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I had rather be a kitten, and cry, mew!
Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers.
Such shameless Bards we have; and yet ’tis true,
There are as mad, abandon’d Critics too.
English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.
The article upon ‘Hours of Idleness’ “which Lord Brougham . . . after denying it for thirty years, confessed that he had written” (‘Notes from a Diary’, by Sir M. E. Grant Duff, 1897, ii. 189), was published in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ of January, 1808. ‘English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers’ did not appear till March, 1809. The article gave the opportunity for the publication of the satire, but only in part provoked its composition. Years later, Byron had not forgotten its effect on his mind. On April 26, 1821, he wrote to Shelley: “I recollect the effect on me of the Edinburgh on my first poem: it was rage and resistance and redress: but not despondency nor despair.” And on the same date to Murray: “I know by experience that a savage review is hemlock to a sucking author; and the one on me (which produced the ‘English Bards’, etc.) knocked me down, but I got up again,” etc. It must, however, be remembered that Byron had his weapons ready for an attack before he used them in defence. In a letter to Miss Pigot, dated October 26, 1807, he says that “he has written one poem of 380 lines to be published in a few weeks with notes. The poem . . . is a Satire.” It was entitled ‘British Bards’, and finally numbered 520 lines. With a view to publication, or for his own convenience, it was put up in type and printed in quarto sheets. A single copy, which he kept for corrections and additions, was preserved by Dallas, and is now in the British Museum. After the review appeared, he enlarged and recast the ‘British Bards’, and in March, 1809, the Satire was published anonymously. Byron was at no pains to conceal the authorship of ‘English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers’, and, before starting on his Pilgrimage, he had prepared a second and enlarged edition, which came out in October, 1809, with his name prefixed. Two more editions were called for in his absence, and on his return he revised and printed a fifth, when he suddenly resolved to suppress the work. On his homeward voyage he expressed, in a letter to Dallas, June 28, 1811, his regret at having written the Satire. A year later he became intimate, among others, with Lord and Lady Holland, whom he had assailed on the supposition that they were the instigators of the article in the ‘Edinburgh Review’, and on being told by Rogers that they wished the Satire to be withdrawn, he gave orders to his publisher, Cawthorn, to burn the whole impression. A few copies escaped the flames. One of two copies retained by Dallas, which afterwards belonged to Murray, and is now in his grandson’s possession, was the foundation of the text of 1831, and of all subsequent issues. Another copy which belonged to Dallas is retained in the British Museum.
Towards the close of the last century there had been an outburst of satirical poems, written in the style of the ‘Dunciad’ and its offspring the ‘Rosciad’, Of these, Gifford’s ‘Baviad’ and ‘Maviad’ (1794–5), and T. J. Mathias’ ‘Pursuits of Literature’ (1794–7), were the direct progenitors of ‘English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers’, The ‘Rolliad’ (1794), the ‘Children of Apollo’ (circ. 1794), Canning’s ‘New Morality’ (1798), and Wolcot’s coarse but virile lampoons, must also be reckoned among Byron’s earlier models. The ministry of “All the Talents” gave rise to a fresh batch of political ‘jeux d’ésprits’, and in 1807, when Byron was still at Cambridge, the air was full of these ephemera. To name only a few, ‘All the Talents’, by Polypus (Eaton Stannard Barrett), was answered by ‘All the Blocks, an antidote to All the Talents’, by Flagellum (W. H. Ireland); ‘Elijah’s Mantle, a tribute to the memory of the R. H. William Pitt’, by James Sayer, the caricaturist, provoked ‘Melville’s Mantle, being a Parody on . . . Elijah’s Mantle’. ‘The Simpliciad, A Satirico–Didactic Poem’, and Lady Anne Hamilton’s ‘Epics of the Ton’, are also of the same period. One and all have perished, but Byron read them, and in a greater or less degree they supplied the impulse to write in the fashion of the day.
‘British Bards’ would have lived, but, unquestionably, the spur of the article, a year’s delay, and, above all, the advice and criticism of his friend Hodgson, who was at work on his ‘Gentle Alterative for the Reviewers’, 1809 (for further details, see vol. i., ‘Letters’, Letter 102, ‘note’ 1), produced the brilliant success of the enlarged satire. ‘English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers’ was recognized at once as a work of genius. It has intercepted the popularity of its great predecessors, who are often quoted, but seldom read. It is still a popular poem, and appeals with fresh delight to readers who know the names of many of the “bards” only because Byron mentions them, and count others whom he ridicules among the greatest poets of the century.
