LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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[John Wilson]
Moore’s Byron. Part II.
Blackwood’s Magazine  Vol. 27  No. 164  (March 1830)  421-54.
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No. CLXIV. MARCH, 1830 Vol. XXVII.


Part II.

Mr Moore has been at some pains to prove that Byron’s course of life, previous to his Pilgrimage—with the exception, perhaps, of his early boyhood in Scotland—was “the very reverse of poetical.” His athletic sports, his battles, his love of dangerous enterprise at Harrow, were all, it seems, unfriendly to the meditative pursuits of poetry; and however they might promise to render him, at some future time, a subject for bards, gave assuredly but little hope of his shining first among bards himself. The habits of his life at the University were even still less intellectual and literary; playing at hazard, fencing and sparring, bear-baiting, and bull-dog-fighting, if not the most favourite, were at least the most innocent of his pursuits. His time in London passed equally unmarked either by mental cultivation or refined amusement. He haunted hotels. Such a life, his biographer thinks, must have been wholly incompatible with those “habits of contemplation,” by which the mental faculties are unfolded and refined, and more especially those essential to success in song.

Allow us to say, that it is no easy matter to sketch even the outline of a young poet’s education. The scheme that might be good for one, would be bad for another; and, as to “habits of contemplation,” and so forth, why, in many cases, the later they are acquired, so much the better; for, when too early indulged in, they make men dreamers. Pray, what is there for the waxing intellect and imagination, between the years of twelve and seventeen, to contemplate? The external world. Well, then, upon it Byron seems always to have looked with delight; the passionate feeling was sufficient; no need to keep staring eternally at streams, or trees, or clouds, or hills, in fits of abstraction, as if there were some mighty mystery about them, into which no poet could get initiated, without standing hour after hour, all by himself, with folded arms, in the open air, perhaps without a hat, like a simpleton. True, that there is a mighty mystery about all creation; but the young poet is the most unlikely person in the whole world to resolve it; witness Keates, and even Shelley, who began far too soon to form habits of contemplation on nature; the first from some strange sort of whimsies, and the second from some strange sort of scenery, so that they both became fantastic in their rites of worship of the Mighty Mother; and to the last—alas, it came too soon!—whined like spoiled children of genius. But, besides the external world of nature, there is the internal world of mind. And would you have the mere boy, between twelve and seventeen, to meditate on the structure and constitution of that world? Would you have him to form habits
422Moore’s Byron. Part II.
of contemplation on his own soul, while
“Like some tall palm, the noiseless fabric grows”—
grows of itself, flinging wider and wider every week—and ’tis spring all the year—its thousand branches all glowing green as the sea, and sometimes when winds are blowing strong, roaring loud as the sea, even as if a thunder-cloud were in the hollow-sounding heart of its umbrage, which, in one moment, is again hushed as death? The soul will keep—think—think—thinking away upon and about itself; but by fits and starts, into which it is, as it were, precipitated; not—God forbid!—in regular habits of contemplation. The boy who makes a regular study of his own soul, will soon cease to have one, and become an absolute metaphysician.

We cannot, then, agree with Moore in thinking that Byron’s life at Harrow—where he was chiefly distinguished as an idle and daring schoolboy—was “the very reverse of poetical.” That life is the most poetical which is the fullest of impulses; and Byron’s life at Harrow was full to overflowing of affections and passions. We must first feel, and then think; first experience, and then analyze; else we put the cart before the horse, and may stand stock-still till death. Byron did not, during play hours, sport Tityrus “sub tegmine fagi,” but, though lame, preferred cricket; and can there be any doubt that, out of school, a bat is better than a book and the wickets a thousand times more poetical than the gates of Paradise Lost? The very bodies of rejoicing schoolboys at play are spiritual—not at all like the bodies of elderly gentlemen like Mr Moore and us—and “poetic visions swarm on every bough” of the green shady trees, rustling over their heads as they are swimming like Dracones in the milk-warm rivers of Summer, or racing along the banks, to dry themselves in the sunshine, all as naked as the day they were born. “Byron’s life was the very reverse of poetical”—forsooth, at his beloved Ida, because his bathing and his bowling were good,—his diving at the top of the tree, and his right mawley dangerous to the ugliest customers among the clod-hopping Pubes round Harrow on the Hill! This seemeth to us to be somewhat shallow philosophy—and to have been borrowed by Mr Moore from Dr Beattie, who, though one of the most delightful of poets and of men, was rather miss-mollyish and musical, and gave to his Edwin an effeminate character—too passive for a Minstrel, who ought to be in the whole frame-work of his life—as much as his fate will allow—a Hero. Shenston, probably, would have exhibited, at Harrow, “habits of contemplation”—but Byron had too much sense and soul to oppose nature—and, on the whole, we prefer Thyrza to Delia, Childe Harold to the Schoolmistress—Newstead Abbey to the Leasowes.

But, the truth is, that Byron, before he went to Harrow, had been a great reader—and he was no small reader at Harrow. He had gormandized on much history, poetry, voyages, and travels—tearing out and absolutely eating authors’ hearts. His mind was early full both of natural and acquired knowledge—and fortunately all his acquired knowledge was natural. His soul obeyed its own bidding—but hated task-work. Yet, though an imperfect classical scholar—for his classical education had been botched by frequent removes from school to school—he saw into Homer farther than he did into a millstone. Had it not been so—never never—a very few years afterwards—could he have exclaimed—

“Oh, thou Parnassus! whom I now survey,
Not in the frenzy of a dreamer’s eye,
Not in the fabled landscape of a lay,
But soaring snow-clad through thy native sky,
In the wild pomp of mountain majesty!
What marvel if I thus essay to sing?
The humblest of thy pilgrims passing by
Would gladly woo thine Echoes with his string,
Though from thy heights no more one Muse will wave her wing.
Moore’s Byron. Part II. 423
“Oft have I dream’d of Thee! whose glorious
Who knows not, knows not man’s divinest lore
And now I view thee, ’tis alas! with shame
That I in feeblest accents must adore.
When I recount thy worshippers of yore,
I tremble, and can only bend the knee;
Nor raise my voice, nor vainly dare to soar,
But gaze beneath thy cloudy canopy
In silent joy to think at last I look on Thee!
“Happier in this than mightiest bards have been,
Whose fate to distant homes confined their lot,
Shall I unmoved behold the hallow’d scene,
Which others rave of, though they know it not?
Though here no more Apollo haunts his grot,
And thou, the Muses’ seat, art now their grave,
Some gentle spirit still pervades the spot,
Sighs in the gale, keeps silence in the cave,
And glides with glassy foot o’er yon melodious wave.”

At Cambridge Mr Moore has told us very little about Byron’s life—yet we see no reason for believing it to have been “the reverse of poetical.” Young poets must have their amusements at college, like young prosers. They cannot surely always be forming and indulging in “habits of contemplation!” Now, what are poetical amusements? Playing on the flute or flageolet—fiddle—English or Scotch—or that eternal grumbletonian, the unhappy violoncello? Sketching trees and towers in chalk, black or red, on whitey-brown? Taking lessons in net-work from young ladies that superintend circulating libraries? Perpetually buying gloves—or oil macassar in shops where the breath of the fair distributress is lost in one sultry haze of miscellaneous perfumery? Why, all that is vastly well to those who like it; and Byron, no doubt, occasionally partook, according to the best of his abilities, in such poetical recreations. But what if he, on the whole, preferred swimming—playing at hazard—sparring—sometimes with a man, and sometimes, as it is said, with a bear? What if he occasionally even drove the cold-meat-cart?* Is the behaviour of a being by hypothesis human and rational, when we look on him playing the fiddle in a parlour, more poetical than the behaviour of another member of the same great family playing the porpoise in a pool? Hazard is a dangerous game—but you must not call it unpoetical—till you have struck out of poetry all the passions—or at least a few of them, such as Fear, Hope, and Despair. Plato sparred well—and at the cross-buttock was a Jem Belcher. He was a greater athlete than Byron—yet famous for his “habits of contemplation.” A young poet who spars frequently is always, it may be said, in training; and we all know that to be in training merely means to be in the highest health. Now, Hygeia has even more to do with poetry than Apollo—and therefore Byron did right to spar daily with a bear. Driving a hearse in a dark night—even with no inside passenger—cannot be truly called “the reverse of poetical!” and if inside passenger there be, the snoreless sleep of the last upper-earth journey must, we should think, have been inspiring to such a genius as Byron—who knew all along that
“The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

But farther—what are all amusements and recreations—be they fiddling, fluting, or fox-hunting, swimming, sparring, or shaking the elbow,—what, we ask, are they all to a man who is not a mere idler or ass? Nothing—or less than nothing. One single hour’s study, which has been visited by glorious insights, often constitutes the day, and a day, too, whose memory will never die. All the other

* A hearse.
424Moore’s Byron. Part II.
hours may be given to idleness—if idleness it indeed be—during your preparation for holy orders to undertake an occasional steeplechase—or play at buffets with Bruin before you venture to tackle to with a still greater Enemy of mankind. There is always a life within a life—visible not to a wall-eyed world—in which the youthful soul of genius divinely sleeps or soars—like an eagle on cliff or in cloud—and till you have come upon genius there and then—you know as much of its inner heart, as you do about what is going on in the core of the bole of a rough-rinded tree, which you, like a thickhead, forgetting the season of the year, might presume dead—but which, all alive with celestial ichor, called by the homely name of sap, will, in a few months, dazzle the very rising sun, as it hath brightened into the full glory of Windermere’s Golden Oak.

Byron began to contemplate and meditate upon his own soul, and the souls of other men—and also of women—for they too have souls, though most different indeed from ours—very much about the proper time for such in-door and in-breast studies. His early poems prove that he did—always passionate—sometimes metaphysical. He was never a self-conceited boy—nor arrogant; but neither was he blind to his future fate. He knew that he was Something—and the knowledge of that sharpens the mind’s eyesight towards all the ongoings of this world. He soon knew that this life was worth looking into—worth listening to—as afar-off the tide was coming in over the sands. To feel, to think, to do, and to suffer, was to be his lot—and therefore he was reckless—and melancholy—and half mad—and in love—and in friendship—and red with joy and pale with rage—fond of stargazing and of sparring—of the Great Bear as a beautiful constellation, and the lesser Bear as an ugly customer—his favourite haunts Limmer’s and Stevens’s hotels, or in imagination the Cliffs of Ballater, and the Linn of Dee.

“From his total want of friends and connexions,” Mr Moore tells us, that he had, in London, before his Pilgrimage, no resources in private society, and was left to live loosely about town among the loungers in coffeehouses. Scarcely so. But suppose it were—still he could not truly be said to suffer “from a total want of friends,” even if few of them were then with him, he who at Harrow and Cambridge had formed so many passionate friendships with so many worthy objects. The very “desiderium” of them he so tenderly loved, must have kept awake finest feelings and highest thoughts—human as well as poetical—and saved him from the doom of common coffeehouse loungers. “Whatever else may have been the merits of these establishments, (“Limmer’s and Stevens’s hotels,”) quoth Mr Moore, “they were any thing but fit schools for the formation of poetic character.” Just as fit as the dull home to which many a poet has in his youth been condemned—with a father whom he must have seen was not a little of a knave—and a mother very much of a fool—and shoals of brothers and sisters, perhaps, who kept perpetually pitying the inspired Idiot. Colleges, according to Mr Moore, such as those of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge—are very bad schools for the formation of poetical character—so are public schools like that of Harrow—mountains, he opines—administered in boyhood, do not help much—and the Muses do not put up, when they visit London, at Limmer’s and Stevens’s hotels. What, then, is a poetical education? Where ought it to be pursued? And who may be the tutors?

But let it not be thought that in these rambling remarks we are seeking to depreciate the value of what Mr Moore has said about Byron’s earlier life. Nothing can be more just and true than the following passage.

“By thus initiating him into a knowledge of the varieties of human character,—by giving him an insight into the details of society, in their least artificial form,—in short, by mixing him up, thus early, with the world, its businesses and its pleasures, his London life but contributed its share in forming that wonderful combination which his mind afterwards exhibited, of the imaginative and the practical—the heroic and the humorous—of the keenest and most dissecting views of real life, with the grandest and most spiritualized conceptions of ideal grandeur.

“To the same period, perhaps, another
Moore’s Byron. Part II.425
predominant characteristic of his maturer mind and writings may be traced. In this anticipated experience of the world which his early mixture with its crowd gave him, it is but little probable that many of the more favourable specimens of human kind, should have fallen under his notice. On the contrary, it is but too likely that some of the lightest and least estimable of both sexes may have been among the models, on which, at an age when impressions sink deepest, his earliest judgments of human nature were formed. Hence, probably, those contemptuous and debasing views of humanity, with which he was so often led to alloy his noblest tributes to the loveliness and majesty of general nature.

“Hence the contrast that appeared between the fruits of his imagination and of his experience,—between those dreams, full of beauty and kindliness, with which the one teemed at his bidding, and the dark, desolating bitterness that overflowed when he drew from the other.”

Byron then set out on his Voyages and Travels, furnished like a true and great poet The frame-work of his scholarship was not very extensive, but its spirit was of the highest order. He was no gold-medalist—no Greek-ode prize man—yet highly as we admire Marcellus Tweddale, we must put far over his head Virgilian—aye Virgilian—and Homeric—aye Homeric—Byron. He could not have stood successfully for a fellowship in Trinity against that Senior Optimist, but Harmonia would have preferred him for a lover in the olive groves of Athens. Hobhouse, too, his friend, on that first glorious Pilgrimage, was a scholar—“a good and a ripe one,” and then and there we forgive the democrat. From very infancy, Lord Byron longed for the East. “Knolles, Cantemir, De Tott, Lady M. W. Montague, Mignot’s History of the Turks, the Arabian Nights, all travels, or histories, or books upon the East, I had read, as well as Rycaut, before I was ten years old.” He sailed away, then, from England as to the longed-for Realization of a Dream.

There was nothing routinish in his Pilgrimage. He did not stroll about with cicerones and guide-books. Those regions, too, were then, to us islanders, almost unexplored, and lying under the mystery of the great classical ages of old. He and Hobhouse were among the first of whom it might be said—
“Bold in freedom’s cause, the sons of Ocean came.”
They knew how to look for the living soul of the land—how to see its dead soul in visions. “To-day in a palace, to-morrow in a cow-house—this day with the Pacha—the next with a shepherd.” Yet, what, after all, did this differ from his “Life in London?” Not in spirit—but the forms were finer.
“Old times, methought, were breathing there.”
The young Englishman became partly a Greek—losing nothing, but gaining much by that transfiguration—something of a
Shakspeare, and not a little of a Pindar.

