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(1821), Byron was writing poetry occasioned and shaped by anger.
Yet modern studies of Byron have tended to downplay the importance
of that emotion, probably because Don Juan bestrides his poetry like a
colossus, and most readers understand the modes and methods of
that poem “ the digression, the lampoon, the sly wink, the humorous
de¬‚ation of hypocrisy “ as paradigmatic.1 Furthermore, the many
critics who focus on Byron™s satires alone (e.g. Beaty, Gleckner, Lockwood,
and Jones) exclude a large portion of his poetry of anger and revenge,
since Byron characteristically combines satiric impulses with a dramatic
sense of himself as a ¬gure of vengeance, producing a kind of generic
red-shift. For Byron, the resulting angry poetry “ a combination of satire,
dramatic curse, and confessional lyric “ opposes Romantic sincerity with
its theatricality, Romantic sympathy with its alienating effects, and
Romantic transcendence with its commitment to mundane cycles of
retribution.
Of these aspects of Byron™s poetry that challenge Romantic aesthetics,
self-dramatization is the most familiar. Thomas Lockwood speaks of the
“personal quality in post-Augustan satire,” in which the satirist “makes
personal references to himself as well as to the man he is satirizing” (Post-
Augustan Satire, 18). “Satiric rhyme ¬rst sprang from sel¬sh spleen,” Byron
writes in a cancelled line of Hints from Horace, and his poetic career
shows him writing often in a spirit of personal revenge (CPW i:293). Such
intimacy reverses the policies of eighteenth-century satire, wherein the poet
presents himself as a scourge of vice pro bono publico whose private enmities
must be subordinated to the larger claims of society. As Steele put it in 1710:
“When the sentence [of reproof] appears to arise from personal hatred or
passion, it is not then made the cause of mankind but a misunderstanding
between two persons . . . No man thoroughly nettled can say a thing general
133
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
134
enough, to pass off with the air of an opinion declared, and not a passion
grati¬ed” (qtd. in Lockwood, Post-Augustan Satire, 36). Byron explores the
implications of Steele™s comment by writing poems of “personal hatred”
arising precisely from such misunderstandings, transforming his eighteenth-
century satiric inheritance by making a spectacle of his personal rage. His
angry poetry avoids mere satiric rhetoric by presenting his enmities as matters
of public record and the world™s evils as personal affronts “ as it were,
dragging Europe across his bleeding heart.
The paradoxical combination of apparent rhetorical manipulation and
a convincingly confessional, passionate style has kept the issue of Byron™s
sincerity at the forefront of criticism. Two observations by Jerome
McGann capture this central paradox of reading Byron™s poetry: ¬rst,
Byron “is the one English Romantic who has been commonly charged
with “ who has had his work charged with “ hypocrisy”;2 and second,
“We think of Byron as the most personal of poets, recklessly candid, self-
revealing to a fault.”3 Accounting for the fascination this ¬gure exerts has
long been a central task for Byron™s critics: why is the Byronic personality
so compelling? Romanticist scholarship generally assumes that Byron™s
antithetical position, and thus much of his appeal, involve his ironic
masquerading in the face of Romantic ideals of sincerity and spontaneity.
Yet this critical narrative tells only half of the story; the other half
concerns how Byron undermines his own ironic stance, particularly
by way of anger and hatred. Put another way, Byron™s crucial revisionary
move involves two steps: not merely the ironic interrogation of Roman-
tic ideology, but also the importation of anger, an emotion often not
productive of sympathy, into the sincere Romantic poem.
Jerome Christensen™s Lord Byron™s Strength essentially came to challenge
the priority of emphasis on sincerity in Byron criticism, preferring in-
stead “strength,” the poet™s command over questions of self-identi¬cation
within an historical frame, “a rhetorical capacity for consequential action”
which because it is “taken without regard to persons . . . may appear
criminal or violently satirical.”4 Christensen identi¬es Byron™s de¬ning
mode as a kind of stylistic and imaginative vehemence, a mode that
(I want to argue) has much to do with the anger at the heart of Byron™s
work. Like Blake and Shelley, Byron sees anger as a way to truth, a
means of unmasking betrayal and hypocrisy. As Frederick L. Beaty puts
it, “Byron™s goal was the revelation of truth that would set men free”
(Byron the Satirist, 198). Unlike the other two poets, however, he has a
well-developed appetite for revenge, sharpened by his powerful memory
and by an aristocrat™s hauteur which Shelley did not share. Threats
Byron™s curse 135
of punishment tend to accompany Byron™s passionate denunciations of
falsity; he wields his angry poetry like a weapon. As we saw in chapter 3,
Shelley is content to reveal evil with a touch of Ithuriel™s spear, but Byron
clearly relishes the process of retribution. In “To a Knot of Ungenerous
Critics” (1806), he writes rather ungenerously,
Truth poised high Ithuriel™s spear
Bids every Fiend unmask™d appear,
The vizard tears from every face,
And dooms them to a dire disgrace. (CPW i :20“21, 40“44)
Not content with revealing false ¬ends, Byron™s Truth wants them
direly disgraced as well; “satire™s scourge” apparently ¬ts well in his hand.
In a series of articles, McGann has emphasized the importance of
“truth” to Byron™s poetic procedures.5 In his synoptic view, the contradic-
tions of Byron™s poetry are meant to expose false certainties, disrupting
the orthodox by means of the paradox. Focusing on the rhetorical mobil-
ity and dialogic ethos that characterize Byron™s work, McGann argues that
the emergent truths of the Byronic perspective are thus negative, decon-
structive truths that depend upon a process of contradiction. Irony is the
most recognizable vehicle and accompaniment of such a perspective. Yet,
as McGann explains, Byron™s genius lies in his refusal to abide within a
strictly ironic vision; his commitment to contradiction includes contra-
diction itself. This means that Byron sometimes grounds his work in
sincere and consistent emotions, whose vehement certainty exempts them
from the play of irony and contradiction. Not surprisingly, the ¬rst of
these emotions are anger and hatred. As McGann says of Don Juan:
Romantic irony is not the work™s ground of truth either. We glimpse this even
through the example of Southey, who is not known in Don Juan through the plays of
Romantic irony. He is known rather through hatred “ the same way Brougham and
Castlereagh are known . . . Byron can be witty at his own expense, or at Southey™s
expense, but his wit is not engaged in the face of the Byron / Southey parallel . . .
because Southey is not in the end a ¬gure of fun for Byron, he is a ¬gure of all that is
hateful and despicable. (Towards a Literature of Knowledge, 55)
In other words, Byron™s poetry operates between the poles of anger and
irony. It seems that, if truth and sincerity do remain crucial issues
surrounding Byron and his work, then anger™s role as the antidote to irony
may constitute an important focus for Byron studies and Romanticist
scholarship more generally.
According to McGann, Byron™s “wit is not engaged” when he considers
his own resemblance to the hated Southey, indicating that in such
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
136
moments satire is unavailable to the poet. Augustan satire, for example,
typically mingles anger with wit to produce such set-pieces of savagery as
Pope™s attack on Lord Hervey in his “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot”:
Amphibious thing! that acting either part,
The tri¬‚ing head, or the corrupted heart,
Fop at the toilet, ¬‚atterer at the board,
Now trips a lady, and now struts a lord.
Eve™s tempter thus the rabbins have expressed,
A cherub™s face, a reptile all the rest,
Beauty that shocks you, parts that none will trust,
Wit that can creep, and pride that licks the dust.6

Pope expresses his anger (and takes his revenge) by means of his wit,
while simultaneously adopting the Juvenalian role of public defender
against the immoral and hypocritical. In the poetry that forms the center
of Byron™s reputation as a satirist, like English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,
A Vision of Judgement, and much of Don Juan, he performs similar acts of
witty cruelty. Yet, in a way that resembles moments in the work of Swift,
Byron™s anger often overwhelms his wit. Particularly when he allows
himself to brood upon personal injuries and betrayals, the result is a
strangely confessional and performative invective, ¬lled with curses.
One might say that the construction of the Byronic hero typically
depends upon a curse, pronounced by or upon him, which enacts his
alienation from the rest of humanity; one thinks of Childe Harold, of
Manfred, of Cain, of the Giaour “ and of the persona visible in many of
the lyrics. In choosing the curse as vehicle, Byron situates his angry poetry
between the precincts of sincerity and performance, since cursing per-
forms its meaning (i.e., revenge) according to the authentic fervor of the
curser. In other words, a curse is a dramatic attempt to compel the
sympathy of the world, an invention that depends for its power on both
sincerity and spectacle, or private emotion and public rage; in Christen-
sen™s terms, it is a rhetorical display of strength, or command. Byron™s
poetic experiments with the angry curse thus provoke both sympathy
and judgment, and help create the Byronic persona that pre¬gures the
dramatic monologists of the Victorians.
Before turning to a closer examination of Byron™s work, we should sort
out the connections between Romantic sincerity and sympathy, and how
anger cuts against them. The discussion of Seneca and Longinus in
chapter 1 demonstrated the basic theatrical quality of anger communi-
cated to others. Clearly, as dramatic action, anger can produce a powerful
Byron™s curse 137
sympathetic response in an audience. From Oedipus forward, the history
of tragedy has found its center in anger and revenge, as John Kerrigan has
shown.7 Because anger arises from the perception of unjust injury, we take
great interest in the circumstances and consequences surrounding it; and
if we think that someone™s anger is appropriate to the injury, we grant him
our sympathy. The complex ethical economy of anger makes the stage its
proper home, where the nuances of situation and response can be pre-
sented. Furthermore, since anger emerges most often from some dramatic
relation, its artistic expression is typically most effective as dialogue; it
takes two to make an argument. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the
expression of anger depends on tone, gesture, and facial expression for its
communication to others “ things available to actors but not to lyric
poets. Charles Lamb, in his “On the Tragedies of Shakespeare” (1811), sees
anger as the most appropriate emotion for the stage, where the goal is the
overt display of passion:
The glory of scenic art is to personate passion, and the turns of passion; and the
more coarse and palpable the passion is, the more hold upon the eyes and ears of
the spectators the performer obviously possesses. For this reason, scolding scenes,
scenes where two persons talk themselves into a ¬t of fury . . . have always been
the most popular on our stage.8
Anger is “coarse and palpable,” best represented in dialogue as a “scene,”
attractive to spectators who naturally prefer scenes full of sound and fury,
regardless of what they signify. However, to express anger using pen and ink
alone, the poet may feel obliged to resort to very strongly worded impreca-
tions and curses. Faced with such outbursts, the reader typically assumes the
poet is either overacting (and thus insincere) or overreacting (and thus
unsympathetic). In either case, the sincerity effect is disabled and the poem
becomes a spectacle, returning in effect to theater. Such readerly detachment
opens a gap into which rush hermeneutic suspicions and judgments.
The “sincerity” that characterizes Wordsworthian Romanticism de-
pends wholly on sympathy “ precisely that which the decontextualized
anger of the lyric has trouble evoking, particularly when it appears spon-
¨
taneous: that is, uncalled for. Robert Langbaum has written, “Einfuhlung,”
or sympathy, “is the speci¬cally Romantic way of knowing,” and the
Romantic speaker is “a pole of sympathy “ the means by which reader
and writer project themselves into the poem.”9 We call sincere the poetry
that effectively provokes such sympathetic projection. Of course, as
Langbaum and McGann both recognize, sincere poetry is, at one level, an
oxymoron. Langbaum writes, “the anti-rhetorical style is itself a rhetoric.
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
138
For there remains, between the sincere feeling in the heart and the effect
of sincerity on the page, the art of communication” (The Poetry of
Experience, 23), and McGann reminds us similarly, “Romantic sincerity
only presents itself as unpremeditated verse; in fact it involves a rhetoric”
(Towards a Literature of Knowledge, 42). However, these statements
de¬ne sincerity at the level of the ´nonce, as a truth-value of the poetry itself
´
e
as a record of the poet™s mind. Following Suzanne Guerlac, we may say that
poetic sincerity can also be measured at the level of the ´nunciation, de¬ned
e
10
as an effect upon an audience; and that effect, particularly for the Roman-
tic poets, is called sympathy.
However, anger poses particular obstacles to sympathy. Seneca empha-
sized the lack of sympathy attendant on anger; and the moral philoso-
phers of the eighteenth century (such as Smith and Kames) followed
the lead of the Stoics. In the wake of the French Revolution, the same
message circulated in England in regard to anger: it is a spectacle to be
condemned, not an emotion with which to sympathize. In 1797, John
Fawcett writes in his Essay on Anger:
What a frightful and odious spectacle is the man who delivers himself up to the
tyranny of his violent and wrathful passions! . . . The man is transformed into a
brute, or rather into a ¬end and a fury. Detestable sight! Who can behold him
without horror? Fly from him; he is a disgrace to human nature. He is now only
a ¬t companion for devils, and ought to be shunned and dreaded by human
beings.11
Similarly, Thomas Brown, in a passage quoted earlier from his Lectures
on the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1820), maintains that the man
whose “gloomy heart . . . preserves resentment . . . is like some dreadful
being of another race, that walks the earth cursing and accursed; “ we
shun him as we would ¬‚y from some malignant spirit who, by looking at
us, could transfuse into us the venom which he feels; “ we have no
sympathy for him.”12 Like Smith and Kames, Fawcett and Brown urge
the reader to “¬‚y from” the angry man, recommending ¬‚ight over the
impulse to ¬ght that anger can inspire; aversion seems to be the recom-
mendation. Here the angry man is portrayed as “a ¬end,” “a fury,” “a ¬t
companion for devils,” a “malignant spirit,” and a “dreadful being of
another race.” We are very close to the Satanism of the Byronic hero,
mad, bad, and dangerous to know; as Brown states ¬‚atly, “we have no
sympathy for him.”
However, if anger alienates, it still may fascinate. Joanna Baillie™s
“Introductory Discourse” to her Plays on the Passions (1798) “ also quoted
Byron™s curse 139
earlier “ initiated an aesthetic ideology antithetical to the one articulated
by Wordsworth the same year. Theater and spectatorship concern her
here, as she considers the outward signs and bodily extroversions of anger
that may captivate an audience even while estranging them:
Anger is a passion that attracts less sympathy than any other, yet the unpleasing
and distorted features of an angry man will be more eagerly gazed upon by those
who are in no wise concerned with his fury, or the objects of it, than the most
amiable placid countenance in the world. Every eye is directed to him; every
voice hushed to silence in his presence; even children will leave off their gambols
as he passes, and gaze after him more eagerly than the gaudiest equipage. The
wild tossings of despair; the gnashing of hatred and revenge . . . all the language
of the agitated soul, which every age and nation understand, is never addressed to
the dull or inattentive.13
For Baillie the dramatist, “Every eye is directed” towards the face of
anger, “unpleasing and distorted” though it is, because of the lurid
spectacles that anger (and other violent passions) can produce. Byron
enacts this theatrical dictum as lyric practice, compelling mysti¬ed fascin-
ation rather than sympathetic assent from his audiences, and exposing his
poetry to charges of insincerity and sensationalism.
Regardless of its correspondence to his actual emotions, then, Byron™s
poetic anger disrupts the Romantic plot of author“reader sympathy, and
thus can be seen as a mark of hypocrisy. Thomas Carlyle™s reaction is
representative of this way of reading Byron:
Are his Harolds and Giaours real men? . . . Surely, all these stormful agonies, this
volcanic heroism, superhuman contempt and moody desperation, with so much
scowling, and teeth-gnashing, and other sulphurous humor, is more like the
brawling of a player in some paltry tragedy . . . To our minds, there is a taint of
this sort, something which we would call theatrical, false, affected, in every one
of these otherwise so powerful pieces.14
This passage comes in the midst of Carlyle™s consideration of the
“sincerity,” the “indisputable air of truth” in Burns™s poetry: “To every
poet, to every writer, we might say: Be true, if you would be believed. Let
a man speak forth with genuine earnestness the thought, the emotion, the
actual condition of his own heart; and other men, so strangely are we all
knit together by the tie of sympathy, must and will give heed to him”
(“Burns (1828),” 268). Yet anger and hatred, quite often the actual condi-
tions of Byron™s heart, produce the opposite reaction in an audience.
Carlyle worries at this aspect of Byron™s poetry, returning to it in an essay
on Ebenezer Elliott, the “Corn-Law Rhymer,” in 1832. There he writes, as
a recommendation to Elliott,
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
140
Still more, what have we to do with Byron, and his ¬erce vociferous mouthings,
whether “passionate,” or not passionate and only theatrical? King Cambyses™
vein is, after all, but a worthless one; no vein for a wise man . . . Above all things,
lay aside anger, uncharitableness, hatred, noisy tumult; avoid them as worse than
pestilence, worse than the bread-tax itself!15
Elliott™s angry political poetry presents its one-issue agenda of reform as
“impassioned Truth.” Like Ezra Pound™s aggravating “usura,” Elliott™s
“corn-laws” become the scapegoat for all that plagues society, and one of
the wages, or privileges, of monomania is untrammelled rage in the face of
that evil. Carlyle isolates and rejects this “fuliginous, blue-¬‚aming, pitch-
and-sulphur” quality he ¬nds in Byron and Elliott (“Corn-Law Rhymes,”
153). Furthermore, in a letter to Napier written just before his review of
Elliott, Carlyle says that Byron™s work provided “no clear undistorted
vision into anything, or picture of anything; but all had a certain false-
hood, a brawling, theatrical, insincere character.”16 In such remarks,
Carlyle uneasily rejects poetry he ¬nds too angry and (therefore) false.
In the Romantic era, then, anger apparently threatened to bring down the
lines of sympathetic connection believed fundamental to authentic moral
feeling. Without these, one could only be an alien or outlaw “ (“either
criminal or violently satirical,” as Christensen says) “ a role that Byron™s
increasingly bourgeois readership found both frightening and compelling to
observe. As Byron describes himself in his Childe Harold persona,
. . . In the crowd
They could not deem me one of such; I stood
Among them, but not of them; in a shroud
Of thoughts which were not their thoughts.
(CPW i i :118, lines 1053“56)
This “shroud of thoughts” that others cannot penetrate partakes of a
Coriolanus-like contempt for the “rank breath” (line 1050) of the world,
well-nourished by Byron™s class-consciousness and sense of betrayal by his
English audiences. “I have not loved the world, nor the world me” (line
1049), he writes, implying an underlying antipathy in his communications
with that world, and placing anger at the heart of his poetic characters.
The paradoxical result is a kind of back-channel sympathy for the Byronic
hero, a hesitant fraternity or identi¬cation with this unapologetically
individual character whose repellent anger is mixed with compelling
pride.
As a poet seeking an audience, Byron must involve the alienating effects
of his anger with such sympathogenic strategies. When he neglects to do
this, he writes a poem like “A Sketch from Private Life,” an attack on Lady
Byron™s curse 141
Byron™s maid, Jane Clermont. “It was this poem,” writes McGann, “that
brought down the general public attack” on Byron in 1816, and led to
his departure from England (CPW i ii : 495). Reading the poem is still
unpleasant:
If like a snake she steal within your walls,
Till the black slime betray her as she crawls;
If like a viper to the heart she wind,
And leave the venom there she did not ¬nd; “
What marvel that this hag of hatred works
Eternal evil latent as she lurks
To make a Pandemonium where she dwells,
And reign the Hecate of domestic Hells. (CPW i i i :384, lines 47“54)
By foregrounding his “Private Life” and “domestic Hells,” Byron draws
the reader into a realm of personal anger where the subject of poetry is
Byron™s enemy and the object is revenge. “A Sketch” is a disturbingly
intimate poem, whose problem is not theatricality but its relentless
sincerity. By bringing his anger and hatred to the lyric, Byron reveals
the dark side of the “true voice of feeling” and the “spontaneous over¬‚ow”
of emotion that characterize Wordsworthian Romanticism. In other
words, some emotions are hellish, and Byron™s poetry based in those
emotions can be malevolent indeed, particularly for the Romantic reader
accustomed to engaging sympathetically with the speaker of the poem.
Byron™s angry curses rebuff sympathy and introduce a set of agonistic
relations amongst himself, his poetry, his readers, and his victims. The
resulting spectacle invites judgment, criticism, and uneasy voyeurism.
In a Rambler essay entitled “The Folly of Anger” (1750), Samuel
Johnson remarks that a man who feels himself slighted or powerless
may turn to anger as a “kind of supplemental dignity,” hoping “to add
weight, by the violence of his temper, to the lightness of his other
powers.”17 Yet, like any Derridean supplement that both aids and destroys
that which it serves, anger remedies indignities and in so doing turns men
into fools.18 Johnson says that angry men “endeavour, by their fury, to
fright away contempt from before them, when they know it must follow
them behind” (“The Folly of Anger,” 68). At the storm center of anger,
then, is a moment of deferral, an eye of indeterminacy in which dignity is
being simultaneously supplied and evacuated. The Byronic curse consti-
tutes a similar space as an uncanny supplement, deferring the vengeance it
expresses. The result is an interminable vindictiveness, a longing for the
revenge that the curse performs and yet postpones. Like Romantic desire,
the in¬nitudes of which Shelley signi¬es by the desire of the moth for the
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
142
star, Romantic anger could be described as a wish for the stars to fall and
crush one™s insectile enemies, if Byron™s curses are any guide. But the
reductive physical consummations that such Romantic poems adumbrate
“ sex or murder “ are in fact anathema to their imaginative processes and
energies. Byron™s angry curses depend on their supplemental function in
the economy of revenge, as they imagine debtors still paying, still to owe.
Johnson™s conception of anger as a means of “supplemental dignity”
assumes an audience, and the supplemental revenge of a Byronic curse
also involves a cluster of negotiations with its readers. In fact, Byron™s
unique style emerges under direct pressure from his anger, as he develops
ways to engage readers despite his spite. One favorite method is to portray
himself as one who has patiently suffered many betrayals, who endures
despite having been unreasonably provoked. McGann calls this role “the
¬gure of the suffering poet, whose (audience) reciprocal is the sympathetic
reader” (“Byron and the Anonymous Lyric,” 31). Yet the angry Byron
`
frequently lets this mask slip, as he plays the role of poete maudit with
strong overtones of vindictiveness. To this his audience typically responds
not with sympathy, but with a disturbed fascination; by means of its
angry moods, the Byronic personality compels attention. A mysterious,
deliberately provocative blend of confession and accusation fairly de¬nes
the Byronic curse. Perhaps the most famous example of this occurs in
canto 4 of Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage, during the scene in the Roman
Coliseum where Byron addresses “Time, the avenger!” (CPW i i : 167“68,
line 1169). He ¬rst asserts his patience, even as he hopes for revenge:
. . . but if calmly I have bourne
Good, and reserved my pride against the hate
Which shall not whelm me, let me not have worn
This iron in my soul in vain “ shall they not mourn? (lines 1176“79)
“Thou shalt take / The vengeance” (lines 1194“95), Byron declares to
“great Nemesis” (line 1181); “I sleep, but thou shalt yet awake” (line 1197);
the poet™s emotional equivocation and displacement do not mask his
outrage. As Peter Manning puts it, we can perceive “the vindictive
impulses surviving beneath the proclamation of sincerity”;19 one might
say “thriving” and be closer to the poem™s spirit.
Vindication (that is, revenge and its justi¬cation) remains central to
Byron™s poetry. By fusing anger and patience, or outburst and deferral,
Byron creates a seductive mode of intense expression that opens up a space
for readers™ sympathy, even as it alienates them. We keep reading Byron in
expectation of either catching him in outright evil or ¬nding him to be a
Byron™s curse 143
saint “ in a moment of unalloyed judgment or sympathy. His curse of
forgiveness exempli¬es this mode:
. . . a far hour shall wreak
The deep prophetic fulness of this verse,
And pile on human heads the mountain of my curse!
That curse shall be Forgiveness. “ Have I not “
Hear me, my mother Earth! behold it, Heaven! “
Have I not had to wrestle with my lot?
Have I not suffered things to be forgiven?
Have I not had my brain seared, my heart riven,
Hopes sapp™d, name blighted, Life™s life lied away?
And only not to desperation driven,
Because not altogether of such clay
As rots into the souls of those whom I survey.
(CPW i i :19, lines 1204“15)
By “Forgiveness,” Byron means the in¬‚iction of remorse, hoping in a
cancelled stanza that “to forgive be ˜heaping coals of ¬re™/ . . . on the heads
of foes” (CPW i i:169n). Byron wants to “pile on human heads the
mountain” of his forgiveness-curse, taking revenge by renouncing it.
Furthermore, his litany of suffering, a bid for sympathy (if not martyr-
dom), concludes with another claim of his superhuman patience: “not to
desperation driven, / Because not altogether of . . . clay.” Simultaneously
alienating and justifying himself, cursing and forgiving, Byron creates
poetry so grounded in contradiction that our response can be neither
wholly sympathetic nor judgmental.
The resulting deferral of conclusions on the reader™s part feels like
curiosity, just as Byron™s own deferral of both violence and forgiveness
results in a kind of mysti¬cation; this reciprocal relation lies at the
heart of Byron™s appeal. The conclusion to the forgiveness-curse, one of
his best-known stanzas, shows this dynamic operating to its fullest:
But I have lived, and have not lived in vain:
My mind may lose its force, my blood its ¬re,
And my frame perish even in conquering pain,
But there is that within me which shall tire
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire;
Something unearthly, which they deem not of,
Like the remembered tone of a mute lyre,
Shall on their softened spirits sink, and move
In hearts all rocky now the late remorse of love.
(CPW i i :170, lines 1225“33)
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
144
Here the “something unearthly” that represents Byron™s alienating
embrace of con¬‚ict is imagined as a force for sympathy, one that will
sink on the “softened spirits” of his formerly rock-hearted enemies. By
leaving this powerful force unspeci¬ed and postponing its arrival, Byron
masks its foundation in his desire for revenge; and by ending the stanza
with “love,” he conceals its basis in hatred. The indeterminacy of Byron™s
anger “ here the emotion that dare not speak its name “ invites the reader
to sympathize with alienation.
However, in a letter to his sister Augusta, written around the same time
as this passage from Childe Harold, Byron lifts the veil of conciliatory
emotions to frightening effect:
they had no business with anything previous to my marriage with that infernal
¬end”whose destruction I shall yet see.”Do you suppose that I will rest”
while any of their branch is unwithered? do you suppose that I will turn aside till
they are trodden under foot?”do you suppose that I can breathe until they are
uprooted?”Do you believe that time will alter them or me?”that I have
suffered in vain”that I have been disgraced in vain”that I am reconciled to the
sting of the scorpion”& the venom of the serpent? which stung me in my
slumber?””If I did not believe”that Time & Nemesis”& circumstances
would requite me for the delay”I would ere this have righted myself.”But “let
them look to their bond”” (BLJ, v :243)
The repeated rhetorical questions, the idea that “time will [not] alter”
the poet, and the belief that “Time & Nemesis” will “requite” him all ¬nd
echoes in the Childe Harold passage, but here the emphasis is openly
placed on destructive revenge. Clearly these two documents have sprung
from the same bitterness and anger regarding Byron™s broken marriage.
As the more spontaneous and less public of the two, we could regard the
letter to Augusta as the truer, more sincere record of Byron™s feelings.
Armed with the scholarship of Lovell, Marchand, and McGann, the
modern reader of Byron confronts the poet at an unprecedented and
sometimes disturbing level of intimacy; the poet™s private letters, his
manuscript fragments and revisions, and various detailed accounts of
his life are all before us. It may not be quite fair to read Byron™s letters
into his poetry. On the other hand, the “Nemesis” passage from Childe
Harold™s Pilgrimage strongly implies what the “Time & Nemesis” letter to
Augusta con¬rms: that Byron wants his wife and her allies to suffer for
what he has convinced himself was treachery. As might be expected,
Byron™s angriest writing can be found in cancelled lines, fragments,
personal letters, and private notations. However, these outbursts merely
illuminate the larger patterns of anger and revenge that structure his
Byron™s curse 145
more public works of art. In his communications to others, poetic and
otherwise, Byron makes a spectacle of the con¬‚icts of his intimate life.
In his letters, Byron expresses his anger as a sign of intimacy. It may be
that the record has been skewed by the destruction of letters Byron sent to
his enemies, but the evidence shows Byron venting his outrage most
powerfully in a confessional or conspiratorial mode. For example, in June
of 1814, out of patience with Caroline Lamb™s importunities, he wrote to
Lady Melborne:
I have no hesitation in saying”that I have made up my mind as to the
alternative and would sooner”much sooner be with the dead in purgatory”
than with her”Caroline (I put down the name at length as I am not jesting)
upon earth.“”She may hunt me down”it is in the power of any mad or bad
woman to do so by any man”but snare me she shall not”torment me she may
”how am I to bar myself from her!”I am already almost a prisoner”she has
no shame”no feeling”no one estimable or redeemable quality.”These are
strong words”but I know what I am writing. . . . If there is one human being
whom I do utterly detest & abhor”it is she”& all things considered”I feel to
myself justi¬ed in so doing”she has been an adder in my path ever since my
return to this country”she has often belied”& sometimes betrayed me”she
has crossed me every where”she has watched”& worried & guessed”& been a
curse to me and mine.””You may shew her this if you please”or to anyone
you please”if these were the last words I were to write upon earth”I would
not revoke one letter”except to make it more legible.”ever yours most
sincerely, Byron (BLJ, i v :132“33)
Despite the wonderful anger of this letter, the exaggeration and comedy
of the last sentence amount to a disarming playfulness that displaces
confrontation and cultivates a sympathetic response. Byron writes to
friends about enemies, and his epistolary communications of anger serve
as models for his poetic ones. For Byron, the turn to savagery is a
privileged moment of revelation, indicating trust in his audience; only
when not in the presence of his enemy can he really let go. The tone of
collusion and intrigue draws the reader towards further fascination; anger,
an alienating emotion, looks like an invitation to intimacy in Byron™s
hands.
