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as a journey in the eighteenth-century models we have been examin-
ing, Byron™s writing takes this literary trope a stage further by mingling
it with the historical actuality of travel across war-scarred Europe. Al-
though Sterne does not always characterise digression as feminine, both
Churchill and Byron attribute feminine characteristics to digressive be-
haviour, a point which will be explored later in the book. It is important
to recognise, however, that “ as with their party politics “ Byron™s and
Churchill™s sexual politics were not identical: Churchill produced violent
anti-homosexual satire in The Times while Byron™s hospitality to homo-
erotic as well as heterosexual innuendo increases rather than restricts the
range of possible readings.
Besides the charm of the parenthetical aside, Churchill™s verse en-
couraged attention to the physical peculiarities of the speaker through
satirical expansion of an insigni¬cant ˜stage direction™ (Churchill was also
a playwright):
Here Tri¬‚e cough™d, (for coughing still
Bears witness to the speaker™s skill,
A necessary piece of art,
Of rhet™ric an essential part,
And adepts in the speaking trade
Keep a cough by them ready made,
Which they successfully dispense
When at a loss for words or sense)
Here Tri¬‚e cough™d, here paus™d.
(The Ghost ©©, ll. µ± “)
µµ
Eighteenth-century digressions and Byron™s early verse
Byron deploys a similarly acute observation of personal mannerism in
Don Juan canto ©, when Baba attempts to evade the direct questions of
Gulbeyaz:
But there seemed something that he wished to hide,
Which hesitation more betrayed than masked; “
He scratched his ear, the infallible resource
To which embarrassed people have recourse.
(©. ±°°)

Churchill™s use of the mock-heroic device of stock-piling similes and a
feigned dif¬culty in choosing the most suitable one to carry the narrative
forward is also taken up by Byron:
He said, and ceas™d; the chamber rung
With due applause from ev™ry tongue:
The mingled sound (now, let me see “
Something by way of simile)
Was it more like Strymonian cranes,
Or winds low murmuring when it rains,
Or drowsy hum of clust™ring bees,
Or the hoarse roar of angry seas?
Or (still to heighten and explain,
For else our simile is vain)
Shall we declare it like all four,
A scream, a murmur, hum, and roar?
(The Ghost ©©, ll. °µ“±)

In Alexander Pope™s use of poetic lists every detail is a necessary part of
the whole. By contrast, Churchill and Byron use lists less to encapsulate
the quality of the subject and more to focus on the dif¬culty of conveying
it to the reader. Following Churchill™s emphasis on authorial indulgence,
Byron™s The Vision of Judgement offers a menu of similes from which the
reader is invited to choose, culminating in the shifting likenesses of the
shadow Junius, the author who is ˜really, truly, nobody at all™ (l. °). This
politicised manifestation of indeterminacy displaces sublime uncertainty
on to the role of the reader and dismantles the integrity of the Popean
collection. In Don Juan canto ©, the reader is given ˜similes . . . gathered
in a heap™ from which to ˜pick and chuse™ a description of a sleeping girl
in a harem. While Sterne instructs the reader to ˜clear up the mist which
hangs upon these three pages™, Byron™s readers possess a far greater po-
tential to augment the obscurity of the poem. The invitation to select
appropriate images is made not to re¬ne the accuracy of a description,
but so that both writer and reader may prolong and enjoy the various
µ Byron, Poetics and History
possibilities: different literary textures are sampled and appreciated; the
movement through the text becomes a shared receptivity to let and hin-
drance. As Gary Dyer has shown, in the course of the eighteenth century
this attention to the physical properties of the text and the materiality
of language threatened to undermine the moral basis for satire in truth-
telling.
Churchill and Byron demonstrate a keen interest in the multiple mean-
ings of language, particularly the processes of euphemism and punning.
They both engage the reader in discussions about the ˜tastefulness™ of
different words and delight in the way that fashionable shifts in meaning
might interrupt narrative stability. As with parenthetical asides, there
are continuities between Churchill™s and Byron™s juxtapositions of lit-
erary allusions with topical social or cultural material. In ˜An Epistle
to William Hogarth™, Churchill attacked Hogarth™s serious composition
˜Sigismund™ by using a borrowed form of address from Paradise Lost,
one that was unsignalled by marks of quotation, but too famous for the
audience to miss:
But, O, how much unlike! how fall™n! how chang™d!
How much from Nature and herself estrang™d!
(ll. µ°± “)

The woeful moment of recognition and alienation is transferred bril-
liantly from the fallen angels in Hell to the public™s ¬rst viewing of a
picture. Churchill conveys both the fall of Hogarth™s reputation, and the
failure of the composition to exhibit the power of its subject. In the satire
The Ghost, Dr Johnson was also translated to the realm of the eternally
vanquished:
Pomposo, with strong sense supplied,
Supported, and con¬rm™d by Pride,
His comrades™ terrors to beguile
˜Grinn™d horribly a ghastly smile:™
Features so horrid, were it light,
Would put the devil himself to ¬‚ight.
(The Ghost ©©, ll. “)