Byron seems, at one time, to have contemplated a Pilgrimage to India—and had he accomplished it, we should have had poetry filled with Rajahpoots. The annals of Mewar are as heroic as those of England and Scotland. Old Chund, their heroic bard, has sung them in a poem, or series of poems, of about a hundred thousand stanzas.* Why does not some young English bard arise in the East? But we have only cadets and writers, and they never venture higher than to translate. ’Twas well for Byron that he went to Greece, rather than to any other part of the world. Indeed poets always go right when they go abroad. There is Mr Rogers who goes to Italy, because lie is fond of pictures, and medals, and vertu,—and how much prettier a poet has be become may be seen by reading parts first and second of his Critical Excursion. Bowles being in youth a musical and melancholy man, went over from Oxford to Germany to weep, during a long vacation, along the banks of the Rhine and some smaller rivers. He returned more pathetic than ever, and fonder of the “still sad music far away” of evening convent bells. Wordsworth soared, wild as an eagle, over the mountains of Switzerland,

* See Colonel Tod’s late splendid volume on India—a work of great merit, which, ere long, we must introduce to our readers.
426Moore’s Byron. Part II.
which, till this day, he conceives to be his own private property—just as are all the three Northern Counties of England—and he will now suffer no other man, not even Byron, so much as to mention Mont Blanc.
Coleridge, that delightful dreamer of bright and obscure delusions, yet lovely all, go where he will, to Malta, Rome, or Vienna, is still Metropolitan Bishop of “cloudland, gorgeous land.” Sir Walter never lost the smell of peat-reek out of his noble nostrils till he was upwards of two-score—because “Scotia, his auld respected mither,” had sworn to the rising sun from the top of Cairngorm, that her Poet should never see other glens and mountains till he had immortalized all her own, and brightened the Highland heather with more than Hybla bloom—so that her wild bees are happy now on Benledi as ever winged creatures were that once murmured on Hymettus.

But let us hear Mr Moore on Byron’s Pilgrimage. He speaks like a philosopher and a poet, and nothing can be more beautiful than his style.

“As his mind began to disclose its resources, this feeling grew upon him; and, had his foreign travel done no more than, by detaching him from the distractions of society, to enable him, solitarily and freely, to commune with his own Spirit, it would have been an all-important step gained towards the full expansion of his faculties. It was only then, indeed, that he began to feel himself capable of the abstraction which self-study requires, or to enjoy that freedom from the intrusion of others’ thoughts which alone leave the contemplative mind master of its own. In the solitude of his nights at sea, in his lone wanderings through Greece, he had sufficient leisure and seclusion to look within himself, and there catch the first ‘glimpses of his glorious mind.’ One of his chief delights, as he mentioned in his ‘Memoranda,’ was, when bathing in some retired spot, to seat himself on a high rock above the sea, and there remain for hours gazing upon the sky and waters, and lost in that sort of vague reverie, which, however formless and indistinct at the moment, settled afterwards on his pages into those clear, bright pictures, which will endure for ever.

“Were it not for the doubt and diffidence that hang round the first steps of genius, this growing consciousness of his own power, these openings into a new domain of intellect where he was to reign supreme, must have made the solitary hours of the young traveller one dream of happiness. But it will be seen that, even yet, he distrusted his own strength, nor was at all aware of the height to which the spirit he was now calling up would grow. So enamoured, nevertheless, had he become of these lonely musings, that even the society of his fellow-traveller, though with pursuits so congenial to his own, grew at last to be a chain and a burden upon him, and it was not till he stood, companionless, on the shore of the little island in the Ægean that he found his spirit breathe freely. If any stronger proof were wanting of his deep passion for solitude, we shall find it, not many years after, in his own written avowal, that even when in the company of the woman he most loved, he not unfrequently found himself sighing to be alone.

“It was not only, however, by affording him the concentration necessary for this silent drawing out of his feelings and powers that travel conduced so essentially to the formation of his poetical character. To the East he had looked, with the eyes of romance, from his very childhood. Before he was ten years of age, the perusal of Rycaut’s History of the Turks had taken a strong hold of his imagination, and he read eagerly, in consequence, every book concerning the East he could find. In visiting, therefore, those countries, he was but realising the dreams of his childhood; and this return of his thoughts to that innocent time gave a freshness and purity to their current which they had long wanted. Under the spell of such recollections, the attraction of novelty was among the least of the scenes, through which he wandered, presented. Fond traces of the past—and few have ever retained them so vividly—mingled themselves with the impressions of the objects before him; and as, among the Highlands, he had often traversed, in fancy, the land of the Moslem; so memory, from the wild hills of Albania, now ‘carried him back to Morven.’

“While such sources of poetic feeling were stirred at every step, there was also in his quick change of place and scene—in the diversity of men and manners surveyed by him—in the perpetual hope of adventure, and thirst of enterprise, such a succession and variety of ever-fresh excitement, as not only brought into play, but invigorated, all the energies of his character. As he, himself, describes his mode of living, it was ‘To-day in a palace, tomorrow in a cow-house—this day with the Pacha, the next with a shepherd.’ Thus were his powers of observation quickened, and the impressions on his
Moore’s Byron. Part II.427
imagination multiplied. Thus schooled, too, in some of the roughness and privations of life, and, so far, made acquainted with the flavour of adversity, he learned to enlarge, more than is common in his high station, the circle of his sympathies, and became inured to that manly and vigorous cast of thought, which is so impressed on all his writings. Nor must we forget, among these strengthening and animating effects of travel, the ennobling excitement of danger, which he more than once experienced, having been placed in situations, both on land and sea, well calculated to call forth that pleasurable sense of energy which perils, calmly confronted, never fail to inspire.

“The strong interest which, in spite of his assumed philosophy on this subject, in Childe Harold, he took in every thing connected with a life of warfare, found frequent opportunities of gratification, not only on board the English ships of war in which he sailed, but in his occasional intercourse with the soldiers of the country. At Salora, a solitary place on the Gulf of Arta, he once passed two or three days, lodged in a small miserable barrack.

“Here he lived the whole time, familiarly, among the soldiers! and a picture of the singular scene which their evenings presented of those wild, half-bandit warriors, seated round the young poet, and examining, with savage admiration, his fine Manton gun and English sword, might be contrasted, but too touchingly, with another and a later picture of the same Poet dying, as a chieftain, on the same land, with Suliotes for his guards, and all Greece for his mourners.

“It is true, amid all this stimulating variety of objects, the melancholy which he had brought from home still lingered around his mind. To Mr Adair and Mr Bruce, as I have before mentioned, he gave the idea of a person labouring under deep dejection; and Colonel Leake, who was, at that time, resident at Joannina, conceived very much the same impression of the state of his mind. But assuredly, even this melancholy, habitually as it still clung to him, might, under the stirring and healthful influences of his roving life, have become a far more elevated and abstract feeling than it ever could have expanded to within reach of those annoyances whose tendency was to keep it wholly concentrated round self. Had he remained idly at home, he would have sunk, perhaps, Into a querulous satirist. But, as his views opened on a freer and wider horizon, every feeling of his nature kept pace with their enlargement; and this inborn sadness, mingling itself with the effusions of his genius, became one of the chief constituent charms, not only of their pathos, but their grandeur. For, when did ever a sublime thought spring up in the soul, that melancholy was not to be found, however latent, in its neighbourhood?”

The few letters written by Byron from abroad, given in this volume, are, though perhaps characteristic enough, not uncommonly interesting; but perhaps we wish for nothing but the two First Cantos of Childe Harold. At the end of two years he returned without a home—at least none that deserved that endearing name.

“A fond, family circle, to accompany him with its prayers, while away, and drawn round him, with listening eagerness, on his return, was what, unluckily, he never knew, though with a heart, as we have seen, by nature formed for it. In the absence, too, of all that might cheer and sustain, he had every thing to encounter that could distress and humiliate. To the dreariness of a home without affection, was added the burden of an establishment without means, and he had thus all the embarrassments of domestic life without its charms. His affairs had, during his absence, been suffered to fall into confusion, even greater than their inherent tendency to such a state warranted. There had been, the preceding year, an execution in Newstead, for a debt of £1500, owing to the Messrs Brothers, upholsterers; and n circumstance, told of the veteran, Joe Murray, on this occasion, well deserves to be mentioned. To this faithful old servant, jealous of the ancient honour of the Byrons, the sight of the notice of sale, pasted up on the Abbey door, could not be otherwise than an unsightly and intolerable nuisance. Having enough, however, of the fear of the law before his eyes, not to tear the writing down, he was at last forced, as his only consolatory expedient, to paste a large piece of brown paper over it.”

Byron’s only great feat before his departure from England, had been his Satire. Flushed with a fortnight of success and triumph he had set sail; and it is not to be wondered at that far from London, and in the midst of scenes in themselves well calculated to dash and dissipate both sweet and bitter memories, he tenaciously clung to some of them, and would not let them go even when gazing from the rock of Sunium across a stormy sea. Accordingly, he took to the composition of a satire
428Moore’s Byron. Part II.
in the shape of an
imitation or paraphrase of Horace’s Art of Poetry. Some not very felicitous extracts are given—flowing enough, and not altogether much amiss in their own humble way, but sadly deficient in condensation—and entirely without fire. He seems to have exhausted his inspired indignation in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers; and unexcited now and unsupported by any strong personal feelings, his satire sometimes sank to a low level, seems from the specimens never to have reached a high one—and, on the whole, to have been a mediocre elaboration of commonplace sarcasms. This weak if not rickety bantling he preferred to Childe Harold! But Mr Dallas, heaven knows how, immediately saw the transcendent excellence of the Two Cantos—and beseeched Byron to publish them without delay. Some other booby, less fortunate in his judgment, had “found very little to commend, and much to condemn, in them;” and thus the Poem was like a bundle of hay between two asses—one of them turning his long ears away from it in disdain over the “pivot of his skull,” and beating it with his fore-hoofs—the other bringing his still longer ears with a fine natural sweep from his shoulders where they had lain hushed in brown repose, till they absolutely overshadowed it—his jaws all the while yawning over it a panegyrical and portentous bray. All this was very puzzling—as well it might be—to the proprietor; but he was finally induced—we scarcely know how—to send the Poem to Mr Murray—and Gifford, having ratified the judgment of the Vicar of Bray—L.600 were given for the copyright, which Byron handed over to the delighted donkey. That Dallas could enjoy such a poem in manuscript, seems a belief irreconcilable with the laws of nature; but our knowledge of nature’s laws are indeed limited and imperfect, and a clearer and wider insight into the frame of our being might suffice to account for the phenomenon.

That Byron himself set little store by those Two Cantos, is nothing very surprising; for though he had a high opinion and deep feeling of his own powers, he was singularly, and, we must think, nobly distinguished by a deferential spirit towards the judgments of minds he admired, on each particular achievement of those powers; and that too, even after he had become famous throughout the world. The fate of his first volume he had not forgotten—and the fear of the Edinburgh Reviewers was yet before his eyes, even after he had scotched one snake, and killed it too-for how could he know that out of the same rank dunghill might not come a cockatrice? But in satire he had shewn strength—and therefore his trust was naturally in satire still; although we do not find it recorded that he flung it away unwillingly—and therefore, after all, his belief of the excellence of the Paraphrase, like that of the worthlessness of the Two Cantos, was extremely superficial and unimpassioned, and they both melted at a breath. Mr Moore seeks to solve the difficulty by telling us, that while the imaginative powers of Byron’s mind had received such an impulse forward, the faculty of judgment, slower in its developement, was still immature, and that of self-judgment, the most difficult of all, still unattained. But that explanation, as Mr Jeffrey said of the Excursion, will never do; for it appears that his judgment became mature in about a week afterwards, when he saw that the cantos were first-rate cantos, and began to believe that he was upon the eve of being hailed a poet. Besides, the two cantos are as much distinguished for judgment as for imagination, if not more; the parts being most skilfully combined, and the adaptation of different styles perfect. Self-judgment, as Mr Moore here speaks of it, is precisely the same as judgment of the poem—for what is his poem but a manifestation of his mind? Mr Moore speaks better when he qualifies his meaning, and says, that it would be fairer to conclude that this erroneous valuation arose rather from a “diffidence in his own judgment, than from any deficiency of it.” All Byron’s poetry is distinguished by judgment—from first to last; but a thousand feelings may induce poets of the strongest and clearest judgment to over-rate, or under-rate, their own productions—for they are all floated over by dreams, and each hangs in an atmosphere of its own, rare or dense, that causes—
Moore’s Byron. Part II.429
haply—various optical deceptions or delusions; and what is all poetry together but delusion—since assuredly it is not—truth? But hear Mr Moore, who never leaves a discussion in the dark, although during the progress of it he sometimes seems fond “now of glimmer, and now of gloom,” that he may have the satisfaction of dissipating them with one bold flare of his torch.

“To his college companions, almost all of whom were his superiors in scholarship, and some of them even, at this time, his competitors in poetry, he looked up with a degree of fond and admiring deference, for which his ignorance of his own intellectual strength alone could account; and the example, as well as tastes, of these young writers being mostly on the side of established models, their authority, as long as it influenced him, would, to a certain degree, interfere with his striking confidently into any new or original path. That some remains of this bias, with a little leaning, perhaps, towards school recollections, may have had a share in prompting his preference of the Horatian Paraphrase, is by no means improbable;—at least, that it was enough to lead him, untried as he had yet been in the new path, to content himself, for the present, with following up his success in the old. We have seen, indeed, that the manuscript of the two Cantos of Childe Harold had, previously to its being placed in the hands of Mr Dallas, been submitted by the noble author to the perusal of some friend—the first and only one, it appears, who at that time had seen them. Who this fastidious critic was, Mr Dallas has not mentioned; but the sweeping tone of censure in which he conveyed his remarks was such as, at any period of his career, would have disconcerted the judgment of one, who, years after, in all the plenitude of his fame, confessed, that ‘the depreciation of the lowest of mankind was more painful to him, than the applause of the highest was pleasing.’”

Alluding to Byron’s strong desire to publish the Satire instead of Childe Harold, Mr Moore remarks, that it is often not a little curious to observe how often the course of a whole life has depended on one single step. Had he persisted in his original purpose of giving that poem to the world instead of Childe Harold, it is more than probable, says Mr Moore, “that he would have been lost as a great poet to the world!” “Ne quid nimis,” one is apt to exclaim, on reading that sentence. The Satire would have fallen still-born from the press, and people would have wondered at the abortion; but that “his former assailants would have resumed their advantage over him” we see no reason to believe, for men who have been flayed alive do not like to wrestle. The first satire was not forgotten; and though the dunghills might have cackled, they would not have crowed—much less have shewn fight. “In the bitterness of his mortification,” continues Mr Moore, “he would have flung Childe Harold into the fire!” The deuce he would?—no—Trust Byron. He would have instantly written another Satire—and as “facit indignatio versus,” it would have been a red-hot bar of iron, and then, on his second triumph,he might have indulged old Dallas by publishing Harold. We cannot sympathize with the summary process of flinging it into the fire—unless it had been bound in asbestos. Mr Moore, as usual, backs out of this strong assertion, by saying that even if Byron had afterwards summoned up sufficient confidence to publish that poem, (Childe Harold,) its reception, even if sufficient to retrieve him in the eyes of the public and his own, “could never have at all resembled that explosion of success—that instantaneous and universal acclaim of admiration, into which, coming as it were fresh from the land of song, he now surprised the world, and in the midst of which he was borne buoyant and self-assured along, through a succession of new triumphs, each more splendid than the last.” No doubt there is something—or may be something—in that elegant and graceful qualification of by far too sweeping an opinion; yet, we cannot believe that the power of a mighty Poet could have been palsied by a single stumble, however inopportune; or that the world would not have hailed Byron as a mighty poet, unless he had suddenly shone upon them like a new star from the East, without a single astronomer to predict its rising, and without a single cloud to obscure its effulgence. He was fortunate in the time he did shine forth from the “heaven of invention;” but let us not so degrade the character of his worshippers as to attribute their devotion as
430Moore’s Byron. Part II.
much to the crisis or juncture of his appearance, as to the native and resistless influence of that “bright particular star.”

Meanwhile the months passed on—and Byron seems to have spent his time from his arrival in England, in June 1811, till the publication of Childe Harold, in March 1812, pretty equally between Newstead and London. Soon after his arrival he lost that strange mother of his—without having seen her alive—and his friend Mathews, who was drowned in the Cam. Both events wrung his heart with anguish;—but after the first emotions of natural pity and grief for his mother, necessarily transient, how could he long cherish much sacred sorrow for her sake? Her death—though awhile bitterly lamented, must have been a relief and a release at last from thoughts in which there was both torment and degradation. As for Mathews, he seems to have been a man of extraordinary powers—but Byron was fast growing out of a state of pupillage—he would soon have seen that he was a head and shoulders taller than that giant—the warmth of his friendship would have cooled with the decrease of his admiration—and that his admiration must have decreased, is as certain as that it is more glorious to be elected a poet by the whole world, than a Downing scholar, by the collective wisdom of the most illustrious college in Cambridge.

But Byron now formed what we must think a more congenial friendship—for ’twas with a kindred spirit—a true son of genius—Thomas Moore. They took to each other as soon as they met; and, no doubt, Byron opened his heart more generously to Moore, because that he had in his Satire given circulation to a senseless and vulgar jest about that gentleman’s hostile meeting with Mr Jeffrey; while Mr Moore, as ready with forgiveness as Byron was with reparation, rejoiced to accept the proffered friendship of one, whose character and situation had so much that was interesting and impressive, before they were encircled—as they soon were—but as Mr Moore had no reason to foresee—with a blaze of glory. The friendship then formed was afterwards more strongly cemented—and continued, we doubt not, in both bosoms, till “cracked that noble heart”—and Byron was but dust.

But before blazing forth a poet, Byron sported orator. His first speech, and we may almost say his last, in the House of Lords, seems to have been about the Nottinghamshire frame-breakers. It is to be found in Dallas, printed from his own manuscript, and Mr Moore well says, that the same sort of interest that is felt in reading the poetry of Burke may be gratified perhaps by a few specimens of the oratory of Byron. We forget Burke’s poetry—but Byron’s oratory is mortal bad. We do not believe he cared a farthing about the matter—though he tries to hug himself on having made a successful debut, and quotes Lord Grey and Sir Francis Burdett as his panegyrists.

“I spoke,” says he, “very violent sentences with a sort of modest impudence; abused every thing and every body; and put the Lord Chancellor very much out of humour.” But he was on the eve of a very different kind of triumph.

There was a “sugh” through London of a great Poem. Fame or Rumour from the tops of steeples foretold an event that “cast its shadow before”—
“At times a warning trumpet blown,
At times a stifled hum,
Told England from his mountain throne
The Childe did rushing come!”

Childe Harold appeared—and instantly
“Shot upward like a pyramid of fire.”

Moore writes nobly on this theme.

“There are those who trace in the peculiar character of Lord Byron’s genius, strong features of the relationship to the times in which he lived; who think that the great events which marked the close of the last century, by giving a new impulse to men’s minds; by habituating them to the daring and the free; and allowing full vent to ‘the flash and outbreak of fiery spirits,’ had led naturally to the production of such a poet as Byron; and that he was, in short, as much the child and representative of the revolution in poesy, as another great man of the age, Napoleon, was in statesmanship and warfare. Without going the full length of this notion, it will at least be conceded, that the free loose which had been given to all the passions and energies of the human mind, in the great struggle of that period, together
Moore’s Byron. Part II.431
with the constant spectacle of such astounding vicissitudes as were passing, daily, in the theatre of the world, had created, in all minds, and in every walk of intellect, a taste for strong excitement, which the stimulants supplied from ordinary sources were insufficient to gratify;—that a tame deference to established authorities had fallen into disrepute, no less in literature than in politics, and that the poet who should breathe into his songs the fierce and passionate spirit of the age, and assert, untrammelled and unawed, the high dominion of genius, would be the most sure of an audience toned in sympathy with his strains.

“It is true, that, to the license on religious subjects, which revelled through the first acts of that tremendous drama, a disposition of an opposite tendency had for some time succeeded.

“Against the wit of the scoffer, not only piety, but a better taste, revolted; and had Lord Byron, in touching on such themes in Childe Harold, adopted a tone of levity or derision (such as, unluckily, he sometimes afterwards descended to), not all the originality and beauty of his work would have secured for it a prompt or uncontested triumph. As it was, however, the few dashes of scepticism with which he darkened his strain, far from checking his popularity, were among those attractions which, as I have said, independent of all the charms of the poetry, accelerated and heightened its success. The religious feeling that has sprung up through Europe since the French revolution—like the political principles that have emerged out of the same event—in rejecting all the licentiousness of that period, have preserved much of its spirit of freedom and enquiry; and, among the best fruits of this enlarged and enlightened piety, is the liberty which it disposes men to accord to the opinions, and even heresies, of others. To persons thus sincerely, and, at the same time, tolerantly, devout, the spectacle of a great mind, like that of Hymn, labouring in the eclipse of scepticism, could not be otherwise than an object of deep and solemn interest. If they had already known what it was to doubt themselves, they would enter into his fate with mournful sympathy; while, if safe in the tranquil haven of Faith, they would look with pity on one who was still a wanderer. Besides, erring and dark as might be his views at that moment, there were circumstances in his character and fate that gave a hope of better thoughts yet dawning upon him. From his temperament and youth, there could be little fear that he was yet hardened in his heresies, and as for a heart wounded like his, there was, they knew, but one true source of consolation, so it was hoped that the love of truth, so apparent in all he wrote, would one day enable him to find it.

“Another, and not the least of those causes which concurred with the intrinsic claims of his genius, to give an impulse to the tide of success that now flowed upon him, was, unquestionably, the peculiarity of his personal history and character. There had been, in his very first introduction of himself to the public, a sufficient portion of singularity to excite strong attention and interest. While all other youths of talent, in his high station, are heralded into life by the applauses and anticipations of a host of friends, young Byron stood forth alone, unannounced by either praise or promise,—the representative of an ancient house, whose name, long lost in the gloomy solitudes of Newstead, seemed to have just awakened from the sleep of half a century in his person. The circumstances that in succession followed,—the prompt vigour of his reprisals upon the assailants of his fame,—his disappearance, after this achievement, from the scene of his triumph, without deigning even to wait for the laurels which he had earned, and his departure on a ‘far pilgrimage,’ whose limits he left to chance and fancy,—all these successive incidents had thrown an air of adventure round the character of the young poet, which prepared his readers to meet half-way the impressions of his genius. Instead of finding him, on a nearer view, fall short of their imaginations, the new features of his disposition now disclosed to them, far outwent, in peculiarity and interest, whatever they might have preconceived; while the curiosity and sympathy awakened by what he suffered to transpire of his history, were still more heightened by the mystery of his allusions to much that yet remained untold. The late losses, by death, which he had sustained, and mourned, it was manifest, so deeply, gave a reality to the notion formed of him by his admirers, which seemed to authorize them in imagining still more; and what had been said of the poet Young, that he found out the art of ‘making the public a party to his private sorrows,’ may be, with infinitely more force and truth, applied to Lord Byron.

“On that circle of society with whom he came immediately in contact, these personal influences acted with encreased force, from being assisted by others, which, to female imaginations especially, would have presented a sufficiency of attraction, even without the great qualities joined with
432Moore’s Byron. Part II.
them. His youth,—the noble beauty of his countenance, and its constant play of lights and shadows,—the gentleness of his voice and manner to women, and his occasional haughtiness to men,—the alleged singularities of his mode of life, which kept curiosity alive and inquisitive,—all these lesser traits and habitudes concurred towards the quick spread of his fame; nor can it be denied, that, among many purer sources of interest in his Poem, the allusions which he makes to instances ‘of successful passion’ in his career, were not without their influence on the fancies of that sex, whose weakness it is to be most easily won by those who come recommended by the greatest number of triumphs over others.

“That his rank was also to be numbered among these extrinsic advantages, appears to have been—partly, perhaps, from a feeling of modesty at the time—his own persuasion. ‘I may place a great deal of it,’ said be to Mr Dallas, ‘to my being a lord.’ It might be supposed that it is only on a rank inferior to his own such a charm could operate; but this very speech is, in itself, a proof, that in no class whatever is the advantage of being noble more felt and appreciated than among nobles themselves. It was, also, natural, that, in that circle, the admiration of the new poet should be at least quickened by the consideration, that he had sprung up among themselves, and that their order had, at length, produced a man of genius, by whom the arrears of contribution, long due from them to the treasury of English literature, would be at once fully and splendidly discharged.

“Altogether, taking into consideration the various points I have here enumerated, it may be asserted, that never did there exist before, and, it is most probable, never will exist again, a combination of such vast mental power and surpassing genius, with so many other of those advantages and attractions, by which the world is, in general, dazzled and captivated. The effect was, accordingly, electric; his fame had not to wait for any of the ordinary gradations, but seemed to spring up, like the palace of a fairy tale, in a night. As he himself briefly described it in his Memoranda,—‘I awoke one morning, and found myself famous.’ The first edition of his work was disposed of instantly; and as the echoes of its reputation multiplied on all sides, ‘Childe Harold’ and ‘Lord Byron’ became the theme of every tongue. At his door, most of the leading names of the day presented themselves, some of them persons whom he much wronged in his Satire, but who now forgot their resentment in generous admiration. From morning till night the most flattering testimonies of his success crowded his table—from the grave tributes of the statesman and the philosopher down to (what flattered him still more) the romantic billet of some incognita, or the pressing note of invitation from some fair leader of fashion; and, in place of the desert which London had been to him but a few weeks before, he now not only saw the whole splendid interior of high life thrown open to receive him, but found himself, among its illustrious crowds, the most distinguished object.”

Byron, of whom it might be said that he had “been left unthought of in obscurity,” was now all at once
“Conspicuous object in a nation’s eye;”
and a
Colonel Greville—a man of fashion about town—we beg the deceased’s pardon for the use of that article—must needs challenge the “prevailing poet,” for some allusion or no allusion in the Satire. He was a blockhead for his pains, and his silly message dwindled away down into nothing, or evaporated in smoke. What signified that Satire? “What is writ is writ,” and such is the invaluable blessing of the art of printing, that we defy the whole world to suppress a single scrap of paper that bears the impress of genius. Byron felt that all such half-hostile messages were nonsense, and bristled up against them; but he was far more embarrassed in those cases where the restitution took a friendly form. We quote the following beautiful passage, which does ample justice to the nobleness of his mind:—

“Being now daily in the habit of meeting and receiving kindnesses from persons, who either in themselves, or through their relatives, had been wounded by his pen, he felt every fresh instance of courtesy from such quarters to be (as he sometimes in the strong language of Scripture expressed it) ‘like heaping coals of fire upon his head.’ He was, indeed, in a remarkable degree, sensitive to the kindness or displeasure of those he lived with; and had he passed a life subject to the immediate influence of society, it may be doubted whether he ever would have ventured upon those unbridled bursts of energy in which he, at once, demonstrated and abused his power. At the period when he ran riot in his Satire, society had not yet caught him within its pale; and in the time of his Cains and Don Juans, he had again broken loose from it. Hence, his instinct towards a life
Moore’s Byron. Part II.433
of solitude and independence, as the true element of his strength. In his own domain of imagination, he could defy the whole world; while, in real life, a frown or smile could rule him. The facility with which he sacrificed his first volume, at the mere suggestion of his friend,
Mr Becher, is a strong proof of this pliableness; and, in the instance of Childe Harold, such influence had the opinions of Mr Gifford and Mr Dallas on his mind, that he not only shrunk from his original design of identifying himself with his hero, but surrendered to them one of his most favourite stanzas, whose heterodoxy they had objected to; nor is it too much, perhaps, to conclude, that had a more extended force of such influence then acted upon him, he would have consented to omit the sceptical parts of his poem altogether. Certain it is, that, during the remainder of his stay in England, no such doctrines were ever again obtruded on his readers; and in all those beautiful creations of his fancy with which he brightened that whole period, keeping the public eye in one prolonged gaze of admiration, both the bitterness and the license of his impetuous spirit were kept effectually under control. The world, indeed, had yet to witness what he was capable of, when emancipated from this restraint. For graceful and powerful as were his nights while society had still a hold of him, it was not till let loose from the leash that he rose into the true region of his strength; and though almost in proportion to that strength was, too frequently, his abuse of it, yet so magnificent are the very excesses of such energy, that it is impossible, even while we condemn, not to admire. The occasion by which I have been led into these remarks—namely, his sensitiveness on the subject of his Satire—is one of those instances that show how easily his gigantic spirit could be, if not held down, at least entangled, by the small ties of society. The aggression of which he had been guilty was not only past, but, by many of those most injured, forgiven; and yet—highly, it must be allowed, to the credit of his social feelings—the idea of living familiarly and friendly with persons respecting whose character or talents there were such opinions of his on record, became, at length, insupportable to him; and though far advanced in a fifth edition of ‘English Bards,’ &c. he came to the resolution of suppressing the Satire altogether; and orders were sent to Cawthorn, the publisher, to commit the whole impression to the flames. At the same time, and from similar motives—aided, I rather think, by a friendly remonstrance from Lord Elgin or some of his connexions—the ‘Curse of Minerva,’ a poem levelled against that nobleman, and already in progress towards publication, was also sacrificed; while the ‘Hints from Horace,’ though containing far loss personal satire than either of the others, shared their fate.”

We have no experience of the Feeling of Fame. Once in a night dream we had it for a momentary flash—but all the eyes of the gazing multitude shut at once, and left us shrunk up into insignificance in total darkness. We see, however, that it turns the heads of most men and women, making them all as proud as so many fallen angels. How a London Lion ought to shake his mane, and wag his tail, and shew his tusks, and roar, we, who are but an Edinburgh lamb, can form no conjecture. It is easy to moralize over the weakness of the strong, the meanness of the mighty; but poets are but men, and if all the world will bow down to them, and worship them, agape with wonder and astonishment, we must not abuse the bards for staring like Saracens. Now, really Byron, “who awoke one morning, and found himself famous,” might have been pardoned, if, notwithstanding his lameness, he had
“Into such strange vagaries fell
As he would dance.”
But he did not make any such exposure of his Bardship. He enjoyed his fame—why not?—but it found not its way into the deepest recesses of his heart. There was many a strange dark thing there “that passeth shew;” and there may be much and frequent enjoyment above the surface of melancholy—of misery that is mixed with the vital blood. Fame never yet yielded deep, untroubled, permanent, immortal bliss! In its full blaze men have committed suicide. Had Byron done so, it needed not to have confounded us; for his assuredly were sometimes dark, desperate, wicked thoughts—like the whisperings of fiends in dreams—“airy tongues that syllable men’s names,” and mutter of distraction and death. Hear his admirable biographer.

“During all this time, the impression which he had produced in society, both as a poet and a man, went on daily increasing; and the facility with which he gave himself up to the current of fashionable life, and mingled in all the gay scenes through which it led, showed that the novelty, at
434Moore’s Byron. Part II.
least, of this mode of existence had charms for him, however he might estimate its pleasures. That sort of vanity which is almost inseparable from genius, and which consists in an extreme sensitiveness on the subject of self,
Lord Byron, I need not say, possessed in no ordinary degree; and never was there a career in which this sensibility to the opinions of others was exposed to more constant and various excitement than that on which he was now entered. I find in a note of my own to him, written at this period, some jesting allusions to the ‘circle of star-gazers’ whom I had left around him at some party on the preceding night; and such in fact was the flattering ordeal he had to undergo where-ever he went. On these occasions, particularly before the range of his acquaintance had become sufficiently extended to set him wholly at his ease, his air and port were those of one whose better thoughts were elsewhere, and who looked with melancholy abstraction on the gay crowd around him. This deportment, so rare in such scenes, and so accordant with the romantic notions entertained of him, was the result partly of shyness, and partly, perhaps, of that love of effect and impression to which the poetical character of his mind naturally led. Nothing, indeed, could be more amusing and delightful than the contrast which his manner afterwards, when we were alone, presented to his proud reserve in the brilliant circle we had just left. It was like the bursting gaiety of a boy let loose from school, and seemed as if there was no extent of fun or tricks of which he was not capable. Finding him invariably thus lively when we were together, I often rallied him on the gloomy tone of his poetry, as assumed; but his constant answer was, (and I soon ceased to doubt of its truth,) that though thus merry and full of laughter with those he liked, he was, at heart, one of the most melancholy wretches in existence.”

Drury-Lane Theatre, we believe, is burned to the ground about once every twelve years; and the last conflagration fortunately was so timed as to fall in with the first sun-burst of Byron’s fame. His Address, to be delivered on the opening of the new theatre, was preferred to one by Dr Busby—and we have a good many of these quarto pages filled with obliterations and corrections of that no very extraordinary composition. He also, about this time, wrote a poem upon Waltzing—and seems to have printed part of the “Curse of Minerva.” These were but small doings—but they pleased or displeased the Londoners—and Byron continued to be their Phœnix. In the May of 1813, appeared his wild and beautiful “Fragment” the Giaour—perhaps the most intensely passionate and exquisitely tender of all his poems. “The story,” Mr Moore well says, “possessed that stimulating charm for him, almost indispensable to his fancy, of being in some degree connected with himself—an event in which he had been personally concerned, while on his travels, having supplied the groundwork on which the Poem was founded.” It appears that he beautified it greatly, and infused into it more and more of the spirit of poesy, pathos, and passion, as it went through the press. It is a fragment, it is true; but it reads like one of those old woful tragic ballads, in which the hiatus seem caused by the falling away of all needless stanzas, and the stream of suffering leaps darkly and foamingly over each chasm in the rocks.

“On my rejoining him in town this spring, I found the enthusiasm about his writings and himself, which I had left so prevalent, both in the world of literature and in society, grown, if any thing, still more general and intense. In the immediate circle, perhaps, around him, familiarity of intercourse might have begun to produce its usual disenchanting effects. His own liveliness and unreserve, on a more intimate acquaintance, would not be long in dispelling that charm of poetic sadness, which to the eyes of distant observers hung about him: while the romantic notions, connected by some of his fair readers with those past and nameless loves alluded to in his poems, ran some risk of abatement from too near an acquaintance with the supposed objects of his fancy and fondness, at present. A poet’s mistress should remain, if possible, as imaginary a being to others, as, in most of the attributes he clothes her with, she has been to himself!—the reality, however fair, being always sure to fall short of the picture which a too lavish fancy has drawn of it. Could we call up in array before us all the beauties whom the love of poets has immortalized, from the high-born dame to the plebeian damsel,—from the Lauras and Sacharissas down to the Cloes and Jeannies,—we should, it is to be feared, sadly unpeople our imaginations of many a bright tenant that poesy has lodged there, and find, in more than one instance, our admiration of the faith and fancy of the worshipper in-
Moore’s Byron. Part II.435
creased by our discovery of the worthlessness of the idol.

“But, whatever of its first romantic impression the personal character of the poet may, from such causes, have lost in the circle he most frequented, this disappointment of the imagination was far more than compensated by the frank, social, and engaging qualities, both of disposition and manners, which, on a nearer intercourse, he disclosed, as well as by that entire absence of any literary assumption or pedantry, which entitled him fully to the praise bestowed by Sprat upon Cowley, that few could ‘ever discover he was a great poet by his discourse.’ While thus, by his intimates, and those who had got, as it were, behind the scenes of his fame, he was seen in his true colours, as well of weakness as of amiableness, on strangers, and such as were out of this immediate circle, the spell of his poetical character still continued to operate; and the fierce gloom and sternness of his imaginary personages were, by the greater number of them, supposed to belong, not only as regarded mind, but manners, to himself. So prevalent and persevering has been this notion, that, in some disquisitions on his character, published since his death, and containing otherwise many just and striking views, we find, in the professed portrait drawn of him, such features as the following:—‘Lord Byron had a stern, direct, severe mind; a sarcastic, disdainful, gloomy temper. He had no light sympathy with heartless cheerfulness;—upon the surface was sourness, discontent, displeasure, ill-will. Beneath all this weight of clouds and darkness,’ &c. &c.

“Of the sort of double aspect which he th us presented, as viewed by the world and by his friends, he was himself fully aware; and it not only amused him, but, as a proof of the versatility of his powers, flattered his pride. He was, indeed, as I have already remarked, by no means insensible or inattentive to the effect he produced personally on society; and though the brilliant station he had attained, since the commencement of my acquaintance with him, made not the slightest alteration in the unaffectedness of his private intercourse, I could perceive, I thought, with reference to the external world, some slight changes in his conduct, which seemed indicative of the effects of his celebrity upon him. Among other circumstances, I observed that, whether from shyness of the general gaze, or, from a notion, like Livy’s, that men of eminence should not too much familiarize the public to their persons, he avoided showing himself in the mornings, and in crowded places, much more than was his custom when we first became acquainted. The preceding year, before his name had grown ‘so rife and celebrated,’ we had gone together to the exhibition at Somerset House, and other such places; and the true reason, no doubt, of his present reserve, in abstaining from all such miscellaneous haunts, was the sensitiveness, so often referred to, on the subject of his lameness—a feeling which the curiosity of the public eye, now attracted to this infirmity by his fame, could not fail, he knew, to put rather painfully to the proof.”

Such painting as this bespeaks the hand of a master; every touch brings out character; and we feel assured that the portrait is true to nature. There is vindication in such free and fearless friendship which is irresistible, and we love the biographer who, by simple and undisguising truth, puts down falsehood till its tongue drops its idle venom in the dust. Strong sense and fine sentiment here glow in every line; love for the “poor inhabitant below” engenders no hatred towards the malignity that would fain stir and disturb his very shroud; but his eulogist is serene,in the conscious pride of being privileged to confess the frailties of him whose character, in spite of them all, was noble still—nor by any exaggeration of his virtues, any more than of his vices, would seek to wrong Byron anywhere, and,
“least of all,
Here standing by his grave.”

His very want of literary assumption—when we consider what he was, and what the world thought him—being perfectly natural and sincere, shewed rare greatness of character. It accounted for the contempt expressed for his conversational powers by the Cockneys, who all keep chattering during meals and after them, like so many monkeys, emulous and envious of each other’s eloquence, and pulling out with their paws fetid observations from their cheek-pouches, which are nuts to them, though instead of kernel, nothing but snuff. Monkeys and Cockneys seem always alarmed that you think them stupid unless they gibber; whereas, were they but to hold their tongues, it is possible that you might be betrayed once in your life into a momentary suspicion that they were human. Leigh Hunt declares that Byron had
436Moore’s Byron. Part II.
nothing deserving the name of conversation; and he is just about as right in thinking so as an ape grossly misbehaving himself, with his little red bleary eyes, in every possible way in his cage, high up in the attic story of
Pidcock or Wombwell, is right in testifying his contempt for the taciturnity of the lion on the ground-floor, who keeps gazing on the admirers of the forest-king, as silent as Pythagoras.

Conversational talents are, no doubt, occasionally the source of considerable satisfaction to social parties of a mixed kind; but more frequently are they the source of discomfort, annoyance, wearisomeness, and disgust. There is a distinction perhaps, but to us it often seems a distinction without a difference, between speakers and talkers—the former, we understand, being to be preferred, and of course listened to with all due deference and respect. But then, they insist on admiration, and admiration includes silence, and silence is shameful to men with tongues in their mouths and brains in their heads, as long and as large, it may be, as those of their eloquent neighbours. The truth is, that the man who shews off in company, is ipso facto a poor creature; and cannot be a gentleman. Exuberance of animal spirits, a passion for sympathy, or a confidential affection for the pensive Public, will instigate men to pour themselves out at table, to decant themselves as they might a bottle of frothy small beer, or other more potent liquor, “sans peur et sans reproche.” We do not call that shewing off; for the root of their copiousness, their great “verbosity of words,” as we t’other day heard such fluency well called by a country gentleman, is benevolence—legitimate or spurious; and such is the wickedness of this world, that we like even a bastard benevolence. But your studied “malice prepense” haranguer, who gets up his string of speeches out of his pile of commonplace books, and absolutely comes prepared, like a Chancellor of the Exchequer on opening the Budget, or a barrister about to address a jury on a case of railroads, river-embankments, or encroachment-of-tide, deserves death without benefit of clergy, except indeed a roasting from Sydney Smith. The selfish sinner spouts but for himself; nor sees the loathing which his vulgar lips inspire, his pompous enunciation, and the glazed fixtures of his unintellectual eyes. “Pity he is not in Parliament,” some stuck-pig ninny whispers to the brother at his elbow—and pity ’tis indeed—in parliament—in prison—or in the stocks. Only see how he shines!—Feeding his little tin-lamp with the oil of vanity—till all at once the wick goes out with a stink, and the would-be illuminé cannot see the length of his nose. For somebody has changed the talk upon him, insinuated a topic on which our friend has not been crammed like a Cambridge wrangler or a Norfolk turkey, and the shallow stream, as if stricken by sudden frost, is dumb. The company begins to revive under the unhoped abatement of the nuisance. There is a sweet, still, Sabbath-feeling in the air, now that the “dizzy mill-wheel rests,” and mine host calls on Davy Wylie for a song—the Ewie wi’ the crooked horn, or Jenny’s bawbee. The orator remembers, or feigns, an engagement to a Rout; and flies off to have his dry well fanged (see Dr Jamieson) by an effusion from the bucket of some Fashionable Blue.

Men of genius, even, are not always innocent of this sin. They are betrayed into it by the “moods of their own minds,” which are sometimes perverse enough; and seem suddenly seized with a desire to shine—idle ambition indeed—in stars that by their very being are lustrous. But stars, it would appear, are sometimes impatient of being behind a cloud—and are unhappy in heaven unless gazed at from earth. Poets thus become prosy; Coleridge himself, whose speech usually resembles the music of the spheres, then hums like a spinning-wheel or a dorhawk; Wordsworth’s Much-ado-about-Nothing reminds his hearers of the cataract of Lodore, bouncing in dry summer-weather over a precipice some hundred feet high, with about some six or eight gallons in the minute of a continuous flow of foamy froth. Sir Walter gets so unrelentingly anecdotical on the doomed man sitting under the fascination of his shaggy eyebrows, that the ghost of Joe Miller would seem to bring relief from Elysium to that “storied
Moore’s Byron. Part II.437
urn and animated bust;” and as for
Bowles, we never shall cease wondering how he can bring himself to have the wickedness sometimes to deliver, at one Saturday sitting, as many sermons as would suffice the congregation of Bremhill church for a series of Sabbaths.

Now, all this being the case, more or less, one may easily suppose the scene when a batch of tip-top talkers are met together, each determined to put his best foot foremost, and to gabble the other down, till the air of the room is like the hollow of the sky, during the transit of a flock of wild-geese emigrating under the conduct of a chief, with a bill almost as loud and long as Wilmot Horton’s. Byron suffered much in this way; and seems to have had a horror of certain soirées, where every mouth was at work like a power-loom. At no time loquacious,—at such time he was silent. What cared he whether the “Epicene” had the ball at her own foot,—or Sir James Mackintosh, (talker in ordinary at Holland-House,)—or Mr Richard Sharpe,—or Brownstout Whitbread, the brewer,——or Smallbeer Rogers, the banker,—or Playwright Colman, the licenser,—or any other “old man or old woman eloquent”—what mattered all this to Childe Harold, self-withdrawn into some glorious dream of Greece, flying, eagle-like, o’er the Peaks of Parnassus? His ambition “was made of sterner stuff.” He knew that one of his Spenserian stanzas was worth all the talk-tea-and-turn-out that ever was dribbled; nor does he seem to have taken the trouble of seriously admiring for an hour any of those spouters, except De Stael and Sheridan,—and She, indeed, was almost of as high an order of mind an Byron,—although, unlike Eve with Adam, from “her lips words alone pleased us;” while He was lustrous even when lachrymose, with the hues of wit turning his maudlin tears into diamond sparks, and while smiles and sighs were a-struggle, “set the table on a roar.” Byron was often mute—that is, his thought was so—but his forehead always spoke, and so did the eloquent light—and the sunshiny shadows of his eyes, whether “in dim suffusion veiled” of melancholy, or beautifully blue,” as the heavens without a cloud, in the summer-light of the Joy of Genius, which—to look on its expression—seemeth indeed to be “bliss beyond compare!”

