LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
John Galt, J. C. Hobhouse, and Literary Censorship
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Anyone publishing a memoir of Byron was sure to encounter opposition from various interested parties. Dallas’s Recollections of Lord Byron was severely castrated as the result of a court action filed by Byron’s heirs, and John Cam Hobhouse published a blistering response to Medwin’s Conversations of Lord Byron in the Westminster Review. Hobhouse also went after John Galt “who, by some strange misconception of his privileges at an author, seems to think, that the feelings of the living, no less than the fame of the dead, ought to be at the mercy of any one engaged in the noble art of book-making” New Monthly Magazine Vol. 29 (November 1830) 502.

In response to Hobhouse’s urgings Galt had published a letter in the New Monthly for October 1830 offering some factual corrections with a rather ill grace. Not satisfied with that, Hobhouse replied in the letter just quoted, with even more ill grace. Infuriated, Galt than published in Fraser’s an article entitled “Pot versus Kettle” in which he printed his correspondence with Hobhouse that led to the original letter of correction.

As with the letters published by the younger Dallas on a similar occasion, Hobhouse is exposed as a bully. Galt also touches on a point of interest in Byron biography. Upon returning from Greece the poet had told Dallas that he had no interest in publishing Childe Harold because it had been condemned by a good critic. In his biography Galt had identified that “good critic” as Hobhouse, and in a note to his October letter quotes a passage in confirmation of the surmise: “‘Critics,’ says Lord Byron, ‘are all ready made;’ and how early Mr. Hobhouse was qualified for the trade, will appear from his having advised Lord Byron not to publish Childe Harold.”

In his letter to the New Monthly Magazine, Hobhouse jumped at this, asserting that the author quoted was none other than Thomas Medwin and that the statement had appeared in Medwin’s reply to Hobhouse’s piece in the Westminster Review. (Galt is also chided for identifying its author as Hobhouse.) While he carefully avoids the “lie direct,” Galt replies by reinforcing his case that Hobhouse was indeed the “good critic” who condemned Byron’s most famous poem—who else, after all, could have seen the manuscript before Dallas?

The interesting item here involves Medwin’s pamphlet which was printed by Colburn and then suppressed (apparently no copy survives). What we learn from the “Pot versus Kettle” exchange is that both Galt and Hobhouse had seen this lost pamphlet. If Hobhouse had read it and it contained information he did not approve of, we may be sure that Colburn too had received a threatening letter.

David Hill Radcliffe

John Galt, “Galt’s Life of Byron,” in the New Monthly Magazine 27 (October 1830) 386-87
John Cam Hobhouse, “Galt’s Life of Byron,” in the New Monthly Magazine 29 (November 1830) 502-03
John Galt, “Pot versus Kettle,” in the Fraser’s Magazine 2 (December 1830) 543-42