Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

neous.

such dark-featured and reckless heroes! This remark, by the by, was made by a critic in a daily print, in relation to The Island. It was strange that Lord Byron should persist in choosing such heroes as Christian (the main incident of whose life is almost poetry in plain narrative); it was quite sickening to hear eternally of such people. Now we need not inform those who have read the poem, that Christian, is scarcely its hero; and that nothing anticipated by the honest scribe, who had merely seen it new in the shop windows, is to be found in-it. The entire spirit of this sort of observation is however false and erro

Virtue, define it as we may, consists chiefly in forbearance, negation, and the mastery of the passions. We may go still further, and add, that even its activity wears the aspect of self-denial, as all the self-devotion of Greek and Roman story-all that we understand of exalted virtue, from Alfred to Washington, will testify. This is well in fact, but is it so in poetry ? Or, in plainer terms, is it not the force, prevalence, and violence of the passions, which supply the latter with the richest materiel? From the very nature of things it must be so, as Milton found out in Paradise Lost, his Satan being objected to on this very account; and to talk a hundred years old, that is to say, in reference to Homer and Virgil,—who prefers not, poetically speaking, the fierce and wrathful Achilles, to the Dux Trojanus, the pious Æneas? The lofty department of tragedy, what is its essence?-Masterless passion; the absence of which, and the poor substitution of mere poetry, make some recent efforts so very mawkish. Let us hear no more of this.

Looking at Don Juan as far as it has gone, it is quite obvious, that having taken up the general conception, Lord Byron has bound himself to no particular series of adventures, but writes on under the influence of his immediate impulses. Every one is aware that there is both loss and gain by this process; that something is lost in unity and consistency of object, and something gained in occasional freshness and spirit. It may be further observed, that, after all, Don Juun is not an epic; and that we can scarcely conceive an outline more capable of excursion ad libitum than the pilotage of a Don Galaor of headlong courage and boundless adventure to the gates of hell. This, however, is a secondary consideration; as we have already hinted, this conspicuous and alarming attribute of Lord Byron is an intuitive perception of the almost mathematical point which marks the confines of vice and virtue, harmlessness and innocence; and a rapid detection of the approximation of extremes, which renders him the Asmodeus or Mephistophiles of poets, a creature which penetrates into your secrets at will. This is startling to every one, but absolutely terrific to the orderly people, who, muffled up in exterior decencies, place well-doing in a mental costume. We never heard an individual express more horror at the first canto of Don Juan than a grave merchant, who regularly sent his clerk out of the way to take tea with his wife; or a womanmore piously outraged by it than the mistress of the man who married her. These persons felt themselves detected. It is not confounding good and evil to shew the slightness of the partitions which divide them; on the contrary, the former may be guarded and secured by a dread of the rapidity of glance which can at once perceive and expose the myriads of lurking avenues by which the one can slide into the other.

And now for the sixth canto of Don Juan, which is in strict and regular continuation of the fifth, being the sequel of the adventures of the disguised and amatory Don in the Turkish Seraglio. It commences

with a pleasant parody, in application to woman, of “ There is a tide in the affairs of men.” In respect to the former, the poet opines that

Those navigators must be able seamen

Whose charts lay down its current to a hair;
Not all the reveries of Jacob Behmen

With its strange whirls and eddies can compare :-
Meo with their heads reflect on this and that

But women with their hearts or heaven knows what!
Not the less influentially, however, it appears-

And yet a headlong, headstrong, downright she,

Young, beautiful, and daring—who would risk
A throne, the world, the universe, to be

Beloved in her own way, and rather whisk
The stars from out the sky, than not be free

As are the billows when the breeze is brisk-
Though such a she's a devil (if that there be one)

Yet she would make full many a Manichean. The Author moralizes for several stanzas in this strain; but in allusion to a little finesse on the part of the favourite Sultana (who had managed the introduction of Don Juan in female disguise) to her awful Sultan, thus beautifully distinguishes between feminine love and the affectation of it:

A slight blush, a soft tremor, a calm kind

Of gentle, feminine delight, and shown
More in the eyelids than the eyes, resigned

Rather to hide what pleases most unknown,
Are the best tokens (to a modest mind)

Of love, when seated on his loveliest throne,
A sincere woman's breast,

for over warm Or over cold annihilates the charm. We must be very general in our outline. The convenient nondescript, who to oblige the Sultana managed the entry of Don Juan into the harem, is under the necessity of trusting to his discretion, by allowing him to share the accommodation of one of the beauties of the establishment, three of whom are described with those grąces which prove most: attractive to the people whom certain Christians think the fittest in the world to govern Greece. We supply the portraiture:

Of those who had most genius for this sort

Of sentimental friendship, there were three,
Lolah, Katinka, and Dudù; in short,

(To save description) fair aş fair can be
Were they, according to the best report,

Though differing in stature and degree,
And clime and time, and country and complexion ;
They all alike admired their new connexion.
Lolah was dusk as India and as warm;

