Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In his own words

It is no secret that I've become a fan of Lord Byron since studying his life and works as part of my Open University course. When people are so very famous it is  hard to separate the myth that surrounds them from what they must have really been like. Hyperbole abounds in much that I have read about him, especially the earlier biographies. I've almost finished a modern biography (published in 2002) which I can thoroughly recommend, but there is no doubt that the way to discover the most about him is from a wonderful collection of letters made available by Project Gutenberg.

Here is an extract from one that he wrote to his half-sister (and lover) Augusta Leigh (I've shortened it)

Six Mile Bottom, Newmarket.]

Newstead Abbey, Sept. 9th, 1811.

My Dear Augusta,

I am quite alone and never see strangers without being sick, but I am nevertheless on good terms with my neighbours, for I neither ride or shoot or move over my Garden walls, but I fence and box and swim and run a good deal to keep me in exercise and get me to sleep. Poor Murray is ill again, and one of my Greek servants is ill too, and my valet has got a pestilent cough, so that we are in a peck of troubles; my family Surgeon sent an Emetic this morning for one of them, I did not very well know which, but I swore Somebody should take it, so after a deal of discussion the Greek swallowed it with tears in his eyes, and by the blessing of it, and the Virgin whom he invoked to assist it and him, I suppose he'll be well tomorrow, if not, another shall have the next. So your Spouse likes children, that is lucky as he will have to bring them up; for my part (since I lost my Newfoundland dog,) I like nobody except his successor a Dutch Mastiff and three land Tortoises brought with me from Greece.

I thank you for your letters and am always glad to hear from you, but if you won't come here before Xmas, I very much fear we shall not meet here at all, for I shall be off somewhere or other very soon out of this land of Paper credit (or rather no credit at all, for every body seems on the high road to Bankruptcy), and if I quit it again I shall not be back in a hurry.

However, I shall endeavour to see you somewhere, and make my bow with decorum before I return to the Ottomans, I believe I shall turn Mussulman in the end.

You ask after my health; I am in tolerable leanness, which I promote by exercise and abstinence. I don't know that I have acquired any thing by my travels but a smattering of two languages and a habit of chewing Tobacco

Yours ever,


If you are interested in reading any more of these then Project Gutenberg really is the most fantastic source. It is entirely free and they are always looking for volunteers to help proof documents. I shall be joining them shortly


Larry M. Brow said...

Lord Byron chewing tobacco? There's a blast of poetic revisionism. Around here tobacco chewers are usually demonstrating their credentials as minimally educated country bumpkins.

Carol and Chris said...

OOOhhhh that was fab!! I shall be popping over to Project Gutenberg directly (I would love to proof documents but I never spot mistakes unless they are really in your face so I'm afraid I wouldn't be much good at it!!)

LOL at Larry's minimally educated country bumpkins!!

C x

claire p said...

I remember that bit of the course, fasinating.

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

Thanks for posting this, it was fascinating. How sad that many of us seldom write letters anymore.

lakeviewer said...

Interesting tone. He was a bit of a rambler, wasn't he? This is good stuff. Thank you for sharing the link too.

bindu said...

How fascinating these old letters are! Transports me back to his days. Very interesting. I wonder what the next few generations will think of ours - so much electronic info in so many forms!

Lulu LaBonne said...

I loved that post, wonderful stuff, I will now click the link to check them out.

LadyFi said...

Fabulous. They're all sick and the poor servant is forced to take the emetic - poor lad! And in the meantime Byron is thin, chewing baccie and learning languages!

French Fancy said...

Larry - I bet even whilst chewing and spitting baccy he was elegant and fun. It just came naturally (from all accounts)

Carol - I recall now that Stephen Fry did a BBC doc about Project Gutenberg and now I wish that I had watched it.

Claire - I covered part of Don Juan last year on the Literature course and this year it is part of Childe Harolde on the Enlightenment to Romanticism course. If nothing else it has awoken in me a love for Byron's poetry which far surpasses anything else I have ever read.

Reasons - they wrote so many letters in those days. I was reading one of Caroline Lamb's before - after she received news of B's death - in which she was remembering how they would often write ten letters a day back and forth.

lakeviewer - no, he wasn't a rambler. He was someone who loved words and used them well and wanted to write them. He loved Augusta and she loved him and when they were apart he wanted her to know exactly how his time had been spent.

bindu - I will systematically work my way through all his journals and letters on there. I've been trying to buy Leslie Marchand's books of Byron's journals but they are out of print - thank goodness someone put them on here first, that's all I can say.

Lulu - I knew you would like his style. He's so funny and dry,

Ladyfi - yet his servants adored him and you know how everyone loved Mr Darcy when his housekeeper started saying such lovely things about him to Elizabeth. Byron was fun and lovely and witty - but god help any women who fell in love with him.(or men, for that matter)

Mama said...

Hi FF, I enjoyed reading Byron's letter, an see why you are such a fan. I need some of that abstinence :-), does it come in a bottle oh no that's absinthe. I would kill for tolerable leanness right now. I thought the children bit was quite funny. I am off to check out Project Gutenberg, have you planted them roses yet?, hugs, Kathy.

willow said...

Dutch Mastiff and three land Tortoises. That's cute.

Margarita said...

I adore reading old letters, they're so inspirational, so full of thought...

The Accidental Fan said...

Brevity is only a benefit when the writer is a witless fool. Byron, well, I just wish he was more long winded. Then I'd have more to read...

...but some prefer txt spk. ;-)

Lane said...

So interesting. Love the dog and tortoise bit too. And I've been past Six Mile Bottom many times!

Off to check out your link.

Steve said...

Such class and style... letter writing really is a lost art!

A Woman Of No Importance said...

What a wit he was, and how human he sounds in letters I have never had the good fortune to read, so thank you for that FF...

And, will no-one think of the poor land tortoises! How in Hell's name would he have carted them about with him?!

Wonderful stuff, merci mille, chere FF! x

Elizabeth said...

This letter is so wonderful and warm.
So we don't write letters any more we phone and e-mail
this is where technology SUCKS (in the vernacular).
My son gave me a 'KINDLE" reading thing for US mothers' day
so I can get all of project Gutenberg FREE
this is where modern technology is so wonderful.
Cable was out all day till a few minutes ago......
Letters do have an intimacy and charm that lasts.
TE Lawrence's are fascinating.
looking forward to your 60th in nine years in NY!

French Fancy said...

Mama - tolerable leanness does sound good. He was very strict with himself and would usually shy away from formal dining with friends, preferring to turn up after the meal when an ice would be served. Me - I'd have been the first at the table!

Not managed to plant this poor climbing rose just yet

willow - he did love his animals

Margarita - there is something a bit odd about reading letters. Some of the intimate ones between him and Lady Caroline Lamb are quite risqué. After Byron died she asked John Murray - his publisher and friend - to burn her letters but he didn't.

TAF - well if you'd like to read more - and longer ones - there are many on the PG site. I think the one I've put on here sums up very well his humour, wit and ability to get you to picture the scene described

Lane - Six Mile Bottom sounds so odd. All the rumours about him and Augusta were true. Letters alluding to their conduct were found in 1976 in an old trunk belonging to his friend Scrope Davie (great name, eh).

Steve - I totally agree. The whole act of assembling a fountain pen and blotter and fine bonded paper before you even begin is special as well - although I suppose he didn't have a fountain pen.

AWONI - he had a bear with him when he was up at Trinity. Whist living in a palace in Venice he had a fox and a wolf. That's our Georgie!

Elizabeth - the Shelley bio you recommended is lined up ready for when I reach the end of this Byron bio. I can thooughly recommend it btw.

Anonymous said...

What an image, a lean, muscled Byron romping around his estate. He's fascinating. Now off to see Project Gutenberg.

Blu said...

My interest in Byron grows and grows, and in Victor Hugo too. Loved reading your post and will pop back later to follow the link. I have a meeting with a paint tin that I cannot avoid. Blux a witless fool.LOL.

Jennysmith said...

Super post, FF. So Byron loved tobacco too eh? (trust me to be shallow). xxxx

French Fancy said...

Dedene - he had a weight problem as a youngster and was teased and vowed to lose the weight. If only I had some of his discipline

Blu - his life is one of the most fascinating I have ever read. Those journal entries on that link are wonderful - I'm determined to read each and every one of them. I'm still keen enough that - should I be lucky and rich enough to do a PHD one day - it will be about George Gordon

Jenny - yep, wine, women and a fag - that was Lord B.

A Super Dilettante said...

FF, I just took the liberty of reading your post (a bit later than my usual) over a cup of tea. What an interesting letter from Byron! He is the most Romantic poet - R with a capital letter!! People don't write long letters these days. I miss them! I'm also a fan of Keats Letters too.

French Fancy said...

ASD - he did write very well, I know that seems silly to say in view of the fact that he was a writer by profession 9although being an aristo it was not exactly deemed a profession) - I'm sure you know what I'm trying - not very well - to say.