It would be extremely impertinent in us to despise the Fashionable and Philosophical and Literary Society of London, composed as it is, in no inconsiderable part, of very brilliant persons, male and female,—and containing, no doubt, its due proportion both of wit and wisdom. Yet Byron does not seem, from his Journals, to have either much admired or much enjoyed it; and we confess, that sometimes we have experienced a feeling of pity,—almost a little like a leaning towards contempt,—in reading not a few of the trifling details with which the middle portion of this volume is too much occupied. Small sketches, or rather scratches of character, jests stale and vapid, “quips and cranks,” without the “wreathed smiles” that should accompany them—anecdotes not exactly scandalous, but gossipy—badinage and persiflage, of which the affected heartlessness is not carried off by the real fancy—and certain airs of assumption, entirely alien from Byron’s native character, but breathed over its surface by the exclusive spirit of what is called, and no doubt often is, High Life, though it sometimes looks like the lowest of the low; such annoyances have rather too frequently met us in Mr Moore’s Narrative, and Byron’s Journals, of the two years and a half between the publication of Childe Harold and the “Fatal Marriage.” It is hard to say in what kind of element Byron would most freely have breathed; but it does not seem to have been the atmosphere of London. During the depression of spirits which he laboured under while printing Childe Harold, he would frequently, says Mr Dallas, talk of selling Newstead, and of going to reside in Naxos, or the Grecian Archipelago, to adopt the Eastern costume and customs, and to pass his time in studying the Oriental languages and literature. The excitement of the triumph that soon after ensued, and the scenes which, in other pursuits besides those of literature, attended him, again diverted, says Mr Moore, his thoughts from these migratory projects. But
438Moore’s Byron. Part II.
the roving fit soon returned; and we find, from one of his letters to
Mr William Bankes, that he looked forward to finding himself, in the course of the spring of 1813, once more among the mountains of his beloved Greece. For a time that plan was exchanged for the more social project of accompanying his friends, the family of Lord Oxford, to Sicily; but on that design being by him relinquished, he again thought of the East, and proceeded so far in the preparations for the voyage, about the middle of summer, as to purchase snuff-boxes as presents for some of his old Turkish friends. Thus he writes to Mr Moore:—“Rogers is out of town with Madam de Stael, who hath published an Essay against Suicide, which, I presume, will make somebody shoot himself,—as a sermon by Blenkinsop, in proof of Christianity, sent a hitherto most orthodox acquaintance of mine out of a Chapel of Ease, a perfect Atheist. I am still in equipment for going away,” &c. Mr Croker had procured for him a passage to Greece in a king’s ship; but the scheme went off, and he had to interest himself in correcting and adding to the fifth edition of the Giaour, which was about this time reviewed in the Edinburgh, in an article “so very mild and sentimental, that,” quoth his Lordship, “it must be written by Jeffrey in love.” “Mr Jeffrey has done the handsome thing by me,—and I say nothing. But this I will say,—if you and I” (he is writing to Mr Moore) “had knocked one another on the head in his journal, how he would have laughed, and what a mighty bad figure, we should have cut in our posthumous works!”

Towards the close of this year, (1813,) he “scribbled another Turkish story,” the Bride of Abydos,—which scribbling occupied, he tells us, four days; and, in good truth, there are too many feeble or ill-written passages in the poem, which is the least successful of all his productions, either in design or execution. But Lord Holland liked it,—and so did Lady Holland,—although on reading the proofs, they disliked it; but taste is a very variable feeling, and ’twas all right at last. “The Bride of Abydos,” says Mr Moore, “was struck off, like its predecessor the Giaour, in one of those paroxysms of passion and imagination, which adventures such as the poet was now engaged in were, in a temperament like his, calculated to excite. As the mathematician of old required but a spot to stand upon, to be able, as he boasted, to move the world, so a certain degree of foundation in fact seemed necessary to Byron, before that lever which he knew how to apply to the world of the passions, could be wielded by him. So small, however, was, in many instances, the connexion with reality which satisfied him, that to aim at tracing, through his stories, these links with his own fate and fortunes which were, after all, perhaps visible but to his own fancy, would be a task as uncertain as unsafe; and this remark applies not only to the Bride of Abydos, but to the Corsair, Lara, and all the other beautiful fictions that followed, in which, though the emotions expressed by the poet may be, in general, regarded as vivid recollections of what had, at different times, agitated his own bosom, there were but little grounds,—however he might himself occasionally encourage such a supposition,—for connecting him personally with the ground-work or incidents of the story.”

Byron had now been for two years Lord of the Ascendant. Admiration of one man seldom lasts so long in the fluctuating soul of the World, and still seldomer in the fickle soul of the Town. It cannot sustain itself in the air of fancy, having little or no foundation in the intellect. Byron was a great poet; but a great poet has many small idolaters; London is a large city, but it contains some hundred thousand very little inhabitants; and though we would not offend such a metropolis for the universe, we humbly presume to doubt if the Wen be the Power which presides over the dominions of poetry, if the Fame whom she sends “flying all abroad,” be the Immortal One, or a Simulacrum, which, in the very midst of her towering flight, feels her wing flagging, and descends plump-down to the dust. Be that as it may—The Town began to tire of Byron—to grow sulky and sullen with Byron—to get fierce and ferocious upon Byron—and, like other gluttons,
Moore’s Byron. Part II.439
“With besotted, base ingratitude
Cram and blaspheme its feeder.”
In April, 1814, we hear of him in a strange mood.

“A resolution was, about that time, adopted by him, which, however strange and precipitate it appeared, a knowledge of the previous state of his mind may enable us to account for satisfactorily. He had now, for two years, been drawing upon the admiration of the public with a rapidity and success which seemed to defy exhaustion,—having crowded, indeed, into that brief interval, the materials of a long life of fame. But admiration is a sort of impost from which most minds are but too willing to relieve themselves. The eye grows weary of looking up to the same object of wonder, and begins to exchange, at last, the delight of observing its elevation, for the less generous pleasure of watching and speculating on its fall. The reputation of Lord Byron had already begun to experience some of these consequences of its own prolonged and constantly renewed splendour. Even among that host of admirers who would have been the last to find fault, there were some not unwilling to repose from praise; while they who had been, from the first, reluctant eulogists, took advantage of these apparent symptoms of satiety, to indulge in blame.

“The loud outcry raised, at the beginning of the present year, by his verses to the Princess Charlotte, had afforded a vent for much of this reserved venom; and the tone of disparagement in which some of his assailants now affected to speak of his poetry, was, however absurd and contemptible in itself, precisely that sort of attack which was the most calculated to wound his, at once, proud and diffident spirit. As long as they confined themselves to blackening his moral and social character, so far from offending, their libels rather fell in with his own shadowy style of self-portraiture, and gratified the strange inverted ambition that possessed him. But the slighting opinion which they ventured to express of his genius, seconded as it was by that inward dissatisfaction with his own powers, which they whose standard of excellence is highest, are always the surest to feel, mortified and disturbed him; and, being the first sounds of ill augury that had come across his triumphal career, startled him, as we have seen, into serious doubts of its continuance.

“Had he been occupying himself at the time with any new task, that confidence in his own energies, which he never truly felt but while in the actual exercise of them, would have enabled him to forget these humiliations of the moment, in the glow and excitement of anticipated success. But he had just pledged himself to the world to take a long farewell of poesy—had sealed up that only fountain from which his heart ever drew refreshment or strength,—and thus was left, idly and helplessly, to brood over the daily taunts of his enemies, without the power of avenging himself when they insulted bis person, and but too much disposed to agree with them when they made light of his genius. ‘I am afraid,’ he says, in noticing these attacks in one of his letters, ‘what you call trash is plaguily to the purpose, and very good sense into the bargain; and, to tell the truth, for some little time past, I have been myself much of the same opinion.’”

In this sensitive state of mind, which he but ill disguised or relieved by an exterior of gay defiance or philosophic contempt, we can hardly feel surprised, continues Mr Moore, “that he should have all at once come to the resolution not only of persevering in his determination to write no more in future, but of purchasing back the whole of past copy-rights, and suppressing every page and line he has ever written!” Sic transit gloria mundi! This insane resolution he communicated to Mr Murray, who soon restored him to his senses by a simple statement of the impracticability of such a scheme. He at once submitted, and talked no more of buying back copy-rights and of incremation of stock. Now, what were all the other poets about during this First Era of Byron’s reign? We really forget. Did not Scott publish Rokeby? And —— but we must not expose our ignorance, which we confess is deplorable. Why, all Poets, one and all of them, were, during those two years, as cleanly swept out of existence in the mind of the Reading Public, as if the Old Lady had, from infancy, addicted herself exclusively to pap and prose. “Byron—Byron—Byron”—or “Birron—Birron—Birron”—was still the watch-word and reply. Even the star of Scott waned in the cloudy roofs of Blue-Stocking Coteries. Crabbe sidled backwards out of them with a discontented crawl, like a patten peevish at low-water. Moore, who had not then reached his zenith, twinkled and tinkled less like a harmonious or melodious sphere, which he
440Moore’s Byron. Part II.
has since become, than a tambourine in the airily-brandished hands of a dancing Savoyard girl, of whose measures, in some grass-grown square, no man taketh heed. Even
Campbell, though uneclipsed, was ungazed at; and Gertrude allowed to read Shakspeare in the Pennsylvanian woods, all unbeloved and unadmired,—while all eyes wept for Medora watching the bark of her Pirate,—and opening her bosom to the pressure of hands red with murder and blood. As for Wordsworth and Southey,—they were entombed—the one among the glooms of Helvellyn, the other, among the glooms of Glaramara,—as in the incommunicable depths of the grave. Even that “singularly wild and original Poem Christabel,” was blown by derision into oblivion, as if a satyr had hissed away a Sibylline leaf,—and Coleridge—as well he might—burst into tears! That all the living—that is to say, the dead poets—did not abhor Byron, speaks volumes in their praise; yet some of them, we fear, growled like thunder, that at times seems loath to leave its cloud, yet sullen in confinement there, and that sends, ever and anon, short fitful gleamings out, which you can scarcely call lightning, till—gracious heavens!—what a burst of fire!—one far-shooting, wide-wavering, wrathfully-rustling moment of the Last Day, in which the earth, with all her mountains, seems to heave up into the sky, and though steadfast still, then to dissolve away in the night of utter darkness that falls over them from the grim regions of the exhausted heavens which, in that one electrical blaze, seem to have poured out their very heart.

That simile seems not so much amiss as a description of a natural phenomenon; but unluckily it is not at all applicable to the poets, whose dissatisfaction it was meant to illustrate. With the exception of Wordsworth, who boldly asserted in all societies, that Byron—though a young man of some talent—had no genius, and was not a poet even of the third class—(why will great men make themselves ridiculous, and worse than ridiculous—contemptible?) the other bards seem to have borne their temporary obscuration with much stoicism—supported, we presume, that happy self-esteem which is—we verily believe—in some sense, the source and solace of all genius. Each of them comforted himself with the hope, “there’s a braw time coming;” and ’twas pleasant to hear some of them, with a look most magnanimous and forlorn, eulogizing the Childe, and declaring with a proud humility, which, in most cases, passed for hypocrisy of the lowest grade of that vice, “Byron is the best of us all—the best of us all must yield the palm to Byron;” and as each was, of course, in his own estimation, “the best of us all,” ’twas thus that “Pride, in the garb of Humility,” found victory even in defeat, and exulted even to be dragged in chains at the wheels of Byron’s triumphal chariot—for that degradation—they proudly opined—was reserved only for kings or princes.

Now Byron was too proud—too noble a spirit, to like all this—and his perfect knowledge that this delusion of his worshippers respecting the worthlessness of other poets of the highest order grew out of their delusion respecting himself, inspired him at times with absolute disgust for the judgments of such a tribunal as that which now decided the comparative claims of genius. That disgust was deepened by the discovery soon forced upon him, that even his genius was beginning to lose its miraculous virtue; and that the reading Public had begun to doubt or disbelieve the mystery of that animal magnetism, which had so frequently, during a period of two years, thrown her into convulsions not always decorous; such were the exhibitions of both of the old lady’s legs up to the garter—or “Honi soit qui mal y pense”—which she always wears, we are credibly informed, above knees in symmetry similar to those of the late amiable Durham-ox. No wonder “Fame is the spur which the clear spirit doth raise”—but ’tis not worn on the heel of the swinish multitude. And who are the swinish multitude? Not those whom Burke meant to include within that very Christian designation. People of fashion are the swinish multitude. Now and then a white doe is seen gliding through the park, or forest-chase, “beautiful exceedingly;” but the gross amount is made up of grunters. Yes—’tis a sty—a pig-sty; and it shews itself
Moore’s Byron. Part II.441
to be one at this very moment by bubble-and-squeak—all a-bristle. Many an old sow leered upon Byron in the midst of her litter. But we are getting on debateable and dangerous ground; and as we would not give the slightest offence for the world to any individual or body of individuals, let us assume a pleasanter aspect, and hover away off like a bird in among the Beautiful.

During those two years and a half, we verily believe that all the good poets of Britain were, in their obscurity, far happier than Byron. For there, afar off from a million and a half of people living in brick houses metropolitan or suburban—the moon rose, undisturbed by smoke or stir, above the mountains—for them night after night were the heavens more and more crowded with stars—social in infinitude. Surely no man—no married man, ever looked at a stream singing its way through some cheerful solitude, without feeling the beauty of that line,
“Glides the calm current of domestic life;”
and then, if from its moss-tuft on the bank peeps out some happy primrose—every father feels the beauty of that other line, “still more beauteous,” of the high-souled and tender-hearted
“Uprose that living flower before his eye;”
and thus are all the elements profuse of poetry—till heaven, earth, and air overflow with happiness.
Madam de Stael was a bright creature at a Soirée—but not so bright as She, who now
“Rising in clouded majesty, at length
Apparent queen, unveil’d her peerless orb,
And o’er the dark her silver mantle threw.”
The hum of a Converzatione is not so meditation-deep as the mutely speaking eloquence of silence, in whose blue lap lie dreaming in their sleep the countless multitude of stars!
“God made the country—and man made the town,”
Cowper, with a boldness justified by his religious love of nature. Byron had a soul to feel that—for his soul was “born again” among the mountains—even along with the thunder-peal that seemed rejoicing over “a young earthquake’s birth.” Imprisoned in brick, what must have been its bondage! Much—too much of those two years in and about London was abused—much, too much was lost. His midnight converse with such a man as Moore was indeed compensation for much idle—and worse than idle misemployment of “God’s gracious time;” and with some other choice spirits he partook of “celestial colloquy sublime;” but the continuous flow of Wordsworth’s life was a far holier and happier lot—and more approved by the highest Muses who wept while they smiled on that other, their youngest and prodigal son. Yet Byron, gloriously gifted as he was—so far forgot the true nature of the poet’s attributes, and the poet’s reign, as to compliment himself, and him who has become his biographer, on having belonged to the—Fashionable World! Without whose pale—alack and alas-a-day—no bard must hope to be received of the golden-haired Divinity! the Apollo, who, if truth be in fiction, and religion in mythology, did of old love to haunt, during his snatched absences from the haunts of Jove, the gloom of groves, and the glory of mountain-tops that lifted up their ladders for the descending God!

“This is true fame,” said some poet or other on taking up a tattered volume from the “window-sole” of a cottage-kitchen, and finding it to be “Thomson’s Seasons.” How very few of our poets are thus popular! Cowper, Young, Burns—who else? None. This looks as if it were not in the nature of the thing possible that a truly great poet should ever become known—as a household word—to the people, except under very peculiar circumstances of subject, situation, or character. But not to involve ourselves in that speculation, Byron, there can be no doubt, has, truth, nature, and beauty, sufficient to establish much of his poetry in the universal heart. He seems to have written the first two Cantos of Childe Harold without knowing, or suspecting, or dreaming, what he was about; and as he felt it to be a sort of ideal picture, if not an absolute, portrait of himself, he was slow and reluctant to believe that it could be a poem worthy of the world. But the inspiration of strong personal
442Moore’s Byron. Part II.
feelings embued it with the same power that is inherent in most of Burns’s poetry—and in much of Cowper’s—and, had it been rather more sincere, in all Young’s—and, notwithstanding what has been said to the contrary, in almost all
Thomson’s—both the Seasons and the Castle of Indolence. The GiaourBride of AbydosCorsairLara, and others—were all written, partly from the impulse of the same kind of personal feelings—and partly to delight, astonish, and take by storm—London—both the City and the West End of the Town. That appeared to Byron at the time, surrounded as he was by the blaze of his own glory, in which London may be said to have been in illumination more creditable than that in which she gloried on the acquittal of Queen Caroline—to be a high ambition, and we do not say it was a low one; but these are not Poems, after all, though immortal in their strength and beauty, that will for ever hold deep possession of the heart of humanity. His subsequent works were greater far—some of them transcendent. Therefore, Byron, when his mind was abstracted, as often it must have been, wholly from the narrow world, of which he shone for a time as the central orb, must have been mortified to think how limited, after all, was the range of that Thought and Sentiment to which his genius was an object of legitimate love and admiration. He saw himself worshipped by fools and knaves, puppies, dandies, reps, and demireps, and some other orders of both sexes, which shall be nameless—by men of talents, too, and power in the state—by men and women of genius—and by the hollow hum brought from afar of distant villages, towns, and cities, which sounded to his ear like the National Voice. But he knew that it could not be the National Voice, for the reverential love of genius at a nation’s heart gives out hymns of gratulation that flow pure as rivers down the mountains,
“To touch etherial of Heaven’s fiery rod.”
He must have felt that there was folly, ignorance, and injustice, in the decree that set him, the author of these two Cantos, not only on a level with, but absolutely above, all the living poets, many of whom had dedicated a life-long service to the Muses, and had had their exceeding great reward in continuous inspiration that had given power to effect great achievements. Therefore, he was often desponding in the midst of his triumphs, knowing that they were hollow at heart; therefore, if he did not bow down and worship them, nevertheless was he, perhaps, somewhat too forward to swear fealty to those king-makers, as he called them, Messrs
Gifford and Jeffrey, who, in good truth, had not power to hurt a hair in his head, although it did Mr Jeffrey infinite credit to assist in crowning it with the laurel.

Turning from Byron’s poetry to his life, Was he now a libertine? We can only answer that question in the negative, by saying, that he was probably no Joseph. We can, without any great stretch of imagination, picture to ourselves a more prettily-behaved, exemplary, and aunt-delighting young gentleman; yet he seems to have been one of the least profligate in all the Peerage. His amours, high or low,—few or many—are no business of ours, or of yours either; but, as far as the truth may be learned from Mr Moore, they were never characterised by any peculiar cruelty or deceit; nor was his morality—with regard to such connexions—laxer than is usual in high life, in a highly-refined and luxurious state of society. We should think ourselves degraded by saying more on a subject on which cant and hypocrisy have pre-eminently ejaculated their lamentations, while
“So scented the grim features, and upturn’d
Their nostrils far into the murky air;”
as if, while they indignantly denounced, they brutally snuffed the sin. Few faces were clearer than his of the slightest taint of grossness of expression,—certainly not the great, broad, yellow, black, greasy face of that sensual Satyr who figures as frontispiece in the Number of that Methodistical Magazine, where Byron was sent, “sans ceremonie,” “right slick away” to hell, for a series of seductions committed only in the hideous pork-chop dreams of that nauseous Sinner-saved rampant from a love-feast. But hear Mr Moore:

“During my stay in town this year, we were almost daily together; and it is
Moore’s Byron. Part II.443
in no spirit of flattery to the dead, I say, that the more intimately I became acquainted with his disposition and character, the more warmly I felt disposed to take an interest in every thing that concerned him. Not that in the opportunities thus afforded me of observing more closely his defects, I did not discover much to lament, and not a little to condemn. But there was still, in the neighbourhood of even his worst faults, some atoning good quality, which was always sure, if brought kindly and with management into play, to neutralize their ill effects. The very frankness, indeed, with which he avowed his errors, seemed to imply a confidence in his own power of redeeming them,—a consciousness that he could afford to be sincere. There was also, in such entire unreserve, a pledge that nothing worse remained behind; and the same quality that laid open the blemishes of his nature gave security for its honesty.”

Byron had never been free from debt, since he knew what money meant; and these embarrassments, which must have been often most distressful, became at last the cause, we verily believe, of that “separation” which drove him to death. He had sold Newstead Abbey, which must have cost him many pangs, and had afterwards to take it back again from the insolvent purchaser. He made as light of this misery as he could—just as he tried to do of all his miseries—but it gnawed at his heart, and embittered every day of his life. He thus writes to Mr Moore, in his peculiar vein: “This day have I received information from my man of law, of the non——, and never likely to be, performance of purchase by Mr Claughton, of impecuniary memory. He don’t know what to do, or when to pay: and so all my hopes and worldly projects, and prospects are gone to the devil. He (the purchaser, and the devil too, for aught I care) and I, and my legal advisers, are to meet to-morrow; the said purchaser having first taken special care to enquire, ‘whether I would meet him with temper.’ Certainly the question is this—I shall either have the estate back, which is as good as ruin, or I shall go on with him dawdling, which is rather worse. I have brought my pigs to a Mussulman market. If I had but a wife now, and children of whose paternity I entertained doubts, I should be happy, or rather fortunate, as Candide or Scarmentado. In the meantime, if you don’t come and see me, I shall think Mr Sam’s bank is broke too, and that you, having assets there, are despairing of more than a piastre in the pound for your dividend.”

Byron about this time had jotted down in one of his journals, that “marriage might be the saving of him,” aim the deep interest which Mr Moore and other friends felt in his well-being, induced them to lean to the same opinion. Mr Moore’s hopes, indeed, had in imagination turned towards one bright object, “The cynosure of neighbouring eyes;” and in May 1814, Byron writes to him, “I believe you think that I have not been quite fair with that Alpha and Omega of beauty, &c., with whom you would willingly have united me. But if you consider what her sister said on the subject, you will less wonder that my pride should have taken the alarm; particularly as nothing but the everyday flirtation of every-day people ever occurred between your heroine and myself. Had Lady * * appeared to wish it, or even not to oppose, I would have gone on, and very possibly married, (that is, if the other had been equally accordant,) with the same indifference which has frozen over the ‘Black Sea’ of almost all my passions. It is that indifference which makes me so uncertain, and apparently capricious. It is not eagerness of new pursuits, but that nothing impresses me sufficiently to fix; neither do I feel disgusted, but simply indifferent to almost all excitements. The proof of this is, that obstacles, the slightest even, stop me. This can hardly be timidity; for I have done some imprudent things, too, in my time; and in almost all cases opposition is a stimulus. In mine it is not; if a straw were in my way, I could not stop to pick it up. I have sent this long tirade, because I would not have you suppose that I have been trifling designedly with you or others. If you think so, in the name of St Hubert, (the patron of antlers and hunters,) let me be married out of hand—I don’t care to whom, so that it amuses any body else, and don’t interfere with me much in the day-time.” In explanation of this Mr Moore says;—

444 Moore’s Byron. Part II.

“That I, more than once, expressed some such feeling, is undoubtedly true. Fully concurring with the opinion, not only of himself, but of others of his friends, that in marriage lay his only chance of salvation from the sort of perplexing attachments into which he was now constantly tempted, I saw in none of those whom he admired with more legitimate views, so many requisites for the difficult task of winning him into fidelity and happiness, as in the lady in question. Combining beauty of the highest order with a mind intelligent and ingenuous—having just learning enough to give refinement to her taste, and for too much taste to make pretensions to learning—with a patrician spirit proud as his own, but showing it only in a delicate generosity of spirit—a feminine highmindedness, which would have led her to tolerate his defects in consideration of his noble qualities and his glory; and even to sacrifice silently, some of her own happiness, rather than violate the responsibility in which she stood pledged to the world for his. Such was, from long experience, my impression of the character of this lady; and perceiving Lord Byron to be attracted by her more obvious claims to admiration, I felt a pleasure no less in rendering justice to the still rarer qualities which she possessed, than in endeavouring to raise my noble friend’s mind to the contemplation of a higher model of female character than he had, unluckily for himself, been much in the habit of studying.

“To this extent do I confess myself to have been influenced by the sort of feeling which he attributes to me. But in taking for granted, (as it will appear he did from one of his letters,) that I entertained any very decided or definite wishes on the subject, he gave me more credit for seriousness in my suggestions, than I deserved. If even the lady herself, the unconscious object of these speculations, by whom he was regarded in no other light than that of a distinguished acquaintance, could have consented to undertake the perilous, but still possible and glorious, achievement of attaching Byron to virtue, I own that, sanguinely as in theory I might have looked to the result, I should have seen, not without trembling, the happiness of one, whom I had known and valued from her childhood, risked in the experiment.”

A few months after, Byron again writes to Mr Moore about marriage. “I have been listening to my friend Hodgson’s raptures about a pretty wife-elect of his, and I met a son of Lord Erskine’s, who says he has been married a year, and is the ‘happiest of men;’ and I have met the aforesaid H,—who is also the ‘happiest of men’—so it is worth while being here, if only to witness the superlative felicity of these foxes, who have cut off their tails, and would persuade the rest of the world to part with their brushes to keep them in countenance.” About a month after this he proposed to Miss Milbanke—who had formerly declined the honour—and was accepted. The circumstances attending the proposal are curious.

“A person, who had for some time stood high in his affection and confidence, observing how cheerless and unsettled was the state both of his mind and prospects, advised him strenuously to marry; and, after much discussion, he consented. The next point for consideration was—who was to be the object of his choice; and while his friend mentioned one lady he himself named Miss Milbanke. To this, however, his adviser strongly objected; remarking to him, that Miss Milbanke had at present no fortune, and that his embarrassed affairs would not allow him to marry without one; that she was, moreover, a learned lady, which would not at all suit him. In consequence of these representations, he agreed that his friend should write a proposal for him to the other lady named; which was accordingly done,—and an answer, containing a refusal, arrived as they were one morning sitting together. ‘You see,’ said Lord Byron, ‘that, after all, Miss Milbanke is to be the person—I will write to her.’ He accordingly wrote on the moment; and, as soon as be had finished, his friend remonstrating still strongly against his choice, took up the letter; but, on reading it over, observed, ‘Well, really, this is a very pretty letter, it is a pity it should not go. I never read a prettier one.’ Then it shall go, said Lord Byron; and, in so saying, sealed and sent off, on the instant, this fiat of his fate.”

This recital will amuse some and shock others; us it both amuses and shocks; and we presume that it presents a fair specimen of the thoughts and feelings of that high life into which all men must be admitted, as Byron was by birth and Moore by genius, (so said his lordship,) ere they can hope to become poets! Nothing in the lowest farce was ever lower—yet it may be said to have been the prologue to a tragedy which had a grievous catastrophe. It may not be always much amiss to employ
Moore’s Byron. Part II.445
a friend to buy one a shandrydan or a trotting pony, though even then a man had far better go about the bargain himself in a business-like way; but when the transaction regards a wife, pray keep the pen in your own hand, fold and seal with your own hand, put into post-office even with your own hand, read the answer with your own eyes, and, beg your pardon, begin from the beginning with consulting your own seven senses, and your seven thousand fancies, and the innumerable thoughts and feelings resident all the year through in your brain and your heart—begin with liking, loving, longing, desiring, burning for one object, to you incomprehensibly different from all objects of the same name and nature—Woman—and end with suddenly pressing her, by moonlight, gas-light, or candle-light, or even sun-light, to your bosom, and beseeching her, by the pity in the heaven of her eyes, to promise, in due season, to become your wife. In all probability you will thus be happy in wedlock, and cut a respectable, or even shining figure in life, not only as a husband, but absolutely as a father. Your children will be all like you as so many peas—and your funeral will be attended by heaven knows how many scores of posterity all legitimately descended from your honourable loins. But if you employ an amanuensis—a secretary—a clerk, not only to write your proposal of marriage to your intended, but commission him to put his finger on the object proper for your choice,—you have only to look along the “vista of your future years,̶ and ’tis shut up by that impressive temple—Doctors Commons.

Byron, harassed at all hands, was in a reckless mood the morning of this disgraceful and fatal scene; indeed, he played the part of a passive madman. But who was the “person who for some time stood high in his affection and confidence,” the poor wretch that dared thus, in stinking sycophancy, to sport with the most sacred rights of woman? He could not have been a man. The act betrays emasculation. The Lady who escaped will even now sicken with disgust, and be revived by indignation, on reading this expose of the slavish scribe’s insolent insult to her and to her sex; while the Lady who unfortunately fell into the toil thus spread for her by a man not at the time entirely in his right senses—and scarcely, we think, a moral agent, so utter was his temporary want of all due reflection,—and by an eunuch, who lisped out in the impudence of all his natural and acquired ignorance of the subject in all its bearings to which it referred—“Well, really this is a very pretty letter—it is a pity it should not go—I never read a prettier one”—that Lady will blush as she weeps—and her tears never can be dried—to think that the story of her wooing, and of her being won, should have been familiar—as coffee-house words—to one of the meanest of the outcasts of humanity. That Byron was in a very disturbed state of mind when he “sealed and sent off on the instant that fiat of his fate,” appears from a passage of a letter written—perhaps the day, or the day after—to Mr Moore.” “My head is at this moment in a state of confusion from various causes, which I can neither describe nor explain—but let that pass. My employments have been rural—fishing, shooting, bathing, and boating. Books I have but few here; and those I have read ten times over, till sick of them. So I have taken to breaking soda-water bottles with my pistols, and jumping into the water, and rowing over it, and firing at the fowls of the air. But why should I ‘monster my nothings’ to you, who are well-employed, and happily too I should hope? For my part, I am happy too, in my way, but as usual have contrived to get into three or four perplexities, which I do not see my way through. But a few days, perhaps a day, will determine one of them.”

A few days after he writes,
“Here’s to her who long
Hath waked the poet’s sigh!
The girl who gave to song
What gold could never buy.”

“My dear Moore—I am going to be married, that is, I am accepted, and one usually hopes the rest will follow. My mother of the Gracchi (that are to be) you think too strait-laced for me, although the paragon of only children, and invested with ‘golden opinions of all sorts of men,’ and full of ‘most blest conditions’ as Desde-
446Moore’s Byron. Part II.
mona herself.
Miss Milbauke is the lady, and I have her father’s invitation to proceed there in my elect capacity, which, however, I cannot do, till I have settled some business in London, and got a blue coat.” “If this had not happened, I should have gone to Italy. I must of course reform thoroughly; and seriously, if I can contribute to her happiness, I shall recover my own. She is so good a person, that—in short, I wish I was a better.” In a letter written about this time to the Countess of * * * , he says of Miss Milbanke, after many compliments, “She has employed the interval (since refusing him two years before) in refusing about half a dozen of my particular friends, and has taken me at last, for which I am very much obliged to her. I wish it was well over, for I do hate bustle, and there is no marrying without some; and then I must not marry in a black coat, they tell me, and I can’t bear a blue one. You know I must be serious all the rest of my life—and this is a parting piece of buffoonery, which I write with tears in my eyes, expecting to be agitated.” In a letter to Henry Drury, a few days after, he indulges himself in the same excellent joke. “They say one shouldn’t be married in a black coat. I won’t have a blue one—that’s flat. I hate it.” All this, from beginning to end, is painful—puerile, we had almost said—unmanly; and, certes, without one redeeming tinge of genius.

