Pages

September 10 1812: Byron By the Waters of Cheltenham


On September 10, 1812, Lord Byron responds to Lord Holland's request that he write something for the re-opening of the Drury Lane Theatre. The theatre was scheduled to re-open in October after having been destroyed in a fire in 1809. The Drury Lane Committee, which managed the theatre, had rejected every entry it had received in the competition for an opening address. Lord Holland asked Byron to write something.  In response, Byron tries to beg off. "Seriously I think," he writes, "you have a chance of something much better, for prologuising is not my forte, & at all events either my pride or my modesty won’t let me incur the hazard of having my rhymes buried in next month’s magazine under essays on the murder of Mr  Perceval & “cures for the bite of a mad dog” as poor Goldsmith complained on the fate of far superior performances." Byron will eventually agree.

Byron is writing from Cheltenham where he has gone to escape Lady Caroline Lamb and to take in the health benefits of the spa waters. Byron has been suffering from  kidney stones. Part of the cure was "drinking the 'very medicinal & sufficiently disgusting waters of the spa." [1] While at Cheltenham, he had stayed with the Hollands at a house called, Georgina Cottage. Now the Hollands have gone and Byron, parodying the psalm, quips: "By the waters of Cheltenham I sate down & drank, when I remembered thee oh Georgiana Cottage! – as for our harps we hanged them up, upon “the willows that grow thereby – then “they said sing us a song of Drury Lane &c. – but I am dumb & dreary as the Israelites. – The waters have disordered me to my hearts’ content, you were right, as you always are."Byron's letter is reproduced below. 

Byron to Lord Holland, from Cheltenham, September 10th 1812:

Cheltenham Sept 10th, 1812

My dear Lord

The lines which I sketched off on your hint are still or rather were in an unfinished {state} for I have just committed them to a flame more decisive than that of Drury. – – Under all the circumstances I should hardly risk a contest with Philodrama – Philo-drury – Asbestos – Horace Twiss – – and all the anonymes & synonymes of the Committee candidates. – Seriously I think you have a chance of something much better, for prologuising is not my forte, & at all events either my pride or my modesty won’t let me incur the hazard of having my rhymes buried in next month’s magazine under essays on the murder of Mr  Perceval & “cures for the bite of a mad dog” as poor Goldsmith complained on the fate of far superior performances. – – I am still sufficiently interested to wish to know the successful Candidate – & amongst so many – I have no doubt some will be excellent, particularly in an age when writing verse is the easiest of all attainments. – – I cannot answer your intelligence with the “like comfort”  unless as you are deeply theatrical you may wish to hear of Mr. Betty, whose acting is I fear utterly inadequate to the London engagement into which the Managers of C. G. have lately entered. – His figure is fat, his features flat, his voice unmanageable, his action ungraceful, & as Diggory says “I defy him to extort that d – d muffin face of his into madness” – I was very sorry to see him in the character of the “Elephant on the <light> {slack} rope” for when I last saw him I was in raptures with his performance, but then I was sixteen – an age to which all London then condescended to subside – after all much better judges have admired & may again – but I venture to “prognosticate a prophecy” (see the Courier) that he will not succeed. – So poor dear Rogers has stuck fast on “the brow of the mighty Helvellyn” –I hope not forever. – My best respects to Ly. H. – her departure with that of my other friends was a sad event for me now reduced to a state of the most cynical solitude. – “By the waters of Cheltenham I sate down & drank, when I remembered thee oh Georgiana Cottage! – as for our harps we hanged them up, upon “the willows that grow thereby – then “they said sing us a song of Drury Lane &c. – but I am dumb & dreary as the Israelites. – The waters have disordered me to my hearts’ content, you were right, as you always are. – Believe me every r. obliged
& affecte. Servt.
Byron

Notes
1. Fiona MacCarthy, Byron: Life and Legend (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002) at 182-184.

No comments:

Post a comment