On My Thirty-Third Birthday
JANUARY 22 1821
Through life’s dull road, so dim and dirty,
I have dragg’d to three-and-thirty.
What have these years left to me?
Nothing – except thirty-three.
Lord Byron did not like birthdays. He intentionally avoided his own 21st and 24th parties, and considering how miserable he was at the prospect of turning 36 – too old for love! too decrepit to have sex! I may as well just die! – I’m not sure he’d be too happy about the HOT NEWS that today he turns 230.
So let’s do him a favour and divert attention towards something he was passionate about (before his thirties withered his heart into pointlessness, obviously) – people falling in love with him. Servant-girls, student choirboys, married noblewomen, his half-sister, strapping Greek youths, Venetian courtesans – he took them all to bed, listened with pleasure to their epistles of devotion, and then usually took off to a different country. His reputation preceded him wherever he went, and he would no doubt get some measure of delight that, over two centuries later, this Byron bedspread exists.
For years he received flurries of letters from the heartbroken women he had left behind, and fan-mail from women he had never met. He loved to be loved from afar and so, fortunately for us, he kept them.
And so, to wish the self-proclaimed ‘wicked George Ld. B.’ a happy birthday, a memento of some of the hearts he managed to conquer, despite not being a particularly top bloke.
SUSAN VAUGHAN, the maidservant who played away (15 January 1812)
‘If I dont hear from you often, I hope you will not Make it very long or I think I shall die almost at The thought of not hearing from you whom I so much Love. believe me, my dear Ld. B. I have ever been a total Stranger to Love Untill now I thought when you where here, it was impossoble for any body to Love more than I did you. but in truth I find An increase hourly I think of nothing nor any Person but yourself…’
‘ANNA’ (September 1812)
‘My Lord, Tho I have not the honor of being personally known to you, I yet venture to address you; tho, I cannot offer any other excuse for the Liberty I take, if the irresistible desire I feel of thus (unknown) paying my humble tribute at the Shrine of Genius, be not deemd any apology … I have hung in rapt attention over every Line of Child Harold, I am not a Critic but an inexperienced young Woman, but the language of genius & of nature must be felt & never makes its appeal in Vain to my heart…’
LADY CAROLINE LAMB, spurned & furious former lover (3 June 1814)
‘… pray do not be angry — think of my situation how extraordinary! — my Mother in Law actually in the place I held — her ring instead of mine — her letters instead of mine — her heart — but do you believe either she or any others feel for you what I felt — ugly & thin & mad & dispis’d as I am — you never never have or will be so lov’d by another — of that I am certain because except your own self no one can love as well & devotedly & entirely as I could — & did — & this one day you will know —’
Image © John Murray Archive
‘ECHO’, anonymous admirer (n.d.)
‘Should curiosity prompt you, and should you not be afraid of gratifying it, by trusting yourself alone in the Green Park at seven o’clock this evening, you will see Echo. If this evening prove inconvenient, the same chance shall still await you tomorrow evening at the same hour. Be on that side of the Green Park that has the gate opening onto Piccadilly, and leave the rest to
Should apathy or indifference prevent your coming, adieu for ever!’
HARRIETTE WILSON, notorious courtesan trying desperately for his attention (1820)
‘Strange to tell, I never heard of Don Juan till I found it on Galignani’s table yesterday and took it to bed with me, where I contrived to keep my large quiet good-looking brown eyes open (now, you know, they are very handsome) till I had finished it. Dear Adorable Lord Byron, don’t make a mere coarse old libertine of yourself …’
Harriette Wilson c.1825 (British Museum)
After a decade of fame Byron continued to receive such fan-mail but, writing to his half-sister in 1822, he unconvincingly declared himself quite immune at the grand age of 34:
‘I have also had a love letter from Pimlico from a lady whom I never saw in my life – but who hath fallen in love with me for having written Don Juan! – I suppose that she is either mad or nau[ghty]. – do you remember Constantia and Echo – and la Swissesse – and all my other inamorate … But I am grown very good now – and think all such things vanities which is a very proper opinion at thirty-four.’
And, satisfied with this display of virtue, off he went – back into the arms of his 23-year-old married lover.
[N.B. For an entertaining reimagining of Byron’s dismay about his imminent 36th birthday, see this post from Mallory Ortberg]