I used to love writing letters - I occasionally still do to an aunt of mine and an old friend.

Lulu LaBonne said...

Frenchie - I also used to write letters to an aunt (my godmother) going on about my travails, poor auntie, I wasn't half as entertaining as Byron.

Curious about your now single avatar and wondering whether you're thinking of changing identity. I'm thinking of changing mine - what do you think of 'Baguette'?

Carol and Chris said...

There is an award for you over at mine :-)

C x

French Fancy said...

Lulu - I hope your aunt has saved your letters for when you are famous. Funnily enough when I was young (er) I went out with a couple of guys who are quite well known now - and I had letters from both of them. If only I'd not had a big clear out of old valentines and love letters when I got engaged for the second time.

Re the avatar - well my page being purply pink and all, I just thought the one pink cake looked better. I've got a felt French Fancy on order and that will be my new avatar - in a couple of weeks.

i love the thought of you being 'Baguette' - although people will probably shorten it to Baggy.

Carol - ooh thanks, sweetie

Ian Lidster said...

"Mad, bad and dangerous to know," quoth Caroline Lamb, and she would know if anybody did. I do love The Prisoner of Chillon, however.

Cheryl said...

They used 'Xmas' back then, too? And they ran for exercise? Those always struck me as modern things. I love reading old letters like that. They really do give you a feel for person from another era in a way that biographies can't.

Frankofile said...

The only pseudoscience I have time for is graphology. Wonder what B's signature says about him? That open 'B' - what might that mean? It's a very readable signature - so a good communicator, or insecure? That line wandering up at the end - looking for a purpose?

Hate to say it but word veri is 'arsemmi' :-0

Lulu LaBonne said...

I do love your new moist pink cake Ms Fancy and now you've alerted me to the dangers of becoming 'Baggy' I'll stick with Lulu for the moment

Hi Ian - I've been trying to visit your site - are you closed for business?

Lulu LaBonne said...

Oh and concerning protecting yourself against bites that's a tough one we use a lot of Antisan - Avon's Skin So Soft body lotion works well against the Scottish midges. That 'clicker' thing (Boots do one) works quite well for me as long as I click as soon as I'm bitten.

Nora Johnson said...

Came across yr blog after commenting on Lucy Fishwife's recently and popped over to say how much I like it! Particularly liked the photo of you and yr bichon who's remarkably similar to Lola on my site!
Take care
btw Once lived in France, now Andalucia - do miss the food!

cheshire wife said...

I liked the 'high road to Bankruptcy' bit. It seems that very little has changed over the years!

Thank you for your recent comments on my blog.

French Fancy said...

Ian - yes, that is one of my favourites as well. Byron went to the castle where the actual prisoner had been shackled beside his brother - who had died years before but was still left there.

cheryl - this is my new thing, I think. Pouring over these old letters and journals - it has been a fascinating history lesson. I thought I knew a lot about his life from the books I had read - the letters add a unique dimension

Frankie - that was interesting- I know nothing about graphology.

Lulu - glad you like the single pink cake. I'm sort of missing the little one that sat beside it

Nora - bichons rule. I've got some other pics of my current bichons on this blog - see 'bichons' in the index

cheshire wife - snap! that's exactly what I thought and you were the only person to pick up on it.

Lulu LaBonne said...

Oh no - a lonely cake, I'd not thought of it like that.

Just a thought - I came out in a terrible rash while in France a few years ago after trying fruitlessly to soothe it, I went to a pharmacy - by chance one that did homeopathic remedies, the pharmacist asked me some questions and gave me some pills - which worked miraculously

French Fancy said...

It's not lonely - after all I am French Fancy, not Fancies - I'm just paving the way for my photo of my little felt fancy.

The thing with homeopathic remedies is that I just don't believe in them. I know they are popular here but logically I cannot see how they can work.

Mrs. B. Silly said...

As for myself, I am in tolerable plumpness which I have promoted from years of chocolate. lol

Yes, my Sophie is indeed a bichon --be it a mutant bichon (she has very long legs.) This dog has more attitude than any other dog I have ever known and loves to rule the roost.

Your Poppy and Misty are so cute. Are they just puppies?

Ann said...

How can you not love a man who wrote such a beautiful epitaph to his beloved dog,

All the Virtues of Man without his vices.
Praise, which would be unmeaning flattery
If inscribed over human ashes.

