LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoir of John Murray
John Murray to Robert John Wilmot Horton, 19 May 1824

Vol. 1 Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
Chapter XIII.
Chapter XIV.
Chapter XV.
Chapter XVI.
Chapter XVII.
Chapter XVIII.
Chapter XIX.
Vol. 2 Contents
Chap. XX.
Chap. XXI.
Chap. XXII.
Chap. XXIII.
Chap. XXIV.
Chap. XXV.
Chap. XXVI.
Chap. XXVII.
Chap. XXIX.
Chap. XXX.
Chap. XXXI.
Chap. XXXII.
Chap. XXXIV.
Chap. XXXV.
Chap. XXXVI.
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Produced by CATH
Albemarle Street, May 19th, 1824.
Dear Sir,

On my return home last night I found your letter, dated the 17th, calling on me for a specific answer whether I acknowledged the accuracy of the statement of Mr. Moore, communicated in it. However unpleasant it is to me, your requisition of a specific answer obliges me to say that I cannot, by any means, admit the accuracy of that statement; and in order to explain to you how Mr. Moore’s misapprehension may have arisen, and the ground upon which my assertion rests, I feel it necessary to trouble you with a statement of all the circumstances of the case, which will enable you to judge for yourself.

Lord Byron having made Mr. Moore a present of his Memoirs, Mr. Moore offered them for sale to Messrs. Longman and Co., who however declined to purchase them; Mr. Moore then made me a similar offer, which I accepted; and in November 1821, a joint assignment of the Memoirs was made to me by Lord Byron and Mr. Moore, with all legal technicalities, in consideration of a sum of 2000 guineas, which, on the execution of the agreement by Mr. Moore, I

* Lord J. Russell’sMemoirs, &c., of Thomas Moore,’ iv. p. 188.

paid to him. Mr. Moore also covenanted, in consideration of the said sum, to act as Editor of the Memoirs, and to supply an account of the subsequent events of Lord Byron’s life, &c.

Some months after the execution of this assignment, Mr. Moore requested me, as a great personal favour to himself and to Lord Byron, to enter into a second agreement, by which I should resign the absolute property which I had in the Memoirs, and give Mr. Moore and Lord Byron, or any of their friends, a power of redemption during the life of Lord Byron. As the reason pressed upon me for this change was that their friends thought there were some things in the Memoirs that might be injurious to both, I did not hesitate to make this alteration at Mr. Moore’s request; and, accordingly, on the 6th day of May, 1822, a second deed was executed, stating that, “Whereas Lord Byron and Mr. Moore are now inclined to wish the said work not to be published, it is agreed that, if either of them shall, during the life of the said Lord Byron, repay the 2000 guineas to Mr. Murray, the latter shall redeliver the Memoirs; but that, if the sum be not repaid during the lifetime of Lord Byron, Mr. Murray shall be at full liberty to print and publish the said Memoirs within Three Months* after the death of the said Lord Byron.” I need hardly call your particular attention to the words, carefully inserted twice over in this agreement, which limited its existence to the lifetime of Lord Byron; the reason of such limitation was obvious and natural—namely that, although I consented to restore the work, while Lord Byron should be alive to direct the ulterior disposal of it, I would by no means consent to place it after his death at the disposal of any other person.

I must now observe that I had never been able to obtain possession of the original assignment, which was my sole lien on this property, although I had made repeated applications to Mr. Moore to put me into possession of the deed, which was stated to be in the hands of Lord Byron’s banker. Feeling, I confess, in some degree alarmed at the withholding the deed, and dissatisfied at Mr. Moore’s inattention

* The words “within Three Months” were substituted for “immediately,” at Mr. Moore’s request—and they appear in pencil, in his own handwriting, upon the original draft of the deed, which is still in existence.

to my interests in this particular, I wrote urgently to him in March 1823, to procure me the deed, and at the same time expressed my wish that the second agreement should either be cancelled or at once executed.

Finding this application unavailing, and becoming, by the greater lapse of time, still more doubtful as to what the intentions of the parties might be, I, in March 1824, repeated my demand to Mr. Moore in a more peremptory manner, and was in consequence at length put into possession of the original deed. But, not being at all satisfied with the course that had been pursued towards me, I repeated to Mr. Moore my uneasiness at the terms on which I stood under the second agreement, and renewed my request to him that he would either cancel it, or execute its provisions by the immediate redemption of the work, in order that I might exactly know what my rights in the property were. He requested time to consider this proposition. In a day or two he called, and told me that he would adopt the latter alternative—namely, the redemption of the Memoirs—as he had found persons who were ready to advance the money on his insuring his life; and he promised to conclude the business on the first day of his return to town, by paying the money and giving up the agreement. Mr. Moore did return to town, but did not, that I have heard of, take any proceedings for insuring his life; he positively neither wrote nor called upon me as he had promised to do (though he was generally accustomed to make mine one of his first houses of call);—nor did he take any other step, that I am aware of, to show that he had any recollection of the conversation which had passed between us previous to his leaving town, until the death of Lord Byron had, ipso facto, cancelled the agreement in question, and completely restored my absolute rights over the property of the Memoirs.

You will therefore perceive that there was no verbal agreement in existence between Mr. Moore and me, at the time I made a verbal agreement with you to deliver the Memoirs to be destroyed. Mr. Moore might undoubtedly, during Lord Byron’s life, have obtained possession of the Memoirs, if he had pleased to do so; he however neglected or delayed to give effect to our verbal agreement, which, as well as the written instrument to which it related, being cancelled by the death of Lord Byron, there was no reason
whatsoever why I was not at that instant perfectly at liberty to dispose of the MS. as I thought proper. Had I considered only my own interest as a tradesman, I would have announced the work for immediate publication, and I cannot doubt that, under all the circumstances, the public curiosity about these Memoirs would have given me a very considerable profit beyond the large sum I originally paid for them; but you yourself are, I think, able to do me the justice of bearing witness that I looked at the case with no such feelings, and that my regard for Lord Byron’s memory, and my respect for his surviving family, made me more anxious that the Memoirs should be immediately destroyed, since it was surmised that the publication might be injurious to the former and painful to the latter.

As I myself scrupulously refrained from looking into the Memoirs, I cannot, from my own knowledge, say whether such an opinion of the contents was correct or not; it was enough for me that the friends of Lord and Lady Byron united in wishing for their destruction. Why Mr. Moore should have wished to preserve them I did not nor will I inquire; but, having satisfied myself that he had no right whatever in them, I was happy in having an opportunity of making, by a pecuniary sacrifice on my part, some return for the honour, and I must add, the profit, which I had derived from Lord Byron’s patronage and friendship. You will also be able to bear witness that—although I could not presume to impose an obligation on the friends of Lord Byron or Mr. Moore, by refusing to receive the repayment of the 2000 guineas advanced by me—yet I had determined on the destruction of the Memoirs without any previous agreement for such repayment:—and you know the Memoirs were actually destroyed without any stipulation on my part, but even with a declaration that I had destroyed my own private property—and I therefore had no claim upon any party for remuneration.

I remain, dear Sir,
Your faithful servant,
John Murray.