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public mind—sometimes wholly distinct from it-sometimes acting in opposition to it—sometimes blending with it,—but at all times, in all his thoughts and actions, having a reference to the public mind. His spirit need not go back into the past,—though it often does so,—to bring the objects of its love back to earth in more beautiful life. The existence he paints is—now. The objects he presents are marked out to him by men's present regards. It is his to speak of all those great political events which have been objects of such passionate sympathy to the nation. And when he does speak of them, he either gives us back our own feelings, raised into powerful poetry, or he endeavours to displace them from our breasts, and to substitute others of his own. In either case, it is a living speaker standing up before us, and ruling our minds. But chiefly he speaks our own feelings, exalted in thought, language, and passion. The whole substance and basis of his poem is, therefore, popular. All the scenes through which he has travelled were, at the very moment, of strong interest to the public mind, and that interest still hangs over them. His travels were not, at first, the self-impelled act of a mind severing itself in lonely roaming from all participation with the society to which it belonged, but rather obeying the general motion of the mind of that society. The southern regions of Europe have been like a world opening upon us with fresh and novel beauty, and our souls have enjoyed themselves there, of late years, with a sort of romantic pleasure. This fancisul and romantic feeling was common to those who went to see those countries, and to those who remained at home to hear the narrations of the adventures,—so that all the Italian, Grecian, Peninsular, Ionian, and Ottoman feeling which pervades Childe Harold, singularly suited as it is to the genius of Byron, was not first brought upon the English mind by the power of that genius, but was there already in great force and activity.
There can be no limits set to the interest that attaches to a great poet thus going forth, like a spirit, from the heart of a powerful and impassioned people, to range among the objects and events to them most pregnant with passion,—who is, as it were, the representative of our most exalted intellect, and who often seems to disclose within ourselves that splendour with which he invests our own ordinary conceptions. The consciousness that he is so considered by a great people, must give a kingly power and confidence to a poet. He feels himself entitled, and, as it were, elected to survey the phenomena of the times, and to report upon them in poetry. He is the speculator of the passing might and greatness of his own generation. But though he speaks to the public, at all times, he does not consider them as his judges. He looks upon them as sentient existences that are important to his poetical existence,-but, so that he command their feelings and passions, he cares not for their praise,-for his fame is more than mere literary fame; and he aims in poetry, like the fallen chief whose image is so often before him, at universal dominion, we had almost said, universal tyranny, over the minds of men. †
The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold has now been brought to its close : and of his character there remains nothing more to be laid open to our view. It is impossible to reflect on the years which have elapsed since this mysterious
† The extracts from the poem, with the connecting observations, many of which are exceed. ingly beautiful, I have not space to attach to this Essay. I have given the concluding passages of the critique without abridgment.
stranger was first introduced to our acquaintance, without feeling that our own spirits have undergone in that time many mighty changes-sorrowful in some it may be, in others happy changes. Neither can we be surprised, knowing as we well do who Childe Harold is, that he also has been changed. He represented himself, from the beginning, as a ruin: and when we first gazed upon him, we saw indeed in abundance the black traces of recent violence and convulsion. The edifice has not been rebuilt; but its hues have been sobered by the passing wings of time, and the calm slow ivy has had leisure to wreathe the soft green of its melancholy among the fragments of the decay. In so far, the Pilgrim has become wiser. He seems to think more of others, and with a greater spirit of humanity. There was something tremendous, and almost fiendish, in the air with which he surveyed the first scenes of his wanderings; and no proof of the strength of genius was ever exhibited so strong and unquestionable, as the sudden and entire possession of the minds of Englishmen by such a being as he then appeared to be. He looked upon a bull-fight and a field of battle with no variety of emotion : brutes and men were, in his eyes, the same blind, stupid victims of the savage lust of power. He seemed to shut his eyes to every thing of that citizenship and patriotism which ennobles the spirit of the soldier, and to delight in scattering the dust and ashes of his derision over all the most sacred resting-places of the soul of man.
Even then, we must allow, the original spirit of the Englishman and the poet broke triumphantly, at times, through the chilling mist in which it had been spontaneously enveloped. In Greece, above all, the contemplation of Athens, Salamis, Marathon, Thermopylæ, and Platea, subdued the prejudices of him who had gazed unmoved upon the recent glories of Trafalgar and Talavera. The nobility of manhood appeared to delight this moody visitant; and he accorded, without reluctance, to the shades of long-departed heroes that reverent homage, which, in the strange mixture of envy and scorn wherewith the contemplative so often regard active men, he had refused to the living, or to the newly dead.
