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HOURS OF IDLENESS: A Series of Poems, Original and Translated; by George Gordon Lord Byron, a Minor. 8vo. Newark. 1808.
THE Poesy of this young Lord belongs to the class which neither gods nor men are said to permit. Indeed, we do not recollect to have seen a quantity of verse with so few deviations in either direction from that exact standard. His effusions are spread over a dead flat, and can no more get above or below the level, than if they were so much stagnant water. As an extenuation of this offence, the Noble Author is peculiarly forward in pleading minority. We have it in the title-page, and on the very back of the volume; it follows his name, like a favourite part of his style. Much stress is laid upon it in the preface, and the poems are connected with this general statement of his case, by particular dates substantiating the age at which each was written. Now, the law upon the point of minority, we hold to be perfectly clear. It is a plea available only to the defendant; no plaintiff can offer it as a supplementary ground of action. Thus, if any suit could be brought against Lord Byron, for the purpose of compelling him to put into court a certain quantity of poetry, and if judgment were given against him, it is highly probable that an exception would be taken, were he to deliver for poetry, the contents of this volume. To this he might plead minority; but as he now makes a voluntary tender of the article, he hath no right to sue, on that ground, for the price in good current praise, should the goods be unmarketable. This is our view of the law and the point, and we dare say, so will it be ruled. Perhaps, however, in reality, all that he tells us about his youth, is rather with a view to increase our wonder, than
to soften our censures. He possibly means to say, "See how a minor can write! This poem was actually composed by a young man of eighteen, and this by one of only sixteen!" But, alas! we all remember the poetry of Cowley at ten, and of Pope at twelve; and so far from hearing, with any degree of surprise, that very poor verses were written by a youth from his leaving school to his leaving college, inclusive, we really believe this to be the most common of all occurrences; that it happens in the life of nine men in ten who are educated in England; and that the tenth man writes better verse than Lord Byron.
His other plea of privilege, our author rather brings forward in order to wave it. He certainly, however, does allude frequently to his family and ancestors-sometimes in poetry, sometimes in notes; and while giving up his claim on the score of rank, he takes care to remember us of Doctor Johnson's saying, that when a nobleman appears as an author, his merit should be handsomely acknowledged. In truth, it is this consideration only that induces us to give Lord Byron's poems a place in our Review, beside our desire to counsel him, that he do forthwith abandon poetry, and turn his talents, which are considerable, and his opportunities, which are great, to better account.
With this view, we must beg leave seriously to assure him, that the mere rhyming of the final syllable, even when accompanied by the presence of a certain number of feet; nay, although (which does not always happen) those feet should scan regularly, and have been all counted accurately upon the fingers,-is not the whole art of Poetry. We would entreat him to believe, that a certain portion of liveliness, somewhat of fancy, is necessary to constitute a poem; and that a poem in the present day, to be read, must contain at least one thought, either in a little degree different from the ideas of former writers, or differently expressed. We put it to his candour, whether there is any thing so deserving the name of poetry in verses like the following, written in 1806, and whether
if a youth of eighteen could say any thing so uninteresting to his ancestors, a youth of nineteen should publish it.
"Shades of heroes, farewell! your descendant, departing
That fame, and that memory, still will be cherish,
He vows, that he ne'er will disgrace your renown;
Like you will he live, or like you will he perish;
When decayed, may he mingle his dust with your own."—p. 3.
Now we positively do assert, that there is nothing better than these stanzas in the whole compass of the noble minor's volume.
Lord Byron should also have a care of attempting what the greatest poets have done before him; for comparisons (as he must have occasion to see at his writing-master's) are odious.-Gray's ode on Eton College, should really have kept out the ten hobbling stanzas "On a distant view of the village and school of Harrow."
"Where fancy, yet joys to retrace the resemblance
How welcome to me, you'r ne'er fading remembrance,
In like manner the exquisite lines of Mr. Rogers " On a Tear," might have warned the noble author off those premises, and spared us a whole dozen such stanzas as the following:
Mild Charity's glow,
To us mortals below,
Shows the soul from barbarity clear;
Compassion will melt,
Where this virtue is felt,
And its dew is diffused in a Tear.