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will discover, I think, is a path to reconnect with critical understandings
that ¬‚ourished in the nineteenth century, before modernism tried to
raze that landscape and set new rules and proprieties for poetry and
imagination.

NOTES

± See the reprint of the original ±µ text in Romanticism and Consciousness, ed.
Harold Bloom (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., ±·°).
 In the Byron Journal (±), ·“µ, and above, chapter µ.
 For an extended discussion of the Della Cruscans see my “The Literal World of
the English Della Cruscans,” in my The Poetics of Sensibility (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, ±), ·“.
 The references here are to that other major source of Della Cruscan texts,
The British Album,  vols. (London: William Bell, ±·).
µ See especially the poems of ±·“±· (e.g. “Kisses,” “The Sigh,” and
“The Kiss,” among others). These are explicitly Della Cruscan works.
 My text is the facsimile reprint of the ±· edition, with an Introduction by
Jonathan Wordsworth (Oxford: Woodstock Books, ±).
· My Byron texts are from Lord Byron. The Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome
J. McGann (Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±°“±).
 The Poetical Works of William Shenstone, with Life, Critical Dissertation, and
Explanatory Notes by George Gil¬llan (New York: D. Appleton and
Co., ±µ), ·. The epigraph comprises only the second half of the
inscription, but Byron recollects the ¬rst half in his (crucial) ¬fth stanza.

CHAPTER


Byron and Wordsworth




I

They met intimately just once, in the spring of ±±µ, at Samuel Rogers™s
house. Wordsworth “talked too much,” according to Rogers, but Byron
wasn™t put off. At home afterwards he told his wife Annabella that
“I had but one feeling from the beginning of the visit to the end “ reverence”
(Lovell, His Very Self and Voice, ±). And that™s all we know about the only
meeting between the two dominating English poets of the period. To
us now, that foregone scene might easily recall the Romantic passage in
The Age of Bronze where Byron describes the great forensic rivalry of Fox
and Pitt:

We, we have seen the intellectual race
Of giants stand, like Titans, face to face”
Athos and lda, with a dashing sea
Of eloquence between. (±“±)

So will distance lend enchantment to a view of people and events.
Imagined more closely, the meeting of Byron and Wordsworth must
have been riven with awkwardness. Both were conscious of the other™s
eminence. Rogers had arranged his dinner speci¬cally to bring them
together. They were also well aware of Byron™s public comments on
Wordsworth™s poetry “ his review of the ±°· Poems, and his general
critique mounted in two passages of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers
(µ“µ and °“°µ). Byron must have been somewhat chagrined by
the recollection of those writings, for while they clearly showed great
respect “ if not exactly “reverence” “ for Wordsworth, they were also
forthright, as Byron always was, with their disapprovals. For his part
Wordsworth had privately acknowledged his own equivocal view of
Byron™s work, and he always chafed before the spectacular fame that

±·
±· Byron and Romanticism
Byron so quickly “ and in Wordsworth™s view, so undeservedly “ had
gained.
Within a year these tenuous relations would slip into deeper aversions.
The public scandal of Byron™s marriage break-up moved Wordsworth
to speak privately of Byron as an “insane” person and of his poetry as
“doggerel.” He arrived at these judgments after reading John Scott™s
attack on Byron in his newspaper The Champion, where Scott also pub-
lished “ without permission “ Byron™s two unpublished poems “Fare
Thee Well!” and “A Sketch from Private Life.” As Mary Moorman has
noted, however, Scott™s malicious prose was “not severe enough” for the
outraged Wordsworth, who urged Scott in a letter to renew and deepen
the attack. Needless to say, this was not Wordsworth™s ¬nest hour. His
letter moved Scott to write two further pieces on the wicked Lord. These
were the texts that both focused and fuelled the campaign of vili¬cation,
which climaxed with Byron™s departure from England.
Byron never knew the secret part that Wordsworth played in what
he called his “home desolation.” Some say that he learned later how
Wordsworth “ again in a private letter “ had denounced his poetry
as “immoral and vicious.” Wordsworth certainly believed that Byron
heard about the letter, and he attributed the attacks on him in Don Juan
to Byron™s knowledge of what he had written. But nothing in Byron™s
correspondence or conversations indicates that he knew of this letter
either. His sense of honor was acute. Had the letter come to his attention
he would have responded to Wordsworth with the kind of rage he felt
for Southey when he learned in the summer of ±± that the Laureate
was spreading scandalous gossip about him.
Byron hated Robert Southey, he did not hate Wordsworth “ though
he would have hated him had he known the whole truth. Byron had
some fun with Wordsworth™s name “ he called him “Wordswords” and
“Turdsworth” “ but these were games of language, rhetorical ¬‚our-
ishes in his argument with Wordsworth™s politics and his programmatic
ignorance of Pope. What Michael says to Sathan in “The Vision of
Judgment” anticipates Byron™s imagination of the rivalry of Fox and
Pitt, and pretty well sums up Byron™s view of his relation to Wordsworth
throughout his life:

