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MEMORANDA OF READINGS.
Rycaut, and Prince Cantemir1, besides a more modern history, anonymous. Of the Ottoman History I know every event, from Tangralopi, and afterwards Othman I., to the peace of Passarowitz, in 1718,-the battle of Cutzka, in 1739, and the treaty between Russia and Turkey in 1790.
"Russia.-Tooke's Life of Catherine II., Voltaire's Czar Peter.
"Sweden. -Voltaire's Charles XII., also Norberg's Charles XII.-in my opinion the best of the two. 2-A translation of Schiller's Thirty Years' War, which contains the exploits of Gustavus Adolphus, besides Harte's Life of the same Prince. I have somewhere, too, read an account of Gustavus Vasa, the deliverer of Sweden, but do not remember the author's name.
"All the British Classics as before detailed, with most of the living poets, Scott, Southey, &c. Some French in the original, of which the Cid is my favourite.-Little Italian.— Greek and Latin without number;—these last I shall give up in future.-I have transamusing. The last is paltry, but circum-lated a good deal from both languages, verse as well as prose.
"Prussia.—I have seen, at least, twenty Lives of Frederick II., the only prince worth recording in Prussian annals. Gillies, his own Works, and Thiebault,
3 [Dr. Walter Harte was tutor to Lord Chesterfield's natural son, Mr. Stanhope. His History of Gustavus Adolphus appeared in 1759. "Harte," said Dr. Johnson, "was excessively vain. Poor man! he left London the day of the publication of his book, that he might be out of the way of the great praise he was to receive; and he was ashamed to return, when he found how ill his book had succeeded: it was unlucky in coming out on the same day with Robertson's History of Scotland."- Boswell, vol. viii. p. 53.]
"I have also read (to my regret at present) above four thousand novels, including the works of Cervantes, Fielding, Smollet, Richardson, Mackenzie, Sterne, Rabelais, and Rousseau, &c. &c. The book, in my opinion, most useful to a man who wishes to acquire the reputation of being well read, with the least trouble, is "Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy," the most amusing and instructive medley of quotations and classical anecdotes I ever perused. But a superficial reader must take care, or his intricacies will bewilder him. If, however, he has patience to go through his volumes, he will be more improved for literary conversation than by the perusal of any twenty other works with which I am acquainted,—at least in the English language."
To this early and extensive study of English writers may be attributed that mastery over the resources of his own language with which Lord Byron came furnished into the field of literature, and which enabled him, as fast as his youthful fancies sprung up, to clothe them with a diction worthy of their strength and beauty. In general, the difficulty of young writers, at their commencement, lies far less in any lack of thoughts or images, than in that want of a fitting organ to give those conceptions vent, to which their unacquaintance with the great instrument of the man of genius, his native language, dooms them. It will be found, indeed, that the three most remarkable examples of early authorship, which, in their respective lines, the history of literature affords—Pope, Congreve, and Chatterton-were all of them persons self-educated, according to their own intellectual
1["Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy' is a valuable
work. It is, perhaps, overloaded with quotation: but there is a great spirit and great power in what Burton says, when he writes from his own mind. It is the only book that ever took me out of bed two hours sooner than I wished to rise."- JOHNSON. Boswell, vol. iii. p. 135., and vi. p. 70.]
2 "I took to reading by myself," says Pope, "for which I had a very great eagerness and enthusiasm. I followed every where, as my fancy led me, and was like a boy gathering flowers in the fields and woods, just as they fell in his way. These five or six years I still look upon as the happiest part of my life." It appears, too, that he was himself aware of the advantages which this free course of study brought with it: "Mr. Pope," says Spence, "thought himself the better, in some respects for not having had a regular education. He (as he observed in particular) read originally for the sense, whereas we are taught, for so many years, to read only for words."
3 Before Chatterton was twelve years old, he wrote a catalogue, in the same manner as Lord Byron, of the books he had already read, to the number of seventy. Of these the chief subjects were history and divinity.
4 The perfect purity with which the Greeks wrote
wants and tastes, and left, undistracted by the worse than useless pedantries of the schools, to seek, in the pure "well of English undefiled," those treasures of which they accordingly so very early and intimately possessed themselves." To these three instances may now be added, virtually, that of Lord Byron, who, though a disciple of the schools, was, intellectually speaking, in them, not of them, and who, while his comrades were prying curiously into the graves of dead languages, betook himself to the fresh, living sources of his own', and from thence drew those rich, varied stores of diction, which have placed his works, from the age of two-and-twenty upwards, among the most precious depositories of the strength and sweetness of the English language that our whole literature supplies.
