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pages, and of intimating to it afar off that there is still a
Veracity in Things, and a Mendacity in Sham Things,' and so
forth, in the well-known strain.^ It is impossible to overrate
the truly supreme importance of the violent break-up of Europe
which followed the death of the Emperor Charles vi., and in
many respects 1740 is as important a date in the history of
Western societies as 1789. Most of us would probably find the
importance of this epoch in its destructive contribution, rather
than in that constructive and moral quality which lay imdcr
the movement of '89. The Empire was thoroughly shattered.
France was left weak, impoverished, humiliated. Spain was
finally thrust from among the efficient elements in the European
State-system. Most important of all, their too slight sanctity had
utterly left the old conceptions of public law and international
right. The whole polity of Europe was left in such a condition
of disruption as had not been equalled since the death of Charles

(1) History of Frederick the Great, iv. 328. See also vol. i., Proem.
R 2


tlie Great. The Partition of Poland was the most startling
evidence of the completeness of this disruption, and if one
statesman was more to be praised or blamed for shaking over
the fabric than another, that statesman was Frederick the
Second of Prussia. But then, in Mr. Carlyle's belief, there
was equally a constructive and highly moral side to all this.
The old fell to pieces because it was internally rotten. The
gospel of the new was that the government of men and king-
doms is a business beyond all others demanding an open-eyed
accessibility to all facts and realities ; that here more than
anywhere else you need to give the tools to him who can handle
them ; that government does by no means go on of itself, but
more than anything else in this world demands skill, jDatience,
energy, long and tenacious grip, and the constant presence of
that most indispensable, yet most rare, of all practical con-
victions, that the effect is the inevitable consequent of the
cause. Here was a revolution, we cannot doubt. The French
Revolution was in a manner a complement to it, as Mr. Carlyle
himself says in a place where he talks of believing both in the
French Revolution and in Frederick ; * that is to say both that
Ileal Kingship is eternally indispensable, and also that the
destruction of Sham Kingship (a frightful process) is occasionally
so.' ^ It is curious that an observer who could see the positive
side of Frederick's disruption of Europe in 1740, did not also
see that there was a positive side to the disruption of the
French monarchy fifty years afterwards, and that not only was
a blow dealt to sham kingship, but a decisive impulse was
given to those ideas of morality and justice in government,
upon which only real kingship in whatever form is able to rest.

As to the other great factor in the dissolution of the old
(1) Frederick the Great, i. 9.


state, the decay of ancient spiritual forms, Mr. Carlyle gives
no uncertain sound. Of the Reformation, as of the French
Eevohition, philosophers have doubted how far it really con-
tributed to the stable progress of European civilisation. AVould
it have been better, if it had been possible, for the old belief
gradually as by process of nature to fall to pieces, new doctrine
as gradually and as normally emerging from the ground of
disorganised and decayed convictions, without any of that
frightful violence which stirred men's deepest passions, and
gave them a sinister interest in holding one or other of the
rival creeds in its most extreme, exclusive, and intolerant
form ? This question Mr. Carlyle does not see, or, if he does see
it, he rides roughshod over it. Every reader remembers the
notable passage in which he declares that the question of
Protestant or not Protestant meant everywhere, * Is there
anything of nobleness in you, Nation, or is there nothing ? '
and that afterwards it fared with nations as they did, or did not,
accept this sixteenth century form of Truth, when it came.^

France, for example, is the conspicuous proof of what over-
took the deniers. ' France saw good to massacre Protestantism,
and end it in the night of St. Bartholomew, 1572. The celestial
apparitor of heaven's chancery, so we may speak, the Genius
of Fact and Veracity, had left his writ of summons ; writ was
read and replied to in this manner.' But let us look at this
more definitely. A complex series of historic facts do not
usually fit so neatly into the moral formula. The truth surely
is that while the anxieties and dangers of the Catholic party in
France increased after St. Bartholomew, whose dramatic horror
has made its historic importance to be vastly exaggerated, the
Protestant cause remained full of vitality, and the number of
its adherents went on increasing until the Edict of Nantes. It
(1) Frederick, i. Bk. III. Ch. viii. 269—274.


