1812: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos 1 & 2

The year is 1812. Although John Murray and Lord Byron had communicated through a couple of letters in 1811, it was not until the following year that regular communication started to occur between them. Looking back, Murray referred to 1812 as his ‘annus mirabilis’, (O’Connell 159) or ‘miracle year’. He does so for good reason; it was the year that John Murray moved his publishing house to Albemarle Street and published Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos 1 & 2. Overnight, the poems became a success, putting both Byron and Murray’s name on the literary radar. The public could not get enough, as 4,500 copies of the poem were sold. This accomplishment helped to establish both the author and the publisher, paving the way for future relations between the two.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos 1 & 2 was the first major publication between the pair. It represents the formation of their business relationship, as “the poem became an emblem for their literary alliance.” (Nicholson xviii) It represents their success, as well as the beginning of their partnership. This strong start helped to establish the dominance that both Murray and Byron would have as a publisher and author over the next several years.

John Murray’s second letter to Lord Byron shows the formation of a great business relationship between the two, with no signs of personal affection yet. The letter discusses the success of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos 1 & 2, with Murray offering a thousand guineas for Byron’s next poem. He praises Byron’s work, noting that he will “ever gratefully remember the fame it would cast over my new establishment,” (Nicholson 8) which is in reference to moving to Albemarle Street. Murray also sends Byron a couple of letters, a couple of parcels and two reviews of the recent publication.

John Murray’s letters to Lord Byron show the start of their professional relationship, as the publisher and author encounter immense fame. As O’Connell notes in her article “’[T]he natural antipathy of author & bookseller’: Byron and John Murray”, “the sales of Byron’s poetry helped to establish Murray as one of the leading publishers of the period” (O’Connell 164) After the publication of CHP 1 & 2, the two would have good reason to work with each other given the previous success.

Yet, there was equal reason to believe that the partnership between John Murray and Lord Byron was doomed from the start. The differences in personal moral values (to put it in simple terms, Murray was highly conservative and Byron was liberal) did raise questions of whether or not they were the best fit for each other. O’Connell notes in her article that “it was peculiar that a poet like Byron would be published by the man… who prided himself on his friends in the government.” (O’Connell 163) She later notes that the two of them bickered from the start, which included Byron writing a letter to Murray that told him to jump into a canal. (O’Connell 164)

Most importantly, O’Connell says that although “Byron regularly disagreed with Murray, but he often complied, knowing that his publisher played a key role in his success.” (O’Connell 164) Both parties of the relationship must give and receive, in order to maintain a fair relationship. This quote shows that personal values do not have to align in order to form a successful business relationship. It helps; but it is not necessary, as seen in the earlier years of Murray and Byron. Murray did not allow Byron’s erratic behaviour and threats of violence to change his mind.

Although it is too soon to say that Murray and Byron develop a closer relationship, we can see the high regard Murray holds for Byron by looking at his letters. Since it is still early in their relationship, there is no signs of existing conflict or exploitation. 1812 signifies the starting point of eleven year relationship between the author and publisher, who have begun the process of establishing themselves as a dominating force in the literary world.


Works Cited

Murray, John, and George Gordon Byron Byron. The Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron. Ed. Andrew Nicholson. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007.

O’Connell, Mary. “[T]he Natural Antipathy of Author & Bookseller’:’ Byron and John Murray .” The Byron Journal 41.2 2013.


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