A young lord passes judgment: National characters in the letters, poems and other writings of Byron’s Mediterranean tour (1809-11)

Agustín Coletes Blanco

Abstract

On July 2nd, 1809, Lord Byron and his Cambridge friend John C. Hobhouse embarked on their peculiar Grand Tour. With most of Continental Europe in the hands of Napoleon, Byron and Hobhouse’s destination was Constantinople, the capital of a powerful Ottoman Empire which still controlled much of Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The travellers took a year to reach the Porte. Previous stages in their journey included Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar, Malta, Albania and Greece. Unlike Hobhouse, Byron was never to publish a travelogue based on his Mediterranean and Levantine experience. However, throughout his tour he did write many letters and occasional poems, not meant for publication, in which he repeatedly passes judgment on the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Greeks, the Albanians and the Turks as national characters –and also on fellow countrymen abroad. In this paper, young Byron’s judgments on said national characters, as manifested in his letters and poems home, are located, grouped together and analysed, for the first time in the literature, in a comprehensive way –thus bringing into question a number of commonly-held misconceptions on the issue. Byron’s own Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (the poem and its notes which, published soon after his Mediterranean experience, famously won him instant recognition in Britain) and Hobhouse’s Journey to Albania and unpublished diary are, in the light of this essay, used as paratexts that enrich the analysis with added, sometimes diverging perspectives. In the light of such corpus, the essay closes with a classification, an explanation and a summary of the consequences of young Byron’s Mediterranean judgments.

Keywords

Lord Byron; Travel writing; Romanticism; Imagology; Orientalism



DOI: https://doi.org/10.14198/raei.2014.27.02