« السابقةمتابعة »
“l)ifficile cst proprie communia dicere." — Hor.
“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more Cakes and Ale?—Yes, by Saint Anne, and Ginger shall be uot i' the mouth, too !” – Suakspeake, Twelfth Night, or What You Will.
THE render of the “ Notices of the Life of Lord Byron" is already in possession of abundant details, concerning the circumstances under which the successive cantos of Don Ju AN were produced. We think it right, however, to repeat, in this place, some of the most striking passages of the Poet's own letters, with reference to this performance : —
September 19. 1818. —“I have finished the First Canto (a long one, of about 180 octaves) of a poem in the style and manner of Beppo, encouraged by the good success of the same. It is called Don Juan, and is meant to be a little quietly facetious upon every, thing. But I doubt whether it is not—at least, as far as it has yet gone — too free for these very modest days. . . However, I shall try the experiment anonymously i and is it don't take, it will be discontinued. it is iodicated to Southey, in fo. simple, savage verse, upon the Laureate's politics, and the way he got them.” January 25, 1819. – “ Print it entire, omitting, of course, the lines on Castlereagh, as I am not on the spot to meet him. I have acquiesced in the request and representation ; and having done so, it is idle to detail my arguments in favour of my own self-love and poeshie; but I protest. If the poem has poetry, it would stand ; if not, fall; the rest is “ leather and prunello," and has never yet affected any human production pro or con.” Dulness is the only annihilator in such cases. As to the cant of the day, I despise it, as I have ever done all its other finical fashions, which become you as paint became the ancient Britons. If you admit this prudery, you must omit half Ariosto, La Fontaine, Shakspeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Massinger, Ford, all the Charles Second writers ; in short, something of most who have written before Pope and are worth reading, and much of Pope himself. Read him — most of you don't — but do — and I will forgive you; though the inevitable consequence would be, that you would burn all I have ever written, and all your other wretched Claudians of the day (except Scott and Crabbe) into the bargain.” February 1, 1819. —“I have not yet begun to copy out the Second Canto, which is finished, from natural laziness, and the discouragement of the milk and water they have thrown upon the First. I say all this to them as to you, that is, for on to say to them, for I will have nothing underhand. If they ad told me the poetry was bad. I would have acquiesced ; but they say the contrary, and then talk to me about morality — the first time I ever heard the word from any body who was not a rascal that used it for a purpose. ... I maintain that it is the most moral of poems : but if people won't discover the moral, that is their fault, not mine.” April 6. 1819.- “You sha’n’t make canticles of my cantos. The poem will please, if it is lively; if it is stupid, it will fail: but I will have none of your damned cutting and slashing. If you please, you may publish anonymously; it will perhaps be better ; but I will battle my way against them all, like a porcupine.” August 12, 1810. – “You are right, Gifford is right, Crabbe is right, Hobhouse is right—you are all right, and I am all wrong ; but do, pray, let me have that pleasure. Cut me up root and branch ; quarter me in the Quarterly ; send round my disjecti membra poetae,” like those of the Levite's concubine ; make me, if you will, a spectacle to men and angels: but don't ask me to alter, for I won't : — I am obstinate and lazy – and there 's, the truth. – You ask me for the plan of Donny Johnny : I have no ". I had no plan ; but I had or have materials; though if, like Tony Lumpkin, ‘ I am to be snubbed so when I am in spirits.' the poem will be naught, and the poet turn serious again. If it don't take, I will leave it of where it is, with all due respect to the public ; but if continued, it must be in my own way. You might as well make Hamlet (or Diggory) act mad’ in a strait waistcoat, as trammel my buffoonery, if I am to be a buffoon ; their estures and my thoughts would only be pitiably absurd and udicrously constrained. Why, man, the soul of such writing is its licence; at least the liberty of that licence, if one likes — not that one should abuse it. It is like Trial by Jury and
' [Boswell's Johnson, vol. vii. p. 10. cdit. 1835.]
Peerage, and the Habeas Corpus — a very fine thinz, but chiefly in the rerersion; because no one wishes to be tried for the mere pleasure of proving his possession of the privilege. But a truce with these reflections. You are too earnest and eager about a work never intended to be serious. Do you suppose that I could have any intention but to giggle and make giggle 2 — a playful satire, with as little poetry as could be helped, was what I meant. And as to the indecency, do, pray, read in Boswell what Johnson, the sullen moralist, says of Prior and Paulo Purgante.” August 24. 1819. —“Keep the anonymous: it helps what fun there may be. But if the matter grows serious about ‘Don Juan,’ and you feel yourself in a scrape, or me either, own that I am the author. I will never shrink ; and if you olo, I can always answer you in the question of Guatimozin to his minister — each being on his own coals.” I wish that I had been in better spirits; but I am out of sorts, out of nerves, and, now and then (I begin to fear), out of my senses.”
