Tag Archives: Byron

Define “Minority Interest.”

There would be a couple of ways to do this. The first definition would be “Pictures of Bibliodeviant without suitable clothing.” (it has to be pointed out that most people’s idea of suitable clothing for me is a hardy hazmat coverall in a neutral colour, and the kind of diving suit that is only ever accompanied by a giant octopus and very dramatic music). An alternative definition would be an explanation of  “The London Editions of John William Polidori’s; “The Vampyre.”

Seeing as there actually are numerous international guidelines and safety measures that forbid images of me, we’re going to go with the second definition…because someone asked, and I have a huge, ungainly man crush on Poildori.

The Vampyre Notes:
Although it seems as though “The Vampyre” has a complicated publishing history it’s actually fairly straight-forward, just a bit mad:


Henry Colburn publishes the first book issue with his name as publisher and Byron’s name as author (there are no known copies of this), Colburn then publishes his second issue with his name as publisher and “A Tale related by Lord Byron to Dr. Polidori” on the title page (all he did was cut off the old title page and glue the new ones onto the stub)…there are 4 or 5 copies of this imprint knocking about with two of them being a variant with the extract set in 23 lines instead of 24, suggesting there was another Colburn issue that Dr. Viets (the only other bibliographical reference available) couldn’t lay hands on.

He doesn't look anything like Timothy Spall

All of the attitude, none of the skillz

Colburn virtually simultaneously handed distribution and agency (NOT printing or production) over to Sherwood, Neely and Jones and they start adding their imprint title pages. Sherwood Neely first issue with Byron as author (no copies extant), the Second issue with nobody as author (this issue, which is the earliest generally available to actual humans) and the third issue with the “Extract from a Letter” introduction reset to remove libellous suggestions regarding “certain ladies”, the certain ladies being Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont, who according to the first form of the introduction, had rocked up without pants ready to play naked twister and do jello shots. Clearly none of the people believing this had met Mary Shelley.

The text block of the novel remains the same throughout ALL issues regardless of imprint, only the Extract of a Letter changes and the nature of the title page glued to a stub.
The missing “a” from “almost” isn’t an indicator of issue because all the sheets were the same and it wasn’t corrected until another enterprising publisher pirated the work a couple of months later (rather nicely actually).

This might sound a bit arcane until it becomes clear that this took place in a frenzy of activity over two weeks or so in March/April 1819.
The sheets were all ready and printed until Colburn ordered his printer (Gillet of Fleet Street) to reset the Extract which he did in house and on the spot.

Henry Colburn's office during May 1819...or the headquarters of The Antiquarian Booksellers Association most days of the week.

Henry Colburn’s office during May 1819…or the headquarters of The Antiquarian Booksellers Association most days of the week.

Basically the whole process was, in all likelihood, an up all night extravaganza of one publisher and his agents trying to make as much cash as possible in the shortest space of time without being sued, paying Polidori anything or running the risk of Byron threatening to shoot them.

The title was a big hit and it’s doubtful that very many copies with Colburn’s imprint ever made it out of the printer’s yard and into a bookshop. Colburn’s editor, Alaric Watts, resigned in disgust at his boss’s conduct and in all likelihood Colburn (being Colburn, who by rights should have had a skull and crossbones flag attached to his hat, and an eyepatch) probably decided to cut his losses and distance himself by being able to point at Sherwood Neely and Jones and say “Talk to them!”

"Copyright's more guidelines, than actual rules..."

“Copyright’s more guidelines, than actual rules…”

Polidori, being Polidori, got nothing, except sadder and more resentful and desperate until finally he killed himself at the age of 26 in 1821. Byron was still in exile and would remain so until his death in 1824. John Murray wrote stiffly worded letters, John Cam Hobhouse grumbled and muttered but the good ship Colburn made a good deal of money and The Vampyre stayed in print and in the public eye, it was still being performed on the stage in the second half of the 20th century and was pirated, redistributed and reprinted right the way across the globe. It is basically almost solely responsible for giving us the vampire genre in its current and by far most enduring form…and without it the landscape of our popular culture would be significantly different.

