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He had a heart originally not deficient in sensibility or affection. He had talents, too, which would have commanded admiration and respect in any field he might have chosen for their exercise. But with suicidal hand he began his career by tearing away the corner-stone of all true greatness. He snapped the silken cord of moral control, and then snapped the strings of his angel-harp. With a skilful hand he took up the divine instrument, and its sounds reverberated throughout the civilized world ; but all lovers of truth everywhere felt and lamented the discord. He is out of tune with the world ; he is at variance with nature; he is in rebellion against himself; and when he rises to his most cherished moods, he seems as though
“ Frenzy to his heart were given
To speak the malison of Heaven.” Sad is the tale of Byron's genius. A failure it most truly was,
a mournful, though splendid failure! We seem to follow him, with anxious eye, as he roams from place to place — from town to country and from country to town, disgusted with life, a stranger among his friends, an exile even in the land of his birth, - seeking rest and finding none. We hear his murmuring discontent in every new condition, and listen while he pours his distempered soul into his lofty but embittered song. We follow him as a wayward brother, when he plunges into the camp of Mars, and draws his battle-blade with the sons of ancient freedom. We observe him with hopeful interest, nay, not without emotions of sympathetic joy, as he pauses to breathe the air of Attica and Phocis once surcharged with the electric fire of poesy, as he stoops to drink from the fountain of Helicon, and bends the knee in the old temple of Apollo. And when, at last, he hangs up his jarring harp, lies down in despair, and — dies, while we weep with the thousands that deplore him, the question is forced upon us, what has he accomplished, what has he earned, where are the trophies of his success? Had Byron's childhood been more fortunate, and had he given heed to the still, small voice which is ever whispering within of duty and inviting to worship, the whole life and destiny of the man had been changed, and the productions of his genius — a few of which are of surpassing merit, proving him to have been little less than "archanged ruined" — would have been cherished and admired through all future time. As it is, they will hardly survive the passing age. With his own hand he sprinkled over them the ashes of decay. He sowed the seeds of death in the field from which he should have gathered an immortal harvest. Did he not at last feel this? Was it not the memory of early days and of better thoughts, coming in contact with the sense of shame and regret in his breast, which produced that soft and touching and holy prayer, - we would fain hope sincere, accepted and effectual, which was, we believe, one of the last efforts of his weary and dejected muse?
“Father of light ! to Thee I call,
Instruct me how to die." The class is not small of the sons of genius and of song to which Byron belongs, and of which he is the head. But there is one whose name sometimes is put with it, whom we cannot consign to such an association. We
e mean the bard of Scotland. Burns is not of this class; and we could not even mention him in this connection, had not his example been introduced as a warning, not much to the purpose of his argument, as it seems
by Mr. Putnam in his Oration. It cannot be said of Burns that, judged by any standard, even the highest, he failed of success, of entire and almost unexampled success, as a poet. Nor will it be said that he owed his success to his head and not to his heart, — to his intellectual gifts rather than to his moral graces. Burns was not a bad man, a man destitute of good principles. To him who looks beyond the outside of character, who pierces to the springs of action, to the penetralia of thought, sentiment, desire and affection, he appears far better than many whose outward garb is fairer. Call him frail, as a reed trembling in the wintry blast, call him erring, tax him as a sinner, — sigh over
him, weep for him, (but you will weep with him,) - pity him with deep, overflowing sadness and sympathy; but oh! say not he was vile; put him not in the seat rith the scorner, with the profane, with the corrupter of other men; him, of heart so large, filled with all sweet and tender humanities, — him, whose poetry is the music of nature singing its truth and love, its sadness and joy, its beauty and beneficence to a listening world, - grateful as the breeze of spring, gentle as the autumn sun, silvery bright as the dew on the banks of Doon, - in child and sire, peasant and prince, man and woman alike, touching every chord that vibrates to youthful love, to domestic duty, to private grief, to social enjoyment, to national honor, — breathing cheerily in the workshops, over the fields, and at the hearths of honest toil, and with softest spirit soothing the heart of lonely and neglected sorrow,
instinct with all that is loveliest in man or angel ; – him you cannot give over to the portion of the lost, nor consign to the tomb of the forgotten! His weaknesses, his errors, his vices even, —for alas ! he had them,- reached only the court of the temple in which his genius dwelt; whilst that temple itself, hung round with golden lamps, continued to his last hour, through all the storms that beat upon its roof, to shine with the clear effulgence, and to charm with the rich and chaste magnificence, of its first morning. Take your Voltaire, already gone to his own place, beyond the reach of any attempts of French galvanism to resuscitate him, - your Goëthe, with his morality of selfishness wrought and polished into the beauty of a statue, and his religion of sensuality spiritualized and adorned with angelic graces, — your Shelley and Byron, though we part with them not without reluctance and tears, - take these and do what you will with them ; write over the alcove that contains their productions the dreadful letters, that shook the heart of the monarch of Babylon with terror, “ Weighed in the balances and found wanting": but Burns is not of them, and descends not into their doom. The world cannot spare him. He is embalmed for preservation in the delighted memory of ages. For the good that was in him he is loved ; and for the good he has done, humanity, virtue, religion, claim him as their friend. Burns will live when all we who speak his name, and all our doings, are forgotten !
