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Byron by John Nichol

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on the Lung' Arno, once the family residence of the destroyers of Ugolino,
and still said to be haunted by their ghosts. Towards the close of
October, he says they have been expecting him any day those six weeks.
Byron, however, did not leave till the morning of the 29th. On his road,
there occurred at Imola the accidental meeting with Lord Clare. Clare--who
on this occasion merely crossed his friend's path on his way to Rome--at a
later date came on purpose from Geneva before returning to England to
visit the poet, who, then at Leghorn, recorded in a letter to Moore his
sense of this proof of old affection undecayed. At Bologna--his next
stage--he met Rogers by appointment, and the latter has preserved his
memory of the event in well-known lines. Together they revisited Florence
and its galleries, where they were distracted by the crowds of
sight-seeing visitors. Byron must have reached Pisa not later than the 2nd
of November (1821), for his first letter from there bears the date of the

The later months of the poet's life at Ravenna were marked by intense
literary activity. Over a great part of the year was spread the
controversy with Bowles about Pope, i.e. between the extremes of Art
against Nature, and Nature against Art. It was a controversy for the most
part free from personal animus, and on Byron's part the genuine expression
of a reaction against a reaction. To this year belong the greater number
of the poet's Historical Dramas. What was said of these, at the time by
Jeffrey, Heber, and others, was said with justice; it is seldom that the
criticism of our day finds so little to reverse in that of sixty years

The author, having shown himself capable of being pathetic, sarcastic,
sentimental, comical, and sublime, we would be tempted to think that he
had written these plays to show, what no one before suspected, that he
could also be dull, were it not for his own exorbitant estimation of them.
Lord Byron had few of the powers of a great dramatist; he had little
architectural imagination, or capacity to conceive and build up a whole.
His works are mainly masses of fine, splendid, or humorous writing, heaped
together; the parts are seldom forged into one, or connected by any
indissoluble link. His so-called Dramas are only poems divided into
chapters. Further, he had little of what Mr. Ruskin calls penetrative
imagination. So it has been plausibly said that he made his men after his
own image, his women after his own heart. The former are, indeed, rather
types of what he wished to be than what he was. They are better, and
worse, than himself. They have stronger wills, more definite purposes, but
less genial and less versatile natures. But it remains true, that when he
tried to represent a character totally different from himself, the result
is either unreal or uninteresting. _Marino Faliero_, begun April, finished
July, 1820, and prefixed by a humorous dedication to Goethe--which was,
however, suppressed--was brought on the stage of Drury Lane Theatre early
in 1821, badly mangled, appointed, and acted--and damned.

Byron seems to have been sincere in saying he did not intend any of his
plays to be represented. We are more inclined to accuse him of
self-deception when he asserts that he did not mean them to be popular;
but he took sure means to prevent them from being so. _Marino Faliero_, in
particular, was pronounced by Dr. John Watkins--old Grobius himself--"to
be the dullest of dull plays;" and even the warmest admirers of the poet
had to confess that the style was cumbrous. The story may be true, but it
is none the less unnatural. The characters are comparatively commonplace,
the women especially being mere shadows; the motion is slow; and the
inevitable passages of fine writing are, as the extolled soliloquy of
Lioni, rather rhetorical than imaginative. The speeches of the Doge are
solemn, but prolix, if not ostentatious, and--perhaps the vital
defect--his cause fails to enlist our sympathies. Artistically, this play
was Byron's most elaborate attempt to revive the unities and other
restrictions of the severe style, which, when he wrote, had been
"vanquished in literature." "I am persuaded," he writes in the preface,
"that a great tragedy is not to be produced by following the old
dramatists, who are full of faults, but by producing regular dramas like
the Greeks." He forgets that the statement in the mouth of a Greek
dramatist that his play was not intended for the stage, would have been a
confession of failure; and that Aristotle had admitted that even the Deity
could not make the Past present. The ethical motives of Faliero are,
first, the cry for vengeance--the feeling of affronted or unsatiated
pride,--that runs through so much of the author's writing, and second, the
enthusiasm for public ends, which was beginning to possess him. The
following lines have been pointed out as embodying some of Byron's spirit
of protest against the more selfish "greasy domesticity" of the Georgian

I. BER. Such ties are not
For those who are called to the high destinies
Which purify corrupted commonwealths:
We must forget all feelings save the one,
We must resign all passions save our purpose,
We must behold no object save our country,
And only look on death as beautiful
So that the sacrifice ascend to heaven,
And draw down freedom on her evermore.

CAL. But if we fail--?

I. BER. They never fail who die
In a great cause: the block may soak their gore;
Their heads may sodden in the sun; their limbs
Be strung to city gates and castle walls,
But still their spirit walks abroad.

--a passage which, after his wont, he spoils by platitudes about the
precisian Brutus, who certainly did not give Rome liberty.

Byron's other Venetian Drama, the _Two Foscari_, composed at Ravenna,
between the 11th of June and the 10th of July, 1821, and published in the
following December, is another record of the same failure and the same
mortification, due to the same causes. In this play, as Jeffrey points
out, the preservation of the unities had a still more disastrous effect.
The author's determination to avoid rant did not hinder his frequently
adopting an inflated style; while professing to follow the ancient rules,
he forgets the warning of Horace so far as to permit the groans of the
tortured Foscari to be heard on the stage. The declamations of Marina
produce no effect on the action, and the vindictiveness of Loridano,
though effectively pointed in the closing words, "He has paid me," is not
rendered interesting, either by a well established injury, or by any trace
of Iago's subtle genius.

In the same volume appeared _Sardanapalus_, written in the previous May,
and dedicated to Goethe. In this play, which marks the author's last
reversion to the East, we are more arrested by the majesty of the theme--

Thirteen hundred years
Of empire ending like a shepherd's tale,

by the grandeur of some of the passages, and by the development of the
chief character, made more vivid by its being distinctly autobiographical.
Sardanapalus himself is Harold, raised "high on a throne," and rousing
himself at the close from a life of effeminate lethargy. Myrrha has been
often identified with La Guiccioli, and the hero's relation to his Queen
Zarina compared with that of the poet to his wife; but in his portrait of
the former the author's defective capacity to represent national character
is manifest: Myrrha is only another Gulnare, Medora, or Zuleika. In the
domestic play of _Werner_--completed at Pisa in January, 1822, and
published in November, there is no merit either of plan or execution; for
the plot is taken, with little change, from "The German's Tale," written
by Harriet Lee, and the treatment is throughout prosaic. Byron was never a
master of blank verse; but _Werner_, his solo success on the modern
British stage, is written in a style fairly parodied by Campbell, when he
cut part of the author's preface into lines, and pronounced them as good
as any in the play.

The _Deformed Transformed_, another adaptation, suggested by a forgotten
novel called _The Three Brothers_, with reminiscences of _Faust_, and
possibly of Scott's _Black Dwarf_, was begun at Pisa in 1821, but not
published till January, 1824. This fragment owes its interest to the
bitter infusion of personal feeling in the first scene, and its occasional
charm to the march of some of the lines, especially those describing the
Bourbon's advance on Rome; but the effect of the magical element is killed
by previous parallels, while the story is chaotic and absurd. The
_Deformed Transformed_ bears somewhat the same relation to _Manfred as
Heaven and Earth_--an occasionally graphic dream of the world before the
Deluge, written October, 1821, and issued about the same time as Moore's
_Loves of the Angels_, on a similar theme--does to _Cain_. The last named,
begun in July, and finished at Ravenna in September, is the author's
highest contribution to the metaphysical poetry of the century. In _Cain_
Byron grapples with the perplexities of a belief which he never either
accepted or rejected, and with the yet deeper problems of life and death,
of good and ill. In dealing with these his position is not that of one
justifying the ways of God to man--though he somewhat disingenuously
appeals to Milton in his defence--nor that of the definite antagonism of
_Queen Mab_. The distinction in this respect between Byron and Shelley
cannot be over-emphasized. The latter had a firm faith other than that
commonly called Christian. The former was, in the proper sense of the
word, a sceptic, beset with doubts, and seeking for a solution which he
never found, shifting in his expression of them with every change of a
fickle and inconsistent temperament. The atmosphere of _Cain_ is almost
wholly negative; for under the guise of a drama, which is mainly a
dialogue between two halves of his mind, the author appears to sweep aside
with something approaching to disdain the answers of a blindly accepted
tradition, or of a superficial optimism, e.g.--

CAIN. Then my father's God did well
When he prohibited the fatal tree.

LUCIFER. But had done better in not planting it.

Again, a kid, after suffering agonies from the sting of a reptile, is
restored by antidotes--

Behold, my son! said Adam, how from evil
Springs good!

LUCIFER. What didst thou answer?

CAIN. Nothing; for
He is my father; but I thought, that 'twere
A better portion for the animal
Never to have been stung at all.

This rebellious nature naturally yields to the arguments of Lucifer, a
spirit in which much of the grandeur of Milton's Satan is added to the
subtlety of Mephistopheles. In the first scene Cain is introduced,
rebelling against toils imposed on him by an offence committed before he
was born,--"I sought not to be born"--the answer, that toil is a good,
being precluded by its authoritative representation as a punishment; in
which mood he is confirmed by the entrance and reasonings of the Tempter,
who identifies the Deity with Seva the Destroyer, hints at the dreadful
visitation of the yet untasted death; when Adah, entering, takes him at
first for an angel, and then recognizes him as a fiend. Her invocation to
Eve, and comparison of the "heedless, harmless, wantonness of bliss" in
Eden, to the later lot of those girt about with demons from whose
fascination they cannot fly, is one of the most striking in the drama; as
is the line put into the mouth of the poet's most beautiful female
character, to show that God cannot be alone,--

What else can joy be, but diffusing joy?

Her subsequent contrast of Lucifer with the other angels is more after the
style of Shelley than anything else in Byron--

As the silent sunny moon,
All light, they look upon us. But thou seemst
Like an ethereal night, where long white clouds
Streak the deep purple, and unnumber'd stars
Spangle the wonderful mysterious vault
With things that look as if they would be suns--
So beautiful, unnumber'd and endearing;
Not dazzling, and yet drawing us to them,
They fill my eyes with tears, and so dost thou.

The flight with Lucifer, in the second act, in the abyss of space and
through the Hades of "uncreated night," with the vision of long-wrecked
worlds, and the interminable gloomy realms

Of swimming shadows and enormous shapes,

--suggested, as the author tells us, by the reading of Cuvier--leaves us
with impressions of grandeur and desolation which no other passages of
English poetry can convey. Lord Byron has elsewhere exhibited more
versatility of fancy and richness of illustration, but nowhere else has he
so nearly "struck the stars." From constellation to constellation the pair
speed on, cleaving the blue with mighty wings, but finding in all a blank,
like that in Richter's wonderful dream. The result on the mind of Cain is
summed in the lines on the fatal tree,--

It was a lying tree--for we _know_ nothing;
At least, it _promised knowledge_ at the price
Of death--but _knowledge_ still; but, what _knows_ man?

A more modern poet answers, after beating at the same iron gates, "Behold,
we know not anything." The most beautiful remaining passage is Cain's
reply to the question--what is more beautiful to him than all that he has
seen in the "unimaginable ether"?--

My sister Adah.--All the stars of heaven,
The deep blue noon of night, lit by an orb
Which looks a spirit, or a spirit's world--
The hues of twilight--the sun's gorgeous coming--
His setting indescribable, which fills
My eyes with pleasant tears as I behold
Him sink, and feel my heart flow softly with him
Along that western paradise of clouds
The forest shade--the green bough--the bird's voice--
The vesper bird's, which seems to sing of love,
And mingles with the song of cherubim,
As the day closes over Eden's walls:--
All these are nothing, to my eyes and heart,
Like Adah's face.

Lucifer's speech, at the close of the act is perhaps too Miltonic to be
absolutely original. Returning to earth, we have a pastoral, of which Sir
Egerton Brydges justly and sufficiently remarks, "The censorious may say
what they will, but there are speeches in the mouth of Cain and Adah,
especially regarding their child, which nothing in English poetry but the
'wood-notes wild' of Shakespeare, ever equalled." Her cry, as Cain seems
to threaten the infant, followed by the picture of his bloom and joy, is a
touch of perfect pathos. Then comes the interview with the pious Abel, who
is amazed at the lurid light in the eyes of his brother, with the spheres
"singing in thunder round" him--the two sacrifices, the murder, the shriek
of Zillah--

Father! Eve!
Adah! Come hither! Death is in the world;

Cain's rallying from stupor--

I am awake at last--a dreary dream
Had madden'd me,--but he shall never wake:

the curse of Eve; and the close--[Greek: meizon ae kata dakrua]

CAIN. Leave me.

ADAH. Why all have left thee.

CAIN. And wherefore lingerest thou? Dost thou not fear?

ADAH. I fear
Nothing, except to leave thee.

* * * * *

CAIN. Eastward from Eden will we take our way.

ADAH. Leave! thou shalt be my guide; and may our God
Be thine! Now let us carry forth our children.

CAIN. And _he_ who lieth there was childless. I
Have dried the fountain of a gentle race.
O Abel!

ADAH. Peace be with him.

CAIN. But with _me_!

