LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Hugh Swinton Legaré]
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
The Southern Review  Vol. 5  No. 10  (May 1830)  463-522.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH



MAY, 1830

Art. VII.—Letters and Journals of Lord Byron; with Notices of his Life. By Thomas Moore. In 2 vols. Vol. I. 4to. New-York. J. &, J. Harper. 1830.

The same inordinate curiosity about this work, which, as we are assured, made it absolutely necessary to publish it by piece-meal, will be a sufficient justification for a critical notice of it in its present incomplete state. It is, however, not without some degree of reluctance, that we hazard an opinion as to its merits, before we have fairly heard the author out with his story. The end not only “crowns the work,” as the proverb expresses it, but it does something more. It explains, illustrates, reconciles all the parts, and, by discovering fully their relation to each other and to the whole, often shews the fitness and propriety of what, perhaps, at first appeared questionable or unsatisfactory. We are the more disposed to give Mr. Moore the full benefit of this concession, because we humbly conceive that he stands in need of it. We are free to confess that we have risen from the perusal of this volume with a very decided feeling of disappointment, to use no stronger expression. That our expectations—the Life of Sheridan to the contrary notwithstanding—had been raised to no ordinary pitch, we readily admit; and some allowances ought, doubtless, to be made on that score. But how should it have been otherwise? The few notices we had seen of the book from the English press, were of the most flattering kind, and, independently of these, there was every thing about the author’s character and situation—the unhappy failure just alluded to always excepted—to excite the liveliest hopes for the success of the present very popular undertaking. We knew that the “noble poet” had been as intimate with Mr. Moore, as his extreme jealousy and shyness would allow him to be with any body. We knew, further, that our author had been made by Lord Byron himself, the depositary of certain MSS. of such deep and mysterious import, that it was deemed, for the benefit of all concerned—except the gentleman who made this sacrifice—to consign them to the flames. This act of considerate and lofty disinterestedness, as it has always been represented to have been, was, on many accounts, calculated to awaken great interest in the present work. To have had it in his power to make such a sacrifice, was, one would think, no small advantage to a biographer. However false may have been Lord Byron’s representations of the con-
464Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
duct of others, in this Black Book—however atrocious and unscrupulous his hostility to those who had offended or thwarted or defied him—he both loved himself and knew himself thoroughly; nor is it possible that he should not have impressed the image of his whole character, that he should not have breathed out his inmost soul, upon every page of that dark record of hate and wrath. We drew a not less favourable inference from the spirit, by which Mr. Moore was supposed to have been actuated in that affair. He had sacrificed, when in distress, two or three thousand pounds, (so the story went) rather than be accessory to the publication of such “perilous stuff” as the posthumous libel was made up of. He was a man, therefore, neither to be bribed by any pecuniary interest of his own, nor to be induced by any overweening partiality for his friend, to be the instrument of his malignity, or to spare his vices. We certainly expected from such a man, something different from the awkward, glozing, parasitical apology which he has given to the public, under the equivocal title of “Notices of the Life of Lord Byron”—to say nothing of a determined propensity for bookmaking which appears in it. We repeat it: we may see cause to change or at least to qualify our opinion of the whole work, when the rest of it shall have been published. But for the present, the impression left upon our minds is, that it is just such a full, frank, and manly statement of the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as a jury at the sessions is likely to hear from a hackneyed advocate in a desperate cause.

We have heard it remarked, as something favourable to this work, that it is a rare example of the biography of a great poet, written by one of the most distinguished of his compeers. In general, that would be any thing but a recommendation; since the life of one literary man is, according to a trite remark, always a dull subject for another, and the only advantage which a poet, as such, could have in treating his theme, would be not the most auspicious, in the world, to historical accuracy. Yet, whether the subject was fortunate in his biographer or not, in the present instance, the biographer was incontestably most fortunate in his subject. Lord Byron’s life was not a literary, or cloistered and scholastic life. He had lived generally in the world, and always and entirely for the world. The amat nemus et fugit urbes, which has been predicated of the whole tuneful tribe, was, only in a qualified sense, a characteristic of his. If he sought seclusion, it was not for the retired leisure or the sweet and innocent tranquility of a country-life. His retreats were rather like that of Tiberius at Capreæ—the gloomy solitude of misanthropy and remorse, hiding its despair in darkness, or seeking to stupify
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.465
and drown it in vice and debauchery. But even when he fled from the sight of men, it was only that he might be sought after the more, and in the depths of his hiding-places, as was long ago remarked of
Timon of Athens, he could not live without vomiting forth the gall of his bitterness, and sending abroad most elaborate curses in good verse, to be admired of the very wretches whom he affected to despise. He lived in the world, and for the world—nor is it often that a career so brief, affords to biography so much impressive incident, or that the folly of an undisciplined and reckless spirit has assumed such a motley wear, and played off, before God and Man, so many extravagant and fantastical antics.

On the other hand, there was, amidst all its irregularities, something strangely interesting, something, occasionally, even grand and imposing in Lord Byron’s character and mode of life. His whole being was, indeed, to a remarkable degree, extraordinary, fanciful, and fascinating. All that drew upon him the eyes of men, whether for good or evil—his passions and his genius, his enthusiasm and his woe, his triumphs and his downfall—sprang from the same source, a feverish temperament, a burning, distempered, insatiable imagination; and these, in their turn, acted most powerfully upon the imagination and the sensibility of others. We well remember a time—it is not more than two lustres ago—when we could never think of him ourselves but as an ideal being—a creature, to use his own words, “of loneliness and mystery”—moving about the earth like a troubled spirit, and even when in the midst of men, not of them. The enchanter’s robe which he wore, seemed to disguise his person, and, like another famous sorcerer and sensualist—
———he hurled
His dazzling spells into the spungy air
Of pow’r to cheat the eye with blear illusion
And give it false presentments.
It has often occurred to us, as we have seen
Sir Walter Scott diligently hobbling up to his daily task in the Parliament House at Edinburgh, and still more when we have gazed upon him for hours seated down at his clerk’s desk, with a countenance of most demure and business-like formality, to contrast him, in that situation, with the only man, who had not been, at the time, totally overshadowed and eclipsed by his genius. It was, indeed, a wonderful contrast! Never did two such men—competitors in the highest walks of creative imagination and deep pathos—present such a strange antithesis of moral character, and do-
466Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
mestic habits and pursuits, as Walter Scott at home, and Lord Byron abroad. It was the difference between prose and poetry—between the dullest realities of existence and an incoherent, though powerful and agitating romance—between a falcon trained to the uses of a domestic bird, and, instead of “towering in her pride of place,” brought to stoop at the smallest quarry, and to wait upon a rude sportsman’s bidding like a menial servant—and some savage, untamed eagle, who, after struggling with the bars of his cage, until his breast was bare and bleeding with the agony, had flung himself forth, once more, upon the gale, and was again chasing before him the “whole herd of timorous and flocking birds,” and making his native Alps, through all their solitudes, ring to his boding and wild scream. Lord Byron’s pilgrimages to distant and famous lands—especially his first—heightened this effect of his genius and of his very peculiar mode of existence.
Madame de Staël ascribes it to the good fortune or the deep policy of Napoleon, that he had succeeded in associating his name with some of those objects which have, through all time, most strongly impressed the imaginations of men, with the Pyramids, the Alps, the Holy Land, &c. Byron had the same advantage. His muse, like Horace’s image of Care, mounted with him the steed and the gondola, the post-chaise and the packet-ship. His poems are, in a manner, the journals and common-place books of the wandering Childe. Thus, it is slated or hinted that a horrible incident, like that upon which the Giaour turns, had nearly taken place within Byron’s own observation while in the East. His sketches of the sublime and beautiful in nature, seem to be mere images, or, so to express it, shadows thrown down upon his pages from the objects which he visited, only coloured and illumined with such feelings, reflections and associations as they naturally awaken in contemplative and susceptible minds. His early visit to Greece, and the heartfelt enthusiasm with which he dwelt upon her loveliness even “in her age of woe”—upon the glory which once adorned, and that which might still await her—have identified him with her name, in a manner which subsequent events have made quite remarkable. His poetry, when we read it over again, seems to breathe of “the sanctified phrenzy of prophecy and inspiration.” He now appears to have been the herald of her resuscitation. The voice of lamentation which he sent forth over Christendom, was as if it had issued from all her caves, fraught with the woe and the wrongs of ages, and the deep vengeance which at length awoke—and not in vain! In expressing ourselves as we have done upon this subject, it is to us a melancholy reflection that our language is far more suit-
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.467
able to what we have felt, than to what we now feel, in reference to the life and character of Lord Byron. The last years of that life—the wanton, gross, and often dull and feeble ribaldry of some of his latest productions, broke the spell which he had laid upon our souls; and we are by no means sure, that we have not, since, yielded too much to the disgust and aversion which follow disenchantment like its shadow.

The task of Mr. Moore was, in one respect, beset by a very extraordinary difficulty. This we have already alluded to, and it may be still more pointedly summed up in the remark which has been so frequently made, that all Lord Byron’s poems were, in some sort, auto-biographical.* He was himself, as our author remarks, uniformly the dark sublime he drew. Whatever the subject or the scene, the gloom of his desolate spirit fell in the same broad shadow over the picture. His heroes are all cast in one mould, and the standard of character and conduct which he sets up in his poetry, as we shall presently shew, was precisely what he aimed at in his life. At first, it seems, he treated this opinion as wholly unfounded, and lamented the fate of genius, if it were called to account, in its own person, for whatever, in its surveys of man and of nature, it might conceive of guilt and crime. His defence was, the trivial one which has been set up for Macchiavelli, and with very much the same degree of reason and propriety. It soon, however, became apparent to his readers, as it does to those of the great political Mephistopheles, that he painted con amore. One work after another, bore evidence of this, until in the two last Cantos of Childe Harold, the noble poet scarcely took the trouble to hold up the mask, to that sardonic and withering countenance, “thrice changed with pale, ire, envy and despair,” which was become so familiar to mankind.† It was this circumstance, indeed—besides their own merit—that for some time excited so powerful an interest in his works. It was, as if they who read, were listening to accents of living anguish—the breathings, deep and intense as if they had been vented in the solitude of the bed-chamber, of a wounded and wronged spirit in its agony. The charm which has been felt to attach to auto-biography, in every shape, for the supposed truth of its revelations, was heightened here, as in the confessions of Rous-
* Or “auto-graphical,” rather, “self-painting.”
† “I would gladly—or, rather, sorrowfully—comply with your request of a dirge for the poor girl you mention. But how can I write on one I have never seen or known? Besides, you will do it much better yourself. I could not write upon any thing, without some personal experience and foundation; far less on a theme so peculiar. Now, you have both in this case, and, if you had neither, you have more imagination, and would never fail.”—Letter ccxxxii. to Moore, p. 460.
468Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
seau, by the extraordinary peculiarities of the man, and the wizzard tones of genius. It was not only the laying bare, as in tragedy, of that Hell, to use Lord Byron’s own expression, the human bosom, with all the furies that possess it—its fiercest and fellest passions, in most vehement agitation and conflict—a spectacle so attractive, that all ages have assigned to it, with one consent, nothing less than the very highest place among the achievements of creative mind. It was a living man, equally favoured, according to the vulgar estimate, by nature and by fortune—too young, one would have thought, to have experienced the ills of life, or too high to be reached by them—that uttered these ravings, so strangely wild and melancholy, “were ne’er prophetic sounds so full of woe.” At the same time, his whole life and demeanour, as we have remarked before, were calculated to increase the curiosity excited by his writings. The singularities which really distinguished them, were exaggerated by report. Every thing about this solitary heir of an old Norman line, and lord of an antique, ruined pile—still of the same venerable aspect as when its cloisters were the last refuge of the broken-heart, and the quiet nursery of holy thoughts, but now desecrated, it was rumoured, by midnight revelry and the nameless abominations of sin and folly—administered to the vulgar appetite for the marvellous—“and then,” to use the words of the poet himself, in his picture of “Lara”—
———his rarely called attendants said,
Thro’ nights long hours would sound his hurried tread,
O’er the dark gallery, where his father’s frowned,
In rude but antique portraiture around;
They heard, but whispered—“that must not be known—
The sound of words less earthly than his own.
Yes, they who chose might smile, but some had seen
They scarce knew what, but more than should have been.
Why gazed he so upon the ghastly head,
Which hands profane had gathered from the dead, &c.*

It is not wonderful that public curiosity should have been always alive about such a man, and that all his movements should have been (as they were) studiously watched and reported. Accordingly, there is no end, whether in print or in conversation, to “anecdotes of Lord Byron.” In short, we had heard so much of him from himself and from others, and what we had heard was so full of interest and mystery, so extraordinary, so exciting, that we fell upon Mr. Moore’s publication with an eagerness scarcely conceivable. We expected it to prove
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.469
the most interesting of biographical works—at least, “to rival all but ‘
Boswells book’ below.” But the very circumstances which had excited these expectations, were most unfavourable to the fulfilment of them; and it may be, that no writer could have compiled a Life of Lord Byron, which should have come up to our hopes, or fallen in with our preconceived opinions.

The title of the work is strictly accurate. It is “the letters and journals of Lord Byron with notices of his life.” The staple of the book is all Byron’s as our readers will readily conceive when we inform them that it contains no less than 240 epistles (good and bad) of the poet’s, with a great deal of miscellaneous matter from his other MSS. and his every day tittle-tattle picked up in conversation by his friends. His biographer has done little more than string his materials together in the order to which he has chosen to reduce them. This he has, for the most part, done as such things are always done, by a few sentences of narrative or explanation; but he takes care whenever occasion serves, to paint all couleur de rose, with many a gloss at intervals, and now and then a set dissertation or excursus, in a style of most laboured philosophical rhetoric. Indeed, we must remark upon the style throughout, that nothing seems more unaccountable to us than the great encomiums which (as we are informed) have been passed upon it by the English journals. It appears to us the stiffest and most pompous we have ever met with in a work of the kind—a tissue of heavy brocade. Mr. Moore seems to have been frightened out of all confidence in himself, by the criticisms on his Life of Sheridan. He was, clearly, not at his ease in composing; and, as a matter of course, the composition has neither grace nor nature in it. In avoiding one evil he has run into another. Instead of the poetical license, the redundancy of figurative language and such like blemishes, which deformed the diction of the Life of Sheridan, he has given us here a specimen of dull and pedantic formality. We were often struck with the contrast between Byron’s letters, written with the greatest possible vivacity and abandon, and the elaborate prosing that comes after them. We can compare it to nothing except it be going out of the elastic open air in a bright October day, into the atmosphere of a close and crowded room. In taking these steps from the author to the commentator, we occasionally experienced a sensation which strongly reminded us of suffocation. Yet there are some passages—some score or two of pages, it may be—in which Mr. Moore has been more felicitous, and, which are indeed, quite worthy of his poetical reputation.—
470Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
We shall have occasion to refer to at least one of these in the sequel.

Lord Byron’s prose style has always appeared to us excellent. We have read few things with greater satisfaction in every point of view, but especially in this, than his famous letter to Murray on the Pope and Bowles controversy. The besetting sin of his poetry, as we shall have to remark when we come to it, was exaggeration and effort; but nothing can be more offhand, dashing and lively than his prose. He expresses himself with all the freedom of literary table talk, and one is surprised to find a man of so much and such extraordinary genius, as remarkable as the best of his contemporaries, for that strong common sense, and shrewd cleverness which have not always been attributes of the most gifted spirits. His opinions in literature too, meet in general, our heartiest concurrence—except that we do not see why he has so unbounded an admiration for the “Pleasures of Memory,” and think also, that he overrates the “Pleasures of Hope.” His defence of Pope, against the modern Grub-Street, as he expresses it himself, had been worthy of all praise, had he gone a little farther and only gibbetted a few of that great man’s detractors in another Dunciad, as an offering to his offended manes. Having tried his own hand at satire, with some degree of success, Byron was the better able to appreciate the matchless excellence of Pope, in his peculiar walk. We must observe, however, as to some of the opinions advanced by the noble poet in the volume before us, that they were those of a very young man, and were no doubt subsequently corrected by “sage experience.” One instance of this is expressly noticed by Mr. Moore, and as the change respected the merits of Petrarch, who is rather a pet with us, we saw it with a lively satisfaction. Many, very many of these letters are far from being remarkable in any respect, and we are satisfied that there is much more interesting and characteristic matter to be found in the unpublished correspondence of Lord Byron, as may possibly appear from the subsequent volume of Mr. Moore. We confess, however, we have sad misgivings upon this subject, and doubt very much whether biography in the hands of so tender a friend as our author, will at all answer the purpose, strongly expressed by Dryden in his own way, of exhibiting the poor erring being “as naked as ever nature made him.” The following extracts are submitted as specimens of that we think Lord Byron’s happiest manner.

