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ARTICLE FROM THE EDINBURGH REVIEW,
HOURS OF IDLENESS; a Series of Poems, original and translated. By GEORGE GORDON, LORD BYRON, a Minor. 8vo., pp.200. Newark, 1807.
THE poesy of this young lord belongs to the class which neither gods nor men are said to permit. Indeed, we do not recollect to have seen a quantity of verse with so few deviations in either direction from that exact standard. His effusions are spread over a dead flat, and can no more get above or below the level, than if they were so much stagnant water. As an extenuation of this offence, the noble author is peculiarly forward in pleading minority. We have it in the title-page, and on the very back of the volume; it follows his name like a favourite part of his style. Much stress is laid upon it in the preface; and the poems are connected with this general statement of his case, by particular dates, substantiating the age at which each was written. Now, the law upon the point of minority we hold to be perfectly clear. It is a plea available only to the defendant; no plaintiff can offer it as a supplementary ground of action. Thus, if any suit could be brought against Lord Byron, for the purpose of compelling him to put into court a certain quantity of poetry, and if judgment were given against him, it is highly probable that an exception would be taken, were he to deliver for poetry the contents of this volume. To this he might plead minority; but, as he now makes voluntary tender of the article, he hath no right to sue, on that ground, for the price in good current praise, should the goods be unmarketable. This is our view of the law on the point, and we dare to say, so will it be ruled. Perhaps, however, in reality, all that he tells us about his youth is rather with a view to increase our wonder than to soften our censures. He possibly means to say, "See how a minor can write! This poem was actually composed by a young man of eighteen, and this by one of only sixteen!" But, alas! we all remember the poetry of Cowley at ten, and Pope at twelve; and so far from hearing with any degree of surprise, that very poor verses were written by a youth from his leaving school to his leaving college, inclusive, we really believe this to be the most common of all occurrences; that it happens in the life of nine men in ten who are educated in England; and that the tenth man writes better verse than Lord Byron.
His other plea of privilege our author rather brings forward in order to waive it. He certainly, however, does allude frequently to his family
and ancestors-sometimes in poetry, sometimes in notes; and while giving up his claim on the score of rank, he takes care to remember us of Dr. Johnson's saying, that when a nobleman appears as an author, his merit should be handsomely acknowledged. In truth, it is this consideration only that induces us to give Lord Byron's poems a place in our review, beside our desire to counsel him, that he do forthwith abandon poetry, and turn his talents, which are considerable, and his opportunities, which are great, to better account.
With this view, we must beg leave seriously to assure him, that the mere rhyming of the final syllable, even when accompanied by the presence of a certain number of feet,-nay, although (which does not always happen) those feet should scan regularly, and have been all counted accurately upon the fingers,-is not the whole art of poetry. We would entreat him to believe, that a certain portion of liveliness, somewhat of fancy, is necessary to constitute a poem, and that a poem in the present day, to be read, must contain at least one thought, either in a little degree different from the ideas of former writers, or differently expressed. We put it to his candour, whether there is anything so deserving the name of poetry in verses like the following, written in 1806; and whether, if a youth of eighteen could say anything so uninteresting to his ancestors, a youth of nineteen should publish it :
"Shades of heroes, farewell! your descendant, departing
"Though a tear dim his eye at this sad separation,
"That fame, and that memory, still will he cherish;
When decay'd, may he mingle his dust with your own."
Now, we positively do assert, that there is nothing better than these stanzas in the whole compass of the noble minor's volume.
Lord Byron should also have a care of attempting what the greatest poets have done before him, for comparisons (as he must have had occasion to see at his writing-master's) are odious. Gray's Ode on Eton College should really have kept out the ten hobbling stanzas "On a distant View of the Village and School of Harrow."
"Where fancy yet joys to retrace the resemblance
In like manner, the exquisite lines of Mr. Rogers, "On a Tear," might
have warned the noble author off those premises, and spared us a whole dozen such stanzas as the following:
"Mild Charity's glow, to us mortals below,
"The man doom'd to sail with the blast of the gale,
Through billows Atlantic to steer,
As he bends o'er the wave which may soon be his grave,
And so of instances in which former poets had failed. Thus, we do not think Lord Byron was made for translating, during his nonage, "Adrian's Address to his Soul," when Pope succeeded so indifferently in the attempt. If our readers, however, are of another opinion, they may look at it.
