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 In chapters of his unpublished autobiography shown to friends in recent years he describes the many days of trekking across the snow on dog-drawn sledges, and a climb up Mount McKinley, the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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
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.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor