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What better men have been in better times.
(ll. “°)
The parenthetical aside hints at the prosaic side of Hobhouse, which
Byron teased and appreciated. It also lifts editorial deliberation into
the poem, mediating between verse and marginal prose commentary,
and playing-up the drama of ¬nding a rhyme. The bracketed interrup-
tion displays Byron™s awareness of formal discipline while simultaneously
placing such rules under comic strain.
±
Eighteenth-century digressions and Byron™s early verse
In An Essay on Man (the source of Byron™s Popean allusion), Pope
claimed to have chosen ˜an Epistolary way of writing™ because his sub-
ject matter ˜approacheth to prose™.µ Byron pushed this model further.
As in many of Byron™s later poems, the promise to close comes some time
before the poem stops: ˜Here let me cease,™ occurs thirteen lines before
the last line. The interim is ¬lled with projections of publication:
Go, get thee hence to Paternoster Row,
Thy patrons wave a duodecimo!
(Best form for letters from a distant land,
It ¬ts the pocket, nor fatigues the hand.)
(ll. ·“µ°)

Attention to the book as physical object was not a new literary device
in ±±°, nor was the suggestive innuendo which accompanies Byron™s
address, but Byron transposed an emphasis on the mechanics of book
production into incongruous literary modes, drawing attention to the
text as a commodity and questioning the reader™s position in a wider
culture.
The ˜Farewell to Malta™ similarly abandons the sentiment of leave-
taking for a series of parenthetical interpolations which focus atten-
tion on comically mundane details. The poem parodies loco-descriptive
farewells, and by an accumulation of common nouns suggests that the
poet™s destination might be anywhere:
I go “ but God knows when, or why,
To smoky towns and cloudy sky,
To things (the honest truth to say)
As bad “ but in a different way.
(ll. ± “)

The speci¬city of place is here juxtaposed with the colloquial surren-
der of detail in ˜God knows when, or why™, but the brackets enclose a
(duplicitous) reminder of truth and honesty. In this ˜Farewell™, Malta
(the addressee) is displaced by the whimsical thought processes of the
poet, who can
. . . only stare from out my casement,
And ask, for what is such a place meant?
Then, in my solitary nook,
Return to scribbling, or a book,
Or take my physic while I™m able
(Two spoonfuls hourly by the label).
(ll. “µ)
 Byron, Poetics and History
This last parenthesis has the effect of jolting the reader out of a list-
less survey and into the comedy of speci¬city with another reminder of
duty and discipline. The exactitude of the digressive aside discharges
the obligation of rhyme by embracing scrupulously detailed irrelevance.
Though Byron referred to the poem as ˜a copy of Hudibrastics™, intended
only for private circulation, it was published in ±± in Poems on His
Domestic Circumstances (sixth edition). Byron professed puzzlement in ±±±
when the verses caused disquiet (˜I am sure there is nothing to annoy
any body, or a single personal allusion throughout™), but it is easy to see
how the casual speci¬city of this poem “ especially the rhymes around
˜Mrs Fraser™ “ might have been received in the context of the Separation
Scandal.µ·
Hudibrastics, anyway, had always been a form of stylistic brinkman-
ship: the palpable disruption of Hudibrastic rhymes was captured by
Dryden when he distinguished them from ˜manly™ satire and described
the way ˜the quick returns of rhyme, [debase] the dignity of the style
. . . it turns earnest too much to jest, and gives us a boyish kind of
pleasure. It tickles awkwardly with a kind of pain, to the best sort of
readers: we are pleased ungratefully, and . . . against our liking.™µ The
efforts of the ˜awkwardly tickled™ reader to accommodate these rhymes
have the same distancing effect as parenthetical allusion: in both ma-
noeuvres, the poem mocks the authoritative precision of ˜precedent™ and
throws its trust onto the transient relationship created with the reader.
Rapid private circulation, rumoured report and pirated publication all
contributed to associate Byron™s casually digressive style with sexual or
moral misdemeanour. As we saw in the ¬rst chapter, however, read-
ers were also unsure how much of Byron was real, or to what extent
he was asking them to participate in a cynical market-oriented perfor-
mance which clashed with the newly fashionable modes of confessional
sincerity.
At the same time that a taste for sentimental literature of emotional
candour was gradually edging out more robust eighteenth-century wit,
writers of dramatic comedy developed a compromise mode of address
which anticipated Byron™s parodic manipulation of precursor texts. Spe-
cially commissioned prologues and epilogues for stage plays abandoned
dramatic illusion as the playwright spoke to his or her audience directly.
These addresses juxtaposed the immediate physical conditions of the
theatre and actors with allusions to well-known dramatic scenes or to
speeches with historical signi¬cance. Charles Dallas, Byron™s ¬rst literary

