More on poetry from The Atlantic Monthly.
From Atlantic Unbound:
Flashbacks: "The Byron Complex" (September 12, 2002)
Jacques Barzun, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others assess the controversial life and poetry of Lord Byron.
The Atlantic Monthly | December 1898
he simultaneous appearance of two sumptuous editions of Byron, from the presses of Messrs. Murray and Macmillan, must have rather a puzzling effect on certain critics and readers of poetry. So much has been written of late years about Wordsworth and Shelley, while their quondam rival has been treated with much contumelious silence, that the disdainers of Byron had begun to feel that the ground was entirely their own; and the faithful few, who in secret handed down the old Byron cult, must have fallen into desperation,—for there are still a few faithful, like the well-known Greek scholar of whom it was remarked in my hearing that he never quoted any English save Byron and the Bible. But apart from these scoffers and idolaters, there are some who recognize fully all the imperfections of Byron's work, and yet regard the recent exaltation of Shelley and Wordsworth so high above him as indicative of an effeminate and oversubtilized taste. To such persons the appearance of these new editions must be welcome as a promise of renewed interest in the poet, and of a return to sounder principles of criticism.
The Wholesome Revival of Byron
"At bottom Byron's sympathy is not with nature, but with man, and in the expression of this sympathy he displays the sturdy strength of classic art"
by Paul Elmer More
Much has been written about Byron; yet no author, perhaps, remains so much in need of calm and discriminating study. The elements of his genius are diverse, to a certain extent even contradictory; and to this fact are due in part the extraordinary unevenness of his own work and the curious divergence of opinion regarding him.
In a word, the two master traits of Byron's genius are the revolutionary spirit and classical art. By classical is meant a certain predominance of the intellect over the emotions, and a reliance on broad effects rather than on subtle impressions, these two characteristics working harmoniously together, and being subservient to human interest. And here at once we may seem to run counter to a well-established criticism of Byron. It will be remembered that Matthew Arnold has quoted and judiciously enlarged upon Goethe's saying, "The moment he reflects, he is a child." The dictum is perfectly true. Byron as a philosopher and critic is sadly deficient, oftentimes puerile. But in fact he rarely reflects; he is more often a child because he fails to reflect at all. Predominance of intellect does not necessarily imply true wisdom; for in reality an impulsive, restless activity of mind seems often to militate against calm reflection. It implies in Byron rather keenness of wit, pungency of criticism, whether sound or false, precision, and unity of conception. So, in the English Bards, the ruinous criticism of Wordsworth, "that mild apostate from poetic rule," is the expression of an irresistible mental impetus, but it is hardly reflection. When the poet came to reflect on his satire, he wisely added the comment, "unjust." When in Childe Harold he describes Gibbon as "sapping a solemn creed with solemn sneer," he displays astonishing intellectual force in summing up the effect of a huge work in one keen memorable phrase, such as can scarcely be paralleled from the poetry of his age. And in this case he is by chance right; reflection could not modify or improve the judgment.
In its larger effect this predominance of intellect causes simplicity and tangibility of general design. Thus, on reading Manfred, we feel that a single and very definite idea has been grasped and held throughout; and we in turn receive a single and definite impression, which we readily carry away and reproduce in memory. But turn to Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, and mark the difference. However much the ordinary reader may admire this drama, it is doubtful whether he could give any satisfactory account of its central idea, for the reason that this idea has been diverted and refracted through the medium of a wayward imagination, and is after all but an illusion of the senses. Love, all-embracing victorious love, is in a sense the motive of the poem; yet the most superficial analysis will show this to be an emotion or vague state of feeling, rather than a distinct conception of the intellect. The inconsistencies bewilder the reader, although, on a rapid perusal, they may escape his critical detection. Love is the theme, yet the speeches are full of the gall of hatred: in words Prometheus may forgive his enemy, but the animus of the poem is unrelenting bitterness.
