« PreviousContinue »
exertion. He had sympathised deeply with the justify. His excesses, especially intemperance, Italian Carbonari in their efforts for freedom, but became habitual, and impaired both his genius a still more interesting country and people claimed and his strength. He struggled on with untamed his support. His youthful travels and poetical pride and trembling susceptibility, but he had enthusiasm still endeared the 'blue Olympus' to almost exhausted the springs of his poetry and his recollection, and in the summer of 1823 he set his life ; and it is too obvious that the pestilential sail for Greece, to aid in the struggle for its inde- climate of Missolonghi only accelerated an event pendence. His arrangements were made with which a few years must have consummated in judgment, as well as generosity. Byron knew Italy. mankind well, and his plans for the recovery and The genius of Byron was as versatile as it was regeneration of Greece evinced a spirit of patriotic energetic. Childe Harold and Don Juan are freedom and warm sympathy with the oppressed, perhaps the greatest poetical works of this cenhappily tempered with practical wisdom and dis- tury, and in the noble poet's tales and minor cretion. He arrived, after some danger and delay, poems there is a grace, an interest, and romantic at Missolonghi, in Western Greece, on the 4th of picturesqueness, that render them peculiarly fasJanuary 1824. All was discord and confusion-a cinating to youthful readers. The Giaour has military mob and contending chiefs--turbulence, passages of still higher description and feelingrapacity, and fraud. In three months he had done particularly that fine burst on modern Greece much, by his influence and money, to compose contrasted with its ancient glory, and the exdifferences, repress cruelty, and introduce order. quisitely pathetic and beautiful comparison of the His fluctuating and uncertain health, however, same country to the human frame bereft of life : gave way under so severe a discipline. On the gth of April he was overtaken by a heavy shower
Picture of Modern Greece. whilst taking his daily ride, and an attack of fever and rheumatism followed. Prompt and copious
He who hath bent him o'er the dead, bleeding might have subdued the inflammation,
Ere the first day of death is fledbut to this remedy Byron was strongly opposed.
The first dark day of nothingness, It was at length resorted to after seven days of
The last of danger and distressincreasing fever, but the disease was then too
Before decay's effacing fingers
Have swept the lines where beauty lingers, powerful for remedy. The patient sank into a
And marked the mild angelic air, state of lethargy, and, though conscious of ap The rapture of repose that's thereproaching death, could only mutter some indis The fixed yet tender traits that streak tinct expressions about his wife, his sister, and The languor of the placid cheekchild. He lay insensible for twenty-four hours, And--but for that sad shrouded eye, and, opening his eyes for a moment, shut them That fires not-wins not-weeps not-now, for ever, and expired on the evening of the 19th
And but for that chill changeless brow, of April 1824. The people of Greece publicly
Where cold Obstruction's apathy mourned for the irreparable loss they had sus
Appals the gazing mourner's heart, tained, and the sentiment of grief was soon con
As if to him it could impart veyed to the poet's native country, where his name
The doom he dreads, yet dwells upon;
Yes—but for these—and these alone was still a talisman, and his early death was felt
Some moments--ay, one treacherous hour,
Such is the aspect of this shore;
We start--for soul is wanting there. stand on the same elevation, to meet the gaze and
Hers is the loveliness in death, scrutiny of posterity. Both wrote directly from
That parts not quite with parting breath ; strong personal feelings and impulses; both were
But beauty with that fearful bloom, the slaves of irregular, uncontrolled passion, and
That hue which haunts it to the tomb
Expression's last receding ray, the prey of disappointed hopes and constitutional
A gilded halo hovering round decay, melancholy; both, by a strange perversity, loved The farewell beam of Feeling past away! to exaggerate their failings and dwell on their
Spark of that flame--perchance of heavenly birtherrors; and both died, after a life of extra
Which gleams—but warms no more its cherished ordinary intellectual activity and excitement, at earth! nearly the same age. We allow for the errors of Burns's position, and Byron's demands a not less The Prisoner of Chillon is also natural and affecttender and candid construction. Neglected in his ing: the story is painful and hopeless, but it is youth-thwarted in his first love-left without con- told with inimitable tenderness and simplicity. trol or domestic influence when his passions were The reality of the scenes in Don Juan must strongest
strike every reader. Byron, it is well known, took Lord of himself, that heritage of wo
pains to collect his materials. His account of the
shipwreck is drawn from narratives of actual intoxicated with early success and the incense occurrences, and his Grecian pictures, feasts, of almost universal admiration, his irregularities dresses, and holiday pastimes, are literal transmust be regarded more with pity than reprehen- cripts from life. Coleridge thought the character sion. After his unhappy marriage, the picture is of Lambro, and especially the description of his clouded with darker shadows. The wild license return, the finest of all Byron's efforts ; it is of his continental life it would be impossible to more dramatic and lifelike than any other of his
numerous paintings. Haidee is also the most Lo! where the giant on the mountain stands, captivating of all his heroines. His Gulnares His blood-red tresses deepening in the sun, and Medoras, his Corsairs and dark mysterious With death-shot glowing in his fiery hands, personages
And eye that scorcheth all it glares upon.
