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composed between October ±°· and November ±°. It took Byron
less than a year to break off his literary liaison with Rosa Matilda, and
to publicize their separation. In fact, the breakup took somewhat longer
than that, as one can see by glancing at Byron™s ¬rst two books of verse,
both privately printed. Fugitive Pieces (±°), Byron™s ¬rst book, is distinctly
marked by that sort of “very respectable” poetry which English Bards
ridiculed in the “sentimental” verse of various writers, and particularly
in the work of Dacre and in the work of his later close friend Tom
Moore.· Byron™s second book, Poems Original and Translated (±°·), he
himself characterized as “miraculously chaste” because it represented a
deliberate effort to tone down the “sentimentalities” which had so heated
up, in their presumably different ways, the readers of Fugitive Pieces. By the
time he gets to writing English Bards Byron has abandoned the sexually
charged poetry “ the “sentimental” poetry “ which had initially seduced
him. Byron becomes “very respectable.”
In doing so, however, we have to recognize how Byron has changed
the character of his own changes. His turn (between ±° and ±±)
from what he would later call “amorous writing” (Don Juan, [hereafter in
references DJ ] V, st. ) to a concentration on satire, travelogue, and heroic
poetry was a turn from “feminine” to “masculine” modes, a turn from
Anacreon to Horace and Homer. When English Bards announced this
shift in Byron™s work by an appeal to Gifford, the poem was speci¬cally
invoking a memory of Gifford™s own satiric attack on the Della Cruscans
in his two popular satires of the ±·°s. In Byron™s case, however, the
turn involved a key self-referential feature which was entirely absent in
Gifford™s work. Gifford had never felt anything but abhorrence for Della
Cruscan and sentimental poetry, while Byron cut his poetical teeth on
it. In this respect, English Bards represents a typically Romantic act of
displacement. Charlotte Dacre, among other amorous sentimentalists,
is ridiculed in Byron™s satire, but in truth he simply attacks her for a kind
of writing which he himself had been driven from because the writing
µ·
“My brain is feminine”
had offended certain provincial readers. The attack on Dacre in the
satire is distinctly an act of bad poetic faith.
But Byron was not happy with himself for having bowed to the prudery
of Southwell society in suppressing Fugitive Pieces, and Hours of Idleness was
an effort to keep some faith with Charlotte Dacre even as he acceded
to certain of the wishes of Southwell™s “knot of ungenerous critics.”±° In
English Bards, however, Byron made a complete “ but as we shall see, not a
¬nal nor a clean “ break with Rosa Matilda, and he did so because Hours
of Idleness was still judged too mawkish and sentimental “ this time not by
a provincial audience, but by the mighty and male Edinburgh Review. Of
course, Byron struck back at his accusers with his ¬rst famous satire, but
in doing so he adopted the style and the language of his attackers. Byron
became what he beheld, and in the process Rosa Matilda fell, in Byron™s
eyes, from grace. The process is one in which Byron tries to redeem
himself and his work by making a scapegoat of writers and writing which
had given literal birth to his own imagination.
And so “The Mountain Violet” drops away from the Byron canon.
It is in fact a spurious text, quite inauthentic; nonetheless, it stands as
a sign of a deeper kind of authenticity which Byron would struggle his
entire life to regain.

II

“Sentimental” poetry “ the term will be taken here in its technical and
historical sense “ was associated with women writers in particular, though
a great many male poets wrote sentimental verse. As a pejorative term
it came to stand in general for writing which made a mawkish parade of
spurious feelings. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,
however, such work was as frequently deplored for immodesty and even
indecency; and the attacks were all the more virulent because so many
women, both as writers and as readers, found important resources in this
kind of work. To many, and especially to those (men and women both)
who felt called upon to guard public morals, the whole thing seemed
improper or worse; nor were the attacks without foundation.±±
Crucial to sentimental poetry is the centrality of love to human expe-
rience and “ more signi¬cantly “ the idea that true love had to involve a
total intensity of the total person “ mind, heart, and (here was the stick-
ing point) body. Love could be betrayed at any of those centres, and a
betrayal of the body (through either lust or a prudish fastidiousness) was
as disastrous as a betrayal of the mind or heart. Indeed, a betrayal at any
µ Byron and Romanticism
point was the equivalent of a sin, for the “sentimental” soul was equally
diffused through the entire sensorium. The stylistic index of sentimental
poetry, therefore, is a peculiar kind of self-conscious ¬‚eshliness. Dacre™s
poem “The Kiss” provides a good example of the style “ for instance,
the ¬rst stanza.

The greatest bliss
Is in a kiss”
A kiss by love re¬n™d,
When springs the soul
Without controul,
And blends the bliss with mind.

