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and he experimented now with a much more radical and offensive Pope
than the ¬gure praised by Warton as one who, unlike Dryden, does not
˜disgust . . . with unexpected inequalities and absurd improprieties™.
Frederick Beaty sees The Age of Bronze as re¬‚ecting Byron™s ˜determination
to return to his earlier adaptations of serious, if not tragic, Juvenalian
satire™. This is certainly true, but the poem is as much a deviation as a
return. Its aesthetic choices are negotiations of the politics of reading and
±·
±·
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
represent Byron™s search for a new political identity at a time when, as
Leigh Hunt pointed out, ˜Your Lordship and your Bardship sometimes
get mightily at variance.™µ
Byron announced his new work to Leigh Hunt in January ±: ˜it is
calculated for the reading part of the Million “ being all on politics &c.
&c. &c. and a review of the day in general “ in my early English Bards
style™. The choice of form was signi¬cant and Byron referred to it again
at the end of the letter: ˜It is in the heroic couplet measure “ which is
“an old friend with a new face[”].™ The heroic couplet was indeed an
old friend for Hunt and Byron. As long ago as ±±µ they had together
discussed the criticism of Pope in Wordsworth™s ˜Essay, Supplementary
to the Preface™ (±±µ). What was at issue then was the eighteenth-century
poet™s ability to produce natural description. Wordsworth had disputed
the power of ˜the celebrated moonlight scene™ in Pope™s Iliad.· Writing
on this topic to Hunt, Byron described Wordsworth™s comments as a
˜pretension to accurate observation™:
By the way “ both he & you go too far against Pope™s “so when the Moon &c.”
it is no translation I know “ but it is not such false description as asserted “ I have
read it on the spot “ there is a burst “ and a lightness “ and a glow “ about the
night in the Troad “ which makes the “planets vivid” “ & the “pole glowing”
the moon is “ at least the sky is clearness itself “ and I know no more appropriate
expression for the expansion of such a heaven. (BLJ, ©, p. µ)
Hunt replied to Byron: ˜I was apprehensive that you might come upon
me with some objections on the score of Wordsworth.™ He conceded
that Wordsworth™s criticism of the Homeric landscape was wrong (˜You
have Wordsworth completely on the score of Greece, & on all the false
geographical representation which he attributes to the passage in Pope™),
but Hunt upheld the objection to Pope™s style:
my charge against the passage goes no further than poor versi¬cation & a
˜gorgeous misrepresentation of Homer.™ It unquestionably wants his simplicity,
the last couplet in particular; but it is not without beauties of its™ own, & it is
curious to ¬nd that it is really so like a Grecian landscape. (MS., John Murray
Archive)
Their discussion about Pope coincided with Hunt™s composition of The
Story of Rimini and with Byron™s sending to Hunt his own copy of English
Bards and Scotch Reviewers, together with an account of how Rogers had
advised its suppression so as to spare the sensibilities of Lord and Lady
Holland. The heroic couplet had therefore been bound up from the
start with poetical and political allegiances, with Hunt tending to defer
±· Byron, Poetics and History
to Wordsworth, and Byron keeping in with Holland House. During the
winter of ±“, these ˜old friends™ are revisited, but not quite on the
same terms.
Re¬‚ecting on some effects of the versi¬cation of The Story of Rimini,
Hunt observed that ˜all the reigning poets, without exception, [broke]
up their own heroic couplets into freer modulation™. Hunt™s ˜freer modu-
lation™ inevitably contested the poise and balance of Pope, Byron™s ˜most
beautiful of poets™. On the face of it, it seems strange that in ±±µ
Byron had remained on such good terms with Hunt while rounding
on many of Pope™s other detractors. What Byron did criticise at the
time was Hunt™s faith in ˜system™: ˜When a man talks of his System “
it is like a woman™s talking of her Virtue “ “ “ I let them talk on.™±°
Perhaps Hunt had dodged Byron™s condemnation by maintaining “
as he would later in his Autobiography “ that Pope was at one time his
˜closest poetical acquaintance™.±± Still, throughout his career Hunt re-
mained ambivalent about Pope™s merits. His preference for ˜super¬‚uity™
in the couplets of Rimini (and what Byron called the poem™s ˜originality “
& Italianism™) over Popean canons of correctness provides a fruitful con-
text for understanding Byron™s return to the heroic couplet in December
±.± Violent critical reactions to The Liberal at this time led both
Hunt and Byron to scrutinise the construction of cultural authority
and to re¬‚ect on the satirical resources at their disposal. For each
poet, Pope™s heroic couplets were bound up with a trial of identity and
reputation.
