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)