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BYRON'S DOMESTIC INFELICITY.
a shilling of his wife's fortune, and then breaking through his vain determination by grasping all that he could reach of it, sentimentalizing about his daughter, and then plunging into a career of debauchery which left to that daughter the blackest of all legacies,—the memory of a parent's worst guilt.
This epoch of Byron's life I touch upon chiefly for the sake of noticing some of the matchless sophistry which has been employed in his apology. The biography of the poet was intrusted to an amiable and accomplished brother-poet, a writer overflowing with that fanciful style of feeling, styled" sentimentality.” According to Moore's theory, what was the cause of Byron's matrimonial infelicity ? His genius. For the sake of veiling the moral deformities of the noble poet, the biographer has raised a cloud of gaudy sophistry which casts a shade upon the grandest endowments of the human intellect. He would teach the dangerous fallacy that there is a dreary gulf between poetic power and domestic virtue and happiness; that genius of the higher order is a wild thing, “not to be tamed and domesticated in society;” that it must dwell in what he calls “ the lonely laboratory of self :" to take up his words, that “genius ranks but low among the elements of social happiness ; that, in general, the brighter the gift the more disturbing its influence, and that in married life particularly its effects have been too often like that of the 'wormwood star,' whose light filled the waters on which it fell with bitterness.” 'It is,” he adds, “ a coincidence no less striking than saddening, that on the list of married poets who have been unhappy in their homes there should already be found such illustrious names as Dante, Milton, Shakspeare, and Dryden, and that we should now have to add as a partner in their destiny a name worthy of being placed beside the greatest of them,-Łord Byron.”
A passage like this calls for remark, not only for its own sake, but because it is a specimen of the systematic sentimental sophistry that has been woven around Lord Byron's memory. There is an evil spirit at work in it, confounding the sense of right and wrong, defacing and mutilating the landmarks of virtue and vice :—"fair is foul, and foul is fair.” The doctrine is deliberately taught that the higher a man's intellectual
powers, the further they are removed from the best elements of his moral being; that the qualities of the head and the heart travel in different and opposite roads. It is the old and shallow but not obsolete fallacy that genius is privileged to claim exemption from moral obligation; as if a human being were any the less a man because he is a poet !-a lawlessness which no truly great poet ever dreamed of arrogating. It is the fatal sophistry which would divorce genius from its natural alliance with all that is good and noble and spiritual, and drive it to batten with the base, the selfish, and sensual. Moore brought to his argument all the force of his brilliant fancy; but it has been swept away by an answer, full not only of fancy but of truth, which was called forth in one of that remarkable series of papers, the “ Noctes Ambrosiuna," *--witty, imaginative, and thoughtful. The vindication of genius and its capacity for domestic happiness is put in the mouth of the Ettrick Shepherd; and, after a careful refutation, it closes with this ylowing prose rhapsody :
“I have read Shakspeare and Milton many thousand times; and, Master Moore, you had no right, sir, by your ipse dixit to place Byron by the side of them two,—the greatest of all the children of men : he must sit, in all his glory, far down beneath their feet.” And then, as to the domestic virtues :—“Why, it is in the power of any one man of the higher order of genius-say poetical genius—to lavish, in the prodigality of his soul, more love on his wife during any one day-ay, any one hour-than it is in the capacity of a blockhead to bestow on his during fifty years, beginning with the first blink of the honeymoon and ending with the last hour that falls upon her coffin. Oh, what a fearful heap of passion can the poet cram into one embrace-one kiss—one smile-one look-one whisper-one word—towards the partner of his life, the mother of his weans ! What though the poet's marriage-life be sometimes stormy?—what though sometimes
• Blackness comes across it like a squall
Darkening the sea'? Yet who can paint the glory and the brightness of the celestial calm, when the world of them two-of him and his wife---may be likened to the ocean and all her isles in the breezy sunshine, and them two, themselves to consort-ships steering along with all their sails and all their streamers --no fear of shoals or lee-shore rocks-on, on, on, together, towards the haven of everlasting rest among the regions of the setting sun ! Or when it may be likened—that is, the world of them two, of him and his wife-to the blue lift all a-lilt with laverocks, and themselves, too, like consort-clouds, now a wee way apart, and now melting into one another, pursued by eyes looking up from below along their sky-course, of which the goal is set, by God's own hand, far away among the stars of heaven!
Byron, his home desolate and his popularity followed by public odium, left his native land, never to revisit it. He found a dwelling for a time in the region of the Alps, and then passed into Italy; and this was the
* Blackwood's Magazine.
period of his besť poetry. The tumultuous passions which had agitated him not long before subsided into a gentler feeling than marked any other portion of his life. The tempest which had driven him from his domestic mooring was followed by a fitful calm. It is worthy of reflection that, in this mood of mind, his imagination displayed more true power than in the seasons of its false and morbid
The was the vigour of health, the other, the force of fever. The mock and exaggerated sentiment which he dallied with in so many of his poems made room for that which was genuine pathos. This will be understood by all who are familiar with Byron's poetry,—and I am this evening calculating peculiarly on a general familiarity with the subject of the lecture,-it will be understood by suggesting to your recollections the contrast between “ The Corsair” and that beautiful poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon.” To this period also belongs one of his pieces which seems to me to display more of genuine imagination, more chaste and better sustained, than any poem he has left. I refer to that entitled “ The Dream.” The marked years of his life are brought together by a fine imaginative effort, which blends also, with admirable effect, the actual and the spiritual. There is nothing counterfeit in it. The lights and shadows, glimmer and gloom, pass over the spirit of this dream, with all the reality of truth and imagination. The descriptions are worthy of all praise. How perfectly picturesque is the Eastern scene !
“ A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
The boy was sprung to manhood: in the wilds
That God alone was to be seen in heaven!”
more. No poet ever enjoyed finer or more various opportunities of communion with the earth and the elements. He was a denizen of ocean and of lake, 'of Alpine regions and of Greek and Italian plains. He had a poet's quick susceptibility to the tumultous sublimity and the placid beauty the world of sense that surrounded him. There were times when his heart was open to these natural influences, so that there arose the true poetic sympathy between the inner world of spirit and the outer world of sense. The finest passages of the Childe Harold” are those in which nature had her will with this wayward child :
“ Clear, placid Leman! thy contrasted lake,
With the wild world I dwelt in, is a thing
Sounds sweet as if a sister's voice reproved
“ It is the hush of night, and all between
Drops the light drip of the suspended oar,
The sky is changed !--and such a change ! O night,
And Jura answers, through her misty shroud,
MATERIALISM OF BYRON'S POETRY.
I would gladly break the quotation here, in the middle of the stanza, in order not to break the impression of a passage of such true poetry, which I would always wish to leave unimpaired; but it vexes me to be obliged to use this qualifying particle but) there follows a striking exemplification of those tumid exaggerations which are the weakness mingled with the poet's power :
“ And now the glee
As if they did rejoice o'er a young earthquake's birth.” The love of nature with Byron was passionate rather than either thoughtful or imaginative :
“ A feeling, and a love, That had no need of a remoter charm By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrow'd from the eye.” He knew, however, that it was necessary to make it something more, —that a great descriptive poet cannot rest contented with what is an appetite and a rapture. One of poetry's grandest purposes—the showing how the external world and the mind of man fitted to each other-was before him. His strong poetic instincts struggled towards it, but the moral weakness of his genius perverted and lowered his aspirations. The blindness of idolatry came over him ; the world of sight and sound became a divinity to him. That which was intended for only the means for higher ends became all in all to him. The material world, which its Creator formed to minister food not only to our bodily wants but to the imaginative appetites, which feed on the grand and beautiful that meet the senses, hemmed his faithless spirit in, not because of its strength, which many have mistaken its turbulence for, but because of its weak
In this I do not fear to say the imagination of Byron failed: it had not strength to extricate itself from the sophistries of materialism. The strong passion for nature with which he was doubtless gifted, the moment he strove to make it anything more than a passion, spent itself in misty, cloudy rhapsodies, meaningless of everything but the old errors of a sensual philosophy. The days of fascination gone by, it is time to understand that when Byron's poetry begins to utter materialism, it begins to utter folly, and then it ceases to be poetry, for poetry is allied to wisdom and madness. The poet had set up for his worship an idol as helpless as the headless trunk of Dagon. Quenching the true and spiritual love of nature, he talked of making the mountains his friends, and boasted that it was man’s noblest companionship; but his heart told him, “Miserable friends are ye.” It was his pride to love earth only for