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Title: Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature - 4. Naturalism in England
Author: Brandes, Georg
Language: English
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                        "_I am as a spirit who has dwelt_
    _Within his heart of hearts; and I have felt_
    _His feelings, and have thought his thoughts, and known_
    _The inmost converse of his soul, the tone_
    _Unheard but in the silence of his blood,_
    _When all the pulses in their multitude_
    _Image the trembling calm of summer seas._
    _I have unlocked the golden melodies_
    _Of his deep soul as with a master-key,_
    _And loosened them, and bathed myself therein--_
    _Even as an eagle in a thunder-mist_
    _Clothing his wings with lightning_."
    --SHELLEY (Fragment).


It is my intention to trace in the poetry of England of the first
decades of this century, the course of the strong, deep, pregnant
current in the intellectual life of the country, which, sweeping away
the classic forms and conventions, produces a Naturalism dominating
the whole of literature, which from Naturalism leads to Radicalism,
from revolt against traditional convention in literature to vigorous
rebellion against religious and political reaction, and which bears
in its bosom the germs of all the liberal ideas and emancipatory
achievements of the later periods of European civilisation.

The literary period which I now proceed to describe is a vigorous,
highly productive one. It has authors and schools of the most
dissimilar types, sometimes not merely unlike, but antagonistic to,
each other. Though the connection between these authors and schools is
not self-evident, but only discernible to the understanding, critical
eye, yet the period has its unity, and the picture it presents, though
a many-coloured, restless one, is a coherent composition, the work of
the great artist, history.




One of the first and chief things observable in this English literary
group, is that it has certain characteristics in common with the whole
European intellectual tendency of the period. These characteristics
are universal because of the universal existence of their cause.
Napoleon was threatening Europe with a world-wide Empire. To escape
annihilation, all the threatened nationalities either instinctively
or deliberately re-invigorated themselves from the sources of their
national life. The national spirit is awakened and spreads and grows in
Germany during the War of Liberation; in Russia it bursts into flames
along with the ancient capital of the country; in England it inspires
enthusiasm for Wellington and Nelson, and vindicates in bloody battles,
from the Nile to Waterloo, the ancient English claim to the sovereignty
of the sea; in Denmark the cannonade of the battle of Copenhagen
awakens a new national spirit and produces a new literature. It is this
patriotic spirit which leads all the different nations to the eager
study of their own history and their own customs, their own legends and
folk-lore. The devotion to everything national incites to the study and
the literary representation of the "people"--that is to say, the lower
classes of society, with whom the literature of the eighteenth century
had not concerned itself. The reaction against French as a universal
language brings even dialect into high repute.

In _Germany_, as we have already seen, patriotism led to enthusiasm
for the country's past, for the Middle Ages--their faith, their
superstitions, and their social order. In _Italy_ we have, in Manzoni's
religious verse, an apparent return to Catholicism. The faith which
had petrified into dogma, and meant renunciation of the flesh, is
upheld as synonymous with poetry and morality; it is transformed from
a religion into an art _motif_. Manzoni's religious enthusiasm is the
same enthusiasm as that which accompanied the Pope back to Rome and
inspired Alexander with the idea of the Holy Alliance. Even _France_,
the country which had produced Napoleon, was driven by the spirit of
the age into a path leading in much the same direction as that taken
by Germany; the new French literary movement was directed against
the Academy, against the so-called classical, _i.e._, universal,
cosmopolitan literature; the age of Louis XIV. was neglected, and the
poets of the sixteenth century, Du Bellay, Ronsard, nay, even the poor
grotesque poets whom Boileau had scoffed at and rejected, came into
vogue again. (Victor Hugo's attack on the literary opinions of the
period previous to his own; Sainte-Beuve's earliest literary criticism;
Théophile Gautier's _Les Grotesques_.) In _Denmark_ at the beginning of
the century it was mainly in the wake of the German current that men's
minds moved. They assumed an antagonistic attitude to French culture.
But in the second and equally important stage of the literary movement,
the antagonism becomes an antagonism to everything foreign, and more
especially to Germany, which had for so long played the part of the
oppressor in Denmark.[1]

In _England_ we find the same essential features which distinguish the
movement in all the other countries. The influence of France, which
in the eighteenth century had been paramount in the upper classes of
society, was shaken off. Pope, the last poet of the classical school,
did not long remain a master in the eyes of the younger generation.
They began to pluck at the little man's elaborate wig and trample over
the trim beds of his garden. And now it became apparent what a powerful
intellectual reserve force the British nation possessed in those
countries which lay remote from the centre of political life, fresh,
unexhausted by civilisation. Ireland, which in the eighteenth century
had produced such a thinker as Swift and such a writer as Goldsmith,
owned a treasury of lovely melodies which, as soon as a great lyric
poet lent them words, were poured forth by all the singing throats of
Europe. The Welsh collected and published their old songs and poems.
And in Scotland, to which country the mean, depressing conditions
prevailing among the English industrial classes had not as yet spread,
but where a people, proud of its past and its land, preserved its
national songs, its superstitions, and its political peculiarities,
there appeared in the second half of the eighteenth century, as a
protest against cold reason and artificiality in poetry, Macpherson's
_Ossian_. The influence of _Ossian_ was alike great upon Alfieri
and Foscolo in Italy, upon Herder and Goethe in Germany, and upon
Chateaubriand in France. On it follow in England Percy's collection
of old English, and in Scotland Walter Scott's collection of Scotch,

But in the interval between these two publications our attention is
demanded by one of those literary currents flowing from one country to
another and back again, which it is our chief aim to trace, and which
in this case is remarkably plain. Not long after Percy's _Reliques_
appeared, a luckless young German lawyer in Government employ, Bürger
by name, was appointed to a small post in Göttingen, where he lived
in straitened circumstances and in unhappy and demoralising marital
relations with two sisters. Into this man's house Percy's book finds
its way. It makes a powerful impression on him, and fires him with
the desire to write something which had long been proscribed by the
rules of poetical art, but which he himself calls (to Baggesen, see
_The Labyrinth_) poetry proper, namely, a ballad. He begins the
famous _Lenore_ and works at it slowly, week after week, with such a
conviction of the importance of the step he is taking that his letters
to his friends are full of nothing else. The ballad appears, and is
soon read in every country in Europe. In the year 1795 an Edinburgh
young lady introduces it to the notice of another lawyer in Crown
employ; and this young man, Walter Scott by name, who was also to be an
author, and a very much greater one, makes his literary _début_ with
a translation of _Lenore_ and another ballad of Bürger's, _The Wild
Huntsman_. His translations meeting with a favourable reception, Scott
began to regard himself as a poet. And it was upon the basis of these
translations and that of _Götz von Berlichingen_, which he published in
1799, that the national Scottish Romanticism of his poetry was founded.

There is, then, originally in this literature a distinct trace of the
general European reaction against the eighteenth century. The strong
national feeling which superseded the feeling of cosmopolitanism is to
be found in England in Wordsworth in the form of patriotic poetical
description, in Southey in the form of eulogy (at times partly, at
times purely, official) of the Royal Family and the national exploits,
in the Scottish-born Campbell in the form of passionately British
songs of liberty and war; whilst Scott and Moore are positive literary
personifications of Scotland and Ireland. The universal return to the
popular has its chief representative and spokesman in Wordsworth,
whose special theme is the life of the lower and lowest classes. The
predilection for the Middle Ages is strongest in Scott, who combines
the antiquarian's delight in memories and survivals of the past with
the Tory politician's desire to represent the traditional in the most
attractive light. The Romanticism of superstition finds its poet in
Coleridge, whose studied childishness and simplicity are near of
kin to Tieck's; and it is Coleridge, too, who, thoroughly imbued
with the doctrines of the German philosophy of the day, enters a
general scientific protest against those of the age of enlightenment.
His philosophy is quite un-English; it is, in contradiction to the
experimental nature of English science, purely transcendental; it is
conservative, pious, and historical, because the philosophy preceding
it had been radical, infidel, and metaphysical; it is a "Schellingism,"
which at first endeavours to preserve as many of the philosophic
conclusions of the preceding century as possible, but which, ever more
obstinate and ever more narrow-minded, hastens towards the opposite
extreme from that which had proved fatal to the preceding period. The
confusedly fantastic side of Romanticism is represented by Southey with
his Oriental narrative poems; and as for the passionate, despairing
heroes of Chateaubriand and Romanticism generally, we find them, more
passionate and more manly, in the works of Byron; whilst Shelley's
spiritualism and dissolution of all solid form into ethereal music
recalls the ardour and vagueness of Novalis.

[1] This "oppression" was what today would be called "cultural
imperialism". It should be remembered that the Danish kings were also
German dukes (of Schleswig and Holstein) and very properly patronised
German artists. In Denmark proper there was after 1800 a reaction
against the German influence. Also Brandes is bitter because of the
German annexation of the Danish part of Schleswig in 1864, but that
happened half a century later and Denmark was not exactly an innocent
victim.--Transcriber's note.



But these general and most marked characteristics of the period are
modified in a very perceptible manner by certain peculiarly English
characteristics, which, observable nowhere else, are to be found in all
the English authors of the day, however little resemblance there may be
between them in other respects.

These English characteristics can all be traced back to one original
distinctive quality, namely vigorous _Naturalism_. As we have observed,
the first advance in the new literary movement is the inspiration of
the authors of every country by a national spirit. Now in England this
meant becoming a Naturalist, just as in Germany it meant becoming a
Romanticist, and in Denmark a devotee of the Old-Scandinavian. The
English poets, one and all, are observers, lovers, worshippers of
nature. Wordsworth, who loves to parade his propensities as ideas,
inscribes the word _nature_ on his banner, and paints pictures,
grand in spite of their minute detail, of the hills, the lakes, the
rivers, and the rustic population of the North of England. Scott's
descriptions of nature, based upon close observation, are so accurate
that a botanist might acquire a correct idea of the vegetation of the
district from them. Keats, with all his devotion to the antique and
to Greek mythology, is a sensualist, who, gifted with the keenest,
widest, most delicate perceptions, sees, hears, feels, tastes, and
inhales all the varieties of glorious colour, of song, of silky
texture, of fruit flavour, of flower fragrance, which nature offers.
Moore is the personification of spiritualised sensuality; the
pampered, pampering poet, he seems to live surrounded by all that
is rarest and most beautiful in nature; he dazzles our minds with
sunshine, deafens them with the song of the nightingale, drowns them
in sweetness; we live with him in endless dreams of wings, flowers,
rainbows, smiles, blushes, tears, kisses--always kisses. The strongest
tendency even of works like Byron's _Don Juan_ and Shelley's _Cenci_
is in reality Naturalism. In other words, Naturalism is so powerful
in England that it permeates Coleridge's Romantic supernaturalism,
Wordsworth's Anglican orthodoxy, Shelley's atheistic spiritualism,
Byron's revolutionary liberalism, and Scott's interest in the past. It
influences the personal beliefs and the literary tendencies of every

This realism, so full of sap and vigour, is a result of various
strongly-marked and almost universal English characteristics. There is,
in the first place, the English love of the country and of the sea.
Almost all the English poets of this period are either countrymen or
seamen. The English Muse of poetry has from time immemorial frequented
the country seat and the farm. Wordsworth's genuinely English poetry
is in exact keeping with the well-known paintings and engravings
representing English country life, which produce an impression of
health and tranquillity, and, when such subjects as family worship or
the country clergyman's fatherly ministrations are portrayed, also of
piety. Burns, the ploughman poet, Scotland's greatest poetic genius,
early dedicated Scottish poetry to the country; and there is truth in
Emerson's caustic remark that Scott, in his narrative poems, simply
wrote a rhymed guide-book to Scotland. That the same idea had occurred
to the poet's own contemporaries is evident from the satirical manner
in which Moore writes of Scott's "doing" the one country-seat after the

And what an important part country seats play in the lives of two
such antipodal literary characters as Byron and Scott! Newstead Abbey
is as inseparably connected with Byron's name as Abbotsford is with
Sir Walter Scott's. The old abbey, with its medieval and fantastic
architecture, is to Byron the indispensable accompaniment of his
peerage and the pledge of his English citizenship. He does not dispose
of it until he has turned his back on his native land for ever. Scott's
proprietorship is not so ancient and venerable; but he buys Abbotsford
when the desire to own land, which has always been strong in him,
becomes irresistible, and, during the happy period of his life passed
there, lives as if he had grown up with no other prospect before him
than that of exercising the regal hospitality of an old Scottish landed
proprietor and living his hardy out-of-door life. His greatest delight
is in such perilous amusements as wading through a raging stream--with
a bridge not fifty yards off, riding a horse unmanageable by any one
else, spearing salmon by torch-light, soaked with rain or shivering
in the cold night air. And is not every reader of Byron's life here
reminded of that poet's love of wild rides and daring swimming exploits?

Nevertheless there is in the attitude of the two authors to their
estates a difference, characteristic of their different natures.
Byron's love for Newstead Abbey had its origin in his aristocratic
proclivities, Scott's for Abbotsford in his historic instincts. Just
as Sir Walter's estate had Ettrick Forest for its background, Newstead
had Sherwood Forest, with its memories of Robin Hood and his merry
men. But these memories exercised no perceptible influence on Byron's
poetry, though we have an admirable description of the Abbey itself in
the Thirteenth Canto of _Don Juan_. The whole of Scott's poetry, on
the contrary, is pervaded, as by a refrain, by the memories of Ettrick
Forest; and it is Scott, instead of Byron, who (in _Ivanhoe_) brings
the poetry of Sherwood Forest to life again.

Another English qualification for Naturalism is the love of the poets
for the nobler animals, and their intimacy with the animal world in
general. They have that affection for all domestic animals which is
a result of their English love of home. When they travel they carry
home and their domestic animals with them. Almost all the authors
of our period are devoted to manly exercises, and in particular to
riding. And in observing this we must not fall into the common error
of mistaking a thoroughly national characteristic for a personal and
rare one. It is not without its significance that the English race
traces its descent from two mystic heroes bearing the names of horses
(Hengist and Horsa). The love of horses, dogs, and all kinds of wild
animals, which is so often mentioned as a peculiar characteristic of
Byron, the misanthropical exile, is quite as marked a characteristic
of Scott, living at home in the happiest domestic circumstances.
Matthew's well-known letter describing the life at Newstead Abbey shows
us Byron, the youth, surrounded by a whole menagerie, including a bear
and a wolf; in Medwin's account of the poet's life in Italy we read
that he took with him when he left Ravenna in 1821, "seven servants,
five carriages, nine horses, a monkey, a retriever, a bull-dog, two
cats, three Guinea fowls, and other birds." One is apt to think this
an exhibition of purely personal singularity, until one reads, in
Lockhart's Life, Scott's own description of the removal to Abbotsford.
"The neighbours have been much delighted with the procession of my
furniture, in which old swords, bows, targets, and lances made a
very conspicuous show. A family of turkeys was accommodated within
the helmet of some _preux_ chevalier of ancient Border fame; and the
very cows, for aught I know, were bearing banners and muskets. I
assure your ladyship that this caravan, attended by a dozen of ragged
rosy peasant children, carrying fishing-rods and spears, and leading
poneys, greyhounds, and spaniels, would, as it crossed the Tweed, have
furnished no bad subject for the pencil." The only difference is that
the old curiosity shop of the collector is added to the menagerie.
Byron's love for his dog, Boatswain, and the solemn inscription
engraved on the stone marking the favourite's grave, are apt to be
instanced as signs of the poet's rooted melancholy. But it helps us
to a more correct appreciation of such feelings to remember that the
cheerful-minded Scott had his favourite dog, Camp, solemnly buried in
the garden at Abbotsford, the whole family standing weeping round the

But even more characteristically English than the attachment to
horses and dogs and land, and the witness in literature to the same,
is the love of the sea. The Englishman is an amphibious animal. A
considerable part of the description of nature in the literature of
this period is marine painting. It was an ancient tradition, gloriously
maintained at this particular time, that England was the mistress of
the sea; and English writers have always been the best delineators and
interpreters of the sea. There is a breath of its freshness and freedom
in all the best poetry of the country. To the Englishman the sea has
always been the great symbol of liberty, as the Alps have been to the
freedom-loving Swiss. Wordsworth exclaims with truth in one of his
_Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty_:--

    "Two Voices are there; one is of the Sea,
     One of the Mountains; each a mighty voice:
     In both from age to age thou didst rejoice,
     They were thy chosen music, Liberty!"

We understand, therefore, how it was that the long-dormant Viking
spirit re-awoke in the best poets of the country during this remarkable
period of English literature. In Coleridge's _Ancient Mariner_ we
have all the terror and horror of the sea; Campbell's _Mariners of
England_ is an entrancingly melodious and manly glorification of
the heroism and might of the English seamen; Byron's Vikinglike
expeditions are mirrored in the exploits of Childe Harold and Don Juan;
Shelley's passion for the sea and sailing lives and breathes in the
billowy rhythm of his verse and in all the poems which extol wind and
wave--above all others that masterpiece, the _Ode to the West Wind_.

Transferred to the domain of society, Naturalism becomes, as it did
in Rousseau's case, revolutionary; and beneath that attachment to the
soil, and that delight in encountering and mastering the fitful humours
of the sea, which are the deep-seated causes of Naturalism, there is
in the Englishman the still deeper-seated national feeling, which,
under the peculiar historical conditions of this period, naturally led
the cleverest men of the day in the direction of Radicalism. No nation
is so thoroughly penetrated by the feeling of personal independence
as England. This is best seen in the Englishman abroad; it is with a
flourish of trumpets that he proclaims himself to be an Englishman.
It is the transmission of this independence and self-sufficiency
to English literature which has at decisive moments made its art a
"character-art"; and at the period under consideration it is this
peculiar quality which, asserting itself, actually produces the new
movement in the literature of Europe. It took an Englishman to do what
Byron did, stem alone the stream which flowed from the fountain of the
Holy Alliance--in the first place, because only an English author would
have had the audacity to do it, in the second, because at that time
only English literary men had the strong political tendency and the
keen political intelligence which have always distinguished the first,
possibly the only, parliamentary nation. And an Englishman, too, was
needed to fling the gauntlet boldly and defiantly in the face of his
own people. Only in the haughtiest of nations were there to be found
great men haughty enough to defy the nation.

This personal independence which distinguishes the country's most
eminent authors is the outcome of a genuinely English peculiarity.
These men are the followers of no particular doctrines; they rarely
profess any artistic principles, and certainly never any philosophical
creed. The great German authors, Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, all do most
important services to science; but amongst the Englishmen there is not
a single scientist. And a still more remarkable fact is that they never
even consult one another. Goethe and Schiller carry on an interminable
correspondence on the subject of the nature and proper treatment
of the different varieties of poetic themes; they even sometimes
discuss at great length the propriety of the addition or suppression
of a single stanza. Heiberg, the Dane, and his school follow certain
definite artistic principles which they have agreed to observe, and
are almost as critical as they are productive. But Scott and Byron and
Moore, in spite of the cordial friendship subsisting between them,
are perfectly isolated as regards authorship; each produces his works
without receiving or desiring any suggestion or advice whatever from
his brother authors. Even in the very exceptional case when one is
influenced by another--as Byron, for instance, occasionally is by
Wordsworth, and still more perceptibly by Shelley--the thing happens,
as it were, secretly, quite insensibly, so that it is not alluded to,
or at any rate not acknowledged as influence by the recipient. An
American author has aptly described this characteristic of the race in
the words: "Each of these islanders is himself an island."

We have already spoken of intelligent interest in politics. Just as
there is not one among these authors who is a scientist, so there
is hardly one among them who is not a politician. This interest in
politics is a direct product of the national practicality. The opinions
held by the different authors may be very dissimilar, but they are
all party men; Scott is a Tory, Wordsworth a Monarchist, Southey and
Coleridge are first supporters, then antagonists, of the democratic
ideas of the day; Moore is on the side of the Irishmen; Landor,
Campbell, Byron, and Shelley, as Radicals, side with all the oppressed
nations. In excepting such an author as Keats, who may almost be said
to have been devoted to art for art's sake, we must not forget that he
died at the age of twenty-five.

The intense interest taken in practical matters explains why purely
literary questions (such as that of the respective merits of Classicism
and Romanticism), in their utter disconnectedness with life, never
became of such exaggerated importance in English as they did at this
period in German, Danish, and even French literature. It is, however,
amusing to observe how our authors combine the Englishman's impulse
towards practical action with the fantastic proclivities of the poet.
Scott carried his antagonism to the Revolution to a perfectly Quixotic
length. He arranged with one of his friends, a duke, that, if the
French landed in England, they two would take to the woods and live
the life of Robin Hood and his followers. And it was about the same
time that Southey and Coleridge, in the first Jacobinical ardour of
their youth, informed their acquaintances that it was their intention
to emigrate to a scantily populated part of America; the banks of the
Susquehanna were chosen because the name of this river struck the young
men as being peculiarly _beautiful and melodious_; they proposed to
found a community there, a pantisocrasy, with community of goods and
equality of all the members under natural conditions. Landor, who, as
a soldier in Spain, proved that he was prepared to risk his life for
his opinions, as a youth cherished the idea of reviving, at home in
Warwickshire, the Arcadian idyllic age; he is the literary counterpart
of Owen, the Socialist. Shelley, as politician, showed such keenness of
perception that, studying him as such, we are constantly reminded of
the characterisation in _Julian and Maddalo_:

    "_Me_, who am as a nerve o'er which do creep
     The else unfelt oppressions of this earth."

He foresaw many a political revolution that actually came to pass.
But the same Shelley who, half a century before the passing of the
Reform Bill of 1867, published an accurate draft of it in a political
pamphlet, and who in his drama, _Hellas_, prophesied the success of the
revolt of the Greeks at a time when their cause seemed hopeless, is
an utter fantast as soon as he begins to enlarge on the coming Golden
Age of humanity. Read his description of it in a youthful work, _Queen
Mab_. The Polar icebergs melt, the deserts are cultivated, the basilisk
licks the infant's feet, the hurricane blasts become melodious, the
fruits of the earth are always ripe and its flowers always in bloom, no
animal is killed and eaten by man, the birds no longer fly from him,
fear no longer exists. We cannot but be reminded of some of the wildest
dreams of the French Socialists of the same period. The spread of the
_Phalansteries_ devised by Fourier was expected to bring about such
a change in the whole economy of the world that at last even natural
conditions would be entirely altered; an immense aurora borealis,
perpetually suspended above the North Pole, would make Siberia as
warm as Andalusia; man would deprive the sea of its salt and give it
in return a flavour of lemonade; and the monsters of the deep would
allow themselves to be harnessed, like sea-horses, to our ships. The
invention of the steam-engine fortunately rendered this species of
traction superfluous. Even Byron, who is decidedly the most practical
of these poets, is often the poet in his politics. It hardly admits of
doubt that he had the crown of Greece before his eyes as the recompense
of his exertions in the cause of that country.

There was plenty of fantasticalness in practical matters in the English
poets, too; but there undoubtedly is more practicality in their
morality and their view of life than in those of the poets of other
nations. There are a few more grains of sound sense in their works.
They are, one and all, distinguished by a strong _desire for justice_.
Wordsworth inherits it from Milton; Campbell, Byron, and Shelley feel
it intuitively, and are ready in the strength of the feeling to defy
the world. It plays no part, this feeling, in the life of Byron's great
German predecessor, Goethe, or of his richly gifted French successor,
De Musset. Neither of these ever summoned monarchs and governments
before the tribunal of justice. But what is peculiarly English is, that
this justice of which the Englishmen dream is not, like that which
Schiller, for instance, worships, a cherished, preconceived idea, but
a child of utility. To prove this let us take a poet as ethereally
idealistic as Shelley, and we shall see that even his morality is as
distinctly utilitarian as Bentham's and John Stuart Mill's. Here is a
striking passage taken from the second chapter of his _Speculations on
Morals_:--"If a man persists to inquire _why_ he ought to promote the
happiness of mankind, he demands a mathematical or metaphysical reason
for a moral action. The absurdity of this scepticism is less apparent,
but not less real than the exacting a moral reason for a mathematical
or physical fact." In the maxim, "the greatest happiness of the
greatest number," and in the profound, practical desire for justice,
which is its psychological basis, we have the real point of departure
of the Radicalism of English poetry during the period of the great
European reaction.


    Should you feel any touch of poetical glow
    We've a Scheme to suggest--Mr. Scott, you must know,
    Having quitted the Borders, to seek new renown
    Is coming, by long Quarto stages, to Town.
    And beginning with Rokeby (the job's sure to pay)
    Means to _do_ all the Gentlemen's Seats on the way.
    Now the Scheme is (though none of our hackneys can beat him)
    To start a fresh Poet through Highgate to meet him;
    Who, by means of quick proofs--no revises--long coaches,
    May do a few Villas, before Scott approaches.
    Moore: _Intercepted Letters_, No. 7.



The English being at once the most persevering and the most
enterprising people, the nation which is most attached to home and
fondest of travel, the slowest to make changes and yet, in matters
political, the most broad-minded, the thinking men of the country
naturally fall into two great political groups, the one representing
the jealously conservative, the other the daringly liberal tendency.
The English parties have no resemblance to the French. It may be
exaggeration to say, with Taine, that France has only two parties--the
party of the men of twenty and the party of the men of forty; yet this
division is perhaps the essential one, which the other acknowledged
party names merely modify. The English division is determined by
the national character; and in the stirring literary period under
consideration, Wordsworth is the representative of the one set of
qualities, Byron the type of the other.

In the first years of the century there was another source of political
division in the dual nature of the chief event of the period. This
great event was the war with France. Of the German War of Liberation I
have already remarked that it was certainly revolt against a terrible
despotism, but a despotism which was an expression of the ideas of the
Revolution; that it was a fight for hearth and home, but undertaken
at the command of the old reactionary reigning houses. And if such a
remark is applicable to Germany's struggle, how much more applicable
is it to the war waged by England. The independence of England was not
assailed, but its interests were seriously threatened; and during the
lengthy war, and for long afterwards, there were not, as in Germany,
liberty-loving men at the head of affairs, but all power was given into
the hands of the most determinedly reactionary Tory government that the
country had ever known.

Hence it is that the background of this whole period of literature is
so dark. The clouds which form it are heavy and black, "sunbeam-proof"
Shelley would have called them. England itself, as the background of
the panorama which I am about to unroll, is like a night landscape.
The _great_ qualities of the nation were misguided; its extraordinary
resoluteness was applied to the suppression of another nation's desires
for liberty; its own noble love of liberty was first utilised to
overthrow the despotism of Napoleon and then misapplied in re-erecting
all the old mouldering thrones which, under cover of the gunpowder
smoke of Waterloo, were run up in as great haste as scaffolds are.
The _neutral_ qualities of the nation were educated into bad ones.
Self-esteem and firmness were nursed into that hard-heartedness of
the aristocratic, and that selfishness of the commercial classes
which always distinguish a period of reaction; loyalty was excited
into servility, and patriotism into the hatred of other nations which
is apt to develop during long wars. And the national _bad_ qualities
were over-developed. The desire for outward decorum at any price,
which is the shady side of the moral impulse, was developed into
hypocrisy in the domain of morality; and that determined adherence
to the established religion which is the least attractive outcome of
a practical and not profoundly reasoning turn of mind, was fanned
either into hypocrisy or active intolerance. No period was ever more
favourable to the development of hypocrisy and fanaticism than this,
during which the nation was actually encouraged by its leaders to boast
of its religious superiority to free-thinking France.

Those who suffered most were the country's greatest authors. It is
out of fashion now to talk of the cant which drove Byron from his
home; and many scrupulous critics are disposed to give the name of
honest, if narrow-minded, conviction to what used to be frankly
called hypocrisy. But this view of the matter is untenable. A piety
which behaves as English piety did to Byron and Shelley is not mere
stupidity, but narrow-minded, repulsive hypocrisy. The dicta upon
this subject of the keen American observer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, are
of value; for as America's most eminent critic, as England's greatest
admirer, and as judge of his own race, he has every claim to credence.
He says:--"The torpidity on the side of religion of the vigorous
English understanding shows how much wit and folly can agree in one
brain. Their religion is a quotation, their church is a doll, and any
examination is interdicted with screams of terror. In good company,
you expect them to laugh at the fanaticism of the vulgar; but they
do not; they are the vulgar.... The English, abhorring change in all
things, abhorring it most in matters of religion, cling to the last
rag of form, and are dreadfully given to cant. The English (and I wish
it were confined to them, but 'tis a taint in the Anglo-Saxon blood
in both hemispheres), the English and the Americans cant beyond all
other nations. The French relinquish all that industry to them. What is
so odious as the polite bows to God in our books and newspapers? The
popular press is flagitious in the exact measure of its sanctimony, and
the religion of the day is a theatrical Sinai, where the thunders are
supplied by the property-man.... The Church at this moment is much to
be pitied. She has nothing left but possession. If a bishop meets an
intelligent gentleman and reads fatal interrogations in his eyes, he
has no resource but to take wine with him."[1] This description is of
the England of 1830, so we can imagine what the condition of matters
must have been twenty years earlier.

The most lamentable national failing, the inclination to oppression,
was positively reduced to a system, and was more conspicuous during
this period of the country's history than any other. England, Scotland,
and Ireland combine to oppress the distant colonies; England and
Scotland, making common cause, oppress Ireland--keep down the Irish
Church and repress Irish industry and commerce; England does what she
can to repress Scotland; and in England itself the rich man oppresses
the poor man, and the ruling class all the others. Of the thirty
million inhabitants of the country only one million possessed the
franchise. And any one who cares to read the attack on the English
landed proprietors in Byron's _Age of Bronze_ will see how shamelessly
the landowners enriched themselves at the expense of the other classes
during the war, and how their whole political aim was to insure the
continuance of their power to do so.

Such are the conditions which exercise a partly pernicious, partly
inspiring and stimulating influence on the country's authors. In those
of them in whose breasts the sacred fire burns feebly it is soon
extinguished, and they become reactionary supporters of the existing
conditions. But those of them whose lightning-charged spirits were
fitted to defy the direction of the wind, develop under the oppression
of these conditions an emancipatory literary force which communicates
a shock to the political atmosphere. To these latter England seems a
very "Gibraltar of custom" and they leave their native land that they
may attack and bombard their home with all the artillery of satire and

In order to arrive at a proper understanding of the soil from which the
Naturalistic literature springs, and to understand the principles (not
artistic, but political, social, and religious principles) which divide
the authors into antagonistic groups, we must enter a little more into
detail with regard to the political conditions prevailing in this home.
At the beginning of the century there sat on the throne of England the
king who had reigned since 1760, George the Third. From his earliest
childhood George's mother had endeavoured to inoculate him with the
exaggerated and un-English notions of sovereignty which prevailed on
the Continent, and she had succeeded so well that one after another
of the eminent noblemen who were chosen to be governors to the Prince
resigned the office because their influence was counteracted. One of
these, Lord Waldegrave, who was not merely a shrewd observer, but
also a devoted adherent of the House of Hanover, has drawn a portrait
of his royal pupil which is anything but attractive. He is described
as not altogether deficient in ability, but wholly without power of
application; as honest, but without the frank and open behaviour which
makes honesty amiable; as sincerely pious, but rather too attentive
to the sins of his neighbours; resolute, but obstinate and strong in
prejudices. The tutor tells how, when his pupil is displeased, his
anger does not break out with heat and violence, but produces a fit
of sullenness and silence. And, "when the fit is ended, unfavourable
symptoms very frequently return, which indicate on certain occasions
that his Royal Highness has too correct a memory." And this same King,
who had such a lively recollection of injuries, had a more than royal
forgetfulness of services. But perhaps his greatest fault as a public
personage and a ruler was his absolute petrifaction in prejudices. In
private life he was honest, respectable, and reliable, and inspired his
subjects with great esteem, though the defects in his education were
never supplied. When he began to reign he had little or no knowledge of
either books or men, and to the end of his life he remained perfectly
ignorant as regarded literature and art. But in his selfish court he
was not long in acquiring a considerable knowledge of human nature; the
man to whom all, great and small, held out their hands whenever they
saw him, soon learned to ascertain every man's price and to calculate
his value. His naturally sound understanding was enlarged neither by
study, nor travel, nor conversation; but on matters the discussion of
which does not require much cultivation of mind he generally went to
the point, and acquitted himself with as much ability as was necessary
in a ruler who was very unwilling to be a king only in name.[2]

George III. was England's Frederick VI. He was a true patriarchal
ruler, who felt himself to be the father of his people. During his
reign England lost the North American colonies, as Denmark under
Frederick VI. lost Norway, without this loss, or the foolish policy
which had led to it, damaging the personal popularity of the sovereign.
King George's household was a model of an English gentleman's
household. Early rising was its first rule. Simplicity, order,
frugality, a real bourgeois spirit, reigned. It was boring to a degree
which its historian Thackeray "shuddered to contemplate."

Often, we are told, the King rose before any one else was up, ran
upstairs and awoke all the equerries, and then went for an early walk,
and had a talk with every one he met. He was in the habit of poking his
nose into every cottage; now he would give a child a silver coin, now
present an old woman with a hen. One day, when the King and Queen were
walking together, they met a little boy and talked to him. At last the
King said, "This is the Queen; kneel down, and kiss her hand." But this
the little fellow obstinately declined to do, out of consideration for
his new breeches; and the thrifty King was so delighted with such a
sign of youthful prudence that he pressed the child to his heart.

The days passed at this court with a dreary monotony which drove the
young princes from home, and was in part responsible for their turning
out so badly. In the evening the King either played his game of
backgammon or had his evening concert, during which he always nodded,
while the gentlemen-in-waiting almost yawned themselves to death in the

The family took their daily walk in Windsor Park; the people crowded
round quite familiarly, and the Eton boys thrust their chubby cheeks
under the crowd's elbows. The open-air music over, the King never
failed to take his cocked hat off and salute his band, and say, "Thank
you, gentlemen."

What Dane can fail to be reminded by these scenes of Frederick VI.'s
walks and sails as Chief Admiral in the grounds of Frederiksberg! Like
our Danish monarch, George III. won the affections of the people by
the simplicity of his habits and his shabby coat. Equally applicable
to King George is Orla Lehmann's remark about Frederick VI., "that his
simplicity, both of mind and behaviour, and his kindly interest in
the well-being of individuals were regarded as compensations for his
failings as a statesman and ruler." But indeed there were not many who
detected these last. To the great majority of his subjects old George
seemed a very wise statesman and very powerful sovereign. There is a
famous print of him (by Gillray) which represents him--in the old wig,
in the stout old hideous Windsor uniform--as the King of Brobdingnag,
peering at a little Gulliver, whom he holds up in one hand, whilst in
the other he has an opera-glass, through which he surveys the pigmy.
And who, think you, is the little Gulliver? He wears a cocked-hat and
the little grey Marengo coat.

Danish readers will remember an old picture, a photographic
reproduction of which was very popular some years ago. It was called
"The Well-beloved Family," and represented Frederick VI. taking a walk
with his whole family, from eldest to youngest. Is not the following
picture (from the pages of Miss Burney) of one of the afternoon walks
at Windsor its exact counterpart? "It was really a mighty pretty
procession. The little Princess Amelia, just turned of three years
old, in a robe-coat covered with fine muslin, a dressed close cap,
white gloves, and fan, walked on alone and first, highly delighted
with the parade, and turning from side to side to see everybody as
she passed; for all the terracers stand up against the walls, to make
a clear passage for the royal family the moment they come in sight.
Then followed the King and Queen, no less delighted with the joy of
their little darling. The Princess Royal leaning on Lady Elizabeth
Waldegrave, the Princess Augusta holding by the Duchess of Ancaster,
the Princess Elizabeth led by Lady Charlotte Bertie, followed. General
Bude and the Duke of Montague, and Major Price as equerry, brought
up the rear of the procession." What a charming picture! exclaims
Thackeray. Whilst the procession passes, the band plays its old music,
the sun lights up the ancient battlements, the rich elms, the royal
standard drooping from the great tower, and the loyal crowd, whom the
charming infant caresses with her innocent smiles.

This is the domestic idyll which in public life has its counterpart in
the King's passionate determination to oppress North America, oppose
the French Revolution, annihilate the Irish Church, and maintain
negro slavery with all its horrors. But the idyllic family life was
at an end before the century was out. In 1788 the King had his first
attack of insanity, and even then the question of the Regency of the
Prince of Wales, which was not finally determined until 1810, was
discussed with an extraordinary display of passion. The Opposition
believed that if they could procure the appointment of the Prince of
Wales as Regent, they would be able to keep the Tories out of power
for a lengthy period. But the character and morals of the Prince were
so repugnant to the great majority of the nation that his accession
to power was regarded with dread. However, before the Regency Bill
was actually proceeded with, Pitt was in a position to lay before
Parliament a medical bulletin informing his subjects of the probable
speedy and complete restoration of their King's health. The Prince's
disappointment was great, and his having displayed anything but proper
filial feeling during the King's illness made it difficult for him to
disguise it. He had a talent for mimicry, and had amused the witty and
profligate men and women who were his constant companions by _taking
off_, as the saying was, the gestures and actions of his insane father.
This alone is sufficient to show his character--the character of the
man who, on account of a certain outward polish, went by the name of
"the first gentleman in Europe."

Even though he retained it only for a short time, one cannot but admire
the cleverness with which this Prince managed to win the friendship
of many of the most gifted men of the day. Burke and Fox and Sheridan
were his associates. Certainly, as Thackeray says, it was not his
opinions about the constitution, or about the condition of Ireland,
which they cared to hear--_that_ man's opinions, indeed! But he talked
with Sheridan of dice, and with Fox of wine; those were interests which
the fool and the geniuses had in common; and Beau Brummell's friend and
rival was an authority among the fashionable men of the day on such
questions as the suitable button for a waistcoat and the best sauce
for a partridge. He even attached Moore to himself for a short time.
From the tone of a letter which Moore writes to his mother in June 1811
(_Memoirs_, i. 225), we understand plainly that he feels flattered by
the Prince Regent's "cordial familiarity." And the same is true for a
moment of Byron; his letter of reconciliation to Sir Walter Scott shows
how susceptible he was to the Regent's flatteries on the subject of
_Childe Harold_. And Scott himself! Good, honourable gentleman though
he was, in his capacity of obstinate Tory he was always the Regent's
faithful liegeman. And when the latter, as King George the Fourth, came
to Scotland (where he figured in the dress of a Highland chief, with
his fat legs bared and a kilt round his enormous body, as satirically
described by Byron at the end of _The Age of Bronze_), Scott went on
board the royal yacht to welcome him, seized a glass from which his
Majesty had just drunk, begged to be allowed to keep it, vowed that it
should remain for ever as an heirloom in his family, clapped it in his
pocket, and, finding an unexpected guest when he went home, sat down
upon it, and was quickly and painfully reminded of the royal keepsake.
Scott continued faithful to George IV. long after Moore had riddled
him with the darts of his wit, and Byron lashed him with his savage
epigrams, and after even Brummell, walking in Hyde Park, had looked at
him through his eye-glass and asked the Prince's companion, "Who is
_your fat friend_?"

For the insinuating heir-apparent in time became extremely corpulent.
The life he led, the perpetual feasting and drinking bouts, produced
such a habit of body that at last he could not walk. When he was to
drive out, a board was put out at the window, and down it he was slid
into his carriage. While the starving weavers in Glasgow and Lancashire
were crying aloud to Heaven, he was arranging magnificent festivities,
and receiving the exiled Bourbon as Louis XVIII. "The child is father
of the man," says Wordsworth. George IV. signalised his entrance
into society by a feat worthy of his future life. He invented a new
shoe-buckle. It was an inch long and five inches broad. "It covered the
whole instep, reaching down to the ground on either side of the foot."
At his first appearance at a court ball his coat was, we read, of pink
silk, with white cuffs; his waistcoat, white silk, embroidered with
various-coloured foil, and adorned with a profusion of French paste.
His hat was ornamented with a profusion of steel beads, five thousand
in number, with a button and loop of the same metal, and cocked in a
new military style.

A military style, indeed! It exactly suited the head that wore it.
This head was full, at the time its owner began housekeeping in his
splendid new palace of Carlton House, of vague projects of encouraging
literature, science, and the arts; and for a moment it seemed as if
they were really to be carried out--when at the Prince Regent's table
Sir Walter Scott, the best _raconteur_ of his time, with loyal devotion
and real generosity poured forth humorous, whimsical stories from his
inexhaustible store, or Moore sang some of his sweet Anacreontic songs,
or Grattan, Ireland's proud leader, contributed to the entertainment
his wondrous eloquence, fancy, and feeling. But how soon did these men
make way for a company much better suited to the Prince--French cooks,
French ballet-dancers, horse-jockeys, buffoons, procurers, tailors,
boxers, jewellers, and fencing-masters! With such people he spent the
time left him by his mistresses and his bacchanalian orgies. He showed
his love for art and his taste by purchasing at extravagant prices
whole cart-loads of Chinese monstrosities. It was but natural that this
royal _bel esprit_, when he came into power, should quarrel with the
clever Whigs whose society he had sought. He suddenly wheeled round and
became a Tory.

Four of the European monarchs of the first half of this century--Ludwig
I. of Bavaria, Frederick William IV. of Prussia, Christian VIII. of
Denmark, and this English Prince Regent--bear a strong resemblance
to each other. They are the four reigning reactionary dilettanti. In
England, as in Denmark, literary dilettantism succeeds patriarchal
simplicity. In the case we are at present considering, it was combined
with shocking morals and an almost incredible indolence. In March
1816, fifty-eight prisoners under sentence of death were lying in
Newgate prison waiting until the Prince Regent's amusements and
distractions should allow him time to sign their death-warrants or
their pardons, and many of them had lain there since December. In
vain did Brougham make his terrible attack in Parliament upon those
"who, when the gaols were filled with wretches, could not suspend for
a moment their thoughtless amusements to end the sad suspense between
life and death." In connection with this subject, Moore's satires in
_The Twopenny Post-Bag_ are well worth reading. They show plainly that
the sweet Irish song-bird had beak and claws. In _The Life of Sir
Walter Scott_ we read with what a good-humoured smile the Regent, in
1815, could refer to and quote the verses by Moore which describe his
table as loaded with fashion-journals on the one side and unsigned
death-warrants on the other. The satire of the verses was only too well
deserved, but was of little avail. As early as 1812 Castlereagh had
said, in a speech in Parliament: "It would be impossible for his Royal
Highness to disengage his person from the accumulating pile of papers
that encompass it." In "The Insurrection of the Papers," Moore puts it

    "On one side lay unread Petitions,
     On t'other hints from five Physicians;
     _Here_ tradesmen's bills,--official papers,
     Notes from my Lady, drams for vapours--
     _There_ plans of saddles, tea and toast,
     Death-warrants, and the _Morning Post_."

Four years later, the Regent had actually allowed fifty-eight
death-warrants to accumulate.

As already mentioned, he was hardly invested with the signs of power
before he quarrelled with his Whig friends and became a Tory. The
great, long-lasting Tory Government was formed. At its head was the
Earl of Liverpool, an obstinate, but lazy and good-natured reactionary;
the displeasure of the public never fell upon him, but always on his
colleagues; he was, as Prime Minister, a kind of monarch with limited
power, honest intentions, and modest abilities. He and his colleague,
Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, enjoyed the privilege of not being
envied and feared for the force of their characters or the splendour of
their talents. The most notable and most fiercely criticised member of
the ministry was Lord Castlereagh, a moderately gifted man of energetic
character, whom Wilberforce once declared to be as cold-blooded as a
fish. He had a handsome face and a commanding voice, and to these added
the outward show of honours which had not been bestowed on a commoner
since the days of Sir Robert Walpole. He was "the noble lord in the
blue ribbon." He had a natural leaning towards arbitrary principles,
and his intercourse with the irresponsible rulers of the continent
tended to strengthen him in ideas which were extremely dangerous for
a constitutional minister. No consciousness of the narrowness of his
intellect and the defects of his education prevented him from pouring
out torrents of unformed sentences and disjointed arguments. These
often aroused the laughter of the House; but he withstood all attacks
with unflinching determination; none of the hostility or suspicions
expressed moved him a hair's-breadth from his path; in his intercourse
with Parliament, he again and again adopted the standpoint of
absolutism: "We alone know." Byron, Shelley, and Moore all flagellate
him in their poetry. There remains to be named Lord Chancellor Eldon,
the personification of Toryism, whose thought by day and dream by
night was the maintenance of what he called the constitution. In his
opinion the man who attempted to do away with any ancient privilege,
any antiquated restriction of the liberty of the subject, and still
more the man who attempted to repeal any cruel penal law, was laying
his hand on the constitution. Yet no one was more ready than he himself
to suspend the laws of the country whenever they stood in his way.
The suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, the gagging of the press,
&c.--such amputations as these were life to the constitution; to infuse
new blood was death.

This was the ministry which, in 1814, astonished Alexander of Russia
by its ardour in re-asserting and re-establishing the principles which
had been shaken by the Revolution. He slighted it by expressing pity
for its reactionary tendencies and cultivating the acquaintance of the
leaders of the Opposition in London. The first tidings of the French
Revolution had been received with approval by the English Government
and nation. The antagonists Pitt and Fox united in hailing it as one
of the greatest and most beneficent events in the history of humanity.
But hardly had blood been shed on the other side of the Channel, before
the mass of the people, including even the majority of the Opposition,
saw their whole national inheritance--monarchy, religion, the rights of
property--endangered, and formed an enormous party of order. Amongst
the Whigs, Burke was the first to condemn the Revolution violently,
and as violently to condemn his friend and political ally, Fox, for
defending its spirit. The old Whigs sided with Burke. Pitt, who had
planned a whole series of necessary reforms, took alarm, dared not even
make any alterations in the disgraceful election system, and, on being
challenged, confessed that, though fully persuaded of the necessity
of Parliamentary reform, the time was not a favourable one for such
a daring attempt. Jacobinism was scented in every liberal movement,
however innocent and justifiable. When Wilberforce began his agitation
against the negro slave-trade, he was supported both by the Government
and the Opposition. He had against him only the King, the shipowners,
and the House of Peers. But when, in 1791, he tried the temper of the
nation for the second time, the revulsion had been so great that the
champions of the abolition of the slave-trade were almost regarded as
Jacobins, and Wilberforce's bill was rejected by a majority of 163 to

The impression produced in Ireland by the Revolution was another
cause of affright in England. The Irish hailed the tidings of the
Revolution as slaves and serfs hail the news of emancipation.
Although the Irish nation, under the leadership of the noble Henry
Grattan (so enthusiastically eulogised by Byron), had succeeded in
1782 in obtaining the absolute independence and supremacy of its own
Parliament, both the commerce and the religion of the country were
still oppressed. Thomas Moore, a very moderate man, writes that, as the
child of Catholic parents, he came into the world with the yoke of the
slave round his neck. He tells how, when a boy, he was taken, in 1792,
by his father to a public dinner in Dublin, at which one of the toasts
was: "May the breezes of France blow our Irish oak into verdure!" In
his _Memoirs_ we have a description of the movement amongst the youth
of the country. He knew and admired its leader, Robert Emmet. When,
in the Dublin Debating Society, of which he was the moving spirit and
chief ornament, Emmet gave an eloquent description of the doings of the
French Republic--when, with an allusion to the story of Cæsar swimming
across the river with his sword in one hand and his _Commentaries_
in the other, he said: "Thus France at this time swims through a sea
of blood, but, while in one hand she wields the sword against her
aggressors, with the other she upholds the interests of literature
uncontaminated by the bloody tide through which she struggles"--his
young countryman listened not only to the literal meaning of the
speech, but for every little allusion or remark which he might apply to
Ireland. And such allusions were forthcoming. "When a people," cried
Emmet one day, "advancing rapidly in civilisation and the knowledge of
their rights, look back after a long lapse of time, and perceive how
far the spirit of their Government has lagged behind them, what then,
I ask, is to be done by them in such a case? What, but to pull the
Government up to the people."

The day was not far off when Robert Emmet was to pay dearly for all his
bold words. In 1798 the long-prepared-for explosion took place; and,
as Byron puts it, Castlereagh "dabbled his sleek young hands in Erin's
gore." The fury with which the Government set to work to crush the
rebellion and the rebels was so animal and ferocious, that the horrors
accompanying the proceeding are almost unequalled in the history of
rebellion-suppressing in modern times.

The hatred of the Revolution prolonged itself into hatred of Napoleon.
This last went beyond all reasonable bounds. Thackeray tells an
anecdote which gives an idea of its character. "I came," he writes,
"from India as a child, and our ship touched at an island on the way
home, where my black servant took me a long walk over rocks and hills
until we reached a garden, where we saw a man walking. 'That is he',
said the black man: 'That is Bonaparte! He eats three sheep every
day, and all the little children he can lay hands on.'" And Thackeray
adds: "There were people in the British dominions, besides that poor
Calcutta servingman, with an equal horror of the Corsican ogre." We
have it strong in Wordsworth's sonnets, Southey's poems, and in Scott's
notorious "Life of Napoleon." The wars with France inaugurated the
great British reaction--repeated suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act,
extension of the definitions of treason contained in the old statutes
of Edward III., encroachments on the right of public discussion and
petition, and also on the virtual liberty of the press. In Scotland,
more particularly, barbarous old statutes were revived, and highly
cultured men were banished as common convicts to the Australian penal
settlements. Those in power were not afraid, in addressing the English
republicans and advocates of equality, to talk of the absolute power of
the sovereign, and of the comparative insignificance of Parliament and
the representatives of the people. An all-powerful party was formed,
with the watchword: The King and the Church!

The King himself was insane, the Prince Regent worse than insane, and
the Church hypocritical. In 1812 came floods, a failure of the harvest,
and famine. Starvation drove crowds of the poor classes from their
homes, to wander aimlessly about the country. Expression is given to
their mood in Shelley's _Masque of Anarchy_. The workmen of Nottingham,
in their despair, broke into the lace-factories and destroyed the
frames. It was in defence of these men that Byron made his well-turned
maiden speech in Parliament.

We see from Romilly's Journal how impossible it was for the few
liberally inclined politicians to pass even the smallest measure of a
reformatory nature. Romilly was universally revered as the reformer of
the barbarous English penal code, but is best known nowadays as the
legal adviser of the Princess of Wales and of Lady Byron. In 1808 he
writes: "If any person be desirous of having an adequate idea of the
mischievous effects which have been produced in this country by the
French Revolution and all its attendant horrors, he should attempt some
legislative reform on humane and liberal principles. He will then find,
not only what a stupid dread of innovation, but what a savage spirit
it has infused into the minds of many of his countrymen." When Romilly
brought in a bill to repeal the Act of William III. which made death
the punishment for shop-lifting, Lord Ellenborough, actively supported
by Lord Eldon, opposed the bill, along with two others of a similar
nature, declaring that "they went to alter those laws which a century
had proved to be necessary, and which were now to be overturned by
speculation and modern philosophy." And it was not the Government alone
which appeared to be, as it were, possessed by the lust of hanging;
it was widely spread among the members of Parliament. Romilly tells
how one of the young members answered all his arguments and objections
with the one monotonous retort: "I am for hanging all." And yet one
would have imagined that in the nineteenth century the time had come
to put an end to that partiality for hanging which in England still
bore lamentable witness to the amount of savagery existing in the
national character. In the reign of Henry VIII, 72,000 thieves were
hanged, and under George III. they were still hanged by the dozen.
In 1817, a regular system of suppression of free-thought and liberty
of publication was evolved during the different prosecutions of the
old bookseller, William Hone, who, with a rare combination of honesty
and shrewdness, time after time defeated every attempt to convict him
of blasphemy. In 1819 occurred the Manchester riots, when a cavalry
charge was ordered, and the poor unarmed rioters were maltreated by
the soldiers. The impression produced by the events of the immediately
preceding years is preserved in Shelley's poems of the year 1819.

The political background of the intellectual life of this period is,
thus, undoubtedly a dark one--dark with the terror produced in the
middle classes by the excesses of the liberty movement in France, dark
with the tyrannic lusts of proud Tories and the Church's oppressions,
dark with the spilt blood of Irish Catholics and English artisans.
And on the pinnacle of society the crown is set on the insanity in
George the Third's head, and the sceptre is placed in the hands of the
careless lewdness which, in the person of the Prince Regent, occupies
the throne as proxy for the narrow-mindedness which had occupied it
in the person of his father. And it is this throne which Lord Eldon
supports with the six "gagging bills" into which he has transformed
England's ancient constitution--this throne which is lauded and
glorified in Castlereagh's ungrammatical, anti-liberal speeches, and
in Southey's unmelodious, highly-paid adulatory verse--until the
horrible, incredible scandals of George IV.'s divorce suit, spreading
like a great sewer from the tribunal of the Upper House, drown the
glory of the throne and the dignity of the court in a flood of mire,
and the revolutions of Spain, Greece, and South America, following on
each other without intermission, clear the air, and Castlereagh cuts
his throat ("slits a goose-quill," as Byron says), and England, under
Canning, recognises the South American republics, and paves the way for
the battle of Navarino.

The writings of Shelley, Landor, Byron, and Campbell, have political
equivalents in Canning's actions as minister. Indeed, Canning's
speeches complement these authors' works. Castlereagh's invertebrate
speeches and his dull, meagre official letters (the more meagre
because, as a good business man of the school of Metternich, he
preferred verbal communications) were at once succeeded by Canning's
frank and glowing eloquence. Castlereagh, like his surviving colleagues
of the ignominious Congress of Vienna, endeavoured, under the guise of
evangelic peace, to maintain silence and darkness in Europe; Canning's
speeches shone through the dark night of the Holy Alliance like a
forest conflagration. The great idea that inspired him was the belief
in the right of a people to free action. He died on the 8th of August
1827; but on the 10th of October of the same year was fought the battle
of Navarino, which was, as it were, the last will of the dead man, and
which to our generation is the political symbol of the awakening of the
new spirit in Europe.[3]

[1] Emerson: _English Traits_, chap. xiii.

[2] Massey: _History of England_, i 59, &c.

[3] Miss Martineau: _The History of England during the Thirty Years'
Peace_, I., II. Massey: _History of England during the Reign of George
III_, I-IV. Thackeray: _The Four Georges_. Reinhold Pauli: _Geschichte
Englands seit den Friedensschlüssen 1814 and 1815_. Emerson: _English



During the summer of 1797, the talk of the inhabitants of a village
on the coast of Somersetshire ran much on the subject of two young
men who had lately taken up their residence there, and were daily to
be seen walking together, absorbed in eager, endless discussions, in
which foreign words and foreign names, unintelligible to the natives,
were of frequent occurrence. The elder of the two was twenty-seven. The
expression of his face was profoundly serious, his manner dignified,
almost solemn; he was not unlike a young Methodist parson, and had a
monotonous and fatiguing voice. His companion, who was a year or two
younger, and whose words, accompanied by much violent gesture, flowed
in an unceasing stream, had a large round head (the shape of which
indicated remarkable gifts), flatfish features, and deep hazel eyes,
as full of confused depression as of inspiration. The whole figure
and air might be called flabby and irresolute, expressive of weakness
with a curious possibility of strength. The youth's voice was musical,
and his eloquence seemed to entrance even his reserved auditor and
friend. Who and what were these two young men, who desired acquaintance
with no one in the place or neighbourhood? This was the question the
inhabitants put to themselves. What could they be discussing so eagerly
but politics? and if so, what could they be but conspirators, possibly
Jacobins hatching treasonous plots?

The rumour soon spread that the elder of the two friends, Mr.
Wordsworth, had been in France at the beginning of the Revolution,
and had amply shared the enthusiasm of the day for social reform;
and that the younger, Mr. Coleridge, had distinguished himself as a
keen democrat and Unitarian, had written a drama called _The Fall
of Robespierre_, and two political pamphlets entitled _Conciones ad
populum_, and had even formed the plan of founding, with others holding
the same opinions, a socialistic community in the backwoods of America.
No further confirmation of the suspicions entertained was required.
A kind neighbour communicated with the authorities in London, and a
detective with a Bardolph nose promptly appeared on the scenes, and,
himself unobserved, followed the two gentlemen closely. Seeing them
with papers in their hands, he made no doubt that they were drawing
maps of the neighbourhood. He occasionally addressed them, and he hid
himself for hours at a time behind a sandbank at the seaside, which was
their favourite seat. According to Coleridge's account of the affair,
which is, however, not entirely to be relied on, he at first thought
that the two conspirators were aware of their danger, for he often
heard them talk of one Spy-nosy, which he was inclined to interpret as
a reference to himself; but he was speedily convinced that it was the
name of a man who had made a book and lived long ago. Their talk ran
most upon books, and they were perpetually desiring each other to look
at _this_ and to listen to _that_; but he could not catch a word about
politics, and ere long gave up the attempt and took himself off.

There was, as a matter of fact, nothing alarming to discover. The two
friends had long ago slept off their revolutionary intoxication, and
even with the Spinoza about whom they talked so much they had only a
second-hand acquaintance; they discussed him without understanding
him, much less assimilating him. Coleridge had made acquaintance with
Spinozism in the course of his study of Schilling's early works,
and he now initiated his friend, who was unlearned in philosophy,
into his newly-acquired wisdom. But the name of Spinoza was in these
conversations merely the symbol of a mystic worship of nature; Jacob
Böhme's was to be heard in peaceful conjunction with it. The matter
under consideration was not science, but poetry; and if, during these
long discussions, there was any mention of a revolution, it was a
purely literary and artistic revolution, with respect to which the two
friends, from very different starting-points, had arrived at remarkably
similar conclusions.

What was really accomplished in the course of these conversations was
nothing less than that _conscious_ literary rupture with the spirit of
the eighteenth century, which, assuming different forms in different
countries, took place at this time all over Europe.

Coleridge was of an inquiring nature. His antipathy to French Classical
powder and paint dated from his schooldays, when a teacher of
independent opinions had warned his intelligent pupil against harps,
lutes, and lyres in his compositions, demanding pen and ink instead;
had bid him beware of Muses, Pegasus, Parnassus, and Hippocrene in
poetry, affirming everything of the sort to be nothing but rococo
style and convention. Coleridge, therefore, refused the title of poet
to Pope and his successors, and swore by Bowies' sonnets. He decried
Pope in the same manner as Oehlenschläger's young friends in Denmark
soon afterwards decried Baggesen. His Germanic temperament made him
the born enemy of _esprit_, epigram, and points. It appeared to him
that the excellence of the school which had its origin in France had
nothing to do with poetry. "The excellence consisted in just and acute
observations on men and manners in an artificial state of society, as
its matter and substance; and in the logic of wit, conveyed in smooth
and strong epigrammatic couplets, as its form. Even when the subject
was purely fanciful the poet appealed to the intellect; nay, even in
the case of a consecutive narration, a _point_ was looked for at the
end of each second line, and the whole was, as it were, a chain of
epigrams." In other words, the compositions of this school consisted,
according to Coleridge, not of poetic thoughts, but of unpoetic
thoughts translated into a language which was, by convention, called
poetic. In the conception of the poem there was nothing fanciful; nay,
so little imagination did the author possess, that "it depended on the
compositor's putting or not putting _a small capital_, whether the
words should be personifications or mere abstracts." England's great
poets, Spenser for example, had been able to express the most fanciful
ideas in the purest, simplest of English; but these newer writers could
not express common, everyday thoughts except in such an extraordinarily
bad and fantastic style that it seemed as if Echo and Sphinx had laid
their heads together to produce it. Coleridge turned with aversion from
these attempts to conceal want of imagination under affectation of
style. He detested Odes to Jealousy, Hope, Forgetfulness, and all such
abstractions. They reminded him of an Oxford poem on the subject of
vaccination, which began: "Inoculation! heavenly maid, descend!" Even
in the best English poetry of a later day the bad habit of personifying
abstractions was too long adhered to. (Shelley, for example, presents
us with "the twins Error and Truth.") All these affectations appeared
to Coleridge to arise from the custom of writing Latin verses in the
public schools. The model style, according to him, was that which
expressed natural thoughts in natural language, "neither bookish
nor vulgar, neither redolent of the lamp nor of the kennel." The
old English ballads in Percy's collection, with their unadulterated
natural, popular tone, seemed to him excellent guides. He, too, would
fain write in such a tone.

It was at this stage that Coleridge was initiated into all Wordsworth's
ideas and projects. Wordsworth's was one of those natures which
find satisfaction and a sense of security in dogmatic and strongly
condemnatory verdicts. His idea of the whole of English poetry after
Milton was, that the nation, after producing that great man, had lost
the poetic power it, formerly possessed and had preserved only a form
of composition, so that poetry had come to mean the art of diction--the
poet being judged by the degree of mastery he had attained in that
art. Hence there had been an ever more marked departure in metrical
composition from the rules of prose. The poet's aim now must be to
retrace the path that had been taken, and produce verse which should
be distinguished only by its metrical form from the language of daily
life. Whilst Coleridge was all for natural melody, Wordsworth went the
length of demanding that poetry should be simply rhymed conversation.

And with this naturalistic conception of form was combined a similar
naturalistic conception of the subject matter of poetry. One of
Wordsworth's favourite assertions and one of the most bitter reproaches
he levelled at the prevailing literary taste was, that hardly one
original image or new description of nature had been introduced into
English verse in the age between Milton and Thomson. Himself endowed
with an extraordinary receptivity for all the phenomena of external
nature, he took the cry: "Nature! nature!" for his watchword--and by
nature he meant the country as opposed to the town. In town life men
forgot the earth on which they lived. They no longer really knew it;
they remembered the general appearance of fields and woods, but not
the details of the life of nature, not its varying play of smiling,
sober, glorious, and terrible scenes. Who nowadays could tell the names
of the various forest trees and meadow flowers? who knew the signs
of the weather--what the clouds say when they hurry so, what those
motions of the cattle mean, and why the mists roll down the hill?
Wordsworth had known all these signs from the time when he played as
a child among the Cumberland hills. He had a familiar acquaintance
with all the varieties of English nature, at all seasons of the year;
he was constituted to reproduce what he saw and felt, and to meditate
profoundly over it before he reproduced it--was fitted to carry out,
with full consciousness of what he was undertaking, the reformation of
poetry which had been begun by poor Chatterton, "the sleepless soul,"
and by the peasant Burns, a much more gifted poet than himself. Though
he was but one of the numerous exponents of that love of nature which
at the beginning of the century spread like a wave over Europe, he had
a stronger, more profound consciousness than any man in the United
Kingdom of the fact that a new poetic spirit was abroad in England.

The friends agreed that there were three distinct periods of English
poetry--the period of poetic youth and strength, from Chaucer to
Dryden; the period of poetic barrenness, from (and including) Dryden
to the end of the eighteenth century; and the period of regeneration,
which was now beginning with themselves, after being heralded by their
predecessors. Like the men of the new era in Germany and Denmark, these
young Englishmen sought for imposing terms to express the difference
between themselves and those whom they attacked; and the terms they
found were exactly the same as those adopted by their Continental
contemporaries. They credited themselves with _imagination_--in other
words, with the true creative gift, and wrote page upon page of vague
eulogy of it as opposed to _fancy_; exactly as Oehlenschläger and his
school eulogised imagination and allowed Baggesen at best only humour.
They themselves were distinguished by _reason_, their predecessors
had only had _understanding_; they had genius, their predecessors had
only had talent; they were creators, their predecessors had only been
critics. Even an Aristotle, not being a poet, could lay claim to no
more than talent. In England, too, Noureddin[1] was belittled; the new
men were conscious of the infinite superiority of their methods to his
"un-natural" procedure.

[1] A character in the Danish poet Oehlenschläger's play, _Aladdin_,
who represents talent as opposed to genius, which is embodied in



Wordworth's real point of departure, then, was the conviction that in
town life and its distractions men had forgotten nature, and that they
had been punished for it; constant social intercourse had dissipated
their energy and talents and impaired the susceptibility of their
hearts to simple and pure impressions. Amongst his hundreds of sonnets
there is one which is peculiarly eloquent of this fundamental idea. It
is the well-known:--

    "The World is too much with us; late and soon,
     Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
     Little we see in Nature that is ours;
     We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
     This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
     The winds that will be howling at all hours
     And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers,
     For this, for everything we are out of tune;
     It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
     A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,--
     So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
     Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
     Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
     Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn."

These are remarkable words to have come from Wordsworth's
pen--remarkable, because they show what all sincere naturalism really
is, let it be decked with as many theistic trappings as it will. In its
inmost essence it is akin to the old Greek conception of nature, and
antagonistic to all the official creeds of modern days; it is vitally
impregnated with the pantheism which reappears in this century as the
dominating element in the feeling for nature in every literature. In
a preceding volume of this work (_The Romantic School in Germany_) we
made acquaintance with the pantheism which lay concealed under Tieck's
Romantic view of nature. Now we come upon it in the form of the human
being's self-forgetful and half unconscious amalgamation with nature,
as a single tone in the great harmony of the universe. This idea has
found expression in a curious little poem:--

    "A slumber did my spirit seal;
     I had no human fears:
     She seem'd a thing that could not feel
     The touch of earthly years.

     No motion has she now, no force;
     She neither hears nor sees;
     Roll'd round in earth's diurnal course
     With rocks, and stones, and trees."

If we transport ourselves into the mood which gave birth to such
a poem as this, we are conscious that it is the outcome of purely
pantheistic ideas; unconscious life is regarded as the basis and source
of conscious life, and every earthly being is conceived of as having
lain in nature's womb, an inseparable part of her until the moment when
consciousness began. One of the germs of the poetry of the new century
lies in this little poem; for here, in place of the cultivated human
being as developed and extolled by the eighteenth century, we have the
human being as seen by the new era in the circle of his kin--birds
and wild beasts, plants and stones. Christianity commanded men to
love their fellow-men; pantheism bade them love the meanest animal.
_Hart-Leap Well_, undoubtedly one of Wordsworth's finest poems, a
simple little romance in two parts, is a movingly eloquent plea for a
poor, ill-used animal, a hunted stag--that is to say, a creature in
whom the classical poets would have been interested only in the shape
of venison, and belonging to the species which the admirers of the age
of chivalry, including Scott himself, would have allowed their heroes
to kill by the hundred. Deeply affecting, in spite of the comparative
insignificance of its subject, grandly simple in its style, the little
poem is a noble evidence of the heartfelt _piety_ towards nature which
is Wordsworth's patent of nobility.

This piety in his case consists mainly in reverence for the childlike,
and for the child. And this same reverence for the human being who
in his unconsciousness is nearest to nature, is another of the
characteristic features of the new century. In a little poem with which
Wordsworth himself introduces all the rest, he writes:--

    "My heart leaps up when I behold
        A rainbow in the sky:
     So was it when my life began,
     So is it now I am a man,
     So be it when I shall grow old,
        Or let me die!
     The Child is father of the Man:
     And I could wish my days to be
     Bound each to each by natural piety."

Here we have reverence for the child developed to such an extent that
it supplants reverence for age. But this conferring of his natural
poetic rights on the child is, as the history of every country shows
us, only one of the many signs of the reaction against the eighteenth
century's worship of the enlightened, social human being, and its
banishment of the child to the nursery. Wordsworth carries the reaction
inaugurated by the nineteenth century to its logical conclusion. In
one of his sonnets he describes a walk which he takes on a beautiful
evening with a little girl. After describing the tranquil evening mood--

    "The holy time is quiet as a nun
     Breathless with adoration;"

he turns to the child beside him, and says:

    "Dear child! dear girl! that walkest with me here,
     If thou appear untouched by solemn thought
     Thy nature is not therefore less _divine_;
     Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year,
     And worship'st at the Temple's _inner shrine_,
     God being with thee when we know it not."

The pious ending is inevitable with Wordsworth; but, as any intelligent
reader may see for himself, it is only tacked on to the main idea, that
of the child's own divine nature. In his famous _Ode on Intimations of
Immortality_ Wordsworth develops this idea with a fervour of enthusiasm
which carried him too great a length for even such a devotee of naïveté
as Coleridge. A child of six he apostrophises thus:--

    "Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
             Thy soul's immensity;
     Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep
     Thy heritage; thou eye among the blind.
     That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,
     Haunted for ever by the eternal Mind,--
             Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
             On whom those truths do rest
     Which we are toiling all our lives to find."

These assertions are, doubtless, explained away in a
poetico-philosophical manner by the subsequent attribution of the
child's greatness to the fact that it stands nearer than we do to
the life before birth, and, consequently, to the "intimations of
immortality"; but even this is not to be taken as Wordsworth's literal
meaning, if we are to believe an assertion of Coleridge's which
remained uncontradicted by the author. The child is revered as earth's
"foster-child," and

    "The Youth, who daily farther from the east
           Must travel, still is Nature's priest."

In numerous poems Wordsworth refers to the strong impression made upon
him as a youth by the pageantry of nature. In one of them, to which,
according to his frequent custom, he gave a prolix title, _Influence
of Natural Objects in Calling Forth and Strengthening the Imagination
in Boyhood and Early Youth_, he thanks the Spirit of the Universe for
having from the first dawn of his childhood intertwined for him

    "The passions that build up our human soul;
      Not with the mean and vulgar works of man,--
       But with high objects, with enduring things,
     With life and nature, purifying thus
      The elements of feeling and of thought
      . . . . . . . . until we recognise
      A grandeur in the beatings of the heart."

Observe the vivid, delicate perception of nature in the following

    "Nor was this fellowship vouchsafed to me
     With stinted kindness. In November days,
     When vapours rolling down the valleys made
     A lonely scene more lonesome; among woods
     At noon; and 'mid the calm of summer nights,
     When, by the margin of the trembling lake,
     Beneath the gloomy hills, I homeward went
     In solitude, such intercourse was mine:
     Mine was it in the fields both day and night,
     And by the waters, all the summer long;
     And in the frosty season, when the sun
     Was set, and visible for many a mile,
     The cottage windows through the twilight blazed,
     I heeded not the summons:--happy time
     It was indeed for all of us; for me
     It was a time of rapture!--Clear and loud
     The village clock tolled six--I wheeled about,
     Proud and exulting like an untired horse
     That cares not for his home.--All shod with steel
     We hissed along the polished ice, in games
     Confederate, imitative of the chase
     And woodland pleasures,--the resounding horn,
     The pack loud-chiming, and the hunted hare.
     So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
     And not a voice was idle: with the din
     Smitten, the precipices rang aloud;
     The leafless trees and every icy crag
     Tinkled like iron; while the distant hills
     Into the tumult sent an alien sound
     Of melancholy, not unnoticed, while the stars,
     Eastward, were sparkling clear, and in the west
     The orange sky of evening died away.

     Not seldom from the uproar I retired
     Into a silent bay,--or sportively
     Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,
     To cut across the reflex of a star,
     Image, that, flying still before me, gleamed
     Upon the glassy plain: and oftentimes,
     When we had given our bodies to the wind,
     And all the shadowy banks on either side
     Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still
     The rapid line of motion, then at once
     Have I, reclining back upon my heels
     Stopped short; yet still the solitary cliffs
     Wheeled by me--even as if the earth had rolled
     With visible motion her diurnal round!
     Behind me did they stretch in solemn train,
     Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watched
     Till all was tranquil as a summer sea."

This is a picture of nature which it would be difficult to match in
later English poetry.

In one of his most beautiful and profound poems, _Lines Composed a few
Miles above Tintern Abbey_, Wordsworth has described his own feeling
for nature in expressions which he declared that he recognised again in
the most famous and most poetical passages of Byron's _Childe Harold_,
and which, in any case, were indisputably epoch-making in English
poetical art. He writes:--

                               "For nature then
        (The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
        And their glad animal movements all gone by)
        To me was all in all.--I cannot paint
        What then I was. The sounding cataract
        Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
        The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
        Their colours and their forms, were then to me
        An appetite: a feeling and a love,
        That had no need of a remoter charm,
        By thought supplied, nor any interest
        Unborrowed from the eye."

Granted that it was very absurd of Wordsworth to talk (to Moore
in 1820) of Byron's plagiarisms from him, and to declare that the
whole Third Canto of _Childe Harold_ was founded on his style and
sentiments--and granted that Lord John Russell is right when he remarks
drily in this connection that if Wordsworth wrote the Third Canto of
_Childe Harold_, it is his best work--it is, nevertheless, easy to
understand that Wordsworth could not but feel as if, in the chief
passages in that canto, and the celebrated passages about solitude in
the earlier cantos, what was naturally expressed by him had been worked
by Byron into a laboured and antithetical sort of declamation.[1] It
is not difficult to discern, in these outbursts, the wounded vanity
of a narrow mind which felt itself eclipsed; but it cannot be denied
that it really was Wordsworth who first struck the chord which Byron
varied with such skill, nor that single striking and vivid lines of
Wordsworth's had impressed themselves on Byron's memory. Who can read,
for example, the following lines of _Childe Harold_ (Canto iii. 72):--

[1] See Thomas Moore: _Memoirs_, iii. 161.

    "I live not in myself; but I become
     Portion of that around me; and to me
     High mountains are a feeling,"

without thinking of Wordsworth's verses just quoted? And who can deny
that Byron, as it were, adopted Wordsworth's idea, and added thoughts
of his own to it when he wrote (_Childe Harold_, iii. 75):--

    "Are not the mountains, waves, and skies, a part
     Of me and of my soul, as I of them?
     Is not the love of these deep in my heart
     With a pure passion? should I not contemn
     All objects, if compared with these?"

Wordsworth, in _Tintern Abbey_, describes his passion for nature as
something past, as something which only lasted for a moment during
an age of transition, and very soon turned into reflection and
questioning; but Byron's passion is a permanent feeling, the expression
of his nature. In his case the Ego in its relations with nature is not
forced into the strait-jacket of orthodox piety; no obstruction of
dogma is set up between nature and him; in his mystical worship of it
he feels himself one with it, and this without the help of any _deus ex

Passion is not the special characteristic of Wordsworth's attitude to
nature. The distinguishing quality in his perception and reproduction
of natural impressions is of a more delicate and complex kind. The
impression, although it is received by healthy, vigorously perceptive
senses, is modified and subdued by pondering over it. It does not
directly attune the poet to song. If Wordsworth can say, with Goethe:
"I sing like the bird that sits on the bough," it is, at any rate, not
like the nightingale that he sings; his is not the love-song which
streams forth, rich and full, telling of the intoxication of the soul
and breaking and mocking at the silence of the night. He himself, after
describing the song of the nightingale in similar terms to these, adds
(_Poems of Imagination_, x.):--

    "I heard a stock-dove sing or say
     His homely tale this very day;
     His voice was buried among trees,
     Yet to be come at by the breeze;
     He did not cease; but cooed--and cooed;
     And somewhat pensively he wooed:
     He sang of love with quiet blending,
     Slow to begin, and never ending;
     Of serious faith and inward glee;
     That was the song--the song for me!"

It was himself that Wordsworth tried to paint in describing the
pensive, serious wooer. According to the custom of so many poets, he
attempted to formulate his methods into a theory and to prove that all
good poetry must possess the qualities of his own. All good poetry
is, he says, "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. But
poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any
variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than
usual organic sensibility, had also _thought long and deeply_." This
theory he supports by the argument that a "our continued influxes of
feeling are directed and modified by our thoughts, which are indeed the
representatives of all our past feelings"--a profound and striking,
if not scientifically satisfactory utterance, as well as an excellent
characterisation of his own poetic thought and deliberation.

His method consists, exactly defined, in storing up natural
impressions, in order to dwell on and thoroughly assimilate them. Later
they are brought forth from the soul's store-house and gazed on and
enjoyed again. To understand this peculiarity of Wordsworth's is to
have the key to his originality. In _Tintern Abbey_ he tells how the
direct, passionate joy in the beauties of nature which he felt in his
youth turned, in his riper years, into this quiet assimilation of the
human-like moods of nature:--

                         "That time is past,
    And all its aching joys are now no more,
    And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
    Faint I, nor mourn, nor murmur; other gifts
    Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
    Abundant recompense. For I have learned
    To look on nature, not as in the hour
    Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
    The still, sad music of humanity.
    Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
    To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
    A presence that disturbs me with the joy
    Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
    Of something far more deeply interfused,
    Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
    And the round ocean, and the living air,
    And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
    A motion and a spirit, that impels
    All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
    And rolls through all things."

In this passage Wordsworth has delimited his territory, has poetically
yet plainly indicated his special province. What a contrast to Byron,
who seldom or never heard the human voice in nature, and certainly
never except in harsh and grating tones--the man who in _Childe Harold_
actually calls human life "a false nature--not in the harmony of

But we have not yet come to the most remarkable lines in _Tintern
Abbey_, namely those in which Wordsworth describes the silent influence
on the mind of the hoarded, carefully preserved impressions of nature.
He writes:--

                  "These beauteous forms,
    Through a long absence, have not been to me
    As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
    But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
    Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
    In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
    Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
    And passing even into my purer mind,
    With tranquil restoration:--feelings, too,
    Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
    As have no slight or trivial influence
    On that best portion of a good man's life,
    His little, nameless, unremembered acts
    Of kindness and of love."

