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Cain. And he who lieth there was childless. I
Which might have graced his recent marriage couch,
Adah. Peace be with him!
But with me
Lord Byron, whatever he might feel under the severe but just criticisms which his latter writings had provoked, made at present no visible sign of the pain which they occasioned him. It was not, however, to criticism alone that the inconvenient results of such publications were confined. A piratical bookseller published an unauthorized copy of Cain,' which he sold at the price of one shilling. Mr. Murray, actuated by the very reasonable desire of preserving that which he had good right to consider as his own property, applied to the Court of Chancery for an injunction to restrain the publication of the pirated copy; and in this application, after a long argument, he was ultimately unsuccessful.
The decision of the Court of Chancery gave great discontent to those persons who looked no farther than the mere right of Mr. Murray in a book for which he had paid a large price, and the dishonesty of any man attempting to deprive him of the fair profits of his enterprise. But it is only necessary to examine a little farther into the subject, and to take a more comprehensive view of the question which it involves than relates to the mere point of personal property (about which there can be no doubt), to be satisfied that the decision is politically wholesome; and that what appears morally to be unjust is not so in fact, but takes its complexion from the moral wrong which is committed by the authors of such books. Thanks to the wise and resolute deeds of our ancestors, the liberty of the press in England is established upon the surest foundations, and is enjoyed almost without restriction. Leaving out of sight political and personal libels, which are of such a nature as to require a prompt and a peculiar remedy, there is no written law which prescribes to a man what he may, and what he may not, write. There is, however, in this, as in many other branches of English jurisprudence, a sort of self-regulating power, which, whatever may seem to be its theoretical disadvantages, has always hitherto been found to act well. The law of England does not positively forbid a man to write
books of an immoral tendency, but it prevents him from doing so by not making it worth his while; and that this is an effectual preventive is sufficiently proved by the very small number of such books which have appeared from the earliest period of English literature to the present day. In the instance of Lord Byron's 'Cain,' the decision of the Court of Chancery was formed upon the principle we have mentioned. The Lord-Chancellor did not scruple to say that he thought the work was an improper one-that it had an immoral tendency-and that, therefore, it was not entitled to the protection of the Court; but he did not, as it were ex cathedra, pronounce a definitive sentence on the matter. He said, 'Thus it appears to me; but, as the spirit of the English laws tolerates no censorship of literature, I will not decide the question at issue between Mr. Murray, who claims this property, and the other bookseller, who says it is the property of all the world, and therefore his, or that of any one who chooses to seize it: I will send Mr. Murray to prove before a jury of his country (if he thinks fit), first, that this work is his; and, secondly, that, being his, it is one which is so harmless to the community that he is entitled to the protection of the laws. Let him do this; and then, without adverting to the literary merits or demerits of the work, I will take care that no man shall infringe upon his property.' Mr. Murray did not choose to comply with the conditions prescribed, (being, no doubt, more wisely counselled than to take such a step,) and the pirated edition continued to be sold. To our thinking, this manner of disposing of the question is highly beneficial to society. It is in vain for people to argue that the zeal or infatuation, or profligacy, of certain people, will induce them to write improper books only for the unenviable reward which attends such exertions; the whole current of experience in our country is against that position. Of the few immoral works which have been produced, gain alone has been their authors' object; as, in ninety-nine cases, out of a hundred, here and elsewhere, it must of necessity be. Of the exceptions to these cases either the books have been of such a nature as to be read by but few persons, or they have been open to the power of the common law; and if they have been what may be fairly called public nuisances-offences against the decency and tranquillity of society-they have been put down by a short process. But this, it will be perceived, can only apply a check to the spread of an evil already committed it has the invidious effect too of exalting the offender into a martyr in the eyes of a people whose attachment to liberty sometimes leads them into excesses, and of giving notoriety to the objectionable
works. As regards works of genius and wit, there can be but little doubt, amongst people who will dispassionately consider the subject, that the only way of putting a stop to the perversion of those talents is to withhold from them all pecuniary advantages.
Some person, who appears to have been influenced more by his zeal than his judgment, addressed what he called A Remonstrance' to Mr. Murray, respecting the publication of Cain.' The worst feature in this brochure was that it suggested very harsh measures to the public authorities, and seemed to be written with at least as much of personal hostility against Mr. Murray as of indignation against the tenor and tendency of Cain.' The spirit of this remonstrance may be guessed at by the following passages extracted from it, one of which is against the publisher, the other against the author:
'It is not for an anonymous writer to point out to the AttorneyGeneral the line of conduct he should pursue; but I am persuaded nothing but an over-cautious deference to the peculiar temper of the times would allow the prosecutor of Hone to permit the publisher of "Cain" to escape with impunity. In the mean time, there is another method by which I anticipate, in the ordinary course of things, you must be made to feel severely. You are supported by the great and powerful; and they in turn are supported by religion, morality, and law can we suppose that they will continue their countenance to one who lends himself to be the instrument by which this triple pillar is shaken and undermined? There is a method of producing conviction not to be found in any of the treatises on logic, but which I am persuaded you could be quickly made to understand;-it is the argumentum ad crumenam.
