Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fortnightly Book, October 30

When George Gordon, Lord Byron, headed out on the Grand Tour in 1809, he was a bit of a poetic dabbler, known here and there but not much more. He left on his trip in part to avoid creditors and in part to avoid former lovers, and due to the Napoleonic Wars, he took a more southern route than usual, through Portugal and the Mediterranean areas. While on tour, he continued to dabble, both in poetry and in dissolute behavior, and part of his poetic dabbling was a work about a candidate for knighthood traveling Europe in the pursuit of -- well, something he knew not what. He doesn't seem to have had a high opinion of this bit of dabbling, but on return to England in 1811, some of his friends insisted it was worth publishing, so he published the first two cantos. And to his surprise, it was astoundingly successful. As he later put it, because of it he woke up one morning and was famous. From that moment on he was widely regarded as one of the brilliant lights of Romantic poetry, and he followed up by finishing the work that made him famous and going on to other things of renown -- and other lovers, and other credit troubles.

The work that made Byron famous was Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a poetic expression of the perpetual search for something more that nonetheless seems, equally perpetually, out of reach. And it is, of course, the next fortnightly book.

Childe harold
(J. M. W. Turner's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage)

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