« PreviousContinue »
Manfredi A Dramatic Poein. By poetry, of the most irresistible and
LORD BYRON. 8vo. Murray, Lon- overpowering pathos, in which the don, 1817.
depth of his sympathy
sorrows and common sufferers, seems as LORD BYRON has been elected by profound as if his nature knew nothing acclamation to the throne of poetical more mournful than sighs and tears. supremacy; nor are we disposed to We have no intention of drawing question his title to the crown. There Lord Byron's poetical character, and breathes over all his genius an air of have been led, we know not how, into kingly dignity; strength, vigour, ener- these very general and imperfect obgy, are his attributes; and he wields servations. But perhaps the little we his faculties with a proud conscious- have said may in some degree shew, ness of their power, and a confident why hitherto this great poet has dealt anticipation of their effect. Living so seldom with the forms of the expoets perhaps there are, who have ternal world. He has so deeply looked taken a wider range, but none who into the soul of man, and so intensely have achieved such complete, such per- sympathized with all the struggles fect triumphs. In no great attempt there--that he has had no feelings or has he ever failed; and, soon as he passions to fling away on the mere begins his flight, we feel that he is earth he inhabits. But it is evident to soar upon unflagging wings—that that the same powers, which he has so when he has reached the black and gloriously exerted upon man as their tempestuous elevation of his favourite subject, would kindleup and enlighten, atmosphere, he will, eagle-like, sail on or darken and disturb, the features undisturbed through the heart of of external nature ; and that, if he so clouds, storms, and darkness.
willed it, his poetry, instead of being To no poet was there ever given so rife with wrath, despair, remorse, awful a revelation of the passions of the and all other agitating passions, human soul. He surveys, with a stern might present an equally sublime asdelight, that tumult and conflict of semblage of woods, glens, and mounterrible thoughts from which other tains, -of lakes and rivers, cataracts highly gifted and powerful minds have and oceans. In the third canto of involuntarily recoiled; he calmly and Childe Harold, accordingly, he has fearlessly stands upon the brink of that delivered up his soul to the impulses abyss from which the soul would seem of Nature, and we have seen how that to shrink with horror; and he looks high communion has elevated and down upon, and listens to, the ever sublimed it. He instantly penetrated lasting agitation of the howling waters. into her heart, as he had before into There are in his poetry feelings, the heart of Man ; and, in a few thoughts, sentiments, and passions, months of solitary wandering among that we at once recognise to be human, the Alps, his soul became as deeply though we know not whence they embued with her glory and magnificome: they break upon us like the cence, as if, from youth, he had dedisudden flash of a returning dream, - cated himself to no other power, and like some wild cry from another world. had for ever devoutly worshipped at And even those whose lives have had her altar. He leapt at once into the little experience of the wilder passions, first rank of descriptive poets. He came for a moment feel that an unknown into competition with Wordsworth region of their own souls has been re- upon his own ground, and with his vealed to them, and that there are in. own weapons; and in the first endeed fearful mysteries in our human counter he vanquished and overthrew nature.
him. His description of the stormy When this dark and powerful spirit night among the Alps--of the blende for a while withdraws from the con- ing—the mingling-the fusion of his templation of his own wild world, and own soul, with the raging elements acondescends to look upon the ordinary round him,-is alone worth all the dull shews and spectacles of life, he often metaphysics of the Excursion, and seems unexpectedly to participate in shews that he might enlarge the limits the feelings and emotions of beings of human consciousness regarding the with whom it might be thought he operations of matter upon mind, as. could claim no kindred ; and thus widely as he has enlarged them regardmany passages are to be found in his ing the operations of mind upon itself.
In the very singular, and, we sus principles of belief on any subject--to pect, very imperfect poem, of which be perpetually haunted by a dread of we are about to give a short account, the soul's mortality, and bewildered Lord Byron 'has pursued the same among dark and gloomy ideas concerncourse as in the third canto of Childe ing the existence of a First Cause. We Harold, and put out his strength upon cannot do better than let this mysterithe same objects. The action is laid ous personage speak for himself. In a among the mountains of the Alps conversation, which we find him hold the characters are all, more or less, ing by the side of a mountain-cataract, formed and swayed by the operations with the “ Witch of the Alps," whom of the magnificent scenery around he raises up by a spell “ beneath the them, and every page of the poem arch of the sun-beam of the torrent," teems with imagery and passion, we find him thus speaking: though, at the same time, the mind “ Man. Well, though it torture më, 'tis of the poet is often overborne, as it
but the same; were, by the strength and novelty of My Pang shall find a voice. From my its own conceptions; and thus the
youth upwards composition, as a whole, is liable to My spirit walk'd not with the souls of men,
Nor look'd upon the earth with human eyes ; many and fatal objections. But there is a still more novel exhi- The aim of their existence was not mine ;
The thirst of their ambition was not mine ; bition of Lord Byron's powers in this My joys, my griefs, my passions, and my extraordinary drama. He has here
powers, burst into the world of spirits; and, Made me a stranger ; though I wore the in the wild delight with which the ele ments of nature seem to have inspired I had no sympathy with breathing flesh, him, he has endeavoured to embody Nor midst the creatures of clay that guided and callop before him their ministering Was there but one who--but of her anon. employ these wild Per
I said, with men, and with the thoughts of sonifications, as he formerly employed the feelings and passions of man. I held but slight communion ; but instead, We are not prepared to say, that, in My joy was in the Wilderness, to breathe this daring attempt, he has complete. The difficult air of the iced mountain's top, ly succeeded.
