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on the banks of Lake Geneva, joined Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, with whom he was associated at intervals for a number of years. With the Shelleys was Jane Clairmont, a relative of Mary's, who became the mother of Byron's natural daughter Allegra. In the autumn of 1816 Byron made a tour through the Alps and then went down to Venice. Here his life for a while assumed a character of mad dissipation which is only too faithfully reflected in his letters. His salvation, if satiety and innate repugnance were not sufficient, came from an alliance formed after the Italian fashion of the day with the Countess Guiccioli, who remained a faithful companion to him during all the rest of his stay in Italy. Very soon, however, Byron began to interest himself in the revolutionary movements then stirring in Greece. At last he resolved to stake his fortune (the large income from his pen) and his life on that cause. On the 14th of July, 1823, he sailed for Greece, and at Missolonghi put himself at the head of the republican forces. Death seemed to envy the noblest of his acts. April 19, 1824, he died, honored and lamented by those about him. His body was carried to England and buried near Newstead, in the church of Hucknall-Torkard.
Much that might throw light on Byron's works is here omitted, and, despite all that has been written on the subject, there is still room and need for a sympathetic study of his character. For one thing the basis of his character was undoubtedly a proud sincerity, yet his acts and words wore often the appearance of sham. To discriminate between that sincerity and that sham, and to show how they were related, would be as rich an exercise of psychology as a man might desire. But for an introduction to Byron's works there would seem to be still greater need of some discussion of the poems themselves and of the qualities which have made them, for almost a century, the object of opprobrium and of equally extravagant laudation. Manifestly the elements of his genius are diverse, to a certain extent even contradictory; and to this fact are due in part the extraordinary unevenness of his own work and the curious divergence of opinion regarding him.
In a word, the two master traits of Byron's genius are the revolutionary spirit and classical art. He was both of his age and apart from it, and if, in the following pages, an attempt is made to throw the composite nature of his genius into relief by contrasting him with the men who were more purely the product of the times, with Shelley in particular, this is not done through a feeling of narrow rivalry, but because in no other way may we so easily prepare ourselves for a right understanding, and hence a right enjoyment, of his work. On one side of his character he was drawn toward the romantic spirit of the day, but on the other side his sympathies, conscious and unconscious, threw him back upon the more classical models of the past. By classical is meant a certain predominance of the intellect over the emotions, and a reliance on broad effects rather than on subtle impressions; these two characteristics working harmoniously together and being subservient to human interest. And here straightway we may seem to run counter to a well-established criticism of Byron. It will be remembered that Matthew Arnold has quoted and judiciously enlarged upon Goethe's saying, “The moment he reflects, he is a child. The dictum is perfectly true, but more often he is a child because he fails to reflect at all. Predominance of intellect does not necessarily imply true wisdom; for in reality an impulsive, restless activity of mind seems often to militate against calm reflection. It implies in Byron rather keenness of wit, pungency of criticism whether sound or false, precision and unity of conception. So, in the English Bards, the ruinous criticism of Wordsworth, that mild apostate from poetic rule,' is the expression of an irresistible mental impulse, but it is hardly reflection. When the poet came to reflect on his satire, he wisely added the comment, 'unjust.' When in Childe Harold he describes Gibbon as 'sapping a solemn creed with solemn sneer,” he displays astonishing intellectual force in summing up the effect of a huge work in one sharp memorable phrase, such as can scarcely be paralleled from the poetry of his age. And in this case he is by chance right;. reflection could not modify or improve the judgment.
In its larger effect this predominance of intellect causes simplicity and tangibility of design. Thus, on reading Manfred, we feel that a single and very definite idea has been grasped and held throughout; and we in turn receive a single and definite impression which we readily carry away and reproduce in memory. But turn to Shelley's Prometheus Unbound and mark the difference. However much the ordinary reader may admire this drama, it is doubtful whether he could give any satisfactory account of its central idea, for the reason that this idea has been diverted and refracted through the medium of a wayward imagination and is after all an illusion of the senses. Love, all-embracing victorious love, is in a sense the motive of the poem; yet the most superficial analysis will show this to be an emotion or vague state of feeling, rather than a distinct conception of the intellect. The inconsistencies bewilder the reader, although, on a rapid perusal, they may escape his critical detection. Love is the theme, yet the speeches are full of the gall of hatred: in words Prometheus may forgive his enemy, but the animus of the poem is unrelenting bitterness.
