Literary biography

Excess and incest were meat and drink to the Byrons

‘Some curse hangs over me and mine,’ wrote Lord Byron, and thanks to Emily Brand, who is a genealogist, it is now possible to see why Byron was so darned Byronic: excess, incest and marital misery flowed in the bloodstream. The gloom that looked like a Regency pose was entirely pre-programmed; George Gordon Byron’s script was handed to him at birth. Being mad, bad and dangerous to know was as instinctive to the Byrons as howling at the moon for a pack of wolves. When he compared his family to ‘whole woods of withered pines’, the poet was not exaggerating. Every branch was rotten. The son of a sociopath known

Wordsworth may have been partially eclipsed by his fellow Romantics, but his life was far from dull

Between 1798 and 1807 William Wordsworth revolutionised English poetry, giving voice to the marginalised in poems such as ‘The Idiot Boy’ and anticipating modern psychology in his exploration of childhood. Today, his ability to articulate the connection between man and nature can still bring us up short, as in these lines from ‘Tintern Abbey’: … And I have felt,A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublimeOf something far more deeply interfused,Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,And the round ocean and the living air,And the blue sky, and in the mind of man… After 1807 Wordsworth experienced what Jonathan Bate, in one of