In a letter to Mr. Dallas, he refers to the death of a young man of whom be repeatedly speaks in the same exalted terms.
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.471
It was written shortly before the publication of the first two Cantos of
Childe Harold.

“Newstead Abbey, September 7th, 1811.

“As Gifford has been ever my ‘Magnus Apollo,’ any approbation, such as you mention, would, of course, be more welcome than ‘all Bokara’s vaunted gold, than all the gems of Samarkand.’ But I am sorry the MS. was shown to him in such a manner, and I had written to Murray to say as much, before I was aware that it was too late.

“Your objection to the expression ‘central line,’ I can only meet by saying that, before Childe Harold left England, it was his full intention to traverse Persia, and return by India, which he could not have done without passing the equinoctial.

“The other errors you mention, I must correct in the progress through the press. I feel honoured by the wish of such men that the poem should be continued, but to do that, I must return to Greece and Asia; I must have a warm sun and a blue sky; I cannot describe scenes so dear to me by a sea-coal fire. I had projected an additional Canto when I was in the Troad and Constantinople, and if I saw them again, it would go on; but under existing circumstances and sensations, I have neither harp, ‘heart, nor voice’ to proceed. I feel that you are all right as to the metaphysical part; but I also feel that I am sincere, and that if I am only to write ‘ad captandum vulgus,’ I might as well edit a magazine at once, or spin canzonettas for Vauxhull.

* * * * *

“My work must make its way as well as it can; I know I have every thing against me, angry poets and prejudices; but if the poem is a poem, it will surmount these obstacles, and if not, it deserves it fate. Your friend’s Ode I have read—it is no great compliment to pronounce it far superior to S * * ’s on the same subject, or to the merits of the new Chancellor. It is evidently the production of a man of taste, and a poet, though I should not be willing to say it was fully equal to what might be expected from the author of ‘Horæ Ionicæ.’ I thank you for it, and that is more than I would do for any other Ode of the present day.

“I am very sensible of your good wishes, and, indeed, I have need of them. My whole life has been at variance with propriety, not to say decency; my circumstances are become involved; my friends are dead or estranged, and my existence a dreary void. In Matthews I have lost my ‘guide, philosopher, and friend;’ in Wingfield a friend only, but one whom I could have wished to have preceded in his long journey.

Matthews was indeed an extraordinary man; it has not entered into the heart of a stranger to conceive such a man; there was the stamp of immortality in all he said or did; and now what is he? When we see such men pass away and be no more—men, who seem created to display what the Creator could make his creatures, gathered into corruption, before the maturity of minds that might have been the pride of posterity, what are we to conclude? For my own part I am bewildered. To me he was much, to Hobhouse every thing. My poor Hob-
472Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
house doted on Matthews. For me, I did not love quite so much as I honoured him; I was indeed so sensible of his infinite superiority, that though I did not envy, I stood in awe of it. He, Hobhouse,
Davies, and myself, formed a coterie of our own at Cambridge and elsewhere. Davies is a wit and man of the world, and feels as much as such a character can do; but not as Hobhouse has been affected. Davies, who is not a scribbler, has always beaten us all in the war of words, and by his colloquial powers at once delighted and kept us in order. H. and myself always had the worst of it with the other two; and even M. yielded to the dashing vivacity of S. D. But I am talking to you of men, or boys, as if you cared about such beings.”—p. 219.

We subjoin the following dated at Patras, 1810, to his friend Hodgson. It is extremely sprightly, and one of the most characteristic in the whole collection. The line printed in italics reveals that horror of being ranked with mere authors which he always felt or affected. Mr. Moore admits it has been justly said of him that “he was prouder of being a descendant of the Byrons of Normandy, who accompanied William the Conqueror into England, than of having been the author of Childe Harold and Manfred.” But of that more anon.

“Since I left Constantinople, I have made a tour of the Morea, and visited Vely Pacha, who paid me great honours and gave me a pretty stallion. H. is doubtless in England before even the date of this letter—bears a despatch from me to your hardship. He writes to me from Malta, and requests my journal, if I keep one. I have none, or he should have it; but I have replied, in a consolitary and exhortatory epistle, praying him to abate three and sixpence in the price of his next Boke, seeing that half a guinea is a price not to be given for any thing save an opera ticket.

“As for England, it is so long since I have heard from it. Every one at all connected with my concerns is asleep, and you are my only correspondent, agents excepted. I have really no friends in the world: though all my old school-companions are gone forth into that world, and walk about there in monstrous disguises, in the garb of guardsmen, lawyers, parsons, fine gentlemen, and such other masquerade dresses. So, I here shake hands and cut with all these busy people, none of whom write to me. Indeed, I ask it not;—and here I am, a poor traveller and heathenish philosopher, who hath perambulated the greatest part of the Levant, and seen a great quantity of very improvable land and sea, and, after all, am no better than when I set out—Lord help me!

“I have been out fifteen months this very day, and I believe my concerns will draw me to England soon; but of this I will apprize you regularly from Malta. On all points, Hobhouse will inform you, if you are curious as to our adventures. I have seen some old English papers up to the 15th of May. I see the ‘Lady of the Lake’ advertised. Of course it is in his old ballad style, and pretty. After all, Scott is the best of them. The end of all scribblement is to amuse, and he certainly succeeds there. I long to read his new romance.

Lord Byron’s Character and Writings. 473

“And how does ‘Sir Edgar?’ and your friend, Bland? I suppose you are involved in some literary squabble. The only way is to despise all brothers of the quill. I suppose you won’t allow me to be an author, but I contemn you all, you dogs!—I do.

“You don’t know D—s, do you? He had a farce ready for the stage before I left England, and asked me for a prologue, which I promised, but sailed in such a hurry I never penned a couplet. I am afraid to ask after his drama, for fear it should be damned—Lord forgive me for using such a word!—but the pit, sir, you know, the pit—they will do those things, in spite of merit. I remember this farce from a curious circumstance. When Drury-lane was burnt to the ground, by which accident Sheridan and his son lost the few remaining shillings they were worth, what doth my friend D—— do? Why, before the fire was out, he writes a note to Tom Sheridan, the manager of this combustible concern, to inquire whether this farce was not converted into fuel, with about two thousand other unactable manuscripts, which of course were in great peril, if not actually consumed. Now, was not this characteristic—the ruling passions of Pope are nothing to it. Whilst the poor distracted manager was bewailing the loss of a building only worth £300,000, together with some twenty thousand pounds of rags and tinsel in the tiring rooms, Blue-beard’s elephants, and all that—in comes a note from a scorching author, requiring at his hands two acts and odd scenes of a farce!!

“Dear H., remind Drury that I am his well-wisher, and let Scrope Davies be well affected towards me. I look forward to meeting you at Newstead and renewing our old champagne evenings with all the glee of anticipation. I have written by every opportunity, and expect responses as regular as those of the liturgy, and somewhat longer. As it is impossible for a man in his senses to hope for happy days, let us at least look forward to merry ones, which come nearest to the other in appearance, if not in reality; and in such expectations I remain, &c.”—pp. 182, 183.

We would remark further in reference to Lord Byron’s talents, as what he calls “a proser,” (his rather ungracious name for a writer of any sort of prose) that we think his first speech in the House of Lords, a very promising debut for so young a man. Still it is questionable, whether he could have succeeded as a public speaker—we mean in that particular assembly. That the same genius which gave him so great a mastery of the human heart in his poetry, might easily have been trained to the most sublime eloquence of the popular assembly, we have no doubt. We do not believe in the trivial maxim—poeta nascitur, orator fit, as it is commonly understood. No man can make himself an orator in the proper sense of that word. The eloquence which fires and melts the hearts of men, is at least as much an affair of temperament as of discipline. But in addition to the sensibility and genius which are requisite for suc-
474Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
cess in poetical composition, a great public speaker must have dramatic talents of the highest order; and the advantages of a fine voice and expressive countenance if not indispensable, are at least very important. How far this latter class of requisites were to be found in Lord Byron, we have no means of judging.
Mr. Moore attributes the comparative failure of his subsequent efforts, (for he spoke three times) to what he calls his sing-song delivery. The truth is, no doubt, that Byron wrote his speeches before they were pronounced, and having committed them to memory, repeated them by rote like a Harrow-boy reciting his lesson. This defect in his delivery, so disagreeable and destructive of all effect in public speaking, might have been corrected in any other assembly than the House of Lords. The touch of nature and passion, would have operated upon Byron (had he become a man of business) in his oratory, as it did in his poetry, like Ithuriel’s spear. Had he been forced out, in our public assemblies, after a little training at the bar, or without that training, had great and agitating questions arisen in the land, his soul would have flashed forth with all its smothered fires, and the puny reciter of memorized common-place, suddenly transformed into an orator, “collecting all his might, dilated stood.” But no such metamorphosis could possibly have taken place in the House of Lords; the very last place in any country enjoying the advantages of representative government, in which any thing like eloquence can originate. The languid, monotonous and somniferous dignity of that assembly would have chilled even Byron into mediocrity.

We proceed now to make some remarks upon his moral character and bis poetical genius and works. But first, a word about his biographer.

Mr. Moore’s account of the affair which made him for life, Lord Byron’s most grateful and devoted friend, (for so let him be called, per euphemismum) and, consequently, the author of this book, is one of the most amusing things in the volume. Every body who has read the English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, remembers the following lines with the note appended to them.
“Health to great Jeffrey! Heaven preserve his life,
To flourish on the fertile shores of Fife,
And guard it sacred in his future wars,
Since authors sometimes seek the field of Mars.
Can none remember that eventful day,
That ever glorious, almost fatal fray,
When Little’s leadless pistol met his eye,
And Bow-street myrmidons stood laughing by?”

Then comes the note.

“In 1806, Messrs. Jeffrey and Moore met at Chalk Farm. The duel was prevented by the interference of the magistracy; and, on examination, the balls of the pistols, like the courage of the combatants, were found to have evaporated. This incident gave occasion to much waggery in the daily prints.”

The quizzing and pleasantry which this awkward specimen of chivalry, (as it was represented) thus gave rise to, led Mr. Moore to trouble the public with a corrected version of the whole affair, in the fond hope of spoiling their fun, and for some time, he informs us, his letter did seem to have produced the desired effect. But “unluckily,” as he goes on to relate with admirable naivete, “the original story was too tempting a theme for humour and sarcasm to be so easily superseded by mere matter of fact. Accordingly, after a little time—more especially by those who were at all willing to wound—the old falsehood was, for the sake of its ready sting, revived.” Although as good-humoured as his own Anacreon, he became at length rather impatient of what he had to endure in this hornet’s nest, and anxiously looked for some responsible person whom he might make an example of, and hold up in terrorem to the rest. He had suffered under these torments of the spirit three whole years—with the exception of the momentary repose which his explanation had procured him—when new pungency and venom were given to the old joke, by the aforesaid passages of Lord Byron’s satire. Still the injured Little, though smarting under his wounds, had too much discretion to take the steps usually pursued by an Irishman in such situations, because the satire was not formally published in the author’s name. Very soon after, however, Lord Byron tickled with the éclat which his success had given him, sent forth a second edition to the world, and acknowledged the relation in which he stood to his work. The time for acting was now come, and Mr. Moore shall tell what he did.

“I was, at the time, in Ireland, and but little in the way of literary society; and it so happened that some months passed away before the appearance of this new edition was known to me. Immediately on being apprized of it,—the offence now assuming a different form,—I addressed the following letter to Lord Byron, and, transmitting it to a friend in London, requested that he would have it delivered into his lordship’s hands.

“Dublin, January 1st, 1810.
my lord,

“Having just seen the name of ‘Lord Byron’ prefixed to a work, entitled ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,’ in which, as it appears
476Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
to me, the lie is given to a public statement of mine, respecting an affair with
Mr. Jeffrey some years since, I beg you will have the goodness to inform me whether I may consider your lordship as the author of this publication.

“I shall not, I fear, be able to return to London for a week or two; but, in the mean time, I trust your lordship will not deny me the satisfaction of knowing whether you avow the insult contained in the passages alluded to.

“It is needless to suggest to your lordship the propriety of keeping our correspondence secret.

“I have the honour to be
“Your lordship’s very humble servant,
Thomas Moore.”
“22, Molesworth-street.”

“In the course of a week, the friend to whom I intrusted this letter wrote to inform me that Lord Byron had, as he learned on inquiring of his publisher, gone abroad immediately on the publication of his second edition; but that my letter had been placed in the hands of a gentleman named Hodgson, who had undertaken to forward it carefully to his lordship. Though the latter step was not exactly what I could have wished, I thought it as well, on the whole, to let my letter take its chance, and again postponed all consideration of the matter.—p. 229.

It appears from the foregoing extract, that Mr. Moore took offence not at Lord Byron’s ridiculing him as a coward, but at the fact that his Lordship had not been satisfied with Mr. Moore’s explanation of the Chalk Farm business. As it was quite probable, however, that the noble satirist had never seen the explanation alluded to, there was, obviously, great room for accommodation without coming to blows. Still it was as well that Lord Byron went abroad, for, during his absence, a very remarkable change took place in his adversary’s feelings, which is related with much ludicrous solemnity, in the following passage. The contrast between Mr. Moore’s tenacity about having his explanation believed, and his caution in approaching Byron, appears to us irresistibly comic.

“During the interval of a year and a half which elapsed before Lord Byron’s return. I had taken upon myself obligations, both as husband and father, which make most men,—and especially those who have nothing to bequeath,—less willing to expose themselves unnecessarily to danger. On hearing, therefore, of the arrival of the noble traveller from Greece, though still thinking it due to myself to follow up my first request of an explanation, I resolved, in prosecuting that object, to adopt such a tone of conciliation as should not only prove my sincere desire of a pacific result, but show the entire freedom from any angry or resentful feeling with which I took the step. The death of
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.477
Mrs. Byron, for some time, delayed my purpose. But as soon after that event as was consistent with decorum, I addressed a letter to Lord Byron, in which, referring to my former communication, and expressing some doubts as to its having ever reached him, I restated, in pretty nearly the same words, the nature of the insult, which, as it appeared to me, the passage in his note was calculated to convey. “It is now useless,” I continued, “to speak of the steps with which it was my intention to follow up that letter. The time which has elapsed since then, though it has done away neither the injury nor the feeling of it, has, in many respects, materially altered my situation; and the only object which I have now in writing to your lordship is, to preserve some consistency with that former letter, and to prove to you that the injured feeling still exists, however circumstances may compel me to be deaf to its dictates at present. When I say ‘injured feeling,’ let me assure your lordship that there is not a single vindictive sentiment in my mind towards you. I mean but to express that uneasiness, under (what I consider to be) a charge of falsehood, which must haunt a man of any feeling to his grave, unless the insult be retracted or atoned for; and which, if I did not feel, I should, indeed, deserve far worse than your lordship’s Satire could inflict upon me.” In conclusion, I added, that, so far from being influenced by any angry or resentful fooling towards him, it would give me sincere pleasure, if, by any satisfactory explanation, he would enable me to seek the honour of being henceforward ranked among his acquaintance.*

“To this letter Lord Byron returned the following answer.

“Cambridge, October 27th, 1811.

“Your letter followed me from Notts, to this place, which will account for the delay of my reply. Your former letter I never had the honour to receive;—be assured, in whatever part of the world it had found me, I should have deemed it my duty to return and answer it in person.

“The advertisement you mention, I know nothing of. At the time of your meeting with Mr. Jeffrey, I had recently entered College, and remember to have heard and read a number of squibs on the occasion, and from the recollection of these I derived all my knowledge on the subject, without the slightest idea of ‘giving the lie’ to an address which I never beheld. When I put my name to the production, which has occasioned this correspondence, I became responsible to all whom it might concern,—to explain where it requires explanation, and, where insufficiently or too sufficiently explicit, at all events to satisfy. My situation leaves me no choice; it rests with the injured and the angry to obtain reparation in their own way.

