LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[William Maginn]
Moore’s Life of Byron.
Fraser’s Magazine  Vol. 1  (March 1830)  129-43.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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No. II MARCH, 1830. Vol. I.


“Oft have I heard of you, my Lord Biron,
Before I saw you; and the world’s large tongue
Proclaims you for a man replete with mocks,
Full of comparisons and wounding flouts,
Which you on all estates will execute
That lie within the mercy of your wit.”

We like Mr. Moore much: our esteem for him is large. There is not, in all England, a gentleman of the press who lifts the foaming pewter that will dash you off the life of a friend in a better style; and, what is more to the purpose, will keep his faults better out of view, and shew his merits with more clever portraiture, than Mr. Moore. His Life of Sheridan, to be sure, was not quite perfect: it had some unpleasant prettinesses in it, and he took more liberties with foibles than was exactly amiable in a fellow partisan. Considering how much life, light, and joy, Sheridan was wont to shed amidst the dull dim galaxy of Whig wits and worthies, we were sorry that Mr. Moore could not have been more charitable to his unfortunate memory. For ourselves, we were quite disinterested in the matter. We always thought Sheridan’s celebrity was lamp-lighted,—that there was more of the rouge than of the rose in the beauty of his genius. He was lighted up from below, like the players in the presence of the stage-lamps. Still, in his day he was a luminary, and was esteemed a much more considerable personage than his biographer has made him. But, while we say this, we do not deny that there may have been a great deal of truth in Mr. Moore’s account; only, considering all things, we have some doubt if much of what Mr. Moore has said might not, for pity of his disastrous end, have been withheld. It may, however, have been expediently said to extenuate the neglect of those who, having enjoyed his light until it was burnt to the snuff, deserted him in the socket.

This has not been the case with Byron. Gods! there never has been such a saint as that same lord in the calendar of Parnassus! Can Mr. Moore think that Byron’s unmannerly passions and coarse selfishness are to be concealed by his thick painting? We acknowledge that he has managed his theme ingeniously. He styles his work “Letters and Journals,” &c.; and he brings the most egotistical of God’s ballad-mongers to speak of himself as often as possible in his own per-

* Letters and Journals of Lord Byron; with Notices of his Life by Thomas Moore. Vol. I. London, John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1830.
130Moore’s Life of Byron
son; and thus Mr. Moore escapes the blame of lauding those things and transactions which perhaps he might have found himself obliged to condemn.

To be serious: The sketches by Mr. Moore of the early life of Byron are unquestionably managed not only with delicacy, but uncommon beauty. There can, indeed, be but one opinion of the excellence and taste displayed in this part of the work. He has made us feel—what was not the case—that the little lame malignant was a prankful, playful child, as if the “silent rages” of the imp had nothing ever of malice or revenge in them. He has shewn, however, less than his wonted gallantry for the character of Mrs. Byron than, considering how she was used among the Byrons, he ought to have done. It is very true that she was neither beautiful nor wise; but still she was a victim, and many of her faults were owing to that circumstance. Verily, Mr. Moore, the Byrons were a strange set; and perhaps you would have done your friend as much justice, had you considered this more, and exerted less microscopic power to discover the diamonds on the back of the scarabæus.

Without question, Lord Byron was an interesting man; and he was not only one of the most successful but one of the most fortunate of authors. His success, however, was not altogether owing to his rare endowments. The good fortune which obtained for those endowments so early their full value in renown, was not less remarkable than the greatness of his talents. Circumstances which, in the fate of other men, would have been deemed calamities, and sent forth by their biographers to awaken sympathy, were contributary to the diffusion of his fame, and attractive to the merits of his genius.

His hereditary rank secured for him, as a poet, a distinguished place among the candidates for literary eminence. He was at once admitted to the very front of the hustings. No canvass of the booksellers was necessary to bespeak their suffrages; no search among the obscurities of private life, to ascertain his connexions, was imposed upon the critics. He was a lord.

But, even as a lord, there were family circumstances which drew the eyes of the world towards him. Sprung from a race notorious for violent passions, and inheriting a name which had recently glowed with the lurid gleams of adventure, profligacy, and crime, something dark and dreadful, eclipse and disaster, was expected from him almost as a matter of course. The character of his immediate predecessor in the title, especially in connexion with the circumstances of his acquittal, were still remembered as they deserved to be. The adventures of his grandfather, “the hardy Byron,” were in every body’s hands; and his father was as well known as polynom Wellesley, and for merits of the same sort. His own house supplied the elements from which he formed his poetical phantoms. Mr. Moore appears to have been as much struck as we were with the extraordinary concentration of the qualities of his ancestors, both near and remote, in the individual Lord Byron. “It cannot fail to be remarked,” says his partial biographer, “how strikingly he combined in his own nature some of the best, and perhaps worst qualities that lie scattered through the various characters of his predecessors.” But we do not agree with Mr. Moore, that his lordship was prouder of being a descendant of those Byrons of Normandy who accompanied William the Conqueror into England, than of having been the author of Childe Harolde and Manfred; for it was not in his nature to be so. To have valued himself on his ancestors was a degree of disinterestedness of which Byron was incapable. He was certainly not vainer of his ancient descent than those who have but that quality to brag of: his whole heart was bound up in himself, and he was prouder of Manfred and of Childe Harolde than of all the honours of his pedigree, merely because they made him not only famous in the world, but the greatest in all his line. Every thing connected with his literary ambition manifests the secret solitary zeal with which he worshipped distinction. Look at the corrections, the suppressions, the additions, that he made to his first publication, and the solicitude with which he sought for the opinion of others concerning it when he gave the copies away. It must be acknowledged, that when he did venture to send the work forth for sale, nothing was assumed on the distinction of his rank. It was printed at an unknown
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provincial press; it came timidly forth, modestly soliciting indulgence, in the title-page, for the non-age of the author; and its humble garb and mendicant cheapness were assurances to the public that the smallest donation of applause would be thankfully received. The whole adventure was odious with affectation. When noble lords aspire to the dignity of poets, elegant works are expected from them, as far, at least, as type and paper go. But Byron’s
Hours of Idleness was not without publicatory enticements. We have a first copy adorned with a cut of a view of Harrow—a sad specimen of art. Probably it may now be found on the cover of some urchin’s attempts at strokes and pot-hangers. The poetry, however, was not without merit: it had indications of a strong and pe1culiar mind. We, therefore, do not ascribe the playful malice of Mr. Jeffrey’s critique of it to any sincere belief in that gentleman of its worthlessness: it was the puff “a minor” that provoked his wit. Nor, perhaps, has the world cause to blame Mr. Jeffrey for his severity, as his criticism unquestionably had the effect of firing the indignation of Byron, and instigating him to that retaliation which he so spiritedly inflicted in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, and which first procured for him the notice of the public as a poet.

It is amusing to compare the respective characters of Lord Byron and Mr. Jeffrey, as they are estimated by the public, now that the one is dead, and the other dormant. The voice of all the age acknowledges his lordship as the greatest poetical genius of his time;—Mr. Jeffrey is occasionally recollected as having been the editor of a Scottish periodical.

The problem never can be solved; but few doubt if, without the provocation of that criticism, Lord Byron would have so soon demonstrated his power. The revenge was as just as it was well merited. But Mr. Jeffrey might have been a little spared: for, would he have taken so much pains to “tickle his Lordship’s catastrophe,” had the “minor” been less than a peer?

Mr. Moore speaks indulgently of Lord Byron’s conduct previous to and about the time of the publication of the English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. It would have been better had he said less; for although, in the caprice of the moment, but oftener to mortify than to favour, Lord Byron sometimes evinced the generous spirit of a young man, yet much of all he did was without reference to any other object than the gratification of his green sickness for notoriety. At that period, he was just beginning to glitter a little about town. He was too poor to do comet; but he did fire-fly with some brilliancy, and he possessed a clever tact in the choice of methods for gaining renown—in the Morning Post. The famous affair of the scull was unique.

In repairing Newstead Abbey, his Lordship found, in a secret niche in the walls, the scull, it might be, of some incontinent monk, or of one of his own ancestors, or of some victim to the sullen race. This scull was converted into a goblet, masquerade dresses were provided, and a fête à la démon was celebrated in the abbey, at which the scull flushed the guests with Burgundy for blood. Mr. Moore alludes to this Odin-like banquet. Why did he not tell us all about it, and who enacted Devil? But, whoever it was, let him look for his reward hereafter.

After challenging all the bards of England, and all the reviewers of Scotland, to single combat, his Lordship went abroad.

We recollect an epigram with reference to his wanderings:
“With title, rank, and genius blest,
Fantastic Byron knows no rest.
From clime to clime he flies in vain,
Nor finds a refuge from his pain.
Is love—rejected love—the cause?
Perfidious friendship, or the laws!
Or does the moon control his blood?
Ah, no! What then? His book’s review’d!

Mr. Moore speaks with his wonted good taste of that silly challenge; but we do not believe a single individual thought of accepting it but himself: and if Mr. Moore would allow us to joke with him on the subject, we would say, that the part he played in addressing Byron was a clever ruse to make the eccentric lord’s acquaintance. We are very willing to admit, that, considering how far Mr. Moore was, at that time, from years of discretion, less could not reasonably have been expected from him; but we have seldom seen a more gentlemanly account of an affair of the sort, than the frank, we
132Moore’s Life of Byron
would almost say magnanimous, statement which he has given of the subsequent transaction by which his end, if he will permit us to say so, was attained. But was not Byron acquainted with the existence of the first letter from Mr. Moore being in the hands of his agent, before he received the second?

His Lordship did not make much noise in Spain. We have heard, indeed, of some sort of a row that he had with an elderly maiden lady in Seville; and also, how queer he looked with his feet dangling, as he sat on a lofty tripod stool, in the counting-house of his agent at Gibraltar. At Malta, there was a sad tale of how he was beguiled of his yellow diamond ring; and he has told us himself of his visit to Ali Pasha, that “energetic old man,” as Sir Sidney Smith would have called him,—when Ali, being skilled in man-flesh, discovered his Lordship’s noble blood by the smallness of his hands and ears. The smallest member for Westminster was present on the occasion; but it is not recorded that the sagacious Turk saw any points of nobility in his appearance.

Lord Byron’s travels in Greece are described in the pilgrimage of Childe Harolde. Of his life and adventures, after he returned home, we have many full, true, and particular accounts. Knowing something of the man, whatever Mr. Moore may say to the contrary, of all the different catchpenny sketches of his lordship, purporting to be Lives or Conversations, we are much inclined to think Leigh Hunt’s work the truest and the best. In its literary merits it is not to be compared with Mr. Moore’s; but if Mr. Moore had not made the egotist speak so much of himself, we are inclined to suspect, from our confidence in the discernment of that gentleman, that he would have given us something more like Mr. Hunt’s account of Byron’s character than he is likely to do.

Doubtless, until Childe Harolde had drawn upon Byron the eyes of the literary world, he was shy and bashful. Modesty he never had one grain of: but he burned for eminence; and the fear that he might not attain it gave him a degree of mauvaise honte that was not unlike the blushing diffidence of humble merit.

On his return from Greece, his arrival, as a matter of course, due to his rank, and to the celebrity he had acquired in quenching Mr. Jeffrey, and treading out so many other wicks, in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, was particularly noticed in the newspapers;—in one instance, somewhat remarkably. If our memory serves, it was in the Morning Post, by a quaint paragraph, announcing that he had returned from an excursion into the interior of Africa. His own style was happily imitated in the paragraph,—a curious circumstance, considering that his prose was then unknown, except in his epistolary correspondence.

Of his subsequent career as an author it is needless to speak. It was rapid beyond all parallel; but, considering the facility with which fame may now be spread, it was not more so than the superior merits of his productions deserved. Happy had it been for him, had his “ravenous maw” for notoriety been content with fame; but it craved coarser fare. It was a foul appetite; and, to gratify it, he forgot the purity and the evanescence of the glory he had to preserve. We shall speak freely on this woeful dilapidation of the sublime monument, “more durable than brass or marble,” which he had so superbly constructed.

When men marry, good taste requires that they should let down the curtain, and wheel the sofa round, as soon as the honey-moon is over. But it was not so with Lord Byron. His marriage attracted attention: it was regarded as eminently prudent, and was supposed honourable to his discretion and judgment. It was, however, scarcely consummated, when whisperings began to spread, and heads were shaken, and mystical inuendoes uttered, by the oracles of scandal. The first tale (mark the character of it, as indicating the quarter from which it came!) was a rumour of Lady Byron’s father being sordid in the payment of her dowry. Then arose other gossiping, which averred that his Lordship was much to blame—was unfaithful, pettish, and unmannerly. While every tongue was wagging with this theme, down went the cards, and heavenward the hands and eyes, of every diamonded dowager, club bachelor, heartless spinster, and shovel-hatted dominie, round the whist-tables of the three parishes, at the shocking news of a thousand-
Moore’s Life of Byron133
and-one executions being in a certain house sacred to Apollo in Piccadilly.

