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sonal attributes or a mode of existence, more strange and peculiar, than those of the poetical exile at Venice or Ravenna.
Smooth and smiling, however, as the surface of these letters generally is, there occur occasionally in the course of them, some passages, fraught with all the wrath and acerbity of Byron's 'inner man.' Witness, for instance, the fiendlikejoy with which he laughs at the affecting suicide of one of the best and ablest men of whom England has ever had to boast, Sir Samuel Romilly. Be it remembered, that the inexpiable offence which drew down upon him this fierce and implacable hostility was, that he had been professionally engaged by Lady Byron's friends. To be sure, his Lordship charges him with having previously received his retainer-but then, Sir Samuel offered him, we should think, a satisfactory excuse, when he declared (what Lord Byron alleges no reason to disbelieve that in the multiplicity of his business, his clerk had not informed him of the fact. It appears to us altogether unreasonable to presume a man of honor guilty of such unhandsome conduct, in the first place, and of a base falschoqd, afterwards, to excuse it. Lord Byron may have had better grounds than he has chosen to state for his opinion on the subject-at all events, it is difficult to imagine a sterner or fiercer vindictiveness than is expressed in the following passages :
"I have never heard any thing of Ada, the little Electra of my Myeense. ********. But there will come a day of reckoning, even if I should not live to see it. I have at least seen *** shivered, who was one of my assassins. When that man was doing his worst to uproot my whole family, tree, branch and blossoms—when, after taking my retainer, he went over to them—when he was bringing desolation upon my hearth, and destruction on my household gods—did he think that in less than three years, a natural event-a severe domestic, but an expected and common calamity-would lay his carcass in a cross-road or stamp his name in a verdict of lunacy! Did he (who in his sexagenary ***,) reflect or consider what my feelings must have been, when wife and child and sister and name and fame and country, were to be my sacrifice on his legal altar—and this at a moment when my health was declining, my fortune embarrassed, and my mind had been shaken by many kinds of disappointment—while I was yet young and might have reformed what might be wrong in my conduct and retrieved what was perplexing in my affairs! But he is in his grave and ** ****,” p. 153.
The asterisks in the above passage, no doubt, supply the place of some very dreadful words, since Mr. Moore has thought fit to suppress them. Murray, to whom the letter, from which the passage is extracted, was addressed, seems to have expostulated with Byron on the injustice of bis censure, or the excessive ferocity of his resentment. The poet replies
“ You ask me to spare **** Ask the worms. His dust can suffer nothing from the truth being spoken: and if it could, how did he behave to me? You may talk to the wind, which will carry the sound- and to the caves which will echo you-but not to me, on the subject of a **** who wrongs me, whether dead or alive.” p. 156.
We feel in duty bound to quote his remarks, in quite a different strain, upon another instance of suicide. The subject of them, it seems, had been an enemy of Byron, and had assailed him, as we are informed by Mr. Moore, "with peculiar bitterness and insolence, at a crisis when both his heart and fame were most vulnerable." Considering this circumstance, they are certainly very amiable and generous.
" Poor Scott is now no more. In the exercise of his vocation, he contrived at last to make himself the subject of a coroner's inquest. But he died like a brave man, and he lived an able one. I knew him personally, though slightly. Although several years my senior, wc had been schoolfellows together at the grammar-schule' (or, as the Aberdonians pronounce it, squeel) of New Aberdeen. He did not behave to me quite handsomely in his capacity of editor a few years ago, but he was under no obligation to behave otherwise. The moment was too tempting for many friends and for all enemies. At a time when all my relations (save one) fell from me like leaves from the tree in autumn winds, and my few friends became still fewer—when the whole periodical press (I mean the daily and weekly, not the literary press) was let loose against me in every shape of reproach, with the two strange exceptions (from their usual opposition) of the Courier' and the · Examiner,'—the paper of which Scott had the direction was neither the last, nor the least vituperative. Two years ago I met him at Venice, when he was bowed in griefs by the loss of his son, and had knowo, by experience, the bitterness of domestic privation. He was then earnest with me to return to England ; and on my telling him, with a smile, that he was once of a different opinion, he replied to me, 'thạt he and others had been greatly misled; and that some pains, and rather extraordinary nicans, had been taken to excite them.' Scott is no more, but there are more than one living who were present at this dialogue. He was a man of very considerable talents, and of great acquirements. He had made his way, as a literary character, with high success, and in a few years. Poor fellow! I recollect bis joy at some appointment which he had obtained, or was to obtain through Sir James Mackintosh, and which prevented the farther extension (unless by a rapid run to Rome) of his travels in Italy. I little thought to what it would conduct him. Peace be with him !and may all such other faults as are inevitable to humanity be as readily forgiven him, as the little injury which he had done to one who respected his talents and regrets his loss.”—p. 253.
The other general remark suggested to us by the perusal of these letters is, that they shew Lord Byron to have been quite as much distinguished by his knowledge of the world, and his
acute, practical cleverness, as by the bighest attributes of genius.
That he should write good, or even admirable prose, is not, in itself, wonderful. Many other poets have excelled in the same way. But Byron's style is distinguished by an ease, simplicity, and abanilon rarely equalled even by those most practised in composition, and every thing he utters is marked with the inost accurate and judicious thinking. It is as good a specimen as we have ever seeu of strong healthy English sense—that common sense which is of all things most uncommon-in pure, idiomatic, expressive and vigorous English. It is, in short, very prose--and although, as we have said, he occasionally rises into a strain of far loftier inood than is common even in the epistles of the greatest men, his style never ceases to be perfectly free from affectation of every kind, and with no more of poetical colouring about it than is inseparable from the expression of a glowing thought or a deep feeling. Take the following animated and striking passage as a specimen. It is just one of those occasions, be it remarked, where, as Pope has it,
“if a poet, Shone in description, he might show it,” and where he would be most sorely tempted to show it. Yet nothing could be throwi off more carelessly. To be sure it is the dash of a naster's pencil, and we are not to wonder that the sketch is so spirited and fine.
"In reading, I have just chanced upon an expression of Tom Campbell's ;--speaking of Collins, he says, that " no reader cares any more about the characteristic manners of his Eclogues than about the authenticity of the tale of Troy.' 'Tis false-we do care about the authenticity of the tale of Troy. I have stood upon that plain daily for more than a month, in 1810; and if any thing diminished my pleasure, it was that the blackguard Bryant had impugned its veracity. It is true I read · Homer Travestied,' (the first twelve books,) because Hobhouse and others bored me with their learned localities, and I love quizzing. But I still venerated the grand original as the truth of history (in the material facts,) and of place. Otherwise, it would have given me no delight. Who will persuade me, when I reclined upon a mighty tomb, that it did not contain a hero? Its very magnitude proved this. Men do not labour over the ignoble and petty dead: and why should not the dead, be Homer's dead? The secret of Tom Campbell's defence of inaccuracy in costume and description is, that his Gertrude, &c. bas no more locality in common with Pennsylvania than with Penmanmaur. It is notoriously full of grossly false scenery, as all Americans declare, though they praise parts of the poem. It is thus that self-love forever creeps out, like a snake, to sting any thing whichi happens, even accidentally, to stumble upon it.” p. 279.
VOL. VII.--No. 13.
We were greatly struck, the first time we read this passage, with the very few lines in it which relate to Homer and Troy. The style, both of thought and expression, seems to us remarkable for a noble, and even grand simplicity, while that “reclining upon a mighty tomb,” presents, in itself, to the fancy of the reader a complete picture, and brings thronging about it all the great associations of that holy ground of poetry and arms. It reminded us strongly of some imagery in the letter to Murray upon the Pope and Bowles controversy. There is no inerit of composition more rare and exquisite, than that of thus exhibiting a perfect image of the object described, suggesting, at the same time, and calling , as if by enchantment, the whole scene to which it belongs, without any laboured pomp of description. Every scholar knows what high encomiums have been deservedly passed by the critics upon a noted instance of the kind in an oration of Cicero, in which he paints Verres in an effeminate foreign costume, reclining upon the shoulder of a courtezan, and looking out upon a fleet at sea from the shore at Syracuse.* These letters and journals abound with such beauties.
But descriptive talent is not to our present purpose—nor is Byron's merit as a prose-writer by any means confined to his style. He is a sound and most ingenious thinker. It is scarcely possible to open this volume-unequal as familiar epistles generally are—without being struck with this truth, and wondering how so sensible a man, could have yielded himself up, in the conduct of life, so unresistingly, to the besetting sins of his temper and temperament. We might easily adduce instances without number—but we shall confine ourselves to one. We mean his defence of Pope-a favourite subject, to which he recurs again and again, with unabated enthusiasm. We venture to back him in this-his chosen vocation of critic and champion of injured genius-against any Aristarchus of the schools from the first downward. We would willingly reprint all that he has said upon this subject,-bating the extravagance to which the zeal of the advocate has, in a single instance, carried him—to aid in the circulation of so much excellent sense and good writing-especially as this volume may be considered, in some sort, as an interdicted book. But we will content ourselves with two extracts-one of them containing some curious remarks upon Pope's amour with Miss Blount.
" And here I wish to say a few words on the present state of English poetry. That this is the age of the decline of English poetry will be doubted by few who have calmly considered the subject. That there
* In Verrem, act ii. 1. 5. c. 33.
are men of genius among the present poets makes little against the fact, because it has been well said, that next to him who forms the taste of his country, the greatest genius is he who corrupts it.' No one has ever denied genius to Marino, who corrupted not merely the taste of Italy, but that of all Europe for nearly a century. The great cause of the present deplorable state of English poetry is to be attributed to that absurd and systematic depreciation of Pope, in which, for the last few years, there has been a kind of epidemical concurrence. Men of the most opposite opinions have united upon this topic. Warton and Churchill began it, having borrowed the hint probably from the heroes of the Dunciad, and their own internal conviction that their proper reputation can be as nothing till the most perfect and harmonious of poets --he who, having no fault, has had reason made his reproach-was reduced to what they conceived to be his level; but even they dared not degrade him below Dryden. Goldsmith, and Rogers, and Campbell, his most successful disciples; and Hayley, who, however feeble, has left one poem that will not be willingly let die '(the Triumphs of Temper,) kept up the reputation of that pure and perfect style : and Crabbe, the first of living poets, has almost equalled the master. Then came Darwin, who was put down by a single poem in the Antijacobin : and the Cruscans, from Merry to Jerningham, who were annihilated (if Nothing can be said to be annihilated) by Gifford, the last of the wholesome English satirists.
“ These three personages, S**, W**, and C**, had all of them a very natural antipathy to Pope, and I respect them for it, as the only original feeling or principle which they have contrived to preserve. But they have been joined in it by those who have joined them in nothing else : by the Edinburgh Reviewers, by the whole heterogeneous mass of living English poets, excepting Crabbe, Rogers, Gifford, and Campbell, who, both by precept and practice, have proved their adherence; and by me, who have shamefully deviated in practice, but have ever loved and honoured Pope's poetry with my whole soul, and hope to do so till my dying day. I would rather see all I have ever written lining the same trunk in which I actually read the eleventh book of a modern Epic poem at Malta, in 1811, (I opened it to take out a change after the paroxyism of a terrian, in the absence of my servant, and found it lined with the name of the maker, Eyre, Cockspur-street, and with the Epic poetry alluded to,) than sacrifice what I firmly believe in as the Christianity of English poetry, the poetry of Pope.
“Nevertheless, I will not go so far as ** in his postscript, who pretends that no great poet ever had immediate fame ; which, being interpreted, means that ** is not quite so much read by his contemporaries as might be desirable. This assertion is as false as it is foolish. Homer's glory depended upon his present popularity : he recited, and without the strongest impression of the moment, who would have gotten the Iliad by heart, and given it to tradition? Ennius, Terence, Plautus, Lucretius, Horace, Virgil, Æschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Sappbo, Anacreon, Theocritus, all the great poets of antiquity, were the delight