Page images

only for a few weeks, before he embarked, and yet had not firmness of purpose sufficient to carry his wishes into effect. There was a helplessness about Byron, a sort of abandonment of himself to his destiny, as he called it, that commonplace people can as little pity as understand. His purposes in visiting England, previous to Greece, were vague and undefined, even to himself; but from various observations that he let fall, I imagined that he hoped to establish something like an amicable understanding, or correspondence, with Lady Byron, and to see his child, which last desire had become a fixed one in his mind. He so often turned with a yearning heart to his wish of going to England before Greece, that we asked him why, being a free agent, he did not go. The question seemed to embarrass him. He stammered, blushed, and said,

" Why, true, there is no reason why I should not go; but yet I want resolution to encounter all the disagreeable circumstances which might, and most probably would, greet my arrival in England. The host of foes that now slumber, because they believe me out of their reach, and that their stings cannot touch me, would soon awake with renewed energies to assail and blacken me. The press, that powerful engine of a licentious age, (an engine known only in civilized England as an invader of the privacy of domestic life,) would pour forth all its venom against me, ridiculing my person, misinterpreting my motives, and misrepresenting my actions. I can mock at all these attacks when the sea divides me from them, but on the spot, and reading the effect of each libel in the alarmed faces of my selfishly-sensitive friends, whose common attentions, under such circumstances, seem to demand gratitude for the personal risk of abuse incurred by a contact with the attacked delinquent,—no, this I could not stand, because I once endured it, and never have forgotten what I felt under the infliction. I wish to see Lady Byron and my child, because I firmly believe I shall never return from Greece, and that I anxiously desire to forgive, and be forgiven, by the former, and to embrace Ada. It is more than probable (continued Byron) that the same amiable consistency,to call it by no harsher name, —which has hitherto influenced Lady B.'s adherence to the line she had adopted, of refusing all explanation, or attempt at reconciliation, would still operate on her conduct. My letters would be returned unopened, my daughter would be prevented from seeing me, and any step I might, from affection, be forced to take to assert my right of seeing her once more before I left England, would be misrepresented as an act of the most barbarous tyranny and persecution towards the mother and the child; and I should be driven again from the British shore, more vilified, and with even greater ignominy, than on the separation. Such is my idea of the justice of public opinion in England, (continued Byron,) and, with such woeful experience as I have had, can you wonder that I dare not encounter the annoyances I have detailed? But if I live, and return from Greece with something better and higher than the reputation or glory of a poet, opinions may change, as the successful are always judged favourably of in our country; my laurels may cover my faults better than the bays have done, and give a totally different reading to my thoughts, words, and deeds.”

With such various forms of pleasing as rarely fall to the lot of man, Byron possessed the counter-balance to an extraordinary degree, as he could disenchant his admirers almost as quickly as he had won their admiration. He was too observant not to discover, at a glance, the falling off in the admiration of those around him, and resented as an injury the decrease in their esteem, which a little consideration for their feelings, and some restraint in the expression of his own, would have prevented. Sensitive, jealous, and exigent himself, he had no sympathy or forbearance for those weaknesses in others. He claimed admiration not only for his genius, but for his defects, as a sort of right that appertained solely to him. He was conscious of this foiblesse, but wanted either power or inclination to correct it, and was deeply offended if others appeared to have made the discovery,

There was a sort of mental reservation in Byron's intercourse with those with whom he was on habits of intimacy that he had not tact enough to conceal, and which was more offensive when the natural flippancy of his manner was taken into consideration. His incontinence of speech on subjects of a personal nature, and with regard to the defects of friends, rendered this display of reserve on other points still more offensive; as, after having disclosed secrets which left him, and some of those whom he professed to like, at the mercy of the discretion of the person confided in, he would absolve him from the best motive for secresy—that of implied confidence—by disclaiming any sentiment of friendship for those so trusted. It was as though he said, I think aloud, and you hear my thoughts; but I have no feeling of friendship towards you, though you might imagine I have, from the confidence I repose. Do not deceive yourself: few, if any, are worthy of my friendship; and only one or two possess even a portion of it. I think not of you but as the first recipient for the disclosures that I have le besoin to make, and as an admirer whom I can make administer to my vanity, by exciting in turn your surprise, wonder, and admiration, but I can have no sympathy with you. · Byron, in all his intercourse with acquaintances, proved that he wanted the simplicity and good faith of uncivilized life, without having acquired the tact and fine perception that throws a veil over the artificial coldness and selfishness of refined civilization, which must be concealed to be rendered endurable. To keep alive sympathy, there must be a reciprocity of feelings ; and this Byron did not, or would not, understand. It was the want of this, or rather the studied display of the want, that deprived him of the affection that would otherwise have been unreservedly accorded to him, and which he had so many qualities calculated to call forth. Those who have known Byron only in the turmoil and feverish excitation of a London life, may not have had time or opportunity to be struck with this defalcation in his nature; or, if they observed it, might naturally attribute it to the artificial state of society in London, which more or less affects all its members; but when he was seen in the isolation of a foreign land, with few acquaintances, and fewer friends, to make demands either on his time or sympathy, this extreme egotism became strikingly visible, and repelled the affection that must otherwise have replaced the admiration to which he vever failed to give birth.

