A Very Personal, SELECTIVE
- Brent, Peter. Lord Byron. Weidenfeld
and Nicolson, London:1974
This is a superficial book, but a valuable source of images of
Byron, his family, friends and enemies and of many of the places
where he lived, loved, adventured and wrote.
- Burnett, T. A. J. The Rise and Fall of a Regency
Dandy : the life and times of Scrope Berdmore Davies.
J. Murray, London:1981
Scrope Davies, Charles Matthews and John Cam Hobhouse were Byron's
closest college friends. They took part in the wild house party
that had established Byron's reputation as a living embodim ent
of the Gothic ideal - a young and handsome Lord living in a decaying
Abbey who drank copiously from a silver cup made from the skull
of a dead monk followed by sexual orgies with an in-house set
of sex-slave servants. They had dressed up as monks for these
festivities. This behaviour was patterned on the reputation of
the infamous Hell Fire Club of fifty years before. It was a sort
of elaborate Halloween party.
Scrope was a professional gambler, but ultimately he lost everything
and escaped jail by moving to Belgium. Before leaving he left
a trunk full of papers, many of which were from or about Byron,
with their mutual friend Douglas Kinnaird, a banker. The trunk
was found in the bank's vaults in the 1970's and opened to great
excitement. It contained, among other things, original manuscripts
of Byron's and Shelley's that Scrope had brought back from Switzerland
His name is pronounced in a way to make sense of a joke of Byron's
that he should marry and raise some scruples.
He was a good friend of Beau Brummell, and the other Dandies.
He and Byron often ate together at a famous Dandy club, the Cocoa
This book has some great cartoons about Byron that came out in
the British press at the time of the discovery of the trunk.
- Elwin, Malcolm. Lord Byron's Wife.
Harcourt, Brace & World, New York: 1962
(read this to get a better understanding of what went
so horribly wrong)
Elwin's book is a scholarly examination of documents known as
the Wentworth Papers held by Lord Byron's family until the 1990's,
which are the journals and personal correspondence that Lady Byron
kept before, during and after her short and tortured marriage
to the poet. For the forty years that remained of her life she
obsessively continued to write explanations and increasingly inaccurate
self-absorbed and self-absolving recollections of her actions
and motivations during their relationship. She is the source of
the much of the evidence of Byron's incestuous love affair with
his half sister, Augusta Byron Leigh.
Malcolm Elwin had considerable difficulty retaining an academic
distance from this material and his distaste for Annabella Milbanke
Byron's manipulations of her facts and her family come through
[Family trees of the Noels (Wentworth-Milbanke); Milbanke-Melbourne;
- Foot, Michael. The Politics of Paradise: A vindication
of Byron. Harper and Row, New York: 1988
This is a peculiar book which begins with discussion of the relationship
between Byron and William Hazlitt, two men who never met. Foot
is an eminent British politician, Labour member for Blaenau Gwent
from "time immemorial", as the Welsh would say. He discusses
Byron's passionate liberalism which is illogical, to say the least,
for a nobleman of the highest status. It was, of course, fashionable
to be Whig if young and literary in 1808, but Byron's hatred of
"tyranny" (at the core of his being) was far more than
a fashionable pose. He must have learned it "at his mother's
knee", as his father's family were traditionally Royalists
and too self-involved and foolish to have much care for or interest
in social justice.
- Graham, Peter W. Byron's Bulldog.
Ohio State University: 1988
It is very helpful to be able to read the other side of Byron's
conversations on paper. This book has many of the letters sent
to Byron by John Cam Hobhouse, from the first in about 1808 (which
is friendly, but formal) to the last, sent in March 1824, which
Byron probably never read because he died in mid April. The chronicle
of an exceptional friendship.
- Grosskurth, Phyllis. Byron, the Flawed Angel.
Hodder and Staughton, London: 1997
(avoid this book)
The best written(and most accurate) part of this book is the
blurb on the inner fold of the dust jacket - a nice, neat biography.
The book itself is riddled with inaccuracies, has laughably poor
illustrations (which make Lady Byron look like a moron and Percy
Shelley like a ghoul) and tries to make a sad and foolish figure
of a fascinating character of literary history whose life was
theatrically tragic. I believe this is the outcome of accepting
as valid sources the writings of friends, foes and family members
of Byron who made a cottage industry in the late 19th and early
20th centuries out of mean and gossip laden, self-aggrandizing
books elaborating a sometimes very limited association with the
Byron: the Flawed Angel is, in itself, seriously
flawed - by the writer's avoidance of direct discussion of Byron's
sexuality - his childhood abuse by a nurse, his youthful homosexual
desire and his frenetic "carnal recreation" (to use
his phrase)as an adult. His life, letters, journals and poetry
are a mirror of these sensual, emotional and sexual struggles
which deserve honest and serious study in a popular biography
published in the late 20th Century.
On the dust jacket flap it says:
Nearly forty years have elapsed since the last full-scale
biography of one of the greatest and most entertaining poets
of any age, and a reappraisal (using significant new material)
This is still true.