And he asserts that he is indebted to the influence of nature for yet
another gift,

    "Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood
     In which the burthen of the mystery,
     In which the heavy and the weary weight
     Of all this unintelligible world
     Is lightened";

and his train of thought reaches its conclusion in the feeling of
assurance that this happiness produced in him by the sight of the
familiar places is not mere momentary pleasure, but _life and food for
future years_.

Again and again this last idea recurs in Wordsworth's poetry. We have
it very marked, for instance, in No. xv. of the _Poems of Imagination_,
in which he tells of the impression produced on him, during a lonely
walk, by the sudden sight of "a host of golden daffodils,"

    "Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
     Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
     What wealth the show to me had brought.

     For oft when on my couch I lie
     In vacant or in pensive mood,
     They flash upon that inward eye
     Which is the bliss of solitude,
     And then my heart with pleasure fills,
     And dances with the daffodils."

Nothing could be more unlike the lyric poet's usual habit of living in
the present, than this lyric poet's conscious saving of the present for
future use. He himself tells us that he is of a saving disposition;
he collects a winter store of bright summer moments; and there is in
this something genuinely human, which is too often overlooked. But
there is, above all, something national in it; it is not surprising
that _English_ Naturalism should begin by carefully and economically
providing itself with a store, a capital, of impressions of nature.

We are all familiar with the feelings that might lead to the attempt.
Many of us, gazing on the boundless blue ocean, sparkling in the
sunlight, have felt that to have this sight before our eyes every day
would widen the soul and cleanse it of all its little meannesses;
and we have turned away unwillingly and with the conscious desire to
preserve the impression so as to be able to renew its effect. Or with
beautiful landscapes before our eyes, especially those which we have
seen in the course of travel, with the certainty of not being able
to enjoy their beauty soon again, we have tried to be as passive as
possible, so as to allow the picture to impress itself firmly on our
memory. And we have often instinctively recalled the beautiful scene
to mind; for the soul involuntarily calls up bright memories to draw
strength and courage from them. But in us such impressions have been
almost effaced by stronger ones. We have not been able to preserve
them efficaciously for the future, or to ruminate over them again and
again. The preoccupations of society and of our own passions have made
it impossible for us to find our deepest and most inspiring joy in
memories of sunlight falling upon flowers, or of entwisted giant trees.
But the soul of the English poet, whose mission it was to re-awaken
the feeling for all these elementary moods and impressions, was of a
different stamp; unagitated by any practical activity, it vegetated
in these day-dreams of natural beauty. And it is undeniable that this
constant occupation of himself with the simplest natural impressions,
kept his soul pure and free to perceive and to feel beauty in its
simple, earthly manifestations, without fancifulness and without

How rare is this capacity! how often wanting in the very greatest
and best minds! And how quickly was it lost again in English poetry!
It displays itself most exquisitely and completely in the few
lightly-sketched female figures of the short poems. The heroes and
heroines of the narrative poems, some of them portrayed with the design
of arousing sympathy with the rural population and the lowest classes,
others with the intention of edifying, are of distinctly inferior
quality. But these few delicately-drawn figures, seen with the same
tranquil and yet loving eyes with which Wordsworth looked at trees and
birds, are nature itself. They are the English feminine nature; and
never have the essential qualities of this nature been more exactly
expressed. Take as an example of what I mean, the following little

    "She was a phantom of delight
     When first she gleamed upon my sight;
     A lovely apparition, sent
     To be a moment's ornament;
     Her eyes as stars of twilight fair;
     Like twilight's too, her dusky hair:
     But all things else about her drawn
     From May-time and the cheerful dawn;
     A dancing shape, an image gay,
     To haunt, to startle, and waylay.

     I saw her upon nearer view,
     A spirit, yet a woman too!
     Her household motions light and free,
     And steps of virgin liberty;
     A countenance in which did meet
     Sweet records, promises as sweet;
     A creature not too bright or good
     For human nature's daily food;
     For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
     Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.

     And now I see with eye serene
     The very pulse of the machine;
     A being breathing thoughtful breath,
     A traveller between life and death;
     The reason firm, the temperate will,
     Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
     A perfect woman, nobly planned,
     To warn, to comfort, and command;
     And yet a spirit still, and bright
     With something of angelic light."

This is a genuine, faithful portrait of the pattern English woman; and
to compare this sober, truthful description with the ideal women whom
the greatest English poets a few years later found satisfaction in
depicting, is to prepare an easy victory for Wordsworth. Take Shelley's
description, in _The Sensitive Plant_, of the ethereal protectress of
flowers and insects. The picture of the fairy-like beauty is charming,
as everything is that comes from Shelley's pen; her tenderness for the
plants and her touching compassion for all the small, ugly, despised
animals, "the poor banished insects, whose intent, although they did
ill, was innocent," are genuine human traits; and yet she is not a real
human being, any more than the Witch of Atlas is, or the dim heroine
of _Epipsychidion_. Shelley, like the lark he sang of, was a "scorner
of the ground." Or take the passionate Oriental heroines of Byron's
earliest poetic narratives--Medora, Gulnare, Kaled. They never attain
to the beautiful simplicity of this woman described by Wordsworth.
Their passionateness is the principal quality impressed upon us; their
love, their devotion, their determination know no bounds. They are
heroines invented for readers in whom the numbing life of crowded
London and the constant occupation with contemporary great historical
events, have induced a kind of nervous craving for the strongest
intellectual stimulants. But from the very beginning Wordsworth
regarded it as a pleasant and profitable task to show how profoundly
men's minds may be moved without the employment of coarse or violent
stimulants. He knew that those who were accustomed to striking effects
would be unlikely at first to appreciate works the distinguishing
feature of which was their soft and natural colouring; but he resolved
that he would turn the reader's expectations in the matter of the
agencies of a poem back into the natural track.



It is impossible thoroughly to understand Wordsworth's poetic strength
and limitations without a glance at his life. We discover it to have
been an unusually idyllic and comfortable one. Belonging to the
well-to-do middle class (his father was an attorney), he studied at
Cambridge and then travelled. In 1795, not long after his return from
abroad, he received a legacy of £900 from an admirer of his genius,
which, added to his share of a debt of £8500 due to his father by an
English nobleman, and paid to the family about this time, placed him
in a position to live without taking up any profession. In 1802 he
married; in 1813 he settled at Rydal Mount in the Lake district. He
held the appointment of Distributor of Stamps, which was practically a
sinecure, from 1813 to 1842, when he resigned in favour of one of his
sons. The salary of this appointment was £500. In 1843 he succeeded
Southey as Poet Laureate, and as such enjoyed a pension of £300 a year
till his death, which occurred in 1850, when he had just completed his
eightieth year. Sheltered on every side from the outward vicissitudes
of life, he regarded them from a Protestant-philosophical point of view.

A career such as this was not calculated to stir the passions; nor
is passion discoverable either in Wordsworth's life or his poetry.
In the lives of most eminent authors we find some preponderant
circumstance, one or more turning-points, one or other ostensible
source of melancholy, or of strength of character, or of productivity;
in Wordsworth's nothing of the kind is to be found. No congenital
misfortune crippled him, no implacably violent animosity goaded him
and set its mark on his spirit. The critics did not spare him with
mockery and contempt, and they continued their attacks for a long time.
From 1800 to 1820 his poetry was trodden underfoot; from 1820 to 1830
it struggled; after 1830 it received universal recognition. But the
animosity was not stupid and violent enough, the struggle was not hot
enough, the victory not brilliant enough, to give colour and lustre to
his career, or to make it a subject of song. His inmost, personal life
was never so intense that it could absorb his poetry or provide it with
subjects. On the contrary, it led him to look outwards. The wars on
the Continent, the natural surroundings of his home, and the little,
insignificant set of human beings amongst whom he lived, engrossed his
thoughts. He was not, like Byron, too much absorbed in his own affairs
to have tranquillity of mind to dwell upon the small things and the
small people whom he exhibits and describes with tender sympathy.

He undoubtedly felt himself the centre of his world. From his retired,
idyllic home there issued from time to time collections of short poems
or single long ones, provided with explanatory prefaces which, piling
example on example, demonstrated to the reader that all great poets
have been misunderstood or despised by their contemporaries; that every
author, in so far as he is great and at the same time original, is
obliged to create the taste by means of which his works can be enjoyed.
His predecessors have, no doubt, smoothed the way for all that he has
in common with them; but for what is peculiarly his own he is in the
condition of Hannibal among the Alps. (Preface of 1815.)

Wordsworth was well aware that no intellectual pioneer can expect
complete recognition from any but his younger contemporaries. But
the criticism meted out to him, which was not aggressive enough to
rouse in him a recklessly bellicose spirit like Byron's, made him
self-absorbed and arrogant. The one variety in his daily life was
provided by occasional visits from admirers who were making a tour
in the neighbourhood and had letters of introduction to him. These
strangers he received surrounded by his admiring family; he conversed
with them in a cold and dignified manner, and not unfrequently repelled
them by the egotism with which he quoted and praised his own works, the
indifference he manifested to everything else, the rigour with which
he insisted on every outward sign of respect being shown him, and the
solemnity with which he repeated even the most insignificant things
that had been said in his praise.

A number of anecdotes illustrating his egotism have been preserved.
Thomas Moore (_Memoirs_, iii. 163) tells how one day, in a large
party, Wordsworth, without anything having been previously said to
introduce the subject, called out suddenly from the top of the table to
the bottom: "Davy, do you know the reason why I published the 'White
Doe' in quarto?" "No, what was it?" "To show the world my opinion of
it." He never read any works aloud but his own. At the time when _Rob
Roy_, which has a motto taken from one of his poems, was published,
he happened to be visiting a family who received the book the day it
came out. They were all looking forward with eagerness to the new
tale. Wordsworth seized the book, and every one expected him to read
the first chapters aloud; but instead of doing this, he went to the
bookcase, took out a volume of his own poetry, and read his poem aloud
to the company.

We have Emerson's notes written immediately after two different visits
to Wordsworth, paid with a year's interval. After the second, he
writes: "He was nationally bitter on the French: bitter on Scotchmen
too. No Scotchman, he said, can write English.... His opinions of
French, English, Irish, and Scotch seemed rashly formalised from little
anecdotes of what had befallen himself and members of his family, in
a diligence or stage-coach." After his first visit (in 1833) Emerson
writes: "He had much to say of America, the more that it gave occasion
for his favourite topic--that society is being enlightened by a
superficial tuition, out of all proportion to its being restrained
by moral culture. Schools do no good. Tuition is not education....
He wished to impress on me and all good Americans to cultivate the
moral, the conservative, &c.... He proceeded to abuse Goethe's _Wilhelm
Meister_ heartily. It was full of all manner of fornication. It was
like the crossing of flies in the air. He had never gone farther than
the first part; so disgusted was he that he threw the book across
the room.... He cited his sonnet 'On the Feelings of a High-minded
Spaniard' which he preferred to any other (I so understood him),
and 'The Two Voices'; and quoted, with evident pleasure, the verses
addressed to the Skylark." These jottings give us an excellent idea of
what Wordsworth was in ordinary intercourse: the contemptuous verdicts
passed on all foreign races, the objection to modern civilisation (the
same which the Mohammedans in Asia and Africa prefer against it to
this day) that it is compatible with great immorality; the eulogy on
conventional morality as the society-preserving element (true morality
being the most radical element in existence), the displeasure with
Goethe (which reminds us of Novalis), and the recital of his own verses
as finale!

Emerson sums up his impressions in the following words: "His face
sometimes lighted up, but his conversation was not marked by special
force or elevation.... He honoured himself by his simple adherence to
truth, and was very willing not to shine; but he surprised by the hard
limits of his thought. To judge from a single conversation, he made the
impression of a narrow and very English mind; of one who paid for his
rare elevation by general tameness and conformity."

In 1843 Wordsworth and Dickens met for the first time. Wordsworth had
a great contempt for all young men, and the mutual friend at whose
house the meeting took place was, consequently, curious to learn his
impression of the great humorist. "After pursing up his lips in a
fashion peculiar to him, and swinging one leg over the other, the
bare flesh of his ankles appearing over his socks, Wordsworth slowly
answered, 'Why, I am not much given to turn critic on people I meet;
but, as you ask me, I will candidly avow that I thought him a very
talkative, vulgar young person--but I dare say he may be very clever.
Mind, I don't want to say a word against him, for I have never read a
line he has written." Some time after this the same querist guardedly
asked Dickens how he had liked the Poet Laureate? "Like him? Not at
all. He is a dreadful old ass."[1]

The reader will naturally refuse to subscribe to so sweeping a
judgment. But so much is certain, that in private intercourse there
must have been something extremely irritating about Wordsworth. A
contemporary declares that when he spoke he blew like a whale, and
uttered truisms in an oracular tone. The word "truism" is applicable
to more than his verbal utterances; it applies to the whole reflective
and didactic side of his poetry. In it there is no remarkable force or
passion, but a Hamlet-like dwelling upon the great questions of "to be
or not to be." "Birth, death, the future, the sufferings and misdeeds
of man in this life, and his hopes of a life to come; the littleness
of us and our whole sphere of knowledge, and the awful relations in
which we stand to a world of the supernatural--these, if any," says
Masson, "are the permanent and inevitable objects of all human, as they
were peculiarly of Wordsworth's, contemplation and solicitude."[2] But
these ideas, lying, as they do, rather at the circumference of the
sphere of our knowledge than within it, unfortunately tempt us into
certain ancient and well-worn tracks of thought that lead nowhere;
they go round in a ring, and we can follow them with a tranquil and
dignified melancholy, but without much benefit either to ourselves or
others. The fact that Wordsworth is perpetually finding his way to this
said circumference of the sphere of our knowledge, which adherents of
the so-called revealed religions regard as the natural centre of our
thoughts, has contributed more than anything else to prevent his fame,
great as it is in England, from spreading to any considerable extent in
other countries.

When Coleridge made Wordsworth's personal acquaintance, the latter
had already written enough to show plainly what was the nature of his
originality. What struck Coleridge in Wordsworth's poetry "was the
union of deep feeling with profound thought; the fine balance of truth
in observing, with the imaginative faculty in modifying the objects
observed; and, above all, the original gift of spreading the tone, the
atmosphere of the ideal world around forms, incidents, and situations
of which, for the common view, custom had bedimmed all the lustre."

Wordsworth and Coleridge's first conversations turned upon what to them
appeared the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the
sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature,
and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying
colours of imagination. The sudden charm which accidents of light and
shade, which moonlight or sunset, diffuse over a known and familiar
landscape, appeared to represent the practicability of combining both.
These are the poetry of nature, and these were to be reproduced. It was
not simply nature that was to be imitated, but the poetry of nature.

The thought suggested itself that a series of poems might be composed
of two sorts. In the one the incidents and agents were to be, in part
at least, supernatural, and the excellence aimed at was to consist
in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such
emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them
real. And real in this sense they have been to every human being who,
from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself
to be under supernatural agency. The execution of this part of the
undertaking fell to Coleridge's share, and there can be no doubt
whatever that the successful accomplishment of it was due to him. Any
one at all well acquainted with European literature sees at once how
closely related this task is to those which German Romanticism set
itself and accomplished. The only thing peculiarly English is, that the
emphasis is not laid upon the supernatural and fantastic, but upon the
realistic element, so that Romanticism in this case becomes simply one
of the forms of Naturalism.

In the poems of the other sort the themes were to be chosen from real
life. But Wordsworth, to whose share this division fell, resolved to
communicate to the commonest and most natural events an unusual, new,
almost supernatural colour by awakening the mind from the slumber of
custom, and forcing it to direct its attention to the beauty and the
marvels which the natural world is constantly offering to heedless
man. He made the attempt for the first time in the _Lyrical Ballads_,
which in the preface are designated an "Experiment"--an experiment
intended to prove the possibility of making themes unsuited to ornate
representation attractive, even when presented to the reader in the
language of real life--and he repeated it in hundreds of poems of
extremely varied quality, whose heroes and heroines all belong to the
lower and lowest classes, have followed rural avocations from their
youth, and are represented on a background of rural life.

In Danish literature there is no series of poems of this description;
but the careful student of Wordsworth will every now and then be
reminded, by the form given to a poetic anecdote or by the tone of
the narrator, of (the Swedish poet) Runeberg's _Fänrik Stål_. There
is occasionally even a resemblance of rhythm and metre. It would
be interesting to know if Runeberg had any acquaintance with the
works of the English poet. Possibly the whole faint resemblance is
due to the fact that the incidents in the poems of both writers all
occur in one small district--the neighbourhood of the English, and
the neighbourhood of the Finnish Lakes. The difference is far more
striking than the resemblance. In Runeberg we have a warlike background
and mood, a fiery lyric style, patriotic ardour; in Wordsworth,
stagnant, rurally peaceful life, an epic attitude, and a purely local
patriotism--attachment to the life and history of a couple of parishes.
Runeberg's is a soldier's feeling for the army; Wordsworth's, a parish
priest's for his flock.

_Resolution and Independence_, one of Wordsworth's most characteristic,
though certainly not one of his best poems, is a good example of his
capacity and manner of casting over the most everyday incidents and
phenomena a tinge of almost supernatural colour. The poet describes his
walk on a summer morning--the glistening of the dew, the song of the
birds, the fleet racing of the hare across the moor. Then it occurs to
him that he himself has lived as thoughtlessly as the beasts of the
field and the birds of the air, and that such a life is only too likely
one day to bring its own punishment. He calls to mind how many great
poets have ended in misery, and the most prosaic fears for the future
depress him. Then suddenly, in that lonely place, he comes upon an old

    "The oldest man he seemed that ever wore grey hairs.

     As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie
     Couched on the bald top of an eminence;
     Wonder to all who do the same espy,
     By what means it could thither come and whence;
     So that it seems a thing endued with sense:
     Like a sea-beast crawled forth, that on a shelf
     Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself;

     Such seemed this man, not all alive nor dead,
     Nor all asleep--in his extreme old age:
     His body was bent double, feet and head
     Coming together in life's pilgrimage;
     As if some dire constraint of pain, or rage
     Of sickness felt by him in times long past,
     A more than human weight upon his frame had cast.
           . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Motionless as a cloud the old man stood,
     That heareth not the loud winds when they call;
     And moveth all together, if it move at all."

How clever the double simile is, and what a feeling of mystery it
produces! The old man is like the gigantic stone on the top of the
hill; and the stone in its turn resembles some sea-beast which must
have crawled up there. The impression of great age is most forcibly
produced. This old man seems the oldest man that has ever lived. If we
were in Germany or any other territory of Romanticism, we should not be
surprised to learn that we had the shoemaker of Jerusalem before us.
But we are in England, and our guide is Wordsworth; and the old man
turns out to be a most ordinary human being, by trade a leech-gatherer,
an occupation suited to the capacity of the frail old inhabitants of a
marshy district. The old man's confident, piously resigned words, his
tranquillity of mind even in extreme loneliness and poverty, allay the
young man's fears for the future; and he resolves, whenever such fears
beset him, to think of the leech-gatherer on the lonely moor. "This
is not ode-flight," as Ewald[3] remarks somewhere or other; but it is
a good specimen of Wordsworth's power of giving a certain imprint of
fantasy and grandeur to the most everyday, most realistic material by
his manner of treating it.

The attempt to exercise this capacity has, in not a few of Wordsworth's
poems, resulted in caricature. It has always done so when he has tried
to produce a mystically religious or terrifying effect by endowing
some simply painful or odd incident with the so-called supernatural
quality. We can call it nothing but childish when, in the poem entitled
_The Thorn_, the narrator (whose position in life is not indicated,
but whom Wordsworth himself told Coleridge he had imagined as an old
ship captain, almost in his dotage) tells in the strain of horror with
which one relates a ghost story, the tale of the poor mad woman who
sits at night in a scarlet cloak, weeping and wailing, under the thorn
tree. And _Peter Bell_, the poem which Wordsworth presented to the
public with such a flourish of trumpets, but which, had it not been for
Shelley's satire of the same name, would have been forgotten by this
time, produces the effect of a parody. It tells of the terror induced
in a coarse, cruel man by the supernatural fortitude with which a poor
ass bears the most terrible blows rather than move--a terror which, in
combination with the excited imaginings due to the darkness, brings
about a complete change in the man. Time showed the reason of the ass's
fortitude to have been its desire to draw attention to the fact that
its master had fallen into the river at the spot where it was standing.
We have here a striking contrast--the moral greatness of the brute and
the brutish stupidity of the man--and Wordsworth, who had no sense of
the comic, did not fail to enlarge on the subject.

And that he does so is not a mere accident, but a characteristic
trait. The new school, with its dislike of the brilliant and its love
of the simple and plain, felt a real attraction towards asses, these
obstinate, patient, and peculiarly misunderstood children of nature,
which are always outshone by less contented animals. Coleridge,
in his poem, _To a Young Ass--its mother being tethered near it_,
allowed himself to be carried away by his enthusiasm to the extent
of exclaiming: "I hail thee Brother!" and declaring that if it were
granted him in a better and more equitably ordered state of society to
provide peaceful pasture for this ass, its joyful bray would sound more
melodious in his ears than the sweetest music. It is not surprising
that the scoffer Byron promptly made merry over this fraternal greeting
in his first satire, _English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_. But in
Coleridge this extreme Naturalism did not go deep; he himself was the
first to denounce his own excesses. Wordsworth, on the contrary, who
was by nature consistent, not to say obstinate, carried purely literary
Naturalism to its final and extreme conclusions.

He almost always chose his themes from humble and rustic life; and this
he did, not for the same reason as the French writers of the previous
century, who, themselves elegant and cultivated, enjoyed inelegance and
uncultivatedness with a feeling of superiority, but because he believed
that in that condition of life the essential passions of the heart find
a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under
restraint, and speak a plainer language. He was of opinion that in
that condition our elementary feelings co-exist in a state of greater
simplicity, and consequently may be more accurately contemplated than
in town life; and he was also persuaded that constant association with
the beautiful and permanent forms of nature, in combination with the
necessary and unchanging character of rural occupations, must make all
feelings more durable and strong.

Here, at the moment of the century's birth, we find the germs of
the æsthetic movement, which, spreading from country to country,
continued for more than fifty years to produce, in Germany, France, and
Scandinavia, peasant poetry and peasant tales, and in several countries
a cult of the peasant dialect. By dissecting these germs in the manner
of the botanist, we shall learn the complete natural history of the

Wordsworth's point of departure is purely _topographical_. There is
more topography, taking the word in its widest sense, in his works
than even in Scott's. His life-task was to describe English nature and
English natures as he saw them, face to face. He would never describe
anything with which he was not perfectly familiar, and he finally
evolved the theory that it was necessary for every poet to associate
himself closely with some one particular spot. He associated himself
with the English Lake district, which provided him with backgrounds for
most of his poems. He went so far as to assert that the birthplace of
the individual is the place best suited to be the scene of the activity
of his whole life.

Thus it was that he became the painter specially of English nature, and
that his descriptions have an essentially local interest. Ruskin was
right when he called Wordsworth the great poetical landscape painter of
the period. Whilst Byron time after time escaped from his own country
to paint the nature of Greece and the East in glowing foreign colours;
whilst Shelley shrank from the climate of England as death to a man of
his delicate constitution, and never wearied of extolling the coast and
rivers of Italy; whilst Scott sang the praises of Scotland, and Moore
tirelessly proclaimed the beauty of green Erin, Wordsworth stood alone
as the pure-bred Englishman, deep-rooted in his native soil as some old
spreading oak. His ambition was to be a true English descriptive poet.
He had the most intimate, circumstantial acquaintance with the life of
the lower classes, and the rural life generally, of the district in
which he had his home, walked, sailed, went to church, and received
visits from his admirers. He has the same eye for it as a worthy and
benevolent parish priest of the type he describes in _The Excursion_.
To his special province belong all the events and calamities of common
occurrence in an English country parish--the return of a totally
forgotten son of the place, to find his home gone and the names of
those dear to him carved on gravestones (_The Brothers_); the fate of a
deceived and deserted girl (_Ruth_); an idiot boy's night ride for the
doctor, with its mischances (_The Idiot Boy_); the strange adventure of
a blind Highland boy, with its fortunate ending (_The Blind Highland
Boy_); the sorrow caused to an excellent father by the degeneracy of
his son (_Michael_); the unfortunate carouse of a carrier beloved
by the whole district, and his consequent dismissal from his post
(described in four cantos under the title _The Waggoner_).

The only thing un-English about the manner in which these events, even
the more cheerful and amusing ones, are communicated to us, is the
complete absence of humour. In the place of humour Wordsworth has,
as Masson aptly puts it, "a hard, benevolent smile." But the pathos
with which he relates the tragic or serious among these simple local
stories is pure and heartfelt. It has neither the Pythian tremor nor
modern fervour, but its effect is all the more powerful in the case
of the great majority of readers, who prefer that the poet should not
rise too high above their level, and are conscious of the helpful,
healing quality in the compassion which is the source of the pathos--a
compassion which resembles that of the clergyman or the doctor, and
which, though less spontaneous than professional, moves us by the
perfection of its expression.

Nowhere more beautiful is this expression than in such poems as _Simon
Lee_ and _The Old Cumberland Beggar_. The former tells of an old
huntsman who in his youth had surpassed all others in his skill with
hounds and horn, his fleetness on foot and on horseback, but who has
become so feeble that when the poet meets him one day he is struggling
in vain to unearth the rotten root of an old tree.

    "You're overtasked, good Simon Lee,
     Give me your tool," to him I said;
     And at the word right gladly he
     Received my proffered aid.
     I struck, and with a single blow
     The tangled root I severed,
     At which the poor old man so long
     And vainly had endeavoured.

     The tears into his eyes were brought,
     And thanks and praises seemed to run
     So fast out of his heart, I thought
     They never would have done.
     I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
     With coldness still returning;
     Alas! the gratitude of men
     Hath oftener left me mourning."

Few poets have shown such beautiful reverence as Wordsworth for those
humble ancients of the human race who, from no fault of their own, are
helpless and useless. Of this _The Old Cumberland Beggar_ is the best
example. The poet tells how this man, whom every one knows, goes round
the neighbourhood calling at every house.

    "Him from my childhood have I known; and then
     He was so old, he seems not older now:
     He travels on, a solitary man,
     So helpless in appearance, that for him
     The sauntering horseman-traveller does not throw
     With careless hand his alms upon the ground,
     But stops,--that he may safely lodge the coin
     Within the old man's hat; nor quits him so,
     But still, when he has given his horse the rein,
     Watches the aged beggar with a look
     Sidelong--and half-reverted. She who tends
     The toll-gate, when in summer at her door
     She turns her wheel, if on the road she sees
     The aged beggar coming, quits her work,
     And lifts the latch for him that he may pass.
     The post-boy, when his rattling wheels o'ertake
     The aged beggar in the woody lane,
     Shouts to him from behind; and, if thus warned
     The old man does not change his course, the boy
     Turns with less noisy wheels to the road-side,
     And passes gently by--without a curse
     Upon his lips or anger in his heart.
           . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     But deem not this man useless.--Statesmen! Ye
     Who are so restless in your wisdom, ye
     Who have a broom still ready in your hands
     To rid the world of nuisances; ye proud,
     Heart-swoln, while in your pride ye contemplate
     Your talents, power, and wisdom, deem him not
     A burthen of the earth! Tis nature's law
     That none, the meanest of created things,
     Of forms created the most vile and brute,
     The dullest or most noxious, should exist
     Divorced from good--a spirit and pulse of good,
     A life and soul; to every mode of being
     Inseparably linked.
           . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Where'er the aged beggar takes his rounds,
     The mild necessity of use compels
     To acts of love; and habit does the work
     Of reason; yet prepares that after-joy
     Which reason cherishes. And thus the soul,
     By that sweet taste of pleasure unpursued,
     Doth find itself insensibly disposed
     To virtue and true goodness. . . .
     . . . . . . . . . The easy man
     Who sits at his own door,--and, like the pear
     That overhangs his head from the green wall,
     Feeds in the sunshine; the robust and young,
     The prosperous and unthinking, they who live
     Sheltered, and flourish in a little grove
     Of their own kindred;--all behold in him
     A silent monitor, which on their minds
     Must needs impress a transitory thought
     Of self-congratulation."

Though it must be confessed that this is a sermon, it is a sermon
in the very best style. In that same Naturalism which in due time
consistently developed into pure humanism and revolt against
convention, there was at first an inclination to admonition and to
evangelic piety. It sought out the simple-hearted, the poor, the
mean in the eyes of the world--for this was Gospel morality. It
rejected the highly cultured, and chose as its heroes fishermen and
peasants--in this also following Gospel example. Hence it is that we
have in Wordsworth perfectly consistent worship of nature along with
the exhortatory and evangelically homiletic element which finds such
favour in England. And even his purely didactic poems are not to be
indiscriminately rejected. There is often a peculiar grandeur in the
manner in which the simple lesson is enforced. There is, for instance,
real sublimity in the passage in _Laodamia_ in which it is impressed
upon the sorrowing wife that, instead of craving for the return of her
husband, she ought to renounce her desire, and purify herself through
her love to enjoy another, nobler, more spiritual life:--

    "Learn by a mortal yearning to ascend
     Towards a higher object.--Love was given,
     Encouraged, sanctioned, chiefly for that end:
     For this the passion to excess was driven--
     That self might be annulled."

Even the abstract _Ode to Duty_, which is inspired by an enthusiasm of
the nature of Kant's, contains a couple of magnificent lines which are
as contrary to reason as one of the sublime paradoxes of the Fathers of
the Church. It is to Duty that the poet cries:

    "Thou dost preserve the Stars from wrong;
     And the most ancient Heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong."

From all the poems of this species, however, the reader will quickly
turn again to Wordsworth's specialty, his idylls.

Let us cast another glance at these, and at the theory which their
author intended them to illustrate. It is quite certain that Wordsworth
attributed more poetical importance to the representation of rural
life than is really its due. His surroundings were calculated to
produce this theoretical overvaluation. The possibility of making
heroes of the shepherd-farmers of Cumberland and Westmoreland was due
to the fact that these men (who, though they were independent enough
not to be compelled to work for others, were nevertheless obliged to
lead an industrious, frugally simple life) possessed real poetical
qualifications. The theory that rural life in itself improves and
ennobles, is a superstition; it is quite as apt to dull and blunt.
Coleridge has, for example, pointed out that when the manner in which
the poor-laws were administered in Liverpool, Manchester, and Bristol,
was compared with the manner in which relief was distributed in the
country, the result was distinctly in favour of the towns.

Wordsworth has, further, over-estimated the importance of the part
which the representation of rural occupations plays in his own poetry.
Not only do we observe that many of the principal personages in his
best poems (such as _Ruth, Michael, The Brothers_) are not expressly
peasants or dwellers in the country; but we are also conscious that
his passion for Naturalism and, in close connection with this, his
inclination to try to edify by glorification of the lower classes,
have often led him to attribute to a man or woman of low position,
qualities and powers which there is little probability of his or her
possessing. A paradox which he enounces with evident satisfaction in
_The Excursion_ is, that many a gifted poet exists, unsuspected, among
the lower classes.[4] It is satisfactory to a man with Wordsworth's
religious tendencies to believe that talent is independent of wealth
and outward position. But even allowing this to be true, would it
not still be absurd to make the poet-hero of a poem a chimney-sweep
by profession, and then explain in a carefully invented biography
how it came to pass that he was, at one and the same time, poet,
philosopher, and sweep? Only in real biography are such phenomena
permissible; in fiction, Naturalism carried to such an extreme repels
by its unlikeliness. And what difference is there between this and
the many cases in which Wordsworth puts into the mouth of a pedlar, a
leech-gatherer, a labourer, words which we cannot but be astonished
to hear from such lips? Hence, to justify and explain his characters,
he is obliged to introduce numbers of accidental, subordinate details
of the kind required to prove the possibility of a fact in real life,
but of the kind which we willingly forgo in poetry. The excessive
attention paid to probability, the petty anxiety to explain the
reason of everything, have a fatiguing effect--especially in the long
introductions and descriptions in _The Excursion_, which Byron wittily
calls Wordsworth's "eternal: Here we go up, up, and up, and here we go
down, down, and here round about, round about!"

Wordsworth's choice of themes leads him, moreover, to a singularity
in the matter of language which may be termed the extreme literary
issue of this Naturalism. It was his theory that the language spoken
by the class which he described was, when purified from its defects,
the best of all, "because such men hourly communicate with the best
objects from which the best part of language is originally derived; and
because, from their rank in society and the sameness and narrow circle
of their intercourse, being less under the influence of social vanity,
they convey their feelings and emotions in simple and unelaborated
expressions." It is, consequently, his opinion, that it is impossible
for any author to find a better manner of expression, no matter
whether he is writing in prose or in verse. And this leads him to the
enunciation of his famous and interesting paradox: _that there neither
is nor can be any essential difference between the language of prose
and metrical composition_. If this only meant disapprobation of all the
tiresome and foolish distortions of language, to which the scarcity of
rhymes and the lack of the gift of rhythm have driven so many of even
the most eminent poets, we should heartily agree with him. Théodore de
Banville has, with reason on his side--though it is the severe reason
which demands the impossible--given as contents to the chapter in
his _Petit Traité de Poésie française_ entitled _Licentia poetica_,
simply the words: "Il n'y en a pas." But it is an entirely different
meaning which Wordsworth intends his maxim to convey. He maintains
not only that the language of a large portion of every good poem must
necessarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect differ
from that of good prose, but likewise that some of the most interesting
parts of the very best poems will be found to be strictly the language
of prose. For, however lively and truthful the poet's language may be,
there cannot be a doubt, says Wordsworth, that it must, in liveliness
and truth, fall far short of that which is uttered by men in real life;
in other words--it can never surpass, and only at its best approach,
the prose of reality. This theory he defended with genuine English
obstinacy against the attacks made upon it from every direction. He
quotes, as a specimen of the parodies of poetry in which the language
closely resembles that of life and nature, Dr. Johnson's stanza:

    "I put my hat upon my head
     And walked into the Strand,
     And there I met another man,
     Whose hat was in his hand."

This is not poetry, says the public. Granted! says Wordsworth. But
the proper thing to be said is not: This is not poetry; but: This is
wanting in meaning; it is neither interesting in itself, nor can it
lead to anything interesting; consequently it cannot excite thought
or feeling in the reader. "Why take pains to prove that an ape is not
a Newton, when it is self-evident that he is not a man?" The accepted
idea is, according to Wordsworth, that an author, by the act of writing
in verse, makes a formal engagement that he will gratify certain known
habits of association, that certain classes of idea and expression will
be found in his book, but that others will be carefully excluded. This
doctrine Wordsworth opposes with the declaration of his conviction of
the similarity of good poetry and good prose, a conviction which was
founded on dislike of poetic affectation, but which led him in his own
poetry, now to the narrowest limitation, now to the utmost possible
flattening out of his own in many respects masterly and model style.

There is more than one argument against the extremely high estimation
of the language of the rural population which forms Wordsworth's
starting-point, and which is not without its resemblance to the cult of
the peasant language initiated in Denmark by Grundtvig and in Norway
by the "Maalstrævere" (agitators for the universal employment of a
Norwegian based on the peasant dialects). The principal one is, that
the language of the peasant, purified, as Wordsworth demands, from
provincial expressions and subjected to the rules of grammar, is not
different from that of any other sensible man, except in this, that the
peasant's ideas are fewer and vaguer. By reason of its inferior degree
of development, his mind dwells only upon single, isolated facts, drawn
from his own narrow experience, or from the records of traditional
belief, whereas the educated man sees the connection between things,
and seeks for universal laws. Wordsworth is of opinion that the
_best_ part of language is derived from the objects which surround
and occupy the peasant. But the ideas connected with food, shelter,
safety, comfort, are surely not those which provide the best part of
language. Nor can we agree with him when he asserts that nothing but
the infusion of a certain degree of passion into this language is
required to entitle it to be called poetic; for passion neither creates
new thoughts nor new provision of words; it only increases the force of
those already in existence; it cannot be expected to make the language
of daily intercourse poetry, when it is hardly capable of making it

What strikes us from the very first in Wordsworth's vindication of
Naturalism is his confounding of two things--prose, and what he calls
"ordinary language" terms which he applies indiscriminately. Good prose
is language which has been purified from the vain and meaningless
repetitions and the uncertain, halting phraseology which are the
inevitable outcome of the confusion due to insufficient education.
Wordsworth has too frequently neglected this purifying process,
when introducing dramatic dialogue into his own poems. It is this
unfortunate passion for the most grovellingly exact imitation, which
produces the sudden and disagreeable transitions from passages in a
noble, elevated style, to passages with no style at all. See, for
example, _The Blind Highland Boy_.

"Poetry," says Wordsworth, "takes its origin from emotion recollected
in tranquillity." The aim of the poet is the truthful imitation of
nature, with the one restriction, that of the necessity of giving
pleasure--not merely the straightforward, direct truth; therefore he
employs the metrical form of composition, which provides the reader
with small, but continual and regular impulses of pleasurable surprise.
Metre produces its effect by continually arousing and satisfying
curiosity, but in such a simple manner that it does not draw any
separate attention to itself. It acts powerfully but unobservedly upon
the mind, like artificially altered air, or the wine drunk during an
eager discussion. By its steady recurrence it tempers and modifies
the excitement or pain produced by the intelligence communicated;
and by its tendency to divest language of its reality, it throws a
sort of half consciousness of unsubstantial existence over the whole
composition. Except for this, declares Wordsworth, even the best poetry
can in no respect differ from prose. He forgets to ask himself if
there are not numbers of common phrases and expressions which, though
they are perfectly allowable in prose, would produce a most unpleasant
effect in poetry; and forgets, too, to ask if it is not possible that
in every serious poem there may occur, without any artificiality,
sentences of a construction, and imagery of a kind, which would be
impossible in prose.

The only way in which the best poetry corresponds with "the very
language of men," is in its expressions resembling those which some
few of the most highly cultivated would use on the rarest occasions.
In daily converse language wanders unrestrainedly; in public speech it
is restrained by imperative connection and continuity of thought; in
the prose work, the carefully elaborated sentence progresses naturally
through all its twists and turnings; in verse, the form cannot be too
exquisite or too compact. Here the doctrine applies which Théophile
Gautier preached in his splendid poem, _L'Art_:--

    "Oui, l'œuvre sort plus belle
     D'une forme au travail
     _Vers_, marbre, onyx, émail!

     Point de contraintes fausses!
     Mais que pour marcher droit
     Tu chausses,
     Muse, un cothurne étroit!"

But, however much there is to be said against Wordsworth's poetics, or
"prosaics," as they might more correctly be called--against theories
which were at first accepted as synonymous with the "Fair is foul, and
foul is fair" of the witches in Macbeth--they are in the highest degree
interesting to the student of literature to-day as an accurate and
unambiguous expression of the first literary extreme to which English
Naturalism went.

[1] R. S. Mackenzie: _Life of Dickens_, p. 243.

[2] Masson: _Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and other Essays_.

[3] Johannes Ewald, a Danish poet.--Transcriber's note.


    Oh! many are the poets that are sown
    By nature! men endowed with highest gifts,
    The vision and the faculty divine,
    Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse.
    --_Excursion_: Book I.



We have for a moment lost sight of Coleridge. When Wordsworth and he
divided the new kinds of poetry between them, there fell to his share,
as the reader will remember, a task which was the exact opposite of
Wordsworth's, namely, the treating of supernatural subjects in a
natural manner. He fulfilled it in his contributions to the volume
published under the title of _Lyrical Ballads_, and indeed in the
greater proportion of the little collection of poems which entitles him
to rank high among English poets.

[Illustration: S. T. COLERIDGE]

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a country boy, the son of a Devonshire
clergyman. He was born in October 1772. From 1782 to 1790 he was at
school in London. It was during those school-days, spent at Christ's
Hospital, that his friendship with another English Romanticist, his
warm admirer, Charles Lamb, was formed. From 1791 to 1793 he studied
at Cambridge. He had neither means nor prospects, and in a fit of
despair, occasioned either by his debts or by an unhappy love affair,
he suddenly enlisted in the 15th Regiment of Light Dragoons, under the
name of Silas Titus Cumberback.[1] It certainly does not seem to have
been ambition (as in the case of Johannes Ewald a few years earlier)
which prompted him to try his fortune as a soldier, but simply want of
any other means of subsistence. He was only four months a dragoon. On
the stable wall underneath his saddle, he one day scribbled the Latin

     "Eheu quam infortuni miserrimum est fuisse felicem!"

This was discovered by his captain, who inquired into the position
of affairs, and arranged with Coleridge's family for his return to
Cambridge. On this followed the short period during which the young
poet was an anti-orthodox democrat. As such he could expect no
advancement in the University. His and Southey's glorification of
Robespierre (the first act of _The Fall of Robespierre_ was written
by Coleridge, the second and third are Southey's) and their wild
project of a communistic settlement have been already mentioned. The
little emigrant society they founded consisted only of themselves and
two other members, a young Quaker named Lovell, and George Burnet, a
school friend of Southey's. But the God Hymen had decided that the
year 1795 should witness the wreck of the plans which boded so ill
for society. In 1795 Coleridge went to lecture at Bristol, where he
displayed the eloquence which (as in the case of the similarly eloquent
and persuasive Welhaven) seems to have sapped his power of poetic
production. A young lady in the town of Bristol won his heart; and
before the year was over, Sara Fricker was married to Coleridge, her
sisters, Edith and Mary, to Lovell and Southey--and the emigration plan
was abandoned. Coleridge, who was without will-power all his life,
could never have carried out a plan laid so long beforehand. He never
succeeded in doing anything except what he had not determined to do, or
what, from its nature, could not be determined beforehand.

In 1796 the young man, who was still an enthusiastic Unitarian, allowed
himself to be persuaded by some other philanthropists--he is always
"persuaded"--to publish a weekly magazine called _The Watchman_, which
was to consist of thirty-two pages, large octavo, and to cost the
reasonable price of fourpence. Its flaming prospectus bore the motto,
"Knowledge is power." With the object of enlisting subscribers, the
young and ardent propagandist undertook a tour of the country between
Bristol and Sheffield, preaching in most of the great towns, "as an
hireless volunteer, in a blue coat and white waistcoat, that not a rag
of the woman of Babylon might be seen on me." The description he has
given of this, his Odyssey, shows us the young English Romanticist as
he was then and as he continued to be--imprudent in worldly matters,
enthusiastic in behalf now of this, now of that religious or political
half-truth, yet with a humorous appreciation of his own and others'

"My campaign commenced at Birmingham; and my first attack was on a
rigid Calvinist, a tallow-chandler by trade. He was a tall, dingy man,
in whom length was so predominant over breadth that he might almost
have been borrowed for a foundry poker. O that face! I have it before
me at this moment. The lank, black, twine-like hair, _pinguinitescent_,
cut in a straight line along the black stubble of his thin gunpowder
eyebrows, that looked like a scorched after-math from a last week's
shaving. His coat collar behind in perfect unison, both of colour and
lustre, with the coarse yet glib cordage that I suppose he called
his hair, and which with a bend inward at the nape of the neck (the
only approach to flexure in his whole figure) slunk in behind his
waistcoat; while the countenance, lank, dark, very hard, and with
strong perpendicular furrows, gave me a dim notion of some one looking
at me through a used gridiron, all soot, grease, and iron! But he was
one of the thorough-bred, a true lover of liberty, and (I was informed)
had proved to the satisfaction of many, that Mr. Pitt was one of
the horns of the second beast in the Revelation, _that spoke like a
dragon_." For half-an-hour Coleridge employed all the resources of his
eloquence--argued, described, promised, prophesied, beginning with the
captivity of nations and ending with the millennium. "My taper man of
lights listened with perseverance and praiseworthy patience, though (as
I was afterwards told on complaining of certain odours that were not
altogether ambrosial) it was a melting-day with him. 'And what, sir,'
he said, after a short pause, 'might the cost be?' 'Only fourpence,
only fourpence, sir, each number, to be published on every eighth day.'
'That comes to a good deal of money at the end of the year. And how
much did you say there was to be for the money?' 'Thirty-two pages,
sir! large octavo, closely printed.' 'Thirty and two pages? Bless me,
why, except what I does in a family way on the Sabbath, that's more
than I ever reads, sir! all the year round. I am as great a one as
any man in Brummagem, sir! for liberty and truth and all them sort of
things, but as to this, no offence, sir, I must beg to be excused.'"

Thus ended Coleridge's first attempt at recruiting for the war against
the Holy Trinity. His second he made in Manchester, where he tried to
enlist a stately and opulent wholesale dealer in cottons. This man
measured him from top to toe, and asked if he had any bill or invoice
of the thing. Coleridge presented him with the prospectus. He rapidly
skimmed and hummed over the first side, and still more rapidly the
second and concluding page, then most deliberately and significantly
rubbed and smoothed one part against the other, put it in his pocket,
turned his back with an "Overrun with these articles!" and retired into
his counting-house.

After these unsuccessful attempts, the young man gave up the plan of
canvassing from house to house, but nevertheless returned from this
memorable tour with almost a thousand names on his list of subscribers.
But, alas! the publication of the very first number was, as any one
knowing Coleridge might have expected, delayed beyond the day announced
for its appearance; the second, which contained an essay against
fast-days, lost him nearly five hundred subscribers at a blow; and the
two following numbers, which were full of attacks on French philosophy
and morals, and directed against those "who pleaded to the poor and
ignorant instead of pleading for them," made enemies of all his Jacobin
and democratic patrons. Coleridge, who communicates all these details
himself, does not seem to have any suspicion that he was only receiving
a natural punishment for his indecision--an indecision which consisted
in never being prepared to accept the consequences of his own theories.
He was undecided in politics, undecided in religion. Writing, as an old
man, of this time, he himself says: "My head was with Spinoza, though
my whole heart remained with Paul and John;" and he hastens to provide
his readers with those convincing proofs of the existence of God and
the Holy Trinity which he had not been capable of perceiving in his
youth.[2] After the appearance of about a dozen numbers, _The Watchman_
had to be given up, and Coleridge took to writing for the newspapers.
He began by attacking Pitt's Government, but in course of time, his
opinions tending ever more in a conservative direction, he became
its ardent supporter, and also, after the occupation of Switzerland
by the French, an enemy of France. So hostile to that country were
his articles in the _Morning Post_, that they even attracted the
attention of Napoleon, and Coleridge became the object of the First
Consul's special enmity. He would probably have been arrested during
his residence in Italy, if he had not received timely warning from the
Prussian ambassador, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and, through an inferior
official, from Napoleon's own uncle, Cardinal Fesch.

The year 1797, in the course of which Coleridge became acquainted with
Wordsworth, was, as regards his poetry, the most important in his life;
for it was in this year that he wrote his famous ballad, _The Ancient
Mariner_, and _Christabel_, the fragment which marks a new era in
English poetry.

_Christabel_ was planned as the first of a series of poetical romances,
the remainder of which never came into being. It is, without doubt, the
first English poem which is permeated by the genuine Romantic spirit;
and the new cadences, the new theme, the new style of versification,
the novelty generally, made a powerful impression on contemporary
poets. The irregular and yet melodious metre appealed so strongly to
Scott that he employed it in his first Romantic poem, _The Lay of the
Last Minstrel_. He frankly confesses how much he owed to the beautiful
and tantalising fragment, _Christabel_, which he, like the other poets
of the period, made acquaintance with in manuscript; for Coleridge
read it aloud in social gatherings for twenty years before it saw the
light as public property. Byron, too, heard it first on one of these
occasions. Before hearing it he had, in one of his longer poems (_The
Siege of Corinth_, xix.), written some lines which were not unlike some
in _Christabel_. To these lines he, on a future occasion, appended a
note in which he praises Coleridge's "wild and singularly original
and beautiful poem." But we see from Moore's _Life and Letters_ that
there were critics who refused the meed of admiration accorded to
_Christabel_ by Scott and Byron, and still more freely by Wordsworth.
Jeffrey and Moore himself consider it affected (_Memoirs_, ii 101;
iv. 48). Danish critics, thoroughly initiated into the mysteries of
this style by Tieck and the brothers Schlegel, and by their own poet
Ingemann, cannot possibly attach so much importance to this fragment.
Its excessive naïveté and simplicity, the intentional childishness
in style and tone, are to us what buns are to bakers' children. The
chief merit of the poem, apart from its full-toned, sweet melody, lies
in the peculiar power with which the nature of the wicked fairy is
presented to us, the _dæmonic_ element, which had never been present
in such force in English literature before. We must, however, remember
that, though the first part of the poem was written in 1797, the second
was written and the first revised in 1800--that is to say, _after_
Coleridge had travelled with Wordsworth in Germany, and there made
acquaintance with contemporary German poetry, its medieval ground-work,
and its latest tendency.

Coleridge's one other poem of any length, _The Ancient Mariner_, which
is even more artificially naïve in style than _Christabel_, and is
provided, in the manner of the medieval ballads retailed in the little
shops in back streets, with a prose index of contents on the margin
of the pages, is now the most popular of all his poems, although it
was fiercely attacked on its first appearance. On a very unnatural
introduction (three guests on their way to a wedding are stopped,
and one of them is led to forget his destination, so eloquent is the
ancient mariner--"and on the street, too," as Falstaff says) follows a
story of all the horrors, ghostly and material, which ensue, because
one of the sailors on a ship has been thoughtless enough to kill an
albatross which had alighted on the rigging. The whole crew, with
the exception of this one man, die, as a punishment for the act of
inhospitality. Swinburne tells that, when the poem was new, the English
critics were greatly occupied with the question whether its moral (that
one should not shoot albatrosses) was not so preponderant that it
destroyed the fantastic effect of the poem; whilst others maintained
that the defect of the poem was its want of a practical moral. Long
afterwards the same matter formed the subject of a dispute between
Freiligrath and Julian Schmidt. Modern criticism would willingly excuse
the absence of any moral in the ballad if it could find a poetic
central idea in it.

A comparison may serve to show its chief shortcoming. In a collection
of poems by the Austrian lyric poet, Moritz Hartmann, entitled
_Zeitlosen_, there is to be found one which, although it does not
profess to owe its origin to _The Ancient Mariner_, at first sight
strikes the reader as being a direct imitation of it. The metrical form
is the same, and in the theme there is a close resemblance. _Der Camao_
is the title of the poem. The Camao, which answers to Coleridge's
albatross, is a bird which, in the Middle Ages, was kept in every
house in the Pyrenean Peninsula, and treated with a reverence which
had its source in a widespread superstition. It was believed, namely,
that this bird could not thrive in a house on which rested the stain
of a wife's infidelity; it died if there was even the slightest spot
on the honour of its master. Its beautiful cage generally hung in the
entrance chamber. In Hartmann's poem the old, deranged man who answers
to Coleridge's demented mariner, tells how he, as a page, was seized
with a violent passion for his master's wife, and how, every time he
rushed from her presence, in despair at her coldness and displeasure,
he was tortured as he left her apartments by the bird's song in honour
of the chastity of the lady to whom it owed its life. The master of the
house returns from the war bringing with him his friend, a handsome
young minstrel and hero, whom the lady honours with her friendship, and
who is, in consequence, soon hated by the jealous page. Quite beside
himself, the young man denounces the lady and her friend to his master;
but the latter calmly answers that Camao is still alive, and at that
moment singing in his mistress's honour. In his jealous, vindictive
rage the page kills the bird; Vasco kills his wife; and thenceforward
the criminal wanders, demented and restless, from country to country,
seeking rest, but finding it nowhere.

As regards virtuosity and originality in the matter of diction, _Der
Camao_ is not for a moment to be compared with _The Ancient Mariner_;
but as regards the poetic central idea, the German poem is not only
much superior to its English model, but is in itself a complete,
satisfactory criticism of Coleridge's ballad and all the artificial
English theories which it represents. In _Der Camao_ the slaughter of
the bird is a real human action performed with a real human motive; the
punishment is not a caprice, but a just and natural consequence of the
misdeed. The misfortune which the killing of the bird brings to Vasco
and his wife has a natural cause and effect connection with that deed,
whilst the death of the whole ship's crew, as the result of the cruelty
shown to the albatross, is folly. The comparison assists us to a clear
understanding of the difference between a true poetical conception of
the superstitious idea and a Romantic treatment of it. The story in
both poems is founded on a superstition. Hartmann has no desire to
submit the superstition to the criticism of reason; but he forces it
upon no one; the beauty of his poem is quite independent of the belief
or disbelief of his reader in the miraculous susceptibility of the
Camao. Romantic extravagance, on the other hand, proclaims reverence
for the marvellous and inexplicable to be the sum and substance of all
wisdom and of all poetry.

But though _The Ancient Mariner_ may not take a high place when
compared with poetry which has extricated itself from Romantic
swaddling-bands, it stands high above most of the kindred productions
of German Romanticism. In spite of all its Romantic fictitiousness, it
breathes of the sea, the real, natural sea, whose changing moods and
whose terrifying, menacing immensity it describes. The fresh breeze,
the seething foam, the horrible fog, and the hot, copper-coloured
evening sky with its blood-red sun--all these elements are nature's
own; and the misery of the men tossing helplessly on the ocean, the
starvation, the burning thirst that drives them to suck the blood from
their own arms, the pallid countenances, the terrible death-rattle, the
horrible putrefaction--all these elements are realities, represented
with English realistic force.

And it is a very English trait that Coleridge himself should have
been thoroughly capable of seeing the weak points of such a poem as
his own famous ballad. The national quality of humour assisted him to
this independence of judgment. We have the following anecdote from his
own pen. "An amateur performer in verse expressed a strong desire to
be introduced to me, but hesitated in accepting my friend's immediate
offer, on the score that he was, he must acknowledge, the author of a
confounded severe epigram on my _Ancient Mariner_, which had given me
great pain. I assured my friend that if the epigram was a good one, it
would only increase my desire to become acquainted with the author, and
begged to hear it recited, when, to my no less surprise than amusement,
it proved to be one which I had myself inserted in the _Morning Post_."
When Coleridge tells us, too, that he himself wrote three sonnets
expressly for the purpose of exciting a good-natured laugh at the
artificial simplicity and doleful egotism of the new poetical tendency,
and that he took the elaborate and swelling language and imagery of
these sonnets from his own poems, we cannot deny that his endeavours to
keep free from the entanglement in theories which was the weak point in
German Romanticism, bespeak rare intellectual superiority.

It was, nevertheless, from Germany that Coleridge's intellect received
its most invigorating and essential nourishment. He was the first
Englishman who penetrated into the forest of German literature, which
was as yet unexplored by foreigners; he made his way into it about
the same time as Madame de Staël, the pioneer of the Latin races.
Whilst he was producing the famous poems just described, he began the
study of German. Schiller and Kant attracted him first. In 1798 he
and Wordsworth went to Germany on a literary voyage of discovery. In
Hamburg they visited the patriarch Klopstock, who praised Bürger to
them, but spoke coldly and disparagingly of the rest of the younger
literary men, and especially of Coleridge's idols, Kant and Schiller.
The latter's _Die Räuber_ he professed himself unable to read. But
he had plenty to say on the subject of _The Messiah_ and his extreme
satisfaction with the English translations of it. While in Germany,
Coleridge studied the Gothic language, and read the Meistersingers and
Hans Sachs; and on his return he published a translation of Schiller's
_Wallenstein_, the play which Benjamin Constant was soon afterwards to
adapt for the French stage.

It was about this time that Coleridge settled in the _Lake_ district,
where Wordsworth and Southey had already taken up their abode--the
district which gave its name to the literary school constituted, as
their contemporaries chose to consider, by these three poets. The
name, as a matter of fact, does not mean much more than if, in Denmark
in 1830, Hauch, Ingemann, Wilster, and Peder Hjort, had been dubbed
Sorists. The English poets of the Lake School were quite as unlike
each other in their gifts as were these Sorö professors[3] But the
criticism of the day always coupled Coleridge's name with Wordsworth's
and Southey's because it was known that he was on intimate and friendly
terms with them, because he never missed an opportunity of praising
them, nor they of praising him, and because he and the other Lakists
were crowned every three months with fresh laurels in the _Quarterly
Review_, whilst the sinner Byron was chastised with fresh scorpions.
Though Coleridge published almost nothing, Wordsworth and Southey were
hardly ever under the cascade of criticism without some drops of it
falling upon him. The circumstance that the Lake poets aimed (in much
the same manner as the Pre-Raphaelite and the Nazarene painters) at
poetic intensity, a childlike disposition and a childlike faith, pious
blandness and priestly unction, exposed the man who could not but be
regarded as the teacher of the school to much satire and derision. As
a youth, in his poem _Fire, Famine, and Slaughter_, Coleridge had made
all the horrors, one by one, reply to the question: Who bid you rage?
with the following refrain, applying to Pitt:--

    "Who bade you do't?
          The same! the same!
     Letters four do form his name.
     He let me loose, and cried Halloo!
     To him alone the praise is due."

Now he was Mr. Pitt's journalistic henchman, and, like all the other
members of the Lake School, a strict Tory, the enemy of liberal
opinions in everything relating to church and state. What wonder that
he was classed along with the others in the constant party attacks made
by the Liberals! And yet it would have been so easy and so natural
to distinguish him as a poet from all the others, and to pay him the
honour which was due to his originality. The few poems which he wrote
in the course of a comparatively long life are distinguished by the
exquisite melodiousness of their language; their harmonies are not only
delicate and insinuating like Shelley's, but contrapuntally constructed
and rich; they have a peculiar, ponderous sweetness; each line has
the taste and weight of a drop of honey. In poems such as _Love_ and
_Lewti_, which are the two sweetest, and in an Oriental fantasy like
_Kubla Khan_, which was inspired by a dream, we hear Coleridge flute
and pipe and sing with all the changing cadences of the most exquisite
nightingale voice. It is Swinburne who makes the apt remark that, in
the matter of harmonies, Shelley is, compared with Coleridge, what a
lark is compared with a nightingale.

But Coleridge's poetry is as unplastic as it is melodious, and as
unimpassioned as it is mellifluous. It is of the fantastic Romantic
order; that is to say, it neither expresses strong, personally
experienced emotions, nor reproduces what the author has observed in
the surrounding world. In this last connection it is interesting to
know that Coleridge's long tour in the south was altogether without
results as far as his poetry was concerned. The only poem he brought
home with him, the _Hymn Before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamouni_, a
valley in which he never set foot, was composed with the assistance
of the description of the locality given by the well-known Danish
authoress, Friederike Brun. His historic sense was as defective as his
sense of locality. He says himself: "Dear Sir Walter Scott and myself
are exact, but harmonious opposites in this--that every old ruin,
hill, river, or tree called up in his mind a host of historical or
biographical associations ... whereas for myself, I believe I should
walk on the plain of Marathon without taking more interest in it than
in any other plain of similar features.... Charles Lamb wrote an essay
on a man who lived in past time:--I thought of adding another to it
on one who lived not _in time_ at all, past, present, or future--but
beside or collaterally."[4] His poetry is, thence, in the literal sense
of the word, visionary; the poem which the best critics consider the
finest, he composed in a dream.

In his own life there was as little of will and plan as in a dream.
Somewhat indolent by nature, he became more and more procrastinating
as years went on; and the result of his procrastination was an
accumulation of difficulties which he had not energy and application
enough to overcome. To relieve physical suffering he had recourse to
opium, and soon became a confirmed opium-eater, thereby increasing his
incapacity to carry out any plan. After a period of wandering, living
first in one, then in another friend's house, and either writing for
magazines or giving lectures on the history of literature, he decided
that he was unfit to manage himself and his affairs, and from 1816
onwards he lived at Highgate in the house and under the control of a
doctor named Gillman--separated from his own family, whom he left to
the care of his friend and brother-in-law, Southey.

On the indulgence in opium followed remorse and self-reproach and
increasingly orthodox piety. Most of what Coleridge now wrote was
written with the object of refuting the heresies of his youth and
defending the doctrine of the Trinity and the Church of England against
all attacks.[5] Emerson, who paid him a visit, describes him as "old
and preoccupied"; enraged by the effrontery with which a handful of
Priestleians dared to attack the doctrine of the Trinity propounded
by Paul and accepted unchallenged for centuries; and falling in his
talk into all manner of commonplaces. Eighteen years passed, spent
in dreaming, talking, and composing edifying essays. His influence
during this period was due much less to his productive power than to
the manner in which he incited to production. He stimulated and goaded
others to the pitch of expressing themselves publicly. Residing close
to London, and constantly visited, because of his conversational
powers, by the best writers of the day--Charles Lamb, Wordsworth,
Southey, Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, Carlyle--he was a looker-on on life
during the years when the great representatives of the opposite
intellectual tendency to his, Shelley and Byron, were pouring forth
their fiery denunciations of the order of society and state which he
considered so excellent. Without will of his own, under control, and
himself protected like a child, Coleridge became ever more and more the
would-be protector of society, whilst the two great poets of liberty,
banished from their homes and thrown entirely on their own resources,
developed an independence unexampled in the history of literature, and,
protected neither by themselves nor any one else, were shattered long
before their time by the ardour of conflict. The right of personal
investigation and personal liberty were as precious treasures to them
as the Church of England was to Coleridge.

[1] "Being at a loss, when suddenly asked my name, I answered
Cumberback; and verily my habits were so little equestrian, that my
horse, I doubt not, was of that opinion."

[2] See _Biographia Literaria_.

[3] Sorö Akademi is a Danish public school. (Transcriber's note.)

[4] _Specimens of the Table Talk of the Late Samuel T. Coleridge_, ii

[5] "On the Constitution of Church and State according to the Ideal of
Each": _Lay Sermons_.



Coleridge and the other members of the Lake School would never have
dreamt of calling themselves anything but warm friends of liberty; the
days were past when the reactionaries called themselves by another
name. Coleridge wrote one of his most beautiful poems, the _Ode to
France_, in the form of a hymn to liberty, to his constant love for
which he calls clouds, waves, and forests to testify; and Wordsworth,
who dedicated two long series of his poems to liberty, regarded himself
as her acknowledged champion. A cursory glance at the works of these
poets might well leave us with the impression that they were as true
lovers of liberty as Moore, or Shelley, or Byron. But the word liberty
in their mouths meant something different from what it did in Moore's,
or Shelley's, or Byron's. To understand this we must dissect the word
by means of two simple questions: freedom, from what?--liberty, to do

To these conservative poets freedom is a perfectly definite thing,
a right which England has and the other countries of Europe have
not--the right of a country to govern itself, un-tyrannised over by
an autocratic ruler of foreign extraction. The country which has this
privilege is free. By liberty, then, the men in question understood
freedom from foreign political tyranny; there is no thought of liberty
of action in their conception at all. Look through Wordsworth's
_Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty_, and see what it is they celebrate.
It is the struggle of the different nations against Napoleon, who is
described as a species of Antichrist. (Scott calls him "the Devil on
his burning throne.")

The poet mourns the conquest of Spain, Switzerland, Venice, the Tyrol,
by the French; he chants the praises of Hofer, the undaunted, of brave
Schill, and daring Toussaint L'Ouverture, the men who ventured to face
the fierce conquerors; and he sings with quite as great admiration
of the King of Sweden, who with romantically chivalrous folly threw
down the gauntlet to Napoleon, and proclaimed his longing for the
restoration of the Bourbons. (Ere long Victor Hugo and Lamartine, in
their character of supporters of the Legitimist monarchy, followed
suit in singing the praises of the Swedish king and his son, Prince
Gustavus Vasa.) Hatred of Napoleon becomes aversion for France. In one
of the sonnets ("Inland, within a hollow vale, I stood") Wordsworth
tells how the "barrier flood" between England and France for a moment
seemed to him to have dwindled to the dimensions of a river, and how he
shrank from the thought of "the frightful neighbourhood"; in another he
rejoices in the remembrance of the great men and great books England
has produced, and remarks that France has brought forth "no single
volume paramount ... no master spirit," that with her there is "equally
a want of books and men."

He always comes back to England. His sonnets are one long declaration
of love to the country for which he feels "as a lover or a child," the
country of which he writes: "Earth's best hopes are all with thee." He
follows her through her long war, celebrating, like Southey, each of
her victories; and it is significant of his attitude that, appended
to the _Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty_, we find the great, pompous
thanksgiving ode for the battle of Waterloo. We of to-day ask what kind
of liberty it was that Waterloo gained; but we know full well that the
group of poets whose heroes were the national heroes--Pitt, Nelson, and
Wellington, and who sang the praises of the English constitution as
being in itself liberty, and lauded England as the model nation, won a
degree of favour with the majority of their countrymen to which their
great poetic antagonists have not even yet attained. Wordsworth and his
school considered the nation ideal as it was, whereas the others tried
to compel it to turn its eyes towards an ideal, not only unattained,
but as yet unrecognised; the former flattered it, and were rewarded
with laurels; the latter educated and castigated it, and were spurned
by it. Scott was offered the post of Poet Laureate, and Southey and
Wordsworth in turn occupied it; but to this day the English nation has
shown no public recognition of what it owes to Shelley and Byron.[1]
And the reason is, that these men's conception of liberty was utterly
different from that of the Lake School. To them it was not realised in
a nation or a constitution--for it was no accomplished, finished thing;
neither was their idea of the struggle for liberty realised in a highly
egoistic war against a revolutionary conqueror. They felt strongly what
an absence of liberty, political as well as intellectual, religious as
well as social, there might be under a so-called _free_ constitution.
They had no inclination to write poems in honour of the glorious
attainments of the human race, and more especially of their own
countrymen; for in the so-called land of freedom they felt a terrible,
oppressive want of freedom--of liberty to think without consideration
of recognised dogmas, to write without paying homage to public opinion,
to act as it was natural to men of their character to act, without
injury from the verdict of those who, because they had no particular
character of their own, were the most clamorous and unmerciful
condemners of the faults which accompanied independence, originality,
and genius. They saw that in this "free" country the ruling caste
canted and lied, extorted and plundered, curbed and constrained quite
as much as did the one great autocrat with his absolute power--and
without his excuse, the authority of intellect and of genius.

To the poets of the Lake School, coercion was not coercion when it
was _English_, tyranny was not tyranny when it was practised under a
_constitutional monarchy_, hostility to enlightenment was not hostility
to enlightenment when it was displayed by a _Protestant_ church. The
Radical poets called coercion coercion, even when it proceeded to
action with the English flag flying and the arms of England as its
policemen's badge; they cherished towards monarchs generally, the
objection of the Lake School poets to absolute monarchs; they desired
to free the world not only from the dominion of the Roman Catholic
priesthood, but from priestly tutelage of every description. When they
heard poets of the other school, who in the ardour of youth had been
as progressive as themselves, extolling the Tory Government of England
with the fervour which distinguishes renegades, they could not but
regard them as enemies of liberty. Therefore it is that Shelley, in his
sonnet to Wordsworth, writes:--

    "In honoured poverty thy voice did weave
     Songs consecrate to truth and liberty.
     Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
     Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be."

Therefore it is that Byron is tempted again and again "to cut up
Southey like a gourd." And therefore it is that the love of liberty
of the Radical poets is a divine frenzy, a sacred fire, of which not
a spark is to be found in the Platonic love of the Lake School. When
Shelley sings to liberty:--

    "But keener thy gaze than the lightning's glare,
     And swifter thy step than the earthquake's tramp;
     Thou deafenest the rage of the ocean; thy stare
     Makes blind the volcanoes; the sun's bright lamp
                 To thine is a fen-fire damp;"

we feel that this liberty is not a thing which we can grasp with our
hands, or confer as a gift in a constitution, or inscribe among the
articles of a state-church. It is the eternal cry of the human spirit,
its never-ending requirement of itself; it is the spark of heavenly
fire which Prometheus placed in the human heart when he formed it, and
which it has been the work of the greatest among men to fan into the
flame that is the source of all light and all warmth in those who feel
that life would be dark as the grave and cold as stone without it. This
liberty makes its appearance in each new century with a new name. In
the Middle Ages it was persecuted and stamped out under the name of
heresy; in the sixteenth century it was championed and opposed under
the name of the Reformation; in the seventeenth it was sentenced to
the stake as witchcraft and atheism; in the eighteenth it became first
a philosophical gospel, and then, through the Revolution, a political
power; in the nineteenth it receives from the champions of the past the
new nickname of Radicalism.

What the poets of the Lake School extolled was a definite, actually
existing _sum of liberties_--not liberty. What the revolutionary poets
extolled was undoubtedly true liberty; but their conception was so
extremely ideal, that in practical matters they too often shot beyond
the mark. In the weakening of all established government they saw
only the weakening of bad government; in the half-barbaric revolts of
oppressed races they saw the dawn of perfect liberty. Shelley had so
little knowledge of his fellow-men that he thought the great victory
would be won if he could exterminate kings and priests at a blow;
and Byron's life was almost over before he learned by experience how
few republican virtues the European revolutionists leagued together
in the name of liberty possessed. The poets of the Lake School were
safeguarded against the generous delusions and overhastiness of the
Radical poets; but posterity has derived more pleasure and profit from
the aberrations due to the love of liberty in the latter than from the
carefully hedged in and limited Liberalism of the former.

[1] This year (1875) Disraeli, as Chairman of the Byron Memorial
Committee, has started a subscription for the erection of a statue to
Byron on some prominent site in London.



This is the time to notice the man who was Byron's and Shelley's worst
enemy and Coleridge's best friend, and who, inferior as his productions
are to those of his friend, deserves also to have his name coupled with
Coleridge's as a famous English Romanticist.

Robert Southey, born in Bristol in 1774, was the son of a linen-draper
there, and to the end of his life a man who produced the impression
that he had been born in narrow circumstances, in a corner of the world
with a narrow spiritual horizon. After studying a short time at Oxford,
he, like the other poets of the Lake School, became infected by the
spirit of the Revolution. In 1794 he wrote an extremely Jacobinical
poem, _Wat Tyler_. About the same time he composed the following
inscription for the room in which Martin, the regicide, had been

    "For thirty years secluded from mankind
     Here Martin linger'd. Often have these walls
     Echo'd his footsteps, as with even tread
     He paced around his prison. Not to him
     Did Nature's fair varieties exist;
     He never saw the sun's delightful beams,
     Save when through yon high bars he pour'd a sad
     And broken splendour. Dost thou ask his crime?
     _He had rebell'd against the King, and sat_
     _In judgment on him_; for his ardent mind
     Shaped goodliest plans of happiness on earth,
     And peace and liberty. Wild dreams! but such
     As Plato lov'd...."

The following rather clever parody was inserted by Mr. Canning in the


    "For one long term, or ere her trial came,
     Here Brownrigg linger'd. Often have these cells
     Echo'd her blasphemies, as with shrill voice
     She scream'd for fresh geneva. Not to her
     Did the blithe fields of Tothill, or thy street,
     St. Giles, its fair varieties expand;
     Till at the last in slow-drawn cart she went
     To execution. Dost thou ask her crime?
     _She whipp'd two female 'prentices to death,_
     _And hid them in the coal-hole._ For her mind
     Shaped strictest plans of discipline. Sage schemes!
     Such as Lycurgus taught...."

After Southey, too, had given up his project of emigration and won
the hand of _his_ Miss Fricker, he settled in London, in 1797. From
1807 onwards the Government granted him an annual allowance of £150,
and after Pye's death he became Poet Laureate, with a salary of £300.
This post, which entailed the obligation to compose a poem on the
occasion of every special event in the royal family, had first been
offered by the Prince Regent to Scott, who asked his friend and patron,
the Duke of Buccleuch, for advice in the matter. The Duke wrote:
"Only think of being chanted and recitatived by a parcel of hoarse
and squeaking choristers on a birthday, for the edification of the
bishops, pages, maids of honour, and gentlemen-pensioners! Oh horrible!
thrice horrible!" &c., &c. Scott declined the proffered honour, and
suggested Southey, a loyal and needy poet, as a fit recipient. For the
greater part of his life Southey was obliged to live by his pen, and
consequently often wrote under compulsion. Industrious, economical, a
model of all the domestic virtues, he amassed a capital of £12,000.
With him, as with the Germans, Romanticism, instead of precluding the
bourgeois virtues, throve along with them. It had, after all, so little
connection with real life. His respectable Philistinism did not forbid
of his allowing his imagination to take the wildest Oriental flights.

During the first, the liberal-minded, stage of Southey's career, we are
conscious of a sympathetic ardour in his writing. He possessed both
enthusiasm and courage. His epic, _Joan of Arc_, published in 1797, is
a poem inspired by as fervent an admiration for the heroine of France
as that displayed by Schiller five years later in his _Jungfrau von
Orleans_. Southey's work is, like Schiller's, of an exactly opposite
character to Voltaire's _Pucelle_, which, the English poet in his
preface informs his readers, is a book he has "never been guilty of
looking into." In _Joan of Arc_ Southey is not yet the Romanticist.
Once or twice he projects his vision as far as his own day. In the
Third Book he extols Madame Roland as "the martyred patriot," in the
Tenth he refers to Lafayette's as "the name that Freedom still shall
love." And in his representation of Jeanne's exploits we have not, as
in Schiller, any reference to witchcraft. At a decisive moment, when
the Maid is being questioned as to her beliefs, she (and through her,
her poet) makes such a frank confession of her faith in nature that
we feel satisfied that in Southey's case too, the Naturalism which
dominates the English poetry of the day is the foundation upon which
everything rests.

"Woman," says a priest to Joan of Arc,--

           "Woman, thou seem'st to scorn
    The ordinances of our holy Church;
    And, if I rightly understand thy words,
    Nature, thou say'st, taught thee in solitude
    Thy feelings of religion, and that now
    Masses and absolution and the use
    Of the holy wafer, are to thee unknown.
    But how could Nature teach thee true religion,
    Deprived of these? Nature doth lead to sin,
    But 'tis the priest alone can teach remorse,
    Can bid St. Peter ope the gates of Heaven,
    And from the penal fires of purgatory
    Set the soul free."

The Maid replies:--

                      "Fathers of the holy Church,
    If on these points abstruse a simple maid
    Like me should err, impute not you the crime
    To self-will'd reason, vaunting its own strength
    Above eternal wisdom. True it is
    That for long time I have not heard the sound
    Of mass high-chaunted, nor with trembling lips
    Partook the holy wafer: yet the birds
    Who to the matin ray prelusive pour'd
    Their joyous song, methought did warble forth
    Sweeter thanksgiving to Religion's ear
    In their wild melody of happiness,
    Than ever rung along the high-arch'd roofs
    Of man: ... yet never from the bending vine
    Pluck'd I its ripen'd clusters thanklessly,
    Or of that God unmindful, who bestow'd
    The bloodless banquet. Ye have told me, Sirs,
    That Nature only teaches man to sin!
    If it be sin to seek the wounded lamb,
    To bind its wounds, and bathe them with my tears,
    This is what Nature taught! No, Fathers, no!
    It is not Nature that doth lead to sin:
    Nature is all benevolence, all love,
    All beauty! In the greenwood's quiet shade
    There is no vice that to the indignant cheek
    Bids the red current rush; no misery there;
    No wretched mother, who with pallid face
    And famine-fallen hangs o'er her hungry babes,
    With such a look, so wan, so woe-begone,
    As shall one day, with damning eloquence
    Against the oppressor plead!..."[1]

In this little harangue the attentive reader is conscious, not only of
the echo of the revolutionary cries on the other side of the Channel,
repeated in the language of English nature-worship, but also of the
young poet's want of ability to give his subject the proper local
colouring or to impart to it the spirit of the age. France and the
Middle Ages are to him here what the East and the world of legend were
to become--a costume in which his English and Protestant ideas figure.
Of one thing, however, there is no doubt, namely, that it required
courage to sing the praises of the French national heroine at a moment
when the animosity to France was so strong; and the poem, in spite of
its aridity both as regards feeling and colour, is a work which does
honour to a young poet. But the brave spirit which elevated his talent
was soon to disappear from his writings.

The lower the flood of unselfish enthusiasm for the great tasks and
dreams of humanity ebbed in Southey's soul, the stronger became
the impulse to remedy the aridity by pouring in a stream of purely
external Romanticism. He had by degrees attained to a certain mastery
over the resources of language, had acquired the art of writing
loosely constructed but melodious verse, expressive in spite of its
vagueness and monotony. Employing this melodious, flexible metre in the
representation of the superstitions of Arabia and the most fantastic
dreams of the Oriental races, he now produced his two principal works,
_The Curse of Kehama_ and _Thalaba the Destroyer_. The Oriental
tendency is common to Romanticism in every country. Oehlenschläger,
the Dane, displays it simultaneously with Southey; it reaches France
a little later, when Victor Hugo writes _Aly et Gulhyndi_ and _Les
Orientales_. But in the case of the English poets, the colourless,
Protestant life of their own country, with its severe, cold propriety,
must have invested the East with a peculiarly attractive charm. It
required an Irishman, however--Thomas Moore, a colourist with Celtic
blood in his veins--to arrive at anything resembling an understanding
of a race like the ancient Persians and of their legends, and to
reproduce the nature of the East in a style loaded with jewels and
barbaric ornaments. _Lalla Rookh_ is no masterpiece; its personages
and ideas are far too European and tame; but _Thalaba_, a work which
enjoyed a certain amount of celebrity in its day, is tame in comparison
with _Lalla Rookh_, and as moral as an English sermon. It suffers from
the sharp contrast between the gaudy tinsel of the scenery and the
sober modesty of the feelings represented. We are transplanted into a
world which is not less marvellous than that of the _Thousand and One
Nights_, but a world in which, nevertheless, love of our fellow-men
and faith in one God are perpetually inculcated. The hero's life is
presided over by the most special providence. When the fit time has
arrived for him to leave his foster-father's house, the flight of a
swarm of Syrian grasshoppers, pursued by a flock of birds, is directed
so as to pass above the house. A grasshopper which one of the birds
drops from its bill bears on its forehead in minute letters the

    "When the sun shall be darkened at noon,
           Son of Hodeirah, depart!"

