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 It includes a considerable number of hitherto unpublished letters and the complete text of many that were bowdlerized by former editors for a variety of reasons.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.
Byron’s brilliant epistolary saga approaches its end in this last full volume of his letters, from early October 1822 to his fateful departure for Greece in July 1823. During these months he was living in Genoa, with Teresa and her father and brother occupying an apartment in his house. Mary Shelley was staying with the Hunts in a house some distance away.
Byron enlarged his circle of English acquaintances, but his liveliest correspondence was still with John Murray, Kinnaird, Hobhouse, and Moore. Of special interest are his frank letters, half flirtatious, to Lady Hardy, those to Trelawny and Mary Shelley, and a growing number to Leigh Hunt and his brother John (publisher of The Liberal and of Byron’s poems after his break with Murray), discussing inter alia his thoughts about the continuation of Don Juan.
There is irony in Byron’s advice for a reconciliation between Webster and his wife Frances, whose matrimonial virtue Byron was proud to have spared in England. And there is pathos in his letters to his half-sister urging her and her children to join him in Italy, unaware that his missives to Augusta and her replies were scrutinized by Lady Byron. From April on, the letters are full of concern for support of the Greek forces and preparations for his departure.