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Critical and Historical Essays Volume 2 by Thomas Babington Macaulay

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deportment. She shudders when Burke enters the Hall at the head
of the Commons. She pronounces him the cruel oppressor of an
innocent man. She is at a loss to conceive how the managers can
look at the defendant, and not blush. Windham comes to her from
the manager's box, to offer her refreshment. "But," says she, "I
could not break bread with him." Then, again, she exclaims, "Ah,
Mr. Windham, how can you ever engage in so cruel, so unjust a
cause?" "Mr. Burke saw me," she says, "and he bowed with the most
marked civility of manner." This, be it observed, was just after
his opening speech, a speech which had produced a mighty effect,
and which, certainly, no other orator that ever lived, could have
made. "My curtsy," she continues, "was the most ungrateful,
distant and cold; I could not do otherwise; so hurt I felt to see
him the head of such a cause." Now, not only had Burke treated
her with constant kindness, but the very last act which he
performed on the day on which he was turned out of the Pay
Office, about four years before this trial, was to make Dr.
Burney organist of Chelsea Hospital. When, at the Westminster
election, Dr. Burney was divided between his gratitude for this
favour and his Tory opinions, Burke in the noblest manner
disclaimed all right to exact a sacrifice of principle. "You have
little or no obligations to me," he wrote; "but if you had as
many as I really wish it were in my power, as it is certainly in
my desire, to lay on you, I hope you do not think me capable of
conferring them, in order to subject your mind or your affairs to
a painful and mischievous servitude." Was this a man to be
uncivilly treated by a daughter of Dr. Burney, because she chose
to differ from him respecting a vast and most complicated
question, which he had studied deeply during many years, and
which she had never studied at all? It is clear, from Miss
Burney's own narrative, that when she behaved so unkindly to Mr.
Burke, she did not even know of what Hastings was accused. One
thing, however, she must have known, that Burke had been able to
convince a House of Commons, bitterly prejudiced against himself,
that the charges were well founded, and that Pitt and Dundas had
concurred with Fox and Sheridan, in supporting the impeachment.
Surely a woman of far inferior abilities to Miss Burney might
have been expected to see that this never could have happened
unless there had been a strong case against the late Governor-
General. And there was, as all reasonable men now admit, a strong
case against him. That there were great public services to be set
off against his great crimes is perfectly true. But his services
and his crimes were equally unknown to the lady who so
confidently asserted his perfect innocence, and imputed to his
accusers, that is to say, to all the greatest men of all parties
in the State, not merely error, but gross injustice and

She had, it is true, occasionally seen Mr. Hastings, and had
found his manners and conversation agreeable. But surely she
could not be so weak as to infer from the gentleness of his
deportment in a drawing-room, that he was incapable of committing
a great State crime, under the influence of ambition and revenge.
A silly Miss, fresh from a boarding school, might fall into such
a mistake; but the woman who had drawn the character of Mr.
Monckton should have known better.

The truth is that she had been too long at Court. She was sinking
into a slavery worse than that of the body. The iron was
beginning to enter into the soul. Accustomed during many months
to watch the eye of a mistress, to receive with boundless
gratitude the slightest mark of royal condescension, to feel
wretched at every symptom of royal displeasure, to associate only
with spirits long tamed and broken in, she was degenerating into
something fit for her place. Queen Charlotte was a violent
partisan of Hastings, had received presents from him, and had so
far departed from the severity of her virtue as to lend her
countenance to his wife, whose conduct had certainly been as
reprehensible as that of any of the frail beauties who were then
rigidly excluded from the English Court. The King, it was well
known, took the same side. To the King and Queen all the members
of the household looked submissively for guidance. The
impeachment, therefore, was an atrocious persecution; the
managers were rascals; the defendant was the most deserving and
the worst used man in the kingdom. This was the cant of the whole
palace, from Gold Stick in Waiting, down to the Table-Deckers and
Yeoman of the Silver Scullery; and Miss Burney canted like the
rest, though in livelier tones, and with less bitter feelings.

The account which she has given of the King's illness contains
much excellent narrative and description, and will, we think, be
as much valued by the historians of a future age as any equal
portion of Pepys's or Evelyn's Diaries. That account shows also
how affectionate and compassionate her nature was. But it shows
also, we must say, that her way of life was rapidly impairing her
powers of reasoning and her sense of justice. We do not mean to
discuss, in this place, the question, whether the views of Mr.
Pitt or those of Mr. Fox respecting the regency were the more
correct. It is, indeed, quite needless to discuss that question:
for the censure of Miss Burney falls alike on Pitt and Fox, on
majority and minority. She is angry with the House of Commons for
presuming to inquire whether the King was mad or not, and whether
there was a chance of his recovering his senses. "A melancholy
day," she writes; "news bad both at home and, abroad. At home the
dear unhappy king still worse; abroad new examinations voted of
the physicians. Good heavens! what an insult does this seem from
Parliamentary power, to investigate and bring forth to the world
every circumstance of such a malady as is ever held sacred to
secrecy in the most private families! How indignant we all feel
here, no words can say." It is proper to observe, that the motion
which roused all this indignation at Kew was made by Mr. Pitt
himself. We see, therefore, that the loyalty of the Minister, who
was then generally regarded as the most heroic champion of his
Prince, was lukewarm indeed when compared with the boiling zeal
which filled the pages of the backstairs and the women of the
bedchamber. Of the Regency Bill, Pitt's own bill, Miss Burney
speaks with horror. "I shuddered," she says, to hear it named."
And again, "Oh, how dreadful will be the day when that unhappy
bill takes place! I cannot approve the plan of it." The truth is
that Mr. Pitt, whether a wise and upright statesman or not, was a
statesman; and whatever motives he might have for imposing
restrictions on the regent, felt that in some way or other there
must be some provision made for the execution of some part of the
kingly office, or that no government would be left in the
country. But this was a matter of which the household never
thought. It never occurred, as far as we can see, to the Exons
and Keepers of the Robes, that it was necessary that there should
be somewhere or other a power in the State to pass laws, to
preserve order, to pardon criminals, to fill up offices, to
negotiate with foreign governments, to command the army and navy.
Nay, these enlightened politicians, and Miss Burney among the
rest, seem to have thought that any person who considered the
subject with reference to the public interest, showed himself to
be a bad-hearted man. Nobody wonders at this in a gentleman
usher; but it is melancholy to see genius sinking into such

During more than two years after the King's recovery, Frances
dragged on a miserable existence at the palace. The consolations
which had for a time mitigated the wretchedness of servitude were
one by one withdrawn. Mrs. Delany, whose society had been a great
resource when the Court was at Windsor, was now dead. One of the
gentlemen of the royal establishment, Colonel Digby, appears to
have been a man of sense, of taste, of some reading, and of
prepossessing manners. Agreeable associates were scarce in the
prison house, and he and Miss Burney therefore naturally became
attached to each other. She owns that she valued him as a friend;
and it would not have been strange if his attentions had led her
to entertain for him a sentiment warmer than friendship. He
quitted the Court, and married in a way which astonished Miss
Burney greatly, and which evidently wounded her feelings, and
lowered him in her esteem. The palace grew duller and duller;
Madame Schwellenberg became more and more savage and insolent;
and now the health of poor Frances began to give way; and all who
saw her pale face, her emaciated figure, and her feeble walk,
predicted that her sufferings would soon be over.

Frances uniformly speaks of her royal mistress, and of the
princesses, with respect and affection. The princesses seem to
have well deserved all the praise which is bestowed on them in
the Diary. They were, we doubt not, most amiable women. But "the
sweet Queen," as she is constantly called in these volumes, is
not by any means an object of admiration to us. She had
undoubtedly sense enough to know what kind of deportment suited
her high station, and self-command enough to maintain that
deportment invariably. She was, in her intercourse with Miss
Burney, generally gracious and affable, sometimes, when
displeased, cold and reserved, but never, under any
circumstances, rude, peevish, or violent. She knew how to
dispense, gracefully and skilfully, those little civilities
which, when paid by a sovereign, are prized at many times their
intrinsic value; how to pay a compliment; how to lend a book; how
to ask after a relation. But she seems to have been utterly
regardless of the comfort, the health, the life of her
attendants, when her own convenience was concerned. Weak,
feverish, hardly able to stand, Frances had still to rise before
seven, in order to dress the sweet Queen, and to sit up till
midnight, in order to undress the sweet Queen. The indisposition
of the handmaid could not, and did not, escape the notice of her
royal mistress. But the established doctrine of the Court was,
that all sickness was to be considered as a pretence until it
proved fatal. The only way in which the invalid could clear
herself from the suspicion of malingering, as it is called in the
army, was to go on lacing and unlacing till she fell down dead at
the royal feet. "This," Miss Burney wrote, when she was suffering
cruelly from sickness, watching, and labour, "is by no means from
hardness of heart; far otherwise. There is no hardness of heart
in any one of them; but it is prejudice, and want of personal

Many strangers sympathised with the bodily and mental sufferings
of this distinguished woman. All who saw her saw that her frame
was sinking, that her heart was breaking. The last, it should
seem, to observe the change was her father. At length, in spite
of himself, his eyes were opened. In May 1790, his daughter had
an interview of three hours with him, the only long interview
which they had had since he took her to Windsor in 1786. She
told him that she was miserable, that she was worn with
attendance and want of sleep, that she had no comfort in life,
nothing to love, nothing to hope, that her family and her friends
were to her as though they were not, and were remembered by her
as men remember the dead. From daybreak to midnight the same
killing labour, the same recreations, more hateful than labour
itself, followed each other without variety, without any interval
of liberty and repose.

The Doctor was greatly dejected by this news; but was too good-
natured a man not to say that, if she wished to resign, his house
and arms were open to her. Still, however, he could not bear to
remove her from the Court. His veneration for royalty amounted in
truth to idolatry. It can be compared only to the grovelling
superstition of those Syrian devotees who made their children
pass through the fire to Moloch. When he induced his daughter to
accept the place of keeper of the robes, he entertained, as she
tells us, a hope that some worldly advantage or other, not set
down in the contract of service, would be the result of her
connection with the Court. What advantage he expected we do not
know, nor did he probably know himself. But, whatever he
expected, he certainly got nothing. Miss Burney had been hired
for board, lodging, and two hundred a year. Board, lodging, and
two hundred a year, she had duly received. We have looked
carefully through the Diary, in the hope of finding some trace of
those extraordinary benefactions on which the Doctor reckoned.
But we can discover only a promise, never performed, of a gown:
and for this promise Miss Burney was expected to return thanks,
such as might have suited the beggar with whom Saint Martin, in
the legend, divided his cloak. The experience of four years was,
however, insufficient to dispel the illusion which had taken
possession of the Doctor's mind; and between the dear father and
the sweet Queen, there seemed to be little doubt that some day or
other Frances would drop down a corpse. Six months had elapsed
since the interview between the parent and the daughter. The
resignation was not sent in. The sufferer grew worse and worse.
She took bark; but it soon ceased to produce a beneficial effect.
She was stimulated with wine; she was soothed with opium; but in
vain. Her breath began to fail. The whisper that she was in a
decline spread through the Court. The pains in her side became so
severe that she was forced to crawl from the card-table of the
old Fury to whom she was tethered, three or four times in an
evening for the purpose of taking hartshorn. Had she been a negro
slave, a humane planter would have excused her from work. But her
Majesty showed no mercy. Thrice a day the accursed bell still
rang; the Queen was still to be dressed for the morning at seven,
and to be dressed for the day at noon, and to be undressed at
midnight. But there had arisen, in literary and fashionable
society, a general feeling of compassion for Miss Burney, and of
indignation against both her father and the Queen. "Is it
possible," said a great French lady to the Doctor, "that your
daughter is in a situation where she is never allowed a holiday?"
Horace Walpole wrote to Frances, to express his sympathy.
Boswell, boiling over with good-natured rage, almost forced an
entrance into the palace to see her. "My dear ma'am, why do you
stay? It won't do, ma'am; you must resign. We can put up with it
no longer. Some very violent measures, I assure you, will be
taken. We shall address Dr. Burney in a body." Burke and
Reynolds, though less noisy, were zealous in the same cause.
Windham spoke to Dr. Burney; but found him still irresolute. "I
will set the club upon him," cried Windham; "Miss Burney has some
very true admirers there, and I am sure they will eagerly
assist." Indeed the Burney family seem to have been apprehensive
that some public affront such as the Doctor's unpardonable folly,
to use the mildest term, had richly deserved, would be put upon
him. The medical men spoke out, and plainly told him that his
daughter must resign or die.

