Michael Waterhouse

One of Literature’s Greatest Liars

Lord Byron’s Jackal: A Life of Edward John Trelawny


Harper Collins 416pp £19. 99 order from our bookshop

In 1881, shortly before his death, Trelawny was visited by the eminent archivist Sir Sidney Colvin. Like others who had beaten a path to Trelawny’s door, Colvin had come to listen to a legendary raconteur. Trelawny’s tales of plucking Shelley’s heart from his funeral pyre or of discovering Byron’s clubbed feet had entertained Victorian drawing-rooms for nearly fifty years. He was a celebrity. At eighty-eight, he remained the only surviving link between late Victorians and the flamboyant world of Byronic Romanticism. As Colvin was leaving, the old man muttered: ‘Lies, lies, lies.’ Trelawny never spoke in public again.

Edward Trelawny is remembered as the author of three books: Adventures of a Younger Son, which relates his exploits as a ‘pirate’, Recollections of Byron and Shelley and Records of Shelley, Byron and the Author. Very little in them is true. During his lifetime, and for much of this century, Trelawny was regarded as a literary lion and our most reliable source of first-hand information about Byron and Shelley. It wasn’t until the 1950s that he was rumbled, by his last biographer, Anne Hill.

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