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Byron can avoid discussing it. To do so is in fact the simplest way of ascertaining his place in literature. During his lifetime he enjoyed a renown which has rarely fallen to the lot of any living writer. At the present day it is common to hear people asserting that Byron was not a true poet. Some causes of this revolution are patent. In the first place he cannot be called a moral poet. His collected works are not of a kind to be recommended for family reading; and the poems in which his genius shines most clearly, are precisely those which lie open to the charges of cynicism, unorthodoxy, or licentiousness. Again, he suffers from the very range and versatility of his per ormance. Like the Roman Empire, magnitudine laborat suå. His masterpieces are long, and make considerable demands upon the reader's patience. Byron has suffered even more from the mixed quality of his work. Not only are his poems voluminous, but they are exceedingly unequal ; nor is it so easy, as in the case of Wordsworth, to separate what is worthless from the imperishable creations of his genius. The sudden burst of glory which followed upon the publication of Childe Harold, and the indiscriminate enthusiasm of his admirers, injured Byron during his lifetime by establishing the certainty that whatever he wrote would be read. It has injured him still more with posterity by stirring a reaction against claims in some respects so obviously ill-founded. Instead of subjecting the whole mass of Byron's poetry to a careful criticism, the world has been contented lately to reckon it among the nine days' wonders of a previous age. This injustice would, however, have been impossible, unless a current of taste inimical to Byron had set in soon after his death. Students of literature in England began about that period to assimilate Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Landor--those very poets whom Byron, in his uncritical arrogance, had despised or neglected. Their ears became accustomed to versification more exquisite and careful, to harmonies deeper and more refined if less resonant and brilliant. They learned to demand a more patient and studied delineation of natural beauty, passion more reserved, artistic aims at once more sober and more earnest, and emotions of a less obtrusively personal type. Tennyson and Browning, with all the poet-artists of the present generation, represent as sheer a departure from Byronian precedent as it is possible to take in literature. The very greatness of Byron has unfitted him for an audience educated in this different school of poetry. That greatness was his truth to fact, conceived


as action, feeling, energy ; not as the material for picture-painting, reflection, or analysis. Men nursed on the idyllic or the analytic kinds of poetry can hardly do him justice; not because he is exactly greater, or they indisputably less, but because he makes his best points in a region which is alien to their sympathy. The idyll was a species invented by the Greeks in their decline, when the passion, action and practical energy—the lyrical emotion and the dramatic fervour of their past literature-had become fit subjects for little pictures, jewels of verse, refracting the light cast on them by culture, and returning it to the eyes of the beholder in a prism of suggestive hues. Our age is in a somewhat similar sense idyllic. We are now accustomed to the art which appeals to educated sensibilities, by suggestions and reflections, by careful workmanship and attentive study of form, by artistically finished epitomes of feeling, by picturesquely blended reminiscences of realism, culture, and poetical idealism. Byron's work is too primitive, too like the raw material of poetry, in its crudity and inequality, to suit our Neo-Alexandrian taste. He wounds oui sympathies ; he violates our canons of correctness ; he fails to satisfy our subtlect sense of art. He showers upon us in profusion what we do not want, and withholds the things for which we have been trained to crave. His personality inspires no love, like that which makes the devotees of Shelley as faithful to the man as they are loyal to the poet. His intellect, though robust and masculine, is not of the kind to which we willingly submit. As a man, as a thinker, as an artist, he is out of harmony with us. Nevertheless nothing can be more certain than Byron's commanding place in English literature. He is the only British poet of the nineteenth century who is also European ; nor will the lapse of time fail to make his greatness clearer to his fellow-countrymen, when a just critical judgment finally dominates the fluctuations of fashion to which he has been subject.

It is desirable in all disputed cases to readjust the balance of criticism by reference to authorities who command attention. This disposes me to quote the opinions of Byron's most eminent contemporaries, not because they seem to represent the final truth about his poetry, but because their deliberate enthusiasm must force the reader to a reconsideration of his merits. Shelley, who was no mean critic, and who was certainly not blinded to Byron's faults by their close intimacy, wrote of him in private correspondence thus : 'He touched the chord to which a million hearts responded, and the coarse music which he produced to please them, disciplined him to the perfection to which he now approaches.' This was in 1822. Again, in an earlier letter of the same year : ‘Space wondered less at the swift and fair creations of God when he grew weary of vacancy, than I at this spirit of an angel in the mortal paradise of a decaying body.' Goethe, in conversation with Eckermann, after death had removed the English peer and poet above all reach of flattery, said: “The English may think of Byron as they please ; but this is certain, that they can show no poet who is to be compared with him. He is different from all the others, and for the most part, greater.' That this was no hasty utterance, is proved by Euphorion's part, assigned to Byron, in Faust, as the typical modern poet, and by many parallel passages in Eckermann's book of Table Talk. Mazzini, to quote an authority of a different type, breaks, at the end of his essay on Goethe and Byron, into the following vindication of the poet's claim : ‘The day will come when Democracy will remember all that it owes to Byron. England too will, I hope, one day remember the mission-so entirely English, yet hitherto overlooked by herwhich Byron fulfilled on the continent; the European rôle given by him to English literature, and the appreciation and sympathy for England which he awakened amongst us.

Before he came, all that was known of English literature was the French translation of Shakespeare, and the anathema hurled by Voltaire against the “intoxicated barbarian.” It it since Byron that we Continentalists have learned to study Shakespeare and other English writers. From him dates the sympathy of all the true-hearted amongst us for this land of liberty, whose true vocation he so worthily represented among the oppressed. He led the genius of Britain on a pilgrimage throughout all Europe.'

The judgments I have cited are of value when we seek to discern Byron's merits with eyes unblinded by contemporary prejudice. If we measure him from the standpoint of British literature, where of absolute perfection in verse there is perhaps less than we desire, he will scarcely bear the test of niceness to which our present rules of taste expose him. But if we try him by the standards of universal literature, where of finish and exactitude in execution there is plenty, we shall find that he has qualities of strength and elasticity, of elemental sweep and energy, which condone all defects in technical achievement. Such power, sincerity and radiance, such directness of generous enthusiasm and disengagement from local or patriotic prepossessions, such sympathy with the forces of humanity in movement after freedom, such play of humour and passion, as Byron pours into the common stock, are no slight contributions. Europe does not need to make the discount upon Byron's claims to greatness that are made by his own country.


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