BYRON (MAJOR GEORGE GORDON DE LUNA) Collection comprising an autograph letter signed by the forger 'Major Byron', together with three examples of his Byron forgeries
Lot 17*
BYRON (MAJOR GEORGE GORDON DE LUNA) Collection comprising an autograph letter signed by the forger 'Major Byron', together with three examples of his Byron forgeries
Sold for £1,125 (US$ 1,817) inc. premium

Lot Details
BYRON (MAJOR GEORGE GORDON DE LUNA)
Collection comprising an autograph letter signed by the forger 'Major Byron', together with three examples of his Byron forgeries: (i) autograph letter signed by Major Byron ("Geo Gordon Byron"), to "Dear Sir", confessing himself surprised that his correspondent should have doubts as to his honesty: "You seem, like many others, to entertain some doubts as to the authenticity of the letters – your fears are perfectly groundless. The genuineness of the letters &c. &c. has never been doubted in England, though I have PERSONALLY been slandered by the Athenaeum... which grandmotherly and most impartial paper could not resist the golden arguments of John Murray, Esq. of Albemarle Street, nor those of the legal firm... who for the last 20 years have done the dirty work of Sir John Cam Hobhouse... If the letters had not been genuine no injunction of the Lord Chamberlain could have been obtained. Had I chosen to publish in England, adding on the title page only the words 'attributed to Lord Byron' I could have done so without hindrance. – The same secret influence that was active against me in London, is now behind the scenes in New York. I know the Agent of Murray, who has slandered me... but shortly, the instant when the trial of the 'Evening Mirror' comes on, I shall have it in my power to unmask the man – no – reptile. – – Lord Byron, though accused of the foulest crimes at one period – never defended himself – I have adopted the same tactics – my answer to the unscrupulous malignity of these fastidious gentry of the press is silence and contempt", 4 pages, written in turquoise ink, guard, 8vo, 257 Broadway, New York, 19 October 1849; (ii) the first forged letter of Lord Byron, to Hoppner, lamenting the unhappiness suffered by English poets, 3 pages, address panel and red wax seal on verso, paper watermarked 'Al Masso', dappled with artificial ageing, tipped onto an album leaf, small 4to, Venice, 25 November 1818; (iii) the second to Murray (unaddressed), discussing publication of plays, poetry and prose, one page, on paper watermarked 'Stains & Co/ 1820', thin patch where formerly mounted, 4to, Ravenna, 3 October 1821; (iv) the third to Sir Godfrey Webster, referring to his ill-health and lameness, 3 pages, on blue-grey paper watermarked 'Al Masso', address and black seal on verso, small 4to, Genoa, 28 November 1822

Footnotes

  • 'MAJOR BYRON' DEFENDS HIS FORGERIES AND ATTACKS BYRON'S FRIENDS MURRAY AND HOBHOUSE, the letter being couched in the Major's finest sub-Byronic manner, complete with underlinings, and written in a handwriting markedly similar to that of his forgeries (especially the letter dated 1818). Major Byron – who went under several other names, including De Gibler – claimed to be the son of a liaison in Spain in 1809 between Lord Byron and a Countess de Luna. His military rank, like his name, was of course fictitious. When first heard of, he was living in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, from where he wrote begging letters to the then Lord Byron, to John Murray, and to Byron's daughter Ada. He came to England in 1844 and made a further appeal to Byron's friend John Cam Hobhouse; but as Hobhouse had been with Byron for everyday of his tour of Spain when the Major was supposedly conceived and had kept a detailed journal, he was not taken in either. Once in London, the Major fell in with John Wright, a bookseller-cum-author, who was then editing a selection of Byron's letters for Murray. Wright died not long after, and the Major secured not only Wright's transcripts but also the originals of those letters deemed too personal for publication. It was probably at this point, with this material to hand, that he began his career as a forger. While specializing in Byron, he also faked letters by Shelley and a few by Keats. Such was his success that he managed to palm off some his Shelley forgeries on the poet's widow.

    In 1847 the Major issued a prospectus for a three-volume work to be called Byron and the Byrons, which was to include a large number of new letters. This proposal came to the notice of the poet's sister and executrix Augusta, who contacted Murray. The Major sent her proofs, asking for 'free use of all the poet's own manuscripts in the possession of his sister'. She refused to have anything to do with it; and after the Byron family solicitors had intervened, the printers returned the purloined manuscripts to their rightful owners. (The "injunction" referred to in our letter appears to be a later invention of the Major's, see Theodore G. Ehrsam, Major Byron: The Incredible Career of a Literary Forger, 1951, p. 50). Unabashed, the Major then sold a quantity of his Byron forgeries to the bookseller-cum-publisher William White, who sold them on to Murray for £123-7s-6d. White also bought a group of Shelley forgeries which he sold at Sotheby & Hodge, and which were purchased by the publisher Moxon.

    Returning to New York in 1849, the Major announced publication of The Inedited Works of Lord Byron, now First Published from his Letters, Journals, and Other Manuscripts, in the Possession of his Son, Major George Gordon Byron. This prompted an editorial in the New York Evening Mirror declaring that 'The first glance at his person gave us an instinctive conviction that both himself and his "inedited works" were a sham; and we turned from him with the natural disgust we feel for humbugs in general, and literary humbugs in particular'. The Major sued Hiram Fuller, the editor, for $5000 (the action referred to in our letter). This however only encouraged Fuller to further exposure. Only two parts of the proposed book were issued, the second breaking off in mid-sentence at p. 96. The libel suit went against him, and in 1851 he returned to England. The following year Moxon published his Sotheby purchases as The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, with an Introductory Essay by Robert Browning. It was soon realized that all but two of these were forgeries. Suspicion then spread to the Byron letters. White was forced eventually to reimburse both Murray and Moxon, and in 1853 presented the lot to the British Museum as 'literary curiosities'. Carlyle wrote to him: 'The ambiguous "Mr Byron," of whom I had heard nothing for several years, proves to be a very singular fellow; and has struck out a filial relation of the most unexampled kind! We will thank him for Browning's Essay, – till the Treadmill or Gallows have time to do its duty: – that is likely to be all the benefit we reap from your and other people's troubles and losses by him. The Letters themselves, if never so genuine, seemed to me intrinsically to have no value whatever' (22 March 1852). Meanwhile the Major disappeared back to America, returning to die in London in 1882.

    The Major's letter is quoted by Stuart B. Schimmel in his 1979 Robert F. Metzdorf Memorial Lecture, 'Living with Forgers'. The first of our letters is not listed by Ehrsam and Marchand, although they do list one to the same correspondent of 25 November 1818; the other two are recorded.
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