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earliest aspirations of the mind after greatness and true glory with a pen of fire. The names of Tasso, of Ariosto, of Dante, of Cincinnatus, of Cæsar, of Scipio, lose nothing of their pomp or their lustre in his hands, and when he begins and continues a strain of panegyric on such subjects, we indeed sit down with him to a banquet of rich praise, brooding over imperishable glories,
“ Till Contemplation has her fill.” Lord Byron seems to cast himself indignantly from “ this bank and shoal of time,” or the frail tottering bark that bears up modern reputation, into the huge sea of ancient renown, and to revel there with untired, outspread plume. Even this in bim is spleen-his contempt of his contemporaries makes him turn back to the lustrous past, or project himself forward to the dim future!-Lord Byron's tragedies, Faliero, * Sardanapalus, &c. are not equal to his other works. They want the essence of the drama. They abound in speeches and descriptions, such as he himself might make either to himself or others, lolling on his couch of a morning, but do * “ Don Juan was my Moscow, and Faliero My Leipsic, and my Mont St. Jean seems Cain,"
Don Juan, Canto. XI. not carry the reader out of the poet's mind to the scenes and events recorded. They have neither action, character, nor interest, but are a sort of gossamer tragedies, spun out, and glittering, and spreading a flimsy veil over the face of nature. Yet he spins them on. . Of all that he has done in this way the Heaven and Earth (the same subject as Mr. Moore's Loves of the Angels) is the best. We prefer it even to Manfred. Manfred is merely himself, with a fancy-drapery on: but in the dramatic fragment published in the Liberal, the space between Heaven and Earth, the stage on which his characters have to pass to and fro, seems to fill his Lordship’s imagination; and the Deluge, which he has so finely described, may be said to have drowned all his own idle humours.
We must say we think little of our author's turn for satire. His “ English Bards and Scotch Reviewers” is dogmatical and insolent, but without refinement or point. He calls people names, and tries to transfix a character with an epithet, which does not stick, because it has no other foundation than his own petulance and spite; or he endeavours to degrade by alluding to some circumstance of external situation. He says of Mr. Wordsworth's poetry, that “it is his aversion.” That may be: but whose fault is it? This is the satire of a lord, who is accustomed to have all his whims or dislikes taken for gospel, and who cannot be at the pains to do more than signify his contempt or displeasure. If a great man meets with a rebuff which he does not like, he turns on his heel, and this passes for a repartee. The Noble Author says of a celebrated barrister and critic, that he was born in a garret sixteen stories high.” The insinuation is not true; or if it were, it is low. The allusion degrades the person who makes, not him to whom it is applied. This is also the satire of a person of birth and quality, who measures all merit by external rank, that is, by his own standard. So his Lordship, in a “ Letter to the Editor of My Grandmother’s Review,” addresses him fifty times as “ my dear Robarts ;" nor is there any other wit in the article. This is surely a mere assumption of superiority from his Lordship’s rank, and is the sort of quizzing he might use to a person who came to hire himself as a valet to him at Long's--the waiters might laugh, the public will not. In like manner, in the controversy about Pope, he claps Mr. Bowles on the back with a coarse facetious familiarity, as if he were his chaplain
whom he had invited to dine with him, or was about to present to a benefice. The reverend divine might submit to the obligation, but he has no occasion to subscribe to the jest. If it is a jest that Mr. Bowles should be a parson, and Lord Byron a peer, the world knew this before; there was no need to write a pamphlet
to prove it.
The Don Juan indeed has great power; but its power is owing to the force of the serious writing, and to the oddity of the contrast between that and the flashy passages with which it is interlarded. From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step. You laugh and are surprised that any one should turn round and travestie himself: the drollery is in the utter discontinuity of ideas and feelings. He makes virtue serve as a foil to vice; dandyism is (for want of any other) a variety of genius. A classical intoxication is followed by the splashing of soda-water, by frothy effusions of ordinary bile. After the lightning and the hurricane, we are introduced to the interior of the cabin and the contents of wash-hand basins. The solemn hero of tragedy plays Scrub in the farce. This is “very tolerable and not to be endured.” The Noble Lord is almost the only writer who has prostituted his talents in this way. He hallows in order to desecrate; takes a pleasure in defacing the images of beauty his hands have wrought; and raises our hopes and our belief in goodness to Heaven only to dash them to the earth again, and break them in pieces the more effectually from the very height they have fallen. Our enthusiasm for genius or virtue is thus turned into a jest by the very person who has kindled it, and who thus fatally quenches the sparks of both. It is not that Lord Byron is sometimes serious and sometimes trifling, sometimes profligate, and sometimes moral—but when he is most serious and most moral, he is only preparing to mortify the unsuspecting reader by putting a pitiful hoax upon him. This is a most unaccountable anomaly. It is as if the eagle were to build its eyry in a common sewer, or the owl were seen soaring to the mid-day sun. Such a sight might make one laugh, but one would not wish or expect it to occur more than once !*
In fact, Lord Byron is the spoiled child of fame as well as fortune. He has taken a surfeit of popularity, and is not contented to delight, unless he can shock the public. He
* This censure applies to the first Cantos of Don JŪAN much more than to the last. It has been called a TRISTRAM SHANDY in rhyme: it is rather a poem written about itself.