Byron had thought long and profoundly on man and his vices, natural and acquired ;-he generalized and condemned en masse, in theory ; while, in practice, he was ready to allow the exceptions to his general rule. He had commenced his travels ere age or experience had rendered him capable of forming a just estimate of the civilized world he had left, or the uncivilized one he was exploring: hence

of Conversations with Lord Byron. he saw both through a false medium, and observed not that their advantages and disadvantages were counterbalanced. Byroni wished for that Utopian state of perfection which experience teaches us it is impossible to attain,--the simplicity and good faith of savage life, with the refinement and intelligence of civilization. Naturally of a melancholy temperament, his travels in Greece were éminently calculated to give a still more sombre tint to his mind, and tracing at each step the marks of degradation which had followed a state of civilization still more luxurious than that he had left; and surrounded with the fragments of arts that we can but imperfectly copy, and ruins whose original beauty we can never hope to emulate, he grew into a contempt of the actual state of things, and lived but in dreams of the past, or aspirations of the future. This state of mind, as unnatural as it is uncommon in a young man, destroyed the bonds of sympathy between him and those of his own age, without creating any with those of a more advanced. With the young he could not sympathize, because they felt not like him; and with the

old, because that, though their reasonings and reflections arrived at the · same conclusions, they had not journeyed by the same road. They had

travelled by the beaten one of experience, but he had abridged the road, having been hurried over it by the passions which were still unexhausted, and ready to go in search of new discoveries. The wisdom thus prematurely acquired by Byron, being the forced fruit of circumstances and travel acting on an excitable mind, instead of being the natural production ripened by time, was, like all precocious advantages, of comparatively little utility; it influenced his words more than his deeds, and wanted that patience and forbearance towards the transgressions of others that is best acquired by having suffered from and repented our own.

It would be a curious speculation to reflect how far the mind of Byron might have been differently operated on had he, instead of going to Greece in his early youth, spent the same period beneath the genial climate, and surrounded by the luxuries of Italy. We should then, most probably, have had a “ Don Juan” of a less reprehensible character, and more excusable from the youth of its author, followed, in natural succession, by atoning works produced by the autumnal sun of maturity, and the mellowing touches of experience,-instead of his turning from the more elevated tone of “ Childe Harold” to “ Don Juan." Each year, had life been spared him, would have corrected the false wisdom that had been the bane of Byron, and which, like the fruit so eloquently described by himself as growing on the banks of the Dead Sea, that was lovely to the eye, but turned to ashes when tasted, was productive only of disappointment to him, because he mistook it for the real fruit its appearance resembled, and found only bitterness in its taste.

There was that in Byron which would have yet nobly redeemed the errors of his youth, and the misuse of his genius, had length of years been granted him ; and, while lamenting his premature death, our regret is rendered the more poignant by the reflection, that we are deprived of works which, tempered by an understanding arrived at its meridian, would have had all the genius, without the immorality of his more youthful productions, which, notwithstanding their defects, have formed an epoch in the literature of his country.




ALL hail to thee, hoary December!

