Handsome edition of a suppressed masterpiece

    The epic poem, Don Leon, was written in the 1830s, but the oldest surviving edition is that of William Dugdale, 1866.  It apparently was first published some time in the 1830s, but that edition is lost.  The poem purports to be by Lord Byron, and was so promoted by Dugdale, but Byron could not be the sole author, if at all, since it refers to events that happened after his death.
    Don Leon is outstanding for several reasons.  It is the first published call to abolish England's buggery statute, under which man and boys were still being hanged up to 1834.  It gives an account of Byron's homoerotic proclivities, which has largely proven to be true.  It provides a witty and convincing defense of love between males.  And it is robustly enjoyable poetry.  Take a typical passage:

    Look, how infected with this rank disease
    Were those, who held St. Peter's holy keys,
    And pious men to whom the people bowed,
    And kings, who churches to the saints endowed;
    All these were Christians of the highest stamp --
    How many scholars, wasting o'er their lamp,    
    How many jurists, versed in legal rules,
    How many poets, honoured in the schools,
    How many captains, famed for deeds of arms,
    Have found their solace in a minion's arms!

    It's apparent that the Leon author had an outstanding classical education, since his argumentation is largely based on the acceptance and glorification of male love in Ancient Greece and Rome.  There is not the slightest taint of identity politics, nor is there a suggestion that men who loved males were a minority or in any way set apart from other men.  It is ‟masculinist” (a term now used disparagingly by feminists).
    The very extensive notes, a full 66 pages in this edition, were probably written by several men over the course of several years.  They are a treasure trove of information on events relating to gay men — from executions, to trials on lesser offenses, to local gossip.  The notes contain passages which constitute all that remains of an important 1833 monograph for the repeal of England's buggery statute: ‟A Free Examination into the Penal Statutes xxv Henry VIII cap 6 and v. Eliz c. 17 addrest to Both Houses of Parliament By A. Pilgrim, &c”.  In an appendix, Classical scholar Hugh Hagius pieces together and analyzes these fragments, which are as convincing now as they were then.
    This is the first new book edition since Fortune Press's ill-fated edition of 1934, which was immediately confiscated and destroyed by the London police.  It is handsomely produced.  The poems themselves are set in a large and elegant typeface, designed to be readable, but slowly enough that the poetry can actually be heard, not just skimmed over.  Five stars.

Amazon review by William A. Percy, retired Professor of History