The pleasure which we derived from the perusal of Lord Byron's former productions made us sit down with avidity to the pilgrimage of his favourite Childe. We cannot say, however, that our expectations of gratification have been fulfilled. From the form and nature of this "Romaunt," as it is whimsically, and improperly, denominated, we were led to look for all the characteristics of a regular poem. We were not a little surprised, therefore, to find the piece destitute of plot, or even of plan, and its hero a personage not only wandering over the world, without any fixed object, but wholly unnecessary to forward any purpose of the poem; indeed, he appears to be nothing but the dull, inanimate, instrument for conveying his poetical creator's sentiments to the public. Lord Byron avows the intent of this hero's introduction to be the "giving some connection to the piece;" but we cannot, for the life of us, discover how the piece is more connected, by assigning the sentiments which it conveys to a fictitious personage, who takes no part in any of the scenes described, who achieves no deeds, and who, in short, has no one province to perform, than it would have been had Lord Byron spoken in his own person, and been the "hero of his own tale." That the piece "makes no pretensions to regularity" is, indeed, a sufficient excuse for its irregularity, as, probably, it was the only reason for giving it the absurd title which it bears. Still as it exhibits a formal appearance, is regularly divided into cantos, and is avowedly only a portion of a more extensive poem, to wave all pretensions to regularity is not sufficient to justify the total absence of plot and plan; and the absolute insignificance, and inanity, of the hero. A more appropriate title for the piece would be, "Sketches of scenery in Portugal, Epirus, Acarnania, and Greece;" for such, in fact, does the poem exhibit, in two cantos, which are acknowledged to be experimental, and the success of which will determine whether the noble author will conduct his readers "to the capital of the east, through Ionia and Phrygia." Such being the case, we may expect soon to accompany him on a more extensive excursion. But "A Romaunt," without interesting incidents, daring enterprizes, or heroic achievements; and, above all, without a hero, endowed with a soul and spirit, capable of great actions, and ardent to engage in them, is a perfect anomaly in the annals of chivalry, or in the history of romance. Besides, there is an appearance of affectation in the use of the obsolete expressions "Childe" and "Romaunt," displaying a puerility unworthy the manly mind of Lord Byron, and exceeded only by the childish remarks inserted in the preface to justify the, use of them. "Childe," forsooth! is more consonant with the stanza of Spenser, than child!!! "Risum teneatis lectores?" We could not have conceived that the frame and structure of Lord Byron's mind could have afforded admission to such "childishness."
It has been suggested to the noble lord that his fictitious personage may be mistaken for some real character, and he takes, what appears to us, superfluous pains to prevent such am error of judgment; for we do not believe that such a character exists in human nature. We have, however, heard it insinuated, that his lordship, whether consciously or unconsciously, had drawn his own picture; but we cannot believe the fact; for it would grieve us to think, that one who can write so well, and who, on many subjects, can judge so correctly, should be the fractious, wayward, capricious, cheerless, morose, sullen, discontented, and unprincipled character, which "Chide Harold" exhibits. It would, indeed, be a libel to harbour the impious supposition. That such a child should newer attain to manhood is devoutly to be wished. How the noble bard could have had the patience to pourtray this froward object of his own creation, or even how his mind could have engendered so monstrous a being, we profess ourselves unable to comprehend. Since, however, the "Childe" is offered to our adoption, it is our duty to examine him, at all points, to mark his defects, and to assign our reasons for rejecting him. Fictitious or real, justice must have its course, and truth assert her empire. We object, then, to the political prejudices, to the unpatriotic defects, and to the irreligious principles, of this bastard of the imagination. He arraigns wars, generally and indiscriminately, confounding the just with the unjust, the defensive with the offensive, the preservative with the destructive, not with the judgment of a sage, but with the settled moroseness of a misanthrope; victories, though gained by courage exerted in the best of causes, excite only the sarcastic sneers of this querulous vagabond; and the profession of a soldier, deemed honourable by wise and good men, is the subject of his ridicule and contempt. In the exercise of his general malignity, this voluntary exile, and spontaneous outcast, falls foul on priests, nobles, dogmas, and creeds; nor does even the fair sex escape the keen venom of his scandalous tongue. He growls and grumbles at the bounty of heaven in allotting him the means of gratification for insatiate passion, and boundless sensuality. And, as if all this were not sufficient to disgust any rational mind with the unnatural character, he is made to fly in the face of HIM who gave him being, to disclaim all obligation and responsibility, and to entertain the preposterous notion that he was, as it were, the author of his own existence! On reading the passages which conveyed these impressions to our mind, we paused unwilling to credit the evidence of our senses; reluctant to admit the possibility, that a Christian writer should have represented a fellow-being, co-heir with ourselves of eternal life, as forming to himself a system, so gloomy and contracted, so cheerless and so false. It is, indeed, a lamentable circumstance, that a writer, who possesses such talents as Providence has conferred on Lord Byron, should have devoted them to the delineation of a character so grossly defective, if not highly criminal; and that he should have made him the vehicle of principles, or rather of opinions, radically vicious, and destructive of the only solid grounds of happiness, either in this world, or in the next. Were it possible for us to admit the belief that Lord Byron had himself adopted the sentiments and the feelings which he has placed in the mouth and in the breast of his hero, we should earnestly conjure him to reflect deeply on their fatal consequences; we should intreat him for his own sake, and for that of the younger part of the public, who are most likely to he misled by his sophistry, to change the course of his studies, and to direct his attention to those writers on sacred subjects, whose productions are best calculated to dispel the doubts of the sceptic, arid to correct the errors of the infidel. Let him reflect, that sentiments like these relate not to insignificant or trifling objects; they affect every thing which is of consequence to man, either here or hereafter; they involve nothing less than his temporal happiness, and his eternal welfare. They surely, then, form as interesting a subject of research, as foreign countries, and foreign manners; and the time which was employed in investigating the evils of Europe, and in explaining the beauties of Greece, would have been, at least, as beneficially devoted to the study of the truths of the Christian religion, and the grounds of those hopes and expectations which its followers are taught to cherish and to maintain. We are sorry to add, that there are too many passages, in the volume before us, which justify the belief which we are reluctant to admit, and which, consequently, render these admonitions, which are offered in perfect good will, appropriate and necessary. In the course of our strictures, we shall quote some of the passages on which our suspicions are founded.
The hero is introduced to us, as a child, who took no delight in the ways of virtue, as a shameless wight, "Sore given to revel and ungodly glee," and as finding pleasure in few earthly things, "Save concubines and carnal company, and flaunting Wassailers of high and low degree." It was natural enough that a wretch of this description, with the means of obtaining the full gratification of all his low sensual desires, should soon feel "the fulness of satiety;" and this feeling made him loathe his native land, and resolve to roam abroad.
For he through sin's long labyrinth had run,
Nor made atonement when he did amiss,
Had sigh'd to many though he lov'd but one,
And that lov'd one, alas! could ne'er be his.
Ah, happy she! to scape from him whose kiss
Had been pollution unto aught so chaste;
Who soon had left her charms for vulgar bliss,
And spoil'd her goodly lands to gild his waste,
Nor calm domestic peace had ever deign'd to taste.
Indeed, he was so satiated with pleasure, that, we are told, he would have changed the scene even for the infernal regions, for which he appears to have been a very congenial inmate. It is insinuated that, amidst this revelry, he had some recent grief which preyed upon his heart, and rendered him miserable. He was beloved by no one, and so far he met with his deserts. We should have thought that, in the disposition and nature of the man, an adequate reason might he discovered for the aversion of the other sex, without having recourse to any bad qualities of their own; but the author, who probably has experienced some disappointment himself, embraces every opportunity of venting his spleen upon woman.
But pomp and power alone are woman's care,
And where these are, light Eros finds a feere;
Maidens, like moths, are ever caught by glare,
And Mammon wins his way where Seraphs might despair.
