LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
Robert Charles Dallas:
Recollections of the Life of Lord Byron


Preliminary Statement
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII

Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
Dallas's Memoir of the Life of Byron
The Recollections is at once one of the most valuable and most disappointing of the Byron memoirs. Dallas (1754-1824) was a friend, a family member, and advisor who knew the poet before he became famous and who gives a detailed account of the process of the events surrounding the publication and reception of Childe Harold. Dallas, to whom Byron assigned several the copyrights of English Bards, Childe Harold, and The Corsair, knew most of the people who were significant in the poet’s early years, including his madcap father who died in 1791. As an experienced novelist intimate with his subject he should have been an ideal biographer. In the event most of details of the poet’s life were suppressed and what Dallas did write tells us more about himself than about his Byron.
Dallas announced that he had completed the Recollections in a letter to Byron of 10 November 1819, stating that he had been moved to undertake the work after reading the manuscript journal that Byron kept in 1813-14: “I remember well that after one or two slight sketches you concluded with, ‘This morning Mr. Dallas was here, &c. &c.’” Since then their friendship had soured and Dallas, unwilling to leave his own character to such hazard, tells Byron that he had elected to tell the story in his own way. The Dallas memoir was to be published after Byron’s death, presumably some decades in the future. Byron did not reply to the letter, which he merely passed on to John Murray for safe-keeping.
Contrary to expectations, Byron predeceased the seventy-year-old Dallas, who immediately took steps to publish the memoir and what he possessed of Byron’s correspondence, which included the letters Byron had written to his mother describing his first sojourn abroad. The premature appearance of the Recollections necessitated considerable adjustments where they touched upon persons still living; in a letter of 30 June 1824, written while the book was in press, Dallas offered Augusta Leigh reassurance: “I wished as much as possible to avoid giving pain, even to those that deserved it, and I curtailed my MS. nearly a half.”
The Recollections was destined to be trimmed even farther once John Cam Hobhouse and Byron’s executors filed a successful chancery action that halted publication only a few days before it was to have appeared. The history of the lawsuit is related in a “Prefatory Statement” that occupies nearly a third of what remained after the volume had been stripped of Byron’s correspondence. This narrative, which reflects badly enough on all concerned, is not without interest. It was written by the author’s son Alexander after Dallas senior had died in France shortly before the Recollections appeared in November 1824. The Rev. Alexander Dallas (1791-1869) had once been on friendly terms with Byron and Hobhouse, though it is clear from both his prefatory statement and appended conclusion that any such friendship had long since dissipated.
Excerpts from the Recollections appeared in The Courier for 20 November 1824, indicating that its date of publication followed that of Medwin’s Conversations of Lord Byron by four weeks. The Conversations was much the more successful venture not only because it appeared first but because it contained more controversial personal information than the Dallas volume. In 1825 the suppressed Byron letters were belatedly published by Galignani (Paris) in a 3-volume edition of the Recollections that was beyond the reach of English law; a copy of the suppressed English edition survives in the Morgan library in New York.
The Recollections have been quarried by all later biographers and the dramatic passages describing the publication of Childe Harold and Byron’s installation in the House of Lords are often reprinted. What remains, if less compelling (apart from obvious padding, Dallas was reduced to summarizing the forbidden letters) is not unimportant for what it reveals about Byron’s extended family for which Dallas assumes the role of spokesman.
They were an ambitious and patriotic lot, admirals, sea-captains, heroes. After inheriting Lord Byron’s title Dallas’s English nephew George Anson Byron pursued a successful career at court; Dallas’s American nephew George Mifflin Dallas became vice-president of the United States (Dallas Texas is named for him). Robert Charles Dallas expected greater things from Lord Byron than just poetry. The memoirist took his role as literary and moral censor seriously and he was commensurately disappointed when his charge inclined towards the more sinister side of the family legacy. Not that he presents matters that light: Lord Byron, seduced by heady praise and admiration had merely fallen into bad company. In his last, unanswered letter of 1819 Dallas is still imploring the poet to change his ways, make up with Lady Byron, and assume his proper role in the House of Lords.
One begins to see why Recollections is as much about Dallas as about Byron: the author felt that he had much to answer for; he may even have been sincere when on his deathbed he told his son Alexander that he had come to regret his part in the publication of Childe Harold. If so, this was no small concession considering the large role Dallas assigns to himself in that life-changing event. While his hectoring and condescension render Dallas the least amiable of Byron’s biographers, one can understand and almost sympathize with his deep disappointment. He was angry that the sale of Newstead Abbey had deprived George Anson Byron of his patrimony and bitter that Lord Byron’s bad behavior had betrayed his tutelage and thwarted all his hopes.
It was none of it my fault, the memoir implies; I loved him: I write only to defend Byron from his detractors. Readers may well demur, but it is worth recalling that in 1819 when Dallas wrote the Recollections Byron’s reputation was fast approaching its nadir and that its recovery had but just begun when the book was rushed to press in the summer of 1824. If Dallas’s motives are transparently mercenary and self-serving, it is also true that his account of Byron, however tepid and unsatisfactory, was written at a time when few in England had a good word to say for the poet, and when the author himself was smarting under Byron’s rejection. Under similar circumstances Leigh Hunt, though a more amiable writer, would prove a less kind friend.

