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Liberty and Poetic Licence

Liberty and Poetic Licence: New Essays on Byron

Volume: 42
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Liberty and Poetic Licence
    Book Description:

    Liberty and Poetic Licence enters new territory in Byron studies. The volume runs chronologically from the earliest of Byron's productions, through those of his early maturity, to those of his fullest development. It covers his output in both poetry and prose, and considers many works that do not generally claim, or have not generally claimed serious critical attention. The general theme running throughout the collection is that of ‘freedom’, with particular essays looking at grammar, geology, animal rights; literary, religious and intercontinental influences; poet-publisher relations; morality. These issues have not previously been addressed by Byron scholars and are rarely to be found together in the same volume. As a result Liberty and Poetic Licence provides a fresh approach to the study of Byron and his work.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-542-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    The dustjacket of this volume shows Eugène Delacroix’s painting of François de Bonnivard in prison. It is an unsurprising choice for a book with this title. Nor is it surprising that the painter ofLiberty Leading the Peopleshould produce an image of imprisonment based on a poem by Byron. We all know, as it is likely that Delacroix did, the opening lines of the sonnet that Byron prefixed toThe Prisoner of Chillon:

    Eternal Spirit of the Chainless Mind!

    Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! Thou art.

    Byron is the poet of liberty. This is not a critic’s postulation but the...

  6. Byron Tests the Freedom of Southwell
    (pp. 10-19)

    This essay will examine the sequence of four juvenile books – two private and two public – which Byron published from Newark between 1806 and 1808. Although the books have been subject to at least two interesting critical analyses – by Jerome McGann inFiery Dust, and by Germaine Greer in the 2003Newstead Byron Society Review– I feel that concentration exclusively on the third and most famous book,Hours of Idleness, and neglecting to see it in the context of its three fellow volumes, causes some interesting points to be missed. The books raises questions about what Byron...

  7. The Bride of Abydos: The Regime of Visibility and the Possibility of Resistance
    (pp. 20-36)

    ‘All convulsions end with me in rhyme’, Byron wrote to Thomas Moore, ‘and, to solace my midnights, I have scribbled another Turkish story’ (BLJ, 3, 184). The connection Byron made betweenThe Bride of Abydosand his own emotional life has proved compelling, not least because the ‘convulsions’ are so numerous and well documented. After the end of his turbulent affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, and her departure for Ireland in September 1812, Byron began an intrigue with Lady Oxford. They met at the Hampden Club in June 1812, and Byron accompanied the Oxfords to Cheltenham in September. He stayed...

  8. ‘A Very Life in Our Despair’: Freedom and Fatality in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Cantos 3 and 4
    (pp. 37-49)

    The emergence of creative freedom from Byron’s existential and historical sense of fatedness in Cantos 3 and 4 ofChilde Harold’s Pilgrimageis the subject of distinguished attention in, among other places, Jerome J. McGann’sFiery Dust, with its discussion of how, for Byron, the soul must ‘recreate itself under the influence of fresh experience’, and Vincent Newey’sCentring the Self, with its exploration of Byron’s ‘foregroundings of the power and limits of creation’.¹ What I wish to emphasise in this essay, through close attention to representative passages, is the intensity and virtuosity with which Byron snatches poetic victory out...

  9. Byron, Manfred, Negativity and Freedom
    (pp. 50-59)

    Even before English readers glimpsed the manuscript of his dramatic poemManfred, Byron framed it negatively. Writing to Kinnaird, he begins defining his latest effusion with a denial – ‘I have no tragedy nor tragedies.’ He then goes on to deprecate the ‘metaphysical drama’ he has sent to his publisher John Murray. It is, says Byron:

    The very Antipodes of the stage and is meant to be so – it is all in the Alps & the other world – and as mad as Bedlam – I do not know that it is even fit for publication – the persons are...

  10. Manfred’s Quarrel with Immortality: Freeing the Self
    (pp. 60-71)

    When the figure of Astarte speaks to Manfred in the Hall of Arimanes, she promises him release from life: ‘Tomorrow ends thine earthly ills’ (Manfred, II.iv.152). She also creates one of the play’s central ambiguities. She offers him the death he has long sought, but she does not clarify for him the meaning of death. Further, the adjective ‘earthly’ in Astarte’s promise introduces a qualification, almost a prevarication: hisearthlyills will end, but he has no guarantee that death will not extend his torment, carrying his painful consciousness of the past into eternity. In that case death will have...

  11. The Language of Freedom and the Reality of Power in Byron’s Mazeppa
    (pp. 72-87)

    Byron’s 1817 narrative poemMazeppahas a central position in the author’s career and a specific bearing on the theme of the present volume: liberty and poetic licence. In this essay I would like to contribute to our discussion by showing how inMazeppadifferent ideas of freedom interact, ally themselves, and clash also thanks to the dialogism which permeates the poem’s narrative structure, characterisation, and imagery.

    The Byronic hero, conceived as a variously embodied Weberian type, is traditionally portrayed as an isolated individual at various stages of transition from bitter exile to detached individualist. While this characteristic is constitutive...

  12. Marino Faliero: Escaping the Aristocratic
    (pp. 88-102)

    My aim in this chapter is twofold. Firstly, I want to throw some light on a largely overlooked thematic concern ofMarino Falieroand suggest that this is, in fact, a central issue at stake in the play. Secondly, I hope to demonstrate that this issue is one that bubbles under the surface, and informs the progress, of a host of Byron’s poems ranging fromChilde HaroldI and II right through toThe IslandandDon Juan. It is my contention thatMarino Falierothrows into sharp relief something that interested Byron throughout his adult life.

    What I am...