Take, as another example, the letter that should be paired with
“A Sketch from Private Life.” Soon after composing that poem of abuse
directed at Jane Clermont, Byron wrote of her to his wife:
she came as a guest”she remained as a spy”she departed as an informer”&
reappeared as an evidence”if false”she belied”if true”she betrayed me”“
the worst of treacheries”a “bread and salt traitress” she ate & drank & slept &
awoke to sting me.”“The curse of my Soul light upon her & hers forever!”
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
146
may my Spirit be deep upon her in her life &”in her death”may her thirst
be unquenchable”& her wretchedness irrevocable”may she see herself only
& eternally”may the ful¬llment of her wishes become the destruction of
her hopes”may she dwell in the darkness of her own heart & shudder”now
& for existence”“Her last food will be the bread of her enemies.”“I have
said it. (BLJ, v :64).
Byron presented a poetic version of this curse at least twice, once as
“A Sketch from Private Life,” and again as an “Incantation” or “Chorus in
an un¬nished Witch Drama” that later found its way into Manfred. As
Daniel McVeigh observes, the two poems resemble one another so that “it
seems reasonable to suspect with Marchand that the Incantation™s vitriol
came originally from the same reservoir of hate as this heartfelt curse against
Clermont”; Daniel McVeigh also cites the letter to Lady Byron.20 Further-
more, McGann has exposed the wicked double-meaning of “un¬nished
Witch Drama” as a reference to Byron™s tormenting marriage.21 It seems
that a recurring accompaniment of Byronic anger is the transgression of
boundaries between the public and the private: while this personal letter
performs its anger self-consciously as a curse, the public poems (one, a
drama) encode personal con¬‚icts and outbursts at their foundations.
Byron™s transformation of satire, then, involves a play of personal
outrage variously concealed and revealed. He was working in this mode
as early as 1808. Following the death of his favorite dog Boatswain, Byron
composed an epitaph that used this wholly private event as an occasion for
a misanthropic poem that begins as a satire in the Augustan mode, and
ends as something else altogether. In the epitaph, Byron praises the dog
and his virtues, as opposed to man,
. . . thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debas™d by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit.22

This Swiftian catalogue of man™s vices places the poem squarely within
the satiric tradition. Yet Byron turns suddenly at the poem™s conclusion
to confront the reader in a Baudelairean accusatory posture, rejecting
the role of public reformer and embracing a private storehouse of bitter-
ness: “Ye! who behold this simple urn, / Pass on, it honours none you
wish to mourn. / To mark a friend™s remains these stones arise / I never
knew but one “ and here he lies” (lines 23“26). Satire has merged with
Byron™s curse 147
self-dramatized mourning, evoking a decidedly con¬‚icted response from
the reader. Close thy Byron, the poem seems to say in a gesture of aversion
and rejection of sympathy; yet the note of solicitation struck in the
poem™s ¬nal line lingers. Byron steps between the satire and the reader,
disrupting the poem and reclaiming his subject (and his anger) for
himself. “Pass on,” he says, there™s nothing more to be seen here “ and
suddenly the entire poem shifts in retrospect, becoming a performance of
the poet™s personal anger and not a public sermon motivated by trad-
itional satiric enthusiasm. The poem shifts our attention from the lost one
(Boatswain) to the evils of man (that “degraded mass”) to the mourner
himself (Byron), even as it tells us to “Pass on.” That is, the poem moves
from elegy to satire to the peculiarly Byronic gesture that courts our
sympathy while spurning it.
In a variety of ostensible genres, Byron™s poetry often makes this lyrical
shift: Childe Harold, Manfred, Cain, “ even Pallas in “The Curse of
Minerva” “ all become incarnations of the Byronic personality. Yet the
curious result of these conversions of satire is their pervasive theatricality.
The more Byron turns to his personal anger, the more his poetry ap-
proaches the dramatic monologue, a genre de¬ned by the willful and
idiosyncratic characters who give such poems voice. Despite its framing as
a dramatic exchange, Pope™s “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” maintains its
satiric abstraction from the character; one never loses the sense of Pope™s
attack as a literary game, played by strict formal and metrical rules. But
often Byronic satire will abandon witty detachment for a headlong rush
that establishes an angry persona at the poem™s center. Because of anger™s
obstruction of sympathy, we see that persona as a dramatic character
rather than identifying with it as a lyric perspective. Byron™s dramas
complicate these generic effects involving anger, particularly by focusing
¨
on enraged doppelgangers of the poet. Their words and actions make for
spectacles of violence meant as both metaphor and metonymy, represent-
ing and in¬‚icting revenge upon the poet™s enemies. The incantation or
“curse” in Manfred, as we have seen, shows this double effect operating in
its paradigm mode: the cursing scene provides for a metaphorical spec-
tacle of Byron™s rage while simultaneously carrying out vengeance on
Byron™s wife and her maid, Jane Clermont, by exhibiting their supposed
evil natures. The presence of the Manfred/Byron“Astarte/Augusta pairing
invites further crossing of lines between the personal and the dramatic.
Manfred provokes its audience to engage in such speculations, as it
conveys the sense of a complex substructure of passion controlling its
external manifestations.
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
148
Critics have elaborated biographical parallels in Byron™s dramatic
works, such as Manfred, Cain, and Marino Faliero, and there is nothing
new about the observation that the protagonists of these plays have in
common a core of recognizably Byronic outrage. Like Byron in his
“Epistle to Augusta”, Manfred, Cain and Faliero can say at their plays™
conclusions: “I have been cunning in my overthrow / The careful pilot of
my proper woe” (CPW iv : 203, lines 23“24). Each has destroyed the thing
he most wanted to preserve, to the accompaniment of bitter anger and
claustrophobic self-regard. “I loved her, and destroyed her,” Manfred says
of Astarte (CPW i v :74, line 117), just as Cain realizes, “I . . . who abhor /
The name of Death . . . / . . . have led him here, and giv™n / My brother to
his cold and still embrace” (CPW v i : 289, lines 371“75), and Faliero
commits treason against his own kingdom of Venice, grimly recognizing
that “there are things / Which make revenge a virtue by re¬‚ection, / And
not the impulse of mere anger” (CPW iv :403, lines 102“03). What lies
beyond “mere anger” is the special province of the Byronic heroes, all of
whom stand in line with Byron™s lyric ¬gures as vehicles of wrath at once
intimate and spectacular.
By combining the satirist™s enthusiasm for punishment, the dramatist™s
sense of anger as spectacle, and the lyricist™s confessional mode and
matter, Byron creates a wickedly personal poetry wherein he stages his
revenge. Unlike drama, where vengeance can be enacted, the lyric has to
imagine both its enemy and the spectacle of violence which satis¬es anger;
Blake™s “A Poison Tree” comes immediately to mind as paradigmatic of
the genre. Philip Fisher has discussed revenge as a “grand public drama,”
“which has always had an almost operatic public character.”23 Because
anger requires dialogue and revenge requires exchange, angry soliloquies
always threaten to become scenes of frustration; witness Browning™s
“Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister.” To avoid this state of affairs (when
he is not reveling in it), Byron remembers and evokes speci¬c audiences,
attempting to involve his enemies in the world of his poetry through
private, pointed references and provocative acts of publication. He wants
his poetry to escape the curse of powerless self-referentiality that hangs
over the satiric tradition in particular, driving satirists to fantasies
of potent malediction as compensation. Indeed, Byron™s poetic curses
have real effects, not as magical spells but by means of biographi-
cal applications that his readers cannot fail to make from within the
conspiratorial precincts of his poetry. Byron had the public™s ear, and
recognized the power of that position in waging battles with his private
enemies.24
Byron™s curse 149
“Fools are my theme, let satire be my song” (CPW i :229, line 6), Byron
declares at the outset of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, indicating that
something more powerful than satire will be necessary when he confronts
enemies who are not so foolish. As with Southey in Don Juan, there are
cases where Byron cannot be witty because of anger™s opposition to the
playful ironies of satire. For example, near the beginning of Don Juan,
Byron inserts a wicked simile which goes beyond wit into purely vengeful
expression. Regarding things that really make him angry, Byron loses his
sense of humor:
An all-in-all-suf¬cient self director,
Like the late lamented Sir Samuel Romilly,
The Law™s expounder, and the State™s corrector,
Whose suicide was almost an anomaly “
One sad example more, that “all is vanity” “
(The Jury brought their verdict in “Insanity”).
(CPW v :13, lines 115“20.)
