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thing tremendous, and almost fiendish, in the air with which he surveyed the first scenes of his wanderings; and no proof of the strength of genius was ever exhibited so strong and unquestionable, as the sudden and entire possession of the minds of Englishmen by such a being as he then appeared to be. He looked upon a bull-fight, and a field of battle, with no variety of emotion. Brutes and men were, in his eyes, the same blind, stupid victims of the savage lust of power. He seemed to shut his eyes to every thing of that citizenship and patriotism which ennobles the spirit of the soldier, and to delight in scattering the dust and ashes of his derision over all the most sacred restingplaces of the soul of man.
Even then, we must allow, the original spirit of the Englishman and the poet broke triumphantly, at times, through the chilling mist in which it had been spontaneously enveloped. In Greece, above all, the contemplation of Athens, Salamis, Marathon, Thermopylæ and Platæa, subdued the prejudices of him who had gazed unmoved upon the recent glories of Trafalgar and Talavera. The nobility of manhood appeared to delight this moody visitant; and he accorded, without reluctance, to the shades of long-departed heroes that reverent homage, which, in the strange mixture of envy and scorn wherewith the contemplative so often regard active men, he had refused to the living, or to the newly dead.
At all times, however, the sympathy and respect of Childe Harold-when these have been excited by any circumstances external to himself-have been given almost exclusively to the intellectual, and refused to the moral greatness of his species. There is certainly less of this in his last Canto. Yet we think that the ruins of Rome might have excited within him not a few glorious recollections, quite apart from those vague lamentations and worshippings of imperial power, which occupy so great a part of the conclusion of his Pilgrimage. The stern purity and simplicity of domestic manners--the devotion of male and female bosoms—the very names of Lucretia, Valeria, and the mother of the Gracchi, have a charm about them at least as enduring as any others, and a thousand times more delightful than all the iron memories of conquerors and consuls.—But the mind must have something to admire-some breathing-place of veneration-some idol, whether of demon or of divinity, before which it is its pride to bow. Byron has chosen too often to be the undoubting adorer of Power. The idea of tyrannic and unquestioned sway seems to be the secret delight of his spirit. He would pretend, indeed, to be a republican,—but his heroes are all stamped with the leaden signet of despotism; and we sometimes see the most cold, secluded, immitigable tyrant of the whole, lurking beneath the scallop-shell and sandal-shoon’ of the Pilgrim himself.
In every mien and gesture of this dark being, we discover the traces of one that has known the delights, and sympathized with the possessors of intellectual power ; but too seldom any vestiges of a mind that delights in the luxuries of quiet virtue, or that could repose itself in the serenity of home. The very possession of purity would sometimes almost seem to degrade, in his eyes, the intellectual greatness with which it has been sometimes allied. He speaks of Pompey with less reverence than Cæsar; and, in spite of many passing visitings of anger and of scorn, it is easy to see that, of all cotemporary beings, there is one only with whom he is willing to acknowledge mental sympathy -one only whom he looks upon with real reverence-one only whose fortunes touch the inmost sanctuaries of his proud sonl and that this one is no other than that powerful, unintelligible, unrivalled spirit, who, had he possessed either private virtue or public moderation, might still have been in a situation to despise the offerings of even such a worshipper as Harold.
But there would be no end of descanting on the character of the Pilgrim, nor of the moral reflections which it awakens. Of the Poet himself, the completion of this wonderful performance inspires us with lofty and magnificent hopes. It is most assuredly in his power to build up a work that shall endure among the most august fabrics of the genius of England. Indeed, the impression which the collective poetry of our own age makes upon our minds is, that it contains great promise of the future; and that, splendid as many of its achievements have been, some of our living poets seem destined still higher to exalt the imaginative character of their countrymen. When we look back and compare the languid, faint, cold delineations of the very justest and finest subjects of inspiration, in the poetry of the first half of the last century, with the warm, life-flushed and life-breathing pictures of our own, we feel that a great accession has been made to the literature of our day,—an accession not only of delight, but of power. We cannot resist the persuasion, that if literature, in any great degree, impresses and nourishes the character of a people,—then this literature of ours, pregnant as it is with living impressions,-gathered from Nature in all her varieties of awfulness and beauty,-gathered too from those high and dread Passions of men, which our ordinary life scarcely shows, and indeed could scarcely bear, but which, nevertheless, have belonged, and do belong to our human life,--and held up in the powerful representations of the poets to our colle
sciousness at times, when the deadening pressure of the days that are going by might bereave us of all genial hope and all dignified pride,-we say it is impossible for us to resist the belief that such pregnant, glowing, powerful poetry, must carry influ. ences into the heart of this generation, even like those which are breathed from the heart of Nature herself,-or like those which lofty passions leave behind them in bosoms which they have once possessed. The same spirit of poetical passion which so uniformly marks the works of all our living poets, must exist very widely among those who do not aspire to the Rame of genius; it must be very widely diffused throughout the age, and, as we think, must very materially influence the reality of life. Yet highly as we estimate the merits of our modern poetry, it is certain, that the age has not yet produced any one great epic or tragic performance. Vivid and just delineations of passion there are in abundance,-but of moments of passions- fragments of representation. The giant grasp