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124 LORD BYRON HIS PHILOSOPHY OF MORALS,
illusions - hollow and despicable mockeries for the most part, and, at best, but laborious follies. Religion, love, patriotism, valour, devotion, constancy, ambition-all are to be laughed at, disbelieved in, and despised! — and nothing is really good, so far as we can gather, but a succession of dangers to stir the blood, and of banquets and intrigues to sooth it again! If this doctrine stood alone, with its examples, it would revolt, we believe, more than it would seduce: But the author of it has the unlucky gift of personating all those sweet and lofty illusions, and that with such grace and force, and truth to nature, that it is impossible not to suppose, for the time, that he is among the most devoted of their votaries -till he casts off the character with a jerk-and, the moment after he has moved and exalted us to the very height of our conception, resumes his mockery at all things serious or sublime—and lets us down at once on some coarse joke, hard-hearted sarcasm, or fierce and relentless personality -as if on purpose to show
Whoe'er was edified, himself was not "
or to demonstrate practically as it were, and by example, how possible it is to have all fine and noble feelings, or their appearance, for a moment, and yet retain no particle of respect for them—or of belief in their intrinsic worth or permanent reality. Thus, we have an indelicate but very clever scene of young Juan's concealment in the bed of an amorous matron, and of the torrent of rattling and audacious eloquence" with which she repels the too just suspicions of her jealous lord. All this is merely comic and a little coarse:- But then the poet chooses to make this shameless and abandoned woman address to her young gallant an epistle breathing the very spirit of warm, devoted, pure, and unalterable love
thus profaning the holiest language of the heart, and indirectly associating it with the most hateful and degrading sensuality. In like manner, the sublime and terrific description of the Shipwreck is strangely and disgustingly broken by traits of low humour and buf foonery; and we pass immediately from the moans of
AND ITS EXEMPLIFICATION.
an agonizing father fainting over his famished son, to facetious stories of Juan's begging a paw of his father's dog-and refusing a slice of his tutor!-as if it were a fine thing to be hard-hearted and pity and compassion were fit only to be laughed at. In the same spirit, the glorious Ode on the aspirations of Greece after Liberty, is instantly followed up by a strain of dull and coldblooded ribaldry; and we are hurried on from the distraction and death of Haidee to merry scenes of intrigue and masquerading in the seraglio. Thus all good feelings are excited only to accustom us to their speedy and complete extinction; and we are brought back, from their transient and theatrical exhibition, to the staple and substantial doctrine of the work the non-existence of constancy in women or honour in men, and the folly of expecting to meet with any such virtues, or of cultivating them, for an undeserving world; and all this mixed up with so much wit and cleverness, and knowledge of human nature, as to make it irresistibly pleasant and plausible — while there is not only no antidote supplied, but every thing that might have operated in that way has been anticipated, and presented already in as strong and engaging a form as possible-but under such associations as to rob it of all efficacy, or even turn it into an auxiliary of the poison.
This is our sincere opinion of much of Lord Byron's most splendid poetry a little exaggerated perhaps in the expression, from a desire to make our exposition clear and impressive-but, in substance, we think merited and correct. We have already said, and we deliberately repeat, that we have no notion that Lord Byron had any mischievous intention in these publications and readily acquit him of any wish to corrupt the morals, or impair the happiness of his readers. Such a wish, indeed, is in itself altogether inconceivable; but it is our duty, nevertheless, to say, that much of what he has published appears to us to have this tendencyand that we are acquainted with no writings so well calculated to extinguish in young minds all generous enthusiasm and gentle affection-all respect for them
MIGHT PROFIT BY THE
selves, and all love for their kind to make them practise and profess hardily what it teaches them to suspect in others—and actually to persuade them that it is wise and manly and knowing to laugh, not only at selfdenial and restraint, but at all aspiring ambition, and all warm and constant affection.
How opposite to this is the system, or the temper, of the great author of Waverley—the only living individual to whom Lord Byron must submit to be ranked as inferior in genius- and still more deplorably inferior in all that makes genius either amiable in itself, or useful to society! With all his unrivalled power of invention and judgment, of pathos and pleasantry, the tenor of his sentiments is uniformly generous, indulgent, and good-humoured; and so remote from the bitterness of misanthropy, that he never indulges in sarcasm, and scarcely, in any case, carries his merriment so far as derision. But the peculiarity by which he stands most broadly and proudly distinguished from Lord Byron is, that, beginning, as he frequently does, with some ludicrous or satirical theme, he never fails to raise out of it some feelings of a generous or gentle kind, and to end by exciting our tender pity, or deep respect, for those very individuals or classes of persons who seemed at first to be brought on the stage for our mere sport and amusement thus making the ludicrous itself subservient to the cause of benevolence and inculcating, at every turn, and as the true end and result of all his trials and experiments, the love of our kind, and the duty and delight of a cordial and genuine sympathy with the joys and sorrows of every condition of men. It seems to be Lord Byron's way, on the contrary, never to excite a kind or a noble sentiment, without making haste to obliterate it by a torrent of unfeeling mockery, or relentless abuse, and taking pains to show how well those passing fantasies may be reconciled to a system of resolute misanthropy, or so managed as even to enhance its merits, or confirm its truth. With what different sensations, accordingly, do we read the works of those two great writers! With the one, we
EXAMPLE OF THE AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY.
seem to share a gay and gorgeous banquet - with the other, a wild and dangerous intoxication. Let Lord Byron bethink him of this contrast and its causes and effects. Though he scorns the precepts, and defies the censure of ordinary men, he may yet be moved by the example of his only superior! In the mean time, we have endeavoured to point out the canker that stains the splendid flowers of his poetry—or, rather, the serpent that lurks beneath them. If it will not listen to the voice of the charmer, that brilliant garden, gay and glorious as it is, must be deserted, and its existence deplored, as a snare to the unwary.
LORD BYRON'S MANFRED.
Manfred; a Dramatic Poem. By Lord BYRON. 8vo. pp. 75. London: 1817.
THIS is a very strange-not a very pleasing questionably a very powerful and most poetical production. The noble author, we find, still deals with that dark and overawing Spirit, by whose aid he has so often subdued the minds of his readers, and in whose might he has wrought so many wonders. In Manfred, we recognise at once the gloom and potency of that soul which burned and blasted and fed upon itself in Harold, and Conrad, and Lara- and which comes again in this piece, more in sorrow than in anger-more proud, perhaps, and more awful than ever-but with the fiercer traits of its misanthropy subdued, as it were, and quenched in the gloom of a deeper despondency. Manfred does not, like Conrad and Lara, wreak the anguish of his burning heart in the dangers and daring of desperate and predatory war-nor seek to drown bitter thoughts in the tumult of perpetual contention — nor yet, like Harold, does he sweep over the peopled scenes of the earth with high disdain and aversion, and make his survey of the business and pleasures and studies of man an occasion for taunts and sarcasms, and the food of an immeasurable spleen. He is fixed by the genius of the poet in the majestic solitudes of the central Alps
where, from his youth up, he has lived in proud but calm seclusion from the ways of men; conversing only with the magnificent forms and aspects of nature by which he is surrounded, and with the Spirits of the Elements over whom he has acquired dominion, by the secret and unhallowed studies of Sorcery and Magic. He is averse indeed from mankind, and scorns the low and frivolous nature to which he belongs; but he cherishes