Mapping Byron's Mediterranean Letters and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage I-II: By the Numbers

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What do literary maps do … First, they are a good way to prepare a text for analysis. You choose a unit – walks, lawsuits, luxury goods, whatever – find its occurrences, place them in space … or in other words: you reduce the text to a few elements, and abstract them from the narrative flow, and construct a new, artificial object like the maps that I have been discussing.

Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History


This exhibit plots all of the places named in Byron's letters and the Pilgrimage I-II and examines the frequency of place names in both. If, for example, one has the occasion to wander the St James's district, one will grasp the sense of scale of Byron's London during his years of fame by better understanding the relative proximity, say, of The Albany, 13 Piccadilly Terrace, and 50 Albemarle Street. The exhibit before you attempts to visualize the international scale of Byron's and Harold's Mediterranean travels. The blue dots on the horizontal timeline indicate the date of the letter in which a place is named by Byron. The red dots indicate the actual date of the visit according to Hobhouse's diaries. The vertical list of waypoints includes the place names in the letters (eg. Delphi) and the place names in the poem (eg. Delphi CHP). Most importantly, the exhibit offers the visitor the opportunity to explore independently the letters and the poetry by the means of digital tools. Below the reader will find a web tool embedded twice. The digital tool, developed by Stéfan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell, enables the reader to find word counts as well as relative frequencies in a text or a collection of texts. The first Excel spead sheet (found at the bottom of the Waypoints column) provides the name, correspondent, date of composition and geographical coordinates for the places Byron names (but does not necessarily visit) in the letters. The collection of Byron's letters written during the Mediterranean Tour is uploaded in the embedded Voyant web tool. By clicking on the box to the left of any single word, the reader will be brought to the Voyant site where one can explore and plot graphically the occurrence and relative frequency of every word in the letters. A word of caution, however. Even though "Byron" appears as the most frequent word, remember that "Byron" appears in the header of each letter, that he signed each letter (most often with "Byron") and that one of his principal correspondents was his mother, Catherine Gordon Byron.  The second Excel spead sheet provides the name, Canto and line number, the date visited (as recorded in Hobhouse's diaries) and the geographical coordinates for the places Byron names in the Pilgrimage I-II. The same edition of the poem used in exhibit two is uploaded in the next embedded Voyant web tool. The reader can search the number and relative frequency of each word on the poem's first two Cantos. This exhibit provides the Byron amateur and specialist alike with the most detailed spatial information possible.

Quite surprisingly, the most frequent word in both the letters and the poem is one and the same: the auxiliary "shall" numbers 148 occurrences in the letters and 56 in the poem. Highly unusual it is that both the epistolary and the poetic modes should have the identical word as the most frequent. Thanks to Voyant, this similarity of Byron's writings is revealed. The shared frequency of the word raises two qualities of Byron's writings. The first is the importance of imminent futurity for the twenty-three-year-old Byron upon his return in July 1811. In his personal life, Byron's financial insecurity, the pressure to sell Newstead, the profound uncertainty of what to do with his time all weigh heavily. In the life of Harold, the return to Albion's shores, Elgin's desecration of the Parthenon and Greece's future within the Ottoman Empire create the pressing sense -- to use Wordsworth's phrase -- of "something evermore about to be" (1805 Prelude VI, 542). Delphi, the oracular omphalos of ancient Greece, figures significantly in both the letters and the poem. With curious symmetry, "Delphi" is first named in Byron's first letter to Henry Drury of 3 May 1810. “Delphi” is the last place name, the last word of Byron’s last letter (11 July 1811) to Henry Drury before landing at Sheerness 14 July 1811. “Delphi” is the first specific place name in CHP I at line 6. “Delphi” is the last such place name at the end of Canto II in stanza 92. The place name “Delphi,” therefore, closes the epistolary segment of Byron’s tour and bookends conceptually Cantos One and Two of the Pilgrimage.  Secondly, the imminent futurity of the letters and the poem recalls the definition of poetry that Byron would later record in his Ravenna Journal of 28 January 1821: "Memoranda. What is Poetry? -- The feeling of a Former world and Future" (BLJ 8.37). The "Former" or myth-soaked Classical world Byron explores during his Mediterranean Tour;  his character Harold treads much of the same ground, narrated through the 'antique' medium of the Spenserian stanza. Moreover, as far as futurity is concerned, the relative frequency of "shall" peaks near the conclusion of both the Mediterranean letters as well as Canto II of the Pilgrimage, suggesting a tremendous narrative momentum forward. Although ended or coming to an end, it would seem that neither the Mediterranean voyage nor the poetic pilgrimage is complete. 

The most frequent place name in the letters is "Malta" (82), not surprising since it is very near the geographic centre of Byron's Mediterranean travels and because he used it as his poste restante. In second and third positions are "England" with 79 and "Athens" with 74.The most common place name in the Pilgrimage I-II is "land;" whether in the form of an adjective or noun (possessive case) + "land" or "land" + prepositional phrase; and it refers to a much broader signification of place. "Greece" occurs 16 times, the highest frequency of which comes at the conclusion of Canto II. "Athens" occurs 12 times.

The digital maps for this exhibit contain the locations for the 171 places named in the letters (blue) and those 124 named in the poem (red). The map enables the reader to align place names in both types of writing and to speculate upon the relation between the two. Located at the bottom of the Waypoints column are two separate Excel files containing the list of all the 295 place names, beginning with the those found in the letters. 

PMC August 2016, revised 30 September 2017

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Place Names in Byron's Letters (Excel)

Go to the bottom of the Waypoints column (left) or to the Browse Items (on the home page) and the Excel file PLACE NAME AND GEO LOCATION: BYRON'S MEDITERRANEAN LETTERS

The text of Byron's Letters written during the Mediterranean Tour uploaded into Voyant



Place Names in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage I-II (Excel)

Go to the bottom of the Waypoints column (left) or to the Browse Items (on the Home page) and the Excel file PLACE NAMES IN BYRON'S CHILDE HAROLD'S PILGRIMAGE CANTOS I-II

The text of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage I-II uploaded into Voyant