In his works short and stout Byron glorified proud heroes, who overcome hardships. The poet himself was only 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall and his widely varying weight ranged from 137 to 202 pounds - he once said that everything he swallowed was instantly converted to tallow and deposited on his ribs. One of his friends noted that at the age of about 30 he looked 40 and "the knuckles of his hands were lost in fat." Byron spent his early childhood years in poor surroundings in Aberdeen, where he was educated until he was ten. His father died in 1791, and the fifth baron's grandson was killed in 1794. After he inherited the title and property of his great-uncle in 1798, he went on to Dulwich, Harrow, where he excelled in swimming, and Cambridge, where he piled up depths and aroused alarm with bisexual love affairs. Staying at Newstead in 1802, he probably first met his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. At the age of fifteen he fell in love with Mary Chaworth, his distant cousin, whom he wrote the poem 'To Emma'.
In 1807 appeared Byron's first collection of poetry, HOURS OF IDLENESS. It received bad reviews. The poet answered his critics with satire ENGLISH BARDS AND SCOTCH REVIEWS in 1808. Next year he took his seat in the House of Lords, and set out on his grand tour, visiting Spain, Albania, Greece, and the Aegean. In Malta he stopped for treatments of gonorrhea.
Success came in 1812 when Byron published the first two cantos of CHILDE HAROLD'S PILGRIMAGE (1812-1818). "I awoke one morning and found myself famous," he later said. He became an adored character of London society, he spoke in the House of Lords effectively on liberal themes, and had a hectic love-affair with Lady Caroline Lamb. ''Mad - bad - and dangerous to know,'' she wrote in her journal on the evening she first saw him. But the love of Byron's life was according to Fiona MacCarthy (see Byron: Life and Legend, 2002) an impoverished choirboy named John Edleston.
During the summer of 1813 Byron apparently entered into a more than brotherly relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, who was a mother of three daughters. In 1814 Augusta gave birth to Elizabeth Medora, who was generally supposed to be Byron's. In the same year he wrote 'Lara,' a poem about a mystical hero, aloof and alien, whose identity is gradually revealed and who dies after a feud in the arms of his page. THE CORSAIR (1814), sold 10,000 copies on the first day of publication. Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1815, and their daughter Ada was born in the same year. The marriage was unhappy, and they obtained legal separation next year.
When the rumors started to rise of his incest and debts were accumulating, Byron left England in 1816, never to return. ''The only virtue they honor in England is hypocrisy,'' he once wrote a friend. Shortly before leaving England he hired J. W. Polidori as his traveling physician. Polidori was only 20; three patients died under his care, and he committed suicide the age of 26. Byron settled in Geneva with Mary Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Claire Clairmont, who became his mistress. There he wrote the two cantos of Childe Harold and THE PRISONER OF CHILLON. At the end of the summer Byron continued his travels, spending two years in Italy. Observing Byron in an opera box at La Scala in 1816, the French writer Stendhal later recalled: "I was struck by his eyes... I have never in my life seen anything more beautiful or more expressive." While staying in Venice Byron proudly claimed he had different woman on 200 consecutive evenings. His daughter Clara Allegra was born to Claire in January 1817 in England - Byron abandoned Allegra and placed her in a convent near Ravenna; she died in 1822 of typhus fever. In 1819 Byron wrote in a letter to his publisher John Murray: "I am sure my bones would not rest in an English grave, or my clay mix with earth of that country. I believe the thought would drive me mad on my deathbed, could I suppose that any of my friends would be base enough to convey my carcass back to your soil."
During the years in Italy, Byron wrote LAMENT OF TASSO, inspired by his visit in Tasso's cell in Rome, MAZEPPA, THE PROPHECY OF DANTE, and started DON JUAN, his satiric masterpiece. "And for the future - (but I write this reeling, / Having got drunk exceedingly to-day, / So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling) / I say - the future is a serious matter - / And so - for God's sake - hock and soda water!" (from 'Don Juan') Byron lived with Teresa, Countess Guiccioli, in Venice, and followed her household to Ravenna. Teresa left her husband for Byron, and Shelley rented houses in Pisa both for Byron and for the Gambas, Teresa's family. While in Ravenna and Pisa, Byron became deeply interested in drama, and wrote among others THE TWO FOSCARI, SARDANAPALUS, CAIN, and the unfinished HEAVEN AND EARTH. After Byron started to support the Italian insurrectionist Carbonari movement against Austrian rule, the Austrian secret police started to follow his movements.