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tive lenses exactly because it is a discourse of failure, plainly imperfect “
a “spoiler™s art” whose ¬rst aim is to spoil itself.
In the end, however, Byron™s poems, like all imaginative work, will
be left living after every post-Modernist conceptual form has turned to
dry-as-dust. Byron™s certain relevance at this particular time lies in the
vitality of his dark eminence. “There is a very life in our despair,” he
famously declared, and the truth of that remark comes not from its idea
but from the language which it thrives (so to say). The prose of philosophy
and criticism is itself a ludic self-contradicted discourse, even a discourse
of failure “ deconstructive prose pre-eminently so. Rarely does either
discipline admit or seek forms to display those features. A key social
function of imaginative form is to offer models of such thinking. And just
now Byron may be the paradigmatic model “ a “poet™s poet,” as we used
to say.


Finally, I must say something about the essays™ critical style and proce-
dures, which seem to me a function of their general subject “ Byron and
Romanticism. I™ve already noted how unlike these essays are compared to
the typical work published in this series. The focused interests of editors,
bibliographers, and textual scholars (in the most traditional sense of the
term) play over these writings of mine, as do the “close reading” proce-
dures of my earliest critical models. This book gives two cheers for their
old democracies. Given the privilege they assign to imaginative writing
as a touchstone of critical thought, the essays attend upon their subjects™
minute particulars, their embodied thinking. At those elementary levels
of perception one gains, I believe, a peculiarly clear view of (a) the play of
General analytical and historical introduction
contradictions that constitute all imaginative work, and (b) the performa-
tive involvement of the writing itself in its own contradictory elements.
“If this be but a vain belief ” “ or rather, how it is and must be a vain
belief “ may at least begin to be seen in the critical context these essays
have been permitted to enter, and whose differential they have sought.


± See “The Rationale of HyperText,” in Electronic Text. Investigations in Method
and Theory, ed. Kathryn Sutherland (Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±·), ±“.
 See “Hideous Progeny, Rough Beasts: Editing as a Theoretical Pursuit,” in
the ±· presidential address to the Society for Textual Scholarship, TEXT II
(±“±), ± “±.
 The ±·° book in dialogue was Swinburne. An Experiment in Criticism (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press). The Romantic Ideology (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, ±) was consciously written in recollection of some distin-
guished late eighteenth-century pamphlets.
 A couple of examples: “Marxism, Romanticism, and post-Modernism: An
American Case History,” South Atlantic Quarterly,  (Summer ±), °µ“;
“Literary History, Romanticism, and Felicia Hemans,” Modern Language
Quarterly, µ: ( June ±), ±µ“ (reprinted in Revisioning Romanticism.
British Women Writers ±··“±·, ed. Carol Shiner Wilson and Joel Haefner
[ Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, ±], ±°“·). “The Alice
Fallacy; or, Only God Can Make a Tree. A Dialogue of Pleasure and Instruc-
tion,” Chain : (Fall ±), ±°“± (reprinted in Beauty and the Critic. Aesthetics
in the Age of Cultural Studies, ed. James Soderholm (Tuscaloosa: University of
Alabama Press, ±·), “·).
µ See The Republic, Book X, °·b“°b.
 See Peter Ochs, Peirce, Pragmaticism, and the Logic of Scripture (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, ±), “µ.
· It is a signal limitation of Ochs™s book that he doesn™t take up the physical
scriptures of Peirce™s existential graphs. The term “scripture” in Ochs in fact
is a purely ideated term.
 The phrase of course refers to the justly celebrated essay by M. H. Abrams.
 For a fuller exploration of this important feature of Byron™s work see below,
chapter .

Milton and Byron

I am too happy in being coupled in any way with Milton, and shall
be glad if they ¬nd any points of comparison between him and me.
Byron to Thomas Medwin

WHEN we think of Milton™s in¬‚uence upon English Romanticism the
poets who ¬rst come to mind are Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, and perhaps
Shelley. As for Byron, Milton rightly seems an altogether less dominating
forebear since we remember only too well his distaste for blank verse,
even Milton™s blank verse:
Blank verse, . . . [except] in the drama, no one except Milton ever wrote who
could rhyme . . . I am aware that Johnson has said, after some hesitation, that
he could not “prevail upon himself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer” . . . ;
but, with all humility, I am not persuaded that the Paradise Lost would not have
been more nobly conveyed to posterity . . . in the Stanza of Spenser or of Tasso,
or in the terza rima of Dante, which the powers of Milton could easily have
grafted on our language.±