But even though the poet employs such miraculous machinery as this, he
can no more refrain here than he did in _Joan of Arc_ from safeguarding
his reader against the erroneous religious ideas of the period and the
country. All his chief characters are rationalists in so far as their
Oriental religion is concerned, and do not fall far short of being
good Protestants. When the swarm of grasshoppers comes, Thalaba's
foster-father, Moath, says:--

                              "Deemest thou
    The scent of water on some Syrian mosque
    Placed with priest mummery and fantastic rites
    Which fool the multitude, hath led them here
    From far Khorassan? Allah who appoints
    Yon swarms to be a punishment of man,
    These also hath he doomed to meet their way."

A pure-bred Arabian could not well view things in a more rationalistic
light than this. And we have the same sort of thing throughout. Southey
piles up fantastic edifices, only to topple them over with the help of
some Gospel text when he is tired of them, or thinks that his reader
requires an admonition.

Upon his finger Thalaba wears a ring which is a talisman against evil
spirits. One day the evil spirit, Lobaba, who is determined to rob him
of it, tries to draw it off his finger while he is asleep. But one of
the good genii sends a wasp which stings Thalaba's finger close to the
edge of the ring, making it impossible for the evil one to slip the
ring over the swollen part. All Lobaba's plans are defeated in some
such manner. At last the dread sorcerer, Mohareb, succeeds in ensnaring
the youth. After Thalaba has defeated Mohareb repeatedly, the latter
jeers at him because he defeats his enemies, not in open conflict, but
with the aid of a talisman. He barbs his jeers so successfully that at
last Thalaba casts the ring into an abyss. Then the struggle begins
anew. We expect that Thalaba, now defenceless against the supernatural
power of his foes, will be overcome. Not at all! He conquers. How,
and why? A voice from heaven informs us. The ring was not the true
talisman: "The Talisman is Faith!" Why, then, all the machinery?

The poet conducts us into subterranean caves, where human heads have to
be thrown to the serpents who guard the entrances, where the taper can
only be carried in the hewn-off hand of a hanged murderer, &c, &c.--in
short, into a world which has no points of resemblance with Great
Britain. But the whole is nothing but a ballet; the scene suddenly
changes; the Oriental garments and trappings vanish, and the prompter
reads aloud one of the Thirty-nine Articles. After this the ballet
begins again. The scene represents a banquet, with costly dishes, with
delicious wines in golden goblets--"ruby and amber, rosy as rising
morn, or softer gleam of saffron like the sunny evening mist." But all
these temptations are of no avail. Thalaba is far too good a Mussulman
to allow himself to be led astray:--

        "But Thalaba took not the draught;
    For rightly he knew had the Prophet forbidden
           That beverage, the mother of sins.
             Nor did the urgent hosts
           Proffer a second time the liquid fire,
           When in the youth's strong eye they saw
             No movable resolve."

He might be a member of an English Total Abstinence society, this
"Destroyer"--he will drink nothing but spring water; and along with it
he eats water melons.

    "Anon a troop of females form'd a dance,
        Their ancles bound with bracelet bells
        That made the modulating harmony.
      Transparent garments to the greedy eye
          Exposed their harlot limbs,
      Which moved, in every wanton gesture skill'd."

But there is no cause for alarm. Thalaba is a determined adversary of
the polygamy of his native country. Like a young Englishman travelling
abroad, he fortifies himself with the thought of the girl at home to
whom he is engaged:--

       "And Thalaba, he gazed,
    But in his heart he bore a talisman,
        Whose blessed alchemy
      To virtuous thoughts refined
    The loose suggestions of the scene impure.
     Oneiza's image swam before his sight.
      His own Arabian maid."

Thalaba was born in England about the time when Aladdin saw the light
in Denmark. (_The Curse of Kehama_ was published in 1810, _Aladdin_ in
1804, Thalaba in 1801.) What a cold-blooded animal he is compared with
his Danish brother!

He attains the object of his desire; he is married to his "own Arabian
maid." That everything may be thoroughly edifying and pious, the
bride is made to die on the wedding night. To restore the Oriental
character to the proceedings, Thalaba is compelled by his fate to kill
an innocent young girl, named Laila. But that things may end in a
satisfactorily Christian manner, his last recorded act is to forgive
the sorcerer who has caused all his misfortunes--who proves to be the
man he has been in search of all his life for the purpose of avenging
the death of his father--and who is now unable to escape from him. In
the course of a pompous funeral oration--

    "'Old Man, I strike thee not!' said Thalaba;
     'The evil thou hast done to me and mine
          Brought its own bitter punishment.'"

Thalaba! you speak like a book--but like one of the books we open only
to close again.

Let us close _Thalaba_, then, and give a parting glance at its author.
Even Thackeray, who cannot say enough in praise of Southey as a man, is
obliged, in writing of his chief works, to allow the possibility that,
in the struggle between Thalaba the Destroyer and the destroyer Time,
the latter will remain master of the field. It would be interesting
to know how many living Englishmen have read the poem. To our own
generation Southey's name is chiefly known, as it will be to posterity,
by his hysteric assaults on Byron, and Byron's inimitable retorts.
We have Southey's _Vision of Judgment_ to thank for Byron's--and for
this service we are ready to forgive him both the _Curse of Kehama_
and _Thalaba_. We observe, however, in these poems, what is not to be
observed in the works of the German Romanticists, namely, that the
empty fantasticalness gives place to something better, when it is
nature that is described. In the midst of all the Romantic confusion
the Englishman's quiet realism asserts itself. Undeniably beautiful is
the very first stanza of _Thalaba_, with its description of night in
the desert, the sweet cadences of which the youthful Shelley imitated
in his _Queen Mab_.

        "How beautiful is night!
     A dewy freshness fills the silent air;
    No mist obscures, nor cloud, nor speck, nor stain
       Breaks the serene of heaven.
     In full-orb'd glory yonder Moon divine
       Rolls through the dark blue depths.
         Beneath her steady ray
         The desert-circle spreads,
     Like the round ocean, girdled with the sky.
         How beautiful is night!"

This rivals the description of moonlight falling on the desert sands
given in The Caravan Song in the fifth act of _Aladdin_. And many such
pictures are to be found in Southey's poems. When he describes the
timid antelope, hearing the wanderers' steps, and standing, doubtful
where to turn in the dim light; and the ostrich which, blindly
hastening, meets them full; and the deep, moveless mist which mantles
all (Book I v., Canto 19), we are aware that this is not scenery in the
German Romantic style, but a picture of the East which is faithful to
nature, a picture which we owe to the English habit of observation.

It would be difficult to find another man of the same doubtful
political and literary reputation whose friends and contemporaries have
borne such high testimony to his personal character as did Southey's.
He was Wordsworth's trusted friend; he was Coleridge's chief and most
unwearied benefactor; and, a fact which carries as much weight as any,
Walter Savage Landor honoured him, in spite of their diametrically
opposite political opinions, with a friendship which was only put an
end to by death, and of which there are many reminiscences in Landor's
_Imaginary Conversations_. On the 15th of May 1833, Emerson wrote: "I
dined with Landor. He pestered me with Southey; but who is Southey?" So
we see that Landor tried to make friends for his friend. And Thackeray,
when in search of a typical English gentleman, did not hesitate to take
as his model the poor, industrious, generously helpful Robert Southey.

But no testimony in favour of Southey's personal character can clear
his literary reputation. It is stained by his eulogies of the English
royal family and his denunciation of Byron. That he, like the other
members of the Lake School, should assume a cold and hostile attitude
to this new and alarming literary phenomenon was natural. But that
he, himself a poet, should inflame the educated mob against another
poet, an infinitely greater one than himself, by a mean accusation of
immorality and irreligion, is a crime which history cannot forgive, and
which it punishes by recording Southey's name only in an appendix to
Byron's life.

At the time of the publication of _Don Juan_, Southey wrote:--"I am
well aware that the public are peculiarly intolerant of literary
innovations. Would that this literary intolerance were under the
influence of a saner judgment, and regarded the morals more than the
manners of a composition! Would that it were directed against these
monstrous combinations of horrors and mockery, lewdness and impiety,
with which English poetry has, in our days, first been polluted! For
more than half a century English literature had been distinguished
by its moral purity, the effect, and, in its turn, the cause of an
improvement in national manners. A father might, without apprehension
of evil, have put into the hands of his children any book which
issued from the press, if it did not bear, either in its title-page
or frontispiece, manifest signs that it was intended as furniture
for the brothel. There was no danger in any work which bore the name
of a respectable publisher, or was to be procured at any respectable
bookseller's. This was particularly the case with regard to our poetry.
It is now no longer so; and woe to those by whom the offence cometh!
The greater the talents of the offender, the greater is his guilt, and
the more enduring will be his shame. Whether it be that the laws are
in themselves unable to abate an evil of this magnitude, or whether it
be that they are remissly administered, and with such injustice that
the celebrity of an offender serves as a privilege whereby he obtains
impunity, individuals are bound to consider that such pernicious works
would neither be published nor written if they were discouraged as they
might, and ought to be, by public feeling; every person, therefore,
who purchases such books or admits them into his house promotes the
mischief, and thereby, as far as in him lies, becomes an aider and
abettor of the crime.

"The publication of a lascivious book is one of the worst offences
which can be committed against the well-being of society. It is a sin,
to the consequences of which no limits can be assigned, and those
consequences no after-repentance in the writer can counteract. Whatever
remorse of conscience he may feel when his hour comes (and come it
must!) will be of no avail. The poignancy of a deathbed repentance
cannot cancel one copy of the thousands which are sent abroad....
Men of diseased hearts and depraved imaginations, who, forming a
system of opinions to suit their own unhappy course of conduct, have
rebelled against the holiest ordinances of human society, and hate
that revealed religion which, with all their efforts and bravadoes,
they are unable entirely to disbelieve, labour to make others as
miserable as themselves by infecting them with a moral virus that
eats into the soul! The school which they have set up may properly be
called the Satanic school; for though their productions breathe the
spirit of Belial in their lascivious parts, and the spirit of Moloch
in those loathsome images of atrocities and horror which they delight
to represent, they are more especially characterised by a Satanic
spirit of pride and audacious impiety, which still betrays the wretched
feeling of hopelessness wherewith it is allied."

It was necessary to give this long specimen of Southey's Biblical
eloquence, because it is so typical of him and of men of his
description; besides, every passionate outbreak of a strong
party-spirit possesses historical interest. But Nemesis was not asleep.
In 1821, the same year in which Southey discharged this volley of
abuse, an unauthorised edition of his own old revolutionary work, _Wat
Tyler_, was brought out by a bookseller who thought it might be a
profitable speculation. Southey went to law, hoping to have the edition
suppressed and the publisher punished. But Nemesis struck again, harder
than before. Lord Eldon discharged the appeal, on the ground that it
was illegal to grant any author right of property in works calculated
to do injury to public morality! It was in this same year that Southey,
on the occasion of the death of the old, deranged King, George III,
wrote his long, dull _Vision of Judgment_, a poem in hexameters, which
it is interesting (not only because of the resemblance in subject,
but also because of the employment of the supernatural element in
both) to compare with Victor Hugo's loyal poem, _La Vision_. Southey
characteristically apotheosised poor old George III. on the ground of
his possessing the virtues which were the only ones the poet himself
understood--and, indeed, the only ones George did possess--the domestic
and bourgeois virtues; he was a faithful husband, a kind father, &c.,
qualities which no more make a man a good king than they make him a
good poet. Byron could stand no more. The insulted Apollo rose in his
wrath, seized the wretched Marsyas by the ear, and flayed him alive
with merciless satire in his _Vision of Judgment_.

[1] _Joan of Arc_, Book iii.



Let us turn from Southey to a better man, to the author who, building
on the groundwork of national character and history, originated the
distinctively British type of Romanticism. This man did not, like
his contemporaries of the Lake School, require to play the renegade
in order to become conservative in religion and politics; he was
conservative from his earliest youth, but without animosity to men of
the opposite tendency. Pure-minded and gentle by nature, of a noble,
resolute character, richly endowed with the creative gift, he for
twenty years provided all the countries of Europe with wholesome,
entertaining literature; and so original was his conception of
race-character and history, that his influence in every civilised
country upon the writing of history was not less great than his
influence on fiction.

Walter Scott, the ninth child of a family "of gentle blood," was born
in Edinburgh on the 15th of August 1771. His father, a lawyer by
profession, resembled Goethe's father in his severe sense of order;
the old merchant in _Rob Roy_ is said to be a portrait of him. Ardent
loyalty, displaying itself in devotion, first to the Stuarts, then to
the house of Hanover, was one hereditary quality in the family; and
orthodox piety was another. In his earliest infancy Walter was healthy
and strong, but in his second year he suddenly became lame in the
right leg. The sweet temper with which throughout life he bore this
physical infirmity, presents a remarkable contrast to the resentful
impatience which his great English rival displayed with regard to a
similar affliction. The boy grew up an ardent Jacobite and a lover of
the old songs and ballads which tell of the Scottish wars and raids,
Highland and Lowland. When he was little more than an infant, he could
repeat most of that ballad of Hardicanute with which in 1815 he drew
tears from Byron's eyes. Anything of the nature of a story, especially
if it was in rhyme, he learned with ease, but--a fact significant of
the character of his future productions--dates and _general principles_
were things which he assimilated with difficulty. The little lame boy,
who rode about on a pony not much bigger than a Newfoundland dog, was
an admirer of Percy's collection of old poems and fragments; and,
what is more remarkable, himself collected old ballads and songs,
as other children collect coins or seals. At the age of ten he had
several volumes of them; and he continued to be a ballad-hunter all
his life. Keen observation of his surroundings was another thing that
developed early in Scott; he had an eye for every ruin, every monument
of antiquity, every curious old stone; but he had not Wordsworth's
intensity of regard for nature as simply nature; it was its historical
and poetic interest that attracted him. A group of old trees which
had grown together was not in itself capable of arousing in him the
devotional spirit which it did in Wordsworth; but if he was told: Under
this tree Charles II. rested; or: That tree was planted by Mary Queen
of Scots--he broke a twig to keep in memory of his visit to the place,
and never forgot these trees.

[Illustration: SIR WALTER SCOTT]

At the age of fifteen he made acquaintance with the picturesque
Scottish Highlands, which were ere long to be of such importance to
him, as providing his fictitious characters with a background of
scenery as yet totally unknown to Europe. From the moment when he
became conscious of his poetic calling, he studied nature in the manner
of the painter who takes sketches. Before describing any district he
took a special journey there, made a minute record of the appearance
of the hills, of the lie and shape of the woods, even of the nature
and outlines of the clouds at a given moment. He actually noted single
flowers and bushes by the road-side or at the entrance to a cave.
Though he had, in common with the Romanticists of Germany and Denmark,
the poetic eye for nature, this did not stand in the way of vigorous,
exact realism in description. Whilst Oehlenschläger long contented
himself with "speedwell" and roses, Scott, as he himself said, knew
hill, brook, dell, rock, and stone, and the whole flora of his country.

Before the young man's true vocation was revealed to him, he had made
of himself a reliable, industrious lawyer, who engrossed his legal
documents in the typical law hand in which he was afterwards to write
so many famous books. In spite of his lameness he was healthy, active,
and strong, and so well-trained in manly exercises that he was able
to defend himself with his stick for a whole hour against three men
who attacked him one day on a lonely road. It is of interest, in the
case of such a man, to note the fact that this perfect health was not
accompanied by any corresponding perfection of the sensual organs.
Scott had hardly any sense of smell, and his Homeric appetite was the
opposite of dainty; he never learned to distinguish good wine from bad,
or well-cooked from badly-cooked food--in both of these points forming
the antipodes of his younger contemporary, Keats. His feelings towards
the other sex were so cold that his companions were always teasing
him on the subject. Nevertheless he had, in his youth, a romantic
attachment to a lady who chose another mate. Scott controlled his
feelings so perfectly that no one suspected this attachment. He soon
recovered from his disappointment, and, at the age of twenty-six, with
a chaste, tranquil youth behind him, married Miss Carpenter, a lady
of French Protestant family, whose father had died at the time of the
Revolution. Most of the winter of 1796-97, during which an invasion of
Scotland by the French was expected, he spent in assisting to raise
regiments of volunteers. In his enthusiasm he himself undertook the
duties of quartermaster, paymaster, and secretary of one of these

His first translations from the German have already been noticed. He
had long been a living repertory of songs, ballads, and tales; in 1803
he published, under the title of _Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border_,
a collection of ballads, which he dedicated to his native land, the
"dearest half of Albion." Part Third of this book, _Modern Imitations_,
contains poems by Scott himself.[1] In one of the criticisms of the day
occurred the prophetic remark, that the book "contained the elements of
a hundred historical romances."

With all his loyalty to the English royal family, Scott never felt
himself anything but the thoroughbred Scotchman; indeed, there can
be no doubt that what lies at the very root of his originality is
his Scottish character. His strong interest in the poetry of history
is a Scottish interest. One of the most pronounced characteristics
of Scotchmen in every age has been an intense spirit of nationality.
The phrase _Perfervidum ingenium Scotorum_, used centuries ago on
the Continent to express the idea of the Scottish character then
universally current, had originally no other meaning than this. If
we for a moment overlook the many internal dissensions, which do not
really undermine the feeling of community, we feel how difficult it
would be to match in any other country the solidarity of this small
nation placed on the frontier of one so much larger and more powerful,
which speaks the same language. The Englishman, too, has an intense
spirit of nationality, but it is much less salient and active; it is
purely of a corroborative nature--corroboration of the claim advanced
by his country to the possession of many and various attributes. The
Scotchman's spirit of nationality is continuously active, constantly on
the alert, because it is essentially of a negative character. When the
Englishman says: I am an Englishman--he means exactly what he says; but
when the Scotchman says or thinks: I am a Scotchman--it is tantamount
to: I am not an Englishman.[2]

To understand this feeling properly, we must remember the smallness
of the nation in comparison with its great neighbour. When we learn
that in the year 1707 the entire population of Scotland did not
exceed a million, we understand what concord, what determination,
what defensive pugnacity, were imperative in the less numerous race
if its individuality was not to be flooded out or stamped out by the
other. Thus it came about that bleak and rugged Scotland, as compared
with verdant, fertile England, was the object of a very special love
and admiration; its hills, its moors, its mists, inspired an almost
martial patriotism. And it is therefore not surprising that, at the
period when the spirit of nationality was breaking forth into poetry
all over Europe, this country should produce a great descriptive,
great narrative, poet--that it should be Scotland which brings forth
the first and the most vigorous fruits of historical, ethnological
Romanticism. What more natural than that an author in such a country
as Scotland should be deeply interested in the peculiar customs of the
Highlanders, and take pleasure in describing them in their picturesque
garb! What more natural than that the man whose very name seemed to
stamp him as a personification of his country, should endeavour, by
recalling its great historical achievements in the past, to efface, as
it were, the impression of its smallness and present insignificance!

Scottish national feeling was, then, in the first instance,
distinguished by its solidarity; the subordinate nation felt itself
more one than the greater nation; there were fewer conflicting
interests at work within it. Scott frequently describes this strong
feeling of kinship among his countrymen--nowhere more beautifully than
in the _Heart of Midlothian_ the poor peasant heroine of which is
encouraged by it to apply for help to the Duke of Argyle almost as if
he were a relative. But Scottish national feeling possessed another
distinguishing feature; being, in its character of attachment to an
ancient; once entirely independent, state, itself a tradition, it was
related to every other old tradition. This explains Scott's exaggerated
reverence for royalty, its emblems and appurtenances. When he was a
member of the Commission entrusted to institute a search after the
ancient regalia of Scotland, the discovery of it filled him with such
reverential emotion that, when one of the other Commissioners proposed
to try the crown on a young lady's head, he could not help shouting:
"By God, no!"

The first great feeling of separate nationalism brought in its train a
whole host of new separative feelings. If there were not many nations
that rivalled the Scotch in the way they held together as a people,
there were still fewer that could show such inward division into
parties and camps. The individual's feeling of his public duty did not
begin with the nation, but with the tribe, the clan, nay, the family.

Hence we find Scott, the true Scotchman, showing preference, as a
ballad-writer, for the legends which treat of the exploits of his own
ancestors or kin, and in his private life exhibiting strong family
feeling. He was a model son and husband; he was, as his letters to his
eldest son show, a devoted father; in the education of his children
he neglected neither body nor soul--though his chief requirements of
them seem to have been the ancient Persian ones, that they should
ride well and speak the truth; but his conception even of these
relations was not modern. In his private life as in his poetry, the
family was more to him than the individual. He had a brother, Daniel
by name, who fell into bad habits, and, though he never did anything
actually dishonourable, was a disgrace to the family. Scott procured
a small appointment in the West Indies for this brother, but in his
correspondence about him never called him anything but "relation,"
and also required of him that he should never divulge the nearness of
the relationship. He refused to see Daniel when the latter returned
to Scotland, never mentioned his name, and would neither attend his
funeral nor wear mourning for him. Such behaviour as this shows the bad
side of the society-preserving virtues. It is not surprising that the
man who, with all his tender-heartedness, could sacrifice so much on
the altar of "family," was unable to become the poet of personality,
and was stamped as of the past the moment Byron appeared.

In 1802 the _Edinburgh Review_ was founded. Scott was a contributor
to it from the beginning. Its editor was his fellow-countryman,
Jeffrey, a man whose critical pronouncements were regarded as of the
utmost importance by the authors of the day, though his only gift
as a critic was a kind of untrained, straightforward common-sense.
Scott's contributions ceased in 1809, when, dissatisfied with the
liberal-minded attitude assumed by the _Edinburgh Review_ in the
Catholic question, and annoyed by Jeffrey's disparaging notice of
_Marmion_, he founded the _Quarterly Review_.

Scotts first narrative poem, _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_, appeared
in 1805. It was a remarkable success. The reading public rejoiced
at this return to nature and to national poetry. Pitt expressed the
opinion that in several passages Scott had succeeded in producing
the effect of a fine painting, and his opponent Fox was for once of
the same opinion with him. Scott's personal amiability as Sheriff
of Selkirkshire had, ere this, made him such a favourite that, as
Wordsworth wrote in 1803, his name acted as _an open sesame_ throughout
the Border country; now he became equally beloved as a poet. In a very
short time 30,000 copies of his work were sold. In it he introduced
his readers, with something approaching historical accuracy, to the
Scotland of the sixteenth century. The acceptance with which his
descriptions of the Border customs were received, suggested the idea
of writing something of the same kind in prose, an idea which in its
embodiment received the name of _Waverley_. In the meantime interest
had been aroused in the Middle Ages, chivalry, feudal conditions, and
Scottish national characteristics generally. English tourists began to
make romantic pilgrimages to the ruins of the old castles, and to the
battle-field of Killiecrankie, where their countrymen had been defeated
by the bare-legged, tartan-clad monsters.

Until this time Scott had been in the habit of writing in the evening,
and far on into the night; but after he devoted himself entirely to
authorship, the early morning became his working time. He rose before
five, went first to the stables to visit his horses and favourite dogs
and other domestic animals, then seated himself at his desk and wrote
so easily and fast that by the time the family assembled for breakfast,
between nine and ten, he had, to use his own words, "broken the neck of
the day's work." He left his study at twelve, and spent the rest of the
day with his family and his guests. Scott's works were, thus, written
in the fresh morning hours, whilst Byron, characteristically enough,
wrote his at night. And we seem, even when the two poets are likest
each other, to feel the influence of the bright, and the influence of
the dark, hour of conception.

It is in the poem which he began in November 1806, _Marmion, a Tale
of Flodden Field_, that Scott is most like Byron. As far as the plot
is concerned, this work is quite in Scott's usual style; the scene is
laid in sixteenth-century Scotland, and it is the life of the castle
and the court that is described. But the hero's character makes him
an unmistakable forerunner of the Byronic heroes, and the whole poem
is written in the easy-flowing, but somewhat monotonous, four-footed
iambics which Byron employed in most of his poetical narratives.
Marmion is a proud and brave, but also wicked knight. A young,
beautiful nun, Constance of Beverley, whom he has abducted, follows
him everywhere, disguised as a page; but he grows tired of her, and is
determined to compel a young girl of high birth to marry him, though he
knows that she loves another. In her jealous despair, Constance makes
an attempt on Marmion's life; and he, indifferent and cruel, gives her
up to the convent to suffer punishment as a runaway nun. The abbess
pronounces sentence; and, in a Romantic scene of horror of the kind
which Byron painted frequently, and with much less consideration for
his readers' nerves, we see Constance immured alive in an underground

There is not much psychology in Scott's poem. The gorgeousness of the
knight's armour, the gloom of the convent crypt, the architecture
of the old castle, are of more importance to him than complicated
emotions. Nevertheless he has given us in _Marmion_ something very like
a first sketch of _The Giaour_ and of _Lara_. The Giaour's mistress
suffers a terrible death; Lara's follows him everywhere, in the
disguise of a page; and the scene in _Marmion_, in which the hero is
publicly put to shame, has a certain resemblance to the scene in which
Lara's past is brought to mind. Is there not something almost Byronic
in the lines?--

    "Marmion, whose steady heart and eye
     Ne'er changed in worst extremity;
     Marmion, whose soul could scantly brook,
     Even from his king, a haughty look;
     Whose accent of command controlled,
     In camps, the boldest of the bold--
     Thought, look, and utterance failed him now,
     Fallen was his glance, and flushed his brow;
            For either in the tone,
     Or something in the Palmer's look,
     So full upon his conscience strook
            That answer he found none."

And the lines which describe his pangs of conscience:--

    "High minds, of native pride and force,
     Most deeply feel thy pangs, Remorse!
     Fear for their scourge mean villains have,
     Thou art the torturer of the brave!"

do they not seem to foreshadow the famous passage in _The Giaour?_--

    "The mind that broods o'er guilty woes,
     Is like the scorpion girt by fire;
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     The sting she nourished for her foes,
     Whose venom never yet was vain,
     Gives but one pang and cures all pain,
     And darts into her desperate brain."

There is not merely a certain similarity between Marmion's and Lara's
position and character; they also die in the same manner--fall on the
battle-field, unyielding and ungodly to the last moment of their lives.

But this is all the resemblance between them; and it is just sufficient
to throw Byron's distinguishing characteristics into relief. To Scott,
Marmion's personality is not the principal matter; he makes use of it
for the purpose of grouping round it figures and incidents illustrative
of his country's past; he requires the vices of his hero to set his
simple tale going, but he is not the least absorbed in them, and
describes them quite _impersonally_. When Byron, on the other hand,
describes his earliest criminal heroes, his main object is to arouse
interest in them. Their countenances attract the attention and interest
of every one that sees them, and suggest pride, guilt, hatred, and
defiance; never once in their lives are they, like Marmion, unable to
look their accusers in the face; they live the life of the fabulous
scorpion, "around it flame, within it death." Without hope in heaven,
without solace upon earth, their hearts writhe in haughty agony until
they cease to beat. Marmion was a stony-hearted, selfish knight, but
his last thought and his last words were given to England; he is part
of a greater whole than his own egoistic life. It is quite different
with Byron's earliest heroes. They live entirely in their own inner
life, which forms, as it were, a complete and separate world in itself;
and the poet has been careful to allow the reader to catch sight of
a similar dark, complete, and separate world in his, Byron's, soul.
We catch a glimpse of his own _Ego_ behind the fictitious one; we are
conscious of a heart that has suffered, and that seeks relief in veiled
confessions and mysterious outbursts: the manner of presentation is, in
short, personal in the highest degree; and this means a revolution in
English poetical art.

The success of Scott's genuinely epic poem was not due to its hero, but
to its events, and especially to the battle scenes in the last canto,
which enthusiastic critics declared to be the finest out of Homer.
And if the poem was well adapted to excite the admiration of Scott's
sedate countrymen, it was not less adapted to please the court. Byron
was right when he said to the Prince Regent that Scott struck him as
being "more particularly the poet of _Princes_, as they never appeared
more fascinating than in _Marmion_ and _The Lady of the Lake_." It
is even probable that there are in _Marmion_ direct allusions to the
Prince Regent and his wife. The former can hardly have read unmoved the
description of King James in his gorgeous court dress:--

    "For royal was his garb and mien,
       His cloak of crimson velvet piled,
       Trimmed with the fur of marten wild;
     His vest of changeful satin sheen,
       The dazzled eye beguiled."
                            --_Marmion_, v. 8.

And the unfortunate, disgraced Princess of Wales, whose personal
acquaintance Scott made when he was lionised in London for the first
time, in 1806, and to whose party he, as a Tory, belonged, may well
have applied to her own case the poem's description of the forsaken
Queen Margaret, who led such a lonely life whilst the chivalrous,
dissolute monarch spent his time with his mistresses.

Begun in 1806, _Marmion_ was published in 1808, and when, in the
following year, Scott for the second time visited London, he met with
a reception that would have turned any other man's head. He played his
part of lion with a good-nature and humour rare in a man who is the
hero of the moment in a great metropolis. We read that once, after
he had been entertaining a large company with his stories and quaint
humour, when most of the guests had gone; leaving him with only a few
intimate friends, he laughed at himself and quoted: "I know that I one
Snug the joiner am--no lion fell." And so modest was he that, when the
conversation one day turned on himself in connection with Burns, he
emphatically declared himself unworthy to be named on the same day as
that great poet.

But if Scott was a tame, gentle lion, he was a remarkably fierce Tory.
The special purpose of his journey to London was the enlistment of
contributors to the _Quarterly Review_. He desired that this periodical
should be conducted on strictly Conservative principles, and he was
especially firm on the subject of Catholic Emancipation. His theory was
that if a particular sect of religionists are _ipse facto_ connected
with foreign politics and placed under the spiritual direction of a
class of priests of unrivalled dexterity and activity, the state ought
to be excused from entrusting them with confidential posts. "If a
gentleman chooses to walk about with a couple of pounds of gunpowder
in his pocket, if I give him the shelter of my roof, I may at least
be permitted to exclude him from the seat next the fire." Scott
continued all his life to be of this opinion. Only a few years before
his death, he said to his son-in-law: "I hold Popery to be such a mean
and depraving superstition, that I am not sure I could have found
myself liberal enough for voting the repeal of the penal laws as they
existed before 1780. But now that you have taken the plaster off the
old lady of Babylon's mouth, and given her free respiration, I cannot
see the sense of keeping up the irritation about the claim to sit in
Parliament." We understand in what need the English public stood of
poets like Moore, like Byron and Shelley, when we hear a man of Scott's
noble nature and culture express himself with such shameful and cruel

In 1810 appeared the _The Lady of the Lake_, a work which still further
increased its author's popularity. The fresh breezes from the woods
and hills which blow through this beautiful poem, its gentle ardour,
its genuine feeling, which never becomes wild passion, its story, the
effect of which is not, as so often with Wordsworth, destroyed by the
introduction of charitable sentiments and religious exhortations--all
this captivated the reading public. As a proof of the interest taken
in the book, it may be mentioned that the receipts of the post-houses
nearest the district where its scene is laid were doubled. To find a
parallel incident we must again turn to the pages which tell the story
of Scott's life. When _Guy Mannering_, of which 6000 copies were sold
in two days, came out, it was reported that Scott had called Dandie
Dinmont's two dogs, Pepper and Mustard, after two actually existing
terriers, to which a Liddesdale farmer had given these odd names. This
man, whose name was Davidson, and who was not really portrayed in the
novel at all, became so famous that people took long journeys to see
him; a lady of rank, who desired to possess a couple of dogs of the
famous breed, but who did not know the farmer's name, addressed her
letter to "Dandie Dinmont," and it reached its proper destination.

_The Lady of the Lake_ met with an almost equally cordial reception.
We read that on the day when it reached Sir Adam Fergusson, a Scottish
captain serving in Portugal, he was posted with his company on a point
of ground exposed to the enemy's artillery. The men were ordered to
lie prostrate on the ground, and while they kept that attitude, the
captain, kneeling at their head, read aloud the description of the
battle in Canto vi., and the listening soldiers only interrupted him
by a joyous huzza whenever the French shot struck the bank close above

What the modern and foreign reader of this poem finds in it now is,
in the first place, strong national feeling; the memories of ancient
days, of feudal customs, of Scottish royalty, of the clan's fidelity
to its chief, are chanted in lucid, vivid, simple verse. Along with
this, he finds descriptions of nature with the dew as fresh on them
as on Christian Winther's. What he does not find is any attempt at
psychological character portrayal. There is an old bard, Allan by name,
and another Romantic old character, half Druid, half prophet, Brian by
name; there are Romantic dreams which come true, and prophecies which
are fulfilled. But these personages and incidents have their place in
the poem because they belong to the period and the people, not because
they are mysterious. There is not a trace to be found of the Romantic
belief in horrors. For, much as Scott enjoyed hearing or writing
anything of the nature of a ghost story, he was, unlike the German
Romanticists, totally unimpressionable as regarded the mysteriously
horrible. He tells somewhere that, having arrived one evening at a
country inn, he was informed that there was no bed for him. "No place
to lie down at all?" said he. "No," said the people of the house,
"none, except a room in which there is a corpse lying." "Well," said
he, "did the person die of any contagious disorder?" "Oh no; not at
all," said they. "Well, then," continued he, "let me have the other
bed." "So," said Sir Walter, "I laid me down, and never had a better
night's sleep in my life."

There is no want of freshness in the Romantic flavour of _The Lady
of the Lake_; what really takes away from its attractiveness for us,
nowadays, is the theatricalness of its representation of manners and
customs. Scott has not succeeded in steering quite clear of this most
perilous of reefs for the Romantic epic, the reef on which Southey
suffered shipwreck. Take, for example, the description of the call
of the clan to arms by the youth bearing the blood-stained cross.
Everything is pushed to an extreme to produce the theatrical effect.
The young man comes first to a house where funeral rites are being
held, and forces the son to leave his father's corpse and his weeping
mother; then he meets a wedding procession, and takes the bridegroom
away from the bride. We seem to see the procession crossing the stage,
and to feel the impressive effect produced by the sudden appearance of
the cross-bearer from behind the scenes. Things happen just as they do
in the theatre: a loud whistle, and empty valleys are filled and bare
heights covered with armed men--a wave of the hand, and they disappear
again. They are _general effects_ that we are conscious of; we feel
that the poet is interested in the people, not in the individual. His
first and chief aim was to represent in strong relief the beautiful
traditional customs of his country: the stranger is welcomed in the
hut without a question being asked--the combatant chivalrously shares
his plaid with his exhausted antagonist. His second aim was to excite
his reader pleasurably by means of surprises: Fitzjames's Highland
guide suddenly makes himself known as the redoubted chief, Roderick
Dhu--Fitzjames himself proves to be the King of Scotland. But how light
and joyous and healthfully pure is the flow of this hymn of praise of
Scotland and the Scotch! The King, high-spirited and honourable as
one of Calderon's kings, masters his own passion; and the Highlanders
and the Lowlanders, men and women, have their hearts in the right
place. We enjoy the glimpse into the harmonious world, and do not miss
Wordsworth's castigatory and admonitory psychology.

We have a really interesting counterpart to _The Lady of the Lake_ in
Wordsworth's _White Doe of Rylstone_, a narrative poem founded on one
of the ballads in Percy's collection, and also begun in 1809. It is in
this work that the poet of Rydal Mount, who probably felt the spirit of
rivalry stir within him, approaches nearest to Scott's peculiar domain.
No one would dream of denying that the feeling in Wordsworth's poem is
much deeper. His dislike of dazzling virtues and brilliant vices has
led him to choose a hero who, although an obedient son and a valiant
knight, refuses, from a sense of duty, to follow his father and his
brother when they raise the standard of revolt against Queen Elizabeth
of England, and who, misunderstood and repudiated, is obliged, without
taking his share of the danger, to witness his kinsmen's defeat
and ignominious punishment. Wordsworth has endowed this hero with
self-abnegation, fortitude, generosity, and Christian piety; but there
is too much affectation of profundity in the poem, too much dragging
in of the half-supernatural, too much sentimentality and unction.
Scott viewed nature and the old customs with the eye of a lover of the
chase, Wordsworth with the eye of the moralist. Wordsworth's ponderous
cargo-boat ploughs its way heavily through the water; Scott's poet's
skiff flies along with all sails set, leaving only light bubbles of
fancy behind in the reader's memory; it is like the boat in the Third
Canto of his poem, which flies so fast that

    "The bubbles where they launched the boat
     Were all unbroken and afloat,
     Dancing in foam and ripple still,
     When it had neared the mainland hill."

It is easy to understand that Scott's writings, with their
glorification of the chivalrous virtues, of daring and courage, even
when displayed by rebel chiefs, pirates, gipsies, smugglers, &c.; in
short, with its tendency in the direction of Byronic partiality for the
bold and wild, were, from one point of view, highly objectionable in
the eyes of the moral and Christian poets of the Lake School. Coleridge
charged his novels with "ministering to the depraved appetite for
excitement, and creating sympathy for the vicious and infamous, solely
because the fiend is daring"; and he concluded his ill-natured attack
with the incorrect prophecy: "Not twenty lines of Scott's poetry will
ever reach posterity; it has relation to nothing."

In 1812 the first two cantos of _Childe Harold_ saw the light. Not
long after their publication, Byron wrote a most friendly letter to
Scott, containing a hearty apology for the foolish attack in _English
Bards and Scotch Reviewers_. The younger poet had hastily taunted
and reproached the elder, not only with choosing as his favourite
hero a mixture of felon and knight ("not quite a felon, yet but half
a knight"), but with accepting payment for his works ("racking his
brains for lucre, not for fame")--a thing which, in his youth, Byron's
aristocratic pride prevented his doing, much as he stood in need of
money. After he left England for the second time, he, too, learned to
make his art a lucrative profession. He repented his rash condemnation
of Scott as heartily as he repented all his other hasty judgments of
the same nature, and the strained relationship between the two great
and noble-hearted men gave way to the most friendly feeling.

The influence of _Childe Harold_ on Scott's literary career was
decisive. He was unbiassed enough to see plainly that he could not
compete with Byron in narrative poetry, and he therefore determined to
turn his attention to another branch of literature, that in which he
was soon to stand unrivalled.

The various utterances on this subject, and all the utterances
regarding Byron, which are to be found in Scott's Life and Letters
testify to the kindly disposition and attractive frankness of the great
Scottish author. In 1821 he said to a friend: "In truth, I have long
given up poetry. I have had my day with the public; and being no great
believer in poetical immortality, I was very well pleased to rise a
winner, without continuing the game till I was beggared of any credit
I had acquired. Besides, I felt the prudence of giving way before the
more forcible and powerful genius of Byron. If I were either greedy, or
jealous of poetical fame, I might comfort myself with the thought, that
I would hesitate to strip myself for the contest so fearlessly as Byron
does; or to command the wonder and terror of the public by exhibiting,
in my own person, the sublime attitude of the dying gladiator. But with
the old frankness of twenty years since, I will fairly own, that this
same delicacy of mine may arise more from conscious want of vigour
and inferiority, than from a delicate dislike to the nature of the
conflict." And when, the year before his death, he was asked why he
had relinquished poetry, he said quite simply: "Because Byron beat
me." The gentleman with whom he was talking rejoined that he, for his
part, remembered as many passages of his friend's poetry as of Byron's.
Scott replied: "That may be, but he beat me out of the field in the
description of the strong passions, and in deep-seated knowledge of
the human heart." The recognition of this fact must have been a blow
to Scott, but he could seek solace in the thought which he himself
expressed thus: "If I had occasion to be mortified by the display
of genius which threw into the shade such pretensions as I was then
supposed to possess, I might console myself that, in my own case, the
materials of mental happiness had been mingled in a greater proportion."

_Waverley_, published anonymously in February 1814, was the first of
the long series of novels which made Scott and his country famous
throughout the whole civilised world. These works appeared at the time
when the conclusion of peace with France and the hopeful prospects of
the country generally, had occasioned a special access of national
pride. They are not works which, like those of the greatest writers,
Goethe and Shelley, for instance, indicate different stages of their
author's development and culture; nor are they works inspired by
profoundly moving personal experiences; they are the mature productions
of an inexhaustible gift of story-telling and an extraordinary talent
for description both of men and things. They mark a distinct advance in
two matters--the understanding of history, and the representation of
the life of the middle and lower classes.

The historians of the eighteenth century, who saw, or expected, the
realisation of the ideal in their own day, took up the position rather
of orators than of authors; they occupied themselves with theoretical
questions of government and civilisation, without consideration
of the influence of climatic and geographical conditions, or of
the past history of a nation--the conception of a nation as a race
seldom suggesting itself to them. Sir Walter Scott, on the other
hand, made it his endeavour as a writer of historical fiction to
give a vivid impression of the peculiarities of certain periods and
countries; and he felt the less temptation to endow his heroes with the
characteristics of his own day, as he in his inmost heart preferred the
bright, stirring life of the past to the colourless reasonableness of
that of his own century.

A few years previously, Chateaubriand had, in _Les Martyrs_, made the
first attempt to measure each age by its own standard, and to present
the past to us in living pictures. But Scott was the real discoverer
and first employer of that _local colouring_ in literature which
became the basis of the whole production of French Romanticism. Hugo,
Mérimée, and Gautier took to it at once. And Scott's historic sense
not only made him the pioneer of a whole school of poetry; it gave
his unassuming novels an immense influence over the whole historical
literature of the new century. It was, for example, his _Ivanhoe_, with
its description of the strained relations between the Normans and the
Saxons, which first suggested to Augustin Thierry the idea that the
original force which produced such results as the exploits of Clovis,
Charlemagne, and Hugo Capet, was the racial antagonism between the
Gauls and the Franks. The man whose gift of insight into the inner
life of the modern individual human being was so slight, and who in
an age of peculiarly independent individual development, was hampered
and biassed by the prejudices of patriotism, loyalty, and orthodox
piety--this man, thanks to his vigorous Naturalism, had, when he
observed these same individuals as a clan, as a nation, or as a race,
a perfect understanding of their character as such. Accustomed as he
was to reflect on the difference between Scotchmen and Englishmen, it
was not unnatural that the idea of the racial antipathy between the
Anglo-Saxons and the Normans should, as by an inspiration, occur to
him; and his understanding in such matters makes his descriptions of
the same value to the student of racial, as Byron's are to the student
of individual, psychology.

And to this merit has to be added the great merit of his tales as
descriptions of typical representatives of all classes of society. In
the novels of the eighteenth century--Fielding's, for example--we pass
from one tavern scene to another; in Scott's we are introduced into
private life, with all its domestic details. The descriptions owe their
peculiar excellence to the vigorous realism with which each separate
personage is depicted. Englishmen have always specially prized in their
authors the gift of describing with such distinct, tangible detail
that the object described stands out in relief before the reader's
eye; their sturdy, healthy intellects enjoy the graphic vigour. They
like the poetical picture executed in such strong colours that we see
it before us as if it were a coat of arms painted on a shield. Scott,
as a novelist, gratified this taste. His readers gladly forgave him
the terrible prolixity of his descriptions and his conversations,
because the result was a graphic representation, attained either by
enumerating a long list of attributes or by perpetual insistence upon
some one characteristic trait. And there is no doubt, that, tiresome
as his procedure may sometimes be, he is one of the greatest character
portrayers in all literature. Romanticism has produced nothing finer
than such female characters as Diana Vernon in _Rob Roy_ and Jeanie
Deans in _The Heart of Midlothian_, or such a historic portrait as
Louis XI. in _Quentin Durward_.

But in his production of fiction, Scott was from the beginning guilty
of one great malpractice, a malpractice which descended to a whole
group of talented novelists of a younger generation, namely, the
inartistic hurry with which, tempted by the prospect of an enormously
high price, he produced book after book as if they had been so many
articles of manufacture. In 1809, he had entered into business
relations with a firm of printers and publishers of the name of
Ballantyne, who printed and published the _Quarterly Review_ for him;
after he began to write novels he actually became a partner in this
firm, which was, unfortunately, a more enterprising than safe one.
_Guy Mannering_ was written and printed in twenty-five days; and Scott
was soon producing at the average rate of twelve volumes in a year; it
was quite an ordinary thing for him to write forty printed pages in
a morning. The sale corresponded to the enormous production; 10,000
copies of _Rob Roy_ were sold in one week; and the later novels were
disposed of even faster. In the year 1822, 145,000 volumes of the
novels, old and new, were issued. The prices Scott received increased
with the circulation of his books. For the two first editions of the
_Life of Napoleon_ he was paid £18,000, and his yearly receipts until
1826 were never less than £12,000. He spent his money in improving and
enlarging his estate of Abbotsford, and in the erecting thereon of a
castle-like mansion, where, with princely hospitality, he entertained
hosts of visitors, many of whom settled down and made a lengthy stay.
His fame and popularity increased steadily.

On the occasion of a visit to London in 1815, during which he was
_fêted_, not only as the author, but as the patriot--the distinguished
citizen of Edinburgh who had made himself conspicuous by his ardent
hatred of Napoleon--he was presented to the Prince Regent, who showed
him many marks of favour. An anecdote has been preserved which gives
an idea of the kind of wit with which the heir-apparent succeeded in
ingratiating himself for a short time with those whose friendship he
desired. There was a supper-party at the Prince Regent's, and Scott,
as the guest of the evening, had been kept talking and telling stories
almost without intermission, the Prince all the time trying, jestingly,
to inveigle him into owning himself to be the author of the Waverley
Novels. Scott skilfully extricated himself from one dilemma after
another. To prevent further questioning he entertained the company
with a true story of an old acquaintance, the Scottish judge, Lord
Braxfield. When on circuit, Braxfield was in the habit of spending a
night at the house of a wealthy landed proprietor, who, like himself,
was a keen chess-player. They often left a game to be finished the
following year. The said landed proprietor committed a forgery, and
it fell to Braxfield's lot to pronounce the sentence of death on his
friend, and opponent in the game. He put on the black cap and read the
sentence, which ends with the words, "to be hanged by the neck until
you be dead." Having concluded the awful formula with due solemnity,
he took off the cap, and with a satisfied smile and nod to his old
partner, added: "And now, Donald, my man, I think I've checkmated
ye for ance." The words were hardly out of Scott's mouth when the
Prince Regent shouted: "A bumper with all the honours to the author
of _Waverley!_ and another of the same to the author of _Marmion!_"
adding, with a laugh at Scott's conscious expression and gestures of
denial: "And now, Walter, my man, I have checkmated you for _ance!_"

_The Heart of Midlothian_ one of the best of Scott's works, appeared
in 1818, and raised him to the height of his fame. It was followed,
in December 1819, by _Ivanhoe_, which was also received with the most
enthusiastic approbation. We learn, in connection with this masterly
novel, how few and how insignificant were the elements of reality which
Scott required as a foundation for his imaginary world. A certain Mr.
Skene, who had been travelling in Germany, told him a good deal about
the condition of the Jews there, their peculiar dress and customs, and
the severity with which they were treated. This was enough foundation
for a story of such quality as that of Isaac and Rebecca. Scott in
private life held, as we have seen, extremely narrow-minded opinions on
the question of the political rights of dissenters from the established
religion of the country; it is, consequently, all the greater honour to
him that, as an author, he was unprejudiced enough to make a Jewess the
heroine of his novel, and to endow her with such a matchlessly ideal
and yet natural character.

In 1823 appeared _Quentin Durward_, a work in which Sir Walter for the
first time chose a foreign theme, and which made his fame as great in
France, Germany, and Italy as it already was in England and America. A
perusal of the journal of Mr. Skene's tour in France was all that was
necessary to enable the author to give his tale its admirable local

Scott's name was now in every one's mouth, and was familiar even to
the most uneducated of his countrymen. In London, at the time of the
coronation of George IV., he got into a crowd on the line of the royal
procession, and was in actual danger because of his lameness. He
addressed a sergeant, begging to be allowed to pass by him into the
open ground in the middle of the street. The man answered shortly that
his orders were strict, that the thing was impossible. Some new wave
of turbulence approaching from behind, Sir Walter's companion cried in
a loud voice: "Take care, Sir Walter Scott, take care!" The stalwart
dragoon, on hearing the name, said: "What! Sir Walter Scott! He shall
get through anyhow!" He then addressed the soldiers near him--"Make
room, men, for Sir Walter Scott, our great countryman!" The men
answered: "Sir Walter Scott!--God bless him!"--and he was in a moment
within the guarded line of safety. We are reminded of the story of the
French army in Africa receiving Horace Vernet with flourish of trumpet
and beat of drum, and all the military honours due to a general. One
can hardly imagine a greater triumph for an artist than this homage of
the people.

In 1826 came a turn in the great man's fortunes. The firm of
Ballantyne, in which he was a partner, failed; and to the horror of
Sir Walter, who in all private money matters was scrupulously exact,
the deficit proved to amount to the enormous sum of £117,000. He bore
his ruin like a man. The Royal Bank sent a deputation to him with
the message that it placed itself at his disposal; he received an
anonymous offer of a gift of £30,000; but these and all other offers of
assistance he refused. He heroically resolved on the desperate course
of endeavouring to pay off the enormous debt with his pen, determining
to work without respite until he had discharged the liabilities with
which the recklessness and carelessness of others had burdened him.
It is not surprising that from this time onwards the quality of his
works degenerated steadily. The unfortunate author signed contracts for
books--bound himself to produce so and so many volumes per year, of the
contents of which, nay, of the very titles of which he had not even

At this unhappy time, only a few months after the failure, he lost
his beloved wife. The pressure of business was such that he was
unable to sit by her deathbed. He wrote ceaselessly--half a volume
of _Woodstock_ in four days--harassed all the time by the claims of
unfortunate creditors. The man who was accustomed to have his house
full of visitors, now lived the life of a hermit. Captain Basil Hall
has described the painful impression it made on him to see Sir Walter
Scott, who had been in the habit of taking his meals with his wife
opposite him and friends and strangers round his table, sitting down
alone, to a table laid for one.

He undertook several journeys--one to Paris, for the purpose of
collecting authentic anecdotes concerning Napoleon. On this occasion
a deputation of the _dames de la halle_ presented him with a monster
bouquet. He issued a complete edition of his works; of the first
nine volumes 35,000 copies were sold. He paid many of his debts. The
political reforms in England were a subject of great grief to him;
in 1830 he declared: "England is no longer a place for an honest
man." Exhausted, ill, with part of his face disfigured by a stroke of
paralysis, he went abroad for the last time. In Naples he actually
still busied himself in collecting the greatest possible number of
old Italian ballads and songs. He became so ill that he hastened home
to die in his own country, and breathed his last at Abbotsford in
September 1832, exactly six months after Goethe.

All his life Scott was a sincere, mildly rationalistic believer,
entirely unaffected by the questioning, daring science of his century.
In 1825 he said: "There are few, I trust, who disbelieve the existence
of a God; nay, I doubt if at all times, and in all moods, any single
individual ever adopted that hideous creed." In the course of the
same conversation, however, he allowed that "penal fires and heavenly
melody" were possibly only metaphorical expressions. And we know that
Lord Byron's dedication of _Cain_ to him, instead of offending him,
gave him pleasure. In religion, as in politics and literature, he never
attained to personal emancipation from the traditions by which the
individual is fettered from his birth. Here, too, he left a task which
the position of affairs plainly imposed, to be accomplished by the next
generation of authors.

When we look back from the vantage-ground of our own day on the second,
the prose, period of Scott's authorship, we find it impossible to see
the long series of the Waverley Novels in the same light in which they
appeared to his contemporaries. We understand the satisfaction which
lay in the certainty that they would never give offence, that they
might always be welcomed gladly, not only as gifted, but as perfectly
moral works. This particular qualification is, however, exactly
what makes them less attractive to us. There is no exaggeration in
declaring it to be a law in the modern literature of every country,
that an author must cause offence to at least one generation of his
contemporaries, and be considered immoral by it, if he is not to
seem tiresome and narrow-minded to readers of the period immediately
succeeding his own. To us the defects of Scott's novels are very
plain. They give pleasure by their excellent character-drawing and
the liveliness of their dialogue, but they do not satisfy the reason,
do not appeal very strongly to the feelings, do not even arouse any
great degree of curiosity. They are soulful, but idealess. We feel that
Scott, as a patriotic author, was determined to keep up the interest in
Scotland which Macpherson and Burns had awakened in the reading public;
therefore he writes in such a manner as to estrange not even the most
narrow-minded reader. Himself denied the sensual organisation of the
artist, he is so discreet in his treatment of the relations between
the sexes that there is next to no description of erotic situations.
And, the moral to be conveyed seeming of greater importance to him
than art, he represents past ages with such a toning down of all the
coarse elements that historic truth suffers terribly. The species of
fiction which Scott introduced, and which indicated a distinct step in
advance of the older novel, is now in its turn antiquated; the literary
critics of every country lean to the opinion that the historical novel,
with all its merits, is a bastard species--now it is so hampered
with historical material that the poetic development of the story is
rendered impossible, again it is so free in its paraphrase of history
that the real and the fictitious elements produce a very discordant
whole. In the third volume of _The Heart of Midlothian_ (Chap, x.),
for example, the manner in which imaginary speeches are mixed up with
the historical utterances of the Duke of Argyle, distinctly offends
the critical taste. It becomes, moreover, increasingly evident how
different the general impression conveyed by Scott's pictures of
past times is from the essential character of these far-off days, an
unvarnished representation of which, supposing it to be understood
at all, would certainly fail to awaken sympathy. His _Tales of
the Crusaders_ are circulating-library novels, which describe the
wonder-lands and the romantic, adventurous deeds of the Crusades with
almost as little regard to reality as Tasso's _Gerusalemme Liberata_;
but which do not display anything like the Italian's poetic talent, or
his artistically conscientious attention to style.

How could it be otherwise in the case of an author like Scott, who
wrote without ever re-reading, much less correcting, a page, who
had not the gift of conciseness, and who made no serious demands on
himself in the matter of composition? He demands still less of his
readers, as far as attention and quick apprehension are concerned. He
repeats himself and allows his characters to repeat themselves, puts
in his word in the middle of the story, points out and explains. Not
satisfied with showing the temperament and character of his personages
by their mode of action, he makes them, when necessary, give account
of themselves in such phrases as: "I am speaking with calmness, though
it is contrary to my character"; or in speeches in which the speaker
draws the moral lesson from his own wicked actions, in case the reader
should by any chance miss it and be tempted to imitation. (Read, for
example, George Staunton's whole confession to Jeanie Deans, a model of
bad style and false psychology.) With such serious faults as these in
the details, it is of little avail that the plots of the best novels
are excellent, leading up naturally to dramatic crises, one or more as
the case may be. A book which is to retain its fame for centuries must
not only be poetically planned, but artistically elaborated in every
detail--a task for which Scott, from the moment he began to write in
prose, never left himself time. Even the most dramatic scene he ever
wrote--the splendid and powerfully affecting trial-scene in _The Heart
of Midlothian_, in which Jeanie, with a bleeding heart, but with noble
devotion to the truth, gives witness against her own sister--loses
half of its effect from the careless prolixity of the style. We learn
from Moore's _Memoirs_ that the main theme of the book--the story of
the young girl who refuses to give witness in court in favour of her
sister, and afterwards undertakes the long journey to beg a pardon for
her--is a true story, which was communicated to Scott in an anonymous
letter. He has evidently had the keenest perception of the moral beauty
of the incident, but very little of its essentially dramatic character.
If he had possessed only half the amount of talent that he had, along
with double the amount of culture and instinct of self-criticism, he
would doubtless have made less stir in the world, but he would have
produced works of greater and more enduring value.[3] He himself felt
that what prevented him from attaining to the highest in the domain of
literature was his defective education. In his _Journal_ (i. 56, 57)
there is a curious little survey of his life: "What a life mine has
been!--_half educated, almost wholly neglected or left to myself_,
stuffing my head with most nonsensical trash, undervalued in society
for a time by most of my companions, getting forward, and held a bold,
clever fellow, contrary to the opinion of all who thought me a mere
dreamer.... Now taken in my pitch of pride, and nearly winged, because
London chooses to be in an uproar, and in the tumult of bulls and
bears, a poor inoffensive lion like myself is pushed to the wall."

It is a dangerous thing for a modern author to be entirely unaffected
by the progress of science. If he has not, like Byron, the gift
of divining by a kind of clairvoyance what science is seeking and
ascertaining, his works fall from the hands of the cultivated reader,
to be seized by readers who are only seeking entertainment; or they
are preserved and bound by the cultivated readers, to be given away
as birthday and Christmas gifts to their sons and daughters, nephews
and nieces. Such has been Scott's fate. The author who in the second
and third decades of the nineteenth century ruled the book-market,
whose influence was felt in every country of Europe, who in France had
imitators like Alfred de Vigny, Hugo, Mérimée, Balzac, and the elder
Dumas (_The Three Musketeers_), in Italy a disciple like Manzoni,
in Germany an intellectual kinsman like Fouqué, in Denmark admirers
and pupils like Poul Möller, Ingemann, and Hauch, has become, by the
silent, instructive verdict of time, the favourite author of boys and
girls of fourteen or thereabouts, an author whom all grown-up people
have read, and no grown-up people read.

[1] In the same year the Danish poet Oehlenschläger made his first
appearance before the public, also with a collection of remodelled
ballads. _Digt_, 1803.

[2] Masson: _Scottish Influence in British Literature_.

[3] He does not seem to have had any understanding of plastic art.
Desiring to give an impression of the old Puritan in _The Heart of
Midlothian_, he evolves the following artistically impossible fabulous
creature: "The whole formed a picture, of which the lights might have
been given by Rembrandt, but the outline would have required the force
and vigour of Michael Angelo."



In Keats's magnificent fragment, _Hyperion_, there is a scene in which
the whole overthrown race of Titanic gods hold counsel in a dark,
underground cavern. Their chief, old Saturn, concludes his despondent
speech with the words:

                                       "Yet ye are here,
    O'erwhelm'd and spurred, and batter'd, ye are here!
    O Titans, shall I say, 'Arise!'--Ye groan:
    Shall I say 'Crouch!'--Ye groan. What can I then?
    O Heaven wide! O unseen parent dear!
    What can I? Tell me, all ye brethren Gods,
    How we can war, how engine our great wrath!"

[Illustration: JOHN KEATS]

Then Oceanus, the thoughtful, meditative sea god, rises, shakes
his locks, no longer watery, and, in the murmuring voice which his
tongue has caught from the break of the waves on the shore, bids the
passion-stung deities take comfort from the thought that they have
fallen by the course of Nature's law, and not by the force of thunder
or of Jove:--

                         "Great Saturn, thou
    Hast sifted well the atom-universe;
    But for this reason, that thou art the King,
    And only blind from sheer supremacy,
    One avenue was shaded from thine eyes,
    Through which I wandered to eternal truth.
    And first, as thou wast not the first of powers,
    So art thou not the last; it cannot be:
    Thou art not the beginning nor the end.
    From Chaos and parental Darkness came
    Light, the first fruits of that intestine broil,
    That sullen ferment, which for wondrous ends
    Was ripening in itself. The ripe hour came,
    And with it light, and light engendering
    Upon its own producer, forthwith touch'd
    The whole enormous matter into life.
    Upon that very hour, our parentage,
    The Heavens and the Earth, were manifest:
    Then thou first-born, and we the giant race,
    Found ourselves ruling new and beauteous realms.
    Now comes the pain of truth, to whom 'tis pain;
    O folly! for to bear all naked truths,
    And to envisage circumstance, all calm,
    That is the top of sovereignty. Mark well!
    As Heaven and Earth are fairer, fairer far
    Than Chaos and blank Darkness, though once chiefs;
    And as we show beyond that Heaven and Earth
    In form and shape compact and beautiful,
    In will, in action free, companionship,
    And thousand other signs of purer life;
    So on our heels a fresh perfection treads,
    A power more strong in beauty, born of us
    And fated to excel us, as we pass
    In glory that old Darkness: nor are we
    Thereby more conquer'd, than by us the rule
    Of shapeless Chaos. Say, doth the dull soil
    Quarrel with the proud forests it hath fed,
    And feedeth still, more comely than itself?
    Can it deny the chiefdom of green groves?
    Or shall the tree be envious of the dove
    Because it cooeth, and hath snowy wings
    To wander wherewithal and find its joys?
    We are such forest-trees, and our fair boughs
    Have bred forth, not pale solitary doves,
    But eagles golden-feather'd, who do tower
    Above us in their beauty, and must reign
    In right thereof; for 'tis the eternal law
    That first in beauty should be first in might:
    Yea by that law, another race may drive
    Our conquerors to mourn as we do now.
    Have ye beheld the young God of the Seas,
    My dispossessor? Have ye seen his face?
    Have ye beheld his chariot, foam'd along
    By noble winged creatures he hath made?
    I saw him on the calmed waters scud,
    With such a glow of beauty in his eyes,
    That it enforc'd me to bid sad farewell
    To all my empire."

Thus speaks Oceanus. And the fallen deities, either convinced or in
sullen anger, keep silence. At last one, of whom no one has thought,
the goddess Clymene, breaks the long silence, speaking timidly among
the fierce, with hectic lips and gentle glances:--

    "O Father, I am here the simplest voice,
     And all my knowledge is that joy is gone,
     And this thing woe crept in among our hearts.
     There to remain for ever, as I fear:
     I would not bode of evil, if I thought
     So weak a creature could turn off the help
     Which by just right should come of mighty Gods;
     Yet let me tell my sorrow, let me tell
     Of what I heard, and how it made me weep,
     And know that we had parted from all hope.--
     I stood upon a shore, a pleasant shore,
     Where a sweet clime was breathed from a land
     Of fragrance, quietness, and trees, and flowers.
     Full of calm joy it was, as I of grief;
     Too full of joy and soft delicious warmth;
     So that I felt a movement in my heart
     To chide, and to reproach that solitude
     With songs of misery, music of our woes;
     And sat me down, and took a mouthed shell
     And murmured into it, and made melody--
     O melody no more! for while I sang,
     And with poor skill let pass into the breeze
     The dull shell's echo, from a bowery strand
     Just opposite, an island of the sea,
     There came enchantment with the shifting wind,
     That did both drown and keep alive my ears.
     I threw my shell away upon the sand,
     And a wave fill'd it, as my sense was fill'd
     With that new blissful golden melody,
     A living death was in each gush of sounds,
     Each family of rapturous hurried notes,
     That fell, one after one, yet all at once,
     Like pearl beads dropping sudden from their string:
     And then another, then another strain,
     Each like a dove leaving its olive perch,
     With music wing'd instead of silent plumes,
     To hover round my head, and make me sick
     Of joy and grief at once. Grief overcame,
     And I was stopping up my frantic ears,
     When, past all hindrance of my trembling hands,
     A voice came sweeter, sweeter than all tune,
     And still it cried, 'Apollo! young Apollo!
     The morning-bright Apollo! young Apollo!'
     I fled, it followed me, and cried 'Apollo!'"

Keats has surpassed himself in this passage, which is as profound in
thought as it is beautiful. It is not only a proof of the quality of
his poetic gift, but the announcement of the appearance of a younger
generation of poets in the field held by the poets of the Lake School
and Scott. In the name of the reigning deities, the human intellect is
too often condemned to inactivity and stagnation. If there is to be
progress, a change of rulers is frequently called for. Wordsworth and
Scott were mighty Titans whose glory paled when the younger generation
appeared. Keats himself was the golden-feathered bird that rose high
into the air above Wordsworth's leafy old oak. And Byron--was not he
the new ocean god, who "troubled the waters" of passion with such
power that the greatest literary genius of the day abdicated in his
favour, assured that it was in vain to compete with him? And Shelley's
melodies, intoxicatingly sweet, unprecedentedly daring--were they not
borne on all the winds, and are they not still penetrating everywhere,
though many, like Clymene, stop their ears and refrain as long as
possible from listening to the new tones? The struggle is a vain one,
for now on every side resounds the cry: "Apollo! morning-bright Apollo!"

The old gods, as in the poem, assumed different attitudes at this
crisis in their fates. Scott, the noblest of them all, acknowledged
his defeat by Byron with an amiable dignity which still further
enhanced his reputation. Wordsworth retired to his Lakes, muttering
an accusation of plagiarism. Southey poured forth volleys of abuse.
Meanwhile the new, young gods mounted the thrones of the old, and round
their heads shone the bright halo of the light that they gave forth.

Keats was the youngest of the young race of giants, and he had
peculiar qualities and a peculiar domain of his own, into which none
of the others intruded. He is one of the many examples of singularly
delicate and refined organisms appearing in the most unlikely outward
surroundings and developing almost unaided by circumstances. This youth
who, dying at the age of twenty-six, has left behind him master-works
which none who read them can forget, and whose name is immortalised
in Shelley's _Adonais_, was the son of a London livery-stable keeper,
and was bred an apothecary. Few of the elder literary celebrities knew
him. Wordsworth, the only one among them on whom his eyes were steadily
turned, and with more reverence than was felt by any of the other young
men--even Wordsworth showed himself cold. At Haydon the painter's,
one evening, when Wordsworth was present, Keats was induced to repeat
to him the famous Hymn to Pan from the First Book of _Endymion_. The
"iron-grey poet" heard it to the end, and then only remarked that it
was "a pretty piece of paganism." And so, praise be to Keats, it is!
Wordsworth, however, meant nothing flattering by the remark. Such
was the verdict of the most influential member of the elder school
of poetry. The elder school of criticism was distinctly adverse.
Its verdict was harsh and scathing. Both the _Quarterly Review_ and
_Blackwood's Magazine_ jeered foolishly at _Endymion_. The author was
told that "it is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary
than a starved poet," and was bidden "back to his gallipots." Calmly as
the young poet writes of the ignominious treatment he received, there
can be no doubt that the sting rankled deeply. It is most improbable
that the report spread among Keats's acquaintances of the ruinous
effect of these criticisms on his health, was, as is now maintained,
entirely without foundation. He certainly was not, as Byron in _Don
Juan_ declares him to have been, killed by a savage article in the
_Quarterly_; and his own utterances give ample proof of his profound
contempt for these disparagements of his art and his personality; but
his ambition was excessive, his susceptibility equally so, and his body
contained the germs of a fatal disease; and it would be surprising if
rancorous attacks from without had not affected an organism which was
preyed upon from within by consuming passion and consuming disease.

John Keats was born in October 1795. At the age of nine he lost his
father. His mother sent him to a good school; but she, too, to his
inexpressible grief, died while he was still a boy. His appearance
corresponded to the impression which his poetry makes on us. Whilst
the feminine and ethereal Shelley had a slender, slightly-built,
narrow-chested figure and a shrill voice, the heavier footed, more
earth-bound Keats was deep-chested and broad-shouldered; his lower
limbs were small in comparison with the upper; and he had a deep, grave
voice. His small head was covered with thick brown curls; the eyes were
large and of a dark, on occasion glowing, blue; the handsome mouth had
a projecting lower lip, which gave the face a defiant and pugnacious
expression. And as a matter of fact he was, as a boy, a perfect little
terrier for resoluteness and pugnacity, and seemed much more likely to
distinguish himself in war than in literature. He early displayed great
personal courage, and was an adept in all athletic exercises; just
before he was attacked by consumption he thrashed an insolent butcher
in a regular stand-up fight.

At the age of fifteen he left school, and was apprenticed by his
relations to a clever surgeon-apothecary at Edmonton, with whom he
remained till he was twenty, when he began, as a medical student, to
walk the London hospitals. He soon, however, gave up medicine for
literature, and lived for several years in close companionship with
some of the rising young literary men and artists of the day. Then he
was attacked by the disease which had carried off his mother and his
younger brother. The absence of any prospect of earning a living, and
the ever-increasing pressure of poverty, favoured its development,
which was farther hastened by a violent and hopeless passion for a
young Anglo-Indian lady--a passion only rendered hopeless by Keats's
poverty and ill-health--his love being returned. His health obliged him
to quit the neighbourhood of his beloved and take a journey to Italy,
where he died.

Glancing over the non-literary part of Keats's life, we distinguish
three facts of leading importance--his want of any real prospect of
gaining a livelihood (he had thoughts of emigrating to South America,
or applying for a post as surgeon on an Indiaman); the ardent and
hopeless passion for the woman without whom life was worthless to him;
and the wasting disease.

Miss Fanny Brawne was eighteen, five years younger than Keats, when he
made her acquaintance in 1818. He and his friend, Brown, had settled
at Hampstead, in a semidetached house, the other half of which was
occupied by Miss Brawne and her mother. The first six months after he
fell in love were to Keats months of real happiness. In December 1818
he began _Hyperion_. In February 1819, the most fruitful month in his
life, he wrote the _Ode to Psyche, The Eve of St Agnes_, and great part
of _Hyperion_. And early in the spring, sitting under a plum-tree in
the Brawnes' garden, he wrote his _Ode to the Nightingale_. In other
words--his most beautiful poetry was written in the half year during
which he took long walks with Fanny, and was still a healthy man.
Unfortunately, it being possible for him to see his beloved every day,
we have not a single love-letter dating from this, his short period of
happiness. In July 1819 he wrote to her for the first time; and all the
letters which he sent her from that date until the time of his death
were published in 1878.

They are not melancholy to begin with. In one of the earliest he
writes: "I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word than fair;"
and to some objection made by her he answers: "Why may I not speak of
your Beauty, since without that I could never have lov'd you?--I cannot
conceive any beginning of such love as I have for you but Beauty. There
may be a sort of love for which, without the least sneer at it, I have
the highest respect and can admire it in others; but it has not the
richness, the bloom, the full form, the enchantment of love after my
own heart."

Very soon, however, the jealousy which was to have such a wearing
effect upon the lover appears in his letters. Again and again he exacts
promises of eternal devotion. Though not yet ill, he has a vague
presentiment that his end is not far off. "I have two luxuries to brood
over in my walks," he writes; "your Loveliness and the hour of my
death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute!"

Her letters had really only a depressing effect on him. He read them
so often that each sentence assumed a distorted proportion; and
they seemed to him now cold, now full of reproaches. He tortured
first himself and then her with his suspicious irritableness and
perversity; he would, for example, pass her door without going in,
though he was longing to see her, and knew that his not appearing
was a disappointment to her. There are a few perfectly happy, tender
letters, dated October 1819. But in February 1820 commences a period
of miserable excitement. He begins to spit blood, and "reads his
death-warrant in its colour." After this the letters are short, some of
them still playful and hopeful, others suspicious and violent in their
jealousy--all brimming over with passion. Here is a fragment: "You
know our situation--what hope is there if I should be recovered ever
so soon--my very health will not suffer me to make any great exertion.
I am recommended not even to read poetry, much less write it. I cannot
say forget me--but I would mention that there are impossibilities in
the world. No more of this. I am not strong enough to be weaned--take
no notice of it in your goodnight."

During his apparent convalescence he is constantly begging her to come
and show herself only for half a minute outside of the window through
which he can see her, or to walk a little in the garden. Then he asks
her not to come every day, because he cannot always bear to see her.
But when, according to his wish, she does not come, he is restless and

As the end approaches, the letters become ever sadder and more
distressing to read. The last of them are positively harrowing. He is
as wild and helpless in his passionate despair as a child who believes
himself forgotten. It is the mental death-struggle preceding the

Fanny Brawne's tenderness for her lover never wavered. It is now
evident that, as was only natural, this young girl with the touch of
coquetry in her nature had no suspicion whatever of the gifts and
powers of the poor consumptive youth who worshipped and tortured her.
But she loved him for his own sake, and when, from the last letter,
she learned in what a sad condition he really was, she and her mother
would no longer leave him to the care of his friend, but took him into
their own house in Wentworth Place, where he lived for the last month
before he left for Italy. A stay in that country had been prescribed,
as giving him a last chance of recovery.

The man to whom, in other circumstances, the prospect of seeing the
country for which he had always longed, and whose gods he had awakened
from the dead, would have given supreme happiness, now writes: "This
journey to Italy wakes me at daylight every morning, and haunts me
horribly. I shall endeavour to go, though it be with the sensation of
marching up against a Battery." On board ship he writes, referring
to his attachment to Miss Brawne: "Even if my body would recover of
itself, this would prevent it. The very thing which I want to live
most for will be a great occasion of my death. I cannot help it.... I
wish for death every day and night to deliver me from these pains, and
then I wish death away, for death would destroy even those pains which
are better than nothing. Land and sea, weakness and decline, are great
separators, but death is the great divorcer for ever.... I seldom
think of my brother and sister in America. The thought of leaving Miss
Brawne is beyond everything horrible--the sense of darkness coming over
me--I eternally see her figure eternally vanishing." And in another
letter he writes: "The persuasion that I shall see her no more will
kill me. My dear Brown, I should have had her when I was in health,
and I should have remained well. I can bear to die--I cannot bear to
leave her. O God! God! God! Everything I have in my trunks that reminds
me of her goes through me like a spear. The silk lining she put in my
travelling cap scalds my head. My imagination is horribly vivid about
her--I see her--I hear her. There is nothing in the world of sufficient
interest to divert me from her for a moment.... I cannot say a word
about Naples; I do not feel at all concerned in the thousand novelties
around me. I am afraid to write to her--I should like her to know that
I do not forget her. Oh, Brown, I have coals of fire in my breast. It
surprises me that the human heart is capable of containing and bearing
so much misery. Was I born for this end?"

On the last day of November 1820, Keats wrote his last letter. His
intimate old friend, Dr. Clark, a skilful physician, preserved his life
till the end of the winter. While in Naples, Keats received a letter
from his brother poet, Shelley, inviting him to come to Pisa, where
he would be nursed and cared for in every way. But this invitation he
did not accept. After several weeks of great suffering came rest and
sleep, resignation and tranquillity. He desired that a letter from
his beloved, which he had not dared to read, along with a purse and a
letter which he had received from his sister, should be placed in his
coffin; and that on his gravestone should be inscribed:

     "Here lies one whose name was writ in water."

The touch of Shelley's magic wand stiffened the water into crystal, and
the name stands inscribed for all time.[1]

Keats's poetry is the most fragrant flower of English Naturalism.
Before he appeared, this Naturalism had had a long period of vigorous
growth. Its active principle had been evolved by Wordsworth, who
developed it so methodically that he divided his poems into groups,
corresponding to the different periods of human life and the different
faculties of the soul. Coleridge provided it with the support of a
philosophy of nature which had a strong resemblance to Schelling's.
In Scott it assumes the highly successful form of a study of men,
manners, and scenery, inspired by patriotism, by interest in history,
and by a wonderful apprehension of the significance of race. Both in
Moore and Keats it takes the form of gorgeous sensuousness, is the
literary expression of the perceptions of beings whose sensitiveness
to impressions of the beauty of the external world makes that of the
average human being seem blunt and dull. But the sensuousness of
Moore's poetry, which reveals itself artistically in his warm, bright
colouring, is confined to the erotic domain, and is of a light and
playful character. Keats's is full-blooded, serious sensuousness,
by no means specially erotic, but all-embracing, and, in this its
comprehensiveness, one of the most admirable developments of English
Naturalism. This Naturalism led Wordsworth into one extreme, which
has already been referred to; Keats it led into a different and more
poetical one.

Keats was more of the artist than any of his English brother poets.
He troubled himself less about principles than any of them. There is
no groundwork of patriotism in his poetry as there is in Scott's and
Moore's; no message of liberty, as in Shelley's and Byron's; it is pure
art, owing its origin to nothing but the power of imagination. It was
one of his favourite sayings, that the poet should have no principles,
no morality, _no self_. Why? Because the true poet enjoys both light
and shade--has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen.
All poets who have forgotten themselves in the theme of their flights
of fancy, have, when engaged in production, to the best of their
ability banished their private peculiarities and preferences. Few have
managed to make such a clean sweep as Keats of their personal hopes,
enthusiasms, and principles. His study was, as one of his admirers has
said, "a painter's studio with very little in it besides the easel."

