THE BOOK OF THE WEEK.
Moon's second volume of his Life of Byron is published ; and since we received it, we have been reading it night and day : it has kept us out of bed, and, what is far more, it has got us up in the morning. To peruse it, we have even before the dawn relighted the late-extinguished candle of the evening before, and that in a sharp frost, and at the season of the year when, if ever, the genial warmth of the sluggard's couch tempts him to re- turn to its elastic embrace.
The Life of BYRON takes its place, and will remain, as long as the English language endures, on the best shelf and in the best place of the choicest libraries. HA.YLEY'S Cowper charmed at the time of its publication, has charmed ever since, and is among the delights of all lovers of pleasant reading, all admirers of genius, all students of the human heart. If such be HAYLEY'S Life of COWPER, Mooas's Life of BYRON is this and more. But it is not MOORE we are praisiug—it is BYRON himself who speaks ; it is he who tells us all, into whose heart and conversation his letters familiarly admit us. With scarcely the exception of COWPER, BYRON was the most delightful letter-writer whose correspondence has come before the world ; and his letters are chiefly delightful because they are the picture of himself in his best moods. They are playful, and yet they abound in sense and shrewdness ; they are light and cheerful, and yet they contain occasionally the germs of some of his grandest ideas; they sparkle with wit, and are written without effort ; they show us the whole soul of the poet, who is utterly unconscious of drawing himself. How different is a man of the world from a man of books, but the junction how admirable ! BYRON observes of himself, that he is always flippant in prose : he may have called it flippancy, but it is unlike any other flippancy we are ac- quainted with. It is true that he could not write gravely—there was a" mocking devil" always on his shoulder, that showed him the ludicrous side of all things, for all things are ridiculous in some lights. This activity of his fancy embroiders, as it were, every subject he commences upon : if he begins with abuse, it ends in a joke—as though it were absurd to be angry; • though the matter be deep in his heart, he laughs at it before he has done. This plan of writing— and it is the plan of Don Juan, which is neither more nor less than his correspondence in verse—makes sad havoc with the ideas of the grave and regular reader, who classifies things ludicrous and things tragical after the ancient and approved method. No man felt more than BYRON; no man ever made lighter of his feelings. But, like other men of deep sympathies and strong passions, he could only feel alone ; the instant he admitted a witness, whether in conversation or in correspondence, the ready jeer sprung up— he mocked himself—not misanthropically or bitterly, but with pretty fancies, gentlemanly humour, the playfulness of a genius. If we were to analyze the phnomenon, we should attribute it to his extraordinarily acute sensitiveness to the opinion of others,— or, in other words, his constitutional terror at being _laughed at. He used to say they might do any thing but quiz. "Who could quiz you ?" said MOORE, half laughing: 'You could, villain !" ex- claimed BYRON playfully, holding up his clenched hand. This peculiarity has the effect of rendering his correspondence extremely gay. A. person who is always afraid of being laughed at, even in the heart or sleeve of his hearer, must necessarily be the antipodes of a bore—that is to say, if he has any ideas or feel- ings at all. Now, BYRON had ideas at will, the strongest pas- sions, and a terrible story : he had had experience of all that the world is accustomed to admire, love, abhor, denounce, respect, adopt, or reject ; he had tried all pleasures, been strangely tossed about, and had suffered more from the acuteness of his sensations than most other persons similarly situated would have done. These are ample materials for one desirous of writingt he history of his own mind. BYRON is here drawn by himself, and the picture no one can look upon without mixed sensations of love, fear, and admiration.