In the same book that contains the above record of his studies, he has written out, also from memory, a List of the different poets, dramatic or otherwise, who have distinguished their respective languages by their productions." After enumerating the various poets, both ancient and modern, of Europe, he thus proceeds with his catalogue through other quarters of the world:
"Arabia. - Mahomet, whose Koran contains most sublime poetical passages, far surpassing European poetry.
"Persia. - Ferdousi 5, author of the Shah Nameh, the Persian Iliad-Sadi, and Hafiz, the immortal Hafiz, the oriental Anacreon. The last is reverenced beyond any bard of ancient or modern times by the Persians, who resort to his tomb near Shiraz, to celebrate his memory. A splendid copy of his works is chained to his monument. 7
their own language was, with justice, perhaps, attributed by themselves to their entire abstinence from the study of any other. "If they became learned," says Ferguson, "it was only by studying what they themselves had produced."
5 [ Ferdousi died A. D. 1021. He is the Homer of the Persians, and his verses are as familiar among the military class, as if their preservation depended merely upon oral tradition. The practice of reciting them before engaging in battle, proves that he enjoys as high a reputation among his countrymen as the poets of ancient Greece, or the bards of Northern Europe. "— Quart. Rev. vol. xxxvi. p. 362.]
6 [Sadi was born at Scheraz în 1175, educated at Damascus, and died at the age of 120. Of his works, the Gülistan, or Flower Garden, consisting of short tales, anecdotes, and apologues, is most known to European readers. A translation into English, by Francis Gladwin, in two volumes, 4to, appeared in 1808-9.]
7 ["Hafiz is the universal favourite of the Persians, who visit his tomb in parties, to do honour to his memory, by strewing flowers and pouring out libations of the choicest wines. The great Latin poet has said,—
'Exegi monumentum ære perennius,' &c.
MEMORANDA OF READINGS.
"America. An epic poet has already appeared in that hemisphere, Barlow, author of the Columbiad, not to be compared with the works of more polished nations. 1 "Iceland, Denmark, Norway, were famous for their Skalds. Among these Lodburgh was one of the most distinguished. His Death Song breathes ferocious sentiments, but a glorious and impassioned strain of poetry.
"Hindostan is undistinguished by any great bard, at least the Sanscrit is so imperfectly known to Europeans, we know not what poetical relics may exist.
"The Birman Empire. - Here the natives are passionately fond of poetry, but their bards are unknown.
“China. — I never heard of any Chinese poet but the Emperor Kien Long, and his Ode to Tea. What a pity their philosopher Confucius did not write poetry, with his precepts of morality!
"Africa. In Africa some of the native melodies are plaintive, and the words simple and affecting; but whether their rude strains of nature can be classed with poetry, as the songs of the bards, the Skalds of Europe, &c. &c., I know not.
"This brief list of poets I have written down from memory, without any book of reference; consequently some errors may occur, but I think, if any, very trivial. The works of the European, and some of the Asiatic, I have perused, either in the original or trans
And Hafiz, with the same confidence of genius, thus claims lasting fame for his works:-'Blithely sing, O Hafiz; you have uttered odes, you have strung pearls, and Heaven has enriched you with the crown of the Pleiades.' He is unquestionably the Horace of the East, and, notwithstanding the difference of national manners, he is the oriental writer with whose works a European scholar will most wish to become familiar."- SIR JOHN MALCOLM.]
