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MACAULAY'S MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS.
mutable principles? Is poetry, like heraldry, mere matter of arbitrary regulation? heralds tell us that certain scutcheons and bearings denote certain conditions, and that to put colours on colours, or metals on metals, is false blazonry. If all this were reversed; if every coat of arms in Europe were new-fashioned; if it were decreed that or should never be placed but on argent, or argent but on or; that illegitimacy should be denoted by a lozenge, and widowhood by a bend, the new science would be just as good as the old science, because both the new and the old would be good for nothing. The mummery of Portcullis and Rouge Dragon, as it has no other value than that which caprice has assigned to it, may well submit to any laws which caprice may impose on it. But it is not so with that great imitative art, to the power of which all ages, the rudest and the most enlightened, bear witness. Since its first grea masterpieces were produced, It was in 1780 that Johnson completed his every thing that is changeable in this world Civilization has been has been changed. gained, los', gained again. Religions, and Lives of the Poets. He tells us in that work languages, and forms of government, and that since the time of Dryden, English poetry usages of private life, and the modes of think- had shown no tendency to relapse into its oriing, all have undergone a succession of revo-ginal savageness; that its language had been lutions. Every thing has passed away but the refined, its numbers tuned, and its sentiments great features of nature, the heart of man, and improved. It may, perhaps, be doubted whether the miracles of that art of which it is the office the nation had any great reason to exult in the to reflect back the heart of man and the fea- refinements and improvements which gave it tures of nature. Those two strange old poems, Douglas for Othello, and the Triumphs of the wonder of ninety generations, still retain Temper for the Faerie Queen. all their freshness. They still command the veneration of minds enriched by the literature of many nations and ages. They are still, even n wretched translations, the delight of schoolDoys. Having survived ten thousand capricious fashions, having seen successive codes of criticism become obsolete, they still remain, cmmortal with the immortality of truth, the same when perused in the study of an English scholar as when they were first chanted at the banquets of the Ionian princes.
Poetry is, as that most acute of human beings, Aristotle, said, more than two thousand years ago, imitation. It is an art analogous in many respects to the art of painting, sculpture, and acting. The imitations of the painter, the sculptor, and the actor are, indeed, within certain limits, more perfect than those of the poet. The machinery which the poet employs consists merely of words; and words cannot, even when employed by such an artist as Homer or Dante, present to the mind images of visible objects quite so lively and exact as those which we carry away from looking on the works of the brush and the chisel. But, on the other hand, the range of poetry is infinitely wider than that of any other imitative art, or than that of all the other imitative arts together. The sculptor can imitate only form; the painter only form and colour; the actor, until the poet supplies him with words, only form, colour, and motion. Poetry holds the outer world in common with the other arts. The heart of man is the province of poetry, and of poetry It was in a cold and barren season that the alone. The painter, the sculptor, and the While poetry was actor, when the actor is unassisted by the poet, can exhibit no more of human passion and seeds of that rich harvest which we have character than that small portion which over-reaped were first sown.
imperfect, often a deceitful sign of that which
An art essentially imitative ought not surely to be subjected to rules which tend to make its imitations less perfect than they would otherwise be; and those who obey such rules ought to be called, not correct, but incorrect artists. The true way to judge of the rules by which English poetry was governed during the last century, is to look at the effects which they produced.
It was during the thirty years which preceded the appearance of Johnson's Lives, that the diction and versification of English poetry were, in the sense in which the word is commonly used, most correct. Those thirty years form the most deplorable part of our literary history. They have bequeathed to us scarcely any poetry which deserves to be remembered. Two or three hundred lines of Gray, twice as and Collins, a few strophes of Mason, and a many of Goldsmith, a few stanzas of Beattie few clever prologues and satires, were the masterpieces of this age of consummate excellence. They may all be printed in one volume, and that volume would be by no means a vo lume of extraordinary merit. It would contain no poetry of the highest class, and little which could be placed very high in the second class. The Paradise Regained, or Comus, would outweigh it all.
