Saturday, 27 March 2010

8.6 on the Wierd #### -o-meter

One of the things about browsing in the Tower of Babel is that the vagaries of computer catalogues throw up stuff you just can't keep your hands off. For example, the other day I was looking up stuff by and about doomed polar explorer and Murray author Sir John Franklin, whose expedition to find the NW Passage disappeared without trace in 1846, and I came accross a book called

"A practical investigation into the Truth of Clairvoyance


Revelations of the fate of Sir John Franklin


some enquiries into the mysterious rappings of the present day


An Unprejudiced Observer"

Victorians. You've gotta love 'em.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


That's a key principle for me in this job.

Here's a for instance: my very first day in the cages, I picked up a silver grey box at random...this was before a lot of the material had been properly catalogued. The box was marked "R" , and contained mid nineteenth century correspondence from people whose name began with "R".

I pick up a letter from Lord Raglan.

Now Lord Raglan, at the time he wrote to Murray, has just been appointed commander in chief of the joint Anglo-French expeditionery force which is going to the Crimea to protect (supposedly) Catholic shrines in Turkey from the encroachments of the big bad Russian bear.

His Lordship was later to become famous for a) forgetting that the French were on the same side, b) sending the Light Brigade up the WRONG valley at Balaclava...

And what's he writing for?

He wants a guidebook to Turkey.


That's archive serendipity...the congruence of personality and history captured in the moment of writing a thouroughly incongruous letter...and then, 150 odd years later, me coming along and snickering.

I'll be on the lookout for stuff like that. Let you know what I find.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Caroline Lamb's first fan letter

Childe Harold

'I have read your book and cannot refrain from telling you that I think it beautiful. You deserve to be and you shall be happy. Pray take no trouble to find out who now writes to you. As this is the first letter I ever wrote without my name, will you promise to burn it immediately and never to mention it? If you take the trouble you may very easily find out who it is, but I shall think less well of Child harold if he tries - though the greatest wish I have is one day to see him and be acquainted with him...'

Byron sent her no reply...She sent him a poem two days later

Oh that like thee child harold I had power
with master hand to strike the thrilling Lyre...
then all confidsing in my powerful art
even I might hope some solace to impart
To sooth a noble but a wounded heart
Wounds...wounded hearts...she had a wounded heart...she told us so very often...Reading Byron opened her way into her own feelings
Admiration interest is free
And that child harold may recieve from me

Delacroix does Byron

It's hard to imagine now the impact that Byron had on European culture. How much he was adored. How much everyone wanted to be like him.

And how deeply his exotic conjurations of the East, The Giaour, The Corsair etc...

Which are now scarcely regarded as his best

How these images permeated early modern consciousness...

And colonialism. How they shaped the understanding of Europeans towards the great, ambiguous, fascinated,evangelising and eroticized project of the white man penetrating the "dark" world of the East and South.

Here's some images from the great Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix to illustrate the above. The images come from Wikimedia Commons.

Celebrity as Sacrifice

We know now that what we call celebrities are in some way sacrifices, martyrs to attention, that their exemplary self destruction for the crime of being is always, always intrinsic to the plot. They're doomed from the's one reason for our fascination...they are ghastly...another good word that means more than "really bad"...or used to...

Anyway, there is something of death about them...they are mad, bad, and dangerous to reason why we are content, nay eager, to live through them vicariously , to watch them. They are us, we feel, if only we dared...but we don't dare...we are profoundly GLAD we don't dare. Look what happened to THEM.

This was something else for Murray and Byron and Caroline Lamb to discover, that for celebrities, love is always more than half resentment...

January 1816 - Murray gets it Wrong with the First Man on the Moon

Not that Murray always got it right. Here is an exchange where Murray got it wrong...but that also reveals the intensity of Murray's feelings.

The next year, Murray 6 tells us...

