Byron's letter to John Murray

Byron's Letter to John Murray

Transcribed by Barbara Taylor

A letter from Byron to John Murray
June 7th 1820

Ravenna. June 7th 1820

Dear Murray,
Enclosed is something which will interest you—/ to wit/ the opinion of the Greatest man of Germany—;perhaps of Europe upon one of the great men of your advertisements. (Of all "famous hands" as Jacob Tonson [1] used to say of his ragamuffins) in short a critique of Goethe's [2] upon Manfred— Here is the original—Mr Hoppner's [3] translation, and an Italian one. Keep them all in you [original says you or your?] archives for the opinions of such a man as [paper torn] Goethe whether favourable or not are always interesting and this is moreover favourable. His Faust I never read——for I don't know German—but Matthew Monk Lewis [4] in 1816 at Coligny translated most of it to me viva voce and I was naturally [much—added above the line] struck with it; but it was the Staubach & the Jungfrau—and something else—much more than Faustus that made me write Manfred. —The first scene however & that of Faustus are very similar. Acknowledge this letter

Yours ever


P.S. I have received Ivanhoegood. [5] —Pray send me some toothpowder and a tincture of Myrrh—by Waite and &c. Ricciardetto should have been translated literally or not at all. As to puffing Whistlecraft [6]it won't do. I'll tell you why some day or other. Cornwall's [7] a poet—but spoilt by the detestable schools of the day.— Mrs Hemans [8] is poet also—but too stilted and apostrophic—and quite wrong— men died calmly before the Christian era—and since without Christianity —witness the Romans—and Thistlewood—Sandt & Louvel— men who ought to have been weighed down with their crimes—even had they believed. [9] A deathbed is a matter of nerves and constitution and not of religion. Voltaire was frightened—Frederick of Prussia not. [10] Christians the same according to their strength rather than their creed.—

What does Helga Herbert [11] mean by his Stanza? which is octave got drunk [word obscured by the seal] mad.— He ought to [word obscured by seal] his ears boxed with Thor's hammer for rhyming so fantastically.


1. Jacob Tonson (1656-1736) a London publisher; he published many of Dryden's works. Also secretary of the Kit Kat club and, together with Buckley, he published the Spectator from 1712.

2. Byron apparently enclosed Goethe's comments on his 1816 poem Manfred. His obvious admiration for Goethe and his denial that his own poem is derivative are particularly interesting in the context of this web resource, which demonstrates the importance of Manfred to Hemans.

3. Richard Hoppner, British Consul at Venice and one of Byron's circle.

4. Matthew Monk Lewis had been a friend of Byron since 1813; his real name was Matthew Gregory Lewis.

5. Scott was another of Murray's authors and the publisher had obviously enclosed a copy of Ivanhoe in a parcel of books he had sent to Byron.

6. Whistlecraft was a satirical poem written by John Hookham Frere.

7. Barry Cornwall was the pen name of Bryan Waller Procter, who had been at Harrow with Byron. Cornwall edited several of the annuals in which Hemans published.

8. This is Byron's somewhat irascible response to Murray's enclosure of Felicia Hemans's 1820 poem, The Sceptic.

9. All three men were political killers: Charles Sandt had assassinated Kotzebue, Louvel, the Duc de Berri and Arthur Thistlewood was hanged on May 1st 1820 for his part in the Cato Street Conspiracy, a plot by militant radicals to murder the entire cabinet.

10. Byron is here referring the generally held belief that, on his deathbed, Voltaire (1694-1778) was badly frightened and called in a priest to hear his confession, thus recanting his scepticism. However the account of his deathbed indicates that Voltaire's sceptical position did not waver. On the other hand, Frederick the Great was noted for his Christian faith and his deathbed statement was: "I am convinced that nothing is destroyed in nature. So I know for certainty that the more noble part of me (that is, the soul) will not die. Though I may not be a King in my future life. I shall nevertheless live an active life."

Helga Herbert—refers to William Herbert, one of the early Edinburgh reviewers; his poem "Helga" was published in 1815. Byron comments here on his 1820 poem, Hedin, or the Spectre of the Tomb, which had a rather unusual metre.


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