_Cain_, between which and the _Cenci_ lies the award of the greatest
single performance in dramatic shape of our century, raised a storm. It
was published, with _Sardanapalus_ and _The Two Foscari_ in December,
1821, and the critics soon gave evidence of the truth of Elze's remark--
"In England freedom of action is cramped by the want of freedom of
thought. The converse is the case with us Germans; freedom of thought is
restricted by the want of freedom in action. To us this scepticism
presents nothing in the least fearful." But with us it appeared as if a
literary Guy Fawkes had been detected in the act of blowing up half the
cathedrals and all the chapels of the country. The rage of insular
orthodoxy was in proportion to its impotence. Every scribbler with a
cassock denounced the book and its author, though few attempted to answer
him. The hubbub was such that Byron wrote to Murray, authorizing him to
disclaim all responsibility, and offering to refund the payment he had
received. "Say that both you and Mr. Gilford remonstrated. I will come to
England to stand trial. 'Me, me, adsum qui feci,'"--and much to the same
effect. The book was pirated; and on the publisher's application to have
an injunction, Lord Eldon refused to grant it. The majority of the minor
reviewers became hysterical, and Dr. Watkins, amid much almost
inarticulate raving, said that Sir Walter Scott, who had gratefully
accepted the dedication, would go down to posterity with the brand of
_Cain_ upon his brow. Several even of the higher critics took fright.
Jeffrey, while protesting his appreciation of the literary merits of the
work, lamented its tendency to unsettle faith. Mr. Campbell talked of its
"frightful audacity." Bishop Heber wrote at great length to prove that its
spirit was more dangerous than that of _Paradise Lost_--and succeeded. The
_Quarterly_ began to cool towards the author. Moore wrote to him, that
Cain was "wonderful, terrible, never to be forgotten," but "dreaded and
deprecated" the influence of Shelley. Byron showed the letter to Shelley,
who wrote to a common friend to assure Mr. Moore that he had not the
smallest influence over his lordship in matters of religion, and only
wished he had, as he would "employ it to eradicate from his great mind the
delusions of Christianity, which seem perpetually to recur, and to lie in
ambush for the hours of sickness and distress." Shelley elsewhere writes:
"What think you of Lord B.'s last volume? In my opinion it contains finer
poetry than has appeared in England since _Paradise Lost_. Cain is
apocalyptic; it is a revelation not before communicated to man." In the
same strain, Scott says of the author of the "grand and tremendous drama:"
"He has certainly matched Milton on his own ground." The worst effect of
those attacks appears in the shifts to which Byron resorted to explain
himself,--to be imputed, however, not to cowardice, but to his wavering
habit of mind. Great writers in our country have frequently stirred
difficult questions in religion and life, and then seemed to be half
scared, like Rouget de Lisle, by the reverberation of their own voices.
Shelley almost alone was always ready to declare, "I meant what I said,
and stand to it."

Byron having, with or without design, arraigned some of the Thirty-Nine
Articles of his countrymen, proceeded in the following month (October
1821) to commit an outrage, yet more keenly resented, on the memory of
their sainted king, the pattern of private virtue and public vice, George
III. The perpetration of this occurred in the course of the last of his
numerous literary duels, of which it was the close. That Mr. Southey was a
well-meaning and independent man of letters, there can be no doubt. It
does not require the conclusive testimony of the esteem of Savage Landor
to compel our respect for the author of the _Life of Nelson_, and the
open-handed friend of Coleridge; nor is it any disparagement that, with
the last-named and with Wordsworth, he in middle life changed his
political and other opinions. But in his dealings with Lord Byron, Southey
had "eaten of the insane root." He attacked a man of incomparably superior
powers, for whom his utter want of humour--save in its comparatively
childish forms--made him a ludicrously unequal match, and paid the penalty
in being gibbeted in satires that will endure with the language. The
strife, which seems to have begun on Byron's leaving England, rose to its
height when his lordship, in the humorous observations and serious defence
of his character against "the Remarks" in Blackwood, 1819 (August),
accused the Laureate of apostasy, treason, and slander.

In 1821, when the latter published his _Vision of Judgment_--the most
quaintly preposterous panegyric ever penned--he prefixed to it a long
explanatory note, in the course of which he characterizes _Don Juan_ as a
"monstrous combination of horror and mockery, lewdness and impiety,"
regrets that it has not been brought under the lash of the law, salutes
the writer as chief of the Satanic school, inspired by the spirits of
Moloch and Belial, and refers to the remorse that will overtake him on his
death-bed. To which Byron, _inter alia_: "Mr. Southey, with a cowardly
ferocity, exults over the anticipated death-bed repentance of the objects
of his dislike, and indulges himself in a pleasant 'Vision of Judgment,'
in prose, as well as verse, full of impious impudence. What Mr. Southey's
sensations or ours may be in the awful moment of leaving this state of
existence, neither he nor we can pretend to decide. In common, I presume,
with most men of any reflection, _I_ have not waited for a death-bed to
repent of many of my actions, notwithstanding the 'diabolical pride' which
this pitiful renegade in his rancour would impute to those who scorn him."
This dignified, though trenchant, rejoinder would have been unanswerable;
but the writer goes on to charge the Laureate with spreading calumnies. To
this charge Southey, in January, 1822, replies with "a direct and positive
denial," and then proceeds to talk at large of the "whip and branding
iron," "slaves of sensuality," "stones from slings," "Goliahs," "public
panders," and what not, in the manner of the brave days of old.

In February Byron, having seen this assault in the _Courier_, writes off
in needless heat, "I have got Southey's pretended reply; what remains to
be done is to call him out,"--and despatches a cartel of mortal defiance.
Mr. Douglas Kinnaird, through whom this was sent, judiciously suppressed
it, and the author's thirst for literary blood was destined to remain
unquenched. Meanwhile he had written his own _Vision of Judgment_. This
extraordinary work, having been refused by both Murray and Longman,
appeared in 1822 in the pages of the _Liberal_. It passed the bounds of
British endurance; and the publisher, Mr. John Hunt, was prosecuted and
fined for the publication.

Readers of our day will generally admit that the "gouty hexameters" of the
original poem, which celebrates the apotheosis of King George in heaven,
are much more blasphemous than the _ottava rima_ of the travesty, which
professes to narrate the difficulties of his getting there. Byron's
_Vision of Judgment_ is as unmistakably the first of parodies as the
_Iliad_ is the first of epics, or the _Pilgrim's Progress_ the first of
allegories. In execution it is almost perfect. _Don Juan_ is in scope and
magnitude a far wider work; but no considerable series of stanzas in _Don
Juan_ are so free from serious artistic flaw. From first to last, every
epithet hits the white; every line that does not convulse with laughter
stings or lashes. It rises to greatness by the fact that, underneath all
its lambent buffoonery, it is aflame with righteous wrath. Nowhere in such
space, save in some of the prose of Swift, is there in English so much
scathing satire.




Byron, having arrived at Pisa with his troop of carriages, horses, dogs,
fowls, servants, and a monkey, settled himself quietly in the Palazzo
Lanfranchi for ten months, interrupted only by a sojourn of six weeks in
the neighbourhood of Leghorn. His life in the old feudal building followed
in the main the tenour of his life at Ravenna. He rose late, received
visitors in the afternoons, played billiards, rode or practised with his
pistols, in concert with Shelley, whom he refers to at this time as "the
most companionable man under thirty" he had ever met. Both poets were good
shots, but Byron the safest; for, though his hand often shook, he made
allowance for the vibration, and never missed his mark. On one occasion he
set up a slender cane, and at twenty paces divided it with his bullet. The
early part of the evening he gave to a frugal meal and the society of La
Guiccioli--now apparently, in defiance of the statute of limitations,
established under the same roof--and then sat late over his verses. He was
disposed to be more sociable than at Venice or Ravenna, and occasionally
entertained strangers; but his intimate acquaintanceship was confined to
Captain Williams and his wife, and Shelley's cousin, Captain Medwin. The
latter used frequently to dine and sit with his host till the morning,
collecting materials for the _Conversations_ which he afterwards gave to
the world. The value of these reminiscences is impaired by the fact of
their recording, as serious revelations, the absurd confidences in which
the poet's humour for mystification was wont to indulge. Another of the
group, an Irishman, called Taafe, is made, in his Lordship's
correspondence of the period, to cut a somewhat comical figure. The
master-passion of this worthy and genial fellow was to get a publisher for
a fair commentary on Dante, to which he had firmly linked a very bad
translation, and for about six months Byron pesters Murray with constant
appeals to satisfy him; e.g. November l6, "He must be gratified, though
the reviewers will make him suffer more tortures than there are in his
original." March 6, "He will die if he is not published; he will be damned
if he is; but that he don't mind." March 8, "I make it a point that he
shall be in print; it will make the man so exuberantly happy. He is such a
good-natured Christian that we must give him a shove through the press.
Besides, he has had another fall from his horse into a ditch." Taafe,
whose horsemanship was on a par with his poetry, can hardly have been
consulted as to the form assumed by these apparently fruitless
recommendations, so characteristic of the writer's frequent kindliness and
constant love of mischief. About this time Byron received a letter from
Mr. Shepherd, a gentleman in Somersetshire, referring to the death of his
wife, among whose papers he had found the record of a touching, because
evidently heart-felt, prayer for the poet's reformation, conversion, and
restored peace of mind. To this letter he at once returned an answer.
marked by much of the fine feeling of his best moods. Pisa, December 8:
"Sir, I have received your letter. I need not say that the extract which
it contains has affected me, because it would imply a want of all feeling
to have read it with indifference.... Your brief and simple picture of the
excellent person, whom I trust you will again meet, cannot be contemplated
without the admiration due to her virtues and her pure and unpretending
piety. I do not know that I ever met with anything so unostentatiously
beautiful. Indisputably, the firm believers in the Gospel have a great
advantage over all others--for this simple reason, that if true they will
have their reward hereafter; and if there be no hereafter, they can but be
with the infidel in his eternal sleep.... But a man's creed does not
depend upon _himself_: who can say, I _will_ believe this, that, or the
other? and least of all that which he least can comprehend.... I can
assure you that not all the fame which ever cheated humanity into higher
notions of its own importance, would ever weigh in my mind against the
pure and pious interest which a virtuous being may be pleased to take in
my behalf. In this point of view I would not exchange the prayer of the
deceased in my behalf for the united glory of Homer, Caesar, and

The letter to Lady Byron, which he afterwards showed to Lady Blessington,
must have borne about the same date; and we have a further indication of
his thoughts reverting homeward in an urgent request to Murray--written on
December 10th, Ada's sixth birthday--to send his daughter's miniature.
After its arrival nothing gave him greater pleasure than to be told of its
strong likeness to himself. In the course of the same month an event
occurred which strangely illustrates the manners of the place, and the
character of the two poets. An unfortunate fanatic having taken it into
his head to steal the wafer-box out of a church at Lucca, and being
detected, was, in accordance with the ecclesiastical law till lately
maintained against sacrilege, condemned to be burnt alive. Shelley, who
believed that the sentence would really be carried into effect, proposed
to Byron that they should gallop off together, and by aid of their
servants rescue by force the intended victim. Byron, however, preferred in
the first place, to rely on diplomacy; some vigorous letters passed;
ultimately a representation, convoyed by Taafe to the English Ambassador,
led to a commutation of the sentence, and the man was sent to the galleys.

The January of 1822 was marked by the addition to the small circle of
Captain E.J. Trelawny, the famous rover and bold free-lance (long sole
survivor of the remarkable group), who accompanied Lord Byron to Greece,
and has recorded a variety of incidents of the last months of his life.
Trelawny, who appreciated Shelley with an intensity that is often apt to
be exclusive, saw, or has reported, for the most part the weaker side of
Byron. We are constrained to accept as correct the conjecture that his
judgment was biassed by their rivalry in physical prowess, and the
political differences which afterwards developed between them. Letters to
his old correspondents--to Scott about the _Waverleys_, to Murray about
the Dramas, and the _Vision of Judgment_, and _Cain_--make up almost the
sole record of the poet's pursuits during the five following months. In
February 6th he sent, through Mr. Kinnaird, the challenge to Southey, of
the suppression of which he was not aware till May 17. The same letter
contains a sheaf of the random cynicisms, as--"Cash is virtue," "Money is
power; and when Socrates said he knew nothing, he meant he had not a
drachma"--by which he sharpened the shafts of his assailants. A little
later, on occasion of the death of Lady Noel, he expresses himself with
natural bitterness on hearing that she had in her will recorded a wish
against his daughter Ada seeing his portrait. In March he sat, along with
La Guiccioli, to the sculptor Bartolini. On the 24th, when the company
were on one of their riding excursions outside the town, a half-drunken
dragoon on horseback broke through them, and by accident or design knocked
Shelley from his seat. Byron, pursuing him along the Lung' Arno, called
for his name, and, taking him for an officer, flung his glove. The sound
of the fray brought the servants of the Lanfranchi to the door; and one of
them, it was presumed--though in the scuffle everything remained
uncertain--seriously wounded the dragoon in the side. An investigation
ensued, as the result of which the Gambas were ultimately exiled from
Tuscany, and the party of friends was practically broken up. Shelley and
his wife, with the Williamses and Trelawny, soon after settled at the
Villa Magni at Lerici in the Gulf of Spezia. Byron, with the Countess and
her brother, established themselves in the Villa Rossa at Monte Nero, a
suburb of Leghorn, from which port at this date the remains of Allegra
were conveyed to England.

