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·
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
Hobhouse had been imprisoned when he admitted that he was the
author of ˜A Tri¬‚ing Mistake in Thomas Lord Erskine™s Recent Preface™,
a pamphlet directed against the Whigs. After reading about the prosecu-
tion in Galignani™s, Byron had sent the ballad to Murray who showed it to
several other friends (Whig and Tory) before Hobhouse.± Once again,
rapid private circulation leaked into the public domain and Byron™s ˜New
Song™ was used by old Whigs, the Tory press and the radicals to ridicule
Hobhouse. Understandably, he felt harshly treated:
I have had Courier, Chronicle, Cobbett, Jeffrey, Brougham, Croker, Gifford,
Ld. Holland, Wooler, Leigh Hunt (a little), Cartwright, and more Reviews &
Magazines, Monthly New and Old, Quarterly, & Weekly than you ever heard of
playing off their large & small shot at me for near two years, and your ballad com-
pletes a list as extensive and various as ever was arrayed against a public man.
The quarrel reveals a great deal about the fractured state of the liberal
reformists, caught between the policies of the ˜gentlemen™ reformers,
Hobhouse and Burdett, and the more radical fringe of ˜blackguards™ like
Henry Hunt and William Cobbett. Hobhouse smartly corrected Byron™s
view of the Whigs as we shall see in Chapter Six, but he also attempted
to rise above his personal hurt to respond to Byron™s aesthetic demands.
On ± April ±° he replied:
I am delighted with your intelligence about Pope. I do recollect the Mira elms &
the Lido sands, and wish I was there with you now, that is if you had not written
your ballad. (Graham, Byron™s Bulldog, p, ±)
While Byron was brandishing an array of classical authors to draw Hob-
house away from what he perceived as the in¬‚uence of political thugs,
Hobhouse used a classical defence of Pope to allude to his friend™s slip-
ping integrity and to challenge Byron to participate in reform:
No man but you has force & in¬‚uence enough for such an undertaking “ Do not
let your purpose cool. You are a ¬ne fellow (damn that ballad though) and have
already done wonders, but if you recover Pope will deserve, if possible, more
nobly of your country than ever. (Graham, Byron™s Bulldog, p. ±)
Byron wrote to Hobhouse on  April ±° to extricate himself from the
derogatory remarks about Radicals. Again, he appealed to their shared
experience of the classics:
I do not think the man who would overthrow all laws “ should have the bene¬t
of any, he who plays the Tyler or Cade might ¬nd the Walworth or Iden “ he
who enacts the Clodius “ the Milo “ and what is there in Bristol Hunt and
Cobbett “ so honest as the former “ or more patriotic than the latter? “ ˜Arcades
 Byron, Poetics and History
Ambo™ blackguards both. “ “ Why our classical education alone “ should teach
us to trample on such unredeemed dirt as the dishonest bluntness “ the ignorant
brutality, the unblushing baseness of these two miscreants; “ and all who believe
in them. (BLJ, ©©, p. ±)
In the same letter, Byron defensively asked Hobhouse what ˜radical™
meant:
Upon reform you have long known my opinion “ but radical is a new word since
my time “ it was not in the political vocabulary in ±± “ when I left England “
and I don™t know what it means “ is it uprooting? (BLJ, ©©, p. ±)
Of course Byron was not so naively out of touch with English politics;
his adoption of a tone of mild surprise is designed to win over Hobhouse.
The difference between the two men on what used to be shared ground
introduces, however, a note of uncertainty in Byron™s writing at this time
and, as the letters between them show, a gulf had opened up which made
them ˜both a little formal™ with each other.
On  April ±°, Byron told Murray that the ˜prose observations in
answer to Wilson™ were not to be published ˜at present™ (BLJ, ©©, p. ).