“With regard to the passage in question, you were certainly not the person towards whom I felt personally hostile. On the contrary, my whole thoughts were engrossed by one whom I had reason to consider
* “Finding two different draughts of (his letter among my papers, I cannot be quite certain as to some of the terms employed: hut have little doubt that they are here given correctly.”
478Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
as my worst literary enemy, nor could I foresee that his former antagonist was about to become his champion. You do not specify what you would wish to have done: I can neither retract nor apologize for a charge of falsehood which I never advanced.

“In the beginning of the week, I shall be at No. 8, St. James’s-street. Neither the letter nor the friend to whom you stated your intention ever made their appearance.

“Your friend Mr. Rogers, or any other gentleman delegated by you, will find me most ready to adopt any conciliatory proposition which shall not compromise my own honour,—or, failing in that, to make the atonement you deem it necessary to require.

“I have the honour to be, Sir,
“Your most obedient, humble, servant,

“In my reply to this, I commenced by saying that his lordship’s letter was, upon the whole, as satisfactory as I could expect. It contained all that, in the strict diplomatique of explanation, could be required, namely,—that he had never seen the statement which I supposed him wilfully to have contradicted,—that he had no intention of bringing against me any charge of falsehood, and that the objectionable passage of his work was not levelled personally at me. This, I added, was all the explanation that I had a right to expect, and I was, of course, satisfied with it.

“I then entered into some detail relative to the transmission of my first letter from Dublin,—giving, as my reason for descending to these minute particulars, that I did not, I must confess, feel quite easy under the manner in which his lordship had noticed the miscarriage of that first application to him.

“My reply concluded thus:—‘As your lordship does not show any wish to proceed beyond the rigid formulary of explanation, it is not for me to make any further advances. We, Irishmen, in business of this kind, seldom know any medium between decided hostility and decided friendship;—but, as my approaches towards the latter alternative must now depend entirely on your lordship, I have only to repeat that I am satisfied with your letter, and that I have the honour to be,” &c. & c.

Lord Byron, however, showed not the smallest disposition to fraternize with the open-hearted Irishman. On the contrary, he received the proposal with the most haughty and repulsive coldness; when Moore, “somewhat piqued,” as he assures us, “at the manner in which his efforts towards a more friendly understanding”—ill-timed as he confesses them to have been—were received, hastened to close the correspondence by a short note, frankly avowing that Byron’s carriage towards him had made him feel very awkwardly, and so, having received ample satisfaction touching the principal subject of their correspondence, he hoped it would now cease forever. Lord Byron’s generosity was affected by this naïve appeal to it. He, accord-
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.479
ingly wrote Moore a note, declaring that he had behaved to him with coldness only because he thought etiquette required it, and concluded with an assurance, that he “should be happy to meet him when, where and how he pleased.” The result was a meeting at the house of the poet
Rogers, in a partie carrée at dinner—consisting of the host, the combatants, and the author of the “Pleasures of Hope;” at which, Lord Byron astonished his new acquaintance by his rigid abstinence from wine, as well as from every thing in the shape of fish, flesh or fowl.

Such is the brief outline of this singular affair. We will only add, that the ascendant which Byron possessed at the beginning, he obviously retained to the last, in his intercourse with Mr. Moore: and that this biography seems to us to have been written very much in the same spirit as the notes just adverted to—to wit, the spirit of—a dependant, at least—we were going to use a harsher word.

Lord Byron’s genealogy was a proud one. He traced his descent on the father’s side, from Ralph de Burun, whose name, it seems, ranks high in Domesday Book, among the tenants of land in Nottinghamshire; and on the mother’s, from that Sir William Gordon, who was third son of the Earl of Huntley, by the daughter of James I. In more ancient times, his ancestors had distinguished themselves in the field and at court, but for a considerable period before he came forward to give it immortality, the name of Byron had been under a cloud. Those who believe in the force of blood, will attach some importance to the reputations of the two personages to whom he was indebted for his life and his estate—his father and his grand-uncle. The latter was tried for one murder, and accused of another; for the “state of austere and almost savage seclusion,” in which he passed the latter years of his strange life, gave occasion and countenance to many horrible stories in the neighbourhood of his residence. One of these deserves notice: his cruelty to Lady Byron was notorious, and “it is even believed, that in one of his fits of fury, he flung her into the pond at Newstead.” “All the kind of the Launces have this fault.” Lord Byron’s father, Captain Byron, was twice married. His first wife was Lady Carmarthen, whom he carried off with him to the continent, and (the Marquis having obtained a divorce from her) subsequently married. Lord Byron’s sister, Mrs. Leigh, was the fruit of this union. The gallant captain’s second choice—avowedly determined by mercenary motives—was Catharine Gordon, only child and heiress of George Gordon, Esq. of Gight. He squandered her fortune with so much expedition, that, in the course of two years, she was reduced to a pittance
480Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
of £150 per annum, and soon after retired to Aberdeen, where she took up her residence. Her husband lived with her there for a short time, but they did not agree—except to a separation, which accordingly took place, à l’amiable. Captain Byron died in ’91, when his son was only three years of age, so that the whole task of educating the poet devolved upon his mother. The character of that mother was an unfortunate one, and peculiarly unsuitable to such an office. She was full of the most violent extremes, and seems to have been utterly unable to control her feelings. She was thrown into hysterics by
Mrs. Siddons in Isabella—and, on being informed of her husband’s death, ill as he had treated her, and firmly as she had resented his misconduct, “her grief bordered on distraction, and her shrieks were so loud as to be heard in the street.” With a temperament thus inflammable, Mrs. Byron was equally destitute of every high intellectual endowment and all the winning graces of society. Mr. Moore gives us the following, upon the authority of one of Lord Byron’s earliest instructors, Dr. Glennie. “Mrs. Byron was a total stranger to English society and English manners; with an exterior far from prepossessing, an understanding where nature had not been more bountiful, a mind almost wholly without cultivation, and the peculiarities of northern opinions, northern habits, and northern accent, I trust, I do no great prejudice to the memory of my countrywoman, if I say Mrs. Byron was not a Madame de Lambert, endowed with powers to retrieve the fortune, and form the character and manners of a young nobleman, her son.” The worst feature, however, of the discipline, or rather no-discipline, in which Mrs. Byron trained up her son, was her excessive fondness and indulgence—interrupted, of course, at no very distant intervals, by volcanic explosions of rage. It is due to Lord Byron, to quote the following passage:—

“Even under the most favourable circumstances, such an early elevation to rank would be but too likely to have a dangerous influence on the character; and the guidance under which young Byron entered upon his new station, was, of all others, the least likely to lead him safely through its perils and temptations. His mother, without judgment or self-command, alternately spoiled him by indulgence, and irritated, or—what was still worse—amused him by her violence. That strong sense of the ridiculous, for which he was afterward so remarkable, and which showed itself thus early, got the better even of his fear of her; and when Mrs. Byron, who was a short and corpulent person, and rolled considerably in her gait, would, in a rage, endeavour to catch him, for the purpose of inflicting punishment, the young urchin, proud of being able to outstrip her, notwithstanding his lameness, would run round the room, laughing like a little Puck, and mocking at all her menaces. In the few anecdotes of his early life which he related in his ‘Memoranda,’ though the name of his mother was never mentioned but with respect, it was not difficult to perceive that the recollection she had left behind—at least, those that had made the deepest impression—were of a painful nature. One of the most striking passages, indeed, in the few pages of that Memoir which related to his early days, was where, in speaking of his own sensitiveness, on the subject of his deformed foot, he described the feeling of horror and humiliation that came over him, when his mother, in one of her fits of passion, called him ‘a lame brat.’ As all that he had felt strongly through life, was, in some shape or other, reproduced in his poetry, it was not likely that an expression such as this should fail of being recorded. Accordingly, we find, in the opening of his drama, “The Deformed Transformed,”
Bertha. Out, hunchback!
Arnold. I was born so, mother!”

It may be questioned, indeed, whether that whole drama was not indebted for its origin to this single recollection.”—pp. 33, 34.

If it is not without reason that so much importance has been attached to the influence of the mother in the formation of a son’s character—and we believe that it can scarcely be overrated—great allowance ought to be made for Lord Byron’s infirmities and errors on this ground.

We do not know whether others have felt as we did, in reading this account of Lord Byron’s childhood—but we found the situation of the young poet extremely touching. It presents, in some respects, a striking contrast to his future destiny. He was alone in the world—unknown, and friendless, and in poverty. With none to care for him but his unhappy mother, the future heir of Newstead and a title, (for he succeeded to them collaterally, and, as it were, casually) experienced all that makes the lot of the fatherless so commiserable, as it is represented in the scriptures. He, whose voice of woe—wrung from him by the agonies of a self-tormenting spirit still doomed, in every change of circumstance, to suffering—was to reach to the uttermost corners of the earth, and draw tears from the eyes of the stranger and the foreigner, appears to have been an amiable and affectionate boy, of most vivacious and engaging manners (among his familiar acquaintance)* of a spirit remarkably enterprising and intrepid, and although wild and wayward, and very much inclined to little acts of mischief, still, in general, liked
482Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
by his teachers, and a decided favourite with his young associates. Yet were the seeds of his future wretchedness already sown. He was shy and sensitive to excess, and his mortification about his lameness—a mortification unspeakable in the young, and in Byron’s case, approaching to madness—early superinduced upon him that impatience and even horror of ridicule, and those habits of gloomy seclusion, and bitter, misanthropic derision and defiance, which grew with his growth, and became, at length, so fatally inveterate, as to form a part of his very being. The following simple anecdote speaks volumes to those who have studied the human heart.

“I have been told by a gentleman of Glasgow, that the person who nursed his wife, and who still lives in his family, used often to join the nurse of Byron, when they were out with their respective charges, and one day said to her, as they walked together, ‘What a pretty boy Byron is! what a pity he has such a leg!’ On hearing this allusion to his infirmity, the child’s eyes flashed with anger, and striking at her with a little whip which he held in his hand, he exclaimed, impatiently, ‘Dinna speak of it.’”—p. 23.

We have heard that when he first grew up, he used to speak of himself in reference to the same misfortune, as “accursed of God from his birth.” His feelings upon this subject are expressed more fully, though not more powerfully, in the “Deformed Transformed.” We have not the least doubt, that a good portion of Lord Byron’s morbid irritability is to be accounted for in this way. Sir Walter Scott, who labours under precisely the same misfortune, but seems to have borne it much more patiently, because discipline has made him a wiser and better man, has clearly felt a like mortification, though less intense in degree; or he could not possibly have drawn the “Black Dwarf.” That novel appears a piece of fantastic extravagance to superficial readers—it is, on the contrary, a profound and masterly conception, which nothing but such a genius, instructed by personal experience, could have formed. Shakspeare has, no doubt, admirably depicted one of the effects of this cause in Gloster’s soliloquy, and, indeed, in the whole character of Richard III. He traces up the wickedness of this tyrant to his deformity. His cruelty to man is despite to God. He rebels against the “dissembling nature” which has wronged him—by which he has been
“Curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature”—
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.483
and wreaks his capricious vengeance upon her more favoured children. This, as we shall presently have to remark, is the very spirit of Lord Byron’s poetry—the spirit of rebellion and despite—the spirit of Cain, the homicide, with the “primal eldest curse upon him!” But Sir Walter Scott has dived much deeper than Shakspeare into this dreadful mystery of the heart. With all that makes him so striking a dramatic hero, there is something vulgar in Richard’s wickedness. It is downright deviltry, to use a homely phrase. There is nothing of the “archangel ruined” there—no glimpse of immortal aspirations dashed down—no ray of “an excess of glory obscured.” He is never surprised into “tears such as angels weep.” He is of the democracy—the populace of Hell—a head without name in the hierarchy of evil—the thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers, led on by HIM, “unmatched, save with the Almighty,” have not heard of him. There is, of consequence, nothing to awaken sympathy in Richard—our pity is all given to his victims. But in Scott’s terrible picture—in Byron’s imaginary, (if we persist in making that unmeaning distinction) but still acute and intense suffering—there is every thing to move us to compassion—much, to plead even for forgiveness. It is vain to say, that it argues a weak mind and an ill-regulated temper, to be so much affected by what is, in the eye of reason, so trifling. Instinct, especially in youth, when character is forming, is too strong for mere unaided reason. Even at an advanced age, and in the midst of his triumphs, it is an undoubted, historical fact, that
Julius Cæsar was deeply mortified by his baldness.* The feeling, as expressed by Lord Byron to a friend, is, that “nature has set a mark” upon the sufferer—held him up to be a show and a laughing-stock—a thing for the vulgar to wonder at, point at, scoff at. Byron, we venture to affirm, spoke only the language of all irritable and proud spirits, under a similar misfortune, before time has reconciled them to their fate, when he said, with so pointed an emphasis, what is ascribed to him in the following passage. “But the embittering circumstance of his life—that which haunted him like a curse, amid the buoyancy of youth and the anticipations of fame and pleasure—was, strange to say, the trifling deformity of his foot. By that one slight blemish, (as in his moments of melancholy he persuaded himself) all the bless-
* Suetonius is precise and emphatic. Circa corporis curam morosior, ut non solum tonderetur diligenter ac raderetur, sed velleretur etiam, ut quidam exprobaverunt; calvitii vero deformitatem inquissime ferre, sæpe obtrectatorum jocis obnoxium expertus.—D. Julius, 45. He adds, that for this reason, no act of public flattery ever pleased him so much as the being allowed to wear his laurels always—jus laureæ perpetuo gestandæ.
484Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
ings that nature had showered upon him were counterbalanced. His reverend friend,
Mr. Beecher, finding him one day unusually dejected, endeavoured to cheer and rouse him by representing in their brightest colours, all the various advantages with which Providence had endowed him, and among the greatest, that of ‘a mind which placed him above the rest of mankind.’ ‘Ah! my dear friend,’ said Byron mournfully—‘if this (laying his hand upon his forehead) places me above the rest of mankind, that (pointing to his foot) places me far, far below them.’” There was no affectation in this: there is not more exaggeration than is generally found in expressions of poignant feeling. But the victim here, let it be remembered, was born a poet, with that exquisite sensitiveness, and that gloomy and fitful disposition, which have always marked the poetical temperament. The same sensibilities which made him so trembingly alive to beauty, which kindled up into enthusiasm or were dissolved in tenderness and pathos, where others scarcely felt at all—in short, the peculiar organization which made Byron what he was, exposed him “to bleed and agonize at every pore”—turned his sadness into moody melancholy, and exalted his griefs into madness and despair. We do not mean to extenuate his vices—we shall not follow the example of Mr. Moore. His conduct, especially after he had attained to mature years, was, in our opinion, wholly indefensible. But if we would be just, we must be merciful to men of genius. It is the interest of human nature to shew, where those who have, in some respects, adorned and exalted it most, have gone astray, that their errors may be accounted for, if not excused, by sufficient reasons, and that the highest gifts and accomplishments of man, have not been, as if in mockery, thrown away upon monsters. There is deep sense as well as pathos in the lines on Sheridan
“——ah! little do ye know
That what to you seems vice might be but woe!”
We shall not shrink from the solemn duty, of exposing, so far as in us lies, the enormous sins of Lord Byron’s genius and life—his blasphemy against Providence—his infernal scoffings at human nature—and all that he did to darken our views of the one, and to degrade and pervert and defile the other. Yet far be it from us to join in that unfeeling host who, in his own language,
“——track the steps of glory to the grave,
Watch every fault that daring genius owes
Half to the ardor which its birth bestows.”
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.485
We shall in all we have to say about him, allow him the full benefit of the plea, which in the same poem, he sets up for the same celebrated martyr of undisciplined genius—
“Breasts to whom all the strength of feeling given
Bear hearts electric—charged with fire from heaven,
Black with the rude collision, wildly torn,
By clouds surrounded and on whirlwinds borne,
Driven o’er the lowering atmosphere that nurst,
Thoughts which have turned to thunder—scorch and burst.”*
But we fear that it is not in this plea—even urged with all the force of this exaggerated language—to save Lord Byron from condemnation as an unprincipled and bad man.

