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Personality Abounds: An American Adventuress, A Sulking Painter, A Poetic Bad Boy, and a Fashion-Forward King

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

A Byron Archive, Sotheby’s London on October 29, $454,690

A packet of Lord Byron’s mischievous letters

“I almost rejoice when one I love dies young, for I could never bear to see them altered” wrote Byron to his old college friend and ‘fellow minstrel,’ Francis Hodgson, in one of a group of Byron letters that made up the star lot in this sale of books and manuscripts from the Earl of Rosebery’s collections (see above). In another, he laments the death of a favorite dog, “Boatswain is to be buried in a vault, waiting for myself, I have also written an epitaph.”

Many of Byron’s letters to Hodgson were published during the nineteenth century, often in censored form. This collection includes some of the more unguarded, colorful, and controversial passages that have never been published. Poetry, religion, travel, revolution, and, inevitably, his much documented private life are the subjects at hand.

On poetry he writes of sending proofs of the poem that was to make him famous overnight, Childe Harold. In another letter, it is Milton’s epic that concerns him, “Who is the hero of Paradise Lost? Why Satan … ”

On religion Byron can be cheerily dismissive, “we are miserable enough in this life, without the absurdity of speculating on another.” In those letters relating to Hodgson’s determination to take Holy Orders, he adopts a more serious tone, “the Basis of your religion is injustice, the Son of God … the innocent is sacrificed for the Guilty, this proves his heroism, but no more does away Man’s guilt, than a schoolboy’s volunteering to be flogged for another would exculpate the dunce from negligence, or preserve him from the Rod.”

Three early letters date from Byron’s grand tour. From Portugal, he writes, “the inhabitants have few vices except Lice and sodomy.” From Constantinople, he tells Hodgson of a man who he felt compelled to write about in Childe Harold, Ali Pasha: “a fine portly person with two hundred women and as many boys, many of the last I saw and very pretty creatures they were.”

A less attractive side of young Byron—poetic bad boy–crops up in a letter sent from Newstead Abbey in 1811 where “the partridges are plentiful … pheasants not quite so good, & the girls on the manor just coming into season.” One of the “more promising” new faces Byron had identified as one of his “little sensual comforts” was Susan Vaughan, with whom he had a brief affair. The callous side of his character shows in an account of what happened when he summarily put an end to their relationship.

“She descended from her apartment ‘fierce as ten furies’ attacked R. till he was covered with blood, tried to throw herself into one of the filthy pieces of water in & about the premises … threatening perdition, ‘thunder, horror guts & death’ … I presume she will rave herself quiet.” Susan may have lost her reputation, but Byron still managed to cast himself as the victim of the affair. “I can’t blame the girl, but my own vanity in believing that ‘such a thing as I am’ could be loved.”

Greensleeves on the Trombone—Surely Not!

Henry VIII’s 0rders to his Keeper of the Wardrobe, International Autograph Auctions London on October 17, $40,345 & Bonhams London on November 10, $31,490

Document signed by Henry VIII

He probably didn’t compose that lovely song, Greensleeves, as we were once taught at school, but Henry VIII was certainly an accomplished musician and liked to keep his court band well dressed, as a document of December 1533, signed Henry R with a blind embossed paper impression of the royal signet seal attached at the foot, shows us.

Lord Windsor, the Keeper of the Wardrobe, is instructed to provide livery for six of the King’s ‘shakbotes,’ or performers on an early form of trombone, each of whom is to be allowed “fowertene yards of chamlet for a gowne, … a furre of blak bogy for every of ther gownes, … eight yards of Damaske for a Jacquet and … three yards of velvet for a doublet.”

Chamlet, or camlet, was a name once used for costly Eastern fabrics and later for substitutes of various combinations of wool, silk, hair, linen, etc. It is also associated with the fleece of the Angora goat, or mohair. Blak bogy may have been lamb’s skin, or fleece.

This document sold at $40,345 (£24,600), and, quite coincidentally, another document addressed to Lord Windsor, dated 1534 and related to repairs needed on the king’s ‘toyle,’ or canopy of state, sold for $31,490 (£19,200) at Bonhams just a few weeks later.

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