The unfailing consequence of this publication must be to raise BYRON greatly in public opinion, and that by contributing to a more correct knowledge of him. His mistake was, that he warred with the world. Madame de STAEL told him so, and told him also that in all such contests he must fail ; but she did not tell him, and she did, not know, that he commenced the war rather through fear than courage. He fancied he was made war upon, and then he sent forth, but not till then, his perpetual defiance. He is now a dead enemy, and the world is too generous to bear. malice : we are beginning to think differently of our noble foe. This work will hasten the current of public opinion. This second volume takes up the poet on his leaving England after the separation. His letters describe him in Switzerland; and there is a journal written for his sister, which shows us the history of the most sublime of his, descriptive poems—for such it is in spite of its dramatic form—we mean Manfred. From Swit- • zerland, BYRON seems to have been driven by the tourists and the coteries of English settlers, who abound on the borders of the Leman Lake : their gossip and scandal, as it occasionally reached his ears, disgusted and irritated his sensitive nature. He fled to Italy, to Milan, and subsequently to Venice ; where he fell into much dissipation as respects women,—that is to say, he led a life about one-fiftieth part as immoral as the " man about town." Fleeting and degrading attachments were replaced by one which even the prim Mr. MOORE looks upon as possessing almost the sacredness and purity of the marriage tie. This connexion with the Countess Guicciou led him from Venice to Bologna, to Ravenna, and ultimately to Pisa. His attachment to that lady, fated in future times to be as celebrated as the loves Of PE- TRARCH and LAURA, purified the mind as well as the pursuits of the noble poet ; and in his letters, memoranda, and cor- respondence with the fair object of his tender respect, gives birth to some passages and ideas of the most charming kind. The cha- racter of this passion has not hitherto been understood, neither has the amiable character of LA Guicciom been as yet appre- ciated or is it appreciable in this country, the manners of which are, happily, so widely different from those of Italy. All this part of the work is new ; and the passages from LA Guicciom's own letters and narrative are the most charming specimens of female composition in the world: they are all " true woman,- —simple, impassioned, tender, delicate, but firm as steel, and as bright, but not so cold. Mr. MOORE cannot be said to have gilded this passion with any of his finery,—for ever since he repented of " Little," he has been ashamed of any Other love than such lo}yes as the angels bear or spirits breathe : the tale tells itself, in scraps of verse and prose, written in fly_ieaves, in memoranda, in journals, in his letters to LA GUICCIOLI and about her, and in the exquisite morsels of her own Italian, beautifully translated by Mr. Mooar.
On BYRON'S removal from Italy to Greece, his private history is better known; it had become more public ; and we learn but few additional particulars. The correspondence turns almost wholly on Greek affairs, and is chiefly extracted from the archives of the Greek Committee : its principal contents, as well as the history of BYRON in Greece, were long ago published from the same sources, in an article in the Westminster Review.
We learn nothing new on the subject of the separation. MOORE simply reprints Lady BYRON.S paper in the Appendix ; that paper which, with our feelings towards BYRON, strikes us as being one of the most insidious of human productions. Under the pretext of defendine.'' the memory of her mother, whose memory was in no way greatly concerned, that lady throws the most horrible sus- picions on the memory of her husband. BYRON used to complain he never could get anybody to speak out : he. was destroyed by hints and inuendoes : here is the darkest, however, from the pen of his pattern wife. He says himself, "The Devil take everybody! I never can get any person to be explicit about anything or any- body ; and my whole life is passed in conjectures of what people mean: you all talk in the style of CAROLINE LAMB'S novels." It is curious that his wife was the only woman BYRON was intimate with who did not love him ; the proof is, she did not rule him : his servant said to Mr. MOORE one day, " It's very odd, but I never knew a lady that could not govern my Lord, except my Lady."
Our space, more particularly this week, will not permit us to indulge in extracts. If we were to quote the passages that had amused and delighted us, or those which throwlight on the na- ture of BYRON'S wonderful mind or his singular character, we might copy more than half the volume. The only extracts we shall make relate, the first to his defence of himself against the public opinion, in an unpublished answer to an article in Blackwood's Ma- gazine: the other is a curious letter to Mr. MURRAY, and highly illustrative of the sensitiveness of the writer's nature which we have alluded to as explanatory of a great deal of his life.
ANSWER TO BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE.
