1817: Manfred



First written in a tour to the Alps in September 1816 and completed in February 1817 with the third new act added in May, Manfred is a poem that celebrates the gothic conventions and “Byronic Hero” (perhaps an extreme version due to his melancholy and continous guilt) with allusions to the German legend who seeks knowledge over all other powers, Faustus.

Manfred refuses the supernatural powers and forces such as Spirits and Witches but accepts and is empowered by earth and the ideas of isolation, indivduatlity and death – because like nature, everything decays. The idea of Manfred is certainly visible as of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Faustus’ reaching for knowledge over everything else, Byron argues* that he was “naturally struck with it : but it is was the Staubbach and the Jungfrau, and something else, much more than Faustus, that made me write Manfred. The first scene, however, and that of Faustus are very similar”. Upon much criticism and reviews, Goethe praises Byron’s Manfred in 1817 as original and Francis Jeffrey (Lord Jeffrey) defends the originality of Manfred and the moral of the Byronic Hero in the 1817 Edinburgh Review, with respect to Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus.

*Annotation in 1876 Murray’s collection of Lord Byron’s Poetical Works.

Originally, Murray offered Byron 300 guineas for Manfred.

Byron as a professional established writer had changed his ideas upon literary earnings and asks Murray for 600 guineas due to the expenses of foreign travels and other related costs (O’Connell 110). He bargains with Murray for a larger amount and throws in the manuscript for “The Lament of Tasso”, telling the publisher “I won’t take anything less than three hundred”. Similarly upon discussions and arguments for the fourth canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Murray offered Byron 1500 guineas for it but Byron asked for 2500 instead because of Thomas Moore receiving 3000 for Lallah, similarly Murray still “owed him money according to previous agreements” (O’Connell 111).

Reasons of why Murray left the last lines out?

The first edition in 1817 saw the omittance of Manfred‘s last words in his death bed, “Old man! ’tis not so difficult to die” (Lines 173, Act 3, Scene 4). Like any writer, Byron was enraged by John Murray act of removing the last line without his approval or notion. As mentioned in the John Murray Biography , Byron sees Murray as a “Patron of Literature” but also at the same time, it does not allow the publisher to control the authors intentions or meaning of works.

Mary O’Connel argues that Murray claims that the third act of Manfreddid not seem to him [Murray]“(O’Connell 110) and Murray states that Manfred was not popular with the ‘general reader’ through lack of plot (O’Connell 111).

Manfred & The Alpine Witch by John Martin

Readers at the time may have found it difficult to sympathize with Manfred since he is not your usual mundane character or Byronic Hero (with respect to other Byron’s characters like persay Harold (Childe Harold) or Conrad (The Corsair) – and ofcourse post exile/controversies of Lord Byron in 1816 caused ambiguity to his readers making it harder to relate or analyze).


The annotation in Murray’s 1876 “The Poetical Works of Lord Byron” claims that the line was “accidentally left out” and Byron, upon knowing of the omission wrote to Mr. Murray “You have destroyed the whole effect and moral of the poem, by omitting the last line of Manfred‘s speaking” (page 191). Murray claims that the lines were “accidentally left out” in the annotation of the 1876 collection but looking at the correspondences between him and Lord Byron, the actual reason seems to be more than an accident.

Andrew Nicholson’s “Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron” gives us an insight to how the letters and communication between the two took place. In Letter 105 dated August 5th 1817, Murray states that “the copies of Manfred & of Tasso which are I trust printed correctly” (page 234) and notes Lord Byron’s reply “You have destroyed the whole effect & moral of the poem by omitting the last line of Manfred’s speaking – & why this was done I know not” (page 238).

Example of correspondance between Author & Poet

Letter 107 expands further on Murray’s censorship of the last lines, claiming that Mr. Gifford, Murray’s personal literary adviser, consulted Murray on the omittance. The letter communicates : (page 241)

.. I do assure you that in the present instance as in any preceding one you will find that I am absolutely incapable of doing any thing which I did not think you would approve.. From no other motive than because he thought that the words you allude too – lessened the effect – & I was convinced of this myself – and the omission to send a Copy to you earlier was merely that having no direct opportunity it did not, before, occur to me to send it by post – & upon my honor the alteration was so trivial in my mind that I forgot the importance which it might have in the <finelier> eye of an author – I have written up this day to have the page cancelled & your reading restored … I assure your Lordship that I take no umbrage at <the spirit of> irritability which will occasionally burst from a mind like yours but I sometimes feel a deeper regret that in our pretty long intercourse I appear to have failed to shew, that a man in my situation, may <be> possess the feelings & principles of a Gentleman – most certainly I do think that from personal attachment, I could venture as much in any shape for your service as any of those who have the good fortune to be ranked amongst your Lordships friends – & therefore do cut me up at word as if I were your Taylor

Murray does not explicitly apologize for the censorship, instead he tries to justify his action and nonetheless originally “trusts” that the printing was correct at the time. He blames Mr. Gifford his personal adviser for the actual omittance of the last lines. Further publishing of Lord Byron’s collections such as the 1876 version claims that the line was “accidentlly” left out, nevertheless Murray had some sort of idea or notion behind the omittance of the last line even if it was “accidentlly” put out. Murray used his agency as a publisher and copyright owner of Byron’s work to neglect the “importance” of authors works and intentions, with more importance towards how will the story might sell (with respect to the plot/references) rather than what it actually represents or stands for. Murray here is a bookseller and not a publisher because he did not care as much for what the story stands for in regards to authorial intent and style (Like for instance the representation of the Byronic Hero).

Works Cited

Byron, George Gordon Byron. Manfred: A Dramatic Poem. London: John Murray, 1817. Print.

Byron, George Gordon Byron. The Poetical Works of Lord Byron. London: John Murray, 1876. Print.

Murray, John, George Gordon Byron Byron, and Andrew Nicholson. The Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2007. Print.

O’Connell, Mary. Byron and John Murray: A Poet and His Publisher. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2014. Print

Featured Image : https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/6f/Manfred_Byron_1st_edition.jpg

Faust : http://www.poetryintranslation.com/pics/German/interior_goethe_faust_part1_frontis.jpg

John Martin : https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/b6/d5/b2/b6d5b288af482c50f670e74e5fd8006c.jpg


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