« AnteriorContinuar »
Bat in Man's dwelling* he became a thing
Self-exiled Harold wanders forth again.
The very knowledge that he lived in vain,
When mariners would wildly meet their doom
Did yet inspire a cheer, which he forbore to check."
It wag not thus that Byron had left his native shores; and he had perhaps less real right to the reader's sympathy in his manhood than in his youth; but the ring of the music in richer, the sentiment is realized and intensified. The earlier Childe Harold had been but a frantic invention; the later one, though a fiction, still had become an outlet for real passion and pain. The ideal man, who was not in himself a lofty conception, rose even in the scale of imaginative being when he became a refuge and a consolation to his creator. Tbe theatrical and conventional hero is henceforward a symbol, if nothing more, of a passionate, disappointed, reckless, and gifted man.
And all the poet's powers and perceptions expanded under the new stimulus. Let us select almost at random a landscape which is as far above the earlier conventional period as heaven is above earth, as Nature is to a sign-painter's daub. Everything is in it, sound and sight, and the sentiment of the scene, and its delicious mingling of sadness and devotion. \Vo have but to shut our eyes, and the whole is before us; we have but to listen, and our heart is stolen out of our very bosom by the melody, the reality, the overwhelming subdued emotion and melting calm.
"It is the hush of night, and all between Thy margin and the mountains, dusk, yet
Mellowed and mingling, yet distinctly seen,
LIVING AOK. VOL. XXVI. 1224 •
There breathes a living fragrance from the
shore Of flowers yet fresh with childhood; on the
Drops the light drip of the suspended oar.
He is an evening reveller, who makes
Te stars! which are the poetry of heaven,
Of men and empires, — 'tis to be forgiven,
themselves a star.
All heaven and earth are still — though not
But breathless, as we grow when feeling most; And silent, as we stand in thoughts too
deep: — All heaven and earth are still: — from the
Of stars, to the lulled lake and mountaincoast,
All is concentred in a life intense,
These lovely verses — and we know nothing of their kind more perfectly beautiful— were written at the time when Shelley and Byron spent days and nights floating in their boat upon Lake Leman, and living a joint poetic life in sight of one of the fairest landscapes God has given to roan. That n.an, and he the man who could write such lines, should desecrate this loveliest scene, and weave in with it another episode of discreditable story, is pitiful to think of— but at least it does not come into the verse. The evening calm is unbroken by any stale echo of socalled "passion;" the rose-tints of the sunset linger on the distant snow-peaks, the magical silence, all full of softened sounds, drops down like a benediction upon the two poets, the delicious night, which is but dim, not dark, envelops them. Let us not pry farther into the aspect and thoughts of the two human creatures thus surrounded. Fate hung over them, threatening their youth with the visionary sword already suspended close to their heads. Shame and pain and bitter recompense of folly had already come to' both. But a little way further before each lay the path still wreathed in flowers, still full of those possibilities which are never quite shut out from young men, even those who have most wasted their gifts and strength. But soon tho^e flowery ways were to end in darkness. The compassionate human spectator lingers with a painful sympathy by their side in this moment of seeming calm. Both were strong in the sense of wrong, injured men in their own opinion, bearing the weight of England's intolerance, and incapacity to understand the minds of poets. But both were so young, spendthrifts at God's gifts, with no time before them to think better of it. no escape into a purer day possible for either. And howsoever we may blame and judge — as judge we must — yet the gentle hea\ en judged not, but sent down its dews and Btar-rayd softly through the enchanted twilight upnn the two young beautiful poets' heads, upon the two wasted lives. God Ii.'lI> them I Lives more forlorn, ainid all their wealth of nature and favouring circumstances, were never thrown away under those peaceful skies.
