Byron’s “Cowardly Self-conceit”

When Dante Alighieri or William Shakespeare, when John Milton or when Victor Hugo may be pleased to speak as one not unconscious of his own greatness, such consciousness will be confounded with vanity by no man who does not bear as a birth-mark the sign of the tribe of Zoilus: it would show a certain degree of weakness and incompetence, if the greatest among men and writers should alone be doomed to share the incapacity of their meanest assailants to perceive or to acknowledge that they are not less than great. Far different from the high and haughty equity of such men's self-knowledge and self-reverence is the malevolent and cowardly self-conceit of a Byron, ever shuffling and swaggering and cringing and backbiting in a breath. The most remarkable point in his pretentious and restless egotism is that a man capable of writing such bad verse should ever have been capable of seeing, even in part, how very-bad it was; how very hollow were its claims; how very-ignorant, impudent, and foolish, was the rabble rout of its adorers. [71-72]

Byron’s Political Opinions a Major Cause of His Popularity

On the day when it shall become accepted as a canon of criticism that the political work and the political opinions of a poet are to weigh nothing in the balance which suspends his reputation — on that day the best part of the fame of Byron will fly up and vanish into air. Setting aside mere instances of passionately cynical burlesque, and perhaps one or two exceptional examples of apparently sincere though vehemently demonstrative personal feeling, we find little really living or really praiseworthy work of Byron's which has not in it some direct or indirect touch of political emotion. [75]

Byron’s “blundering, floundering, lumbering and stumbling stanzas”

On taking up a fairly good version of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in French or Italian prose, a reader whose eyes and ears are not hopelessly sealed against all distinction of good from bad in rhythm or in style will infallibly be struck by the vast improvement which the text has undergone in the course of translation. The blundering, floundering, lumbering and stumbling stanzas, transmuted into prose and transfigured into grammar, reveal the real and latent force of rhetorical energy that is in them : the gasping, ranting, wheezing, broken-winded verse has been transformed into really effective and fluent oratory. . . . Childe Harold gains by being done out of wretchedly bad metre into decently good prose : the New Testament did not gain more by being translated out of canine Greek into divine English. Not that even under these improved conditions Byron's is comparable to the work of a first-rate orator or preacher ; but one may perceive how men to whom English poetry was a strange tongue might mistake it for an impressive and effective example of English poetry. [76]


Swinburne, Algernon Charles. “Wordsworth and Byron.” Miscellanies. London: Chatto & Windus, 1886. 63-156. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of Toronto Library, Web. 5 April 2020.

Last modified 7 April 2020