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Afghanistan, offer matter for idylls, as Mr. Carlyle (your antithesis,
and the complement of the Scotch character) supposed; but the morals of
Ettrick are those of rural Sicily in old days, or of Mossgiel in your
days. Over these matters the Kirk, with all her power, and the Free Kirk
too, have had absolutely no influence whatever. To leave so delicate a
topic, you were but as other swains, or, as 'that Birkie ca'd a lord,'
Lord Byron; only you combined (in certain of your letters) a libertine
theory with your practice; you poured out in song your audacious
raptures, your half-hearted repentance, your shame and your scorn. You
spoke the truth about rural lives and loves. We may like it or dislike
it; but we cannot deny the verity.

Was it not as unhappy a thing, Sir, for you, as it was fortunate for
Letters and for Scotland, that you were born at the meeting of two ages
and of two worlds - precisely in the moment when bookish literature was
beginning to reach the people, and when Society was first learning to
admit the low-born to her Minor Mysteries? Before you how many singers
not less truly poets than yourself - though less versatile not less
passionate, though less sensuous not less simple - had been born and had
died in poor men's cottages! There abides not even the shadow of a name
of the old Scotch song-smiths, of the old ballad-makers. The authors of
'Clerk Saunders,' of 'The Wife of Usher's Well,' of 'Fair Annie,' and
'Sir Patrick Spens,' and 'The Bonny Hind,' are as unknown to us as
Homer, whom in their directness and force they resemble. They never,
perhaps, gave their poems to writing; certainly they never gave them to
the press. On the lips and in the hearts of the people they have their
lives; and the singers, after a life obscure and untroubled by society
or by fame, are forgotten. 'The Iniquity of Oblivion blindly scattereth
his Poppy.'

Had you been born some years earlier you would have been even as
these unnamed Immortals, leaving great verses to a little clan - verses
retained only by Memory. You would have been but the minstrel of your
native valley: the wider world would not have known you, nor you the
world. Great thoughts of independence and revolt would never have burned
in you; indignation would not have vexed you. Society would not have
given and denied her caresses. You would have been happy. Your songs
would have lingered in all 'the circle of the summer hills;' and your
scorn, your satire, your narrative verse, would have been unwritten or
unknown. To the world what a loss! and what a gain to you! We should
have possessed but a few of your lyrics, as

When o'er the hill the eastern star
Tells bughtin-time is near, my jo;
And owsen frae the furrowed field,
Return sae dowf and wearie O!

How noble that is, how natural, how unconsciously Greek! You found,
oddly, in good Mrs. Barbauld, the merits of the Tenth Muse:

In thy sweet sang, Barbauld, survives
Even Sappho's flame!

But how unconsciously you remind us both of Sappho and of Homer in these
strains about the Evening Star and the hour when the Day _metenisseto
boulytoide_?* Had you lived and died the pastoral poet of some silent
glen, such lyrics could not but have survived; free, too, of all that
in your songs reminds us of the Poet's Corner in the 'Kirkcudbright
Advertiser.' We should not have read how

Phoebus, gilding the brow o' morning,
Banishes ilk darksome shade!

Still we might keep a love-poem unexcelled by Catullus,

Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met - or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

But the letters to Clarinda would have been unwritten, and the thrush
would have been untaught in 'the style of the Bird of Paradise.'

*Transliterated from Greek.

A quiet life of song, _fallentis semita vitae_', was not to be yours.
Fate otherwise decreed it. The touch of a lettered society, the strife
with the Kirk, discontent with the State, poverty and pride, neglect and
success, were needed to make your Genius what it was, and to endow the
world with 'Tam o' Shanter,' the 'Jolly Beggars,' and 'Holy Willie's
Prayer.' Who can praise them too highly - who admire in them too much the
humour, the scorn, the wisdom, the unsurpassed energy and courage? So
powerful, so commanding, is the movement of that Beggars' Chorus, that,
methinks, it unconsciously echoed in the brain of our greatest living
poet when he conceived the Vision of Sin. You shall judge for yourself.
Recall:

Here's to budgets, bags, and wallets!
Here's to all the wandering train!
Here's our ragged bairns and callers!
One and all cry out, Amen!

A fig for those by law protected!
Liberty's a glorious feast!
Courts for cowards were erected!
Churches built to please the priest!

Then read this: Drink to lofty hopes that cool
Visions of a perfect state:
Drink we, last, the public fool,
Frantic love and frantic hate.
......... Drink to Fortune, drink to Chance,
While we keep a little breath!
Drink to heavy Ignorance
Hob and nob with brother Death!
Is not the movement the same, though the modern speaks a wilder
recklessness?

