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Lord Byron, 1788 to 1824. The man died 187 years ago. If I go to Google and search on Bryon, just the man’s title, nearly all the hits are about him. Here’s a link: search for Byron Note, if you will, that ALL the images that show up on this search result are, in fact, of Lord Byron. If you click on the images link, you’ll see that Lord Byron is STILL the predominant Byron image with some posers in there. (Who do they think they are?)

That’s a powerful name. For us in the English speaking world that’s something.

Since April is National Poetry Month, here’s a little Bryon, first the familiar, then something perhaps a little less familiar.


She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
   How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!

The Destruction of Sennacherib

 Lord Byron
   The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

   Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

   For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

   And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

   And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

   And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Sometimes it feels as if Byron is the only poet of the Regency, his legacy and wicked personal history looms so large. But of course there was that Wordsworth fellow who wrote a poem or two, and his sister Dorothy. Not to mention Keats and Shelly. But what about this one?

Perplexity: A Poem

Elizabeth Hands

Ye tender young virgins attend to my lay,
   My heart is divided in twain;
My Collin is beautiful, witty, and gay,
   And Damon’s a kind-hearted swain.

Whenever my lovely young Collin I meet,
   What pleasures arise in my breast;
The dear gentle swain looks so charming and sweet,
   I fancy I love him the best.

But when my dear Damon does to me complain,
   So tender, so loving and kind,
My bosom is softened to hear the fond swain,
   And Collin slips out of my mind.

Whenever my Damon repeats his soft tale,
   My heart overflows with delight;
But when my dear Collin appears in the vale,
   I languish away at the sight.

’Tis Collin alone shall possess my fond heart,
   Now Damon for ever adieu;
But can I? — I cannot from Damon thus part!
   He’s loved me so long, and so true.

My heart to my Damon I’ll instantly bind,
   And on him will fix all my care;
But, O should I be to my Collin unkind,
   He surely will die with despair.

How happy, how happy with Damon I’d been,
   If Collin I never had knew;
As happy with Collin, if I’d never seen
   My Damon, so tender and true.

 I particularly like this last poem because it works so well to explode the very prevalent notion we seem to have that women of the period were dis-passionate creatures who would NEVER have two lovers and be unable to so delightfully decide between them. And hint, all the while, of passion.

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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.

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By the time you read this, I hope like heck this is how I feel about my manuscript.

My Star

All that I know
    Of a certain star
Is, it can throw
    (like the angled spar)
Now a dart of red,
    Now a dart of blue;
Till my friends have said
    They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower, hangs furled:
    They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to me if their star is a world?
    Mine has opened its soul to me; therefore I love it.

But I might feel more like this.

My Last Duchess


That’s my last duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
That depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘t was not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:” such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart — how shall I say? — too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed: she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ‘t was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace — all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush,at least. She thanked men — good! but thanked
Somehow — I know not how – as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech — (which I have not) — to make your will
Quite clear to such a one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss
Or there exceed the mark”– and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse
— E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.

P.S. These are by Robert Browning. Quite the poet.

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One of the period books in my possession is the one noted below. I found it in an antique store that had quite a nice collection of old books. Really, really old books. True antiquarian books. If I’d had $3,000 I could have bought a breathtaking book of Dutch maps from circa 1650. Some of the maps folded out to a very large size and I suspect the book was worth far more than $3,000 since all the pages were intact. But it might as well have been a million bucks.

For $1,500 I could have bought a handmade, hand printed, hand illustrated Italian prayer book, bound in velvet, from 1400 or so. It was lovely and obviously once the private possession of a literate and wealthy Italian.

My book below was among these treasures and was completely affordable, too. For some reason.

The New
Family Receipt Book
containing eight hundred
Truly Valuable Receipts
to various Branches of
Domestic Economy
selected from
the works of British and Foreign writers of unquestionable experience and authority.
and from
the attested communications of scientific friends.

The title page also contains a poem:

What lookest thou?
Good Lessons For Thee, and Thy Wife?
Then keep them in memory fast,
to help as a comfort to life”


Mine is a new edition, corrected. Printed in London, 1815.

I try not to handle it too much, thought at times it’s irresistible.

Apparently, lawyerese has been around for a long time. There’s a chapter titled HEALTH which comes with this warning:

[The following Chapter will be found to contain some receipts which perhaps may appear to infringe on the medical profession. It should however be understood, that only such popular articles are here introduced, as may, in ordinary cases, afford help or mitigation, until medical aid can be obtained; and also in such cases as require instantaneous assistance.]

The very first receipt in this section is:

540. Avoid, as much as possible, living near Church Yards.

The putrid emanations arising from church yards, are very dangerous ; and parish churches, in which many corpses are interred, become impregnated with an air so corrupted, especially in spring, when the ground begins to grow warm, that it is prudent to avoid this evil as much as possible, as it may be, and, in some cases, has been, one of the chief sources of putrid fevers which are so prevalent at that season.

I particularly like this quote because of the putrid emanations, the impregnation and the warning to avoid evil. Why, you can practically hear the subtext rising from its moldy grave. Do I need to say the word?

I do?



The whole warning about fevers is a big old (dead) red herring, though, actually, it does sound like good advice. But trust me, if you’re hanging out by the parish church yard in spring, fevers are the least of your problems.

Right about now, you’re probably saying to yourself, Carolyn has gone a bit far afield with this post. Under normal circumstances you’d be correct. But I’m just working up to my challenge.

You’ll notice how I included the entire title of the book. Plus the poem.

The Challenge. . .

dun dun duuunnnnn

If you were living in 1815 and you decided to write a book full of warnings about supernatural creatures without resorting to subterfuge and indirection, what would the full title be?

Here’s my rough effort:

The New Family Survival Book
containing One Thousand and One
Truly Valuable Receipts
for various Branches of Supernatural, Paranormal and Other
Minions of Evil
selected from
the works of British and Foreign writers of unquestionable experience and authority.
and from
the attested communications of scientific friends.

As a bonus, I’m throwing in a poem.

Don’t lookest there!
Good Lessons For Thee, Thy Wife
and thy immortal soul.
(if you didn’t accidentally sell it to a demon1)
Keep these in memory fast,
to help as a comfort to life
With garlic, holy water and
some nice sharp stakes.

1. See Receipt No. 897.

So, what’s your title? Or your poem. Either would be pretty awesome. If I’m allowed, I’ll think of a prize. Maybe a Risky Regency Minion of Evil badge or something.

God, I hope I’m not in trouble for this. I think this may be worse than blood fuckers.

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