Dr. John Morillo                                                                       Jan. 22- Feb. 26, 2002

Encore Enrichment Program                                                      morillo@unity.ncsu.edu


“I Cannot Paint What then I Was":

                          English Romantic Literature and the Discipline of Memory



George Gordon, Lord Byron


1) Byron's Journal: Thursday, 26th November 1813


I have been thinking lately a good deal of Mary Duff. How very odd that I should have been so utterly, devotedly fond of that girl, at an age when I could neither feel passion, nor know the meaning of the word. And the effect! My mother used always to rally me about this childish amour; and, at last, many years after, when I was sixteen, she told me one day, "Oh‑ Byron, I have had a letter from Edinburgh, from Miss Abercromby: and your old sweetheart Mary Duff is married to a Mr. Coe." And what was my answer? I really cannot explain or account for my feelings at that moment; but they nearly threw me into convulsions, and alarmed my mother so much, that after I grew better, she generally avoided the subject‑to me‑and contented herself with telling it to all her acquaintance. Now, what could this be? I had never seen her since her mother's faux pas at Aberdeen had been the cause of her removal to her grandmother's at Banff; we were both the merest children. I had and have been attached fifty times since that period; yet I recollect all we said to each other, all our caresses, her features, my restlessness, sleeplessness, my tormenting my mother's maid to write for me to her, which she at last did, to quiet me. Poor Nancy thought I was wild, and, as I could not write for myself, became my secretary. I remember, too, our walks, and the happiness of sitting by Mary, in the children's apartment, at their house not far from Plainstones at Aberdeen, while her lesser sister Helen played with the doll, and we sat gravely making love, in our way.


How the deuce did all this occur so early? where could it originate? I certainly had no sexual ideas for years afterwards; and yet my misery, my love for that girl were so violent, that I sometimes doubt if I have ever been really attached since. Be that as it may, hearing of her marriage several years after was like a thunder‑stroke‑it nearly choked me‑to the horror of my mother and the astonishment and almost incredulity of every body. And it is a phenomenon in my existence (for I was not eight years old) which has puzzled, and will puzzle me to the latest hour of it; and lately, I know not why, the recollection (not the attachment) has recurred as forcibly as ever. I wonder if she can have the least remembrance of it or me? or remember her pitying sister Helen for not having an admirer too? How very pretty is the perfect image of her in my memory‑her brown, dark hair, and hazel eyes; her very dress! I should be quite grieved to see her now; the reality, however beautiful, would destroy, or at least confuse, the features of the lovely Peri which then existed in her, and still lives in my imagination, at the distance of more than sixteen years. I am now twenty‑five and odd months . . . .


I think my mother told the circumstances (on my hearing of her marriage) to the Parkynses, and certainly to the Pigot family, and probably mentioned it in her answer to Miss A[bercromby], who was well acquainted with my childish penchant, and had sent the news on purpose for me,‑‑‑and thanks to her!


Next to the beginning, the conclusion has often occupied my reflections, in the way of investigation. That the facts are thus, others know as well as 1, and my memory yet tells me ~ so, in more than a whisper. But, the more I reflect, the more I am bewildered to assign any cause for this precocity of affection.



(note: Mary Duff married Robert Cockburn, a wine merchant of Edinburgh and London.)


Source: Leslie A. Marchand, ed. Lord Byron: Selected Letters and Journals (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982) 88-90.


2) Manfred: A Dramatic Poem   1816



Philosophy and science, and the springs

Of Wonder, and the wisdom of the World,

I have essayed, and in my mind there is

A power to make these subject to itself—

But they avail not

Power, passions—all I see in other beings,

Have been to me as rain unto the sands,

Since that all nameless hour.  (I.i.13-17;22-4)



The Seven Spirits

What would’st thou with us, Son of mortals—say?



First Spirit.    

Of what—of whom—and



Of that which is within me; read it there—

Ye know it—and cannot utter it.



Can ye not wring from out the hidden realms

Ye offer so profusely—what I ask?       (I.i.32-41;145-7)







Away, away! there's blood upon the brim . . .

I say t'is blood--my blood! the pure warm stream

Which ran in the veins of my fathers, and in ours

When we were in our youth, and had one heart,

And loved each other as we should not love

(II.i.21-2; 26-30)



I approach the core of my heart's grief


In Fantasy, Imagination, all

The affluence of my soul--which one day was

A Croesus in creation--I plunged deep,

But, like an ebbing wave, it dashed me back

Into the gulf of my unfathomed thought.

I plunged amidst Mankind--Forgetfulness

I sought in all, save where 'tis to be found--

And that I have to learn--

(II.ii.99; 140-7)



Old man! there is no power in holy men,

Nor charm in prayer, nor purifying form

Of penitence, nor outward look, nor fast,

Nor agony--nor, greater than all these,

The innate tortures of that deep Despair,

Which is Remorse without the fear of Hell,

But all in all sufficient to itself

Would make a hell of Heaven--