At last paternal affection, medical authority, and the voice of
all London crying shame, triumphed over Dr. Burney's love of
courts. He determined that Frances should write a letter of
resignation. It was with difficulty that, though her life was at
stake, she mustered spirit to put the paper into the Queen's
hands. "I could not," so runs the Diary, "summon courage to
present my memorial; my heart always failed me from seeing the
Queen's entire freedom from such an expectation. For though I was
frequently so ill in her presence that I could hardly stand, I
saw she concluded me, while life remained, inevitably hers."

At last with a trembling hand the paper was delivered. Then came
the storm. Juno, as in the Aeneid, delegated the work of
vengeance to Alecto. The Queen was calm and gentle; but Madame
Schwellenberg raved like a maniac in the incurable ward of
Bedlam! Such insolence! Such ingratitude! Such folly! Would Miss
Burney bring utter destruction on herself and her family? Would
she throw away the inestimable advantage of royal protection?
Would she part with privileges which, once relinquished, could
never be regained? It was idle to talk of health and life. If
people could not live in the palace, the best thing that could
befall them was to die in it. The resignation was not accepted.
The language of the medical men became stronger and stronger. Dr.
Burney's parental fears were fully roused; and he explicitly
declared, in a letter meant to be shown to the Queen, that his
daughter must retire. The Schwellenberg raged like a wild cat. "A
scene almost horrible ensued," says Miss Burney. "She was too
much enraged for disguise, and uttered the most furious
expressions of indignant contempt at our proceedings. I am sure
she would gladly have confined us both in the Bastile, had
England such a misery, as a fit place to bring us to ourselves,
from a daring so outrageous against imperial wishes." This
passage deserves notice, as being the only one in the Diary, so
far as we have observed, which shows Miss Burney to have been
aware that she was a native of a free country, that she could not
be pressed for a waiting-maid against her will, and that she had
just as good a right to live, if she chose, in Saint Martin's
Street, as Queen Charlotte had to live at Saint James's.

The Queen promised that, after the next birthday, Miss Burney
should be set at liberty. But the promise was ill kept; and her
Majesty showed displeasure at being reminded of it. At length
Frances was informed that in a fortnight her attendance should
cease. "I heard this," she says, "with a fearful presentiment I
should surely never go through another fortnight, in so weak and
languishing and painful a state of health. . . . As the time of
separation approached, the Queen's cordiality rather diminished,
and traces of internal displeasure appeared sometimes, arising
from an opinion I ought rather to have struggled on, live or die,
than to quit her. Yet I am sure she saw how poor was my own
chance, except by a change in the mode of life, and at least
ceased to wonder, though she could not approve." Sweet Queen!
What noble candour, to admit that the undutifulness of people,
who did not think the honour of adjusting her tuckers worth the
sacrifice of their own lives, was, though highly criminal, not
altogether unnatural!

We perfectly understand her Majesty's contempt for the lives of
others where her own pleasure was concerned. But what pleasure
she can have found in having Miss Burney about her, it is not so
easy to comprehend. That Miss Burney was an eminently skilful
keeper of the robes is not very probable. Few women, indeed, had
paid less attention to dress. Now and then, in the course of five
years, she had been asked to read aloud or to write a copy of
verses. But better readers might easily have been found: and her
verses were worse than even the Poet Laureate's Birthday Odes.
Perhaps that economy, which was among her Majesty's most
conspicuous virtues, had something to do with her conduct on this
occasion. Miss Burney had never hinted that she expected a
retiring pension; and indeed would gladly have given the little
that she had for freedom. But her Majesty knew what the public
thought, and what became her own dignity. She could
not for very shame suffer a woman of distinguished genius, who
had quitted a lucrative career to wait on her, who had served her
faithfully for a pittance during five years, and whose
constitution had been impaired by labour and watching, to leave
the Courts without some mark of royal liberality. George the
Third, who, on all occasions where Miss Burney was concerned,
seems to have behaved like an honest, good-natured gentleman,
felt this, and said plainly that she was entitled to a provision.
At length, in return for all the misery which she had undergone,
and for the health which she had sacrificed, an annuity of one
hundred pounds was granted to her, dependent on the Queen's

Then the prison was opened, and Frances was free once more.
Johnson, as Burke observed, might have added a striking page to
his poem on the Vanity of Human Wishes, if he had lived to see
his little Burney as she went into the palace and as she came out
of it.

The pleasures, so long untasted, of liberty, of friendship, of
domestic affection, were almost too acute for her shattered
frame. But happy days and tranquil nights soon restored the
health which the Queen's toilette and Madame Schwellenberg's
card-table had impaired. Kind and anxious faces surrounded the
invalid. Conversation the most polished and brilliant revived her
spirits. Travelling was recommended to her; and she rambled by
easy journeys from cathedral to cathedral, and from watering-
place to watering-place. She crossed the New Forest, and visited
Stonehenge and Wilton, the cliffs of Lyme, and the beautiful
valley of Sidmouth. Thence she journeyed by Powderham Castle, and
by the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey to Bath, and from Bath, when
the winter was approaching, returned well and cheerful to London.
There she visited her old dungeon, and found her successor
already far on the way to the grave, and kept to strict duty,
from morning till midnight, with a sprained ankle and a nervous

At this time England swarmed with French exiles, driven from
their country by the Revolution. A colony of these refugees
settled at Juniper Hall, in Surrey, not far from Norbury Park,
where Mr. Lock, an intimate friend of the Burney family, resided.
Frances visited Norbury, and was introduced to the strangers. She
had strong prejudices against them; for her Toryism was far
beyond, we do not say that of Mr. Pitt, but that of Mr. Reeves;
and the inmates of Juniper Hall were all attached to the
constitution of 1791, and were therefore more detested by the
royalists of the first emigration than Petion or Marat. But such
a woman as Miss Burney could not long resist the fascination of
that remarkable society. She had lived with Johnson and Windham,
with Mrs. Montague and Mrs. Thrale. Yet she was forced to own
that she had never heard conversation before. The most animated
eloquence, the keenest observation, the most sparkling wit, the
most courtly grace, were united to charm her. For Madame de Stael
was there, and M. de Talleyrand. There too was M. de Narbonne, a
noble representative of French aristocracy; and with M. de
Narbonne was his friend and follower General D'Arblay, an
honourable and amiable man, with a handsome person, frank
soldierlike manners, and some taste for letters.

The prejudices which Frances had conceived against the
constitutional royalists of France rapidly vanished. She listened
with rapture to Talleyrand and Madame de Stael, joined with M.
D'Arblay in execrating the Jacobins and in weeping for the
unhappy Bourbons, took French lessons from him, fell in love with
him, and married him on no better provision than a precarious
annuity of one hundred pounds.

Here the Diary stops for the present. We will, therefore, bring
our narrative to a speedy close, by rapidly recounting the most
important events which we know to have befallen Madame D'Arblay
during the latter part of her life.

M. D'Arblay's fortune had perished in the general wreck of the
French Revolution; and in a foreign country his talents, whatever
they may have been, could scarcely make him rich. The task of
providing for the family devolved on his wife. In the year 1796,
she published by subscription her third novel, Camilla. It was
impatiently expected by the public; and the sum which she
obtained for it was, we believe, greater than had ever at that
time been received for a novel. We have heard that she cleared
more than three thousand guineas. But we give this merely as a
rumour. Camilla, however, never attained popularity like that
which Evelina and Cecilia had enjoyed; and it must be allowed
that there was a perceptible falling off, not indeed in humour or
in power of portraying character, but in grace and in purity of

We have heard that, about this time, a tragedy by Madame D'Arblay
was performed without success. We do not know whether it was ever
printed; nor indeed have we had time to make any researches into
its history or merits.

During the short truce which followed the treaty of Amiens, M.
D'Arblay visited France. Lauriston and La Fayette represented his
claims to the French Government, and obtained a promise that he
should be reinstated in his military rank. M. D'Arblay, however,
insisted that he should never be required to serve against the
countrymen of his wife. The First Consul, of course, would not
hear of such a condition, and ordered the general's commission to
be instantly revoked.

Madame D'Arblay joined her husband in Paris, a short time before
the war of 1803 broke out, and remained in France ten years, cut
off from almost all intercourse with the land of her birth. At
length, when Napoleon was on his march to Moscow, she with great
difficulty obtained from his Ministers permission to visit her
own country, in company with her son, who was a native of
England. She returned in time to receive the last blessing of her
father, who died in his eighty-seventh year. In 1814 she
published her last novel, the Wanderer, a book which no judicious
friend to her memory will attempt to draw from the oblivion into
which it has justly fallen. In the same year her son Alexander
was sent to Cambridge. He obtained an honourable place among the
wranglers of his year, and was elected a fellow of Christ's
College. But his reputation at the University was higher than
might be inferred from his success in academical contests. His
French education had not fitted him for the examinations of the
Senate House; but, in pure mathematics, we have been assured by
some of his competitors that he had very few equals. He went
into the Church, and it was thought likely that he would attain
high eminence as a preacher; but he died before his mother. All
that we have heard of him leads us to believe that he was a son
as such a mother deserved to have. In 1832, Madame D'Arblay
published the Memoirs of her father; and on the sixth of January,
1840, she died in her eighty-eighth year.

We now turn from the life of Madame D'Arblay to her writings.
There can, we apprehend, be little difference of opinion as to
the nature of her merit, whatever differences may exist as to its
degree. She was emphatically what Johnson called her, a
character-monger. It was in the exhibition of human passions and
whims that her strength lay; and in this department of art she
had, we think, very distinguished skill.

But, in order that we may, according to our duty as kings at
arms, versed in the laws of literary precedence, marshal her to
the exact scat to which she is entitled, we must carry our
examination somewhat further.

There is, in one respect, a remarkable analogy between the faces
and the minds of men. No two faces are alike; and yet very few
faces deviate very widely from the common standard. Among the
eighteen hundred thousand human beings who inhabit London, there
is not one who could be taken by his acquaintance for another;
yet we may walk from Paddington to Mile End without seeing one
person in whom any feature is so overcharged that we turn round
to stare at it. An infinite number of varieties lies between
limits which are not very far asunder. The specimens which pass
those limits on either side, form a very small minority.

It is the same with the characters of men. Here, too, the variety
passes all enumeration. But the cases in which the deviation from
the common standing is striking and grotesque, are very few. In
one mind avarice predominates; in another, pride; in a third,
love of pleasure; just as in one countenance the nose is the most
marked feature, while in others the chief expression lies in the
brow, or in the lines of the mouth. But there are very few
countenances in which nose, brow, and mouth do not contribute,
though in unequal degrees, to the general effect; and so there
are very few characters in which one overgrown propensity makes
all others utterly insignificant.

