Sunday, September 19, 2010

Byron: The Historical Context

Early Regency England
It could be argued that economic developments in Britain during the twenty-two years of war were more truly revolutionary than were the political developments in France that precipitated the struggle. This is no place to describe in any detail matters of which Byron had apparently little knowledge, and no first-had expe­rience. In general, it may be said that the industrial exploitation of new inventions facilitated an expansion of production and of trade that led at once to rapid urban growth and in the long run to a predominance of industry over agriculture.

Industrialization brought material benefits for many, and it promised more of them for all. But there were grave drawbacks. The regimentation of labour that goes with factory life could provoke a violent hostility towards the machines that made factory life possible. Moreover, at particular times and in particular places the introduction of new machines could threaten the very livelihood of those employed in an industry. For­bidden by law to organize themselves in trade unions for their protection, the workers were tempted in such circumstances to resort to illegal action.
Towards the end of 1811, economically the worst year of the war for Britain, outbreaks of organized machine-smashing occurred in Nottinghamshire. The trouble spread to Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. The government reacted by making such sabotage, and even the taking of a Luddite oath, punishable by death. In his maiden speech in the House of Lords in 1812, Byron resisted this. He emphasized the ‘squalid wretchedness’ of the working people, ascribed it to the destructive warfare of the last eighteen years’, and denounced the bill as unjust, inefficient, and inhumane (Letters and Journals, ii. pp. 424-30). The Whigs welcomed him as a promis­ing recruit.
Despite executions and transportations, Luddism outlasted the war and became one of many factors contributing to the social unrest of the first five years or so of peace. But Byron left England for the last time only ten moths after Waterloo. The England he knew as an adult was the England of the years from 1811 to 1816, and it is this early Regency England that calls for the closest attention now.
George III lapsed into madness towards the end of 1810 and never recovered sufficiently to resume his duties as King. The Prince of Wales became Regent a few weeks later, and ‘fn his father’s death in 1820 he succeeded to the throne as George IV.
The middle-aged aesthete who came to power in 1811 had a lively if shallow intelligence and considerable social gifts. At the same time, he was vain, idle, and self-indulgent. Leigh Hunt, poet and Radical journalist, went to gaol for describing him as ‘a libertine over head and ears in dept and disgrace, a despiser of domesticities, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity’.
But the Prince still retained for some-for “Monk’ Lewis, the terror novelist, for example-the charm that had once won him the regard of many. As a young man he had, like previous Hanoverian heirs, opposed the King. Politics as well as a fondness for similar amusements had made him Fox’s companion, and when he became Regent the Foxites naturally expected him to favour them.
They were to be disappointed, The Prince had grown into agreement with the Tories. He thought the war ought to be fought with vigour, he was in no hurry about Catholic Emancipation, and he felt little enthu­siasm for Reform. So the Whigs remained in opposi­tion, convinced that their friend had betrayed them. Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, voiced their resentment in verse. The two opening stanzas of his king Crack and his Idols’ are typical:
King Crack was the best of all possible Kings
(At least, so his Courtiers would swear to you gladly,)
But Crack now and then would do het’rodox things,
And, at last, took to worshipping images sadly.
Some broken-down Idols, that long had been plac’d
In his father’s old Cabinet, pleas’d him so much,
That he knelt down and worshipp’d, though-such was his taste!-
They were monstrous to look at, and rotten to touch.
Nor did the poets in opposition spare his physical characteristics. In The Devil’s Walk’, Shalley commented upon his enormous corpulence:
For he is fat,-his waistcoat gay,
When strained upon a levee day,
Scarce meets across his princely paunch;
And pantaloons are like half-moons
Upon each brawny haunch.
The Whigs took an active revenge for his neglect of them by espousing the cause of his wife, Princess Caroline, whom he heartily detested. It was a far from immaculate cause. If he had been promiscuous, she had been indiscreet; if he was pampered and self-centred, she was loud and sluttish. Nevertheless, the Whings gave her their somewhat interested backing, and Byron went along with them. This backing was extended to her unruly daughter, Princess Charlotte, whom the Whigs knew ineverently as the young’ un’ and who was the next in succession to the throne after her father. Princess Caroline had also the boisterous support of the popu­lace, and her husband its contempt.
