Obituary: Leslie A. Marchand

LESLIE A. MARCHAND was a literary scholar of immense and lasting achievement. His Byron, A Biography, which drew on innumerable primary sources presented with scrupulous care, was published in three large volumes in 1957. His edition of the complete Byron's Letters and Journals, which appeared in 12 volumes between 1973 and 1982, with a supplementary volume in 1994, made available the results of three decades of tracking down original Byron letters in libraries and private collections in many countries.

Marchand enabled the world to appreciate for the first time the extraordinarily rich personality of the poet and the variety and integrity of his life. Along with another American, Newman Ivey White, who performed the same service for Shelley in 1947, Marchand rescued Byron from the semi-fictional romancing of Andre Maurois, and from the shoddy, sometimes sneering, amateurism which had dominated biographical writing on the English romantic poets in the pre-war period. By giving us Byron's own unedited words, in his business letters as well as in his intimate confidences to his friends, Marchand not only revealed one of the best letter writers of all time, but helped us to understand why Byron was so engaging as well as influential a figure.

Leslie Marchand was born in 1900 in Washington State, then still almost a frontier society. His parent were French-speaking immigrants to the United States, and Leslie always liked to hear the French echo by stressing the second syllable of his name. In 1923 he accepted a post at what was then one of the most remote places in the western world, Farthest North College in Alaska, an agricultural and mining school which had decided to bring in its first teacher in the humanities. In chapters of his unpublished autobiography shown to friends in recent years he describes the many days of trekking across the snow on dog-drawn sledges, and a climb up Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in the United States.

Marchand enjoyed the heroic pioneering, but it all had a purpose. With the money saved, the young man was able a few years later to finance a trip to Paris, to get himself started, despite the Depression, on an academic career at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and then shortly before the Second World War, he took his doctorate at Columbia University in New York.

His academic interests had hitherto been general. His 1940 dissertation, published as The Athenaeum: a mirror of Victorian culture (1941), was a study of the struggle to establish an independent journal offering independent reviews uninfluenced by publishers' puffery. But with the encouragement of his professors at Columbia he decided that, as soon as the war was over, he would turn his attention to Byron.

In July 1947 Marchand set off from New York on board the Queen Elizabeth. He was well equipped with the most modern technology, a camera that could take colour pictures. He also knew how to arrange microfilming in London, an innovation in literary research then scarcely known. His luggage included a trunkful of assorted groceries to ease his passage through a Britain still deep in post war austerity plus a supply of woollen underwear. Marchand had been advised that his Alaskan experience would prove invaluable in the unheated British Museum library.

It was at that time that he met the late Jock Murray, of the firm of John Murray that had been Byron's publisher, with whom he was to share his life long enthusiasm. Together they emptied the piles of boxes into which the less dedicated researchers of the past had only made occasional dips. In Wiltshire a member of the Hobhouse family used her precious petrol coupons to enable him to see the diaries of Byron's dearest friend, John Cam Hobhouse.

Fortune smiled. As part of his research project, Marchand wanted to build his own library of Byron books and visited the bookshops on the way. In a shop in Surrey he found and was able to buy half a dozen notebooks and commonplace books written by Byron's wife Annabella, which had been disposed of as of no value by the owners of the big house nearby.

From England Marchand followed the Byronic trail to Switzerland, to Italy, and then to Greece, where the bitter civil war had not yet ended. Travel in Greece, especially in the area near Missolonghi where Byron had met his death in 1824, was still dangerous as well as uncomfortable, but then so had it been for Byron on both his visits.

Everywhere Marchand went he was welcomed and everywhere throughout his life he found new material. The first draft of his book, in which he included his findings, was three times as long as the final version. If it had been printed in full it would have been 3,000 pages long.

Marchand's approach to biography was to transcribe, to understand and contextualise the original documents, to reconstruct the essential historical facts which they pointed to, and to allow Byron to speak for himself. Seldom has a biographer been more modest, keeping well in the background, avoiding making unnecessary or definitive judgements, and offering no overarching psycho-logical or theoretical explanations.

At first acquaintance, he himself seemed personally not in the least Byronic, with little of the romantic flamboyance of his subject. But Marchand knew his man. He could tell a forgery at a glance from the style as well as from the handwriting. Most important of all, he was sympathetic to, and he understood, that indefinable mixture of seriousness, irony, fun, and self-awareness that Byron brought to everything he wrote.

In later years, as a grand old man of scholarship, admired by generations still unborn when he did his main work, there were attempts to turn Marchand himself into a Byronic figure. But he would have none of it. At the Byron Bicentenary Conference in 1988 when Marchand was already 88 - in appearance he scarcely changed during much of his life - he delivered an excellent paper. When the applause died down, he remarked, "when you get to my age, you only have to sneeze to get a cheer."

He was in good health right to the end, and was looking forward to his hundredth birthday. As a little present I had intended to send him the text of a part of an unpublished letter from Byron, one of the very few that have come to light in recent years since he completed his researches. It is from Athens, dated 28 February 1811, and is addressed to his friend Hobhouse. It includes a reference to Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, the work which when published the following March caused Byron to say "I woke up and found myself famous".

Like his subject Marchand developed a special love for Greece, visiting frequently in the post-war years, including a year as Byron Professor in Athens. I remember a special day with him about 30 years ago, when together we explored the marble quarries of Pentelikon.

Marchand is survived by his wife Marion, with whom he spent many happy years.

Leslie Alexis Marchand, scholar of English literature and writer: born Bridgeport, Washington 13 February 1900; Professor, English and French, Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines 1923-27 and 1934-35; Lecturer, Columbia University 1936-37; Instructor, Rutgers University 1937-42, Assistant Professor 1942-46, Associate Professor 1946-53, Professor 1953-66 (Emeritus); Fulbright Professor, University of Athens 1958-59; married 1950 Marion Hendrix; died Englewood, Florida 11 July 1999.

`My mother sends me a pack of stale newspaper extracts, which one sees in every seaport town - Hanson [his lawyer] a damnable account of my affairs though I can't tell if he tells truth or not, his letter being quite facetious, a pretty time for joking when a man is in Greece and his property involved. Hodgson [another special friend] and you send me nothing at all, and unless indeed, you can say something more to the purpose than the others, I am very much obliged to you.

I have been ill and well, and sick and sorry, and glad, and coming, going and staying, like the rest of mankind, without gaining a step towards improvement except in languages, and even there my head is but a Babel of bad sounds. For want of better employment I began several plans of scribbling, but have been wise enough to destroy them all except the poem of which you recollect I had finished two cantos, to which I have added nothing -'

Extract from a letter Byron wrote from Athens to John Cam Hobhouse, dated 28 February 1811; it was never seen by Marchand and is published here for the first time since 1856

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss