Magazine article The Spectator

A Doleful Romp

Magazine article The Spectator

A Doleful Romp

Article excerpt

BYRON'S DIARY by Julian Fane The Book Guild, L15.95, pp. 146. ISBN 1857767152

On a Monday morning in May 1824, a group of men gathered in the drawingroom of John Murray's house in Albemarle Street, and watched as two volumes of Byron's memoirs were consigned to the flames. There was not much agreement about the business then and there has been still less since, but whether you regard Murray's sacrifice as criminal barbarism or an act of supreme commercial selflessness there's no denying the opportunities it has thrown up.

It does not actually seem, from the little that is known of the memoirs, that we missed much, but that has never stopped people from filling in the gap. Over the last two centuries there have been any number of Byron fakers and pornographers in prose and verse, but if Julian Fane isn't as racy as some of his predecessors I doubt if anyone else has brought to his Grub Street job such an unnecessarily distinguished pedigree.

The book - wonderfully short - divides into two sections, a slightly self-indulgent 'history' of his memoir full of `old Jock Murray' and various Julian Fanes and the manuscript itself. It is clearly part of the fun of these things to provide your squib with a decent provenance, but while Fane's tale of locked caskets, silver coffee cups and bespoke banks is no creakier than most, it's the lost fragments of diary that the Byron junkie or general reader is going to be waiting for. …

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