It is evident that a portrait painter, who was able only to
represent faces and figures such as those which we pay money to
see at fairs, would not, however spirited his execution might be,
take rank among the highest artists. He must always be placed
below those who have skill to seize peculiarities which do not
amount to deformity. The slighter those peculiarities, the
greater is the merit of the limner who can catch them and
transfer them to his canvas. To paint Daniel Lambert or the
living skeleton, the pig-faced lady or the Siamese twins, so that
nobody can mistake them, is an exploit within the reach of a
sign-painter. A third-rate artist might give us the squint of
Wilkes, and the depressed nose and protuberant cheeks of Gibbon.
It would require a much higher degree of skill to paint two such
men as Mr. Canning and Sir Thomas Lawrence, so that nobody who
had ever seen them could for a moment hesitate to assign each
picture to its original. Here the mere caricaturist would be
quite at fault. He would find in neither face anything on which
he could lay hold for the purpose of making a distinction. Two
ample bald foreheads, two regular profiles, two full faces of the
same oval form, would baffle his art; and he would be reduced to
the miserable shift of writing their names at the foot of his
picture. Yet there was a great difference; and a person who had
seen them once would no more have mistaken one of them for the
other than he would have mistaken Mr. Pitt for Mr. Fox. But the
difference lay in delicate lineaments and shades, reserved for
pencils of a rare order.

This distinction runs through all the imitative arts. Foote's
mimicry was exquisitely ludicrous, but it was all caricature. He
could take off only some strange peculiarity, a stammer or a
lisp, a Northumbrian burr or an Irish brogue, a stoop or a
shuffle. "If a man," said Johnson, "hops on one leg, Foote can
hop on one leg." Garrick, on the other hand, could seize those
differences of manner and pronunciation, which, though highly
characteristic, are yet too slight to be described. Foote, we
have no doubt, could have made the Haymarket theatre shake with
laughter by imitating a conversation between a Scotchman and a
Somersetshireman. But Garrick could have imitated a conversation
between two fashionable men, both models of the best breeding,
Lord Chesterfield, for example, and Lord Albemarle, so that no
person could doubt which was which, although no person could say
that, in any point, either Lord Chesterfield or Lord Albemarle
spoke or moved otherwise than in conformity with the usages of
the best society.

The same distinction is found in the drama and in fictitious
narrative. Highest among those who have exhibited human nature by
means of dialogue, stands Shakspeare. His variety is like the
variety of nature, endless diversity, scarcely any monstrosity.
The characters of which he has given us an impression, as vivid
as that which we receive from the characters of our own
associates, are to be reckoned by scores. Yet in all these scores
hardly one character is to be found which deviates widely from
the common standard, and which we should call very eccentric if
we met it in real life. The silly notion that every man has one
ruling passion, and that this clue, once known, unravels all the
mysteries of his conduct, finds no countenance in the plays of
Shakspeare. There man appears as he is, made up of a crowd of
passions, which contend for the mastery over him, and govern him
in turn. What is Hamlet's ruling passion? Or Othello's? Or Harry
the Fifth's? Or Wolsey's? Or Lear's? Or Shylock's? Or Benedick's?
Or Macbeth's? Or that of Cassius? Or that of Falconbridge? But we
might go on for ever. Take a single example, Shylock. Is he so
eager for money as to be indifferent to revenge? Or so eager for
revenge as to be indifferent to money? Or so bent on both
together as to be indifferent to the honour of his nation and the
law of Moses? All his propensities are mingled with each other,
so that, in trying to apportion to each its proper part, we find
the same difficulty which constantly meets us in real life. A
superficial critic may say, that hatred is Shylock's ruling
passion. But how many passions have amalgamated to form that
hatred? It is partly the result of wounded pride: Antonio has
called him dog. It is partly the result of covetousness: Antonio
has hindered him of half a million; and, when Antonio is gone,
there will be no limit to the gains of usury. It is partly the
result of national and religious feeling: Antonio has spit on the
Jewish gaberdine; and the oath of revenge has been sworn by the
Jewish Sabbath. We might go through all the characters which we
have mentioned, and through fifty more in the same way; for it is
the constant manner of Shakspeare to represent the human mind as
lying, not under the absolute dominion of one despotic
propensity, but under a mixed government, in which a hundred
powers balance each other. Admirable as he was in all parts of
his art, we most admire him for this, that while he has left us a
greater number of striking portraits than all other dramatists
put together, he has scarcely left us a single caricature.

Shakspeare has had neither equal nor second. But among the
writers who, in the point which we have noticed, have approached
nearest to the manner of the great master, we have no hesitation
in placing Jane Austen, a woman of whom England is justly proud.
She has given us a multitude of characters, all, in a certain
sense, commonplace, all such as we meet every day. Yet they are
all as perfectly discriminated from each other as if they were
the most eccentric of human beings. There are, for example, four
clergymen, none of whom we should be surprised to find in any
parsonage in the kingdom, Mr. Edward Ferrers, Mr. Henry Tilney,
Mr. Edmund Bertram, and Mr. Elton. They are all specimens of the
upper part of the middle class. They have all been liberally
educated. They all lie under the restraints of the same sacred
profession. They are all young. They are all in love. Not one of
them has any hobbyhorse, to use the phrase of Sterne. Not one has
a ruling passion, such as we read of in Pope. Who would not have
expected them to be insipid likenesses of each other? No such
thing. Harpagun is not more unlike to Jourdain, Joseph Surface is
not more unlike to Sir Lucius O'Trigger, than every one of Miss
Austen's young divines to all his reverend brethren. And almost
all this is done by touches so delicate, that they elude
analysis, that they defy the powers of description, and that we
know them to exist only by the general effect to which they have

A line must be drawn, we conceive, between artists of this class,
and those poets and novelists whose skill lies in the exhibiting
of what Ben Jonson called humours. The words of Ben are so much
to the purpose that we will quote them:

"When some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers,
In their confluxions all to run one way,
This may be truly said to be a humour."

There are undoubtedly persons, in whom humours such as Ben
describes have attained a complete ascendency. The avarice of
Elwes, the insane desire of Sir Egerton Brydges for a barony to
which he had no more right than to the crown of Spain, the
malevolence which long meditation on imaginary wrongs generated
in the gloomy mind of Bellingham, are instances. The feeling
which animated Clarkson and other virtuous men against the slave-
trade and slavery, is an instance of a more honourable kind.

Seeing that such humours exist, we cannot deny that they are
proper subjects for the imitations of art. But we conceive that
the imitation of such humours, however skilful and amusing, is
not an achievement of the highest order; and, as such humours are
rare in real life, they ought, we conceive, to be sparingly
introduced into works which profess to be pictures of real life.
Nevertheless, the writer may show so much genius in the
exhibition of these humours as to be fairly entitled to a
distinguished and permanent rank among classics. The chief seats
of all, however, the places on the dais and under the canopy, are
reserved for the few who have excelled in the difficult art of
portraying characters in which no single feature is extravagantly

If we have expounded the law soundly, we can have no difficulty
in applying it to the particular case before us. Madame D'Arblay
has left us scarcely anything but humours. Almost every one of
her men and women has some one propensity developed to a morbid
degree. In Cecilia, for example, Mr. Delvile never opens his lips
without some allusion to his own birth and station; or Mr.
Briggs, without some allusion to the hoarding of money; or Mr.
Hobson, without betraying the self-indulgence and self-importance
of a purse-proud up start; or Mr. Simkins, without uttering some
sneaking remark for the purpose of currying favour with his
customers; or Mr. Meadows, without expressing apathy and
weariness of life; or Mr. Albany, without declaiming about the
vices of the rich and the misery of the poor; or Mrs. Belfield,
without some indelicate eulogy on her son; or Lady Margaret,
without indicating jealousy of her husband. Morrice is all
skipping, officious impertinence, Mr. Gosport all sarcasm, Lady
Honoria all lively prattle, Miss Larolles all silly prattle. If
ever Madame D'Arblay aimed at more, we do not think that she
succeeded well.

We are, therefore, forced to refuse to Madame D'Arblay a place in
the highest rank of art; but we cannot deny that, in the rank to
which she belonged, she had few equals, and scarcely any
superior. The variety of humours which is to be found in her
novels is immense; and though the talk of each person separately
is monotonous, the general effect is not monotony, but a very
lively and agreeable diversity. Her plots are rudely constructed
and improbable, if we consider them in themselves. But they are
admirably framed for the purpose of exhibiting striking groups of
eccentric characters, each governed by his own peculiar whim,
each talking his own peculiar jargon, and each bringing out by
opposition the oddities of all the rest. We will give one example
out of many which occur to us. All probability is violated in
order to bring Mr. Delvile, Mr. Briggs, Mr. Hobson, and Mr.
Albany into a room together. But when we have them there, we soon
forget probability in the exquisitely ludicrous effect which is
produced by the conflict of four old fools, each raging with a
monomania of his own, each talking a dialect of his own, and each
inflaming all the others anew every time he opens his mouth.

Madame D'Arblay was most successful in comedy, and indeed in
comedy which bordered on farce. But we are inclined to infer from
some passages, both in Cecilia and Camilla, that she might have
attained equal distinction in the pathetic. We have formed this
judgment, less from those ambitious scenes of distress which lie
near the catastrophe of each of those novels, than from some
exquisite strokes of natural tenderness which take us here and
there by surprise. We would mention as examples, Mrs. Hill's
account of her little boy's death in Cecilia, and the parting of
Sir Hugh Tyrold and Camilla, when the honest baronet thinks
himself dying.

It is melancholy to think that the whole fame of Madame D'Arblay
rests on what she did during the earlier half of her life, and
that everything which she published during the forty-three years
which preceded her death, lowered her reputation. Yet we have no
reason to think that at the time when her faculties ought to have
been in their maturity, they were smitten with any blight. In the
Wanderer, we catch now and then a gleam of her genius. Even in
the Memoirs of her father, there is no trace of dotage. They are
very bad; but they are so, as it seems to us, not from a decay of
power, but from a total perversion of power.

The truth is, that Madame D'Arblay's style underwent a gradual
and most pernicious change, a change which, in degree at least,
we believe to be unexampled in literary history, and of which it
may be useful to trace the progress.

When she wrote her letters to Mr. Crisp, her early journals, and
her first novel, her style was not indeed brilliant or energetic;
but it was easy, clear, and free from all offensive faults. When
she wrote Cecilia she aimed higher. She had then lived much in a
circle of which Johnson was the centre; and she was herself one
of his most submissive worshippers. It seems never to have
crossed her mind that the style even of his best writings was by
no means faultless, and that even had it been faultless, it might
not be wise in her to imitate it. Phraseology which is proper in
a disquisition on the Unities, or in a preface to a Dictionary,
may be quite out of place in a tale of fashionable life. Old
gentlemen do not criticise the reigning modes, nor do young
gentlemen make love, with the balanced epithets and sonorous
cadences which, on occasions of great dignity, a skilful writer
may use with happy effect.

In an evil hour the author of Evelina took the Rambler for her
model. This would not have been wise even if she could have
imitated her pattern as well as Hawkesworth did. But such
imitation was beyond her power. She had her own style. It was a
tolerably good one; and might, without any violent change, have
been improved into a very good one. She determined to throw it
away, and to adopt a style in which she could attain excellence
only by achieving an almost miraculous victory over nature and
over habit. She could cease to be Fanny Burney; it was not so
easy to become Samuel Johnson.

