Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

nouncement of himself (the poet) as speaking his own mind in his own person? Does Lord Byron mean to say, that his sentiments so promulged and so avowed are not in harmony with those which the pilgrim is supposed to utter in the preceding cantos ? If indeed no such harmony existed, where was the propriety of calling this last publication the completion of the poem-a poem which he declares to his friend Mr. Hobhouse is the most thoughtful and comprehensive of his compositions,' now dedicated to that gentleman " in its concluded state." A large part of Lord Byron's readers may be very silly, but it must be a small part indeed of the very silliest of his worshippers who can digest such absurdities and puerile contradictions.

“ The most thoughtful and comprehensive of my compositions!” It may be so; but God forbid it should so remain-God forbid that Lord Byron should have no better account to give of the most serious hours of his life, -of the gravest employment of the faculties by which he has been distinguished," than that which is afforded in these lucubrations. Poetry does not necessarily demand a serious and thoughtful purpose; but if it is made the vehicle of reflections, and principles, and propositions, which concern the good of man, his eternal being, and the security of the soul, it then implicates character, and integrity, and duty, as materially as any profession or undertaking in which a man can be engaged. Perish poetry, live the moral principle--the virtuous constitution of the soul! May genius rather be dumb than endanger the hopes of an hereafter, or even disturb the righteous dispositions of our present existence! Let Childe Harold have his pilgrimage through the regions of passion, infidelity, and debauchery; but let it be remembered, there are other pilgrims of a different order, whose peace he has no right to molest by scattering doubts and temptations in their paths, already difficult and thorny enough, but which, if left to the guidance of humble faith and authentic teaching, might lead to happiness, and holiness, and content!

The honest meaning of the passage we have above quoted can only be this--as far as it has any sense or semblance of sense:“ Since, reader, you have been resolved to confound me, Lord Byron myself, with the creature of my fancy, I will in this present canto, which I still choose to call a continuation of the same poem, and the pilgrimage of this child of imagination, prove the error of your opinion by changing the third person into the first; and thus I call upon you to acknowledge, that however perfect the identity of thought' and principle may be throughout the four cantos, my pilgrim and myself cannot be grammatically the same.”—Lord Byron, who has seen himself only in the glass which his fancy has held before him, may forget

what manner of man he was; but we, who have had him con-
tinually before us in substance and reality, recognize the same
features throughout.
“ One of these men is genius to the other.

Which is the natural man,
And which the spirit? Who decyphers them?”

Com. OF ERR. The proper way to have drawn the line would have been to have done it practically by the display of a different sort of mind in this last canto, from that to which the sentiments in the three preceding had corresponded; to have disavowed, not by assertion simply, but by the cast and tone of feeling and affection, all partnership of mind with that godless being, that grim sentimentalist, that repining profligate, whom, equally unfitted for the mellow impressions of classic scenery and of Nature's glories, the poet's imagination had surrounded in vain with the creations of a descriptive pencil, sometimes dipped in the very colours of heaven. We should indeed have rejoiced to have found in this concluding canto an expiation of the faults and mischiefs of the former; to have found the sentimental peace-breaker discarded, and poetical justice done upon him,

finally tracing the distinction between the melancholy of a contemplative enthusiast, and that of a selfish misanthropist, at variance with man, because not allowed to dispense unhappiness and to enjoy repose ; and not less so with his God, on account of the restraints imposed upon his capacities of carnal delight. It was possible for him certainly to have brought his vagrant verse to a legitimate and manly conclusion by giving it this moral scope. As the matter stands, the only reparation made to mankind for the contagious mischief of that unsocial sentimentalism, of which the Childe was the organ and the vehicle, is the plain avowal by the poet himself, in his proper person, of a conscience without a creed, a heart without discipline, and an intellect uninformed by self-knowledge.

With an author's friendships a critic can have nothing to do; but when we read in the preface to this volume of the “ enlightened friendship” which this author maintains with Mr. Hobhouse, his fellow traveller, we cannot forbear intimating a hope that, to entitle itself to this appellation of an “enlightened friendship,” it has for its basis feelings and opinions very different from those which Lord Byron has assumed in his poetical character, and we trust, though misjudgingly, for poetical effect. Nor, indeed, are our views of the works, in general, of Mr. Hobhouse, especially of his Letters from Paris, written during the last reign of the man he calls the Emperor Napoleon, * such

* See British Rev, vol, vii. p. 493.

en

as to represent him to our imagination as a person more than others furnished with the requisites of exalted friendship. An enlightened friendship, however, may possibly be not well understood by us who are plain men, and who may not distinctly comprehend how a friendship may be grounded between two illuminated persons on a covenanted contempt for' mere decent men and women, mere English maxims, mere homely institutions in church and state, and ordinary life, combined with a strong infusion of French principles, and the dogmas of the school of revolution and political regeneration. It is nevertheless somewhat mortifying to observe the air of complacent superiority which marks the intercourse of these privileged persons. " It is not for minds like ours," says his Lordship, to his “ lightened' friend, “ to give or to receive flattery; yet the praises of sincerity have ever been permitted to the voice of friendship.” There appears, therefore, to be some peculiar unction in the intercourse of these enlightened' friends above our experience or conception: Pollux thus shared with Castor his immortality; and it is thus that these men of spiritual mould, having reciprocally settled the claim of their common superiority, obey the attraction of a sympathising intelligence, and coalesce at an altitude which only themselves can arrive at.

