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slyly disingenuous. See the discussion of these matters in Poetical Works, vi,
±°“±±.
±° On the Marine Pavilion see Lewis Melville (pseud. for Lewis Saul Benjamin),
Brighton, Its History, Its Follies, and Its Fashions (London: Chapman & Hall, ±°),
esp. chap. III, “The Prince of Wales and the Marine Pavilion.” The Pavilion
was begun in ±··, and when its last additions were completed it had cost
altogether over £·°,°°°. The public was ¬rst admitted to view the Pavilion
in ±°. It was this public viewing that triggered Byron™s poetical response
in Sardanapalus, just as it was the completion of the constructions in ± that
was the immediate occasion of Don Juan, Canto xiv, st. .
±± In an excellent study (“ ˜A Problem Few Dare Imitate™: Sardanapalus and
˜Effeminate Character™”) Susan Wolfson likewise remarks on the con¬‚icting
forms of Byron™s self-projections in the play: “Byron™s Ravenna was already
under foreign domination, and the politics were all concerned with revolt and
subversion. Byron was participating with money, advice, and collaboration.
In this respect he was acting as one of the rebel satraps, rather than as
Sardanapalus” (·). See the essay in ELH, µ (±±), ·“°.
± There is a sense in which he also donned that mask in The Age of Bronze.
± Lady Byron said of Manfred that it was meant “to perplex the reader, ex-
citing without answering curiosity” (see Malcolm Elwin, Lord Byron™s Family
[London: John Murray, ±·µ], ±·µ).
± The Hon. Mrs. George Villiers, who was the con¬dante both of Byron™s
wife and of his sister as well, had no trouble reading the text of Manfred as a
masquerade of the truth. For a good discussion of these matters see Ralph
Milbanke, Earl of Lovelace™s Astarte (London: Chiswick Press, ±°µ), chap. .

