Books: Tin Box

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“TO LORD BYRON”—Edifed by George Paston & Peter Quennell—Scribner ($3.75).

When Byron died of fever at Missolonghi, he left behind not only his great-lover reputation, but a plain, square, tin box with part of the evidence. In it were three dark red braids contributed by the “Maid of Athens,” Theresa Macri and her sisters; a ringlet of Lady Oxford’s, and several bundles of adoring letters from women who worshiped Byron, some of whom had never seen him. Most were wildly exclamatory, heavily underlined with pages blotted and blistered with tears. Byron did not answer all the letters. Even those he promised to destroy he kept, since he had a magpie’s passion for collecting scraps from his past.

“George Paston” (Emily Symonds, author of At John Murray’s) began to edit these unpublished letters before her death. The editing was completed by Biographer Peter Quennell (Byron: The Years of Fame: The Private Letters of Princess Lieuen). Missing from the collection are any letters from Byron’s half sister and mistress, Augusta Leigh, Lady Melbourne (see above) or Annabella Milbanke (Lady Byron). It adds little that the nosey world does not already know about the Byron legend, but it touches up some less known amusing episodes. Sample:

Lady Falkland, after her husband’s death, imagined that Byron (he had never seen her) was in love with her. She thought the women mentioned in his poems were herself. Her sons, Lucius and Plantagenet, shared her delusion. She wrote: ”Surely I cannot be mistaken! Byron, my adored Byron, come to me … tell me, my Byron, if those mournful tender effusions . . . to Thyrza . . . were not intended for myself?”

Byron refused to answer Lady Falkland but had her informed that she was mistaken and that if she continued to annoy him, he would insult her. Her final disillusioned blast: “Don’t write to me. I will not open any letters from you—nor will I see you if you call.”

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