When we say that he was an unprincipled man, we mean to be understood in the proper sense of that epithet. He alone can aspire to the reputation of virtue, who, besides having good impulses, and what is called an amiable character, lays down settled rules for the government of his conduct, from which it is possible to calculate with some approach to certainty, what that conduct will be, from day to day, under given circumstances. A man, for instance, who is only charitable by fits and starts—who at one moment, lavishes his bounty upon the undeserving, and at another, withholds it from the most meritorious object in the most calamitous situation—may be, naturally, of a very benevolent disposition, but conduct thus determined by casual impulse, cannot be regarded as strictly virtuous. It is for this reason, that prudent men often do charity, where they are doubtful about the claims of the object, merely that their own good habits may not be broken in upon, and their principles be supplanted by caprice. But as bad men, may lay down inflexible rules for the government of their conduct, something more than this constancy is necessary to the definition of virtue. A man’s principles then must be good; that is, they must be such as arise out of and confirm the better impulses of our nature, the social and benevolent affections; and, we may add, they ought to be, in strictness, merely indications and consequences of those impulses, in every particular instance. In other words, the feeling and the principle ought every where to co-exist. Thus, it is quite conceivable that a man should discharge all the duties of a father, a husband, a son, with perfect propriety and exactness, and yet, not possess in any remarkable degree, the sentiments which are natural in those several relations, and which one would be led by his conduct to attribute to him. Such a man, however, would be
486Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
strictly virtuous; he would do all that society has a right to exact—and yet, to persons standing towards him in any of those correlative situations, however estimable, he would not be a very amiable object. They would lament the absence of those sweet affections which usually make virtue its own reward, yet they could not justly complain: they might not love, but they could not disapprove. Nay, it is very possible that an exemplary man, instead of being blessed with such impulses, should be visited by feelings of the very opposite character; yet, if he resisted them so successfully as to act up to the standard of nature and right reason, he would still deserve the reward of virtue, for virtue consists in action and
“———evil into the mind of God or man
May come and go, so unapproved, and leave
No spot or blame———.”

Now making all the allowances, which we admit ought to be made, for a being so peculiarly constituted as Lord Byron, we do not think his fondest admirers would agree to try him by this standard of conduct—at least, we shall put him to the test presently, in a case or two. He seems to have been altogether the creature of impulse. Originally, it should seem, his impulses—bating some rather ominous “silent rages”—were amiable and kindly—there was a certain effeminate softness in his disposition, blended with great spirit and energy—above all, love, as he says of Rousseau, love was of his soul’s essence, his very being’s being. Had his fortunes continued until his thirtieth year as humble as they were in his ninth, we have no doubt but his temper had been mellowed down to gentleness and equalibility. His was precisely the character over which the discipline of necessity would have exercised its most salutary influence. The idea that he was likely, in spite of his scepticism, to become enthusiastically religious—that he would kindle with the fervor of the Methodists, or be smitten with the imposing and gorgeous solemnities of the Catholic Church—was founded upon this view of his character. It is precisely such a mind as Byron’s—when it has not been perverted by false principles—that is most apt to give itself up entirely to the impressions of grandeur and beauty, which the magnificent manifestations of Deity throughout all his works, are adapted to make upon reflecting beings; and these impressions are the soul and the poetry of all religion. Even when his vast conceptions came to be always more or less, deeply tinged with a peevish and petulant misanthropy, they were at home in the immensity of nature. He had a sympathy with her mighty and
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.487
mysterious powers. Like his own Manfred, he seemed to hold communion from the mountain-tops, with the viewless spirits of the air.
“I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me; and to me
High mountains are a feeling, but the hum
Of human cities torture; I can see
Nothing to loathe in nature, save to be
A link reluctant in a fleshly chain,
Classed among creatures, when the soul can flee,
And with the sky, the peak, the heaving plain,
Of ocean or the stars, mingle———.”

But his natural tastes were at length perverted, as in other respects, so even in this. There came a time when he saw undelighted all delight, not only among men, but in the material universe. Like the same dark creature of his imagination just mentioned, when he stood upon the summit of the Jungfrau, as the morning awaked around in her gladness and bloom, he could say—
“My Mother Earth!
And thou fresh breaking Day, and you, ye Mountains,
Why are ye beautiful? I cannot love you.

It was so in every thing else. His whole nature was in process of time perverted and poisoned. The irregularities of his temper and disposition instead of being corrected by experience, were confirmed by excessive indulgence. From the time he became Lord Byron, he seems to have been entirely emancipated from all control. The authority of his mother, which had never been great, ceased entirely—his guardian, Lord Carlisle, discouraged by his waywardness, or on some other pretext, coldly abandoned him to his fate. He never learned the first, last, great lesson of man’s existence—submission. He became more and more impatient of contradiction, rebellious against authority, wilful and obstinate in his course of conduct, peculiar and fantastical in his manner of living. To approve himself worthy of the ancestor from whom he immediately inherited his estate, he armed himself, while quite a boy, with pistols, and began to play the out-law which he afterwards became, in another sense. He gradually learned to refer every thing to himself, like other spoiled children; and to expect that the laws of nature should yield to his wanton caprices. The smallest offence to his pride or self-love, was to be visited with unmeasured, insatiable vengeance. Nor was it very material against whom he vented his spleen. It was enough that
488Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
his bosom had been made to feel a pang, to justify his offering up, like Achilles, whole hecatombs to his own terrible wrath. For the attack made upon him by the Edinburgh Reviewers, he wreaked his vengeance indiscriminately upon all his contemporaries: without, for a moment, reflecting upon the injustice which he was doing to many, and of which he afterwards professed to repent so much. The great exemplar of Byron was Coriolanus in the Volscian camp, before Rome—but Coriolanus, deaf to his mother’s prayers.
Lord Bacon speaks of a certain excess of self-love which would make a man burn down another’s house to roast his own eggs. Byron’s was not so mean, but it was equally extravagant: to atone for the smallest affront, he would have reckoned his country but a cheap victim. The hero after his own heart is the parricidal apostate Alp—the traitor Doge Faliero—a man, this latter, of whom it is worthy of remark, that the Italian writers speak as of a moral portent, haruspice dignum. In a word, the poetry of Lord Byron, which pictures forth his own character, is—to borrow a quaint phrase of Madame de Staël—the very “apotheosis” of self-love. They were considered as groveling and degraded, these selfish passions, better suited for comedy than ode or epic, before they were raised to a “bad eminence” by his verse. But he has lifted them up to the height of his great genius. He has converted revenge—which was never allowed to be, at best, more than a “sort of wild justice,” and which, when disproportionate, is the very spirit of Pandæmonium itself—into a heroic virtue. What dreadful lines are these! and yet hundreds of such are to be found in every part of his works:—
“Ah! fondly youthful hearts can press
To seize and share the dear caress;
But love itself could never pant
For all that beauty sighs to grant
With half the fervor hate bestows
Upon the last embrace of foes, &c.”

It will not do, as we have already observed, to say that Lord Byron is not responsible for the sentiments of his corsairs and renegadoes. The truth is, that his whole poetry is steeped—dyed, through and through, with these feelings. They obtrude themselves upon him in the deepest solitudes of nature—they discolour to his eye the most glorious objects of contemplation—they turn the sun into blood and the moon into darkness, and earth into a charnel house, and a den of wild beasts, and a hell before him.

* Giaour, 645, et seq.
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings. 489

Nothing can be imagined more utterly subversive of all sound principle than such a system. The end of moral discipline is the very reverse of these notions. It is to mortify, to control, to do all but extinguish self-love, and especially that variety of it which the French call amour propre—a conceited irritable, exacting self-love. Instead of making a man a god in his own eyes, shaking the spheres, of which he deems himself the centre, with his nod—that discipline teaches him to view himself, as much as possible, with the eyes of others, and to accommodate his sentiments and conduct, as Adam Smith expresses it, to the sense of the impartial spectator. Instead of consecrating the absurd conceits of vanity, the bitter moodiness of despite, the wild sallies of vengeance, the spirit of rebellion against restraint; the pride, envy, hatred, and all uncharitableness, which are the accursed brood of this concentrated égoisme—it inculcates upon the aspirant, that there can be neither happiness nor virtue, where there is not resignation, and that it is not more the lot, than it is the duty and the interest of man, to acquiesce in the order of nature and of society. It exhorts him, therefore, to possess himself with patience—to say with the philosophic Antoninus, “every thing suits me, which is fitted to promote thy harmony, O World. Nothing is either premature or tardy which is in good time for thee. All that thy seasons bring forth, O Nature, is fruit for me. Out of thee are all things, in thee are all things, to and for thee are all things. There are who say, O beloved city of Cecrops: shall none exclaim, O beloved city of God.”* This is the language of a heathen philosopher, seated upon the throne of the Cæsars, and absolute master of the Roman world. Yet is it a language which suits all times and nations and degrees in society—the language of Christianity, of virtue, and of common sense. Lord Byron was a revolted spirit, and his school of poetry has been not improperly designated as the Satanic, or, as we should prefer calling it, the Titanic School.

That there is a problem in nature of which reason is utterly incapable of furnishing any exact philosophical solution is acknowledged, even by those who do not believe, that the mystery has been cleared up by the light of revelation. This problem is, the origin of evil, moral and natural. It has perplexed speculative men in all ages; and although they have generally come to the same practical result, which we have just seen embodied in the sublime language of the Portico, yet they have come to
* Lib. iv.
490Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
it by very various, and all of them, blind and thorny paths. These doubts are more painful just in proportion as men are enlightened, and entertain a more exalted idea of the creator and governor of the universe. Among barbarous nations who indulge very little in reflection of any kind, the common feeling upon this subject shows itself only in their popular superstitions. What they surfer, is set down to the account of evil spirits or gods of some sort or other. But they are not struck with the apparent incongruity, between the boundless aspirations of the soul, and the condition to which the body is reduced on earth—between what man imagines and what he experiences, his dreams and his doom—in short, they have not learned to set in opposition,
“An heir of glory! a frail child of dust
Helpless immortal! insect infinite!
A worm! a god!”
Poetry, which is the language of nature, uttered with the least reserve or disguise, is full of such melancholy reflections. Even the classical poetry of Greece, though represented, by the advocates of the romantic school, as so cheerful, joyous, and brilliant, abounds in them; and those “teachers best of moral prudence,” the tragedians, often say “in Chorus or Iambick,” that it were better for man that he had never been born.
Μη φυναςι τον απαντανι-
Χα λόγον το δ΄ έπει φανη
Βηναι χειϑεν τερ ηχει
Πολύ δεύτερον ώς ταχιζα.
[Soph. Œdip. Colon. 1290.

Yet, it must be owned, that these passages, however frequent, are still only of occasional occurrence—this melancholy spirit certainly does not form the basis, if we may so express ourselves, or key-note, of the classical poetry of antiquity. Nor is there ever any thing beyond lamentation in these effusions. It is Job pouring out his sorrows in magnificent lyrical self-bewailings, but refusing to “curse God and die.” In both these respects they differ materially from Byron’s song. His muse—unknown among the old nine of Greece—is inspired by, and inspires, nothing but despair. Robed in her funereal pall, with her distracted looks and snaky hair, she would be as unwelcome a guest in the Delphic vestibule, as the Furies of Orestes in Æschylus. But not only does his poetry, like an ill-omened bird, sit brooding over the evil alone which seems to deform the universe, and proclaiming it to unhappy mortals
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.491
with a demoniac despite. It raves and blasphemes. It represents the rebellious spirit of the Titans warring with fate and heaven. It takes the place of the impious Capaneus. It curses the Creator and his creation, and the birth and the life and the death of man. Nothing in
Dante’s Inferno, or Milton’s, is more frightful, than the views which Byron presents of human destiny, throughout his works, and the general impression which they make upon a reader. We never think of them, in reference to their moral character, without being reminded of the terrible lines in which the great Italian bard describes the first confused, hideous sounds of hell, which resounded through “the starless air.”
“Quivi sospiri, pianti ed alti guai,
Risonavan, per l’aer senza stelle—
Diverse lingue, orribili favelle,
Parole di dolore, accenti d’ira
Voci alte e fioche, e suon di man con elle, &c.”

Young’s Night Thoughts are the counterpart of Byron’s poetry. But we need not say that they differ as widely in their spirit and their results, as Christianity and Atheism. The former paints, to be sure, a terrible picture of this life—but it is to draw away our eyes to a better and brighter prospect. All is vanity in our pursuits and possessions here—because there is so much more in reserve for us hereafter. Young dwells upon the mournful incidents and evidences of mortality—
“The knell, the shroud, the mattock, and the grave;
The deep damp vault, the darkness, and the worm.”
But the grave gains no victory and death has no sting, where all is faith and hope and heaven beyond it. But
Byron’s only refuge from despair is in desperation. His fate is that of Prometheus Vinctus—without his innocence and philanthropy. He is chained upon a rock, hurling defiance and execrations against Jove, and a vulture is gnawing his vitals, which die not, and yet live only for suffering—but he cannot reflect upon the services he has rendered mankind—he has neither the crown nor the consolations of martyrdom.

Whoever has considered the scheme and drift of Goëthe’s famous drama of Faustus, understands the history of Lord Byron. The progress in evil which the aspiring adept makes under the guidance of his familiar spirit—the gradual extinction of his original sensibility, in a bitter, ironical, undistinguishing hard-heartedness—his falling off from grand conceptions and ambitious views, into vulgar wickedness and debauchery—every effect, indeed, which that diabolical discipline was fitted to pro-
492Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
duce, is seen in the successive phases or aspects of Byron’s character. His works touch the two extremes of this Titanic style. If in one of them, he is on a level with that grand conception of
Æschylus, to which we have just referred—the Prometheus Vinctus—he descends in the other to the fiend-like buffoonery of Candide. Childe Harold is the repository of whatever is most sublime in his sorrow and scorn. The two last cantos especially, are full of touching sensibility. Some stanzas it is impossible to read, without forgetting the errors or offences of the writer, in his dreadful sufferings, and the powerful appeals which he addresses to the sympathies of mankind. The following lines—bating the exaggeration and inequality which are the great blemishes of all Byron’s poetry, but especially of this poem—would not be out of character in the fine tragedy just mentioned.
“It is not that I may not have incurr’d
For my ancestral faults or mine the wound
I bleed withal, and, had it been conferr’d
With a just weapon, it had flow’d unbound;
But now my blood shall not sink in the ground;
To thee [Nemesis] I do devote it—thou shall take
The vengeance, which shall yet be sought and found,
Which if I have not taken for the sake—
But let that pass—I sleep, but thou shalt yet awake.
And if my voice break forth, ’tis not that now
I shrink from what is suffered: let him speak
Who hath beheld decline upon my brow,
Or seen my mind’s convulsion leave it weak;
But in this page a record will I seek.
Not in the air shall these my words disperse,
Tho’ I be ashes; a far hour shall wreak
The deep prophetic fulness of this verse,
And pile on human heads the mountain of my curse!
That curse shall be forgiveness—Have I not—
Hear me, my mother Earth! behold it, Heaven!
Have I not had to wrestle with my lot?
Have I not suffer’d things to be forgiven?
Have I not had my brain seared, my heart riven,
Hopes sapp’d, name blighted, life’s life lied away?
And only not to desperation driven,
Because not altogether of such clay
As rots into the souls of those whom I survey.
From mighty wrongs to petty perfidy,
Have I not seen what human things could do?
From the loud roar of foaming calumny
To the small whisper of the as paltry few,
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.493
And subtler venom of the reptile crew,
The Janus glance of whose significant eye,
Learning to lie with silence, would seem true,
And without utterance, save the shrug or sigh,
Deal round to happy fools its speechless obloquy.
But I have lived, and have not lived in vain:
My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,
And my frame perish even in conquering pain,
But there is that within me which shall tire
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire;
Something unearthly, which they deem not of,
Like the remembered tone of a mute lyre,
Shall on their softened spirits sink, and move
In hearts all rocky now the late remorse of love.
[Childe Harold, cxxiiii. Canto iv.
There is, doubtless, too much of this—nor is it in Byron’s very best vein—yet one cannot help thinking that had he never written in any other, the fond anticipation expressed in the last line might have been fulfilled. But his heart became callous in its vices. The pathos which gave dignity and attraction to the earlier expressions of his misanthropy, disappeared—and the magnificent lamentations and the tragical despair of the Childe, sank into the gross ribaldry of
Rochester. Lord Byron in writing Don Juan, renounced—renounced with foul scorn and beyond all hope of recovery—the sympathies of mankind. He had just the same excuse, as he played the same part, with the murderer in Macbeth, and all other worthies of a similar stamp.
“———I am one, my liege,
Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Have so incensed, that I am reckless what
I do, to spite the world.”

