Moore's Life of Byron
Published in 1830, Moore's
biography of Byron began gestation as early as 1814 when Byron sent a first packet
of journals for preservation and eventual publication. In 1818 he began an
autobiography, later destroyed, that Moore was to edit with additions from the
letters and journals. This was intended to shape the poet's after-reputation, which
the life of Byron as eventually executed by Moore certainly did. Byron intended
Moore to reap financial benefit from the publication; Moore wished to correct the
impression that Byron was a vicious misanthrope by disclosing the amiability the
poet was wont to display when out of the public eye.
The Letters and Journals of
Lord Byron was a collaborative work, as appears from the letters
themselves. As much as the biographer might like to focus the reader's attention on
Byron, Byron seems just as determined to share the spotlight with Moore, whose
career and role in editing the memoirs is a regular thread in the correspondence.
Anticipating that his letters and journals were to be published, Byron records both
the history of their transmission and his anxieties about their fate. He knew that
his correspondence was being passed from hand to hand and that it would be censored
by Moore after his death. Byron's letters encourage us to trust his biographer, as
do Moore's accounts of how he accepted and managed the responsibility. Yet the
documents were inherently problematic.
Most of the persons mentioned in the biography were still alive in 1830 and in
any event Moore was well aware that family members and their lawyers would be
reading the biography very closely. Considering the powerful and influential people
involved in Byron's affairs of honor and dishonor it is remarkable that the
biography is as candid as it is. Byron's own Memoir, the kernel of the enterprise,
was destroyed at the behest of his friends over Moore's protests. The names of many
persons, living and dead, women especially, were replaced by asterisks. Potentially
threatening or embarrassing passages were cut, the lacunae sometimes marked by
asterisks and sometimes not. Where possible the missing names are supplied in this
edition, though the letters qua letters are best read in a different and
more transparent form.
The "life and letters" is a genre
of literary biography little practiced now; it was pioneered by William Mason in
Poems of Mr. Gray (1775), and became the preferred way of life-writing:
there are obvious advantages to allowing authors to tell their own story in their
own words. At the same time, it was up to the biographer to select and shape the
materials for best effect. Modern editors prefer to present correspondence in a
more comprehensive and complete form; the cutting and pasting involved in producing
a "life and letters" has come to seem prurient and dishonest, as sometimes it was.
While much is necessarily missing Byron and Moore succeeded in producing a literary
life with all the intensity of an epistolary novel. For all their deficiencies,
Mason's Gray, Boswell's Johnson, Moore's Byron, and Lockhart's
Scott bring us nearer to their subjects than can modern scholarly
biographies: the writers sat for their own portraits.
These were monumental works of
art, long-meditated and composed with care. Moore, the poet of lyric song, displays
a mastery of symphonic form, his several movements clearly distinguished yet knit
together by tonal and thematic developments that make Byron's erratic life seem all
of a piece. Moore does not, like Lockhart, present a five-act tragedy in five
volumes, but his shaping hand appears in the division of the two volumes at the
point of Byron's social ostracism, an abrupt, bewildering climax echoed at the end
of the second volume when he is launched into the void as a "pilgrim of eternity."
Moore sometimes arranges letters into parallel sequences, enabling readers to
follow a thread uninterrupted. As in a Richardson novel, we get events first and
commentary after. Moore's own interventions are used for digression as well as
narrative as in a novel by Fielding or Scott.
Such a work is obviously intended
to be read continuously: there are no section or chapter breaks. This is not how it
is likely to be read on the screen. This digital edition is segmented into years as
marked by Moore in his running heads. The year designations are a navigational
convenience, not a structural device; the narrative runs continuously with the
exception of the great caesura of 1816. Yet the biography is constructed from
discreet letters, poems, diary entries, and documents that may be selected and read
on their own: digital presentation enables readers to disassemble what Moore has so
carefully woven together, reading letters in chronological sequence, or following a
particular correspondence from beginning to end.
Digital rendition also enables
indexing; since Moore's volume lacked an index, this is of no small value in a work
of such size. Nor has Moore's life been properly annotated since, though of course
Byron's letters and journals were thoroughly annotated by Prothero and more
casually by Marchand. This edition strives to build on what has been previously
done, correcting errors and adding new material. The text of the first edition has
been tagged using TEI P5 and is rendered into HTML using a style sheet that
attempts to retain the appearance of the original formatting.