John Keats: Mr. Darcy

“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.

“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

One of a surfeit of sequels, I daresay.

One of a surfeit of sequels, I daresay.

A surfeit of anything, be it lampreys or love, can be a bad thing.

This notion was well-known to Austen heroines like darling Lizzie and beloved Anne. Indeed, during the Regency, the rise of Romanticism in art was viewed with some alarm because it unleashed longing, passionate love. If it could be confined to the landscape of nature and politics, then all should be well.

And then along came Keats.

Despised “above all” by Byron, John Keats (1795 – 1821) remains the most enduring poet to inform us on Regency love. And, as Mr. Darcy pointed out in that discerning way of his, poetry is so necessary to love that the latter could not exist without it.

Keats felt the same way.

Long before he was known for his love poetry, his friends knew him as a man of love. Keats was, they said, a loveable as opposed to an amiable man. The painter Joseph Severn said “there was a strong bias of the beautiful side of humanity in every thing he did.”

However, Keats struggled to translate his sympathy for all things loving onto paper. When he managed to produce something, his work was subject to vicious criticism. Some said his verse was the vulgar product of a “Cockney poetaster,” that his writings shall have “our very footmen composing tragedies” and turn the heads of “farm-servants and unmarried ladies.”

He corresponded with Wordsworth and lived with Leigh Hunt, but the way these men wrote poetry seemed particularly unsuited to Keats’ desire for expression. His inspiration was Shakespeare, whose Twelfth Night mentioned death caused by a surfeit of music.  Like the Bard, Keats needed to explore love in its full expression, with all its “World of Pains.”

And then along came Fanny Brawne:

To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
Bright Star by John Keats
Bright Star

The passionate Bright Star, considered to be his love verse to Fanny, burst forth like a comet, the glorious Hyperion and Ode to a Grecian Urn in its blazing wake. These works have risen above all other poems of the Regency and indeed, higher than any other, of the nineteenth century.

Keats died young, suffering from the great love he bore his bright muse. His poetry is still the food of love today, and is one of Regency love’s greatest legacies.

Advertisements

Regency Poetry: Nuances of Sensibility

Speaking of Downton Abbey, Violet’s character is so very rich, is it not? Her remarks are cleverly acid and yet illuminating as well. Certainly we know what her ladyship thinks of Byron. We probably can guess what she thinks of Regency poetry in general, with its idealism and “sensibility:”

Edith: “..am I to be the maiden aunt? Isn’t this what they do? Arrange presents for their prettier relations?”

The Dowager Countess: “Don’t be defeatist, dear, it’s terribly middle-class.”

No pining about and no nonsense.

"Oh, Anne."

“Oh, Anne.”

I like to speculate what poets my favorite Regency-set characters favor. As dear Anne from Austen’s Persuasion famously says, “We are living through a great age for poetry, I think.” In the next few posts, this blog will consider some characters from Regency fiction and what poets they might find appealing.

Which of the following would Heyer’s Kitty Charing like?

“..Shelley’s ‘silver music,’ Coleridge’s ‘wings of healing,’ Wordsworth’s ‘wild unpeopled hills’ and above all..Keats.”

from  Byron in Love: A Short Daring Life by Edna O’Brien

Hang on–wasn’t it Anne who advised caution against too much poetry? Her companion, Captain Benwick, was:

“..intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet (Walter Scott), and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other [Lord Byron]; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read poetry.”

Persuasion by Jane Austen (as presented by Janet Aikens Yount in Eighteenth Century Life, Winter 2010)

It must be recalled, however, that Anne Elliot is a masterfully drawn character. She is so nuanced in her beloved, practical way that it is a beautiful serendipity to find in her a great capacity for the “sensibility” vital to Romantic poetry. That capacity was hidden, in a:

“..heart large and expansive, this seat of deep, kind, honest and benevolent feelings–a bosom capacious of universal love, but through which there flowed a deeper stream…” — The Retrospective Review, Vol. 7 Part 1 (1823)

Still waters run deep, as they say.

