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EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

No. XCVII.

FEBRUARY, 1825.

VOL. XVII.

LORD BYRON.

There has been a good deal of wri. Far more reprehensible, because far ting about Lord Byron since his death more lengthened and elaborate and in our periodicals'; but very little of despicable to boot, because evidently it much to the purpose. The Quar- written by a person, who, with friend. terly Review has as yet been silent; ship in his mouth, had never felt any the Edinburgh Review has contained real friendship for the departed poetonly one or two insignificant para- is the attempt towards a whole-length graphs. The subject, now at last com- portraiture of Lord Byron's character, plete, has hitherto been in the hands of which appeared some months ago in comparatively unauthoritative scribes; the London Magazine. The writer of and we are constrained to say, that it that production must be indeed a mihas not been dealt with in a manner serable. He derives all the vices of at all likely to increase their authority. Byron-real or supposed from the

We are sorry to be obliged to no- fact of his being a Lord. When tice with particular condemnation the he is to be commended for anything, style in which Lord Byron's charac- “this, in short, is as well as could be ter and genius have been handled in expected from a Lord.” What a picthe Universal Review. That talented, ture of Grub-street bile! The same and on the whole respectable Journal, tone (here is a compliment!) has, we is said to be chiefly conducted by a observe, been taken up by the distinperson of very considerable rank in guished author of the Liber Amoris, our modern letters-a scholar, a poet, in a new octavo (chiefly, ut mos est, and a gentleman: and if this be the made up of old materials,) which he fact, (which we certainly by no means has published under the modest title take for granted,) the tone and tem- of “ The Spirit of the Age !!!” The per in which Lord Byron has been Hero of Southampton-row is exceedtreated by the Journal in question is ingly bitter with Lord Byron, because doubly and trebly to be regretted. he had a pedigree. He cannot away Whether the accomplished person we with the patrician soul that breaks out allude to, be, or be not, the Editor of continually even in the most radical this Review, we are quite sure he is ravings of Byron's muse. It is evinot the author of the article we speak dent, that if Mr Hazlitt had seen the of. He (if it be he) has been seduced living Lion down, he would have reinto admitting the criticism of some to- joiced in kicking him : he now does his tally inferior mind-some mind either pleasure with the dead. And it was not large enough to regard the great for this sort of recompence, say rather ness of the dead poet's fame without retribution, that Lord Byron suffered, envy-or small enough to remember, for a time at least, his noble name to in the pages of Mr Whitaker's Re- be coupled in the mouths of men, with view, that the proprietor of the Quar- these abject souls-these paltry and terly Review had been also the pubcontemptible caitiffs, who, while they lisher of that illustrious poet's most would fain have derived some skulksuccessful performances. The article ing benefit from his name, never reis a splenetic, a malevolent, and, we garded either the poet or the man, but fear we must add, a mean tirade. It with all the rancours of despairing immust have been written by an unhappy becility and plebeian spite. man, and can be read with pleasure by The truth is, that Byron's literary

success had all along been regarded Vol. XVIL

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none.

with infinite gall by the minor Tories, sincere, and enthusiastic worshippers and that the elevation of his personal of his genius; we spoke out on that manners and feelings had always pre- score in a way that most of our contemvented him from being an object of poraries can reflect upon with few . anything like real'attachment among feelings of self-gratulation-and we the miserable adherents of that degra- always so spoke out-which certainded faction to which he sometimes too ly cannot be said of any one among much lent himself. The feelings of them. When he began to entertain the this last class were, of course, kept in world with his Beppo and Don Juan, check so long as he lived ; those of the on the other hand, we were undoubtformer rarely durst break silence so edly the first and the most efficient of long as Mr John Murray was his pub- all that rebuked him for teaching his lisher in ordinary-and they also have muse to stoop her wing. We did this so spoken out with wonderfully more boldly and so well, that we created for courage since there was an end of the ourselves in many quarters a vast deal lash that played about the pages of of ill will on this very account. John Don Juan.* There was on either side Murray, for example, never forgave a great accumulation of spleen and us, and the whole of the inferior workenvy lying in wait for a fair opportu- ing band of his Quarterly Reviewers nity of eruption--and we have seen have hated us, as in duty bound, from the eruption at least begin. We can that time, and have shewn their servile scarcely turn over the pages of any in- hatred in a thousand ways, and by a significant Magazine or Review with- thousand means, all alike pitiful and out coming in contact with long me- servile. We continued to lament the lancholy diatribes—all of them the indiscretions of his Don Juan, but we grumblings of the

