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BYRON AND HIS POETRY. Never had any writer so vast a command of the whole eloquence of scorn, misanthropy, and despair. That Marah was never dry. No art could sweeten, no draughts could exhaust its perennial waters of bitterness. Never was there such variety of monotony as that of Byron. From maniac laughter to piercing lamentation, there was not a single note? of human anguish of which he was not master. Year after year, and month after month, he continued to repeat, that to be wretched is the destiny of all; that to be eminently wretched is the destiny of the eminent; that all the desires by which we are cursed, lead alike to misery; if they are not gratified, to the misery of disappointment; if they are gratified, to the misery of satiety. He always describes himself as a man of the same kind with his favorite creations; as a man whose heart had been withered, whose capacity for happiness was gone, and could not be restored; but whose invincible spirit dared the worst that could befall him here or hereafter.
How much of this morbid feeling sprang from an original disease of mind, how much from real misfortune, how much from the nervousness of dissipation, how much of it was fanciful, how much of it was merely affected, it is impossible for us, and would probably have been impossible for the most intimate friends of Lord Byron, to decide. Whether there ever existed, or can ever exist, a person answering to the description which he gave of himself, may be doubted; but that he was not such a person is beyond all doubt.
It is ridiculous to imagine that a man, whose mind really was imbued with scorn of his fellow-creatures, would have published three or four books every year to tell them so; or that a man who could say with truth, that he neither sought sympathy nor needed it, would have admitted all Europe to hear his farewell to his wife, and his blessings on his child. In the second canto of Childe Harold, he tells us that he is insensible to fame and obloquy:
“Ill may such contest now the spirit move,
Yet we know, on the best evidence, that, a day or two before he published these lines, he was greatly, nay, indeed, childishly elated, by the compliments paid to his maiden speech in the House of Lords.
Among the large class of young persons, whose reading is almost entirely confined to works of imagination, the popularity of Lord Byron was unbounded. They bought pictures of him, they treasured up the smallest relics of him; they learned his poems by heart, and did their best to write like him, and to look like him. Many of them practiced at the glass, in the hope of catching the curl of the upper lip, and the scowl of the brow, which
appear in some of his portraits. A few discarded their neckcloths in imitation of their great leader. For some years, the Minerva press sent forth no novel without a mysterious, unhappy, Lara-like peer.
The number of hopeful undergraduates, and medical students who became things of dark imaginings, on whom the freshness of the heart ceased to fall like dew, whose passions had consumed themselves to dust, and to whom the relief of tears was denied, passes all calculation. This was not the worst. There was created, in the minds of many of these enthusiasts, a pernicious and absurd association between intellectual power and moral depravity. From the poetry of Lord Byron they drew a system of ethics, compounded of misanthropy and voluptuousness. This affectation has passed away; and a few more years will destroy whatever yet remains of that magical potency which once belonged to the name of Byron. To our children he will be merely a writer; and their impartial judgment will appoint his place among writers, without regard to his rank, or to his private history.
T. B. MACAULAY.
In no productions of modern genius, is the reciprocal influence of morals and literature more distinctly seen, than in those of the author of Childe Harold. His character produced the poems, and it cannot be doubted that his poems are adapted to produce such a character. His heroes speak a language supplied not more by imagination than by consciousness. They are not those machines, that, by a contrivance of the artist, send forth a music of their own; but instruments through which he breathes his very soul, in tones of agonized sensibility, that cannot but give a sympathetic impulse to those who hear. The desolate misanthropy of his mind rises, and throws its dark shade over his poetry, like one of his own ruined castles.
We feel it to be sublime, but we forget that it is a sublimity which it cannot have, till it is abandoned by every thing that is kind, and peaceful, and happy, and its halls are ready to become the haunts of out-laws and assassins.
Nor are his more tender and affectionate passages those to which we can yield ourselves without a feeling of uneasiness. It is not that we can here and there select a proposition formally false or pernicious; but that he leaves an impression unfavorable to a healthful state of thought and feeling, peculiarly dangerous to the finest minds and most susceptible hearts. They are the scene of a summer evening, where all is tender, and beautiful, and grand; but the damps of disease descend with the dews of heaven, and the pestilent vapors of night are breathed in with the fragrance and balm, and the delicate and fair are the surest victims of the exposure.