In Cecilia the change of manner began to appear. But in Cecilia
the imitation of Johnson, though not always in the best taste, is
sometimes eminently happy; and the passages which are so verbose
as to be positively offensive, are few. There were people who
whispered that Johnson had assisted his young friend, and that
the novel owed all its finest passages to his hand. This was
merely the fabrication of envy. Miss Burney's real excellences
were as much beyond the reach of Johnson, as his real excellences
were beyond her reach. He could no more have written the
Masquerade scene, or the Vauxhall scene, than she could have
written the Life of Cowley or the Review of Soame Jenyns. But we
have not the smallest doubt that he revised Cecilia, and that he
retouched the style of many passages. We know that he was in the
habit of giving assistance of this kind most freely. Goldsmith,
Hawkesworth, Boswell, Lord Hailes, Mrs. Williams, were among
those who obtained his help. Nay, he even corrected the poetry of
Mr. Crabbe, whom, we believe, he had never seen. When Miss Burney
thought of writing a comedy, he promised to give her his best
counsel, though he owned that he was not particularly well
qualified to advise on matters relating to the stage. We
therefore think it in the highest degree improbable that his
little Fanny, when living in habits of the most affectionate
intercourse with him, would have brought out an important work
without consulting him; and, when we look into Cecilia, we see
such traces of his hand in the grave and elevated passages as it
is impossible to mistake. Before we conclude this article, we
will give two or three examples.

When next Madame D'Arblay appeared before the world as a writer,
she was in a very different situation. She would not content
herself with the simple English in which Evelina had been
written. She had no longer the friend who, we are confident, had
polished and strengthened the style of Cecilia. She had to write
in Johnson's manner without Johnson's aid. The consequence was,
that in Camilla every passage which she meant to be fine is
detestable; and that the book has been saved from condemnation
only by the admirable spirit and force of those scenes in which
she was content to be familiar.

But there was to be a still deeper descent. After the publication
of Camilla, Madame D'Arblay resided ten years at Paris. During
those years there was scarcely any intercourse between France and
England. It was with difficulty that a short letter could
occasionally be transmitted. All Madame D'Arblay's companions
were French. She must have written, spoken, thought, in French.
Ovid expressed his fear that a shorter exile might have affected
the purity of his Latin. During a shorter exile, Gibbon unlearned
his native English. Madame D'Arblay had carried a bad style to
France. She brought back a style which we are really at a loss to
describe. It is a sort of broken Johnsonese, a barbarous patois,
bearing the same relation to the language of Rasselas, which the
gibberish of the negroes of Jamaica bears to the English of the
House of Lords. Sometimes it reminds us of the finest, that is to
say, the vilest parts, of Mr. Galt's novels; sometimes of the
perorations of Exeter Hall; sometimes of the leading articles of
the Morning Post. But it most resembles the puffs of Mr. Rowland
and Dr. Goss. It matters not what ideas are clothed in such a
style. The genius of Shakspeare and Bacon united, would not save
a work so written from general derision.

It is only by means of specimens that we can enable our readers
to judge how widely Madame D'Arblay's three styles differed from
each other.

The following passage was written before she became intimate with
Johnson. It is from Evelina:

"His son seems weaker in his understanding, and more gay in his
temper; but his gaiety is that of a foolish overgrown schoolboy,
whose mirth consists in noise and disturbance. He disdains his
father for his close attention to business and love of money,
though he seems himself to have no talents, spirit, or generosity
to make him superior to either. His chief delight appears to be
in tormenting and ridiculing his sisters, who in return most
cordially despise him. Miss Branghton, the eldest daughter, is by
no means ugly; but looks proud, ill-tempered, and conceited. She
hates the city, though without knowing why; for it is easy to
discover she has lived nowhere else. Miss Polly Branghton is
rather pretty, very foolish, very ignorant, very giddy, and, I
believe, very good-natured."

This is not a fine style, but simple, perspicuous, and agreeable.
We now come to Cecilia, written during Miss Burney's intimacy
with Johnson; and we leave it to our readers to judge whether the
following passage was not at least corrected by his hand:

"It is rather an imaginary than an actual evil, and though a deep
wound to pride, no offence to morality. Thus have I laid open to
you my whole heart, confessed my perplexities, acknowledged my
vainglory, and exposed with equal sincerity the sources of my
doubts, and the motives of my decision. But now, indeed, how to
proceed I know not. The difficulties which are yet to encounter I
fear to enumerate, and the petition I have to urge I have scarce
courage to mention. My family, mistaking ambition for honour, and
rank for dignity, have long planned a splendid connection for me,
to which, though my invariable repugnance has stopped any
advances, their wishes and their views immoveably adhere. I am
but too certain they will now listen to no other. I dread,
therefore, to make a trial where I despair of success. I know not
how to risk a prayer with those who may silence me by a command."

Take now a specimen of Madame D'Arblay's later style. This is the
way in which she tells us that her father, on his journey back
from the Continent, caught the rheumatism.

"He was assaulted, during his precipitated return, by the rudest
fierceness of wintry elemental strife; through which, with bad
accommodations and innumerable accidents, he became a prey to the
merciless pangs of the acutest spasmodic rheumatism, which barely
suffered him to reach his home, ere, long and piteously, it
confined him, a tortured prisoner, to his bed. Such was the cheek
that almost instantly curbed, though it could not subdue, the
rising pleasure of his hopes of entering upon a new species of
existence--that of an approved man of letters; for it was on the
bed of sickness, exchanging the light wines of France, Italy, and
Germany, for the black and loathsome potions of the Apothecaries'
Hall, writhed by darting stitches, and burning with fiery fever,
that he felt the full force of that sublunary equipoise that
seems evermore to hang suspended over the attainment of long-
sought and uncommon felicity, just as it is ripening to burst
forth with enjoyment."

Here is a second passage from Evelina:

"Mrs. Selwyn is very kind and attentive to me. She is extremely
clever. Her understanding, indeed, may be called masculine; but
unfortunately her manners deserve the same epithet; for, in
studying to acquire the knowledge of the other sex, she has lost
all the softness of her own, In regard to myself, however, as I
have neither courage nor inclination to argue with her, I have
never been personally hurt at her want of gentleness, a virtue
which nevertheless seems so essential a part of the female
character, that I find myself more awkward and less at case with
a woman who wants it than I do with a man."

This is a good style of its kind; and the following passage from
Cecilia is also in a good style, though not in a faultless one.
We say with confidence, either Sam Johnson or the Devil:

"Even the imperious Mr. Delvile was more supportable here than in
London. Secure in his own castle, he looked round him with a
pride of power and possession which softened while it swelled
him. His superiority was undisputed: his will was without
control. He was not, as in the great capital of the kingdom,
surrounded by competitors. No rivalry disturbed his peace; no
equality mortified his greatness. All he saw were either vassals
of his power, or guests bending to his pleasure. He abated,
therefore, considerably tile stern gloom of his haughtiness, and
soothed his proud mind by the courtesy of condescension."

We will stake our reputation for critical sagacity on this, that
no such paragraph as that which we have last quoted, can be found
in any of Madame D'Arblay's works except Cecilia. Compare with it
the following sample of her later style.

"If beneficence be judged by the happiness which it diffuses,
whose claim, by that proof, shall stand higher than that of Mrs.
Montagu, from the munificence with which she celebrated her
festival for those hapless artificers who perform the most abject
offices, of any authorised calling, in being the active guardians
of our blazing hearths? Not to vainglory, then, but to kindness
of heart, should be adjudged the publicity of that superb charity
which made its jetty objects, for one bright morning, cease to
consider themselves as degraded outcasts from all society."

We add one or two shorter samples. Sheridan refused to permit his
lovely wife to sing in public, and was warmly praised on this
account by Johnson.

"The last of men," says Madame D'Arblay, "was Doctor Johnson to
have abetted squandering the delicacy of integrity by nullifying
the labours of talents."

The Club, Johnson's Club, did itself no honour by rejecting on
political grounds two distinguished men, one a Tory, the other a
Whig. Madame D'Arblay tells the story thus: "A similar ebullition
of political rancour with that which so difficultly had been
conquered for Mr. Canning foamed over the ballot box to the
exclusion of Mr. Rogers."

An offence punishable with imprisonment is, in this language, an
offence "which produces incarceration." To be starved to death is
"to sink from inanition into nonentity." Sir Isaac Newton is "the
developer of the skies in their embodied movements"; and Mrs.
Thrale, when a party of clever people sat silent, is said to have
been "provoked by the dulness of a taciturnity that, in the midst
of such renowned interlocutors, produced as narcotic a torpor as
could have been caused by a dearth the most barren of all human
faculties." In truth, it is impossible to look at any page of
Madame D'Arblay's later works without finding flowers of rhetoric
like these. Nothing in the language of those jargonists at whom
Mr. Gosport laughed, nothing in the language of Sir Sedley
Clarendel, approaches this new Euphuism.

It is from no unfriendly feeling to Madame D'Arblay's memory that
we have expressed ourselves so strongly on the subject of her
style. On the contrary, we conceive that we have really rendered
a service to her reputation. That her later works were complete
failures, is a fact too notorious to be dissembled: and some
persons, we believe, have consequently taken up a notion that she
was from the first an overrated writer, and that she had not the
powers which were necessary to maintain her on the eminence on
which good luck and fashion had placed her. We believe, on the
contrary, that her early popularity was no more than the just
reward of distinguished merit, and would never have undergone an
eclipse, if she had only been content to go on writing in her
mother tongue. If she failed when she quitted her own province,
and attempted to occupy one in which she had neither part nor
lot, this reproach is common to her with a crowd of distinguished
men. Newton failed when he turned from the courses of the stars,
and the ebb and flow of the ocean, to apocalyptic seals and
vials. Bentley failed when he turned from Homer and Aristophanes,
to edit the Paradise Lost. Inigo failed when he attempted to
rival the Gothic churches of the fourteenth century. Wilkie
failed when he took it into his head that the Blind Fiddler and
the Rent Day were unworthy of his powers, and challenged
competition with Lawrence as a portrait painter. Such failures
should be noted for the instruction of posterity; but they
detract little from the permanent reputation of those who have
really done great things.

Yet one word more. It is not only on account of the intrinsic
merit of Madame D'Arblay's early works that she is entitled to
honourable mention. Her appearance is an important epoch in our
literary history. Evelina was the first tale written by a woman,
and purporting to be a picture of life and manners, that lived or
deserved to live. The Female Quixote is no exception. That work
has undoubtedly great merit, when considered as a wild satirical
harlequinade; but, if we consider it as a picture of life and
manners, we must pronounce it more absurd than any of the
romances which it was designed to ridicule.

Indeed, most of the popular novels which preceded Evelina were
such as no lady would have written; and many of them were such as
no lady could without confusion own that she had read. The very
name of novel was held in horror among religious people. In
decent families, which did not profess extraordinary sanctity,
there was a strong feeling against all such works. Sir Anthony
Absolute, two or three years before Evelina appeared, spoke the
sense of the great body of sober fathers and husbands, when he
pronounced the circulating library an evergreen tree of
diabolical knowledge. This feeling on the part of the grave and
reflecting, increased the evil from which it had sprung. The
novelist having little character to lose, and having few readers
among serious people, took without scruple liberties which in our
generation seem almost incredible.

