Byron went into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1805. Cambridge did him no good. "The place is the devil," he said, and according to his own showing he did homage to the genius loci. But whatever he did or failed to do, he made friends who were worthy of his choice. Among them were the scholar-dandy Scrope Berdmore Davies, Francis Hodgson, who died provost of Eton, and, best friend of all, John Cam Hobhouse (afterwards Lord Broughton). And there was another friend, a chorister named Edleston, a "humble youth" for whom he formed a romantic attachment. He died whilst Byron was still abroad (May 1811), but not unwept nor unsung, if, as there is little doubt, the mysterious Thyrza poems of 1811, 1812 refer to his death. During the vacation of 1806, and in 1807 which was one "long vacation," he took to his pen, and wrote, printed and published most of his "Juvenile Poems." His first venture was a thin quarto of sixty-six pages, printed by S. and J. Ridge of Newark. The "advertisement" is dated the 23rd of December 1806, but before that date he had begun to prepare a second collection for the press. One poem ("To Mary") contained at least one stanza which was frankly indecent, and yielding to advice he gave orders that the entire issue should be thrown into the fire.
Early in January 1807 an expurgated collection entitled Poems on Various Occasions was ready for private distribution. Encouraged by two critics, Henry Mackenzie and Lord Woodhouselee, he determined to recast this second issue and publish it under his own name. Hours of Idleness, "by George Gordon Lord Byron, a minor," was published in June 1807. The fourth and last issue of Juvenilia, entitled Poems, Original and Translated, was published in March 1808.
Hours of Idleness enjoyed a brief triumph. The Critical and other reviews were "very indulgent," but the Edinburgh Review for January 1808 contained an article, not, as Byron believed, by Jeffrey, but by Brougham, which put, or tried to put, the author and "his poesy" to open shame. The sole result was that it supplied fresh material and a new title for some rhyming couplets on "British Bards" which he had begun to write. A satire on Jeffrey, the editor, and Lord Holland, the patron of the Edinburgh Review, was slipped into the middle of "British Bards," and the poem rechristened English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (published the 1st of March 1809).
In April 1808, whilst he was still "a minor," Byron entered upon his inheritance. Hitherto the less ruinous portions of the abbey had been occupied by a tenant, Lord Grey de Ruthven. The banqueting hall, the grand drawing-room, and other parts of the monastic building were uninhabitable, but by incurring fresh debts, two sets of apartments were refurnished for Byron and for his mother. Dismantled and ruinous, it was still a splendid inheritance. In line with the front of the abbey is the west front of the priory church, with its hollow arch, once a "mighty window," its vacant niches, its delicate Gothic mouldings. The abbey buildings enclose a grassy quadrangle overlooked by two-storeyed cloisters. On the eastern side are the state apartments occupied by kings and queens not as guests, but by feudal right. In the park, which is part of Sherwood Forest, there is a chain of lakes - the largest, the north-west, Byron's "lucid lake." A waterfall or "cascade" issues from the lake, in full view of the room where Byron slept. The possession of this lordly and historic domain was an inspiration in itself.
It was an ideal home for one who was to be hailed as the spirit or genius of romance.
On the 13th of March 1809, he took his seat in the House of Lords. He had determined, as soon as he was of age, to travel in the East, but before he sought "another zone" he invited Hobhouse and three others to a house-warming. One of the party, C.S. Matthews, describes a day at Newstead. Host and guests lay in bed till one. "The afternoon was passed in various diversions, fencing, single-stick ... riding, cricket, sailing on the lake." They dined at eight, and after the cloth was removed handed round "a human skull filled with Burgundy." After dinner they "buffooned about the house" in a set of monkish dresses. They went to bed some time between one and three in the morning. Moore thinks that the picture of these festivities is "pregnant in character," and argues that there were limits to the misbehaviour of the "wassailers." The story, as told in Childe Harold (c. I. s. v.-ix.), need not be taken too seriously. Byron was angry because Lord De La Warr did not wish him goodbye, and visited his displeasure on friends and "lemans" alike. May and June were devoted to the preparation of an enlarged edition of his satire. At length, accompanied by Hobhouse and a small staff of retainers, he set out on his travels.
He sailed from Falmouth on the 2nd of July and reached Lisbon on the 7th of July 1809. The first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage contain a record of the principal events of his first year of absence.
The first canto describes Lisbon, Cintra, the ride through Portugal and Spain to Seville and thence to Cadiz. He is moved by the grandeur of the scenery, but laments the helplessness of the people and their impending fate. Talavera was fought and won whilst he was in Spain, but he is convinced that the "Scourge of the World" will prevail, and that Britain, "the fond ally," will display her blundering heroism in vain. Being against the government, he is against the war. History has falsified his politics, but his descriptions of places and scenes, of "Morena's dusky height," of Cadiz and the bull-fight, retain their freshness and their warmth.
Byron sailed from Gibraltar on the 16th of August, and spent a month at Malta making love to Mrs Spencer Smith (the "Fair Florence" of c. II. s. xxix.-xxxiii.). He anchored off Prevesa on the 28th of September. The second canto records a journey on horseback through Albania, then almost a terra incognita, as far as Tepeleni, where he was entertained by Ali Pacha (October 20th), a yachting tour along the shores of the Ambracian Gulf (November 8-23), a journey by land from Larnaki to Athens (December 15-25), and excursions in Attica, Sunium and Marathon (January 13-25, 1810).