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BY J. W. LAKE.
O'er the harp, from earliest years beloved,
It was reserved for the present age to pro- their readers, far beyond the range of those duce one distinguished example of the Muse ordinary feelings which are usually excited having descended upon a bard of a wounded by the mere efforts of genius. The impression spirit, and lent her lyre to tell afflictions of of this interest still accompanies the perusal no ordinary description; afflictions originating of their writings; but there is another interest, probably in that singular combination of feel- of more lasting and far stronger power, which ing with imagination which has been called each of them possessed,-which lies in the the poetical temperament, and which has so continual embodying of the individual characoften saddened the days of those on whom it ter, it might almost be said of the very person has been conferred. If ever a man was enti- of the writer. When we speak or think of tled to lay claim to that character in all its Rousseau or Byron, we are not conscious of strength and all its weakness, with its un- speaking or thinking of an author. We have bounded range of enjoyment, and its exquisite a vague but impassioned remembrance of men sensibility of pleasure and of pain, that man of surpassing genius, eloquence, and power,— was Lord Byron. Nor does it require much of prodigious capacity both of misery and time, or a deep acquaintance with human na- happiness. We feel as if we had transiently ture, to discover why these extraordinary met such beings in real life, or had known powers should in so many cases have contributed more to the wretchedness than to the happiness of their possessor.
them in the dim and dark communion of a dream. Each of their works presents, in succession, a fresh idea of themselves; and, while The "imagination all compact," which the the productions of other great men stand out greatest poet who ever lived has assigned as from them, like something they have created, the distinguishing badge of his brethren, is in theirs, on the contrary, are images, pictures, every case a dangerous gift. It exaggerates, busts of their living selves.-clothed, no doubt, indeed, our expectations, and can often bid at different times, in different drapery, and its possessor hope, where hope is lost to reason; prominent from a different back-ground,—but but the delusive pleasure arising from these uniformly impressed with the same form, and visions of imagination, resembles that of a mien, and lineaments, and not to be mistaken child whose notice is attracted by a fragment for the representations of any other of the of glass to which a sunbeam has given mo- children of men. mentary splendour. He hastens to the spot But this view of the subject, though univerwith breathless impatience, and finds that the sally felt to be a true one, requires perhaps a object of his curiosity and expectation is little explanation. The personal character of equally vulgar and worthless. Such is the which we have spoken, it should be underman of quick and exalted powers of imagina- stood, is not altogether that on which the seal tion: his fancy over-estimates the object of of life has been set,-and to which, therefore, his wishes; and pleasure, fame, distinction, moral approval or condemnation is necessaare alternately pursued, attained, and despised rily annexed, as to the language or conduct when in his power. Like the enchanted fruit of actual existence. It is the character, so to in the palace of a sorcerer, the objects of his speak, which is prior to conduct, and yet admiration lose their attraction and value as open to good and to ill,-the constitution of soon as they are grasped by the adventurer's the being in body and in soul. Each of these hand; and all that remains is regret for the illustrious writers has, in this light, filled his time lost in the chase, and wonder at the hal-works with expressions of his own character lucination under the influence of which it was has unveiled to the world the secrets of his undertaken. The disproportion between hope own being, the mysteries of the framing of and possession, which is felt by all men, is thus man. They have gone down into those depths doubled to those whom nature has endowed which every man may sound for himself, with the power of gilding a distant prospect though not for another; and they have made by the rays of imagination. disclosures to the world of what they beheld We think that many points of resemblance and knew there-disclosures that have commay be traced between Byron and Rousseau.manded and forced a profound and universal Both are distinguished by the most ardent and sympathy, by proving that all mankind, the vivid delineation of intense conception, and troubled and the untroubled, the lofty and the by a deep sensibility of passion rather than of low, the strongest and the frailest, are linked affection. Both too, by this double power, together by the bonds of a common but inhave held a dominion over the sympathy of scrutable nature.
daunted, or perplexed, or disturbed, or repelled, by real, living, breathing features. He can updraw just as much of the curtain as he chooses, that hangs between his own solitude and the world of life. He there pours his soul out, partly to himself alone, partly to the ideal abstractions and impersonated images that float around him at his own conjuration; and partly to human beings like himself, moving in the dark distance of the every-day world. He confesses himself, not before men, but before the spirit of humanity; and he thus fearlessly lays open his heart, assured that nature never prompted unto genius that which will not triumphantly force its wide way into the human heart.