Restless it rolls, now fixed, and now anon Linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes
Flashing afar--and at his iron feet
Destruction cowers to mark what deeds are done ; are monstrosities in nature, and do not possess For on this morn three potent nations meet, one tithe of the interest or permanent poetical To shed before his shrine the blood he deems most beauty that centres in the lonely residence in the
sweet. Cyclades. The English descriptions in Juan are greatly inferior. There is a palpable falling off in In surveying the ruins of Athens, the spirit of poetical power, and the peculiar prejudices and Byron soars to its loftiest flight, picturing its fallen forced ill-natured satire of the poet are brought glories, and indulging in the most touching and prominently forward. Yet even here we have magnificent strain of his sceptical philosophy. occasionally a flash of the early light that 'led astray.' The sketch of Aurora Raby is graceful and 'interesting-compared with Haidee, it is
Ancient Greece. something like Fielding's Amelia coming after Ancient of days ! august Athena ! where, Sophia Western; and Newstead Abbey is de Where are thy men of might? thy grand in soul? scribed with a clearness and beauty not unworthy Gone--glimmering through the dream of things the author of Childe Harold. The Epicurean
that were : philosophy of the Childe is visible in every page
First in the race that led to glory's goal, of Don Juan, but it is no longer grave, dignified,
They won, and passed away—is this the whole ? and misanthropical : it is mixed up with wit,
A school-boy's tale, the wonder of an hour ! humour, the keenest penetration, and the most
The warrior's weapon, and the sophist's stole, astonishing variety of expression, from colloquial
Are sought in vain, and o'er each mouldering tower, carelessness and ease, to the highest and deepest
Dim with the mist of years, gray flits the shade of
power. tones of the lyre. The poet has the power of Mephistophiles over the scenes and passions of Son of the morning, rise ! approach you here! human life and society-disclosing their secret Come, but molest not yon defenceless urn: workings, and stripping them of all conventional Look on this spot-a nation's sepulchre ! allurements and disguises. Unfortunately, his Abode of gods, whose shrines no longer burn. knowledge is more of evil than of good. The dis Even gods must yield-religions take their turn : tinctions between virtue and vice had been broken 'Twas Jove's—'tis Mahomet's--and other creeds down or obscured in his own mind, and they are
Will rise with other years, till man shall learn undistinguishable in Don Juan. Early sensuality
Vainly his incense soars, his victim bleeds ; had tainted his whole nature. He portrays gen
Poor child of Doubt and Death, whose hope is built erous emotions and moral feelings-distress,
on reeds. suffering, and pathos—and then dashes them with Bound to the earth, he lists his eye to heavenburlesque humour, wild profanity, and unseason Is't not enough, unhappy thing ! to know able mockery. In Childe Harold we have none Thou art? Is this a boon so kindly given, of this moral anatomy, or its accompanying licen That being, thou wouldst be again, and go, tiousness; but there is abundance of scorn and Thou know'st not, reck'st not, to what region, so defiance of the ordinary pursuits and ambition of On earth no more, but mingled with the skies? mankind. The fairest portions of the earth are
Still wilt thou dream on future joy and woe? traversed in a spirit of bitterness and desolation Regard and weigh yon dust before it flies : by one satiated with pleasure, contemning society,
That little urn saith more than thousand homilies. the victim of a dreary and hopeless scepticism. Such a character would have been repulsive if the
Or burst the vanished hero's lofty mound :
Far on the solitary shore he sleeps : poem had not been adorned with the graces of
He fell, and falling, nations mourned around : animated description, and original and striking But now not one of saddening thousands weeps, sentiment. The poet's sketches of Spanish and Nor warlike worshipper his vigil keeps Grecian scenery, and his glimpses of the life and Where demi-gods appeared, as records tell. manners of the classic mountaineers, are as true Remove yon skull from out the scattered heaps : as were ever transferred to canvas ; and not less Is that a temple where a god may dwell ? striking are the meditations of the Pilgrim on the Why, even the worm at last disdains her shattered particular events which adorned or cursed the soil
Look on its broken arch, its ruined wall,
Yes, this was once ambition's airy hall,
The dome of thought, the palace of the soul :
Behold through each lack-lustre eyeless hole, Hark! heard you not those hoofs of dreadful note ? The gay recess of wisdom and of wit, Sounds not the clang of conflict on the heath ?