Keats's poetical indifference to theories and principles was, however,
in itself a theory and a principle--was the philosophy which has its
foundation in poetic worship of nature. To the consistent pantheistic
poet all forms, all shapes, all expressions of life on earth which
engage the imagination, are precious, and all equally precious. Keats,
as poet, recognises no truth of the kind that means improvement or
exclusion; but he has an almost religious faith in imagination as the
source of truth. In one of his letters he expresses himself thus:--"I
am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart's affections,
and the truth of Imagination. What the Imagination seizes as Beauty
must be Truth, whether it existed before or not;--for I have the same
idea of all our passions as of Love: they are all, in their sublime,
creative of essential Beauty.... The Imagination may be compared
to Adam's dream; he awoke and found it truth." He enlarges on the
difference between this kind of truth and the truth arrived at by
consecutive reasoning, and concludes with an exclamation which is a
key to the whole of his poetry:--"However it may be, O for a life of
sensations rather than of thoughts!"

He led in great part a life of passive sensation, of pleasure and pain
through the senses. "Take," says Masson, "a book of physiology and go
over the so-called classes of sensations one by one--the sensations
of the mere muscular states; the sensations connected with such vital
processes as circulation, alimentation, respiration, and electrical
intercommunication with surrounding bodies; the sensations of taste;
those of odour; those of hearing; and those of sight--and Keats will be
found to have been unusually endowed in them all."

He had, for example, an extreme sensitiveness to the pleasures of the
palate, and tried to heighten them by extraordinary stimulants. A
friend tells us that he once saw Keats covering his tongue with cayenne
pepper, that he might enjoy the delicious sensation of a draught of
cold claret after it. "Talking of pleasure," he says himself in one
of his letters, "this moment I was writing with one hand and with the
other holding to my mouth a nectarine." It is therefore not surprising
that imagery drawn from the domain of the sense of taste is of frequent
occurrence in Keats's poetry. In his deservedly famous _Ode to
Melancholy_ we are told that this goddess has her sovran shrine in the
very temple of Delight--

    "Though seen of none save him _whose strenuous tongue_
     _Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine!_"

And in one of his last sonnets he characteristically mentions "the
palate of my mind losing its gust" as an indication of approaching

Naturally the senses of hearing and sight provided him with a much
greater proportion of his imagery than the inferior, less noble senses.
He had a musician's love of music and a painter's eye for variations
of light and colour. And for all the different kinds of sound and
smell and taste and sensations of touch, he possessed a store of words
which any of the greatest poets might have envied. In short, he was by
nature endowed with qualities which in combination, and in their full
development, constituted supreme capacity to perceive and to reproduce
all the beauty of nature.

To be able to reproduce it was from the very beginning his dream;
and the man who affirmed that, except in the matter of art, he had
no "opinions," expressed enthusiastic approval of the revolution of
opinion in regard to the artificial, so-called classical, poetry of
the eighteenth century, which had been brought about by Wordsworth
and Coleridge. Spenser was Keats's idol, the classic poets were his
aversion. In his poem, _Sleep and Poetry_, he has embodied an artistic
confession of faith in language which could not well be more violent.
After describing the old poetic triumphs of England, he exclaims:

    "Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism
     Nurtured by foppery and barbarism
     Made great Apollo blush for this his land.
     Men were thought wise who could  not understand
     His glories; with a puling infant's force
     They sway'd about upon a rocking-horse
     And thought it Pegasus. Ah! Dismal-soul'd!
     The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd
     Its gathering waves; ye felt it not. The blue
     Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew
     Of summer night collected still to make
     The morning precious; Beauty was awake!
     Why were _ye_ not awake? . . . . . .
     . . . . . . . . . . . No, they went about.
     Holding a poor decrepit standard out,
     Mark'd with most flimsy mottoes, and, in large,
     The name of one Boileau!"

Long before the French assault upon this ancient, honoured name, Keats
blows the war-trumpet! Théophile Gautier himself does not treat it with
greater contempt.

It was probably the above passage, the energetic style of which reminds
one of that picture of Kaulbach's in Munich, in which the artist of
the rococo period is painted asleep with the lay-figure in his arms,
which gave occasion to Byron's repeated thrusts at Keats as the
traducer of Pope. For Keats never published a line against Pope; and
when Countess Guiccioli, in her naïve work on Byron, refers to attacks
which infuriated her lover, she is only repeating vague remarks she has
heard. It is, however, highly probable that Keats included Pope among
those whom he reproached with being deaf to the music of the waves and
the winds, and with sleeping whilst the morning unfolded its beauties.

He himself was not of that company. If we examine the distinctive
individuality of Keats's genius, we find its determining element to be
the all-embracing sensuousness already alluded to. Read this stanza of
the _Ode to a Nightingale_:--

    "O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
       Cool'd a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,
     Tasting of Flora and the country green,
       Dance, and Provençal song, and sun-burnt mirth!
     O for a beaker full of the warm South,
       Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
         With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
           And purple-stainèd mouth;
       That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
         And with thee fade away into the forest dim."

And compare with it the following lines of _Endymion_:--

                    "Taste these juicy pears,
    Sent me by sad Vertumnus; . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . here is cream,
    Deepening to richness from a snowy gleam;
    Sweeter than that nurse Amalthea skimmed
    For the boy Jupiter: and here, undimmed
    By any touch, a bunch of blooming plums
    Ready to melt between an infant's gums."

The delicate, highly developed sense of taste is accompanied by
an equally delicate and highly developed sense of touch and sense
of smell. Read the passage in _Isabella_--a poem which, following
Boccaccio, treats of the same theme as Hans Andersen's tale of the
"Rose Fairy"--the passage which tells how the young girl took the head
of her murdered lover from the grave:--

    "Then in a silken scarf,--sweet with the dews
       Of precious flowers pluck'd in Araby,
     And divine liquids come with odorous ooze
       Through the cold serpent pipe refreshfully,
     She wrapp'd it up." . . . . . . . . . . .

and the lines in _Lamia_, describing the reception of the guests who
come to take part in the wedding festivities:--

    "When in an antechamber every guest
     Had felt the cold full sponge to pleasure press'd,
     By minist'ring slaves, upon his hands and feet,
     And fragrant oils with ceremony meet
     Pour'd on his hair, they all mov'd to the feast
     In white robes, and themselves in order placed
     Around the silken couches."

In one of the _Epistles_ occurs a line, about a swan, into which is
compressed an incredible amount of sensuous imagery. It is: "Kissing
thy daily food from Naiads' pearly hands."

It is unnecessary to draw the reader's attention in detail to all
the delicate charms of these fragments. Proceeding to the domain
of the sense of sight, we find that it preeminently is Keats's
territory, although it is never his eye alone which is impressed by
his surroundings. Wordsworth's poetry of nature leads us out into the
open air; following Keats, we enter a hot-house: a soft, moist warmth
meets us; our eyes are attracted by brightly coloured flowers and
juicy fruits; slender palms, amidst whose branches no rough wind ever
blows, beckon gently with their huge fans. His _Ode to Autumn_ is a
characteristic specimen of his descriptions of nature. After telling of
autumn's conspiracy with the sun

                                     "to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
    To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel,"

he with a masterly hand portrays autumn as a person:

    "Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
     Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
     Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
     Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind:
     Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
     Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
     Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers."

It is impossible for Keats to name any conception or any thought
without at once proceeding to represent it in a corporeal, plastic
form. His numerous allegories have the same life and fire as if they
were executed in stone by the best Italian artists of the sixteenth
century. He says of Melancholy:

    "She dwells with Beauty--Beauty that must die;
     And Joy, _whose hand is ever at his lips_
     _Bidding adieu_."

He says of Poetry:

                         "A drainless shower
    Of light is poesy; 'tis the supreme power;
    'Tis _might half-slumb'ring on its own right arm_."

We see the scope of Keats's poetic powers steadily increasing. His
point of departure, especially in some of the most beautiful of
his smaller poems (for example, the _Ode to the Nightingale_), is
the description of a purely physical condition, such as weariness,
nervousness, thirst, languor, the drowsiness produced by opium. Upon
this background of sensitiveness the sensuous pictures rise, distinct
and round, like the reliefs upon a shield. The word "welded" comes
involuntarily to one's lips when one thinks of Keats's pictures. There
is something firm and finished about them, as if they were welded on a
metal plate.

Observe how the figures rise gradually into relief in the following
stanzas, the first and third of the beautiful _Ode to Indolence_:

    "One morn before me were three figures seen
       With bowed necks and joined hands, side-faced;
     And one behind the other stepped serene,
       In placid sandals, and in white robes graced;
         They passed like figures on a marble urn,
       When shifted round to see the other side;
     They came again; as when the urn once more
         Is shifted round, the first green shades return,
       And they were strange to me, as may betide
     With vases, to one deep in Phidian lore.
          . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

     A third time passed they by, and, passing, turned
       Each one the face a moment whiles to me;
     Then faded, and to follow them I burned
       And ached for wings, because I knew the three;
         The first was a fair maid, and Love her name;
       The second was Ambition, pale of cheek,
     And ever watchful, with fatigued eye;
         The last, whom I love more, the more of blame
       Is heaped upon her, maiden most unmeek,--
     I knew to be my demon, Poesy."

But not until he wrote the two completed books of _Hyperion_ did Keats
attain to absolute mastery over his artistic material, and realise
the ideal of sensuous plasticity which was ever before his eyes. In
this work the relief has been superseded by the statue; and they are
statues, these, which impress us with the feeling that Michael Angelo's
chisel must have played a part in their production. Granted that the
influence of Milton is clearly perceptible--there is more than Milton
here. The nature of the subject demanded the colossal.

We are told of the goddess Thea:

    "By her in stature the tall Amazon
     Had stood a pigmy's height; she would have ta'en
     Achilles by the hair and bent his neck;
     Or with a finger stay'd Ixion's wheel."

And read this description of the cavern where the Titans are assembled
after their fall:--

    "It was a den where no insulting light
     Could glimmer on their tears; where their own groans
     They felt, but heard not, for the solid roar
     Of thunderous waterfalls and torrents hoarse,
     Pouring a constant bulk, uncertain where.
     Crag jutting forth to crag, and rocks that seem'd
     Ever as if just rising from a sleep,
     Forehead to forehead held their monstrous horns;
     And thus in thousand hugest phantasies
     Made a fit roofing to this nest of woe.
     Instead of thrones, hard flint they sat upon,
     Couches of rugged stone, and slaty ridge
     Stubborn'd with iron. All were not assembled:
     Some chain'd in torture, and some wandering.
     Cæus, and Gyges, and Briareüs,
     Typhon, and Dolor, and Porphyrion,
     With many more, the brawniest in assault,
     Were pent in regions of laborious breath;
     Dungeon'd in opaque element, to keep
     Their clenchèd teeth still clench'd, and all their limbs
     Locked up like veins of metal, crampt and screw'd;
     Without a motion, save of their big hearts
     Heaving in pain, and horribly convuls'd
     With sanguine feverous boiling gurge of pulse."

Byron, who had been very severe in his criticism of Keats's previous
works, said, and said truly, of _Hyperion_: "It seems actually inspired
by the Titans, and is as sublime as Æschylus."

The specimens of his poetry here quoted afford sufficient proof of
Keats's imaginative power. It is to it, and not to his melodies,
sweet as they are, that he owes his rank among English poets.[2] The
purely artistic character of his verse makes of him the connecting
link between the conservative and the progressive poets. He has a
distinct bias in the direction of progress. Of this his enthusiastic
friendship for the Radical editor of the _Examiner_, Leigh Hunt, is a
striking proof. He felt what he wrote when, in his indignation at the
proceedings of the Liverpool-Castlereagh ministry, he exclaimed (in his
poem _To Hope_):

    "O, let me see our land retain her soul,
       Her pride, her freedom; and not freedom's shade!"

And William Tell, Wallace, and, chief of all, Kosciuszko, are named
again and again in his verse with the profoundest admiration. What he
might have developed into if he had reached maturity, it is impossible
to tell. When he wrote his last poems he was still but a child,
ignorant of the world.

And it must not be forgotten that while he wrote them he was enduring
great physical suffering, and mental anxiety amounting to torture.
Perhaps it is for this very reason they are so beautiful. Let the
artist keep his private life long enough out of his work--let him, like
Keats, hardly make any allusion in his poetry to his most absorbing
passion--and no work will have such life, such colour, such divine fire
as that executed whilst he not only wrought, but lived and suffered.
Neither the precariousness of Keats's circumstances, nor his hopeless
state of health, nor his passion for Fanny Brawne, set any distinct
mark on his poetry; but from all this poison for himself he drew
nourishment for it.

He sank into his early grave, but hardly had the earth closed over him
before he rose again from the dead in Shelley's great elegy. He ceased
to exist as Keats; he was transformed into a myth, into Adonais, into
the beloved of all the Muses and the elements; and henceforward he had,
as it were, a double existence in the consciousness of the age.

      "He lives, he wakes--'tis Death is dead, not he;
         Mourn not for Adonais....

       He is made one with Nature. There is heard
         His voice in all her music, from the moan
       Of thunder to the song of night's sweet bird....

       He is a portion of the loveliness
         Which once he made more lovely. He doth bear
       His part, while the One Spirit's plastic stress
         Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
        All new successions to the forms they wear....

       The inheritors of unfulfilled renown
         Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought,
       Far in the unapparent. Chatterton
         Rose pale, his solemn agony had not
         Yet faded from him; Sidney, as he fought,
       And as he fell, and as he lived and loved,
         Sublimely mild, a spirit without spot,
       Arose . . . . . . . . . . . .

       And many more, whose names on earth are dark,
         But whose transmitted effluence cannot die
       So long as fire outlives the parent spark,
         Rose, robed in dazzling immortality.
         'Thou art become as one of us,' they cry;
       'It was for thee yon kingless sphere has long
         Swung blind in unascended majesty,
       Silent alone amid an heaven of song.
     Assume thy winged throne, thou Vesper of our throng!'"[3]

We search the history of literature in vain for a parallel to
this elegy. It is instant transfiguration after death--a poetic
transfiguration of a purely naturalistic and purely human kind. To
Shelley, Keats's true apotheosis was what he expresses in the words:
"He is made one with Nature."


    "Death, the immortalising winter, flew
     Athwart the stream--and time's printless torrent grew
     A scroll of crystal, blazoning the name
     Of Adonais"
                          --_Fragment on Keats_: Shelley.

[2] Note the melodiousness of the Fairy Song:

    "Shed no tear! O shed no tear!
     The flower will bloom another year.
     Weep no more! O weep no more!
     Young buds sleep in the root's white core," &c.

[3] Shelley: _Adonais_



In November 1825 Sir Walter Scott writes in his diary: "I saw Moore
... There is a manly frankness and perfect ease and good breeding
about him which is delightful. Not the least touch of the poet or the
pedant ... His countenance is decidedly plain, but the expression is
so very animated, especially in speaking or singing, that it is far
more interesting than the finest features could have rendered it. I
was aware that Byron had often spoken, both in private society and his
Journal, of Moore and myself in the same breath, and with the same
sort of regard; so I was curious to see what there could be in common
betwixt us, Moore having lived so much in the gay world, I in the
country and with people of business, and sometimes with politicians;
Moore a scholar, I none; he a musician and artist, I without knowledge
of a note; he a democrat, I an aristocrat--with many other points of
difference; besides his being an Irishman, I a Scotchman, and both
tolerably national. Yet there is a point of resemblance, and a strong
one. We are both good-humoured fellows, who rather seek to enjoy what
is going forward than to maintain our dignity as lions; and we have
both seen the world too widely and too well not to contemn in our souls
the imaginary consequence of literary people, who walk with their noses
in the air, and remind me always of the fellow whom Johnson met in an
alehouse, and who called himself 'the _great_ Twalmley--inventor of
the floodgate iron for smoothing linen.' ... It would be a delightful
addition to life if T. M. had a cottage within two miles of one.--We
went to the theatre together, and the house, being luckily a good one,
received T. M. with rapture. I could have hugged them, for it paid back
the debt of the kind reception I met with in Ireland."

In these cordial words the great Scottish author compares himself with
the Irish national poet. The resemblance between their position, as
recognised and highly esteemed organs of the two dependent countries
united to England, makes the difference between them the more clearly
perceptible. There is, first of all, the dissimilarity produced by
the dissimilar relations of Scotland and Ireland to the dominant
race. Scotland's position was a subordinate one, but it was legally
established, and the country sent representatives to Parliament. The
Irish, on the other hand, divided by a much more marked difference of
race, and, as regarded the majority, of religion, from their English
masters, had been for six centuries under the rule of a Government in
which they had no more share than have the Hindoos or the Cingalese
in theirs. The Protestant Irish Parliament existed in its day in
Ireland like a hostile garrison in a conquered country. It was a body
of absolute rulers, governing and oppressing in the name of a foreign
power; any attempt at opposition on the part of its members was at once
put a stop to either by bribery or force. The Irish Protestant was not
in reality in a better position than his Catholic fellow-countryman;
he could purchase the favour of his masters only by sacrificing the
interests of his country, and enjoyed only the one pitiful privilege of
being at the same time vassal and master.

It has been a fortunate thing for the English people that their faults
as well as their virtues have ensured them success in the struggle
for political independence and power; their egoism and their pride
have been of almost as much service to them as their sober sagacity
and their energy. The Irish, on the other hand, seem, like the Poles,
to be condemned both by their virtues and their vices to political
subordination. Even making allowance for the fact that the character
of the conquered race is invariably maligned in the descriptions of
it given by the conqueror, it must be granted that the sprightliness,
ardour, and charm of the Irish, their turbulent bravery, their fitful
chivalry, their independent and, under certain conditions, rebellious
tendencies, co-existing with a love of the pomp and splendour of
royalty, form a bad foundation for a tranquil and independent
existence as a state. The virtues of the Irish are not the modern,
civic virtues, but those of an earlier age--their piety verges on the
blindest superstition; their fidelity consists, like that of their
Breton brothers, in a kind of vassal-fealty to the old nobility of the
country, and their splendid bravery is of an undisciplined, impetuous
nature. Long-continued oppression has, moreover, set its imprint
on their souls. They lack self-confidence, and have a tendency to
dissimulation and to indolence; they are too reckless of danger and too
easily intimidated when brought face to face with it; they cannot, when
liberty is granted them for a short time, make a good use of it, this
being an art which can only be learned by long practice.

There are inexperienced races just as there are inexperienced
individuals. One side of the Irish character has a strong resemblance
to the French (and the Irish have always had a warm sympathy for the
French), another reminds us of the Polish character, and there is a
third which is almost Oriental. In a poem entitled "The Parallel"
(one of the _Irish Melodies_), which Moore composed in answer to an
anti-Irish pamphlet written to prove that the Irish were originally
Jews, he compares the fate of the two nations:--

    "Like thee doth our nation lie conquer'd and broken,
       And fall'n from her head is the once royal crown;
    In her streets, in her halls, desolation hath spoken,
      And 'while it is day yet, her sun hath gone down.'"

And there undoubtedly is an Oriental quality in the race. Byron,
writing of Moore, says that the wildness, tenderness, and originality
of the Irish--the magnificent and fiery spirit of the men, the beauty
and feeling of the women, are the best proofs of the Oriental descent
which they claim. A race with such a character necessarily fell an easy
prey to a determined, cruel English despotism.

[Illustration: THOMAS MOORE]

A hasty glance at the history of Ireland during Thomas Moore's youth
will help us to understand how this man with the gentle nature and
the sweet lyric gift was the first to rouse English poetry from its
engrossed preoccupation with nature, to impress it into the service of
liberty, and to give the start to political poetry.

Moore was born in May 1779. The years of his early youth were the
period of the revolting events now to be related. From the time when
the English Government showed, by the appointment of Lord Camden as
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1795), that it had abandoned the humaner
policy of 1782, the Society of United Irishmen, a powerful political
organisation, which had hitherto aimed at the emancipation of the
country by lawful means, completely changed its character. The
separation of Ireland from England became its aim; it had dreams of
the establishment of an Irish Republic. But there were two powerful
elements of dissension in the country itself, namely, the existence
of two races, hostile to each other, and the strong animosity in the
lower classes between Protestants and Catholics. To put an end to the
disturbances and riots which were constantly resulting from these
internal dissensions, the Government formed a force of Protestant
constabulary, 37,000 strong. These troops were permitted, under the
pretence of searching for concealed weapons, to capture, torture,
and put to death any unfortunate person whom an enemy, or any
ruffian whatever, chose to accuse of suspicious behaviour. Hundreds
of unoffending people, who were guilty of no other offence than
professing the creed of their fathers, were flogged until they were
insensible, or made to stand upon one foot on a pointed stake, or were
half hanged, or had the scalp torn from their heads by a pitched cap.
Militia and yeomanry, as well as the regular troops, were billeted in
private houses; and this billet appears to have been construed as an
unlimited license for robbery, devastation, ravishment, and, in case
of resistance, murder. It was boasted by officers of rank that within
certain large districts no home had been left undefiled; and upon its
being remarked that the sex must have been very complying, the reply
was that "the bayonet removed all squeamishness."[1]

It was not surprising that the despair induced by such proceedings
drove numbers of the most peaceable and sensible Irishmen into the
arms of a secret society, which sent Lord Edward Fitzgerald (whose
biography Moore wrote with such warm admiration) as its deputy to
France, to arrange with General Hoche for the landing of a French army
in Ireland at the time appointed for a general rising of the Irish
rebels. Grattan, the old, passionless leader of the national party,
refused to countenance foreign interference, and retired from public
life in despair over the latest plans both of the rulers and the
oppressed. The Irish patriots elected a governing body, a species of
Directoire, which was negotiating with France for the loan of money
and troops, when all its plans were discomfited by the treason of a
single Catholic Irishman. His name, which deserves to be remembered,
was Reynolds. Moore undoubtedly had this man in his mind when he wrote
the description, in _The Fire-worshippers_, of the base betrayal of the
rebel chief to the Mohammedans.[2]

Lord Edward Fitzgerald was in bed when the soldiers forced their
way into the house where he lay hidden. A reward of £1000 had been
offered for his head. Although undressed, and with no weapon but a
sword, he defended himself for a long time against three fully armed
English officers, of whom one received three and another fourteen
wounds; the third disarmed him with a pistol-shot, and he was taken to
prison. Fitzgerald was acquainted with the most distinguished of the
French revolutionists; he was a friend of Thomas Paine; and his wife
was a charming daughter of Philippe Egalité. He carried on a steady
correspondence with France; and had he not died in prison, he would
have been executed. It speaks well for Moore's courage and independent
judgment, that, though he belonged to a circle in which Fitzgerald was
regarded as a traitorous madman, he paid him all the honour due to his

The rebels having thus lost their leader, the prospect of a general
rising was at an end; but the Government took the opportunity to treat
persons suspected of sedition with a cruelty bordering on frenzy.
Martial law was proclaimed, and those employed to administer it are
described by English historians as "a set of ignorant, bloodthirsty
ruffians, who first, by torture and promises of pardon, converted
Catholic prisoners into witnesses against the accused, and then treated
them in the most shameful manner." The first notable man who fell a
victim to this species of justice was a peaceable member of the party
which desired reform by lawful means, Sir Edward Crosbie. He was
hanged, and his body mutilated afterwards. It was not the difference of
religion which excited the cruel passions of these torturers, for all
the best leaders of the United Irishmen (Fitzgerald, O'Connor, Harvey,
Thomas Emmet) were Protestants, who unselfishly embraced the cause of
their Catholic countrymen; it was the Anglo-Saxons' old race-hatred of
the Celts.

The Government chose as its chief tool a man who was known to be such
an ignorant, ferocious partisan that any degree of violence might be
expected of him. This was Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald, a small proprietor,
who in 1799 was appointed High Sheriff. His plan of ingratiating
himself with his employers was to seize persons whom he chose to
suspect, and, by dint of the lash and threats of instant death, to
extort confessions of guilt and accusations of other persons. So abject
was the terror of the peasantry who were abandoned to the mercy of
this miscreant, that they fell on their knees before him. I give two
examples of his manner of proceeding, chosen from the many which were
made public during the lawsuit brought against him for having abused
his authority--the result of which was, of course, his acquittal with

He received a poor teacher of languages (Wright by name), who, hearing
that he was "suspected," had come to the court-house of his own accord,
with the order to fall upon his knees and receive his sentence. "You
are a Rebel," said the Sheriff, "and a principal in this rebellion. You
are to receive five hundred lashes, and then to be shot." The poor man
begged for time, and was so rash as to ask for a trial. This aroused
Fitzgerald to fury, and Wright was hurried to the flogging-ladders.
Fitzgerald himself dragged his fainting victim by the hair, kicked him,
and slashed him with a sword. Fifty lashes had been inflicted, when
an English Major came up and asked what Wright had done. The Sheriff
answered by flinging him a note, taken from Wright's pocket. It was in
French, a language of which Fitzgerald was wholly ignorant, and proved
to be an excuse for inability to fulfil a professional engagement.
Major Riall assured Fitzgerald that the note was perfectly harmless;
nevertheless the lash continued to descend until the victim's entrails
were visible through the flayed flesh. The hangman was then ordered to
apply his thongs to a part of the body which had not yet been torn.

This case of Wright's was one of those which created the greatest
sensation during the proceedings against the Irish High Sheriff.
But "the trial," says Massey, "would not have been complete had not
an Orange parson been called on the part of the defendant to swear
that this notorious bloodshedder, who throughout Ireland was called
'flogging Fitzgerald,' was a mild and humane man." The fact that the
Government, contrary to the principles of the constitution, had given
a special permission at the time of his appointment for the employment
of torture, made it easy for him to triumph over all his denouncers.
Addressing the jury as defendant, he actually boasted of having flogged
several persons under circumstances more aggravated than those before
the court. He mentioned one man who had cut his throat to escape the
horrors and ignominy of torture. It remains to be told that Judkin
Fitzgerald received a special pension as reward of his services, and
was, after the Union, made a baron of the United Kingdom.

One more specimen of the proceedings during the suppression of the
rebellion must be given; it furnishes an idea of the impressions
received by Moore during the years when he was ripening into
manhood.--"A part of the Mount Kennedy corps of yeomanry were, on an
autumn night in the year 1798, patrolling the village of Delbarg, in
the county of Wicklow. Two or three of the party, led by Whollaghan,
one of their number, entered the cottage of a labouring man named
Dogherty, and demanded if there were any bloody rebels there. The only
inmates of the cabin were Dogherty's wife, and a sick lad, her son, who
was eating his supper. Whollaghan asked if the boy was Dogherty's son,
and, being told that he was--'Then, you dog,' said Whollaghan, 'you
are to die here.' 'I hope not,' answered the poor lad; and begged, if
there were any charge against him, that he might be tried. Whollaghan,
with a volley of abuse, raised his gun and pulled the trigger twice,
but the piece missed fire. A comrade then handed him another gun; and
the mother rushed at the muzzle to shield her son. In the struggle
the piece went off, and the ball broke young Dogherty's arm. When the
boy fell, the assassins left the cabin; but Whollaghan returned, and
seeing the lad supported by his mother, he cried out: 'Is not the dog
dead yet?' 'O yes, sir,' cried the poor woman, 'he is dead enough.'
'For fear he is not,' said Whollaghan, 'let him take this.' And with
deliberate aim he fired a fourth time, and Dogherty dropped dead out of
his mother's arms. Whollaghan was tried for murder. The real defence
was that the prisoner and his companions had been sent out with general
orders from their officer to shoot any one they pleased. The court
seem to have been of opinion that such orders were neither unusual nor
unreasonable. They found 'that the prisoner did shoot and kill one
Thomas Dogherty, a rebel'; but acquitted him of any malicious or wilful
intention of murder."

It was by means such as these that tranquillity was restored in
Ireland, and that its people were ripened for the great administrative
change in which Castlereagh's cold, diplomatic keen-sightedness
saw the one chance of escape from the Irish deadlock, namely, the
discontinuance of the independent Irish Parliament which held its
sessions in Dublin, and its incorporation with the Parliament meeting
in London. The only opposition which required to be overcome was that
of the Irish Parliament itself, which, corrupt as it was, was not yet
pliable enough. Castlereagh, who was Secretary of State for Ireland,
and who does not seem in his capacity of Protestant Irishman to have
had a particularly high opinion of his Protestant countrymen, had
recourse to the simple expedient of purchasing one by one a sufficient
number of the votes of the Opposition. In every official letter which
he wrote to the Government at home between the beginning of 1799 and
the accomplishment of the Union in 1800, he insisted on the necessity
of bribery; and he received the Government's answer in the shape of
one million five hundred thousand pounds, of which he made the best
possible use. In their despair, the few patriots in the Parliament
resolved to try the only expedient which they thought likely to be of
any avail; they arranged that Grattan, who was still idolised by the
nation, but who had long kept silence and was now dangerously ill,
should suddenly appear in Parliament in the middle of the debate on the
Union. The scene was arranged with the Irish love of dramatic effect. A
vacancy having occurred a few days before the meeting of Parliament in
the representation of Wicklow, an arrangement was made with Mr. Tighe,
the patron of the borough, to return Grattan. Tighe himself took the
return, and, riding all night, arrived in Dublin at five o'clock in the
morning. Grattan, wasted by sickness, was taken out of bed, dressed,
wrapped in a blanket, and conveyed in a sedan chair to the Parliament
House. At seven in the morning, when the jaded House was half asleep,
the speech of an orator named Egan was interrupted by the voice of the
Speaker summoning a new member to the table to take the oaths. The
House started from its slumber as the spectral figure of Grattan paced
slowly up the floor. The man of 1782, the champion of the revolution
which had made Ireland a nation, had come back as from the grave to
rescue the independence of his country. He concluded his speech with
the words: "Against such a proposition, were I expiring on the floor, I
should beg to utter my last breath and record my dying testimony." When
Corry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, dared to reply to these words
with an accusation of treason, Grattan answered with a challenge. A few
days afterwards they fought a duel with pistols; Corry, fortunately
for himself, was wounded in the arm; had he been the victor, he would
undoubtedly have been torn in pieces by the mob.

But even Grattan was powerless against the weapons employed by the
Government. The eloquence, the brilliancy and solidity of which were
compared by Moore to those of a precious gem, and which Byron declared
to be superior to that of Demosthenes, found no echo.[3] The day the
Union was decided on, the galleries were crowded with an anxious,
excited audience. But Castlereagh, who felt assured of success, awaited
the result with a smile on his lips. When the time for voting came, the
Speaker, dwelling on the words, said: "All who desire the Union hold
up their hands!" Member after member slowly and shamefacedly raised
his hand. For a moment the Speaker stood as still as a statue; then
crying: "The Union is carried!" he threw himself on his chair with a
gesture of disgust and anger. During this stormy debate, in the course
of which the most notable Irishmen of the day proclaimed opposition and
rebellion at the present juncture to be a duty--none of them, however,
with any intention of carrying their principles into action--there sat
in one of the galleries a youth with a pale face and sparkling eyes,
who meant all that the others only said, and swore in his heart that
he would be the liberator of his country. This young man was Ireland's
best and noblest son, Robert Emmet, the friend who, in all probability,
inspired Thomas Moore with most of the force and fire to be found in
the enchanting _Irish Melodies_.

The notable Irish poet who came into the world in the same year as our
Danish poet, Oehlenschläger, was the son of a Dublin wine-merchant.
He had a good father and an affectionate, capable mother, and spent
a happy childhood in the bosom of his family. He very early showed
himself to be an unusually clever and talented boy; he acted, wrote
and recited poetry, and sang with a peculiarly sweet voice, which he
retained all his life. In reading his own account of his boyhood,
we observe how early his peculiar poetic gift, which was that of
the improvisatore and singer, the lyrist proper, reveals itself. He
possessed the same talent which distinguished Bellmann, the Swede, that
of fusing words and music together into a whole; and along with this,
he had the actor's and singer's power of moving by his interpretation.
He was short, considerably under middle height; his brown hair curled
close to his head, and in his childhood he resembled a little Cupid.
His forehead was large and radiant, so interesting that it must have
been the delight of phrenologists. He had beautiful, dark eyes--the
kind of eyes, says Leigh Hunt, which we think of surmounted by a wreath
of vine leaves--a refined, merry mouth, a dimpled chin, a sensual nose,
slightly turned up, as if it were inhaling the fragrance of a feast
or an orchard. The little man as a whole produced an impression of
vitality and energy; he was of the stuff to have made a fiery raider
of the old Irish type; he was always high-spirited, and in his younger
days so quick-tempered that he challenged Jeffrey on account of the
latter's first review of his poetry, and afterwards Byron for jeering
(in _English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_) at the bloodless endeavour at
a duel which was the result of the first challenge.

In spite, however, of this martial element in his disposition, it
is highly probable that Moore, if he had lived at a less critical,
distressing period, and had not come into personal contact with tyranny
and oppression, would never have risen to a higher rank as poet than
that of the sweet Anacreontic singer. His temperament inclined him in
this direction. But it was vouchsafed to him to do more for his country
than ever man had done for it before, more even than Burns had done for
Scotland, namely, to knit its name, its memories, its sufferings, the
shameful injustice done it, and the most admirable qualities of its
sons and daughters, to imperishable poetry and music.

At the early age of fifteen Moore was entered as a student at the
University of Dublin. The political leaven which was beginning to
leaven the whole of Ireland had penetrated the walls of the University.
A young man, destined to a great and tragic fate, was attracting
the attention both of his fellow-students and the professors. This
was the Robert Emmet already alluded to, a youth of singular purity
of character, who at the age of sixteen was already a distinguished
student of mathematics and physics, and a political orator of the first
rank. His speeches at the meetings of the "Historical Society," and the
deep impression made by them on Moore, a lad of his own age, but of a
much weaker and less developed character, have already been mentioned.
Although he had been warned against allowing himself to be seen in the
streets with Emmet, Moore was soon connected with him by the ties of
warm admiration and close friendship. And little wonder! It was the
Irish national hero whom the Irish poet had met, in the springtide of
their youth. Neither of them had any prevision of the other's future
greatness, but the instinct which unites harmonious minds kept them
together long enough for the poet to receive his consecration from the
hero. "Were I to number," says Moore, "the men among all I have ever
known, who appeared to me to combine in the greatest degree pure moral
worth with intellectual power, I should, among the highest of the few,
place Robert Emmet."[4]

Robert Emmet was born in 1780. His elder brother, Thomas, was one of
the leaders of the rebellion of 1798, and, after its failure, was first
imprisoned and then banished. Robert's earliest emotions were hatred
of English tyranny and love of the Irish martyrs. Even as a boy he
displayed a strength of character which foreshadowed the greatness of
soul that he displayed as a man. At the age of twelve he was already
absorbed in the study of mathematics and chemistry.[5] One day,
immediately after making a chemical experiment, he sat down to solve a
difficult mathematical problem, and, absently putting his hand to his
mouth, poisoned himself with a corrosive sublimate which he had been
handling a few moments before. The violent pains which he immediately
felt, informed him of his danger. The fear of being forbidden to make
such dangerous experiments in future led him to suppress anything of
the nature of a cry. He went downstairs to his father's library, looked
up the article on "Poison" in an encyclopædia, and found that chalk
was recommended as an antidote in such cases as his. Remembering that
he had seen a piece of chalk in the coach-house, he went there, broke
open the door, which was locked, found the chalk, prepared and drank a
solution of it, and returned to his mathematical problem. He appeared
at breakfast next morning with a face so altered that it was hardly
recognisable, and then confessed to his tutor that he had suffered
excruciating tortures during the night, but added that one good result
of his sleeplessness was that he had solved his problem.

A boy with courage and composure of this quality was sure to grow into
a man with a powerful influence over others.

One of those whom Emmet influenced most strongly was Thomas Moore.
The simplicity of appearance and manner which, in combination with
the most delicate consideration for others, distinguished the young
politician, changed, when the spring was touched that set his feelings,
and through them, his intellect in motion, into an air of intellectual
nobility and superiority which enchained the sympathy of the poet to
be. "No two individuals," writes Moore, "could be much more unlike
to each other, than was the same youth to himself, before rising to
speak, and after;--the brow that had appeared inanimate, and almost
drooping, at once elevating itself to all the consciousness of power,
and the whole countenance and figure of the speaker assuming a change
as of one suddenly inspired. Of his oratory, it must be recollected, I
speak after youthful impressions; but I have heard little, since, that
appeared to me of a loftier or purer character." Moore further asserts
that Emmet's influence over his surroundings was due quite as much to
the blamelessness of his life and the grave suavity of his manners as
to his scientific attainments and his eloquence.

In 1797 a newspaper named _The Press_ was started by the brothers
Emmet, O'Connor, and other Irish popular leaders; and Moore was not
a little eager to see something of his own in its patriotic and
widely-read columns. But his mother's constant anxiety about him
made him fearful of hazarding anything that might agitate her, so he
resolved to write anonymously, at any rate to begin with. He sent in an
imitation of Ossian, which was printed, but excited no attention. Then,
with trembling hand, he entrusted to the post a _Letter to the Students
of Trinity College_, which, as he himself observes, was richly seasoned
with treason; it was a witty satire on Castlereagh, who, as long as he
lived, was the butt of Moore's wit.

"I hardly expected," writes Moore, "that it would make its appearance;
but, lo and behold, on the next evening of publication, when seated,
as usual, in my little corner by the fire, I unfolded the paper for
the purpose of reading it to my father and mother, there was my own
letter staring me full in the face, occupying a conspicuous station
in the paper, and, of course, one of the first and principal things
that my auditors wished to hear." Overcoming his emotion, he read the
letter aloud, and had the gratification of hearing it much praised by
his parents, who, however, pronounced both language and sentiments to
be "very bold". On the following day, Edward Hudson, the only friend
entrusted with the secret, paid a morning call, and had not been long
in the room conversing with Mrs. Moore, when he looked significantly
at Tom and remarked: "Well, you saw--." "That letter was yours, then,
Tom?" cried the mother; and new entreaties to be cautious followed on
Tom's confession.

"A few days after," writes Moore, "in the course of one of those
strolls into the country which Emmet and I used often to take together,
our conversation turned upon this letter, and I gave him to understand
that it was mine; when with that almost feminine gentleness of manner
which he possessed, and which is so often found in such determined
spirits, he owned to me that on reading the letter, though pleased with
its contents, he could not help regretting that the public attention
had thus been called to the politics of the University, as it might
have the effect of awakening the vigilance of the college authorities,
and frustrate the progress of the good work (as we both considered it)
which was going on there so quietly. Even then, boyish as my own mind
was, I could not help being struck with the manliness of the view which
I saw he took of what men ought to do in such times and circumstances,
namely, not to _talk_ or _write_ about their intentions, but to _act_.
He had never before, I think, in conversation with me, alluded to
the existence of the United Irish societies, in college, nor did he
now, or at any subsequent time, make any proposition to me to join in
them, a forbearance which I attribute a good deal to his knowledge
of the watchful anxiety about me which prevailed at home.... He was
altogether a noble fellow, and as full of imagination and tenderness of
heart as of manly daring."

It is plain enough that Robert Emmet, though he was sincerely attached
to Moore, felt that he was not of the stuff of which a man must be made
who is to stake his future and his life on the success of a rebellion.
But he had a high opinion of the young poet, and often sought his
society; he was doubtless conscious of the resonance of his own ideas
and dreams in the harp of Moore's soul. He used frequently to sit by
him at the pianoforte whilst he played over the airs from Bunting's
Irish collection; and Moore as an old man still remembered how one day,
when he was playing the spirited air, "Let Erin remember the day!"
Emmet exclaimed passionately: "Oh that I were at the head of twenty
thousand men marching to that air!"

This was in 1797, shortly before the discovery of the great Irish
conspiracy. The discovery came, with all its attendant horrors. One
of its first results was a regular court of inquisition, held within
the walls of the University. The roll was called, and the students
were examined one by one. Most of them knew little or nothing about
the plot, but there were a few, among them Robert Emmet, whose absence
revealed to their comrades how much they had known of the betrayed
and defeated plans. The dead silence which followed the daily calling
out of their names made a profound impression on Moore. He himself
proved at this trial what a high-spirited little fellow he was; he
told the dreaded Lord Fitzgibbon to his face that, in taking the oath
demanded of him, he reserved to himself the power of refusing to answer
any question calculated to get a comrade into trouble; and he bore
with manly composure the outburst of anger which followed. As he was
not a member of the Society of United Irishmen, and had evidently no
knowledge of their plans, he was dismissed at once.

It was during the years immediately following this incident that Moore
began to appear before the public as a poet. The horrors attendant on
the suppression of the rebellion did not provide him with any of his
themes; they were still too near. Emmet was away, and his influence
in abeyance; and, indeed, political poetry was for the moment an
impossibility in Ireland. So the young poet, whose temperament
naturally inclined him in the direction of light, sprightly verse,
followed the course prescribed by his tastes and his age. He prepared
an English version of the Odes of Anacreon, which he published before
he was twenty, with a dedication to the Prince Regent, who was at that
time the hope of the Liberals; and in 1801 he published, under the
title of _Poetical Works of the late Thomas Little, Esq_., a volume
of poems, for the most part of an erotic, youthfully sensuous, and
slightly licentious character. The Irish licentiousness reminds one
of that which is not at all uncommon in Swedish erotic poetry; it has
also, like the Swedish, a national stamp.

After leading a tolerably aimless existence for a year or two in
London, where his talents and his Irish charm of manner made him a
favourite in the best society, Moore was obliged by his poverty to
go as Admiralty Registrar (a post procured for him by Lord Moira)
to the Bermudas. It was, as one can easily imagine, an appointment
very unsuited to his tastes, and after a short time he entrusted his
duties to a deputy, made a tour in America, and returned to England.
The deputy, in course of time, embezzled a considerable sum of
Government money, and thus Moore, like Scott, became responsible for
the payment of a heavy debt. He also, like Scott, received numerous
offers of assistance; and he discharged his liabilities, partly with
the assistance of wealthy friends, partly by his own industry and
strict economy for several years. His tour in America lasted from
October 1803 to November 1804. He brought home with him the American
Epistles, and poems which are to be found in the second volume of his
works, and which contain descriptions of nature as remarkable for their
correctness as for their wealth of glowing colour. With his genuine
English Naturalism, he was, however, more anxious to be truthful
than to be brilliant, and was very proud of the many testimonies he
received both from natives and travellers as to the correct impression
he conveyed of country and people. The well-known English traveller,
Captain Basil Hall (who visited Scott at Abbotsford and who, when ill
in Venice, was taken care of by Byron), asserts that Moore's Odes and
Epistles give the most beautiful and correct description of Bermuda
that is to be found; and he draws attention to the fact that both the
words and tune of the prettiest of the songs, the "Canadian Boat Song,"
are close imitations of what one actually hears in the boats out there,
the poet having, however, rejected whatever was neither beautiful nor
characteristic. Moore himself tells how exactly he kept to reality in
his descriptions of landscapes and even trees. Referring to the lines:

"'Twas thus, by the shade of a calabash-tree,
 With a few who could love and remember like me,"

he relates how, twenty-five years after writing them, he received
from Bermuda a cup made from a shell of the fruit of the identical
calabash tree alluded to, on the bark of which his name had been found
inscribed. The unaccustomed natural surroundings of these regions had
a fecundating effect on the mind of a young poet who was susceptible
to luxurious, festal impressions. The democratic and republican
institutions of the United States were much less to the taste of the
refined writer on whom the general reaction against the eighteenth
century, which was now beginning, was already producing its effect.
His Epistles on the state of society in America prove that he was
alive only to the defects of the Republic. He had an audience of the
President; but we perceive that Jefferson's slovenly dress--slippers
and blue stockings formed part of it--gave the young poet an
unfavourable impression of the man who had drawn up the Declaration
of Independence. What shocked him more than anything else in America
was to find French philosophy, which he, the true child of his day,
regarded as sinful and poisonous, so widely spread throughout the young
republic.[6] He referred many years afterwards to this time as being
the one period during which he had felt doubtful of the wisdom of the
liberal political faith in which he might almost literally be said to
have begun his life, and in which he expected to end it.

It almost seemed, for a moment, as if the impressions received by the
poet in his oppressed native island during his childhood and youth were
extinct, dead and buried under Anacreontic sentiments, reminiscences
of travel, and the pleasures of life as lived in the most fashionable
and frivolous circles of London society. But in 1807 appeared the first
Number of the _Irish Melodies_, the work which is Moore's title-deed
to immortality. Everything that his unfortunate country had felt and
suffered during the long years of her ignominy--her agonies and sighs,
her ardent struggles, her martial spirit, the smile shining through
her tears--we have them all here, scattered about in songs which are
written in a mood of half-gay, half-mournful levity and amorousness.
It was a wreath this, woven of grief, enthusiasm, and tenderness, a
fragrant wreath, such as one binds in honour of the dead, which Moore
placed on his country's brow. Not that Ireland is often mentioned;
there are as few names as possible in these poems--it was not safe to
print Irish names. But now the singer would celebrate his mistress
in such terms that no one could fail to recognise her as Erin, now
the dearly beloved would speak with a majesty which showed her to be
no mortal woman; and, as in the old Christian allegorical hymns, the
mysticism increased the poetic effect.

What had happened in the interval between the appearance of Moore's
wanton, frivolous poetry and the conception of these wonderful songs?
They themselves answer the question by suppressing the answer. The
fourth Melody begins:

    "Oh, breathe not his name, let it sleep in the shade,
     Where cold and unhonoured his relics are laid:
     Sad, silent, and dark be the tears that we shed,
     As the night-dew that falls on the grass o'er his head!"

There was, then, one whose name might not be named, whose body lay
dishonoured in a grave where it might be wept over only in the darkness
of night.

In the next song, again without any mention of a name, we read:

    "When he who adores thee has left but the name
       Of his fault and his sorrows behind,
     Oh! say, wilt thou weep when they darken the fame
       Of a life that for thee was resigned?
     Yes, weep, and however my foes may condemn,
       Thy tears shall efface their decree;
     For Heaven can witness, though guilty to them,
       I have been but too faithful to thee!"

That the beloved of these lines is Ireland, we can see at the first
glance; but once more a dark veil of anonymity is cast over the man
whose reputation was destroyed by his enemies, but who, though declared
guilty by them, had been so faithful to the object of his worship.

Let the reader turn over a few pages, and he will come upon a poem
which is closely connected with the two just quoted. It is a sweet, sad
portrait of the betrothed of the anonymous dead hero.

    "She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps,
       And lovers around her are sighing;
     But coldly she turns from their gaze, and weeps,
       For her heart in his grave is lying.

     She sings the wild songs of her dear native plains,
       Every note that he loved awaking.--
     Ah! little they think, who delight in her strains,
       How the heart of the Minstrel is breaking!

     He had lived for her love, for his country he died,
       They were all that to life had entwined him;
     Nor soon shall the tears of his country be dried,
       Nor long will his love stay behind him.

     Oh! make her a grave where the sunbeams rest,
       When they promise a glorious morrow;
     They'll shine o'er her sleep, like a smile from the West,
       From her own loved Island of Sorrow!"

The reader has already divined that the young hero of these touching
laments is no other than Moore's old college friend, Robert Emmet. It
was undoubtedly this young man's tragic fate which inspired the finest
of the songs of freedom contained in the _Irish Melodies_.

Robert's elder brother suffered a term of imprisonment after the
revolution of 1798, and was then banished; Robert himself escaped
imprisonment, and continued to employ his liberty in the service of
the cause which had cost his brother so much, and was to cost his own
life. In 1802 he went to Paris, and had an interview with the First
Consul, who appeared to him "to care as little for Ireland as he did
for the republic or for liberty," and several with Talleyrand, whom he
considered no more satisfactory, for the purpose of making arrangements
for the proclamation of an independent Irish Republic, supported by an
alliance with the French Republic. The moment was an opportune one, for
the friendly relations which had been re-established for a short time
between France and England by the Peace of Amiens were on the point
of giving way to renewed hostility. Bonaparte seems actually to have
for a moment contemplated a landing in Ireland (he lamented at St.
Helena that he had not gone to Ireland instead of to Egypt), and Robert
Emmet returned in November 1802 to his native island with a distinct
promise from the French authorities that the landing of their army
should take place in August 1803. With untiring audacity he prepared
for a new rebellion throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. He
was persuaded that that of 1798 had failed because it had not had
sufficient support in the capital. His great aim, therefore, was to
get possession of Dublin, and more particularly of the Castle, the
gates of which stood open till late in the evening. Day and night he
superintended the preparations of the conspirators. In different parts
of the town they rented a number of houses, where they established
secret manufactories of weapons and ammunition. Emmet had a staff of
fifteen men, almost all of the lower class, to assist him in the task
of superintendence. Such rest as he granted himself was taken lying on
a mattress on the floor of one of the powder-magazines.

Although more than a thousand persons were concerned in the conspiracy,
there was not one traitor among them, and the merciless Government
had not the slightest idea of what was impending. Emmet's private
fortune was entirely expended on the necessary preparations, although
the men who served him received no payment for their work. One of
them, conversing many years afterwards with the author of _The United
Irishmen_, told him that they worked, not for money, but for the cause;
that they had perfect confidence in Robert Emmet, and would have given
their lives for him. But in the month of July an accident occurred;
one of the powder-magazines blew up, killing two men, one of whom died
in Emmet's arms. The following day a Protestant newspaper informed the
Government that it was sleeping on a mine.

There could now be no question of waiting for the French; half-prepared
as the conspirators were, they had either to make their attempt at
once or accept the certainty of annihilation without a struggle. On
the morning of the 23rd of July a manly proclamation to the people
of Ireland, drawn up by Emmet himself, was discovered posted up in
the streets of Dublin. But when evening came, and Emmet attempted the
surprise of the Castle, he proved to his sorrow how unreliable his
countrymen were at a dangerous and decisive crisis. The number of his
followers steadily diminished as they approached the Castle, and by
the time its gates were reached it was clear that any attack which the
mere handful of faithful enthusiasts left, could make on the now alert
and well-armed enemy was doomed to defeat. In the first confusion the
rebel leaders succeeded in escaping to the hills of Wicklow, where
they were able to hold a council the following day. Most of them were
certain that their cause was anything but a lost one; let them but
give the signal, and the whole of Ireland would rise like one man,
&c, &c. Robert Emmet alone had lost all his illusions. He succeeded
in convincing his friends that to continue their endeavours at this
juncture, and without other forces than the undisciplined rebels who
alone were at their service, would lead to nothing but more shedding of
the blood of a people who had already suffered so much. At the moment
of parting, all the others entreated Emmet to take advantage of an
opportunity which presented itself of escaping from the country at once
in a fishing-boat belonging to one of the rebels. But, with a slight
confusion of manner, he told them that he could not possibly leave
Ireland for an unlimited number of years without first returning to
Dublin to take leave of a lady, who was so dear to him that he must see
her again if he "had to die for it a thousand times."

In Dublin the military were on his heels. His faithful housekeeper,
a young, brave girl, was covered with bayonet pricks and underwent
"half-hanging"; but nothing would induce her to betray her master's
hiding-place. At last he was found and arrested, a pistol-shot in
the shoulder preventing any attempt at escape. When the officer who
arrested him was making an excuse for this shot, the prisoner said
shortly: "All is fair in war."

A few days after his imprisonment, Robert Emmet wrote to the young lady
for whose sake he had risked his life. This was Miss Sarah Curran, a
daughter of the eminent and highly respected barrister, John Philpot
Curran, who is so often named in Byron's poetry, and who had been the
eloquent, undaunted defender of the political prisoners tried after the
rebellion of 1798. Young Emmet had been a welcome visitor at Curran's
house; but when Curran discovered the attachment between the two
young people, he separated them, as he feared that Emmet's political
opinions augured ill for his future; and the correspondence between
them had been carried on without his knowledge. The jailer demanded a
large sum from Emmet for conveying his letter to its address, and then
took it straight to the Attorney-General. Fearing possible injurious
consequences to the lady whom he loved, Emmet at once wrote to his
judges, and, knowing that his eloquence was dreaded, offered to plead
guilty and not say one word in his own defence if, in return, they
would make no reference, in the hearing of the case, to his letter to
Miss Curran. The offer was made in vain. The very next day, the arrival
of the police to search his house informed the furious Curran of the
relations between his daughter and Emmet.

Of the result of the trial no one had any doubt; the accused knew his
fate. When the governor of the prison came upon him one day plaiting a
lock of hair which Miss Curran had given him, he looked up and said:
"I am preparing it to take with me to the scaffold." On his table was
found a carefully executed pen and ink drawing--an excellent portrait
of himself, the head severed from the body.

The trial began at 10 A.M. After the Attorney-General had made a
speech, in which he affirmed that the only results of the conspiracy
had been to elicit stronger proofs than had before existed of the
attachment of Ireland to its King, Robert Emmet requested that, as
his only answer, the following paragraph from the proclamation of the
provisional government, as drawn up by him, might be read aloud: "From
this time onward flogging and torture are forbidden in Ireland, and
may not be reintroduced on any pretext whatever." Hereupon followed
a speech by a hateful Irish renegade, Mr. Plunket, who had formerly
belonged to the party of rebellion, but who now, as King's Counsel,
overwhelmed Emmet with abuse. Then Emmet himself stood up, and, with
the prospect of certain and almost immediate death before his eyes,
defended himself in a speech with which every Irishman to this day is
familiar. He began by saying that if he were to suffer only death after
being adjudged guilty, he should bow in silence to his fate; but the
sentence which delivered his body to the executioner also consigned his
character to obloquy, and therefore he must speak. The judge roughly
interrupting him in the middle of his speech, he calmly said: "I have
understood, my Lord, that judges sometimes think it their duty to hear
with patience, and to speak with humanity," and continued his speech in
such a loud voice as to be distinctly heard at the outer doors of the
court-house; and yet, though he spoke in a loud tone, there was nothing
boisterous in his manner. Those who heard him declare, says Madden,
that his accents and cadence of voice were exquisitely modulated. He
moved about the dock as he warmed in his address, with characteristic,
rapid, and not ungraceful motions. Even after the lapse of thirty
years, the witnesses of the scene could not speak without emotion of
the graceful majesty with which he defied his judges. A correspondent
of the _Times_, who unconditionally condemned the rebellion, wrote of
Emmet as follows: "But as to Robert Emmet individually, it will surely
be admitted that even in the midst of error he was great; and that the
burst of eloquence with which, upon the day of his trial, with the
grave already open to receive him, he shook the very court wherein he
stood, and caused not only 'that viper whom his father nourished' (Mr.
Plunket) to quail beneath the lash, but likewise forced that 'remnant
of humanity' (Lord Norbury, who tried him), to tremble on the judgment
seat, was an effort almost superhuman."

Emmet ended with these words: "My lord, you are impatient for the
sacrifice. The blood which you seek is not congealed by the artificial
terrors which surround your victim--it circulates warmly and unruffled
through its channels, and in a little time it will cry to heaven. Be
patient! I have but a few words to say--I am going to my cold and
silent grave--my lamp of life is nearly extinguished--I have parted
with everything that was dear to me in this life, and for my country's
cause with the idol of my soul, the object of my affections. My race
is run--the grave opens to receive me, and I sink into its bosom. I
have but one request to ask at my departure from this world--it is
_the charity of its silence_. Let no man write my epitaph; for as no
man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them, let not prejudice or
ignorance asperse them. Let them rest in obscurity and peace, my memory
be left in oblivion, and my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times
and other men can do justice to my character. When my country takes her
place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my
epitaph be written. I have done."

The sentence was pronounced. Robert Emmet was, on the following day,
first to be hanged, and then beheaded. When the prisoner was removed
from the dock it was about ten o'clock at night. As he passed the
grating of a cell in which a friend was confined, he called to him: "I
shall be hanged to-morrow." He was allowed no peace during his last
hours. The Government became alarmed lest an attempt might be made to
rescue him, and an order was sent to convey him to Kilmainham jail, two
miles and a half away. Not till he reached there did a humane jailer
take off the irons which had been put on so roughly that they had drawn
blood. The same man gave him something to eat, no food having been
provided for him since before the trial began, at ten in the morning.
Emmet then slept soundly for a short time. On awaking he employed the
time left him in writing letters to his brother in America, to Miss
Curran's brother, and to herself. He was interrupted by a friend, who
came to bid him farewell. Emmet's first inquiry was after his mother,
and his friend was obliged to tell him that she had died the day before
of grief. She had borne with fortitude the banishment of one of her
sons for his devotion to the cause of Ireland, and she had encouraged
Robert in all his proceedings; but when she knew that he, the pride of
her heart, was doomed, in his twenty-third year, to such a terrible
death, her heart broke. Robert received the news composedly, and said,
after a silence of some moments: "It is better so." In his letter to
young Curran he wrote: "I did not look to honours for myself--praise
I would have asked from the lips of no man; but I would have wished
to read in the glow of Sarah's countenance that her husband was
respected." His writing in this letter is as firm and regular as usual.

At one o'clock, escorted by the sheriffs and followed by the
executioner, he was led to the scaffold. So great was the power of his
gentleness and charm over wild, rude natures, that one of the warders
burst into tears at parting from him. Emmet, whose arms were bound,
bent forward and kissed the man on the cheek; and the jailer, whom
twenty years of service had hardened, and inured to prison scenes, fell
senseless at his prisoner's feet. Before mounting the scaffold Emmet
entrusted to one of his friends the letter which he had written to Miss
Curran; but the friend was arrested and imprisoned, and this letter,
like the other, did not reach its destination. Emmet took off his
neckerchief himself, and assisted in adjusting the rope round his neck.
After his head was struck from the body the executioner held it up to
the crowd, proclaiming in a loud voice: "This is the head of a traitor,
Robert Emmet!" Not a sound was heard in answer.

Next day the readers of the _London Chronicle_, the Government organ,
were told: "He behaved without the least symptom of fear, and with all
the effrontery and nonchalance which so much distinguished his conduct
on his trial yesterday. He seems to scoff at the dreadful circumstances
attending on him, at the same time, with all the coolness and
complacency that can be possibly imagined, though utterly unlike the
calmness of Christian fortitude. Even as it was, I never saw a man die
like him; and God forbid I should see many with his principles.... The
clergyman who attended him endeavoured to win him from his deistical
opinions. He thanked him for his exertions, but said that his opinions
on such subjects had long been settled, and that this was not the time
to change them." Thus spoke the official press. Oppressed Ireland kept
silence at the scaffold of her young hero, and, faithful to his wish,
carved no epitaph on his tomb.

But when Moore's _Irish Melodies_ appeared, it was as if the grief and
wrath of a whole nation had suddenly found expression; in these songs
it rose and fell, whispered and shouted, moaned and murmured, like the
waves of the sea, and with the irresistible force of a natural element.
Soon there was not a peasant in Ireland, as there is not one today,
unfamiliar with the song: "When he who adores thee." To this day Robert
Emmet's last speech is read in American schools. It is the gospel of
the Irish struggle for independence. But, strangely enough, Emmet's
heroic death contributed less to his fame among his countrymen than did
his touching love story. His betrothed, regarded by the Irish people
as their hero's widow, became the object of silent veneration. Her
unhappiness was increased by her being obliged to live amongst people
who sided with England, and who considered, much as they pitied him,
that Emmet had deserved his fate. Some years after Emmet's death Miss
Curran made the acquaintance of an English officer, a Captain Sturgeon,
who, touched by her forlorn position and attracted by her many charms,
offered her his hand. After long hesitation she married him. As she
was beginning to show symptoms of decline, he took her to Italy. Her
appearance, says Admiral Napier, who saw her at Naples, was that of "a
wandering statue." She died, not long after her marriage, in Sicily,
"far from the land where her young hero sleeps." Washington Irving has
described her in his _Sketch Book_, in the beautiful tale called "The
Broken Heart." But her most worthy monument is the song: "She is far
from the land."[7]

In the _Melodies_, however, the griefs of the individual are but
a symbol of those of the nation, an embodiment of the universal
suffering. We come upon songs in which we seem to hear all the sons
and daughters of Ireland lamenting over the fruitlessness of the
great French Revolution and the disappointment of the hopes which all
nations, but theirs above all others, had set upon the stability and
victory of the Republic. Such a song is the touching:

     "'Tis gone, and for ever, the light we saw breaking";

with its wild lament that the first ray of liberty, welcomed with
blessings by man, has disappeared, and by its disappearance deepened
the darkness of the night of bondage and mourning which has again
closed in over the kingdoms of the earth, and darkest of all over Erin.
Truly noble and lofty is the flight of this verse:

    "For high was thy hope, when those glories were darting
       Around thee, through all the gross clouds of the world;
     When Truth, from her fetters indignantly starting,
       At once, like a sunburst, her banner unfurled.
     Oh, never shall earth see a moment so splendid!
     Then, then, had one Hymn of Deliverance blended
     The tongues of all nations; how sweet had ascended
       The first note of Liberty, Erin, from thee!"

And the poem ends with maledictions on the "light race, unworthy its
good," who "like furies caressing the young hope of freedom, baptized
it in blood." Other poems are of a more threatening nature, although
the threat is always poetic and half-concealed. Read, for example, the
song, "Lay his sword by his side."

    "Lay his sword by his side,--it hath served him too well
       Not to rest near his pillow below;
     To the last moment true, from his hand ere it fell,
       Its point was still turn'd to a flying foe.
           . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Yet pause--for, in fancy, a still voice I hear,
           . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     And it cries, from the grave where the hero lies deep,
       'Tho' the day of your Chieftain for ever hath set,
     'Oh, leave not his sword thus inglorious to sleep,--
       'It hath victory's life in it yet!'"

The poem which is directly aimed at the Prince Regent is the most
severe and most high-toned of them all. It is the one which begins:
"When first I met thee, warm and young." The Prince's name is not
mentioned, but the verses can only be understood when it is known
that it is to him they refer. Erin, speaking as a woman, describes
her belief in him, her faith in the promises he made when "young and
warm" and her continued reliance on him even when she saw him change.
When she heard of his follies, she persisted in discovering, even in
his faults, "some gleams of future glory." But now that the attractive
qualities of youth have departed, and none of the virtues of maturity
have replaced them, now that those who once loved him avoid him,
and even his flatterers despise him, Erin would not give one of her
"taintless tears" for all his guilty splendour. And the day will come
when his last friends will forsake him, and he will call in vain on her
whom he has lost for ever. She will say:

    "Go--go--'tis vain to curse,
       'Tis weakness to upbraid thee;
     Hate cannot wish thee worse
       Than guilt and shame have made thee."

Wordsworth addressed declarations of love to England when she was
victorious and great; Scott sang the praises of Scotland at a time when
she was beginning to take her place as a flourishing nation by the side
of a sister kingdom; but Moore addressed his heartfelt, glowing strains
to a country which lay humiliated and bleeding at its torturers' feet.
He writes:--

    "Remember thee! yes, while there's life in this heart,
     It shall never forget thee, all lorn as thou art;
     More dear in thy sorrow, thy gloom, and thy showers,
     Than the rest of the world in their sunniest hours.

     Wert thou all that I wish thee,--great, glorious, and free--
     First flower of the earth, and first gem of the sea,--
     I might hail thee with prouder, with happier brow,
     But, oh! could I love thee more deeply than now?"

And in everything that Moore wrote, there is a remembrance of Ireland.
His great Oriental poem, _Lalla Rookh_, which appeared in 1817, was
prepared for by the most conscientious study. There is not an image,
not a description, or name, or historical incident or reference, which
has any connection with Europe. Everything, without exception, bears
witness to the familiarity of the author with the life and nature
of the East. Nevertheless we know that the subject did not begin to
interest him until he saw a possibility of making the struggle between
the Fire-worshippers and the Mohammedans a pretext for preaching
tolerance in the spirit of the song, "Come, send round the wine," which
he had addressed to his countrymen in the _Irish Melodies_. And the
interest of the reader, too, is not really awakened until he begins
to divine Ireland and the Irish under these Ghebers and their strange
surroundings. Hence it is that _The Fire-Worshippers_ is the only
entirely successful part of the poem. The very names Iran and Erin melt
into each other in the reader's ear. Moore himself says that the spirit
which spoke in the _Irish Melodies_ did not begin to feel at home in
the East till he set it to work on the _Fire-Worshippers_; and the
beautiful poem, whose hero is a noble and unfortunate rebel, and whose
heroine lives amongst people who speak of her lover with detestation,
might well have been inspired by the memory of Robert Emmet and Sarah
Curran. Some of the incidents recall their story. Before Hafed calls
the Ghebers to revolt he has been wandering, an exile, in foreign
lands; Hinda, devoured by anxiety for him, hears every day of massacres
of the rebels. And when, learning that her lover has been burned, she
drowns herself, the poet bewails her fate in a song, entire verses of
which might, if _Erin_ were substituted for _Iran_, be added to "She is
far from the land" without introducing a perceptibly foreign element.
Take, for instance, the verse:

    "Nor shall Iran, beloved of her Hero, forget thee--
       Though tyrants watch over her tears as they start,
     Close, close by the side of that Hero she'll set thee,
       Embalmed in the innermost shrine of her heart."

And so exact is the resemblance between the spirit of the _Irish
Melodies_ and that which reigns in this Asiatic epic, that it was
possible to employ a sentence from the latter, without the change of a
single word, as motto for the collection of documents relating to the
Irish Rebellion which was published in the Fifties under the title:
_Rebellion Book and Black History_. The lines are as follows;--

    "Rebellion! foul, dishonouring word,
       Whose wrongful blight so oft has stained
     The holiest cause that tongue or sword
       Of mortal ever lost or gained.
     How many a spirit born to bless
       Hath sunk beneath that withering name,
     Whom but a day's, an hour's success
       Had wafted to eternal fame!"

It was Moore's polemical position as an Irishman that made it
impossible for him to see European politics in the same light as
they appeared to the Lake School and Scott. He directed a shower
of the arrows of his wit against the Holy Alliance. In the _Fables
for the Holy Alliance_, which he dedicated to Lord Byron, he jests,
good-humouredly but audaciously, at the European reaction. He dreams,
for example, that Czar Alexander gives a splendid ball in an ice-palace
which he has erected on the frozen Neva, on the plan of that built
by the Empress Anne. To it are invited all the "holy gentlemen" who,
at the various Congresses, have shown such regard for the welfare of

    "The thought was happy, and designed
     To hint how thus the human mind
     May--like the stream imprisoned there--
     Be checked and chilled till it can bear
     The heaviest Kings, that ode or sonnet
     E'er yet be-praised, to dance upon it"

Madame de Krüdener has pledged her prophetic word that there is no
danger, that the ice will never melt. But, lo! ere long an ill-omened
dripping begins. The Czar goes on with his polonaise, but so glassy has
the floor become that he can hardly keep his legs; and Prussia, "though
to slippery ways so used, was cursedly near tumbling." But hardly has
the Spanish fandango begun when a glaring light--"as 'twere a glance
shot from an angry southern sun"--begins to shine in every chamber
of the palace. Then there is a general "Sauve qui peut!" Instantly
everything is in a flow--royal arms, Russian and Prussian birds of prey
and French fleur-de-lys, floors, walls, and ceilings, kings, fiddlers,
emperors, all are gone. Why, asks Moore,

    "Why, why will monarchs caper so
     In palaces without foundations?"

It is evident that he hoped great things from the Spanish Revolution,
which had just begun.

In another fable he tells of a country where there was a ridiculous law
prohibiting the importation of looking-glasses. What was the reason
of this prohibition? The reason was that the royal race reigned by
right of their superior beauty, and the people obeyed because _they_
were declared, and believed themselves to be, ugly. To hint that the
King's nose was not straight, was high treason; to suggest that one's
own neighbour was as good-looking as certain persons in high position,
was almost as great a crime; and the subjects, never having seen
looking-glasses, did not _know themselves_. Certain wicked Radicals
arranged that a ship with a cargo of looking-glasses should be driven
ashore on this country's coast--and the reader guesses the rest. In
a third fable the poet returns to his old symbolic characters, the
Fire-worshippers. Less tolerant here than in _Lalla Rookh_, he makes
the Fire-worshippers throw the whole corps of "extinguishers," who
have been appointed to obstruct them in the peaceful exercise of their
religious rites, into the flames which they will not allow to burn.

The work which shows Moore's humour and satire at its best, _The Fudge
Family in Paris_, is full of witty sallies against the new, incapable
Bourbon Government, but strikes at England in bold, dead earnest. We
find such lines as:

     "Everywhere gallant hearts, and spirits true,
      Are served up victims to the vile and few;
      While E----, everywhere--the general foe
      Of truth and freedom, wheresoe'er they glow--
      Is first, when tyrants strike, to aid the blow!"

And England is reminded that

    "----maledictions ring from every side
     Upon that grasping power, that selfish pride,
     Which vaunts its own, and scorns all rights beside."

The Fourth and Seventh Letters ought to be read, with their jeers
at the Prince Regent's laziness and corpulence, and their abuse of
Castlereagh, of whom Moore thus writes:

    "We sent thee C----gh; as heaps of dead
     Have slain their slayers by the pest they spread,
     So hath our land breathed out--thy fame to dim,
     Thy strength to waste, and rot thee, soul and limb--
     Her worst infections all condensed in him!"

And the potentates of the Holy Alliance are called

    "That royal, ravening flock, whose vampire wings
     O'er sleeping Europe treacherously brood,
     And fan her into dreams of promised good,
     Of hope, of freedom--but to drain her blood!"

This sounds very bad and very dangerous; the distance separating such
a writer from the older generation of poets strikes us as great; it
seems but a step from this to Shelley and Byron. But as a matter
of fact, it is a long way; for all these attacks are not quite so
seriously meant as one would imagine. This champion of the cause of
Ireland was no advocate of her independence; Moore did not desire
the separation of his country from England; he only desired that she
should be ruled better and more justly. This bold denouncer of kings
was no republican, but a sincere believer in monarchy, who would have
had bad kings replaced by good ones. He was no free-thinker, this man
who railed so violently at the hypocrisy of the Holy Alliance, but a
sincere, enlightened Catholic, who, though he brought up his children
as Protestants, wrote a thick book, _Travels of an Irish Gentleman
in search of a Religion_, in defence of the most important doctrines
of the Catholic faith. With all his apparent unrestraint, Moore kept
within the bounds prescribed by the society in which he lived. The
Whig leaders had, when he came to London, received him with open arms,
and Moore became and remained the Whig poet, who in a long series
of playfully sarcastic letters--rhymed feuilletons one might call
them--treated the public questions and Parliamentary events of the day
with sparkling wit and drawing-room humour of the best style, in the
spirit of the Whig party.

[1] Massey: _History of England_, iv. 302. The whole account is founded
upon descriptions given by _English patriots_.

[2] _Lalla Rookh: The Fire-worshippers_.


    "An eloquence rich, wheresoever its wave
        Wander'd free and triumphant, with thoughts that shone through,
      As clear as the brook's 'stone of lustre,' and gave,
        the flash of the gem, its solidity too."
                                  --Moore: _Shall the Harp be silent_.

     "Ever glorious Grattan! the best of the good!
        So simple in heart, so sublime in the rest!
      With all which Demosthenes wanted endued,
        And his rival or victor in all he possess'd."
                                  --Byron: _The Irish Avatar_.

[4] Thomas Moore: _Memoirs of Lord Edward Fitzgerald_.

[5] Madden: _The United Irishmen, Their Lives and Times_.


    "Already has the child of Gallia's school,
     The foul Philosophy that sins by rule,
     With all her train of reasoning, damning arts,
     Begot by brilliant heads or worthless hearts--
     Already has she poured her poison here
     O'er every charm that makes existence dear."
            --_Epistle to Lord Viscount Forbes_.

[7] Madden: _United Irishmen. Robert Emmet_: anonymous, but known to be
written by Madame d'Haussonville.



Moore was by nature disposed to gaiety and happiness, not to solitary
conflict. He was created to occupy, in the manner of the ancient Irish
bards, an honourable place at the table of the great, and while away
their time with song. A sign of his being one of fortune's favourites
is that he often jests even when he is most in earnest, unlike Byron,
who, even when he jests, is serious, nay, gloomy. Moore plays with his
theme and caresses it; Byron tears his to pieces, and turns from it
in disgust. The two friends are constantly observing and reproducing
nature; but under Byron's gaze the sun itself seems to be darkened,
whilst Moore, with his love of rosy red and brightness and sparkle,
himself creates "a morning sun which rises at noon."

Hence we get but a one-sided picture of Moore when we study him, as
our plan has led us to do, chiefly as a political poet. He is also the
writer of some of the best and most musical erotic lyrics in existence.
The music of his verse is more exuberant than delicate; but there is
magic in his handling of language. In his love poems a fascinating,
glowing sensuousness and an ardent tenderness have found expression in
word-melodies which are as tuneful as airs by Rossini. English admirers
of Shelley, accustomed to more delicate, and, to the uninitiated,
more perplexing harmonies, may, if they please, call these songs
"over-sweet"; erotic verse cannot be too erotic; as the French say:
"In love too much is not enough," Moore is no Mozart; but is this not
almost like a Mozart air, like one of the hero's or Zerlina's in _Don

    "The young May-moon is beaming, love!
     The glow-worm's lamp is gleaming, love!
           How sweet to rove
           Through Morna's grove,
     While the drowsy world is dreaming, love!"

Songs by Rossini and Moore retain their value even though the world
owned at the same time a Schubert and a Shelley. Nowhere are the
distinguishing characteristics of the different English poets of this
period more clearly reflected than in their love poems; whilst at the
same time the Naturalism distinguishing the period stands out in sharp
contrast to the supernaturalism of the erotic poetry of the German and
French reaction periods. Byron's description of his most beautiful
female character as "Nature's bride and Passion's child" (_Don Juan_
ii. 202), and his description of the love of Don Juan and Haidée:

    "This is in others a factitious state,
       An opium dream of too much youth and reading,
     But was in them their nature or their fate,"

might serve as characterisations of the love celebrated in the amatory
poetry of the majority of his contemporaries. But only in _Don Juan_
has Byron painted happy love. His erotic poems are nothing but misery
and lamentation. The most marvellous of them all, "When we two parted,"
has a sob in its very rhythm; and the whole pain of parting is conveyed
by the manner in which the rhythm suddenly changes in the last verse.
In the first lines there is still a certain calmness of passion:

    "When we two parted
       In silence and tears,
     Half broken-hearted,
       To sever for years,
     Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
       Colder thy kiss;
     Truly that hour foretold
       Sorrow to this.

But all the misery of love is expressed in the short, abrupt cadences
of the concluding stanza:

    "In secret we met--
        In silence I grieve,
     That thy heart could forget,
       Thy spirit deceive.
     If I should meet thee
       After long years,
     How should I greet thee?--
       With silence and tears."

The peculiar domain of Byronic love-poetry is that of the tortures of

Thomas Campbell has not written many purely erotic poems--he prefers
the shorter or longer love-story in verse to the personal outburst--but
some of the few are as tender in tone as Moore's or Keats's. And,
strange to say, he becomes warmer, tenderer, less restrained in
expression as time passes. It is as an old man that he writes his
most amatory verse. To the remonstrance of conscience, that Platonic
friendship should content him at his years, he answers by a challenge
to Plato himself in the skies to look into the eyes of a certain lady
"and try to be Platonic."

He sings of the transient nature of love, of the suffering occasioned
by the absence of the beloved; he puts into words the sufferings of
the maid whose lover is "never wedding, ever wooing." But he is most
characteristically himself as the erotic poet when he confesses, with
a half mournful smile, that his heart is younger than his years, as in
the following verses:--

    "The god left my heart, at its surly reflections,
     But came back on pretext of some sweet recollections,
     And he made me forget what I ought to remember,
     That the rose-bud of June cannot bloom in November.
         Ah! Tom, 'tis all o'er with thy gay days--
     Write psalms, and not songs for the ladies.

     But time's been so far from my wisdom enriching,
     That the longer I live, beauty seems more bewitching;
     And the only new lore my experience traces,
     Is to find fresh enchantment in magical faces.
         How weary is wisdom, how weary!
     When one sits by a smiling young dearie!"

Keats's erotic verse is, as was to be expected, burning, breathless,
sensual; it revels in fragrance and sweet sounds. Read this masterly

    "Lift the latch! ah gently! ah tenderly--sweet!
       We are dead if that latchet gives one little clink!
     Well done--now those lips, and a flowery seat--
       The old man may sleep, and the planets may wink;
         The shut rose shall dream of our loves, and awake
         Full blown, and such warmth for the morning's take;
     The stock-dove shall hatch her soft brace and shall coo,
     While I kiss to the melody, aching all through."

Shelley's love-poetry is at one and the same time hyper-spiritual
and meltingly sensuous. We are reminded by it of Correggio. In the
productions of both these artists the expression of the most utter
self-surrender is blent with the expression of the most violent sensual
excitement; what Shelley describes is the erotic death-struggle. Take
the concluding verse of the _The Indian Serenade_:--

    "Oh lift me from the grass!
     I die, I faint, I fail!
     Let thy love in kisses rain
     On my lips and eyelids pale.
     My cheek is cold and white, alas!
     My heart beats loud and fast;
     Oh! press it to thine own again
     Where it will break at last."

