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The Wordsworthian program of sincerity is here exposed, by the law of
its own dialectic, as a program of bad faith. Has he simply forgotten, this
disciple of Memory? It is hard to believe. The structures of Memory that
Wordsworth so cherished will return upon these passages “ it will take
some one-hundred years “ and force them to deliver up their larger
truths “ not just the “facts” uncovered in certain birth records, but the
truths preserved, as Wordsworth might have said, “behind” those facts.
And the poem will grow all the greater for these postponed, contradictory
revelations.
In The Prelude Wordsworth covers his sins. His ¬rst impulse in writing
the poem had been to displace his tortured memory into the ¬ctive terms
of the story of Vaudracour and Julia. But as he went over the poem again
and again, recollecting it in further tranquillities, if they can be called that,
he air-brushed the memory from his text altogether. The paradoxical
result of this “ we all know our Freud “ is a poetry indurated to its
remarkable melancholy. “Loss” in Wordsworth is saved for ever, in secret,
where its power feeds all that splendid and terrible verse. Wordsworth
could not bring himself to cast an Incantation across his work, or make
sure his readers had clear access to his deepest terrors “ personal terrors
that eclipsed “ how sad to think so! “ The Terror of the French Revolution.
But because Wordsworth is a great poet his own work inevitably “ art
± Byron and Romanticism
too has its fatalities “ rose up against itself. One thinks of Pound™s Cantos,
that masterpiece of broken and misguided dreams. The Prelude is another
masterpiece of another common human frailty: bad faith. Reading it
one recalls that agonizing masterpiece, Wordsworth™s “Elegiac Stanzas,
Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle,” where the epigraph for The
Prelude is written in two wondrous lines:

The feeling of my loss will ne™er be old;
This, which I know, I speak with mind serene.
(“°)

And what about Byron? Well, he writes Manfred, a text that comes as
close as one could imagine “ certainly in ±± “ to uncovering what Manfred
describes to Astarte as “The deadliest sin to love as we have loved”
(II, , ±). That Manfred is Byron™s surrogate has never been in doubt.
But seeing this, readers have rarely seen that Manfred is also, no less than
¬gures like Oedipus and Hamlet, an Everyman. Manfred, Lord Byron:
c™est moi. That is what the play argues, for better “ Manfred is splendid “
and for worse “ Manfred is a coward, a hypocrite, a “deadly” sinner.
Readers recoil from this revelation because Byron takes the revelation of
sin to the limit and beyond. We are sinners who want to cover our sins, to
mitigate their depth. This desire is precisely “the last in¬rmity of evil” that
Byron wrote his play to engage. No cultural taboo has greater authority
than the taboo against incest “ no taboo, that is, except one: to think about
and reveal a taboo, to open it to the light and “right of thought.” This is
what Manfred accomplishes. It is an act of remembering in public, an act
that argues the need to preserve an eternal “vigil” to unedited memory
and unconstrained thought. As the case of Wordsworth shows, this need
is not just Lord Byron™s. The “shut soul™s hypocrisy” is a de¬ning human
impulse. Byron™s friends burned his Memoirs. Bad faith comes with the
best of intentions.
Acts have consequences, and one of the consequences of Manfred is
Don Juan, a poem that takes the full measure of the fatality of living.
For sheer range of affective awareness, only The Canterbury Tales, among
English masterpieces, compares with it. The Prelude, like Paradise Lost, is
an epic of redemption, for better and for worse. Blake took the measure
of Milton™s bad faith in a poem he named after the great Puritan; The
Prelude, all unwillingly, took its own. But Don Juan and The Canterbury Tales
are epics of life. Byron v. Wordsworth, Chaucer v. Milton: “These two
±
Byron and Wordsworth
classes of men are always upon earth and they should be enemies. Who
ever seeks to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence.” As Blake, that
wise man, knew, we sinners have need of both.


IV


Coda: The literal world of Manfred
Picture a man burning up in a fog of thought. Picture the fog burning off. ( Jean
Day, The Literal World [±])

