페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

USE AND ABUSE OF GENIUS.

161

universe. Only the silly and the shallow, the poetaster, the pretender, and the unprincipled, will seek to skulk behind such a transparent bulwark. Almost all the great poets of ancient and modern times (a few rare exceptions only go to strengthen the rule) have been men who reverenced Heaven and respected themselves, nobly fulfilling their destinies: those-in the pleasant valleys opening up innocent fountains of ever-new delight, for solacing the depressed, and refreshing the weary these-labouring through the defiles of the difficult mountains for flowers of beauty and gems of price, unselfishly and unreservedly to be at once thrown into the general treasury-store of humanity.

L

LECTURE IV.

The succession of Lord Byron to the poetical supremacy.-The energy of his genius, and its different phases.-Childe Harold, Turkish and other Tales.His Pantheistic views.-Extracts from Prisoner of Chillon; from Giaour; from Bride of Abydos; from Parasina; and from Beppo.-Verses to Mary. -Byron and Burns.-Bishop Heber, Palestine and Hymns.-Dean Milman, Dramatic Poems, and Samor.-Elegiac Verses.-Dr Croly, Paris, Sebastian, Gems from Antique.-Honourable W. Herbert, Icelandic Translations, Helga, and Attila; specimen, Northern Spring. William Tennant, Anster Fair and other poems: extract, Maggy Lauder.-Frere's Whistlecraft; specimen.-Barham and Hood.-Domestic Tragedy from Ingoldsby Legends. -Theodore Hook, his amazing powers of improvisation.-James and Horace Smith, Rejected Addresses.-Thomas Moore.-Anacreon, Odes and Epistles, Satires, Lalla Rookh, Loves of the Angels, Irish Melodies.-Lines at Cohos. -The Young May Moon.-Burns and Moore.-Man not cosmopolite; national poetry.

Up to the time at which this Lecture commences, the writings of Wordsworth had been more talked about than read; the fame of Coleridge was limited to a small circle of affectionate admirers; the star of Campbell was still in the ascendant-the cynosure of eyes with the select; Crabbe was quietly but industriously cultivating his own homely peculiar field; while the tide of popularity flowed triumphantly along with Scott, whose fresh free song all the aspiring young bards imitated, like a forest of mocking-birds. Open their tomes where you listed, let it have been at page one, or page one hundred, there were nothing but moss-trooper and marauder— baron bold and gay ladye-hound in leash and hawk

THE POETIC ORIENTAL DYNASTY.

163

in hood-bastion huge and grey chapelle-henchmen and servitors-slashed sleeves and Spanish bootssteel-barred aventayles and nodding morions-" guns, trumpets, blunderbusses, drums, and thunder." The chivalrous epics of Scott are indeed glorious things-full of vivacity, energy, variety, and nature-and will endure while a monument of human genius remains; b ut their thousand and one imitations have vanished-as I have before mentioned-like the clouds of yesterday. When the mighty master himself, instead of satiating the publie, took to another field, that of prose, and left poetry to younger men, arose the Oriental dynasty, under the prime-viziership of Lord Byron; and down went William of Deloraine, and Wat of Buccleuch, before Hassan and Selim, Conrad and Medora, the Jereed men and the Janissaries, and all the white-turbaned, wide-trousered, hyacinthine-tressed, pearl-cinctured, gazelle-eyed, opium-chewing, loving and hating sons and daughters of Mahomet. Every puny rhymester called the moon "Phingari," daggers " Ataghans," drummers "Tambourgis," tobacco-pipes " Chibouques," and women " Houris." It was up with the crescent and down with the cross; and in as far as scribbling at least went, every poet was a detester of port and pork, and a renegade from all things Christian. Nay, even something like the personal appearance of Childe Harold was aspired at; and each beardless bardling, whether baker's, butcher's, or barber's apprentice, had his hair cut and his shirt-collar turned down à la Byron. Midshipmen perseveringly strove to look Conrad-like and misanthropic; lawyers' clerks affected the most melancholious mood; and halfpay ensigns, contemptuous of county police or the public safety,

-"with the left heel insidiously aside, Provoked the caper that they seemed to chide : " and on hacks, hired by the hour, adventured imitations of Mazeppa at a hand-gallop along the king's highway.

164

LORD BYRON'S EARLY POEMS.

The premature appearance of George Gordon, Lord Byron, a minor, and his crushing by Lord Brougham, in the Edinburgh Review, are matters too well known to need anything here beyond mere allusion; and the "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," his satire in "retort courteous," may be passed over-vigorous and venomous as it was-in an equally summary manner. Even in the early volume, however, mixed up with much crudeness and juvenility, there were undoubted sparkles of that genius which afterwards astonished the world; and in the maturer satire-rash, presumptuous, and ill-judged as it was-indications of an ardent temperament and masculine intellect. But these glimpses were heliacal: the true morning of Byron's genius manifested itself in "Childe Harold," a work of transcendent power and beauty, rich in its descriptions, passionate in its tones, majestic in its aspirings, sublime in its very doubts-which at once stamped his reputation as a great and prevailing poet. Its effect was electric-its success was instantaneously recognised. The star of his popularity shot with a burst to the zenith; and, as he himself expresses it, "I got up one fine morning, and found myself famous."

The poetry of Byron may be divided into three great sections; each pretty distinctly different from the other, in regard alike to subject and to manner. The first, commencing with the opening cantos of "Childe Harold," includes "The Giaour," "The Bride of Abydos," "The Corsair," "Lara," the lyrics to "Thyrsa," and some minor pieces. The second comprehends "The Siege of Corinth" and "Parisina," "Mazeppa," the concluding cantos of "Childe Harold," "The Prisoner of Chillon," "The Lament of Tasso," and "Manfred." The third, starting with "Beppo," and comparatively dozing or prosing through the tragedies and mysteries, characteristically terminated with "Don Juan." Sad that it should have been so-but "what is writ is writ."

THE THREE SECTIONS OF HIS POETRY.

165

In all the works of the first section, we have the history of an individual mind, as regarded in different phases; for Harold, the Giaour, Selim, Conrad, and Lara, are all and each the same person, placed in some novel and romantic situation. Nor widely different is the renegade Alp, or the reckless Mazeppa, or the guilty Hugo. But the compositions in which the three lastnamed characters occur, indicate a transition state between those before mentioned and those which were to follow. Up to this period all the works of Lord Byron were characterised by passionate energy, by indomitable self-will, by point and antithesis — by emphatic sarcasm, and by brief but beautiful descriptive touches of men and nature. With much quite his own, we had much to remind us of Burns, of Scott, and of Crabbe; occasionally also of Campbell, but certainly nothing-not a vestige-of the Lake School. The composition of the third canto of "Childe Harold," and of "The Prisoner of Chillon," however, opened up a new era in his mental history,-evidently brought about by the writings of Wordsworth, Wilson, and Coleridge. He began to substitute contemplation for action, and the softer affections of humanity for its sterner and darker passions. We had now a keener sensibility to the charms of nature-a love of stars and flowers, and lakes and mountains; and descriptions which were formerly dashed off in general outline, were now filled up with elaboration, and graced with all the minuteness of picturesque detail. Take, as an example of this contrast in matter and manner, a stanza from the first, and then another from the third canto of the Childe.

"Childe Harold had a mother-not forgot,

Though parting from that mother he did shun;
A sister whom he loved-but saw her not
Before his weary pilgrimage begun.
If friends he had, he bade adieu to none;

Yet deem not thence his breast a breast of steel:

« 이전계속 »