Lord Byron (1788-1824) was initially christened George Gordon after his Grandfather. At 10 years old he became the sixth Baron Byron after the death of his uncle. Byron and his mother were deserted by his father, and the young man lacked a strong role model to check his rebellious streak. Although educated at Harrow and Trinity College Cambridge, where he developed a love of history and literature, Byron remained an adventurous romantic throughout his life.
Byron published several volumes after leaving university including, in 1807, Hours of Idleness, which received much criticism. He left Britain in 1809 travelling to a number of countries including Albania, returning in 1912. On his return he published Childe Harold’s Pilgramige, a largely autobiographical narrative poem that tells the story of a young man’s disillusionment with an extravagant lifestyle and his search for fulfillment as he travels through foreign lands. The book was a great success and Byron went on to publish several more works as his popularity grew. His most influential piece was Don Juan, more humorous and satirical than the romantic Childe Harold’s Pilgramige, Byron did not manage to finish it before leaving Britain for the last time in 1823. Byron died of a fever at Missolonghi, in April, 1824 while fighting for Greek independence against the Ottoman Turks, for which the Greeks revere him as a national hero.
Lord Byron's visits to southern Albania in 1809 made a great impression upon him. In the Albanians he found a peculiar charm which he describes in his notes for Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. He states that the Albanians "struck me forcibly by their resemblance of the Highlanders of Scotland, in dress, figure and manner of living. Their very mountains seemed Caledonian, with a kinder climate. The kilt, though white; the spare, active form; their dialect, Celtic in its sound..." In the summer of 1813 Byron put on the Albanian costume he had purchased in Ioannina and sat for the fashionable portrait painter Thomas Phillips.
The verse below, taken from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage describes Byron’s journey north through the Drino valley.
Morn dawns; and with it stern Albania's hills,
Dark Suli's rocks, and Pindus' inland peak,
Rob'd half in mist, bedew'd with snowy rills,
Array'd in many a dun and purple streak,
Arise; and, as the clouds among the break,
Disclose the dwelling of the mountaineer:
Here roams the wolf, the eagle whets his beak,
Birds, beasts of prey, and wilder men appear,
And gathering storms around convulse the closing year.
Now Harold felt himself at length alone,
And bade to Christian tongues a long adieu;
Now he adventur'd on a shore unknown,
Which all admire, but many dread to view:
His breast was arm'd 'gainst fate, his wants were few;
Peril he sought not, but ne'er shrank to meet,
The scene was savage, but the scene was new;
This made the ceaseless toil of travel sweet,
Beat back keen winter's blast, and welcom'd summer's heat.
Epirus' bounds recede, and mountains fail;
Tir'd of up-gazing still, the wearied eye
Reposes gladly on as smooth a vale
As ever Spring yclad in grassy dye:
Ev'n on a plain no humble beauties lie,
Where some bold river breaks the long expanse,
And woods along the banks are waving high,
Whose shadows in the glassy waters dance,
Or with the moon-beam sleep in midnight's solemn trance.
The Sun had sunk behind vast Tomerit,
And Laos wide and fierce came roaring by;
The shades of wonted night were gathering yet,
When, down the steep banks winding warily,
Childe Harold saw, like meteors in the sky,
The glittering minarets of Tepalen,
Whose walls o'erlook the stream; and drawing nigh,
He heard the busy hum of warrior-men
Swelling the breeze that sigh'd along the lengthening glen.