorist to the poetry-reading public. Shortly after the appearance of "Beppo," Byron began his great masterpiece, Don Juan.
In 1821 and 1822, Byron made a bid for fame in the field of drama. In fifteen months he wrote four five-act plays, Sardanapalus, Marino Falieri, The Two Foscari, and Werner. These are generally considered Byron's least readable poetry. During the same period he wrote Cain, a play in three acts, and two dramatic fragments, Heaven and Earth and The Deformed Transformed.
In 1822, one of Byron's most perfect poems, and one of the best satires in English poetry, "The Vision of Judgment," was published in John Hunt's periodical, The Liberal. "The Vision of Judgment," in ottava rima, is an amusing attack on George III, George IV, and on the poet laureate, Robert Southey.
Byron returned to Don Juan in 1822 and by May 1823 had written a total of sixteen cantos. The poem was published in six separate volumes between 1819 and 1823.
Byron had lived in various parts of Italy from his arrival in that country in 1816. In July 1823, he left Italy for Greece to help the Greeks in their struggle to free themselves from Turkish rule. He died of a fever at Missolonghi, Greece, on April 19, 1823.