CHAPTER


Byron and the lyric of sensibility




In our recent revaluations of Romanticism we have certainly neglected
Byron™s lyric work “ a signal neglect since his in¬‚uence on nineteenth-
century lyric was so great. But to take up this topic is also quickly to
discover that the issues involved are large ones. When you open the
subject of Byron™s lyric poetry, you reopen the subject of Romantic forms
in general.
It is a commonplace of literary history that Romanticism instituted
a poetic renewal, in particular a renewal of the lyric. With the com-
ing of modernism, when another upheaval of poetic imagination took
place, Romantic forms came under severe critical scrutiny. The critique
focused on the conventions of Romantic subjectivity and the idea “ or
the ideology “ of “spontaneous over¬‚ow.” Those two famous “fallacies”
of writing “ “the intentional fallacy” and “the affective fallacy” “ are
obverse and reverse of the same coin. The one is a warning to critics,
the other a warning to poets: “Beware Romanticism.”
I recall these matters in order to supply a background for M. H.
Abrams™s celebrated essay “Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic
Lyric.”± His argument doesn™t need rehearsing. Brie¬‚y, Abrams drew on
New Critical approaches to seventeenth-century poetry (in particular its
various “poetries of meditation”) to fashion his in¬‚uential description
of Romantic lyric form. The persuasiveness of Abrams™s essay comes
partly from his excellent analysis of a special kind of lyric “ the express
subject of the essay “ and partly from an oblique set of moves to avoid the
main line of modernist attack. The association of a “greater romantic
lyric” with seventeenth-century writing, which is implicit in the essay™s
argument, is a shrewd maneuver. Abrams thereby connected Romantic
poetry with a heritage of lyric writing that had come to de¬ne how
criticism ought to think about poetry in the twentieth century. Abrams
went on to show “ rightly, to my mind “ that the poetic locus called
“romantic nature” could be used, was in fact used, as a transcendental
±°
±±
Byron and the lyric of sensibility
ground for wayward or disturbed subjectivity. The drama of such uses
Abrams called “the greater romantic lyric.” From this vantage Romantic
poetry would be seen not as emotional over¬‚ow but as a redemption from
such over¬‚ows “ not an expression of personality but rather what Eliot
preferred, an “escape from personality.”
Our problem with Abrams™s account lies not in what it does but in what
it leaves undone. “Byron and the Anonymous Lyric” was partly written
to show “the structure of ” another key form of Romantic lyricism. The
“structure” of the latter is very different from the one sketched by Abrams.
Its lord is not rule but misrule; for emotion recollected in tranquillity it
substitutes a derangement of the senses; in place of redemption, a Batail-
lian expenditure. If a colloquy with Nature is essayed, Byron™s Nature
is more Lucretian than Rousseauist “ as dangerous as it is dependable,
and marked more by indifference than by love or benevolent ministries.
If Romantic writing induces and displays emotional crisis, Byron gives a
distinctive tone to the crisis. The great paradox of the Byronic lyric, ¬rst
explicitly noted by Baudelaire, is that it tends to an impersonality “ an
“anonymity” “ quite unlike those “¬rst affections” pursued in Abrams™s
Wordsworthian and Coleridgean lyrics. What Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and
Flaubert valued in Byron™s writing was exactly its psychic coldness “ that
Byronic move to entertain or undergo extremes of emotional experience
with a kind of indifference of consciousness.
In this respect the case of Byron exposes an even larger truth about the
diversity of Romantic lyricism. The Romantic meditative forms pursued
by Coleridge and Wordsworth, as well as the Satanic excesses (of thought
and feeling alike) engaged by Byron, are both secondary historical de-
velopments so far as Romanticism is concerned. Each evolves from two
earlier related lyric styles that supplied fundamental terms for Romantic
lyric of whatever kind. This earlier poetry corresponds to what mod-
ernism would turn so sharply against: a writing that privileges and
expresses feeling as such.
One strain of such writing appeared in the verse of the Della Cruscan
poets, who dominated the poetry scene during the ±·°s. Drawing inspi-
ration from recent traditions of sentimental writing, and in particular the
tradition of Sterne, the Della Cruscans made the self-conscious pursuit
of love the center of their work. This love ranged from a kind of universal
benevolence at one end “ many of the Della Cruscans were Jacobins or
at least sympathizers with the goals of Jacobinism “ to the intensities of
personal, erotic engagement at the other. At its best and most distinctive,
Della Cruscan poetry pursues a metaphysics of sentimentality. The work
± Byron and Romanticism
is therefore marked by extreme paradoxes, the most important being
its cultivation of exquisite or powerful feelings alongside a heightened
intellectual awareness.
The movement launched itself in ±·µ, when a group of English ex-
patriates privately printed a collection of verse in Florence. The Florence
Miscellany is a book of poetry dedicated explicitly to pleasure: as
Mrs. Piozzi remarks in her Preface, these writings grew from having
“glistened innocently in Italian Sunshine; and . . . imbibed from it™s rays
the warmth of mutual Benevolence” (). Mrs. Piozzi™s comment con-
nects an ideology of sentimental feeling (“mutual Benevolence”) with an
imagination of unspoiled natural environment and pure (in both senses)
physical pleasure. Some of the early Wordsworth, much of Coleridge, and
even more of Burns, recollect or run parallel to this writing™s dramatic
portrayal of the marriage of self-conscious wit to animal spirits.
Della Cruscan love poetry is most notable for its startling mixtures of
incongruous signifying markers: it pursues at once spontaneity and ex-
treme arti¬ce, it privileges natural settings in the most urbane and
sophisticated tones, it exalts love in erotic terms that emphasize and
even privilege the so-called lower senses (touch and taste especially). It
maps the geography of “the feeling mind” (II, ) and the “sensate heart”
(II, ±·±). In its notorious cultivation of poetic extravagance we trace a
style committed to a Lockean idealization of experience.
In these endeavors the writing and exchange of poetry become
essential. Della Cruscan verse typically develops as a dialogue of
love (most famously between Della Crusca/Robert Merry and Anna
Matilda/Hannah Cowley) where dialogue itself enacts the experience
and stimulates the desire. In the world of Della Crusca, lovers meet only
in the ¬elds of their own immediate language, where

The lustre of poetic ray
Should wake an arti¬cial day.
(I, ±±)

In this proto-Baudelairean paradise the cultivation of the literal and the
immediate generates an experience of unreality and extravagance.

Let but thy lyre impatient sieze,
Departing Twilight™s ¬lmy breeze,
That winds th™ enchanted chords among,
(I, ·)
In lingering labyrinth of song.
±
Byron and the lyric of sensibility
As so often in this style of verse, the distinction between the literal and
the natural, between poetry and reality, is attacked and undermined.
What rules here are the conscious intensities of erotic desire:
Let the mean bosom crave its love™s return,
Thine shall with more distinguish™d ardors burn:
To know the passion”yes, be that thy strain,
Invoke the god of the mysterious pain!
(“Anna Matilda,” “To Reuben,” I, µ“µµ)

Erotic passion functions through extreme self-consciousness. To expe-
rience it properly requires one to “know the passion,” to be on ¬re at
once in the body and in the mind. The ¬res are to be deliberately set and
carefully maintained at the most intense level (the ideal of intensity being
represented here, and generally in Della Cruscan writing, through the
sign of love™s “pain”). The poetry instructs one to choose an abandonment
to the sovereignty of Eros.
In the last passage that theme locates itself perhaps most remark-
ably in the word “distinguish™d,” which carries its full freight of diverse
meanings. Cowley demands “ardors” of several kinds and each is to
be known and experienced separately, clearly, distinctly: not a lump of
“sensations sweet” but one ardor as it were at a time, each gaining its
qualitative ¬neness partly because the ardors can and should be physical
and quanti¬able.
These rules (of love and of art alike) require a poetry that chooses and
consciously constructs its freedoms “ a poetry that puts its own choices
on display. Once again, Cowley:
And be thy lines irregular and free,
Poetic chains should fall before such Bards as thee . . .
Bid her in verse meand™ring sport;
Her footsteps quick, or long, or short,
(I, )
Just as her various impulse wills”

