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among them who rises—I will not say to the heroic standard, but—even to the level of real manliness. How opposite, it has been well said,” was Shakspeare's conception of a hero !—
“Give me that man
I need scarcely remark that a true idea of the strength and beauty of womanly humanity had no place in Byron's mind. It was almost an unknown world to him, abounding, at the same time, as his poems do, with bright romantic creations of fancy and sentiment. Of these, when placed in situations calling for masculine energy, he gives some striking images, as the description in “Sardanapalus:”—
“She urged on with her voice and gesture, and
Her large black eyes, that flashed through her long hair
* See preface to Henry Taylor’s “Philip Van Artaveldte.”
What was the meaning of the fitful irregularity of Byron's poetry, which we have been passing over with praise and blame mingled, and, perhaps, perplexed 7 Why is it that, with passages of true poetry scattered through all his volumes, he produced no important poem for which his most impassioned admirer can claim the fame of sustained imagination ? And why, at last, unable either to quench or to feed the flame of poetry, did he ignominiously retreat into that base production in which, the very instant his better powers failed him he could exchange them for a vulgar ribaldry and all the vile elements of his nature, the leprosy rising up in his forehead while standing beside the incense-altar 7 Was there any mystery in his inequalities? We are told that it was owing to his genius. Let me say that weakness is no attribute of genius. Here lies the grand fallacy respecting Byron's mind,-that which was its weakness mistaken for its strength, confounding the violence of his passions with power. Strength is shown by the victory over them, and not by the defeat. Byron deluded himself in these respects, when he should have known that really it is moral and intellectual weakness to be a misanthrope and a skeptic. It is an easy thing to fall into the way of hating the world, and into that confused, blind, stupid state of mind which is called unbelief. The greatest of all weaknesses—the cancer which eat into the very heart of Byron's genius—was his unmitigated selfishness. It weakened and wasted him, and perverted and defiled his great endowments, and brought him down to the grave, superannuated, at the age of thirty-six. It was the foul fiend which haunted his existence, tearing him like the wretched demoniacs
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who dwelt among the tombs and cried out words of blasphemy and defiance. . : I am not going now to qualify my language with exceptions and reservations. That has been done, to the best of my ability, scrupulously throughout the lecture; and I am therefore justified in now saying that, taking the whole spirit of Byron's poetry, its skepticism, its profanity, its blasphemy, its lewdness, its warfare upon religion and social and domestic morals, it stands the blackest monument of intellectual depravity in the annals of our language. Never had our poetry been so profaned. The same corrupt spirit had been known before; it had disguised itself in one generation in the stately robe of philosophy, in another it had snatched the myrtle-wreath of political freedom; but never before had it worn the garland of poetic inspiration. There had been one phase of infidelity with Bolingbroke and his disciples, and another with Paine and his crew; but the most insidious was that which came from the bright, dark fancy of Byron. With all the wrong he did, there was mingled, too, a bitter contempt for poor, suffering humanity. Yes; it is true, as he reproached his fellow-mortals, that mankind is prostrate in his fallen nature. Look forth upon the human race, and, behold ! they are lying—the wounded, the dying, and the dead—on the vast battleplain, stricken by their spiritual enemies. But it ill became a poet to steal forth in the night, like one of those wretches that dog the footsteps of an army and prowl over the field fresh with the fight, plundering the expiring soldier, and stripping the bloody raiment from the dead and the dying.
Above all, let me entreat that no one will yield to that poor fallacy which teaches that Byron's infirmities and vice were attributes of genius:—
“If thou be one whose heart the holy forms
Difficulties in the way of a proper appreciation of contemporary genius — Candour rare in criticism — Controversy in regard to "Wordsworth’s school of poetry—Comparative criticism between the poetry of Wordsworth and Byron — Correspondence of Wordsworth’s life with the spirit of true poetry—Continuity of his moral life— Recollections of his childhood — His love of nature and of man—His sympathy with the French Revolution—His 'seclusion— Communion with his brother-poets—Aim of his career of authorship—Lines composed in the neighbourhood of Tintern Abbey— “The Excursion”—-“Sonnet on Westminster Bridge”—“Lines on the Death of Mr. Fox”—“Tribute to a favourite Dog”—“Simon Lee’” — “Story of the Deserted Cottage”—His political poems— Conclusion.
WE are now nearing the close of that glorious registry we have been engaged in examining. When I placed my mind, upon the imaginative point of vision, by the side of Chaucer, the father of English poetry, and looked forward, over the tract of nearly five hundred years, to the noble company of his successors, it was a joy to know that modern times would not be found to bring with them modern degeneracy.
There was encouragement in the assurance that, in quitting the companionship of the mighty men of old.