‘The misfortune that had befallen us is terrible and irreparable. I scarcely have words to describe it. Lord Byron is dead.
Your friend, my friend and father, the light of this century, the boast of your country, the saviour of Greece is dead. He died on the 19th of April at half past six in the evening...’Pietro Gamba
The letter addressed to Byron’s close friend John Cam Hobhouse by Pietro Gamba in May 1824 was the first notification of the poet’s death.
Byron died on the evening of Easter Sunday in April 1824 as the result of a fever and probably medical ineptitude in the little Greek town Missolonghi situated on the edge of a swamp.
Restless with his life in Italy, he had travelled to Missolonghi only a few months before as a charismatic freedom fighter, the attractive talisman charged with liberating the Greek people from their tyrannical Turkish rule.
He will be honoured today in Greece, the European country that he had loved.
Several weeks after his death, some of Byron’s remains either his heart or lungs were given to Missolonghi for burial as the rest of his body was returned to the country of his birth.
‘I hope, whoever may survive me and shall see me put in the foreigners’ burying-Ground at the Lido…I trust they won’t think of “pickling and bringing me home to Clod or Blunderbuss Hall”
I am sure my Bones would not rest in an English grave – or my Clay mix with the earth of that Country…’
Despite his protestations to his publisher John Murray in 1819, he was to find himself duly “pickled” and brought home not to “Blunderbuss Hall” but to the Church of St Mary Magdalene in the town of Hucknall near the Byron ancestral home of Newstead Abbey in the County of Nottinghamshire.
On July 16 1824 he was buried in the family vault to be reunited with his mother Catherine and in the company of his great-uncle William, the Fifth Lord Byron, the ‘Wicked Lord’ and other assorted members of the Byron clan.
The Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene is a beautiful old building that has undergone much restoration and expansion since Byron’s internment in 1824 and as such he now finds himself even further away from the High Altar in the Chancel.
A move I think, he would approve of.
Some years later, I was to make another visit to this church on the anniversary of his death and although my journey was one of many hundreds of miles involving the use of many trains – it was certainly worth it particularly as I was to arrive to such glorious weather!
‘I believe the thought would drive me mad on my death-bed could I suppose that any of my friends would be base enough to convey my carcase back to your soil – I would not even feed your worms – if I could help it.‘Lord Byron
As I stood at the foot of the Byron Memorial, I admit to mischievously wondering if the poet’s bones really are at ‘rest’ particularly as he is sharing his resting place in the company of his ‘amiable Mamma’ with whom he enjoyed such a tempestuous relationship!
‘I never hear anything of Ada – the little Electra of my Mycenae – the moral Clytemnestra is not very communicative of her tidings – but there will come a day of reckoning – even if I should not live to see it…‘Lord Byron
The vault also contains the earthly remains of Ada, Countess of Lovelace the only child from his unfortunate and brief union with Annabella Milbanke and who had died in November 1852 at the same age as her father, a father she had never known.
‘Thine is the smile and thine the bloom
Where hope might fancy ripened charms;
But mine is dyed in Memory’s gloom –
Thou art not in a Father’s arms!‘Lady Byron
However, lest we forget the third power broker that comprised the ‘Byron Triumvirate’ – for directly to the right of the vault is the Lord Byron Memorial Tablet placed by ‘Dearest Guss’, the Honorable Augusta Mary Leigh, the Poet’s half-sister, poetical muse, financial beneficiary and ‘supposed’ lover.
If I am shovelled into the Lido Church-yard – in your time – let me have the “implora pace” and nothing else for my epitaph. I have never met with any ancient or modern that pleased me a tenth part so much…Lord Byron
It was as I was photographing the wonderful tribute to Byron pictured below that I suddenly became aware of a huge, crashing noise and which turned out to be the most torrential thunderstorm!
As the storm threatened to bring down the very rafters of the church, I thought it all rather prophetic that I should find myself confined to a place within feet of Byron who had breathed his last as mother nature had raged around the town of Missolonghi on this very day in 1824.
It was only as the wind and rain continued to batter down relentlessly that I noticed the troubled expression on the face of the church warden who was probably beginning to regret that she had ever opened the church for me!
Eventually, the torrential rain eased off much to my relief as I had a train to catch and the delightful church warden had a home to return to and a husband in need of her care.
Oh, Love! what is it in this world of ours
Which makes it fatal to be loved? Ah why
With cypress branches hast thou wreathed thy bowers,
And made thy best interpreter a sigh?
As those who dote on odours pluck the flowers,
And place them on their breast – but place to die –
Thus the frail beings we would fondly cherish
Are laid within our bosoms but to perish.
Don Juan (Canto the Third II)
Despite my sprint to the tram station in time for the first of the many trains that would eventually bring me home to North Yorkshire, I would like to tell you that the drama of my day had thus ended.
Alas! Many hours were to pass before I was to arrive home as I found myself embroiled in yet another drama that included the search for a ‘missing’ teenager, a breakdown in telecommunication activity and finished off with a ‘unexpected’ theatre performance – however, ALL this is for another story!
But as I watched the clock move towards the stroke of midnight on that day – I found myself eagerly anticipating a delicious implora pace of my own!
Lady Byron and Her Daughters Julia Markus (London: W.W. Norton & Company 2015)
Lord Byron Selected Letters and Journals Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1982)
The Late Lord Byron Doris Langley Moore (London: John Murray 1961)
The Works of Lord Byron The Wordsworth Poetry Library (UK: Wordsworth Editions Ltd 1994)