is eminently unreasonable to talk of France seeing good to end
Protestantism in a night, when we reflect that twenty-six
years after, the provisions of the Edict of Nantes were what
they were. ' By that Edict,' the historian tells us, * the
French Protestants, who numbered perhaps a tenth of the total
popidation, 2,000,000 out of 20,000,000, obtained absolute liberty
of conscience ; performance of public worship in 3,500 castles,
as well as in certain specified houses in each province ; a State
endowment equal to £20,000 a year ; civil rights equal in every
respect to those of the Catholics ; adiuission to the public
colleges, hospitals, &c. ; finally, eligibility to all ofilces of
State.' It was this, and not the Massacre, which was France's
reply to the Genius of Fact and Veracity. Again, on the
other side, England accepted Protestantism, and yet Mr.
Carlyle of all men can hardly pretend, after his memorable
deliverances in the Niagara, that he thinks she has fared par-
ticularly well in consequence.

The famous diatribe against Jesuitism in the Latfer-Day
PampJthts,^ one of the most unfeignedly coarse and virulent bits
cf invective in the language, points plumb in the same direction.
It is grossly unjust, because it takes for granted that Loyola and
all Jesuits were deliberately conscious of imposture and falsehood,
knowingly embraced the cause of Beelzebub, and resolutely pro-
pagated it. It is one thing to judge a system in its corruption,
and a quite other thing to measure the worth and true design
of its first founders ; one thing to estimate the intention and
sincerity of a movement, when it first stirred the hearts of
men, and another thing to pass sentence upon it in the days of
its degradation. The vileness into which Jesuitism eventually
sank is a poor reason why we should malign and curse those,
who, centuries before, found in the rules and discipline and
(1) No. VIII. pp. 353—371.


aims of that system an acceptable expression for their own
disinterested social aspirations. It is childish, to say that the
subsequent vileness is a proof of the existence of an inherent
corrupt principle from the beginning, because hitherto cer-
tainly, and probably it will be so for ever, even the most
salutary movements and most effective social conceptions have
been provisional. In other words, the ultimate certainty of
dissolution does not nullify the beauty and strength of
physical life, and the putrescence of Jesuit methods and ideas
is no more a reproach to those who first found succour in them,
than the cant and* formalism of any other degenerate form of
active faith, say monachism or Calvinism, prove Calvin or
Benedict or Bernard to have been hypocritical and hollow.
To be able, however, to take this reasonable view, one must be
unable to believe that men can be drawn for generation after
generation by such a mere hollow lie and villany and ' light of
hell ' as Jesuitism has always been, according to Mr. Carlyle's
rendering. Human nature is not led for so long by lies ; and
if it seems to be otherwise, let us be sure that ideas, which do
lead and attract successive generations of men to self-sacrifice
and care for social interests, must contain something which is
not wholly a lie.

Perhaps it is pertinent to remember that Mr. Carlyle,
in fact, is a prophet with a faith, and he holds the
opposition kind of religionist in a peculiarly theological
execration. In spite of his passion for order, he cannot
understand the political point of view. The attempts of good
men in epochs of disorder to re-make the past, to bring back
an old spiritual system and method, because that did once at
any rate give shelter to mankind, and peradventure may give
it to them again until better times come, are phenomena into
which he cannot look with calm or patience. The great


reactionist is a type that is wholly dark to liim. That a
reactionist can be great, can be a lover of virtue and truth, can
in any sort contribute to the welfare of men, these are possi-
bilities to which he will lend no ear. In a word, he is a
prophet and not a, and it is fruitless to go to him
for help in the solution of philosophic problems. This is not
to say that he may not render us much help in those far more
momentous problems, which aifeot the guidance of our own