The characterisation of Pope as smooth, French and feminine was
common among critics as diverse as William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt and
Francis Jeffrey.± Hazlitt wrote that Dr Johnson and Pope would have
˜converted [Milton™s] vaulting Pegasus into a rocking-horse™,± an image
which Keats extended in ˜Sleep and Poetry™: ˜with a puling infant™s
force / They swayed upon a rocking horse / And thought it Pegasus™
(ll. ±µ“·). As Upali Amarasinghe notes, the image of the bard astride a
rocking horse may have been inspired by Byron in the ¬rst place. After
Leigh Hunt was released from prison in ±±µ he was visited by Byron
who used to ride ˜with a childish glee™ on the rocking-horse belonging
to Hunt™s children.±µ
Keats™s dislike of the poet who ˜cuts a ¬gure “ but . . . is not ¬gurative™
accords with the limitations of the rocking-horse (rather than the mobile
hobby-horse). Heroic couplets lacked the Miltonic reach which Keats
found in the ˜dark passages™ of ˜Tintern Abbey™ and which he sought to
emulate in the Hyperion poems.± Reviewing ˜Sleep and Poetry™, Leigh
±·µ
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
Hunt concurred with the general disparagement of what he termed ˜the
late French school of criticism and monotony which has held poetry
chained for long enough™. In the same article, however, he referred to
Pope as ˜a great poet™ who ˜was thrown into the society of the world,
and thus had to get what he could out of an arti¬cial sphere™. This was
a small quali¬cation, but it left space for a later reassessment.±·
Led by Hunt, the Cockney School™s initial absorption of the
Wordsworthian epigraph to Lyrical Ballads (±°µ), ˜Quam nihil ad genium,
Papiniane, tuum™, hindered the perception of Pope as an anti-governmental
voice. Embowered at Twickenham with Bolingbroke after the latter™s re-
turn from exile, Pope™s ˜Patriot Whig™ opposition to Walpole offered
a pattern for poetic national integrity not dissimilar to the line Hunt
and Keats traced back to Chaucer.± Both Joseph Warton™s edition and
Johnson™s account of Pope in Lives of the Poets depoliticised the poet, and
his oppositional potential was overshadowed by perceptions of style. A
more virile and combative Pope, however, was given voice in Hunt™s
motto to his journal, the Examiner: ˜Party is the madness of the many
for the gain of a few™ (ironically this quotation was attributed to Swift
throughout the ¬rst seven years of the journal).±
During Hunt™s collaboration with Byron in Italy, his preface to The
Liberal (±) identi¬ed Pope as a writer of integrity along with Chaucer,
Milton and Marvell, distinguished from the alternative crew of ˜slaves
and sycophants . . . bed-chamber lords . . . or turncoats™.° The adver-
tisement to the second volume of The Liberal drew extensively on The
Dunciad to describe the outcry raised against the journal; but Hunt™s es-
say on rhyme, ˜The Book of Beginnings™, returned to a view of Pope™s
versi¬cation as cautious, minute and ladylike (˜like a miniature-painter™;
˜Pope seems to fear every stepping-stone in his way™) with none of the
˜manly™ strength of Dryden.± Hunt presented a contradictory view:
Popean aesthetics were the symptom of an enervated arti¬cial society,
but Pope himself was its energetic scourge.
In ±°“± while defending Pope, Byron almost unwittingly endorsed
the feminisation of ˜the greatest moral poet of any age™. He sprang in a
chivalrous way to ˜poor Pope™s™ defence, defending his ˜pure moral™, as-
serting that he was ˜the only poet that never shocks™, and arguing that as
Pope was ˜less robust™ than Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, it was impossi-
ble for him to have committed the alleged rape upon her. Even Byron™s
names for Pope up to this time were emphatically feminine sobriquets
such as the ˜little Queen Anne™s man™ and ˜the “little Nightingale” of
Twickenham™. In ±“, however, Byron seems to have followed Pope™s
±· Byron, Poetics and History
own aggressive masculinisation of his poetic persona as he took on the
satiric role not of Tiresias, but Thersites.µ
The ± correspondence between Byron and Hunt suggests that
Pope was once more a topic of discussion. On ± January Byron wrote to
Hunt praising his parody and adding, ˜I send you Pope “ and Warton™s
essay also “ it is perhaps better as more condensed than his Notes to the
formal Edition.™ This most likely referred to Byron™s copies of Warton™s
nine-volume edition of Pope™s works and the second edition of volume
one of Warton™s Essay on Pope (±·), referred to as ˜much damaged™ in the
sale catalogue of ±· (perhaps a sign that Hunt had used it thoroughly).
