September 28 1812: Byron and the Father of all Mischiefs

On September 28, 1812, Lord Byron is writing to an old friend from Cambridge, William Bankes. Fiona MacCarthy, Byron's biographer, describes Bankes:     
At Cambridge Byron discovered and already thriving subculture of sodomy, with its own rituals and codes, into which he was indoctrinated by William Bankes, later defined by Byron has "his collegiate pastor, and master", the "father of all mischiefs", and man who "ruled the roost or rather the roosting" of Byron's Cambridge years.
Bankes was two years Byron's senior, and in many ways the opposite of Long: loquacious, touchy and highly intelligent and arrogant, brought up in the great English house of Kingston Lacy owned by his ultra-Tory father Henry Bankes, a long serving MP who played an important role in directing government expenditure on the Napoleonic wars. Later a famous traveler and collector, William Bankes was to join the long line of English homosexual exiles. Already, at Cambridge his taste for the esoteric was developed. He had fitted up some of his college rooms as a quasi-Catholic chapel, importing Cambridge choristers to serenade him. 
Byron's letter to Bankes is reproduced below.

Cheltenham, September 28. 1812.

My dear Bankes,

When you point out to one how people can be intimate at the distance of some seventy leagues, I will plead guilty to your charge, and accept your farewell, but not wittingly, till you give me some better reason than my silence, which merely proceeded from a notion founded on your own declaration of old, that you hated writing and receiving letters. Besides, how was I to find out a man of many residences? If I had addressed you now, it had been to your borough, where I must have conjectured you were amongst your constituents. So now, in despite of Mr. N. and Lady W., you shall be as ' much better' as the Hexham post-office will allow me to make you. I do assure you I am much indebted to you for thinking of me at all, and can't spare you even from amongst the superabundance of friends with whom you suppose me surrounded. 

You heard that Newstead is sold — the sum 140,000/.; sixty to remain in mortgage on the estate for three years, paying interest, of course. Rochdale is also likely to do well—so my worldly matters are mending. I have been here some time drinking the waters, simply because there are waters to drink, and they are very medicinal, and sufficiently disgusting. In a few days I set out for Lord Jersey's, but return here, where I am quite alone, go out very little, and enjoy in its fullest extent the dolce far niente.' What you are about, I cannot guess, even from your date;—not dauncing to the sound of the gitourney in the Halls of the Lowthers? one of whom is here, ill, poor thing, with a phthisic. I heard that you passed through here (at the sordid inn where I first alighted) the very day before I arrived in these parts. We had a very pleasant set here; at first the Jerseys, Melbournes, Cowpers, and Hollands, but all gone; and the only persons I know are the Rawdons and Oxfords, with some later acquaintances of less brilliant descent.

But I do not trouble them much; and as for your rooms and your assemblies, 'they are not dreamed of in our philosophy!!' — Did you read of a sad accident in the Wye t' other day? a dozen drowned, and Mr. Rossoe, a corpulent gentleman, preserved by a boat-hook or an eel-spear, begged, when he heard his wife was saved — no — lost — to be thrown in again!! — as if he could not have thrown himself in, had he wished it; but this passes for a trait of sensibility. What strange beings men are, in and out of the Wye!

I have to ask you a thousand pardons for not fulfilling some orders before I left town; but if you knew all the cursed entanglements I had to wade through, it would be unnecessary to beg your forgiveness. — When will Parliament (the new one, meet ? — in sixty days, on account of Ireland, I presume: the Irish election will demand a longer period for completion than the constitutional allotment. Yours, of course, is safe, and all your side of the question. Salamanca is the ministerial watchword, and all will go well with you. I hope you will speak more frequently, I am sure at least you ought, and it will be expected. I see Portman means to stand again. Good night.

Ever yours most affectionately,

1. Fiona MacCarthy, Byron: Life and Legend (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002) at 58

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