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Art. X. Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.' A Romaunt. By Lord
Byron. 4to. pp. 230. London, 1812.
ter thregler or con which tice. Thes
I ORD BYRON has improved marvellously since his last appear♡ ance at our tribunal ;-and this, though it bear a very affected title, is really a volume of very considerable power, spirit and originality-which not only atones for the evil works of his nonage, but gives promise of a further excellence hereafter; to. which it is quite confortable to look forward..
The most surprising thing about the present work, indeed, is, that it should please and interest so much as it does, with so few of the ordinary ingredients of interest or poetical delight. There is no story or adventure-and, indeed, no incident of any kind ; the whole poem--to give a very short account of it-consisting of a series of reflections made in travelling through a part of Spain and Portugal, and in sailing up the Mediterranean to the shores of Greece. These reflections, too, and the descriptions out of which they arise, are presented without any regular order or connexion-being sometimes strung, upon the slender thread of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and sometimes held together by the still slighter tié of the author's local situation at the time of writing. As there are no incidents, there cannot well be any characters ;-and accordingly, with the exception of a few national sketches, which form part of the landscape of his pilgrimage, that of the hero himself is the only delineation of the kind that is offered to the reader of this volume ;-and this hero, we must say, appears to us as oddly chosen as he is imperfectly employed. Childe Harold is a sated epicure-sickened vith the very fulness of prosperity-oppressed with ennui, and stung with occasional remorse ;-his heart hardened by a long course of sensual indulgence, and his opinion of mankind degraded by his acquaintance with the baser part of them. In this state he wanders over the fairest and most interesting parts of Europe, in the vain liope of stimulating his palsied sensibility by novelty, or at least of occasionally forgetting his mental anguish in the toils and perils of his journey. Like Milton's fiend, however, he sees undelighted all delight, and passes on through the great wilderness of the world with a heart shut to all human sympathy,--sullenly despising the stir both of its business and its pleasures--but hating and despising himself most of all, for beholding it with so litile enotion.
Lord Byron takes the trouble to cantion his readers against supposing that he meant to shadow out his own character under the dark and repulsive traits of that which we bave just exhibited; a càution which was surely unnecessary--though it is impossible
.. . not
not to observe, that the mind of the noble author has been so far tinged by his strong conception of this Satanic personage, that the sentiments and reflections which he delivers in his own name, have all received a shade of the same gloomy and mi. santhropic colouring which invests those of his imaginary hem ro. The general strain of those sentiments, too, is such as we should have thought very little likely to attract popularity, in the present temper of this country. They are not only complexionally dark and disdainful, but run directly counter to very inany of our national passions, and most favoured propensities. Lord Byron speaks with the most 'unbounded contempt of the Portuguese-with despondence of Spain-and in a very slighting and sarcastic manner of wars, and victories, and military heroes in general. Neither are his religious opinions more ora thodox, we apprehend, than his politics; for he not only speaks without any respect of priests, and creeds, and dogmas of all descriptions, but doubts very freely of the immortality of the soul, and other points as fundamental. - Such are some of the disadvantages under which this poem lays claim to the public favour; and it will be readily understood that we think it has no ordinary merit, when we say, that we have little doubt that it will find favour, in spite of these disadvantages. Its chief excellence is a singular freedom and boldness, both of thought and expression, and a great occasional force and felicity of diction, which is the more pleasing that it does not appear to be the result either of long labour or humble imitation. There is, indeed, a tone of self-willed independence and originality about the whole composition-a certain plain manliness and strength of manner, which is infinitely refreshing after the sickly affectations of so many modern writers; and reconciles us not only to the asperity into which it sometimes degenerates, but even in some degree to the unamiableness upon which it constantly borders. We do not know, indeed, whether there is not something piquant in the very novelty and singularity of that cast of misanthropy and universal scorn, which we have already noticed as among the repulsive features of the composition. It excites a kind of curiosity, at least, to see how objects, which have been usually presented under so different an aspect, appear through so dark a medium ; and undoubtedly gives great effect to the flashes of emotion and suppressed sensibility that occasionally burst through the gloom. The best parts of the poem, accordingly, are those which embody those stern and disdainful reflexions, to which the author seems to recur with unfeigned cordiality and eagerness—and through which we think we can sometimes discern the strugglings of a gentler feeling; to
which he is afraid to abandon himself. There is much strength, in short, and some impetuous, feeling in this poem-but very little softness; some pity for mankind-but very little affection; and no enthusiasm in the cause of any living men, or admiration of their talents or virtues. The author's inspiration does not appear to have brought him any beatific visions, nor to have peopled his fancy with any forms of loveliness; and though his lays are often both loud and lofty, they neither · lap us in Ely
sium,' nor give us any idea that it was in Elysium that they were framed.
