Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Englishmen on Ice Part One - The Worst Journeys in the World

My favourite polar memoir is "The Worst Journey in the World" by Apsley Cherry Garrard, who was a naturalist with Scott in the Antarctic in 1911/2. He starts his book like this: "Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised."

John Murray had a bit of a line in this kind of thing throughout the nineteenth fact, he more or less invented the literary genre of masochistic derring do...cleanliness and suffering sold a lot of books and inspired generations to follow their countrymen into the waste places of the world. And I thought I might ponder this kind of thing for a week or two.

I've already said that the Quarterly Review, which John Murray II started, was kind of the heart of both the business and the social circle that he forged and defined as a both a locus of thought, and the making of his dynasty. Key to that from the start was Walter Scott, but also key was a man called John Barrow...who wrote no fewer than 195 articles and reviews for the Quarterly Review, unsigned of course, but the nature of the social circle being what it was, people knew when he was contibuting one of his pieces on travel and exploration, and it put an average of a thousand on the sales of that issue.

If Byron was the emotionally intensest correspondent of the epoch, then Barrow was one of the most frequent...and not just because of the stuff he wrote for the Quarterly Review.

Barrow, you see, was the Second Secretary of the Admiralty. Through him, Murray published the Navy Lists...a good steady earner...and through Barrow, Murray got to publish epics of good clean bad times that had been had as British explorers opened up Africa and sought the Northwest Passage...from the first narratives of Ross, Parry and Franklin in 1818-20 to 1859's 'Voyage of the Fox' that found the first written traces of the later, lost Franklin expedition of had been Barrow who'd sent them out there, and Murray who published the books.

It is a treasure house of courage and absurdity...and it's where I'm heading now. I'll send back dispatches on a piece of pemmican...

Book of Secrets Part 10 - A Book Written Backwards - Another Treasure Found

a book written backwards
with torn pages - silences
and cries
and lies
and whispers
that cry, lie and whisper
into silences
and torn pages
and a book written backwards
which was
delivered to a postman
who kept it
for 200 years

and through an archive project
and a restoration.
She came to me.
and bled

This is my new treasure.

Book of Secrets 9 "Oh God Can you give me Up?"

Alone amid blank pages,
after two pages neatly cut away
SOMETHING lost that she has written
continues in this wise...

" only word.

You have raised me from dispair to the joy we look for in heaven

your seeing me has undone me for ever
you are the same
you love me still
I am sure of it
your eyes
your looks
your words
your manners say so

Oh god can you give me up
take me with you take me
my master my friend
take me with you
my days are paid in vennom
being what I was to you
I wish you had never known me
or that you had killed me
before you went"

Book of Secrets - Part Eight - Heart's Blood

"The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed today
Had he thy reason would he skip and play
Pleas'd to the last he crops the flowery food
And licks the hand upraised to shed his blood."

... It says something here that I can't read...

"what you always"...something

"what you always repeated!"
(exclamation point)

She might have dreamed he'd see this page
most other pages don't have this much hope
Pure nostalgia
old songs
songs in Italian and French...
petering out into emptier and emptier pages...
intensity exhausted

Book of Secrets 7 - Lost Lamb

Say on.
We part that little word
Farewell though spoke in tears may sooth our pain
Does it not chear ye whom it seems to tell
That though we part "we yet shall meet again"

But oh how like the knell of death it falls
upon the heart whose every hope is o'er
How the affrighted fancy it appals
when farewell seems to say we meet no more

Le Livre des Secrets - Sixieme

es tu bien sur que tu m'aimes
est-il certain que dans tes vastes contrees
aucun objet n'a fixe ton coeur?

je dois etre a tes yeux
sacree comme la faiblesse, l'enfance
ou le malheur

il faut que j'existe pour lui
je suis morte deja la
enposant la main sur son coeur

Book of Secrets 5 - "Bitch"

There's also an Italian name...Biondetta...
Byron's dog's name
Turns out to be his pet name for her

In her own little box on page 3, she says:

"This was a small spaniel Bitch whom Lord Byron took a fancy for as he saw it bounding along in company with a thousand other had the furiousness of a Jaguar or mountain cat when angry...but would nestle like a dove in his bosom when carried. It was so happy when thus favoured, that it grew presumptious and would bite and bark at everyone who approached..."