"The Siege of Corinth arrived at Albemarle Street on November 4th 1815 as a fair copy MS in his wife (shortly to be deserted) Annabella's handwriting...Byron wrote to Murray "publish or not as you like I don't care a damn - if not put it in the fire"

Murray misread the tone as ironic, and sent two drafts amounting to 1000 guineas...
Byron refused the money Jan 3rd 1816
"Your offer is liberal in the extreme, and much more than the poems can possibly be worth, but I cannot accept it, and will not. You are most welcome to them as additions to the collected volumes without any demand or expectation on my part whatever
Weariness, already...weariness of self when self is now huge...we don't believe this of celebs...maybe it's true...maybe it is an impossible thing to be
"I have enclosed your draft torn for fear of accident by the way. I wish you would not throw temptation in mine"
It was suggested by Byron's pals Samuel Rogers and Sir James Mackintosh...both rich men...richer than Murray or Byron, that Murray give the money to William Godwin, the radical, He is being treated with aristocratic high handedness, but listen to Murray as he responds to Byron's insult...the tone now wholly different, more human...jilted, actually
"Your lordship will pardon me if I cannot avoid looking upon it as a species of take so large a sum - offered with no reference to the marketable value of the poems, but out of friendship and gratiutude alone, to cast it away on the wanton and ungenerous interference of those who cannot enter into your Lordship's feelings for me, upon persons who can have so little claim upon you, and whom those who so interested themselves might more decently and honestly enrich from their own funds than by endeavouring to be liberal at the cost of another...what would be the most grateful pleasure to me if likely to be useful to you personally, becomes merely painful if it causes me to work for others for whom I can have no such feelings"
My money is my love for you...that is the meaning, plain as day...and you have spurned me, you torment me...
to which Byron replied
"Had I taken your money, I might have used it as I pleased, whether I paid it to a whore or a hospital"
The sexual insult is well aimed, I think. Of course, Byron was in withdrew his objection, and paid off some other tradesmen. But the politics of the gestures , of money as shit and sex...of poetry as shit and sex...are established.
Bewildered as they both seem to have been by their joint ranimation of the Frankensteinian Creature of public self hood, he and John Murray had by now discovered the first law of Personality...that there is no such thing as bad publicity. That celebrity is amoral. The worse his reputation got, the more books Murray sold and he printed anything Byron felt like throwing him...and his output was dazzled as well as dazzling, volcanic more than considered...uneven, even for his biggest fans...he was, after all, very young...and no-one had been where he was now before him. He was the first man on the moon.

Man in the Mirror 7th July 1818

Is Murray attempting to remake himself in the Byronic mode? feels like that sometimes Letter 110 Tuesday 7th July 1818
"as usual you are very lenient with my sins of remissness ...which arises from a love of ind
olence which is suffered too much to encrease
We get a momentary flash of of the unlikely image of Murray reclining exhausted from sensibility, wrapped in a dressing gown and puffing on a hookah...

Now, when talking about Byron's work, he affects Byron's affected carelessness
"May I hope that your lordship will favour me with some work to open my campaign in novemeber with - have you not another lively tale like Beppo - or will you give me some prose in three volumes - all the adventures that you have undergone, seen, heard of or imagined with your reflections on life and manners..."

As if he's reinventing himself AS Byron...the kind of man Byron might like, get on with...He has grasped the poet's narcissism, and is making himself into a mirror...

Murray Make Over


7 september 1812

"your Lordship will readily believe that I am delighted to find you thinking upon a new poem for which I should be proud to give a thousand guineas - and I should gratefully remember the fame it would cast over my new establishment, upon which I enter at the close of the present month

I am ashamed to see how long I may have trespassed upon your Lordship's patience
I am ever my lord
your faithful humble servant
John Murray.
IS there a hint of irony a year into their relationship? of a shared joke at the deference. Of flirtatiousness? I think there might be. The letters become lighter...retaining the forms...this is not a democracy, after all...but treating them EASILY