The ’larum was now rung, and continued sounding until “the separation.” Which of all his lordship’s works brought to him half the éclat of that affair, crowned as it was with the gallant correspondence with Lady Byron’s father of “bonny Jem of Aberdeen,” the late red-haired editor of the Morning Chronicle? How far, up to the epoch of that coarse and impertinent meddling, Lord Byron was himself a party to the exposure of his domestic mysteries, we know not; but if not guilty himself, what sort of personages enjoyed his confidence, that matters so delicate should have been so obnoxiously obtruded on the disgusted public? The world should not be allowed to forget that no taint was imputed to lady Byron; nor has her ladyship even yet come before the world with any complaint. But can Lord Byron be acquitted of having assisted to direct the popular feeling against his wife? When we reflect on the currency which was given by himself to the verses he wrote on the occasion, it is impossible to acquit him. The verses are certainly beautiful specimens of the art of the artist; but, both in their matter and in the mode of their publication, they betray the malice of a cold and calculating heart. We acknowledge that they were as true to nature, in pathos and in scorn, as the most energetic passion exhibited on the stage, and they were probably composed under feelings as truly sensitive as those of an actor studying his part; but it is no longer necessary to soften the fact that Lord Byron was afflicted with the leprosy of the heart, and was in consequence agreeably compensated for all the pangs of the separation, by the celebrity which the Fare Thee Well, and the fiendish anathema on the same occasion, at once so widely obtained.

We are not writing the life of Byron. We are but noticing incidents which would have made him, had he never written a line, a remarkable character. His passion was not for the incense of renown; but for the coarse reek and fume of notoriety. Nor had his name been spread so widely abroad by his genius alone. His fame, buoyant and bellying as it is, owes no inconsiderable share of its inflation to something different from his merits as a poet. He would not have risen so high, so suddenly, nor moved in such magnitude before the eyes of the world, but for the fetid vapour which augmented the volume of the purer gas. When he exiled himself from England, his ruling passion was put under no restraint. He did not, with the quiet reserve of a man zealous to achieve the reward of merit, content himself with retirement and patient study: his sequestration was ostentatious; he affected solitude; but his solitariness was that of a statue on a column in a market-place.

When gallantry, absurdity, and the Muses could do no more for him, luckily for his crave, the Greek Will-o’the-Wisp shewed its fiery tail; and forth he strutted, armed cap-à-pié, a bold recruit in the wake of the phantom. And what did he for the Greeks? Recapitulate the feeble and fraudulent endeavours of that degraded race, and then say what Lord Byron did for them. Colonel Stanhope, going about the Morea with a printing-press on his back, like a pedlar with pious tracts among the heathen, did them manifold more service. What service, indeed, could Lord Byron render to them? Let any man acquainted with his innate indolence, selfishness, and sedentary habits, honestly answer. What did he more for the Greek cause than lend to it a title from the English peerage? How much was the sterling of his contribution to the Greek loan?

It was expected, when he went to Greece,—nor was the expectation unreasonable with those who believe poetry and passion to be of the same element, or heat and pine-apples one substance,—that his fine enthusiasm would prompt him to undertake some heroic enterprise. But the premises were erroneous: never was a particle of enthusiasm in the body or soul of Lord Byron. He was a mere artist. He could describe high actions, we allow; but he possessed not within himself the energies which produce them. Any gifted son of the brush or the chisel, who paints heroes on canvass or carves them in stone, is as likely to be a hero as he that makes them with words. If Lord Byron is hereafter noticed in Grecian story, it will be as the chief of no achievement, and the statesman of no measure. In camp and council his genius was a—Velluti.

The world has chosen to believe, that, independently of being a great
134Moore’s Life of Byron
Lord Byron, in other faculties of the mind, was no less pre-eminent; and Mr. Moore labours with the ardour of friendship to prove this. But when the lyre was out of Byron’s hands, he was not only a “pestilent fellow,” but “a ’bacco eater.” We have heard him described as a shattered porcelain vase, mended with clay. There was some propriety in the simile; but it would have been more correct to have described him as an earthenware pitcher, inlaid with fragments of looking-glass and china: the coarse of his character much exceeded the refined and ornamental.

Mr. Moore may tell us of the variety of his early reading; and we are not disposed to dispute the fact. But the accomplishments of Lord Byron were of an inferior order. He affected, at times, to speak Latin; but it was unintelligible to the monks who addressed him in that language. He knew a little Greek; and if he could read French, the vocal language so ill accorded with his lisp, that he seldom employed it. Latterly, he read and spoke Italian passably, and he had a traveller’s knowledge of the Romaic. We believe he also was an adept in the Arabic, as far as the A, B, C; but in none of all these bits and scraps had he made any such progress as to justify the appellation of learned. Of all science he was singularly ignorant. He may have possessed a schoolboy’s knowledge of arithmetic, and in mathematics, having been at Cambridge, he may have heard of one Euclid. He knew as little of geography as a miss who has sewed the map of Europe for her sampler. In music, though he possessed a voice and ear, which, cultivated, might have pleased, he was equally uninstructed. His style of singing was rodomontade flourishing, like that of a crack swell in a flash house.

The world has heard enough of the liberality with which he was said to have bestowed the copyright of some of his works on needy friends; but in no instance was that ever done until he had been sapouaceously propitiated. It may be the case that he was not mean. So he thought of himself; but his own account of the manner in which he treated Leigh Hunt was, without mincing the matter, despicable in spirit. If Hunt required his assistance, could any thing be meaner than to blow the trumpet of the alms he bestowed? Knowing what we do know of Lord Byron, we can readily believe, that if he gave Mr. Hunt the bit, he gave him also the buffet. Spare us, Mr. Moore, from the nauseous theme of any thing susceptible of the interpretation of highmindedness in such a self-worshipper as Byron. This we say not from any other feeling than what is prompted by the knowledge of his character: nor should the truth have been stated so plainly, but for the injudicious endeavour of an amiable man to write into respectability one who had never a real feeling that entitled him to be regarded as a jot better than a common rout of the town. Make him as brilliant in that respect as you can; but go no farther.

When Byron made his début in the House of Lords, his crave and his vanity so far deluded him, that, without one qualification for the undertaking, he attempted to obtain distinction as an orator; but after three endeavours, he prudently desisted. Indeed, nothing can explain the absurdity of that speculation but his inordinate appetite for notoriety; for he could not but know that he neither possessed historical nor political information to justify him to take a part in the deliberations of the legislature. In one respect, certainly, he resembled Demosthenes—he had a lisp.

Mr. Moore speaks of his declamatory powers when he was a boy; but that is on Byron’s own authority; and he deduces from the variety of his Lordship’s early reading that richness of language and allusion which shines in his works. We are surprised at the lack of philosophical knowledge betrayed in the remark. Mr. Moore is himself a poet of sufficiently considerable powers; and he ought to know that it is not reading that makes poetry. Look at the works of Burns, and see if there is any want of fitness or of appositeness in his occasional allusion to bookish matters. It is the outward world and the inward man that constitute the poet’s library; and to build any thing honourable to Byron’s genius from the few and far-between allusions in his works to learned or recondite matters, is to detract from its originality. Shakespeare has ever been considered an author of ordinary literary acquirements; but how bald and
Moore’s Life of Byron135
arid are the pages of Byron, in respect to learned allusion, compared with the glorious profusion and rankness of his!

