How Blackwood’s worked


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A letter from Lockhart to Maginn (1824):

Dear Doctor

It was a horrible idea of yours to run down Byron dead. It is quite a punch bred notion & you cd not say so impransus. Blackwood, besides, will not have it so.

My fancy is to have a noble “Noctes” entirely devoted to him. Do you take up Timothy & make him abuse Byron as heartily as heartily [sic] as he pleases. Be Odoherty his defender & eulogist mordicus This part I wd fain undertake. I have written to the Professor to write a flaming speech of North proposing the Memory of the Defunct. I shall also do Hogg. In short do your bits of dialogue introducing any songs—anecdotes—scraps real or imaginary of the Memoirs &c &c of which Timothy shd have seen a copy These materials I undertake to work up into a fine harmonious whole, cramming into 20 pages as much of truth & of humbug as the Public have recently met with in any similar space. Give us a first rate Lament by Odoherty—and I will do ditto for Hogg Be sure you tell all (more than all if you like) that you know or suspect about Moore’s concern in the burning business And do all this instanter or not at all.. .. ..

I beg my best respects to the ladies also to Forster & the rest of the Blue Postian heroes

Your JGL

Pickled Byron


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“On the Arrival in England of Lord Byron’s Remains” by Charles Lamb (1824):

Manners, they say, by climate alter not
Who goes a drunkard will return a sot.
So lordly Juan, damn’d to lasting fame,
Went out a pickle, and came back the same.

The footnote is even better:

Lord Byron’s body had been brought home from Greece, for burial at Hucknall Torkard, in 1824, and the cause of the epigram was a paragraph in The New Times of October 19, 1825, stating that the tub in which Byron’s remains came home was exhibited by the captain of the Rodney for 2s. 6d. a head; afterwards sold to a cooper in Whitechapel; resold to a museum; and finally sold again to a cooper in Middle New Street, who was at that time using it as an advertisement.

Lord Byron the Human Cockroach Racetrack


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According to Maurois’s Life, Byron’s “wicked” great-uncle (and predecessor in the peerage) used to amuse himself by lying on the floor of the kitchen at Newstead and “staging races of cockroaches up and down his own body.”

Leaks, lies, and a bullshitting attorney general


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Lord Eldon is probably most infamous today (at least in the US) as the conservative lord chancellor of England who harassed several of the romantic poets—including Southey, Shelley, and Byron—by refusing to grant injunctions against piracy to them (or their publishers) for poems that he considered blasphemous, immoral, or seditious.

I’ve read dozens of 20th-century discussions of Eldon’s decisions in these cases, and not one of them mentions the bizarre fact that in 1806, Eldon himself wrote a satirical attack on the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), and then essentially granted himself an injunction against piracy the following year, after the Phoenix Sunday newspaper threatened to publish the (then-embarrassing, and almost certainly libelous) document.

I’ve transcribed a selection from Campbell’s Life about “The Book” and its later suppression. As far as I can tell, the version of the story in Campbell’s Life was a kind of exposé—and it was published over 40 years later, so the cover-up was pretty effective.

First meeting


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I’ve been spending a lot of time with Lord Eldon lately, but I hadn’t realized how much my feelings towards him have changed until I reread this anecdote in Moore’s Life last night. When I read it first several months ago, it made me quite happy—now it makes me sorry for the old bastard and a bit ashamed of Byron. (It was their first meeting, too, so Byron had no good reason to be such a dick.)

Lord Eldon was going through some ordinary business. When Lord Byron entered, I thought he looked still paler than before; and he certainly wore a countenance in which mortification was mingled with, but subdued by, indignation. He passed the woolsack without looking round, and advanced to the table where the proper officer was attending to administer the oaths. When he had gone through them, the Chancellor quitted his seat, and went towards him with a smile, putting out his hand warmly to welcome him; and, though I did not catch his words, I saw that he paid him some compliment. This was all thrown away upon Lord Byron, who made a stiff bow, and put the tips of his fingers into the Chancellor’s hand. The Chancellor did not press a welcome so received, but resumed his seat.

More OED wackiness


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nisi prius, n.

A writ directing a sheriff to provide a jury at the Court of Westminster on a particular day, unless the assize judges come before that day to the county from which the jury was to be drawn.

