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in the end, un-Byronic, for Byron™s Southey does not feel it as a “most
painful and unhappy attribute.”±


II

Byron™s most profound presentation of his idea of Romantic mobility
comes, as we might expect, when he draws himself and his own practice
into the analysis. “Changeable too “ yet somehow ˜idem semper™” (DJ XVII,
±±, ): thus Byron sought to describe both himself and his poem in his
last, fragmentary canto. The characterization intersects with the entire
constellation of ideas related to the concept of mobility, and thereby
also gestures toward the similarities and differences which link Byron
to his dark double, Robert Southey. In Canto III these similarities and

Mobility and the poetics of historical ventriloquism
differences are fully elaborated in the ¬gure of the poet who comes to
sing at Juan and Haid´ e™s lavish banquet and festival.
e
Byron™s introductory stanzas (·“) describe the character of this
poet as “a sad trimmer” (, ±). This passage distinctly recalls what Byron
had said earlier about Southey in the (abandoned) “Preface” to Don Juan
and the (reluctantly cancelled) “Dedication.” There the tone is much
more savage, however, resembling in this respect the satiric passage cited
earlier from “Vision of Judgment.” All the (by now) familiar charges are
brought forward “ for example, in stanzas ° and µ:
He was a man who had seen many changes,
And always changed as true as any needle,
His polar star being one which rather ranges,
And not the ¬x™d”he knew the way to wheedle:
So vile he ™scaped the doom which oft avenges;
And being ¬‚uent (save indeed when fee™d ill),
He lied with such a fervour of intention”
There was no doubt he earn™d his laureate pension.
...
Thus, usually, when he was ask™d to sing,
He gave the different nations something national;
™Twas all the same to him”“God save the king,”
Or “Ca ira,” according to the fashion all;
His muse made increment of any thing,
From the high lyric down to the low rational:
If Pindar sang horse-races, what should hinder
Himself from being as pliable as Pindar?

These stanzas epitomize Byron™s usual critique of the poet as renegade
and unscrupulous time-server, and they sum up the general tone of
Byron™s presentation in the passage as a whole. But two other stanzas in
the sequence disturb the proprieties which customarily govern Byron™s
satire in these situations. In stanza  Byron tells us that this poet
had travell™d ™mongst the Arabs, Turks, and Franks,
And knew the self-loves of the different nations;
And having lived with people of all ranks,
Had something ready upon most occasions”
Which got him a few presents and some thanks.
He varied with some skill his adulations;
To “do at Rome as Romans do,” a piece
Of conduct was which he observed in Greece.
 Byron and Romanticism
These lines recall nothing so much as Byron himself: ¬rst, as the
Levantine cruiser of ±°“±±±, and second, as the poet and social lion
of ±±“±±. Byron had fun at Southey™s Laureate expense, and while
he sometimes protested that he never courted his immense popularity or
¬‚attered his adulators, he knew that he had in fact “¬led [his] mind”
(Childe Harold III, ±±, ) during his Years of Fame. For Byron him-
self, those years were far from innocent of the “adulations” for which
he denounced Southey. Of himself he could say, with far more cer-
tainty than he could of Southey, that he had written verse to foster his
image and advance his career. Like Lady Adeline, however, such work
was produced side by side with those self-revelatory looks (or poems)
“Of weariness or scorn” which re¬‚ected critically on the “adulations.”
Indeed, the “adulations” themselves frequently displayed their own in-
ternal self-contradictions.
In the “sad trimmer” poet, then, we glimpse the face of Robert
Southey, and this is no great surprise; but in the allusion to Southey the
outlines of another, unexpected face are also glimpsed. This palimpsest
produces an unstable and apparently self-contradicted text whose true
biographical subject “ Byron himself “ emerges from beneath the layers
of his own normal satiric displacements:

But now being lifted into high society,
And having picked up several odds and ends
Of free thoughts in his travels, for variety,
He deem™d, being in a lone isle, among friends,
That without any danger of a riot, he
Might for long lying make himself amends;
And singing as he sung in his warm youth,
Agree to a short armistice with truth. (DJ III, )