same long-pent de could not be blind to the extraordinary vil. One proves Byron to have been merits of that poem, as it grew up and the most audacious of plagiarists-an- expanded itself into one of the most other is at great pains to shew, that he remarkable works of English genius; was not a poet of the truly high order and seeing these, we were quite above --that he had little “ invention"-that keeping our thumb upon the whole afhis merit lay only in“ intensity—and fair, merely because there was some Heaven knows how much more stuff difficulty in managing it, after the of the same sort ! A third says, he ne- laudable example of the Edinburgh ver wrote any good poem after the and Quarterly critics. Finally, since Corsair. A fourth considers Don Juan Byron died, various contributors have as a mere imitation of Faublas. A been allowed to express, in their own whole chorus resounds in your ears, several styles, their opinions, about that Byron was, at all events, a perfect particular points connected with his villain—the lewdest, the basest, the character and genius, because the nomost unprincipled of men—and that, tion of unity of mind, in a Journal ergo, the subject ought to be dropped ! like this, is a thing quite below our -So far from suffering it to be dropt, contempt, and because it was wished however, we now intend, and that for to make our pages reflect, as to this the first time, to take it up.

subject, the feelings and opinions floatWe certainly cannot reproach our- ing about in society in regard to itselves with having, at any period of our with this one proviso only, that we career, either neglected or ill-treated should have nothing to do with the the great poet who is now no more. opinions of dulness, or the feelings of We were, from the beginning, open, envy. And now, all this being done,

* We may hint, in a note, that in order to have great success now-a-days, it seems to be the rule that a literary man should publish with a bookseller attached to the opposite political party—a Tory with a Whig, and vice versa. Mr Murray would not suit even the author of Waverley half so well as Mr Constable; and Lord Byron never throve after he had lost that hold upon Tory applause, or at least forbearance, which his connexion with Mr Murray afforded him. Theodore Hook brings out his Sayings and Doings with the Lord of the White-boy Gazetteand young Russell his anti-liberal Tour in Germany with the Master of Blue and Yellow. It was only an after-thought that prevented us from having Hobhouse's anti-Medwinian from Albemarle Street direct; and old Butler himself brings out his Book of the Catho. lic Church there. Southey would have sold an edition more of his Book of the Church, if he had published it with Mr Constable, or even Mr Colburn. This merely en passant—but it is all very true and we may add, very poor,

WE propose to take up the subject as Take the man, in the first place, as one and complete,-not to exhaust it unconnected, in so far as we can thus surely, but to speak out clearly as to consider him, with his works ;-and some of the most important questions ask, what, after all, are the bad things that have been put in agitation. We we know of him? Was he dishonest or make no mighty pretensions. A little dishonourable?-had he ever done anycommon sense, common honesty, and thing to forfeit, or even endanger, his common feeling, shall serve our turn. tank as a gentleman ? Most assu

We shall, like all others who say redly no such accusations have ever anything about Lord Byron, begin sans been maintained against Lord Byron, apologie, with his personal character. the private nobleman--although someThis is the great object of attack, the thing of the sort may have been insiconstant theme of open vituperation nuated against the author. But he was to one set, and the established mark such a profligate in his morals, that for all the petty but deadly artillery of his name cannot be mentioned with sneers, shrugs, groans, to another. Two anything like tolerance. Was he so inwidely different matters, however, are deed ? We should like extremely to generally, we might say universally, have the catechizing of the individual mixed up here—the personal charac- man who says so. That he indulged in ter of the man as proved by his course sensual vices to some extent is certain of life, and his personal character as -and to be regretted and condemned. revealed in, or guessed from, his books. But was he worse as to those matters Nothing can be more unfair than the than the enormous majority of those style in which this mixture is made whojoin in the cry of horror upon

this use of. Is there a noble sentiment, a occasion ? We most assuredly believe lofty thought, a subliine conception in exactly the reverse : and we rest our the book ?--Ah! yes, is the answer. belief upon very plain and intelligible But what of that? It is only the roué grounds. First, we hold it imposByron that speaks! Is a kind, a ge- sible that the majority of mankind, nerous action of the man mentioned ? or that anything beyond a very small Yes, yes," comments the sage, “but minority, are or can be entitled to only remember the atrocities of Don talk of sensual profligacy as having Juan; depend on it, this, if it be true, formed a principal part of the life and must have been a mere freak of caprice, character of the man, who, dying at or perhaps a bit of vile hypocrisy." six-and-thirty, bequeathed a collecSalvation is thus shut out at either en- tion of works such as Byron's to the trance: The poet damns the man, and world. 2dly, We hold it impossible the man the poet.

