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Sardanapalus, a Tragedy; The Two Foscari, a Tragedy; Cain, a Mystery. By Lord Byron. 8vo. pp. 439. London, 1821.
We opened this new volume of poetry, bearing the noble name of Byron as it's passport to celebrity, with those mixed feelings of dread and anticipation, which we believe are shared in common by all his Lordship's readers, except indeed the degraded disciples of his obnoxious creeds, or the blinded worshippers of his poetic infallibility. Admiration of his powers, and regret for their abasement, have been so often expressed in our pages, that it is almost needless for us now to repeat, that our sentiments are still the same; although the present work excites a far deeper portion of the latter feeling, without even a proportionate share of that talent, and of those beauties, which we had hoped might, in some degree, compensate and atone for it. Lord Byron is indeed himself an enigma, "which he who solved the Sphinx's, would die guessing." After becoming the author of poems, in which religion, virtue, patriotism, and all the most ennobling aspirations of our nature were scoffed at, and held up to shame, his Lordship has since come forward as the champion of Pope's ethics, and the satirist of immorality! and he, who in his dramatic mysticism of "Manfred" set even coherence at defiance, now steps forth the patron of theatrical consistency, and writes a couple of dull tragedies with due respect to the unities !-It is not these contradictions, however, that we care about, nor of this inconsistency that we would complain; but it is, that after ridiculing all the feelings of our humanity, and sneering at all the hopes of our pious faith, and striving to degrade man in all that distinguishes him from the brutes that perish," he should now appear unblushingly before the world the avowed author of a work, in which Almighty wisdom is blasphemed, and Almighty goodness sneered at. This is indeed a consumma ion which we could not have anticipated, even to the career of a Byron; and requires a castigation and a controul far more powerful than, we much fear, any criticism can supply. This part of the subject must, however, be again referred to, and it is not tempting enough for us to write one word upon it unnecessarily.
It will not be among the least wonders that may hereafter be connected with this work, that a Mr. David Lyndsay, but just preceding it's appearance, published a volume of ancient dramas, two of which were Sardanapalus and Cain, the very subjects chosen by Lord Byron. That this was without any previous knowledge of such collision of study, is amply proved by a comparison of the two works; and we refer to Mr. Lyndsay's no further, at the present moment, than to state, that his composition of Cain has proved that it was perfectly possible to write a poem upon the first murder, which might be read without fear of contamination, and animadverted upon without disgrace to it's author.
Proceed we now to notice his Lordship's tragedies, the first of which has so very few claims upon our attention, that were it not the work of the author of "Childe Harold," it might be very readily permitted to pass unnoticed to the oblivion of the Assyrian empire to which it belongs, and the loss, we may fearlessly assert, would be felt by none but Mr. Murray.
The tragedy of " Sardanapalus" is founded on an event that occurred about eight hundred years before Christ, and recorded by Herodotus, Strabo, and Diodorus Siculus. Sardanapalus, the fortieth and last King of Assyria, was celebrated for luxury and voluptuousness; passing the principal part of his time among his women, disguised in the habit of a female, and spinning wool for his amusement; which effeminacy naturally irritating his officers, two of them, Beleses and Arbaces, collected a force to dethrone him. Sardanapalus, for a time, shook off his indolence, and placing himself at the head of his troops, defeated the rebels in three successive battles, but was at last beaten; when taking refuge in the city of Ninus, he defended it for two years: until at length, despairing of success, he burnt himself in his palace, with his women, and treasures, and the empire of Assyria was divided among the conspirators. Such are the materials on which Lord Byron has constructed his tragic poem, reducing this story to all the dramatic
regularity of which it was capable, in order to approach the unities,—“ Conceiving," as his Lordship's Preface says, that with any very distant departure from them, there may be poetry, but can be no drama." "Alas for poor Shakspeare!
The principal characters in this tragedy are Sardanapalus, King of Nineveh and Assyria; Arbaces, the Mede who aspired to the throne Beleses, a Chaldean and soothsayer; Salemenes, the King's brother-in-law; Zarina, the Queen; and Myrrha, an Ionian female slave, and a favourite of Sardanapalus. The tragedy commences with a fine soliloquy by Salemenes, which, as it well describes the character of Sardanapalus, we shall quote entire :
Of women, and of beings less than women,
Must chime in to the echo of his revel, While the great king of all we know of earth
Lies negligently by to be caught up
Who are his comrades and his council, flash
Along the gallery; and amidst the damsels,
As femininely garbed, and scarce less female,
The grandson of Semiramis, the man
He comes!. Shall I await him? yes, and
And tell him what all good men tell each other,
Speaking of him and his. They come, the
Led by the monarch subject to his
Salemenes remonstrates with the king on his effeminate amusement, and the necessity there is to rouse himself and see the danger that threatens him ; when the king replies, in a most disgraceful truth, which the history of all". ages has lamentably confirmed ;-. Thou seest
The populace of all the nations seize Each calumny they can to sink their sovereigns."
