Thursday, February 19, 2009

seeking some revolutionary pluck

From the Journals of Lord Byron
February 19. 1821.

Came home solus — very high wind — lightning — moonshine — solitary stragglers muffled in cloaks — women in mask — white houses — clouds hurrying over the sky, like spilt milk blown out of the pail — altogether very poetical. It is still blowing hard — the tiles flying, and the house rocking — rain splashing — lightning flashing — quite a fine Swiss Alpine evening, and the sea roaring in the distance.

Visited — conversazione. All the women frightened by the squall: they won't go to the masquerade because it lightens — the pious reason!

Still blowing away. A. has sent me some news to-day. The war approaches nearer and nearer. Oh those scoundrel sovereigns! Let us but see them beaten — let the Neapolitans but have the pluck of the Dutch of old, or the Spaniards of now, or of the German Protestants, the Scotch Presbyterians, the Swiss under Tell, or the Greeks under Themistocles — all small and solitary nations (except the Spaniards and German Lutherans), and there is yet a resurrection for Italy, and a hope for the world.

Notes to the text:

because it lightens - Byron means because of the lightening strikes that accompany the storm. OED gives an instance of this meaning in a line from a Don Juan canto written a couple of years before: "1819 BYRON Juan I. clviii, Her dark eyes flashing through their tears Like skies that rain and lighten."*

A. has sent me some news to-day - A. is not identified.

scoundrel sovereigns - Byron probably refers to the Holy Alliance, made up of most of the reigning monarchs in Europe (Britain excepted). Austria's intervention in Italy was on behalf of this alliance as well as in its own interests.

let the Neapolitans but have the pluck - Byron's frequent expressions of hope for Carbonari success don't quite counterbalance the instances he gives of their lack of resolve, of manly courage, and of military discipline, their naivete, and their general disorganization.

*Note to a note:
Here is the full OED entry for this meaning:
6. To flash lightning, to emit flashes of lightning. Chiefly impers.
c1440 Promp. Parv. 304/1 Lyghtenyn, or leuenyn (K. lithnyn, as levyn), coruscat. 1470-85 MALORY Arthur VII. xxxi, It lyghtned and thondred as it had ben woode. 1555 EDEN Decades 244 The heauen neuer ceased thunderyng rorynge & lyghtenynge with terrible noyse. 1611 BIBLE Luke xvii. 24 As the lightning that lighteneth out of the one part vnder heauen, shineth vnto the other part vnder heauen. a1637 B. JONSON Underwoods, Elegy, 'Tis true, I'm broke’, God lightens not at mans each fraile offence. 1725 DE FOE Voy. round World (1840) 351 Two of the men..cried out, it lightened. One said, he saw the flash. 1814 SCOTT Wav. xviii, It may thunder and lighten before the close of evening. 1819 BYRON Juan I. clviii, Her dark eyes flashing through their tears Like skies that rain and lighten. 1896 A. E. HOUSMAN Shropsh. Lad l, Where doomsday may thunder and lighten And little 'twill matter to one.

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