The descriptions are often exceedingly good; and the diction, though unequal and frequently faulty, has on the whole a freedom, copiousness and vigour, which we are not sure that we could match in any cotemporary poet. Scott alone, we think, possesses a style equally strong and natural; but, Scott's is more made up of imitations, and indeed is frequently a mere cento of other writers--while Lord Byron's has often a nervous simplicity and manly freshness which reminds us of Dryden, and an occasional force and compression, in some of the smaller pieces especially, which afford no unfavourable resemblance of Crabbe.
The versification is in the stanza of Spencer; and none of all the imitators of that venerable bard have availed themselves more extensively of the great range of tones and manners in which his example entitles them to indulge. Lord Byron has accordingly given us descriptions in all their extremes ;-sometimes compressing into one stanza the whole characteristic features of a country, and sometimes expanding into twenty the details of a familiar transaction ;-condescending, for pages together, to expatiate in minute and ludicrous representations,
and mingling long apostrophes, execrations, and the expression of personal emotion, with the miscellaneous picture which it is his main business to trace on the imagination of his readers. Not satisfied even with this license of variety, he has passed at will, and entirely, from the style of Spencer, to that of his own age, and intermingled various lyrical pieces with the solemn stanza of his general measure.
The poem begins with an account of Childe Harold's early profligacy, and the joyless riot in which he wasted his youthful days. At last,
• Worse than adversity the Childe befell;
Then loathed he in his native land to dwell." So he sets sail for Lisbon; and amuses himself on the way with inditing a sort of farewell ballad to his native country, in which there are some strong and characteristic stanzas. The
view of Lisbon, and the Portuguese landscape, is given with con-
The cork trees hoar that clothe the shaggy steep, .
The vine on high, the willow branch below,
There is then a digression, half in the style of invective and half of derision, on the Convention of Cintra ; after which the Childe proceeds for Spain. The description of the upland fron-, tier by which he enters, is striking and vigorous.
More bleak to view the hills at length recede,
For Spain is compass'd by unyielding foes,
After this comes a spirited invocation to the genius of Spain, and her ancient idol of Chivalry; followed by a rapid view of her present state of devastation ; which concludes with a bold personification of Battle.
•Lo! where the giant on the mountain stands,
His blood-red tresses deep'ning in the sun,
And eye that scorcheth all it glares upon,' p. 27.
The following passage affords a good specimen of the force of Lord Byron's style; as well as of that singular turn of sentiment which we have doubted whether to rank among the defects or the attractions of this performance. : , '
Three hosts combine to offer sacrifice ;
To feed the crow on Talavera's plain,
There shall they rot-Ambition's honour'd fools ! !
And die, that living might have prov'd her shame; * Perished perchance in some domestic feud,
Or in a narrower sphere wild rapine's path pursu'd.' p. 28-30. The following is in a more relenting mood..
• Not so the rustic-- with his trembling mate.
Blasted below the dun hot breath of war.' ' · No more beneath soft eve's consenting star
Fandango twirls his jocund castanet :
Ah, monarchs ! could ye taste the mirth ye mar, • Not in the toils of glory would ye fret ;
The hoarse dull drum would sleep, and man be happy yet!' p. 31.
After this, there is a transition to the maid of Saragoza, and a ‘rapturous encomium on the beauty of the Spanish women; in the very middle of which, the author, who wrote this part of his work in Greece, happens to lift up his eyes to the celebrated peak of Parnassus--and immediately, and without the slightest warning, bursts out into the following rapturous invocation, which is unquestionably among the most spirited passages of the poem. 6 Oh, thou Parnassus ! whom I now survey,
Not in the phrenzy of a dreamer's eye, '. Not in the fabled landscape of a lay,
But soaring snow-clad through thy native sky..
Oft have I dream'd of thee ! whose glorious name