Page images

soon after sunk into the tone of fond and almost indiscriminate adulation, with which they have generally received his Lordship’s subsequent productions,

In the interval between these two appearances the noble bard had made, or rather attempted, another so completely unsuccessful, that it has perhaps been hardly heard of in this country. Before the publication of the English Bards he had printed, in partnership with Mr. Hobhouse, a collection of poems, which cannot be said to have been published, because it remained upon the booksellers hands, and was, aster a while, converted into waste paper. A few of the pieces are, we believe, incorporated in some of the late collections. Let this fact console the young claimants for poetical distinction, whose first productions have been treated in a similar way. In this world of intrigue and management, a writer, or a man, who chooses to depend for success upon

his own deserts, must wait a little while for it; but then, when it comes it is worth having. What satisfaction is there in wearing a laurel wreath, if a man is to go into the woods and cut it down with his own penknise ? And again, the greatest genius does not arrive at the maturity of his power, till after frequent efforts and repeated failures. The reception given to these poems by the public was probably as good as they deserved.

Such were the first events of Lord Byron's literary life. At this time the scene changes. His restless and soaring spirit began to feel itself uneasy in the prison house of the British isles, and solitary in the crowded walks of Bondstreet and Piccadilly. The greater part of Europe was closed against him by the continental system ; but a breach had just been made by Lord Wellington in the long line of batteries erected to support it; and Spain and Portugal were now open. Lord Byron made a rapid tour through these countries, and through some of the most interesting parts of Greece. The view of these ancient seats of civilisation, and the influence of the high recollections connected with them, seem to have given fresh force and brilliancy to his Lordship's poetical talent; and the two first cantos of Childe Harold, the greater part of which, as he tells us, was written at intervals of leisure, while he was upon his travels, exhibit the highest point of excellence to which he ever attained. None of his subsequent writings evince greater power either of thought, imagination, or style. Some are of equal merit in all these respects; but in no other work has he sustained himself for an equal length of time, at the greatest elevation to which his genius was capable of raising him. His English Bards had already attracted the public attention, and prepared the readers of poetry to look for something as good or better from the same quarter; but they had not anticipated anything like this grand and beautiful display. This time there was no difference of opinion or feeling. It was one general burst of delight and admiration from all classes of readers. Lord Byron's literary friends, whom he consulted about the expediency of publishing the work, had told him that it had merit, but that it would not be relished by the mass; and advised him not to print. A similar judgment was passed, under the same circumstances, upon Paul and Virginia, the most popular book that ever was written. Such is the value of closet criticism, compared with that which is enlightened, directed, and controlled by public opinion; and such, we may add, are the partial judgments of literary friends. But these lukewarm advisers, when they saw the success of the work, screwed up their taste in a moment to the sticking place of the general admiration; the author's enemies, the reviewers, were upon their knees; and Lord Byron, from being a discontented misanthrope, the butt of critics and the scorn of booksellers, became the idol of his nation; from an associate, at the story ran, of wolves and bears, he started into view as the reigning lion of the day. In his former publication he had treated with culpable levity some of his nearest connexions, and especially his guardian the Earl of Carlisle, well known in this country as one of the members of a commission sent out to treat with Congress during the revolutionary war,—of which Lord Howe was the head, and the celebrated Ferguson, secretary,-a nobleman of the highest character, and whose only fault was, that he had written some indifferent tragedies. This levity, and other indiscretions of a similar kind, had produced a coldness towards him on the part of his family. All was now forgotten. Without being very attractive or agreeable in his social habits, he became, in consequence of his high poetical reputation, graced and



set off by his noble birth and splendid fortune, an object of universal interest and curiosity. Noihing seemed to be wanting to complete his happiness but a good wise ; and as the ladies were all in love with him, it was not difficult to supply this deficiency. He soon married an accomplished and beautiful woman, established himself in a splendid mansion on Piccadilly Terrace, and began to write more poetry. Sir Walter Scott had brought into vogue by his Lay of the Last Minstrel, and his Marmion, the fashion of long ballads in six cantos, written in a short oc tosyllabic measure ; and Lord Byron, with a view probably of surpassing this great and only competitor upon his own ground, produced in rapid succession the Giaour and the Bride of Abydos; and afterwards, to prove the facility with which he could manage all measures, the Corsair and Lara in the common heroic coup

None of these poems were to be compared with Childe Harold; nor would they perhaps of themselves have given a sudden reputation to a new pretender ; but under favor of the vogue

that had now attached itself to the author's name, they all passed for prodigies. Besides these greater pieces, he threw off with careless prodigality, on every occasion that presented itself, a variety of shorter ones mostly of the lyric class, some of which, and more especially the best of the Hebrew Melodies, are among the sweetest and sublimest strains to be found in the English, or any other language, and are far superior to the longer works of the same period.