At last, when poetry had fallen into such utter decay that Mr. Hayley was thought a great poet, it began to appear that the excess of the evil was about to work the cure. Men became tired of an insipid conformity to a standard A shallow criticism had taught them to which derived no authority from nature or reason. ascribe a superstitious value to the spurious correctness of poetasters. A deeper criticism brought them back to the free correctness of the first great masters. The eternal laws of poetry regained their power, and the temporary fashions which had superseded those laws went after the wig of Lovelace and the hoop of Clarissa.
every year becoming more feeble and more manliness of taste which approached to rough mechanical, while the monotonous versifica- ness. They did not deal in mechanical versi tion which Pope had introduced, no longer re-fication and conventional phrases. They wrote deemed by his brilliant wit and his compact- concerning things, the thought of which set ness of expression, palled on the ear of the their hearts on fire; and thus what they wrote, public, the great works of the dead were every even when it wanted every other grace, had that day attracting more and more of the admiration inimitable grace which sincerity and strong which they deserved. The plays of Shakspeare passion impart to the rudest and most homely were better acted, better edited, and better compositions. Each of them sought for inspiknown than they had ever been. Our noble ration in a noble and affecting subject, fertile old ballads were again read with pleasure, and of images, which had not yet been hackneyed. it became a fashion to imitate them. Many Liberty was the muse of Alfieri; religion was of the imitations were altogether contemptible. the muse of Cowper. The same truth is found But they showed that men had at least begun in their lighter pieces. They were not among to admire the excellence which they could not those who deprecated the severity, or deplored rival. A literary revolution was evidently at the absence of an unreal mistress in melodious hand. There was a ferment in the minds of commonplaces. Instead of raving about imamen, a vague craving for something new, a ginary Chloes and Sylvias, Cowper wrote of disposition to hail with delight any thing which Mrs. Unwin's knitting-needles. The only love might at first sight wear the appearance of verses of Alfieri were addressed to one whom originality. A reforming age is always fertile he truly and passionately loved. "Tutte le of impostors. The same excited state of pub-rime amorose che seguono," says he, “tutte lic feeling which produced the great separation sono per essa, e ben sue, e di lei solamente from the see of Rome, produced also the ex-poichè mai d'altra donna per certo non cantero." cesses of the Anabaptists. The same stir in These great men were not free from affectathe public mind of Europe which overthrew tion. But their affectation was directly op the abuses of the old French government, pro- posed to the affectation which generally preduced the Jacobins and Theophilanthropists. vailed. Each of them has expressed, in strong Macpherson and the Della Cruscans were to and bitter language, the contempt which he the true reformers of English poetry what felt for the effeminate poetasters who were in Cnipperdoling was to Luther, or what Clootz fashion both in England and Italy. Cowper was to Turgot. The public was never more complains that disposed to believe stories without evidence, and to admire books without merit. Any thing which could break the dull monotony of the correct school was acceptable.
"Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ,
The substitute for genius, taste, and wit."
praised Pope; yet he regretted that Pepe
The forerunner of the great restoration of our literature was Cowper. His literary career began and ended at nearly the same time with that of Alfieri. A parallel between Alfieri and Cowper may, at first sight, seem as unpromising as that which a loyal Presbyterian minister is said to have drawn, in 1745, between George the Second and Enoch. It may seem that the gentle, shy, melancholy Calvinist, whose spirit had been broken by fagging at school, who had not courage to earn a liveli-gico." hood by reading the titles of bills in the House of Lords, and whose favourite associates were a blind old lady and an evangelical divine, could have nothing in common with the haughty, ardent, and voluptuous nobleman, the horse-jockey, the libertine, who fought Lord Ligonier in Hyde Park, and robbed the Pretender of his queen. But though the private lives of these remarkable men present scarcely any points of resemblance, their literary lives bear a close analogy to each other. They both found poetry in its lowest state of degradation, feeble, artificial, and altogether nerveless. They both possessed precisely the talents which fitted them for the task of raising it from that deep abasement. They cannot, in strictness, be called great poets. They had not in any very high degree the creative power,
"The vision and the faculty divine;" but they had great vigour of thought, great warmth of feeling, and what, in their circumstances, was above all things important,
"Made poetry a mere mechanic art,
And every warbler had his tune by heart." Alfieri speaks with similar scorn of the trage dies of his predecessors. "Mi cadevano dalle mani per la languidezza, trivialtà e prolissità dei modi e del verso, senza parlare poi della snervatezza dei pensieri. Or perchè mai questa nostra divina lingua, si maschia anco, ed ener gica, e feroce, in bocca di Dante, dovra elle farci cosi sbiadata ed eunuca nel dialogo tra
To men thus sick of the languid manner of their contemporaries, ruggedness seemed a venial fault, or rather a positive merit. In their hatred of meretricious ornament, and of what Cowper calls "creamy smoothness," they erred on the opposite side. Their style was too aus tere, their versification too harsh. It is not easy, however, to overrate the service which they rendered to literature. Their merit is rather that of demolition than that of construc tion. The intrinsic value of their poems is considerable. But the example which they set of mutiny against an absurd system was invaluable. The part which they performed was rather that of Moses than that of Joshua. They opened the house of bondage; but they did not enter the promised land.
