George Gordon Byron was a superb letter-writer: almost all his letters, whatever the subject or whoever the recipient, are enlivened by his wit, his irony, his honesty, and the sharpness of his observation of people. They provide a vivid self-portrait of the man who, of all his contemporaries, seems to express attitudes and feelings most in tune with the twentieth century. In addition, they offer a mirror of his own time. This first collected edition of all Byron’s known letters supersedes Prothero’s incomplete edition at the turn of the century. It includes a considerable number of hitherto unpublished letters and the complete text of many that were bowdlerized by former editors for a variety of reasons. Prothero’s edition included 1,198 letters. This edition has more than 3,000, over 80 percent of them transcribed entirely from the original manuscripts.
The third volume starts with Byron at the first crest of his fame following the publication of Childe Harold. It includes his literary letters to Tom Moore, frank and intimate ones to Hobhouse, pungent ones to Hanson and Murray, and his lively and amusing missives to Lady Melbourne, his confidante through all his love affairs. To her he describes the backwash of his tempestuous affair with Caroline Lamb, his emotional crises with Lady Oxford, the beginning of his liaison with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and his flirtation with Lady Frances Webster. The volume contains the letters of 1813 and the journal of 1813–1814, the first of his five incomparable journals.
The letters display, as Martin Fagg puts it, a “bewitching amalgam of the picturesque and the earthy, of arrogance and modesty, of vituperation and tenderness, of soulfulness and sheer irresistible high spirits.” They confirm Max Beerbohm’s opinion, “Byron’s letters are, I think, the best ever written—the fullest and most spontaneous.”