Katinka was a Georgian, white and red,
With great blue eyes, a lovely hand and arm,

And feet so small they scarce seemed made to tread,
But rather skim the earth ; while Dudù's form

Looked more adapted to be put to bed,
Being somewhat large and languishing and lazy,
Yet of a beauty that would drive you crazy.
A kind of sleepy Venus seemed Dudù,

Yet very fit to“ murder sleep” in those
Who gazed upon her cheek's transcendant hue,

Her Attic forehead, and her Phidian nose:
Few angles were there in her form, 'tis true,

Thinner she might have been and yet scarce lose;
Yet, after all, 'twould puzzle to say where
It would not spoil some separate charm to-pare.
She was not violently lively, but

Stole on your spirit like a May-day breaking ;

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Her eyes were not too sparkling, yet, hálf-shut,

They put beholders in a tender taking ;.
She looked (this simile's quite new) just cut

From marble, like Pygmalion's statue waking,
The Mortal and the Marble still at strife,

And timidly expanding into life. The appropriation of the disguised Juan of course produces some confusion; and the haughty Sultana learns from her creature the trust he has been obliged to put in his prudence. She has no confidence in his share of that same cardinal virtue, and her feminine agitation and distress is thus beautifully depictured :

She stood a moment as a Pythoness

Stands on her tripod, agonized, and full
Of Inspiration gathered from Distress,

When all the heart-strings like wild horses pull
The heart asunder;--then, as more or less

Their speed abated or their strength grew dull,
She sunk down on her seat by slow degrees,
And bowed her throbbing head o'er trembling knees.
Her face declined and was unseen; her hair

Fell in long tresses, like the the weeping willow,
Sweeping the marble underneath her chair,

Or' rather sofa (for it was all pillow,
A low, soft Ottoman) and black Despair

Stirred up and down her bosom like a billow,
Which rushes to some shore whose shingles check
Its farther course, but must receive its wreck.
Her head hung down, and her long hair in stooping

Concealed her features better than a veil ;
And one hand o'er the Ottoman lay drooping,

White, waxen, and as alabaster pale:
Would that I were a painter! to be grouping'

All that a poet drags into detail !
Oh that my words were colours! but their tints

May serve perhaps as outlines or slight hints. We are to suppose she is inexorable, for the Eunuch is ordered to get a boat under the palace wall to execute her orders.; the absolute fact, however, is left in doubt, as here the stänża closes. To ease the great anxiety of the reader, however, we will just allow him to know, that in the next canto (of which more in our next number) Don Juan, a Turkish lady, and an old man, suddenly make their appearance in the Russian camp before Ismail, and are presented to Suwarrow,

-SO that all fear of the premature death of the hero máy be at once dismissed.

The general complexion of this canto, it will be perceived, is couleur de

e rose, and skittish; but more in the way of humour than luxuriance, a step in the education of Juan pleasantly related and rapidly dismissed. The succeeding cantos breathe more of fire and sword; but we will not anticipate.

We musť not forget to remark, that these cantos are preceded by a preface of a very piquant description, in which Lord Byron explains himself, as to the late Marquis of Londonderry, with very marked significance. Not only so,---he briefly but forcibly expresses his contempt for “the hypocritical mass which leavens the present English generation.” This is as it should be: it would be melancholy indeed, if a confederacy of the lowest and most unprincipled hypocrites

of the most base and slavish designers on the face of the earth, could impede the free breathings of mind as successfully as they crush the infant liberty of exhausted nations-crib and confine the impulses of genius, like Gulliver in Lilliput, by the cobwebbery of a multiplicity of dirty ligature, spun from the brain and bowels 'of a combination of reptiles,

mo

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

some of whom manhood can scarcely name, or womanhood imagine. It is quite enough that the vis inertie of society exacts so large a tribute of attention to the conventional jargon which, among the high and low vulgar, is substituted for the native convictions of reason and common sense ; it would be still more miserable, if every grade of intellect could be made to succumb. Of this, however, thank heaven, there is little danger; the march of mental freedom and of social and political amelioration has commenced, and what monarch or narchs can effectually stay it? The command of King Canute to the waves of the sea to stand still, had he even expected obedience, would have been reasonable in comparison with this fond attempt; for the ocean, although magnificent, is limitable, but who can assign boundaries to mind? or at least to the diffusion which 'advances the mass of it, and which is industriously and insidiously confounded, by those who dread its ultimate consequences, with certain romantic notions of the perfectibility of the individual. Happily, amidst all the fluctuations of success and misfortune, which alternately exalt and depress the friends of political liberty, this truth is eternally perceptible. It is not obscured because Angouleme is at Madrid, French gold triumphant in Portugal, or another Turkish fleet at sea, to reiterate massacres of Scio. Revived Inquisitions abroad, and attempted ones at home, cannot shadow it; nor senatorial servility, foolishness, and evasion, extinguish it. Even law, which is so successful against all light, finds it a species of Greek fire; and like the bright cloud which guided the Israelites through the wilderness, however devious the path to be trodden, it will not cease to shine and inspirit the human progress until, triumphant over every obstacle, mankind, in the attainment of genuine liberty, and equal political rights, shall have reached the promised land. Sketches in Bedlam, or Characteristic Traits of Insanity, as displayed

in the cases of 140 Patients of both sexes, now or recently confined s, in Bedlàm.