We are inclined to Where the birds dare not build, nor insect's think, that the plan he has conceived, wing and the principal Character which he Flit o'er the herbless granite ; or to plunge has wished to delineate, would require On the swift whirl of the new-breaking wave
Into the torrent, and to roll along a fuller developement than is here
Of river, stream, or ocean, in their flow. given to them; and accordingly, a
In these my early strength exulted ; or sense of imperfection, incompleteness, To follow through the night the moving and confusion, accompanies the mind throughout the perusal of the poem, The stars and their developement ; or catch owing either to some failure on the The dazzling lightnings till my eyes grew part of the poet, or to the inherent mystery of the subject. But though Or to look, list’ning, on the scattered leaves, on that account it is difficult to com
While Autumn winds were at their evening prehend distinctly the drift of the com
song position, and almost impossible to give For if the beings, of whom I was one,
These were my pastimes, and to be alone; any thing like a distinct account of it, Hating to be so,-cross'd me in my path, it unquestionably exhibits many noble I felt myself degraded back to them, delineations of mountain scenery, And was all clay again. And then I dived, many impressive and terrible pictures In my lone wanderings, to the caves of death, of passion,—and many wild and awful Searching its cause in its effect; and drew visions of imaginary horror.
From wither'd bones, and sculls, and heap'd Manfred, whose strange and extra
Conclusions most forbidden. Then I pass'd ordinary sufferings pervade the whole
The nights of years in sciences untaught, drama, is a nobleman who has for
Save in the old time; and with time and toil, many years led a solitary life in his
And terrible ordeal, and such penance castle
among the Bernese Alps. From As in itself hath power upon the air, early youth he has been a wild mis- And spirits that do compass air and earth, anthrope, and has so perplexed him- Space and the peopled infinite, I made self with his views of human nature, Mine eyes familiar with Eternity.”. that he comes at last to have no fixed In another scene of the drama, where
a pious old abbot vainly endeavours Man. I say 'tis blood-my blood! the to administer to his troubled spirit the pure warm stream consolations of religion, he still farther Which ran in the veins of my fathers, and illustrates his own character.
When we were in our youth, and had one “ Man. Ay.-Father! I have had those
heart, earthly visions
And loved each other as we should not love, And noble aspirations in my youth, And this was shed, but still it rises up, To make my own the mind of other men,
Colouring the clouds that shut me out from: The enlightener of nations; and to rise
Heaven, I knew not whither-it might be to fall ;
Where thou art not-and I shall never be.” But fall, even as the mountain-cataract, He afterwards says: Which having leapt from its more dazzling height,
“ My injuries came down on those who
loved me Even in the foaming strength of its abyss, (Which cast up misty columns, that become On those whom I best loved—I never quelled Clouds raining from the re-ascended skies,)
An enemy save in my just defence, Lies low, but mighty still. But this is past,
But my embrace was fatal.” My thoughts mistook themselves.
In the conversation formerly referAbbot. And wherefore so ?
red to with the “ Witch of the Alps," Man. I could not tame my nature down; he alludes still darkly to the same for he
event. Must serye who fain would sway- and “ Man. But to my task. I have not sooth and sue
named to thee, And watch all time and pry into all place~ Father or mother, mistress, friend, or being, And be a living lie-- who would become With whom I wore the chain of human ties; A mighty thing amongst the mean, and such If I had such, they seem'd not such to me The mass are; I disdain to mingle with Yet there was oneA herd, though to be leader-and of wolves. Witch. Spare not thyself-proceed. The lion is alone, and so am I.
Man. She was like me in lineamentsher Abbot. And why not live and act with other eyes, men ?
