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And o'er it blew the mountain breeze,
And by it there were waters flowing,
Freedom at length comes when the captive of Chillon, reconciled to his prison, had learned to consider it as a hermitage all his own,' and had become friends with the very shackles which he wore.
It will readily be allowed that this singular poem is more powerful than pleasing. The dungeon of Bonnivard is, like that of Ugolino, a subject too dismal for even the power of the painter or poet to counteract its horrors. It is the more disagreeable as affording human hope no anchor to rest upon, and describing the sufferer, though a man of talents and virtues, as altogether inert and powerless under his accumulated sufferings. Yet as a picture, however gloomy the colouring, it may rival any which Lord Byron has drawn, nor is it possible to read it without a sinking of the heart, corresponding with that which he describes the victim to have suffered.
We have said that Lord Byron occasionally, though without concealing his own original features, assumes the manner and style of his contemporaries. Of these we have more than one instance in the present collection. It is impossible to read the Prisoner of Chillon without finding several passages-that last quoted, for example,-which strongly remind us of Wordsworth. There is another, called 'Churchill's Grave,' for which Southey seems to afford the model, not in his epic strains, but in his English eclogues, in which moral truths are expressed, to use the poet's own language in an almost colloquial plainness of language,' and an air of quaint and original expression, assumed to render the sentiment at once impressive and piquant. The grave of Churchill, however, might have called from Lord Byron a deeper commemoration; for though they generally differed in character and genius, there was a resemblance between their history and character. The satire of Churchill flowed with a more profuse, though not a more embittered stream; while, on the other hand, he cannot be compared to Lord Byron in point of tenderness or imagination. But both these poets held themselves above the opinion of the world, and both were followed by the fame and popularity which they seemed to despise. The writings of both exhibit an inborn, though sometimes ill regulated generosity of mind, and a spirit of proud independence, frequently pushed to extremes. Both carried their hatred of hypocrisy beyond the verge of prudence, and indulged their vein of satire to the borders of licentiousness. In the flower of his age Churchill died in a foreign
land, here we trust the parallel will cease, and that the subject of our criticism will long survive to honour his own.
Two other pieces in this miscellany recal to our mind the wild, unbridled, and fiery imagination of Coleridge. To this poet's high poetical genius we have always paid deference; though not uniformly perhaps, he has, too frequently for his own popularity, wandered into the wild and mystic, and left the reader at a loss accurately to determine his meaning. Perhaps in that called the Spell' the resemblance may be fanciful, but we cannot allow it to be so in the singular poem called Darkness,' well entitled A dream which is not all a dream.'
In this case our author has abandoned the art, so peculiarly his own, of shewing the reader where his purpose tends, and has contented himself with presenting a mass of powerful ideas unarranged, and the meaning of which we certainly confess ourselves not always able to attain. A succession of terrible images is placed before us flitting and mixing, and disengaging themselves as in the dream of a feverish man-Chimeras dire, to whose existence the mind refuses credit, which confound and weary the ordinary reader, and baffle the comprehension even of those more accustomed to the flights of a poetic muse. The subject is the progress of utter darkness, until it becomes, in Shakspeare's phrase, the burier of the dead,' and the assemblage of terrific ideas which the poet has placed before us only fail in exciting our terror from the extravagance of the plan. These mystical prolusions do indeed produce upon us the effect described in Henry Mur's lines quoted in Southey's Omniana-
'A lecture strange he seem'd to read to me;
But the feeling of reverence which we entertain for that which is difficult of comprehension, gives way to weariness whenever we begin to suspect that it cannot be distinctly comprehended by
To speak plainly, the framing of such phantasms is a dangerous employment for the exalted and teeming imagination of such a poet as Lord Byron, whose Pegasus has ever required rather a bridle than a spur. The waste of boundless space into which they lead the poet, the neglect of precision which such themes may render habitual, make them, in respect to poetry, what mysticism is to religion. The meaning of the poet as he ascends upon cloudy wing becomes the shadow only of a thought, and having eluded the comprehension of others, necessarily ends
by escaping from that of the author himself. The strength of poetical conception, and beauty of diction, bestowed upon such prolusions, is as much thrown away as the colours of a painter, could he take a cloud of mist, or a wreath of smoke for his
Omitting one or two compositions of less interest we cannot but notice the Dream,' which, if we do not misconstrue it, has a covert and mysterious relation to the tale of Childe Harold. It is written with the same power of poetry, nor have we here to complain of obscurity in the mode of narrating the vision, though we pretend not to the skill or information necessary to its interpretaIt is difficult, however, to mistake who or what is meant in the conclusion, and more especially as the tone too well agrees with similar passages in the continuation of Childe Harold.
