Byron felt the disappointment keenly; and after a short stay at Cambridge, he left England, visited Portugal and Spain, and traveled eastward as far as Greece and Turkey. At Athens he wrote the pretty little poem to the “maid of Athens”—Miss Theresa Macri, daughter of the British vice-consul. He returned to London to become at one leap the most admired poet of the day and the greatest social favorite. He was possessed of striking personal beauty. Sir Walter Scott said of him: “His countenance was a thing to dream of.” His glorious eyes, his mobile, eloquent face, fascinated all; and he was, besides, a genius of the first rank.
With these endowments, he plunged into the social whirlpool, denying himself nothing, and receiving everything-adulation, friendship, and unstinted love. Darkly mysterious stories of his adventures in the East made many think that he was the hero of some of his own poems, such as “The Giaour” and “The Corsair.” A German wrote of him that “he was positively besieged by women.” From the humblest maid-servants up to ladies of high rank, he had only to throw his handkerchief to make a conquest. Some women did not even wait for the handkerchief to be thrown. No wonder that he was sated with so much adoration and that he wrote of women:
I regard them as very pretty but inferior creatures. I look on them as grown-up children; but, like a foolish mother, I am constantly the slave of one of them. Give a woman a looking-glass and burnt almonds, and she will be content.
The liaison which attracted the most attention at this time was that between Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb. Byron has been greatly blamed for his share in it; but there is much to be said on the other side. Lady Caroline was happily married to the Right Hon. William Lamb, afterward Lord Melbourne, and destined to be the first prime minister of Queen Victoria. He was an easy-going, genial man of the world who placed too much confidence in the honor of his wife. She, on the other hand, was a sentimental fool, always restless, always in search of some new excitement. She thought herself a poet, and scribbled verses, which her friends politely admired, and from which they escaped as soon as possible. When she first met Byron, she cried out: “That pale face is my fate!” And she afterward added: “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know!”
It was not long before the intimacy of the two came very near the point of open scandal; but Byron was the wooed and not the wooer. This woman, older than he, flung herself directly at his head. Naturally enough, it was not very long before she bored him thoroughly. Her romantic impetuosity became tiresome, and very soon she fell to talking always of herself, thrusting her poems upon him, and growing vexed and peevish when he would not praise them. As was well said, “he grew moody and she fretful when their mutual egotisms jarred.”
In a burst of resentment she left him, but when she returned, she was worse than ever. She insisted on seeing him. On one occasion she made her way into his rooms disguised as a boy. At another time, when she thought he had slighted her, she tried to stab herself with a pair of scissors. Still later, she offered her favors to any one who would kill him. Byron himself wrote of her: