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author's character when there is imperative necessity of passing in silence over some of its prominent features. I have no desire to say harsh things of the poet and to repeat the often-repeated charges against his works. Far more pleasing would be the task of vindicating their errors, and of showing that, like the frailties of Burns, they might be detached so as to leave unimpaired and uncontaminated the other and better aspirations connected with them. I would gladly seek to save the glory of a true poet; for each one added to the list, already so rich in names, is so much added to the glory and the value of the literature of our language. I know, too, that the true spirit of criticism is the spirit of charity and of candour; and, where there are faults which do not enter into the very constitution of an author's mind, it is far better to throw over them the veil of silence and forgetfulness. I am not conscious that the evil spirit of censoriousness has insinuated itself into my course, and trust I shall not be regarded as suffering it now to get the advantage of me. tering upon some revision of Byron's poems for the preparation of this lecture, I chanced to encounter the touching plea for his memory from the pen of a brotherpoet who knew and loved him, that kind-hearted veteran, the poet Rogers :
“He is now at rest;
“If in thy life
« Thou art gone:
The feeling which prompted this appeal, and its source, entitle it to a respectful consideration. It would indeed be unmanly and irrational to assail the poet in his grave, especially when we remember his life full of wretchedness and his death-bed clouded with spiritual darkness. But his poems are living things: the sanctity of the grave does not belong to them. They will live, though not in the full vitality of their first fame. And equally unmanly. and equally irrational appears to me the habit of silencing the voice of even-tempered opinion by the sickly, sentimental commiseration for poor Byron.
I shall make no attempt, in illustration of my subject, to follow, regularly, the irregular course of the poet's life. It is a well-known story, from his boyish rambles in the Scottish Highlands, his London life, with all its metropolitan pleasures, his adventurous wanderings on the Continent, his years of Italian profligacy, down to
* “ Italy.”
the dismal expiring amid the marshes of Missolonghi. The annals of English poetry present nothing equal to the popularity which was gained by Lord Byron's poetry. It was speedy, it was strong, it was wide-spread, and during his life did not, perhaps, suffer a very serious decline. The literary student well knows that mere popularity does not surely betoken an abiding fame. In the extraordinary reception of Byron's poetry, I am disposed to think that there is proof of both the poetic virtues and vices which characterize it. How could he have found entrance into so many hearts if he possessed not some of those powers of imagination which sooner or later find their path ? How, on the other hand, is it possible that he could have found that entrance so speedily, if the strains he was uttering were strain of the loftiest and best poetry? The world never yet, in any of its ages, has been ready for the prompt and intelligent reception of a great poet of original powers. It is not incredible that the fourteen thousand copies of a poem like “ The Corsair” might be sold in one day, soon finding more, probably, than that number of readers; but, when poetry speaks in its mightiest tones,—those which have an echo of eternity in them,-the one living generation of mankind to whom they are addressed does not, the first moment, the first month, or the first year, open its heart to the sounds. Poetry which is addressed to the feelings, the fancy, and the imagination, in some of its lighter moods, is listened to and admired in its earliest hour; but that poetry for which fame, as distinguished from mere popularity, is in store, as surely as it comes from the depths of the poet's soul, so surely it travels slowly, often toilsomely, sinking
ENGLISH BARDS AND SCOTCH REVIEWERS.
into the deep places of the souls of men,-its restingplace for ages. A brilliant and rapid popularity dazzles and misleads the judgment: a rocket-fire will leap up into the heavens, outshining and outstripping the stars, while the steady orb of a planet—its golden urn filled at the fountain of the sun-is climbing, imperceptibly and noiselessly, up the eastern region of the firmament. The memory of an author's popularity — the recollection of the feelings with which he was once read—will continue to mislead. If, for instance, any one desire to form a safe and permanent opinion of Byron's poetry, let me warn him not to trust to the impressions remaining from former intercourse with it; but, examining it anew, more calmly, more cautiously, and, if possible, with a judgment fortified by the study of those masters of English song whose fame is undisputed, and then, but not till then, whatever conclusion he may arrive at, will it be his right to speak with confidence.
The juvenile poems which introduced Lord Byron into literary life gave little promise of his future career, and have their chief interest in indirectly leading to his next publication,-one of a widely-different character,-the “ English Bards and Scotch Reviewers."
The contemptuous treatment of his youthful verses by the “ Edinburgh Review” wounded him deeply, and helped to injure a mind easily swayed by any untoward influence. He felt a consciousness of more poetic power than he had been able to express, which made him more sensitive to the wrong and more ready to seek his revenge. The satirical poem he was thus prompted to write served to fix on his character that splenetic and malevolent habit which it became more and more his
delight to indulge in; and, in this instant, the shaft which had pierced him seems so to have poisoned his heart, that he rushed forth to scatter his darts in an indiscriminate warfare alike upon reviewers and his brother-poets. It was the beginning of a system of hostilities such as no poet ever waged before. Dryden and Pope had each of them laid a heavy hand
the poetasters and scribblers of their times; but never before Byron was a poet found who could seek to soil with bitter and contemptuous insults the fair fame of his contemporaries, whose merits he was constrained, in some chance moods of better feelings, to recognise. His youthful satire was a bold assault upon the citadel of criticism, and served, no doubt, to prompt a very ready attention to his next work, his first important poem, and the one on which his general reputation chiefly rests,—“The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold.”
The first and second cantos of “ Childe Harold" appeared, it will be remembered, some years earlier than the third and fourth ; and, as they gave him rank as a poet, let us briefly notice their relation to his personal life. When Byron reached the limit of manhood, he had already run no short distance in his unbridled race of self-indulgence. He revelled in the voluptuousness of the looser portion of the British aristocracy; and no wonder, therefore, that, to apply to him the words of one of his own dramas, he was full of pride,
“And the deep passions fiercely fostered by
He was not in habits of healthy intercourse with his