Such additional particulars, respecting the production of the later Cantos, as may seem to deserve preservation, shall be given as the poem proceeds. In the mean time, we have been much puzzled how to put the reader, who does not recollect the incidents of 1819, in possession of any thing like an adequate view of the nature and extent of the animadversion called forth by the first publication of Don Juan.
Cantos I. and II. appeared in London, in July, 1819, without the name either of author or bookseller, in a thin quarto; and the periodical press immediately teemed with the “judicia doctorum — necnon aliorum.” It has occurred to us, that on this occasion we might do worse than adopt the example set us in the Preface to the first complete edition of the DUNcian. We there read as follows:– “Before we present thee, Reader, with our exercitations on this most delectable Poem (drawn from the many volumes of our Adversaria on modern Authors), we shall here, according to the laudable usage of editors, collect the various judgments of the Learned concerning our Poet: various, indeed —not only of different authors, but of the same author at different seasons. Nor shall we gather only the Testimonies of such eminent Wits as would of course descend to posterity, and consequently be read without our collection ; but we shall likewise, with incredible labour, seek out for divers others, which, but for this our diligence, could never, at the distance of a few months, appear to the eye of the most curious. Hereby thou may'st not only receive the delectation of variety, but also arrive at a more certain judgment, by a grave and circumspect comparison of the witnesses with each other, or of each with himself.” In like manner, therefore, let us now gratify our readers, by selecting, in reference to Don Juan, a few of the chief
our readers, merely observing, that, whatever its character, report has been completely erroneous respecting it. If it is not — (and truth compels us to admit it is not) – the most moral roduction in the world, but more in the Beppo 'style, yet s there nothing of the sort which Scandal with her hundred tongues whispered abroad, and Malignity joyfully believed and repeated, contained in it. 'T is simply a tale and righte merrie concent, flighty, wild, extravagant — immoral too, it must be confessed ; but no arrows are levelled at innocent bosoms, no sacred family peace invaded ; and they must have, indeed, a strange self-consciousness, who can discover their own portrait in any part of it. Thus much, though we cannot advocate the book, truth and justice ordain us to declare.”]
Even more complimentary, on this occasion, was the sober, matter-of-fact Thwaitsism of the
II. MORNING III, RALD.
“It is hardly safe or discreet to speak of Don Juan, that truant offspring of Lord Byron's muse. It may be said, however, that, with all its sins, the copiousness and flexibility of the English language were never before so triumphantly approved—that the same compass of talent – the grave, the gay, the great, the small,' comic force, humour, metaphysics, and observation–boundless fancy and ethereal beauty, and curious knowledge, curiously applied, have never been blended with the same felicity in any other poem.”
Next comes a harsher voice, from — probably Lees Giffard, Esq., LL.D. — at all events, from that stanch organ of high Toryism, the “ St. James's Chronicle,” still flourishing, but now better known to London readers by its daily title of “The Standard.”
iii. St. JAMes’s Chrt ONICLE.
“. Of indirect testimony, that the poem comes from the pen of Lord Byron, there is enough to enforce conviction. The same full command of our language, the same thorough knowledge of all that is evil in our nature, the condensed energy of sentiment, and the striking boldness of imagery — all the characteristics by which Childe Harold, the Giaour, and the Corsair, are distinguished — shine with kindred splendour in Don Juan. Would we had not to add another point of resemblance, in the utter absence of moral feeling, and the hostility to religion, which betray themselves in almost every passage of the new poem . But Don Juan is, alas ! the most licentious poem which has for many years issued from the English press.”
The fourth on our list is “The New Times,” conducted in those days by the worthy and learned Sir John Stoddart, LL.D., now Chief Justice of Malta.
IV. NEW TIMES.
“The work is clever and pungent, sometimes reminding us of the earlier and more inspired day of the writer, but chiefly characterised by his latter style of scattered versification and accidental poetry. It begins with a few easy prefatory stanzas relative to the choice of a hero ; and then details the learned and circumspect education of Don Juan, under his lady mother's eye. Lord Byron knows the additional vigour to be found in drawing from the life; and his portraiture of the literary matron, who is, like Michael Cassio, a great arithmetician, some touches on the folly of female studies, and a lament over the hen-pecked husbands who are linked to ladies intellectual,” are obviously the results of domestic recollections.”
