• THE NATIONAL LIBRARY — GALT'S LIFE OF BYRON.* Max first reflection
-on perusing the general and particular titles -of this volume is, how in the name of wonder came the Life of Lord BYRON to form the introduction to a National Library ? Biography may very properly constitute a part of such a library ; and., along with others which it much more imports the people of England to know, the life of Lord BYRON may find a place ; but surely, nothing can be imagined more preposterous than to hold it. up as the leading object of their study. The manner in which, according to their announcement, the projectors of the work mean to proceed with it, gives a pleasant view of their notions of arrange- ment. The second volume of the National Library is to be a History of the Bible! The memoir of the mystifying Lord is to be taken, we suppose, as a key to the study of the mysteries of Christianity ; and the remarks on Cain by Mr. GALT are to form a sort of discourse preliminary to the history of Cain's father! Mr. GALT commences by stating, that he had long "had a no- tion" that some time or other it would fall to his lot to write a life of Lord BYRON. Why he had long entertained such a no- tion, does not appear. He goes on to say, that he approaches the task without apprehension, entirely in consequence of having de- termined to his own satisfaction the manner in which it should be performed. It might be imagined from this satisfactory determi- nation, that Mr. GALT'S plan of treating the life of the author of Don Juan had in it some peculiarity, which rendered it of uncom- monly easy. accomplishment. A very slight analysis of the vo- lume will show how far this is the case.
The first five chapters, audthe seventh and eighth, are a meagre abridgment from Mr. Mooan, with sundry theories and remarks of Mr. GA LT'S interwoven. The sixth chapter is made up of the criticism on Lord BYRON'S Minor Poems, extracted from the Edinburgh Review, and the inscription on the skull which served as a drinking-cup at Newstead. The criticism Mr. GALT attri- butes to Mr. JEFFREY. Lord BYRON, in Don Juan, gives it, by implication, to Mr. BROUGHAM. Judging from its style, we should as soon attribute it to Mr. GALS' himself as to either.
The eighth chapter describes the author's first interview with Lord BYRON. Mr. GALT is honestly entitled to what a punning friend of ours calls the taus penultima t—the secret of pleasing • The National Library, No. I. The Life of Lord Byron. By loan Galt, Esq. London, 1831.). t Erincipibus placulate viris Assaulting' lams est."--Hos. „ the great. His introduction to Lord BYRON'S familiarity-was managed, he informs us, by pretending to admire what he se- cretly despised, and praising a speech as correct and proper which he thought ridiculous and uncalled for. From the eighth chapter to the twenty-fifth, we have a tolerably correct summary of Lord BYRON'S travels in the East, interspersed with occasional criticisms of detached passages of Childe Harold. There is nothingnevr or striking in this summary, but it is pleasantly written, and constitutes by far the most valuable part of the volume. From the unambitious equability of the style, compared with the pomp and inflation of numberless passages in the other parts of the work, we should have been almost inclined to conclude that Mr. GALS' had enjoyed the assistance of a friend in his biographi- cal labours. There are two characteristic facts; however, which render this hypothesis untenable. Lord Bvacns has not left any description of the ceremonies observed in his introduction to Ali Pacha—or Pashaw, as Mr. GALS', who is determined to be original in one way or another, spells the word : and therefore we are pre sented with an account of Mr. GALT'S introduction to Velhi Pacha. Lord BYRON has not recorded his travels from Smyrna to Ephesus : but Mr. GALT travelled over the same road, and as a matter of course we have a chapter devoted to his journey. The determination to tack his own history to that of Lord BYRON, is more ludicrously displayed in another instance. Lord BYRON had been displeased, it appears, by some remarks in a letter from Mr. GAL? ; and in his Diary he had inserted the following words, which Mr. MOORE quotes :—" Galt says there is a coincidence between the first part of The Bride' [of Abydos] and some story of his— whether published or not, I know not, never having seen it. He is almost the last person on whom any one would commit literary larceny." The sneer was undeserved ; for several of Mr. GALr's works have great and original merit. But what is the biographer's conclusion, after a querulous chapter devoted to the history of this "miff," and in which the charge of stealing from some work of his called "Dramatic Sketches" is preferred against his Lordship ?— " Perhaps, when some friend is hereafter doing as indulgently for me the same kind task that I have undertaken for Byron, there may be found among my memoranda notes as little flattering to his Lordship as those in his concerning me:' Here is a threat ! If Lord BYRON have wiitten naughty remarks on Mr. GAL?, MI: GALT will write naughty remarks on Lord BYRON 1 He hopes, however, that the friend to whom shall be assigned the compila- tion of the two quarto volumes of his biography, will not imitate the taste of Mr. MOORE. But why make it a subject of hope ?