1 [An edition of the " Columbiad" appeared in London in 1809, and is thus noticed by the Edinburgh Reviewers: -"Mr. Barlow, we are afraid, will not be the Homer of his country; and will never take his place among the enduring poets either of the old or of the new world. As to the Americans, their want of literature is to be ascribed, not to the immaturity of their progress in civilization, but to the nature of the occupations in which they are generally engaged. These federal republicans bear no sort of resemblance to the Greeks of the days of Homer, or the Italians of the age of Dante; but are very much such people as the modern traders of Manchester, Liverpool, or Glasgow. They have all a little Latin whipped into them in their youth; and read Shakspeare, Pope, and Milton, as well as bad English novels, in their days of courtship and leisure. They are just as likely to write epic poems, therefore, as the inhabitants of our trading towns at home." Vol. xv. p. 24. At one time Barlow was a red-hot republican. In 1792, he published the "Conspiracy of Kings," and in 1798 composed a song for the celebration of the 4th of July, in which he prays that God may
lations. In my list of English I have merely mentioned the greatest;
the minor poets would be useless, as well as tedious. Perhaps Gray, Goldsmith, and Collins, might have been added, as worthy of mention, in a cosmopolite account. But as for the others, from Chaucer down to Churchill, they are 'voces et præterea nihil;' - sometimes spoken of, rarely read, and never with advantage. Chaucer, notwithstanding the praises bestowed on him, I think obscene and contemptible :- he owes his celebrity merely to his antiquity, which he does not deserve so well as Pierce Plowman, or Thomas of Ercildoune. English living poets I have avoided mentioning;we have none who will not survive their productions. Taste is over with us; and another century will sweep our empire, our literature, and our name, from all but a place in the annals of mankind.
"November 30. 1807.
Among the papers of his in my possession are several detached poems (in all nearly six hundred lines), which he wrote about this period, but never printed-having produced most of them after the publication of his "Hours of Idleness." The greater number of these have little, besides his name, to recommend them; but there are a few that, from the feelings and circumstances that gave rise to them, will, I have no doubt, be interesting to the reader.
"Save the guillotine,
Till England's king and queen
In 1811, he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to the French court; and being, in the following year, invited to a conference with the Emperor Napoleon at Wilna, he fell a victim to the severity of the climate, and died, Dec. 22. in an obscure village of Poland, in the neighbourhood of Cracow,]
2 [Kien Long encouraged literature, by cultivating it in his own person; and some of his poetical compositions are considered to possess intrinsic merit. The most celebrated is this " Ode in Praise of drinking Tea," which was published by the imperial edict in thirty-two different types and characters, and has been painted on all the tea-pots in the empire. The following verbal translation is by Sir John Barrow: -" On a slow fire set a tripod, whose colour and texture show its long use; fill it with clear snow water; boil it as long as would be necessary to turn fish white, and crayfish red; throw it upon the delicate leaves of choice tea, in a cup of yooé" (a particular sort of porcelain); "let it remain as long as the vapour rises in a cloud, and leaves only a thin mist floating on the surface. At your ease, drink this precious liquor, which will chase away the five causes of trouble. We can taste and feel, but not describe, the state of repose produced by a liquor thus prepared.” — Travels in China, p. 280. In 1795, Kien Long, when his reign had reached the unusual term of sixty years, resigned the throne to his son. He died in 1799.] E
When he first went to Newstead, on his arrival from Aberdeen, he planted, it seems, a young oak in some part of the grounds, and had an idea that as it flourished so should he. Some six or seven years after, on revisiting the spot, he found his oak choked up by weeds, and almost destroyed. In this circumstance, which happened soon after Lord Grey de Ruthen left Newstead, originated one of these poems, which consists of five stanzas, but of which the few opening lines will be a sufficient specimen :
"Young Oak, when I planted thee deep in the ground, I hoped that thy days would be longer than mine; That thy dark-waving branches would flourish around, And ivy thy trunk with its mantle entwine. "Such, such was my hope, when, in infancy's years,
On the land of my fathers I rear'd thee with pride; They are past, and I water thy stem with my tears, Thy decay, not the weeds that surround thee can hide.
"I left thee, my Oak, and since that fatal hour,
A stranger has dwelt in the hall of my sire," &c. &c.1
The subject of the verses that follow is sufficiently explained by the notice which he has prefixed to them; and, as illustrative of the romantic and almost lovelike feeling which he threw into his school friendships, they appeared to me, though rather quaint and elaborate, to be worth preserving.
"Some years ago, when at Harrow, a friend of the author engraved on a particular spot the names of both, with a few additional words as a memorial. Afterwards, on receiving some real or imagined injury, the author destroyed the frail record before he left Harrow. On revisiting the place in 1807, he wrote under it the following stanzas :"Here once engaged the stranger's view
Young Friendship's record simply traced;
[See Works, p. 536. Shortly after Colonel Wildman, the present proprietor of Newstead, took possession, he one day said to the servant who was with him, Here is a fine young oak; but it must be cut down, as it grows in an improper place.' 'I hope not, sir,' replied the man; for it's the one my lord was so fond of, because he set it himself.' The Colonel has, of course, taken every possible care of it; and it is already regularly enquired after by strangers, as THE BYRON OAK.']
