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Responses to Thomas Medwin’s Conversations of Lord Byron (1824)
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Thomas Medwin’s Conversations of Lord Byron was published in October 1824, five months after the world learned of Byron’s death. It was the first authoritative memoir to appear and was immediately and extensively excerpted in the daily and weekly prints. The newspapers also printed letters from readers calling Medwin’s veracity into question on this point or that, which enjoined further letters, so that by the time the major reviews would have taken up the book the Conversations was, in effect, old news. In this instance at least, the paucity of reviews does not at all indicate a lack of interest.

The Byron of Medwin’s Conversations is not the Byron that his family and friends cared to have remembered, and perhaps by making an example of Medwin they hoped to forestall the appearance of further memoirs. John Galt and William Harness published their negative appraisals in Blackwood’s Magazine for November, and John Cam Hobhouse wrote a withering assault on Medwin published in the Westminster Review for January 1825. Leigh Hunt, as might be expected, took a more tolerant view of Medwin in Lord Byron and his Contemporaries (1828) and since the publication of Byron’s letters in Thomas Moore’s biography (1830) and Lady Blessington’s Conversations (1832-33) “Medwin’s Byron” has come to seem, if not always accurate in details, a reasonable portrait.

Medwin was understandably distressed by the attacks on his character and pointed to his journals as evidence for his truthfulness; Washington Irving and William Hazlitt both saw the journals which have since disappeared. With Hazlitt’s assistance Medwin composed a pamphlet in response to Hobhouse’s criticisms that was printed but suppressed (apparently no copy survives). Upon the appearance of Moore’s Life of Byron in 1830 Medwin published an angry two-part reply in the Literary Gazette in which he defends the Conversations and throws the blame for any misconstructions on Byron, whom he attacks along with those who had criticized his book: he had merely reported what Byron said and cannot be held accountable for Byron’s veracity.

These remarks were further amplified in Medwin’s Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1847) in a long digression giving examples of Byron’s habit of quizzing and attacking his friends behind their backs. If he had been taken in, Medwin argues, so too had those who knew Byron longer and better. Throughout the biography of Shelley Medwin takes shots at Thomas Moore and John Cam Hobhouse (to whom he attributed the Blackwood’s attack on the Conversations as well as that in the Westminster Review). If Medwin’s responses to his critics were clumsy and mean-spirited they had the virtue of being largely true, and he was eventually vindicated.

In the short term, however, the public reaction to Medwin’s Conversations was preoccupied with (apart from Byron’s relationships with women) the controversy with John Murray’s denial that he had been seriously at odds with Byron, with the controversy surrounding the authorship of Charles Wolfe’s poem, “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” and Robert Southey’s denial that he had written the reviews in the Quarterly that Byron attributed to him. Southey’s letter to the Courier fired up the simmering Satanic Poetry controversy and became the pretext for more partisan warfare between the Whig and Tory London newspapers.

David Hill Radcliffe

[Thomas Colley Grattan?], “Lord Byron and his Memoirs” in The Attic Miscellany (October 1824) 26-37
Thomas Medwin, Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron (1824)
[Sir John Stoddart], Review in The New Times (25-27 October 1824)
J. B. Clarke, [Thomas Medwin and Charles Wolfe], in The Times (27 October 1824)
T. N., “Ballad on Sir John Moore,” in Morning Post (28 October 1824)
John Sydney Taylor, “Lord Byron and the late Rev. Charles Wolfe,” in Morning Chronicle (29 October 1824)
The Editor, [Claims to The Burial of Sir John Moore], in Globe and Traveller (30 October 1824)
John Galt and William Harness, Review of Medwin, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 16 (November 1824) 530-40
John Wilson et. al., “Noctes Ambrosianae” XVII, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 16 (November 1824) 585-601
Francis Barry Boyle St Leger, “Conversations of Lord Byron,” in New Monthly Magazine 11 (November 1824):407-15
Anonymous, “Lord Byron and Thomas Medwin,” in The Courier (3 November 1824)
John Murray, “Lord Byron and Mr. Murray,” in The Courier (5 November 1824)
Anonymous, “Mrs. Mardyn,” in Morning Post (6 November 1824)
George Miller, [Medwin and Charles Wolfe], in St. James’s Chronicle (6 November 1824)
Q in the Corner, “Lord Byron and Mrs. Mardyn,” in Morning Chronicle (9 November 1824)
Anonymous, “Captain Medwin’s Account of Mr. Shelley,” in Morning Chronicle (9 November 1824)
William Jerdan?, “Captain Medwin’s Conversations,” in Literary Gazette 408 (13 November 1824): 725-26
Leigh Hunt, “Lord Byron and Mr. Murray,” in The Examiner (14 November 1824) 722-24
Editor of the Conversations, “Lord Byron and Mr. Murray,” in Morning Chronicle (15 November 1824)
H. —, “Duel between Captain Stackpoole and Lieut. Cecil,” in Literary Chronicle 288 (20 November 1824) 743-44
Grizzledina, “Lord Byron, Ladies, and Asmodeus,” in Literary Chronicle 288 (20 November 1824) 744-45
J. Oldworth, “Byron’s Biographers and Grizzledina,” in Literary Chronicle 289 (27 November 1824) 763-64
Thomas Medwin, “Lord Byron and Mr. Murray,” in The Sun (30 November 1824) 763-64
A Constant Reader, [Byron’s Devotional Reading], in The Sun (7 December 1824)
Robert Southey, “To the Editor,” in The Courier (13 December 1824)
John Cam Hobhouse, Review of Dallas and Medwin in the Westminster Review (January 1825)
Thomas Babbington Macaulay, “Moore’s Life of Lord Byron” in the Edinburgh Review 53 (June 1831) 544-572
Thomas Medwin, “Lord Byron, his Biography, &c.” in the Literary Gazette No. 785 (4 February 1832) 73-74
Thomas Medwin, “Lord Byron, his Biography, &c. [concluded.]” in the Literary Gazette No. 786 (11 February 1832) 88-89