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Rabutin. Yet, it is fit and desirable that such truths should he told. They ure passages in the book of life which all would and some should read, and although the example of such a man as Lord Byron is, no doubt, calculated to do much harm to minds of a certain stamp, we must only take care to deny it to such people, as edged tools and dangerous drugs are kept out of the way of children, and aduhs who are no better than children. In this naive confession, besides, of all the infirmities and irregularities of the grandest genius, burning and bewildered with the most ungovernable passions, there is, we conceive, no artificial stimulant for the morbid appetite of sensuality. It is not addressed to the imagination, to deprave by exciting it. It is a picture of life and manners, with far more of history and philosophy in it, than of a voluptuous poetry. Every thing depends, as to the effects of certain exposures, upon the associations which they have a tendency to call up. The nudities of the surgeon's cabinet or the painter's study, are not those of the bagnio. They are "the simplicity and spotless innocence," of Milton's Paradise, to men who survey such objects with the eye of the artist or the philosopher.
We repeat, that we have read this book with intense interest. We do not know where the letters ate to be found in any language, which better repay a perusal. Perhaps as mere models of the epistolary style, they are not so exquisite as some that might be cited. Even of this, however, we are far from being sure. If they do not equal, for instance, in grace and elegance, those of Gray, or Lady Mary—if they are not specimens of that inimitable, ineffable bamrdage, which makes those of Madame de Sevigne so entirely unique—they fully rival the best of them in spirit, piquancy, and, we venture to add, tdt, while, like the epistles of Cicero, they not unfrequently rise from the most familiar colloquial ease and freedom into far loftier regions of thought and eloquence. We were particularly struck with this last peculiarity. We scarcely read one of them without being surprised into a smile—occasionally into a broad laugh—by some felicitous waggery, some sudden descent from the sublime to the ridiculous, while there is many a passage in which the least critical reader will not fail to recognize the hand that drew Childe Harold.
Two other geneial observations have been suggested to us by the perusal of this volume: the first is, that, although, as we have already remarked, it exhibits a view of Lord Byron's life when he had abjured the realm and put himself out of the pale of English society, denying its authority, defying its power, setting at nought, with foul scorn, all its conventional decencies and established opinions, he appears to us in a much more amiable and estimable light as a man, than he did in the first part of the work. We are not troubled here with any sham pleas—any laboured and abortive apologies of Mr. Moore, for what he must have known to be indefensible, if he had any moral sense at all. There is none of that whining and mawkish hypocrisy which we found so peculiarly disgusting in the history of the earlier part of Byron's life. He does not tell a tale of horror, and affect to palm it off upon his reader as a candid avowal of a peccadillo—he does not churge his hero with what amounts to parricide, and then lament the unfortunate peculiarities of a parent, which he more than insinuates, were a justification of such a monstrous perversion of rmcure—in short, he does not confess Byron to have been utterly heartless, by his very attempt (and a most awkward attempt) to find an excuse for him, in the tendency of genius to "mount me up into the brain," as honest Falsiuff would say, but as Mr. Moore most daintily expresses it "to transfer the seat of sensibility from the heart to the fancy." He tells, or rather he suffers Byron to tell, his story here without any grimace or dissimulation. The whole truth comes out in a round unvarnished tale, and yet it is scarcely possible to read these letters and not feel disposed rather to deplore the fate, than reprobate the conduct of the writer—the gifted and miserable possessor of so much that might be envied, admired and loved—" a fallen cherub," not ouly majestic, but touchingly beautiful and attractive, "though in ruins," with enough of his original goodness as well as brightness about him, to make us feel, what transcendent and glorious excellence he has forfeited, by those accidental circumstances or complexionaI peculiarities, or whatever else it were, by which, like one of his own heroes, "he was betrayed too early and beguiled too long."
The gloomy and fierce passions which inspire the muse of Byron seldom break forth in these letters; and as it has been said of Garrick, that it was only when he was off the stage that he was acting, so, if the epistolary correspondence of the poet is (as we take it to be) a fair specimen of his ordinary conversation, we should be inclined to look rather to the effusions of his imagination, than to those which are supposed to flow more immediately from the heart, for the true image of his character. It is not so with common men—it is not so even with those who, possessing extraordinary talents, are in the habit, from policy or propriety or other motives, of exercising a strong self-control when they appear before the public. But Byron knew no such restraints.—and then, all his poetry, as we remarked on a former occasion, was the language of feelings which he had brooded over until they were exalted into madness, and his brain burned as in a feverish delirium. We are glad to have what we then advanced confirmed by the poet himself. From an unpublished pamphlet, of which Mr. Moore has furnished some passages, we extract the following, (p. 255.) His lordship is accounting for his having deviated in his own compositions from the standard of excellence which he maintains in theory. "Those who know me best," says he " know this, and that I have been considerably astonished at the temporary success of my works, &c. Could I have anticipated the degree of attention which has been awarded, assuredly I would have studied more to deserve it. But I have lived in far countries abroad, or in the agitating world at home, which was not favourable to study or reflection: so that almost all I have written has been mere passion—passion, it is true, of different kinds, but always passion; for, in me (if it be not an Irishism to say so) my indifference was a kind of passion, the result of experience and not the philosophy of nature."* Nor is what he says in another place, (p. 50) at all inconsistent with this avowal—but rather a confirmation of it:—" As for poesy, mine is the dream of the sleeping passions; when they are awake, I cannot speak their language, only in their somnambulism; and just now they are not dormant." That is to say, the first paroxysms of his wild emotions were overpowering, and he was silent under them— Curfe—ingentes stupent. The eloquence of the passions does not begin until their sharpest fury is spent—until the conflict within, the agony of the tormented spirit, has been assuaged and subdued by time and reflection—but never was that eloquence uttered by one who had not felt what it expresses, and felt it to the very bottom of a thrilling and agitated heart. This is true of every art which professes to hold the mirror up to human nature, in the scenes of its intensest excitement.— The unbounded control which a first-rate orator or actor exercises over a popular assembly—the magic of the flashing eye, the expressive countenance, the melting or piercing tones of a well modulated voice—are these mere feats of rhetorical artifice —the tricks of a crafty juggler coldly practising upon the credulity of the vulgar? By no means. The self-control which generally accompanies them, and which makes them so surely and uniformly effective, is, indeed, the fruit of discipline—but the potent charm, the breathed spell is from thesoul—it is nature and nature alone, which asserts this dominion over the hearts of men—and cool aaid concentrated as the successful performer * See note, infra, p. 10.
may appear to be, he owes his triumphs over the feelings of others, to still keener sensibilities of his own—to the "pulse which riots and the blood which burns" within him. But if this is true of all men of genius, as it certninly is, it is more applicable to poets than to other artists, and more applicable to Lord Byron than to any other poet. It is impossible to cast the most superficial glance over bis works, without perceiving that they are the effusions of a morbid and maddened sensibility—a faithful record of the poet's own experience in every variety of wild, tumultuous excitement. Drenms, they may be, of sleeping passions—but they are passions which have been awake, and they are dreams which do but fashion into more poetical shapes, and arrny in more gloomy or glowing colours, the images of woe or of bliss, of love or of wrath, of beauty or of horror and deformity, which have peopled the waking fancies of the poet.
He, therefore, that sees Lord Byron only through the medium of these letters, will form, at once, a very inadequate, and a very erroneous conception of that extraordinary character. He is looking upon Vesuvius, when his "grim fires" arc covered over with vernal luxuriance and beauty—he is looking upon the ocean, when the zephyr is scarcely breathing upon its glassy surface: how should he be able to picture to himself the sublime terrors of the volcano, vomiting forth its smouldering flames and molten lava, or of the foaming surge, when the lowest depths of the sea have been torn up by the tempest? Pope excelled all men in point, terseness and condensation, and he was a very great master of prose, as all true poets are—yet whenever he wished to be particularly terse, condensed and pointed, he preferred writing in verse. Byron's poetry was, in-like manner, the natural vehicle of his deepest feelings. Masterly as was his prose style, it was no fit channel for such a burning flood of passion and impassioned thought as he poured out when the estrb (to use his favourite phrase) was upon him—when he had drunk of love and beauty until he was frenzied with their deliciousness, or some dark fancy, or unfortunate event had occurred to wrap his thoughts in gloom, and "from the bottom stir the hell within him." Hisdiemon, like him of the Delphic shrine, delivered his inspiration only in numbers. Compare Manfred with some of these playful epistles and such lines as these.
"My boat is on the shore
"My dear Mr. Murray,
Your'e in a damned hurry
To set up this ultimate canto:
But if they don't rob us,
You'll see Mr. Hobhouse
Will bring it safe in his portmanteau," &e.
Thegulph between them is immeasurable: it separates worlds; yet they are but the two extremes of Lord Byron's moral idiosyncracy: the fitful and strange varieties of an hysterical nervousness. That gay creature, with such redundant animal spirits, so full of glee and wantonness, apparently so docile and placable, and prepared to encounter all the vicissitudes of life with irrepressible buoyancy of spirit—what is become of him? In the twinkling of an eye, he has undergone an entire metamorphosis—
"For even in his maddest mirthful mood,
Strange pangs would flash across Childe Harold's brow,
As if the memory of some deadly feud,
Or disappointed passion, lurked below"—
a cloud is upon his forehead, and woe is in his heart, and his spirit is agitated and convulsed, as with the agony of a daemoniacal possession. So we have a right toinfer, from what it is impossible to separate from the man, the poetry of his passions— which is, at the same time, in perfect analogy with his conduct in certain important particulars, and with his habits of life in his more unsocial and gloomy moods. We, of course, speak rather of the capacities of Lord Byron's sensibility, than of any permanent, actual state of it. It is very plain from these letters, as well as from other sources of information, and indeed, from the common experience of men, that " time and the hour ran" with him as they do with the rest of the world "thro' the roughest day." But it also appears, that he had his moments of severe anguish, of mortal disgust, of withering ennui, dejection and despair—that he felt when he was scarcely turned of thirty, the blight of a long antedated old age, the weariness, the want of interest, the palled appetite and exhausted sensibility—and that the figments of romance do not often exhibit a combination of per