Byron never returned to England; he lived a disturbed and wayward life in Italy, now moving from one storied city to another, now lingering in unknown corners, doing little but indulge himself and bis fancies, and writing much which it might have been as well ne had not written. We will not attempt to discuss the productions of hia later years, a task which neither space nor inclination encourages; except, indeed, the greatest of all his works, the real and most lasting foundation of his fame. The Manfred* and Cains were but exaggerations doubly exaggerated of his favourite conventionalism; out "Don Juan " is all real. To apeak of this poem and of morality in the same breath is simple foolishness, and so must every attempt be to explain or justify its freedom. We believe that, as a mere question of art, the narrowness which limits A man's life to a series of continual indulgences in one favourite sin and varying expressions of one passion, is as narrow as the creed of the poorest precisian who ever was scoffed at by poet. Libertinism is as limited, as cramping and confining, as petty a kind of bondage, as any puritanism; and * passion," so called, has as little claim to
be considered the grand spring of human 1 movements, as any other of the manifold impulses which make or mar us. And at the same time no poem can take the highest rank of poetic excellence which confines itself to a certain audience, whatever that audience may be. Byron boasts that he will not make "ladies' books al dilettar le famine et la plelic;" and this is a foolish vaunt, which we have heard repeated in our own day by various new poets, who think it finer to write for % class than for humankind. But it ought to be understood by all capable minds that this is a very poor and false piece of bravado. Humankind, man and woman, small and great, is more worth writing for than any section of it, even were that section the most gifted, the most wise and ^rreat minds of their time. The whole is greater than a part; and he who chooses for himself a limited audience, ought at least to have the good sense to perceive that he is not bigger, but less in his aim, than other men — an amount of perception, however, with which we are not allowed to credit the poets who profess to produce strong meat for men and not milk for babes. Every such pretension is of its very nature an apology for littleness, little as it is intended so to be.
When we say this, we do not pretend to assert or to hope that in any but an ideal state of society it will be possible to maintain that poetry and morality must always go together. But we are confident in say- • ing that few great poems, at least of those which have been written since Christianity began to affect the world (though even this limitation is scarcely necessary), are so interwoven with immoral situations and sentiments as to be inseparable from them, and to keep them continually before the reader. It is this characteristic which must always limit the fame of " Don Juan," a fault infinitely more serious than any amount of occasional aberrations into forbidden ways. Yet with all its manifold defects there is an easy power and mastery in it, which perhaps, more than any other poem of the time, gives to the reader the conception of strength and capacity almost unbounded. This, setting aside not only its morality, but its moral tone (two quite distinct things), and even setting aside the wonderful beauty of many passages, is the thing which strikes us most. The poet manages a measure by no means facile with the perfect ease of one to whom words are absolutely subject, and who can weave them as he likes, now splendidly, now fantastically, now with the most tragic,
and now with the most trifling meaning, but always with an invincible grace, facility, and lightness of touch, which fill the mind of the critic with a purely technical and professional admiration, in addition to the admiration which he must share with every loverof poetry. The melodiousness of the strain never glides, as it does in Shelley's hands, into mere music, dropping the thread of articulate thought; everything is clear — every incident and detail, every vicissitude of the much-prolonged and lingering narrative. How it must have flowed forth, as natural, as easy as common talk, as spontaneous — boundless so far as the writer's capacity went, limited only by intention and such poor human details as time and space, which keep the flood within inevitable channels I Even the occasional (and very occasional) jars in the verse give us a sense of careless force, never of poverty. That Byron did not take the trouble to alter here and there a defective line, seems part of the very freedom and ease and careless spontaneity of the strain. Thus it is strength, the sense of gigantic exertion without any strain of power, put forth as lightly as a child's play, yet as effectually as if the earth had been rent by the effort, which is the first great charm of the poem. With that hand so strong, so deft, so easy, so all-capable, what might not the poet do if he would? We are lost in admiration of his vast capacity, his smiling and careless power.
This is the first and greatest quality of "Don Juan." The exquisite passages with which the poem abounds, the absolute lucidity and distinctness of the narrative, and this sense of strength, and ease, and grace, and infinite capability, give to it a claim upon all who love and understand poetry. But when we have said this, we have stated only its real claims to greatness. It has another claim to another kind of greatness which has also been responded to largely, and which perhaps will continue to be responded to as long as men are such as they are. The figure of Don Juan himself carries out all we have said of the popularity of a vulgar and conventional ideal. Once more, we have the very cfimax and apotheosis of commonplace in this handsome young hero, made of coarse flesh and blood, washed over with just that lacker of outside refinement and sensibility which the vulgar love — who roams from love to love, and from adventure to adventure, always lucky, always safe to get clear of any scrape in which he finds himself.