Lord Burleigh himself never shook his head more
“This is a very large book, affecting many mysteries, but
ssessing, very tew ; assuming much originality, though it so it not. The author is wrong to pursue so eccentric a flight. It is too artificial : it is too much like the enterprise of Icarus ; and his declination, or, at any rate, that of his book, will be as rapid, if not as disastrous, as the fabled tumble of that ill-starred youth.”
We pass to “The Literary Gazette,” edited then, as now, by William Jerdam, Esq. of Grove House, Brompton ; who is sure of being remembered hereafter for his gallant seizure of Bellingham, the assassin of Perceval, in the lobby of the House of Commons, on the I lth of May, 1812; and the establishment of the first Weekly Journal of Criticism and Belles Lettres in England.
VI. LITERARY GAZETTE.
“There is neither author's nor publisher's name to this book ; and the large quarto titlepage looks quite pure, with only seventeen words scattered over its surface: perhaps we cannot say that there is equal purity throughout ; but there is not much of an opposite kind, to offend even fastidious criticism, or sour morality. That Lord 13yron is the author there is internal proof. The public mind, so agitated by the strange announcement of this stranger, in the newspaper advertisements, may repose in quiet; since we can assure our readers that the avatar so dreaded, neither refers to the return of Buonaparte, nor to the coming of any other great national calamity, but simply to the publication of an exceedingly clever and entertaining poem. Even when we blame the too great laxity of the poet, we cannot but feel a high admiration of his talent. Far superior to the libertine he paints, fancifulness and gaiety gild his worst errors, and no brute force is employed to overthrow innocence. Never was English festooned into more luxuriant stanzas than in Don Juan. Like the dolphin sporting in its native waves, at every turn, however grotesque, displaying a new hue and a new beauty, the noble author has shown an absolute control over his means ; and at every cadence, rhyme, or construction, however whimsical, delighted us with novel and magical associations. The style and nature of this poem appear to us to be a singular, mixture of burlesque and pathos, of humorous observation and the higher elements of poetical composition. In ribaldry and drollery, the author is surpassed by many writers who have had their day and sunk into oblivion: but in highly wrought interest, and overwhelmi.g. passion, he is himself alone.”
As the Editor of the Journal above quoted thought fit to insert, soon after, certain extracts from a work then—(and probably still) — in MS., entitled “Lord Byron's Plagiarisms,” he (the Editor) will not think it indecorous in us here to append a specimen of the said work — which is known to have proceeded from no less a pen than that of
VII. ALARIC A. WATTS, ESQ.
“A great deal has been said, at various times, about the originality of Lord Byron's conception, as it respects the characters of the heroes and heroines of his poetry. We are, however, disposed to believe, that his dramatis persona are mostly the property of other erhibitors, although he may sometimes furnish them with new dresses and decorations, — with “ sable hair,' ' unearthly scowls,' ' a vital scorn' of all beside themselves, – and such additional improvements as he may consider necessary, in order to enable them to make their appearance with satisfaction to himself, and profit, or at least amusement, to the public. . Sooth to say, there are few people better adapted to play the part of a Corsair than his lordship ; for he is positively unequalled by an marauder we ever met with or heard of, in the extent an variety of his literary piracies, and unacknowledged obligations to various great men — ay, and women too — living as well as deceased.”
The next weekly Journalist whom we hold it proper to quote is “The Champion ” — in other words, Thomas Hill, Esq., the generous original patron of Kirke White and Robert Bloomfield, so eloquently lauded by Southey in his Life of the former of these poets — then proprietor of
VIII. THE CHAMPION.
“Don Juan is undoubtedly from the pen of Lord Byron ; and the mystery in the publication seems to be nothing but a bookseller's trick to excite curiosity and enhance the sale: for although the book is infinitely more immoral than the
ublications against which the prosecutions of the Society or the Suppression of Vice are directed, we find nothing in it that * be likely to be regarded as actionable. At the bar of moral criticism, indeed, it may and must be arraigned ; and against the process and decrees of that court, the subterfuges appealed to will be no protection. Other writers, in their attacks o whatever mankind may or ought to reverence, make their advances in partial detail : Lord Byron proceeds by general assault. Some, while they war against religion, pay homage to morality; and others, while they subvert all morals, cant about religion ; Lord Byron displays at once all the force and energy of his faculties, all the powers of poetry, and the missiles of wit and ridicule, against whatever is respectable in either. There is, of course, a good deal of miscellaneous matter dispersed through the two cantos : and though, in those parts which affect to be critical, the wantonness of wit is sometimes more apparent than the sedateness of impartial judgment; and though the politics occasionally savour more of caustic misanthropy, than of that
ix. Gentle MAN'S MAGAZINe.
