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those supposed to be in intimacy with the individual have sometimes undergone an examination which reminds us of the extravagances of Arabella in the Female Quixote, who expected from every lady she met in society a full and interesting history of her life and adventures, and which could only be answered in the words of the Weary Knife-grinder,'-Story! God bless you, I have none to tell, Ma'am !--The time therefore appeared to be passed when the mere sin of having been dipped in rhyme was supposed to exclude the poet from the usual business and habits of life, and to single him out from the herd as a marked deer expected to make sport by his solitary exertions for escape. Whether this has arisen from the diminished irritability of the rhyming generation, or from the peculiar habits of those who have been distinguished in our time, or from their mental efforts having been early directed to modify and to restrain the excess of their enthusiasm, we do not pretend to conjecture; but it is certain, that for many years past, though the number of our successful poets may be as great as at any period of our literary history, we have heard little comparatively of their eccentricities, their adventures, or their distresses. The wretched Dermody is not worth mentioning as an exception, and the misfortunes of Burns arose from circumstances not much connected with his powerful poetical genius.
It has been, however, reserved for our own time to produce one distinguished example of the Muse having descended upon a bard of a wounded spirit, and lent her lyre to tell, and we trust to soothe, afflictions of no ordinary description, afflictions originating probably in that singular combination of feeling which has been called the poetical temperament, and which has so often saddened the days of those on whom it has been conferred. If ever a man could lay claim to that character in all its strength and all its weakness, with its unbounded range of enjoyinent, and its exquisite sensibility of pleasure and of pain, it must certainly be granted to Lord Byron. Nor does it require much time or a deep acquaintance with human nature to discover why these extraordinary powers should in many cases have contributed more to the wretchedness than to the happiness of their possessor.
The 'imagination all compact,' which the greatest poet who ever lived has assigned as the distinguishing badge of his brethren, is in every case a dangerous gift. It exaggerates, indeed, our expectations, and can often bid its possessor hope, where hope is lost to reason: but the delusive pleasure arising from these visions of imagination, resembles that of a child whose notice is attracted by a fragment of glass to which a sun-beam has given momentary splendour. He hastens to the spot with breathless impatience, and finds the object of his curiosity and expectation is equally vul
gar and worthless. Such is the man of quick and exalted powers of imagination. His fancy over-estimates the object of his wishes, and pleasure, fame, dictinction, are alternately pursued, attained, and despised when in his power. Like the enchanted fruit in the palace of a sorcerer, the objects of his admiration lose their attraction and value as soon as they are grasped by the adventurer's hand, and all that remains is regret for the time lost in the chase, and astonishment at the hallucination under the influence of which it was undertaken. The disproportion between hope and possession which is felt by all men, is thus doubled to those whom nature has endowed with the power of gilding a distant prospect by the rays of imagination. These reflexions, though trite and obvious, are in a manner forced from us by the poetry of Lord Byron, by the sentiments of weariness of life and enmity with the world which they so frequently express-and by the singular analogy which such sentiments hold with incidents of his life so recently before the public. The works before us contain so many direct allusions to the author's personal feelings and private history, that it becomes impossible for us to divide Lord Byron from his poetry, or to offer our criticism upon the continuation of Childe Harold, without reverting to the circumstances in which the commencement of that singular and original work first appeared.
Distinguished by title and descent from an illustrious line of ancestry, Lord Byron shewed, even in his earliest years, that nature had added to those advantages the richest gifts of genius and fancy. His own tale is partly told in two lines of Lara:
Left by his Sire, too young such loss to know,
His first literary adventure and its fate are well remembered. The poems which he published in his minority had, indeed, those faults of conception and diction which are inseparable from juvenile attempts, and in particular might rather be considered as imitations of what had caught the ear and fancy of the youthful author, than as exhibiting originality of conception and expression. like the first essay of the singing bird catching at and imitating the notes of its parent, ere habit and time have given the fullness of tone, confidence, and self-possession which renders assistance unnecessary. Yet though there were many, and those not the worst judges, who discerned in these juvenile productions, a depth of thought and felicity of expression which promised much at a more mature age, the errors did not escape the critical lash; and certain brethren of ours yielded to the opportunity of pouncing upon a titled author, and to that which most readily besets our fraternity, and to which we dare not pronounce ourselves wholly inaccessible, the temptation, namely, of shewing our own wit, and entertaining our readers
readers with a lively article without much respect to the feelings of the author, or even to the indications of merit which the work may exhibit. The review was read and raised mirth; the poems were neglected, the author was irritated, and took his revenge in keen iambics, not only on the offending critic, but on many others, in whose conduct or writings the juvenile bard had found, or imagined he had found, some cause of offence. The satire which has been since suppressed, as containing opinions hastily expressed, contained a spirit at least sufficiently poignant for all the purposes of reprisal; and although the verses might, in many respects, be deemed the offspring of hasty and indiscriminating resentment, they bore a strong testimony to the ripening talents of the author. Having thus vented his indignation against the critics and their readers, and put many, if not all the laughers upon his side, Lord Byron went abroad, and the controversy was forgotten for some years.
