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The unmerited severity with which the poems in the « Hours of Idlenessy were criticised, roused all the indignant energies of its author, and, in the « English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,» he at once satisfied his just vengeance, and laid the foundation of his own imperishable fame. In subsequently suppressing this satire, he proved that there was nothing of vindictiveness in his nature: he had been unjustly attacked, he caused the malignity of his assailants to recoil upon themselves, and feeling that, in a moment of irritation, he might perhaps have indulged the satiric vein too indiscriminately, he very handsomely wished to withdraw it from circulation.
It is curious enough that (according to the statement of Mr Dallas) his lordship was himself insensible to the value of Childe Harold, and could with difficulty be brought to consent to the publication of it. He bad written a paraphrase (a very indifferent one, says this gentleman) on Horace's Art of Poetry, and was anxious to have it published. This he shewed to Mr Dallas, who thus speaks of it: «In not disparaging this poem, however, next day I could not refrain from expressing some suspicion that he had written something else; upon which he told me that he had occasionally written short poems, besides a great many stanzas in Spenser's measure relative to the countries he had visited. “They
are not worth troubling you with, but you shall have them all if you like it,' said he. In this manner I came by Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. He took it from a small trunk, and presented it to me, saying, that the verses had been read by one person who had found very little to commend and much to condemn in them; that he himself was of the same opinion.» Mr Dallas, however, thought differently, and prevailed upon Byron to publish them.
At a period when narrative in poetry was all in all, when the legendary stores of antiquity were exhausted to gratify the prevailing taste for tales of « chivalrous emprize,» the appearance of Childe Harold might well be accounted a phenomenon; the title, indeed, with the addition «a Romaunt, » argued no deviation from the common course, but in reality never was any thing more widely remote : there are neither
gorgeous knights At joust and tournament;
marshall'd feasts Served
in halls with sewers and seneschals,»
nor in fact one single incident throughout, but the silent and uninterrupted progress of an isolated, unsocial being, whom the disgust of satiety has « weaned from all worldlings,» and driven from the companionship
of humanity, to traverse earth with the feverish restlessness of one who would fly from himself, to gaze upon the monumental vestiges of antiquity, with a heart incapable of being softened or expanded by their aspect, and a mind unendued with the power of receiving or associating the majestic ideas they naturally tend to impress; — in short, colouring all creation with the sickly tints of misanthropy, and dragging the clankless chain of a sullen and dogged remorse.
On the wanderings of this unamiable being the whole structure of the poem is reared; and from the survey
of such a character it certainly could not be expected to awaken our sympathies, or interest our passions. It must be acknowledged that the greatest disadvantage of the first and second cantos is the frequent recurrence to their hero; we never encounter him but with a mixture of regret and disgust--he is at variance with the harmony and beauty of all around, and only tends to mar the grandeur and tranquillity he is incapable of enjoying
It would not be presumptuous to infer that the noble bard found reason, as his poem proceeded, to regret the choice of such a hero. In the third canto he is less frequently adverted to, and seems, in fact, to have lost much of the repulsive and morbid disposition which before distinguished him; his scorn of every thing human and divine is less virulent; his misanthropy softened into indifference, and even that not invulnerable, for, however difficult it may be to reconcile such a circumstance with the recollection of his former nature, we are told that
* There was soft remembrance and sweet trust
Harold, in short, has become sensible of love. The poet confesses he knows not why or how, and his readers remain in equal wonder and ignorance; time, it is true, does much—but the love of Harold appears a marvel : throughout the preceding cantos his soul was a desert without one «green spot» of promise, he held nothing in common with his kind, and of women in particular expressed his unlimited scorn-yet, at length, this « wandering outlaw of his own dark mind, becomes susceptible of love and of love too in its greatest purity! He is, in short, strangely incongruous; a mother and a sister are said to possess his affections, yet his native land is «more lone to him than eremite's sad cell,» and he quits it with a feverish impatience to be beyond the view of its cliffs, declaring his greatest regret to be that he leaves nothing to regret. His lordship acknowledges in his preface that « the beauties of nature, and the stimulus of travel are lost
upon a soul so constituted, or rather misdirected ; » and indeed the apathy with which Harold traverses the most sublime and spirit-stirring regions is in strict unison with the rest of his character, but surely this is not consistently preserved when it is said that
Many a joy could he from night's soft presence glean;»
That « he longed to gaze on the cape of Leucadia, and on beholding it felt, or deemed he felt, no common glow. In the third canto his despair has indeed « assumed a smilingness; » on the romantic banks of the Rhine.
«Joy was not always absent from his face;
He is a being of much gentler mould, and, if not happier, has at least imbibed some portion of humanity. We no longer recognise in him the gloomy pilgrim of Spain and Greece : the question is how has such a change been wrought? There are, it is true, few evils or passions over which the lenient hand of time has not some power; yet the mere lapse of years is not to be considered, but the occurrences which mark their flight. What know we of the pilgrim since his wanderings in Albania? That he has again mingled with his kind, and again fled in disgust—at least in impatient fretfulness—to the companionship of woods and wilds; from