Byron and Romanticism

Byron and Romanticism

Byron and Romanticism

Byron and Romanticism


This collection of essays represents twenty-five years of work by a leading critic of Romanticism in general and Byron in particular. It demonstrates McGann's evolution as a scholar, editor, critic, theorist, and historian, and his engagement with the main schools of literary criticism since the advent of structuralism in the 1960s. Many of these essays have previously been available only in specialist scholarly journals. Now for the first time McGann's important and influential work on Byron can be appreciated by new generations of students and scholars.


I am too happy in being coupled in any way with Milton, and shall be glad if they find any points of comparison between him and me.

Byron to Thomas Medwin

WHEN we think of Milton's influence upon English Romanticism the poets who first come to mind are Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, and perhaps Shelley. As for Byron, Milton rightly seems an altogether less dominating forebear since we remember only too well his distaste for blank verse, even Milton's blank verse:

Blank verse, … [except] in the drama, no one except Milton ever wrote who could rhyme … I am aware that Johnson has said, after some hesitation, that he could not “prevail upon himself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer” …; but, with all humility, I am not persuaded that the Paradise Lost would not have been more nobly conveyed to posterity … in the Stanza of Spenser or of Tasso, or in the terza rima of Dante, which the powers of Milton could easily have grafted on our language.

Byron had a number of other criticisms of Milton's poetic crafts/ manship, so one is not surprised that Milton did not haunt his work. Nevertheless, Milton's importance for Byron, both in his art and his life, was by no means insignificant.

To speak of Milton's influence upon Byron is, I believe, immediately to close the discussion under two principal headings. The first of these is well known and has to do with Byron's Satanism and the poetic tradition of the criminal hero. Though fairly and frequently treated, the matter has still to be properly elucidated, and the first part of this essay will deal with certain areas of the subject which have not been explained. The second way in which Milton was an important influence upon Byron involves Byron's interpretation and imaginative use of Milton's life. This aspect of Milton's influence did not appear until Byron exiled himself from England in 1816. At this time he began to elaborate an autobiographical . . .

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