Jerome J. McGann
Byron wrote about himself, we all know, just as we all know that his books, like God's human creatures, are all made in his image and likeness. This quality of his work is apparent from the very beginning. His first book, Fugitive Pieces, was privately printed in 1806 for an audience of friends and acquaintances who were privy to its local references and biographical connectionsmany of which were connections with themselves. Hours of Idleness, his first published work, appeared the following year, and it sought to extend the range of Byron's intimacies to a somewhat larger book purchasing audience. In Hours of Idleness Byron projected himself before his English audience as a recognizable figure whom, he trusted, they would be happy to take to their breasts. In Hours of Idleness the English world at large met, for the first time, not the Man but the Lord of Feeling, a carefully constructed self-image that was fashioned to launch him on his public career. This was not conceived, at the time, as a literary career.' 1
Byron succeeded in his effort, though not precisely as he had expected. Certain hostile reviews--most notoriously, Brougham's in the highly visible and influential Edinburgh Review--interrupted Byron's initial, unruffled expectations. Had he reflected more critically on the hostile reception that Fugitive Pieces had provoked in certain narrow quarters of its local (Southwell) society, he might have anticipated some trouble for his next book. 2 But he did not, apparently, and seems only to have realized later that he was destined to be both the darling and the demon of his age.
The attack on Hours of Idleness was another opportunity for Byron to produce yet a third Book of Himself: this time, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, the fiery counter-attack on his persecutors and the culture that supported such beings. 3 If it is true that Byron was "born for opposition," this book revealed that fact, for the first time unmistakably.
And so it went on. In 1809 Byron left benighted England to chew over the high rhetoric of his last book, and he plunged into Europe and the Levant, where his next productions began to accumulate their materials in the much larger context of European affairs. He wrote a continuation, or