— he can burn his retaliatory memoranda, or not write them, and so insure their suppression, The separation of Lord and Lady BYRON, which has been the subject of so much controversy, is passed over by Mr. GALT with "too much has been said to the world respecting it, and I have no taste for the subject." This is a method of disposing of the ques- tion, which may be exceedingly satisfactory to the writer, • and may square with the rule according to which he has determined to do Lord BYRON'S life ; but we much doubt if it will be equally satisfactory to his readers. The thirtieth chapter commences where Mr. MOORE'S first volume ends. The few facts that are recorded in this and the nineteen chapters that follow are gleaned from Captain Men- WYN'S Conversations, the narrative of PARRY, Colonel STAN-. HOPE'S letters, flardnaa's account of his master's death, and the recent posthumous work of Dr. KENNEDY. We are not aware that there is one particular respecting his Lordship mentioned in this part of Mr. GALT'S volume that has not been repeatedly stated before ;—and if the notoriety of the facts in the case of Lord BYRON'S separation from his lady rendered any discussion of it unnecessary, with equal reason might all that follows the twenty-ninth chapter in the present volume have been dispensed with. In this latter part, there is a good deal of literary criticism mixed up with the slight tissue of narrative. Mr. GALS' indeed states, that his object is to give a general view of the intellectual character of the noble poet; but he only begins to keep his word when the termination of Mr. MOORR'S volume deprives him of the materials requisite for-giving any other. The criticism on the different poems of Lord BYRON is not without merit; the observations are frequently just; and 'sometimes ingenious He institutes a laboured comparison between Sarda- ncipalas and Hamlet; in which two characters he; with curious optics, discovers a resemblance, heretofore hidden from common eyes ; and he passes over Juan without a notice—except one or two casual remarks. To criticise an author's works, omitting only the longest and most characteristic is, it Must be owned, original enough. There is an appendix of-forty pages consisting of anecdotes from MEDWYN, Momm, the Foreign- Literary. Gazette—a work prematurely abandoned, says Mr. GAIT—and other equally recon- dite sources. This part of the vohime offers nothing for the critic. From what has been said, the reader may form a tolerable no- tion of IVii.,GaLr's work. With the exception of the somewhat curious fact that the third Sir JoHrf BYRON, one of the noble poet's ancestors, was an illegitimate son-of the second Sir JOHN, --so that, as Mr. GALT adumbrates the story, there was "a baton [bend] sinister in the escutcheon of the Byrons of Newstead,"— with.the exception of this fact, we are not aware that the present volume contains a single particular, trifling or important, with which the world was not previously familiar. • , Mr. GAIT'S style—and in national. work, and much more in
one which professes to be critical, the style cannot be considered as of trivial importance—is more disfigured by provincialisms, slang, and downright fustian, than that of any little book we have ever read. There is hardly a page that might not furnish speci- mens of bad taste, bad English, and not unfrequently sheer non- sense. We shall give a few. Of single words and phrases, the list is endless. We have
spaewife," "warlock," " kithe," "impillory," " incertitude," " exactitude," " liaison," &c. Mr. THOMAS S.1HERIDAN iS " Tom Sheridan ;" Lord Byaox and Mr. HOBHOUSE are " Orestes and Pylades," " the two magnates." A dinner served . up, dish by dish, is "a consecutive dinner." One of Ali Pacha'sntficers bears a white, wand, and is therefore described as "the usher of the white rod." Of another we are told, he "eructated" in his mas- ter's face. A dinner given to the travellers by Ali "surpassed all count and reckoning '." Ali proceeds against his enemies with "iron severity." The storks near Smyrna build their nests "con- jugally." A fallen wall is a "mural wreck," a broken column, "crushed magnificence." BYRON wished to occupy a particular place in the procession at Mr. ADAIR'S farewell visit to the Porte ; this Mr. GALT calls attempting "an obtrusion on ambassadorial etiquettes." Briton's lameness is "the innocent fault in his foot." We have "excoriated sensibility," "maelstrom agitations of re- morse," "elegant "organic peculiarity of mind," "in- flexion of manners to propriety," and half a hundred more, equally neat and appropriate.
The more elaborate passages of mock sublimity are innumer- able.
Of genius we are told- " It is as the fragrance, independent of the freshness and complexion of the rose ; as the light on the cloud; as the bloom on the cheek of beauty, of which the possessor is unconscious until the charm has been seen by its influence on others ; it is the internal golden flame of the opal; a something which may be abstracted from the thing in which it appears, without changing the quality of its substance, its form, or its affinities."
• Love is "that strong masculine avidity which in its highest ex- citement is unrestrained by the laws, alike of God and man." In another page it is termed "animal admiration."
