<<

. 14
( 41 .)



>>


The parentheses within this digression (and the prose notes (— ) with-
out) interrupt the passage to remind the reader ¬rstly, of Byron™s own
ursophilia and secondly, of an unsavoury connection between the cycli-
cal production of books and the human cycle of birth and decay. The
freshman bears a strong resemblance to the young author who is ˜rough
with his elders™ (˜It will not do to call our Fathers “ Fools!™ (l. °)) and
whom ˜conventions threat in vain™ (l. ).
Signi¬cantly, the new student is associated with images of risk in the
activities around Newmarket, ˜hazard™ and ˜hells™. The satirical accu-
sations of gambling recon¬gure the uncertainty of the relationship be-
tween Horace™s and Byron™s texts. There is also a connection between the
term-wasting of the undergraduate and the time-wasting of the poet in
digression. Horace, it is true, displayed his consciousness of the passage
of time in his conversational meanderings (˜brevis esse laboro™ (l. µ)), but
±
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
Byron™s poem places more emphasis on his mournful awareness that the
time shared by the poet and reader might always have been differently
spent. As Byron™s use of digression develops, we ¬nd that its self-conscious
aspect intensi¬es: digressive poetics invite speculation about alternative
routes. This may be one or other of the readerly paths through the poem,
or the choice not to read the poem at all.
In a letter to James Cawthorne of µ August ±±±, in which Byron
considered delaying the publication of Hints from Horace the ¬rst time
round, he re¬‚ected that he and his friends might ˜appear such pestilent
scribblers™:
Why, we shall want a press to ourselves, & if we go on with ˜Weeks at Bath™ &
Travels, & Satires, & Imitations, & poems descriptive & what not, your Neighbor
Mr. Eyre the trunk-maker will thrive prodigiously. (BLJ, ©©, p. ±)
Byron here plays up the casual pro¬‚igacy of authorship, recognising
that he is one of the ˜mob of gentlemen™ reluctant to suppress their
˜Attic salt™. His (affected) distaste for ˜this volley of Quarto™s & Foolscap
Octavos™ was one of the satiric legacies of Pope. In The Dunciad, Pope
had attacked the physical mass of sub-literary productions making the
connection between bodily waste and the fate of failed poetry.° Byron™s
references to pastry chefs and trunk-makers in his notes to the poem
were a continuation of this eighteenth-century satirical trope, but it is
important to note that by including them, Byron was both augmenting
the scope of the Ars Poetica and colliding Popean and Horatian tones with
the idiom of his own time. A similar act of compression occurs when
Byron translates Dryden™s ˜Martyrs of Pies, and reliques of the Bum™ in
his parodic reduction of William Wordsworth to ˜Turdsworth™.± These
divagations from Horace™s text were augmented as Byron revised the
poem back in England in ±±±. In ±±, however, many of the digressive
notes were cancelled or radically cut down. Rather than seeing the later
version of the poem as one in which the digressive element has been
curbed, I would like to suggest that the digressive intertextuality of the
±°“± Hints from Horace may be located in Byron™s renewed defence of
Pope and in a collateral reassessment of the role of the reader.
On  March ±° Byron sent Murray ˜a Screed of Doctrine™ from
Ravenna, and added as a postscript:
I have some thoughts of publishing the ˜hints from Horace™ written ten years
ago “ if Hobhouse can rummage them out of my papers left at his father™s “
with some omissions and alterations previously to be made “ when I see the
proofs. “ “ (BLJ, ©©, p. °)
 Byron, Poetics and History
Since Thomas Moore™s editorial work on Byron™s poetry, we have known
that the reappearance of Hints from Horace was associated with Byron™s in-
volvement in the Pope/Bowles controversy. Although Jerome McGann
dates the renewed interest in the Hints from June rather than March
±°, he shrewdly observes its signi¬cance ˜in the context of his prose
defences of Pope and his own Don Juan, and also at the time he was
seriously renewing his attack upon contemporary English social and lit-
erary culture™ (CPW, ©, pp. “·). Investigating these contexts in a little
more detail, hitherto unpublished letters from John Murray to Byron
suggest ways in which the return to Hints from Horace shapes a new mean-
ing as digressive poetics were coloured by changing personal and public
dynamics.
On  March ±°, the day after the fresh possibility of publishing the
Hints was raised, Byron dispatched to Murray a note on Pope which was
to be attached to the ˜Screed of Doctrine™. The accompanying letter
answered Murray™s of · March and was couched in terms of a battle to
uphold taste in English writing:
I have at last lost all patience with the atrocious cant and nonsense about Pope,
with which our present blackguards are over¬‚owing, and am determined to
make such head against it, as an Individual can by prose or verse “ and I will at
least do it with good will. “ “ There is no bearing it any longer, and if it goes on,
it will destroy what little good writing or taste remains amongst us. “ “ I hope
there are still a few men of taste to second me, but if not, I™ll battle it alone “
convinced that it is in the best cause of English literature. (BLJ, ©©, p. ±)
For Byron the ef¬‚uent metaphor (˜over¬‚owing™) which appeared in Hints
from Horace is descriptive of the work of Robert Southey in particular.
The changing aesthetic value of the ˜over¬‚ow™ ¬gure at this time can be
seen if we compare the eighteenth-century satirical characterisation of
bad poetry as sewage with the Wordsworthian estimate of good poetry
as an ˜over¬‚ow of powerful feelings™ or Byron™s image of poetry as the
˜lava of imagination™.µ
No one was more sensitive to the changing tide of public taste than
Byron™s publisher. On · March ±°, Murray had written to advise Byron
of the alteration he perceived in English sensibilities:
With regard to what your Lordship says as to what was permitted in a Catholic
& bigoted age to a Clergyman “ I humbly conceive & am surprised that you do
not perceive that “ religion had nothing to do with it “ It was Manners “ and
they have changed “ a man might as well appear without Cloaths “ and quote
our Saxon Ancestors “ The comedies of Charles Seconds days are not tolerated
now “ and even in my own time I have gradually seen my favourite Love for

˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
Love absolutely pushed by public feeling “ from the stage “ it is not affectation
of morality but the real progress and result of re¬nement “ and <we> our minds
can no more undergo the moral & religious grossness of our predecessors that
[sic] our bodies can sustain the heavy Armour which they wore.

Murray™s use of a very tactile image to claim that his own favourite play
has been ˜pushed™ from the stage reminds us that Byron™s reviewers feared
the ˜palpable™ effects of reading his poetry. One legacy of late eighteenth-
century literature of sensibility was such that early nineteenth-century
readers envisaged their role as intimate participants in and moral ar-
biters of a work of literature. Murray™s sense of the pressure of audience
taste was undoubtedly sharpened by his knowledge of recent editions
of English drama. In Elizabeth Inchbald™s twenty-¬ve-volume edition,
British Theatre (±°) which Murray purchased in the ±± sale of Byron™s
library, Inchbald includes three plays by Susannah Centlivre and ¬ve by
herself, compared with only two plays “ Love for Love and The Mourning
Bride “ by Congreve. Love for Love is prefaced by a disapproving comment
on its morality. Whereas Murray accepted this change of taste as the
progress of ˜re¬nement™, Byron™s answer of  March ±° turns into a
tirade against the taste of the day, insisting that the re¬nement of the
English stage was really a manifestation of vulgarity:
You have given me a screed of Metaphor and what not about Pulci “ & manners,
˜and going without clothes™ . . . I differ from you about the ˜re¬nement™ which has
banished the comedies of Congreve “ are not the comedies of Sheridan acted to
the thinnest houses? “ I know (as ex-Committed) that the ˜School for Scandal™ was
the worst Stock piece upon record. “ I also know that Congreve gave up writing
because Mrs. Centlivre™s balderdash drove his comedies off “ so it is not decency
but Stupidity that does all this “ for Sheridan is as decent a writer as needs be “
and Congreve no worse than Mrs. Centlivre . . .
But last and most to the purpose “ Pulci is not an indecent writer “ at least in
his ¬rst Canto as you will have perceived by this time. “ “ You talk of re¬nement,
are you all more moral? are you so moral? “ No such thing, “ I know what the
World is in England by my own proper experience. (BLJ, ©©, p. ±)

Here we can see Byron (belatedly) joining the defence of the old comedy
of manners which had been championed by Charles Lamb and William
Hazlitt. In ˜Whether Genius is Conscious of its Powers™ (±), for ex-
ample, Hazlitt turns to Congreve after a long walk:

I had Love for Love in my pocket, and began to read; coffee was brought in a silver
coffee pot; the cream, the bread and butter, every thing was excellent, and the
¬‚avour of Congreve™s style prevailed over all.·
 Byron, Poetics and History
The episode is not simply about the pleasures of reading. In the rest
of the essay we ¬nd Hazlitt™s usual animus against the party interest of
the periodical world; his delight in out-of-fashion reading material in this
instance is also a challenge to contemporary shapers of opinion. Although
Hazlitt and Byron differed in many things, they shared a determination
to expose the hidden political agendas of supposed aesthetic or moral
discourse and a desire to crush critical opponents.
Byron™s attack on decency is consistent with his appreciation of George
Colman™s prologue to Philaster while working on the Drury Lane
address. Colman™s prologue also accused the English public of assum-
ing a false standard of morality:

While modern tragedy, by rule exact,
Spins out a thin-wrought fable, act by act,
We dare to bring you one of those bold plays,
Wrote by rough English wits in former days:
Beaumont and Fletcher! those twin stars, that run
Their glorious course round Shakespeare™s golden sun,
Or when Philaster Hamlet™s place supplied,
Or Bessus walk™d the stage by Falstaff ™s side.
Their souls, well pair™d, shot ¬re in mingled rays,
Their hands together twined the social bays,
Till fashion drove, in a re¬ning age,
Virtue from the court, and nature from the stage.
Their nonsense, in heroics seem™d sublime,
Kings raved in couplets, and maids sigh™d in rhime.
Next, prim, and trim, and delicate, and chaste,
A hash from Greece and France, came modern taste.

In this edition of Beaumont and Fletcher (in the ±± sale catalogue
of Byron™s library), Weber™s introduction discusses the changing stan-
dard of taste in more detail. ˜Our ancestors, in the days of King
James,™ he explained, ˜would hear, without the least offence phrases
and allusions which now would be stamped with every mark of pub-
lic disapprobation.™° While Byron was aware of these issues from the
start of his career, it was not until the Pope/Bowles controversy that his
critique of canons of correctness became embroiled with his personal
reception and incorporated into the fabric of his poetry.
In ±° there was a con¬‚ict between Murray™s advisors, who called
on what they believed to be Horatian standards of taste to oppose the
publication of Don Juan, and Byron™s own revision of Horace into an
attack on the ˜niceness™ of the times. In a letter to Murray of  March
µ
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
±°, J.W. Croker advised him to ˜get Lord Byron to revise these two
cantos [Don Juan ©©© and ©], and not to make another step in the odious
path which Hobhouse beckons him to pursue™ (Hobhouse had, in fact,
suggested a total suppression of Don Juan). Croker elaborated on his view
to Murray:
in poetry I should think it an excellent plan “ to pour out, as Lord Byron says,
his whole mind in the intoxication of the moment, but to revise and condense
in the sobriety of the morrow . . . experience shows that the Pulcian style is very
easily written . . . it therefore behoves Lord Byron to distinguish his use of this
measure by superior and peculiar beauties. He should re¬ne and polish; and by
limae labor et mora, attain the perfection of ease. (Smiles, A Publisher and His Friends,
©, p. ±)
Croker cited the Ars Poetica (l. ±) to urge for restraint on Don Juan,
whereas at the same time, Byron was rereading his translation of the
Horatian text as a further reason for enlarging the scope of Don Juan.
Byron™s intimations to Murray of his readiness for a battle against
public opinion are in some measure a displacement of his anxiety about
non-participation in English politics. Both Hobhouse and Kinnaird were
attempting to enlist his aid in the reformist Whig cause as England
appeared to be heading for revolution. On  March ±° Byron
warned Hobhouse (in a letter written on the same day as his fulmi-
nations against ˜decency™) against ˜violent™ involvement with associates of
the Cato Street Conspirators. One of Byron™s objections to radical pol-
itics was a class-based disdain of the radical leaders™ lack of a classical
education:
I perceive you talk Tacitus to them sometimes “ what do they make of it? (BLJ,
©©, p. )
Byron went on to suggest wryly that his own literary battle was of greater
consequence:
You will see that I have taken up the Pope question (in prose) with a high hand,
and you (when you can spare yourself from the Party to Mankind) must help me: “
You know how often under the Mira elms, and by the Adriatic on the Lido “ we
have discussed that question and lamented the villainous Cant which at present
would decry him. “ “ It is my intention to give battle to the blackguards “ and
try if the ˜little Nightingale™ can™t be heard again. “ “ But at present you are on
the hustings “ or in the Chair. “ Success go with you. (BLJ, ©©, p. )
But there was more than one literary skirmish going on at this time. At
the beginning of April, Byron had dispatched a lampoon on Hobhouse™s
 Byron, Poetics and History
progress from brief imprisonment in Newgate to a seat in the House of
Commons:
±
How came you in Hob™s pound to cool
My boy Hobbie O?
Because I bade the people pull
The House into the Lobby O.

What did the House upon this call
My boy Hobbie O?
They voted me to Newgate all
Which is an awkward Jobby O.

Who are now the people™s men
My boy Hobby O?
There™s I and Burdett “ Gentlemen,
And blackguard Hunt and Cobby O.

You hate the house “ why canvass, then?
My boy Hobbie O?
Because I would reform the den
As member for the Mobby O.
µ
Wherefore do you hate the Whigs
My boy Hobbie O?
Because they want to run their rigs
As under Walpole™s Bobby O.

But when we at Cambridge were
My boy Hobbie O,
If my memory don™t err
You founded a Whig Clubbie O.
·
When to the mob you make a speech
My boy Hobbie O,
How do you keep without their reach
The watch within your fobby O? “

By never mind such petty things “
My boy Hobbie O “
God save the people “ damn all Kings “
So let us crown the Mobby O!
Yrs truly,
(Signed) In¬dus Scurra.
M[arc]h  rd, ±°.

<<

. 14
( 41 .)



>>