LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
John Murray, bookseller

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IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





John Murray, Lord Byron and Mr. Murray
J. & L. Hunt, Lord Byron and Mr. Murray

Murray,” said he, “pretends to have lost money by my writings, and pleads poverty; but if he is poor, which is somewhat problematical to me, pray who is to blame? The fault is in his having purchased, at the instance of his great friends, during the last year, so many expensive Voyages and Travels*, which all his influence with ‘The
* “Death to his publisher—to him ’tis sport.”
Don Juan, Canto V. Stanza 52.
Quarterly’ cannot persuade people to buy, cannot puff into popularity. The Cookery-book (which he has got a law-suit about) has been for a long time his sheet-anchor; but they say he will have to re-fund—the worst of funds. Mr. Murray is tender of my fame! How kind in him! He is afraid of my writing too fast. Why? because he has a tenderer regard for his own pocket, and does not like the look of any new acquaintance, in the shape of a book of mine, till he has seen his old friends in a variety of new faces; id est, disposed of a vast many editions of the former works. I don’t know what would become of me without Douglas Kinnaird, who has always been my best and kindest friend. It is not easy to deal with Mr. Murray.

Lord Byron to John Murray, 7 Feb. 1820
J. & L. Hunt, Lord Byron and Mr. Murray

Murray offered me, of his own accord, 1000l. a Canto for ‘Don Juan,’ and afterwards reduced it to 500l. on the plea of piracy, and complained of my dividing one Canto into two, because I happened to say something at the end of the Third about having done so. It is true enough that ‘Don Juan’ has been pirated; but whom has he to thank but himself? In the first place, he put too high a price on the copies of the two first Cantos that came out, only printing a quarto edition, at, I think, a
guinea and a half. There was a great demand for it, and this induced the knavish booksellers to buccaneer. If he had put John Murray on the title-page, like a man, instead of smuggling the brat into the world, and getting
Davison, who is a printer and not a publisher, to father it, who would have ventured to question his paternal rights? or who would have attempted to deprive him of them?

“The thing was plainly this: he disowned and refused to acknowledge the bantling; the natural consequence was, that others should come forward to adopt it. Mr. John Murray is the most nervous of God’s booksellers. When ‘Don Juan’ first came out, he was so frightened that he made a precipitate retreat into the country, shut himself up, and would not open his letters. The fact is, he prints for too many Bishops. He is always boring me with piratical edition after edition, to prove the amount of his own losses, and furnish proof of the extent of his own folly. Here is one at two-and-six-pence that came only yesterday. I do not pity him. Because I gave him one of my poems, he wanted to make me believe that I had made him a present of two others, and hinted at some lines in ‘English Bards’ that were
certainly to the point. But I have altered my mind considerably upon that subject: as I once hinted to him, I see no reason why a man should not profit by the sweat of his brain, as well as that of his brow, &c.; besides, I was poor at that time, and have no idea of aggrandizing booksellers. I was in Switzerland when he made this modest request,—and he always entertained a spite against
Shelley for making the agreement, and fixing the price, which I believe was not dear, for the Third Canto of ‘Childe Harold,’ ‘Manfred, and ‘The Prisoner of Chillon,’ &c.—I got 2400l. Depend on it, he did not lose money—he was not ruined by that speculation.

Murray has long prevented ‘The Quarterly’ from abusing me. Some of its bullies have had their fingers itching to be at me; but they would get the worst of it in a set-to.” (Here he put himself in a boxing attitude.) “I perceive, however, that we shall have some sparring ere long. I don’t wish to quarrel with Murray, but it seems inevitable. I had no reason to be pleased with him the other day. Galignani wrote to me, offering to purchase the copyright of my works, in order to obtain an exclusive privilege of printing them in France. I might have made my own terms, and put the money in my own pocket; instead of
which, I enclosed Galignani’s letter to Murray, in order that he might conclude the matter as he pleased. He did so, very advantageously for his own interest; but never had the complaisance, the common politeness, to thank me, or acknowledge my letter.
My differences with Murray are not over. When he purchased ‘Cain,’ ‘The Two Foscari,’ and ‘Sardanapalus,’ he sent me a deed, which you may remember witnessing. Well: after its return to England, it was discovered that

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But I shall take no notice of it.”

Some time afterwards he said:

Murray and I have made up our quarrel; at least, it is not my fault if it should be renewed. The Parsons have been at him about ‘Cain.’ An Oxonian has addressed a bullying letter to him, asking him how so moral a bookseller can stain his press with so profane a book? He is threatened with a prosecution by the Anti-constitutional Society. I don’t believe they will venture to attack him: if they do, I shall go home and make my own defence.”


Lord Byron wrote the same day the letter contained in the Notes on ‘Cain.’ Some months afterwards he said in a letter:

Murray and I have dissolved all connection. He had the choice of giving up me or the ‘Navy Lists.’ There was no hesitation which way he should decide: the Admiralty carried the day. Now for ‘The Quarterly:’ their batteries will be opened; but I can fire broadsides too. They have been letting off lots of squibs and crackers against me, but they only make a noise and *    *    *”

In a letter dated from Genoa the 5th of May, 1823, he says:

“‘Werner’ was the last book Murray published for me, and three months after came out the Quarterly’s article on my plays, when ‘Marino Faliero’ was noticed for the first time,” &c.

“I need not say that I shall be delighted by your inscribing your ‘Wanderer’ to me; but I would recommend you to think twice before you inscribe a work to
me, as you must be aware that at present I am the most unpopular writer going*, and the odium on the dedicatee may recur on the dedicator. If you do not think this a valid objection, of course there can be none on my part,” &c.