A Few Notes on Lady Caroline Lamb, Lord Byron, and Dr. Polidori

I was up late (i.e in the early morning of December 18) working on a future post to be entitled “A Few Thoughts on Vampires”. At one point in it, I mention John William Polidori, who wrote the original vampire story The Vampyre, whose main character is the vampire Lord Ruthven, a character which was used in subsequent vampire stories by a variety of authors. The name Ruthven was taken from Lady Caroline Lamb’s novel Glenarvon.

A little research in Wikipedia alone on Lady Caroline Lamb reveals what must be the tip of the iceberg of Byron’s complex interpersonal relationships. At this point, I wish I was a romance novelist. The tale of Byron’s (the author of the epic poem “Don Juan”) love life, or at least his affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, would make for a fascinating novel.

Polidori was Lord Byron’s personal physician and traveled with him. I have read that he and Bryon were quite likely lovers. Lord Ruthven is based in part on Byron. As I mentioned, Byron’s relationships were complex.

The Vampyre is about Lord Ruthven, a vampire who kills only lovers and who is based on Byron. Polidori’s eventual suicide was probably rooted in his relationship with Byron. The name Ruthven was taken from Glenarvon by Lady Caroline Lamb, who had a “well publicized” affair with Byron in 1812. After Byron broke off the affair, Lady Lamb became obsessed with Byron. They continued corresponding, often bitterly, for sometime nevertheless. Glenarvon, published in 1816, was a “thinly disguised” portrait of her affair with Byron.

As an example of their later relationship, here is a quote for the Wikipedia article.

Lady Caroline’s obsession with Byron would define much of her later life, as well as influencing both her and Byron’s works. They would write poems in the style of each other, about each other, and even embed overt messages to one another in their verse. After a thwarted visit to Byron’s home, Lady Caroline wrote “Remember Me!” into the flyleaf of one of Byron’s books. He responded with the hate poem; “Remember thee! Remember thee!; Till Lethe quench life’s burning stream; Remorse and shame shall cling to thee, And haunt thee like a feverish dream! Remember thee! Ay, doubt it not. Thy husband too shall think of thee! By neither shalt thou be forgot, Thou false to him, thou fiend to me!

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Caroline_Lamb. Accessed December 18, 2020.

What stimulated me into this minute bit of admittedly superficial research was reading Lady Lamb’s description of Byron as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. What a terrific description of anyone! This, if nothing else, shows the stereotype of a woman falling for a “bad boy” goes back at least 200 years. Here is a bit more on it from the Wikipedia article:

From March to August 1812, Lady Caroline embarked on a well-publicized affair with Lord Byron. He was 24, she 26. She spurned his attention on their first meeting, which was at a society event at Holland House. According to the memoirs of her friend Sydney, Lady Morgan, Lady Caroline claimed she coined the phrase “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” soon after meeting the poet. It became his lasting epitaph, but there is no contemporary evidence to prove that she coined the famous phrase at the time. She wrote him a fan letter; his response was to visit her because of her high social status, and then to pursue her passionately.

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Caroline_Lamb. Accessed December 18, 2020.

Yeah, their story would make a helluva romance novel.

I have been intending to read Don Juan for over thirty years now. Maybe I will get to it soon.

Below are portraits of Lady Lamb, Lord Byron, and Dr. Polidori. Check the dates of their births and deaths. Do the math. They all led intense lives and died young.

Thought? Comments?

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) portrait dated 1813.
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) portrait dated 1813.
Carolinelamb
Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828). Date of portrait unknown.
John William Polidori (1795-1821) Date of portrait unknown.

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