Page images
PDF
EPUB

Spirit. Then I must summon up my brethren.

[Other Spirits rise up.

Rise! Abbot. Avaunt! ye evil ones!-Avaunt! I say,Ye have no power where piety hath power,

And I do charge ye in the name

Spirit.

Old man!

We know ourselves, our mission, and thine order;
Waste not thy holy words on idle uses,

It were in vain: this man is forfeited.
Once more I summon him-Away! away!

Man. I do defy ye,-though I feel my soul
Is ebbing from me, yet I do defy ye;

Nor will I hence, while I have earthly breath
To breathe my scorn upon ye-earthly strength
To wrestle, though with spirits; what ye take
Shall be ta'en limb by limb.

Spirit.

Reluctant mortal!

Is this the Magian who would so pervade
The world invisible, and make himself
Almost our equal?—Can it be that thou
Art thus in love with life? the very life
Which made thee wretched!

Man.
Thou false fiend, thou liest!
My life is in its last hour,—that I know,
Nor would redeem a moment of that hour;
I do not combat against death, but thee
And thy surrounding angels; my past power
Was purchased by no compact with thy crew,
But by superior science-penance—daring—
And length of watching-strength of mind-and

skill

In knowledge of our fathers-when the earth
Saw men and spirits walking side by side,

And

gave ye no supremacy: I stand Upon my strength-I do defy-denySpurn back, and scorn ye!

Spirit.

Have made thee

Man.

But thy many crimes

What are they to such as thee? Must crimes be punish'd but by other crimes, And greater criminals?—Back to thy hell! Thou hast no power upon me, that I feel; Thou never shalt possess me, that I know: What I have done is done; I bear within A torture which could nothing gain from thine: The mind which is immortal makes itself Requital for its good or evil thoughtsIs its own origin of ill and end

And its own place and time—its innate sense,
When stripp'd of this mortality, derives
No colour from the fleeting things without;
But is absorb'd in sufferance or in joy,

Born from the knowledge of its own desert.

Thou didst not tempt me, and thou couldst not tempt me;

I have not been thy dupe, nor am thy prey—
But was my own destroyer, and will be
My own hereafter.— Back, ye baffled fiends!
The hand of death is on me—but not yours!
[The Demons disappear.

Abbot. Alas! how pale thou art - thy lips are

white

And thy breast heaves-and in thy gasping throat

The accents rattle

Give thy prayers to HeavenPray-albeit but in thought,—but die not thus. Man. 'Tis over—my dull eyes can fix thee not; But all things swim around me, and the earth Heaves as it were beneath me. Fare thee well Give me thy hand.

Abbot. Cold-cold-even to the heartBut yet one prayer - Alas! how fares it with thee? Man. Old man! 'tis not so difficult to die. (1) [MANFRED expires. Abbot. He's gone-his soul hath ta'en its earthless

flight

Whither? I dread to think-but he is gone. (2)

(1) [In the first edition, this line was accidentally left out. On discovering the omission, Lord Byron wrote to Mr. Murray-"You have destroyed the whole effect and moral of the poem, by omitting the last line of Manfred's speaking."-E]

[ocr errors]

(2) [In June, 1820, Lord Byron thus writes to his publisher: “Enclosed is something which will interest you; to wit, the opinion of the greatest man in Germany — perhaps in Europe- upon one of the great men of your advertisements (all famous hands,' as Jacob Tonson used to say of his raggamuffins) — in short, a critique of Goethe's upon Manfred. There is the original, an English translation, and an Italian one: keep them all in your archives; for the opinions of such a man as Goethe, whether favourable or not, are always interesting-and this is more so, as favourable. His Faust I never read, for I don't know German; but Matthew Monk Lewis, in 1816, at Coligny, translated most of it to me vivá voce, and I was naturally much struck with it: but it was the Steinbach and the Jungfrau, and something else, much more than Faustus, that made me write Manfred. The first scene, however, and that of Faustus are very similar."

The following is the extract from Goethe's Kunst und Altherthum (i. e. Art and Antiquity (which the above letter enclosed:

"Byron's tragedy, Manfred,' was to me a wonderful phenomenon, and one that closely touched me. This singularly intellectual poet has taken my Faustus to himself, and extracted from it the strongest nourishment for his hypochondriac humour. He has made use of the impelling principles in his own way, for his own purposes, so that no one of them remains the same; and it is particularly on this account that I cannot enough admire his genius. The whole is in this way so completely formed anew, that it

would be an interesting task for the critic to point out, not only the alterations he has made, but their degree of resemblance with, or dissimilarity to, the original: in the course of which I cannot deny, that the gloomy heat of an unbounded and exuberant despair becomes at last oppressive to us. Yet is the dissatisfaction we feel always connected with esteem and admiration.