that, laying the extent of his intellecNobody will suspect us of being so tual labours out of the question, and absurd, as to suppose that it is possi- looking only to the nature of the inble for people to draw no inferences tellect which generated, and delightas to the character of an author from ed in generating, such beautiful and his book, or to shut entirely out of noble conceptions as are to be found view, in judging of a book, that which in almost all Lord Byron's worksthey may happen to know about the we hold it impossible that very many man who writes it. The cant of the men can be at once capable of comday supposes such things to be prac- prehending these conceptions, and enticable, but they are not; and we have titled to consider sensual profligacy. always laughed our loudest at the im- as having formed the principal, or pudence of those who pretend to be even a principal trait in Lord Byron's capable of such things, and the idiocy character. 3dly and lastly, We have of those who believe in their

pretences. never been able to hear any one fact But what we complain of and scorn, established, which could prove Lord is the extent to which these matters Byron to deserve anything like the are carried in the case of this particular degree or even the kind of odium individual, as compared with others; which has, in regard to matters of this the impudence with which things are class, been heaped upon his name. at once assumed to be facts in regard We have no story of base unmanly seto the man's private history, and the duction, or false and villainous inabsolute unfairness of never arguing trigue, against him-none whatever. from the writings to the man, but for It seems to us quite clear, that, if he evil.

had been at all what is called in society

an unprincipled sensualist, there must-except; indeed, one small part of it, have been many such stories many whose general character, and the sus such authentic and authenticated sto picion, perhaps unjust, of mean priries. But there are none such-ab vate motives, prevented its opinions, solutely none. His name has been cou as to this particular matter, from hava pled with the names of three, four, ing any weight whatever. or more women of some rank: but We have no sort of doubt, that in what kind of women ?-every one of this, and in almost all cases of the them, in the first place, about as old as sort, there must have been blame on himself in years, and therefore a great both sides. We believe, in the first deal older in character-every one of place, that Lord and Lady Byron were them utterly battered in reputation never well suited to each other as to long before he came into contact with character and temper. We believe them-licentious, unprincipled, cha- that Lady Byron, with many high and racterless women. Whatfather has ever estimable qualities, had a cold and reproached him with the ruin of his obstinate mathematical sort of underdaughter?-What husband has de- standing, than which nothing could nounced him as the destroyer of his be more unlike, or less likely to agree peace ?

well with, the imaginative, enthusiasLet us not be mistaken. We are tic, and capricious temperament of her not defending the offences of which lord. She, however, was the cooler Lord Byron unquestionably was guil person of the two, and should not ty: neither are we finding fault with have married a man whose temper she those who, after looking honestly with- at least might have known to be so in and around themselves, condemn diametrically opposite to her own. those offences no matter how se Having married him, most surely it verely. But we are speaking of soci was her duty to bear with the conseety in general, as it now exists; and we quences of that temperament to a say that there is vile hypocrisy in the much greater extent than we have any tone in which Lord Byron is talked of proof, aye, or any notion, of her realthere. We say that, although all of Iy having borne with them. No wo-' fences against purity of life are miser man of sense should, on any grounds able things and condemnable things, but those of absolute necessity, sepathe degrees of guilt attached to dif. rate herself from her husband and the ferent offences of this class are quite father of her child. Now, that there as widely different as are the degrees was no reason of this kind for the step of guilt between an assault and a mur which her Ladyship took, is proved by der; and we confess our belief that the well-known facts, that she parted no man of Byron's station and age from him in London in a most affeccould have run much risk of gaining tionate manner; that even after she a very bad name in society, had a bad completed her journey to Kirkbycourse of life similar (in so far as we Mallory, she wrote an affectionate, even know anything of that) to Lord By playfully affectionate, letter to him, inron's been the only thing chargeable viting him to join her there ; and that, against him.

