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As Schiller™s famous essay argued, “the sentimental” in litera-
ture is a ¬gure of literary self-consciousness. In the analytic dyad
naive/sentimental, “naive” is a term generated by the critical power
of the idea of the sentimental. “Naive” poetry exists, ¬rst, because it has
been turned upon by a critical self-consciousness; and second, because
that self-consciousness “ in a paradoxical move “ declares “the naive”
to be the primary and generative term so far as poetry is concerned.
In this sense, to be sentimental is already to have deployed a form of
“romantic irony.”
Macpherson™s fragments from Ossian, and more especially the sub-
sequent controversies over those works, nicely illustrate the polemic
involved in Schiller™s position. So far as English Romantic poetry is
±° Byron and Romanticism
concerned, the project of the Lyrical Ballads corresponds to the project of
Schiller™s essay. In Wordsworth™s and Coleridge™s work, ballad is to naive
what lyrical is to sentimental. Wordsworth™s critical formulation of the
dialectic came in the Preface of the Lyrical Ballads when he distinguished
“emotion recollected in tranquillity” from the “spontaneous over¬‚ow of
powerful feelings.” Poetry springs from the latter and depends upon it as
a primary source of “feeling.” As an artistic and compositional practice,
however, poetry for Wordsworth is a recollective and secondary event.
It is an act of self-consciousness. It is, in Schiller™s sense, “sentimental.”
Romantic writing thus involves a negotiation of two kinds of feeling:
on one hand, spontaneous and naive feelings (for example, in the poetry
of Robert Burns, or in the characters in “The Idiot Boy”); on the other,
re¬‚exive and internalized feelings (“the bliss of solitude”). More than
anyone else, Wordsworth de¬ned this dialectic for English poetry. It is,
as we know, a story of loss and gain “ loss of the naive, acquirement of
the sentimental:

We will grieve not, rather ¬nd
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be . . .
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
(“Ode. Intimations of Immortality,” ±°“±, ±)

That “mind” is precisely not the Enlightenment mind. It is philosophical
because it stands opposed to the critical intelligence of the philosophe, a
¬gure speci¬cally (and ironically) invoked in Wordsworth™s phrase “philo-
sophic mind.” Not a contentious and worldly mind, Wordsworth™s is a
“purer mind,” affective and childlike “ a mind turned from murder-
ous and socially divisive dissections toward healings, consolations, and
“tranquil restoration.”
The so-called Greater Romantic Lyric dramatizes the workings of this
type of mind.± (For the reader of such work, the poems are an educational
machinary disseminating the Wordsworthian mind through the culture
at large.) The conventions of the form are well known: a movement into
a scene of solitude, typically a solitude in Nature; a meditation on and
within that place, which serves as a ¬gure (and map) of lost regions of
a more primal self; an encounter with the lost self and its desires, more
or less direct; ¬nally, a separation that leaves the mental traveller more
deeply attached either through the pain of this (now self-conscious) loss,
or through a faith in a suprapersonal order of benevolence that maintains
±°
Byron and the anonymous lyric
these attachments beyond one™s personal will or control. The exemplary
Romantic form of that conceptual order (which is “sentimental” and
self-conscious) was elaborated in Germany by Hegel.
Byron™s deviant relation to this Romantic program becomes clear
when we study the dynamic of his various natural meditations. For
example, as Childe Harold is travelling from Spain to Albania in Canto II
of his poem, his maritime solitude becomes the locus for a Romantic col-
loquy (sts. “·). The Childe™s meditation is specially notable because
it is a kind of second-order meditation. This is not simply a meditation
within a natural solitude, the Childe is meditating upon the idea of such
meditations. The thematic core of the passage contrasts the solitude of
nature, which appears bountiful, with the solitude of society. Although
the latter displays as much energy as the former, it appears a corrosive
and destructive energy and hence something to be ¬‚ed. The idea of
taking ¬‚ight culminates the meditative sequence:

More blest the life of godly Eremite,
Such as on lonely Athos may be seen,
Watching at Eve upon the giant height,
That looks o™er waves so blue, skies so serene,
That he who there at such an hour hath been
Will wistful linger on that hallow™d spot;
Then slowly tear him from the witching scene,
Sigh forth one wish that such had been his lot,
Then turn to hate a world he had almost forgot.

