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Is it Lord Byron?

Where I sit while writing there is the above picture on the wall. I discovered it in a local antique store 17 years ago, advertised as an 19th century hand-drawing. I wrote about it in a 2006 Risky Regencies blog, but thought it would be fun to revisit the topic, especially since I glance at it at least once a day.

Believe it or not, I passed it up after first seeing it in the shop, then decided I was nuts and went back and purchased it for about $40.00. I remember refraining from saying to the cashier, “Do you think this is Lord Byron? I really think this is Lord Byron.” Surely she would have charged more.

When I went to England in June 2005, I looked everywhere for a similar portrait of Byron, especially when we visited Newstead Abbey, Byron’s estate, but I never saw anything like it. So, again, I am leaving it up to you. I have reversed some well-known Byron portraits and put them in black and white, for comparison.

Is my sketch Lord Byron?

This is what I imagined. A young Regency miss was infatuated with Lord Byron. Perhaps she even glimpsed him in Mayfair, at a ball or the theatre. She and her girlfriends sighed over his Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, bought engravings of his portrait at the local print shop. She did what I did when I was a teenager. She drew her own picture of Byron, putting him in exotic dress, like she would have imagined Child Harold to wear.

Of course, when I was a teenager, the hearthrob I drew a portrait of was Paul McCartney of the Beatles. I’d scan that too, if I knew where it was. When I went on a search for it, I found all sorts of other things (including my photo of William Shatner as Captain Kirk) but no Paul McCartney. (I should search again….)

Weigh in here with your opinions. Do I have a portrait of Byron?
Confess. Who would you have drawn in those tender years of infatuation?

Diane (who, alas, has not had an infatuation since the one she had for Gerard Butler years ago. Any suggestions?)

Still swamped everywhere I look. Alas. So today you get an oldie but a Goodie about Lord Byron, a Certified Previously Published Post from January 2010.

What did people think of Byron

I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while. I’ve finally gotten my act together for our mutual enjoyment — I hope.

Lord Byron is, as most of you already know, frequently name-dropped in Regency-set historicals. Makes sense. Today we know Byron as a major literary figure. The really great thing about Byron is his reputation as the Bad Boy of the Regency. I have to confess, however, that Byron name dropping is becoming a pet peeve of mine.

Authors of Regency set historical romance often look for Regency-era poets and writers to mention in their books. The intent, of course, is to add background and depth to a story. The problem is that there is now a practically trite set of characters: Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Shelly et ux. Southey comes in for mention on rare occasion. But I don’t often see other authors mentioned.

I’ve begun to feel as if I know exactly what the author was thinking — the hero or heroine is reading something. Poetry. Who would the h/h be reading? And the author, being a history nut, already knows these now famous poets, or perhaps Googles and comes up with this list. Byron gets picked a lot. It’s almost as if the man was the only poet of the Regency. I get why. He’s a fascinating, titillating character who also wrote poetry that will, some two hundred years later, make your breath catch.

I’d like to put forth the argument that writers could do a little better than the stock list. Not that we shouldn’t mention these poets. But I do believe it’s important to remember that every generational period contains a range of ages, from infant to elderly. We can look back from the comfort of our centuries in the future and say that the man who wrote the words She walks in beauty like the night was (as my mother would say) a beady-eyed genius.

In Byron’s own time, you can be assured, there were men (and women) of substance and influence who would have despised Byron for being new and different and young or morally corrupt, or who would have thought, correctly, early on in the poet’s career, that here was a young flash who had yet to prove his literary staying power.

Dad: Don’t talk to me about that new fangled poetry! New school indeed.
Son: It’s really good! Just read it!
Dad: That poser doesn’t hold a candle to Pope or Donne. And Milton! Milton! Now those are men who could write poetry! There were rules then and they followed them, by gad!
Son: (rolls eyes) That’s so eighteenth century.
Dad: (cups ear) What’s that? Eh? Why it’s a bell. And it’s tolling for thee. (Looks past son) Is that Satan I see coming for you?
Son: I’m going to Almack’s tonight. Don’t wait up.
Dad: Three AM and not a minute past, young man. (shakes finger) And you ask Miss Crackers to dance. She’s got fifty thousand a year.

For readers and authors today, Byron has become a stand in for real meaning. The very word Bryon has become recursive in that Byron refers to and defines itself. No explanation needed. With that self-referential symbol Bryon we no longer need to explain what we mean because the word alone conveys so much that is already understood. Bryon, Byronic. Bad Boy. Genius. Wicked. Fame. Scandal. Sublime. Sex. Untimely death. New. Racy.

