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LIFE OF BYRON. In 1830 Moore published the “ Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of his Life." Of this work the Edinburgh Review (June, 1831), thus speaks: “Considered merely as a composition, it deserves to be classed amongst the best specimens of English prose which our age has produced. The style is agreeable, clear, and manly.
Moore has often been censured for having consented to destroy portions of Byron's autobiography which had been intrusted to him for publication. Moore was personally a loser by doing so, and therefore of his disinterestedness there can be no question. It is probable, however, that Byron, in his reckless contempt of public opinion, had penned passages which it became the duty of the editor of his memoirs to suppress. Indeed the general impression amongst those who have read Moore's Life of Byron, is that too much has been preserved. Letters of Byron here meet the light which show that his biographer went through his task to prove the noble author a man (though a gifted one) and not an angel
And a better man might Byron have proved had he listened to Moore's advice. Their intimacy enabled Moore to give several suggestions which the haughty spirit of Byron would not have tolerated in another. During Moore's visit to Byron in Venice, in 1819, he strongly advised him to abandon Don Juan. Moore also condemned the tone of “ Cain," though he, of course, admired its terrific power. “Many (he tells Byron) will shudder at its blasphemy, though all must fall prostrate before its grandeur. I regret you wrote • Cain.' I would not give up the poetry of religion for all that philosophy will ever arrive at. Faith is a treasure not lightly to be parted with. Boldness in politics does good, but in religion it profits neither here nor hereafter.” In the same letter he cautions Byron against the influence of Shelley, of whose talents Moore entertained a high opinion. Shelley speaks of Moore as a man to whom he was proud to acknowledge his inferiority.
Moore's Life of Byron consists principally of extracts from Byron's Letters and Journals. The task of selection was executed with great judgment. The connecting narrative would not, as a separate work, occupy much space. It is feelingly and eloquently written, and those passages in which the writer enters on the intellectual anatomy of the peculiar genius of Byron, are amongst the finest specimens we possess of metaphysical criticism.
From a work of fifteen hundred pages quarto, it is not to be expected we can present enough to illustrate its structure to any considerable extent. A few passages, however, will show that our estimate of its style is by no means extravagant. BYRON AND MOORE VIEWING VENICE BY MOONLIGHT.
“ The clock of St. Mark struck the second hour of the morning. Lord Byron then took me in his gondola, and the moon being in its fullest splendour, he made the gondoliers row up to such points of view as might enable me to see Venice at that hour to advantage. Nothing could be more solemnly beautiful than the whole scene around, and I had
for the first time, the Venice of my dreams before
All those meaner details which offend the eye by day were now softened down by the moonlight into a sort of visionary indistinctness, and the effect of that silent city of palaces, sleeping as it were upon
the waters in the bright stillness of the night, was such as could not but affect deeply even the least susceptible imagination. My companion saw that I was moved by it, and though familiar with the scene himself, seemed to give way for a moment to the same train of feeling, and as we exchanged a few remarks, suggested by that wreck of human glory before us, his voice, habitually so cheerful, sank into a tone of mourning sweetness, such as I had rarely heard from him, and shall not easily forget.”
BYRON'S VOYAGE TO GREECE. “In the evening of that day they set sail; and now launched in the cause, and disengaged as it were from his former state of existence, the natural power of his spirit to shake off
pressure, whether from within or without, began instantly to display itself. According to the report of one of his fellowvoyagers, though so clouded while on shore, no sooner did he find himself once more bounding over the waters, than all the light and life of his better nature shone forth. In the breeze that now bore him towards his beloved Greeee, the voice of his youth seemed again to speak. Before the titles of hero, of benefactor, to which he now aspired, that of poet, however pre-eminent, faded into nothing. His love of freedom, his generosity, his thirst for the new and adventurous, all were re-awakened ; and even the bodings that still lingered at the bottom of his heart, but made the course before him more precious from his consciousness of its brevity, and from the high and self-ennobling resolution he had now taken to turn what yet remained of it gloriously to account."
HOPES OF THE GREEKS.
" Besides the never-failing encouragement which the incapacity of their enemies afforded them, the Greeks derived also from the geographical conformation of their country, those same advantages with which nature had blessed their great ancestors, and which had contributed mainly perhaps to the formation, as well as maintenance of their high national character. Islanders and mountaineers, they were, by their very position, heirs to the blessings of freedom and commerce, and never throughout their long slavery and sufferings, had the spirit of either died away within them. They had also, luckily, in a political as well as religious point of view, preserved that sacred line of distinction between themselves and their
which a fond fidelity to an ancient church could have maintained for them, and thus kept holily in reserve, against the hour of struggle, that most stirring of all the excitements to which Freedom can appeal, when she points to her flame rising out of the censer of Religion. In addition to these, and all the other moral advantages included in them, for which the Greeks were indebted to their own nature and position, are to be taken into account also the aid and sympathy they had every right to expect from others, as soon as their exertions in their own cause should justify the confidence that it would not be the mere chivalry of generosity to assist them.”
CHARACTER OF BYRON. “There are few characters in which a near acquaintance does not enable us to discover some one leading principle or passion, consistent enough in its operations to be taken confidently into account in any estimate of the disposition in which it is found. Like those points in the human face or figure, to which all its other proportions are referrible, there is in most minds some one governing influence, from which chiefly-though, of course, biassed on some occasions by others—all its various impulses and tendencies will be found to radiate. In Lord Byron, however, this sort of pivot of character was almost wholly wanting. Governed as he was at different moments by totally different passions, and impelled sometimes—as during his short access of parsimony in Italy-by springs of action never before developed in his nature, in him this simple mode of tracing character to its sources must be often wholly at fault; and if, as is not impossible, in trying to solve the strange variances of his mind, I should myself be found to have fallen into contradictions and inconsistencies, the extreme difficulty of analysing, without dazzle or bewilderment, such an unexampled complication of qualities, must be admitted as my excuse.
"In Byron's own opinion, a character which, like his, admitted of so many contradictory comparisons, could not be otherwise than wholly undefinable itself. It will be found, however, on