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sudden this degraded people had risen on their oppressors. Discountenanced or betrayed by the surrounding potentates, they had found in themselves something of that which might well supply the place of all foreign assistance, — something of the energy of their fathers.
As a man of letters, Lord Byron could not but be interested in the event of this contest. His political opinions, though, like all his opinions, unsettled, leaned strongly towards the side of liberty. He had assisted the Italian insurgents with his purse; and if their struggle against the Austrian government had been prolonged, would probably have assisted them with his sword. But to Greece he was attached by peculiar ties. He had, when young, resided in that country. Much of his most splendid and popular poetry had been inspired by its scenery and by its history. Sick of inaction, degraded in his own eyes by his private vices, and by his literary failures, pining for untried excitement and honorable distinction, he carried his exhausted body and his wounded spirit to the Grecian camp.
His conduct in his new situation showed so much vigor and good sense as to justify us in believing, that, if his life had been prolonged, he might have distinguished himself as a soldier and a politician. But pleasure and sorrow had done the work of seventy years upon his delicate frame. The hand of death was on him he knew it; and the only wish which he uttered was that he might die sword in hand.
This was denied to him. Anxiety, exertion, exposure, and those fatal stimulants which had become indispensable to him, soon stretched him on a sick-bed, in a strange land, amidst strange faces, without one human being that he loved near him. There, at thirty-six, the most celebrated Eng. lishman of the nineteenth century closed his brilliant and miserable career.
We cannot even now retrace those events, without feeling something of what was felt by the nation, when it was first known that the grave had closed over so much sorrow and so much glory; — something of what was felt by those who saw the hearse, with its long train of coaches, turn slowly northward, leaving behind it that cemetery, which had been consecrated by the dust of so many great poets, but of which the doors were closed against all that remained of Byron. We well remember that, on that day, rigid moralists could not refrain from weeping for one so young, so illustrious, so unhappy, gifted with such rare gifts, and tried by such strong temptations. It is unnecessary to make any reflections. The history carries its moral with it. Our age has indeed been fruitful of warnings to the eminent, and of consolations to the obscure. Two men have died within our recollection, who, at a time of life at which few people have completed their education, had raised themselves, each in his own department, to the height of glory. One of them died at Longwood, the other at Missolonghi.
It is always difficult to separate the literary character of a man who lives in our own time from his personal character. It is peculiarly difficult to make this separation in the case of Lord Byron. For it is scarcely too much to say, that Lord Byron never wrote without some reference, direct or indirect, to himself. The interest excited by the events of his life mingles itself in our minds, and probably in the minds of almost all our readers, with the interest which properly belongs to his works. A generation must pass away before it will be possible to form a fair judgment of his books, considered merely as books. At present they are not only books, but relics. We will, however, venture, though with unfeigned diffidence, to offer some desultory remarks on his poetry.
His lot was cast in the time of a great literary revolution.
That poetical dynasty which had dethroned the successors of Shakspeare and Spenser was, in its turn, dethroned by a race who represented themselves as heirs of the ancient line, so long dispossessed by usurpers. The real nature of this revolution has not, we think, been comprehended by the great majority of those who concurred in it.
If this question were proposed
wherein especially does
the poetry of our times differ from that of the last century? -ninety-nine persons out of a hundred would answer, the poetry of the last century was correct, but cold and mechanical, and that the poetry of our time, though wild and irregular, presented far more vivid images, and excited the passions far more strongly than that of Parnell, of Addison, or of Pope. In the same manner we constantly hear it said, that the poets of the age of Elizabeth had far more genius, but far less correctness, than those of the age of Anne. It seems to be taken for granted, that there is some necessary incompatibility, some antithesis, between correctness and creative power.
We rather suspect that this notion arises merely from an abuse of words; and that it has been the parent of many of the fallacies which perplex the science of criticism.
What is meant by correctness in poetry? If by correctness be meant the conforming to rules which have their foundation in truth, and in the principles of human nature, then correctness is only another name for excellence. If by correctness be meant the conforming to rules purely arbitrary, correctness may be another name for dulness and absurdity.
A writer who describes visible objects falsely, and violates the propriety of character, a writer who makes the mountains nod their drowsy heads' at night, or a dying man take leave of the world with a rant like that of Maximin, may be said, in the high and just sense of the phrase, to
write incorrectly. He violates the first great law of his art. His imitation is altogether unlike the thing imitated. The four poets who are most eminently free from incorrectness of this description are Homer, Dante, Shakspeare, and Milton. They are, therefore, in one sense, and that the best sense, the most correct of poets.
When it is said that Virgil, though he had less genius than Homer, was a more correct writer, what sense is attached to the word correctness? Is it meant that the story of the Eneid is developed more skilfully than that of the Odyssey ? that the Roman describes the face of the external world, or the emotions of the mind, more accurately than the Greek ? that the characters of Achates and Mnestheus are more nicely discriminated, and more consistently supported, than those of Achilles, of Nestor, and of Ulysses? The fact incontestably is, that for every violation of the fundamental laws of poetry, which can be found in Homer, it would be easy to find twenty in Virgil.
Troilus and Cressida is perhaps of all the plays of Shakspeare that which is commonly considered as the most incorrect. Yet it seems to us infinitely more correct, in the sound sense of the term, than what are called the most correct plays of the most correct dramatists. Compare it, for example, with the Iphigénie of Racine. We are sure that the Greeks of Shakspeare bear a far greater resemblance than the Greeks of Racine, to the real Greeks who besieged Troy; and for this reason, that the Greeks of Shakspeare are human beings, and the Greeks of Racine mere names; -mere words printed in capitals at the head of paragraphs of declamation. Racine, it is true, would have shuddered at the thought of making Agamemnon quote Aristotle. But of what use is it to avoid a single anachronism, when the whole play is one anachronism, the topics and phrases of Versailles in the camp of Aulis?
In the sense in which we are now using the word correctness, we think that Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Coleridge, are far more correct writers than those who are commonly extolled as the models of correctness, for example, and Addison. The single description of a moonlight night in Pope's Iliad, contains more inaccuracies than can be found in all the Excursion. There is not a single scene in Cato, in which everything that conduces to poetical illusion, the propriety of character, of language, of situation, is not more grossly violated than in any part of the Lay of the Last Minstrel. No man can possibly think that the Romans of Addison resemble the real Romans, so closely as the moss-troopers of Scott resemble the real mosstroopers. Watt Tinlinn and William of Deloraine are not, it is true, persons of so much dignity as Cato. But the dig nity of the persons represented has as little to do with the correctness of poetry, as with the correctness of painting. We prefer a gipsy by Reynolds to his Majesty's head on a signpost, and a Borderer by Scott to a senator by Addison. In what sense, then, is the word correctness used by those who say, with the author of the Pursuits of Literature, that Pope was the most correct of English Poets, and, that next to Pope, came the late Mr. Gifford ? What is the nature
and value of that correctness, the praise of which is denied ́to Macbeth, to Lear, and to Othello, and given to Hoole's translations and to all the Seatonian prize-poems ? We can discover no eternal rule, no rule founded in reason and in the nature of things, which Shakspeare does not observe much more strictly than Pope. But if by correctness be meant the conforming to a narrow legislation, which, while lenient to the mala in se, multiplies, without the shadow of a reason, the mala prohibita; if by correctness be meant a strict attention to certain ceremonious observances, which are no more essential to poetry than etiquette to good gov