A cheap shot, we may say “ and a perfect example of the tenacity of
Byron™s anger. No hint of forgiveness leavens his view of Romilly, who
remains an enemy to be disgraced, alive or dead. This stanza was added
belatedly to the poem, following Byron™s receipt of the news of Romilly™s
suicide, of which he wrote to Murray in June of 1819:
I have at least seen Romilly shivered”who was one of the assassins.” ”When
that felon, or Lunatic”(take your choice”he must be one and might be both)
was doing his worst to uproot my whole family tree, branch, and blossoms;
when after taking my retainer he went over to them”when he was bringing
desolation on my hearth”and destruction on my household Gods”did he
think that in less than three years a natural event”a severe domestic”but an
expected and common domestic Calamity”would lay his Carcase in a Cross
road or stamp his name in a Verdict of Lunacy?”Did he (who in his drivelling
sexagenery dotage had not the courage to survive his Nurse”for what else was a
wife to him at his time of life?“) re¬‚ect or consider what my feeling must have
been”when wife”and child”and Sister”and name”and fame”and
Country were to be my sacri¬ce on his legal altar”and this at a moment
when my health was declining”my fortune embarrassed”and my mind had
been shaken by many kinds of disappointment”while I was yet young and
might have reformed what might be wrong in my conduct, and retrieved what
was perplexing in my affairs. But the wretch is in his grave.”I detested him
living, and I will not affect to pity him dead”I still loathe him as much as we
can hate dust”but that is nothing. (BLJ, v i :150)
G. Wilson Knight calls this “perhaps the most frightening letter in
existence.”25 Its mingling of wrath and self-justi¬cation is characteristic of
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
150
Byron™s outbursts, and like his letters about his wife and Jane Clermont, it
suffuses the poetry in question (here, the Don Juan simile) with uncom-
fortable immanence.26 For a moment, the poem becomes the vehicle of a
wholly private and wholly other set of concerns, driven by Byron™s desire
for revenge.
In her Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron, Countess Blessington
records one of Byron™s telling remarks about his anger when he speaks of
Robert Southey:
I have vowed eternal vengeance against him, and all who uphold him; which
vengeance has been poured forth, in phials of wrath, in the shape of epigrams
and lampoons, some of which you shall see. When any one attacks me, on the
´
spur of the moment I sit down and write all the mechancete that comes into my
head . . . All my malice evaporates in the effusions of my pen; but I dare say that
those that excite it would prefer any other mode of vengeance.27
In his eager synthesis of personal revenge and poetic utterance, Byron
puts a spin of malice on Wordsworth™s de¬nition of poetry, describing
inspiration as a spontaneous (though here bottled) over¬‚ow of powerfully
malicious feeling: “all my malice evaporates in the effusions of my pen.”
Put another way, Byron uses writing as the primary outlet for his anger.
Countess Blessington herself observed, “All the malice of his nature
has lodged itself on his lips and the ¬ngers of his right hand” ( Journal
of Conversations, 204), and Theresa Guiccioli con¬rmed this, saying “the
anger expressed by his pen [was] the sole kind that was real with him.”28
In our own time, Frederick Beaty has echoed this view: “In many in-
stances satire served Byron therapeutically as catharsis. Anger tended to
come quickly, as with a lightning ¬‚ash, and to depart with equal celerity
. . . Satiric outbursts . . . served to vent splenetic irritation” (Byron the
Satirist, 7“8). Evaporation, lightning, and venting, are the recurrent
natural metaphors for Byronic rage, implying a sudden movement from
a charged to a relaxed state. Such characterizations are meant to exonerate
the poet, but Byron himself knew differently, knew that his enemies
“would prefer any other mode of vengeance” than his angry compositions
which were calculated to hurt and to endure. Like Blake who saw his
poetry as part of a “mental ¬ght” with real consequences for the world,
Byron pursued writing to its literal end.
Byron wants to make use of his anger as a weapon of punishment, a
scourge that would enable him to cross the line between imagining
and actually in¬‚icting revenge via poetry. In one of his earliest poems,
published in Hours of Idleness as “To Caroline [“Oh! when shall the grave
hide forever my sorrow?”]” he articulates this wish:
Byron™s curse 151
Was my eye, ™stead of tears, with red fury ¬‚akes bright™ning,
Would my lips breathe a ¬‚ame, which no stream could assuage,
On our foes should my glance launch in vengeance its lightning,
With transport my tongue give a loose to its rage.
(CPW i :135, lines 9“12)

Here the imagery of lightning and eruption reveals the poet™s wish to
in¬‚ict pain on his “foes,” rather than merely returning to equilibrium; this
angry lightning is imagined as vengeance, not catharsis. As a poetic
strategy, such threats have a venerable history. Ben Jonson™s conclusion
to the Poetaster, for example, depicts the author threatening his critics
with the imagined power of angry poetry to harm its targets physically:

They know, I dare
To spurn or baf¬‚e ™em; or squirt their eyes
With ink, or urine; I could do worse,
Armed with Archilochus™ fury, write iambics
Should make the desperate lashers hang themselves.
Rime ™em to death, as they do Irish rats
In drumming tunes. Or, living, I could stamp
Their foreheads with those deep and public brands
That the whole company of barber-surgeons
Should not take off, with all their art, and plasters.29

As Ian Donaldson says of this passage, “Writing is conceived of here as
an act of aggression, and poetry itself as a potent weapon, a force that has
the power to kill.”30 Jonson con¬dently proclaims the potency of his
verse to do harm, while Byron makes conditional, despairing threats;
yet both look forward to a desired-but-deferred moment of physical
revenge in¬‚icted by means of poetry.
Because Byron™s outrage intended to in¬‚ict harm on his enemies, express-
ing it on paper was only half of the process; sharing that writing was also
crucial to satisfying his anger. His composition and publication histories are
often tales of anger felt and revenge taken, from English Bards and Scotch
Reviewers through “A Sketch from Private Life” to sections of Don Juan.
Frederick Beaty puts it mildly when he says that “Byron™s nature was never
adverse to justi¬able vengeance” (Byron the Satirist, 4). Byron makes it his
business to escape from the isolation of lyric anger while avoiding the equally
con¬ning public role of the satirist. Byron learned quickly to circulate and
publicize his anger as an act of revenge. Unlike Pope, who also attacked his
enemies in his satires, Byron brings the details of his personal and intimate
relations to his acts of poetic wrath.
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
152
Women, in particular, are the targets of much of Byron™s anger, and
we have already seen, in “A Sketch from Private Life”, what kind of poetry
this produces when the woman is Byron™s enemy. Even more characteristic
are his poems of anger over lost love, tapping as they do the deepest wells
of resentment; “Heav™n hath no rage like love to hatred turn™d,” as Congreve
has put it.31 Rejecting the Keatsian equivalence of beauty and truth,
Byron often presents beautiful women as Juvenalian demons of treachery
and deceit. For Byron, beauty and betrayal go hand in hand; “Woman™s false
as fair,” he writes in the early lyric, “To Romance” (1807; CPW i :104“06),
asserting a negative relation between beauty and truth (line 23). In
“To Romance,” Byron continues by exclaiming to himself, “Fond fool!
to love a sparkling eye, / And think that eye to Truth was dear” (lines
29“30), and by promising to abandon the “mystic round” (line 6) and
“fancied pinions” (line 28) of romance for “realms . . . of Truth” (line 7).
This pledge places Byron against the idealizations of Keatsian Romanticism,
even as it records Byron™s ongoing struggle with the temptations of the
beautiful. Five years later, he quotes Macbeth™s statement about doubting
“the equivocation of the ¬end that lies like truth” as the epigraph of
the untitled lyric that begins, “Again deceived! Again betrayed! / In manhood
as in youth, / The dupe of every smiling maid / That ever ˜lied like truth™”
(CPW ii i :3, lines 1“4). In Byron™s imagination, these ¬endishly beauti-
ful smiling maids “ Byron™s own version of Keats™s belle dame sans merci “
repeatedly turn the poet into a fond fool by uttering “I love thee true”
and then revealing themselves as false. McGann discusses these women
as manifestations of “the ¬gura of the repeated deceiver whose name
only changes . . . The terms are familiar: like Susan Vaughan and so
many others, Annabella is a ¬end of equivocations, a woman “ the woman
“ who knows how to lie like truth” (“˜My Brain,™” 37). The atmosphere
of betrayal that surrounds the Byronic hero begins in these early lyrics, in
which Byron explores the emotions attendant on the unmasking of false
¬ends.
Anger is certainly one of these emotions, as Byron demonstrates in a
poem like the occasional lyric known as “Remember thee,” addressed
to Caroline Lamb. The poem was written in response to Caroline™s
inscribing the words “Remember me!” in Byron™s copy of Vathek. Al-
though we no longer have the manuscript that was the stage of this angry
dialogue, we can be fairly certain that Byron wrote something like the
following in response:
Byron™s curse 153
“Remember thee,” nay “ doubt it not “
Thy husband too may “think”™ of thee!
By neither canst thou be forgot,
Thou false to him “ thou ¬end to me!
“Remember thee”? Yes “ yes “ till Fate
In Lethe quench the guilty dream.
Yet then “ e™en then “ Remorse and Hate
Shall vainly quaff the vanquished stream.32
Here Byron™s antipathy towards memory and his mistrust of feminine
sexual beauty combine as an angry curse that undoes the conventions of the
love lyric. It is a cruel poem, as Byron blames Caroline for the very
in¬delities he enjoyed, the memory of which he calls a “guilty dream.”
Worse, Byron related the poem and its circumstances to his friend,
Thomas Medwin, who published it after Byron™s death but before Caro-
line™s. She wrote to Medwin himself, “you have left to one who adored him
a bitter legacy . . . I feel secure the lines, ˜remember thee “ thou false to him
thou ¬end to me™ “ were his.”33 Later in life, she wrote to Lady Morgan that
Byron “left that dreadful legacy on me “ my memory. Remember thee “
and well.”34 Byron™s poem seems to have had its intended effect, reversing
Caroline™s abjuration to remember her with its own angry inscription in her
memory. In¬‚icting pain and humiliation on Caroline by way of Medwin™s
book, Byron™s poem becomes a messenger of revenge.
“Remember thee” embodies in miniature the intimate relations among
anger, memory, and revenge that are crucial to Byron™s work. Like
Wordsworth, Byron was possessed of a particularly strong memory that
was central to his imaginative life. Blake and Shelley are poets of desire,
whose artistic strength lies in their ability to envision futurities wherein
memory is obsolete; but for Wordsworth and Byron, the most fruitful
source and subject of poetry is the painful act of remembering: fruitful,
because it is through memory that these poets comprehend their imagin-
ation™s strength, and yet painful, because memory entails disjunctive
comparisons between past and present. The radical difference between
Wordsworth and Byron can be measured by examining the ways they turn
their experiences of memory to poetic utterance: Wordsworth looks to his
imagination for recompense while Byron looks back in anger and forward
to revenge.
In a typical Wordsworthian moment, the emotional trajectory trig-
gered by memory runs from bereavement to consolation. The idyllic past
impinges upon a diminished present: “nothing can bring back the hour /
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the ¬‚ower.”35 Yet the abundant
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
154
recompense for the loss noted by memory is precisely the sword that
in¬‚icted the wound:
O joy! that in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction . . .
(“Intimations of Immortality,” lines 130“35)
In overcoming the memory of his lost paradise of youthful imagin-
ation, Wordsworth turns to the consolations of a memory so intense that
it becomes indistinguishable from that “serene and blessed mood” of
imaginative power “ the source of intimations of immortality.36 This
same tactic structures Wordsworth™s “Lines written a few miles above
Tintern Abbey,” where the poet remembers remembering as a spiritually
salutary, even salvi¬c, enterprise:
. . . how oft “
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unpro¬table, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart “
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro™ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee! (lines 50“57)
Wordsworth makes much of this repeated turning of his spirit: “how
oft “ . . . How oft . . . How often has my spirit turned to thee.” Fretfully
stuttering his way to the euphonic “O sylvan Wye!,” he reenacts the
mental phenomonology of memory as harmonizer and healer. Turning
to memories of nature, Wordsworth overcomes the negative emotions of
the feverish human world that surrounds him.
Byron reverses this paradigm precisely in a series of poetic articulations
that spring from his animosity towards Francis Jeffrey and the Edinburgh
Review. It was thanks to the Edinburgh Review™s abuse of Hours of Idleness
that Byron learned to write poetry with a vengeance. As he said to
Thomas Medwin, “When I ¬rst saw the review of my ˜Hours of Idleness,™
I was furious, in such a rage as I have never been since.”37 Francis Jeffrey
was singled out for special punishment, because Byron believed he had
penned the negative review. In a canceled section of his early satire, Hints
from Horace (1811), Byron describes the recurring memory of his anger
towards Jeffrey, in an ironic recall of Gray™s “Elegy”:
Byron™s curse 155
Again, my Jeffrey “ as that sound inspires,
How wakes my bosom to its wonted ¬res!
...
Is it for this on Ilion I have stood,
And thought less of Homer than of Holyrood?
On shore of Euxine or Aegean sea,
My hate, untravelled, fondly turned to thee. (CPW i :318“19)
Byron™s memory of his anger disrupts his perception of the natural
scenes before him. During his travels in the Mediterranean, he experiences
a powerful unwillingness to forgive or forget. His abiding anger makes a
hell of heaven, an Edinburgh of the Levant; this is the truly Satanic aspect
of Byron™s imagination.
Byron™s spirited hate turns to Jeffrey with the fondness of a lover, just
as Wordsworth™s spirit, as a “lover of the meadows and the woods, / And
mountains,” turns to the Wye (“Tintern Abbey,” lines 103“o4). Yet
Byron™s hate feeds on the treachery he sees in Jeffrey, while Wordsworth
knows “that Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her” (lines
122“23). For Wordsworth, the memory of nature serves as precisely the
antidote to the world of anger:
. . . neither evil tongues,
Rash judgements, nor the sneers of sel¬sh men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e™er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. (lines 128“34)
Byron holds with equal and opposite conviction that the in¬‚uence of
nature cannot prevail against the evil tongues of men, and knows that
once his anger is aroused, all he beholds will be full of curses. He turns to
memories of hatred as he stands overlooking the Aegean Sea; and as Yeats
puts it memorably in “The Tower,” “if that memory recur, the sun™s /
Under eclipse and the day blotted out.”38 For Byron, memory was no
restorative; he told Lady Blessington:
I have often doubted my own sanity, and, what is more, wished for insanity “
anything “ to quell memory, the never-dying worm that feeds on the heart,
and only calls up the past to make the present more insupportable. Memory has
for me
The vulture™s ravenous tooth,
The raven™s funereal song. ( Journal of Conversations, 297)
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
156
Apparently Byron was incapable of attending to the common directives
for palliating anger: “don™t take it personally” and “forgive and forget.”
His poetry shows itself constantly permeable to the memory of personal
affronts that give rise to outbursts of rage.
Byron recreated his anger towards Jeffrey in other poetic circumstances;
in another fragment, “Il Diavolo Inamorato” (1812), he describes a proto-
Byronic hero in terms that surely recall his own experience of remembered
anger in the midst of the natural beauty of the Mediterranean:39
His garb was that of godly Eremite,
Such as on lonely Athos I have seen,
Watching at Even on the giant height
That looks o™er waves so blue, skies so serene,
That he who there at such an hour hath been,
Will wistful linger on that hallowed spot,
Then slowly tear him from the witching scene,
Sigh forth one wish that such had been his lot,
Then turn to hate a world he had almost forgot.
(CPW i i i :16, lines 82“90)
Almost forgot “ but not quite. Again, the “turn” to hatred and anger
depends upon the memory of betrayals and evil tongues of men, and the
fever of the world. It is a turning that characterizes the Byronic mode of
memory. The scene found a more permanent home in canto 2 of Childe
Harold™s Pilgrimage (stanza 27), as Byron inserts a near-duplicate of the “Il
Diavolo Inamorato” passage to describe the emotions of his autobio-
graphical protagonist. Considering this scene in regard to Wordsworthian
patterns, McGann calls it “a shocking inversion of the conventional topos
of nature”: “In simplest terms, Byron™s passage through a Romantic
meditation on nature does not conclude in a Wordsworthian ˜tranquil
restoration™ but in a characteristically Byronic turn to passion and sav-
agery” (“Byron and the Anonymous Lyric,” 37). Unlike the Wordsworth-
ian turning of the spirit, the Byronic turn leads the poet back to the world
of men, not with a restored sense of sympathy enjoining “acts / Of
kindness and of love” (Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” lines 34“35), but
with a refreshed commitment to revenge.
In the “Il Diavolo Inamorato” fragment, the description of the
Byronic ¬gure shows that his vengefulness mixes memory and desire,
breeding poison trees out of the dead land: “His front was veiled, all
saw that eye, when change / Flashed as with long-desired “ but still-
deferred Revenge!” (lines 80“81). Revenge feeds on the deferral of anger,
turning the memory of suffering into the desire for retribution in a
Byron™s curse 157
truly vicious cycle. From the beginning, the dynamics of this cycle
are central to the Byronic persona. His appearances in this early fragment
of a tale and in Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage are followed by his reincar-
nation as the Giaour, another ¬gure of long-desired but still-deferred
vengeance who ¬nds himself remembering hatred on the shores of
Greece:
He stood “ some dread was on his face “
Soon Hatred settled in its place “
It rose not with the reddening ¬‚ush
Of transient Anger™s hasty blush,
But pale as marble o™er the tomb,
Whose ghastly whiteness aids its gloom.
...
™Twas but a moment that he stood,
Then sped as if by death pursued;
But in that instant, o™er his soul
Winters of Memory seemed to roll,
And gather in that drop of time
A life of pain, an age of crime. (CPW i i i :47“48, lines 234“64)
Those anti-Wordsworthian “Winters of Memory” turn volatile anger
to a hatred that is founded upon a rock. Byron™s tales are devoted in a
large part to dramatizing the torturous satisfactions of revenge, what
Nietzsche calls “the will™s antipathy towards time and time™s ˜It was™”:
in other words, a lie against memory.40
Philip Fisher observes that the angry man, protesting the thwarting
of his will, focuses on the agent of his bereavement, rather than the facts
of loss:
The passive suffering of diminution is thrown aside in the new active phase
of revenge. Because revenge can be taken, the suffering does not have to be
endured as something that simply happened to one. The revenge ethic is the
single most powerful rejection of the most damaging emotional conclusion of
mourning, its helpless and inactive waiting. Revenge could be called, to alter
Clausewitz™s phrase about war, the continuation of mourning by other means.
(“Thinking about Killing,” 62)
In Fisher™s view, the turn from acts of mourning to acts of ven-
geance transforms memory by way of willful desire. In such an eco-
nomy, the truncated will forgets its past powers and focuses on future
exercise; paradoxically, anger enables the will in response to a disabl-
ing or disempowering event. Thus Milton™s Satan quickly turns from
the mournful lament, “how fallen! how changed” to the resolution of
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
158
his “unconquerable will, / And study of revenge, immortal hate, / And
courage never to submit or yield.”41 Yet memory is not so easily dismissed,
particularly when vengeful thoughts supplant actual reprisals. Casting
himself as the Satan of various lost paradises, Byron demonstrates
the integrity of remembering and revenge. Desired-but-deferred punish-
ment amounts to hatred, itself a continuation of anger by other
means; for Byron (and for Satan), those means have their center in
memory.
Cursing is the negative form of apocalyptic discourse, at least as far
as memory is concerned. Both kinds of utterances imagine the sympathy
of the natural world, but whereas the apocalypse puts an end to memory,
the curse demands that the future remember the past. As Byron re-
cognized, the curse of Cain was invoked by the reminding voice of
Abel™s blood, which cried from the ground unto God. In the Biblical
text, the earth is the essential mediator between the two brothers, one
dead and cursing, the other living and accursed. Hearing Abel™s blood,
God reports, “Listen: your brother™s blood is crying out to me from the
ground! And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her
mouth to receive thy brother™s blood from thy hand. When thou tillest
the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive
and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth” (Gen. 4:10“12). The cry of
Abel™s blood has produced a sympathetic response in the earth, which has
literally hardened itself against Cain. Here the blood curse operates by
way of nature™s sympathy with the anger of the injured; hearing a vengeful
voice, the world is moved, not to apocalyptic self-destruction, but to
memory, and a fruitless future.