The country of which he was, so to speak, the acting constitutional monarch was still a mainly agri­cultural country, and it was still a country of wide though not insuperable class distinctions. Its turbulent and freedom-loving people responded to the leadership of a ruling class which knew how to inspire and evoke their obedience. The men of this class prided themselves on being gentlemen and received admira­tion for being gentlemen. As such, they placed a high valuation upon a personal honour that would have been sullied by a lie, an act of cowardice, or a failure to face the consequences of any of their deeds; and they recognized an obligation to behave with generos­ity. They might be Philistines, and they were often selfish. But they did take seriously the values which their code of honour existed to defend. A duel could follow an affront to a gentleman’s honour. Pitt, Castlereagh, Canning, Wellington, and Peel all become involved in such encounters. Byron and Moore would probably have taken a shot at each other but for an accidental failure in communications.
In their stately country houses, surrounded by their terraces, gardens lawns, avenues, and parks, they lived a life which Byron presents mockingly in the final cantos of Don Juan but which a popular .twentieth-century historian, Arthur -Bryant, records in more favourable terms. The gentlemen hunted, raced, shot, fished, read, played at billiards, cards and ecarte, looked after their estates, sat on the Bench, and rode, danced and joined in charades with the ladies; the latter gos­siped, sketched, made scrapbooks, embroidered stools, looked at engravings, walked in the gardens and inspected the greenhouse, played with their childrefi in the nursery wings, devoured the novels of Walter Scott pr Lady Morgan, constantly dressed and redressed, and displayed their elegant accomplishments to the gentle­man.’ They were attended by an army of servants.
Since egalitarian notions had not yet penetrated far, masters remained masters, and servants. But their relationship was a personal one, and there were many activities in which both happily shared. Sporting activi­ties were prominent these. Hunting, for example, pro­vided roles for both, and on the cricket field the sole superiority was that established by greater skill.
The country was rich. Despite periods of economic peril, such as that already mentioned as having occurred around 1181, it was emerging from the war richer than it had entered it. Trade had expanded, industry had grown, farming had flourished. The hard work of a rapidly growing population-about thirteen millions by 1815, five millions more than in the seven-teen-eighties-was achieving extraordinary results. These seemed even more extraordinary when compared with the results on the Continent of the long wasteful pe­riod of war.
The more affluent classes aspired to elegance in their dress, their furniture, their conveyances, their gardens, and their buildings. In all things the fashion­able Regency style was graceful and just a little showy. The dandies were its most skilful exponents, and G.B.
Brumell, the famous Beau, was the chief of the dan­dies. No mere fop, he dressed with exquisite propriety and scrupulous cleanliness. Aesthete and bantering wit, accomplished dancer and singer, and inveterate gambler, he was at the height of his prosperity during Byron’s years in England. Friendship with the Prince Regent gave him, like other dandies, an influential position in society. Lady Hester Stanhope left a vivid record of his appearance ‘riding in Bone; Street’, with his bridle between his fore-finger and thumb, as if he held a pinch of snuff. Expressing a fondness for the dandies, Byron observed: they were always very civil to me, though in genera! they disliked literary people’ (Detached Thoughts 7, 29).
The social life of these men, and of the great ladies who gave the balls and routs in London’s West End during the season, was glittering and extravagant. It could also be narrow and snobbish. Vulgarity was of­ten closely attendant upon the most elegant Regency achievements.
High society shone most brilliantly during the summer of the sovereigns’, 1814 Napoleon had just been overthrown for the first time, after the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian armies from the east, and the Brit­ish army from across the Pyrenees, had successfully invaded France. In June, the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia arrived in London, accompanied by the Prussian Field Marshal von Blucher and the Chancellor of the Austrian Empire, Prince Metternich, among others. They dined in splendour at Carlton House with Prince Regent. Three weeks of ceremony and pageantry followed, three weeks of balls, dinners, and visits to the Opera, to Hyde Park, and to Ascot. Byron sympathized with Napoleon rather than with these repre­sentatives of the old regimes. Nevertheless, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the festivities of this summer gala.