During the twenty years which followed 'he death of Cowper, the revolution in English poetry was fully consummated. None of the writers of this period, not even Sir Walter Scott, contributed so much to the consumination as Lord Byron. Yet he, Lord Byron, con atributed to it unwillingly, and with constan
self-reproach and shame. All his tastes and in- | much of his contempt for men, and though he clinations led him to take part with the school boasted that amidst all the inconstancy of for of poetry which was going out, against the tune and of fame he was all-sufficient to himschool which was coming in. Of Pope him- self, his literary career indicated nothing of self he spoke with extravagant admiration. that lonely and unsocial pride which he affectHe did not venture directly to say that the little ed. We cannot conceive him, like Milton or man of Twickenham was a greater poet than Wordsworth, defying the criticisms of his con Shakspeare or Milton. But he hinted pretty temporaries, retorting their scorn, and labour clearly that he thought so. Of his contempo- ing on a poem in the full assurance that it aries, scarcely any had so much of his admi- would be unpopular, and in the full assurance ration as Mr. Gifford, who, considered as a that it would be immortal. He has said, 17 the poet, was merely Pope, without Pope's wit and mouth of one of his heroes in speaking of polifancy; and whose satires are decidedly inferior tical greatness, that "he must serve who gain in vigour and poignancy to the very imperfect would sway;" and this he assigns as a reason juvenile performance of Lord Byron himself. for not entering into political life. He did not He now and then praised Mr. Wordsworth and consider that the sway which he exercised in Mr. Coleridge; but ungraciously and without literature had been purchased by servitude― cordiality. When he attacked them, he brought by the sacrifice of his own taste to the taste of his whole soul to the work. Of the most elabo- the public. rate of Mr. Wordsworth's poems he could find nothing to say, but that it was "clumsy, and frowsy, and his aversion." Peter Bell excited his spleen to such a degree that he apostrophized the shades of Pope and Dryden, and demanded of them whether it were possible that such trash could evade contempt? In his heart, he thought his own Pilgrimage of Harold inferior to his Imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry-a feeble echo of Pope and Johnson. This insipid performance he repeatedly designed to publish, and was withheld only by the solicitations of his friends. He has distinctly declared his approbation of the unities; the most absurd laws by which genius was ever held in servitude. In one of his works, we think in his Letter to Mr. Bowles, he compares the poetry of the eighteenth century to the Parthenon, and that of the nineteenth to a Turkish mosque; and boasts that, though he had assisted his contemporaries in building their grotesque and barbarous edifice, he had never joined them in defacing the remains of a chaster and more graceful architecture. In another letter, he compares the change which had recently passed on English poetry, to the decay of Latin poetry after the Augustan age. In the time of Pope, he tells his friend, it was all Horace with us. It is all Claudian now.
He was the creature of his age; and wher ever he had lived he would have been the creature of his age. Under Charles the First he would have been more quaint than Donne Under Charles the Second the rants of his rhyming plays would have pitted it, boxed it, and galleried it, with those of any Bayes or Bilboa. Under George the First the monotonous smoothness of his versification and the terseness of his expression would have made Pope himself envious.
