The Late Lord Byron: Posthumous Dramas

By Doris Langley Moore | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Many critical enquiries have been devoted to Byron's influence on literature, but no one hitherto has written a book about the aftermath of his life. There are monographs on individuals whose claim to attention is that they were, for a period, his companions, and studies of particular problems and resentments that troubled his survivors; and in 1924 Professor Samuel Chew gave a spacious bird's-eye view of the poet's whole career as it looked to the public both while he lived and afterwards. But it has fallen to my lot to make what seems to be the first fairly detailed survey of the private arena -- in so far as any arena of Byron's was ever private -- after the chief protagonist had departed from it. If I have achieved any success there should emerge a kind of shadowgraph, the portrait of a man as projected by the conduct of his friends, acquaintances, and enemies after his death.

Byron's power to conjure up dramas was not extinguished at Missolonghi. Feuds and frauds, comedies and tragedies, continued to gather about his name throughout the 19th century, and new ones have broken out in the 20th. I have not found it possible to do more than throw a fleeting glance towards the later episodes in the posthumous story: they will make up, if encouragement is not wanting, the contents of a second volume. The present one begins with the letter that brought the news of Byron's death to England, and the fantastic act of destruction with which that news was signalized. It gives a closer view than has yet been attempted of the struggles of biographers against anti-biographers, the tribulations of executors, the tensions between widow and sister, and the effect on the poet's after-fame of the endeavours of all kinds of minor associates to reap profit from what they could tell or invent about him.

One might suppose that Byron would have become by now a figure as clearly defined, as convincingly integrated as -- say -- Samuel Johnson. His life was perhaps more abundantly documented than that of any Englishman who ever lived -- or, at any rate, who ever lived so short a time as thirty-six years. Besides being exceptionally addicted to the keeping of records himself, he fulfilled every possible condition for the encouragement of record-keeping by others. He became an object of general curiosity at twenty-four, and was a noticeable personality at a still earlier age. His talents were set off by great personal fascination. He was a peer in an epoch when the nobility held power and privilege that made rank seem an almost magical dispensation. His fame extended far beyond his own country and was rendered more piquant by scandals.

It was the sort of fame few poets had enjoyed before and none will ever

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