Few of those who attended the balls, masquerades, and routs knew much about the other Britain that the Industrial and Agrarian Revolutions were bringing into existence Factory production in the growing towns of the Midlands and the North, and the large-scale farming made possible by the enclosure of common land, were expanding the numbers and changing the nature of the urban and rural proletariats. Conditions in the growing towns-Manchester increased its population by 70 percent in the first two decades of the century-were often nothing less than horrifying. Low-quality housing, inade­quate drainage, excessive hours of work in unhealthy and dangerous conditions, and an absence of social amenities made for distressed and eventually resentful workers. The tyranny of individual bosses could aggra­vate these ills; surviving sets of factory rules seem to us today to be very harsh. Nor was life in the slums in the East End of London any better than life in the least savory of the industrial areas.
The well-to-do were not all of them ignorant or forgetful of these things. The Wesleyan and Evangelical religious revival had among other effects that of strengthening humanitarian feeling generally. Action was taken not only to abolish the slave trade but also to alleviate domestic evils. Charitable persons visited the poor, provided them with comforts, and instructed their children in the Christian faith. They established Sunday schools, benefit societies, and soup and cloth­ing clubs. They tried to reform prisoners and to protect children against undue exploitation in industry. When particular calamities occurred, they subscribed to the funds that were opened to mitigate them.
Nevertheless, the evils seemed still to grow. A post-war recession which would in any case have been dif­ficult to avoid, was turned into a disaster by the gov­ernment’s ill-judged economic and financial measures. Moreover, the harvest of 1816 was the worst in living memory. The consequent widespread and acute dis­tress provoked Luddite and other riots to such an extent that Shelley, writing to Byron in Italy on November 20 1816, declared:
The whole fabric of society presents a most threat­ening aspect. What is most ominous of an approach­ing change is the strength which the popular party have suddenly acquired, and the importance which the violence of demagogues has assumed. But the people appear calm and steady even under situa­tions of great excitement; and reform a may come without revolution earnestly hope that, without such an utter overthrow as should leave us the prey of anarchy, and give us illiterate demagogues for masters a most radical reform of the institutions of England may result from the approaching contest.
For about five years, protest was urgent and reaction sharp. Mass meetings and demonstrations oc­curred. The so-called Blanketeers in 1817 set off to march from Manchester to London. The Habeas Cor­pus Act was suspended, and the leaders were impris­oned. Two years later, a crowd of between fifty and sixty thousand persons assembled to hear Henry Hunt in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, and came into violent collision with the Lancashire Yeomanry, Nine men and two women were killed and many were injured, with the result that the encounter became known as the massacre of Peter loo. The government which had de­feated the French revolutionaries was not going to suc­cumb to English revolutionaries. It introduced the notorious Six Acts against arming and drilling, seditions meetings, and inflammatory political journals. With the failure of the wild Cato Street assassination plot against members of the Cabinet in the following year, 1820, the agitation subsided, to mount again in a more con­stitutional form ten years later.
There was a continuity between these later move­ments and those stimulated by the French Revolution in its first phase. Some of the new leaders were disci­ples of the old and some of the old leaders reappeared; ideas and methods often corresponded closely with those of the Reform clubs of the seventeen-nineties. At the same time, conditions were changing. Increasing industrialization was bringing new troubles. While most men continued to think in terms of political remedies even for their economic ills, a few of them wee begin­ning to look for economic remedies; and some of them were thinking that they might have to use physical force.
Nationalism: Italy and Greece
From the start of the twenty-two years war the advanced “Foxite’ Whings had been less convinced of its necessity than were those composing the conserva­tive governments that were almost uninterruptedly in power. The Terror did not make Fox withdraw his early praise of the Revolution; instead, he blamed the admitted evils of the French regime on the enmity of the more reactionary European powers. His disciple Charles Grey asserted in 1797 that the Revolution “in the end.... would tend to the diffusion of liberty and rational knowledge all over the world.’ Napoleon’s career shook this faith in some and shattered it in others. From the time of the brief Peace of Amiens (1802-3), Grey con­ceded that the war was just and necessary.
