The Late Lord Byron: Posthumous Dramas

By Doris Langley Moore | Go to book overview

APPENDIX 1
The nature of the Memoirs

The Memoirs written by Byron between 1818 and 1821 formed a substantial though uncompleted book. They were produced in three batches, and consisted of over four hundred pages (a hundred sheets) of folio paper -- some of it, according to his own description, very long and large. If it was the same as he used for certain compositions at this time, each page would probably have contained not less than three hundred words.

The theory that Byron's friends and family were bent on the concealment of some evil secret, which they supposed he had given away, will not hold water for a moment when confronted with the facts. No one knew better than Hobhouse and Augusta Leigh that, so far from being secret, the bulk of the Memoirs had, with Byron's full sanction, been circulated freely. Augusta wrote to Lady Byron in shocked terms to say that Hobhouse had told her so,1 and Hobhouse himself recorded:

Lord Byron gave to Mr Moore the permission to show the manuscript to the 'Elect'. Whom his Lordship meant to designate by that epithet it is not very easy to divine; but on the strength of his permission, Mr Moore showed the Memoirs to many persons. . . .2

He showed them indeed to so many persons that, on May 7th, 1820, he noted in his journal:

Williams . . . has begun copying out Lord B's 'Memoirs' for me, as I fear the original papers may become worn out by passing through so many hands.

These numerous readers, who took no vow of silence, included Lady Burghersh, Lady Davy, Lord and Lady Holland, Richard Hoppner, Washington Irving, Lady Jersey, Lord Kinnaird and his brother Douglas Kinnaird, Henry Luttrell, Lady Mildmay, Lord Rancliffe, Lord John Russell, besides the friend, Dr Williams, who copied the first part, and another voluntary copyist, Dumoulin, as well as a professional one who finished the task after Dumoulin's untimely death.3 John Murray showed the script to his literary adviser, William Gifford, to William Maginn, and to Lady Caroline Lamb, who alludes to it scathingly in her littleknown novel Ada Reis. Byron himself lent it to Mary Shelley, and presumably Shelley too was one of the readers. Possibly Samuel Rogers was also among the privileged.

____________________
1
Undated letter, early 1820. Lovelace Papers.
2
Hobhouse, Narrative.
3
The three men were employed successively on one copy, and there is unhappily no warrant for the idea that several were made. Lady Burghersh was asked to destroy the copy she admitted to having taken, and there is only too much reason to believe she did so.

-46-

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