This could be, and is in part, an oblique thrust at Southey™s renegado turn
from his youthful republicanism to his later apostasy. It is also, however,
an even more oblique glimpse of Byron™s political and poetical career
up to ±±, which was marked by its own de¬nite, if much less apparent,
forms of ideological backsliding and dishonesty. Byron was much more
“cunning in [his] own overthrow” than Southey was, but that he had
pursued “False Ambition” and betrayed his soul™s “nobler aim” he could
not, and would not, deny (see “[Epistle to Augusta],” ·, ±°). And so
“for long lying” he aimed, in this passage, to “make himself amends”
in the form of an imitation revolutionary Greek ballad, the famous
“Isles of Greece.”
µ
Mobility and the poetics of historical ventriloquism
The poem is at once an admonishment, or call, and a ful¬llment of his
highest poetical ideals. And the ful¬llment lies precisely in this: that when
he now sings “as he sung in his warm youth” he reveals, self-consciously
and deliberately, both his utopian goals (to which he rededicates himself )
and his understanding that he has been the worst betrayer of those goals.
He is the worst because he appeared, to himself and to others, as one of
the staunchest supporters of such goals.
The ballad™s subtle mastery emerges when this network of allusions,
intertexts, and subtexts is fully comprehended. In general, Byron™s ¬ction
is that the ballad is sung by a Romaic poet in the late ±·°s to an audi-
ence of his fellows who live quiescently under Turkish rule. It calls them
from their lives of pleasure and political degeneracy to take up a more
strenuous and principled course of action. At this level, it is a poem deter-
mined to raise the Greek national consciousness. Consequently, though
its ¬ctive date is the late ±·°s, and though it recalls the Greek patriotic
songs of the late eighteenth century (like Rhiga™s “War Song”), its ±°
context is equally operative. In fact, the Greek war for independence
was to commence in ±±, and Byron™s early attachment to that cause
would draw him in ± from Italy to western Greece and his famous
death in ±.
Don Juan™s ¬ctive level “ that is, the plot of Juan™s career in the poem™s
imagined time scheme stretching from about ±·· to its (unreached) con-
clusion in ±· “ is always calling attention to its narrative (or “real”)
level: that is, to the poem as a continuing historical event which unfolds
before its European audience between ±± and ±, and which makes
that context part of its subject. This interplay between a ¬ctive and a
narrative time scheme throws into relief a dominant fact about Don Juan:
that it is fundamentally an autobiographical poem which comments
upon and interprets the course of European history between ±·· and
±. In the case of “The Isles of Greece,” Byron™s ¬ctional Greek poet
masks, only to reveal more clearly, the poem™s true author. As always in
Don Juan, Byron reveals and thereby manipulates his poetical machinery
in a self-conscious drama of his own mind. We therefore observe this
ballad as a vehicle for satirizing Southey and all other republican turn-
coats, for satirizing generally those who have betrayed the cause of the
European political ideal of liberty which had its origin in ancient Greece
and which appeared once again in various revolutionary movements dur-
ing the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (paradigmatically
in America and France). So, when we read “The Isles in Greece” we are
also to see Lord Byron satirizing Robert Southey in ±°.
 Byron and Romanticism
At the poem™s most complex level, we also see through Byron™s satire
of Southey into the innermost drama of his own mind. Consider the
ballad™s ¬fth stanza.

And where are they? and where art thou,
My country? On thy voiceless shore
The heroic lay is tuneless now”
The heroic bosom beats no more!
And must thy lyre, so long divine,
Degenerate into hands like mine?

An act of poetic ventriloquism multiplies the pronominal references in
these lines. The Romaic poet sings here of himself and of Greece, but the
English poet sings of England and Lord Byron. The ideal of Greece calls
out to Byron™s, and England™s, identi¬cation with that ideal, just as the
degeneracy of present-day Greece (whether conceived in the context of
±·· or of ±°) re¬‚ects upon England™s, and Byron™s, betrayals of their
most cherished, and Greek-derived, ideals.
Two ¬ctive voices sing “The Isles of Greece”: the imaginary Romaic
poet of ±·· and the imagined Robert Southey of ±° and they sing
of the ideals and betrayals of themselves and their respective countries.
In the end, however, the two voices are incorporated as the poetically
“actual” voice of Lord Byron, who sings of his own immediate psychic
and political situation and the context in which it had developed.

™Tis something, in the dearth of fame,
Though link™d among a fetter™d race,
To feel at least a patriot™s shame,
Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
For what is left the poet here?
For Greeks a blush, for Greece a tear.