'He' (Lord Byron) 'did not scruple to contrast the most solemn obligations which society can impose, and which usually call into exercise the tenderest feelings of our nature: those feelings he has wilfully thrown from him, and trampled on the ties from which they sprung; and now at last he quarrels with the very conditions of humanity, rebels against that Providence which guides and governs all things, and dares to adopt the language which had never before been attributed to any being but one, "Evil, be thou my good!"— Such, as far as we can judge, is Lord Byron.'
To this Lord Byron returned the following answer:
Dear Sir,-Attacks upon me were to be expected; but I perceive
one upon you in the papers, which I confess that I did not expect. How, or in what manner you can be considered responsible for what I publish, I am at a loss to conceive. If "Cain" be "blasphemous," "Paradise Lost" is blasphemous; and the words of the Oxford gentleman, “Evil, be thou my good!" are from that very poem, from the mouth of Satau; and is there any thing more in that of Lucifer in the Mystery ? "Cain" is nothing more than a drama, not a piece of argument. If Lucifer and Cain speak as the first murderer and the first rebel may be supposed to speak, surely all the rest of the personages talk also according to their characters; and the stronger passions have ever been permitted to the drama. I have even avoided introducing the Deity, as in Scripture (though Milton does, and not very wisely either); but have adopted his angel, as sent to Cain, instead, on purpose to avoid shocking any feelings on the subject, by falling short of, what all uninspired men must fall short in, viz. giving an adequate notion of the effect of the presence of Jehovah. The old Mysteries introduced him liberally enough, and all this is avoided in the new one.
'The attempt to bully you, because they think it will not succeed with me, seems to me as atrocious an attempt as ever disgraced the times. What! when Gibbon's, Hume's, Priestley's, and Drummond's publishers have been allowed to rest in peace for seventy years, are you to be singled out for a work of fiction, not of history or argument? There must be something at the bottom of this-some private enemy of your own: it is otherwise incredible.
I can only say," Me, me,-adsum qui feci," that any proceedings directed against you I beg may be transferred to me, who am willing, and ought, to endure them all; that, if you have lost inoney by the publication, I will refund any, or all, of the copyright; that I desire you will say that both you and Mr. Gifford remonstrated against the publication, as also Mr. Hobhouse; that I alone occasioned it, and I alone am the person who either legally or otherwise should bear the burden. If they prosecute I will come to England; that is, if, by meeting it in my own person, I can save yours. Let me know-you sha'nt suffer for me if I can help it. Make any use of this letter which you please. • Yours ever, BYRON.
Pisa, February 8, 1822.
Here, for the present, all farther notice of this, which was the most objectionable poem Lord Byron had then produced, dropped.
LORD BYRON continued to live in Italy much in the same manner as he had done, mixing very little with English people, and, therefore, the subject of a thousand very absurd stories, not one of which was even in its most prominent features at all true. We give the following example (and we do so particularly, because this was one at which Lord Byron was excessively annoyed) of this style of story-telling, cautiening our readers that 'every third word of it is a lie, more religiously paid than the Turk's tribute.' It was published in a little book called The Magic Lantern; and said to be from the pen of a lady, whose charms, personal and mental, have raised her to the rank of a countess: Signor an English singer, who had been making the tour of Italy to improve his musical tactics, was at Reggio, in Calabria, and anxious to proceed to Vienna by the shortest route, where he was engaged to sing before the emperor. He embarked, without passports, in an open boat bound to Ancona, a capital town on the Adriatie Gulf; but was seized near Cape Otranto by a Venetian galley, and thrown into prison, where he managed to have a letter delivered into Lord Byron's hands, who very soon had him released. He sang at the nobility's concerts, and became a general favorite.
He was also a navigable gentleman, very partial to swimming, and gave a singular proof of his expertness in that exercise. At a moonlight meeting on the shore, he sang to amuse many of the chief nobility without receiving any recompense, and was wearied out with encores, when the Duke de Montcassio insisted upon his repeating a song. He remonstrated in vain, and they pressed upon him till he stood on the last of the Virgin's steps leading to the water. They thought he was now safe; but, to their utter astonishment, he made a low bow, and, taking to the water like a spaniel, swam across to the square, amidst thunders of applause. Except upon the stage, the signor was never after troubled with an encore.
He lodged at a hotel adjoining that of Lord Byron's, who honored him with particular notice.
'Sir George Whad for some time vainly labored for an introduction to his lordship. He was a ***, and most horribly vulgar in his language and deportment: moreover, his wife was a blue-stocking, and had penned a novel, in which Lord Byron was introduced as a