On quitting his native land, and the scene of his wicked atchievements, Harold bade no adieu to his mother or sister; but we are bid to believe, that this omission proceeded, not from indifference or disrespect, but from excess of sensibility. Man, we know, is an animal full of contradictions , but, we must confess, it astonished us not a little to find such a quality as this assigned to such a sullen misanthrope as Harold. As the vessel, on which he has embarked, quits the coast, the child utters a mournful ditty, for no other reason that we can discover, than because the bard had read "Lord Maxwell's Good Night, in the Border Minstrelsy, edited by Mr. Scott;" which the said Mr. Scott, indeed, affirms to be a "beautiful Ballad," but in which, unfortunately, we can discern no beauty at all, for the want, probably, of a Scottish ear. Passing over, therefore, the Good Night of Childe Harold, we accompany him to Lisbon. As he ascends the Tagus, he views with delight the beautiful scenery which borders its banks, and expatiates on their charms with a degree of enthusiasm, such, as we should suppose, a childe of his disposition, satiated and disgusted with earthly enjoyments, would be the last to feet. But consistency is no necessary ingredient, it seems, in the character of a poetical hero. Straying over the mountains of Cintra, the convention signed at that place recurs to the recollection of Harold, who thus characterises it:
Behold the hall where chiefs were late convened!
Oh! dome displeasing unto British eye!
With diadem hight foolscap, lo! a fiend,
A little fiend that scoffs incessantly,
There sits in parchment robe arrayed, and by
His side is hung a seal and sable scroll,
Where blazon'd glare names known to chivalry,
And sundry signatures adorn the roll,
Whereat the Urchin points and laughs with all his soul.
Convention is the dwarfish demon styl'd
That foil'd the knights in Marialva's dome:
Of brains (if brains they had) he them beguil'd,
And turned a nation's shallow joy to gloom.
Here Folly dash'd to earth the victor's plume,
And Policy regain'd what arms had lost:
For chiefs like ours in vain may laurels bloom!
Woe to the conqu'ring, not the conquer'd host,
Since baffled triumph droops on Lusitania's coast!
And ever since that martial synod met,
Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name;
And folks in office at the mention fret,
And fain would blush, if blush they could, for shame.
How will posterity the deed proclaim!
Will not our own and fellow nations sneer,
To view these champions cheated of their fame,
By foes in fight o'erthrown, yet victors here,
Where scorn her finger points through many a coming year?
In a note, we are told: "The Convention of Cintra was signed in the palace of the Marchese Marialva. The late exploits of Lord Wellington have effaced the follies of Cintra. He has, indeed, done wonders; he has perhaps changed the character of a nation; reconciled rival superstitions, and baffled an enemy who never retreated before his predecessors."
The loose sneers, and sarcastic remarks, which an author, who suffers no restraint from principle, may introduce in the course of a poetical narrative, where they appear to be merely incidental, are calculated to do more mischief, because the ordinary reader is not on his guard against them; than laboured treatises, composed for the avowed purpose of attacking the settled order of things in any state or government. They ought, for this reason, never to escape the notice of the critic, nor the reprobation of the public. The sneer at official characters, in the last stanza, is contemptible, and unworthy such a writer as Lord Byron, who must know the falsehood of it; and who cannot harbour the monstrous idea, that men who are enlisted in the service of the state, are less virtuous or less honest, than their fellow-creatures. The presumption is, that they have been selected for their worth and merit; and, therefore, to excite the public odium against them, without an attempt to specify any instance of delinquency, is to commit an act of gross injustice, and to indulge calumny at the expence of truth. But what does his lordship mean by designating the Papal and the Protestant religions, as rival superstitions? That the primitive Church was disfigured by the superstitions introduced into it, for worldly purposes. by the Popes, we re very well aware, and, unhappily for Christianity, these superstitions still maintain their predominance in various parts of Europe. But, on what authority, or on what grounds, does this young peer presume to prefer the same charge against that reformed church which first exposed and abolished the superstitious practices which disgraced the church of Rome, as far as her power or influence extended, and which framed her creed and her discipline on the pure model of the Apostolic age? If religion and superstition, indeed, be synonimous terms, in his lordship's spiritual vocabulary, let him boldly proclaim the fact, and there will be no need of our cautions to the British public, against the poison which he scatters around him; but let him not, insidiously, and by a side-wind, as it were, labour to fix a stigma on the purest branch of the Church of Christ, now existing in Christendom. If his hero so "learned to moralize" if "meditation fixed on him" to no better purpose, he might as well have remained at home, or, at least, have kept his morality and the fruits of his reasoning to himself; his excuse, however, is at hand. "But as he gaz'd on truth his aching eyes grew dim." The ancient palace and convent of Mafra are the next objects which attract the notice of the Childe, all impatient to be gone.
