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June 25 1812: Lord Byron's Unexpected Honour





On June 25 1812, Lord Byron writes to Lord Holland about his meeting with the Prince of Wales, who was also the Prince Regent and would become George IV on the death of his now incapacitated father, George III. Byron was attending an evening party thrown in London by Miss Johnston [1].  The Prince learned that Byron was present and asked to meet him. Byron was still being lionized for the publication of his poem Childe Harold. Byron was also the subject of increasingly scandalous gossip over his affair with Lady Caroline Lamb. The Prince Regent, notorious for his own affairs, may have been intrigued both by Byron's scandalous reputation and his literary fame.  Still the meeting could have been very awkward but fortunately the Prince was not aware of the abuse that Byron had directed at him. On  March 7, 1812, Byron had published anonymously,  in the Morning Chronicle, a small poem entitled Lines to a Lady Weeping. The poem was a rather vicious attack on the Prince for having abandoned the Whigs. When they did meet, Byron brazenly engaged the Prince in some pleasant conversation about poetry. Byron was flattered when the Prince praised his poem. They also discussed Greek poetry and the poetry of Sir Walter Scott, the Prince's favourite. Byron now writes on June 25 to Lord Holland in a very sarcastic tone about being a court favorite and the possibility of being named the poet laureate. He writes: "I have now great hope, in the event of Mr. Pye’s [2] decease, of ‘warbling truth at court,’ like Mr. Mallet of indifferent memory.—Consider, 100 marks a year! besides the wine and the disgrace; but then remorse would make me drown myself in my own butt before the year’s end, or the finishing of my first dithyrambic.—So that, after all, I shall not meditate our laureate’s death by pen or poison." Byron's letter to Lord Holland is reproduced below.  




LORD HOLLAND.
June 25th, 1812.
MY DEAR LORD,

I must appear very ungrateful, and have, indeed, been very negligent, but till last night I was notapprized of Lady Holland’s restoration, and I shall call to-morrow to have the satisfaction, I trust, of hearing that she is well.—I hope that neither politics nor gout have assailed your lordship since I last saw you, and that you also are ‘as well as could be expected.’

The other night, at a ball, I was presented by order to our gracious Regent, who honoured me with some conversation, and professed a predilection for poetry.—I confess it was a most unexpected honour, and I thought of poor B—s’s adventure, with some apprehensions of a similar blunder. I have now great hope, in the event of Mr. Pye’s decease, of ‘warbling truth at court,’ like Mr. Mallet of indifferent memory.—Consider, 100 marks a year! besides the wine and the disgrace; but then remorse would make me drown myself in my own butt before the year’s end, or the finishing of my first dithyrambic.—So that, after all, I shall not meditate our laureate’s death by pen or poison.

Will you present my best respects to Lady Holland, and believe me hers and yours very sincerely.




Notes

1.   Fiona MacCarthy, Byron: Life and Legend (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002) at 161.    
2. Henry James Pye was the poet laureate. He would die on August 11 1813 to be succeeded by Byron’s great literary foe, Robert Southey.
   

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