Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

Lord Byron has faded away into “ the abyss, where glory's self is twilight.At the age of thirty-six, the period that John Huarte specifies for the commencement of an author's labours, those of Byron terminated : at an age, when his understanding was in the full enjoyment of its forces,-and of many had his understanding partaken. To the present moment, so far from changing, his opinions appear to have strengthened ; and, whether right or wrong, remained unchanged or unsaid. To him the praise of consistency is due. His mind appears early to have arrived at maturity ; in him, nature was strong from the first. There are many who prefer the earlier buds and shoots of his genius; a wildness was about them, which pleased those whose taste was congenial with the abrupt and lofty aspects of nature and of man, which he delighted to contemplate. Others there were, who trembled at every step,-who saw nothing around them but the desart and the wilderness, and sighed for the cultivated garden and the florid parterre. His later productions have been characterized by a greater facility, verbal and rythmical; but no accession of power is apparent to what was displayed in his original efforts. Art, his second mistress, has not done more for him, than that aptitude which was born with him ;

- that ability, which springs from individual being, begotten with that order and consent of causes, established by the “Great First Cause,” to the proposed and effected end. But the union of art and nature has not been issueless ; perience consequent upon them, undoubtedly mighty in working, has given to his touch a decision, and to his genius a grace and consummation; manifesting not only the original nervousness of the outstretched arm of intellectual power, but also the science requisite to direct its operations in the most arduous trials and the boldest adventure. The world, therefore, expected great things-he was to go forth conquering, and to conquer. It was uncertain whether he would write or act poems, but no one doubted that he would do one. At that age, when the perfection of intellect was attained,-of an intellect high in kind and in degree,--verily, of a strange order, but most commanding and energetic, England had a right to expect that he would produce a work second to none in its nature, inferior to none in its execution. Notwithstanding all his errors, they who were capable of appreciating his poetic excellence perceived, that his mind was struggling to effect a task mighty and wonderful. His brain was teeming with this Minerva. “ But he sleeps well.” He has sent a spirit abroad, which has already stirred up the heart of our national poesy, and created a new spirit within it; which has done away with the absurd mechanism of verse, that, like

לי

the ex

יו

[ocr errors]

Procrustes' bed, distorted every sentiment or image to its own arbitrary dimensions, and has kindled the inert materials of art with that essential fire, without which they are but as the carcases of the slain, or the moulds of “ embryon atoms,' whose birth is not yet. Upon whom his mantle has fallen, we know not. Could one start from the spot where he paused, and thence recommence the race, the goal he would attain would be far and glorious, and his success deserving of no ordinary guerdon. The man who could do this would be at least two centuries before his age; and he, assuredly, would precede it by one century, who could begin where he began, and warned by his example, avoid his errors, and take advantage of his excellencies,--thus making the experience of the mighty dead his own,-thus building his sure foundation within the grave, in which, of a truth, are the issues of life.

“Amid the groves, beneath the shadowy hills,

The generations are prepared." Yes! “ a mighty power hath passed from day to darkness!" Let us not, however, be supposed to sanction that species of prose versification, into which the facility consequent upon the acqui. sition of art, and ease on that of experience, betrayed the noble Childe. The regions of metre and prose are distinct. Wordsworth, in theory, (though not in practice,) confounded them first; and Byron, while he laughed, without having a theory to support, adopted the error in practice. A crowd of metaphors and similies would be absurd in prose, and an affectation of heroic measure, in a matter of dry detail, and the dull circumstance of ordinary relation : hence Harvey, in his “Meditations," offends every well-nurtured taste,--fools wonder, wise men smile. The language of men should not affect the majestic movements of that of the gods; neither should poets, who adopt the language of the gods, deprive it of its own celestial harmony; that music, which was taught to the Muses by the starry constellations, on which they sate enthroned 66

aye, round about Jove's altar," or rather, by the Muses taught to the nine-infolded spheres ; so that

“There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st,

But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims :
Such harmony is in immortal souls ;
But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay,

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot bear it." Poetry is the language of the “immortal soul," and should therefore be “hạrmonious;” and not descend to the barbarian discords, which are necessary, by way of contrast, to render them audible to the gross spirits “ closed in the muddy ves. ture," of which the Bard of Avon speaketh.

It is certainly extraordinary, that, while pursuing a practice so opposite, Byron should have been the strenuous advocate of Pope, whose versification is more remarkable for its antithetical mechanism and epigrammatic terseness, than its harmony-"monotony in wire," as himself termed it, implicitly, when censuring the French school of poetry, whence the school of Pope originated, though, grafted as it was upon the gnarled strength of English understanding, it partook of the energy of the sapful stem with which it united, and thence became superior to what it imitated. The noble bard appears to have violated his own principles of composition; his practice varied from his expressed opinions. This remark obtains no less in his moral than his literary conduct. Indulging in speculations of a sceptical tendency, where nothing was certain but uncertainty, and the effects of which, on the moral condition of society, alarmed the sensitive, and confounded the weak; yet an impartial biographer would find manifold opportunity for eulogizing the charity and benevolence which were the redeeming points of his character, and that honesty which was its essence. And, finally, we behold him battling in the glorious cause of Christian Greece, against the “infidel and turban'd Turk." Pause, Reader, at this sentence, and turn to the Notes upon the second Canto of “ Childe Harold," (the “ additional note on the Turks,") and the contrast will strike you in the most forcible manner. But the preference which he there appears to give to the Turk over the Greek is not unmixed with irony, and the praise is after all negative; the terms in which he speaks of the latter are not so much suggested by contempt as sorrow, more in sorrow than in anger.'

