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The problem with Byron’s debauchery The poet mistook privilege for freedom

Byron was a fastidious self-fashioner. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Byron was a fastidious self-fashioner. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)


April 17, 2024   6 mins

In 1798, a lame, rough-mannered 10-year-old boy from Aberdeen called George Gordon Byron inherited a peerage, along with an abbey in Nottinghamshire, and grew up to be one of the most notorious Romantic poets of all time. He died two centuries ago this week, while taking part in the War of Independence of his beloved Greece. Byron’s father, “Mad Jack” Byron, provided a perfect role model for his dissolute, incestuous son. Having married a Marchioness and run through her fortune of £30,000, he escaped from his creditors to France, where he had an affair with his own sister and died, probably by suicide. Byron himself fell in love for the first time at the age of seven and suffered regular sexual assault at the hands of his nursemaid.

After a homoerotic spell at Harrow, Byron became a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he used to tether his small pet bear to the fountain in Great Court. In Italy some years later, he would gather together a menagerie of 10 horses, eight dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow and a falcon, whose company he seemed to prefer to that of most of his fellow humans. Like all aristocrats at Cambridge, he was exempt from lectures and exams, which left him little to do but drink and have sex. His frequent fond embraces of the bear, who he thought should sit for a college fellowship, provoked charges of bestiality, though for the most part he preferred to satisfy his sexual needs by visiting what he called “houses of Fornication” in a life of “the most laudable systematic profligacy”. He disguised one of his female lovers as a boy and passed her off as his younger brother, only to create horror among the chambermaids when she miscarried in a Bond Street hotel.

It was the long poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, published in 1812, which first launched Byron on the world as a saturnine rebel tormented by Gothic passion and world-weary gloom. In an age when poetry could sell almost as well as today’s tabloid newspapers, he had travelled from near-poverty in Aberdeen to the kind of celebrity which these days is more typical of Mick Jagger than Simon Armitage, rubbing shoulders with the Prince Regent and chalking up a number of smash poetic hits. His publishers offered him the stupendous sum of 1,000 guineas for a later poem, which Byron as a nobleman refused to accept. In fact, he would accept no payment for his poetry at all. He visited Turkey, where he delighted in a Turkish bath as “a marble paradise of sherbet and sodomy”. As one of the greatest playboys in the English literary canon, he also pursued young men in Greece while turning his home in England into a small harem.

The English are said to love a lord, but this particular lord loved the English to the point of dragging a fair proportion of them into bed with him. Among his mistresses were his half-sister Augusta Leigh and Caroline Lamb, who coined the renowned saying that Byron was “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. The same might well have been said of herself, as these two emotionally unstable, compulsively self-dramatising lovers conducted their highly public liaison in Johnny Depp and Amber Heard mode. In a classic case of art imitating life, Byron modelled himself on his own poetic protagonists, while Caroline gave him a golden locket containing clippings of her pubic hair. When she asked for a lock of his own hair in return, Byron sent her a snippet from the head of his new mistress, who had been among Caroline’s closest friends. He had something of the brutality of his social class, along with its reckless generosity of spirit. He also provided his wife Annabella Milbanke with a list of the gifts he had bestowed on his mistresses, telling her how much he enjoyed toying with two naked women at once.

The generosity of spirit was apparent in his liberal politics, at a time when Britain was effectively a police state. Speaking in the House of Lords, he defended working men driven by poverty to acts of protest such as frame-breaking, which the Tory government intended to make a capital crime. “Will you erect a gibbet in every field and hang up men like scarecrows?” he inquired of his more bloodthirsty colleagues. He also unsuccessfully supported equal legal protection and privilege for Catholics and the promotion of the rights of Ireland.

For all his sense of public duty, however, his private life continued to be plunged into turmoil, punctuated by bouts of insanity in which he would smash the furniture and wish Annabella and her unborn child dead. Once the glamorous literary icon of the upper classes, he now gained a reputation for madness, incest, domestic abuse and sodomy, not to speak of being up to his ears in debt, and fled from his creditors from England to Italy. Even so, he was flush enough to spend several thousand pounds on women in his first two years abroad. One of them threatened him with a knife in Venice and threw herself into a canal. He also became a resident in the house of a man he was cuckolding. Despite his cruel way with women, he could still present himself as their victim, claiming that “I have been more ravished myself than any body since the Trojan war”. Smashed on laudanum and brandy, falling on an unsuspecting chambermaid “like a thunderbolt”, he made an unlikely Helen of Troy.

