For some reason, after 16 years, Doris Langley Moore's The Late Lord Byron has been reprinted. Because it is revisionist, it is the kind of book that at one time needs to be written about every well-known scandalous figure. But because it marshals so many petty details in an attempt to save the poet from his detractors, it is the kind of book that really shouldn't have to be read.
Moore shows again and again how greedy, jealous, short-sighted, vicious, vengeful, and duplicitous many people who tried to trade on knowing Byron really were, and in what squabbles and bickerings they took part after he died. Their words and deeds have distorted the facts and have haunted Bryon's reputation even into the 20th century. Moore's chronicle starts movingly in 1824 in Greece and finally fizzles out in England in 1847 with a verbal picture of John Cam Hobhouse contemplating the bust of the poet.
Everybody who should be is in the book - from Lady Byron to Lord Brougham, from Lady Burghersh to Lady Blessington. If there is a devil in the piece, it is probably Edward J. Trelawny, who never seems to have been able to tell the truth about Byron. If there is a hero, it is J.C. Hobhouse - a very imperfect one indeed. He fought most of Byron's "posthumous battles" for him, but might have done a lot less damage in the process if early on he had let some things about Byron be published.
The biggest mistake that Moore made was in thinking that by pointing out errors in what a lot of people said about Byron she would be able to build up a meaningful, coherent, and flattering picture of the poet. In the end, for all her doing, Byron just seems "more sinned against that sinning" and the lady appears only to have protested too much. (Harpet & Row $25)
Stephen L. Goldstein