"The man who is exiled by a faction has the consolation of thinking that he is a martyr; he is upheld by hope and the dignity of his cause, real or imaginary : he who withdraws from the pressure of debt may in- aiulge in the thought that time and prudence will retrieve his circum- stances: he who is condemned by the law has a term to his banishment, or a dream of its abbreviation ; or, it may be, the knowledge or the belief of some injustice of the law, or of its administration in his own parti- cular: but he who is outlawed by general opinior., without the interven- tion of hostile politics, illegal judgment, or embarrassed circumstances, whether he be innocent or guilty, must undergo all the bitterness of exile, without hope, without pride, without alleviation. This case was mine. Upon what grounds the public founded their opinion, I am not aware; but it was general, and it was decisive. Of me or of mine they knew little, except that I had written what is called poetry, was a nobleman, had married, became a father, and was involved in differences with my wife and her relatives, no one knew why, because the persons complain- ing refused to state their grievances. The fashionable world was divided into parties, mine consisting of a very small minority : the reasonable world was naturally on the stronger side, which happened to be the lady's, as was most proper and polite. The press was active and scurrilous; and such was the rage of the day, that the unfortunate publication of two copies of verses, rather complimentary than otherwise to the subjects of both, was tortured into a species of crime, or constructive petty treason. I was accused of every monstrous vice by public rumour and private rancour : my name, which had been a knightly or a noble one since my fathers helped to conquer the kingdom for William the Norman, was tainted. I felt that if what was whispered, and muttered, and murmured, was nue„I was unfitfqr England; if false, England was unfit for me. I withdrew; but this was not enough. In other countries, in Switzerland, In the shadow of the Alps, and by the blue depth of the lakes, I Was pur-
sued and breathed upon by the same blight. I crossed the mountains
but it was the same ; so I went a little farther, and settled myself by the waves of the Adriatic, like the stag at bay, who betakes him to the waters. " If I may judge by the statements of the few friends who gathered round me, the outcry of the period to which I allude was beyond all pre-
cedent—all parallel, even in those cases where political motives have sharp- ened slander and doubled enmity. I was advised not to go to the theatres, lest I should he hissed, nor to my duty in Parliament, lest I should be insulted by the way ; even on the day of my departure, my most inti- mate friend told me afterwards that he was under apprehensions of vio- lence from the people who might be assembled at the door of the car- riage. However, I was not deterred bY these counsels from seeing Kean in his best characters, nor from voting according to my principles ; and, with regard to the third and last apprehensions of my friends, I could not share in them, not being made acquainted with their extent till some time after I had crossed the Channel. Even if I had been so, I am not of a nature to be much affected by men's anger, though I may feel hurt by their aversion. against all individual outrage, I could protect or re- dress myself ; and againSt that of a crowd, I should probably have been enabled to defend myself, with the assistance of others, as has been done on similar occasions.
"I retired from the country perceiving that I was the object of general obloquy ; I did not indeed imagine, like Jean Jacques Rousseau, that all mankind was in a conspiracy against me, though I had perhaps as good grounds for such a chimera as ever he had : but I perceived that I had to a great extent become personally obnoxious in England, perhaps through my own fault, but the fact was indisputable ; the public in general would hardly have been so much excited against a more popular character, without at least an accusation or a charge of some kind ac- tually expressed or substantiated, for I can hardly conceive that the com- mon and every-day occurrence of a separation between man and wife could in itself produce so great a ferment. I shall say nothing of the usual complaints of being prejudged,' 'condemned unheard,' 'unfairness," partiality,' and so forth—the usual changes rung by parties who
have had, or are to have, a trial ; but I was a little surprised to find my- self condemned without being favoured with the act of accusation, and to perceive in the absence of this portentous charge or charges, whatever it or they were to be, that every possible or impossible crime was ru- moured to supply its place, and taken for granted. This could only occur in the case of a person very much disliked, and I knew no remedy, having already used to their extent whatever little powers I might possess of pleasing in society. I had no party in fashion, though I was after- wards told that there was one—but it was not of my formation, nor did I then know of its existence—none in literature ; and in politics I had voted with the Whigs, with precisely that importance which a Whig vote possesses in these Tory days, and with such personal acquaintance with the leaders in both houses as the society in which I lived sanctioned, but without claim or expectation of any thing like friendship from any one, except a few young men of my own age and standing, and a few others more advanced in life, which last it had been my fortune to serve in circumstances of difficulty. This was, in fact, to stand alone : and I recollect, some time after, Madame de Steel said to me in Switzerland, '
You should not have warred with the world—it will not do—it is too strong always for any individual : I myself once tried it in early life, but it will not do.' I perfectly acquiesce in the truth of this remark ; but the world had done me the honour to begin the war ; and, assuredly, if peace is only to be obtained by courting and paying tribute to it, I am not qualified to obtain its countenance. I thought, in the words of Campbell,
Then wed thee to an exiled lot,
And if the world bath loved thee not,
Its absence may be borne.