Having dwelt so much at length on the relation of poetry to the moral nature, we have but little space left for other branches of literature. It was our intention to have noticed briefly the extensive and important department of Fiction, and to have devoted a page or two to that of Criticism ; instead of which we shall bring our article to a close with a few observations on Historical writing, as connected with moral culture.
Among literary studies none stands higher in dignity and influence than History. Through it time sounds aloud its many-toned voice; the songs that were sung in the beginning are heard now; Adam and Moses, the Pharaohs and the Cæsars live in our sight; solemn lessons from generation to generation are spoken; and the whole Past with its manifold expression - its thought, and its action marches in silence and grandeur, like the orderly movement of an army, before the penetrating gaze of the whole Present. We say, then, that history stands first of all studies in dignity and influence. Lord Bacon calls it “the base of the pyramid of knowledge.” Its office is to unfold the causes, the principles, the actions, the Divine interpositions, that have formed the character and swayed the destiny of the community, the people, or the age it commemorates. It is therefore not so much “philosophy teaching by experience,” as it is experience furnishing materials for philosophy. According to ancient mythology the Muse of History was the daughter of Memory. And this imputed origin is more than a poetic fancy; it has a foundation in reality. It indicates, with equal beauty and distinctness, the true nature of history: which is but facts, the knowledge of which has been preserved by the memory and its various auxiliaries, brought out, analysed, arranged, and translated into an understood language.
But our inquiry relates more particularly to the qualifications of the historian. And what are these? Are intellectual gifts alone sufficient? Is it enough for him, that he sees and knows and is able to describe ? Certainly not. Impartiality, fidelity, love of truth, self-control, sterling moral qualities, – are equally indispensable. We insist upon this point. It is time it were well understood. The world has suffered incalculably, in consequence of its being overlooked, from historians without the requisite moral attainments. Neglect of moral culture, practical contempt of the law of God, false-heartedness, is, and ought to be, fatal to the success of an author in this department of study and literature. “In them who engage in this work,” it was well remarked by a wise man of a former age, “who shall rightly and well relate the occurrences of states and kingdoms, there is required much more than makes up an ordinary man. They ought to be superlatively intelligent, diligently industrious, and uncorruptedly sincere.” In this enumeration of qualities the last, namely,
sincerity', — honesty, impartiality, singleness of heart, is, by no means, least in importance. Quite as necessary is it as veracious speech in the intercourse of men. For without it what confidence can be placed in the historian's statements, what respect can be entertained for his opinions? It was said by Cicero, “every one knows that the first law in writing history is not to dare to say any thing that is false, and the next, not to be afraid to speak the truth; that there may be no suspicion of partiality on the one hand nor of prejudice on the other.” † This canon is just. It is not enough, that the historian be a keen observer; he must be also a lover of truth. We repeat and insist
upon of the first moment; for we know that society has a more than a temporary and superficial interest in it. Nor are these the only qualifications. Accuracy of observation, love of truth, honesty in relating, are indispensable, but are not the whole. He should be capable, moreover, of deep and tender emotions, of pure and active sympathies, of a comprehensive and disinterested philanthropy. No extent of knowledge, no acuteness or vigor of thought, no brilliancy of wit or fancy, can compensate for the want of these essential qualities. In short, he must have moral sensibility, without which it is impossible to appreciate the highest virtue — the heroism of the poor, the persecuted, the afflicted, the forsaken in the examples he brings to view; or to portray in suitable colors the foulest iniquity
the profligacy and cruelty of the mighty and illustrious
which it is his duty to expose. Especially in the biographer are these qualities essential, though we must confess they are but rarely found. The great vice of most
*Owen Felltham's Resolves —“Of History.” † De Orat. lib. 2, cap. 15.