LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
Thomas Moore:
Letters and Journals of Lord Byron


Life of Byron: to 1806
Life of Byron: 1806
Life of Byron: 1807
Life of Byron: 1808
Life of Byron: 1809
Life of Byron: 1810
Life of Byron: 1811
Life of Byron: 1812
Life of Byron: 1813
Life of Byron: 1814
Life of Byron: 1815
Life of Byron: 1816 (I)
Life of Byron: 1816 (II)
Life of Byron: 1817
Life of Byron: 1818
Life of Byron: 1819
Life of Byron: 1820
Life of Byron: 1821
Life of Byron: 1822
Life of Byron: 1823
Life of Byron: 1824

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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.