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cast around him a mysterious charm arising from the sombre tone of his poetry, and the occasional melancholy of his deportment, Lord Byron occupied the eyes, and interested the feelings of all. The enthusiastic looked on him to admire, the serious with a wish to admonish, and the soft with a desire to console. Even literary envy, a base sensation, from which, perhaps, this age is more free than any other, forgave the man whose splendour dimmed the fame of his competitors. The generosity of Lord Byron's disposition, his readiness to assist merit in distress, and to bring it forward where unknown, deserved and obtained the general regard of those who partook of such merit, while his poetical effusions, poured forth with equal force and fertility, shewed at once a daring confidence in his own powers, and a determination to maintain, by continued effort, the high place he had attained in British literature. This rapidity of composition and publication we have heard blamed as endangering the fame of the author, while it gave such proofs of talent. We are inclined to dispute the proposition, at least in the present instance.
We are sometimes tempted to blame the timidity of those poets, who, possessing powers to arrest the admiration of the public, are yet too much afraid of censure to come frequently forward, and thus defraud themselves of their fame, and the public of the delight which they might afford us. Where success has been unexpectedly, and perhaps undeservedly, obtained by the capricious vote of fashion, it may be well for the adventurer to draw his stake and leave the game, as every succeeding hazard will diminish the chance of his rising a winner. But they cater ill for the public, and give indifferent advice to the poet, supposing him possessed of the highest qualities of his art, who do not advise him to labour while the laurel around his brows yet retains its freshness. Sketches from Lord Byron are more valuable than finished pictures from others; nor arc we at all sure that any labour which he might bestow in revisal would not rather efface than refine those outlines of striking and powerful originality which they exhibit, when flung rough from the hand of the master. No one would have wished to condemn Michel Angelo to work upon a single block of marble, until he had satisfied, in every point, the petty criticism of that Pope, who, neglecting the sublime and magnificent character and attitude of his Moses, descended to blame a wrinkle in the fold of the garment. Should it be urged, that in thus stimulating genius to unsparing exertion, we encourage carelessness and hurry in the youthful candidates for literary distinction, we answer, it is not the learner to whom our remarks apply; they refer to him only, who, gifted by nature with the higher power of poetry, an art as difficult as it is enchanting, has made himself master, by application and study, of the mecha
nical process, and in whom, we believe, frequent exertions upon new works awaken and stimulate that genius, which might be cramped and rendered tame, by long and minute attention to finish to the highest possible degree any one of the number. If we look at our poetical library we shall find, generally speaking, the most distinguished poets have been the most voluminous, and that those who, like Gray, limited their productions to a few poems, anxiously and sedulously corrected and revised, have given them a stiff and artificial character, which, far from disarming criticism, has rather embittered its violence, while the Aristarch, like Achilles assailing Hector, meditates dealing the mortal wound through some unguarded crevice of the supposed impenetrable armour, with which the cautious bard has vainly invested himself. Our opinion must be necessarily qualified by the caution, that as no human invention can be infinitely fertile, as even the richest genius may be, in agricultural phrase, cropped out, and rendered sterile, and as each author must necessarily have a particular style in which he is supposed to excel, and must therefore be more or less a mannerist; no one can with prudence persevere in forcing himself before the public when from failure in invention, or from having rendered the peculiarities of his style over trite and familiar, the veteran 'lags superfluous on the stage,' a slighted mute in those dramas where he was once the principal personage. To this humiliation vanity frequently exposes genius, and it is no doubt true that a copious power of diction joined to habitual carelessness in composition, has frequently conduced to it. We would therefore be understood to recommend to authors, while a consciousness of the possession of vigorous powers, carefully cultivated, unites with the favour of the public, to descend into the arena, and continue their efforts vigorously while their hopes are high, their spirits active, and the public propitious, in order that, on the slightest failure of nerves or breath, they may be able to withdraw themselves honourably from the contest gracefully, giving way to other candidates for fame, and cultivating studies more suitable to a flagging imagination than the fervid art of poetry. This, however, is the affair of the authors themselves: should they neglect this prudential course, the public will no doubt have more indifferent books on their table than would otherwise have loaded it; and as the world always seizes the first opportunity of recalling the applause it has bestowed, the former wreaths of the writers will for a time be blighted by their immediate failure. But these evils, so far as the public is concerned, are greatly overbalanced by such as arise from the timid caution, which bids genius suppress its efforts, until they shall be refined into unattainable perfection-and we cannot but repeat our conviction that poetry being, in its higher classes, an art which has for its ele
ments sublimity and unaffected beauty, is more liable than any other to suffer from the labour of polishing, or from the elaborate and composite style of ornament, and alternate affectation of simplicity, and artifice, which characterize the works, even of the first poets, when they have been over-anxious to secure public applause, by long and reiterated correction. It must be remembered that we speak of the higher tones of composition; there are others of a subordinate character, where extreme art and labour are not bestowed in vain. But we cannot consider over-anxious correction as likely to be employed with advantage upon poems like those of Lord Byron, which have for their object to rouse the imagination, and awaken the passions.
