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politics of the continent of Europe. So that Byron's
Much of Byron's opposition to his age was temperamental, the isolation of a lonely, jealous, and intractable nature. Much of it was purely personal resentment against the England and the Englishmen who had turned against him in 1816 at the time of the scandal of Lady Byron's separation from him. "I abhor the nation and the nation me," he writes to Murray in 1817, and this feeling remained with him. pretty constantly to the end. But whatever its genesis
it was essentially a sincere enough antipathy to what was narrow and provincial and false in the ideals and the life of the England of the first quarter of this century, especially of that section of the life of England which Byron had touched and known.
Already in 1811 through his first journey abroad Byron had freed himself from what he calls "the bitter effects of staying at home with all the narrow prejudices of an islander.' The effect of his later life was to emancipate him pretty thoroughly from the domination of current English ideals and prejudices. Byron in his way is fundamentally a poet of emancipation,— perhaps too exclusively so, but effectively so at least. And we can trace in his life step by step how he freed himself and was set free by others from all the sanctions and bonds of the social order from which he emerged. The impatience, the resolution not to submit and endure, which is the keynote of his character, could brook nothing but this complete emancipation. After it came, he, or at least his poetry, was the better for it. His relief finds expression in a letter to Moore in 1822:
"As my success in society was not inconsiderable, I am surely not a prejudiced judge upon the subject, unless in its favour; but I think it, as now constituted, fatal to all great original undertakings of every kind. I never courted it then, when I was young and high in blood, and one of its curled darlings'; and do you think I would do so now, when I am living in a clearer atmosphere? One thing only might lead me back to it, and that is to try once more if I could do any good in politics; but not in the petty politics I see now preying upon our miserable country."
All of the picturesque superficies of the society of his day Byron had come in contact with and reflects in his
letters or his verse, -the dandyism, the club life and the high play, the dissipation in, fashionable society, the blue-stockings and the rage for literary lions, the waltz in its newness, the salons, the literary breakfasts at Rogers', the pugilism, the calamities and quarrels of authors, and the rest. The constructive ideals of his greater verse are concerned with other things, but his satiric and destructive verse is largely directed against the abuses of English society. In the "Age of Bronze,” a poem on the revival of the movement for national liberty in 1820, in which Byron shows himself most openly the poet of the Revolution, after reviewing the aspects of contemporary Continental politics, he turns to satirize the vices of England and especially the greed of her dominant class, the landlords. After the close of the Napoleonic wars, during which, owing to the exclusion of the greater part of foreign competition, these gentry had profited exceedingly by the high rents they were able to exact from the farmers of their lands, they set themselves doggedly against reform and lower These Byron attacks:
"Alas, the country! how shall tongue or pen
For what were all these country patriots born?
He amplified to every lord's content
Up, up again, ye rents! exalt your notes,
See these inglorious Cincinnati swarm,
Their ploughshare was the sword in hireling hands,
Their brethren out to battle. Why? For rent !
Blood, sweat, and tear-wrung millions. Why? For rent !
Of these high-market patriots; war was rent!
And will they not repay the treasures lent?
But Byron's chief satiric animus was against the corruption and the cant of the day. It was, writes Mr. Henley,
"a dreadful age, no doubt: for all its solid foundations of faith and dogma in the Church and of virtue and solvency in the State, a fierce, drunken, gambling, 'keeping,' adulterous, high-living, hard-drinking, hard-hitting, brutal age. But it was Byron's; and 'Don Juan' and 'The Giaour' are as naturally its outcome as 'Absalom and Achitophel' is an expression of the Restoration, and In Memoriam' a product of Victorian England.
"As to the cant of the day," writes Byron in 1819, "I despise it, as I have ever done all its other finical fashions, which become you as paint became the ancient Britons.". And in 1821: "And after all, what is the higher society of England? According to my own experience and to all that I have seen and heard (and I have lived there the very highest and what is called the best) no way of life can be more corrupt. . . . In England the only homage which they pay to virtue is hypocrisy. I speak of course of the tone of high life,-the middle ranks may be very virtuous."
And once again in a passage in his Letter on Bowles' Strictures on Pope":
"The truth is that in these days the grand primum mobile of England is cant; cant political, cant poetical, cant religious, cant moral; but always cant, multiplied through all the varieties of life. It is the fashion, and while it lasts will be too powerful for those who can only exist by taking the tone of the time. I say cant, because it is a thing of words, without the smallest influence upon human actions; the English being no wiser, no better, and much poorer and more divided amongst themselves, as well as far less moral, than they were before the prevalence of this verbal decorum."
Byron certainly was not one of those who exist only by taking the tone of the time. However mixed were his motives, and however exaggerated the indictment he draws, the whole course of his life, as of his writings, was sincerely in protest against what was fundamentally outworn and false and hypocritical in the social organization of the day. The smug unintelligence of the