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In another part of the poem this subject is renewed, where the traveller visits the scenery of La Nouvelle Eloïse.
'Clarens, sweet Clarens, birth-place of deep love,
There is much more of beautiful and animated description, from which it appears that the impassioned parts of Rousseau's romance have made a deep impression upon the feelings of the noble poet. The enthusiasm expressed by Lord Byron is no small tribute to the power possessed by Jean Jaques over the passions and to say truth, we needed some such evidence, for, though almost ashamed to avow the truth, which is probably very much to our own discredit,—still, like the barber of Midas, we must speak or die-we have never been able to feel the interest or discover the merit of this far-famed performance. That there is much eloquence in the letters we readily admit; there lay Rousseau's strength. But his lovers, the celebrated St. Preux and Julie, have, from the earliest moment we have heard the tale (which we well remember) down to the present hour, totally failed to interest us. There might be some constitutional hardness of heart; but like Lance's pebble-hearted cur, Crab, we remained dry-eyed while all wept around us. And still, on resuming the volume, even now, we can see little in the loves of these two tiresome pedants to interest our feelings for either of them; we are by no means flattered by the character of Lord Edward Bomston, produced as the representative of the English nation,—and, upon the whole, consider the dullness of the story as the best apology for its exquisite immorality. To state our opinion in language much better than our own, we are unfortunate enough to regard this far-famed history of philosophical gallantry as an unfashioned, indelicate, sour, gloomy, ferocious medley of pedantry and lewdness; of metaphysical speculations, blended with the coarsest sensuality.* Neither does Rousseau claim a higher rank with us on account of that Pythian and frenetic inspiration which vented
'Those oracles which set the world in flame,
Nor ceased to burn till kingdoms were no more.'
We agree with Lord Byron that this frenzied sophist, reasoning upon false principles, or rather presenting that show of reasoning
* Letter to a Member of the National Assembly.
which is the worst pitch of madness, was a primary apostle of the French Revolution; nor do we differ greatly from his lordship's conclusion that good and evil were together overthrown in that volcanic explosion. But when Lord Byron assures us, that after the successive changes of government by which the French legislators have attempted to reach a theoretic perfection of constitution, mankind must and will begin the same work anew, in order to do it better and more effectually,-we devoutly hope the experi- V ment, however hopeful, may not be renewed in our time, and that the fixed passion' which Childe Harold describes as 'holding his breath,' and waiting the atoning hour,' will choke in his purpose ere that hour arrives. Surely the voice of dear-bought experience should now at length silence, even in France, the clamour of empirical philosophy. Who would listen a moment to the blundering mechanic who should say, I have burned your house down ten times in the attempt, but let m once more disturb your old-fashioned chimnies and vents, in order to make another trial, and I will pledge myself to succeed in heating it upon the newest and most approved principle'?
The poem proceeds to describe, in a tone of great beauty and feeling, a night-scene witnessed on the Lake of Geneva; and each natural object, from the evening grasshopper to the stars, the poetry of heaven,' suggests the contemplation of the connection between the Creator and his works. The scene is varied by the 'fierce and fair delight' of a thunder-storm, described in verse almost as vivid as its lightnings. We had marked it for transcript, as one of the most beautiful passages of the poem; but quotation must have bounds, and we have been already liberal. But the live thunder leaping among the rattling crags'-the voice of mountains, as if shouting to each other-the plashing of the big rain-the gleaming of the wide lake, lighted like a phosphoric sea,-present a picture of sublime terror, yet of enjoyment, often attempted, but never so well, certainly never better, brought out in poetry. The Pilgrim reviews the characters of Gibbon and Voltaire, suggested by their residences on the lake of Geneva, and concludes by reverting to the same melancholy tone of feeling with which the poem commenced. Childe Harold, though not formally dismissed, glides from our observation; and the poet, in his own person, renews the affecting address to his infant daughter:
• My daughter! with thy name this song begun-
To whom the shadows of far years extend:
He proceeds in the same tone for several stanzas, and then concludes with this paternal benediction ;—
'Sweet be thy cradled slumbers o'er the sea,
Having finished the analysis of this beautiful poem, we have the difficult and delicate task before us, of offering some remarks on the tone and feeling in which it is composed. But before discharging this part of our duty, we must give some account of the other fasciculus with which the fertile genius of Lord Byron has supplied us.
The collection to which the Prisoner of Chillon gives name, inferior in interest to the continuation of Childe Harold, is marked, nevertheless, by the peculiar force of Lord Byron's genius. It consists of a series of detached pieces, some of them fragments, and rather poetical prolusions, than finished and perfect poems.
Some of our readers may require to be informed, that Chillon, which gives name to the first poem, is a castle on the lake of Geneva, belonging of old to the dukes of Savoy, employed by them during the dark ages, as a state prison, and furnished of course with a tremendous range of subterranean dungeons, with a chamber dedicated to the purpose of torture, and all the apparatus of feudal tyranny. Here the earlier champions of the Reformation were frequently doomed to expiate their heretical opinions. Among the hardiest of these was Bonnivard, whom Lord Byron has selected as the hero of his poem. He was imprisoned in Chillon for nearly six years, from 1530, namely, to 1536, and underwent all the rigour of the closest captivity. But it has not been the purpose of Lord Byron to paint the peculiar character of Bonnivard, nor do we find any thing to remind us of the steady firmness and patient endurance of one suffering for conscience-sake. The object of the poem, like that of Sterne's celebrated sketch of the prisoner, is to consider captivity in the abstract, and to mark its effects in gradually chilling the mental powers as it benumbs and freezes the animal frame, until the unfortunate victim becomes, as it were, a part of his dungeon, and identified with his chains. This transmutation we believe to be founded on fact: at least, in the Low Countries, where capital punishments
punishments are never inflicted, and where solitary confinement for life is substituted in the case of enormous crimes, something like it may be witnessed. On particular days in the course of the year, these victims of a jurisprudence which calls itself humane, are presented to the public eye upon a stage erected in the open market-place, apparently to prevent their guilt and their punishment from being forgotten. It is scarcely possible to witness a sight more degrading to humanity than this exhibition-with matted hair, wild looks and haggard features, with eyes dazzled by the unwonted light of the sun, and ears deafened and astounded by the sudden exchange of the silence of a dungeon for the busy hum of men, the wretches sit more like rude images fashioned to a fantastic imitation of humanity, than like living and reflecting beings. In the course of time we are assured they generally become either madmen or idiots, as mind or matter happens to predominate, when the mysterious balance between them is destroyed. But they who are subjected to such a dreadful punishment are generally, like most perpetrators of gross crimes, men of feeble internal resources. Men of talents like Trenck have been known, in the deepest seclusion, and most severe confinement, to battle the foul fiend melancholy, and to come off conquerors, during a captivity of years. Those who suffer imprisonment for the sake of their country or their religion have yet a stronger support, and may exclaim, though in a different sense from that of Othello
'It is the cause-it is the cause, my soul.'
And hence the early history of the church is filled with martyrs, who, confident in the justice of their cause, and the certainty of their future reward, endured with patience the rigour of protracted and solitary captivity, as well as the bitterness of torture, and of death itself. This, however, is not the view which Lord Byron has taken of the character and captivity of Bonnivard, for which he has offered an apology in the following passage in the notes. When the foregoing poem was composed, I was not sufficiently aware of the history of Bonnivard, or I would have endeavoured to dignify the subject by an attempt to celebrate his courage and his virtues.' The theme of the poem is therefore the gradual effect of protracted captivity upon a man of powerful mind, tried at the same time by the successive deaths of his two brethren.
Bonnivard is represented as imprisoned with his brothers in a terrific dungeon in the Castle of Chillon. The second
pure of mind,
But formed to combat with his kind,'
first drooped under the effects of protracted imprisonment, more bitter to one bred a warrior and a huntsman. The sickness and pining of the other, a youth of a milder and more affectionate character, is feelingly described.
'But he, the favourite and the flower,
He, too, was struck, and day by day Was withered on the stalk away.' The effects of the survivor's sorrow succeed. At first, furious and frantic at feeling himself the only being in this black spot," and every link burst which bound him to humanity, he gradually falls into the stupor of despair and of apathy, the loss of sensation of light, air, and even of darkness.
The effects produced on the mind of the captive, by the casual visit of a bird, and by the view of the lake from the loop-hole of his prison, are next described. An extract from the latter shall form our last specimen of the poem.
'I heard the torrents leap and gush
O'er channell❜d rock and broken bush;
A small green isle, it seem'd no more,