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° Byron and Romanticism
In Manfred and several other poems of ±±“±±·, Milton helped Byron
to explore the nature and extent of his downfall. But as Byron let his mind
turn more and more on Milton (the process began in ±± about the time
he took up residence in the Villa Diodati “ of Miltonic memory), he
began to see a broad but clear parallel between the trials, betrayals, and
goals of Milton™s life and the similar circumstances of his own. The result
of this was a noticeable shift in Byron™s Miltonic echoes and borrowings
whenever he wrote within the context of his own life™s drama. Manfred
(like Byron™s Dante) learns to avoid the last in¬rmity of his own evil nature
not only by recalling “Lycidas” but even more by invoking the history
of Milton Agonistes. When Byron tells us that he had been the cause
of his own “proper woe,” and when Manfred wonders, just before the
“Lycidas” allusion, “If it be life to wear within myself / This barrenness
of spirit, and to be / My own soul™s sepulchre,” we are, in both cases,
being asked to recall passages in Samson Agonistes:

Nothing of all these evils hath befallen me
But justly; I myself have brought them on,
Sole author I, sole cause. (·“·)

To live a life half dead, a living death,
And buried; but O yet more miserable!
Myself, my sepulchre, a moving grave.
(±°°“±°)

Immediately and for some time after the separation, Byron seems to
have been obsessed with the parallels between his own situation and that
of Samson/Milton. Canto III of Childe Harold concludes with a general
parallel between Samson and Byron (stanza ±°). Even more particularly,
the famous line near the end of “Stanzas to Augusta” “ “In the desert a
fountain is springing” “ echoes the divine act which, in Samson™s need,
“caused a fountain at thy prayer / From the dry ground to spring”
(µ± “µ).
In the fourth canto of Childe Harold Byron drastically extended the
range of his willed identi¬cations with “fallen . . . and buried greatness.”
Prowling through the museums and libraries of history, Byron found
that he was not only the avatar of numerous Western heroes, real and
mythological, but that a remarkable number of dead poetic spirits found
their second selves in George Gordon. This inclination to seek his own
image throughout history produced those bizarre autobiographical ex-
ercises The Lament of Tasso and The Prophecy of Dante. But while many
±
Milton and Byron
Italian spirits march across the stanzas of Childe Harold IV, it is an
English poet, Milton, who stands as Byron™s unnamed but clearly invoked
precursor.
Childe Harold IV has two subjects, one personal (involving the disastrous
history of Lord Byron) and one political (involving the present state of
Italian degradation). As the poem develops, it becomes clear that the
two subjects depend upon each other. Brie¬‚y, Byron hopes to reacquire
a vital personal control upon life through his poetry, which he gives over
to the service of Italian risorgimento. But in setting about this task, Byron
invokes England™s other traduced republican genius. Milton too spoke
out for freedom in another time of trouble, and Byron returns to him for
a present guidance and a present strength.

Yet, Italy! through every other land
Thy wrongs should ring, and shall, from side to side;
Mother of Arts, as once of arms; thy hand
Was then our guardian, and is still our guide;
Parent of our Religion, whom the wide
Nations have knelt to for the keys of heaven!
Europe, repentant of her parricide,
Shall yet redeem thee, and, all backward driven,
Roll the barbarian tide, and sue to be forgiven.
(Stanza ·)

A pivotal stanza in Childe Harold IV, it looks forward to the so-called
“Forgiveness-curse” stanzas (stanzas, ±°“±·) and backward to Milton™s
proud sonnet “Cyriak, this three years day” (Sonnet ). The allusion
to Milton is brilliantly apt, for with it Byron reminds us that his political
career is as related to his more intimate history as Milton™s political
involvements were to his personal life:

What supports me dost thou ask?
The conscience, friend, to have lost [my sight] overplied
In Liberty™s defence, my noble task,
(II, “±)
Of which all Europe talks from side to side.

Later in the canto Byron extends the Milton parallels. The
“immedicable wound” (±·) suffered by England at the death of
the politically liberal (it was believed) Princess Charlotte recalls the
“immedicable soul” (±) of all those whose lives seem to be “not in /
The harmony of things.” Both phrases reach back to recover a pertinent
series of verses in Samson Agonistes.
 Byron and Romanticism
My griefs not only pain me
As a lingering disease,
But ¬nding no redress, ferment and rage,
Nor less than wounds immedicable
Rankle, and fester. (±“)

As it ensues, Byron takes at least the formal pattern for his behavior
in Canto IV from Samson™s. Though confessing his responsibility for
the disasters of his life, Byron denounces the treachery of his unnamed
familial connection. Samson does the same. Both Samson and Byron
leave the execution of revenge to other lords (SA, µ°“µ°; CHP IV,
±°“±), both offer a fury of forgiveness, both speak to their consorts
“At distance” (SA, µ), both represent their wives in recurrent ophidian
metaphors. Furthermore, the image of an independent and powerful
hero imprisoned in darkness and chains ¬‚its through Byron™s poem, as
it does through a number of other works of Byron™s exilic period, most
obviously The Prisoner of Chillon and The Lament of Tasso (both of which
contain Milton echoes). In Childe Harold IV, this Samson-like image is
given its most powerfully Miltonic turn immediately after Byron™s allusive
reference to man™s “immedicable soul.”
Yet let us ponder boldly; ™tis a base
Abandonment of reason to resign
Our right of thought, our last and only place
Of refugee . . .
Though from our birth the faculty divine
Is chain™d and tortured . . .
And bred in darkness, lest the truth should shine
Too brightly for the unprepar´ d mind,
e
The beam pours in, for time and skill will couch the blind.
(±·)

But not until Don Juan does Byron explicitly draw out the parallels he
felt between his own life and Milton™s.
The only two that in my recollection
Have sung of heaven and hell, or marriage, are
Dante and Milton, and of both the affection
Was hapless in their nuptials, for some bar
Of fault or temper ruin™d the connection
(Such things, in fact, it don™t ask much to mar):
But Dante™s Beatrice and Milton™s Eve
Were not drawn from their spouses, you conceive.
(III, ±°)±

Milton and Byron
In the very act of writing such a stanza Byron establishes his equality
with these two poets. Like Childe Harold IV, the verses enact Byron™s
achievement of his place among the community of the world™s poetic
geniuses, only in this case Byron stands with them not because of his
tragic history, but because of his urbanity and great wit. He does not
meet them because of likenesses in personal history, but because of the
verse skills he displays in the handling of those likenesses.
Earlier in his masterpiece “ in fact, at the outset “ Byron reached for
an identi¬cation with Milton in a mood more severe, if no less witty.

X
If, fallen in evil days on evil tongues,
Milton appealed to the Avenger, Time,
If Time, the Avenger, execrates his wrongs,
And makes the word “Miltonic” mean “sublime,”
He deign™d not to belie his soul in songs,
Nor turn his very talent to a crime;
He did not loathe the Sire to laud the Son,
But closed the tyrant-hater he begun.
XI
Think™st thou, could he”the blind Old Man”arise,
Like Samuel from the grave, to freeze once more
The blood of monarchs with his prophecies,
Or be alive again”again all hoar
With time and trials, and those helpless eyes,
And heartless daughters”worn”and pale”and poor;
Would he adore a sultan? he obey
The intellectual eunuch Castlereagh?
(“Dedication” to Don Juan)

Be recalling stanzas ±°“± of Childe Harold IV Byron underlines the
Miltonic character of that poem™s most intimately autobiographical pas-
sages, and reminds us that we were not wrong to hear in them the
undersong of Samson Agonistes. Further, Byron also makes explicit the po-
litical and poetic inheritance to which, in his mind, he was the true
heir. As the whole of the “Dedication” shows, Byron set out in Don Juan
to dispute with those Miltonists, Southey and Wordsworth, the right
to take Milton as their forebear. Wordsworth and Southey may affect
the Miltonic style, may wear the trappings of his Muse, but it is Byron
in whom Milton™s living spirit survives. “Though fall™n on evil dayes,”
like Milton, Byron wittily recalls the invocation to Urania in Book VII of
Paradise Lost in order to justify the ways of his “pedestrian Muses” to men.
 Byron and Romanticism
Southey and Wordsworth may be off and ¬‚ying on their time-serving and
pompous steeds just as they are free to seek their fortunes in the world
of Lord Castlereagh, Poet-Laureateships, and places “in the Excise.” To
let them have their way is to let them condemn themselves.
For me, who, wandering with pedestrian Muses,
Contend not with you on the winged steed,
I wish your fate may yield ye, when she chooses,
The fame you envy, and the skill you need;
And recollect a poet nothing loses
In giving to his brethren their full meed
Of merit, and complaint of present days
Is not the certain path to future praise.
(“Dedication” to Don Juan stanza VIII)

