Authors and their Publishers: Lord Byron and John Murray, Jonathan Swift and the issue of authorship.

On the 1st of October 2014, Dr. Mary O’Connell led a seminar at University College Cork titled ”the natural antipathy of author and bookseller’: Byron and John Murray.’ The paper she presented dealt with the relationship between Lord Byron (1788-1824) and his principle publisher John Murray. The subject is dealt with extensively in Dr O’Connell’s book titled Byron and John Murray A Poet and his Publisher which is to be released in December 2014. Her paper provided an analysis of their correspondence which revealed their fluctuating relationship and considered the shaping force of a publisher on an author’s career. This blog entry will provide a summary and engagement with Dr O’Connell’s seminar as well as leading into a discussion of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and the complex issue of authorship which arose due to publication complications.

Lord Byron
Lord Byron

Murray was an influential member of London literary society prior to his association  with Byron. He was the publisher of Jane Austen and Fenimore Cooper and was a caricatured  public figure. Byron was conscious himself of not being led down a mercantile path by his  publisher and in a letter reminds him of the difference between a tradesman and a gentleman  and advises Murray to be mindful of this. Their correspondence was filled with praise,  undermining, advice and confidences, all of which illustrates the role of Murray had in  propping up or aiding Byron along his creative path. Dr O’Connell pointed out the illusion that  a publisher’s influence is a contaminating one. Booksellers are seen as “commercial, profit  driven, parasitical figures and manipulators” according to O’Connell, but the truth of it is that  radical publishers such as Murray stand outside that view. However, she rejects the notion that  their relationship was entirely extraordinary, giving Mary Wollstonecraft and her publisher as  another example where such a close relationship existed. On the other hand, what is  exceptional in their case is that Murray received 200 letters from Caroline Lamb, Byron’s  mistress. Murray became seen as the gateway to Byron and a sense of ownership was felt keenly  by both of them.

It has been suggested that Murray is overly servile in his tone, Dr O’Connell disputes this and asserts that his tone is appropriate considering he is a publisher writing to a member of the nobility and that it is typical of the deferential tone to a successful author. Murray in his letters to Byron is gossipy, amusing, and anecdotal and it is understandable why Byron wrote to him more than anyone else but Byron was a more eager correspondant than Murray. As Dr O’Connell remarked, Byron wrote as it email existed. This is reflected in the imbalance of letters that remain. There are 171 surviving letters from Murray to Byron and 455 from Byron to Murray. Murray flatters Byron a great deal and as a result of that, Byron indulges his publisher’s requests.

Jane Stabler’s book, Byron Poetics and History offers further analysis on their correspondence. She details Murrays reaction to Byron’s lengthy poem Beppo: A Venetian Story written at Venice in 1817. It was Byron’s first attempt at writing in the Italian ottava rima metre, which encouraged his inclination for satiric digression. It is the precursor to Byron’s seminal work, Don Juan. Stabler tells us, “Murray expressed pleasure in Byron’s new medley style through a conventional analogy with Shakespeare’s changeability, but his letter also reveals a thinly veiled anxiety: ‘I am glad that you are disposed to pursue this strain, which has occasioned so much delight’ (Smiles, A Publisher and his Friends, 1, p393).” Murray is reported to have then added cautiously, “Do you never think of prose?” Stabler attests that he was inclined to be wary of Byron’s protean potential and that he attempted in vain to steer Byron’s digressiveness into a more commodifiable form. The poem printed below illustrates their relationship succinctly. The  humour, slightly passive aggressive warning and their close relationship is evident in these lines:

Poem titled: To Mr Murray 

John Murray
John Murray

FOR Orford and for Waldegrave

You give much more than me you gave;

Which is not fairly to behave,

My Murray.

Because if a live dog, ’tis said,

Be worth a lion fairly sped,

live lord must be

worth two dead,

My Murray.

And if, as the opinion goes,

Verse hath a better sale than prose –

Certes, I should have more than those,

My Murray.

But now this sheet is nearly cramm’d,

So, if you will,  I shan’t be shamm’d,

And if you won’t, you may be damn’d,

My Murray.

 Their close correspondence didn’t last however. Their relationship faltered over the publication of Don Juan in 1822 and led to a break in their association.  Byron became hugely paranoid towards the end of his career and perceived that Murray was neglecting him but Murray’s sense of duty and loyalty still pervaded and he protected Byron’s reputation even after he had died.

The Liverpool University Press, in their synopsis of Dr O’Connell’s book illuminates that “It is commonly seen as a paradox of Byron’s literary career that the liberal poet was published by a conservative publishing house. It is less of a paradox when, as this book illustrates, we see John Murray as a competitive, innovative publisher who understood how to deal with his most famous author.” The significance of their association and the impact it had is answered in Dr O’Connell’s book but I would like to continue this entry with an examination of the Irish author Jonathan Swift. Granted he was writing prior to Byron’s time, but the relationship he had with his publisher(s) proves equally interesting. The fear for both authors and publishers in the 18th Century was how to compete in an overcrowded marketplace, and also there were concerns about how to avoid a prison sentence which was what faced both author and publisher if the material was deemed objectionable.

Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is the well-known author of Gulliver’s Travels, but what is less well known is that the novel has a complex issue of authorship. The full title of the book is Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, which thankfully has been shortened to simply Gulliver’s Travels. It is purported to have been written in 1726 and then amended in 1735, but as I shall attempt to illustrate here, there are blurred lines as to the truth of these dates.

Some sources say that the writing of the novel began as early as 1713 and that it started life as a group project. In these accounts, the story was conceived by a group which called themselves the Scriblerus Club. It included John Gay, Swift, and Alexander Pope amongst its members. They were a group which was devoted to satirising modern scholarship and science. They invented an author called Martinus Scriblerus and wrote an imaginary biography of him and Pope attests that Gulliver’s Travels took this biography as the seeds for his novel. However, this is contradicted by Swift’s correspondence which attests that the composition proper began in 1720, and was finished by August 1725. Given that the book was very obviously an anti-Whig satire, it is likely that Swift had the manuscript copied so that his handwriting could not be used as evidence if a prosecution should arise.

Swift travelled to London in March 1726 to secretly deliver the manuscript to the publisher Benjamin Motte. Accompanying the manuscript, was a letter asking if the novel could be signed by Gulliver’s imaginary cousin, Richard Sympson who is the author of the prefatory letter of the novel. Motte used five printing houses to speed production and avoid piracy. Fearful of prosecution, Motte amended the manuscript considerably, cutting the most offensive passages and adding some material in defence of Queen Anne. He then published the first edition in two volumes on the 26th of October 1726. It was instantly popular but Swift was understandably outraged at the violation of his authorship rights. Swift’s correspondence from the time is triumphant about its success, but also jests that he didn’t write it.


First Edition
First Edition

It was published anonymously and several follow-ups appeared rapidly after its release.  These were mostly printed anonymously and made little impact. Swift disavowed them in  Faulkner’s edition of 1735. George Faulkner was an Irish publisher who printed a set of  Swift’s works. He revealed in his “Advertisement to the Reader” that he had access to an  annotated copy of Motte’s work by “a friend of the author” (believed to be Swift’s friend  Charles Ford). This edition reproduces most of the manuscript without Motte’s  amendments, the original manuscript having been destroyed. There is a claim that Swift  proofread this edition, but there is no evidence for this. This edition is regarded as the  Editio Princeps of Gulliver’s Travels with the exception that Swift has added A letter  from Capt. Gulliver to his Cousin Sympson, which complains that Motte’s alterations to  the original manuscript have altered it so much that “I do hardly know mine own work.”

The novel itself highlights the complex issue of its own authorship. Swift pretends that Gulliver is the author of his travels and Gulliver repeatedly defends the authenticity of his travels as a factual account. This is emphasised in a letter from the publisher to the reader: “There is an Air of Truth apparent through the whole; and indeed the Author was so distinguished for his Veracity, that it became a Sort of Proverb among his Neighbours as Redriff, that when any one affirmed a Thing, to say, it was as True as if Mr Gulliver had spoke it.” This emphasis on authenticity pervades both the fictional history, and the real history of this novel and justifies the apprehension authors have when dealing with publishers at this time. Byron came to write out of this literary history and his dealings with John Murray show the changing relationship between author and publisher in the matter of a few decades.

Works Cited:

-Byron, Lord. “To Mr. Murray, I. IV. Satiric.1881. Poetry of Byron.” To Mr. Murray, I. IV. Satiric. 1881. Poetry of Byron. Bartleby Books Online, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

-“Gulliver’s Travels.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.’s_Travels

John Murray Portrait. Digital image. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

-O’Connell, Mary. Byron and John Murray A Poet and His Publisher. Digital image. Liverpool University Liverpool University Press, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. (Book to be released in December 2014)

-O’Connell, Mary. “”The Natural Antipathy of Author and Bookseller’: Byron and John Murray.'” Public Lectures and Seminars: Arts Celtic Studies and Social Sciences. University College Cork, Cork. 01 Oct. 2014. Seminar.

-O’Connell, Mary. “A Poet, His Publisher and Posterity : Byron and John Murray.” University College Cork Library: Disseratation Summary. N.p., 2009. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.’connell

-Philips, Thomas. Lord Byron Coloured Drawing 1813. Digital image.Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation,  16 Oct. 2005. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

-Stabler, Jane. Byron, Poetics, and History. Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 2002. Print.

-Williams, Abigail, and Kate O’Connor. “Jonathan Swift and ‘Gulliver’s Travels'”University of Oxford Great Writers Inspire. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

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