1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hamilton Reynolds

Lord Byron to John Hamilton Reynolds, 20 February 1814; Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero (1898-1901) 3:45-48.



Feb. 20, 1814.

SIR, — My absence from London till within these last few days, and business since, have hitherto prevented my acknowledgment of the volume I have lately received, and the inscription which it contains, for both of which I beg leave to return my thanks, and best wishes for the success of the book and its author. The poem itself, as the work of a young man, is creditable to your talents, and promises better for future efforts than any which I can now recollect. Whether you intend to pursue your poetical career, I do not know, and have no right to enquire — but, in whatever channel your abilities are directed, I think it will be your own fault if they do not eventually lead to distinction. Happiness must, of course, depend upon conduct, — and even fame itself would be but a poor compensation for self-reproach. You will excuse me for talking to a man, perhaps not many years my junior, with these grave airs of seniority; but though I cannot claim much advantage in that respect, it was my lot to be thrown very early upon the world, to mix a good deal in it in more climates than one, and to purchase experience which would probably have been of greater service to any one than myself. But my business with you is in your capacity of author, and to that I will confine myself.

The first thing a young writer must expect, and yet can least of all suffer, is criticism. I did not bear it — a few years, and many changes have since passed over my head, and my reflections on that subject are attended with regret. I find, on dispassionate comparison, my own revenge more than the provocation warranted. It is true, I was very young, — that might be an excuse to those I attacked — but to me it is none. The best reply to all objections is to write better, and if your enemies will not then do you justice, the world will. On the other hand, you should not be discouraged; to be opposed is not to be vanquished, though a timid mind is apt to mistake every scratch for a mortal wound. There is a saying of Dr. Johnson's, which it is as well to remember, that "no man was ever written down except by himself." I hope you will meet with as few obstacles as yourself can desire; but if you should, you will find that they are to be stepped over; to kick them down is the first resolve of a young and fiery spirit, a pleasant thing enough at the time, but not so afterwards: on this point, I speak of a man's own reflections; what others think or say is a secondary consideration, at least, it has been so with me, but will not answer as a general maxim: he who would make his way in the world, must let the world believe that it was made for him, and accommodate himself to the minutest observance of its regulations. I beg once more to thank you for your pleasing present,

And have the honour to be,

Your obliged and very obedient servant,

BYRON.