Page images
PDF
EPUB

years, Lord Byron again saw the Morea, Mr. Trelawny left Lord Byron at which he loved so well

Cephalonia, for he was long in moving “The sun, the sky, but not the slave the same."

when once settled, and never saw him

again in life, Anxious to know someThe reckless greediness of the Suliote thing of the state of matters in the Morea, refugees at Cephalonia disgusted him; the former passed over, accompanied by and the intelligence he received about the Mr. Hamilton Browne. They found only prospects of liberty in Greece, or the confusion, intrigue, and embezzlement; probability of assistance from the West- and after transacting a little business, his ern Powers, so long withheld, being far companion, Mr. Browne, went to London, from encouraging, he determined to accompanying certain Greek deputies, who remain some time at Cephalonia, but pre- were commissioned to raise a loan thère, ferred living on board to accepting the which, wonderful to relate, they succeedwarmly proffered hospitality of Colonel ed in doing; though the worthy stockCharles Napier, or of the other residents brokers could hardly have been moved in the island.

to liberality, or rather credulity, by their “One day, after a bathe, he held out his classical sympathies ; while Mr. Trelawny, right leg to me, saying: 'I hope this accursed quitting the Morea, made for Athens, and limb will be knocked off in the war.' 'It won't joined a celebrated robber chief, who had improve your swimming,'I answered; I will assumed political functions in the disturbexchange legs, if you will give me a portion of ed and anarchic state of the country, and your brains.'' You would repent your bar- bore the classical name of Odysseus. In gain,' he said, etc., etc.”—P. 20.

January, 1824, Mr. Trelawny heard that

Byron had gone to Missolonghi, and then, The Greeks, it appears, very rationally that he was dead; worn out with fatigue, desired a strong centralized authority to anxiety, and disgust, his frame, already suppress the hordes of robbers--much shattered by repeated attacks of remittent more numerous than usual, since the out- fever, acquired during former residence break of the war with Turkey, and in the marsh-girt cities of Ravenna and talked, at least a portion of them did, of Venice, succumbed in the prime of life to offering the crown to Byron; he might the miasma which in greater or less intenhave bought it, perhaps, afterwards at sity, according to the season, constitutes Salona, and the Greeks would have had a the atmosphere of Missolonghi. Mr. Treking for three months, if he had not ab- lawny was at Salona, but left for Missodicated before, worthy of their classical longħi directly, which he entered on the renown certainly, but not quite the man third day from his departure, and found to disentangle, or divide the political and it “situated on the verge of the most social complications in which they were dismal swamp I had ever seen." entangled. The beauty of Ithaca, visited at this time, seems to have justified the “No one was in the house but Fletcher, who persevering partiality of Ulysses for his withdrew the black pall and the white shroud, island kingdom; but there is an inexcus- and there lay the embalmed body of the able piece of rudeness to the abbot of a Pilgrim-more beautiful even in death than in Greek convent on that island, recorded life. The contraction of the skin and muscles against Byron. The poor man had re

had effaced every line traced by time or ceived him with all the honor in his power its stainless white, the harmony of its propor

passion; few marble busts could have matched or knowledge, but proceeded, unluckily, to tions, and its perfect finish. Yet he had been inflict an harangue of such length and dissatisfied with that body, and longed to cast solemnity, that Lord Byron, who had its slough. How often have I heard him curse missed the indispensable siesta, broke it

. I asked Fletcher to bring me a glass of into ungovernable wrath, and abused his water; and on his leaving the room, to confirm entertainer with much more emphasis lameness, I uncovered the Pilgrim's feet, and

or remove my doubts as to the cause of his than euphony, from which his character, and wish to please, should certainly have the legs withered to the knee: the form and

was answered—both his feet were clubbed, and protected the abbot. No wonder that face of an Apollo, with the feet and legs of a the astounded abbot could find no better sylvan satyr." excuse for the conduct of the English peer and poet than madness—“Ecolo e The remaining chapters are exclusively matto poveretto."

autobiographical, and are not without interest, for Mr. Trelawny's name has the immature judgment and the vehement become historical in Gordon's “ History sensation of his character; the verse flows of the Greek Revolution." His adven- onward in a torrent of splendor, and a

” tures are not common-place; and his false lustre is given to the passion whose intimate connection with the family and fruit is ashes ; beauty of form, and the fortunes of Odysseus afforded an oppor. easy and over-valued achievements of tunity of seeing and knowing more of the physical courage, are the artless and orwilder and worthier elements of Romaic dinary attractions of his actors; there is character than has fallen to the lot of any no depth or refinement of character, no other educated Englishman. For some difficult invention; the poems are but time he held watch and ward in the forti- pictures of ordinary merit, in splendid fied, inaccessible cave on Mount Par- frames. nassus, where Odysseus bad placed his But a deeper knowledge dawned upon family and property, with a garrison of a him — a larger experience of his own

, a few men, and his brother-in-law, Mr. Tre- heart, though little of the actual world lawny, in command. He was at last des from which he shrunk; and if he, as most perately wounded in a very treacherous men have done, regretted the delusions of manner, by a Scotchman named Fenton, the master-passion, and wished that the whom he had unduly trusted, but who deception had lasted forever, or had had been bribed to act as a spy on Odys- never existed, yet his later strains, in seus and himself. He tells his story, their deeper tone and wider sympathies, regardless of criticism, in a frank and evince that better self-knowledge, withcandid manner; and it must be a capi- out which no man has successfully maptious critic indeed, who can object to the ped even the narrowest province of the consciousness of that superior physical human heart; for that knowledge is itself strength and vigor, which sustained with but the evidence and the record of sufferease, exertions that exhausted the more ings which the conflicts of reason with delicate powers of the two celebrated passion must ever produce. companions, whose names lend so much In the crude though not inharmonious interest to his book, and to whose intel products of his youth, we see how little lectual preeminence he renders respect- he had felt his strength, and how he was ful and affectionate homage.

fettered by the rules which had been the We have so recently recorded our guide of his model and antithesis, Pope; opinions on Shelley's writings,* that we no where does he dare to be original, and shall now offer a few remarks on some the spirit which dictated his first and portion of Lord Byron's poetry, which, weakest satire, was but the natural rewith all it popularity, has not, it appears sentment of an Englishman who had no to us, been always rightly estimated. He mind to be bullied: the mere mechanical unaffectedly repudiated the opinion so versification gives small promise of the generally entertained, that he was the matchless powers which produced “Don hero of his own compositions—that the Juan” and “ Beppo ;" and in the matter, monotonous protagonists of his early and there is nothing to warn us of that contembrilliantly successful Eastern tales, no less plative and deeply poetical thought wbich than the blasé and reflective“ Childe,” or is so apparent in the “Prophecy of Dante,” the fortunate and brilliant “Don Juan,” and in the two later cantos of “ Childe were drawn from the inspiration of a too Harold.” Even those unequaled satiric partial egotism. We are inclined to be- powers which culminated in the “ Irish lieve in the sincerity of his protest, and Avatar,” are but shadowed, not developto attribute to dramatic poverty the uni- ed, and the common-place abuse and halfformity of his characters, and to his own affected contempt of his first satire are physical imperfection the bodily strength calculated to produce a very different efand activity by which his heroes are so fect from the withering ridicule and caregenerally distinguished. In those short less contempt which overwhelmed those pieces which were the fruits of his early who provoked the displeasure of his later travels, and which at once attractd the years. attention of every reader by the unequal. The German critics, with a severity of ed brilliancy of the language, we perceive taste that does them honor, place the

three great poets, whose names at once * Vide Number for January of this year. occur to us - Homer, Shakspeare, and

[ocr errors]

Goethe--so far above all rivalry, as to ac- considered, is the only true religion, and cord to these alone that supremacy and a scorn, as strongly expressed, for the universality of intellect which we call vulgar or tinsel idols of mob idolatry. poetic genius; and this may be just, but His spirit had wrestled with itself in the human mind is so constituted in its vain ; the vehement and unwise desire for appreciation of poetry, as sometimes to something denied to mere mortality was derive superior pleasure from strains bis ; the self-condemnation of performance which have emanated from minds of far so grievously inadequate to the lofty reinferior order. We like best that poetry solution, which more or less dwells in which addresses most strongly and direct- every heart, rebelling against the sway of ly the prevailing sentiments of our own low desires, was strong upon him; so characters; and hence thousands in whom that he hated life, and sought at first the finest of Homer's rhapsodies, Shak- wildly, but afterwards more calmly, to speare's "Tempest,” or Goethe's “Iphige- give that feeling utterance: but the “voicenia,” would awake no other sentiment less thought” could not so be spoken, and than cool admiration, would be moved to be, the most eloquent, went to his grave tears or to enthusiasm by Pindar, Camp- without succeeding in the vain effort to bell, or Gray. It is no less certain that unburden his full heart. Not by words, men of even the keenest intellect merely, however eloquent, can man satisfy himare not unfrequently deficient in poetic self, or vindicate his life to others. Contaste and judgment. We know, for ex- sistent action alone can satisfy the conample, that Napoleon preferred Ossian, science, or justify us to our own hearts; and Robert Hall Virgil to Homer; and and when action is denied or unsought, that Lord Byron himself, utterly wanting we strive for the relief, however inadein dramatic power, but little appreciated quate, that words can furnish. Thus the true strength of Shakspeare. Poetry, Chaucer: indeed, especially of the first order, must be felt in the heart as well as judged by

