The Late Lord Byron: Posthumous Dramas

By Doris Langley Moore | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE BLACKMAIL CANARD

The writing of begging letters was one of the gainful occupations of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Mendicity Society had a special department with long lists of persons who subsisted entirely on the proceeds of addressing tales of want and woe to skilfully selected recipients. Dickens who, as a national celebrity, was besieged by all kinds of impostors, made begging-letter writers the subject of one of his essays, entering with his customary zest into the details of their methods. One of these was to make sure of enclosing something -- 'verses, letters, pawnbrokers' duplicates, anything to necessitate an answer'.

Hobhouse, as a Member of Parliament of known humanitarian principles, received numbers of such approaches, but, unlike Byron (who had to live up to the reputation of giving a nobleman's largesse), he was generally unresponsive. The enclosure of verses was frequent, but left him unmoved; and he was cautious too of tributes to the memory of his famous friend. In consequence of this hard-heartedness he received, on February 3rd, 1826, one of the many irritating communications that postmen and messengers had been in the habit of bringing him ever since Byron's death:

Sir,

It is now upwards of a month since I addressed a packet for your perusal -- containing a copy of my last published Poem -- The Destroying Angel -- and a manuscript tribute to the memory of Lord Byron -- accompanied by a statement of my situation and an appeal to your generous sympathy. I also mentioned having in my possession extracts from the confessions of a Lady of Rank relative to Lord Byron -- which certainly do not set his private life in a very amiable point of view -- and which I could dispose of to almost any publisher to advantage -- did not my veneration for the departed Bard resist the suggestion of Calamity -- at least until I have exhausted every other means of alleviating my distress. I am at this moment Sir, labouring under every privation concomitant to unfriended talent -- destitute of a meal -- a fire -- of everything! with an aged parent dependent on my exertions -- and the companion of my sufferings --

If you have done me the honour of reading the contents of my packet -- I trust you will consider me deserving of a better fate -- and I appeal to your enlightened and powerful intellect as well as to your humanity -- a very trifle would save me from perishing -- and for that I am ready to give up those papers-being now the only copies in my possession -- which I must otherwise be compelled to give up to some unfeeling and mercenary bookseller.

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