Of all the gross and disgusting instances of coarseness and want of feeling in the pursuit of temporary emolument, we think this publication is one of the most unpardonable. Here are the connexions of no less than 140 persons rendered unhappy and uneasy, to say nothing of certain of the parties discharged cured, in order that some miserable book-maker may pocket a few pounds in his calling. We know not whether this be the book to which Mr. Brougham alluded on Monday last, in the House of Commons; we apprehend not; but if so, it may pair off with it in offensiveness and barbarity. We can conceive nothing less amusing, than a dull common-place detail of the ravings, wanderings, and habits of confirmed insanity, unilluminated by a single iota of physiological acquirement, medical experience, or vivid and discriminating powers of description. It is unnecessary to say that much of such detail must necessarily be abominably nauseous, if not indecent; and we may observe that, in this respect, the extreme vulgarity and want of feeling which originated the work, have been very faithfully displayed in its execution. We cannot sully our columns with example, but we request those who may meet with the book to turn to pages 113 and 128, and ask themselves what they think of the information there bestowed. Such exposures are indefensible on the score of common decorum ; but what is to be said of exhibiting an unhappy, and possibly a recoverable individual, as a spectacle to the public, to the an

noyance of every one belonging to him, for such information as the following :-We of course omit the names :

-, aged thirty-two, admitted 28th June, 1821. This patient had been once in very respectable life, was occupied as a ship broker, and his derangement was ascribed to heavy losses and disappointments in business. He appeared to have been a very genteel man; perfectly harmless and well conducted for some time after his first admission : but afterwards his disorder became high. He tore his clothes, and became, in his opinion, a very great man. He had in his own bands the insurance of all outward-bound ships from the river Thames to every part of the globe; 'and, in fact, no ship left the river without having Mr.

's seal affixed to her. He knew every body by name, but none by sight. He transacted all his business without ever seeing the principals; and ever since he came here, he had done, in imagination, insyrance business to the extent of hundreds of thousands.

He was at all times very cheerful, danced and sung, and made many promises of conferring numerous appointments and lucrative situations on his poor fellow-patients. He was at length found to be paralytic, and was discharged. His friends were respectable, and he was known to many opulent merchants in London.

We supply an equally useless and barbarous disregard of family and connexion in a female instance, a sample of many more : Charlotte

-, aged forty-five, belonged to Putney, and was transferred hither from Old Bethlehem : she is a married woman, and mother of a family. This poor woman has contracted a most siugular persuasion : she fancies herself to be a man, and sounetimes styles herself a boy; and, when spoken to, she bows, scrapes, and puts her hand to her head in every respect like a footman.

She is particularly attached to the matron, whom she calls her beauty, and is quite uneasy every day until she sees her.

There is nothing else particularly remarkable in her mapper; she is orderly, cleanly in her person and habits, and perfectly quiet and harmless.

This is mere gratuitous brutality; for what is learned by the foregoing information ? and with regard to more remarkable cases, as told by this vulgar and unfeeling narrator, they convey nothing from which the slightest instruction can be derived." Another species of injury is also the frequent result. It is well known that the current of thought and expression in insanity is frequently directly opposed to that of the same individual in a sane state ; yet our book-maker is continually inferring the one from the other; and all his humourfor, a genuine son of gentle dulness, he loves his joke-is elicited by this supposed connexion. In a word, a more inexcusable production never insulted the sense and humanity of the public.

If we may be allowed to extract one piece of general information from so despicable a source, we will confine it to the observation, that in the feminine cases, we were surprised at the number of heads disordered by fancied calls and religious fanaticism. Memoirs of the Life and Writings of William Hayley, Esq. the Friend

and Biographer of Cowper, written by himself. We are not aware of any possible position, in relation to the general estimation of society, more equivocal than that of an aged literary veteran, who has lived to witness an entire revolution of opinion in respect to the character and merits of the school in which he has been an ardent if not a leading student—an amusing, and amiable writer, if not one of the lights of his age. Such a person was Hayley, who, but for his life of Cowper, we apprehend a great number of readers of the present generation would scarcely know by name. To the great success of the latter's biography, we shrewdly suspect we owe the ponderous volumes before us, which, if compiled with a view to publication, and such was doubtless the case, exhibit as fine an illustration of the importance of a man to himself as we ever beheld. Hayley was a gentleman and a scholar, but nothing less than a successful author, even

« AnteriorContinuar »