Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
George Gordon, Lord Byron, is considerably better known as a poet than as a dramatist, and the relative importance of the poetry is quickly evident in any review of Byron’s literary career. His first book, Fugitive Pieces, was printed at his own expense in November of 1806, and though it consisted primarily of sentimental and mildly erotic verse, it also contained hints of the satiric wit that would be so important to Byron’s later reputation. The volume is also notable for having inspired the first accusations that Byron lacked poetic chastity; at the urging of some of his friends, he withdrew the book from private circulation and replaced it with the more morally upright Poems on Various Occasions, printed in Newark in January of 1807 by John Ridge, who had also printed Fugitive Pieces.
In his first attempt at public recognition as a man of letters, Byron published Hours of Idleness in June of 1807. The volume shows the obvious influence of a number of Augustan and Romantic poets, but despite its largely derivative nature, it received several favorable early reviews. Fortunately for Byron’s development as a poet, however, the praise was not universal, and subsequent critical attacks, notably by Henry Brougham of The Edinburgh Review, helped inspire the writing of Byron’s first poetic...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
In his The Dramas of Lord Byron: A Critical Study (1915), Samuel C. Chew, Jr., makes it abundantly clear that George Gordon, Lord Byron, was simultaneously fascinated with the theater and contemptuous of the accomplishments of contemporary dramatists. He was frequently to be found in the playhouses, especially during his days as a student and during the period immediately following his Eastern travels, and on at least two occasions, he acted, with considerable success, in amateur theatrical productions. His comments on the stage suggest, however, that he was appalled by the reliance of early nineteenth century playwrights on melodramatic sensationalism and visual spectacle. His letters mention the scarcity of fine plays, and his poetry castigates modern dramatists for their tastelessness. English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, for example, calls contemporary drama a “motley sight” and deplores the “degradation of our vaunted stage.” It cries out to George Colman and Richard Cumberland to “awake!” and implores Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who had achieved a recent success with Pizarro: A Tragedy in Five Acts (pr. 1799), an adaptation of a play by August von Kotzebue, to “Abjure the mummery of the German schools” and instead to “reform the stage.” It asks, in indignant mockery, “Shall sapient managers new scenes produce/ From Cherry, Skeffington, and Mother Goose?” and makes sneering reference to the extravagances of...
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Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
It should be noted that the titles of Lord Byron’s principal poetic works include dramatic as well as lyrical and narrative works. Byron wrote eight plays in all, most of which focused on either speculative or historical subjects and were never intended for the stage. He designated them “mental theatre,” or closet drama modeled after classical principles, and clearly regarded the plays as among his most important productions. Complementing Byron’s extraordinarily prolific and diverse career as a poet is his versatility as a writer of epistolary prose. During his lifetime Byron composed more than twenty-nine hundred letters, which have been scrupulously edited by Leslie A. Marchand and published between 1973 and 1982 in twelve volumes under the title Byron’s Letters and Journals. The sheer immensity of this correspondence is matched only by the unlimited range and immediacy of Byron’s voice as he speaks without reserve on a variety of topics. In addition to these private documents, along with John Keats’s letters the most revealing correspondence of the British Romantic poets, Byron also published the combative Letter to [John Murray] on the Rev. W. L. Bowles’ Strictures on the Life and Writings of Pope (1821) and, in the first number of Leigh Hunt’s The Liberal (1822), “A Letter to the Editor of ’My Grandmother’s Review.’” The Parliamentary Speeches of Lord Byron, comprising three addresses he made while...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
If poets can be judged by the intellectual and cultural myths which they inspire, then Lord Byron must be deemed the most broadly influential of the Romantic writers. Through his creation of a brooding and defiant persona known as the Byronic Hero—according to Peter L. Thorslev, Jr., a composite blend of the attributes of Cain, Ahasuerus, Satan, Prometheus, Rousseau’s Child of Nature, the Man of Feeling, the Gloomy Egoist, the Gothic Villain, and the Noble Outlaw—Byron exerted a profound impact on the entire nineteenth century and its conception of the archetypal Romantic sensibility. The essential trait that came to be associated with Byronism is what Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy (1945), identifies as “Titanic cosmic self-assertion.” Signifying less a specific stance than a generalized attitude, the phrase denotes a proud, often despairing, rebellion against any institutional or moral system that threatens to rob the self of its autonomy, centrality, and independence. Something of the extent to which this outlook captured the imagination of the age can be gauged from a brief list of artists and thinkers whose works reflect Byron’s influence: in Germany, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Friedrich Nietzsche; in France, Honoré de Balzac, Stendhal, Hector Berlioz, and Eugène Delacroix; in Russia, Alexander Pushkin and Fyodor Dostoevski; and in America, Herman Melville. Even Matthew...
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George Gordon, Lord Byron (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
George Gordon was born in London on January 22, 1788. He had an aristocratic heritage on both sides of the family. On his father’s side, the Byrons had long been known for their eccentricity, and Byron’s father, Captain John Byron, led a wild and reckless life, squandering the family wealth. He died when the poet was three, having separated from his wife the previous year. The poet’s mother, Catherine Gordon of Gight, was descended from one of the most notable families in Scotland.
Until 1798, the young Byron lived with his mother in Aberdeen, Scotland, but on the death of his great uncle, the notorious “Wicked Lord,” he became the sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale, and he and his mother moved to Newstead Abbey in England, the traditional family seat. Byron was schooled at Harrow and Cambridge, where the personality which would entrance so many soon became apparent: generous and openhearted, ambitious and idealistic, self-willed, but with an almost feminine quality of softness and sentimentality.
Byron also had the advantage of being strikingly handsome; his fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge remarked, “so beautiful a countenance I scarcely ever saw . . . his eyes the open portals of the sun—things of light, and for light.” Byron’s classic,...
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Bibliography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Brewer, William D., ed. Contemporary Studies on Lord Byron. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001. A collection of essays on the works of Byron. Bibliography and index.
Brisman, Leslie. “Troubled Stream from a Pure Source.” In George Gordon, Lord Byron, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. A readable and pithy examination of the Romantic origins of Byron’s major drama that places Cain within the context of the Romantic task of returning fallen man to his original state of innocence. The volume contains a brief chronology of Byron’s life as well as a useful select bibliography.
Byron, George Gordon, Lord. Byron. Edited by Jerome J. McGann. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. The most comprehensive one-volume edition of Byron’s poetry and prose. Includes complete text of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan, as well as other poems and plays, and also includes selections from Byron’s incomparable letters.
Byron, George Gordon, Lord. Byron’s Letters and Journals. Edited by Leslie A. Marchand, 12 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1973-1982. Byron’s letters were always witty, irreverent, and highly entertaining, written quickly and without inhibitions. They mirror his many-sided personality and the charm of his...
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