Byron in America
It is great to know experts to ask about some of these bizarre topics I’m exploring. It never fails that every question I come up with hasn’t been directly addressed, and because of that, would be a great thesis topic. Dr. Yoder e-mailed Dr. Ghislaine McDayter, a Byronist that I met a couple of years ago, regarding my question about Byron’s reception in America. I got a couple of great clues from her. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Lady Byron Vindicated: A History of the Byron Controversy, from its Beginning in 1816 to the Present Time in 1870— how’s that for an on-topic lead? The best news is that our library has it on microfiche. She also recommended a historical critical survey work, and told me that Byron mentioned his American fans occasionally in his letters.
On my own, I found a rather interesting thread in Emerson’s journals from 1841-1843. He uses Byron as a bad example in one spot (not to mention noting that he just “didn’t get” Shelley), but Emerson also mentions that his favorite teacher from Harvard, Edward Everett, used to quote both Milton and Byron, though he quoted Milton more frequently. I hadn’t heard of Everett before, but he’s certainly a prominent American of the early 19th century. It turns out he was the featured speaker at Gettysburg, not Lincoln. Another of those big guys who has been marginalized in standard histories. I tracked down Everett’s speech. It’s pretty good— though no match for Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Emerson’s deprecating remarks are in the context of a rant against Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Vivian Grey:
The young men are the readers & victims of Vivian Grey. Byron ruled for a time Vivian rules longer. They would quiz their father & mother [,] lover & friend. They discuss sun & moon, liberty & fate, love & death, and ask you to eat baked fish. They never sleep, go nowhere, stay nowhere, eat nothing, & and know nobody: but are up for anything, Festus-like, Faust-like, Jove-like, and could write an Iliad any rainy morning, if Fame were not such a bore.
Men & women [,] the greatest or fairest [,] are stupid things, but a rifle and a pleasant gunpowder [,] a spaniel and a cigar are themes for kings. (192)
It’s safe to say that Emerson wasn’t into the Byronic hero, but I haven’t a clue about the baked fish thing.