Letter of complaint from Lord Byron to John Murray, 21 December 1822


At the time this letter was written Lord Byron’s relationship with his long-term publisher, John Murray, was almost at an end. The latest instalment of Don Juan and Cain had been too shocking for Murray, and he had refused to publish Byron’s new works, in which the poet had attacked reactionary attitudes in England and Europe. 

What does Byron write about in this letter? 

The previous day Byron had written to Murray offering to provide financial support if losses were incurred from the printing of Don Juan. Byron suggests these losses would most likely be due to the fact that he’d become ‘obnoxious to the Blue people’. Letters from Byron at this time make reference to ‘the Blues’, a derogatory term for literary women who were perceived as adopting a serious and highly moral position (later ‘bluestockings’); he satirises them particularly in Don Juan Book 1 Stanza XXII. In a later letter he claims that Don Juan has been misunderstood, and that rather than encouraging vice it is a satire on the abuses of society. 

How does Byron move between writing about his work and about his life? 

In this letter Byron again criticises Murray for his editing. He then complains about his estranged wife’s interference with the grave of Allegra, Byron’s daughter by Claire Clairmont, half-sister of Mary Shelley, and also requests aid for a woman whose work was published by Murray. 

In a postscript Byron returns to the subject of Murray making cuts to his poetry – in this case a dedication to Goethe – and discusses the inscription on Allegra’s gravestone. 

Although Byron clearly felt strongly about Allegra, he had spent little time with his daughter during her short life. He nevertheless chose to have her buried in Harrow, where he went to school. Though rumours circulated that he chose to have her buried there to spite his estranged wife, he denies this by claiming that he wanted to have his own ashes buried there.

Full title:
Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray
21 December 1822, Genoa, Italy
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
Lord Byron
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Ashley MS 4750

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