« PreviousContinue »
That brow in furrow'd lines had fix'd at last,
At moments lighten’d o'er his livid face.'— Lara, pp. 6,7.. We are not writing Lord Byron's private history, though from the connection already stated between his poetry and his character, we feel ourselves forced upon considering his literary life, his deportment, and even his personal appearance. But we know enough even of his private story to give our warrant that, though his youth may have shared somewhat too largely in the indiscretions of those left too early masters of their own actions and fortunes, falsehood and malice alone can impute to him any real cause for hopeless remorse or gloomy misanthropy. To what, then, are we to ascribe the singular peculiarity which induced an author of such talent, and so well skilled in tracing the darker impressions which guilt and remorse leave on the human character, so frequently to affix features peculiar to himself to the robbers and and corsairs which he sketched with a pencil as forcible as that of Salvator ?–More than one answer may be returned to this question; nor do we pretend to say which is best warranted by the facts. The practice may arise from a temperament which radical and constitutional melancholy has, as in the case of Hamlet, predisposed to identify its owner with scenes of that deep and arouzing interest which arises from the stings of conseience contending with the stubborn energy of pride, and delighting to be placed in supposed situations of guilt and danger, as some men love instinctively to tread the giddy edge of a precipice, or, holding by some frail twig, to stoop forward over the abyss into which the dark torrent discharges itself. Or it may be that these disguises were assumed capriciously as a man might chuse the cloak, poniard, and dark-lantern of a bravo, for his disguise at a masquerade. Or feeling his own powers in painting the sombre and the horrible, Lord Byron assumed in his
fervour the very semblance of the characters he describes, like an actor who presents on the stage at once his own person and the tragic character with which for the time he is invested. Nor is it altogether incompatible with his character to believe that, in contempt of the criticisms which on this account had attended Childe Harold, he was determined to shew to the public how little he was affected by them, and how effectually it was in his power to compel attention and respect, even when imparting a portion of his own likeness and his own peculiarities to pirates, and outlaws.
But although we do not pretend to ascertain the motive on which Lord Byron acted in bringing the peculiarities of his own sentiments and feeling so frequently before his readers, it is with no little admiration that we regard these extraordinary powers, which, amidst this seeming uniformity, could continue to rivet the public attention, and secure general and continued applause. The versatility of authors who have been able to draw and support characters as different from each other as from their own, has given to their productions the inexpressible charm of variety, and has often secured them against that neglect which in general attends what is technically called mannerism. But it was reserved to Lord Byron to present the same character on the public stage again and again, varied only by the exertions of that powerful genius, which searching the springs of passion and of feeling in their innermost recesses, knew how to combine their operations, so that the interest was eternally varying, and never abated, although the most important personage of the drama retained the same lineaments. It will one day be considered as not the least remarkable literary phenomenon of this age, that during a period of four years, notwithstanding the quantity of distinguished poetical talent of which we may be permitted to boast, a single author, and he managing his pen with the careless and negligent ease of a man of quality, and chusing for his theme subjects so very sinular, and personages bearing so close a resemblance to each other,--did, in despite of these circumstances, of the unamiable attributes with which he usually invested his heroes, and of the proverbial fickleness of the public, maintain the ascendency in their favour, which he had acquired by his first matured production. So however it indisputably has been ; and those comparatively small circles of admirers excepted, which assemble naturally around individual poets of eminence, Lord Byron has been for that time, and may for some time continue to be, the Champion of the English Par
If his empire over the public mind be in any measure diminished, it arises from po literary failure of his own, and from no triumph of his competitors, but from other circumstances so
frequently alluded to in the publications before us, that they can
without some notice, which we will study to render as brief as it is impartial.
The poet thus gifted, thus honoured, thus admired, no longer entitled to regard himself as one defrauded of his just fame, and expelled with derision from the lists in which he had stood forward a candidate for honour, but crowned with all which the public could bestow, was now in a situation apparently as enviable as could be attained through mere literary celebrity. The sequel may be given in the words in which the author, adopting here more distinctly the character of Childe Harold than in the original poem, has chosen to present it to us, and to assign the cause why Childe Harold has resumed his pilgrim's staff when it was hoped he had sat down for life a denizen of his native country. The length of the quotation will be pardoned by those who can feel at once the moral interest and poetical beauty with which it abounds.
Fire from the mind as vigour from the limb;
Which pined although it spoke not, and grew keen,
Fit speculation ! such as in strange land
On with the giddy circle, chasing Time,
Proud though in desolation ; which could find
Where roll'd the ocean, thereon was his home ;
Of his land's tongue, which he would oft forsake
To which it mounts, as if to break the link
Till the blood tinge his plumage, so the heat
With draughts intemperate on the sinking deck,-
Canto III.-P. 7-11. The commentary through which the meaning of this melancholy tale is rendered obvious, has been long before the public, and is still in vivid remembrance; for the errors of those who excel their fellows in gifts and accomplishments are not soon forgotten. Those scenes, ever most painful to the bosom, were rendered yet more so by public discussion; and it is at least possible that amongst those who exclaimed most loudly on this unliappy occasion, were some in whose eyes literary superiority exaggerated Lord Byron's offence. The scene may be described in a few words :-the wise condemned-the good regretted—the multitude, idly or maliciously inquisitive, rushed from place to place, gathering gossip, which they mangled and exaggerated while they repeated it; and impudence, ever ready to hitch itself into notoriety, hooked on, as Falstaff enjoins Bardolph, blustered, bullied, and talked of pleading a cause' and 'taking a side.'
The family misfortunes which have for a time lost Lord Byron to his native land have neither chilled his poetical fire, nor deprived England of its benefit. The Third Canto of Childe Harold exhibits, in all its strength and in all its peculiarity, the wild, powerful and original vein of poetry which, in the preceding cantos, first fixed the public attention upon the author. If there is any difference, the former seem to us to have been rather more sedulously corrected and revised for publication, and the present work to have been dashed from the author's pen with less regard to the subordinate points of expression and versification. Yet such is the deep and powerful strain of passion, such the original tone and colouring of description, that the want of polish in some of its minute parts rather adds to than deprives the poem of its energy. It seems, occasionally, as if the consideration of mere grace was beneath the care of the poet, in his ardour to hurry upon the reader the thoughts that glow and words that burn; and that the occasional roughness of the verse corresponded with the stern tone of thought, and of mental suffering which it expresses. We have