immediately after that letter, Lord ByBut his conduct in regard to his wife? ron received a letter from her. Lady. -ay, there's the rub. For many years ship’s father, beginning “My Lord, "* this was the most fruitful tlieme of un and announcing her Ladyship’s fixed, mitigated abuse against Lord Byron final, unalterable resolution never to of late we have perceived considerable live with Lord Byron as his wife asymptoms of another way of think guin ;- all this, too, be it observed, ing as to this matter gaining ground. happened precisely at the moment The press begins to avow, that there when Lord Byron's pecuniary affairs are two ways of telling this story, as were most disagreeably and miserably well as other stories.

involved and perplexed-when he was circles of society there never wanted annoyed with executions in his very some who on the whole defended the house in short, when any flights of Lord and blamed the Lady ; but it is mere temper on his part--nay, any only of late that this line has begun offences of any kind, that could be in to be taken up by any part of the press reason attributed to a state of mind

In the upper

Medwin, the vulgarian, substitutes “ Sir." Mr Hobhouse has corrected him."

harassed and tormented, and thereby, ed the assaults of such enemies, and to a certain extent, rendered reckless, taken no notice of any kind of them. -ought to have been regarded with But because this young hot-blooded, the highest indulgence, and when any proud Patrician poet did not, amidst. symptom, or anything taken for a the exacerbation of feelings which he symptom, of a wish to shrink from the could not control, act in precisely the partaking of his injured fortunes, must most dignified and wisest of all possihave been regarded, above all by a ble manners of action are we en. man of his feelings, as the most cruel titled, is the world at large entitled, and unpardonable want of generosity. to issue a broad sentence of vitupe

But be it so that Lady Byron was rative condemnation? Do we know more to blame than her Lord in the all that he had suffered ?-have we separation, what can excuse his pub- imagination enough to comprehend lishing then, and continuing to pub- what he suffered under circumstances lish, writings in which his wife's cha- such as these ?-have we been tried racter and conduct were placarded for in similar circumstances, whether we the amusement of the whole world ? could feel the wound unflinchingly, This, indeed, is no trivial question, and keep the weapon quiescent in the nor can we answer it in any quite sa- hand, that trembled with all the extisfactory manner_just yet. People, citements of insulted privacy, honour, however, will be good enough to re- and faith? collect, that Lord Byron had at least As it is, thus stands the fact. Lady this much to say for himself, that he Byron's friends abused Lord Byron in was not the first to make his domestic all societies, and that abuse found its differences a topic of public discussion. way through a thousand filthy chanOn the contrary, from the moment that nels to the public. Lord Byron retahis separation from Lady Byron was liated :--but how? Did he attack his known, he, and he only, was attacked wife's character ?--Did he throw the with the most unbounded rancour, not blame upon her ?--No such thing. only in almost all circles of society, but He at the time merely poured some in every species of print and pamphlet. vials of his wrath on the beads of He saw himself, ere any fact but the those whom he believed to have influone undisputed and tangible one was or enced his wife to her own injury, and could be known, held up everywhere, to the ruin of his peace

and permite and by every art of malice, by the ted himself, subsequently, to hint in a solemn manufacturer of cant, and the way, by no means obtrusively intellilight-headed weaver of jeux-d'esprit, gible, at some of those in themselves by tory and whig, suint and sinner- quite innocent little peculiarities of all alike as the most infamous of education and temper, by which, as men, because he had parted from his he thought, (and who shall say unwife." Peasants bring forth in safe- justly?) Lady Byron was prevented ty;" nay, almost any other gentle- from being to him all that he had exman in the country might have been pected when he made her his wife. involved in a domestic misfortune of Goethe has said somewhere, that this kind, without the least fear of ex- the man of genius who proposes to posure to the millionth part of what himself to be happy in this world, he suffered—for suffer he did. He must lay down to himself the fixed was the most sensitive man alive and unalterable rule, to consider his witness the keen torture, which, even genius as one thing, and his personal to his last, could be inflicted on him life as another-never to suffer the by a single stupid letter of the Lau- feelings of the author to interfere with reate. He was exquisitively sensitive; the duties of the man-to forget alto- and he was attacked and wounded at gether when his pen is not in his finonce by a thousand arrows; and this gers, that it has been, and will again with the most perfect and most indig- be, in their grasp. This is very well nant knowledge, that of all who were said, but we fear the history of literaassailing him not one knew anything ture will furnish but few examples in about the real facts and merits of the which the good old poet's theory has case. Did he right, then, in publishing been reduced to practice his own those squibs and tirades? No, cer- case, we believe, approaches as near tainly ;-it would have been nobler, to an example, as almost any one in better, wiser far, to have utterly scorn- recent times. No spectacle, certainly,

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