It was, however, neither his gloomy views of nature and destiny, nor native, unmixed wickedness of heart, that made him the savage scoffer which he at last became. It was defeated, mortified, agonizing pride. Pride (with a strong infusion of vanity) was his ruling passion—at least, it seems to have swallowed up the rest, from the moment that he stood forth as a man of great consequence in the public eye. The obstinacy and impatience of the spoiled child, had been confirmed and inflamed by the unexpected accession of a fortune and a title. Still, before the attack of the Edinburgh Review, he does not seem to have discovered much acerbity of temper (the ‘silent rages’ excepted); his faults, as yet, had been those rather of levity and mere want of principle, as in his conduct to his mother. But from the time of publishing his satire, he appears in a totally new light. Then
494Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
for the first time, he tasted the intoxicating, Circean cup of public applause. He became confident in his powers, and his poetical temperament (which had not been developed before) and his gloomy and ferocious misanthropy, displayed themselves at once, in the first and second cantos of
Childe Harold. Here, again, “a change came o’er the spirit” of his life. The unbounded success of that poem, seems to have astonished its author. Mr. Moore mentions it as a surprising thing, that Byron did not set a very high value upon the MS. thinking that his fort was satire. We confess we see nothing very surprising in this. He had actually succeeded in the one—in which, indeed, a certain ephemeral success is easily commanded, even by malignant mediocrity—and the other was written after a fashion not only as yet untried by its author, but altogether new and adventurous in itself.

When we consider what had been the condition of English poetry for half a century before Scott appeared, we shall know how to appreciate Byron’s misgivings about his poetical outlaw, for so Harold was in more senses than one. The fruit of its success, however, was unbounded admiration and flattery. Such poetry, written by a young lord who was, at the same time, a rake and a dandy—was, at least, as extraordinary a phenomenon, as a volcano bursting forth from the bottom of the North Sea. In order to estimate the effect which this dazzling and sudden éclat produced upon Byron’s mind, we must recollect a fact mentioned by Mr. Moore. This was, that when his lordship went to the House of Lords, to claim his seat as a hereditary legislator of the land, and a representative of one of its most ancient families, he found himself utterly alone. There was no one even to introduce him in form. His guardian, Lord Carlisle, stood aloof, and he knew nobody else. Few situations can be imagined—none in more humble life—so well calculated to mortify a proud and aspiring man—especially one laying so great a stress upon the advantages which exposed him to that trial.* But his poetry—which he threw off with un-
* “But at the time when we first met, his position in the world was most solitary. Even those coffee-house companions who, before his departure from England, had served him as a sort of substitute for more worthy society, were either relinquished or had dispersed; and, with the exception of three or four associates of his college days, (to whom he appeared strongly attached) Mr. Dallas and his solicitor seemed to be the only persons whom, even in their very questionable degree, he could boast of as friends. Though too proud to complain of this loneliness, it was evident that he felt it; and that the state of cheerless isolation, “unguided and unfriended,” to which, on entering into manhood, he had found himself abandoned, was one of the chief sources of that resentful disdain of mankind, which even their subsequent worship of him came too late to remove. The effect, indeed, which his short commerce with society afterward had, for the period it lasted, in softening and exhilirating his temper, showed how fit a soil his heart would have been for the growth of all the kindlier feelings, had but a portion of this sunshine of the world’s smiles shone on him earlier.” p. 240.
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.495
common nonchalance, as if it be only rhymed, because he could not help it—gave him just such a control over the public mind, as was most flattering to his self-love. Byron had not much of a merely literary ambition—no propensity for book-making as such. On the contrary, he was emphatically a lord among wits. We have already cited Mr. Moore’s authority to shew that be valued himself much more upon his blood, than upon his books, for which he disdained to receive any compensation. We say his books, not for the sake of the alliteration, but because it suggests a very important distinction. We fully believe in Lord Byron’s contempt for authors and authorship. It was in analogy with the rest of his character—and worthy of so genuine a descendant of those feudal barons, who, according to
Castiglione—tutti i literati tengono per vilissimi uomini e pare lor dir grande villania a chi si sia, quando lo chiamano clero.* But, then, he was exceedingly proud of being able to write a better book than any professed author could—by an inspiration which put to shame their “slow endeavouring art.” His genius was a privilege the more: a distinction, which set him apart from the herd of mankind. It put him above his less-gifted peers—the noble vulgar—and it enabled him to write up or write down, just as the mood prompted, their claims to the consideration of the world. There can be no doubt, that the antiquity of a distinguished race has a great effect upon the imagination. There is a prestige in rank derived from a prescription, whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, which no created peerage, of whatever class, possesses. But this advantage is quite ideal, and the prosaic world will perversely prefer a Duke or Earl, with a patent but of yesterday—especially if he be rich—even to a descendant of the Bastard or the Plantagenets, who is only a poor baron. This happened to be Lord Byron’s situation, and his genius was necessary to turn the scale in his favour as against them. His competition with literary men was a secondary object with him, but not an indifferent one. Failure was intolerable to him in any undertaking; and that no adversary, however humble, was contemptible in his eyes, is manifest from his too celebrated “Sketch.” He could have made up his mind, perhaps, without great effort, not to write at all, at least, after his reputation was once established; but he could not bear to write what none would read or approve. Accordingly, Mr. Moore informs us, that upon some mortification or disgust, real or imaginary, of the kind, he talked of recalling all his works, and renouncing “the trade” forever. Nothing
496Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
could be more characteristic than this anecdote. It shews all the sickly sensitiveness, and the impracticable and repulsive pride of his character.

His pride, we have said, was strongly dashed with vanity. Lord Byron did not know that sublime, rational, imperturbable self-esteem—that prophetic confidence in his unaided genius—which Milton felt, and expresses with such a noble candour, in the “Apology for Smectymnus” and others of his prose writings. It is impossible to read the passages to which we allude, without doing homage to the matchless sublimity of this great man’s moral character, more especially when we consider under what circumstances it was, that he fulfilled his glorious anticipations in the composition of “Paradise Lost.” All poets—the classical poets of antiquity, especially—have indulged, without the least reserve, in boastful self-praise. And they have done this in the rapture and revelry of their inspiration—“soaring,” to use Milton’s own words, “in the high reason of their fancies, with their garlands and singing robes about them.” But we know not where any of them “sitting here below in the cool element of prose, a mortal thing among many readers of no empyreal conceit,” has ventured to divulge his secret opinion of his own powers, and his bright visions of future glory, with such antique simplicity, such an air of solemn conviction, such an awful sense of the account which, he to whom much is given, will be required to render of its use. To impute vanity to such a being, were nothing short of blasphemy. His character was as grand as his epic. How much is expressed in the single sentence which follows! “And long it was not after, when I was confirmed in this opinion, that he who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honorablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men and famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy.” Well might such a man expect “to leave something so written to after times, as that they should not willingly let it die.” Well might he scorn the “rabble rout” of a prostituted and infamous court of mimes and harlots, and ask only for the few who were “fit audience” for him. Well might he console himself, “in danger, and with darkness compassed round and solitude,” with the reflection that he had incurred the sorest of human calamities, loss of sight, in the service of mankind—“in liberty’s defence, his noble task
“Whereof all Europe rang from side to side.”
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.497
Contrast with the “honest haughtiness”—the stern, majestic, and, we might almost add, holy pride of such a being, the irritable, petulant, worldly-minded, little self-love of Byron, writing a
travestie of Southey’s Vision and bitter libels upon my lady’s nurse!

Burke, if we mistake not, calls Jean Jacques, “the apostle of vanity.” The designation is equally just and felicitous. There is no doubt, that a good share of Rousseau’s madness, (as it is called) is to be ascribed to the extraordinary elevation to which he so suddenly attained, at a rather advanced age. He was entirely beside himself—intoxicated with success. Born in humble circumstances (he had even been a menial servant) his admirable genius did not inspire him with sentiments above the condition of a parvenu. He never felt at home in the great world—his immense reputation and popularity did not sit as easily upon him as a suit of livery. He was, accordingly, the victim of a morbid vanity—always doubting the sincerity of the worshipper, even when he was suffocated with the fumes of his incense, mistaking his best friends for assassins, and every social circle for a conspiracy against his reputation, which, of course, entirely engrossed the thoughts of all mankind. Byron has been frequently compared with this “inspired madman;” and not without reason. But we do not know any trait in which he resembles him so much, as his morbid and jealous vanity. The difference between them is, that Rousseau had none of that gloomy and insolent pride which made the vanity of the poet so peculiarly bitter and odious. Byron’s “chief humour,” like Bottom’s “was for a tyrant,” and whilst he was full of the suspicions of a vain man, he was haunted by all those which are the inseparable companion and “bosom plague” of tyranny, in all its shapes. He challenged the admiration of mankind by every effort and device—from the highest flights of genius to the smallest artifices and affectations of fashionable life—but he challenged it, as an Eastern despot gathers his tributes, with fire and sword. His mighty genius was governed by the paltriest motives, and made subservient to the most despicable ends—yet he could not bear that such a guilty and grovelling abuse of the most sublime powers, should bring down upon him the scorn of the wise and good, and he did every thing he could to disgust and defy them still more. He wrote his finest poetry as he bought the finest cloths, to make an impression at Almack’s and in Bond-street; and whether he rivalled Milton or Brummel, he affected the same lordly, well-bred indifference about his success, and felt the same burning desire to command it. Pope’s
498Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
powerful picture of the effect of vanity in the
Duke of Wharton, is applicable to Byron, with the qualification which we made just now, in speaking of Rousseau. Nothing is so whimsical and contradictory as self-love in this form—it is the most extravagant of coquettes—rejecting what it would make any sacrifice to obtain, were it not offered unsought, deriding the object of its secret affection, but always the most unhappy victim of its own caprices. The curse, however, of its destiny is suspicion. It anticipates the hostility which it has done so much to provoke. It is haunted with hideous imaginings—its way is beset with innumerable enemies—it is hated by the world, wronged, persecuted—and all because mankind, wearied out with its impertinences, leave it to itself and attend to their own business or pleasures, with as much interest and keenness, as if there had never been any such being, in nature, as Byron and Rousseau. Then come the mutterings of wrath and vengeance—“worm-like ’twas trampled, adder-like revenged,” &.c. and the ravings and scoffings of despair and madness. A brilliant writer has well said—“rien n’est si barbare que la vanité * * * Quand la vanité se montre, elle est bienveillante; quand elle se cache, la crainte d’être decouverte la rend amère et elle affecte l’indifférence, la satiété,” &c. Byron had much to mortify him. His destiny was a cruel tantalism. He possessed signal advantages—but every blessing was dashed with bitterness, and the suffering from what was withheld was more than the enjoyment from what he possessed. He was a man of the proudest descent—yet he was born poor, and he went into the House of Lords, like an intruder, unknown, unwelcome. He was of high degree but low estate—a nobleman and man of fashion, so straitened in his circumstances, that his house was always beset with duns and bailiffs. He was the most beautiful of men, with a deformity which humbled him to the dust. He had a sublime genius, but undisciplined and irregular—exquisite sensibility, but so perverted as to be alive only to suffering—and in the full blaze of his glory “the depreciation of the lowest of mankind was more painful to him, than the applause of the highest was pleasing.”*

We quote the following as illustrative of what we have said—

“A resolution was, about this time, adopted by him, which, however strange and precipitate it appeared, a knowledge of the previous state of his mind may enable us to account for satisfactorily. He had now, for two years, been drawing upon the admiration of the public with a
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.499
rapidity and success which seemed to defy exhaustion,—having crowded, indeed, into that brief interval, the materials of a long life of fame. But admiration is a sort of impost from which most minds are but too willing to relieve themselves. The eye grows weary of looking up to the same object of wonder, and begins to exchange, at last, the delight of observing its elevation for the less generous pleasure of watching and speculating on its fall. The reputation of
Lord Byron had already begun to experience some of these consequences of its own prolonged and constantly renewed splendour. Even among that host of admirers who would have been the last to find fault, there were some not unwilling to repose from praise; while they, who had been from the first reluctant eulogists, took advantage of these apparent symptoms of satiety to indulge in blame.

“The loud outcry raised, at the beginning of the present year by his verses to the Princess Charlotte, had afforded a vent for much of this reserved venom; and the tone of disparagement in which some of his assailants now affected to speak of his poetry was, however absurd and contemptible in itself, precisely that sort of attack which was the most calculated to wound his, at once, proud and diffident spirit. As long as they confined themselves to blackening his moral and social character, so far from offending, their libels rather fell in with his own shadowy style of self-portraiture, and gratified the strange inverted ambition that possessed him. But the slighting opinion which they ventured to express of his genius,—seconded as it was by that inward dissatisfaction with his own powers, which they whose standard of excellence is highest are always the surest to feel,—mortified and disturbed him; and, being the first sounds of ill augury that had come across his triumphal career, startled him, as we have seen, into serious doubts of its continuance.

“Had he been occupying himself, at the time, with any new task, that confidence in his own energies which he never truly felt but while in the actual exercise of them, would have enabled him to forget these humiliations of the moment in the glow and excitement of anticipated success. But he had just pledged himself to the world to take a long farewell of poesy,—had sealed up that only fountain from which his heart ever drew refreshment or strength,—and thus was left, idly and helplessly, to brood over the daily taunts of his enemies, without the power of avenging himself when they insulted his person, and but too much disposed to agree with them when they made light of his genius. ‘I am afraid (says he, in noticing these attacks in one of his letters) what you call trash is plaguily to the purpose, and very good sense into the bargain; and to tell the truth, for some little time past, I have been myself much of the same opinion.’

“In this sensitive state of mind,—which he but ill disguised or relieved by an exterior of gay defiance or philosophic contempt,—we can hardly feel surprised that he should have, all at once, come to the resolution, not only of persevering in his determination to write no more in future, but of purchasing back the whole of his past copyrights, and suppressing every page and line he had ever written. On his first mention of this design, Mr. Murray naturally doubted as to his seri-
500Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
ousness; but the arrival of the following letter, enclosing a draft for the amount of the copyrights, put his intentions beyond questions.”—pp. 396-7.

