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Byron and his Contemporaries

by George Gordon Byron, 1881

(Don Juan, Canto xi. Stanzas 53–60.)

JUAN knew several languages—as well
  He might—and brought them up with skill, in time
To save his fame with each accomplish’d belle,
  Who still regretted that he did not rhyme.
There wanted but this requisite to swell
  His qualities (with thèm) into sublime:
Lady Fitz-Frisky and Miss Mævia Mannish,
Both long’d extremely to be sung in Spanish.

However, he did pretty well, and was
  Admitted as an aspirant to all
The coteries, and, as in Banquo’s glass,
  At great assemblies or in parties small,
He saw ten thousand living authors pass,
  That being about their average numeral;
Also the eighty “greatest living poets,”
As every paltry magazine can show it’s.

In twice five years the “greatest living poet,”
  Like to the champion in the fisty ring,
Is call’d on to support his claim, or show it,
  Although ’tis an imaginary thing.
Even I—albeit I’m sure I did not know it,
  Nor sought of foolscap subjects to be king,—
Was reckon’d a considerable time,
The grand Napoleon of the realms of rhyme.

But Juan was my Moscow, and Faliero
  My Leipsic, and my Mont Saint Jean seems Cain:
“La Belle Alliance” of dunces down at zero,
  Now that the Lion’s fall’n, may rise again:
But I will fall at least as fell my hero;
  Nor reign at all, or as a monarch reign;
Or to some lonely isle of gaolers go,
With turncoat Southey for my turnkey Lowe.

Sir Walter reign’d before me; Moore and Campbell
  Before and after; but now grown more holy,
The Muses upon Sion’s hill must ramble
  With poets almost clergymen, or wholly;
And Pegasus hath a psalmodic amble
  Beneath the very Reverend Rowley Powley,
Who shoes the glorious animal with stilts,
A modern Ancient Pistol—by the hilts!

Then there’s my gentle Euphues; who, they say,
  Sets up for being a sort of moral me;
He’ll find it rather difficult some day
  To turn out both, or either, it may be.
Some persons think that Coleridge hath the sway;
  And Wordsworth has supporters, two or three;
And that deep-mouth’d Bœotian “Savage Landor”
Has taken for a swan rogue Southey’s gander.

John Keats, who was kill’d off by one critique,
  Just as he really promised something great,
If not intelligible, without Greek
  Contrived to talk about the gods of late
Much as they might have been supposed to speak.
  Poor fellow! His was an untoward fate;
’Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuff’d out by an article.

The list grows long of live and dead pretenders
  To that which none will gain—or none will know
The conqueror at least; who, ere time renders
  His last award, will have the long grass grow
Above his burnt-out brain, and sapless cinders.
  If I might augur, I should rate but low
Their chances;—they’re too numerous, like the thirty
Mock tyrants, when Rome’s annals wax’d but dirty.

Published in Poetry of Byron

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