The exchange of books suggests that having mentally cast John Murray
as one of the odious booksellers of The Dunciad (˜I had hoped that the
race of Curl and Osborne was extinct™) Byron was re-educating Hunt to
instil a fuller appreciation of Pope.·
Once again style had become (as it always was) a political issue. Byron
wrote to Hunt: ˜You think higher of readers than I do “ but I will bet
you a ¬‚ask of Falernum that the most stilted parts of the political “Age
of Bronze” “ and the most pamby portions of the <South Sea> Toobani
Islanders “ will be the most agreeable to the enlightened Public; though
I shall sprinkle some uncommon place here and there nevertheless.™ This
cynical wager suggests how knowingly Byron invoked form, and how
aesthetic choices were part of his politicised relationship with the reading
public. Byron™s last couplet poems used both Juvenalian declamatory
heroics and ˜namby-pamby™ or ˜Rimini-Pimini™ rhymes to test different
authorial voices and also different readerships. Hunt™s comments on The
Island criticised Byron™s use of the heroic couplet as ˜very rhymey and
conventional™ (suggesting that he missed the very point of Byron™s bet).
His comment tells us, however, that they were both alert to formal effects
in relation to the contemporary audience.
Back in England John Hunt kept his brother and Byron regularly
informed about the details of print runs, modes of advertising, public
response and sales. Along with Douglas Kinnaird, John Hunt was pre-
occupied with the question of whether or not to put Byron™s name to the
last cantos of Don Juan and his other new poems. In ±° Kinnaird had
begged Byron to ˜come & take some part in Politics “ Your name were
a powerful charm™, but in ± he was less sure: ˜Is your name to be
pre¬xed to the Island? Of course not to the Juans “ It is to be recollected
that if the Juans be voted improper for the female part of the public,
you lose a large sale “ .™° The Age of Bronze was published anonymously
˜by way of experiment™, as Kinnaird put it ˜& we shall have a chance of
±··
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
framing some notion of the result of publishing on your own account™.±
The correspondence of later ± and early ± marks a new phase
in Byron™s publishing career in which everyone involved was cautious
about Byron™s reputation. John Hunt wrote to reassure Byron that the
risks of publishing The Age of Bronze had been kept to a minimum:
As the Age of Bronze will all be in type at once, I shall order the copies to be
struck off as they are called for “ so that no over-printing, “ as in the case of the
Liberal, “ shall operate as a drawback upon the pro¬ts “ which will be accounted
for to be [sic] Kinnaird. (± March ±: MS., John Murray Archive)
The poem was an experiment as well, in that it knowingly revisited and
revised the allegiances of Byron™s early career.
Closed Augustan couplets were, as William Keach has pointed out,
˜something of a cultural fetish™ for the Tory traditionalists. We looked
earlier at the way in which English Bards and Scotch Reviewers employed the
Juvenalian force of Gifford™s anti-Jacobin diatribes. Carl Woodring sees
this ¬rst satire as Pittite in its cultural allegiance and suggests that between
the two periods of composing Childe Harold, Byron began ˜to align satiric
couplets . . . with the duty of conserving the best in a given heritage . . .
The satiric couplet became a tool to be picked up whenever Byron had
an impulse to preserve old furniture™. This conservatism is apparent in
the coincidence of Byron™s view on Keats™s ˜Sleep and Poetry™ with that
of Blackwood™s, and in Byron™s long-standing regard for William Gifford.
After Byron™s break with Murray and his ˜government connections™ in
±, however, this inbred sympathy with the traditionalists came under
pressure and Byron had to confront the distance between his old heroic
style and the current reception of his work.
