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The lives and deaths of Shelley and Byron ought to interest the world--not just the readers of English--for their poetry covered every topic: the rise and fall of empires, nation-building and nation-breaking, and the vanity of the men who would lead them in victory or defeat. And Edward John Trelawny shows us each poet as a human being. The production of fine writing should not be a mystery; beautiful language comes most eloquently from a troubled heart and a mind committed to seeking knowledge. Trelawny reminds us that Byron?s and Shelley?s lives were focused on connecting to people through their work; Tre begins each chapter with lines from the work of Byron or Shelley.
The Introduction to this edition of Trelawny?s book is written by Anne Barton, a professor at Trinity College, Cambridge University, from which Byron himself graduated about 200 years ago. I disagree with her that Tre?s writing is ?focused for the most part upon himself? as though he were self-centered, though Barton does say he had ?hidden depths? (xx). Based on the form and structure and content of Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author (and Tre?s subsequent life), it seems that Trelawny was aware of the nuances of human character and was more than adequate to the task of knowing complex people. The details he provides in key places are so specific that they could not have been lies or fabrications; Byron?s claim that Trelawny could not tell the truth was simply evidence of Byron?s pleasure in teasing banter. ?Byron?s idle talk during the exhumation of [Edward Elliker] William?s remains,? Trelawny writes, ?did not proceed from want of feeling, but from his anxiety to conceal what he felt from others? (146). Byron also concealed his feelings at the cremation of Shelley?s remains. It?s clear throughout the book that Tre is a sharp observer--of himself and others. And Tre was sensitive to what Mary Godwin Shelley and Williams? wife, Jane, felt about the drowning of their husbands in the Bay of Spezia. Mary Shelley wrote to Tre that she experienced a ?blank moral death? (176). Tre shows that the breakup of the Pisan Circle--because of Shelley?s drowning--was clearly a personal tragedy with far-reaching consequences.
This is a book for all seasons--but better appreciated while strolling on a beach in some far-flung corner of a poetic universe.
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