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advantage of printed books ? The answer will be, from ninety-nine persons in a hundred, Because the mystery of printing was not then discovered. But this is altogether a mistake. The secret of printing must have been discovered many thousands of times before it was used, or could be used. ... It did not require an Athenian intellect to read the main secret of printing in many scores of processes which the ordinary uses of life were daily repeating. To say nothing of analogous artifices amongst various mechanic artisans, all that is essential in printing must have been known to every nation, that struck coins and medals. Not, therefore, any want of a printing art, - that is, of an art for multiplying impressions, — but the want of a cheap material for receiving such impressions, was the obstacle to an introduction of printed books, even as early as Pisistratus. The ancients did apply printing to records of silver and gold ; to marble, and many other substances cheaper than gold and silver, they did not, since each monument required a separate effort of inscription. Simply this defect it was of a cheap material for receiving impresses, which froze in its very fountains the early resources of printing.
Now, out of that original scarcity affecting all materials proper for durable books, which continued up to times comparatively modern, grew the opening for palimpsests. Naturally, when once a roll of parchment or of vellum had done its office, by propagating through a series of generations what once had possessed an interest for them, but which, under changes of opinion or of taste, had faded to their feelings or had become obsolete for their undertakings, the whole membrana, or vellum skin, the twofold product of human skill, costly material, and costly freight of thought, which it carried, drooped in value concurrently - supposing that each were inalienably associated to the other. Once it had been the impress of a human mind which stamped its value upon the vellum; the vellum, though costly, had contributed but a secondary element of value to the total result. At length, however, this relation between the vehicle and its freight has gradually been undermined. The vellum, from having been the setting of the jewel, has risen at length to be the jewel itself; and the burden of thought, from having given the chief value to the vellum, has now become the chief obstacle to its value — nay, has totally extinguished its value, unless it can be dissociated from the connection. Yet, if this unlinking can be effected, then, fast as the inscription upon the membrane is sinking into rubbish, the membrane itself
is reviving in its separate importance; and from bearing a ministerial value, the vellum has come at last to absorb the whole value.
Hence the importance for our ancestors that the separation should be effected. Hence it arose in the middle ages, as a considerable object for chemistry, to discharge the writing from the roll, and thus to make it available for a new succession of thoughts. The soil, if cleansed from what once had been hot-house plants, but now were held to be weeds, would be ready to receive a fresh and more appropriate crop. In that object the monkish chemist succeeded; but after a fashion which seems almost incredible, – incredible not as regards the extent of their success, but as regards the delicacy of restraints under which it moved, — so equally adjusted was their success to the immediate interests of that period, and to the reversionary objects of our own. They did the thing; but not so radically as to prevent us, their posterity, from undoing it. They expelled the writing sufficiently to leave a field for the new manuscript, and yet not sufficiently to make the traces of the elder manuscript irrecoverable for us.
Here, for instance, is a parchment which contained some Grecian tragedy, the Agamemnon of Æschylus, or the Phænissæ of Euripides. This had possessed a value almost inappreciable in the eyes of accomplished scholars, continually growing rarer through generations. But four centuries are gone by since the destruction of the Western Empire. Christianity, with towering grandeurs of another class, has founded a different empire; and some bigoted, yet perhaps holy monk has washed away (as he persuades himself) the heathen's tragedy, replacing it with a monastic legend; which legend is disfigured with fables in its incidents, and yet in a higher sense is true, because interwoven with Christian morals, and with the sublimest of Christian revelations. Three, four, five centuries more, find man still devout as ever; but the language has become obsolete, and even for Christian devotion a new era has arisen, throwing it into the channel of crusading zeal or of chivalrous enthusiasm. The membrana is wanted now for a knightly romance — for “my Cid,” or Cæur de Lion; for Sir Tristrem, or Lybæus Disconus. In this way, by means of the imperfect chemistry known to the mediæval period, the same roll has served as a conservatory for three separate generations of flowers and fruits, all perfectly different, and yet all specially adapted to the wants of the successive possessors. The Greek tragedy, the monkish legend, the knightly romance, each has ruled its own period. One harvest after another has been gathered into the garners of man through ages far apart.
Such were the achievements of rude monastic chemistry. But the more elaborate chemistry of our own days has reversed all these motions of our simple ancestors, with results in every stage that to them would have realized the most fantastic amongst the promises of thaumaturgy. Insolent vaunt of Paracelsus, that he would restore the original rose or violet out of the ashes settling from its combustion — that is now rivalled in this modern achievement. The traces of each successive handwriting, regularly effaced, as had been imagined, have, in the inverse order, been regularly called back.
