1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

Palemon, "Critique on Lord Byron" Blackwood's Magazine 11 (April 1822) 456-60.



So the Public at length is beginning to tire on
The torrent of poesy pour'd by Lord Byron!
Some guess'd this would happen: — the presage proved true.
Then now let us take a brief, rapid review
Of all, or at least of each principal topic,
Which serves as a theme for his muse misanthropic.

First, note we the prelude, which sung by the Minor,
Gave promise of future strains, bolder and finer;
Though the bitter Scotch critic loud raised his alarum,
And swore men and gods could not possibly bear 'em!
To the fame of the bard men have given a shove—
Whate'er may be judged of his merits above.
Thus stung, did the youngster assail, we must own,
Some names which his fury had well let alone;
As a colt, who a thistle beneath his tail feels,
At all things around madly launches his heels,
Yet blithely, though sharply, the young minstrel caroll'd,
To Reviewers and Bards, ere he croak'd with Childe Harold,
That wight, who, in endless Spenserian measure,
Roams through the wide world without object or pleasure;
Till at last, we find out, with the pilgrim proceeding,
That we gain no great object nor pleasure in reading!
But, first, with what glee did all palates devour
The fragments, which bear the strange name of the Giaour?
'Tis a tale full of pathos, and sweet is the verse:—
Would some pains in connecting have render'd it worse?

Then next was our caterer pleased to provide us
With an exquisite treat in the Bride of Abydos;—
Zuleika, so lovely — so simple — so tender—
Yet firm, — from her purpose no danger could bend her.
Sour critics may say, all this praise duly granting,
There seems in the plan probability wanting.
By what happy means could these lovers contrive,
With Giaffer's suspicions so warmly alive,
Of the Harem's strict bondage to lengthen the tether,
And so pleasantly take their amusements together?
Of Eastern serais, though not versed in the fashions,
We've heard, in those climates, where boil all the passions,
No youth could approach, howe'er prudent they thought her,
The sacred retreat of his own father's daughter.—
Such objections are dull; — 'tis a pity to show 'em,
If adherence to fact would have spoil'd a good poem.

Now swift in his bark sails stout Conrad, the Corsair,
To surprise Seyd Pasha, with his three tails of horse-hair.
But the destinies order — unlucky mishap!
That Conrad, not Seyd, should be caught in the trap.
Those minds must be steel'd with an apathy rare,
Which mourn not Medora, nor sigh for Gulnare.
Medora, soft Queen of the Island of Thieves,
Whose heart, too susceptible, bursts as it grieves!
The woes of Gulnare, too — we feelingly share 'em—
The pride, though the cold passive slave of Seyd's harem:—
But touch'd by the robber, she mounts to the class
Of dames whose whole soul is inflammable gas.
Though caught was the Corsair, the fates had decreed
That this foe, though in chains, should be fatal to Seyd.
Ah! sensitive reader, 'tis hard to persuade ye,
That man could be cool to so kind a fair lady—
When he knew her warm heart, of his terrible fate full,
Risk'd all for his safety — 'twas somewhat ungrateful!
And since such great hazard she ran for his sake,
Could his fancy prefer writhing spik'd on a stake,
To giving — (but Poets are full of their fibs)
The savage Pasha a deep thrust in the ribs!
Such delicate scruples we prize at a high rate—
They seem rather squeamish, perhaps, in a pirate!

Quick vanishes Conrad: — bold rover, adieu!
But who is this Lara, that starts into view?
If Conrad thou art, as some people suppose,
Gloomy chief, thou'rt less qualmish with friends, and with foes!
If strong were the "stuff o' thy conscience," oh say
How was Ezzelin so snugly put out of the way?
We see, too, the spirit and warmth of Gulinare in
That feminine page, so attach'd and so daring;
And we shrewdly suspect that the small crimson spot
On her amazon forehead is nearly forgot.
'Tis true, when the Corsair old Seyd's palace saw burn,
The Queen of his harem had ringlets of auburn;—
That the page's are black contradicts not our guesses—
Since ladies sometimes change the hue of their tresses.

Then tack'd to this story, strange mixture, are seen
Those dullest of stanzas 'yclep'd Jacqueline.
Alas! for poor Rogers — 'twas certainly hard
To be made, as a compliment, foil to a bard
Who needs no such foil — so unapt too to flatter!
'Twere better have borne the worst lash of his satire!
Yet of high-season'd praise he is sometimes the organ,
This Shelley can witness, and eke Lady Morgan.
Shall Rogers's name be inscribed in this set
Whose former bright laurels none wish to forget?
But Jacqueline sues for the garland in vain,
For Memory here brings us nothing but pain.
Can the laud be much relish'd by Gifford and Crabbe,
Which is shared by the crazy-brain'd muse of Queen Mab?
Would Dryden or Otway, or Congreve, or Pope,
Sweet Burns, or the Bard who delights us with Hope,
Be flatter'd to find they were join'd in this melee,
And placed cheek by jole with dame Morgan and Shelley?

