I have included here my long report on the Byron Conference, which I had attended at the behest of Seelia Wickremesinghe, the dynamic Secretary of the Sri Lankan Byron Society. It had been founded by Sir Arthur Ranasinghe, who had chosen Seelia as his principal support. She was the widow of a fellow Civil Servant, the brilliant scholar Hugh Wickremesinghe. He had died young, and Seelia had not only seen their two children through university, but had involved herself heavily in cultural activity. She was related to us and in fact had stayed with Aunt Esme, as she called my grandmother, when my grandfather was Government Agent in Anuradhapura and Hugh his assistant. Seelia’s father had been a Member of the Legislative Council for the area. Her daughter Shan, though she had married a fellow undergraduate at Cambridge, and now lives in Canada, still continues a close friend.
My report on the Byron Conference, the first international conference I attended, conveys I think the enthusiasm I have for such conferences since they bring people together, and also my doubts about their academic content or intellectual impact. I found both the style and the substance fascinating when I reread it after many years.
Corpus Christi College
8th September 1976
Hope this gets to you before you leave – I meant to write as I got back, but was too exhausted yesterday to do anything – even read Dickens. I moved in to a temporary room here where I shall be till the 21st – in London then till you arrive. Could you let me know soon how long you’ll be here for and where you plan to stay, or should I arrange something? I suggest we don’t come here till the 4th, as Corpus has a Gaudy over the weekend and requires rooms. I’m afraid they’ve allocated me a bed-sit – rather pleasantly situated but I’ll miss the expansiveness of a set. Must see what can be done. I want to start entertaining again – do bring some duty–free – which means working in bed might be out for fear of untidiness!
The Byron Conference was enormous fun and I don’t think I appeared too reprehensible. I shall send a full report. I stopped in Belgrade on the way and stayed with Walter J. and had tea before with Elmo Joseph and his wife who were extremely kind (the more admirable as I must have looked exceedingly scruffy) and sent their regards. On the way back I dropped in in Milan on Tilaka Hitchcock’s sister but they were out so I left behind a bottle of Greek wine. I’m getting as bad as you are. Due to various trains being late, my last day’s journey was on an invalid ticket which had the merit of providing me with some sort of occupation in constructing an argument to justify it – despite which I was relieved at not being challenged. Met Gaji yesterday, who’s back at work as well already – he’ll be on a field trip till October 6th (and hopes you’ll stay on till then) but will come down to meet Anila on the 24th. I shall write to Jean today to find out what the situation is re staying in London. Continue reading