While in Italy, Byron joined the Carbonari, a secret society of Italian revolutionary nationalists, and grew increasingly involved in the fight for a unified nation free of Austrian rule. It was a prelude to his more celebrated participation in the struggle for independence for Greece, a country of which he is said to be one of the spiritual founders. Yet as Andrew Stauffer comments in his erudite, eloquent new study Byron: A Life in Ten Letters, any thoughts he had of himself as a hero were heavily coloured with irony and self-deprecation, and he confined himself for the most part to giving money to the nationalists and lending them the prestige of his name. He now had £25,000 to hand, having sold some coal mines in Rochdale, and was ready to donate it all to the revolutionary cause. He also dealt with local disputes, helped to arrange prisoner exchanges, paid soldiers and spent money for the relief of families. Since he then died of a fever at Messolonghi at the age of 37, what Duncan says of Cawdor in Macbeth can be said of him too — that nothing became his life like the leaving of it.

For the most part, that life had been one of unbridled self-indulgence, redeemed only by the bout of selfless devotion with which it concluded and (for some at least) the grandeur of his poetry. His freedom was vacuous and self-consuming, as he swanned from one expensive Greek or Italian villa to another along with his writing desk, menagerie, liquor cabinet and collapsible bed. Byron was a grotesque caricature of an English aristocrat, a man who, like the more midget-like figure of Boris Johnson, snatched everything he could grab and considered that laws existed to be broken. He was savage, abusive and self-serving, all of which, as with Johnson, could be greeted as mere lovable idiosyncrasy by his more servile admirers.

“His freedom was vacuous and self-consuming.”

In his eyes, the line between liberty and libertinism was never very firm. His poetry has a brio and panache which rightly won him applause, as well as a depth of personal passion relatively new in English writing; yet it also lacks texture and resonance, and strikes many a modern reader as too stereotypically “Romantic”. As with many Romantic artists, a spiritual homelessness lies at its heart, though Byron compensated for feeling displaced in bourgeois Britain by his affection for a less hidebound southern Europe.

He was also the kind of poet who might have been despatched to Regency London by a casting agency. Handsome, brooding, moody and mercurial, veering between the dashing and the melancholic, he was wit, sceptic, satirist and visionary all at the same time. He was, in a word, everything that people in a Romantic age expected their poets to be. It was hard to know, however, how much of this was the real George Gordon and how much was theatrical posturing. The frontier between life and art never struck him as one to be particularly respected. At home in Newstead Abbey, decked out in an Abbot’s robes, he would drink wine from a monk’s skull while the servants played sex games around him, as though he had just stepped out of one of the fashionable Gothic novels of the time. Like Oscar Wilde after him, he was a fastidious self-fashioner, living his life at times like a wild beast and at other times like a work of art.

He was also one source of the modern image of the poet as demonic. His deformed foot, which didn’t prevent him from swimming the Hellespont, he regarded as the mark of Cain. As the 19th century unfolds, a lot of poets became more Satanic than sociable, a cult which finds its consummation in the work of Charles Baudelaire. They were now exiles and outcasts, refugees from an increasingly philistine society, allured by the demonic rather than the pallidly conventional. The devil, as they say, has all the best tunes.

Yet Byron was at his finest when he placed his talents at the service of others, not when he was preening himself on his rebellious, diabolical streak. The true rebels in his life were the Greeks and Italians whose political cause he espoused, and who had nothing like the privilege which he himself sometimes mistook for freedom.


Terry Eagleton is a critic, literary theorist, and UnHerd columnist.


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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
28 days ago

You know, I always here about people being debauched, but never about them being bauched to begin with. What does that entail, exactly?

Chiara de Cabarrus
Chiara de Cabarrus
28 days ago

Can you be rebauched after being debauched- like Don Juan giving all his wealth to the church and going celibate – though I reckon he did that just because he got old ..

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
28 days ago

Looking online for the etymology doesn’t take you very far . From Middle French desbaucher meaning to entice from work or duty but no one seems to know where that comes from .