At all times, however, the sympathy and respect of Childe Harold, when these have been excited by any circumstances external to himselfhave been given almost exclusively to the intellectual, and refused to the moral, greatness of his species. There is certainly less of this in his last Canto. Yet we think that the ruins of Rome might have excited within him not a few glorious recollections, quite apart from those vague lamentations and worshippings of imperial power, which occupy so great a part of the conclusions of his Pilgrimage. The stern purity and simplicity of domestic manners—the devotion of male and female bosoms—The very names of Lucrelia, Valeria, and the mother of the Gracchi, have a charm about them at least as enduring as any others, and a thousand times more delightful than all the iron memories of conquerors and consuls. But the mind must have something to admire-some breathing-place of veneration
-some idol, whether of demon or of divinity, before which it is ils pride lo bow. Byron has chosen too often to be the undoubting adorer of power. The idea of tyrannic and unquestioned sway seems to be the secret delight of his spirit. He would pretend, indeed, to be a republican,—but his heroes are all stamped with the leaden signet of despotism; and we sometimes see the most cold, secluded, immitigable tyrant of the whole lurking beneath the “scallop-shell and sandal-shoon" of the Pilgrim himself.
In every mien and gesture of this dark being, we discover the traces of one that has known the delights and sympathised with the possessors of intellectual power; but too seldom any vestiges of a mind that delights in the luxuries of quiet virtue, or that could repose itself in the serenity of home. The very possession of purity would sometimes almost seem to degrade, in his eyes, the intellectual greatness with which it has been sometimes allied. He speaks of Pompey with less reverence than Cæsar; and, in spite of many passing visitings of anger and of scorn, it is easy to see that, of all contemporary beings, there is one only with whom he is willing to acknowledge mental sympathy-one only whom he looks upon with real reverence-one only whose fortunes touch the inmost sanctuaries of his proud soul—and that this one is no other than that powerful, unintelligible, unrivalled spirit, who, had he possessed either private virtue or public moderation, might still have been in a situation to despise the offerings of even such a worshipper as Harold.
But there would be no end of descanting on the character of the Pilgrim, nor of the moral reflections which it awakens. Of the poet himself, the completion of this wondersul performance inspires us with lofty and magnificent hopes. It is most assuredly in his power to build up a work that shall endure among the most august sabrics of the genius of England. Indeed, the impression which the collective poetry of our own age makes upon our minds is, that it contains great promise of the future; and that, splendid as many of its achievements have been, some of our living poets seem destined still higher to exalt the imaginative character of their countrymen. When we look back, and compare the languid, faint, cold delineations of the very justest and finest subjects of inspiration in the poetry of the first half of the last century, with the warm, life-flushed and lifebreathing pictures of our own, we feel that a great accession has been made to the literature of our day,-an accession not only of delight, but of power. We cannot resist the persuasion, that if literature, in any great degree, impresses and nourishes the character of a people, then this literature of ours, pregnant as is with living impressions, -gathered from Nature in all her varieties of awfulness and beauty,-gathered too from those high and dread passions of men, which our ordinary life scarcely shows, and indeed could scarcely bear, but which, nevertheless, have belonged, and do belong, to our human life, -and held up in the powerful representations of the poets to our consciousness at times, when the deadening pressure of the days that are going by might bereave us of all genial hope and all dignified pride, -we say it is impossible for us to resist the belief that such pregnant, glowing, powerful poetry, must carry influences into the heart of this generation, even like those which are breathed from the heart of Nature herself,-or like those which lofty passions leave behind them in bosoms which they have once possessed. The same spirit of poetical passion which so uniformly marks the works of all our livings poets, must exist very widely among those who do not aspire to the name of genius; it must be very widely disfused throughout the age, and, as we think, must very materially influence the reality of life. Yet, highly as we estimate the merits of our modern poetry, it is certain that the age has not yet produced any one great epic or tragic performance. Vivid and just delineations of passion there are in abundance,-but of moments of passions-fragments of representation. The giant grasp of thought, which conceives and brings into full and perfect life, full and perfect passion-passion pervading alike action and character, through a majestic series of events, and at the same
time cast in the mould of grand imagination, this seems not to be of our age. In the delineation of external nature, which, in a poet's soul, requires rather moral beauty than intellectual strength, this age has excelled. But it has produced no poem gloriously illustrative
of the agencies, existences, and events, of the complex life of man. It has no Lear--10 Macbeth-no Othello. Some such glory as this Byron may yet live to bring over his own koeration. His being has in it all the elements of the highest poetry. And that being he enjoys in all the strength of its prime. We might almost say, that he needs but to exercise his will to construct a great poem. There is, however, much for him to alter in what may be called his Theory of Imagination respecting Human Life. Some idols of his own setting-up he has himself overthrown. There are yet some others, partly of gold and partly of clay, which should be dashed against the floor of the sanctuary. We have already spoken of his personal character, as it shines forth in his poetry. This personal character exists in the nature of his imagination, and may therefore be modified-purified-dignified by his own will. Hiş imagination does, to his own eyes, invest him with an unreal character. Purposes, passions, loves, deeds, events, may seem great and paramount io imagination, which have yet no power to constrain to action; and those which perhaps may govern our actions, vanish altogether from our imagination. There is a region—a world-a sphere of being in imagination, which, to our real life, is no more than the world of a dream ; yet, long as we are held in it by the transport of our delusion, we live, not in delight only, but in the conscious exaltation of our nature. It is in this world that the spirit of Byron must work a reformation for itself. He knows, far better than we can tell him, what have been the most hallowed objects of love and of passion to the souls of great poets in the most splendid eras of poetry,--and he also knows well, that those objects, if worshipped by him with becoming and steadfast reverence, will repay the worship which they receive, by the more fervent and divine inspiration which they kindle.*
ON THE IMMORAL TENDENCY OF LORD BYRON'S POETRY.
