Of the tour in Asia Minor, a visit to Ephesus (March 15, 1810), an excursion in the Troad (April 13), and the famous swim across the Hellespont (May 3), the record is to be sought elsewhere. The stanzas on Constantinople (lxxvii.-lxxxii.), where Byron and Hobhouse stayed for two months, though written at the time and on the spot, were not included in the poem till 1814. They are, probably, part of a projected third canto. On the 14th of July Hobhouse set sail for England and Byron returned to Athens.
Of Byron's second year of residence in the East little is known beyond the bare facts that he was travelling in the Morea during August and September, that early in October he was at Patras, having just recovered from a severe attack of malarial fever, and that by the 14th of November he had returned to Athens and taken up his quarters at the Franciscan convent. Of his movements during the next five months there is no record, but of his studies and pursuits there is substantial evidence. He learnt Romaic, he compiled the notes to the second canto of Childe Harold. He wrote (March 12) Hints from Horace (published 1831), an imitation or loose translation of the Epistola ad Pisones (Art of Poetry), and (March 17) The Curse of Minerva (published 1815), a skit on Lord Elgin's deportation of the metopes and frieze of the Parthenon.
He left Athens in April, passed some weeks at Malta, and landed at Portsmouth (c. July 20). Arrived in London his first step was to consult his literary adviser, R.C. Dallas, with regard to the publication of Hints from Horace. Of Childe Harold he said nothing, but after some hesitation produced the MS. from a "small trunk," and, presenting him with the copyright, commissioned Dallas to offer it to a publisher. Rejected by Miller of Albemarle Street, who published for Lord Elgin, it was finally accepted by Murray of Fleet Street, who undertook to share the profits of an edition with Dallas.
Meanwhile Mrs Byron died suddenly from a stroke of apoplexy. Byron set off at once for Newstead, but did not find his mother alive. He had but little affection for her while she lived, but her death touched him to the quick. "I had but one friend," he exclaimed, "and she is gone." Another loss awaited him. Whilst his mother lay dead in his house, he heard that his friend Matthews had been drowned in the Cam. Edleston and Wingfield had died in May, but the news had reached him on landing. There were troubles on every side. On the 11th of October he wrote the "Epistle to a Friend" ("Oh, banish care," etc.) and the lines "To Thyrza," which, with other elegies, were appended to the second edition of Childe Harold (April 17, 1812). It was this cry of desolation, this open profession of melancholy, which at first excited the interest of contemporaries, and has since been decried as morbid and unreal. No one who has read his letters can doubt the sincerity of his grief, but it is no less true that he measured and appraised its literary significance.
He could and did turn it to account.
Towards the close of the year he made friends with Moore. Some lines in English Bards, etc. (ii. 466-467), taunting Moore with fighting a duel with Jeffrey with "leadless pistol" had led to a challenge, and it was not till Byron returned to England that explanations ensued, and that the challenge was withdrawn. As a poet Byron outgrew Moore, giving back more than he had received, but the friendship which sprang up between them still serves Byron in good stead. Moore's Life of Byron (1830) is no doubt a picture of the man at his best, but it is a genuine likeness. At the end of October Byron moved to London and took up his quarters at 8 St James's Street. On the 27th of February 1812 he made his first speech in the House of Lords on a bill which made the wilful destruction of certain newly invented stocking-frames a capital offence, speaking in defence of the riotous "hands" who feared that their numbers would be diminished by improved machinery. It was a brilliant speech and won the praise of Burdett and Lord Holland. He made two other speeches during the same session, but thenceforth pride or laziness kept him silent.
Childe Harold (4to) was published on Tuesday, the 10th of March 1812. "The effect," says Moore, "was ... electric, his fame ... seemed to spring, like the palace of a fairy king, in a night." A fifth edition (8vo) was issued on the 5th of December 1812. Just turned twenty-four he "found himself famous," a great poet, a rising statesman. Society, which in spite of his rank had neglected him, was now at his feet. But he could not keep what he had won. It was not only "villainous company," as he put it, which was to prove his "spoil," but the opportunity for intrigue. The excitement and absorption of one reigning passion after another destroyed his peace of mind and put him out of conceit with himself. His first affair of any moment was with Lady Caroline Lamb the wife of William Lamb, better known as Lord Melbourne, a delicate, golden-haired sprite, who threw herself in his way, and afterwards, when she was shaken off, involved him in her own disgrace. To her succeeded Lady Oxford, who was double his own age, and Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, the "Ginevra" of his sonnets, the "Medora" of The Corsair.
His "way of life" was inconsistent with an official career, but there was no slackening of his poetical energies. In February 1813 he published The Waltz (anonymously), he wrote and published The Giaour (published June 5, 1813) and The Bride of Abydos (published November 29, 1813), and he wrote The Corsair (published February 1, 1814). The Turkish Tales were even more popular than Childe Harold. Murray sold 10,000 copies of The Corsair on the day of publication. Byron was at pains to make his accessories correct. He prided himself on the accuracy of his "costume." He was under no delusion as to the ethical or artistic value of these experiments on "public patience."