London: John Murray, 1850. Full leather. This is a handsome, finely bound, school prize presentation copy of publisher John Murray’s 1850 edition of the Poetical Works of Byron. The binding, excellent edition, and contemporary school prize provenance render this a compelling example of poetical works of perhaps the best known Romantic poet persona of western literature.
The full red leather binding features raised spine bands with gilt decoration, gilt-bordered compartments, elaborate gilt design on the blind rule-bordered covers, gilt-decorated edges, and endpapers framed by gilt dentelle turn-ins. The contents are bound with all edges gilt and silk head and tail bands.
Condition is good plus, sound and fully intact, albeit with expected wear to the venerable binding. The binding shows some spine darkening and overall scuffing, most prominent to the spine and hinges. The upper hinges show very short splits that do not affect binding integrity. The contents remain quite clean overall, with no appreciable spotting. Moderate age-toning is evident at the page margins and a moisture stain affects the upper fore edges of the frontispiece and title page.
A bookplate reading “J.D. Steward” is affixed to the front pastedown. Filling the facing front free endpaper in gorgeous penmanship is a presentation inscription reading: “To | Master John Douglas Stewart | is presented | this work combining the | four following prizes: | First in the First English class | Second in the First Latin class | First in the First French class | First in the Natural Philosophy class | also | in testimony of | his general improvement, his […] | and his attention to his duties. | from | his affectionate teacher | William Stewart | Holly Bank Academy | Birkenhead Midsummer 1852”. It is difficult not to imagine the notional effect of Byron's persona, thus bound and encapsulated, presented to an accomplished young scholar a quarter century after Byron's quintessentially Romantic poet death.
Perhaps more than any other, Lord Byron (George Gordon) (1788-1824) epitomizes the romantic poet: magnetic, dark, brilliant, moody, contradictory, and always in love with something or someone else. Hence the adjective derived from his name: Byronic. Best known for the long satire in verse, Don Juan, Lord Byron had to force his publisher’s (John Murray) hand to accept it, which eventually he did, but only after late and unauthorized expurgations. The work was provocative and his publisher begged him to take up a subject more worthy of his attention. Byron rejoined by saying, “you have so many ‘divine’ poems, is it nothing to have written a human one?” (ODNB).
Years of reckless relationships, proposals, affairs, divorces, and flings punctuated Byron’s life, and his proclivity for personal freedom found a conducive cause when the war for Greek independence erupted, cementing Byron’s romantic image, though perhaps not in the manner he preferred. Despite having no military experience, Byron served in the capacity of an officer, supporting a force of 500 soldiers. He died of a fever. His last words were “I want to sleep now.” Despite his wishes to be buried in Greece, his body was transported back to London. “Images of Byron circulated widely during his lifetime and after his death rapidly became more widely distributed in Europe than those of any other individual except perhaps Napoleon.” (ODNB). Item #006721