Allan Massie

Byron Tells All

The Memoirs of Lord Byron

By Robert Nye

Hamish Hamilton 215pp £11.95 order from our bookshop

Scholars still regret the lost plays of the Athenian dramatists; feminists and other critics may deplore the lost poems of Sappho; for many of us however the memoirs of Byron remain the most grievous of literary losses, all the more because their destruction was not the work of time, but of stupidity, prudery and malice. The only two known copies of the manuscript, which Byron had entrusted to Tom Moore, were torn up and burned in the grate of John Murray’s office in Albemarle street; you can still see the grate and the best that can be said of the occasion is that the Murray family have atoned for this act of vandalism by their devotion to the memory of the greatest author they have ever had. Those present on Monday, the 17th May, 1824, less than a month after Byron’s death, were John Murray, Tom Moore, John Cam Hobhouse, and legal representatives of Lady Byron and of Mrs Augusta Leigh, Byron’s half sister. Hobhouse justified the deed: ‘The whole Memoirs were fit only for a brothel, and would damn Lord B to everlasting infamy if published.’ According to Byron’s biographer, Leslie Marchand, Hobhouse had never actually read the manuscript.

Royal Shakespeare Company

Donmar Warehouse

Follow Literary Review on Twitter