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Byron is hard to classify by any standard. In so many ways, he epitomized the central enigmas of romanticism, opposites that could never be reconciled:
1. heterosexual and bisexual and homosexual?
2. fascinated with his accomplishments, as a writer and athletically, but tortured with a horrible self-image.
3. Romantic and Neoclassicist in form and thought.
4. deformed physically but very handsome:
5. wanted to be loved but rejected suitors.
6. his relationship with his half-sister.
7. a gentle heart but capable of cruelty.
8. the term BYRONIC HERO comes from his name, and your project will involve its nature.
Coleridge, Biographia Literaria
Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism
Marchand, L. (ed.). Lord Byron-Selected Letters and Journals. Harvard University Press, 1982
McConnell, Frank. (ed.). Byron's Poetry; A Norton Critical Edition. N.Y.: W.W Norton and Co., 1978
Pastva, Sr. Loretta. Great Religions of the World. Winona, Mi.: St. Mary's Press, 1999.
Sperry, Stewart. Byron and the Meaning of Manfred. Criticism. XVI (Summer, 1974), pp. 189-202
Trueblood, Paul. Lord Byron. (Twayne's English authors series). G.K. Hall and Co., 1977.
Untermeyer, Louis. Lives of the Poets. N.Y. : Simon and Schuster, 1959.
BYRONIC HERO PROJECT
Recall the introductory material on Romanticism; here we will focus on what has been called NEGATIVE Romanticism. Paradoxically Romanticism actualizes the best that man has achieved--the democratic spirit was born from Romanticism, but so was the holocaust. Byron is the microcosm; his heart was "made for softness," but he tormented Anabella, and seemed to enjoy a life style that he knew would scandalize his contemporaries.
Click here for an excellent Byron site and do the following:
My Soul is Dark
Manfred (full text). There are discussion questions for the play and information on Byron's life. Click here to find that resource.
To study Manfred is perhaps to experience a different "theatrical" mode; sometimes referenced as a 'closet drama,' the play is more a dramatization of the consciousness of the protagonist than a performance for the stage. Think of each character as a psycho-moral aspect of the Byronic hero. To assist with our tour of the Byronic hero's psyche, the following references will prove beneficial:
Platonic and neo-platonic philosophy
the role of the imagination in Romantic period aesthetics
Reference: Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy:
PLATO: "Spirits are halfway between god and man. They are envoys and interpreters that ply between heaven and earth, flying upward with our worship...and descending with heavenly answer...they merge both sides into one great whole...the divine will not mingle directly with the human. God is the supreme governor in charge...and in like manner was the government of its [the universe] several regions, for these were all portioned out to be provinces under the surveillance of tutelary [protecting] deities. Over every herd of living creatures...were set a heavenly daemon to be its shepherd. [Pertaining to man]...a god was their shepherd and had charge of them...This is the story of the life of men under Cronus. [Plato goes on to describe how the absence of these daemons caused chaos on earth until man could fend for himself, a task best defined by cultivating of the rational faculty to appreciate and intuit the forms, especially the form of the good--recall philosophy packet one.]
NEO-PLATONIC INFLUENCES IN THE MIDDLE AGES: [To be sure that there was not a single gap in the chain of being from the ONE [form of the good] to the world of sense perception [nominalism-plenitude], the Medieval philosophers "...increased the number of different stages through which the world proceeds forth from the ONE and identified them with the forms of the deities [daemons] in the different religions by all kinds of more or less arbitrary allegories. It was therefore natural in connection with the return of the soul to God, since it must traverse the same stages up [to the form of the good], to claim the support of these lower gods...metaphysics thus degenerated into mythology.
click here to read "Existentialism is a Humanism" by Sartre.
Reference: Romantic Period Aesthetics:
COLERIDGE'S LITERARY THEORIES ON THE IMAGINATION:
The imagination then I consider either as primary or secondary. The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will; yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate...it struggles to idealize and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects are essentially fixed and dead.
THE LYRICAL BALLADS:
It was agreed that my endeavors should be directed to persons and characters supernatural or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, that constitutes poetic faith.
