Farewell! a word that must be, and hath been—
A sound which makes us linger; — yet — farewell!
Ye! who have traced the Pilgrim to the scene
Which is his last, if in your memories dwell
A thought which once was his, if on ye swell
A single recollection, not in vain
He wore his sandal-shoon, and scallop-shell;
Farewell! with him alone may rest the pain,
If such there were — with you, the moral of his strain!
This solemn valediction, the concluding stanza of Lord Byron's poem, forms at once a natural and an impressive motto to our essay. "There are few things," says the moralist, "not purely evil, of which we can say, without some emotion of uneasiness, this is the last. Those who could never agree together shed tears when mutual discontent has determined them to final separation, and of a place that has been frequently visited, though without pleasure, the last look is taken with heaviness of heart." When we resume, therefore, our task of criticism, and are aware that we are exerting it for the last time upon this extraordinary work, we feel no small share of reluctance to part with the Pilgrim, whose wanderings have so often beguiled our labours, and diversified our pages. We part from "Childe Harold" as from the pleasant and gifted companion of an interesting tour, whose occasional waywardness, obstinacy and caprice are forgotten in the depth of thought with which he commented upon subjects of interest as they passed before us, and in the brilliancy with which he coloured such scenery as addressed itself to the imagination. His faults, if we at all remember them, are recollected only with pity, as affecting himself indeed, but no longer a concern of ours: — his merits acquire double value in our eyes when we call to mind that we may perhaps never more profit by them. The scallop-shell and staff are now laid aside, the pilgrimage is accomplished, and Lord Byron, in his assumed character, is no longer to delight us with the display of his wondrous talents, or provoke us by the use he sometimes condescends to make of them, an use which at times has reminded us of his own powerful simile,
It was as is a new-dug grave,
Closing o'er one we sought to save.
Before we part, however, we feel ourselves impelled to resume a consideration of his "Pilgrimage," not as consisting of detached accounts of foreign scenery and of the emotions suggested by them, but as a whole poem, written in the same general spirit, and pervaded by the same cast of poetry. In doing this, we are conscious we must repeat much which has perhaps been better said by others, and even be guilty of the yet more unpardonable crime of repeating ourselves. But if we are not new we will at least be brief and the occasion seems to us peculiarly favourable for placing before our readers the circumstances which secured to the Pilgrimage?
Childe Harold a reception so generally popular. The extrinsic circumstances, which refer rather to the state of the public taste than to the genius and talent of the author, claim precedence in order because, though they are not those on which the fame of the poet must ultimately rest, they are unquestionably the scaffolding by means of which the edifice was first raised which now stands independent of them.
Originality, as it is the highest and rarest property of genius, is also that which has most charms for the public. Not that originality is always necessary, for the world will be contented, in the poverty of its mental resources, with mere novelty or singularity, and must therefore be enchanted with a work that exhiibits both qualities. The vulgar author is usually distinguished by his treading, or attempting to tread, in the steps of the reigning favourite of the day. He is didactic, sentimental, romantic, epic, pastoral, according to the taste of the moment, and his "fancies and delights," like those of Master Justice Shallow, are sure to be adapted to the tunes "which the car-men whistle." The consequence is, not that the herd of imitators gain their object, but that the melody which they have profaned becomes degraded in the sated ears of the public — its original richness, wildness and novelty are forgotten when it is made manifest how easily the leading notes can be caught and parodied, and whatever its intrinsic merit may have been, it becomes, for the time, stale and fulsome. If the composition which has been thus hunted down possesses intrinsic merit, it may — indeed it will — eventually revive and claim its proper place amid the poetical galaxy; deprived, indeed, of the adventitious value which it may at first have acquired from its novelty, but at the same time no longer over-shaded and incumbered by the croud of satellites now consigned to chaos and primaeval night. When the success of Burns, writing in his native dialect with unequalled vigour and sweetness, had called from their flails an hundred peasants to cudgel their brains for rhymes, we can well remember that even the bard of Coila was somewhat injured in the common estimation — as a masterpiece of painting is degraded by being placed amid the flaring colours and ill-drawn figures of imitative daubers. The true poet attempts the very reverse of the imitator. He plunges into the stream of public opinion even when its tide is running strongest, crosses its direction, and bears his crown of laurel as Caesar did his imperial mantle, triumphant above the waves. Such a phenomenon seldom fails at first to divide and at length to alter the reigning taste of the period, and if the bold adventurer has successfully buffeted the ebbing tide which bore up his competitor, he soon has the benefit of the flood in his own favour.