Yet the predominance of intellect, which forms so important a factor in classical art, is far from excluding all emotion. On the contrary, the simple elemental passions naturally provoke intense activity of mind. They almost inevitably, moreover, lead to an art that depends on broad effects instead of subtle and vague impressions. The passion of Byron is good evidence of this tendency. He himself somewhere remarks that his genius was eloquent rather than poetical, and in a sense this observation is true. His language has a marvelous sweep and force that carry the reader on through a sustained emotion, but in detail it is prosaic in comparison with the iridescent style of Shelley or of Keats. Marino Faliero, one of Byron's less important works, may be cited as a fair example of his eloquence and concentrated passion. The theme of the drama is perfectly simple, the conflict in Marino's breast between aristocratic pride and the love of liberty (predominant characteristics, be it observed, of the poet himself); and about this conflict the whole action of the play revolves, without any minor issues to dissipate the effect. The mind is held gripped to one emotion and one thought; we seem to hear the mighty pleading of a Demosthenes. There is no poem of Shelley's (with the possible exception of The Cenci, where he resorts to monstrous and illegitimate means) which begins to leave on the mind so distinct and powerful an impression as this, yet the whole drama contains perhaps not a single line of the illusive charm to be found in passages on every page of Shelley's works. We know from Byron's letters and prefaces that he made a conscious effort to be, as he himself calls it, classical in this respect. Had his genius possessed also the subtle grace of the more romantic writers, he would have been classical in a still higher and broader sense; for the greatest poets, the true classics, Homer as well as Shakespeare, have embraced both gifts. As it is, we are left to contrast the vigorous, though incomplete, art of Byron with the wayward and often effeminate style of his rivals. And in this we are justified by the known hostility of Byron to the tendencies of his age and by the utterances of the romantic writers, from whom a volume of quotations might be culled showing that they deliberately look on poetry as a vehicle for the emotions and imaginations of the heart alone.
It was in no mood of mere carping at the present that Byron condemned the romantic spirit, and waged continuous, if often indiscreet, warfare for Milton and Dryden and Pope. His indifference to Shakespeare (if we may believe his critical statements; in reality no writer was ever more steeped in Shakespearian language) proves the sincerity of his opinion, however it may expose the narrowness of his judgment. He perceived clearly a real kinship, on one side of his genius, with the writers of Queen Anne, and was unflagging in his efforts to follow them as models. He was saved from their aridity by the revolutionary spirit, which was equally strong within him, and which he acknowledged by partially condemning himself with his contemporaries.
Were the subject not too technical, the radical difference between these two classes of poets might be shown by a study of their respective use of metaphor. Poetry hardly exists without metaphor. Besides the formal simile, there is in verse the more pervasive use of metaphorical language, by which the whole world of animate and inanimate nature is brought into kinship with the human soul, so that our inner life is enlarged and exalted by a feeling of universal dominion. The classical metaphor is simple and intellectual; through its means the vague is fixed and presented clearly to the mind by comparison with the more definite, the more complex by comparison with the simple, the abstract with the concrete, the emotional with the sensuous. Its rival, the romantic metaphor, appeals to the fancy by the very opposite method. It would be easy to take the Prometheus Unbound and show how Shelley persistently relaxes the mind by vague and abstract similes. The moments are said to crawl like “death-worms;' spring is compared with the memory of a dream,' with "genius,' or 'joy which riseth up as from the earth;' the rushing avalanche is likened to thought by thought ... piled up, till some great truth is loosened, and the nations echo round. In the famous and exquisitely beautiful singing-metaphor of that poem we have in miniature a complete picture of the romantic poet's art:
Meanwhile thy spirit lifts its pinions
In music's most serene dominions ;
And we sail on, away, afar,
Without a course, without a star,
But by the instinct of sweet music driven.' Perhaps nowhere could a more perfect expression of this wayward and delicate spirit of romance be found, unless in that brief phrase of A Winter's Tale ::
'a wild dedication of yourselves
To unpath'd waters, undream'd shores.' Take away this subtle and baffling overgrowth of reverie, and the sturdier metaphor of the classical poets remains. Individual comparisons of this vague character may no doubt be cited from Byron (they are not altogether wanting even in Homer), but they are in him distinctly exceptions. In general the poetic medium in which he works has an intellectual solidity akin to the older masters.
Poetry is the most perfect instrument of expression granted us in our need of self-utterance, and it is something to have learned in what way this instrument is shaped to the hand of a strong poet. But this is not all. How does he deal with the great themes of literature? How does he stand toward nature and man? And here too we shall find a real contrast between Byron and his contemporaries.
There is a scene in Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford which to me has always seemed to set forth one of the aims of the romantic nature-poet in a charming light. It is the bewitching chapter where the ladies visit old Mr. Holbrook, the bachelor, and he, musing after dinner in the garden, quotes and comments on Tennyson:
"". The cedar spreads his dark-green layers of shade.'
Capital term — layers! Wonderful man ! ... Why, when I saw the review of his poems
"What colour are they, I say?” repeated he vehemently.
"" I knew you did n't. No more did I — an old fool that I am!— till this young man comes and tells me. Black as ash-buds in March. And I've lived all my life in the country; more shame for me not to know. Black: they are jet-black, madam.”