The conclusion deliberately works a shocking inversion of the
conventional Romantic topos of nature. Structurally the text repeats
the Wordsworthian ideas (a) that feeling is primary, and (b) that
“powerful feeling” (the naive) is dialectically connected to “tranquil”
emotions (the sentimental). Here, however, that dialectic undergoes a
reinterpretation of great importance. In simplest terms, Byron™s pas-
sage through a Romantic meditation on nature does not conclude
in a Wordsworthian “tranquil restoration” but in a characteristically
Byronic turn to passion and savagery. Most startling of all is the
presentation of hatred as the emblematic sign of Byron™s “naive” poetical
condition.±
This Byronic structure of feeling “ the pursuit of primal and naive
spontaneities through an adverse study of memory and sentiment “ dom-
inates all his work. Canto III of Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage, so often read as
Byron™s “Lakist Interlude,” in fact represents his de¬nitive anatomy and
±° Byron and Romanticism
rejection of Wordsworth™s “philosophic mind.” This happens literally in
sts. ±°“±°·, where Byron pledges his allegiance to the philosophes Voltaire
and Gibbon, and to their programs of critical con¬‚ict with the conven-
tional world. Furthermore, he takes this position following his conscious
pursuit of the meaning of Romantic revery and Romantic nature.
The structure of the canto as a whole replicates the structure of the
brief passage we just examined from Canto II. Byron (no longer wearing
the mask of the Childe) departs “the world” and its scenes of violence
and con¬‚ict. This violence appears in unmasked political forms early in
the canto, when Byron calls back the climactic events of the Napoleonic
War. That political scene comprises the emblem of wars that are at once
more primal, more personal, and more secret.
Like Manfred, Byron begins by seeking forgetfulness and an escape
from the tumult of emotional con¬‚ict. His conscious desire is that the
strife of his passions might undergo moderated and sympathetic trans-
formations: in the earlier words of the Giaour, “To rest, but not to feel ™tis
rest.” The famous “Wordsworthian” scenes in the canto, however, which
are charged with such transformative powers, barely detain Byron. He
engages those scenes as the Childe had engaged them in Cantos I“II, and
as Manfred would shortly engage them again: as vehicles for restoring
a commitment to elemental passion “ indeed, as vehicles for gaining an
immediate recovery of such passion.
In this connection, two passages in Canto III are especially signi¬cant.
The poem climaxes in the famous Jungfrau Storm sequence, where the
full force of Byronic passion is exteriorized. Following the logic of Byron™s
initial conscious desires, the storm breaks only to bring a clear sky and
images of peacefulness and love. Concealed within the storm, however,
are Byron™s deepest and most savage feelings “ feelings at once completely
personal and wholly elemental:

Could I embody and unbosom now
That which is most within me,”could I wreak
My thoughts upon expression, and thus throw
Soul, heart, mind, passions, feelings, strong or weak,
All that I would have sought, and all I seek,
Bear, know, feel, and yet breathe”into one word,
And that one word were Lightning, I would speak;
But as it is, I live and die unheard,
With a most voiceless thought, sheathing it as a sword.
(st. ·)
±°µ
Byron and the anonymous lyric
Because the object of Byron™s stormy passion is not actually named,
this text™s true “thought” “ the wit here is typically Byronic “ remains
literally “voiceless.” Byron speaks his mind by holding his tongue. The
effect is to represent the presence of a psychic force that dwarfs even the
Jungfrau™s storm. No language is adequate to the enormity of Byron™s
desire “ because that desire must match the enormity of its reciprocal, the
righteously inverted betrayal of desire executed by Byron™s unnamed en-
emies. (Readers have always recognized the enemy being imagined here
in textual silence: on one hand, the collective Spirit of English moral
hypocrisy, on the other the Spirit™s immediate avatar, Byron™s “moral
Clytemnestra.”)±µ Byron™s savage desire in this passage is therefore liter-
ally beyond nature, an unnatural response to the behavior and the desire
of his antagonists. Theirs is the anti-nature of moral virtue, Byron™s is the
anti-nature that demands a morality beyond the order of moral virtue.
The demand cannot be met in the normative orders of time and space
(traditional nature), history and society (Hegelian Spirit). The sheathed
sword of stanza · represents an insurgent but hopeless energy:
Their breath is agitation, and their life
A storm whereon they ride, to sink at last,
And yet so nurs™d and bigotted to strife,
That should their days, surviving perils past,
Melt to calm twilight, they feel overcast
With sorrow and supineness, and so die;
Even as a ¬‚ame unfed, which runs to waste
With its own ¬‚ickering, or as a sword laid by
Which eats into itself, and rusts ingloriously.
(st. )