of thought, which conceives, and brings into full and perfect life, full and perfect passion-passion pervading alike action and character, through a majestic series of events, and at the same time cast in the mould of grand imagination, this seems not to be of our age. In the delineation of external nature, which, in a poet's soul, requires rather moral beauty than intellectual strength, this age has excelled. But it has produced no poem gloriously illustrative of the agencies, existences, and events, of the complex life of man. Lear-ho Macbeth-no Othello. Some such glory as this Byron may yet live to bring over his own generation. His being has in it all the elements of the highest poetry. And that being he enjoys in all the strength of its prime. We might almost say, that he needs but to exercise his will to construct a great poem. There is, however, much for him to alter in what may be called, his Theory of Imagination respecting Human Life. Some idols of his own setting-up he has himself overthrown. There are yet some others, partly of gold, and partly of clay, which should be dashed against the floor of the sanctuary. We have already spoken of his personal character, as it shines forth in his poetry, This personal character exists in the nature of his imagination, and may therefore be modified-purified-dignified by his own will. His imagination does, to his own eyes, invest him with an unreal character. Purposes, passions, loves, deeds, events, may seem great and paramount in imagination, which have yet no power to constrain to action; and those which perhaps may govern our actions, yanish altogether from our imagination. There is a region à
It has no
world-a sphere of being in imagination, which, to our real life, is no more than the world of a dream; yet, long as we are held in it by the transport of our delusion, we live, not in delight only, but in the conscious exaltation of our nature. It is in this world that the spirit of Byron must work a reformation for itself. He knows, far better than we can tell him, what have been the most hallowed objects of love and of passion to the souls of great poets in the most splendid eras of poetry,and he also knows well, that those objects, if worshipped by him with becoming and steadfast reverence, will repay the worship which they receive, by the inore fervent and divine inspiration which they kindle.
ART. IV. Notes on a Journey in America, from the Coast of
Virginia to the Territory of the Ilinois. By Morris BIRKBECK. Second Edition.
8vo. Pp. 163.
interesting and instructive books that have appeared for many years. The subject is curious and important in the highest degree; the rapid growth of one country, still in its early infancy,—and the formation of another in its neighbourhood, by the overflowings of its population. The author is an eyewitness of every thing he describes; and, with a good sense extremely rare among authors, he is content to tell what is material, without tedious dissertations or trifling details, and to tell it in the plainest language. His inatter is condensed, and his style is unexceptionable. We think he deserves peculiar credit, too, for the unassuming appearance, and moderate price of his book. What he has given for a few shillings, in the form of a pamphlet, would have swelled to a guinea quarto in the hands of a regular bookmaker. Indeed, which of the costly volumes for the last twenty years poured upon the publick by travellers of all descriptions, can vie with this modest little tract, in the importance, the novelty, or the interest of its contents?
We have heard much said of Mr Birkbeck's work; and its merits have been very generally allowed. But we have found, that this tribute is most reluctantly paid in certain quarters, where his statements, and their effect on the publick mind, have given great umbrage, and even excited considerable alarm. They who hate America, as it were, personally; who meanly regard with jealousy every step she advances in renown, or foolishly view with apprehension each accession to her power, or ridiculously consider all that she gains of wealth as taken from England—this class of reasoners (if the term may be so applied) can with difficulty conceal their dismay at the testimony borne by Mr Birkbeck, to the prodigious rapidity with which that marvellous community is advancing in every direction. Their favourite course of argument, indeed, had always been a little inconsistent. To make the Americans 'the more detested, they often represented them as dangerous competitors for wealth and power, and actually succeeded in producing a war with them by spreading the aların. But the same feeling that made them hate those rivals, induced a strong desire to make them also the objects of contempt; and, forgetting that it was difficult at once to dread and despise any thing, they used every means to underrate the importance of the United States. This last course of attack proved, in the end, the most gratifying both to the senseless feelings of animosity against the Americans, and to the sense of national pride: Accordingly, when required to chuse between the two inconsistent arguments, it was preferred; and of late years the tone assumed by the party has been that of unsparing detraction and bitter sneering at every thing beyond the Atlantic,-except the province of Canada, which the same judicious authorities represent upon all occasions as the very right arm of British strength. These contemptuous feelings seem to have augmented pretty nearly in proportion as their object was rising in importance and power; and they appeared to be approaching their acmè, if indeed they had not reached it, when, unhappily, Mr Birkbeck's plain tale' comes forth to put them down. So untoward an event has not often happened in such controversies; and the rage and disappointment excited by it have been proportioned to its decisive influence upon the question, and to the necessity which existed for stilling the outward expression of it. The remains of stubborn pride and dignified contempt for America forbade that; and the inoffensive modest character of the much hated volume seemed equally to prescribe, at least, the semblance of moderation to its adversaries. Accordingly, while they mutter curses both loud and deep, they are beginning already to change the manner of attack, and, precluded from indulging their spleen in the shape of contempt, they are preparing to seek relief by venting it in open hatred, drawing, from Mr Birkbeck's statements, the materials of alarm.