Thursday, 7 August 2014

Burned Memoirs

During his exile in 1822, Byron named the Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852) as his literary executor and handed him a manuscript of his personal memoirs which he wanted to be published at a later date.

But with Byron dead, and the public clamouring for anything bearing his name, the poet's publisher, John Murray, came to a decision. Having been presented with the two volumes of Byron’s memoirs by Moore, he decided on a course of action that would dismay generations to follow.

Byron’s memoirs were to be destroyed.

The Death of Byron painted by Joseph Odevaere.

With the agreement of five of Byron’s friends and executors of his will  the only opposition came from Moore  the men set about pulling apart the pages and burning them in the fireplace of the drawing room.

Whatever Byron had written, Murray believed the memoirs were so scandalous they would for ever damage Byron’s reputation, and possibly his own should he ever publish them. Even Moore, who in 1832 wrote a biography of Byron and was heavily criticised for allowing the memoirs to be destroyed, never divulged their contents.

Of what Byron wrote, which shocked Murray so deeply, we know only one thing: it left the house at Albemarle Street via the chimney.

The matter was patently not related to rumours spread by Lady Caroline Lamb with more than a little help from Lady Annabella Milbanke (Byron's estranged wife) during the poet's life, as these allegations were already widely known. Also, Byron had a life-long habit of fuelling all manner of rumour about himself to hold the centre stage. Not that he really needed to - his life was quite scandalous enough by the mores of the day. Such behaviour in today's England would hardly cause a raised eyebrow or elicit so much as a comment. 

Interviewed by Mark Knight in May 2013, who admitted being "happy but intimidated" to have an opportunity to question the vampirologist, Seán Manchester echoed history with a fateful decision of his own: 

"I have written a memoir which I doubt I shall ever offer for publication. My current instruction is to have it burned to ashes upon my demise."

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