Byron Bicentenary


George Gordon Byron, the 6th Baron Byron, was the ‘examplar’ of the aristocratic rebel, according to Bertrand Russell. At ten years old, after living modestly in Aberdeen, he suddenly found himself a Lord and the owner of Newstead Abbey, the Byrons’ ancestral home in Nottinghamshire. From there, he was to make a powerful impact on the wider world, which resonates to this day. April 19, 2024 is the Bicentenary of Lord Byron’s death. To mark the occasion, we share these materials from the Spokesman archive.

Byron in his own words

Framing Ideas [download pdf]

In 1812, a popular uprising swept across parts of the Midlands and North of England. The development of new machines for textile production was causing widespread distress. Independent manufacturers were being squeezed out of business, and unemployment and hunger were becoming endemic. There arose an extraordinary resistance. Organised gangs, under the banner of King Ludd, or Ned Ludd, who may have been an imaginary figure, began a series of audacious night raids, breaking up selected new machines, and burning down the factories in which they were installed. In the beginning, the ‘Luddites’, as history came to know them, attacked only the machinery which was displacing them from work. But then a group of Luddites was shot down, at the request of an employer. Afterwards, he was murdered. And as the riots spread, severe repression bore down on the insurgence. At a mass trial in York, in 1813, many people were sentenced to death or transportation.

As Ken Coates has written, ‘Byron could identify a tyrant empire which offered ruthless repression not only in the cradles of ancient civilizations but also up to the borders of his own estate’ (Byron versus Elgin, 1998, Spokesman £2). In response to this mayhem, the Frame-work Bill was tabled in Parliament. And it was in the debate on this Bill, on 27 February 1812 that Byron intervened to make a passionate defence of the Luddites.

From The Spokesman 115

The Curse of Minerva [download pdf]

In this excerpt from Lord Byron’s extended poem, Minerva, the Roman equivalent of Athena, the Greek goddess, confronts the poet. When he
arrived in Athens in 1810, Byron was, according to his early biographer, John Watkins, ‘greatly mortified and thoroughly indignant to see the place dismantled of many of the beauties which had rendered the spot, even in its dilapidated state, sacred in the estimation of all travellers who possess any reverence for the genius of antiquity’. Watkins reports that the ravages of the time, ‘and those committed by Barbarians’, were puny compared to the spoliation recently perpetrated ‘in the name, and by the orders of an English Ambassador at the Porte’. Lord Elgin had ‘exerted his influence so effectually as almost to demolish several of the finest of the temples that were then remaining, including removal from the Parthenon of what were later styled the ‘Elgin Marbles’. Elgin also had his own name inscribed on a pillar of the temple of Minerva, which Byron later obliterated.

From The Spokesman 127

Graphic Byron

Lord Byron teams up with Brian Clough in Andy Croft’s rhyming comic fantasy, illustrated by Kate Ashwin from Dawn of the Unread. [download pdf]

Bertie on ‘Byron and the Byronic‘ [download pdf]

This Byron Foundation Lecture was delivered at University College, Nottingham on Friday 12 November 1937. Russell specified no title for his
Lecture, but suggested ‘as subject the development of Byronic romanticism in politics and in ways of feeling – eg Lawrence’. In the event, ‘Byron and the Byronic’ was the title announced by Nottingham University. How did Russell’s warnings sound to his audience during those troubled years?

From The Spokesman 143

Byron versus Elgin

In 1998, Newstead Abbey was directly in the line of advance of projected colliery workings, and there were real fears that undermining it could cause serious damage to the buildings, possibily even collapsing them. This was the problem which gave rise to the campaign to save Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of Lord Byron. Ken Coates, then the local Member of the European Parliament, decided to try to extend the well-organised campaign of British supporters, and seek help in Greece, to prevent possible destruction of the Abbey and the Byron museum. He wrote to all the Greek Members of the European Parliament, and received a virtually unanimous response. The concern was spontaneous. It was necessary that solidarity should engender reciprocal support. With the Greek people so impressively united in defence of the heritage of Lord Byron, did we not need to elicit a matching response in Britain to the continued theft of the ‘Elgin’ Marbles in the British Museum, taken from the Parthenon shortly before Byron’s own first visit to Athens?

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