In Manfred, Byron constructs an argument about the status of the creative
imagination as understood in Romantic categories. The argument is
mounted largely in stylistic terms, and in a consciously dialectical relation
to audience reactions that Byron took as a point of departure. As such, the
drama enacts the argument through the management of its characters
and dramatic paraphernalia. The play™s “realism,” or the manner in
which it executes an “imitation of life,” is not situated at the level of the
“Dramatis Personae” and their presumptive world of space, time, and
circumstance. Those ¬gures and their “world” provide Byron with the
terms in which he casts his argument. The chief character, Manfred,
functions primarily as a dramatic ¬gura “ literally, a representation “
that can point to the work™s true chief referent, Lord Byron, who is the
play™s persistent unseen or absent presence, the master of the play™s literal
revels. What we are asked to witness is a drama of the action of Byron™s
mind as it functions in a poetical, or as Coleridge would say in an “image
making,” mode. The play seeks to draw out judgments and conclusions
about that kind of human action by putting the image-making faculty
and its operations on full display. Manfred is therefore, quite literally, what
Byron would later call “mental theatre.”
Manfred™s pride centers the action and the play opens as he passes
critical judgment on his own Faustian powers. If supremacy of knowl-
edge reveals the limits of knowledge, as Manfred argues, what is to be
done? Manfred decides to pursue a ¬nal act of self-deconstruction, as if
“Oblivion, self-oblivion” (I, ±) will remove the last vestiges of his proud
illusions. To carry out this purpose he summons his powers to undertake
their ¬nal task and last judgment. He begins by calling up an irreal world
“by the written charm / Which gives me power” (I, µ“) upon that
world and its creatures. This highly re¬‚exive statement locates the source
± Byron and Romanticism
of transnatural orders at a “literal” level. As Blake earlier observed, all
gods reside in the human breast and Manfred comes to repeat that view.
For the remainder of the play we will be forced to see all the transcen-
dental creatures as the “subjects” of Manfred™s ideas and purposes. The
consequence of this representation is that we will also perceive Manfred
as a second-order representation, the invented creature of an unseen but
presiding power: literally, of Lord Byron.
The play™s ¬rst act establishes these general dramatic terms of en-
gagement. In addition, it dramatizes the problem that drives the
action forward. Manfred™s pride rests in the illusion he cherishes of his
own power and self-suf¬ciency. The revelation of Manfred™s unacknowl-
edged limits comes ¬rst when his own summoned spirits trick him with
an unexpected illusion. When he tells the spirits that “there is no form
on earth / Hideous or beautiful to me” (I, ±“±µ), they cast up before
him “the shape of a beautiful female ¬gure.” Manfred is thrown into confusion
by this image of Astarte precisely because he had forgotten that he had
cherishings and attachments. Manfred™s creatures come to humble his
forgetful pride.
Two important consequences emerge from this event. First, we realize
that Manfred is as yet unaware of the full range of his mind™s powers and
desires. Second, we see that his creatures have the ability to raise the
level of his self-awareness. As the play unfolds we will also realize that
Manfred™s experience in this regard carries a more general imaginative
argument about the function of art in a Byronic view. Artistic creations
are not valued in themselves, as if they were self-subsistent things. Viewed
in that way, creatures of imagination become “forms of worship” rather
than “poetic tales.” Byron™s play is written to show what the “creative
imagination” actually is: not the revelation of the reality of transcendental
orders but the enactment of the power that human beings have to expose
themselves to judgment and self-knowledge.
In a Romantic frame of reference “ that is to say, in Manfred ™s frame of
reference “ these purposes require special resourcefulness. For the power
of the human mind is such that when it ceases to worship transcendental
gods and spirits, it opens itself to the danger of “an ignorance . . . / Which
is another kind of ignorance” (II, , “): the worship of itself and its
own powers. This temptation, a peculiarly Romantic one, is of course
¬gured as Manfred™s pride, which is in turn a trope for Lord Byron™s own
poetical gifts and pretensions. Undoing the power of that temptation en-
tails another, yet more radically paradoxical move. Byron™s play, it turns
±µ
Byron and Wordsworth
out, can only succeed by attacking itself, satirizing and exposing itself to it-
self. This move comes as Byron™s invitation to the audience to observe the
work of the play in its full dramatic reality “ that is, to see the theatricality
of the events as well as the procedures that establish their theatricality.
To carry through that purpose Byron constructs Manfred as a proto-
Brechtian play about itself. The audience registers this level of the action
as a drama of style keyed to various kinds of ironizing and comical
elements.
Act I makes two ironical moves that set limits to Manfred™s ini-
tial Faustian position. The ¬rst, already noted, culminates in the trick
that the spirits play at the expense of Manfred™s initial pretension to
self-suf¬ciency. Then comes the Interlude of the famous “Incantation”
when “A Voice ” passes its majestic ironical judgment on the “senseless”
Manfred. The next sequence, which runs from Act I scene  through
Act II scene ±, involves the exchange between Manfred and the Chamois
Hunter. This event brings an abrupt stylistic turn, the ¬rst of many that
characterize the play. A Wordsworthian solitary and ¬gure of simple
virtues, the hunter™s most important function is rhetorical, not eventual.
In his dialogue with Manfred we register a quasi-comical discrepancy
between the discourse of these two men:
C. HUNTER . . . When thou art better, I will be thy guide”But whither?
M A N . It imports not: I do know
My route full well, and need no further guidance.
C . H U N T E R . Thy garb and gait bespeak thee of high lineage”
One of the many chiefs, whose castled crags
Look o™er the lower valleys”which of these
May call thee Lord? I only know their portals;
My way of life leads me but rarely down
To bask by the huge hearths of those old halls,
Carousing with the vassals; but the paths,
Which step from out our mountains to their doors,
I know from childhood”which of these is thine?
M A N . No matter.
C . H U N T E R . Well, sir, pardon me the question,
(II, ±, “±·)
And be of better cheer. Come, taste my wine.