This may have been because he had decided to forward the battle in verse
(his emphasis on the ˜prose™ nature of the composition would be in keeping
with this). However, it appears that Byron hesitated because of embarras-
sment about his betrayal of Hobhouse™s reformist idealism. Writing to
Hobhouse on ±± May ±°, Byron was still trying to clarify his principles:
And pray don™t mistake me “ it is not against the pure principle of reform “ that
I protest, but against low designing dirty levellers who would pioneer their way
to a democratical tyranny; < it is against such men > putting these fellows in
a parenthesis “ I think as I have ever thought “ on that point “ as it used to
be de¬ned “ but things have changed their sense probably “ as they have their
names “ since my time. (BLJ, ©©, p. )
Byron™s awareness of the altered tone of the parenthesis is interesting
from a textual point of view, but we can also detect a defensive
affectation of distance with regard to contemporary England. The use
of the phrase ˜since my time™, and Byron™s sensitivity to changing names
shows a newly accentuated anxiety about the distance between poet
and audience. On ° May Byron gave Murray permission to publish
the prose ˜Edin. Mag. answer™:
The prose . . . looks better than I thought it would “ & you may publish it “ there
will be a row “ but I™ll ¬ght it out “ one way or another. (BLJ, ©©, p. ±°)
The word ˜row™ was one Byron had been using to describe the political
events in Italy and its use here suggests the way he oscillated between

˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
literary and political causes. In the Letter to John Murray Esqre. (±±), Byron
extends the range of his critique of Bowles with the following words:
It is no affair of mine “ but having once begun “ (certainly not by my own wish
but called upon by the frequent recurrence to my name in the pamphlets) I am
like an Irishman in a ˜row™ ˜anybody™s Customer™. (Byron, Complete Miscellaneous
Prose, p. ±)
The low Regency connotations of the word ˜row™ suggest Byron™s ready
preference for action and linguistic vigour rather than ˜shabby genteel™
re¬nement. He was, I think, playing up the idea that his immersion in
literary reform was equivalent to active political engagement with the
readership.
By  June, the politics of publication exerted a different in¬‚uence
and Byron had changed his mind again (ostentatiously) in deferential
response to a letter from Hobhouse:
My dear Hobhouse “ You are right “ the prose must not be published “ at least
the merely personal part; “ and how the portion on Pope may be divided I do not
know. “ I wish you would ferret out at Whitton “ the ˜Hints from Horace™. I think
it (the Pope part) might be appended to that Popean poem “ for publication or
no “ as you decide. I care not a damn. (BLJ, ©©, p. ±±)
Byron™s submission to his friend™s critical judgement is conciliatory, and
as an act of con¬dence he includes a melancholy re¬‚ection in which
the personal tenor adopted is at least as important as the sentiments
expressed:
Surely you agree with me about the real vacuum of human pursuits, but one must
force an object of attainment “ not to rust in the Scabbard altogether. (BLJ, ©©,
p. ±±)
Byron™s ostentatious disregard for the fate of the poem mixes aristocratic
ennui with a more modern anxiety about the worth or reality of any-
thing. His letter offers the ˜Popean poem™ as an un¬xed signi¬er to which
Hobhouse may or may not attach value. The variability of Pope™s literary
inheritance, like the ¬‚uctuating funds which also preoccupied Byron at
this time, seem to have intensi¬ed his anxiety about his public role as a
writer. On  June ±° Byron wrote to Hobhouse and questioned his
and Murray™s ˜continuing silence™:
I am aware of the pettiness of such things to a man who is arraigning judges,
and preparing constitutions “ but trust to a spare moment from debate and
legislation to an arrangement with a bookseller on the part of an absent friend “
who has written a ballad upon you . . . put the M.S.S. into Longman™s hands or
in those of any respectable publisher who will undertake them “ on their own
° Byron, Poetics and History
terms . . . of course the prose (on Blackwood &c.) is not to be published except that
part which refers to Pope “ & that not unless you please “ perhaps the best way to
do with it “ would be to print in some periodical publication as an ˜extract from
a letter &c. containing some opinion on the poetry of the day.™ (BLJ, ©©, p. ±±)
Under pressure from both Hobhouse and Kinnaird (˜For God™s sake
help us here “ do not mix yourself with Italian Politics when your own
Country may want you™ ), Byron stubbornly maintained the relevance
of his aesthetic campaign and declined to take an active part in English
politics. Although it disappointed his liberal reformist friends, this literary
line represented an improvement to Murray who was keen to leave the
risky territory of ottava rima satire. He advised Byron in a letter of ± June
±° that the translation of Pulci
will not be <liked> popular in England “ Blackwood is not worth your notice “
wch would be sure to raise the reputation of the Magazine . . . All that your
Lordships [sic] says about Pope “ is excellent indeed & I wish you could be
induced to enlarge it & I would print it with any thing else in the Shape of Notes
that you would make for me in an Edition of Popes Poetical Works wch I am
very anxious to rescue from Mr Bowles. (MS., John Murray Archive).
