Jonathan David Gross, ed., Byron's "Corbeau Blanc": The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997. xiii + 488pp. illus. $24.95 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-89263-351-4).
William D. Brewer
Appalachian State University
Lord Byron met Lady Melbourne (17511818) when she was sixty and he was twenty-four, and he came to regard her as his only "confidential correspondent on earth," "the best friend [he] ever had in [his] life, and the cleverest of women." He found her conversation delightful and declared that her letters were "the most amusingthe most developingand tactiques [sic] in the world" (Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Marchand, 3:14142, 3:209, 3:153). Jonathan Gross's edition of Lady Melbourne's correspondence makes her numerous letters to Byron, the Duchess of Devonshire, the Prince of Wales (later George IV), Caroline Lamb, her niece Annabella Milbanke (Lady Byron), and others widely available for the first time. He supplements the letters with an informative introductory biography, extensive headnotes and endnotes, a helpful "Glossary of Personalities," and sixty-five illustrations. The illustrations alone make this a valuable book: they include portraits of Lady Melbourne, her family members, and associates; photographs and drawings of her various houses; and political cartoons. Gross also provides the reader with a "Scale of Bon Ton" printed by the Morning Post which ranks Lady Melbourne and other upper-class women on a scale of 019 in the following categories: beauty, figure, elegance, wit, sense, grace, expression, sensibility, and principles. (Oddly, Lady Melbourne only scores a three in wit.)