January 23 1816: Byron’s Capricious Generosity


On January 23 1816,  Lord Byron is not well, writing to Samuel Rogers: “Dear Rogers – I am sorry to say that I cannot dine with you today: – I have not lately been very well – and am under sentence of pill & potion for an attack of liver &c .”

Byron has also upset John Murray, his publisher. Murray is not happy that Byron wants to give to Coleridge and William Godwin the £1,050 that Murray wanted to pay Byron for two poems. Murray had only offered such an extraordinary price for the poems out of personal friendship and because of Byron’s financial problems. In response, Byron unthinkingly and hurtfully accepts the suggestion of Samuel Rogers and Sir James Mackintosh and wants to give the money to others. Murray is angry at the thought that his own hard earned money is to be so capriciously used for the benefit of others, especially a political radical such as Godwin.

Murray writes:
MY LORD. I did not like to detain you this morning, but I confess to you that I came away impressed with a belief that you had already reconsidered this matter, as it refers to me. Your Lordship will pardon me if I cannot avoid looking upon it as a species of cruelty, after what has passed, to take from me so large a sum – offered with no reference to the marketable value of the poems, but out of personal friendship and gratitude alone, – to cast it away on the wanton and ungenerous interference of those who cannot enter into your Lordship’s feelings for me, upon persons who have so little claim upon you, and whom those who so interested themselves might more decently and honestly enrich from their own funds, than by endeavouring to be liberal at the cost of another, and by forcibly resuming from me a sum which you had generously and nobly resigned.

I am sure you will do me the justice to believe that I would strain every nerve in your service, but it is actually heartbreaking to throw away my earnings on others. I am no rich man, abounding, like Mr. Rogers, in superfluous thousands, but working hard for independence, and what would be the most grateful pleasure to me if likely to be useful to you personally, becomes merely painful if it causes me to work for others for whom I can have no such feelings. This is a most painful subject for me to address you upon, and I am ill able to express my feelings about it. I commit them entirely to your liberal construction with a reference to your knowledge of my character. I have the honour to be, &c., JOHN MURRAY.

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