As it was, he was the man of the last thir teen years of the eighteenth century and of the first twenty-three years of the nineteenth century. He belonged half to the old and half to the new school of poetry. His personal taste led him to the former, his thirst of fame to the latter; his talents were equally suited to both. His fame was a common ground on which the zealots of both sides—Gifford, for example, and Shelley-might meet. He was the representa tive, not of either literary party, but of both at once, and of their conflict, and of the victory by which that conflict was terminated. His poetry fills and measures the whole of the vast interval through which our literature has move since the time of Johnson. It touches the Essay on Man at the one extremity and the Excursion at the other.
For the great old masters of the art he had no very enthusiastic veneration. In his Letter to Mr. Bowles he uses expressions which clearly indicate that he preferred Pope's Iliad to the original. Mr. Moore confesses that his friend was no very fervent admirer of Shakspeare. Of all the poets of the first class, Lord Byron seems to have admired Dante and Milton most. Yet in the fourth canto of Childe Harold he places Tasso, a writer not merely inferior to them, but of quite a different order of mind, on at least a footing of equality with them. Mr. Hunt is, we suspect, quite correct in saying, that Lord Byron could see little or no merit in Spenser.
There are several parallel instances in lite rary history. Voltaire, for example, was the connecting link between the France of Louis the Fourteenth and the France of Louis the Sixteenth-between Racine and Boileau on the one side, and Condorcet and Beaumarchais on the other. He, like Lord Byron, put himself at the head of an intellectual revolution, dreading it all the time, murmuring at it, sneering at it, yet choosing rather to move before his age in any direction than to be left behind and forgotten. Dryden was the connecting link between the literature of the age of James the First and the literature of the age of Anne. Oromazdes and Arimanes fought for
But Lord Byron the critic, and Lord Byron | him—Arimanes carried him off. But his heart the poet, were two very different men. The ef- was to the last with Oromazdes. Lord Byron fects of his theory may indeed often be traced was in the same manner the mediator between in his practice. But his disposition led him two generations, between two hostile poetical to accommodate himself to the literary taste of sects. Though always sneering at Mr. Wordsthe age in which he lived; and his talents worth, he was yet, though perhaps uncon would have enabled him to accommodate him- sciously, the interpreter between Mr. Words self to the taste of any age. Though he said worth and the multitude. In the Lyrica
Ballads and the Excursion, Mr. Wordsworth ap-it is not the business of the dramatist to ex
peared as the high priest of a worship of which Nature was the idol. No poems have ever indicated so exquisite a perception of the beauty of the outer world, or so passionate a love and reverence for that beauty. Yet they were not popular; and it is not likely that they ever will be popular as the works of Sir Walter Scott are popular The feeling which pervaded them was too deep for general sympathy. Their style was often too mysterious for general comprehension. They made a few esoteric disciples, and many scoffers. Lord Byron founded what may be called an exoteric Lake school of poetry; and all the readers of poetry in England, we might say in Europe, hastened to sit at his feet. What Mr. Wordsworth had said like a recluse, Lord Byron said like a man of the world; with less profound feeling, but with more perspicuity, energy, and conciseness. We would refer our readers to the last two cantos of Childe Harold and to Manfred in proof of these observations.
