Byron by Frederic Raphael; Byron: a Poet Before his Public by Philip W Martin - review by Duncan Fallowell

Duncan Fallowell

The Nature of Celebrity



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Byron: a Poet Before his Public


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One Morning Scrope Davies called on Byron and surprised him in bed. Davies found the poet wearing paper curlers in his hair. Byron stirred and admitted that curlers were a foolish habit.

When Byron indulged in Thought, it sometimes led to a tumultuous confusion of ideas. Believing himself to be very possibly the most remarkable man in Europe, he would grip his head and exclaim ‘I shall go mad!’ to which Scrope Davies would customarily reply ‘Much more like silliness than madness’. And Byron would see it at once.

Here is the clue to Byron’s magnetism. Far more than charm, it was a quality of tremendous possibility. Where Byron was, something else might conceivably happen. Though an easy prey to routine himself (mercury requiring a vessel), he agitated the habits of others, generating alertness, aliveness. This sense of imminence was brought about by the simultaneous and dynamic presence within him of opposites, qualities of light and dark. And while it remains fashionable to disparage his poetry, the vigorous mercuriality of his nature continues to attract attention, for the modem world sees there a precursor of its own restless spirit.

But though the effect may be of change or changeableness, the essence of Byronism is the combined action of passion and detachment (his favourite poet was Pope) in which abandon is coupled with intense self-awareness, tremendous warmth with a deadly cynicism or cold far-seeing eye. This gave rise to what

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