A passage like this recalls nothing so much as Wordsworth™s stylistic
innovations carried out through his Lyrical Ballads experiment, and in par-
ticular his comments on the relation of verse and prose. Shakespearean
iambics sit awkwardly on the Chamois Hunter, who seems to speak in a
± Byron and Romanticism
clumsy and unnatural style, and Manfred™s laconic responses come to set
a frame around this quality in his humble interlocutor™s speech. Cast in
heroic verse, the hunter™s virtuous simplicities seem overblown, as if he
had forgotten the prose inheritance he should have received from the low
characters in Shakespeare. In other contexts “ Don Juan, for example “
Byron will critique Wordsworth™s theories about poetic diction. Here, by
contrast, he utilizes them for theatrical purposes. At one level the drama
is realistic and the interchange de¬nes a difference in social class and at-
titudes. Because the play is Romantic and not Shakespearean, however,
moments like this drift out of Shakespearean objectivity into subjective
and self-conscious space. In that space “ which is the space of all Ro-
mantic drama from The Castle Spectre to Death™s Jest Book “ we witness what
Arnold would later call “the dialogue of the mind with itself.” The drift
is completely apparent in the following exchange:
C . H U N T E R. Man of strange words, and some half-maddening sin,
Which makes thee people vacancy, whate™er
Thy dread and sufferance be, there™s comfort yet”
The aid of holy men, and heavenly patience”
M A N . Patience and patience! Hence”that word was made
For brutes of burthen, not for birds of prey;
Preach it to mortals of a dust like thine,”
I am not of thine order.
C . H U N T E R. Thanks to heaven!
I would not be of thine for the free fame
Of William Tell; but whatsoe-er thine ill,
It must be borne. And these wild starts are useless.
(II, ±, ± “±)

Thus does Byron bring Wordsworth to expose Byronic creativity to itself.
As earlier the spirits had mocked Manfred™s un-selfconsciousness, here
the Chamois Hunter does the same with an ironical remark delivered
in an unpretentious conversational register. To the Chamois Hunter,
Manfred seems slightly ridiculous, perhaps even “mad,” but ultimately
pitiful. To a proud character like Manfred, these judgments bring a
new wave of self-revulsion. He parts from the Chamois Hunter, who
saved his life, a chastened and a wiser man: “I . . . can endure thy pity. I
depart . . . I know my path “ the mountain peril™s past” (II, ±, ± “, µ).
The symbolic valence of that last ¬gure of speech is so patent (“mountain
peril” = Manfred™s pride) that the verse once again turns self-conscious
and Romantic: we see right through Manfred™s words (theatrical realism)
to their expressive source (Byron™s argumentative poetical purposes).
±·
Byron and Wordsworth
The next scene brings the Witch of the Alps and another abrupt
change in rhetoric. Coming in the wake of the stylistic issues raised in
the Chamois Hunter scenes, this event appears a Romantic-allegorical
discussion of the function and status of art and poetry to the Faustian
consciousness. The Witch offers Manfred permanent forms of beauty
as a refuge from his psychic torments. His refusal, a hinge event in the
play, entails Manfred™s conscious assumption of responsibility for all of
his “deeds.” More crucially, he assumes this responsibility knowing that
neither he nor his subject forms, of whom the Witch is one, can alleviate
or redeem his sufferings, or de¬ne his desires. His next move after this
encounter, then, is toward “what it is we dread to be” (II, , ±·), that is,
into the territory where human resources appear to have no purchase at
all, into the land of the dead.
How can this possibly be done? Byron™s solution to that apparently
insoluble problem is stylistic. The unknown world, for a poet, will be the
place where art comes to its end. This place is forecast in the following
passage in Act I, where Manfred passes a mordant judgment on human
beings as

Half dust, half deity, alike un¬t
To sink or soar, with our mix™d essence make
A con¬‚ict of [earth™s] elements, and breathe
The breath of degradation and of pride,
Contending with low wants and lofty will
Till our mortality predominates . . .
(I, , °“µ)


In the climactic moment of the drama Manfred enters that world, which
is the world of his own mind. It is a world later glimpsed in appalled
horror by the Wordsworthian Abbot, who recapitulates Manfred™s earlier
description:

This should have been a noble creature: he
Hath all the energy which would have made
A goodly frame of glorious elements,
Had they been wisely mingled; as it is,
It is an awful chaos”light and darkness”
And mind and dust”and passions and pure thoughts,
Mix™d, and contending without end or order,

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