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PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
In submitting to the public eye the following collection, I have not only to combat the difficulties that writers of verse generally encounter, but may incur the charge of presumption for obtruding myself on the world, when, without doubt, I might be, at my age, more usefully employed.
These productions are the fruits of the lighter hours of a young man who has lately completed his nineteenth year. As they bear the internal evidence of a boyish mind, this is, perhaps, unnecessary information. Some few were written during the disadvantages of illness and depression of spirits: under the former influence, “Childish RECOLLECTIONS,” in particular, were composed. This consideration, though it cannot excite the voice of praise, may at least arrest the arm of censure. A considerable portion of these poems has been privately printed, at the request and for the perusal of my friends. I am sensible that the partial and frequently injudicious admiration of a social circle is not the criterion by which poetical genius is to be estimated, yet “to do greatly,” we mu + "dare greatly ;” and I have hazarded my reputation and feeling publishing this volume. I have “passed the Rubicon," and " stand or fall by the “cast of the die.” In the latter event, I submit without a murmur; for, though not without solicitude i the fate of these effusions, my expectations are by no means sanguine. It is probable that I may have dared much and done little ; for, in the words of Cowper, “it is one thing to write what may please ou!"
[This preface was omitted in the second edition.?
friends, who, because they are such, are apt to be a little biassed in our favour, and another to write what may please everybody; because they who have no connection, or even knowledge of the author, will be sure to find fault if they can.” To the truth of this, however, I do not wholly subscribe; on the contrary, I feel convinced that these trifles will not be treated with injustice. Their merit, if they possess any, will be liberally allowed; their numerous faults, on the other hand, cannot expect that favour which has been denied to others of maturer years, decided character, and far greater ability.
I have not aimed at exclusive originality, still less have I studied any particular model for imitation ; some translations are given, of which many are paraphrastic. In the original pieces there may appear a casual coincidence with authors whose works I have been accustomed to read : but I have not been guilty of intentional plagiarism. To produce any thing entirely new, in an age so fertile in rhyme, would be a Herculean task, as every subject has already been treated to its utmost extent. Poetry, however, is not my primary vocation ; to divert the dull moments of indisposition, or the monotony of a vacant hour, urged me “to this sin :" little can be expected from so unpromising a muse. My wreath, scanty as it must be, is all I shall derive from these productions; and I shall never attempt to replace its fading leaves, or pluck a single additional sprig from groves where I am, at best, an intruder. Though accustomed, in my younger days, to rove a careless mountaineer on the Highlands of Scotland, I have not, of late years, had the benefit of such pure air, or so elevated a residence, as might enable me to enter he lists with genuine bards, who have enjoyed both these advantages. But they derive considerable fame, and a few not less profit, from their productions; while I shall expiate my rashness as an interloper, certainly without the latter, and in all probability with a very slight share of the former. I leave to others “virûm volitare per ora.” I look to the few who will hear with patience, “dulce est desipere in loco.” To the former worthies I resign, without repining, the hope of immortality, and content myself with the not very magnificent prospect of ranking amongst “the mob of gentlemen who write;”- my readers must determine whether I dare say “with ease,” or the honour of a posthumous page in “The Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors,”—a work to which the Peerage is under infinite obligations, inasmuch as many names of considerable length, sound, and antiquity, are thereby rescued from the obscurity which unluckily overshadows several voluminous productions of their illustrious bearers.
With slight hopes, and some fears, I publish this first and last attempt. To the dictates of young ambition may be ascribed many actions more criminal and equally absurd. To a few of my own age the contents may
afford amusement : I trust they will, at least, be found harmless. It is highly improbable, from my situation and pursuits hereafter, that I should ever obtrude myself a second time on the public; nor cven, in the very doubtful event of present indulgence, shall I be tempted to coinmit a future trespass of the same nature. The opinion of Dr. Johnson on the poems of a noble relation of mine,* “ That when a inan of rank appeared in the character of an author, he deserved to have his merit handsomely allowed,” can have little weight with verbal, and still less with periodical censors; but were it otherwise, I should be loth to avail myself of the privilege, and would rather incur the bitterest censure of anonyinous criticisin, than triumph in honours granted solely to a title.
The Earl of Carlisle, whose works have long received the meed of public applause, to which, by their intrinsic worth, they were well entitled. [The passage referred to by Lord Byron occurs in Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. viii. p. 9i, edit. 1835; and in the same volume, p. 212, is Dr. Johnson's letter to Mrs. Chapone, on the Earl's tragedy of " The Father's Revenge.” The task of pronouncing an opinion was forced cpon the Doctor, who is evidently struggling between the wish to be compliruentary sad the obligation to be truthful.]
ARTICLE FROM THE EDINBURGH REVIEW.
HOURS OF IDLENESS ; a Series of Poems, original and translated. By GEURGE
GORDON, LORD BYRon, a Minor. 8vo, pp. 200. Newark, 1807.
The poesy of this young lord belongs to the class which neither gods nor men are said to permit. Indeed we do not recollect to have seen a quantity of verse with so few deviations in either direction from that exact standard. His effusions are spread over a dead flat, and can no more get above or below the level, than if they were so much stagnant water. As an extenuation of this offence, the noble author is peculiarly forward in pleading minority. We have it in the title-page, and on the very back of the volume; it follows his name like a favourite part of his style. Much stress is laid upon it in the preface ; and the poems are connected with this general statement of his case, by particular dater, substantiating the age at which each was written. Now, the law upon the point of minority we hold to be perfectly clear. It is a plea available only to the defendant; no plaintiff can offer it as a supplementary ground of action. Thus, if any suit could be brought against Lord Byron, for the purpose of compelling him to put into court a certain quantity of poetry, and if judgment were given against him, it is highly probable that an exception would be taken, were he to deliver for poetry the contents of this volume. To this he might plead minority; but, as he now makes voluntary tender of the article, he hath no right to sue, on that ground, for the price in good current praise, should the goods be unmarketable. This is our view of the law on the point, and we dare to say, so will it be ruled. Perhaps, however, in reality, all that he tells us about his youth is rather with a view to increase our wonder than to soften our censures. He possibily means to say, “ See how a minor can write! This poem was actually composed by a young man of eighteen, and this by one of only sixteen !" But, alas ! we all remember the poetry of Cowley at ten, and Pope at twelve; and so far from hearing with any degree of surprise, that very poor verses were written by a youth from his leaving school to his leaving college, inclusive, we really believe this to be the most common of all occurrences; that it happens in the life of nine mea in ten who are educated in England; and that the tenth man writes better verse than Lord Byron.
His other plea of privilege our author rather brings forward in order to waive it. He certainly, however, does allude frequently to his family and ancestors-sometimes in poetry, sometimes in potes; and while giving up his claim on the scure of rank, he takes care to remember us of Dr. Johnsou's saying, that when a nobleman appears as an author, his merit should be handsomely acknowledged. In truth, it is this consideration only that induces us to give Lord Byron's poems a place in our review, beside our desire to counsel him, that he do fortb with abandon poetry, and turn his talents, which are considerable, and his opportunities, which are great, to better account.
With this view, we must beg leave seriously to assure him, that the mere rhyming of the final syllable, even when accompanied by the presence of a certain number of feet, -pay, although (which does not always happen) those feet should scan regularly, and have been all counted accurately upon the fingers,- is not the whole art of poetry. We would entreat him to believe, that a certain portion of liveliness, somewhat of fancy, is necessary to constitute a poem, and that a poem in the present day, to be read, must contain at least one thought, either in a little degree different from the ideas of former writers, or differently expressed. We put it to his candour, whether there is anything so deserving the name of poetry in verses like the following, written in 1806; and whether, if a youth of eighteen could say anything so uninteresting to his ancestors, a youth of nineteen should publish it:
“ Shades of heroes, farewell! your descendant, departing
From the seat of his ancestors, bids you adieu !
New courage, he'll think upon glory and you.
“ Though a tear dim his eye at this sad separation,
'Tis nature, not fear, that excites his regret: Far distant he goes, with the same emulation ;
The fame of his fathers he ne'er can forget.
“ That fame, and that memory, still will he cherish;
He vows that he ne'er will disgrace your renown;
When decay'd, may he mingle his dust with your own.
Now, we positively do assert, that there is nothing better than these stanzas in the whole compass of the noble minor's volume.
Lord Byron should also have a care of attempting what the greatest poets have done before him, for comparisons (as he must have had occasion to see at lois writing master's) are odious. Gray's Ode on Eton College should really bave kept out the ten hobbling stanzas “On a distant View of the Village and School of Harrow."
“Where fancy yet joys to retrace the resemblance
Of comrades, in friendship and mischief allied;
Which rests in the busoin, though hope is denied.” In like manner, the exquisite lines of Mr. Rogers, “On a Tear," might have warned the noble author off those premises, and spared us a whole dozen such stanzas us the following :
“Mild Charity's glow, to us mortals below,
Shows the soul from barbarity clear;
And its dew is diffused in a Tear.