In applying these general remarks to Lord Byron's gravest and most serious performance, we must recal to the reader's recollection that since the time of Cowper he has been the first poet who, either in his own person, or covered by no very thick disguise, has directly appeared before the public, an actual living man expressing his own sentiments, thoughts, hopes and fears. Almost all the poets of our day, who have possessed a considerable portion of public attention, are personally little known to the reader, and can only be judged from the passions and feelings assigned by them to persons totally fictitious. Childe Harold appeared — we must not say in the character of the author — but certainly in that of a real existing person, with whose feelings as such the public were disposed to associate those of Lord Byron. Whether the reader acted right or otherwise in persisting to neglect the shades of distinction which the author endeavoured to point out betwixt his pilgrim and himself, it is certain that no little power over the public attention was gained from their being identified. Childe Harold may not be, nor do we believe he is, Lord Byron's very self, but he is Lord Byron's Picture, sketched by Lord Byron himself, arrayed in a fancy dress, and disguised perhaps by some extrinsic attributes, but still bearing a sufficient resemblance to the original to warrant the conclusion that we have drawn. This identity is so afar acknowledged in the preface to the Canto now before us, where Lord Byron thus expresses himself.
"The poem also, or the pilgrim, or both, have accompanied me from first to last; and perhaps it may be a pardonable vanity which induces me to reflect with complacency on a composition which in some degree connects me with the spot where it was produced and the objects it would fain describe; and however unworthy it may be deemed of those magical and memorable abodes, however short it may fall of our distant conceptions and immediate impressions, yet as a mark of respect for what is venerable, and of feeling for what is glorious, it has been to me a source of pleasure in the production, and I part with it with a kind of regret, which I hardly suspected that events could have left me for imaginary objects." — pp, vi, vii.
But besides the pleasing novelty of a traveller and a poet, throwing before the reader his reflections and opinions, his loves and his hates, his raptures and his sorrows; besides the novelty and pride which the public felt, upon being called as it were into familiarity with a mind so powerful, and invited to witness and partake of its deep emotions; the feelings themselves were of a character which struck with awe those to whom the noble pilgrim thus exposed the sanctuary of his bosom. They were introduced into no Teian paradise of lutes and maidens, were placed in no hail resounding with music and dazzling with many-coloured lights, and called upon to gaze on those gay forms that flutter in the muse's beam. The banquet had ceased, and it was the pleasure of its melancholy lord that his guests should witness that gloominess, which seems most dismal when it succeeds to exuberant and unrestrained gaiety. The emptied wine-cup lay on the ground, the withered garland was flung aside and trodden under foot, the instruments of music were silent, or waked but those few and emphatic chords which express sorrow; while, amid the ruins of what had once been the palace of pleasure, the stern pilgrim stalked from desolation to desolation, spurning from him the implements of former luxury, and repelling with equal scorn the more valuable substitutes which wisdom and philosophy offered to supply their place. The reader felt as it were in the presence of a superior being, when, instead of his judgment being consulted, his imagination excited or soothed, his taste flattered or conciliated in order to bespeak his applause, he was told, in strains of the most sublime poetry, that neither he, the courteous reader, nor aught the earth had to shew, was worthy the attention of the noble traveller. — All countries he traversed with a heart for entertaining the beauties of nature, and an eye for observing the crimes and follies of mankind; and from all he drew subjects of sorrow, of indignation, of contempt. From Dan to Beersheba all was barrenness. To despise the ordinary sources of happiness, to turn with scorn from the pleasures which captivate others, and to endure, as it were voluntarily, evils which others are most anxious to shun, is a path to ambition; for the monarch is scarcely more respected for possessing, than the anchoret for contemning the means of power and of pleasure. A mind like that of Harold, apparently indifferent to the usual enjoyments of life, and which entertains, or at least exhibits, such contempt for its usual pursuits, has the same ready road to the respect of the mass of mankind, who judge that to be superior to humanity which can look down upon its common habits, tastes, and pleasures.
This fashion of thinking and writing of course had its imitators, and those right many. But the humorous sadness which sat so gracefully on the original made but a poor and awkward appearance on those who
—wrapp'd themselves in Harold's inky cloak,
To show the world how Byron did not write.
Their affected melancholy shewed like the cynicism of Apemantus contrasted with the real misanthropy of Timon. And, to say the truth, we are not sorry that the fashion has latterly lost ground. This species of general contempt of intellectual pleasures, and worldly employment, is more closely connected with the Epicurean philosophy than may be at first supposed. If philosophy be but a pursuit of words, and the revolutions of empires inevitable returns of the same cycle of fearful transitions; if our earliest and best affections "run to waste, and water but the desert," the want of worthier motives to action gives a tremendous and destructive impulse to the dangerous Carpe diem of the Garden — that most seductive argument of sensual pleasure. This doctrine of the nothingness of human pursuits, not as contrasted with those of religion and virtue, (to which they are indeed as nothing,) but absolutely and in themselves, is too apt to send its pupils in despair to those pleasures which promise a real gratification, however short and gross. Thus do thoughts and opinions, in themselves the most melancholy, become incitements to the pursuit of the most degrading pleasures; as the Egyptians placed skulls upon their banqueting tables, and as the fools of Holy Writ made the daring and fearful association of imminent fate and present revelling — Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.
