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complex theoretical allegiance to traditional forms, and practical sub-
version of them, is evident in a letter to Thomas Moore of ± June ±±.
Responding to Moore™s criticisms of the enjambement between stanzas
in Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage canto ©, Byron claimed:
The fact is, that the terza rima of the Italians, which always runs on and in, may
have led me into experiments, and carelessness into conceit “ or conceit into
carelessness “ in either of which events failure will be probable, and my fair
woman, ˜superne,™ end in a ¬sh; so that Childe Harold will be like the mermaid,
my family crest, with the Fourth Canto for a tail thereunto. (BLJ, ©, p. )
The unexpected termination of ˜“superne”™ is an allusion to the im-
age of artistic short-coming in Horace™s Ars Poetica also borrowed by
Montaigne.µ Although Byron was prepared to see his poem damned by
comparison with Horace™s grotesque, other readers were unsure about
whether Horatian standards ought to be applied to Byron™s work.
In November ±± the Lady™s Monthly Museum expressed uncertainty
about the criteria for evaluating Lara: ˜To measure the writings of Lord
Byron with the yard of Aristotelian and Horatian criticism™, the reviewer
felt, ˜would be little favourable to their celebrity . . . To deviate from the
beaten track as Lord Byron has done, requires no ordinary talent.™ This
opinion takes us to the crux of a nineteenth-century aesthetic debate:
might ˜deviation™ from the rules be a sign of genius, or was oddity merely
a sign of ¬‚agrant disregard for communal discourse? Sir Joshua Reynolds
had maintained that even genius ought to be recognised as ˜the child of
imitation™.· A different de¬nition would be put forward, however, by
William Hazlitt who in ˜On Genius and Common Sense™ argued that
taste and genius made their own rules: ˜In art, in taste, in life, in speech,
you decide from feeling, and not from reason; that is from the impression
of a number of things on the mind, which impression is true and well-
founded, though you may not be able to analyse or account for it in the
several particulars.™
Reynolds and Hazlitt place critically different emphases on the rela-
tionship of ˜small and minute parts™ to the whole, Hazlitt being more
·µ
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
interested in the gathering momentum of accumulation and Reynolds
in the ¬nished effect of the whole. For his contemporaries, Byron™s writ-
ing brought to the fore this clash of neo-classical and modern frames
of reference. Hobhouse experienced this collision in a particularly acute
way as his classical ideals were intricately connected with his reformist
Whig principles. He registered a hint of Horatian criticism about Lara in
a letter to Byron of ±± September ±±: ˜I have heard of one who prefers
Lara to your last, but that all are scandalised at the possibility that such
a ¬ne fellow as Conrad could be thought to terminate in such a devil™s
tail as your present hero.™ While relishing his role as a privileged insider
early in Byron™s career, Hobhouse was to ¬nd his loyalty to Byron tested
as a personal drama about public reception unfolded.
Letters between Hobhouse and Byron play with an argot of classical
allusions as well as favourite references to the stage and to novels. The
bond of a Cambridge education was important to them and they seemed
to take particular pleasure in declaring their shared commitment to
traditional values which were perceived to be under threat. Hobhouse,
for example, connected his admiration for Childe Harold canto © with a
respect for Popean satire. Writing to Murray from Venice on · December
±±·, Hobhouse claimed:
Your new acquisition is a very ¬ne ¬nish to the three cantos already published,
and, if I may trust to a taste vitiated “ I say it without affectation “ by an exclusive
attention and attachment to that school of ancient and obsolete poetry of which
your friend Mr. Gifford furnished us with the last specimen in his ˜Baviad,™ it is the
best of all his lordship™s productions. (Smiles, A Publisher and His Friends, ©, p. °)

