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the dismal expiring amid the marshes of Missolonghi. The annals of English poetry present nothing equal to the popularity which was gained by Lord Byron's poetry. It was speedy, it was strong, it was wide-spread, and during his life did not, perhaps, suffer a very serious decline. The literary student well knows that mere popularity does not surely betoken an abiding fame. In the extraordinary reception of Byron's poetry, I am disposed to think that there is proof of both the poetic virtues and vices which characterize it. How could be have found entrance into so many hearts if he possessed not some of those powers of imagination which sooner or later find their path ? How, on the other hand, is it possible that he could have found that entrance so speedily, if the strains he was uttering were strains of the loftiest and best poetry? The world never yet, in any of its ages, has been ready for the prompt and intelligent reception of a great poet of original powers. It is not incredible that the fourteen thousand copies of a poem like “ The Corsair” might be sold in one day, soon finding more, probably, than that number of readers ; but, when poetry speaks in its mightiest tones,--those which have an echo of eternity in them,--the one living generation of mankind to whom they are addressed does not, the first moment, the first month, or the first year, open its heart to the sounds. Poetry which is addressed to the feelings, the fancy, and the imagination, in some of its lighter moods, is listened to and admired in its earliest hour; but that poetry for which fame, as distinguished from mere popularity, is in store, as surely as it comes from the depths of the poet's soul, so surely it travels slowly, often toilsomely, sinking
ENGLISHI BARDS AND SCOTCH REVIEWERS.
into the deep places of the souls of men,-its restingplace for ages. A brilliant and rapid popularity dazzles and misleads the judgment: a rocket-fire will leap up into the heavens, outshining and outstripping the stars, while the steady orb of a planet-its golden urn filled at the fountain of the sun-is climbing, imperceptibly and noiselessly, up the eastern region of the firmament. The memory of an author's popularity - the recollection of the feelings with which he was once read—will continue to mislead. If, for instance, any one desire to form a safe and permanent opinion of Byron's poetry, let me warn him not to trust to the impressions remaining from former intercourse with it; but, examining it anew, more calmly, more cautiously, and, if possible, with a judgment fortified by the study of those masters of English song whose fame is undisputed, and then, but not till then, whatever conclusion he may arrive at, will it be his right to speak with confidence.
The juvenile poems which introduced Lord Byron into literary life gave little promise of his future career, and have their chief interest in indirectly leading to his next publication,-one of a widely-different character,--the English Bards and Scotch Reviewers."
The contemptuous treatment of his youthful verses by the
Edinburgh Review” wounded him deeply, and helped to injure a mind easily swayed by any untoward influence. He felt a consciousness of more poetic power than he had been able to express, which made him more sensitive to the wrong and more ready to seek his revenge. The satirical poem he was thus prompted to write served to fix on his character that splenetic and malevolent habit which it became more and more his
delight to indulge in; and, in this instance, the shaft which had pierced him seems so to have poisoned his heart, that he rushed forth to scatter his darts in an indiscriminate warfare alike upon reviewers and his brother-poets. It was the beginning of a system of hostilities such as no poet ever waged before. Dryden and Pope had each of them laid a heavy hand upon the poetasters and scribblers of their times; but never before Byron was a poet found who could seek to soil with bitter and contemptuous insults the fair fame of his contemporaries, whose merits he was constrained, in some chance moods of better feelings, to recognise. His youthful satire was a bold assault upon the citadel of criticism, and served, no doubt, to prompt a very ready attention to his next work, his first important poem, and the one on which his general reputation chiefly rests,—~ The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold.”
The first and second cantos of “Childe Harold' appeared, it will be remembered, some years earlier than the third and fourth ; and, as they gave him rank as a poet, let us briefly notice their relation to his personal life. When Byron reached the limit of manhood, he had already run no short distance in his unbridled race of self-indulgence. He revelled in the voluptuousness of the looser portion of the British aristocracy; and no wonder, therefore, that, to apply to him the words of one of his own dramas, he was full of pride,
“And the deep passions fiercely fostered by
The uses of patricians.”
He was not in habits of healthy intercourse with his
fellow-beings. The love of external nature, which became a passion with him, and which he himself regarded, probably, as the predominant trait of his genius, does not seem to have been developed by the familiar prospect of his own country. It was rather awakened by the more active stimulant of the strange scenery presented by foreign travel. Previously his communion with nature—that precious discipline for the poet's mind—was little more than in the way of some of the strenuous bodily exercises, the favourite and most innocent modes of excitement in which he luxuriated, the delight, for instance, of wrestling with the billows of the sea, “borne, like its bubbles, onward,"-or, as he has somewhere said in a figure which seems an image of his life, with no mastery over his passions, but hurried, a helpless thing, wherever their tides might drift him,
“ Swept like a weed upon the ocean waves!"
The passionate pleasure of a lusty swimmer was a real emotion with him,--an active emotion too, and not, like many of his feelings, unreal and ending in empty and morbid affectations. The thought of it coming over his mind had the power—for this was a thing of truthto kindle his imagination into the finest description poetry has perhaps ever given of a swimmer's intense and earnest delight. It occurs in one of his tragedies, and will be found a passage of more genuine poetry than the more celebrated apostrophe to the ocean at the close of “Childe Harold.” It is superior both in imagination and expression :
“How many a time have I
This is a description full of imagination and truth, and well describing the poet's own active communion with nature and the elements.
It is a consideration, in examining a poet's character, not to be overlooked, how far his natural endowments have been cultivated by study of the principles of his art as exemplified in the approved productions of his predecessors. This cultivation no one, no matter what may be his native gifts, can venture to despise; indeed, the greater his powers the more valuable is such discipline, for it seems to chasten and to strengthen, without the peril of servility of imitation. Every one of the greatest poets in our language, holding an independent and majestic attitude of originality, yet deemed it a worthy thing to study with a docile spirit the inspirations of the mighty bards who had gone before. In the