Yet Mafra shall one moment claim delay,
Where dwelt of yore the Lusians' luckless queen;
And church and court did mingle their array,
And mass and revel were alternate seen;
Lordlings and freres — ill-sorted fry I ween!
But here the Babylonian whore hath built
A dome, where flaunts she in such glorious sheen,
That men forget the blood which she hath spilt,
And bow the knee to pomp that loves to varnish guilt.
Proceeding onwards, the moody traveller enters Spain, and invokes her sons in animated strains; but, in depicting the battle, with much of the true spirit of poetry, the bard seems determined, that the delight which his genius is able to impart shall be marred by the unseasonable intrusion of his offensive sentiments. We shall extract the passage, which, we are persuaded will alike gratify our readers by the beauties which it exhibits, and disgust them by the defects which it betrays.
Awake, ye sons of Spain! awake! advance!
Lo! Chivalry, your ancient goddess, cries,
But wields not, as of old, her thirsty lance,
Nor shakes her crimson plumage in the skies:
Now on the smoke of blazing bolts she flies,
And speaks in thunder through yon engine's roar:
In every peal she calls — "Awake! arise!"
Say, is her voice more feeble than of yore,
When her war-song was heard on Andalusia's shore?
Hark! — heard you not those hoofs of dreadful note?
Sounds not the clang of conflict on the heath?
Saw ye not whom the reeking sabre smote;
Nor saved your brethren ere they sank beneath
Tyrants and tyrants' slaves? — the fires of death,
The bale-fires flash on high: — from rock to rock
Each volley tells that thousands cease to breathe;
Death rides upon the sulphury siroc,
Red Battle stamps his foot, and nations feel the shock.
Lo! where the Giant on the mountain stands,
His blood-red tresses deep'ning in the sun,
With death-shot glowing in his fiery hands,
And eye that scorcheth all it glares upon;
Restless it rolls, now fixed, and now anon
Flashing afar, — and at his iron feet
Destruction cowers, to mark what deeds are done;
For on this morn three potent nations meet,
To shed before his shrine the blood he deems most sweet.
By heaven! it is a splendid sight to see
(For one who hath no friend, no brother there)
Their rival scarfs of mixed embroidery,
Their various arms that glitter in the air!
What gallant war-hounds rouse them from their lair,
And gnash their fangs, loud yelling for the prey!
All join the chase, but few the triumph share;
The grave shall bear the chiefest prize away,
And Havoc scarce for joy can number their array.
Three hosts combine to offer sacrifice;
Three tongues prefer strange orisons on high;
Three gaudy standards flout the pale blue skies;
The shouts are France, Spain, Albion, Victory!
The foe, the victim, and the fond ally
That fights for all, but ever fights in vain,
Are met — as if at home they could not die—
To feed the crow on Talavera's plain,
And fertilize the field that each pretends to gain.
There shall they rot — ambition's honour'd fools!
Yes, Honour decks the turf that wraps their clay!
Vain Sophistry! in these behold the tools,
The broken tools, that tyrants cast away
By myriads, when they dare to pave their way
With human hearts — to what? — a dream alone.
Can Despots compass aught that hails their sway?
Or call with truth one span of earth their own,
Save that wherein at last they crumble bone by bone?
Oh, Albuera! glorious field of grief!
As o'er thy plain the pilgrim prick'd his steed,
Who could foresee thee, in a space so brief,
A scene where mingling foes should boast and bleed!
Peace to the perished! may the warrior's meed
And tears of triumph their reward prolong!
Till others fall where other chieftains lead
Thy name shall circle round the gaping throng;
And shine in worthless lays, the theme of transient song!
Enough of Battle's minions! let them play
Their game of lives, and barter breath for fame:
Fame that will scarce reanimate their clay,
Though thousands fall to deck some single name.
In sooth 'twere sad to thwart their noble aim
Who strike, blest hirelings! for their country's good,
And die, that living might have prov'd her shame;
Perished, perchance, in some domestic feud,
Or in a narrower sphere wild rapine's path pursued.