This is her story, this is true

"one day he drew it from his bosom and gave it back to its former owner, kissing it often and promising with tears soon to return - but Biondetta's faults were remembered and all her truth and kindness forgotten from that hour ...

the dog sat and watched for him and would not feed...till it heard that a new favourite filled its place, and then growing furious, it broke its chains...(wish fulfilment coming) and tried to bite and tear to pieces its rival..."

Lord Byron gives the bitch away

"from that hour it sickened and still watching for one kind word from its master..."

A kind word from Byron?
His kind word could only be a poem

And Caroline thought Childe Harold was for her
She thought he was Childe Harold

She thought he would make a poem of her
The way he'd made a poem of himself
She was wrong
So she wanted to die

"it died...the collar around its neck..."

(this handwritten book, maybe...this is the collar
identifying, demeaning,
this is the way she forces herself on him)

She could not make him make her into a poem
She could not die, meaningfully, and thus make a poem of herself

So what could she do
but make herself into a writer
(which she a novel called Glenarvon
Written dressed in a page boy costume
night after night for four weeks)

(if you will not make me a poem
I will make a poem...a book..a spectacle
Of myself)

She wanted to be his poem
That was all

"Lord Byron derided Biondetta, and said it was a whelp, a vixen - but whatever it was, none ever lov'd him so before or since"

So she wants Murray to believe...he was actually the one who received and kept this keepsake

She's always looking for an ending, a dying fall, a conclusion and release

but her tragedy was, that like the rest of us, she woke up again next morning and everything was the same

The Book of Secrets Part 4

Caroline Lamb lies to herself more than she does to Byron
she could not have expected to be believed
that she really thought this secret book was the opening of a dialogue?
That he'd ever have her back?
That he'd court his certain social ruin?
(not in 1812...he hadn't crossed his personal Rubicon yet...)
But maybe I'm wrong
Did she sense something about him
his suicidal, romantic doomedness
that it was this that was real, threatening them both with ruin
though he didn't know that yet himself
was she psychic?
Or lucky
Or maybe she just knew him better than he did himself
Did she really love him
did she really think he loved her
did she really think she knew
knew him, more than he knew him?
was this because she fell in love
with a fictional version of him
his own fiction, to be sure, but...
She knew, somehow, that it was his destiny
to fulfil his own fiction in his actual self
that his pose of doomed satanic exile
was a prophecy more than a strategy

That might be her story
if she were writing it now

But I'm writing it
and at the moment I'm arguing with her
I'd ask her...if I could
What is it, this secret book?
Was this ever really intended to be delivered?
Isn't this a game?
Isn't this for yourself?
Aren't you playing pretend?
You can't believe John Murray is going to send him this?
That Byron will ever set eyes on these scribblings
and self advertisings?

"my very love was a crime towards you, and this if nothing else, requires your pardon"

the wind whistles inside the emptiness of this
you can't possibly think it could mean anything to anyone
is that why it reads, your opening essay, LIKE an essay...
is that why you write your name at the bottom, squashed in like an afterthought?

"your friend and servant, Caro."

You can't have thought this would actually communicate...
except perhaps to me
And it does communicate to me.
I'm reading and shaking while I type.

The Book of Secrets Part Three...This Comes From One That Suffers

The first page of Caroline Lamb's secret book is empty
But for a pencil written "i"
in the top right corner.

Turn the page

On the next facing page
there is a "ii"

and the mirror writing from the ink on the next
facing page

numbered "1"

Again in pencil
Not in her hand

Not hers then
but an archivist's
some other handler

sometime after 1812

That's from her first line
In her forward sloping confession

"This comes from one that suffers - 1812"

"when you open this book - you will be as far from me in distance as you are now in heart - yet I believe time which softens all resentment will make you forget many of my faults and you will perhaps remember that I was affectionate and true to you..."

(She was then in exile, not him...sent to Kilkenny to scream in the Irish bog)

"Women do not, neither do they ever resent and what you bound to you once will be still yours while it exists however you may think to cut the chains no one knew how to unlock."

toiled in her denial
that he ever dumped her
that she was not what he wanted
that he lied to her
when he said she was himself

ton hypocrite lecteur, ton semblable, ton frere

(yes, some of it's in French)

The Book of Secrets. Part Two.

