lord byron's infidelity -- 11/21/14

Today's selection -- from The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), commonly known as Lord Byron was one of the greatest British poets, an aristocratic and flamboyant celebrity known for huge debts and numerous love affairs with both sexes. Romance was absent though when it came to his marriage. He needed money and married a wealthy aristocrat named Annabella Milbank. The marriage crumbled when Lady Byron discovered her husband's infidelity:

"Lord Byron ... noticed a reserved young woman who was, he recalled, 'more simply dressed.' Annabella Milbanke, nineteen, was from a wealthy and multi-titled family. The night before the party, she had read [his poem] Childe Harold and had mixed feelings. 'He is rather too much of a mannerist,' she wrote. 'He excels most in the delineation of deep feeling.' Upon seeing him across the room at the party, her feelings were conflicted, dangerously so. 'I did not seek an introduction to him, for all the women were absurdly courting him, and trying to deserve the lash of his Satire,' she wrote her mother. 'I am not desirous of a place in his lays. I made no offering at the shrine of Childe Harold, though I shall not refuse the acquaintance if it comes my way.'

Anne Isabella Milbanke Lord Byron

"That acquaintance, as it turned out, did come her way. After he was introduced to her formally, Byron decided that she might make a suitable wife. It was, for him, a rare display of reason over romanticism. Rather than arousing his passions, she seemed to be the sort of woman who might tame those passions and protect him from his excesses -- as well as help payoff his burdensome debts. He proposed to her halfheartedly by letter. She sensibly declined. He wandered off to far less appropriate liaisons, including one with his half sister, Augusta Leigh. But after a year, Annabella rekindled the courtship. Byron, falling more deeply in debt while grasping for a way to curb his enthusiasms, saw the rationale if not the romance in the possible relationship. 'Nothing but marriage and a speedy one can save me,' he admitted to Annabella's aunt. 'If your niece is obtainable, I should prefer her; if not, the very first woman who does not look as if she would spit in my face.' There were times when Lord Byron was not a romantic. He and Annabella were married in January 1815.

Augusta Maria Leigh

"Byron initiated the marriage in his Byronic fashion. 'Had Lady Byron on the sofa before dinner,' he wrote about his wedding day. Their relationship was still active when they visited his half sister two months later, because around then Annabella got pregnant. However, during the visit she began to suspect that her husband's friendship with Augusta went beyond the fraternal, especially after he lay on a sofa and asked them both to take turns kissing him. The marriage started to unravel.

"Annabella had been tutored in mathematics, which amused Lord Byron, and during their courtship he had joked about his own disdain for the exactitude of numbers. ... Early on, he affectionately dubbed her the 'Princess of Parallelograms.' But when the marriage began to sour, he refined that mathematical image: 'We are two parallel lines prolonged to infinity side by side but never to meet.' Later, in the first canto of his epic poem Don Juan, he would mock her: 'Her favourite science was the mathematical .... She was a walking calculation.'

"The marriage was not saved by the birth of their daughter on December 10, 1815. She was named Augusta Ada Byron, her first name that of Byron's too-beloved half sister. When Lady Byron became convinced of her husband's perfidy, she thereafter called her daughter by her middle name. Five weeks later she packed her belongings into a carriage and fled to her parents' country home with the infant Ada.

"Ada never saw her father again. Lord Byron left the country that April after Lady Byron, in letters so calculating that she earned his sobriquet of 'Mathematical Medea,' threatened to expose his alleged incestuous and homosexual affairs as a way to secure a separation agreement that gave her custody of their child."


Walter Isaacson


The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2014 by Walter Isaacson


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