And along with it the transport with which _Epipsychidion_ concludes:--

    "Our breath shall intermix, our bosoms bound,
     And our veins beat together; and our lips
     With other eloquence than words, eclipse
     The soul that burns between them, and the wells
     Which boil under our being's inmost cells,
     The fountains of our deepest life, shall be
     Confused in passion's golden purity,
     As mountain-springs under the morning Sun.
         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     One hope within two wills, one will beneath
     Two overshadowing minds, one life, one death,
     One Heaven, one Hell, one immortality,
     And one annihilation. Woe is me!
     The winged words on which my soul would pierce
     Into the height of love's rare universe,
     Are chains of lead around its flight of fire--
     I pant, I sink, I tremble, I expire!"

If Byron's domain is that of the tortures of the luckless or forsaken
lover, Shelley's is, as we see, that of the pain of the happy lover,
of self-annihilation in the rapture of love. But for the very reason
that the erotic domain of both these great poets was thus definitely
limited, neither of them wrote many erotic poems; to neither was this
one of the most important fields of his productivity.

Moore, on the contrary, was a born erotic poet, of the type of
our (Danish) Christian Winther. What the majority of love-poets
are possessed by is the erotic passion; Moore's distinguishing
characteristic is erotic fancy. He loves everything that is beautiful,
exquisite, delicate, soft, and bright, for its own sake, without
requiring any background to throw it into relief. He never tells any
eventful story, never sets off by any strong contrast, never undermines
by deep brooding. He loves the blossoms of the tree, not its roots.
The objects which fascinate him, fascinate with the first impression;
they are beautiful and bright; they dazzle the senses; they enthral
the eye and the ear more than the heart; they are exchanged for other
objects possessing the same qualities--there is a constant gleam and
flutter. But all essentially erotic poets have butterfly natures. In
this matter no more striking contrast can be imagined than that between
Wordsworth and Moore. The former deliberately chooses themes which in
themselves are insignificant, or unattractive, or even ugly, in order
to endow them with a moral or spiritual beauty; the latter detests
the sordid details of human life, recoils from all its adversities,
and evades every moral with a Wieland-like smile and bow. When he is
forced to give the ugly a place, he cannot resist casting a soft,
glittering veil over it. His style has been blamed for its overweight
of gorgeous adjectives, its propensity to let every passion lose
itself in a simile, and its restless glitter and gleam. It has been
called artificial in comparison with Wordsworth's. "Artificial!" cries
one of his Irish admirers, "when every human being can enjoy Moore's
poetry, whilst a new taste has to be created to enable one to enjoy
Wordsworth's!" Is it really the case, then, we are led to ask, that
study and a cultivated taste are required for the enjoyment of the
natural, whilst only ordinary feeling is demanded for the enjoyment
of artificial beauty? Wordsworth and Coleridge were poets for a
cultivated, literary public; Moore was the poet for a nation. The
faults with which he may fairly be charged are the consequences of his
natural limitations, of his being a musician and a colourist, but not a
draughtsman; he is incapable of drawing or describing a _whole_ object,
what he does is to paint the separate attributes of beautiful objects.
He devotes verse after verse to the praises of a blush, a smile, the
melody of a voice; instead of beautiful outlines he gives us a list of
beauties. Employing Voltaire's clever definition of love--"nature's
cloth, which imagination has embroidered"--it must be confessed that in
Moore's love-poetry the embroidery is often so gorgeous and abundant
that it hardly permits the cloth to appear at all. But the cloth is
there, and is nature's.

And it is only fair to add that in Moore's best and most beautiful
poems the over-abundance of imagery has disappeared. Where the true
Irish melancholy has taken possession of his soul, it has blown away
all the tinsel and found expression in imperishable language. The style
of "Take back the virgin page" and "The last rose of summer" is as
simple as their metre is perfect. There is not a simile in either of
them. Nor is there a single simile in the beautiful little song which,
in spite of its brevity, has for Ireland all the significance of a
national epic--the simple song of the lovely young girl who, though
adorned with precious jewels and with a beauty still more alluring,
went without fear from one end of Ireland to the other, knowing that
Erin's sons, "though they love woman and golden store," love honour and
virtue more. ("Rich and rare were the gems she wore.") Of the man who
wrote such a song Byron might safely assert: "Moore's _Irish Melodies_
will go down to posterity with their music; and both will last as long
as Ireland or as music and poetry."

Moore's was a happy life. At the age of thirty-one he married a
beautiful and amiable girl, Miss Bessy Dyke; and their married life was
a most harmonious one. He was not always in good circumstances, but
after his fame was established, his works provided him with a handsome
income. Though in the _Grand Dinner of Type and Co_. he makes the rich
publishers (in the manner of the legendary warriors who after death
drank mead out of the skulls of their enemies) drink their wine out of
the skulls of poor authors, he himself had no reason to complain of
his publisher, who offered him £3000 for _Lalla Rookh_ before seeing a
line of it, and gave him £4200 for his excellent Life of Lord Byron.
Moore was held in equal honour by the Irish and English. In 1818 he
was entertained at a banquet in Dublin by all the most famous literary
and public men of the country, and when he went to Paris in 1822 he
was _fêted_ by the British nobility there. It was not till he grew old
that misfortunes came upon him. Then he lost his health and had severe
trials with his children. He died in 1842.



The poet Thomas Campbell, descended from an ancient Highland family,
and born and brought up in Scotland, was, like Scott, an ardent
Scottish patriot; he also felt warm sympathy for Ireland, and, like
Moore, sang her national memories and sorrows; but he combined love
of the two subordinate countries with an ardent and martial British

He was, however, not only a national poet in the sense in which
Wordsworth was one, but also, from his youth to his death, an
enthusiastic lover of liberty. His epic poems and his ballads are not
superior to corresponding productions of Wordsworth's; but he had true
lyric genius. He is the Tyrtæus or Petöfi of the Naturalistic School.
To him the cause of his country and the cause of liberty are one and
the same thing, and in his best verse there is a spirit, a swinging
march time, and a fire, that entitle him, if only for the sake of
half-a-dozen short pieces, to a place among great poets.

His poem _The Battle of the Baltic_ is, naturally, little calculated
to make a favourable impression on Danes. His pride in the victory
Nelson won over a force so much weaker than his own, but which the poem
magnifies into the same size as England's, is the very extravagance of
patriotism. But, side by side with this poem, and written at the same
time, we have _Ye Mariners of England_, a masterpiece, in the rhythm
of which we seem to hear the gale rattling among English sails. Here
the true son of the Queen of the Sea, singing of the British sailor,
celebrates his mother's praises.

Notice the rushing, sweeping force and exultation compressed into the
last four lines of this stanza:--

    "Ye Mariners of England!
     That guard our native seas;
     Whose flag has braved a thousand years
     The battle and the breeze!
     Your glorious standard launch again
     To match another foe!
     And sweep through the deep,
     While the stormy winds do blow;
     While the battle rages loud and long,
     And the stormy winds do blow.

And observe the expression of pride in England's sovereignty of the

    Britannia needs no bulwarks,
    No towers along the steep;
    Her march is o'er the mountain-waves,
    Her home is on the deep.
    With thunders from her native oak,
    She quells the floods below,--
    As they roar on the shore,
    When the stormy winds do blow;
    When the battle rages loud and long,
    And the stormy winds do blow.

Campbell's life was a well regulated and tranquil one. Born in Glasgow
in 1777, he received an excellent education there and in Edinburgh.
At the age of twenty-one he published his _Pleasures of Hope_, which,
though now antiquated, created a sensation on its appearance, and with
the proceeds undertook a tour in Germany, during the course of which
he wrote several poems inspired by the hostilities with Denmark--among
them the two above mentioned. In 1803 he married his cousin and
settled in London. He wrote, lectured, and from 1820 onwards edited a
newspaper. After 1830 his health was precarious and his powers were
enfeebled. He lived, a shadow of himself, until 1844.

It is the same with Campbell as with all the other authors of the group
to which he belonged--his poetic faculty is based upon the freshness
of his receptivity to natural impressions. He has written a poem to
the rainbow which, in spite of a rather prosaic and argumentative
introduction, is a little masterpiece of simplicity and fancy. He
begins by imagining the feelings of "the world's grey fathers" when
they came forth to watch its first appearance:--

    "And when its yellow lustre smiled
      O'er mountains yet untrod,
     Each mother held aloft her child
      To bless the bow of God.

     Methinks, thy jubilee to keep,
      The first made anthem rang
     On earth delivered from the deep,
      And the first poet sang.

     Nor ever shall the Muse's eye
      Unraptured greet thy beam:
     Theme of primeval prophecy,
      Be still the poet's theme!

     How glorious is thy girdle cast
      O'er mountain, tower, and town,
     Or mirrored in the ocean vast,
      A thousand fathoms down!

     As fresh in yon horizon dark,
      As young thy beauties seem,
     As when the eagle from the ark
      First sported in thy beam."

And one of his latest poems, _The Dead Eagle_, written at Oran in
Africa, bears witness to the same, unenfeebled, receptivity to
all the phenomena of nature as this early one. In the later work
we are conscious of a joy in natural strength and power which is
characteristically English. "True" the poet writes:

    "True the carr'd aëronaut can mount as high;
     But what's the triumph of his volant art?
     A rash intrusion on the realms of air.
     His helmless vehicle, a silken toy,
     A bubble bursting in the thunder-cloud;
     His course has no volition, and he drifts
     The passive plaything of the winds. Not such
     Was this proud bird: he clove the adverse storm
     And cuff'd it with his wings.
     He stopp'd his flight
     As easily as the Arab reins his steed,
     And stood at pleasure 'neath heaven's zenith, like
     A lamp suspended from its azure dome,
     Whilst underneath him the world's mountains lay
     Like molehills, and her streams like lucid threads.
     Then downward, faster than a falling star,
     He near'd the earth, until his shape distinct
     Was blackly shadow'd on the sunny ground;
     And deeper terror hush'd the wilderness,
     To hear his nearer whoop. Then, up again
     He soar'd and wheel'd. There was an air of scorn
     In all his movements, whether he threw round
     His crested head to look behind him, or
     Lay vertical and sportively display'd,
     The inside whiteness of his wing declined
     In gyres and undulations full of grace.
         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     He--reckless who was victor, and above
     The hearing of their guns--saw fleets engaged
     In flaming combat. It was nought to him
     What carnage, Moor or Christian, strew'd their decks.
     But if his intellect had match'd his wings,
     Methinks he would have scorn'd man's vaunted power
     To plough the deep; his pinions bore him down
     To Algiers the warlike, or the coral groves
     That blush beneath the green of Bona's waves;
     And traversed in an hour a wider space
     Than yonder gallant ship, with all her sails
     Wooing the winds, can cross from morn till eve.
         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
         . . . . . . . . . . The earthquake's self
     Disturb'd not him that memorable day,
     When o'er yon table-land, where Spain had built
     Cathedrals, cannon'd forts, and palaces,
     A palsy-stroke of Nature shook Oran,
     Turning her city to a sepulchre,
     And strewing into rubbish all her homes."

There is wealth of imagination in this as well as wealth of observation.

But Campbell is greatest in his poetry of freedom, in poems like _Men
of England, Stanzas on the Battle of Navarino, Lines on Poland, the
Power of Russia_, and such noble, profound expressions of spiritual
freedom as that entitled _Hallowed Ground_. In such productions as
these he plainly shows his spiritual superiority to the poets of the
Lake School, who, like him, wrote glorious verse in honour of the
nations who were struggling for their independence. The Lake poets
honoured the struggle only when it was against the tyranny of Napoleon,
England's enemy. Campbell makes no difference of this kind; in the name
of freedom he often exhorts and even rebukes England, whereas to the
other poets she is freedom's very hearth and home.

Note, in _Men of England_, the warmth with which he insists that the
records of valour in war are as nothing compared with the glowing love
of liberty in the breasts of living men, and that the glory of the
martyrs of freedom is worth a hundred Agincourts.

Campbell's joy at the liberation of Greece is as genuine as his grief
over the fall of Poland; but the poem on Poland is more ardent, in its
indignation, its hope, its lament that "England has not heart to throw
the gauntlet down." And the verses on the power of Russia display as
clear an understanding of the danger to civilisation which lies in
the success of Russia, and of the real significance of the defeat of
Poland, as if a statesman had turned poet.

    "Were this some common strife of States embroil'd;--
     Britannia on the spoiler and the spoil'd
     Might calmly look, and, asking time to breathe,
     Still honourably wear her olive wreath.
     But this is Darkness combating with Light;
     Earth's adverse Principles for empire fight."

These are weighty words; and not less pregnant is the line:

"The Polish eagle's fall is big with fate to man."

The poem _Hallowed Ground_ is, in its bold simplicity, a plain
protest against all superstition, whatever name it bears, and a manly
confession of faith in the gospel of liberty as proclaimed by the
eighteenth century. What is hallowed ground? asks Campbell:

    "What's hallow'd ground? Has earth a clod
     Its Maker meant not should be trod
     By man, the image of his God,
            Erect and free,
     Unscourg'd by superstition's rod
            To bow the knee?

     That's hallow'd ground--where, mourn'd and miss'd.
     The lips repose our love has kiss'd;--
     But where's their memory's mansion? Is't
            Yon churchyard's bowers?
     No! in ourselves their souls exist,
            A part of ours.

     A kiss can consecrate the ground
     Where mated hearts are mutual bound;
     The spot where love's first links were wound,
            That ne'er were riven,
     Is hallow'd down to earth's profound,
            And up to heaven!"

And, though the ashes of those who have served mankind may be scattered
to the winds, they themselves, he says, live on in men's hearts as in
consecrated ground; until the high-priesthood of Peace, Independence,
Truth, shall make earth at last _all hallowed ground_.

Campbell cannot be numbered among the greatest poets of the
Naturalistic School; but in his lyrics there is a simple, powerful,
and melodious pathos which reminds us of the old Greek elegiac poets.
Although Scotch by birth, his sympathies were with Ireland, and his
spirit was British. Although, like the poets of the Lake School,
ardently patriotic, he was distinctly the lover and champion of
liberty, and of liberty as a divinity, not as an idol. He forms the
connecting link between the national poets of Scotland and Ireland and
the three great English poet-emigrants of this period.



During the period when England, as a European power, was doing the
errands of the Holy Alliance, and within her own borders was oppressing
the Roman Catholics and reducing the lower classes to distressful
poverty by unduly favouring the landowners, there was a steady increase
in the number of Englishmen who left their own country to live the life
of knights-errant of freedom, and, as it were, remind the world of
England's ancient fame as the protector of national independence. Such
Englishmen were General Wilson, who, under Bolivar, liberated South
America, and Admiral Cochrane, who won fame first in the Brazilian and
then in the Greek war of liberation. And to this class also belongs
_Walter Savage Landor_, the proudest and most singular figure in the
literary world of his period.

Landor, born at Warwick in 1775, was the descendant of an ancient
family and the heir of princely wealth. He studied at Oxford. In 1802
he resided for a time in Paris. On his return he sold the greater part
of his property in Warwickshire and bought one in another county, on
which he introduced every possible kind of improvement, to ensure that
his numerous tenants should live under more favourable conditions than
their class elsewhere in England. He spent £70,000 on these attempts at
reform, which he carried out with less understanding of human nature
than desire for human welfare. His benevolence was shamefully abused by
its recipients, many of whom took advantage of his unselfishness and
generosity to defraud him on a large scale. Enraged by the ingratitude
and bad behaviour of his tenants, he determined to sell all his
property, even the land which had been in the possession of his family
for seven hundred years, and to live thenceforward as a free citizen of
the world. This resolution he carried out in 1806.

As soon as he heard of the Spanish rebellion against the tyranny of
Napoleon, Landor went to Spain, equipped a small troop at his own
expense, and fought with the rebels. He received a public letter of
thanks from the Spanish Junta, along with a commission as colonel in
the Spanish army. This commission he returned when King Ferdinand
was restored, with a letter in which he declared that, although he
should always be devoted to the cause of Spain, he could have nothing
to do with "a perjurer and traitor" like its King. In this one act
we have the man's character--precipitate and reckless, but proud and
high-minded. In this author's breast beat the heart of an independent

In 1815 Landor settled in Italy, where he had his home for nearly
thirty years.[1] From 1835 to 1858 he lived in England (at Bath).
Throughout his long life--he died in 1864, at the age of 90--he was
the mortal enemy of tyranny in all its manifestations, and the ardent
champion of freedom in everything. To the last he was the unwearied
benefactor of political refugees and persons suffering for their

The literary activity displayed during this long, honourable life was
prodigious. Landor wrote twice as much as Byron. And it is with a
feeling of reverence that we open many of his books; but during the
whole literary period with which we are immediately concerned, his
writings were neither understood nor valued. Landor wrote without
any connection with a reading public, and without receiving any
encouragement from the critics, who told him nothing but that he was
stiff and cold, and that his English was like a translation from a
foreign language; he never enjoyed the smallest amount of popularity
or any species of literary triumph. After his death he began to be
admired, and about 1870 to exercise influence.

To pass from Moore to Landor is like setting foot on firm ground after
rocking on the waves. Landor's distinguishing characteristic is a
manly decision; he stands high as an author, but higher still as a
man. He is, unfortunately, so little read that one cannot presuppose
acquaintance with any of his writings, or find any point of support
in the memory or fancy of one's reader on which to base criticisms;
and he is not easy to describe. His decision found its most remarkable
expression in an estimate of himself which is startling to many. We
come upon such verdicts as this: "What I write is not written upon a
slate: and no finger, not of Time himself, who dips it in the clouds
of years, can efface it"; and upon such answers to the reviewers of
his _Imaginary Conversations_ as: "Let the sturdiest of them take the
ten worst of them, and if he equals them in ten years I will give him
a hot wheaten roll and a pint of brown stout for breakfast." Such
pride would have made a smaller man ridiculous, but it does not harm
Landor; it occasionally becomes him. It reminds us at times of the not
unjustifiable, but uncontrollably arrogant feeling which Schopenhauer
had of his own deserts, only that Landor's manner is always that of
the refined aristocrat, whilst Schopenhauer, with his utter disregard
of the laws of common politeness, is a thorough plebeian. And on rare
occasions the peculiar temperament, with its grand passionateness
and its even grander productivity, reminds us of a man whose name is
too great to be lightly named, but who, though infinitely Landor's
intellectual superior, would perhaps have acknowledged the intellectual
kinship--the solitary, severe Michael Angelo.

There was something severe in Landor's nature--the severity which goes
along with firmness of character and absolute truthfulness to one's
self and others. In his work there is a certain salutary harshness. The
poem "Hyperbion," from the _Hellenics_, may be given as a good and very
characteristic example of it.

    "Hyperbion was among the chosen few
     Of Phœbus; and men honored him awhile,
     Honoring in him the God. But others sang
     As loudly; and the boys as loudly cheer'd.
     Hyperbion (more than bard should be) was wroth,
     And thus he spake to Phœbus: 'Hearest thou,
     O Phœbus, the rude rabble from the field,
     Who swear that they have known thee ever since
     Thou feddest for Admetus his white bull?'
     'I hear them,' said the God. 'Seize thou the first,
     And haul him up above the heads of men,
     And thou shalt hear them shout for thee as pleas'd.'
     Headstrong and proud Hyperbion was: the crown
     Of laurel on it badly cool'd his brow:
     So, when he heard them singing at his gate,
     While some with flints cut there the rival's name,
     Rushing he seized the songster at their head:
     The songster kickt and struggled hard, in vain.
     Hyperbion claspt him round with arm robust,
     And with the left a hempen rope uncoil'd,
     Whereon already was a noose: it held
     The calf until its mother's teat was drawn
     At morn and eve; and both were now afield.
     With all his strength he pull'd the wretch along,
     And haul'd him up a pine-tree, where he died.
     But one night, not long after, in his sleep
     He saw the songster: then did he beseech
     Apollo to enlighten him, if perchance
     In what he did he had done aught amiss.
     'Thou hast done well, Hyperbion!' said the God,
     'As I did also to one Marsyas
     Some years ere thou wert born: but better 'twere
     If thou hadst understood my words aright,
     For those around may harm thee, and assign
     As reason that thou wentest past the law.
     My meaning was that thou shouldst hold him up
     In the high places of thy mind, and show
     Thyself the greater by enduring him.'
     Downcast Hyperbion stood: but Phœbus said:
     'Be of good cheer, Hyperbion! if the rope
     Is not so frayed but it may hold thy calf,
     The greatest harm is, that, by hauling him,
     Thou hast chafed sorely, sorely, that old pine;
     And pine-tree bark will never close again.'"

Seldom has an Apollo expressed himself in a less sickly-sentimental
manner on the subject of mediocrity in art. Landor's contempt for it
was based on the severity of the artistic demands he made on himself.
He is the severest stylist among English prose writers--not stylist in
the sense of virtuoso in language, for no English is less flexible than
his--but in this sense, that he represents all his characters, the most
commonplace and the grandest, the ancient and the modern, in the same
simple Attic style. To his marked preference for the heroic and the
grand is due the majestic tranquillity which as a rule characterises
his _Conversations_ (the branch of literature he specially cultivated);
the dialogue is Grecian in its beautiful simplicity, Anglo-Roman in its
proud decision. His style is pure, correct, concise; and its antique
quality specially fits it for the representation of ancient Greek and
Roman characters. The public assemblies in the market-place of Athens,
the Senate and Forum of Rome, these live in his _Conversations_ with
the life of their own day. Modern dialogue flowed much less easily
and naturally from his pen; he was successful in the more modern
_Conversations_ only when the situation was of such a nature as to be
receptive of life and warmth from his own concealed indignation.

To make acquaintance with Landor in his full vigour and brilliancy
one must read his _Pericles and Aspasia_, a tale in epistolary form.
It is a work of the same description as Wieland's _Aristippus_, but
written in a very different spirit and style. Where Wieland is florid
and coquettish, Landor is distinguished by manly grace; where Wieland
is sentimental, Landor is noble and proud. This correspondence is
chiselled rather than written; it represents Pericles as the republican
type of noble humanity and political wisdom; and in it Aspasia is not
the hetæra, but a personification of Hellenic beauty and delicacy of
feeling, of pagan womanhood, and of the emancipated antique intellect
and culture. There is consequently not a trace of anything resembling
coquetry in the letters; everything that is small and undignified
seems to lie beyond the horizon of the work and its author. But the
old-fashioned epistolary form and the length of the letters make the
book tedious, and the reader who has not enough patience for it will do
well to turn from it to Landor's masterpiece, the Conversation between
Epicurus, Leontion, and Ternissa.

This Conversation is inferior to a dialogue of Plato only in profundity
of thought; it rivals Plato in grace, in revelation of character, and
in naturalness. The amiable philosopher, now approaching middle-age,
is walking in his beautiful garden with two young Greek girls,
talking of the trivial events of the day and the serious events of
life. An Attic atmosphere, a dignified sensuousness, a chaste and
charming grace, distinguish the whole scene, striking us perhaps most
in the little touches which describe the two girls, particularly
the younger, aged sixteen, with her mixture of bashfulness and
attractive straightforwardness. Landor has here created the feminine
counterpart of Plato's youths; he has discovered the Greek maiden,
whom Plato neglected, whom Greek tragedy represented only in solemn or
majestically tragic situations, and whose outward appearance alone has
been preserved for us in beautiful reliefs.

One is well repaid for one's trouble in following the windings of this
Conversation. It begins with a pretty description of the surrounding
scene, and with praise of the solitude which is necessary to the man
who desires to think, and to write his thoughts. Behind the figure
of Epicurus we here catch a glimpse of Landor, who had this same
love of a retired life, at a distance from the traffic and noise of
the busy world. (See Conversation between Southey and Landor.) Then
Epicurus discusses playfully and charmingly with Ternissa the question
whether the myth of Boreas, Zethes, and Caläis is to be accepted
literally or not, whilst the elder girl teases Ternissa because of her
credulousness. After this the Conversation, touching lightly for a
moment on the delicious scent of the vine-leaves and on the new olive
plantations, turns into an affecting, profound discussion on the fear
of death. The calm, dignified attitude of Epicurus arouses the girls'
admiration, and leads them violently to upbraid those who condemn and
persecute him as an atheist. It comes out that Leontion has written a
whole book for the purpose of refuting the charges against him made by
Theophrastus. Epicurus proves to her with gentle dignity how useless
replies to such attacks are, and explains to her why he will contend
with no one. "I would not contend even with men able to contend with
me.... Whom should I contend with? The less? it were inglorious. The
greater? it were vain." Here we perceive Landor himself again. This was
the very argument of the man who a few years before his death prefixed
to his last book the motto:

    "I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
       Nature I loved, and, next to nature, Art;
     I warmed both hands before the fire of life;
       It sinks, and I am ready to depart."

The first of these lines contains both a confession and a justification
of what appeared to be his arrogance--that which small minds found it
so difficult to understand or to pardon. The second tells what was the
chief subject of his earnest study, and what, supplementing it, came
next in order. The third line is an expression of the noble philosophy
which supported and nourished his spirit under so much misunderstanding
and opposition; and the last shows him prepared, with the quiet dignity
which harmonised with his character, to fold his mantle round him and
depart when his time came.[2]

Leontion continues the Conversation. "The old," she says, "are all
against you, for the name of pleasure is an affront to them: they know
no other kind of it than that which has flowered and seeded, and of
which the withered stems have indeed a rueful look. What we call dry
they call sound; nothing must retain any juice in it: their pleasure is
in chewing what is hard, not in tasting what is savoury." Landor, who
had to submit to reproaches for the licentiousness of his writings even
from Byron (see preface to _A Vision of Judgment_), evidently derives
his philosophy, as John Stuart Mill did his system of morality, from
Epicurus, the pagan.

The Conversation passes lightly from one subject to another; now it
turns on Ternissa's blushes at the remembrance of the statues of satyrs
and fauns in the bath chamber, now on Leontion's feminine objections
to Aristotle and Theophrastus. It concludes in a genuinely Greek,
Epicurean, erotic manner; Epicurus and Ternissa act the scene between
Peleus and Thetis, which ends with a kiss.

In this Conversation we have Landor's art and his tranquil humanism
at their best. But when we turn to the modern Conversations we become
acquainted with the soldier in him, the writer ever armed, ever
ready for the fray, who, assuming a thousand different disguises,
exposes and strikes at every form of falsehood and oppression which
challenges him to the attack in his character of pagan, republican,
and philanthropist. In his 125 _Imaginary Conversations_ he roams,
displaying an astonishing amount of information, over the whole face of
the earth--from London to China, from Paris to the South Sea Islands;
and throughout the whole of history--from Cicero to Bossuet, from
Cromwell to Petrarch, from Tasso to Talleyrand; in every country and
every age uttering a vigorous protest against tyranny, and speaking
a word, sharp as a sword, in the cause of liberty. We overhear what
the Empress Catharine and her favourite maid of honour say to each
other while they are in the act of murdering the former's husband; and
the Conversation in question is not much inferior to one of Vitet's
incomparable historical scenes, which are models in this style. We
hear Louis XVIII, talking politics with the supercilious, polished
Talleyrand, and notice how the uncontrollable longing for plenty of
pheasants and pheasants' eggs twines itself, like a scarlet thread,
through the web of all His Majesty's political plans. We listen to
General Kleber talking with his staff-officers in Egypt, and are
conscious of the dissatisfaction with Napoleon's tyrannical measures
which runs, like a subdued murmur, through all they say. We are present
at the assassination of Kotzebue, and hear Sandt, in the course of his
attempts to induce Kotzebue to quit the path he is treading, pronounce
his own acquittal.

It was an article of Landor's political creed that the oppressor ought
to fall by the sword. All his life he advocated the death of tyrants;
he was not afraid openly to express his wish that Napoleon III. might
be assassinated. He was a friend and spiritual kinsman of the great
European revolutionists who, with Mazzini at their head, had sworn
implacable enmity to the oppressors of the nations. But it is not
only as a politician that Landor shoots beyond the mark; by far the
greater number of his historical Conversations suffer from the too open
pursuit of some aim of his own. We are always catching sight of Landor
himself. Take, for example, his representation of Catharine of Russia
at the terrible moment above referred to: Landor cannot resist seizing
the opportunity to discourse, in the disguise of Princess Dashkoff,
on the ungodliness of Voltaire's character and the immorality of his
_Pucelle_, with the aim of impressing upon us what a bad influence the
French spirit had upon Russia. For with all his liberal-mindedness
he is sufficiently the Englishman of his day to lay the blame of
everything bad on France, and never to represent a Frenchman in any
but a ridiculous or contemptible light. When, for example, he writes
a Conversation between Louis XVIII, and Talleyrand, he cannot refrain
from making his satire so severe--Louis' foolish speeches so imbecile,
Talleyrand's tone to his sovereign so ironical--that no one can believe
in the historic truthfulness of the whole. Landor desires to hear the
English and Wellington praised, and desires to have Louis' incapacity
plainly shown, and he is rash enough to put both the eulogy of England
and the mockery of Louis into the mouth of the judicious French

In the handling of the weapons of satire, Landor might have learned
much from the Frenchmen whom he disliked so heartily. But he had as
great a contempt for their literature as for their politics, and
despised Voltaire, the author, quite as much as Voltaire, the man. In
the Conversation between himself and the Abbé Delille he uses, as a
critic of French tragedy, even severer language than Lessing, and shows
no more appreciation than Lessing did of the great stylistic capacity
inherent in the characteristically French intellect. It strikes us as
comical to hear one man reproaching another with the utmost insolence
for being too polished.

One hardly needs to be told that a man with this opinion of French
classic poetry was a despiser of Pope, an enthusiastic admirer of
Milton, and a pronounced supporter of the reform of English poetry
demanded by Wordsworth. Most of the Conversations upon literary topics
are written for the purpose of eulogising Wordsworth and Southey,
and reproaching the reading public for its want of appreciation of
such fine poetry as theirs.[3] Keats and Shelley are also warmly
praised; and Landor expresses regret that he had not made the
personal acquaintance of either, and, in particular, that a false
report concerning Shelley's behaviour to his first wife had kept him
from calling upon that poet at Pisa. He writes of Shelley that he
"united, in just degrees, the ardour of the poet with the patience and
forbearance of the philosopher," and that "his generosity and charity
went far beyond those of any man at present in existence." But no
sooner is Byron mentioned than Landor expresses himself exactly like
a poet of the Lake School. The man who believed that the two fingers
which held his pen had more power than the two Houses of Parliament
(see conclusion of the Conversation between Landor and Marchese
Pallavicini) could never forget Byron's satire of his _Gebir_. And
the remarkable friendship existing, in spite of all their political
and religious differences, between him and Southey, made it equally
impossible for him to forget the blows which Byron had struck at his
admirer. Byron's egotism and excitable restlessness were, undoubtedly,
antipathetic to Landor, but it was the treatment of Southey which
influenced him most, and blinded him to many of the great poet's
best qualities. The connection with Southey is, on the whole, little
creditable to Landor, and Forster's long _Life of Landor_ is rendered
the more unreadable by the disproportionate space allotted in it to
letters from and to such an uninteresting personage as Southey. In
Landor's eyes Southey had the great, and certainly rare, merit of being
one of the two persons who had read and bought the poem _Gebir_ when
it came out. De Quincey, who was the other, tells that in his youth he
was hooted in the streets of Oxford as the one reader of that poem in
the University. So we can understand how Southey, who not only bought
and read, but praised it, and who, moreover, wrote a favourable review
of Landor's dull _Count Julian_ in the _Quarterly_, must have seemed to
the self-satisfied author a man of the rarest intellectual penetration.

It is undeniable that _Gebir_, in spite of all its passionate
republicanism, is a stilted, valueless composition, which bears evident
traces of having been, by a characteristic whim of its author, first
written in Latin verse. There was, throughout, a Latin quality in
Landor's verse. Even Gosse, who admires it, feels obliged to confess
that its character, like the taste of olives, is peculiar enough to
acquit any person who does not like it of the charge of affectation. It
is in his prose alone that his strength lies.

But a writer whose poetry is lacking in charm of expression and lyric
soul, whose dramas were neither played nor read, and who found his true
province in lengthy prose dialogue, spoken in all parts of the world
and at all periods of history, but unconnected with any play--such a
writer could not, however noble his principles and unmistakable his
Radicalism, be the man to bring about a general European revulsion to
liberal opinions. He repelled by his whimsicalities and crotchets, of
which such instances may be given as his defence of the burning of
Rome by Nero as a hygienic measure, his characterisation of Pitt as
a mediocrity, and Fox as a charlatan, or, greatest absurdity of all,
his advice to the Greeks, during their struggle with the Turks, to
give up the use of firearms and resort to their old weapon, the bow.
He was too peculiar and too much of the solitary to have admirers
and imitators; he was too incomprehensible by the ordinary mind to
exercise any influence upon the general public; his virtues contributed
as much as his faults--his wild manliness as much as his excessive
self-sufficiency--to render him unapproachable. And if he was incapable
of compromising like Moore, that is to say, of ever becoming a Whig
poet, he was equally incapable of ever imparting to his Radicalism a
poetic form that would entrance and captivate a whole reading public.
His partial understanding of the great modern movements in religion,
government, and society, entitles him to be grouped with two younger
and greater men, Shelley and Byron. He fought for his ideals like a
brave and proud republican soldier; but he was neither fitted to be a
general nor to submit to rule; and he had not the power of inspiring a
multitude of other minds.[4]

The eldest of the three freedom-loving exiles, he outlived the other
two--lived so long, indeed, that he became the contemporary of an
entirely different generation of English poets. Browning was his
friend; Swinburne's cordial admiration sweetened the last years
of his life; the dedication of _Atalanta_ shows the young man's
feelings towards the old. Landor's great shade, extending one hand
to Wordsworth, the other to Swinburne, seems to hover over the whole
poetic development of England during a period of not less than eighty

[1] In the Danish edition from 1924 it says "In 1815 Landor settled
down in Italy and stayed there without interruption for more than 30
years. First in 1857 did he settle permanently in England (in the city
of Bath). For information about where Landor lived and when we think
other sources should be used.--Transcriber's note.

[2] See _The Centenary of Landor's Birth_ in _The Examiner_ of 30th
January 1875, an article written by the talented poet and critic,
Edmund Gosse, who for us Danes possesses the special merit of being
one of the most appreciative and best-informed foreign critics of
Dano-Norwegian literature.

[3] See, for example, the two Conversations between Southey and Porson,
and the survey of the English poets in _Miscellaneous_, cxvi.

[4] A satirical pamphlet which he published in 1836, _Letters of a
Conservative, in which are shown the only means of saving what is left
of the English Church_, made no impression.



If in the year 1820, any respectable, well-educated Englishman had
been asked: "Who is Shelley?" he would undoubtedly, if he could answer
the question at all, have replied: "He is said to be a bad poet with
shocking principles and a worse than doubtful character. The _Quarterly
Review_, which is not given to defamation, says that he himself is
distinguished by 'low pride, cold selfishness, and unmanly cruelty'
and his poetry by its frequent and total want of meaning.' He has
lately published a poem called _Prometheus Unbound_, the verse of which
the same review calls 'drivelling prose run mad.' And the press is
unanimous in this opinion. The _Literary Gazette_ writes that, if it
were not assured to the contrary, it would take it for granted that
the author of _Prometheus Unbound_ was a lunatic--as his principles
are ludicrously wicked, and his poetry is a mélange of nonsense,
cockneyism, poverty, and pedantry. It calls the work in question 'the
stupid trash of this delirious dreamer.'"

And it is quite possible that our Englishman would have added, in an
undertone: "There are very bad reports in circulation about Shelley.
The _Literary Gazette_, which is always specially severe on the enemies
of religion, hints at incest. It declares that 'to such a man it would
be a matter of perfect indifference to rob a confiding father of his
daughters, and incestuously to live with all the branches of a family
whose morals were ruined by the damned sophistry of the seducer.'
These expressions may be too strong, but it is hardly credible that
they are entirely undeserved; for _Blackwood's Magazine_, the only
periodical which has been at all favourable to Shelley, writes of
his _Prometheus_; 'It seems impossible that there can exist a more
pestiferous mixture of blasphemy, sedition, and sensuality.' And you
may possibly have heard Theodore Hook's witty saying: '_Prometheus
Unbound_--it is well named: who would bind it?'"

And if, two years later, when this harshly reviewed poet was already
dead, the same curious inquirer had applied to the publisher for
information as to the saleableness of the fiercely attacked works,
the latter would quite certainly have complained of them as a bad
business speculation, and told his questioner that, during Shelley's
lifetime, not a hundred copies of any of his works, except _Queen Mab_
and _The Cenci_, had been sold, and that, as far as _Adonais_ and
_Epipsychidion_ were concerned, ten would be nearer the number.

If any one were to ask now: Who was Shelley? what a different answer
would be given! But to-day there is no one in England who would ask.

It was on the 4th of August 1792 that England's greatest lyric poet
was born. On the same day on which, in Paris, the leaders of the
Revolution--Santerre, Camille Desmoulins, and others--were meeting in
a house on the Boulevards to make the arrangements which resulted, a
few days later, in the fall of monarchy in France, there came into
the world at Field Place, in the English county of Sussex, a pretty
little boy with deep blue eyes, whose life was to be of greater and
more enduring significance in the emancipation of the human mind than
all that happened in France in August 1792. Not quite thirty years
later his name--Percy Bysshe Shelley--was carved upon the stone in the
Protestant cemetery in Rome under which his ashes lie; and below the
name are engraved the words: _Cor cordium_.

_Cor cordium_, heart of hearts--such was the simple inscription in
which Shelley's young wife summed up his character; and they are the
truest, profoundest words she could have chosen.

[Illustration: P. B. SHELLEY]

The Shelleys are an ancient and honourable family. The poet's father,
Sir Timothy Shelley, was a wealthy landowner. He was a narrow-minded
man, a supporter of the existing, for the simple reason that it
existed. But revolt against rule and convention was hereditary in
Shelley's family, as wildness and violence of temper were in Byron's.
Percy's grandfather, a strange, restless man, eloped with two of his
three wives; and two of his daughters in their turn eloped. Of these
incidents we are reminded by similar occurrences in the life of the
grandson--just as many an action of Byron's reminds us of the sum
of untamed and reckless passionateness which was his indisputable
inheritance from father and mother. Unconventionality, revolt against
hard and fast rule, was, however, but an outward and comparatively
unimportant part of Shelley's character and life. It was only a sign of
the alert receptivity and the keen sensitiveness, the early development
of which strikes every student of his biographies. At school, ill-used
himself, he rebels against the ill-treatment to which, according to the
prevalent English custom, the weaker and younger boys were subjected
by the older boys, and in this case also by the masters. Shelley seems
to have been in a very special manner the victim of this species of
brutality, just as he was in later life of many other species; there
was a natural antipathy between him and everything base and stupid and
foul, and he never entered into a compromise with any one or any thing
of this nature.

We gain a distinct idea of what his impressions were on his entrance
into life, from a fragment found after his death upon a scrap of

    "Alas! this is not what I thought life was.
       I knew that there were crimes and evil men,
     Misery and hate; nor did I hope to pass,
       Untouched by suffering, through the rugged glen.
     In mine own heart I saw as in a glass
     The hearts of others."

He wrought for his soul, he tells us, "a linked armour of calm
steadfastness." But passionate indignation had preceded this mood of
quiet resistance; and the soul which he armed with steadfastness was
too enthusiastic and ardent not to lay plans of attack behind its

In the introduction to the _Revolt of Islam_, he recalls "the hour
which burst his spirit's sleep":--

                                  "A fresh May-dawn it was,
        When I walked forth upon the glittering grass,
        And wept, I knew not why: until there rose
        From the near schoolroom voices that, alas!
        Were but one echo from a world of woes--
    The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes.

        And then I clasped my hands, and looked around:
        But none was near to mock my streaming eyes,
        Which poured their warm drops on the sunny ground.
        So, without shame, I spake: 'I will be wise,
        And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies
        Such power; for I grow weary to behold
        The selfish and the strong still tyrannise
        Without reproach or check.' I then controlled
    My tears, my heart grew calm, and I was meek and bold."

The generation which was born at the same time and under the same
planet as the first French Republic was precocious in its criticism
of all traditional beliefs and conventions. Shelley, who at school
saw tyranny and feigned piety attendant on one another, and who
became acquainted at a very early age with the writings of the French
Encyclopædists and of Hume, Godwin, and other English freethinkers,
brooded deeply, long before he was grown up, on the history, the
destiny, and the errors of the human race. His thoughts were the
thoughts of an immature youth, but their spirit was the spirit of
liberty, as understood by the eighteenth century.

What his comrades remembered about him in later years was his defiant
attitude towards authority, more particularly a habit he had of
"cursing his father and the king." He went among the boys by the
name of "mad Shelley," and "Shelley the atheist." Thus early was the
opprobrious word applied to him which was to be coupled with his name
all his life, and serve as a pretext for abuse and defamation.

It is unnecessary to dwell upon those events in Shelley's life of which
every one who has heard his name has at least a superficial knowledge.
We need merely recall to mind the fact that, as the undergraduate of
eighteen, he had the curious habit of writing down his heresies on
such subjects as God, government, and society, in the form of letters,
which he sent to people personally unknown to him, with the request
that they would refute his theories and provide him with the proofs
against his arguments which he himself was unable to find; that, out
of these letters, which consisted chiefly of extracts from the works
of Hume and the French materialists, grew a little anonymous pamphlet
(no longer in existence) which was entitled _The Necessity of Atheism_
and ended with a Q.E.D.; and that Shelley, in the childish hope of
exercising a reforming influence on the spirit of his age, sent a copy
of this pamphlet to the Bench of Bishops. What followed is equally well
known. Shelley, denounced as the author, was not only expelled from the
University, but from his father's house.

No one nowadays considers that any serious scientific conviction,
in whatever manner it may be expressed, should bring disgrace and
punishment upon its exponent; and Shelley's punishment appears to
us doubly unreasonable when we discover that in his pamphlet (the
substance of which he reprinted in the notes to _Queen Mab_) he is no
more an atheist than, for example, our Oersted[1] is in his well-known
work, _The Spirit in Nature_. He has not yet arrived at any logical
and consistent theory of life; he is only clear on the one main point,
that he is not, and never can become, an adherent of any so-called
revealed religion. The materialistic impressions received from the
books he has read are blent in his mind with the ardent pantheism which
distinguished him to the last. When Trelawny asked him in 1822, the
year in which he died: Why do you call yourself an atheist? Shelley
replied: "I used the name to express my abhorrence of superstition;
I took up the word, as a knight took up the gauntlet, in defiance of

Shelley had grown up tall and slight, narrow-chested, his features
small and not regular except the mouth, which was beautiful, clever,
and fascinating; there was a feminine and almost seraphic look in the
eyes, and the whole face was distinguished by an infinite play of
expression. He sometimes looked the age he was--nineteen, sometimes as
if he were forty. In the course of the ten remaining years of his life
he became more manly in appearance, but still often struck people as
boyish and feminine looking--witness Trelawny's surprise at his first
meeting with Shelley: "Was it possible this mild-looking beardless
boy could be the veritable monster at war with all the world, and
denounced by the rival sages of our literature as the founder of a
Satanic school?" His countenance assumed every expression--earnest,
joyful, touchingly sorrowful, listlessly weary; but what it suggested
most frequently in later years was promptitude and decision. He often
expressed in his face the feeling he put into words in his poem _To
Edward Williams_:

    "Of hatred I am proud,--with scorn content;
       Indifference, that once hurt me, now is grown
                  Itself indifferent."

To all this we may add, employing words used by a friend of his youth,
that he looked "preternaturally intelligent"; and that Mulready, a
distinguished painter of the day, said it was simply impossible to
paint Shelley's portrait--he was "too beautiful."

It is, then, as a youth of this nature--excitable as a poet, brave as
a hero, gentle as a woman, blushing and shy as a young girl, swift and
light as Shakespeare's Ariel--that we must think of Shelley going out
and in among his friends. Mrs. Williams said of him: "He comes and goes
like a spirit, no one knows when or where."

His health was extremely delicate all his life, and would probably have
given way altogether if he had not rigidly adhered to the simplest
diet. About 1812 he adopted vegetarianism, with doubtful benefit.
He was of a consumptive habit and subject to nervous and spasmodic
attacks, which were sometimes so violent that he rolled on the floor
in agony, and had recourse to opium to dull the pain; when he had his
worst attacks he would not let the opium bottle out of his hand. When
he was visiting the London hospitals and studying medicine with the aim
of being able to assist the poor, he himself became seriously ill, and
an eminent physician prophesied that he would die of consumption. But
his lungs completely righted themselves some years later. In 1817, in
attending some of the poor in their cottages, he caught a bad attack
of ophthalmia; and he had a relapse of the same malady at the end of
the year, and another in 1821, each time severe enough to prevent his

The lofty philanthropy which to him was a religion, demanded many
offerings. He displayed it wherever he went. When he was living at
Marlow, in anything but affluent circumstances, he made all the poor of
the neighbourhood his pensioners; they came to his house every week for
their allowances, and he went to them when they were kept at home by
sickness. One day he appeared barefooted at the house of a neighbour;
he had given away his shoes to a poor woman. Of his own accord, almost
immediately after his expulsion from Oxford, he gave up, for the
benefit of his sisters, his claim to the greater part of his father's
estate. At the time when he was enjoying an income of about £1000 a
year, he spent most of it in assisting others, especially poor men of
letters, whose debts he paid, and to whom he showed generosity almost
unjustifiable in a man of his means.

The story of his first marriage is as follows. Exaggerated and mistaken
chivalry led him at the age of nineteen to elope with a schoolgirl of
sixteen, named Harriet Westbrook, who was very much in love with him,
and had complained bitterly to him of her father's ill-treatment of her
(he had forbidden her to love Shelley, and tried to compel her to go
to school!). Shelley, after various meetings with her, made his plans,
carried her off to Scotland, and married her in Edinburgh. The censure
of public opinion fell most severely on the poet for this behaviour;
but W. M. Rossetti's remark is very much to the point, namely, that
it would be interesting to know "what percentage of faultlessly
Christian young heirs of opulent baronets would have acted like the
atheist Shelley, and married a retired hotel-keeper's daughter offering
herself as a mistress." The hasty union, contracted without any proper
consideration, proved an unhappy one; and it was dissolved when, in
1814, Shelley made the acquaintance of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, then
in her seventeenth year, and was inspired by her with an irresistible
passion. Mary Godwin, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the first
famous pleader for the emancipation of woman, and of William Godwin,
the free-thinking author of the works which had had such an influence
on Shelley in his earliest youth, gave him her love frankly and freely,
and in so doing acted strictly according to her own code of right. The
young couple's theories of marriage, which were too ideal not to be
regarded as vile by the vile, were also too impracticable. Although
in their eyes mutual love alone, and not any ecclesiastical or civil
formality, constituted the sacred marriage tie, they nevertheless for
practical reasons, and especially for the sake of their children, went
through the customary marriage ceremony in 1816, after the suicide of
Shelley's first wife. Before this they had been twice abroad, first on
a short tour, great part of which was taken on foot, and then for a
longer period of travel, during which they met Byron. Shelley's name
was, accordingly, coupled with Byron's, and the English press attacked
them both with the utmost fury, going so far as to put a shameful
interpretation on their noble and manly friendship.

Southey found occasion for a perfect explosion of abuse in the
circumstance, insignificant and harmless enough, that Shelley had
written in the album kept for visitors at the Chartreuse at Montanvert
in the valley of Chamounix, below a number of pious platitudes about
"Nature and Nature's God," a misspelled line in Greek hexameter said:

    εἰμι φιλάνθρωπος δημωκράτικός τ' ἄθεός τε[2]
                                  PERCY B. SHELLEY.

The well-known outburst against Lord Byron, which has been already
touched on, has this utterance as its point of departure.

Such is, given in a few words, the overture to Shelley's life and

_Cor cordium_ was his rightful appellation--for what he understood and
felt was the innermost heart of things, their soul and spirit; and the
feelings to which he gave expression were those inmost feelings, for
which words seem too coarse, and which find vent only in music or in
such verse as his, which is musical as richly harmonised melodies.

The suppressed melancholy of Shelley's lyrics sometimes reminds us of
Shakespeare. The little spinning song in _The Cenci_, for example,
recalls Amiens' song in _As You like It_ or the songs of Desdemona and

But where Shelley is most himself he surpasses Shakespeare in delicacy;
and there is no other poet with whom he can be compared; no one
surpasses him. The short poems of 1821 and 1822 are, one may venture to
say, the most exquisite in the English language.

Take as a specimen the little poem entitled _A Dirge_:--

    "Rough wind that moanest loud
       Grief too sad for song;
     Wild wind when sullen cloud
       Knells all the night long;
     Sad storm whose tears are vain,
     Bare woods whose branches stain.
     Deep caves and dreary main,
       Wail for the world's wrong!"

And wondrous in melody and restraint of expression is a verse like

     "One word is too often profaned
        For me to profane it;
      One feeling too falsely disdained
        For thee to disdain it;
      One hope is too like despair
        For prudence to smother;
      And pity from thee more dear
        Than that from another."

The words are few, and there is nothing remarkable in the rhythm, yet
there is not a line that could have come from any pen but Shelley's.

In these short poems we are clearly conscious of the poet's melancholy,
a melancholy which in his longer works is veiled, or else overpowered
by his belief in a bright future, his faith in the progress of the
human race. The inmost recesses of his own being were penetrated by a
sadness produced by the feeling of the mutability of everything, and
by early experience of the manner in which feeling leads astray, love
disappoints, and life deceives.

He has given imperishable expression to the feeling of mutability:--

    "The flower that smiles to-day
      To-morrow dies:
    All that we wish to stay
      Tempts and then flies.
    What is this world's delight?
    Lightning that mocks the night.
      Brief even as bright.

    Virtue, how frail it is!
      Friendship how rare!
    Love, how it sells poor bliss
      For proud despair!
    But we, though soon they fall,
    Survive their joy, and all
      Which ours we call.

    Whilst skies are blue and bright,
      Whilst flowers are gay,
    Whilst eyes that change ere night
      Make glad the day,
    Whilst yet the calm hours creep,
    Dream thou--and from thy sleep
      Then wake to weep."

The first verse indicates the transitoriness of all earthly beauty
and happiness; the second, the suffering that lies concealed in the
very happiness; and the third is an exhortation to enjoy the dream of
happiness as long as possible.

A mood of like nature has found expression in the incomparable poem
which bears the simple title, _Lines_. This poem Shelley could not
have written unless one after another of his own fond beliefs had
evaporated, unless his passions for Harriet, for Mary, for Emilia
Viviani, had ended in a sorrowful awakening. Yet it bears no trace of
being a personal confession. It is an impassioned proclamation of the
universal laws of life, first softly hummed, and then sung in a voice
which has never had its equal.

      "When the lamp is shattered,
    The light in the dust lies dead;
       When the cloud is scattered,
    The rainbow's glory is shed;
       When the lute is broken,
    Sweet notes are remembered not;
       When the lips have spoken,
    Loved accents are soon forgot."

The lines on the human heart in the third verse are as condensed as a
couplet of Pope's and as melodious as bars of Beethoven:--

      "O, Love, who bewailest
    The frailty of all things here,
       Why chose you the frailest
    For your cradle, your home, and your bier?"

And the poem ends with this prophecy, in which we can hear the passions
that have taken possession of the heart taking their wild will with

       "Its passions will rock thee,
    As the storms rock the ravens on high:
       Bright reason will mock thee,
    Like the sun from a wintry sky.
       From thy nest every rafter
    Will rot, and thine eagle home
       Leave thee naked to laughter
    When leaves fall and cold winds come."

A certain characteristic of Shelley, one which readers who know him
only from anthologies will at once cite as his chief characteristic,
seems to be strongly at variance with this unexampled personal
intensity. I refer to the well-known fact that the most famous of
his lyric poems are inspired by subjects outside of the emotional
life, nay, outside of the world of man altogether; they treat of the
cloud and the gale, of the life of the elements, of the marvellous
freedom and stormy strength of wind and water. They are meteorological
and cosmical poems. Yet there is no real contradiction in the most
intimately emotional of lyric poets being, to all appearance, the most
occupied with externals. We find the reason for it given by Shelley
himself in a short essay _On Love_. He describes the essence of love
as an irresistible craving for sympathy: "If we reason, we would be
understood; if we imagine, we would that the airy children of our brain
were born anew within another's; if we feel, we would that another's
nerves should vibrate to our own, that lips of motionless ice should
not reply to lips quivering and burning with the heart's best blood.
This is Love ... The meeting with an understanding capable of clearly
estimating our own; an imagination which should enter into and seize
upon the subtle and delicate peculiarities which we have delighted to
cherish and unfold in secret ... this is the invisible and unattainable
point to which Love tends.... Hence in solitude, or in that deserted
state when we are surrounded by human beings, and yet they sympathise
not with us, we love the flowers, the grass, the waters, and the sky....
There is eloquence in the tongueless wind, and a melody in the
flowing brooks which bring tears of mysterious tenderness to the eyes,
like the voice of one beloved singing to you alone."

In a note on _The Witch of Atlas_, Mrs. Shelley, too, writes that it
was the certainty of neither being able to arouse the sympathy nor win
the approbation of his countrymen, in combination with a shrinking from
opening the wounds of his own heart by portraying human passion, which
led her husband to seek forgetfulness in the airiest flights of fancy.

It was this very craving for a sympathy which his fellow-creatures
refused him, that made his feeling for nature an ardent desire, and
gave it its wonderful originality. Such a thing was unknown in English
poetry. The stiff, artificial school of Pope had been superseded by
the Lake School. Pope had perfumed the air with affectation; the Lake
School had thrown open the windows and let in the fresh air of the
mountains and the sea. But Wordsworth's love of nature was passionless,
whatever he may say to the contrary in _Tintern Abbey_. Nature was
to him an invigorator and a suggester of Protestant reflections.
That meanest flower which gave him thoughts that often lay too deep
for tears, he put into his buttonhole as an ornament, and looked at
sometimes in a calmly dignified manner, revolving a simile. Shelley
flees to nature for refuge when men shut their doors upon him. He
does not, like others, feel it to be something entirely outside of
himself--cold, or indifferent, or cruel. Its stony calm where man's
woe and weal are concerned, its divine impassibility as regards our
life and death, our short triumphs and long sufferings, are to him
benevolence in comparison with man's stupidity and brutality. In _Peter
Bell the Third_ he jeers at Wordsworth because in the latter's love
of nature it was "his drift to be a kind of moral eunuch"; he himself
loves her like an ardent lover; he has pursued her most secret steps
like her shadow; his pulse beats in mysterious sympathy with hers.
He himself, like his Alastor, resembles "the Spirit of Wind, with
lightning eyes and eager breath, and feet disturbing not the drifted

He calls animals and plants his beloved brothers and sisters, and
compares himself, with his keen susceptibility and his trembling
sensitiveness, to the chameleon and the sensitive plant. In one of his
poems he writes of the chameleons, which live on light and air, as the
poet does on love and fame, and which change their hue with the light
twenty times a day; and compares the life led by the poet on this cold
earth with that which chameleons might lead if they were hidden from
their birth in a cave beneath the sea. And in one of the most famous of
all he tells how

    "A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew;
     And the young winds fed it with silver dew;
     And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light,
     And closed them beneath the kisses of night.

         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

     (And) each (flower) was interpenetrated
     With the light and the odour its neighbour shed,
     Like young lovers whom youth and love make dear.
     Wrapped and filled by their mutual atmosphere.

     But the Sensitive Plant, which could give small fruit
     Of the love which it felt from the leaf to the root,
     Received more than all; it loved more than ever,
     Where none wanted but it, could belong to the giver:--

     For the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower;
     Radiance and odour are not its dower;
     It loves even like Love,--its deep heart is full;
     It desires what it has not, the beautiful."

Even more characteristically, even more personally, does Shelley's
inmost feeling, his heart's heart, such as it became after hard fate
had set its stamp upon it, express itself in the beautiful elegy on
Keats, which was written in a frame of burning indignation produced
by the base and rancorous attack in the _Quarterly Review. He is
describing how all the poets of the day come to weep over their
brother's bier:--

       "'Midst others of less note came one frail form,
           A phantom among men, companionless
        As the last cloud of an expiring storm
           Whose thunder is its knell. He, as I guess,
           Had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness
        Actæon-like; and now he tied astray
           With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness,
        And his own thoughts along that rugged way
    Pursued like raging hounds their father and their prey.

        A pard-like Spirit beautiful and swift--
           A love in desolation masked--a power
        Girt round with weakness; it can scarce uplift
           The weight of the superincumbent hour.
           It is a dying lamp, a falling shower,
        A breaking billow;--even whilst we speak
           Is it not broken? On the withering flower
        The killing sun smiles brightly: on a cheek
    The life can burn in blood even while the heart may break.

        His head was bound with pansies overblown,
           And faded violets, white and pied and blue;
        And a light spear topped with a cypress cone,
           Round whose rude shaft dark ivy-tresses grew
           Yet dripping with the forest's noonday dew,
        Vibrated, as the ever-beating heart
           Shook the weak hand that grasped it. Of that crew
        He came the last, neglected and apart;
    A herd-abandoned deer struck by the hunter's dart.

        All stood aloof, and at his partial moan
           Smiled through their tears. Well knew that gentle band
        Who in another's fate now wept his own.
           As in the accents of an unknown land
           He sang new sorrow, sad Urania scanned
        The Stranger's mien, and murmured, 'Who art thou?'
           He answered not, but with a sudden hand
        Made bare his branded and ensanguined brow,
    Which was like Cain's or Christ's--Oh I that it should be so."

Shelley here compares himself to Actæon, whom the sight of Nature's
naked loveliness drove distracted. It is plain that the strength of his
strong will was required to keep this man with the fragile, delicate
body from positive destruction by the visions and apparitions of his
imagination. He often felt as if they were more than his brain could
bear; and when he then, an exile in a foreign land, sought alleviation
in solitude, he experienced such impressions of nature as that which is
preserved in the entrancing _Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples_,
stanzas which contain the very essence of Shelley's poetry. He does not
describe the landscape. He never does describe. It is not the outward
forms and colours of things which he shows us, but that to which he is
extraordinarily alive, what we have called their spirit and soul.

One or two touches, and the Bay is before us:--

    "The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
        The waves are dancing fast and bright;
     Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
        The purple noon's transparent might."

The waves break upon the shore "like light dissolved, in star-showers
thrown. "The lightning of the noontide ocean is flashing, and a tone
arises from its measured motion. "How sweet," cries the poet, "did any
heart now share in my emotion!"

    "Alas! I have nor hope nor health,
        Nor peace within nor calm around;
      Nor that content, surpassing wealth,
        The sage in meditation found,
        And walked with inward glory crowned;
      Nor fame nor power nor love, nor leisure.
        Others I see whom these surround--
      Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;--
    To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

      Yet now despair itself is mild,
        Even as the winds and waters are;
      I could lie down like a tired child,
        And weep away the life of care
        Which I have borne and yet must bear,--
      Till death like sleep might steal on me;
        And I might feel in the warm air
      My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
    Breathe o'er my dying brain its last monotony.

      Some might lament that I were cold,
        As I when this sweet day is gone,
      Which my lost heart, too soon grown old,
        Insults with this untimely moan.
        They might lament--for I am one
      Whom men love not, and yet regret;
        Unlike this day, which, when the sun
      Shall on its stainless glory set,
    Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet."

The man over whose dying brain cruel waves were so soon to close,
feels, with a gentle mournfulness, his being dissolve into the
beneficent elements of nature, and compares his last breath to that of
the beautiful southern summer day. He did not, like Byron, love nature
only in its agitated, wild moments; simple of heart himself, he loved
its simplicity, its holy calm.

But this is not his most characteristic feature. Himself of the race
of Titans and giants, he loves the Titanic and gigantic beauty of
nature--his manner of doing so again differing entirely from Byron's.
It is not the tangible, easily accessible poetry of nature, that of
the flowers of the field or the trees of the forest, which inspires
him at his highest. No! the finest inspirations of his great spirit
are received from the grand and the distant, from the forceful motions
of the sea and the air and the dance of the spheres in the firmament
of heaven. In this familiarity with the great phenomena and the great
vicissitudes of nature Shelley resembles Byron, but he resembles him as
a fair genius resembles a dark, as Ariel resembles Lucifer the Son of
the Morning.

The poetry of the sea was to Byron the poetry of shipwreck, of the
raging hurricane, of the insatiable cry of the waves for prey; to him
the poetry of the sky lay in the howling of the storm, the roaring
of the thunder, the crackle of the lightning. It is nature as the
annihilator that he lives with and glories in. The famous passage in
the Fourth Canto of _Childe Harold_, beginning: "Roll on, thou deep
and dark blue Ocean, roll!" is a jubilant record of the sea's exploits
in sweeping argosies from its surface and sinking empires into its
depths. It boasts that nothing longer-lived than a bubble tells where
man has gone down. The passage is like a prelude to the magnificent
Deluge scene which is entitled _Heaven and Earth_, and which is a
glorification of the lust of annihilation.[3]

After such verse read Shelley's famous poem, _The Cloud_. In it we
hear all the elementary forces of nature playing and jesting, with the
gaiety of giants, benevolent giants, who joy in pouring bounteous gifts
upon the earth. What freshness in the lines:

    "I bring fresh showers for the thirsty flowers
       From the seas and the streams;
     I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
       In their noonday dreams."

How wanton is the cloud when it sings:

     "I wield the flail of the lashing hail
        And whiten the green plains under;
      And then again I dissolve it in rain,
        And laugh as I pass in thunder,
      I sift the snow on the mountains below,
        And their great pines groan aghast;
      And all the night 'tis my pillow white,
        While I sleep in the arms of the Blast"


     "The volcanoes are dim, and the stars reel and swim,
        When the Whirlwinds my banner unfurl."

How proud when it shouts:

     "The sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes,
        And his burning plumes outspread,
      Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
        When the morning star shines dead."

What calm is in this:

     "And, when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
        Its ardours of rest and of love,
      And the crimson pall of eve may fall
        From the depth of heaven above,
      With wings folded I rest on mine airy nest,
        As still as a brooding dove."

What consciousness of power in:

     "From cape to cape, with a bridge-like shape,
        Over a torrent sea,
      Sunbeam-proof, I hang like a roof;
        The mountains its columns be.
      The triumphal arch through which I march
        With hurricane, fire, and snow,
      When the Powers of the air are chained to my chair,
        Is the million-coloured bow."

Yet the real spirit of the Cloud is playfulness, the playfulness of a
child. Even when the sun has swept it from the sky, it only laughs:--

     "I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,--
        And out of the caverns of rain,
      Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
        I arise, and unbuild it again."

It is not only the unlikeness to Byron's gloomy passion which strikes
us in the sublime childlikeness and bounty and all-embracing love of
this Cloud; there is another characteristic in this poetry, which we
shall merely mention here, and devote more attention to later, namely,
its antique, its absolutely primitive, spirit. We are reminded of
the most ancient Aryan poetry of nature, of the Vedas, of Homer. In
comparison with this, Byron is altogether modern. When the Cloud sings:

     "That orbèd maiden with white fire laden
        Whom mortals call the Moon,
      Glides glimmering o'er my fleece-like floor
        By the midnight breezes strewn!
      And wherever the beat of her unseen feet
        Which only the angels hear,
      May have broken the woof of my tent's thin roof,
        The Stars peep behind her and peer;"

and when it speaks of "the sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes,"
the poet transports us, by the primitive freshness of his imagination,
back to the time when the phenomena of nature in all their newness were
transformed into myths.

To Shelley these phenomena were ever new. He lived among them in
a way which no poet had done before or has done since. By far the
greater part of his short life of thirty years was spent under the
open sky. The sea was his passion; he was constantly sailing; his most
beautiful poems were written while he lay in his boat with the sun
beating on him, browning his soulful face and delicate hands. It was a
passion that was the pleasure of his life and the cause of his death.
Everything that had to do with boats and sailing had an attraction for
him. He had a childlike hobby for floating paper boats; it is said
that on one occasion, having no other paper at hand, he launched a £50
bank-note on the pond in Kensington Gardens.

He never learned to swim. At the time when he was constantly, by day
and by night, sailing on the Lake of Geneva with Lord Byron, their
boat was once very nearly upset. Shelley refused all help, and calmly
prepared himself to go down. "I felt in this near prospect of death,"
he afterwards wrote, in a mixture of sensations, among which terror
entered, though but subordinately. My feelings would have been less
painful had I been alone, but I knew that my companion would have
attempted to save me, and I was overcome with humiliation when I
thought that his life might have been risked to preserve mine." A few
years later he had no painful feelings at all in contemplating such
an end. When some months before his death, Trelawny rescued him from
drowning, all he said was: "It's a great temptation; if old women's
tales are true, in another minute I might have been in another planet."

In Italy he lived in the open air; now he would be riding with Byron in
the country near Venice, Ravenna, or Pisa; now spending whole days in a
rowing-boat on the Arno or the Serchio; now out at sea in his yacht. It
is interesting to observe how frequently a boat serves him as a simile.
He wrote often out at sea, very seldom under the shelter of a roof.
_Prometheus_ he wrote in Rome, upon the mountainous ruins of the Baths
of Caracalla; wandering among the thickets of odoriferous trees on the
immense platforms and dizzy arches, he was inspired by the bright blue
sky of Rome and the vigorous, almost intoxicating, awakening of spring
in that glorious climate. _The Triumph of Life_ he wrote partly on the
roof of his house at Lerici, partly lying out in a boat during the
most overpowering heat and drought. Shelley belonged to the salamander
species; broiling sunshine was what suited him best.

It was while lying in a grove on the banks of the Arno, near Florence,
that he wrote the most magnificent of his poems, the _Ode to the West

In its first stanza the wind is the breath of autumn, driving
the dead leaves, "yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
pestilence-stricken multitudes"; and of spring, filling "with living
hues and odours plain and hill"--we hear it blowing, and we hear its
echo in the appealing refrain: "Hear, oh hear!"

In the second stanza we are again reminded of the old mythologies,
when the poet sings of the loose clouds on the Wind's stream, "shook
from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean," and of "the locks of the
storm" spread on the blue surface of the airy surge "like the bright
hair uplifted from the head of some fierce Mænad."

But along with the breath of the West Wind we have Shelley's whole soul
in the final outburst:

    "Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
     I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
     A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
     One too like thee--tameless, and swift, and proud.

       Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
     What if my leaves are falling like its own?
     The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
     Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
     Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
     My spirit! be thou me, impetuous one!
     Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
     Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth;
     And, by the incantation of this verse.
     Scatter as from an unextinguished hearth
     Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
     Be through my lips to unawakened earth
     The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
     If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

Compare this Ode with the beautiful passage in the Third Canto of
_Childe Harold_, in which Byron cries:

     "Could I embody and unbosom now
      That which is most within me,--could I wreak
      My thoughts upon expression, and thus throw
      Soul, heart, mind, passions, feelings, strong or weak,
      All that I would have sought, and all I seek,
      Bear, know, feel, and yet breathe--into one word,
      And that one word were Lightning, I would speak;
      But as it is, I live and die unheard,
    With a most voiceless thought, sheathing it as a sword."

Or with his apostrophe to night, during the wild storm on the Lake of

                         "Most glorious night!
    Thou wert not sent for slumber! let me be
    A sharer in thy fierce and far delight,--
    _A portion of the tempest and of thee!_"

There could not be a better example of the difference between the
attitude towards nature of an all-embracing and an all-defying poetic
intellect. Shelley does not, like Byron, desire to possess himself of
her thunderbolts. He loves her, not as his weapon, but as his lyre;
loves her, unappalled by her gigantic proportions, familiar with
her prodigious forces, feeling that the universe is his home. His
imagination delights in occupying itself with the heavenly bodies; he
is fascinated by their beauty and life as others are by the beauty of
the forget-me-not and the rose.

What powerful, all-compelling imagination in the poem which he writes
on hearing of the death of Napoleon!

    "What! alive and so bold, O Earth?
      Art thou not over-bold?
      What! leapest thou forth as of old
     In the light of thy morning mirth,
      The last of the flock of the starry fold?
      Ha! leapest thou forth as of old?
    Are not the limbs still when the ghost is fled,
    And canst thou move, Napoleon being dead?

     How! is not thy quick heart cold?
       What spark is alive on thy hearth?
     How! is not _his_ death-knell knolled,
       And livest _thou_ still, Mother Earth?
     Thou wert warming thy fingers old
     O'er the embers covered and cold
    Of that most fiery spirit, when it fled--
    What, Mother, dost thou laugh now he is dead?
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     'Still alive and still bold,' shouted Earth,
       'I grow bolder and still more bold.
       The dead fill me ten thousandfold
     Fuller of speed and splendour and mirth.
       I was cloudy and sullen and cold,
       Like a frozen chaos uprolled,
    Till by the spirit of the mighty dead
    My heart grew warm: I feed on whom I fed.'"

With the eyes of his soul Shelley beheld the soulèd spheres circling in
space, glowing within, sparkling without, lighting up the night; his
gaze sounded the unfathomable abysses where verdant worlds and comets
with glittering hair, and pale, ice-cold moons, glide past each other.
He compares them to the drops of dew which fill the flower chalices in
the morning; he sees them whirl, world after world, from their genesis
to their annihilation, like bubbles on a stream, glittering, bursting,
and yet immortal, ever generating new beings, new laws, new gods,
bright or sombre--garments wherewith to hide the nakedness of death. He
sees them as Raphael painted them in Rome in the church of Santa Maria
del Popolo, each governed and guided by its angel; and, wielding the
absolute poetic power of his imagination, he assigns to the unfortunate
Keats, lately dead, the throne of a yet kingless sphere.

His Witch of Atlas has her home in the ether. Like Arion on the
dolphin, she rides on a cloud, "singing through the shoreless air,"
and "laughs to hear the fire-balls near behind." In this poem Shelley
plays with the heavenly bodies like a juggler with his balls; in
_Prometheus Unbound_ he opens them as the botanist opens a flower. In
the Fourth Act of _Prometheus_ the earth is represented transparent
as crystal; the secrets of its deep heart are laid bare; we see its
wells of unfathomed fire, its "water-springs, whence the great sea
even as a child is fed," its mines, its buried trophies and ruins and
cities. Shelley's genius hovers over its surface, inhaling the fragrant
exhalations of the forests, watching the emerald light reflected from
the leaves, and listening to the music of the spheres. But to him the
earth is not a solid, composite sphere; it is a living spirit, in whose
unknown depths there slumbers an unheard voice, the silence of which is
broken when Prometheus is unbound.

When Jupiter has fallen, has sunk into the abyss, the Earth and the
Moon join in an exulting antiphon, a hymn of praise that has not its
equal. The Earth exults over its deliverance from the tyranny of
the Deity; the Moon sings its burning, rapturous love-song to the
Earth--tells how mute and still it becomes, how full of love, when it
is covered by the shadow of the Earth. Its barrenness is at an end:--

       "Green stalks burst forth, and bright flowers grow,
    And living shapes upon my bosom move:
        Music is in the sea and air,
        Winged clouds soar here and there,
    Dark with the rain new buds are dreaming of:
                      'Tis Love, all Love!"

Shelley's imagination resolves nature into its elements, and rejoices
over each of them with the naïveté of a child. The Witch of Atlas
delights in fire:--

    "Men scarcely know how beautiful fire is;
       Each flame of it is as a precious stone
     Dissolved in ever-moving light, and _this_
       Belongs to each and all who gaze thereon."

And she loves the beauty of sleep:--

    "A pleasure sweet doubtless it was to see
       Mortals subdued in all the shapes of sleep.
     Here lay two sister-twins in infancy;
       There a lone youth who in his dreams did weep;
     Within, two lovers linked innocently
       In their loose locks which over both did creep
     Like ivy from one stem; and there lay calm
     Old age with snow-bright hair and folded palm."

Shelley feels with the streams, which are loved by the sea and
disappear in his depths; he sings by the death-bed and bier of nature
in autumn and winter; he remembers the flowers that were strewn over
Adonis; he describes the goddess of the summer and of beauty, who (like
a female Balder) tends the flowers of the gardens; and he paints the
progress of the Spirits of the Hours through the heavens (_Arethusa,
Hymn of Apollo, Hymn of Pan, Autumn, The Sensitive Plant_, the Hours in
_Prometheus Unbound_),

For everything in life and nature he has found the fitting poetic
word--for the waste and solitary places,

                          "Where we taste
    The pleasure of believing what we see
    Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be";

for time,

    "Unfathomable sea, whose waves are years!
       Ocean of time, whose waters of deep woe
       Are brackish with the salt of human tears!"

for snow, "and all the forms of the radiant frost."

The whole poem in which these last words occur ought to be read. Into
it, in a sad mood, he has compressed all his love of nature. It is
called simply _Song_, and is addressed to the Spirit of Delight. This
Spirit, the poet complains, has deserted him; it forgets all but those
who need it not; and such an one as he, can never win it back again,
for it is dismayed with sorrow, and reproach it will not hear. Yet, he
goes on to say,

    "I love all that thou lovest,
        Spirit of Delight!
     The fresh earth in new leaves dressed,
        And the starry night,
     Autumn evening, and the morn
     When the golden mists are born.

     I love snow, and all the forms
        Of the radiant frost;
     I love waves and winds and storms,--
        Everything almost
     Which is Nature's, and may be
     Untainted by man's misery.

     I love tranquil solitude.
        And such society
     As is quiet, wise, and good.
        Between thee and me
     What difference? But thou dost possess
     The things I seek, not love them less."

But Shelley's spirit rises on the wings of his sublime enthusiasm for
liberty high into the clear air above all these mournful moods. His ode
_To a Skylark_, the poem which indicates the transition to the poetry
of liberty, is written in a perfect intoxication of joy and freedom
from care. It is almost safe to assert that there had been nothing
in the older English literature finer in its way than the best of
Wordsworth's songs to the lark, which are so typical of the spirit and
art of the Lake School.

    "Leave to the nightingale her shady wood;
     A privacy of glorious light is thine,"

writes Wordsworth; and, as the true conservative poet, he goes on to
apostrophise the lark as

    "Type of the wise, who soar, but never roam--
     True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home."

Turn from this to Shelley's lark:--

                "Like a cloud of fire
                 The blue deep thou wingest,
    And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest."

We seem to hear all the winds ringing with its "shrill delight," and
seem to glide into and be engulfed by a sea of eternally fresh melody.
This is the youngest, freshest, gladdest pæan of the pure spirit
of freedom. It forms the transition to the long series of poems of
freedom, the great group of works in which Shelley's genius is the
loud herald of the approaching revolutions. His poetry of freedom is
one long war-cry, garbed in ever-changing melodies. Whether it takes
the shape of odes to liberty and its champions (poems as beautiful and
grand as the Marseillaise), of political satires levelled at customs
or persons, of Aristophanic comedy ridiculing the abuses and follies
of the day in England, or of mythical or historical tragedy, it is in
its essence always the same mighty wail over injustice and hypocrisy,
the same powerful appeal to all of his contemporaries who were still
capable of feeling anything whatsoever a degradation.

Immediately after his first marriage Shelley began to play the part
of a political agitator. He went to Dublin to further the cause of
Catholic emancipation, wrote a very juvenile address to the Irish
people, in which he besought them to refrain from the violent deeds
with which the French Revolution had been stained, and was childish
enough to throw down copies of it from the balcony of his hotel,
in front of any of the passers-by who looked as if they might be
responsive. We gain some idea of the childish spirit in which both he
and his young wife regarded the matter, from reading that, one day
when they were walking together, he could not resist amusing himself
by popping the address into the hood of a lady's cloak, a performance
which made his wife, as she herself writes, "almost die of laughing."
Shelley attended several political meetings, and on one occasion
spoke for more than an hour in the presence of O'Connell and other
celebrities. The accounts of his eloquence given by contemporaries are
so enthusiastic that they might almost lead us to believe him to have
been even greater as an orator than as a poet.

The next time Shelley came into collision with the party in power, the
collision was of a much more violent and tragic nature. Harriet was
dead, and her father had filed a petition in Chancery to determine
which was the fit and proper person to educate her children--he, their
grandfather, the retired hotel-keeper, or their father, Shelley, the
author of _Queen Mab_ and _Alastor_, who was accused of atheism, and
would in all probability bring up his children as atheists.

Lord Eldon's judgment was to the effect that, seeing that Shelley's
conduct had hitherto been highly immoral, and that, far from being
ashamed of this, he was proud of his immoral principles and tried
to impress them upon others, the law was in its right in depriving
him entirely of the custody of his children, and at the same time
decreeing that he should be deprived of a fifth of his income for their
maintenance. The children were placed in charge of a clergyman of the
Church of England. Shelley felt this blow so terribly that even his
most intimate friends never dared speak of the children to him.

