LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Responses to Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries
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While Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries had a good sale (how could it not?) it was not one of the author’s happier productions. What had begun as his autobiography was, at the suggestion of his publisher Henry Colburn, awkwardly recast as a series of pen-portraits with the remaining material pushed to the back of the volume. Putting the sour account of Byron first, while it might make commercial sense, cast the amiable Mr. Hunt in a distinctly unamiable light, and the reviewers pounced.

The reviews were not entirely negative. Henry Colburn, as the proprietor of the Literary Chronicle and New Monthly Magazine had some interest in the matter, and to whip up enthusiasm he had seen to it that excerpts were printed in the London newspapers prior to publication. But that strategy backfired and Hunt was already on the defensive by the time the book appeared. Nor did Thomas Moore wait to see the book before taking deadly aim at Hunt in the Times: “Next week will be published (as ‘Lives’ are the rage) | The whole Reminiscences, wondrous and strange, | Of a small puppy-dog, that lived once in the cage | Of the late noble Lion at Exeter ’Change.”

Hunt’s long absence in Italy had done little to quell the hostility of the Tory reviewers. John Gibson Lockhart, who had heard rumors of the autobiography long before, must have been whetting his knives in anticipation. He was now in London editing the Quarterly Review and so had a more authoritative platform from which to launch his attack than the Cockney Poets series he had written for Blackwood’s. He handles the autobiographical portions of the book as one might expect, but he had yet another arrow in his quiver: Byron’s correspondence, made available by John Murray, the proprietor of the Quarterly, which is used to make Hunt look foolish indeed.

if Lockhart was unavailable to Blackwood, John Wilson was. He fell to his task with gusto, filling over forty closely-printed pages with abuses of the man who could not bear “the aristocratical pride of the peer, as by the peculiar impudence ingrained into the natural disposition of the prig, who, whether in prison or out of it, inditing a critique on a farce, or pantomime, or trying his hand at a tale of incest, can never cease for a moment to betray his plebeianism, and yet with all his pertness and presumption, was, in the presence of his patron, always as servile as a valet.” The cumulative effect of Wilson’s long-winded philippic was more damaging even than Lockhart.

Worst of all, perhaps, no reply was forthcoming from the Edinburgh Review—Hunt’s liberal friends had given him up. As bad as Italy had been, darker days were still to come.

David Hill Radcliffe

Excerpts in the New Monthly Magazine (January 1828)
Thomas Moore, “The Living Dog and the Dead Lion,” The Times (10 January 1828)
Leigh Hunt, To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle (21 January 1828)
Review in the Athenaeum (23 January 1828)
Leigh Hunt, To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle (25 January 1828)
Review in the Literary Gazette (26 January 1828)
Review in the Literary Chronicle (26 January 1828)
Leigh Hunt, Preface to the Second Edition (February 1828)
Leigh Hunt, Appendix to the Second Edition (February 1828)
Review in the London Magazine (1 February 1828)
Review in the Monthly Review (March 1828)
John Gibson Lockhart, Review in the Quarterly Review 37 March 1828) 402-26
John Wilson, Review in Blackwood’s Magazine 23 (March 1828) 362-408