LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Letters and Journals of Lord Byron
Lord Byron to John Murray, 23 August 1821

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
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“Ravenna, August 23d, 1821.

“Enclosed are the two acts corrected. With regard to the charges about the shipwreck, I think that I told both you and Mr. Hobhouse, years ago, that there was not a single circumstance of it not taken from fact; not, indeed, from any single shipwreck, but all from actual facts of different wrecks*. Almost all Don Juan is real life, either my own,

* One of the charges of plagiarism brought against him by some scribblers of the day was founded (as I have already observed in the first volume of this work) on his having sought in the authentic records of real shipwrecks those materials out of which he has worked his own powerful description in the Second Canto of Don Juan. With as much justice might the Italian author (Galeani, if I recollect right), who wrote a Discourse on the Military Science displayed by Tasso in his battles, have reproached that poet with the sources from which he drew his knowledge:—with as much justice might Puysegur and Segrais, who have pointed out the same merit in Homer and Virgil, have withheld their praise because the science on which this merit was founded must have been derived by the skill and industry of these poets from others.

So little was Tasso ashamed of those casual imitations of other poets which are so often branded as plagiarisms, that, in his Commentary on his Rime, he takes pains to point out and avow whatever coincidences of this kind occur in his own verses.

516 NOTICES OF THE A. D. 1821.
or from people I knew. By the way, much of the description of the furniture, in Canto Third, is taken from
Tully’s Tripoli (pray note this), and the rest from my own observation. Remember, I never meant to conceal this at all, and have only not stated it, because Don Juan had no preface nor name to it. If you think it worth while to make this statement, do so in your own way. I laugh at such charges, convinced that no writer ever borrowed less, or made his materials more his own. Much is coincidence: for instance, Lady Morgan (in a really excellent book, I assure you, on Italy), calls Venice an ocean Rome: I have the very same expression in Foscari, and yet you know that the play was written months ago, and sent to England: the ‘Italy’ I received only on the 16th instant.

“Your friend, like the public, is not aware, that my dramatic simplicity is studiously Greek, and must continue so: no reform ever succeeded at first*. I admire the old English dramatists; but this is quite another field, and has nothing to do with theirs. I want to make a regular English drama, no matter whether for the stage or not, which is not my object,—but a mental theatre.


While on this subject, I may be allowed to mention one signal instance, where a thought that had lain perhaps indistinctly in Byron’s memory since his youth, comes out so improved and brightened as to be, by every right of genius, his own. In the Two Noble Kinsmen of Beaumont and Fletcher (a play to which the picture of passionate friendship, delineated in the characters of Palamon and Arcite, would be sure to draw the attention of Byron in his boyhood) we find the following passage:—
“Oh never
Shall we two exercise, like twins of Honour,
Our arms again, and feel our fiery horses
Like proud seas under us.

Out of this somewhat forced simile, by a judicious transposition of the comparison, and by the substitution of the more definite word “waves” for “seas,” the clear, noble thought in one of the Cantos of Childe Harold has been produced;—
“Once more upon the waters! yet once more!
And the waves bound beneath me, as a steed
That knows his rider.”

* “No man ever rose (says Pope) to any degree of perfection in writing but through obstinacy and an inveterate resolution against the stream of mankind.”

A. D. 1821. LIFE OF LORD BYRON. 517

“P.S. Can’t accept your courteous offer.

“For Orford and for Waldegrave
You give much more than me you gave;
Which is not fairly to behave,
My Murray.
“Because if a live dog, ’tis said,
Be worth a lion fairly sped,
A live lord must be worth two dead,
My Murray.
“And if, as the opinion goes,
Verse hath a better sale than prose—
Certes, I should have more than those,
My Murray.
But now this sheet is nearly cramm’d,
So, if you will, I sha’n’t be shamm’d,
And if you won’t, you may be damn’d,
My Murray.

“These matters must be arranged with Mr. Douglas Kinnaird. He is my trustee, and a man of honour. To him you can state all your mercantile reasons, which you might not like to state to me personally, such as, ‘heavy season’—‘flat public’—‘don’t go off’—‘lordship writes too much’—‘won’t take advice’—‘declining popularity’—‘deduction for the trade’—‘make very little’—‘generally lose by him’—‘pirated edition’ —‘foreign edition’—‘severe criticisms,’ &c. with other hints and howls for an oration, which I leave Douglas, who is an orator, to answer.

“You can also state them more freely to a third person, as between you and me they could only produce some smart postscripts, which would not adorn our mutual archives.

“I am sorry for the Queen, and that’s more than you are.”