Churchill relished the excessive nature of his epic insults, and the use of
quotation marks here invites the reader to recognise the poet™s sources
and experience the shock of the connection. His desire for readerly partic-
ipation in the construction of satire, however, coexists (like Byron™s) with
disdain for the mass readership. The Rosciad satirises the grotesquerie
of audience taste by associating theatrical novelty with the perverse
µ·
Eighteenth-century digressions and Byron™s early verse
creations of Milton™s Hell:
Monsters, with tails of ice, and heads of ¬re;
Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire.
Each was bestrode by full as monstrous wight,
Giant, dwarf, genius, elf, hermaphrodite.
The Town, as usual, met him in full cry;
The Town, as usual, knew no reason why.
(ll. ·“)

Churchill™s verse challenged the audience to discriminate between
high and low culture (a division which was still available to him, but much
less secure for Byron). The allusion to Paradise Lost contrasts epic gravity
with dramatic buffoonery, and suggests the volatility of audience taste.
Byron employed the same satirical devices, but his creative recasting of
epic culture slides into a questioning of the cultural hierarchy which was
so much more certain in Churchill™s time: Byron confounds the source
of his allusions with the new context where his predecessors had more
simply contrasted the two. This is in part a response to the changing
power of the readership.
As numbers of readers grew in the later eighteenth century, the recep-
tion of poetry was less con¬ned to an easily recognisable ˜public sphere™
of coffee house society. The Dunciad (±·) used digression to re¬‚ect the
monstrous growth of a ˜literary lower empire™. For Byron, the extent of
this empire was never simply con¬ned to the environs of Grub Street.
We can detect a certain amount of social animus, but also uncertainty in
Byron™s use of digressive quotations which mix the old and new styles of
the literary marketplace. By the time Byron picked up the ˜grey goose-
quill™, a digressive style was no longer the sole territory of Shaftesbury™s
educated gentleman. Aiming directly at the new markets for leisure and
luxury, novelists had adapted far more quickly than contemporary poets
to the complex strati¬cation of the reading public.
While Churchill™s verse offered one eighteenth-century verse model
for digressive communication with the reader, Byron found extensive
authorial asides in eighteenth-century novels. Sentimental poetry offered
a heightened awareness of the body, and the narrators of sentimental
prose added to this a self-re¬‚exive consciousness of literature as arti¬ce.
Attentiveness towards the reader was driven by moral concern, as John
Mullan has explained:
In an age in which narrative ¬ction was suspected by many, even of its more
enthusiastic consumers, of being suggestive, improper, promiscuous, novels were
µ Byron, Poetics and History
thick with descriptions of how narratives should be attended to and interpreted.
They constantly concerned themselves, technically and moralistically, with the
effects of telling stories.µ
If we analyse eighteenth-century modes of direct address to the reader,
we observe satire and sentiment working in parallel ways rather than in
opposite directions. In satirical and sentimental writing the reader is
recognised as a risk in the production of meaning. This awareness may
lead to gentle authorial nudges or a more laboured attempt to guide
and correct, but in all cases the uncertainty of the reader™s response is
tacitly acknowledged. What separates Byron™s digressive writing from
the arabesque ¬‚ourishes of his forerunners is his gradual acceptance of
the chance element in the reader™s reception of his work. Aware of many
different audiences from an early age “ including the coterie of Southwell,
the House of Lords, Scotch reviewers, the audience at Drury Lane, the
female ˜arbiters of taste™, and the various recipients of his letters “ Byron
developed a mode that was capable of wooing, including and discarding
readers. Instead of re¬ning ˜mechanisms of control™ (Empson™s check on
ambiguity), Byron gradually incorporated risk as part of the digressive
texture of his writing, translating the aristocratic pastime of seduction
into a textual encounter.
˜To the Earl of [Clare]™ (±°·), written when Byron was nineteen
years old, illustrates an early self-conscious use of digression between
aristocratic men:
Now [Clare] I must return to you,
And sure apologies are due.
Accept then, my concession;
In truth, dear [Clare], in fancy™s ¬‚ight,
I soar along from left to right,
My Muse admires digression.
(ll. ·“·)
But in this verse epistle Byron™s digressive topical references extend to
the literary marketplace in footnote gossip about the middling class of
readers and the row between Francis Jeffrey and Thomas Moore.
A Bard, (Horresco referens,) de¬ed his Reviewer to mortal combat; if this ex-
ample becomes prevalent, our periodical Censors must be dipt in the River
Styx, for what else can secure them from the numerous Host of their enraged
assailants. (CPW, ©, p. ·)
This leads the reader away from general verse re¬‚ection on ˜critic sar-
casm™ to a speci¬c incident (the farcical duel between Moore and Jeffrey);
memory of this event is in turn overtaken by a frivolous classical allusion.
µ
Eighteenth-century digressions and Byron™s early verse
The tone of the footnote is arch, making display of erudite wit, and it
shows an interest in the volatile relationship between poets and reviewers
well before Hours of Idleness was dissected in the same ˜Northern review™.
The verse epistle has, of course, a long tradition of wide-ranging refer-
ence, but the promiscuity of Byron™s topical and literary allusions tests
and surpasses the limits of that tradition by over¬‚owing into prose and
the distracting physical particulars of speci¬c historical incident.
Byron™s familiar, conversational style and the medley of different for-
mal modes within one work continued the loosening and hybridisa-
tion of verse which began, for example, in the work of Matthew Prior.
Prior™s poetry (like Churchill™s) embodied apparently con¬‚icting forces
of eighteenth-century poetry, ranging between tender pastoral lyrics and
frisky burlesque.· Whereas Churchill™s mode of address was wary and
sometimes irritable, Prior™s conversational style was tolerant and sinuous,
embracing (rather than colliding) old and new modes:
Examples I could cite you more;
But be contented with these four:
For, when one™s proofs are aptly chosen
Four are as valid as four dozen. . . .
For some in ancient books delight;
Others prefer what moderns write;
Now I should be extremely loth,
Not to be thought expert in both.