Tony Price
Tony Price
27 days ago

In these circumstances I revert to my very large and very splendid 1914 Chambers’ English Dictionary, and this is what is says:

O.Fr. desbaucher (Fr. débaucher), to corrupt – des = L. dis, and baucher, to hew – bauche or bauc, a beam, a course of stones.

So, if you are bauched you are hewn, like a beam of wood, and if debauched you are dismembered in some spiritual way.

Hope that helps!

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
27 days ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Build a bridge out of ‘er!

Jimmy Snooks
Jimmy Snooks
26 days ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I’m not an etymologist, but I suspect the meaning of the Old French baucher might mean hewing a beam from a piece of wood so that it becomes relatively ‘straight’ and, therefore, serviceable as a beam. So, assuming that achieving ‘straightness’ of beam is an essential quality of ‘baucher’, then ‘debaucher’ would mean to cause something to go ‘off-course’ or deviate from the norm. Hence the word ‘debauch’. I have heard a very old French folksong which talks about sailors being ‘débauchiers des filles’, so it’s been around for ages.

AJ Q
AJ Q
26 days ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Thanks for the etymology!
On a related note, some of you might like this video from RobWords on “lost positives” in English.
https://youtu.be/a7TfjCIbtng?si=tmNIpGNWUkoQt10Q

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
27 days ago

I have the same problem with “uncouth”.
What does it mean to be couth?

John Riordan
John Riordan
26 days ago

I bet the people who want us to eat bugs and ride bicycles instead of driving cars know the answer.

David McKee
David McKee
28 days ago

Excellent! This would have been a good lecture for undergrads at Oxford.

Byron was talented, but his sybaritic tastes can close to ruining him. In modern-day terms, there is a thin dividing line between David Bowie and Amy Winehouse.

Like James Kirkpatrick and David Ochterlony, Byron found a freedom and a spiritual home in foreign climes that he never felt in Britain. Byron did not need to go as far as India, he found what he needed in the Mediterranean. It’s ironic that Byron’s political legacy – Greece – still endures long after the British Raj vanished. Who could have foretold that in the 1820s?

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
28 days ago
Reply to  David McKee

India is the political legacy of the British Empire more than Greece is the political legacy of Byron .

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
27 days ago
Reply to  Alan Osband

Well, of course. The British East India Company was enormous, and in many cases ran the colonial offices. And, corrupt as it sometimes was, not always for the worse.
Byron, sincere as he was about Greece and Italy, was pretty much a tourist.

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
27 days ago
Reply to  David McKee

DON’T FORGET the sportive Orientalist Gary Glitter, poor fellow, now buried under a hundred tons of British Hypocrisy!

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
25 days ago
Reply to  Don Lightband

You prefer the French attitude to their version of Gary Glitter L’orientaliste sportif Michel Foucault ?
Though of course the great philosopher had his Thais in Morocco .

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
24 days ago
Reply to  Alan Osband

I don’t believe the French today are any less petrified by the signifier “underage” than the British, n’est-ce pas? BTW, Mr Glitter’s consorts were in Cambodia, not Thailand, should that difference matter to you perchance…

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
28 days ago

No mention of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. I wonder what the writer means by that.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
27 days ago

Percy Bysse Shelley completely ignored, as well. Much like the pre-Raphaelites, a far bigger talent.

AC Harper
AC Harper
28 days ago

I guess Terry Eagleton is not a fan of Boris Johnson? It strikes an uneven note in an otherwise interesting article.

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
27 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I thought that. Whatever you think of Johnson depicting him as a bargain basement incestuous, debauched, borderline animal abuser seems a bit much.

Fabio Paolo Barbieri
Fabio Paolo Barbieri
27 days ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

No, he just abuses women. The difference seems small to me.

Ellen Evans
Ellen Evans
27 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

It does seem a bit gratuitous, does not it?

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
27 days ago
Reply to  Ellen Evans

Johnson governed in the exact opposite way he campaigned, particularly during COVID. But the comparison to Byron is nonsensical. A better Byron would be, say, Charlie Sheen, or Hunter Biden, if Biden fils had any discernable talents.
But neither of those three men had Byron’s artistic gifts, nor the sincerity of his political beliefs, nor his aesthetic sense. Byron, depraved as he often was, believed in his political causes.
Johnson really just approached his causes as a careerist would, albeit with a bustling incompetence.