- Guiccioli, Countess Teresa. My Recollections of
Lord Byron and Those of Eye Witnesses of His Life(translated
from the French "Lord Byron juge par les temions de sa Vie",
by Hubert E.H. Jerningham). Harper Bros, New York: 1869
This book is available in old libraries and through used booksellers
on-line. Be careful!!! as she was about 60 years old by the time
it was written and trying to sanitize Byron's reputation (and
hers as well, of course). By the 1860's the moral climate had
changed dramatically from the more open and morally indulgent
1820's. Interestingly to the scholar, before writing the book,
she had access to Moore's interviews of Byron's friends, was a
friend of Marguerite, Lady Blessington and must have read many
of the letters to Byron that have not yet been published. However,
it is clear that she has significantly altered the tone and implications
of some of those that have been published. Her statements of Byron's
saintly characteristics should be treated with considerable scepticism.
On the other hand, she is evidently still passionately in love
with him forty years after his death and misses him greatly.
- Lamb, Lady Caroline. Glenarvon. Ed.
Frances Wilson. London: Dent, 1995
This is a recent republishing of the book that Byron said, if
it pretended to be a portrait of him, could not be a very good
likeness as he had not sat long enough for it. He also characterized
it as in poor taste since kiss and tell was rightly condemned
by most women but Caroline had "f**ked and published".
There is a stuffy analysis of Caroline as a feminist literary
heroine expressing forbidden female lust, but I am more intrigued
by the stylishness of her writing - purple prose, but appropriate
in the context. She mixes Byron (Glenarvon)up with Celtic legend,
implausible Gothic plot twists and a recent rebellion in Ireland.
There may be answers to some Byronic puzzles buried here, but
they are completely muddled up with the outright nonsense. He
seems to have realized this but been worried in any case. Caroline
knew far too much about him and was evidently unstable. It was
Caroline who was "bad, mad and dangerous to know" not
Byron. By the way, it was Caroline's friend Lady Morgan who reported
that Caroline had told her that she had written that famous quote
about Byron in her diary. This is far from a reliable source.
- Longford, Elizabeth. Byron. Little,
Brown, Boston: 1976
An active member, as is Michael Foot, of the Byron Society, Elizabeth,
Countess Longford has written many biographies. This book is especially
interesting for its appendix which includes a riveting account
of the opening of Byron's tomb on June 15, 1938 - just to make
sure he was still there. " Lord Byron's body was in an excellent
state of preservation. The hair on his head, body and limbs was
intact, though grey. His sexual organ shewed quite abnormal development."
Unfortunately, no photographs were taken of the corpse.
- Moore, Doris Langley. The Late Lord Byron.
Murray, London 1961
-----. Lord Byron Accounts Rendered.
Murray, London: 1974
(read these first)
Doris Langley Moore is one of the world's greatest literary detectives.
She devoted her life to searching and researching the truth behind
the legends and myths that had grown up around Byron by the middle
of the 20th century. Trust her.
- Nathan, Isaac and Lord Byron. A Selection of Hebrew
Melodies Ancient and Modern. Eds. F. Burwick and
P. Douglas. University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa: 1988
A wonderful facsimile edition of the book of Byron's poems, many
of which were written in the first months of his marriage to Annabella
and presumably under her influence, that were set to music by
Nathan Isaac. "She Walks in Beauty" is here, set to
music. The introduction provides a fascinating view of Byron as
the friend and collaborator of a popular singer and musician and
promoter of "proto-zionism".
- Origo, Iris. The Last Attachment.
Cape and Murray, London: 1949
This is the almost unbearably romantic story of Lord Byron's
relationship with the Countess Teresa Gamba Guiccioli as told
in their letters to one another and from the dedicated research
of another superlative literary detective, Iris Origo, who wrote
in the introduction: "on her deathbed in Italy in 1873, [Teresa]
is said to have expressed to her sister-in-law . . . 'The more
Byron is known, . . . the better he will be loved.'"
The story of Byron and Teresa would be the stuff of legend even
if he had not been the nineteenth-century equivalent of a rock
The introduction of this book is more worth the reading than
many of the full biographies.
[Frontispiece is a lovely drawing of Teresa by John Hayter done
when Byron first fell in love with her]
- Paston, George and Peter Quennell. To Lord Byron.
Scribener's, New York, 1939
This book is almost impossible to find. "George Paston"
is the name assumed in the 1930's by a lady writer, Miss E.M.
Symonds, so that she could publish her research on the erotic
works and life of the infamous Regency poet. Peter Quennell, who
went on to write many more books about Byron, completed it after
The book is a small selection from the collection of amazing
mash letters written to the celebrated, handsome but melancholy
young poet, Lord Byron, by hundreds of Regency groupies who wanted
a chance to ease his pain "up close and personal". The
letters were kept by Byron in tin boxes and ended up at his publisher's
at 50 Albemarle Street. They survived the bombing in the Second
World War and are still there.
The letters are hilarious, touching and tragic. It is important
to remember that they are not fiction - that real people wrote,
cried over and read them. I have a treasured copy.
- Rowse, A.L. The Byrons and Trevanions.
Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London 1978
An interesting book about Lord Byron's ancestors with a special
emphasis on the Cornish family of his grandmother, Sophia Trevanion
[Pictures and descriptions of several Lords Byron, of the poet's
grandparents and of the homes and properties of their families]
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