1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

David Carey, in "The Mansion of the Poets" Beauties of the Modern Poets (1820) xvi-xvii.



He was succeeded by a candidate of equally interesting aspect; his countenance, however, bore the traces of premature and anxious thoughtfulness, but his was the thoughtfulness of a mighty mind, sensible of the crimes and imperfections of our nature, and depicting them in nervous and flowing numbers. He wore on his head a coronet, which had descended to him from his ancestors; but scorning to owe his fame to such adventitious honors, with true nobility of soul he aimed at superadding the laurel crown to his paternal distinctions.

With slow and solemn step he advanced towards the tribunal, and, with a seeming confidence in his own powers, as if defying the shafts of criticism, commenced his probationary recitation. He sung the guilty pleasures of youth, when left to its own untutored guidance, and depicted, with a fearful truth and terrible effect, the consequent misery and vacuum of the mind which is induced by the indulgence of the violent passions of our natures.

This poet, though favoured by fortune, and formed by nature to relish the enjoyments of life; though still in the period of youthful prime, when the spirits are light and the heart is disposed to be joyous and happy without enquiring the cause, delighted to indulge his fancy in pourtraying scenes of the darkest and most appalling kind, and to exert his powerful energies in exhibiting characters which are the reverse of those that dignify and adorn human nature.

The judges, whilst they shuddered with dismay at some of his pictures, applauded the bard who had embodied them into such glowing images, and painted the phrenzy and wretchedness that inseparably attend the victims of lawless and licentious passion as beacons to his fellow men. Whilst they bestowed upon him a wreath composed of the laurel and cypress tree, interspersed with the flowers that are sacred to melancholy and severed affection, inscribed with the name of Byron, they could not refrain from expressing their regret that one who possessed so much of the fire and classic taste of the Grecian muse, should not have employed his powers in the service of virtue, and in painting the loveliness of those pleasures and innocent enjoyments which leave no sting behind them.