It is certain, to return to the subject from which we have gone somewhat astray, that the rapidity with which Lord Byron's poems succeeded each other, during four years, served to arrest as well as to dazzle and delight the public; nor did there appear room to apply to him, in the height of his fame and the flower of his age, the caution which we might whisper to other bards of popular celebrity. The Giaour, the Bride of Abydos, the Corsair, Lara, the Siege of Corinth, followed each other with a celerity, which was only rivalled by their success; and if at times the author seemed to pause in his poetic career, with the threat of forbearing further adventure for a time, the public eagerly pardoned the breach of a promise by keeping which they must have been sufferers. Exquisitely beautiful in themselves, these tales received a new charm from the romantic climes into which they introduced us, and from the oriental costume so strictly preserved and so picturesquely exhibited. Greece, the cradle of the poetry with which our earliest studies are familiar, was presented to us among her ruins and her sorrows. Her delightful scenery, once dedicated to those deities who, though dethroned from their own Olympus, still preserve a poetical empire, was spread before us in Lord Byron's poetry, varied by all the moral effect derived from what Greece is and what she has been, while it was doubled by comparisons, perpetually excited, between the philosophers and heroes who formerly inhabited that romantic country, and their descendants, who either stoop to their Scythian conquerors, or maintain, among the recesses of their classical mountains, an independence as wild and savage as it is precarious. The oriental manners also and diction, so peculiar in their picturesque effect that they can cast a charm even over the absurdities of an eastern tale, had here the more honourable occupation of decorating that which in itself was beautiful, and enhancing by novelty what would have been captivating without its aid. The powerful impression produced by this peculiar species of poetry confirmed
confirmed us in a principle, which, though it will hardly be challenged when stated as an axiom, is very rarely complied with in practice. It is, that every author should, like Lord Byron, form to himself, and communicate to the reader, a precise, defined and distinct view of the landscape, sentiment, or action which he intends to describe to the reader. This simple proposition has been so often neglected that we feel warranted in giving it a little more consideration and illustration than plain men may at first sight think necessary.
An author occasionally forgets that it is his business rather to excite than to satiate the imagination of his readers; rather to place before him such a distinct and intelligible sketch as his own imagination can fill up, than, by attempting to exhaust all that can be said on the subject, to confuse the apprehension and weary the attention. There should be, even in poetical description, that keeping and perspective which is demanded in the sister art of painting, and which alone can render the scenes presented by either distinct, clear and intelligible. Here the painter has, in some degree, the advantage of the poet, for perspective is the very foundation of his art. The most stupid bungler that ever took brush in band is aware that his objects must diminish as they withdraw from the eye, that he is not entitled to render the rocks of his distance too distinct, and that the knowledge that such things do actually exist will not justify him in painting with minuteness the lichens and shrubs, which grow on their surface and in their crevices, at a distance from which these minute objects cannot be discovered by the eye. Yet suppose such a novice a follower of the Muses, and he will not hesitate a moment to transgress this wholesome rule. Every thing which he knows to exist in fact, he will, with the confused minuteness of a Chinese painter, labour to introduce into his description, and, by confounding that which is important to his purpose with that which is subordinate, he will produce a mass of images more or less splendid, according to the vivacity of his. imagination, but perplexing, incongruous and unsatisfactory, in all respects, to the reader, who, in vain, endeavours to reduce them in his own mind into one distinct landscape whose parts shall bear a just proportion to each other. Such a poet has assembled, perhaps, excellent materials for composition, but he does not present them in intelligible arrangement to the reader, and he fails to produce upon the mind of others the desired effect, probably because the picture has never been presented to his own with sufficient accuracy.
This is more particularly the case with such authors as, lacking the erudition of Southey or the personal experience of Lord Byron, attempt to lay their scene in countries or ages with the costume and
manners of which they are but imperfectly acquainted. Such adventurers are compelled to draw heavily on their slender stock of knowledge on every occasion, and to parade, as fully as they can, before the eye of the reader, whatsoever their reading has gleaned concerning their subject. Without Chatterton's genius, they fall into Chatterton's error, who, not considering that in the most aucient authors scarcely one word in ten has become obsolete, wrote a set of poems in which every second word was taken from a glossary, and necessarily remitted to one, under the idea that he was imitating the language of the ancients. Thus, when a poet deals in materials of which he is not fully master, he is obliged, at the risk of outraging both taste and nature, to produce as frequently, and detain before the reader as long as possible, those distinctive marks by which he means to impress him with the reality of his story; and the outrage is committed in vain; for it is not enough for the representation of an eastern landscape, that the foreground should be encumbered with turbans and sabres, and the fantastic architecture of the kiosk or the mosque, if the distance be not marked by those slight but discriminating touches which mark the reality of the scene, the lightly indicated palm-tree, which overhangs the distant fountain, or the shadowy and obscure delineation of the long column of the caravan retreating through the distance; or the watchman who rests on his lance while his tribe slumber around him, as in the following exquisite picture taken from one of the poems before us.
The Boy was sprung to manhood: in the wilds
The Dream, p. 40.