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Byron, George Gordon, Lord (1788-1824)  
page: 1  2  3  4  

As we have indicated, it is unlikely Byron gave any clear hints about his sexual orientation in this work. However, within a decade of his death, some as yet unidentified poet wrote a pseudo-autobiography that was surprisingly accurate on Byron's homosexual affairs. This mysterious document was a poem in rhymed couplets that bore the title Don Leon, A Poem by Lord Byron, Author of Childe Harold, Don Juan &c., &c., And Forming Part of the Private Journal of His Lordship, Supposed to have been Entirely Destroyed by Thos. Moore.

Though not by Byron, Don Leon can hardly be called an attempt at forgery: No one had imagined Byron's memoirs were in verse instead of prose, and the poem made allusions to many incidents that any contemporary reader would immediately have recognized as taking place after Byron's death.

Don Leon is of interest to Byron studies because it gives accurate details of Byron's love for John Edleston (without the author's realizing, however, that the Thyrza elegies mourned him) and of his consummated affair in Greece with Nicolo Giraud, a part of Byron's life on which the Leon poet seems especially well informed. It also presents, in a sensitive and insightful fashion, a psychological portrayal of the adolescent Byron's awakening awareness of his interest in other boys.

Nevertheless, the main impetus behind the poem and its real raison d'être was to protest the continued hanging of homosexuals in England in the years following Byron's death. Such executions had been common during Byron's lifetime, averaging about two a year. But in 1832, despite passage of the Reform Bill and the extensive law reforms introduced by the new liberal parliament, there was no change in the law that made homosexual acts capital offenses, and the statute was still enforced in its full rigor. Consequently, the poem opens with a strong protest against a sentence of death, which the notes identify as that pronounced on Captain Henry Nicholls in August 1833.

The poem describes at length several parliamentary careers ended by arrests or exile. It describes the arrest of Byron's friend William Bankes in June 1833, whose case is represented as unresolved. Since Bankes was in fact acquitted at a well-publicized trial in December of the same year, it would appear that most of the poem was written before then, though there are some references to events that took place two years later.

The fifty pages of notes refer principally to arrests between 1833 and 1859 and appear to have been repeatedly revised. We know that the poem was printed sometime before 1853 since a query about it appeared in Notes and Queries that year. However, no copies of this first edition have come to light; the earliest extant copies are from a printing by William Dugdale in 1866. In 1930, the Fortune Press reprinted Don Leon, but the edition was ordered destroyed by the British courts on the grounds that the work was obscene.

The poem is forceful satire in the style of Byron's own The Curse of Minerva, with many striking passages. It makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for law reform, despite its odd use of contemporary homophobic language. All in all, Don Leon may justly be described as one of the most remarkable documents in gay literary history to appear between the end of the classical period and the twentieth century.

Louis Crompton

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Byron, George Gordon, Lord. The Complete Poetical Works. J. J. McGann, ed. 7 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980-1992.

_____. Byron's Letters and Journals. L. Marchand, ed. 12 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973-1982.

Crompton, Louis. Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Don Leon. A Homosexual Emancipation Miscellany c. 1835-1952. New York: Arno Press, 1975. 1-107.

Knight, G. Wilson. Lord Byron's Marriage: The Evidence of Asterisks. London: Routledge and K. Paul, 1957.

Marchand, Leslie. Byron: A Biography. 3 vols. New York: Knopf, 1957.

Moore, Doris Langley. "Appendix 2: Byron's Sexual Ambivalence." Lord Byron: Accounts Rendered. London; John Murray, 1974. 437-459.


    Citation Information
    Author: Crompton, Louis  
    Entry Title: Byron, George Gordon, Lord  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 1, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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