As the sign of a conscious design, irregular verse here marks a decision to
forgo what Cowley punningly calls all “Vapid Content.” Cowley wants
to enact rather than merely deliver a poetic message, and she writes in
avoidance of poetic regularities, which are imagined as merely following
a debased pleasure principle here named, contemptuously, “the bliss of
T A S T E.” She is pursuing orders of pleasure and of poetry at once higher
and lower, more natural and more arti¬cial:
± Byron and Romanticism
Hast thou known Love™s enchanting pain”
Its hopes, its woes, and yet complain?
Thy senses, at a voice, been lost,
Thy madd™ning soul in tumults tost?
Ecstatic wishes ¬re thy brain”
These, hast thou known, and yet complain?
Thou then deserv™st ne™er more to FEEL . . .
Ne™er shalt thou know again to sigh,
Or, on a soft idea die;
Ne™er on a recollection gasp;
Thy arms, the air-drawn charmer, never grasp.
(“To Della Crusca,” I, )


This is a poetry of Romantic wit where a marriage is made between
an intense eroticism and contemporary speculative philosophy. Its lack
of apparent spontaneity “ the forwardness of its rhetoric “ is not a fault
but a measure of its self-consciousness. Such writing drew the ¬re of
conservative critics like William Gifford for arguing (note: arguing!) that
pleasure, love, and philosophy were related activities and were all to be
deliberately, artistically pursued. (The Sadean parallels are real enough
and should be critically explored.)
In the early ±·°s Coleridge “ who after all named one of his chil-
dren Hartley “ wrote in similar ways.µ His late masterpiece “Constancy
to an Ideal Object” at once recollects and repudiates those youthful
commitments. His initial repudiation, sketched in “The Eolian Harp,”
came in part because, unlike Hannah Cowley, he was troubled concep-
tually by the idea and ideal of a phenomenal existence. Cowley™s lines
wittily “grasp” her ideal object as an art of living through the word-
play of an internal rhyme (“arms”/“charmer”). But Coleridge came
to give a negative in¬‚ection to the erotic death that Cowley textu-
ally reconstructs for herself. As a result, he lived without dying on his
“soft idea,” and he tried to explain his failure philosophically as a kind
of ¬‚aw in nature. But it wasn™t. It was simply “ and profoundly, and
terribly “ a ¬‚aw of character and a fear of art. (Let me say here that
his greatest poetry succeeds exactly as it is an expression of his fear of
poetry.)
The Della Cruscan in¬‚uence would eventually pervade the Roman-
tic movement, despite the efforts of “Anti-Jacobin” writers (like Gifford,
Mathias, and Polwhele) to stem its tide. There were of course other im-
portant sentimental poets, some closely related to the Della Cruscan
school (like Seward, Hayley, and Darwin), some less so, like Charlotte
±µ
Byron and the lyric of sensibility
Smith. Smith™s Elegiac Sonnets “ at least thirteen editions were printed
between ±· and ±±± “ evolved an important and distinctive style of
sensibility. As in Della Cruscan verse, Smith™s work locates a scene of sen-
timent and intense feeling. But her poetry is not at all the self-validating
activity it is for the Della Cruscans. Rather than a game for generating
textual pleasures and sensations, Smith™s art of poetry is courted and
practiced as an emblem of cruelty and illusion.
The opening sonnet of her celebrated book of verse de¬nes her project
perfectly.
The partial Muse, has from my earliest hours
Smil™d on the rugged path I™m doomed to tread,
And still with sportive hand has snatch™d wild ¬‚owers,
To weave fantastic garlands for my head:
But far, far happier is the lot of those
Who never learn™d her dear delusive art;
Which, while it decks the head with many a rose,
Reserves the thorn, to fester in the heart.
For still she bids soft Pity™s melting eye
Stream o™er the ills she knows not to remove,
Points every pang, and deepens every sigh
Of mourning friendship, or unhappy love.
Ah! then, how dear the Muse™s favors cost,
If those paint sorrow best”who feel it most !

The force and cunning of that key phrase “dear delusive art” “ its own
“dear delusive art” “ only appear when the sonnet reaches its couplet
climax, where the double-edged meaning of “dear” is plainly exposed.
This text pursues a dark reading of its famous Horatian pretext. Instead
of the laurel wreath, Smith expects from poetry either a crown of thorns
for her heart or a madwoman™s garland for her head. These equivocal
gifts come from a Muse whose apparent attractions conceal their true
import. The smiles and the “sportive hand” associate ironically with the
“fantastic garlands,” and the Pity starts only a widespread lacrymae rerum.
Smith™s opening sonnet is as much an elegy for art as for anything

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