Such was the position of Lord Byron at this second period of his life. He certainly appeared io the world, as one of the most favored and enviable beings in creation. Placed at the summit of fame and fortune, in the pride of health, and with the consciousness of genius, he had seemingly nothing to do but to go on triumphantly through life, conquering and to conquer, revising his old poems and writing new ones. A few months elapsed, and we saw him breaking away suddenly in disgust from his wife and child, his family, his friends, and

country, and wandering about the world, a wretched and solitary outcast; detesting the very name of an Englishman, and regarded in turn by all that bore it with a feeling of aversion, which could hardly be repressed by a just admiration of his genius. After wasting his best years in this intolerable

we have seen him finally dying of fatigue and fever in the marshes of Missolonghi.



It does not suit our present purpose to examine in detail the circumstances, that led to this strange reverse of fortune. Some of them were of a delicate nature, and but iH adapted to sustain a public scrutiny. We may remark, however, in general, that the origin of his errors, and of the misery which they brought upon him, seems to have been a sort of intellectual intoxication, produced by his extraordinary success, operating upon a naturally eccentric and extravagant disposition. While he resided on the continent he was probably very unhappy. He led a lonely and isolated life. The few persons, with whom he was known to associate, were such as he could not possibly either respect or love; and he can only have admitted them into his society for the purpose of escaping from total solitude. He

He was always burning with a feverish thirst for applause and flattery; and he felt that he was now the scorn and pity, though still the admiration of the wise and good. It is easy to discover through the mask of affected contempt for public opinion, which he often puts on in his later writings, the real agony of disappointed ambition. He was seen at this period of his life to roam about from place to place, like a perturbed spirit; he was now near Genoa living alone in the country with Leigh Hunt the Cockney, and then again at Venice, tempting the ocean with Shelley the athiest. What companions, occupations, and amusements for a man that might have been leading the march of mind upon any of its proudest fields, that might have been reigning in the literary circles of London or Paris ! No doubt the persevering industry, with which he pursued his poetical labors, relieved in some degree the tedium of this wretched existence. But even this resource must have been productive of some bitter feelings. When he found that his writings no longer satisfied the public, he could not of course be so well satisfied with them himself, as he formerly was. To write immorally and negligently, for the purpose of expressipg contempt and defiance of the world, is not quite so pleasing as to write well and be praised for it. Such a life might be endured for a time, but not for ever. After a few years it probably became intolerable to Lord Byron ; but he seems, from what we heard of him in various ways, to have been a little doubtful what course he should take. Sometimes he talked of coming to the United States, and regularly stated to the Americans who visited him that such was his intention. At other times he appears to have meditated a return to England." But the progress of the Greek Revolution finally gave a different direction to his projects.

To engage personally in this struggle between two semibarbarous nations, was a piece of reckless extravagance, entirely consistent with Lord Byron's character. The recollection of what the Greeks were formerly, and the anticipation of what they probably would be again under favorable circumstances, must induce every generous mind to wish them success. In their present state, they are what two thousand years of oppression have made them; and their own poet tells us, that a day of slavery-lovatov nuor—robs a man of half his virtue.

They are now no fit comrades for the disciplined and humane European officer, still less for the super-sensitive, poetical enthusiast. The highly cultivated mind shrinks intuitively from a contact with the coarser spirits that crowd the walks of busy life, retreats from the exchange, turns with disgust from the strife of contending factions, and retires within itself for happiness and peace. What then could such a inan as Lord Byron do at the head of a regiment of Suliotes, leading on the tumultuous array of an oriental army? Any captain of banditti from the Italian mountains would have served the cause much better. This was truly a case when we might have borrowed the plaintive language of the sweet poet of Mantua, and have cursed the frantic love of war, that had hurried away the finest genius of the age from his favorite studies; when we might have prayed that the plague and the fever would be kind to him; that the Turkish scymitars, which he had celebrated so often, would shew their gratitude by sparing so precious a life; that his quality of poet might protect him from the rage of the savages into whose quarrel he was plunging, as Horace pretends that his put to flight an enormous wolf in the Sabine wood. But it was not so much the mere love of war, ried him away, as the tedium of his previous existence, and the glorious visionary shapes in which his fancy had probably clothed the persons and things with which he was about to connect himself. It is said that he ordered just before his departure from Italy, and took with him to Greece, three large VOL. XX.-N0. 46.


that car

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »