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LORD BYRON'S MANFRED.
(August, 1817.) Manfred; a Dramatic Poem. By Lord ByRON. 8vo. pp. 75.
London : 1817.
This is a very strange — not a very pleasing — but unquestionably a very powerful and most poetical production. The noble author, we find, still deals with that dark and overawing Spirit, by whose aid he has so often subdued the minds of his readers, and in whose might he has wrought so many wonders. In Manfred, we recognise at once the gloom and potency of that soul which burned and blasted and fed upon itself in Harold, and Conrad, and Lara — and which comes again in this piece, more in sorrow than in anger — more proud, perhaps, and more awful than ever — but with the fiercer traits of its misanthropy subdued, as it were, and quenched in the gloom of a deeper despondency. Manfred does not, like Conrad and Lara, wreak the anguish of his burning heart in the dangers and daring of desperate and predatory war — nor seek to drown bitter thoughts in the tumult of perpetual contention — nor yet, like Harold, does he sweep over the peopled scenes of the earth with high disdain and aversion, and make his survey of the business and pleasures and studies of man an occasion for taunts and sarcasms, and the food of an immeasurable spleen. He is fixed by the genius of the poet in the majestic solitudes of the central Alps — where, from his youth up, he has lived in proud but calm seclusion from the ways of men ; conversing only with the magnificent forms and aspects of nature by which he is surrounded, and with the Spirits of the Elements over whom he has acquired dominion, by the secret and unhallowed studies of Sorcery and Magic. He is averse indeed from mankind, and scorns the low and frivolous nature to which he belongs; but he cherishes A POEM — NOT A PLAY.
no animosity or hostility to that feeble race. Their concerns excite no interest — their pursuits no sympathy — their joys no envy. It is irksome and vexatious for him to be crossed by them in his melancholy musings, — but he treats them with gentleness and pity; and, except when stung to impatience by too importunate an intrusion, is kind and considerate of the comforts of all around him.
This piece is properly entitled a Dramatic Poem — for it is merely poetical, and is not at all a drama or play in the modern acceptation of the term. It has no action; no plot — and no characters; Manfred merely muses and suffers from the beginning to the end. His distresses are the same at the opening of the scene and at its closing — and the temper in which they are borne is the same. A hunter and a priest, and some domestics, are indeed introduced; but they have no connection with the passions or sufferings on which the interest depends ; and Manfred is substantially alone throughout the whole piece. He holds no communion but with the memory of the Being he had loved; and the immortal Spirits whom he evokes to reproach with his misery, and their inability to relieve it. These unearthly beings approach nearer to the character of persons of the drama — but still they are but choral accompaniments to the performance; and Manfred is, in reality, the only actor and sufferer on the scene. To delineate his character indeed to render conceivable his feelings — is plainly the whole scope and design of the poem; and the conception and execution are, in this respect, equally admirable. It is à grand and terrific vision of a being invested with superhuman attributes, in order that he may be capable of more than human sufferings, and be sustained under them by more than human force and pride. To object to the improbability of the fiction is, we think, to mistake the aim and end of the author. Probabilities, we apprehend, did not enter at all into his consideration his object was, to produce effect — to exalt and dilate the character through whom he was to interest or appal us - and to raise our conception of it, by all the helps that
MANFRED — SCOPE AND CONCEPTION.
could be derived from the majesty of nature, or the dread of superstition. It is enough, therefore, if the situation in which he has placed him is conceivable — and if the supposition of its reality enhances our emotions and kindles our imagination; for it is Manfred only that we are required to fear, to pity, or admire. If we can once conceive of him as a real existence, and enter into the depth and the height of his pride and his sorrows, we may deal as we please with the means that have been used to furnish us with this impression, or to enable us to attain to this conception. We may regard them but as types, or metaphors, or allegories: But he is the thing to be expressed; and the feeling and the intellect, of which all these are but shadows.
The events, such as they are, upon which the piece may be said to turn, have all taken place long before its opening, and are but dimly shadowed out in the casual communications of the agonizing being to whom they relate. Nobly born and trained in the castle of his ancestors, he had very soon sequestered himself from the society of men; and, after running through the common circle of human sciences, had dedicated himself to the worship of the wild magnificence of nature, and to those forbidden studies by which he had learned to command its presiding powers. One companion, however, he had, in all his tasks and enjoyments — a female of kindred genius, taste, and capacity — lovely too beyond all loveliness; but, as we gather, too nearly related to be lawfully beloved. The catastrophe of their unhappy passion is insinuated in the darkest and most ambiguous terms — all that we make out is, that she died untimely and by violence, on account of this fatal attachment though not by the act of its object. He killed her, he says, not with his hand — but his heart; and her blood was shed, though not by him! From that hour, life is a burden to him, and memory a torture — and the extent of his power and knowledge serves only to shew him the hopelessness and endlessness of his misery.
The piece opens with his evocation of the Spirits of the Elements, from whom he demands the boon of for
SCENE WITH THE SPIRITS.
getfulness — and questions them as to his own immor-
It will not burn so long as I must watch!
Now to my task."— p. 7, 8. When his evocation is completed, a star is seen at the far end of a gallery, and celestial voices are heard reciting a great deal of poetry. After they have answered that the gift of oblivion is not at their disposal, and intimated that death itself could not bestow it on him, they ask if he has any further demand to make of them. He answers,
“No, none : yet stay!—one moment, ere we part-
Spirit. We have no forms beyond the elements
Man. I have no choice; there is no form on earth
Art not a madness and a mockery,
[The figure vanishes. My heart is crush'd !
(MANFRED falls senseless."—p. 15, 16. The first scene of this extraordinary performance ends with a long poetical incantation, sung by the invisible spirits over the senseless victim before them. The second shows him in the bright sunshine of morning, on the top of the Jungfrau mountain, meditating selfdestruction and uttering forth in solitude as usual the voice of his habitual despair, and those intermingled feelings of love and admiration for the grand and beautiful objects with which he is environed, that unconsciously win him back to a certain kindly sympathy with human enjoyments.
“ Man. The spirits I have raised abandon me-