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the traditional Western ideas of love and honor. Its honesty appears as
a double understanding: ¬rst, that these ideals, in their inherited forms
at any rate, are con¬‚icted and self-contradictory; and second, that lip
service, in Byron™s age, is the most which history could expect. Byron
everywhere speaks of the degeneracy of his period, a condition he
deplored in the political, poetical, and moral cant which was being de-
livered by contemporary ideologues like Southey. These are the voices
who speak with authority of what is right and wrong, good and evil,
angelic and satanic. Byron™s voice, by contrast, undercuts and renders
ironic every voice which pretends to assume this kind of authority. The
shock and even the genius of this procedure lies in the poetry™s ¬nal
level of irony, where Byron deliberately assumes the rhetoric of a total and
dependable authority. Byron™s high style “ which appears once again in
this famous ballad “ projects the ideal of the poet and hero manqu´, the
¬gure who alone (in both senses) can speak in an unbetrayed voice of his
age™s persistent betrayals:

Thus sung, or would, and could, or should have sung,
The modern Greek, in tolerable verse;
If not like Orpheus quite, when Greece was young,
Yet in these times he might have done much worse:
His strain display™d some feeling”right or wrong;
And feeling, in a poet, is the source
Of others™ feeling, but they are such liars,
And take all colours”like the hands of dyers. (III, ·)

Thus Byron sums up the signi¬cance of the ballad he has just presented.
The statement displays the ironic equivocalness engineered in “these
times,” but it equally and forthrightly says that a poet “might have done
much worse” than this. The remark recalls Southey™s Laureate perfor-
mances as well as Byron™s own earlier work in which the truth he is
fundamentally committed to had been subtly, cunningly betrayed. Like
the several stanzas which follow, this one concludes in that typical Byronic
gesture of resolute irresolution: an equivocal af¬rmation of the power of
poetry, on the one hand, and an equally equivocal pronouncement upon
its unreliability.
The Shakespeare echo at the end of the stanza recalls Byron™s views on
poetic mobility. The cynical tone in which the echo is made, however “
so unlike the original passage “ reminds us, in this case, that Byron™s
ventriloquism, or mobility, is everywhere marked by the “weariness
µ° Byron and Romanticism
or scorn” which Juan glimpsed in Adeline™s accommodating looks.
Paradoxically, Byron™s cynicism is a liberating rather than a defeatist
move because Byron is aware that the past “ its deeds, its voices, its
ideas “ cannot be appropriated to the present through simple gestures of
mobility or chameleonic acts. Byron turns a mordant eye on the inheri-
tance of greatness (especially poetic greatness) because he knows that its
ideal apparitions conceal human, equivocal truths. Indeed, when those
equivocal human forms do not appear, the ideals enter the world as
In the ballad, the temptation to accept an idealized view of the voices
and deeds of the past appears most clearly in the call to heroic action “ for
example, in stanza :

What, silent still? and silent all?
Ah! no;”the voices of the dead
Sound like a distant torrent™s fall,
And answer, “Let one living head,
But one arise,”we come, we come!”
™Tis but the living who are dumb.

But the fact is that these martial voices from the dead may (and have)
issued calls to freedom and to tyranny. The “Turkish hordes” of stanza 
have answered that call as surely as did the °° who fell at Thermopylae.
If “the living . . . are dumb” now to that call, their silence may be the
honesty of Keats™s aesthetic escapism, or the critical judgment of the
sybarite Sardanapalus. Besides, Byron has seen the call answered too
often and too well by the poets and ideologues of European imperialism:
by a Southey in his Waterloo hymns, and by a Wordsworth who could
proclaim that the carnage of battle is the daughter of God.
So in the ballad the voice of the Scian muse repeatedly undercuts the
voice of the Teian “ but not de¬nitively. Anacreon™s role, in this respect,
is to introduce the note of “weariness or scorn” into the poem™s act of
heroic ventriloquism. In this way Byron tries to insure that he will raise
up from the past a human rather than a demonic ¬gure; and in this way
he also manages to compose, in ±°, a song on behalf of human freedom
which escapes incorporation by the Age of Cant. The crowning wit of
the poem is that the song is offered to the reader as a familiar Byronic
tour de force in which the poet™s identity is submerged in a network of
competing voices. Byron appears, in the end, as the self-conscious creator
and observer of his own verse: the man who ¬nds his mixed identity and
Mobility and the poetics of historical ventriloquism
equivocal freedom when he acknowledges the constellation of his own
social determinants, the man who discovers his voice in a conscious and
dialectical act of poetic ventriloquism.


