- Fourteen New Byron Letters1
Drawing on the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and his Circle at the New York Public Library, this essay presents fourteen previously unpublished letters written by Lord Byron between the years 1809 and 1824, along with contextualizing notes and physical descriptions. All of the letters were acquired by the Pforzheimer Collection within the past two decades, and thus were not included in Leslie Marchand's standard edition of Byron's correspondence, the last volume of which appeared in 1994.2 As a group, they span nearly the entirety of Byron's career as a writer: the earliest, dated July 15, 1809, was sent from Lisbon, when Byron was embarking on his tour of Europe, and the latest, written in Greece, is dated March 4, 1824, about a month before his death. Some of these are brief missives, but there are more extended epistles to correspondents like James Wedderburn Webster and Francis Hodgson, as well as interesting shorter letters to Michele Leoni and Charles Barry. All of them help us to fill in the picture of Byron, offering glimpses into various aspects of his life, work, and personality.
Byron's letters have long been admired as among the most lively, witty, and readable of his era. Richard Lansdown places them alongside "Jane Austen's novels, Hazlitt's essays, Keats's letters, Coleridge's notebooks, and De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater" as the "great monuments of English Romantic prose."3 Publisher John [End Page 37] Murray read aloud Byron's epistles from Italy to gatherings at 50 Albemarle Street, and the great popularity of Thomas Moore's Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of His Life (1830) was due in part to Moore's granting first billing to the correspondence. Byron biographer Leslie Marchand observes that "the frankness and humanity of Byron's letters … lifts them above the great bulk of literary correspondence in the nineteenth century," praising them for "reflect[ing] more accurately than any of the records left by his contemporaries the brilliance and charm and wit of his conversation" (BLJ, i, 2, 1). In addition, Byron's remarkable celebrity and the richly-textured, sometimes scandalous nature of his experiences (not to mention the posthumous burning of his memoirs) have ensured a high value for his personal letters, as if we might, through them, at last see Byron plain. As March-and writes, "his letters are … a clear mirror of his personality, of its weaknesses as well as its strengths … they reflect more accurately than any words left by his contemporaries the brilliance and charm and wit of his conversation" (BLJ, i,1). Accordingly, any addition to our stock of known correspondence is welcome.
Our transcriptions attempt to balance readability with the faithful reproduction of the documents themselves. Addressees and dates have been moved to regular positions at the head of each letter, but we have reproduced places and dates as Byron wrote them, as did Marchand. Lineation has not been retained except in the case of salutations, closers, and signatures. Byron uses several types of dashes liberally throughout his letters, and, while we have tried to mimic Byron's variety in the length of his dashes, there can be no substitute for examining the letters in manuscript. We have chosen not to present mere autograph address labels, clipped signatures, or documents such as cheques in Byron's hand, although we have included one fragment from a letter (number 5, to an unknown correspondent, likely Lady Holland or someone in the Holland House circle). Our presentation of the letters is meant to inspire further reading in Byron's correspondence, and to suggest new insights regarding the life and work of this complicated man. As he writes in an 1811 letter to Francis Hodgson (printed here for the first time), "I am like the Evangelical definition of the Wind, which 'goeth (bloweth) where it listeth, but no man knows whence it cometh or where it returneth.'" These letters were sent from Lisbon, Malta, Newstead Abbey, the Albany [End Page 38] in London, Venice, Cephalonia, and Messolonghi, adding support to this claim. We hope...