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FIRST CANTOS OF

CHILDE HAROLD."

A.D.

help identifying the writer with this gloomy Childe Harold, who had exhausted in revelry and vice the power of enjoying life. Not that Byron at this early stage felt within his breast only the cold and lifeless embers of wild passions, which had burned themselves to death ; but the poor young fellow, smarting sorely under his early sorrow, and feeling that his talents were of no common kind, grew into that diseased state of mind which leads a man to believe that it is a fine thing to hate all the world and care for nothingto be utterly blasé and done-up, and alone and uncared-for. So he pictures Childe Harold to have been; and the same unpleasant character is reproduced in nearly all his portraitures of men. When the first two cantos of this noble poem were published in

1812, the author, who only five years earlier had been 1812 sneered at as a weakling, rose by unanimous consent to the head of the London literary world.

In his own words, he awoke one morning to find himself famous. As the Ayrshire peasant had been caressed by the fashionables of Edinburgh, the aristocratic and handsome Byron was idolized in the saloons of London.

His life, as a man of fashion and a literary lion, lasted for about three years. During this time he took his seat in the House of Lords, and made three speeches without producing any marked effect.

The material gathered during his travels being yet far from exhausted, he wrote those fine Turkish tales, which kindled in the public mind of England an enthusiastic feeling towards modern Greece. The Giaour and The Bride of Abydos appeared in 1813; The Corsair and Lara, in the following year, The two former are written in that eight-syllabled line which suits so well the narration of stirring and romantic adventures. In the latter he adopted the rhyming pentameters of Dryden and Pope, but gave them a music and a colour all his own. In all four the inevitable and unwholesome Byronic hero, -sallow, wasted, dark-haired, mysterious, ill-humoured, --casts his chill upon us. Childe Harold has wound a crimson shawl round his high, pale brow, has donned the snowy capote, has stuck ataghan and silver-mounted pistols in his belt, and in full Greek dress glooms at us with his melancholy eyes.

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AN EXILED WANDERER.

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Byron's marriage with Miss Milbanke took place in 1815. Almost from the beginning there were disagreements, and in a twelvemonth the union was dissolved. One daughter, Ada, to whom are addressed the touching lines which open the third canto of “Childe Harold,” reminded the unhappy parents of what their home might have been.

Having produced The Siege of Corinth and Parisina amid the miseries of his last months in London, where he was abused in papers

and hissed in the streets for his conduct to his wife, he left England in disgust in the spring of 1816, and never saw his native land again. . Restless and miserable years they were that filled up the allotted span of poor Byron's life. He passed—a lonely wanderer, with many a poisoned arrow rankling in his memory and heart-over the blood-stained ground of Waterloo, amid the snowy summits of the Jura echoing with frequent thunder, into the beautiful Italian land, to find in the faded palaces of Venice and the mouldering columns of Rome fit emblems of his own ruined life,—but, alas! not to read these lessons of the dead past with a softening and repentant soul. At Venice, at Ravenna, at Pisa, and at Rome, he lived a wicked and most irregular life, writing many poems, for which he received many thousand pounds, but descending, as he sank morally, into a fitful and frequently morbid style, too often poisoned with reckless blasphemy and unconcealed licentiousness.

His greatest work, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage,* was finished in 1818. The third canto was written at Geneva; the fourth and last, chiefly at Venice. The Spenserian 1818 stanza takes a noble music in the skilful hand of Byron. The view of modern Rome, the starlight vision of the bleeding Gladiator, and the address to the Ocean, which no familiarity can ever rob of its sublime effect, are the finest

passages of the closing poem.

Of course Byron tried his pen at dramatic writing. Almost every poet does. But the author of “Childe Harold” and the

A.D.

* Childe is an old English word, signifying a knight. Byron at first intended to give an antique cast to the diction of the poem,

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“Corsair” had not the power of going out of himself, which a successful dramatist must possess. That dark and morbidly romantic figure, of whom we have spoken before, haunts us through all the Mysteries and Tragedies which this unhappy genius produced in the later years of his shadowed life. Cain and Manfred are the most powerful of these works; but they afford, especially the former, a terrible view into the workings of a mind steeped in . rebellious pride and misanthropy. Marino Faliero, The Two Foscari, Sardanapalus, Werner, Heaven and Earth, and The Deformed Transformed, are the principal remaining dramas from Byron's pen.

His last great literary effort was the composition of his most dangerous work, Don Juan. Dangerous, we say, because it is draped and garlanded with passages of exceeding beauty and sweetness. It stands, a fragment of unfinished toil, a sad memento of lofty genius debased to the foulest use.

Never were shining gold and black mire so industriously heaped together. It seems as if the unhappy bard, tired of hating his fellow-mortals, had turned with fierce mockery upon himself, to degrade and trample on that very genius upon which was based his only claim to admiration, and which alone can save from ridicule his scornful isolation of himself.

Byron's last enterprise flings a somewhat pathetic light upon his closing days. The Greece whose ancient glories and whose lovely shores had formed a chief theme of his earlier

had risen at length from her ignoble bondage. The War of Independence had begun. Sailing from Leghorn in 1823, Byron landed in Cephalonia, and soon passed to Missolonghi. With money, with advice, with encouragement, and with bodily service, he began to work eagerly in the cause of his adopted land. Difficulties were thick around him; for wild lawlessness was everywhere, and fierce quarrels occurred in the Greek army every day. In a few months he did much to overcome these troubles, and was looking forward with eagerness to leading an attack on Lepanto, when fever, rising from the marshes of Missolonghi, seized in its deadly gripe his enervated and toil-worn frames

song,

SPECIMEN OF BYRON'S VERSE.

391

A.D.

He died on the 19th of April 1824; and three days later, his turbulent Suliotes gathered, pale and tearful, round his coffin, to hear the funeral service read. The body of 1824 the poet was carried to England, and interred in the family vault at Hucknall, near Newstead.

The Prisoner of Chillon, a sweetly mournful sketch written at Geneva; The Lament of Tasso; The Prophecy of Dante; Beppo, a light tale of Venetian life; Mazeppa; and the terrible Vision of Judgment, written in mockery of a like-titled poem by Southey, with whom he had a deadly feud, complete the list of Byron's more important works.

ADDRESS TO THE OCEAN.

(FROM "CHILDE HAROLD.”)

Roll on, thou deep and dark-blue ocean-roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin-his control
Stops with the shore; upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,

He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan-
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

His steps are not upon thy paths—thy fields
Are not a spoil for him—thou dost arise
And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
For earth's destruction thou dost all despise,
Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray
And howling to his gods, where haply lies

His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth :-there let him lay.

The armaments, which thunder-strike the walls
Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake
And monarchs tremble in their capitals;
The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make
Their clay creator the vain title take
Of lord of thee, and arbiter of war :
These are thy toys, and as the snowy flake,

They melt into thy yeast of waves, which mar
Alike the Armada's pride, and spoils of Trafalgar.

392

SPECIMEN OF BYRON'S VERSE.

Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee.
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage-what are they?
Thy waters wasted them while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts;--not so thou,
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves' play-

Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow-
Buch as Creation's dawn beheld, thou rollest now.

Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty's form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,
Calm or convulsed-in breeze, or gale, or storm-
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving, boundless, endless, and sublime-
The image of Eternity—the throne
Of the Invisible; even from out thy slime

The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.

And I have loved thee, Ocean ! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers—they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror—'twas a pleasing fear;
For I was as it were a child of thee,

And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane--as I do bere.

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