The office of philosophical disquisition consists in just distinction...In order to obtain adequate notions of any truth, we must intellectually separate its distinguishable parts, and this is the technical process of philosophy. But having done so, we must then restore our conceptions to the unity in which the actually co-exist, and this is the result of philosophy. A poem contains the same elements as a prose composition; the difference therefore must consist in a different application of them...the immediate purpose may be the communication of truths...pleasure and that of the highest and most permanent kind may result from the attainment of the end; but it is not itself the immediate end. In other words, the communication of pleasure may be the immediate purpose, and though truth, either moral or intellectual, ought to be the ultimate end; yet this will distinguish the character of the author...A poem is that species of composition which is opposed to works of science by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth, and from all other species it is discriminated by proposing to itself such delight from the whole as is compatible with a distinct gratification from each component part. My own conclusions on the nature of poetry have been in part anticipated in the preceding discussion on the fancy and imagination. What is poetry? ...is so nearly the same question with "What is a poet?" The answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other. For it is a distinction resulting from the poetic genius itself, which sustains and modifies the images, thoughts and emotions of the poet's own mind. The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity that blends and fuses by that synthetic and magical power, the imagination. This power put into action by the will and understanding...reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities.
"...incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural, and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations supposing them real. And real in this sense they have been to every human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself under supernatural agency...my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters at least supernatural...with this view I wrote the Ancient Mariner. [Coleridge wished to connect the human truth of] "our outward nature" with the "shadows of imagination." [Romantic poetry appeals] "to the imagination rather than to the sense and to the reason as contemplating our inward nature, the working of the passions in their most retired recesses." [By] "exciting our internal emotions," [the poet] "acquires the right and privilege of using time and space as they exist in the imagination, obedient only to the laws which the imagination acts by." "In looking at objects of Nature while I am thinking...I seem rather to be seeking, as it were asking for, a symbolic language, for something within me that
already and forever exists, that observing anything new. Even when the latter is the case, yet still I have always an obscure feeling as if that new phenomenon were the dim awakening of a forgotten or hidden truth of my inner nature.
THE PAINS OF SLEEP by COLERIDGE:
There on my bed my limbs I lay,
It hath not been my use to pray
With moving lips or bended knees;
But silently, by slow degrees,
My spirit I to Love compose,
In humble trust mine eye-lids close,
With reverential resignation,
No wish conceived, no thought exprest,
Only a sense of supplication;
A sense o'er all my soul imprest
That I am weak, yet not unblest,
Since in me, round me, every where
Eternal Strength and Wisdom are.
But yester-night I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony.,
Upstarting from the fiendish crowd
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me:
A lurid light, a trampling throng,
Sense of intolerable wrong,
And whom I scorned, those only strong!
Thirst of revenge, the powerless will
Still baffled, and yet burning still !
Desire with loathing strangely mixed,
On wild or hateful objects fixed.
Fantastic passions! maddening brawl!
And shame and terror over all!
Deeds to be hid which were not hid,
Which all confused I could not know
Whether I suffered, or I did:
For all seemed guilt, remorse or woe,
My own or others still the same
Life-stifling fear, soul-stifling shame.
So two nights passed: the night's dismay
Saddened and stunned the coming day.
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me
Distemper's worst calamity.
The third night, when my own loud scream
Had waked me from the fiendish dream.
O'ercome with sufferings strange and wild.
I wept as I had been a child;
And having thus by tears subdued
My anguish to a milder mood,
Such punishments, I said, were due
To natures deepliest stained with sin,--
For aye entempesting anew
The unfathomable hell within,
The horror of their deeds to view,
To know and loathe, yet wish and do!
Such griefs with such men will agree,
But wherefore, wherefore fall on me?
To be beloved is all I need,
And whom I love, I love indeed.
(The Original Choice)
Now at the beginning the twin Spirits have declared their nature, the
better and the evil.
In thought and word and deed. And between the two the wise ones
choose well, not so the foolish.
And when these two Spirits came together', in the beginning they
established life and non-life.
And that at the last the worst existence shall be for the wicked, but
for the just one the Best Mind.
Of these two Spirits, the evil one chose to do the worst things; but
the most sacred spirit, clothed in the most steadfast heavens,
joined himself unto Truth.
And thus did all those who delight to please the Wise Lord by honest
Between the two, the false gods did not choose rightly; for, as they
deliberated, delusion overcame them so that they chose the Worst
Then did they, with one accord, rush headlong unto Wrath, that they
might thereby deprave the existence of mortal man.
Unlike Marlowe's version in which Dr. Faustus sells his soul to the devil for 24 years of unlimited knowledge, Goethe's version is quite different; for Manfred tells us that "knowledge is sorrow."
Byron may have listened to Goethe's version in translation from "Monk" Lewis:
Of course I am clever than the quacks
Than master and doctor, than clerk and priest,
I suffer no scruple or doubt in the least
I have no qualms about devil or burning,
which is just why all joy is torn from me.
I cannot presume to make use of my learning...
