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Returning to mere criticism, we light upon the late ingenious but eccentric author of “ Spirits of the Age”.
XXVI. MR. WILLIAM HAZLITT.
“ Don Juan has, indeed, great power ; but its power is owing to the force of the serious writing, and to the oddity of the contrast between that and the flashy passages with which it is interlarded. From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step. You laugh and are surprised that any one should turn round, and travestie himself: the drollery is in the utter discontinuity of ideas and feelings. He makes virtue serve as a foil to vice; dandyism is (for want of any other) a variety of genius. A classical intoxication is followed by the splashing of soda-water, by frothy effusions of ordinary bile. After the lightning and the hurricane, we are introduced to the interior of the cabin, and the contents of wash-hand basins. The solemn hero of tragedy plays Scrub in the farce. This is very tolerable and not to be endured.' The noble lord is almost the only writer who has prostituted his talents in this way. He hallows in order to desecrate; takes a pleasure in defacing the images of beauty his hands have wrought; and raises our hopes and our belief in goodness to heaven, only to dash them to the earth again, and break them in pieces the more effectually from the very height they have fallen. Our enthusiasm for genius or virtue is thus turned into a jest by the very person who has kindled it, and who thus fatally quenches the sparks of both. It is not that Lord Byron is sometimes serious and sometimes trifling, sometimes profligate and sometimes moral, but when he is most serious and most moral, he is only preparing to mortify the unsuspecting reader by putting a pitiful hoax upon him. This is a most unaccountable anomaly. Don Juan has been called a Tristram Shandy in rhyme : it is rather a poem about itself.”
We find no “ Sir Cosmo Gordon ” in any baronetage of this age, or even in any list of K. B.'s or K.H.'s; but it stands on the titlepage of a book published in 1825, and entitled “ The Life and Genius of Lord Byron." Take, then,
XXVII. SIR COSMO GORDON.
“ At Venice, Lord Byron planned that which, had he lived to complete it, must have been considered as the most daring and the most wonderful of all his works, Don Juan. This work was general in its satire, and warm and glowing in its colouring; and though it had an obvious and important moral, - the absurdity of giving to a young man a secluded and monkish education, in the hope that that would preserve him from tempt. ations, - it excited a great deal of clamour, especially among those upon whom, in the execution of it, the hand of the poet had been heavy. The Don was the most singular and the most original poem that had perhaps ever appeared. It was made up of the most cutting and searching satires
mixed with dissections of the human heart, and delineations of human passion and frailty which were drawn both to and with the life, and therefore threw all those who dreaded exposure into the most serious alarm. There was much more both of politics and of personality in this poem than in any of his former ones, and upon this account, the outcry against it was more loud and general. The stuff of immortality was, however, in the poem, and not a few of those who were offended at its appearance will probably find (if indeed they shall live as long) their only memorials in it, after all which, good or bad, they have done for themselves shall be for. gotten."
The “ West” that follows is not Benjamin, the President, but a young American brother of the brush, who visited Lord Byron in Italy, anno Domini 1822.
XXVIII. WEST. “ He showed me two of the Cantos of Don Juan in manuscript. They were written on large sheets of paper, put together like a schoolboy's copybook. Here and there I observed alterations of words, but seldom of whole lines ; and just so, he told me, it was written down at once. It was all gin, he said ; meaning thereby that he drank nothing but gin when he wrote it. The Guiccioli was present, and said, “she wished my lord would leave off writing that ugly Don Juan.' ' I cannot give up my Don Juan,' he replied ; 'I do not know what I should do without my Don Juan.'»
From “ Lord Byron's Works, viewed in connection with Christianity and the Obligations of Social Life,”. preached in Holland Chapel, Kennington, by the Rev. John Styles, D.D.
-and sold by the Doctor's pew-openers, we now submit a brief extract. We believe Dr. Styles has been familiarised to every reader, by one of the Rev. Sidney Smith's articles in the Edinburgh Review.
XXIX. STYLES. “ Be assured, my Brethren, it is with sorrowful reluctance I feel myself called upon to denounce the greatest genius of the age as the greatest enemy of his species. The poem is one in which the author has put forth all the energy of his wonderful faculties; nor has he written any thing more decisively and triumphantly expressive of the greatness of his genius. It is at once the glory and disgrace of our literature; and will remain to all ages a perpetual monument of the exalted genius and depraved heart of the writer. It is devoted to the worst of purposes and passions; and flow's on in one continued stream of pollution. Its great design seems to be, to shame the good out of their virtues, and to inspire the wicked with the pride of depravity. If, for a moment, the author appears to forget himself, and to suffer his muse to breathe of purity and tenderness - if a touch of humanity, a faint gleam of goodness, awaken our sympathy, he turns upon us with a sneer of contempt; or laughs our sensibility to scorn. Indeed, throughout, we discover the heartless despiser of human nature; - a denaturalised being, who, having exhausted every species of sensual gratification, and drained the cup of sin to its bitterest dregs, is resolved to show that he is no longer human, even in his frailties, but a cool, unconcerned fiend, treating, well-nigh with equal derision, the most pure of virtues and the most odious of vices, dead alike to the beauty of the one and the deformity of the other ; yet possessing a restless spirit of seduction, - de. basing the nobler part of man, that he may more surely bring into action his baser appetites and passions. To accomplish this, he has lavished all the wiles of his wit, all the enchantments of his genius. In every page the poet is a libertine; and the most unexceptionable passages are mildewed with impurity. The cloven foot of the libidinous satyr is monstrously associated with the angel-wing of genius. –
I'd rather be the wretch that scrawls
to serve the cause of vice,
Comes, looks, and feels himself undone.' O, my Brethren! how I wish that the style of this discourse could be less accusatory and severe!'
