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England: early 19th Century
Lord (George Gordon) Byron (1788-1824)

6th Baron. British Romantic poet, also noted for his passionate and disastrous love affairs. His major works include Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-18), and Don Juan (1818-24). He spent much of his life abroad and died while fighting for Greek independence.

From Canto II of Don Juan:

For all we know that English people are
Fed upon beef - I won't say much of beer
Because 'tis liquor only, and being far
From this my subject, has no business here;
We know too, they are very fond of war,
A pleasure - like all pleasures - rather dear;
So were the Cretans - from which I infer
That beef and battle both were owing her . . .
(Section CLVI)

From Don Juan, Canto XIII

And angling , too, that solitary vice,
Whatever Izaak Walton sings or says:
The quaint, old, cruel coxcomb, in his gullet
Should have a hook, and a small trout to pull it.
(Section CVI)

Byron - from The Ethics of Diet, by Howard Williams, 1883

  • Lord Byron's Don Juan (link to archive.org) first two Cantos pub.1819, unfinished at Canto 16 on Byron's death in 1824. This complete edition from Philadelphia, 1859. Overall it reflects Byron's inconsistency about his diet.

Bryon comments in his Notes (p.452 of above edition): This sentimental savage, whom it is a mode to quote (amongst the novelists) to show their sympathy for innocent sports and old songs, teaches how to sew up frogs, and break their legs by way of experiment, in addition to the art of angling, the cruelest, the coldest, and the stupidest of pretended sports.

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Life of Lord Byron : with his letters and journals (Vol.1 - to 1811) (link to archive.org) pub. London, 1839, this edition 1854.

p. 165 - 1807: "Apropos, sorry to say, been drunk every day, and not quite sober yet — however, touch no meat, nothing but fish, soup, and vegetables, consequently it does me no harm ..."

p.356 - 1811, June 25: "I must only inform you that for a long time I have been restricted to an entire vegetable diet, neither fish nor flesh coming within my regimen ; so I expect a powerful stock of potatoes, greens, and biscuit : I drink no wine.... I have only to beg you will not forget my diet, which it is very necessary for me to observe. I am well in health, as I have generally been, with the exception of two agues, both of which I quickly got over."

Life of Lord Byron : with his letters and journals (Vol.2 - 1811-13) (link to archive.org) pub. London, 1839, this edition 1854.

p.92 - 1811: "As we had none of us been apprised of his peculiarities with respect to food, the embarrassment of our host was not a little, on discovering that there was nothing upon the table which his noble guest could eat or drink. Neither meat, fish, nor wine, would Lord Byron touch ; and of biscuits and sodawater, which he asked for, there had been, unluckily, no provision. He professed, however, to be equally well pleased with potatoes and vinegar ; and of these meagre materials contrived to make rather a hearty dinner.

p.264 - 1813: " I have dined regularly to-day, for the first time since Sunday last this being Sabbath, too. All the rest, tea and dry biscuits six per diem. I wish to God I had not dined now ! It kills me with heaviness, stupor, and horrible dreams ; and yet it was but a pint of bucellas, and fish. Meat I never touch, nor much vegetable diet. I wish I were in the country, to take exercise, instead of being obliged to cool by abstinence, in lieu of it. I should not so much mind a little accession of flesh, my bones can well bear it. But the worst is, the devil always came with it, till I starved him out, and I will not be the slave of any appetite. If I do err, it shall be my heart, at least, that heralds the way. Oh, my head how it aches ? the horrors of digestion ! I wonder how Buonaparte's dinner agrees with him ?

p.283 - 1813: "Stuffed myself with sturgeon, and exceeded in champagne and wine in general, but not to confusion of head. When I do dine, I gorge like an Arab or a Boa snake, on fish and vegetables, but no meat. I am always better, however, on my tea and biscuit than any other regimen, and even that sparingly.

Life of Lord Byron : with his letters and journals (Vol.3 1814-17) (link to archive.org) pub. London, 1839, this edition 1854.

p.83 - 1814: knowing that Lord Byron, for the last two days, had done nothing towards sustenance, beyond eating a few biscuits and (to appease appetite) chewing mastic, I desired that we should have a good supply of, at least, two kinds of fish. My companion, however, confined himself to lobsters, and of these finished two or three, to his own share,—interposing, sometimes, a small liqueurglass of strong white brandy, sometimes a tumbler of very hot water, and then pure brandy again, to the amount of near half a dozen small glasses of the latter, without which, alternately with the hot water, he appeared to think the lobster could not be digested. After this, we had claret, of which having despatched two bottles between us, at about four o'clock in the morning we parted.

p.231 - 1816 (with the Shelleys in Switzerland): His system of diet here was regulated by an abstinence almost incredible. A thin slice of bread, with tea, at breakfast — a light, vegetable dinner, with a bottle or two of Seltzer water, tinged with vin de Grave, and in the evening, a cup of green tea, without milk or sugar, formed the whole of his sustenance. The pangs of hunger he appeased by privately chewing tobacco and smoking cigars.

p.337 - 1817: Venice, January 28. 1817."The remedy for your plethora is simple — abstinence. I was obliged to have recourse to the like some years ago, I mean in point of diet, and, with the exception of some convivial weeks and days, (it might be months, now and then,) have kept to Pythagoras ever since. For all this, let me hear that you are better. You must not indulge in ' filthy beer,' nor in porter, nor eat suppers — the last are the devil to those who swallow dinner."

Volumes 4, 5 and 6 appear to have nothing further to add about his diet during his remaining seven years.

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Extract from Shelley by Edward Blunden 1946:

[in Ravenna, Italy 1818] Talk on these and other topics went on until six in the morning, but then in Byron's house even Shelley resigned himself to getting up at midday. Byron breakfasted in the afternoon, they talked or read till six, went for a ride through the pine forests, dined at eight and so to talk again. One of Byron's characteristics could not have been missed by any visitor. Madame Guiccioli found it very comical, and would tell a good story about it. For Michaelmas Day Byron regularly resolved to have a roast goose, and bought one; but by the time he had fattened it for a month the goose and he were such friends that the bird did not come to the table, and another was bought. At last he possesed four pet geese which travelled in cages under his carriage. Shelley's catalogue of Byron's zoo ("besides servants"), omitting geese, includes "ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow and a falcon; and all these except the horses, walk about the house, which every now and then resounds with their unarbitrated quarrels, as if they were masters of it." Shelley supposed that this list was complete, but as he departed "met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane. I wonder who all these animals were before they were changed into these shapes."