Tuesday, 30 March 2010

First Treasure - A Forgery

I mean it's nothing much to look at
Look at it.

A rectangle of greyish card
that's been written on by three different people.

It's been smudged

The ink at the end of the letter
has bled onto the facing page

Or some of it's been written over, crossed out.

It's a letter written at the end of 1812
that Lady Caroline Lamb brought in to Murray's office
that goes like this:

"Once more my dearest friend,
let me advise you that I had no hand
in the satire you mention,
so do not take affront about anything but call where I desired
- as to his refusing you the picture - it is quite ridiculous -
only name me or if you like it, shew but this note
and that will suffice - you know my reasons for wishing them
not to allow all who call the same latitude.
Explain whatever you think necessary to them and take
which picture you think most like but do not forget to return it the soonest you can -
for reasons I explained. My dearest friend take care of that picture...."

and it's signed:

your friend, Lord Byron"

Well, so what. Byron is writing to a friend who is to show this letter to John Murray, so she can take away, perhaps for copying purposes, a portrait of Byron. The friend, in this case, is Lady Caroline Lamb, who Murray knows perfectly well has had a torrid affair with his Lordship lately, but which is now over...so (as I'm sure she charmingly explained to him) it was natural that she wanted a souvenier of this liaison...Murray will surely understand.

And Murray does...and he gives her the picture...

which brings us to the second of the writers on
this undistinguished bit of card.

Who in darker pen but very SIMILAR handwriting says

"This letter was forged in my name by Caroline L. for the purpose of obtaining a picture from the hands of Mr M.
January 1813


Caroline wrote the letter to herself...it's a forgery! In one object, you can see the whole relationship between poet, lover and publisher

But the third set of handwriting is interesting too; it says in pencil on the blank half of one side

"forged letter
Lady Caroline Lamb"

It's been named. Kept. Catalogued. Collected. Obsessed over.

I think that to understand the collecting impulse that I think gave rise to the very existence of the archive itself, as with so many other things with the JMA, you have to try to understand a bit about the relationship with Byron not of his lovers, but of his publisher. There is probably no single item anywhere in the 12,000 odd items pertaining to Byron and his circle that says quite so much as this one about the curious love triangle. Or which speaks more directly to the theme of that relation ship...which was the reinventing of the self.

So this is my first treasure.

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