Next scowls the fell wizard, hight Manfred the bold,
Who broods over sins which won't bear to be told.
'Tis a drama repulsive, but still it has force.—
How well does he paint the sharp pangs of remorse!
That quill which seems pluck'd from the wing of a raven,
Gives a touch almost worthy the poet of Avon.
Are the pictures from fancy? — fictitious or real?
Surely Satan himself is the bard's beau ideal!
Yet 'tis strange that each image that glides through his lanthorn
From Juan, whose joy is on husbands to plant horn,
Who views with delight tears of damsels deluded,—
To the wretch who hates all things, himself too included,—
All in some striking feature each other resemble,
As in Hamlet, or Rolla, we still saw John Kemble.
If the draughts smack of nature, we care not a straw
Where he finds the dark model he chooses to draw.

Of smaller effusions I pass over loads—
The Family Sketch — Hebrew Melodies — Odes;—
Sad Tasso's Lament — soft occasional Verses—
And levell'd at Elgin stern Pallas's curses;
Mazeppa's long race, that intrepid rough-rider,—
And adieus to a Lady, whose Lord can't abide her.
Within two blue paste-boards what contraries meet—
The fragrant, the fetid, the bitter, the sweet:
Like a garden neglected these fences enclose
The violet, the nettle, the nightshade, the rose.

But amongst these sarcastic and amorous sallies,
Who marks not that effort of impotent malice,
Aim'd at worth placed on high — nay, the most lofty station,
Whose strongest, best guard, is the love of a nation.
Far wide from its mark flew the shaft from the string,
Recoils on the archer, but wounds not the King:—
He smiles at such censures when libellers pen 'em—
For Truth bids defiance to Calumny's venom.
We know 'tis the nature of vipers to bite all—
But shall Byron be preacher of duties marital?

Now to poems we turn of a different nature,
Where harangues Faliero, the Doge, and the traitor.
The Doge may be prosy: — but seldom we've seen a
Fair Lady more docile than meek Angiolina.
Yet to move us her griefs don't so likely appear, as
The woes the starved Poet has made Belvidera's.
I'm far from asserting we're tempted to laugh here;—
But the Doge must be own'd not quite equal to Jaffier.
These ancient impressions the fancy still tarries on,
When forced with old Otway to make a comparison.
Oh! best, tuneful Peer, shone your genius dramatic
Ere your Muse set her foot on those isles Adriatic!
Let her shun the Rialto, and halls of St Mark,
Contented with Manfred to rove in the dark.

On the banks of Euphrates you better regale us,
With the feasts and the frolics of Sardanapalus.
Philosophic gourmand! — jolly, libertine sage!
Only Pleasure's soft warfare determined to wage,
With goblet in hand, and his head crown'd with roses,
He teaches that death everlasting repose is.
The tenet may fairly belong to the story;
But here we perceive that 'tis preach'd con amore.
This volatile heart Grecian Myrrha could fix,
Though he laughs at her creed about Pluto and Styx.
His love she returns when his virtues she conn'd over,
And was true, e'en to death, when she found him so fond of her
But the sot whom his subjects had rated at zero,
Bravely fights, and then dies in a blaze like a hero!

You can next (for stage magic you're ne'er at a loss) carry
Your friends back to Venice, and show them the Foscari.
To these luckless isles we're transported again!
Lo! a youth harshly judged by the Council of Ten,
Most wilfully rushes on horrible tortures,
Lest in some foreign clime he should take up his quarters!
His hatred invincible tow'rds all the men is,
But he doats with strange love on the mere mud of Venice.
For the Doge — there is no known example will suit us;
His phlegm patriotic out-brutuses Brutus.
In his chair, whilst the rack's wrenching torments are done,
He watches the pangs of his innocent son.
His nerves such a spectacle tolerate well;
Yet he dies by the shock, when the sound of a bell,
On a sudden, to Venice announces the doom,
That another mock-sovereign reigns in his room.

Now last, though not least, let us glance at the fable
Your Lordship has raised on the murther of Abel.
But chiefly that wonderful flight let us trace,
Which Lucifer wings through the regions of space;
Where with speed swift as thought with his pupil he runs,
Threading all the bright maze of the planets and suns;
And lectures the while all these objects they're viewing,
Like a tutor abroad, who leads out a young Bruin.
Thus, Satan exhibits preadamite spectres,
And lays down his maxims there free from objectors.
How we turn with disgust, as we listen'd with pain,
From the vile metaphysics he whispers to Cain!
Fit talk for the fiend and the fratricide felon,—
But this is a subject too hateful to dwell on;—
A lash light as mine, grave offences can trounce ill—
Then here let me end with a short word of counsel:—
'Twould be wrong, noble Bard, Oh! permit me to tell ye,
To establish a league with Leigh Hunt and Byshe Shelley;
Already your readers have swallow'd too much,
Like Amboyna's swollen victims when drench'd by the Dutch.
The world cries, in chorus, 'tis certainly time
To close up your flood-gates of blank verse and rhyme.
Hold! Hold! — By the public thus sated and cramm'd,
Lest your lays, like yourself, stand a chance to be d—d!