Lord Byron, like Mr. Wordsworth, had nothing dramatic in his genius. He was, indeed, the reverse of a great dramatist; the very an-ters have fallen into this snare. Ben Jonson tithesis to a great dramatist. All his charac- has given us an Hermogenes taken from the ters-Harold looking back on the western sky lively lines of Horace; but the inconsistency from which his country and the sun are reced- which is so amusing in the satire appears uning together; the Giaour, standing apart in the natural and disgusts us in the play. Sir Wal gloom of the side-aisle, and casting a haggard ter Scott has committed a far more glaring scow! from under his long hood at the crucifix error of the same kind in the novel of Peveril. and the censer; Conrad, leaning on his sword Admiring, as every reader must admire, the by the watch-tower; Lara, smiling on the keen and vigorous lines in which Dryden sa dancers; Alp, gazing steadily on the fatal tirized the Duke of Buckingham, he attempted cloud as it passes before the moon; Manfred, to make a Duke of Buckingham to suit themwandering among the precipices of Berne; a real living Zimri; and he made, not a man, Azo, on the judgment-seat; Ugo, at the bar; but the most grotesque of all monsters. A Lambro, frowning on the siesta of his daughter writer who should attempt to introduce into a and Juan; Cain, presenting his unacceptable play or a novel such a Wharton as the Whar offering all are essentially the same. The ton of Pope, or a Lord Hervey answering to varieties are varieties merely of age, situation, Sporus, would fail in the same manner. and costume. If ever Lord Byron attempted to exhibit men of a different kind, he always made them either insipid or unnatural. Selim is nothing. Bonnivart is nothing. Don Juan in the first and best cantos is a feeble copy of the Page in the Marriage of Figaro. Johnson, the man whom Juan meets in the slave-market, is a most striking failure. How differently would Sir Walter Scott have drawn a bluff, fearless Englishman in such a situation! The portrait would have seemed to walk out of the
But to return to Lord Byron: his women, like his men, are all of one breed. Haidee is a half-savage and girlish Julia; Julia is a civil ized and matronly Haidee. Leila is a wedded Zuleika-Zuleika a virgin Leila. Gulnare and Medora appear to have been intentionally op posed to each other. Yet the difference is a difference of situation only. A slight change of circumstance would, it should seem, have sent Gulnare to the lute of Medora, and armed Medora with the dagger of Gulnare.
Sardanapalus is more hardly drawn than any dramatic personage that we can remember. His heroism and his effeminacy, his contempt of death, and his dread of a weighty helmet, his kingly resolution to be seen in the foremost ranks, and the anxiety with which he calls for a looking-glass that he may be seen to advantage, are contrasted with all the point of Juvenal. Indeed, the hint of the character seems to have been taken from what Juvenal says of Otho,
hibit characters in this sharp, antithetical way. It is not in this way that Shakspeare makes Prince Hal rise from the rake of Eastcheap into the hero of Shrewsbury, and sink again into the rake of Eastcheap. It is not thus that Shakspeare has exhibited the union of effeminacy and valour in Antony. A dramatist cannot commit a great error than that of follow• ing those pointed descriptions of character in which satirists and historians indulge so much. It is by rejecting what is natural that satirists and historians produce these striking characters. Their great object generally is to ascribe to every man as many contradictory qualities as possible; and this is an object easily attained. By judicious selections and judicious exaggeration, the intellect and the disposition of any human being might be described as being made up of nothing but startling con. trasts. If the dramatist attempts to create a being answering to one of these descriptions, he fails; because he reverses an imperfect analytical process. He produces, not a man, but a personified epigram. Very eminent wri
"Speculum civilis sarcina belli.
It is hardly too much to say that Lord Byron could exhibit only one man and only one woman-a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart; a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection;--a woman all softness and gentleness, loving to caress and to be caressed, but capable of being transformed by love into a tigress.
Even these two characters, his only two characters, he could not exhibit dramatically He exhibited them in the manner, not of Shak speare, but of Clarendon. He analyzed them. He made them analyze themselves, but he did not make them show themselves. He tells us, for example, in many lines of great force and spirit, that the speech of Lara was bitterly sar castic, that he talked little of his travels, that
if much questioned about them, his answers and the solutions, all belong to the same chabecame short, and his brow gloomy. But we have none of Lara's sarcastic speeches or short answers. It is not thus that the great masters of human nature have portrayed human beings. Homer never tells us that Nestor loved to tell long stories about his youth; Shakspeare never tells us that in the mind of lago, every thing that is beautiful and endearing was associated with some filthy and debasing idea.
