Robert Byron of La Mesa, who claims to be the only living direct male descendant of the poet Lord George Gordon Byron, gave us a call the other day. He sounded pleased. Although he’s known about his famous ancestor since he was 11, he told us that only now was he beginning to receive some recognition from other quarters. Most encouraging was that the district of Florence in Italy (the geographical area around the city) had just granted him the title of “cavaliere,” which “can be translated as ‘Sir’ or ‘Lord,’” he stated authoritatively.
Out at the living Lord Byron’s house on Olive Street, we verified that he does indeed walk with a limp, the mark (he asserts) of the same hereditary disease which crippled the famed author of Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. “It’s related to muscular atrophy,” Robert explained. “I’ve had doctors do research on me to find out more about what Byron had. In those days, people called it a clubfoot, but nowadays he probably would be called bowlegged. We’re also exactly the same height, five feet, eight and a half inches.” But whereas Robert’s ancestor had to fight obesity with periodic regimens of biscuits, soda water, and strong cathartics, “I have a tendency to be underweight,” Robert confessed.
He hauled out a picture of George, the sixth Lord Byron, and invited us to compare his visage with that of his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. While we judged the La Mesan to be a pleasant-looking young man, we couldn’t exactly describe his countenance as a ringer for the stunning Byronic one. “Well, I wear my hair differently,” he said with a shrug. He recalled the profound impression made on him when an aunt interested in genealogy first discovered the family link, an impression so strong that it prompted the lad to change his last name from “Dallas” to “Byron.” He says research in fact revealed that men in the family have commonly changed their last name to Byron, perhaps to profit from the poet’s fantastic reputation as a roué. “He was reputed to have two or three hundred illegitimate children, but it’s hard to tell how accurate that is,” says Robert. “In his day, women were popping up all over and getting pregnant and claiming it was Byron’s baby, and the mystique was so strong that their husbands didn’t even care!” In any case, the poet’s only legitimate child was a daughter, Augusta Ada, through whom Robert claims the family genes descended to him.
The La Mesan says when he mentioned that connection about a year and a half ago to an international lawyer friend in New York, she urged him to see if he had any claim to the Byron family estate, which includes Newstead Abbey, Byron’s home in Nottingham in Sherwood Forest in England. Robert says that same attorney is now researching such a claim and that she also netted the Italian title for him when she was visiting Florence and casually mentioned to a group of civic officials that she represented a descendant of Byron the poet. “They’re wild about Byron over there,” Robert says. He says he only received the papers for the title a few weeks ago, and he also has received another Byronic benefit since then from a chapter of the worldwide Byron League, one of the “hundreds of Byron fan clubs around the world right now. They’re usually composed of really intellectual, literary-minded people,” he says. He says that particular branch of the League established a small perpetual endowment for him, and he now receives a monthly check through a local branch of Barclay’s Bank. “I’d rather not say how much,” he demurred. “It’s only a pittance, but it’s the thought that counts.” Would he actually want the family estate in England, given the costs of maintenance these days? Robert had thought of the contingency. “My attorney says that if my wildest dreams did come true and I did get it, I probably wouldn’t have to pay for the upkeep.”
Until then, the newest Lord Byron claims to be working on a biography of his ancestor and supporting himself with work as a psychic. (“I got a double major in college in accounting and parapsychology. But I put myself through school ghostwriting. I was writing poetry at the age of eight.”) And recently he’s found himself fending off novel advances. “I walked into the Gemco the other day, and somehow or other all the clerks in the store had found out. They were all calling me Lord Byron. And several people have knocked on my door because the word has spread throughout the neighborhood.” He says he even had one offer from a Byron fanatic in Del Mar who asked him to impregnate the man’s wife. Lord Byron of La Mesa declined. “My life is pretty boring compared to the original Byron’s.” ■
— Joe Daley