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||Jonathan Freedland looks for the past behind the present. Each week, The Long View, recorded on location throughout the British Isles, takes an issue from the current affairs agenda and finds a parallel in our past.
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Max Clifford, publicist, and Lord Byron, an early self-publicist.
Extracts from sources used in the readings
Some of the love lyrics published in March 1812 with Childe
Harold cantos I and II:
"And thou art dead, as young and fair
As aught of mortal birth;
And form so soft, and charms so rare,
Too soon returned to earth!
Though earth received them in her bed,
And o'er the spot the crowd may tread
In carelessness or mirth,
There is one eye which could not brook
A moment on that grave to look. ...
The better days of life were ours;
The worst can be but mine:
The sun that cheers, the storm that lowers,
Shall never more be thine.
The silence of that dreamless sleep
I envy now too much to weep."
From 'To Thyrza'
"Ours too the glance none saw beside;
The smile none else might understand;
The whispered thought of hearts allied,
The pressure of the thrilling hand; ...
Well hast thou left in life's best bloom
The cup of woe for me to drain."
Fan letters to Byron from Isabella Harvey (aged 'nearly 18'), 1823:
"I tremble in addressing you. ... I well remember at school how
intimately I connected the author and his works. This was natural,
but it happens that the author is now more to me than his writings
... you are the food of my thoughts, the impulse of my life ... the
brightest dream of my existence. ... To you I am indebted for almost
all the happy hours I have spent, my day-dreams have been full of you
- how romantic you would think me, did I tell you all the projects I
have formed of which you were the hero. ... It is true that even if
you were in England there would still be insurmountable barriers to
our meeting, but I should know you were here, sometimes I should be
in the same town with you, sometimes I might meet you in the streets,
I should pass you by unnoticed, but my heart would quickly whisper,
"It is he"."
"You tell me I am deluded in my imagination with regard to the
sentiments I bear you. Not matter if it be illusion, how much more
delightful it is than reality. I abjure reality for ever."
"I could almost be your slave, yet I do not feel debased by this
feeling. On the contrary, it exalts me, it makes me proud, it
elevates me above others. In exact proportions of the devotion and
humility you inspire do I feel superior to others who surround me.
... You do not know me - yet how well, how intimately do I know you.
... you are the pillow on which I rest my sleeping and waking
Byron's friend and fellow-poet Thomas Moore on the causes of
Byron's celebrity, in his 'Life and Letters of Lord Byron, with
Notices of his Life' (1830):
"His youth, - the noble beauty of his countenance, and its constant
play of lights and shadows, - the gentleness of his voice and manner
to women, and his occasional haughtiness to men, - the alleged
singularities of his mode of life, which kept curiosity alive and
inquisitive, - all these lesser traits and habitudes concurred
towards the quick spread of his fame; nor can it be denied that,
among many purer sources of interest in the Poem ['Childe Harold'],
the allusions which he makes to instances of 'successful passion' in
his career were not without their influence on the fancies of that
sex, whose weakness it is to be most easily won by those who come
recommended by the greatest number of triumphs over others. That his
rank was also to be numbered among these extrinsic advantages appears
to have been, - partly perhaps from a feeling of modesty at the time,
- his own persuasion. "I may place a great deal of it,' said he to Mr
Dallas, 'to my being a lord." ... Never did exist before, and, it is
most probable, never will exist again, a combination of such mental
power and surpassing genius, with so many other of those advantages
and attractions, by which the world is, in general, dazzled and
captivated. The effect was, accordingly, electric; his fame had not
to wait for any of the ordinary gradations, but seemed to spring up,
like the palace of a fairy tale, overnight. As he himself briefly
described it in his Memoranda, - "I awoke one morning and found
myself famous." The first edition of his work was disposed of
instantly; and as the echoes of its reputation multiplied on all
sides, "Childe Harold" and "Lord Byron" became the theme of every
tongue. At his door, most of the leading names of the day presented
themselves ... From morning to night the most flattering testimonies
of his success crowded his table, - from the grave tributes of the
statesman and the philosopher down to (what flattered him still more)
the romantic billet of some incognita, or the pressing note of
invitation from some fair leader of fashion; and, in place of the
desert which London had been to him but a few weeks before, he now
not saw the whole splendid interior of High Life thrown open to
receive him, but found himself among its illustrious crowds the most
Byron on fame:
"My great comfort is, that the temporary celebrity I have wrung from
the world has been in the very teeth of all opinions and prejudices.
I have flattered no ruling powers; I have never concealed a single
thought that tempted me." (Letter to Thomas Moore, April 1814)
"I only go out to get a fresh appetite for being alone" (Journal,
2The great object of life is sensation - to feel that we exist even
though in pain - it is this "craving void" which drives us to gaming
- to battle - to travel - to intemperate but keenly-felt pursuits of
Lady Caroline Lamb(undated letter to Samuel Rogers)
"I grew to love him better than virtue, religion - all prospects
here. He broke my heart and I still love him."