“For when we may not do, then will we spethe head, and the greatest merit is least ken, apparent to a superficial glance; long

And in our ashen colde, is fire yreken.” study, contemplation, and comparison are required to comprehend the consummate Had any suitable career of action been excellence of a masterpiece, whether it be open to him, or had he lived in feudal from the hand of Shakspeare or the pen- times, he might have surpassed Bertrand cil of Raphael.

de Born in thirst for irregular warlike But if the very few of the first order of achievement, and in the strains that celepoets completely satisfy all the require- brated it; the monotony of a modern ments of the most refined and matured in- military career, and the subordination tellect, the poetry of Lord Byron will al- which can recognize no superiority but ways appeal strongly to those, and they professional rank, where the opportunity are not a few, whose passions, at some of achievement is an accident, and routine period of their lives, have proved too the rule of life, was utterly unsuited to strong for the control of reason, and his character and his physical constituwhere regret, if not remorse, has follow- tion. No better career offered to him ed the fruitless contest—a contest which than that miserable one of Missolonghi, has left the mind vacant for want of and here he gave evidence of a moderastrong excitement, and wearied with a tion and self-command little to have been scene which offers no sufficient substitute expected from a man whose vanity and for what has been lost. Flashes of the egotism were not less conspicuous than melancholy wisdom which follows on such his genius ; this desire for an active caexperience are frequent in his later works, reer is translated into his Eastern stories, and their deep, and perhaps not barren and his heroes are rather models of what truth, may sink with something of a heal- he wished to be, than what he was. ing and enlightening influence into hearts His forte, however, as he knew, was whose scars are not yet callous.

vivid description, varied and illuminated There is, too, a strong and ardent re- by flashes of earnest thought, and the reverence for the nobleness of intellect, ever sults of a melancholy, if a short experifelt most strongly by those most highly ence. endowed ; that reverence which, rightly

In sustained dramatic or epic power

a

he was deficient; but this is an imperial) est of all, the tyrant Zeus, was inferior. endowment, and, in his own language, Like some vulgar earthly ruler, he uses

his power but to gratify passions unwor“Not Hellas could unroll

thy of a God and the charm of divine From her Olympiads tuo such names.”

beauty and celestial grace which hovers His “Manfred,” despite Mr. Moore's forever round the name of Aphrodite, is crude criticism, is a dramatic failure; insufficient to overcome the disgust with and when he calls this creation of Lord which we regard her threat to Helena, Byron's “loftier and worse” than Mil- when the latter indignantly refuses to reton's Satan, the critic shows how little of turn to her vanquished and fugitive parathe dramatic or epic element he must mour. have himself possessed. 66 Manfred " is And when, in the “Tempest,” Sbaknot a great creation-he is but a dream- speare introduces Ariel to delude and torer, who, finding no pleasure in an earthly ment a set of drunken menials, or frightpursuit, itself a morbid and unhealthy en a brutal and ignorant drudge, he feeling, strives to o'erpass the limits of scarcely redeems the character of that mortality, and to coërce the spirits whom “ dainty” creation by his services in rethe elements obey. Such a desire, as constructing the shattered ship, or even common as it was vain, before men had in deceiving the wretches who were plotemerged from the superstitious element ting the death of the Duke. An inspired of the middle ages, evinces no elevation genius may walk through proprieties at or greatness of character, and if with will, as he so constantly does, but even dauntless courage he defies the spirits Shakspeare might have remembered in whom he had evoked by his spells, and the “ Tempest,” “Nec Deus intersit,etc. provoked by his contempt of their power,

When Goethe, following the popular he does so as one who knows they can superstition, introduces the Devil, thinly not injure him, and who seeks death disguised, as the companion and mentor rather than shuns it.

of Faust, he goes easily enough with the The great blot of the piece, however, pair through the temptations and the is the doubt that encompasses the fate of punishment of his neophyte and of Astarte; the imagination can conceive no Margaret-an episode too common in adequate cause for the terrible implaca- daily life to require the devil as its agent bility which could reign in the bosom of a --and Faust, when on the blasted heath beatified spirit, and deny to a despairing he upbraids Mephisto with the cruel fate brother one word of consolation in his of her he should have protected from all awful abandonment. If she could con- harm, and curses himself as the dupe of demn him, how can he be forgiven ? a pitiless fiend, does but vent the re