The MS. (‘MS. M.’) of the first draft of Byron’s “Satire” (see Letter to Pigot, October 26, 1807) is now in Mr. Murray’s possession. It is written on folio sheets paged 6–25, 28–41, and numbers 360 lines. Mutilations on pages 12, 13, 34, 35 account for the absence of ten additional lines.
After the publication of the January number of ‘The Edinburgh Review’ for 1808 (containing the critique on ‘Hours of Idleness’), which was delayed till the end of February, Byron added a beginning and an ending to the original draft. The Mss. of these additions, which number ninety lines, are written on quarto sheets, and have been bound up with the folios. (Lines 1–16 are missing.) The poem, which with these and other additions had run up to 560 lines, was printed in book form (probably by Ridge of Newark), under the title of ‘British Bards, A Satire’. “This Poem,” writes Byron [‘Mss. M.’], “was begun in October, 1807, in London, and at different intervals composed from that period till September, 1808, when it was completed at Newstead Abbey.—B., 1808.” A date, 1808, is affixed to the last line. Only one copy is extant, that which was purchased, in 1867, from the executors of R.C. Dallas, by the Trustees of the British Museum. Even this copy has been mutilated. Pages 17, 18, which must have contained the first version of the attack on Jeffrey (see ‘English Bards’, p. 332, line 439, ‘note’ 2), have been torn out, and quarto proof-sheets in smaller type of lines 438–527, “Hail to immortal Jeffrey,” etc., together with a quarto proof-sheet, in the same type as ‘British Bards’, containing lines 540–559, “Illustrious Holland,” etc., have been inserted. Hobhouse’s lines (first edition, lines 247–262), which are not in the original draft, are included in ‘British Bards’. The insertion of the proofs increased the printed matter to 584 lines. After the completion of this revised version of ‘British Bards’, additions continued to be made. Marginal corrections and MS. fragments, bound up with ‘British Bards’, together with forty-four lines (lines 723–726, 819–858) which do not occur in MS. M., make up with the printed matter the 696 lines which were published in March, 1809, under the title of ‘English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers’. The folio and quarto sheets in Mr. Murray’s possession (‘MS. M.’) may be regarded as the MS. of ‘British Bards; British Bards’ (there are a few alterations, e.g. the substitution of lines 319–326, “Moravians, arise,” etc., for the eight lines on Pratt, which are to be found in the folio MS., and are printed in ‘British Bards’), with its accompanying MS. fragments, as the foundation of the text of the first edition of ‘English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers’.
Between the first edition, published in March, and the second edition in October, 1809, the difference is even greater than between the first edition and ‘British Bards’. The Preface was enlarged, and a postscript affixed to the text of the poem. Hobhouse’s lines (first edition, 247–262) were omitted, and the following additional passages inserted, viz.: (i.) lines 1–96, “Still must I hear,” etc.; (ii.) lines 129–142, “Thus saith the Preacher,” etc.; (iii.) lines 363–417, “But if some new-born whim,” etc.; (iv.) lines 638–706, “Or hail at once,” etc.; (v.) lines 765–798, “When some brisk youth,” etc.; (vi.) lines 859–880, “And here let Shee,” etc.; (vii.) lines 949–960, “Yet what avails,” etc.; (viii.) lines 973–980, “There, Clarke,” etc.; (ix.) lines 1011–1070, “Then hapless Britain,” etc. These additions number 370 lines, and, together with the 680 lines of the first edition (reduced from 696 by the omission of Hobhouse’s contribution), make up the 1050 lines of the second and third editions, and the doubtful fourth edition of 1810. Of these additions, Nos. i., ii., iii., iv., vi., viii., ix. exist in MS., and are bound up with the folio MS. now in Mr. Murray’s possession.
The third edition, which is, generally, dated 1810, is a replica of the second edition.
The first issue of the fourth edition, which appeared in 1810, is identical with the second and third editions. A second issue of the fourth edition, dated 1811, must have passed under Byron’s own supervision. Lines 723, 724 are added, and lines 725, 726 are materially altered. The fourth edition of 1811 numbers 1052 lines.
The suppressed fifth edition, numbering 1070 lines (the copy in the British Museum has the title-page of the fourth edition; a second copy, in Mr. Murray’s possession, has no title-page), varies from the fourth edition of 1811 by the addition of lines 97–102 and 528–539, and by some twenty-nine emendations of the text. Eighteen of these emendations were made by Byron in a copy of the fourth edition which belonged to Leigh Hunt. On another copy, in Mr. Murray’s possession, Byron made nine emendations, of which six are identical with those in the Hunt copy, and three appear for the first time. It was in the latter volume that he inscribed his after-thoughts, which are dated “B. 1816.”
