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ON THE DEATH OF THE RIGHT HON. R. B. SHERIDAN.1
STOKEN AT DRURY-LANE THEATRE. ?
WHEN the last sunshine of expiring day
A glorious sympathy with suns that set?
Even as the tenderness that hour instils When Summer's day declines along the hills, So feels the fulness of our heart and eyes, When all of Genius which can perish dies. A mighty Spirit is eclipsed-a Power Hath pass'd from day to darkness to whose hour Of light no likeness is bequeath'd-no name, Focus at once of all the rays of Fame! The flash of Wit-the bright Intelligence, The beam of Song- the blaze of Eloquence, Set with their Sun-but still have left behind The enduring produce of immortal Mind; Fruits of a genial morn, and glorious noon, A deathless part of him who died too soon.
[Mr. Sheridan died the 7th of July, 1816, and this monody was written at Diodati on the 17th, at the request of Mr. Douglas Kinnaird. "I did as well as I could," says Lord Byron, "but where I have not my choice, I pretend to answer for nothing." A proof-sheet of the poem, with the words "by request of a friend" in the titlepage, having reached him," I request you," he says, " to expunge that same, unless you please to add, by a person of quality,' or of wit and humour. It is sad trash, and must have been done to make it ridiculous."]
[Sheridan's own monody on Garrick was spoken from the same boards, by Mrs. Yates, in March, 1779. "One day," says Lord Byron," I saw him take it up. He lighted upon the dedication to the Dowager Lady Spencer. On seeing it, he flew into a rage and exclaimed, that it must be a forgery, as he had never dedicated any thing of his to such a d-d canting,' &c. &c. and so he went on for half an hour abusing his own dedication, or at least the object of it. If all writers were equally sincere, it would be ludicrous."Byron Diary, 1821.]
3 [See Fox, Burke, and Pitt's eulogy on Mr. Sheridan's speech on the charges exhibited against Mr. Hastings in the House of Commons. Mr. Pitt entreated the House to adjourn, to give time for a calmer consideration of the question than could then occur after the immediate effect of that oration. "Before my departure from England," says Gibbon," I was present at the august spectacle of Mr. Hastings's trial in Westminster Hall. It is not my province to absolve or condemn the governor of India; but Mr. Sheridan's eloquence demanded my applause; nor could I hear without emotion the personal compliment which he paid me in the presence of the British nation. This display of genius blazed four successive days," &c. On being asked by a brother Whig, at the conclusion of the speech, how he came to compliment
But small that portion of the wondrous whole,
And here, oh! here, where yet all young and warm, The gay creations of his spirit charm, The matchless dialogue-the deathless wit, Which knew not what it was to intermit;
The glowing portraits, fresh from life, that bring
But should there be to whoin the fatal blight Of failing Wisdom yields a base delight, Men who exult when minds of heavenly tone Jar in the music which was born their own, Still let them pause-ah! little do they know That what to them seem'd Vice might be but Woe. 5
Gibbon with the epithet "luminous," Sheridan answered, in a half whisper," I said voluminous.'"]
["I heard Sheridan only once, and that briefly; but I liked his voice, his manner, and his wit. He is the only one of them I ever wished to hear at greater length."Byron Diary, 1821.]
["Once I saw Sheridan cry, after a splendid dinner. I had the honour of sitting next him. The occasion of his tears was some observation or other upon the subject of the sturdiness of the Whigs in resisting office and keeping to their principles. Sheridan turned round:- Sir, it is easy for my Lord G. or Earl G. or Marquis B. or Lord H., with thousands upon thousands a year, some of it either presently derived or inherited in sinecure or acquisitions from the public money, to boast of their patriotism and keep aloof from temptation: but they do not know from what temptation those have kept aloof who had equal pride, at least equal talents, and not unequal passions, and nevertheless knew not in the course of their lives what it was to have a shilling of their own." And in saying this he wept. I have more than once heard him say, 'that he never had a shilling of his own.' To be sure, he contrived to extract a good many of other people's. In 1815, I found him at my lawyer's. After mutual greetings, he retired. Before recurring to my own business, I could not help inquiring that of Sheridan. 'Oh,' replied the attorney, the usual thing! to stave off an action.'Well,' said I, and what do you mean to do?'-'Nothing at all for the present,' said he: would you have us proceed against old Sherry? what would be the use of it?' and here he began laughing, and going over Sheridan's good gifts of conversation. Such was Sheridan! he could soften an attorney! There has been nothing like it since the days of Orpheus."-Byron Diary, 1821.]
