Lord Byron (17881824). Manfred. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
GEORGE GORDON, sixth Lord Byron, was the son of a profligate guardsman and an eccentric Scottish heiress. He was born in London on January 22, 1788, educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, and came into prominence with the publication of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), a satire provoked by an adverse criticism of his youthful Hours of Idleness in the Edinburgh Review. After two years of travel on the Continent, he published the first two cantos of Childe Harold, and in 1815 married Miss Milbanke, a prospective heiress. She left him a year later, and in the scandal which accompanied the separation Byron became very unpopular. He left England never to return, and spent most of his remaining years in Italy.
It is unnecessary to follow in detail the history of his life abroad. In spite of great irregularities in conduct, Byron continued to write copiously, seldom with care or attention to finish, but often with brilliance. His Oriental tales, which made him the hero of the sentimental readers of the day, The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair, had been written in the years preceding his marriage; Manfred, his first and in many respects his most interesting drama, appeared in 1817; Don Juan came out at intervals from 1819 to 1824; and during the same period he produced with extraordinary rapidity a group of plays of which the so-called mystery, Cain, is the most important. The Vision of Judgment, a merciless satire on Southeys apotheosis of George III, followed in 1822.
Byron had been interested in revolutionary politics in Italy, and when the Greeks revolted against the Turks in 1823 he joined them as a volunteer; but before he saw fighting he died of fever at Missolonghi, April 19, 1824. His death at least was worthy of the noblest passion of his life, the passion for liberty.
For dramatic writing Byron was not favorably endowed. His egotism was too persistent to enable him to enter vitally and sympathetically into a variety of characters, and the hero of his plays, as of his poems, is usually himself more or less disguised. Yet some of his most eloquent lines are to be found in his dramas, and Manfred is an impressive and characteristic product of one of the most brilliantly gifted of English poets.