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Byron as a Romantic Poet

  • John Clubbe
  • Ernest J. LovellJr.

Abstract

Even when we try to forget Byron’s letters and think only of his miscellaneous prose, we feel his sense of the immediacy of life pressing down hard upon us — life as the word is commonly or vulgarly used, a thing distinct from literature. Relatively, and by contrast with the red blood of this life, Byron’s purely literary judgments may seem pale indeed. After looking over the audience at Covent Garden one evening and seeing there ‘the most distinguished old and young Babylonians of quality’, he burst out laughing and concluded that ‘the house had been divided between your public and your understood courtesans; — but the Intriguantes much outnumbered the regular mercenaries’. This he recorded in his journal for 17 and 18 December 1813. ‘How I do delight in observing life as it really is!’ he continued, ‘- and myself, after all, the worst of any. But no matter — I must avoid egotism.’1 Here, we suggest, is the authentic Byron. No other of the major Romantic poets possessed the knowledge or the gusto or the voice necessary to write these lines, and they explain much about the difficulty that innumerable literary critics have experienced in their efforts to fit Byron into a general theory of Romanticism.

Keywords

Paradise Lost English Poetry Romantic Poet Eternal Damnation High Argument 
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Notes and References

  1. 8.
    For a fuller account of the Byron-Scott relationship, see Clubbe, ‘Byron and Scott’, Texas Studies in Literature and language, 16 (Spring 1973) pp. 67–91.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    Two unfinished sonnets written by Shelley in the summer of 1816 have recently turned up in a notebook found in a chest belonging to Byron’s friend, Scrope Berdmore Davies. Judith Chernaik and Timothy Burnett published the sonnets in ‘The Byron and Shelley Notebooks in the Scrope Davies Find’, Review of English Studies, n.s., 29 (February 1978) pp. 36–49. See also Roland A. Duerksen, ‘Thematic Unity in the New Shelley Notebook’, Bulletin of Research in the Humanities, 83 (Summer 1980) pp. 203–15.Google Scholar
  3. On Byron and Shelley, see John Buxton, Byron and Shelley: The History of a Friendship (1968),Google Scholar
  4. and Charles E. Robinson, Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Flight (1976). The latter study probes Shelley’s despair at ‘rivalling Lord Byron’.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    The prophetic poet, for one thing, does not contradict himself. Nor is he — as is Byron — pervasively ironic. Yet, as both Blake and Shelley recognized, Byron can be a prophetic poet. After reading Cain, Blake saw Byron as a true poet-prophet, a distinction he accorded no other contemporary poet, and in The Ghost of Abel he hailed Byron as Elijah. On Byron and Blake, or rather on Blake’s response to Byron, see Leslie Tannenbaum, ‘Lord Byron in the Wilderness: Biblical Tradition in Byron’s Cain and Blake’s The Ghost of Abel’, Modern Philology, 72 (1975) pp. 350–64;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Irene Taylor, ‘Blake meets Byron on April Fool’s’, English Language Notes, 16 (December 1978) pp. 85–93;Google Scholar
  7. and Martin Bidney, ‘Cain and The Ghost of Abel: Contexts for Understanding Blake’s Response to Byron’, Blake Studies, 8 (1979) pp. 145–65. For Shelley, who found Cain ‘apocalyptic’, see SL, II, p. 388.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism (New York: Norton, 1971) p. 13.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    In Keats and Shelley — who died in their twenties, Shelley a month short of thirty — the pattern does not emerge with clarity, though the last poems of both give evidence of a change of mind on fundamental questions of belief. Still useful on Byron’s speculations is Edward Wayne Marjarum, Byron as Skeptic and Believer (1938).Google Scholar
  10. Jerome J. McGann in Fiery Dust: Byron’s Poetic Development (University of Chicago Press, 1968) pp. 247–55, considers Byron’s religious beliefs from a perspective different from the one found in this chapter.Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    For discussion of Byron’s fascination with the notion of a God of vengeance, see Lovell, Byron: The Record of a Quest (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1949) p. 198ff.Google Scholar
  12. 37.
    See, for example, BLJ, I, pp. 114–15; II, p. 136; III, p. 64; VIII, p. 98; DC, pp. 46, 118–19, 123; X, pp. 137–8; and James T. Hodgson, Memoir of the Rev. Francis Hodgson, B.D., 2 vols (London: Macmillan, 1878) I, p. 220.Google Scholar
  13. 42.
    Memoirs, Journal, and Correspondence of Thomas Moore, ed. Lord John Russell, 8 vols (London: Longman, 1853–6) III, p. 161.Google Scholar
  14. Michael G. Cooke in ‘Byron and Wordsworth: The Complementarity of a Rock and the Sea’ (in Lord Byron and His Contemporaries, ed. Charles E. Robinson [Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1982]) provides the best recent analysis of the two poets.Google Scholar
  15. 44.
    Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Bernard Gabnebin and Marcel Raymond, 4 vols, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1959) I, p. 1141.Google Scholar
  16. 52.
    Lady Blessington’s ‘Conversations of Lord Byron’, ed. Ernest J. Lovell, Jr (Princeton University Press, 1969) pp. 71, 72.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Clubbe and the Estate of Ernest J. Lovell, Jr 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Clubbe
    • 1
  • Ernest J. LovellJr.
  1. 1.University of KentuckyUSA

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