- The Leslie A. Marchand Memorial Lectures, 2000–2015: A Legacy in Byron Studies ed. by Katherine Kernberger
The Leslie A. Marchand Memorial Lectures, sponsored by the Byron Society of America, began in the first year of this century, a year after Marchand's death at the grand old age of ninety-nine. Collected in this volume are the first ten of these lectures, from the period 2000 to 2015.
If ever a scholar merited the honor of such a series it is Marchand. A colossus [End Page 200] of Lord Byron studies, his biographies—the first published as far back as 1957—and meticulous editions of the letters and journals remain touchstones for all Byron scholars, usually the first point of reference for lecturers advising students about research projects on Byron or needing to double-check a detail of the poet's life. John R. Murray VII, delivering the third memorial lecture in 2002, tells us that Marchand believed his biography would last about twenty years before being supplanted, but it feels no less relevant now than when I first read it as a Masters student in 1998. That is despite the subsequent appearance of much extra information about Byron through other biographies, recovered letters from and to Byron, and the work of such diligent scholars as Andrew Nicholson. Even in 2019, it still feels best to start with Marchand. That is partly because he was so reliable and unobtrusive as a biographer and editor: that Byron ought to "speak for himself" was his firmly held view, which he reiterated in his keynote address to the 1988 Bicentennial Conference "Byronic Attitudes." But it is also because, as Jerome J. McGann rightly puts it, Marchand's editions created "a new set of conditions" which enabled so much of the historically informed, close textual engagement that has now become the norm in Byron studies (p. 2).
Each of the lectures contained in this volume pays tribute, whether directly or indirectly, to these aspects of Marchand's critical legacy; to his endeavors, which meant that Byron moved from the margins to the center of our critical conversations about Romanticism in the late twentieth century. The topics are diverse, which is to be expected given that those who have delivered these lectures include literary critics, literary historians, a professor of psychiatry, a publisher, and a playwright. So too are the styles of these lectures, which range from quite conventional academic approaches that develop arguments about Byron's verse to more freewheeling, personal responses to Byron, punctuated with recollections of Marchand. Of the more formal contributions we can group together the lectures by Kay Redfield Jamison, who reviews the evidence for considering Byron a manic-depressive, including the mental disturbances discernible in his paternal and maternal family lines, Peter W. Graham's close analysis of the ghost in the final cantos of Don Juan (1819–24), and Charles E. Robinson's study of Byron's influence on William Hazlitt. With his usual historical scrupulousness, Malcolm Kelsall ponders what Byron really meant when announcing "I would have made an English Lord Edward Fitzgerald," arguing that, like Fitzgerald, Byron held to an aristocratic and classic ideal that meant he was divided from those he claimed to represent (qtd. in Kernberger, p. 92). Likewise, John Clubbe showcases his extensive knowledge of the links between Byron, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Of the less formal contributions, Carl Woodring gives a heartfelt tribute to his great friend Marchand before considering how two Dons—Juan and Quixote—might be linked, while John Murray Septimus is engaging in recounting his memories of the "Byron pilgrimage" (p. 58) shared by his father, John "Jock" Murray, and Marchand when publishing the letters and journals. The [End Page 201] most impressionistic and personal lecture is that of the late dramatist Romulus Linney, who uses Byron as a stepping stone for reflecting on his own divorce and reasons for writing his play Childe Byron (1977).
As is perhaps appropriate, four prominent editors...