Sentimental poetry strives to be both emotionally intense and completely
candid. Its purpose is to “bring the whole soul of man [and woman] into
activity,” an event which, in the context of such writing, means that it is to
bring along the whole person “ mind and body as well. So the paradoxes
of this poem swirl about the demand for an experience that is at once
completely impassioned (“without controul”), completely physical, and
yet perfectly “re¬n™d” as well. The poem solicits a wild erotics of the
imagination where blissful consummations occur in and through, or
“with,” the “mind.”
Byron and all the Romantics wrote a great deal of sentimental
poetry “ this is precisely why they were attacked by modernist ideologues
like Hulme, Babbitt, and Eliot. Keats and Shelley are probably our
greatest sentimental poets, but even Wordsworth™s verse is marked
by sentimentality. Wordsworth, however, made a life™s work out of
“subliming,” as it were, the project of sentimentalism “ attempting
to show that the “sensations sweet / Felt in the blood and felt along
the heart” were actually the impulses of “something far more deeply
interfused,” something he called “the purer mind” (“purer,” that is, be-
cause it had to be distinguished from the sort of mind that Dacre was
describing).±
But as Wordsworth was moved by a spiritual transcendence of sen-
suality and sexuality, Byron plunged completely into the contradictions
which sentimentalism had come to involve for him. While these contra-
dictions no doubt have deep psychological roots, I am incompetent to
explore such matters. What is clear, at the social and personal level, is
that Byron reconstructed those contradictions in his work.
We begin to see this in the myth of the relations between men and
women which he deploys in his poetry between ±° and ±±. This
µ
“My brain is feminine”
involves a misogynist inversion of a central myth of the sentimentalist
program. According to the sentimentalist idea, when an individual only
pretends to the intensities and sensitivities of sentimental love, he (or she)
betrays not merely the persons who are love-engaged, they betray love
itself in its fullest expression. Byron accepts the sentimentalist terms of
the entire transaction: that love-relations will be cast along the norm
of heterosexuality; that the partner (in Byron™s case, the ¬gure of the
woman) is his epipsyche; and that a total love-experience “ physical,
mental, and spiritual “ is the goal.
The “reality-principle” in this myth (and the term must be put in
quotation because it stands only for a myth of reality) is that Byron™s sen-
timental beloveds (who turn out plural, if not legion) continually betray
the contract of love.± At times Byron will implicate himself in these
betrayals of love “ for example in the early Childe Harold when, in the lyric
“To Florence,” he writes of the “wayward, loveless heart” of the wan-
dering “ in several senses “ Childe. But even in his Childe Harold mode
Byron typically represents himself as a man devoted to love yet contin-
ually driven from it, or deprived of it, by circumstance. Byron wants to
imagine himself true to love, but cruelly kept from it by interventions
beyond his control: the time will be right but the place will be wrong;
both time and place will be right, but the social or political structure of
the events will make an impediment; or all circumstances will be prov-
ident, except the ages of the parties; and so forth. In any case, love is
lost “ mysteriously, fatally lost, but not by the will of Childe Byron, who
is at all times and in all places love-devoted.
That Byronic constancy maintains itself despite the fact that its ideal-
object, the feminine beloved, appears as a ¬gure of repeated deceits and
betrayals. Sometimes the beloved is lost circumstantially (for example
through an untimely death) but she also moves away by her “wandering,”
by attaching herself to someone else. Mary Chaworth, Susan Vaughan,
Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, even Lady Caroline Lamb: accord-
ing to this legend, all prove to be, if not positively “false,” then at least
“¬ckle.”±
This Byronic myth is set down between ±° and ±± in a series of
lyrics composed with these and perhaps several other women in mind.±µ
The three most important, and even astonishing, poems in this series
are “[Again Deceived! Again Betrayed]”, written to the servant-girl
Susan Vaughan; the lyric addressed to Lady Caroline Lamb that begins
“Go “ triumph securely “ that treacherous vow”; and lastly “When We
Two Parted,” a poem written in memory of Lady Frances Wedderburn
° Byron and Romanticism
Webster. The ±±“±±· poems written to and about his wife and his
sister, including Manfred, involve a culminant and critical turn upon the
entire pattern, and establish the ground on which the last six years of
Byron™s poetry will be written.
Though a general myth of social and psychic dysfunction, the Byronic
malaise is most acutely expressed as a failure of love. A central represen-
tation of the myth is forthrightly stated in the opening lines of the ¬rst of
the works just mentioned, the lyric addressed to Susan Vaughan.

Again deceived! again betrayed!
In manhood as in youth,
The dupe of every smiling maid
That ever “lied like truth”. ”

The poem™s idea is that Byron, for all his experience in love, simply never
learns “ that he is too fond, too sentimental. Not that he fails to recognize
his own ¬ckleness; as he points out in the third stanza,

In turn deceiving or deceived
The wayward Passion roves,
Beguiled by her we most believed,
Or leaving her who loves.

But the typography and syntax here de¬‚ect the self-accusation even as
it presses its charges against the “smiling maid.” What “roves” here
is not “Byron” or even the speaker of the lines, it is “The wayward
Passion,” the latter word capitalized in order to depersonalize further
Byron™s involvement. Besides, Byron™s persona in these transactions never
smiles, like the deceitful “maid”; he is too heartbroken for that, too
sentimental.
The poem, in other words, is a peculiar exercise in “lying like truth,”
a work which once again deceives and betrays sentimental love by its
pretences to faithfulness and candor. The occasion of the poem, we know,
was Byron™s discovery that he was not the only lover of the Newstead
servant-girl Susan Vaughan. In the illusion that he was, Byron was equally
deceiving himself and deceived by her. But the greater deception of the
poem, and the source of its strength, lies in its assent to its own self-
deceptions. This is the deception which makes the poem turn its sting
back on itself, like the famous scorpion in The Giaour. The epigraph Byron
placed at the head of the poem appears ¬nally not to be a comment on
Susan Vaughan or women generally, but a gloss on the poem itself.
±
“My brain is feminine”
I pull in resolution and begin
To doubt the equivocation of the ¬end
That lies like truth. (Macbeth)

Finally this poem shows itself to be most concerned with how the mind
and its constructions wound and betray one™s life. Manfred will be the
culminant text in this important line of Byronic work. It is not the his-
torical Susan Vaughan who is the deceiver in this poem, it is the ¬gura
of the woman which the work conjures up and sets in motion. It is, in
short, Byron™s own mind and imagination “ the “author” of this ¬gure
of Susan Vaughan who uses his writing to “lie like truth” both about her
and about the persona of himself offered in the poem. By the time this
author writes Manfred he will be able to see the entire pattern of this kind
of writing more clearly. “I loved her, and destroy™d her!” Manfred says
of his epipsyche Astarte (, , ±±·), thereby expressing what amounts, in
this Byronic myth, to a double tautology (for both pronouns and verbs
in this sentence are equivalent).
The poem Byron wrote about Lady Caroline Lamb is perhaps an even
more breathtaking display of “lying like truth.”

Go”triumph securely”the treacherous vow
Thou hast broken I keep but too faithfully now,
But never again shall thou be to my heart
What thou wert”what I feel for a moment thou art.
To see thee, to love thee! what breast could do more?
To love thee to lose thee ™twere vain to deplore;
Ashamed of my weakness however beguiled,
I shall bear like a Man what I feel like a Child.

At ¬rst these lines seem hard to understand “ at least as we read them
in their topical context, that is, in ±±, and at the height of Byron™s
torrid affair with Lady Caroline.± The poem distinctly recalls the lines to
Susan Vaughan, which Byron had written only shortly before and which,
in one of the two manuscript versions, he had begun “Again beguiled!
again betrayed!” not ˜Again deceived.” Once again we meet the ¬gura
of the repeated deceiver whose name only changes. The problem is,
however, that in fact Lady Caroline remained perfectly faithful to Byron
in ±±. What does the poem have in mind, then, when it speaks of her
“treacherous vow”?
The answer is: her marriage vow to her husband! The agony of the
lover here, of Byron, lies in his awareness that he is love-devoted to a
 Byron and Romanticism
woman whose return of love for him involves a betrayal elsewhere. The
poem therefore sets out to imagine the futurity of such a love-relationship,
to imagine the certainty of Byron™s loss of her and the corresponding
certainty of her “career” of deceit.
For the ¬rst step of error none e™er could recall,
And the woman once fallen forever must fall;
Pursue to the last the career she begun,
And be false unto many as faithless to one.

Such words! “ from a lover to his beloved, from Byron to a woman whom
he knew had broken her marriage vow only for him! Priggish? Ungrate-
ful? The lines defy adequate characterization because they represent
such a fundamental betrayal of love and of truthfulness. Sentimental
poets like Charlotte Dacre “ and like Byron earlier (and later) in his
career “ declare that love may be betrayed not only by unfaithfulness,
by “wandering,” but equally by moral priggishness and prudery. This
truly amazing poem shows how the two kinds of betrayal are, as the
sentimentalist program insisted, reciprocals of each other, a dialectic of
what Blake described as the love-torments of spectre and emanation.
“When we Two Parted” in a way completes Byron™s portrait of this
circle of deceptions “ completes it, ¬rst, because the poem explicitly links
itself to “Go “ triumph securely”; and second, because Byron for the ¬rst
time deliberately casts the poem as a work of deception.±· In later years he
told his cousin Lady Hardy, in what was only apparitionally a “private”
communication, that the poem was written about his affair with Lady
Frances Wedderburn Webster, and that when he published it in ±± he
printed it with a purposely “false date,” ±°. The poem was actually

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