|Byron may have referred to Erasmus
Darwin as "that mighty master of unmeaning rhyme" ("English Bards and
Scotch Reviewers" ), but Byron's poetry helped to construct a version
of the natural world that affected readers throughout the nineteenth-century.
His extensive travels brought him into contact with parts of the world
that were little known to most Europeans before they read Byron's verse
descriptions, and his wry cynicism often led him to compare human beings
(unfavorably) with lower forms of life. Byron was also a master of descriptive,
and satiric, language that connected the animal kingdom with human affairs,
as in this extract from his journal for 14 November 1813 recounting a visit
to the Exeter 'Change Menagerie in the Strand in London:
Two nights ago I saw the tigers sup at Exeter 'Change. Except Veli Pacha's lion in the Morea,--who followed the Arab keeper like a dog,--the fondness of the hyaena for her keeper amused me most. Such a conversazione! -- There was a "hippopotamus," like Lord L[iverpoo]l in the face; and the "Ursine Sloth" hath the very voice and manner of my valet--but the tiger talked too much. The elephant (see Chunee) took and gave me my money again--took off my hat--opened a door-- trunked a whip--and behaved so well, that I wish he was my butler. The handsomest animal on earth is one of the panthers; but the poor antelopes were dead. I should hate to see one here:--the sight of the camel made me pine again for Asia Minor.
One of Byron's most often quoted lyrics was the epitaph he penned for his Newfoundland dog Boatswain which includes these misanthorpic, if naturalistic and heartfelt, lines:
. . . the
poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
Conversations with Byron and Percy Shelley led Mary Shelley to the dream that became the genesis of Frankenstein. Byron's satiric and often cynical attitude may be closer to the courtly nuances of Pope than the woodland wilds of Wordsworth, but his careful attention to the details of his surroundings was an essential part of the rhetoric of poetic naturalism that pervaded the nineteenth century.
|Byron on the natural world (poetry and prose extracts)
Childe Harold, Canto III (the Wordsworthian influence)