The second act opens with an interview between the rebel leaders, at the portal of the palace hall, where Saiemenes, who is invested with the Beleses surrenders, but Arbaces deking's signet, attempts to seize them. fends himself: when Sardanapalus entering with his train, pardons both
the traitors. In the third act there is a banquet, during which the king is apprized that the conspiracy has broken out; to confirm which, Beleses and Arbaces enter with the rebels; a con
Iflict ensues, and they are ulimately routed. From the opening of the fourth act we extract the following portion of a scene, which, we regret to say, is by no means an insulated instance of that wordy expansion with which Lord Byron has found it necessary to spin out his unactable tragedy to the requisite number of pages. There are several other passages far more diluted, for this scene appears the most ambitious of the tragedy.
"Myrrha gazing on Sardanapalus asleep. I have stolen upon his rest, if rest it be, Which thus convulses slumber: shall I
Me more to see than him to suffer. No:
The empire of eternity. Hence !-hence,
If your priests lie not! And thou, ghastly beldame !
Dripping with dusky gore, and trampling
Ah, Myrrha! I have been where we shall be. Myr. My lord!
Sard. I've been i' the grave, where worms are lords,
I thought 'twas nothing.
"I saw, that is, I dream'd myself Here,-here, even where we are, guests as we were,
Myself a host that deem'd himself but
Willing to equal all in social freedom; But, on my right hand and my left, instead
Of thee and Zames, and our custom'd
Was rang'd on my left hand a haughty, dark,
And deadly face. I could not recognize it,
Yet I had seen it, though I knew not where;
The features were a giant's, and the eye Was still, yet lighted; his long locks curl'd down
On his vast bust, whence a huge quiver
It was so palpable, I could have touch'd them.
I turn'd from one face to another, in
And stared, but neither ate nor drank, but stared,
Till I grew stone, as they seem'd half to be,
Yet breathing stone, for I felt life in them,
And life in me: there was a horrid kind
burnt my lips with her noisome kisses,
And, flinging down the goblets on each hand,
Methought their poisons flow'd around us, till
Each form'd a hideous river. Still she clung
The other phantoms, like a row of statues,
Stood dull as in our temples, but she still Embraced me, while I shrank from her, as if,
In lieu of her remote descendant, I Had been the son who slew her for her incest.
Then, then,-a chaos of all loathsome things
Throng'd thick and shapeless: I was dead, yet feeling,— Buried, and raised again, consumed by
Purged by the flames, and wither'd in the air!
I can fix nothing further of my thoughts, Save that I long'd for thee, and sought for thee,
From heaven or earth,—And rather let In all these agonies, and woke and found
Death all, than such a being!
The hunter and the crew; and smiling on me,
Yes, the enlarged but noble aspect of
In the last struggle the faithful Salemenes is mortally wounded, and dies immediately after reaching the royal palace; and we now hasten to
Hence, and be happy: trust me I am not
farewell. [Exeunt Pania and Soldiers. Myr. These men were honest: it is comfort still
That our last looks should be on loving faces.
Sard. And lovely ones, my beautiful !— ⚫ but hear me !
If at this moment, for we now are on The brink, thou feel'st an inward shrinking from
This leap through flame into the future, say it:
I shall not love thee less; nay, perhaps more,
For yielding to thy nature: and there's
Yet for thee to escape hence.
Shall I light
One of the torches which lie heap'd beneath
The ever-burning lamp that burns without, Before Baal's shrine, in the adjoining hall?
Sard. Do so. Is that thy answer?
It may be, purified by death from some
Of arms, and records, monuments, and spoils,
In which they would have revell'd, I bear with me.
To you in that absorbing element,
A beacon in the horizon for a day,
Rather let them be borne abroad upon The winds of heaven, and scatter'd into air,
Than be polluted more by human hands Of slaves and traitors; in this blazing palace,
And it's enormous walls of reeking ruin, We leave a nobler monument than Egypt Hath piled in her brick mountains, o'er dead kings,
Or kine, for none know whether those proud piles
Be for their monarch or their ox-god Apis:
So much for monuments that have forgotten Their very record!
Myr. Then farewell, thou earth! And loveliest spot of earth! farewell Ionia !
Be thou still free and beautiful, and far Aloof from desolation! My last prayer Was for thee, my last thoughts, save one, were of thee!
Sard. And that? Myr. Is yours.
[The trumpet of Pania sounds without. Sard. Hark!