"Ah! gentle, flecting, wavering sprite,
To what unknown region borne
However, be this as it may, we fear his translations and imitations are great favourites with Lord Byron. We have them of all kinds, from Anacreon to Ossian; and, viewing them as school exercises, they may pass. Only, why print them after they have had their day and served their turn? And why call the thing in p. 79 a translation, where two words (0 λy) of the original are expanded into four lines, and the other thing in p. 81, where μεσονυκτίαις ποθ ̓ ὡραις is rendered by means of six hobbling verses? As to his Ossianic poesy, we are not very good judges, being, in truth, so moderately skilled in that species of composition, that we should, in all probability, be criticising some bit of the genuine Macpherson itself, were we to express our opinion of Lord Byron's rhapsodies. If, then, the following beginning of a "Song of Bards" is by his lordship, we venture to object to it, as far as we can comprehend it. "What form rises on the roar of clouds, whose dark ghost gleams on the red stream of tempests? His voice rolls on the thunder; 'tis Orla, the brown chief of Oithona. He was," &c. After detaining this "brown chief" some time, the bards conclude by giving him their advice to "raise his fair locks;" then to "spread them on the arch of the rainbow;" and "to smile through the tears of the storm." Of this kind of thing there are no less than nine pages; and we can so far venture an opinion in their favour, that they look very like Macpherson; and we are positive they are pretty nearly as stupid and tiresome.
• ["I think I could write a more sarcastic critique on myself than any yet published. For instance, instead of the remark,-ill-natured enough, but not keen, -about Macpherson, I (quoad reviewers) could have said, 'Alas, this imitation only
It is a sort of privilege of poets to be egotists; but they should "use it as not abusing it;" and particularly one who piques himself (though indeed at the ripe age of nineteen) on being "an infant bard,”—(“ The artless Helicon I boast is youth ")-should either not know, or should seem not to know, so much about his own ancestry. Besides a poem above cited, on the family-seat of the Byrons, we have another of eleven pages, on the self-same subject, introduced with an apology, "he certainly had no intention of inserting it," but really "the particular request of some friends," &c. &c. It concludes with five stanzas on himself, 44 the last and youngest of a noble line." There is a good deal also about his maternal ancestors, in a poem on Lachin y Gair, a mountain where he spent part of his youth, and might have learnt that pibroch is not a bagpipe, any more than duet means a fiddle.
As the author has dedicated so large a part of his volume to immor talise his employments at school and college, we cannot possibly dismiss it without presenting the reader with a specin.en of these ingenious effusions. In an ode with a Greek motto, called "Granta," we have the following magnificent stanzas:
"There, in apartments small and damp,
Or puzzles o'er the deep triangle,
In barbarous Latin doom'd to wrangle:
"Renouncing every pleasing page,
From authors of historic use,
The square of the hypothenuse.
"Still harmless are these occupations,
That hurt none but the hapless student,
Which bring together the imprudent."
We are sorry to hear so bad an account of the college psalmody as is contained in the following Attic stanzas:
"Our choir would scarcely be excused
Even as a band of raw beginners;
To such a set of croaking sinners.
"If David, when his toils were ended,
Had heard these blockheads sing before him,
In furious mood he would have tore 'em!"
proves the assertion of Dr. Johnson, that many men, women, and children could
write such poetry as Ossian's."-Lord B. Letters, March 28, 1808.]
But, whatever judgment may be passed on the poems of this noble minor, it seems we must take them as we find them, and be content; for they are the last we shall ever have from him. He is, at best, he says, but an intruder into the groves of Parnassus: he never lived in a garret like thorough-bred poets; and "though he once roved a careless mountaineer in the Highlands of Scotland," he has not of late enjoyed this advantage. Moreover, he expects no profit from his publication; and whether it succeeds or not, "it is highly improbable, from his situation and pursuits hereafter," that he should again condescend to become an author. Therefore, let us take what we get, and be thankful. What right have we poor devils to be nice? We are well off to have got so much from a man of this lord's station, who does not live in a garret, but "has the sway" of Newstead Abbey. Again we say, let us be thankful; and, with honest Sancho, bid God bless the giver, nor look the gift-horse in the mouth.*
* [It is authoritatively stated by his biographer, that Jeffrey-the Editor-was not the author of the article. Lord Byron, who at first supposed him the sole aggressor, settled down later into the belief that his antagonist was the versatile Henry Brougham, to whose pen the attack is now very generally attributed. The Monthly Review, in those days the next in circulation to the Edinburgh, gave a much more favourable notice of the "Hours of Idleness." "These compositions (it said) are generally of a plaintive or an amator cast, with an occasional mixture of satire; and they display both ease and strength-both pathos and fire. It will be expected that marks of juvenility and of haste should be discovered in these productions; and we seriously advise our young bard to fulfil with submissive perseverance the duties of revision and correction. We discern, in Lord Byron, a degree of mental power, and a turn of mental disposition, which render us solicitous that both should be well cultivated and wisely directed, in his career of life."-Lord Byron repaid the Edinburgh Critique with a Satire-and became himself a Monthly Reviewer.]