Our different parties make us ¬ght so shy,
I ne™er mistake you for a personal foe;
Our difference is political, and I
Trust that, whatever may occur below,
±·µ
Byron and Wordsworth
You know my great respect for you; and this
Makes me regret whate™er you do amiss”
(± “)

The substance of this passage will gloss any one of Byron™s many com-
mentaries on Wordsworth: the judgments, both prose and verse, pub-
lished in ±°· and ±°; the long letter to Leigh Hunt of ° October
±±µ in which Byron critiques both The Excursion and the ±±µ Poems;
the unpublished prose note to his Wordsworth imitation “Churchill™s
Grave”; and even the more savagely worded criticisms laid down in
his ±° rejoinder to John Gibson Lockhart™s review of Don Juan in
Blackwood™s Edinburgh Magazine (August ±±). True, the “reverence” Byron
felt for Wordsworth, registered in ±±µ, collapsed in the course of the
“intellectual war” (Don Juan, XI, ) he undertook against the Lake
School under the twin banner of the traduced genius of Pope and
the betrayal of enlightened political ideas. That such a reverence ex-
isted, however, and that it was genuine, seems very clear. That it was
also “antithetically mixt” (Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage III, ±·) goes with-
out saying “ we are talking of Byron after all “ but it should not go
without close examination. The subject holds far more than purely bio-
graphical signi¬cance. In Byron™s critical reverence for Wordsworth we
can trace some of the volatile contradictions that organize the Romantic
movement in England.

II

Most discussions of Wordsworth and Byron begin with Shelley, who “ as
Byron later told Thomas Medwin “ “used to dose me with Wordsworth
physic even to nausea” in Switzerland in ±±. He goes on to say
that “I do remember reading some things of his with pleasure. He
had once a feeling of Nature, which he carried almost to a dei¬ca-
tion of it:“ that™s why Shelley liked his poetry.” Byron goes on to
suggest that Wordsworth lost “the faculty of writing well” when he
lost “his mental independence” and became a “hireling” of British
imperialism. Nonetheless, Byron acknowledges “a certain merit” in
the stylistic “simplicity” that Wordsworth famously developed in the
Lyrical Ballads “ a book he clearly knew intimately “ and he adds that
Wordsworth “now and then expressed ideas worth imitating” (Lovell,
Medwin, ±). These comments have led many readers “ including
Wordsworth himself “ to ¬nd the third canto of Childe Harold full
±· Byron and Romanticism
of an unacknowledged and second-rate Wordsworthian “feeling of
Nature.”
There is no question that Byron made Shelley™s reading of
Wordsworth a central part of the third canto of Childe Harold. But we want
to remember that the poem is a Byronic and not a Shelleyan “ and least
of all a Wordsworthian “ exercise. That is to say, its re¬‚exive structure
is energetic and existential, not meditative and conceptual. The form
asks us to receive the poem as if it were an experiential record “ a fact
about the work blatantly announced in the remarkable opening stanzas,
where a dream sequence offers itself to the reader as an immediate expe-
rience rather than a recollective construction. In this frame of reference,
ideas “ including the poem™s Wordsworthianisms “ come to us as part
of the poem™s running eventualities, as thoughts borne along with the
imaginary passage of the imaginary Childe Harold. In this “being more
intense” Byron passes through a certain space of time “ a few months
in ±± when he journeyed from England to Switzerland in quest of
spiritual and psychic stability. Shelley™s Wordsworth comes as part of
that passage, a gift from a friend who thought a Wordsworthian “feeling
of Nature” might help to alleviate the tumult of Byron™s condition.
But Shelley™s “physic” ends in “nausea.” Byron emblemizes this result
in the discrepancy between the “forgetfulness” he desired at the start,
and the even more acute sense of his own “identity” and place in the
world that he has at the canto™s end. Byron™s absorption into a sense of
nature™s transcendental processes is not a culminating or de¬ning event,
it is one experience among many. When Wordsworth is laid asleep in
body to become a living soul he sees into the life of things, and that sight,
once gained, brings the promise of a ¬nal peace: for Nature

can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, not the sneers of sel¬sh men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e™er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. (“Tintern Abbey,” ±µ“±)

