« AnteriorContinuar »
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 bave 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 ber 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 slassical 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 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 hinself, 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 bis 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 bis 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 adven-
The Dream, p. 40.
This is true keeping—an Eastern picture perfect in its foreground, and distance, and sky, and no part of which is so dwelt upon or laboured as to obscure the principal figure. It is often in the slight and almost imperceptible touches that the hand of the master is shewn, and that a single spark, struck from his fancy, lightens with a long train of illumination that of the reader.
It is another remarkable property of the poetry of Lord Byron, that although his mamer is frequently varied-although he appears to have assumed for an occasion the characteristic stanza and style of several contemporaries, yet not only is his poetry marked in every instance by the strongest cast of originality, but in some leading particulars, and especially in the character of his heroes, each story so closely resembled the other, that managed by a writer of less power, the effect would have been an unpleasing monotony.ll All, or almost all, his heroes, have soinewhat the attributes of Childe Harold :-all, or almost all, have minds which seem at variance with their fortunes, and exhibit high and poignant feelings of pain and pleasure ; a keen sense of what is noble and honourable, and an equally keen susceptibility of injustice or injury, under the garb of stoicism or contempt of mankind. The strength of early passion, and the glow of youthful feeling, are uniformly painted as chilled or subdued by a train of early imprudences or of darker guilt, and the sense of enjoyment tarnished, by too intimate and experienced an acquaintance with the vanity of human wishes. These general attributes mark the stern features of all Lord Byron's heroes, from those which are shaded by the scalloped hat of the illustrious Pilgrim, to those which lurk under the turban of Alp, the Renegade. The public, ever anxious in curiosity or malignity to attach to fictitious characters real prototypes, were obstinate in declaring that in these leading traits of character Lord Byron copied from the individual features reflected in his own mirror. On this subject the noble author entered, on one occasion, a formal protest, though, it will be observed, without entirely disavowing the ground on which the conjecture was formed.
With regard to my story, and stories in general, I should have been glad to have rendered my personages more perfect and amiable, if possible, inasmuch as I have been sometimes criticised, and considered no less responsible for their deeds and qualities than if all had been personal. "Be it so—if I have deviated into the gloomy vanity of “ drawing from self," the pictures are probably like, since they are unfavourable; and if not, those who know me are undeceived, and those who do not, I have little interest in undeceiving. I have no particular desire that any but my acquaintance should think the author better than the beings of his imagining; but I cannot help a little surprize, and perhaps amusement, at some odd critical exceptions in the present instance, when I see several bards, (far more deserving, I allow,) in very reputable
plight, and quite exempt from all participation in the faults of those heros, who, nevertheless, might be found with little more morality than “ The Giaour,” and perhaps—but no-I must adınit Childe Harold to be a very repulsive personage; and as to his identity, those who like it must give him whatever “ alias” they please.'
It is difficult to say whether we are to receive this passage as an admission or a denial of the opinion to which it refers: but Lord Byron certainly did the public injustice, if he supposed it imputed to him the criminal actions with which many of his heroes were stained. Men no more expected to meet in Lord Byron the Corsair, who knew himself a villain,' than they looked for the hypocrisy of Kehama on the shores of the Derwent Water, or the profligacy of Marmion on the banks of the Tweed : yet even in the features of Conrad, those who have looked on Lord Byron will recognise some likeness.
to the sight
The Corsair, p. 11. Aud the ascetic regimen which the noble author himself observed, was no less marked in the description of Conrad's fare.
* Ne'er for his lip the purpling cup they fill,
With all a hermit's board would scarce deny.'-Id. p. 4. The following description of Lara suddenly and unexpectedly returned from distant travels, and reassuming his station in the society of his own country, has in like manner strong points of resemblance to the part which the author himself seemed occasionally to bear amid the scenes where the great mingle with the fair.
'tis quickly seen Whate'er he be, 'twas not what he had been ;