± I suppose it does not need to be remarked that this representation of the
Laureate is a travesty of his actual character. In fact, the worst that might
be said of him would be the opposite, that he was narrow and self-righteous
(Byron accused him of these vices as well, of course “ elsewhere). For a good
assessment of his character see Geoffrey Carnall, Robert Southey.
 For an excellent discussion of the poem™s Greek context, both classical and
modern, see Kiriakoula Solomou™s recent studies, “Byron and Greek Poetry,”
and “In¬‚uence.”
 We should recall here Byron™s early translations of Anacreontic verse.
 The whole of this book comprises a commentary on Greece and on Europe™s
relation to Greece™s political condition under Turkish rule. Byron was deeply
critical of the hypocrisy of English, French, and Russian philhellenism, as
we see most clearly in the notes and appendices which he included in Childe
Harold™s Pilgrimage: A Romaunt (±±). Most telling of all “ and almost never
noticed “ is Byron™s reference to, and partial translation of, the Romaic satire
of Greece, England, Russia, and France: the so-called “Rossanglogallos.” See
Solomou™s discussion, “In¬‚uence,” and “Byron and Greek Poetry,” ±“±°,
±“±, ±°“±; see also Byron, Poetical Works, II, ±“±µ.


Byron, George Gordon, Lord. Byron™s Letters and Journals. Ed. Leslie Marchand.
± vols. London: John Murray, ±·“±. Cited in parentheses
as BLJ.
Byron™s Don Juan: A Variorum Edition. Ed. T. G. Steffan and W. W. Pratt.  vols.
Austin: University of Texas Press, ±µ·.
The Complete Poetical Works. Ed. Jerome J. McGann. · vols. Oxford: Clarendon
Press, ±°“±.
The Works of Lord Byron: Poetry. Ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge. · vols. London:
John Murray, ±“±°. The texts of Byron™s poems “ with the exception
of the passages from Don Juan, taken from Steffan and Pratt, eds. “ are
taken from this edition.
Carnall, Geoffrey. Robert Southey and His Age: The Development of a Conservative Mind.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±°.
Grierson, H. J. C. “Lord Byron: Arnold and Swinburne,” Wharton Lectures on
English Poetry ±± (±°).
µ Byron and Romanticism
Keats, John. The Letters of John Keats. Vol. II. Ed. Hyder Edward Rollins.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, ±µ.
Ridenour, George. The Style of Don Juan. New Haven: Yale University Press,
Solomou, Kiriakoula. “Byron and Greek Poetry.” Diss. University of Aberdeen,
±°. See esp. “.
“The In¬‚uence of Greek Poetry on Byron.” Byron Journal ±° (±), “±.


“My brain is feminine”: Byron
and the poetry of deception


I begin with a mouldy anecdote, a late supplement to that once-
¬‚ourishing industry “ now part of the imagination™s rust belt “ called
“Curiosities of Literature.”
In ± a short article appeared in Notes and Queries under the heading
“Byroniana.” Its subject was a poem entitled “The Mountain Violet”
which the author of the article, Henry Wake, attributed to Byron.± The
case for authenticity was argued on two counts, one archival and one
stylistic. The archival argument observed that the poem was printed in an
anthology of verse collected by one Charles Snart under the title A Selection
of Poems, published in Newark in two volumes in ±°·“±°. Wake said
that he was in possession of a set of Snart™s edition with “Mrs. Byron”
written in pencil in her hand on the front ¬‚yleaf, and with the following
notation on the end ¬‚yleaf of Volume II: “ from Nottingham Journal.”
The latter was a reference to “The Mountain Violet,” which was printed
on page  of Vol. II. The poem, it turns out, was in fact ¬rst printed
in the Nottingham Journal on  April ±°. Neither printing atttributes
authorship, but according to Wake the pencil notation at the end of
Snart™s book is in Byron™s hand.
Wake went on to argue that the poem™s style showed remarkable con-
gruities with the style of Byron™s early verse. Such matters are dif¬cult
to decide, of course, especially when one is dealing with juvenilia. At
that stage of a career, an author™s style will be derivative, and one ex-
pects to observe features which will be common to any number of other
contemporary writers. Nonetheless, the stylistic similarities are striking;
and this fact, coupled with the archival evidence, led Wake to his at-
tribution. Wake™s judgment was seconded by the distinguished Byronist
Richard Edgecumbe, who wrote a brief supporting article which ap-
peared shortly afterwards in Notes and Queries. (I pass without comment