This is all I can remember first thing in the morning, and don't you just love dogs, especially when you have been up all night with a Bull Terrier who has been vomiting, and is such a weirdo, he takes everything personally, as if you are the one who caused his ailment, he is sitting on the couch eyeballing me, okay son, I did not force you to eat the bones you have been regurgitating all night.
FF, you are scaring me, I bought some of those cloth thingy's, and you are correct, they do work, jeez our house is sparkling a wee bit, the scary part is, I enjoyed using them, and was amazed, please don't tell me I am about to turn into a domestic goddess.
The amazing thing, really amazing, stained glass window on the doors, I tried everything on them, windolene, spray stuff, vinegar, more spray stuff, lemon, Uncle Tom Cobbly an all, and nothing worked, they streaked, looked dull, with these cloth's, jeez, they are clean, and look as they were when first put in.

French Fancy said...

Hello Mrs Silly - bichons are so lovely. No, they are not puppies - they will be six this year. Misty we've had since she was 8 weeks and Poppy, well we are her fourth home. she has a lot of problems and was rescued after a terrible first two years I've blogged about her (bichons are a category in the index alongside)

Ann - Byron was as nutty about dogs as we are. The man was a legend - ony a bit of a shit to women :)

Glad the e-cloths worked. They are fun to use. Now I just pick one up and clean a window without thinking for about two weeks ' oh jeez, I've got to clean the windows'

Poor bull terrier with the bad, self-inficted tummy pains.

Nora Johnson said...

Just stopped by to say have left a little award for you on my site. Additionally, have added your blog to my blogroll and am also your newest follower!
Take care
PS Love to Misty & Poppy!

Ann said...

Now you are scaring me even more FF, am I supposed to enjoy cleaning the windows with my cloth's, okay, I agree, it was enjoyable, or more amazing, instead of spending ages, with pink streaked windows, and pink streaked floors and cupboard, because I forgot to put the top on the windowlene, they were clean, very quickly.
Does this mean I will become domesticated, and whistle and sing happy clappy songs as I clean the windows, kicking a heel or two back in delight, scary, maybe I should make them into bands and tie my hair back with them, and go back to cleaning the windows every 4 years or so.
Bull Terrier Tommy has finally picked up, took until an hour ago, he had a small pot of youghurt, and some rice pudding, so I feel better, and obviously the weird one does as well.
I had heard the rumour somewhere that Byron was a bit of a lothario, Lady Caroline Lamb especially, though I have to say, and I agree with you FF, anybody who loves dogs as we do, cannot be all bad.
Must read your blog about Poppy, are they on here, tiredness is taking over the brain, oh the wee soul, 4 homes, I should imagine she is happy now.
Going to bed, sleep, sleep, pillow, quilt,wherefor art thou.

French Fancy said...

Nora -thank you so much and you are also now clamped to my sidebar. I've got to come and find out all about you

Ann - glad Tommy is recovering. As for cleaning windows - no, it's not really fun but I am a lazy slattern and have to psyche myself into thinking that cleaning is enjoyable.

As for Lord B - he was just too charismatic and irresistible for his own good. People fell on him, fawned on him, loved him - his servants, his male and female lovers, his admiring fans. He was outspoken about hypocrisy and cant - he hated religious bigotrym politicans who were bent. He supported the Luddites who smashed factory machinery - in short he was a rebel.

In fact I could probably go on Mastermind now and do quite well on his life - shame they'd also make me do the general knowledge questions.

Have you given our mutual friend your address - so that you can rightfully claim your postal prize as my 10,000th viewer?

French Fancy said...

Ann - oops, I've just been told that your address is all ready now - good, off to send you something from Brittany

A Super Dilettante said...

My dear FF, what a lovely picture of your bichons! It made my day. I don't know what's going on in the world of blogs. But today in my lunchbreak, I went to my regular reading blogs and they all seem to be saying Au revoir. I now have to figure out how to spend my lunchbreak without my favourite blogs.

French Fancy said...

ASD - that's a second outing for that bichon pic. I think I used it last autumn, however it is not promoted to (drum roll) the front page.

It's always a shame when blogs that one loves are discontinued. I think TAF is shortly going to stop blogging - shame.

Yoli said...

Thank you for that link. I love Byron and had I lived in those times, I would have been his partner in crime and in every debauchery. Alas, I am here without him so, I have lead a very respectful life.

French Fancy said...

Yoli - you'd have had to fight me for him. although, from what I've read, I would rather have been his lifelong friend than his short term lover

Laura Jane Williams said...


Oh dear.


French Fancy said...

Laura - they weren't brought up together - I know it is no excuse. They both shared a dad - 'Mad' Jack Byron. They were irressistibly drawn towards each other. I think it must happen more often than we think.