Monday, December 28, 2015

Byron's Secret Code

In 1812, Lord Byron wrote in one of his letters:

I never laughed as P-- (by the bye this is an initial which might puzzle posterity when our correspondence bursts forth in the 20th century)...

Well, as it so happens, Lord Byron's correspondence DID become a matter of great interest to the 20th century, and by the close of that century (and to my knowledge still today) the identity of P-- remained unknown.

The author of such plays as Manfred, Marino Faliero, Sardanapalus, and Cain was quite fond of writing in code when it came to certain individuals (especially lovers). Lady Caroline Lamb, who pursued Byron mercilessly, became simply "C" and the poet's half-sister Augusta is frequently noted by a dash. However, "P--" is anyone's guess.

This is one of the tidbits I picked up from Charles Rosen's book Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen. Another is that Byron (according to a diary entry in 1813) burned the first scenes of a planned comedy he had started writing.

At least Byron got to choose to destroy his work, unlike poor Mary Wollstonecraft, whose husband William Godwin burned her comic sketches. How much people today would love to have those pages... even more than to find out who "P--" was!