Exactly forecasting the textual events of the Jungfrau passage, this
stanza explains the demonic, Lucretian character of the “Love” ¬gured in
the benevolent apparition of Clarens (sts. “±°) following the Jungfrau
storm. Byron presents the scene at Clarens as a special moment of clarity,
the immediate reciprocal of the deceased storm. Far from an emblem of
a universally benevolent Nature, the Clarens passage is exactly that “
a mere moment in the being of Byron™s ominous Lucretian silence.
The wonderful irony of the passage comes from the historical associ-
ation of Clarens with Rousseau. A Byronic ¬gure of absolute contra-
diction, Rousseau is at once representative of natural benevolence and
the “apostle of af¬‚iction” (st. ··): the self-torturing terrorist of freedom,
devoured by love (see sts. ·“).
±° Byron and Romanticism
Byron™s argument throughout the canto is the same: that no “abun-
dant recompense” (existential or artistic) can accommodate one to the
departure of elemental emotional life or naive art. More than this, he
argues that the installation of a program of such recompenses “ whether
psychological or poetic “ installs a secret ministry that, when allowed to
run its full course, will ultimately draw one back to the elemental. For
Byron, the dialectic of loss and gain is endless, nor does it culminate in
any “higher order” or synthesis. According to this argument, death itself,
which Manfred deliberately undertakes, puts no period to the dialectic.
As Byron says in the fourth canto of Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage:

But there is that within me which shall tire
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire;
Something unearthly, which they deem not of.
(st. ±·)

To achieve this peculiar kind of immortality requires a perpetuation of
resistance and strife, a refusal of what Wordsworth called “primal sym-
pathy.” It is to choose instead, with Blake, primal energy, primal con¬‚ict.


III

Byron turns all his subjects into lyrical forms. He protested when his con-
temporaries identi¬ed him with Harold, the Giaour, the Corsair, Lara,
and so forth. Because these ¬gurae are consciously manipulated masks,
one has to read them “ as Coleridge might have said “ in terms of a
“sameness with difference.” The poetry lies exactly in the relation, in
the dialectical play between corresponding apparitional forms: on one
side, the spectacular poet “ the man cut into a Keatsian ¬gure, the per-
son translated into what the Byronic texts call “a name”;± on the other,
the various ¬ctional and historical selvings. In Byronic masquerade we
have dif¬culty distinguishing ¬gure from ground because the presump-
tive ground, “the real Lord Byron,” becomes a ¬gural form in the poetry.
The anonymous lyric depends upon this stylistic procedure and sets
up a hypo-critical contract with the Romantic reader. The texts deliver
a merciless revelation of a uniform condition “ a kind of “universal
darkness,” but beyond the imagination of The Dunciad because Byron™s
revelatory text has itself been imagined in the darkness.
I am not of this people, or this age,
And yet my harpings will unfold a tale
±°·
Byron and the anonymous lyric
Which shall preserve these times when not a page
Of their perturbed annals could attract
An eye to gaze upon their civil rage
Did not my verse embalm full many an act
Worthless as they who wrought it: ™tis the doom
Of spirits of my order to be rack™d
In life, to wear their hearts out, and consume
Their days in endless strife, and die alone;
Then future thousands crowd around their tomb,
And pilgrims come from climes where they have known
The name of him”who now is but a name.
(The Prophecy of Dante, I, ±“±µµ)

Is this text “about” Byron or is it about Dante, about Italy or about
England? Is Lord Byron recollecting the great Tuscan poet, or are we to
read it the other way round “ with this textual Dante prophecying his
future British avatar? Furthermore, this structure of convertibility turns
everything into its opposite. Byron/Dante declares “I am not of this peo-
ple, or this age” but his verse “embalms” the “worthless” acts of the age.
As the remarkable wordplay in “harpings” suggests, a Mephisto comedy
plays about this text. The word “embalm” is especially volatile since it
connects the poet™s work with corpsed forms “ as if he (Dante/Byron)
were a literal ¬gure of the nightmare life-in-death that he perceives all
about him. To consult such a poet one has to visit his tomb, where one
encounters merely his “name.” The tombstone™s engraved letters enter
the text as a sign that even before death the poet lives a post-mortem
existence.
In his Preface to the poem Byron associates his “prophecy” with
the vision of Cassandra, whose prophetic truth shares the doom of
Troy. Like Cassandra and Dante “ like some utterly bleak democrat
of Wordsworth™s Preface to Lyrical Ballads “ Byron is “a man like any
other men,” but his endowment “with more lively sensibilities” gives
him the darkened eye of a seer like Cassandra:
All that a citizen could be I was;
Raised by thy will, all thine in peace or war,
And for this thou hast warr™d with me,”™Tis done:
I may not overleap the eternal bar
Built up between us, and will die alone,
Beholding, with the dark eye of a seer,
The evil days to gifted souls foreshown,
Foretelling them to those who will not hear.
(IV, ±“±µ±)
±° Byron and Romanticism
This is no self-celebrating text. Byron™s citizenship “ the social and
cultural position he sought and achieved “ establishes his special identity
with his own world. Like the Napoleon of Childe Harold Canto III, the

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