« FöregåendeFortsätt »
MIGHT PROFIT BY THE
selves, and all love for their kind - to make them practise and profess hardily what it teaches them to suspect in others — and actually to persuade them that it is wise and manly and knowing to laugh, not only at selfdenial and restraint, but at all aspiring ambition, and all warm and constant affection.
How opposite to this is the system, or the temper, of the great author of Waverley — the only living individual to whom Lord Byron must submit to be ranked as inferior in genius — and still more deplorably inferior in all that makes genius either amiable in itself, or useful to society! With all his unrivalled power of invention and judgment, of pathos and pleasantry, the tenor of his sentiments is uniformly generous, indulgent, and good-humoured; and so remote from the bitterness of misanthropy, that he never indulges in sarcasm, and scarcely, in any case, carries his merriment so far as derision. But the peculiarity by which he stands most broadly and proudly distinguished from Lord Byron is, that, beginning, as he frequently does, with some ludicrous or satirical theme, he never fails to raise out of it some feelings of a generous or gentle kind, and to end by exciting our tender pity, or deep respect, for those very individuals or classes of persons who seemed at first to be brought on the stage for our mere sport and amusement — thus making the ludicrous itself subservient to the cause of benevolence — and inculcating, at every turn, and as the true end and result of all his trials and experiments, the love of our kind, and the duty and delight of a cordial and genuine sympathy with the joys and sorrows of every condition of men. It seems to be Lord Byron's way, on the contrary, never to excite a kind or a noble sentiment, without making haste to obliterate it by a torrent of unfeeling mockery, or relentless abuse, and taking pains to show how well those passing fantasies may be reconciled to a system of resolute misanthropy, or so managed as even to enhance its merits, or confirm its truth. With what different sensations, accordingly, do we read the works of those two great writers ! — With the one, we
EXAMPLE OF THE AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY.
seem to share a gay and gorgeous banquet — with the other, a wild and dangerous intoxication. Let Lord Byron bethink him of this contrast — and its causes and effects. Though he scorns the precepts, and defies the censure of ordinary men, he may yet be moved by the exàmple of his only superior ! - In the mean time, we have endeavoured to point out the canker that stains the splendid flowers of his poetry — or, rather, the serpent that lurks beneath them. If it will not listen to the voice of the charmer, that brilliant garden, gay and glorious as it is, must be deserted, and its existence deplored, as a snare to the unwary.
LORD BYRON'S MANFRED.
(August, 1817.) Manfred ; a Dramatic Poem. By Lord Byron. 8vo. pp. 75.
London : 1817.
This is a very strange — not a very pleasing — but unquestionably a very powerful and most poetical production. The noble author, we find, still deals with that dark and overawing Spirit, by whose aid he has so often subdued the minds of his readers, and in whose might he has wrought so many wonders. In Manfred, we recognise at once the gloom and potency of that soul which burned and blasted and fed upon itself in Harold, and Conrad, and Lara — and which comes again in this piece, more in sorrow than in anger — more proud, perhaps, and more awful than ever — but with the fiercer traits of its misanthropy subdued, as it were, and quenched in the gloom of a deeper despondency. Manfred does not, like Conrad and Lara, wreak the anguish of his burning heart in the dangers and daring of desperate and predatory war - nor seek to drown bitter thoughts in the tumult of perpetual contention — nor yet, like Harold, does he sweep over the peopled scenes of the earth with high disdain and aversion, and make his survey of the business and pleasures and studies of man an occasion for taunts and sarcasms, and the food of an immeasurable spleen. He is fixed by the genius of the poet in the majestic solitudes of the central Alps - where, from his youth up, he has lived in proud but calm seclusion from the ways of men ; conversing only with the magnificent forms and aspects of nature by which he is surrounded, and with the Spirits of the Elements over whom he has acquired dominion, by the secret and unhallowed studies of Sorcery and Magic. He is averse indeed from mankind, and scorns the low and frivolous nature to which he belongs; but he cherishes
- NOT A PLAY.
no animosity or hostility to that feeble race. Their concerns excite no interest — their pursuits no sympathy their joys no envy,
It is irksome and vexatious for him to be crossed by them in his melancholy musings, — but he treats them with gentleness and pity; and, except when stung to impatience by too importunate an intrusion, is kind and considerate of the comforts of all around him.
This piece is properly entitled a Dramatic Poem — for it is merely poetical, and is not at all a drama or play in the modern acceptation of the term. It has no action; no plot - and no characters; Manfred merely muses and suffers from the beginning to the end.
to the end. His distresses are the same at the opening of the scene and at its closing — and the temper in which they are borne is the
A hunter and a priest, and some domestics, are indeed introduced; but they have no connection with the passions or sufferings on which the interest depends; and Manfred is substantially alone throughout the whole piece. He holds no communion but with the memory of the Being he had lored; and the immortal Spirits whom he evokes to reproach with his misery, and their inability to relieve it. These unearthly beings approach nearer to the character of persons of the drama -- but still they are but choral accompaniments to the performance; and Manfred is, in reality, the only actor and sufferer on the scene: To delineate his character indeed to render conceivable his feelings -- is plainly the whole scope and design of the poem; and the conception and execution are, in this respect, equally admirable. It is a grand and terrific vision of a being invested with superhuman attributes, in order that he may be capable of more than human sufferings, and be sustained under them by more than human force and pride.
To object ! to the improbability of the fiction is, we think, to mistake the aim and end of the author. Probabilities, we apprehend, did not enter at all into his consideration his object was, to produce effect — to exalt and dilate the character through whom he was to interest or appal us — and to raise our conception of it, by all the helps that
MANFRED SCOPE AND CONCEPTION.
could be derived from the majesty of nature, or the dread of superstition. It is enough, therefore, if the situation in which he has placed him is conceivable — and if the supposition of its reality enhances our emotions and kindles our imagination; for it is Manfred only that we are required to fear, to pity, or admire. If we can once conceive of him as a real existence, and enter into the depth and the height of his pride and his sorrows, we may deal as we please with the means that have been used to furnish us with this impression, or to enable us to attain to this conception. We may regard them but as types, or metaphors, or allegories: But he is the thing to be expressed; and the feeling and the intellect, of which all these are but shadows.
The events, such as they are, upon which the piece may be said to turn, have all taken place long before its opening, and are but dimly shadowed out in the casual communications of the agonizing being to whom they relate. Nobly born and trained in the castle of his ancestors, he had very soon sequestered himself from the society of men; and, after running through the common circle of human sciences, had dedicated himself to the worship of the wild magnificence of nature, and to those forbidden studies by which he had learned to command its presiding powers. One companion, however, he had, in all his tasks and enjoyments - a female of kindred genius, taste, and capacity - lovely too beyond all loveliness; but, as we gather, too nearly related to be lawfully beloved. The catastrophe of their unhappy passion is insinuated in the darkest and most ambiguous terms — all that we make out is, that she died untimely and by violence, on account of this fatal attachmentthough not by the act of its object. He killed her, he says, not with his hand --- but his heart; and her blood was shed, though not by him! From that hour, life is a burden to him, and memory a torture — and the extent of his power and knowledge serves only to shew him the hopelessness and endlessness of his misery.
The piece opens with his evocation of the Spirits of the Elements, from whom he demands the boon of for