The “ Letter of Cato to Lord Byron,” next to be quoted, attracted considerable notice; and was, we know not whether justly or unjustly, ascribed to the pen of the Rev. George Croly, D.D., Rector of Romford, in Essex author of “ Paris in 1815," a poem
-“ Pride shall have a Fall, a Comedy,” “ Catiline, a Tragedy,” - Salathiel, a Romance,". “ Life of George the Fourth,” “ Comment on the Apocalypse,” &c. &c. &c.
“ Whatever your principles, no page of any of your writings has contri. buted to the security or the adornment of virtue. Have you not offended against decency? and repudiated shame? Have you not represented almost every woman as a harlot ? How your fame will stand with pos. terity, it would be idle to speculate upon. It is not improbable that some. thing like the doubt which crossed the mind of the senate, whether they should pronounce their deceased emperor a tyrant or a god, will perplex the judgment of succeeding generations as to the credit and character of your poetry. They will hardly know if they shall deify or desecrate a genius so majestic, degrading itself by subjects and sentiments so repulsive. With an insane partiality, we are undervaluing our standard writers, and placing licentious drivellers in their room. The Shakspeares and Miltons of better days are superseded by the Byrons and Shelleys, the Hunts and Moores of our own : but let us hope that the garbage which the present generation luxuriates upon, posterity will nauseate and cast upon the dunghill. With such a teacher as you have shown yourself, how is it possible for the disciples of your school to be any other than most vicious beings ? He who brutalises every feeling that gives dignity to social, every principle that imparts comfort to domestic, life – he who represents all chastity as visionary, and all virtue as vile, is not entitled to be consi. dered as a man – he is a living literary monster.”.
The ensuing paragraphs are from a writer who affixes to his lucubration the initials W. C-; but with whose full na and surname we have, after much diligence, failed to make ourselves acquainted.
XXXI. ANON. “ It is to Don Juan, the last of Lord Byron's productions, that he will owe his immortality. It is his only work which excels by its allurement and delight; by its power of attracting and detaining attention. It keeps the mind in pleasing captivity; it is perused with eagerness, and, in hopes of new pleasure, is perused again. The wild and daring sallies of sentiment with which it abounds, the irregular and eccentric violence of wit which pervades every canto, excite at once astonishment and enthusiasm. The original humour, the peculiarity expression, the incidents, the circumstances, the surprises, the jests of action and of thought, the shades of light and darkness so exquisitely intermingled, impart a peculiarity of character to the work, which places it above all modern, above all ancient fame. Indeed, if we except the sixteen satires of Juvenal, there is nothing in antiquity so bitter or so decisive, as the sixteen cantos of Don Juan. The Roman satirist exhibits a mixture of dignity and aversion, of hatred and invective; the English censor displays a contempt of the various relations of society, of the hypocrisies, the tumults, and the agitations of life. Juvenal disdains to wield the feeble weapon of ridicule - Byron delights to mix seriousness with merriment, and thoughts purely jocular with sentiments of exasperation and revenge. Juvenal is never patheticByron, when he arrives at this species of excellence, destroys its effect by effusions of ridicule or insensibility. Both poets, however, exhibit the same ebullitions of resentment against the miserable victims which they sacrifice to their fury - the same scorn for mankind - and the same vehe. mence in depicting their crimes, passions, and follies. Both attack existing villany, strike at corruption and profligacy, and trample upon the turpitude and baseness of high life. Both are grave, intrepid, and implacable. If at any time they relax the sternness of their manner, they never forget themselves. They sometimes smile, indeed, but their smile is more terrible than their frown: it is never excited but when their in. dignation is mingled with contempt. — Don Juan will be read as long as satire, wit, mirth, and supreme excellence shall be esteemed among men: it will continue to enchain every affection and emotion of the mind; and every reader, when he arrives at its conclusion, will view it with an eye of sorrow, such as the traveller casts on departing day."
Another (or the same) Mr. Anon., in a work, in three volumes 8vo., London, 1825, entitled “ The Life, Writings, Opinions, and Times of Lord Byron,” thus observes
XXXII. ANON. (Second.) “ There are few readers, male or female, young or old, who do not remember, or will blush to acknowledge their acquaintance with, Marmontel's Tales. In one of the best of them, a rustic swain and nymph, in sheer simplicity of heart, but prompted by the impulse of nature, commit exactly the same fault as poor Don Juan and Haidée; the fault of nature rather than the effect of human depravity. For the scenes in the Turkish harem, we may find a parallel in that fashionable work the Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,' in a hundred books of travels, and in a thousand volumes of novels and romances, the peculiar companions by day, and the pillow associates by night, of most of the fair sex. For the intrigues of the Empress Catharine of Russia, one may consult very grave historians out of number; and there is not one, who has treated on that subject, who has passed over so remarkable a trait in her character. But all at once the accumulated torrent of obloquy is poured forth upon the devoted head of Lord Byron! Well — he despised it, and justly he might do so: it will never tarnish a leaf of his laurels. Every man who has once read Don Juan, if he ingenuously confesses the truth, will feel inclined to peruse it again and again. If Byron's works be proscribed on the score of want of decency, it will be necessary to sweep off one half of English literature at once, as libri expurgati. But Byron was a proscribed poet with the puritanical moralists, or exclusively good
A third " Anon.” meets us in the Author of " Don John; or Don Juan unmasked; being a Key to the Mystery at