Byron had a number of other criticisms of Milton™s poetic crafts-
manship, so one is not surprised that Milton did not haunt his work.
Nevertheless, Milton™s importance for Byron, both in his art and his life,
was by no means insigni¬cant.
To speak of Milton™s in¬‚uence upon Byron is, I believe, immediately
to close the discussion under two principal headings. The ¬rst of these is
well known and has to do with Byron™s Satanism and the poetic tradition
of the criminal hero. Though fairly and frequently treated, the matter has
still to be properly elucidated, and the ¬rst part of this essay will deal with
certain areas of the subject which have not been explained. The second
way in which Milton was an important in¬‚uence upon Byron involves
Byron™s interpretation and imaginative use of Milton™s life. This aspect
of Milton™s in¬‚uence did not appear until Byron exiled himself from
England in ±±. At this time he began to elaborate an autobiographical
° Byron and Romanticism
myth which was shaped in no small way by his interpretation of Milton™s
personal and political history. To my knowledge, no scholar has yet seen
¬t to go into this curious matter. Since the subject is rather complex
and little known, I will leave it until after we have looked into the more
familiar problem of Byron™s Satanism.


Though Milton™s in¬‚uence upon Byron™s gloomy and problematic heroes
begins at least as early as ±±, the subject has always (and properly) been
studied from the vantage of ±± “±, when Cain was published and the
famous discussion of the play was begun. Byron defended Cain against
the charge of blasphemy by calling Milton to his defense:

If “Cain” be blasphemous, “Paradise Lost” is blasphemous; and the words . . .
“Evil, be thou my good!” are from that very poem, from the mouth of Satan, “
and is there anything more in that of Lucifer, in the Mystery? “Cain” is nothing
more than a drama, not a piece of argument.
I could not make Lucifer expound the Thirty-nine Articles, nor talk as the
Divines do: that would never have suited his purpose, “ nor, one would think,
theirs. They ought to be grateful to him for giving them a subject to write about.
What would they do without evil in the Prince of Evil? Othello™s occupation
would be gone. I have made Lucifer say no more in his defence than was
absolutely necessary, “ not half so much as Milton makes his Satan do. I was
forced to keep up his dramatic character. Au reste, I have adhered closely to the
Old Testament, and I defy any one to question my moral. Johnson, who would
have been glad of an opportunity of throwing another stone at Milton, redeems
him from any censure for putting impiety and even blasphemy into the mouths
of his infernal spirits. By what rule, then, am I to have all the blame?

When Leigh Hunt commented upon Byron™s arguments later in Lord
Byron and some of his Contemporaries, he cut through Byron™s deliberately
“mystifying” remarks. Byron™s defence, Hunt says:

is not sincere. “Cain” was undoubtedly meant as an attack upon the crude
notions of the Jews respecting evil and its origin. Lord Byron might not have
thought much about the matter, when he undertook to write it; but such was his
feeling. He was conscious of it; and if he had not been, Mr. Shelley would not
have suffered him to be otherwise. But the case is clear from internal evidence.
Milton, in his “Paradise Lost,” intended nothing against the religious opinions
of his time; Lord Byron did. The reader of the two poems feels certain of this;
and he is right. It is true, the argumentative part of the theology of Milton
was so bad, that a suspicion has crossed the minds of some in these latter
Milton and Byron
times, whether he was not purposely arguing against himself; but a moment™s
recollection of his genuine character and history does it away. Milton was as
decidedly a Calvinist at the time he wrote “Paradise Lost,” and subject to all the
gloomy and degrading sophistries of his sect, as he certainly altered his opinions
afterwards, and subsided in a more Christian Christianity.
Hunt™s criticisms make it plain that Byron™s remarks were not so much
lies as obfuscations. Byron™s careful prose leaves unsaid everything that
is truly germane to the issue, for the fact is that Milton™s poem is fun-
damentally ¬deistic whereas Cain is just as radically skeptical. This does
not mean that Byron saw Lucifer as his play™s moral exemplar; on the
contrary, Byron clearly (and sincerely) represented Lucifer in a critical
light. But if he gave his diabolic prince certain negative qualities, he also
created for him a number of sympathetic contexts, as well as several pow-
erful speeches. Lucifer™s parting words to Cain are a stirring rhetorical
plea for one of Byron™s deepest convictions: intellectual freedom.
The mixed character of Byron™s Lucifer makes him a ¬tting inheritor
of that line of post-Miltonic criticism which liked to sympathize with the
demon™s grandeur or power or suffering. Most of Byron™s ideas about
Milton, and Paradise Lost in particular, have little to do with that odd
fragment of literary history, for Byron™s Miltonic preoccupations were
often of a technical nature. But when Byron did comment upon the
character of Milton™s Satan, he clearly echoed those eighteenth-century
critics who had done so much to establish the ground for the Romantic
idea that Satan was the hero of Paradise Lost.
I must remark from Aristotle and Rymer, that the hero of tragedy and (I add meo
periculo) a tragic poem must be guilty, to excite “terror and pity,” the end of tragic
poetry. But hear not me, but my betters. “The pity which the poet is to labour for
is for the criminal. The terror is likewise in the punishment of the said criminal,
who, if he be represented too great an offender, will not be pitied; if altogether
innocent his punishment will be unjust” . . . Who is the hero of Paradise Lost? Why
Satan “ and Macbeth, and Richard, and Othello, and Pierre, and Lothario,
and Zanga?µ
Byron does not idealize Satan any more than he idealizes his own Lucifer.
Rather, Byron™s argument depends upon a humanized interpretation of
the fallen angel. In this respect, Byron™s view is the direct inheritor of that
eighteenth-century critical tradition which, by attempting to defend the
probability of Milton™s rebel angel, developed an elaborate exegesis of
his human qualities and reactions.
Unlike his remarks on Cain and Milton, Byron™s commentary on Satan
as the hero of Paradise Lost is completely sincere. Byron believed that the
 Byron and Romanticism
devil was equivocally represented in Milton™s epic, and if Leigh Hunt was
able to discern the assured ¬deistic character of Paradise Lost, Byron was
equally certain that the poem was basically non-dogmatic. “Cain,” Byron
said, “is not a piece of argument”. It represented neither the devil™s party
nor God™s, for Byron had no intention (nor any inclination) to choose
forms of worship with his poetic tales. In this matter Byron felt himself to
be following Milton™s lead precisely, for he could not see an unequivocal
theology in Paradise Lost. Milton™s epics, for Byron, mirrored the open
mind of their creator. According to Byron, they “prove nothing”.
His great epics . . . prove nothing . . . He certainly excites compassion for Satan,
and endeavours to make him out an injured personage “ he gives him hu-
man passions too, makes him pity Adam and Eve, and justify himself much as
Prometheus does . . . I should be very curious to know what his real belief was.
The “Paradise Lost” and “Regained” do not satisfy me on this point.