In spite of this encouragement, Byron shelved the possibility of pursuing
a battle against the English poetry of the day. He did not mention the
Pope/Bowles debate in his letters throughout July and August, being pre-
occupied with decisions about the Guiccioli marriage, with political tur-
moil in Italy and his dramatic writing.µ He continued, however, to write
contemptuously of Wordsworth, and in a letter to Murray of ±± Septem-
ber ±° released a surge of irritation at the state of English literature:
Oh! if ever I do come amongst you again I will give you such a ˜Baviad and
Maeviad™ not as good as the old “ but even better merited. “ There never was such a
Set as your ragamuf¬ns “ (I mean not yours only but every body™s) what with the
Cockneys and the Lakers “ and the followers of Scott and Moore and Byron “
you are in the very uttermost decline and degradation of Literature. “ I can™t
think of it without all the remorse of a murderer “ I wish that Johnson were
alive again to crush them. (BLJ, ©©, p. ±·µ)
This letter suggests that Byron™s determination to publish Hints from
Horace marked a renewed commitment to the cause of literary reform
in England. Indeed, as Richard Cronin has suggested, Byron™s de-
fence of Pope and return to dramatic unities represents an attempt to
˜re-establish the cultural barriers that he feels himself to have assisted
in demolishing™. Displacing doubts about the ˜vacuum of human pur-
suits™, he wishes for the physical solidity of a Johnson. Johnson™s ability to
±
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
˜crush™ would at least make something tangible out of those who appear
under the sign of a ˜Set™ or ˜School™, or as the disembodied followers
of names. The Italian Revolution (one of Byron™s reasons for not going
home) had lost momentum and Byron discussed the possibility of re-
turning to England with Hobhouse. The latter had ¬nally recovered the
Hints from Horace, and in a letter of ± August ±°, he urged Byron to
return and to support Queen Caroline:
come over there™s a good fellow “ I have looked out your hints from Horace “ very
good, I think, but you will not like to attack friends who are hitched into the
rhymes there. (Graham, Byron™s Bulldog, p. )
Very gently, Hobhouse reminded Byron of his shifting personal alle-
giances. Byron responded in kind to his friend™s close intermingling of
the personal and the public:
Here at Ravenna “ nobody believes the evidence against the Queen “ they
say “ that for half the money they could have any testimony they please “ this
is the public talk. “ “ The ˜Hints &c.™ are good are they? As to the friends we
can change their names unless they rhyme well “ in that case they must stand.
Except Scott and Jeffrey and Moore “ Sir B. Burgess and a few more I know no
friends who need be left out of a good poem. (BLJ, ©©, p. ±·)
Here we ¬nd Byron™s teasing return to ideas about the vacuum of hu-
man pursuits and the emptiness of poetic language: satirical targets
are interchangeable so names can be changed; only formal effects like
rhyme possess any enduring stability. Suddenly energised, however, by
the favourable communication from Hobhouse, Byron wrote to Murray
on  September ±° and demanded ˜a proof (with the Latin) of my
Hints from H[orace] &c.™:
I have a notion that with some omissions of names and passages it will do “ and
I could put my late observations for Pope among the notes with the date of ±°,
and so on. “ As far as the versi¬cation goes it is good “ and looking back to what
I wrote about that period “ I am astonished to see how little I have trained on “
I wrote better then than now “ but that comes from my having fallen into the
atrocious bad taste of the times “ partly. (BLJ, ©©, p. ±·)
Byron™s renewed interest in English culture and the exigencies of the
dispute with Hobhouse coincided in the desire to work on the Hints. The
overlap of concerns is suggested by shared terminology: Byron wrote
to Hobhouse on µ September ±° enclosing ˜some hints which may
be useful to Queeney “ and her orators™ (BLJ, ©©, p. ±°). Meanwhile,
Murray had claimed that the Queen Caroline affair was one of the factors
 Byron, Poetics and History
holding up publication of Don Juan. On  September ±° he wrote to
reassure Byron that ˜Pulci . . . & Don Juan shall also appear & the latter in
the way your Lordship desires “ as soon as the public are in the humour
to read any thing but about the Quean™ (MS., John Murray Archive).