If we treat the humour less gravely, and consider it as a posture of the mind assumed for the nonce, still this enumeration of the vain pursuits, the indulged yet unsatiated passions of humanity, is apt to weary our spirits if not our patience, and the discourse terminates in a manner as edifying as the dialogue in Prior's Alma:—
"Tired with these thoughts" — "Less tired than I,"
Quoth Dick, "with your philosophy—
That people live and die I knew,
An hour ago as well as you;
What need of books those truths to tell,
Which folks perceive who cannot spell;
And must we spectacles apply,
To view what hurts our naked eye?
If to be sad is to be wise,
I do most heartily despise
Whatever Socrates has said,
Or Tully wrote, or Wanley read."
Dear Drift! to set our matters right,
Remove these papers from my sight,
Burn Mat's Des-carte and Aristotle—
Here, Jonathan, your master's bottle.
But it was not merely to the novelty of an author speaking in his own person, and in a tone which arrogated a contempt of all the ordinary pursuits of life, that "Childe Harold" owed its extensive popularity these formed but the point or sharp edge of the wedge wedge by which the work was enabled to insinuate its way into that venerable block, the British public. The high claims inferred at once in the direct appeal to general attention, and scorn of general feeling, were supported by powers equal to such pretensions. He who despised the world intimated that he had the talents and genius necessary to win it if he had thought it worth while. There was a strain of poetry in which the sense predominated over the sound; there was the eye keen to behold nature, and the pen powerful to trace her varied graces of beauty or terror; there was the heart ardent at the call of freedom or of generous feeling, and belying every moment the frozen shrine in which false philosophy had incased it, glowing like the intense and concentrated alcohol, which remains one single but burning drop in the centre of the ice which its more watery particles have formed. In despite of the character which he had assumed, it was impossible not to see in the Pilgrim what nature designed him to be, and what, in spite of bad metaphysics and worse politics, he may yet be, a person whose high talents the wise and virtuous may enjoy without a qualifying sigh or frown. Should that day arrive, and if time be granted, it will arrive, we who have ventured upon the precarious task of prophecy — we who have been censured for not mingling the faults of genius with its talents — we shall claim our hour of heartfelt exultation. He himself, while deprecating censure on the ashes of another great but self-neglected genius, has well pleaded the common cause of those who, placed high above the croud, have their errors and their follies rendered more conspicuous by their elevation.
Hard is his fate on whom the public gaze
Is fix'd for ever to detract or praise;
Repose denies her requiem to his name,
And Folly loves the martyrdom of Fame:
The secret enemy, whose sleepless eye
Stands sentinel, accuser, judge, and spy;
Her for the fool, the jealous, and the vain,
The envious, who but breath in others' pain
Behold the host delighting to deprave,
Who track the steps of Glory to the grave.
For ourselves, amid the various attendants on the triumph of genius, we would far rather be the soldier who, pacing by the side of his general, mixes, with military frankness, censure amid his songs of praise, than the slave in the chariot to flatter his vanity by low adulation, or exasperate his feelings by virulent invective. In entering our protest therefore against the justice and the moral tendency of that strain of dissatisfaction and despondency, that cold and sceptical philosophy which clouds our prospects on earth, and closes those beyond it, we willingly render to this extraordinary poem the full praise that genius in its happiest efforts can demand from us.
The plan, if it can be termed so, hovers between that of a descriptive and a philosophical poem. The Pilgrim passes from land to land, alternately describing, musing, meditating, exclaiming, and moralizing; and the reader, partaking of his enthusiasm, becomes almost the partner of his journey. The first and second Cantos were occupied by Spain and Greece — the former, the stage upon which those incidents were then passing which were to decide, in their consequence, the fate of existing Europe; the latter, the country whose sun, so long set, has yet left on the horizon of the world such a blaze of splendour. It is scarcely necessary to say, that in both countries, but especially in the last, the pilgrim found room for meditation even to madness. The third Canto saw Childe Harold once more upon the main, and traced him from Belgium to Switzerland, through scenes distinguished by natural graces, and rendered memorable by late events. Through this ample field we accompanied the Pilgrim, and the strains which describe the beauties of the Rhine and the magnificence of the Leman lake, are still glowing in our ears. The fourth Canto now appears, and recals to the immediate object of the present article.
The poem opens in Venice, once time mart of the universe.—
I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her strictures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O'er the far times, when many a subject land
Look'd to the winged Lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, thron'd on her hundred isles!
The former greatness of this queen of commerce is described and mingled with the recollections associated with her name, from the immortal works of fiction of which she has formed the scene.
But unto us she hath a spell beyond
Her name in story, and her long array
Of mighty shadows, whose dim forms despond
Above the Dogeless city's vanish'd sway;
Ours is a trophy which will not decay
With the Rialto; Shylock and the Moor,
And Pierre, can not be swept or worn away—
The keystones of the arch though all were o'er
For us repeopled were the solitary shore.
The beings of the mind are not of clay;
Essentially immortal, they create
And multiply in us a brighter ray
And more beloved existence: that which Fate
Prohibits to dull life, in this our state
Of mortal bondage, by these spirits supplied
First exiles, then replaces what we hate;
Watering the heart whose early flowers have died
And with a fresher growth replenishing the void.
That this is true in philosophy as well as beautiful in poetry that fiction as well as reality can impress local associations of the most fascinating kind, that not alone the birth-place or tomb of the man of genius, but the scenes which he has chosen for the action of his story remain dear "to our memories," and have to our ears and eyes a fascinating charm, was repeatedly experienced during the Peninsular war. Spain, separated by the ocean and the Pyrenees from the rest of Europe, and seldom in collision with Britain, save when we have encountered her fleets upon the seas, lying also beyond the ordinary course of travellers and tourists, has little familiar to us as readers of history or as members of British society.
But the authors of fiction had given associations to this country of the most interesting kind, to supply the deficiencies of the slender list afforded by history or conversation. The British officers rushed with the eagerness of enthusiasm to find in the tower of Segovia the apartment from which Gil Bias, in his captivity, looked over the wanderings of the Ebro: — even the French dealt mildly with the city of Toboso, because it had given name to the celebrated Dulcinea; and amid the romantic deserts of the Sierra Morena the weary step was render lighter to the readers of Cervantes, who at every turn of their march among the landscapes which he has described with such exquisite truth and felicity, expected to see the doughty knight-errant and his trusty squire, or the beautiful vision of Dorothea, when she was surprized in boy's attire washing her feet in the rivulet. Such is the prerogative of genius! and well may it be celebrated by one who has himself impressed associations upon so much scenery, which will never, while Britons speak their present language, be seen without recollecting the pilgrim and his musings.
The contrast of the former and present state of Venice calls forth naturally a train of moral reflections suitable to the occasion; but the noble pilgrim, standing on the Bridge of Sighs, and having beneath his feet the dungeons of the most jealous aristocracy that ever existed; in the vicinity also of the palace of the Council of Ten, and of those "lions mouths" by means of which the most treacherous and base of anonymous informers possessed full power over the life and fortune of the noblest citizens, might have spared his regret for the loss of that freedom which Venice never, possessed. The distinction, in this and many other cases, betwixt a free and an independent nation, is not sufficiently observed. The Venetians were never a free people, though the state of Venice was not only independent, but wealthy and powerful, during the middle ages, by the extent of her commerce and the policy of her wise rulers. But commerce found a more convenient channel round the Cape of Good Hope for that trade which Venice had hitherto carried on. Her rulers over-rated her strength and engaged in a war against the confederated force of Italy, from the consequences of which, though gloriously sustained, the state never recovered. The proud republic, whose bride was the Adriatic, shared the fate of Tyre and Sidon — of all nations whose wealth and grandeur are founded exclusively on ships, colonies, and commerce. The "crowning city, whose merchants were princes, and whose traffickers were the honourable of the earth," had long passed into a state of the third class, existing merely because not demolished, and ready to give way to the first impulse of outward force. The art of the Venetian rulers in stooping to their circumstances, and bending where they must otherwise have broken, could only protract this semblance of independence until the storm of the French Revolution destroyed Venice, among many other governments which had been respected by other conquerors from a reverence to antiquity, or from a regard for existing institutions, the very reverse of the principle which actuated the republican generals. It is surely vain to mourn for a nation which, if restored to independence, could not defend or support itself; and it would be worse than vain, were it possible, to restore the Signoria with all its oligarchical terrors of denunciation, and secret imprisonment, and judicial murder. What is to be wished for Italy, is the amalgamation of its various petty states into one independent and well-governed kingdom, capable of asserting and maintaining her place among the nations of Europe. To this desirable order of things nothing can be a stronger obstacle than the reinstatement of the various petty divisions of that fair country, each incapable of defending itself, but ready to lend its aid to destroy its neighbours.
Of Italy, in its present state, it is impossible to think or speak without recognizing the truth as well as the beauty of the following lines.
The commonwealth of kings, the men of Rome!
And even since, and now, fair Italy!
Thou art the garden of the world, the home
Of all Art yields, and Nature can decree;
Even in thy desart, what is like to thee
Thy very weeds are beautiful, thy waste
More rich than other climes' fertility;
Thy wreck a glory, and thy ruin graced
With an immaculate charm which can not be defaced. — p. 16
Through these delightful regions the Pilgrim wanders, awakening by the flashes of his imagination that of the reader, as the face of the country suggests topics of moral interest, and reminds its alternately of the achievements of the great of former days, in arms and in literature, and as local description mingles itself with the most interesting topics of local history. Arqua, "the mountain where he died," suggests the name of Petrarch; the deserted Ferrara the fame and the fate of Tasso fitly classed with Dante and Ariosto, the bards of Hell and Chivalry. Florence and its statues, Thrasimene and Clitumnus start up before us with their scenery and their recollections. Perhaps there are no verses in our language of happier descriptive power than the two stanzas which characterize the latter river. In general, poets find it so difficult to leave an interesting subject, that they injure the distinctness of the description by loading it so as to embarrass rather than excite the fancy of the reader; or else, to avoid that fault, they confine themselves to cold and abstract generalities. The author has in the following stanzas admirably steered his course betwixt these extremes; while they present the outlines of a picture as pure and brilliant as those of Claude Lorraine, the task of filling up the more minute particulars is judiciously left to the imagination of the reader; and it must be dull indeed if it does not supply what the poet has left unsaid, or but generally and briefly intimated. While the eye glances over the lines, we seem to feel the refreshing coolness of the scene — we hear the bubbling tale of the more rapid streams, and see the slender proportions of the rural temple reflected in the crystal depth of the calm pool.
But thou, Clitumnus! in thy sweetest wave
Of the most living crystal that was e'er
The haunt of river nymph, to gaze and lave
Her limbs where nothing hid them, thou dost rear
The grassy bank whereon the milk-white steer
Grazes; the purest god of gentle waters!
And most serene of aspect, and most clear;
Surely that stream was unprofaned by slaughters—
A mirror and a bath for Beauty's youngest daughters!
And on thy happy shore a temple still,
Of small and delicate proportion, keeps,
Upon a mild declivity of hill,
Its memory of thee; beneath it sweeps
Thy current's calmness; oft from out it leaps
The finny darter with the glittering scales,
Who dwells and revels in thy glassy deeps;
While, chance, some scatter'd water-lily sails
Down where the shallower wave still tells its bubbling tales. — p. 36.
By mountain and cataract, through this land of existing beauty and heroic memory, the pilgrim at length reaches Rome: — Rome, first empress of the bodies, then of the souls, of all the civilized world, now owing its, political and, perhaps, even its religious existence to the half contemptuous pity of those nations whom she formerly held in thraldom — Rome is the very ground on which we should have loved to cope with Childe Harold
—in those sullen fits,
For then he's full of matter.
Nor have we been disappointed in our wishes and expectations; for the voice of Marius could not sound more deep and solemn among the ruined arches of Carthage than the strains of the Pilgrim amid the broken shrines and fallen statues of her subduer. We can but touch partially upon these awful themes. The Palatine is thus described:—
Cypress and ivy, weed and wallflower grown
Matted and mass'd together, hillocks heap'd
On what were chambers, arch crush'd, column strown
In fragments, chok'd up vaults, and frescos steep'd
In subterranean damps, where the owl peep'd,
Deeming it midnight: — Temples, baths, or halls?
Pronounce who can; for all that Learning reap'd
From her research hath been, that these are walls—
Behold the Imperial Mount! 'tis thus the mighty falls. — p. 56.
And thus the Egerian grottos, with a classical allusion to the complaint of Juvenal, that art in adorning them had destroyed their simplicity, are described in the state of decay by which that simplicity has been restored.
The mosses of thy fountain still are sprinkled
With thine Elysian water-drops; the face
Of thy cave-guarded spring, with years unwrinkled,
Reflects the meek-eyed genius of the place,
Whose green, wild margin now no more erase
Art's works; nor must the delicate waters sleep,
Prisoned in marble, bubbling from the base
Of the cleft statue, with a gentle leap
The rill runs o'er, and round, fern, flowers, and ivy, creep. — p. 61.
The Coliseum is described in the midnight gloom of a cloudless Italian sky; its vast area recalls the bloody games of the Romans, and the poet has vied with the memorable sculptor who produced the dying Gladiator, — superior in this, that equalling the artist in his faculty of impressing on the fancy the agonies, he can extend his power into incorporeal realms, and body forth not only the convulsed features and stiffened limbs, but the mental feelings and throes of the expiring swordsman.
