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100 years ago: Centenary of Byron’s death

19 April 2024

April 17th, 1924.

AFTER a generation of neglect and depreciation, Byron, the centenary of whose death is celebrated on Saturday, now stands unchallenged among the greatest of the English poets. He is one of the tragic figures of the world, an idealist who lost his way. He brought to the contemplation of his time a mind moulded by a distorted religious education that had turned his soul against the faith and of a classical education that had inspired him with a pagan bent for freedom and a Roman republican’s hatred of kings. The philosophy in which he believed, the philosophy that Voltaire’s sneers proclaimed from Ferney and Rousseau’s prose lyrics from Lake Lemon, has swept the world, and no man would feel more bitterly than Byron that it has yielded little save dust and ashes. With his many sins, he had a real zeal for freedom, and he loved oppressed mankind much, if he loved nature more. The tragedy of Byron’s life lay in the fact that he never knew the true meaning of Christianity. He knew it only by the Puritan caricature. If only he had known our holy religion we cannot doubt that it would have aroused a responsive echo in his heart. His life even then might not have been stainless, but he would have offered a nobler ideal to the world. We see him a greater and more gifted Chateaubriand keeping the romantic movement in literature and the fight for liberty in politics loyal to the faith. For his tragic separation from Christianity and morality the blame lies on the black and cruel Puritanism which robbed a noble and generous heart of a Christian inspiration. But this week it is his noble death rather than his troubled life that is in men’s minds.

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