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Mankind have been taught to love one another, and have delighted in the assembling of themselves together : the house of prayer has been crowded with worshippers, 'and the sentiment of every heart has echoed responsive to the sweet singer of Israel: How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts ! my soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my eart and
flesh crieth out for the living God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee.' Let it be granted that the Scriptures are read with assiduity through the whole extent of our population, and results like these may be confidently anticipated. My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it.' What though the effects are not immediately perceptible; what though the groans of the creation are not at once hushed in repose, or converted into sounds of joy: the promise is indisputable, and the blessing is sure. The change in the moral world will resemble the change in the natural : the sun arises, and the dews descend; but the rigours of winter do not instantly abate, nor does the face of nature at once resume the gaiety of spring : yet the great principle of life and fertility is secretly at work; it is imperceptibly operating in ten thousand channels, and gradually covers the regions of sterility with luxuriant vegetation and abundant harvests."
Art. VII.-The Giaour, a Fragment of a Turkish Tale. By
Lord Byron. London. 1813.
There is generally a barrier or two to get over before the critic is fairly within the inclosure where the muse of Lord Byron receives the homage of her votaries. Something new and surprising in the name, and in the plan of his production, always puts us at our wit's end to conjecture, before we enter upon it, what it can all be about. We had just this sort of difficulty with the Childe Harold; his name, character, and office occasioned us considerable perplexity, and our impatience to advance to the interior was checked by a sort of sphynx which embarrassed us at the entrance.
The word Giaour might have been too much for @dipus himself, as it walks either on one, two, or three feet, or in other words, is composed of one, two, or three syllables, as it may be convenient to pronounce it. We will not attempt to make our readers wiser than ourselves by endeavouring to explain the word : it seems to imply an infidel in the Turkish language, and is consequently a term of reproach. It is not appropriated, we presume, to the Christian, since the Giaour, who is the hero of Lord Byron's poem, appears to hold equally cheap,
“ Idol, saint, virgin, prophet, crescent, cross.” With respect to the remaining part of the title, "a fragment of a Turkish Tale,” we were led at first by it into an erroneous conception of the nature of the performance; for we really thought it to have been the translation of a genuine portion of a Turkish poem. Where time or accident has left in existence only parts of what was excellent, and those parts bear testimony to the general merit of the entire composition, we cherish the broken remains with an extraordinary interest ; their very imperfection gives them a value; while the worth of what is lost is appreciated by the imagination and secure from the judgment. For the production of such fragments necessity is the apology: but deliberately and with premeditation to compose a poem consisting of disjointed parts; to write a narrative without the connecting facts of the story; to plan imperfection, and to prearrange confusion, was a new kind of daring in the field of originality, left open to the genius of Lord Byron. For ourselves we must confess that we see no felicity in the contrivance, nor any thing to justify the innovation, except the saving of time and trouble to the writer. To the reader it can be of no advantage, save one—it may lessen the size and expence of the volume. A book so constructed will generally require repeated perusals, some labour of collation, and some stretch of imagination, before it can act upon the mind (if it ever can) with the impression of a whole: until that is done the embarrassment is too great to consist with pleasure, and when it is done, the effort is still remembered with pain, the images have lost their freshness, and new objects claim our attention. Nor are we to be answered by being told, that the connecting passages in a poem are often dull and tedious; if they are liable to become so, as we acknowledge they are, it is the test of the poet's skill to avoid such a consequence by the perspicuity of his method, the vivacity of his details, the connectedness of his facts, and above all, by the happy art of saying much in a little compass, or, what is better still, of supplying narration by description. For our parts, we should as soon think of contracting with a builder to construct us a house in a finished state of dilapidation, as to accept at the hand of an author a heap of fragments as a poem. If this new method of composition shall be generally held to be deserving of the patronage which we observe with surprise some of our reviewing fraternity have conferred upon it, a new source of gain will be opened to the booksellers and compilers, who inay parcel out for readers in retail, the great poems of ancient and modern times into large and small quantities, proportioned to the demand.. The Iliad, Eneid, and Paradise Lost may thus be purchased by the pound, and many an illustrious fragment will travel back from the grocers' to the booksellers' shop, enriched like a beggar by its maims and mutilations.
The ancient rules of criticism have taken too strong a hold of us to allow us to adopt this new taste. We shall continue to require a beginning, middle, and end; and whatever may be its propriety with respect to females in general, we shall never think a woman without a head a proper emblem of the nuse. Both nature and art in all their designs and arrangements abhor mutilation, and delight in the correspondence and union of parts ; and in the whole compass of paradoxes, there is not one for the reception of which so much of nature, truth, habit, and analogy must be sacrificed to prepare the understanding, as the advantage of omitting those intermediate passages which, in subserviency to the purpose of the poet, connect, relieve, contrast, and harmonize the brighter and bolder parts of composition.
As we are really admirers of Lord Byron's genius, and think it worth watching, we will not be among the number of those who flatter him into madness, or hold
up his errors to imitation. He possesses so much that is excellent, that he deserves to be told of his mistakes. If any critics have smarted for being excessive in their censure, they may now make' amends by outrageous applause. Having once received the poet, in his first advances, on the point of the sword, they may now if they please exalt him in triumph on their bucklers. We have nothing to do but, in the simple discharge of our duty, to tell him, that we cannot give our suffrage, such as it is, to this new method of writing poetry.
