[PW] Quote Request: A letter is in fact the only device for combining solitude and good company. (Probably Jacques Barzun, 1953)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Thu Jun 2 20:24:39 PDT 2016

I was sent a quotation tracing request which list members may feel has
an entertaining solution. This message contains a request to access a
book and create some scans. Here is the quotation and ascription under

Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.
Popularly attributed to Lord Byron

I think the quotation above was actually derived from a statement made
by the prominent historian Jacques Barzun in the introduction of a
volume that he edited which contained letters from Lord Byron.

Year: 1953
Title: The Selected Letters of Lord Byron
Author: George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron)
Editor: Jacques Barzun
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, New York (Apparently, there is
another 1953 copyright edition from Grosset & Dunlap, New York)
Quote Page: xxxvii (GB and HathiTrust give this page number which is
probably in the introduction by Jacques Barzun)
Database: Google Books snippet data may be inaccurate; verification on
paper required

[Begin excerpt]
It is obvious that letter writing often gave Byron the opportunity to
be outrageous and gay in a degree that no civilized society allows. A
letter is in fact the only device for combining solitude and good
company. And for some obscure reason, letters are also the proper
medium for extravaganza. Byron, whom we know to have been remarkably
adaptable to his surroundings, ready to take the tone of those about
him, would be most himself in tête-à-tête with his note paper.
[End excerpt]

If your library has the volume above and you can scan a few pages
showing the metadata and the quotation that would be very helpful.
Please send me the PDF off-list.

Why was Barzun's remark reassigned to Lord Byron? I hypothesize that a
review of "The Selected Letters of Lord Byron" that was published in
"The Saturday Review" was the locus of the misattribution. The
statement by Barzun was reprinted in the review, and the presentation
was somewhat ambiguous. One or more readers decided that words were
written by Lord Byron.

[ref] 1953 October 3, The Saturday Review, Writers Notes: A Poet's
Letters by Robert Halsband, (Review of The Selected Letters of Lord
Byron edited by Jacques Barzun), Start Page 36, Quote Page 52,
Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz; verified with scans)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
The introduction, even if read after the letters (which is a test),
stands out for its clarity and wit. Especially judicious is his
distinction between the man Byron and the time-spirit Byronism; as a
biographer and as a cultural historian he does justice to both. His
epigrammatic style is no disadvantage: "A letter is in fact the only
device for combining solitude and good company."
[End excerpt]


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