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Robert Byron Papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 605

Scope and Contents

The Robert Byron Papers document Byron's work as a writer and art critic and span the dates 1757 to 2010 (predominantly dating between 1909 and 1941). The papers contain correspondence, writings, personal papers, photographs, and drawings documenting Byron's personal and professional life. The papers document Byron's engagement with travel, art history, history, and politics.

Papers such as research materials, drafts, publicity, and reviews provide evidence of Byron's writing career and creative process. Byron's travels, on which he wrote extensively, are documented in the papers, and include observations on Greece, Afghanistan, Persia, India, Russia, Tibet, and China. Byron's journals and correspondence (particularly with his mother) record his initial observations while traveling and were a source for his publications. As an amateur photographer and artist, Byron also created photographs and drawings while abroad, many of which he later used as illustrations in his publications.

In addition to documenting his travels, Byron's correspondence also provides evidence of his literary circle as well as relationships with editors and publishers. Among his correspondents are Evelyn Waugh, Harold Acton, John Betjeman, Arthur Upham Pope, and Edith Sitwell, and to a lesser extent, Somerset Maugham, George Bernard Shaw, Rebecca West, and Leonard Woolf. The papers also record Byron's social circle, many of whom he became acquainted with while at Eton College and Oxford University, including Michael and Desmond Parsons, Bryan Guinness, and Christopher Sykes.

Byron's interest in politics (and particularly with Nazism and World War II) are documented in his reports on propaganda as well as papers relating to his involvement with the Federal Union League and as a journalist with the European News Department of the BBC.

In addition to his writings, Byron's other papers also provide evidence of his dedication to art and architecture, such as his involvement with the Georgian Group (which includes meeting minutes and drafts of related articles and lectures), as well as his documentation of architecture during his travels abroad.


  • 1757 - 2010
  • Majority of material found within 1909 - 1941


Language of Materials

In English, French, Greek, Italian, Persian, and Buryat (Latin).

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Material is in cold storage and may be consulted only with permission of the appropriate curator. Photographic prints for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The Robert Byron Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Bernard Quaritch on the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection Fund and the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund, 2006-2008.

July 2019 Acquisition, purchased from Paul Rassam and Bernard Quaritch on the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection Fund, 2019.


The Robert Byron Papers are organized into ten series: I. Correspondence, 1900-1991, II. Writings, 1866-1941, III. Other Papers, 1923-1940, IV. Drawings and Photographs, 1925-1931, V. Family Papers, 1904-2005, VI. Oversize, 1912-1995, VII. Restricted Fragile Material. VIII. October 2010 Acquisition, 1900-2006. IX. July 2013 Acquisition, 1757-2010. X. July 2019 Acquisition, 1916-1951.


60.21 Linear Feet ((92 boxes) + 11 broadside folders)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Robert Byron papers consist of correspondence, writings, photographs, drawings, and other material that document his work as a writer and art critic. The papers provide evidence of Byron's travels and writing career as well as his work as a propagandist during World War II.

Robert Byron (1905-1941)

Robert Byron, writer and art critic, was born in London and educated at Eton College and Merton College, Oxford University. Byron was the first of three children born to Eric Byron, a civil engineer, and Margaret Robinson Byron, an amateur artist. Byron made a career out of writing about his extensive travels and his first book, Europe in the Looking-Glass (1926), is based on his travels to Germany, Italy, and Greece while still an undergraduate student. Byron's later travels to Greece (1926, 1927, and 1931), and fascination with Byzantine art, were also inspiration for his books The Station (1928), The Byzantine Achievement (1929), and The Birth of Western Painting (1931).

In 1929 Byron traveled to India for the Daily Express to write a series of articles on the Indian air mail. Once in India, Byron continued his travels throughout the region (including a stint in Tibet) which he wrote about in articles as well as in his book An Essay on India (1931). Byron later recounted his travels in Tibet following a 1932 trip to Russia in his book First Russia, Then Tibet (1933).

In 1933 and 1934 Byron traveled to the Middle East, spending time largely in Persia and Afghanistan, but also passing through Cyprus, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. These travels resulted in Byron's best known book, The Road to Oxiana (1937). Byron collaborated with Christopher Sykes to publish the novel Innocence and Design (1935) under the pseudonym "Richard Waughburton" in which they drew on their experiences in Persia (now Iran). Byron also wrote an essay, "Timurid Architecture", for Arthur Upham Pope's Survey of Persian Art (1938) based on his observations of Persian architecture. On his return to England Byron worked on two travel books on the British Isles: Shell Guide to Wiltshire (1935) and Imperial Pilgrimage (1937). Byron continued traveling after his trip to the Middle East, including trips to America, Russia, Siberia, China, and Japan, reporting on his experiences in newspapers and journals.

Byron wrote on art and architecture in both his travel narratives and in other projects (such as The Appreciation of Architecture published in 1927). He was also a founding member of the Georgian Group, which was established in 1937 as an offshoot of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

In the late thirties and early forties Byron's chief preoccupation was with Nazism and World War II. While Byron's pursuit of a position with the military was unsuccessful, he found outlets for political action in the Federal Union League and with the Ministry of Information. In 1938 Byron secured contract work with the Ministry of Information as a propagandist, for which he traveled to Germany and attended the Parteitag (the Nazi Party Congress). On his return to Britain the project ended and Byron ultimately joined the European News Department of the BBC. In 1940 Byron again became involved with government wartime endeavors and, under the guise of a Times correspondent, he was sent to Iran in order to observe Russian activity regarding Middle East oil. Byron died on his way to the Middle East on February 24, 1941 when the ship he was on was torpedoed.

Processing Information

Although the Library purchased the papers in 2006-2008 not all of the materials were received at this time. In 2009 the Library received an addition to the papers that included writings, correspondence, and photographs. This material was either interfiled into the existing arrangement (where possible) or added as boxes 63-65.

Material housed in Box 62 was restricted from the time of acquisition to September 24, 2014. This material was not physically interfiled, but listed in the appropriate place within this guide.

Later additions were processed in 2019 and were not interfiled within the existing arrangement.

Guide to the Robert Byron Papers
by H. Dean and Jessica Tai
December 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

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