The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron

The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron

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The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron

The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron

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Excerpt

In a word, the two master traits of Byron's genius are the revolutionary spirit and classical art. He was both of his age and apart from it, and if, in the following pages, an attempt is made to throw the composite nature of his genius into relief by contrasting him with the men who were more purely the product of the times, with Shelley in particular, this is not done through a feeling of narrow rivalry, but because in no other way may we so easily prepare ourselves for a right understanding, and hence a right enjoyment, of his work. On one side of his character he was drawn toward the romantic spirit of the day, but on the other side his sympathies, conscious and unconscious, threw him back upon the more classical models of the past. By classical is meant a certain predominance of the intellect over the emotions, and a reliance on broad effects rather than on subtle impressions; these two characteristics working harmoniously together and being subservient to human interest. And here straightway we may seem to run counter to a well-established criticism of Byron. It will be remembered that Matthew Arnold has quoted and judiciously enlarged upon Goethe's saying, 'The moment he reflects, he is a child.' The dictum is perfectly true, but more often he is a child because he fails to reflect at all. Predominance of intellect does not necessarily imply true wisdom; for in reality an impulsive, restless activity of mind seems often to militate against calm reflection. It implies in Byron rather keenness of wit, pungency of criticism whether sound or false, precision and unity of conception. So, in the English Bards, the ruinous criticism of Wordsworth, 'that mild apostate from poetic rule,' is the expression of an irresistible mental impulse, but it is hardly reflection. When the poet came to reflect on his satire, he wisely added the comment, 'unjust.' When in Childe Harold he describes Gibbon as 'sapping a . . .

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