It has become a cliché that Byron was the first literary celebrity. And certainly there are parallels with the modern variety. Byron – or, rather, ‘Byron’ – was an early example of a carefully managed cult of personality, with staged portraits, spin and mystification, groupies, and so on. Less often remembered was what Byron experienced from the malicious gossip in the newspapers of his day, especially the innuendo of sexual crime, sometimes by himself, sometimes as part of a celebrity ring, presented as facts that press insiders claimed to know to be true. Under current legislation, he could have been awarded huge sums for libel.
In this country you cannot libel the dead, and nothing is off limits, which is just as well for his biographers. The late Lady Longford uncovered the story of Byron’s unusually large penis, relying on the account of Canon Barber, the local Nottinghamshire cleric, who abused his ecclesiastical office to