Such symbols are handy and they can be used with enormous impact in writing so long as the author understand what comes with the choice. What happens too often, though, is a writer chooses Byron merely because the name is now a reference to a whole constellation of meaning and without due consideration of what comes with that choice.

The result is usually a reference the reader skips over because she already understands what’s packed into the symbol. The reader drops out of the story long enough to say, Oh, Byron, and then back. And yes, she picked up the meaning, but without the detail really great writing slips in. Richness of meaning is lost if that’s all that happens. When this happens, the story begins to feel like wallpaper.

The writer’s job is to find a way to introduce Byron and what we understand to be represented by Byron in a way that prevents the reader from skipping over the reference. It’s hard work and it’s also why it’s becoming even more important to know about other writers of the period. Don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants. (Thus concludes Carolyn’s Physics joke of the week.)

As a writer, don’t make the mistake of mentioning the major poets solely with the knowledge that we have today. Just because we call them the Romantics today does not mean they were called that then (they weren’t) or that everyone understood their genius or, conversely, that everyone misunderstood (but for your heroine). When you do that, you’re wallpapering your story and it will feel shallow.

By the way, if you carefully read the excerpt I’ve included, you will find an intriguing clue about how these poets were styled contemporaneously.

During my grad school days, I came across this book: Scribbleomania: or, The Printer’s Devil’s Polichronicon. A sublime poem By William Henry Ireland. I may have mentioned it in a previous post or two. It was published in 1815, so it’s contemporary to our period. Here’s the Google Books Link

I was looking for materials that addressed The Minerva Press, which this book does. Scribbleomania is full of names of contemporary and mostly forgotten (except to the PhD sorts) authors — good information for the historically minded, I dare say. There is also a nice section on Lord Byron, and I thought The Riskies sort of person would be interested to hear how at least one of Byron’s contemporaries thought of him and assessed his talent.

Scribbleomania is one long poem about (wait for it!) poetry and literature and the people who write it. I find that to be a rather delicious irony since Ireland’s poetry is pretty awful. Though in his defense, he was going for satire, sarcasm and humor. The footnotes are what make for fun reading. There’s quite a lot of interesting detail in those footnotes.

Before we get to Ireland’s section on Byron, a word or two about the author is in order. The book was actually published anonymously (for reasons I will shortly reveal) under the name Arthur Pendragon. Don’t think about that name for too long. . . Groaaaannnnn

Mr. Ireland was, alas, a man of poor judgment and character. His father was a noted collector of Shakespearean documents and young Mr. Ireland took it upon himself to forge some such documents and sell them to his father as the genuine Shakespearean article. The Wikipedia article about Ireland is fairly accurate if you want to know more.

Well, all right, a little additional set up here. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is the poem that brought Byron fame in his time, and it was published between 1812 and 1818. Not all at once, mind you.

Here we go, in the rhymes of William Henry Ireland:

Lord Byron

ac discas multa, et vites nescire doceri.
Cato. (Take heed to learn many things, and shun not the opportunity to reap instruction.)

Some strange combination must rule o’er the
Since our age teems with many Parnassian peers.
A Byron, not lacking of fancy some store,
Who, study possessing, hath purg’d mental lore,
With Strangford respectably gracing my poem,
Whom last I recorded, of lordlings the proem.

This titled enditer, tho’ beauties possessing,
Childe Harold must needs with old phrase still be
A style of composing shall ne’er claim my praises;
The Muses thus robing in masquerade phases.
For, as planets will oft seem halv’d, gibbous, or
These obsolete terms, to my mind, seem suborn’d
To torture our language, for ages corrected;
Which, now at its acme, must needs be neglected.
Having own’d that his lordship much fancy possesses,
May his flights henceforth throw off such harlequin
As a bard thus I grant him the praises his due,
And, with care, bid him Pegasus’s journey pursue. (c)

(c) We are frequently told by the reviewers, that birth and fortune do not produce the smallest influence upon their decisions respecting any point connected with the republic of letters; which is, however, to my mind a very problematical assertion.
Notwithstanding due praise be allowed to Lord Byron, on the score of assiduous labour, scholastic acquirement, and classical elegance, he most assuredly cannot at present lay claim to real genius or originality; and, with deficiencies so palpable, the productions of his lordship could never have received those unqualified eulogiums, had not the talismanic charm of nobility infused its balsam as an ingredient into the dose of criticism. Considered in the light of a didactic writer, Lord Byron is deserving a considerable portion of praise; but any attempt to soar into the heaven of heavens, is a task beyond the powers of this Parnassian nobleman.