But, to turn from the senna and cassia of Byron’s personal character to the ambrosia of his genius, we shall endeavour to speak with equal freedom, confessing, however, that we feel the perfumed air deluding us into reveries that, but for the enchantment of their influence, the judgment in a clearer state would condemn.

We do think, in the midst of all our admiration of his power and his originality, that there has been an artificial exaggeration of his genius, as well as that meretricious augmentation of his fame, which, it will be thought by many, we have treated too roughly. Excellence in talent, as in every other thing, is comparative; and we freely admit that, in energy of expression and liveliness of imagery, Byron had no equal in his own time. Doubts may be entertained if even Shakespeare himself was, in these great qualities, his superior. But if his worshippers say, in his own language, that he has
“Rivalled all but Shakespeare’s name below,”
how immeasurable is the distance between them! The dog-star is the brightest of the heavenly host,—the beam of the sun itself is not brighter; but who will compare the eye of God with the ineffectual lustre of the little gem?

We are not disposed to think, with some of those who rate the genius of Byron almost as supreme, that he has shewn less skill in the construction of his plots and fables than might have been expected; for we are of opinion that he has accomplished in them all he intended. He could not have made the morose and meditative Harolde so darkling and excursive, so lone, exhausted, and misanthropical, had he treated him as the hero of a scholastic epic, and placed him amidst perils and adventures.

His power in such creations lay in the magnificence of his diction, and in the felicity with which he described the feelings of his characters, in relation to the aspect of the scenes through which they were conducted, and the reminiscences with which the scenes were themselves associated. To all his best works the observation applies. Why, then, it may be asked, if this be so well done; if language and plan be so excellent, do you hesitate to assign to him that pre-eminent niche in th« temple to which merit so extraordinary seems to be so indisputably entitled? Simply because, with all the life and beauty of his style, the force and truth of his outlines, the vigour of his descriptions, and the boldness of his conceptions, Lord Byron was but imperfectly—we should say erroneously—acquainted with human nature. He looked but on the outside of man—on the visible phenomena of character: the depths and metaphysics, the ossicles and the vasa, were hidden from his penetration. No characteristic action distinguishes his heroes; nor is there much dissimilarity in the sentiments of them all: they have no individuality. They stalk about in mist and gloom, grim, ghastly, and portentous, more like the mysterious entities of some twilight region than things of flesh and blood. They remind us of the shadowy semblances of humanity that gleam and glare through the chiaro scuro of Fuseli’s dark designs.

In power, we acknowledge the vastness of Byron’s talent; but power is not genius. It is, however, the great effective faculty of the intellect; but the possession of it does not imply that its productions should be distinguished either for genius or originality. It is a huge rather than a fine endowment—a manufacturing capacity, that can work with all sorts of materials, and adapt them to the wants and wishes of the world. It is seldom connected with originality, but often with genius; for it is the singular characteristic of the inexplicable gift of genius that it possesses both power and originality, though it may not he always in uniform quantities. Byron unquestionably was richly endowed with all the three. But before we proceed to the consideration of his most eminent quality, having described what power is, we should explain our notions of the other two, at the hazard, perhaps, of being deemed somewhat common-place.

Every one recognises originality of mind as the talent by which things and qualities, not previously described, are discovered and exhibited, or, if familiar, are shewn in new lights. It is, as we have just remarked, rarely united with power; for it is a slow and studious faculty; but when com-
136Moore’s Life of Byron
bined with genius, it is often mistaken as the peculiar element of that remarkable energy. It is, however, to genius and power what the clouds and veins are in the opal—genius is the internal golden flame.

As an ingredient of mind, genius is more easily described by its effects than by its qualities. The term imports that it is something extra and additional to the common attributes of human nature. We all hear and see much alike; but there is an undefinable and wide difference between the ear of the musician and the eye of the painter, compared with the hearing and seeing organs of ordinary men. Genius is in that difference. We likewise all reason, recollect, and imagine much in the same way; some of us more perfectly, it is true, than others; but genius is distinct from every degree of that difference. It is as the perfume of the rose, independent of the freshness and beauty of the flower; as the light on the cloud; as the dream in sleep; and as the bloom on the cheek of beauty, of which the possessor is unconscious, until the influence of the charm has been seen in the enchantment of others.

Combined with vast power, Lord Byron possessed, beyond all question, the greatest degree of originality of any poet of this age. His genius also was of a high order—the highest of all of his time; but it is by his power and his originality that he has been principally distinguished. The history of literature affords no examples superior to those of the rapidity with which Lord Byron sometimes composed, and with so much excellence in his haste. The Bride of Abydos, one of the most finished of his works, was written in four days, and Beppo, it is said, within twenty-four consecutive hours. The variety, also, of his productions presents a prodigious display of extraordinary intellectual power. In his short career, he has entitled himself to be ranked in the first class of the British poets, for quantity alone.

By Childe Harolde, and his other poems of the same mood, he has enlarged the scope of feeling and reflection: he has made us acquainted with new trains of association, awakened sympathy for sentiments with which few had suspected themselves of possessing any affinity, and he has laid open darker abysses in the bosom than were previously supposed to exist. The deep and dreadful caverns of remorse had long been explored, and what the spirit suffers there as powerfully described; but the bottomless pit of satiety he was the first to visit.

The delineation of that Promethean fortitude which defied conscience, as he has shewn it in Manfred, is his greatest achievement. The terrific fables of Marlowe and of Göthe, in their respective versions of the legend of Faustus, had disclosed the utmost writhings which remorse, in the fiercest of its torments, can display. But what are those Laocoon agonies to the sublime serenity of Manfred! In the power, the originality, and the genius of that unexampled performance, Lord Byron has surpassed Milton. The Satan of the Paradise Lost is animated by motives and dignified by stupendous enterprises: he hath purposes of infinite prospect, and ambition without limit. Manfred hath neither purpose nor ambition, nor any desire that seeks gratification: he hath done a deed as unpardonable as the apostasy of Satan; he acknowledges no contrition for his inexpiable guilt to bespeak commiseration; he feels no stingings of revenge for the doom he hath incurred to inspire sympathy for his awful heroism; he is like the spirit of one who, after crimes, having committed self-slaughter, stands calm in the bucket by which he is to be lowered down the hatchway of hell.