Yet the predominance of intellect, which forms so important a factor in what I have called classical art is far from excluding all emotion. On the contrary, the simple elemental passions
naturally provoke intense activity of mind. They almost inevitably, moreover, lead to an art which depends on broad effects instead of subtle and vague impressions. The passion of Byron is
good evidence of this tendency. He himself somewhere remarks that his genius was eloquent rather than poetical and in a sense this observation is true. His language has a marvelous sweep and
force that carry the reader on through a sustained emotion, but in detail it is prosaic in comparison with the iridescent style of Shelley or of Keats. Marino Faliero, one of Byron's less important works, may be cited as a fair example of his eloquence and concentrated passion. The theme of the drama is perfectly simple, the conflict in Marino's breast between aristocratic pride and the love of liberty (predominant characteristics, be it observed, of the poet himself); and about this conflict the whole action of the play revolves, without any minor issues to dissipate the effect. The mind is held gripped to one emotion and one thought; we seem to hear the mighty pleading of a Demosthenes. There is no poem of Shelley's (with the possible exception of The Cenci, where he resorts to monstrous and illegitimate means) which begins to leave on the mind so distinct and powerful an impression as this, yet the whole drama contains perhaps not a single line of the illusive charm to be found in passages on every page of Shelley's works. We know from Byron's letters and prefaces that he made a conscious effort to be, as he himself calls it, classical in this respect. Had his genius possessed also the subtle grace of the more romantic writers, he would have been classical in a still higher and broader sense; for the greatest poets, the true classics, Homer as well as Shakespeare, have embraced both gifts. As it is, we are left to contrast the vigorous, though incomplete, art of Byron with the more wayward and effeminate style of his rivals. And in this we are justified by the known hostility of Byron to the tendencies of his age and by the utterances of the romantic writers themselves, from whom a volume of quotations might be culled showing that they deliberately look on poetry as a vehicle for the emotions and imaginations of the heart alone.
It was in no spirit of mere carping at the present that Byron condemned the romantic spirit, and waged continuous if often indiscreet warfare for Milton and Dryden and Pope. His indifference to Shakespeare proves the sincerity of his opinion, however it may expose the narrowness of his judgment. He perceived clearly a real kinship, on one side of his genius, with Dryden and Pope, and was sincere in his wish to follow them as models. He was saved from their aridity by the revolutionary spirit, which was equally strong within him, and which he acknowledged by partially condemning himself with his contemporaries.
Were the subject not too technical, the radical difference between these classes of poets might be shown by a study of their use of metaphor. Poetry hardly exists without metaphor. Besides the formal simile there is in verse the more pervasive use of metaphorical language, by which the whole world of animate and inanimate nature is brought into similarity and kinship with the human soul, so that our inner life is enlarged and exalted by a feeling of universal dominion. The classical metaphor is simple and intellectual; through its means the vague is fixed and presented clearly to the mind by comparison with the more definite, the complex by comparison with the simple, the abstract with the concrete, the emotional with the sensuous. Its rival, the romantic metaphor, appeals to the fancy by the very opposite method. It would be easy to take the Prometheus Unbound and show bow Shelley persistently relaxes the mind by vague and abstract similes. The moments are said to crawl like "death-worms;" spring is compared with the "memory of a dream," with "genius," or "joy which riseth up as from the earth;" the rushing avalanche is likened to "thought by thought . . . piled up, till some great truth is loosened, and the nations echo round." In the famous and exquisitely beautiful singing-metaphor of that poem we have in miniature a perfect picture of the romantic poet's art:—
"Meanwhile thy spirit lifts its pinions
Perhaps nowhere could a more perfect expression of this wayward and delicate spirit of romance be found, unless in that brief phrase of A Winter's Tale:—
In music's most serene dominions;
Catching the winds that fan that happy heaven.
And we sail on, away, afar
Without a course, without a star,
But by the instinct of sweet music driven."
"A wild dedication of yourselves
Take away this subtle and baffling overgrowth of the emotions, and the sturdier metaphor of the classical poets remains. Individual comparisons of this vague character may no doubt be cited from Byron (they are not altogether wanting even in Homer), but they are in him distinctly exceptions. In general the poetic medium in which he works has an intellectual solidity akin to the older masters.
To unpathed waters, undreamed shores."
Poetry is the most perfect instrument of expression granted us in our need of self-utterance, and it is something to have learned in what way this instrument is shaped to the hand of a strong poet. But this is not all. We desire to know further the material he chooses and how he treats it. How does he deal with the great themes of literature? How does he stand toward nature and man? And here too we shall find a real contrast between Byron and his contemporaries.
There is a scene in Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford which to me has always seemed to set forth the aim of the romantic nature-poet in a charming light. It is the bewitching chapter where the ladies visit, old Mr. Holbrook, the bachelor, and he, musing after dinner in the garden, quotes and comments on Tennyson:—
"'The cedar spreads his dark-green layers of shade.'
