Page images

from within'—we tliought we could still discover evidence of that discontent which was preying upon his heart.

Why should Byron have been a man of sorrow? He burst suddenly into fame; the gulph which separates genius from the temple which ' shines afar' was passed by him at once, and he stood revealed the greatest poet of the age—the most caressed, the most admired of all his cotemporaries. Fortune he did not originally want; his patrimony was comparatively ample, and be wedded an heiress. Yet the author of ' Childe Harold' was unhappy; he was fond of singularity, partial to erratic opinions, and was an excellent dreamer, nor were all his visions of the good and the beautiful, but still his castles were not always haseless. From what did this very eccentricity proceed? Were his ideas, his opinions, and even his poetry, superinduced by a diseased constitution? The inquiry is curious, but we shall not pursue it.

Sir Walter Scott, like Lord Byron, has had the misfortune to be lame ; but, unlike the noble poet, the haronet is not weak enough to attempt concealing an accidental defect. There is no affectation about him; none of the cant of literature; and strangers, on seeing him for the first time, feel mortified; his look and figure are at complete variance with their ideas of the author of Waverley; and they wonder how so dull and sombrelooking a man could write ' Marmion' and ' The Lady of the Lake.' This, indeed, with few exceptions, is generally the case with regard to other poets as well a* Sir Walter. We form, in privacy, erroneous conceptions of meu of genius, and approximation is too often fatal to that admiration which has been fostered at a distance. Dr. Johnson says no man is great in the eyes of his valet; and, perhaps, if poets knew their own interests, they would obtrude personally but seldom on the public notice. Familiarity occasions a great diminution of respect.

None of the portraits which I have seen give a lively idea of the great 'wizard of the north.' Thai is th« 'Anniversary' approached nearest to a likeness of the tout ensemble, but it is not slovenly enough for Sir Walter. His face is heavy, his brows project, and his eyes, unless when lighted up in conversation, seem small and dull. Age has made considerable inroads upon bis forehead; the progress of the years which have passed over his brow is marked by many a furried memorial in perfect keeping with the hoary hairs which, like ivy on an aged temple, bespeak our reverence and regard. Their hue is truly reverential, approximating more to white than grey; but the quantity with which his head is clothed bespeak the vigour of his constitution. Sir Walter is of full habit of body, and there is nothing about him which indicates the severity of study. Though a temperate liver, he is an astonishing sleeper ; in the court to which he belongs, in Edinburgh, he is to be seen for hours paying his devotions to Morpheus, his hands on his legal papers, and his head on his hands. Perhaps this technical somnolency proceeds from the violence done in his study the preceding night to those hours which ought to have been devoted to rest.

Sir Walter, in his person, does not contradict the theory which we are endeavouring to elucidate. He tells us himself that his youth was consumed by disease, and that we owe all those fictions which have delighted, and still delight, the world, to the habit of reading romances acquired during those years when he was chained, by sickness, to the lonely conch. ,

There is, however, another theory, not wanting in advocates, which Sir Walter, in his person, contradicts. It has been often asserted that genius, like children, dislikes giants ; and that talent—more particularly poetical talent—is fouud, like diamonds, in small bodies only. Pope, and Swift, and Cowper, and a hundred others, have been referred to in proof of this opinion; but the illustrations have not been numerous enough. Had the supporters of the doctrine gone farther they would have refuted themselves ; the greatest poets have generally been big men. Shakspeare, if his bust at Avon be admitted as an authority, was a large man; and Dryden, we all know, was almost of colossal height: Johnson was a giant in more senses than one, and Goldsmith was as bulky as he was awkward. Ben J onson was six feet high; and Farquhar was lieutenant in a company of grenadiers. In our own day the examples multiply almost beyond the power of enumeration : -iWilson, the author of the 'Isle of Palms,' is one of the largest men in Edinburgh; and Allan Cunningham, the 'big-hearted Scot,' is of such a bulky mould that he has been mistaken for the Caledonian giant. Jammy Hogg is ample enough to fill not only his one- horse chaise, but a whole pew in the kirk ; and Southey, in altitude, approaches six feet.

On the other hand, it must be confessed that the majority of the followers of the tunefulnine graduate from four to five feet six. One of the ancients was so slender that he carried, like a modern jockey, weights to prevent the wind from conveying him away, like a paper kite; and, on the revival of letters, many a poor poet might have served for an animated /Eolian harp; the wind did not carry them away, but hunger had so impaired their corporal man that it absolutely whistled through them.