The indiscriminate abuse lavished on the troops, without any distinction as to the cause which they are respectively engaged to support, and which, it is natural to imagine, would weigh much with a real moralist: the sneer at the British for their alleged promptitude to fight for all, accompanied by the rash assertion, that they always fight in vain; an assertion belied by almost every page of their military annals; the dastardly notion, that they had better die at home; the sarcastic reflection on their folly; the laugh at honour, more becoming a Falstaff, than a British peer, with whom honour should be as sacred as an oath; the scandalous invective in the last stanza, branding a whole army as an unprincipled banditti, who would have been hanged as thieves at home, if they had not died as "ambition's honour'd fools" abroad; and the no less scandalous insinuation, that all soldiers are the mere tools of despotism, exhibit, at once, such a defect of patriotism, such a looseness of principle, and such a wanton licentiousness of censure, as it is difficult to characterize, and still more difficult to account for. As the malicious jargon of a misanthrope it may, possibly, be in character; but as the deliberate reflection of a noble English mind, it staggers credibility, for it resembles the rant of democracy in its wildest form.
Harold proceeds through Seville to Cadiz; descants, with much warmth, and with more nature, than is generally visible in his effusions, on the beauties of the Spanish damsels, who, in his eye, far exceed the celebrated maids of ancient Greece. The heroine of Saragossa comes in for her share of praise, and is eulogized in strains not unworthy of her; and a higher compliment we cannot pay them. He then takes leave of Cadiz and of Spain.
Adieu, fair Cadiz! yea, a long adieu!
Who may forget how well thy walls have stood?
When all were changing thou alone wert true,
First to be free and last to be subdued;
And if amidst a scene, a shock so rude,
Some native blood was seen thy streets to dye;
A traitor only fell beneath the feud:
Here all were noble, save nobility;
None hugg'd a conqueror's chain, save fallen chivalry!
Such be the sons of Spain, and strange her fate!
They fight for freedom who were never free;
A kingless people for a nerveless state;
Her vassals combat when their chieftains flee,
True to the veriest slaves of treachery:
Fond of a land which gave them nought but life,
Pride points the path that leads to liberty;
Back to the struggle, baffled in the strife,
War, war is still the cry, "War even to the knife!"
The opening of the second canto presents us with Harold at Athens, in the act of mourning o'er her ruins, and apostrophising the goddess of wisdom, who did never yet, as he assures us, (and we are almost tempted to credit the assertion,) "one martial song inspire." The misanthrope, who seems to have more feeling for ancient than for modern heroes — for Grecian, than for Christian British statesmen — for Pagan, than for Christian worthies, here becomes enthusiastic; but, as is mostly the case with enthusiasts, reasons most absurdly, and draws most illogical, as well as irreverent, conclusions. Contemplating the Pagan Divinities of old, now involved in the same ruin with their weak idolators, he gravely, and very wisely, in his own opinion, moralizeth thus—
—religions take their turn:
'Twas Jove's — 'tis Mahomet's — and other creeds
Will rise with other years, till man shall learn
Vainly his incense soars, his victim bleeds;
Poor child of doubt and death, "whose hope is built on reeds."
The creed of the Christian is here put on a footing with the dogmas of Jupiter and of Mahomet; man is affirmed to be the "child of doubt and death;" and, to whatever religion he belongs, we are assured, his "hope is built on reeds." We, thank heaven, have not so learned the creed of the Christian Church; we have been taught to believe that man, when admitted a member of that church, becomes the child of God, and heir to immortality; and that his hope is not built either on reeds or on sand; but on a rock, namely, JESUS CHRIST. This, perhaps, may be deemed superstition by that crude abortion of a poet's brain, Childe Harold; but to a plain Christian, it is evidently wisdom and knowledge; that solid wisdom which teaches a man to know himself, a lesson, the importance of which 'even his favourite heathens acknowledged; and that profitable knowledge which surpasseth all human learning, because it leadeth to salvation. We hope we have not misunderstood the author; we have taken some pains to understand him; and, sure we are, we do not mean to misrepresent him. Had these lines exhibited a solitary instance of irreligion or scepticism, we should have been rather disposed to ascribe them to haste of composition, than to receive them as the fruits of deliberate reflection. But unfortunately this is not the case. Similar notions are promulgated in various parts of this volume. In the very next stanza, the same idea is pursued.
Bound to the earth, he lifts his eye to heaven—
Is't not enough, unhappy thing! to know
Thou art? Is this a boon so kindly given,
That being, thou would'st be again, and go,
Thou know'st not, reck'st not to what region, so
On earth no more, but mingled with the skies?
