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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Lord Byron's Religion: A Journey into Despair by Paul D. Barton (Mellen Studies in Literature: Romantic Reassessment: The Edwin Mellen Press) From the Preface: Lord Byron's Religion illuminates the biographical, historical and theological circumstances that produced George Gordon Lord Byron’s vision quest. Paul Barton, [professor of literature and composition at the Regional University in the Western Pacific,] gives scholarship the voice of Byron in the pleasant guise of letters, biography and criticism.
Byron’s spiritual conflict with Calvinist doctrines comes alive with Byron’s progenitors, John (Mad Jack) Byron and Catherine, vying for control of Byron’s soul. Barton shows us with palpable prose Catherine’s attempt to counter “the hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature” inherited (she believes) from Mad Jack. Barton quotes Byron’s letters, revealing Byron’s belief that he was “cudgeled” to the Calvinistic schools where he acquired the wealth of ortho­doxies and Hebraic texts that would provide the conflict in the heart and cerebral cortex evident in works like
Barton interprets the poetry of
Cain as it grows out of the circumstances that produced the voice of the reprobate Romantic poet, Byron, damned and marked by the cudgel of his ancestors, Calvinist doctrines and the paradox of theological fate. He explicates the poems grouped under the symbolic title of his work. Barton’s text relates these poems as events that place Byron in the company of the major Romantic poets (i.e. Blake) as their poetry portrays the apollonian orthodox shackles fading into the dionysiac darkness that gave them birth. He voices the Hebrew aesthetic tradition in the dialectic of Byron’s Cain with Lucifer as Byron’s text collides with the original only in the dialogue with Satan. Satan is conjured from Milton ’s Prince of Darkness, reigning in Hell, with the imaginative palpability that Blake speaks of when he says Milton was of the devil’s camp and did not know it. He wrote in chains when he wrote of the angels in heaven, but when he conjured Satan he embodied him in his half imaginary reality, choosing freedom in the finite paradox: freedom without happiness or happiness without freedom.
…[In Lord Byron's Religion] Barton shows us the circumstances into which Byron was born as the reali­ties of theology, politics and birth give rise to the development of Childe Harold’s soul as Childe Harold seeks freedom from the stifling damnation of his progeni­tors. I recommend this monograph without reservation, as an original contribution to Romantic scholarship. Barton’s scholarship is a substantive contingency to cur­rent discourse.- Robert Reid, Ph.D., Professor, Nineteenth Century English Literature


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