(1790 - 1811) U.K.
Lover of Lord Byron
In 1805 Byron entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he piled up debts at an alarming rate and indulged in the conventional vices of undergraduates there. One of Byron's college friends, Charles Matthews, along with all things liberal and fashionable, advocated "paederasty" in the classic Greek tradition. There he conceived what in his words was "A violent, though pure, love and passion" for John Edleston, a choirboy whom he first heard sing in Trinity Chapel.
As a pledge of their love, Edleston in 1806 gave Byron a cornelian brooch pin in the shape of a heart, to which Byron refers in his poem "The Adieu". "His voice," Byron wrote, "first attracted my attention, his countenance fixed it, and his manners attach me to him forever... I certainly love him more than any human being, and neither time or distance have had the least effect on my (in general) changeable disposition." Lord Byron wroye to Elizabeth Bridget Pigot about his boyfriend, John Eddleston, 5th July 1807.
Some of Byron's earliest poems are to Edleston, including "To E___", "Stanzas to Jessy", and "The Cornelian", which records Edleston's gift to Byron of a Cornelian, which Byron kept with him the rest of his life. These appeared in Hours of Idleness (1807), Byron's first collection of poems. Byron wrote several poems that scholars believe were written to and about John, calling him "Thyrza".
One of the Thyrza poems, written after John had died, indicates in the words: "The pressure of the thrilling hand, the kiss, so guiltless and refined, that Love each warmer wish forbore", that their physical contact had been restricted to hand-holding and kissing. Even much later in life, after the Thyrza poems had become very famous and popular, Byron refused to say who they were addressed to and changed the pronouns from masculine to feminine to conceal that this doomed but lifelong passion was for a man.
After two years of being Byron's "almost constant associate since October 1805", John had to move away from Cambridge to London and Byron wrote to a woman friend, Elizabeth Pigot, about his heartbreak, saying that he was planning to live with his "protégé" after he had completed his studies, which would "put Lady E. Butler & Miss Ponsonby to the blush, Pylades & Orestes out of countenance, & want nothing but a catastrophe like Nisus and Euryalus, to give Johnathon & David the 'go by' ". These are all same-sex passionate relationships.
Byron asked his other boyhood friend Edward Noel Long: "pray, keep the subject of my 'Cornelian' a Secret." Thomas Moore, Byron's friend and first biographer, who allowed Byron's memoir to be destroyed and who excised the homosexual passages from the surviving journals and letters, called Edlestone Byron's "adopted brother" - a tag that does not adequately account for the passion of the poetry:
Ours too the glance none saw beside;
The smile none else might understand;
The whisper'd thought of hearts allied,
The pressure of the thrilling hand;
The kiss so guiltless and refin'd
That Love each warmer wish forbore;
Those eyes proclaim'd so pure a mind,
Ev'n passion blush'd to plead for more.
Byron left England with some urgency in 1809, probably because some affair threatened to come to light. Byron's confidant John Cam Hobhouse recorded in his diary on June 6, 1810: "messenger arrived from England - bringing a letter from [Francis] Hodgson to B[yron] - tales spread - the Edleston accused of indecency."
Byron returned to England - which he loathed because of its cant and puritanism - after the death of his mother in 1811, only to learn from Edleston's sister that his boyhood love had died in May that year. It was a greater shock than the death of his mother - indeed, Edleston was only twenty-one when he was felled by consumption - and prompted at least seven moving elegies, including "To Thyrza", "Away, away, ye notes of woe!", "One struggle more, and I am free", "And thou are dead, as young and fair", "If sometimes in the haunts of men", "On a Cornelian Heart Which Was Broken", and a Latin elegy newly discovered and published in 1974, the only poem that uses the masculine gender, "Te, te, care puer! (Thee, beloved boy)", with Edlestone's name written three times at the top.