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Of ¬rst, and last, and midst, and without end.

Byron™s “one mind” is only his own as it observes, relates, remem-
bers. Wordsworth™s “Apocalypse” and “Eternity” insist on the truth of
their transnatural referents, whereas for Byron “Paradise” is simply “
wonderfully “ a ¬gure of speech. A thought from Blake de¬nes
±·
Byron and Wordsworth
the differences exactly: Wordsworth™s imagination deals in “forms of
worship,” Byron™s in “poetic tales.”
At the conclusion of his journal, as at the conclusion of Canto III of
Childe Harold, Byron recurs to the “physic” that Shelley had been offering
to his friend. The brief Alpine tour had involved the most intense kind
of encounter with mountain gloom and mountain glory. Byron re¬‚ects
on the experience:

I am a lover of Nature “ and an Admirer of Beauty “ I can bear fatigue “ &
welcome privation “ and have seen some of the noblest views in the world. “
But in all this “ the recollections of bitterness “ & more especially of recent &
more home desolation “ which must accompany me through life “ have preyed
upon me here “ and neither the music of the Shepherd “ the crashing of the
Avalanche “ nor the torrent “ the mountain “ the Glacier “ the Forest “ nor
the Cloud “ have for one moment “ lightened the weight upon my heart “ nor
enabled me to lose my own wretched identity in the Majesty & the Power and
the Glory “ around “ above “ & beneath me. “

The passage faces in two directions: back to Canto III of Childe Harold,
which he had just ¬nished writing; and forward to Manfred, which Byron
had begun shortly before his September trip into the Bernese Oberland
and which he would complete the following spring, in Venice. At that
point Byron was poised on the brink of Beppo, which is to say, on the
threshold of Don Juan. Counterpart and antithesis to The Prelude, it is
Byron™s Sweeping act of historical re¬‚ection “ a work Coleridge might
have called a “great philosophical poem,” had Coleridge not abandoned
enlightenment for transcendental philosophy. In this respect Manfred is
the hinge work of Byron™s career. It is also a poem deeply involved with
Wordsworth.
To see this more clearly we should brie¬‚y recall an event that took place
on Byron™s last day in England. Just before leaving Dover for Europe
Byron visited the grave of the satirist Charles Churchill. Sometime later “
probably in June or July “ he recollected that highly charged moment
in his Swiss tranquillity (such as it was). The result became the poem
“Churchill™s Grave,” a deliberate exercise in the style of “the simple
Wordsworth,” as Byron™s note to the text declared.

The following poem (as most that I have endeavoured to write) is founded on
a fact; and this attempt is a serious imitation of the style of a great poet “ its
beauties and its defects: I say, the style, for the thoughts I claim as my own. In
this, if there be anything ridiculous, let it be attributed to me as much as to
Mr. Wordsworth, of whom there can exist few greater admirers or deplorers
±° Byron and Romanticism
than myself. I have blended what I would deem to be the beauties as well as the
defects of his style “ and it ought to be remembered that in such things, whether
there be praise or dispraise, there is always what is called a compliment, however
unintentional.

The equivocalness of this prose text runs through the poem as well,
which involves a manifestly Wordsworthian encounter between a trav-
eller “ Byron “ and the “Sexton” of the Dover cemetery. Byron later liked
to twit Wordsworth as the “hireling” of a reactionary government, a poet
who took his “place in the excise” (Don Juan “Dedication”) in ±± and
then dedicated The Excursion, that “drowsy frowzy poem” (Don Juan, III,
·), to the man who gained it for him, Lord Lonsdale. Byron™s ¬rst
public allusion to the event comes in this short poem of ±±, in the most
amusingly oblique way “ that is, in the ¬nal words of the sexton to Byron,
where he looks to be paid for his service.

“I believe the man of whom
You wot, who lies in this selected tomb,
Was a most famous writer in his day,
And therefore travellers step from out their way
To pay him honour,”and myself whate™er
Your honour pleases.” (·“)

Over the grave of Churchill “ the neglected eighteenth-century satirist
and Byron™s alter ego here “ Byron uses Wordsworth™s poetical style to
re¬‚ect on the difference between payment in honor and payment in
cash. Byron wraps his critique of Wordsworth as hireling poet in the
“compliment” of a “serious imitation” of Wordsworth™s style. The irony
of the passage is as wicked as it is brilliant. But nothing in this splendid
poem is unequivocal, as its conclusion shows. Clearly Byron expects
the reader to catch his ironical critique, for after he pays the sexton he
remarks (this time in a different ironical register):

Ye smile,
I see ye, ye profane ones! All the while,
Because my homely phrase the truth would tell.
(“)

There is more truth here than the “fact” of Wordsworth™s sinecure. There
is as well a different “fact,” a “deep thought” that Byron underscores in
his poem™s re¬‚ective conclusion:
±±
Byron and Wordsworth
You are the fools, not I”for I did dwell
With a deep thought, and with a soften™d eye,
On that old Sexton™s natural homily,
In which there was Obscurity and Fame,
The Glory and the Nothing of a Name.
(“)