Still wilt thou dream on future joy and woe?
Regard and weigh yon dust before it flies:
That little urn saith more than thousand homilies.
Here, if we can at all understand the author, man is reproved for fixing his thoughts on futurity, and his belief in a future state is arraigned as unwise, and ridiculed as untenable; and he is referred to the dust that flies, as an emblem of the fate reserved for himself, and as a proof that he, when dead, will he dissipated, like those particles of dust, to live and feel no more! If this do not amount to a complete denial of the immortality of the soul, and all vbeh the scriptures teach us of the future destination of man, we know not what meaning to affix to it; but how can we doubt, when we read in stanzas connected with the same subject, such sentiments as these — "All that we know is, nothing can be known." Has God, then, revealed nothing to us? Do we not know that Christ died for our sins, and usa, in his resurrection, we have an assurance of our own; and, in his promises, the certainty of a future state of rewards and punishments? How, then, can we listen to such advice as this,
Pursue what "chance" or "fate" proclaimeth best;
Peace waits us on the shores of Acheron:
There no forc'd banquet claims the sated guest,
But silence spreads the couch of ever welcome rest.
A Christian, instead of taking chance or fate for his guide, would deem it not only safest, but the only safe conduct, to make the commandments of his God the rule of his actions through life. And, however consolatory it may be to some minds to suppose that nothing but eternal rest is to be found after death, it would be more consistent with wisdom, and with self-interest, indeed, so to act, as if there might he punishments as well as rewards in another world. The author, indeed, seems to admit the possibility of such a thing, however reluctant he may be to believe it;
—if, as holiest men have deemed, there to
A land of souls beyond that sable shore;
then he thinks it would be delightful to converse with the sages of past times; and to meet the woman whom he had loved; and this last consideration seems to have so far weight with him, as to make him willing to deceive himself into a belief of a future state.
Well — I will "dream" that we may meet again,
And woo "the vision" to my aching breast.
When musing further on the ruins of Greece and on its former magnificence, he again bursts out into the following rhapsody:
—and shall man repine,
That his frail bonds to fleeting life are broke?
Cease, fool! the fate of Gods may well be thine,
Wouldst thou survive the marble or the oak?
Nor is this train of thinking confined to the misanthropic hero of his most laboured poem; it is observable in his lighter pieces; for instance,
Ay, but to die, and go, alas!
Where all have gone and all must go!
To be the nothing that I was,
Ever born to life and living woe!"
Count o'er the joys thine hours have seen,
Count o'er thy days from anguish free,
And know, whatever thou hast been,
Tis something better not to be.
We are ready to acknowledge that there is, in all these passages, no absolute and decisive renunciation of the Christian doctrine of a future slate; but, taken either together or separately, they cannot, we think, bear any other construction than that which we have assigned to them. Happy, however, should we be, to hear such a satisfactory explanation from the author, as to convince us that, however unguarded he may have been in his expressions, we have been mistaken in our conclusions.
Among the minor defects of this composition we have, noticed his unmanly abuse of the fair sex, of which we before exhibited one slight proof; the following lines are farther illustrative of his sentiments on this subject:
Not much he kens, I ween, of woman's breast,
Who thinks that wanton thing is won by sighs;
What careth she for hearts when once possess'd?
Do proper homage to thine idol's eyes;
But not too humbly, or she will despise
Thee and thy suit, though told in moving tropes:
Disguise ev'n tenderness, if thou art wise;
Brisk confidence still best with woman copes:
Pique her and soothe in turn, soon passion crowns thy hopes.
'Tis an old lesson; time approves it true,
And those who know it best, deplore it most;
When all is won that all desire to woo,
The paltry prize is hardly worth the cost;
Youth wasted, minds degraded, honour lost,
These are thy fruits, successful passion, these!
These sentiments are certainly the fruits of a depraved mind; the licentious reveries of an old debauchee, who knows only the worst part of the sex, and who is alike unworthy to gain, and unable to appreciate, the affections of a virtuous woman. We turn, from these disgusting objects, to the more pleasing task of selecting some passages, of which we can speak in terms of praise. The following is a natural description of what every traveller must have experienced on the ocean.