Meantime, while these bastard children of Milton soar in their illusory
poetic heavens, Byron will gather himself back to his father and begin
Don Juan under the aegis of the human books of Paradise Lost.
Return me to my Native Element:
Least from this ¬‚ying Steed enrein™d (as once
Bellerophon, though from a lower Clime)
Dismounted, on th™ Aleian Field I fall
Erroneus there to wander and forlorne.
Half yet remaines unsung, but narrower bound
Within the visible Diurnal Spheare;
Standing on Earth, not rapt above the Pole
More safe I Sing with mortal voice, unchang™d
To hoarce or mute, though fall™n on evil dayes,
On evil dayes though fall™n and evil tongues;
In darkness, and with dangers compast round,
And solitude; yet not alone, while thou
Visit™st my slumbers Nightly, or when Morn
Purples the East: still govern thou my Song,
Urania, and ¬t audience ¬nd, though few.
(P.L., VII, ±“±)


NOTES

± The Works of Lord Byron. Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero (London,
±“±°), IV, °“± (hereinafter referred to as LJ). All poetry is quoted
from E. H. Coleridge™s standard edition in seven volumes (London, ±“
±°).
 My remarks on this aspect of the relation between Byron and Milton are made
against the background of the following critical studies: [Anon.], “The Two
µ
Milton and Byron
Devils; or the Satan of Milton and Lucifer of Byron Compared,” Knickerbocker
Magazine, ° (±·), ±µ°“±µµ; Arthur Barker, “. . . ˜And on His Crest Sat
Horror™. Eighteenth-century Interpretations of Milton™s Sublimity and his
Satan,” UTQ , ±± (±± “±), ± “; Calvin Huckabay, “The Satanist
Controversy in the Nineteenth-century,” Studies in English Renaissance Literature,
ed. Waldo F. McNeir (Baton Rouge, ±), ±·“±°; Mario Praz, The Romantic
Agony (London, ±); Eino Railo, The Haunted Castle (London, ±·); C. N.
Stavrou, “Milton, Byron, and the Devil,” UKCR, ± (±µµ), ±µ“±µ; Peter
Thorslev, The Byronic Hero (Minneapolis, ±); Joseph A. Wittreich, ed.,
The Romantics on Milton (Cleveland/London, ±·°). Though numerous other
studies treat the subject in brief or peripheral ways, these are the ones I found
most useful.
 LJ, VI, ±µ“±; Medwin™s Conversations of Lord Byron, ed. Ernest J. Lovell,
Jr. (Princeton, ±), ±“±°.
 (London, ±), ±“±·.
µ LJ, V, .
 Medwin™s Conversations, ··“·.
· LJ, V, n.
 Lady Blessington™s Conversations of Lord Byron, ed. Ernest J. Lovell, Jr. (Princeton,
±), ±·“±·.
 Compare also The Corsair, I, “°.
±° Byron™s rhetorical management of these tales is a Romantic equivalent for
the rhetorical techniques used by Milton which were most recently described
by Stanley E. Fish, Surprised by Sin (London / New York, ±·). Both poets
set intellectual traps for their readers, but Milton™s technique is employed
to strengthen the reader™s faith, whereas Byron™s supports a new philosophy
that calls all in doubt.
±± This passage, “Lycidas,” ·°“·±, is also echoed in The Prophecy of Dante, I, ±±°.
± This was one of Byron™s favourite lines from Milton: it is also echoed in The
Lament of Tasso, The Island, Childe Harold, and Don Juan.
± See Paradise Lost, I, °°.
± Byron accepted the legend that Dante was unhappily married, just as he
also liked to apply Dante™s history (in this version) to himself. He even sug-
gested to his wife, directly, that he was like Dante in having been cursed
with a malicious spouse: see LJ, V, ± “, and compare The Prophecy of Dante,
I, ±·“±·n.

CHAPTER


Byron, mobility, and the poetics
of historical ventriloquism



I

Byron™s popularity “ the fact that he was a bestseller and “famous in

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