Byron: Manfred

Compare Picturesque Tour through the Oberland (1823): the Staubbachfall (last two paras.; Manfred, 730: 1-8); the Jungfrau, especially 2nd para.; and Grindelwald glaciers, 1st para. (Manfred, 735: 1-12).


From George Steiner, The Death of Tragedy. New York: Knopf, 1961:

The theme of remorse resounds through the entire tradition of romantic drama, from Coleridge to Wagner. The fable varies, but the characteristc clichés are constant. The tragic hero or hero-villain has committed a terrible, perhaps nameless, crime. He is tormented by his conscience and roams the earth, hiding an inward fire which reveals itself by his feverish aspect and glittering eye. We know him as the Ancient Mariner, Cain, the Flying Dutchman, Manfred, or the Wandering Jew. Sometimes he is haunted by a pursuing double, an avenging image of himself or of his innocent victim. At the hour of mortal crisis or approaching death, the soul of the romantic hero is "wrenched with a woeful agony." Suddenly there is a flowering of remorse -- the staff in Tannhäuser's hand puts forth leaves. Salvation depends on the bruised spirit, and the hero steps toward grace out of the shadow of damnation. (129-30)

The theme of the "poison-tree," remorse turning to venom because the mind does not accept the possibility of redemption, obsessed Byron. [Of Manfred:] because he has determined, in his mad pride, that his punishment must be commensurate to his mysterious crime, Manfred will not give himself absolution. . . . There is in [his] final arrogance a grim justice, and it gives to the close of Manfred an element of real tragedy. (132)

Four acts of tragic violence and guilt are followed by a fifth act of redemption and innocence regained. "Near-tragedy" is precisely the compromise of an age which did not believe in the finality of evil. It represents the desire of the romantics to enjoy the privileges of grandeur and intense feeling associated with tragic drama without paying the full price. (133)


features of: intrusion of involuntary thoughts and images; nightmares; guilt; strong memories of location of traumatic event; feeling of emotional numbness or deadness inside; sense of alienation and of being alone; a sense of foreboding; hyper-vigilance; self-destructive behaviour

cause: being unprepared for impact of event, system continues to rehearse it, hence sense of being stuck, repetition; if relevant, survivor guilt

Byron to Murray, Venice, October 12th 1817:

as to the germs of Manfred - they may be found in the Journal which I sent to Mrs. Leigh (part of which you saw) when I went over first the Dent de Jamant & then the Wengeren or Wengeberg Alp & Sheideck and made the giro of the Jungfrau Schreckhorn &c. &c. shortly before I left Switzerland -- I have the whole scene of Manfred before me as if it was but yesterday -- & could point it out spot by spot, torrent and all. (BLJ V 268)

Wordsworth, The Prelude 1805 VI:

The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
And everywhere along the hollow rent
Winds thwarting winds, bewildered and forlorn,
The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky,
The rocks that muttered close upon our ears,
Black drizzling crags that spake by the wayside
As if a voice were in them (558-564)

stationary, thwarting: stasis

As if a voice were in them: regressive, animism

                                deafened and stunned
By noise of waters, making innocent sleep
Lie melancholy among weary bones. (578-60)
W's actual unease that night at Gondo
Shelley, "Mont Blanc":
                                              How hideously
Its shapes are heaped around! -- rude, bare, and high,
Ghastly, and scarred, and riven. Is this the scene
Where the old earthquake-daemon taught her young
Ruin? Were these their toys? Or did a sea
Of fire envelop once this silent snow? (69-74)

scarred and riven: impact of the fall (?)

a sea / Of fire: planetary convulsion (Plutonian theory)

Byron, Childe Harold, III:
His [Rousseau] love was Passion's essence -- as a tree
On fire by lightning; with ethereal flame
Kindled he was, and blasted; for to be
Thus, and enamoured, were in him the same.
love: self-blasting
Though in their souls, which thus each other thwarted,
Love was the very root of the fond rage
Which blighted their life's bloom, and then departed: --
Itself expired, but leaving them an age
Of years all winters, -- war within themselves to wage
love: self-blighting
But where of ye, O Tempests! is the goal?
Are ye like those within the human breast?
Or do ye find, at length, like eagles, some high nest?
Or some high nest? -- human tempests have no ending
Byron, Manfred:
In my heart / There is a vigil (I.i.5-6) stasis
appeal to spirits: animism (I.i.50 ff.) regression
Mont Blanc (I.i.60) Manichean concept of nature; cf. II.iv, Arimanes
Forgetfulness -- (I.i.135) (of his guilt)
From thy false tears (I.i.232), etc. self-destroying, curse originates in him
My own soul's sepulchre (I.ii.27) life in death, solitude (cf. Coleridge's Mariner: cf. I.i.217, compare Mariner, l. 450)
The mists boil up around the glaciers (I.ii.85) as if about to be engulfed
loved each other as we should not love (II.i.27) guilt: M's crime, first mention; survivor guilt
my days and nights imperishable, / Endless (II.i.53-4) stasis, beyond time
The giant steed to be bestrode by death (II.ii.7) Apocalypse, one of the agents of final destruction
But peopled with the Furies (II.ii.131) beyond stasis: self-destruction
Arimanes: throne on the Jungfrau (II.iv) inhospitable summit: the evil principle
we were not made / To torture thus each other (II.iv.122-3) love: self-destroying (cf. Childe Harold)
the most lone simoom (III.i.128) Manfred's life as an arid, death-dealing wind (cf. Bruce, Travels, 6: 470)
the Augustan halls / Grovel on earth (III.iv.29-30) fate of tyrannies (cf. demons to come)
The mind which is immortal makes itself / Requital (III.iv.129-30) self-creating power of mind

Return to Romantic Travellers

Document created March 25th 2003 / updated February 27th 2008