Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub
[blocks in formation]

INTRODUCTION

ON BYRON'S OBLIGATION TO JOHNSON

To arrive at the real Byron in the most expeditious fashion, you must go by way of his Letters and Journals. You may get to your destination by another route, by the line that has Galt, Medwin, Scott, Moore, and Lady Blessington for stopping-places; but this latter track makes so many deviations and takes so long a time, that the wonder is it ever reaches home. Or, to vary the metaphor, by dint of reading Galt, Medwin, etc., you may obtain a composite picture which yields a recognisable portrait of Byron; but, if you would get a speaking likeness of his lordship, you must go to his correspondence, to those letters in which he reproduces his own lineaments on every page. Here you find the pungent humour which expresses itself 'in caustic epigrams or pasquinades, in good stories, and in apt quotations; the allied quality of pugnacity and love of controversy which makes the poet always look as if he were “spoiling for a fight”; the pride and haughtiness of temper which resents any diminution of his dues whether they be those of rank, of money, or of friendship; and, overshadowing and colouring everything, that taint of the histrionic spirit

-the natural birthright, be it remembered, of a man of aristocratic race and temper—that taint, with its accompanying love of emulation and of mystifying, which is for ever provoking Byron to make Italy the centre of his stage and to let the lime-light play quite impartially on all his qualities-good, bad, or indifferent. As a consequence, Byron never seems quite able to explain himself; he rarely manages to utter a definitive opinion of men and of matters; he seldom succeeds in formulating a reasoned philosophy of religion or of life. He is always beset by the uneasy recollection of his Harold or of his Manfred mask; and this reluctant pose, this ineradicable self-consciousness, this self-imposed isolation, this revolt for mere revolt's sake, are among the causes that help to make Byron's Letters and Journals the most pathetic, as they are undoubtedly the most entertaining, of “human documents.” Apart, however, from their revelations of Byron the peer and poet, apart from their interesting display of some of the raw material that their writer subsequently worked up

into “Don Juan,” these Letterswhich in the present volume are digested into their main topics—are chiefly noteworthy for the extent and variety of the literary allusions which they contain. Of all the famous letter-writers-Walpole, Chesterfield, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Lamb, Stevenson, and the rest Byron is by far the most lavish of quotations. * His

* Needless to say, Byron, generally remote from England and therefore remote from books of reference, often fails to offer the ipsissima verba of his author. More than once he gives the wrong words of the “Vanity of Human Wishes," and of Prior's epigram, “To John I ow'd great obligation." But the two most interesting

REFERENCES TO THE GREAT ROMANCES

ix

practice is rather unique, for he not only refers freely to such world-famous romances as Richardson's “Sir Charles Grandison,” Butler's “Hudibras,” Goldsmith's “Vicar of Wakefield,” Smollett's “Roderick Random and “Humphrey Clinker,” Sterne's “Tristram Shandy and “Sentimental Journey,” Fielding's “Joseph Andrews” and “Tom Jones," Voltaire's “Candide,” and Le Sage's "Gil Blas;” he even levies toll on his contemporary, Scott, and treats Sir Walter's verse and prose tales with that full “liberty of quotation” which is the compliment generally paid to classics only. In his quotations again Byron exhibits most clearly his love of the stage. He cites Shakespeare in his Letters no

[ocr errors]

cases of misquotation which the Letters and Journals afford are those in which Byron unconsciously paraphrases or parodies the lines he is quoting. He commences his “Extracts from a Diary” with the sentence-placed in inverted commas—"A sudden thought strikes me,” quite oblivious of the fact that he is altering a famous line of “Antony and Cleopatra”:-“On the sudden a Roman thought hath struck him.” And when he tells Francis Hodgson that he has been riding on “hollow, pampered jades of Asia,” he is probably unaware of the fact that he is making nonsense of a speech written by that very same Marlowe whose Faustus he so contemptuously declares he has never read. Yet the “pampered jades” are obviously Marlowe's,—witness the following lines taken from the 4th scene of the 4th act of the 2nd part of " Tamburlaine the Great,” the scene in which Tamburlaine addresses the conquered kings whom he has harnessed to his chariot :

Holla, ye pampered jades of Asia !

What! can ye draw but twenty miles a day,
And have so proud a chariot at your heels,
And such a coachman as great Tamburlaine,
But from Asphaltis, where I conquered you,
To Byron here, where thus 1 honour you?"

less than one hundred and fifty-six times, either making use of stock extracts from the tragedies, or adopting from comedies, tragedies, or histories some ludicrous image or “fighting speech.” To a man of his peculiar temperament - a temperament which so often oscillated between arrogance and humour, which was ever too turbulent and too generous to smile placidly at the human comedy and to “endure a while and see injustice done

-a play like the first part of “King Henry IV.,' with its welcome contrast of fiery impetuosity in Hotspur, with calculating geniality in Falstaff

, seems to have been peculiarly sympathetic—it is quoted on twenty-one occasions. "Macbeth” was evidently a greater favourite: the tyrant's moods of defiance and of despair find such à responsive echo in the breast of Byron, that he cites the tragedy no less than thirty-six times. But in this connection there is a circumstance even more extraordinary than this record of one hundred and fifty-six Shakespearean quotations, and that is the fact that Byron's Letters contain excerpts taken from twenty-two other dramatic authors. Some of these-Massinger and Otway, Farquhar and Vanbrugh, Addison and Dryden, Goldsmith and Sheridan-are legitimately connected with our literature, but the rest, even the best of them-Murphy, Hoadley, and the Colmansare merely the popular playwrights of the time, playwrights whose works Byron must have seen in those early days in which he was interested in the stage and helped to manage Drury Lane. To obtain a possible parallel to this instance of a great poet's condescension, you must imagine Tennyson quoting

« ПредишнаНапред »