Ilard is his fate on whom the public gaze
And stoop to strive with Misery at the door, 4
OUR life is twofold: Sleep hath its own world, A boundary between the things misnamed Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world, And a wide realm of wild reality,
And dreams in their developement have breath, And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy; They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts, They take a weight from off our waking toils,
[This was not fiction. Only a few days before his death, Sheridan wrote thus to Mr. Rogers: I am absolutely undone and broken-hearted. They are going to put the carpets out of window, and break into Mrs. S.'s room and take me: 150. will remove all difficulty. For God's sake let me see you!" Mr. Moore was the immediate bearer of the required sum. This was written on the 15th of May. On the 14th of July, Sheridan's remains were deposited in Westminster Abbey, his pall-bearers being the Duke of Bedford, the Earl of Lauderdale, Earl Mulgrave, the Lord Bishop of London, Lord Holland, and Earl Spencer.]
2 ["Abandon'd by the skies, whose beams have nurst Their very thunders, lighten-scorch- and burst." MS.]
3 Fox Pitt-Burke. [" When Fox was asked, which he thought the best speech he had ever heard, he replied, Sheridan's on the impeachment of Hastings in the House of Commons. When he made it, Fox advised him to speak it over again in Westminster Hall on the trial, as nothing better could be made of the subject: but Sheridan made his new speech as different as possible, and, according to the best judges, very inferior, notwithstanding the panegyric of Burke, who exclaimed during the delivery of some passages of itThere, that is the true style-something between poetry and prose, and better than either." -Byron Diary, (from Lord Holland,) 1821.]
Driven o'er the lowering atmosphere that nurst Thoughts which have turn'd to thunder-scorchand burst. 2
["In society I have met Sheridan frequently. He was superb! I have seen him cut up Whitbread, quiz Madame de Staël, annihilate Colman, and do little less by some others of good fame and ability. I have met him at all places and parties
But far from us and from our mimic scene
He was your brother-bear his ashes hence!
They do divide our being; they become
They make us what we were not-what they will,
-at Whitehall with the Melbournes, at the Marquis of Tavistock's, at Robins's the auctioncers, at Sir Humphry Davy's, at Sam Rogers's-in short, in most kinds of company, and always found him convivial and delightful."- Byron Diary, 1821.]
5 ["Lord Holland told me a curious piece of sentimentality in Sheridan. The other night we were all delivering our respective and various opinions upon him and other hommes marquans, and mine was this: Whatever Sheridan has done or chosen to do has been par excellence always the best of its kind. He has written the best comedy (School for Scandal), the best drama (in my mind, far beyond that St. Giles's lampoon, the Beggars' Opera), the best farce (the Critic-it is only too good for a farce), and the best address (Monologue on Garrick), and, to crown all, delivered the very best oration (the famous Begum speech) ever conceived or heard in this country. Somebody told Sheridan this the next day, and, on hearing it, he burst into tears! Poor Brinsley! if they were tears of pleasure, I would rather have said these few, but most sincere, words, than have written the Iliad, or made his own celebrated philippic. Nay, his own comedy never gratified me more than to hear that he had derived a moment's gratification from any praise of mine."-Byron Diary, Dec. 17. 1813.]
6 [In the first draught of this poem, Lord Byron had entitled it "The Destiny." Mr. Moore says, "it cost him many a tear in writing," and justly characterises it as "the most mournful, as well as picturesque story of a wandering life' that ever came from the pen and heart of man." It was composed at Diodati, in July 1816.]
Is not the past all shadow? What are they?
I saw two beings in the hues of youth
Not by the sport of nature, but of man:
He had no breath, no being, but in hers:
A touch of hers, his blood would ebb and flow,
But she in these fond feelings had no share:
Of a time-honour'd race. 2-It was a name
And on the summit of that hill she stood
"she was his sight,
For never did he turn his glance until
Her own had led by gazing on an object."-MS.] 2[ See antè, p. 384.-" Our union," said Lord Byron in 1821,"would have healed feuds in which blood had been shed by our fathers-it would have joined lands, broad and richit would have joined at least one heart and two persons not ill-matched in years (she is two years my elder) — and—and -and-what has been the result!"]
3 [The picture which Lord Byron has here drawn of his youthful love shows how genius and feeling can elevate the realities of this life, and give to the commonest events and objects an undying lustre. The old hall at Annesley, under the name of the antique oratory," will long call up to fancy the "maiden and the youth who once stood in it; while the
Looking afar if yet her lover's steed
A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
The Boy of whom I spake; he was alone,
He sate him down, and seized a pen, and traced
And with his teeth and quivering hands did tear
The Lady of his love re-enter'd there;
Was traced, and then it faded, as it came;
He dropp'd the hand he held, and with slow steps
A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
image of the "lover's steed," though suggested by the unromantic race-ground of Nottingham, will not the less conduce to the general charm of the scene, and share a portion of that light which only Genius could shed over it.-MOORE.]