“Don Juan is obviously intended as a satire upon some of the conspicuous characters of the day. The best friends of the poet must, with ourselves, lament to observe abilities of so high an order rendered subservient to the spirit of infidelity and libertinism. The noble bard, by employing his genius on a worthy subject, might delight and instruct mankind; but the present work, though written with ease and spirit, and containing many truly poetical passages, cannot be read by persons of moral and religious feelings without the most detided reprobation.”
We next have the
x. Moxthly REVIEW.
“Don Juan is a poem, which, if originality and variety be the surest test of genius, has certainly the highest title to it; and which, we think, would have puzzled Aristotle, with all his strength of poetics, to explain, have animated Longinus with some of its passages, have delighted Aristophanes, and have choked Anacreon with joy instead of with a grape. We might almost imagine that the ambition had seized the author to please and to displease the world at the same time; but we can scarcely think that he deserves the fate of the old man and his son and the ass, in the fable, – or that he will please nobody, -how strongly soever we may condemn the more than poetic licence of his muse. He has here exhibited that wonderful versatility of style and thought, which appears almost incompatible within the scope of a single subject; and the familiar and the sentimental, the witty and the sublime, the sarcastic and the pathetic, the gloomy and the droll, are all touched with so happy an art, and mingled together with such a power of union, yet such a discrimination of style, that a I. of the poem appears more like a pleasing and ludicrous dream, than the sober feeling of reality. . It is certainly one of the strangest, though not the best, of dreams; and it is much to be wished that the author, before he lay down to sleep, had invoked, like Shakspeare's Lysander, some good angel to protect him against the wicked spirit of slumbers. We hope, however, that his readers have learned to admire his genius without being in danger from its influence; and we must not be surprised if a poet will not always write to instruct as well as to please us.”
To which add a miscellany which, in spite of great occasional merit, is now defunct — the
xi. LONDON MAGAZINE.
“Lord Byron's m of Don Juan, though a wonderful roof of the versatility of his powers, is avowedly licentious. t is a satire on decency, on fine feeling, on the rules of conduct necessary to the conservation of society, and on some of his own near connections. Vivacious allusions to certain ractical irregularities are things which it is to be supposed nnocence is strong enough to resist: but the quick alternation of pathos and profaneness, – of serious and moving sentiment and indecent ribaldry, - of afflicting, soul-rending pictures of human distress, rendered keen by the most pure and hallowed sympathies of the human breast, and absolute jeering of human nature, and general mockery of creation, destiny, and heaven itself— this is a sort of violence, the effect of which is either to sear or to disgust the inind of the reader, and which cannot be fairly characterised but as an insult and outrage."
mankind, the charm of its perverted inspiration will for ever be expended in vain. This is by far the most offensive of all Lord Byron's performances. We have here, for the first time in the history of our literature, a great work, of which the very basis is infidelity and licentiousness, and the most obtrusive ornaments are impure imaginations and blasphemous sneers. The work cannot perish : for it has in it, full and overflowing, the elements of intellectual vigour, and bears upon it the stamp of surpassing hower. The Poet is, indeed," damned to everlasting fame.'"
