Byron in Geneva: That Summer of 1816

Adam Phillips writes:

The story Ellis tells is of Byron on the run, in shock, and having, as they say, to turn his life round, but without wanting to explain himself, or to feign regrets he didn’t feel or a wish for forgiveness he didn’t want. He didn’t leave England with the intention of writing more, but that is what he found himself doing with more time to himself, especially at night. ‘Who would write?’ he wrote with aristocratic hauteur in 1813, ‘who had anything better to do?’ By October 1816, after the summer in Switzerland in which he had written and published the third canto of Childe Harold as well as ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’ and Other Poems and begun Manfred and ‘Darkness’ (the period, that is to say, in which he had written some of his most remarkable poems, and that had seen the prelude to the writing of Don Juan), poetry had begun to matter more to him, though there were still the necessary reservations. ‘Poetry is – I fear – incurable,’ he wrote to John Murray in October 1816. ‘God help me – if I proceed in this scribbling – I shall have frittered away my mind before I am thirty, – but it is at times a relief to me.’

(LRB 25 August 2011)

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