Lord Byron’s Response to a Bad Review

Lord Byron’s Response to a Bad Review


The following is from the web site of Mary Robinette Kowal – Fantasy Author and Panel Member of Writing Excuses

Lord Byron’s response to a really bad review.

In the process of researching for Valour and Vanity I ran across this piece of criticsm of Lord Byron’s first book of poetry, Hours of Idleness. He brought it out from a small press when he was nineteen and it comprised poems that he wrote while in school.

It received a scathing and highly sarcastic review from Edinburgh Review. Here’s an excerpt.

Perhaps, however, in reality, all that he tells us about his youth is rather with a view to increase our wonder, than to soften our censures. He possibly means to say, “See how a minor can write!  This poem was actually composed by a young man of eighteen and this by one of only sixteen!” But, alas! we all remember the poetry of Cowley at ten, and of Pope at twelve; and so far from hearing, with any degree of suprise, that very poor verses were written by a youth from his leaving school to his leaving college, inclusive, we really believe this to be the most common of all occurrences; that it happens in the life of nine men in ten who are educated in England and that the tenth man writes better verse than Lord Byron.

Ouch. That last line… I mean, that’s the sort of thing that burns itself into a writer’s head. And mind you, this isn’t just a random reviewer, this is Mr. Francis Jeffries, one of the top literary critics of the day. At another point he says:

Of this kind of thing there are no less than nine pages; and we can so far venture an opinion in their favour, that they look very like Macpherson, and we are positive they are pretty nearly as stupid and as tiresome.

So, he’s accusing Lord Byron of being stupid, tiresome and derivative. Most young writers– heck, a lot of adults, would be completely demoralized if this were their first publication and it got that sort of review. A nineteen year old? Fair chance he’d never write again.

This review prompted Lord Byron to write a satire “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,” which he published anonymously. It was very well received. He went on to write poems that have landed him in the pantheon of Great English Poets. Hello revenge, thy name is success.

When I look at that first review, I don’t think that one should write satire in response to a bad review, but taking power from it? Yes.

Heck, yes.


4 thoughts on “Lord Byron’s Response to a Bad Review

  1. “Hello revenge, thy name is success.”

    Great post. I found it strangely inspiring that Lord Byron could bounce back from that kind of criticism from such a young age. Loving your blog, man. Thanks for sharing.

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