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MOORE'S LIFE OF LORD BYRON.*
[EDINBURGU Review, 1831.)
We have read this book with the greatest general epistles, meant to be read by a large pleasure. Considered merely as a composition, circle, we expected to find them clever and it deserves to be classed among the best spe. spirited, but deficient in ease. We looked cimens of English prose which our age has with vigilance for instances of stiffness in the produced. It contains, indeed, no single pas- language, and awkwardness in the transitions. sage equal to two or three which we could se. We have been agreeably disappointed; and lect from the Life of Sheridan. But, as a we must confess, that if the epistolary style of whole, it is immeasurably superior to that Lord Byron was artificial, it was a rare and work. The style is agreeable, clear, and manly; admirable instance of that highest art, which and when it rises into eloquence, rises without cannot be distinguished from nature. effort or ostentation. Nor is the matter inferior Or the deep and painful interest which this w the manner.
book excites, no abstract can give a just no It would be difficult to name a book which tion. So sad and dark a story is scarcely to be exhibits more kindness, fairness, and modesty. found in any work of fiction; and we are littl It has evidently been written, not for the pur. disposed to envy the moralist who can read i pose ot'showing, what, however, it often shows, without being softened. how well its author can write ; but for the pur. The pretty fable by which the Duchess of pose of vindicating, as far as truth will per- Orleans illustrates the character of her son the mit, the memory of a celebrated man who can regent, might, with little change, be applied to no longer vindicate himself. Mr. Moore never Byron.
All the fairies, save one, had been bid. thrusts himself between Lord Byron and the den to his cradle. All the gossips had been public.
With the strongest temptations to profuse of their gifts. One had bestowed noegotism, he has said no more about himself bility, another genius, a third beauty. The than the subject absolutely required. A great malignant elf who had been uninvited came part, indeed the greater part of these volumes, last, and, unable to reverse what her sisters had consists of extracts from the Letters and Jour- done for their favourite, had mixed up a curse nals of Lord Byron; and it is difficult to speak with every blessing. In the rank of Lord too highly of the skill which has been shown Byron, in his understanding, in his character, in the selection and arrangement. We will in his very person, there was a strange union not say that we have not occasionally remark of opposite extremes. He was born to all that ed in these two large quartos an anecdote men covet and admire. But in every one of which should have been omitted, a letter those eminent advantages which he possessed which should have been suppressed, a name over others, there was mingled someihing of which should have been concealed by aste- misery and debasement. He was sprung from risks; or asterisks which do not answer the a house, ancient indeed and noble, but depurpose of concealing the name. But it is graded and impoverished by a series of crimes impossible, on a general survey, to deny that and follies, which had attained a scandalous the task has been executed with great judg- publicity. The kinsman whom he succeeded ment and great humanity. When we consider had died poor, and, but for merciful judges, the life which Lord Byron had led, his pelu- would have died upon the gallows. The young lance, his irritability, and his communicative-peer had great intellectual powers; yet there ness, we cannot but admire the dexterity with was an unsound part in his mind. He had na. which Mr. Moore has contrived to exhibit so turally a generous and tender heart; but his much of the character and opinions of his temper was wayward and irritable. He had friend, with so little pain to the feelings of the a head which statuaries loved to copy, and a Jiving.
foot the deformity of which the beggars in the The extracts from the journals and corres- streets mimicked. Distinguished at once by ihe pondence of Lord Byron are in the highest de strength and by the weakness of his intelleci, gree valuable--not merely on account of the affectionate yet perverse, a poor lord, and a information which they contain respecting the handsome cripple, he required, if ever man re. distinguished man by whom they were written, quired, the firmest and the most judicious trainbut on account, a!so, of their rare merit as coming. But, capriciously as nature had deal! positions. The Letters, at least those which with him, the relative to whom the office of were sent from Italy, are among the best in our forming his character was intrusted was more language. They are less affected than those capricious still. She passed from paroxysms Of Pope and Walpole ; they have more matter of rage to paroxysms of fondness. At one time iu them than those of Couper. Knowing ihat she stifled him with her caresses, al avother inany of them were not written merely for the time she insulted his deformity. He came into person to whom shey were directed, but were the world, and the world treated him as his letters and Journals of Lord Byrun; with Notices of ness, sometimes with severity, never with
mother treated him — sometimes with kind. 318 Life By THOMAS MOURE, Esq. 2 vols. 410. Lon.
justice. Ii indulged him without discrimina
tion, and punished him without discrimination. form any judgment on a transaction which is He was truly a spoiled child; not merely the so imperfectly known to us. It would have spoiled child of his parents, but the spoiled been well if, at the time of the separation, all child of nature, the spoiled child of fortune, the those who knew as little abont the matter then spoiled child of fame, the spoiled child of so- as we know about it now, had shown that for. ciety. His first poems were received with a bearance, which, under such circumstances, is contempt which, feeble as they were, they did but common justice. noi absolutely deserve. The poem which he We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the published on his return from his travels, was, British public in one of its periodical fits of on the other hand, extolled far above its merits. morality. In general, elopements, divorces, At twenty-four he found himself on the highest and family quarrels pass with little notice. pinnacle of literary fame, with Scott, Words. We read the scandal, talk about it for a day, worth, Southey, and a crowd of other distin. and forget it. But once in six or seven years, guished writers, beneath his feet. There is our virtue becomes outrageous. We cannot scarcely an instance in history of so sudden a suffer the laws of religion and decency to be rise to so dizzy an eminence.
violated. We must make a stand against vice. Every thing that could stimulate, and every We must teach libertines, that the English thing that could gratify the strongest propensi- people appreciate the importance of domestic ties of our nature—the gaze of a hundred lies. Accordingly, some unfortunate man, in drawing-rooms, the acclamations of the whole no respect more depraved than hundreds whose nation, the applause of applauded men, the offences have been treated with leniiy, is love of the loveliest women-all this world, singled out as an expiatory sacrifice. if he and all the glory of it, were at once offered to has children, they are to be taken from hiin. If a young man, to whom nature had given vio- he has a profession, he is to be driven from it. lent passions, and whom education had never He is cut by the higher orders, and hissed by laught to control them. He lived as many men the lower. He is, in truth, a sort of whippinglive who have no similar excuses to plead boy, by whose vicarious agonies all the other for their faults. But his countrymen and his transgressors of the same class are, it is supcountrywomen would love him and admire posed, sufficiently chastised. We reflect very him. They were resolved to see in his ex- complacently on our own severity, and comcesses only the flash and outbreak of that same pare with great pride the high standard of mofiery mind which glowed in his poetry. He rals established in England, with the Parisian attacked religion ; yet in religious circles his laxity. At length our anger is satiated. Our name was mentioned with fondness, and in victim is ruined and heart-broken. And our many religious publications his works were virtue goes quietly to sleep for seven years censured with singular tenderness. He lam- more. pooned the Prince Regent; yet he could not It is clear that those vices which destroy doalienate the Tories. Every thing, it seemed, mestic happiness ought to be as much as poswas to be forgiven to youth, rank, and genius. sible repressed. It is equally clear that they
Then came the reaction. Society, capricious cannot be repressed by penal legislation. It is in its indignation as it had been capricious in therefore right and desirable that public opiits fondness, flew into a rage with its frowardnion should be directed against them. Bui it and petted darling. He had been worshipped should be directed against them uniformly, with an irrational idolatry. He was perse- steadily, and temperately, not by sudden fits cured with an irrational fury. Much has been and starts. There should be one weight and written about those unhappy domestic occur one measure. Decimation is always an obrences which decided the fate of his life. Yet jectionable mode of punishment. It is the nothing ever was positively known to the resource of judges 100 indolent and hasty to public, but this that he quarrelled with his investigate facts, and to discriminate nicely lady, and that she refused to live with him. between shades of guilt. It is an irrational There have been hints in abundance, and practice, even when adopted by military tribuie shrugs and shakings of the head, and “Well, nals. When adopted by the tribunal of public well, we know," and “We could an if we opinion, it is infinitely more irrational. It is would,” and “ If we list to speak,” and “There good that a certain portion of disgrace should be that might an they list.” But we are not constantly attend on certain bad actions. But aware that there is before the world, substan- it is not good that the offenders merely have to tia:ed by credible, or even by tangible evi- stand the risks of a lottery of infamy; that