Poetry: Thomas Moore
Henry Bishop, The sky is bright – from the circle “Evenings in Greece”
In 1809 Lord Byron travelled to the Mediterranean for the first time, accompanied by his faithful friend, John Cam Hobhouse (1786-1869). Hobhouse remained his closest friend until the poet’s death. During this journey, Byron conceived the literary figure Childe Harold, his alter ego. After a journey to Asia Minor (1809-1810), he spent some time in Athens as a guest of the Deputy Consul of Great Britain, Prokopis Makris, and fell in love with his daughter, Teresa (1797-1875), for whom he composed the poem Maid of Athens. Upon his return to England (July 1811), the works he conceived in Greece became widely popular, which paved the way for a collaboration with the publisher John Murray (1778-1843).
In June 1816, Byron resided in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. Claire Clairmont (1798-1879), a young woman in love with him, followed the poet in Switzerland. Claire was Mary Shelley’s half-sister and introduced Byron to Mary (1797-1851) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). The doctor John Polidori (1795-1821) joined them in Geneva, where a group of self-exiled, romantic intellectuals was formed. This fortunate coincidence resulted in the creation of seminal literary works: Percy Shelley, author of the emblematic Hellas (1821), encouraged Byron to create Don Juan; Mary Shelley conceived Frankenstein and Polidori his Vampyre – both of them inspired by Byrons’ personality.
After the Shelleys reluctantly moved back to England, Byron wandered in Italy, where he finally settled in Ravenna. He had already fallen in love with the young Countess Teresa Guiccioli (1800–1873), the daughter of Count Ruggero Gamba Ghiselli, a fiery Italian patriot. Her father, Ruggero, and her brother, Pietro (1801-1828), introduced Byron to carbonarism. Lord Byron soon found his place in the movement as an honorary leader of one of its branches.
Around 1820, Italy was the melting pot of English romantics, Italian carbonari, Greek Enlighteners and members of the pro-revolutionary Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends). After the failure of the Italian patriotic movement, the Gambas fled with Byron to Pisa. The Shelleys were already there, and so did their new “Greek friend”, Alexandros Mavrocordatos (1791–1865). Shelley’s Hellas is dedicated to him. Their friends, John Eduard Trelawny (1792-1881) and Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), also arrived in the city in 1822. Pisa was the place, where important figures of the Greek Revolution were gathered. Archbishop Ignatius (1765–1828), the chairman of the Philomuse Society, acted safely there, away from Metternich’s police, where he formed a group of supporters around him: the so – called Circle of Pisa. The Shelleys and Byron became acquainted with this group of influence, which shaped their philhellenism.
It was the Shelleys though that majorly impacted Byron’s philhellenism. Among others, a tragic event led Byron to shift his focus from the Italian issue to the Greek Revolution: Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet who prophesized the victorious outcome of the Greek Revolution in his emblematic work Hellas, drowned in a sudden storm while travelling on his boat, Don Juan. Trelawny, Hunt and Byron fare welled him on the beach of Viareggio. Byron was deeply shocked by this loss.
Soon enough though, two Philhellenes approached him in Italy: Edward Blaquière (1779-1832), founding member of the London Greek Committee (established in 1823) and the Greek Andreas Louriotis (1789-1854), later a delegate of the Greek administration. The two men and Mary Shelley encouraged the poet to go to Greece on behalf of the committee and direct their aid, which was being sent there. Byron accepted the invitation but also decided -on his own- to fight for Greece’s liberation. On this new – but last – chapter of his life, he was accompanied by his personal attendant “Tita” Falcieri (1798–1874), his doctor Francesco Bruno (-1827), his chamberlain William Fletcher and his good friend Count Pietro Gamba. Their first stop was Kefalonia of the Ionian Islands, where they met with its English commander, Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853). John Eduard Trelawny, Lord Charles Murray (1799-1824), who followed Byron in Missolonghi, William Parry (1773-1859), his later secretary, as well as the historian George Finlay (1799-1875), met Byron there.
Byron settled in Missolonghi, where he spent the last months of his life. The poet recruited many Souliotes, elite fighters, and formed his own military unit, in which many Philhellenes served. Among them, the distinguished American Philhellene, Georges Jarvis (-1828), served as Byron’s aid de camp and trainer of Byron’s military unit. Although the corps dissolved after Lord Byron’s death, many of those Philhellenes continued to offer their services to Greece.
Sir James Emerson Tennent (1804-1869), a close friend to Byron and a member of his corps, spent some time in Greece and published three related books: Picture of Greece (1826), Letters from the Aegean (1829) and History of Modern Greece (1830). He is considered to have had a great influence on British philhellenism.
William Parry, who served as Byron’s secretary until his death, wrote about the final chapter of Byron’s life in his work The Last Days of Lord Byron (1825). A few years later, the Irish poet Thomas Moore, a friend of Byron since the time at Trinity College, wrote a biography on his friend entitled Letters and Journals of Lord Byron: With Notices of His Life (1830).
Byron’s death filled everyone in Missolonghi with sorrow. The poet, however, did not die in loneliness. His most faithful companions surrounded him. Lieutenant colonel Leicester Fitzgerald Charles Stanhope, Captain William Humphreys, Count Pietro Gamba and Byron’s valet, William Fletcher, were the ones who accompanied the poet’s body back to England.
Georges Canning (1770-1827), was a distinguished British politician, close friend and admirer of Lord Byron. His policy towards the Greek War of Independence as a Minister of Foreign affairs and then Prime Minister of Great Britain, was definitely inspired by the choices and legacy of Lord Byron. Georges Canning allowed Byron’s dream “that Greece might still be free again” to materialize.