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.
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
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