Tuesday, 30 March 2010

First Treasure - A Forgery

I mean it's nothing much to look at
Look at it.

A rectangle of greyish card
that's been written on by three different people.

It's been smudged

The ink at the end of the letter
has bled onto the facing page

Or some of it's been written over, crossed out.

It's a letter written at the end of 1812
that Lady Caroline Lamb brought in to Murray's office
that goes like this:

"Once more my dearest friend,
let me advise you that I had no hand
in the satire you mention,
so do not take affront about anything but call where I desired
- as to his refusing you the picture - it is quite ridiculous -
only name me or if you like it, shew but this note
and that will suffice - you know my reasons for wishing them
not to allow all who call the same latitude.
Explain whatever you think necessary to them and take
which picture you think most like but do not forget to return it the soonest you can -
for reasons I explained. My dearest friend take care of that picture...."

and it's signed:

your friend, Lord Byron"

Well, so what. Byron is writing to a friend who is to show this letter to John Murray, so she can take away, perhaps for copying purposes, a portrait of Byron. The friend, in this case, is Lady Caroline Lamb, who Murray knows perfectly well has had a torrid affair with his Lordship lately, but which is now over...so (as I'm sure she charmingly explained to him) it was natural that she wanted a souvenier of this liaison...Murray will surely understand.

And Murray does...and he gives her the picture...

which brings us to the second of the writers on
this undistinguished bit of card.

Who in darker pen but very SIMILAR handwriting says

"This letter was forged in my name by Caroline L. for the purpose of obtaining a picture from the hands of Mr M.
January 1813


Caroline wrote the letter to herself...it's a forgery! In one object, you can see the whole relationship between poet, lover and publisher

But the third set of handwriting is interesting too; it says in pencil on the blank half of one side

"forged letter
Lady Caroline Lamb"

It's been named. Kept. Catalogued. Collected. Obsessed over.

I think that to understand the collecting impulse that I think gave rise to the very existence of the archive itself, as with so many other things with the JMA, you have to try to understand a bit about the relationship with Byron not of his lovers, but of his publisher. There is probably no single item anywhere in the 12,000 odd items pertaining to Byron and his circle that says quite so much as this one about the curious love triangle. Or which speaks more directly to the theme of that relation ship...which was the reinventing of the self.

So this is my first treasure.

The Quarterly Review - First Principles

I've done some reading in the early days of the Murrays' mainstay...the Quarterly Review...but first, a principle.

You don't read a book review magazine
Because you're interested in buying books
The whole point of reading these articles
is NOT to have to read the books
but still be able to talk about them

That, it seems to me,is the practical difference
between a review and a critique and criticism

The review tells you
whether or not
to read the book or see the play

The critique means you don't have to
It's been read for you by someone like you

(Criticism is a dialogue with the book
or play...an entirely different art
Folk who write for the papers are rarely critics)

Where the Elite Meet to Aesthete (part the last)

The next article (by Walter Scott…(that's him downstage right in the picture...talking to Byron)...though nothing is ever signed in the Quarterly, which means they have to give no Quarter…I bet somebody made that joke already, and it got just as big a laugh then…)is a review of a book called
"Reliques of Robert Burns"

So, I suppose, it's proved again
that every book radiates outwards
and reaches every other book
every theme

It also brings us close to these writers
and their audience
when we hear them chat

Chat...in the present tense
opine, argue, criticize

(The book of Burns holds nothing new, says Scott)

The Quarterly Review is dependent on what happens to be new

But it is new in itself that so much is being published
that a rival to the Edinburgh Review can be sustained
a thousand pages of book reviews a year
for two hundred years

The editors also offer
for our gentlemanly consideration:

A new book of anecdotes from the lives of English painters;
a slagging off of a new Gothic Novel from Miss Owenson;
a Grammar of Sanskrit
(Indian Sanskrit...
intellectual loot from an Empire
which does not yet call itself an Empire
This latter article recommends that a full translation of the Vedas
should be made,
so we may cease from puerile comparisons with the glories
of the Hebrew scriptures,
and reveal Hindu culture as
"an unmeaning chaos of grave but fantastic nonsense...
[They] should be given to Europe in the languages
familiar to everyone...
that we may not be blinded by the erroneous admiration
of credulous and misjudging enthusiasts");
A worthy new translation of Virgil's Georgics,
(which comments on the decline of classical education these days
"an indifference to classical education seems
to be gaining ground in this country");
memoirs of Sir Phillip Sidney;
a defence of the historical truth of the Biblical Account
of Exodus against some remarks of Edward Gibbon and the Edinburgh Reviewers;
an attack on John Curran, the Irish Nationalist politician
and lawyer who defended the United Irishmen in treason trials
"no beauty of diction or manner
could have made the ideas contained
[in his speeches] tolerable in the mouth
of a leading member of
the English House of Commons...
he owed much to his clients
but still more to the laws of the country
by which he lived...we expected
therefore, to have found SOME disavowal
of the principles under which
those misguided men were associated,
SOME expression of attachment
to those laws which afford a fair trial
even top the blackest of traitors"
We demand that you condemn yourself!
Is everything in here familiar?
What does it mean that everything is familiar?;
"theorie de l'action capillaire"
by the great Frendch mathematician
Ferdinand Laplace,
book ten of his "Celestial Mechanics"
...which has got far too much algebra in it
"we are persuaded, on the contrary,
that those who enter with ardour
on a life of science, copuld not
p[ursue a more eligible path...
from the academical study
of the great BRITISH mathematicians";
an essay on Greek, Roman and British
coins and medals, fun for the collector;
a book of Gossip haughtily dismissed;
Robert Southey's translation of
Il Cid;
a book of minerology, more hobbies;
a life of Swift;
a tourist guide to Scotland
(trashed...again by Scott);
Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Missionary Society
By Robert Southey…apparently he was supposed to do the stuff on Spain, but landed poor Murray with THIS instead
(every issue must have something that NO ONE
is going to read);
and last, back to Spain and the war,
"Narrative of the siege of Zaragoza"

Okay, that's a fairly substantial list
but a gentleman would not be expected
to read the whole thing.

Current events top and tail it,
(everybody wants to know about the war)
and special interests fill the rest.

The tone is decidedly Tory,
sceptical, patriotic,
pragmatic, dismissive of cleverness
and foriegners in general

It's entirely recognizable,
in fact.

(What does it mean that the past is recognizable?)

And like our journals of opinion now
will seem quaint and funny soon,
my favourite bits are quaint and funny.

It contains no masterpieces of the critical art
but you're not reading it for that
oh mighty customer,
oh magpie playwright.
You're reading it, actually,
because second rate minds
will give far more accurate impressions
of their times
than a genius ever could.

The editors want you to feel included
in a conversation
and you do.

And feeling a bit superior
is part of the fun of that.

But seriously,
you could read the history of England
in almost real time
by reading the Quarterly Review...

Not what happened
that's not history...

But what people thought, talked about, shared
with people just like them
That’s history
As well as facebook

They're not writing it for me
They're not writing for the ages
They're writing for right now
But back then

And that can tell you more and differently
than any prose ambitious for eternity
that the past is a foriegn country
where human possibilities
are exactly the same.

Where the Elite Meet to Aesthete (part the third)

In the manuscripts room
in the National Library of Scotland

like decorations in a hotel
the complete 200 years
of the Quarterly Review
are collected in volumes
on open shelves in the manuscripts room
published by the Murrays
The oldest volume, collecting
the numbers
For February and May 1809
was itself published in 1827

So the second draft of history
(newspapers are the first draft)
became itself history
quite soon

The Murrays were great collectors of themselves...

So in that very first collection
what did Murray think that people would be talking about?