This famous passage, and the whole of the poem which it moralizes, gets
recalled, and refused, at the end of Byron™s canto when he addresses his
±··
Byron and Wordsworth
daughter as Wordsworth had addressed his sister. Canto III of Childe Harold
is an undertaking and rejection of the Wordsworthian ethos (or “physic”),
an event de¬ned in the different “blessings” each poet imagines at the end
of his poem. Whereas in Wordsworth these are assigned to a transhuman
source and conceived as both full and perpetual, in Byron the case is oth-
erwise. Byron™s blessings are human and individuated “ they are specif-
ically his own, sent speci¬cally to his daughter (and in other poems of
±±, speci¬cally to his sister), nor are they validated in any non-personal
terms. They are also equivocal because they are lost and helpless. Byron
knows that the love gifts he is sending will be prevented from any im-
mediate arrival. Consequently, nothing in this poem is certain except
the intention of the speaker, an intention which circumstance “ “that
unspiritual god” “ has driven into a conditional existence. The canto
ends in a ¬‚urry of subjunctives that culminate in the canto™s penultimate
declaration: “Fain would I waft such blessing upon thee.”
The explicitness of Byron™s rejection of Wordsworthian doctrine de-
¬nes one of the poem™s most important ¬gures. It is the emblem of his
identity and self-consciousness. His “Alpine Journal,” which he wrote for
his sister, repeats the message of Canto III of Childe Harold. One of the
great acts of English prose attention, the journal stands as both coda to
and commentary on the poem. For thirteen carefully articulated days
Byron records the minutest particulars of his physical and mental ex-
periences. Nothing falls out of focus, nothing of the world, nothing of
Byron, nothing past and nothing present:

stopped at Vevey two hours (the second time I have visited it) walked to the
Church “ view from the Churchyard superb “ within it General Ludlow
(the Regicide™s) monument “ black marble “ long inscription “ Latin “ but
simple “ particularly the latter part “ in which his wife (Margaret de Thomas)
records her long “ her tried “ and unshaken affection “ he was an Exile two
and thirty years “ one of the King™s (Charles™s) Judges “ a ¬ne fellow. I remember
reading his memoirs in January ±±µ (at Halnaby).

It is the ¬rst day of his trip, with the grand passages of the Swiss Alps
still to be seen. Byron remains rapt in his present, where (however) the
recent disaster of his marriage runs through the interstices of his careful
prose. For that event is as present to him as the churchyard at Vevey, or the
memoirs of General Ludlow. Moving through the journal we realize that
no part of the human world seems to escape his interest or attention: the
peasant dancers at Brientz; the corporal at Chillon Castle “drunk as
Blucher”; the copy of Blair™s Sermons “on the table of the saloon” in the
±· Byron and Romanticism
Chateau de Clarens, where Byron is led through the “bosquet de Julie”
by a “Guide full of Rousseau “ whom he is eternally confounding with
St. Preux.” Every detail fascinates, and all carry him home:
In the evening four Swiss Peasant Girls of Oberhasli came & sang the airs of
their country “ two of the voices beautiful “ the tunes also “ they sang too that
Tyrolese air & song which you love “ Augusta . . . they are still singing “ Dearest “
you do not know how I should have liked this “ were you with me “ the airs
are so wild & original & at the same time of great sweetness. “ The singing is
over “ but below stairs I hear the notes of a Fiddle which bode no good to my
nights rest. “ The Lord help us! “ I shall go down and see the dancing. “

For both Byron and Wordsworth, “feeling comes in aid of feeling” in these
kinds of encounter. But as Ruskin would acutely note, the Wordsworthian
process involves a technique of soft focus that melts the “whats” of the
experience in a meshed network of “hows,” a process of the soul™s “Re-
membering how she felt, but what she felt / Remembering not” (The
Prelude, II, ±“±·). In Byron, on the other hand, the course of the par-
ticulars remains sharply drawn. The difference is especially remarkable
when the poets are engaged with a “feeling of Nature”:
Arrived at the Grindenwald “ dined “ mounted again & rode to the higher
Glacier “ twilight “ but distinct “ very ¬ne Glacier “ like a frozen hurricane “
Starlight “ beautiful “ but a devil of a path “ never mind “ got safe in “ a little
lightning “ but the whole of the day as ¬ne in point of weather “ as the day on
which Paradise was made. “ Passed whole woods of withered pines “ all withered “
trunks stripped & barkless “ branches lifeless “ done by a single winter “ their
appearance reminded me of me & my family. “

The text should be compared with Wordsworth™s equally great descrip-
tion of his passage through the Gorge of Gondo in The Prelude (Book VI,
±·“°). Wordsworth™s descriptive scene is an organized series of rep-
resentative sublimities, all
like workings of one mind, the features
Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree;
Characters of the great Apocalypse,
The types and symbols of Eternity,

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