In 1806, during the last few months of his life, Fox was Foreign Secretary. In the previous year, Austerlitz had made Napoleon master of Europe, but Trafalgar had destroyed his hopes of invading England. Fox negotiated to end hostilities. The insatiability of Napo­leon’s demands forced him to acknowledge that Grey was right. Nine years later, during the hundred days that precceded Waterloo, Grey himself and Whitbread were recommending the recognition and acceptance of the newly and reinstated French Emperor, but they could not even carry with them all the members of their own group.
The dramatic spectacle of Napoleon’s career daz­zled many who were by no means wholly in sympathy with the political forces it represented-or misrepresented. Byron, an advanced Whig with certain limited Radical sympathies, assuredly felt its fascination. His attitude, as expressed in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, III, was too ambivalent to satisfy a Bonapartist as fervent as Hazlitt, but it sufficed to sharpen Byron’s own animosity toward two Tories who had contributed greatly to Nepoleon’s downfall: Viscount Castlereagh, Foreign Secretary from 1812 to 1822, and Arthur Wellesley, from 1814 Duke of Wellington, who had commanded the victorious British forces in the Peninsular cam­paign and at Waterloo.
Wellington combined aristocratic pride with a pains­taking professionalism as a soldier and ruthless hon­esty as a man. Byron saw him as the stiff-necked agent of European reaction. He believed Castlereagh to be one of the promoters of that reaction. Nor was he alone in this belief. Most Englishmen of his political complex­ion shared it, not least Shelley, who wrote in The Mask of Anarchy, after receiving news of Peterloo:
I met Murder on the way-
He had a mask like Casatlereagh-
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him. (II.5-8)
Undoubtedly, Castlereagh acquiesced in the resto­ration of the old regimes after 1815 in France, Italy, and elsewhere. On what except the principle of legiti­macy could a sincere Tory hope to found a stable peace at that date? But Castlereagh was no extremist. The highly reactionary Holy Alliance of Russia, Austria, and Prussia excited his derision as this piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense.’ He knew well the strength of the new democratics and nationalist faith (quoted by J. Steven Watson):
It is impossible not to believes a great moral change coming on in Europe, and that the principles of free­dom are in full operation. The danger is that the transition may be too sudden to ripen into anything likely to make the world better or happier..... I am sure that it is better to retard than accelerate the operation of this most hazardous principle which is abroad.
By accelerating the operation, the French had inflicted on Europe a quarter-century of bloodshed, war, and tyranny. Castlereagh wished to retard it by adjust­ing the new faith and the old legitimacy to each other; he laboured to persuade the restored Louis XVIII to see himself as a constitutional monarch.
He differed sharply from the devious Austrian statesman, Metternich, with whom he found it expedi­ent to associate himself at times while the peace treaty was being negotiated. Metternich offered an unqualified resistance to the new faith. Just as the Austrian Empire, with its Teutons, Czechs, Magyars, Italians, Serbs, Croats, and Poles, by its very existence denied the principle of nationalism, so its leading negotiator was prepared to re-define European frontiers without respect for it. Nor did his fellow-negotiators in Vienna regard it with anything like the favour that was to be shown to it at Versailles following the First World War.
As a result of their negotiations, the Austrian Empire expanded into Italy as far south as the river Po, the cities of Milan, Verona, and Venice thus coming into its possession. In 1817, the Piedmontese ambas­sador at St. Peterburg described. In 1817 the Piedmontese ambassador at St. Petersburg described the resulting situation in a memorandum submitted to the Tsar:
Austria, possessing the richest and most fertile re­gions of the peninsula, besides nearly a quarter of the total Italian population, and also holdings sway over Tuscany, Parma, and Modena through princes of her ruling House, cuts Italy in half and is its actual mistress. On the one hand, by the re-estab­lishment of the entire temporal domain of the Pope, two and a half millions of Italians have been plunged afresh into a state of absolute nullity, and the King of Naples, relegated to the end of the peninsula, has no longer any means of contributing to the defence of Italy; while on the other hand Austria threatens the King of Piedmont on his flank, press­ing upon him with all her weight, and by merely calling up her garrisons in Lombardy could sweep down upon him, reach his capital in a couple of marches, and destroy his resources.