In his poem _To the Lord Chancellor_ he cries:

    "I curse thee by a parent's outraged love;
        By hopes long cherished and too lately lost;
     By gentle feelings thou could'st never prove;
        By griefs which thy stern nature never crossed.
          . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     By the false cant which on their innocent lips
        Must hang like poison on an opening bloom;
     By the dark creeds which cover with eclipse
        Their pathway from the cradle to the tomb.
          . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     (By) the despair which bids a father groan,
        And cry, 'My children are no longer mine;
     The blood within those veins may be my own,
        But, tyrant, their polluted souls are thine.'"

And in the poem to William Shelley, his little son by Mary, he writes:

    "They have taken thy brother and sister dear,
        They have made them unfit for thee;
     They have withered the smile and dried the tear
        Which should have been sacred to me.
     To a blighting faith and a cause of crime
     They have bound them slaves in youthly time;
     And they will curse my name and thee
     Because we are fearless and free.
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Fear not the tyrants will rule for ever,
        Or the priests of the evil faith;
     They stand on the brink of that raging river
        Whose waves they have tainted with death.
     It is fed from the depths of a thousand dells,
     Around them it foams and rages and swells;
     And their swords and their sceptres I floating see
     Like wrecks, on the surge of eternity."

Fearing that this son of his second marriage might also be taken from
him, Shelley left his native country, never to return. At the time
when the Lord Chancellor was branding him as less fit for the most
rudimentary duties of social life than any other man in England, he was
preparing to prove that he was one of the few men then in existence
who were predestined to immortality. He left England, stamped as a
criminal, and most of the Englishmen whom he met abroad feared and
hated him as capable of any crime. He appears to have been actually
once or twice subjected to personal molestation.

As already mentioned, Shelley in 1817 published a pamphlet on the
subject of Parliamentary Reform. As a proof of the moderation and
practicability of the views elaborated in its pages, it need only be
mentioned that the Tories in 1867 passed almost the very scheme of
Reform which the "atheist and republican" had planned fifty years
before. He "disavowed any wish to establish universal suffrage at
once, or to do away with monarchy and aristocracy." And on many other
occasions he declared himself to be against precipitate changes. His
Radicalism consisted simply in his being fifty years ahead of his day.

Attacked and persecuted by the narrow-minded society of the period,
Shelley now hurled his poems of liberty at England. His political
poems are written with his blood. The employment of such similes for
Castlereagh and Sidmouth as "two bloodless wolves whose dry throats
rattle" and "two vipers tangled into one," was allowable in his case.
It must not be forgotten that to him Castlereagh, Sidmouth, and Eldon,
were not men, but personifications of a principle--of the great,
fateful principle of reaction to which his career and his happiness had
been sacrificed. He writes in _The Masque of Anarchy_:

    "I met Murder on the way--
     He had a mask like Castlereagh.
     Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
     Seven bloodhounds followed him.
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Clothed with the bible as with light,
     And the shadows of the night,
     Like Sidmouth next, Hypocrisy
     On a crocodile came by.
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     One fled past, a maniac maid,
     And her name was Hope, she said,
     But she looked more like Despair;
     And she cried out in the air:

     'My father Time is weak and grey
     With waiting for a better day;
     See how idiot-like he stands,
     Fumbling with his palsied hands!

     'He has had child after child,
     And the dust of death is piled
     Over every one but me--
     Misery! oh Misery!'"

It was not, however, only in bellicose lyrics that Shelley incorporated
his political and social ideas and passions at this period. In the year
1818 he wrote two very characteristic narrative poems, _Julian and
Maddalo_ and _Rosalind and Helen_. The first-mentioned gives a vivid
description of the poet's life in Venice with Byron, and affords one of
the many proofs of his noble and ardent admiration for Byron's poetry.
It contains an account of a visit paid by the two friends to a lunatic
asylum in the neighbourhood of Venice and describes the impression
produced upon Shelley. The man "whose heart a stranger's tear might
wear as water-drops the sandy fountain-stone," and who "could moan
for woes which others hear not," could not but be deeply moved by
compassion for the unfortunates who at that time were still kept in
fetters and punished by flogging.

We gain the best idea of the utter want of understanding of mental
disease in those days, and the barbarity displayed in its treatment,
from reading of the manner in which an insane patient of such rank
as King George the Third was treated in 1798. The King's mental
alienation displayed itself chiefly in excessive talkativeness; there
was no inclination to any kind of violence. Nevertheless from the very
beginning, and throughout the whole duration of the attack, he was kept
in a strait-waistcoat, was closely confined, deprived of the use of
knife and fork, and subjected to the whims of his pages, who knocked
him about, struck him, and used abusive language to him. All this
is known because the King retained a distinct remembrance after his
recovery of what had happened during his illness.

Shelley's gentleness and love of his fellow-men are evident in the plea
which he, ignorant of the humaner treatment of the insane inaugurated
in France during the Revolution, utters for these afflicted ones:

                          "Methinks there were
    A cure of these with patience and kind care,
    If music thus can move."

The second poem, _Rosalind and Helen_, which gives a powerful general
impression of the misery which prejudice and intolerance have brought
upon the human race, has not hitherto been properly understood or
valued according to its deserts. It attempts to give a comprehensive
representation of all that truly good and liberal-minded human beings
have to suffer from antiquated ideas and principles in combination with
human malignity. We have the description of a father who was a coward
to the strong, a tyrant to the weak; hard, selfish, false, rapacious;
the torturer of his wife and terror of his children, who became pale
and silent if they heard, or thought they heard, his footstep on the
stair. He dies, and Rosalind, the mother, is distressed because her
children involuntarily rejoice at their father's death, and because
she herself cannot but feel it to be a relief. The dead man had been
strictly orthodox. He has, as it appears when his will is read, decreed
that the children shall inherit nothing if they continue to live with
their mother, because she secretly holds the Christian creed to be
false, and he must save his children from eternal fire. The mother
feels that she must leave her children. "Thou know'st," she says--

    "Thou know'st what a thing is poverty
        Among the fallen on evil days.
     'Tis crime, and fear, and infamy,
        And houseless want in frozen ways
     Wandering ungarmented, and pain,
     And, worse than all, that inward stain,
     Foul self-contempt, which drowns in sneers
     Youth's starlight smile, and makes its tears
     First hot like gall, then dry for ever.
     And well thou know'st a mother never
     Could doom her children to this ill,--
     And well he knew the same."

Rosalind's fate serves, above all else, to show the misery of an
unhappy marriage, more particularly the wife's condition of dependence
on a bad and tyrannical husband. Shelley's own grief over the loss of
his children is also distinctly perceptible in the poem; and Helen's
fate recalls the persecution to which the author in his character of
philosopher was subjected. The whole representation of Lionel's life
and ideas is self-representation. Could there be a better description
of Shelley's own love of his fellow-man than this:--

    "For love and life in him were twins,
       Born at one birth. In every other,
     First life, then love, its course begins,
       Though they be children of one mother."

Young, rich, well-born, Lionel at the time of the Revolution
enthusiastically takes his place in the ranks of the reformers whose
aim it is to emancipate humanity from the tyranny of creeds.

    "Men wondered, and some sneered to see
       One sow what he could never reap:
     'For he is rich,' they said, 'and young,
       And might drink from the depths of luxury.
     If he seeks Fame, Fame never crowned
       The champion of a trampled creed:
     If he seeks Power, Power is enthroned
       'Mid ancient rights and wrongs, to feed
     Which hungry wolves with praise and spoil
     Those who would sit near Power must toil.'"

The reaction comes:

    "None now hoped more. Grey Power was seated
       Safely on her ancestral throne;
     And Faith, the python, undefeated.
        Even to its blood-stained steps dragged on
     Her foul and wounded train; and men
     Were trampled and deceived again."

Lionel's enemies succeed in imprisoning him because he has blasphemed
their gods. He passes a long time in solitary confinement, separated
from the woman he loves. Then he meets her again, and they celebrate
their nuptials under the starry sky.

_Rosalind and Helen_ is a poem which bears traces of having been
written in a mood of profound despair; in no other work does Shelley go
to such extremes in his war upon all traditional law and convention.
We have, in a previous volume of this work, touched upon the fact that
many writers at the beginning of this century occupied themselves with
the theory that the horror of incest has its source in prejudice.
Both in _Rosalind and Helen_ and in _The Revolt of Islam_, the hero
and heroine of which would, but for the earnest entreaties of the
publisher, have been brother and sister, Shelley wasted much eloquence
on this sinister paradox--which also greatly occupied Byron's mind, and
was to give occasion to a foolish and revolting attack upon his memory.

The year 1820 was the year of the scandalous royal divorce case. On
the 8th of April 1798, the Prince Regent, compelled by his position
to marry, had wedded Princess Caroline of Brunswick. So little regard
did he show from the very beginning for even the decencies of the
situation, that at their first meeting in St. James's Palace, when the
Princess was kneeling before him, he called to Lord Malmesbury: "Get me
a glass of brandy! I don't feel well." Lord Malmesbury asked if a glass
of water would not be preferable, upon which the Prince rushed out of
the room, swearing, without a word to his fiancée. He was drunk at the
wedding, and hiccupped incessantly during the ceremony. Ere long he was
not content with displaying the utmost indifference to his wife and
slighting her by his liaisons with numbers of other women, but actually
treated her with great brutality--kept her in confinement, surrounded
her with spies, and, on the ground of a false accusation, took her
daughter from her, a proceeding which gave occasion to constant
scenes at court. The Princess's conduct does not seem to have been
long irreproachable. She was at first only incautious, but in course
of time sought consolation in behaviour which was neither blameless
nor dignified. At the age of fifty she was travelling all over Europe
in the company of her courier and chamberlain Bergami--a man who had
formerly been her footman--an Italian Ruy Blas, on whom she conferred
one honour and order after another, and whom she loved devotedly.

When, at the time of her husband's accession to the throne, she
returned to England, expecting to be crowned Queen, the miserable,
contemptible sovereign determined to employ, in procuring a divorce,
all the evidence against her which he had obtained by means of paid
spies. She was accused before the House of Lords of unfaithfulness.
Whole shiploads of foreign hotel waiters and chambermaids were landed
in England amidst the angry demonstrations of the populace, to give
witness against the Queen. Anything more indecent than this trial
it would be difficult to find. Investigations into the positions of
bedrooms and beds, descriptions of the clothing or absence of clothing
of a Queen and her chamberlain, filled the English newspapers day after
day until--the accusation was withdrawn; partly on account of the
supposed insufficiency of the proofs, partly on account of the pitch
which public contempt for the King, as the author of the scandal, had

It was this divorce case which gave occasion to Shelley's excellent
satire, _Œdipus Tyrannus_, or _Swellfoot the Tyrant_, an essay
in political comedy. The action of the play passes in Bœotia. A
people, who call themselves _Bulls_ (_i.e._ John Bulls), nevertheless
make their appearance as pigs; consequently, the nature and power
and spirit of the English are comprehensively expressed by the word

    "The taxes, that true source of piggishness
     (How can I find a more appropriate term
     To include religion, morals, peace, and plenty,
     And all that fit Bœotia as a nation
     To teach the other nations how to live?)
     Increase with piggishness itself."

The hypocrisy of the royal husband, the Queen's impudent asseverations
of her own chastity, the hypocritical attitude of Castlereagh and
Sidmouth--all this is caricatured with the pen of a master.

But Shelley's genius was not of a nature to spend much of its force in
satirising the distortions of the age. Untrammelled and ethereal, it
was supremely fitted to present to the intellects of the day a glorious
conception of the century's ideal of liberty.

And from his boyhood this had been the aim of all Shelley's endeavours.
His first works were long, melodious, but, unfortunately, formless
poems, which are in their essence protests against kings and priests,
against the religions which "people the earth with fiends, hell with
men, and heaven with slaves," against the injustice of governments and
the servility of the administrators of the law, against compulsory
marriages, against the exclusion of women from free competition in
bread-winning occupations, against cruelty in the slaughtering of
animals. They are protests, in short, against every form of oppression
and intolerance, written with no less ambitious an aim than the
reformation of humanity, which is to be brought about by showing it
how it may remove the causes of its misfortunes and attain to a state
which, in comparison with the existing, would be a true golden age.

Shelley had, as he himself laughingly acknowledges, "a passion for
reforming the world." In spite of his aversion for didactic poetry,
it was (as he puts it in the preface to _The Revolt of Islam_) his
object to excite in his reader a generous impulse, an ardent thirst for

"The panic," he writes, "which, like an epidemic transport, seized
upon all classes of men during the excesses consequent upon the French
Revolution, is gradually giving place to sanity. It has ceased to be
believed that whole generations of mankind ought to consign themselves
to a hopeless inheritance of ignorance and misery, because a nation
of men who had been dupes and slaves for centuries were incapable of
conducting themselves with the wisdom and tranquillity of freemen
so soon as some of their fetters were partially loosened.... If the
Revolution had been in every respect prosperous, then misrule and
superstition would lose half their claims to our abhorrence, as fetters
which the captive can unlock with the slightest motion of his fingers,
and which do not eat with poisonous rust into the soul."

Shelley's purpose was to set forth the principles of the Revolution in
a transfigured form. Hence his poetry became a sermon; his imagination
embodied, not his observations, but his wishes.

He was firmly persuaded that imagination is the true reformatory
power. The man whom crass ignorance has reviled as a materialist
had, in the school of Hume and Berkeley, saturated himself with the
extremest idealism. To him everything was thought--things were layers
of thoughts; the universe itself was but a gigantic coagulation of old
thoughts, images, ideas. Hence it is that the poet, whose calling it is
to create new imagery of the kind which makes the strongest impression,
is always agitating, disturbing, remodelling the world. "Imagination,"
says Shelley, "is the faculty of human nature on which every gradation
of its progress--nay, every, the minutest, change--depends." Either
by gently inducing the congealed ideas to flow again, or by forcibly
breaking through the crust of outworn opinions, the poet shows himself
to be the true reformer.

In his youth devoted to philosophy, but indifferent to history,
Shelley, during the one completed period of his life--that preceding
the writing of _The Cenci_--sought no foundation in time or space
for his visions of reformation; being merely desires, they had no
historic reality. And this deficiency entails the absence of various
essential qualities in his personages, which only historical and local
relations can confer. The qualities they do possess are mainly the
deepest seated, original qualities of human nature. In constructing
his characters, he goes back to the earliest records of the race.
They are half mystical personages--gigantic, vaguely outlined,
spiritualised figures; no ordinary human sympathies can lay hold of
them, for the reason that "history"--what the ordinary mind regards as
the interesting element in a poem--is despised and ignored by Shelley.
Hence his unsuitability for the multitude. An author like Sir Walter
Scott will never cease to find a public among all who can read; Shelley
will always be the author only of the few elect.

When, however, Shelley chooses a theme suited to his peculiar turn of
mind he produces poetry of the very highest rank. His productive gift,
from the point of view from which we are now considering it, was of the
Greek type; and the same may be said of his religious feeling and of
the whole development of his imaginative and reasoning powers. "We are
all Greeks," he says somewhere. It was true of himself.

It was, however, only the earliest Greek poetry which treated of such
natural phenomena, such gods, and such heroes as we find in Shelley's;
therefore it is only with it that his is to be compared. Shelley's
lyrics remind us of the Homeric hymns; his political comedy recalls
Aristophanes both by its reckless satire and the lyric vigour of its
songs, and is worthy of comparison with Aristophanes; it remains to
be told that in serious drama he was a worthy rival of Æschylus. His
_Prometheus Unbound_ is the modern counterpart of the Greek tragedian's
_Prometheus Bound_; his _Hellas_, a prophecy of the triumph of Greece,
the modern counterpart of _The Persians_.

Let us linger for a moment over _Prometheus_, the magnificent poem in
which his poetry of freedom culminates. In Prometheus, Shelley at last
found, and succeeded in representing, the typical figure of his poetry
and his period. Many types had passed through his mind, amongst others
Job and Tasso, who at this time were also engrossing the imagination of
Byron and Goethe. He chose Prometheus. High above the lakes and hills
of contemporaneous English poetry, Byron's Alps with his Manfred, and
Shelley's Caucasus with his Prometheus, soar into the sky.

Ever since the emancipation of the human mind had begun in real
earnest, this typical figure had given occupation to all the great
poets. It suggests itself about the beginning of our century to Goethe,
Byron, and Shelley. Goethe's beautiful poem represents the labours, the
artistic productivity, of the human spirit which has freed itself from
faith in gods--the man, proud of his hut, which no god built for him,
occupied in forming figures in his own image. Goethe's Prometheus is
the creative and free. Byron's hard, short, fiery lines describe the
martyr who suffers with clenched teeth, silently; from whom no torture
can extract confession, and whose ambition it is that no one shall
divine his sufferings; this is a Titan who would never, in the manner
of the Prometheus of the ancients, have accepted consolation from the
daughters of Oceanus or told his woes to them. Byron's is the defiant
and bound Prometheus.

Shelley's resembles neither of these. His is the beneficent human
spirit which, warring with the principle of evil, is for an
immeasurable length of time held in subjugation and tortured by it--and
not by it alone, but by all other beings, even the good, who are fooled
into accepting evil as necessary and right. He is the spirit who can
only for a time be imprisoned and fettered; long as that time may be,
the day comes when, to the joy of all, he is released--he is Prometheus
unbound, Prometheus triumphant, greeted by the acclamations of all the
elements and all the heavenly spheres.

Even during his sufferings he is perfectly calm; for he knows that
Jupiter's reign is but a passing period in the life of the universe.
He would not exchange his place of torture for all the voluptuous joys
of Jupiter's court. When the Furies "laugh into his lidless eyes," and
threaten him, he only says:

    "I weigh not what ye do, but what ye suffer,
     Being evil."

How differently a Byronic Prometheus would have answered! This Titan is
full of love--love for his enemies and for the whole human race. Nor
have his sufferings closed his heart to the more earthly love passion.
In the midst of his agony he remembers his bride--

    "Asia, who, when my being overflowed,
     Wert like a golden chalice to bright wine."

Asia is nature herself, who loves the Titan. She is the child of light,
the life of life, whose

                             "lips enkindle
      With their love the breath between them,
    And whose smiles, before they dwindle,
      Make the cold air fire."

When the age of suffering and injustice has passed, Jupiter sinks
into the abyss of eternity, with cowardly wails and supplications
to Prometheus to have mercy on him. The Promethean age begins; the
air becomes a sea of sweet, eternally new love melodies; the mighty,
deep-toned jubilation of the Earth is heard in alternation with the
Moon's enchanting song of bliss; and then the whole universe chimes
in in a chorus of rejoicing unsurpassed even by that with which
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony ends.

We cannot do much more than allude to the fact that Shelley, after
competing with Æschylus, began to produce on Shakespeare's lines.
Taking a sudden excursion into the realms of history, he gave England
what even Byron pronounced to be the best tragedy written by any of
her sons since the days of Shakespeare. _The Cenci_ reminds the reader
slightly of such a play as _Measure for Measure_, although Shakespeare
was not possessed by the ardent hatred of tyranny which inspired
Shelley's play.

To the Romans the name of Beatrice Cenci is to this day the great
symbol of liberty. The young girl who defended her honour against her
atrocious father (whose deed of violence was indirectly sanctioned by
the corruption of the rulers of the country from the Pope downwards) is
still regarded by the Roman as a heroine and martyr. Whenever, during
the long oppression of the Papacy, there has been a little clearing
of the air, a little brightening of the horizon, her name has been
heard, her picture has circulated, in Rome. Shelley, forgetting all
theories, is here entirely absorbed by history. But what evidently
impressed him in this tragic collision of duties, was the violent break
with all traditional morality which the father's crime necessitated;
and he was also attracted by the opportunity the situation offered for
throwing a glaring search-light on the accepted theological doctrine of
the paternal benevolence displayed in the regulation of the universe.
Beatrice says:

                  "Thou great God,
    Whose image upon earth a father is,
    Dost thou indeed abandon me?"

And when she is asked:

    "Art thou not guilty of thy father's death?"

She answers:

    "Or wilt thou rather tax high-judging God
     That he permitted such an act as that
     Which I have suffered, and which he beheld;
     Made it unutterable, and took from it
     All refuge, all revenge, all consequence,
     But that which thou hast called my father's death?"

In the torture chamber she says:

    "My pangs are of the mind and of the heart
     And of the soul: ay, of the inmost soul,
     Which weeps within tears as of burning gall
     To see, in this ill world where none are true,
     My kindred false to their deserted selves;
     And with considering all the wretched life
     Which I have lived, and its now wretched end;
     And the small justice shown by Heaven and Earth
     To me or mine; and what a tyrant thou art,
     And what slaves these; and what a world we make,
     The oppressor and the oppressed."

It is plain that what specially attracted Shelley in Beatrice's
character was its combination of energy and gentleness. When the hour
of death has come, a horror seizes her at the thought that after death
she may meet her father again. She cries:

                                "If there should be
    No God, no heaven, no earth, in the void world,
    The wide, grey, lampless, deep, unpeopled world!
    If all things then should be my father's spirit,
    His eye, his voice, his touch, surrounding me,
    The atmosphere and breath of my dead life!
    If sometimes, as a shape more like himself,
    Even the form which tortured me on earth,
    Masked in grey hairs and wrinkles, he should come,
    And wind me in his hellish arms, and fix
    His eyes on mine, and drag me down, down, down!
    For was he not alone _omnipotent_
    On earth, and ever present? Even though dead
    Does not his spirit live in all that breathe,
    And work for me and mine still the same ruin,
    Scorn, pain, despair? Who ever yet returned
    To teach the laws of Death's untrodden realm?
    Unjust perhaps as those which drive us now,
    Oh whither, whither?"

It was of this, the most mature and best planned of Shelley's works,
that the _Literary Gazette_ wrote: "_The Cenci_ is the most abominable
work of the time, and seems to be the production of some fiend." The
reviewer hopes never again to see a book "so stamped with pollution,
impiousness, and infamy."

The hostility evinced depressed Shelley, who thought that this time
he had done his best. He was not intimidated by it, but his desire
to produce became less strong. During the last two years of his life
no long works came from his pen. In November 1820 he writes: "The
reception the public have given me might go far to damp any man's

His last letters are full of remarks on the criticism meted out to him.

_April_ 1819:--"As to the Reviews, I suppose there is nothing but
abuse; and this is not hearty enough or sincere enough to amuse me."

_March_ 1820:--"If any of the Reviews abuse me, cut them out and send
them; if they praise, you need not trouble yourself. I feel ashamed if
I could believe that I should deserve the latter: the former, I flatter
myself, is no more than a just tribute."

In 1821 he writes the poem on Keats with the terrible outburst against
the reviewer who is supposed to have been the cause of the young poet's

        "Hot shame shall burn upon thy secret brow,
    And like a beaten hound tremble thou shalt--as now."

_June_ 1821:--"I hear that the abuse against me exceeds all bounds.
Pray, if you see any one article particularly outrageous, send it me.
As yet, I have laughed; but woe to these scoundrels if they should
once make me lose my temper. I have discovered that my calumniator in
the _Quarterly Review_ was the Reverend Mr. Milman. Priests have their

_August_ 1821:--"I write nothing, and probably shall write no more."

Byron, when his enemies irritated him, stopped his work for a moment
and showed them the lion's claw. Shelley was of a different nature.
The satire of the reviewers contained in his _Peter Bell the Third_ is
sportiveness in comparison with Byron's sanguinary attacks on Southey
and the others. Whenever Shelley made his appearance the creeping
things of literature began to swarm and stir beneath his feet. They
stung his heel; he could not bruise their heads, for such creatures
have, as Swinburne has observed, too little head to be perceived
and bruised. Byron's poetry had, moreover, made for him friends and
admirers by the thousand; he shared Parnassus with Goethe; he had begun
to set the stamp of his spirit on the continent of Europe. Shelley
was too far in advance of his age. The crowd will follow a leader who
marches twenty steps in advance; but if he is a thousand steps in
front of them, they do not see and do not follow him, and any literary
freebooter who chooses may shoot him with impunity.

Moore was a man of great talent, and exercised influence as such. What
Shelley had was not talent, either great or small, but genius. He was
the very genius of poetry; and he had all the power which genius gives;
where he fell short was in his grip of reality. He has influenced the
succeeding generations of English poets throughout this whole century,
but he had not the twentieth part of the merely talented Moore's
influence upon his own contemporaries. Byron was, as none had ever been
before, the poet of personality, and as such was excessively egotistic;
prejudice and vanity could not in his case be entirely eradicated
without nobler qualities suffering from the process. Shelley, perfectly
free from vanity and egotism, was absorbed in his ideals; he expanded
his Ego until it embraced the universe. But what was ideal virtue in
him as a man entailed a fatal defect in his poetry, at any rate in
the works produced during the first part of his too short life. This
poet, so devoid of all thought of self, was long entirely deficient
in self-restraint. A sense of form as regarded a great composition
in its entirety was for many years denied him. In making his first
appearance as a poet he stumbled over the threshold, and it takes more
than genius to make the reading public forget such an entrance. _The
Revolt of Islam_, with all the beauty of its detail, is vague and
formless; it hovers transcendentally in the air. With its shadowy,
bloodless characters, it is distended to such proportions that it is a
task to read it to the end; and it was a task which few accomplished.
Until Shelley wrote _The Cenci_ he seems to have had no idea of the
infinite attractiveness and infinite value of the characteristics of
the individual. Even Prometheus and Asia in their quality of types are
destitute of any peculiarly distinguishing feature; their names are
merely headings to the most beautiful lyric verse which England has
ever produced. _The Cenci_ shows how capable Shelley was of acquiring
what he was naturally deficient in; but, alas! he was carried off
before he could fulfil the rich promise of his youth, and before his
contemporaries had had their eyes opened to what they possessed in him.
Although his shorter lyrics surpass in depth and freshness, naturalness
and charm, everything else in the shape of lyric poetry that the
century has produced, they could not influence his own generation, as
most of them were not even printed during his lifetime.

Thus Shelley was no more capable than Moore or Landor of bringing about
the spiritual revolution of which Europe stood in need and expectancy.
It required a poet who was as personal as Shelley was universal,
as passionate as Shelley was idealistic, as savagely satirical as
Shelley was harmonious and graceful, to perform the Herculean task of
clearing the political and religious atmosphere of Europe, awaking the
slumberers, and plunging the mighty into the abyss of ridicule. A man
was required who could win the sympathies of his age alike by his vices
and his virtues, his excellences and his faults. Shelley's instrument
was an exquisite violin; a trumpet was what was needed to pierce the
air and give the signal for battle.

Little remains to be told of Shelley's life--only the story of his
last sail from Leghorn to Lerici, of the sudden gale in which he
perished, of the long days spent by his despairing wife in searching
the coast, and of the discovery of the almost unrecognisable corpse.
The Tuscan law required any object thus cast ashore to be burned.
Shelley's body was committed to the flames by Byron and Trelawny with
Grecian and pagan observances that were in harmony with his character.
Frankincense, wine, salt, and oil, were poured on the fuel. The day was
beautiful and the surroundings were glorious--the calm sea in front,
the Apennines behind. A curlew wheeled round the pyre, and would not
be driven away. The flame arose golden and towering. The body was
consumed, but, to the surprise of all, the heart remained entire.
Trelawny snatched it from the glowing furnace, severely burning his
hand. The ashes were deposited near the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome,
which Shelley had spoken of as an ideal resting-place.

The first-mentioned of the men who consigned his body to the flames was
his spiritual heir. This man's name is to be read on every page of the
history of his day. We see his way prepared by Wordsworth, Coleridge,
and Scott; he is hated by Southey, misunderstood by Landor, loved by
Moore, admired, influenced, and sung by Shelley. He occupies a place in
every one's life. It is he who sets the final and decisive stamp on the
poetical literature of the age.

[1] Hans Christian Ørsted.--Transcribers note.

[2] "I am a friend of humanity, a friend of the people and a denier of
God." From the Danish edition--translated into English by transcriber.

[3] Swinburne, who in his masterly little essay on Byron points out
that Byron and Shelley were engrossed by the same natural phenomena,
does not note the difference which existed along with the similarity.



Entering the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen, and turning to the
right, the first work that meets one's eye is the marble bust of a
noble-looking young man, with beautiful features and curly hair--the
bust of Lord Byron. In room No. 12 we find the same work in plaster,
and in No. 13 stands the statue executed (after Byron's death) from the
bust. Let us examine the plaster bust, which is without doubt the most
speaking likeness. Beauty and distinction are the first qualities that
strike us in this head and face; but the next moment we are attracted
by an expression of energy, which comes chiefly from a restless quiver
of the brow--indicating that clouds might gather on it and lightning
flash from the clouds--and from something imperiously compelling in the
glance. This brow betokens irresistibility.

When one remembers the dissimilarity of Thorvaldsen's and Byron's
natures, remembers that in all probability Thorvaldsen never read a
line of Byron's poetry, and also that the poet did not show his best
side to the sculptor, the result of the meeting of the two great men
must be regarded as extraordinarily satisfactory. The bust gives
what is necessarily a feeble and incomplete, but nevertheless a true
and beautiful representation of a main aspect of Byron's character
which one would hardly have expected Thorvaldsen to grasp. The idyll
is that sculptor's real province. When he sets himself to represent
Alexander's triumphal entry into Babylon, he is much more successful
with the shepherds, the sheep, the fishermen, the women, the children,
the procession in general, than with the hero himself; the heroic is
not to the same extent his affair; how much less, then, the combatant
nature in the complicated, modern form of it which has been dubbed
the dæmonic. And yet he understood Byron. In the bust (not in the
statue) he has given the world a monument of him, which, although it
satisfied neither the Countess Guiccioli nor Thomas Moore, is worthy
both of the poet and of the artist. If Thorvaldsen had really known
Byron, the work would probably have been still better; the face would
have had a touch of the frankness and attractiveness which impressed
all who knew him well. This is absent. But the Danish sculptor has
succeeded in penetrating into what lay beneath the gloomy expression
which he considered an assumed one, and showing us the suffering, the
restlessness, the genius, the noble and terrible power.

It was, undoubtedly, with the Byron of the Museum that the next
generation to his in Denmark grew up. But the image presented to
them there was invariably connected in their minds with the story
of the poet's visit to Thorvaldsen's studio, and with the latter's
observation: "It was his fancy to be unhappy;"[1] and they wondered
why such a great man should not have been perfectly natural. And so
the first attitude of the Danes to Byron was a wrong, or at any rate
an uncertain one. And an uncertain one it still remains. He is little
fitted to be the hero of the present age. The very things which were
much more effectual than his greatness as a poet in arousing the
admiration of our grandfathers and grandmothers, are the things that
repel the present generation--all those mythical traditions (which
really obscure his history to us) of Byron the stage hero, with the tie
which every one imitated; Byron, the hero of romance, whose pistols
were his constant companions, and whose amorous adventures were as
famous as his verse; Byron, the aristocrat, with the title which he
valued so highly, but which makes little impression on a generation
that recognises no aristocracy but that of the intellect. And our
practical age has, moreover, a distinct contempt for what Byron
sometimes imagined his honour required him to be, and sometimes really
was--the dilettante.

It was a matter of honour with him to practise his art in a
non-professional manner. His position and his pursuits (so he writes in
the preface to his first volume of poetry) make it highly improbable
that he will ever take up the pen again. In 1814, at the very summit of
the celebrity won for him by his first narrative poems, he determines
to write no more poetry, and to suppress all that he has written. A
month afterwards he writes _Lara_. Jeffrey criticised the character
of the hero as too elaborate. Byron asks (in a letter of 1822): "What
do they mean by '_elaborate?_' I wrote _Lara_ while undressing after
coming home from balls and masquerades, in the year of revelry 1814."
We feel that he lays stress on the careless manner of production and
the planlessness consequent thereon, from a desire to show that he
is not a professional poet, but, in the first instance, a man of the
world, in the second, that which his gifts forbade his being, namely, a
poetical dilettante.

Though he was incapable of being a dilettante in the calling in which
he was determined to play that part (a determination which nowadays
detracts from our respect for him), he was indisputably one in another
field of activity, where it was by no means his intention, namely, in
politics. Practical though he always showed himself to be when it came
to political action, his politics were in reality--whether he took part
in the conspiracies of the Carbonari at Ravenna or led the Suliotes at
Missolonghi--the politics of the emotionalist and the adventurer. His
first proceeding after he had resolved to go to Greece was to order
for himself and his friends gilded helmets with his crest and motto
engraved on them. The great politician of our days is the man who
lays plans, adheres to them and develops them year after year, and,
obstinate and regardless of side issues, carries them out in the end,
without the heroic apparatus, but with the hero's determination.

It must not be forgotten that a whole succession of Byron's admirers
and imitators have forced themselves in between him and us, obscuring
the figure, and confusing our impression, of the great departed.
Their qualities have been imputed to him, and he has been blamed for
their faults. When the literary reaction set in against those who
had understood him half and wrongly--against the brokenhearted, the
_blasés_, the enigmatical, writers--his great name suffered along with
theirs; it was swept aside along with the lesser ones. It had deserved
better of fate.

George Gordon Byron, born on the 22nd of January 1788, was the son of
a passionate and unhappy mother, who a short time before his birth
left her dissipated, brutal husband. This man, Captain Byron, who had
served for a time in America as an officer in the Guards, was known in
his youth as "mad Jack Byron." He eloped to the Continent with the wife
of the Marquis of Carmarthen, married her when her husband obtained
a divorce from her, spent all her money, and treated her so badly
that she died of grief a few years after her marriage. Captain Byron
returned to England with his little daughter, Augusta, and, solely with
the view of improving his circumstances, married a wealthy Scottish
heiress, Miss Catherine Gordon of Gight, who became the mother of the
man who still enjoys a world-wide fame. Immediately after the wedding
Captain Byron began to make away with the fortune of his second wife.
In the course of a year he had reduced it from £24,000 to £3000. She
left him in France and, coming to London, gave birth there to her only
child. By an accident, said to have occurred at the time of his birth,
one of the child's feet was malformed.

Two years later the mother went with her boy to Scotland, and took
up her residence at Aberdeen. Captain Byron, during a pause in his
dissipations, followed them there, in the hope of extracting more money
from his wife. She generously gave him the shelter of her roof for a
time, and afterwards they still continued to visit each other, until
Captain Byron, to evade his creditors, was obliged to return to France,
where he died in 1791. When the news of his death reached his wife, who
had never ceased to love him, her grief bordered on distraction, and
her shrieks were so loud as to be heard in the street.

Uncontrollable passionateness, differing only in its manifestations
and its force, was thus a characteristic of both Byron's parents. And
farther back in the families of both, we find the same temperament,
revealing itself in the mother's family in attempts at suicide
and poisoning, and in the father's, now in heroic daring, now in
reckless excess. Byron's paternal grandfather, Admiral John Byron,
generally known as "hardy Byron," took part in the naval warfare
against Spain and France, made voyages of discovery in the South Sea,
circumnavigated the globe, and went through perils and adventures
without number; the peculiarity that he could never take a voyage
without encountering terrible storms gained him the nickname among the
sailors of "foul-weather Jack." Byron compares his own fate with his
grandfather's. The family temperament shows itself in its worst form
in the poet's grand-uncle, William, Lord Byron, a dissolute brawler,
who achieved notoriety by killing his neighbour, Mr. Chaworth (after a
quarrel), in a duel fought without seconds. It was only in his quality
of peer of England that he escaped sentence for murder; ever after his
trial he lived on his estate of Newstead, shunned like a leper. He was
hated by all around him; his wife procured a separation from him; among
the superstitious country people extravagantly horrible stories of his
doings circulated and were believed.

Thus the poet had wild blood in his veins. But it was also very
aristocratic blood. On the mother's side he claimed descent from the
Stuarts, from King James the First of Scotland; on his father's he was
the descendant (though with a bar-sinister in the arms, a circumstance
Byron himself never alludes to) of the Norman noble Ralph de Burun,
who accompanied William the Conqueror into England. And when the
grand-uncle just named lost, first his only son, and then, in 1794, his
only grandson, it became probable that "the little lame boy who lives
at Aberdeen," as his uncle called him, would inherit both Newstead and
the family title.

It was with this prospect before him that the lame boy grew up. He was
proud and uncontrollable by nature. When he was still in petticoats,
his nurse reprimanding him angrily one day for having soiled a new
frock, he got into one of his "silent rages" (as he himself called
them), turned as pale as a sheet, seized his frock with both hands, and
tore it from top to bottom. His mother's treatment of him was little
calculated to correct these tendencies. She alternately overwhelmed
him with reproaches and with passionate caresses; when she was in a
rage she vented on him the anger which his father's treatment of her
aroused; she sometimes even reproached him with his lameness. The fault
lies partly with her that this physical infirmity cast such a dark
shadow over little George's mind; he heard his own mother call him "a
lame brat." Bandaging and various kinds of surgical treatment only
increased the evil; the foot gave him much pain, and the proud little
boy exercised all the strength of his will in concealing his suffering,
and, as much as possible, his limp. Sometimes he was unable to bear any
allusion to his deformity; at other times he would speak with a mocking
bitterness of his "club-foot."

Though Byron was not diligent at school, he developed a passion, the
moment he could read, for history and books of travel; the seeds of
his longing for the East were sown in his earliest youth. He himself
tells that before he was ten he had read six long works on Turkey,
besides other books of travel and adventure, and Arabian tales. As a
little boy his favourite story was _Zeluco_, by John Moore, the hero of
which is a youth whose mother's bad education of him after his father's
death has led to his giving way to all his own caprices; he becomes
"as inflammable as gunpowder." In this hero of romance, who reminds us
of William Lovell, the boy saw himself reflected. One of the qualities
which were to play a decisive part in the poet's life revealed itself
very early, namely, his passionate attraction towards the other sex.
At the age of five he was so deeply in love with a little girl, Mary
Duff, that when, eleven years afterwards, he heard of her marriage, his
feelings nearly threw him into convulsions.

With pride, passionateness, melancholy, and a fantastic longing
for travel, there was combined, as the determining quality of his
character, an ardent love of truth. Naïve sincerity distinguished the
child who was destined as a man to be the great antagonist of the
hypocrisies of European society. His defiant spirit was only one of the
forms of his truthfulness. His nurse took him one night to the theatre
to see _The Taming of the Shrew_. In the scene between Catherine and
Petruchio, where Petruchio insists that what Catherine knows to be the
moon is the sun, little Geordie (as they called the child) started from
his seat and cried out boldly: "But I say it is the moon, sir."

When George was ten, his grand-uncle, Lord Byron, died. One of the
child's first actions after being told what had happened, was to run
to his mother and ask if she noticed any difference in him since he
had become a lord. On the morning when his name was first called out
in school with the title of "Dominus" prefixed to it, he was so much
agitated that he was unable to give utterance to the usual answer,
"Adsum"; after standing silent for a moment he burst into tears.
Byron's intensest pleasures were at first, and for long, those of
gratified vanity. But to understand his agitation properly in this
case, one must remember what the title of "lord" implied, and still
implies, in England. The nobility proper of that country consists of
not more than about four hundred titled persons--about the number of
princes in Germany. On their own estates these noblemen exercise an
almost unlimited political and social influence; their position is not
much inferior to that of reigning princes, and, as a rule, their wealth
corresponds to their rank. Such, however, was not the case in this
instance; Byron had no private fortune, and the property of Newstead
Abbey was in a neglected condition, and heavily mortgaged.

In the autumn of 1798 Mrs. Byron took her little son to Newstead.
When they came to Newstead toll-bar, affecting to be ignorant of the
neighbourhood, she asked the woman of the toll-house, to whom the park
and mansion they saw before them belonged. She was told that the owner
of it had been some months dead. "And who is the next heir?" asked the
proud and happy mother. "They say," answered the woman, "it is a little
boy who lives in Aberdeen." "And this is he, bless him!" exclaimed the
nurse, no longer able to contain herself, and turning to kiss with
delight the young lord, who was seated on her lap.

In 1801 the boy was sent to Harrow, one of the great English public
schools which is much in favour with the aristocracy. The system of
instruction (strictly classical) was uninteresting and pedantic,
and did not produce much effect on Byron, whose relations with his
masters were as strained as his friendships with his comrades were
enthusiastic. "My school friendships," he writes in his diary in 1821,
"were with _me passions_ (for I was always violent)." As a friend he
was generous, and loved to play the part of protector. When Peel, the
future Prime Minister, was one day being unmercifully thrashed by the
elder boy whose fag he was, Byron interrupted, and, knowing he was not
strong enough to fight the tyrant, humbly begged to be allowed to take
half the stripes the latter meant to inflict. When little Lord Gort,
after having had his hand burned with a piece of red-hot iron by one
of the monitors, as a punishment for making bad toast, refused, when
the matter was investigated into, to tell the name of the culprit,
Byron offered to take him as his fag, promising that he should not be
ill-used. "I became his fag," said Lord Gort (see Countess Guiccioli's
_Reminiscences_), "and was perfectly delighted when I found what a
good, kind master I had, one who was always giving me cakes and sweets,
and was most lenient with my faults." To his favourite fag, the Duke
of Dorset, Byron, in his _Hours of Idleness_, addressed some charming
lines in memory of their school days.

When the boy was at home in the holidays, his mothers behaviour towards
him was as erratic, her temper as uncontrollable, as ever; but now,
instead of being afraid of her, he could not resist laughing at the fat
little woman's outbreaks. Not content with smashing cups and plates,
she sometimes employed poker and tongs as missiles.[2]

Let us imagine, after such a scene as that described in the note,
a smiling, golden-haired girl entering the room and softening the
defiant boy's mood with a look, and we have a situation such as cannot
have been at all uncommon at Annesley, the residence of the Chaworth
family (relations of the man whom Byron's grand-uncle killed in the
notorious duel), when Mrs. Byron and her son were visiting there. The
golden-haired girl, Mary Anne Chaworth, was seventeen when Byron was
fifteen. He loved her passionately and jealously. At balls, where she
was in great request as a partner, and his lameness prevented his
dancing, it occasioned him agonies to see her in the arms of other men.
The climax was put to his sufferings when he overheard her one evening
saying to her maid: "Do you think I could care anything for that lame
boy?" He darted out of the house, late though it was, and, scarcely
knowing where he was running, never stopped till he came to Newstead.
Thirteen years later, in the Villa Deodati, by the Lake of Geneva, he
wrote, with the tears streaming from his eyes, a poem, _The Dream_,
which treats of this attachment, and shows the deep impression made by
the early disappointment.[3]

The cleverer Byron became in preserving a sarcastically calm attitude
during his mother's fits of rage, the more unnatural became the
relations between mother and son. The scenes were sometimes terrible.
It is told as a curious example of their idea of each other's violence,
that, after parting one evening, each went privately later in the night
to the apothecary's to inquire whether the other had been to purchase
poison, and to caution the man not to attend to such an application,
if made. In his letters young Byron writes with melancholy humour of
the manner in which he is every now and then driven to take flight,
to escape from scenes at home. He gives not the slightest hint to any
one of the intended excursions, for fear, he says, of rousing "the
accustomed maternal war whoop."

In 1805 Byron went to Cambridge, where he spent his time less in
study than in the practice of all the varieties of athletic exercise
to which from his childhood he had eagerly devoted himself, in the
hope of atoning by his proficiency in them for his bodily infirmity.
Riding, swimming, driving, shooting, boxing, cricket-playing, and
drinking, were accomplishments in which he was determined to excel. He
began to develop the signs of a dandy; and it satisfied his youthful
love of bravado to take excursions in company with a pretty young
girl, who went about with him in male attire, and played the part of
his valet, or sometimes of his younger brother--in which character he
was impertinent enough to introduce her to a lady at Brighton who was
unacquainted with his family.

Newstead Abbey had been let for a term of years. As soon as it was
vacant, Byron went to live there. It is a real old Gothic abbey,
with refectory and cells, the earliest parts of it dating from 1170.
The house and gardens are surrounded by a battlemented wall. In the
courtyard is a Gothic well. In front is a park, with a large lake. At
Newstead, Byron and his friends, in their youthful, defiant antipathy
to all rules, led a life of dissipation which showed traces of the
mania for originality to which, as history shows, men of genius have
not unfrequently been subject before becoming conscious of their proper
tasks and aims. These young men got up at 2 P.M. and fenced, played
shuttlecock, or practised with pistols in the hall; after dinner, to
the scandal of the pious inhabitants of the neighbourhood, a human
skull filled with Burgundy went round. It was the skull of some old
monk, which the gardener had unearthed when digging; Byron, in a
capricious mood, had had it mounted in silver as a drinking-cup, and
he and his companions took a childish pleasure in using it as such,
themselves dressed up as monks, with all the proper apparatus of
crosses, beads, tonsures, &C.[4] It is a mistake, however, to regard
the action simply as an evidence of that want of feeling which so
often--among medical students, for instance--accompanies joviality; to
a man like Byron the sight of this _memento mori_ in the midst of his
carousals probably acted as a kind of bitter stimulant. In the lines
which he addressed to it he writes that, to the dead man, the touch of
human lips must be preferable to the bite of the worm.

Byron's excesses did not proceed from too high spirits. He was
oppressed, not only by the melancholy which attacks most youths of
remarkable ability when they find themselves, with their untried
powers, face to face with nothing but questions, but, in addition to
this, by the melancholy which was a result of his passionate character
and his upbringing. Two stories, which to most of his biographers
seem very pathetic, are told of him at this period of his life. The
first is in connection with his dog, Boatswain. In 1808, he composed
an excessively misanthropic inscription for this favourite's grave,
in which he lauds him at the expense of the whole human race; and
at the same time he made a will (afterwards cancelled), in which he
desired that he should be buried beside his dog, his only friend.
The other proof of his forlorn mood is the manner in which he spent
his twenty-first birthday, the day of his coming of age, an occasion
which is celebrated among the English nobility with all manner of
festivities--illuminations, fireworks, a ball, and the entertainment of
all the tenants. Byron was so poor that he was obliged to have recourse
to the money-lenders for the wherewithal to give his tenants a ball
and roast the customary ox for them. But no long train of carriages
bringing visitors of high degree drew up at the doors of Newstead Abbey
on the 22nd of January 1809; neither mother, sister, guardians, nor
relations, near or distant, were there. Byron himself spent the day
at a hotel in London. In a letter of the year 1822 he writes: "Did I
ever tell you that the day I came of age I dined on eggs and bacon
and a bottle of ale? For once in a way they are my favourite dish and
drinkable; but as neither of them agree with me, I never use them but
on great jubilees--once in four or five years or so."

It is, naturally, pleasanter to be rich than to be poor, and more
flattering to one's self-esteem to receive the congratulations of
relatives and friends than to feel one's self homeless and solitary;
but in comparison with the difficulties and privations and humiliations
which every young modern plebeian has to encounter at the outset of his
career, the adversities of this young patrician dwindle into nothing.
What gave them their importance was that they early drove Byron, who,
as a young aristocrat, might otherwise have been absorbed by the
pursuits and ideas of his class and kin, exclusively to those resources
which he possessed as the single, isolated individual.

It was not one of the great political events of the day, no transport
of joy or anger occasioned by the great political revolutions in which
the period was so fertile, that tore Byron away from the disorderly,
aimless life at Newstead. Such events as the death of Fox, or that
proceeding which redounded so little to the honour of England--the
bombardment of Copenhagen, made no impression whatever on the youth
who, as a man, was to be so strongly affected by every historical
occurrence, every political deed or misdeed. It was a private literary
contrariety which made the first turning-point in his life. Whilst
living (from the summer of 1806 till the summer of 1807) in the little
town of Southwell, Byron had produced his first attempts at poetry,
which had met with much appreciation from the younger members of a
family named Pigot, who were his intimates at the time. In March 1807
a collection of these poems was published under the title, _Hours of
Idleness_. The volume contained nothing very remarkable; the poems
which really testify to strength of feeling are swamped by quantities
of school-boy verses, some of them translations and imitations of the
school classics and _Ossian_, the rest, sentimental poems of love
and friendship, immature in conception and style. In one or two, we
readers of the present day, wise after the event, can plainly detect
Byron's future personality and style. In the poem _To a Lady_, which is
addressed to Mary Chaworth, occur two genuinely Byronic verses:--

    "If thou wert mine, had all been hush'd:--
       This cheek now pale from early riot,
     With passion's hectic ne'er had flush'd,
       But bloomed in calm domestic quiet.
         . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     But now I seek for other joys:
       To think would drive my soul to madness;
     In thoughtless throngs and empty noise,
       I conquer half my bosom's sadness."

The poems were really of little value, and the ample provision of
childish, foolish notes, the pretentious preface, and the appendage
of the words "A Minor" to the author's name on the title-page, lent
themselves to ridicule.

In January 1808, the _Edinburgh Review_, at that time the highest
literary court of appeal, contained an extremely sarcastic review of
the volume, probably written by Lord Brougham. "The noble author,"
writes the reviewer, "is peculiarly forward in pleading minority; we
have it in the title-page, and on the very back of the volume....
If any suit could be brought against Lord Byron, for the purpose of
compelling him to put into court a certain quantity of poetry, and
if judgment were given against him, it is highly probable that an
exception would be taken, were he to deliver _for poetry_ the contents
of this volume. To this he might plead _minority_; but, &c. &c....
Perhaps however, in reality all that he tells us about his youth is
rather with a view to increase our wonder than to soften our censures.
He possibly means to say, 'See how a minor can write! This poem was
actually composed by a young man of eighteen, and this by one of only
sixteen!' ... So far from hearing, with any degree of surprise, that
very poor verses were written by a youth from his leaving school to his
leaving college, inclusive, we really believe that it happens in the
life of nine men in ten who are educated in England, and that the tenth
man writes better verse than Lord Byron.... We must beg leave seriously
to assure him that the mere rhyming of the final syllable, even when
accompanied by the presence of a certain number of feet--nay, although
(which does not always happen) those feet should scan regularly, and
have been all counted accurately upon the fingers--is not the whole
art of poetry. A certain portion of liveliness, somewhat of fancy, is
necessary to constitute a poem ... &c. &c."

The reviewer's advice to Byron is to give up poetry and employ his
gifts and his leisure hours better. As an exhortation addressed to the
epoch-making English poet of the age by one whose profession it was to
assay and value the works of literary aspirants, the article, in spite
of its partial justification, was undeniably a gross blunder. But as
far as Byron himself was concerned, nothing better could have happened
to him. It affected him like a challenge; it was a terrible blow to
his vanity, and roused that which was to survive him--his pride. A
friend who saw him in the first moments of excitement after reading the
article, has described the fierce defiance of his looks, and added that
it would be difficult for sculptor or painter to imagine a subject of
more fearful beauty than the young poet in his wrath.

Byron concealed his feelings from every one. In a letter written about
this time he expresses regret that his mother has taken the affair
so much to heart, and assures his correspondent that his own repose
and appetite have not been discomposed--that these "paper bullets
of the brain" have only taught him to stand fire. But a dozen years
afterwards he writes: "I well recollect the effect which the critique
of the Edinburgh Reviewers on my first poem had upon me--it was
rage and resistance, and redress; but not despondency nor despair.
A savage review is hemlock to a sucking author, and the one on me
knocked me down--but I got up again ... bent on falsifying their raven
predictions, and determined to show them, croak as they would, that
it was not the last time they should hear from me." Thus came the
stimulus from the outside world which for the first time drove all the
young man's passionate, scattered emotions into one channel, and made
of them one feeling, one aim. With obstinate determination he set to
work; he slept during the day, rising after sunset in order to be less
disturbed, and for several months worked every night and all night long
at his first famous satire.

[1] Thiele: _Thorvaldsen i Rom_. i. 342.

[2] The relation between mother and son has been so accurately
and vividly described by Disraeli in his novel _Venetia_, that I
append a scene from the book in question,--merely condensing it, and
substituting the real names for the fictitious (Cadurcis, Plantagenet,
Morpeth, &c). The scene takes place one morning at Annesley, a country
house in the neighbourhood of Newstead. A post-chaise drives up to
the hall, and from it issues a short, stout woman with a rubicund
countenance, dressed in a style which remarkably blends the shabby with
the tawdry. She is accompanied by a boy between eleven and twelve years
of age, whose appearance is in strong contrast with his mother's, for
he is pale and slender, with long curling black hair and black eyes,
which occasionally, by their transient flashes, agreeably relieve a
face, the general expression of which might be esteemed somewhat shy
and sullen. It is a first visit. The visitors enter tired and hot.

"'A terrible journey,' exclaimed Mrs. Byron, fanning herself as she
took her seat, 'and so very hot! George, my love, make your bow! Have
not I always told you to make a bow when you enter the room, especially
where there are strangers? Make your bow to Mrs. Chaworth.'

The boy gave a sort of sulky nod, but Mrs. Chaworth received it so
graciously and expressed herself so kindly to him that his features
relaxed a little, though he was quite silent and sat on the edge of his
chair, the picture of dogged indifference.

'Charming country, Mrs. Chaworth,' said Mrs. Byron.... 'Annesley is a
delightful place, very unlike the Abbey. Dreadfully lonesome, I assure
you, I find it there. Great change for us from a little town and all
our kind neighbours. Very different from Dulwich; is it not, George?'

'I hate Dulwich,' said the boy.

'Hate Dulwich!' exclaimed Mrs. Byron; 'well, I am sure, that is very
ungrateful, with so many kind friends as we always found. Besides,
George, have I not always told you that you are to hate nothing? It is
very wicked.--The trouble it costs me, Mrs. Chaworth, to educate this
dear child!' continued Mrs. Byron turning to her hostess. 'But when he
likes, he can be as good as any one. Can't you, George?'

Lord Byron gave a grim smile, seated himself at the very back of the
deep chair and swung his feet, which no longer reached the ground, to
and fro. 'I am sure that Lord Byron always behaves well,' said Mrs.

'There, George,' continued Mrs. Byron, 'only listen to that. Hear
what Mrs. Chaworth says. Now mind, never give her cause to change her

George curled his lip, and half turned his back on his companions....

'George, my dear, speak. Have not I always told you, when you pay a
visit, that you should open your mouth now and then. I don't like
chattering children, but I like them to answer when they are spoken to.'

'Nobody has spoken to me,' said Lord Byron in a sullen tone.

'George, my love,' said his mother in a solemn voice, 'you know you
promised me to be good.'

'Well! what have I done?'

'Lord Byron,' said Mrs. Chaworth, interfering, 'do you like to look at

'Thank you,' replied the little lord in a more courteous tone; 'I like
to be left alone.'

'Did you ever know such an odd child!' said Mrs. Byron; 'and yet, I
assure you, Mrs. Chaworth, he can behave, when he likes, as pretty as

'Pretty!' muttered the little lord between his teeth.

'If you had only seen him at Dulwich sometimes at a little tea-party,'
said Mrs. Byron, 'he really was quite the ornament of the company.'

'No, I wasn't,' said Lord Byron.

'George!' said his mother again in a solemn tone, 'have I not always
told you that you are never to contradict any one?'

The little lord indulged in a suppressed growl.

'There was a little play last Christmas,' continued Mrs. Byron, 'and he
acted quite delightfully. Now you would not think that, from the way he
sits upon that chair. George, my dear, I do insist upon your behaving
yourself. Sit like a man.'

'I am not a man,' said Lord Byron, very quietly; 'I wish I were.'

'George!' said the mother, 'have I not always told you that you are
never to answer me? It is not proper for children to answer.... Do
you hear me?' she cried, with a face reddening to scarlet, and almost
menacing a move from her seat.

'Yes, everybody hears you, Mrs. Byron,' said the little lord.

'Don't call me Mrs. Byron; that is not the way to speak to your mother;
I will not be called Mrs. Byron by you.... I have half a mind to get up
and give you a good shake, that I have. O Mrs. Chaworth,' sighed Mrs.
Byron, while a tear trickled down her cheek, 'if you only knew the life
I lead, and what trouble it costs me to educate that child!'

'My dear madam,' said Mrs. Chaworth, 'I am sure that Lord Byron has no
other wish but to please you. Indeed you have misunderstood him.'

'Yes! she always misunderstands me,' said Lord Byron in a softer tone,
but with pouting lips and suffused eyes.

'Now he is going on,' said his mother, beginning herself to cry
dreadfully ... and, irritated by the remembrance of all his
naughtiness, she rushed forward to give him what she had threatened,
and what she in general ultimately had recourse to, a good shake.

Her agile son, experienced in these storms, escaped in time, and pushed
his chair before his infuriated mother; Mrs. Byron, however, rallied,
and chased him round the room; in her despair she took up a book and
threw it at his head; he laughed a fiendish laugh, as, ducking his
head, the book flew on and dashed through a pane of glass. Mrs. Byron
made a desperate charge, and her son, a little frightened at her almost
maniacal passion, saved himself by suddenly seizing Mrs. Chaworth's
work-table and whisking it before her. She fell over the leg of the
table, and went into hysterics, while Lord Byron, pale and dogged,
stood in a corner."

[3] Very characteristic of Mrs. Byron is the manner in which she
communicated to her son (two years after he had been obliged to give
up all hope) the news of Mary Chaworth's marriage. A visitor who was
present tells the story:--"'Byron,' she said, 'I have some news for
you.' Well, what is it?' 'Take out your handkerchief first, for you
will want it.' He did so, to humour her. 'Miss Chaworth is married.'
An expression very peculiar, impossible to describe, passed over his
pale face, and he hurried his handkerchief into his pocket, saying,
with an affected air of coldness and nonchalance, 'Is that all?' 'Why,
I expected you would have been plunged in grief!' He made no reply, and
soon began to talk about something else." The less he could confide
in his mother, the more impelled he felt to express his feelings and
sorrows on paper.

[4] The present owner of Newstead has, from religious reasons, had it



Famous it is, and famous it deserved to become, though not because of
its wit and humour, for it has neither the one nor the other--nor yet
because of its effectiveness, for it is satire which for the most part
hacks and hews blindly, here, there, and everywhere--but because of the
power, the self-consciousness, the unexampled audacity, which underlie
and which found expression in the whole. The attacks of the reviewers
had produced in Byron for the first time the feeling which was soon to
become constant and dominant in his breast, the feeling which first
made him completely conscious of himself, and which may be expressed
in the words: "Alone against you all!" To him, as to the other great
combative characters of history, this feeling was the elixir of life.
"Jeer at _me_ with impunity! Crush _me_, who am stronger than all of
them together!" was the refrain that rang in his ears whilst he wrote.
The Edinburgh Reviewers were accustomed, when they crushed a trumpery
little poet and flung him on the ground like a fly, or by mischance
shot a poor little song-bird, to no resistance on the part of the
victim. He either rebelled against the verdict in silence, or humbly
laid the blame on his own want of ability. In either case what followed
was profound silence. But now they had lighted upon the man whose
prodigious strength and weakness lay exactly in the peculiarity that he
never blamed himself for a misfortune, but furiously turned upon others
as its authors. In this case, too, a silence of a year and a half
followed upon the review. But then happened what we read of in Victor
Hugo's poem (_Les Châtiments_. "La Caravane"):

    "Tout à coup, au milieu de ce silence morne
     Qui monte et qui s'accroît de moment en moment,
     S'élève un formidable et long rugissement!
     C'est le lion."

And the image is the correct one. For this satire, with its deficiency
in beauty, grace, and wit, is more a roar than a song. The poet
who has the throat of the nightingale, rejoices when he for the
first time hears that his own voice is melodious; the ugly duckling
becomes happily conscious of its swan-nature when it is cast into
its own element; but the roar which tells him that now he is grown
up, that now he is a lion, startles the young lion himself. It is in
vain, therefore, to look in _English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_ for
sword-thrusts, given with a steady hand and sure aim; these wounds are
not the work of a hand; they are torn with a claw--but the claw is the
claw of a lion. It is in vain to search for criticism, moderation,
reason; does the wounded beast of prey display discernment and tact
when a bullet, intended to kill it, has only slightly wounded it? No;
its own blood, which it sees flowing, dims its eyes, and it desires
nothing but to shed blood in revenge. It does not even seek the firer
of the shot alone; if one of the troop has wounded the young lion,
then woe to the troop! All the literary celebrities of England,
even the greatest and most popular--all who were in favour with the
_Edinburgh Review_ and all who wrote in it--are in this satire treated
like schoolboys by a youth of twenty, scarcely more than a schoolboy
himself. They run the gauntlet one after the other, English poets and
Scotch reviewers. There is many a hard hit that does not miss its mark.
The empty fantasticalness of Southey's _Thalaba_, and its author's
abnormal productivity; the proofs afforded by Wordsworth's own poems of
the truth of his doctrine that verse is the same as prose; Coleridge's
childish naïveté; Moore's licentiousness--all these receive their
due share of attention. An attack is made on Scott's _Marmion_ which
reminds us of the jeers of Aristophanes at the heroes of Euripides.
But by far the greater proportion of the attacks made, are so rash and
graceless that they became the occasion of much more annoyance to their
author than to the persons attacked. Byron's guardian, Lord Carlisle,
to whom he had but lately dedicated _Hours of Idleness_, but who had
declined to introduce him to the House of Lords; and men like Scott,
Moore, and Lord Holland, who at a later period were among the poet's
best friends, were here abused on perfectly incorrect premises, and
with a want of judgment which is paralleled only by the astonishing
alacrity with which Byron, as soon as he was convinced that he had
been in the wrong, apologised and strove to efface the impression of
his errors. Some years later he tried in vain to put an end to the
existence of the satire by destroying the whole fifth edition.

In the meantime it created a great sensation, and produced the desired
effect, the rehabilitation of its author.

In the beginning of 1809 Byron had gone to live in London, partly to
superintend the publication of his satire, partly for the purpose
of taking his seat in the House of Lords. As he had no friend among
the peers to introduce him, he was obliged, contrary to custom, to
present himself alone. His friend, Mr. Dallas, has described the scene.
When Byron entered the House he was even paler than usual, and his
countenance betrayed mortification and indignation. The Chancellor,
Lord Eldon, put out his hand warmly to welcome him, and paid him some
compliment. But this was thrown away upon Lord Byron, who made a stiff
bow, and put the tips of his fingers into the Chancellor's hands.
The Chancellor did not press a welcome so received, but resumed his
seat. Byron carelessly seated himself on one of the empty Opposition
benches, remained there for a few minutes to indicate to which party
he belonged, and then left. "I have taken my seat," he said to Dallas,
"and now I will go abroad."

He left England in June 1809. He had, as he wrote to his mother in
1808, long felt, that "if we see no nation but our own, we do not give
mankind a fair chance--it is from _experience_, not books, we ought
to judge of them. There is nothing like inspection, and trusting to
our own senses." He now went first to Lisbon (see the poem _Huzza!
Hodgson!_) The description of Cintra in the First Canto of _Childe
Harold_ is a recollection of the impressions received during his short
stay in Portugal. From Lisbon he and his friend Hobhouse travelled on
horseback to Seville and Cadiz, and thence to Gibraltar by sea.

None of the magnificent historical monuments of Seville made any
impression on Byron, but both there and at Cadiz he was deeply
interested in the women. The advances made by various beautiful Spanish
ladies flattered the young man, who took with him as a remembrance from
Seville a lock of hair about three feet in length. Gibraltar, being an
English town, is, of course, a "cursed place."

But, though little impressed by the historical memories of the
countries he is visiting, he is already beginning to interest himself
in their political relations. Those of Spain with England occupy him
first. The first two cantos of _Childe Harold_ show that he felt
nothing but contempt for the foreign policy of England. He jeers at
what the English called their victory of Talavera, where they lost 5000
men without doing the French much harm; and he is audacious enough to
call Napoleon his hero.

From Spain Byron went to Malta. Its memories of the days of yore, which
so delighted old Sir Walter Scott, made no more impression on the young
nobleman than those of Seville had done. He was as entirely devoid of
the romantic historical sense as of romantic national feeling. What he
thought of, and longed for, were not the green pastures of England, or
the misty hills of Scotland, but the Lake of Geneva in all its glory
of colour, and the bright Ægean Sea. His mind did not dwell on the
historical exploits of his countrymen, on wars like the War of the
Roses; it was occupied with the politics of the day; and in the past
nothing interested him but the great struggles for liberty. To him
the old statues were only stone; the living women were more beautiful
in his eyes than the ancient goddesses ("than all the nonsense of
their stone ideal," as he puts it in _Don Juan_); but on the field of
Marathon he fell into a deep reverie, and he celebrates its memories in
both his long narrative poems. When, during the last year of his life,
he visited Ithaca, he rejected all offers to show him the remains of
antiquity on the island, remarking to Trelawny: "I detest antiquarian
twaddle. Do people think I have no lucid intervals, that I came to
Greece to scribble more nonsense?" The poetic enthusiasm for liberty
was in the end swallowed up by the practical. With Byron Romantic
sentimentality comes to an end; with him the modern spirit in poetry
originates; therefore it was that he influenced not only his own
country but Europe.

At Malta he was greatly captivated by a beautiful young lady, a Mrs.
Spencer Smith, who for political reasons was subjected to persecution
by Napoleon. An enthusiastic friendship sprang up between the two,
which is commemorated in several of Byron's poems. (_Childe Harold_,
ii. 30. _To Florence. Lines Written in an Album, Stanzas composed
during a Thunderstorm. Stanzas Written in Passing the Ambracian Gulf_.)
From Malta the travellers went by way of Western Greece to Albania, the
"rugged nurse of savage men," as Byron in _Childe Harold_ calls the

    "(Where) roams the wolf, the eagle whets his beak,
     Birds, beasts of prey, and wilder men appear."

It is characteristic of him, that in his first travels he visited
regions which lay practically without the pale of civilisation,
countries where the personality of the inhabitant was almost entirely
untrammelled by convention. Natural affinity attracted him to these
scenes and these beings. Like the young man in Wordsworth's _Ruth_,

    "Whatever in those climes he found
     Irregular in sight or sound
     Did to his mind impart
     A kindred impulse, seem'd allied
     To his own powers, and justified
     The workings of his heart."

A direct descendant of Rousseau, he had a strong sympathy for all the
races still living in "the state of nature."[1] The Albanians were at
that time almost as savage as their Pelasgian ancestors. Their law was
the law of the sword, the vendetta their idea of justice. The people
of the country, as Byron first beheld them assembled, the setting sun
illuminating their magnificent dresses and the rich trappings of their
horses, whilst drums beat and the muezzins called the hour from the
minaret of the mosque, presented such a spectacle as we read of in the
_Thousand and One Nights_.

Janina proved to be a more important town than Athens. It was on their
journey to or from Janina that the travellers were deserted by their
guide. In their perilous condition among these wild mountains, with the
prospect before them of dying of hunger, Byron was the member of the
party who kept up the spirits of all the others by that dauntlessness
which distinguished him in all dangerous situations.

The day after their arrival in the capital, Byron was introduced to Ali
Pacha, "the Turkish Bonaparte," whom he had always admired in spite of
his savage cruelty. Ali received his visitor standing, was extremely
friendly, desired his respects to Byron's mother, and flattered Byron
himself very agreeably by telling him that he knew him at once to be a
man of noble birth by his small ears, curling hair, and little white
hands. The visit to Ali provided matter for some of the principal
scenes in the _Fourth Canto_ of Don Juan. Lambro and several other
Byronic figures are drawn from him. (He is also described by Victor
Hugo in _Les Orientales_.) Ali treated Byron like a spoiled child,
sending him almonds and sugared sherbet, fruit and sweetmeats, twenty
times a day.

Protected by a guard of fifty men given him by Ali from the numerous
troops of brigands which infested the country, Byron now travelled all
through Albania. His wild followers became so attached to him that,
when he had an attack of fever, they threatened to kill the doctor
if the patient were not cured. The doctor ran away--and the patient
recovered. It was in the course of this tour, before retiring to rest
for the night in a cave by the shore of the Gulf of Arta, that Byron
saw the scene (the Pyrrhic war-dance to the accompaniment of song)
which he afterwards described in _Childe Harold_, ii. 71, 72, and which
inspired the beautiful song, "Tambourgi, Tambourgi!"

During his stay in Athens, the indignation he felt at the plundering
of the Parthenon by England, in the person of Lord Elgin, inspired him
with the poem, _The Curse of Minerva_; and a transient attachment to
one of the daughters of the English consul produced the song, _Maid of
Athens_, the heroine of which, even after she had become a little pale
old lady, continued to be tormented with visits from English tourists.
On the 3rd of May, Byron performed his famous feat of swimming across
the Dardanelles, from Sestos to Abydos, in an hour and ten minutes; he
writes of it in _Don Juan_, and was proud of it all his life.

All that he saw and did on this tour was, a few years later, to provide
him with poetic material. In Constantinople he one day saw the street
dogs devouring the flesh of a corpse; on this real scene are based the
descriptions of horrors in _The Siege of Corinth_ and in the Eighth
Canto of _Don Juan_ (assault of Ismail). After his return to Athens
from a tour in the Morea, he would seem himself to have been concerned
in the love affair on which _The Giaour_ is based. (See the Marquis of
Sligo's letter to Byron.) What we know for certain is, that one day,
as he was returning from bathing at the Piræus, he met a detachment of
Turkish soldiers carrying, sewn up in a sack, a young girl, who was
to be thrown into the sea because she had accepted a Christian as her
lover. Pistol in hand, Byron compelled the savage troop to turn back,
and partly by bribery, partly by threats, procured the girl's release.

This life of travel and adventure did not produce the mental
equilibrium which Byron lacked. His last letters from abroad reveal
settled melancholy. The disgust with life which is the result of
aimlessness seems to weigh him to the earth. And he feels that he is
coming home deep in debt, "with a body shaken by one or two smart
fevers," and to a country where he has no friends. He expects to be
met only by creditors. What did meet him was the news of his mother's
dangerous illness. He hastened to Newstead to see her once more, but
she had died the day before he arrived. Her maid found him in the
evening sitting beside the corpse. She had heard his sobs through
the closed door. On her begging him to try to control his grief, he
burst into tears, and exclaimed: "Oh, Mrs. By, I had but one friend
in the world, and she is gone!" Nevertheless, his excessive dislike
to his grief being witnessed by others, was sufficient to prevent his
following his mother's remains to the grave. He stood at the Abbey
door till the funeral procession had moved off; then, turning to his
attendant, young Rushton, desired him to fetch the sparring-gloves, and
proceeded to his usual exercise with the boy. At last, the struggle
to keep up seeming too much for him, he flung away the gloves and
retired to his room. During the protracted fit of melancholy into which
he sank, he made a will, in which he again ordered that he should be
buried beside his dog.

Byron had hardly landed before his friend Dallas asked him if he had
brought any poetry back with him from his travels. The young poet, who
was tolerably destitute of the critical sense, produced, not without
pride, _Hints from Horace_, a new satire in Pope's style. With this
work Mr. Dallas was very justifiably disappointed. On returning it next
morning he asked if his friend had written nothing else, on which Byron
handed him some short poems, and what he called "a number of stanzas in
Spenser's measure" chiefly descriptive of the countries he had visited.
These last were the first two cantos of _Childe Harold_; and at the
urgent request of Dallas they were at once given to the printer.

In the mind of the reader of to-day, the impression produced by these
two cantos is apt to be mixed up with that produced by the last two
(written six or seven years later); but whoever desires to understand
Byron's development must be careful to keep the two impressions
perfectly distinct from each other. The gap between the first and the
second half of _Childe Harold_ is as wide as the gap between this same
second half and _Don Juan_.

The stanzas which Byron showed Dallas are melodious, sincere in
feeling, and occasionally grand; they were the first of the full,
harmonious strains which were henceforward to issue from the lips of
this poet as long as he breathed the breath of life. But they only
faintly forecast what the man was to be, with whose fame, ten years
later, the continent of Europe rang. As yet, powerful descriptions of
nature form the main ingredient in his poetry; the lyric outbursts are
few and far between; to the casual reader these stanzas would seem
simply to convey a world-weary young English aristocrat's impressions
of travel, ennobled by the stateliness of the style--for the tone of
_Childe Harold_ is as idealistic and serious as that of _Don Juan_ is
realistic and humorous.

The mood is one of monotonous melancholy. Byron is not yet the poet who
bounds from one feeling to another, by preference its exact opposite,
in order to make each as strong as possible, and then hacks and hews
at them--the harder, the extremer the tension he has produced. But
though we as yet only catch the outline of this poet's countenance,
though we perceive nothing of its keenly satirical expression or of
its now impudent, now merry smile, we nevertheless divine from the
fervent youthful pathos that we are in the presence of the strongest
personality in the literature of the day. There is an Ego in this poem
which dominates every detail, an Ego which does not lose itself in any
feeling, does not forget itself in any cause.

The other literary personalities of the day could metamorphose--could
etherealise, liquefy, crystallise--themselves; they could become
invisible behind another personality, or transform themselves into
cosmic beings, or merge themselves entirely in sensations received from
without; but here we have an Ego which, whatever happens, is always
conscious of itself, and always comes back to itself; and it is an
agitated, passionate Ego, of whose emotions the movement of even the
most unimportant lines reminds us, as the whisper of the shell reminds
us of the roar of the ocean.

Childe Harold (in the first draft Childe Burun) leaves his country
after an ill-spent youth, in a mood of splenetic melancholy, leaving
behind no friends and no loved one. His is the youthful weariness
of life induced by a constitution and state of health inclining to
melancholy, and by an all too early satiety of pleasure. There is not
a trace in him of the confident gaiety of youth or of its desire for
amusement and fame; he believes, little as he has seen of life, that he
has done with everything; and the poet is so completely one with his
hero that not for one moment does he ever soar above him on the wings
of irony.

All this, which made such a powerful impression on the public of
Byron's day, is tolerably unattractive to a critical modern reader;
the aim at effect is plainly discernible, and the time when vague
world-weariness was interesting is past. But no one with a practised
eye can fail to see that in this case the mask--for mask it is--covers
an earnest and a suffering countenance. The mask is that of a hermit;
pluck it off, and there still remains a man of a solitary nature! The
mask is grandiose melancholy; throw it away; beneath it there is real
sadness! Harold's shell-bedecked pilgrim's cloak may be nothing but a
kind of ball domino; but it covers a youth of ardent feelings, with a
keen understanding, gloomy impressions of life, and an unusually strong
love of freedom. In Childe Harold's better Ego there is no insincerity;
Byron himself will be answerable for all his hero thinks and feels. And
to those who remember what Byron's own conduct, immediately after he
wrote _Childe Harold_, was, and who see a direct contradiction between
the fictitious personage's elderly melancholy and the real personage's
youthfully ardent pursuit of sensual pleasures, we reply, that the
reason of the apparent contradiction is simply this--that Byron, who
in his poetry was still an idealist, was unable to reveal his _whole_
nature in the earlier cantos of _Childe Harold_. All that is there is
certainly Byron, but there was in him, along with this, another and
perfectly different man; and it was not until he wrote _Don Juan_ that
he succeeded in introducing this other Byron, as he lived and thought
and spoke, into his poetry. The incompleteness of the self-description
must not be mistaken for simulation or affectation.

In February 1812 Byron made his maiden speech in Parliament. He spoke
in behalf of the poor weavers of Nottingham, whom it was proposed
to punish most severely for having destroyed the machinery that was
depriving them of their bread. It is a youthful and rather elaborate
speech, but full of life and warmth. Byron was quite in his element
in pleading the cause of the starving and desperate crowd. He very
sensibly pointed out to his countrymen that a tenth part of the sum
which they had willingly voted to enable the Portuguese to carry on
war, would be sufficient to relieve the misery which it was proposed to
reduce to silence by imprisonment and the gallows. Byron's vigorous and
obstinate hatred of war is one of the grains of sound commonsense which
are to be found in solution in his poetry; it lends animation to the
earlier cantos of _Childe Harold_.

His second Parliamentary speech was on the subject of Catholic
Emancipation. Though it did not please, it is an excellent one; in it
Byron acknowledges, and with correct logic disposes of, one of the
arguments against giving religious liberty to the Catholics, namely,
that it might equally well be given to the Jews. In reference to this
same emancipation question, we find the following youthfully facetious
entry in his notebook: "On one of the debates on the Catholic question,
when we were either equal or within one (I forget which), I had been
sent for in great haste to a ball, which I quitted, I confess, somewhat
reluctantly, to emancipate five millions of people." Playful utterances
of this kind (as another example of which take his saying: "After all
we must end in marriage; and I can conceive nothing more delightful
than such a state in the country, reading the county newspaper, &c, and
kissing one's wife's maid") have, because they are so little in keeping
with Childe Harold's melancholy, amply proved to stupid people that
nothing was sacred to him. The truth was that, being very young and
somewhat of a coxcomb, he considered it derogatory to his dignity to
express himself with any feeling; he unconsciously adopted as his motto
the saying of St. Bernard: _Plus labora celare virtutes quam vitia!_

The maiden speech was a great success, and helped to draw the
attention of the public to the first two cantos of _Childe Harold_,
which came out only two days after the speech had been made. The
impression produced by _Childe Harold_ was astounding; Byron
instantaneously became a celebrity--London's new lion, the lawful
sovereign of society for the year 1812. The metropolis, as represented
by its most beautiful, most distinguished, most brilliant, and most
cultivated inhabitants, prostrated itself at the feet of this youth
of twenty-three. If these earlier cantos of _Childe Harold_ had
been distinguished by the qualities of the later, namely, profound
originality and vigorous honesty, they would not have made the noise
in the world they did. Great honesty and great originality never find
favour at once with the general public. It was the veiledness, the
vague weariness of the world and its pleasures, which impressed the
crowd; the power of which they caught a glimpse, produced all the more
effect by revealing itself in a somewhat theatrical manner.

This was the heyday of dandyism. The upper class of London society,
with Beau Brummell as its master of ceremonies, gave itself up to a
luxuriousness and licentiousness which had not had their parallel since
the days of Charles II. Dinner-parties and balls, the play-house, the
gaming-table, pecuniary entanglements, amorous intrigues, seductions
and the duels consequent thereon, occupied the days and nights of the
aristocracy. And Byron was the hero of the day--nay, of the year. Could
there have been a more suitable object for the admiration and worship
of a society which was bored and burdened by its own inanity? So young,
so handsome, and so wicked! For no one doubted but that he was as
dangerous a roué as his hero. Byron had not Scott's coldbloodedness and
mental equilibrium to oppose to temptations and flattery. He allowed
himself to glide with the stream which supported him on its surface.
The artist in him craved for an experience of every mood, and rejected
none. He maintained his fame as a poet with ease; there followed on
one another with short intervals his narrative poems, _The Giaour_
(May 1813), _The Bride of Abydos_ (December of the same year), and
_The Corsair_ (completed on New Year's Day 1814). Of this last work
13,000 copies were sold in one day. The bitter _Ode to Napoleon_, on
the occasion of his abdication, showed that Byron, in his pursuit of
poetry, was not entirely oblivious of the political events of the day.
In 1815 he wrote _Parisina_ and _The Siege of Corinth_. The novelty,
the foreignness, and the passion of these works, entranced the blasé
aristocratic society of London. Their author was the prodigy on whom
all eyes were turned. In the drawing-rooms young ladies trembled with
the delightful hope that he might take them in to dinner, and at the
dinner-table hardly dared to partake of what was set before them,
because it was known that he did not like to see women eating. Owners
of albums in which he had deigned to write a few lines were objects of
envy. A specimen of his handwriting was in itself a treasure. People
talked of all the Greek and Turkish women to whom his love must have
meant death, and wondered how many husbands he had killed. His brow and
his glancing eye suggested wickedness. He wore his hair unpowdered, and
it was as wild as his passions. Different in everything from ordinary
mortals, he was as abstemious as his Corsair; the other day at Lord
-----'s had he not let eleven courses go by untasted and asked for
biscuits and soda-water? What an uncomfortable position for the lady
of the house, who was so proud of her cook! And what an extraordinary
piece of eccentricity in a country where a hearty appetite is one of
the national virtues!

We see Childe Harold transformed into Don Juan. The solitary pilgrim
becomes the drawing-room lion. On the ladies, Byron's rank, youth,
and remarkable beauty naturally made almost more impression than his
poetry. In the Life of Sir Walter Scott we find the following opinion
given by him on the subject of his fellow-author's personal appearance:
"As for poets, I have seen, I believe, all the best of our own time
and country--and, though Burns had the most glorious eyes imaginable,
I never thought any of them would come up to an artist's notion of
the character except Byron.... And the prints give one no impression
of him--the lustre is there, but it is not lighted up. Byron's
countenance is a thing to dream of." One of the beauties of the day
said to herself the first time she saw him: "That pale face is my fate."

Women had, undoubtedly, always occupied a large share of Byron's time
and thoughts; but expressions in _Childe Harold_ gave rise to the
report that he had maintained a regular harem at Newstead--the harem
appearing as a matter of fact to have consisted of one odalisque.
Absurdly exaggerated stories were in circulation of the amorous
adventures in which he had played the part of hero during his travels.
The consequence of all this was that he was positively besieged by
women; his table was covered every day with letters from ladies, known
and unknown to him. One came to his house (probably in imitation of
Kaled in _Lara_) disguised as a page; many came undisguised. He told
Medwin that one day very soon after his wedding he found three married
ladies in his wife's drawing-room, whom he at once recognised as "all
birds of the same feather."

This life, crowded with empty pleasures and with triumphs for his
vanity, at any rate suited Byron better than quiet; for, as he says in
_Childe Harold_, "quiet to quick bosoms is a hell." But, in all this
whirl of excitement, did his heart ever really come into play? It would
seem not. The love-affair which engrossed him much at this time and
also influenced his future, was, as we know from his own letters, only
a whirlpool within the whirlpool, and as such attracted him; but it
left his heart quite cold.

Lady Caroline Lamb, a young lady of good family, and wife of the
statesman afterwards known as Lord Melbourne, had long cherished
an ardent desire to make the acquaintance of the author of _Childe
Harold_. Hers was a wild, fantastic, restless nature, which rebelled
against every kind of control and promptly followed the inspiration of
the moment; therefore she was in so far a kindred spirit of the poet.
She was three years older than Byron, fair-haired, with a slender,
beautiful figure, and a soft voice; her manner, though affected, was
exceedingly attractive. She played in Byron's life the part which Frau
von Kalb played in Schiller's.[2] Her connection with him made the
lady so much talked of, that her mother did everything in her power to
break it off. Lady Caroline was at last persuaded to go to Ireland on
a visit. Byron wrote a farewell letter to her, of which she allowed
Lady Morgan to make a copy--a letter which is typical of his style
in his immature years, and in which no one with any knowledge of the
human heart will find the language of love. It reminds us of Hamlet's
ambiguous letter to Ophelia.

"If tears which you saw, and know I am not apt to shed,--if the
agitation in which I parted from you,--agitation which you must have
perceived through the whole of this most nervous affair, did not
commence until the moment of leaving you approached,--if all I have
said and done, and am still but too ready to say and do, have not
sufficiently proved what my real feelings are, and must ever be towards
you, my love, I have no other proof to offer.... Is there anything
in earth or heaven that would have made me so happy as to have made
you mine long ago? You know I would with pleasure give up all here and
beyond the grave for you, and in refraining from this, must my motives
be misunderstood? I care not who knows this, what use is made of
it,--it is to you and to you only that they are, _yourself_, I was and
am yours freely and entirely to obey, to honour, love, and fly with you
when, where, and how yourself _might_ and _may_ determine."

It will surprise no one to learn that a few months later Byron himself
put an end to the _liaison_; his love had never been anything but the
kind of reflected love which imitates in a mirror all the motions
of the flame, without fire of its own. Meeting Byron at a ball soon
afterwards, Lady Caroline, maddened by his indifference, seized the
first sharp thing that she could lay hold of--some say a pair of
scissors, others a broken glass--and tried to cut her throat with it.
After the ineffectual attempt at suicide, she (according to Countess
Guiccioli) made "the most incredible promises" to a young nobleman
on condition that he would challenge and kill the faithless one;
nevertheless she herself soon called at her quondam lover's apartments,
"by no means with the intention of cutting either her own throat or
his." He was not at home. The words which she wrote on a title-page of
a book she found on his table, inspired the epigram: "Remember thee!"
which is to be found amongst Byron's poems.

Pining for revenge, Lady Caroline now seized her pen and wrote the
novel, _Glenarvon_, which came out at the most unfortunate moment
possible for Byron, namely, just after his wife had left him, and
was one of the most active ingredients in the ferment of public
disapproval. The book, which has as its motto two lines from _The

    "He left a name to all succeeding times,
     Link'd with one virtue and a thousand crimes,"

pictures Byron as a perfect demon of dissimulation and wickedness,
endowed with all his hero's worst characteristics. But, possibly by
way of excuse for her own conduct, the authoress has not been able to
resist giving him some admirable and attractive qualities. One passage
runs: "Had he betrayed in his manner that freedom, that familiarity
so offensive in men, but yet so frequent amongst them, she would
have shuddered; but from what was she to fly? Not from the gross
adulation, or the easy, flippant protestations to which all women
are, soon or late, accustomed; but from a respect at once refined and
flattering, an attention devoted even to her least wishes, yet without
appearing subservient a gentleness and sweetness as rare as they were
fascinating; and these combined with all the powers of imagination,
vigour of intellect, and brilliancy of wit which none ever before
possessed in so eminent a degree."

In 1817, when Byron was living in Venice, an Italian translation of
_Glenarvon_ was sent to press there. The censor refused to sanction its
publication until he had ascertained if Lord Byron had any objections.
Byron assured him that he had none. Only once again in the biography
of Lord Byron is mention made of Lady Caroline Lamb. As the funeral
procession following his corpse (which had been brought home from
Greece) was slowly making its way from London to Newstead, it was met
by a lady and gentleman on horseback. The lady inquired who it was that
was to be buried. When she heard, she fell fainting from her horse. She
was the authoress of _Glenarvon_.

Byron's giddy, wild London career was arrested by the most fateful
event of his life--his marriage. Life, as he had lived it, had not
inspired him with much respect for woman; but the kind of woman he
loved was the devoted, self-sacrificing creature whom he delighted in
portraying in his poems. The woman whom chance made his wife had a
strong, obstinate English character. Miss Anne Isabella Milbanke was
the only child of a rich baronet. Byron was attracted by her simplicity
and modesty, and tempted by the prospect of restoring Newstead with
the help of her fortune. She annoyed him by refusing his hand when he
first offered it to her, but fascinated him again by soon afterwards
beginning a friendly correspondence with him of her own accord. In
course of time she returned a favourable answer to a letter of proposal
which he had written in an unwarrantably frivolous mood, and sent
because a friend who read it thought it a pity that such "a pretty
letter" should not go.

From motives which were, one and all, bad--motives of vanity, motives
of vulgar aggrandisement--Byron rushed into a marriage which did not
end worse than might have been expected. His mood during his engagement
was a comparatively cheerful one. "Of course I am very much in love,"
he writes to a lady friend, "and as silly as all single gentlemen must
be in that sentimental situation." And to another friend he writes:
"I am now the happiest of mortals, for I became engaged a week ago.
Yesterday I met young F., also the happiest of mortals, for he too is
engaged." So childish are all the letters written at this time that, if
we believe them, we must suppose Byron's only serious trouble to have
been the necessity of being married in a blue coat. However, as the
wedding-day approached, he became ever more ill at ease; the relations
between his parents had early inoculated him with a dread of marriage.
His feelings during the wedding ceremony he has described in _The
Dream_. He told Medwin that he trembled and gave wrong answers.

"The treacle-moon," as Byron calls it, did not run its course
unshadowed by clouds. Two months after his marriage he writes to Moore
from the country, where he and his wife were staying with her parents:
"I am in a state of sameness and stagnation, totally occupied in
consuming the fruits, and sauntering, and playing dull games at cards,
and yawning, and trying to read old Annual Registers and the daily
papers, and gathering shells on the shore, and watching the growth of
stunted gooseberry bushes in the garden." A few days later he writes:
"I have been very comfortable here--listening to that d--d monologue
which elderly gentlemen call conversation, and in which my pious
father-in-law repeats himself every evening--save one, when he played
upon the fiddle. However, they have been very kind and hospitable....
Bell is in health and unvaried good-humour and behaviour."

Pegasus was beginning to feel the yoke gall. However, the young couple
presently went to London, where they lived in great style, keeping
carriages and horses, and entertaining sumptuously, until Byron's
creditors began to push their claims. Lady Byron's dowry of £10,000
disappeared like dew in sunshine, quickly followed by £8000, to which
Byron had lately fallen heir. Things became so bad that he had to sell
his library. In order to prevent this sale, Murray, his publisher,
offered him £1500 as remuneration for his writings; but Byron's false
pride led him to return the draft torn in pieces. Eight executions
followed on each other in as many months; the very beds were seized at

Such was the position of affairs when, in December 1815, Lady Byron
gave birth to her daughter Ada.

The spoiled young heiress had, of course, never dreamt that such
experiences awaited her. The married life of the couple was at first
by no means unhappy. They drove out together, and the young wife
waited patiently in the carriage while her husband paid calls. She
wrote letters for him and copied out poems, among others _The Bride of
Corinth_. But there had very soon been small misunderstandings. Lady
Byron seems to have been in the habit of constantly interrupting her
husband with questions and remarks when he was writing, thereby giving
occasion to outbursts of temper which she considered most unseemly.
She had had no experience of such passionate violence and eccentric
behaviour as she was soon to witness. On one occasion she saw Byron,
when in a passion, throw his watch into the fire and break it to
pieces with the poker; on another, in fun or by accident, he fired
off a pistol in her room. Ere long, too, she was suffering the pangs
of jealousy. She knew of his notoriety as the hero of many amours,
and knew more particularly about his connection with Lady Caroline
Lamb, who was her own near relative. Byron had, unfortunately for his
domestic peace, become a member of the Committee of Management of
Drury Lane Theatre, and his correct lady was much perturbed by the
business relations with actresses, singers, and ballet-dancers which
this entailed. A person in her service (described by Lord Byron in _A
Sketch_) began to act the spy, ransacking Byron's drawers and reading
his letters. And there is yet another disagreeable matter, which we
shall notice later.

With her husband's consent, the young wife, about a month after the
child's birth, left the unsettled and unhappy home, and went on a visit
to her parents. But hardly had she arrived before her father intimated
to Byron that she would not return to him. While on the journey she
had written a letter to him (now in print) which begins: "Dear Duck,"
and ends quite as affectionately. Byron's surprise may be imagined.
He replied to his father-in-law that in this matter he could not
acknowledge paternal authority, and must hear from his wife herself.
Her communication was to the same effect. In 1830 Lady Byron publicly
affirmed that she had written to her husband as affectionately as she
did, in the belief that he was insane; and that if this idea of hers
had proved to be the correct one, she would have borne everything as
his faithful wife, but that in no other case could she have continued
to live with him.

In a fragment of a novel, written by Byron in 1817, we have a
corroboration of this assertion:--"A few days after, she set out for
Aragon, with my son, on a visit to her father and mother. I did not
accompany her immediately, having been in Aragon before.... During
her journey I received a very affectionate letter from Donna Josepha,
apprising me of the welfare of herself and my son. On her arrival at
the château, I received another, still more affectionate, pressing
me, in very fond and rather foolish terms, to join her immediately.
As I was preparing to set out from Seville, I received a third--this
was from her father, Don José di Cardozo, who requested me, in the
politest manner, to dissolve our marriage. I answered him, with equal
politeness, that I would do no such thing. A fourth letter arrived--it
was from Donna Josepha, in which she informed me that her father's
letter was written by her particular desire. I requested the reason by
return of post: she replied, by express, that as reason had nothing to
do with the matter, it was unnecessary to give any--but that she was
an injured and excellent woman. I then inquired why she had written
to me the two preceding affectionate letters, requesting me to come
to Aragon. She answered, that was because she believed me out of my
senses--that, being unfit to take care of myself, I had only to set out
on this journey alone, and, making my way without difficulty to Don
José di Cardozo's, I should there have found the tenderest of wives
and--a strait-waistcoat."

When it became known that Byron's wife had left him, a sudden and
complete change in the attitude of the public towards him took place.
He had awakened one morning after the publication of _Childe Harold_ to
find himself famous; now came a morning when he awoke to find himself
infamous, regarded by society as an outlaw.

Chief among the causes of this revulsion was envy--not that envy in
the hearts of the gods which the ancients regarded as the cause of
the downfall of the great--but foul, base envy in the breasts of his
fellow-men. He stood so high; he was so great; with all his faults
he had never sunk to the level of vulgar, mechanical respectability;
confident in his powers and the favour of fortune, he had never deigned
to seek friends who could protect him, or heeded how many enemies he
made. These latter had long been innumerable. Chief among the envious
were his literary rivals; and amongst all the many species of envy, the
envy of authors is one of the most venomous. He had derided them, had
called them the writers of a decadent period, had taken from some the
name they had won, and made it impossible for others to win a name--why
should he be admired and idolised whilst they were in vain arranging
their locks for the reception of a wreath which never came? What joy
to be able to tear him from the golden throne of fame and besmirch him
with the mud in which they themselves stood!

He had long been suspected and secretly hated by the orthodox in
religion and politics. The couple of stanzas in _Childe Harold_ which
venture in the most cautious terms to express a doubt that we shall
meet our friends again after death, had been greeted with a cry
of--heresy! and a whole book, _Anti-Byron_, had been written against
them. The two verses to the Princess Charlotte, which, under the title,
_Lines to a Lady Weeping_, were appended to the first edition of _The
Corsair_, and in which the poet condoles with the daughter on the
occasion of her father, the Prince Regent's, desertion of the Liberal
side in politics, had set the whole Tory party violently against him.
But hitherto he had been protected by his magic influence over men's
minds as by an invisible coat of mail. This unfortunate episode in his
private life offered a weak point, against which his enemies diverted
the full force of public opinion.

The life led by Lady Byron and her family was the life on which English
public opinion has set the seal of its peculiar approbation; and it
was easy to convince the public that the man whom such a wife felt
obliged to leave must indeed be a monster. Rumours began to spread; the
slanders once conceived and brought forth, developed feet to walk on,
wings to fly with, and swelled as they flew. Their voices rose from a
whisper to a cry, from a cry to a deafening roar. Who does not know
that concerted piece in the production of which baseness and stupidity
collaborate, and during the performance of which ignorance sings in
chorus with conscious villainy, whilst spite heightens the effect by
the contribution of its most piercing trills!

Envy in this case entered the service of hypocrisy, and took its wages.
Refined hypocrisy was, far on into the nineteenth century--as long,
namely, as the period of religious reaction lasted--a social power, the
authority of which differed from that of the Inquisitional tribunals of
the sixteenth century only in the means it employed, not in the reach
and efficacy of these means. It wrought through public opinion, and
public opinion had become what Byron calls it in _Childe Harold_,

                 "an omnipotence,--whose veil
        Mantles the earth with darkness, until right
        And wrong are accidents, and men grow pale
        Lest their own judgments should become too bright,
    And their free thoughts be crimes, and earth have too much light."

As for hypocrisy, he felt incapable of doing justice to it unaided. "Oh
for a forty-parson power!" he cries in _Don Juan_:--

    "Oh for a _forty-parson power_ to chant
       Thy praise, Hypocrisy! Oh for a hymn
     Loud as the virtues thou dost loudly vaunt,
       Not practise! Oh for trump of cherubim!"

Such a state of matters was inevitable at a period which has so much
in common with the age when the ancient religions and theories of
life were in process of dissolution; a period when an old theological
theory of the universe and of life, everywhere undermined and riddled
by science, and unable to support itself by its own inherent truth, was
obliged to cling to the conventional morality of the upper classes,
which it made as rigid as possible in order to have a support in
it; a period when ecclesiastical authority and narrow-minded social
conservatism, both in a tottering condition, were endeavouring to
uphold each other. Taking a bird's-eye view of the psychological
history of Europe during the first two decades of the century, it
actually seems to us as if the whole edifice of hypocrisy, the
foundations of which were laid in the writings of the French _émigrés_,
which rose steadily in those of the German Romanticists, and towered
to a giddy height during the French Reaction, now suddenly fell on the
head of one man.

Macaulay, in his essay on Moore's _Life of Byron_, writing on this
subject, says:--"We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British
public in one of its periodical fits of morality. In general,
elopements, divorces, and family quarrels, pass with little notice.
We read the scandal, talk about it for a day, and forget it. But
once in six or seven years our virtue becomes outrageous. We cannot
suffer the laws of religion and decency to be violated. We must make
a stand against vice. We must teach libertines that the English
people appreciate the importance of domestic ties. Accordingly some
unfortunate man, in no respect more depraved than hundreds whose
offences have been treated with lenity, is singled out as an expiatory
sacrifice. If he has children, they are to be taken from him. If
he has a profession, he is to be driven from it. He is cut by the
higher orders, and hissed by the lower. He is, in truth, a sort of
whipping-boy, by whose vicarious agonies all the other transgressors of
the same class are, it is supposed, sufficiently chastised. We reflect
very complacently on our own severity, and compare with great pride
the high standard of morals established in England with the Parisian
laxity. At length our anger is satiated. Our victim is ruined and
heart-broken. And our virtue goes quietly to sleep for seven years

If the causes of Byron's downfall were of a complex nature, the means
were simple enough. It was compassed by the Press, the only effective
instrument in such cases. Several of the papers and magazines had
taken the opportunity to spread slanders about him when criticising
his verses to the Princess Charlotte; and more than one of them
periodically calumniated him. Now they were all at liberty to discuss
and attack his private life freely, thanks to the anonymity which, in
spite of the want of naturalness and the corruption it entails, still
prevails in the English Press. What anonymity really means is simply
this, that the paltriest scribbler, who is hardly fit to hold the
pen with which he writes his lies, is enabled to put the trumpet of
moral public opinion to his lips, and let the voice of injured virtue
resound in thousands of homes. Nor is it enough that the one anonymous
writer should be able to constitute himself the voice of the public
in the thousands of copies of one newspaper; he can assume hundreds
of forms, can write with all kinds of fanciful signatures, and in a
dozen different newspapers and magazines. A single scribbler would have
sufficed to provide the whole Press with base attacks on a man outlawed
by public opinion; it is easy, then, to imagine the number that were
made on Byron, whose enemies were legion. Among the names given him by
the Press he himself remembered Nero, Apicius, Caligula, Heliogabalus,
and Henry VIII.--that is to say, he was accused of inhuman cruelty, of
insane brutality, of animal and unnatural lust; he was painted with all
the colours which vileness smears on its palette. The most terrible
of all the accusations was that which even then went the round of the
newspapers, and which sullied the fair name of the being dearest to
him--the accusation of incest. And to all this he could not answer a
word! He could not fight with the mire that bespattered him.

Slanders sped from mouth to mouth. When Mrs. Mardyn, the Drury Lane
actress, made her first appearance after the divorce, she was hissed
off the stage, because of the perfectly groundless report of a
_liaison_ between her and Byron, to whom, as a matter of fact, she had
only spoken twice. He himself could not appear on the streets without
danger. On his way to the House of Lords, where his presence was
ignored, he was insulted by a respectable crowd.

Defence or retort being impossible, no course was left him, proud as he
was, but to bow his head and go. "I felt," he writes, "that, if what
was whispered, and muttered, and murmured, was true, I was unfit for
England; if false, England was unfit for me." On the 25th of April,
1816, he set sail, never to return alive.

It is from this moment that Byron's true greatness dates. The blow
struck by the _Edinburgh Review_ had roused him, for the first time, to
intellectual activity. This new blow made of him a knight. There is no
comparison possible between what Byron wrote before, and what he wrote
after, the event which he himself regarded as his greatest misfortune.
It was a misfortune sent him by the genius of History, to snatch him
from the unmanning influence of idolisation, to sever the enfeebling
connection between him and that society and social spirit against which
it was his historic mission to arouse, with more fortune and more power
than any other individual, the hostility which was its undoing.


Byron has described Rousseau in a stanza which might have been written
about himself:--

      "Here the self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau,
       The apostle of affliction, he who threw
       Enchantment over passion, and from woe
       Wrung overwhelming eloquence, first drew
       The breath which made him wretched; yet he knew
       How to make madness beautiful, and cast
       O'er erring deeds and thoughts a heavenly hue
       Of words, like sunbeams, dazzling as they pass'd
    The eyes which o'er them shed tears feelingly and fast."
    _Childe Harold_, iii 77.

[2] In Lady Morgan's _Memoirs_ we find the following lively account
by Lady Caroline Lamb herself of the beginning of her acquaintance
with Byron:--"Lady Westmoreland knew him in Italy. She took on her to
present him. The women suffocated him. I heard nothing of him, till one
day Rogers (for he, Moore, and Spencer, were all my lovers)--Rogers
said, 'You should know the new poet,' and he offered me the MS. of
_Childe Harold_ to read. I read it, and that was enough. Rogers said,
'He has a club-foot, and bites his nails.' I said, 'If he was as ugly
as Æsop I must know him.' I was one night at Lady Westmoreland's; the
women were all throwing their heads at him. Lady Westmoreland led me up
to him. I looked earnestly at him, and turned on my heel. My opinion in
my journal was, 'mad--bad--and dangerous to know.' A day or two passed;
I was sitting with Lord and Lady Holland, when he was announced. Lady
Holland said, 'I must present Lord Byron to you.' Lord Byron said,
'That offer was made to you before; may I ask why you rejected it?' He
begged permission to come and see me. He did so the next day. Rogers
and Moore were standing by me: I was on the sofa. I had just come in
from riding. I was filthy and heated. When Lord Byron was announced,
I flew out of the room to wash myself. When I returned, Rogers said,
'Lord Byron, you are a happy man. Lady Caroline has been sitting here
in all her dirt with us, but when you were announced, she flew to
beautify herself.... From that moment, for more than nine months, he
almost lived at Melbourne House. It was then the centre of all gaiety,
at least, in appearance.... All the _bon ton_ of London assembled here
every day. There was nothing so fashionable, Byron contrived to sweep
them all away." These utterances, reported with stenographic exactness,
give an excellent idea of the fashionable life of the day in London.



When he had become for the second time a homeless and solitary pilgrim,
Byron began to occupy himself again with the poem of travel in which
his youthful sentiments had found expression. He added the Third and
Fourth Cantos to _Childe Harold_. He turned back and felt the youthful
feelings once again. But what breadth and depth they had gained in the
interval! The chord struck in the First and Second Cantos was composed
of three notes--the note of solitariness, the note of melancholy, and
the note of freedom. Each one of these had become far clearer and more

Throughout the first half of the work it is the feeling of solitariness
which produces the love of nature. "To sit on rocks, to muse o'er flood
and fell," to climb the trackless mountain and lean over the foaming
waterfall, alone, was not solitariness, but communion with nature;
true solitariness was to wander amidst "the crowd, the hum, the shock
of men," unloving and unloved. (_Childe Harold_, ii. 25, 26, 27.)
The outbursts in the stanzas referred to are evoked by remembrances
of the poet's childhood, spent in the beautiful mountain districts
of Scotland, or of his visit to the hermit's home on "lonely Athos."
This was still a love of the solitude of nature which resembled
Wordsworth's, and which was based upon fear of an unknown, strange
world of men and women. The difference between Wordsworth's and Byron's
feeling was no more than this--that Wordsworth dwelt silently on the
natural impression, in the manner of the countryman and the landscape
painter, while Byron seized it with the longing, nervous ardour of the
townsman; and, moreover, that Wordsworth loved nature best in her quiet
moods, Byron in her wrath. (_Childe Harold_, ii. 37.)

In the second half of the work the character of the poet's solitariness
has changed. There is a marked difference between the desire for
solitary communion with nature which Harold felt as an inexperienced
youth, and that which he felt as a man, at the end of his first
circumnavigation of the world of men and things. It was now no longer
fear of human beings, but disgust with them, which drove him to take
refuge with nature. Society, the best society of a great metropolis,
which to the untrained eye seemed so humane, so right-thinking, so
refined and chivalrous, had turned its wrong side towards him--and
the wrong side is interesting, but not beautiful. He had learned how
much friendship the ruined man may reckon on, had learned that the
only force which he who is making plans for his future can exactly
calculate is the self-love of his fellow-men, with its consequences. So
he withdrew into himself again; and the poetry he wrote at this time is
not for men of a sociable nature. But the man who has had even a short
experience of what it is to turn his back on his fellow-men--who in his
desire to escape from them has left his home, his country, in search of
a new earth and new skies--who in the solitudes of his choice has felt
the sight of an approaching human being equivalent to a foul spot on
his pure, free horizon--in the souls of this man and his like, Byron's
lyric outbursts will find an echo.

Childe Harold is a solitary. He has learned that he is "the most unfit
of men to herd with man," because he is unable "to submit his thoughts
to others ... to yield dominion of his mind to spirits against whom his
own rebelled." But,

     "Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends;
      Where roll'd the ocean, thereon was his home.
         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
      The desert, forest, cavern, breaker's foam,
      Were unto him companionship; they spake
      A mutual language, clearer than the tome
      Of his land's tongue, which he would oft forsake
    For Nature's pages glass'd by sunbeams on the lake."

Amongst men he droops like a wild-born falcon with clipt wing. But in
his case, to fly from, is not to hate, mankind. It is not discontent or
defiance which keeps his "mind deep in its fountain," but fear lest it
should "overboil in the hot throng," where in a moment

                  "We may plunge our years
    In fatal penitence, and in the blight
    Of our own soul, turn all our blood to tears."

He feels that it is better to be alone, and thus to become a portion of
what surrounds him. High mountains are "a feeling" to him, but the hum
of human cities is a torture. The mountain, the sky, and the sea are a
part of him, and he is a part of them, and to love them is his purest
happiness. In solitude he is least alone; then his soul is conscious
of infinity, a truth which purifies it from self. Harold has not loved
the world, nor has it loved him. He is proud of not having "flattered
its rank breath," nor bowed the knee to its idols, nor smiled
hypocritically, nor echoed the cries of the crowd. He was _among_ them,
but not _of_ them. But he desires that the world and he should part
fair foes. "I do believe," he says,

    "Though I have found them not, that there may be
     Words which are things,--hopes which will not deceive,
     And virtues which are merciful ...
     That two, or one, are almost what they seem."[1]

The feeling of solitariness gradually becomes the feeling of
_melancholy_. This note, too, had been struck in the first two cantos;
but their melancholy was nothing but the discontent of youth. With a
wasted youth behind him, he had stood, like a phlegmatically mournful
Hamlet, at the grave of Achilles, declaiming, with a skull in his hand,
on the worthlessness of life and fame--this young poet who had not yet
tasted the sweetness of celebrity, and who in reality hungered for
nothing so much as for that very fame which, with so much argumentative
philosophy, he feigned to condemn and despise. Now he has tasted it,
and learned how little nourishment is to be derived from such food.

His heart is

    "Even as a broken mirror, which the glass
     In every fragment multiplies; and makes
     A thousand images of one that was,
     The same and still the more, the more it breaks."

In the depth of his dejection he turns to the element in nature which,
by its contrast with his present mood, solaces his sufferings--the sea,
the free, open sea, upon whose mane he had laid his hand as a boy,
and which knows him as the horse knows his rider. He loves the sea
because it is unconquerable, because time cannot even write a wrinkle
on its brow, and it rolls now as it rolled at the dawn of creation. But
everything in nature reminds him of suffering and warfare. The peal
of distant thunder is to him an alarm-bell, "the knoll of what in me
is sleepless--if I rest." Even the beautiful, calm lake of Nemi does
not remind him of anything peaceful and sweet; he calls it "calm as
cherished hate." (iv. 173.)

His melancholy becomes actually choleric. Could he breathe all his
passion "into _one_ word, and that one word were Lightning," he would
speak. "Anything but rest!" is his watchword. "Quiet to quick bosoms
is a hell." There is a fire in the soul which, once kindled, is
quenchless, and the flames of which rise ever higher and wilder; there
is a fever which is fatal to all whom it attacks.

     "This makes the madmen who have made men mad
      By their contagion; Conquerors and Kings,
      Founders of sects and systems, to whom add
      Sophists, Bards, Statesmen, all unquiet things
      Which stir too strongly the soul's secret springs,
      And are themselves the fools to those they fool;
      Envied, yet how unenviable! what stings
      Are theirs! One breast laid open were a school
    Which would unteach mankind the lust to shine or rule.

      Their breath is agitation, and their life
      A storm whereon they ride, to sink at last,
      And yet so nursed and bigoted to strife,
      That should their days, surviving perils past,
      Melt to calm twilight, they feel overcast
      With sorrow and supineness, and so die;
      Even as a flame unfed, which runs to waste
      With its own flickering, or a sword laid by,
    Which eats into itself, and rusts ingloriously."

And in a still more despairing mood Harold cries:

     "We wither from our youth, we gasp away--
      Sick--sick; unfound the boon--unslaked the thirst,
      Though to the last, in verge of our decay,
      Some phantom lures, such as we sought at first--
      But all too late,--so are we doubly curst.
      Love, fame, ambition, avarice--'tis the same,
      Each idle--and all ill--and none the worst--
      For all are meteors with a different name,
    And Death the sable smoke where vanishes the flame.
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
      Our life is a false nature--'tis not in
      The harmony of things,--this hard decree,
      This uneradicable taint of sin,
      This boundless upas, this all-blasting tree,
      Whose root is earth, whose leaves and branches be
      The skies which rain their plagues on men like dew--
      Disease, death, bondage--all the woes we see,
      And worse, the woes we see not."

In the First Canto of _Childe Harold_ we already find the _love of
freedom_ (the third note in the chord struck by the poem) exalted as
the one force capable of emancipating from the despair with which
the universal misery (the _Weltschmerz_, as the Germans call it) has
overwhelmed the soul. It has this power because it provides a practical
task. During his first visit to Portugal, Childe Harold exclaimed: "Oh,
that such hills upheld a free-born race!" And to the Spaniards he cried:

    "Awake, ye sons of Spain! awake! Advance!
     Lo, Chivalry, your ancient goddess, cries."

And it was in the course of his first tour, too, that he thus
apostrophised the subjugated Greeks, who went on hoping for help from
other nations:--

    "Hereditary bondsmen! know ye not
     Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?
     By their right arms the conquest must be wrought?
     Will Gaul or Muscovite redress ye? No!
     True, they may lay your proud despoilers low,
     But not for you will Freedom's altars flame.
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     When riseth Lacedemon's hardihood,
     When Thebes Epaminondas rears again,
     When Athens' children are with hearts endued,
     When Grecian mothers shall give birth to men,
     Then may'st thou be restored; but not till then."

But his love of liberty at that time was of a purely political nature;
it was the free-born Englishman's indignation at seeing other nations
unable to shake off a foreign yoke to which his own nation would never
have dreamt of submitting.

Now he has learned what liberty in the wide, full, universal meaning of
the word is. Now he feels that free _thought_ is the first essential
requisite of all spiritual life.

    "Yet let us ponder boldly--'tis a base
      Abandonment of reason to resign
      Our right of thought--our last and only place
      Of refuge; this, at least, shall still be mine:
      Though from our birth the faculty divine
      Is chain'd and tortured--cabin'd, cribb'd, confined,
      And bred in darkness, lest the truth should shine
      Too brightly on the unprepared mind,
    The beam pours in, for time and skill will couch the blind."

And it is his intention not merely to ponder, but to act. Invoking
Time, the great avenger, whom he reminds that he has borne the hatred
of the world with calm pride--and he has experienced all its varieties
of hatred,

    "From mighty wrongs to petty perfidy,
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     From the loud roar of foaming calumny
     To the small whisper of the as paltry few,
     And subtler venom of the reptile crew"--

he concludes with the prayer: "Let me not have worn this iron in my
soul in vain!"

Now, his personal woes shrink into nothing when he beholds the
gigantic ruins of Rome; and, like the Sulpicius with whose feelings
Chateaubriand endowed the hero of _Les Martyrs_, he feels the
insignificance of his fate compared with that which has swept away the
cities of Greece. He writes:--

    "Oh Rome! my country! city of the soul!
     The orphans of the heart must turn to thee,
     Lone mother of dead empires! and control
     In their shut breasts their petty misery.
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Wandering in youth, I traced the path of him,
     The Roman friend of Rome's least mortal mind,
     The friend of Tully."

And when, not satisfied with liberty of thought alone, he turns his
attention to practical matters and occupies himself with the great
political struggles of the day, he does not content himself with
repeating the old invocations to the departed, or with crying to Venice
that she has drowned the glory and honour of centuries in the mire of
slavery, and that it would be better for her to be whelm'd beneath the
waves. No, he boldly attacks the mighty, the victors of Waterloo, whom
he scornfully calls "the apes of him who humbled once the proud"; and
then passes from the outward, political aspect of the great European
conflicts, to their inner, social significance.

To all appearance, he says, France has uprooted old prejudices, and
laid in ruins "things which grew, breathed from the birth of time,"
only to see dungeons and thrones rebuilt upon the same foundation.
"_But this will not endure_." Mankind have at last felt their strength.
And even though France "got drunk with blood to vomit crime,"

    "Yet, Freedom! yet thy banner, torn, but flying,
      Streams like the thunderstorm _against_ the wind;
      Thy trumpet voice, though broken now and dying,
      The loudest still the tempest leaves behind;
      Thy tree hath lost its blossoms, and the rind,
      Chopp'd by the axe, looks rough and little worth,
      But the sap lasts--and still the seed we find
      Sown deep, even in the bosom of the North;
    So shall a better spring less bitter fruit bring forth."

And of himself the poet writes:--

    "But I have lived, and have not lived in vain:
     My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,
     And my frame perish even in conquering pain;
     But there is that within me which shall tire
     Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire,
     Something unearthly, which they deem not of,
     Like the remember'd tone of a mute lyre."

Thus do the three chief feelings expressed in this beautiful
poem--solitariness, melancholy, and love of freedom--gradually become
one greater feeling; the mind of the poet widens and deepens with each
canto. Wordsworth had identified his Ego with England; Scott and Moore
had given the feelings of Scotland and Ireland expression in their
poetry; but Byron's Ego represents universal humanity; its sorrows
and hopes are those of all mankind. After this Ego has, in manly,
energetic style, withdrawn into itself and lived for a time absorbed
in its solitary grief, that grief widens into compassion for all the
sufferings and sorrows of humanity; the hard, selfish crust of the
Ego is broken, and there issues forth the ardent love of liberty, to
encompass and to elevate the poet's whole generation. Now his mind is
attuned to worship, and he cries:--

     "Not vainly did the early Persian make
      His altar the high places and the peak
      Of earth-o'ergazing mountains . . . .
      . . . . . . . . . come and compare
      Columns and idol-dwellings, Goth or Greek,
      With Nature's realms of worship, earth and air,
    Nor fix on fond abodes to circumscribe thy prayer."

[1] _Childe Harold_, iii. 114.



After visiting the battle-field of Waterloo, Byron went, by way of the
Rhine, to Switzerland, where he spent several months, residing most of
the time in the neighbourhood of Geneva. In a boarding-house there,
he for the first time met Shelley. Shelley, who was Byron's junior by
four years, had sent him, at the time of its publication, a copy of
_Queen Mab_; but the letter accompanying the book had miscarried, and
no further communication had passed between them, Shelley had arrived
at Geneva a fortnight before Byron, accompanied by Mary Godwin and her
step-sister, Miss Jane Clairmont, who had always passionately admired
Byron. His illegitimate daughter Allegra was the fruit of the brief
connection between him and this young lady.

Intercourse with Shelley produced on Byron's mind some of the
strongest, deepest impressions which it was capable of receiving. The
first great impression was that made by Shelley's personality and
view of life. In him Byron for the first time came into contact with
a man of a perfectly modern and perfectly emancipated mind. In spite
of his genius for assimilating everything that harmonised with his own
nature, it was but a half education, in philosophy as in literature,
which Byron had received; and he had hitherto, been led by sympathies
rather than convictions. Now Shelley, glowing with the enthusiasm
of an apostle, his doubts long since disposed of, a true priest of
humanism, came across his path. The dissipated life of London society,
and the pressing burden of his private misfortunes, had allowed Byron
neither tranquillity of mind nor leisure to reflect on the problems
of existence or on the reformation of humanity; he had been too much
occupied with himself. Now, at the moment in his literary career when
his Ego was beginning to expand, he was brought into contact with a
spirit which baptized with fire. He gladly welcomed the new influence;
and in much of what he now wrote it is plainly perceptible. The
numerous pantheistic outbursts in the Third Canto of _Childe Harold_
are undoubtedly, one and all, the fruit of conversations with Shelley;
worthy of special attention is the beautiful passage (iii. ioo) in
which everything in Nature is assumed to be a manifestation of "undying
Love"--an expression of Shelley's theory of love and beauty being
the mysterious powers which uphold the world. In one of the notes in
his journal, Byron at this time goes so far in his Shelley-derived
pantheism as to write: "The feeling with which all around Clarens and
the opposite rocks of Meillerie is invested, is of a still higher
and more comprehensive order than the mere sympathy with individual
passion; it is a sense of the existence of love in its most extended
and sublime capacity, and of our own participation of its good and of
its glory: it is the great principle of the universe, which is there
more condensed, but not less manifested; and of which, though knowing
ourselves a part, we lose our individuality, and mingle in the beauty
of the whole."

Shelley's influence is also traceable in the spirit scenes in
_Manfred_, and very specially in the third act of the drama, which was
re-written by his advice. And as to _Cain_, even if Shelley, as he
affirms, had no actual share in the writing of the work, it certainly
would not have been what it is if Byron had never known him.

The two poets saw Chillon and all its beautiful surroundings in
company; and Byron received the second great impression which was to
bear fruit in his poetry--the impression of the Alps. Coming from
the confinement and close atmosphere of the London drawing-rooms, it
was a relief to him to let his eye rest on the eternal snow, and the
giant peaks that tower sky-high above the haunts of men. His poetic
forerunner, Chateaubriand, hated the Alps; their grandeur had an
oppressive effect on his vanity; Byron felt at home among them.

_Manfred_, which derives its truest claim to admiration from its
matchlessness as an Alpine landscape, was a direct result of the
impressions of nature received at this time. Taine let himself be
tempted to use the strong expression, that Byron's Alpine Spirits in
_Manfred_ are only stage gods; but Taine, when he wrote this, did not
himself know Switzerland.

Nowhere else do circumstances in the same degree incline the mind to
the personification of nature. Even the ordinary traveller feels the
temptation. I remember standing one evening on the summit of the Righi,
looking down on the beautiful lakes at the foot of the mountain, and
the vapoury clouds which were driving across them, quite close to their
surface. Suddenly, far away on the horizon, a little solid white cloud
appeared. By the time it had reached Pilatus, a minute later, it was an
enormous vapoury mass. With frightful speed it rushed onwards, covering
the whole sky with the league-wide flaps of its mantle. Sinking down
towards the lakes, it enveloped the mountain peaks, rode along the
ridges, filled the hollows; then, spreading itself out still wider, it
mounted in circles like smoke towards the sky, and sank like lead over
the towns and villages, effacing every colour, and turning the whole
into one monotonous expanse of grey. The white of the snow, the green
of the trees, the thousand gleams and colours of the sunlit clouds were
deluged and gone in one moment. The eye, which had but a second before
been wandering at will over the immeasurable expanse now, irresistibly
attracted, gazed steadfastly at the shapeless mass, which, tearing
through the sky with the force of a sphere in its earliest stage,
rapidly approached the beholder. It was like the hosts of heaven, like
hundreds of thousands of ethereal riders, sweeping onwards in closed
ranks upon winged, silent horses, and, more irresistible than any
earthly army, tracklessly effacing everything behind them, like the
hordes of Asia or Attila's Huns. A Scandinavian could not but think
of the ride of the Valkyries. The moment the cloud reached the Righi,
the watchers there began to lose sight of each other; first one, then
another, disappeared from the view of his companions; the mist slung
itself in a clammy, tight embrace round each one, closing his mouth and
weighing on his breast.

Natural phenomena of this description suggested the apparitions
which appear to Manfred. Passage after passage from Byron's journal
is incorporated in his poem. Not unfrequently the entries in their
original, careless form are fully as effective as when transcribed in
verse. "Arrived at the Grindelwald; dined; mounted again, and rode to
the higher glacier--like _a frozen hurricane_. (In Manfred, for the
sake of the verse--"a tumbling tempest's foam, frozen in a moment.")
Starlight, beautiful, but a devil of a path! ... A little lightning;
but the whole of the day as fine in point of weather as the day on
which Paradise was made. Passed _whole woods of withered pines, all
withered_; trunks stripped and barkless, branches lifeless; done by a
single winter,--their appearance reminded me of me and my family." All
these expressions occur, with slight alterations, in the poem.

But the time Shelley and Byron spent together, profitable and enjoyable
as it was, would have been happier but for the behaviour of some of
their fellow-countrymen, whose curiosity led them to dog the footsteps
and spy the actions of the two poets. English tourists had the
incredible impertinence to force their way into Byron's house. When a
stop was put to this, they stood with telescopes on the shore or on
the road; they looked over the garden-wall; and hotel waiters were
bribed, as the Venetian gondoliers afterwards were, to communicate
all that went on. The first report set in circulation was, that Byron
and Shelley lived in "promiscuous intercourse" with two sisters; and,
gossip by degrees making the two poets out to be incarnate devils,
the reports gained steadily in repulsiveness. It consequently hardly
surprises us to read that, one day at Madame de Staël's, when Byron was
announced, a pious old English lady, Mrs. Hervey, the novel-writer,
fainted when she heard the name, as if, says Byron, it had been "his
Satanic majesty" himself who was appearing.

Our attempt to understand this actual fear of Byron's person, which to
us appears so absurd, leads us to the consideration of the last great
impression received by him during his stay by the Lake of Geneva,
namely, that produced by his clear apprehension of the exact nature
of a certain calumny which had been for some time in circulation
in England, and also of the wide-spread belief in it. This was the
same story which Mrs. Beecher Stowe in the sixties published to the
world, as having been confidentially communicated to herself by Lady
Byron, "whilst a heavenly brightness shone from that lady's ethereal
countenance"--the story of the criminal relations between Lord Byron
and his step-sister, Augusta Leigh. The assurance that such relations
had existed became in course of time so firmly rooted in Lady Byron's
mind that (as is proved by a work entitled _Medora Leigh_, published
in 1869) she did not even shrink from telling Augusta's daughter,
Medora, who applied to her for assistance when in difficulties, that
she was not a daughter of Colonel Leigh, but of Lord Byron. Lady Byron
at the same time promised Medora that she would always provide for her
maintenance--a promise she did not keep.

At the time he left England, Byron had evidently known nothing, or
as good as nothing, of this report. He had probably not read all the
hostile newspaper articles. He himself writes that it was not till some
time afterwards that he heard of all his enemies had done and said; and
he blames his friends for having concealed various things from him. It
was while he was in Switzerland that he learned everything. Knowing
this, we understand the full meaning of the poetry addressed at that
time to Augusta. In the Third Canto of _Childe Harold_ we find the
following stanza:--

    "And there was one soft breast, as hath been said,
      Which unto his was bound by stronger ties
      Than the Church links withal; and, though unwed,
      _That_ love was pure, and, far above disguise,
      Had stood the test of mortal enmities
      Still undivided, and cemented more
      By peril, dreaded most in female eyes;
      But this was firm, and from a foreign shore
    Well to that heart might his these absent greetings pour!"

The _Stanzas to Augusta_ express similar sentiments; and the line,
"Though slander'd, thou never couldst shake" (in the second of the
poems to her), shows that she, too knew of the shameful rumours.

And now we also have the explanation of the sudden revulsion which
occurred in Switzerland in Byron's feeling towards Lady Byron. In the
days immediately following the separation he had written: "I do not
believe that there ever was a better, or even a brighter, a kinder,
or a more amiable and agreeable being than Lady B.," and had laid
the blame of everything on his own violence and inconsiderateness;
but now he sees only the blemishes in her character; and it is while
under the overpowering impression made by the accusation just alluded
to, that he begins the ugly war upon a woman, which, if we did not
know the circumstances, would seem utterly inexcusable, and draws the
unflattering portrait of his wife as Donna Inez in the First Canto of
_Don Juan_.

Decisive, and positively crushing, evidence against Lady Byron was
produced in 1869, in the _Quarterly Review_. Seven letters and notes
were printed, written after the separation by her to Mrs. Leigh, all
brimming over with tenderness and assurances of affection. It is her
"great comfort" that Mrs. Leigh is with Lord Byron. "Shall I still be
your sister? I must resign my rights to be so considered; but I don't
think that will make any difference in the kindness I have so uniformly
experienced from you." "In this at least I am 'truth itself' when I say
that whatsoever the situation may be, there is no one whose society is
dearer to me, or can contribute more to my happiness. These feelings
will not change under any circumstances.... Should you hereafter
condemn me, I shall not love you the less." Thus did Lady Byron write
to the woman whom, after the lapse of many years, she accused as
the guilty person who had driven her from her husband's house. This
friendly correspondence between Lady Byron and Mrs. Leigh actually
continues till Byron's death. His last unfinished letter begins with
the words: "My dearest Augusta, I received a few days ago your and Lady
Byron's report of Ada's health." And yet we are asked to believe that
Lady Byron the whole time regarded Augusta, who continued to be the
reconciling intermediary between the spouses, as the unnatural criminal
who was one of the authors of the misfortune of her life. What a chaos
of lies and insanity!

Insanity is the right word, for, as the _Quarterly Review_ has
remarked, "Lady Byron could at first account for her gifted husband's
conduct on no hypothesis but insanity; and now, by a sort of Nemesis,
there is no other hypothesis on which the charitable moralist can
account for hers. But there is this marked difference in their
maladies: he morbidly exaggerated his vices, and she her virtues; his
monomania lay in being an impossible sinner, and hers in being an
impossible saint ... He in his mad moods did his best to blacken his
own reputation, whilst her self-delusions invariably tended to damage
the characters of all that were nearest and should have been dearest
to her. Which was the more dangerous or less amiable delusion of the

The last impression received by Byron in Switzerland was, then, the
crushing one of this slander. His thoughts revolved round the story,
and the artist in him was ever more fascinated by it. George Sand, in
a letter to Sainte-Beuve, has, with a few rapid touches, described her
nature, and the nature of the poet generally. She is writing about
Jouffroy the philosopher, who has expressed a desire to be introduced
to her, but of whom, as an extremely rigorous and unimaginative
moralist, she is a little afraid. She remarks: "I have once or twice
said to myself: Might it not be permissible to eat human flesh? You
have said to yourself: People doubtless exist who think that it might
be permissible to eat human flesh! Jouffroy has said to himself:
Such an idea never occurred to any one, &c."--a clever definition of
the nature of the poet as compared with that of the observer and the

Byron was one of those who permit their imaginative and their
reflective powers every possible experiment; he had a strong
inclination to brood over, and let his fancy play with, what people
in general fear and avoid. The well-known anecdote (which aroused
such horror) of his exclaiming, with a knife in his hand: "I wish I
knew what it feels like to have committed a murder," means this and
nothing more. There was the same fascination for him in thinking
and working himself into the feeling of guilt which accompanies a
criminal attachment, as there was in imagining the feelings which
accompany a murder. His earliest heroes, such as the Giaour and Lara,
have committed a mysterious murder; and, as is well known, Byron was
promptly credited with the crime of his heroes. Even the aged Goethe
allowed himself to be so far led astray by the gossip that reached his
ears as to characterise (in his review of _Manfred_) as "extremely
probable" the foolish tale of Byron's doings in Florence--where, as
a matter of fact, he spent one afternoon. The story reported him to
have had an intrigue there with a young married woman, who was, in
consequence, killed by her husband--the husband in his turn being
killed by Byron. Just as the public of that day saw evidence of Byron's
murderous deeds in Lara's tragic mien, the public of our day have seen
evidence of his incest in Manfred's despair and Cain's marriage with
his sister. It is not surprising that Byron and Moore should have
meditated writing an imaginary biography of Lord Byron, in which he
was to seduce so many members of the one sex and murder so many of the
other, that the scandal-mongers would be outbid and possibly silenced.
The project was only relinquished from fear that the public might take
the jest as sober earnest.

It is probable that the subject of love between brother and sister
was one often discussed by Shelley and Byron in the course of their
conversations, all the more probable from the circumstance that the
younger poet's mind was also exercised by the unprofitable question.
What incensed Byron more than anything else was the pious horror
displayed by the orthodox Bible Christians, one article of whose
faith it is that the human race, as descended from one man and woman,
multiplied by means of marriage between brother and sister. Hence
he lays emphasis in _Cain_ on the circumstance that Cain and Adah
are brother and sister, and makes Lucifer explain to Adah that _her_
love for her brother is not a sin, though the same passion in her
descendants will be; to which Adah very logically replies:

               "What is the sin which is not
    Sin in itself? Can circumstance make sin
    Or virtue?"

_Manfred_ and _Cain_ were the products of all the psychological
elements which have now been indicated. _Manfred_ is the less important
of the two works. It does not bear the comparison with Goethe's _Faust_
which it invites and which has been so often instituted. Goethe himself
said that an interesting lecture might be given on the subject. They
have since been given in abundance; there is more originality and
talent in Taine's than in any other known to me.

At only one point does _Manfred_ rise superior to _Faust_. To the
critic there is no surer criterion of the value of the different parts
of a work than the circumstance that, after a certain length of time,
he remembers this or that part and has forgotten the rest. I know
with certainty that, a year after I had read _Manfred_, all that I
remembered of it was the scene in which, in the hour of his death, the
hero, who has judged himself so severely, first repulses the Abbot
and such comfort as he would fain give, and then with proud contempt
dismisses from his presence the evil spirits with whom he has nothing
in common, and to whom he has never given the slightest power over
him. The difference between this man and Faust, who sells himself to
Mephistopheles and falls on his knees before the Earth Spirit, is very
striking. The English poet has had before his eyes a higher ideal of
independent manhood than has the German; Byron's hero is a typical man,
Goethe's a typical human being. Alone in death as in life, Manfred has
no more communion with hell than he has with heaven. He is his own
accuser and his own judge. This is Byron's manly ethical standpoint.
Not till he reaches the lonely heights above the snow-line, where human
weakness and pliability do not thrive, does his soul breathe freely.
And the Alpine landscape is the natural, inevitable background for his
hero whose stern wildness is akin to such scenes.

But in _Manfred_ only the egoistic side of Byron's nature reveals
itself. His wide human sympathies find full expression for the first
time in _Cain_. _Cain_ is Byron's confession of faith--that is to
say, the confession of all his doubts and all his criticism. When we
remember that he had neither, like Shelley and the great poets of
Germany, attained by dint of thought to an emancipated, humanistic view
of the world and life, nor, like the authors of our own days, had the
advantage of being able to base his ideas and imaginings on the subject
of the beliefs of the past and the present upon a groundwork of facts
established by natural science and scientific Biblical criticism, we
cannot but marvel at the intellectual power and earnestness which he in
this work brings to bear on the most vital problems of life.

As a private personage Byron was, undoubtedly, as much of the
dilettante in his free-thought as in his politics. His admirable
reasoning power revolted against belief in what was contrary to reason;
but, like most of the great men at the beginning of the century--that
is to say, before the remarkable development of religion and science
which has taken place during its progress--he was sceptical and
superstitious at one and the same time. As a child, religion had been
made a weariness to him; his mother dragged him regularly to church,
and he revenged himself when he was bored beyond all measure by
pricking her with a pin. As a youth, he was roused to revolt by the
rigid literal beliefs of the Church of England, as contained in its
thirty-nine Articles; he wrote in his memorandum-book: "It is useless
to tell me _not_ to _reason_, but to _believe_. You might as well tell
a man not to wake, but _sleep_." The belief in eternal hell-fire was
a subject of eternal merriment with him. He writes to Moore in 1822:
"Do you remember Frederick the Great's answer to the remonstrance of
the villagers whose curate preached against the eternity of hell's
torments? It was thus:--'If my faithful subjects of Schrausenhaussen
prefer being eternally damned, let them.'" And he horrified his
fellow-countrymen by writing in _Don Juan_:

    "There's nought, no doubt, so much the spirit calms
     As rum and true religion."[2]

He disliked the clergy. Trelawny reports him to have said: "When did
parsons patronise genius? If one of their black band dares to think
for himself, he is drummed out or cast aside, like Sterne and Swift";
and Moore gives as one of his ejaculations: "These rascals of priests
have done more harm to religion than all the unbelievers." But, in
spite of all his jests and jeers, his feeling was one of uncertainty.
He dared not endorse the conclusions to which Shelley was led by his
reflections; and he sent his little daughter to be educated in a
convent, to withdraw her from the influence of the sceptical talk of
Shelley and his wife. A beautiful and very characteristic letter from
Shelley gives decisive evidence on the subject of Byron's uncertainty.
"Lord Byron," he writes, "has read me one or two letters of Moore to
him, in which Moore speaks with great kindness of me; and of course I
cannot but feel flattered by the approbation of a man, my inferiority
to whom I am proud to acknowledge(!) Amongst other things, however,
Moore seems to deprecate my influence on Lord Byron's mind on the
subject of religion, and to attribute the tone assumed in _Cain_ to my
suggestion.... I think you know Moore. Pray assure him that I have
not the smallest influence over Lord Byron in this particular; if I
had, I certainly should employ it to eradicate from his great mind
the delusions of Christianity, which, in spite of his reason, seem
perpetually to recur, and to lie in ambush for the hours of sickness
and distress. _Cain_ was _conceived_ many years ago, and begun before I
saw him last year at Ravenna. How happy should I not be to attribute to
myself, however indirectly, any participation in that immortal work!"

Thus we see that Byron, the private individual, had by no means arrived
at any definite conclusions on the great subjects which engage the
mind of man. And we are consequently all the more impressed by the
manner in which, in his poetry, his genius takes possession of him, and
makes him great and victorious in his argument, directing his aim with
absolute certainty to the vital points. In European literature, which
in 1821 lay stifling in the clutches of orthodoxy, there was a perfect
revolution when _Cain_ appeared, like a herald of revolt; the only
comparison possible is with the impression produced in the scientific
world fourteen years later by Strauss's _Life of Jesus_. The great
German poets had, in their liberal Hellenism, left the orthodox belief
untouched. This less emancipated poet was confined in the cage of
dogma, but was uneasily pacing round and round in it like an imprisoned
wild animal, shaking at its bars.

_Cain_ is not written with the haste of inspiration--is not a work
that storms and thunders. In it Byron has succeeded in accomplishing
what for passionate natures is the most difficult of all tasks--the
accomplishment of which is, indeed, the supreme triumph of morality--he
has _canalised_ his passion, that is to say, caused its wild currents
to fertilise. The play is a product of reflection--of the thought
that burrows and mines, the acuteness that splits, the reasoning
power that shivers. Here more than anywhere else is what Goethe makes
Byron say of himself (as Euphorion in the Second Part of _Faust_)
applicable--namely, that he has a distaste for what is easily won,
and delights only in what he takes by force. But the whole hammering,
crushing, intellectual machinery, which to all appearance works
under such complete control, is set in movement by an enkindled,
glowing imagination; and at the very centre of everything there is a
panting, sobbing heart. Byron's faith helped him as much as did his
scepticism. With perfect simplicity he takes the Old Testament story
as he finds it. He treats its characters, not as symbolic figures, but
as realities; and he does it in all sincerity--his scepticism attacks
traditions; it accepts tradition. Besides, was he not himself, both in
his intellect and his emotions, a man of the Old Testament type? In his
soul resounded lamentations like those of Job when he was comforted
and reproved by his friends, and cries for vengeance like those in the
Psalms. The _Hebrew Melodies_ prove how naturally the Jewish garment
accommodated itself to the forms of his feeling.

In all sincerity, then, Byron for the time being acknowledges the
claims of tradition and bows the neck of his reason to its yoke; but
in _Cain_ we see human reason writhing under this yoke, rebelling
against it--tortured by its pricks and kicking against them. And what
lends special attraction to the spectacle is, that the human reason
in this case is a young, newborn one. On the true poet the rising of
the sun makes as powerful an impression as if he were beholding it
rise on the first day of creation; to Byron, all doubts and questions
were so fresh that they could be put into the mouth of the first
questioner and doubter. The formation of the doubts and complaints
had demanded nothing less than the whole long succession of the human
generations who had sighed and groaned over the cruelty of life and the
irrationality of tradition. But although they are the accumulated woes
of many thousand years--the ever increasing sufferings of thousands
of generations of free human spirits in the torture-chambers of
orthodoxy--which are here voiced by the first rebel, he expresses it
all with as much originality and simplicity as if the thought-task of
millions had at once been accomplished by the first thinking brain.
This is the first of those contradictions in the poem which are so

The part of the drama in which all the discrepancies in the
Jewish-Christian tradition are laid bare, and its incompatibility as
a whole with reason is proved--the veiled attack on orthodoxy, in
short--possesses tolerably little interest for us nowadays; the human
race has progressed so far since 1821 that all the subtlety displayed
in refuting the theology of the Book of Genesis affects us much in
the same manner as a disputation on the belief in werewolves. Nor are
these attacks intended to be taken literally; Byron had, of course,
no intention of writing blasphemously, of scoffing at a being whom he
himself regarded as the supreme, the all-embracing being. What Cain
combats is in reality only the belief that the order of nature is a
moral order and that goodness, instead of being one of the aims of
human life, is its postulate. It must be remembered that the language
of human beings is full of words which were formed in ages past, and
which we are obliged to use because the language owns no others, but
the interpretation of which has changed many times in the course of
centuries. Such words are, for example, soul and body, eternity,
salvation, Paradise, the first temptation, the first curse. Byron
has retained in his poem all the expressions of the Book of Genesis.
The second suggestive contradiction in the drama is, therefore, the
constant inward disagreement between the spirit of the poem and its
letter. This second contradiction thoroughly arouses the readers who
have been startled by the first.[3]

Side by side in this drama with the exposure of the hollowness of the
general orthodox belief in God, we have a passionate representation
of the infinite misery of human existence. To what underlies this,
the empty, unmeaning name of _pessimism_ has been given; the true
definition is, a profound compassion for the undeniable sufferings of
humanity. Far deeper down in Byron's soul than wrath with the power
which creates only to destroy, lies the feeling of the obligatory
sympathy of all with all--sympathy with all the suffering which it is
impossible to relieve, but equally impossible not to be conscious of.
_Cain_ is a tragedy dealing with the source of all tragedy--the fact
that man is born, suffers, sins, and dies.

Byron revolves in his mind the Bible legend: Adam has been tamed;
Eve has been cowed; Abel is a gentle, submissive boy; Cain is young
humanity--pondering, questioning, desiring, demanding. He is to take
part in the general thanksgiving. Praise and give thanks for what? For
life? Am I not to die? For life? Did I ask to live? Am I still in the
garden of Eden? Why should I suffer? For Adam's transgression?

    "What had _I_ done in this?--I was unborn:
     I sought not to be born; nor love the state
     To which that birth has brought me. Why did he
     Yield to the serpent and the woman? Or,
     Yielding, why suffer? What was there in this?
     The tree was planted, and why not for him?
     If not, why place him near it, where it grew,
     The fairest in the centre? They have but
     One answer to all questions: 'Twas _his_ will,
     And _he_ is good.' How know I that? Because
     He is all-powerful, must all-good, too, follow?"

Goodness would not create evil, and what hath He created but evil? And
even supposing evil leads to good?--why not create good at once? He has
"multiplied himself in misery," and yet He is happy. Who could be happy
alone, happy in being the only happy one? And that is what He is--the
"indefinite, indissoluble tyrant."

We are nothing in His sight. "Well," says Cain, "if I am nothing, for
nothing shall I be an hypocrite, and seem well-pleased with pain?"
War of all with all, and death for all, and disease for nearly all,
and suffering, and bitterness; these were the fruits of the forbidden
tree. Is not man's lot a miserable one? One good gift the fatal apple
has given--reason. But who could be proud of a mind which is chained
to an enslaving body, "to the most gross and petty paltry wants, all
foul and fulsome, the very best of its enjoyments a sweet degradation,
a most enervating and filthy cheat!" Not Paradise, but death, is our
inheritance on this wretched little earth, the abode of beings "whose
enjoyment was to be in blindness--a Paradise of Ignorance, from which
knowledge was barred as poison." And oh! the thought that all this
misery is to be propagated and inherited!--to see the first tears shed
and shudderingly anticipate the oceans that will flow! Would it not
be better to snatch the infant in his sleep and dash him against the
rocks, and thus choke the spring of misery at its source? Were it not
infinitely better that the child had never been born? How dare any one
bring children into such a world? And this is the existence for which I
am to offer thanks and praise!

Such is Cain's mood at the moment when he is compelled to offer
sacrifice; and it is largely due to the suggestions of Lucifer. For
Lucifer prefers torment to "the smooth agonies of adulation, in hymns
and harpings, and self-seeking prayers." This Lucifer is no devil. He
says himself:

                            "_Who_ covets evil
    For its own bitter sake?--_None_--nothing! 'tis
    The leaven of all life, and lifelessness."

Nor is he a Mephistopheles. Except for one faint jest, he is severely
earnest. No! this Lucifer is really the bringer of light, the genius
of science, the proud and defiant spirit of criticism, the best friend
of man, overthrown because he would not cringe or lie, but inflexible,
because, like his enemy, he is eternal. He is the spirit of freedom.
But it is significant that what he represents is not the frank,
open, struggle for liberty, but the feeling which inspires gloomy
conspirators, who seek their aim by forbidden ways--the feeling which
prevailed among the despairing young friends of liberty in Europe in
the year 1821.

In his work, _Justice in the Revolution and the Church_, Proudhon,
addressing the Archbishop of Besançon, exclaims: "Liberty is your
Antichrist. Come, then, O Satan! thou maligned of priests and kings,
let me embrace thee, let me clasp thee to my heart! Thy works, thou
blessed one, are not always fair and good, but they alone give meaning
to the universe. What would justice be without thee? An instinct.
Reason? A habit. Man? An animal." Satan, thus understood, is simply
the spirit of free criticism; and if Byron's poetry had been named
"Satanic" after him, it might have borne the name without shame.

With the assistance of Lucifer, part of the action of _Cain_ takes
place in the region of the supernatural; for that spirit conveys
his pupil through the abyss of space, shows him all the worlds with
their inhabitants, the realms of death, and, through the mist of the
future, the generations yet unborn. He demands from Cain neither blind
faith nor blind submission. He does not say: "Believe--and sink not!
Doubt--and perish!" He does not make belief in him the condition of
Cain's salvation; he requires neither homage nor gratitude; he opens
Cain's eyes.

Cain returns to earth; and the first rebel leaves the first murderer
alone, a prey to his consuming doubt. Sacrifices are to be offered, and
he has to choose an altar. What are altars to him? So much turf and
stone. Abhorring suffering, he will not slaughter innocent animals in
honour of a bloodthirsty God; on his altar he lays the fruits of the
earth.[4] Abel prays in correctly pious fashion. Cain, too, must pray.
What shall he say?

                 "If thou must be induced with altars
     And softened with a sacrifice, receive them!
        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     If thou lov'st blood, the shepherd's shrine, which smokes
     On my right hand, hath shed it for thy service;
      . . . . If a shrine without victim,
     An altar without gore, may win thy favour,
     Look on it! and for him who dresseth it,
     He is--such as thou mad'st him; and seeks nothing
     Which must be won by kneeling."

Fire comes down from heaven and consumes Abel's sacrifice, the flames
greedily licking up the blood on the altar. But a whirlwind throws
down Cain's altar and scatters the fruits upon the earth. Did God,
then, rejoice in the pain of the bleating mothers when their lambs
were taken from them to be slaughtered? and in "the pangs of the sad
ignorant victims under the pious knife"? Cain's blood boils; he begins
to demolish the offending altar. Abel opposes him. "Beware!" cries
Cain; "thy God loves blood!" And, driven by his wrath, his misery, his
fate, into the snare spread for him by the Lord, he commits the first
murder, without knowing what it means to kill, and thus himself brings
death to his kind--death, the very name of which, when the future of
humanity was revealed to him, had filled him with horror. The deed is
repented of before it is done; for Cain, who loves all men, is tenderly
attached to Abel. There follow, nevertheless, the curse, the sentence,
the banishment, and the mark of Cain.

This mark of Cain is the mark of humanity--the sign of suffering and
immortality. Byron's drama represents the struggle between suffering,
searching, striving humanity and that God of hosts, of lightnings, and
of storms, whose weakened arms are forced to let go a world which is
writhing itself free from his embrace. To exterminate this world which
denies him, he causes rivers of blood to flow, and hundreds of martyr
fires to be kindled by his priests; but Cain rises unscathed from the
ashes of the fire, and flagellates the priests with undying scorn. Cain
is thinking humanity, which with its thought cleaves the old "firmament
of heaven," and beholds millions of spheres rolling in freedom, high
above Jehovah's rattling thunder-chariot. Cain is working humanity,
which is striving in the sweat of its brow to produce a new and better
Eden--not the Eden of ignorance, but an Eden of knowledge and harmony;
a humanity which, long after Jehovah has been sewn into His shroud,
will be alive, pressing to its breast Abel, who has been restored from
the dead.[5]

_Cain_ was dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, who gave it as his opinion
that Byron's Muse had never before taken so lofty a flight, and who
answered in advance the attacks that were likely to be made on the
author. But this did not prevent the appearance of the work being
regarded and lamented as a positive national calamity. Before it went
to press, Murray was anxious that Byron should make some alterations.
But Byron wrote: "The two passages cannot be altered without making
Lucifer talk like the Bishop of Lincoln, which would not be in the
character of the former." Immediately after publication the play was
pirated, and Murray applied to Lord Eldon for an injunction to protect
his property in the work. The Lord Chancellor refused it in terms
which may be epitomised thus: "This court, like the other courts of
justice in this country, acknowledges Christianity as part of the
law of the land. Its jurisdiction in protecting literary property is
founded on this. The publication in question being intended to bring
into discredit that portion of Scripture history to which it relates,
no damages can be recovered in respect of a piracy of it." Thus
_Cain_--like Southey's _Wat Tyler_--was regarded as such a criminal
work that the law refused even to vindicate the right of property in it.

Meanwhile, Moore was writing to Byron: "_Cain_ is wonderful, terrible,
never to be forgotten. If I am not mistaken, it will sink deep into the
world's heart." History has endorsed this verdict.

[1] _Quarterly Review_, October 1869. Compare with Karl Elze's
admirable work: _Lord Byron_, p. 179.

[2] What Byron refers to in his anecdote of Frederick the Great must
be a story I find told in D'Alembert's _Éloge de Milord Maréchal_:
Les pasteurs de Neufchâtel, attachés encore à l'ancienne doctrine,
ou voulant seulement le paraître, osèrent déclarer au roi de Prusse,
suivant le style ordinaire, _que leur conscience ne leur permettait
pas_ de souffrir l'hérétique Petit-Pierre au milieu d'eux, malgré
la protection dont ce grand prince l'honorait. Le roi répondit _que
puisqu'ils avaient si fort à cœur d'être damnés éternellement, il y
donnait volontiers les mains, et trouvait très-bon que le diable ne
s'en fît faute_."

See _Gespräche Friedricks des Grossen mit H. de Catt und dem Marchese
Lucchesini_, herausgegeben von Dr. Fritz Bischoff; Leipzig, 1885.

[3] Renan writes on this subject: "Supposez même que, pour nous
philosophes, un autre mot fût préférable, outre que les mots abstraits
n'expriment pas assez clairement la réelle existence, il y aurait un
immense inconvénient à nous couper ainsi toutes les sources poétiques
du passé, et à nous séparer par notre langage des simples qui adorent
si bien de leur manière; Le mot _Dieu_ étant en possession des respects
de l'humanité, ce mot ayant pour lui une longue prescription et ayant
été employé dans les belles poésies, ce serait renverser toutes les
habitudes du langage que de l'abandonner. Dites aux simples de vivre
d'aspiration à la vérité, à la beauté, à la bonté morale, ces mots
n'auront pour eux aucun sens. Dites-leur d'aimer Dieu, de ne pas
offenser Dieu, ils vous comprendront à merveille. Dieu, Providence,
immortalité, autant de bons vieux mots, un peu lourds peut-être, que
la philosophie interprétera dans les sens de plus en plus raffinés,
mais qu'elle ne remplacera jamais avec avantage.--_Études d'Histoire
religieuse_, p. 418.

[4] Here the influence of Shelley is apparent.

[5] Compare Leconte de Lisle: _Poèmes barbares. Kain_.



When, in the autumn of 1816, Switzerland began to be overrun by crowds
of English tourists, residence there became intolerable to Lord Byron,
and he betook himself with Mr. Hobhouse, the travelling companion of
his youth, to Italy. At Milan he met Beyle, one of the most acute of
observers; and it is a strong proof of the extraordinary impression
produced by the poet's personality, that he captivated even this man,
who was always on his guard against being led into hasty enthusiasms,
and who quickly detected what was assumed in Byron's manner. Beyle
writes: "Ce fut pendant l'automne de 1816, que je le rencontrai au
théâtre de la _Scala_, à Milan, dans la loge de M. Louis de Brême. Je
fus frappé des yeux de Lord Byron au moment où il écoutait un sestetto
d'un opéra de Mayer intitulé _Elena_. Je n'ai vu de ma vie rien de
plus beau ni de plus expressif. Encore aujourd'hui, si je viens à
penser à l'expression qu'un grand peintre devrait donner au génie,
cette tête sublime reparaît tout-à-coup devant moi. J'eus un instant
d'enthousiasme.... Je n'oublierai jamais l'expression divine de ses
traits; c'était l'air serein de la puissance et du génie."

From Milan Byron proceeded to Venice, the city which he preferred
to all others, and which he has celebrated in the Fourth Canto of
_Childe Harold_, in _Marino Faliero_, in _The Two Foscari_, in the _Ode
to Venice_, and in _Beppo_, which last work was written in Venice.
Never had he been overcome by such deep depression as now; never had
forgetfulness been so desirable. The enchanting climate and air of
Italy acted on him like a charm. He was twenty-nine. With its beautiful
women, its loose morals, and all its southern manners and customs,
Venice invited to a wild revel of the senses. An ardent longing for
happiness and enjoyment was part of Byron's nature; and it is also to
be remembered that his defiant temper had been thoroughly roused. He
had been stigmatised as capable of every enormity; he might just as
well, for once, give his countrymen abroad something real to write home
about, and the old women at home real cause to swoon; they wrote and
they swooned whatever his behaviour was.

His first proceedings in Venice were to engage a gondola and gondolier,
a box at the theatre, and a mistress. The last was easily found. He
had taken apartments in the house of a merchant, whose wife, Marianna
Segati, then aged twenty-two, he describes as having large, black,
Oriental eyes and being in "appearance altogether like an antelope."
She and Byron became so enamoured of each other, that Byron allowed
Hobhouse to go on alone to Rome. "I should have gone too," he writes,
"but I fell in love, and must stay that over." The young beauty
compelled him to join, in her company, in all the distractions of the
Carnival. He devoted his nights, like the born Venetian, to pleasure;
but in his fear of becoming stout, he adhered to his usual extremely
sparing diet, ate only vegetables and fruit, and was obliged to drink
large quantities of his favourite beverage, rum and water, to keep up
his strength. For he was completing _Manfred_ at this time. We receive
a sad impression of the aimlessness of his life when we read that,
to counterbalance all the distractions, to give his days a centre of
gravity, he spent several hours of each at the Armenian monastery of
San Lazaro, learning Armenian from the monks. The mornings were devoted
to this, the afternoons to physical exercise, chiefly riding. He had
his horses brought to Venice, and with Shelley and other friends used
to cross over to the Lido and ride there.

We have a reminiscence of the talk during these rides in Shelley's
_Julian and Maddalo_. At sunset he and Byron see on one of the islands
a dreary, windowless pile, rising in dark relief against the flaming
sky behind it. They hear, clanging from the open tower on the top of
the house, the iron tongue of a bell. Said Byron:--

                        "What we behold
    Shall be the madhouse and its belfry tower,
    . . . . . . . . . . .  and ever at this hour
    Those who may cross the water, hear that bell
    Which calls the maniacs, each one from his cell
    To vespers .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    And like that black and dreary bell, the soul
    Hung in a heaven-illumined tower, must toll
    Our thoughts and our desires to meet below
    Round the rent heart and pray--as madmen do
    For what--they know not."

No better image of Byron's own life at this period could be desired.
Most assuredly at this time his longings and desires were like maniacs,
all gathered together only once a day by the bell of the madhouse.