So in the best company we leave you, who were the life and soul of so
much company, good and bad. No poet, since the Psalmist of Israel,
ever gave the world more assurance of a man; none lived a life more
strenuous, engaged in an eternal conflict of the passions, and by them
overcome - 'mighty and mightily fallen.' When we think of you, Byron
seems, as Plato would have said, remote by one degree from actual truth,
and Musset by a degree more remote than Byron.




XX. To Lord Byron.


My Lord, (Do you remember how Leigh Hunt
Enraged you once by writing _My dear Byron_?)
Books have their fates, - as mortals have who punt,
And _yours_ have entered on an age of iron.
Critics there be who think your satin blunt,
Your pathos, fudge; such perils must environ
Poets who in their time were quite the rage,
Though now there's not a soul to turn their page.

Yes, there is much dispute about your worth,
And much is said which you might like to know
By modern poets here upon the earth,
Where poets live, and love each other so;
And, in Elysium, it may move your mirth
To hear of bards that pitch your praises low,
Though there be some that for your credit stickle,
As - Glorious Mat, - and not inglorious Nichol.

This kind of writing is my pet aversion,
I hate the slang, I hate the personalities,
I loathe the aimless, reckless, loose dispersion,
Of every rhyme that in the singer's wallet is,
I hate it as you hated the _Excursion_,
But, while no man a hero to his valet is,
The hero's still the model; I indite
The kind of rhymes that Byron oft would write.

There's a Swiss critic whom I cannot rhyme to,
One Scherer, dry as sawdust, grim and prim.
Of him there's much to say, if I had time to
Concern myself in any wise with him.
He seems to hate the heights he cannot climb to,
He thinks your poetry a coxcomb's whim,
A good deal of his sawdust he has spilt on
Shakspeare, and Moliére, and you, and Milton.

Ay, much his temper is like Vivien's mood,
Which found not Galahad pure, nor Lancelot brave;
Cold as a hailstorm on an April wood,
He buries poets in an icy grave,
His Essays - he of the Genevan hood!
Nothing so good, but better doth he crave.
So stupid and so solemn in his spite
He dares to print that Moliére could not write!

Enough of these excursions; I was saying
That half our English Bards are turned Reviewers,
And Arnold was discussing and assaying
The weight and value of that work of yours,
Examining and testing it and weighing,
And proved, the gems are pure, the gold endures.
While Swinburne cries with an exceeding joy,
the stones are paste, and half the gold, alloy.

In Byron, Arnold finds the greatest force,
Poetic, in this later age of ours
His song, a torrent from a mountain source,
Clear as the crystal, singing with the showers,
Sweeps to the sea in unrestricted course
Through banks o'erhung with rocks and sweet with flowers;
None of your brooks that modestly meander,
But swift as Awe along the Pass of Brander.

And when our century has clomb its crest,
And backward gazes o'er the plains of Time,
And counts its harvest, yours is still the best,
The richest garner in the field of rhyme
(The metaphoric mixture, 't is confest,
Is all my own, and is not quite sublime).
But fame's not yours alone; you must divide all
The plums and pudding with the Bard of Rydal!

WORDSWORTH and BYRON, these the lordly names
And these the gods to whom most incense burns.
'Absurd!' cries Swinburne, and in anger flames,
And in an AEschylean fury spurns
With impious foot your altar, and exclaims
And wreathes his laurels on the golden urns
Where Coleridge's and Shelley's ashes lie,
Deaf to the din and heedless of the cry.

For Byron (Swinburne shouts) has never woven
One honest thread of life within his song;
As Offenbach is to divine Beethoven
So Byron is to Shelley (_This_ is strong!),
And on Parnassus' peak, divinely cloven,
He may not stand, or stands by cruel wrong;
For Byron's rank (the Examiner has reckoned)
Is in the third class or a feeble second.

'A Bernesque poet' at the very most,
And never earnest save in politics -
The Pegasus that he was wont to boast
A blundering, floundering hackney, full of tricks,
A beast that must be driven to the post
By whips and spurs and oaths and kicks and sticks,
A gasping, ranting, broken-winded brute,
That any judge of Pegasi would shoot;

In sooth, a half-bred Pegasus, and far gone
In spavin, curb, and half a hundred woes.
And Byron's style is 'jolter-headed jargon;'
His verse is 'only bearable in prose.'
So living poets write of those that are gone,
And o'er the Eagle thus the Bantam crows;
And Swinburne ends where Verisopht began,
By owning you 'a very clever man.'