Lord Byron’s political principles—if his vague, unsettled notions upon such subjects deserve the name of principles, as, according to his own account, they certainly do not—are in perfect keeping with the rest of his character. His maxim was, aut Cæsar, aut nihil—he spurned at all control or subordination—the very name of subject was hateful to him. That he should be a republican in Europe, followed as a matter of course. The love of liberty is the instinct of a haughty spirit, and, as we are firmly persuaded that none but a proud people can be free, so we do not readily conceive, how such a people should long consent to be otherwise. A speculative preference for the republican form, too, seems to be a natural consequence of classical studies; so much so, that Hobbes scruples not to declare, that the Greek and Roman authors have done more harm by stirring up men to rebellion against government, than they have ever done good, by improving their taste and style. But to be a practical republican of any sort of account, one must be a good citizen—and to this unpretending, but most worthy character, at least two constituents are essential, neither of which seems to have been very prominent in Lord Byron’s composition, viz. the love of country and “a constant and perpetual disposition” in all things and towards all men—jus suum cuique tribuere. That Byron’s patriotism was of the most questionable sort, nobody, we presume, will deny. Except the admirable line in Childe Harold, in which he describes England as the “inviolate island of the sage and free,” we do not, at present, remember one syllable in all his works, from the spirit of which, it could be fairly inferred that he was even a citizen, much less a hereditary counsellor, lawgiver and judge—one of the privileged and honoured few—of that famous commonwealth. On the contrary, there are many passages both of his prose and poetical writings, from which a stranger would, in charity to his lordship, wish to conclude the reverse.* Yet England had done
* His indifference, not to say aversion to England, discovered itself at a very early age; and in the following letter, written when he was in Greece the first time, he talks of abandoning his country as he would of going from Ravenna to Florence.
“Athens, February 28, 1811.
dear madam,
“As I have received a firman for Egypt, &c. I shall proceed to that quarter in the spring, and I beg you will state to Mr. H. that it is necessary to further remittances. On the subject of Newstead, I answer, as before, no. If it is necessary to sell Rochdale. Fletcher will have arrived by this time with my letters to that purport I will tell you fairly, I have, in the first place, no opinion of funded property; if
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.501
nothing to injure him. All his fortune had come down to him from his ancestors, under the protection, nay, favour of her laws: the very name which he bore, and of which he was so proud, linked him in most intimately with her history. And even if he had suffered injustice at her hand—could he have suffered more than
Dante, or suffering less, might he not have blushed to contrast, in this respect, the writings of that immortal victim of persecution, with his own? The fact is. that the sympathies of Byron were all with power—power in its reckless, daring and its terrible energies, in its tragical downfall or its voluntary self-sacrifice; but at all events with power. His great favourite, in modern times, was Bonaparte—not, it is to be presumed, because he was at all remarkable for what is called by our party journals, “his undeviating republicanism”—but what was much more acceptable in Byron’s sight—he had crushed and trodden upon the mighty ones of the earth—making them drink up the cup of degradation to its most nauseous dregs, passing them under the yoke like captives, chaining them like slaves to his imperial car! But a hero whom he preferred even to Napoleon, was Sylla—a patrician rebel and usurper—who exercised his power very much as Byron did his own genius, with a very gentlemanlike nonchalance—who postponed the most exquisite of mortal pleasures, in Byron’s opinion, to duty or to glory—not pausing, in his victorious career in the East, even “to feel the wrath of his own wrongs, or reap the due of hoarded vengeance”—yet after having reaped this due—after having gorged himself with the gore of his own countrymen, whom he butchered by thousands in cold blood—in broad daylight—in the very midst of Rome—was so terrible a personage that he would venture to lay down—not with “an atoning smile,” for what could atone for such crimes?—“the dictatorial wreath.” Byron’s enthusiasm for this bloody voluptuary—this most abandoned, because most deliberate and calculating ruffian—this syste-
by any particular circumstances, I shall be led to adopt such a determination. I will, at all events, pass my life abroad, as my only tie to England is Newstead, and, that once gone, neither interest nor inclination lead me northward. Competence in your country is ample wealth in the east, such is the difference in the value of money and the abundance of the necessaries of life; and I feel myself so much a citizen of the world, that the spot where I can enjoy a delicious climate, and every luxury, at a less expense than a common college life in England, will always be a country to me; and such are in fact the shores of the Archipelago. This then is the alternative—if I preserve Newstead, I return; if I sell it I stay away. I have had no letters since yours of June, but I have written several times, and shall continue, as usual, on the same plan.
“Believe me, yours ever,
“P. S.—I shall most likely see you in the course of the summer, but, of course, at such a distance, I cannot specify any particular month.”—Letter l. pp. 186-7.
502Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
matic corrupter of the people he enslaved—the precursor and pattern, at once, of
Catiline and Cæsar—a man, whom we should suppose it impossible for an attentive reader of Sallust, Cicero and Plutarch, to contemplate without horror—throws a deep shade of suspicion upon his praises of Washington. He, no doubt, labours under the vulgar mistake, that the Father of his Country might have made himself her master; and is pleased with the image of such mighty power, resigned with so much sang-froid—as if Washington were no better than a Sylla—as yet unstained with blood! In a word, to come out with the whole truth, we believe that envy had a good deal to do with Byron’s politics, nor have we any idea that he would have found life tolerable in a republic constituted as ours is. He was a democrat after the fashion of Count Alfieri, (a man, by the bye, whom he resembles in more points than one) who expressed the greatest indignation because M. de Voltaire,* “a French plebeian” presumed to write a tragedy about the second Brutus—it being the exclusive right of the privileged orders, in his imaginary commonwealth, to speak of a descendant of the Junii and the Cornelii.

We think Byron confirms what we have said in the following passages:—

“‘W. and, after him, * *, has stolen one of my buffooneries about Mde. de Staël’s Metaphysics and the Fog, and passed it, by speech and letter, as their own. As Gibbet says, ‘they are the most of a gentleman of any on the road.’ W. is in sad enmity with the Whigs about this Review of Fox (if he did review him);—all the epigrammatists and essayists are at him. I hate odds, and wish he may beat them. As for me, by the blessing of indifference, I have simplified my politics into an utter detestation of all existing governments; and, as it is the shortest and most agreeable and summary feeling imaginable, the first moment of an universal republic would convert me into an advocate for single and uncontradicted despotism. The fact is, riches are power, and poverty is slavery, all over the earth, and one sort of establishment is no better, nor worse, for a people than another. I shall adhere to my party, because it would not be honourable to act otherwise; but, as to opinions, I don’t think politics worth an opinion. Conduct is another thing:—if you begin with a party, go on with them. I have no consistency, except in politics; and that probably arises from my indifference on the subject altogether.’”—p. 343.

Napoleon Bonaparte has abdicated the throne of the world. ‘Excellent well.’ Methinks Sylla did better; for he revenged, and resigned in the height of his sway, red with the slaughter of his foes—the finest instance of glorious contempt of the rascals upon record.
* Voltaire affected this de very much.
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.503
Diocletian did well too—Amurath not amiss, had he become aught except a dervise—Charles the Fifth but so, so—but Napoleon, worst of all. What! wait till they were in his capital, and then talk of his readiness to give up what is already gone!! ‘What whining monk art thou—what holy cheat?’ ’Sdeath! Dionysius at Corinth was yet a king to this. The ‘Isle of Elba’ to retire to! Well—if it had been Caprea, I should have marvelled less. ‘I see men’s minds are but a parcel of their fortunes.’ I am utterly bewildered and confounded.

“I do n’t know—but I think I, even I (an insect compared with this creature), have set my life on casts not a millionth part of this man’s. But, after all, a crown may be not worth dying for. Yet, to outlive Lodi for this!!! Oh that Juvenal or Johnson could rise from the dead! ‘Expende—quot libras in duce summo invenies?’ I knew they were light in the balance of mortality; but I thought their living dust weighed more carats. Alas! this imperial diamond hath a flaw in it, and is now hardly fit to stick in a glazier’s pencil:—the pen of the historian won’t rate it worth a ducat.

“Psha! ‘something too much of this.’ But I won’t give him up even now; though all his admirers have, ‘like the Thanes, fall’n from him.’”—p. 370.

We subjoin the following, which presents the other side of the same question.

“If I had any views in this country, they would probably be parliamentary. But I have no ambition; at least, if any, it would be ‘aut Cæsar aut nihil.’ My hopes are limited to the arrangement of my affairs, and settling either in Italy or the East (rather the last), and drinking deep of the languages and literature of both. Past events have unnerved me; and all I can now do is to make life an amusement, and look on, while others play. After all—even the highest game of crowns and sceptres, what is it? Vide Napoleon’s last twelvemonth. It has completely upset my system of fatalism. I thought, if crushed, he would have fallen, when ‘fractus illabatur orbis,’ and not have been pared away to gradual insignificance;—that all this was not a mere jeu of the gods, but a prelude to greater changes and mightier events. But Men never advance beyond a certain point;—and here we are, retrograding to the dull, stupid, old system,—balance of Europe—poising straws upon kings’ noses, instead of wringing them off! Give me a republic, or a despotism of one, rather than the mixed government of one, two, three. A republic!—look in the history of the Earth—Rome, Greece, Venice, France, Holland, America, our short (eheu!) Commonwealth, and compare it with what they did under masters. The Asiatics are not qualified to be republicans, but they have the liberty of demolishing despots,—which is the next thing to it. To be the first man—not the Dictator—not the Sylla, but the Washington or the Aristides—the leader in talent and truth—is next to the Divinity! Franklin, Penn, and, next to these, either Brutus or Cassius—even Mirabeau—or St. Just. I shall never be any thing, or rather always be nothing. The most I can hope is, that some will say, ‘He might, perhaps, if he would.’”—p. 325.

504 Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.

We add a short, but very significant paragraph about Bonaparte and Brutus. What a jumble! His preference for Napoleon as here expressed, reminded us of Timon’s interest in Alcibiades for a like reason.

Napoleon!—this week will decide his fate. All seems against him; but I believe and hope he will win—at least, beat back the Invaders. What right have we to prescribe sovereigns to France? Oh for a Republic! ‘Brutus, thou sleepest.’ Hobhouse abounds in continental anecdotes of this extraordinary man; all in favour of his intellect and courage, but against his bonhommie. No wonder;—how should he, who knows mankind well, do other than despise and abhor them.

“The greater the equality, the more impartially evil is disturbed, and becomes lighter by the division among so many—therefore, a republic.

* * * * *

“Ah! my poor little pagod, Napoleon, has walked off his pedestal. He has abdicated, they say. This would draw molten brass from the eyes of Zatanai. What! ‘kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet, and then be baited by the rabble’s curse!’ I cannot bear such a crouching catastrophe. I must stick to Sylla, for my modern favourites don’t do,—their resignations are of a different kind.”—pp. 361, 391.

The moral character of Lord Byron is exhibited to us, we humbly conceive, in a most unamiable, not to say, detestable light, in his intercourse with his mother. The poor woman was certainly not a model for matrons—she was no rival of Cornelia—and her son had a right to complain of her on many scores, but especially for that extreme indulgence which made him so miserable through life. But we do not think it was a good reason for treating her with cold and cruel contempt, that she doated with all a woman’s fondness upon her only child. That such were her feelings towards Lord Byron—even if we doubted the instincts of nature—would clearly appear from Mr. Moore’s own account of her. It is true that having an ungovernable temper and very bad manners, she occasionally both said and did, in a paroxysm of rage, what a good son would have witnessed, on her account, with extreme regret. Things of the sort, however, (not in the same degree, to be sure) occur sometimes in the best of families, and it is precisely because they do occur, that such inviolable sanctity is ascribed to all the secrets of domestic life, and that such sacred charities, like good angels, watch over its peace. But who ever thought of treasuring up the hasty expressions of a parent—a mother—of making a hoard of them, and brooding over it with a miser’s perverse and sleepless vigilance—of blabbing them to the world with an un-
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.505
feeling levity—of recalling and repeating them for the purpose of justifying a parricidal alienation of mind, itself wantonly avowed to a stranger in a distant land. We read the following paragraph with a sensation of horror, and thought, involuntarily, of
Nero and Agrippina,

“He spoke often of his mother to Lord Sligo, and with a feeling that seemed little short of aversion. ‘Some time or other,” he said, “I will tell you why I feel thus towards her.’—A few days after, when they were bathing together in the Gulf of Lepanto, he referred to this promise, and, pointing to his naked leg and foot, exclaimed.—‘Look there!—it is to her false delicacy at my birth I owe that deformity; and yet, as long as I can remember, she has never ceased to taunt and reproach me with it. Even a few days before we parted, for the last time, on my leaving England, she, in one of her fits of passion, uttered an imprecation upon me, praying that I might prove as ill-formed in mind as I am in body!’ His look and manner in relating this frightful circumstance, can be conceived only by those who have ever seen him in a similar state of excitement.”—p. 184.

Now, what Mr. Moore calls aversion, was, we should say, settled hatred—both from its cause and its effect. It was precisely the point on which Lord Byron’s feelings were most sensitive and exacerbated, and as he had neither forgotten nor forgiven the offence, we may be sure that his hostility—so provoked—was of the most unmerciful character. Indeed, nothing short of the sternest malignity, or a total want of principle, it seems to us, could account for his speaking of such a thing at all. If his mother had really deserved his hatred, and excited it by unnatural conduct towards him, one would have expected him to bury the dreadful secret in the inmost recesses of his bosom—to drive it away from his own thoughts whenever it occurred—to struggle desperately, even against the strongest convictions of his mind and the involuntary feelings of his heart—in short, to treat it, like the inborn hatred of the sons of Œdipus, as a curse from heaven for some unatoned crime of his race, to be expiated, if possible, by sacrifice and repentance. But the truth is, that there was nothing extraordinary or tragical in the matter. Mrs. Byron however violent in her temper, far from having any aversion to her son always believed him destined to become a great man, and was wrapped up in him, the last, the only object of her desolate affections. At the very time that he, in a foreign country, at an immense distance from her, after an absence that might have softened his heart towards any one—but especially one standing in that sacred relation towards him, and whom as it happened, he was to see no more—was indulging in these malignant recollections—the object of this hostility, as
506Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
Mr. Moore informs us, was carefully and fondly gathering up every word of kindness or praise which men spoke, of her child, at home!

“That notwithstanding her injudicious and coarse treatment of him, Mrs. Byron loved her son, with that sort of fitful fondness of which alone such a nature is capable, there can be little doubt,—and still less, that she was ambitiously proud of him. Her anxiety for the success of his first literary essays may be collected from the pains which he so considerately took to tranquillize her on the appearance of the hostile article in the review. As his fame began to brighten, that notion of his future greatness and glory, which, by a singular forecast of superstition, she had entertained from his very childhood, became proportionably confirmed. Every mention of him in print was watched by her with eagerness, and she had got bound together m a volume, which a friend of mine once saw, a collection of all the literary notices, that had then appeared, of his early Poems and Satire.—written over, on the margin, with observations of her own, which to my informant appeared indicative of much more sense and ability than, from her general character, we should be inclined to attribute to her.”—p. 207.

Now, there is no imaginable excuse or palliation for such conduct. The practice of civilized nations furnishes no plea in parricide or misprision of parricide, but the general issue; to justify would be to plead guilty. There is no part of Mr. Moore’s book which is more disagreeable to us than the manner in which he glosses over this passage of his hero’s conduct—it is the most mawkish toad-eating, and there is a degree of simplicity approaching to niaiserie in his way of telling his story. Admitting all that he says on the subject—which from internal evidence we do not—Byron’s conduct is not justified, however his mother may, (on his account and through his means!) be censured and degraded in the eyes of the world. It is at best the shepherd’s song in Virgil,
Crudelis mater magis, an puer improbus ille?
Improbus ille puer, crudelis tu quoque mater.

When Lord Byron was about eighteen years of age, Mr. Moore gives the following account of the intercourse between himself and his mother. If our readers recollect any parallel to the fact mentioned in the first paragraph, they are more fortunate or unfortunate than we have been.

“Between a temper, at all resembling this, and the loud hurricane bursts of Mrs. Byron, the collision, it may be supposed, was not a little formidable; and the age at which the young poet was now arrived when,—as most parents feel,—the impatience of youth begins to champ the bit, would but render the occasions for such shocks more frequent. It is told, as a curious proof of their opinion of each other’s
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.507
violence, that, after parting one evening in a tempest of this kind, they were known each to go privately that night to the apothecary’s, inquiring anxiously whether the other had been to purchase poison, and cautioning the vender of drugs not to attend to such an application, if made.

“It was but rarely, however, that the young lord allowed himself to be provoked into more than a passive share in these scenes. To the boisterousness of his mother he would oppose a civil and, no doubt, provoking silence,—bowing to her but the more profoundly the higher her voice rose in the scale. In general, however, when he perceived that a storm was at hand, in flight lay his only safe resource. To this summary expedient he was driven, at the period of which we are speaking; but not till after a scene had taken place between him and Mrs. Byron, in which the violence of her temper had proceeded to lengths, that, however outrageous they might be deemed, were not, it appears, unusual with her. The poet, Young, in describing a temper of this sort, says—
The cups and saucers, in a whirlwind sent,
Just intimate the lady’s discontent.
But poker and tongs were, it seems, the missiles which Mrs. Byron preferred, and which she, more than once, sent resounding after her fugitive son. In the present instance, he was but just in time to avoid a blow aimed at him with the former of these weapons, and to make a hasty escape to the house of a friend in the neighbourhood; where, concerting the best means of baffling pursuit, he decided upon an instant flight to London. The letters which I am about to give, were written, immediately on his arrival in town, to some friends at Southwell, from whose kind interference in his behalf it may fairly be concluded that the blame of the quarrel, whatever it may have been, did not rest with him. The first is to
Mr. Pigot, a young gentleman about the same age as himself, who had just returned, for the vacation, from Edinburgh, where he was, at that time, pursuing his medical studies.”—pp. 63, 64.

Mr. Moore takes it for granted (for there is no testimony adduced) that Byron conducted himself throughout these shocking scenes, with perfect propriety—that is to say, with the most unresisting gentleness and meekness. Now—not to mention that, according to our author’s own account, Lord Byron was accustomed, when younger, to do all he could to provoke his mother to anger—we infer that he was, at least, as much in fault as she, from the very letters given in evidence by his friend. No son capable of writing those letters, could have had a spark of filial love, respect or dutifulness, in his whole composition. They remind one of the autobiographical sketches of Scipio, Raphael, and other worthies of that stamp, in Gil Blas, which contribute so much to make that book the most amusing, as the most faithful picture of the dark side of human life, especially among the inferior
508Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
sort. Lord Byron treats the whole affair as capital fun, and exhibits the angry heroine to all possible advantage, in the broadest burlesque and caricature. We can safely recommend some of these letters as very entertaining pieces of pleasantry. The writer is any thing but sparing in his sarcasm. He returns to the charge over and over again, and always in the same tone. He calls his mother “that amiable Alecto,” p. 64; “a hydra,” p. 66; “that Upas tree, that antidote to the arts, Mrs. B.” p. 68; “my nice mamma would raise the accustomed maternal war-whoop,” p. 99, &c. It is worthy of remark, in this connexion, that
Mrs. Byron used to say that her son resembled Rousseau—and that before he was twenty. So much for his character at that period of his life.