T is one of the singular facts in the'^liistory of literature, that
the most rootedly conservative country in Europe should
have produced the poet of the Revolution. Nowhere is the
antipathy to principles and ideas so profound, nor the addiction
to moderate compromise so inveterate, nor the reluctance to
advance away from the past so unconquerable, as in England ;
and nowhere in England is there so settled an indisposition to
regard any thought or sentiment except in the light of an
existing social order, nor so firmly passive a hostility to
generous aspirations, as in the aristocracy. Yet it was pre-
cisely an English aristocrat who became the favourite poet of
all the most high-minded conspirators and socialists of con-
tinental Europe for half a century ; of the best of those, that is
to say, who have borne the most unsparing testimony against
the present ordering of society, and against the theological and
moral conceptions which have guided and maintained it. The
rank and file of the army has been equally inspired by the
same fiery and rebellious strains against the order of God and
the order of man. ' The day will come,' wrote Mazzini, thirty
years ago, ' when Democracy will remember all that it owes to
Byron. England, too, will, I hope, one day remember the
mission — so entirely English, yet hitherto overlooked by her
— which Byron fulfilled on the Continent ; the European role
given by him to English literature, and the appreciation and
sympathy for England which he awakened amongst us. Before
he came, all that was known of English literature was the

252 BYRON.

Frencli translation of Shakespeare, and the anathema hurled by-
Voltaire against the " intoxicated barbarian." It is since Byron
that we Continentalists have learned to study Shakespeare and
other English writers. From him dates the sympathy of all
the true-hearted amongst us for this land of liberty, whose true
vocation he so worthily represented among the oppressed. He
led the genius of Britain on a pilgrimage throughout all
Europe.' ^

The day of recollection has not yet come. It is only in his
own country that Byron's influence has been a comparatively
superficial one, and its scope and gist dimly and imperfectly
caught, because it is only in England that the partisans of
order hope to mitigate or avoid the facts of the Revolution by
pretending not to see them, while the friends of progress
suppose that all the fruits of change shall inevitably fall, if
only they keep the forces and processes and extent of the
change rigorously private and undeclared. That intense
practicalness, which seems to have done so many great things
for us, and yet at the same moment mysteriously to have
robbed us of all, forbids us even to cast a glance at what is no
more than an aspiration. Englishmen like to be able to
answer about the Revolution as those ancients answered about
the symbol of another Revolution, when they said that they
knew not so much as whether there were a Holy Ghost or not.
The same want of kindling power in the national intelligence
which made of the English Reformation one of the most sluggish

(1) See also George Sand's Preface to Obermann, p. 10. 'En meme temps
que les institutions et lea coutumes, la litteraturo anglaise passa le detroit, tt
Tint regner chez nous. La poesie britannique nous revela le doute incarne sous
la figure de BjTon ; puis la litterature allemande, quoique plus mystique, noua
conduisit au meme r^sultat par un sentiment de reverie plus pro fond.'

The number of translations that have appeared in Germany since 1830 proves
the coincidence of BjTonic influence with revolutionary movement in that

BYRON. 253

and tedious chapters in our history, has made the still mightier
advance of the moderns from the social system and spiritual
hases of the old state, in spite of our two national achievements
of punishing a king with death and emancipating our slaves,
just as unimpressive and semi-efScacious a performance in this
country, as the more affrontingly hollow and halt-footed
transactions of the sixteenth centur3^

Just because it was wonderful that England should have
produced Byron, it would have been wonderful if .she had
received any permanently deep impression from him, or pre-
served a lasting appreciation of his work, or cheerfully and
intelligently recognised his immense force. And accordingly
we cannot help perceiving that generations are arising who
loiow not Byron. This is not to say that he goes unread ; but
there is a vast gulf iixed between the author whom we read
with pleasure and even delight, and that other to whom we
turn at all moments for inspiration and encouragement, and
whose words and ideas spring up incessantly and animatingly
within us, unbidden, whether we turn to him or no.

