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make up a volume of poems chosen out of Wordsworth, and to bring it before the public. By its kind reception of the volume, the public seems to show itself a partaker in my belief.
Now Byron, also, supplies plenty of material for a like volume, and he too gains, I think, by being so presented. Mr. Swinburne urges, indeed, that * Byron, who rarely wrote anything either worthless or faultless, can only be judged or appreciated in the mass ; the greatest of his works was his whole work taken together.” It is quite true that Byron rarely wrote anything either worthless or faultless ; it is quite true, also, that in the appreciation of Byron's power a sense of the amount and variety of his work, defective though much of his work is, enters justly into our estimate. But although there may be little in Byron's poetry which can be pronounced either worthless or faultless, there are portions of it which are far higher in worth and far more free from fault than others. And although, again, the abundance and variety of his production is undoubtedly a proof of his power, yet I question whether by reading everything which he gives us we are so likely to acquire an admiring sense even of his variety and abundance, as by reading what he gives us at his happier moments. Varied and abundant he amply proves himself even by this taken alone. Receive him absolutely without omission or compression, follow his whole outpouring stanza by stanza and line by line from the very commencement to the very end, and he is capable of being tiresome.
Byron has told us himself that the Giaour " is but a string of passages.” He has made full confession of his own negligence. “No one,” says he, “has done more through negligence to corrupt the language."
This accusation brought by himself against his poems is not just ;
but when he goes on to say of them, that “their faults, whatever they may be, are those of negligence and not of labour,” he says what is perfectly true. “ Lara,” he declares, “I wrote while undressing after coming home from balls and masquerades, in the year of revelry, 1814. The Bride was written in four, the Corsair in ten days.” He calls this “a humiliating confession, as it proves my own want of judgment in publishing, and the public's in reading, things which cannot have stamina for permanence.” Again he does his poems injustice ; the producer of such poems could not but publish them, the public could not but read them. Nor could Byron have produced his work in any other fashion ; his poetic work could not have first grown and matured in his own mind, and then come forth as an organic whole ; Byron had not enough of the artist in him for this, nor enough of self-command. He wrote, as he truly tells us, to relieve himself, and he went on writing because he found the relief become indispensable. But it was inevitable that works so produced should be, in general, “a string of passages," poured out, as he describes them, with rapidity and excitement, and with new passages constantly suggesting themselves, and added while his work was going through the press.
It is evident that we have here neither deliberate scientific construction, nor yet the instinctive artistic creation of poetic wholes; and that to take passages from work produced as Byron's was is a very different thing from taking passages out of the @dipus or the Tempest, and deprives the poetry far less of its advantage.
Nay, it gives advantage to the poetry, instead of depriving it of any. Byron, I said, has not a great artist's profound and patient skill in combining an action or in
developing a character,-a skill which we must watch and follow if we are to do justice to it. But he has a wonderful power of vividly conceiving a single incident, a single situation ; of throwing himself upon it, grasping it as if it were real and he saw and felt it, and of making us see and feel it too. The Giaour is, as he truly called it, “a string of passages,” not a work moving by a deep internal law of development to a necessary end ; and our total impression from it cannot but receive from this, its inherent defect, a certain dimness and indistinctness. But the incidents of the journey and death of Hassan, in that poem, are conceived and presented with a vivid. ness not to be surpassed ; and our impression from them is correspondingly clear and powerful. In Lara, again, there is no adequate development either of the character of the chief personage or of the action of the poem ; our total impression from the work is a confused one. Yet such an incident as the disposal of the slain Ezzelin's body passes before our eyes as if we actually saw it. And in the same way as these bursts of incident, bursts of sentiment also, living and vigorous, often occur in the midst of poems which must be admitted to be but weakly. conceived and loosely-combined wholes. Byron cannot but be a gainer by having attention concentrated upon what is vivid, powerful, effective in his work, and with. drawn from what is not so.
Byron, I say, cannot but be a gainer by this, just as Wordsworth is a gainer by a like proceeding. I esteem Wordsworth's poetry so highly, and the world, in my opinion, has done it such scant justice, that I could not rest satisfied until I had fulfilled, on Wordsworth's behalf, a long-cherished desire ;—had disengaged, to the best of my power, his good work from the inferior work joined
with it, and had placed before the public the body of his good work by itself. To the poetry of Byron the world has ardently paid homage ; full justice from his contemporaries, perhaps even more than justice, his torrent of poetry received. His poetry was admired, adored, “ with all its imperfections on its head," — in spite of negligence, in spite of diffuseness, in spite of repetitions, in spite of whatever faults it possessed. His name is still great and brilliant. Nevertheless the hour of irresistible vogue has passed away for him ; even for Byron it could not but pass away.
The time has come for him, as it comes for all poets, when he must take his real and permanent place, no longer depending upon the vogue of his own day and upon the enthusiasm of his contemporaries. Whatever we may think of him, we shall not be subjugated him as they were ; for, as he cannot be for us what he was for them, we cannot admire him so hotly and indiscriminately as they. His faults of negligence, of diffuseness, of repetition, his faults of whatever kind, we shall abundantly feel and unsparingly criticise ; the mere interval of time between us and him makes disillusion of this kind inevitable. But how then will Byron stand, if we relieve him too, so far as we can, of the encumbrance of his inferior and weakest work, and if we bring before us his best and strongest work in one body together? That is the question which I, who can even remember the latter years of Byron's vogue, and have myself felt the expiring wave of that mighty influence, but who certainly also regard him, and have long regarded him, without illusion, cannot but ask myself, cannot but seek to answer. The present volume is an attempt to provide adequate data for answering it.
Byron has been over-praised, no doubt. Byron is
one of our French superstitions,” says M. Edmond Scherer ; but where has Byron not been a superstition? He pays now the penalty of this exaggerated worship. “ Alone among the English poets his contemporaries, Byron," said M. Taine, “atteint à la cîme,-gets to the top of the poetic mountain.” But the idol that M. Taine had thus adored M. Scherer is almost for burning. “In Byron,” he declares, “there is a remarkable inability ever to lift himself into the region of real poetic art,--art impersonal and disinterested,--at all. He has fecundity, eloquence, wit, but even these qualities themselves are confined within somewhat narrow limits. He has treated hardly any subject but one,--himself; now the man, in Byron, is of a nature even less sincere than the poet. This beautiful and blighted being is at bottom a coxcomb. He posed all his life long.”
Our poet could not well meet with more severe and unsympathetic criticism. However, the praise often given to Byron has been so exaggerated as to provoke, perhaps, a reaction in which he is unduly disparaged. • As various in composition as Shakespeare himself, Lord Byron has embraced,” says Sir Walter Scott, “every topic of human life, and sounded every string on the divine harp, from its slightest to its most powerful and heart-astounding tones.” It is not surprising that some one with a cool head should retaliate, on such provocation as this, by saying : “He has treated hardly any subject but one, himself.” “In the very grand and tremendous drama of Cain,” says Scott, “Lord Byron has certainly matched Milton on his own ground.” And Lord Byron has done all this, Scott adds, “while managing his pen with the careless and negligent ease of a man of quality.”. Alas, “managing