When an author dedicates his book to his friend, whatever he says in such dedication we consider rather as a communication to us, the public, than to his friend; otherwise why was not the communication made through a private channel? We are tempted, therefore, to comment a little upon the following passage:

“ Even the recurrence of the date of this letter, the anniversary of the most unfortunate day of my past existence, but which cannot poison my future while I retain the resource of your friendship, and of my own faculties, will henceforth have a more agreeable recollection for both, inasmuch as it will remind us of this my attempt to thank you for an indefatigable regard, such as few men have experienced, and no one could experience without thinking better of his species and of himself." (P.v, vi.)

The above passage is rendered very mysterious by its suppression as well as by its expression: it has what the lawyers call both latent and patent ambiguity. In one respect we think it too modest; for how are we to understand that Mr. Hobhouse's regard for the author has been indefatigable, without supposing a conduct to have been pursued calculated to exhaust his patience—a supposition utterly inconsistent with an enlightened' friendship? But with respect to the general sentiment, we cannot help thinking, that his Lordship presumes too much upon the associations in future to be coupled with the event of the completion of this his greatest poetical work. We are far from thinking that the general merit of the poem is sufficient to redeem its own delinquencies; and therefore, if the unfortunate day, to which his Lordship directs our attention so emphatically, has been rendered so, in any way, by his Lordship's own fault, and such may be the case even with the most enlightened amongst us, there will, in our judgment, be no surplus merit to set against any such misfortune, or to soothe the pain accompanying any such recollection. No truly enlightened friend' will deem it expedient to the repose or consolation of Lord Byron's feelings, at the close of his wayward pilgrimage, to remind him of the pilgrimage of his Childe Harold; of which the peculiarity most distinguishing and affecting is this, that amidst the brightest testimonies of an elegant genius, and extensive capacity, nothing is done through the whole compass of the work, which his Lordship calls “the most thoughtful and comprehensive of his compositions," for advancing the knowledge or happiness of human beings-for elevating reason, or for guiding affection, We cannot, however, take leave of this delectable specimen of writing and sentiment, which Lord Byron has given us in the form of an epistolary dedication to his friend, without one observation more. We wish our readers to digest the following passage:

“ It has been somewhere said by Alfieri, that 'La pianta uomo nasce più robusta in Italia che in qualunque altra terra—e che gli stessi atroci delitti che vi si commettono ne sono una prova.' Without subscribing to the latter part of his proposition, a dangerous doctrine, the truth of which may be disputed on better grounds, namely, that the Italians are in no respect more ferocious than their neighbours, that man must be wilfully blind, or ignorantly heedless, who is not struck with the extraordinary capacity of this people; or, if such a word be admissible, their capabilities, the facility of their acquisitions, the rapidity of their conceptions, the fire of their genius, their sense of beauty, and amidst all the disadvantages of repeated revolutions, the desolation of battles, and the despair of ages, their still unquenched - longing after immortality,'--the immortality of independence. And when we ourselves, in riding round the walls of Rome, heard the simple lament of the labourers' chorus, · Roma ! Roma! Roma ! Roma non è più come era prima,' it was difficult not to contrast this melancholy dirge with the bacchanal roar of the songs of exultation still yelled from the London taverns, over the carnage of Mont St. Jean, and the betrayal of Genoa, of Italy, of France, and of the world, by men whose conduct you yourself have exposed in a work worthy of the better days of our history. For me,

« Non movero mai corda

«« Ove la turba di sue ciance assorda.' " What Italy has gained by the late transfer of nations, it were

useless for Englishmen to inquire, till it becomes ascertained that England has acquired something more than a permanent army and a suspended Habeas Corpus; it is enough for them to look at home. For what they have done abroad, and especially in the South, Verily they will have their reward,' and at no very distant period." (P. xixiii.)

Now the sentiments which occur in the above cited passage are decisive marks of a certain character, which, taken with all its features, may be said to have had its birth in modern occurrences. All prominent eras have been marked by contemporary peculiarities in the moral condition of society. Courts such as those of Croesus, or Ptolemy, or Augustus, or Louis XIV. have generated the union of genius with flattery, elegance with debauchery: the political struggles and incessant warfare of republican Rome provoked enthusiastic courage, patriotic devotion, and the immoderate thirst of freedom and dominion: the rivalry and conflicts of the Grecian states kept the minds of men in a sort of fever of emulation, often exalting them to excellence, and often precipitating them into absurd ities: the feudal and chivalrous periods of modern Europe were characterised by a system of opinions and manners wherein gallantry and ferocity were singularly combined; but never, never has the mind of man been so bent from its natural and ordinary state by the great events of any era as by those of the present day. A character has been bred out of the French revolution, of which no moralist can say what it is, or by any lines or touches of discrimination bring its aspect correctly

We do not mean the simple French Jacobin, that ferocious compound of buffoonery, murder, and atheism; we mean the Englishman in this nineteenth century, in the fullest enjoyment of liberty and law which has fallen to the lot of civilized man, so tainted and estranged by ultra-marine habits and prejudices as to be turned aside from the contemplation of his own advantages of birth and nation; to be induced to regard the settled liberty and peaceful arrangements of his own country through the medium only of libellous misrepresentation; and to be disposed to try the strength and purity of its institutions by the gauge

of its bitterest enemies. In the sort of man we mean, the ground of the character may still be British ; something of inherited bravery and generosity may still cling to his sentiments, and denote his origin, as in the court of the Egyptian Queen something Roman still hung about Mark Anthony, which

bore his back above The element he lived in. But these vestiges of nationality contribute to form the pecu- . liarity of the complex character we are describing; for with these

before us.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »