Byron's Letters and Journals
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 It includes a considerable number of hitherto unpublished letters and the complete text of many that were bowdlerized by former editors for a variety of reasons.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.
Below is a list of in-print works in this collection, presented in series order or publication order as applicable.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume I: ‘In my hot youth’, 1798–1810
The first volume of Byron’s letters and journals covers his early years and includes his first pilgrimage to Greece and to the East, ending with his last letter from Constantinople on July 4, 1810, before his departure for Athens. Here is the direct record of his rapid development from the serious schoolboy to the facetious youth with ambivalent reactions to his perplexed mother, and the maturing man of extraordinary perceptions and sympathies and friendships.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume II: 'Famous in my time', 1810-1812
The second volume of Byron’s letters embraces his second year in Greece, his revealing accounts to Hobhouse and others of his life in Athens, his visit to Veli Pasha, and his return by Malta to England. It covers the period of the loss of his mother and of several of his closest friends, of his first acquaintance with Moore and Rogers, his maiden speech in the House of Lords, the publication of Childe Harold, and the resulting fame that brought him into Whig society. It marks the beginning of his correspondence with Lady Melbourne, who became the confidante of his liaisons with Lady Caroline Lamb and Lady Oxford, and who forwarded his first (rejected) proposal to Annabella Milbanke.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume III: 'Alas! the love of women', 1813-1814
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.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume IV: 'Wedlock's the devil', 1814-1815
In this volume Byron corresponds with writers such as Thomas Moore, Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, and “Monk” Lewis; with John Murray about the publication of The Corsair, Lara, and The Hebrew Melodies; and with many personal friends. A new interest is his association with the Drury Lane Theater. The crucial events of his private life at this time are his engagement to Anabella Milbanke and their marriage early in 1815—a marriage that was to last little more than a year. Especially revelatory are his letters to his fiancée and those to his long-time confidante, Lady Melbourne.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume V: 'So late into the night', 1816-1817
In the fifth installment of this marvelous serial story, we read about Byron’s separation from his wife. Besides his pleading letters to Annabella asking her to reconsider, there are level-headed letters to Murray and Hobhouse and Hunt and Rogers—all written during the tempestuous time before his final departure from England. The very best letters here are the ones from Italy; freed from the inhibitions of English society, Byron’s spirit seems to expand and his letters reflect the joie de vivre that, despite his melancholy, was an inherent part of his character.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume VI: 'The flesh is frail', 1818-1819
Byron’s epistolary saga continues con brio in this volume. At the start of 1818 he sends off the last canto of Childe Harold and abandons himself to the debaucheries of the Carnival in Venice. At the close of 1819 he resolves to return to England but instead follows Teresa Guiccioli to Ravenna. In the meantime he writes three long poems and two cantos of Don Juan, whose bowdlerization he violently protests; he breaks off with Marianna Segati, copes with his amorous “tigress” Margarita Cogni, then falls passionately in love with the young Countess Guiccioli; he thinks seriously of emigrating to South America; he takes custody of his little daughter Allegra and becomes increasingly fond of the child. The Shelleys visit him, as does Thomas Moore, to whom he entrusts his memoirs (burned after his death).
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume VII: 'Between two worlds', 1820
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume VIII: 'Born for opposition', 1821
Volume VIII opens with Byron in Ravenna, in 1821. His passion for the Countess Guiccioli is subsiding into playful fondness, and he confesses to his sister Augusta that he is not “so furiously in love as at first.” Italy, meanwhile, is afire with the revolutionary activities of the Carbornari, which Byron sees as “the very poetry of politics.” His journal, written while the insurrection grew, is a remarkable record of his reading and reflections while awaiting the sounds of gunfire.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume IX: 'In the wind's eye', 1821-1822
The ninth volume in Leslie Marchand’s highly acclaimed, unexpurgated edition of Byron’s letters finds the poet in Pisa with Teresa Guiccioli. His unique journal, “Detached Thoughts,” is finished shortly after his arrival in November 1821, and he is drawn into Shelley’s circle (including Edward Williams, Thomas Medwin, John Taaffe, and later Trelawny). Another tragedy, the death of his daughter Allegra, leaves him deeply affected, and he refers to it time and time again. Money problems continue to plague him, as do suspicions surrounding his political activities. Following a fracas with a half-drunken dragoon, Byron is forced to leave Pisa and install himself and Teresa in a villa near Leghorn. His correspondence with his publisher reveals increasing displeasure with Murray’s delays, indecision, and anxiety over Don Juan, but his output of verse is in no way lessened; by the end of this volume in 1822, he has finished six more cantos for Don Juan as well as other poems.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume X: 'A heart for every fate', 1822-1823
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. From April on, the letters are full of concern for support of the Greek forces and preparations for his departure.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume XI: 'For freedom's battle', 1823-1824
Volume XI contains the letters Byron wrote from Greece between August 1823 and April 9, 1824, ten days before his death. Also included are over fifty letters dating from 1807 to 1820 that have come to light since Leslie A. Marchand began this project ten years ago. In the letters from Greece a new set of correspondents appears, and a new tone is apparent. Although occasionally playful, Byron is preoccupied with the revolution and his efforts to unite the Greeks in a common cause despite their discord.
Byron's Letters and Journals, Volume XII: 'The trouble of an index', index
The final volume of this splendid edition contains a comprehensive index to the contents of the preceding volumes—the several thousand letters, the journals, the notes and biographical sketches. The index is prefaced by a generous selection of Byron’s aphorisms, bons mots, and memorable statements, culled by Leslie A. Marchand from the letters and journals and arranged under subject headings.