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Art. X. A Selection of Hebrew Melodies, Ancient and Modern, with appropriate Symphonies and Accompaniments. By J. Braham and Nathan. The Poetry written expressly for the Work. By the Right Hon. Lord Byron. London, 1815.
THE word Melodies' has long ceased to deceive us, or to raise any flattering expectations in our minds. If we should now see the melodies of Kamtschatka, or of Madagascar, or of the Hottentots, advertised, we should not only not be surprised, but we should know what to expect:-minstrels, and languishing maidens, the big bright tear, the dark blue eye, lovers', vows, and tender glances. Some things, indeed, which the word Melodies,' from the recollection of what under that denomination has been introduced into the families of Britain, once so distinguished for high and homebred chastity, led us to anticipate, it has been a great pleasure to us not to find in these poems of Lord Byron. He has not employed his pen to recommend vice to the prompt desires of the young under its most prurient imagery; he has not wearied his fancy in the service of mental prostitution, nor stu
died how to degrade the British character to the standard of French and Italian depravity. As we think Lord Byron's He brew strains are free from harm, we regret that they are so little intelligible; for this reason only, because, we are apprehensive that young ladies, feeling their fancies set at large by this obscurity, may be apt to annex ideas to what they but half comprehend, too much after the pattern of those which, their thoughtless parents have suffered to become uppermost in their minds, under the tuition of the melody-mongers of our day.
We have assigned the only reason for our regretting that these Melodies are often obscure in expression... Their poetical claims are so low, that they excite in us no anxiety to penetrate the meaning where it is not obvious. When Elisha was called upon by the three Kings to prophesy, he said, Bring me a minstrel, and as the minstrel played, the prophet was inspired. Lord Byron has called for his minstrels, and they have tried their skill, but their poet has remained not only uninspired, but in a perfect vacuity of poetical thought and feeling. A young Lord is seldom the better for meddling with Jews.
...It is sometimes entertaining to observe, how currently the greatest absurdities will pass under the sanction of a name, which has been once sainted in the calendar of fashionable society. The Book called Jasher, cited in the 10th chapter of Joshua, supposed to have been a collection of sacred songs, principally ele giacal, has probably never met the ears of many of Lord Byron's, admirers; or it might not be difficult to persuade them, that it had been his Lordship's good fortune to have discovered this specimen of primæval poetry, and that his Muse had been set to work in imitating and paraphrasing its contents. And, on the other hand, it would be going but a little way further, to give Messrs. Braham and Nathan credit for having discovered the identical music of the eucharistical ode of Moses, on the deliverance of Israel in their passage across the sea. We can, however, take upon ourselves to assure the young ladies who have been studying these Melodies, and their mammas, that no such mysterious and far-fetched expedients are used in the manufactory of what captivates them under the name of melodies. These bewitching things have no more to do with the countries with the names of which they are associated, than mustard has to do with Tewksbury, or the cheese called Stilton with the place of that name. The way to proceed is first to prepare your melodies, and then you have the whole world lying between the polar circles, north and south, wherein, to choose for them a proper designation and origin. One only thing will remain, which is to sprinkle the composition over with a few names of places and persons belonging to its adopted country.
With respect to Hebrew music, no ancient art or science seems to be more completely lost and obliterated. It does not appear that any peculiar characters or marks, by which their music could be preserved and transmitted, were used by the Jews of any period, ancient or modern; their religious melodies must, therefore, have been wholly traditionary, and consequently subject to perpetual variations: insomuch that it was the opinion of the fathers of the church, and also of the most learned rabbins, that the old Hebrew music was entirely lost; so that the music now used in the synagogues is of a vague and arbitrary character, without a trace of the primitive melodies.
In the present day, therefore, to set up pretensions to the restoration or imitation of genuine Hebrew music is trifling and irreverent. All that can be done, or ought to be attempted, is to appropriate the noblest and sublimest efforts of modern music to the sacred poetry of the Bible; not for the sake of tickling the ears of amateurs, but of warming the hearts of holy men, and elevating towards God the languid piety of the formal worshipper. But to do this something more than the mere faculty of the professor is requisite: from the heart of the composer must come that genuine pathos, which can never be represented but where it is felt, and can never be felt, except where God himself is enthroned in the affections.
It was in the reign of the holy David," the sweet Psalmist of Israel," "in whose tongue was the word of the Lord," that Hebrew music and poetry reached their perfection; whose vast and splendid apparatus for the musical part of the service of the temple has been equalled by nothing of the kind that has ever existed in any other country. The poetry has come down to us, but the music has entirely evaporated; but from what we know of the poetry, and from what we read of the music, and of the prodigious care and expenditure employed in the cultivation of it, we may frame an adequate idea of sacred song as it chaunted its Hallelujahs at the dedication of the temple, or poured forth the sorrows of captive Judah by the waters of Babylon. Who are then these moderns that dare
"to touch the ark
Of this magnificent and awful cause?"