Among the incidents of this residence were, the homage paid to the poet by
a party of Americans; the painting of his portrait (and that of La
Guiccioli) by the artist West, who has left a pleasing account of his
visits; Byron's letter making inquiry about the country of Bolivar (where
it was his fancy to settle); and another of those disturbances by which he
seemed destined to be harassed. One of his servants--among whom were
unruly spirits, apparently selected with a kind of _Corsair_ bravado,--had
made an assault on Count Pietro, wounding him in the face. This outburst,
though followed by tears and penitence, confirmed the impression of the
Tuscan police that the whole company were dangerous, and made the
Government press for their departure. In the midst of the uproar, there
suddenly appeared at the villa Mr. Leigh Hunt, with his wife and six
children. They had taken passage to Genoa, where they were received by
Trelawny, in command of the "Bolivar"--a yacht constructed in that port
for Lord Byron, simultaneously with the "Don Juan" for Shelley. The
latter, on hearing of the arrival of his friends, came to meet them at
Leghorn, and went with them to Pisa. Early in July they were all
established on the Lung' Arno, having assigned to them the ground floor of
the palazzo.

We have now to deal briefly--amid conflicting asseverations it is hard to
deal fairly--with the last of the vexatiously controverted episodes which
need perplex our narrative. Byron, in wishing Moore from Ravenna a merry
Christmas for 1820, proposes that they shall embark together in a
newspaper, "with some improvement on the plan of the present scoundrels,"
"to give the age some new lights on policy, poesy, biography, criticism,
morality, theology," &c. Moore absolutely refusing to entertain the idea,
Hunt's name was brought forward in connexion with it, during tho visit of
Shelley. Shortly after the return of the latter to Pisa, he writes (August
26) to Hunt, stating that Byron was anxious to start a periodical work, to
be conducted in Italy, and had proposed that they should both go shares in
the concern, on which follow some suggestions of difficulties about money.
Nevertheless, in August, 1821, he presses Hunt to come. Moore, on the
other hand, strongly remonstrates against the project. "I heard some days
ago that Leigh Hunt was on his way to you with all his family; and the
idea seems to be that you and he and Shelley are to conspire together in
the _Examiner_. I deprecate such a plan with all my might. Partnerships in
fame, like those in trade, make the strongest party answer for the rest. I
tremble even for you with such a bankrupt Co.! You must stand alone."
Shelley--who had, in the meantime, given his bond to Byron for an advance
of 200_l_. towards the expenses of his friends, besides assisting them
himself to the utmost of his power--began, shortly before their arrival,
to express grave doubts as to the success of the alliance. His last
published letter--written July 5th, 1822--after they had settled at Pisa,
is full of forebodings. On the 8th he set sail in the "Don Juan"--

That fatal and perfidious bark,
Built in th'eclipse, and rigg'd with curses dark,

and was overtaken by the storm in which he perished. Three days after,
Trelawny rode to Pisa, and told Byron of his fears, when the poet's lips
quivered, and his voice faltered. On the 22nd of July the bodies of
Shelley, Williams, and Vivian, were cast ashore. On the 16th August, Hunt,
Byron, and Trelawny were present at the terribly weird cremation, which
they have all described. At a later date, the two former were seized with
a fit of delirium which is one of the phases of the tension of grief.
Byron's references to the event are expressions less of the loss which he
indubitably felt, than of his indignation at the "world's wrong." "Thus,"
he writes, "there is another man gone, about whom the world was
ill-naturedly and ignorantly and brutally mistaken. It will, perhaps, do
him justice now, when he can be no better for it." Towards the end of the
same letter the spirit of his dead friend seems to inspire the sentence
--"With these things and these fellows it is necessary, in the present
clash of philosophy and tyranny, to throw away the scabbard. I know it is
against fearful odds, but the battle must be fought."

Meanwhile, shortly after the new settlement at the Lanfranchi, the
preparations for issuing the _Liberal_, edited by Leigh Hunt in Italy, and
published by John Hunt in London, progressed. The first number, which
appeared in September, was introduced, after a few words of preface, by
the _Vision of Judgment_, with the signature Quevedo Redivivus, and
adorned by Shelley's translation of the "May-Day Night," in _Faust_. It
contained besides, the _Letter to the Editor of my Grandmother's Review_,
an indifferent Florentine story, a German apologue, and a gossiping
account of Pisa, presumably by Hunt. Three others followed, containing
Byron's _Heaven and Earth_, his translation of the _Morgante Maggiore_,
and _The Blues_--a very slight, if not silly, satire on literary ladies;
some of Shelley's posthumous minor poems, among them "I arise from dreams
of thee," and a few of Hazlitt's essays, including, however, none of his
best. Leigh Hunt himself wrote most of the rest, one of his contributions
being a palpable imitation of _Don Juan_, entitled the _Book of
Beginnings_, but he confesses that owing to his weak health and low
spirits at the time, none of these did justice to his ability; and the
general manner of the magazine being insufficiently vigorous to carry off
the frequent eccentricity of its matter, the prejudices against it
prevailed, and the enterprise came to an end. Partners in failing concerns
are apt to dispute; in this instance the unpleasantness which arose at the
time rankled in the mind of the survivor, and gave rise to his singularly
tasteless and injudicious book--a performance which can be only in part
condoned by the fact of Hunt's afterwards expressing regret, and
practically withdrawing it. He represents himself throughout as a
much-injured man, lured to Italy by misrepresentations, that he might give
the aid of his journalistic experience and undeniable talents to the
advancement of a mercenary enterprise, and that when it failed he was
despised, insulted, and rejected. Byron, on the other hand, declares, "The
Hunts pressed me to engage in this work, and in an evil hour I consented;"
and his subsequent action in the matter, if not always gentle never
unjust, goes to verify his statements in the letters of the period. "I am
afraid," he writes from Genoa, Oct. 9, 1822, "the journal is a bad
business. I have done all I can for Leigh Hunt since he came here; but it
is almost useless. His wife is ill, his six children not very tractable,
and in the affairs of this world he himself is a child." Later he says to
Murray, "You and your friends, by your injudicious rudeness, cement a
connexion which you strove to prevent, and which, had the Hunts prospered,
would not in all probability have continued. As it is ... I can't leave
them among the breakers." On February 20th we have, his last word on the
subject, to the same effect.

In the following sentences, Moore seems to give a fair statement of the
motives which led to the establishment of the unfortunate journal--"The
chief inducements on the part of Lord Byron to this unworthy alliance
were, in the first place, a wish to second the kind views of his friend
Shelley in inviting Mr. Hunt to Italy; and in the next, a desire to avail
himself of the aid of one so experienced as an editor in the favourite
object he has so long contemplated of a periodical work in which all the
offspring of his genius might be received as they sprung to light." For
the accomplishment of this purpose Mr. Leigh Hunt was a singularly
ill-chosen associate. A man of Radical opinions on all matters, not only
of religion but of society--opinions which he acquired and held easily but
firmly--could never recognize the propriety of the claim to deference
which "the noble poet" was always too eager to assert, and was inclined to
take liberties which his patron perhaps superciliously repelled. Mrs. Hunt
does not seem to have been a very judicious person. "Trelawny here," said
Byron jocularly, "has been speaking against my morals." "It is the first
time I ever heard of them," she replied. Mr. Hunt, by his own admission,
had "peculiar notions on the subject of money." Byron, on his part, was
determined not to be "put upon," and doled out through his steward stated
allowances to Hunt, who says that only "stern necessity and a large
family" induced him to accept them. Hunt's expression that the 200_l_.
was, _in the first instance_, a debt to Shelley, points to the conclusion
that it was remitted on that poet's death. Besides this, Byron maintained
the family till they left Genoa for Florence in 1823, and defrayed up to
that date all their expenses. He gave his contributions to the _Liberal_
gratis; and, again by Hunt's own confession, left to him and his brother
the profits of the proprietorship. According to Mr. Galt "The whole extent
of the pecuniary obligation appears not to have exceeded 500 _l_.; but,
little or great, the manner in which it was recollected reflects no credit
either on the head or heart of the debtor."

Of the weaknesses on which the writer--bent on verifying Pope's lines on
Atossa--from his vantage in the ground-floor, was enabled to dilate, many
are but slightly magnified. We are told for instance, in very many words,
that Byron clung to the privileges of his rank while wishing to seem above
them; that he had a small library, and was a one-sided critic; that Bayle
and Gibbon supplied him with the learning he had left at school; that,
being a good rider with a graceful seat, he liked to be told of it; that
he showed letters he ought not to have shown; that he pretended to think
worse of Wordsworth than he did; that he knew little of art or music,
adored Rossini, and called Rubens a dauber; that, though he wrote _Don
Juan_ under gin and water, he had not a strong head, &c., &c. It is true,
but not new. But when Hunt proceeds to say that Byron had no sentiment;
that La Guiccioli did not really care much about him; that he admired
Gifford because he was a sycophant, and Scott because he loved a lord;
that he had no heart for anything except a feverish notoriety; that he was
a miser from his birth, and had "as little regard for liberty as
Allieri,"--it is new enough, but it is manifestly not true. Hunt's book,
which begins with a caricature on the frontispiece, and is inspired in the
main by uncharitableness, yet contains here and there gleams of a deeper
insight than we find in all the volumes of Moore--an insight, which, in
spite of his irritated egotism, is the mark of a man with the instincts of
a poet, with some cosmopolitan sympathies, and a courage on occasion to
avow them at any risk. "Lord Byron," he says truly, "has been too much
admired by the English because he was sulky and wilful, and reflected in
his own person their love of dictation and excitement. They owe his memory
a greater regard, and would do it much greater honour if they admired him
for letting them know they were not so perfect a nation as they supposed
themselves, and that they might take as well as give lessons of humanity,
by a candid comparison of notes with civilization at large."

In July, when at Leghorn, the Gambas received orders to leave Tuscany; and
on his return to Pisa, Byron, being persecuted by the police, began to
prepare for another change. After entertaining projects about Greece,
America, and Switzerland--Trelawny undertaking to have the "Bolivar"
conveyed over the Alps to the Lake of Geneva--he decided on following his
friends to Genoa. He left in September with La Guiccioli, passed by Lerici
and Sestri, and then for the ten remaining mouths of his Italian life took
up his quarters at Albaro, about a mile to the east of the city, in the
Villa Saluzzo, which Mrs. Shelley had procured for him and his party. She
herself settled with the Hunts--who travelled about the same time, at
Byron's expense, but in their own company--in the neighbouring Casa
Negroto. Not far off, Mr. Savage Landor was in possession of the Casa
Pallavicini, but there was little intercourse between the three. Landor
and Byron, in many respects more akin than any other two Englishmen of
their age, were always separated by an unhappy bar or intervening mist.
The only family with whom the poet maintained any degree of intimacy was
that of the Earl of Blessington, consisting of the Earl himself--a gouty
old gentleman, with stories about him of the past--the Countess, and her
sister, Miss Power, and the "cupidon dechaine," the Anglo-French Count
Alfred d'Orsay--who were to take part in stories of the future. In the
spring of 1823, Byron persuaded them to occupy the Villa Paradiso, and was
accustomed to accompany them frequently on horseback excursions along the
coast to their favourite Nervi. It has been said that Lady Blessington's
_Conversations with Lord Byron_ are, as regards trustworthiness, on a par
with Landor's _Imaginary Conversations_. Let this be so, they are still of
interest on points of fact which it must have been easier to record than
to imagine. However adorned, or the reverse, by the fancies of a habitual
novelist, they convey the impressions of a goodhumoured, lively, and
fascinating woman, derived from a more or less intimate association with
the most brilliant man of the age. Of his personal appearance--a matter of
which she was a good judge--we have the following: "One of Byron's eyes
was larger than the other; his nose was rather thick, so he was best seen
in profile; his mouth was splendid, and his scornful expression was real,
not affected; but a sweet smile often broke through his melancholy. He was
at this time very pale and thin (which indicates the success of his
regimen of reduction since leaving Venice). His hair was dark brown, here
and there turning grey. His voice was harmonious, clear and low. There is
some gaucherie in his walk, from his attempts to conceal his lameness.
Ada's portrait is like him, and he is pleased at the likeness, but hoped
she would not turn out to be clever--at any events not poetical. He is
fond of gossip, and apt to speak slightingly of some of his friends, but
is loyal to others. His great defect is flippancy, and a total want of
self-possession." The narrator also dwells on his horror of interviewers,
by whom at this time he was even more than usually beset. One visitor of
the period ingenuously observes--"Certain persons will be chagrined to
hear that Byron's mode of life does not furnish the smallest food for
calumny." Another says, "I never saw a countenance more composed and
still--I might even add, more sweet and prepossessing. But his temper was
easily ruffled and for a whole day; he could not endure the ringing of
bells, bribed his neighbours to repress their noises, and failing,
retaliated by surpassing them; he never forgave Colonel Carr for breaking
one of his dog's ribs, though he generally forgave injuries without
forgetting them. He had a bad opinion of the inertness of the Genoese; for
whatever he himself did he did with a will--'toto se corpore miscuit,' and
was wont to assume a sort of dictatorial tone--as if 'I have said it, and
it must be so' were enough."

