Academic journal article The Byron Journal

Catullus and the Missing Papers: Leigh Hunt, Byron and John Murray

Academic journal article The Byron Journal

Catullus and the Missing Papers: Leigh Hunt, Byron and John Murray

Article excerpt

Students of Romantic literature will be aware that the publication of Byron's The Vision of Judgment caused serious difficulties and was one of the main factors which led to the separation of Byron from his regular publisher John Murray and the eventual publica- tion of the final cantos of Don Juan by John Hunt. Byron had agreed that his satire should be printed as the first poem in the first number of The Liberal. This controversial periodical was edited by Leigh Hunt (who, like Byron, was then living in Albaro, outside Genoa), and published by his brother John (who was living in London and therefore subject to direct prosecution).2 After some awkward failures of communication, Byron requested Murray to pass on the manuscripts of The Vision of Judgment to John Hunt, who was to carry the ultimate responsibility of publication. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Murray resented losing both The Vision and his publishing arrangement with Byron, and he failed to send John Hunt either Byron's corrections or the Preface to his satire, which identified his primary target not as the late king but as the Poet Laureate. In good faith, and knowing of no second version, John Hunt published the unqualified and unrevised version of the text in its republican and uncorrected state, a misdemeanour for which he was quickly charged and eventually found guilty. However forgiving John Hunt himself may have been, his brother in Italy was outraged on his behalf and, both directly and indirectly, Byron put pressure on John Murray to make amends. In particular, he requested that, even at this late stage, Murray should pass on to John Hunt the full and corrected text.3 In spite of pressure from various quarters, the publisher did not comply. Eventually, Byron became disenchanted with Murray because of what he perceived as Murray's prudery, his anxiety about blasphemy, his inexplicable and frustrating failures to comprehend instructions, and, ultimately, his behaviour about the corrected manuscript which, it seemed to Byron, he was deliberately withholding from John Hunt. Before long, Murray's privileged position was further compromised by his indiscretion in sharing a letter in which Byron freely but rashly expressed his misgivings about the Hunts.

These were the circumstances which generated Leigh Hunt's unpublished letter to Byron.4 This letter is mainly devoted to Hunt's version of Catullus and to its Latin original but also includes a range of details which help both to explain this rendering and give some idea of the contexts - social, publishing, educational, and personal - out of which it arose. Even if Byron did not possess a copy of Catullus in his library, Hunt pays him the compliment of assuming that no translation was needed. Much of this version's force depends on its closeness to the Latin original and the ways in which Hunt deliberately and pointedly deviates from his original.

Casa Negroto -

Oct. 29. 1822.

My dear Byron,

I will do with the letter as you wish, and doubt not it will compel this son of a bookseller to [two cancelled letters] restore your papers, - 'reddere codicillos.' You should translate Catullus's address to the female bookseller of antiquity5 (for doubtless she was one) to the same purpose, & apply it to her descendant. - Stay - I will try [it] at it myself, as you can be better occupied. -

Come here, you verses all & some,

That when you wish to strike, strike home.

Murrain the bookseller, that pest o' me,

Pretends, forsooth, to make a jest o' me,

And with your leave, ye rubs6 divine,

Will not give up some hits of mine.

Let's thump the dog, & make him dizzy.

I think I hear you say, 'Who is he?'

Who is he? Why you know him - Murray -

The knave that's always in a flurry,

Full of base ways & more than sloppy,

And yet he'd laugh at me, the [three cancelled letters] puppy!

Come - let us flog him till he capers: - }

Murray, you dog, give up the papers! …

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