Critical Miscellanies, Vol. I

John Moody
Critical Miscellanies, Vol. I, by
John Morley

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Title: Critical Miscellanies, Vol. I Essay 3: Byron
Author: John Morley
Release Date: March 22, 2007 [EBook #20879]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

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Byron's influence in Europe 203
In England 204
Criticism not concerned with Byron's private life 208
Function of synthetic criticism 210
Byron has the political quality of Milton and Shakespeare 212
Contrasted with Shelley in this respect 213
Peculiarity of the revolutionary view of nature 218
Revolutionary sentimentalism 220
And revolutionary commonplace in Byron 222
Byron's reasonableness 223
Size and difficulties of his subject 224
His mastery of it 224
The reflection of Danton in Byron 230

The reactionary influence upon him 232
Origin of his apparent cynicism 234
His want of positive knowledge 235
Æsthetic and emotional relations to intellectual positivity 236
Significance of his dramatic predilections 240
His idea of nature less hurtful in art than in politics 241
Its influence upon his views of duty and domestic sentiment 242
His public career better than one side of his creed 245
Absence of true subjective melancholy from his nature 246
His ethical poverty 249
Conclusion 250

It is one of the singular facts in the history 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 precisely an English aristocrat who became the
favourite poet of all the most high-minded conspirators and socialists of
continental 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 rôle 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 French translation of Shakespeare, and the
anathema hurled by Voltaire against the "drunken savage." 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.'[1]
[Footnote 1: See also George Sand's Preface to Obermann, p. 10. 'En
même temps que les institutions et les coutumes, la littérature anglaise
passa le détroit, et vint regner chez nous. La poésie britannique nous
révéla le doute incarné sous la figure de Byron; puis la littérature
allemande, quoique plus mystique, nous conduisit au même résultat par
un sentiment de rêverie plus profond.'
The number of translations that have appeared in Germany since 1830
proves the coincidence of Byronic influence with revolutionary
movement in that country.]
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
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