The Monthly organ of criticism possessing most sway among certain strictly religious circles, was, in 1819, as now, the
xIV. ECLECTIC Review. “We have had enough of that with which Lord Byron's poetry is replete – himself. The necessary progress of character, as developed in his last reputed production, has conducted him to a point at which it is no longer safe to follow him even in thought, for fear we should be beguiled of any portion of the detestation due to this bold outrage. Poetry which it is impossible not to read without admiration, yet which it is equally impossible to admire without losing some degree of self-respect, can be safely dealt with only in one way, — by passing it over in silence. There are cases in which it is equally impossible to relax into laughter, or to soften into pity, without feeling that an immoral concession is made to vice. The author of the following stanza might seem to invite our compassionate sympathy : — * No more — no more – Oh I never more, my heart, Canst thou be my sole world, my universe I Once all in all, but now a thing apart, Thou canst not be my blessing or my curse: The illusion's gone for ever, and thou art Insensible. I trust, but none the worse, And in thy stead I've got a deal of judgment, Though heaven knows how it ever found a lodgement,’ &c. These lines are exceedingly touching, and they have that character of truth which distinguishes Lord Byron's poetry. He writes like a man who has that clear perception of the truth of things, which is the result of the guilty knowledge of good and o and who, by the light of that knowledge, has deliberately preferred the evil, with a proud malignity of purpose which would seem to leave little for the last consumimating change to accomplish. When he calculates that the reader is on the verge of pitying him, he takes care to throw him back the defiance of laughter, as if to let him know that all the Poet's pathos is but the sentimentalism of the drunkard between his cups, or the relenting softness of the courtesan. who the next moment resumes the bad boldness of her degraded character. With such a man, who would wish to laugh or to weep 2 And yet, who that reads him can refrain alternately from either f'
Another now silent oracle was
xv. the British CRITIC.
“A satire was announced, in terms so happily mysterious, as to set the town on the very tiptoe of expectation. A thousand low and portentous murmurs preceded its birth. At one time it was declared to be so intolerably severe, that an alarming increase was to be apprehended in the catalogue of our national suicides; at another, it was stated to be of a complexion so blasphemous, as, even in these days of liberality, to endanger the personal security of the bookseller. Feariul indeed was the prodigy—a book without a bookseller; an advertisement without an advertiser – a deed without a name." After all this portentous parturition, out creeps Don Juan,—and, doubtless, much to the general disappointment of the town, as innocent of satire as any other Don in the Spanish dominions. If, then, it be not a satire – what is it 2 A more perplexing question could not be put to the critical squad. Of the four hundred and odd stanzas which the two Cantos contain, not a tittle could, even in the utmost latitude of interpretation, be dignified by the name of poetry. It has not wit enough to be comic; it has not spirit enough to be lyric: nor is it didactic of any thing but mischief. The versification and morality are about upon a par ; as far, therefore, as we are enabled to give it any character at all, we should pronounce it a narrative of degrading debauchery in doggrel rhyme. The style which the noble Lord has adopted is tedious and wearisome to a most insufferable degree. Don Juan is no burlesque, nor mock heroic: it consists of the common adventures of a common man, ill conceived, tediously told, and poorly illustrated. In the present thick and heavy quarto, containing upwards of four hundred doggrel stanzas, there are not a dozen places that, even in the merriest mood, could raise a smile. It is true that we may be very pull Dogs, and as little able to comprehend the wit of his lordship, as to construe his poetry."
We now arrive at two authorities to which, on this occasion, uncommon attention is due, inasmuch as
their castigations of Don Juan were considered worthy of very elaborate comment and reclamation on the part of Lord Byron himself. Of these, the first is that famous Article in the no otherwise famous work, since defunct, styled “The British Review,” or, in the phrase of Don Juan
XVI. “MY GRAND MOTHER'S REVIEW, THE British.”
“Of a poem so flagitious, that no bookseller has been willing to take upon himself the publication, though most of them disgrace themselves by selling it, what can the critic say? His praise or censure ought to found itself on examples produced from the work itself. For praise, as far as regårds the noetry, many passages might be exhibited ; for condemnation, as far as regards the morality, all: but none for either purpose can be produced, without insult to the ear of decency, and vexation to the heart that feels for domestic or national happiness. This poem is sold in the shops as the work of Lord Byron ; but the name of neither author nor bookseller is on the title page: we are, therefore, at liberty to suppose it not to be Lord Byron's composition; and this scepticism has something to justify it, in the instance which has lately occurred of the name of that nobleman having been borrowed for a tale of disgusting horror, published under the title of * The Vampire.' But the strongest argument against the supposition of its being the performance of Lord Byron is this ; – that it can hardly be possible for an English nobleman, even in his mirth, to send forth to the public the direct and palpable falsehood contained in the 209th and 210th stanzas of the First Canto.
