From controversy to tradition — the annual Byron Foundation lecture

02 Dec 2009 13:49:00.000

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.

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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 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


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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.


More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.


The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.


Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives ( in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

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More information is available from Dr Matt Green on +44 (0)115 951 4610, 
Tara De Cozar

Tara De Cozar - Internal Communications Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8560 Location: University Park

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