dence, a single fact indicating that Lord Byron ninety-nine out of every hundred should was more to blame than any other man who is escape; and that the hundredth, perhaps the on pad terms with his wife. The professional most innocent of the hundred, should pay for men whom Lady Byron consulted were un- all. We remember to have seen a mob assenı danbiedly of opinion that she ought not to live bled in Lincoln's Inn to hoot a gentleman, with her husband. But it is to be remembered against whom the most oppressive proceeding that they formed that opinion without hearing known to the English law was then in pro. hoth sides. We do noi say, we do not mean gress. He was hooted because he had been an i insinuate that Lady Byron was in any re- indifferent and unfaithful husband, as if some spect to blame. We think that those who con- of the most popular men of the age, Lord Neldemn her on the evidence which is now before son, for example, had not been indifferent and the public, are as rash as those who condemn unfaithful husbands. We remember a stili her husband. We will not pronounce any stronger case. Will posterity believe, inat in jaagment; we cannot, even in our own minds, an age in which men, whuse gallantries were
universally known, and had been legally decay of nobler natures, hastened to their re
What there was in the circumstances, the sea, up the Rhine, over the Alps; it gradueither of the offender or of the sufferer, to vin- ally waxed fainter; it died away. Those who dicate the zeal of the audience, we could never had raised it began to ask each other, what, conceive. It has never been supposed that the after all, was the matter about which they had situation of an actor is peculiarly favourable been so clamorous; and wished to invite back to the rigid virtues, or that an alderman enjoys the criminal whom they had just chased from any special immunity from injuries such as them. His poetry became more popular than that which on this occasion roused the anger it had ever been; and his complaints were read of the public. But such is the justice of man- with tears by thousands and tens of thousands kind.
who had never seen his face. In these cases, the punishment was exces- He had fixed his home on the shores of the sive; but the offence was known and proved. Adriatic, in the most picturesque and interestThe case of Lord Byron was harder. True ing of cities, beneath the brightest of skies, Jedwood justice was dealı out to him. First and by the brightest of seas. Censoriousness came the execution, then the investigation, and was not the vice of the neighbours whom he last of all, or rather not at all, the accusation. had chosen. They were a race corrupted by The public, without knowing any thing what. a bad government and a bad religion ; long reever about the transactions in his family, flew nowned for skill in the arts of voluptuousness, into a violent passion with him, and proceeded and tolerant of all the caprices of sensuality. to invent stories which might justify its anger. From the public opinion of the country of his Ten or twenty different accounts of the sepa- adoption he had nothing to dread. With the ration, inconsistent with each other, with public opinion of the country of his birth he themselves, and with common sense, circu- was at open war. He plunged into wild and lated at the same time. What evidence there desperate excesses, ennobled by no generous might be for any one of these, the virtuous or tender sentiment. From his Venetian harein people who repeated them neither knew nor he sent forth volume after volume, full of elocared. For in fact these stories were not the quence, of wit, of pathos, of ribaldry, and of causes, but the effects of the public indigna- bitter disdain. His health sank under the tion. They resembled those loathsome slanders effects of his intemperance. His hair turned which Goldsmith, and other abject libellers of gray. His food ceased to nourish him. A the same class, were in the habit of publishing hectic fever withered him up. It seemed that about Bonaparte-how he poisoned a girl with his body and mind were about to perish toarsenic, when he was at the military school-gether. how he hired a grenadier to shoot Dessaix at From this wretched degradation he was in Marengo-how he filled St. Cloud with all the some measure rescued by an attachment, pollutions of Capreæ. There was a time when culpable indeed, yet such as, judged by the anecdotes like these obtained some credence standard of morality established in the country from persons, who, hating the French Emperor where he lived, might be called virtuous. But without knowing why, were eager to believe an imagination polluted by vice, a temper imany thing which might justify their hatred. bittered by misfortune, and a frame habituated Lord Byron fared in the same way. His to the fatal excitement of intoxication, precountrymen were in a bad humour with him. vented him from fully enjoying the happiness His writings and his character had lost the which he might have derived from the purest charm of novelty. He had been guilty