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English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), Byron’s vicious early satire on the contemporary literary scene, started life as ‘British Bards’, a shorter piece of about 500 lines focussed predominantly on ‘the poetry of the present Day’.1 When Byron first tried to publish it in December 1807 his bookseller refused, on the grounds that it contained ‘if not gunpowder, at least half a dozen libels’.2 As a would-be satiric debut, ‘British Bards’ was certainly combustible and very confident. But a large part of its assurance came from the authority of the company it joined. In its approach and in some of the particulars of its critique, it sought to continue the work of a number of recent heroic couplet satires on literary subjects: Richard Mant’s The Simpliciad (1808), Lady Anne Hamilton’s Epics of the Ton (1807), and – in the previous century – William Gifford’s influential Baviad (1791) and Maeviad (1795) and T. J. Mathias’s Pursuits of Literature (1794–97). Each of these satires attacks a group of upstart poets who are trying to do something new: in Mant, Hamilton and Byron’s cases, the Lake Poets and various minor poets associated with their group; in Gifford’s poem a decade earlier, the Della Cruscan poets grouped around Robert Merry, Hannah Cowley and Mary Robinson; and in Mathias’s case, the Della Cruscans in company with almost anyone else who dared to lift a pen. Each satirist shoulders the responsibility of protecting and speaking for the established neoclassical tradition they see themselves as belonging to, and which they believe to be under siege.
Early in Canto IV of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, written when Byron’s wanderings had led him at last to a more settled residence in Italy, he balances all that he has acquired in exile with a new wistfulness about England
For Byron, poetic achievement was always relative. Writing meant dwelling in an echo chamber of other voices that enriched and contextualised what he had to say. He believed that literary traditions mattered and regarded poetic form as something embedded in historical moments and places. His poetry, as this volume demonstrates, engaged richly and experimentally with English influences and in turn licenced experimentation in multiple strands of post-Romantic English verse. In Byron Among the English Poets he is seen as a poet's poet, a writer whose verse has served as both echo of and prompt for a host of other voices. Here, leading international scholars consider both the contours of individual literary relationships and broader questions regarding the workings of intertextuality, exploring the many ways Byron might be thought to be 'among' the poets: alluding and alluded to; collaborative; competitive; parodied; worked and reworked in imitations, critiques, tributes, travesties and biographies.
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