And passion's host, that never brooked control : Saw ye not whom the reeking sabre smote;
Can all saint, sage, or sophist ever writ, Nor saved your brethren ere they sank beneath People this lonely tower, this tenement refit? Tyrants and tyrants' slaves ?—the fires of death, The bale-fires flash on high ; from rock to rock Well didst thou speak, Athena's wisest son! Each volley tells that thousands cease to breathe ; * All that we know is, nothing can be known.' Death rides upon the sulphury Siroc,
Why should we shrink from what we cannot shun? Red Battle stamps his foot, and nations feel the shock. Each hath his pang, but feeble sufferers groan
With brain-born dreams of evil all their own.
The sky is changed !-and such a change! O night, Pursue what chance or fate proclaimeth best;
And storm, and darkness, ye are wondrous strong, Peace waits us on the shores of Acheron :
Yet lovely in your strength, as is the light There no forced banquet claims the sated guest, Of a dark eye in woman! Far along But silence spreads the couch of ever-welcome rest. From peak to peak, the rattling crags among, Yet if, as holiest men have deemed, there be
Leaps the live thunder ! not from one lone cloud,
But every mountain now hath found a tongue, A land of souls beyond that sable shore,
And Jura answers, through her misty shroud, To shame the doctrine of the Sadducee
Back to the joyous Alps, who call to her aloud ! And sophists, madly vain of dubious lore, How sweet it were in concert to adore With those who made our mortal labours light !
And this is in the night : most glorious night!
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!
How the lit lake shines, a phosphoric sea, right!
And the big rain comes dancing to the earth! The third canto of Childe Harold is more deeply
And now again 'tis black-and now the glee imbued with a love of nature than any of his pre
of the loud hill shakes with its mountain-mirth,
As if they did rejoice o'er a young earthquake's birth. vious productions. A new power had been imparted to him on the shores of the 'Leman lake. In the fourth canto there is a greater throng of He had just escaped from the strife of London and images and objects. The poet opens with a sketch his own domestic unhappiness, and his conversa- of the peculiar beauty and departed greatness of tions with Shelley might have turned him more Venice, rising from the sea, with her tiara of strongly to this pure poetical source. The poetry proud towers in airy distance. He then resumes of Wordsworth had also unconsciously lent its his pilgrimage--moralises on the scenes of Pe. influence. An evening scene by the side of the trarch and Tasso, Dante and Boccaccio--and lake is thus exquisitely described:
visits the lake of Thrasimene and the temple of
Temple of Clitumnus.
But thou, Clitumnus ! in thy sweetest wave
Of the most living crystal that was e'er Earth's troubled waters for a purer spring.
The haunt of river-nymph, to gaze and lave This quiet sail is as a noiseless wing
Her limbs where nothing hid them, thou dost rear To waft me from distraction ; once I loved
Thy grassy banks whereon the milk-white steer Torn ocean's roar, but thy soft murmuring
Grazes ; the purest god of gentle waters ! Sounds sweet as if a sister's voice reproved,
And most serene of aspect and most clear! That I with stern delights should e'er have been so Surely that stream was unprofaned by slaughters, moved.
A mirror and a bath for Beauty's youngest daughters ! It is the hush of night ; and all between
And on thy happy shore a temple still,
Upon a mild declivity of hill,
Thy current's calmness ; oft from out it leaps
While, chance, some scattered water-lily sails Or chirps the grasshopper one good-night carol more; Down where the shallower wave still tells its bubbling
tales. He is an evening reveller, who makes His life an infancy, and sings his fill !
The Greek statues at Florence are then inimitably At intervals, some bird from out the brakes,
described, after which the poet visits Rome, and Starts into voice a moment—then is still.
revels in the ruins of the Palatine and Coliseum, There seems a floating whisper on the hill
and the glorious remains of ancient art. We But that is fancy, for the star-light dews All silently their tears of love instil,
give two of these portraitures : Weeping themselves away, till they infuse Deep into nature's breast the spirit of her hues.
Statue of Apollo. Ye stars! which are the poetry of heaven!
