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Seem as you drank the very air
Her breath perfumed the while:
(“Revenge” [±])

The enchanted i(s)land is equally under the spell of the assenting “Ay” and
the gazing eye. The relation between the “Ay” and the eye is a recurrent
preoccupation:

Ay, moralize,”is it not thus
We™ve mourn™d our hope and love?
Alas! there™s tears for every eye,
A hawk for every dove.
(“A Child Screening a Dove from a Hawk” [±µ])

Here Landon muses on a painting by Thomas Stewardson, which is trian-
gulated by two fearful eyes (dove, child) and one cold eye (hawk). Studying
the aesthetics of the painter™s moralizing and sympathetic eye, the poem
succeeds through its ironic and self-conscious appropriation of the hawk™s
point of view.
The cruelty of the poem “ not to be separated from its sentimental
sympathies “ anticipates the equally cruel drama displayed in “Revenge,”
which retraces Blake™s “torments of love and jealousy”:

But this is ¬tting punishment
To live and love in vain,”
O my wrung heart, be thou content,
And feed upon his pain.

In this world, love™s “yes” is joined to the spectacular eye (“Ay, gaze . . .”)
and the coupling proves disastrous. Landon™s speaker succeeds by entering
fully into the terms of the relationship. Identifying with both her rival
and her false lover, the speaker overgoes Keats™s voluptas of pain by an act
of incorporation. The poem thus inverts Keats™s “Ode to Melancholy,” a
work Landon seems to be speci¬cally recalling. Her speaker “feeds” not
on a fantasy lady™s “Peerless eyes” but on the “pain” masked by such a
relationship. Landon™s speaker becomes a “cloudy trophy” hung in the
atrocity exhibition of her own poem.
Tennyson™s early poetry is an effort to put a more benevolent construc-
tion on the hollow and mordant writing that ¬lled his world. Although
deeply in¬‚uenced by Byron and Landon, he never even mentions the lat-
ter, and he struggles to exorcise his Byronic melancholy throughout his
life. “The Palace of Art” comes forward under the famous injunction of
Tennyson™s early friend R. C. Trench: “we cannot live in art.”
Poetry, ±·°“± µ
This thought locates what would become a key nexus of Victorian ide-
ology “ the preoccupation with social improvement and the commitment
to the ameliorative power of public institutions and culture. Tennyson™s
poem imagines the “art” that “we cannot live in” “ a speci¬cally Romantic
art “ as unlivably self-critical, desperate, voluptuous. Arnold™s normative
critique of Romanticism, ¬rst de¬ned in the preface to his ±µ Poems, is
already articulated by the early Tennyson.
N N . Well, Baudelaire read Tennyson quite differently, as I recall “ as the
third in his dark triumvirate of Byron, Poe, Tennyson. Trench™s remark
carries a deeper critique of art and the worthwhileness of living in what
Wordsworth called “the very world which is the world /Of all of us”
(Prelude, XI). Baudelaire™s work is written under that deeper, more atrocious
sign: “Anywhere out of the world.” He reads Tennyson as a kindred spirit.
Trench spoke to Tennyson as a well-fed wit of the bourgeois world that
Baudelaire, like Byron and Poe before him, refused. Trench™s distinction
between art and the world poses a practical decision and assumes the
absolute value of a quotidian life in society. Tennyson is a thoroughly
Victorian writer partly because his life™s work unfolds under the challenge
laid down by his friend. Everywhere assuming the validity of that thought,
Tennyson™s work puts it to the test of his poetic imagination:

That he who will not defend Truth may be compelled to Defend a Lie,
that he may be snared & caught & taken (Blake, Milton, plate )

Because Tennyson (like the Lady of Shalott) is an artist and not
(like Trench) a knight or burgher, his work comes to its Baudelairean posi-
tions by agreeing to defend the untruths of his corporeal friend Trench.
X X . So Tennyson is just another late Romantic.
N N . Not at all “ anymore than Baudelaire is a late Romantic. Of course
Tennyson and Baudelaire don™t abandon the inheritance of Romanticism:
one traces many connections to their immediate forebears, as one does in
Browning, or Arnold. Tennyson is Victorian because the dominant con-
text for his work is social and institutional. In the Romantics the context is
subjective and interpersonal.
Even when Tennyson writes a poem of self-exploration and expression “
In Memoriam, for example “ the work is organized to move beyond the
personal: the poem is, after all, framed on one end by an address to Queen
Victoria and on the other by a celebration of the marriage of Tennyson™s
sister. Byron™s Don Juan is every bit as socially conscious as In Memoriam,
but its egotistical sublimity is overwhelming. The contrast with Tennyson
couldn™t be sharper.
A A . Yes, and the development of that paradigm Victorian form “ the dramatic
monologue±± “ helps to de¬ne the differences. Putting a frame around its
subjects, the monologue drops the appearance of a mediating conscious-
ness. Byron™s “dramatic monologues” “ poems like The Lament of Tasso
 Byron and Romanticism
and The Prophecy of Dante “ are clear vehicles of self-expression. “Ulysses”
(±) and Pauline (±) are not, partly because they could not be: unlike
Tennyson and Browning, Byron™s “dramatic monologues” come from an
author already famous as a poetic ventriloquist.
X X . Perhaps Tennyson and Browning are just more guarded and circumspect
in their dramatic monologues “ as if the formulas of Romanticism, and
especially late Romanticism, bore too much reality for Byron™s shocking
public displays. That, at any rate, appears to be what Clare believed, as his
late acts of Byronic imitation show. That they are “madhouse” poems “
poems of an incarcerated self “ de¬nes the point of such work exactly. As
his work began to be culturally appropriated, Clare™s madhouses began to
frame his work “ the way his class status was used to frame his other work.
In this sense the Northampton madhouse should be seen as the formal
equivalent of the Victorian dramatic monologue. Northampton allows
readers to turn Clare into a social and cultural subject even in his own
writings. The event is quintessentially Victorian. It even de¬nes the High
Victorian way with Romantic writing in general: culture over anarchy, the
triumph of art as sweetness and light.
A A . Is that a Victorian or a Romantic way? The cult of the primitive and unedu-
cated genius, the ethnographic reading of art “ are these not preoccupations
of the “Romantic period”?
X X . The history of cultural forms appears always to move in opposite directions,
doesn™t it?

NOTES

± A key Romantic concept, formulated by Wordsworth in his Prelude project.
Wordsworth™s idea is that experience yields certain sacred moments that
preserve a restorative power through one™s later life. Such moments often
come without one™s realizing their importance at the time of their occurrence.
Memory clari¬es their signi¬cance. These moments testify to the invisible
but permanent presence of a benevolent Spirit in the universe. See Prelude
(±µ°) Book II, °“.
 Keats here touches on the strong ethno-mythological impulse apparent
throughout Romantic art. The ballad revival fed into Romantic primitivism;
early cultural documents were recovered and imitated because they were
read as “legend-laden.” Romantic art made one of its objects the recovery
of unconscious, innocent, and naive powers.
 Blake™s diad “Innocence” and “Experience” is a version of the dialectic
more famously set out in Schiller™s “On Naive and Sentimental Poetry”
(±·µ“±·), and in Wordsworth™s distinction between the “spontaneous
over¬‚ow of powerful feelings” and “emotion recollected in tranquillity”
(“Preface,” Lyrical Ballads [±°°]). According to these two (subsequently nor-
mative) views, contemporary poetry “ that is, Romantic poetry “ “takes its
origin from” the “sentimental” or “recollective” element “ from the self-
consciousness that permits a modern poet to recreate “in the mind” “an
Poetry, ±·°“± ·
emotion, similar to” the original “naive” and “spontaneous . . . feelings.”
That self-consciousness, later denominated “Romantic irony” (in Germany)
and secondary imagination (by Coleridge, Biographia Literaria [±±·]), is the
critical term which for these thinkers generates the reciprocal concepts of
the “naive,” the “spontaneous,” and the “primary imagination.”
 No idea is more fundamental to Romantic art than the idea of
“imagination.” On the other hand, no idea is more protean. In general,
Romantic imagination designates the power “ usually associated with a poet-
ical sensibility “ to perceive non-ordinary reality, or the non-ordinary aspects
of the everyday world; and to create and project to others one™s perception
of such things.
µ Many Romantic writers “ not all “ gave a special privilege to the idea of
nature. Wordsworthian Romanticism tends to a kind of pantheism. Nature
was generally regarded as a kind of spiritual resort, a refuge from the con¬‚icts
and divisions of life in society.
 Other than the ballad revival of the eighteenth century, no pre-Romantic
movement was more important for Romanticism than sentimentalism. The
aesthetics of sentimentalism are de¬ned early in Mark Akenside™s Pleasures
of Imagination (±·). The Della Cruscan movement of the ±·°s and ±·°s
provided the crucial immediate stimulus for the development of Romantic
forms of the sentimental.
· Although Romantic art tends to represent itself as spontaneous and un-
studied, these qualities are aesthetic effects of rhetorical strategies. Two
key devices are (±) a detailed presentation of a concrete immediate con-
text for the poetical text (epitomized in the famous subtitle of Wordsworth™s
“Tintern Abbey”); () the construction of a poetic revery, as if the reader
were “overhearing” the poet musing “ in several senses “ aloud.
 This book signals the importance of “the Gothic,” and in particular
the Gothic novel, for Romantic writers. “Tales of Terror” and “Tales of
Wonder” appear throughout the period and they testify to Romanticism™s
preoccupation with conditions of social and psychological dislocation, on
the one hand, and with mythic and primitive materials on the other.
 Barbauld™s poem is a late re¬‚ection on the dominant political event of the
Romantic age “ the French Revolution and its aftermath, the Napoleonic
wars.
±° Romanticism feeds off various experiences of alienation and is preoccupied
with marginal writers and localized sensibilities. The idea is that alienation (as
well as various congruent forms of experience, like historical backwardness)
give privileged insight precisely by standing apart from normal experience. In
this context, women™s writing of the period possesses a singular importance.
±± Although formal equivalents of this mode can be found throughout the
Romantic period, the subgenre is distinctly Victorian. Paradoxically, its
Romantic foreshadowing appears not so much in poems like The Lament of
Tasso as in “The Solitary Reaper” or Childe Harold or any other highly subjec-
tive Romantic work. In Romantic writing, the “monologue” is a “dramatic”
presentation of the poet in propria persona.
±
CHAPTER