Recalls each scene of joy;
My bosom glows with former fire,➡
Thy grove of elms, thy verdant hill,
Each flower a double fragrance flings;
'Friendship is Love without his wings!'
My Lycus! wherefore dost thou weep?
Affection for a time may sleep,
But, oh, 'twill wake again.
Think, think, my friend, when next we meet,
From this my hope of rapture springs,
'Friendship is Love without his wings!'"3 Whether the verses I am now about to give are, in any degree, founded on fact, I have no accurate means of determining. Fond as he was of recording every particular of his youth, such an event, or rather era, as is here commemorated, would have been, of all others, the least likely to pass unmentioned by him;-and yet neither in conversation nor in any of his writings do I remember even an allusion to it. On the
motely on the subject of this poem, is the following. About a year or two before the date affixed to it, he wrote to his mother, from Harrow (as I have been told by a person to whom Mrs. Byron herself communicated the circumstance), to say, that he had lately had a good deal of uneasiness on account of a young woman, whom he knew to have been a favourite of his late friend, Curzon, and who, finding herself, after his death, in a state of progress towards maternity, had declared Lord Byron was the father of her child. This, he positively assured his mother, was not the case; but, believing, as he did firmly, that the child belonged to Curzon, it was his wish
other hand, so entirely was all that he wrote, -making allowance for the embellishments of fancy, the transcript of his actual life and feelings, that it is not easy to suppose a poem, so full of natural tenderness, to have been indebted for its origin to imagination alone.
"TO MY SON!
"Those flaxen locks, those eyes of blue, Bright as thy mother's in their hue; Those rosy lips, whose dimples play And smile to steal the heart away, Recall a scene of former joy,
And touch thy Father's heart, my Boy!
"And thou canst lisp a father's nameAh, William, were thine own the same, No self-reproach-but, let me ceaseMy care for thee shall purchase peace; Thy mother's shade shall smile in joy, And pardon all the past, my Boy !
"Her lowly grave the turf has prest,
And thou hast known a stranger's breast.
And yields thee scarce a name on earth;
Why, let the world unfeeling frown,
Fair cherub, pledge of youth and joy-
"Oh, 'twill be sweet in thee to trace,
But the most remarkable of these poems is one of a date prior to any I have given, being written in December, 1806, when he was not yet nineteen years old. It contains,
that it should be brought up with all possible care, and he, therefore, entreated that his mother would have the kindness to take charge of it. Though such a request might well (as my informant expresses it) have discomposed a temper more mild than Mrs. Byron's, she notwithstanding answered her son in the kindest terms, saying that she would willingly receive the child as soon as it was born, and bring it up in whatever manner he desired. Happily, however, the infant died almost immediately, and was thus spared the being a tax on the good nature of any body. [But see Don Juan, c. xvi. st. 61.]
1 In this practice of dating his juvenile poems he followed the example of Milton, who (says Johnson), "by affixing the dates to his first compositions, a boast of which the learned Politian had given him an example,
as will be seen, his religious creed at that period, and shows how early the struggle between natural piety and doubt began in his mind.
"THE PRAYER OF NATURE. "Father of Light! great God of Heaven! Hear'st thou the accents of despair? Can guilt like man's be e'er forgiven? Can vice atone for crimes by prayer? Father of Light, on thee I call!
Thou see'st my soul is dark within ;
No shrine I seek, to sects unknown,
Oh point to me the path of truth!
Spare, yet amend, the faults of youth.
Let superstition hail the pile,
Shall man confine his Maker's sway
To Gothic domes of mouldering stone?
Thy temple is the face of day;
Earth, ocean, heaven, thy boundless throne.
Tell us that all, for one who fell,
Must perish in the mingling storm?
Or doctrines less severe inspire?
And live beyond the bounds of Time?
Thy laws in Nature's works appear ; —
Yet will I pray, for thou wilt hear!
Thou, who canst guide the wandering star Through trackless realms of Ether's space; Who calm'st the elemental war,
Whose hand from pole to pole I trace:
Thou, who in wisdom placed me here,
Who, when thou wilt, can take me hence, Ah! whilst I tread this earthly sphere, Extend to me thy wide defence.