Romanticism is associated with travelling, with crossing geo-cultural borders and with exploring foreign countries on cultural Grand Tours of Europe. However, not always did these journeys aim at fostering a European spirit, but, on the contrary, they often served to confirm or reinforce prejudices or stereotypes concerning other nations. At the end of eighteenth century, as Peter Mortensen observes, in England, “Europhobic writers gradually shifted their focus from France to Germany” (2004). Generally speaking, Germany elicited ambivalent or at least skeptical responses from the British romantics. For instance, in the Preface to The Prelude, William Wordsworth is rather caustic when he says that British culture is being flooded by “sickly and stupid” German tragedies. By the same token, in Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth, William Hazlitt writes that German drama or English drama influenced by German literature afford a kind of “pleasure in madness”. As regards Byron, his writing reveals a constant wavering between Germanophilia and Germanophobia. The aim of the article will be to provide an analysis and exemplifications of these fluctuations by focusing on two aspects. First, Byron’s figurations of Germany, deriving both from his imagination and from his first-hand experience of the country. In 1816, before reaching Lake Leman, he travelled through Germany and the Rhineland, which in Childe Harold Canto III is an image of the sublime and the picturesque. This vision contributed to the popularization of the Rhineland as a favourite destination of the Grand Tour. However, the Rhine is described as “discoloured” and the whole region also presents the “louring” and decaying walls of a Gothic past juxtaposed with its verdant paradise. When Childe Harold/ Byron meditates on the history there inscribed, the focus shifts from majestic sceneries to dark images of past and present political tyranny – as proved by his meditation on Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo by the allied English and Prussian forces. Secondly, the article will analyse Byron’s wavering assessments of German literature and of specific German writers – mainly, the Schlegel brothers and Goethe. Byron’s admiration for the author of Faust is well known, but the half jocular, half caustic, dedicatory letter to Goethe which was supposed to be appended to Marino Faliero once again confirms that Germany in Byron’s imagination and writing is an elusive rather than a clearly definable construct.
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