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Of distant sentinels the fitful song
Some cypresses beyond the time-worn breach
And thou didst shine, thou rolling Moon, upon
As 'twere, anew, the gaps of centuries;
And making that which was not, till the place
Became religion, and the heart ran o'er
With silent worship of the great of old!" P. 68, 69.
In his dying hour he is beset with Demons, who pretend to claim him as their forfeit :-but he indignantly and victoriously disputes their claim, and asserts his freedom from their thraldrom.
"Must crimes be punish'd but by other crimes,
No colour from the fleeting things without;
Born from the knowledge of its own desert.
Thou didst not tempt me, and thou couldst not tempt me;
But was my own destroyer, and will be
My own hereafter.-Back, ye baffled fiends!
(The Demons disappear." P.74, 75.
There are great faults, it must be admitted, in this poem ;-but it is undoubtedly a work of genius and originality. Its worst fault, perhaps, is, that it fatigues and overawes us by the uniformity of its terror and solemnity. Another is the painful and offensive nature of the circumstance on which its distress is ultimately founded. It all springs from the disappointment or fatal issue of an incestuous passion; and incest, according to our modern ideas-for it was otherwise in antiquity-is not a thing to be at all brought before the imagination. The lyrical songs of the Spirits are too long, and not all excellent. There is something of pedantry in them now and then; and even Manfred deals in classical allusions a little too much. If we were to consider it as a proper drama, or even a finished poem, we should be obliged to add, that it is far too indistinct and unsatisfactory. But this we take to be according to the design and conception of the author. He contemplated but a dim and magnificent sketch of a subject which did not admit of more accurate drawing, or more brilliant colouring. Its obscurity is a part of its grandeur;-and the darkness that rests upon it, and the smoky distance in which it is lost, are all devices to increase its majesty, to stimulate our curiosity, and to impress us with deeper awe.
It is suggested, in an ingenious paper in a late Number of the Edinburgh Magazine, that the general conception of this piece, and much of what is excellent in the manner of its execution, have been borrowed from "the Tragical History of Dr. Faustus" of Marlow; and a variety of passages are quoted, which the author considers as similar, and, in many respects, superior to others in the poem before us. We cannot agree in the general terms of this conclusion;-but there is, no doubt, a certain resem
blance, both in some of the topics that are suggested, and in the cast of the diction in which they are expressed. Thus, to induce Faustus to persist in his unlawful studies, he is told that the Spirits of the Elements will serve him
"Sometimes like women, or unwedded maids,
Than have the white breasts of the Queene of Love."
And again, when the amorous sorcererer commands Helen of Troy to revive again to be his paramour, he addresses her, on her first appearance, in these rapturous lines
"Was this the face that launcht a thousand ships,
And burn'd the toplesse towers of Ilium?
Sweet Heln! make me immortal with a kiss!
Her lips sucke forth my soule !-see where it flies!
And all is dross that is not Helena.
O! thou art fairer than the evening ayre,
The catastrophe, too, is bewailed in verses of great elegance and classical beauty:
"Cut is the branch that might have growne full straight,
And burned is Apollo's laurel bough
That sometime grew within this learned man.
Faustus is gone!—regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful torture may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things."
But these, and many other smooth and fanciful verses in this curious old drama, prove nothing, we think, against the originality of Manfred; for there is nothing to be found there of the pride, the abstraction, and the heart-rooted misery in which that originality consists. Faustus is a vulgar sorcerer, tempted to sell his soul to the Devil for the ordinary price of sensual pleasure, and earthly power and glory-and who shrinks and shudders in agony when the forfeit comes to be exacted. The style, too, of Marlow, though elegant and scholarlike, is weak and childish compared with the depth and force of much of what we have quoted from Lord Byron; and the disgusting buffoonery and low farce of which his piece is principally made up, place it much more in contrast, than in any terms of comparison with that of his noble successor. In the tone and pitch of the composition, as well as in the character of the diction in the more solemn parts, the piece before us reminds us much more of the Prometheus of Eschylus, than of any more modern performance. The tremendous solitude of the principal person-that the supernatural beings with whom alone he holds communion-the guilt-the firmness-the misery-are all points of resemblance to which the grandeur of the poetic imagery only gives a more striking effect. The chief differences are, that the subject of the Greek poet was sanctified and exalted by the established belief of his country, and that his terrors are nowhere tempered with the sweetness which breathes from so many passages of his English rival.
There is a great deal of our recent poetry derived from the East; but this is the finest orientalism we have had yet. The land of the Sun has never shone out so brightly on the children of the North-nor the sweets of Asia been poured forth, nor her gorgeousness displayed so profusely to the delighted senses of Europe. The beauteous forms, the dazzling splendours, the breathing odours of the East, seem at last to have found a kindred poet in that Green Isle of the West, whose Genius has long been suspected to be derived from a warmer clime, and now wantons and luxuriates in these voluptuous regions, as if it felt that it had at length regained its native element. It is amazing, indeed, how much at home Mr. Moore seems to be in India, Persia, and Arabia; and how purely and strictly Asiatic all the colouring and imagery of his books appears. He is thoroughly imbued with the character of the scenes to which he transports us; and yet the extent of his knowledge is less wonderful than the dexterity and apparent facility with which he has turned it to account in the elucidation and embellishment of his poetry. There is not a simile or description, a name, a trait of history or allusion of romance, which belongs to European experience; or does not indicate an entire familiarity with the life, nature, and learning of the East. Nor are these barbaric onaments thinly scattered to make up a show. They are showered lavishly over all the work; and form, perhaps too much, the staple of the poetry-and the riches of that which is chiefly distinguished for its richness. We would confine this remark, however, to the descriptions of external objects and the allusions to literature and history-to what may de termed the matériel of the poetry before us. The characters and sentiments are of a different order. They cannot, indeed, be said to be copies of European nature; but they are still less like that of any other region. They are, in truth, poetical imaginations ;-but it is to the poetry of of rational, honourable, considerate, and humane Europe, that they belong and not to the childishness, cruelty, and profligacy of Asia. So far as we have yet seen, there is no sound sense, firmness of purpose, or principled goodness, except among the natives of Europe and their genuine descendants.
There is something very extraordinary, we think, in the work before us -and something which indicates in the author, not only a great exuberance of talent, but a very singular constitution of genius. While it is more splendid in imagery-and for the most part in very good taste-more rich in sparkling thoughts and original conceptions, and more full indeed of exquisite pictures, both of all sorts of beauties and virtues, and all sorts of sufferings and crimes, than any other poem that has yet come before us : we rather think we speak the sense of all classes of readers when we add, that the effect of the whole is to mingle a certain feeling of disappointment with that of admiration-to excite admiration rather than any warmer sentiment of delight-to dazzle, more than to enchant-and, in the end, more frequently to startle the fancy, and fatigue the attention, with the constant succession of glittering images and high-strained emotions, than to maintain a rising interest, or win a growing sympathy, by a less profuse or more systematic display of attractions.
Lalla Rookh, by Thomas Moore.-Vol. xxix. p. 1. November, 1817.
The style is, on the whole, rather diffuse, and too unvaried in its character. But its greatest fault, in our eyes, is the uniformity of its brilliancy -the want of plainness, simplicity, and repose. We have heard it observed, by some very zealous admirers of Mr. Moore's genius, that you cannot open this book without finding a clustre of beauties in every page. Now, this is only another way of expressing what we think its greatest defect. No work, consisting of many pages, should have detached and distinguishable beauties in every one of them. No great work, indeed, should have many beauties: if it were perfect, it would have but one, and that but faintly perceptible, except on a view of the whole. Look, for example, at what is perhaps the most finished and exquisite production of human art-the design and elevation of a Grecian temple, in its old severe simplicity. What penury of ornament—what neglect of beauties of detail!-what masses of plain surface-what rigid economical limitation to the useful and the necessary! The cottage of a peasant is scarcely more simple in its structure, and has not fewer parts that are superfluous. Yet what grandeur-what elegance -what grace and completeness in the effect! The whole is beautiful-because the beauty is in the whole; but there is little merit in any of the parts, except that of fitness and careful finishing. Contrast this, now, with a Dutch pleasure-house, or a Chinese-where every part is meant to be beautiful, and the result is deformity,-where there is not an inch of the surface that is not brilliant with colour, and rough with curves and angles, -and where the effect of the whole is monstrous and offensive. We are as far as possible from meaning to insinuate that Mr. Moore's poetry is of this description; on the contrary, we think his ornaments are, for the most part, truly and exquisitely beautiful; and the general design of his pieces very elegant and ingenious: all that we mean to say is, that there is too much ornament-too many insulated and independent beauties—and that the notice and the very admiration they excite, hurt the interest of the general design; and not only withdraw our attention too importunately from it, but at last weary it out with their perpetual recurrence.