Byron and Romanticism, a dialogue (Jerome McGann
and the editor, James Soderholm)



JS: I™m struck by your insistence on “objectivity” regarding your essays on
Byron. Is this objectivity as in “°“° hindsight” or objectivity as a rhetor-
ical pose: the mask of Kantian disinterestedness? Or have you another,
perhaps more Byronic slant on the meaning of this objectivity? It™s odd to
see an historicist and post-Nietzschean using the anathematized “O” word.
Kindly explain.
J J M : Positivist and Postmodernist takes on the idea of “objectivity” have always
fed on each other, it seems to me. My references to my objectivity are
therefore partly mischievous and rhetorical. Philosophers “ I™m not one “
would probably call my views “critical realism.” Just because I wrote those
essays doesn™t mean I can™t look at them in a critical way. Nor is that option
simply a function of a temporal gap. Surely we all strive for a critical view of
what we do or think, even in the immediacy of these events. But then no one
ever escapes an horizon of “subjective” interests and purposes “ to make
an ideal of such an escape is ludicrous. So there I am, like yourself, looking
“objectively” at my essays and at my immediate re¬‚ections on those essays.
The look is full of purposes and interests many of which, no doubt, I must
be quite unaware of. My unawareness is as much an “objective” condition,
even to me, as my awareness. That I might have a limited view of my
situation is certain. But everyone™s views are thus limited. Self-re¬‚ection is
no more liable to subjective limits than any kind of thought or perception.
J S : What are some of these purposes and interests “ the ones you are aware
of ? Why collect these particular essays at this particular moment in your
life? Your “General analytic and historical introduction” sheds light on
these purposes, but perhaps you also have a word or two to say. Is the very
attempt to shape and publish this collection an attempt at self-criticism?
J J M : I grow to realize that my least self-critical impulse is this passion for self-
criticism. Being right, in either sense of that word, seems deplorable to me “
a feeling that itself must be deplorable in ways I have dif¬culty realizing.
(Some of the farthest right thinking I know, by the way, now comes from
the left.)
But to answer your question: no, I haven™t collected these essays as
“an attempt at self-criticism.” I take such “attempts” as a given of any
thinking at all. My conscious purpose was more polemical. I was thinking



Byron and Romanticism, a dialogue
of the Cultural Studies legacies that came with the “return to history.” A
backwash of these currents has begun to be noticed “ a relative neglect of
the minute particulars of literary works as they are literary and aesthetic.
The New Critical origins of much of my work, which has been noticed
and sometimes attacked during our New Historicist years, may perhaps
gain a new salience at this moment. I just saw a revival of Stoppard™s
The Real Thing, and was struck by the relevance of one of its key moments:
an extended apology for language “as such” by the playwright character.
And Byron is central to what I have in mind (as he has been, along with
his avatar Wilde, so central to what Stoppard has done). Because while
Byron has always been a kind of magical being, his writing “ his prose and
his poetry “ remains relatively neglected “ when compared, say, with the
kind of attention that Wordsworth™s or Keats™s writings continue to draw
from academics. My own New Critical history suggests how and why these
currents run as they do. Thematics remains a preoccupation of academic
criticism when it tries to engage “the literary.” But Byron™s importance as
a writer, “ like Wilde™s, like Stoppard™s “ is a function of his writings™ style,
the way his work realizes thinking as a total body experience “ ultimately,
as a kind of intercourse. Reading him we arrive at another de¬nition of
the human: “Man,” a new Aristotle might say, “is a languaged animal.”
J S : But clearly not all men “ and women “ are ˜languaged™ equally. Some are
happily enmired in the thickness of language, while others try to make the
medium as invisible as possible. How do you now see, for example, the
difference between Byron and Wordsworth when it comes to the issue of
style and medium? And Shelley?
J J M : There is a key Wordsworthian experience that is very different from the
equivalent key experiences of Byron and Shelley. It is intensely personal
and quasi-mystical. He speaks of being “laid asleep in body [to] become a
living soul,” and of a moment when “the light of sense goes out but with a
¬‚ash” that reveals “the invisible world.” This encounter validates the entire
Wordsworthian ethos. It is the pledge “ really, the lived experience “ of a
supernatural and ultimately a benevolent ground to human existence. It is
a truth that, once awakened in the mind, never perishes. What so moves
us in Wordsworth™s writing, I think, is our recognition of this experience
as a kind of catastrophic need in Wordsworth. His famous “sincerity” is a
style for laying bare that needful heart.
The Wordsworthian drama is thus largely a psychic one, an engagement
between the soul and God. It yields as it were naturally to every kind of
depth analysis, most pertinently for us to analyses through (sympathetic)
Freudian and (deconstructive) Marxist mythologies.

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