Critics all are ready made


Loan from the John Murray Archive by permission of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland

Oh! Nature’s noblest gift – my grey goose-quill!
Slave of my thoughts, obedient to my will,
Torn from thy parent bird to form a pen,
That mighty instrument of little men!

Lord Byron (1788-1824). English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers: autograph manuscript.

The hostile Edinburgh review of Hours of Idleness compelled Byron to resume work on a literary satire entitled British Bards, begun at Cambridge in the autumn of 1807. He entrusted the revised manuscript to Robert Charles Dallas, a minor author, who convinced the London publisher James Cawthorn to print the satire as English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers. Between January 25th and February 22nd, 1809, Byron sent no fewer than nine letters to Dallas, containing additions and alterations to the poem. In one of them he added the postscript, “Print soon or I shall overflow with more rhyme.”

This earliest extant manuscript of the satire consists of quarto and folio leaves, composed at different times and bound together. The volume is opened to the couplet “Prepare for rhyme―I’ll publish, right or wrong: / Truth be my theme, and Censors guide my song!” : the second line was later substituted by Byron with “Fools are my theme, let Satire be my song.”