Today's selection — from The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), commonly known as Lord Byron was one of the greatest British poets, an aristocratic and flamboyant celebrity known for huge debts and numerous love affairs with both sexes. Romance was absent though when it came to his marriage. He needed money and married a wealthy aristocrat named Annabella Milbank. The marriage crumbled when Lady Byron discovered her husband's infidelity: “Lord Byron … noticed a reserved young woman who was, he recalled, 'more simply dressed.' Annabella Milbanke, nineteen, was from a wealthy and multi-titled family. The night before the party, she had read [his poem] Childe Harold and had mixed feelings. 'He is rather too much of a mannerist,' she wrote. 'He excels most in the delineation of deep feeling.' Upon seeing him across the room at the party, her feelings were conflicted, dangerously so. 'I did not seek an introduction to him, for all the women were absurdly courting him, and trying to deserve the lash of his Satire,' she wrote her mother. 'I am not desirous of a place in his lays. I made no offering at the shrine of Childe Harold, though I shall not refuse the acquaintance if it comes my way.'
“That acquaintance, as it turned out, did come her way. After he was introduced to her formally, Byron decided that she might make a suitable wife. It was, for him, a rare display of reason over romanticism. Rather than arousing his passions, she seemed to be the sort of woman who might tame those passions and protect him from his excesses — as well as help payoff his burdensome debts. He proposed to her halfheartedly by letter. She sensibly declined. He wandered off to far less appropriate liaisons, including one with his half sister, Augusta Leigh. But after a year, Annabella rekindled the courtship. Byron, falling more deeply in debt while grasping for a way to curb his enthusiasms, saw the rationale if not the romance in the possible relationship. 'Nothing but marriage and a speedy one can save me,' he admitted to Annabella's aunt. 'If your niece is obtainable, I should prefer her; if not, the very first woman who does not look as if she would spit in my face.' There were times when Lord Byron was not a romantic. He and Annabella were married in January 1815.”Byron initiated the marriage in his Byronic fashion. 'Had Lady Byron on the sofa before dinner,' he wrote about his wedding day. Their relationship was still active when they visited his half sister two months later, because around then Annabella got pregnant.