Walk through this with me. The leavings of a poet— ashes gathered from a long-burnt-out volcano, a hot and savory mess now cold and flavorless served up in cases by curators. Call it “Byron Under Glass.” Gape in wonder at detritus saved— shirt, surgical boot for his “deformity,” pillow on which his ivory face rested while in Greece, a scrap of fabric from his Tartan jacket worn at Missolonghi by the would-be freedom fighter, a lock snipped from the corpse’s head before the lowering of his coffin. Did you want more hair? So many specimens including whole switches, lengths between a foot and yard from women (Spanish, Italian, English) who adored him— the forgotten (Teresa Guiccioli) the somewhat famous (Lady Caroline Lamb, who sheared herself) equally discarded. He threw away the lovers, but he kept the hair (or sent it to his mother to preserve) along with other hair that mattered. What, you didn’t know about his love for young John Edleston the choir boy at Cambridge? The hair looks much the same— you cannot tell its gender or its age. The colors all have faded, as color always does… Now sum up what you’ve learned about the past— or present, you decide. Things we value and display speak more about us now than history. Not Childe Harold’s pilgrimage, just mine and yours.
Margaret D. Stetz
Margaret D. Stetz is the Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware. She has been curator or co-curator of thirteen exhibitions on gender, art, literature, and print culture, including one on Oscar Wilde and Philadelphia (at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia, 2015) and one on Richard Le Gallienne (at the Central Library in Liverpool, UK, 2016). She will also be co-curator in Fall 2022 of an exhibition on Aubrey Beardsley for the bibliophile organization, the Grolier Club, NYC.