DEAR DOCTOR, I HAVE READ YOUR PLAY
~ by George Gordon, Lord Byron
Dear Doctor, I have read your play,
Which is a good one in its way,
Purges the eyes, and moves the bowels,
And drenches handkerchiefs like towels,
With tears that, in a flux of grief,
Afford hysterical relief
To shattered nerves and quickened pulses
Which your catastrophe convulses.
I like your moral and machinery,
Your plot, too, has such scope for scenery!
Your dialogue is apt and smart,
Your play’s concoction full of art.
Your hero raves, your heroine cries,
All stab, and everybody dies.
In short, your tragedy would be
The very thing to hear and see.
And for a piece of publication,
If I decline on this occasion,
It is not that I am not sensible
To merits in themselves ostensible–
But– and I grieve to speak it– plays
Are drugs– mere drugs, Sir, nowadays.
I had a heavy loss by ‘Manuel’–
Too lucky if it prove not annual–
And Sotheby, with his damned ‘Orestes,’
(Which, by the way, the old bore’s best is)
Has lain so very long on hand
That I’ve despaired of all demand.
I’ve advertised– but see my books,
Or only watch my shopman’s looks.
Still ‘Ivan,’ ‘Ina,’ and such lumber
My back-shop gluts, my shelves encumber.
There’s Byron, too, who once did better,
Has sent me– folded in a letter–
A sort of– it’s no more a drama
Than ‘Darnley,’ ‘Ivan,’ or ‘Kehana.’
So altered since last year his pen is,
I think he lost his wits at Venice,
Or drained his brains away as stallion
To some dark-eyed and warm Italian.
In short, Sir, what with one and t’other,
I dare not venture on another.
I write in haste, excuse each blunder,
The coaches through the streets so thunder!
My room’s so full, we’ve Gifford here
Reading MSS with Hookham Frere,
Pronouncing on the nouns and particles
Of some of our forthcoming articles.
The Quarterly– ah, Sir, if you
Had but the genius to review!
A smart critique upon St. Helena,
Or if you only would but tell in a
Short compass what– but, to resume:
As I was saying, Sir, the room–
The room’s so full of wits and bards,
Crabbes, Campbells, Crokers, Freres and Wards,
And others, neither bards nor wits–
My humble tenement admits
All persons in the dress of Gent.,
From Mr. Hammond to Dog Dent.
A party dines with me today,
All clever men who make their way.
Crabbe, Malcolm, Hamilton and Chantrey
Are all partakers of my pantry.
They’re at this moment in discussion
Of poor De Stael’s late dissolution.
Her book, they say, was in advance–
Pray Heaven she tell the truth of France!
‘Tis said she certainly was married
To Rocca, and had twice miscarried.
No– not miscarried, I opine–
But brought to bed at forty-nine.
Some say she died a Papist, some
Are of opinion that’s a hum.
I don’t know that– the fellow, Schlegel,
Was very likely to inveigle
A dying person in compunction
To try the extremity of unction.
But peace be with her! For a woman
Her talents surely were uncommon.
Her publisher (and public too)
The hour of her demise may rue,
For never more within his shop he–
Pray– was she not interred at Coppet?
Thus run our time and tongues away.
But to return, Sir, to your play,
Sorry, Sir, but I cannot deal,
Unless ’twere acted by O’Neill.
My hands are full– my head so busy,
I’m almost dead– and always dizzy.
And so, with endless truth and hurry,
Dear Doctor, I am yours,
John Murray, Lord Byron’s publisher, had asked Byron to compose a letter gently declining to publish the play of Dr. Polidori, a mutual friend of theirs. Byron produced a satire on Murray’s hectic business life, one which included satire upon Byron himself. Thus he made the finest, fanciest, nicest, and most self-deprecating letter of rejection ever written!