The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

II. Byron

§ 1. Early years

GEORGE GORDON, sixth Lord Byron, and descendant of an ancient Norman family that accompanied William the Conqueror to England, was the only son of “Mad Jack” Byron by his second marriage with the Scottish heiress, Catherine Gordon of Gight. He was born in London, on 22 January, 1788; but, shortly after his birth, owing to his father’s withdrawal to France in order to escape from his creditors, the future poet was brought by his mother to Aberdeen. Here, his first boyhood was spent, and the impressions which he received of Deerside, Lochnagar and the Grampians remained with him throughout his life and have left their mark upon his poetry. By the death of his great-uncle, William, fifth Lord Byron, in 1798, the boy succeeded to the title and to the Byron estates of Newstead priory and Rochdale; in the year 1801, he entered Harrow school. Up to this time, his life had been that of “a wild mountain colt”; his education, both intellectual and moral, had been neglected, and his mother petted and abused him in turn; his father had died when he was a child of three. Sensitive and proud by nature, his sensitiveness was aggravated by his lameness and his poverty, while his pride was nurtured by his succession, at the age of ten, to a peerage. At Harrow, he made many friends, read widely and promiscuously in history and biography, but never became an exact scholar. To these schoolboy years also belongs the story of his romantic, unrequited love for Mary Ann Caworth. From Harrow, Byron proceeded in October, 1805, to Trinity college, Cambridge; but the university, though it widened his circle of friends, never won his affections in the way that Harrow had. While at Harrow, he had written a number of short poems, and, in January, 1807, he printed for private circulation a slender volume of verse, Fugitive Pieces, the favourable reception of which led to the publication, in the following March, of Hours of Idleness. The contemptuous, but not wholly unjust, criticism of this volume in The Edinburgh Review, which is generally supposed to have been the work of Lord Brougham, while it stung the sensitive poet to the quick, also spurred him to retaliation, and, early in 1809, appeared the famous satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, which swiftly ran through several editions and made its author famous. Shortly before it appeared, Byron came of age and took his seat in the House of Lords.