Or rather does not end: he still must utter
A quantity of the unkindest things.
Ah! were you here, I marvel, would you flutter
O'er such a foe the tempest of your wings?
'T is 'rant and cant and glare and splash and splutter'
That rend the modest air when Byron sings.
There Swinburne stops: a critic rather fiery.
_Animis caelestibus tantaene irae_?

But whether he or Arnold in the right is,
Long is the argument, the quarrel long;
_Non nobis est to settle tantas lites_;
No poet I, to judge of right or wrong:
But of all things I always think a fight is
The most unpleasant in the lists of song;
When Marsyas of old was flayed, Apollo
Set an example which we need not follow.

The fashion changes! Maidens do not wear,
As once they wore, in necklaces and lockets
A curl ambrosial of Lord Byron's hair;
'Don Juan' is not always in our pockets
Nay, a NEW WRITER's readers do not care
Much for your verse, but are inclined to mock its
Manners and morals. Ay, and most young ladies
To yours prefer the 'Epic' called 'of Hades'!

I do not blame them; I'm inclined to think
That with the reigning taste 't is vain to quarrel,
And Burns might teach his votaries to drink,
And Byron never meant to make them moral.
You yet have lovers true, who will not shrink
From lauding you and giving you the laurel;
The Germans too, those men of blood and iron,
Of all our poets chiefly swear by Byron.

Farewell, thou Titan fairer than the gods!
Farewell, farewell, thou swift and lovely spirit,
Thou splendid warrior with the world at odds,
Unpraised, unpraisable, beyond thy merit;
Chased, like Oresres, by the furies' rods,
Like him at length thy peace dost thou inherit;
Beholding whom, men think how fairer far
Than all the steadfast stars the wandering star!

_Note_ Mr. Swlnburne's and Mr. Arnold's diverse views of Byron will be
found in the _Selections_ by Mr. Arnold and in the _Nineteenth Century_.




XXI. To Omar Kha'yya'm.


Wise Omar, do the Southern Breezes fling
Above your Grave, at ending of the Spring,
The Snowdrift of the petals of the Rose,
The wild white Roses you were wont to sing?

Far in the South I know a Land divine, (1)
And there is many a Saint and many a Shrine,
And over all the shrines the Blossom blows
Of Roses that were dear to you as wine.


(1) The hills above San Remo, where rose-bushes are planted
by the shrines. Omar desired that his grave might be where
the wind would scatter rose-leaves over it.


You were a Saint of unbelieving days,
Liking your Life and happy in men's Praise;
Enough for you the Shade beneath the Bough,
Enough to watch the wild World go its Ways.

Dreadless and hopeless thou of Heaven or Hell,
Careless of Words thou hadst not Skill to spell,
Content to know not all thou knowest now,
What's Death? Doth any Pitcher dread the Well?

The Pitchers we, whose Maker makes them ill,
Shall He torment them if they chance to spill?
Nay, like the broken potsherds are we cast
Forth and forgotten, - and what will be will!

So still were we, before the Months began
That rounded us and shaped us into Man.
So still we shall be, surely, at the last,
Dreamless, untouched of Blessing or of Ban!

Ah, strange it seems that this thy common thought
How all things have been, ay, and shall be nought
Was ancient Wisdom in thine ancient East,
In those old Days when Senlac fight was fought,

Which gave our England for a captive Land
To pious Chiefs of a believing Band,
A gift to the Believer from the Priest,
Tossed from the holy to the blood-red Hand! (1)

(1) Omar was contemporary with the battle of Hastings.

Yea, thou wert singing when that Arrow clave
Through helm and brain of him who could not save
His England, even of Harold Godwin's son;
The high tide murmurs by the Hero's grave! (1)

(1) Per mandata Ducis, Rex hic, Heralde, quiescis,
Ut custos maneas littoris et pelagi.

And _thou_ wert wreathing Roses - who can tell? -
Or chanting for some girl that pleased thee well,
Or satst at wine in Nasha'pu'r, when dun
The twilight veiled the field where Harold fell!

The salt Sea-waves above him rage and roam!
Along the white Walls of his guarded Home
No Zephyr stirs the Rose, but o'er the wave
The wild Wind beats the Breakers into Foam!

And dear to him, as Roses were to thee,
Rings long the Roar of Onset of the Sea;
The _Swan's Path_ of his Fathers is his grave:
His sleep, methinks, is sound as thine can be.

