Philanthropist books a place for Byron in Scotland's literary archive

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IT WAS a shabby old book, falling apart and with the front cover missing, and no-one at the church bazaar in America's Deep South was really very interested.

Yet the neglected book was eventually bought for $35 (22) by Marilyn Solana, one of the congregation members who had been helping out at the sale at the church in Savannah, South Georgia.

And yesterday the tiny hand- written tome, measuring only five by seven inches, was revealed as the valuable "lost book of tributes", collected following the death of Lord Byron, the celebrated Romantic poet and one of the most infamous figures in British literature.

The discovery of the lost memorial to Byron was announced by the National Library of Scotland after Mrs Solana, a retired speech pathologist, visited Edinburgh yesterday to officially donate her literary treasure to the institution.

The National Library already holds the most extensive and important collection of Byron's work in the world through the John Murray Archive, the historical records of the Murray family publishing company.

David McClay, the library curator, explained that the significance of the book had been discovered by experts at the National Library after Mrs Solana contacted them for their help.

They had been able to confirm that it was missing a memorial book of tributes from Byron's family vault in Nottinghamshire where he was buried after his death in Greece in 1824.

Byron, a homosexual who was also reputed to have bedded 300 women during his lifetime, was refused a burial in the Westminster Abbey because of his "questionable morality". He was buried instead in the family vault at the Church of St Mary Magdalene near the family's ancestral home at Hucknall Torkard, near Nottingham.

Mr McClay explained that his research had shown that the memorial book had been placed in the vault at the church in 1825, and by 1834 it was full. But what happened next was unclear. One report from 1849 stated the parish clerk gave it to a friend. Another from 1890 suggested the book was in the United States, having come into the possession of a family who moved there.

The book lay undiscovered until it finally turned up at the annual church bazaar at St John's Episcopal Church in Savannah in 2008. By then the book had lost its cover, was rather dirty and its first few pages were loose.

Mr McClay said: "This is a remarkable find which offers a fascinating insight into Byron's posthumous reputation. I'm sure there will be international interest in what has come to light."

The original leather front cover is missing. But the hand- written front page of the book states: "To the immortal and illustrious fame of Lord Byron, the first poet of the age in which he lived."Research has shown that it contains tributes - some in the form of poetical laments - from more than 800 people including tributes from the American writer Washington Irving, American president Martin Van Buren, and the Irish poet Tom Moore.

A delighted Mrs Solano said: "I'm thrilled to be able to bring this wonderful little book to the National Library of Scotland where it can be treasured and studied and cared for professionally."

A source at the National Library said: "It is not possible to say just how valuable this book is. Books associated with Byron are sold for thousands rather than hundreds of pounds. This book is unique, there is nothing else like it anywhere else in the world."