Let me say straight away that I know nothing about Byron except that he had a gammy leg, swam across somewhere (the Dardenelles?) and died in the Greek civil war at Missolonghi (wherever that is). But looking him up on Wikipedia I found the fascinating detail that one of his forenames was also Byron – the full moniker was Baron George Gordon Byron Byron (or BGGBB for short) – the ‘Gordon’ was his mother’s surname. Curiously there is no mention of the swim on Wikipedia but a lot about his affairs and supposed incest with his half sister. (His father interestingly was Captain “Mad Jack” Byron. Now there’s a moniker to be proud of.) – so why am I talking about Byron? Because for the princely sum ofg £1.20 I got a paperback edition os his ‘selected letters and journals’.
I have dipped into it and he writes with a certain passionate verve and self-possession that it is with a certain shock that I realise that he is only 22 or thereabouts when he starts. I suppose things were different then and you were supposed to be a man from the age of 15 onwards. Of course it also helps if you are a genius, educated, moneyed and…I wanted to say arrogant but there is nothing patronising about his relations with his social inferiors with whom he appears to have got on with in a direct and generous manner; nor will self-confident do. It is the sense that he assumes equality with the very highest. This is not a conscious thing, it is embedded in the bone. Anyway you get the gist of what I am trying to say.
So: here is a gem almost exactly 201 years ago to the day. He is referring to his beliefs in the matter of religion: “I am no Platonist, I am nothing at all; but I would sooner be a Paulician, Manichean, Spinozist, Gentile Pyrrhonian, Zoroastrian than one of the seventy-two villainous sects who are tearing themselves to pieces for the love of the Lord and hatred of each other. Talk of Galileeism? Show me the effects – are you better, wiser, kinder by your precepts?… Is there not a Bonze who is not superior to a fox-hunting curate?…I trust that God is not a Jew but the God of all mankind…I do not believe in any revealed religion because no religion is revealed…God would have made his will known without books…had it been His pleasure to ratify any peculiar mode of worship.”
Well quite – and well put.
One feature of the book that I have just noticed is a final section listing his bon mots so that you don’t have to plough through all that damn narrative stuff. Several of these start with the words “I have fallen in love with…” He seems to have done well on the woman front. And then there is the delightfully shocking: “I am all for morality now – and henceforth will confine myself to the strictest adultery.”
So that is one book that has passed before my eyes in recent days. Another that I meant to comment on before is Fred Forsyth’s novel The Afghan. It is of course the usual thriller tripe – but sometimes you have to read these kinds of books as a kind of palate cleanser. Especially after trying to see what the secret was of Fifty Shades of Abysmal Boredom. But although Forsyth’s ending here was utter crap, the rest had the ring of well-researched, very gritty, factual truth.
And then there was Quirkology, the study of everyday lives. How many people does it take to start a Mexican wave at a football match? Professor Richard Wiseman knows. He ‘secretly’ counted how many people wore their baseball hats forward pointing or rear facing. Readable, and (while some seemed utterly pointless) many of the research projects that he describes were actually rather interesting.