"I recollect, however, that having been much hurt by Romilly's con- duct (he, having a general retainer for me, had acted as adviser to the adversary, alleging, on being reminded of'his retainer, that he had for- gotten it, as his clerk had so many), I observed that some of those who were now eagerly laying the axe to my roof-tree, might see their own shaken, and feel a portion of what they had inflicted.—His fell, and crushed him.
"I have heard of, and believe, that there are human beings so consti- tuted as to be insensible to injuries ; but I believe that the best mode to avoid taking vengeance is to get out of the way of temptation. I hope that I may never have the opportunity, for I am not quite sure that I could resist it, having derived from my mother something of the perfer- vidum ingenium Scotorum.' I have not sought, and shall not seek it, and perhaps it may never come in my path. I do not in this allude to the party, who might be right or wrong; but to many who made her cause the pretext of their own bitterness. She, indeed, must have long avenged me in her own feelings; for whatever her reasons may have been (and she never adduced them to me at least), she probably neither contemplated nor conceived to what she became the means of conducting the father of her child, and the husband of her choice."
TO ma. MURRAY.
Ravenna, 24th Sept 1821. "I have been thinking over our late correspondence, and wish to pro- pose to you the following articles for our future : " lstly. That you shall write to me of yourself, of the health, wealth, and welfare of all friends; but of me (quoad me) little or nothing.•
" 2dly. That you shall send me soda-powders, tooth-powder, tooth- brushes, or any such anti-odontalgic or chemical articles, as heretofore, ad libitum,' upon being reimbursed for the same.
" 3dly. That you shall not send me any modern, or (as they are called) new publications, in English, whatsoever, save and excepting any writing-, prose or verse, of (or reasonably presumed to be of) Walter Scott, Crabbe, Moore, Campbell, Rogers, Gifford, Joanna Baillie, Irving (the Ame- rican), Hogg, "Wilson (Isle of Palms man,) or any especial single work of fancy which is thought to be of considerable merit; Voyages and Travels, provided that they are neither in Greece, Spain, Asia Minor,. Albania, nor Italy, will be welcome. Having travelled the countries mentioned, I know that what is said of them can convey nothing farther which I de- sire to know about them.—No other English works whatsoever.
" 4thly. That you send roe no periodical works whatsoever—no Edin- burgh, Quarterly, Monthly, nor any review, magazine, or newspaper, English or foreign, of any description.
" 5thly. That you send me no opinions whatsoever, either good, bad, or indifferent, of yourself, or your friends, or others, concerning any work, or works, of mine, past, present, or to come. " 6thly. That all negotiations rn,matters of business between you and me pass through the medium of the Hon. Douglas Kinnaird, my friend and trustee, or Mr. Hobhouse, as • Alter ego,' and tantamount to myself during my absence—or presence. "Some of these propositions may at first seem strange, but they are founded. The quantity of trash I have received as books is incalculable, and neither amused nor instructed. Reviews and magazines are at the best but ephemeral. and superficial reading:—who thinks of the grand .article of last year in any given Review ? lathe next place, if they regard anytelf, they tedd to increase egotism. If favourable, I do not deny that the praise elates, and if unfavourable, that the abuse irritates. The latter may conduct me to inflict a species of satire, which would neither do good to you nor to your friends : they may smile now, and so may you ;
i but if I took you all n hand, it would not be difficult to cut you up like gourds. I did as much by as powerful people at nineteen years old, and I know little as yet in three-and-thirty, which should prevent me from making all your ribs gridirons for your hearts, if Such were my propen- sity : but it is not; therefore let me hear none of your provocations. If
any thine's occurs so very gross as to require my notice, I shall hear of it from my legal friends. For the rest, I merely request to be left in igno- rance.