It was in 1812, when Lord Byron returned to England, that Childe Harold's Pilgrimage made its first appearance, producing an effect upon the public, at least equal to any work which has appeared within this or the last century. Reading is indeed so general among all ranks and classes, that the impulse received by the public mind on such occasions is instantaneous through all but the very lowest classes of society, instead of being slowly communicated from one set of readers to another, as was the case in the days, of our fathers. The Pilgrimage,' acting on such an extensive medium, was calculated to rouse and arrest the attention in a peculiar degree. The fictitious personage, whose sentiments, however, no one could help identifying with those of the author himself, presented himself with an avowed disdain of all the attributes which most men would be gladly supposed to possess. //Childe Harold is represented as one satiated by indulgence in pleasure, and seeking in change of place and clime a relief from the tedium of a life which glided on without an object. The assuming of such a character as the medium, of communicating his poetry and his sentiments indicated a feeling towards the public, which, if it fell short of contemning their favour, disdained, at least, all attempt to propitiate them. Yet the very audacity of this repulsive personification, joined to the energy with which it was supported, and to the indications of a bold, powerful, and original mind which glanced through every line of the poem, electrified the mass of readers, and placed at once upon Lord Byron's head the garland for which other men of genius have toiled long, and which they have gained late. He was placed pre-eminent among the literary men of his country by general acclamation.. Those who had so rigorously censured his juvenile essays, and perhaps dreaded such another field,' were the first to pay warm and, we believe, sincere homage to his matured efforts; while
others, who saw in the sentiments of Childe Harold much to regret and to censure, did not withhold their tribute of applause to the depth of thought, the power and force of expression, the beauty of description, and the energy of sentiment which animated the Pilgrimage.' If the volume was laid aside for a moment, under the melancholy and unpleasing impression that it seemed calculated to chase hope from the side of man, and to dim his prospects both of this life and of futurity, it was immediately and almost involuntarily assumed again, as our feeling of the author's genius predominated over our dislike to contemplate the gloomy views of human nature which it was his pleasure to place before us. Something was set down to the angry recollection of his first failure, which might fairly authorize so high a mind to hold the world's opinion in contempt; something was allowed for the recent family losses to which the poem alluded, and under the feeling of which it had been partly written: and it seemed to most readers as if gentler and more kindly features were, at times, seen to glance from under the cloud of misanthropy, which the author had flung around his hero. Thus, as all admired the Pilgrimage of Childe Harold, all were prepared to greet the author with that fame which is the poet's best reward, and which is chiefly and most justly due to one who, in these exhausted days, strikes out a new and original line of composition.
It was amidst such feelings of admiration that Lord Byron entered, we may almost say for the first time, the public stage on which he has, for four years, made so distinguished a figure. Every thing in his manner, person, and conversation, tended to maintain the charm which his genius had flung around him; and those admittted to his conversation, far from finding that the inspired poet sunk into ordinary mortality, felt themselves attached to him, not only by many noble qualities, but by the interest of a mysterious, undefined, and almost painful curiosity.
It is well known how wide the doors of society are opened in London to literary merit even of a degree far inferior to Lord Byron's, and that it is only necessary to be honourably distinguished by the public voice to move as a denizen in the first circles. This passport was not necessary to Lord Byron who possessed the hereditary claims of birth and rank. But the interest which his genius attached to his presence, and to his conversation, was of a nature far beyond what these hereditary claims could of themselves have conferred, and his reception was enthusiastic beyond any thing we have ever witnessed, or even heard reported. We have already noticed that Lord Byron is not one of those literary men of whom it may be truly said, Minuit præsentia famam. A countenance, exquisitely modeled to the expression of feeling and
passion, and exhibiting the remarkable contrast of very dark hair and eye-brows, with light and expressive eyes, presented to the physiognomist the most interesting subject for the exercise of his art. The predominating expression was that of deep and habitual thought, which gave way to the most rapid play of features when he engaged in interesting discussion; so that a brother poet compared them to the sculpture of a beautiful alabaster vase, only seen to perfection when lighted up from within. The flashes of mirth, gaiety, indignation, or satirical dislike which frequently animated Lord Byron's countenance, might, during an evening's conversation, be mistaken by a stranger, for the habitual expression, so easily and so happily was it formed for them all; but those who had an opportunity of studying his features for a length of time, and upon various occasions, both of rest and emotion, will agree with us that their proper language was that of melancholy. Sometimes shades of this gloom interrupted even his gayest and most happy moments, and the following verses are said to have dropped from his pen to excuse a transient expression of melancholy which overclouded the general gaiety.
'When from the heart where Sorrow sits,
And clouds the brow, or fills the eye-
My thoughts their dungeon know too well;
It was impossible to behold this interesting countenance, expressive of a dejection belonging neither to the rank, the age, nor the success of this young nobleman, without feeling an indefinable curiosity to ascertain whether it had a deeper cause than habit or constitutional temperament. It was obviously of a degree incalculably more serious than that alluded to by Prince Arthur
I remember when I was in France,
But howsoever derived, this, joined to Lord Byron's air of mingling in amusements and sports as if he contemned them, and felt, that his sphere was far above the frivolous crowd which surrounded him, gave a strong effect of colouring to a character whose tints were otherwise romantic. Noble and far descended, his mind fraught with ancient learning and modern accomplishment, the pilgrim of distant and savage countries, eminent as a poet among the first whom Britain has produced, and having besides
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