of the and most tranquil of his many attachments. offence which, of all offences, is punished more Midnight draughts of ardent spirits and Rheseverely; he had been over-praised; he had nish wines had begun to work the rain of his excited too warm an interest; and the public, fine intellect. His verse lost much of the with its usual justice, chastised him for its energy and condensation which had distin. own folly. The attachments of the multitude guished it. But he would not resign, without bear no small resemblance to those of the a struggle, the empire which he had exercise i wanton enchantress in the Arabian Tales, who, over the men of his generation. A new dream when the forty days of her fondness were over, of ambition arose before him, to be the centre was not content with dismissing her lovers, of a literary party; the great mover of an in. out condemned them to expiate, in loathsome tellectual revolution; to guide the public mine shapes, and under severe punishments, the of England from his Italian retreat, as Voltaire crime of having once pleased her too well. had guided the public mind of France frorn
The obloquy which Byron had to endure the villa of Ferney. With this hope, as it was such as might well have shaken a more should seem, he established The Liberal. But constant mind. The newspapers were filled powerfully as he had affected the imaginations with lampoons. The theatres shook with exe- of his contemporaries, he mistook his own crations. He was excluded from circles where powers, if he hoped to direct their opinions : ne had lately been the observed of all observ- and he still more grossly mistook his own diso
Al! those creeping things that riot in the position, if he thought that he could long aci
MOORE'S LIFE OF LORD BYRON.
in concert with other men of letters. The of coaches, turn slowly north ward, leaving be-
that remained of Byron. We well remember
As a man of letters, Lord Byron could not of almost all our readers, with the interest but be interested in the event of this contest. which properly belongs to his works. A geHis political opinions, though, like all his opi- neration must pass away before it will be posnions, unsettled, leaned strongly towards the sible to form à fair judgment of his books, side of liberty. He had assisted the Italian considered merely as books. At present they insurgents with his purse; and if their struggle are not only books, but relics. We will, how. against the Austrian government had been ever, venture, though with unfeigned diffidence, prolonged, would probably have assisted them to offer some desultory remarks on his poetry. with his sword. But to Greece he was at- His lot was cast in the time of a great lite. tached by peculiar ties. He had, when young, rary revolution. That poetical dynasty which resided in that country. Much of his most had dethroned the successors of Shakspeare splendid and popular poetry had been inspired and Spenser was, in its turn, dethroned by a by its scenery and by its history. Sick of in- race who represented themselves as heirs of action, degraded in his own eyes by his private the ancient line, so long dispossessed by usurpvices and by his literary failures, pining for ers. The real nature of this revolution has Antried excitement and honourable distinction, not, we think, been comprehended by the great he carried his exhausted body and his wound- majority of those who concurred in it. ed spirit to the Grecian camp.
If this question were proposed-wherein His conduct in his new situation showed so especially does the poetry of our times differ rauch vigour and good sense as to justify us from that of the last century ? ninety-nine in believing, that, if his life had been pro- persons out of a hundred would answer, that longed, he might have distinguished himself the poetry of the last century was correct, but as a soldier and a politician. But pleasure cold and mechanical, and that the poetry of our and sorrow had done the work of seventy time, though wild and irregular, presented far years upon his delicate frame. The hand of more vivid images, and excited the passions death was on him; he knew it; and the only far more strongly, than that of Parnell, of Ad. wish which he uttered was that he might die dison, or of Pope. In the same mannor we sword in hand.
constantly hear it said, that the poets of the This was denied to him. Anxiety, exertion, age of Elizabeth had far more genius, bu far exposure, and those fatal stimulants which had less correctness, than those of the age of Anne. become indispensable to him, soon stretched It seems to be taken for granted, that there is him on a s«ck-bed, in a strange land, amidst some necessary incompatibility, some antithe. strange faces, without one human being that sis, between correctness and creative power. he loved near him. There, at thirty-six, the We rather suspect that this notion arises mere. most celebrated Englishman of the nineteenth ly from an abuse of words; and that it has century closed his brilliant and miserable been the parent of many of the fallacies which career.
perplex the science of criticism. We cannot even now retrace those events What is meant by correctness in poetry without feeling something of what was felt hy If by correctness be meant the conforming to the nation, when it was first known that the rules which have their foundation in trmih grave had closed over so much sorrow and so and in the principles of human nature, then mauch glory ;-something of what was felt by correctness is only another name for excel those who saw the hearse, with its long train lence. If by correctness be meant the con
forming to rules purely arbitrary, correctness ers. Watt Tinlinn and William of Deloraine
as Cato. But the dignity of the persons repre-
to all the Seatonian prize-poems? We can When it is said that Virgil, though he had discover no eternal rule, no rule founded in less genius than Homer, was a more correct reason and in the nature of things, which writer, what sense is attached to the word cor- Shakspeare does not observe much more rectness? Is it meant that the story of the strictly than Pope. But if by correctness be Æneid is developed more skilfully than that meant the conforming to a narrow legislation, of the Odyssey ? that the Ron an describes the which, while lenient to the mala in se, multiface of the external world, oi he emotions of plies, without the shadow of a reason, the mala the mind, more accurately ihan the Greek ? | prohibita ; if by correctness be meant a strict that the characters of Achates and Mnestheus attention to certain ceremonious observances, are more nicely discriminated, and more con- which are no more essential to poetry than sistently supported, than those of Achilles, of etiquette to good government, or than the Nestor, and of Ulysses? The fact incontesta- washings of a Pharisee to devotion ; then, asbly is, that for every violation of the funda- suredly, Pope may be a more correct poet than mental laws of poetry, which can be found in Shakspeare; and, if the code were a little Homer, it would be easy to find twenty in altered, Colley Cibber might be a more correct Virgil.
poet than Pope. But it may well be doubted Troilus and Cressida is perhaps of all the whether this kind of correctness be a merit; plays of Shakspeare that which is commonly nay, whether it be not an absolute fault. considered as the most incorrect. Yet it seems It would be amusing to make a digest of the to us infinitely more correct, in the sound irrational laws which bad critics have framed sense of the term, than what are called the for the government of poets. First in celebrity most correct plays of the most correct drama- and in absurdity stand the dramatic unities of tists. Compare it, for example, with the Iphi- place and time. No human being has ever génie of Racine. We are sure that the Greeks been able to find any thing that could, even by of Shakspeare bear a far greater resemblance courtesy, be called an argument for these unichan the Greeks of Racine, to the real Greeks ties, except that they have been deduced from who besieged Troy; and for this reason, that the general practice of the Greeks. It requires the Greeks of Shakspeare are human beings, no very profound examination to discover that and the Greeks of Racine mere names ;-mere the Greek dramas, often admirable as compowords printed in capitals at the head of para-sitions, are, as exhibitions of human characgraphs of declamation. Racine, it is true, ter and human life, far inferior to the English would have shuddered at the thought of plays of the age of Elizabeth. Every scholar making Agamemnon quote Aristotle. But of knows that the dramatic part of the Athenian what use is it to avoid a single anachronism, tragedies was at first subordinate to the lyrical when the whole play is one anachronism—the part. It would, therefore, have been little less topics and phrases of Versailles in the camp than a miracle is the laws of the Athenian of Aulis?
stage had been found to suit plays in which In ine sense in which we are now using the there was no chorus. All the great masterword correctness, we think that Sir Walter pieces of the dramatic art have been comScoʻc, Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Coleridge, are far posed in direct violation of the unities, and more correct writers than those who are com- could never have been composed if the unities mon.y extolled as the models of correctness-had not been violated. It is clear, for examPope for example, and Addison. The single ple, that such a character as that of Hamlet description of a moonlight night in Pope's could never have been developed within the Iliad contains more inaccuracies than can be limits to which Alfieri confined himself. Yet found in all the Excursion. There is not a such was the reverence of literary men during single scene in Cato in which every thing that the last century for these unities, that Johnson, cunduces to poetical illusion-the propriety of who, much to his honour, took the opposite character, of language, of situation, is not side, was, as he says, “ frighted at his own te. more grossly violated than in any part of the merity;” and “afraid to stand against the au. Lay of the Last Minstrel. No man can possi- thorities which might be produced against bly think that the Romans of Addison resem- him." h'e the real Romans so closely as the moss- There are other rules of the same kind Irenners of Scott resemble the real moss-troope' without end. “Shakspeare," says Rymer.