His was the Age of Faith, when all the West
Looked to the Priest for torment or for rest;
And thou wert living then, and didst not heed
The Saint who banned thee or the Saint who blessed!

Ages of Progress! These eight hundred years
Hath Europe shuddered with her hopes or fears,
And now! - she listens in the wilderness
To thee, and half believeth what she hears!

Hadst _thou_ THE SECRET? Ah, and who may tell?
'An hour we have,' thou saidst. 'Ah, waste it well!'
An hour we have, and yet Eternity
Looms o'er us, and the thought of Heaven or Hell!

Nay, we can never be as wise as thou,
O idle singer 'neath the blossomed bough.
Nay, and we cannot be content to die.
_We_ cannot shirk the questions 'Where?' and 'How?'

Ah, not from learned Peace and gay Content
Shall we of England go the way he went
The Singer of the Red Wine and the Rose
Nay, otherwise than his our Day is spent!

Serene he dwelt in fragrant Nasha'pu'r,
But we must wander while the Stars endure.
_He_ knew THE SECRET: we have none that knows,
No Man so sure as Omar once was sure!




XXII. To Q. Horatius Flaccus.


In what manner of Paradise are we to conceive that you, Horace, are
dwelling, or what region of immortality can give you such pleasures as
this life afforded? The country and the town, nature and men, who knew
them so well as you, or who ever so wisely made the best of those two
worlds? Truly here you had good things, nor do you ever, in all your
poems, look for more delight in the life beyond; you never expect
consolation for present sorrow, and when you once have shaken hands with
a friend the parting seems to you eternal.

Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus
Tam cari capitis?

So you sing, for the dear head you mourn has sunk for ever beneath the
wave. Virgil might wander forth bearing the golden branch 'the Sibyl
doth to singing men allow,' and might visit, as one not wholly without
hope, the dim dwellings of the dead and the unborn. To him was it
permitted to see and sing 'mothers and men, and the bodies outworn
of mighty heroes, boys and unwedded maids, and young men borne to the
funeral fire before their parents' eyes.' The endless caravan swept past
him - 'many as fluttering leaves that drop and fall in autumn woods when
the first frost begins; many as birds that flock landward from the great
sea when now the chill year drives them o'er the deep and leads them to
sunnier lands.' Such things was it given to the sacred poet to behold,
and the happy seats and sweet pleasances of fortunate souls, where the
larger light clothes all the plains and dips them in a rosier gleam,
plains with their own new sun and stars before unknown. Ah, not _frustra
pius_ was Virgil, as you say, Horace, in your melancholy song. In him,
we fancy, there was a happier mood than your melancholy patience. 'Not,
though thou wert sweeter of song than Thracian Orpheus, with that lyre
whose lay led the dancing trees, not so would the blood return to the
empty shade of him whom once with dread wand the inexorable god hath
folded with his shadowy flocks; but patience lighteneth what heaven
forbids us to undo.'

_Durum, sed levius fit patientia_?

It was all your philosophy in that last sad resort to which we are
pushed so often -

'With close-lipped Patience for our only friend,
Sad Patience, too near neighbour of Despair.'

The Epicurean is at one with the Stoic at last, and Horace with Marcus
Aurelius. 'To go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing
to be afraid of; but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no
concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe
devoid of gods or devoid of providence?'

An excellent philosophy, but easier to those for whom no Hope had dawn
or seemed to set. Yet it is harder than common, Horace, for us to think
of you, still glad somewhere, among rivers like Liris and plains and
vine-clad hills, that

Solemque suum, sua sidera borunt.

It is hard, for you looked for no such thing.

_Omnes una manet nox
Et calcanda semel via leti_.

You could not tell Maecenas that you would meet him again; you could
only promise to tread the dark path with him.

_Ibimus, ibimus,
Utcunque praecedes, supremum
Carpere iter comites parati_.

Enough, Horace, of these mortuary musings. You loved the lesson of the
roses, and now and again would speak somewhat like a death's head over
thy temperate cups of Sabine _ordinaire_. Your melancholy moral was
but meant to heighten the joy of thy pleasant life, when wearied Italy,
after all her wars and civic bloodshed, had won a peaceful haven. The
harbour might be treacherous; the prince might turn to the tyrant; far
away on the wide Roman marches might be heard, as it were, the endless,
ceaseless monotone of beating horses' hoofs and marching feet of men.
They were coming, they were nearing, like footsteps heard on wool; there
was a sound of multitudes and millions of barbarians, all the North,
_officina gentium_, mustering and marshalling her peoples. But their
coming was not to be to-day, nor to-morrow; nor to-day was the budding
princely sway to blossom into the blood-red flower of Nero. In the hall
between the two tempests of Republic and Empire your odes sound 'like
linnets in the pauses of the wind.'