The creation of such a character is in the sublimest degree of originality; to give it appropriate thoughts and feelings required powers worthy of the conception; and to make it susceptible of being contemplated as human, and even with a strange and dark delight, places Byron above all his contemporaries and antecedents in originality. Caliban, the most original conception of Shakespeare, is as a turtle, delicious to aldermen, compared with this immeasurable kraken of the mists and mysteries of the pole! Milton has described in Satan the greatest of human passions, animated with supernatural energies directed to immortal intents; but Satan is only a dilation of man. Manfred is greater and worse than Satan: he has conquered punishment. He has been guilty of enjoying1 forbidden pleasure; and the remembrance of the unutterable enjoyment makes the penalties of hell seem nega-
Moore’s Life of Byron137
tive;—he feels that, whatever they may be, he has a surplus in the thought of what he has enjoyed that will unvenom their torment. There is a fearful mystery in this conception: it is only by solemn study, and by questioning the spirits that lurk within the dark metaphors in which Manfred expresses himself, that the hideous meaning of the poet can be conjectured.

But although, in intellectual power and in creative originality, we would assign to Byron the loftiest pre-eminence, his verse is often so harsh, and his language so obscure, that, according to our conception of genius—the power of delighting,—he is far from being a poet of the first class. He had all the talent requisite to embody his conceptions in a manner worthy of their might and majesty; but he possessed not the instinct, in any eminent degree, to guide him in the selection of the things necessary to the inspiration of delight. He could construct the plant, dress it with leaves, and deck it with blossoms; but to bestow the living freshness and the fragrance was beyond the reach of his art.

This opinion may seem to be inconsistent with the gaiety of Don Juan and Beppo, and we confess ourselves at a loss how to reconcile the comic humour of those lighter works with the lugubre of the others; and yet they are so characteristic of Byron’s peculiar mind, that when Beppo was first published anonymously, we discovered it to be his before we had read two-thirds of the first stanza. It has also been said, that Lady Byron was of opinion that his forte would ultimately prove comic; and certainly this prediction has been in a great degree verified in Don Juan. We have endeavoured to account for the contrariety, but have never been able to find a better explanation than by referring to the simile of the shattered porcelain vase. Some curious metaphysicians have said, that the characteristics of Don Juan, as a composition, were but the bright side of the same sort of thoughts and imagery of which the dark and the shadows were delineated in his other works. It may be so. And we do not doubt that there is much similarity between them, especially when we consider that all the pranks and adventures of the hero himself are what good citizens would think very much like sins and vices. However, we wish to dwell no longer on the faults and defects of Byron. Without doubt, something of the reckless joyousness of profligacy may have dictated Don Juan; but as to any intention on the part of the author to loosen the zone of morality, we do not believe. The whole faults and felicities of the poem we ascribe to his ruling passion. He had exhausted his means of description and tragedy; he but turned his hand to shew his capability in another class of literature.

We have spoken harshly, it will be said, of Byron, but we have spoken truly; and had Mr. Moore not evinced too great an anxiety to represent him as an amiable and loveable personage, our pen would have lain quiet. That Lord Byron was an interesting man—that he possessed some companionable qualities, and was deserving of no ordinary deference on account of his talents, cannot be disputed. Nor, considering the attachment which Mr. Moore professes to have cherished for him, are we inclined to blame, as far as respects himself, his partiality. The spirit of the times has run strong against Byron as a man; and it was natural—it was almost noble, that Mr. Moore should attempt to stem the tide; but it is not to be endured that the mind which was capable of conceiving some of the works which Byron has written, should be thought to have been all innocence and purity, or felt the divine enthusiasm of heroic martyrdom. It is to insult ordinary human nature to represent an affectionate and generous heart capable of doing many things which Byron is said to have done. In fine, we cannot but extol the good fortune of the illustrious poet and selfish man as extraordinary in all particulars. The mellifluous Thomas Moore has undertaken the vindication of his defects as a man—the age itself has bestowed an ample meed upon his merits as a poet in universal applause. But while we say, let all that is splendid shine to the rising and the setting sun upon the lofty pinnacles of his monument, let airy mists and softening shadows veil its coarser and baser parts, still let not posterity be deceived. No, Thomas Moore: keep your eulogiums for the poet—the man was what we have ventured, even against you, to describe; and though you paint an inch thick,
“To this complexion he must come at last.”

138 Moore’s Life of Byron

We had some idea of verifying the severity with which we have presumed to animadvert on the character of Lord Byron, by extracts from his own correspondence, and by incidental expressions in his Journal; but, on second thoughts, we concluded that perhaps our task was already ungracious enough; and, therefore, we shall only here give a few extracts illustrative of the beauty and indulgent spirit which pervades Mr. Moore’s work:—

“Having landed the young pilgrim once more in England, it may be worth while, before we accompany him into the scenes that awaited him at home, to consider how far the general character of his mind and disposition may have been affected by the course of travel and adventure in which he had been for the last two years engaged. A life less savouring of poetry and romance than that which he had pursued previously to his departure on his travels, it would be difficult to imagine. In his childhood, it is true, he had been a dweller and wanderer among scenes well calculated, according to the ordinary notion, to implant the first rudiments of poetic feeling. But though the poet may afterwards feed on the recollection of such scenes, it is more than questionable, as has been already observed, whether he ever has been formed by them. If a childhood, indeed, passed among mountainous scenery, were so favourable to the awakening of the imaginative power, both the Welsh among ourselves, and the Swiss abroad, ought to rank much higher on the scale of poetic excellence than they do at present. But even allowing the picturesqueness of his early haunts to have had some share in giving a direction to the fancy of Byron, the actual operation of this influence, whatever it may have been, ceased with his childhood; and the life which he led afterwards, during his school-days at Harrow, was, as naturally the life of so idle and daring a schoolboy must be, the very reverse of poetical. For a soldier or an adventurer, the course of training through which he then paused would have been perfect: his athletic sports, his battles, his love of dangerous enterprise, gave every promise of a spirit fit for the most stormy career. But to the meditative pursuits of poesy these dispositions seemed, of all others, the least friendly; and, however they might promise to render him, at some future time, a subject for bards, gave assuredly but little hope of his shining first among bards himself.

“The habits of his life at the University were even still less intellectual and literary. While a schoolboy, he had rend abundantly and eagerly, though desultorily; but even this discipline of his mind, irregular and undirected as it was, he had in a great measure given up after leaving Harrow; and among the pursuits that occupied his academic hours, those of playing at hazard, sparring, and keeping a bear and bull-dogs, were, if not the most favourite, at least perhaps the most innocent. His time in London passed equally unmarked either by mental cultivation or refined amusement. Having no resources in private society, from his total want of friends and connexions, he was left to live loosely about town, among the loungers in coffee-houses; and to those who remember what his two favourite haunts, Simmer’s and Steven’s, were at that period, it is needless to say, that, whatever else may have been the merits of these establishments, they were any thing but fit schools for the formation of poetic character.

