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rial effect; most commonly, for example, his quotations draw out sexual
innuendo:
˜These we invoke “ your sister arts implore™,
With ˜smiles™, and ˜lyres™, and ˜pencils™, and much more.
˜These if we win, the Graces too we gain™;
Disgraces too! ˜inseparable train!™
˜Three who have stolen their witching airs from Cupid™,
(You all know what I mean unless you™re stupid).
(ll. “)
The effect of Byron™s repeated interventions in Busby™s address is to sug-
gest an ˜inseparable train™ of ˜much more™. He de¬‚ates Busby™s attempt at
sublimity by insisting on the physical associations which are suspended in
polite address. This process continues throughout Byron™s poems, and is
not limited to those works which were wholly or mainly works of literary
satire. By releasing a fuller train of association than we might expect in
allusion, the experience of reading Byron™s verse threatens tonal stability
and inevitably, generic stability. In this way, Byron™s digressions might
be said to disturb the reader™s generic ˜competence™ in a more violent,
local way than the generic innovations identi¬ed by Alastair Fowler as
common to each literary epoch.·±
Signalled allusions in canonical Romantic poems are few and far be-
tween. Byron™s contemporaries chose allusions of a quieter and more
assimilative variety, apparently sharing Thomas De Quincey™s opinion
that quotation marks created a disagreeable interruption in the course
of reading:
There is good reason for rejecting the typographical marks of quotation: they
break the continuity of the passion by reminding the reader of a printed book.·
 Byron, Poetics and History
Nevertheless we can trace limited use of the eighteenth-century prologue
mode in works by Percy Shelley and William Wordsworth. The Witch of
Atlas (written August ±°) was prefaced by six ottava rima stanzas ˜To
Mary™, culminating in a critique of Wordsworth:
Wordsworth informs us he was nineteen years
Considering and retouching Peter Bell;
Watering his laurels with the killing tears
Of slow, dull care, so that their roots to hell
Might pierce, and their wide branches blot the spheres
Of Heaven, with dewy leaves and ¬‚owers; this well
May be, for Heaven and Earth conspire to foil
The over busy gardener™s blundering toil.
My Witch indeed is not so sweet a creature
As Ruth or Lucy, whom his graceful praise
Clothes for our grandsons “ but she matches Peter
Though he took nineteen years, and she three days
In dressing. Light the vest of ¬‚owing metre
She wears: he, proud as dandy with his stays,
Has hung upon his wiry limbs a dress
Like King Lear™s ˜looped and windowed raggedness.™
(ll. µ“°)
Allusion in these stanzas uses the carnivalesque forms of disruption we
have noted in Byron™s early verse. In particular, there is an empha-
sis on the physical aspects of conventional metaphors: the laurels ac-
quire downward pushing roots and an abundance of thick undergrowth.
Wordsworthian metre is imaged as a corset for controlling the ¬‚esh,
whilst the signalled allusion to King Lear insists on the nakedness of Peter
Bell™s body. Once we enter the main body of the poem, however, Shelley™s
allusions instantly settle into something quieter and more assimilative.
The preface to The Witch of Atlas was not published with the rest of
the poem in ± because Mary Shelley was wary of the controversy
such an overt attack on Wordsworth might arouse.· By this time the
Establishment reviewers revered him as a ¬gure of patriarchal simplicity.
His progress into sage respectability had been, in part, self-authored. In
±± the ˜Prospectus™ to The Excursion was printed in italics and inside
inverted commas: within this formal invocation was a signalled allusion
to Paradise Lost:
I sing: “ ˜¬t audience let me ¬nd though few™
So prayed, more gaining than he asked, the Bard,
Holiest of Men. “ Urania I shall need
Thy guidance, or a greater Muse, if such
Descend to earth or dwell in highest heaven! ·