David Hill Radcliffe

Charles Knight’s account of the publication of the Recollections, given in his Passages of a Working Life (1864-65), is worth quoting at length:
At the time of Lord Byron’s funeral I was involved in a matter of public interest connected with the career of the deceased poet. I was enduring a disappointment, such as I had scarcely contemplated as a possible incident of my publishing career. I will relate, as briefly as I can, the story of a Chancery Injunction to restrain me from publishing certain Letters of Lord Byron, which was served upon me five days before the funeral procession which I witnessed on the 12th of July.
Robert Charles Dallas was connected by marriage with the family of the poet. Captain George Anson Byron, the uncle of Lord Byron, married the sister of Mr. Dallas. In 1824, through the intervention of my kind friend, the Rev. Charles Richard Sumner, then residing at Windsor as Domestic Chaplain to George IV., I was offered the publication of a book to be entitled “Correspondence of Lord Byron.” Upon receiving intelligence of the death at Missolonghi of the eminent man of whom he had some interesting memorials, Mr. Dallas came from Paris to England to arrange for the publication of some work in which should be exhibited his “Recollections of the Life of Lord Byron from 1808 to the end of 1814.” I saw him at the house of his son Alexander, who, having been formerly in the army, had taken orders, and was in 1824 in the ministerial charge of the village of Wooburn, near Beaconsfield. The elder Dallas was then in his seventieth year—a handsome old man, of refined manners, of varied and extensive information; manifesting an affectionate attachment to the memory of the poet, but with a strong religious feeling as to his moral aberrations since the period of their intimate acquaintance, which in some respects might have been called friendship. That intimacy ceased after 1814. Mr. Dallas had many times heard Lord Byron read portions of a book in which he inserted his opinion of the persons with whom he mixed, which book, he said, be intended for publication after his death. This, I conceive, was the Memoir upon which Mr. Murray advanced two thousand guineas to Thomas Moore; and which was torn and burned, under advice, in the presence of Moore, the advance being repaid to Mr. Murray. Such is Mr. Moore’s account of this mysterious transaction. From hearing some of Lord Byron’s opinions of his contemporaries, Mr. Dallas took the hint of writing a volume to be published after his own death and that of Lord Byron, which should present a faithful delineation of the poet’s character as he had known him. The judicious advice of the elder author—for Dallas had been a not unsuccessful historian and novelist—was useful to Byron in his tentative walk to fame; and the obligation was amply repaid by the present of the copyright of the first two cantos of “Childe Harold,” which, strange to say, Byron was unwilling to publish till encouraged by the judgment of his experienced friend. Byron died at the age of thirty-seven; Dallas could have scarcely contemplated to have been his survivor. The world was eager to learn all it could about the man who had filled so large a space in its thoughts for fourteen years; and Mr. Dallas, not from mere sordid motives, remodelled his Memoir into “Correspondence of Lord Byron.” I purchased the manuscript for a large sum; and in June it was advertised for publication. On the 30th of that month Mr. Hobhouse called on me with a friend who, as it subsequently appeared, was to be a witness to our conversation. I was not aware of the disadvantage under which the presence of a witness was intended to place me, but immediately after the interview I made a full note of what took place. Mr. Hobhouse came to protest, as one of the executors of Lord Byron, against the publication of this correspondence. I stated that I had read the manuscript carefully, and that the family and the executors need feel no apprehension as to its tendency, as the work was intended to elevate Lord Byron’s moral and intellectual character. Mr. Hobhouse observed, that if individuals were not spoken of with bitterness, and if opinions were not very freely expressed in these letters, they were not like Lord Byron’s letters in general. The result was, that the Vice-Chancellor granted an injunction upon the affidavits of Mr. Hobhouse and Mr. Hanson, co-executors, that such contemplated publication was “a breach of private confidence, and a violation of the rights of property.” There was an appeal. Our counter-affidavits affirmed that the letters were not of a confidential character. After two months of anxiety, Lord Eldon, the Chancellor, decided “that if A. writes a letter to B., B. has the property in that letter for the purpose of reading and keeping it, but no property in it to publish it.” The unfortunate quarto volume, as printed to p. 168, is before me. In a few years, Mr. Moore, in his “Life of Byron,” gave his testimony to the value of “a sort of Memoir of the noble Poet, published soon after his death, which, from being founded chiefly on original correspondence, is the most authentic and trustworthy of any that have yet appeared.” That Memoir was published by me at the end of 1824, after the death of Mr. Dallas on the 21st of October. It was edited by his son, the Reverend Alexander Dallas, who, throughout the whole of this affair, acted in the most honourable and conscientious spirit. In the omission of passages of the original manuscript, he evinced a truly Christian temper of moderation towards those who had endeavoured to damage his father’s character, by the imputation of unworthy motives in seeking to publish this Correspondence. I was never brought so near to Lord Eldon as during the hours when this case was argued in his private room. I observed with admiration the patient spirit of inquiry; the desire to uphold the authority of previous cases; but with a strong inclination not to decide against the right of publication, when no satisfactory reason could be shown but that of individual caprice or self-interest for suppressing the work. Mr. Kindersley, now a Vice-Chancellor, was our Counsel, and most ably did he perform his duty. At times I thought that the “I doubt” of the great Chancellor would have terminated in our favour. He seemed, even in pronouncing judgment, to have some hesitation about affirming the principle upon which he ultimately decided as to the property in letters, as settled by the law. “Whether that was a decision that could very well have stood at first or not I will not undertake to say.” But for most purposes of public utility his judgment was valuable. “It is a very different thing, as it appears to me, publishing as information what these letters contain, and publishing the letters themselves.” Upon this principle we acted, in regard to the volume which was published at the end of 1824, as “Recollections of Lord Byron.” Mr. Moore reaped the full advantage of the suppressed Correspondence, by filling many pages, in 1829, with the letters of Dallas and Byron that the executors had thought fit to suppress in 1824. (2:11-16)