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

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Jun 3 13:37:28 UTC 2016

> On Jun 2, 2016, at 11:16 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> I was sent a quotation tracing request that I think has an
> entertaining solution. This message contains a request to access a
> book and create some scans. Here is the quotation and ascription under
> investigation.
> Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.
> Popularly attributed to Lord Byron

not to be confused with a more recent variant,
"Hey, don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love."
--Attributed to Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), _Annie Hall_

> 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]
> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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