Dear Doctor, I have Read your Play

Original Text: 
George Gordon, lord Byron, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, ed. Thomas Moore (London: J. Murray, 1830). E-10 2736 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto). Byron, Works. 17 vols. London: John Murray, 1832-33. PR 4351 M6 1832 ROBA
2Which is a good one in its way,
3Purges the eyes, and moves the bowels,
4And drenches handkerchiefs like towels
5With tears that, in a flux of grief,
6Afford hysterical relief
7To shatter'd nerves and quicken'd pulses,
8Which your catastrophe convulses.
9I like your moral and machinery;
10Your plot, too, has such scope for scenery!
11Your dialogue is apt and smart;
12The play's concoction full of art;
13Your hero raves, your heroine cries,
14All stab, and everybody dies;
15In short, your tragedy would be
16The very thing to hear and see;
17And for a piece of publication,
18If I decline on this occasion,
19It is not that I am not sensible
20To merits in themselves ostensible,
21But--and I grieve to speak it--plays
22Are drugs--mere drugs, Sir, nowadays.
24Too lucky if it prove not annual--
25And Sotheby, with his damn'd Orestes
26(Which, by the way, the old bore's best is),
27Has lain so very long on hand
28That I despair of all demand;
29I've advertis'd--but see my books,
30Or only watch my shopman's looks;
31Still Ivan, Ina and such lumber
32My back-shop glut, my shelves encumber.
33There's Byron too, who once did better,
34Has sent me--folded in a letter--
35A sort of--it's no more a drama
36Than Darnley, Ivan or Kehama:
37So alter'd since last year his pen is,
38I think he's lost his wits at Venice,
39Or drain'd his brains away as stallion
40To some dark-eyed and warm Italian;
41In short, Sir, what with one and t'other,
42I dare not venture on another.
43I write in haste; excuse each blunder;
44The coaches through the street so thunder!
47Pronouncing on the nouns and particles
48Of some of our forthcoming articles,
49The Quarterly--ah, Sir, if you
50Had but the genius to review!
51A smart critique upon St. Helena,
52Or if you only would but tell in a
53Short compass what--but, to resume;
54As I was saying, Sir, the room--
55The room's so full of wits and bards,
57And others, neither bards nor wits--
58My humble tenement admits
59All persons in the dress of Gent.,
61A party dines with me today,
62All clever men who make their way:
64Are all partakers of my pantry.
65They're at this moment in discussion
68Pray Heaven she tell the truth of France!
69'Tis said she certainly was married
71No--not miscarried, I opine--
72But brought to bed at forty nine.
73Some say she died a Papist; some
74Are of opinion that's a hum;
76Was very likely to inveigle
77A dying person in compunction
78To try the extremity of unction.
79But peace be with her! for a woman
80Her talents surely were uncommon.
81Her publisher (and public too)
82The hour of her demise may rue,
83For never more within his shop he--
84Pray--was she not interr'd at Coppet?
85Thus run our time and tongues away;
86But, to return, Sir, to your play;
87Sorry, Sir, but I cannot deal,
89My hands are full--my head so busy,
90I'm almost dead--and always dizzy;
91And so, with endless truth and hurry,
92Dear Doctor, I am yours,
93JOHN MURRAY

Notes

1] When Byron's publisher, John Murray, asked him to provide a "dehcate declension" for a tragedy submitted by Byron's erstwhile friend, Dr. J. W. Polidori, he responded with these verses in a letter of August 21, 1817, first published by Moore in Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (1830). In 1816 Polidori (1795--1821) accompanied Byron to Switzerland and rejoined him in Italy, his vanity was the cause of much amusement, as well as much annoyance. He later advertised his novel The Vampyre (1819) as Byron's. Back to Line
23] Byron refers to a number of unsuccessful recent plays, including the Orestes, Ivan, and Death of Darnley of William Sotheby; the Manuel of Charles Robert Maturin; and the Ina of Mrs. Wilmot; and to his own Manfred, published two months previously. Back to Line
45] My room's so full: the drawing room at 50 Albemarle Street, where Murray transacted business. Gifford: William Gifford (1756-1826), satiric poet and, from 1809 to 1824, editor of the Quarterly Review, an influential Tory periodical published by Murray. Back to Line
46] Hookham Frere: John Hookham Frere (1769-1841), minister to Spain in Pitt's government, translator of Aristophanes, and author of The Monks and the Giants (1818), a burlesque whose poetic technique was soon to influence Byron's Beppo and Don Juan. Back to Line
56] Less commonly known than the poets George Crabbe and Thomas Campbell are: John Wilson Croker (1780-1857), for many years secretary of the Admiralty, a founder of, and frequent contributor to, the Quarterly Review, originator of the term "Conservative" instead of "Tory" as a party designation; and John William Ward (1781-1833), a scholarly and eccentric Canningite M.P., who ultimately became Canning's foreign minister and was created Earl of Dudley (both in 1827). Back to Line
60] Mr. Hammond: George Hammond (1763-1853), a diplomatist, founder of the Quarterly Review and associate of Murray.
Dog Dent: the nickname of John Dent, an M.P. concerned in the introduction of the Dog-tax Bill in 1796. Back to Line
63] Malcolm: Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833), soldier, historian, Anglo-Indian statesman and friend of Murray.
Hamilton. It is uncertain which of a number of possible Hamiltons is intended.
Chantrey: Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841), British sculptor, who made a large fortune out of producing busts of his distinguished contemporaries. Back to Line
66] De Staël's late dissolution. Madame de Staël (1766-1817), most famous of French women writers, whom Byron had first met in England and more recently at Coppet, her Swiss home, had just died. Back to Line
67] Madame de Staël's last book would be posthumously published as Considerations sur la Révolution Française, but not by Murray, to whom she had offered it. Back to Line
70] Rocca: her second husband, a Swiss cavalry officer, whom she married secretly in 1811. Back to Line
75] Schlegel: August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767-1845), German critic, poet and translator, a convert to Roman Catholicism, who was living at Coppet during Byron's visit in 1816. Back to Line
88] O'Neill: Elizabeth O'Neill, the reigning tragic actress at Covent Garden. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1830
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.516.
Form: