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This report is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

Dear Lord Byron
Byron’s Letters and Journals, edited by Richard Lansdown (OUP)
Frederic Raphael
DEAR LORD BYRON
Thank you for your letters. A modern correspondent would be likely to address you, electronically, with ‘Hi, George!’ Email and its twittering derivatives have done for the old manuscript envelope and its personally drafted pages. Nowadays who ever receives a letter, unless of condolences, written in what Winston Churchill called a person’s ‘own claw’? Your frequent use of the ‘dash’ – a flick of the pen, in place of commas or regular full stops – suggests that you no sooner received a letter than you were dashing off a reply, always in the hope of an equally prompt response. That lingering Venetian exile made you watch urgently for word from all the friends and factors (your lordship depended greatly, and condescendingly, on reliable commoners such as John Murray, the publisher, and John Hanson, your lawyer) whom you had left behind in ‘the tight little island’. Living well, and wantonly, in the Mediterranean world, was the best revenge against the joyless Calvinism of your Scottish childhood in granitic Aberdeen. You never forgot the preacher who saw you smirking in the congregation and leaned over the pulpit to say, ‘No hope for them as laughs!’

Among your contemporaries, neither Shelley nor Jane Austen had the epistolary leaven to give their long, on-their-best-behaviour letters any abiding vitality. Here is evidence that yours are bravely and brazenly alive. Item 13 from your Ravenna journal of 1821 proves that you were quick to welcome transatlantic company:


Whenever an American requests to see me ...
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