Today in London, a collection of letters from British poet Lord George Byron sold at auction for $459,110.67, exceeding the highest pre-sale estimates by more than $160,000 and selling for more than any other letters or manuscript by a British Romantic poet. Although the letters were written to a clergyman, they were — in keeping with Lord Byron’s reputation — somewhat scandalous.
In the letters — more than 71 handwritten pages — Byron mocks fellow Romantic poet Wordsworth, a rival, calling him “Turdsworth” and, according to the Guardian, pens “details of a squalid affair with a serving girl, fruity remarks about foreigners and literary vitriol.”
Sotheby’s specialist Gabriel Heaton told the Guardian, “Byron clearly enjoyed writing slightly outrageous things to a clergyman, but you do also get a very strong sense of the depth of friendship they had. There’s a real intimacy.”
Born poor and with a club foot in 1788, Byron grew up to be legendary lover of both women and men, to inherit a Lordship and then overspend his wealth. And, also, to write “Don Juan” and “She Walks in Beauty.” The Poetry Foundation gushes:
He created an immensely popular Romantic hero—defiant, melancholy, haunted by secret guilt—for which, to many, he seemed the model. He is also a Romantic paradox: a leader of the era’s poetic revolution, he named Alexander Pope as his master; a worshiper of the ideal, he never lost touch with reality; a deist and freethinker, he retained from his youth a Calvinist sense of original sin; a peer of the realm, he championed liberty in his works and deeds, giving money, time, energy, and finally his life to the Greek war of independence…. In his dynamism, sexuality, self-revelation, and demands for freedom for oppressed people everywhere, Byron captivated the Western mind and heart as few writers have, stamping upon nineteenth-century letters, arts, politics, even clothing styles, his image and name as the embodiment of Romanticism.
Lord Byron remains one of the most dynamically faceted and colorful figures in English letters, one who has been studied up and down. About 15% of the letters have never been published, and remain unstudied. No doubt scholars would love to get their hands on this set of letters, which has been owned by a single family since 1855 — but so far, the buyer’s name remains under wraps.
– Carolyn Kellogg
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