1634 T. HEYWOOD & R. BROME Late Lancashire Witches IIII. sig. I2, One morning, when your mother’s husband rid early to have a Nisi prius tryed at Lancaster Syzes, hee crept into his warme place, lay close by her side, and then were you got.

The Canadian Hansard


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From Wikipedia:

Given the bilingual nature of the Canadian federal government, two equivalent Canadian Hansards are maintained, one in French and one in English. This makes it a natural parallel text, and it is often used to train French-English machine translation programs. In addition to being already translated and aligned, the size of the Hansards and the fact new material is always being added makes it an attractive corpus. However, its usefulness is hindered by the fact that the translations, although accurate in meaning, are not always literally exact.

In one instance, during a Liberal filibuster in the Canadian Senate, Senator Philippe Gigantes was accused of reading one of his books only so that he could get the translation for free through the Hansard.

The Odontist


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From R. Shelton Mackenzie’s History of Blackwood’s Magazine:

James Scott was a reality, described by Hogg as ‘a strange-looking, bald-headed, bluff little man, practicing as a dentist in Edinburgh and Glasgow; keeping a good house and hospitable table in both, and considered skilful.’

Of literature he was wholly ignorant, but Lockhart and others perpetually mystified him, publishing ballads and songs in his name, which, at last, he used to sing as his own, whenever he could get auditors.

Pet phrases, allusions to particular incidents and persons, were so adroitly introduced into these pieces, that—while his friends marvelled how he had contrived to appear a dull man for the preceding fifty years of his life—nobody discredited his claims to authorship.

More anti-piracy propaganda (from 1782)


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Ode XVII: Privateering
by John Scott

How Custom steels the human breast
To deeds that Nature’s thoughts detest!
How Custom consecrates to fame
What Reason else would give to shame!
Fair Spring supplies the favouring gale,
The Naval Plunderer spreads his sail,
And ploughing wide the watry way,
Explores with anxious eyes his prey.

The man he never saw before,
The man who him no quarrel bore,
He meets, and Avarice prompts the fight;
And Rage enjoys the dreadful sight
Of decks with streaming crimson dy’d,
And wretches struggling in the tide,
Or, ‘midst th’ explosion’s horrid glare,
Dispers’d with quivering limbs in air.

The merchant now on foreign shores
His captur’d wealth in vain deplores;
Quits his fair home, O mournful change!
For the dark prison’s scanty range;
By Plenty’s hand so lately fed,
Depends on casual alms for bread;
And, with a father’s anguish torn,
Sees his poor offspring left forlorn.

And yet, such Man’s misjudging mind,
For all this injury to his kind,
The prosperous Robber’s native plain
Shall bid him welcome home again;
His name the song of every street,
His acts the theme of all we meet,
And oft the artist’s skill shall place
To public view his pictur’d face!

If glory thus be earn’d, for me
My object glory ne’er shall be;
No, first in Cambria’s loneliest dale
Be mine to hear the shepherd’s tale!
No, first on Scotia’s bleakest hill
Be mine the stubborn soil to till!
Remote from wealth, to dwell alone,
And die, to guilty praise unknown!

The cutest story in the OED


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From “plain, a.1 and adv.”:

1969 AUDEN in N.Y. Rev. Bks. 27 Mar. 3/4, I conclude he [sc. J. R. Ackerley] did not belong to either of the two commonest classes of homosexuals, neither to the ‘orals’… nor to the ‘anals’… My guess is that at the back of his mind, lay a daydream of an innocent Eden where children play ‘Doctor’, so that the acts he really preferred were the most ‘brotherly’, Plain-Sewing and Princeton-First-Year.

1971 Observer 7 Nov. (Colour Suppl.) 35/4, One of my [sc. W. H. Auden’s] great ambitions is to get into the OED, as the first person to have used in print a new word. I have two candidates at the moment, which I used in my review of J. R. Ackerley’s autobiography. They are ‘Plain-Sewing’ and ‘Princeton-First-Year’. They refer to two types of homosexual behaviour.

1980 Times Lit. Suppl. 21 Mar. 324/5, I suspect ‘Plain-Sewing’ to be Auden’s own invention, but its meaning is fairly clear, as it involves a pun on ’sowing’ (seed or semen) and a reference to the two-and-fro [sic] action of the hand in sewing.



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