["I had long been in love with M. A. C., and never told it, though she had discovered it without. I recollect my sensations, but cannot describe them, and it is as well."-Byron Diary, 1822.]
5 [This is true keeping-an Eastern picture perfect in its foreground, and distance, and sky, and no part of which is so dwelt upon or laboured as to obscure the principal figure. It is often in the slight and almost imperceptible touches that the hand of the master is shown, and that a single spark, struck from his fancy, lightens with a long train of illumination that of the reader.-SIR WALTER SCOTT.]
A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
As if its lid were charged with unshed tears.
A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
Was traced-and then it faded as it came,
Ar Ferrara, in the Library, are preserved the original MSS. of Tasso's Gierusalemme and of Guarini's
[This touching picture agrees closely, in many of its circumstances, with Lord Byron's own prose account of the wedding in his Memoranda; in which he describes himself 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 bystanders to find that he was married. — MOORE.]
A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
The Lament of Casso.'
2 ["For it becomes the telescope of truth,
And shows us all things naked as they are."- MS.] 3 Mithridates of Pontus.
A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
He held his dialogues! and they did teach
To him the book of Night was open'd wide,
My dream was past; it had no further change. It was of a strange order, that the doom
Of these two creatures should be thus traced out Almost like a reality — the one
To end in madness
both in misery. 4
Pastor Fido, with letters of Tasso, one from Titian to Ariosto, and the inkstand and chair, the tomb and the house, of the latter. But, as misfortune has a greater interest for posterity, and little or none for
[This poem is written with great beauty and geniusbut is extremely painful. We cannot maintain our accustomed tone of levity, or even speak like calm literary judges, in the midst of these agonising traces of a wounded and distempered spirit. Even our admiration is swallowed up in a most painful feeling of pity and of wonder. It is impossible to mistake these for fictitious sorrows, conjured up for the purpose of poetical effect. There is a dreadful tone of sincerity, and an energy that cannot be counterfeited, in the expression of wretchedness, and alienation from human-kind, which occurs in every line of this poem. - JEFFREY.]
[In a moment of dissatisfaction with himself, or during some melancholy mood, when his soul felt the worthlessness of fame and glory, Lord Byron told the world that his rause should, for a long season, shroud herself in solitude (see antè, p. 460.); and every true lover of genius lamented that
the cotemporary, the cell where Tasso was confined in the hospital of St. Anna attracts a more fixed attention than the residence or the monument of Ariosto at least it had this effect ou me. There are two inscriptions, one on the outer gate, the second over the cell itself, inviting, unnecessarily, the wonder and the indignation of the spectator. Ferrara is much decayed, and depopulated the castle still exists entire; and I saw the court where Parisina and Hugo were beheaded, according to the annal of Gibbon.
The Lament of Tasso.
LONG years! It tries the thrilling frame to bear And eagle-spirit of a child of Song
her lofty music was to cease. But there was a tide in his spirit obeying the laws of its nature, and not to be controlled by any human will. When he said that he was to be silent, he looked, perhaps, into the inner regions of his soul, and saw there a dim, hard, and cheerless waste, like the sand of the sca-shore; but the ebbed waves of passion in due course returned, and the scene was restored to its former beauty and magnificence, its foam, its splendours, and its thunder. The mind of a mighty poet cannot submit even to chains of its own imposing: when it feels most enslaved, even then, perhaps, is it about to become most free; and one sudden flash may raise it from the darkness of its despondency up to the pure air of untroubled confidence. It required, therefore, but small knowledge of human nature, to assure ourselves that the obligation under which Lord Byron had laid himself could not bind, and that the potent spirit within him would laugh to scorn whatever dared to curb the frenzy of its own inspirations.
It was not long, therefore, till he again came forth in his perfect strength, and exercised that dominion over our spirits which is truly a power too noble to be possessed without being wielded. Though all his heroes are of one family, yet are they a noble band of brothers, whose countenances and whose souls are strongly distinguished by peculiar characteristics. Each personage, as he advances before us, reminds us of some other being, whose looks, thoughts, words, and deeds had troubled us by their wild and perturbed grandeur. But though all the same, yet are they all strangely different. We hail each successive existence with a profounder sympathy; and we are lost in wonder, in fear, and in sorrow, at the infinitely varied struggles, the endless and agonising modifications of the human passions, as they drive along through every gate and avenue of the soul, darkening or brightening, elevating or laying prostrate.
