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speak for themselves in the passages we have already extracted.
The versification is smooth and melodious, though too uniformly drawn out into a long and linked sweetness. The diction is as usual more remarkable for copiousness than force; and though less defaced than formerly with phrases of affected simplicity and infantine pathos, is still too much speckled with strange words; which, whether they are old or new, are not English at the present day—and we hope never will become so. What use or ornament does Mr. Southey expect to derive for his poetry from such words as avid and aureate, and auriphrygiate? or leman and weedery, frequentage and youthhead, and twenty more as pedantic and affected? What good is there either, we should like to know, in talking of "oaken galilees," or "incarnadined poitrals," or "all-able Providence," and such other points of learning? If poetry is intended for general delight, ought not its language to be generally intelligible?
LORD BYRON'S POETRY.
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto the Third. By Lord BYRON. 8vo. pp. 79. London: 1816.
The Prisoner of Chillon, and other Poems. By Lord BYRON. 8vo. pp. 60. London: 1816.*
Ir the finest poetry be that which leaves the deepest impression on the minds of its readers and this is not the worst test of its excellence - Lord Byron, we think, must be allowed to take precedence of all his distinguished contemporaries. He has not the variety of Scott-nor the delicacy of Campbell - nor the absolute truth of Crabbe-nor the polished sparkling of Moore; but in force of diction, and inextinguishable energy of sentiment, he clearly surpasses them all. "Words that breathe, and thoughts that burn," are not merely the ornaments, but the common staple of his poetry; and he is not inspired or impressive only in some happy passages, but through the whole body and tissue of his composition. It was an unavoidable condition, perhaps, of this higher excellence, that his scene should be narrow, and his persons few. To compass such ends as he had in view, it was necessary to reject all ordinary agents, and all trivial combinations. He could not possibly be amusing, or ingenious, or playful; or hope to maintain the requisite pitch of interest by the recitation of sprightly adventures, or the opposition of common
* I have already said so much of Lord Byron with reference to his Dramatic productions, that I cannot now afford to republish more than one other paper, on the subject of his Poetry in general: And I select this, rather because it refers to a greater variety of these compositions, than because it deals with such as are either absolutely the best, or the most characteristic of his genius. The truth is, however, that all his writings are characteristic; and lead, pretty much alike, to those views of the dark and the bright parts of his nature, which have led me, I fear (though almost irresistibly), into observations more personal to the character of the author, than should generally be permitted to a mere literary censor.
436 BYRON TENDENCY TOWARDS THE LAKE SCHOOL.
characters. To produce great effects, in short, he felt that it was necessary to deal only with the greater passions with the exaltations of a daring fancy, and the errors of a lofty intellect with the pride, the terrors, and the agonies of strong emotion-the fire and air alone of our human elements.
In this respect, and in his general notion of the end and the means of poetry, we have sometimes thought that his views fell more in with those of the Lake poets, than of any other existing party in the poetical commonwealth: And, in some of his later productions especially, it is impossible not to be struck with his occasional approaches to the style and manner of this class of writers. Lord Byron, however, it should be observed, like all other persons of a quick sense of beauty, and sure enough of their own originality to be in no fear of paltry imputations, is a great mimic of styles and manners, and a great borrower of external character. He and Scott, accordingly, are full of imitations of all the writers from whom they have ever derived gratification; and the two most original writers of the age might appear, to superficial observers, to be the most deeply indebted to their predecessors. In this particular instance, we have no fault to find with Lord Byron: For undoubtedly the finer passages of Wordsworth and Southey have in them wherewithal to lend an impulse to the utmost ambition of rival genius; and their diction and manner of writing is frequently both striking and original. But we must say, that it would afford us still greater pleasure to find these tuneful gentlemen returning the compliment which Lord Byron has here paid to their talents; and forming themselves on the model rather of his imitations, than of their own originals. In those imitations they will find that, though he is sometimes abundantly mystical, he never, or at least very rarely, indulges in absolute nonsense- never takes his lofty flights upon mean or ridiculous occasions and, above all, never dilutes his strong conceptions, and magnificent imaginations, with a flood of oppressive verbosity. On the contrary, he is, of all living writers, the most concise
HAS BUT ONE HERO.
and condensed; and, we would fain hope, may go far, by his example, to redeem the great reproach of our modern literature - its intolerable prolixity and redundance. In his nervous and manly lines, we find no elaborate amplification of common sentiments — no ostentatious polishing of pretty expressions; and we really think that the brilliant success which has rewarded his disdain of those paltry artifices, should put to shame for ever that puling and self-admiring race, who can live through half a volume on the stock of a single thought, and expatiate over diverse fair quarto pages with the details of one tedious description. In Lord Byron, on the contrary, we have a perpetual stream of thick-coming fancies- an eternal spring of fresh-blown images, which seem called into existence by the sudden flash of those glowing thoughts and overwhelming emotions, that struggle for expression through the whole flow of his poetry and impart to a diction that is often abrupt and irregular, a force and a charm which frequently realise all that is said of inspiration.
With all these undoubted claims to our admiration, however, it is impossible to deny that the noble author before us has still something to learn, and a good deal to correct. He is frequently abrupt and careless, and sometimes obscure. There are marks, occasionally, of effort and straining after an emphasis, which is generally spontaneous; and, above all, there is far too great a monotony in the moral colouring of his pictures, and too much repetition of the same sentiments and maxims. He delights too exclusively in the delineation of a certain morbid exaltation of character and of feeling sort of demoniacal sublimity, not without some traits of the ruined Archangel. He is haunted almost perpetually with the image of a being feeding and fed upon by violent passions, and the recollections of the catastrophes they have occasioned: And, though worn out by their past indulgence, unable to sustain the burden of an existence which they do not continue to animate: - full of pride, and revenge, and obduracy ---- disdaining life and death, and mankind and himself and trampling, in
438 BYRON HIS HERO TOO FIERCE AND GLOOMY.
his scorn, not only upon the falsehood and formality of polished life, but upon its tame virtues and slavish devotion: Yet envying, by fits, the very beings he despises, and melting into mere softness and compassion, when the helplessness of childhood or the frailty of woman make an appeal to his generosity. Such is the person with whom we are called upon almost exclusively to sympathise in all the greater productions of this dis tinguished writer:- In Childe Harold - in the Corsair -In Lara-in the Siege of Corinth — in Parisina, and in most of the smaller pieces.
It is impossible to represent such a character better than Lord Byron has done in all these productionsor indeed to represent any thing more terrible in its anger, or more attractive in its relenting. In point of effect, we readily admit, that no one character can be more poetical or impressive: But it is really too much to find the scene perpetually filled by one character — not only in all the acts of each several drama, but in all the different dramas of the series; and, grand and impressive as it is, we feel at last that these very qualities make some relief more indispensable, and oppress the spirits of ordinary mortals with too deep an impression of awe and repulsion. There is too much guilt, in short, and too much gloom, in the leading character; — and though it be a fine thing to gaze, now and then, on stormy seas, and thunder-shaken mountains, we should prefer passing our days in sheltered valleys, and by the murmur of calmer waters.
We are aware that these metaphors may be turned against us and that, without metaphor, it may be said that men do not pass their days in reading poetry — and that, as they may look into Lord Byron only about as often as they look abroad upon tempests, they have no more reason to complain of him for being grand and gloomy, than to complain of the same qualities in the glaciers and volcanoes which they go so far to visit. Painters, too, it may be said, have often gained great reputation by their representations of tigers and other ferocious animals, or of caverns and banditti — and poets