The Rosebery letters

LPC en la biblioteca | Noviembre 02, 2009

lord-byron.JPGEs la colección de cartas de Lord Byron -71 cartas por las dos caras- que un primer ministro británico, Conde de Rosebery, compró y mantuvo en la familia desde 1885. Dicen que contiene material desconocido, un 15% de cartas nunca vistas ni reporducidas, y se las ha llevado el clásico comprador misterioso por casi 300.000 euritos. Siendo el primer material byroniano de los últimos 30 años, Sotheby's ha tenido la gentileza de adelantar algunos parrafitos sabrosones, en los que Byron se despacha lindamente contra los poetas de los lagos, acusa a los portugueses de criar piojos y sodomitas y describe largamente su última ruptura sentimental con Susan Vaughan, una sirvienta que acaba abandonada -y despedida- porque hacía dobletes con otro caballero.

Son cartas a su mejor amigo desde la universidad, más tarde Rev. Canon Hodgson. Las primeras cartas corresponden a su huída de Inglaterra por segunda y última vez y debieron de cogerle calentito, ya que huye de sus deudas, de la ruina y de su mujer, que le quiso declarar loco y después le acusó de maltrato, crueldad, incesto y sodomía. Las últimas, siete años más tarde, hablan de su conspiración para liberar Grecia de los Turcos. Hasta que no se libere ese 15% desconocido, nos tenemos que conformar con lo que sigue.

Byron, Autograph letters to Francis Hodgson, 1808-1821


The Rev. Canon Hodgson, sale in these rooms, 2 March 1885, lots 1, 2, and 4


Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols (London, 1973-94)


" Modesty would naturally look at least bashfully at being termed the 'first of living minstrels' (by a brother of the art) if both our estimates of 'living minstrels' in general did not lessen the praise to a sober compliment..."

Byron's letters to a close friend and "brother minstrel". The two men met at Cambridge - Francis Hodgson (1781-1852), was a fellow at King's when Byron was up at Trinity - where literary interests brought them together in 1807: Byron was impressed in particular by Hodgson's translation of Juvenal and the two men were soon fast friends. By the time of their earliest correspondence (two of these letters date from late 1808), their relationship was firmly established. Byron opens his first letter with the obsequies for his favourite dog ("...Boatswain is to be buried in a vault waiting for myself, I have also written an epitaph..."), before turning to literary subjects, mutual friends, and his wish for Hodgson to visit him at Newstead Abbey.

Three letters (16 July 1809-4 July 1810) in the series date from Byron's grand tour. He writes happily from Portugal ("...the inhabitants have few vices except Lice and sodomy..."), where he has been conversing with monks in bad Latin and refining his knowledge of Portuguese obscenities. His pleasure and excitement at travel ("...anything is better than England...") continue to be vividly displayed in letters from Constantinople. "I shall begin by telling you", he opens one letter, "that I swam from Sestos to Abydos, I do this that you may be impressed with proper respect for me the performer, for I plume myself on this atchievement". This letter goes on to describe Ali Pasha, a man who was to fire Byron's imagination and "a fine portly person with two hundred women and as many boys, many of the last I saw and very pretty creatures they were".

No less than ten of the letters date from a relatively short period from September 1811 to February 1812, following Byron's return to England and the death of his mother, and preceding the publication of Childe Harold. By this time the conventionally pious Hodgson had determined to take Holy Orders and, concerned for his friend's soul, he began an earnest campaign to convert Byron to religious orthodoxy. This elicited detailed replies from Byron which introduced a new seriousness to his letters. When Hodgson recommended the reading of various Christian apologia, Byron countered by suggesting a perusal of Malthus. He also offered trenchant criticism of Christianity:

"...the Basis of your religion is injustice, the Son of God the pure, the immaculate, the innocent is sacrificed for the Guilty, this proves his heroism, but no more does away Man's guilt, than a schoolboy's volunteering to be flogged for another would exculpate the dunce from negligence, or preserve him from the Rod..."

Byron was at Newstead Abbey in the autumn of 1811 "writing notes for my Quarto" [i.e. Childe Harold] and providing memorable praise of local pleasures:

"...I am plucking up my spirits, & have begun to gather my little sensual comforts together, Lucy is extracted from Warwickshire, some very bad faces have been warned off the premises, & more promising substituted in their stead, the partridges are plentiful, hares finishes, pheasants not quite so good, & the girls on the manor just coming into season..."

One of these "more promising" faces was Susan Vaughan, whom Byron soon took his lover. The affair did not last long, however, and in two largely unpublished letters that reveal the callous side of his character Byron provided Hodgson with a detailed account of its conclusion – another servant revealed a letter showing Vaughan's affection for another man and she was summarily dismissed – and its aftermath ("...she descended from her apartment 'fierce as ten furies' attacked R. till he was covered with blood, tried to throw herself into one of the filthy pieces of water in & about the premises, & when the letters came away, was still threatening perdition, 'thunder, horror guts & death'... I presume she will rave herself quiet...") She may have lost her livelihood and reputation, but Byron nonetheless cast himself as the victim of the affair, sighing to Hodgson that "I can't blame the girl, but my own vanity in believing that 'such a thing as I am' could be loved." His melancholy thoughts turned to memories of John Edleston, who had died in 1811 ("...I believe the only human being that ever loved me in truth & entirely, was of or belonging to Cambridge, & in that no change can ever take place...")

1811-12 was a highly productive time for Byron's poetry, and these letters include quotations from 'Minerva's Curse' and requests for help with Greek, then, on 16 February 1812, Byron sent his friend a proof copy of Childe Harold. Other subjects in these letters from this period include Byron's somewhat reluctant involvement in Hodgson's love-life (he was enamoured of the same woman as Robert Bland, a mutual friend and another Anglican minister), Byron's desire to leave England, Thomas Moore, literary feuds, and his speeches in the Lords.

Byron's letters became more sporadic after he woke up famous following the publication of Childe Harold, but he provided crucial financial help to Hodgson during his last years in England and continued to write to him with literary and personal news. In January 1813 he refers wearily to the wrath of Lady Caroline Lamb ("...The 'Agnus' is furious you can have no idea of the horrible & absurd things she has said & done since (really from the best motives) I withdrew my homage...") and an undated and unpublished fragment refers elliptically to another lover, perhaps Lady Oxford ("...I am still in 'palatia Circe's' I being no Ulysses cannot tell into what animal I may be converted, as you are aware of the turn of both parties your conjectures will be very correct I dare say - & seriously - I am very much attached...")

The final letters date from several years after Byron quit England. In December 1820 Byron wrote to renew their correspondence after five years. He paints a lively picture of life in Ravenna and the lives of mutual friends but, knowing the letter will be opened by the Austrian authorities, is somewhat evasive about his involvement in revolutionary politics ("...what I have been doing would but little interest you, as it regards another country - and another people...") and signs with a deliberately illegible squiggle. His final letter is somewhat more open about his political engagements, but these last letters are particularly engaged with literary affairs. He writes angrily about the denigration of Pope ("...It is my intention to take up the Cudgels in that controversy - and to do my best to keep the Swan of Thames in his true [place]. - This comes of Southey and Turdsworth [and] such renegado rascals..."), refers to Beppo and Marino Faliero, discusses the various translations of his own work, and criticises Hodgson's concept of a tragic hero as being necessarily a good man.

Many of Hodgson's letters from Byron were published during the nineteenth century in such works as Thomas Moore's Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (1830) and Hodgson's own posthumous Memoirs (1878), but in expurgated form (some of these letters have Hodgson's notes to Moore on passages to be omitted). however, these letters have not been consulted by scholars since the 1880s and approximately 15 percent of the content - including many of the more controversial passages - apparently remains unpublished. The current collection comprises somewhat under half of the known letters by Byron to Hodgson (50 are listed in Byron's Letters and Journals). The remaining correspondence is widely dispersed, and includes items closely related to the current collection: a poem ('To Mrs M.C.') that accompanied his letter of 27 November 1808 is now in the Harry S. Dickey Collection at Johns Hopkins University Library; the address leaf missing from the letter of 28 January 1812 was in the Edgcumbe collection (Phillips, 10 June 1993, lot 404); and included in this lot is a transcript of a letter of 6 June 1813 with a note that the original had been given by Elizabeth Hodgson "Mr Coleridge" - it was more recently found in the Schram collection (Christie's, 3 July 2007, lot 27).



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