Virtually every curse seeks to command nature™s cooperation with
its angry purposes, and in this sense, demands sympathy from everything
it touches. In Byron™s Cain, Eve™s curse on her murderous son becomes
just such an urgent catalogue meant to leave no stone unturned against
Cain:
. . . May all the curses
Of life be on him! and his agonies
Drive him forth o™er the wilderness, like us
From Eden, till his children do by him
As he did by his brother! May the swords
And wings of ¬ery cherubim pursue him
By day and night “ snakes spring up in his path “
Earth™s fruits be ashes in his mouth “ the leaves
On which he lays his head to sleep be strew™d
Byron™s curse 159
With scorpions! May his dreams be of his victim!
His waking a continual dread of death!
May clear rivers turn to blood as he
Stoops down to stain them with his raging lip!
May every element shun or change to him!
May he live in the pangs which others die with!
And death itself wax something worse than death
To him who ¬rst acquainted him with man!
Hence, fratricide! henceforth that word is Cain,
Through all the coming myriads of mankind,
Who shall abhor thee, though thou wert their sire!
May the grass wither from thy feet! the woods
Deny thee shelter! earth a home! the dust
A grave! the sun his light! and heaven her God!
(act 3, scene 1, lines 421“43; CPW v i :290“91)
After this, the angel™s enunciation of God™s curse on Cain seems quite
pale, as does Adam™s laconic addendum: “Get thee forth; we dwell no
more together” (lines 444“45). Eve gives voice to a sublime and vengeful
curse that knows no bounds, detailing the implications of the exile that
has been called for by the cry of Abel™s blood and that will be ordained by
the angel of the Lord. Thus Eve™s voice, the voice of Abel™s blood, and
the voice of Jehovah come together to demand that the universe torment
Cain with reminders of the murder. He must dream of his victim, his
name must be abhorred as equivalent to “fratricide,” and rivers must “turn
to blood as he / Stoops down to stain them with his raging lip” (lines
432“33). Like the bloody moon of Revelation, these rivers will meta-
morphose in accordance with the voice of blood that compels their
sympathy. Yet the rivers perform their tasks of memorialization and
punishment within history rather than beyond it; they do not herald an
apocalyptic conclusion to Cain™s living hell.
Blake™s late work The Ghost of Abel (1822), written in response to
Byron™s Cain, makes explicit the voice of Abel™s blood as a vengeful
spirit.42 Abel™s ghost appears to Adam and Eve, saying, “My Soul in
fumes of Blood / Cries for Vengeance: Sacri¬ce on Sacri¬ce, Blood on
Blood!” (lines 32“33). In this demonic version of the Resurrection, Abel™s
gore sinks into the ground and arises as the spirit of revenge. It seems that,
in the gothic imagination, spilled blood brings forth ghosts, or monsters.
Like the phantasm of Jupiter in Shelley™s Prometheus Unbound, the ghost of
Abel is an angry byproduct of injury that gives voice to a curse of retribu-
tion. Yet unlike Shelley™s scornful phantasm, it demands purely equivalent
vengeance: “Life for Life! . . . I will have Human Blood” (lines 14, 37).
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
160
Such ratios horri¬ed both Blake and Shelley, for whom retributive justice
was the prime mover of the violent cycles of history they wanted to
transcend. In Byron™s darker perspective, however, blood must be
redeemed within history, through the payback called revenge. In fact, as
the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars violently played them-
selves out, it was only natural that the imaginations of Byron, Shelley, and
Blake turned to the issue of spilled blood. So much of it had ¬‚owed in the
streets of Paris, on the battle¬elds of Europe, and even onto English soil
(at Peterloo, for example), that it seemed to cry from the ground for
meaning, if not for vengeance. If blood can speak, it usually expresses
outrage, protesting the unjust state of affairs that caused it to spill. In
particular, the blood of the dead pleads strongly for retributive emotions
that it can no longer inspire in its former owner. Blood with such vocal
powers has been transformed by a sympathetic imagination into a
memorial device, a magic mouth that encourages revenge.
In The Mask of Anarchy, as we have seen, Shelley renders the accents of
blood quite thoroughly as the “words of joy and fear” that arise
As if their own indignant earth,
Which gave the sons of England birth,
Had felt their blood upon her brow,
And shuddering with a mother™s throe
Had turned every drop of blood,
By which her face had been bedewed,
To an accent unwithstood.43

Maternal anger here becomes the philosopher™s stone, transmuting
blood to prophetic words which recommend further bloodshed, speci¬-
cally as a vehicle of communication. Here the words of blood predict the
imminence of even more powerfully vocal gore:
And that slaughter to the Nation
Shall steam up like inspiration,
Eloquent, oracular;
A volcano heard afar. (lines 360“63)
Shelley attempts to skirt vengeance by recommending only non-violent
protest and assertions of freedom. Yet the eloquent voice of spilled blood,
in commanding auditors to “Rise like lions” knowing “Ye are many, they
are few,” seems to speak of reprisals (lines 368, 372). Shelley™s masque is
threatened by the anarchy of bloody massacres and the cries for revenge
they engender.
Byron™s curse 161
Shelley™s Mask of Anarchy clearly draws upon Byron™s “Ode from the
French” (1816), which also considers the apocalyptic power of spilled
blood. In substituting Peterloo for Waterloo, Shelley has reinforced the
idea that the same pawns of a repressive system spilled the blood of
freedom at both places. Byron™s poem begins
We do not curse thee, Waterloo!
Though Freedom™s blood thy plain bedew;
There ™t was shed, but is not sunk “
Rising from each gory trunk,
Like the water-spout from ocean,
With a strong and growing motion “
...
A crimson cloud it spreads and glows,
But shall return to whence it rose;
When ™t is full ™t will burst asunder “
Never yet was heard such thunder
As then shall shake the world with wonder,
Never yet was seen such lightning
As o™er heaven shall then be bright™ning!
Like the Wormwood Star foretold “
By the sainted seer of old,
Show™ring down a ¬ery ¬‚ood,
Turning rivers into blood. (CPW i i i : 375“76, lines 1“21)
Byron™s promise that the blood on the ¬elds of Waterloo “is not sunk”
and Shelley™s assurance that the blood spilled at Peterloo “shall steam up
like inspiration” both amount to a promise to remember and thus feed a
growing spirit of retribution. In the midst of his trials, Job cries out, “O
earth cover not thou my blood” (16:18), for if blood sinks into the ground
and disappears, presumably the wounds from which it ¬‚owed have been
ignored, forgotten. Blood that rises upward, on the other hand, signi¬es a
gathering storm. Like Shelley™s “volcano heard afar” whose voice protests
unjust “slaughter,” here natural phenomena represent the threatening
“strong and growing” power of the dead; a water-spout, a crimson cloud,
thunder, lightning, and showers of ¬re all indicate the irresistible force of
“Freedom™s blood,” which will compel an apocalyptic day of reckoning.44
That “Freedom™s blood” was shed reminds us that both Byron and Shelley
use personi¬cation to emphasize the unnatural, unjust quality of the blood-
shed. Byron™s “Triumph” “Weeps . . . o™er each leveled arch” (“Ode from the
French,” line 72), and Shelley™s “Hope . . . / . . . looked more like Despair” as
she “lay down in the street, / Right before the horses™ feet” (The Mask of
Anarchy, lines 87“88, 98“99). By inverting the personi¬cations™ expected
Anger, Revolution and Romanticism
162
behavior, Byron and Shelley prepare the way for an apocalyptic counter-turn.
Swollen to bursting, Byron™s “crimson cloud” and Shelley™s “volcano heard
afar” will erupt to restore natural equilibrium to a world of perverted ideals.
In fact, Byron™s poem is uncharacteristic in its nakedly prophetic tones, and
he distances himself from it by ascribing it to a ¬ctional French original. Yet
the poem™s con¬dence in retribution shows that Byron™s answer to the
recurring post-Revolutionary question “ “what happens to spilled blood?”
“ comes down ¬rmly on the side of memory and vengeance.
Byron more typically renders the satisfactions of blood as tragic, and
even gothic, rather than apocalyptic. In Byron™s un¬nished drama, The
Deformed Transformed, the alienated hunchback Arnold, wounding his
hand while chopping wood, exclaims:
Accursed be this blood that ¬‚ows so fast;
For double curses will be my meed now
At home. “ What home? I have no home, no kin,
No kind “ not made like other creatures, or
To share their sports or pleasures. Must I bleed too
Like them? Oh that each drop which falls to earth
Would rise like a snake to sting them, as they have stung me!
(CPW v i :520, lines 33“39)
Like Cain at his play™s conclusion, Arnold at the beginning of The
Deformed Transformed is already a victim of his mother™s curse, and thus
an exile on the earth. Like Frankenstein™s monster, he imagines vengeance on
the species as the only way to respond to such exile. Here Arnold imagines his
spilled blood rising, but not as part of any global transformation like the ones
in The Mask of Anarchy and “Ode from the French.” Rather, he desires a
different kind of natural sympathy with his curse: a nest of serpents that will
in¬‚ict reciprocal pain on his enemies. Like the vengeful Loredano in The Two
Foscari, who demands “life for life” (act 4, scene 1, line 22), Arnold doesn™t
imagine a way out of the mere requital of suffering, and thus commits
himself to the tragic contours of revenge. That he chooses Achilles as his
ideal form soon thereafter underscores this commitment.
