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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 about 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. not absolutely deserve. The poem which he published on his return from his travels, was, on the other hand, extolled far above its merits. At twenty-four he found himself on the highest pinnacle of literary fame, with Scott, Wordsworth, Southey, and a crowd of other distinguished writers, beneath his feet. There is scarcely an instance in history of so sudden a rise to so dizzy an eminence.
We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality. In general, elopements, divorces, and family quarrels pass with little notice. We read the scandal, talk about it for a day, and forget it. But once in six or seven years, our virtue becomes outrageous. We cannot suffer the laws of religion and decency to be violated. We must make a stand against vice. We must teach libertines, that the English people appreciate the importance of domestic ties. Accordingly, some unfortunate man, in no respect more depraved than hundreds whose offences have been treated with lenity, is singled out as an expiatory sacrifice. If he has children, they are to be taken from him. If he has a profession, he is to be driven from it. He is cut by the higher orders, and hissed by the lower. He is, in truth, a sort of whipping boy, by whose vicarious agonies all the other transgressors of the same class are, it is sup posed, sufficiently chastised. We reflect very complacently on our own severity, and com. pare with great pride the high standard of morals established in England, with the Parisian laxity. At length our anger is satiated. Our victim is ruined and heart-broken. And our virtue goes quietly to sleep for seven years more.
Every thing that could stimulate, and every thing that could gratify the strongest propensities of our nature-the gaze of a hundred drawing-rooms, the acclamations of the whole nation, the applause of applauded men, the love of the loveliest women-all this world, and all the glory of it, were at once offered to a young man, to whom nature had given violent passions, and whom education had never taught to control them. He lived as many men live who have no similar excuses to plead for their faults. But his countrymen and his countrywomen would love him and admire him. They were resolved to see in his excesses only the flash and outbreak of that same fiery mind which glowed in his poetry. He attacked religion; yet in religious circles his name was mentioned with fondness, and in many religious publications his works were censured with singular tenderness. He lampooned 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 opi its fondness, flew into a rage with its froward nion should be directed against them. But 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 cuted 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 ob rences 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 too 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 tribushrugs and shakings of the head, and “Well, nals. When adopted by the tribunal of publie 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 tiated 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 bad 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 assem doubtedly 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 proboth sides. We do not say, we do not mean gress. He was hooted because he had been an to 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 the public, are as rash as those who condemn her husband. We will not pronounce any judgment; we cannot, even in our own minds,
son, for example, had not been indifferent and unfaithful husbands. We remember a still stronger case. Will posterity believe, that in an age in which men, whose gallantries were
universally known, and had been legally proved, filled some of the highest offices in the state, and in the army, presided at the meetings of religious and benevolent institutions, were the delight of every society, and the favourites of the multitude, a crowd of moralists went to the theatre, in order to pelt a poor actor for disturbing the conjugal felicity of an alderman? What there was in the circumstances, either of the offender or of the sufferer, to vindicate the zeal of the audience, we could never conceive. It has never been supposed that the situation of an actor is peculiarly favourable to the rigid virtues, or that an alderman enjoys any special immunity from injuries such as that which on this occasion roused the anger of the public. But such is the justice of mankind.
decay of nobler natures, hastened to their re past; and they were right; they did after their kind. It is not every day that the savage envy of aspiring dunces is gratified by the agonies of such a spirit and the degradation of such a name.
The unhappy man left his country forever. The howl of contumely followed him across the sea, up the Rhine, over the Alps; it gradually waxed fainter; it died away. Those who had raised it began to ask each other, what, after all, was the matter about which they had been so clamorous; and wished to invite back the criminal whom they had just chased from them. His poetry became more popular than it had ever been; and his complaints were read with tears by thousands and tens of thousands who had never seen his face.
He had fixed his home on the shores of the Adriatic, in the most picturesque and interesting of cities, beneath the brightest of skies, and by the brightest of seas. Censoriousness was not the vice of the neighbours whom he had chosen. They were a race corrupted by a bad government and a bad religion; long renowned for skill in the arts of voluptuousness, and tolerant of all the caprices of sensuality. From the public opinion of the country of his adontion he had nothing to dread. With the public opinion of the country of his birth he was at open war. He plunged into wild and desperate excesses, ennobled by no generous or tender sentiment. From his Venetian harem he sent forth volume after volume, full of eloquence, of wit, of pathos, of ribaldry, and of bitter disdain. His health sank under the effects of his intemperance. His hair turned gray. His food ceased to nourish him. A hectic fever withered him up. It seemed that his body and mind were about to perish to
In these cases, the punishment was excessive; but the offence was known and proved. | The case of Lord Byron was harder. True Jedwood justice was dealt out to him. First came the execution, then the investigation, and last of all, or rather not at all, the accusation. The public, without knowing any thing whatever about the transactions in his family, flew into a violent passion with him, and proceeded to invent stories which might justify its anger. Ten or twenty different accounts of the separation, inconsistent with each other, with themselves, and with common sense, circulated at the same time. What evidence there might be for any one of these, the virtuous people who repeated them neither knew nor cared. For in fact these stories were not the causes, but the effects of the public indignation. They resembled those loathsome slanders which Goldsmith, and other abject libellers of the same class, were in the habit of publishing about Bonaparte-how he poisoned a girl with arsenic, 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 Caprex. 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. His writings and his character had lost the charm of novelty. He had been guilty of the offence which, of all offences, is punished more severely; he had been over-praised; he had excited too warm an interest; and the public, with its usual justice, chastised him for its own folly. The attachments of the multitude bear no small resemblance to those of the wanton enchantress in the Arabian Tales, who, when the forty days of her fondness were over, was not content with dismissing her lovers, Dut condemned them to expiate, in loathsome shapes, and under severe punishments, the crime of having once pleased her too well.