It was with difficulty, after being ill with a sharp fever, contracted
in the unhealthy air of Venice, that he tore himself away from Marianna
Segati long enough to pay a short visit to Ferrara and Rome. After his
return, however, his violent passion for her subsided, as he began to
discover that she sold the jewellery he gave her, and made as much
profit generally as she could, out of her position as his mistress.
During the first part of his stay in Venice, Byron had mixed much in
the refined society which had its chief meeting-place at the house of
the cultivated, literary Countess Albrizzi; now he withdrew himself
entirely from its restraining influence. He rented for himself and his
menagerie a magnificent palace on the Grand Canal. This palace soon
became a harem, in which the favourite sultana was a beautiful young
woman of the lower orders, Margarita Cogni, who, from the circumstance
of her husband being a baker, was called Byron's Fornarina. Her face
was of "the fine Venetian cast of the old time"; her figure, though she
was perhaps rather tall, was also fine, and exactly suited the national
dress. She had all the naïveté and droll humour of the Venetian lower
classes, and, as she could neither read nor write, she could not plague
Byron with letters. She was jealous; she snatched off the masks of
ladies whom she found in Byron's company, and she sought his presence
whenever it suited her, with no great regard to time, place, or
persons. He writes: "When I first knew her, I was in 'relazione' with
la Signora, who was silly enough one evening at Dolo, accompanied by
some of her female friends, to threaten her.... Margarita threw back
her veil (fazziolo), and replied in very explicit Venetian, '_You_ are
_not_ his _wife_. _I_ am _not_ his _wife_: you are his Donna, and _I_
am his _Donna_: your husband is a _becco_, and mine is another. For
the rest, what _right_ have you to reproach me? If he prefers me to
you, is it my fault?' Having delivered this pretty piece of eloquence,
she went on her way, leaving a numerous audience with Madame ----
to ponder at her leisure on the dialogue between them."[1] In time
Margarita established herself as housekeeper in Byron's house, reduced
the expenses of the establishment to less than half, marched about in
a gown with a train, and wore a hat with feathers (articles of dress
which had been the height of her ambition), beat the maids, opened
Byron's letters, and actually studied her alphabet in order to be able
to detect which of them were from ladies. In her wild way she loved
him; her joy at seeing him return safe from a sail in which his boat
had been caught in a storm, was that of a tigress over her returned
cubs. Her ungovernableness increased to such an extent that Byron was
obliged to tell her that she must return home. After trying to attack
him with a knife, she threw herself in her anger and despair into the
canal. She was rescued and sent home, and Byron wrote her story at full
length to Murray; he knew that his letters to his publisher were passed
from hand to hand like public documents; and half the pleasure of his
excesses consisted in the certainty of their creating a scandal in

From the letter just quoted it is easy to see that the dissolute
Venetian life did not absorb him heart and soul; he quite saw the
comic side of it all. And it was actually of service in furthering
his development as a thinker and a poet. His friends at home were in
despair at the way in which he was compromising his dignity and his
reputation; but this wild, jovial, Carnival life, lived amongst the
women of the people under the bright Italian skies, was producing a
new, realistic style in his poetry. In the works of his youth he had,
sadly, and with a heart wrung with anguish, described the ebb-tide
of life; in _Beppo_ the spring-tide suddenly began to rise. _Beppo_
was real life, in a setting of laughter and jest. In Byron's youthful
pathos there had been a certain monotony, along with a good deal of
artificiality. In this work his genius, as it were, sloughed its skin;
the monotony was broken by a constant change of theme and key, the
artificiality was dispelled by hearty laughter. In his youthful satire
there had been a good deal of snappishness and a decided lack of grace
and humour. Now that his own life had for a short time assumed the
character of a Carnival play, the Graces, of their own accord, came
tripping and twining through his verses, keeping time to the tinkling
of the bells of humour.

_Beppo_ is the "Carnival of Venice" itself--that old theme which
Byron, like another Paganini, found upon his way, lifted on the point
of his divine bow, and proceeded to adorn with a multitude of daring
and ingenious variations, with a luxurious embroidery of pearls and
golden arabesques. There had come into his hands an English comic poem
on the subject of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, in
which the Honourable John Hookham Frere had imitated the first poem
written in the _ottava rima_ (Berni's paraphrase of _Orlando Furioso_).
The reading of Frere's work aroused in Byron the desire to attempt
something in the same style, and the result was _Beppo_, the complete
originality of which effaced every recollection of a model. Now he had
found the form which suited his purpose, the weapon which he could
wield with the most effect--the _ottava rima_, with its sextett of
alternate rhymes, to the solid mass of which the concluding rhymed
couplet adds now a jest, now a key, now a stylistic antic, now a
stinging wit-dart.

And what is the poem about? About just as little as Alfred de Musset's
_Namouna_, or Paludan-Müller's _Danserinden_, which were written in
much the same style sixteen years later (1833). The story in itself is
nothing: A Venetian goes to sea, and stays so long away that his wife
makes sure he is dead. She has long been as good as married to another
man, when he suddenly turns up again. He has been sold as a Turkish
slave, and, on his return, dressed as a Turk, he finds his wife at a
masked ball, on the arm of the Count who has now for several years
filled his place. When the couple, returning from the ball, step out
of their gondola, they find the husband standing at the door of his
own house. As soon as all three have recovered a little from the first
surprise, they call for three cups of coffee, and conversation begins
in the following style, Laura speaking:

                 "Beppo! what's your pagan name?
       Bless me! your beard is of amazing growth!
     And how came you to keep away so long?
     Are you not sensible 'twas very wrong?

    "And are you _really, truly_, now a Turk?
       With any other women did you wive?
     Is't true they use their fingers for a fork?
       Well, that's the prettiest shawl!--as I'm alive!
     You'll give it me! They say you eat no pork," &c. &c.

This is all the explanation the husband receives, or asks. As he
cannot go about dressed as a Turk, he borrows a pair of trousers from
Laura's _cavaliere servente_, the Count, and the story ends in perfect
amicability on all sides. In itself it is of little importance, but it
was Byron's study for his masterpiece, _Don Juan_--the only one of his
works which, as it were, contains the whole wide ocean of life, with
its storms and its sunshine, its ebb and its flood.

Byron's friends tried every means in their power to induce him to
return to England, in the hope of thereby reclaiming him from the life
he was leading. But instead of returning he sold Newstead Abbey, which
in his youth he had vowed he would never part with (receiving £94,000
for it). Indeed, so strong was his antipathy to the thought of return,
that he could not even bear the idea of being taken back as a corpse.
"I trust," he writes, "they won't think of 'pickling, and bringing me
home to Clod or Blunderbuss Hall.' I am sure my bones would not rest
in an English grave, or my clay mix with the earth of that country. I
believe the thought would drive me mad on my deathbed, could I suppose
that any of my friends would be base enough to convey my carcass back
to your soil. I would not even feed your worms, if I could help it."

But now occurred an event which in an unforeseen manner put an end
to the polygamy in which Byron was living in Venice--an event that
constituted a turning-point in his life. In April 1819, he was
presented to Countess Teresa Guiccioli, daughter of Count Gamba of
Ravenna, a lady who was at this time only sixteen, and had just been
married to Count Guiccioli, a man of sixty, who had been twice left
a widower. The introduction took place against the inclination of
both; the young Countess was tired that evening and longed to go home,
and Byron was unwilling to make new acquaintances; both assented
only from the desire to oblige their hostess. But no sooner had they
entered into conversation than a spark, which was never extinguished,
passed from soul to soul. The Countess afterwards wrote:--"His noble
and exquisitely beautiful countenance, the tone of his voice, his
manners, the thousand enchantments that surrounded him, rendered him so
different and so superior a being to any whom I had hitherto seen, that
it was impossible he should not have left the most profound impression
upon me. From that evening, during the whole of my subsequent stay at
Venice, we met every day."

A few weeks later, Teresa was obliged to return with her husband to
Ravenna. The parting with Byron agitated her so terribly that during
the course of the first day's journey she fainted several times; and
she became so ill that she arrived at Ravenna half dead. She was also
much distressed at this time by the loss of her mother. The Count owned
several houses on the road from Venice to Ravenna, and it was his
habit to stop at these mansions, one after the other, on his journeys
between the two cities. From each the enamoured young Countess now
wrote to Byron, expressing in the most passionate and pathetic terms
her despair at leaving him, and entreating him to come to Ravenna. Very
touching is the description which she gives, after her arrival, of the
complete change in all her feelings. She, who formerly had thought of
nothing but balls and fêtes, has, she says, been so entirely changed by
her love that solitude has become dear and welcome to her. She will,
according to Byron's wish, "avoid all general society, and devote
herself to reading, music, domestic occupations, riding"--everything,
in short, that she knew he would most like. Longing and grief brought
on a dangerous fever, and symptoms of consumption showed themselves.
Then Byron set out for Ravenna. He found the Countess in bed,
apparently in a very serious condition. He writes: "I greatly fear
that she is going into a consumption.... Thus it is with every thing
and every body for whom I feel anything like a real attachment.... If
anything happens to my present Amica, I have done with the passion for
ever--it is my last love. As to libertinism, I have sickened myself
of that, as was natural in the way I went on, and I have at least
derived that advantage from vice, to _love_ in the better sense of the
word." The attitude assumed towards the young foreigner by the Count
astonished every one; he showed him all manner of polite attentions;
used to come for him every day with a "coach and six," and drive about
the country with him, like "Whittington with his cat," Byron declared.

It was a happy time for Byron. This, his one perfect and fully returned
attachment, brought back all the emotions of his youth. The beautiful
_Stanzas to the Po_, which reveal deep, chivalrous feeling, and end
with the prayer, "Let me perish young!" were the first-fruits of the
new passion. He loved truly and with his whole heart, and loved like a
youth, without at any point taking up a position outside of his feeling
or attempting to rise superior to it. When, in August, the Countess was
obliged to accompany her husband on his visits to his other estate,
Byron went daily to her house, and, causing her apartments to be
opened, sat turning over her books and writing in them. On the last
page of a copy of _Corinne_ he wrote the following note:--

      MY DEAREST TERESA--I have read this book in your
      garden;--my love, you were absent, or else I could not
      have read it. It is a favourite book of yours, and the
      writer was a friend of mine. You will not understand
      these English words, and _others_ will not understand
      them--which is the reason I have not scrawled them in
      Italian. But you will recognise the handwriting of him
      who so passionately loved you, and you will divine that,
      over a book which was yours, he could only think of love.
      In that word, beautiful in all languages, but most so in
      yours--_Amor mio_--is comprised my existence here and
      hereafter.... Think of me, some times, when the Alps and
      the ocean divide us,--but they never will, unless you
      _wish_ it.
      BOLOGNA, _August_ 25, 1819.

It is needless to compare the expressions in this note with those of
the farewell letter to Lady Caroline Lamb; one feels at once that this
is the language of a truer love.

When, in September, Count Guiccioli was called away by business to
Ravenna, he left the young Countess and her lover to the free enjoyment
of each other's society at Bologna; and he was quite agreeable, when
the physicians ordered her to Venice, that Lord Byron should be the
companion of her journey. Byron had a villa at La Mira, near Venice; he
placed it at her disposal, and resided there with her. Of the journey
and the ensuing period she wrote to Moore after Byron's death: "But I
cannot linger over these recollections of happiness;--the contrast with
the present is too dreadful. If a blessed spirit, while in the full
enjoyment of heavenly happiness, were sent down to this earth to suffer
all its miseries, the contrast could not be more dreadful between the
past and the present, than what I have endured from the moment when
that terrible word reached my ears, and I for ever lost the hope of
again beholding him, one look from whom I valued beyond all earth's

The woman to whom the world owes a debt of gratitude for having saved
Byron from ruining himself by degrading dissipation, lost her standing
in the eyes of Italian society from the moment when she took up her
residence in her lover's house. The Italian moral code of that day--of
which De Stendhal's Italian tales give an excellent idea--permitted a
young married woman to have a friend (_Amico_); and, indeed, regarded
him practically as her husband, but only on the condition that those
outward conventions were respected, which Countess Guiccioli was now

It was not light-mindedness that led her to expose herself to the
censure of public opinion. She saw her own relation to Lord Byron in
a poetic light; she regarded it as her mission to free a noble and
gifted poet from the fetters of ignoble connections, and to restore his
faith in pure and self-sacrificing love. She hoped to act on him as a
Muse. She was very young, and very beautiful--fair, with dark eyes;
small, but beautifully proportioned. West, the American painter, to
whom Byron sat for his portrait at the Villa Rossa, near Pisa, gives
the following description of her:--"Whilst I was painting, the window
from which I received my light became suddenly darkened, and I heard a
voice exclaim: '_E troppo bello!_' I turned, and discovered a beautiful
female stooping down to look in, the ground on the outside being on a
level with the bottom of the window. Her long golden hair hung down
about her face and shoulders, her complexion was exquisite, and her
smile completed one of the most romantic-looking heads, set off as it
was by the bright sun behind it, which I had ever beheld." The more
important it became to the Countess not to be regarded simply as one of
Byron's many mistresses, the more did she endeavour to raise his poetry
into a higher and purer atmosphere than that in which it moved at this

One evening when he was sitting turning over the leaves of the
manuscript of _Don Juan_, two cantos of which had been completed before
his acquaintance with the Countess began, she leant over his shoulder,
pointed to a verse on the page he was just turning, and asked him
what it meant. "She had stumbled," writes Byron, "by mere chance on
the 137th stanza of the First Canto. I told her 'Nothing; but your
husband is coming.' As I said this in Italian with some emphasis, she
started up in a fright, and said, 'Oh, my God, is he coming?' thinking
it was her own." But this accident aroused her curiosity regarding
_Don Juan_; she read the two cantos in a French translation; her
delicacy was shocked by the indecency of much of the contents, and she
implored Byron not to go on with the poem. He at once promised what
his _Dictatrice_ demanded. This was Countess Guiccioli's first direct
influence upon Byron's work--and it was certainly not a beneficial
one; but she soon withdrew her prohibition, on the condition, however,
that there should be no obscenity in the part as yet unwritten. A
whole series of fine works which now proceeded from Byron's pen are
the beautiful and enduring mementos of his life with her. The manner
in which in _Don Juan_ he tore the veil from all illusions, and
mercilessly mocked at sentimentality, wounded the Countess's womanly
feelings; for woman is ever unwilling that the illusions which, as long
as they last, beautify life, should be rudely dispelled.

Countess Guiccioli, thus, did her utmost to prevent Byron writing
works calculated to destroy belief in human nature and the value of
life. The themes which she, the romantic lover of the grand, and the
ardent Italian patriot, led him to choose, were themes calculated
to elevate her countrymen's minds and quicken their desire for the
emancipation of their country from a foreign yoke. It was to gratify
her that he wrote _The Prophecy of Dante_, and translated from the
_Inferno_ the famous episode of _Francesca of Rimini_; and it was under
her influence that he wrote the Venetian dramas, _Marino Faliero_ and
_The Two Foscari_, plays which, though they are written in English,
really belong, from their style and subject, rather to Romance than
to English literature--just as they belong, as a matter of fact, to
the Italian, not the English, stage. They are plays with a passionate
political purpose, written in careless, and occasionally ill-sounding
iambics. Their aim was, by the employment of the strongest means
possible, to excite the lethargic Italian patriots to unanimous revolt
against the oppressors. They are scenically effective. Whilst under the
first impression of his attachment to the Countess, Byron also wrote
_Mazeppa_, the heroine of which bears her name; and her personality
was directly transferred to the two best and most beautiful female
characters which he created at this period--Adah in _Cain_, and Myrrha
in _Sardanapalus_.

In Countess Guiccioli Byron found the realisation of the ideal of
femininity which had always been before his eyes, but which in his
earlier narrative poems he had not succeeded in portraying naturally.
He himself naively confessed to Lady Blessington the difficulty in
which he found himself, and the manner in which he personified his
ideals. "I detest thin women," he said; "and unfortunately all, or
nearly all plump women have clumsy hands and feet, so that I am obliged
to have recourse to imagination for my beauties, and there I always
find them. I flatter myself that my Leila, Zuleika, Gulnare, Medora,
and Haidée will always vouch for my taste in beauty; these are the
bright creations of my fancy, with rounded forms, and delicacy of
limbs, nearly so incompatible as to be rarely, if ever, united.... You
must have observed that I give my heroines extreme refinement, joined
to great simplicity and want of education. Now, refinement and want of
education are incompatible, at least, I have ever found them so: so
here again, you see, I am forced to have recourse to imagination." The
concoctions were as impossible as they were beautiful; these fair ones
produced next to no impression of reality, herein resembling the heroes
whom they worshipped.

From _The Giaour_ to _The Siege of Corinth_, Byron's narrative
poems are of the Romantic type, but bear the imprint of a strong
individuality. Passion is idolised in both sexes. The heroes are,
to borrow an expression from _The Giaour_, "wracks, by passion left
behind"; but "wracks" which choose rather to continue being tossed by
its tempests than to live in drowsy tranquillity. They do not love
with the cold love begotten of a cold climate; theirs "is like a lava
flood." The most characteristic of these now extremely antiquated
Byronic heroes is the noble Corsair--who is proud, capricious,
scornful, revengeful to the point of cruelty, a prey to remorse, and
so nobly magnanimous that he will rather submit to the most barbarous
tortures than kill a sleeping enemy. This interesting bandit, with his
mysterious countenance, his theatrical deportment, and his boundless
chivalry towards woman, is the Byronic counterpart of Schiller's
Karl Moor. The sovereign of a law-abiding people, hampered by the
conventions of a court, could not be Byron's ideal man; there was no
possibility in such a life of romantic exploits, of perils by land or
by water. So he took a pirate chieftain, and, to the qualities induced
by such a man's manner of life, superadded the finest qualities of
his own soul. The Corsair, who is accustomed to wade in blood, turns
with a shudder from the young Sultana who loves him, when he sees the
little spot of blood on her forehead--not because it is imaginable that
a Conrad would have shuddered at so little, but because Byron himself
would have shrunk from such a sight. It has been cleverly said that the
real reason of the marvellous attraction of all the heroes and heroines
of these poems of Byron's youth for the general public was, that they
all moved where they had no joints. The public were not more enraptured
by the passion of the lyric portions and by the poetical gems inserted
here and there (almost always during the process of proof-reading),
than by the deeds which were really impossible to human nature. It was
admiration of the same kind as is displayed for the daring acrobat, who
does breakneck feats by unnatural contortions of his body.

But in these same characters some of the finer, deeper-lying qualities
of Byron's ideal also revealed themselves. Conrad's inflexibility under
suffering foreshadows Manfred's; and he will no more bow the knee
than will Cain to Lucifer, or Don Juan to Gulbeyaz. Compassion for
those less fortunately situated than himself, a feeling which never
disappeared from Byron's soul, exists, though chiefly in the shape of
hatred of despots, in Lara; and in both _The Giaour_ and _The Siege of
Corinth_ we have the longing for the emancipation of Greece. It was a
strange ordering of destiny that the poet himself should end his life
as a commander of just such wild men as those he had described. The
Viking blood in his veins gave him no rest until he himself became a
Viking leader, like the Normans from whom he was descended. And even if
all these desperadoes (Alp, the renegade, who leads the Turks against
his countrymen, no less than Lara, who makes war on his peers) are
simply the imaginary creatures of the poet's brain, there is in the
characters of all, one realistic trait, a trait which also develops in
those who attach themselves to them--the proud endurance of terrible
fates. The humour of _Beppo_ is the form in which naturalness overcomes
the staginess and artificiality of Byron's earlier works. The sympathy
with human suffering, which in his serious poetry gradually swallows up
all other sympathies, is the form in which the feeling of the reality
of life prevails over his Romanticism and supersedes it.

This feeling gained in intensity after his breach with England.
_The Prisoner of Chillon_ had described the suffering of the noble
Bonnivard, who for six long years was chained to a pillar in an
underground dungeon by a chain too short to allow of his lying down,
and compelled to witness the agonies and death of his brothers, who
were fettered in the same manner, without being able to put out his
hand to help them. On it followed _Mazeppa_--the youth bound to the
back of the wild horse, which gallops with dripping mane and steaming
flanks through the forests and across the steppes, whilst he, torn
from the arms of his beloved, whose fate is unknown to him, and
looking forward to a horrible fate himself, suffers agonies of thirst,
pain, and shame. So far Byron has by preference dwelt upon the things
that are most terrible to flesh and blood; even when, as in the case
of Bonnivard, there was a spiritual element in the suffering, and
the theme presented an opportunity for the description of a heroic
personality, he dwelt most on the purely physical torture. But now
that his sympathies were aroused for the great martyrs of Italy, his
conception of the tragic was ennobled.

In _The Prophecy of Dante_ he thus describes the lot of the poet:--

    "Many are poets, but without the name,
          For what is poesy but to create
          From overfeeling good or ill; and aim
     At an external life beyond our fate,
          And be the new Prometheus of new men,
          Bestowing fire from heaven, and then, too late,
     Finding the pleasure given repaid with pain,
          And vultures to the heart of the bestower,
          Who, having lavish'd his high gift in vain,
     Lies chain'd to his lone rock by the sea-shore."

And he makes the great poet, who was, like himself, unjustly exiled,

                          'Tis the doom
    Of spirits of my order to be rack'd
    In life, to wear their hearts out, and consume
    Their days in endless strife, and die alone."

Of Tasso Byron had already written. Even a superficial comparison of
Goethe's _Tasso_ with Byron's _Lament of Tasso_ is sufficient to show
us what a resistless attraction hopeless suffering had for Byron's
imagination. Goethe takes Tasso the youth, the lover, the poet, and
places him in the society of the beautiful women of the court of
Ferrara, where, happy and unhappy, he is admired and humiliated. Byron
takes Tasso alone, ruined, shut out from society, shut into the cell of
a madhouse though he is quite sane, a prey to the cruelty of his former

    "I loved all solitude--but little thought
     To spend I know not what of life, remote
     From all communion with existence, save
     The maniac and his tyrant;--had I been
     Their fellow, many years ere this had seen
     My mind like theirs corrupted to its grave.
     But who hath seen me writhe, or heard me rave?
     Perchance in such a cell we suffer more
     Than the wreck'd sailor on his desert shore;
     The world is all before him--_mine_ is _here_,
     Scarce twice the space they must accord my bier.
     What though _he_ perish, he may lift his eye,
     And with a dying glance upbraid the sky;
     I will not raise my own in such reproof,
     Although 'tis clouded by my dungeon roof."

Of the court of Ferrara, a court where Lucrezia Borgia has her
residence, a court where the passions and the cruelty of the
Renaissance period flourish, Goethe makes a little German Weimar,
where everything is ruled by the most refined humanitarianism of
the eighteenth century; Byron is magnetically attracted by what he
considers the revolting barbarity of the Duke of Ferrara, and his poem
turns into a declamation against the injustice and tyranny of princes.

We have another description of tragic suffering, along with still more
violent accusation--both, however, decidedly overdone--in _The Two
Foscari_, a tragedy in which a father is compelled to sentence the
son he loves to the agonies of the torture-chamber, and in which the
son, who is the hero of the tragedy, is stretched on the rack during
almost the whole duration of the play, and only rises from it to die
of grief because he is banished. In _The Two Foscari_, as in his other
tragedies, Byron, as if in defiance, follows the French fashion of
strict adherence to the Aristotelian rules. In his conviction that this
is the one right style, he risks the comical paradox, that England has
hitherto possessed no drama.

It has created much surprise that Byron, who, like all the other
English poets of the day, was a pronounced Naturalist--which means
that he preferred the forest to the garden, the unsophisticated to
the civilised human being, the original to the acquired language of
passion--that this same Byron should have been such an enthusiastic
admirer of Pope and of the small group of poets (including Samuel
Rogers and Crabbe) who still paid homage to classical tradition, even
to the extent of imitating the antique dramatic style.

The first reason for the admiration of Pope is to be sought in Byron's
spirit of contradiction. The fact that the poets of that Lake School
which he despised were continually reviling Pope, was in itself a
sufficient reason for his exalting him to the skies, calling him the
greatest of all English poets, and declaring that he would willingly
himself defray the expense of erecting a monument to him in the
Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, from which, as a Catholic, he was
excluded. Secondly, we have to remember that the traditions of Harrow
never lost their influence over Byron; and at Harrow Pope had always
been held up as the model poet. A third thing to be remembered is
Byron's own great deficiency in critical acumen, as an instance of
which we may take his remark to Lady Blessington that Shakespeare owed
half his fame to his low birth. There still remain the predisposing
circumstances--that Pope was deformed, and in spite of his deformity
had a beautiful head; that he did not belong to the Established Church;
that he was the poet of good society; and that his deformity begot in
him a certain satirical gloom--all things in which Byron sympathised
with him. And, lastly, we have Byron's personal bias (possibly
attributable to his Norman descent) towards rhetoric of the style
peculiar to the Latin races.

The circumstance that Byron championed the art theories of a past
age, whilst he in everything else belonged to the party of progress,
produces a certain likeness between him and Armand Carrel, who also
remained faithful to antiquated classicism in literature, though
he held the most emancipated views in politics and religion. As
both of them adopted the standpoint of eighteenth century France in
most matters intellectual and spiritual, it was not unnatural that
they should also conform to it in the only domain in which it was a
conventional standpoint, namely, that of _belles-lettres_. Certain it
is that his theoretical caprices had a baneful influence on Byron's
Italian dramas. These consist of monologues and declamation. Byron's
genius and Countess Guiccioli's patriotism combined did not suffice
to communicate to them more than a very meagre quantum of poetic

But during the production of _Cain_ and _Sardanapalus_ the young
Countess was what it was her desire to be, Byron's Muse.

The best thing in _Cain_ is the character of Adah. It has been often
remarked that Byron's male characters all resemble one another; what
his critics have been less apt to observe is, how dissimilar his women
are. Adah is not a female Cain, though she is the one imaginable wife
for him. Cain's female counterpart is the proud, defiant Aholibamah
of _Heaven and Earth_. Cain sees annihilation everywhere; Adah sees
growth, love, germinating power, happiness. To Cain, the cypress which
spreads its branches above little Enoch's head is a tree of mourning;
all Adah sees is that it gives shade to the child. After Cain has
despairingly made it plain to himself and Adah that all the world's
evils and misfortunes are to be transmitted through Enoch, Adah says:

    "Oh, Cain, look on him; see how full of life,
     Of strength, of bloom, of beauty, and of joy,
     How like to me--how like to thee, when gentle!"

Out of so little is Adah made, that all her speeches put together would
not occupy one octavo page. When Cain has to make his choice between
love and knowledge, she says: "Oh, Cain! choose love." When Cain,
having killed Abel, stands alone, cursed and avoided as a murderer, she
answers his ejaculation of: "Leave me!," with the words: "Why, all have
left thee." And this character Byron created almost without departing
from the letter of the Bible, simply by sometimes putting what is
really said by one into the mouth of another. In Genesis, Cain, when he
has been cursed by the Lord, says: "My punishment is greater than I can
bear," &c. In Byron's play, Cain, when the terrible curse of the angel
has fallen, stands mute; but Adah lifts up her voice and says:

    "This punishment is more than he can bear.
     Behold, thou driest him from the face of earth,
     And from the face of God shall he be hid.
     A fugitive and vagabond on earth,
     'Twill come to pass that whoso findeth him
     Shall slay him"--

the exact words which the Bible puts into the mouth of Cain. Byron,
with the eye of genius, saw in this one utterance, this Old Testament
lump of clay, the outlines of a whole human figure; and with nothing
but the pressure of his hand moulded it into a statuette of the first
loving woman.

The other character in which we feel, and feel still more strongly,
the influence of the young Countess, is Myrrha, the Greek female slave
in _Sardanapalus_. _Sardanapalus_ is the best of Byron's historical
tragedies.--With careless contempt for his fellow-men and the world
in general, the proud Sardanapalus has given himself up to voluptuous
pleasures. Martial fame he despises; he cares not to win a great name
by shedding the blood of thousands of unoffending human beings; and as
little does he desire to be worshipped, like his fathers, as a god. His
careless magnanimity amounts to imprudence. He returns to the rebel
priest the sword which has been snatched from him, with the words:

          "Receive your sword, and know
That I prefer your service militant
Unto your ministry--not loving either."

His manly vigour appears to be ebbing away in a life of voluptuous
enjoyment, when Myrrha, the Ionian, his favourite slave, determines to
rescue him. She implores him to rouse himself, and prepare to defend
himself against his enemies. It is almost as great a grief to her that
she loves him as that she is a slave.

    "Why do I love this man? My country's daughters
     Love none but heroes. But I have no country!
     The slave has lost all save her bonds. I love him;
     And that's the heaviest link of the long chain--
     To love whom we esteem not . . . . . . . .
     And yet methinks I love him more, perceiving
     That he is hated of his own barbarians."

But when the enemies attack the palace, and Sardanapalus, after
rejecting the clumsy sword as hurting his hand, and the heavy helmet as
"a mountain on his temples," plunges bareheaded and lightly armed into
the midst of the fray and fights like a hero, Myrrha triumphs as if a
burden of shame were lifted from her heart:--

                      "Tis no dishonour--no--
    'Tis no dishonour to have loved this man.
     . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     . . . . . . . . . . . . If Alcides
    Were shamed in wearing Lydian Omphale's
    She-garb, and wielding her vile distaff, surely
    He, who springs up a Hercules at once,
    Nursed in effeminate arts from youth to manhood,
    And rushes from the banquet to the battle,
    As though it were a bed of love, deserves
    That a Greek girl should be his paramour,
    And a Greek bard his minstrel, a Greek tomb
    His monument."

It is as if Byron were prophesying his own fate. And was it not true of
the poet, as of his hero, that he had known a thousand women, but never
a true woman's heart till now?

   "MYRRHA.       Then thou wouldst know what thou canst never know.
   SARDANAPALUS.  And that is----
   MYRRHA.                         The true value of a heart;
                  At least, a woman's.
   SARDANAPALUS.                       I have proved a thousand--
                  A thousand, and a thousand.
   MYRRHA.                                     Hearts?
   SARDANAPALUS.                                        I think so.
   MYRRHA.        Not one! The time may come thou may'st."

Like Myrrha, the young Italian Countess set before her lover more manly
aims than voluptuous enjoyment; like Myrrha, she rescued him from a
life which was unworthy of his great and noble mind.

We left the lovers at the country house of La Mira, near Venice, where
Byron wrote, amongst other things, the Memoirs which he presented
to Thomas Moore, to be left as a legacy to the latter's little son,
but which were burned at the instigation of Byron's family, and for
reasons which have never been satisfactorily explained. The peaceful
life at La Mira was not of long duration. Count Guiccioli suddenly
determined that he would put an end to the existing state of matters.
The Countess would not give up Byron, and a separation from her husband
was the result. With the consent of her family, she relinquished
fortune and position in society; a small yearly allowance was to be
paid her; but the conditions of the separation only held good as long
as she continued to reside in her father's house. Here Byron regularly
spent his evenings with her; he loved to hear her play, or sing airs
by Mozart or Rossini. His diary of January and February 1821 chiefly
consists of the following regularly repeated entries: "Rode--fired
pistols--dined--wrote--visited--heard music--talked nonsense--went

As long as Count Guiccioli was still playing the rôle of possible
avenger, the situation had contained the element of danger and
excitement which to Byron was the spice of life. He believed that he
owed his safety from assassination in the course of his rides to the
fact of his being known to carry pistols and to have an unerring aim,
and from assassination at home to the avaricious Count's disinclination
to pay the twenty scudi which were the hire of a first-class bravo.
This excitement was now at an end, but there was substituted for it a
new and nobler one.

The whole Italian peninsula was in a state of silent but violent
ferment. After the overthrow of Napoleon's rule, the old rulers "by the
grace of God" had at once begun to conduct themselves with overweening
arrogance. Every trace of French influence in the shape of beneficent
reform was to be effaced, and the old abuses were to be re-introduced.
The unbearable oppression during the general European reaction which
followed the formation of the Holy Alliance, drove the Italians to
form a wide-spread conspiracy; great secret leagues of the Carbonari,
imitated from those of the Freemasons, were soon in existence in all
parts of the country.

The Countess introduced Byron into the circle of the conspirators.
The whole Gamba family belonged to the secret society. The Countess's
brother, Pietro, a warmhearted youth of twenty, who was an enthusiastic
admirer of Byron and eventually accompanied him to Greece, was one
of its most ardent and best-informed leaders. Carbonarism seemed to
Byron the poetry of politics. The wooden Parliamentary politics of
his native country had repelled him, but this appealed strongly to
his imagination. He was advanced to a high rank in the society, and
was made chief of a division called the Americani. He provided the
conspirators with supplies of weapons, and offered the "constitutional"
government at Naples one thousand Louis-d'ors as his contribution to
the expenses of carrying on the war against the Holy Alliance. His
letters display positive fury with the Austrian tyrants. Wherever he
resided, he was an eyesore to the Austrian authorities; his letters
were opened; the Italian translation of _Childe Harold_ was prohibited
in the Austrian provinces of Italy; and the police, as he well knew,
were incited to assassinate him. Nevertheless, he calmly took his
usual ride every day. On this, as on other occasions, his conduct and
language were distinguished by a mixture of stoic heroism and boyish
bravado. There is something attractively boyish in his writing to
Murray: "I wonder if they can read my letters when they have opened
them; if so, they may see, in my MOST LEGIBLE HAND, THAT I THINK THEM
proclamation was made that extremely severe penalties would be incurred
by all in whose houses weapons were found, he stored the weapons of all
the conspirators of the Romagna in his villa, which became a regular
arsenal. The cupboards and drawers were crammed with the revolutionary
proclamations and oath-formulas. He thought, and thought rightly, that
the authorities would hardly dare to search the house of a member of
the English House of Peers.

It was easier for them to drive him away than to imprison him; it was
done simply by ordering the Counts Gamba to leave the country within
twenty-four hours. It being one of the agreements of the separation
that the young Countess was to be obliged, if she left her father's
house, to enter a convent, the authorities felt sure that the step
they were taking was a sure means of getting rid of Byron. Teresa's
letter to her lover on hearing of this order ends thus: "Byron! I am
in despair!--If I must leave you here without knowing when I shall see
you again, if it is your will that I should suffer so cruelly, I am
resolved to remain. They may put me in a convent; I shall die--but--but
then you cannot aid me, and I cannot reproach you. I know not what they
tell me, for my agitation overwhelms me; and why? Not because I fear my
present danger, but solely, I call Heaven to witness, solely because I
must leave you."[2]

The fortune into possession of which Byron came through his marriage,
and which, strange to say, he had no scruples in keeping; another
fortune, produced by the sale of Newstead; and the £20,000 which he
had in course of time received from Murray in payment of his poems,
had placed him in a position to exercise benevolence on a grand scale.
When it was reported that he intended to leave Ravenna, the poor of the
neighbourhood sent a petition to the Cardinal Legate that he might be
allowed to remain. But it was this very devotion of the people to him
that made him dangerous to the Government. He removed from Ravenna to
Pisa. The Tuscan Government being quite as much afraid of Byron and
the Gambas as was the Government of the Papal States, there was soon
another expulsion, and the party proceeded to Genoa, Byron's last place
of residence in Italy.

[1] Must be a mistranslation. In the last Danish edition (printed
1924) and in Brandes' collected writings (printed 1900) the text goes
"and left it to the lady to consider her words." The translation in
the English edition should probably read something like "leaving
Madame--and a numerous audience to ponder at their leisure on the
dialogue between them."--Transcriber's note.

[2] The long work, _Lord Byron Jugé par les Témoins de sa Vie_, which
Countess Guiccioli published in 1868, though it does not really help
us to understand either Byron's character or his art, bears touching
evidence to the strength and depth of the Countess's love. The solution
of the problem which the world calls Byron, is, for her, contained
in one word: He was an _angel_--beautiful as an angel; good as an
angel; an angel in everything. The 1100 pages of the book are divided
into chapters bearing the titles of his different virtues; one is
consecrated to his philanthropy, another to his modesty, &c, &e. The
chapter upon his faults proves in the most satisfactory manner that
he had none. The description given of his person corresponds to that
of his character. We have separate disquisitions on the beauty of his
voice, of his nose, of his lips. It is incomprehensible how such a
shameful aspersion can have been spread abroad as that Lord Byron was
lame or had a clubfoot. His limp was so slight that it was impossible
to detect which foot caused it; and his lordship's shoemaker, who still
owns the last on which his boots were made when he lived at Newstead,
bears witness (his attestation being appended) to the slightness of
the defect. It is equally incomprehensible how the foolish report can
have found credence, that Lord Byron's hair had begun in his later
years to recede from his forehead; certainly that part of his head
was rather bare, but simply for the reason that he chose to have it
shaved. Another unaccountable and foolish falsehood is the assertion
that his legs grew very thin. Certainly they were thinner in the last
years of his life than they had been when he was younger; but was that
at all remarkable in a man who spent most of his leisure hours on
horseback?--When we remember that this book was published forty-four
years after Byron's death we cannot but acknowledge that the love which
inspired it was strong and lasting.



In the period between 1818 and 1823 Byron wrote _Don Juan_.
Immediately after the first part of the manuscript reached England,
he was inundated by communications from friends and critics who had
been allowed to see it--expressions of consternation, entreaties
to omit this or that, deprecations of the immorality of the poem.
Immorality!--that was the cry Byron had to hear at each step of his
life, and which pursued him after death; their immorality was made the
pretext for burning his memoirs, and his immorality the pretext for
refusing his statue a place in Westminster Abbey. Byron replies in a
letter to Murray: "If they had told me the poetry was bad, I would
have acquiesced; but they say the contrary, and then talk to me about
morality--the first time I ever heard the word from anybody who was
not a rascal that used it for a purpose. I maintain that it is the
most moral of poems; but if people won't discover the moral, that is
their fault, not mine ... I will have none of your damned cutting and
slashing. If you please you may publish _anonymously_; it will perhaps
be better; but I will battle my way against them all, like a porcupine."

This poem, which, with its savage dedication to Southey, had to be
published, not only anonymously, but actually without any publisher's
name on the title-page, and which, as Byron said, had more difficulty
in making its way into an English drawing-room than a camel in passing
through the eye of a needle, is the one poem of the nineteenth century
which can be compared with Goethe's _Faust_; for it, and not the
comparatively insignificant _Manfred_, is Byron's poem of universal
humanity. Its defiant motto is the famous speech in _Twelfth Night_:
"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more
cakes and ale? Yes, by Saint Anne, and ginger shall be hot i' the
mouth, too!"--a motto which promises nothing but offence and satiric
pleasantry. Nevertheless it was with justifiable and prophetic pride
that Byron said to Medwin: "If you must have an epic, there's _Don
Juan_ for you; it is an epic as much in the spirit of our day as
the _Iliad_ was in that of Homer." It was Byron who produced what
Chateaubriand imagined he had produced in _Les Martyrs_, namely,
the modern epic poem--which it was not possible to construct, as
Chateaubriand had attempted to do, on a Christian-Romantic basis, or
as Scott had thought it might be done, on the foundation of national
history and manners. Byron succeeded because he took as his foundation
nothing less than the most advanced civilisation of the century.

Juan is no Romantic hero; neither his mind nor his character raises
him much above the average; but he is a favourite of fortune, an
exceptionally handsome, proud, bold, lucky man, who is led more by his
destiny than by intention or plan--the proper hero for a poem which is
to embrace the whole of human life. It would never have done for him to
have any special province; for, from the very beginning, there was no
limit set to the scope and reach of the work.

The poem rises and falls like a ship borne upon sunlit and storm-tossed
billows; it passes from one extreme to another. On the ardent
love-scenes between Juan and Julia follows the shipwreck, with its
horrors of starvation and its death agonies; on the shipwreck follows
the splendid and melting harmony of youthful love--that highest,
freest, sweetest happiness of life. Juan and Haidée are a study of
the nude, as beautiful as an animate Amor and Psyche; above them the
moonlit sky of Greece; in front of them the wine-coloured sea--the
melodious lapping of its waves, the accompaniment of their words
of love; around them the enchanting atmosphere of Greece; at their
feet all the splendour of the East--scarlet and gold, crystal and
marble. All this had followed upon peril and suffering; and now, upon
the festival in Haidée's palace, follows such agony for Haidée that
her heart breaks, and, as Juan's lot, a sabre gash on the forehead,
crushing fetters, and sale as a slave. But it is to a seraglio he is
sold, and presently we have the droll episode of his introduction,
disguised as a girl, to the favourite sultana, and the mischievous
night scene, with all its fire and fragrance, all its merry and
voluptuous fun. Straight from this we are taken to the assault of
Ismail--to human slaughter on the hugest scale, and to all the cruelty
of a reckless war, carried on by a brutal soldiery--the whole described
with more power and at greater length than any similar episode had been
before in the poetry of any country. We next find Juan at the court of
Catherine of Russia, among the "polished boors" of Eastern Europe, who
are ruled by a gifted Messalina; and thence we follow him to England,
the promised land of highway robbery, of morality, of the power of
birth and wealth, of marriage, of virtue, and of hypocrisy.

This rough outline merely suffices to convey an idea of the capacious
proportions of the poem. Not only does it contain, in extraordinary
variety, representations of the strange contradictions in human life,
but each of these contradictions is followed out to its extremest
development. In each case the sounding-lead of the poet's imagination
has been let down to the bottom, both in the psychological and in the
external, tangible situation. Goethe's antique temperament inclined
him, wherever it was possible, to moderation; even in _Faust_, where,
in terrible earnest, he lifts the veil from human life, he lifts
it with a careful hand. But the result of this moderation is often
a deficiency in the highest potency of life. In Goethe's works the
geniuses of life and death are seldom allowed unlimited space in which
to spread their giant wings. Byron has never the desire to tranquillise
his reader, never thinks of sparing him. He himself is not calm until
he has said everything there is to say; he is a mortal enemy of the
idealism which beautifies by selecting this, rejecting that; his art
consists in pointing to reality and nature, and crying to the reader:
Know these!

Take any one of his characters--take Julia, for instance. She is
twenty-three; she is charming; almost without being aware of it, she
is a little in love with Juan; she is contented with her husband of
fifty, but also, almost unconsciously, has a faint wish that he could
be divided into two of five-and-twenty. After a hard struggle to
remain virtuous she gives way; but for a time there is nothing base
or comical in the relations of the lovers. Then Byron shows her to us
in a difficult position; the pair are surprised by the husband; and
all at once we discover a new stratum of her nature--she lies, she
deceives, she acts a part with astounding facility. She was not, then,
good and amiable, as she at first appeared to be? We were mistaken?
Not at all. Byron shows us yet another deeper-lying stratum of her
soul, in the famous farewell letter she writes to Juan, an effusion
of sincere womanly feeling, one of the gems of the poem. Mental agony
does not incapacitate for devotion; love does not preclude deceit; nor
deceit extreme delicacy and beauty of feeling at given moments. And
the letter--what becomes of it? Juan reads it, sighing and weeping, on
board ship; in the middle of its affecting comparison of the manner in
which men love with that in which women love, he is interrupted--by
sea-sickness. Poor letter, poor Julia, poor Juan, poor humanity!--for
is not this human life? Once again, poor letter! After the shipwreck,
when the crew of the boat have devoured their last ration and have
long gazed hungrily at each other's famished figures, they agree to
determine by lot which one of them shall be killed and eaten by the
others. Search is made for paper, but not a scrap is to be found in the
boat except Julia's poetical and loving letter; it is snatched from
Juan and cut into squares, which are numbered. One of these numbered
squares brings death to Pedrillo. Is there, then, really a sphere in
the firmament of heaven where idealistic love and cannibal instincts
are to be found side by side, nay, meet upon one square inch of paper?
Byron answers that he knows one--the Earth.

From the shipwreck scene we are transported straight to Haidée.
Compared with her, all the Greek maidens of Byron's earlier poems are
immature attempts. Nowhere in the whole range of modern poetry had the
love of a child of nature been so beautifully described. Goethe's best
girl figures, Gretchen and Clärchen, charming as they are, are little
_bourgeoises_; we feel that their creator was a Frankfort citizen,
to whom nature revealed herself in his position as a member of the
middle class, and culture displayed itself at a small German court. In
Byron's most beautiful female characters there is nothing bourgeois--no
middle-class manners and customs have modified their free naturalness.
We feel, when we read of Juan and Haidée, that Byron is a descendant
of Rousseau; but we also feel that his high and independent social
position, in combination with the character of the fortunes that had
befallen him, had given him a much more emancipated view of human
nature than Rousseau ever attained to.

    "And thus they wander'd forth, and hand in hand,
       Over the shining pebbles and the shells,
     Glided along the smooth and harden'd sand,
       And in the worn and wild receptacles
     Work'd by the storms, yet work'd as it were plann'd,
       In hollow halls, with sparry roofs and cells,
     They turn'd to rest; and, each clasp'd by an arm,
     Yielded to the deep twilight's purple charm.

     They look'd up to the sky, whose floating glow
       Spread like a rosy ocean, vast and bright;
     They gazed upon the glittering sea below,
       Whence the broad moon rose circling into sight;
     They heard the waves' splash, and the wind so low,
       And saw each other's dark eyes darting light
     Into each other--and, beholding this,
     Their lips drew near, and clung into a kiss;

     A long, long kiss, a kiss of youth, and love,
       And beauty, all concentrating like rays
     Into one focus, kindled from above;
       Such kisses as belong to early days,
     Where heart, and soul, and sense, in concert move,
       And the blood's lava, and the pulse a blaze,
     Each kiss a heart-quake....
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Haidée spoke not of scruples, ask'd no vows,
       Nor offer'd any; she had never heard
     Of plight and promises to be a spouse,
       Or perils by a loving maid incurr'd"

What reader (especially if he comes straight from the erotic hypocrisy
of the literature of the French reactionary period) but feels carried
away by this strong current of warm youthful passion, by the poet's
ardent enthusiasm for natural beauty, and by his profound scorn for the
prudishness of conventional morality! Is there, then, a world, a world
of law in which 2 and 2 make 4, an animal world in which all the lowest
and most disgusting instincts may come to the surface at any moment,
and yet in which such revelations of beauty in human life--revelations
lasting for a moment, or a day, or a month, or a year, or an eternity
of years--occur? Yes, answers Byron, there is such a world, and it is
the world in which we all live. And now, away from these scenes to the
slave market, to the seraglio, to the battlefield, to systematic murder
and rape and the bayoneting of little children!

The poem is made up of such contrasts and contradictions. But it is not
a sensuous, playfully satiric epic of the nature of Ariosto's; it is a
passionate work, instinct with political purpose, full of wrath, scorn,
threats, and appeals, with from time to time a loud, long blast on the
revolutionary war trumpet.[1] Byron does not merely describe horrors;
he interprets them. After quoting "the butcher" Suwarrow's rhymed
despatch to Catherine announcing the capture of Ismail, he adds:

    "He wrote this Polar melody, and set it.
       Duly accompanied by shrieks and groans,
     Which few will sing, I trust, but none forget it--
       For I will teach, if possible, the stones
     To rise against earth's tyrants. Never let it
       Be said that we still truckle unto thrones;--
     But ye, our children's children I think how we
     Show'd _what things_ were before the world was free!"

If, considering both from this point of view, we compare _Don Juan_
with _Faust_, the great poem of the beginning of the century, we feel
that the strong, practical, historical spirit of _Don Juan_ carries,
as it were, more weight with it than the philosophical spirit which
inspires _Faust_. And if we place it for a moment in imagination beside
its Russian offspring, Pushkin's _Jevgeni Onjœgin_, and its Danish
offspring, Paludan-Müller's _Adam Homo_, the fresh sea breeze of nature
and fact in the English poem seems to us all the stronger in contrast
with the polish and the political feebleness of the Russian, and the
narrow morality of the clever Danish, poem. In _Don Juan_ we have
nature and fact; in _Faust_, nature and profound reflection. _Don Juan_
gives us in full, broad detail the human life which _Faust_ condenses
into a personification; and the whole work is the production of an
indignation which has written where it can be read by the mighty of all
ages its "_Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin_."

Not until he wrote this work was Byron completely himself. The thorough
experience he had now had of life had cured him of all youthful
credulity. He knew now exactly what went to the composition of the
average man, and what regulated that man's life. He has been called
misanthrope because of his savage satire of such lives. He himself
gives the proper answer to the impeachment (ix. 21):--

    "Why do they call me misanthrope? _Because_
     _They hate me, not I them?_

There is no doubt that he is occasionally cynical, but it is where
nature herself is shameless.

Is he very far wrong when he says (v. 48, 49):

    "Some talk of an appeal unto some passion,
       Some to men's feeling, others to their reason;
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
       Method's more sure at moments to take hold
     Of the best feelings of mankind, which grow
       More tender, as we every day behold,
     Than that all-softening, overpowering knell,
     The tocsin of the soul--the dinner-bell."

Is he wrong when (ix. 73) he affirms love to be vain and selfish? Or
does he let his satirical temper carry him too far when he says, in
describing the happiness of family life (iii. 60):

    "Yet a fine family is a fine thing
      (Provided they don't come in after dinner);
     'Tis beautiful to see a matron bring
       Her children up (if nursing them don't thin her)."

Alas! as long as there is a wrong side to the most beautiful things,
it is in vain to forbid the poet to show it to us, let the moralist
groan as he will. These passages are among the most cynical in the
poem. And it is to be remarked that the bitter, Rousseau-like attacks
on civilisation (as the joys of which the poet enumerates "war,
pestilence, the despot's desolation, the kingly scourge") are always
accompanied by ardent declarations of love for nature (see especially
viii. 61-68).

Byron exclaims (iii. 104):

    "Some kinder casuists are pleased to say,
       In nameless print--that I have no devotion;
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
       My altars are the mountain and the ocean,
     Earth, air, stars, all that springs from the great Whole,
     Who hath produced, and will receive the soul."

But, unfortunately, natural religion of this kind was not in accordance
with theological ritual. Like a refrain from _Childe Harold_ recurs the
glorification of liberty of thought (xi. 90):--

                                      "I may stand alone,
    But would not change my free thoughts for a throne."

There are savage attacks on the theory of the origin of sin advanced by
theology, and satire of orthodoxy and its doctrine that sickness and
misfortune make us good. Of sin we read (ix. 19):--

    "'But heaven,' as Cassio says, "is above all--
       No more of this, then, let us pray!' We have
     Souls to save, since Eve's slip and Adam's fall,
       Which tumbled all mankind into the grave,
     Besides fish, beasts, and birds. 'The sparrow's fall
       Is special providence,' though how it gave
     Offence, we know not; probably it perch'd
     Upon the tree which Eve so fondly search'd."

We observe how much freer and bolder the tone has become since the days
when _Cain_ was written. On the subject of sick-bed orthodoxy Byron

    "I don't know what the reason is--the air
     Perhaps; but as I suffer from the shocks
     Of illness, I grow much more orthodox.

     The first attack at once proved the Divinity
      (But _that_ I never doubted, nor the Devil);
     The next, the Virgin's mystical virginity;
      The third, the usual origin of evil;
     The fourth at once established the whole Trinity
      On so uncontrovertible a level,
     That I devoutly wish'd the three were four
     On purpose to believe so much the more."

Byron had now reached the stage in his literary career when he had
difficulty in getting his works published. Murray was apprehensive, and
drew back. Not even a bookseller was to be found who would sell the
earlier cantos of _Don Juan_ at the author's risk. Byron says, when
comparing his own fate with Napoleon's (_Don Juan_, xi. 56):--

    "But Juan was my Moscow, and Faliero
       My Leipsic, and my Mont Saint Jean seems Cain:
     'La Belle Alliance' of dunces down at zero,
       Now that the Lion's fall'n, may rise again."

We have already noted what Southey dared to say in the preface to his
servile poem, _The Vision of Judgment_. Adopting the rôle of informer,
he called upon the Government to prevent the sale of Byron's works--for
that his attack was upon Byron he plainly avowed in his rejoinder to
Byron's answer, triumphantly boasting: "Of the work which I _have_
done, it becomes me not here to speak, save only as relates to the
Satanic School, and its Coryphæus, the author of _Don Juan_. I have
held up that school to public detestation, as enemies to the religion,
the institutions, and the domestic morals of the country. I have given
them a designation _to which their founder and leader answers_. I have
sent a stone from my sling which has smitten their Goliath in the
forehead. I have fastened his name upon the gibbet, for reproach and
ignominy, as long as it shall endure.--Take it down who can!"

Thus wrote the retained and salaried scribbler, who, as Byron says,
had lied himself into the post of Poet-laureate. Byron replied in his
admirable satire, HIS _Vision of Judgment_. In it, as in Southey's
vision, George the Third arrives at the gates of heaven and requests to
be admitted. But Saint Peter is not at all willing to open for him. The
locks and keys are rusty; there has been so little doing; since 1789
every one has been going to hell. Cherubs arrive to insist on the old
man's being admitted--for all the angels are Tories. But Satan makes
his appearance as accuser, and he and Saint Michael dispute possession
of the dead man. Both produce witnesses, and amongst others Southey is
called. Southey begins to read his own works aloud, and goes on so long
that all, angels and devils, take flight, and in the general confusion
the old King slips into heaven. Saint Peter upraises his keys and
knocks the poet down with them:--

    "Who fell, like Phaëthon, but more at ease,
     Into his lake, for there he did not drown;
        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     He first sank to the bottom--like his works,
      But soon rose to the surface--like himself;
     For all corrupted things are buoy'd like corks."

The little masterpiece is imposed on exactly the same lines as the
poem of Southey's which it parodies.[2] The difficulty was to get
it printed. Murray would not accept it, nor would any other London

It was while he was in this dilemma that Byron was guilty of the
literary imprudence which injured him more than any other in the
estimation of the English reading public. A talented, but not much
respected man, the Radical author, Leigh Hunt, whom Byron as a young
man, to show his politics, had (in company with Moore) visited when
he was in prison for libelling the Prince Regent, and who was now
on terms of intimacy with Shelley, conceived the idea of starting a
Radical periodical in collaboration with Shelley and Byron. Shelley,
out of modesty, held back himself, but no sooner had he intimated to
Hunt that there was a possibility of his obtaining Byron's assistance,
than Hunt gave up all his occupations and chances of earning a living
in England, and landed, penniless and helpless, with wife and family,
in Italy, where Byron generously gave them shelter under his roof. But
it soon became evident that no real community was possible between
two men of such different natures and different calibre; Byron could
not stand Hunt's indiscreet familiarity; Hunt was offended by Byron's
haughtiness. But the worst misfortune was, that Byron sank incredibly
in the estimation of his countrymen by this alliance with such an
inferior man.

In vain did Thomas Moore, when refusing to contribute to the proposed
journal, write: "I deprecate such a plan with all my might.... You are,
single-handed, a match for the world--which is saying a good deal, the
world being, like Briareus, a very many-handed gentleman,--but, to be
so, _you must stand alone_. Recollect that the scurvy buildings about
St. Peter's almost seem to overtop itself." Byron had promised to
help Hunt, and would not be induced to take back his word. He little
thought that, after his death, Leigh Hunt's first action would be to
write three volumes with the purpose of sullying his fame.[3] He gave
him _The Vision of Judgment_ and _Heaven and Earth_, the grand poem
on the destruction of the world by the Flood, to which we Danes trace
a likeness in Paludan-Müller's _Ahasuerus_. But the periodical, which
it was originally proposed to call _The Carbonari_, but which, from
political reasons, came out under the feeble name of _The Liberal_, was
received with such complete disapprobation that it was given up after
only four numbers had appeared. The arena of literature was thus almost
closed for Byron, and the only field that really remained open to him
was that of action, of war, in the literal sense of the word, for his

But before embarking on this new venture he gave his revolutionary
feelings vent in _Don Juan_ and _The Age of Bronze_. Shelley considered
that Byron was qualified by his ambition and his powers to be "the
redeemer of his degraded country." But he was mistaken; Byron was
little suited to take part in the obstinate, slow struggle of the
English Opposition for liberty. Besides, it was not the political
predicament of England alone that aroused his sympathies and occupied
his thoughts; in his revolt against all oppression and hatred of all
hypocrisy he made himself the spokesman of the whole suffering world.
His blood boiled when he thought of the slaves in America, of the
ill-treatment of the Irish lower classes, of the martyrdom of the
Italian patriots.

Of the French Revolution Byron had always approved. He admired Napoleon
in the first stages of his career; but when the hero of the age passed

    "The Rubicon of man's awaken'd rights,
     To herd with vulgar kings and parasites,"

and finally, at Fontainebleau, preferred abdication to suicide, he
overwhelmed his quondam ideal leader with the fiercest satire. There is
much resemblance between Byron's attitude towards Napoleon and Heine's.
Both pour ridicule on the so-called wars of liberation waged against
him by their respective countries. The great difference is, that the
Englishman's inflexible pride and his devotion to liberty made it
impossible for him to lose himself in the almost feminine admiration
and enthusiasm by which the German was possessed. Napoleon's military
fame made no impression on the man who has beautifully said (_Don
Juan_, viii. 3) that

    "The drying up a single tear has more
     Of honest fame, than shedding seas of gore";

and who admired no warriors but those who, like Leonidas and
Washington, fought for freedom.

Byron had long flourished his lash above the Prince Regent's head,
and many a telling stroke had fallen upon that royal personage's fat
body:--"Though Ireland starve, great George weighs twenty stone."
"Charles to his people, Henry to his wife," &c. Now he took the country
itself to task. His lash falls upon everything false and objectionable,
from the legend of the Virgin Queen, "our own half-chaste Elizabeth,"
as he calls her in _Don Juan_ (ix. 81), down to the latest requirements
of public opinion (_Don Juan_, vii. 22):

    "Then there were Frenchmen, gallant, young, and gay;
       But I'm too great a patriot to record
     Their Gallic names upon a glorious day;
       I'd rather tell ten lies than say a word
     Of truth;--such truths are treason."

He is daring enough to attribute great part of the honour of Waterloo
to the Prussians; to call (in imitation of Béranger) Wellington
"Villainton," and to tell him that he has obtained great pensions and
much praise for doing nothing but "repairing Legitimacy's crutch." And
with a feeling and fervour far surpassing that displayed by Moore in
his satirical letters, he tells England of the hatred of herself which
she has aroused in other nations by her Tory politics. "I've no great
cause," he writes (_Don Juan_, x. 66):

    "I've no great cause to love that spot of earth,
       Which holds what _might have been_ the noblest nation;
     But though I owe it little but my birth,
       I feel a mix'd regret and veneration
     For its decaying fame and former worth.
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Alas! could she but fully, truly know
       How her great name is now throughout abhorred;
     How eager all the earth is for the blow
       Which shall lay bare her bosom to the sword;
     How all the nations deem her their worst foe,
       That worse than _worst of foes_, the once adored
     False friend, who held out freedom to mankind,
     And now would chain them, to the very mind;--
     Would she be proud, or boast herself the free,
       Who is but first of slaves? The nations are
     In prison,--but the gaoler, what is he?
       No less a victim to the bolt and bar.
     Is the poor privilege to turn the key
       Upon the captive, freedom? He's as far
     From the enjoyment of the earth and air
     Who watches o'er the chain, as they who wear."

Byron had now reached the altitude at which all ordinary conventions
lost their hold upon him. He pursued the "Ministry of Mediocrities,"
as he called it, with his satire even after the death of its members.
He would not let Castlereagh rest quietly in his grave, because, as he
says in one of the prefaces to _Don Juan_, the system of oppression and
hypocrisy with which that statesman's name is synonymous, endured long
after his death. The watchword of the day, sovereignty "by the grace
of God," was obnoxious to him, as was also the perpetual recurrence
of the phrases: Britannia's rule of the waves, the glorious British
constitution, the noble Emperors, and the pious Russian people. On the
coins of gold appear once more, he writes after the fall of Napoleon,
faces with the old "sterling, stupid stamp." The universal idolisation
of the most uncivilised nation of Europe disgusted him. One could not
go anywhere at that time without hearing the sentimental Cossack's
song of farewell to his sweetheart, the first words of which, "Schöne
Minka," are not yet forgotten.

Thus it was Byron who, towards the middle of the twenties, inaugurated
the Radical campaign against political Romanticism and that Holy
Alliance which was nothing but a systématisation of the political
hypocrisy of Europe. Byron called it:

    "An earthly trinity! which wears the shape
     Of heaven's, as man is mimicked by the ape.
     A pious unity! in purpose one--
     To melt three fools to a Napoleon."

He jeered at "the coxcomb Czar, the autocrat of waltzes and of war."
He ridiculed the "twenty fools" at Laybach, who imagined that their
hypocritical proceedings could determine the destiny of the human race.
He cried:

    "O Wilberforce! thou man of black renown,
       Whose merit none enough can sing or say,
     Thou hast struck one immense Colossus down,
       Thou moral Washington of Africa!
     But there's another little thing, I own,
       Which you should perpetrate some summer's day,
     And set the other half of earth to rights;
     You have freed the _blacks_--now pray shut up the whites.

     Shut up the bald-coot bully Alexander!
       Ship off the Holy Three to Senegal;
     Teach them that 'sauce for goose is sauce for gander,'
       And ask them how _they_ like to be in thrall?"

What language! What tones breaking the death-like silence of oppressed
Europe! The political air rang with the shrill notes; for no word
uttered by Lord Byron fell unheard to the ground. The legions of
the fugitives, the banished, the oppressed, the conspirators, of
every nation, kept their eyes fixed upon the one man who, amidst the
universal debasement of intelligences and characters to a low standard,
stood upright, beautiful as an Apollo, brave as an Achilles, prouder
than all the kings of Europe together. Free, in his quality of English
peer, from molestation everywhere, he made himself the mouthpiece of
the dumb revolutionary indignation which was seething in the breasts of
the best friends and lovers of liberty in Europe.

He himself had defined poetry as passion;[4] and inspired passion was
what his own became. Listen to some of the thunders that pealed over

    "You hardly will believe such things were true
       As now occur, I thought that I would pen you 'em;
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     And when you hear historians talk of thrones
       And those that sate upon them, let it be
     As we now gaze upon the mammoth's bones,
      And wonder what old world such things could see."
    (_Don Juan_, viii. 136, 137).

    "Think if then George the Fourth should be dug up!
       How the new worldlings of the then new East
     Will wonder where such animals could sup!"
    (_Don Juan_, ix. 39).

    "But never mind;--'God save the king!' and kings!
       For if _he_ don't, I doubt if _men_ will longer--
     I think I hear a little bird, who sings
       The people by and by will be the stronger:
     The veriest jade will wince whose harness wrings
       So much into the raw as quite to wrong her
     Beyond the rules of posting,--and the mob
     At last fall sick of imitating Job.

     At first it grumbles, then it swears, and then,
       Like David, flings smooth pebbles 'gainst a giant;
     At last it takes to weapons such as men
       Snatch when despair makes human hearts less pliant.
     Then comes 'the tug of war;'--'twill come again,
       I rather doubt; and I would fain say 'fie on't,'
     If I had not perceived that revolution
     Alone can save the earth from hell's pollution."
    (_Don Juan_, viii. 50, 51).

    "And I will war, at least in words (and--should
       My chance so happen--deeds), with all who war
     With Thought;--and of Thought's foes by far most rude,
       Tyrants and sycophants have been and are.
     I know not who may conquer: if I could
       Have such a prescience, it should be no bar
     To this my plain, sworn, downright detestation
     Of every despotism in every nation."
    (_Don Juan_, ix. 24).


                               "I have prated
      Just now enough; but by and by I'll prattle
      Like Roland's horn in Roncesvalles' battle."

[2] For other attacks on Southey, see _Don Juan_, i 205; iii. 80, 93;
ix. 35; x. 13.

[3] Thomas Moore aptly compares Hunt to the dog which was allowed by
the lion to live in his cage, but which, after the lion's death, had
nothing but evil to say of him:--

      "Though he roar'd pretty well--this the puppy allows--
      It was all, he says, borrow'd--all second-hand roar;
        And he vastly prefers his own little bow-wows
      To the loftiest war-note the lion could pour.
       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
        Nay, fed as he was (and this makes it a dark case)
      With sops every day from the lion's own pan,
        He lifts up his leg at the noble beast's carcase,
      And--does all a dog, so diminutive, can."

[4] Poetry, which is but passion." _Don Juan_, iv. 106.



He had prophesied revolution; he had sorrowfully witnessed the failure
of the plans laid by the Carbonari; but now at last the expected
revolution had begun.

    "On Andes' and on Athos' peaks unfurl'd,
    The self-same standard streams o'er either world."

He had been expelled from the ranks of literature in England. He had
been driven from town to town in Italy. It had long been a saying with
him that a man ought to do more for his fellow-men than write poetry,
and over and over again had he talked of art with the contempt of a
Hotspur. Now everything conspired to urge him to action. Consideration
for the Countess Guiccioli alone restrained him. He had thoughts of
taking part in the Creoles' struggle for liberty; he made careful
inquiries into the condition of matters in South America. His _Ode on
Venice_ ends with the words:

                            "Better be
    Where the extinguish'd Spartans still are free,
    In their proud charnel of Thermopylæ,
    Than stagnate in our marsh,--or o'er the deep
    Fly, and one current to the ocean add,
    One spirit to the souls our fathers had,
    One freeman more, America, to thee!"

The attraction to the country which had first inspired him to song
proved the strongest. He tore himself away from the Countess Guiccioli,
who was anxious to accompany him, but whom he dared not expose to the
dangers and hardships of a campaign. The Committee of the English
friends of Greece had elected him their representative, and supplied
him amply with funds. On the day of his departure from Leghorn he
received his first and last greeting from Goethe, in the shape of the
old master's famous sonnet to him.

For five months he continued to reside on the island of Cephalonia,
occupied in carefully investigating into the real state of matters in
Greece, and besieged by the different Greek leaders, who were at enmity
with each other, and each of whom was eager to enlist Byron on his
side. The distribution of money, ammunition, and other materials of
war necessitated an immense amount of correspondence, to which Byron
attended with dogged industry. He at last made his choice among the
Greek leaders, determining to join Prince Mavrocordato at Missolonghi.
During his stay in Cephalonia proposals had been made to him which must
have been most flattering to his ambition. The Greeks had a strong bias
towards monarchical government, and Trelawny, who was in a position to
know, was convinced that, if Byron had been alive at the time of the
Congress of Salona, the crown of Greece would have been offered to him.

When Byron landed at Missolonghi he was received like a prince. The
fortress fired a salute, bands played, the whole population crowded
to the shore to welcome him. At the house prepared for his reception,
Mavrocordato awaited him at the head of a staff of officers, both
Greek and foreign. Five thousand armed men were quartered in the
town. Byron took five hundred Suliotes (natives of Albania), who had
been left leaderless by the death of Marco Bozzari, into his own pay.
He selected for himself, as if death were what he desired, the most
dangerous of the commands, that of the troops which were to proceed
to Lepanto, hoping to compensate by energy and courage for his want
of military experience; his staff were to be responsible for the
strategical direction of the force. He had occasion, while holding this
command, to be astonished by the powerful impression which personal
accomplishments and personal intrepidity make upon half-savage natures;
nothing produced such respect for him in the minds of his Suliotes, who
themselves were bad marksmen, as his unerring aim and his indifference
to danger. But he had undeniably become a nobler man. Though not free
from attacks of his old melancholy, he saw the path of glory clear
before him. Evidence of his feeling at this time is borne by the
beautiful poem, one of the finest he ever wrote, which he composed on
his thirty-sixth birthday. If we compare it with the despairing lines
which bear the date of his thirty-third birthday, the difference is
clearly perceptible. Along with premonition of his approaching death we
have manly resolve:--

      "'Tis time this heart should be unmoved,
          Since others it hath ceased to move:
        Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
               Still let me love!

        My days are in the yellow leaf;
          The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
        The worm, the canker, and the grief
               Are mine alone!
         .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

        But 'tis not _thus_--and 'tis not _here_--
          Such thoughts should shake my soul, nor now,
        Where glory decks the hero's bier,
               Or binds his brow.

        The sword, the banner, and the field,
          Glory and Greece, around me see!
        The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
               Was not more free.
         .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

        Seek out--less often sought than found--
          A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
        Then look around, and choose thy ground,
               And take thy rest."

Byron's very first endeavour was, as might have been expected of him,
to modify, as far as possible, the barbarity of the method in which
the war was being carried on. He released several Turkish officers,
and sent them to Yussuf Pacha with a dignified and beautiful letter,
in which he begs him in return to treat such Greeks as may henceforth
fall into his hands with humanity, since the horrors of war are
sufficiently great without being aggravated by wanton cruelties on
either side. Then he turned all his attention to the task he had set
himself, and displayed a clear-sighted practicality which stood out in
marked contrast to the poetical visionariness of those with whom he was

The other Englishmen of the Committee, in their unworldly idealism,
hoped to civilise Greece by means of a free press, newspaper articles,
&c., &c.; but in Byron, the Carbonaro had made way for the practical
politician. He built everywhere, energetically and firmly, upon the
actually existing conditions--first and foremost upon the hatred of
Turkey which existed in the breast of every Greek. He considered it
much safer to reckon upon this than upon their devotion to freedom
and republicanism. Stanhope wished to open schools. Byron demanded
and distributed cannon. Stanhope endeavoured, through the agency of
missionaries, to introduce Protestant Christianity. Byron, who saw
that this foolishness would alienate the whole Greek priesthood, would
have nothing introduced but weapons and money. And he left off making
attacks upon the different European Governments. He had witnessed
the collapse of Carbonarism when brought into contact with organised
authority; hence his desire was to obtain for Greece recognition by the
Great Powers.

Unfortunately his health was not equal to the carrying out of his great
plans. At Missolonghi he rode out as usual every day, and, to impress
the inhabitants, was always attended by a bodyguard of fifty Suliotes
on foot. These men were such splendid runners that, though they carried
their carbines, they were able to keep up with the horses galloping at
full speed. On one of these rides Byron was drenched by a heavy shower.
Count Gamba tried to persuade him to return home at once, but he
refused, saying: "I should make a pretty soldier, indeed, if I were to
care for such a trifle." The following day he was seized with violent
convulsions--three men were hardly able to hold him--and the pain was
so excessive that he said: "I do not care for death, but these agonies
I cannot bear." While he was lying in an almost fainting condition
after this attack, a band of rebellious Suliotes made their way into
his room, brandishing their sabres, and demanding reparation for some
supposed slight. Byron raised himself up in bed, and with a powerful
exercise of will, ever calmer the more they raged and screamed,
mastered them with his look and manner, and dismissed them.

He had written to Moore some months previously: "If anything in the
way of fever, fatigue, famine, or otherwise, should cut short the
middle age of a brother warbler, I pray you to remember me in 'your
smiles and wine.' I have hopes that the cause will triumph; but
whether it does or no, still 'honour must be minded as strictly as
milk diet.' I trust to observe both." On the 12th of April he had
again to take to bed, and from this date the fever never abated. The
18th was Easter Day, a holiday which the Greeks were accustomed to
celebrate by firing off muskets and salvos of artillery; but out of
consideration for their benefactor, the townspeople kept perfectly
quiet. The 19th was the last day of Byron's life. During part of it
he was delirious; he imagined himself to be commanding troops, and
shouted: "Forwards--forwards--courage!" When he came to himself again,
he began to give his last orders to his servant, Fletcher. "Go to my
sister," he said; "tell her--go to Lady Byron--you will see her, and
say----." Here his voice became indistinct, and only names could be
made out--"Augusta--Ada--Hobhouse." He then said: "Now, I have told you
all." "My lord," replied Fletcher, "I have not understood a word your
lordship has been saying." "Not understood me?" exclaimed Lord Byron,
with a look of the utmost distress. "What a pity! Then it is too late;
all is over." He still continued to utter a few disconnected words:
"Poor Greece!--poor town!--my poor servants!" Then his thoughts must
have turned to Countess Guiccioli, for he murmured: "Io lascio qualche
cosa di caro nel mondo." Towards evening he said: "Now I shall go to
sleep," and, turning round, fell into that slumber from which he never

The announcement of Byron's death fell like a thunderbolt upon Greece.
It affected the nation in the manner of a terrible natural catastrophe,
the consequences of which were incalculable. On the day he died the
following proclamation was issued:--


      The present day of festivity and rejoicing has become one
      of sorrow and of mourning. The Lord Noel Byron departed
      this life at six o'clock in the afternoon, after an
      illness of ten days ... I hereby decree:--

      1st, To-morrow morning at daylight, thirty-seven minute
      guns will be fired from the grand battery, being the
      number which corresponds with the age of the illustrious

      2nd, All the public offices, even the tribunals, are to
      remain closed for three successive days.

      3d, All the shops, except those in which provisions or
      medicines are sold, will also be shut; and it is strictly
      enjoined that every species of public amusement, and other
      demonstrations of festivity at Easter, shall be suspended.

      4th, A general mourning will be observed for twenty-one

      5th, Prayers and a funeral service are to be offered up in
      all the churches.

                                                A. MAVROCORDATO.
           _Given at Missolonghi_
      _this 19th day of April_ 1824.

No other evidence is required of the impression which the news of
Byron's death made upon all who were intimately connected with him. At
Missolonghi people ran through the streets crying: "He is dead! The
great man is gone!" The corpse was conveyed to England. The clergy
refused it a place in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. But,
dependent neither on the blame of England nor the praise of Greece, his
renown established itself throughout the earth.

In the intellectual life of Russia and Poland, of Spain and Italy,
of France and Germany, the seeds which he had strewn broadcast with
such a lavish hand fructified--from the dragon's teeth sprang armed
men. The Slavonic nations, who were groaning under tyrannical rule,
who were by nature inclined to be melancholy, and in whom their
history had developed rebellious instincts, seized on his poetry with
avidity; and Pushkin's Onjœgin, Lermontoff's _A Hero of Our Own
Days_, Malczewski's _Marja_, Mickiewicz's _Conrad_ and _Wallenrod_,
Slowacki's _Lambro_ and _Beniowski_ witness to the powerful impression
made upon their authors. The Romance races, whose fair sinners his
verses had celebrated, and who were now in the act of revolt, eagerly
translated and studied his works. The Spanish and Italian exile-poets
took up his war-cry; in Spain the "Myrtle" Society was formed; in Italy
his influence was most plainly manifest in the writings of Giovanni
Berchet, but hardly less so in those of Leopardi and Giusti. His death
made an extraordinary impression in France. A week or two after it
happened, Chateaubriand went over to the Opposition, and his first
action after his fall was to become a member of the Greek Committee.
Hugo's _Les Orientales_ was not a flight straight to the East, like
the Oriental poetry of Germany; his way lay through Greece, and he
had much to say of the heroes of the war of liberation. Delavigne
devoted a beautiful poem to Byron; Lamartine added a last canto to
_Childe Harold_; Mérimée allowed himself to be influenced by Byron's
occasional spirit of savagery; Alfred de Musset attempted to take up
the mantle which had fallen from the shoulders of the great poet; and
even Lamennais began to employ a style in which many of the words and
expressions recalled the language of Byron's sallies. Germany was
still politically too far behind the other nations to have exiles
and emigrants among its poets; but its philologists had, with quiet
rejoicing, beheld in the rising of Greece the resurrection of ancient
Hellas; poets like Wilhelm Müller and Alfred Meissner wrote beautiful
verse in honour of Byron; and there were other writers who were still
more deeply moved by Byron's poetry--men of Jewish extraction, whose
feelings were those of the exiled and excommunicated--chief among
them Börne and Heine. Heine's best poetry (notably _Deutschland, ein
Wintermärchen_) is a continuation of Byron's work. French Romanticism
and German Liberalism are both direct descendants of Byron's Naturalism.



Naturalism as an intellectual tendency in England, makes its appearance
in Wordsworth in the form of love of all the external phenomena of
nature, a habit of storing up natural impressions, and piety towards
animals, children, country people, and the "poor in spirit." With him
as its representative, it strays for a moment into a blind alley,
that of uninspired imitation of nature. In Coleridge, and even more
in Southey, it approaches the German Romanticism of the day, follows
it into the world of legend and superstition, but avoids its worst
excesses by treating Romantic themes in a Naturalistic manner and
keeping an open eye on land and sea and all the elements of reality.
In Scott, Naturalism occupies itself with the character and history
of a whole nation, and in vivid colours paints man as the son of
a race and a period; in Keats, it takes possession of the whole
world of the senses, and reposes for a moment on the neutral ground
between tranquil contemplation of nature and the proclamation of a
gospel of nature and of natural rights. In Moore it becomes erotic,
and espouses Liberalism in politics; the sight of the sufferings of
his native island drives this poet into the ranks of the lovers of
liberty, intellectual and political. In Campbell, it becomes eulogy of
England as Queen of the Sea and expression of English liberal views.
In Landor, it takes the shape of pagan Humanism, of too repellent and
proud a character to win the suffrage of Europe. It is transformed in
Shelley into a soulful love of nature and a poetic Radicalism, which
have at their command poetic gifts of the very highest order; but the
incorporeal universality of Shelley's Naturalism, in combination with
the circumstance that he is much too far ahead of his age, and with his
early death, causes his song to die away unheard, Europe never learning
what a poet she possesses and loses.

Then, like Achilles arising in his wrath after he has burned the body
of Patroclus, Byron, after Shelley's death, arises and lifts up his
mighty voice. European poetry was flowing on like a sluggish, smooth
river; those who walked along its banks found little for the eye to
rest on. All at once, as a continuation of the stream, appeared this
poetry, under which the ground so often gave way that it precipitated
itself in cataracts from one level to another--and the eyes of all
inevitably turn to that part of a river where its stream becomes a
waterfall. In Byron's poetry the river boiled and foamed, and the roar
of its waters made music that mounted up to heaven. In its seething
fury it formed whirlpools, tore itself and whatever came in its way,
and in the end undermined the very rocks. But, "in the midst of the
infernal surge," sat such an Iris as the poet himself has described
in _Childe Harold_--a glorious rainbow, the emblem of freedom and
peace--invisible to many, but clearly seen by all who, with the sun
above them in the sky, place themselves in the right position.

It presaged better days for Europe.


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature - 4. Naturalism in England" ***

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