"We find thus, in this tragedy, the quintessence of the most astonishing talent born to be its own tormentor. The character of Lord Byron's life and poetry hardly permits a just and equitable appreciation. He has often enough confessed what it is that torments him. He has repeatedly portrayed it; and scarcely any one feels compassion for this intolerable suffering, over which he is ever laboriously ruminating. There are, properly speaking, two females whose phantoms for ever haunt him, and which, in this piece also, perform principal parts —one under the name of Astarte, the other without form or actual presence, and merely a voice. Of the horrid occurrence which took place with the former, the following is reIated: When a bold and enterprising young man, he won the affections of a Florentine lady.* Her husband discovered the amour, and murdered his wife; but the murderer was the same night found dead in the street, and there was no one on whom any suspicion could be attached. Lord Byron removed from Florence, and these spirits haunted him all his life after.

"This romantic incident is rendered highly probable by innumerable allusions to it in his poems. As, for instance, when turning his sad contemplations inwards, he applies to himself the fatal history of the king of Sparta. It is as follows:- - Pausanias, a Lacedæmonian general, acquires glory by the important victory at Platæa, but afterwards forfeits the confidence of his countrymen through his arrogance, obstinacy, and secret intrigues with the enemies of his country. This man draws upon himself the heavy guilt of innocent blood, which attends him to his end; for, while commanding the fleet of the allied Greeks, in the Black Sea, he is

*["The grave confidence with which the venerable critic traces the fancies of his brother poet to real persons and events, making no difficulty even of a double murder at Florence to furnish grounds for his theory, affords an amusing instance of the disposition so prevalent throughout Europe, to picture Byron as a man of marvels and mysteries, as well in his life as his poetry. To these exaggerated, or wholly false notions of him, the numerous fictions palmed upon the world of his romantic tours and wonderful adventures, in places he never saw, and with persons that never existed, have, no doubt, considerably contributed; and the consequence is, so utterly out of truth and nature are the representations of his life and character long current upon the Continent, that it may be questioned whether the real' flesh and blood' hero of these pages, the social, practicalminded, and, with all his faults and eccentricities, English Lord Byron,— may not, to the over-exalted imaginations of most of his foreign admirers, appear but an ordinary, unromantic, and prosaic personage.” — MOORE'S Life of Byron.]

After long resist

inflamed with a violent passion for a Byzantine maiden. ance, he at length obtains her from her parents, and she is to be delivered up to him at night. She modestly desires the servant to put out the lamp, and, while groping her way in the dark, she overturns it. Pausanias is awakened from his sleep-apprehensive of an attack from murderers, he seizes his sword, and destroys his mistress. The horrid sight never leaves him. Her shade pursues him unceasingly, and he implores for aid in vain from the gods and the exorcising priests.

"That poet must have a lacerated heart who selects such a scene from antiquity, appropriates it to himself, and burdens his tragic image with it. The following soliloquy, which is overladen with gloom and a weariness of life, is, by this remark, rendered intelligible. We recommend it as an exercise to all friends of declamation. Hamlet's soliloquy appears improved upon here." — Goethe here subjoins Manfred's soliloquy, beginning "We are the fools of time and terror," in which the allusion to Pausanias occurs. The reader will not be sorry to pass from this German criticism to that of the Edinbuh Review on Manfred. "This is, undoubtedly, a work of great genius a originality. Its worst fault, perhaps, is that it fatigues and overawes us by the uniformity of its terror and solemnity. Another, is the painful and offensive nature of the circumstance on which its distress is ultimately founded. The lyrical songs of the Spirits are too long, and not all excellent. There is something of pedantry in them now and then ; and even Manfred deals in classical allusions a little too much. If we were to consider it as a proper drama, or even as a finished poem, we should be obliged to add, that it is far too indistinct and unsatisfactory. But this we take to be according to the design and conception of the author. He contemplated but a dim and magnificent sketch of a subject which did not admit of more accurate drawing or more brilliant colouring. Its obscurity is a part of its grandeur; — and the darkness that rests upon it, and the smoky distance in which it is lost, are all devices to increase its majesty, to stimulate our curiosity, and to impress us with deeper awe.-It is suggested, in an ingenious paper in a late number of the Edinburgh Magazine, that the general conception of this piece, and much of what is excellent in the manner of its execution, have been borrowed from The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus,' of Marlow *; and a variety of passages are quoted, which the author considers as similar, and, in many respects, superior to others in the poem before us. We cannot agree in the general terms of the conclusion; but there is no doubt a certain resemblance, both in some of the topics that are suggested, and in the cast of the diction in which they are

* [On reading this, Lord Byron wrote from Venice: - Jeffrey is very kind about Manfred, and defends its originality, which I did not know that any body had attacked. As to the germs of it, they may be found in the Journal which I sent to Mrs. Leigh, shortly before I left Switzerland. I have the whole scene of Manfred before me, as if it was but yesterday, and could point it out, spot by spot, torrent and all.” — E.]

« PreviousContinue »