byron, the original SEXIEST MAN ALIVE

byronMad, bad, and dangerous to know.

That’s how Lady Caroline Lamb described George Gordon, Lord Byron — the English Romantic Poet whose dashing mop of dark hair, devilishly sensual pout and scandalous reputation secured his reign as the 18th century’s Sexiest Man Alive.  Byron was born January 22, 1788 and reached his artistic peak at a time when poets were rock stars.  He went on European tour, trailing an entourage including the young personal physician John Polidori, who was offered 500 pounds by a publisher if he’d keep a diary of his adventures.  As English majors, we watched our professors light up when the syllabus got to Byron.  In my particular seminar the professor had us rapt with attention as he described eager emulators affecting everything from his hairstyle to Byron’s limp in an attempt to be like him.  It’s hard to imagine that happening 250 years ago.  With no Instagram or Twitter?  If you’ve read his poems as I have and struggled to find in them this rakishness he’s so notorious for, here’s a little reminder.  Byron penned this swoon-worthy love letter and then slipped it into a book he had borrowed from the Italian Countess Teresa Guiccioli.  I would have loved to have been a butterfly on the wall of that garden when she discovered it . . . .

My dearest Teresa,
I have read this book in your garden, my love, you were absent, or else I could not have read it.  It is a favorite book of mine.  You will not understand these English words, and others will not understand them, which is the reason I have not scrawled them in Italian.  But you will recognize the handwriting of him who passionately loved you, and you will divine that, over a book that was yours, he could only think of love.
In that word, beautiful in all languages, but most so in yours – Amor mio – is comprised my existence here and thereafter.
I feel I exist here, and I feel that I shall exist hereafter, to what purpose you will decide; my destiny rests with you,
and you are a woman, eighteen years of age, and two out of a convent, I wish you had stayed there, with all my heart,
or at least, that I had never met you in your married state.
But all this is too late.  I love you, and you love me, at least, you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation in all events.  But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you.
Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us, but they never will, unless you wish it.

Byron

 

As our emails, catalogs, and store windows clutter up with love tokens for sale these next few weeks, why not put those aside and read something charming instead?

 

From a more serious but no less smitten Victor Hugo

My dearest,
When two souls, which have sought each other for,
however long in the throng, have finally found each other
…a union, fiery and pure as they themselves are…
begins on earth and continues forever in heaven.
This union is love, true love,…
a religion, which deifies the loved one,
whose life comes from devotion and passion,
and for which the greatest sacrifices are the sweetest delights.
This is the love which you inspire in me…
Your soul is made to love with the purity and passion of angels;
but perhaps it can only love another angel, in which case I must tremble with apprehension.

Yours forever,
Victor Hugo

 

And this from a boyish (and besotted) Mark Twain

Livy dear,
I have already mailed to-day`s letter, but I am so proud of my privilege of writing the dearest girl in the world whenever I please, that I must add a few lines if only to say I love you, Livy.  For I do love you, Livy…as the dew loves the flowers; as the birds love the sunshine; as the wavelets love the breeze; as mothers love their first-born; as memory loves old faces; as the yearning tides love the moon; as the angels love the pure in heart…
Take my kiss and my benediction, and try to be reconciled to the fact that I am
Yours forever,
Sam
P.S.– I have read this letter over and it is flippant and foolish and puppyish. I wish I had gone to bed when I got back, without writing. You said I must never tear up a letter after writing it to you and so I send it. Burn it, Livy, I did not think I was writing so clownishly and shabbily. I was in much too good a humor for sensible letter writing.

 

 There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio.  What is sacred?  Of what is the spirit made?  What is worth living for and what is worth dying for?  The answer to each is the same. Only love.

~ Byron (1788-1824)


 

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