Eighteenth-century digressions and Byron™s early verse
mentor, dabbled with theatrical writing, and in a letter from Patras in
±±°, Byron discussed the intimate and often antagonistic relationship
between playwright and theatre audience:
[Dallas] had a farce ready for the stage before I left England, and asked me
for a prologue, which I promised, but sailed in such a hurry I never penned a
couplet. “ I am afraid to ask after his drama for fear it should be damned, Lord
forgive me for using such a word, but the pit, Sir, you know the pit, they will do
those things in spite of merit.µ

His reference to a prologue that should have been penned in couplets
points to the tradition of Goldsmith and Sheridan (among Byron™s
favourite sources for quotation, according to Marchand).° A brief dis-
cussion of some of their modes of allusion may help to place the voice that
emerged in Byron™s digressive literary allusions, and its peculiar effect of
familiarity and estrangement.
Prologues and epilogues to new productions were published in local
newspapers, national periodicals and printed editions of the play. The
vigorous relationship between topical satire and dramatic occasion pre-
dated what Byron would ¬nd ¬‚ourishing in the improvisatory theatre
of Italy and reminds us that the relationship between playwright and
audience in Georgian theatres was much more part of the performance
than in our own time. In the epilogue to The Good-Natured Man, for
example, Oliver Goldsmith compared the author™s discomfort watching
his play from the pit to Lear™s tragic suffering in the storm:±
While oft, with many a smile and many a shrug,
He eyes the centre, where his friends sit snug;
His simpering friends, with pleasure in their eyes,
Sink as he sinks and as he rises rise;
He nods, they nod; he cringes, they grimace;
But not a soul will budge to give him place.
Since then, unhelped, our bard must now conform
˜To bide the pelting of this pitiless storm™.
(ll. µ“)

The audience is pointed towards the unexpected similarity of the com-
parison (as in metaphor) but also recognises the ludicrous aspect of the
comparison (the dimension which metaphor usually suppresses). It is
not clear how the speaker of the epilogue conveyed the presence of
quotation marks to the audience; presumably a pregnant pause would
have helped to indicate allusion. In Goldsmith™s epilogue to The Sister a
 Byron, Poetics and History
stage direction dictates that the speaker should slow down to enable the
audience to recognise Hamlet:
What if I give a masquerade? I will.
But how? ay, there™s the rub (pausing) “ I™ve got my cue:
The world™s a masquerade! the maskers, you, you, you.
[To Boxes, Pit, and Gallery]
It can be assumed that well-known speeches from Shakespeare would
be as instantly recognisable as they are today. Literary quotation was a
familiar game for educated readers and, as Jonathan Bate has pointed
out, books of Shakespearean extracts played an important part in a child™s
schooling. It seems likely that eighteenth-century dramatists drew on
a common stock of Shakespearean allusions that were kept in the public
ear by continual and competitive efforts of allusion. Goldsmith™s epilogue
to She Stoops to Conquer allowed the actor playing Harlequin to experiment
with the roles of Lear and Richard III:
Shakespeare himself shall feel my tragic rage.
˜Off ! off ! vile trappings!™: a new passion reigns!
The maddening monarch revels in my veins.
Oh! for a Richard™s voice to catch the theme:
˜Give me another horse! bind up my wounds! “ soft “
™twas but a dream.™
Aye, ™twas but a dream, for now there™s no retreating:
If I cease Harlequin, I cease from eating.
(ll. °“)

The edited highlights of Shakespearean tragedy worked to satirise a pop-
ular perception of tragic theatre, but they also reinforced the canons
of popular taste and bolstered patriotism. The same moment from
Richard III appeared in a prologue to Sheridan™s The Camp, satirising
George Colman™s revival of a tragedy by Beaumont and Fletcher about
Boadicea:
She starts, she wakes, she quivers, kneels, and prays,
˜Side saddle, my Horse! ah! lace up my Stays!
Soft, soft; ™twas but a Dream . . .™
These couplet collages deployed signalled allusion to focus on the ma-
terial concerns of the production; personalities of the cast, rival produc-
tions, special effects and ¬nancial disputes. The epilogue to Sheridan™s
School for Scandal, for example, written by George Colman the Elder,
µ
Eighteenth-century digressions and Byron™s early verse
revelled in an extended parody of Othello:
The Transient Hour of Fashion too soon spent,
˜Farewell the tranquil mind, farewell Content!
Farewell the plum™d Head “ the cushion™d Tete,
That takes the Cushion from its proper seat!
The spirit stirring Drum! “ Card Drums I mean “
Spadille, odd Trick, Pam, Basto, King and Queen!
And you, ye knockers, that with Brazen Throat
The Welcome Visitor™s Approach denote,
Farewell! “ all Quality of high Renown,
Pride Pomp, and Circumstance of glorious Town!
Farewell! your revels I partake no more,
And Lady Teazle™s occupation™s o™er!™
“ All this I told our Bard “ he smil™d and said ™twas clear
I ought to play deep Tragedy next year:
(Dramatic Works, ©, p. , ll. ·“°)