Some time has elapsed since the former part of this note was committed to paper: since which period a few short ebullitions have met the public eye, that do infinite credit to the muse of Lord Byron. I would, however, most seriously advise this nobleman to apply his abilities to some more sterling and lasting topic: let him obliterate from his thoughts all recollection of the new school. His judgment is obviously much matured; and the style he adopts is seldom characterized by a want of perspicuity: and, as the sublimity of Alpine scenery elevates the soul to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, even so will the mental energies expand in proportion to the grandeur of the subject which is selected to put them into action. Under such an impression, therefore, do I advise Lord Byron to lay the ground-work of a poem, the superstructure of which may justly entitle him to the praises of futurity.

Well. There you have it. Ireland does not seem to have cared much for Childe Harold but was, it would seem, sufficiently impressed by later words to think Byron could do better.

Here’s the intriguing clue: let him obliterate from his thoughts all recollection of the new school. From this I feel I can quite cleverly say that these young poets were styled by at least some as New School. I bet there were people ranting against the New School the way Joyce Kilmer had it in for Free Verse and the Imagistes.

I’ll leave you with this non-Bryonic tidbit from Scribbleomania because the spirit will be quite familiar:

On the subject of the Irish poet Mrs. Henry Tighe:

So many ladies have written, and still continue to produce trash, that no praise offered at the shrine of feminine excellence should be deemed fulsome; since the panegyric may prompt such unfortunate essayists to consult the productions of the personage so extolled, from whose style they may perhaps be prompted to correct their own effusions, or, if endowed with sense, to discriminate their natural inability, discard the pen, and thus relinquish all literary claims for ever. Independently of the poem of Cupid and Psyche, the lady now under Sir Noodle’s review produced numerous other short effusions, all of which are characterized by every requisite that could tend to adorn a female of the most refined taste and exquisite sensibility.

Ouch. Is that a backhanded compliment or what?

As with so many other female writers of the period, she’s been dismissed for centuries and her contributions forgotten.

About Mary Tighe who influenced Keats. More about Tighe. Pysche, by Mary Tighe. Here’s an 1812 edition of Psyche with other poems. Pysche was originally published in 1805.
Labels: Literature, Lord Byron, poetry

As I’ve probably posted here before, I love movies. I’m by no means a Cinema Expert, like a friend of mine who was a Film Studies major. I don’t much like going to the movies with him because afterwards he always wants to talk about camera angles and filters and other techie stuff I don’t understand. I just want to talk about the characters. And the dialogue. And the costumes. All much too amateur for him. 🙂

Anyway, I do enjoy movies. So, I’ve been following the news out of Cannes this week. I love Cannes, too, for being so goofball and overblown and, well, so French. Who else boos movies? Not the Canadians, I bet. Toronto is probably far more civilized and not nearly as much fun. I’d like to know what all those actresses are thinking when it comes to their gowns, though. Kirsten Dunst, who I like because she’s usually so quirky and cute, gets herself up to look like Fraulein Maria at the abbey for her big premiere??? Monica Belluci in a Christmas tree skirt trimmed with feather dusters??? This is France, people! FRANCE! (Sofia Coppola sure had some great shoes, though).

But I digress. Fashion will always do that to me. I’m here to talk about movies. I think. One movie in particular–Marie Antoinette, the one reportedly just booed at Cannes by moviegoing members of the “petit bourgeois” (according to one French critic). Now, I haven’t seen this film–it doesn’t open here until October. I’ve only seen a trailer, and I don’t know why it was booed (though I’d dearly like to find out). I will definitely see it, for the elaborate costumes, Versailles, the reported neo-punk soundtrack, and because I’m always a sucker for overblown, pre-Revolutionary shenanigans. But I have some reservations, mostly about the casting. As I said, I do like Kirsten Dunst. But does “quirky” equal “Austrian princess in powdered wigs”? Just not sure. I also don’t know who I would cast instead, if it was MY movie. Maybe Anne Hathaway? Or Emmy Rossum, if she wasn’t so tall?