vented him from fully enjoying the happiness which he might have derived from the puresi and most tranquil of his many attachments. Midnight draughts of ardent spirits and Rhenish wines had begun to work the rain of his fine intellect. His verse lost much of the energy and condensation which had distinguished it. But he would not resign, without a struggle, the empire which he had exercised over the men of his generation. A new dream of ambition arose before him, to be the centre of a literary party; the great mover of an intellectual revolution; to guide the public mind of England from his Italian retreat, as Voltaire had guided the public mind of France from the villa of Ferney. With this hope, as it should seem, he established The Liberal. But powerfully as he had affected the imaginations of his contemporaries, he mistook his own powers, if he hoped to direct their opinions: and he still more grossly mistook his own disposition, if he thought that he could lang act
in concert with other men of letters. The plan failed, and failed ignominiously. Angry with himself, angry with his coadjutors, he relinquished it and turned to another project, the last and the noblest of his life.
of coaches, turn slowly northward, leaving be hind it that cemetery, which had been conse crated 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 re
trious, so unhappy, gifted with such rare gifts, and tried by such strong temptations. It is unnecessary to make any reflections. The history carries its mora. 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 a a time of life at which few people have com pleted 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.
A nation, once the first among the nations, pre-eminent in knowledge, pre-eminent in mi-frain from weeping for one so young, so illuslitary glory, the cradle of philosophy, of eloquence, and of the fine arts, had been for ages bowed down under a cruel yoke. All the vices which tyranny generates-the abject vices which it generates in those who submit to it, the ferocious vices which it generates in those who struggle against it-had deformed the character of that miserable race. The valour which had won the great battle of human civilization, which had saved Europe, and subjugated Asia, lingered only among pirates and robbers. The ingenuity, once so conspicuously displayed in every department of physical and moral science, had been depraved into a timid and servile cunning. On a 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 honourable distinction, he carried his exhausted body and his wounded spirit to the Grecian camp.
His conduct in his new situation showed so much vigour 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 Englishman of the nineteenth century closed his brilliant and miserable
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 mach glory;-something of what was felt by those who saw the hearse, with its long train
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 ge neration must pass away before it will be pos sible 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 usurp ers. 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, that 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 mann'r 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 mere. ly 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 meart the conforming to rules which have their foundation in truth and in the principles of human nature, then correctness is only another name for excel lence. If by correctness be meant the con
forming 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 imiated. 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.
ers. Watt Tinlinn and William of Deloraine are not, it is true, persons of so much dignity as Cato. But the dignity 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 majes ty'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 government, or than the washings of a Pharisee to devotion; then, as
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 Ronan describes the face of the external world, or he 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 funda-suredly, Pope may be a more correct poet than mental laws of poetry, which can be found in Homer, it would be easy to find twenty in Virgil.
Shakspeare; and, if the code were a little altered, Colley Cibber might be a more correct poet than Pope. But it may well be doubted whether this kind of correctness be a merit; nay, whether it be not an absolute fault.
Troilus and Cressida is perhaps of all the plays of Shakspeare that which is commonly 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 unithan 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 charac graphs 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?
ter and human life, far inferior to the English plays of the age of Elizabeth. Every scholar knows that the dramatic part of the Athenian tragedies was at first subordinate to the lyrical part. It would, therefore, have been little less than a miracle if the laws of the Athenian stage had been found to suit plays in which there was no chorus. All the great masterpieces of the dramatic art have been composed in direct violation of the unities, and could never have been composed if the unities had not been violated. It is clear, for example, that such a character as that of Hamlet could never have been developed within the limits to which Alfieri confined himself. Yet such was the reverence of literary men during the last century for these unities, that Johnson, who, much to his honour, took the opposite side, was, as he says, "frighted at his own te merity;" and "afraid to stand against the authorities which might be produced against him."
