Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray about other poets, 25 March 1817


Lord Byron starts this letter by outlining his opinion of Venice which, he states, has the benefit of a limited English community. He then talks about an epidemic – possibly typhus – affecting the city, and discusses the literary merits of Walter Scott, William Gifford (who acted as editor for John Murray), and Thomas Moore, before considering the use of the word ‘tale’ as used in the titles of narrative poems. He values his work Manfred (‘the “witch drama”’) at 300 guineas, but depending on the opinion of William Gifford. 

How does the letter indicate Byron’s feelings about his contemporaries? 

A scurrilous bit of doggerel follows, in which Byron pointedly queries some recent publications – particularly Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ and William Wordsworth’s ‘The White Doe of Rylstone’, (which Wordsworth himself considered ‘in conception the highest’ of his works). There is also a reference to Glenarvon (‘God damn’ Byron writes) by Lady Caroline Lamb; Byron had had an affair with Caroline Lamb, who labelled him ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. Byron was obviously happy with this rhyme as he repeated it in a letter to John Cam Hobhouse six days later. 

How does the letter finish? 

Byron finishes by asking Murray to show the letter to his friend Thomas Moore, from whom he has not heard. Murray and Moore were involved in the destruction of Byron’s memoirs, which had been given to Moore. They were burned in Murray’s office after the poet’s death, because it was felt their contents would damage Byron’s, and Murray’s, reputations.

Full title:
Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray
25 March 1817, Venice, Italy
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
Lord Byron
© GG Byron
Held by
British Library
Ashley MS 4729

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