He that has sail'd upon the dark blue sea
Has view'd at times, I ween, a full fair sight;
When the fresh breeze is fair as breeze may be,
The white sail set, the gallant frigate tight;
Masts, spires, and strand retiring to the right,
The glorious main expanding o'er the bow,
The convoy spread like wild swans in their flight,
The dullest sailer wearing bravely now,
So gaily curl the waves before each dashing prow.
And oh, the little warlike world within!
The well-reev'd guns, the netted canopy,
The hoarse command, the busy humming din,
When, at a word, the tops are mann'd on high:
Hark, to the boatswain's call, the cheering cry!
While through the seaman's hand the tackle glides;
Or school-boy midshipman that, standing by,
Strains his shrill pipe as good or ill betides,
And well the docile crew that skilful urchin guides.
The following stanzas, which remind us of the school-boy's thesis, "Nunquam minus solus quam cum solus," display a beautiful definition of solitude.
To sit on rocks, to muse o'er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forest's shady scene,
Where things that own not man's dominion dwell,
And mortal foot hath ne'er or rarely been;
To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,
With the wild flock that never needs a fold;
Alone o'er steeps and foaming falls to lean;
This is not solitude; 'tis but to hold
Converse with nature's charms, and view her stores unroll'd.
But midst the crowd, the hum, the shock of men,
To hear, to see, to feel, and to possess,
And roam along, the world's tir'd denizen,
With none who bless us, none whom we can bless;
Minions of splendour shrinking from distress!
None that, with kindred consciousness endued,
If we were not, would seem to smile the less,
Of all that flatter'd, follow'd, sought, and sued;
This is to be alone; this, this is solitude.
The four concluding stanzas of the second canto, display much beauty and feeling; they bespeak a wounded heart, and a mind labouring under severe affliction. We could have wished, however, that, interesting as they are, they had claimed additional interest, from something expressive of religious hope. The following lines, says an amiable female correspondent, would have formed no inappropriate conclusion, for, though they could not have done credit to the taste and genius of the noble author, they would have done no discredit to his principles.
Though reft of all the tender soul holds dear,
Though stamped on youth's fair brow the lines of age;
Though thy torn feelings oft' renew the tear,
And vain the soothing notes of pitying sage;
Behold! arising in the East a star
Whose brightness well may pierce the deepest gloom;
For lo! they shine on realms beyond the tomb.
They shew us joys above this mournful scene,
They point to peace, and hope, and heavenly love;
Thy lov'd and lovely one in smiles serene,
Awaits thy transit to those realms above;
Then peace, fond soul! — God's peace, thy heart shall prove!
We have already pointed out the defects in this poem; its want of plan; of incident; and of moral. A strange, wretched character is selected for the hero, contaminated with every vice, and brought forward for no apparent purpose, but that of uttering sentiments, and reflections, equally disgraceful to his heart and understanding. How far the sequel of his excursions, for adventures, he has had none, will make amends for this deficiency, we cannot say; but, assuredly, taking this poem as a whole, it is highly objectionable; and it is, indeed, the only poem we know, where a hero is introduced, in which that hero has nothing to do, and in which the piece would go on just as well, if his name was never mentioned in the course of it. The poetry, exhibits strong marks of genius, and has impressed us with a conviction of the author's ability to compose an epic poem, free from defects, if he chuse to direct his attention to it, and to subject his mind to a discipline of which it appears to us to stand much in need. We have no objection to the stanza which he has chosen; but we see no reason for imitating any part of the language of Spencer, because his metre has been adopted. In our mind, the introduction of old and obsolete terms is as little creditable to the author's taste, as it is reconcileable to common sense; and to our ears it is highly offensive. Though generally the dignity of the style is preserved, yet in some few instances, the author's solicitude to observe simplicity has betrayed him into ludicrous puerility, Exempli gratia.
The seventh day this; the jubilee of man.
London! right well thou know'st the day of pray'r:
Then thy spruce citizen, wash'd artisan,
And smug apprentice gulp their weekly air:
Thy coach of Hackney, whiskey, one-horse chair,
And humblest gig through sundry suburbs whirl,
To Hampstead, Brentford, Harrow make repair;
Till the tir'd jade the wheel forgets to hurl,
Provoking envious gibe from each pedestrian churl.