From these waifs and strays of gossip we return to a subject of deeper
interest. The Countess of Blessington, with natural curiosity, was anxious
to elicit from Byron some light on the mystery of his domestic affairs,
and renewed the attempt previously made by Madame de Stael, to induce him
to some movement towards a reconciliation with his wife. His reply to this
overture was to show her a letter which he had written to Lady Byron from
Pisa, but never forwarded, of the tone of which the following extracts
must be a sufficient indication:--"I have to acknowledge the receipt of
Ada's hair.... I also thank you for the inscription of the date and name;
and I will tell you why. I believe they are the only two or three words of
your hand-writing in my possession, for your letters I returned, and
except the two words--or rather the one word 'household' written twice--in
an old account book, I have no other. Every day which keeps us asunder
should, after so long a period, rather soften our mutual feelings, which
must always have one rallying-point as long as our child exists. We both
made a bitter mistake, but now it is over, I considered our re-union as
not impossible for more than a year after the separation, but then I gave
up the hope. I am violent, but not malignant; for only fresh provocations
can awaken my resentment. Remember that if you have injured me in aught,
this forgiveness is something, and that if I have injured you, it is
something more still, if it be true, as moralists assert, that the most
offending are the least forgiving." "It is a strange business," says the
Countess, about Lady Byron. "When he was praising her mental and personal
qualifications, I asked him how all that he now said agreed with certain
sarcasms supposed to be a reference to her in his works. He smiled, shook
his head, and said, they were meant to spite and vex her, when he was
wounded and irritated at her refusing to receive or answer his letters;
that he was sorry he had written them, but might on similar provocations
recur to the same vengeance." On another occasion he said, "Lady B.'s
first idea is what is due to herself. I wish she thought a little more of
what is due to others. My besetting sin is a want of that self-respect
which she has in excess. When I have broken out, on slight provocation,
into one of my ungovernable fits of rage, her calmness piqued and seemed
to reproach me; it gave her an air of superiority that vexed and increased
my _mauvaise humeur_." To Lady Blessington as to every one, he always
spoke of Mrs. Leigh with the same unwavering admiration, love, and

"My first impressions were melancholy--my poor mother gave them: but to my
sister, who, incapable of wrong herself, suspected no wrong in others, I
owe the little good of which I can boast: and had I earlier known her it
might have influenced my destiny. Augusta was to me in the hour of need a
tower of strength. Her affection was my last rallying-point, and is now
the only bright spot that the horizon of England offers to my view. She
has given me such good advice--and yet finding me incapable of following
it, loved and pitied me but the more because I was erring." Similarly, in
the height of his spleen, writes Leigh Hunt--"I believe there did exist
one person to whom he would have been generous, if she pleased: perhaps
was so. At all events, he left her the bulk of his property, and always
spoke of her with the greatest esteem. This was his sister, Mrs. Leigh. He
told me she used to call him 'Baby Byron.' It was easy to see that of the
two persons she had by far the greater judgment."

Byron having laid aside _Don Juan_ for more than a year, in deference to
La Guiccioli, was permitted to resume it again, in July, 1822, on a
promise to observe the proprieties. Cantos vi.-xi. were written at Pisa.
Cantos xii.-xvi. at Genoa, in 1823. These latter portions of the poem were
published by John Hunt. His other works of the period are of minor
consequence. The _Age of Bronze_ is a declamation, rather than a satire,
directed against the Convention of Cintra and the Congress of Verona,
especially Lord Londonderry's part in the latter, only remarkable, from
its advice to the Greeks, to dread--

The false friend worse than the infuriate foe;

i.e. to prefer the claw of the Tartar savage to the paternal hug of the
great Bear--

Better still toil for masters, than await,
The slave of slaves, before a Russian gate.

In the _Island_--a tale of the mutiny of the "Bounty"--he reverts to the
manner and theme of his old romances, finding a new scene in the Pacific
for the exercise of his fancy. In this piece his love of nautical
adventure reappears, and his idealization of primitive life, caught from
Rousseau and Chateaubriand. There is more repose about this poem than in
any of the author's other compositions. In its pages the sea seems to
plash about rocks and caves that bask under a southern sun. "'Byron, the
sorcerer,' he can do with me what he will," said old Dr. Parr, on reading
it. As the swan-song of the poet's sentimental verse, it has a pleasing if
not pathetic calm. During the last years in Italy he planned an epic on
the Conquest, and a play on the subject of Hannibal, neither of which was

In the criticism of a famous work there is often little left to do but to
criticise the critics--to bring to a focus the most salient things that
have been said about it, to eliminate the absurd from the sensible, the
discriminating from the commonplace. _Don Juan_, more than any of its
precursors, _is_ Byron, and it has been similarly handled. The early
cantos were ushered into the world amid a chorus of mingled applause and
execration. The minor Reviews, representing middle-class respectability,
were generally vituperative, and the higher authorities divided in their
judgments. The _British Magazine_ said that "his lordship had degraded his
personal character by the composition;" the _London_, that the poem was "a
satire on decency;" the _Edinburgh Monthly_, that it was "a melancholy
spectacle;" the _Eclectic_, that it was "an outrage worthy of
detestation." _Blackwood_ declared that the author was "brutally outraging
all the best feelings of humanity." Moore characterizes it as "the most
painful display of the versatility of genius that has ever been left for
succeeding ages to wonder at or deplore." Jeffrey found in the whole
composition "a tendency to destroy all belief in the reality of virtue;"
and Dr. John Watkins classically named it "the Odyssey of Immorality."
"_Don Juan_ will be read," wrote one critic, "as long as satire, wit,
mirth, and supreme excellence shall be esteemed among men." "Stick to _Don
Juan_," exhorted another; "it is the only sincere thing you have written,
and it will live after all your _Harolds_ have ceased to be 'a
schoolgirl's tale, the wonder of an hour.' It is the best of all your
works--the most spirited, the most straightforward, the most interesting,
the most poetical." "It is a work," said Goethe, "full of soul, bitterly
savage in its misanthropy, exquisitely delicate in its tenderness."
Shelley confessed, "It fulfils in a certain degree what I have long
preached, the task of producing something wholly new and relative to the
age, and yet surpassingly beautiful." And Sir Walter Scott, in the midst
of a hearty panegyric: "It has the variety of Shakespeare himself. Neither
_Childe Harold_, nor the most beautiful of Byron's earlier tales, contain
more exquisite poetry than is to be found scattered through the cantos of
_Don Juan_, amidst verses which the author seems to have thrown from him
with an effort as spontaneous as that of a tree resigning its leaves."

One noticeable feature about these comments is their sincerity: reviewing,
however occasionally one-sided, had not then sunk to be the mere register
of adverse or friendly cliques; and, with all his anxiety for its verdict,
Byron never solicited the favour of any portion of the press. Another is,
the fact that the adverse critics missed their mark. They had not learnt
to say of a book of which they disapproved, that it was weak or dull: in
pronouncing it to be vicious, they helped to promote its sale; and the
most decried has been the most widely read of the author's works. Many of
the readers of _Don Juan_ have, it must be confessed, been found among
those least likely to admire in it what is most admirable--who have been
attracted by the very excesses of buffoonery, violations of good taste,
and occasionally almost vulgar slang, which disfigure its pages. Their
patronage is, at the best, of no more value than that of a mob gathered by
a showy Shakespearian revival, and it has laid the volume open to the
charge of being adapted "laudari ab illaudatis." But the welcome of the
work in other quarters is as indubitably duo to higher qualities. In
writing _Don Juan_, Byron attempted something that had never been done
before, and his genius so chimed with his enterprise that it need never be
done again. "Down," cries M. Chasles, "with the imitators who did their
host to make his name ridiculous." In commenting on their failure, an
Athenaeum critic has explained the pre-established fitness of the ottava
rima--the first six lines of which are a dance, and the concluding couplet
a "breakdown"--for the mock-heroic. Byron's choice of this measure may
have been suggested by Whistlecraft; but, he had studied its cadence in
Pulci, and the _Novelle Galanti_ of Casti, to whom he is indebted for
other features of his satire; and he added to what has been well termed
its characteristic jauntiness, by his almost constant use of the double
rhyme. That the ottava rima is out of place in consistently pathetic
poetry, may be seen from its obvious misuse in Keats's _Pot of Basil_.
Many writers, from Tennant and Frere to Moultrie, have employed it in
burlesque or more society verse; but Byron alone has employed it
triumphantly, for he has made it the vehicle of thoughts grave as well as
gay, of "black spirits and white, red spirits and grey," of sparkling
fancy, bitter sarcasm, and tender memories. He has swept into the pages of
his poem the experience of thirty years of a life so crowded with vitality
that our sense of the plethora of power which it exhibits makes us ready
to condone its lapses. Byron, it has been said, balances himself on a
ladder like other acrobats; but alone, like the Japanese master of the
art, he all the while bears on his shoulders the weight of a man. Much of
_Don Juan_ is as obnoxious to criticism in detail as his earlier work; it
has every mark of being written in hot haste. In the midst of the most
serious passages (e.g. the "Ave Maria") we are checked in our course by
bathos or commonplace and thrown where the writer did not mean to throw
us: but the mocking spirit is so prevailingly present that we are often
left in doubt as to his design, and what is in _Harold_ an outrage is in
this case only a flaw. His command over the verse itself is almost
miraculous: he glides from extreme to extreme, from punning to pathos,
from melancholy to mad merriment, sighing or laughing by the way at his
readers or at himself or at the stanzas. Into them he can fling anything
under the sun, from a doctor's prescription to a metaphysical theory.

When Bishop Berkeley said there was no matter,
And proved it, 'twas no matter what he said,

is as cogent a refutation of idealism as the cumbrous wit of Scotch

The popularity of the work is due not mainly to the verbal skill which
makes it rank as the _cleverest_ of English verse compositions, to its
shoals of witticisms, its winged words, telling phrases, and incomparable
transitions; but to the fact that it continues to address a large class
who are not in the ordinary sense of the word lovers of poetry. _Don Juan_
is emphatically the poem of intelligent men of middle age, who have grown
weary of mere sentiment, and yet retain enough of sympathetic feeling to
desire at times to recall it. Such minds, crusted like Plato's Glaucus
with the world, are yet pervious to appeals to the spirit that survives
beneath the dry dust amid which they move; but only at rare intervals can
they accompany the pure lyrist "singing as if he would never be old," and
they are apt to turn with some impatience even from _Romeo and Juliet_ to
_Hamlet_ and _Macbeth_. To them, on the other hand, the hard wit of
_Hudibras_ is equally tiresome, and more distasteful; their chosen friend
is the humourist who, inspired by a subtle perception of the
contradictions of life, sees matter for smiles in sorrow, and tears in
laughter. Byron was not, in the highest sense, a great humourist; he does
not blend together the two phases, as they are blended in single sentences
or whole chapters of Sterne, in the April-sunshine of Richter, or in
_Sartor Resartus_; but he comes near to produce the same effect by his
unequalled power of alternating them. His wit is seldom hard, never dry,
for it is moistened by the constant juxtaposition of sentiment. His
tenderness is none the less genuine that he is perpetually jerking it
away--an equally favourite fashion with Carlyle,--as if he could not trust
himself to be serious for fear of becoming sentimental; and, in
recollection of his frequent exhibitions of unaffected hysteria, we accept
his own confession--

If I laugh at any mortal thing,
'Tis that I may not weep,

as a perfectly sincere comment on the most sincere, and therefore in many
respects the most effective, of his works. He has, after his way,
endeavoured in grave prose and light verse to defend it against its
assailants; saying, "In _Don Juan_ I take a vicious and unprincipled
character, and lead him through those ranks of society whose
accomplishments cover and cloak their vices, and paint the natural
effects;" and elsewhere, that he means to make his scamp "end as a member
of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, or by the guillotine, or in an
unhappy marriage." It were easy to dilate on the fact that in interpreting
the phrases of the satirist into the language of the moralist we often
require to read them backwards: Byron's own statement, "I hate a motive,"
is, however, more to the point:

But the fact is that I have nothing plann'd,
Unless it were to be a moment merry--
A novel word in my vocabulary.

_Don Juan_ can only be credited with a text in the sense in which every
large experience, of its own accord, conveys its lesson. It was to the
author a picture of the world as he saw it; and it is to us a mirror in
which every attribute of his genius, every peculiarity of his nature, is
reflected without distortion. After the audacious though brilliant
opening, and the unfortunately pungent reference to the poet's domestic
affairs, we find in the famous storm (c. ii.) a bewildering epitome of his
prevailing manner. Home-sickness, sea-sickness, the terror of the tempest,
"wailing, blasphemy, devotion," the crash of the wreck, the wild farewell,
"the bubbling cry of some strong swimmer in his agony," the horrors of
famine, the tale of the two fathers, the beautiful apparitions of the
rainbow and the bird, the feast on Juan's spaniel, his reluctance to dine
on "his pastor and his master," the consequences of eating Pedrillo,--all
follow each other like visions in the phantasmagoria of a nightmare, till
at last the remnant of the crew are drowned by a ridiculous rhyme--

Finding no place for their landing better,
They ran the boat ashore,--and overset her.

