"My Pang Shall Find a Voice": Manfred and The Sufferings of Young Werther
In May 1820 Byron encountered Goethe’s remarks on Manfred which, as translated by Hoppner, began:
Byron’s tragedy, Manfred, was to me a wonderful phenomenon, and one that closely touched me. This singular intellectual poet has taken my Faustus to himself, and extracted from it the strangest nourishment for his hypochondriac humour.Goethe simultaneously demotes Byron to a derivative of himself and diverts attention from the most sensational instance of “hypochondriac humor” in the eighteenth century, his own autofiction, The Sufferings of Young Werther. This essay pursues the textual histories through which the authors sought to distance themselves from protagonists too close to themselves, the revisions Goethe made in successive editions of Werther and Byron’s suppression of the original third act of Manfred, which Goethe could not have known. The original third act, however, was preserved in the seventeen-volume edition of Byron’s works published by John Murray in 1832-33. Attention to the activities of the editor, John Wright, in the construction of that edition, drawing upon unpublished materials in the John Murray Archive of the National Library of Scotland, reveals the interplay between the desires to establish posthumously the standing of Byron and to enhance the commercial value of Murray’s property, and the dissemination of the rejected “hypochondriac” materials. Wright’s preservation made them available for Alfred Bunn’s melodramatic presentation of Manfred at Covent Garden in 1834. Wright’s less notorious but more significant editorial intervention came when he inserted into his preface to Marino Faliero Byron’s withdrawn dedication of the play to Goethe, responding directly to the charges of 1820. In highlighting the arc from the rejected third act of Manfred in 1817 to the historical drama of 1821 Wright brings forward Byron’s ongoing exploration, across multiple and different genres, of the conditions that give rise to the obsessions of his protagonists.