Whereas the direct quotations in Churchill™s verse usually involved a
simple substitution of one satiric target for another, the intimacy of the
dramatic prologue established a more conversational, shared appropria-
tion of a common source. In the social space of the theatre, the audience
would be expected to recognise and respond to familiar allusions in a
different context. Byron™s writing used these sudden shifts of reference to
transfer what Charles Lamb called ˜this secret correspondence with the
company before the curtain™ from the raucous social space of the theatre
into the communion between poet and reader.µ
Byron was forced to meditate on the art of the prologue when he was
commissioned to produce one himself, and he turned for a model to
Colman the Elder:
“ There are but two decent prologues in our tongue “ Pope™s to Cato “ Johnson™s
to Drury Lane, this with the Epilogue to the ˜Distrest Mother™ & I think one
of Goldsmith™s, and a prologue of Old Colman™s to Beaumont & Fletcher™s
Philaster are the best things of the kind we have.
Byron had been asked to fˆ te the opening of the new Drury Lane Theatre
e
for Lord Holland, whose committee had rejected all the addresses sub-
mitted in open competition. Holland seems to have envisaged Byron™s
role as that of celebrity guest who could ˜excuse us with the public for
breaking faith with the poetasters™.· Byron™s projected models, how-
ever, suggested a less conciliatory approach to audience sensitivities.
Colman™s prologue to Philaster (±·) had been controversial at the time
 Byron, Poetics and History
because it launched a scathing attack on modern taste. After leaving
England, Byron, too, would force his readers to confront their own forms
of censorship, but at this stage in his career he yielded to the pressure
to revise. Lord Holland remembered that Byron was ˜singularly good-
humoured and even docile in correcting, curtailing, or lengthening any
passage at my request™.
As with the changes to Childe Harold cantos © and ©© suggested by Dallas
and Murray, Byron™s obligations to the senior Whigs controlling the
Drury Lane Theatre meant that his satirical allusions were expunged.
The ˜Address™ Byron ¬nally produced is dutifully muted, although in
the manuscript variants we can see how earlier drafts had employed the
more controversial tradition of Goldsmith, Sheridan and Colman. At
one point, Byron returned to the much-quoted ending of Richard III to
satirise the contemporary audience™s preference for animals on stage:
the drama late deplores
That late she deigned to crawl upon ˜all fours™
When Richard roars in Bosworth for a horse
If you command “ the Steed must come in course

These lines were dropped at Whitbread™s request. Similarly, a topical
reference to the rumoured madness of George III was removed from the
¬nal version:
Though ¬‚ed the Queen, our Monarchs still remain
Yes, here ˜old Lear shall be King again™.·°

This turning of allusion allows the audience two forms of recognition:
the identi¬cation of the precursor text and the application of the text in a
new context. As an art thriving on the contrast between two conceptual
frames of reference it is similar to political caricature, but requires more
imagination from its readers who have to identify and complete the
allusive process.
One of the distinctive features of Byron™s mode of digressive allusion
is the unmissable use of quotation marks to signal the appearance of
another text. Although he frequently asked for assistance in punctuating
poems, most of the quotation marks which appear in his published works
were present in Byron™s ¬rst drafts. Conscious use of quotation marks is
foregrounded in Byron™s ˜Parenthetical Address, by Dr. Plagiary™ which
was ¬rst published in the Morning Chronicle. It refers to an incident at
Drury Lane when, in de¬ance of the rejection by Holland™s committee,
the aggrieved son of Dr Busby attempted to read aloud his father™s
·
Eighteenth-century digressions and Byron™s early verse
rejected address. The Busby family quickly became a public joke and By-
ron™s parody entered the public domain without censorship. His preface is
of particular interest because it foregrounds the use of signalled allusion:
Half stolen, with acknowledgements, to be spoken in an inarticulate voice, by
Master ---- at the opening of the next new theatre. (Stolen parts marked with the
inverted commas of quotation, thus, ˜------ ™).
By drawing attention to his ˜stolen™ sources, Byron makes the parody
irresistible. In the ˜Parenthetical Address™, lines from Dr Busby™s original
are quoted and undercut relentlessly through juxtaposition with Byron™s
mock-editorial commentary. Although all satiric parody is bound to be
linguistically self-aware because its target is another form of rhetoric,
Byron™s mode of interrupting precursor texts has a peculiarly mate-

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