Nationalism was a growing force and was eventually to compel the unification of Italy. But it was still weak during these post-war years. Metternich himself observed sardonically to his Emperor in 1817: I have for some time been certain of the existence in Italy of several secret fraternities, which, under different names, foster a spirit of excitement, discontent, and opposition In design and principle divided among them­ selves, these sects change every day and on the morrow may be ready to fight against one another I believe that the surst method of preventing any of them from becoming too powerful is to leave these sects to themselves.’ The most important of them was the Carboneria.
In 1820, elements of the Neapolitan army, in which the secret fraternities were especially strong, forced King Ferdinand to accept a constitution. Early in the following year, an Austrian force restored his absolute power. Elsewhere in Italy some of the more fervent and sanguine of the nationalists hoped that events in Na­ples would spark off a general rising. Byron, who had become a Carbonaro and had determined to play an active part in any such rising, did not believe that it could succeed. At all events, it did not occur.
During this same period, there were related stir­ring in Piedmont and in Spain. But more successful than any of the movements directed against regimes newly restored by the Congress of Vienna was the strug­gle in Greece against a Turkish domination that had lasted for centuries. The Greek War of Independence a-half years later when the British, French, and Rus­sians destroyed the Turkish and Egyptian fleets at Navarino.
After a slow start, a number of groups in British began to organize assistance for the Greeks in their fight for freedom. In March 1823 a London Greek com­mittee was established. Evangelicals, Dissenters, Whigs, and Benthamite Radicals became members. The eld­erly Jeremy Bentham himself brought his clear and incisive mind and blithe inexperience to its service, and one of his disciples became secretary. J.C. Hobhouse, who had accompanied Byron on much of his Mediterranean grand tour of 1809-11 and who was now a Member of Parliament, gave Byron the first notification that the committee meant to appeal to him to serve as its agent in Greece.
Meanwhile, it was raising funds, eventually it col­lected well over £11,000. It spent £4,000 on war sup­plies; nearly £1,8000 on such nonmilitary items as medical supplies and printing-press; £500 on a plan of Bentham’s to educate eight Greek children in England; about £4,000 on advertising, freight and insurance fees, and the expense accounts of representatives in Greece, and almost £750 on ‘sundry minor expenses’.
Byron never saw these accounts. If he had, he would surely have protested against the nature and size of some of the items. Even without seeing them, he had to warn the committee against sending articles that were completely useless to the Greek insurgents: mathematical instruments, for example, and trumpets. His well-informed realism constantly conflicted with the committee’s high-minded progressivism, and this con­flict became acute when a devoted Benthamite, Colonel Leicester Stanhope, was sent out to join him Byron wished to talk about gunpowder and field guns, but Stanhope was more interested in eduction and the Press. Byron chose to support the moderate Greek leader, Alexander Mavrokordatos, but Stanhope favoured the unreliable Odysseus, who pleased him by voicing Radical views. The subsequent history of the struggle for Greek independence proved the correct­ness of Byron’s judgment.
Of the matters surveyed here, Byron knew about some by hear-say, he had the opportunity of partially observing others, and he commented at one time or another upon most...
In two important general respects he bore the im­print of his epoch. First, he was a Regency aristocrat, for a time in his youth a dandy, and he retained to the end an affection for a style of life that he came to deride but never quite outgrew. Second, though too young to share the enthusiasm that many felt initially for the French Revolution, he was old enough to wit­ness, and to react strongly against, the repressive poli­cies at home and abroad that conservative governments adopted in their anger and fright at the course it took. A hater of war, which he could tolerate only when fought by a subject people against its oppressors-by the Spaniards against the Napoleonic armies, for ex­ample, or the Greeks against the Turks-and a downight opponent of every kind of despotism, political, religious, or moral, he was in many respects representative Whig aristocrat with certain Radical sympathies, but, it must be said, with little sympathy with Radicals who had risen from the lower orders. This, however, is only the man in so far as he was a product of his age. Like everyone else, Byron must also be seen as a unique individual.
Byron as a Romantic Poet
Byron did not figure importantly in the represen­tations of the Romantic period till the end of the twen­tieth century. Once again, Byron loomed as the un-evadable locus of the issues; the seems to stand at the very centre of Romanticism. Though Byron remained an important resource for England and the English, he had emerged as a highly problematic, figure. From different Victorian points of view, Byron’s famous ‘en­ergy’ (as it was called) seemed are thing-usually a positive things whereas his equally famous critical de­spair seemed something else together-typically some­thing to be deplored. Nineteeth-century England, there­fore, kept opening and closing its Byron with troubled (ir) rurality.