John Riordan
John Riordan
26 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Eagleton belongs to that relatively small club of exclusively left-wing academic aristocrats. Not actual aristocrats of course, just the gatekeepers to their profession.

No, he emphatically does not like Boris Johnson, though at this stage whether that’s because Boris is ostensibly a right-winger, or because Boris proved to the world that left-wing politics will f**k up a country just as effectively when implemented by a right-winger – that’s something only Terry could answer, and wouldn’t answer it honestly anyway.

Eagleton is very clever though: I read Literary Theory, a book he wrote well over 30 years ago, and I read it just after I’d read the David Lodge novels about Rummidge University (clearly intended by Lodge to be 1970s Birmingham but renamed either through poetic licence, or possibly out of a desire not to be sued by the same people who thought a Telly Savalas voiceovered film would attract tourists to the city). The novels were about the tension arising at the time between classical, comparative literary criticism and the post-modern structuralist approach, against a backdrop of the hilarious contrast of academia’s experience of Britain’s 1970s declinism with America’s simultaneous extravagance.

In the Lodge novels this was mainly light-hearted and comedic, but once I read Eagleton’s book, it became apparent how fundamental these areas are to the ambition of academia to remain politically relevant and wield political influence. Eagleton’s relating of the history of postmodernism in a literary academic context is actually rather fascinating.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
26 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

It’s a law of nature that anything Terry writes must feature a dig against the right, or in Boris’s case the “right”.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
25 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I agree

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
24 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

What about Taylor Swift why is she a tortured poet ?

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones
27 days ago

When I was young I cared more about an artist’s works than the person that they are or were. I’m now of the opposite opinion. I couldn’t care less how excellent his poetry was, the man was grotesque.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
27 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

So many of the (male) writers I admire were detestable human beings – serial adulterers, alcoholics and abandoners of families.

Arthur G
Arthur G
27 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

If they’re mediocrities like Byron, they can be safely ignored. The stuff quoted above is pure banality.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
27 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Arguably so. But it is pertinent to his love of Greece, sounds good to my ear, of interest to some versifiers like myself, and not bad for a 23-year-old.
“A mediocrity” is a pretty absurd dismissal of Byron. But an understandable if harsh take on the 4 stanzas I pasted: they’re more stilted and archaic than his norm, partly because they address a personified Mt. Parnassus, I think.
Byron is not near the top of my list but I think he’s underrated. Which 19th-century poets do you like?

Arthur G
Arthur G
27 days ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Kipling, Keats, Poe,Tennyson.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
27 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Good group. Suspected you’d say Tennyson–I find him occasionally stirring, often dull and flat. Kipling and Poe seem minor (not trivial or mediocre) as poets. Full agreement on Keats, whose inclusion on your list surprises me a bit, in a good way. Unsolicited, I’ll nominate Wordsworth, Whitman, and Dickinson.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
26 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Shelley. Byron not so much.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
26 days ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I prefer 18th century poets especially Pope, and also Donne and Thomas Nash, and have a soft spot for Eliot, Pound and Anthony Burgess.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
25 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Donne Yay ! I think late 16th century to 1650 is hotspot . Recently been chanting out loud Marlowe Hero and Leander , Robert Herrick’s gorgeous poems , Henry King’s Exequy to His Matchless , Never to Be Forgotten Friend ( both funny and touching ) , Jonson , Marvell and early Milton ( so far never got through Paradise Lost )
Even Henry Vaughan’s religious poems are amazing as works of art ( try to ignore the piety )
I pretty much ignore 18th century , then Keats , Browning , Swinburne , Hardy , Housman , Arthur Symonds , Kipling too

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
27 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

I’m in partial agreement–character and behavior matter and at the extremes become a legitimate part of the legacy–though having read some of his better work before I knew how grotesque Byron could be means he is sort of (great-great-great) “grandfathered in” for me.
When you say you’ve adopted the “opposite opinion” I don’t guess you now rank artist’s solely by their qualities as a person, as in: “her voice is tuneless and shrill but she was such a good mother and citizen, so I’m a big fan” or “this book is a masterwork and I wish I could praise it–but he was a deadbeat dad and voted for the wrong candidates.”