Her hair, her features, all, to the very tone Man. Because my nature was averse from Even of her voice, they said were like to life,
mine, And yet not cruel ; for I would not make But soften'd all, and temper'd into beauty ; But find a desolation ;-- like the wind, She had the same lone thoughts and wanThe red-hot breath of the most lone Simoom, derings, Which dwells but in the desert, and sweeps The quest of hidden knowledge, and a mind o'er
To comprehend the universe ; nor these The barren sands which bear no shrubs to Alone, but with them gentler powers than blast,
mine, And revels o'er their wild and arid waves, Pity, and smiles, and tears--which I had not; And seeketh not, so that it is not sought, And tenderness
but that I had for her ; But being met is deadly ; such hath been Humility-and that I never had. The course of my existence; but there came Her faults were mine...her virtues were her Things in my path which are no more.” But besides the anguish and pertur- I lov’d her, and destroy'd her !
Witch. -With thy hand ? bation produced by his fatal scepticism
Man. Not with my hand, but heartin regard to earth and heaven, vice and
which broke her heartvirtue, man and God, Manfred's soul It gazed on mine, and wither'd. I have has been stained by one secret and
shed dreadful sin, and is bowed down by Blood, but not hers--and yet her blood was the weight of blood. It requires to shed read the drama with more than ordi. I saw-and could not staunch it.” nary attention, to discover the full im From these, and several other pasport of those broken, short, and dark sages, it seems that Manfred had conexpressions, by which he half con ceived a mad and insane passion for his fesses, and half conceals, even from sister, named Astartè, and that she had, himself, the perpetration of this in- in consequence of their mutual guilt, expiable guilt. In a conversation with committed suicide. This is the terrible a chamois-hunter, in his Alpine cot- catastrophe which for ever haunts his tage, he thus suddenly breaks out : soul*-drives him into the mountain“ Man. Away, away! there's blood upon wilderness-and, finally, by the poigthe brim!
nancy of unendurable anguish, forces Will it then never ever sink in the earth ? C, Hun. What dost thou miçan ? thy * See Sketch of a Tradition related by senses wander from thee.
a Monk in Switzerland, page 270.
him to seek intercourse with the language of his supernatural beings, Prince of the Air, witches, demons, which is, upon the whole, very wild destinies, spirits, and all the tribes of and spirit-like. From these Powers immaterial existences. From them he requests that they will wring out, he tries to discover those secrets into from the hidden realms, forgetfulness which his reason cannot penetrate. He and self-oblivion. This, we find, is commands them to tell him the mys- beyond their power. He then says, tery of the grave. The only being he
“ I hear ever loved has by his means been des. Your voices, sweet and melancholy sounds, troyed. Is all her beauty gone for As músic on the waters--and I see ever-annihilated-and with it has her The steady aspect of a clear large star, spirit faded into nonentity? or is she But nothing more.” lost, miserably lost, and suffering the The spirit of this star (the star of punishment brought on her by his own his nativity) appears in the shape of sin? We believe, that by carrying in a beautiful female figure ; and Manthe mind a knowledge of this one hor- fred exclaims, rid event-and along with that, those
Oh God ! if it be thus, and Thou ideas of Manfred's character, which, Art not a madness and a mockery, by the extracts we have given, better I yet might be most happy-I will clasp than any words of our own, the reader thee, may be enabled to acquire--the con
And we again will be [Thefigure vanishes.] duct of the drama, though certainly
My heart is crushed. imperfectly and obscurely managed,
[Manfred falls senseless." may be understood, as well as its chief A voice is then heard singing an inend and object.
cantation and a curse,--stanzas which At the opening of the drama, we were published in the noble Lord's find Manfred alone, at midnight, in a last volume, and full of a wild and Gothic gallery of his castle, in posses- unearthly energy. sion of a mighty spell, by which he In the second scene, Manfred is can master the seven spirits of Earth, standing alone on a cliff on the mighty Ocean, Air, Night, the Mountains, mountain Jungfrau, at sunrise; and the Winds, and the Star of his nati- this is part of his morning soliloquy. vity. These spirits all appear before
-My mother earth! him, and tell him their names and And thou fresh-breaking Day, and you, ye employment. The Mountain Spirit Mountains, thus speaks :
Why are ye beautiful ? I cannot love ye. “ Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains, And thou, the bright eye of the universe, They crowned him long ago
That openest over all, and unto all On a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds,
Art a delight--thou shin'st not on my heart. With a diadem of snow.
And you, ye Crags, upon whose extreme Around his waist are forests braced,
edge The Avalanche in his hand ;
I stand, and on the torrent's brink beneath But ere it fall, that thundering ball
Behold the tall pines dwindled as to shrubs. Must pause for my command.
In dizziness of distance ; when a leap, The Glacier's cold and restless mass
A stir, a motion, even a breath, would bring Moves onward day by day;
My breast upon its rocky bosom's bed But I am he who bids it pass,
To rest for ever--wherefore do I pause? Or with its ice delay.