Then comes the episode of Haidee, "a long low island song of ancient
days," the character of the girl herself being like a thread of pure gold
running through the fabric of its surroundings, motley in every page;
e.g., after the impassioned close of the "Isles of Greece," we have the

Thus sang, or would, or could, or should, have sung,
The modern Greek, in tolerable verse;
If not like Orpheus quite, when Greece was young,
Yet in those days he might have done much worse--

with which the author dashes away the romance of the song, and then
launches into a tirade against Bob Southey's epic and Wordsworth's pedlar
poems. This vein exhausted, we come to the "Ave Maria," one of the most
musical, and seemingly heartfelt, hymns in the language. The close of the
ocean pastoral (in c. iv.) is the last of pathetic narrative in the book;
but the same feeling that "mourns o'er the beauty of the Cyclades," often
re-emerges in shorter passages. The fifth and sixth cantos, in spite of
the glittering sketch of Gulbeyaz, and tho fawn-like image of Dudu, are
open to the charge of diffuseness, and the character of Johnson is a
failure. From the seventh to the tenth, the poem decidedly dips, partly
because the writer had never been in Russia; then it again rises, and
shows no sign of falling off to the end.

No part of the work has more suggestive interest or varied power than some
of the later cantos, in which Juan is whirled through the vortex of the
fashionable life which Byron knew so well, loved so much, and at last
esteemed so little. There is no richer piece of descriptive writing in his
works than that of Newstead (in c. xiii.); nor is there any analysis of
female character so subtle as that of the Lady Adeline. Conjectures as to
the originals of imaginary portraits, are generally futile; but Miss
Millpond--not Donna Inez--is obviously Lady Byron; in Adeline we may
suspect that at Genoa he was drawing from the life in the Villa Paradiso;
while Aurora Raby seems to be an idealization of La Guiccioli:--

Early in years, and yet more infantine
In figure, she had something of sublime
In eyes, which sadly shone, as seraphs' shine:
All youth--but with an aspect beyond time;
Radiant and grave--us pitying man's decline;
Mournful--but mournful of another's crime,
She look'd as if she sat by Eden's door,
And grieved for those who could return no more.

She was a Catholic, too, sincere, austere,
As far as her own gentle heart allow'd,
And deem'd that fallen worship far more dear,
Perhaps, because 'twas fallen: her sires were proud
Of deeds and days, when they had fill'd the ear
Of nations, and had never bent or bow'd
To novel power; and, as she was the last,
She held her old faith and old feelings fast.

She gazed upon a world she scarcely knew,
As seeking not to know it; silent, lone,
As grows a flower, thus quietly she grew,
And kept her heart serene within its zone.

Constantly, towards the close of the work, there is an echo of home and
country, a half involuntary cry after--

The love of higher things and better days;
Th'unbounded hope, and heavenly ignorance
Of what is call'd the world and the world's ways.

In the concluding stanza of the last completed canto, beginning--

Between two worlds life hovers like a star,
'Twixt night and morn, on the horizon's verge--

we have a condensation of the refrain of the poet's philosophy; but the
main drift of the later books is a satire on London society. There are
elements in a great city which may be wrought into something nobler than
satire, for all the energies of the age are concentrated where passion is
fiercest and thought intensest, amid the myriad sights and sounds of its
glare and gloom. But those scenes, and the actors in them, are apt also to
induce the frame of mind in which a prose satirist describes himself as
reclining under an arcade of the Pantheon: "Not the Pantheon by the Piazza
Navona, where the immortal gods were worshipped--the immortal gods now
dead; but the Pantheon in Oxford Street. Have not Selwyn, and Walpole, and
March, and Carlisle figured there? Has not Prince Florizel flounced
through the hall in his rustling domino, and danced there in powdered
splendour? O my companions, I have drunk many a bout with you, and always
found 'Vanitas Vanitatum' written on the bottom of the pot." This is the
mind in which _Don Juan_ interprets the universe, and paints the still
living court of Florizel and his buffoons. A "nondescript and ever varying
rhyme"--"a versified aurora borealis," half cynical, half Epicurean, it
takes a partial though a subtle view of that microcosm on stilts called
the great world. It complains that in the days of old "men made the
manners--manners now make men." It concludes--

Good company's a chess-board, there are kings,
Queens, bishops, knights, rooks, pawns; the world's a game.

It passes from a reflection on "the dreary _fuimus_ of all things here" to
the advice--

But "carpe diem," Juan, "carpe, carpe!"
To-morrow sees another race as gay
And transient, and devour'd by the same harpy.
"Life's a poor player,"--then play out the play.

It was the natural conclusion of the foregone stage of Byron's career.
Years had given him power, but they were years in which his energies were
largely wasted. Self-indulgence had not petrified his feeling, but it had
thrown wormwood into its springs. He had learnt to look on existence as a
walking shadow, and was strong only with the strength of a sincere

Through life's road, so dim and dirty,
I have dragg'd to three and thirty.
What have those years left to me?
Nothing, except thirty-three.

These lines are the summary of one who had drained the draught of pleasure
to the dregs of bitterness.




In leaving Venice for Ravenna, Byron passed from the society of gondoliers
and successive sultanas to a comparatively domestic life, with a mistress
who at least endeavoured to stimulate some of his higher aspirations, and
smiled upon his wearing the sword along with the lyre. In the last episode
of his constantly chequered and too voluptuous career, we have the waking
of Sardanapalus realized in the transmutation of the fantastical Harold
into a practical strategist, financier, and soldier. No one ever lived
who, in the same space, more thoroughly ran the gauntlet of existence.
Having exhausted all other sources of vitality and intoxication--travel,
gallantry, and verse--it remained for the despairing poet to become a
hero. But he was also moved by a public passion, the genuineness of which
there is no reasonable ground to doubt. Like Alfieri and Rousseau, he had
taken for his motto, "I am of the opposition;" and, as Dante under a
republic called for a monarchy, Byron, under monarchies at home and
abroad, called for a commonwealth. Amid the inconsistencies of his
political sentiment, he had been consistent in so much love of liberty as
led him to denounce oppression, even when he had no great faith in the
oppressed--whether English, or Italians, or Greeks.

Byron regarded the established dynasties of the continent with a sincere
hatred. He talks of the "more than infernal tyranny" of the House of
Austria. To his fancy, as to Shelley's, New England is the star of the
future. Attracted by a strength or rather force of character akin to his
own, he worshipped Napoleon, even when driven to confess that "the hero
had sunk into a king." He lamented his overthrow; but, above all, that he
was beaten by "three stupid, legitimate old dynasty boobies of regular
sovereigns." "I write in ipecacuanha that the Bourbons are restored."
"What right have we to prescribe laws to France? Here we are retrograding
to the dull, stupid old system, balance of Europe--poising straws on
kings' noses, instead of wringing them off." "The king-times are fast
finishing. There will be blood shed like water, and tears like mist; but
the peoples will conquer in the end. I shall not live to see it, but I
foresee it." "Give me a republic. Look in the history of the earth--Rome,
Greece, Venice, Holland, France, America, our too short Commonwealth--and
compare it with what they did under masters."

His serious political verses are all in the strain of the lines on

Never had mortal man such opportunity--
Except Napoleon--or abused it more;
You might have freed fallen Europe from the unity
Of tyrants, and been blessed from shore to shore.

An enthusiasm for Italy, which survived many disappointments, dictated
some of the most impressive passages of his _Harold_, and inspired the
_Lament of Tasso_ and the _Ode on Venice_. The _Prophecy of Dante_
contains much that has since proved prophetic--

What is there wanting, then, to set thee free,
And show thy beauty in its fullest light?
To make the Alps impassable; and we,
Her sons, may do this with one deed--_Unite_!

His letters reiterate the same idea, in language even more emphatic. "It
is no great matter, supposing that Italy could be liberated, who or what
is sacrificed. It is a grand object--the very poetry of politics; only
think--a free Italy!" Byron acted on his assertion that a man ought to do
more for society than write verses. Mistrusting its leaders, and detesting
the wretched lazzaroni, who "would have betrayed themselves and all the
world," he yet threw himself heart and soul into the insurrection of 1820,
saying, "Whatever I can do by money, means, or person, I will venture
freely for their freedom." He joined the secret society of the Carbonari,
wrote an address to the Liberal government set up in Naples, supplied arms
and a refuge in his house, which he was prepared to convert into a
fortress. In February, 1821, on the rout of the Neapolitans by the
Austrians, the conspiracy was crushed. Byron, who "had always an idea that
it would be bungled," expressed his fear that the country would be thrown
back for 500 years into barbarism, and the Countess Guiccioli confessed
with tears that the Italians must return to composing and strumming
operatic airs. Carbonarism having collapsed, it of course made way for a
reaction; but the encouragement and countenance of the English poet and
peer helped to keep alive the smouldering fire that Mazzini fanned into a
flame, till Cavour turned it to a practical purpose, and the dreams of the
idealists of 1820 were finally realized.

On the failure of the luckless conspiracy, Byron naturally betook himself
to history, speculation, satire, and ideas of a journalistic propaganda;
but all through, his mind was turning to the renewal of the action which
was his destiny. "If I live ten years longer," he writes in 1822, "you
will see that it is not all over with me. I don't mean in literature, for
that is nothing--and I do not think it was my vocation; but I shall do
something." The Greek war of liberation opened a new field for the
exercise of his indomitable energy. This romantic struggle, begun in
April, 1821, was carried on for two years with such remarkable success,
that at the close of 1822 Greece was beginning to be recognized as an
independent state; but in the following months the tide seemed to turn;
dissensions broke out among the leaders, the spirit of intrigue seemed to
stifle patriotism, and the energies of the insurgents were hampered for
want of the sinews of war. There was a danger of the movement being
starved out, and the committee of London sympathizers--of which the poet's
intimate friend and frequent correspondent, Mr. Douglas Kinnaird, and
Captain Blaquiere, were leading promoters--was impressed with the
necessity of procuring funds in support of the cause. With a view to this
it seemed of consequence to attach to it some shining name, and men's
thoughts almost inevitably turned to Byron. No other Englishman seemed so
fit to be associated with the enterprise as the warlike poet, who had
twelve years before linked his fame to that of "grey Marathon" and
"Athena's tower," and, more recently immortalized the isles on which he
cast so many a longing glance. Hobhouse broke the subject to him early in
the spring of 1823: the committee opened communications in April. After
hesitating through May, in June Byron consented to meet Blaquiere at
Zante, and, on hearing the results of the captain's expedition to the
Morea, to decide on future steps. His share in this enterprise has been
assigned to purely personal and comparatively mean motives. He was, it is
said, disgusted with his periodical, sick of his editor, tired of his
mistress, and bent on any change, from China to Peru, that would give him
a new theatre for display. One grows weary of the perpetual half-truths of
inveterate detraction. It is granted that Byron was restless, vain,
imperious, never did anything without a desire to shine in the doing of
it, and was to a great degree the slave of circumstances. Had the
_Liberal_ proved a lamp to the nations, instead of a mere "red flag
flaunted in the face of John Bull," he might have cast anchor at Genoa;
but the whole drift of his work and life demonstrates that he was capable
on occasion of merging himself in what he conceived to be great causes,
especially in their evil days. Of the Hunts he may have had enough; but
the invidious statement about La Guiccioli has no foundation, other than a
somewhat random remark of Shelley, and the fact that he left her nothing
in his will. It is distinctly ascertained that she expressly prohibited
him from doing so; they continued to correspond to the last, and her
affectionate, though unreadable, reminiscences, are sufficient proof that
she at no time considered herself to be neglected, injured, or aggrieved.

Byron indeed left Italy in an unsettled state of mind: he spoke of
returning in a few months, and as the period for his departure approached,
became more and more irresolute. A presentiment of his death seemed to
brood over a mind always superstitious, though never fanatical. Shortly
before his own departure, the Blessingtons were preparing to leave Genoa
for England. On the evening of his farewell call he began to speak of his
voyage with despondency, saying, "Here we are all now together; but when
and where shall we meet again? I have a sort of boding that we see each
other for the last time, as something tells me I shall never again return
from Greece:" after which remark he leant his head on the sofa, and burst
into one of his hysterical fits of tears. The next week was given to
preparations for an expedition, which, entered on with mingled
motives--sentimental, personal, public--became more real and earnest to
Byron at every step he took. He knew all the vices of the "hereditary
bondsmen" among whom he was going, and went among them, with yet
unquenched aspirations, but with the bridle of discipline in his hand,
resolved to pave the way towards the nation becoming better, by devoting
himself to making it free.