For a complete collation of the five editions of ‘English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers’, and textual emendations in the two annotated volumes, and for a note on genuine and spurious copies of the first and other editions, see ‘The Bibliography of the Poetical Works of Lord Byron’, vol. vi.
All my friends, learned and unlearned, have urged me not to publish this Satire with my name. If I were to be “turned from the career of my humour by quibbles quick, and paper bullets of the brain” I should have complied with their counsel. But I am not to be terrified by abuse, or bullied by reviewers, with or without arms. I can safely say that I have attacked none ‘personally’, who did not commence on the offensive. An Author’s works are public property: he who purchases may judge, and publish his opinion if he pleases; and the Authors I have endeavoured to commemorate may do by me as I have done by them. I dare say they will succeed better in condemning my scribblings, than in mending their own. But my object is not to prove that I can write well, but, if ‘possible’, to make others write better.
As the Poem has met with far more success than I expected, I have endeavoured in this Edition to make some additions and alterations, to render it more worthy of public perusal.
In the First Edition of this Satire, published anonymously, fourteen lines on the subject of Bowles’s Pope were written by, and inserted at the request of, an ingenious friend of mine, 2 who has now in the press a volume of Poetry. In the present Edition they are erased, and some of my own substituted in their stead; my only reason for this being that which I conceive would operate with any other person in the same manner,—a determination not to publish with my name any production, which was not entirely and exclusively my own composition.
With 3 regard to the real talents of many of the poetical persons whose performances are mentioned or alluded to in the following pages, it is presumed by the Author that there can be little difference of opinion in the Public at large; though, like other sectaries, each has his separate tabernacle of proselytes, by whom his abilities are over-rated, his faults overlooked, and his metrical canons received without scruple and without consideration. But the unquestionable possession of considerable genius by several of the writers here censured renders their mental prostitution more to be regretted. Imbecility may be pitied, or, at worst, laughed at and forgotten; perverted powers demand the most decided reprehension. No one can wish more than the Author that some known and able writer had undertaken their exposure; but Mr. Gifford has devoted himself to Massinger, and, in the absence of the regular physician, a country practitioner may, in cases of absolute necessity, be allowed to prescribe his nostrum to prevent the extension of so deplorable an epidemic, provided there be no quackery in his treatment of the malady. A caustic is here offered; as it is to be feared nothing short of actual cautery can recover the numerous patients afflicted with the present prevalent and distressing rabies for rhyming.—As to the’ Edinburgh Reviewers’, it would indeed require an Hercules to crush the Hydra; but if the Author succeeds in merely “bruising one of the heads of the serpent” though his own hand should suffer in the encounter, he will be amply satisfied.
1 The Preface, as it is here printed, was prefixed to the Second, Third, and Fourth Editions of ‘English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers’. The preface to the First Edition began with the words, “With regard to the real talents,” etc. The text of the poem follows that of the suppressed Fifth Edition, which passed under Byron’s own supervision, and was to have been issued in 1812. From that Edition the Preface was altogether excluded.
In an annotated copy of the Fourth Edition, of 1811, underneath the note, “This preface was written for the Second Edition, and printed with it. The noble author had left this country previous to the publication of that Edition, and is not yet returned,” Byron wrote, in 1816, “He is, and gone again.”—MS. Notes from this volume, which is now in Mr. Murray’s possession, are marked—B., 1816.
2 John Cam Hobhouse.
3 Preface to the First Edition.
Still 2 must I hear?—shall hoarse 3 Fitzgerald bawl
His creaking couplets in a tavern hall,
And I not sing, lest, haply, Scotch Reviews
Should dub me scribbler, and denounce my Muse?
Prepare for rhyme—I’ll publish, right or wrong:
Fools are my theme, let Satire be my song. i
Oh! Nature’s noblest gift—my grey goose-quill!
Slave of my thoughts, obedient to my will,
Torn from thy parent bird to form a pen,
That mighty instrument of little men! 10
The pen! foredoomed to aid the mental throes
Of brains that labour, big with Verse or Prose;
Though Nymphs forsake, and Critics may deride,
The Lover’s solace, and the Author’s pride.
What Wits! what Poets dost thou daily raise!
How frequent is thy use, how small thy praise!
Condemned at length to be forgotten quite,
With all the pages which ’twas thine to write.