On his arrival in town he had, upon enquiring into the state of his affairs, found them in so utterly embarrassed a condition, as to fill him with some alarm, and even to suggest to his mind the prudence of deterring his marriage. The die was however cast, Mr Moore adds, and he had now no alternative but to proceed! So, on the 2d of January, 1815, he was married to Miss Milbanke. He has given in his Memoranda a prose account of the wedding, closely agreeing, in many of its circumstances, with the touching picture of the same scene in his poem “The Dream.” He described himself, in that Memoir, as waking on the morning of his marriage with the most melancholy reflections, on seeing his wedding-suit spread out before him. In the same mood, he wandered about the grounds alone, till he was summoned for the ceremony, and joined, for the first time on that day, his bride and her family. He knelt down, he repeated the words after the clergyman—but a mist was before his eyes—his thoughts were elsewhere, and he was but awakened by the congratulations of the by-standers, to find that he was—married! The same morning the wedded pair left Seaham for Halnaby, another seat of Sir Ralph Milbanke’s, in the same county. When about to depart, Lord Byron said to his bride, “Miss Milbanke, are you ready?” a mistake which the lady’s confidential attendant pronounced to be “a bad omen!” Such was the courtship, and such the marriage, of Lord Byron and Miss Milbanke—a courtship and a marriage in High Life, the only sphere of song; and we leave you to compare them, and from the comparison to draw the proper reflections, with the courtship and marriage in low life, where poetry cannot be, of Colin Clout and “Cicely with her pail,” or of Ploughman Humphry “with his flail,” for one day laid aside, with glowing bright in green grogram “Dorothy Draggletail!”

We hope—nor do we doubt—that Lord and Lady Byron were happy during their honey—or as his Lordship facetiously called it, their treacle-moon. We doubt it not—for she at least loved him, and was also worthy of all love. But to think that a marriage so contracted could be happy to the last, or long, would have been a belief wild as any in a sick man’s dreams. The nuptial knot, that should be formed of links of finest steel, embedded in silk soft and warm as light, was here not even of natural though faded, but of artificial paper flowers. That Byron should have called his bride—the moment after marriage—“Miss Milbanke,” was of evil omen,—for it was cold as ice, when his looks should have been like that harmless lightning, that, without any noise, softly gleams through the twilight of the summer woods, and his words a blessing and a prayer prolonged in the spirit of the nuptial benediction, but confined now in its glowing sanctity to his own virgin’s ear! We must not care much about trifling phrases contained in confidential commu-
Moore’s Byron. Part II.447
nications,—yet when we consider that such confidential communications were made to such a man as
Mr Moore—one of Byron’s dearest friends—and himself a happy husband and father—we confess that we should not have been displeased, but delighted, to have seen, now and then, some slight expression of tenderness for his bride, some acknowledgment of his feelings of those sacred obligations under which he had come to his young, innocent, and virtuous wife. There is, we fear, nothing of this, or so little, that it is perhaps worse than nothing. In his first letter to Mr Moore, after the event, he says, “I was married this day week—the parson has pronounced it—Perry has announced it—and the Morning Post also, under the head of ‘Lord Byron’s Marriage,’ as if it were a fabrication, or the puff-direct of a new stay-maker. Lady Byron is vastly well. How are Mrs Moore’s and Joe Atkinson’s Graces? We must present our women to one another.” This is little better than a newspaper letter which we remember reading from Hughes Ball after his marriage with Mercandotti. In a letter written about a week after, in answer to one from Moore, rather sillily asking Byron’s opinion whether or not a dog could recognise his master, whom neither his own mother nor mistress was able to find out—(why, ’tis done by the sense of smell, and though women—both mothers and mistresses—may have long noses, they are not so sagacious as curs)—he says, amidst other rather vulgarish matter, “I humbly take it, the mother knows the son that pays her jointure—a mistress her mate, till he * * and refuses salary—a friend his fellow, till he loses cash and character—and a dog his master, till he changes him. So you want to know about milady and me? But let me not, as Roderick Random says, ‘profane the chaste mysteries of Hymen’—damn the word—I had nearly spelt it with a small h. I like Bell as well as you do (or did, you villain!) Bessy, and that is, or was, saying a good deal.” In another fortnight he writes, “I have been transferred to my father-in-law’s, with my lady and my lady’s maid, &c. &c. and the treacle-moon is over, and I am awake, and find myself married. My spouse and I agree to—and in—admiration. Swift says ‘no wise man ever married;’ but, for a fool, I think it the most ambrosial of all possible future states. I still think one ought to marry upon lease; but I am very sure I should renew mine at the expiration, though next term were for ninety and nine years.” There seems some heart in that, but not much in what follows; “Pray, tell me what is going on in the way of intriguery, and how the w——s and rogues of the Upper Beggars’ Opera go on—or rather go off—in or after marriage—or who are going to break any particular commandment.” We do not envy Mr Moore either the pride or pleasure that he must have derived from such epistles—though he must have smiled, as we now do, with the following picture:—“My papa, Sir Ralpho, hath recently made a speech at a Durham tax-meeting; and not only at Durham, but here, several times since, after dinner. He is now, I believe, speaking it to himself, (I left him in the middle) over various tumblers which can neither interrupt him nor fall asleep—as might possibly have been the case with some of his audience. I must go to tea—damn tea—I wish it was Kinnaird’s brandy—and with you to lecture me about it.” About a fortnight after the last spoonful of the treacle-moon, he seems to have formed a plan of foreign travel for himself and Mr Moore. “If I take my wife,—you can take yours—and if I leave mine,—you may do the same. Mind you stand by me, in either case, brother Bruin.” Ere the post-treacle moon had filled her horns, Byron in writing to Moore about the death of the young Duke of Dorset—killed in Ireland by a fall from, or with his horse, in fox-hunting—says, “we were at school together—and there I was passionately attached to him. Since, we have never met,—but once I think since 1805—and it would be a paltry affectation to pretend that I had any feeling for him worth the name. But there was a time in my life when this event would have broken my heart—and all I can say now is—it is not worth breaking. Adieu! it is all a farce.

But though we must not fear to face the disastrous dissolution of this ill-omen’d marriage, we shall
448Moore’s Byron. Part II.
say no more of the progress—too soon shewn—of that coldness, indifference, distraction, or alienation, which ended in hopeless divorce. Neither shall we abridge the narrative—always unsatisfactory—of
Byron’s year of wedded life. We shall say just enough—and no more—to account for—as far as it can be accounted for—the final catastrophe. It was bald of poetry; his correspondence with Mr Moore seems to have chiefly regarded the Edinburgh Review, to which that gentleman had become a contributor; Drury-Lane theatre, and its committee of management, to which Byron belonged, plays and play-wrights. Within the year—a daughter had been born to him—“Ada! sole daughter of his house and heart!” And his first letter to Mr Moore, after that event in itself of such a blessed-kind—was written in a tone that awakened hie friend’s anxious suspicions and fears that all was not right and bright about the hearth. Very soon after the date of that letter—Lady Byron adopted the resolution of parting with him—the rumours of their separation did not reach Mr Moore in the country till more than a week afterwards, when he immediately wrote Byron a most affectionate and delicate letter—to which he soon received this reply: “I am at war ‘with all the world and his wife;’ or rather all the world and my wife are at war with me, and have not yet crushed me—whatever they may do. I don’t know that in the course of a hair-breadth existence I was ever, at home or abroad, in a situation so completely uprooting of present pleasure, or rational hope for the future, as this same. I say this, because I think so, and feel it. But I shall not sink under it the more for that mode of considering the question—I have made up my mind. By the way, however, you must not believe all you hear on the subject; and don’t attempt to defend me. If you succeeded in that, it would be a mortal or immortal offence—who can bear refutation? I have but a very short answer for those whom it concerns; and all the activity of myself and some sagacious friends, have not yet fixed on any tangible ground, or personage, on which, or with whom, I can discuss matters, in a summary way, with a fair pretext—though I had nearly nailed one yesterday, but he evaded by—what was judged by others—a satisfactory explanation. I speak of circulators—against whom I have no enmity, though I must act according to the common code of usage, when I hit upon those of the serious order.”

In his reply to this unhappy letter, Mr Moore said, “After all your choice was the misfortune.” But Byron, with equal generosity and justice, answered, “I must set you right in one point, however. The fault was not so, nor even misfortune, in my choice (unless in choosing at all), for I do not believe, and I must say it, in the very dregs of all this bitter business, that there ever was a better, or even a brighter, a kinder or a more amiable and agreeable being, than Lady Byron. I never had, nor can have any reproach to make her, while with me. Where there is blame, it belongs to myself; and if I cannot redeem it, I must bear it.” In attributing what had happened to Byron’s “choice,” Mr Moore, however, had not the remotest intention of finding any fault with the character of the object of that choice. “What I meant,” he says, “in hinting a doubt with respect to the object of your selection, did not imply the least impeachment of that perfect amiableness, which the world, I find, by common consent, allows to her. I only feared that she might have been too perfect—too precisely excellent—too matter-of-fact a paragon for you to coalesce with comfortably; and that a person, whose perfection hung in more easy folds about her, whose brightness was softened down by some of ‘those fair defects which best conciliate love,’ would, by appealing more dependently to your protection, have stood a much better chance with your good-nature.” Had there been any thing very bad in his own conduct to his wife, it can hardly be doubted that he would have “made a clean breast,” and confessed all to Mr Moore. But he says, with manifest sincerity and suffering, “Her nearest relations are a * * * * * my circumstances have been, and are, in a state of great confusion. My health has been a good deal disordered, mid my mind ill at ease for a con-
Moore’s Byron. Part II.449
iderable period. Such are the causes (I do not name them as excuses) which have frequently driven me into excess, and disqualified my temper for comfort. Something, also, may be attributed to the strange and desultory habits which, leaving me my own master at an early age, and rambling about, over and through the world, may have induced.” Read another of his confessions. “People have wondered at the melancholy which runs through my writings; and others have wondered at my personal gaiety. But I recollect once, after an hour in which I had been sincerely and particularly gay, and rather brilliant in company, my wife replying to me, when I said, (at her remarking my high spirits,) ‘and yet, Bell, I have been called, and miscalled melancholy,—you must have seen how falsely frequently?’—‘No, Byron,’ she answered, ‘it is not so; at heart you are the most melancholy of mankind, and often when apparently gayest.’” To these faults, and sources of faults, inherent in his own sensitive nature, he added also, says Mr Moore, “many of those which a long indulgence of self-will generates, the least compatible of all others, (if not softened down as they were in him by good-nature,) with that system of mutual concession and sacrifice, by which the balance of domestic peace is maintained. When we look back, indeed, to the unbridled career, of which this-marriage was meant to be the goal—to the rapid and restless course in which his life had run along, like a burning train, through a series of wanderings, adventures, successes, and passions, the fever of all which was still upon him, when, with the same headlong restlessness, he rushed into this marriage, it can but little surprise us, that, in the space of one short year, he should not have been able to recover all at once from his bewilderment, or to settle down into that tame level of conduct which the officious spies of his privacy required.” The degradation of debt—and the indignities of duns,—for, but for his privilege of Peerage, the waters of Fleet-ditch had stained his laurel crown,—can embitter the sweetest temper, and give tenfold acerbity to the wormwood of the sourest; and although his was neither generally the sweetest nor the sourest, at times doubtless it was the one, and at times the other; nor is there, we fear, a more hopeless effort, in this weary world, than to try to wipe away the remembrance of looks, words, deed of sullenness or rage, directed against the woman he loves, by a man in fits of passion-born mental alienation. He comes, at last, to think, to feel it hopeless,—the voice of the tempter then works fatally; the diseased spirit desires to collect all its arrears of debt to the injured, that it may see them in one huge, dark pile, beyond possibility of being paid off, and submits to the result—ruin.

Byron, too, either was surrounded, even under his own roof, by spies, or he fancied that he was—and “that his every hasty word and look were interpreted in the most perverting light.” His wife was above all that—far, far above it, indeed—almost an Una. But still the small, sinister, squinting optics of persons pretending to have business in rooms, where they suspected something or nothing might be going on—sudden and soft openings of doors, as if by invisible spirits, whereas they moved on their well-oiled hinges to the red, fat fingers—smooth or hairy—of Girzzy or groom—footsteps gliding to and fro, ghostlike in day-light galleries, which no ghost doth ever haunt that weareth not blue linsey-woolsey petticoats, or red plush breeches;—such things may have been—and if they were, they must have been most damnable to such a sensitive, passionate, and imaginative spirit as Byron—and quite enough to drive him wickedly mad. Certes, his Satire on the Grace, Muse, Fate, or Fury, of whom he sings that she
“Dined from off the plate she lately washed,”
sticks the steel into a system of espionage, of which sufficient must have been real for the foundation of that superstructure of libel, out of whose windows, as that confidential person looketh out, ’tis plain Byron hath not left her, as we say in Scotland, “the likeness o’ a dug.” She does, indeed, appear richly to deserve the epithet which Jupiter—when much morris’d—used to inflict on Juno. Speaking of this somewhat savage sketch,
Mr Moore says, that it was “generally, and, it must be
450Moore’s Byron. Part II.
owned, justly condemned, as a sort of literary assault on an obscure female, whose situation ought to have placed her as much beneath his satire, as the undignified mode of his attack certainly raised her above it.” Though that sentence be well-turned, yea, even as in a lathe—nathless it’s smooth rotundity, we ask—“but was this obscure female innocent or guilty?” If innocent—then was there an unhappy mistake—and no matter what her rank—reparation was due—and repentance. If guilty, the rank to which she had been raised put her on a level with Byron—disgusting and degrading as that might be—for it had put her on a level—or too near—his lordship thought—a level with
Lady Byron! Her situation, therefore, if it was what Byron says it was, and he must have known that better than his biographer, ought not to have placed her beneath his satire. And as for an undignified attack raising the object of it above it—that is a mistake; for the object of an attack sinks under and rises above it, not according as the attack is dignified or undignified, but according as it is merited or unmerited—the charge false or true. And why this pompous big-wig shake of the head and elevation thereof, after the fashion of some “budge Doctor of the Stoic Fur,” from so natural and manly a person as Thomas Moore? Dignity, indeed! Did he know Byron no better than to expect dignity from him—dignity, which is one of the lesser morals—or rather one of the greater manners of rank and birth—when his soul was “fierce as ten Furies,” “terrible as hell,” and, like those dolorous and distracted regions, under demoniacal possession? When caught up in a whirlwind of passion, some persons may perhaps decently adjust their robes, take care of their knee and shoe-buckles, and preserve an air of dignity ludicrously contrasted with danger; but Byron was not one of that class; he spoke as the spirit moved him, not according to what was prettiest or most proper to the Peerage. And in doing so, though he must have grievously hurt the feelings of Beau Brummel, now of Boulogne sur le Mer, we cannot for a moment doubt, that he offered a rich sacrifice of nature to the delighted nostrils of the ghost of William Shakspeare, late of Stratford upon-Avon.

But though we cannot go along (most people, however, will, in spite of us) with Mr Moore, when lecturing in stilts on Byron’s want of dignity in abusing a mortal fishwoman in Billingsgate which might have passed current among the Nereids, we do go along with him, heart and soul, in all he says about the
“Fare thee well—and if for ever,
Still for ever fare thee well.”
On its publication, it appeared, he beautifully says, “to many a strain of true conjugal tenderness; a kind of appeal, which no woman with a heart could resist; while by others, on the contrary, it was considered to be a mere showy effusion of sentiment, as difficult for real feeling to have produced, as it was easy for fancy and art, and altogether unworthy of the deep interests involved in the subject. To this latter opinion, I confess my ear to have at first strongly inclined; and suspicious, as I could not help thinking the sentiment that could at such a moment indulge in such verses, the taste that prompted or sanctioned their publication appeared to me even still more questionable. On reading, however, his own account of all the circumstances in the Memoranda, I found, that on both points, I had, in common with a large portion of the public, done him injustice. He there described, and in a manner whose sincerity there was no doubting, the swell of tender recollections, under the influence of which, as he sat one night musing in his study, those stanzas were produced—the tears, as he said, falling fast over the paper as he wrote them. Neither did it appear, from that account, to have been from any wish or intention of his own, but through the very indecorous zeal of a friend whom he had suffered to take a copy, that the verses met the public eye.” Byron then stands vindicated, by a simple statement, from any outrage on the public feelings; and therefore we hope that the public is ashamed of herself for having piped her eye—all griefs on board—keeping all the pumps going as it she had ten feet water in her hold—and been fearing every lurch to go down to Davy’s locker.

The appearance of these lines gave
Moore’s Byron. Part II.451
additional violence to the angry and inquisitorial feelings then abroad against him; advertised as they were by various publishers, as “
Poems by Lord Byron, on his domestic circumstances.” Mr Moore says, “It is indeed only in those emotions and passions, of which imagination forms a predominant ingredient—such as love in its first dreams, before reality has come to embody or dispel them, or sorrow, in its wane, when beginning to pass away from the heart into the fancy—that poetry ought ever to be employed as an interpreter of feeling. For the expression of all those immediate affections and disquietudes that have their root in the actual realities of life, the art of the poet, from the very circumstance of its being an art, as well as from the coloured form in which it is accustomed to transmit impression, cannot be otherwise than a medium as false as it is feeble.” Beautifully said, indeed, and also truly; but it is a truth not so comprehensive as Mr Moore imagines. The laws of passion are not uniform. In one man grief is mute as the moss, and hard as the stone. Strike it with a sledge-hammer, and it may dully and sullenly ring—but break it shall not—nay, nor yield a single splinter. Grief in another man is like a pound of butter—and he would be a poor pugilist who could not make a “dent in it.” So on—begging Mr Moore’s pardon, who, after all, we verily believe, knows as much, or more about these self-same passions, and every thing else, than we do—old as we are—so on, we say, throughout the whole range of nature. What is as natural in one man in agony as it is natural for the leaves to look for the light, is as unnatural in another man in the same agony, as it would be for a Bishop to walk up the steps of his throne in a cathedral, on his head or bottom, like Joe Grimaldi. Now, in poetry—and it is of poetry that we speak—that which is natural is necessarily proper; and a poem written on the rack, or the wheel—if the author succeeded in not only giving vent, but permanent and adequate expression to his feelings, could not fail of becoming a great and just favourite with the pensive and impassioned public. Now, to come to the point at once—and keep to it—Lord Byron’s Farewell to Lady Byron was poetry—full of pathos and passion—deny it who will—and we know now that it was poured forth from his soul in throes—with sobs and tears that literally—not figuratively—wet the paper. It could not have been the nature of many men to act thus, while thus they suffered; but it was the nature of Byron to do so, and that is enough—our argument meets Mr Moore’s, and being stronger, in the collision it sends it spinning aside—but Mr Moore’s argument being, nevertheless, sound within the heart—though with too strong a bias to the right—it lies like a well-played bowl in the neighbourhood of a better—and ’tis known all over the green that he has lost the game—and that Christopher is, as usual, in a match—conqueror.

Now, some dozen years ago, a parallel between Byron and Rousseau was drawn in the Edinburgh Review, in an article on the 4th Canto of Childe Harold, by Professor Wilson. We have no very distinct recollection of it—how should we—but there can be no doubt that in not a few points—and these distinctive—there is a resemblance—strange and also deep—between their characters. Byron denied it—but what signified his denial? Did he prove that it was a mere dream? No. He liked boxing—Rousseau did not—argal, he was not like Rousseau! That is his strongest argument. But Jack Scroggins is fonder of boxing—and better at it too, than ever Byron was—therefore liker Byron than Jean Jacques! Byron’s mother thought him like Rousseau. What her idea of Rousseau was, God knows; yet she was much such another woman as Rousseau’s wife. But many others have seen the dim analogy—the world sees it—and will continue to see it till doomsday. And Mr Moore must acknowledge it strongly subsists, if he will but put his hand to his forehead, and think over some sayings and doings, especially the “Fare Thee Well,” of his poor friend—aye, poor as any beggar that ever lived on alms, though richer than either Croesus or Rothschild.

No sooner were the rumours of Lady Byron’s secession from her Lord known to be true, than the Pub-
452Moore’s Byron. Part II.
lic fell into a “fit of moral wrath,” and with “her eyes in a fine frenzy rolling,” proclaimed against her whilom idol an edict of excommunication, her anathema and curse. That such wickedness could be in this world—beneath the sun, moon, and stars—surpassed not only all her experience, but all her imagination; and looking down on
Byron’s feet, she saw the foul Fiend—the Prince of the Air—the tutelary genius of Lincoln. Here was, indeed, the devil to pay—while holy men, who knew professionally that it was not Satan, hinted from pulpits prophetic fears for the island that had given birth to such a monster.

“What is his crime?” “Hush—hush!” was the answer—with finger laid on the lip—eyelids dropped—and head moving—as if something had happened that must bring on the judgment-day. But “what is his crime?” “Crime! for Heaven’s sake, silence! We live in strange times—but bad as human nature is, we were not prepared for this!” “For what?” “Hush, hush—shocking, hideous, revolting, unnatural! Take care, my good sir, how you commit your own character.” This last view of the subject generally proved conclusive—for a man’s character is a selfish, a sacred thing—and the Child of Sin was given over to perdition.

Many there were, as Mr Moore well says, “who conscientiously believed, and reprobated what they had but too much right to consider credible excesses, whether viewing Byron as a Poet or a Man of Fashion.” The Moral Sense of the country was shocked by what must have seemed, under the unknown, but conjectured circumstances of the case, cruelty to a young, beautiful, loving, and virtuous wife. But the Moral Sense of a country is, we presume, its Moral Understanding; and it pronounces not final judgment till it knows the truth. Then it speaks, unfalteringly, exculpation, acquittal, or doom. It hates mystery, and above all, that mystery in which malice would seek to involve vice, evil, or crime, that the criminal may be unable to offer any palliation of his offences which seem more hideous through the gloom. The Moral Sense or Understanding of the country, therefore, as soon as it recovered from its first shock of alarm, began to enquire—to demand explanation—not from the guilty, who might be too obstinate, too sullen, too reckless, too infatuated, to confess-but from the innocent, who might reasonably be supposed anxious even—not in her own vindication, for she possibly needed none—but in vindication of her unhappy husband, who, though perhaps a bad man, was yet a man and not a demon—to say this much, that there was no peculiar enormity in his breach of the marriage vow, no especial wickedness that ought to lay him under the ban of nature. But a profound silence was preserved—“under the repeated demands made for a specification of her charges against him, which left to malice and imagination, the fullest range for their combined industry.” Lies too loathsome to be alluded to without horror, alternated with others too ludicrous to be listened to with a grave face—till sensible people—of whom there are always a few in the world, began to suspect a conspiracy—and the Public herself to be half-ashamed of the virulence of her moral indignation against one offender, while hundreds and thousands as bad, or worse, continued to sit on the high places of her esteem, and even to wave over her their unchallenged sceptres.

But in London—and London had been too much his world—such an outcry was raised and continued against Lord Byron, as never before, perhaps, was witnessed in private life. “The whole amount of fame which he had gathered, in the course of the last four years,” says Mr Moore, “did not much exceed in proportion the reproach and obloquy that were now, within the space of a few weeks, showered upon him. There were actively on the alert that large class of persons, who seem to hold violence against the vices of others to be equivalent to virtue in themselves, together with all those natural haters of success, who, having long writhed under the splendours of the Poet, were now able, in the guise of champions for innocence, to wreak their spite on the Man. In every various form of paragraph, pamphlet, and caricature, both his character and his person were held
Moore’s Byron. Part II.453
up to odium; hardly a voice was raised, or at least listened to, in his behalf; and though a few faithful friends remained unshaken by his side, the utter hopelessness of stemming the torrent was felt as well by them as by himself; and after an effort or two to gain a fair hearing, they submitted in silence,” which they ought not to have done, but fought with tongue and pen to the last. There is something very affecting in the following appeal to
Mr Rogers: “You are one of the few persons with whom I have lived in what is called intimacy, and have heard me, at different times, conversing on the untoward topic of my recent family disquietudes—Will you have the goodness to say, whether you ever heard me speak of her with disrespect, with unkindness, or defending myself at her expense by any serious imputation against her? Did you ever hear me say, ‘that when there was a right or a wrong, she had the right?’ The reason I put these questions to you, or others of my friends, is, because I am said by her and hers to have resorted to such means of exculpation.” In those Memoirs of Byron, which it was thought right to destroy, he gave a detailed account of all the circumstances connected with his marriage, from his first proposal to the lady, till his own departure, after the breach, from England. And Mr Moore says, that “frank, as usual, throughout, in his avowal of his own errors, and generously just towards her who was his fellow-sufferer in the strife, the impression his recital left on the minds of all who perused it, was, to say the least, favourable to him; though, upon the whole, leading to a persuasion that neither in kind or degree, did the causes of disunion between the parties much differ from those that loosen the links of most such marriages.”

London—the Pure—the Immaculate—the Vestal London—recoiled from the pollution of Byron’s touch, as from that of a lewd and loathsome Lazar. There was then on the stage a beautiful actress of the name of Mardyn, with whom Byron, it was said, had had an intrigue. This amour struck all London with horror—till she groaned so loud that you might have heard her groans at night above the yells of the hundred thousand prostitutes that people her public streets. The charge was false—a mere foundationless lie—and when the beautiful actress advanced to the lamps, and appealed for protection to her character to the manliness of Englishmen—Ye Gods! how Old Drury thundered through her highest heaven! But, though these manly Englishmen and Englishwomen pronounced “The Mardyn” pure, they still held Byron fouler than ever. Had he not fired off pistols over his wife’s head, as it lay on the pillow of their post-nuptial morn—and as the smoke broke away, had he not, with the face of a fiend, whispered into her ear, delicately veiled in a lace night-cap, that he had married her from revenge, and would break her heart? “To so very low an ebb had the industry of his assailants now succeeded in reducing his private character, that it required no small degree of courage, even among the class who are supposed to be the most tolerant of domestic irregularities, to invite him to their society!” And these were the Miserables, who, a year before, had all gathered round him, wherever he shewed his “fulgent head”—by gape or gambol had striven, pig or ape-like, to attract one momentary look of his proud condescending eye—had been fain to sweep the floor with their foreheads before his feet—and who lived as Literary Men on the Town, on the amours of one single oral or written word from lip or pen of the glorious Childe, who always pitied and relieved poverty, without heeding whether it had been brought upon its victims by misfortune or guilt.

Byron must now have seen clearly what he must all along have dimly suspected—the utter worthlessness of the idol-worship, which constituted the religion of the fashionable London mob. They had for some considerable time back been doubting the omnipotence of his genius—and shewing themselves anxious to escape from heresy into a more orthodox creed. Their shallow souls had run dry—and the stony channels could no more be made to murmur “with a music sweeter than their own,” by all the waters of Helicon. Wearied of their own wonder and admiration, which had now got stale, and incapable, in their weak minds, of any self-sustaining emotion, they no long-
454Moore’s Byron. Part II.
er believed in the perpetual miracle of their chosen poet’s power, but began to pass over, by a line of no very difficult transition, from senseless and superstitious astonishment to critical and philosophical contempt. His compositions were certainly full of passion, but not of poetry; genius he undoubtedly had, but ’twas monotonous and circumscribed; he was not formed by nature for great and steady, but for bright and startling achievements; and it was obvious that he had already—in the summer-fervour of youth—done his best!! All this, and more than all this, was whispered or whined, moaned or muttered; and it was a relief from any doubts that might beset the minds of such empty and shallow detractors, to turn tooth-and-nail to the tearing into pieces of Byron’s private character—or rather public personal character; for to his sad loss and misfortune, he never could be said to have had a private character since he went upon the town. His friends deserted him—that cannot be denied; for had they acted boldly, and in a phalanx, they must have speedily borne down the bands of calumny and hypocrisy, which are always as cowardly as they are badly disciplined,—an awkward squad, which cannot perform the simplest evolution, without hurting their heels and losing their heads in inextricable disarray. But Byron had for friends but a small number indeed of “good men and true;” and of them, with lamentably few exceptions, it may be said,
“As he drifted on his path,
There was silence deep as death,
And the boldest held his breath
For a time.”

We have dwelt energetically on this passage in the Life of Byron, because for a long time it was thought to be the darkest of all its passages, and one that had affixed an ineffaceable stain or stigma to his name. There is a mystery about it still; but a mystery so far from appalling, that it merely excites that very humble feeling, Curiosity; and when the Separation is talked of, apart from its unhappy results, people begin to gossip and to smile. Lady Byron, on the forenoon of her departure, left her lord in possession of a few tender conjugal endearments, began a love-letter to him from the first stage—“My dear Duck”—and having reached home—in time we hope for dinner ere it cooled—dispatched an epistle declaratory of her resolution never again to meet him till the Day of Judgment. That was odd, even among the odd things constantly occurring in this odd world. No wonder, after surprise and sorrow had subsided, that anger and scorn took their place in Byron’s heart. ’Twas treatment that would have teased a tailor into a traitor to humanity. ’Twou’d have made a Timon of the author of the “Age, a Poem.” Byron’s future life must be judged in the light of this inexplicable desertion. That life was in many things altogether indefensible; but let not its guilt darken the virtues of his character at a previous period of his “many-coloured” being; let each era answer for its own sins. When a calumny has rested for years on a man’s character, all its virtues seem to our eyes poor and sickly under the influence of that unjustly-imputed guilt, like the flowering shrubs in some spot of shady ground from which the sun’s glad beams have been intercepted; but, in the latter case, the pining away is real; in the former, it only seems so to our jaundiced eyes; unless, indeed, which generally happens—though from different causes, to the humble as well as to the high, the meek as well as the proud—a scornful sense of injustice withers or blights the better feelings of their nature,and in process of time makes them at last, in very truth, the wicked and unhappy beings which calumny at first called them in the bitterness of conscious falsehood.

We have much more to say about Byron—but we shall keep it to ourselves till the publication of Mr Moore’s second volume.—How must a Christian—judging as a Christian—speak of Byron’s character and conduct from first to last—from the day he beat the boy in Aberdeen—for sake of an old grudge—and in verification of his motto, “Trust Byron”—to the hour when he breathed his last in Greece,
“Vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras”?
That is a solemn—an awful question! and, if it must be answered in the case of Byron, let it be put and answered in the cases of all other poets—living and dead.