Such a subject, however attractive to a proaches many a man has heaped on himwriter of strong imagination, and how- self, shuddering, if he had a conscience, ever promising in appearance, proves at the cruel treachery which has rent a much more difficult to treat adequately, heart that beat only for him. But when if, indeed, it can ever be so treated at all, the great German leaves the popular than scenes and characters of a more guide to invent a sphere of supernatural earthly nature, where strictly human action, when Faust appears in scenes agents appeal to a kindred reason and where the author has no guide from trasympathy

dition, and subject to temptations of a less The communion of the supernatural human character, we see how little mere with the natural has been a favorite mortal wit can observe any semblance of theme, and a certain stumbling-block, to probability, or appearance of cohesion, the greatest poets. Homer succeeded in attempting that for which there is no best, because he invented little, taking actual precedent in human experience. the materials within his reach—and his There is but one Magician, and he has gods and goddesses are but human be- long laid aside all pretensions above morings, with a loftier physical and mental tality. Patient and sagacious interrogastature; it was easy to introduce them tion of nature, in disclosing the hidden implementing the inferior powers of their properties of matter, has evoked powers favorite heroes, but we feel that, in all which the genii of the lamp might have that should distinguish the supernatural envied, and wealth, which would have Being above the human nature, the great- / satisfied the avarice of the alchemists.

The greatest can but draw the super-excellence, though of invention, the test natural from knowledge of the natural, of the highest genius, we find no traces. and we have but human nature exagge- There is throughout a want of cohesion, rated in the majority of instances; Shak- if we consider “ Childe Harold” as an atspeare's Ariel, and the spirits in “Manfred” tempt at poetic creation, for the Childe" are nearly the only exceptions. Homer is a voice, not a living pilgrim ; but if we is greatest where he describes the actions recognize Lord Byron himself under an of men, and the submissive grace and ten- alias, narrating what he saw, and expressderness of women. Shakspeare stirs the ing in just and vivid language what he heart, and awakens our admiration most felt, we have a poem, the various merit strongly when he depicts the loving con- of which it is difficult to over-estimate. stancy of the gentler sex, and the mascu- The vigor of description therein disline heroism of Coriolanus or of Henry played is indeed without a parallel. Who V. Goethe has an easy task when he has equaled, or even approached, the echoes the sarcastic mockery, or paints power displayed in stanzas 27, 28, 29 of the demon heart of Mephisto; but the the fourth canto? In them we see actually master-hand is seen in the calm and brought before us by the magical force of natural beauty of the “Iphigenia,” and his language, the exquisite and fugitive above all in his unequaled delineation of beauties of an Italian sunset, which would the female nature; he who could draw have mocked the pictorial art of Claude such characters as Gretchen, Clara, or Turner to transfer to canvas. Mere Mignon, and Adelheid von Weislingen, words are made to appeal to the mind has surpassed all others, Shakspeare more effectively than the consummate himself, in this the most interesting skill of the masters of painting could province of observation and invention. appeal to the sense of vision. Even

And Lord Byron, though he has clothed Homer is here surpassed for a moment, his demons with majesty and power, for no where does he bring before us so though he has avoided the vulgar error striking and so difficult a phase of nature's of too easily vanquishing evil by good, ever-varying countenance; not even in Satan by Abdiel, yet hardly introduces the familiar passage in the eighth Rhapthese for purposes worthy their super- sodynatural powers, unless it be to justify the magnificent “Hymn of the Spirits" in

Ως δ' οτ' εν ουρανω αστρα φαεινην αμφι σεληνην

Φαινεται αριπρεπεα. worship round the throne of Ahrimanes.

In the first two cantos of “ Childe though it well deserves the homage Byron Harold,” the objective element is strongly

pays it in the fourth canto of the “Proascendant, written as they were at a period of life when the world was still phecy of Dante”— fresh, and the essential identity of human “The kindled marble's bust may wear nature, under all its phases, hardly appre- More poesy upon its speaking brow ciated. The boundless command of his Than aught less than the Homeric page may own language, and the liveliest suscepti- bear." bility to the beauty or grandeur of nature, produced a poem which riveted immedi- In stanza 102, canto III., we seem even to ately the attention of contemporaries, hear and see the busy summer forest life of partly, indeed, due to a comparative birds and insects in the woods of Clarens, novelty of style, and the want of sustain the rustle of the leaves in the early sumed originality, in the poetry which imme- mer breath of June, and the very plash of diately preceded its publication; some- Alpine waterfalls; the beautiful living solithing too may have been owing to the tude, unspoilt by the intrusion of man, lesser preoccupation of the public by the comes before us as if in spirit, or in a floods of ephemeral and amusing litera- dream we were transported to the Swiss ture which dissipate the intellectual tastes wilderness; it is transferred to paper as of the readers of our day. It is in the two delicately and with truer coloring than latter cantos, and especially the last, in could have been effected by the calotype: which we find his powers completely ma- but these scenes in their quiet loveliness tured, whether reflective or descriptive. yet suggest reminiscences of the world In these cantos he has carried those im- which the anthor and the reader have for portant elements of poetry to their highest a moment forgotten, and the vigorous

K. T, 2.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »