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its "earthly sake," and to talk unmeaningly of becoming " a portion of that around him,” of “high mountains being a feeling to him," and that he
“Nothing to loathe in nature, save to be
A link reluctant in that fleshly chain,
And with the sky, the peak, the heaving plain
From what it hates in this degraded form,
The bodiless thought,-the spirit of each spot,
Of which even now I share at times the immortal lot?” Now, strip this, and the multitude of passages like it in Byron's poems, of all that is fantastic; measure it, as you please, either by the practical rules of common sense, or by the ethereal standard of the imagination, and what is it but the perplexity and the folly of materialism ? What natural instinct is there, let me ask, so strong in the human heart as that which recoils from the dread anticipation that this living flesh of ours, or the cherished features of those that are dear to us, will be fed upon by worms in the grave ?- -a thought that would crush us down in helpless abasement but for the one bright hope beyond. And then to think of a poet exulting in the prospect of that remnant of his carnal life “existent happier in the worm”! When Byron is honoured as the great poet of nature, I wish you to understand where he will lead his disciple and where he will desert him. The material world has high and appropriate uses in the building up of a moral being: the study of it in the right spirit is full of instruction, but worthless and perilous if we lose sight of the great truth of the soul's spiritual supremacy over it,—that there is implanted in each human being an undying particle, destined to outlive not this earth alone, but the universe. The poet sent his materialized imagination to roam over the world of sense, ocean, and mountain, seeking what the world could not give. “ Where shall wisdom be found, and where is the place of understanding ? The depth saith, It is not in me ; and the sea saith, It is not with me.
The frailty of Byron's imagination is betrayed not only in his abandonment of the spiritual principle within him, instead of subordinating the
* Job, chap. XXVI. 2.
world of sense to it, but also in the inability to accomplish what he undertook, of imaginatively identifying himself with the material objects around him. This is a prime function of the faculty of imagination :to fuse together things in their nature different, giving them a harmonious existence and making them as one. Remember how the passion with which Shakspeare invests any of his creations shapes and colours all it touches. When Byron labours to combine his own personal feelings with the influences of nature, he throws the elements together, but for the most part leaves them unmingled and in confusion. You find unconnected and incongruous sentiments,—the admiration of earth's loftiest scenes, with morbid and restless social passions : indeed, so incoherent does his imagination become that the chief element in his love of nature is hatred of mankind. The most strenuous effort of his imagination was the dramatic poem “Manfred,” where he shapes into a visible form the beauty of inanimate foam,—the apparition of the beautiful witch of the Alps rising from the sunlit spray of the cataract. There is a passage in one of Byron's poems forming a splendid exception to the absence of the perfect combining power of imagination in so much of his descriptive poetry. It has the unaffected reality of true poetic sublimity in all the simplicity of imaginative truth. The lofty range of mountains, the history-hallowed battle-ground, the vast space of the ocean, are all vivified with the deep emotion of the one human being standing in the midst of them. The associating harmonizing energy of the poetic faculty blends all the elements in perfect union :
“ The mountains look on Marathon,
And Marathon looks on the sea;
I dream'd that Greece might still be free;
“A king sat on the rocky brow,
Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis;
And men in nations : all were his !
Italy opened to the poet her ancient cities and her glorious works of sculpture, painting, and architecture; and, in this world of art, his imagination expatiated with more power and thought than in the world of nature. He stood in the Adriatic City, and its arcient splendour rose to his vision.
“ A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Look'd to the wingéd lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sat in state, throned ca her hundred isles!” He beheld the Eternal City, the
“ Childless and crownless, in her voiceless woe,
An empty urn within her wither'd hands,
Whose holy dust was scatter'd long ago.”
“ The lord of the unerring bow,
And majesty, flash their full lightnings by,
Developing in that one glance the deity." He mused within the Coliseum; and, though mingling with his musings the spite of his petty quarrels, his weak hatred of man, and the worse and weaker hatred of woman,—the swelling subterfuge of moral littleness,-yet rising to the rapt vision of the dying athlete :
“I see before me the gladiator lie:
The arena swims around him; he is gone
Were with his heart, and that was far away :
All this rush'd with his blood. Shall he expire,
And unavenged ? Arīse, ye Goths, and glut your ire!” In this instance, the poet's morbid feelings passed into a pure channel, —the thought of his own separation from his child awakening, no doubt,
STRAINS FOR LIBERTY.
a fine sympathy with the gladiator's dismal dying emotions for his young barbarians on the distant Danube.
Passing from Byron's claims as the poet of nature, he has been styled the poet of freedom. Spirited lines have burst from him on this theme :
“Yet, Freedom ! yet thy banner, torn but flying,
Streams like the thunder-storm against the wind;
The loudest still, the tempest leaves behind.” He harped upon the lost liberties of Italy and Greece, and the living liberties of America. Let us look, before rashly welcoming the alliance. The love of freedom with Byron was a sentiment, but it had no depth beyond that; and, when you come to analyze it carefully, its elements are misanthropy and lawlessness. I never hear his tributes to our institutions quoted, without an instinctive regret that any countryman of mine should, in his avidity for foreign flattery, be thus deluded. The name of Washington is met with more than once in Byron's poems in terms of praise : that name is beyond the reach of contamination ; but still I recoil, as if it were profaned, when I contrast the manly, dutiful, genuine spirit of freedom in which he was nursed, with the spurious, fitful, sentimental licentiousness of the poet. When the tribute of a foreigner is rendered to our country or its men, I wish first to know whether that foreigner's heart is true to his own country, and not poisoned with a counterfeit liberality and a morbid hostility to that which nature and wisdom and truth all bid him hold dear. When a man like Southey points to this country as the land
“ Where Washington hath left
His awful memory
A light to after-times ! " the tribute is worth something. But the spirit of freedom which gave that light could not be truly reverenced by one whose heart had grown hard in aristocratic licentiousness; who, running the wild career of profligacy, sought the last stimulant of his morbid tastes in the sentimental luxury of a romantic crusade.
“ The sensual and the dark rebel in vain ;” and I deny the sincerity of Byron's professions and his power of knowing a genuine freedom, from the whole story of his life and mind. The true and the manly part was not a share in petty Italian tumults or in Greek revolutions, but to hold the responsible post at which his birth had placed him; for if, as he proclaimed, the liberties of England were
in danger, the plainer and the stronger was it the duty of one gifted like him to battle for them to the last. That would have been indeed true energy, instead of its gaudy counterfeit in his sentimental recreancy.
If Lord Byron's descriptions of nature and his sense of freedom were imperfect and unequal, his portraiture of human characters is marked with the same imperfections. His imagination could not rise above the range of his own individual and morbid impulses. All his creations were of the same family, and all imaginatively kindred to himself, impersonations of the same moral disease in some or other of its forms, and all betrayed a woeful, wilful ignorance of the better elements of human nature. Coloured by the poet's vivid fancy, they passed for heroes; but strip them of their disguise, their playhouse finery, and there is not one among them who rises—I will not say to the heroic standard, but—even to the level of real manliness. How opposite, it has been well said, * was Shakspeare's conception of a hero !
" Give me that man
In heart's core,-ay, in my heart of hearts. I need scarcely remark that a true idea of the strength and beauty of womanly humanity had no place in Byron's mind. It was almost an unknown world to him, abounding, at the same time, as his poems do, with bright romantic creations of fancy and sentiment. Of these, when placed in situations calling for masculine energy, he gives some striking images, as the description in “Sardanapalus :
“She urged on with her voice and gesture, and
* See preface to Henry Taylor's “Philip Van Artaveldte."