Academic journal article The Byron Journal

A Note on the Text of Manfred

Academic journal article The Byron Journal

A Note on the Text of Manfred

Article excerpt

As Jerome McGann tells us, Byron rewrote the third act of Manfred when he corrected the proofs, in response to criticism from William Gifford. Gifford especially disliked the character of the Abbot: 'The scene with the Friar ought to be imposing, & for that purpose the Friar should be a real good man-not an idiot'.1 Byron agreed that the third act was 'certainly d-d bad', and meekly re-wrote it.2 He sent it from Rome to Murray on 5 May 1817, noting that, 'the Abbot is become a good man', and 'you will find I think some good poetry in this new act here & there-& if so print it- without sending me further proofs-under Mr. G[iffor]d's correction-if he will have the goodness to overlook it'.3 An evidently relieved Murray wrote back to Byron on 30 May 1817: 'The Third Act is not only infinitely improved-but contains some of the finest passages in the Drama [...] Mr G-has corrected the Proofs & I have just sent them to press, hoping to publish next week'.4 The revised third act in Byron's handwriting was the printer's copy for the first edition, read in proof by Gifford, but not by Byron. 'B[yron]'s decision not to correct further proofs turned out to be most unfortunate', McGann observes, 'for the first published edition-and all later editions-printed a corrupt text'.5 It is well know that the omission of Manfred's last line of speech, which so enraged Byron, was beyond his control, but close examination of the manuscript of the revised third act reveals a different sort of error that has gone unnoticed for nearly 200 years.

When the Abbot advises 'penitence and pardon' (III, i, 58), Manfred responds with a litany of negatives printed as follows:

MAN. Old man! there is no power in holy men,

Nor charm in prayer-nor purifying form

Of penitence-nor outward look-nor fast-

Nor agony-nor, greater than all these,

The innate tortures of that deep despair,

Which is remorse without the fear of hell,

But all in all sufficient to itself

Would make a hell of heaven [...]. …

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