Eighteenth-century digressions and Byron™s early verse
This allusion to Milton typi¬es the traditional spirit of the prologue:
announcing ˜the design and scope of the whole Poem™ (The Excursion, p. x),
Wordsworth invoked literary forefathers in order to situate his new work.
But his form of allusion grants very little creative scope to the reader.
Byron™s response to the ˜Prospectus™ was, therefore, to open up a trail of
Miltonic associations suppressed by the older Wordsworth:
I will venture to assert that the Sale of the Paradise lost was greater in the ¬rst four
years after it™s publication than that of ˜the Excursion™ in the same number “
with the difference of nearly a Century & a half between them of time, &
of thousands in point of general readers notwithstanding Mr. Wordsworth™s
having pressed Milton into his Service as one of those not presently popular,
to favour his own purpose of proving that our Grand-Children will read him “
the said William Wordsworth . . . he may have a sect, but he will never have
a public, and his ˜audience™ will always be ˜few™ without being ˜¬t™, except for
Bedlam.·µ
Byron™s point was that Wordsworth had ˜pressed Milton into his service™
to shore up personal reputation. Wordsworth™s politically disingenu-
ous comparison adorned his own apostasy with Miltonic constancy.
Byron™s digressive quotation of Wordsworth exacted revenge by turning
Wordsworth™s solemnity into senility, insisting on the literalness of ˜“few”™,
and on the bodily connotation of ˜“¬t ”™, and relocating Wordsworth™s
audience in Bedlam. The complexity of quoted quotation is signalled
by both italics and inverted commas, emphasising the multiple layers of
appropriation.
The use of quotation marks to signal allusion enforces a choice about
allusion for the reader. If in general we see allusion as a threshold to
another text, Byron™s art of signalled allusion leads the reader over that
threshold. The obligation on the reader might be seen to qualify the
extent of imaginative free-play or indeterminacy usually associated with
intertextuality. But while freedom might be curtailed in one direction,
it is extended in another. As well as the types, frequency of allusion
is greater in Byron™s poetry than in his contemporaries™ work.· His
interceptions of other texts foreground what Peter Manning has called
the ˜politics of physical presentation, of dedications, appendices, prices,
sizes of volumes, illustrations, and other contextual matters™.·· As we
shall see, reading with this sort of awareness is both a social and political
activity.
An immediate problem in discussing allusive poetics is a lack of critical
vocabulary to describe the variety of modes employed by the poet.· In
the editorial introduction to The Complete Poetical Works, McGann states
that he has ˜tried to identify all of Byron™s explicit literary allusions and
·° Byron, Poetics and History
echoes, and as many of his less explicit ones as [he has] recognised™
(CPW, ©, p. xliv). The editorial criteria for distinguishing between an
explicit allusion and an explicit echo are, however, not divulged. Mc-
Gann™s other forms of reference are ˜Echoes . . .™, ˜Echoing . . .™, ˜The
poem deliberately recalls . . .™, ˜recalling . . .™, ˜Perhaps recalling . . .™, ˜Al-
luding to . . .™, ˜a misquotation of . . .™, ˜The stanza refers to . . .™, ˜Cf . . .™.
Sometimes the commentary is simply a line reference to another text.
This suggests McGann™s sensitivity to Byron™s multiple uses of other texts
while suggesting that it has not proved possible to devise an editorial sys-
tem to accommodate these nuances. Nuances would doubtless be lost if
such a system were devised, and a concern of this book is to explore the
differences between Byron™s modes of allusion while suggesting that the
vital digressive element in his poetics comes from the protean nature of
this sort of intertextuality.
In his ±·° article on ˜The Art of Allusion™ Manning traced three
Shakespearean reference points in the ¬nal paragraph of English Bards and
Scotch Reviewers. His selection indicates the instability of Byronic allusion:
one allusion comprises an unsignalled quotation from Henry IV, another
is direct quotation from Hamlet, and the third is a much more distant
verbal echo of Macbeth. Manning (like Jonathan Bate) refers to all of
these as ˜allusions™ but the effect on the page and on the poem would
seem to be different in all cases. Why did Byron signal the quotation
from Hamlet but not the extract from Henry IV ? Another misquotation
from Hamlet earlier in the poem goes unmarked: ˜Oh! what a noble heart
was here undone,™ (l. µ), while Byron signals the smaller appropriation
from Macbeth by placing it in direct speech: ˜“hold, enough!”™ (l. ·µ),
and in the ˜Postscript™ to Jeffrey, Byron used quotation marks at every
opportunity. It may be that the placement of these markers is entirely
arbitrary (an idea to which we shall return), but one effect of the uneven
distribution of acknowledgement is to question the idea of stable literary
reputation.·
The marking of the allusions defamiliarises their content, whilst the
various degrees of ¬delity to the source place all references in a con-
dition of dubiety. Byron puts his direct quotation of a Bowles ˜dwarf
Epic™ in inverted commas (perhaps inviting a distant recollection of
Virgil) “

The lofty numbers of a harp like thine:
˜Awake a louder and a loftier strain.™
(ll. µ°“±)
·±
Eighteenth-century digressions and Byron™s early verse
“ but this treatment was also accorded to the splenetic outbursts of the
critic:
While R®¬¤ vents his ˜dammes, poohs™, and ˜zounds™,
And common place, and common sense confounds.
(ll. µ“)

Literary criticism was foregrounded in this poem not only because Byron
was satirising the literary Establishment, but also because the poem
dramatised the relationship between poetry and its readers, newly aware
of the power various readers have to determine the meaning of a work:
˜Why slumbers G©¦¦¤?™ once was asked in vain:
Why slumbers G©¦¦¤? let us ask again.
(ll. ±“°)°

The ¬rst question acknowledged a source (˜New Morality™ in the Anti-
Jacobin), but the reiteration (without marks of quotation) can neither
wholly discard this context nor wholly belong to it. The repetition en-
courages the reader to confront the difference between a line with a
marked source and the same line without acknowledgement. It is also
a way of realising the reader™s desire for unity: the ¬rst quotation could
be random, but the second represents the start of a pattern. In both in-
stances the peculiarity of a marked allusion which ˜forces itself upon the
view™ as Reynolds feared, turns our attention to questions of reception.
Discussing Byron™s allusions in Don Juan, Manning suggests that the
˜shadowy presences™ of alluded-to texts ˜augment Byron™s voice by lo-
cating him within his tradition . . . through him a whole tradition is
summoned and renovated™.± In English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, how-
ever, allusion is less of a reassuring ¬gure because the authority of ˜a
whole tradition™ is constantly interrogated. Byron™s intertextuality may
therefore pre-empt a Barthesian paradigm of the ¬ctional:
It is the instability of the placing of the quotation marks that decisively constitutes
the ¬ctional and renders it unrecuperable. The ideal text would be ˜a text with
uncertain quotation marks, with ¬‚oating parentheses™ . . . in which each undecid-
able component would work like a mouthful of good wine . . . where ˜the mouth-
ful swallowed does not have quite the same taste as the next mouthful taken™ .
In English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, each allusion becomes a troubling
digression in which the reader is asked to risk his or her perspective on
tradition: is ˜“en masque”™ (l. µµ) as signi¬cant as ˜“penetrable stuff ”™
(l. ±°µ°)? What separates remembered words from an invitation and
remembered words from Hamlet?
· Byron, Poetics and History
The link between con¬gurations of allusion and digression has been
touched on by Harold Bloom™s paradigm of how in¬‚uence works through
poetic generations. In Bloom™s model of con¬‚ict between authorial fore-
father and son, intertextual tension is eventually resolved and rebel-
lious digression is superseded by a new totality. Bloom concentrates
on Byron™s Prometheanism and, following Ridenour, emphasises the
metaphor of the Fall in Byron™s poetry. He is therefore less concerned
with the signalled allusions on the surface of Byron™s verse than with the
moments where he believes that Byron is ˜[moving] in the poetic world
of Wordsworth and Shelley™. Like Byron™s contemporary reviewers,
Bloom occasionally vents critical frustration at the way Byron resists as-
similation into the ranks of the ˜Visionary Company™. Byron™s digressive
allusions evade Bloom™s creative resettlement, keeping the whole work
at the stages of swerve (or digression) away from the precursor texts
and antithetical readings of them (˜Clinamen™ and ˜Tessera™ in Bloom™s
terms). In his discussion of the ˜Big Six™ and Shakespeare, Jonathan Bate
suggests ˜revising™ Bloom™s ˜Revisionary Ratios™ and removing the ¬-
nal clause from ˜Tessera™ (˜with its antagonistic overtones™) to describe
the Romantics™ allusive relationship with Shakespeare.µ I would like to
distinguish Byron™s intertextuality from Bate™s all-inclusive idea of Ro-
mantic allusion and from Bloom™s paradigm of the achievement of unity
and self-suf¬ciency: ˜the attainment of a state of solitude™. Byron™s po-
etics evade both harmonious organic merger and sublime autonomy.
The next chapter of the book suggests that Byron mixed literary tradi-
tion and contemporary debate to socialise the space between poet and
public, leading his readers to consider the politics of digressive poetics.
° 

Erring with Pope: Hints from Horace
and the trouble with decency



When Byron was accused of violating canons of correctness, his critics
usually suggested that he erred from classical aesthetic ideals. Through-
out the eighteenth century Horatian criticism had represented a cultural
force opposed to forms of digression.± A review of Tristram Shandy in the
Journal Encyclop©dique of ±µ April ±·° warned:

This is Horace™s monster . . . The author has neither plan nor principles, nor
system: he only wishes to talk on and unfortunately one listens to him with
pleasure . . . Moreover, that irregular progression of ideas, so far removed from
the spirit of this age, passes for intentional subtlety. The English ¬nd mystery in
it and all join in admiring it.

Sterne himself genu¬‚ected to this critical orthodoxy when he wrote to
an early reader of the manuscript of volumes © and ©© of Tristram Shandy:
˜I like Your Caution of the Ambitiosa recidet ornamenta “ as I revise
My book, I will shrive My conscience upon that sin.™ His offer to cut
away ˜sinful™ super¬‚uity acknowledges “ albeit wryly “ the traditional
association between digression and transgression. Like Sterne, Byron™s
respect for Horatian standards of correctness coexisted with the com-
position of a work which de¬ed those notions. This chapter examines
the ways in which con¬‚icting notions of decorum in private and pub-
lic contexts affect the texture, and therefore the meaning, of Byron™s
poetry.
Byron returned to his ±±± translation of Horace™s Ars Poetica in ±°“±
when he was working on the ¬fth canto of Don Juan, the work he called his
˜poetical T[ristram] Shandy™ (BLJ, , p. ±µ°). Signi¬cantly, Byron™s other
model for Don Juan at this stage was Montaigne™s essays; Montaigne had
invoked a negative example from Horace™s Ars Poetica to account for the



·
· Byron, Poetics and History
digressive progress of his mind:
And in truth what are these Essays if not monstrosities and grotesques botched
together from a variety of limbs having no de¬ned shape, with an order, sequence
and proportion which are purely fortuitous?
Desinit in piscem mulier formosa superne.
Awareness of Horatian critical orthodoxy and a desire to exceed its
generic constraints mingle in Byron™s letters as well as his poetry. His

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