1818 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Sotheby

Lord Byron to John Murray, 23 July 1818; Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero (1898-1901) 4:228-31.



April 23, 1818.

DEAR SIR, — The time is past in which I could feel for the dead, — or I should feel for the death of Lady Melbourne, the best, and kindest, and ablest female I ever knew — old or young. But "I have supped full of "horrors," and events of this kind leave only a kind of numbness worse than pain, — like a violent blow on the elbow, or on the head. There is one link the less between England and myself.

Now to business. I presented you with Beppo, as part of the contract for Canto 4th — considering the price you are to pay for the same, and intending it to eke you out in case of public caprice or my own poetical failure. If you choose to suppress it entirely, at Mr. Sotheby's suggestion, you may do as you please. But recollect it is not to be published in a garbled or mutilated state. I reserve to my friends and myself the right of correcting the press; — if the publication continue, it is to continue in its present form.

If Mr. S. fancies, or feels, himself alluded to and injured by the allusion, he has his redress — by law — by reply — or by such other remedy personal or poetical as may seem good to himself, or any person or persons acting for, by, or at his suggestion.

My reasons for presuming Mr. S. to be the author of the anonymous note sent to me at Rome last Spring, with a copy of "Chillon," etc., with marginal notes by the writer of the billet were — firstly, Similarity in the handwriting: of which I could form a recollection from correspondence between Mr. S. and myself on the subject of Ivan a play offered to D. L. Theatre; 2ndly, the Style, more especially the word "Effulgence," a phrase which clinched my conjecture as decisively as any coincidence between Francis and Junius: the paucity of English then at Rome, and the circumstances of Mr. S.'s return from Naples, and the delivery of this note and book occurring at the same period, he having then and there arrived with a party of Blue-Stocking Bi-women, I would say, of the same complexion whom he afterwards conveyed to the Abbate Morelli's at Venice — to view his Cameo, where they so tormented the poor old man (nearly twenty in number, all with pencil and note book in hand and questions in infamous Italian and villainous French), that it became the talk of Venice, as you may find by asking my friend Mr. Hoppner or others who were then at Venice; my being aware of Mr. S.'s patronage and anxiety on such occasions, which led me to the belief that, with very good intentions, he might nevertheless blunder in his mode of giving as well as taking opinions; and 5thly, the Devil who made Mr. S. one author and me another.

As Mr. Sotheby says that he did not write this letter, etc., I am ready to believe him; but for the firmness of my former persuasion, I refer to Mr. Hobhouse, who can inform you how sincerely I erred on this point. He has also the note — or, at least, had it, for I gave it to him with my verbal comments thereupon. As to Beppo, I will not alter or suppress a syllable for any man's pleasure but my own.

If there are resemblances between Botherby and Sotheby, or Sotheby and Botherby, the fault is not mine, but in the person who resembles, — or the persons who trace a resemblance. Who find out this resemblance? Mr. S.'s friends. Who go about moaning over him and laughing? Mr. S.'s friends. Whatever allusions Mr. S. may imagine, or whatever may or may not really exist, in the passages in question, I can assure him that there is not a literary man, or a pretender to Literature, or a reader of the day — in the World of London, who does not think and express more obnoxious opinions of his Blue-Stocking Mummeries than are to be found in print, and I for one think and say that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, from past experience and present information, Mr. Sotheby has made, and makes, himself highly ridiculous.

He may be an amiable man, a moral man, a good father, a good husband, a respectable and devout individual. I have nothing to say against all this; but I have something to say to Mr. S.'s literary foibles, and to the wretched affectations and systematized Sophistry of many men, women, and Children, now extant and absurd in and about London and elsewhere; — which and whom, in their false pretensions and nauseous attempts to make learning a nuisance and society a Bore, I consider as fair game — to be brought down on all fair occasions, and I doubt not, by the blessing of God on my honest purpose, and the former example of Mr. Gifford and others, my betters, before my eyes, to extirpate, extinguish and eradicate such as come within the compass of my intention. And this is my opinion, of which you will express as much or as little as you think proper.

Did you receive two additional stanzas, to be inserted towards the close of Canto 4th? Respond, that (if not) they may be sent.

Tell Mr. Hobhouse and Mr. Hanson that they may as well expect Geneva to come to me, as that I should go to Geneva. The messenger may go on or return, as he pleases; I won't stir: and I look upon it as a piece of singular absurdity in those who know me imagining that I should; — not to say Malice, in attempting unnecessary torture. If, on the occasion, my interests should suffer, it is their neglect that is to blame; and they may all be damned together. You may tell them this, and add that nothing but force or necessity shall stir me one step towards the places to which they would wring me. I wonder particularly at Mr. Hobhouse's (who is in possession of my opinions) sanctioning such a conspiracy against my tranquillity.

If your literary matters prosper, let me know. If Beppo pleases, you shall have more in a year or two in the same mood. And so "Good morrow to you, good Master Lieutenant."

Yours,

B.