Churchill, Wordsworth, Lord Byron: at last, at the last of this poem,
all come together “ as Byron wrote elsewhere “ “in the dark union
of insensate dust” (“[A Fragment. ˜Could I remount . . . ™],” line ).
Wordsworth™s sinecure slips into inconsequence when Byron weighs
it in a more exacting scale. Indeed, Byron uses Wordsworth™s recent
public “honour” as a kind of “physic” for his own immediate feelings
of “bitterness.” Both are to be ¬nally measured by his poem™s epigram:
“The Glory and the Nothing of a Name.”
The “physic” of “Churchill™s Grave” is distinctly Byronic (rather than
Shelleyan or Wordsworthian). The poem™s complex mixture of ironies
ranges widely: from parodic game, through brilliant wit “ part playful,
part malicious, supremely cool “ to its mordant, Byronic sententiousness.
From Wordsworth™s “style” Byron fashions his own “thought,” a some-
what Mephistophelean argument coded in a medley-style of writing.
The poem is especially important because of its self-conscious man-
ner of proceeding. Canto III of Childe Harold is no less a work of conscious
art, but in its case it is an art of sincerity. As in Wordsworthian sincerity
poems “ “Tintern Abbey” is a perfect example “ the reader of Byron™s
canto is asked to accept the illusion of an unmediated expression of
feeling and thought, as if nothing intervened between the experience
represented in the poem and its textual emergence. “Churchill™s Grave”
is completely different. It is a poem ¬‚aunting its artistry and construct-
edness, a fact emphasized in the various differentiations put before us in
Byron™s prose note.
I have spent this time on “Churchill™s Grave” not simply because
it has been sadly neglected. The poem is also important because it
illuminates, as no other work of ±± does, Byron™s strange and dif¬-
cult masterpiece Manfred. Of course Manfred is in certain ways a clear
reprise on the third canto of Childe Harold. This fact is emphasized by
Byron™s “Alpine Journal,” which could be “ and has been “ used to
gloss both works. Besides, all these writings swirl in a vortex of mem-
ory and forgetting, another Wordsworthian subject to which I shall
have to return. In Manfred, however, the dramatic presentation makes
± Byron and Romanticism
self-consciousness rather than sincerity the determining stylistic move.
In this respect Manfred is a work that does not pretend to discover its own
thought “ which is what sincerity poems like “Tintern Abbey” and Childe
Harold III do “ but to put its thought on display, and thereby to make a
deliberated exposition and argument, as in “Churchill™s Grave.”
Part of the argument is anti-Wordsworthian, as we might expect.
Three explictly Wordsworthian surrogates appear in the poem. The ¬rst
is the Witch of the Alps, an all but allegorical ¬gure for the Shelleyan
reading of Wordsworth. The Witch promises peace of soul to Manfred
if he will “swear obedience to my will, and do / My bidding” (II, ,
±µ“±µ·). In refusing her offer Manfred is refusing what Byron saw as
the Wordsworthian “dei¬cation of [Nature for which] Shelley liked his
poetry.” For, unlike Wordsworth and even Shelley, Byron thought the
idea that “Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her” (“Tintern
Abbey,” ±“±) a serious intellectual error. Speaking for himself on the
matter, and in his usual exacting way, he said he was “an Admirer of
Nature,” but not a worshipper. The other two Wordsworthian ¬gures
are easy to spot “ the Chamois Hunter, who incarnates the virtues of
Michael, the Leech Gatherer, and so forth; and the Abbot, whose ances-
tors include the Pastor in The Excursion. In separating himself from these
characters Manfred serves to focus the argument with Wordsworth, and
with Romanticism more largely, that we™ve already seen in Childe Harold.
It™s important to see that each of them, even the Abbot, is treated re-
spectfully in the poem. Nonetheless, they are all refused.
It is also important to see that the Abbot has other, very different
ancestors “ in particular the monkish interlocutor of the Giaour, who
of course is one of Manfred™s own most important precursors. This
Byronic/Wordsworthian overlap forecasts the even more remarkable
overlap of Byron and Southey in Canto III of Don Juan, in the ¬gure of
Lambro™s oral bard who sings “The Isles of Greece.”± In each case Byron
is not only developing a self-critical dimension to his poetical arguments,
he is dramatizing the self-consciousness of his texts, forcing us to see that
imaginations are being constructed. The ±± drama opens with a so-
liloquy that emphasizes Manfred™s intellectual and imaginative powers.
A large part of the play™s wit “ and it is an exceedingly witty work “
depends upon our realization that Manfred™s power is a metaphor for
Byron™s. Manfred™s story is as it were a play within a play. The drama of
Manfred is the Faustian wizardry of Lord Byron.
The double take that we are offered in the ¬gure of the Abbot is comical
because the Abbot™s ideological allegiances are contradictory. The ¬rst
±
Byron and Wordsworth
version of the play emphasizes this comical element much more clearly,
and I also think much more effectively. In the original third act Byron
creates a kind of romp with his play™s gothic paraphernalia. Returning to
make a last effort to save Manfred™s soul, the Abbot is handed over to “the
demon Ashtaroth” whom Manfred conjures from a little casket as “a gift
for thee.” He then commands Ashtaroth to carry the Abbot to the top
of the Shreckhorn where he might glimpse what being “near to heaven”
actually means in a mortal universe. Ashtaroth obeys, disappearing “with
the Abbot” and singing an irreverent ditty about the ordinariness of evil:
A prodigal son”and a maid undone”
And a widow re-wedded within the year”
And a worldly Monk”and a pregnant Nun”
Are things which every day appear.

