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But when the lady passed, there came
Which hung in a murky old niche in the wall." And in that other passage, which shows the magic might of witchcraft stronger in the witch's eye as she fascinates her mute victim with it, the shrinking up of the eye, the sudden dilation again when the look of innocence is counterfeited once more, and Christabel's unconscious imitation of the serpent-look that fascinated and appalled her:
“A snake's small eye blinks dull and shy,
The maid, alas ! her thoughts are gone;
And thus she stood, in dizzy trance,
O'ermastered by the magic spell.” It is that description of the serpent-look of the witch's eyes that, being read in a company at Lord Byron's, so affected Shelley's sensitive fancy that he fainted.*
Along with the influence of this poem on the imagination of Walter Scott, there was blended the influence of his long-cherished and studious culture of the early minstrelsy, for which he laboured with patriotic as well as poetic zeal. The genius of Scott, thus wrought on, produced that series of poems which fills a large space in the poetic literature of the early part of this century. With much of Homeric animation, and with the pathos of Greek and British minstrel combined, he sung of the chivalry and the rude heroism of the olden time; and to those heroic lays there was given a popularity which was dimmed only by the sudden splendour of the speedy and more fervid popularity which was won by the genius of Byron.
* In Moore's Life of Byron, vol. iv. p. 147, is the anecdote which I presume is referred to. Lord Byron was most earnest in his admiration of Christabel. His correspondence is full of it. “I won't have any one,” he writes to Mr. Murray in 1816, “sneer at Christabel; it is a fine, wild poem.” W. B. R.
There is nothing in literary biography finer than the composure, the magnanimity (rather let me call it) with which Scott, making up his mind that he was about to be supplanted in popular favour by a greater poet, tranquilly turned his genius to a new department of invention, in which, as it proved, no rival was to reach him. There is truth, too, in what Scott's biographer has said of this part of his career, that, “ Appreciating, as a man of his talents could hardly fail to do, the splendidly original glow and depth of Childe Harold, Scott always appeared to me quite blind to the fact, that in the Giaour, in the Bride of Abydos, in Parisina, and, indeed, in all his early serious narratives, Byron owed at least half his success to clever, though perhaps unconscious, imitation of Scott, and no trivial share of the rest to the lavish use of materials which Scott never employed, only because his genius was, from the beginning to the end of his career, under the guidance of high and chivalrous feelings of moral rectitude."*
This last remark recalls the account given of a conversation of Scott, toward the close of his life, which may be mentioned before I pass to the name of Byron. Not long before Sir Walter's death, a friend remarked to him that he must derive consolation from the reflection that his popularity was not owing to works which, in his latter moments, he might wish recalled. Scott remained silent for a moment, with his eyes fixed on the ground. “When he raised them,” says the narrator, as he shook me by the hand, I perceived the light blue eye sparkling with unusual moisture; he added, "I am drawing near the close of my career. I have been, perhaps, the most voluminous author of the day, and it is a comfort to me to think that I have tried to unsettle no man's faith, to corrupt no man's principle, and that I have written nothing which, on my death-bed, I should wish blotted."* In this utterance of dignified self-complacency, he stands justified by the story of his wondrous authorship. With regard to Scott's poetry, there are indications that, in the calmer judgment of posterity, the world is willing to restore a part, at least, of the fame it too quickly took away. It is only the other day that Landor, ranking Scott's poems with the classics, has said,
* Lockhart's Scott, vol. v. p. 31.
“The trumpet-blast of Marmion never shook
Of the Achaians swells the heart so high !”. In the concluding lecture I propose to proceed with the general considerations of the literature of this century-its chief productions and influences; among which I desire to speak of the character and influence of Lord Byron's poetry, the prose and poetry of Southey, the poetry of Wordsworth, the influence of Mr. Carlyle's writings, and also of some of the women who, both in prose and poetry, have adorned the literature of our times.
* Lockhart's Scott, vol. x. p. 196.
Lord Byron–His popularity and its decline-His power of simple, vigor
ous language—Childe Harold—The Dying Gladiator—The Isles of Greece-Contrast of Byron's and Shakspeare's creations—Miss Barrett-Miss Kemble's sonnet-Byron as a poet of nature—His antagonism to Divine Truth—The Dream, the most faultless of his poems—Don Juan-Shelley-Leigh Hunt's remarks on-Carlyle -His earnestness-Southey–His historical works-ThalabaWordsworth-His characteristics-Female authors-Joanna Baillie -Miss Edgeworth-Mrs. Kemble-Mrs. Norton--Miss BarrettCry of the children, &c.
In bringing this course of lectures toward a conclusion, I shall resume the cursory view of the contemporary English literature which I began in the last lecture. When the literary history of this period shall hereafter come to be written, a voluminous chapter will be needed for what the English language has given expression to within it. During the first quarter of this century, the writings of Lord Byron had the most high-wrought and wide-spread celebrity. His was the commanding name of the day for some ten or twelve years in the first quarter of this century. Scott, as a poet, calmly withdrew at the approach of the new influence.
He had probably exhausted that fine, but not very deep, vein of poetry, which gained him a quick popularity and a permanent place among English poets; he withdrew from the region
* Thursday, February 28, 1850.