"Meminerimus, nunc ejus reliquias ad nos pervenisse ornamentis suis omnibus spoliatas, nisi quæ in dictione et sensibus elucent, quibus ipsis platimæ obScuritates et tenebræ insiderunt. Quapropter de Oda Hebræa disserentes omni supersedebimus disquisitione de Musica Sacra, deque vario ejusmodi rerum apparatu, quæ aliquam procul dubio vim habere poterant in constituendis diversis Odarum generibus, quorum tamen omnium cum in summa ignoratione veṛsamur, satius duco de iis tacere, quam eruditorum quorundam exemplo multa loquendo nibil dicere." Lowth de Sac. Poes, Hebr. Præl. xxv.
Lord Byron, and his musical friends, Messrs. Braham and Nathan.
- After what we have said we must be considered as looking for very exalted qualities in an imitator of Hebrew poetry, and a composer of music fit to become its vehicle. Genuine Hebrew poetry was cradled and educated in the family of Religion, and in its true genius and character it carries the credentials of its high origin and cast. The writer ought, in a manner, to come out of the schools of the prophets. He should know his Bible, believe his Bible, and love his Bible, to write with true feeling upon the subjects of the Bible. Hitherto Lord Byron's Muse has had much more connection with the Koran than with the sacred register of all truth. With her pellisse in disorder, her zone unbuckled, her cheek suffused, the Muse of Lord Byron steps forth from the polluted precincts of the seraglio, from her couch of roses and glittering kiosk, into the courts of the Lord's house. From such an inspirer of the lay we should not have required a "Melody in our heaviness," nor have asked for "one of the songs of Sion;" nor should we have desired such minstrels as she has made use of " to take the psalm,” to “ bring hither the tabret, the merry harp, and the lute."
Upon the whole, we do not think that Lord Byron makes a better figure with his Jewish minstrelsy, than Lord George Gordon with his rabbinical beard; and if he persists in this perversion of his genius, we shall really be tempted to think him as little in his right senses, as the nobleman to whom we have alhuded. It was as natural for the Jewish high priest to be made a member, as we are told he was, of the Legion of Honour, as for the author of the Childe Harold, the Giaour, and Corsair, to take up the Levitical function. Lord Byron is not very likely to accept advice from the British Review; we have never been in extremes towards him as to praise or censure, and have never had to atone by flattery for past offences. But if he would take our advice, he would tell his minstrels to hang their "harps upon the trees," and would refuse to write any more Hebrew melodies. But if Hebrew melodies he still will write, would that he would say to us,
"Quanam re instructus comparebo coram Jehova?" We should be happy, in the words of Balaam, to tell him to "walk humbly with his God," or, in other words, by his previous study of the Holy Scriptures, to draw largely from the well of everlasting life a purer water than the fountains of Helicon could afford him: to learn from that blessed book, not how to write on Jewish topics, but how
"To shame the doctrine of the Sadducees.”
Let him read it not in order to become a poet, but in order to become a humble believer in what it inculcates, and then the true scriptural elevation of mind will follow, without which not even the genius of Lord Byron (which we love to commend, and which we have always thought much too good to be dissipated on Turkish love tales and fantastic freebooters) will rise to the level of sacred poetry. But above all, if Lord Byron is to become a writer of sacred poetry, he must immediately begin by estranging his Muse from bad company. He must have nothing to do with those Moabitish melodies, fitted only for the high places and groves of Baal, and which the virgin daughter of Zion cannot hear without pollution; and his Lordship will remember that by doing so he will but be consistent and parallel with himself in an early stage of his poetical career, when he declared in a work of greater excellence in its kind than any thing of the same descrip» tion since the Dunciad and Macflecno, that
"Grieved to condemn, the Muse must still be ju
If we could be assured that this would be the cygnea cantion of this modern Moses, we would say nothing in particular of these productions, contented with generally condemning, as we have done, the prematurity of the effort. But as we suppose the specimen which has been given is to be followed by others, we consider it as due to the sacredness of scripture subjects, as well as to the laws and principles of good poetry in general, to say that the "Hebrew Melodies", are performances of a very trums pery description, such as "many men, many women, and some children," we doubt not, are capable of producing.
Virgil's Venus was known by her walk-" vera incessu patuit Dea:" but who the lady is in the first of Lord Byron's melodies that "walks in beauty," we are totally at a loss to conjecture: We will hand her over to the reader, that he may try what he can make of her. us buc 2:182. za ot bestim
"She walks in beauty, like the night