Weapons of Choice Part 2: Hard Won Love Affairs.

I suppose it’s important to set some guidelines on this investigation, otherwise the logical answer to the  beginning of imaginal, erm, preoccupation (aka fandom) would be mainstream religion. On first impression it ticks all the boxes, consisting of both canon (eg: Old and New Testaments) and head-canon(eg: The Rapture). Additionally it’s based on a book or a series of writings; it has intensely complicated character interactions and often a persistent landscape and terminology with which it is relatively easy to familiarize yourself and thus immerse oneself into.

It’s not really what I’m after though, much as I’d love to visit religious people and ask them who they were shipping right now (“David and Jonathan? Cardinal, doesn’t that contravene some fairly major…oh ok, no harm no foul…”), and much as I’d love to see large devotional gatherings featuring Goliath and Jezebel cosplay…it’s probably just going to end up as an unplanned diversion into what I find really funny. So, no.

“I now declare this Synod open. Archbishop SpaceBadger, the floor is yours.”

It’s also not the same if the people are real. I’ve always thought of Byron as a good candidate for the first major modern fan obsession. Women fainted, flushed and palpitated in his presence, men took up defensive postures and waxed Hectoral about what they’d do if he so much as looked at them (whilst secretly hoping he didn’t because the man did not mess about…or secretly hoping he did, because the man had something of a reputation for…messing about), and in general the reputation far exceeded the reality. His poetry transcended good or bad and ended up forever graven onto the hearts and souls of those who read it. Young women would gather in firelight and read each other passages from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and The Corsair. Many bosoms were heaved in his general direction, there was much bodice ripping, and in the case of poor Caroline Lamb at least, a detrimental degree of preoccupation with what he did, to whom and where.

He also unwittingly created two very closely related gothic horror fandoms by inviting everyone to write horror stories at the Villa Diodati during the non-existent summer of 1816. The modern view of the vampire and the monstrous creation of Victor Frankenstein were both conceived on that evening…to the same father. (Cue lightning and crashing organ chords).

“I, I am The Daddy.”

In many ways, however close Childe Harold may have been to Byron himself and however closely he skimmed the misty borders of actually becoming a work of fiction in his own right, he doesn’t really qualify.

What’s the next candidate then?

There’s the Penny Dreadful craze of the 1830-40’s where stuff like “Sawney Bean” and “ Sweeney Todd” were selling like hot pies and everybody was desperate for the next instalment of “Varney The Vampire.” There’s “The Great Moon Hoax.” Of 1835 where fictional accounts of life on the moon observed from a fictional observatory in South Africa through a fictional super powerful telescope were passed off as genuine factual news by the New York Sun (a tradition of fabrication carried proudly into the 21st Century by Fox News as far as I can tell). It’s awesome, but something of a flash in the pan more akin to Orson Welles’s “War of The Worlds” broadcast than anything enduring, although people did go to parties as Martian bat-men, and there were drinks named in honour of this great step forward in cosmic exploration.

But what I’m really looking for is the point at which reading a story became wanting to live within that story for a large enough proportion of its audience to make them want to change aspects of their “real” lives in order to move closer to their desires.

“Immerse ourselves in a fantasy world of our heart’s desires? What, and leave all this?”

So, here he is, the one, the only, the heavily bearded , frequently haunted perfectionist best mate of Wilkie Collins: Charles Dickens…

Which is a thing I’ll be rattling on about in a little while, along with the first true modern fan-dom; Sherlock Holmes. In the meantime it’s adventure time as I’m off to The Boston International Book Fair for a week or so. My next post will be about what’s happening in newly re-Obama’d  America and what’s on show at the fair. Any questions or queries are welcome, if you’re coming to the fair and you’d like a guided tour just give me a shout and please feel free to do the same if you have any questions about book collecting, the trade, or in fact anything.

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