Page images
PDF
EPUB

contemptuous to the constitution of his country; while, in fact, Lord Byron was in his own heart sufficiently sensible, not only of his privilege as a Briton, but of the distinction attending his high birth and rank, and was peculiarly sensitive of those shades which constitute what is termed the manners of a gentleman. Indeed, notwithstanding his having employed epigrams, and all the petty war of wit, when such would have been much better abstained from, he would have been found, had a collision taken place between the aristocratic parties in the state, exerting all his energies in defence of that to which he naturally belonged.

We are not, however, Byron's apologists; for now, alas! he needs none. His excellencies will now be universally acknowledged, and his faults (let us hope and believe) not remembered in his epitaph. It will be recollected what a part he has sustained in British literature since the first appearance of " Childe Harold," a space of nearly sixteen years. There has been no reposing under the shade of his laurels, no living upon the resource of past reputation; none of that coddling and petty precaution which little authors call "taking care of their fame." Byron let his fame take care of itself. His foot was always in the arena, his shield hung always in the lists; and although his own gigantic renown increased the difficulty of the struggle, since he could produce nothing, however great, which exceeded the public estimates of his genius, yet he advanced to the contest again and again and again, and came always off with distinction, almost always

with complete triumph. As various in composi-
tion as Shakspeare himself (this will be admitted
by all who are acquainted with his " Don Juan,")
he has embraced every topic of human life, and
sounded every string on the divine harp, from
its slightest to its most powerful and heart-
astounding tones. There is scarce a passion or
a situation which has escaped his pen; and he
might be drawn, like Garrick, between the weep-
ing and the laughing muse, although his most
powerful efforts have certainly been dedicated to
Melpomene. His genius seemed as prolific as
various. The most prodigal use did not exhaust
his powers, nay, seemed rather to increase their vigour. Neither "Childe Harold," nor any of
the most beautiful of Byron's earlier tales, con-
tain more exquisite morsels of poetry than are to
be found scattered through the cantos of " Don
Juan," amidst verses which the author appears
to have thrown off with an effort as spontaneous
as that of a tree resigning its leaves to the wind.
But that noble tree will never more bear fruit or
blossom! It has been cut down in its strength,
and the past is all that remains to us of Byron.
We can scarce reconcile ourselves to the idea—
scarce think that the voice is silent for ever,
which, bursting so often on our ear, was often
heard with rapturous admiration, sometimes with
regret, but always with the deepest interest:—

All that's bright must fade,
The brightest still the fleetest.

With a strong feeling of awful sorrow, we take leave of the subject. Death creeps upon our most serious as well as upon our most idle employments; and it is a reflection solemn and gratifying, that he found our Byron in no moment of levity, but contributing his fortune and hazarding his life, in behalf of a people only endeared to him by their past glories, and as fellow creatures suffering under the yoke of a heathen oppressor. To have fallen in a crusade for freedom and humanity, as in olden times it would have been an atonement for the blackest crimes, may in the present be allowed to expiate greater follies than even exaggerated calumny has propagated against Byron. Sir Walter Scott.

THE RIGHT HON. EDMUND BURKE.

His end was suited to the simple greatness of mind which he displayed through life; every way unaffected, without levity, without ostentation, full of natural grace and dignity. He appeared neither to wish nor to dread; but patiently and placidly to await the appointed hour of his dissolution. He had been listening to some essays of Addison's, in which he ever took delight: he had recommended himself, in many affectionate messages, to the remembrance of those absent friends whom he had never ceased to love; he had conversed some time, with his accustomed force of thought and expression, on the awful situation of his country; for the welfare of which his heart was interested to the last beat: he had given, with steady composure, some private directions in contemplation of his approaching death; Vol. n. K K

when, as his attendants were conveying him to his bed, he sunk down, and, after a short struggle, passed quietly and without a groan to eternal rest, in that mercy which he had just declared he had long sought with unfeigned humiliation, and to which he looked with unfeigned hope.

Of his talents and acquirements in general it is unnecessary to speak. They were long the glory of his country, and the admiration of Europe: they might have been (had it so consisted with the inscrutable counsels of Divine Providence) the salvation of both. If not the most accomplished orator, yet the most eloquent man of his age; perhaps second to none in any age; he had still more wisdom than eloquence. He diligently collected it from the wise of all times: but what he had so obtained, he enriched from the vast treasury of his own observation; and his intellect active, vigorous, comprehensive, trained in the discipline of true philosophy, to whatever subject he applied it, penetrated at once through the surface into the essential forms of things.

With a fancy singularly vivid, he, least of all men in his time, indulged in splendid theories. With more ample materials of every kind than any of his contemporaries, he was the least coniident in his own skill to innovate. A statesman of the most enlarged views, in all his policy he was strictly practical, and in his practice he always regarded with holy reverence the institutions and manners derived from our ancestors. It seemed as if he had been endowed with such transcendent powers, and informed with such extensive knowledge, only to bear the more striking testimony, in these days of rash presumption, how much the greatest mind is singly inferior to the accumulated efforts of innumerable minds in the long flow of centuries.

His private conversation had the same tincture with his public eloquence. He sometimes adorned and dignified it with philosophy, but he never lost the charm of natural ease. There was no subject so trivial, which he did not transiently illuminate with the brilliancy of his imagination. In writing, in speaking, in the senate, or round the table, it was easy to trace the operations of the same genius.

To the protestant religion, as by law established, he was attached from sincere conviction; nor was his a barren belief, without influence on his moral conduct. He was rigid in the system of duties by which he regulated his own actions; liberal in construing those of all other men; warm, but placable; resenting more offences committed against those who were dear to him, than against himself; vehement and indignant only where he thought public justice insulted; compassionate to private distress; lenient even to suffering guilt. As a friend he was perhaps too partial to those whom he esteemed; overrating every little merit, overlooking all their defects; indefatigable in serving them; straining in their favour whatever influence he possessed; and, for their sakes more than his own, regretting that during so long a political life he had so seldom bore any share in power, which he considered only as an instrument of more diffusive

« PreviousContinue »