Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

developing a character, -a skill which we must watch and follow if we are to do justice to it. But he has a wonderful power of vividly conceiving a single incident, a single situation ; of throwing himself upon it, grasping it as if it were real and he saw and felt it, and of making us see and feel it too. The Giaour is, as he truly called it, "a

ring of passages," not a work moving by a deep internal law of development to a necessary end; and our total impression from it cannot but receive from this, its inherent defect, a certain dimness and indistinctness. But the incidents of the journey and death of Hassan, in that poem, are conceived and presented with a vividness not to be surpassed ; and our impression from them is correspondingly clear and powerful. In Lara, again, there is no adequate development either of the character of the chief personage or of the action of the poem ; our total pression from the work is a confused one. Yet such an incident as the disposal of the slain Ezzelin's body passes before our eyes as if we actually saw it. And in the same way as these bursts of incident, bursts of sentiment also, living and vigorous, often occur in the midst of poems which must be admitted to be but weaklyconceived and loosely-combined wholes. Byron cannot but be a gainer by having attention concentrated upon what is vivid, powerful, effective in his work, and withdrawn from what is not so.

Byron, I say, cannot but be a gainer by this, just as Wordsworth is a gainer by a like proceeding. I esteem Wordsworth's poetry so highly, and the world, in my opinion, has done it such scant justice, that I could not rest satisfied until I had fulfilled, on Wordsworth's behalf, a long-cherished desire ;—had disengaged, to the best of my power, his good work from the inferior work joined with it, and had placed before the public the body of his good work by itself. To the poetry of Byron the world has ardently paid homage ; full justice from his contemporaries, perhaps even more than justice, his torrent of poetry received. His poetry was admired, adored, “ with all its imperfections on its head,"in spite of negligence, in spite of diffuseness, in spite of repetitions, in spite of whatever faults it possessed. His name is still great and brilliant. Nevertheless the hour of irresistible vogue has passed away for him ; even for Byron it could not but pass away.

The time has come for him, as it comes for all poets, when he must take his real and permanent place, no longer depending upon the vogue of his own day and upon the enthusiasm of his contemporaries. Whatever we may think of him, we shall not be subjugated by him as they were ; for, as he cannot be for us what he was for them, we cannot admire him so hotly and indiscriminately as they. His faults of negligence, of diffuseness, of repetition, his faults of whatever kind, we shall abundantly feel and unsparingly criticise; the mere interval of time between us and him makes disillusion of this kind inevitable. But how then will Byron stand, if we relieve him too, so far as we can, of the encumbrance of his inferior and weakest work, and if we bring before us his best and strongest work in one body together? That is the question which I, who can even remember the latter years of Byron's vogue, and have myself felt the expiring wave of that mighty influence, but who certainly also regard him, and have long regarded him, without illusion, cannot but ask myself, cannot but seek to answer. The present volume is an attempt to provide adequate data for answering it.

Byron has been over-praised, no doubt. “Byron is

one of our French superstitions,” says M. Edmond Scherer ; but where has Byron not been a superstition? He pays now the penalty of this exaggerated worship. “ Alone among the English poets his contemporaries, Byron,” said M. Taine, "atteint à la cîme,-gets to the top of the poetic mountain.” But the idol that M. Taine had thus adored M. Scherer is almost for burning. “In Byron,” he declares, “there is a remarkable inability ever to lift himself into the region of real poetic art, -art impersonal and disinterested,

,—at all. He has fecundity, eloquence, wit, but even these qualities themselves are confined within somewhat narrow limits. He has treated hardly any subject but one,--himself; now the

man,

in Byron, is of a nature even less sincere than the poet. This beautiful and blighted being is at bottom a coxcomb. He posed all his life long."

Our poet could not well meet with more severe and unsympathetic criticism. However, the praise often given to Byron has been so exaggerated as to provoke, perhaps, a reaction in which he is unduly disparaged. various in composition as Shakespeare himself, Lord Byron has embraced,” says Sir Walter Scott, “every topic of human life, and sounded every string on the divine harp, from its slightest to its most powerful and heart - astounding tones.” It is not surprising that some one with a cool head should retaliate, on such provocation as this, by saying : “He has treated hardly any subject but one, himself.“In the very grand and tremendous drama of Cain," says Scott, “Lord Byron has certainly matched Milton on his own ground.” And Lord Byron has done all this, Scott adds, “while managing his pen with the careless and negligent ease of a man of quality.” Alas, “managing

[ocr errors]

his pen with the careless and negligent ease of a man of quality,” Byron wrote in his Cain:

“ Souls that dare look the Omnipotent tyrant in

His everlasting face, and tell him that

His evil is not good ;" or he wrote:

And thou would'st go on aspiring To the great double Mysteries! the two Principles !1 One has only to repeat to oneself a line from Paradise Lost in order to feel the difference.

Sainte-Beuve, speaking of that exquisite master of language, the Italian poet Leopardi, remarks how often we see the alliance, singular though it may at first sight appear, of the poetical genius with the genius for scholarship and philology. Dante and Milton are instances which will occur to every one's mind. Byron is so negligent in his poetical style, he is often, to say the truth, so slovenly, slip and infelicitous, he is so little haunted by the true artist's fine passion for the correct use and consummate management of words, that he may be described as having for this artistic gift the insensibility of the barbarian ;—which is perhaps only another and a less flattering way of saying, with Scott, that he

manages his pen with the careless and negligent ease of a man of quality.” Just of a piece with the rhythm of

await the event of a few minutes' Deliberation ?”

" Dare you

or of

“ All shall be void

Destroy'd !" is the diction of

“ Which now is painful to these eyes,

Which have not seen the sun to rise;"

1 The italics are in the original.

or of

there let him lay!' or of the famous passage beginning

“He who hath bent him o'er the dead;" with those trailing relatives, that crying grammatical solecism, that inextricable anacolouthon! To class the work of the author of such things with the work of the authors of such verse as

“In the dark backward and abysm of time"

or as

Presenting Thebes, or Pelops' line,

Or the tale of Troy divine”is ridiculous. Shakespeare and Milton, with their secret of consummate felicity in diction and movement, are of another and an altogether higher order from Byron, nay, for that matter, from Wordsworth also ; from the author of such verse as

“Sol hath dropt into his harbour”or (if Mr. Ruskin pleases) as

"Parching summer hath no warrant”as from the author of

“All shall be void

Destroy'd !" With a poetical gift and a poetical performance of the very highest order, the slovenliness and tunelessness of much of Byron's production, the pompousness and ponderousness of much of Wordsworth's, are incompatible. Let us admit this to the full.

Moreover, while we are hearkening to M. Scherer, and going along with him in his fault-finding, let us admit, too, that the man in Byron is in many respects as unsatisfactory as the poet. And, putting aside all

« AnteriorContinuar »