In 1822, after having been discharged from the British navy, deserted by his wife, and as good as disowned by his father, the thirty-two year old Edward John Trelawny set off for Italy to make the acquaintance of his hero, Lord Byron. "I have met today the personification of my Corsair," Byron wrote in a letter. "He sleeps with the poem under his ...
In 1822, after having been discharged from the British navy, deserted by his wife, and as good as disowned by his father, the thirty-two year old Edward John Trelawny set off for Italy to make the acquaintance of his hero, Lord Byron. "I have met today the personification of my Corsair," Byron wrote in a letter. "He sleeps with the poem under his pillow, and all his past adventures and present manners aim at this personification." But though Byron enjoyed the company of his admirer, and was eventually to embark with him on his ill-fated final expedition to aid in the War of Greek Independence, he had grown guarded and ironical with age, and the perfect meeting of minds that Trelawny had envisioned was not to be. Shelley, however, enchanted him. In the months before his death at sea, he and Trelawny were frequent companions, and the young poet emerges from these pages in all his splendid carelessness and otherworldly concentration.
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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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