All hail! (except mizzle and sleet)-
Dark month, if one half I remember,

A list of thy charms I'll repeat:
Though roses are faded, and mute is

The nightingale's song in the grove,
Thou art, among candlelight beauties,

The one of all others I love.
Now mulligatawny is chosen

For luncheons, both wholesome and nice;
And, Grange, thy brisk trade is quite frozen,

For nobody purchases ice!
There's ice on the Serpentine River,

Where ladies and gentlemen skate,
And whilst on the margin I shiver,

They flourish a figure of eight !
Oh come with thy thousand ingredients

For making an exquisite feast,
Oh come with thy countless expedients

For fattening up a prize beast !
Thy cooks, whose perpetual work is

To mince meat, shall hail thy approach;
And oh, what uncommon fine turkeys

From Norwich fly up by the coach!
Oh! all love December with reason ;-

For while Hospitality feeds
Her guests, she well knows 'tis the season

For Charity's holier deeds :
And thus rich and poor have to thank it

For gifts which impartially flow;
The pauper, when wrapp'd in his blanket,

Sighs not for a blanquette de veau.
Oh come with thy Christmas vagaries,

Thy harlequin pantomime jumps,
Grim ogres, and beautiful fairies,

In gossamer trousers and pumps !
Oh come with thy clownish grimaces,

Thy pantaloon practical wit;
And, tier above tier, merry faces

In gallery, boxes, and pit!
Oh come with George Barnwell and Millwood,

A drama of practical force,
Which, were we disposed to do ill, would

Soon make us good people of course!
Young Barnwell—the author alleges-

Got rid of his money too fast;
And, bothered with pawnbroker's pledges,

He murdered his uncle at last !
Come hither with fun and with folly,

Bring icicle gems on thy brow,
The bright coral beads of the holly,

And pearls from the mistletoe bough.
Oh come with thy shining apparel,

Thy robe like the snow on the hill;
And come, above all, with a barrel

Of something to take off the chill!

[ocr errors]

This is the true millennium of the printers. Oh! that those typographical heroes of the fifteenth century, Faust, Guttenberg, and Peter Schoeffer, could burst the marble monuments in which they are enshrined, and just take a peep at one of our steam-engines, which deliver to Fame, or to the cheesemongers, as many sheets in an hour as thev, with infinite labour, though with ingenuity laudable for such an age, brought forth in a month! Doubtless every department of the press will henceforth be subjected to the same law of periodicity, which prevails throughout every region of the heavens. The earth is at once'an Annual, laden with all the accumulated treasures of the year; a Quarterly Review, delighting us with the varieties of each succeeding season; and a daily Newspaper, teeming with new events which keep us, its readers, in a state of constant excitement. The moon, what is it but a perpetual “ New Monthly Magazine ?” In the higher firmament of the skies, we hear of systems which require for their periodical completion some five hundred years. What prodigious periodicals the people in those remote planets must possess! Their weeks must be longer than our years, their hours than our days. “ Paradise Lost” they would look upon as a trifle. It would scarcely fill the space which they dedicate to the“ Poet's Corner.” As for this article, upon which we are at present engaged for the edification of our much-beloved readers, whoever they may be, we fear that it would be scarcely perceptible in'a page of the New Monthly? which illuminates and exalts the good folk who bask in the rays of Bellatrix or Betelgeux. Heaven defend us from being appointed, some fine morning, for our sins, editor of the Times in the head of the Ram, or the tail of the Great Bear!

Indeed, matters are in a sufficiently deplorable state on the petty planet to which we happen at present to belong. Behold us obliged, —the thing is so cheap we cannot help it, to take in, or be taken in by, “ Johnson's Dictionary,” converted into a neat periodical. For the same irresistible reason we renew our acquaintance every Saturday with the beauties of " Guthrie's Gazetteer," and the pleasantries of that Grammar, which goes under the renowned name of Lindley Murray. We next turn with enthusiasm to four pages of law, 'made easy to the most obtuse mind, and beguiling to the most phlegmatic.'' Astronomy comes before us, clothed in the garb of romance, and History looks so gay with all her embellishments, that we hand out our penny for her with rapture. We have already become perfect geologists for the sum of three-pence; and for a groat we received in exchange such a degree of enlightenment in the mysteries of anatomy, that we hereby undertake to kill any man in such a really agreeable and expeditious way, that he shall know nothing at all of the process. To determined suicides we shall be found invaluable, and we take the liberty to recommend ourselves to their attention. Paganini spent fourteen years and all his fortune in learning to play on one string. We played excellently on four, in two weeks, by the aid of the “ Musical Magazine,” for which we paid the sum of three halfpence. We may say, without vanity, that we shine in botany, divinity, zoology, and horticulture, having made ourselves perfect masters

« PreviousContinue »