Academic journal article The Byron Journal

The Mysterious Dwyer: An Unpublished Note by Byron

Academic journal article The Byron Journal

The Mysterious Dwyer: An Unpublished Note by Byron

Article excerpt


A note in the Special Collections Department at Iowa University (not included in Marchand's edition of Byron's letters and journals, and here printed for the first time) appears to be by Byron and is in keeping with his hand. However, the note is frustratingly mysterious and includes none of the material indicators that might serve to place it, though the signature 'NB' indicates that, if it is genuinely by Byron, it cannot date from before 14 February 1822. The note announces that 'Dwyer being drunk can't attest', but it is not clear who this Dwyer might have been or on what occasion his evidence might have been required. Perhaps the most likely event is the 'Masi affair' of 24 March 1822, though no Dwyer seems to have been involved, even as eyewitness. Yet the importance of accuracy and honest attestation can be matched to Byron's own concerns in this contentious case, which was widely misreported. The note is addressed to 'H.', who could be Hobhouse or Hodgson, but is perhaps most likely to be Leigh Hunt (as the Library in Iowa has always believed), who seems to fulfil all the requirements.

The following note can be found in the Brewer-Leigh Hunt Collection in the Special Collections Department of the University of Iowa. The note appears to be a hasty one and a few of the details are difficult to decipher, but the general purport is clear:

The text can be rendered as follows:

Dear H. - all true to the letter -

Dwyer being drunk can't attest - I

sent you a letter this morning - which

read - yrs.evr.


This cryptic communication has not been included by Leslie Marchand in his seemingly definitive collection of Byron's letters (nor even in the supplementary volume that followed in 1994). Perhaps this is partly because this note does not feature in a Byron-related library collection and is likely instead to be approached by way of Leigh Hunt. Yet (unless we are dealing with a remarkable forgery) the hand appears to be that of Byron. The note itself is relatively brief yet of considerable, though teasing, interest. Frustratingly, it is devoid of those details that might afford an editor, or a curious reader, the necessary purchase for interpretation. There is no date, no epistolary address, no envelope, no postmark and no watermark (an absence recently confirmed by a careful search in the Special Collections Department at Iowa). The note seems to have been written on a piece of paper torn from a larger page or sheet, which deprives it of any of the normal clues. The lack of these identifying details would, of course, allow for a forgery, though this possibility seems to be negated by the brevity of the message, its relation to another manuscript that is not extant or remains to be discovered and its unalluring obliquity. The absence of all the expected indicators makes it impossible to determine from material evidence (rather than from internal clues) whether the message was written in Italy, or in England, or even elsewhere during Byron's travels.

Only one piece of internal evidence offers a clue; this detail is highly specific and points to Italy (or just possibly Greece) as the place of composition. The concluding signature 'NB' was not used by Byron until the death of his mother-in-law Lady Noel, news of which did not reach him in Pisa till 14 February 1822. To signal his new status, Byron changed his signature to 'Noel Byron' or 'NB', allowing him to take advantage of a legal formality that conveniently made him coincident with Napoleon Bonaparte - as he told Leigh Hunt: 'Bonaparte and I are the only public persons whose initials are the same'.2 The first extant letter that features this new signature is dated 17 February.3 These facts indicate that Byron's note dates from not earlier than 14 February 1822 from Italy (or, conceivably, from Greece), but to whom, and where, and concerning what, still remains problematic.

From the contents it can be deduced that this brief note followed a longer communication (which may not have been written by Byron himself but forwarded, for information). …

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