The Real Regency Vampire

At the dawn of the Regency, vampires had little to show for themselves in literature. What had been written of them was neither compelling nor seductive. There was the bat that had attacked the king in Sir Burges’ poem Richard the First (1801). The slave dealer in Montgomery’s 1807 The West Indies was a “bloated vampire of a living man.” In 1810, His Grace the Duke of Norfolk found himself the embarrassed object of an obscure poem’s dedication about a goblin entitled The Vampire. Miss Aiken, in her 1811 Epistles on Women, decried those polluting “vampire forms.”

Then came The Vampyre in 1819. Critics promptly gave it the kiss of death:

Villa Diodati - watering hole of the junta

Villa Diodati – where the junta rusticated

“a flat and feeble tale of supernatural horrors.” Edinburgh Monthly Review

“one (and we are happy to believe the last) of that travelling junta of our country-folk..” Antheneum

That “travelling junta” would be Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, who spent part of 1816, that “year without a summer” in a scandalous interlude at a Swiss villa. To be part of a junta was not what bothered Byron. It was the fact that the “vampyre” was neither a bat nor parasitic slave trader, but a suave English aristocrat.  Not unlike himself:

“A bustling inhabitant of the world..restless and erratic..subject to pecuniary embarrassments.” — Monthly Review, 1919

Pecuniary embarrassments aside, the fact the creature had been christened Ruthven left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to its identity. This was entirely due to the efforts of Lady Caroline Lamb a few years before in 1816’s Glenarvon. Her character was also named Ruthven, but everyone knew him as Byron–the villain who had so cruelly abandoned her.

To add insult to injury, the publisher had the effrontery of passing off The Vampyre as Byron’s own work.

The devil!

The notion was not so farfetched to the average Regency reader. It must be remembered that Byron had written of vampires before. His Giaour (1813) featured an infidel who indulged in an illicit affair with a pasha’s harem girl. She had been tossed into the sea to die whereupon the giaour killed the pasha. Byron’s narrator predicted the giaour would eventually suffer the fate of the vampire, rise from the dead and suck the blood of his loved ones, to his everlasting torment.

Perhaps Byron might not have added the following footnote to Giaour if he knew one day he might be made into a vampire himself:

“The Vampire superstition is still general in the Levant…I recollect a whole family being terrified by the scream of a child, which they imagined must proceed from such a visitation. The Greeks never mention the word without horror. The freshness of the face, and the wetness of the lip with blood, are the never-failing signs of a Vampire. The stories told in Hungary and Greece of those foul feeders are singular, and some of them most incredibly attested.”

This picture of the modern vampiric nobleman is provided courtesy of Find a Grave

This picture of the modern vampiric nobleman is provided courtesy of:               Find a Grave

Amid a flurry of protestations and recriminations over the vile Vampyre and his story, it was eventually revealed that one Dr. John Polidori was the true author, whom “we cannot imagine what mental disease could induce Lord Byron to endure for a moment.” The good doctor was in attendance during the interlude at the Villa Didorati (the lodging of the aforementioned junta). There he had served in the capacity of Byron’s own personal sawbones before they parted in ways less than amicable.

Dr. Polidori was astonished at the vindictive hurled in his direction, which went something like this:

“The publication of that vile abortion, ‘The Vampyre‘ under the name of the greatest of living geniuses, was a wrong… which will not be easy for the perpetrator to expiate.”

He hastily insisted that the work was never meant to see the light of day, that he had placed the manuscript into the care of an unnamed lady, who later gave it to an unscrupulous publisher, who unleashed it upon an unsuspected Public wholly and wantonly without permission.

Amid the flurry of these protestations and recriminations, the aforementioned Public devoured the work, giving it an astounding success.

It was the birth of a new subgenre within the Gothic novel.

The Real Regency Hoyden: What does she look like?

