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Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
Marino Faliero, reviewers, Barry Cornwall

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IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





“When I published ‘Marino Faliero’ I had not the most distant view to the stage. My object in choosing that historical subject was to record one of the most remarkable incidents in the annals of the Venetian Republic, embodying it in what I considered the most interesting form—dialogue, and giving my work the accompaniments of scenery and manners studied on the spot. That Faliero should, for a slight to a woman, become a traitor to his country, and conspire to massacre all his fellow-nobles, and that the young Foscari should have a sickly affection for his native city, were no inventions of mine. I painted the men as I found them, as they were,—not as the critics would have them. I took the stories as they were handed down; and if human nature is not the same in one country as it is in others, am I to blame?—can I
help it? But no painting, however highly coloured, can give an idea of the intensity of a Venetian’s affection for his native city.
Shelley, I remember, draws a very beautiful picture of the tranquil pleasures of Venice in a poem* which he has not published, and in which he does not make me cut a good figure. It describes an evening we passed together.

“There was one mistake I committed: I should have called ‘Marino Faliero’ and ‘The Two Foscari’ dramas,

historic poems, or any thing, in short, but tragedies or plays. In the first place, I was ill-used in the extreme by the Doge being brought on the stage at all, after my Preface. Then it consists of 3500 lines:* a good acting play should not exceed 1500 or 1800; and, conformably with my plan, the materials could not have been compressed into so confined a space.

William Harness, in Blackwood's Magazine

“I remember Hogg the Ettrick Shepherd telling me, many years ago, that I should never be able to condense my powers of writing sufficiently for the stage, and that the fault of all my plays would be their being too long for acting. The remark occurred to me when I was about ‘Marino Faliero;’ but I thought it unnecessary to try and contradict his prediction, as I did not study stage-effect, and meant it solely for the closet. So much was I averse from its being acted, that, the moment I heard of the intention of the Managers, I applied for an injunction; but the Chancellor refused to interfere, or issue an order for suspending the representation. It was

* He gave me the copy, with the number of lines marked with his own pencil. I have left it in England.

a question of great importance in the literary world of property. He would neither protect me nor
Murray. But the manner in which it was got up was shameful!* All the declamatory parts were left, all the dramatic ones struck out; and Cooper, the new actor, was the murderer of the whole. Lioni’s soliloquy, which I wrote one moonlight night after coming from the Benyon’s, ought to have been omitted altogether, or at all events much curtailed. What audience will listen with any patience to a mere tirade of poetry, which stops the march of the actor? No wonder, then, that the unhappy Doge should have been damned! But it was no very pleasant news for me; and the letter containing it was accompanied by another, to inform me that an old lady, from whom I had great expectations, was likely to live to an hundred. There is an autumnal shoot in some old people, as in trees; and I fancy her constitution has got some of the new sap. Well, on these two pleasant pieces of intelligence I wrote the following epigram, or elegy it may be termed, from the melancholy nature of the subject:—

* Acted at Drury Lane, April 25, 1821.

“Behold the blessings of a happy lot!
My play is damn’d, and Lady —— not!

“I understand that Louis Dix-huit, or huitres, as Moore spells it, has made a traduction of poor ‘Faliero;’ but I should hope it will not be attempted on the Théatre François. It is quite enough for a man to be damned once. I was satisfied with Jeffrey’s critique* on the play, for it abounded in extracts. He was welcome to his own opinion,—which was fairly stated. His summing up in favour of my friend Sir Walter amused me: it reminded me of a schoolmaster, who, after flogging a bad boy, calls out the head of the class, and, patting him on the head, gives him all the sugar-plums.

“The common trick of Reviewers is, when they want to

* “However, I forgive him; and I trust
He will forgive himself:—if not, I must.
“Old enemies who have become new friends,
Should so continue;—’tis a point of honour.”
Don Juan, Canto X. Stanzas 11 and 12.
depreciate a work, to give no quotations from it. This is what ‘
The Quarterly’ shines in;—the way Milman put down Shelley, when he compared him to Pharaoh, and his works to his chariot-wheels, by what contortion of images I forget;—but it reminds me of another person’s comparing me in a poem to Jesus Christ, and telling me, when I objected to its profanity, that he alluded to me in situation, not in person! ‘What!’ said I in reply, ‘would you have me crucified? We are not in Jerusalem, are we?’ But this is a long parenthesis. The Reviewers are like a counsellor, after an abusive speech, calling no witnesses to prove his assertions.

“There are people who read nothing but these trimes-trials, and swear by the ipse dixit of these autocrats—these Actaeon hunters of literature. They are fond of raising up and throwing down idols. ‘The Edinburgh’ did so with Walter Scott’s poetry, and, perhaps there is no merit in my plays? It may be so; and Milman may be a great poet, if Heber is right and I am wrong. He has the dramatic faculty, and I have not. So they pretended to say of Milton. I am too happy in being coupled in any way with Milton, and shall be glad if they find any points of comparison between him and me.


“But the praise or blame of Reviewers does not last long now-a-days. It is like straw thrown up in the air.*

“I hope, notwithstanding all that has been said, to write eight more plays this year, and to live long enough to rival Lope de Vega, or Calderon, I have two subjects that I think of writing on,—Miss Leigh’s German tale ‘Kruitzner,’ and Pausanias.

“What do you think of Pausanias? The unities can be strictly preserved, almost without deviating from history. The temple where he took refuge, and from whose sanctuary he was forced without profaning it, will furnish complete unities of time and place.

“No event in ancient times ever struck me as more noble and dramatic than the death of Demosthenes. You remember his last words to Archias?—But subjects are not wanting.”

* He seemed to think somewhat differently afterwards, when, after the review in ‘The Quarterly’ of his plays, he wrote to me, saying, “I am the most unpopular writer going!”


I told Lord Byron, that I had had a letter from Procter*, and that he had been jeered on ‘The Duke of Mirandola’ not having been included in his (Lord B.’s) enumeration of the dramatic pieces of the day; and that he added, he had been at Harrow with him.

“Ay,” said Lord Byron, “I remember the name: he was in the lower school, in such a class. They stood Farrer, Procter, Jocelyn.”

I have no doubt Lord Byron could have gone through all the names, such was his memory. He immediately sat down, and very good-naturedly gave me the following note to send to Barry Cornwall, which shews that the arguments of the Reviewers had not changed his Unitarian opinions, (as he called them):

“Had I been aware of your tragedy when I wrote my note to ‘Marino Faliero,’ although it is a matter of no consequence to you, I should certainly not have omitted to insert your name with those of the other writers who still do honour to the drama.

* Barry Cornwall.


“My own notions on the subject altogether are so different from the popular ideas of the day, that we differ essentially, as indeed I do from our whole English literati, upon that topic. But I do not contend that I am right—I merely say that such is my opinion; and as it is a solitary one, it can do no great harm. But it does not prevent me from doing justice to the powers of those who adopt a different system.”