On the morning of July 14th (1823) he embarked in the brig "Hercules,"
with Trelawny, Count Pietro Gamba, who remained with him to the last,
Bruno a young Italian doctor, Scott the captain of the vessel, and eight
servants, including Fletcher, besides the crew. They had on board two
guns, with other arms and ammunition, five horses, an ample supply of
medicines, with 50,000 Spanish dollars in coin and bills. The start was
inauspicious. A violent squall drove them back to port, and in the course
of a last ride with Gamba to Albaro, Byron asked, "Where shall we be in a
year?" On the same day of the same month of 1824 he was carried to the
tomb of his ancestors. They again set sail on the following evening, and
in five days reached Leghorn, where the poet received a salutation in
verse, addressed to him by Goethe, and replied to it. Here Mr. Hamilton
Brown, a Scotch gentleman with considerable knowledge of Greek affairs,
joined the party, and induced them to change their course to Cephalonia,
for the purpose of obtaining the advice and assistance of the English
resident, Colonel Napier. The poet occupied himself during the voyage
mainly in reading--among other books, Scott's _Life of Swift_, Grimm's
_Correspondence_, La Rochefoucauld, and Las Casas--and watching the
classic or historic shores which they skirted, especially noting Elba,
Soracte, the Straits of Messina, and Etna. In passing Stromboli he said to
Trelawny, "You will see this scene in a fifth canto of _Childe Harold_."
On his companions suggesting that he should write some verses on the spot,
he tried to do so, but threw them away, with the remark, "I cannot write
poetry at will, as you smoke tobacco." Trelawny confesses that he was
never on shipboard with a better companion, and that a severer test of
good fellowship it is impossible to apply. Together they shot at gulls or
empty bottles, and swam every morning in the sea. Early in August they
reached their destination. Coming in sight of the Morea, the poet said to
Trelawny, "I feel as if the eleven long years of bitterness I have passed
through, since I was here, were taken from my shoulders, and I was
scudding through the Greek Archipelago with old Bathurst in his frigate."
Byron remained at or about Cephalonia till the close of the year. Not long
after his arrival he made an excursion to Ithaca, and, visiting the
monastery at Vathi, was received by the abbot with great ceremony, which,
in a fit of irritation, brought on by a tiresome ride on a mule, he
returned with unusual discourtesy; but next morning, on his giving a
donation to their alms-box, he was dismissed with the blessing of the
monks. "If this isle were mine," he declared on his way back, "I would
break my staff and bury my book." A little later, Brown and Trelawny being
sent off with letters to the provisional government, the former returned
with some Greek emissaries to London, to negotiate a loan; the latter
attached himself to Odysseus, the chief of the republican party at Athens,
and never again saw Byron alive. The poet, after spending a month on board
the "Hercules," dismissed the vessel, and hired a house for Gamba and
himself at Metaxata, a healthy village about four miles from the capital
of the island. Meanwhile, Blaquiere, neglecting his appointment at Zante,
had gone to Corfu, and thence to England. Colonel Napier being absent from
Cephalonia, Byron had some pleasant social intercourse with his deputy,
but, unable to get from him any authoritative information, was left
without advice, to be besieged by letters and messages from the factions.
Among these there were brought to him hints that the Greeks wanted a king,
and he is reported to have said, "If they make me the offer, I will
perhaps not reject it."

The position would doubtless have been acceptable to a man who never--amid
his many self-deceptions--affected to deny that he was ambitious: and who
can say what might not have resulted for Greece, had the poet lived to add
lustre to her crown? In the meantime, while faring more frugally than a
day-labourer, he yet surrounded himself with a show of royal state, had
his servants armed with gilt helmets, and gathered around him a body-guard
of Suliotes. These wild mercenaries becoming turbulent, he was obliged to
despatch them to Mesolonghi, then threatened with siege by the Turks and
anxiously waiting relief. During his residence at Cephalonia, Byron was
gratified by the interest evinced in him by the English residents. Among
these the physician, Dr. Kennedy, a worthy Scotchman, who imagined himself
to be a theologian with a genius for conversion, was conducting a series
of religious meetings at Argostoli, when the poet expressed a wish to be
present at one of them. After listening, it is said, to a set of
discourses that occupied the greater part of twelve hours, he seems, for
one reason or another, to have felt called on to enter the lists, and
found himself involved in the series of controversial dialogues afterwards
published in a substantial book. This volume, interesting in several
respects, is one of the most charming examples of unconscious irony in the
language, and it is matter of regret that our space does not admit of the
abridgment of several of its pages. They bear testimony, on the one hand,
to Byron's capability of patience, and frequent sweetness of temper under
trial; on the other, to Kennedy's utter want of humour, and to his
courageous honesty. The curiously confronted interlocutors, in the course
of the missionary and subsequent private meetings, ran over most of the
ground debated between opponents and apologists of the Calvinistic faith,
which Kennedy upheld without stint. The _Conversations_ add little to what
we already know of Byron's religious opinions; nor is it easy to say where
he ceases to be serious and begins to banter, or vice versa. He evidently
wished to show that in argument he was good at fence, and could handle a
theologian as skilfully as a foil. At the same time he wished if possible,
though, as appears, in vain, to get some light on a subject with regard to
which in his graver moods he was often exercised. On some points he is
explicit. He makes an unequivocal protest against the doctrines of eternal
punishment and infant damnation, saying that if the rest of mankind were
to be damned, he "would rather keep them company than creep into heaven
alone." On questions of inspiration, and the deeper problems of human
life, he is less distinct, being naturally inclined to a speculative
necessitarianism, and disposed to admit original depravity; but he did not
see his way out of the maze through the Atonement, and held that prayer
had only significance as a devotional affection of the heart. Byron showed
a remarkable familiarity with the Scriptures, and with parts of Barrow,
Chillingworth, and Stillingfleet; but on Kennedy's lending for his
edification Boston's _Fourfold State_, he returned it with the remark that
it was too deep for him. On another occasion he said, "Do you know I am
nearly reconciled to St. Paul, for he says there is no difference between
the Jews and the Greeks? and I am exactly of the same opinion, for the
character of both is equally vile." The good Scotchman's religious
self-confidence is throughout free from intellectual pride; and his own
confession, "This time I suspect his lordship had the best of it," might
perhaps be applied to the whole discussion.

Critics who have little history and less war have been accustomed to
attribute Byron's lingering at Cephalonia to indolence and indecision;
they write as if he ought on landing on Greek soil to have put himself at
the head of an army and stormed Constantinople. Those who know more,
confess that the delay was deliberate, and that it was judicious. The
Hellenic uprising was animated by the spirit of a "lion after slumber,"
but it had the heads of a Hydra hissing and tearing at one another. The
chiefs who defended the country by their arms, compromised her by their
arguments, and some of her best fighters were little better than pirates
and bandits. Greece was a prey to factions--republican, monarchic,
aristocratic--representing naval, military, and territorial interests, and
each beset by the adventurers who flock round every movement, only
representing their own. During the first two years of success they were
held in embryo; during the later years of disaster, terminated by the
allies at Navarino, they were buried; during the interlude of Byron's
residence, when the foes were like hounds in the leash, waiting for a
renewal of the struggle, they were rampant. Had he joined any one of them
he would have degraded himself to the level of a mere condottiere, and
helped to betray the common cause. Beset by solicitations to go to Athens,
to the Morea, to Acarnania, he resolutely held apart, biding his time,
collecting information, making himself known as a man of affairs,
endeavouring to conciliate rival clamants for pension or place, and
carefully watching the tide of war. Numerous anecdotes of the period
relate to acts of public or private benevolence, which endeared him to the
population of the island; but he was on the alert against being fleeced or
robbed. "The bulk of the English," writes Colonel Napier, "came expecting
to find the Peloponnesus filled with Plutarch's men, and returned thinking
the inhabitants of Newgate more moral. Lord Byron judged the Greeks
fairly, and knew that allowance must be made for emancipated slaves."
Among other incidents we hear of his passing a group, who were "shrieking
and howling as in Ireland" over some men buried in the fall of a bank; he
snatched a spade, began to dig, and threatened to horsewhip the peasants
unless they followed his example. On November 30th he despatched to the
central government a remarkable state paper, in which he dwells on the
fatal calamity of a civil war, and says that unless union and order are
established all hopes of a loan--which being every day more urgent, he was
in letters to England constantly pressing--are at an end. "I desire," he
concluded, "the well being of Greece, and nothing else. I will do all I
can to secure it; but I will never consent that the English public be
deceived as to the real state of affairs. You have fought gloriously; act
honourably towards your fellow-citizens and the world, and it will then no
more be said, as has been repeated for two thousand years, with the Roman
historians, that Philopoemen was the last of the Grecians."

Prince Alexander Mavrocordatos--the most prominent of the practical
patriotic leaders--having been deposed from the presidency, was sent to
regulate the affairs of Western Greece, and was now on his way with a
fleet to relieve Mesolonghi, in attempting which the brave Marco Bozzaris
had previously fallen. In a letter, opening communication with a man for
whom he always entertained a high esteem, Byron writes, "Colonel Stanhope
has arrived from London, charged by our committee to act in concert with
me.... Greece is at present placed between three measures--either to
reconquer her liberty, to become a dependence of the sovereigns of Europe,
or to return to a Turkish province. She has the choice only of these three
alternatives. Civil war is but a road that leads to the two latter."

At length the long looked-for fleet arrived, and the Turkish squadron,
with the loss of a treasure-ship, retired up the Gulf of Lepanto.
Mavrocordatos on entering Mesolonghi lost no time in inviting the poet to
join him, and placed a brig at his disposal, adding, "I need not tell you
to what a pitch your presence is desired by everybody, or what a
prosperous direction it will give to all our affairs. Your counsels will
be listened to like oracles."

At the same date Stanhope writes, "The people in the streets are looking
forward to his lordship's arrival as they would to the coming of the
Messiah." Byron was unable to start in the ship sent for him; but in spite
of medical warnings, a few days later, i.e. December 28th, he embarked in
a small fast-sailing sloop called a mistico, while the servants and
baggage were stowed in another and larger vessel under the charge of Count
Gamba. From Gamba's graphic account of the voyage we may take the
following:--"We sailed together till after ten at night; the wind
favourable, a clear sky, the air fresh, but not sharp. Our sailors sang
alternately patriotic songs, monotonous indeed, but to persons in our
situation extremely touching, and we took part in them. We were all, but
Lord Byron particularly, in excellent spirits. The mistico sailed the
fastest. When the waves divided us, and our voices could no longer reach
each other, we made signals by firing pistols and carbines. To-morrow we
meet at Mesolonghi--to morrow. Thus, full of confidence and spirits, we
sailed along. At twelve we were out of sight of each other."

Byron's vessel, separated from her consort, came into the close proximity
of a Turkish frigate, and had to take refuge among the Scrofes' rocks.
Emerging thence, he attained a small seaport of Acarnania, called
Dragomestri, whence sallying forth on the 2nd of January under the convoy
of some Greek gunboats, he was nearly wrecked. On the 4th Byron made, when
violently heated, an imprudent plunge in the sea, and was never afterwards
free from a pain in his bones. On the 5th he arrived at Mesolonghi, and
was received with salvoes of musketry and music. Gamba was waiting him.
His vessel, the "Bombarda," had been taken by the Ottoman frigate, but the
captain of the latter, recognizing the Count as having formerly saved his
life in the Black Sea, made interest in his behalf with Yussuf Pasha at
Patras, and obtained his discharge. In recompense, the poet subsequently
sent to the Pasha some Turkish prisoners, with a letter requesting him to
endeavour to mitigate the inhumanities of the war. Byron brought to the
Greeks at Mesolonghi the 4000_l_. of his personal loan (applied, in the
first place, to defraying the expenses of the fleet), with the spell of
his name and presence. He was shortly afterwards appointed to the command
of the intended expedition against Lepanto, and, with this view, again
took into his pay five hundred Suliotes. An approaching general assembly
to organize the forces of the west, had brought together a motley crew,
destitute, discontented, and more likely to wage war upon each other than
on their enemies. Byron's closest associates during the ensuing months,
were the engineer Parry, an energetic artilleryman, "extremely active, and
of strong practical talents," who had travelled in America, and Colonel
Stanhope (afterwards Lord Harrington) equally with himself devoted to the
emancipation of Greece, but at variance about the means of achieving it.
Stanhope, a moral enthusiast of the stamp of Kennedy, beset by the fallacy
of religious missions, wished to cover the Morea with Wesleyan tracts, and
liberate the country by the agency of the Press. He had imported a
converted blacksmith, with a cargo of Bibles, types, and paper, who on
20_l_. a year, undertook to accomplish the reform. Byron, backed by the
good sense of Mavrocordatos, proposed to make cartridges of the tracts,
and small shot of the type; he did not think that the turbulent tribes
were ripe for freedom of the press, and had begun to regard Republicanism
itself as a matter of secondary moment. The disputant allies in the common
cause occupied each a flat of the same small house, the soldier by
profession was bent on writing the Turks down, the poet on fighting them
down, holding that "the work of the sword must precede that of the pen,
and that camps must be the training schools of freedom." Their
altercations were sometimes fierce--"Despot!" cried Stanhope, "after
professing liberal principles from boyhood, you when called to act prove
yourself a Turk." "Radical!" retorted Byron, "if I had held up my finger I
could have crushed your press,"--but this did not prevent the recognition
by each of them of the excellent qualities of the other.

