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And Jura answers, through her misty shroud,
* And this is in the night:—Most glorious night t
Thou wert not sent for slumber! let me be
A sharer in thy fierce and far delight,—
A portion of the tempest and of thee I
How the lit lake shines, a phosphoric sea.
And the big rain comes dancing to the earth!
And now again 'tis black,—and now, the glee
Of the loud hills shakes with its mountain-mirth,
pp. 47-51In these extracts there may still be recognised the peculiarity of talent by which Lord Byron is distinguished. The scenery is at once revealed to our inmost feelings, not through the medium of description, as a picture, but in its effect upon the imagination. We do not see, we feel, the living landscape, by sympathy with the intense feelings of the poet, who, unable to divest his mind of the individuality of self even amid the conflict of elements, and the infinity of solitude, claims to be 'a 'portion of the tempest' and of night, and makes Nature itself serve as the expression and voice of his own emotions.
* I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me; and to me
High mountains are a feeling.—'
'Are not the mountains, waves, and skies, a part
Of me and of my soul, as I of them?'
Yet this perpetual egotism never sinks into monotony. The subject may sometimes pain, but it never wearies us, and wander where we will, Childe Harold cannot fail of being interesting.
Perhaps the living poet who,in respect of some of these peculiar traits, bears the nearest resemblance to Lord Byron, although his character presents so direct a contrast, is Montgomery. He too, 'paints from the looking-glass,' and gives us his own portrait in his heroes. He not less than Lord Byron is truly and irrecoverably a poet by the necessity of his temperament, and an egotist from the morbid excess of feelings stimulated by imagination, and nourished in solitude. But his egotism, though less commanding than that which appears in Lord Byron to proceed from the stormy violence of engrossing passions, is of a far more amiable, and in itself more interesting cast. In point of intellectual power and range of thought, we do not mean to institute any comparison between the two, but Montgomery has a lyre of unrivalled sweetness of tone. It is remarkable that Lord Byron, in his juvenile satire, "English "Bards and Scotch Reviewers," bore testimony to the genuine character of Montgomery's genius; and in his ode to Napoleon Bonaparte, his Lordship has adopted the exact form of the stanzas in which the "Cast away Ship," is written, which is certainly one of the most exquisite ballads in the language. Between the stern and fierce misanthropy of Childe Harold, and the tender melancholy and pure affection which breathe through the compositions of the Sheffield bard, there might seem at first to be not the remotest analogy; but the poetry of both pleases from the same cause, and notwithstanding the very different emotions they excite, pleases us in the same way, as a tale of the human heart, an exhibition of individual character. This would not indeed be the effect, were a person of ordinary mind or under ordinary circumstances to attempt to interest us by the delineations of his own feelings: were not the sufferings he disclosed evidently sincere, were they not founded upon reality, were not the circumstances, in fact, such as called forth those emotions, whether of pity or of terror, which it is the very business of poetry to excite, the egotism of the poet would be repulsive. On this account, other writers have by a far more sparing and incidental reference to their individual circumstances, drawn down upon themselves the imputation of vanity. Why? Because theirs were perhaps, the circumstances of peaceful domestic life and prosperous fortune, and made no appeal to our pity. It is not with the happy that we sympathize.
We have expressed a doubt whether Lord Byron could give birth to a purely imaginary being, that is, whether he could for a sufficient period, abstract himself from his own feelings, to allow of his forming a distinct conception of a character altogether distinct from himself in its intellectual and moral lineaments, and of his giving it the bodily form of words. Nobody would think of finding any thing in common between Hamlet, or Falstaff, or Othello, and the individual character of their author. They are not copies, or expressions of certain thoughts and feelings, but pure combinations of creative fancy, that seem almost to have an existence external to the mind from which they emanated. Or to descend to our own times, we do not think of recognising Southey in his Madoc, or in his Roderick: they- are distinct human characters, portions of our common nature individualized by a strong exercise of poetical conception. To an effort of this kind we do not conceive that Lord Byron is fully adequate; not perhaps owing to any natural inferiority, for the intellectual power which makes itself felt in his expressions, would lead us to suppose him originally capable of any poetical achievement; but from the settled habits of his mind. The range of his sympathies is contracted; human nature has no power to interest him; the purest sources of earthly enjoyment, the very Castalia of imagination, are closed to him: he is a sceptic as to those virtues in others which h«" has renounced in himself, and it would therefore be doubly difficult for him to surrender himself up to the illusions of romance, of which hope and love are the very elements.
We are disposed to consider " the Prisoner of Chillon" as one of the highest efforts of Lord Byron's imagination. It may indeed be considered as forming in some degree an exception to these remarks. Still, the vigour of conception which it displays, has no reference to character, but is limited to peculiarity of situation, and is employed simply in realizing the gradual influence of imprisonment upon the human faculties. It is written throughout with exquisite delicacy and pathos, in a tone of feeling absolutely different from the former compositions of the Author, and more nearly resembling the best of Wordsworth's lyrical ballads, than any other poetry we have met with.
The Chateau de Chillon is situated between Charens and Yilleneuve, on the lake of Geneva, which washes its walls, and has been fathomed below it to the depth of nearly a thousand feet. Within it are a range of dungeons, in which the early reformers, and, subsequently, prisoners of state, were confined. 'Across 'one of the vaults is a beam black with age, on which we are 4 informed that the condemned were formerly executed. In the 'cells are seven pillars, in some of which are rings for the 'fetters and the fettered.' Here three brothers are immured for their religious sentiments, each chained to a column, "together, "yet apart." The eldest brother alone survives to relate the sad story of his imprisonment.
The following is his account of the death of the youngest: one had already pined away.
'But he the favorite and the flower,
But these were horrors—this was woe .
Unmix'd with such - but sure and slow:
* What next befel me then and there
I had no thought, no feeling—none—
Among the stones I stood a stone,
And was scarce conscious what I wist,
As shrubless crags within the mist;
For all was blank, and bleak, and grey,
It was not night—it was not day,
It was not even the dungeon-light,
So hateful to my heavy sight,
But vacancy absorbing space,
And fixedness—without a place;
There were no stars—no earth—no time—
No check-^no change—no good—no crime—
But silence, and a stirless breath
Which neither was of life nor death;
A sea of stagnant idleness,
Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless.
'A light broke in upon my brain,—
It was the carol of a bird;
The sweetest song ear ever heard,
And tamer than upon the tree j
And seem'd to say them all for me!
Or broke its cage to perch on mine,
Sweet bird! I could not wish for thine 1