This text is the crucial one for understanding Milton™s in¬‚uence upon
Byron™s Satanism. It not only contains the germ of his attitude toward
Milton the thinker, it explains why Milton™s in¬‚uence upon the Byronic
hero took the peculiar form it did.
Byron™s gloomy heroes have long been recognized as the descendants
of Milton™s Satan through the intermediacy of such famous hero-villains
as Karl Moor, Ambrosio, and Schedoni. Indeed, when Byron made his
notorious remark that Satan was the hero of Paradise Lost he was not
commenting directly on Paradise Lost at all. His letter was a reply to his
friend Francis Hodgson, who had made some severe criticisms of Gothic
hero-villains, that “long series of depraved . . . pro¬‚igates adorned with
courage, and rendered interesting by all the warmth and tenderness of
love . . . [They] cannot but have had the worst effect upon the minds of
the young.”·
Byron™s answer to Hodgson justi¬es (to a certain extent) his repeated
assertions that his tragic heroes were never meant to be taken as models
for behavior. The histories of the Giaour, Conrad, Manfred, Lucifer,
Cain, Christian, et al. are records of guilt and suffering, and for this reason
Byron was right to object when critics accused him of immorality.
Byron defended Cain, his own many dark heroes, as well as the fascinat-
ing villains of Gothic literature, on the same principle which guided his
reading of Paradise Lost. Milton™s poem was intellectually problematic for
Byron because all of Milton™s characters seemed humanized. Following
Pope and others, Byron criticized Milton™s portrayal of God because He
seemed altogether too mundane, and hence sounded ridiculous while
Milton and Byron
delivering His long theological disquisitions. According to Byron, He
never should have appeared in the epic at all. Similarly, Satan™s charac-
ter had been wrought with the greatest art, but the psychological result
was the portrait of a criminal-hero. Guilty he most certainly was, but a
pure principle of evil he was not.
This humanistic reading of Paradise Lost helped Byron to create his
own famous portraits of the criminal-hero. If Byron wondered what
Milton™s true beliefs might have been, his own lifelong uncertainty and
skepticism about ultimate philosophical and theological questions were
continually represented in his Gothic and oriental tales and his meta-
physical dramas. These poems were Byron™s means not for asserting his
philosophical convictions, but for exploring the intellectual questions
which never ceased to bother him. Moreover, the crucial vehicles for his
intellectual questionings were his notorious and deeply problematical
heroes, all of whom, as we know, trace their heritage back to Milton™s
Byron told his wife that he believed himself the avatar of a fallen angel.
This bizarre conviction explains, among other things, his fascination with
the Satan of Paradise Lost. Byron™s early heroes are frequently associated
in more or less explicit ways with Milton™s fallen angel.

He stood a stranger in this breathing world,
An erring spirit from another hurl™d;
(Lara, I, ±µ“±)
Enough”no foreign foe could quell
Thy soul, till from itself it fell.
(The Giaour, ±“±)
His soul was changed, before his deeds had driven
Him forth to war with man and forfeit heaven.
(The Corsair, I, µ± “µ)

All such ¬gures are, for Byron, guilty but fascinating beings. They are


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