“For fear some prudish readers should grow skittish,
* I sent it in a letter to the editor,
No misdemeanor — not even that of sending into the world obscene and blasphemous poetry, the product of studious lewdness and laboured impiety — appears to us in so detestable a light as the acceptance of a present by an editor of a Review, as the condition of praising an author; and yet the miserable man (for ho is, as having a soul of which he cannot get rid), who has given birth to this pestilent poem, has not scrupled to lay this to the charge of “The British Review : ' and that, not by insinuation, but has actually stated himself to have sent money in a letter to the Editor of this journal, who acknowledged the receipt of the same by a letter in return, with thanks. No peer of the British realm can surely be capable of so calumnious a falsehood, refuted, we trust, by the very character and spirit of the journal so defamed. We are compelled, therefore, to conclude that this poem cannot be Lord Byron's production: and we, of course, expect that Lord Byron will, with all gentlemanly haste, disclaim a work imputed to him, containing a calumny so wholly the product of malignant invention. “If somebody personating the editor of the British Review has received money from Lord Byron, or from any other person, by way of bribe to praise his compositions, the fraud *. traced by the production of the letter which the author states himself to have received in return. Surely, then, if the author of this poem has any such letter, he will produce it for this purpose. But lest it should be said that we have not in positive terms denied the charge, we do utterly deny that there is one word of truth, or the semblance of truth, as far as regards this Review or its Editor, in the assertions made in the stanzas above referred to. We really feel a sense of degradation, as the idea of this odious imputation passes through our minds. “We have heard, that the author of the poem under consideration designed what he has said in the 35th stanza as a sketch of his own character:– * Yet Jóse was an honourable man; That I must say, who knew him very well."
If, then, he is this honourable man, we shall not call in vain for an act of justice at his hands, in declaring that he did not mean his word to be taken, when, for the sake of a jest (our readers will judge how far such a mode of jesting is defensible), he stated, with the particularity which belongs to fact, the forgery of a groundless fiction.” [No. xviii. 1819.]
The foregoing vindication of the Editor of the British Review (Mr. Roberts) called forth from Lord Byron that “LETTER to tire Editon of MY GRANDMorii ER's Review,” which the reader will find in the
present volume. l. We next solicit attention to the following passages from the redoubted organ of Northern Toryism,
XVII. BLACKWOOD. “In the composition of this work there is unquestionably a more thorough and intense infusion of genius and viceower and profligacy – than in any poem which had ever efore been written in the English or, indeed, in any other modern language. , Had the wickedness been less inextrically mingled with the beauty, and the grace, and the strength of a most inimitable and incomprehensible muse, our task would have been easy. Don Juan is by far the most admirable specimen of the mixture of ease, strength, gaiety, and seriousness extant in the whole body of English poetry: the author has devoted his powers to the worst of purposes and passions: and it increases his guilt and our sorrow, that he has devoted them entire. “The moral strain of the whole poem is pitched in the lowest key. Love—honour — patriotism — religion, are mentioned only to be scoffed at, as if their sole resting-place were, or ought to be, in the bosoms of fools. It appears, in short, as if this miserable man, having exhausted every species of sensual gratification – having drained the cup of sin even to its bitterest dregs – were resolved to show us that he is no longer a human being, even in his frailties ; but a cool unconcerned fiend, laughing with a detestable glee over the whole of the better and worse elements of which human life is composed — treating well nigh with equal derision the most pure of virtues, and the most odious of vices — dead alike to the beauty of the one, and the deformity of the other — a mere heartless despiser of that frail but noble humanity, whose type was never o in a shape of more deplorable degradation than in his own contemptuously distinct delineation of himself. To confess to his Maker, and weep over in secret agonies, the wildest and most fantastic transgressions of heart and mind, is the part of a conscious sinner, in whom sin has not become the sole principle of life and action. But, to lay bare to the eye of man — and of woman—all the hidden convulsions of a wicked spirit–and to do all this without one symptom of contrition, remorse, or hesitation, with a calm, careless ferociousness of contented and satisfied depravity — this was an insult which no man of genius had ever before dared to put upon his, Creator or his species. Impiously railing against his God — madly and meanly disloyal to his Sovereign and his country, - and brutally outraging all the best feelings of female honour, affection, and oil.” how small a part of chivalry is that which remains to the descendant of the Byrons—a gloomy visor and a deadly weapon : “Those