Such a personage is the incarnation of fine fancy to all commonplace and prosaic minds. Poor poet, who did not write books to delight the people I It is at once his glory and his shame that he himself loved no other ideal than that which is the god of theplebe; and it is the plebe only —meaning thereby no social class, but those minds which, irrespective of rank, occupy the lowest imaginative level, and are content with the poorest Meal — to whom his revelation was addressed. Cynicism is generally supposed to address itself to a more intellectual class; but the cynicism of "Don Juan" is exactly of the kind which delights the vulgar, and is their highest conception of superiority. This beautiful, daring, fortunate young hero goes about the world and sees the same weaknesses everywhere, and laughs. He is not ill-natured. On the contrary, he asks no better; he takes advantage of the imperfection of nature, and caresses her, and smiles, and goes on. They are all the same, high and low, old and young, he says with perfect complacency; he sees through them all, and does his best to please, and takes whatever he can get, and nods aside at the spectators. lie has the ease, the grace, the strength of a god; and he has the soul of a costermonger. Heaven forgive us! there are virtuous costermongera as there are virtuous peers, and why we should thus stigmatize a class we know not. But this hero of poetry, this epic impersonation of man, is of the commonest and meanest mental type of humanity. His superiorities are all superficial; he is comprehensible through and through — there is neither depth, nor mystery, nor any secret in him that can confuse the vulgarest reader. And accordingly, the vulgar, the plebe whom the poet affected to despise — those who in ordinary cases stare and gape at poetry — rose up and gave their coarse, unaccustomed hand to that other half of the world which prepares the thrones and pedestals of fame; and between them, while the song was still warm on his lips, this strange pair placed Byron on his pinnacle— an elevation half of real greatness, half of false fame — a place perhaps unparalleled in poetry, and entirely unique in England. Thus it was that, without pause or interval, Byron won everything, in point of reputation, which the world has to give.
We need not linger upon the later portion of his life. It had a kind of love in its last chapter which gave him a kind of happiness — perhaps the only kind of love and happiness of which he was capable. His death was like his life — a mixture of the real and the false, of tragedy and mock tragedy, of some genuine generosity and sentiment and a great de.il of counterfeit. Amid the wild, confused, and bewildering melodrama of Greek emancipation — amid strangers, with theatrical shouts in his ears, and operatic figures grouped about him, far away from any true affection or friend more trusted than an old servant — he died in the full flower of his days, — Net mezzo del cammin di noitra vita. No more was granted to him, no time of reflection, no afternoon of thought. Never was life less happy, more forlorn and wasted, and never was end more pitiful. And thus all was ended upon earth for a man who had received every gift which Heaven could bestow upon a human creature — every gift except the one of knowing how to use the glorious faculties which God had put into his hands.
From Hacmillan'3 Magazine.
BY E. X. ARCHER.
Bernard Oswestry had left Overton restless and unhappy, and sore at heart. Christina had been his chief object ever since ho could remember; all his hopes and projects had centred in her; and now it was not only that they were shattered, but they had been shattered by her in a way which had left him no one point upon which to seize for consolation. It was not only that she had been inconstant with no excuse; it was not, as he thought, that she cared for anyone else; butsimply that for the sake of pleasing her relations and escaping from the difficulties of her position, she had been ready to break the promises upon which he had built so much. It was because of all this that he could not forgive her — not yet — not although he he had seen her remorseful and unhappy, not although she had pleaded to him as she had never pleaded to him before. And yet he could not thrust her away altogether. It is not so easily that a true and tender heart can shut itself against the love in which it has trusted. And Bernard loved her still, not as he had loved her before, for sorrow and indignation had taken the place of hope and trust; but yet his love had not passed out of him —
it was part of himself, and could not be got rid of.
He left Overton and threw himself into his work with an energy that never flagged, and a patience that was never exhausted. It was a busy life that he led, and fortunately for him there was much of outdoor occupation and physical exertion to counteract the effect of his late hours and incessant work.
The architect under whom he was engaged had his office in the midst of a large and thickly populated manufacturing town in the north of England. In the centre of gqualor and misery he was raising a church, beautiful in its proportions and rich in its architectural adornments, to stand as a witness for Christianity in the midst of a heathen generation; and it was upon this that Bernard was chiefly engaged as a young man of promise, capable of superintending the more delicate parts, in which taste was as necessary as mechanical skill. But he had also expeditions to make into the country, long days to spend in hurrying from place to place through the fresh air, which gave him a relief both mental and physical, else the perpetual strain upon his nerves mnst have broken down even his naturally healthy organization. He was young and inexperienced, and it was thus that he strove to drive awny thought.
Even old Mr. Withers, the head of the firm, who rarely condescended to give a thought to the well-being or characters of his clerks, noticed the change in him ; for be had before been struck by his lighthearted zeal as much as by his aptitude for his business. Now he went so far as to remark on his pale and altered looks, and to inquire if he had anything on his mind,— had he been getting into money difficulties? He did not like to see a young man who didn't care for reasonable relaxations, and came to office in the morning looking as if he had been up ail night.