This letter exempli¬es an appreciation of eighteenth-century satire which
would continue to play an important role in the context of Hints from
Horace, not only in respect of the thematic content of the poem, but also
because relationships between Byron, Hobhouse, Murray and Gifford
in¬‚uenced its texture. Hints from Horace offers an example of Byronic
intertextuality “ layers of allusion in sometimes uneasy dialogue with a
number of different audiences.
The contradictory pulls of ˜monstrosity™ and Horatian restraint in By-
ron™s writing were latent in the ±±± version of Hints from Horace and
complicate the emphasis on decorum which Bernard Blackstone has
seen as the leading characteristic of the work.±° Hints from Horace occu-
pies a unique position in the Byronic oeuvre in that it belongs to By-
ron™s early career and also to the period of his mature ottava rima poetry.
The previous two chapters have explored the extent to which textual
· Byron, Poetics and History
disruption was recognised as present in Byron™s early writing. We have
also considered the relationship between eighteenth-century digressive
practices and Byron™s own. Hints from Horace might be read as an index of
the creative change between eighteenth-century digressive poetics and
Byron™s development of those modes. The revisions to the Hints also sug-
gest how contemporary aesthetic and political debates played a crucial
role in modifying Byron™s later ottava rima satire. The focus of this chap-
ter is, therefore, the relationship between poetics, literary history and
politics.
Hints from Horace dates from March ±±±: Byron thought of it both as
a sequel to English Bards and Scotch Reviewers and as a poem to Hobhouse
(BLJ, ©©, p. ). By a strange coincidence, Hobhouse attempted in that
same year a ˜litteral [sic] verse rhyme translation of the same poem with
learned notes™ (Graham, Byron™s Bulldog, p. ) while he too was away
from England. Byron expressed pride in the ¬delity of his own imita-
tion, but he also described his work as deviation, adaptation, variation
and subjunction, highlighting the difference between his own poem and
Horace™s.±± In the earlier version of the preface he announced: ˜The
Latin text is printed with the Imitation, not only to show where I have
left Horace, but where Horace has left me™ (CPW, ©, p. ).
While the tradition of imitation in English poetry welcomed the sub-
stitution of contemporary referents, the distinctive quality of Byron™s
version is its frequency of topical and literary allusions and the multi-
plicity of these variables.± Mary Rebecca Thayer observes that Byron™s
interruptions to the Horatian text
constitute a large part of the poem, and make it rather a piece of bitter satirical
verse than an epistle about literature, with only an incidental element of mild
satire, as is the original. The Hints from Horace, therefore, so far from being really
Horatian in tone, rather serves to accentuate Byron™s lack of sympathy with
Horace.±

By stressing Byron™s ˜bitter™ tone and his ˜lack of sympathy with Horace™,
Thayer over-simpli¬es the complex registers and shifting tones of Hints
from Horace. Not only is the poem ˜an epistle about literature™, it is also
textured with different literatures which rematerialise in modi¬ed forms
as they emerge from the Ars Poetica.±
It is in the prose notes in particular that we can see this very physical
form of intrusion as Byron veers away from the Latin text into current lit-
erary and political quarrels. His colourful living examples acquire an au-
tonomous energy which threatens the ideal unity of the Horatian cultural
··
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
icon. In the proofs of the poem that were set up by Cawthorne in ±±±,
Byron™s notes appear at the foot of the page. As the Latin text is printed
on facing pages (as with Pope™s Imitations of Horace), it is possible to see
how Byron™s English version overruns the Latin original in spatial terms
and how the prose notes emphasise this tendency. The voice of the prose
notes is digressive, colloquial, witty and personal.±µ As with the ¬rst two
cantos of Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage, the composition of some of the notes
occurred during the ¬rst drafts of the verse. Byron™s prose comments
are, therefore, radically different from Wordsworth™s ˜Fenwick Notes™ or
Coleridge™s marginal glosses to ˜The Rime of the Ancient Mariner™ which
supply testimonials to unity of design and authorial purpose.
Byron™s prose notes are distinctive because they foreground the im-
mediacy of interchange between poet and reader. Whilst discussing the
role of the ˜atrocious reader™ in Don Juan, Anne Barton points out that
the noun ˜reader™ is ˜entirely absent from Childe Harold™.± This applies,
however, only to the text of the verse, not to the volume as a whole. The
prose preface to cantos © and ©© states that the reception of the poem ˜will
determine whether the author may venture to conduct his readers to
the capital of the East, through Ionia and Phrygia™ (CPW, ©©, p. ), and
˜readers of romances™ are teased in the notes to canto ©©, stanza ·, which
also contain advice to ˜the reader™ to turn to Byron™s appendix.±· The
role of the reader is similarly at issue in the notes to Hints from Horace, as
is the process of composition itself.
The ±±± Hints from Horace shows how a prose voice insistently punc-
tuates the verse with additional material detail. Horace™s original text is
interrupted with historically speci¬c information on Byron™s contempo-
raries and on the circumstances of composition:
Of ˜John Joshua, Earl of Carysfort™, I know nothing at present, but from an
advertisement “ in an old newspaper of certain Poems and Tragedies by his
Lordship, which I saw by accident in the Morea. Being a rhymer himself, he
will readily excuse the liberty I take with his name, seeing, as he must, how very
commodious it is at the close of that couplet. (CPW, ©, pp. “)

Byron™s note emphasises the contingencies of composition, the stringent
demands of form, and the business of advertising and circulating lit-
erature. His use of encyclopaedic prose also records awareness of the
reception of the poem. The initial subject of the prose notes is ostensibly
traditional (a reference; a disputed source; a literary precedent; a note on
a local antiquity), but the manner of the prose notation tends to generate
further digressions from the verse. This is exaggerated by Byron™s method
· Byron, Poetics and History
of introducing conversational allusions within his digressive prose
notes:
I beg Nathaniel™s pardon: he is not a cobbler; it is a tailor, but begged Capel Lofft
to sink the profession in his preface to two pair of panta “ psha! “ of cantos,
which he wished the public to try on. (CPW, ©, p. )
Digressive notation here is a game with the reader who is expected to
enjoy the serendipity of error and slips of the pen. Another form of di-
gression occurs when Byron offers one of his super¬‚uous parenthetical
asides, as in the mock-fastidious reference to ˜No. ± of the Edinburgh
Review (given to me the other day by the captain of an English frigate
off Salamis)™(CPW, ©, p. ). The half-forgetful, conversational trail of
association is characteristic of Byron™s digressive emphasis on the con-
tingencies of readerly reception.
Byron™s awareness of words as things was signalled in the early epi-
graph to Hints, where a quotation from Fielding™s Amelia contrasts the
exigencies of politics and poetry:
˜Rimes are dif¬cult things, they are stubborn things, Sir “ I have been sometimes
longer in tagging a couplet, than writing a speech on the side of the opposition,
which hath been read with great applause all over the kingdom. “ ™±
As early as ±±±, therefore, it is possible to see Byron drawing attention
to the technicalities and triumphs of poetic arti¬ce, a process that would
become more pronounced in Don Juan:
(The rhyme obliges me to this; sometimes
Monarchs are less imperative than rhymes).
(. ··)

Byron™s preoccupation with the constraints of his form (particularly the
rhyme) energised his moments of discontinuity with the original Horatian
model. Letting form dictate the direction of the poem was a contraven-
tion of aesthetic propriety for which Keats was chastised when John
Wilson Croker reviewed Endymion in the Quarterly:
At ¬rst it appeared to us, that Mr. Keats had been amusing himself and wearying
his readers with an immeasurable game at bouts-rim©s; but, if we recollect rightly,
it is an indispensable condition at his play, that the rhymes when ¬lled up shall
have a meaning; and our author, as we have already hinted, has no meaning. He
seems to us to write a line at random, and then he follows not the thought excited
by this line, but that suggested by the rhyme with which it concludes. There is
hardly a complete couplet inclosing a complete idea in the whole book. He
wanders from one subject to another, from the association, not of ideas but of
sounds, and the work is composed of hemisitchs which, it is quite evident, have
·
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
forced themselves upon the author by the mere force of the catchwords on which
they turn. (RR, C: ©©, pp. ·“)
The movement of ˜association™ has, as we have seen, key importance in
Hazlitt™s de¬nition of genius. Byron also responded to ˜the mere force of
the catchwords™, but he does not just ˜[skim] the surface of things™ with
˜airy, intuitive faculty™ (Hazlitt™s image for the genius of Goldsmith).±
Instead, Byron™s insistence that readers turn and re¬‚ect on the process of
association, although equally unpopular with contemporary reviewers,
separates Byronic randomness from the loose Cockney meandering of
Endymion.
From the beginning of Hints from Horace transgressive potential is em-
bodied formally by digression. The association of digression and un-
lawful birth was popularised by Sterne™s characterisation of digression as
˜bastardly™, and there is a hint of Sterne™s presence when, in a ¬‚agrant de-
viation from Horace™s advice, Byron inserts a requiem for Samuel Foote:
Farce followed Comedy, and reached her prime
In ever-laughing Foote™s fantastic time,
Mad Wag! who pardoned none, nor spared the best,
And turned some very serious things to jest.
Nor Church nor State escaped his public sneers,
Arms nor the Gown, Priests, Lawyers, Volunteers:
˜Alas, poor Yorick!™ now for ever mute!
Whoever loves a laugh must sigh for Foote.
(ll. ·“)

To compound the generic disruption, Byron incorporates a signalled
borrowing from Hamlet which is, of course, also associated with the black
page from Tristram Shandy. Horace™s text at this point warns of the dangers
of sudden turns and transitions:
uerum ita risores, ita commendare dicaces
conueniet Satyros, ita uertere seria ludo,
ne quicumque deus, quicumque adhibebitur heros,
regali conspectus in auro nuper et ostro,
migret in obscuras humili sermone tabernas,
aut, dum uitat humum, nubes et inania captet.
(ll. µ“°)

The effect of the remembrance of Foote is to unsettle Horatian wisdom
about the propriety of transitions from heavy to light material by juxta-
posing tragic and comic cultural fragments. In this case both the contem-
porary reference and the method of inserting it con¬‚ict with Horatian
decorum.
° Byron, Poetics and History
The authority of the uni¬ed organic work is also challenged by Byron™s
insistence on the failure and decomposition of another ˜organic™ produc-
tion, the son and heir. Byron™s most extensive digression in linear terms
from the discussion of drama and literature compares the cycle of hu-
man life with the circulation and duration of books. In the Ars Poetica,
the description of a boy™s career contributes to an artistic debate about
the appropriate delineation of character: in Byron™s version, the rake™s
progress acquires a momentum of its own:
Behold him freshman! forced no more to groan
O™er Virgil™s devilish verses, and “ his own;—
Prayers are too tedious, lectures too abstruse,
He ¬‚ies from T[a]v[e]ll™s frown to ˜Fordham™s Mews;™
(Unlucky T[a]v[e]ll! doom™d to daily cares—
By pugilistic pupils, and by bears!)
Fines, tutors, tasks, conventions threat in vain,
Before hounds, hunters, and Newmarket Plain.
Rough with his elders, with his equals rash,
Civil to sharpers, prodigal of cash,
Constant to nought “ save hazard and a whore,
Yet cursing both, for both have made him sore:
Unread (unless since books beguile disease,
The p[o]x becomes his passage to degrees);
Fool™d, pillaged, dunn™d, he wastes his terms away,
And unexpell™d, perhaps, retires M. A.;
Master of Arts! as hells and clubs proclaim,—
Where scarce a blackleg bears a brighter name!
(ll. “°; — inserted)

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