  13. Byron, ‘Inkle and Yarico’, and the Chains of Love
    (pp. 103-116)

    The hero of Byron’sDon Juanstands in a complex relation to freedom. Plainly associated with a kind of errant liberty (if not libertinism), Juan is also a notoriously passive protagonist, less often acting than acted upon, especially by the women who caress and control him. By the time he is manacled and sold in Cantos IV–V ofDon Juan, Juan’s enslavement has come to feel somehow inevitable, a logical conclusion to the fragile paradise of Haidée’s love. Part of this depends on a familiar Byronic assertion that to be in love is to be a slave; his lyrics...

  14. ‘I Have a Means of Freedom Still’: Aesthetic Dialectic in Sardanapalus
    (pp. 117-131)

    If the freedom of imaginative play that we associate with Romanticism exists within the text ofSardanapalus, then where is it to be found? The question, I think, has dominated criticism of the Tragedy for many years without any satisfactory conclusions having been drawn.¹ The reason for this is fairly straightforward. Much criticism, in keeping with wider scholarly trends, has tended to focus on the autobiographical nature of the drama. Leslie Marchand, for example, described the play ‘as a self-revelatory romantic poem’.² What he meant by this was that Byron projects into the text the dilemma he was facing in...

  15. Byron, Milton, and Doctrines of Christian Liberty: Cain and Paradise Regained
    (pp. 132-146)

    At the beginning ofParadise RegainedMilton says that his subject, the temptations of the Son of God in the wilderness (recounted in Matthew 4 and Luke 4), is ‘worthy t’have not remain’d so long unsung’.¹ This paper examines a subject I think worthy not to have remained so long unexplored: the relationship betweenParadise Regainedand Byron’sCain. I will compare these two works with particular, but not exclusive, emphasis on the concepts of intellectual freedom and Christian liberty. To understand Milton’s view in these matters I cite his posthumously publishedDe Doctrina Christiana. First, I offer a general...

  16. Byron’s Afterlife and the Emancipation of Geology
    (pp. 147-164)

    Byron’s interest in geology is rarely treated as more than a minor footnote to his work.² It has recently been shown that early nineteenth-century geology significantly informs and illuminates Byron’s later work, such asCainandDon Juan.³ But I hope here to demonstrate something more unexpected: that Byron’s poetry both prompted and helped geologists in England to promote their science, and to free it from Biblical literalism in the public eye. During this ‘heroic’ age of geology, the science won a large following in Britain, partly because its pioneers were also men of letters. Treatises such as Charles Lyell’s...

  17. Byron and Grammatical Freedom
    (pp. 165-180)

    If we were to apply Stephen’s comment on Shakespeare to Byron’s use of grammar, I would have to say: I disagree; it is partly true; and it is true in more ways than one. That is to say, even though a significant number of purported errors are plainly not beyond dispute, and even though, in many cases, they may be defended on aesthetic grounds, it has to be acknowledged that Byron’s poetry contains an unusually large number of grammatical errors; secondly, it appears thatsomeof Byron’s grammatical mistakes are ‘volitional’ – though one would have to add that there...

  18. Byron, Napoleon, and Imaginative Freedom
    (pp. 181-192)

    The obsession was Byron’s, and its object was Napoleon. One conquered Europe by words, the other by might; but the nineteenth century’s two most spectacular figures never met, and Napoleon left no recorded pronouncements on Byron.¹ Why did the French Emperor seize Byron’s imagination more than any other living human being, seize it overwhelmingly, seize it at the onset of his life, and never relinquish his grasp until Byron’s dying hour? In Byron’s day-to-day life other friends and lovers – Augusta, Lady Byron (negatively), John Cam Hobhouse, Thomas Moore, Douglas Kinnaird, Lady Melbourne perhaps – held sway; in his imagination,...

  19. Slaves of Passion: Byron and Staël on Liberty
    (pp. 193-205)

    ‘Officialese is my only language’, Adolf Eichmann informed the prosecutor during his trial for ‘crimes against humanity’ in Jerusalem.¹ Covering this event forNew Yorkermagazine, Hannah Arendt described Eichmann’s strange penchant for ‘winged words’. Eichmann borrowed his metaphor from Homer to explain the official ‘language rules’ (Sprachregelung) which led him to describe the deportation of 4 million Jews to gas chambers as ‘labor in the East’ (p. 85). A language rule is a manufactured phrase that conceals a murderous intention: ‘final solution’ for extermination, ‘typhoid epidemic’ for gassing. Linguistic corruption affected every aspect of Nazi ideology, according to Arendt....

  20. Uncircumscribing Poetry: Byron, Johnson, and the Bowles Controversy
    (pp. 206-218)

    Byron’s writings defy as much as they define British literary Romanticism. His radical looking forward as a poet is difficult to separate from his insistence upon looking back. In articulating and defending his own poetics, as well as in attacking those of what he described as the ‘tone of the time’, he often drew from the Augustan literary tradition. Critics have explored these borrowings and adaptations, focusing mainly on the influence of Pope and Dryden, which makes sense given Byron’s clear admiration for Dryden, and repeated claims that Pope was his favourite poet.¹ This is, however, only part of the...

  21. Free Quills and Poetic Licences: Byron and the Politics of Publication
    (pp. 219-232)

    Whatever his later reputation, and however much he may have been celebrated as a ‘freedom-fighter’ or an inspiring force in more than one struggle for national liberty, Byron himself was recurrently sceptical and unsentimentally realistic about the operations of ‘freedom’ in practice. In English contexts this freedom was often linked with freedom of expression, though Byron’s own experience, both in politics and especially as a writer, convinced him that the absolutes of desire were often necessarily qualified by the compromises demanded by the real world of politics and publication. This ambivalence, or mature recognition of practical realities, can be identified...

  22. Index
    (pp. 233-244)