What joy there is in these songs! what delight of life, what an
exquisite Hellenic grace of art, what a manly nature to endure, what
tenderness and constancy of friendship, what a sense of all that is fair
in the glittering stream, the music of the waterfall, the hum of bees,
the silvery grey of the olive woods on the hillside! How human are all
your verses, Horace! what a pleasure is yours in the straining poplars,
swaying in the wind! what gladness you gain from the white crest of
Soracte, beheld through the fluttering snowflakes while the logs are
being piled higher on the hearth. You sing of women and wine - not all
whole-hearted in your praise of them, perhaps, for passion frightens
you, and 't is pleasure more than love that you commend to the young.
Lydia and Glycera, and the others, are but passing guests of a heart at
ease in itself, and happy enough when their facile reign is ended. You
seem to me like a man who welcomes middle age, and is more glad than
Sophocles was to 'flee from these hard masters' the passions. In the
'fallow leisure of life' you glance round contented, and find all very
good save the need to leave all behind. Even that you take with an
Italian good-humour, as the folk of your sunny country bear poverty and
hunger.

_Durum, sed levius fit patientia_!

To them, to you, the loveliness of your land is, and was, a thing to
live for. None of the Latin poets your fellows, or none but Virgil, seem
to me to have known so well as you, Horace, how happy and fortunate a
thing it was to be born in Italy. You do not say so, like your Virgil,
in one splendid passage, numbering the glories of the land as a lover
might count the perfections of his mistress. But the sentiment is ever
in your heart and often on your lips.

Me nec tam patiens Lacedaemon,
Nec tam Larissae percussit campus opimae,
Quam domus Albuneae resonantis
Et praeceps Anio, ac Tiburni lucus, et uda
Mobilibus pomaria rivis. (1)

(1) 'Me neither resolute Sparta nor the rich Larissaean
plain so enraptures as the fane of echoing Albunea, the
headlong Anio, the grove of Tibur, the orchards watered by
the wandering rills.

So a poet should speak, and to every singer his own land should be
dearest. Beautiful is Italy with the grave and delicate outlines of her
sacred hills, her dark groves, her little cities perched like eyries on
the crags, her rivers gliding under ancient walls; beautiful is Italy,
her seas, and her suns: but dearer to me the long grey wave that bites
the rock below the minster in the north; dearer is the barren moor and
black peat-water swirling in tanny foam, and the scent of bog myrtle
and the bloom of heather, and, watching over the lochs, the green
round-shouldered hills.

In affection for your native land, Horace, certainly the pride in great
Romans dead and gone made part, and you were, in all senses, a lover
of your country, your country's heroes, your country's gods. None but a
patriot could have sung that ode on Regulus, who died, as our own hero
died, on an evil day for the honour of Rome, as Gordon for the honour of
England.

Fertur pudicae conjujis osculum,
Parvosque natos, ut capitis minor,
Ab se removisse, et virilem
Torvus humi pusuisse voltum:

Donec labantes consilio patres
Firmaret auctor nunquam alias dato,
Interque maerentes amicos
Egregius properaret exul.

Atqui sciebat, quae sibi barbarus
Tortor pararet: non aliter tamen
Dimovit obstantes propinquos,
Et populum reditus morantem,

Quam si clientum longa negotia
Dijudicata lite relinqueret,
Tendens Venafranos in agros
Aut Lacedaemonium Tarentum. (1)

(1) 'They say he put aside from him the pure lips of his wife and
his little children, like a man unfree, and with his brave face bowed
earthward sternly he waited till with such counsel as never mortal gave
he might strengthen the hearts of the Fathers, and through his mourning
friends go forth, a hero, into exile. Yet well he knew what things were
being prepared for him at the hands of the tormenters, who, none the
less, put aside the kinsmen that barred his path and the people that
would fain have held him back, passing through their midst as he
might have done, if, his retainers' weary business ended and the suits
adjudged, he were faring to his Venafran lands or to Dorian Tarentum.'

We talk of the Greeks as your teachers. Your teachers they were, but
that poem could only have been written by a Roman! The strength, the
tenderness, the noble and monumental resolution and resignation - these
are the gift of the lords of human things, the masters of the world.


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