As Wordsworth and Coleridge gradually came to define the ‘centre’ of English romanticism in the twen­tieth-century critical thinking, Byron further slipped from view. Rene Wellek’s intervention (The Concept of Romanticism in Literary Scholarship’, 1963) was a key event because Wellek sought to integrate a European philological view with a correspondent line of English cultural thought. In the romaticism that emerged from this synthesis. Byronn’s deviance seemed virtually com­plete.
Imagination’ is exliciry not Byronis, view of the sources of poetry, according to Jerome J. McGamn; “nature’ is hardly his “view of the world” (Byron is dis­tinctly a cosmopolitan writer), and his style is predomi­nantly historical and conversational rather than symbolic or mythic. Wellek’s triad of the Romantics (Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron) can, of course be traced through Byron’s work, especially via a study of Byron’s peculiarly antithetical ways of engaging na­ture, imagination and myth. When this love, however-for instance in the work of M.H. Abrams (Natural Suprenaturalism) or Harold Bloom (The Visionary Com-pani/)-what one precisely discovers are traces and dif­ferences. Overserved through a theory of Romanticism like Wellek’s Byron appears either a problem or an irrelevance.
The difficulty or its root is a historical one. While Byron does not fit into Wellek’s criteria of Romanti­cism, he cannot easily be removed from the historical phenomena. If Romanticism takes ‘nature’ for its view of the world then Blake falls out of the synthesis,’ “Nature’ corresponds to a romantic Weltanschuung as a scene of fundamental innocence and sympathy: con­ceptually opposed to the urban and the artificial, ro­mantic nature is the locus of what Wordsworth pardigmatically called feeling’. As an artistic resource, it generates a constellation of anti-Enlightenment cul­tural formations that are critically recollected in phrases like “the meddling intellect” and romantically trans­formed in phrases like “the philosophic mind”. Because Blake also attacked key Enlightenment positions, one may overlook or set aside the manifest differences that separate his view of nature from say, Wordsworth’s or Coleridges’. But the fact is that Blake does not take “nature as his view of the world” any more than Byron does, though the antinaturisms of Blake and Byron are also noncongement with each other.
Similarly, a close investigation of the ideas that particular Romantic writers had about imagination nature, symbol or myth disclose a series of fundamen­tal differences. Memory, for instance, is so important the theories of Wordsworth and Coleridge that their views deviate radically from Blake’s. Imagination is a conscious activity for Coleridge, subject to the will, whereas for Shelley it is a ln« 11!> \ i by its total freedom from willul < oniml from Wordsworth a sensationalist hh-i.i\ oi in tion that stands quite at odds with Shelley’s uk ik i.l. alistic views. For that matter, Wordsworth’s work is so deeply in debt to associantist theories of imagination that Coleridge himself wrote Biographia Literaria in large part to demonstrate the crucial differences that sepa­rated his aesthetic ideas from those of his early friend.
Imagination’, especially as it was deployed in the Romantic disclourse, is a. radically dialogical term. When Coleridge or Shelly, say, use the term in prescriptive and ideological frameworks, they try to limit the dialogism of the word, to set it within a defined concep­tual position. The same is true with regard to, say, to Wordsworth’s or Byron’s or Blake exposition of terms like ‘imagination’ and “nature’. So we can speak of these different theories from each other. However, to the extent that Romanticism is executed not as a prescrip­tive but as a poetical economy-a dynamic scene of evolving tensions and relationship, as in a family-its primal terms and data cannot lapse into systematic rectitude. Romantic poetry, in short constructs a thea­tre for the conflicts and interactions of the ideologies of Romanticism. The cultural forms of Romanticism are famously volatile and shape-changing because they typically hold their ideas and projects open to transfor­mation-even to the point of their own self-destruction.
