LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Letters and Journals of Lord Byron
Lord Byron to Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 14 October 1820

Life of Byron: to 1806
Life of Byron: 1806
Life of Byron: 1807
Life of Byron: 1808
Life of Byron: 1809
Life of Byron: 1810
Life of Byron: 1811
Life of Byron: 1812
Life of Byron: 1813
Life of Byron: 1814
Life of Byron: 1815
Life of Byron: 1816 (I)
Life of Byron: 1816 (II)
Life of Byron: 1817
Life of Byron: 1818
Life of Byron: 1819
Life of Byron: 1820
Life of Byron: 1821
Life of Byron: 1822
Life of Byron: 1823
Life of Byron: 1824
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH

“In the Appendix to an English work lately translated into German and published at Leipsic, a judgment of yours upon English poetry is quoted as follows: ‘That in English poetry, great genius, universal power, a feeling of profundity, with sufficient tenderness and force, are to be found; but that altogether these do not constitute poets,’ &c. &c.

“I regret to see a great man falling into a great mistake. This opinion of yours only proves that the ‘Dictionary of ten thousand living English authors’ has not been translated into German. You will have read, in your friend Schlegel’s version, the dialogue in Macbeth
‘There are ten thousand!
Macbeth. Geese, villain?
Answer.Authors, sir’
Now, of these ‘ten thousand authors,’ there are actually nineteen hundred and eighty-seven poets, all alive at this moment, whatever their works may be, as their booksellers well know; and amongst these there are several who possess a far greater reputation than mine, although considerably less than yours. It is owing to this neglect on the part of your German translators that you are not aware of the works of * * * * * * * *.

A. D. 1820. LIFE OF LORD BYRON. 357

“There is also another, named * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *.

“I mention these poets by way of sample to enlighten you. They form but two bricks of our Babel (Windsor bricks, by the way), but may serve for a specimen of the building.

“It is, moreover, asserted that ‘the predominant character of the whole body of the present English poetry is a disgust and contempt for life.’ But I rather suspect that, by one single work of prose, you yourself have excited a greater contempt for life than all the English volumes of poesy that ever were written. Madame de Staël says, that ‘Werther has occasioned more suicides than the most beautiful woman;’ and I really believe that he has put more individuals out of this world than Napoleon himself,—except in the way of his profession. Perhaps Illustrious Sir, the acrimonious judgment passed by a celebrated northern journal upon you in particular, and the Germans in general, has rather indisposed you towards English poetry as well as criticism. But you must not regard our critics, who are at bottom good-natured fellows, considering their two professions,—taking up the law in court, and laying it down out of it. No one can more lament their hasty and unfair judgment, in your particular, than I do; and I so expressed myself to your friend Schlegel, in 1816, at Coppet.

“In behalf of my ‘ten thousand’ living brethren, and of myself, I have thus far taken notice of an opinion expressed with regard to ‘English poetry’ in general, and which merited notice, because it was yours.

“My principal object in addressing you was to testify my sincere respect and admiration of a man, who, for half a century, has led the literature of a great nation, and will go down to posterity as the first literary character of his age.

“You have been fortunate, sir, not only in the writings which have illustrated your name, but in the name itself, as being sufficiently musical for the articulation of posterity. In this you have the advantage of some of your countrymen, whose names would perhaps be immortal also—if any body could pronounce them.

358 NOTICES OF THE A. D. 1820.

“It may, perhaps, be supposed, by this apparent tone of levity, that I am wanting in intentional respect towards you; but this will be a mistake: I am always flippant in prose. Considering you, as I really and warmly do, in common with all your own, and with most other nations, to be by far the first literary character which has existed in Europe since the death of Voltaire, I felt, and feel, desirous to inscribe to you the following work,—not as being either a tragedy or a poem (for I cannot pronounce upon its pretensions to be either one or the other, or both, or neither), but as a mark of esteem and admiration from a foreigner to the man who has been hailed in Germany ‘the great Goëthe.’

“I have the honour to be,
“with the truest respect,
“your most obedient
“and very humble servant,
“Ravenna, 8bre 14°, 1820.

“P.S. I perceive that in Germany, as well as in Italy, there is a great struggle about what they call ‘Classical’ and ‘Romantic,’—terms which were not subjects of classification in England, at least when I left it four or five years ago. Some of the English scribblers, it is true, abused Pope and Swift, but the reason was that they themselves did not know how to write either prose or verse; but nobody thought them worth making a sect of. Perhaps there may be something of the kind sprung up lately, but I have not heard much about it, and it would be such bad taste that I shall be very sorry to believe it.”