The fabric of Byron™s poetry, as we have seen, always interweaves
traditional craftsmanship with historical contingency and the circum-
stances of reception. English Bards and Scotch Reviewers had been a sple-
netic rejection of the world of publishing (interspersed with its attacks on
political ¬gures); The Age of Bronze was a more carefully targeted repudia-
tion of the cultural and political systems that his English friends wanted
him to rejoin. Byron never broke away from Gifford™s cultural tutelage,
but he veered off far enough for Murray and Kinnaird to suspect him
of writing Ultra-Crepidarius (Leigh Hunt™s satire) against Gifford in ±.
Byron replied from Missolonghi:
It is not true that I ever did “ will “ would “ could or should write a satire against
Gifford “ or a hair of his head “ . . . I have always considered Gifford as my
literary father “ and myself as his ˜prodigal Son.™ (BLJ, ©, p. ±±·)
±· Byron, Poetics and History
Byron was aware that by associating with Leigh and John Hunt, his
˜prodigality™ would be much in evidence to English readers. Although
heroic couplets had long been the tool of established and even entrenched
political views, Byron™s return to Pope™s form represents an effort to locate
an effective position as a newly independent and increasingly radical
voice.
The idea of such ˜independence™ is not methodically worked out by
Byron, but it is a word which recurs in his letters and conversations at
this time and I would like to use its recurrence to question Malcolm
Kelsall™s view that the rejection of ˜all parties™ in Don Juan was a pointless
gesture.µ In this as well, Kelsall aligns Byron™s position with that of Pope:
the evasions and ambivalences of Pope™s and Byron™s nicely poised ironies
ultimately proved unsustainable. There was no alternative position to which
to evolve, no ˜emergent ideology™ to replace the ˜residual™. On the contrary,
what we see happening in Pope™s and Byron™s key works, The Dunciad and Don
Juan is a disintegration of language. Style (and thus ideology) falls apart.

But style doesn™t fall apart in Don Juan. Because he doesn™t look at the
interplay of different forms at the end of Byron™s career, Kelsall under-
estimates the dynamic testing and renewal of form which goes on up to
and beyond Byron™s journey to Greece. These formal experiments were a
critical way of testing the alternative position, or road not taken. Kelsall is
right about the messiness of the Whig cause after Napoleon and Peterloo
and Caroline, but Byron™s aesthetics comprehend that mess rather than
being con¬ned by it. Don Juan doesn™t ¬zzle out into a series of redundant
Whig checks and balances; it gathers itself, adjusts to the changing politics
of readership, and recreates itself. Nor is it simply a work of ˜nicely poised
ironies™. The turn to the heroic couplet in The Age of Bronze employed ˜an
old friend with a new face™ in order to explore the consciousness of
that change. Meanwhile, the couplets in The Island set out (according to
Byron) ˜to avoid . . . running foul of my old “Corsair” and style™.·
As Peter Manning has demonstrated, The Corsair was ¬rmly associated
with aristocratic Whig politics through its publication with ˜To a Lady
Weeping™. In her ground-breaking reassessment of Byron™s artistry,
Susan Wolfson ¬nds that the ˜energies of freedom and eruption are set
against the demands of constraint and conservatism™ in his use of form.
Focusing on the case of The Corsair she argues that ˜heroic couplets are
one way that Byron restores the aristocratic codes of order™, and traces
the way in which ˜shifting alliances of form and subject are forecast
by contradictions in Byron™s dedicatory preface to Moore™. Discussing
±·
˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s last digressions
Byron™s later career, Richard Cronin argues that Byron™s defence of Pope
and revival of classical drama in ±°“± were of a piece with his horri¬ed
response to the Cato Street Conspiracy and represent an attempt to
reimpose the social barrier of a classical education.° All these readings
accord with the established view that Lord Byron could only engage with
revolutionary politics outside England because he remained, at heart, an
English peer. In his last poems using heroic couplets, however, classical
allusions and digressive couplets are detached (and yet not utterly) from
their aristocratic milieu and take on a shifting alliance with the radicalism
of Leigh Hunt and Douglas Kinnaird.
Although in his Letter to John Murray Esqre. Byron had criticised the
˜“shabby genteel”™ Cockneys, he excluded Hunt from most of the at-
tack, aiming instead for Hunt™s ˜disciples™ or ˜little chorus™ (˜Of my

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