Bernard thanked him, but laughed at the idea that anything was wrong with him; he would confide nothing; and Mr. Withers, who had made an unusual exertion in broaching the subject, said no more, but was rather confirmed in his suspicions. He said he was sorry for it; he feared young Oawestry was going to the bad: there was a hardness about him he didjjot like to see; and he was positively alarmed when one day on going into the church he found Bernard walking unconcernedly about on some scaffolding at the top of the nave, where even old hands would have gone with precaution and some appliances for safety.
"What do you mean, sir?" he asked angrily, when Bernard had leisurely descended into the body of the church. "It is not your business to be dancing the tight-rope here 1 If you want to t>re.ak your neck, I beg it may not happen in my church."
"There was no danger, sir. I had gone to examine the carving." Bernard answered quietly; but Mr. Withers said to himself that he was not only hard but reckless.
Thus it was that he passed the fortnight of Christina's engagement to Mr. Warde, and then came the letter which told of •what had taken place, and of how she was now Captain Cleasby's promised wife. He could not understand it for the moment. His mother's letter had come to him in the morning, but he had felt little interest in it, and a dislike to anything •which would carry his thoughts back to Overton, and so lie had thurst it into his
Eocket, and it was not until the dinner our came round, and the workmen had dispersed, that he thought of reading it.
He had been round the corner of the street and got his glass of beer and bread and cheese for luncheon, and now he had nothing to do until two o'clock should strike; so he went back into the empty church and took out his letter.
Few of the windows were as yet put in, and the wind blew chilly through the large empty church where the workmen's tools •were lying about, and the blocks of unsculptured stone were the only landmarks in the open space. Bernard sat down upon one of them and read his letter through once very slowly. Then he turned back again to the beginning, and read some words over and over again until he began dimly to apprehend their meaning; and when he did apprehend it, the course which things had taken and the motives which had been at work were fully revealed to him. Then it was not as he had imagined — Christina did indeed love gome one else. For an instant a pang shot through him,— for an instant only, and then everything else gave way to a nobler, purer feeling of exultation. She had been wrong — cruelly wrong — as regarded his happiness, but she was not, as she had seemed, heartless, governed by prudential considerations. She had had a battle to fight, and she bad been conquered; she had allowed herself to be driven into tortuous paths, but at least she was not incapable of comprehending some
thing higher than temporalities: at least he need not fear that her life would be narrowed so as to suit her creed, her aspirations lowered, and her future a blank.
Bernard stood up and pushed back his hair from his face, and though the tears were in his eyes, he smiled and said "Thank God," as he stood all alone, shut out from the world in the midst of the busy life in the streets around him. He was only two-and-twenty, and for him there was nothing left of the dream which had made life so beautiful. The spring of his years had passed with its promise and its freshness, but at least there was left to I him the knowledge that he had not beI lieved in a delusion; he might still keep the faith which had so nearly been taken from him; and in this moment the church j in which he stood was consecrated by a , thanksgiving so unselfish, and a joy so unearthly, as to be near to that with which the angels of God rejoice.
That evening, sitting alone iu his little lodging in one of the narrow streets of the town, he wrote to Christina. He was still sorrowful and hopeless so far as bis own future was concerned; but the bitterness had been taken from him, and he could write to her as he could not have written to her before.
"Dear Christina, — I have heard, and at last I know — I understand. My life will not be an altogether K id one since you are happy. I thought I could not forgive you, but I forgive you now. Thank God, Christina, that it is not as I thought. Do not let the thought of roe bring you nothing but reproach; remember all the happiness you gave me; remember that you have given me more than you can ever take away; — and even in this world there are better things than happiness, and yet I am glad that it hot) fallen to your lot. God bless you now and always. . Bkrnard Oswkstrt."
In the meantime at Overton everything was prospering. Mr. North retained but little of his prejudice against the marriage; Mrs. North did not openly express her dissatisfaction; and, now, that it was all arranged, Miss Cleasby had reconciled herself with a good grace to what could not be helped. She had desired to prevent it; she was not now assured that it was for her brother's happiness or for Christina's, but she had warned him, and he would not be warned; she had tried to guard Christina, and Christina would not be guarded; and now she bad made up her mind that destiny had settled it without any regard to her wishes, and she was anxious to be kind to the girl for