I feel the impulse--yet I do not plunge ; I am the spirit of the place,
I see the peril--yet do not recede; Could make the mountain bow
And my brain reelsmand yet my foot is
firm. And quiver to its caverned base
And what with me wouldst Thou?" There is a power upon me which withholds The Storm Spirit says, with equal If it be life to wear within myself
And makes it my fatality to live; energy,
This barrenness of spirit, and to be “ I am the Rider of the Wind,
My own soul's sepulchre, for I have ceased The Stirrer of the Storm ;
To justify my deeds unto myself The hurricane I left behind
The last infirmity of evil. Ay, Is yet with lightning warm.
Thou winged and cloud-cleaving minister, To speed to thee o'er shore and sea
(An eagle passes. I swept upon the blast;
Whose happy flight is highest into heaven, The fleet I met sailed well, and yet
Well may'st thou swoop so near me 'Twill sink ere night be past.'
should be These may be considered fair speci- Thy prey, and gorge thine eaglets; thou mens of the general character of the
Where the eye cannot follow thee; but thine, The first scene of the second act is Yet pierces downward, onward, or above, in the chamois-hunter's cottage, and With a pervading vision. Beautiful!
with the exception of the few lines How beautiful is all this visible world!
formerly, quoted, and some others, it How glorious in its action and itself!
is But we, who name ourselves its sovereigns, incredibly dull and spiritless; and the
very unlike Lord Byron, for it is Half dust, half deity, alike unfit
chamois-hunter, contrary to truth, naTo sink or soar, with our mixed essence ture, and reason, is a heavy, stupid, make
without any conversations A conflict of its elements, and breathe al talents. The following lines, how. The breath of degradation and of pride, ever, may redeem even a worse scene Contending with low wants and lofty will, than this. Manfred speaks. Till our mortality predominates,
" Think'st thou existence doth depend on And men are what they name not to them
time ? selves, And trust not to each other. Hark! the note, Have made my days and nights imperish
It doth : but actions are our epochs. Mine [The shepherd's pipe in the distance is heard.] able, The natural music of the mountain reed
Endless, and all alįke, as sands on the shore, For here the patriarchal days are not Innumerable atoms ; and one desert, A pastoral fable-pipes in the liberal air,
Barren and cold, on which the wild waves Mixed with the sweet bells of the sauntering
But nothing rests, save carcases and wrecks, My soul would drink those echoes. Oh, Rocks, and the salt-surf weeds of bitterness.”
that I were The viewless spirit of a lovely sound,
Scene second gives us Manfred's A living voice, a breathing harmony,
first interview with the Witch of the A bodiless enjoyment-born and dying Alps, and he pours out his soyl to her With the blest tone which made me !" in a strain of very wild and impas
sioned poetry. Her appearance is deHe is then, when standing on the scribed in a style different from the toppling cliff, seized with an irresistible rest of the poem, and nothing can be desire to fling himself over, but a cha. more beautiful. mọis-hunter very opportunely comes “ Man. Beautiful Spirit ! with thy hair in, and by force prevents him from ef of light fecting his purpose.
This interven. And dazzling eyes of glory, in whose form tion is, we think, altogether absurd. The charms of Earth's least-mortal daughThey descend from the cliff quietly To an unearthly stature, in an essence together; and so the scene, very dully Of purer elements ; while the hues of and unnaturally, comes to a conclu
youthsion. It has been remarked of sui- Carnation'd like a sleeping infant's cheek, cides, that if they are hindered from Rock'd by the beating of her mother's heart, committing the crime in the very mode Or the rose-tints which summer's twilight which they have determined upon,
leaves the strong desire of death may con- Upon the lofty glacier’s virgin snow, tinue upon them, and yet the miser. The blush of earth embracing with her able beings have no power to adopt a different scheme of destruction. If, The beauties of the sun bow which bends
Tinge thy celestial aspect, and make tame therefore, Manfred had been suddenly o'er thee. forced away from cliff and precipice, we Beautiful Spirit ! in thy calm clear brow, can suppose that he might, in another Wherein is glass’d serenity of soul, scene, have forborne his suicidal in- Which of itself shows immortality, tentions; but it seems most unnatural, I read that thou wilt pardon to a son that he shall continue to descend cau
Of Earth, whom the abstruser powers permit tiously the very rocks over which he At times to commune with them if that he had a moment before determined to
Avail him of his spells-to call thee thus,
And gaze on thee a moment.” fling himself, accept of assistance from
The Witch, however, cannot do any the chamois-hunter, and exhibit everything
for him, and is commanded to symptom of a person afraid of losing vanish, and the scene ends with a sohis footing, and tumbling down the
liloquy. In this he says crags. Besides, Manfred was not an
"• I have one resource ordinary character; and this extreme' Still in my science I can call the dead, irresolution, after he had worked him. And ask them what it is we dread to be ; self up to frenzy, is wholly inconsist- The sternest answer can but be the grave, ent with his nature.
And that is nothing if they answer not.'" Vol. I.