who are acquainted (as who is not 2) with the main incidents in the private life of Lord Byron — and who have not seen this production, will scarcely believe that malignity should have carried him so far, as to make him commence a filthy and impious poem with an elaborate satire on the character and manners of his wife – from whom, even by his own confession, he has been separated only in consequence of his own cruel and heartless misconduct. It is in vain for Lord Byron to attempt in any way to justify his own behaviour in that affair ; and, now that he has so openly and audaciously invited inquiry and reproach, we do not see any good reason why he should not plainly told so by the general voice of his countrymen. It would not be an easy matter to persuade any Man, who has any knowledge of the nature of Woman, that a female such as Lord Byron has himself described his wife to be, would rashly, or hastily, or lightly, separate herself, from tho love with which she had once been inspired for such a man as he is, or was. Had he not . insult upon insult, and scorn upon scorn – had he not forced the iron of his contempt into her very soul — there is no woman of delicacy and virtue, as he admitted Lady Byron to be, who would not have hoped all things and suffered all things from one, her love of whom must have been inwoven with so many exalting elements of delicious pride, and more delicious humility. To offend the love of such a woman was wrong — but it might be forgiven ; to desert her was unmanly—but he might have returned, and wiped for ever from her eyes the tears of her desertion ; – but to injure, and to desert, and then to turn back and wound her widowed privacy with unhallowed strains of cold-blooded mockery — was brutally, fiendishly, inexpiably mean. For impurities there might be some possibility of pardon, were they supposed to spring only from * reckless buoyancy of young blood and fiery passions;- for impiety there might at least be pity, were it visible that the misery of the impious soul equalled its darkness : — but for offences such as this, which cannot proceed, either from the madness of sudden impulse, or the bewildered agonies of doubt – but which speak the wilful and determined spite of an unrepenting, unsoftened, smiling, sarcastic, joyous sinner—there can be neither pity nor pardon. Our knowledge that it is committed by one of the most powerful intellects our island ever has produced, lends in
tensity a thousand fold to the bitterness of our indignation. Every high thought that was ever kindled in our breasts by the muse of Byron — every pure and losty feeling that ever responded from within us to the sweep of his majestic inspirations — every remembered moment of admiration and enthusiasm, is up in arms against him. ... We look back with a mixture of wrath and scorn to the delight with which we suffered ourselves to be filled by one who, all the while he was furnishing us with delight, must, we cannot doubt it, have been mocking us with a cruel mockery — less cruel only, because less peculiar, than that with which he has now turned him from the lurking-place of his selfish and polluted exile, to pour the pitiful chalice of his contumely on the surrendered devotion of a virgin-bosom, and the holy hopes of the nother of his child. It is indeed a sad and an humiliating thing to know, that in the same year there proceeded from the same pen two productions, in all things so different, as the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold and this loathsome Don Juan. “We have mentioned one, and, all will admit, the worst instance of the private malignity which has been embodied in so many passages of Don Juan : and we are quite sure, the lofty-minded and virtuous men whom Lord Byron has debased himself by insulting, will close the volume which contains their own injuries, with no feelings save those of pity for Him that has inflicted them, and for Her who partakes so largely in the same injuries.” (Aug. 1819.]
The “ REMARKs Urox AN ART1cf.E IN BLAckwoon's MAGAzis E,”—which Lord Byron wrote on perusing the above-quoted passages, and which were printed at the time, but on consideration suppressed, —are now, for the first time, published in the present volume. 1
As a pleasing relief, in the midst of these prose criticisms, we present an extract from “Coxixton SENse, A PoEx1,” published in 1819, by a gentleman, we are informed, of eminent respectability, the Rev. Mr. Terrot, of Cambridge.
XVIII. TERRO.T. “Alas, for Byron : – Satire's sclf must own His song has something of a lofty tone: But t is an empty sound. If vice be low, Hateful and mean, then Byron's verse is so. Not all his genius saves him from the curse Of plunging deeper still from bad to worse; With frantic speed, he runs the road to ruin, And damns his name for ever by Don Juan.” He wants variety: nor does his plan Admit the idea of an honest man : One character alone can he afford To Harold, Conrad, Lara, or my Lord: Each half a madman, mischievous and sour, Supremely wretched each, and each a Giaour. Some fumigate my lord with praises sweet, Some lick the very dust beneath his feet. Jeffrey, with Christian charity so meek, Kisses the hand that smote him on the check. Gifford's retainers, Tory, Pittite, Itat, All join to soothe the surly Democrat. I, too, admire — but not through thick and thin, Northink him such a bard as ne'er hath been."
