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before he published these lines, he was greatly, nay indeed, childishly elated, by the compliments paid to his maiden speech in the House of Lords.
We are far, however, from thinking that his sadness was altogether feigned. He was naturally a man of great sensibility: he had been ill-educated; his feelings had been early exposed to sharp trials; he had been crossed in his boyish love; he had been mortified by the failure of his first literary efforts; he was straitened in pecuniary circumstances; he was unfortunate in his domestic relations; the public treated him with cruel injustice; his health and spirits suffered from his dissipated habits of life; he was, on the whole, an unhappy man. He early discovered that, by parading his unhappiness before the multitude, he excited an unrivalled interest. The world gave him encouragement to talk about his mental sufferings. The effect which his first confessions produced, induced him to affect much that he did not feel: and the affectation probably reacted on his feelings. How far the character in which he exhibited himself was genuine, and how far theatrical, would probably have puzzled himself to say.
What our grandchildren may think of the character of Lord Byron, as exhibited in his poetry, we will not pretend to guess. It is certain, that the interest which he excited during his life, is without a parallel in literary history. The feeling with which young readers of poetry regarded him, can be conceived only by those who have experienced it. To people who are unacquainted with real calamity, "nothing is so dainty sweet as lovely melancholy." This faint image of sorrow has in all ages been considered by young gen
tlemen, as an agreeable excitement. Old gentlemen, and middle-aged gentlemen have so many real causes of sadness, that they are rarely inclined "to be as sad as night, only for wantonness." Indeed, they want the power, almost as much as the inclination. We know very few persons engaged in active life, who, even if they were to procure stools to be melancholy upon, and were to sit down with all the premeditation of Master Stephen, would be able to enjoy much of what somebody calls the "ecstasy of wo."
Among the large class of young persons, whose reading is almost entirely confined to works of imagination, the popularity of Lord Byron was unbounded. They bought pictures of him, they treasured up the smallest relics of him; they learned his poems by heart, and did their best to write like him, and to look like him. Many of them practised at the glass in the hope of catching the curl of the upper lip, and the scowl of the brow, which appear in some of his portraits. A few discarded their neckcloths in imitation of their great leader. For some years, the Minerva press sent forth no novel without a mysterious, unhappy, Lara-like peer. The number of hopeful undergraduates, and medical students who became things of dark imaginings, on whom the freshness of the heart ceased to fall like dew, whose passions had consumed themselves to dust, and to whom the relief of tears was denied, passes all calculation. This was not the worst. There was created in the minds of many of these enthusiasts, a pernicious and absurd association between intellectual power and moral depravity. From the poetry of Lord Byron they drew a system of ethics, compounded of misanthropy and voluptuousness.
This affectation has passed away; and a few more years will destroy whatever yet remains of that magical potency which once belonged to the name of Byron. To us he is still a man, young, noble, and unhappy. To our children he will be merely a writer; and their impartial judgment will appoint his place among writers, without regard to his rank or to his private history. That his poetry will undergo a severe sifting; that much of what has been admired by his contemporaries, will be rejected as worthless, we have little doubt. But we have as little doubt, that after the closest scrutiny, there will still remain much that can only perish with the English language.
Character of Washington.
How grateful the relief which the friend of mankind, the lover of virtue, experiences, when, turning from the contemplation of such a character as Napoleon, his eye rests upon the greatest man of our own or any age; -the only one upon whom an epithet so thoughtlessly lavished by men, to foster the crimes of their worst enemies, may be innocently and justly bestowed! In Washington we truly behold a marvellous contrast to almost every one of the endowments and the vices which we have been contemplating; and which are so well fitted to excite a mingled admiration, and sorrow, and abhorrence.
With none of that brilliant genius which dazzles ordinary minds; with not even any remarkable quickness of apprehension; with knowledge less than almost all persons in the middle ranks, and many well educated of the humbler classes, possess; this eminent person is presented to our observation, clothed in attributes as modest, as unpretending, as little calculated to strike or to astonish, as if he had passed unknown through some secluded region of private life. But he had a judgment sure and sound: a steadiness of mind which never suffered any passion, or even any feeling to ruffle its calm; a strength of understanding which worked rather than forced its way through all obstacles—removing or avoiding rather than overleaping them.
If profound sagacity, unshaken steadiness of purpose, the entire subjugation of all the passions which carry havoc through ordinary minds, and oftentimes lay waste the fairest prospects of greatness-nay, the discipline of those feelings which are wont to lull or to seduce genius, and to mar and to cloud over the aspect of virtue herself-joined with, or rather leading to the most obstinate self-denial, the most habitual and exclusive devotion to principle-if these things can constitute a great character, without either quickness of apprehension, or resources of information, or inventive powers, or any brilliant quality that might dazzle the vulgar-then surely Washington was the greatest man that ever lived in this world uninspired by Divine wisdom, and unsustained by supernatural virtue.
His courage, whether in battle or in council, was as perfect as might be expected from this pure and steady temper of soul. A perfect just man, with a thoroughly firm resolution never to be misled by
others, any more than to be by others overawed; never to be seduced or betrayed, or hurried away by his own weaknesses or self-delusions, any more than by other men's arts; nor ever to be disheartened by the most complicated difficulties, any more than to be spoilt on the giddy heights of fortune-such was this great man-great, pre-eminently great, whether we regard him sustaining alone the whole weight of campaigns all but desperate, or gloriously terminating a just warfare by his resources and his courage-presiding over the jarring elements of his political council, alike deaf to the storms of all extremes-or directing the formation of a new government for a great people, the first time that so vast an experiment had ever been tried by man-or finally retiring from the supreme power to which his virtue had raised him over the nation he had created, and whose destinies he had guided as long as his aid was required-retiring with the veneration of all parties, of all nations, of all mankind, in order that the rights of men might be conserved, and that his example never might be appealed to by vulgar tyrants.
This is the consummate glory of Washington; a triumphant warrior where the most sanguine had a right to despair; a successful ruler in all the difficulties of a course wholly untried; but a warrior, whose sword only left its sheath when the first law of our nature commanded it to be drawn; and a ruler who, having tasted of supreme power, gently and unostentatiously desired that the cup might pass from him, nor would suffer more to wet his lips than the most solemn and sacred duty to his country and his God required?