In modern times the poet need not even look to the work-house, that gloomy prospect of the unfortunate, but still too many of them are below that standard whick the recruiting sergeant deems absolutely necessary for military candidates.

Charles Lamb is as fragile as the old office stool he sits on in the India House; and it is well that his fine spirit is abroad amidst all that is good and lovely in creation, for it has but an indifferent tenement to inhabit at home. Leigh Hunt, like his own poetry, is quite devoid of substance; but there is considerable grace about his slim, or, as ladies would say, well-attenuated, figure. The portrait affixed to ' Lord Byron and his Cotemporaries' is a miserable caricature of the author of 'Rimini.'

Poor Harry Neele was among the smallest of small men, and, being inclined to corpulency, he even looked shorter than he really was. His eye, ' in fine frenzy rolling,' however, amply atoned, if it needed apology, for his want of altitude; and his intellectual-looking forehead bespoke the energy of that fine mind which has bequeathed to posterity so much that deserves to perpetuate his genius and his memory. There was one on whose tomb we would also drop a tear: like Neele, he was snatched too early from those who loved him, but his spirit survives him, and, in translating the characteristic songs of Carolan, he has linked his memory to the name of the last and greatest of the old Irish hards—we allude to Furlong. His genius, in many particulars, resembled Neele's, and, like the author of the 'Romance of History,' he stood about five feet high. Apropos: talented Irishmen are all of low stature; Curran was a complete Celt; black eyes, black hair, and sallow skin. Five feet four was his mark; and Sheil has not advanced an inch beyond him. Moore is even below that standard ; and Lawlor, the author of the ' Harp of Inuisfail,' might be coupled any day with the gifted hard, ' the poet of all circles, and the favourite of his own.'

The last time we saw Mr. Moore was at the Old City of London Tavern. He was there to assist in raising a fund for erecting a testimonial to the Duke of Wellington. He was surrounded by his Whig friends, l.ord Lansdown, Agar Ellis, and a host of others. His restless vivacity, the eiuberance of his spirits, and the good-natured laugh, attracted general attention; and when it was whispered that he was the celebrated poet, 'Law !' I heard staring gentlemen exclaim,' is it that— well, who would think!' And well they might wonder, for, let metaphysicians say what they will, the bulk of mankind will ever associate high qualifications, be they mental or bodily, witli manly beauty and a large person. Mr. Moore wore a trock-coat, and, when he stood forward to address the meeting—which he did gracefully and eloquently—he held his umbrella in his hand, upon which ever and anon he leant when he required to recollect himself. None of the portraits are like him: Shee's less than any one, for it gives you the idea of a much larger man. The upper part of the face is good, the eye brilliant, and the forehead ample and high. The bump of causality is prominent, but there is considerable deficiency in the lower part of his face; the nose is too sharp, the chin too narrow and projecting, and these are indications which bespeak any thing rather than energy or decision. All your stern characters have rounded chins and large noses—not long, but bulky ; if that term may be applied to a feature so prominent and useful,particularly since the introduction of fashionable snuff-boxes.

It was at a public meeting at the London Tavern, too, that I first saw Thomas Campbell. Like Mr. Moore, he is a diminutive man, hardly exceeds five feet four, and is totally deficient in those external characteristics which serve as indices to the mind. His forehead is low, his eye dull, and his whole face has been cast in an ordinary mould. Though prepared for this, I confess the first look disappointed me: my belief in Lavater vanished, and from that moment I ahandoned the system of Gall. A second look partially reconciled me, and, in a short time, I fancied I discovered proofs of intellect. Mr. Campbell made a speech on the occasion, and, as be was extremely vehement, it was maliciously hinted that he partook, in the committeeroom, of something more stimulating than—Mr. Brougham's advice.

We know not how far Mr. Moore or Mr. Campbell justifies the critic whose opinions we have been endeavouring to illustrate. Mr. Moore, we believe, is against him: from infancy he has always enjoyed good health, and its evidence on his cheeks in boyhood, added to the attraction of his musical powers, had a powerful effect in conciliating the good opinion of the ladies. Mr. Campbell's constitution is so vigorous that it remains uninjured by his habit of stopping in bed every day till three o'clock in the afternoon. His friends expect a new poem from him on the ' Pleasures 6f Sleep.'

Lnulon, Kov. 1829. M.

« PreviousContinue »