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones
27 days ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Well no, as my original opinion wasn’t informed exclusively by artistic quality, the opposite view wouldn’t be based exclusively on the personal integrity of the artistic. I just value artistic brilliance less than I used to because I think that writing a great poem is less important than being a good human being.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
27 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

One’s judgement of a “good human being” is very much subjective.
But most people possess common decency, hence the term.
Few of us write or create something like Byron – or Hemingway, or Wilde, or Picasso, or Stravinski. Cheever. Bukowski, of course. Edward Westin, John Lennon, David Bowie.
Would anyone say they all treated women well, were loving and dependable fathers, and were upstanding citizens?
No. But they created works of great beauty and meaning.
Good men are fairly commonplace, and thank heavens for that. Great men are rarely good, but are very uncommon, and we benefit from their greatness, if not their rectitude.

Arthur G
Arthur G
27 days ago

Wilde, I’ll give you, but pick some better examples. Does anyone read Hemingway anymore? I was bored to tears by him in HS. And Picasso is dreck. I you gave me a Picasso and I couldn’t sell it, and my choices were to hang it in my living room or burn it, I’d make a nice fire.
Modern art was about the only thing the Nazis were right about. The world would be a much more beautiful place if 95% of it didn’t exist.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
26 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

And, to hear them tell it, 95% of the people–whom they get to choose and eliminate. I guess your negationist cultural tendencies overlap with the Bolsheviks here too.
Plenty of people still read Hemingway, far fewer Byron. You seem to think that anyone you don’t read or like has been proven worthless or mediocre.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
27 days ago

Very well stated; better than I did in trying to make a similar point below, before noticing your reply. That’s a challenging list of “complicated”, uncommon artists.

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones
27 days ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

What’s challenging about it, and what is an uncommon artist?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
26 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

For example: The moral shortcomings or personality flaws of two of the specific artists present a major life vs. work challenge to the present-day reader, for me anyway: Hemingway was a womanizing drunk with an oversized machismo who killed himself–but not reducible to that; Wilde groomed teenage boys for his dalliances (paying dearly for it in the end) and was ludicrously amoral and effete–but not only, as evidenced by The Ballad of Reading Gaol. I don’t dismiss the character and behavior of these enduring authors, but it doesn’t seem to erase their literary accomplishments. Nor do I regard them as pure villains in the human sense. And who I am to judge once I (try to) put aside my opinions, assumptions, and unearned gavel?
I meant “uncommon” in the sense of being influential and widely read and admired 60 and 120 years after their respective deaths. With no imminent danger of falling out of print.
I agree with your “child rapist on the wall” point below, and would estimate that I’m not far off from your overall point of view, though we emphasize different sides of the equation, and have different lists of who was just too far beyond certain limits. I wouldn’t have a statue of Byron on my desk, but I will read some of his work. I can understand why some would say: “Forget it, he wasn’t that good”.

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones
27 days ago

Goodness is nuanced and often context dependent, but it’s not as subjective as you are implying. We all have a solid biblical framework to draw on which can be referred to any time, and a legal framework built on top of that.
As for Byron, shagging little boys and close relations is not good. There is no subjectivity to worry about regarding it.
As for the thesis “great people are always bad people” or “to create great things one must behave awfully” – one could easily make a list of prominent people who behaved well in their lives. It is also perfectly reasonable that the degree to which a person behaves should influence how receptive we are to their work. I’m sure if I brought you an excellent painting by the child rapist and cannibal Albert Fish, you wouldn’t want it on your wall.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
26 days ago

I think Bukowski’s crap.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
27 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

I fully agree with that. But those of us who have a moral breaking point (for me: Ezra Pound, De Sade, and the German art-school dropout dictator are among the pretty-much “cancelled”) may do rough case-by-case assessments of how good the work is and how bad the person behind it seems to be.
I think that creating great art can be one part of the “balanced breakfast” of being a good and useful person, and of making a meaningful–if not blameless or saintly– impact on the world.

