A series of letters penned by the great English Romantic poet Lord Byron to his friend the Reverend Francis Hodgson will go up for auction at Sotheby's in London (no date has yet been set). The letters have been in the family of a former Prime Minister, the Earl of Rosebery, for almost 125 years and have never been fully reviewed. Sotheby's expert Gabriel Heaton gave us a hint of their contents, telling the British newspaper The Guardian that "Byron clearly enjoyed writing slightly outrageous things to a clergyman...."
Byron was certainly no stranger to the outrageous. One of his many lovers, the Lady Caroline Lamb, famously described him as "mad, bad and dangerous to know." Not that the opinion stopped her from wanting to know him. In fact, in large part because of his wild ways, everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted to know him.
Who was Byron? He was an aristocrat; he was witty and handsome and sometimes dark and brooding. He enjoyed dressing up like a monk and drinking wine out of a skull. He was--particularly for his time--remarkably promiscuous. He dressed the aforementioned Lady Caroline up like a pageboy and dressed himself up as a woman. He was also probably bisexual. In one of the letters up for auction, Byron describes the ruler of Albania as a "fine, portly person with two hundred women and as many boys, many of the last I saw and very pretty creatures they were" (and let's not forget--he was writing to a clergyman). Another letter details an affair he had with a serving girl. Heaton summed it up:
"Basically, he takes her as his mistress and he is never at any point saying he is going to be faithful to her but he expects her to be faithful to him and when he hears rumours that she isn't, she loses her job."
In my favorite excerpt from the letters, Byron refers to the poet William Wordsworth as "Turdsworth" (the two, as you could probably guess, were not friends). He went after Wordsworth more eloquently in a particularly vicious piece of light verse called "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers:"
Next comes the dull disciple of thy school,
That mild apostate from poetic rule,
The simple WORDSWORTH, framer of a lay
As soft as evening in his favourite May,
Who warns his friend "to shake off toil and trouble,
And quit his books, for fear of growing double;"
Who, both by precept and example, shows
That prose is verse, and verse is merely prose;
Convincing all, by demonstration plain,
Poetic souls delight in prose insane;
And Christmas stories tortured into rhyme
Contain the essence of the true sublime.
Thus, when he tells the tale of Betty Foy,
The idiot mother of "an idiot Boy;"
A moon-struck, silly lad, who lost his way,
And, like his bard, confounded night with day
So close on each pathetic part he dwells,
And each adventure so sublimely tells,
That all who view the "idiot in his glory"
Conceive the Bard the hero of the story.
Wordsworth was not alone in drawing Byron's scorn. Byron only spared a lucky few of his fellow poets, including his friends Percy Bysshe Shelley and Sir Walter Scott.
Byron's huge celebrity only increased with news of his death--he fell ill while preparing to fight in the war for Greek Independence. Women across England wept and the young Lord Alfred Tennyson later recalled that, despondent, he carved into a rock "Byron is dead." Byron's celebrity, clearly, is not. His letters are estimated to fetch between £150,000 and £180,000 (around $250,000).