When I first heard word a salacious and insultorious epistolary set inked by one of the Romantic poets, George Gordon Lord Byron (1788-1824), had resurfaced and found its way into the loving hands of the London Sotheby branch's esteemed "English Literature and History, Manuscripts and Archives" Man-in-a-Million, Dr. Gabriel Heaton, Deputy Director, I almost ran my sleek black Jaguarimaginarium off the CyberHighway screaming across the pond at breakneck warp-speed to get the goods on one of *the* greats.
Gabe -- he lets me call him that, just 'cause I think he covets the Jag; or, mebbe 'cause I know a Cambridge Genius when I crash into one on the merry-go-roundabout gridsway, eh? -- glad to cyber-see me, immediately explained the Byron letters "will be included in the sale of Books and Manuscripts from the English Library of the 5th Earl of Rosebery on 29 October . . . I think it is probably best if I send you the full catalogue description of the letters. This will be available online on Sotheby's in a few days, as will some images of the letters."
Oh, Lard. There IS a Gabe. (I bequeath him the Jag.)
Natch, I agreedily devoured the contents of said description ipso-quicko:
LOT 19: BYRON, GEORGE GORDON, LORD. A HIGHLY IMPORTANT SERIES OF AUTOGRAPH LETTERS TO HIS CLOSE FRIEND FRANCIS HODGSON.
"The two men met at Cambridge," explains Dr. Heaton. "Francis Hodgson (1781-1852) was a fellow at King's when Byron was up at Trinity -- where literary interests brought them together in 1807: Byron was impressed in particular by Hodgson's translation of Juvenal and the two men were soon fast friends. By the time of their earliest correspondence (two of these letters date from late 1808), their relationship was firmly established. Byron opens his first letter with the obsequies for his favourite dog ('. . . Boatswain is to be buried in a vault waiting for myself, I have also written an epitaph . . .'), before turning to literary subjects, mutual friends and his wish for Hodgson to visit him at Newstead Abbey."
"Keats? Does he mention Keats?" (I know he mentions Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge and, arguably, the era's greatest, Keats, in his Don Juan "Dedication" to occasionally humourously wickedly vituperative effect. Something about Wordsworth's Prelude amounting to nothing more than a Tower of Babel, e.g. Also, a wee jab in the direction of "Bob" Southey, among several other deliciously, dastardly and downright nasty snarks and snide-swipes. (Pas de sweat. If Byron wanted to stick a pin in your déjà-voodoo doll for all eternity, I bet you'd raise the stakes and flaunt your finest frock for the occasion, too. After all, Saint Marshall-of-the-Info-Median did opine something along the paraphrastic lines that your enemies equal your best promoters. It's better than being banned in Boston, Pal :).)
Anyhoo . . . The final letters date from several years after Byron quit England. In December 1820 Byron wrote to renew their correspondence after five years. He paints a lively picture of life in Ravenna and the lives of mutual friends; but, knowing the letter will be opened by the Austrian authorities, is somewhat evasive about his involvement in revolutionary politics (". . . what I have been doing would but little interest you, as it regards another country -- and another people . . .") and signs with a deliberately illegible squiggle. His final letter is somewhat more open about his political engagements, but these last letters are particularly engaged with literary affairs. . . .
Ah, finally. The best kinds of affairs, at least as far as one of all my all-time favourite director's concerned. Jane Campion. Think Keats might rank right up there for her, too. Just have a peek-a-booski at what Rick Groen gracefully writes about her latest, Bright Star. The thing about Groen's review? He not only talks restraint, he also practises it in this cut-above 'view, too. 'Tis true. Just FYI. But, back to the main attraction . . .
He writes angrily about the denigration of [Alexander]Pope (". . . It is my intention to take up the Cudgels in that controversy -- and to do my best to keep the Swan of Thames in his true [place] -- This comes of Southey and Turdsworth [and]such renegado rascals . . ."), refers to Beppo and Marino Faliero, discusses the various translations of his own work and criticises Hodgson's concept of a tragic hero as being necessarily a good man.
"Turdsworth? Whoa . . . What a GR/OUCH! Did the pretty handsome man, by any chance, also rename his astonishing masterpiece The Preloo, perchance?"
Gabe continues (delicately side-stepping *that* Q), cutting to the chase concerning the 1811 autumn Byron spent at Newstead Abbey polishing and annotating his "Quarto" (which, of course, became Childe Harold, the work transforming the easily incorriged rapscallion into perhaps the first modern overnight-sensation celebratty for blather or worse): "'I am plucking up my spirits, & have begun to gather my little sensual comforts together, Lucy is extracted from Warwickshire, some very bad faces have been warned off the premises, & more promising substituted in their stead, the partridges are plentiful, hares finishes, pheasants not quite so good, & the girls on the manor just coming into season' . . ."
The reason for his up-plucked spirits? Susan Vaughan, the lubriciously delish lovely he chose over all others, the one most likely to fashion a fairly decent déjà-voodoo tale following the pair's concupiscently libinous escapades:
The affair did not last long, however, and in two largely unpublished letters that reveal the callous side of his character, Byron provided Hodgson with a detailed account of its conclusion -- another servant revealed a letter showing Vaughan's affection for another man and she was summarily dismissed -- and its aftermath (". . . she descended from her apartment 'fierce as ten furies' attacked R. till he was covered with blood, tried to throw herself into one of the filthy pieces of water in & about the premises, & when the letters came away, was still threatening perdition, 'thunder, horror guts & death' . . . I presume she will rave herself quiet") . . . She may have lost her livelihood and reputation, but Byron nonetheless cast himself as the victim of the affair, sighing to Hodgson that "I can't blame the girl, but my own vanity in believing that 'such a thing as I am' could be loved."
Poor hurt-broken Byron, the poet who "clearly enjoyed writing slightly outrageous things to a clergyman," things where "you do also get a very strong sense of the depth of friendship they had. There's a real intimacy."
Dr. Heaton -- That Two-Timer! -- additionally told The Guardian "the letters are the most significant of Byron's private writings to come to the fore in three decades. They were bought by former British Prime Minister Archibald Primrose in 1885 and have remained in the family since. They have been known as the Rosebery Letters."
Swoon . . . Sigh . . . Sing a lyrical-tune lie . . . Among the remaining 15% of the unpublished and unstudied missives, there's talk of vices such as religion, "lies and sodomy" harboured by the Portuguese, the "mad, bad and dangerous" Lady Caroline Lamb and Ali Pasha, the Albanian ruler the not-quite-lovable-nor-beautiful-poet-non-pareil considered "a fine portly person with two hundred women and as many boys, many of the last I saw and very pretty creatures they were."
Still, IMO, the bitchiest barb launched in this near-priceless chip-off-the-ol'-auction-block collection? The way the guy utterly dismisses his co-immortals: "Southey and Turdsworth such renegado rascals."
Not to put too fine a point on it; but, see, Paul I? You're in fab company. Now, I shall take my doll and [further]rave myself quiet in the posh-nosh mosh pit. Dr. Heaton? The keys are under the thunder :). Thank you, Good Sir.
p.s. For those rolling in high dough needing to know, a full description of the dozen-plus artefacts will appear online . . . soon (but, you, Dear Readers, heard it here in IOW first, natch)Report Typo/Error