Or view the Lord of the unerring bow, If in your bright leaves we would read the fate
The God of life, and poesy, and lightOf men and empires—'tis to be forgiven,
The Sun in human limbs arrayed, and brow That in our aspirations to be great,
All radiant from his triumph in the fight; Our destinies o'erleap their mortal state,
The shaft hath just been shot--the arrow bright And claim a kindred with you; for ye are
With an immortal's vengeance ; in his eye A beauty and a mystery, and create
And nostril beautiful disdain, and might In us such love and reverence from afar,
And majesty, flash their full lightnings by, That fortune, fame, power, life, have named them Developing in that one glance the Deity. selves a star.
But in his delicate form-a dream of Love, A forcible contrast to this still scene is then given Shaped by some solitary nymph, whose breast in a brief description of the same landscape during Longed for a deathless lover from above, a thunder-storm :
And maddened in that vision-are expressed
All that ideal beauty ever blessed
Thy shores are empires, changed in all save theeThe mind within its most unearthly mood,
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they? When each conception was a heavenly guest
Thy waters washed them power while they were free, A ray of immortality--and stood
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey Starlike, around, until they gathered to a god!
The stranger, slave, or savage ; their decay
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves' play.
Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow: I see before me the gladiator lie:
Such as creation's dawn beheld, thou rollest now. He leans upon his hand; his manly brow Consents to death, but conquers agony,
Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty's form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,
Calm or convulsed--in breeze, or gale, or storm, From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now
Dark-heaving ; boundless, endless, and sublimeThe arena swims around him ; he is gone,
The image of Eternity—the throne Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch
Of the Invisible ; even from out thy slime who won.
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone. He heard it, but he heeded not ; his eyes Were with his heart, and that was far away :
And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy He wrecked not of the life he lost, nor prize,
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be But where his rude hut by the Danube lay;
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward : from a boy There were his young barbarians all at play,
I wantoned with thy breakers--they to me There was their Dacian mother-he, their sire,
Were a delight ; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror—'twas a pleasing fear;
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane-as I do here. The poem concludes abruptly with an apostrophe to the sea, his "joy of youthful sports, and a source of lofty enthusiasm and pleasure in his
An Italian Evening on the Banks of the Brenta. solitary wanderings on the shores of Italy and
From Childe Harold. Greece.
The moon is up, and yet it is not night
Sunset divides the sky with her-a sea
Of glory streams along the alpine height
Of blue Friuli's mountains : heaven is free There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
From clouds, but of all colours seems to be There is society, where none intrudes,
Melted to one vast Iris of the west, By the deep sea, and music in its roar;
Where the day joins the past eternity; I love not man the less, but nature more,
While on the other hand, meek Dian's crest From these our interviews, in which I steal
Floats through the azure air-an island of the blest. From all I may be, or have been before, To mingle with the universe, and feel
A single star is at her side, and reigns What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.
With her o'er half the lovely heaven; but still
Yon sunny sea heaves brightly, and remains Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean-roll ! Rolled o'er the peak of the far Rhætian hill, Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
As day and night contending were, until Man marks the earth with ruin-his control
Nature reclaimed her order: gently flows Stops with the shore; upon the watery plain
The deep-dyed Brenta, where their hues instil The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
The odorous purple of a new-born rose, A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
Which streams upon her stream, and glassed within When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
it glows. He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groanWithout a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.
Filled with the face of heaven, which, from afar,
Comes down upon the waters; all its hues, His steps are not upon thy paths—thy fields
From the rich sunset to the rising star, Are not a spoil for him--thou dost arise
Their magical variety diffuse : And shake him from thee; the vile strength he And now they change; a paler shadow strews wields
Its mantle o'er the mountains; parting day For earth's destruction thou dost all despise,
Dies like the dolphin, whom each pang imbues Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
With a new colour as it gasps away, And send'st him, shivering in thy playful spray,
The last still loveliest, till—'tis gone—and all is gray. And howling to his gods, where haply lies His petty hope in some near port or bay,
Midnight Scene in Rome.-- From "Manfred.' And dashest him again to earth : there let him lay.
