April 4 1812: Sir Walter Scott on Lord Byron

On April 4, 1812, Sir Walter Scott wrote to Joanna Baillie a letter which included comments on Lord Byron's poem Childe Harold. Scott and Byron were very different but had in common the fact that they were among the first "celebrity" writers each achieving international fame —  and both had pronounced limps, Byron from his club foot and Scott from childhood polio. Extracts from Scott's letter of April 4 1812, are reproduced below:
Have you seen the Pilgrimage of Childe Harold, by Lord Byron? It is, I think, a very clever poem, but gives no good symptom of the writer's heart or morals. His hero, notwithstanding the affected antiquity of the style in some parts, is a modern man of fashion and fortune, worn out and satiated with the pursuits of dissipation, and although there is a caution against it in the preface, you cannot for your soul avoid concluding that the author, as he gives an account of his own travels, is also doing so in his own character. 
Now really this is too bad; vice ought to be a little more modest, and it must require impudence at least equal to the noble Lord's other powers, to claim sympathy gravely for the ennui arising from his being tired of his wassailers and his paramours. There is a monstrous deal of conceit in it too, for it is informing the inferior part of the world that their little old fashioned scruples of limitation are not worthy of his regard, while his fortune and possessions are such as have put all sorts of gratification too much in his power to afford him any pleasure. Yet with all this conceit and assurance, there is much poetical merit in the book and I wish you would read it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment