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very little noise, and of a wicked poem which has overshot its mark by its superlative grossness. Indeed, we have alluded to his Lordship's earlier works, principally to mark the contrast exhibited between them, and these his last productions. The decline and fall of genius is a theme from which much instruction, moral as well as literary, may be gleaned,— sort of instruction, moreover, peculiarly called for in the present time, when we have so many notable instances of fallen poets. From these we have selected Lord Byron, as the most conspicuous of all these lapsed Davids, for we think that he has made the deepest and most irrecoverable descent,
“ Into what pit thou seest,
From what height fallen." There are two questions to be settled :-First, What Lord Byron was; and, Secondly, What Lord Byron is.
In regard to the first, we must candidly avow that we have never been among the most devoted worshippers of this remarkable writer. He was never, we think, a great poet, properly speaking; he never understood the human heart, deeply or extensively ; what he knew of his own extended little further than to its peculiar traits ; his introspection is never that of a philosopher-he is unable to abstract the individual; hence he falls into an error, which no observation can correct,—that of multiplying his own portrait, with a mere change of costume, and fancying that each copy is a different person. He is like a man who should believe not merely that other people have two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, because he has the same number, but that every one has the same moles, warts, and wens, in the same places with himself. Not merely are all his heroes Lord Byrons, but all persons of every description, where they are characterized at all, are made of his own likeness, mutatis mutandis. This was very well for a time; Lord Byron was an interesting personage, and his poems, considered merely as confessions, or pieces of auto-biography, naturally excited much curiosity, and were certainly entitled to considerable praise; but, it would not do always; every one, sooner or later, got tired of this perpetual masquerading, and something else was demanded; but little else was forthcoming. When his characters ceased to be Lord Byrons, they ceased to be any thing at all.
As a descriptive poet, he does not, in our opinion, rank at all higher; he has no gifted vision that we can discover;—he seems to look on the external world very much with the eyes of any other discontented mortal; and what he sees he reports with no peculiar vividness or graphic power ;-he has not even the picturesque eye of Scott; far less can he cope
with Shelley in the subtlety, the intensity, or the luxuriance of fancy displayed by that extraordinary poet in his descriptions ; in a still lower grade of inferiority does he stand, (in this particular at least to him,) whose hourly neighbour” is, or has been
Beauty, a living presence of the earth,
From earth's materials."
descriptive,” the passages on which we found our opinion being almost all of a mixed nature, and deriving a blended interest from the ethical, imaginative, or fanciful colour, ing thrown over them. Wordsworth, whenever he is himself, is always more or less creative; he is never a mere limner, or copyist of nature; and though in Lord Byron's pictures the mind of the author is sufficiently visible, yet of a very different kind is the moody tristification of the one poet, from the “ holy passion” of the other.
As a philosophical and didactic poet, we will not presume to form a light or hasty opinion of him. Excellence of this sort must always depend, in a great measure, on the truth and usefulness of the opinions promulgated, especially where the subject is of a moral nature; and though much power may be displayed in the conception of false and hollow doctrines, and especially in their adaptation to their purposes of poetry, yet this is not of itself sufficient. Hence the number of those who think Lord Byron a great philosophical poet, is confined to such as consider his opinions, in the main, true: and of this, we hope and believe, inconsiderable body, the more spiritual part do not, we fancy, look upon him as having done, or as likely to do, complete justice to their creed, either as a poet or
But this is a grave matter, which we shall pass by for the present.
Lastly, and on this head we insist more strongly than on any of the former, we cannot think that the renowned writer ever wielded the mighty instrument of language with that mastery to be expected, nay, demanded, from “ the first poet of the age." This, in our opinion, main requisite in the poetical character, is so little regarded by the public in our times, that we believe the majority of readers would grant all that should be required on this head, and not think a whit the worse of the author for the deficiency. We shall not, therefore, in attempting to substantiate this charge, exhaust the reader's patience with the minutiæ of verbal criticism, but refer him to the works themselves, which he may compare, if he pleases, (not with the writings of our best elder
writers, which, however, is the fair test; but) with many of his contemporaries,-in particular, with the lyrical ballads of Wordsworth, the Revolt of Islam by Shelley, and the Translation of Dante by Cary. We believe he will not be found first, or second, either in accuracy of diction, beauty of expression, or richness and propriety of versification. Can this be said of any other great poet?
Still, however, there was muchvery much—to admire in his Lordship's earlier works; quite enough to form a sad contrast with his later efforts. He painted some of the passions with great force, though with little delicacy. His situations were simple and affecting ; his narrative vigorous and rapid. These were his general merits. . Occasionally his thoughts were profound, his reflections grand and solemn, his views grasping, and distinguished by a certain compactness in their delineation, which contrasts very favourably with the parallel passages in Wordsworth. He is often very pathetic, and, in a few instances, even tender and gentle. One picture he has left to posterity, which, like “ the Misers" of Quintin Matsys, alone entitles him to considerable renown,—that of the pallid and hopeless voluptuary, who, to use an expression of Paley's
, has “ used up” his old pleasures, and who cannot, or will not,
It is his own creation. The second question, what Lord Byron is ? presents a subject of more painful examination.
Our opinion of what Lord Byron's poetical merits were, has been fully and freely expressed. In this inquiry we have, as far as possible, avoided all allusion to the writer's creed in philosophy or in politics to the imputed vices of his earlier years, or the avowed misfortunes of his domestic life-to the circumstances which self-banished him from his own country, or to the predilections which fixed him on foreign shores. These particulars, however, make up a very large portion of his best productions; and as his poems are thus essentially egotistical, we might, without impropriety, revert to the passions, and feelings, and prejudices, which form the materials upon which that egotism has had to work. To dismiss this matter as lightly as our duty will permit, we should say that the Lord Byron of Childe Harold, and of the Corsair, is being of excessively acute sensations,-of an intense capacity either for love or hatred,-of a deep reverence for the sublimities and beauties of nature, subjected by the pride of talent to a cold and heartless scepticism,--of a strong sense of real or imaginary injuries, working itself up into a reckless scorn of social life,-and of an undisciplined abandonment to the excitements which chance may present to him, and a willing prostration to the spells which inferior intellects and lower
destinies may weave around him. But up to a period which even his warmest admirers must have marked with wonder and pity, Lord Byron was not, in the egotistical reflection of his own mind, a systematic pander to the evil passions and betraying thoughts of the vicious and the ignorant. He surrendered himself, indeed, to his genius, for better and for worse; but he did not, with a deliberate purpose, subject his genius to the most grovelling impurities, and the most humiliating enmities. In the like proportion, though there was an occasional sameness and lassitude about some of his productions, there was not that perpetual imbecility which is the evidence of a mind losing its discrimination between modes and degrees of excellence, and resigning itself to the low flattery which suggests, and the absorbing vanity which believes, that the task of comparison and selection may be fitly spared. The intimate union between the corruption of the heart and the degradation of the intellect, was never so manifest as in the productions which Lord Byron, under the auspices of his new allies, has inflicted on his country within the last six months ;-their poetical faults and their moral crimes are so enormous, that we cannot but address him in a passage of one of those poems in which he had not ceased to feel as a high-hearted denizen of that land whose greatest spirits have ever been her purest :
“ This should have been a noble creature: he
Hath all the energy which would have made
All dormant or destructive."-MANFRED.
The first and the greatest of Lord Byron's present sins, is his outrageous contempt of those awful and mysterious subjects which even the sceptic, if he have any regard to the decencies of life, feels it his duty not to disturb. In Childe Harold, and in other of his productions, in which he bursts forth into a tribute to the sublimity and sweetness of the external world, we have not many direct allusions to the ennobling poetical creed of Wordsworth and of Coleridge; the beauty of the universe is worshipped, without any very deep feeling towards the great Spirit in which it lives, and moves, and has its being. But still there is something like a faith hovering over the dark waters of his soul; he has a sense, though not a very vivid one, of the mysterious harmony of creation ; and he looks upward, though with a dim and faltering eye, to the great principle of a Creator. He seldom speaks of revelation, but he does not insult it. He thus addresses the magnificent templeof St. Peter's at Rome :
“ Worthiest of God, the holy and the true !
Since Zion's desolation, when that He
In this eternal ark of worship undefiled.” We must sully our pages by quoting twelve lines of impiety from the eleventh canto of Don Juan :
“ I've grown lately rather phthisical:
On purpose to believe so much the more.” When we compare Lord Byron's present fury of profaneness with his former subdued pretensions to the glory of a scoffer, low as we think even of his past aspirations after a something holier than this brief life, we must exclaim with himself,
“ Could he have kept his spirit to that flight,
He had been happy." Of the occasional voluptuousness of Lord Byron's earlier poems, we are not anxious to be the apologists ; but we most conscientiously believe, that his favourite - Childe Harold," his “ Giaour,” his “ Conrad,” his “ Selim," possessed a code of morality of which his Lordship is now incapable of forming a conception. They were bold, and occasionally tender, admirers of female beauty ; votaries of passion in its wildest and most dangerous shapes; but they had the delicacy as well as the strength of vivid fictions; and that they are essentially fictitious, we are bound to believe Lord Byron's deliberate and repeated affirmations. In his first preface to Childe Harold, he says, with the modesty and ingenuous simplicity of youth, in allusion to the popular opinion, that his hero was a