The first thing you see
is that the book is back to front
it has been started twice
if you open it the wrong way round,
Is that the pages at the back
or at the front
have been torn
Ripped out

Who by?

There is the curl of a letter Y
There is a faint "I"
on the roughly excised stumps


Murray burned Byron's memoirs
while hordeing his other souveniers

Byron's Napoleonic nick nacks

What did else he keep
What was his selection?
What grounds?

What else did he burn?

If it was his hand...
His censorship
Not hers,
it was Byron he protected
from her accurate slanders
of buggery and incest.

She would never have pulled her own pages down
and out, with her white hand
this pale, aged
cream paper

eight leaves jutting
but a fifth, perhaps
of the whole book removed


Unless she started the book the right way up
and ripped out what she's written
as too exposed, too raw?

Or unless it was just an old book
a poor thing

and she was saving money

This thing was probably expensive then
though not nearly as expensive as it is now...

So for reasons of parsimony or censorship
someone is being protected here
by someone.

And she started the book again
like a Hebrew.

Never got that far...

Perhaps another third of the pages are blank
some ruled, boxed
waiting for wisdom
and truth
and love

for ever

Turn it upside down

The Book of Secrets Part One

Dark blue leather binding...
gold filigree
Locked with a clasp

Her secret book
Her book written backwards
The book of her secrets
Her secret places
opened and exposed.

This is not for me
She did not offer this to me

The publisher kept this
He'd said he would send it
Deliver it for her
To a man he could not deliver
To her
To a man who'd not accept it
The tradesman
The money and goods man
Awoke and
Found himself a gentleman
found himself sought out

She wanted him to handle her
send her
reveal her and display her
to Him
Manfred, Don Juan, Child Harold
"NB" - this fictional man.
This gimping Bonaparte, this
fraud, this genius, this Frankenstein
(both maker and monster)
This modern Prometheus.
this fiery self creator

Byron never saw this gift
Never saw her
After he delivered her,
weeping, self-mutilated
back to her mother
into night
into exile from him
Her universe shrunk
to the size of his stolen portrait

Dressed as a page boy
self created
the object of desire
she offered herself
to the world, his world
she thought, at least
to the world where
he was hiding from her

She offered him
yet more disguise
another fictional disguise
she rewrote him,
and wrote herself,
wrote herself above all
hoping they might meet
in the seedy hotel
of celebrity

Calantha and Glenarvon
Caroline and Child Harold.

But he was always ahead of her
ahead of everyone
elusive, a sociable hater
a teasing, raging, secret mourner
for himself, always himself.
No one else could inhabit
his existance
It was already over-crowded
with avatars.

So, storm tossed
wet and weary
she made him a scrapbook
pasted fragments of herself
between blue covers

A commonplace book

Misery is commonplace
Loneliness is commonplace
dissapointment is universal.

Touch it
though he never did
open it
though he never did

This dead letter
this restored, pampered artefact
of failure, of unconsumated lives
this relic
of this saint among romantics
this over reaching rock chick,
broken in the Regency
a butterfly on a wheel

This Marianne Faithfull, drunk,
watching Mick Jagger on a TV show
loss married to relief

I hesitate
I'm hesitating
poised at the gateway
to a pornographic website

Because you can look,
Should you?

Look at it
Pick it up

the weight of it
the fresh paint of it
the new gum of it

someone has decided this is history

time has been taken
artistry employed
money spent

an archive housed and numbered
opened up in Edinburgh

the publisher too
his instinct was for a limited,
privileged exposure
to the scholarly and curious
the prurient and pious

and me. Me too now.

I still hesitate.

the burial horde of Byron and Byronists

Mad Bad and...

One can only imagine the tangle of grief and loss which engulfed Murray when Byron, suddenly, was dead of disease in Missolonghi. His guarding of memorabilia of his lost genius, and the destruction of those parts of his Lordship's legacy which for personal, and commercial reasdons, he did not care to contemplate, must both stem from that complex of, perhaps, does the archive itself, the Murray's habit of keeping things, storing things, squirreling away letters and memorabilia, (an thus for the existence and extent of the archive itself) perhaps in some gesture of denial that for always, forever, and whatever else, however distinguished, crossed over the desk of the Murrays at 60 Albemarle Street, time stopped with one of their authors only, they were forever defined by one author only...the one Caroline Lamb called "mad, bad, and dangerous to know"

What I'm saying, trying to say, is that Byron's public self invention is an offered confidence to the reader, a gift of KNOW is saying. This provokes, clearly, in both unhappy intense Caroline Lamb, and solid, ambitious, business like John Murray, a wish to give of themselves in return...they want Byron to know them...but know him as versions of him...they define their best hope of his love as being mirrors of him in which he sees himself.