Let us indulge our readers, before we return to the realms of prose, with another wreath from the myrtles of Parnassus, – i. e. with an extract from an “Expostulatory Epistle to Lord Byron.”—
“By Cottle — not he whom the Alfred made famous ; But Joseph of Bristol, the brother of Amos.”
xix. COTTLe. “Is there a man, how fallen still to fall ! Who bears a dark precedency o'er all, Itejected by the land which gave him birth, And wandering now an outcast o'er the earth, On every virtuous door cn2raven hence " ' Whose very breath is plague and pestilence; A son, dismember'd, and to aliens thrown, Corrupting other climes — but first his own 7 One such there is ' whom sires unborn will curse, Hasting with giant stride from had to worse, Seeking untired to gain the sensual's smile, A pander for the profligate and vile ; His head rich fraught (like some bazaar's sly stall) With lecherous lays, that come at every call. There is a man, usurping lordly sway, Aiming alone to hold a world at bay;
1 (See Appexpix: Don Juan, Note B.]
Who, mean as daring, arrogant as vain,
The “Testimonies" hitherto quoted refer to the earlier—most of them to the first two–Cantos of Don Juan. We now pass to critical observations on the Poem as a whole; some introduced in periodical works of the time, others from separate tracts. Let us begin with the more measured language of Blackwood, in 1825 — when Lord Byron was no more.
XX. BLACKWOOD, -iterum. “We shall, like all others who say anything about Lord Byron, begin, sans apologie, with his personal character. This is the great object of attack, the constant theme of open vituperation to one set, and the established mark for all the petty but deadly artillery of sneers, shrugs, groans, to another. Two widely different matters, however, are generally, we might say universally, mixed up here — the personal chiracter of the man, as proved by his course of life, and his rsonal character as revealed in, or guessed from, his books. Nothing can be more unfair than the style in which this mixture is made use of. Is there a noble sentiment, a lofty thought, a sublime conception, in the book 2 – Ah, yes,' is the answer. . ." But what of that ? It is only the rowe Byron that speaks '' is a kind, a generous action cf the man mentioned ’ ‘Yes, yes,' comments the sage. but only remember the atrocities of Don Juan ; depend on it, this, if it be true, must have been a mere freak of caprice, or perhaps a bit of vile hypocrisy.' Salvation is thus shut out at either entrance: thc §. damns the man, and the man the poet. “Nobod: will suspect us of being so absurd, as to suppose that it is possible for people to draw no inferences as to the character of an author from his book, or to shut entirely out of view, in judging of a book, that which they may happen to know about the man who writes it. The cant of the day supposes such things to be practicable, but they are not. But what we complain of, ..f scorn, is the extent to which they are carried in the case of this particular individual, as compared with others; the impudence with which things are at once assumed to be facts in regard to his private history, and the absolute unfairness of never arguing from his writings to him — but for evil. “Take the man, in the first place, as unconnected, in so far as we can thus consider him, with his works : —and ask. what, after all, are the bad things we know of him 2 Was he dishonest or dishonourable 2 – had he ever done any thing to forfeit, or even endanger, his rank as a gentleman 2 Most assuredly no such accusations have ever been maintained against Lord Byron, the private nobleman — although something of the sort may have been insinuated against the author. “But, he was such a profigate in his morals, that his name cannot be mentioned with any thing like tolerance.” Was he so, indeed 2 We should like extremely to have the catechising of the individual man who says so 2 That he indulged in sensual vices to some extent is certain — and to be regretted and condemned. But, was he worse, as to such matters, than the enormous majority of those who join in the cry of horror upon this occasion ? We most assuredly believe exactly the reverse ; and we rest our belief upon very plain and intelligible grounds. First, we hold it impossible that the majority of mankind, or that any thing beyond a very small minority, are or can be entitled to talk of sensual profligacy as having formed a part of the life and character of the man who, dying at six-and-thirty, bequeathed a collection of works such as Byron's to the world. Secondly, we hold it impossible that, laying the extent of his intellectual labours out of the question, and looking only to the nature of the intellect which generated, and delighted in generating, such beautiful and noble conceptions as are to be found in almost all Lord Byron's works – we hold it impossible that very many men can be at once capable of comprehending these conceptions, and entitled to consider sensual profligacy as having formed the principal, or even a principal, trait in Lord Byron's character. Thirdly, and lastly, we have never been able to hear any one fact established, which could prove Lord Byron to deserve anything like the degree or even kind of odium which has, in regard to matters of this class, been heaped upon his name. . We have no story of base unmanly seduction, or false and villanous intrigue, against him – none whatever. . It seems to us quite clear, that, if he had been at all what is called in society an unprincipled sensualist, there must have been many such stories – authentic and authenticated. But there are none such — absolutely none. . His name has been coupled with the names of three, four, or more women of some rank: but what kind of women f –