• Mark Schoenfield
Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


Lord Byron first used the concept of a literary “lower Empire” in an 1817 letter to John Murray, to contrast the “wrong revolutionary poetic system—or systems” of contemporary authors with the greater empire of Alexander Pope:

I took Moore’s poems & my own & some others — & went over them side by side with Pope’s—and I was really astonished (I ought not to have been so) a nd mortified - at the ineffable distance in point of sense—harmony—effect—and even Imagination Passion—& Invention—between the little Queen Anne’s Man—& us of the lower Empire-(BLJ 5:265)

In 1823, Byron deployed the phrase again in Don Juan. Describing a society in which every “paltry magazine” produces its “greatest living poet” (XI.54.7–8) who struts and frets, as Byron had, on the public stage, he declares:

This is the literary lower empire, Where the prætorian bands take up the matter; … Now, were I once at home, and in good satire, I’d try conclusions with those Janizaries, And show them what an intellectual war is. (XI.62.1–8)


Romantic Period Corporate Identity Periodical Press Literary Identity Romantic Identity 
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  1. 1.
    Paul Keen notes tensions in the public sphere of the 1790s: “Reversing its originally hegemonic role, the public sphere of the printed word “‘was now casting itself loose as a forum in which the private people, come together to form a public, readied themselves to compel public authority to legitimate itself before public opinion’” (31, quoting Habermas). Coleridge notes the power of “the Taste of the Public as opposed to the People” to distort poetic reputation (Notebooks III:3281). In 1809, an article in the Anti-Jacobin’s “Reviewers Reviewed” complained: “In the Anti-Jacobin Review, ever the vehicle of attack upon transcendent speculations, it is asserted, ‘that the Edinburgh Review, instead of bestowing praise where due, makes war on the whole host of authors, and mangles them without mercy for the amusement of the public”’ (XXXIII:436). Wordsworth, writing in Coleridge’s periodical “The Friend,” also uses martial imagery: “Range against each other as advocates, oppose as combatants, two several intellects, each strenuously asserting doctrines which he sincerely believes” (quoted in Owen 167).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    “Celebrity became a modern cultural phenomenon because it answered an ‘urgent need’ created by the industrialized print culture of the romantic period” (Mole 10).Google Scholar

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© Mark Schoenfield 2009

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  • Mark Schoenfield

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