In the early 19th century Lord Byron was the most-quoted author, the most referred-to, the one who loomed largest in the collective consciousness of readers. Lord Byron also created a unique dynamic for his readers; they were fans of Byron but were also aware of being part of the community of Byron fandom, a fandom they actively organized and propagated. Byron fans felt they had a unique understanding of him and his work, and expressed this in their choice of excerpts from his works.
Often the poems were copied with a rigorous attention to the original text. But nearly as often, the commonplace compilers would edit the original text, deleting some lines and altering others, so that a love poem to a woman from a man would be changed to a love poem from a woman to a man. Comparisons of the original poems with what appears in commonplace books shows that commonplace compilers often sought out unauthorized versions of the poems, or original manuscripts (rather than the versions appearing in the published “authorized” or “complete” works). Dueling versions of a poem would often appear in a commonplace book, allowing for the compiler and her readers to write their own comments on which version was superior, or to suggest improvements to the poem.
Byron’s reaction to these changes was not what might be expected. He had his own commonplace book and actively participated in commonplace culture, happily writing quotes of his own work in his fans’ commonplace books and even commenting on their alterations of his own work.
Warren Ellis » GUEST INFORMANT: Jess Nevins. Read all of Jess’s fascinating post, which sheds an interesting light on the issues I raised in my first real post at the Atlantic’s Technology Channel earlier today.