For no Englishman now does Byron hold this highest
place, and this is not unnatural in any way, if we remember in
what a different shape the Revolution has now by change of
circimistance and occasion come to present itself to those who
are most ardent in the search after new paths. An estimate of
Bj'-ron would be in some sort a measure of the distance that we
have travelled within the last half century in our appreciation
of the conditions of social change. The modern rebel is at
least half acquiescence. He has developed a historic sense.
The most hearty aversion to the prolonged reign of some of the
old gods does not hinder him from seeing, that what are now
frigid and unlovely blocks were full of vitality and light in
days before the era of their petrifaction. There is much less

254 BYRON.

eagerness of praise or blame, and mucli less faitli in knife and
cautery, less confidence that new and right growth will naturally
and necessarily follow upon demolition.

The Revolution has never had that long hold on the national
imagination in England, either as an idol or a bugbear, which
is essential to keep the poet who sings it in efiective harmony
with new generations of readers. More than this, the Byronic
conception was as transitional and inadequate as the methods
and ideas of the practical movers, who were to a man left
stranded in every coimtry in Europe, during the period of his
poetic activity. A transitional and unstable movement of
society inevitably fails to supply a propulsion powerful enough
to make its poetic expression eternal. There is no better proof
of the enormous force of Byron's genius than that it was able
to produce so fine an expression, of elements so intrinsically
imfavourable to high poetry as doubt, denial, antagonism, and
weariness. But this force was no guarantee for perpetuity of
inflvience. Bare rebellion cannot endiu-e, and no succession of
generations can continue nourishing themselves on the poetry
of complaint, and the idealisation of revolt. If, however, it is
impossible that Byron should be all to us that he was to a
former generation, and if we find no direct guidance in his
muse, this is no reason why criticism should pass him over, nor
why there may not be something peculiarly valuable in the
noble freedom and genuine modernism of his poetic spirit, to
an age that is apparently only forsaking the clerical idyll of
one school, for the reactionary media^valism or paganism,
intrinsically meaningless and issueless, of another.

More attention is now paid to the mysteries of Byron's life
than to the merits of his work, and criticism and morality are
equally injured by the confusion between the worth of the verse
he wrote, and the virtue or wickedness of the life he lived. The

BYRON. 2") 5

admirers of his poetry appear sensible of some obligation to be
the champions of his conduct, while those who have diligently
gathered together the details of an accurate knowledge of the
unseemliness of his conduct, cannot bear to think that from this
bramble men have been able to gather figs. The result of the
confusion has been that grave men and women have applied
themselves to investigate and judge Byron's private life, as if
the exact manner of it, the more or less of his outrages upon
decorum, the degree of the deadness of his sense of moral
responsibility, were matter of minute and profound interest to
all ages. As if all this had anything to do with criticism
proper. It is right that we should know the life and manners
of one whom we choose for a friend, or of one who asks us to
entrust him with the control of public interests. In either of
these two cases, we need a guarantee for present and future.
Art knows nothing of guarantees. The work is before us, its
own warranty. What is it to us whether Turner had coarse
orgies with the trulls of Wapping ? We can judge his art
without knowing or thinking of the artist. And in the same
way, what are the stories of Byron's libertinism to us ? They
may have biographical interest, but of critical interest hardly
the least. If the name of the author of Manfred, Cain, ChlUk
Harold, were already lost, as^ it may be in remote times, the
work abides, and its mark on European opinion.

There is a sense in which biographical detail gives light to
criticism, but not the sense in which the prurient moralist uses
or seeks it. The life of the poet may help to explain the
growth and prominence of a characteristic sentiment or peculiar
idea. Knowledge of this or that fact in his life may uncover
the roots of something that strikes, or unravel something that
perplexes us. Considering the relations between a man's
character and circumstance, and what he produces, we can from

256 BYRON.

this point of view hardly know too mucli as to the personality
of a great writer. Only let us recollect that this personality
manifests itself outwardly in two separate forms, in conduct,
and in literary production, and that each of these manifesta-
tions is to be judged independently of the other. If one of
them is wholly censurable, the other may still be the outcome
of the better mind ; and even from the purely biographical
aspect, it is a plain injustice to insist on identifying a character
with its worse expression only.