Thus, each of these wayward and richly-are not felt, while we read, as declarations gifted spirits made himself the object of pro-published to the world, but almost as secrets found interest to the world, and that too dur-whispered to chosen ears. Who is there that ing periods of society when ample food was feels for a moment, that the voice which every where spread abroad for the meditations reaches the inmost recesses of his heart is and passions of men. speaking to the careless multitudes around Although of widely dissimilar fortunes and him? Or if we do so remember, the words birth, a close resemblance in their passions seem to pass by others like air, and to find and their genius may be traced too between their way to the hearts for whom they were Byron and Robert Burns. Their careers intended; kindred and sympathetic spirits, were short and glorious, and they both perish- who discern and own that secret language, ed in the "rich summer of their life and song," of which the privacy is not violated, though and in all the splendour of a reputation more spoken in hearing of the uninitiated, because likely to increase than diminish. One was a it is not understood. A great poct may adpeasant, and the other was a peer; but nature dress the whole world, in the language of is a great leveller, and makes amends for the intensest passion, concerning objects of which injuries of fortune by the richness of her rather than speak face to face with any one benefactions: the genius of Burns raised him human being on earth, he would perish in his to a level with the nobles of the land; by na- misery. For it is in solitude that he utters ture, if not by birth, he was the peer of Byron. what is to be wafted by all the winds of heaven: They both rose by the force of their genius, there are, during his inspiration, present with and both fell by the strength of their passions; him only the shadows of men. He is not one wrote from a love, and the other from a scorn of mankind; and they both sung of the emotions of their own hearts, with a vehemence and an originality which few have equalled, and none surely have surpassed. The versatility of authors who have been able to draw and support characters as different from each other as from their own, has given to their productions the inexpressible charm of variety, and has often secured them from that neglect which in general attends what is technically called mannerism. But it was reserved for Lord Byron (previous to his Don Juan) to present the same character on the public stage again and again, varied only oy the exertions of that powerful genius, which, searching the springs of passion and We have admitted that Byron has depicted of feeling in their innermost recesses, knew much of himself, in all his heroes; but when how to combine their operations, so that the we seem to see the poet shadowed out in all interest was eternally varying, and never those states of disordered being which his abated, although the most important person Childe Harolds, Giaours, Conrads, Laras, and of the drama retained the same lineaments. Alps exhibit, we are far from believing that "But that noble tree will never more bear fruit or blossom! It has been cut down in its strength, and the past is all that remains to us of Byron. That voice is silent for ever, which, bursting so frequently on our ear, was often heard with rapturous admiration, sometimes with regret, but always with the deepest interest."-Yet the impression of his works still remains vivid and strong. The charm which cannot pass away is there,-life breathing in dead words-the stern grandeur--the intense power and energy-the fresh beauty, the undimmed lustre-the immortal bloom, and verdure, and fragrance of life, all those still are there. But it was not in these alone, it was in that continual impersonation of himself in his writings, by which he was for ever kept brightly before the eyes of men.
his own mind has gone through those states of disorder, in its own experience of life. We merely conceive of it, as having felt within itself the capacity of such disorders, and therefore exhibiting itself before us in possibility. This is not general,-it is rare with great poets. Neither Homer, nor Shakspeare, nor Milton, ever so show themselves in the characters which they pourtray. Their poetical personages have no references to themselves, but are distinct, independent creatures of their minds, produced in the full freedom of intellectual power. In Byron, there does not seem this freedom of power-there is little appropriation of character to events. Charac ter is first, and all in all; it is dictated, compelied by some force in his own mind-necessitating him,-and the events obey. His It might, at first, seem that his undisguised poems, therefore, excepting Don Juan, are revelation of feelings and passions, which the not full and complete narrations of some one becoming pride of human nature, jealous of definite story, containing within itself a picits own dignity, would in general desire to ture of human life. They are merely bold, hold in unviolated silence, could have pro- confused, and turbulent exemplifications of duced in the public mind only pity, sorrow, certain sweeping energies and irresistible or repugnance. But in the case of men of passions; they are fragments of a poet's dark real genius, like Byron, it is otherwise: they dream of life. The very personages, vividly
as they are pictured, are yet felt to be ficti- He had two sons, who both died without issue; tious, and derive their chief power over us and his younger brother, Sir John, became from their supposed mysterious connexion their heir. This person was made a Knight with the poet himself, and, it may be added, of the Bath, at the coronation of James the with each other. The law of his mind was to First. He had eleven sons, most of whom embody his peculiar feelings in the forms of distinguished themselves for their loyalty and other men. In all his heroes we recognise, gallantry on the side of Charles the First though with infinite modifications, the same Seven of these brothers were engaged at the great characteristics: a high and audacious battle of Marston-moor, of whom four fell in conception of the power of the mind,—an in- defence of the royal cause. Sir John Byron, tense sensibility of passion,-an almost bound-one of the survivors, was appointed to many less capacity of tumultuous emotion,-a boast-important commands, and on the 26th of Ocing admiration of the grandeur of disordered tober, 1643, was created Lord Byron, with a power, and, above all, a soul-felt, blood-felt collateral remainder to his brothers. On the delight in beauty-a beauty, which, in his decline of the king's affairs, he was appointed wild creation, is often scared away from the governor to the Duke of York, and, in this agitated surface of life by stormier passions, office, died without issue, in France, in 1652; but which, like a bird of calm, is for ever re- upon which his brother Richard, a celebrated turning, on its soft, silvery wings, ere the cavalier, became the second Lord Byron. He black swell has finally subsided into sunshine was governor of Appleby Castle, and distinand peace. guished himself at Newark. He died in 1697, These reflections naturally precede the aged seventy-four, and was succeeded by his sketch we are about to attempt of Lord By-eldest son William, who married Elizabeth, ron's literary and private life: indeed, they the daughter of John Viscount Chaworth, of are in a manner forced upon us by his poetry, the kingdom of Ireland, by whom he had five by the sentiments of weariness of existence sons, all of whom died young, except William, and enmity with the world which it so fre- whose eldest son, William, was born in 1722, quently expresses, and by the singular analo- and came to the title in 1736. gy which such sentiments hold with the real William, Lord Byron, passed the early part incidents of his life. of his life in the navy. In 1763, he was made Lord Byron was descended from an illus-master of the stag-hounds; and in 1765, was trious line of ancestry. From the period of sent to the Tower, and tried before the House the Conquest, his family were distinguished, of Peers, for killing his relation and neighnot merely for their extensive manors in Lan-bour, Mr. Chaworth, in a duel.-The follow cashire and other parts of the kingdom, but ing details of this fatal event are peculiarly for their prowess in arms. John de Byron interesting, from subsequent circumstances attended Edward the First in several warlike connected with the subject of our sketch. expeditions. Two of the Byrons fell at the The old Lord Byron belonged to a club, of battle of Cressy. Another member of the which Mr. Chaworth was also a member. It family, Sir John de Byron, rendered good met at the Star and Garter tavern, Pall Mall, service in Bosworth field to the Earl of Rich- once a month, and was called the Nottinghammond, and contributed by his valour to trans-shire Club. On the 29th January, 1765, they for the crown from the head of Richard the met at four o'clock to dinner as usual, and Third to that of Henry the Seventh. This Sir every thing went agreeably on, until about John was a man of honour, as well as a brave seven o'clock, when a dispute arose betwixt warrior. He was very intimate with his neigh-Lord Byron and Mr. Chaworth, concerning bour Sir Gervase Clifton; and, although By- the quantity of game on their estates. The ron fought under Henry, and Clifton under dispute rose to a high pitch, and Mr. ChaRichard, it did not diminish their friendship, worth, having paid his share of the bill, retired. but, on the contrary, put it to a severe test. Lord Byron followed him out of the room in Previous to the battle, the prize of which was which they had dined, and, stopping him on a kingdom, they had mutually promised that the landing of the stairs, called to the waiter whichever of them was vanquished, the other to show them into an empty room. They were should endeavour to prevent the forfeiture of shown into one, and a single candle being his friend's estate. While Clifton was bravely placed on the table.-in a few minutes the fighting at the head of his troop, he was struck bell was rung, and Mr. Chaworth found moroff his horse, which Byron perceiving, he tally wounded. He said that Lord Byron and quitted the ranks, and ran to the relief of his he entered the room together, Lord Byron friend, whom he shielded, but who died in his leading the way; that his lordship, in walking arms. Sir John de Byron kept his word: he forward, said something relative to the former interceded with the king: the estate was pre-dispute, on which he proposed fastening the served to the Clifton family, and is now in the door; that on turning himself round from this possession of a descendant of Sir Gervase. act, he perceived his lordship with his sword In the wars between Charles the First and half drawn, or nearly so: on which, knowing the Parliament, the Byrons adhered to the his man, he instantly drew his own, and made royal cause. Sir Nicholas Byron, the eldest a thrust at him, which he thought had woundbrother and representative of the family, was ed or killed him; that then, perceiving his an eminent loyalist, who, having distinguished lordship shorten his sword to return the thrust himself in the wars of the Low Countries, he thought to have parried it with his left hand: was appointed governor of Chelsea, in 1642. that he felt the sword enter his body, and ge