Byron was under no illusion about the sort of person he was. And because of it he became his own marketing agent. He carefully crafted his public persona, ensured only approved images of him made it into circulation and obsessed about his physical appearance to the detriment of his health. The reason, he wasn’t comfortable with the way he looked.
The extent to which he manufactured his image wasn’t lost on his admiring public. When, in Genoa at the Casa Saluzzo, Lady Blessington finally laid eyes on him she was deflated, as she described in her ‘Journal of Conversations With Lord Byron’:
‘Saw Lord Byron for the first time. The impression of the first few minutes disappointed me, as I had, both from the portraits and descriptions given, conceived a different idea of him. I had fancied him taller, with a more dignified and commanding air; and I looked in vain for the hero-looking sort of person with whom I had so long identified him in imagination.’
At this meeting Count D’Orsay penned his famous sketch which I suspect is equally short of Byronic approval.
But he wasn’t quite in control. His reputation is testament to that. He was too impulsive to be able to keep his natural personality in check. Even so, he successfully crafted himself into a saleable product, a homage to his awareness of his own failings. He wasn’t vain and he wasn’t a complete narcassist, although others will disagree. He was protecting his own interests and his vulnerabilities. He knew how fickle the book buying public were. To his publisher John Murray he once wrote:
I am so changeable, being everything by turns and nothing long, – I am such a strange mélange of good and evil, that it would be difficult to describe me’.
It is true he flitted between projects, ideas and causes as often as any man might change his shirt. His letters are littered with sudden interests and plans that in the next missive are lost once he has set his sights on something new or he simply drops the thought as the ebb of his enthusiasm wanes.
He did like a good cause. He was generous with his time and money to a fault, one of his better personality traits. But equally he could discard an individual from his circle like a hot stone if they pushed the boundaries or he became tired of them. If you didn’t hold his interest, you were out.
He is never bragging about his image although he relished in it to a certain extent. But in the same way that he knew he didn’t look quite like his portraits (something which pained him more), so he knew his personality was far from perfect, filled with contradictions and spilt personality.
That said, he made up for it with talent. His fame, his public image and even that tarnished reputation meant he never struggled to find lovers or command an audience with almost whomever he chose. Publicity was never far from reach.
And despite the reputation, he also gathered around him a host of trustworthy and faithful friends and fiercely protective household staff. Perhaps they saw the weaknesses, the vulnerability. Despite the ‘strange melange’.
As Corin Throsby wrote in the TLS with reference to the many letters Byron left behind:
‘These outpourings to friends and lovers may be the closest we get to the “true” Byron: generous, complicated, boastful, opinionated, egotistical, brilliant, quick-tempered, and very, very funny.’