Excellent botany, no doubt, and very dainty verse; but I cannot think the fame of the great masters of song depends on such trivialities as this. Black as ash-buds in March, one might read all the famous epics of history without acquiring this curious bit of information. There is a good deal of this petty, prying nature-cult in Keats and Shelley, along with inspiration of a more solid or mystical quality. And it is Wordsworth who chants over the small celandine:
Since the day I found thee out,
Like a great astronomer.' Some kinship of spirit, some haunting echo of the revolutionary cry, binds us very close to the singers of that age, and we are perforce influenced by their attitude toward the outer world. It would be a matter of curious inquiry to search out the advent of this nature-worship into poetry, and to trace it down through succeeding writers. Its growth and culmination are in a way coincident with the revolutionary period to which Byron belongs, and, like most innovations of the kind, it denotes both an enlargement and a loss of spiritual life. The peculiar form of religious enthusiasm developed in the Middle Ages had wrought ont its own idealism. The soul of the individual man seemed to the Christian of that day, as it were, the centre of the world, about which the divine drama of salvation revolved; and on the stand taken by the individual in this drama depended his eternal life. A man's personality became of vast importance in the universal scheme of things, and a new and justifiable egotism of intense activity was born. There was necessarily an element of anguish in this thought of personal importance and insecurity, but on the whole, while faith lasted, it was overbalanced by feelings of joy and peace; for, after all, salvation was within reach. The idealism of such a period found its aim in the perfecting of a man's soul, and humanity in the life of its individual members was the one theme of surpassing interest. The new humanism which came in with the Renaissance modified, but did not entirely displant, this ideal; the faith of the earlier ages remained for a long time intact. But by the closing years of the eighteenth century the ancient illusion of man's personal value in the universe had been rudely shattered; his anchor of faith had been rent away. Then began the readjustment, which is still in progress and is still the cause of so much unrest and tribulation. In place of the individual there arose a new ideal of humanity as a whole, – a very pretty theory for philosophers, but in no wise comforting for the homeless soul of man trained by centuries of introspection to deem himself the chosen vessel of grace. There was a season of revolt. The individual, still bearing his burden of self-importance, and seeing now no restrictive laws to bind him, gave himself to all the wild vagaries of the revolutionary period. Nor is it a matter of chance that Voltaire, the father of modern scepticism, and Rousseau, the first of romantic natureworshipers, had worked together to this end. It was under this stimulus that those who
were unable to silence the inner need amidst the turmoil of action turned to the visible world, seeking there the comfort of an idealism not attainable in the vague abstraction of humanity. The individual found a new solace in reverie, which seemed to make him one with the wide and beneficent realm of nature. The flattering trust in his own eternal personality was undermined, the unsubdued egotism born of the old faith left him solitary amid mankind; he turned for companionship to the new world whose kinship to himself was so newly discovered:
"Then stirs the feeling infinite, so felt
Binding all things with beauty ; - 't would disarm
The spectre Death, had he substantial power to harm.' An eternal harmony did indeed spring from this new source of music; it was a calculable gain, a new created idealism in poetry. But we should not shut our eyes to the concomitant danger and loss. In this soothing absorption into nature the poet was too apt to forget that, after all, the highest and noblest theme must forever be the struggle of the human soul; he was too ready to substitute vague reverie for honest thought, or to lose his deeper sympathy with man in the eager pursuit of minute phenomena. We are all familiar with the travestied nature-cult that is sapping the vitals of literature to-day. Wordsworth has made a stir over the small celandine, and Tennyson has discovered that ash-buds are black in March; the present generation must, for originality, examine the fields with a botanist's lens, while the poor reader, who retains any use of his intellect, is too often reminded of the poet Gray's shrewd witticism, that he learned botany to save himself the labor of thinking. If for no other reason, it is wholesome to point out how Byron in his treatment of nature shows the same breadth and mental scope, the same human sympathy, as characterize his classical use of metaphor.
There is a curious passage in one of Franklin's letters, where the philosopher attempts to prove by experiment that the perception of form is remembered more distinctly than the perception of color. It may very well be that his explanation of this phenomenon is not strictly scientific, but the fact is indisputable. Form and motion of form are clearly defined, intelligible, so to speak; color is illusive and impressionistic. So, it will be remembered, the Greeks were preëminent in their imitation of form; the Renaissance artists excelled in color. Distinctions of this kind are, to be sure, a matter of degree only, but none the less significant for that. Now there are descriptions in Byron of gorgeous coloring, notably in certain stanzas of the Haidée episode; but even here the colors are sharply defined, and there is little of the blending, iridescent light of romance. In general he dwells on form and action in his representation of nature, whereas his contemporaries, and notably Shelley, revel in various colors and shifting tints.
It is curious, in fact, that many who are prone to dignify emotional reverie as thought would ascribe such predominance of intellect to shallowness, just as they would deem the breadth of Byron's natural description to be due to narrowness of observation. You will indeed find in Byron no poems on the small celandine, or the daisy, or the cuckoo, or the nightingale, or the west wind; but you may find pictures of mountains reared like the palaces of nature, of the free bounding ocean, of tempest on sea and storm among