Fixated on their own suffering, unable to forgive or forget, Byron™s
angry personae surround themselves with curses and ghosts. Blake™s ghost
of Abel and Shelley™s phantasm of Jupiter verge upon this gothic mode,
but both are negative ¬gures soon to be expelled by an apocalyptic
conversion. Byron™s ghosts haunt more assiduously, being the operatives
of the angry curses and patterns of deferral that structure his poetry.
Examples from his poetry are frequent: another version of the short lyric,
“Remember Thee!” has Byron proclaiming to Caroline Lamb, “Remorse
Byron™s curse 163
and shame shall cling to thee, / And haunt thee like a feverish dream”
(CPW ii i:84, lines 3“4). Here the oblique curse depends on the ghosts of
memory (remorse and shame, vaguely personi¬ed) to punish Caroline.
Similarly, we remember his letter about Jane Clermont, where he ex-
claims: “The curse of my Soul light upon her & hers forever! “ may my
Spirit be deep upon her in her life.” That “Spirit” is the same one that
appears to haunt Manfred and threatens darkly:
In the shadow of the hill,
Shall my soul be upon thine,
With a power and with a sign.
Though thy slumber may be deep,
Yet thy spirit shall not sleep
There are shades which will not vanish,
There are thoughts thou canst not banish;
By a power to thee unknown,
Thou canst never be alone . . .
(act 1, scene 1, lines 199“207; CPW i v : 60).
This disquieting spirit makes a veiled appearance after the all-important
forgiveness-curse in Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage canto 4, when Byron
claims “there is that within me which shall tire / Torture and time, and
breathe when I expire; / Something unearthly, which they deem not of”
(lines 1228“30). This ghostly power will “move” the poet™s enemies to
“remorse” by means of memory (lines 1232“33). Like Eve™s wish that Cain™s
“dreams be of his victim,” these curses promise to brand the memories of,
and thus haunt, their targets. The curses of all these angry ¬gures emerge
from memories of suffering, and aim to in¬‚ict fearful guilt. For Byron, for
whom memory was “the never-dying worm that feeds upon the heart,” such
were the satisfactions of vengeance: this fundamentally elegiac desire to
continue mourning by means of anger.
Epilogue




Romanticism was shaped by its struggles with anger, particularly as that
emotion emerged in legacy from the French Revolution and the English
reaction. During this period, the angry passions were associated with
volatile political change and destructive violence “ things for which, on
the domestic scene anyway, the majority of Englishmen had little taste
during the Napoleonic Wars. The result was a general demonization of
anger in Romantic-period thought, a wave of in¬‚uence that affected
political, moral, medical, legal, and literary discourse. In the work of
the imaginative writers examined here, we ¬nd cases representative of
these effects and yet unique in their authors™ personal and creative efforts
to ¬nd a productive role for anger in this time of trouble. Typically, this
involves de¬ning an “anger-that-is-not-mine,” a scapegoat emotion to be
cast out in favor of an indignation or a wrath “ even a vengefulness “ that
the author uses to perform a certain kind of work (be it moral, political, or
aesthetic). As we saw in chapter 2, this mode of operation de¬ned the
Revolution debates as they were carried on in the 1790s, and it became
one of the most lasting bequests from that period to the Romantics that
followed.
After Waterloo, however, we do see a shift in overall emphasis, as the
speci¬c tensions and sharper con¬‚icts of the Revolutionary and Napo-
leonic eras began to recede, and with them, the contestation over anger in
the political sphere. The Queen Caroline affair and the suicide of Castle-
reagh in the early part of the 1820s provided for an increasingly Whiggish
government, a trend marked by the repeal, in 1825, of the notorious and
paranoid Six Acts that had clamped down hard on radicalism and free
speech in the wake of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. Choosing a path
towards slow reform, England could afford to relax its attitude towards
anger and its Revolutionary associations. The death of George III in 1820
put a kind of period to the years of turmoil that would soon be gathered
by the Victorians under the heading “Romantic”; and indeed, it must
164
Epilogue 165
have seemed to Englishmen as they began their third decade of the
century that a corner had been turned.
In literary works after 1819, anger appears in increasingly stylized and
aestheticized forms, suggesting a new level of comfort with angry spec-
tacles, along with a codi¬ed uncoupling of this unruly passion from
politics. From a certain angle, Shelley™s Prometheus Unbound seems to
dramatize this transition in the angry ghost dances of Jupiter, which call
forth a world wherein anger is no longer operative as a political force. One
might also look to Keats™s “Hyperion” poems as centered upon a similar
changing of the guard, from anger as a consequential mode of public
engagement (Hyperion) to anger as an essentially private aesthetic experience
(Apollo). Written between 1818 and 1819, this pair of fragments imagines a
transition that the nation was about to enact, but only after a ¬nal period of
convulsion that concluded approximately with Keats™s poetic career. He was
working on “The Fall of Hyperion” in the late summer of 1819, trying to map
out the role of the poet in the world, at the time of Peterloo and the
conviction of Henry Hunt, just before the passage of the Six Acts.1 Yet
the poem dreams its way beyond the angry present. As Michael O™Neill
writes of “Hyperion,” it is “a poem that withdraws from the contemporary
but is responsive to Napoleon™s dubious bequest, his legacy of paralysed
aftermath”(“˜When this warm scribe,™”153). As is the case with so much of
Keats™s great work, a kind of proleptic twilight hangs over the “Hyperion”
poems, as they bid farewell to the Romantic modes of thought and action
from which they draw their force.
In “Hyperion,” Keats tells us that the cloudy curtains of Hyperion™s
palace “Flush™d angerly,” anticipating the arrival of the god who “enter™d
full of wrath: / His ¬‚aming robes stream™d out beyond his heels, / And
gave a roar, as if of earthly ¬re, / That scar™d away the meek ethereal
Hours / And made their dove-wings tremble. On he ¬‚ared.”2 Anger has
energized this wrathful scene almost beyond what the verse can accom-
modate: the unexpected “angerly” suggests that the emotion is an implac-
able noun, like a color, a red light ¬‚ashing (as the text does) while
the ¬‚aming, roaring robes and their wearer both ¬‚are on. Enraged at
the “Insult” offered by shadows foreboding his fall, Hyperion “stampt his
foot” and “His voice leapt out”: “˜Over the ¬ery frontier of my realms / I
will advance a terrible right arm / Shall scare that infant thunderer, rebel
Jove, / And bid old Saturn take his throne again™”(1:222“50). His com-
mitment to heroic anger as a political engine, expressed in a superannu-
ated rhetoric of the restoration of powers, places the in¬‚amed Hyperion
under an older dispensation: he represents the epic possibilities of rage
that Keats can imagine but no longer wishes to trace.
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
166
Indeed, in producing the revised “Fall of Hyperion,” Keats abandoned
his poem precisely at the moment of the god™s ¬ery entrance, after having
already edited out his anger and the enraged clouds: “Anon rush™d by the
bright Hyperion; / His ¬‚aming robes stream™d out beyond his heels, /
And gave a roar, as if of earthly ¬re, / That scar™d away the meek ethereal
hours / And made their dove-wings tremble: on he ¬‚ared “ ”(2:57“61). All
that remains is the imagery of in¬‚ammation and the startling roar of
Hyperion™s garment, the pyrotechnics of the sun god without their
emotional analogue. It is as if Keats falls silent in perplexity while trying
to write an epic not dependent upon consequential anger (e.g., the wrath
of Achilles, the furor of Aeneas, Satan™s rage), as he works toward
an aesthetics of anger more comfortably at home in the lyric. A similar
moment comes at the end of the “Hyperion” fragment, when Apollo is
shaken and “made ¬‚ush” “with wild commotions”(1:124), physiological
signs of emotional arousal that accompany his dei¬cation. As the vaguely
feckless Apollo turns to read the silent face of Memory, he sees therein a
“wondrous lesson” that evokes the ¬erce contendings of the revolutionary
and Napoleonic years, now become a “blithe wine / Or bright peerless
elixir” for his delectation: “Names, deeds, gray legends, dire events, rebel-
lions, / Majesties, sovran voices, agonies, / Creations and destroyings, all at
once / Pour into the wide hollows of my brain, / And deify me”(3:113“18).
The verbal echoes of “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on Melancholy”
signal Apollo™s alignment with the lyric imagination, and the transfer of
anger™s energy from political history to aesthetic experience, from the
revolutionary substrate to the late-Romantic work of art.
In a journal-letter written at about this same time, Keats develops a
layered analogy that again involves anger with poetry in a way that reveals
his distance from the concerns of earlier decades. He has been measuring
himself as a poet and thinker against a “standard of disinterestedness,” and
concludes that he has been “writing at random, straining at particles of
light in the midst of a great darkness”:
I go among the Fields and catch a glimpse of a stoat or a ¬eld mouse peeping out
of the withered grass. The creature hath a purpose and its eyes are bright with it.
I go amongst the buildings of a city and I see a Man hurrying along “ to what?
The Creature has a purpose and his eyes are bright with it . . . May there not be
superior beings amused with any graceful, though instinctive attitude my mind
may fall into, as I am entertained with the alertness of a Stoat or the anxiety of a
Deer? Though a quarrel in the streets is a thing to be hated, the energies
displayed in it are ¬ne; the commonest Man shows a grace in his quarrel. By a
superior being our reasonings may take the same tone; though erroneous, they
may be ¬ne. This is the very thing in which consists poetry . . .3
Epilogue 167
The bright-eyed stoat, the hurrying man, the quarrelers in the street,
and the poet are all emphatically (if momentarily) interested parties,
sharing what Keats praises here as access to “graceful, though instinctive
attitude[s]” that can be admired by “a superior being,” apart from consid-
erations of error. Like the nightingale to which Shelley compares the poet
in “A Defence of Poetry” (1821), the stoat and his kin are totally focused on
their own purposes and passions, with no regard for the ¬gures they are
cutting in the eyes of an audience.4 They achieve grace by instinct, not
design “ and indeed despite apparent faults or narrowness of vision.

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