1816 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Gifford

John Murray to Lord Byron, 12 September 1816; Smiles, A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 1:365-67.



September 12th, 1816.

MY LORD,

I have rarely addressed you with more pleasure than upon the present occasion. I was thrilled with delight yesterday by the announcement of Mr. Shelley with the MS. of "Childe Harold." I had no sooner got the quiet possession of it than, trembling with auspicious hope about it, I carried it direct to Mr. Gifford. He has been exceedingly ill with jaundice, and unable to write or do anything. He was much pleased by my attention. I called upon him to-day. He said he was unable to leave off last night, and that he had sat up until he had finished every line of the canto. It had actually agitated him into a fever, and he was much worse when I called. He had persisted this morning in finishing the volume, and he pronounced himself infinitely more delighted than when he first wrote to me. He says that what you have heretofore published is nothing to this effort. He says also, besides its being the most original and interesting, it is the most finished of your writings; and he has undertaken to correct the press for you.

Never, since my intimacy with Mr. Gifford, did I see him so heartily pleased, or give one-fiftieth part of the praise, with one-thousandth part of the warmth. He speaks in ecstasy of the Dream — the whole volume beams with genius. I am sure he loves you in his heart; and when he called upon me some time ago, and I told him that you were gone, he instantly exclaimed in a full room, "Well! he has not left his equal behind him — that I will say!" Perhaps you will enclose a line for him.

Respecting the "Monody," I extract from a letter which I received this morning from Sir James Mackintosh: "I presume that I have to thank you for a copy of the 'Monody' on Sheridan received this morning. I wish it had been accompanied by the additional favour of mentioning the name of the writer, at which I only guess: it is difficult to read the poem without desiring to know."

Generally speaking it is not, I think, popular, and spoken of rather for fine passages than as a whole. How could you give so trite an image as in the last two lines? Gifford does not like it; Frere does. A-propos of Mr. Frere: he came to me while at breakfast this morning, and between some stanzas which he was repeating to me of a truly original poem of his own, he said carelessly, "By the way, about half-an-hour ago I was so silly (taking an immense pinch of snuff and priming his nostrils with it) as to get married!" Perfectly true. He set out for Hastings about an hour after he left me, and upon my conscience I verily believe that, if I had had your MS. to have put into his hands, as sure as fate he would have sat with me reading it all the morning and totally forgotten his little engagement.

I saw Lord Holland to-day looking very well. I wish I could send you Gifford's "Ben Jonson"; it is full of fun and interest, and allowed on all hands to be most ably done; would, I am sure, amuse you. I have very many new important and interesting works of all kinds in the press, which I should be happy to know any means of sending. My Review is improving in sale beyond my most sanguine expectations. I now sell nearly 9000. Even Perry says the Edinburgh Review is going to the devil. I was with Mrs. Leigh to-day, who is very well; she leaves town on Saturday. Her eldest daughter, I fancy, is a most engaging girl; but yours, my Lord, is unspeakably interesting and promising, and I am happy to add that Lady B. is looking well. God bless you! my best wishes and feelings are always with you, and I sincerely wish that your happiness may be as unbounded as your genius, which has rendered me so much,

My Lord, your obliged Servant,

J. M.