I was pleasantly surprised to see that Greece has decided to honour Lord Byron with a national day. April 19th will be a day of remembrance to "keep alive the memory of Lord Byron in tribute to a great man who deeply believed in fundamental democratic values".
Although, I suppose, he is mostly known as a poet these days Byron was a fiery figure from left field and gave his life as one of the thousands of internationals who fought for Greek liberation from the Ottoman Empire.
His support as a fighting man was pretty short lived to say the least but he invested his fortune in equipping the Greek fleet and inspired many others from around Europe to join the cause. Even after his death the fact that this rather, cough, controversial character had given his life in a revolutionary struggle helped raise the international profile of events in the region.
However, whilst the Greeks (and Italians) may hold Byron in high regard nothing could have been further from the truth in polite society nearer to home. Although today it's the well to do in society who are most likely to have Shelley or Byron on their book shelves, nineteenth century poetry having a pretty elitist reputation, the reverse was true in their day. No self respecting bourgeois would have such scurrilous works in their house. Their books would be found in the growing trade union libraries and in the homes of radicals who'd form the backbone of movements like the Chartists where their memory was kept alive.
Byron's well known for his attitude to a free love of sorts - certainly a sexuality free from the confining morality of the day - but his support for radical causes was just as well known and far more despised in his lifetime. He was a supporter of the Luddites, a radical movement that demonstrated with the utmost clarity and force what despots get if they don't allow working people basic rights. Byron used his position to speak in the House of Lords against the death penalty for Luddites and wrote "down with all kings but King Ludd" in his Song for the Luddites (which is just short enough to reproduce in full below).
It seems that the English respectable circles still have a distaste for Lord Byron and official honours to this great man are few and far between. One fitting tribute we could give Byron would be to return the Parthenon marbles, which were filched from Greece as so many other ancient artifacts have been by imperial powers. In a fury he may have written "snatch'd thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!" but there was little he could do to return them.
Honouring one of the great poets of his age and restoring stolen property, that's two birds with one stone, and you know I like to maximise the number of avians killed to the minimum number of projectiles.
Song for the Luddites
As the Liberty lads o'er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!
When the web that we weave is complete,
And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,
We will fling the winding-sheet
O'er the despot at our feet,
And dye it deep in the gore he has pour'd.
Though black as his heart its hue,
Since his veins are corrupted to mud,
Yet this is the dew
Which the tree shall renew
Of Liberty, planted by Ludd!