µ Byron and Romanticism
the importance of Nottingham and Newark since, as all Byronists know,
these are places strongly connected with Byron™s early verse “ the writing
of it, the printing, the publishing.)
I initially became interested in this minor literary incident when
I began editing Byron™s poetry “ that was in ±·°. “The Mountain Violet”
had never been included in a collected edition of Byron™s works, and I had
to decide what to do in my edition. For sixteen years that poem remained
in my ¬les under the heading “Dubia” “ in other words, in an editorial
limbo, neither in nor out of the authoritative corpus. In ±, however,
I discovered the truth about “The Mountain Violet.” Byron did not write
it. The poem is the work of Charlotte Dacre, and it was published in her
two-volume poetry collection in ±°µ, Hours of Solitude.
I made my discovery while I was reading Dacre™s books, reading them
for the ¬rst time, I am ashamed to say. It was a discovery I was very
happy to have made. But the reading led to another, related discovery
about Byron™s poetry, and that second discovery is what I want to talk
about today.
The title Hours of Solitude, for one who knows Byron, can suggest only
one thing: Hours of Idleness, Byron™s ¬rst published book of verse issued two
years after Dacre™s book. This verbal echo is in fact only one part of the
massive act of allusion to Dacre which constitutes the title page of Byron™s
book: the format of the latter imitates Dacre™s title page in the most
remarkable way. As might be expected, the title page signals a series of
textual echoes and allusions which are scattered through the “Original”
parts of the book Byron subtitled “Poems Original and Translated.”
Indeed, Byron™s misguided plea, in his book™s Preface, for the reader™s
“indulgence” because the poems are “the productions . . . of the lighter
hours of a young man, who has lately completed his nineteenth year” was
a move he took over directly from Dacre. In her prefatory note “To the
Reader” and then throughout the text, she called attention to “the age at
which [her poems] were written” (that is, all before she was twenty-three,
and many when she was sixteen or younger).
What most impressed Byron in Hours of Solitude were the poems of
sentiment. The poems he addressed to various female persons in his
¬rst three books (the volumes culminating in Hours of Idleness), as well
as lyrics like “The First Kiss of Love,” call back to a number of similar
poems in Dacre™s work “ for example, “The Kiss,” “The Sovereignty of
Love,” “To Him Who Says He Loves,” and so forth. In the last section
of Hours of Idleness, which comprises a kind of critical re¬‚ection on all of
“My brain is feminine”
his poetry to that point, Byron includes a new poem, “To Romance,”
where he reluctantly (and sentimentally) acknowledges a failure of the
muse of sentiment.
This instance of a neglected in¬‚uence on Byron™s juvenile poetry might
appear just another item in the shop of literature™s curiosities. But the
event has an aftermath of real consequence in the history of Byron™s
work. The event has perhaps an even greater consequence for an under-
standing of the history and signi¬cance of so-called sentimental poetry,
especially as it was written by women “ but that is a large subject which
I shall not, unfortunately, be able to take up here. Today I shall concen-
trate on the smaller and more local matter, on Byron.
We start to glimpse the complications involved by recalling Byron™s
attack upon Della Cruscan poetry in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.
The celebrity of that group of writers had waned since Gifford at-
tacked them in his nineties satires The Baviad (±·±) and The Maeviad
(±·µ). Nonetheless, their in¬‚uence on contemporary writing remained
considerable and can be traced even in writers who are still given promi-
nent positions in our somewhat skewed literary histories: in, for example,
Moore and Shelley, as well as Keats and Byron. Dacre published under
the Della-Cruscan-style pseudonym “Rosa Matilda,”µ and in English
Bards Byron attacks her under that name, and through her the late ¬‚owers
of the Della Cruscan gardens:

Far be™t from me unkindly to upbraid
The lovely ROSA™s prose in masquerade,
Whose strains, the faithful echoes of her mind,
Leave wondering comprehension far behind.
Though Crusca™s bards no more our journals ¬ll,
Some stragglers skirmish round the columns still,
Last of the howling host which once was Bell™s,
Matilda snivels yet, and Ha¬z yells.

In an attached prose note Byron characterizes Dacre as a “follower of the
Della Cruscan School,” the author of “two very respectable absurdities
in rhyme” as well as “sundry novels in the style of the ¬rst edition of
the Monk” (CPW, I, ±). These remarks are laced with witty innuendo.
“The ¬rst edition of the Monk” (±·) created such a scandal that Lewis
was driven to delete and revise the sexual passages which were so offen-
sive to many readers. Byron links Dacre™s novel The Confessions of a Nun of
St. Omer (±°µ), which was dedicated to Lewis, with the latter™s notorious
µ Byron and Romanticism
novel, and when he characterizes Dacre™s poetry as “very respectable”
he wants his irony to be taken. “Sentimental” poetry like that by Dacre,
Mrs. Hannah Cowley (“Anna Matilda”), and Mary (“Perdita”) Robinson
(or by Moore and Byron and Shelley) did not go in for the sexual ¬‚esh-
liness that one ¬nds in certain Gothic novels and plays; nonetheless, the
sexuality of such writing was explicit even if the diction and imagery
were kept, as Byron delicately puts it, “very respectable.”
In this context let us recall the crucial bibliographical facts: that Hours
of Idleness was published in June ±°·, and that English Bards was initially


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