I see before me the Gladiator lie:
He leans upon his hand — his manly brow
Consents to death, but conquers agony,
And his drooped head sinks gradually low—
And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,
Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now
The arena swims around him — he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hail'd the wretch who won.
He heard it, but he heeded not — his eyes
Were with his heart, and that was far away;
He reck'd not of the life he lost nor prize,
But where his rude hut by the Danube lay
There were his young barbarians all at play,
There was their Dacian mother — he, their sire,
Butcher'd to make a Roman holiday—
All this rush'd with his blood — shall he expire
And unavenged? — Arise! ye Goths, and glut your ire! — p. 73.
The Pantheon, the Mole of Hadrian, St. Peter's, whose vastness expands and "renders colossal" the mind of the gazer, the Vatican, with its treasures of ancient art, are all placed before us with the same picturesque, and rendered real by the same earnest and energetic force of Lord Byron's poetry, in which the numbers seem so little the work of art or study, that they rather appear the natural and unconstrained language in which the thoughts present themselves. The deep-toned melancholy of the poet's mind at length rests on a theme where it must long find a response in every British bosom — on the event which cut down the hope of our nation, sparing neither bush nor blossom, when we most expected to have seen it fulfilled. Liberal as we have been in quotation we cannot resist the opportunity of meeting Lord Byron on a public ground, in which his exquisite strains are an echo to our own thoughts, and where we can join without any of those mental protests which we are too often compelled to make against the correctness of his principles, even when admitting the power of his language and the beauty of his poetry.
Hark! forth from the abyss a voice proceeds,
A long low distant murmur of dread sound,
Such as arises when a nation bleeds
With some deep and immedicable wound;
Through storm and darkness yawns the rending ground,
The gulf is thick with phantoms, but the chief
Seems royal still, though with her head discrown'd,
And pale, but lovely, with maternal grief
She clasps a babe, to whom her breast yields no relief.
Scion of chiefs and monarchs, where art thou?
Fond hope of many nations, art thou dead?
Could not the grave forget thee, and lay low
Some less majestic, less beloved head?
In the sad midnight, while thy heart still bled,
The mother of a moment, o'er thy boy,
Death hush'd that pang for ever: with thee fled
The present happiness and promised joy
Which flll'd the imperial isles so full it seem'd to cloy.
Peasants bring forth in safety. — Can it be,
Oh thou that wert so happy, so adored!
Those who weep not for kings shall weep for thee,
And Freedom's heart, grown heavy, cease to hoard
Her many griefs for ONE; for she had pour'd
Her orisons for thee, and or thy head
Beheld her Iris. — Thou, too, lonely lord,
And desolate consort — vainly wert thou wed!
The husband of a year! the father of the dead!
Of sackcloth was thy wedding garment made;
Thy bridal's fruit is ashes: in the dust
The fair-haired daughter of the isles is laid,
The love of millions! How we did entrust
Futurity to her! and, though it must
Darken above our bones, yet fondly deem'd
Our children should obey her child, and bless'd
Her and her hoped-for seed, whose promise seem'd
Like stars to shepherd's eyes: — 'twas but a meteor beam'd. — p. 86-88.
From the copious specimens which we have given, the reader will be enabled to judge how well the last part of this great poem has sustained Lord Byron's high reputation. Yet we think it possible to trace a marked difference, though none in the tone of thought and expression, betwixt this canto and the first three. There is less of passion, more of deep thought and sentiment, at once collected and general. The stream which in its earlier course bounds over cataracts and rages through narrow and rocky defiles, deepens, expands, and becomes less turbid as it rolls on, losing the aspect of terror and gaining that of sublimity. Eight years have passed between the appearance of the first volume and the present which concludes the work, a lapse of time which, joined with other circumstances, may have contributed somewhat to moderate the tone of Childe Harold's quarrel with the world, and, if not to reconcile him to his lot, to give him, at least, the firmness which endures it without loud complaint. — To return, however, to the proposition with which we opened our criticism, certain it is, that whether as Harold or as Lord Byron no author has ever fixed upon himself personally so intense a share of the public attention. His descriptions of present and existing scenes however striking and beautiful, his recurrence to past actions however important and however powerfully described, become interesting chiefly from the tincture which they receive from the mind of the author. The grot of Egeria, the ruins of the Palatine, are but a theme for his musings, always deep and powerful though sometimes gloomy even to sullenness. This cast of solemnity may not perhaps be justly attributed to the native disposition of the author, which is reported to be as lively as, judging from this single poem at least, we might pronounce it to be grave. But our ideas of happiness are chiefly caught by reflection from the minds of others, and hence it may be