A passage like this dramatically reveals the complex voicing techniques
of the ballad, along with the related and equally complex network of
references and levels of statement. In these lines the “Fame” is Greece™s,
England™s, and Byron™s; the “fetter™d race” is Greek, but also Italian
(Byron is writing his poem in the Italian dominions of the Austrian
Empire), and “ even more generally “ European (“There is no freedom “
even for Masters “ in the midst of slaves” [BLJ, IX, ±]). Thus, when Byron
gestures to “the poet here,” his words resonate in the widest European
context of ±··“±.
·
Mobility and the poetics of historical ventriloquism
The ballad plays itself out as a contest between the rival claims of “The
Scian and the Teian muse, / The hero™s harp, the lover™s lute” (, ± “).
Representing a poetical career and its goals as a dialectic between the
shifting claims of heroic and amatory verse (here, speci¬cally, between
Homer and Anacreon) is a pre-eminently Byronic structure of thought.
His entire life™s work as a poet develops as a self-lacerating experience
of their rival claims. Whenever Byron moves too de¬nitively toward one
of these poetical and political ideals he will call upon the other to limit,
criticize, and judge its illusions and appeals. Byron™s great lyric “On
This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year” culminates this con¬‚ict by
representing it as (by itself ) a hopeless one. “On This Day” calls for its
cessation by invoking the option of suicide.
Such is also the option toward which “The Isles of Greece” makes its
¬nal gesture.
Place me on Sunium™s marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swan-like, let me sing and die:
A land of slaves shall ne™er be mine”
Dash down you cup of Samian wine.
(±)

As in the later lyric, when the poet here chooses death to break the
impasse of his life, his choice involves a decision for the claims of heroism.
What is important to see is that this is an historical choice, one demanded
by time, place, and circumstance. The voice of the Scian muse plays
through “The Isles of Greece” to remind us of the essential virtues of
a truly civilized life, which would not include war and violence. But no
such life is possible when the social structure is degenerate at its ground.
Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
Our virgins dance beneath the shade”
I see their glorious black eyes shine;
But gazing on each glowing maid,
My own the burning tear-drop laves,
To think such breasts must suckle slaves.
(±µ)

In such times the image of love itself becomes an occasion for swerving
toward heroic values. Nevertheless, we have to see that the move toward
the heroic is now regarded as deeply equivocal, a fate or doom embraced
 Byron and Romanticism
by those who are willing to sacri¬ce themselves by choosing an heroic
life in order to secure, at some future date, the restoration of a civilized
order.
Thus the ideological structures of “On This Day” and “The Isles
of Greece” are all but exact equivalents. However, “On This Day” is a
much more interiorized poem, and that difference is crucial. The fact that
Byron™s voice in “The Isles of Greece” is explicitly mixed with the voices
of Southey and the modern Greek patriot, and implicitly with the entire
Anacreontic and Homeric traditions, socializes the lyric in a number of
important and speci¬c ways. The history imbedded in “On This Day”
is Byron™s personal history and the drama is fundamentally psychic. In
“The Isles of Greece,” on the other hand, the complex voicing extends
the world of which and for which the poem is speaking. “On This Day”
is set in ±, in Greece, and in Byron™s mind “ ¬nally, in the relations
which the poem establishes between these three loci and all that each
implicitly involves. The layered voices in “The Isles of Greece” dra-
matically enlarge the poem™s network of references, forcing the reader
to consider the complex relations of those references. In the end “ like
Don Juan itself “ the lyric implies that European history between ±··
and ±° is all of a piece, and that the condition of Greece during the
period is the very symbol of the condition of Europe. At the end of
the eighteenth century Greece looked for freedom from Turkish rule as
Europe looked for a revolutionary emancipation from inherited and
archaic political order; in ±°, despite the intervening years of turmoil
and promise, the status quo has been (at least formally and materially)
preserved. Even more telling, however, is the poem™s revelation of all of
Europe™s “ including England™s “ complicity in this state of affairs. In
±°“±±± Byron began to fear the truth of such complicity and he ex-
pressed his fears in Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage I“II. In ±° his fears have
been fully realized. “The Isles of Greece” exposes, analyzes, and judges
this complicity. The English Lord speaks as and for the failed Greek
patriot and the turncoat Jacobin Southey. In Don Juan™s “Dedication”
and elsewhere Byron will separate himself from Southey, Castlereagh,
Matternich, and the forgers of Europe™s spiritual slavery. Here, by con-
trast, he speaks with their voices and says, of himself and for all those
who have judged themselves innocent: “Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable,
mon fr`re.”
e
In “The Isles of Greece” Byron™s voice does, however, gain a cer-
tain frail integrity through its aspiration toward the whole truth, toward
complete freedom from cant. The ballad reveals and denounces the

Mobility and the poetics of historical ventriloquism
canting life of its age by constructing a poem which gives lip service to

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