The effect of every thing that aims at producing emotions powerfully interesting or pleasing, requires to be set off and disposed with some skill of arrangement and combination. There must be a ground-work or general tone of colour to receive and exhibit advantageously the pictures of fancy's creation; to present them in an order agreeable to our associations, without interference or distraction; and to impart to them that vigorous condensation of effect, which, while it touches the heart and exalts the imagination, obtains the consent of the understanding, and holds attention in captivity. This mutual relation of the parts to each other, and their common relation to the whole to which they belong, corresponds to the correctest idea of what is expressed by composition in prose and poetry. To write (we will not call it composing) fragments must, of course, be to dispense with these rules, and to reject these advantages; and poetry, though thus extricated from half its former difficulties, must be content to lose an equal proportion of its intellectual dignity and moral force.
It has appeared to us, and we really were concerned to observe it, that Lord Byron, who need not be kept awake by the trophies of any modern competitor in verse, has had the bad taste to imitate Mr. Walter Scott. We call it bad taste, because, ready as we are to do justice to the merit of Mr. Scott, we think the style of his poetry unfit and unsafe to be imitated, for reasons which it is foreign to our present purpose to explain. With so much originality of powers as nature has conceded to his lordship, it is sporting with his advantages to condescend to the imitation of any contemporary poet. It is, besides, one of the bad tendencies of imitation to follow most closely the imperfections of its model, inasmuch as these are generally most prominent and characteristic, and always most easily copied. We have neither room nor inclination, nor could it be edifying or agreeable to our readers, to collate passages; indeed, our observation is founded rather upon the general cast of the images and descriptions, and style of expression, running through the whole, than on any specific resemblance or parallelism to be found in particular parts.
The story of Lord Byron's Giaour is certainly simple enough as to the events of which it is composed. The infidel, a bold and adventurous youth, having become enamoured of a female slave, the property of a Turkish emir, and beloved by her master, had succeeded in seducing her affections, and gaining possession of her charms. The Turk, according to a practice not uncommon in that country on similar occasions, causes his faithless Leila, in a still and solemn night, to be thrown into the sea; with a description of which ruthless act the fragment begins. Hassan pays dear for his cruelty. As he is proceeding on a journey to obtain a substitute for the beautiful and unhappy object of his vengeance, he is attacked in a defile by the Giaour, who had joined a banditti of robbers, and slain by the hand of his rival, after a sharp and sanguinary contest. The Giaour returns to his country, and takes up his abode in a convent, where he languishes for a few years in a sort of gloomy dejection and ferocious sorrow, till his painful reflections on the sad fate of his Leila, and his own irreparable loss, added to his separation from all those objects which were necessary to his active and enterprizing disposition, bring him to his last hour, which is spent in a conference with a friar of the convent. On this occasion the unhappy youth, in terms, it must be owned, a little obscure, but with no common degree of pathos in many of the passages, gives his confessor a short and melancholy account of his tempestuous existence, in which his passions, of which love was not the least violent, had shaped his course through many vicissitudes of joy and sorrow, and many disastrous scenes. His passion for Leila, the indulgence of which had produced her mournful death, is cast on his mind, and on his lips, and the poet has furnished his ravings with language and sentiments wild enough in all conscience for the exigency of the hottest brain and most tumultuous bosom.
This simple story none but those who, in the language of Mr. Burke, are expert in " arrangements for general confusion," could have rendered difficult to be followed. Our modern poets exercise this talent with great success; and it is to the imitation of Mr. Walter Scott, whose stories we are scarcely yet recovered from the fatigue of unravelling, that the author of the Giaour is partly indebted for his enigmatical felicity. But the author of Rokeby has done that which any man might accomplish with the same abundance of materials; neither has Mr. Scott been always able to preserve inviolate to the end the awful incompres hensibilities of his tale. A castle on fire, or a general battle, summarily disposing of two-thirds of the parties concerned, have given a developement to the plot simple enough, by leaving only two or three to be provided for. He was not aware of the virtue of writing in fragments. By this frittering, mincing, comminuting, and subdividing method, the noble poet with whom we are at present concerned has, out of an entire story, consisting of two or three events, ingeniously contrived to puzzle the case to the capacities of all persons of “ slender sagacity” and “ small poetical experience.”
In selecting the parts of this piece of poetical anatomy which seem to us to deserve praise, and which is that exercise of our critical duty, which always affords us most pleasure, we should give the preference to those which consist of picturesque description. A poet's eye and a poet's feeling appear in all of them; but yet we have some little quarrel with the taste in which they are written. In all the similes by which they are illustrated, there is a minuteness in the parallel that diminishes their splendour, and divides their force. It may be of use for the poet to remember that nullum simile est idem; and if he will detain the mind of the reader in the details of his comparisons so long as to allow it coolly to examine particulars, it will at last, in spite of the general beauty of the passage, be as apt to rest upon the points of discrepancy as the points of resemblance. In poetical