HENRY MARTYN AND LORD BYRON.
Both Henry Martyn and Lord Byron shared the sorrows of life, and their records teach the different workings of the Christian and the worldly mind. Byron lost his mother, and when urged not to give way to sorrow, he burst into an agony of grief, saying, “I had but one friend in the world, and now she is gone!” On the death of some of his early friends, he thus writes : “My friends fall around me, and I shall be left a lonely tree before I am withered. I have no resource but my own reflections, and they present no prospect here or hereafter, except the selfish satisfaction of surviving my betters. I am indeed most wretched.”
And thus Henry Martyn mourns the loss of one most dear. “ Can it be that she has been lying so many months in the cold grave? Would that I could always remember it, or always
forget it; but to think a moment on other things, and then feel the remembrance of it come, as if for the first time, rends my heart asunder. O my gracious God, what should I do without Thee! But now thou art manifesting thyself as the God of all consolation. Never was I so near thee. There is nothing in the world for which I could wish to live, except because it may please God to appoint me some work to do. O thou incomprehensibly glorious Savior, what hast thou done to alleviate the sorrows of life !"
It is recorded of Byron, that, in society, he generally appeared humorous and prankish; yet, when rallied on his melancholy turn of writing, his constant answer was, that though thus merry and full of laughter, he was, at heart, one of the most miserable wretches in existence. And thus he writes : “Why, at the very hight of desire, and human pleasure, worldly, amorous, ambitious, or even avaricious, does there mingle a certain sense of doubt and sorrow, a fear of what is to come, a doubt of what is ? If it were not for hope, what would the future be? A hell! As for the past, what predominates in memory? Hopes baffled! From whatever place we commence, we know where it must all end. And yet what good is there in knowing it? It does not make men wiser or better. If I were to live over again, I do not know what I would change in my life, unless it were for not to have lived at all. All history and experience teach us, that good and evil are pretty equally balanced in this existence, and that what is most to be desired, is an easy passage out of it. What can it give us but years? and these have little of good but their ending."
And thus Martyn writes: “I am happier here in this remote land, where I seldom hear what happens in the world, than I was in England, where there are so many calls to look at things that are seen. The precious Word is now my only study, by means of translations. Time flows on with great rapidity. It seems as if life would all be gone before any thing is done. I sometimes rejoice that I am but twenty-seven, and that, unless God should ordain it otherwise, I may double this number in constant and successful labor. But I shall not cease from my happiness, and scarcely from my labor, by passing into the other world."
And thus they make their records at anniversaries, when the mind is called to review life and its labors. Thus Byron writes: “At twelve o'clock I shall have completed thirty-three years! I go to my bed with a heaviness of heart at having lived so long and to so little purpose.
It is now three minutes past twelve, and I am thirty-three!
“ Alas, my friend, the years pass swiftly by," But I do not regret them so much for what I have done, as for what I might have done.”
And thus Martyn: “I like to find myself employed usefully, in a way I did not expect or foresee. The coming year is to be a perilous one, but my life is of little consequence, whether I finish the Persian New Testament or not. I look back with pity on myself, when I attached so much importance to my life and labors. The more I see of my own works, the more I am ashamed of them, for coarseness and clumsiness mar all the works of man. I am sick when I look at the wisdom of man, but am relieved by reflecting, that we have a city whose builder and maker is God. The least of his works is refreshing. A dried leaf, or a straw, makes me feel in good company, and complacence and admiration take the place of disgust. What a momentary duration is the life of man!
“It glides along, rolling onward forever,” may be affirmed of the river; but men pass away as soon as they begin to exist. Well, let the moments pass !”
“ They waft us sooner o'er
This life's tempestuous sea,
Of blest eternity!" Such was the experience of those who in youth completed their course.
Miss C. E. BEECHER.
Thou hast fought with eddying waves;
Thou searcher of ocean's caves !