BYROM'S POEMS.* THE Chetham Society must be congratulated on having
obtained for this edition of Byrom's Poems (making up the annual issue for the years 1894.95) the services of so dis- tinguished a scholar as Principal Ward. Byrom himself, si mcntem mortalia tangunt, must feel that tempered satisfaction which Aristotle would have thought possible to the departed in such a case. It is true that he never thought it worth his while to collect his poems for publication, though he certainly had the needful leisure. They appeared for the first time eight years after his death ; a second edition came out in 1814, and the world has waited eighty years without manifest impatience for a third. To be quite candid, Byrom was a writer who would be satisfactorily represented by a selection. But the idea of the Chetham Society publishing a selection is obviously preposterous. As it is, a careful and learned editorship brings out all the value that they have to the full. If their literary quality is not of the finest, they had always, and have now more than ever, a claim to be read for "instruc- tion of manners." Byrom achieved his first and, as it turned out, his greatest success, when he was a Cambridge student. The Spectator printed, in its issue of October 6th, 1714, his " Pastoral," otherwise " Colin and Phebe," Addison intro- ducing it with the remark, " It has in it something so original that I do not much doubt it will divert my readers." Phebe seems to have been Joanna, otherwise "Jag," Bentley, second daughter of the famous Master, a young lady who was after- wards renowned for her conquests,—for which, indeed, in those days, a University offered a fine field. Miss " Jug " must have begun early, for in 1714 she was but eleven. The
• Th. P04114 of John Byrom. Edited by Adolphus Willjanl Ward. 2 vole. (each in two parts). The Chetbant Societ7.
" Pastoral " is a delightful bit of verse, so fresh is it, so sparkling, so tasteful. In the eighth stanza it reaches a per- fection which has seldom been surpassed :—
" Rose, what is become of thy delicate Hue ?
And where is the violet's beautiful Blue ?
Does aught of its Sweetness the Blossom beguile ? That Meadow, those Daisies, why do they not smile ? Ah, rivals ! I see what it was that you drest And made yourselves fine for,—a Place in her Breast : You put on your Colours to pleasure her Eye, To be pluckt by her Hand, on her Bosom to die."
Never surely did dactyls, the most sprightly of metres, trip it more gaily ! Byrom, it might be remarked, was no stranger to Addison. He had already (in the August and September of the same year) contributed three papers, two of them on Dreams, and one a satirical piece on certain foibles of man- kind. The Spectator itself expired four months afterwards, the noblest victim of the new stamp-duty. The next piece is three
years later in date, and is important for the occasion which suggested it. Byrom wrote it on his way to Montpellier, where he went to study medicine, after paying his respects to the Pretender at Avignon. (He was always a Jacobite, though of the Opportunist school.) It is a free translation of the
AO; Ira UTZ Z.T.A.
‘• If a man do but keep himself sober and stout, The world as he'd have it must needs turn about."
In Tanbridgiale (between August, 1723, and April, 1725), we seem to have a reminiscence of the Spectator, but the verses far excel in taste and propriety the somewhat boisterous
humour of the letters about Tunbridge Wells. To about the same period belongs the famous epigram, too well known to need quotation, on " Tweedledum and Tweedledee " (Handel and Bononcini), and "A Letter to R. L., Esq.," in which he commemorates, among other things, the execution of Jonathan Wild :—
" Good law ! how the Houses were crowded with mobs, That lookt like LEVIATHAN'S picture in HOBBES, From the very ground floor to the Top of the Leads, While JONATHAN passed through a Holborn of Heads."
Fielding, who wrote many years after, speaks, possibly with irony, of "admiring crowds." In Byrom we have,—
" The Mob all along, as he pass'd 'em, huzzaing."
It is difficult to show sympathy with a man who is going to be hanged, but one would hardly " huzza." And Byrom tells us in a letter that " the mob pelted him at the very gallows." It may be noted that he watched the scene from "Dick's," a coffee-house in Fleet Street, a place not unknown to some of our readers, but now, alas ! not a little changed. Next we
have the description of a fight (with the quarter-staff) between two professionals, and farther on, the story of how the coach
in which Byrom was travelling was stopped by a highwayman in Epping Forest:— "A dreary landscape, bushy and forlorn,
Where Rogues start up like Mushrooms in a Morn."