From such agitating and terrific pictures, it is delightful to turn to those compositions in which Lord Byron has allowed his soul to sink down into gentler and more ordinary feelings. Many beautiful and pathetic strains have flowed from his heart, of which the tenderness is as touching as the grandeur of his nobler works is agitating and sublime. To those, indeed, who looked deeply into his poetry, there never was at any time a want of pathos; but it was a pathos so subduing and so profound, that even the poet himself seemed afraid of being delivered up unto it; nay, he seemed ashamed of being overcome by emotions, which the gloomy pride of his intellect often vainly strove to scorn; and he dashed the weakness from his heart, and the tear from. his eyes, like a man suddenly assailed by feelings which he wished to hide, and which, though true to his nature, were inconsistent with the character which that mysterious nature had been forced, as in self-defence, to assume.
But there is one poem in which he has almost wholly laid aside all remembrance of the darker and stormier passions; in which the tone of his spirit and his voice at once is changed, and where he who seemed to care only for agonies, and remorse, and despair, and death, and insanity, in all their most appalling forms, shows that he has a heart that can feed on the purest sympathies of our nature, and deliver itself up to the sorrows, the sadness, and the melancholy of humbler souls. The Prisoner of Chillon" is a poem over which Infancy has shed its first mysterious tears for sorrows so alien to its own happy innocence, over which the gentle, pure, and pious soul of Woman has brooded with ineffable, and yearning, and bursting tenderness of affection, and over which old Age, almost loosened from this world, has bowed his hoary head in delighted approbation of that fra
Long years of outrage, calumny, and wrong;
ternal love, whose beauty and simplicity fling a radiance over the earth he is about to leave, and exhibit our fallen nature in near approximation to the glories of its ultimate destiny. The "Lament "possesses much of the tenderness and pathos of the "Prisoner of Chillon." Lord Byron has not delivered himself unto any one wild and fearful vision of the imprisoned Tasso, he has not dared to allow himself to rush forward with headlong passion into the horrors of his dungeon, and to describe, as he could fearfully have done, the condict and agony of his uttermost despair, but he shows us the poet sitting in his cell, and singing there-a low, melancholy, wailing Lament, sometimes, indeed, bordering on utter wretchedness, but oftener partaking of a settled grief, occasionally subdued into mournful resignation, cheered by delightful remembrances, and elevated by the confident hope of an immortal fame. His is the gathered grief of many years, over which his soul has brooded, till she has in some measure lost the power of misery; and this soliloquy is one which we can believe he might have uttered to himself any morning, or noon, or night of his solitude, as he seemed to be half communing with his own heart, and half addressing the ear of that human nature from which he was shut out, but of which he felt the continual and abiding presence within his imagination. PROFESSOR WILSON.]
[The original MS. of this poem is dated, " The Apennines, April 20. 1817." It was written in consequence of Lord Byron having visited Ferrara, for a single day, on his way to Florence. In a letter from Rome, he says The Lament of Tasso,' which I sent from Florence, has, I trust, arrived. I look upon it as a These be good rhymes !' as Pope's papa said to him when he was a boy."]
2 [Tasso's biographer, the Abate Serassi, has left it without doubt, that the first cause of the poet's punishment was his desire to be occasionally, or altogether, free from his servitude at the court of Alfonso. In 1575, Tasso resolved to visit Rome, and enjoy the indulgence of the jubilee; " and this error," says the Abate, "increasing the suspicion already entertained, that he was in search of another service, was the origin of his misfortunes. On his return to Ferrara, the Duke refused to admit him to an audience, and he was repulsed from the houses of all the dependants of the court; and not one of the promises which the Cardinal Albano had obtained for him were carried into effect. Then it was that Tasso — after having suffered these hardships for some time, seeing himself constantly discountenanced by the Duke and the Princesses. abandoned by his friends, and derided by his enemies - could no longer contain himself within the bounds of moderation, but, giving vent to his choler, publicly broke forth into the most injurious expressions imaginable, both against the Duke and all the house of Este, cursing his past service, and retracting all the praises he had ever given in his verses to those princes, or to any individual connected with them, declaring that they were all a gang of poltroons, ingrates, and Scoundrels (poltroni, ingrati, e ribaldi). For this offence he was arrested, conducted to the hospital of St. Anna, and confined in a solitary cell as a madman."- SERASSI, Vita del Tasso.]
3 [In the Hospital of St. Anna, at Ferrara, they show a cell, over the door of which is the following inscription: — "Rispettate, O posteri, la celebrità di questa stanza, dove Torquato Tasso, infermo più di tristezza che delirio, ditenuto dimorò anni vii. mesi fi., scrisse verse e prose, e fù rimesso in libertà ad instanza della città di Bergamo, nel giorno vi. Luglio, 1586."-The dungeon is below the ground