Unless you feel it, you cannot gallop it down,
Unless it thrust up from your soul
Forcing the hearts of all your audience
With a primal joy beyond control...
Alas, our very actions like our sufferings
Put a brake upon our lives.
Upon the highest concepts of the mind
There grows an alien and more alien mould;
When we have reached what in this world is good
That which is better is labeled a fraud, a blind.
What gave us life, feelings of highest worth,
Go dead amidst the madding crowds of earth.
Where once Imagination on daring wing
Reached out to the eternal, full of hope,
Now that the eddies of time have shipwrecked chance on chance,
She is contented with a narrow scope.
Care makes her nest forthwith in the: heart's deep places,
And there contrives her secret sorrows.
Alas that I have no wings to raise me into the air.
Then I should see in an everlasting sunset
The quiet world before my feet unfold...
Not the wild peaks with all their chasms
Could interrupt my godlike flight...
Alas it is not so easy for earthly wing
To fly on level terms with the wings of the mind.
Yet born within each of us is the instinct
That struggles upwards and away...
Two souls, alas cohabit in my breast,
A contract one of them desires to sever.
The one like a rough lover clings
To the world with the tentacles of its senses;
The other lifts itself...
Out of the mist on powerful wings,.
Aye, if I only hand a magic mantle
On which I could fly abroad, a-voyaging,
I would not barter it for the costliest raiment,
Not even for the mantle of a king.
And so existence weighs upon my breast
And I long for death and life-life I detest.
[This concerns the contract that Faust makes with the devil. Note
that it is Faust who dictates the terms...]
If ever I stretch myself on a bead of ease,
Then I am finished. Is that understood?
If ever Your flatteries [the devil's] can coax me
To be pleased with myself, if ever you cast
A spell of pleasure that can hoax me
Then that day be my last.
That's my wager.
The Devil replies: Done.
BYRON'S LIFE AND LITERARY THEORY FROM HIS LETTERS
(See: Marchand, L. (ed.). Lord Byron-Selected Letters and Journals. Harvard University Press, 1982. The following extracts from that book follow:)
1804--to Byron's half sister
I seize this interval of my amiable mother's absence this afternoon, again to inform you, or rather to desire to be informed by you, of what is going on. For my own part, I can send nothing to amuse you, except a repetition of my complaints against my tormentor, whose diabolical disposition (pardon me for staining my paper with so harsh a word) seems to increase with age, and to acquire new force with time. The more I see of her the more my dislike augments; nor can I so entirely conquer the appearance of it, as to prevent her from perceiving my opinion; this so far from calming the Gale, blows it into a hurricane with threatened to destroy everything, till exhausted by its own violence, it is lulled into a sullen torpor which, after a short period, it again roused into fresh and revived frenzy, to me most terrible, and to every other spectator astonishing. She then declares that she plainly sees I hate her...No captive...Prisoner of war ever looked forward to their emancipation, that due to my escape from this maternal bondage, and this accursed place, which is the region to dullness itself, and more stupid than the banks of Lethe, though it possesses contrary qualities to the river of oblivion, as the detested scenes I now witnessed, make me regret the happier ones already passed, and wish their restoration.
I once thought myself a philosopher, and talked nonsense with great decorum: I defied pain and preached up equanimity. For some time this did very well, for no one was in plain for me by my friends, and none lost their patience but my hearers. At last, a fall from my horse convinced me bodily suffering was an evil: and the worst of an argument oversets my maxims and my temper...In morality I prefer Confucius to the Ten Commandments, and Socrates to St. Paul. In religion I favor the Catholic emancipation, but do not acknowledge the Pope, and I have refused to take the sacrament, because I do not think eating bread or drinking wine from the hand of an earthly vicar will make me an inheritor of heaven. I hold virtue, in general, or the virtues severally, to be only in the disposition, each feeling, not a principle. I believe truth the prime attribute of the Deity, and death an eternal sleep, at least of the body.
1809--from Lisbon (optimistic tone)
I am very happy here, because I love oranges, and talk bad Latin to the monks, who understand it, as it is like their own---and I go into society (with my pocket pistols), and I swim...and I ride on an ass or mule, and swears Portuguese, and have got a diarrhea and bites from a mosquito. But what of that? Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a pleasuring...But, in sober sadness, any thing is better than England, and I am infinitely amused with my pilgrimage as far as it has gone.
