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to the little microcosm of self, forbidding him to
recognise any moral discipline in life. (ii.) Vindictiveness—in some cases unseemly, as to the
Royal Family ; in others ungenerous, as to the persons of Wordsworth (the 'Vulgar' Wordsworth, the
Wordy' Wordsworth, the 'idiot boy'), Castlereagh,
and Southey. (iii.) Sensuousness—which mars, by a wretched and
grovelling materialism, his noblest productions. (iv.) Blasphemy, and want of reverence--as in the Vision of Judgment' and 'Morgante Maggiore : '
• Alas! Despair and genius are too oft connected.'
Prophecy of Dante. BRENT PELHAM: Feb. 1877.
In the note on Socrates, the Latin Nosce teipsum for ywbl geavtòr was meant to mark the Latin reception of the Socratean legacythe possibility of Ethical Science.
THE readers of Childe "Harold' should notice three characteristics of Byron.
I. His habit of self-reference, or egotism.--The probable history of this habit has been briefly delineated above. It existed in the poet's young days. It grew with his growth. We find it stronger in the closing Cantos of Childe Haroid' than in the earlier ones. There is some pretence at keeping up the figment of a 'hero,' but very soon hero and coalesce and become identical. Two consequences flow from this peculiarity.
1. A reality of description. We are cognisant that no stranger is passing over our field of vision, but the poet himself.
2. A weakness in dramatic power.—The writer centred upon himself or on his counterfeit is incapable of realising, and therefore describing, a person foreign to himself. Milton, in his ‘Samson Agonistes,' is not a dramatist so much as an autobiographer. Byron is always describing himself. Cain, Manfred,' 'Lucifer, Don Juan,' * Childe Harold,' are each the poet in another garb. Introduce a dialogue, and the weakness of Byron becomes at once apparent.
II. His powers of declamation. These are unrivalled. Few poets are also orators, in spite of the Latin generalisation 'Finitimus oratori est poeta.' In the present century there almost seems to be an impossibility that the two characters should blend. As a reaction from the mechanism of the last century, even ruggedness of verse is now considered a virtue, and obscurity of diction &
charm. In force and power of expression, Byron suggests Lucretius in certain passages. His descriptions of the French Revolution, the Holy Alliance, the appeal to Greece, his own domestic wrongs, are specimens of passionate rhetoric. At times this declamation assumes the appearance of unreality and exaggeration. His indignation against Lord Elgin seems unwarranted and unnatural (Canto II.); and in Canto III. civ. and Canto IV. cxxv., we seem to detect the artificial.
III. His talent for description. — Wordsworth no doubt preceded Byron, but the disciple soon became wiser than his teacher. As instances of graphic power we should note the storm in the Alps (Canto III.), and the apostrophe to the Ocean (Canto IV.); while the description of St. Peter's at Rome (Canto IV.) has never been surpassed in power or style. Scott, in his descriptions of Nature, is an artist, and presents to us a picture in detail ; Byron gives us a tout ensemble of that which is vague, shadowy, sublime.
From Spenser is derived the metre, 'the Alexandrian,' consisting of eight decasyllabic verses, with a ninth, a twelve-syllable (dodecasyllabic) verse rhyming with the sixth and eighth lines. This metre was first used by the French. It is found in Wace, the Anglo-Norman poet, A.D. 1090. Spenser too is copied in the archaic language.
It would be well for the reader to notice the occurrence of what his ear will at once tell him are weak lines, e.g. :
• By Heaven ! it is a splendid sight to see.'
o Christ ! it is a goodly sight to see.'
• In sooth, it was no vulgar sight to see.' These are not suggestive of Byron's power. An occasional, blemish will also be noted—a blemish to be
found in Shakspeare's latest plays-the weak ending of a line. The weakness is due generally to a preposition at the close of a verse. Several examples occur : one will suffice.
I can re-people with the Past, and of
In language.-Two or three irregularities have been alluded to in the notes, e.g. :
•Whose martyrs are the broken heart.'
The use of the word so is worthy of attention.
A Glossary of the few words unexplained in the Notes is appended at the end of the volume.
Cantos I. and II. written in 1811, published 1812.