In the sense in which we are now using the word correctness, we think that Sir Walter Sco't, Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Coleridge, are far more correct writers than those who are commonly extolled as the models of correctnessPope 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 ingle scene in Cato in which every thing 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 resemb'e the real Romans so closely as the moss- There are other rules of the same kind troopers of Scott resemble the real moss-troop- without end. "Shakspeare," says Rymer,
"ought not to have made Othello black; for the hero of a tragedy ought always to be white." "Milton," says another critic, "ought not to have taken Adam for his hero; for the hero of an epic poem ought always to be victorious." "Milton," says another, "ought not to have put so many similes into his first book; for the first book of an epic poem ought always to be the most unadorned. There are no similes in the first book of the Iliad." *Milton," says another, "ought not to have placed in an epic poem such lines as these:
I so erred in overmuch admiring.'"
see in old Bibles-an exact square, enclosed by the rivers Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates, each with a convenient bridge in the centre-rectangular beds of flowers-a long canal neatly bricked and railed in-the tree of knowledge, clipped like one of the limes behind the Tuileries, standing in the centre of the grand alley-the snake twined round itthe man on the right hand, the woman on the left, and the beasts drawn up in an exact circle round them. In one sense the picture is correct enough. That is to say, the squares are correct; the circles are correct; the max and woman are in a most correct ne with the tree; and the snake forms a n.5st correct spiral.
And why not? The critic is ready with a reason -a lady's reason. "Such lines," says he, not, it must be allowed, unpleasing to the ear; But if there were a painter so gifted, that he but the redundant syllable ought to be confined should place in the canvass that glorious parato the drama, and not admitted into epic poetry." dise seen by the interior eye of him whose outAs to the redundant syllable in heroic rhyme, ward sight had failed with long watching and on serious subjects, it has been, from the time labouring for liberty and truth-if there were of Pope downward, proscribed by the generala painter who could set before us the mazes of consent of all the correct school. No maga- the sapphire brook, the lake with its fringe of zine would have admitted so incorrect a coup-myrtles, the flowery meadows, the grottoes let as that of Dayton,
"As when we lived untouched with these disgraces, When as our kingdom was our dear embraces."
overhung by vines, the forests shining with Hesperian fruit and with the plumage of gor geous birds, the massy shade of that nuptial bower which showered down roses on the
Another law of heroic poetry which, fifty years sleeping lovers-what should we think of a ago, was considered as fundamental, was, that connoisseur who should tell us that this paintthere should be a pause-a comma at least, at ing, though finer than the absurd picture of the the end of every complet. It was also provided old Bible, was not so correct? Surely we that there should never be a full stop except should answer, It is both finer and more corat the end of a couplet. Well do we remem-rect; and it is finer because it is more correct. ber to have heard a most correct judge of poe-It is not made up of correctly drawn diagrams, try revile Mr. Rogers for the incorrectness of but it is a correct painting, a worthy representa that most sweet and graceful passage,
"Twas thine, Maria, thine, without a sigh, At midnight in a sister's arms to die, Nursing the young to health."
tion of that which it is intended to represent.
It is not in the fine arts alone that this false correctness is prized by narrow-minded men, by men who cannot distinguish means from ends, or what is accidental from what is essenSir Roger Newdigate is fairly entitled, we tial. Mr. Jourdain admired correctness in think, to be ranked among the great critics of fencing. "You had no business to hit me then. this school. He made a law that none of the You must never thrust in quart till you have poems written for the prize which he estab-thrust in tierce." M. Tomès liked correctness lished at Oxford should exceed fifty lines. This law seems to us to have at least as much foundation in reason as any of those which we have mentioned; nay, much more, for the world, we believe, is pretty well agreed in thinking that the shorter a prize-poem is, the better.
in medical practice. "I stand up for Artemius. That he killed his patient is plain enough. But still he acted quite according to rule. A man dead is a man dead, and there is an end of the matter. But if rules are to be broken, there is no saying what consequences may follow." We have heard of an old German officer, who was a great admirer of correctness in military operations. He used to revile Bonaparte for spoiling the science of war, which had been carried to such an exquisite perfection by Marshal Daun. "In my youth we used to march and countermarch all the summer,
We do not see why we should not make a few more rules of the same kind-why we should not enact that the number of scenes in every act shall be three, or some multiple of three; that the number of lines in every scene shall be an exact square; that the dramatis persone shall never be more nor fewer than six-without gaining or losing a square league, and teen; and that, in heroic rhymes, every thirtysixth line shall have twelve syllables. If we were to lay down these canons, and to call Pope, Goldsmith, and Addison incorrect writers for not having complied with our whims, we should act precisely as those critics act who find incorrectness in the magnificent imagery and the varied music of Coleridge and Shelley.
The correctness which the last century prized so much resembled the correctness of those pictures of the garden of Eden which we VOL. I.-16
then we went into winter-quarters. And now