Poetry, and not only poetry, but every other channel of
emotional expression and aesthetic culture, confessedly moves
with the general march of the human mind, and art is only the
transformation into ideal and imaginative shapes of a predo-
minant system and philosophy of life. Minor verse-writers
may fairly be consigned, without disrespect, to the region of
the literature of taste ; and criticism of their work takes the
shape of a discussion of stray graces, of new turns, of little
variations of shade and colour, of their conformity to the
accepted rules that constitute the technics of poetry. The
loftier masters, though their technical power and originality,
their beauty of form, strength of flight, music and variousness
of rhythm, are all full of interest and instruction, yet, besides
these precious gifts, come to us with the size and quality of
great historic forces, for they represent the hope and energies,
the dreams and the consummation, of the human intelligence
in its most enormous movements. To appreciate one of these,
we need to survey it on every side. For these we need syn-
thetic criticism, which, after analysis has done its work, and
disclosed to us the peculiar qualities of form, conception, and
treatment, shall collect the products of this first process, con-
struct for us the poet's mental figure in its integrity and just

BYRON. 257

coherence, and then finally, as the sum of its work, shall trace
the relations of the poet's ideas,, either direct or indirect,
through the central currents of thought, to the visible ten-
dencies of an existing age.

The greatest poets reflect beside all else the broad-bosomed
haven of a perfect and positive faith, in which mankind has for
some space found shelter, unsuspicious of the new and distant
wayfarings that are ever in store. To this band of sacred bards
few are called, while perhaps not more than four high names
would fill the list of the chosen : Dante, the poet of Catholicism ;
Shakespeare, of Feudalism ; Milton, of Protestantism ; Goethe,
of that new faith which is as yet without any universally
recognised label, but whose heaven is an ever-closer harmony
between the consciousness of man and all the natural forces of
the universe ; whose liturgy is culture, and whose deity is a
certain high composure of the human heart.

The far-shining pre-eminence of Shakespeare, apart from
the incomparable fertility and depth of his natural gifts, arises
secondarily from the larger extent to which he transcended the
special forming influences, and refreshed his fancy and widened
his range of sympathy, by recourse to what was then the
nearest possible approach to a historic or political method. To
the poet, vision reveals a certain form of the truth, which the
rest of men laboriously discover, and prove by the tardier
methods of meditation and science. Shakespeare did not walk
in imagination with the great warriors, monarchs, churchmen,
and rulers of history, conceive their conduct, ideas, schemes,
and throw himself into their words and actions, without
strengthening that original taste which must have first drawn
him to historical subjects, and without deepening both his feel-
ing for the great progression of human affairs, and his sym-
pathy for those relative moods of surveying and dealing with


258 BYRON.

them, whicli are not more positive, scientific, and political, than
they may be made truly poetic.

Again, while in Dante the inspiring force was spiritual, and
in Goethe it was intellectual, we may say that both in Shake-
speare and Mnton it was political and social. In other words,
with these two, the drama of the one and the epic of the
other were each of them connected with ideas of government
and the other external movements of men in societj^, and with
the play of the sentiments which sj)ring from them. We
assuredly do not mean that in either of them, least of all in
Shakespeare, there is an absence of the spiritual element. This
would be at once to thrust them down into a lower place ; for
the spiritual is of the very essence of poetry. But with the
spiritual there mixes in our Englishmen a most abundant
leaven of recognition of the impressions and impulses of the
outer forms of life, as well as of active sympathy with the
^every-day debate of the world. They are neither of them
inferior to the highest in sense of the wide and unutterable
things of the spirit ; yet with both of them, more than with
•other poets of the same rank, the man with whose soul and
circumstance they have to deal is the ttoXitlkov t'^ov, no high
abstraction of the race, but the creature with concrete relations
and a full objective life. In Shakespeare the dramatic form
helps partly to make this more prominent, though the poet's
spirit shines forth thus, independently of the mould which it
imposes on itself. Of Milton we may say, too, that, in spite of
the supernatural machinery of his greatest poem, it bears
strongly impressed on it the political mark, and that in those
minor pieces, where he is avowedly in the political sphere, he
still rises to the full height of his majestic harmony and
noblest dignity.

Byron was touched by the same fire. The contemporary

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