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Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Byron’s Early Satire Spurs Houghton Exhibition

byron exhibition  

Charles Williams.The Genius of Theatricals Bringing Iohn Bull to His Senses!!! (London, 1806), Bequest of E. J. Wendell, Harvard Theatre Collection - HTC 31.087


May 20, 2010 – His name is virtually synonymous with Romantic poetry, but it was a work of a very different nature that first made Lord Byron famous. Published anonymously in 1809, the viciously satirical English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, attacked Byron’s critics and disparaged dozens of authors, including many whom remain titans of English literature. Almost immediately, the work was the subject of controversy and angry reaction, with at least one critic challenging Byron to a duel over his depiction in the poem.

A new exhibition, "Let Satire Be My Song": Byron's English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, now on display at Houghton Library, examines the publication history and transmission of Byron’s poem.

While the controversy sparked by English Bards and Scotch Reviewers offered Byron his first taste of fame, he eventually came to regret penning the poem. Shortly after being revealed as its author, Byron left England for a tour of Portugal, Spain and the Mediterranean. After returning, the first cantos of Child Harold’s Pilgrimage were published, thrusting Byron into the literary circles he’d previously satirized. Realizing that many contemporaries were still stinging from the poem, Byron in later years tried unsuccessfully to have its publication suppressed.

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Among the items included in the exhibition is the earliest extant manuscript of the poem, loaned to the exhibition from the John Murray Archive by permission of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland. The display also includes materials drawn from throughout Houghton’s collections, including works by Byron’s satiric progenitors, from Dryden to Lady Anne Hamilton, as well as books and manuscripts by major authors satirized by Byron: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Moore, Bowles, Sheridan, and Keats. The exhibition also includes works by lesser known writers who were criticized by Byron, as well as material from the Harvard Theatre Collection highlighting Byron’s critique of the British stage.

The exhibition is mounted in conjunction with the 36th International Byron Society Conference, scheduled for July 23 – 31. The conference will be held at various locations in greater Boston area, including  sessions at Houghton Library and the Longfellow House in Cambridge.

"Let Satire Be My Song": Byron's English Bards and Scotch Reviewers will be on display in the Edison and Newman Room of Houghton Library through July 31. Hours, Directions