Ultimately Stanhope went to Athens, and allied himself with Trelawny and
Odysseus and the party of the Left. Nothing can be more statesmanlike than
some of Byron's papers of this and the immediately preceding period;
nothing more admirable than the spirit which inspires them. He had come
into the heart of a revolution, exposed to the same perils as those which
had wrecked the similar movement in Italy. Neither trusting too much nor
distrusting too much, with a clear head and a good will he set about
enforcing a series of excellent measures. From first to last he was
engaged in denouncing dissension, in advocating unity, in doing everything
that man could do to concentrate and utilize the disorderly elements with
which he had to work. He occupied himself in repairing fortifications,
managing ships, restraining licence, promoting courtesy between the foes,
and regulating the disposal of the sinews of war.

On the morning of the 22nd of January, his last birthday, he came from his
room to Stanhope's, and said, smiling, "You were complaining that I never
write any poetry now," and read the familiar stanzas beginning--

'Tis time this heart should be unmoved,

and ending--

Seek out--less often sought than found--
A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

High thoughts, high resolves; but the brain that was over-tasked, and the
frame that was outworn, would be tasked and worn little longer. The lamp
of a life that had burnt too fiercely was flickering to its close. "If we
are not taken off with the sword," he writes on February 5th, "we are like
to march off with an ague in this mud basket; and, to conclude with a very
bad pun, better _martially_ than _marsh-ally_. The dykes of Holland when
broken down are the deserts of Arabia, in comparison with Mesolonghi." In
April, when it was too late, Stanhope wrote from Salona, in Phocis,
imploring him not to sacrifice health, and perhaps life, "in that bog."

Byron's house stood in the midst of the exhalations of a muddy creek, and
his natural irritability was increased by a more than usually long ascetic
regimen. From the day of his arrival in Greece he discarded animal food
and lived mainly on toast, vegetables, and cheese, olives and light wine,
at the rate of forty paras a day. In spite of his strength of purpose, his
temper was not always proof against the rapacity and turbulence by which
he was surrounded. About the middle of February, when the artillery had
been got into readiness for the attack on Lepanto--the northern, as
Patras was the southern, gate of the gulf, still in the hands of the
Turks--the expedition was thrown back by the unexpected rising of the
Suliotes. These peculiarly Irish Greeks, chronically seditious by nature,
were on this occasion, as afterwards appeared, stirred up by emissaries of
Colocatroni, who, though assuming the position of the rival of
Mavrocordatos, was simply a brigand on a large scale in the Morca.
Exasperation at this mutiny, and the vexation of having to abandon a
cherished scheme, seem to have been the immediately provoking causes of a
violent convulsive fit which, on the evening of the 15th, attacked the
poet, and endangered his life. Next day he was better, but complained of
weight in the head; and the doctors applying leeches too close to the
temporal artery, he was bled till he fainted. And now occurred the last of
those striking incidents so frequent in his life, in reference to which we
may quote the joint testimony of two witnesses. Colonel Stanhope writes,
"Soon after his dreadful paroxysm, when he was lying on his sick-bed, with
his whole nervous system completely shaken, the mutinous Suliotes, covered
with dirt and splendid attires, broke into his apartment, brandishing
their costly arms and loudly demanding their rights. Lord Byron,
electrified by this unexpected act, seemed to recover from his sickness;
and the more the Suliotes raged, the more his calm courage triumphed. The
scene was truly sublime." "It is impossible," says Count Gamba, "to do
justice to the coolness and magnanimity which he displayed upon every
trying occasion. Upon trifling occasions he was certainly irritable; but
the aspect of danger calmed him in an instant, and restored him the free
exercise of all the powers of his noble nature. A more undaunted man in
the hour of peril never breathed." A few days later, the riot being
renewed, the disorderly crew were, on payment of their arrears, finally
dismissed; but several of the English artificers under Parry left about
the same time, in fear of their lives.

On the 4th, the last of the long list of Byron's letters to Moore resents,
with some bitterness, the hasty acceptance of a rumour that he had been
quietly writing _Don Juan_ in some Ionian island. At the same date he
writes to Kennedy, "I am not unaware of the precarious state of my health.
But it is proper I should remain in Greece, and it were better to die
doing something than nothing." Visions of enlisting Europe and America on
behalf of the establishment of a new state, that might in course of time
develope itself over the realm of Alexander, floated and gleamed in his
fancy; but in his practical daily procedure the poet took as his text the
motto "festina lente," insisted on solid ground under his feet, and had no
notion of sailing balloons over the sea. With this view he discouraged
Stanhope's philanthropic and propagandist paper, the _Telegrapho_, and
disparaged Dr. Mayor, its Swiss editor, saying, "Of all petty tyrants he
is one of the pettiest, as are most demagogues." Byron had none of the
Sclavonic leanings, and almost personal hatred of Ottoman rule, of some of
our statesmen; but he saw on what side lay the forces and the hopes of the
future. "I cannot calculate," he said to Gamba, during one of their latest
rides together, "to what a height Greece may rise. Hitherto it has been a
subject for the hymns and elegies of fanatics and enthusiasts; but now it
will draw the attention of the politician.... At present there is little
difference, in many respects, between Greeks and Turks, nor could there
be; but the latter must, in the common course of events, decline in power;
and the former must as inevitably become better.... The English Government
deceived itself at first in thinking it possible to maintain the Turkish
Empire in its integrity; but it cannot be done, that unwieldy mass is
already putrified, and must dissolve. If anything like an equilibrium is
to be upheld, Greece must be supported." These words have been well
characterized as prophetic. During this time Byron rallied in health, and
displayed much of his old spirit, vivacity, and humour, took part in such
of his favourite amusements as circumstances admitted, fencing, shooting,
riding, and playing with his pet dog Lion. The last of his recorded
practical jokes is his rolling about cannon balls, and shaking the
rafters, to frighten Parry in the room below with the dread of an

Towards the close of the month, after being solicited to accompany
Mavrocordatos, to share the governorship of the Morea, he made an
appointment to meet Colonel Stanhope and Odysseus at Salona, but was
prevented from keeping it by violent floods which blocked up the
communication. On the 30th he was presented with the freedom of the city
of Mesolonghi. On the 3rd of April he intervened to prevent an Italian
private, guilty of theft, from being flogged by order of some German
officers. On the 9th, exhilarated by a letter from Mrs. Leigh with good
accounts of her own and Ada's health, he took a long ride with Gamba and a
few of the remaining Suliotes, and after being violently heated, and then
drenched in a heavy shower, persisted in returning home in a boat,
remarking with a laugh, in answer to a remonstrance, "I should make a
pretty soldier if I were to care for such a trifle." It soon became
apparent that he had caught his death. Almost immediately on his return,
he was seized with shiverings and violent pain. The next day he rose as
usual, and had his last ride in the olive woods. On the 11th a rheumatic
fever set in. On the 14th, Bruno's skill being exhausted, it was proposed
to call Dr. Thomas from Zante, but a hurricane prevented any ship being
sent. On the 15th, another physician, Mr. Milligen, suggested bleeding to
allay the fever, but Byron held out against it, quoting Dr. Reid to the
effect that "less slaughter is effected by the lance than the lancet--that
minute instrument of mighty mischief;" and saying to Bruno, "If my hour is
come I shall die, whether I lose my blood or keep it." Next morning
Milligen induced him to yield, by a suggestion of the possible loss of his
reason. Throwing out his arm, he cried, "There! you are, I see, a d----d
set of butchers. Take away as much blood as you like, and have done with
it." The remedy, repeated on the following day with blistering, was either
too late or ill-advised. On the 18th he saw more doctors, but was
manifestly sinking, amid the tears and lamentations of attendants who
could not understand each other's language. In his last hours his delirium
bore him to the field of arms. He fancied he was leading the attack on
Lepanto, and was heard exclaiming, "Forwards! forwards! follow me!" Who is
not reminded of another death-bed, not remote in time from his, and the
_Tete d'armee_ of the great Emperor who with the great Poet divided the
wonder of Europe? The stormy vision passed, and his thoughts reverted
home. "Go to my sister," he faltered out to Fletcher; "tell her--go to
Lady Byron--you will see her, and say"--nothing more could be heard but
broken ejaculations: "Augusta--Ada--my sister, my child. Io lascio qualche
cosa di caro nel mondo. For the rest, I am content to die." At six on the
evening of the 18th he uttered his last words, "[Greek: _Dei me nun
katheudein_];" and on the 19th he passed away.

Never perhaps was there such a national lamentation. By order of
Mavrocordatos, thirty-seven guns--one for each year of the poet's life--
were fired from the battery, and answered by the Turks from Patras with an
exultant volley. All offices, tribunals, and shops were shut, and a
general mourning for twenty-one days proclaimed. Stanhope wrote, on
hearing the news, "England has lost her brightest genius--Greece her
noblest friend;" and Trelawny, on coming to Mesolonghi, heard nothing in
the streets but "Byron is dead!" like a bell tolling through the silence
and the gloom. Intending contributors to the cause of Greece turned back
when they heard the tidings, that seemed to them to mean she was headless.
Her cities contended for the body, as of old for the birth of a poet.
Athens wished him to rest in the Temple of Theseus. The funeral service
was performed at Mesolonghi. But on the 2nd of May the embalmed remains
left Zante, and on the 29th arrived in the Downs. His relatives applied
for permission to have them interred in Westminster Abbey, but it was
refused; and on the 16th July they were conveyed to the village church of



Lord Jeffrey at the close of a once-famous review quaintly laments: "The
tuneful quartos of Southey are already little better than lumber, and the
rich melodies of Keats and Shelley, and the fantastical emphasis of
Wordsworth, and the plebeian pathos of Crabbe, are melting fast from the
field of our vision. The novels of Scott have put out his poetry, and the
blazing star of Byron himself is receding from its place of pride." Of the
poets of the early part of this century, Lord John Russell thought Byron
the greatest, then Scott, then Moore. "Such an opinion," wrote a
_National_ reviewer, in 1860, "is not worth a refutation; we only smile at
it." Nothing in the history of literature is more curious than the
shifting of the standard of excellence, which so perplexes criticism. But
the most remarkable feature of the matter is the frequent return to power
of the once discarded potentates. Byron is resuming his place: his spirit
has come again to our atmosphere; and every budding critic, as in 1820, is
impelled to pronounce a verdict on his genius and character. The present
times are, in many respects, an aftermath of the first quarter of the
century, which was an era of revolt, of doubt, of storm. There succeeded
an era of exhaustion, of quiescence, of reflection. The first years of the
third quarter saw a revival of turbulence and agitation; and, more than
our fathers, we are inclined to sympathize with our grandfathers. Macaulay
has popularized the story of the change of literary dynasty which in our
island marked the close of the last, and the first two decades of the
present, hundred years.

The corresponding artistic revolt on the continent was closely connected
with changes in the political world. The originators of the romantic
literature in Italy, for the most part, died in Spielberg or in exile. The
same revolution which levelled the Bastille, and converted Versailles and
the Trianon--the classic school in stone and terrace--into a moral
Herculaneum and Pompeii, drove the models of the so-called Augustan ages
into a museum of antiquarians. In our own country, the movement initiated
by Chatterton, Cowper, and Burns, was carried out by two classes of great
writers. They agreed in opposing freedom to formality; in substituting for
the old, new aims and methods; in preferring a grain of mother wit to a
peck of clerisy. They broke with the old school, as Protestantism broke
with the old Church; but, like the sects, they separated again.
Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge, while refusing to acknowledge the
literary precedents of the past, submitted themselves to a self-imposed
law. The partialities of their maturity were towards things settled and
regulated; their favourite virtues, endurance and humility; their
conformity to established institutions was the basis of a new
Conservatism. The others were the Radicals of the movement: they
practically acknowledged no law but their own inspiration. Dissatisfied
with the existing order, their sympathies were with strong will and
passion and defiant independence. These found their master-types in
Shelley and in Byron.

A reaction is always an extreme. Lollards, Puritans, Covenanters, were in
some respects nauseous antidotes to ecclesiastical corruption. The ruins
of the Scotch cathedrals and of the French nobility are warnings at once
against the excess that provokes and the excess that avenges. The revolt
against the _ancien regime_ in letters made possible the Ode that is the
high-tide mark of modern English inspiration, but it was parodied in page
on page of maundering rusticity. Byron saw the danger, but was borne
headlong by the rapids. Hence the anomalous contrast between his theories
and his performance. Both Wordsworth and Byron were bitten by Rousseau;
but the former is, at furthest, a Girondin. The latter, acting like Danton
on the motto "L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace," sighs after _Henri
Quatre et Gabrielle_. There is more of the spirit of the French Revolution
in _Don Juan_ than in all the works of the author's contemporaries; but
his criticism is that of Boileau, and when deliberate is generally absurd.
He never recognized the meaning of the artistic movement of his age, and
overvalued those of his works which the Unities helped to destroy. He
hailed Gifford as his Magnus Apollo, and put Rogers next to Scott in his
comical pyramid. "Chaucer," he writes, "I think obscene and contemptible."
He could see no merit in Spenser, preferred Tasso to Milton, and called
the old English dramatists "mad and turbid mountebanks." In the same
spirit he writes: "In the time of Pope it was all Horace, now it is all
Claudian." He saw--what fanatics had begun to deny--that Pope was a great
writer, and the "angel of reasonableness," the strong common sense of both
was a link between them; but the expressions he uses during his
controversy with Bowles look like jests, till we are convinced of his
earnestness by his anger. "Neither time, nor distance, nor grief, nor age
can ever diminish my veneration for him who is the great moral poet of all
times, of all climes, of all feelings, and of all stages of existence....
Your whole generation are not worth a canto of the _Dunciad_, or anything
that is his." All the while he was himself writing prose and verse, in
grasp if not in vigour as far beyond the stretch of Pope, as Pope is in
"worth and wit and sense" removed above his mimics. The point of the
paradox is not merely that he deserted, but that he sometimes imitated his
model, and when he did so, failed. Macaulay's judgment, that "personal
taste led him to the eighteenth century, thirst for praise to the
nineteenth," is quite at fault. There can be no doubt that Byron loved
praise as much as he affected to despise it. His note, on reading the
_Quarterly_ on his dramas, "I am the most unpopular man in England," is
like the cry of a child under chastisement; but he had little affinity,
moral or artistic, with the spirit of our so-called Augustans, and his
determination to admire them was itself rebellious. Again we are reminded
of his phrase, "I am of the opposition." His vanity and pride were
perpetually struggling for the mastery, and though he thirsted for
popularity he was bent on compelling it; so he warred with the literary
impulse of which he was the child.