"The same applies to opinions, good, bad, or indifferent, of persons in conversation or correspondence. These do not interrupt, but they soil, the current of my mind. I am sensitive enough, but not till I am troubled;
and here I am beyond the touch of the short arms of literary England, except the few feelers of the polypus that crawl over the channels in the way of extract.
"All these precautions in England would be useless ; the libeller or the flatterer would there reach me in spite of all ; but in Italy we know little
of literary England, and think less, except what reaches us through some
garbled and brief extract in some miserable gazette. For two years (ex- cepting two or three articles cut out and sent to.you by the post) I never read a newspaper which was not forced upon me by some accident; and know, upon the Whole, as little of England as you do of Italy, and God knows that is little enough, with all your travels, &c. he. he. The Eng- lish travellers know Italy as you know Guernsey : how much is that ? "If any thing occurs so violently gross or personal as requires notice, Mr. Douglas Kinnand will let me knew; but of praise, I desire to hear
"You will say, To what tends all this ?' I will answer THAT ;—to keep my mind free and unbiassed by all paltry and personal irritabilities of praise or censure—to let my genius take its natural direction, while my feelings are like the dead., who know nothing and feel nothing of all or aught that is said or done in their regard. "If you can observe these conditions, you will spare yourself and others some pain : let me not be woi ked upon to rise up' for if I do, it will not be for a little. If you cannot observe these conditions, we shall cease to be correspondents,—but not friends, for I shall always be yours
ever and truly, Benoist.
" P.S. I have taken these resolutions not from any irritation against you or yours, but simply upon reflection that all reading, either praise or
censure, of myself has done me harm. When I was in Switzerland and
Greece, I was out of the way of hearing either, and how I wrote there !- In Italy I am out of the way of it too ; but latterly, partly through my fault, and partly through your kindness in wishing to send me the netcest and most periodical publications, I have had a crowd of Reviews, he., thrust upon me, which have bored me with their jargon, of one kind or another, and taken off my attention from greater objects. You have also sent me a parcel of trash of poetry, for no reason that I can conceive, unless to provoke me to write anew English Bards.' Now this I wishi to avoid ; for if ever I do, it will be a strong production ; and I desire peace as long as the fools will keep their nonsense out of my way!"
• It would be difficult to describe more strongly or more convincingly than Lord Byron has done in this letter the sort of petty, but thwarting, obstructions and distractions which are at present thrown across the path of men of real talent by that swarm of minor critics and pretenders with whom the want of a vent in other professions has crowded all the walks of literature. Nor is it only the writers of the day that suffer from this multifarious rush into the mart ;—the readers also, from having (as Lord, Byron expresses it in another letter) "the superficies of too many things presented to them at once," come to lose by degrees their powers of dis- crimination; and, in the same manner as the palate becomes confused in trying various wines, so the public taste declines in proportion as the im- pressions to which it is exposed multiply.
The letters contain, scattered up and down, various unpublished epigrams, versiculi, and little songs : many of them are pleasant.
WE have received the following letter from the ingenious author of the Romance of French History :- TO TILE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR,
41, Clarendon-square, December 21, IWO.
Sta,—I feel very much flattered by your notice of my " Romance of French History" in the SPECTATOR of last Saturday, but there is one thing that gives me a little mortification. You say that my information is "only second-hand." This is not the case. If I could have obtained it at second-hand, I should not have been so silly as to have given myself so much useless trouble ; but the fact is, I know of no modern compila- tions which would have answered my purpose. I trouble you with this chirp, in the first place, because your assertion is placed very unceremoniously, and, I think, incautiously, against one of mine in the preface; and, in the second place, because the public character of the SPECTATOR is too high, both for talent and honesty, to render an opinion espoused in it a matter of indifference to any author. I am, Sir, your most obedient Servant,
We can onjy express a critical opinion in our notices of books, which cannottand against a well-founded allegation of fact: all that can be said in this case is, that it appeared so to us on peru- sal—our assertion' can amount to nothing more : it is possible we may be wrong, or we may differ with Mr. RITCHIE as to first and second sources : he surely does not hold MEZERAYAN an original source.