The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

II. Byron

§ 7. Hours of Idleness

The union of classicism and romanticism is everywhere apparent in Hours of Idleness. The romantic note is clearly sounded in such verses as I would I were a careless child, When I roved a young Highlander and the justly famous Lachin y Gair; the influence of Macpherson’s Ossian is very strong in The Death of Calmar and Orla, and blends with that of the ballad-poets in Oscar of Alva. No less apparent is the influence of Moore; one may trace it in the elegiac strain of the love-lyrics and in the rhetorical trick of repetition at the close of the stanza; it is obvious, too, that Byron has successfully imitated the anapaestic lilt of Irish Melodies in many of his lyric and elegiac poems. At the same time, he shows no desire to break away from the eighteenth century traditions. Childish Recollections is conceived and executed in the manner of Pope. The personification of abstractions, the conventional poetic diction and the fingering of the heroic couplet, alike recall the Augustan traditions, which are no less apparent in such poems as Epitaph on a Friend and To the Duke of Dorset. In the Elegy on Newstead Abbey, thought, sentiment and verse recall the famous Elegy of Gray, while, in the lines To Romance, he professes to turn away with disgust from the motley court of romance where Affectation and “sickly Sensibility” sit enthroned, and to seek refuge in the realms of Truth. Thus already in this early volume of poems we meet with that spirit of disillusionment which informs much of Byron’s later work, while, in the closing stanza of I would I were a careless child, we have a foretaste of the Byron of Manfred, eager to shun mankind and to take refuge in the gloom of the mountain glens. At the same time, this early volume bears witness to that which his letters abundantly show—Byron’s great capacity for friendship. In spite of all his misanthropy, no poet has esteemed more highly than Byron the worth of friendship, or cherished a deeper affection for scenes around which tender associations had grown up; and, in this first volume of verses, the generous tributes to old school-friends, and the outpouring of his heart in loyal affection for Harrow, occupy no small space.