Again, a curious observation from yet another Byronic outsider from Pop Culture...Ken Kesey, he of The merry Pranksters and 'One flew over the Cuckoo's nest'...went to a Beatles concert, and listened to the screams and thought he heard what all those little girls, and boys, were screaming. Me.

One does not love the loves the feeling of loving loves the experience of oneself...loving...

Between them, Byron and Murray invented celebrity, and Caroline Lamb fell victim to it. a sense...did they.

Byron's body returned to England in July of 1824...and Caroline watched the parade...pretending to the last it was an accident, perhaps hoping to wring from serendipity a last connection to a meaning beyond that of two people who had a brief and painful affair. She wrote to Murray on the 13th of July
Will you write and tell me every particular of what has passed since I saw you. Lord Byron's hearse came by our gates Yesterday. You may judge what I felt, Pray write to me
Ever your sincere friend
Caroline Lamb

Every Day of My Life! - My Second Treasure

Here's things from some later letters from Murray to Byron, when things were going wrong...the intensity is, I think, between publisher and poet, extraordinary. The pain is very real.

25 September 1822

"With regard to my reception of Mr John Hunt whom I was not aware that your Lordship had even seen, he sent up word that a "gentleman" wished to deliver into my own hands a letter from Lord Byron and with instantaneous joy I went down to see him...there I found mr Hunt, and a person obviously brought there as a witness. He delivered the letter in the most tipstave formal manner to me starting me fully and closely in the face as if, having administered a dose of Arsenick, he wished to see its minute operations...if you knew the insulting behaviour of this man...A friend of yours!!! My heart and soul are and ever have been with any and every friend of yours...These have now been sent to him...
I love "tipstave formal manner"!
Murray lists the works of Byron that Hunt has demanded from him, and encloses a rather vulgar, crowing advertisement that Hunt has circulated, boasting that he is now Byron's publisher. Murray continues,
I inclose specimens of two editions of your Lordship's works which I am printing in the most beautiful manner that Modern Art can effect - the best proof of MY honouring of your writings..."
and in his next letter, he is actually angry. 11 October 1822
Dear Lord Byron
Not, My Lord but
Dear Lord Byron

I entreat as a particular favour that you will not place me in personal intercourse with Mr John Hunt, for I have invincible reasons for not wishing to know him. As for my giving myself airs, I can assure you that no one can charge me with any alteration in this respect since I first had the good fortune of seeing you...
And now his very sentence structure falls apart with the passion of his outraged feelings
I beseach you not to set me down for such an incurable blockhead as not to think of you with everyone around me as far superior as a man of genius to any man breathing that that (to ?) all the other work together which I publish as a matter of business would keep in the balance of my mind, with yours...this is my opinion from the bottom of my heart and soul...and do what you please...misconcieve my real character...nothing can eradicate this opinion nor anything alter my firm devoted dutiful and respectfully affectionate friendship for your Lordship
He is saying do Byron, who do you think I am? What do you think I am? Wwhat was I to you?
"Pray don't attend to what evil tongues tell you come over and see the truth....
and finishes, wearily, and vents his other troubles...offering scraps of himself
Poor Godwin
(Mary Shelley's father)
has been suddenly called upon for four hundred pounds of rent, which would ruin himn...Shelley would have paid it. There is a committee of which I am one for raising the sum. I have given 10 Gs - I dare say you will give your Lordship's name for 25 pounds. Poor Gifford was very nearly dead three days ago - he is now out of danger - he ever continues your firm admirer

There is a review of Cain in the next quarterly - which I will inclose

I am and ever shall remain Dear Lord Byron
Your grateful and faithful
friend and servant

John Murray

Every day of my life I sit opposite to your Lordship's portrait!"

The words "every day of my life" are underlined.

This is my second treasure

Coming soon: a series of illustrated posts about Caroline Lamb's day book, an amazing private document that is now in our sweaty little hands!