Anyway, here is your task, if you choose to accept it. Let’s imagine we’re making a film about, say, the life of Byron (forget the one from the BBC a couple years ago–ours will be better!). Who would you cast in the lead parts? As Byron? (I would vote for Johnny Depp, I think. Or Keanu Reeves, if he had the acting skills to equal his looks, darn it). Caro Lamb? (Now there would be a part for Kirsten Dunst!). The Shelleys? Annabelle Milbanke? Lady Melbourne?

Serious and/or goofy answers all happily accepted! As are suggestions for Marie Antoinette. Or any other movie you choose to make. YOU are the director now! I may even give away a free book to the most, er, creative ideas…

I watched the Academy Awards last night even though I only saw one of the nominated movies–War Horse. That never stopped me from having favorites. I’m delighted that Christopher Plummer won for Best Supporting Actor and Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress. It was fun to see The Artist win so much, but I was disappointed that War Horse did not win anything.

The reason I enjoyed the Academy Awards, I think, is due to fascination with celebrities. To see what the women wore. To see the handsome men. To hear the speeches, which are almost always disappointing, and cringe at the presenters attempting to be funny.

I like to think of Lord Byron as one of the first celebrities in the modern sense of the word. I read an article that said that celebrity, as we think of it, began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the industrialization of print meant that information could be widely distributed. Lord Byron’s poetry and gossip about his life was certainly available to many.

He was wildly popular when his poetry caught fire with the public. It is said that his wife termed the adulation surrounding him Bryomania. How modern sounding is that?

He was perfectly cast for such fame. His verse was emotional and sometimes shocking and he was the quintessential “bad boy” in need of taming. His early life was romantic-his deformity of foot, his tumultuous family including his great-uncle, “Mad Jack.” His early travels in the Mediterranean and his dramatic adopting of native dress, must have exciting to women of his time, especially young fanciful girls who still today idolize celebrities. I like to believe the 19th century drawing I own is one a lovestruck fan drew of Byron.

Like many celebrities, Byron fed the gossip mills. His affair with Caroline Lamb. His later affairs. His separation from his wife amid allegations of cruelty, infidelity and incest with a half-sister. And like many celebrities, Byron met an untimely death, albeit a romantic one, dying of fever while preparing to fight in the Greek war of independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Like other celebrities, especially those who met an early death, Byron lives on in his marvelous works, his letters, and in his legend that still fascinates us.

Not so different from the celebrities at the Oscars.
Who were your favorites at the Oscars? Will Amanda do a fashion critique tomorrow?

Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged , | 10 Replies
Last week marked the 188th anniversary of Lord Byron‘s death on April 19, 1824, in Missolonghi, Greece.

Byron had sailed to Greece to lend his support to the fight for Greek independence. Byron used some of his own funds for the rebel forces and even assumed command of part of the rebel army even though he had no military experience. Before the expedition could sail for the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, Byron fell ill. He was treated with bloodletting, as was the treatment of the day, and he probably contracted sepsis from the unsterilized equipment. On this date he died of a violent fever.

One wonders why Byron embarked on this trip to Greece in the first place. Did he fancy himself a rebel hero, able to lead armies to victory? Was it ego? Or was it a genuine desire to help, like Sean Penn in Haiti or George Clooney in the Sudan, Angelina Jolie and Ben Affleck for the Congo?

After Byron’s death his friends commissioned a statue which they wanted to place in Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey. The Abbey refused it, due to Byron’s notorious reputation, as did the British Museum and other places. The statue finally found a place in Trinity College’s Wren Library where it stands today.

I think of Byron as the first superstar. In 1814 his poem, The Corsair, sold ten thousand copies on the first day; twenty-five thousand in the first month and this was without the internet!!!! He received hundreds of letters from women fans, including some that invited sexual encounters. Just like fans today, the women rhapsodized about his portrait as well as his poems.

I think my 19th century ink drawing (shown here) is of Byron and I like to fancy that a lovesick fan drew it.

Many of Byron’s fan letters allude to understanding his wounded soul. A man with a dark side greatly in need of reforming became known as a Byronic hero. We still adore such heroes in our romance novels today, don’t we?

No matter what one might think of his character, Byron was a great poet, deserving of the lasting fame his work has achieved.
An example:

So We’ll Go No More A-roving
By Lord Byron

So, We’ll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have a rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

If you had been a young Regency lady, do you think you would have been one of Byron’s swooning fans? Do you have a favorite Byron poem or a favorite line from a Byron poem?

Don’t forget to enter my new contest for a chance to win the Diamonds of Welbourne Manor series!

Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged | 6 Replies
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