What is all this about, what is happening here? In one sense none of
it is serious, for Manfred and Ashtaroth are as enveloped in a comic
atmosphere as is the butt of their humor, the Abbot. The whole of the
scene, even in its revised version, is partly a game of horror, not at all
unlike the half-serious games with horror that “Monk” Lewis “ one of
Byron™s favorite authors “ plays so splendidly in his outrageous novel The
Monk. (And of course, as we know, it was Lewis who recalled Goethe™s
Faust to Byron™s attention in ±±.) But the comedy is as “serious,” in
another sense, as it is in “The Isles of Greece” episode, or “Churchill™s
Grave,” or throughout Don Juan, which is a vast display of poetic wit
and invention. Manfred™s fabulous powers “ to call spirits from the vasty
deep, or from little caskets “ are a trope for Byron™s own. He is making
a performance of those powers in Manfred, is literally staging them in
a proto-Brechtian play. So the work appears as an exposition of, and
implicitly an argument with, the illusionistic styles and ideas of Roman-
ticism “ that “wrong revolutionary poetical system,” as Byron called it,
in which he “ like Wordsworth “ played such a key role.
Philip Martin was the ¬rst modern critic to argue for this way of
seeing Manfred. It is a work “proposing a wholly new and fundamentally
dramatic relationship between author and reader,” a “pre-conditioning
exercise for Don Juan” in which Byron comes before us as a Gothic ma-
gician, “deliberately tri¬‚ing with decorum” and scattering his play with
“a ubiquitous quasi-burlesque tone” (±±, ±±·). Concentrating on Act II
scenes  and  “ the scenes involving the demonic characters “ Martin
makes a splendid exposure of the play™s farcical satire and of Byron™s
Mephistophelean posings. He does not remark on the play™s af¬nity with
± Byron and Romanticism
Byron™s earlier parodic farce “The Devil™s Drive,” even though he shows
in another part of his book the resemblances between the jokes in that
early poem and similar comic moves in major works like Cain and “The
Vision of Judgment.” But we want to see the full pattern of this paro-
dic and self-dramatizing poetry in Byron, for it involves what Paul West
years ago, quoting Byron, labelled “The Spoiler™s Art.” Madame de
Sta¨ l found the same style in the Mephistophelean passages of Goethe™s
e
Faust. She called it an art that deliberately cultivated defects of style, and
in particular outrageous breaches of linguistic decorum (“les fautes de
goˆ t . . . qui l™ont d´ termin´ a les y laisser, ou plutˆ t a les y mettre”).
u e e` o`
Unlike De Sta¨ l, both West and Martin “ especially Martin “ abomi-
e
nate this kind of comic debunking. Without it, however, Poe and Baude-
laire would have found little in Manfred to interest them, and Nietzsche™s
Byron would simply not have existed. Consider, for instance, the joke
that climaxes the play™s second act “ a joke that neither West nor Martin
register, perhaps because of its utter outrageousness. It locates a crucial
moment in the action, for once Byron makes this stylistic move within
and against his play all conventional understandings are hurled into an
abyss.
When Astarte disappears, Manfred, one of the demonic spirits tells
us, “is convulsed” and the demon comments ironically on Manfred™s
evident “mortal” weakness in seeking “the things beyond mortality.”
As Manfred pulls himself together “ANOTHER S P I R I T,” impressed that
he is able to make “his torture tributary to his will,” observes majestically:
“Had he been one of us he would have made / An awful spirit.” What
we have to deal with here is a singular moment of stylistic crisis exactly
like those that De Sta¨ l found so central to Faust. Scots usage, which of
e
course Byron knew very well and used to brilliant effect throughout Don
Juan, permitted greatly divergent meanings to the word “awful”: on one
hand it could signify something awe-inspiring, on the other something
mean and despicable. From the point of view of “correct” English usage,
however, Byron knew that the latter meaning was still regarded (in ±±)
as impossibly vulgar “ a meaning in fact associated with the “low” usages
of American and Scottish dialect. A year later, writing Beppo, Byron would
again con¬‚ate these “low” and “proper” meanings when he describes
that “bluest of bluebottle” authors William Sotheby as “A stalking oracle
of awful phrase” (line µµ).
But while the joke is formally the same in both works, the object and
result in each case are very different. The point of the wordplay in Manfred
is to suggest why Manfred, a mere mortal creature, is in fact superior to all
±µ
Byron and Wordsworth
common understandings of “spiritual” orders and beings. At the outset
of the play Manfred does not understand the grandeur of his defective
and limited human condition, does not realize why the fate of death
opens up transcendental possibilities that are completely unavailable to
creatures bound by spiritual conditions. In a word, he is “awful” in one
sense because he is “awful” in another. But the effect of Byron™s pun in

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