It seems to be a law of our intellectual constitution, that the powers of taste cannot be permanently gratified, except by some sustained or continuous emotion; and that a series, even of the most agreeable excitements, soon ceases, if broken and disconnected, to give any pleasure. No conversation fatigues so soon as that which is made up of points and epigrams; and the accomplished rhetorician, who
must have been a most intolerable companion. There are some things, too, that seem so plainly intended for ornaments and seasonings only, that they are only agreeable, when sprinkled in moderation over a plainer medium. No one would like to make an entire meal on sauce piquante; or to appear in a coat crusted thick over with diamonds; or to pass a day in a steam of rich distilled perfumes. It is the same with the glittering ornaments of poetry-with splendid metaphors and ingenious allusions, and all the figures of speech and of thought that constitute its outward pomp and glory. Now, Mr. Moore, it appears to us, is decidedly too lavish of his gems and sweets; -he labours under a plethora of wit and imagination-impairs his credit by the palpable exuberance of his possessions, and would be richer with half his wealth. His works are not only of rich materials and graceful design,
but they are every where glistening with small beauties and transitory inspirations sudden flashes of fancy, that blaze out and perish; like earthborn meteors that crackle in the lower sky, and unseasonably divert our eyes from the great and lofty bodies which pursue their harmonious courses in a serener region.
We have spoken of these as faults of style,-but they could scarcely have existed without going deeper; and though they first strike us as qualities of the composition only, we find, upon a little reflection, that the same general character belongs to the fable, the characters, and the sentiments,-that they all sin alike in the excess of their means of attraction-and fail to interest, chiefly by being too interesting.
In order to avoid the debasement of ordinary or familiar life, the author has soared to a region beyond the comprehension of most of his readers. All his personages are so very beautiful, and brave, and agonising-so totally wrapt up in the exaltation of their vehement emotions, and withal so lofty in rank, and so sumptuous and magnificent in all that relates to their external condition, that the herd of ordinary mortals can scarcely venture to conceive of their proceedings, or to sympathise freely with their fortunes. The disasters to which they are exposed, and the designs in which they are engaged, are of the same ambitious and exaggerated character; and all are involved in so much pomp, and splendour, and luxury, and the description of their extreme grandeur and elegance forms so considerable a part of the whole work, that the less sublime portion of the species can with difficulty presume to judge of them, or to enter into the concernments of such very exquisite persons. The incidents, in like manner, are so prodigiously moving, so excessively improbable, and so terribly critical, that we have the same difficulty of raising our sentiments to the proper pitch for them; and, finding it impossible to sympathise as we ought to do with such portentous occurrences, are sometimes tempted to withhold our sympathy altogether, and to seek for its objects among familiar adventures. Scenes of voluptuous splendour and ecstacy alternate suddenly with agonising separations, atrocious crimes, and tremendous sufferings; - battles, incredibly fierce and sanguinary, follow close on entertainments incredibly sumptuous and elegant;-terrific tempests are succeeded by delicious calms at sea; and the land scenes are divided between horrible chasms and precipices, and vales and gardens rich in eternal blooms, and glittering with palaces and temples while the interest of the story is maintained by instruments and agents of no less potency than insanity, blasphemy, poisonings, religious hatred, national antipathy, demoniacal misanthropy, and devoted love.
We are aware that in objecting to a work like this, that it is made up of such materials, we may seem to be objecting that it is made of the elements of poetry, since it is no doubt true, that it is by the use of these very materials that poetry is substantially distinguished from prose, and that it is to them it is indebted for all that is peculiar in the delight and interest it inspires and it may seem a little unreasonable to complain of a poet, that he treats us with the essence of poetry. We have already hinted, however, that no man likes to live entirely on essences, and that our objection goes not only to the excessive strength of the emotions that are sought to be raised, but to the violence of their transitions, and the want of continuity in the train of feeling that is produced. It may not be amiss, however, to add a word or two more of explanation.
In the first place, if we consider how the fact stands, we shall find that