“But, however incompatible such a life must have been with those habits of contemplation by which, and which only, the faculties he had already displayed could be ripened, or those that were still latent could be unfolded,—yet, in another point of view, the time now apparently squandered by him was, in after days, turned most invaluably to account. By thus initiating him into a knowledge of the varieties of human character,—by giving him an insight into the details of society, in their least artificial form,—in short, by mixing him up thus early with the world, its business, and its pleasures, his London life but contributed its share in forming that wonderful combination which his mind afterwards exhibited of the imaginative and the practical, the heroic and the humorous, of the keenest and most dissecting views of real life, with the grandest and most spiritualised conceptions of ideal grandeur.

“To the same period, perhaps, another predominant characteristic of his maturer mind and writings may be traced. In this anticipated experience of the world which his early mixture with its crowd gave him, it is but little probable that many of the more favourable specimens of human kind should have fallen under his notice: on the contrary, it is but too likely that some of the lightest and least estimable of both sexes may have been among the models on which, at an age when impressions sink deepest, his earliest judgments of human nature were formed. Hence, probably, those contemptuous and debasing views of humanity with which he was so often led to alloy his noblest tributes to the love-
Moore’s Life of Byron139
liness and majesty of general nature. Hence the contrast that appeared between the fruits of his imagination and of his experience—between those dreams, full of beauty and kindliness, with which the one teemed at his bidding, and the dark, desolating bitterness that overflowed when he drew from the other.

“Unpromising, however, as was his youth of the high destiny that awaited him, there was one unfailing characteristic of the imaginative order of minds—his love of solitude—which very early gave signs of those habits of self-study and introspection by which alone the ‘diamond quarries’ of genius are worked and brought to light. When but a boy, at Harrow, he had shewn this disposition strongly, being often known, as I have already mentioned, to withdraw himself from his playmates, and, sitting alone upon a tomb in the churchyard, give himself up for hours to thought. As his mind began to disclose its resources, this feeling grew upon him; and had his foreign travel done no more than, by detaching him from the distractions of society, to enable him solitarily and freely to commune with his own spirit, it would have been an all-important step gained towards the full expansion of his faculties. It was only then, indeed, that he began to feel himself capable of the abstraction which self-study requires, or to enjoy that freedom from the intrusion of other thoughts which alone leaves the contemplative mind master of its own. In the solitude of his nights at sea, in his lone wanderings through Greece, he had sufficient leisure and seclusion to look within himself, and there catch the first ‘glimpses of his glorious mind.’ One of his chief delights, as he mentioned in his memoranda, was, when bathing in some retired spot, to seat himself on a high rock above the sea, and there remain for hours, gazing upon the sky and the waters, and lost in that sort of vague reverie, which, however formless and indistinct at the moment, settled afterwards, in his pages, into those clear, bright pictures which will endure for ever.

“Were it not for the doubt and diffidence that hang round the first steps of genius, this growing consciousness of his own power, these openings into a new domain of intellect, where he was to reign supreme, must have made the solitary hours of the young traveller one dream of happiness. But it will be seen, that even yet he distrusted his own strength, nor was at all aware of the height to which the spirit he was now railing up would grow. So enamoured, nevertheless, had he become of these lonely musings, that even the Society of his fellow-traveller, though with pursuits so congenial to his own, grew at last to be a chain and a burden on him; and it was not till he stood companionless on the shore of the little island in the Ægean, that he found his spirit breathe freely. If any stronger proof were wanting of his deep passion for solitude, we shall find it, not many years after, in his own written avowal, that even when in the company of the woman he most loved, he not unfrequently found himself sighing to be alone.

“It was not only, however, by affording him the concentration necessary for this silent drawing out of his feelings and powers, that travel conduced so essentially to the formation of his poetical character. To the East he had looked with the eyes of romance from his very childhood. Before he was ten years of age, the perusal of Rycaut’s History of the Turks had taken a strong hold of his imagination, and he read eagerly, in consequence, every book concerning the East he could find. In visiting, therefore, those countries, he was but realising the dreams of his childhood; and this return of his thoughts to that innocent time gave a freshness and purity to their current which they had long wanted. Under the spell of such recollections, the attraction of novelty was among the least that the scenes through which he wandered presented. Fond traces of the past—and few have ever retained them so vividly—mingled themselves with the impressions of the objects before him; and as among the Highlands he had often traversed in fancy the land of the Moslem, so memory from the wild hills of Albania now carried him back to Morven.

“While such sources of poetic feeling were stirred at every step, there was also, in his quick change of place and scene, in the diversity of men and manners surveyed by him, in the perpetual hope of adventure and thirst of enterprise, such a succession and variety of ever fresh excitement as not only brought into play, but invigorated, all the energies of his character. As he himself describes his mode of living, it was ‘to-day in a palace, to-morrow in a cow-house;—this day with the pacha, the next with a shepherd.’ Thus were his powers of observation quickened, and the impressions on his imagination multiplied. Thus schooled, too, in some of the roughnesses and privations of life, and so far made acquainted with th» flavour of adversity, he learned to enlarge, more than is common in his high station, the circle of his sympathies, and became inured to that manly and vigorous
140Moore’s Life of Byron
cast of thought which is so impressed on all his writings. Nor must we forget, among these strengthening and animating effects of travel, the ennobling excitement of danger which he more than once experienced, having been placed in situations, both on land and sea, well calculated to call forth that pleasurable sense of energy which perils, calmly confronted, never fail to inspire.”

The following extract is interesting, as descriptive of Lord Byron’s state of feeling in the noon of his renown.

“On my rejoining him in town this spring, I found the enthusiasm about his writings and himself which I had left so prevalent both in the world of literature and in society, grown, if any thing, still more general and intense. In the immediate circle, perhaps, around him, familiarity of intercourse might have begun to produce its usual disenchanting effects. His own liveliness and unreserve on a more intimate acquaintance would not be long in dispelling that charm of poetic sadness which, to the eyes of distant observers, hung about him; while the romantic notions, connected by some of his fair readers with those past and nameless loves alluded to in his poems, ran some risk of abatement from too near an acquaintance with the supposed objects of his fancy and fondness at present. A poet’s mistress should remain, if possible, as imaginary a being to others, as in most of the attributes he clothes her with she has been to himself; the reality, however fair, being always sure to fall short of the picture which a too lavish fancy has drawn of it. Could we call up in array before us all the beauties whom the love of poets has immortalised, from the high-born dame to the plebeian damsel, from the Lauras and Sacharissas down to the Cloes and Jeannies, we should, it is to be feared, sadly unpeople our imaginations of many a bright tenant that poesy has lodged there, and find, in more than one instance, our admiration of the faith and fancy of the worshipper increased by our discovery of the worthlessness of the idol.

