Academic journal article The Byron Journal

Byron's Copy of Childe Harold IV: Emendations and Annotations

Academic journal article The Byron Journal

Byron's Copy of Childe Harold IV: Emendations and Annotations

Article excerpt

My attention was drawn to the following matter by a correspondence that arose in early January 1873 in The Times on the subject of Byron's grammatical solecisms. This had been prompted by a review of Browning's Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society (1871) and Fifine at the Fair (1872) in The Times for Thursday 2 January 1873, in which the reviewer severely censured Browning for 'a most ill-advised sneer' at Byron's address to the ocean at the end of Childe Harold IV, and particularly at the 'piece of bad grammar, audaciously committed for the sake of the rhyme' in 'there let him lay' (CHP IV, 180).1 The following day there appeared a letter from a certain 'A. A.' who applauded the reviewer's censure but went on to suggest that 'lay' was probably a misprint for 'pray'.2 In response to this John Murray III wrote to say that 'lay' was only an apparent solecism as there were in fact two misprints in the punctuation: 'The full stop after "lay" has no business there, the sentence runs on into the following stanza' where, after 'capitals' (181), 'there should be a full stop instead of a comma'.3 This irresponsible claim, which far from remedying any defect makes nonsense of two stanzas, met with the derision it deserves and Murray later retracted it.4 But he added:

It is curious that in these verses on the Ocean another error should occur in all the old editions of Childe Harold which I will, with your leave, take the opportunity to point out and correct. The line -

'Thy waters wasted them while they were free' -

runs in the original MS., now at last in my possession,

'Thy waters washed them power while they were free,

And many a tyrant since.'5

On reading this C. M. Ingleby, writing from the Athenaeum, expressed his delight in having confirmation of what he himself had suggested in a paper read before the Royal Society of Literature the previous May.6 But he was still dissatisfied:

While accepting the reading of the MS., however, as authoritative, I do not admit that it is happy, for it is the winds that wafted 'the slaves and signs of power' - viz., commercial wealth - and not the waters that washed them to the specified nations, 'and many a tyrant since'. [...] Lord Byron himself once proposed to read [...] 'Thy waters wafted power while they were free,' which reading would have stultified the succeeding words.7

How he came by this last piece of information is difficult to say; but that he was correct was confirmed by a letter that appeared in The Times on the same day from Thomas Kerslake, a Bristol bookseller, who said that he possessed Byron's annotated copy of Childe Harold IV - which had formerly belonged to Hobhouse who had given it to 'the owner' (who remains unidentified) whence it had come into his (Kerslake's) possession - and from that copy he quoted both the 'proposed' reading and some of the annotations. 8 That copy is now in the Robert H. Taylor Collection at Princeton University and is the subject of this present writing.

On 24 September 1818 Byron wrote to Murray from Venice:

In the one hundredth and thirty-second stanza of Canto 4th. the stanza runs in the Manuscript -

'Left the unbalanced scale - Great Nemesis[']

and not 'lost' - which is nonsense - as what losing a scale means - I know not - but leaving an unbalanced scale or a scale unbalanced is intelligible. - Correct this - I pray - not for the public or the poetry - but I do not choose to have blunders made in addressing any of the deities - so seriously as this is addressed -

yrs [scrawl for signature]

P.S. - In the Translation from the Spanish - alter

'In increasing Squadrons flew' to

'To a mighty Squadron grew'

what does 'thy waters wasted them' mean (in the Canto) that is not me. Consult the M.S. always. [...] In referring to the mistake made in stanza 132 I take the opportunity to desire that in future in all parts of my writings relating to religion you will be more careful - & not forget that it is possible that in addressing the deity a blunder may become a blasphemy - & I do not choose to suffer such infamous perversions of my words or of my intention. …

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