1809--from Turkey (politics and interest in Turkey)
I found that Ali Pasha was with his army...he had heard that an Englishman of rank was in his dominions and had left orders...to provide a house and supply me with every kind of necessary gratis, and , though I have been allowed to make presents to the slaves, I have not been permitted to pay for a single article of household consumption...The next day, I was introduced to Ali Pasha. I was dressed in a full suit of staff uniform, with a very large magnificent saber...he said I was a man of noble birth, because I had small ears, curling hair, and little white hands, and expressed himself pleased with my appearance and garb. He told me to consider him as a father whilst I was in Turkey, and said he looked on me as his son. Indeed, he treated me like a child, sending me almonds and sugared sherbet...He begged me to visit him often and at night, when he was at leisure...His highness is sixty years old, very fat, and not tall, but with a fine face, light blue eyes, and a white beard, his manner is very kind, and at the same time he possesses that dignity which I find universal among the Turks...he is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible crimes, very brave, and...a good general.
I will have nothing to do with...immortality; we are miserable enough in this life, without the absurdity of speculating upon another. If men are to live why die at all? and if they die, why disturb the sound sleep that "knows no waking?" As to revealed religion, Christ came to save man; but a good pagan will go to heaven, and a bad Nazarene to hell.
I am going to be married...Miss Milbanke is the lady...she has talents and excellent qualities, and you will not deny her judgment after having refused six suitors and taken me...I need not say that nothing will give me greater pleasure. I must of course reform thoroughly; and seriously, if I can contribute to her happiness, I shall secure my own. She is so good a person, that--that--in short, I wish I was a better.
Miss Milbanke is the good-natured person who has undertaken me, and, of course, I am very much in love, and as silly as all single gentleman must be in that sentimental situation.
I give him credit for a promise which is unfulfilled. I still think his capacity warrants all you [Hunt] say of it only, but that his performance since Lyrical Ballads are miserably inadequate to the ability which lurks within him...who can understand him?
1816--private journal entry concerning his half-sister
...they sang a song which you love Augusta, because I love it--and I love, because you love it...you do not know how I should have liked this, were you with me.
1817--Byron on his future
...If I live ten years longer, you will see, however, that it is not over with me--I don't mean in literature for that is nothing; and it may seem odd enough to say I do not think it is my vocation. But you will see that I shall do something--that "like the cosmology or creation of the world, will puzzle the philosophers of all ages." But I doubt whether my constitution will hold out. I have, at intervals, exorcised it most devilishly.
With regard to poetry in general, I am convinced that more I think of it, that all of us [the Romantic school] are all in the wrong. We are upon a wrong poetical system...not worth a damn. I am the more confirmed in this by having lately gone over some of the classics, particularly Pope...I was really astonished and mortified at the ineffable distance in point of sense, harmony, effect and even imagination, passion and invention.
1818--on a possible influence for Manfred
I never read and do not know that I saw the Faustus of Marlowe. I heard [a translation of]...some scenes of Goethe's Faust...which is all I know of the history of that magical person.
1819--to his half - sister Augusta
...I do not like at all this pain in your side, and always think of your mother's constitution. You must always be to me the first consideration in the world...You need not fear about me. I am much altered and should be little trouble to you, nor would I give you more of my company than you like...I confess after three and a half--and such years [the relationship with his half-sister has speculated incest] ... it would be a relief to me to see you again. And if it would be so to you I will come to you...I will do whatever you like in everything.
1821--on Shelley's poetry--reaction to an unfavorable review of Shelley's poetry.
I recollect the effect on me of the Edinburgh on my first poem. It was rage and resistance, and redress--but not despondency nor despair. I grant that those are not amiable feelings, but in this world of bustle and broil, and especially in the career of writing, a man should calculate upon his powers of resistance before he goes into the arena...You know my opinion of your own poetry...works of power. You want me to undertake a great poem--I have not the inclination and the power. As I grow older, the indifference--not to life, for we love it by instinct--but to the stimuli of life, increases.
With respect of "Religion", can I never convince you that I have no such opinions as the characters in that drama., which seems to have frightened everybody? Yet they are noting to the expressions in Goethe's Faust, and not a wit more bold than those of Milton's Satan. My idea of a character may run away with me: like all imaginative men, I of course, embody myself with the character while I draw it, but not a moment after the pen is off the paper. I am no enemy to religion, but the contrary. As a proof, I am educating my natural daughter a strict Catholic in a convent. For I think people can never halve enough of religion, if they are to have any. I incline, myself, very much to the Catholic doctrines, but if I am to write a drama, I must make my characters speak as I conceive them likely to argue. As to poor Shelley...the least selfish and mildest of men...with his speculative opinions I have nothing in common, nor desire to have. The truth is you live near the store of society where you are unavoidably influenced by its heat and vapours.
