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Connected with this effect of moral character and conduct upon the style of writing, is the influence it also exerts upon the choice of company. Or, to express the idea we would convey, more correctly—the man who devotes himself to the accomplishment of some undertaking for the good of his fellow-creatures, even upon merely selfish principles, will be far more likely to fall into company which will improve him morally and intellectually, than he who lives a life of sensual and inactive indulgence. This was, to some extent, the case with lord Byron, even amid the bustle of military preparations for the assistance of Greece. The moment he stepped out of the debauchery of Italy, he fell into company with a sincere, though probably eccentric Christian—and of other persons willing to converse on religious subjects.
“The person,” says his biographer, “whose visits appeared to give him most pleasure, as well from the interest he took in the subject on which they chiefly conversed, as from the opportunities, sometimes, of pleasantry which the peculiarities of his visitor af. forded him, was a medical gentleman, named Kennedy, who, from a strong sense of the value of religion to himself, had taken up the benevolent task of communicating his own light to others. The first origin of their intercourse was an undertaking on the part of this gentleman, to convert to a firm belief in Christianity some rather skeptical friends of his, then at Argostoli. Happening to hear of the meeting appointed for this purpose, lord Byron begged that he might be allowed to attend, saying to the person through whom he conveyed his request, ‘You know I am reckoned a black sheep—yet, after all, not so black as the world believes me.’ He had promised to convince Dr. Kennedy that, “though wanting, perhaps in faith, he at least had patience;’ but the process of so many hours of lecture—no less than twelve, without interruption, being stipulated for—was a trial beyond his strength; and, very early in the operation, as the doctor informs us, he began to show evident signs of a wish to exchange the part of hearer for that of speaker. Notwithstanding this, however, there was in all his deportment, both as listener and talker, such a degree of courtesy, candor, and sincere readiness to be taught, as excited interest, if not hope, for his future welfare in the good doctor; and though he never after attended the more numerous meetings, his conferences on the same subject, with Dr. Kennedy alone, were not unfrequent during the reinainder of his stay at Cephalonia.
“These curious conversations are now on the eve of being
WOL. II. 38
published, and to the value which they possess as a simple and popular exposition of the chief evidences of Christianity, is added the charm that must ever dwell round the character of one of the interlocutors, and the almost fearful interest attached to every word that, on such a subject, he utters. In the course of the first conversation, it will be seen that lord Byron expressly disclaimed being one of those infidels ‘who deny the Scriptures, and wish to remain in unbelief.” On the contrary, he professed himself “desirous to believe ; as he experienced no happiness in having his religious opinions unfixed.’”
The conversations alluded to above have now been before the public for some time. It comports with our present design to make but two remarks concerning them, which shall close our observations on the publication before us.
It is very evident, even from the brief account which Mr. Moore has given of those conversations, as well as from what we have gathered by a cursory perusal of them, since their publication, that the attitude of mind assumed by lord Byron, throughout the time of their continuance, was that of a serious levity. It is upon this that we would first remark. There is a strong tendency in the human mind, when a subject solemnly true is pressed upon its attention, and yet to the proper influence of which it does not wish to yield, to endeavor to cast off, as far as possible, the unpleasant weight of responsibility which is thus thrown upon it, by indulging in an affected levity of word or action. It is on this principle that we account for many of those “bon mots,” of which we read, uttered by condemned statesmen, and others, led to the block during the scenes of the French revolution, and recorded also on other bloody pages of the history of man. If, says a writer, these sayings of persons thus condemned, were gathered into a volume, they would form a melancholy jest-book of considerable dimensions. On the same principle, we account for that “foolish talking and jesting,” concerning Charon and his boat, and conversations with Rhadamanthus in hell, recorded by Adam Smith, of his friend Hume, when lying on his dying bed, with the scenes of eternity just before him. We notice in these things, not what some would have us see, the triumph of infidelity, and its power to support what they falsely call a philosophical mind, on the brink of the grave; but a constrained levity, which betokens, even in an infidel, any thing but firmness; and betrays a mind ill at ease, in view of the solemn realities
which press, uncalled-sor and unwelcomely, upon its meditations. We notice these, as well as other things dwelt upon in this article, as presenting another instance of the homage which error is often constrained to pay to the majesty of truth. Now we have often seen this same principle develope itself in the conduct and conversation of men, on the subject of the Christian religion. We have often seen it used to parry the thrust which the “sword of the Spirit” aimed at the guilty conscience of man. These conversations of lord Byron with Dr. Kennedy develope it constantly. As we read them, we cannot but think of the mirth which Solomon calls the laughter which is mad—the laughter, in the midst of which the heart is sorrowful. In the extract we have made above, Byron “professed himself desirous to believe ; as he experienced no happiness in having his religious opinions so unfixed.” No one can read the conversations, without seeing, in the midst of an assumed levity, the pantings of a soul weary and heavy laden, seeking rest. And yet, there is no persevering exertion to find rest. The wish to believe, expressed in the language we have quoted, however sincere it may have been at the time, was but as the ripple excited for a moment, by the breath of heaven, upon the surface of a deep, strong current of worldliness, proceeding with silent, but overwhelming force, in an entirely opposite direction. A slight levity, like a beam of sunshine, played on it for a moment, but the tide still “ran in darkness and coldmess below.” In a word, lord Byron, like many others when conversing on the same subject, prevented the power of religion from approaching closely to his conscience and his heart, by a levity which kept it at a distance. Our second remark on these conversations is one which interests our own mind, more than all which we have made; and the one which operated as the chief motive for presenting those which have been already expressed. It will be seen, perhaps, from what we have written—particularly from the thoughts we have ventured to write concerning the effects of a vicious life on the faculty of memory—the effect of moral character upon the style of writing, and upon the choice of company, as well as upon the manner in which we contemplate and speak of religious truth—that, throughout our observations, we have had principally in view, the adaptation of the religion of Christ to the faculties and emotions of the human mind. It is with reference to this great, and interesting subject, that we are so deeply interested in all that concerns lord Byron, and especially in all that is recorded of him, in his biography, by Moore. We think we see in it some of the most appropriate and powerful illustrations of the adaptation of the faith of the gospel—not merely to the human mind in general—but to each of its faculties, and to each of its emotions;–to the will, the understanding, the imagination, the memory—to the hopes, the fears, the joys, and the sorrows of man. That which interests us the more in this subject, as it relates to Byron, is, that this appears to us to have been the light in which the evidences and the duties of religion could have been presented with the greatest effect to his mind; and the light in which they are calculated to produce the most salutary effect upon similar minds. It is the light also, in which Dr. Kennedy failed to present it, though he acknowledged its great importance. Lord Byron, if we may be excused the familiarity of the expression on a subject like this, was not a matter-of-sact man, except as facts enabled him to discover and express great principles connected with the philosophy of the human mind —and therefore the argument for Christianity drawn from history and prophecy was not the one best calculated to interest and convince him. In the figurative language of his biographer, uttered on another occasion—“he delighted to wander only amid the ruins of the heart, to dwell in places which the fire of feeling had desolated, and like the chestnut tree, which grows best in volcanic soils, to luxuriate most where the fire of passion had left its mark.” Now, we would fain have gone with him, having the gospel in our heart and on our lip, and as we gazed with him on such desolations, especially as they existed in his own dreary soul— we would have tried to show him, how, by the power of this gospel—
“Those ruins might be built again,
We would have tried to convince him how its blessed spirit, descending upon the parched soil of the human heart, like dew upon the mown grass, would make it to rejoice and blossom like the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley. Availing ourselves of that characteristic of his mind, which led him, on one of his voyages to the east, as he laid his hand on a dagger, to wonder how a man would feel, after committing murder;-we would have endeavored to show him, on the principles of a just philosophy, how the powers and affections of the mind will operate, when a man has once repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. With the Bible in our hands, as the foundation of our theory, we would have tried to illustrate to him, how, by “the power of mighty love" to Christ, the before disordered soul of man can be made to revolve in peaceful and eternal harmony around the centre of its affection—the sun of reason shining, resplendent, in a clear heaven—the cool atmosphere of chastened feelings again spreading freshness and vigor amid the hectic workings of turbulent passion—order succeeding confusion—and all the raging elements of the soul stilled, like the tempest of Galilee, by the voice of Jesus. We would have labored to convince him, that there is the same adaptation of the “Sun of righteousness” to the mental, as there is of the sun of nature to the natural world ;—that when we turn from it, all is dark—and when we return to it, all is brightness. As we beheld his soul in darkness, and saw it well-nigh bursting with the struggling power of uncontrolled and irrepressible passion; we would have pointed him to the sweet sentence, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We would have said—
“Here bring thy wounded heart,
Some of our readers may not sympathize with us, strongly, in these sentiments; but we hope there are others who will. In the language of another, we think that “we have measured our ground here, and know what we say, and whereof we affirm.” It is a theme on which we dwell with absorbing interest, the more attentively we contemplate the wonderful workings of the human mind, in the exercise of its moral and intellectual faculties; but chiefly, as in the instance before us, in the play of its mighty passions. We look with hope and confidence to the time, when a system of mental philosophy, on strictly Christian principles, shall be given to the world, in which it shall be shown that the law and gospel of God can alone regulate the wanderings of mind, as the law of gravitation alone can regulate the wanderings of