Magazine July 6, 2009, Issue

The Dark Lord

Detail of a portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall (1813) (National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia Commons)

Byron has his memorial among the honored national poets in Westminster Abbey. How this would horrify him! He mocked fame and society, and accused everyone respectable or ordinary of cant and hypocrisy. A cynic through and through, he particularly loathed enthusiasm of any kind, or “entusymusy,” as he called it. It amused him to think of poetry as “poeshie” or even “brain-money,” and he downgraded Don Juan, his masterpiece, into “Donny Jonny.” Southey, the poet laureate of the day, was the butt of Byron’s satire at its most savage; Keats, he thought, wrote “piss-a-bed” stuff; and “Turdsworth” was his name …

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