We have a word or two to say on the griefs of Lord Byron.
He complains bitterly of the detraction by which he has been assailed--and intimates that his works have been received by the public with far less cordiality and favour than he was entitled to expect. We are constrained to say, that this appears to us a very extraordinary mistake. In the whole course of our experience, we cannot recollect a single author who has had so little reason to complain of his reception—10 whose genius the public has been so early and so constantly just-to whose faults they have been so long and so singularly indulgent. From the very first, he must have been aware that he offended the principles and shocked the prejudices of the majority, by his sentiments, as much as he delighted them by his talents. Yet there never was an author so universally and warmly applauded, so
• Professor Wilson is known to be the author of this essay, the first, I believe, and the last of his contributions to the Edinburgh Review. Those who wish to refer to the numerous critiques in the Edinburgh Review on Lord Byron's works will find them in Vol. xi. p. 285.; Vol. xix. p. 466.; Vol. xxi p. 299.; Vol. xxüi. p. 198.; Vol. xxvii. p. 277.; Vol. xxviii. p. 418 ; Vol. xxix. p. 302 Vol . xxx. p. 87.; Vol. xxxv. p. 271. Vol. xxxvi. p. 413.; Vol. xxxviii. p. 27 Sardanapalus, a Tragedy. By Lord Byron. Vol. xxxvi. p. 413. February, 1822.
gently admonished-so kindly entreated to look more heedfully to his opinions. He took the praise, as usual, and rejected the advice. As he grew in fame and authority, he aggravated all his offences-clung more fondly to all he had been reproached with—and only took leave of Childe Harold to ally himself to Don Juan! That he has since been talked of, in public and in private, with less unmingled admiration—that his name is now mentioned as often for censure as for praise—and that the exultation with which his countrymen once hailed the greatest of our living poels, is now alloyed by the recollection of the tendency of his writings—is matter of notoriety to all the world; but matter of surprise, we should imagine, lo nobody but Lord Byron himself.
He would fain persuade himself, indeed, that this decline of his popularity—or rather this stain upon its lustre—for he is still popular beyond all other example-and it is only because he is so that we feel any interest in this discussion; - he wishes to believe, that he is indebted for the censures that have reached him, not to any actual demerits of his own, but to the jealousy of those he has supplanted, the envy of those he has outshone, or the party rancour of those against whose corruptions he has testified; while, at other times, he seems inclined to insinuate, that it is chiefly because he is a gentleman and a nobleman that plebeian censors have conspired to bear him down! We scarcely think, however, that these theories will pass with Lord Byron himself-we are sure they will pass with no other person. They are so manifestly inconsistent as mutually to destroy each other—and so weak, as to be quite insufficient to account for the fact, even if they could be effectually combined for that purpose.
The party that Lord Byron has offended, bears no malice to lords and gentlemen. Against its rancour, on the contrary, these qualities have undoubtedly been his best protection; and had it noi been for them, he may be assured that he would, long ere now, have been shown up in the pages of the Quarterly, with the same candour and liberality that has there been exercised towards his friend Lady Morgan. That the base and the bigoted—those whom he has darkened by his glory, spited by his talent, or mortified by his neglect -have taken advantage of the prevailing disaffection, to vent their puny malice in silly nicknames and vulgar scurrility, is natural and true. But Lord Byron may depend upon it, that the dissatisfaction is not confined to -them, and, indeed, that they would never have had the courage to assail one so immeasurably their superior, if he had not at once made himself vulnerable by his errors, and alienated his natural defenders by his obstinate adherence to them. We are not bigots nor rival poets. We have not been detractors from Lord Byron's fame, nor the friends of his detractors; and we tell him-far more in sorrow than in anger—that we verily believe the great body of the English nation—the religious, the moral, and the candid part of it-consider the tendency of his writings to be immoral and pernicious--and look upon his perseverance in that strain of composition with regret and reprehension. We ourselves are not easily startled, either by levily of temper, or boldness, or even rashness of remark; we are, moreover, most sincere admirers of Lord Byron's genius and have always felt a pride and an interest in his fame. But we cannot dissent from the censure to which we have alluded; and shall endeavour to explain, in as few and as temperate words as possible, the grounds upon which we rest our concurrence.
He has no priestlike cant or priestlike reviling lo apprehend from us. We do not charge him with being either a disciple or an apostle of Satan ;