On ± October ±° Murray sent Byron an account of the trial of the
Queen (˜How it is to terminate the Devil alone who instigated it “ can
tell™) and closed his letter with re¬‚ections on the contrasting desirability
of revolution in Italy and England:
I confess I joins [sic] in all yr regrets that a certain very important Revolution has
not taken Place “ for never was there more necessity for one “ but a Revolution
here were madness “ it is utterly impossible in the nature of Mankind “ that
we could create a new one that has baf¬‚ed ages & is yet the admiration of all
Mankind. (MS., John Murray Archive)

This is as close as Murray came to supporting violent political change,
but it is crucially only acceptable outside England: the English political
system was already perfect for ˜all Mankind™. Murray™s historical per-
spective informed his literary critical judgement and we can see how
the publisher was desperately keen to pull Byron back into mainstream
publication and non-controversial textuality.
The delay in England grew. On  September Byron sent a satirical
portrait of Rogers to Murray who received it enthusiastically:
As to the Satire it is one of the most superlative things that ever was written “ I
hastened with it the next morning to Mr. Gifford I put it into his hand without
saying a word “ and I thought he would have died with extacy “ he thinks that
if it do not surpass it at least equals anything that you have written & that there
is nothing more perfect of its kind in the language “ he knew the portrait as
readily as if the Person had been before him “ This is certainly your natural
talent and you should improve it into a Classical standard series of Satires “ &
be at once Persius “ Juvenal “ Boileau & our own Pope “ it betrays a knowledge
of human nature “ as well as identity of character that is amazing “ If you could
do this upon a plan not of selecting individuals but general Character Manners
etc you would do a national Service. ( October ±°: MS., John Murray
Archive)·

Rogers was, of course, a frequenter of Holland House and we can perhaps
detect Byron beginning to turn away from the moderate Whigs who had
attempted to undermine Hobhouse. The extravagant praise by Murray
and Gifford for this satire and Murray™s attempt to steer Byron into
˜general Character Manners™ give an indication of how keen they were as
Tories not to publish Don Juan. By relishing the satirical sketch of Rogers in
private, but urging Byron to avoid particular individuals in public print,

˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
Murray exempli¬es the prevailing attitudes to satire in his day, seeking
to engage Byron in the discussion of cultural generalities.
For a time, Byron™s involvement in the Pope/Bowles controversy ap-
pealed to Murray as a conservative literary enterprise. On · October he
replied to Byron™s complaints about the new publications sent out to him:
What you say as to the want of selection in the books which I send you is true “
but it has not been occasioned by my bad taste “ the Poems are all of them
at least Keates [sic] Croly &c by a set of fellows who are everlastingly blowing
themselves into notoriety & you will ¬nd in the last Edinb. Review that Jeffry
[sic] has allowed some of them to be praised there “ <and> the fact is I sent
these to you on purpose to provoke your contempt & give you memoranda for a
new Baviad wch we very much need to ¬‚ap away a nest of pretenders “ “ I have
written to Mr Hobhouse for the ˜Hints from Horace™ which with the novelty
which you will probably throw into it will make a very servisable [sic] as well as
a very interesting poem “ There is the English Bards printing over & over again
in Dublin & circulating in a way by poor wretches in the Country that prevents
the law from stopping it “ “ I much approve of your intention to preserve in
notes to the Hints all that you have so manfully & judiciously said about Pope “
It will come a propos for there is a great discussion upon his merits going on
now “ & Bowles who in his own edition of Pope so shamefully abused him is now
furious at an article upon this subject which appeared in the last Quarterly “
Gifford is very warmly on your side “ by way [sic] he a little resembles Pope in
character “ I wish you may have Bowless edition by you that you may see fairly
what he there said & to prevent you from judging merely from his pamphlet to

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