Mr. Moore’s general remarks on this subject, are as follows;—

“It can hardly have escaped the observation of the reader, that the general tone of the noble poet’s correspondence with his mother is that of a son, performing, strictly and conscientiously, what he deems to be his duty, without the intermixture of any sentiment of cordiality to sweeten the task. The very title of ‘Madam,’ by which he addresses her—and which he but seldom exchanges for the endearing name of ‘mother,’—is, of itself, a sufficient proof of the sentiments he entertained for her. That such should have been his dispositions towards such a parent can be matter neither of surprise nor blame—but that, notwithstanding this alienation, which her own unfortunate temper produced, he should have continued to consult her wishes, and minister to her comforts, with such unfailing thoughtfulness as is evinced not only in the frequency of his letters, but in the almost exclusive appropriation of Newstead to her use, redounds, assuredly, in no ordinary degree, to his honour; and was even the more strikingly meritorious from the absence of that affection, which renders kindnesses to a beloved object little more than an indulgence of self.

“But however estranged from her his feelings must be allowed to have been while she lived, her death seems to have restored them into their natural channel. Whether from a return of early fondness and the all-atoning power of the grave, or from the prospect of that void in his future life, which this loss of his only link with the past would leave, it is certain that he felt the death of his mother acutely, if not deeply. On the night after his arrival at Newstead, the waiting-woman of Mrs. Byron, in passing the door of the room where the deceased lady lay, heard a sound as of some one sighing heavily from within; and, on entering the chamber, found to her surprise, Lord Byron sitting, in the dark, beside the bed. On her representing to him the weakness of thus giving way to grief, he burst into tears and exclaimed, ‘Oh, Mrs. By, I had but one friend in the world, and she is gone!’”

“While his real thoughts were thus confided to silence and darkness, there was, in other parts of his conduct more open to observation, a degree of eccentricity and indecorum which with superficial observers
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.509
might well bring the sensibility of his nature into question. On the morning of the funeral, having declined following the remains himself, he stood looking, from the Abbey door, at the procession, till the whole had moved off;—then turning to young
Rushton, who was the only person left besides himself, he desired him to fetch the sparring-gloves, and proceeded to his. usual exercise with the boy. He was silent and abstracted all the time, and, as if from an effort to get the better of his feelings, threw more violence, Rushton thought, into his blows than was his habit; but, at last,—the struggle seeming too much-for him,—he flung away the gloves, and retired to his room. * * *

“Among those less traits of his conduct through which an observer can trace a filial wish to uphold, and throw respect round, the station of his mother, may be mentioned his insisting, while a boy, on being called ‘George Byron Gordon’—giving thereby precedence to the maternal name,—and his continuing to the last to address her as the ‘Honourable Mrs. Byron,’—a mark of rank, to which, he must have been aware, she had no claim whatever. Neither does it appear that in his habitual manner towards her, there was any thing denoting a want of either affection or deference—with the exception, perhaps, occasionally, of a somewhat greater degree of familiarity than comports with the ordinary notions of filial respect. Thus, the usual name he called her by, when they were on good-humoured terms together, was ‘Kitty Gordon;’ and I have heard an eye-witness of the scene describe the look of arch, dramatic humour, with which, one day, at Southwell, when they were in the height of their theatrical rage, he threw open the door of the drawing-room, to admit his mother, saying, at the same time, ‘Enter the Honourable Kitty.’” pp. 205-207.

Mr. Moore has done very little towards explaining the great mystery of Byron’s life—his unhappy separation from his wife. As he represents the matter, Lady Byron left her husband upon a temporary visit to her parents, and left him in an unusually affectionate manner. The letter announcing, some weeks after, her determination to return no more, had been preceded by one full of cordiality and kindness. That determination was us unexpected, therefore, as it was afflicting, and the necessary inference seemed to be, that Lady Byron had been prevailed upon to take the irrevocable step, by the influence of others. Lord Byron evidently laid the blame of this fatal interference to the mother of his wife, and that female attendant or domestic, on whom he condescended to wreak his vengeance, in such unmeasured terms, in the “Sketch.” We have lately seen Lady Byron’s reply to Mr. Moore; denying that her parents had any thing to do with the matter, ascribing the kindness of her manner at taking leave, to a belief that her husband was insane, and declaring that as soon as she was convinced of her mistake on this point, she made up her mind, without hesitation, to an eternal separation from him. She is supported in her statement
510Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
by the evidence, and justified in her conduct by the authority, of a celebrated
civilian, and the public are left, by this imperfect disclosure, to imagine the worst of that behaviour which nothing but madness could excuse. That Lord Byron committed the first fault in this unhappy feud, we never entertained any doubt; first, because in all similar cases, the chances are at least ten to one in favour of the lady; secondly, because in the celebrated lines “Fare thee well,” as well as in Childe Harold, the poet plainly acknowledges himself in the wrong, and only represents his wife as too stern and inflexible in her indignation: thirdly, because, according to his lordship’s own account, corroborated by Mr. Moore’s, Miss Milbank enjoyed the highest reputation for exemplary conduct, and every virtue that can adorn the character of an accomplished lady: fourthly, because some such result was to have been anticipated from Lord Byron’s eccentricities and violence of temper: an instance of this violence, about the period of the rupture, given by Mr. Moore himself, being almost beyond credibility.* To all these, our author adds a fifth reason, which he regards as instar omnium; and which he has taken extraordinary pains to elucidate and fortify by every topic of argument, example and illustration. This is, that there is something in extraordinary genius itself, which unfits its devoted possessor for performing the duties and enjoying the happiness of domestic life—and that Lord Byron’s case only adds melancholy confirmation to what is, otherwise, the result of universal experience upon this subject.

Boccaccio, in his Life of Dante, undertakes the same thesis, but he does not present it in precisely the same point of view. His objection to matrimony is the trivial one, that it is an impediment to great enterprises, to literary studies and to the enjoyments of society. The friends of that poet had procured him a wife for the purpose of diverting his thoughts, if possible, from the fate of his lost Beatrice—his first love, and if we believe him, the fountain of all his inspiration. But the remedy proved worse than the disease, and his biographer, the gay
* “For this story, however, there was so far a foundation that the practice to which he had accustomed himself from boyhood, of having loaded pistols always near him at night, was considered so strange a propensity as to be included in that list of symptoms (sixteen, I believe, in number) which were submitted to medical opinion, in proof of his insanity. Another symptom was the emotion, almost to hysterics, which he had exhibited on seeing Kean act Sir Giles Overreach. But the most plausible of all the grounds, as he himself used to allow, on which these articles of impeachment against his sanity were drawn up, was an act of violence committed by him on a favourite old watch that had been his companion from boyhood, and had gone with him to Greece. In a fit of vexation and rage, brought on by some of those humiliating embarrassments to which he was now almost daily a prey, he furiously dashed this watch upon the hearth, and ground it to pieces among the ashes with the poker.”—Note, p. 460.
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.511
lover of Fiammetta, makes himself, as usual, very merry at the, expense of holy wedlock. He laments that a man whose intercourse with the world, might be so various and delightful, should be thus confined to the society of one or of very few—that instead of enjoying the conversation of kings and philosophers, he should have to listen to a pert woman’s incessant chattering, and what was still worse, to seem (if he had any regard to his interest) to assent to and delight in it—that his sweet liberty should be exchanged for curtain lectures, and the suspicious tyranny of a jealous wife, and his sublime contemplations be disturbed, certainly by the cares and the cries of a family, and possibly, by worse enemies to a husband’s peace of mind—which shall be nameless. Boccaccio concludes this characteristic tirade by an apology to the ladies, whom he gravely assures that he is no enemy to wedlock in general, especially to that of rich bachelors, lords and country gentlemen—but only to the marriages of men already betrothed to philosophy.
Mr. Moore goes much more deeply into the philosophy of the matter. He dives into the abstrusest metaphysics, and traces what he calls in a rather euphuistic phrase, “the transfer of the seat of sensibility from the heart to the fancy”—that is to say, in plain English, the heartlessness and selfishness—of men of genius to the very frame and constitution of their minds. Now, that poets, especially—who represent the most sublime and subtilized genius—are an “irritable race,” is a proverb—and we are firm believers in the effects of physical organization upon the highest sensibilities of our nature. We even conceit, that if a man be born for great excellence, in oratory, or any other of the arts of imagination, you may feel it in his pulse. But that it can be laid down as a general rule, that genius is inconsistent with the most sacred duties, and the sweetest affections of life, we cannot admit—notwithstanding the formidable catalogue of precedents, which Mr. Moore cites in justification of Lord Byron. Many of those examples prove nothing more than that men of genius may draw blanks in the great lottery of matrimony, as well as the common herd of mankind. Some of them prove nothing at all. But what shall we say to the hundreds of instances the other way, which are not the exceptions, but the rule?—What shall we say to such exemplary men as Sir Walter Scott, Schiller, Wordsworth, and Mr. Moore himself—who has generously disclaimed his own titles to renown as a poet, to secure to his friend the reputation of virtue? Perhaps there never was a more affecting and beautiful picture of “wedded love,” in all its holiness and rapture, than is presented in the biography of the most
512Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
sensitive of this imaginative race of beings, poor
Mozart—and Pope, who is called in by our author as a witness for his doctrine, was at least, the most devoted and affectionate of sons. In short, men of genius have, in general, strong passions, but there is no reason in the world why they should not have sound principles, and where this is the case, the evil, in the course of a few years, infallibly works its own cure. The progress of a warm and vigorous mind, under the discipline of experience, reminds us of that of the sun in this climate, at a certain season of the year—when if he generally rises in mist, he always melts it away by noonday, and goes down in cloudless and serene brightness.

Mr. Moore speaks of Byron’s love as Byron speaks of Rousseau’s in Childe Harold. As the whole passage is not only very applicable here, but strikingly illustrative of the supposed resemblance between these two celebrated men, we quote it the more readily.
“His love was passion’s essence—as a tree
On fire by lightning; with etherial flame
Kindled he was, and blasted; for to be
Thus, and enamour’d, were in him the same.
But his was not the love of living dame,
Nor of the dead who rise upon our dreams,
But of ideal beauty, which became
In him existence, and o’erflowing teems
Along his burning page, distemper’d tho’ it seems.
This breathed itself to life in Julie, this
Invested her with all that’s wild and sweet:
This hallow’d, too, the memorable kiss
Which every morn his fever’d lip would greet
From hers, who but with friendship his would meet:
But to that gentle touch, thro’ brain and breast,
Flash’d the thrill’d spirit’s love-devouring heat;
In that absorbing sigh perchance more blest,
Than vulgar minds, may be with all they seek possest.
His life was one long war with self-sought foes
Or friends by him self-banished, for his mind
Had grown suspicion’s sanctuary,” &c.

* “I think I also remarked in Byron’s temper starts of suspicion, when he seemed to pause and consider whether there had not been a secret, and, perhaps offensive, meaning in something casually said to him. In this case, I also judged it best to let his mind, like a troubled spring, work itself clear, which it did in a minute or two. I was considerably older, you will recollect, than my noble friend, and had no reason to fear his misconstruing my sentiments towards him, nor had I ever the slightest reason to doubt that they were kindly returned on his part. If I had occasion to be mortified by the display of genius which threw into the shade such pretensions as I was then supposed to possess, I might console myself that, in my own case, the materials of mental happiness had been mingled in a greater proportion.”—Letter of Sir W. Scott, p. 440.
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings. 513

This rapturous description has, at least, one great fault, besides its extravagance. It is not true. Rousseau, if we are to believe his Confessions, had often felt (or thought he felt) more extatical and frenzied delight in love, than even he had any power to express. In one respect, to be sure, his passion was ideal and ideal enough. “He saw Helen’s beauty on a brow of Egypt.” He invested the most ordinary woman with the charms of an imaginary loveliness, and not long after raving about Julie in his Nouvelle Heloise, with such intoxicating and delirious eloquence, he became the slave (if ever there was one) of a vulgar, ungainly creature, whom he permitted to bear his (then) celebrated name. As for Lord Byron’s idealism in love, we suspect, it was a match for Rousseau’s in deed and in practice. If we are to judge of it, at least, by its fruits, it was as far as possible, from being extravagant. It is not worth while to dream, if our visions fall short even of common place realities. Byron’s heroines—with the exception of Angiolina, the paragon of wives, and Gulnare, a girl of so great a spirit as to disgust a pirate by her boldness—are all mere Circassians. Hundreds of such women, we fancy—in all but their deep unalterable devotedness—are to be seen in the harems of the East. They are kept—in Byron’s poetry—in a sort of Oriental seclusion, like the females in the comedies of Terence. All that they are required to know, think of, do, desire, dream is love. To be sure, to love such, men so fondly and faithfully, may be no ordinary task. For, as it has been well remarked, the women in Byron’s tales know no form of faith, no rule of conduct, but that laid down in the fine lines of his biographer.
“Oh! what was love made for, if ’tis not the same
Thro’ joy and thro’ torment, thro’ glory and shame—
I know not, I ask not, if guilt’s in that heart,
I know that I love thee whatever thou art.”
Maturin has quoted these lines at the head of one of the chapters of “Melmoth,” and we have been forcibly struck with what we conceive to be an exaggeration (caricature would be too harsh a word) of Byron’s ideal love, in the passion of Imalee for the preternatural Wanderer. There is more genius, however, in the conception of that beautiful creature, growing up amid flowers “herself a fairer flower,” in such simplicity and spotless innocence, and loving, like Miranda, the first human form that invaded her quiet, sequestered paradise, though that form happened to be possessed by a demon—than in the doating, but still somewhat vulgar, fondness of the Leilas and Medoras. It is dreadful to think of passion so utterly thrown away as Imalee’s—of the dismal doom of Melmoth’s spirit which would have sympathized in that passion, but could not.
514Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
Woman, however, in Byron’s poetry, although not filling her loftiest sphere—although the object of a fierce, jealous and distempered Eastern love, rather than of that respectful and idolatrous sentiment, with which chivalry has exalted and refined the intercourse between the sexes—is still all-important to man. She is the mistress, not the wife—but through every danger and toil, through fire and flood, the desperadoes, whom Byron selects for heroes, are true to the vow plighted at no altar but love’s—and that love is an absorbing, engrossing, devouring passion which takes absolute possession of their whole being. It is not the gay and frivolous gallantry of France—it is not the soft and blissful voluptuousness—the elysium of the heart—in which the sorceresses of romance, the Morganas and Armidas, in their fairy bowers, “lap the prisoned souls” of captive and captivated knights. The love of Conrad, for example, is his only virtue—the single good passion to which all his other passions—fierce and terrible as they are—yield as to a charm. It is a warm, green spot in that “vacant bosom’s wilderness.” His dark and guilty spirit takes refuge from its sufferings in this one sweet affection—riots and revels in it—bathes itself in its unfathomable and boundless bliss. All the energies of his nature abused—its principles perverted—its tastes depraved—are redeemed by it. He is at war with God and man, but “his very hate to them is love to her,” the adored and adoring—the only being in creation upon whom he bestows a thought, but of hostility and wrath—the only being in creation to whom the secrets of that throbbing bosom are imparted—who knows and feels and soothes the pangs which flash across that burning brow.
“None are all evil—quickening round his heart,
One softer feeling would not yet depart;
Oft could he sneer at others as beguiled
By passions worthy of a fool or child;
Yet ’gainst that passion vainly still he strove,
And even in him, it asks the name of love!
Yes, it was love—unchangeable—unchanged,
Felt but for one from whom he never ranged, &c.
Yes—it was love—if thoughts of tenderness,
Tried in temptation, strengthened by distress,
Unmoved by absence, firm in every clime,
And yet—oh more than all!—untired by time;
Which nor defeated hope, nor baffled wile
Could render sullen were she near to smile.”
Nor rage could fire, nor sickness fret to vent
On her, one murmur of his discontent;
Which still would meet with joy, with calmness part,
Lest that his look of grief should reach her heart,
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.515
Which nought removed, nor menaced to remove—
If there be love in mortals, this is love!
He was a villain—ay—reproaches shower
On him—but not the passion, nor its power,
Which only proved, all other virtues gone,
Not guilt itself could quench this loveliest one!”
[Cors. Canto I. 283.

