On November 29th 1910 a public meeting chaired by the Duke of Portland was set up with a view to establishing a Byron Chair of English Literature at the University College Nottingham — later to become The University of Nottingham — of which the Duke was President. But opposition over Byron's controversial reputation and works meant this plan was unable to proceed.
Instead the cash raised was invested into the endowment of an annual lecture. The tradition has continued since 1920 and this year’s Byron Foundation Lecture will be delivered by Sir Drummond Bone, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool and a Byron scholar.
His lecture — Malcolm Lowry 100 years on: a view with a Byronic perspective — takes place on University Park this month. Lowry is an author and poet most famous for his novel Under the Volcano, which has been cited as one of the best novels of the 20th century.
In his address to the great and the good back in 1910 the Duke foresaw the controversy over the establishment of a Chair in Byron’s name. As did the American Ambassador, Whitelaw Reid, who delivered the first lecture at the event. Reported in the Nottingham Trader on December 3rd 1910, he told his audience: “I must begin then, even here, with the reluctant admission that no good instructor of youth will put before them the character of Lord Byron to be emulated, or the general tendency of much of his poetry to be admired. On the other hand, no competent instructor of youth can put before them any estimate of the English literature of the Nineteenth Century, in which Byron does not bulk a large figure, if not the largest.”
The chair may not have been forthcoming, but the lectures have been a regular feature of the University calendar over the years. This annual event now comes under the auspices of the Byron Centre for the Study of Literature and Social Change, part of the School of English.
Dr Matt Green, Director of the Byron Centre for Literature and Social Change, said: “The importance of Byron's political legacy has been reflected throughout a number of Byron Foundation Lectures. Similarly, not only did freedom provide the theme of the Annual International Byron Conference, hosted by the Byron Centre in 2000, but an interest in the intersection of liberty and justice with literature and criticism continues to inform the research and activities undertaken by the Centre.
“This includes not only a sense of Byron's own comments on — and involvement in — the politics of his day, but also a re-assessment of his relationship with writers (many of them women) overlooked by previous generations of scholars and new considerations of the ways in which his works informed and continue to inform cultural representations of the interaction between 'East' and 'West'.”
The centre is in the process of digitising records of previous foundation lectures and making them available as an online resource. It is hoped that by January all the lectures dating back to 1921 will be online — visit http://byron.nottingham.ac.uk for more information.
This year’s Byron Foundation Lecture takes place on Monday December 7 at 6:15pm in the Arts Centre Lecture Theatre on University Park. If you would like to attend call Rebecca Peck on 0115 951 5901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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