DIARY EXTRACT FROM 1821-1822:
Tomorrow is my birthday...and I go to by bed with a heaviness of heart at having lived so long [33 years] and to so little purpose, Temperance and exercise, which I have practiced at times, and for a long time together vigorously and violently, made little or no difference. Violent passions did--when under their influence--it is odd, but I was agitated, but not in depressed spirits. Wine and spirits make me sullen and savage to ferocity, silent, however, and retiring, and not quarrelsome, if not spoken to. Swimming also raises my spirits--but in general they are low and get daily lower. That is hopeless...The proof of this is, that when I must game or drink, or be in motion of some kind, or I was miserable. At present I can mope in quietness; and like being alone better than company--except the lady's whom I serve...I have been considering what can be the reason why I always wake, at a certain hour in the morning, and always in very bad spirits--I may say in actual despair and despondency...People have wondered at the melancholy which runs through my writings. Others have wondered at my personal gaiety, but I recollect once, after an hour, in which I had been sincerely and particularly happy and rather brilliant in company, my wife, replying to me when I said (upon her remarking my high spirits) "and yet, Bell, [AnnaBelle Millbank], I have called and mis-called Melancholy you must have seen how falsely frequently." No, B. She answered, it is not so; at heart you hare the most melancholy of mankind, and often when apparently happiest." If I could explain the real causes which have contributed to increase this perhaps natural temperament of mine, this melancholy--nobody would wonder, but this is impossible without doing much mischief. I do not know anything more strange than some of the earlier parts of mine. I have written my memoirs, but omitted all the really consequential and important parts, form deference to the dead, the living, and to those who must be both...I am an excellent swimmer...a dashing rider...sufficient of fence, and not a bad boxer...I had a tinge of dandism in my minority and probably retained enough of it, to conciliate the great ones...I am always must religious upon a sunshiney day, as it there were some association between an internal approach to greater light and purity, and the kindlier of this dark side of our eternal existence. The night is also a religious concern, and even more so have I viewed the moon and stars through a telescope, and was that they were worlds.
A personal evaluation of Byron from a contemporary:
In external appearance, Byron realized that ideal standard with which imagination adorns genius...Nature could do little more than she had done for him, both in outward form and in the inward spirit she had given to animate it. But all these rare gifts to his jaundiced imagination only serve to make his one personal defect [lameness] the more apparent. In his perverse and moody humors, Byron would give vent to his Satanic vein. He said, "I have a conscience, although the world gives me no credit for it; I am now repenting not of the few sins I have committed, but of the many I have not committed. These are things, too, we should not do, if they were not forbidden.
Byron: "You think it is as easy to write poetry as smoke a cigar...Extemporizing verses is nonsense; poetry is a distinct faculty--it won't come when called...I must chew the cud before I write. I have thought over most of my subjects before writing a line."
Knowing and sympathizing with Byron's sensitiveness, his associates avoided prying into the cause of his lameness; so did strangers...It was generally thought his halting gait originated in some defect of the right foot--the right foot was the most distorted, and it had been made worse in his boyhood by vain efforts to set it right. He told me that for several years he wore steel splints, which so wrenched the sinews and tendons of his legs that they increased his lameness, the foot was twisted inwards, only the edge touched the ground, and that leg was shorter than the other...He entered a room with a sort of run, as if he could not stop, then planted his best leg will forward, throwing back his body to keep his balance...In the company of strangers, he would make desperate efforts to conceal his infirmity], but the hectic flush on his face, his swelling veins, and the quivering nerves betrayed him...Disposed to fatten, incapable of taking exercise, what could he do? If he added to his weight, his feet would not have supported him...he was compelled to exist in a state of semi-starvation,
Byron in one of his plays refutes the idea that the Byronic hero = Byron:
I should have been glad to have rendered my personages more perfect and amiable.. in as much as I have been sometimes criticized...for their deeds and qualities than if all had been personal...if I have deviated into the gloomily vanity of drawing from myself, the pictures are probably like, since they are unfavorable, and if not, those who know me are undeceived...I have no particular desire that any but my acquaintances should think the author better than the beings of his imaginings.
This book also contains a biography of Byron.
READING ASSIGNMENT FOR BYRON
locate and read a copy of his play called MANFRED, and be able to discuss how its characters illustrate the "Byronic Hero concepts."
MOTIFS IN MANFRED
GENERAL GUIDES TO LITERATURE, CHRONOLOGIES, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHIES, AND SCRIPTURAL/THEOLOGICAL REFERENCES CURRICULUM LINKS
THE ROMANTIC PERIOD CURRICULUM LINKS