If we take such an approach to the “Romantic Period”, then our object should not be to ‘define’ the period but to sketch its dynamic possibilities. In this frame of reference, it helps to remember that ‘periodi-sation’ is itself a critical tool fashioned in historicality as such. Periodisation is a possible form of historical thinking that has been realised under specific socio-historical conditions of the European Enlightenment. We do not, after all, have to think in such terms. A current world-historical perspective will not sweep off the periodic table “Medieval, Renaissance, Enlighten-nent, Romanticism, Modernism,” but it will certainly execute radical and across the board changes and options of meaning. Modern historical order is a tool of bringing a “possible order” to cultural change and cultural difference. We want, therefore, to bear in mind the historicality of the method in order to hold it open to the full range of its possibilities, which, necessarily entail the limits it is perpetually constructing and dis­covering.
At issue is how we pursue a historical method of literary investigation. Because historical method is strictly a form of comparative studies, its goal is the recovery of some lost originary cultural whole. Thus, the standard dates for the Romantic Period-let us say, 1798-1824-cannot be read as a mere statement of fact. Scholars, of course, understand the signifying mecha­nism involved here. 1798 stands for the publication of Lyrical Ballads, and 1824 stands for the death of By­ron. But those events merely define the critical mate­rials in terms of a simple historical allergory. Most scholars are also aware that the dates could be shifted-typical shifts at the terminus a quo are 1789, 1792 and 1800 while at the terminus ad quern the dates 1830, 1832 and 1837 (among others) are common enough. All signify some event that is implicitly being asked to carry important cultural meanings and a historical moment can be reconstructed in different ways. We cannot, therefore, afford to view such moments and phenomena in great sweeps.
The period of 1820 represents a serious problem for (Romantic) literary history just because it appears to violate, in historical fact, the deep cultural myth of Romanticism. A romantic agony begins when things of beauty do not appear joys forever-when no “abundant recomparse” appears to balance the costs of romantic commitments. Keats, Wordsworth’s inheritor, reveals and undergoes this agony. Of course he does so com­pletely against his will, as it were. He wants nothing more than the joys of beauty and the realms of gold.
What he keeps discovering, however, are pale kings and beautiful, merciless ladies; death that is deathless, but terrible for that very reason-death that is hardly endurable, and range with a beauty that must die not in a benevolent order of nature but in the gorgeous palaces of art, as Launia shows.
In The Fall of Hyperion Keats announces this death in speciously heroic tones : “deathwards progressing! To no death was that visage.” “Beyond that” shattered splendour with its pale vision of “the lily and the snow,” Keats says simply, “I must not think.” Beyond it lies the one story no Romantic poet wants to tell : the story of the death of art and culture. But the poets of the 1820s followed Keats and Byron to explore this “latest dream” on the cold hill sides of Romanticism. In Tennyson’s 1832 book of Poems-and most probably in works like The Lady of Shalott’ and The Palace of Art-His romantic death a new mode of expression, a farm in which the death of art could itself be laid to rest. At that point of time, we enter the Victorian period.
Byron, then, is a romantic poet bemoaming the death of art and culture as well as liberty and human values as the Romantic Poet. His poetry is less riven by contradictions than Wordsworth’s. Only in Byron’s case the poem’s cruelty is being carried out by a deliberate mask of benevolence. Its so-called doggerel is merely the clearest stylistic signal of the poem’s masquerade: Byron’s Faustian discovery that truly is unredemptive. in Manfred’s famous lament: “The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.” According to Legouis and Cazamian:
“At the very centre of his being there is an element of morbidity the inner life built up on the full indul­gence of emotion and desire reveals one of the current forms of its possible disintegration: the dispersion of the personality through the absence of an organic dis­cipline among the motives and the acts. It would be difficult to find a character of more energy than that of Byron; but he was never completely master of himself; his life and works offer us the picture of an essential duality. That wound, the pain of which he proudly parades throughout the world, is just the semi-pathological rupture of the tissue of tendencies, which has severed all connection between one part of himself and the other. His literary personality was not less complicated. His instincts were fundamentally classical, in the sense that he did not conceive of fitness in form without an adequate precision, and sacrificed nothing to suggestion. He was deeply influenced by Pope and his school. He proclaimed his indebtedness to this culture setting it up in opposition to the new and tentative efforts of a Wordsworth or a Southey, on which he passed a very sever judgement.”

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