“I have been in love a great many times,” said Byron, “but I always had a low opinion of women.”

Raphael's Portrait of a Young Woman

Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Woman

This remark from such a man as Byron startled me, and I could not avoid expressing my surprise, adding, “that such a declaration would not be believed by his fair readers.”

But he persisted in the assertion and asked me if I thought Raphael had a very exalted notion of the sex, because he painted so many graceful and engaging female figures.

“As proof of his actual taste and discernment in female matters,” added Byron, “look at his Fornarina, the idol of his affections, a strapping country hoyden–as fat. coarse and unsentimental in looks as one could desire.”

Conversations of an American with Lord Byron, Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art, Vol. 27 (1835)

Raphael’s “Young Woman” is, according to tradition, the Roman Margherita Luti, the painter’s mistress and a bakeress. I’ll grant you the headdress does not typically call to mind such an occupation but a hoyden?

It is revealing that it is not her nakedness or apparent lack of modesty Byron finds objectionable. He disdains her size (strapping) and rustic attributes. She is unrefined and even running to fat.

Curious that he leaves the term “unsentimental” for the last of his condemnation. This is the worst of anything he can say about her. She is obviously a hoyden and therefore lacking in sentiment. Or is it that she looks unsentimental and is therefore a hoyden?

Byron was a romantic. His literary works held sway during the Regency and influenced taste toward “intuition and emotion.” This was partly a reaction against the past which valued the rational and the objective (the boring).

In a glance, Byron could perceive in the rustic a hoyden nature which had no appreciation for the fine arts and social graces. Recall his low opinion of women. Perhaps none of them could achieve his artist’s exquisite perception of what is good. He compares himself to Raphael in this instance.

Byron wasn’t personally acquainted with La Fornarina. For all he knew, she might have been able to translate Latin to her native Italian. But since she was a hoyden, in either appearance or sentiment, she was worthy of low opinion.

Never mind that she could bake a cake.

Raphael's sarcophagus: they say he died from excessive sex with Luti

Raphael’s sarcophagus: they say he died from excessive sex with Luti

Monk Lewis: “thy skull discern a deeper hell”

Many readers of Regency-era literature recognize the name “Monk” Lewis.

But who the devil was the fellow?

Monk Lewis

Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775 – 1818) was the son of a wealthy Jamaican planter. His mother ran off with the music teacher when her son was six. He later supported her financially and socially, and then she became lady-in-waiting to the Princess of Wales.

His success was almost entirely dependent on his classic tale of The Monk. This was the Gothic poem of a holy man’s descent into depraved evil.

She sealed his lips with a wanton kiss;

‘Though I forgive your breaking your vows to heaven,

I expect you to keep your vows to me.’

It was an astonishing success, all the more so because the author was not of age. The first edition was followed by a second and third. The most objectionable passages were edited out for having caused much grief to his family. Someone said of Lewis, and perhaps others:

“Twenty is not the age at which prudence is most to be expected.”

He never married. When he came into his fortune, the aristocrats who had previously welcomed him into their salons–the Hollands, Lansdowne and others–now despised him. Lewis pouted at first, reading during dinner and criticizing the company to be had at Oatlands.

Oh! Wonder-working Lewis! Monk, or Bard

Who’d fain would make Parnassus a church-yard

Lo, the wreaths of yew, not laurel, wreath thy brow

Thy Muse a Sprite! Apollo’s sexton, Thou!

—-Byron in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers

Even his fellow poets attacked him, and over one work alone. What was it about The Monk that attracted such great vitriol?

The Monk

The work was a morality plot, normally despised by the young, but delivered so cleverly that even Austen’s Northanger Abbey was bound to mention it as the best thing since Tom Jones. All harkened to it like a Pied Piper with its horrific plot and violent supernaturalism. Rape, live burial, grisly murder and the downfall of the once-sanctified and now defiled.  These lurid themes became interwoven in a new genre–the Gothic tale.