What else than a natural and mighty palimpsest is the human brain? Such a palimpsest is my brain ; such a palimpsest, О reader, is yours! Everlasting layers of ideas, images, feelings, have fallen upon your brain softly as light. Each succession has seemed to bury all that went before. And yet, in reality, not one has been extinguished. And if, in the vellum palimpsest, lying amongst the other diplomata of human archives or libraries, there is anything fantastic, or which moves to laughter, as oftentimes there is in the grotesque collisions of those successive themes, having no natural connection, which by pure accident have consecutively occupied the roll, yet, in our own heavencreated palimpsest, the deep memorial palimpsest of the brain, there are not, and cannot be, such incoherencies.
Yes, reader, countless are the mysterious handwritings of grief or joy which have inscribed themselves successively upon the palimpsest of your brain ; and like the annual leaves of aboriginal forests, or the undissolving snows on the Himalaya, or light falling upon light, the endless strata have covered up each other in forgetfulness. But by the hour of death, but by fever, hut by the searchings of opium, all these can revive in strength. They are not dead, but sleeping. In the illustration imagined by myself, from the case of some individual palimpsest, the Grecian tragedy had seemed to be displaced, but was not displaced, by the monkish legend; and the monkish legend had seemed to be displaced, but was not displaced, by the knightly romance. In some potent convulsion of the system, all wheels back into its earliest elementary stage. The bewildering romance, light tarnished with darkness, the semi-fabulous legend, truth celestial mixed with human falsehoods, — these fade, even of themselves, as life advances. The romance has perished that the
young man adored ; the legend has gone that deluded the boy; but the deep, deep tragedies of infancy, as when the child's hands were unlinked forever from his mother's neck, or his lips forever from his sister's kisses, - these remain lurking below all, and these lurk to the last.
George Gordon, Lord Byron, was born in London in 1988, and received his education at Harrow, and afterwards at Cambridge. His first poems appeared in 1807, under the title of Hours of Idleness. The volume was severely "cut up” in the Edinburgh Review, and the poet in reply published a vigorous satire, called English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. The answer was a more effective shot than the attack, and Byron had the sympathy of the reading public. After two years of travel in the south of Europe he published the first two cantos of Childe Harold, and was at once acknowledged to be one of the first, if not the first, of British poets. Soon after appeared The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair, and Lara. At the height of his reputation he married the daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke, with whom he lived but a year. Extravagance, debt, dissipation, and an hereditary ill temper were too much to be borne, and the unhappy lady left him and returned to her father's country seat.
The effects of this quarrel are visible in all the subsequent works of the poet. If he was proud, gloomy, and bitter before, he became little less than satanic afterwards. He left England never to return, and visited the picturesque scenes and historic cities of the Continent. Childe Harold was finished; then came Manfred, Beppo, Mazeppa, Cain, Marino Faliero, and his other numerous dramas, and all that was written of Don Juan. He lived for a long time in Venice, steeped in debauchery, and defiant of a decent public opinion. In 1823 he went to aid the Greeks in their war for independence, and died at Missolonghi, April 19, 1824. His remains were brought to England and buried in the parish church of Hucknall, near Newstead Abbey; the Dean and Chapter of Westminster having intimated that they should refuse permission to lay him among the illustrious dead in the Abbey.
His Poems, Life, and Letters have been published in sixteen volumes, by Murray, Loncon, – the life written by Thomas Moore. A very striking, but rather disagreeable picture of Byron may be found in Trelawney's Recollections. The reader who desires to see the prominent incidents in his life, and a powerful summary of his works, can consult the review in Macaulay's Essays. The moody, restless spirit of the man gave a tinge to all his works ; for his works were always personal ; his characters were but embodiments of his own feelings. And, truly, the spectacle of a grand creative genius, linked with the sullen hate of a fallen angel and the lawless passions of a sensualist, must give an instant, dazzling warning to the youth who supposes that mere intellectual greatness, uncontrolled by moral qualities, is to be desired or worshipped.
Childe Harold is comparatively free from the grave faults that belong to Byron's poems in general ; and in many respects it must be regarded as equal to the best efforts of English genius. Detached passages
great beauty could be selected from many of the other poems; but the interest in them is more dependent upon the story, and accordingly they are left for a separate reading
(From Childe Harold.]
AND yet how lovely in thine age of woe,
So perish monuments of mortal birth,
While strangers only not regardless pass,
Yet are thy skies as blue, thy crags as wild,
Still in his beam Mendeli’s marbles glare :