“But whatever of its first romantic impression the personal character of the poet may from such causes have lost in the circle he most frequented, this disappointment of the imagination was far more than compensated by the frank, social, and engaging qualities, both of disposition and manner, which, on a nearer intercourse, he disclosed, as well as by that entire absence of any literary assumption or pedantry which entitled him fully to the praise bestowed by Sprat upon Cowley, that few could ‘ever discover he was a great poet by his discourse.’ While thus by his intimates, and by those who had got, as it were, behind the scenes of his fame, he was seen in his true colours, as well of weakness as of amiableness; on strangers, and such as were out of this immediate circle, the spell of his poetical character still continued to operate; and the fierce gloom and sternness of his imaginary personages were by the greater number of them supposed to belong, not only as regarded mind, but manners, to himself. So prevalent and persevering has been this notion, that, in some disquisitions on bis character published since his death, and containing otherwise many just and striking views, we find in the professed portrait drawn of him, such features as the following:—‘Lord Byron had a stern, direct, severe mind, a sarcastic, disdainful, gloomy temper. He had no light sympathy with heartless cheerfulness; upon the surface was sourness, discontent, displeasure, ill will. Beneath all this weight of clouds and darkness,’ &c. &c.

“Of the sort of double aspect which he thus presented, as viewed by the world and by his friends, he was himself fully aware, and it not only amused him, but, as a proof of the versatility of his powers, flattered his pride. He was indeed, as I have already remarked, by no means insensible or inattentive to the effect he produced personally on society; and though the brilliant station he had attained since the commencement of my acquaintance with him made not the slightest alteration in the unaffectedness of his private intercourse, I could perceive, I thought, with reference to the external world, some slight changes in his conduct, which seemed indicative of the effects of his celebrity upon him. Among other circumstances, I observed that, whether from shyness of the general gaze, or from a notion, like Livy’s, that men of eminence should not too much familiarise the public to their persons, he avoided shewing himself in the mornings, and in crowded places, much more than was his custom when we first became acquainted. The preceding year before his name had grown ‘so rife and celebrated,’ we had gone together to the exhibition at Somerset House, and other such places; and the true reason, no doubt, of his present reserve in abstaining from all such miscellaneous haunts, was the sensitiveness so often referred to on the subject of his lameness—a feeling which the curiosity of the public eye, now attracted by this infirmity to his fame, could not fail, he knew, to put rather painfully to the proof.”

The following reflections are, we think, impressive, and they are neatly
Moore’s Life of Byron141
expressed; but we are not disposed to acquiesce in them, nor to adopt the philosophical theory on which they are founded.

“At the beginning of the month of December, being called up to town by business, I had opportunities, from being a good deal in my noble friend’s society, of observing the state of his mind and feelings, under the prospect of the important change he was now about to undergo; and it was with pain I found that those sanguine hopes with which I had sometimes looked forward to the happy influence of marriage, in winning him over to the brighter and better side of life, were, by the view of all the circumstances of his present destiny, considerably diminished; while, at the same time, not a few doubts and misgivings which had never before so strongly occurred to me with regard to his own fitness, under any circumstances, for the matrimonial tie, filled me altogether with a degree of foreboding anxiety as to his fate, which the unfortunate events that followed but too fully justified.

“The truth is, I fear, that rarely, if ever, have men of the higher order of genius shewn themselves fitted for the calm affections and comforts that form the cement of domestic life. ‘One misfortune,’ says Pope, ‘of extraordinary geniuses is, that their very friends are more apt to admire than love them.’ To this remark there have, no doubt, been exceptions. And I should pronounce Lord Byron, from my own experience, to be one of them; but it would not be difficult, perhaps, to shew, from the very nature and pursuits of genius, that such must generally be the lot of all pre-eminently gifted with it, and that the same qualities which enable them to command admiration, are also those that too often incapacitate them from conciliating love.

“The very habits, indeed, of abstraction and self-study to which the occupations of men of genius lead, are, in themselves, necessarily of an unsocial and detaching tendency, and require a large portion of allowance and tolerance not to be set down as unamiable. One of the chief sources, too, of sympathy and society between ordinary mortals being their dependence on each other’s intellectual resources, the operation of this social principle must naturally be weakest in those whose own mental stores are most abundant and self-sufficing, and who, rich in such materials for thinking within themselves, are rendered so far independent of the external world. It was this solitary luxury (which Plato called ‘banquetting on his own thoughts’) that led Pope, as well as Lord Byron, to prefer the silence and seclusion of his library to the most agreeable conversation. And not only, too, is the necessity of commerce with other minds less felt by such persons, but, from that fastidiousness which the opulence of their own resources generates, the society of those less gifted with intellectual means than themselves becomes often a restraint and burden, to which not all the charms of friendship, nor even love, can reconcile them. ‘Nothing is so tiresome,’ says the poet of Vaucluse, in assigning a reason for not living with some of his dearest friends, ‘as to converse with persons who have not the same information as one’s self.’

“But it is the cultivation and exercise of the imaginative faculty that more than any thing tends to wean the man of genius from actual life, and by substituting the sensibilities of the imagination for those of the heart, to render at last the medium through which he feels no less unreal than that through which he thinks. Those images of ideal good and beauty that surround him in his musings soon accustom him to consider all that is beneath this high standard unworthy of his care, till at length, the heart becoming chilled as the fancy warms, it too often happens that, in proportion as he has refined and elevated his theory of all the social affections, he has unfitted himself for the practice of them. Hence so frequently it arises, that in persons of this temperament we see some bright, but artificial, idol of the brain usurp the place of all real and natural objects of tenderness. The poet Dante, a wanderer away from his wife and children, passed the whole of a restless and detached life in nursing his immortal dream of Beatrice; while Petrarch, who would not suffer his only daughter to reside beneath his roof, expended thirty-two years of poetry and passion on an idealised love.

“It is, indeed, in the very nature and essence of genius to be for ever occupied intensely with self, as the great centre and source of strength. Like the sister Rachael in Dante, sitting all day before her mirror,
‘mai non si smaga
Del suo ammiraglio e siede tutto giorno.’

“To this power of self-concentration, by which alone all the other powers of genius are made available, there is, of course, no such disturbing and fatal enemy as those sympathies and affections that draw the mind out actively towards others; and, accordingly, it will be found, that among those who have felt within themselves a call to immortality, the greater number have, by a sort of instinct, kept aloof from such ties, and,
142Moore’s Life of Byron
instead of the softer duties and rewards of being amiable, reserved themselves for the high hazardous chances of being great. In looking back through the lives of the most illustrious poets, the class of intellect in which the characteristic features of genius are perhaps most strongly marked, we shall find that, with scarcely one exception, from
Homer down to Lord Byron, they have been, in their several degrees, restless and solitary spirits, with minds wrapped up, like silk-worms, in their own tasks, either strangers or rebels to domestic ties, and bearing about with them a deposit for posterity in their souls, to the jealous watching and enriching of which almost all other thoughts and considerations have been sacrificed.

