Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Reading Ruth Rendell's new Inspector Wexford mystery novel (The Monster in the Box) at lunchtime today, I ran across a reference to the well-known poem by Lord Byron shown here as it looked when first published in 1813. "How did Byron intend for that title to be pronounced?" was the question I asked myself. I have asked myself this question at other points in the past, but this time I actually checked the text. And soon discovered the answer to my question in the rhyme at the end of the following stanza.

.. Who thundering comes on blackest steed,
With slackened bit and hoof of speed?
Beneath the clattering iron's sound
The caverned echoes wake around
In lash for lash, and bound for bound;
The foam that streaks the courser's side
Seems gathered from the ocean-tide:
Though weary waves are sunk to rest,
There's none within his rider's breast;
And though tomorrow's tempest lower,
'Tis calmer than thy heart, young Giaour!

Delacroix (the most Romantic of painters) made at least two large oils based on the poem, that above in 1826 (now in the Art Institute of Chicago) and that below in 1835 (now in the Petit Palais in Paris).

Two hundred years have passed since Byron – the first international sex symbol – more or less invented the modern cult of celebrity, with himself at the center of it. Lady Caroline Lamb famously called him, "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" while Jane Austen used him by name as the very prototype of the man one ought to immediately turn away and flee from. Byron would be pleased, I think, at the way he is remembered.

Portrait of Byron by his friend Richard Westall, painted the same year The Giaour was published, 1813. The author was 25.