"'Capital term—layers! Wonderful man! . . . Why, when I saw the review of his poems in Blackwood, I set off within an hour, and walked seven miles to Misselton (for the horses were not in the way) and ordered them. Now, what color are ash-buds in March?'
"Is the man going mad? thought I. He is very like Don Quixote.
"'What color are they, I say?' repeated he vehemently.
"'I am sure I don't know, sir,' said I, with the meekness of ignorance.
"'I knew you didn't. No more did I—an old fool that I am!— till this young man comes and tells me. Black as ash-buds in March. And I've lived all my life in the country; more shame for me not to know. Black: they are jet-black, madam.'"
Excellent botany, no doubt, and very dainty verse; and yet I cannot think the fame of the great masters of song depends on such trivialities as this. Black as ash-buds March,—one might read all the famous epics of the past without acquiring this curious bit of information. Now it is perfectly sure that, practically all the verse--makers of the present day look to natural description for their main theme, and would clap their poetical hands as in the joy of a vast inspiration over one such novel bit of observation that chanced to fall in their way. And in this they have but carried to its extreme tenuity the disposition of the romantic poets, their forbears. There is a good deal of this petty, prying nature-cult in Keats and Shelley, along with inspiration of a more solid or mystical quality. And it is Wordsworth who chants over the small celandine:—
"Since the day I found thee out,
Some kinship of spirit, some haunting echo of the revolutionary cry, binds us very close to the singers of that age, and we are perforce influenced by their attitude toward the outer world. It would be a matter of curious inquiry to search out the advent of this nature-worship into poetry, and to trace it down through
later writers. Its growth and culmination are in a way coincident with the revolutionary period to which Byron belongs, and, like most innovations of the kind, it denotes both an enlargement and a loss of idealism. The peculiar form of religious enthusiasm developed in the Middle Ages had wrought out its own idealism. The soul of the individual man seemed to the Christian of that day, as it were, the centre of the world, about which the divine drama of salvation revolved; and on the position taken by the individual in this drama depended his eternal life. A man's personality became of vast importance in the universal scheme of things, and a new and justifiable egotism of intense activity was born. There was necessarily an element of anguish in this thought of personal importance and in security, but on the whole, while faith lasted, it was overbalanced by feelings of joy and peace; for, after all salvation was within reach. The idealism of such a period found its aim in the perfection of man's soul, and humanity in the life of its individual members was the one theme of surpassing interest. The new humanism which came in with the Renaissance modified, but did not entirely displant this ideal; the faith of the earlier ages remained for a long time intact. But by the closing years of the eighteenth century the long illusion of man's personal value in the universe had been rudely shattered; his anchor of faith bad been rent away. Then came the readjustment which is still in progress, and is still the cause of so much unrest and tribulation. In place of the individual arose a new ideal of humanity as a whole,—a very pretty theory for philosophers, but in no wise comforting for the homeless soul of man, trained by centuries of introspection to deem himself the chosen vessel of grape. There was a season of revolt. The individual, still bearing his burden of self-importance, and seeing now no restrictive laws to bind him, gave himself to all the wild vagaries of the revolutionary period. Nor is it a matter of chance that Voltaire, the father of modern skepticism, and Rousseau, the first of romantic nature-worshipers, had worked together to this end. It was under this stimulus that those who were unable to silence the inner need amidst the turmoil of action turned to the outer world, seeking there the comfort of an idealism not attainable in the vague abstraction of humanity. The individual found a new solace in reverie, which seemed to make him one with the wide and beneficent realm of nature. The flattering trust in his own eternal personality was undermined, the unsubdued egotism born of the old faith left him solitary amid mankind; he turned for companionship to the new world whose kinship to himself was so newly discovered:—
Little flower!—I'll make a stir,
Like a great astronomer."
"Then stirs the feeling infinite, so felt
An eternal harmony did indeed spring from this new source of music; it was a substantial gain, a new-created idealism in poetry. But we should not shut our eyes to the concomitant danger and loss. In this flattering absorption into nature the poet was too apt to forget that, after all, the highest and noblest theme must forever be the struggle of the human soul; he was too ready to substitute vague reverie for honest thought, and to lose his higher sympathy with man in the eager pursuit of minute phenomena. We are all familiar with the travestied nature-cult to be seen especially in un attached women, who seek in this way
an outlet for unemployed emotions such as formerly they found in religious enthusiasm. There is, alas, too much of this petty sentimentality in the verse of the day. We turn to the earlier bards
of the century, the founders of this new religion, for guidance and inspiration, and too often we imitate their weakness instead of their strength. Wordsworth has made a stir over the small celandine, and Tennyson has discovered that ash-buds are black in March; the present generation must, for originality, examine
the fields with a botanist's lens, while the poor reader, who retains any use of his mind, is too often reminded of the poet
Gray's shrewd witticism, that he learnt botany to save himself the trouble of thinking. If for no other reason, we are justified in calling attention to Byron, who in his treatment of nature shows the same breadth and mental scope, the same human sympathy, which characterize his classical use of metaphor.
In solitude, where we are least alone;
A truth, which through our being then doth melt
And purifies from self: it is a tone,
The soul and source of music, which makes
Eternal harmony, and sheds a charm,
Like to the fabled Cytherea's zone,
Binding all things with beauty;—'t would disarm
The spectre Death, had he substantial power to harm."
There is a curious passage in one of Franklin's letters, where the philosopher attempts to prove by experiment that the perception of form is remembered more clearly than the perception of color. I am not sure that his explanation of this phenomenon is strictly scientific, but the fact is indisputable. Form and motion of form are clearly defined, intelligible, so to speak; color is illusive and impressionistic. So, it will be remembered, the Greeks were preeminent in their imitation of form; the Renaissance artists excelled in color. Distinctions of this kind, to be sure, are a matter of degree only, but none the less significant for that. Now there are descriptions in Byron of gorgeous coloring, notably in certain stanzas of the Haidée episode; but even here the colors are sharply defined, and there is little of the blending, iridescent light of romance,—
"The light that never was on sea or land,
and in general Byron dwells on form and action in his presentation of nature, whereas his contemporaries, and notably Shelley, revel in her variety of hues.
The consecration and the poet's dream;"
It is curious, in fact, that many who are prone to dignify emotional reverie as thought would ascribe such predominance of intellect to shallowness, just as they would deem the breadth of Byron's natural description due to narrowness of observation. You will indeed find in Byron no poems on the small celandine, or the daisy, or the cuckoo, or the nightingale, or the west wind; but you may find pictures of mountains reared like the palaces of nature, of the free bounding ocean, of tempest on sea and storm among the Alps, of the solitary pine woods, of placid Lake Leman, of all the greater, sublimer aspects of nature such as can hardly be paralleled elsewhere in English literature.
Byron was too much a child of his age to escape the longing for mystic fellowship with nature which came with the century, and still, in milder form perhaps, troubles mankind. But even here there are in him a firmness and a directness of utterance which distinguish his work from the more flaccid rhapsodies of his romantic rivals. Let us by all means retain as a precious and
late-won possession this sense of communion with the fair outlying but let us at the same time beware of loosening our grip on realities. I know no better palliative for the insidious relaxing sentimentality that lurks in such brooding contemplation than certain well-known passages of Childe Harold, such as—
"I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me"
"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods:"
"Clear, placid Leman! thy contrasted lake."
It is again the classic element in Byron's art which saves him from shadowy, meaningless words; and he is assisted also by his intense human passions and personality. I have indeed intimated that the preponderance of human interest is an essential feature of the classical spirit; it would have been easy to show that along with predominance of intellect and breadth, this human man interest is everywhere present in Byron's work; but the humanism—egotism, if you choose—is so universally recognized in his character that any detailed exposition of its presence in poetry seemed superfluous. Only in treatment of nature, perhaps, ought special attention to be called to this trait, for here most of all he differs from certain of the romantic writers. It is well to remember that now and always "the proper study of mankind is man." We need still to reflect on the wise admonition of St. Augustine: "And abroad to gaze at the lofty mountains, and the great waves of the sea, and the wide flowing of rivers, and the circle of ocean, and the revolutions of the stars, and pass themselves, the crowning wonder, by." This genuine human interest distinguished Byron from the pseudo-classical writers as well, who would etherealize predominance of intellect into inanimate abstractions,—from those thin-blooded poets of the last century whose art depended on a liberal distribution of capital letters.
At bottom Byron's sympathy is not with nature, but with man, and in the expression of this sympathy he displays the sturdy strength of classic art. Théophile Gautier, in his study of Villon, has a clever appeal for the minor bards. "The most highly vaunted passages of the poets," he says, "are ordinarily commonplaces. Ten verses of Byron on love, on the brevity of life, or on some other subject equally as new will find more admirers than the strangest vision of Jean Paul or of Hoffmann: this is because very many have been or are in love, and a still greater number are fearful of death, but very few, even in dreams, have beheld the fantastic images of the German story-tellers pass before them." Gautier himself, as one of the "fantastics," may be prejudiced in their favor, but his characterization of Byron is eminently right. It is a fact that the great poets, the classic poets, deal very much with commonplaces, but Gautier should know his Horace well enough to remember that nothing is more difficult than the art of giving these commonplaces an individual stamp.
Here again it may be wise to turn for a while from the romantic poets who search out the wayward, obscure emotions of the heart to one who treated almost exclusively those simple, fundamental passions which are most compatible with predominance of intellect and breadth of expression. I hardly know where in English literature, outside of Shakespeare, one is to find the great passions of men set forth so directly and powerfully as in Byron, and on this must rest his final claim to serious consideration. It is said that Byron could never get outside of himself; and this, to a certain extent, is true. He
lacked the dramatic art, but, on the other hand, his own human passions were so strong, his life was so vigorous, that from personal experience he was able to accomplish more than most others whose sympathies might be wider. His range is by no means universal, and yet what masterly pictures he has drawn of love and hate, of patriotism, honor, disdain, sarcasm, revenge, remorse, despair awe, and mockery! If he had touched the
passion of love alone, he would still be worthy of study. It is wholesome now and again to forget the ethereal heights
where Cythna dwells, and linger by the sea with Haidée, the pure and innocent child of nature. Love in Byron is commonly the lust which enslaves and degrades, or it is the instinctive attraction of youth uncorrupted of the world,—that simple self-surrender, unquestioning and unpolluted, which to the aged sight of the wise Goethe and weary Renan seemed, after all, the best and truest thing in life. Other poets in search of love's mystic shadow have philosophized with Plato or scaled the empyrean with Dante; but rarely in these excursions have they avoided the perils of unreality or self-deception, of inanity or morbidness. It is at least safer to see in love the simple animal passion, pure or perverted as the case may be.
And this brings us to the vexed question of Byron's morality. I would not appear to excuse his shortcomings in this respect, and yet I think the evil of his work has been much exaggerated. His aggressive free-thinking, which so shocked his contemporaries, can scarcely do more than elicit a smile today; the grossly sensual passages in his poems are few, and these are more outspoken than seductive; his sneers are mostly for cant and hypocrisy, which, God knows, deserved such lashing then as they do now. And withal his mind was right; he never deceived himself. Many times he refers to the ruin of his own life, and always he puts his finger on the real source of the evil, his lack of self-restraint and his revolt from conventions. There is something manly and pathetic at once, not without strange foreboding of what was to come, in these lines. from Childe Harold:—
"If my fame should be, as my fortunes are,
In his Epistle to Augusta, perhaps the noblest of all his shorter poems, he more explicitly mentions the evil that brought about his ruin:—
Of hasty growth and blight, and dull Oblivion bar
My name from out the temple where the dead
Are honour'd by the nations—let it be—
And light the laurels on a loftier head!
And be the Spartan's epitaph on me—
'Sparta hath many a worthier son than he,'
Meantime I seek no sympathies, nor need;
The thorns which I have reap'd are of the tree
I planted,—they have torn me,—and I bleed:
I should have known what fruit would spring from such a seed."
"I have been cunning in mine overthrow,
I cannot refrain from quoting, by way of contrast, the words of Mrs. Shelley in regard to her wayward companion. "In all Shelley did," she says, "he, at the time of doing it, believed himself justified to his own conscience." This, surely, is the inner falsehood, more deadly, as Plato affirmed, than the spoken lie; and I am sufficiently a Platonist to believe that in this glazing of evil lies the veritable danger to morals. There is no such insidious disease in Byron's mind.
The careful pilot of my proper woe.
Mine were my faults, and mine be their reward.
My whole life was a contest, since the day
That gave me being, gave me that which marr'd
The gift,—a fate, or will, that walk'd astray."
The errors of Byron, both in conduct and in art, were in fact largely due the revolutionary spirit which so easily passed into licentiousness. Classical art should result in self-restraint and perfection of form, but to this Byron never attained except spasmodically, almost by accident it would seem. So far is he classical that he almost universally displays predominance of intellect, breadth, of treatment, and human interest; but side by side with this principle of limitation runs the other spirit of revolt, producing at times that extraordinary incongruity of effect which has so baffled his later audience. The world, after manifold struggles, had begun to throw off the medieval ideals; faith in the infinite and eternal value of the human person, with all its earthly desires and ambitions, with its responsibility to jealous God had been rudely shaken; nor had that deeper faith taken hold of the mind wherein this laboring, grasping, earthly self is seen to be nothing but a shadow, an obscuration of something vastly greater, hidden in secret places of the heart. Belief in the divine right of rulers had been burst as an insubstantial bubble, but in the late-born ideal of a humanity bound in brotherhood and striving upward together the individual was very slow to feel the drawing of the new ties; he had revolted from the past, and still felt himself homeless and unattached in the shadowy ideals of the future. In such an age Byron was born, a man of superabundant physical vigor which at any time would have ill brooked restraint, and of mental impetuosity which had by nature something of the tiger in it. He was led at first by the very spirit of the age to glory in physical and mental license and to exaggerate his impatience at restraint, and only by the hard experience of life did he learn, or partly learn, the lesson of moderation. Naturally his poetry often reflected his temperament in its lack of discipline.
I have dwelt at length on the strength of Byron's art, but I would not slur over his deficiencies. No one can be more conscious of these deficiencies than the present writer, whose recent task it has been to read through Byron's works with an editor's questioning eye. His language is often—very of ten—slipshod, made obscure by endless anacoluthons, disfigured by frequent lapses into bad grammar; the thought and style of certain poems—The Prophecy of Dante, for instance—are so cheap as to render the reading of them a labor of necessity; yet all this hardly affects his importance for us. We are not likely to learn bad grammar from him, and his dull poems are easily passed over. He wrote, to use his own words, as the tiger leaps; and if he missed his aim, there was no retrieving the failure. We call this lack of artistic conscience, and so it is; but in these days of pedantic aesthetes, it is refreshing now and again to surrender ourselves to the impulse, of untrammeled genius. And then, if Byron often failed, he sometimes hit the mark. There are passages—more than that, there are whole poems—wherein his classical method has dominated the license of revolt sufficiently to achieve almost perfect harmony of form, while still retaining the full vigor of his imperious inspiration.
But the inner spirit of his poems, was affected even more than his art by the new ferment. To do anything like justice to the psychology of Byron would require a separate study in itself; and
if the subject is here passed lightly over, this is because it seems, on the whole, less important at the present moment than the analysis of his art, and because it has already been treated with considerable acumen. Every one recognizes at a glance the tormented personality and the revolutionary leaven in Byron's
spirit; not every one, perhaps, would comprehend immediately the extraordinary result produced by the union of these with his classical method,—a result so extraordinary as alone to lend permanent interest to his work. And this interest is heightened by the rapid change and development in his character.
There are four pretty clearly defined periods in his life, although as always these overlap one another to a certain extent. First we see the youthful satirist lashing friend and foe with irresistible bitterness, as if his egregious egotism could find relief only in baying at the world; then follows a second phase of revolt, taking pleasure in melodramatic isolation from society, exulting in moody revenge and unutterable mysteries, stalking before the world in gorgeous Oriental disguise out of this extravagance grows the Byron of the later Childe Harold, who would unburden his soul of its selfengendered torture in solitary communion with nature, and would find relief from the vulgar cant of the present in profound reflection on the grandeurs of the past; and last, when
even these fail him, the self-mocking Don Juan, with his strange mixture of sweet and bitter, infinitely heavy-hearted at bottom, who cries out in the end:—
"Now ... Imagination droops her pinion,
He was saved, indeed, from the final silence of apathy by an early death. Yet it has always seemed to me that for one brief moment,—when, after escaping the vexations of his ruined domestic life, he wrote his Epistle to Augusta from the solitudes of Switzerland,— Byron caught, dim and distorted it may be, a glimpse of divine wisdom, which, if followed, might have rendered him great among the wisest. But some Nemesis of fate, some error of will, swept him back into the bondage of darkness, from which he never escaped.
And the sad truth that hovers o'er my desk
Turns what was once romantic to burlesque.
"And if I laugh at any mortal thing,
'T is that I may not weep; and if I weep,
'T is that our nature cannot always bring
Itself to apathy."
The Atlantic Monthly; December 1898; The Wholesome Revival of Byron; Volume 82, No. 494; page 801.