The stars are forth, the moon above the tops The armaments which thunder-strike the walls Of the snow-shining mountains. Beautiful! Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake,
I linger yet with Nature, for the night And monarchs tremble in their capitals,
Hath been to me a more familiar face The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make
Than that of man ; and in her starry shade Their clay creator the vain title take
Of dim and solitary loveliness, Of lord of thee, and arbiter of war :
I learned the language of another world. These are thy toys, and, as the snowy flake,
I do remember me, that in my youth, They melt into thy yeast of waves, which mar When I was wandering, upon such a night Alike the Armada's pride, or spoils of Trafalgar. I stood within the Coliseum's wall,
'Midst the chief relics of all-mighty Rome:
Little he said, and now and then he smiled, The trees which grew along the broken arches
As if to win a part from off the weight Waved dark in the blue midnight, and the stars He saw increasing on his father's heart, Shone through the rents of ruin ; from afar
With the deep deadly thought that they must part. The watch-dog bayed beyond the Tiber; and More near, from out the Cæsars' palace came
And o'er him bent his sire, and never raised The owl's long cry, and, interruptedly,
His eyes from off his face, but wiped the foam Of distant sentinels the fitful song
From his pale lips, and ever on him gazed : Begun and died upon the gentle wind.
And when the wished-for shower at length was come, Some cypresses beyond the time-worn breach
And the boy's eyes, which the dull film half glazed, Appeared to skirt the horizon, yet they stood
Brightened, and for a moment seemed to roam, Within a bowshot. Where the Cæsars dwelt,
He squeezed from out a rag some drops of rain
Into his dying child's mouth ; but in vain !
And looked upon it long ; and when at last
Death left no doubt, and the dead burden lay A noble wreck in ruinous perfection!
Stiff on his heart, and pulse and hope were past, While Cæsar's chambers and the Augustan halls He watched it wistfully, until away Grovel on earth in indistinct decay.
'Twas borne by the rude wave wherein 'twas cast; And thou didst shine, thou rolling moon, upon Then he himself sunk down all dumb and shivering, All this, and cast a wide and tender light,
And gave no sign of life, save his limbs quivering. Which softened down the hoar austerity Of rugged desolation, and filled up, As 'twere anew, the gaps of centuries;
Description of Haidee. Leaving that beautiful which still was so,
Her brow was overhung with coins of gold
That sparkled o'er the auburn of her hair ;
Her clustering hair, whose longer locks were rolled
In braids behind ; and though her stature were The dead, but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule Our spirits from their urns!
Even of the highest for a female mould,
They nearly reached her heels; and in her air
There was a something which bespoke command, The following extracts are from Don Juan :
As one who was a lady in the land.
Her hair, I said, was auburn ; but her eyes
Were black as death, their lashes the same hue, *Twas twilight, and the sunless day went down Of downcast length, in whose silk shadow lies Over the waste of waters; like a veil
Deepest attraction ; for when to the view Which, if withdrawn, would but disclose the frown
Forth from its raven fringe the full glance flies, Of one whose hate is masked but to assail.
Ne'er with such force the swiftest arrow flew: Thus to their hopeless eyes the night was shewn,
'Tis as the snake late coiled, who pours his length, And grimly darkled o'er the faces pale,
And hurls at once his venom and his strength.
Her brow was white and low; her cheek's pure dye,
Like twilight, rosy still with the set sun; Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell
Short upper lip-sweet lips! that make us sigh Then shrieked the timid, and stood still the brave Ever to have seen such ; for she was one Then some leaped overboard with dreadful yell, Fit for the model of a statuary, As eager to anticipate their grave ;
(A race of mere impostors when all's doneAnd the sea yawned around her like a hell,
I've seen much finer women, ripe and real,
Haidee visits the shipwrecked Don Juan.
And down the cliff the island virgin came, Louder than the loud ocean, like a crash
And near the cave her quick light footsteps drew, Of echoing thunder; and then all was hushed,
While the sun smiled on her with his first flame, Save the wild wind and the remorseless dash
And young Aurora kissed her lips with dew, Of billows; but at intervals there gushed,
Taking her for her sister ; just the same Accompanied with a convulsive splash,
Mistake you would have made on seeing the two, A solitary shriek, the bubbling cry
Although the mortal, quite as fresh and fair, Of some strong swimmer in his agony. ...
Had all the advantage too of not being air.
And when into the cavern Haidee stepped
That, like an infant, Juan sweetly slept :
And then she stopped and stood as if in awe His nearest messmate told his sire, who threw
(For sleep is awful), and on tiptoe crept One glance on him, and said : Heaven's will be And wrapt him closer, lest the air, too raw, done!
Should reach his blood; then o'er him, still as death, I can do nothing ;' and he saw him thrown
Bent, with hushed lips, that drank his scarce-drawn Into the deep without a tear or groan.
breath. The other father had a weaklier child,
And thus, like to an angel o'er the dying Of a soft cheek, and aspect delicate;
Who die in righteousness, she leaned; and there But the boy bore up long, and with a mild
All tranquilly the shipwrecked boy was lying, And patient spirit held aloof his fate;
As o'er him lay the calm and stirless air :