Prior offers a bridge from the coterie verse of the ˜mob of gentleman™
to the accommodating, familiar style of subscription poetry. His mid-
dling mode of address proved extremely popular and the ±·±· collection
attracted more subscribers than Pope™s translations.
In a recent reappraisal of Prior™s contribution to sentimental literature,
Blanford Parker observes that ˜Prior stands with Gay as the most per-
fect manipulator of conversational tone™ in the period, but that his verse
rejects an ˜Augustan™ unity of purpose.µ° Whereas Pope and Mandeville
˜sought a new economy of motivation to explain the apparent diver-
sity of human actions, Prior remained agnostic to the end about the
twists and turns of the human mind™.µ± In this way, Prior™s verse conveys
some of the same strains of relativism and independence that emerged in
Churchill. The narrative and epistolary voices which emerge from their
verse are not the con¬dently centralised accents of Dryden or Pope. In
Prior and Churchill, digressive stops and starts are not the badge of
courtly privilege or imitative excellence, but a kind of conversational in-
dividualism designed to appeal to a ¬ckle, ambitious class of purchasers.
° Byron, Poetics and History
Their paradoxical creation of an independent voice which entails vary-
ing, multiple and subtle degrees of dependence on the reader was played
out across Byron™s career and he cited the bawdy extremes of Prior™s
poetry to suggest that English taste had lost its stylistic identity.
Two key modes of Byronic digression “ parenthetical asides and sig-
nalled topical or literary allusions “ allow us to see how the allegedly
opposite modes of satirical and sentimental writing developed parallel
relationships with the reader.µ In his two ˜Farewells™ to Malta and to
Hobhouse, Byron uses bracketed asides so that a tone of playful scep-
ticism may modify without completely subverting an otherwise elegiac
voice.µ The genre of the valediction has a tradition of loving itemi-
sation or concentration on the physical qualities of place or person to
be quitted. Byron departs from this formula, using parenthesis to sug-
gest a counter-genre of relief at departure. In the ˜Farewell Petition to
J[ohn] C[am] H[obhouse] Esq.™, Byron embarks on an eight-line list
of the sufferings endured by Fletcher, translating his manservant into a
series of objections, resistances, and complaints. The ¬gure of Fletcher
is gradually replaced by a catalogue of things: ˜The Vizier™s galliot, and
Albanias™ rocks / All Asias™ bugs, and Pera™s sable Pox™.µ Byron™s poem
becomes absorbed in details for their own sake. They are not listed to
create a cohesive pattern or picture, but occur simply as a trail of associ-
ation in which the sound of the words is the main shaping agency. This
incorporation of encyclopaedic detail into verse is accompanied by an
amused self-consciousness: the poem continues by drawing attention to
itself as literature; talking about the ˜paths of Sale™, quoting Pope (who
addresses Bolingbroke as ˜philosopher, and friend™) and foregrounding
the dif¬culties of verse-writing:
Tell him, my guide, Philosopher, and Friend,
Who cannot love me, and who will not mend,
Tell him, that not in vain I shall essay
To tread and trace our ˜old Horatian way™,µµ
And be (with prose supply my dearth of rhymes)

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