“‘To follow poetry as one ought,’ says the authority I have already quoted, ‘one must forget father and mother, and cleave to it alone.’ In these few words is pointed out the sole path that leads genius to greatness. (In such terms alone are the high places of fame to be won; nothing less than the sacrifice of the entire man can achieve them. However delightful, therefore, may be the spectacle of a man of genius tamed and domesticated in society, taking docilely upon him the yoke of the social tie, and enlightening, without disturbing, the sphere in which he moves, we must, nevertheless, in the midst of our admiration, bear in mind that it is not thus smoothly or amiably immortality has been ever struggled for or won. The poet thus circumstanced may be popular—may be loved, for the happiness of himself and those linked with him: he is in the right road, but not for greatness. The marks by which Fame has always separated her great martyrs from the rest of mankind are not upon him, and the crown cannot be his. He may dazzle, may captivate the circle, and even the times in which he lives; but he is not for hereafter.

“To the general description here given of that high class of human intelligences to which he belonged, the character of Lord Byron was, in many respects, a signal exception. Born with strong affections and ardent passions, the world had, from first to last, too firm a hold on his sympathies to let imagination altogether usurp the place of reality, either in his feelings or in the objects of them. His life, indeed, was one continued struggle between that instinct of genius which was for ever drawing him back into the lonely laboratory of self, and those impulses of passion, ambition, and vanity, which again hurried him off into the crowd, and entangled him in its interests; and though it may be granted, that he would have been more purely and abstractedly the poet had he been less thoroughly in all his pursuits and propensities the man, yet from this very mixture and alloy has it arisen that his pages bear so deeply the stamp of real life, and that in the works of no poet, with the exception of Shakespeare, can every various mood of the mind, whether solemn or gay, whether inclined to the ludicrous or the sublime, whether seeking to divert itself with the follies of society or panting after the grandeur of solitary nature, find so readily a strain of sentiment in accordance with its every passing tone.

“But while the naturally warm cast of his affections and temperament gave thus a substance and truth to his social feelings, which those of too many of his fellow-votaries of genius have wanted, it was not to be expected that an imagination of such range and power should have been so early developed, and unrestrainedly indulged, without producing at last some of those effects upon the heart which have invariably been found attendant on such a predominance of this faculty. It must have been observed, indeed, that the period when his natural affections flourished most healthily was before he had yet arrived at the full consciousness of his genius, before imagination had yet accustomed him to those glaring pictures after gazing upon which all else appeared cold and colourless. From the moment of this initiation into the wonders of his own mind, a distaste for the realities of life began to grow upon him. Not even that intense craving after affection which nature had implanted in him, could keep his ardour still alive in a pursuit whose results fell so short of his ‘imaginings;’ and though from time to time the combined warmth of his fancy and temperament was able to call up a feeling, which to his eyes wore the semblance of love, it may be questioned whether his heart had ever much share in such passions; or whether, after his first launch into the boundless sea of imagination, he could ever have been brought back, and fixed by any lasting attachment. Actual objects there were in but too great number, who, as long as the illusion continued, kindled up his thoughts, and were the themes of his song. But they were after all little more than mere dreams of the hour; the qualities with which he invested them were almost all ideal, nor could have stood the test of a month’s, or even week’s, cohabitation. It was but the reflections of his own bright conceptions that he saw in each new object, and while persuading himself that they furnished the models of his heroines, he was, on the contrary,
Moore’s Life of Byron143
but fancying that he beheld his heroines in them.

“There needs no stronger proof of the predominance of imagination in those attachments than his own serious avowal in the Journal already given, that often when in the company of the woman he most loved, he found himself secretly wishing for the solitude of his own study. It was there, indeed, in the silence and abstraction of that study, that the chief scene of his mistress’s empire and glory lay. It was there that, unchecked by reality, and without any fear of the disenchantments of truth, he could view her through the medium of h» own fervid fancy, enamour himself of an idol of his own creating, and out of a brief delirium of a few days or weeks, send forth a dream of beauty and passion through all ages.

“While such appears to have been the imaginative character of his loves (of all except the one that lived unquenched through all), his friendships, though, of course, far less subject to the influence of fancy, could not fail to exhibit also some features characteristic of the peculiar mind in which they sprung. It was a usual saying of his own, and will be found repeated in some of his letters, that he had ‘no genius for friendship,’ and that whatever capacity he might once have possessed for that sentiment had vanished with his youth. If in saying this he shaped his notions of friendship according to the romantic standard of his boyhood, the fact must be admitted; but as far as the assertion was meant to imply, that he had become incapable of warm, manly, and lasting friendship, such a charge against himself was unjust, and I am not the only living testimony of its injustice.”

Mr. Moore in this certainly flatters his own vanity.

“To a certain degree, however, in his friendships, the effects of a too vivid imagination in disqualifying the mind for the cold contact of reality were visible. We are told that Petrarch (who in this respect, as in most others, may be regarded as a genuine representative of the poetic character) abstained purposely from a too frequent intercourse with his nearest friends, lest from the sensitiveness he was so aware of in himself, there should occur any thing that might chill his regard for them; and though Lord Byron was of a nature too full of social and kindly impulses ever to think of such a precaution, it is a fact, confirmatory at least of the principle on which his brother poet, Petrarch, acted, that the friends, whether of his youth or manhood, of whom he had seen least through life, were those of whom he always thought and spoke with the most warmth and fondness. Being brought less often to the touchstone of familiar intercourse, they stood naturally a better chance of being adopted as the favourites of his imagination, and of sharing in consequence a portion of that bright colouring reserved for all that gave it interest and pleasure. Next to the dead, therefore, whose hold upon his fancy had been placed beyond all risk of severance, those friends whom he but saw occasionally, and by such favourable glimpses as only renewed the first kindly impression they had made, were the surest to live unchangingly, and without shadow, in his memory.”

This article has already extended so far beyond all reasonable limits, that nothing but the importance of the subject can extenuate the offence; we shall, therefore, briefly remark in conclusion, that there is one very great fault in the book, besides the general loose phrases of Mr. Moore’s peculiar style—we allude to the disregard of personal feelings with which living individuals are treated by name, save in those instances where his own friends are spoken of, and then every objectionable passage, both from Byron’s Letters and Journal, is carefully emasculated. Much, too, of Byron’s fulsome yearning for the great might have been reserved for posterity. A prudent narrative would, we are persuaded, have been more acceptable, and the subject required it,—still the work is a valuable addition to English literature; and it contains lessons, both as to character and metaphysics, not only curious in themselves but interesting as studies.