“ Cold is the heart, fair Greece! that looks on thee,

Nor feels as lovers o'er the dust they loved.”
And his indignation might well kindle, when he trod the

“ Clime of the unforgotten brave!

Whose land, from plain to mountain cave,

Was Freedom's home, or Glory's grave !"
And reflected, that

“ The hearts within her valleys bred,
The fiery souls that might have led

Не sons to deeds sublime,
Now crawl from cradle to the grave,
Slaves,-nay, the bondsmen of a slave,

And callous, save to crime."

[ocr errors]

Under such circumstances, he was justified in the employment of strong and energetic language,- such as this :

Approach, thou craven crouching slave,

Say, is not this Thermopylæ?
These waters blue that round you lave,

Oh, servile offspring of the free,-
Pronounce what sea, what shore is this?

The gulf, the rock of Salamis !" It was by associations such as these that he sought to awaken them to the recollection of their high and glorious ancestry; and to shame them, with lofty reproaches, into valour and freedom! And it is well understood, that his wish was not to die in “ the cold and cloudy clime which gave him birth," but to throw off“ the fardels of the heart, whose sweat is gore,” in battle against slaves and infidels, for a Christian people, wrestling for freedom, in a classic land,--his own beloved Greece !

Such facts,-and the general fact, of the laudable uses to which he devoted his pecuniary resources, the masculine spirit of his general benevolence *, and the assiduity with

[ocr errors]

* There are two anecdotes in general circulation, corroborative of this remark. We give them in the current language.

The first anecdote is as follows :-During the residence of Lord Byron at Venice, the house of a shoemaker was destroyed by fire, and, every article belonging to the poor man being lost, he was, with a large family, reduced to a most pitiable condition. The noble bard, having ascertained the afflicting circumstances of this event, ordered a new and superior babi. tation to be immediately built for the sufferer; in addition to which, he presented the unfortunate tradesman with a sum equal in value to the whole of bis stock in trade and furniture.

The second anecdote relates to a circumstance which occurred previous to his lordship’s marriage. When he resided in Albany, a young lady of a poetical talent, but not successful in her literary attempts, found herself involved in difficulties, owing to the misfortunes of her family. Those friends who might have served her were abroad, and she knew not where to address them: her distresses accumulated ; and she felt so severely the state of those who were most dear to her, that she resolved to apply to Lord Byron, on the plea of authorship, by soliciting his subscription to her poems. It is singular, that her idea of bis character was formed from his works, which induced her to conclude him to be of an amiable disposition, and one who was much misunderstood by the world. Such as her imagination had pourtrayed him, she found bim in reality: she simply stated her motive for applying to him, and requested his subscription; when he, in the most delicate manner, prevented her from dwelling on any painful subject, by immediately entering into some general conversation, in the course of which, he wrote a draft, which he folded up, and presented to her, saying, “ that was his subscription.” She did not, of course, look at the paper while she remained with him, which was some time, as the pleasure of bis discourse was too delightful to be soon relinquished ; and, while he professed himself highly interested in her future welfare, from motives of

ing a

which he cultivated his talents,--should make us cautious how we pronounce on the moral qualities of individual character, from the expression of opinions which are only speculative and abstract. It has been well observed, that we may know what Heresy is, but God only can determine who is an heretic. The Faith, which saves and sanctifies, is in the Heart, and for the errors of the understanding it cannot be arraigned. No man, in the case of another, and perhaps not in his own, can be certain whence error proceedeth. Those who adopt erroneous systems, with a full view of their mischievous consequences, need discipline, not argument; they must be made better men, before they can become wiser.

Conduct so much better than what many considered the heretical opinions of the poet, could not fail of a reaction upon his principles ; accordingly, we find him lately express

doubt, if doubt be doubt. Many, perhaps, have read this passage with a different feeling from what we now express. We give it entire. “When Bishop Berkeley said, "there was no matter,

And prov'd it,-~'twas no matter what he said ;
They say, his system 'tis in vain to batter,

Too subtle for the airiest human head;
And yet, who can believe it? I would shatter

Gladly all matters down to stone or lead,
Or adamant, to find the world a spirit,

And wear my head, denying that I wear it.
“What a sublime discovery 'twas to make, the

Universe universal Egotism,
That all's ideal-all ourselves : l'll stake the

World (be it what you will) that that's no schism.
Ob, Doubt!-if thou be’st Doubt, for which some take thee,

But which I doubt extremely,-thou sole prism
Of the Truth's rays, spoil not my draught of spirit !

Heaven's brandy, though our brain can hardly bear it.
For ever and anon comes Indigestion,

(Not the most dainty Ariel,) and perplexes Our soarings with another sort of question:

And that which after all my spirit vexes,
Is, that I find no spot where man can rest eye on,

Without confusion of the sorts and sexes,
Of beings, stars, and this unriddled wonder-
The World, which AT THE WORST'S A GLORIOUS BLUNDER.

delicacy he refrained from taking any active part in promoting the subscription; for, as they were both young, he feared, from the well-known censoriousness of the world, he might rather injure, than serve her, by so doing. The paper was a draft on his banker for fifty pounds.

« ZurückWeiter »