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From the late 1920s, the National Portrait Gallery invited leading writers to create 70-word biographies, of subjects whose portraits hang in the Gallery, for the backs of postcards. In this second series, we present some more of the most exceptional and unexpected of these unknown literary gems, together with the stories behind the commissions

14: Harold Nicolson (1886-1968) on Lord Byron (1788-1824)

After an unhappy and squalid childhood he succeeded unexpectedly to the title and at twenty-six achieved European renown by the publication of "Childe Harold". His beauty and vitality rendered him the most romantic figure of his age. In 1816 he escaped from his wife and England. After seven feckless years in Italy he died of fever at Missolonghi while fighting for the cause of Greek independence. Harold Nicolson

Byron's short but eventful life is more difficult than most to compress; no one knew that better than the writer and diplomat Harold Nicolson, who had penned a full-length biography of the poet in 1924. Five years later, Nicolson, ensconced in the British Embassy in Berlin, replied to the Chairman's invitation to participate: "Dear Charteris, I ... exclaimed in horror at the thought of embarking once more upon George Gordon Lord Byron. But sixty words are not much nor are they perhaps enough in which to describe so complex a personality. I enclose an effort. I shant [sic] want a proof, but you will probably find that the printer, being an accurate man, will alter my name from `Nicolson' to `Nicholson'. They always do."

! A small selection of portraits and letters from the postcard biography archives is on display until 22 June at the NPG, St Martin's Place, London WC2. Free.