'The Wanderer was alone as heretofore,
Through that which had been death to many men,
He held his dialogues; and they did teach
To him the book of Night was opened wide,
And voices from the deep abyss reveal'd
A marvel and a secret-Be it so.'—pp. 44, 45.
The reader is requested to contrast these lines with the stern and solemn passage in which Childe Harold seems to bid a long and lasting farewell to social intercourse, and, with exceptions so cautiously restricted and guarded as to be almost none, brands the mass of humanity whom he leaves behind him as false and treacherous.
'I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
Nor coin'd my cheek to smiles,-nor cried aloud
They could not deem me one of such; I stood
Of thoughts which were not their thoughts, and still could
I have not loved the world, nor the world me,-
Though I have found them not, that there may be
Snares for the failing: I would also deem O'er others' griefs that some sincerely grieve; That two, or one, are almost what they seem,That goodness is no name, and happiness no dream.'-pp. 61, 62. Though the last of these stanzas has something in it mystic and enigmatical, yet with the passage already quoted from the Dream,' and some other poems which are already before the public, they remove the scrupulous delicacy with which otherwise we would have avoided allusion to the mental sufferings of the noble poet. But to uncover a wound is to demand a surgeon's hand to tent it. With kinder feelings to Lord Byron in person and repu tation no one could approach him than ourselves: we owe it to the pleasure which he has bestowed upon us, and to the honour he has done to our literature. We have paid our warmest tribute to his talents-it is their due. We will touch on the uses for which he was invested with them-it is our duty; and happy, most happy, should we be, if, in discharging it, we could render this distinguished author a real service. We do not assume the office of harsh censors;-we are entitled at no time to do so towards genius, least of all in its hour of adversity; and we are prepared to make full allowance for the natural effect of misfortune upon a bold and haughty spirit.
When the splitting wind
But this mode of defiance may last too long, and hurry him who indulges it into further evils; and to this point our observations tend. The advice ought not to be contemned on account of the obscurity of those by whom it is given:-the roughest fisherman is an useful pilot when a gallant vessel is near the breakers; the meanest shepherd may be a sure guide over a pathless heath, and the admonition which is given in well meant kindness should not be despised, even were it tendered with a frankness which may resemble a want of courtesy.
If the conclusion of Lord Byron's literary career were to be such as these mournful verses have anticipated-if this darkness of the spirit, this scepticism concerning the existence of worth, of friendship, of sincerity, were really and permanently to sink like a gulph between this distinguished poet and society, another name
will be added to the illustrious list to whom Preston's caution refers.
Still wouldst thou write?-to tame thy youthful fire
Lo every brow the shade of sorrow wears,
And every wreath is stained with dropping tears!'
But this is an unfair picture. It is not the temper and talents of the poet, but the use to which he puts them, on which his happiness or misery is grounded. A powerful and unbridled imagination is, we have already said, the author and architect of its own disappointments. Its fascinations, its exaggerated pictures of good and evil, and the mental distress to which they give rise, are the natural and necessary evils attending on that quick susceptibility of feeling and fancy incident to the poetical temperament. But the Giver of all talents, while he has qualified them each with its separate and peculiar alloy, has endowed the owner with the power of purifying and refining them. But, as if to moderate the arrogance of genius, it is justly and wisely made requisite, that he must regulate and tame the fire of his fancy, and descend from the heights to which she exalts him, in order to obtain ease of mind and tranquillity. The materials of happiness, that is of such degree of happiness as is consistent with our present state, lie around us in profusion. But the man of talents must stoop to gather them, otherwise they would be beyond the reach of the mass of society, for whose benefit, as well as for his, Providence has created them. There is no royal and no poetical path to contentment and heart's-ease: that by which they are attained is open to all classes of mankind, and lies within the most limited range of intellect. To narrow our wishes and desires within the scope of our powers of attainment; to consider our misfortunes, however peculiar in their character, as our inevitable share in the patrimony of Adam; to bridle those irritable feelings, which ungoverned are sure to become governors; to shun that intensity of galling and self-wounding reflection which our poet has so forcibly described in his own burning language:
I have thought
Too long and darkly, till my brain became,
-to stoop, in short, to the realities of life; repent if we have offended, and pardon if we have been trespassed against; to look on the world less as our foe than as a doubtful and capricious friend, whose applause we ought as far as possible to deserve, but neither to court nor contemn-such seem the most obvious and certain means of keeping or regaining mental tranquillity.