It is curious to observe the tendency which the dialogue of Lord Byron always has to lose its character of dialogue, and to become soliloquy. The scenes between Manfred and the Chamois-hunter, between Manfred and the Witch of the Alps, between Manfred and the Abbot, are instances of this tendency. Manfred, after a few unimportant speeches, has all the talk to himself. The other interlocutors are nothing more than good listeners. They drop an occasional question, or ejaculation, which sets Manfred off again on the inexhaustible topic of his personal feelings. If we examine the fine passages in Lord Byron's dramas, the description of Rome, for example, in Manfred, the description of a Venetian revel in Marino Faliero, the dying invective which the old Doge pronounces against Venice, we shall find there is nothing dramatic in them: that they derive none of their effect from the character or situation of the speaker; and that they would have been as fine, or finer, if they had been published as fragments of blank verse by Lord Byron. There is scarcely a speech in Shakspeare of which the same could be said. No skilful reader of the plays of Shakspeare can endure to see what are called the fine things taken out, under the name of "Beauties" or of "Elegant Extracts;" or to hear any single passage-"To be or not to be," for example, quoted as a sample of the great poet. "To be or not to be," has merit undoubtedly as a composition. It would have merit if put into the mouth of a chorus. But its merit as a composition vanishes, when compared with its merit as belonging to Hamlet. It is not too much to say that the great plays of Shakspeare would lose less by being deprived of all the passages which are commonly called the fine passages, than those passages lose by being read separately from the play. This is perhaps the highest praise which can be given to a dramatist.
His descriptions, great as was their intrinsic merit, derived their principal interest from the feeling which always mingled with them. He was himself the beginning, the middle, and the end of all his own poetry, the hero of every On the other hand, it may be doubted whe- tale, the chief object in every landscape. Hather there is, in all Lord Byron's plays, a sin- rold, Lara, Manfred, and a crowd of other gle remarkable passage which owes any por- characters, were universally considered mere. tion of its interest or effect to its connection ly as loose incognitos of Byron; and there is with the characters or the action. He has every reason to believe that he meant them to written only one scene, as far as we can re- be so considered. The wonders of the outer collect, which is dramatic even in manner-world, the Tagus, with the mighty fleets of the scene between Lucifer and Cain. The England riding on its bosom, the towers of conference in that scene is animated, and each Cintra overhanging the shaggy forest of corkof the interlocutors has a fair share of it. But trees and willows, the glaring marble of Penthis scene, when examined, will be found to be telicus, the banks of the Rhine, the glaciers of a confirmation of our remarks. It is a dia- Clarens, the sweet Lake of Leman, the dell of logue only in form. It is a soliloquy in es- Egeria, with its summer-birds and rustling sence. It is in reality a debate carried on lizards, the shapeless ruins of Rome, overwithin one single unquiet and skeptical mind. grown with ivy and wall-flowers, the stars, the The questions and the answers, the objections sea, the mountains--all were mere accessaries
A writer who showed so little of dramatic skill in works professedly dramatic was not likely to write narrative with dramatic effect Nothing could indeed be more rude and careless than the structure of his narrative poems. He seems to have thought, with the hero of the Rehearsal, that the plot was good for nothing but to bring in fine things. His two longest works, Childe Harold and Don Juan, have no plan whatever. Either of them might have been extended to any length, or cut short at any point. The state in which the Giaour appears illustrates the manner in which all his poems were constructed. They are all, like the Giaour, collections of fragments; and, though there may be no empty spaces marked by asterisks, it is still easy to perceive, by the clumsiness of the joining, where the parts, for the sake of which the whole was composed, end and begin.
It was in description and meditation that he excelled.—“ Description," as he said in Don Juan, “was his forte." His manner is indeed peculiar, and is almost unequalled — rapid, sketchy, full of vigour; the selection happy; the strokes few and bold. In spite of the reverence which we feel for the genius of Mr. Wordsworth, we cannot but think that the minuteness of his descriptions often diminishes their effect. He has accustomed himself to gaze on nature with the eye of a lover-to dwell on every feature, and to mark every change of aspect. Those beauties which strike the most negligent observer, and those which only a close attention discovers, are equally familiar to him, and are equally prominent in his poetry. The proverb of old Hesiod, that half is often more than the whole, is eminently applicable to description. The policy of the Dutch, who cut down most of the precious trees in the Spice Islands, in order to raise the value of what remained, was a policy which poets would do well to imitate. It was a policy which no poet understood better than Lord Byron. Whatever his faults might be, he was never, while his mind retained its vigour, accused of prolixity.