The poet does not appreciate the scenery. He complains that there was nothing to be seen but "thickets within thickets." His own loss was an "ounce of silver." Byrom, as has been said, was a Jacobite, and at one time disposed to action. Time modified his views, and he did not refuse the oath of allegiance. Still, his sympathies were with the party, and he showed them with his pen. He made no secret of preferring Lord Bal- merino, who held to his political creed to the last, to Lord Kilmarnock, who confessed the crime of rebellion :—
" The OTHER, firm and steady in the Cause Of injured Monarchs and of ancient Laws, By Change of Conduct never Stained his Fame,— Child, Youth, and Man, his Principles the same. How greatly generous his last Adieu,
That from his Friend one more confession drew ! He clears his Prince's Honour and his own, And only Sorrows not to die alone."
In an "Epistle to a Friend," he attacks, with not a little
fierceness, a. Manchester clergyman who had preached on " False Claims to Martyrdom." The following lines are a good specimen of his manner when " facit indignatio versus."
After a reference to the Sermon on the Mount, he goes on
0 Divine Sermon ! little understood,
If they who preach thee, not content with Blood, Justly, perhaps, perhaps [unjustly] shed, (Do Thou determine, Judge of Quick and Dead !) By this devoted Earth's all-transient Scene Measure the glories of Eternal Reign ; Adjust its Martyr'd Ranks, and seem to fear
Lest Heav'n should err,—and Jacobites be there."
The word "unjustly" is represented by asterisks. It might have imperilled the writer.
But it was only by urgent causes that Byrom's temper could be so roused. Its ordinary mood was expressed by the verses, that follow :—
" For Chance or Change, of Peace or Pain, For Fortune's Favour, or her Frown, For Lack or Glut, for Loss or Gain, I never dodge, nor up nor down ;
But swing what Way the Ship shall swim, Or tack about, with equal Trim.
I suit not where I shall not speed, Nor trace the Turn of every Tide ; If simple Sense will not succeed, I make no Bustling but abide : For shining Wealth, or scaring Woe, I force no Friend, I fear no Foe."
The two parts of the second volume are devoted to Byrom's
sacred verse. It must be confessed that in this kind of writing he does not shine. His Christmas hymn, "Christians, awake! salute the happy morn," has indeed found its way into the most popular of Anglican collections. Some of the lines,
little suited for singing, if not prosaic, have been omitted, but the hymn remains substantially unaltered, and if not one
of the best, is not among the worst of the collection. " From His poor Manger to His bitter Cross," is, perhaps, the best line in it. Many of the other pieces have an interest of their own, but it is scarcely of a literary kind. Byrom was an earnest and devout believer, and it would be worth while to compare his ways of thinking with those of John Wesley, who was a slightly younger contemporary. On one notable point they agreed. Both held " enthusiasm " in abhorrence. It is not the least happy augury of better things, that the present generation employs the word, as the editor remarks, "if not always in a complimentary, at least rarely in an unkindly way."
Byrom was something of a classical scholar, but his
acquirements in this direction were not extensive. He proposes centum for centue', in " Same Maecenas, cyathos amici Sospitis centum," apparently ignorant that the cyathus was not a "cup," as he renders it, but a ladle, and that even if taken literally, with twelve cyathi to the pint, the quantity is not impossible. But centum, of course, is a round number.
(Byrom puts a colon at Sospitis, leaving cyathos unqualified.) .cEdificiis for Divitiis in- " Eastinctis in altum
Divitiis potietur heres"
is quite intolerable; but hircis (spelt hyrcis) for ursis in- "IIt tutu ab atris corpore viperis Dormirem et ursis "
is the worst of all. " Were goats beasts of prey P " appositely asks the editor. Byrom, however, was not unequal to a happy effort in Latin verse, as the following proves :—
" Primus in orbe Deos fecit Timor'—Haec mihi,
Calve, Est ubi de Sacris quaestio, vociferas. Cam fneris tute ipso hominum timidissimus, uncle est, Improbe, quod dubites ansit ubique Deus ? "