Of poets it is said, that
"The supposition that poets must be dreamers because there is often much dreaminess in poesy, is a mere hypothesis. Of all the professors of metaphysical discernment, they require the finest tact ; and contemplation is with them a sign of inward abstract reflection, more than of any pro-
cess of mind by sign resemblance is traced, and associations awakened. There is no account of any great poet, whose genius was of that dreamy cartilaginous hind, which hath its being in haze, and draws its nourishment Irons lights and shadows ; which ponders over the mysteries of trees, and interprets the oracles of babbling waters."
" The most vigoroustoets, those who have influenced longest and are most quoted, have indeed been all men of great shrewdness of remark, and any-thing but your chin-on-hand contemplators. To adduce many instances is unnecessary. Are there any symptoms of the gelatinous cha- racter of the effusions of the Lakers in the compositions of Homer? The London Gazette does not tell us things more like facts than the narratives of Homer, and it often states facts that are much more like fictions than blesmost poetical inventions." Oiihe effect of the critique in the Edinburgh Review, on Lord BYRON, Mr. GALT' says— "It stung his heart, and prompted him to excess. But the paroxysms did not endure long; strong volitions of revenge succeeded, and the grasps of his mind were filled, as it were, with writhing adders." ,
- The satire to which it gave rise-
" It was the first burst of that dark, disecised iekor, which afterwards co- loured his effusions ; the overflowing suppuration of that satiety and loathing, which rendered Childe Harold, in particular, so original, incomprehen- sible, and antisocial ; and bears testimony to the state of his feelings at that important epoch, while he was yet upon the threshold of the world, and was entering it with a sense of failure and humiliation, and premature disgust."
BYRON, in the voyage from Gibraltar to Malta, affects the deck, where, "Sitting amidst the shrouds and rattlings, in the tranquillity of the moonlight, chumming an inarticulate melody, he seemed almost appa- ritional, suggesting dim reminiscences of him who shot the albatros. He was as a mystery in a winding sheet, crowned with a halo." lVIrs. SPENCER SMITH— 'The Florence of Childe Harold merited the poetical embalmment, or rather the amber immortalization she possesses there." SHAKSPEARE finds tongues in trees, and so does Mr. GALT :— " The pines on the adjacent mountains hiss as they ever wave their boughs ; and somehow, such is the lonely aspect of the place, that their hissing may be imagined to breathe satire against the pretensions of human vanity." , BYRON in a pet— "I never in the whole course of my acquaintance saw him kithe so un- favourably as he did on that occasion. In the course of the evening, however, he condescended to thaw; and before the party broke up, his austerity began to leaf, and hide its thorns under the influence of a relenting temperament."
The value of his vapouring-
" It was his Lordship's foible to overrate his rank, to grudge his de- formity bey-nd reason, and to exaggerate the condition of his family and circumstances. But the alloy of such small vanities, his caprice and feline temper, were as vapour compared with the mass of rich and rare ore which constituted the orb and nucleus of his brilliancy." His love of praise— "The appetite for distinction by which, about this period, he became so powerfully incited, was such, that at last it grew into a diseased crave, and to such a degree, thritwere the figure allowable, it rniTht be said, the mouth being incapable of supplying adequate means to appease it—every pore be- came another mouth greedy of nourisliment:' If our readers are not yet satisfied, we advise them to mill spe- cimens for themselves; our patience is exhausted, before we have half exhausted our list.
In truth, it cannot be concealed, that, with all our partiality for Mr. GALT the novelist—the confidant of the Pringle Family, the chronicler of the Parish Annals, the immediate ancestor of Lawrie Todd—we hold Mr. GALT the biographer in small esteem, and his Life of BYRON as an undoubted failure.
Considered not as a product of the intellect, but as a parcel of printed paper, plates, and binding, this sample of the National Library may be pronounced one of the cheapest publications of the day. The typography, however, is not very accurate. The volume before us is embellished with portraits of Lord BYRON and the Countess Gummi/a, from the pictures by W. E. Wzsr, which have been already engraved in one of the Annuals. We never liked this por- trait of BYRON, though he himself preferred it to any other. Inde- pendently of the affectation of the painter in giving an artificial breadth to the fall of the mantle, that would cover the bulk of DANIEL LAMBERT himself, it has a coxcombical air, which makes the noble bard look more like RAYMOND the actor than BYRON the poet. We like Mr. DEAN'S practice of representing the flesh tints in the dotted style of engraving, and the drapery and back- ground in the line manner. It affords an effective contrast, and is more accordant with nature than the usual mode of indicating the face by lines, as in the portrait of the Countess Guicciou—the solidity of whose beauty seems cased in a wire-gauze visor.