It was all Lewis was ever known for. But it was enough.

“The Hostess from Hell” – Holland House Part Two

Elizabeth Fox, Baroness Holland, was the daughter of a Jamaican planter.  Married off to Lord Webster, a man twenty years her senior, she gave birth to three children before falling in love with another man, bearing him a child out-of-wedlock.  Not two days divorced, she married her lover Lord Holland.

Lady Holland with her son – Louis Gauffier

The ton could not forget her scandalous past and so declined to receive her.  No matter, Lord and Lady Holland did their own receiving, hosting the most influential men of the day at Holland House.  The few women who came were fellow Whigs, the Duchess of Devonshire and that fashionable marchioness from Berkeley Square, Lady Lansdowne.

Baroness Holland was the complete opposite of her husband.  She was gruff where he was affable, imperious when he would give way.  Long, boring discourse was not tolerated at her table–her ladyship was known to dispatch her footman to admonish the offending guest.

Thomas Moore, which this blog christened Regency Poet of Wine and Love, once said, “poets inclined to a plethora of vanity would find a dose of Lady Holland now and then very good for their complaint.”

“I’m sorry you are going to publish a poem,” she said to Lord Portchester.  “Can’t you suppress it?”

And to the great English poet, Samuel Rogers, she advised, “You’re poetry is bad enough, so pray be sparing about your prose.”

Lady Holland reminds me of the Gosford Park character Constance, Countess of Trentham.  There is something sinfully joyous about her acidic observations.  This one she offers to the American film and radio star Ivor Novello:

LadyTrentham: It must be hard to know when it’s time to throw in the towel… What a pity about that last one of yours… what was it called? “The Dodger”? Novello:   The Lodger. LadyTrentham:   The Lodger. It must be so disappointing when something just flops like that.

Lady Holland lived to the age of seventy-four.  When tentatively shown Byron’s memoirs, which were none too complimentary of his hostess at Holland House, she shrugged.

“Such things give me no uneasiness; I know perfectly my station in the world, and I know all that can be said of me.  As long as the few friends I am really sure of speak kindly of me, all that the rest of the world can say is a matter of complete indifference to me.”

A Bastard in Lansdowne House

Henry Luttrell (1765 – 1851) was the illegitimate son of the earl of Carhampton.  As if that were not bad enough, he had little funds and showed even less promise as an Irish politician.  But in Lansdowne House “he set the table at a roar” and became the “great London wit,” as Sir Walter Scott dubbed him, of the Regency.

Sketch by Count d'Orsay, French amateur artist and dandy

“I know of no more agreeable member of society than Mr. Luttrell.  His conversation, like a limpid stream, flows smoothly and brightly along, revealing the depths beneath the surface, now sparkling over the object it discloses or reflecting those by which it glides.  He never talks for talk’s sake.  The conversation of Mr. Luttrell makes me think, while that of many others only amuses me.”  — Lady Blessington

“Full of well-bred facetiousness and a sparkle of the first water.”  — Tom Moore

“He delighted in society and was the delight of it.”  —  R. R. Madden

“The best sayer of good things, and the most epigrammatic conversationist I ever met.” — Byron

His poetry was equally admired.  His Advice to Julia (1820) was more than just “Letters of a Dandy to a Dolly,” this poem made him a “wit among lords and a lord among wits.”  It also contained some rather good advice to a young lady and how she should treat her lover, couched in a popular discourse on fashionable society during the Regency.   In one amusing anecdote, Luttrell tells of a hopeful applicant to Almack’s.  Evidently the young lady, “a stranger to London” sent her portrait to the Patronesses, along with a letter requesting a subscription.

“But Beauty itself is seldom current in high life without the stamp of Fashion; and the device, though ingenious, was not successful.”

Sadly, no one remembers Luttrell, unless one comes across his name, which one frequently does, in the memoirs of Byron, the diaries of Moore and echoed in the halls of Lansdowne House.