Now there is nothing ideal in this love but its own purity and perfection, and the character of the person who feels—not inspires—it. It is strange enough that a pirate should be so vastly sentimental—a critic might object that this incongruity violates a canon of the schools—
Aut famam sequere aut sibi convenientia finge.
But the prodigy here is the lover, not the beloved; and though it would be rather a hopeless pursuit to go among the corsairs of the Mediterranean, in quest of a Conrad, any girl, desperately in love, is fully a match for Medora. We cannot say, therefore, that we see in
Byron those lofty imaginations of female excellence or fascination, which nothing existing in rerum naturâ could satisfy. It is very remarkable, however, that in his conceptions of love, as in all his other thoughts and feelings, the dark, exclusive, diseased self-love of the man, makes itself visible in every line.

Yet we have no doubt that Lord Byron had an immense capacity for love, and that had his principles been less perverted, he would have been very tractable to a woman of sense. As he was, we are inclined to agree with Mr. Moore, that a lady of a certain stamp, might have exercised great influence over him, and, perhaps, restored his “fallen nature” to all its original goodness. But we do not think that his biographer has, in his picture of this imaginary lady, hit the mark exactly. Lord Byron did not care about high intellectual or moral attributes in a woman; his standard of female excellence, as we have endeavoured to shew, was not a very high one. Beauty, grace, amiableness—but above all, devoted love, and a patience capable even of martyrdom—at least, if inflicted by her lord—such were the chief attributes of his ideal help-meet. In short, he would have tried his wife as the Marquis of Saluzzo in the Decamerone did poor Griselda—for none but a Griselda would have suited, or could have overcome Lord Byron. Now, the lady he married happened to have no taste for martyrdom. “Patient Grizzlel” was a part she had never expected, and was, of consequence, quite unprepared to act. She had more unmixed pride and loftier as well as purer feelings, than her husband—and her cool, decided conduct towards him, crushed his tyrannical and selfish spirit to the earth. Lord Byron shews, how perfectly
516Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
conscious he was of his own incontrollable and unhappy disposition, by a slight remark of his, recorded in this volume. He says that he had always loved his sister—adding, that it was, probably, because they had been very little together! Was that, because he had an “ideal standard” of sisters, to which
Mrs. Leigh did not come up? The sophistical trash of Mr. Moore upon this subject will not do at all. In this connexion, we extract the following remarks of our author:—

“In the extracts from his Journal, just given, there is a passage that cannot fail to have been remarked, where, in speaking of his admiration of some lady, whose name he has himself left blank, the noble writer says—‘a wife would be the salvation of me.’ It was under this conviction, which not only himself but some of his friends entertained, of the prudence of his taking timely refuge in matrimony from those perplexities which form the sequel of all less regular ties, that he had been induced, about a year before, to turn his thoughts seriously to marriage,—at least, as seriously as his thoughts were ever capable of being so turned,—and chiefly, I believe by the advice and intervention of his friend Lady Melbourne, to become a suitor for the hand of a relative of that lady, Miss Milbanke. Though his proposal was not then accepted, every assurance of friendship and regard accompanied the refusal; a wish was even expressed that they should continue to write to each other, and a correspondence,—somewhat singular between two young persons of different sexes, inasmuch as love was not the subject of it,—ensued between them. We have seen how highly Lord Byron estimated as well the virtues as the accomplishments of the young lady, but it is evident that on neither side, at this period, was love either felt or professed.”

“In the mean time, new entanglements, in which his heart was the willing dupe of his fancy and vanity, came to engross the young poet; and still, as the usual penalties of such pursuits followed, he again found himself sighing for the sober yoke of wedlock, as some security against their recurrence. There were, indeed, in the interval between Miss Milbanke’s refusal and acceptance of him, two or three other young women of rank who, at different times, formed the subject of his matrimonial dreams. In the society of one of these, whose family had long honoured me with their friendship, he and I passed much of our time, during this and the preceding spring; and it will be found that, in a subsequent part of his correspondence, he represents me as having entertained an anxious wish, that he should so far cultivate my friend’s favour as to give a chance, at least, of matrimony being the result.

“That, I, more than once, expressed some such feeling is undoubtedly true. Fully concurring with the opinion, not only of himself, but of others of his friends, that in marriage lay his only chance of salvation from the sort of perplexing attachments into which he was now constantly tempted, I saw in none of those whom he admired with more legitimate views so many requisites for the difficult task of winning him into fidelity and happiness as in the lady in question. Combining beauty of the highest order, with a mind intelligent and ingenuous—having just learning enough to give refinement to her taste, and far too much taste to make pretentions to learning,—with a patrician spirit
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.517
proud as his own, but showing it only in a delicate generosity of spirit, a feminine high-mindedness, which would have led her to tolerate his defects in consideration of his noble qualities and his glory, and even to sacrifice silently some of her own happiness rather than violate the responsibility in which she stood pledged to the world for his;—such was from long experience, my impression of the character of this lady; and perceiving
Lord Byron to be attracted by her more obvious claims to admiration, I felt a pleasure no less in rendering justice to the still rarer qualities which she possessed, than in endeavouring to raise my noble friend’s mind to the contemplation of a higher model of female character than he had, unluckily for himself, been much in the habit of studying.” pp. 358, 359.

One of the best written and most felicitous passages in this volume, is that in which Mr. Moore explains an effect of Lord Byron’s youthful love for Miss Chaworth upon his lordship’s imagination. It was perfectly natural that this disappointment should make a deep impression on his mind, and equally natural, under all circumstances, that the object of this early affection should be cherished, and almost sanctified, in his remembrance. He had loved passionately, and nothing had happened to disenchant him. He had been disappointed—without being disgusted. This lady became to him an ideal being—a vision of fancy and feeling—and amidst his many mortifications and sufferings, he could not fail to look back upon her, as his lost hope—to look up to her image, with feelings somewhat resembling the adoration which Dante pays to the spirit of his own Beatrice—dwelling amid the spheres and inspiring him with holy hopes and aspirations. But that this disappointment had any other effect—that it embittered Byron’s existence, when he arrived at years of maturity—we do not believe.

“It was about the time when he was thus bitterly feeling, and expressing, the blight which his heart had suffered from a real object of affection, that his poems on the death of an imaginary one, “Thyrza,” were written;—nor is it any wonder, when we consider the peculiar circumstances under which these beautiful effusions flowed from his fancy, that of all his strains of pathos, they should be the most touching and most pure. They were, indeed, the essence, the abstract spirit, as it were, of many griefs;—a confluence of sad thoughts from many sources of sorrow, refined and warmed in their passage through his fancy, and forming thus one deep reservoir of mournful feeling. In retracing the happy hours he had known with the friends now lost, all the ardent tenderness of his youth came back upon him. His school-sports with the favourites of his boyhood, Wingfield and Tattersall,—his summer days with Long, and those evenings of music and romance, which he had dreamed away in the society of his adopted brother, Eddlestone,—all these recollections of the young and dead now came to mingle themselves in his mind with the image of her, who, though living, was, for him, as much lost as they, and diffused that general feeling of sadness
518Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
and fondness through his soul, which found a vent in these poems. No friendship, however warm, could have inspired sorrow so passionate; as no love, however pure, could have kept passion so chastened. It was the blending of the two affections, in his memory and imagination, that thus gave birth to an ideal object combining the best features of both, and drew from him these saddest and tenderest of love-poems, in which we find all the depth and intensity of real feeling touched over with such a light as no reality ever wore.” p. 226.

Before we dismiss the subject of Lord Byron’s moral character, we must remark, that he seems to have been uniformly kind to his dependents and inferiors—when they did nothing to offend his pride. His master passion made no war upon the humble and the weak. His feelings were, as we have said, naturally kind and humane. It was only upon those, who thwarted or wounded his amour propre, that he poured out his direful wrath. Debellare superbos was his maxim. Merciful to the unresisting, he declared a war of extermination against all who denied his supremacy or opposed his sovereign will.

The literary reputation of Lord Byron has been established beyond all possibility of change or decay. We do not believe—notwithstanding some apparent exceptions—that the opinions of contemporaries, in regard to the works of men of genius, have ever materially differed from those of posterity. But this is especially true of those writers who have addressed themselves more to the feelings of mankind, than to the imagination. Milton, although his works were far more justly appreciated by his own age, than is commonly thought, certainly did not hold exactly as high a rank in general estimation then, as has been conceded to him since. But—besides the character of that wretched age—Milton’s poetry is addressed to the learned. It bears upon every line of it, the impress of vast erudition and consummate art. It is true, he is the greatest master of the sublime that any language has to boast of—greater than Shakespeare—greater than Dante—greater than Homer. But it requires study and reflection, objects of comparison and a competent familiarity with literature, to perceive the amazing magnitude of this glorious orb. A vulgar eye might glance over him a thousand times, and still mistake this “ocean of flame”* for a star of an inferior class. This is a great obstacle to his popularity—and it is one not less formidable, that be is deficient in pathos, and in topics of general interest. Byron wrote because he felt and as he felt. It may be said most justly of his genius—furor arma ministrat. Instead of “lisping in numbers” as Pope did, he sighed and groaned and cursed in them. He spoke to the hearts of men, and, however the spirit
Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.519
of most of his productions is to be censured, his voice, whether for good or for evil, has seldom failed to find an echo there.

It may, in general, be remarked of his poetry, as of most of that of the present age, that it is not sufficiently elaborated. Many feeble, prosaic, and even unmeaning lines abound every where in his finest compositions. English criticism is less fastidious, in this respect, than that of any other language, and things are pardoned or passed over by it, which would endanger the success of a work in France or Italy, and would have destroyed it at Athens. But it is impossible to read any of Byron’s masterpieces along with the best passages in our classical poetry, without being struck with the general inferiority and carelessness of his diction, as well as with the great inequality of his style. Compare, for instance, any thing that he has done, (except, of course, some highly wrought passages) in the Spenserian Stanza, with Spenser himself, or with the first part of Thomson’sCastle of Indolence.” Whatever may be thought of their relative merits in other respects, we fancy every body who has either ear or taste, must agree that, as far as mere language goes, there is a richness, harmony and uniform finish in the works of those masters, which are sadly wanting in Byron. So in satire, he has produced nothing to be talked of in comparison of Dryden’s vigorous and bold pen, or the condensed and sententious elegance of Pope. Nothing can be more powerful and pathetic than his poetry in his loftier vein—but the same objection lies here to the want of that limæ labor, which entitles a work of genius to be classed among perfect specimens of art. Lord Byron threw off some, probably most of his compositions, with almost as much rapidity as a hackneyed writer for the daily press. Not the least instructive part of Mr. Moore’s book, is the insight it gives us into his manner of composing—from which the fact just mentioned appears, along with another more important, if not quite so remarkable. This is, that many of the greatest beauties of those poems, were put in as corrections and improvements, on second thought and with great care—the true secret of the curiosa felicitas in all times and tongues. A late writer* mentions that he saw an autograph MS. of Ariosto, at Ferrara, from which it appeared, that that great and fertile genius had actually written over sixteen different times, the famous octave of the tempest,
“Stendon le nube un tenebroso velo,” &c.
We did purpose exemplifying our criticism upon this point, by a comparison between select passages of Byron, and similar ones from
Milton and other classics—between some parts of
520Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
Manfred, for instance, and Comus, especially the songs, or whatever they are, of the Spirits in each. But we have left ourselves no space for doing that, which cannot be well done, without a considerable degree of minuteness and prolixity.

One fault—or rather class of faults—which has been justly imputed to Byron’s style, is, as often happens, nearly. akin to its greatest virtue. Horace shall say what we mean in three words—Professus grandia, turget. His genius is, no doubt, incomparably superior to Lucan’s, whose gazelle ampoulée, as Voltaire calls the Pharsalia, we never yet have been able to read through; but there is the same tone of emphasis and exaggeration in Childe Harold, for example, as in that poem. The famous sentence, victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni, which we have always felt to he frigid and extravagant, and now believe to be so, since we find the Père Bouhours of the same opinion, is altogether Byronian. There is too much bluster and pretension about this sort of sublimity for our taste. True grandeur is always simple, and even subdued in its tone, as we see it in Raphael’s pictures and in the Philippics of Demosthenes. We were forcibly struck, in reading the “Prophecy of Dante,” with a certain swelling and swaggering air about the whole affair, which resembles any thing rather than the oracular and terrible brevity of that great poet. We shall give an example or two of the extravagance which we take to be Byron’s besetting sin, from what is, by some critics, regarded as his master-piece, the third and fourth cantos of Childe Harold—though, for our parts, we have no hesitation in assigning the honour of that distinction, to Manfred. Here is a specimen of downright bombast.
“———Above me are the Alps,
The palaces of nature, whose vast walls
Have pinnacled in clouds their snowy scalps,
And throned eternity in icy halls
Of cold sublimity, where forms and falls
The avalanche—the thunderbolt of snow!”
Canto III. 63.

Another instance of the same kind of extravagance. He is speaking of a tower—
“Standing with half its battlements alone,
And with two thousand years of ivy grown,
The garland of eternity,” &c.
Canto IV. 99.

“Admire, exult—despise—laugh, weep,—for here
There is such matter for all feeling:—man!
Thou pendulum betwixt a smile and tear,” &c.
Ibid. 109.

Lord Byron’s Character and Writings. 521

Many other examples might be adduced did our limits permit; but, we must observe, that what we object to in Byron, is not so much a frigid conceit or bombastic expression, here and there, which may be pointed out with precision, but the general tone of exaggeration—a too obvious effort running through his whole poetry, (in its sublimer strains) to be very strong and very striking. For instance, the description of the cataract, or rather cascade of Velino, in the fourth Canto, which has been much extolled, has, we confess, always appeared to us extravagant. It would be so if applied to Niagara;—
“The hell of waters! where they howl and hiss,
And boil in endless torture; while the sweat
Of their great agony, wrung out from this,” &c.
Ibid. 69.
“To the broad column which rolls on, and shows
More like the fountain of an infant sea
Torn from the womb of mountains by the throes
Of a new world,” &c. * * * Look back!
Lo! where it comes like an eternity,” &c.
Ibid. 71.

In the 72d stanza, there is great beauty as well as power of expression, and the comparisons of the Iris of the falls to “hope upon a death-bed” and “to love watching madness,” are such as could have occurred only to a man of genius, yet we think them far-fetched and not remarkably illustrative. With regard to figures of speech, in general, Byron is the most anticlassical of the Romantic poets. Instead of drawing his similes, &c. from the natural world to the moral, as the ancients uniformly did, he does just the reverse. Thus, a lake “is calm as cherished hate.”* Zuleika was “soft as the memory of buried love.” The cypress is stamped with an eternal grief, “like early unrequited love.”† Beauty or defect, this is a remarkable peculiarity of his.

Of Lord Byron’s heroes we have already given an account. They are almost all of them very eccentric personages, uniting the most contradictory qualities and habits. His tales are the “Sorrows of Werther” translated into Lingua Franca. His pirates are as tender as Petrarch, and his Turks, sighing for sentimental love, abjure polygamy and concubinage. But these are the privileges of poetry—they are like the recitativo of the opera. This license once conceded, every thing goes on well. Whether natural or not, Byron’s heroes are the most interesting villains that can be conceived. They are just what
* Childe Harold, Canto IV. 173. Bride Abyd. Canto 1.28
522Lord Byron’s Character and Writings.
the heroes of the drama ought to be, according to
Aristotle—with “one virtue” to redeem “a thousand crimes.”

Byron does not strike us as a poet of very fertile invention. He composed, it is true, with considerable facility, but there is no variety either in his subjects or his style. We doubt, for this reason, whether he could have become distinguished as a dramatic poet, in the modern sense of the term. Besides this, bis compositions are rather short sketches of notable objects,or occasional meditations upon them, than complete and well combined works. Still it is hard to say what the author of Manfred might not have done. One thing seems probable—that had he been born at Athens, at the right time, he might have rivalled Æschylus and Sophocles, in tragedy à la Grecque. Two or three heroic dramatis personæ, a simple plot, beautiful or powerful narrative and dialogue, interrupted by passionate ejaculation and choral ode—such a task would have been Byron’s element.

Upon the whole, excepting the two first places in our literature—and Pope and Dryden who are writers of quite another stamp—we do not know who is to be placed, all things considered, above Byron. We doubt between him and Spenser—but no other name is prominent enough to present itself to us in such a competition. His greatest rival, however, was himself. We throw down his book dissatisfied. Every page reveals powers which might have done so much more for art—for glory—and for virtue!