The Blues – Lord Byron

Apologies for any formatting issues; the long lines, many broken over several rows, cause certain problems. I have added line numbers in an attempt to make it easier to follow. The poem rhymes in couplets.

from The Blues: A Literary Eclogue

London – Before the Door of a Lecture Room
[Enter Tracy, meeting Inkel.]

Tra:              What, won’t you return to the lecture? (40)
Ink: Why, the place is so cramm’d, there’s not room for a spectre.
        Besides, our friend Scamp is to-day so absurd—
Tra: How can you know that till you hear him?
Ink:                                                                     I heard
        Quite enough; and, to tell you the truth, my retreat
        Was from his vile nonsense, no less than the heat. (45)
Tra: I have had no great loss then?
Ink:                                                 Loss! – such a palaver!
        I’d inoculate sooner my wife with the slaver
        Of a dog when gone rabid, than listen two hours
        To the torrent of trash which around him he pours,
        Pump’d up with such effort, disgorged with such labour, (50)
        That— come – do not make me speak ill of one’s neighbour.
Tra: I make you!
Ink:                   Yes, you! I said nothing until
        You compell’d me, by speaking the truth—
Tra:                                                                 To speak ill?
        Is that your deduction?
Ink:                                  When speaking of Scamp ill,
        I certainly follow, not set an example. (55)
        The fellow’s a fool, an impostor, a zany.
Tra: And the crowd of to-day shows that one fool makes many.
        But we two will be wise.
Ink:                             Pray, then, let us retire.
Tra: I would, but—
Ink:                   There must be attraction much higher
        Than Scamp, or the Jews’ harp he nicknames his lyre, (60)
        To call you to this hotbed.
Tra:                                       I own it – ’tis true –
        A fair lady—
Ink:                   A spinster?
Tra:                                       Miss Lilac!
Ink:                                                           The Blue!
        The heiress?
Tra:                   The angel!
Ink:                                       The devil! why, man,
        Pray get out of this hobble as fast as you can.
        You wed with Miss Lilac! ‘twould be your perdition: (65)
        She’s a poet, a chymist, a mathematician.
Tra: I say she’s an angel!
Ink:                              Say rather an angle.
        If you and she marry, you’ll certainly wrangle.
        I say she’s a Blue, man, as blue as the ether.
Tra: And is that any cause for not coming together? (70)
Ink: Humph! I can’t say I know any happy alliance
        Which has lately sprung up from a wedlock with science.
        She’s so learned in all things, and fond of concerning
        Herself in all matters connected with learning,
        That—
Tra:         What?
Ink:                   I perhaps may as well hold my tongue; (75)
        But there’s five hundred people can tell you you’re wrong.

– Lord Byron

George Gordon, Lord Byron, 1788–1824; The Blues, written 1821.

If I’m forced to name my favourite poet, I normally say Byron, but this embarrassing piece doesn’t add to that opinion.

The Romantics lived at a time of enormous social, political and cultural upheaval. Among other influences such as the on-going fallout of the French revolution, the gathering pace of scientific advancement was flooding society with new knowledge and ideas. The Romantic poets reacted to this in very different ways. Blake and Keats saw science destroying the magical wonder of the universe and industry ruining the landscape. Wordsworth had a mixed response, Coleridge fancied himself as a scientist, and Shelley almost was one (Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein is likely based in part on her husband’s tinkering). Byron was more concerned with politics, society and women; he seems to have been rather indifferent to science itself, and to have simply absorbed the popular knowledge of the time (for example, his casual reference to inoculation so soon after Edward Jenner popularised the technique).

During this same period, the industrial revolution allowed the growth of a middle class who were able to afford education and leisure activities. More women could read and had the time to do so; changes in society always attract hostility, and the women who gathered for intellectual discussions were derisively known as ‘Bluestockings’. While some male writers supported this movement, others despised them.

Byron is hardly known for progressive relationships with women, but the atttide expressed in The Blues may not be completely general, and may be more directed at his wife Annabella Milbanke, who had mathematical interests and whom Byron called his ‘Princess of Parallelograms’; they had been married in 1815, however they separated after a year and Byron fled England under a sexual scandal. It would be interesting to know if Byron included Mary Shelley in his opinion of the ‘Blues’; after leaving England, he stayed in Geneva and enjoyed visits with the Shelleys, including the famous ghost story sessions that led to Mary writing Frankenstein. He also bonded with his later lover Countess Teresa Guiccioli over long discussions of, for example, Dante.

Nevertheless, The Blues does not leave a favourable impression of Byron, but there is one final link of science-related interest. Annabella and Byron’s daughter Augusta Ada was born just before their separation. Ada was educated following her mother’s mathematical interests, and she later went on to correspond with Charles Babbage: Ada is now often referred to as ‘the first computer programmer‘. Tomorrow, Tuesday 16 October, is Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating important contributions of women to science.

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