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
27 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

It’s hard to ignore ‘The Wasteland’ and the implications that all modern poetry is anti semitic by definition.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
26 days ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

I’m philosemitic, and still consider the Wasteland great poetry, despite having written a full-length parody
https://rcraven.substack.com/p/the-wastemen

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
27 days ago

Admittedly removed from his political motives by time and clime, I’d say more of Byron’s redeeming notes were poetical than revolutionary. In fact, his fondness for Greek and Italian causes was inspired in large part by his love of the Bardic and Lyrical tradition, as seen from his idealistic but sincere point of view. His intellect and lyrical gift were rare and real, joined to a passionate heart that was not very good or kind. As a personality he’s a good bit like John Wilmot, 2nd Earl or Rochester (1647-1680)–but with much more talent.
Just to include something strictly factual in my comment, Byron (1788-1824) died at 36, not 37.
Please enjoy four stanzas of Childe Harold if so inclined:

LX.
O thou, Parnassus! whom I now survey,
Not in the frenzy of a dreamer’s eye,
Not in the fabled landscape of a lay,
But soaring snow-clad through thy native sky,
In the wild pomp of mountain majesty!
What marvel if I thus essay to sing?
The humblest of thy pilgrims passing by
Would gladly woo thine echoes with his string,
Though from thy heights no more one muse will wave her wing.

LXI.
Oft have I dreamed of thee! whose glorious name
Who knows not, knows not man’s divinest lore:
And now I view thee, ’tis, alas, with shame
That I in feeblest accents must adore.
When I recount thy worshippers of yore
I tremble, and can only bend the knee;
Nor raise my voice, nor vainly dare to soar,
But gaze beneath thy cloudy canopy
In silent joy to think at last I look on thee!

LXII.
Happier in this than mightiest bards have been,
Whose fate to distant homes confined their lot,
Shall I unmoved behold the hallowed scene,
Which others rave of, though they know it not?
Though here no more Apollo haunts his grot,
And thou, the Muses’ seat, art now their grave,
Some gentle spirit still pervades the spot,
Sighs in the gale, keeps silence in the cave,
And glides with glassy foot o’er yon melodious wave.

LXIII.
Of thee hereafter.—Even amidst my strain
I turned aside to pay my homage here;
Forgot the land, the sons, the maids of Spain;
Her fate, to every free-born bosom dear;
And hailed thee, not perchance without a tear.
Now to my theme—but from thy holy haunt
Let me some remnant, some memorial bear;
Yield me one leaf of Daphne’s deathless plant,
Nor let thy votary’s hope be deemed an idle vaunt.

LXIV.
But ne’er didst thou, fair mount, when Greece was young,
See round thy giant base a brighter choir;
Nor e’er did Delphi, when her priestess sung
The Pythian hymn with more than mortal fire,
Behold a train more fitting to inspire
The song of love than Andalusia’s maids,
Nurst in the glowing lap of soft desire:
Ah! that to these were given such peaceful shades
As Greece can still bestow, though Glory fly her glades.

* I like this practice of marking the “death anniversary” of notable writers, as UnHerd also did with John Stuart Mill’s dead-for-150th.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
27 days ago

I have little time for Eagleton as most of his writings are rather poor and biased. I was, however, enjoying this up until the prune started ranting about BJ. I have little time for Boris but he needs to get a grip. Let down once again by his hatred.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
27 days ago

Terry as professor of literature, excellent, although Johnson’s essentially middle-class peccadilloes seem pale in comparison to those of a real aristocrat.

John Hilton-O’Brien
John Hilton-O’Brien
27 days ago

Like Byron, the author mistakes a personal proclivity for something relevant. Lots of us readers are from Canada. We don’t care much about *Trump,* let alone Johnson. In fact, we have forgotten everything about Johnson aside from the fact that he was briefly PM – and that will be forgotten next year. He isn’t relevant or even vaguely interesting.

Eagleton might as well be throwing out an in-joke about a local pub in Midldesex. He thinks he’s shocking us, but the reason we are irked is that it is simply banal..

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
27 days ago

It seems human nature that one of extremes tends to treat those very close poorly and those very far very well or vice versa but never both groups the same… I know which sort I prefer…

Paul
Paul
27 days ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

“He loved humanity but couldn’t stand people” always makes me laugh.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
24 days ago

I don’t associate Byron with Oscar Wilde or Boris Johnson. He seems more like an English version of the Marquis de Sade.