1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

James Gordon Brooks, "Lord Byron" The Minerva [New York] NS 1 (3 July 1824) 205-06.



The age has lost its brightest intellect! "By strangers honoured and by strangers mourned," this extraordinary man has gone down to death. At the very time when a new and strong impulse had been given to his mighty mind, when he had thrown off the langour of contemplation, and applied all his energies to a cause on which the world gazed with anxious eyes, when he was preparing to add the honours of the statesman and soldier to the poet's fame, Lord Byron has been summoned to eternity.

When such a man dies, it is not his country that possesses a privilege to lament him most: the intellectual world has a right to mingle its regrets, as strong and as sincere as those of the land which gave him birth. The whole earth is the home of exalted genius; and all men of lofty, gifted, and honourable spirit, are its countrymen. It is in such a grave as Byron's that we must look for the

Bards, heroes, sages, side by side,
Who darkened nations when they died.

England will grieve for him as for an extraordinary, generous, yet wayward son; but the pride of having given him birth will blend with her sorrows. England, however, is not the land upon which the history of Lord Byron will confer honour. We do not mean to make national reflections: but if those of his countrymen with whom he was thrown more immediately in contact had not been so destitute of generosity, integrity, and honour, we might not thus early have been obliged to record his death. How easily the reptile may sting the lion! The last years of Napoleon's life were embittered by the insults of a paltry pander to an ungenerous government, and the arts of a base-born and scandalous waiting-maid operating upon the mind of a vain and shallow wife, drove Byron from his country to die amongst strangers. To the ungenerous and heartless conduct of Lady Byron, Lord Noel, and their partisans, we may justly ascribe many of the errors into which Lord Byron subsequently fell. They broke the bonds of his domestic comfort, they exiled him from the friendly intercourse of a large portion of society, they roused against him the bloodhound pack of malignity, slander, and envy, that are ever on the watch to fasten their teeth on exalted genius. And on what foundation? the assertion of a vulgar, cunning, and infamous chamber-maid. Well may the earth-worm nestle on the breast of departed greatness, when human reptiles can so easily sting the heart of living worth!

It is not our intention to enter upon an exculpation of the character of some parts of Lord Byron's productions. He has written that which might well have been unwritten; but he has also struck his mighty lyre to thoughts which are purer, brighter, and loftier than those of any living poet. What if he have poured forth again and again his high and haughty scorn of mankind — what if he have sported with the fine and affectionate feelings of humanity — has he not also thrown over the character of man the colours of nobleness, courage, fortitude, and magnanimity? — Has he not also expressed the feelings of affection the most enduring, faith the most fervent, and love the most pure, devoted, and exalted? And are we to fix our eyes on the errors alone of genius, and to shut them on its brightness?

Byron lived long enough for his fame — that bears the stamp of eternity; he lived long enough for his native country — she scourged him and he disowned her; but he did not live long enough for "the clime of the unforgotten brave" — Greece will long lament the generous stranger who aided her treasury with his wealth, her armies with his sword, and her councils with his genius. Greece will cherish his memory as a sacred and holy legacy, and her historic muse will record his name as nobly as she has recorded those of Epaminodas and Philopoemen.

J. G. B.