Racked by fever, prone to fits of delirium, consumed by his last great passion – the liberation of Greece – Lord Byron lay on his sickbed. It was 18 April 1824. The great Romantic poet would be dead the next day.
“I have given her [Greece] my time, my means, my health,” he is recorded as saying in a moment of lucidity. “And now I give her my life! What could I do more?”
As Greece celebrates the bicentenary of its war of independence, a banknote unearthed by the Observer in the country’s state archives sheds new light on the poet’s fabled generosity. It also offers indelible proof of his commitment to the Greek cause. In the check Byron stipulates that £4,000 – roughly £332,000 today ($464,000) – be paid to Giovanni Orlando, a representative of the provisional government that, alarmed by the way the war with the invading Ottoman Albanians was going, had approached the British peer for funds.