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Letter describing lost Byron memoirs found in Cambridge

Photo: The "bad boy" poet Lord Byron

A letter describing the lost memoirs of the poet Lord Byron has been discovered in Cambridge.

The letter was found among an archive of papers housed in the Wren Library of Trinity College, where Byron was a student between 1805 and 1807.

The "bad boy" of poetry gave his memoirs to a friend in 1819 with instructions to publish only after his death, but when Byron died aged 36, on 19 April 1824, his friend quickly destroyed his memoirs.

This letter, written by an Elizabeth Palgrave after she had seen an unpublished copy of the memoirs in 1823, has given some insight into what may have been included.

"I opened the pages accidentally at that part of his Lordship’s life which mentions his marriage, and I read it with the utmost interest & avidity. Ld Byron prefaces this portion of his MS. [manuscript] by professing his design of hurrying over it, as it is of all the most painful to record. He then, in the most cold-blooded & heartless manner, declares his little attachment to his wife at any time …

"It is grievous to read his declaration of indifference to his wife & of aversion to her mother, whom he never mentions but by the most opprobrious epithets. Nor does he ever call his wife by any name but that of “Miss Milbanke."

During his short life, Cambridge University historians have said Byron (1788-1824) "magnetized myriads with his beauty, brilliance, charisma and wit" as he fought for the oppressed, sympathised with the outcast and delighted in exposing hypocrisy.

He could also be vain, unkind and cruel, and was prone to excess in all manner of things.

On 19 April 2024, the Byron Festival at Trinity College will mark the bicentenary of the poet’s death with a talk, recital and exhibition that considers his life and legacy in all its dimensions.

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