Miss Burney did for the English novel what Jeremy Collier did for
the English drama; and she did it in a better way. She first
showed that a tale might be written in which both the
fashionable and the vulgar life of London might be exhibited with
great force, and with broad comic humour, and which yet should
not contain a single line inconsistent with rigid morality, or
even with virgin delicacy. She took away the reproach which lay
on a most useful and delightful species of composition. She
vindicated the right of her sex to an equal share in a fair and
noble province of letters. Several accomplished women have
followed in her track. At present, the novels which we owe to
English ladies form no small part of the literary glory of our
country. No class of works is more honourably distinguished by
fine observation, by grace, by delicate wit, by pure moral
feeling. Several among the successors of Madame D'Arblay have
equalled her; two, we think, have surpassed her. But the fact
that she has been surpassed gives her an additional claim to our
respect and gratitude for, in truth, we owe to her not only
Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla, but also Mansfield Park and the


(June 1831)

Letters and Journals of Lord Byron; with Notices of his Life. By
THOMAS MOORE, Esq. 2 vols. 4to. London: 1830.

WE have read this book with the greatest pleasure. Considered
merely as a composition, it deserves to be classed among the best
specimens of English prose which our age has produced. It
contains, indeed, no single passage equal to two or three which
we could select from the Life of Sheridan. But, as a whole, it is
immeasurably superior to that work. The style is agreeable,
clear, and manly, and when it rises into eloquence, rises without
effort or ostentation. Nor is the matter inferior to the manner.
It would be difficult to name a book which exhibits more
kindness, fairness, and modesty. It has evidently been written,
not for the purpose of showing, what, however, it often shows,
how well its author can write, but for the purpose of
vindicating, as far as truth will permit, the memory of a
celebrated man who can no longer vindicate himself. Mr. Moore
never thrusts himself between Lord Byron and the public. With the
strongest temptations to egotism, he has said no more about
himself than the subject absolutely required.

A great part, indeed the greater part, of these volumes, consists
of extracts from the letters and journals of Lord Byron; and it
is difficult to speak too highly of the skill which has been
shown in the selection and arrangement. We will not say that we
have not occasionally remarked in these two large quartos an
anecdote which should have been omitted, a letter which should
have been suppressed, a name which should have been concealed by
asterisks, or asterisks which do not answer the purpose of
concealing the name. But it is impossible, on a general survey,
to deny that the task has been executed with great judgment and
great humanity. When we consider the life which Lord Byron had
led, his petulance, his irritability, and his communicativeness,
we cannot but admire the dexterity with which Mr. Moore has
contrived to exhibit so much of the character and opinions of his
friend, with so little pain to the feelings of the living.

The extracts from the journals and correspondence of Lord Byron
are in the highest degree valuable, not merely on account of the
information which they contain respecting the distinguished man
by whom they were written, but on account also of their rare
merit as compositions. The letters, at least those which were
sent from Italy, are among the best in our language. They are
less affected than those of Pope and Walpole; they have more
matter in them than those of Cowper. Knowing that many of them
were not written merely for the person to whom they were
directed, but were general epistles, meant to be read by a large
circle, we expected to find them clever and spirited, but
deficient in ease. We looked with vigilance for instances of
stiffness in the language and awkwardness in the transitions. We
have been agreeably disappointed; and we must confess that, if
the epistolary style of Lord Byron was artificial, it was a rare
and admirable instance of that highest art which cannot be
distinguished from nature.

Of the deep and painful interest which this book excites no
abstract can give a just notion. So sad and dark a story is
scarcely to be found in any work of fiction; and we are little
disposed to envy the moralist who can read it without being

The pretty fable by which the Duchess of Orleans illustrated the
character of her son the Regent might, with little change, be
applied to Byron. All the fairies, save one, had been bidden to
his cradle. All the gossips had been profuse of their gifts. One
had bestowed nobility, another genius, a third beauty. The
malignant elf who had been uninvited came last, and, unable to
reverse what her sisters had done for their favourite, had mixed
up a curse with every blessing. In the rank of Lord Byron, in his
understanding, in his character, in his very person, there was a
strange union of opposite extremes. He was born to all that men
covet and admire. But in every one of those eminent advantages
which he possessed over others was mingled something of misery
and debasement. He was sprung from a house, ancient indeed and
noble, but degraded and impoverished by a series of crimes and
follies which had attained a scandalous publicity. The kinsman
whom he succeeded had died poor, and, but for merciful judges,
would have died upon the gallows. The young peer had great
intellectual powers; yet there was an unsound part in his mind.
He had naturally a generous and feeling heart: but his temper was
wayward and irritable. He had a head which statuaries loved to
copy, and a foot the deformity of which the beggars in the
streets mimicked. Distinguished at once by the strength and by
the weakness of his intellect, affectionate yet perverse, a poor
lord, and a handsome cripple, he required, if ever man required,
the firmest and the most judicious training. But, capriciously as
nature had dealt with him, the parent to whom the office of
forming his character was intrusted was more capricious still.
She passed from paroxysms of rage to paroxysms of tenderness. At
one time she stifled him with her caresses; at another time she
insulted his deformity. He came into the world; and the world
treated him as his mother had treated him, sometimes with
fondness, sometimes with cruelty, never with justice. It indulged
him without discrimination, and punished him without
discrimination. He was truly a spoiled child, not merely the
spoiled child of his parent, but the spoiled child of nature, the
spoiled child of fortune, the spoiled child of fame, the spoiled
child of society. His first poems were received with a contempt
which, feeble as they were, they did not absolutely deserve. The
poem which he published on his return from his travels was, on
the other hand, extolled far above its merit. At twenty-four, he
found himself on the highest pinnacle of literary fame, with
Scott, Wordsworth, Southey, and a crowd of other distinguished
writers beneath his feet. There is scarcely an instance in
history of so sudden a rise to so dizzy an eminence.

Everything that could stimulate, and everything that could
gratify the strongest propensities of our nature, the gaze of a
hundred drawing-rooms, the acclamations of the whole nation, the
applause of applauded men, the love of lovely women, all this
world and all the glory of it were at once offered to a youth to
whom nature had given violent passions, and whom education had
never taught to control them. He lived as many men live who have
no similar excuse to plead for their faults. But his countrymen
and his countrywomen would love him and admire him. They were
resolved to see in his excesses only the flash and outbreak of
that same fiery mind which glowed in his poetry. He attacked
religion; yet in religious circles his name was mentioned with
fondness, and in many religious publications his works were
censured with singular tenderness. He lampooned the Prince
Regent; yet he could not alienate the Tories. Everything, it
seemed, was to be forgiven to youth, rank, and genius.

Then came the reaction. Society, capricious in its indignation as
it had been capricious in its fondness, flew into a rage with its
froward and petted darling. He had been worshipped with an
irrational idolatry. He was persecuted with an irrational fury.
Much has been written about those unhappy domestic occurrences
which decided the fate of his life. Yet nothing is, nothing ever
was, positively known to the public, but this, that he quarrelled
with his lady, and that she refused to live with him. There have
been hints in abundance, and shrugs and shakings of the head,
and "Well, well, we know," and "We could an if we would,"
and "If we list to speak," and "There be that might an they
list." But we are not aware that there is before the world
substantiated by credible, or even by tangible evidence, a
single fact indicating that Lord Byron was more to blame than
any other man who is on bad terms with his wife. The professional
men whom Lady Byron consulted were undoubtedly of opinion that
she ought not to live with her husband. But it is to be
that they formed that opinion without hearing both sides. We
do not say, we do not mean to insinuate, that Lady Byron was
in any respect to blame. We think that those who condemn her on
the evidence which is now before the public are as rash as those
who condemn her husband. We will not pronounce any judgment,
we cannot, even in our own minds, form any judgment, on a
transaction which is so imperfectly known to us. It would have
been well if, at the time of the separation, all those who knew
as little about the matter then as we know about it now, had
shown that forbearance which, under such circumstances, is but
common justice.

We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one
of its periodical fits of morality. In general, elopements,
divorces, and family quarrels, pass with little notice. We read
the scandal, talk about it for a day, and forget it. But once in
six or seven years our virtue becomes outrageous. We cannot
suffer the laws of religion and decency to be violated. We must
make a stand against vice. We must teach libertines that the
English people appreciate the importance of domestic ties.
Accordingly some unfortunate man, in no respect more depraved
than hundreds whose offences have been treated with lenity, is
singled out as an expiatory sacrifice. If he has children, they
are to be taken from him. If he has a profession, he is to be
driven from it. He is cut by the higher orders, and hissed by the
lower. He is, in truth, a sort of whipping-boy, by whose
vicarious agonies all the other transgressors of the same class
are, it is supposed, sufficiently chastised. We reflect very
complacently on our own severity, and compare with great pride
the high standard of morals established in England with the
Parisian laxity. At length our anger is satiated. Our victim is
ruined and heart-broken. And our virtue goes quietly to sleep for
seven years more.

It is clear that those vices which destroy domestic happiness
ought to be as much as possible repressed. It is equally clear
that they cannot be repressed by penal legislation. It is
therefore right and desirable that public opinion should be
directed against them. But it should be directed against them
uniformly, steadily, and temperately, not by sudden fits and
starts. There should be one weight and one measure. Decimation is
always an objectionable mode of punishment. It is the resource of
judges too indolent and hasty to investigate facts and to
discriminate nicely between shades of guilt. It is an irrational
practice, even when adopted by military tribunals. When adopted
by the tribunal of public opinion, it is infinitely more
irrational. It is good that a certain portion of disgrace should
constantly attend on certain bad actions. But it is not good that
the offenders should merely have to stand the risks of a lottery
of infamy, that ninety-nine out of every hundred should escape,
and that the hundredth, perhaps the most innocent of the hundred,
should pay for all. We remember to have seen a mob assembled in
Lincoln's Inn to hoot a gentleman against whom the most
oppressive proceeding known to the English law was then in
progress. He was hooted because he had been an unfaithful
husband, as if some of the most popular men of the age, Lord
Nelson for example, had not been unfaithful husbands. We remember
a still stronger case. Will posterity believe that, in an age in
which men whose gallantries were universally known, and had been
legally proved, filled some of the highest offices in the State
and in the army, presided at the meetings of religions and
benevolent institutions, were the delight of every society, and
the favourites of the multitude, a crowd of moralists went to the
theatre, in order to pelt a poor actor for disturbing the
conjugal felicity of an alderman? What there was in the
circumstances either of the offender or of the sufferer to
vindicate the zeal of the audience, we could never conceive. It
has never been supposed that the situation of an actor is
peculiarly favourable to the rigid virtues, or that an alderman
enjoys any special immunity from injuries such as that which on
this occasion roused the anger of the public. But such is the
justice of mankind.

In these cases the punishment was excessive; but the offence was
known and proved. The case of Lord Byron was harder. True Jedwood
justice was dealt out to him. First came the execution, then the
investigation, and last of all, or rather not at all, the
accusation. The public, without knowing anything whatever about
the transactions in his family, flew into a violent passion with
him, and proceeded to invent stories which might justify its
anger. Ten or twenty different accounts of the separation,
inconsistent with each other, with themselves, and with common
sense, circulated at the same time. What evidence there might be
for any one of these, the virtuous people who repeated them
neither knew nor cared. For in fact these stories were not the
causes, but the effects of the public indignation. They resembled
those loathsome slanders which Lewis Goldsmith, and other abject
libellers of the same class, were in the habit of publishing
about Bonaparte; such as that he poisoned a girl with arsenic
when he was at the military school, that he hired a grenadier to
shoot Dessaix at Marengo, that he filled St. Cloud with all the
pollutions of Capreae. There was a time when anecdotes like these
obtained some credence from persons who, hating the French
emperor without knowing why, were eager to believe anything which
might justify their hatred. Lord Byron fared in the same way. His
countrymen were in a bad humour with him. His writings and his
character had lost the charm of novelty. He had been guilty of
the offence which, of all offences, is punished most severely; he
had been over-praised; he had excited too warm an interest; and
the public, with its usual justice, chastised him for its own
folly. The attachments of the multitude bear no small resemblance
to those of the wanton enchantress in the Arabian Tales, who,
when the forty days of her fondness were over, was not content
with dismissing her lovers, but condemned them to expiate, in
loathsome shapes, and under cruel penances, the crime of having
once pleased her too well.

The obloquy which Byron had to endure was such as might well have
shaken a more constant mind. The newspapers were filled with
lampoons. The theatres shook with execrations. He was excluded
from circles where he had lately been the observed of all
observers. All those creeping things that riot in the decay of
nobler natures hastened to their repast; and they were right;
they did after their kind. It is not every day that the savage
envy of aspiring dunces is gratified by the agonies of such a
spirit, and the degradation of such a name.

The unhappy man left his country for ever. The howl of contumely
followed him across the sea, up the Rhine, over the Alps; it
gradually waxed fainter; it died away; those who had raised it
began to ask each other, what, after all, was the matter about
which they had been so clamorous, and wished to invite back the
criminal whom they had just chased from them. His poetry became
more popular than it had ever been; and his complaints were read
with tears by thousands and tens of thousands who had never seen
his face.

He had fixed his home on the shores of the Adriatic, in the most
picturesque and interesting of cities, beneath the brightest of
skies, and by the brightest of seas. Censoriousness was not the
vice of the neighbours whom he had chosen. They were a race
corrupted by a bad government and a bad religion, long renowned
for skill in the arts of voluptuousness, and tolerant of all the
caprices of sensuality. From the public opinion of the country of
his adoption, he had nothing to dread. With the public opinion of
the country of his birth, he was at open war. He plunged into
wild and desperate excesses, ennobled by no generous or tender
sentiment. From his Venetian haram, he sent forth volume after
volume, full of eloquence, of wit, of pathos, of ribaldry, and of
bitter disdain. His health sank under the effects of his
intemperance. His hair turned grey. His food ceased to nourish
him. A hectic fever withered him up. It seemed that his body and
mind were about to perish together.

From this wretched degradation he was in some measure rescued by
a connection, culpable indeed, yet such as, if it were judged by
the standard of morality established in the country where he
lived, might be called virtuous. But an imagination polluted by
vice, a temper embittered by misfortune, and a frame habituated
to the fatal excitement of intoxication, prevented him from fully
enjoying the happiness which he might have derived from the
purest and most tranquil of his many attachments. Midnight
draughts of ardent spirits and Rhenish wines had begun to work
the ruin of his fine intellect. His verse lost much of the energy
and condensation which had distinguished it. But he would not
resign, without a struggle, the empire which he had exercised
over the men of his generation. A new dream of ambition arose
before him; to be the chief of a literary party; to be the great
mover of an intellectual revolution; to guide the public mind of
England from his Italian retreat, as Voltaire had guided the
public mind of France from the villa of Ferney. With this hope,
as it should seem, he established The Liberal. But, powerfully as
he had affected the imaginations of his contemporaries, he
mistook his own powers if he hoped to direct their opinions; and
he still more grossly mistook his own disposition, if he thought
that he could long act in concert with other men of letters. The
plan failed, and failed ignominiously. Angry with himself, angry
with his coadjutors, he relinquished it, and turned to another
project, the last and noblest of his life.

A nation, once the first among the nations, pre-eminent in
knowledge, pre-eminent in military glory, the cradle of
philosophy, of eloquence, and of the fine arts, had been for ages
bowed down under a cruel yoke. All the vices which oppression
generates, the abject vices which it generates in those who
submit to it, the ferocious vices which it generates in those who
struggle against it, had deformed the character of that miserable
race. The valour which had won the great battle of human
civilisation, which had saved Europe, which had subjugated Asia,
lingered only among pirates and robbers. The ingenuity, once so
conspicuously displayed in every department of physical and moral
science, had been depraved into a timid and servile cunning. On a
sudden this degraded people had risen on their oppressors.
Discountenanced or betrayed by the surrounding potentates, they
had found in themselves something of that which might well supply
the place of all foreign assistance, something of the energy of
their fathers.

As a man of letters, Lord Byron could not but be interested in
the event of this contest. His political opinions, though, like
all his opinions, unsettled, leaned strongly towards the side of
liberty. He had assisted the Italian insurgents with his purse,
and, if their struggle against the Austrian Government had been
prolonged, would probably have assisted them with his sword. But
to Greece he was attached by peculiar ties. He had when young
resided in that country. Much of his most splendid and popular
poetry had been inspired by its scenery and by its history. Sick
of inaction, degraded in his own eyes by his private vices and by
his literary failures, pining for untried excitement and
honourable distinction, he carried his exhausted body and his
wounded spirit to the Grecian camp.

His conduct in his new situation showed so much vigour and good
sense as to justify us in believing that, if his life had been
prolonged, he might have distinguished himself as a soldier and a
politician. But pleasure and sorrow had done the work of seventy
years upon his delicate frame. The hand of death was upon him: he
knew it; and the only wish which he uttered was that he might die
sword in hand.

This was denied to him. Anxiety, exertion, exposure, and those
fatal stimulants which had become indispensable to him, soon
stretched him on a sick-bed, in a strange land, amidst strange
faces, without one human being that he loved near him. There, at
thirty-six, the most celebrated Englishman of the nineteenth
century closed his brilliant and miserable career.

We cannot even now retrace those events without feeling something
of what was felt by the nation, when it was first known that the
grave had closed over so much sorrow and so much glory; something
of what was felt by those who saw the hearse, with its long train
of coaches, turn slowly northward, leaving behind it that
cemetery which had been consecrated by the dust of so many great
poets, but of which the doors were closed against all that
remained of Byron. We well remember that on that day, rigid
moralists could not refrain from weeping for one so young, so
illustrious, so unhappy, gifted with such rare gifts, and tried
by such strong temptations. It is unnecessary to make any
reflections. The history carries its moral with it. Our age has
indeed been fruitful of warnings to the eminent and of
consolations to the obscure. Two men have died within our
recollection, who, at the time of life at which many people have
hardly completed their education, had raised themselves, each in
his own department, to the height of glory. One of them died at
Longwood; the other at Missolonghi.

It is always difficult to separate the literary character of a
man who lives in our own time from his personal character. It is
peculiarly difficult to make this separation in the case of Lord
Byron. For it is scarcely too much to say, that Lord Byron never
wrote without some reference, direct or indirect, to himself The
interest excited by the events of his life mingles itself in our
minds, and probably in the minds of almost all our readers, with
the interest which properly belongs to his works. A generation
must pass away before it will be possible to form a fair judgment
of his books, considered merely as books. At present they are not
only books but relics. We will however venture, though with
unfeigned diffidence, to offer some desultory remarks on his

His lot was cast in the time of a great literary revolution. That
poetical dynasty which had dethroned the successors of Shakspeare
and Spenser was, in its turn, dethroned by a race who represented
themselves as heirs of the ancient line, so long dispossessed by
usurpers. The real nature of this revolution has not, we think,
been comprehended by the great majority of those who concurred in

Wherein especially does the poetry of our times differ from that
of the last century? Ninety-nine persons out of a hundred would
answer that the poetry of the last century was correct, but cold
and mechanical, and that the poetry of our time, though wild and
irregular, presented far more vivid images, and excited the
passions far more strongly than that of Parnell, of Addison, or
of Pope. In the same manner we constantly hear it said, that the
poets of the age of Elizabeth had far more genius, but far less
correctness, than those of the age of Anne. It seems to be taken
for granted, that there is some incompatibility, some antithesis
between correctness and creative power. We rather suspect that
this notion arises merely from an abuse of words, and that it has
been the parent of many of the fallacies which perplex the
science of criticism.

What is meant by correctness in poetry? If by correctness he
meant the conforming to rules which have their foundation in
truth and in the principles of human nature, then correctness is
only another name for excellence. If by correctness be meant the
conforming to rules purely arbitrary, correctness may be another
name for dulness and absurdity.

A writer who describes visible objects falsely and violates the
propriety of character, a writer who makes the mountains "nod
their drowsy heads" at night, or a dying man take leave of the
world with a rant like that of Maximin, may be said, in the high
and just sense of the phrase, to write incorrectly. He violates
the first great law of his art. His imitation is altogether
unlike the thing imitated. The four poets who are most eminently
free from incorrectness of this description are Homer, Dante,
Shakspeare, and Milton. They are, therefore, in one sense, and
that the best sense, the most correct of poets.

When it is said that Virgil, though he had less genius than
Homer, was a more correct writer, what sense is attached to the
word correctness? Is it meant that the story of the Aeneid is
developed more skilfully than that of the Odyssey? that the Roman
describes the face of the external world, or the emotions of the
mind, more accurately than the Greek? that the characters of
Achates and Mnestheus are more nicely discriminated, and more
consistently supported, than those of Achilles, of Nestor, and of
Ulysses? The fact incontestably is that, for every violation of
the fundamental laws of poetry which can be found in Homer, it
would be easy to find twenty in Virgil.

Troilus and Cressida is perhaps of all the plays of Shakspeare
that which is commonly considered as the most incorrect. Yet it
seems to us infinitely more correct, in the sound sense of the
term, than what are called the most correct plays of the most
correct dramatists. Compare it, for example, with the Iphigenie
of Racine. We are sure that the Greeks of Shakspeare bear a far
greater resemblance than the Greeks of Racine to the real Greeks
who besieged Troy; and for this reason, that the Greeks of
Shakspeare are human beings, and the Greeks of Racine mere names,
mere words printed in capitals at the head of paragraphs of
declamation. Racine, it is true, would have shuddered at the
thought of making a warrior at the siege of Troy quote Aristotle.
But of what use is it to avoid a single anachronism, when the
whole play is one anachronism, the sentiments and phrases of
Versailles in the camp of Aulis?

In the sense in which we are now using the word correctness, we
think that Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Coleridge, are
far more correct poets than those who are commonly extolled as
the models of correctness, Pope, for example, and Addison. The
single description of a moonlight night in Pope's Iliad contains
more inaccuracies than can be found in all the Excursion. There
is not a single scene in Cato, in which all that conduces to
poetical illusion, all the propriety of character, of language,
of situation, is not more grossly violated than in any part of
the Lay of the Last Minstrel. No man can possibly think that the
Romans of Addison resemble the real Romans so closely as the
moss-troopers of Scott resemble the real moss-troopers. Wat
Tinlinn and William of Deloraine are not, it is true, persons of
so much dignity as Cato. But the dignity of the persons
represented has as little to do with the correctness of poetry as
with the correctness of painting. We prefer a gipsy by Reynolds
to his Majesty's head on a signpost, and a Borderer by Scott to a
Senator by Addison.

In what sense, then, is the word correctness used by those who
say, with the author of the Pursuits of Literature, that Pope was
the most correct of English Poets, and that next to Pope came the
late Mr. Gifford? What is the nature and value of that
correctness, the praise of which is denied to Macbeth, to Lear,
and to Othello, and given to Hoole's translations and to all the
Seatonian prize-poems? We can discover no eternal rule, no rule
founded in reason and in the nature of things, which Shakspeare
does not observe much more strictly than Pope. But if by
correctness be meant the conforming to a narrow legislation
which, while lenient to the mala in se, multiplies, without a
shadow of a reason, the mala prohibita, if by correctness be
meant a strict attention to certain ceremonious observances,
which are no more essential to poetry than etiquette to good
government, or than the washings of a Pharisee to devotion, then,
assuredly, Pope may be a more correct poet than Shakspeare; and,
if the code were a little altered, Colley Cibber might be a more
correct poet than Pope. But it may well be doubted whether this
kind of correctness be a merit, nay, whether it be not an
absolute fault.

It would be amusing to make a digest of the irrational laws which
bad critics have framed for the government of poets. First in
celebrity and in absurdity stand the dramatic unities of place
and time. No human being has ever been able to find anything that
could, even by courtesy, be called an argument for these unities,
except that they have been deduced from the general practice of
the Greeks. It requires no very profound examination to discover
that the Greek dramas, often admirable as compositions, are, as
exhibitions of human character and human life, far inferior to
the English plays of the age of Elizabeth. Every scholar knows
that the dramatic part of the Athenian tragedies was at first
subordinate to the lyrical part. It would, therefore, have been
little less than a miracle if the laws of the Athenian stage had
been found to suit plays in which there was no chorus. All the
greatest masterpieces of the dramatic art have been composed in
direct violation of the unities, and could never have been
composed if the unities had not been violated. It is clear, for
example, that such a character as that of Hamlet could never have
been developed within the limits to which Alfieri confined
himself. Yet such was the reverence of literary men during the
last century for these unities that Johnson who, much to his
honour, took the opposite side, was, as he says, "frightened at
his own temerity," and "afraid to stand against the authorities
which might be produced against him."

There are other rules of the same kind without end. "Shakspeare,"
says Rymer, "ought not to have made Othello black; for the hero
of a tragedy ought always to be white." "Milton," says another
critic, "ought not to have taken Adam for his hero; for the hero
of an epic poem ought always to be victorious." "Milton," says
another, "ought not to have put so many similes into his first
book; for the first book of an epic poem ought always to be the
most unadorned. There are no similes in the first book of the
Iliad." "Milton," says another, "ought not to have placed in an
epic poem such lines as these:

'While thus I called, and strayed I knew not whither.'"

And why not? The critic is ready with a reason, a lady's reason.
"Such lines," says he, "are not, it must be allowed, unpleasing
to the ear; but the redundant syllable ought to be confined to
the drama, and not admitted into epic poetry." As to the
redundant syllable in heroic rhyme on serious subjects, it has
been, from the time of Pope downward, proscribed by the general
consent of all the correct school. No magazine would have
admitted so incorrect a couplet as that of Drayton.

"As when we lived untouch'd with these disgraces,
When as our kingdom was our dear embraces."

Another law of heroic rhyme, which, fifty years ago, was
considered as fundamental, was, that there should be a pause, a
comma at least, at the end of every couplet. It was also provided
that there should never be a full stop except at the end of a
line. Well do we remember to have heard a most correct judge of
poetry revile Mr. Rogers for the incorrectness of that most sweet
and graceful passage,

"Such grief was ours,--it seems but yesterday,--
When in thy prime, wishing so much to stay,
'Twas thine, Maria, thine without a sigh
At midnight in a sister's arms to die.
Oh thou wert lovely; lovely was thy frame,
And pure thy spirit as from heaven it came:
And when recall'd to join the blest above
Thou diedst a victim to exceeding love,
Nursing the young to health. In happier hours,
When idle Fancy wove luxuriant flowers,
Once in thy mirth thou badst me write on thee
And now I write what thou shalt never see."

Sir Roger Newdigate is fairly entitled, we think, to be ranked
among the great critics of this school. He made a law that none
of the poems written for the prize which he established at Oxford
should exceed fifty lines. This law seems to us to have at least
as much foundation in reason as any of those which we have
mentioned; nay, much more, for the world, we believe, is pretty
well agreed in thinking that the shorter a prize-poem is, the

We do not see why we should not make a few more rules of the same
kind; why we should not enact that the number of scenes in every
act shall be three or some multiple of three, that the number of
lines in every scene shall be an exact square, that the dramatis
personae shall never be more or fewer than sixteen, and that, in
heroic rhymes, every thirty-sixth line shall have twelve
syllables. If we were to lay down these canons, and to call Pope,
Goldsmith, and Addison incorrect writers for not having complied
with our whims, we should act precisely as those critics act who
find incorrectness in the magnificent imagery and the varied
music of Coleridge and Shelley.

The correctness which the last century prized so much resembles
the correctness of those pictures of the garden of Eden which we
see in old Bibles. We have an exact square enclosed by the rivers
Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates, each with a convenient
bridge in the centre, rectangular beds of flowers, a long canal,
neatly bricked and railed in, the tree of knowledge clipped like
one of the limes behind the Tuilleries, standing in the centre of
the grand alley, the snake twined round it, the man on the right
hand, the woman on the left, and the beasts drawn up in an exact
circle round them. In one sense the picture is correct enough.
That is to say, the squares are correct; the circles are correct;
the man and the woman are in a most correct line with the tree;
and the snake forms a most correct spiral.

But if there were a painter so gifted that he could place on the
canvas that glorious paradise, seen by the interior eye of him
whose outward sight had failed with long watching and labouring
for liberty and truth, if there were a painter who could set
before us the mazes of the sapphire brook, the lake with its
fringe of myrtles, the flowery meadows, the grottoes overhung by
vines, the forests shining with Hesperian fruit and with the
plumage of gorgeous birds, the massy shade of that nuptial bower
which showered down roses on the sleeping lovers, what should we
think of a connoisseur, who should tell us that this painting,
though finer than the absurd picture in the old Bible, was not so
correct. Surely we should answer, it is both finer and more
correct; and it is finer because it is more correct. It is not
made up of correctly drawn diagrams; but it is a correct
painting, a worthy representation of that which it is intended to

It is not in the fine arts alone that this false correctness is
prized by narrow-minded men, by men who cannot distinguish means
from ends, or what is accidental from what is essential. M.
Jourdain admired correctness in fencing. "You had no business to
hit me then. You must never thrust in quart till you have thrust
in tierce." M. Tomes liked correctness in medical practice. "I
stand up for Artemius. That he killed his patient is plain
enough. But still he acted quite according to rule. A man dead is
a man dead; and there is an end of the matter. But if rules are
to be broken, there is no saying what consequences may follow."
We have heard of an old German officer, who was a great admirer
of correctness in military operations. He used to revile
Bonaparte for spoiling the science of war, which had been carried
to such exquisite perfection by Marshal Daun. "In my youth we
used to march and countermarch all the summer without gaining or
losing a square league, and then we went into winter quarters.
And now comes an ignorant, hot-headed young man, who flies about
from Boulogne to Ulm, and from Ulm to the middle of Moravia, and
fights battles in December. The whole system of his tactics is
monstrously incorrect." The world is of opinion in spite of
critics like these, that the end of fencing is to hit, that the
end of medicine is to cure, that the end of war is to conquer,
and that those means are the most correct which best accomplish
the ends.

And has poetry no end, no eternal and immutable principles? Is
poetry, like heraldry, mere matter of arbitrary regulation? The
heralds tell us that certain scutcheons and bearings denote
certain conditions, and that to put colours on colours, or metals
on metals, is false blazonry. If all this were reversed, if every
coat of arms in Europe were new fashioned, if it were decreed
that or should never be placed but on argent, or argent but on
or, that illegitimacy should be denoted by a lozenge, and
widowhood by a bend, the new science would be just as good as the
old science, because both the new and the old would be good for
nothing. The mummery of Portcullis and Rouge Dragon, as it has no
other value than that which caprice has assigned to it, may well
submit to any laws which caprice may impose on it. But it is not
so with that great imitative art, to the power of which all ages,
the rudest and the most enlightened, bear witness. Since its
first great masterpieces were produced, everything that is
changeable in this world has been changed. Civilisation has been
gained, lost, gained again. Religions, and languages, and forms
of government, and usages of private life, and modes of thinking,
all have undergone a succession of revolutions. Everything has
passed away but the great features of nature, and the heart of
man, and the miracles of that art of which it is the office to
reflect back the heart of man and the features of nature. Those
two strange old poems, the wonder of ninety generations, still
retain all their freshness. They still command the veneration of
minds enriched by the literature of many nations and ages. They
are still, even in wretched translations, the delight of school-
boys. Having survived ten thousand capricious fashions, having
seen successive codes of criticism become obsolete, they still
remain to us, immortal with the immortality of truth, the same
when perused in the study of an English scholar, as when they
were first chanted at the banquets of the Ionian princes.

Poetry is, as was said more than two thousand years ago,
imitation. It is an art analogous in many respects to the art of
painting, sculpture, and acting. The imitations of the painter,
the sculptor, and the actor, are indeed, within certain limits,
more perfect than those of the poet. The machinery which the poet
employs consists merely of words; and words cannot, even when
employed by such an artist as Homer or Dante, present to the mind
images of visible objects quite so lively and exact as those
which we carry away from looking on the works of the brush and
the chisel. But, on the other hand, the range of poetry is
infinitely wider than that of any other imitative art, or than
that of all the other imitative arts together. The sculptor can
imitate only form; the painter only form and colour; the actor,
until the poet supplies him with words, only form, colour, and
motion. Poetry holds the outer world in common with the other
arts. The heart of man is the province of poetry, and of poetry
alone. The painter, the sculptor, and the actor can exhibit no
more of human passion and character than that small portion
which overflows into the gesture and the face, always an
imperfect, often a deceitful, sign of that which is within. The
deeper and more complex parts of human nature can be exhibited by
means of words alone. Thus the objects of the imitation of poetry
are the whole external and the whole internal universe, the face
of nature, the vicissitudes of fortune, man as he is in himself,
man as he appears in society, all things which really exist, all
things of which we can form an image in our minds by combining
together parts of things which really exist. The domain of this
imperial art is commensurate with the imaginative faculty.

An art essentially imitative ought not surely to be subjected to
rules which tend to make its imitations less perfect than they
otherwise would be; and those who obey such rules ought to be
called, not correct, but incorrect artists. The true way to judge
of the rules by which English poetry was governed during the last
century is to look at the effects which they produced.

It was in 1780 that Johnson completed his Lives of the Poets. He
tells us in that work that, since the time of Dryden, English
poetry had shown no tendency to relapse into its original
savageness, that its language had been refined, its numbers
tuned, and its sentiments improved. It may perhaps be doubted
whether the nation had any great reason to exult in the
refinements and improvements which gave it Douglas for Othello,
and the Triumphs of Temper for the Fairy Queen.

It was during the thirty years which preceded the appearance of
Johnson's Lives that the diction and versification of English
poetry were, in the sense in which the word is commonly used,
most correct. Those thirty years are, as respects poetry, the
most deplorable part of our literary history. They have indeed
bequeathed to us scarcely any poetry which deserves to be
remembered. Two or three hundred lines of Gray, twice as many of
Goldsmith, a few stanzas of Beattie and Collins, a few strophes
of Mason, and a few clever prologues and satires, were the
masterpieces of this age of consummate excellence. They may all
be printed in one volume, and that volume would be by no means a
volume of extraordinary merit. It would contain no poetry of the
very highest class, and little which could be placed very high in
the second class. The Paradise Regained or Comus would outweigh
it all.

At last, when poetry had fallen into such utter decay that Mr.
Hayley was thought a great poet, it began to appear that the
excess of the evil was about to work the cure. Men became tired
of an insipid conformity to a standard which derived no authority
from nature or reason. A shallow criticism had taught them to
ascribe a superstitious value to the spurious correctness of
poetasters. A deeper criticism brought them back to the true
correctness of the first great masters. The eternal laws of
poetry regained their power, and the temporary fashions which had
superseded those laws went after the wig of Lovelace and the hoop
of Clarissa.

It was in a cold and barren season that the seeds of that rich
harvest which we have reaped were first sown. While poetry was
every year becoming more feeble and more mechanical, while the
monotonous versification which Pope had introduced, no longer
redeemed by his brilliant wit and his compactness of expression,
palled on the ear of the public, the great works of the old
masters were every day attracting more and more of the admiration
which they deserved. The plays of Shakspeare were better acted,
better edited, and better known than they had ever been. Our fine
ancient ballads were again read with pleasure, and it became a
fashion to imitate them. Many of the imitations were altogether
contemptible. But they showed that men had at least begun to
admire the excellence which they could not rival. A literary
revolution was evidently at hand. There was a ferment in the
minds of men, a vague craving for something new, a disposition to
hail with delight anything which might at first sight wear the
appearance of originality. A reforming age is always fertile of
impostors. The same excited state of public feeling which
produced the great separation from the see of Rome produced also
the excesses of the Anabaptists. The same stir in the public mind
of Europe which overthrew the abuses of the old French
Government, produced the Jacobins and Theophilanthropists.
Macpherson and Della Crusca were to the true reformers of English
poetry what Knipperdoling was to Luther, or Clootz to Turgot. The
success of Chatterton's forgeries and of the far more
contemptible forgeries of Ireland showed that people had begun
to love the old poetry well, though not wisely. The public was
never more disposed to believe stories without evidence, and to
admire books without merit. Anything which could break the dull
monotony of the correct school was acceptable.

The forerunner of the great restoration of our literature was
Cowper. His literary career began and ended at nearly the same
time with that of Alfieri. A comparison between Alfieri and
Cowper may, at first sight, appear as strange as that which a
loyal Presbyterian minister is said to have made in 1745 between
George the Second and Enoch. It may seem that the gentle, shy,
melancholy Calvinist, whose spirit had been broken by fagging at
school, who had not courage to earn a livelihood by reading the
titles of bills in the House of Lords, and whose favourite
associates were a blind old lady and an evangelical divine, could
have nothing in common with the haughty, ardent, and voluptuous
nobleman, the horse-jockey, the libertine, who fought Lord
Ligonier in Hyde Park, and robbed the Pretender of his queen. But
though the private lives of these remarkable men present scarcely
any points of resemblance, their literary lives bear a close
analogy to each other. They both found poetry in its lowest state
of degradation, feeble, artificial, and altogether nerveless.
They both possessed precisely the talents which fitted them for
the task of raising it from that deep abasement. They cannot, in
strictness, be called great poets. They had not in any very high
degree the creative power,

"The vision and the faculty divine":

but they had great vigour of thought, great warmth of feeling,
and what, in their circumstances, was above all things important,
a manliness of taste which approached to roughness. They did not
deal in mechanical versification and conventional phrases. They
wrote concerning things the thought of which set their hearts on
fire; and thus what they wrote, even when it wanted every other
grace, had that inimitable grace which sincerity and strong
passion impart to the rudest and most homely compositions. Each
of them sought for inspiration in a noble and affecting subject,
fertile of images which had not yet been hackneyed. Liberty was
the muse of Alfieri, Religion was the muse of Cowper. The same
truth is found in their lighter pieces. They were not among those
who deprecated the severity, or deplored the absence, of an
unreal mistress in melodious commonplaces. Instead of raving
about imaginary Chloes and Sylvias, Cowper wrote of Mrs. Unwin's
knitting-needles. The only love-verses of Alfieri were addressed
to one whom he truly and passionately loved. "Tutte le rime
amorose che seguono," says he, "tutte sono per essa, e ben sue,
e di lei solamente; poiche mai d'altra donna per certo con

These great men were not free from affectation. But their
affectation was directly opposed to the affectation which
generally prevailed. Each of them expressed, in strong and bitter
language, the contempt which he felt for the effeminate
poetasters who were in fashion both in England and in Italy.
Cowper complains that

"Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ,
The substitute for genius, taste, and wit."

He praised Pope; yet he regretted that Pope had

"Made poetry a mere mechanic art,
And every warbler had his tune by heart."

Alfieri speaks with similar scorn of the tragedies of his
predecessors. "Mi cadevano dalle mani per la languidezza,
trivialita e prolissita dei modi e dei verso, senza parlare poi
della snervatezza dei pensieri. Or perche mai questa nostra
divina lingua, si maschia anco, ed energica, e feroce, in bocca
di Dante, dovra ella farsi casi sbiadata ed eunuca nel dialogo

To men thus sick of the languid manner of their contemporaries
ruggedness seemed a venial fault, or rather a positive merit.
In their hatred of meretricious ornament, and of what Cowper
calls "creamy smoothness," they erred on the opposite side.
Their style was too austere, their versification too harsh.
It is not easy, however, to overrate the service which they
rendered to literature. The intrinsic value of their poems is
considerable. But the example which they set of mutiny against an
absurd system was invaluable. The part which they performed was
rather that of Moses than that of Joshua. They opened the house
of bondage; but they did not enter the promised land.

During the twenty years which followed the death of Cowper, the
revolution in English poetry was fully consummated. None of the
writers of this period, not even Sir Walter Scott, contributed so
much to the consummation as Lord Byron. Yet Lord Byron
contributed to it unwillingly, and with constant self-reproach
and shame. All his tastes and inclinations led him to take part
with the school of poetry which was going out against the school
which was coming in. Of Pope himself he spoke with extravagant
admiration. He did not venture directly to say that the little
man of Twickenham was a greater poet than Shakspeare or Milton;
but he hinted pretty clearly that he thought so. Of his
contemporaries, scarcely any had so much of his admiration as Mr.
Gifford, who, considered as a poet, was merely Pope, without
Pope's wit and fancy, and whose satires are decidedly inferior in
vigour and poignancy to the very imperfect juvenile performance
of Lord Byron himself. He now and then praised Mr. Wordsworth and
Mr. Coleridge, but ungraciously and without cordiality. When he
attacked them, he brought his whole soul to the work. Of the most
elaborate of Mr. Wordsworth's poems he could find nothing to say,
but that it was "clumsy, and frowsy, and his aversion." Peter
Bell excited his spleen to such a degree that he evoked the
shades of Pope and Dryden, and demanded of them whether it were
possible that such trash could evade contempt? In his heart he
thought his own Pilgrimage of Harold inferior to his Imitation of
Horace's Art of Poetry, a feeble echo of Pope and Johnson. This
insipid performance he repeatedly designed to publish, and was
withheld only by the solicitations of his friends. He has
distinctly declared his approbation of the unities, the most
absurd laws by which genius was ever held in servitude. In one of
his works, we think in his letter to Mr. Bowles, he compares the
poetry of the eighteenth century to the Parthenon, and that of
the nineteenth to a Turkish mosque, and boasts that, though he
had assisted his contemporaries in building their grotesque
and barbarous edifice, he had never joined them in defacing
the remains of a chaster and more graceful architecture. In
another letter he compares the change which had recently
passed on English poetry to the decay of Latin poetry after
the Augustan age. In the time of Pope, he tells his friend,
it was all Horace with us. It is all Claudian now.

For the great old masters of the art he had no very enthusiastic
veneration. In his letter to Mr. Bowles he uses expressions
which clearly indicate that he preferred Pope's Iliad to the
original. Mr. Moore confesses that his friend was no very fervent
admirer of Shakspeare. Of all the poets of the first class Lord
Byron seems to have admired Dante and Milton most. Yet in the
fourth canto of Childe Harold, he places Tasso, a writer not
merely inferior to them, but of quite a different order of mind,
on at least a footing of equality with them. Mr. Hunt is, we
suspect, quite correct in saying that Lord Byron could see little
or no merit in Spenser.

But Byron the critic and Byron the poet were two very different
men. The effects of the noble writer's theory may indeed often be
traced in his practice. But his disposition led him to
accommodate himself to the literary taste of the age in which he
lived; and his talents would have enabled him to accommodate
himself to the taste of any age. Though he said much of his
contempt for mankind, and though he boasted that amidst the
inconstancy of fortune and of fame he was all-sufficient to
himself, his literary career indicated nothing of that lonely and
unsocial pride which he affected. We cannot conceive him, like
Milton or Wordsworth, defying the criticism of his
contemporaries, retorting their scorn, and labouring on a poem in
the full assurance that it would be unpopular, and in the full
assurance that it would be immortal. He has said, by the mouth of
one of his heroes, in speaking of political greatness, that "he
must serve who fain would sway"; and this he assigns as a reason
for not entering into political life. He did not consider that
the sway which he had exercised in literature had been purchased
by servitude, by the sacrifice of his own taste to the taste of
the public.

He was the creature of his age; and whenever he had lived he
would have been the creature of his age. Under Charles the First
Byron would have been more quaint than Donne. Under Charles the
Second the rants of Byron's rhyming plays would have pitted it,
boxed it, and galleried it, with those of any Bayes or Bilboa.
Under George the First, the monotonous smoothness of Byron's
versification and the terseness of his expression would have made
Pope himself envious.

As it was, he was the man of the last thirteen years of the
eighteenth century, and of the first twenty-three years of the
nineteenth century. He belonged half to the old, and half to the
new school of poetry. His personal taste led him to the former;
his thirst of praise to the latter; his talents were equally
suited to both. His fame was a common ground on which the zealots
on both sides, Gifford for example, and Shelley, might meet. He
was the representative, not of either literary party, but of both
at once, and of their conflict, and of the victory by which that
conflict was terminated. His poetry fills and measures the whole
of the vast interval through which our literature has moved since
the time of Johnson. It touches the Essay on Man at the one
extremity, and the Excursion at the other.

There are several parallel instances in literary history.
Voltaire, for example, was the connecting link between the France
of Lewis the Fourteenth and the France of Lewis the Sixteenth,
between Racine and Boileau on the one side, and Condorcet and
Beaumarchais on the other. He, like Lord Byron, put himself at
the head of an intellectual revolution, dreading it all the time,
murmuring at it, sneering at it, yet choosing rather to move
before his age in any direction than to be left behind and
forgotten. Dryden was the connecting link between the literature
of the age of James the First, and the literature of the age of
Anne. Oromasdes and Arimanes fought for him. Arimanes carried him
off. But his heart was to the last with Oromasdes. Lord Byron
was, in the same manner, the mediator between two generations,
between two hostile poetical sects. Though always sneering at Mr.
Wordsworth, he was yet, though perhaps unconsciously, the
interpreter between Mr. Wordsworth and the multitude. In the
Lyrical Ballads and the Excursion Mr. Wordsworth appeared as the
high priest of a worship, of which nature was the idol. No poems
have ever indicated a more exquisite perception of the beauty of
the outer world or a more passionate love and reverence for that
beauty. Yet they were not popular; and it is not likely that they
ever will be popular as the poetry of Sir Walter Scott is
popular. The feeling which pervaded them was too deep for general
sympathy. Their style was often too mysterious for general
comprehension. They made a few esoteric disciples, and many
scoffers. Lord Byron founded what may be called an exoteric Lake
school; and all the readers of verse in England, we might say in
Europe, hastened to sit at his feet. What Mr. Wordsworth had said
like a recluse, Lord Byron said like a man of the world, with
less profound feeling, but with more perspicuity, energy, and
conciseness. We would refer our readers to the last two cantos of
Childe Harold and to Manfred, in proof of these observations.

Lord Byron, like Mr. Wordsworth, had nothing dramatic in his

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