observed that those enjoy the most uniform train of good spirits who are thinking much of others and little of themselves. The contemplation of our minds, however salutary for the purposes of self-examination and humiliation, must always be a solemn task, since the best will find enough for remorse, the wisest for regret, the most fortunate for sorrow. And to this influence more than to any natural disposition to melancholy, to the pain which necessarily follows this anatomizing of his own thoughts and feelings which is so decidedly and peculiarly the characteristic of the Pilgrimage, we are disposed in a great measure to ascribe that sombre tint which pervades the poem. The poetry which treats of the actions and sentiments of others may be grave or gay according to the light in which the author chuses to view his subject, but he who shall mine long and deeply for materials in his own bosom will encounter abysses at the depth of which he must necessarily tremble. This moral truth appears to us to afford, in a great measure, a key to the peculiar tone of Lord Byron. How then, will the reader ask, is our proposition to be reconciled to that which preceded it? If the necessary result of an inquiry into our own thoughts be the conviction that all is vanity and vexation of spirit, why should we object to a style of writing, whatever its consequences may be, which involves in it truths as certain as they are melancholy? If the study of our own enjoyments leads us to doubt the reality of all except the indisputable pleasures of sense, and inclines us therefore towards the Epicurean system, — it is nature, it may be said, and not the poet which urges us upon the fatal conclusion. But this is not so. Nature, when she created man a social being, gave him the capacity of drawing that happiness from his relations with the rest of his race, which he is doomed to seek in vain in his own bosom. These relations cannot be the source of happiness to us if we despise or hate the kind with whom it is their office to unite us more closely. If the earth be a den of fools and knaves, from whom the man of genius differs by the more mercurial and exalted character of his intellect, it is natural that he should look down with pitiless scorn on creatures so inferior. But if, as we believe, each man, in his own degree, possesses a portion of the ethereal flame, however smothered by unfavourable circumstances, it is or should be enough to secure the most mean from the scorn of genius as well as from the oppression of power, and such being the case, the relations which we hold with society through all their gradations are channels through which the better affections of the loftiest may, without degradation, extend themselves to the lowest. Farther, it is not only our social connections which are assigned us in order to qualify that contempt of mankind, which too deeply indulged tends only to intense selfishness; we have other and higher motives for enduring the lot of humanity — sorrow, and pain, and trouble — with patience of our own griefs and commiseration for those of others. The wisest and the best of all ages have agreed that our present life is a state of trial not of enjoyment, and that we now suffer sorrow that we may hereafter be partakers of happiness. If this be true, and it has seldom been long, or at least ultimately, doubted by those who have turned their attention to so serious an investigation, other and worthier motives of action and endurance must necessarily occur to the mind than philosophy can teach or human pride supply. It is not our intention to do more than merely indicate so ample a topic for consideration. But we cannot forbear to add that the vanishing of Lord Byron's Pilgrim strongly reminded us of the close of another work, the delight of our childhood. Childe Harold, a prominent character in the first volume of the Pilgrimage, fades gradually from the scene like the spectre associate who performed the first stages of his journey with a knight-errant, bearing all the appearance of a living man, but who lessened to the sight by degrees, and became at length totally invisible when they approached the cavern where his mortal remains were deposited.
But where is he, the Pilgrim of my song,
The being who upheld it through the past
Methinks he cometh late and tarries long.
He is no more — these breathings are his last;
His wanderings done, his visions ebbing fast
And he himself as nothing: — if he was
Aught but a phantasy, and could be class'd
With forms which live and suffer — let that pass—
His shadow fades away into Destruction's mass. — p. 85.
In the corresponding passage of the Tales of the Genii, Ridley, the amiable author or compiler of the collection, expresses himself to the following purport, for we have not the book at hand to do justice to his precise words, — "Reader, the Genii are no more, and Horam, but the phantom of my mind, fiction himself and fiction all that he seemed to write, speaks not again. But lament not their loss, since if desirous to see virtue guarded by miracles, Religion can display before you scenes tremendous, wonderful, and great, more worthy of your sight than aught that human fancy can conceive — the moral veil rent in twain and the Sun of Righteousness arising from the thick clouds of heathen darkness." In the sincere spirit of admiration for Lord Byron's talents, and regard for his character which has dictated the rest of our criticism, we here close our analysis of Childe Harold.