What does he lead off with?

Current events. This is wartime
let us not forget

"as the intelligence from Spain is daily increasing in volume,
as well as in importance
we are glad to avail ourselves of these materials
while they are of a manageable bulk
and whilst facts are too recent and notorious to be disputed (!)
...we are almost tempted to doubt whether
we are reading events of real history.
A king surreptitiously removed
from the centre of his dominions...
directed to abdicate his throne in favour of an alien upstart
...Even those who were most familiarized
with the singular caprices of Buonoparte's despotism
...had by no means expected...
such a theatrical and fanciful display
of his unbounded power"

Byron was in Spain then,
his sympathies divided
It was the theatrical and fanciful
he liked about Napoleon.

"It has been contended
by one class of writers
that the Spaniards have forfeited
their whole claim to the sympathy of free nations,
by making the restoration of a foolish prince
the ultimate object of all their efforts...
that now they will be totally subdued
and trampled on by Buonoparte
and will deserve their fate...
Now this is to argue that Spaniards
should act and feel like Englishmen,
which is not quite reasonable"

This is a conversation ABOUT conversation
...It is the argument in England that is interesting...
to the writer and the reader
and if Spaniards fall short
of the clarity and courage of the English
it is only to be expected

But the value of this writing NOW
is that it reminds us that history
is a succession of present tenses.

As 1809 begins, the retreat from Moscow,
Waterloo, Napoleon's exile in Saint Helena
are unguessable. Napoleon is a terror,
a fact of nature, the man of his age.
For some, like Byron, a hero because a villain.
For some, like Beethoven, a hero
then a villain,
for the English Tory, monarchist Quarterly Review
he is "Napoleon, the boldest, the most politic and the wealthiest
monarch of his time."
They hate him, but he might win.
England might have to come to terms.
His occupation of Europe may be a regrettable fact
but it is a fact for the moment
for practical men to negotiate.

As now, in the British Expeditionary Force
which has been sent to Spain

"under Sir John Moore and Sir David Baird,
we confess ourselvers unable to discover
any practicable and determinate object...
we question the wisdom or policy of the measure
The victories of Buonoparte
have been great and rapid
and he will and must pursue his blow"

Like a London Review of Books Article today
about Afghanistan, Iraq...
Except, being a Tory Paper
The Quarterly Review lacks guilt.

"But it is far easier to over-run a country
than to secure the conquest"

Just as this history is made present
by the writer not knowing the eventual result,
so he himself calls on history
to assure us that French Hegemony is doomed

And uses, amazingly, the example
of the Scottish Wars of Independence against England to prove

"Armies may be defeated by superior discipline or by superior numbers;
generals may be corrupted;
but that the whole active population of a great country
in which the strongest passions of the human heart
have been excited almost to madness
can be terrified into quiet and permanent submission
is, we think,
extremely improbable"

Where the Elite Meet to Aesthete (part two)

The Quarterly Review
is a gathering place
for sceptical, practical
conservative gentlemen
Gentlemen who write and read and talk

In here is what to talk about this month...
If you are the right kind of person
who reads The Quarterly Review.

All marketing defines us like this...
We are the kind of people who drink this wine
And use this shampoo

And read the Quarterly Review.

If all writing is for Company,
and all reading is conversation
Then reading a genius
is a conversation with eternity.
But reading a periodical
identifies you
as being like the other folk who read it.

So to sell itself,
the Quarterly has to take a line
strike a tone
They are telling us who they are
what they're like,
who's invited and who's not...
Geniuses don't do that.

These days, the London Review of Books
is a bit like that...reading it is like joining a club
for guilty non aligned liberals...
that Alan Bennett is a member of
(Alan Bennett for example)
You look at who is who on the letters page...
And that's you
Reading it makes you part of that company.

For two hundred years,
reading the Quarterly Review
has made you a member
of John Murray's club
at 50 Albemarle Street
(You and Walter Scott)
(Walter Scott for example)

So if we read it NOW
we are eavesdropping the conversation
of a Gentleman's Club
In London
in February 1809
We are not reading
We are overhearing.

Where the Elite meet to Aesthete Part One

The Quarterly Review...issue number one

(Like the address in Albemarle Street
and the memory of Byron
The QR is a constant for the House of Murray)

When John Murray awoke and found himself a gentleman,
he bought a house where gentlemen could meet

(on the proceeds of Child Harold
he bought the house from John Miller
at Albemarle Street.
Miller had turned Byron down...
it's all a bit like Decca
and the Beatles...)

But he already had a meeting place
for gentlemen

The Quarterly Review

Where the reading of the best kind of people
went public every month
Or as public as a cost of 1 s every quarter year
could be

And I'm looking at number 1
The number printed for February 1809
As printed by C. Roworth
Of Bell Yard, Temple Bar.

...a dense journal in quarto pages
260 of them?

Who is going to read it now? Why?

who was reading it then?

What does what it says tell us
about when "Then"
was "Now"

The end of the affair

Lady Caroline paid Murray a visit in December of 1816,. They are like two ex wives of the same husband getting together to talk about the man who has just got married again....she writes to Murray...

It is strange but my visit to your house today has made me miserable. After all what a life mine has been and how irregular our aquaintance. You must show me the seal when it is done. Is not life strange? Whatever he is, and however I have abused him, if I believed him at any hour unhappy, would not I go thropugh the fire to serve him. That child of his. Will it be like him? But what is all this to me? Your room speaks of him in every part of it, and I never see you without pain. I think you have been a sincere, upright and manly friend to him and me.

Doomed Love Letters and Strange Enclosures

First, illustrated, the most beautiful of the letters as an object...Caroline writing on her best paper in her best handwriting...when love was new...but foredoomed...it's all about the death of a rose...March 1812...

The rose Lord Byron gave Lady Caroline Lamb died in despite of every effort made to save it, from regret at its fallen fortunes.
an undated letter from between April and June shows Caroline in sentimental mood, but also that she was not above using Byron as an entree into the world of high literature to which she now felt, perhaps, destined
as you like curiosities, I send you a relic of Lady Caroline Ponsonby (her maiden name and maiden hair) and I request that you keep it for her sake. I saw Walter Scott last night. He did not remember me at first, I think. I much wish him to name some evening within these 14 days and will engage some persons who wish to meet him to come here. I trust you will be of that number...
anxiety is already creeping in, and is perhaps full blown trauma, when less philosophically, and far more famously than pressed flowers, in the letter of 9 August, Caroline enclosed a cutting of her pubic hair

Next to Thyrza dearest
and most faithful - God bless you
own love - ricordati di Biondetta

This is in code...lovers code...but according to Fiona MacCarthy, "Thyrza" was a boy named John Eddleston...Byron's lover in Cambridge...who had died...so Caroline is saying that she... "Biondetta"...is next to him...that is, if she knew, if he'd talked...

and we know that he must have told her something of his homosexual activity...she was going to use it against him later...

cross dressing was very much part of their relationship. Not only did she dress as a boy, she had herself painted as one...

and signed the pubic hair enclosing letter

From your wild antelope

I asked you not to send blood but yet do - because it means love, I like to have it - I cut the hair too close and bled much more than you need. Do not you the same o pray, put not scissors point near where quei capelli grow - sooner take it from the arm or wrist - pray be careful, and Byron, tell me why a few conversations with the Queen Mothers always change you. I think tou would make a bad minister and a worse ambassador. You would be always acting from pique and resentment, [then] soft words and pretty lips would make you another Duke of Buckingham. I must one night be in your arms, and now not even see you but in presence of a witness? Newstead bears your unkindness in sullen silence. I will kneel and be torn from your feet before I will give you up