Ease is, after all, the surest mark of gentility

15 October 1812, discussing the Meyer portrait of Byron for use in publication...
"As for the plate itself, as I had not the courage to violate your Lordship even in effigy, I trust that I shall be pardoned for evading this part of your commands by sending it to your own custody, trusting that you will consent to banish it to the family archives, there to rest until a happy occasion can draw it forth agasin.
This, is think, we can safely describe as banter. Banter happens between people who are, provisionally, equals. So Byron must have charmed him. Byron must have permitted his printer to bandy words with him...we know that the most important skill any politician or salesman must have is the quality of at least appearing to listen. Of treating each accidental encounter as the most important thing that could possibly be happening right now, and their constituent as the most interesting person they could hope to meet. Whether this is an aristocratic or democratic skill...Byron had practiced it on Murray, and Murray was now his man. One can specualte about whether Byron NEEDED affection from everyone, as politicians do, as rock stars do. I'm thinking of Hunter Thomson's characterisation of the fatal weakness of George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election campaign. The politician must not only turn on the crowd, he must be turned on by the crowd. Political success is impossible, says Thomson,

"without some dark kinky streak of Mick Jagger somewhere in your soul"

Love at First Write - Sept 4th 1811

Here's an early letter, Murray to Byron sept 4th 1811...before publication of Childe Harold, before they reivented themselves in each other's company. Leave alone for a moment that Murray is asking Byron to tone down his satire a little...just feel the tone...

"I send the proof of your Lordship's poem which is so good as to be entitled to all your care as to render perfect. Besides its general merits, there are parts, which i am tempted to beliecve, far excel anything that your Lordship has hitherto published, and it were grievous indeed if you do not condescend to bestow upon it all of the improvement of which your Lordship's mind is so capable"
Two years later, Byron wrote The Corsair in 12 days. Murray him offered a thousand guineas for it, but Byron said that was too much for two weeks work...

Murray to to Byron Feb 13th 1814 on The Corsair
"Never in my recollection has any work excited such a ferment - a ferment which I am happy to say will subside into lasting fame. I sold, on the day of publication - a thing quite unprecedented - 10000 copies. My only regret is that you were not present to witness it"
Already, fame had its first victim, and Byron was now in the paradoxical position of perpetuating his legend even as he tried to run away from it.

We can chart their relationship, not so much by the content of the letters, but by Murray's tone, by his reinvention of himself as the kind of man Lord Byron might actually LIKE.

When Byron met Murray...

JM 6
The first time that my ancestor actually met Byron was when Byron and his friend John Cam Hobhouse called; then, while Childe Harold was being prepared for press, Byron would call frequently, and straight from fencing practice with Angelo and gentleman Jackson, and while Murray read passages from the poem with occasional ejaculations.
(good word)
JM 6
of admiration, Byron would say "You think that's a good idea, do you, Murray?" and then he would choose a group of specially attractive books and fence and lunge into them with his walking stick.

The John Murray Archive is a Love Story!

I have known Byron all my life; one of my first childhood memories is the bust of Byron standing on the landing below my nursery....Byron is therefore a little on my mind.
English Association 1976 - John Murray 6, known to all as Jock, is making a lunchtime speech

John Murray 6
Ah me what perils do environ
the man who meddles with lord Byron

These perils have continued without interruption since his death: the burning of his memnoirs - indeed, quite a number of burnings throughout the 19th century (and beyond)...and now the quieter controversy about the relative importance to us of his life or of his work which divides the present day critics..
as though they were not two sides of the same coin, of the same personality; and now also the warmer, fashionable
controversy of whether Byron was homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, ambisexual - or perhaps just all embracing".
Not the point, I think. and I don't think our curiosity about Byron's sexuality is just prurience...whether we're being curious about a poet, a general, an axe murderer or a more conventional celeb, we're doing something human. We are experiencing ourselves DIFFERENTLY through these figures, through heroes and villains...we explore the limits of who it is possible to be, how it is possible to act...readers recreate THEMSELVES through the work in relation to the personality of the author. It's ourselves we are interested in when we construct an image of a writer...or an actor...who we imagine to be our friend, who we imagine to have found something interesting in US.

How did Caroline Lamb, John Murray, re-experienced themselves with Byron...I think that's the point...I think that's what was new...I doubt if anyone changed their life because of George Herbert.

The close identification of Byron with his heroes...Childe Harold, Cain, Manfred, Don Juan...provoked a peculiar intensity.

The John Murray Archive is a Love story!