1816: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto 3

The next noteworthy year that we will concentrate on is 1816. Four years have passed since the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos 1 & 2, and a lot has happened in between. Byron has continued writing for Murray, publishing eleven major works since Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos 1 & 2 by the end of the year. His rise to fame continued, with several affairs (including Lady Caroline Lamb and his half sister Augusta Leigh) before his eventual marriage to Annabella Milbanke. Not even the birth of his daughter Ada could salvage the marriage; the two separated at the start of 1816. At the time, England could not get enough of Byron, for both his literary works and the personal drama that surrounded him. Eventually, his scandalous ways became too much for the public and Byron made the decision to leave England permanently in April 1816, never to return.

Despite all the conflicts in Byron’s personal life, Murray remained one of his closest allies and friends. He continued to publish Byron’s work in their home country, as he still remained one of the most successful authors of the era. As noted in the preface of The Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron, there was an “overlap” that existed “between private and business relations [that] went much deeper..” (Nicholson xviii) than the surface. As the two became close friends over the years, John Murray acted as a father figure towards Lord Byron. The two would joke over letters, sending each other gifts and communicating regularly through correspondences. This led to an increase in personal affection, as they got to know each other on a deeper level. 

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto 3 is published after Byron has left England. In the footnotes of Byron’s Poetry and Prose edited by Alice Levine, it reminds the reader that this “canto was written during the most emotionally turbulent period of Byron’s life… Byron projects onto the external world his recent personal losses, struggles and desires.” (Levine 196) He is vulnerable and all is revealed on paper. One reason to show Lord Byron in this manner is to gain sympathy from the public, through showing his suffering and regret over his actions.

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Lord Byron’s Manuscript of CHP3

Here is where we first see examples of censorship in Byron’s works by Murray. In the first edition, there was a removal of a note in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto 3 and the removal of a line in Prisoner of Chillon, which was published together. Byron expresses his anger towards Murray, but no further action is taken. Murray apologizes for the mistake and they move on. What are the implications of the censorship here? Perhaps it was a genuine mistake, or it might show Murray’s underlying desire for control. Since this was the first time it occurred, it is difficult to say for certain. Due to the close bond that they share, it is possible that Murray might have overstepped the boundaries of a publisher and tried to edit the work to better fit Murray’s audience.

Letter 87 best represents what was occurring at the time of the publication and the climax of Byron’s controversy. Although the letter is on the shorter side, it reveals the affection that Murray now has towards Byron. He has witnessed the highs and the lows over the years, and wants the best for Byron. Murray notes that “[He] shall never forget [Byron]”.(Nicholson 163) The two kept in contact after Byron’s self-exile from England, which further highlights how close the pair have grown. Despite the differences in their fundamental moral values, (as presumably Murray  did not approve of Byron’s actions) they are able to still make their partnership work.

As a kind gesture, Murray also alludes to one of Byron’s poems in the closing of Letter 87. He signs off with “Fare Thee Well, J. Murray”, (Nicholson 163) which is a reference to Byron’s poem of the same title. His intent appears to be genuine, as he also tells Byron that he will be missed. So far, it is the most affectionate letter we have seen from Murray, who tends not to reveal his emotions and feelings.

Now, the lines between business partners and friends have vanished. Their close bond allows Murray to remain Byron’s publisher, even after he is forced to leave England. Byron’s controversy does not (at this moment) affect the publications, but may even fuel the public’s desire to read his poetry. After working with each other for four years, the personal relationship between Murray and Byron has developed into a friendship as shown through their correspondences with each other.

Works Cited

Levine, Alice, ed. Byron’s Poetry and Prose. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

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.

NoteHere is a link to one of the blog posts we did that focuses on nature in CHP3, if further analysis on the content of the poem is of interest.

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