Byron has no relation to the master-minds whose works reflect a nation or
an era, and who keep their own secrets. His verse and prose is alike
biographical, and the inequalities of his style are those of his career.
He lived in a glass case, and could not hide himself by his habit of
burning blue lights. He was too great to do violence to his nature, which
was not great enough to be really consistent. It was thus natural for him
to pose as the spokesman of two ages--as a critic and as an author; and of
two orders of society--as a peer, and as a poet of revolt. Sincere in
both, he could never forget the one character in the other. To the last,
he was an aristocrat in sentiment, a democrat in opinion. "Vulgarity," he
writes with a pithy half-truth, "is far worse than downright black
guardism; for the latter comprehends wit, humour, and strong sense at
times, while the former is a sad abortive attempt at all things,
signifying nothing." He could never reconcile himself to the English
radicals; and it has been acutely remarked, that part of his final
interest in Greece lay in the fact that he found it a country of classic
memories, "where a man might be the champion of liberty without soiling
himself in the arena." He owed much of his early influence to the fact of
his moving in the circles of rank and fashion; but though himself steeped
in the prejudices of caste, he struck at them at times with fatal force.
Aristocracy is the individual asserting a vital distinction between itself
and "the muck o' the world." Byron's heroes all rebel against the
associative tendency of the nineteenth century; they are self-worshippers
at war with society; but most of them come to bad ends. He maligned
himself in those caricatures, and has given more of himself in describing
one whom with special significance we call a brother poet. "Allen," he
writes in 1813, "has lent me a quantity of Burns's unpublished letters....
What an antithetical mind!--tenderness, roughness--delicacy, coarseness--
sentiment, sensuality--soaring and grovelling--dirt and deity--all mixed
up in that one compound of inspired clay!" We have only to add to these
antitheses, in applying them with slight modification to the writer. Byron
had, on occasion, more self-control than Burns, who yielded to every
thirst or gust, and could never have lived the life of the soldier at
Mesolonghi; but partly owing to meanness, partly to a sound instinct, his
memory has been more severely dealt with. The fact of his being a nobleman
helped to make him famous, but it also helped to make him hated. No doubt
it half spoiled him in making him a show; and the circumstance has
suggested the remark of a humourist, that it is as hard for a lord to be a
perfect gentleman as for a camel to pass through the needle's eye. But it
also exposed to the rancours of jealousy a man who had nearly everything
but domestic happiness to excite that most corroding of literary passions;
and when he got out of gear he became the quarry of Spenser's "blatant
beast." On the other hand, Burns was, beneath his disgust at Holy Fairs
and Willies, sincerely reverential; much of _Don Juan_ would have seemed
to him "an atheist's laugh," and--a more certain superiority--he was
absolutely frank.

Byron, like Pope, was given to playing monkey-like tricks, mostly
harmless, but offensive to their victims. His peace of mind was dependent
on what people would say of him, to a degree unusual even in the irritable
race; and when they spoke ill he was, again like Pope, essentially
vindictive. The _Bards and Reviewers_ beats about, where the lines to
Atticus transfix with Philoctetes' arrows; but they are due to a like
impulse. Byron affected to contemn the world; but, say what he would, he
cared too much for it. He had a genuine love of solitude as an alterative;
but he could not subsist without society, and, Shelley tells us, wherever
he went, became the nucleus of it. He sprang up again when flung to the
earth, but he never attained to the disdain he desired.

We find him at once munificent and careful about money; calmly asleep amid
a crowd of trembling sailors, yet never going to ride without a nervous
caution; defying augury, yet seriously disturbed by a gipsy's prattle. He
could be the most genial of comrades, the most considerate of masters, and
he secured the devotion of his servants, as of his friends; but he was too
overbearing to form many equal friendships, and apt to be ungenerous to
his real rivals. His shifting attitude towards Lady Byron, his wavering
purposes, his impulsive acts, are a part of the character we trace through
all his life and work,--a strange mixture of magnanimity and brutality, of
laughter and tears, consistent in nothing but his passion and his pride,
yet redeeming all his defects by his graces, and wearing a greatness that
his errors can only half obscure.

Alternately the idol and the horror of his contemporaries, Byron was,
during his life, feared and respected as "the grand Napoleon of the realms
of rhyme." His works were the events of the literary world. The chief
among them were translated into French, German, Italian, Danish, Polish,
Russian, Spanish. On the publication of Moore's _Life_, Lord Macaulay had
no hesitation in referring to Byron as "the most celebrated Englishman of
the nineteenth century." Nor have we now; but in the interval between
1840-1870, it was the fashion to talk of him as a sentimentalist, a
romancer, a shallow wit, a nine days' wonder, a poet for "green unknowing
youth." It was a reaction, such as leads us to disestablish the heroes of
our crude imaginations till we learn that to admire nothing is as sure a
sign of immaturity as to admire everything.

The weariness, if not disgust, induced by a throng of more than usually
absurd imitators, enabled Carlyle, the poet's successor in literary
influence (followed with even greater unfairness by Thackeray), more
effectively to lead the counter-revolt. "In my mind," writes the former,
in 1839, "Byron has been sinking at an accelerated rate for the last ten
years, and has now reached a very low level.... His fame has been very
great, but I do not see how it is to endure; neither does that make him
great. No genuine productive thought was ever revealed by him to mankind.
He taught me nothing that I had not again to forgot." The refrain of
Carlyle's advice during the most active years of his criticism was, "Close
thy Byron, open thy Goethe." We do so, and find that the refrain of
Goethe's advice in reference to Byron is--"nocturna versate manu, versate
diurna." He urged Eckermann to study English that he might read him;
remarking, "A character of such eminence has never existed before, and
probably will never come again. The beauty of _Cain_ is such as we shall
not see a second time in the world.... Byron issues from the sea-waves
ever fresh. In _Helena_, I could not make use of any man as the
representative of the modern poetic era except him, who is undoubtedly the
greatest genius[1] of our century." Again: "Tasso's epic has maintained
its fame, but Byron is the burning bush, which reduces the cedar of
Lebanon to ashes.... The English may think of him as they please; this is
certain, they can show no (living) poet who is comparable to him.... But
he is too worldly. Contrast _Macbeth_, and _Beppo_, where you are in a
nefarious empirical world." On Eckermann's doubting "whether there is a
gain for pure culture in Byron's work," Goethe conclusively replies,
"There I must contradict you. The audacity and grandeur of Byron must
certainly tend towards culture. We should take care not to be always
looking for it in the decidedly pure and moral. Everything that is great
promotes cultivation, as soon as we are aware of it."

[Footnote 1: Mr. Arnold wrongly objects to this translation of the
German "talent."]

This verdict of the Olympian as against the verdict of the Titan is
interesting in itself, and as being the verdict of the whole continental
world of letters. "What," exclaims Castelar, "does Spain not owe to Byron?
From his mouth come our hopes and fears. He has baptized us with his
blood. There is no one with whose being some song of his is not woven. His
life is like a funeral torch over our graves." Mazzini takes up the same
tune for Italy. Stendhal speaks of Byron's "Apollonic power;" and Sainte
Beuve writes to the same intent, with some judicious caveats. M. Taine
concludes his survey of the romantic movement with the remark: "In this
splendid effort, the greatest are exhausted. One alone--Byron--attains the
summit. He is so great and so English, that from him alone we shall learn
more truths of his country and his age than from all the rest together."
Dr. Elze, ranks the author of _Harold_ and _Juan_ among the four greatest
English poets, and claims for him the intellectual parentage of Lamartine
and Musset in France, of Espronceda in Spain, of Puschkin in Russia, with
some modifications, of Heine in Germany, of Berchet and others in Italy.
So many voices of so various countries cannot be simply set aside: unless
we wrap ourselves in an insolent insularism, we are bound at least to ask
what is the meaning of their concurrent testimony. Foreign judgments can
manifestly have little weight on matters of form, and not one of the
above-mentioned critics is sufficiently alive to the egregious
shortcomings which Byron himself recognized. That he loses almost nothing
by translation is a compliment to the man, a disparagement to tho artist.
Very few pages of his verse even aspire to perfection; hardly a stanza
will bear the minute word-by-word dissection which only brings into
clearer view the delicate touches of Keats or Tennyson; his pictures with
a big brush were never meant for the microscope. Here the contrast between
his theoretic worship of his idol and his own practice reaches a climax.
If, as he professed to believe, "the best poet is he who best executes his
work," then he is hardly a poet at all. He is habitually rapid and
slovenly; an improvisatore on the spot whore his fancy is kindled, writing
_currente calamo_, and disdaining the "art to blot." "I can never recast
anything. I am like the tiger; if I miss the first spring, I go grumbling
back to my jungle." He said to Medwin, "Blank verse is the most difficult,
because every line must be good." Consequently, his own blank verse is
always defective--sometimes execrable. No one else--except, perhaps,
Wordsworth--who could write so well, could also write so ill. This fact in
Byron's case seems due not to mere carelessness, but to incapacity.
Something seems to stand behind him, like the slave in the chariot, to
check the current of his highest thought. The glow of his fancy fades with
the suddenness of a southern sunset. His best inspirations are spoilt by
the interruption of incongruous commonplace. He had none of the guardian
delicacy of taste, or the thirst after completeness, which mark the
consummate artist. He is more nearly a dwarf Shakespeare than a giant
Popo. This defect was most mischievous where he was weakest, in his dramas
and his lyrics, least so where he was strongest, in his mature satires. It
is almost transmuted into an excellence in the greatest of these, which
is by design and in detail a temple of incongruity.

If we turn from his manner to his matter, we cannot claim for Byron any
absolute originality. His sources have been found in Rousseau, Voltaire,
Chateaubriand, Beaumarchais, Lauzun, Gibbon, Bayle, St. Pierre, Alfieri,
Casti, Cuvier, La Bruyore, Wieland, Swift, Sterne, Le Sage, Goethe, scraps
of the classics, and the Book of Job. Absolute originality in a late age
is only possible to the hermit, the lunatic, or the sensation novelist.
Byron, like the rovers before Minos, was not ashamed of his piracy. He
transferred the random prose of his own letters and journals to his
dramas, and with the same complacency made use of the notes jotted down
from other writers as he sailed on the Lake of Geneva. But he made them
his own by smelting the rough ore into bell metal. He brewed a cauldron
like that of Macbeth's witches, and from it arose the images of crowned
kings. If he did not bring a new idea into the world, he quadrupled the
force of existing ideas and scattered them far and wide. Southern critics
have maintained that he had a southern nature and was in his true element
on the Lido or under an Andalusian night. Others dwell on the English
pride that went along with his Italian habits and Greek sympathies. The
truth is, he had the power of making himself poetically everywhere at
home; and this, along with the fact of all his writings being perfectly
intelligible, is the secret of his European influence. He was a citizen of
the world; because he not only painted the environs, but reflected the
passions and aspirations of every scene amid which he dwelt.

A disparaging critic has said, "Byron is nothing without his
descriptions." The remark only emphasizes the fact that his genius was not
dramatic. All non-dramatic art is concerned with bringing before us
pictures of the world, the value of which lies half in their truth, half
in the amount of human interest with which they are invested. To
scientific accuracy few poets can lay claim, and Byron less than most; but
the general truth of his descriptions is acknowledged by all who have
travelled in the same countries. The Greek verses of his first
pilgrimage,--e.g. the night scene on the Gulf of Arta, many of the
Albanian sketches, with much of the _Siege of Corinth_ and the _Giaour_
--have been invariably commended for their vivid realism. Attention has
been especially directed to the lines in the _Corsair_ beginning--

But, lo! from high Hymettus to the plain,

as being the veritable voice of one

Spell-bound, within the clustering Cyclades.

The opening lines of the same canto, transplanted from the _Curse of
Minerva_, are even more suggestive:--

Slow sinks, more lovely ere his race be run,
Along Morea's hill the setting sun,
Not, as in northern climes, obscurely bright,
But one unclouded blaze of living light, &c.

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