Anastasius — The Novel Which Made Byron Weep!

With jealousy!   Because he did not write it.

Initially published anonymously in the last year of the Regency, this racy novel telling the tales of a young Greek’s adventurous travels through the Levant was a runaway best seller and remained in print for thirty years. Yet few today even know of its existence. It was originally attributed to Lord Byron, but in the second edition, published the following year, the shy yet cultured man who wrote it admitted his authorship. And practically no one believed him.

This remarkable novel, Anastasius, or Memoirs of a Greek Written at the Close of the Eighteenth Century, was published in late 1819, by the renowned publishing house of John Murray. In its first edition it was presented as a recently discovered manuscript, translated and edited anonymously for the benefit of a reading public with a strong interest in the regions "once adorned by the Greeks, and now defaced by the Turks." The novel was an instant success and went through three editions in only a few weeks. It was considered to be the work of Lord Byron by nearly everyone who read it, except, of course, Byron himself. He is reported to have told his friend, Lady Blessington, that he had wept bitterly upon reading it and would have given his two most famous poems to have been the author of Anastasius.

Called "… a marvel of erudition, eloquence, and profound insight into human character … " by the editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Monthly in 1877, this novel was actually written by Thomas Hope. Hope, the son of a Scottish banker living in Amsterdam, was a connoisseur of the arts who had moved to England in 1794 to evade Napoleon’s invading troops. He travelled widely throughout Europe and Asia, especially through the Ottoman Empire, as a young man, during which time he studied architecture, sculpture and other fine arts. When he finally returned to England, he purchased a house in Duchess Street, Portland Place, which he decorated in an elaborate style based on the numerous drawings he had made during his travels. He actually opened public exhibition galleries in his home, and in 1807, published a book, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, which was a large folio volume of his sketches accompanied by scholarly text of his own composition. He soon became known in London as the "Furniture Man." Hope later published books on costume and was preparing a book on historical architecture which was published posthumously. He was a member of the Society of Dilettanti, the British Institution, the Royal Academy, and the Royal Society of the Arts, among his many honors.

Hope was a short, stocky man, not particularly handsome, and he spoke with a noticeable accent. He proposed to Louisa, the beautiful youngest daughter of William de la Poer Beresford, Archbishop of Tuam in Ireland. Though she loved another, she was ultimately brought reluctantly to accept him and they were married in 1806. Louisa quickly became a noted London hostess and there were many grand and fashionable entertainments held at the Duchess Street house, and later at Deepdene, their country home in Surrey. Hope was an extremely polite, though a somewhat awkward and shy man. In addition, Regency London society was rather xenophobic and its members were seldom kind to those who spoke with an accent, deeming them "foreign." So, though he was usually to be seen in the background of the glamourous entertainments at his home, he did not often speak or mingle with the many guests in attendance.

Hope continued his travels with his growing family, and in 1817, he, his wife and their three young sons were in Italy. His beloved son, Charles, only seven years old, died in Rome. It is believed that the horror and suffering he endured at the loss of his young son impelled Hope, at the age of nearly fifty, to re-direct his writing to express a deeper understanding and sympathy for the human condition than he had previously demonstrated in his heretofore published writings or in his lavish and grand entertainments. Thus, he began his work on Anastasius, the story of an adventurous and courageous, but ruthless and unscrupulous, young Greek man who travels through the immense and dangerous Ottoman Empire at the end of the eighteenth century. This romantic novel tells, at some length, in graphic detail, of the various escapades in which his hero becomes involved over the course of thirty-five years. He is shipwrecked, imprisoned and hunted. He rides to war in Egypt with the Mamelukes, sails the Mediterranean with the Turks and infiltrates the deadly Wahhabi tribe in Arabia. He kills fierce enemies, enjoys a number of lovers and ultimately looses his heart in an ill-fated love affair. He eventually takes custody of his young bastard son, Alexis, and is later devastated at the boy’s early death, soon to be followed by his own. Hope intended this story to pull back a curtain of ignorance which cloaked the Ottoman Empire in mystery. He wanted to reveal the complexities of the Islamic world, and wrote about its language, music, literature, art, cuisine, law and religion. The book had significant academic importance in addition to its raw excitement and descriptive power with regard to this relatively unknown culture.

The first edition of Anastasius caused a sensation and sold out so quickly that Murray had to publish a second edition within a few weeks. He urged Hope to reveal his authorship, as so many were incorrectly ascribing the work to Byron. Hope yielded and wrote a new preface to the second edition in which he acknowledged his authorship of the novel. In this second edition, Hope also included a map of the travels of Anastasius and edited some of the text for clarity. Though this second edition sold out within twenty-four hours, the idea that this courteous and shy connoisseur of the arts could be the author was met with widespread incredulity. On Hope’s authorship of the novel, Sydney Smith wrote in the Edinburgh Review:

Is this Mr. Thomas Hope? Is this the man of chairs and tables – the gentleman of sphinxes – the Oedipus of coal-boxes – he who meditated on muffineers and planned pokers? – Where has he hidden all this eloquence and poetry up to this hour? – how is it that he has, all of a sudden, burst out into descriptions which would not disgrace the pen of Tacitus – and displayed a depth of feeling, and a vigour of imagination, which Lord Byron could not excel!

Writers in many other literary journals and newspapers expressed similar sentiments, and up to the time of Hope’s death in 1831, many still did not believe he was the true author of Anastasius.

After Hope’s death, his wife, Louisa, married her first love, her illegitimate cousin, William Carr Beresford, who had become 1st Viscount Beresford. Beresford was an extremely conservative, even reactionary man who went to great lengths to distance himself and his new family from Hope’s legacy. Both the London house and Deepdene were eventually demolished and their contents dispersed. Hope’s papers were scattered or destroyed and Hope faded from the literary scene. His great work, Anastasius, too racy and graphic for the moral taste of sanctimonious Victorian readers, was seldom reprinted after mid-century. Neglected and unappreciated, it slipped out the public consciousness to languish on the odd bookshelf, quietly gathering dust. But in the last year of the Regency, it was perhaps the most sensational work published since Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and was as much the talk of English society as the trial of "Queen" Caroline or the coronation festivities of the new king, George IV.

Fortunately, both the first and second editions of Anastasius are available online at Google Books, should you care to read this fascinating novel, especially the preface to the second edition, in which Hope admits his authorship of the novel.

Anastasius — First Edition, 1819

Anastasius — Second Edition, 1820

Perhaps a still-to-be-written Regency novel or two will appear in which Anastasius is the "indecent" novel being read by the heroine in defiance of parental mandate, rather than Byron. Possibly the identity of the author might be the topic of conversation between the hero and heroine, or among the tabbies, at a ball or assembly. Mayhap the heroine’s younger brother will choose to model himself on the young Greek, Anastasius, and set off on some dangerous adventure from which the hero will rescue him, or join him. I do hope that Anastasius will find new life and remembrance in the pages of a Regency novel or three, bringing new appreciation for Thomas Hope’s epic work and foiling Viscount Beresford’s efforts to expunge it from history.

About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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2 Responses to Anastasius — The Novel Which Made Byron Weep!

  1. Suzi Love says:

    Found your full article on Anastasius after your comment on the Beau Monde Blog,
    Wonderful information on your blog here,

  2. Kathryn Kane says:

    Thank you very much! I am glad you had the time to come over and take a look.

    I am an avid reader of Regencies and thought some of these historical snippets might be of use to the authors of those novels to add authentic embellishment to their work.



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