Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray giving an account of war, 25 February 1825


In 1825 Lord Byron’s relationship with his former publisher, John Murray, had not completely broken down, as is shown by the conversational and informative nature of this letter. 

Byron begins the letter by denying that he is the writer of a satire on William Gifford, the founding editor of The Quarterly Review. Gifford was a self-educated cobbler’s apprentice whose diligence and talent as a writer encouraged a benefactor to raise funds for his university education. He became John Murray’s editor, and Byron trusted his judgement. 

What does the letter tell us about Byron’s reaction to the realities of war? 

Byron, writing from Greece where he was involved in funding and supporting the Greek independence movement, goes on to write about being treated with leeches for a convulsive attack, and the frustrations of the military situation with its internal fighting. He then goes on to show his own humanitarian work, including a proposal to adopt a Turkish girl whose brothers had been killed by the side Byron was supporting. 

The letter shows marks of having been disinfected (it carries the quarantine officer’s mark) and has been baked to kill germs.


[page] 1
Messalonghi - Fe[bruary] 25th 1824.

I have heard from Mr Douglas K[innair]d that you
state “a report of a satire on Mr Gifford
“having arrived from Italy - said to be
“written by me! - but that you do not be=
“lieve it. -” - I dare say you do not
nor any body else I should think - whoever
asserts that I am the author or abettor
of anything of the kind on Gifford - lies
in his throat. - I always regarded him
as my literary father - and myself as his
prodigal son; if any such composition
exists it is none of mine - & you know
as well as any body upon whom I have
or have not written - and you also know
whether they do or did not deserve that
same - - and so much for such matters. -
You will perhaps be anxious to hear some
more from this part of Greece - (which is
the most liable to invasion) but you will
hear enough through public and private
channels on that head. - I will however
give you the events of a week - mingling my
own private peculiar with the public for we
are here jumbled a little together at present.
On Sunday (the 15th I believe) I had a
strong and sudden convulsive attack which
left me speechless though not motionless - for
some strong men could not hold me - but
whether it was epilepsy - catalepsy - cachexy -
apoplexy - or what other exy - or epsy - the
Doctors here not decided - or whether it
was spasmodic or nervous - &c - but it
was very unpleasant - and nearly carried me
off - and all that - on Monday -
they put leeches to my temples - no difficult
matter - but the blood could not be stopped
till eleven at night (they had gone too near
the temporal Artery for my temporal
safety) and neither Styptic nor Caustic
would cauterize the orifice till after a
hundred attempts. - On Tuesday a
[page] 2

Turkish brig of war ran on shore - on
Wednesday - great preparation being made
to attack her though protected by her
Consorts - the Turks burned her and
retired to Patras - On thursday a
quarrel ensued between the Suliotes and
the Frank Guard at the Arsenal -
a Swedish Officer was killed - and
a Suliote severely wounded - and a
general fight expected - and with some
difficulty prevented - on Friday the
Officer buried - and Capt[ain] Parry’s Eng=
=lish Artificers mutinied under pre=
=tence that their lives were in danger
and are for quitting the country - -
they may. - On Saturday we had
the smartest shock of an earth quake
which I remember (and I have felt
thirty slight or smart at different periods -
they are common in the Mediterranean) and
the whole army discharged their arms - upon
the same principle that savages beat drums ^ or howl
during an eclipse of the Moon - it was
a rare Scene altogether - if you had
but seen the English Johnnies who had
never been out of a Cockney workshop
before! - [nor] will again if they can
help it - and on Sunday we heard
that the Vizir is come down to
Larissa with one hundred and odd thousand
men. - - In coming here I had
two escapes one from the Turks (one
of my vessels was taken - but afterwards
released) and the other from shipwreck,
we drove twice on the rocks near
the Scrophes - (Islands near the Coast.)
I have obtained from the Greeks the
release of eight and twenty Turkish priso=
=ners - men women and children - and
sent them to Patras and Prevera -
at my own charges - one little Girl
of nine years old who prefers remaining

[page] 3

with me - I shall (if I live) send
with her mother probably to Italy or to
England - and adopt her. - Her name is
Hato, or Hatageè - she is a very pretty
lively child - all her brothers were killed
by the Greeks - and she herself and her
mother merely spared by special favour -
and owing to her extreme youth - she b[eing]
then but five or six years old.

My health is now better and [I]
ride about again - my office
here is no sinecure - so many
parties - and difficulties of every kind -
but I will do what I can - Prince
Mavrocordato is an excellent person and
does all in his power - but his situation
is perplexing in the extreme - still we
have great hopes of the success of the
contest. - You will hear however more
of public news from plenty of quarters -
for I have little time to write -
believe me, your & & &
N B n
John Murray Esq[ui]re
50 Albemarle Street

N. Bn.



Zante 25 February 1824 Received from our Quaran=
tine office, resealed and [forwar]ded by Your very obedient
_ Samuel Garff

AP. 19


2 / 5 7 {Seals}

Full title:
Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray, giving an account of his sudden illness
25 February 1825, Missolonghi, Greece
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
Lord Byron
© GG Byron
Held by
British Library
Ashley MS 4753

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Lord Byron, 19th-century bad boy

Article by:
Clara Drummond

Clara Drummond explains how Lord Byron’s politics, relationships and views on other poets led to his reputation of 19th-century bad boy.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Created by: Lord Byron

A poem in Spenserian stanzas by Lord Byron (1788-1824), Cantos I and II appeared in 1812, Canto III in 1816 and ...