Our task respecting Lord Byron's poetry is finished, when we have mentioned the subject, quoted passages of superior merit, or which their position renders most capable of being detached from the body of the poem. For the character of his style and versification once distinctly traced, (and we have had repeated occasion to consider it,) cannot again be dwelt on without repetition. The harmony of verse, and the power of numbers, nay, the selection and arrangement of expressions, are all so subordinate to the thought and sentiment, as to become comparatively light in the scale. His poetry is like the oratory which hurries the hearers along without permitting them to pause on its solecisms or singularities. Its general structure is bold, severe, and as it were Doric, admitting few ornaments but those immediately suggested by the glowing imagination of the author, rising and sinking with the tones of his enthusiasm, roughening into argument, or softening into the melody of feeling and sentiment, as if the language lit for either were alike at the command of the poet, and the numbers not only came uncalled, but arranged themselves with little care on his part into the varied modulation which the subject requires. Many of the stanzas, considered separately from the rest, might be objected to as involved, harsh, and overflowing into each other beyond the usual license of the Spenserian stanza. But considering the various matter of which the poet had to treat — considering the monotony of a long-continued smoothness of sound, and accurate division of the sense according to the stanzas — considering also that the effect of the general harmony is, as in music, improved by the judicious introduction of discords wherewith it is contrasted, we cannot join with those who state this occasional harshness as an objection to Lord Byron's poetry. If the line sometimes "labours and the words move slow," it is in passages where the sense is correspondent to these laborious movements. A highly finished strain of versification resembles a dressed pleasure ground, elegant — even beautiful — but tame and insipid compared to the majesty and interest of a woodland chase, where scenes of natural loveliness are rendered sweeter and more interesting by the contrast of irregularity and wildness.
We have done with the poem; we have, however, yet a few words to say before we finally close our strictures.
To this canto, as to the former, notes are added, illustrative of the contents; and these, we are informed, are written by Mr. Hobhouse, the author of that facetious account of Buonaparte's reign of an hundred days, which it was our office last year to review. They are distinct and classical illustrations of the text, but contain of course many political sentiments of a class which have ceased to excite anger, or any feeling stronger than pity, and a sense of the weakness of humanity which, in all ages, has inclined even men of talents and cultivation to disgrace themselves, by the adoption of sentiments of which it is impossible they can have examined either the grounds or the consequences — whence the doctrines come, or whither they are tending. The mob of a corrupt metropolis, who vindicate the freedom of election by knocking out the brains of the candidate of whom they disapprove, act upon obvious and tangible principles; so do the Spenceans, Spa-fieldians and Nottingham conspirators. That "seven halfpenny loaves should be sold for a penny," — that "the three-hooped pot should have ten hoops," — and that "the realm should be all in common," — have been the watch-words of insurrection among the vulgar, from Jack Straw's time to the present, and, if neither honest nor praiseworthy, are at least sufficiently plain and intelligible. But the frenzy which makes individuals of birth and education hold a language as if they could be wilting to risk the destruction of their native country, and all the horrors of a civil war, is not so easily accounted for. To believe that these persons would accelerate a desolation in which they themselves directly, or through their nearest and dearest connections, must widely share, merely to remove an obnoxious minister, would be to form a hasty and perhaps a false judgment of them. The truth seems to be, that the English, even those from whom better things might be expected, are born to be the dupes of jugglers and mountebanks in all professions. It is not only in physic that the names of our nobility and gentry decorate occasionally the list of cures to which the empiric appeals as attesting the force of his remedy. Religion, in the last age, and politics in the present, have had their quacks, who substituted words for sense, and theoretical dogmata for the practice of every duty. — But whether in religion, or politics, or physic, one general mark distinguishes the empiric; the patient is to be cured without interruption of business, or pleasure — the proselyte to be saved without reformation of the future, or repentance of the past — the country to be made happy by an alteration in its political system; and all the vice and misery which luxury and poor's rates, a crouded population, and decayed morality can introduce into the community, to be removed by extending farther political rights to those who daily show that they require to be taught the purpose for which those they already enjoy were entrusted to them. That any one above the rank of an interested demagogue should teach this is wonderful — that any should believe it except the lowest of the vulgar is more so-but vanity makes as many dupes as folly.
If, however, these gentlemen will needs identify their own cause with that of their country's enemies, we can forgive them as losers, who have proverbial leave to pout. And when, in bitterness of spirit, they term the great, the glorious victory of Waterloo the "carnage of Saint Jean," we can forgive that too, since, trained in the school of revolutionary France, they must necessarily abhor those
—whose art was of such power
It could controul their dam's God Setebos,
And make a vassal of him.
From the dismal denunciations which Lord Byron, acting more upon his feeling than his judgment, has made against our country, although
Were ne'er prophetic sounds so full of woe,
we entertain no fears — none whatever.—
At home, the noble author may hear of better things than "a permanent army and a suspended Habeas Corpus" — he may hear of an improving revenue and increasing public prosperity. And while he continues abroad he may haply call to mind, that the Pilgrim, whom, eight years since, the universal domination of France compelled to wander into distant and barbarous countries, is now at liberty to travel where he pleases, certain that there is not a corner of the civilized world where his title of Englishman will not ensure him a favourable and respectful reception.