"Good morrow, my worthy masters and mistresses all; and a merry Christmas to you." How can Lord Byron stoop to conquer the Bellman? The notes to this poem contain some curious anecdotes, and interesting remarks. In the following paper, a little useful, and apparently necessary information is communicated to Miss Owenson.
"Before I say any thing about a city of which every body, traveller or not, has thought it necessary to say something, I will request Miss Owenson, when she next borrows an Athenian heroine for her four volumes, to have the goodness to marry her to somebody more of a gentleman than a 'Disdar Aga,' (who by the bye is not an Aga) the most impolite of petty officers, the greatest patron of larceny Athens ever saw (except Lord E.) and the unworthy occupant of the aeropolis, on a handsome annual stipend of 150 piastres (eight pounds sterling,) out of which he has only to pay his garrison, the most ill-regulated corps in the ill-regulated Ottoman empire. I speak it tenderly, seeing I was once the cause of 'Ida of Athens,' nearly suffering the bastinado; and because the said 'Disdar' is a turbulent husband, and beats his wife, so that I exhort and beseech Miss Owenson to sue for a separate maintenance in behalf of 'Ida.' Having premised thus much, on a matter of such import to the readers of romances, I may now leave Ida to mention her birthplace."
This is a most unfortunate exposure for the writers as well as the readers of Romances; and somewhat ungallant to the lady particularly specified. We hope, however, it will have the salutary effect of indulging female authors to limit their efforts at composition to subjects within the sphere of their understanding; and of deterring them from assuming the mask of knowledge for the concealment of ignorance. The reflection on Lord Elgin, which is pursued in a subsequent paper, for securing to his own country some of those curiosities with which Greece still abounds, and which the French government had attempted to monopolize, is much too severe for the occasion, and too indiscriminate to be just. His Lordship remarks, in one of the papers subjoined to his notes, incidentally, and pertly, that "the English, under a less bigotted government, may probably one day release their Catholic brethren:" after the perusal of Childe Harold we have no hesitation in pronouncing this young peer to be a most incompetent judge of any matter connected with religion. His sneers at creeds, indeed, of every description, disqualify him for the task. The insinuation, that the Catholics in this country are enslaved, is wholly groundless, as he must know that they enjoy religious toleration to the fullest extent; and it is to be presumed that he does not wish to introduce in his native country, that superstition which he so strongly censures in Portugal. He returns to this subject again in another paper, and mentions it in terms which deserve the severest castigation, as they betray the most intolerable presumption, and the. most flagrant contempt of truth. After censuring the conduct of the Turks to the Greeks, and comparing it with the conduct of the British government to the Irish Papists, he flippantly asks, "And shall we then emancipate our Irish Helots? Mahomet forbid we should then be bad Mussulmans, and worse Christians; at present we unite the best of both, jesuitical faith, and something not much inferior to Turkish toleration." This is precisely such language as we should expect from the mouth of Childe Harold; but we shall not suffer this discontented youth, with his unsettled principles, and wayward mind, to libel our country, and to falsify her deeds, with impunity. The treatment which the Papists of Ireland have experienced from the British government, has been such as nothing our the purest spirit of toleration could have produced, and such as those Papists themselves have, on former occasions, acknowledged in terms of the warmest gratitude. His comparison is as unjust as his statement is incorrect, for, we are sorry to say that the Papists of Ireland bear a much stronger resemblance to the janissaries of Turkey, than to the Helots of Greece. We cannot suspect him of understanding the Catholic Question, for it is evident that either he has paid little attention to religious subjects, or that his attention has been productive of very little effect. We shall not allow him, therefore, to speak dogmatically on such a topic, and to revile, without measure, without reason, and without decency, all these who, having deeply studied the subject, and being fully sensible of its extreme importance, happen to entertain a different opinion upon it from himself. The caution which he has so properly given to the writers of Romances, may, with equal propriety, he extended to his own observations on matters appertaining to religion. "Ne sutor ultra crepidam."
Having thus given our opinion, with that freedom which the occasion particularly required, and which has been rendered unnecessary by the wary liberality of contemporary critics; we now, with pleasure, exhibit a favourable specimen of Lord Byron's literary attainments, and critical judgment on classical subjects, by extracting a paper, dated from Athens, with which we shall close our notice of his present production, without further comment.